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

Saturday, August 17, 2013

75. Going the Distance

Regal Crow Canyon

The Regal Crow Canyon, in San Ramon, is just eight miles northwest of Regal's Hacienda Crossing theater in Dublin, placing one of Regal's smallest theaters in the Bay Area in competition with its largest.

The theater is just two blocks from where stood the original village in the 1800s that would eventually incorporate into San Ramon in 1983 (source). The city, now home to more than 74,000, has only ever had this one theater, as near as I can tell.

It was a long, slow-moving line to get into the theater, but once inside I was greeted by wonderful air conditioning on such a hot day. The theater's exterior and floorplan are very similar to those of the Century Regency 6 in Gallinas and the Contra Costa Stadium Cinemas in Martinez. I would guess that they share a similar architect, and were probably all built in the early 1980s.

Yellow, orange, and purple chevrons decorate the walls, perhaps in honor of Chevron's corporate headquarters down the road. The largest auditorium seats 275, with a total theater capacity of 1200. The Crow Canyon showed ~94 unique movies during 2010, 15th of 71 Bay Area theaters with at least 6 screens.


A Calvin Klein underwear ad asks if we want to see the model's "bleep".

A strange Simpsons ad from way back at the Super Bowl sees Mr. Burns losing his fortune (a topical jab at financial executives?), moping around in the park, but then perking up when Apu offers him a Coke. Coke: We Make Evil People Feel Good.

A Diet Coke ad shows a semi-variety of people drinking Diet Coke and commands us to "stay extraordinary": a young urbanite going to a party; an artist painting a concrete wall; a fashion designer watching her models; a nurse while on night duty; a director filming an explosion; and an actress about to step out onto the red carpet. The odd one out is the urbanite, whose extraordinary accomplishment seems to be the ability to awaken from a nap just in time for the evening's activities. The almost continuity between the fashion designer, director, and actress is a missed opportunity to show a variety of people contributing to the movie process (costume designers, producers, gaffers, etc.). It's bizarrely interesting to live in an age of advertising when companies compete to coin the most inspirational phrase, yet somehow also want to capitalize on that. "We've trademarked being extraordinary, so every time you do something super neat, you are legally required to buy our soft drink."


Easy A

(Previously reviewed)
This trailer single-handedly turned me into a Lady Gaga fan. I subsequently watched all her videos and was blown away by her costumes and concepts.

My Soul to Take

Wes Craven crams all his tools into one movie. On the sixteenth anniversary of a serial killer's death, he seemingly returns, this time to stalk seven teens who were all born on the date of his death. One of those kids, Bug (Max Thieriot), might be the killer's son; might share a psychic connection with the killer; and might actually be the killer. His friend asks him, "Have you ever killed anyone, Bug?", to which he replies, "Not that I can remember." Here's some advice: friends don't let their friends not remember killing people. Frank Grillo, whom I enjoyed seeing as a cop in The Gates, tries to catch the killer before all the kids are offed. That's the brilliance of the seven-kid formula: it's just the right number of potential victims to grow attached to each, but be able to lose several in easily avoidable "alone in the woods" scenarios before our hero must finally confront the villain alone. 131 cuts.

Morning Glory

(Previously reviewed)

Life as We Know It

(Previously reviewed)

You Again

(Previously reviewed)

The Town

(Previously reviewed)

Going the Distance

I'm shocked that Drew Barrymore, who has been acting since the beginning of memory (i.e., E.T.) could be paired with Justin Long, who was born yesterday. Okay, maybe he was in Galaxy Quest and those Mac commercials, and is actually only a year younger than me. But there's just no way this boyish actor could aspire to be with Hollywood royalty.

Romantic comedies have a very simple formula: two people who aren't together at the beginning end up together at the end, with humor in between. Life is funny and relationships are fascinating, so this formula shouldn't be difficult to pull off. Yet most wide-release romantic comedies, rather than focusing on the relationship, rely on a plot-centric gimmick to carry the movie. He is a match-maker who can't find a match (Hitch). She is hired to toughen men up (Failure to Launch). He made a bet they'd break up, but she made a bet they'd stay together (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days). They're in witness protection together (Did You Hear About the Morgans). She's trying to propose on Leap Day (Leap Year), or to fulfill a wish from a fountain (When in Rome) or from a wall (Letters to Juliet). To be fair, these gimmicks make for comprehensible trailers, and get us to buy tickets. But they also tend to distract from the relationship, because of the absurd pressures they exert on our fledgling couple. The writer, obligated to keep the lovers apart until the end, seldom employs the real-world reason that perhaps they just don't know each other well enough to decide to be together forever. Okay, maybe not inherently funny, but more interesting. (Want to see a good romance with well-rounded characters and little to no gimmick? Try Save the Date with the amazing Lizzy Caplan.)

Erin (Barrymore) and Garrett (Long) meet in New York City while she's in town for a summer internship. She's an aspiring journalist, and he works in one of those hip brick-walled offices with an open floor plan that seems to employ only young people (perhaps he's a sports writer?). In a hurried montage the movie establishes that they enjoy pub trivia while hanging out with his friends, and that they laugh together. In a different movie, this montage could have been paired with the closing credits to promise their Happily Ever After; in this movie we're reminded that relationships require constant tending. When Erin's internship is ending, and she prepares to move to San Francisco for a job at a newspaper, Erin and Garrett, reluctant to let their romance evaporate, decide to give it a try long distance. And so we have the movie's gimmick.

Dating while apart can be tough (when I saw this movie, I had just begun a long distance relationship of my own), but especially so in their case, for a variety of reasons. They are still in their honeymoon period, which can be a powerful motivator, but during the dry spells it might be better to have years of history as a foundation. Their nascent careers require high levels of devotion, leaving little time for pining; absence only makes the heart grow fonder when the heart isn't otherwise occupied. Erin and Garrett also find themselves at opposite ends of the continent. Clashing time zones are a nefarious impediment to casual contact: every phone call must be carefully planned. When they orchestrate a weekend reunion, one of them wastes half the weekend on an airplane, and once together they are challenged to secure privacy (Garrett shares a thin-walled apartment with his two friends, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis; Erin lives with her sister and brother-in-law, Christina Applegate and Jim Gaffigan). Soon they are missing phone dates, neglecting text messages, and weary from all the travel with too short payoff.

The real problem, though, is not distance, but rather that Barrymore and Long do not have cohesive chemistry. Typically, even in bad movies, the actors inhabit their roles well enough that by the movie's end it's difficult to imagine different actors having filled the parts. With each scene between Barrymore and Long making me more uncomfortable and squeamish, I began to wonder which winding route the casting process had traveled to have arrived in this uncanny valley: they are neither comically opposite, nor believably compatible. It's not enough to have Erin think that Garrett's cleverness is laugh-out-loud funny; that only works when the audience agrees. This reminds me of a Mad Magazine panel where a movie crew is in stitches over a pie-in-the-face scene they are filming, contrasted in the next panel to a completely sedate theater audience watching that same scene. A movie fails if it cannot inspire in the audience an emotional reaction that at least approximates that of its characters.

Going the Distance also makes the common mistake of too tightly siloing its romantic leads. With the plot entirely about their long distance relationship, and with the main characters frustrated in sharing screen time, all the other characters are relegated to foil status. The Bechdel Test could be applied to supporting cast members in general: do the supporting characters share a scene together (without the lead) in which they talk about something other than the lead? Do they have lives of their own, or are they just comic relief and surrogate dialog partners for one of the full-fledged humans? With the exception of one of Garret's roommates, who lusts after co-worker Kelli Garner, the auxiliary characters are just here for laughs.

Limiting the other characters to one-dimensional status does help the audience understand why the two leads would be so desperate for the company of another full-fledged human. But the movie, with its clumsy passage of time, does too good a job of keeping them apart. When Garrett tells Erin that she's his best friend, it sounds hollow and premature. There is one nugget of wisdom in this movie, however. In a car ride to the airport at the end of a weekend together, it becomes apparent that, although still in each other's company, their minds are already drifting apart. He is thinking about making his flight, and the trip back, and what he has to do when he returns; she is thinking of the drive home, and cleaning up, and getting to work in the morning. What should be a shared moment of focused, discreet passion is instead filled with distraction. The artificial pressure exerted by a time-bound phenomena like catching a flight intrudes into our thoughts and steals time from our partings. Go now, grab your loved ones, and give them your full attention, because the modern condition is conspiring against you.

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