In 2010 I saw 100 different movies in 100 different theaters. Here are the details.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

60. Sex and the City 2

Rave Brentwood

Anchoring a new outdoor mall, surrounded by suburban houses on one side and open fields on the other,  the Rave Brentwood opened in 2008 just a few miles from the CineLux Delta Cinema Saver.  Rave Motion Pictures has 30 theaters nationwide (ranking 15th among other circuits), and 473 screens (ranking 9th). Their web page, however, mentions a large acquisition that will more than double their theaters and screens. The Rave Brentwood is one of only two Rave theaters in California.

What does 'rave' mean? In this context, I'm guessing they're going more for "an extremely enthusiastic recommendation or appraisal of someone or something", rather than "a party or event attended by large numbers of young people, involving drug use and dancing to fast, electronic music".

The outside of the theater is all about lines and colored squares, from the Rave logo, to the 4x4 grid of movie posters, to the box-shaped box office.

But the inside isn't messing around; the lobby and auditoriums have a full Mondrian motif. Despite planning ahead I pressed for time between movies on this three-movie day, so I didn't get a close look at their concession stand offerings. However, given the distinction in the decor, I expect they have colorful, square food, long, straight straws, and perfectly cubed ice.

The arcade is located in a well-lit area just inside the front doors. Teens might like this less, but I expect parents will like it more.

I'm not sure what to make of the hallway decor. Although the video posters are cool, the color scheme, auditorium marquees, and table with swivel chairs give the hall a bit of a fast food restaurant feel. Visiting the blood red bathrooms is like being inside somebody's liver.

The theater has 14 auditoriums, seating approximately 2700 in all (according to the manager) or 3000 (according to their website). I was able to get a capacity count from posted signs for six different auditoriums, ranging in size from 113 to 284 seats, but there was no sign posted for what appeared to be a larger, 3-D equipped auditorium (their website mentions a 470-seat theater). The auditorium I was in had a steep rake to it. This list boasts a variety of features, suggesting that either all the Rave theaters are newish, or that Rave pursues an aggressive remodel strategy, to ensure its theaters are equipped with recent technology.

When going to a small, independent theater, I have few expectations about the theater's ambiance, because each independent theater will follow its own path. But I do have expectations of a circuit theater; it's easy for me to blend together the Cinemark, AMC, and Regal theaters in the Bay Area into a composite of what a circuit theater will look like. Stepping in the Rave Brentwood was like shopping at an East Coast grocery store (e.g. Piggly Wiggly): everything is basically the same, but in different places, with strange packaging.


I've never heard of Sherwin-Williams (a paint supplier), but they sure make great ads. Check out this one, using digitally-animated paint swatches to create a buzzing garden scene. The animation style is very similar to that in James and the Giant Peach; I could easily watch an entire movie of this.

An ad by Google shows an entire romantic arc expressed through search terms. Google is my search engine of choice, but this ad depresses me, emphasizing a reliance on technology to meet, court, and marry the person of one's dreams. What, have barn-raising hoe-downs gone out of style already?

A commercial for Sprite has several screenwriters on the side lot of a Hollywood studio (is that where screenwriters typically compose their first draft?). Stumped for ideas, one man drinks a Sprite, and is immediately inspired to throw together a cheerleader, samurai, panda bear, and pirate ship into a delicious collision of something or other. I'd rather watch his idea than the ad; it sounds like the idea for a Japanese video game. The ad falters right at the end, though, when the writer turns to his colleagues and says, "Guys, I have an idea. We open on a cheerleader..." and fade-out. It would have been much more natural to say, "Guys, I've got it: a cheerleader, a samurai, and a panda bear are on a pirate ship...". Hey, you only get two sentences for your pitch, so set it up like a joke.

An awkward spot for the MTV Movie Awards has host Aziz Ansari making a crude comment to Kristen Bell: "I have an improvised explosive device in my pants ... maybe you can come into the bedroom and help me disarm it?" The joke is supposed to be that he does in fact have an I.E.D. in his pants, but it just doesn't play well. Bell's response is over-acted, but appropriate.


Killers (Trailer 2)

This trailer is a pared-down version of the first, conveying the same information, but in much more of a rush. The movie is worth seeing, so I'd recommend skipping the trailers all together, as they do spoil a few things if you watch too closely. 56 cuts.

Charlie St. Cloud

As he waits to head off to college, Zac Efron promises to play catch with his little brother every day during the summer. But his brother dies in a car accident, only to return as a benevolent ghost expecting Efron to make good on his promise. Efron heads to the forest each day to play ball, but also begins to fall in love (with Amanda Crew), threatening his obsessive memory of his brother. Efron's sparkly eyes and Crew's big-toothed smile make the trailer worth watching; Efron in particular appears to deliver an emotionally taut performance. The movie is still skippable, though. 129 cuts.

Eat Pray Love

(Previously reviewed)

Morning Glory

In an effort to revive a dull morning program, Rachel McAdams pairs current host Diane Keaton with has-been Harrison Ford. The trailer isn't clear on whether the friction between those two is part of McAdams's grand plan, or if it is merely an inconvenience. The movie takes a sentimental turn, going for our tear ducts instead of our funny bones. McAdams's love interest is Patrick Wilson, who was Nite Owl II in last year's Watchmen, but I remember him better for his creepy role in Hard Candy, so I'm not eager to see anyone fall for him. 116 cuts.

Life As We Know It

Two Katherine Heigl trailers in one sitting. Heigl and Josh Duhamel go out on one date, and have no interest in seeing each other again. But then their mutual friends die, leaving the two of them in custody of an orphaned baby. Living together in the house of the deceased, Heigl and Duhamel must put aside their differences, yadda yadda yadda. Would you pick your warring friends as the back-up parents for your child? And is there a law that movies about babies need to be boring? People are having kids all the time; the world is practically filled with the offspring of people who had kids. I'm not kidding. So why aren't there more interesting movies on the subject? Aside from Babies, the most interesting movie I've seen in recent years about raising a child is Baby Boom (1987). 128 cuts.

Going the Distance

Drew Barrymore and Justin Long meet cute in New York City and decide to date, but with the understanding that they will keep it casual and break-up when Barrymore moves to San Francisco in six weeks. When it finally comes time to part ways, they decide to attempt a long distance relationship (the reason these relationships seldom work is because it's boring for the audience). We're going to get our shares of jealousies (have you met someone else?), frustrations (I feel like you're not as committed to this as I am), disconnects (you don't seem emotionally invested in listening to me talk about my day), and misunderstandings (why did you hang up so suddenly; did you go through a tunnel or have you met someone else?). I'd be interested to see a correlation in romantic films between screen time shared by the two leads, and the quality of the film. How interesting is it to see two people phone, text, and telegram each other for ninety minutes? A funny line from Jason Sudeikis sums it up as he simulates what a text conversation looks like: "What're you doing?" "Nothing. What're you doing?" "Nothing." That moment alone makes the trailer watchable, but we also get some good scenes of phone sex and finally-seeing-each-other-after-weeks-apart sex. 120 cuts.

Sex and the City 2

Ask Hollywood and you'll learn that Manhattan has but two notable landmarks: a skyline towering over lush Central Park, and the Chrysler Building. If you are an aspiring filmmaker, and not quite sure that you have sufficiently established the location of your little drama, try inserting a third or even fourth shot of light glimmering off the Chrysler Building's silver siding as the camera slides past. Rotate around the building clockwise, then counter-clockwise (always a surprise). Throw in a valley full of taxi cabs, and then one final shot of the Chrysler Building, and we'll get the idea. Manhattan.

I'm coming to this film having missed the first in the series, and all 94 episodes of the television show. But why let that stop me? These costumes look great! Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Charlotte (Kristin Davis), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), and Samantha (Kim Cattrall) are best friends (though they all seem to rotate around Carrie). The movie opens with a great origins story showing how Carrie met each of them, taking us for a trip down fashion lane. Although the movie gives some depth to each character, they can be roughly grouped into the following four categories: Best Dressed (Carrie), Most Likely to Judge You When You Are In Fact Doing Something Wrong (Charlotte), Most Likely to Succeed (Miranda), and The One Who Isn't Afraid To Say Yes, Even Before You've Said To What (Samantha). Because it's the Carrie show, we just get quick brush strokes revealing the conflicts in the lives of her friends (raising children, being a professional, facing menopause). We get much more intimate with Carrie's issue.

Carrie has been married since the last movie, and she and her husband have settled down more than she would like. They order in, they don't go dancing, and in general he doesn't seem interested in anything important to her. When giving gifts, women and men both seem to favor the man. Carrie gives her husband a watch; he gives her a TV, in the bedroom, so he can watch it, instead of watching her. Nothing says, "You're frumpy, honey" like putting 42 inches of hi-def plasma on your side of the bed. I was immediately depressed for Carrie. His idea of a good idea? Asking his wife if he can stay at her old apartment a few nights a week, so he can have time to himself. Is he crazy? Sure, we all want more space every now and then, but to actually say it? Last year at the Secret School for Men (which we all secretly attend, and it's okay that I'm revealing this secret, because the half of you who have always suspected this anyway will never actually believe that you're right) we devoted an entire semester to this very topic. Never ever never ever say what you really think, unless you've miraculously evolved into a being capable of expressing yourself with sensitivity and grace. Separate apartments a few nights a week? That's like asking for a divorce, a blowjob, and twenty bucks, all in the same sentence. It doesn't help that Carrie's husband has an ax-murderer quality to him.

When the fab four decide to jet off to Abu Dhabi, I was probably more excited than any of them to get some fresh air. Acting as a potential publicist, Samantha has been invited to assess a resort hotel, with an eye toward luring tourists away from Dubai. If she does her job half as well as the movie does, the hotel will be swamped with guests (at least those with pockets full of gold bullion). The hotel is extravagant, the service despicably attentive, and the food delicious looking. Miranda, whom I thought I would like the most of the four, is given the least to do, ferrying the group around in her attempts to micromanage their vacation. Charlotte is fearful that her husband might be lusting after their amply-endowed nanny (Alice Eve), but her terrible Irish accent will stop him long before he gets within fondling range. (Why are actors asked to use accents? Is there a dearth of actors who natively have the desired accent?) Charlotte's anti-menopause medications are seized upon entry into the country. Hers is the more interesting conflict in the film, as she battles to keep her body as sexually active as her mind, and must confront a culture hostile to her openness. She weathers abrasive and terribly rude comments without succumbing to self doubt (Cattrall already showed her more sensitive side in this year's The Ghost Writer). The movie takes such an anti-repression stance by the end that I can't imagine they were allowed to actually film in Abu Dhabi.

The costumes are a hoot. The soundtrack is fun. There are unexpected outbursts of singing, and shows of camaraderie (At one point Carrie calls a staff meeting to deal with her crisis, asking "Is Samantha still here? I need everybody"). What most impressed me was the wit and the shameless puns. I love puns. The characters toss around phrases like "mid-wife crisis" and "inter-French-ion", and they laugh together about it. It's unusual for anyone but Oscar Wilde or Neil Simon to play around with language this much in a movie (and really, what have those guys written lately?).

Saturday, June 19, 2010

59. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

CineLux Delta Cinema Saver

I trekked one morning to Brentwood, the most easterly side of what I'm calling the Bay Area (though I'm guessing Brentwood and other nearby cities consider themselves part of the Delta, rather than having any relationship to San Francisco). Making my way through a farmer's market, and a few people with signs protesting Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Boxer, I came to CineLux's Delta Cinema Saver. According to Cinema Treasures, the theater was built sometime around 1936, twinned in the 1990s, and reopened by CineLux in 2000.

The "Saver" part of the title is no joke. This theater has the cheapest first-run prices I've seen, charging only $4.50 before 6:00 PM, and $7.00 otherwise. A glass façade encloses what looks to be the old box office area, including insets for posters.

The color scheme speaks for itself. Though the concession has the usual fare, a link on their website gives a full breakdown of their popcorn. If all food were that accurately described, I might eat out more.

The lobby is decorated with framed, autographed photos of old stars, like Mae West (below, center)... well as with this fun cabinet showcasing magazines and photos from Hollywood's gilded age.

The first auditorium, accessed directly from the lobby, seats 190. The second auditorium, in what must have been the front of the original screen, is reached by a long side hallway, decorated with posters from upcoming movies.

The second auditorium seats 130, bringing the theater's total to 320. The walls feature the same frosted glass fixtures as at the Almaden Cinema Five. Though the seats aren't rockers, they are incredibly comfortable, and are in a perpetual state of recline

This particular print of Prince of Persia, though only a day old, had a major blemish in it that bubbled across half the screen for nearly a minute.


CineLux's pre-show programming is put together by CineSpots, a company whose content appears almost exclusively in CineLux theaters (I can't quite make out from their webpage if they are actually owned by CineLux or not). Highlights include shout-outs from locals, amateur (and often bizarre) short films, and some surreal video pieces. And let's not forget the host, Jax. She has a perfect smile and a throaty, shrill voice (hey, that's my thing).

Peninsula Pop Warner is a local charter of a national program to keep kids out of trouble by involving them in sports (football, cheering). From their website comes this staggering statistic: "70% of all NFL players played Pop Warner" (Tim Brown, Oakland Raiders).

Emerging Artist Productions is hosting a 3 Day Film Challenge (exhibited tonight at BlueLight Cinemas). From the rules: "'Challengers' will receive specific information that must be included in their film, additionally each team will select a genre card, each genre card will have two distinct genres listed for that team, it is up to the sole discretion of the teams to determine which of the two genres listed they will decide to produce". Sounds like an activity my community filmed during our weekly HodgePodge session sophomore year of college. There's nothing like random requirements to get the creative juices flowing.

A short about jellyfish, called "Floaters of the Deep", is stunning. Jellyfish are impossible. There's just no way.


Toy Story 3 (Trailer 3)

(Previously reviewed)

The Karate Kid (Trailer 2)

(Previously reviewed)

Sorcerer's Apprentice (Trailer 2)

(Previously reviewed)

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

When a movie begins with, "It is said...", you can be sure the writers are taking the lazy approach to steeping us in lore. This is right up there with "Long ago..." and "Once upon a time...", but without any sense of self-parody. I'll admit that when Gemma Arterton says it, my ears perk up a bit. Nonetheless, it is said that this is no way to begin a movie. It is said that this movie comes from a video game. It is said that most of the budget was spent on ensuring that each of Arterton's many lovely freckles were just so, and it is said that there just wasn't enough budget left over to work on Jake Gyllenhaal's accent.

A king, already with two sons, takes pity on a courageous orphan, Dastan (Gyllenhaal), and adopts him. Years later, Dastan is a commander in his adoptive father's army, along with brothers Tus and Garsiv. The three impetuously invade a holy city on false rumors that the city harbors weapons of mass swashbuckling. Dastan happens upon a magical dagger, is framed for a murder, and is soon on the run with holy woman Tamina (Arterton) in an attempt to clear his name. The law of the economy of characters assures us that Dastan has been set up either by one of his brothers, or by his uncle Nizam (Ben Kingsley). Tus stands to inherit the throne, Garsiv is a bit of a war monger, and Ben Kingsley has been evil in the past four dozen or so of his recent films, so your money is good on any one of them as the evil mastermind behind Dastan's frame-up.

Here's the thing about magical daggers that can turn back time: very handy with the ladies. Nicolas Cage had one in Next (it was in his false hairline), Bill Murray had one in Groundhog Day (he uses it to carve the ice), and now Dastan has one. It's really a toss up whether to use the dagger to restore his own honor or to besmirch Tamina's. Medieval feminists (Maid Marian, Éowyn, Diana of Themyscira, etc.) only rebuff the uncouth advances of their lessers because they know that beneath the rugged exterior of every conniving, feeble-minded rogue is a conniving, feeble-minded hornball. Dastan, wise to the follies of his fellow courters, soon develops a romantic stratagem never before attempted with the fairer sex (at least not since Kindergarten): ignore her, be mean to her, and act like you're fighting off this band of elite snake-wielding assassins just because they're trying to kill you, and not because you're trying to impress her. Combine that with a romantic horse ride (in the desert, there's beach on both sides) between yourself and the movie's only female character, and you've got yourself a sure thing.

Having read my Top Ten Chase Scenes, and being threatened at quillpoint by the writers (who had a mere four pages of script written just eight days before the movie's opening), the film's choreographers were determined to give me my money's worth in the form of chases. Chases through streets, bazaars, markets, swap meets, and even the bustling commercial district or two. When the human actors get tired of running, ostriches take their place (Alfred Molina, as Sheik Amar, has a corner on the ostrich-racing market). I actually enjoyed these extended scenes because it showed off the wonderful sets, the colorful costumes, and lots of tasty-looking spices (which Dastan's pursuers, without fail, would topple into). Just when the guards think they have him cornered, Dastan, demonstrating that his biological father is Jackie Chan, will leap through a chimney or basket or large hoop earring to give further chase.

So why is this terrible movie deserving of three stars? Because it's fun. It has what its better looking but more boorish cousin Clash of the Titans lacks: verve. Both movies have Gemma Arterton, so that's a wash. Clash does indeed have a speaking role for a second female character, but just when you think they're breaking new ground in Hollywood (two women!), they reassure us that it's okay to kill an ugly woman with snakes on her head, even if she only has the snakes because a jealous god thought she was too pretty. Prince of Persia doesn't send mixed messages like that. It's not afraid to say that indeed there were weapons of mass distraction in the holy city: Tamina's pouty lips and brown, deer-in-the-headlights eyes. Can we really fault Dastan for trying to impress her with an (English?) accent?

A few miscellaneous notes. There's no more efficient method to get someone killed in a movie like this than to tell them your secret, nor is there a surer way to out the villain than to confide in him and wait to see if he asks, "Have you told anyone else about this?" Here's a question: if you've got the dagger, and you know it is the one and only thing that can pierce the Sands of Time and destroy All That Is, why would you go racing to the Sands of Time (with the dagger), trying to beat the villain to it? I mean, if the villain doesn't have the dagger, and therefore can't pierce the Sands of Time, exactly what danger does he pose if he gets there first? Shouldn't you be trying to get the dagger away from the Sands of Time? Finally, stick around for the credits, because we're treated to a good song by Alanis Morissette. Some of her best work is for closing credits ("Uninvited" for City of Angels, "Still" for Dogma), and this is no exception.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

New Movie Database

I've been sprucing up my movie database this past week, to make it simpler, more attractive, and easier to use.

One of the benefits is that I can now use the database to add a movie to my Netflix Instant queue, and then saunter over to the television to watch it.  Of all the movies I've ever seen that, in my opinion, are worth seeing again, just under 20% of them are currently available for Netflix instant streaming.  That's not too shabby.

I've added a new field to bind each movie record to its Internet Movie Database counterpart.  In populating that field (using a script to scrape the HTML from IMDB's site), I hit upon an interesting limit: IMDB shut me down after about 3500 calls.  Their server identified that an unusually high number of page requests was coming from my IP address, and refused to serve up any more pages for a short period of time.  The disclaimer says they are trying to be fair in how the bandwidth is utilized, but I'm guessing they also want to prevent the very sort of massive, automated interaction that I was performing.

In other news, I'm behind in my reviews again, with four new ones in the hopper.  I hope to get to those soon.