Brenden Theatres's Vacaville 16, built in 1998, is the third of what grew by 2010 to be seven Brenden theaters across three states, including two others in the Bay Area: the Pittsburg 16 (built in 1990 as an 8-screen theater, but doubling its screen count by 1997), and the Concord 14 (1997), the second theater by build date, but considered the flagship for some reason. Three Bay Area theaters made Brenden Theatres, in 2010, the 8th largest footprint in the Bay Area, tied with Lee Neighborhood Theatres (including the Presidio) and Winchester Theatres (including the Winchester 21). By screen count, however, Brenden's 46 screens put it in 5th place in the Bay Area, behind the big three (Cinemark, AMC, Regal, in that order by Bay Area count) and Cinema West's 50 screens (including the 3 screens at the Tiburon Playhouse). (The "Big Three" should actually be the "Big Four", inclusive of Carmike Cinemas, though they have no Bay Area presence.)
I never made it out to the Pittsburg 16 for a movie, so I'll record a few interesting tidbits here. I had originally intended to include the Pittsburg 16 as part of a three theater loop, that included the CineLux Delta Cinema Saver, and the Rave Brentwood (now the AMC Brentwood), both in Brentwood. I even went as far as driving to the Pittsburg 16 and eating in the parking lot while waiting for my movie to start. But, exhausted from my blog in general, and theater visits on that day in particular, I balked. Instead, I walked across the parking lot to what was then Best Buy (but now, in 2013, is a Target), and bought a Blu-ray player. I went home and gorged on Netflix instant streaming.
The other interesting thing about the Pittsburg 16 is that, in 2013, it is no longer managed by Brenden Theatres. Even though it was their first theater, they closed it in 2012 (source). (By then they had opened an eighth theater, this one in Colorado, so their 2013 theater count is back to seven; they are now sixth in the Bay Area by screen count.) The theater was then reopened that same year by Maya Cinemas, owner of the Salinas 14 where I saw my third movie of the year way back in January, 2010. The addition of the Pittsburg 16 to Maya Cinemas's holding brings their theater count to 4.
One thing I particularly appreciate about Brenden Theatres is their website's company history page. They are large for a privately owned circuit, but this page shows their pride in each theater they've opened. The big chains tend to want to appear brand new with state-of-the-art technology, and so tend to shun any mention of having been built before last Friday night.
The circuit's founder is also the grandson of Ted Mann who once had his own theater empire, Mann Theatres, that at its height reached 450 theaters, including Grauman's Chinese Theatre (the TCL Chinese Theatre as of 2011). Most of the Mann theaters are now operated by Carmike Cinemas (source, source).
At the ticket counter, patrons have the option of making donations to muscular dystrophy, cancer, and a food drive, and there is information about donating blood as well. An airy outdoor foyer greets patrons as they walk from the ticket counter to the front doors. Inside, a megaplex-worthy concession stand dominates the large, inviting lobby, with a small arcade to one side. The hallways include benches, a claw arcade, and standees for Jackass 3-D, Resident Evil: Afterlife, Life as We Know It, and the (then) upcoming Chronicles of Narnia sequel. While waiting in the lobby, I noticed an unusual number of pregnant women or people with babies, even though I didn't see any particular "mom's night out" promotion.
(I appreciate the benches, especially near the restrooms where one party is often waiting for another. But something few theaters commit to is to build in public-facing space, that is accessible without having to buy a ticket. The way patrons can go to the restaurant at the Kabuki without actually buying a ticket. If arcades were always before the ticket taker, more kids might hang out at the theater, and then eventually buy a ticket. Or thinking more broadly, if there were a coffee shop with wifi off to one side of the lobby, again before the ticket taker, the theater might begin to become more of a destination, not just a place to visit for a movie and then leave.)
The auditoriums range in size from 99 seats at the smallest to 377 seats at largest, with at least 2813 seats in all (I couldn't get the seat count for two of the auditoriums). The seats are of the super tall rocket variety, in light blue. Blue and white stripes adorn the auditorium walls.
Brenden Theatres's pre-show is called "Before the movie", but is otherwise not so different in programming.
An ad for Gatorade says that the sports drink has evolved from its inception in the 1960s. (I used to be a big-time Gatorade drinker in high school and college. I actually drank Gatorade far more frequently than I drank water. Now I probably haven't had any Gatorade for the past ten years.) This ad is fun for showing some dated sports moments from the past 50+ years, and is also interesting for ending with a 2010 shot of Peyton Manning drinking Gatorade, still in his Colts uniform (before moving to the Broncos).
It’s Kind of a Funny Story
Gwyneth Paltrow is a country music megastar exiting rehab and trying to regain her footing while touring with up-and-comer Leighton Meester, who worships Paltrow, but might also eclipse her if Paltrow can't maintain her sobriety. Tim McGraw is Paltrow's husband and manager, and Garrett Hedlund is an amateur singer himself who makes a connection with Paltrow while in rehab. Paltrow, Meester, and Hedlund do much of their own singing in the film, and, like in Crazy Heart, much care has been put into making the songs actually good by audience standards, not just for standards of the fictitious audience within the movie. I will see anything with Paltrow, and Hedlund is coming on my radar, but I'm now also impressed with McGraw, after his turns in The Blind Side and Friday Night Lights. 95 cuts.
Christina Aguilera begins waitressing at Cher's burlesque nightclub, but becomes a front liner once her phenomenal voice gains her notice. Dancing, check. Singing, check. Fun costumes, check. Stanley Tucci as a manic and amusing stage manager, check. This movie looks like it will deliver exactly what it promises: lots of fun dance numbers. I've liked Aguilera's music since her debut album, but have been particularly fond of her after I saw an MTV segment during that same time period taking us behind the scenes of a music star-filled photo shoot. Off to one side, we can see a well known singer (I forget who) hitting on Aguilera while the cameras flash, and Aguilera just politely ignoring him and focusing on the shoot. Class act for a new singer. 144 cuts.
There is a sub-genre of party game in which each player gets to secretly pick their favorite something or other, and to guess what others will pick, and then your response is scored: you get more points for being in the majority of answers. E.g., What's your favorite color, and I answer yellow while four other players answer blue. I only get 1 point; all the other players each get 4 points. The problem is that a player's vote also doubles as their guess. My favorite color might be yellow, but that doesn't mean I think the group will favor yellow. If I know they will favor blue, then I should pick blue; but now I'm not indicating my own favorite color; and neither am I trying to guess what their favorite color is. Rather I'm trying to guess what most people are trying to guess. It's a silly system that just doesn't work. The simple answer: decouple the voting from the guessing.
In Easy A, Emma Stone pretends to be a floozie. It all starts when she helps her closeted friend stay in the closet by pretending to have sex with him while at a party. He can't keep his mouth shut, though, and soon all of geekdom is lining up at her door, offering her various forms of gift cards as payment to earn the right to say that they scored with her as well. The first exchange, with her friend, makes sense, because it's a very public display of their staged interlude. But how exactly do the lower castes benefit, when the availability of her services spreads faster than do the fabricated tales of conquest? (At one point, a boy she's genuinely interested in wants actual sex, and is willing to pay for it; apparently he didn't read the fine print.)
There's a large enough subset of the school population who actually believes the stories, though, to start an anti-Emma movement. Amanda Bynes leads a zealous prayer group that makes Christians look like they have nothing better to do than admonish their peers. Emma, for her part, is so thick skinned she embraces the slurs and manages to create an entire Scarlet Letter trollop costume in one night, which she proudly wears to school.
Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson steal the show as her always understanding, ultra-liberal parents. They could spin off into their own show. Their effervescent support leaves no doubt how Stone's ego could remain so intact in the face of criticism. Her English teacher, Thomas Hayden Church, though not particularly intrusive into her personal life, doesn't think it's healthy for her to flaunt her reputation as she does. But he has problems of his own, trying to rekindle the spark with his wife, Lisa Kudrow, the school's counselor.
Like with Scarlett Johansson, Emma Stone's husky voice sets her apart. Her every-girl persona is charming and fun to watch, but in general Easy A just stumbles along after establishing its premise. Is there some lesson Stone is meant to learn? I'm a big fan of teen-angst movies; Hollywood's melodrama is right at home when presented by a young cast. But in Easy A I kept hoping the kids would take a back seat to the more interesting adults.