Movies - Theaters postsSunday May 31, 2009
Before the Show at the Neptune
Theater: The Neptune
Screen: Just the one
Location: University District, Seattle
Built: In 1921
Operated: By the Landmark chain since 1981. Remodeled in 1994. The Landmark Web site still touts this, talking up the “ultra-comfy seats with cupholders” when, after 15 years, the seats ain’t all that comfy, while bragging about cupholders is like bragging about Dolby Digital. Which they also do.
I used to think: Landmark, which operates several of the better art-house theaters in Seattle, was local, but realized my error sometimes in the late 1990s. It’s based in L.A., and was owned by Texas-based Silver Cinemas International until, after filing for bankruptcy in 2001, the company sold the chain to Texas-based businessman, and Yahoo founder, Mark Cuban in 2003. According to its Web site, Landmark is “a vertically integrated group of media properties co-owned by Todd Wagner and Mark Cuban that also includes theatrical and home entertainment distribution company Magnolia Pictures...” Question: On a site supposedly for moviegoers, why use the compound adjective vertically integrated? Total turnoff. On the plus side, Magnolia Pictures has distributed some of the better foreign films and documentaries in recent years, including “Man on Wire,” “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” “Let the Right One In” and “Surfwise,” while Wagner/Cuban’s production company, 2929 Productions, helped make “Good Night, and Good Luck.”
Fond memories: When I first moved to Seattle in 1991 I lived two blocks away from the Neptune. Consequently I saw one of my first Seattle movies there (Todd Haynes’ “Poison”), along with probably the best double-feature I’ve ever seen (“Raging Bull” and “Goodfellas”). It’s where I realized that the Hong Kong craze had followed me from Taiwan (a packed house for Jackie Chan’s “Supercop” in 1993), and where I went with friends for the premiere of “Pulp Fiction” in October 1994. The line stretched around the block and we had to sit in the balcony. Fun.
Quirky details: The theater has a water theme, as befits its name, including stained-glass windows of a pagan nature. There's also a pitcher of water and dixie cups in the lobby for patrons. On the other hand: the concession stand is two steps from the box office, which creates a bit of a bottleneck as you’re trying to get in. But then it wouldn’t be Seattle if they didn’t sacrifice waiting needlessly for quirkiness.
Featured in: Cameron Crowe’s “Singles” (1992). Passing shot of the marquee during a montage of the city.
Seated: 4:23, seven minutes before scheduled showtime. No ads, just jazz playing. A rather loud boy keeps running away from his dad (or guardian) to the front row, which is way too close to the screen. I worry he’ll be a distraction during the movie but then think, “Well, it’s his movie more than mine.” Once the previews start I don’t hear a peep out of him.
- “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”: Looks darker than ever, doesn’t it? Same director as the last one (David Yates) and for the first time the sorcerers appear to be entering the world of the muggles (us). That intrigued me. Some of the dialogue didn’t. “You’re the chosen one, Harry.” “Don’t you know who you are?” “Fight back!” Etc. The religious right has a problem with “Harry Potter” but these films, and the many like them, really play into the right’s worldview. There’s uncompromising evil out there. We are the chosen ones. And we have to fight back. It’s all getting a little tiresome. And dangerous.
- “Ice Age Whatever”: Fox and Blue Sky Studios. Unlike the almost Looney-Tunes-ish short from a few weeks back, which I liked, this trailer gives us the usual pop cultural snippets: “Talk to the trunk,” etc. It’s all getting a little tiresome.
- “G Force”: Disney and Bruckheimer. Special-agent guinea pigs are let go by the government and wind up in a pet store.
- “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs”: Hapless youthful inventor creates something that makes it rain...food. Hamburgers. Spaghetti and meatballs. Pancakes and syrup.
- “X Games 3D”: Not a fan of X Games. Not a fan of 3-D. (It makes everything look smaller. It diminishes.) Pass.
- “Toy Story 3”: June 2010.
Ads: Zilch. Merci.
Before the Show at SIFF
Movie: “L'Heure d'ete”
Theater: SIFF Cinema
Location: Pres de le Space Needle et sous l’Opera de Seattle
Operating: Since March 1, 2007 when the long-standing Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF), coming off record attendance, opened a 400-seat theater at McCaw Hall. There’s stadium seating but the place has the air less of a movie theater and more of a lecture hall. Which it is: the Nesholm Family Lecture Hall. It reminded me a bit of the theater at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, but, as befits Seattle, it’s more cramped, more claustrophobic. But I like the long blue curtains that parted before the movie began. That’s a fading (almost completely dead) tradition I’ve always been fond of.
Just who is the Nesholm Family anyway? Current architects and scions of one of the founders of UPS, which was—I just learned—founded in Seattle in 1907.
Arrived: A little before 4:00. Had to wait a very long time in a very short line to get my reserved tickets. Next year I should volunteer.
Ads before scheduled showtime: Slides. A lot of ads for, mostly, local businesses, including Scarecrow Video (“over 100,000 titles and growing”), City Arts Magazine, Vulcan, Zone Perfect, the Space Needle, Don Q Puerto Rican Rum, Pacific Place, and the Wallace Foundation. Some of the ads were so graphic-design-oriented and content-free that it was difficult figuring out what they were advertising.
4:30: Justine, one of the program directors, welcomed us to the second day of the 35th annual film festival and thanked the day’s sponsors, including TV5Monde and the Consulate General of France. Yep. A long way from those awful Nintendo DSI ads.
4:32: Lights go down.
- An ad for SIFF and its 35th annual festival, using, cleverly, the no. 35: I.e., 35mm film, the average winter low in Seattle, etc. And if we donate $35 to SIFF we can become members of the 35 Club. Didn’t. Desole.
- A crude animation ad for City Arts Magazine.
- An ad for TV5 Monde. “...with the latest films, the biggest stars.” Can’t say that for Hollywood films anymore, can we? The latest films from Hollywood tend not to have big stars, just superheroes and robots.
- “Aide-Toi, le ciel t’aidera” (“Help Yourself and God Will Help You”—although it looks like its English title has been secularized to: “With a Little Help from Myself”). A character study about North Africans living in difficult circumstances in France. But with a lot of joy and hope, too. At least for the trailer.
That’s it? I usually think theaters overdo the trailers but SIFF is at the beginning of a festival, for which, for most moviegoers, it’s hard to sort through all the choices. Trailers would’ve helped here. I've already bought tickets for four films at the fest, but, if a trailer, or trailers, looked good, I would've bought more. Missed opportunity for both of us.
Movie starts: 4:38
Before the Show: May 15, 2009
Theater: AMC Loews Uptown 3
Screen: No. 1
Location: Lower Queen Anne
Operating: The Uptown was renovated in the early 1990s but that’s all I have on its history. It’s part of the AMC chain, but it’s an odd link in that chain. It usually plays small, independent films, or mid-range films, but occasionally it’ll show a big feature on opening weekend—as with “Angels & Demons.“ The place never seems crowded. Feels like it's dying. The 4:05, Friday showing of “A&D” had fewer than 16 people in an auditorium built for...300? Which doesn't bode well for either “A&D”’s box office or Uptown Cinema.
Arrived: 3:59 for a 4:05 show.
Ads before scheduled showtime:
- Something about ncm.com and a “red carpet” somethingorother for “Angels & Demons.” It's sad that this even exists.
- That Canon ad, quoting F. Scott Fitzgerald, to say that F. Scott Fitzgerald is no longer relevant in a world that has such great Canon cameras.
- TV ad for the movie “Year One.” Why put TV ads in the AMC Movie Watcher’s Network? Why not just show the “Year One” trailer once the lights go down?
- The History Channel presents snakes, crocodiles, deadly bugs, desperation. “And that’s just the first nine minutes.” Somewhere this appeals to someone.
- “Starfleet Recruiting Center”: Not sure what this is an ad for. “Star Trek”? Guy doesn’t want to get beamed down, keeps talking, gets beamed down, faints. It’s supposed to be funny but I bet three “Star Trek” nerds in a basement could come up with something funnier.
- So “Year One” is a trailer masquerading as an ad; this thing is an ad masquerading as a trailer. Starts out with that familiar logo and the words “This PREVIEW has been approved...” Thus, if you haven’t been paying attention, you pay attention. Oh, previews. An ominous voice intones, “There are some things in life best left forgotten.” Pause. “Your anniversary is not one of them.” Then dude has to rush to get his (incredibly hot) wife an anniversary present before she wakes up. I think it’s about a car but I just remember the wife.
- ABC’s “Wipeout,” which is apparently back for another season. Didn’t even know it’d been there for a first.
- A woman pruning her roses. Pricks finger. Looks around. Tastes the blood. Ad for HBO’s “True Blood” on DVD. Not bad.
- That Sprite ad. They had a good one (last year?) where sweaty guys in an inner city b-ball court dove into the court, which was a pool, to quench themselves. That was clever. This thing is just odd. The setting feels more European, a piazza almost, and here people run and jump into each other and then disappear in a spray that quenches the smiling faces below them. Pretty creepy, really. I can see wanting to jump into a pool. But why would you want to disappear in a spray-like burst of water (or Sprite) that wets your friends below you?
“You have been watching the AMC Movie Watchers Network”
Total: Nine ads in six minutes. And I only had to pay $9.50 for the privilege.Oops, they're not over. There's also the Sprint “chimp” ad, asking us to turn off our cells. Make that 10 ads. And now something about Glen Beck and fathom events. How about unfathomable events? 11 ads.
- “The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3”: I’m a fan of the original, so this hypercharged version, with cars crashing and malevolent, tattooed villains spouting threats, just makes me feel sad and wish for 1973 New York.
- “Julie & Julia”: With Meryl Streep as Julia Child. And Amy Adams as, apparently, the “Sex and the City” girl for whom life isn’t opening up, and so she opens up one of Julia Child's cookbooks. I’ll be interested to see how they meld the two stories but right now it looks fantastic. Particularly since I know so little of Julia Child's story. I guess I assumed she was always, well, Julia Child.
- ”Public Enemies.“ Everyone knows how I feel about Michael Mann so I’m already there. Love the shot of Johnny Depp, as John Dillinger, vaulting over the bank counter, machine gun in hand. Oh, Production Code, how you shudder in your grave.
- The Proposal”: Again. How many times have I seen this thing anyway?
- “My Sister’s Keeper”: “Most babies are accidents. Not me.” Interesting. Abigail Breslin plays a girl who was genetically engineered to keep her sister, ridden with leukemia, alive. But at 13 she rebels. She consults a lawyer. She wants a say in what happens to her body, and what parts are taken from her, even if it means her sister’s death. As a result, the family—with parents Cameron Diaz and Jason Patric—is torn apart. We get scenes of them fighting. Then Abigail's voice over again... “But somehow the very things that tore us apart, brought us together—in ways we could never imagine.” And there they are, hugging, etc. Must be tough to do trailers these days. They’re designed to tell us some aspect of the plot of the movie, which is to say its conflict. But if the conflict is perceived to be a downer, as this one is, as the new Adam Sandler movie is, they have to let us know the resolution to that conflict. So, in his movie, Sandler may not be dying, and Breslin’s stand may bring her family closer together. Which leaves us what in the actual movie? What’s left to watch?
“Please don’t spoil the movie by adding your own soundtrack.”
Movie actually begins: Forgot to check the watch. Apologies.
Before the Show: May 8, 2009
Screen: Just the one
Location: Downtown Seattle
Operating: Since January 24, 1963 (four days after I was born) as Seattle’s Martin Cinerama, and retrofitted with 70mm projectors six months later. Big movies went out of style by the end of the decade, and the last of the 70mm films, “Krakatoa, East of Java,” played in 1969. By the mid-1990s there was talk of turning the Cinerama, now a gigantic second-run theater, into a dinner theater or a climbing club, when Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who had fond memories of watching movies there as a kid, bought it for $3.75 million in February 1998, renovated it, and reopened it in March 1999. Ever since, particularly when a blockbuster movie opens, it’s the place to go in Seattle.
Seated: 3:40, 20 minutes before scheduled showtime. No ads. No music. Just people-watching. God, how refreshing.
4:00: The long, light-purple curtains part, the place gets dark, the crowd erupts into cheers and applause.
- “Up”: I hope Pixar shows everyone up again. Looks great, looks funny, looks fun. Several scenes in the trailer made me laugh out loud.
- “Terminator: Salvation”: It’s taking human prisoners. It’s replicating human tissue. One wonders at what point in the movie Marcus Wright sees that he’s not human. Half an hour in? Forty-five minutes? One wonders at what point he says to John Connor, “I’m the only hope you have.” An hour? More? How much of the movie do we now know because of this trailer?
- “Angels & Demons”: Again. How many times have I seen this trailer now? I don't even hear the opera music at the end anymore.
- “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra”: First time for this one, and I was immediately turned off by the destruction of the Eiffel Tower at the beginning. When they blew up the White House in “Independence Day” back in ’96, yeah, that worked. Post-9/11? I’m not into it. But wait! A team is being assembled. And look! They walk toward the camera in slow-motion. And listen! One of them says, “When all else fails, we don’t.” God, how awful. No mention of the title until the end, when it provoked laughter from this “Star Trek” crowd.
- “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”: Wouldn’t “Rise of the Fallen” be cooler? Whatever. Apparently Shia LeBeouf is at college now, and he’s seeing symbols, like a saner John Nash, and they have to mean something, and it all feels a little “National Treasure”-ish. And then Megatron wants... And then Optimus says... Are we really going here, America? Please say no. You know what would make an interesting movie? How does Shia LeBeouf keep Megan Fox as his girlfriend without a bunch of giant machines distracting everyone from the fact that they have nothing in common? I might go see that one.
Movie starts: 4:12. Not a single ad! Thank you, Paul Allen. You old nerd, you.
Before the Show: 5-1-09
Theater: Meridian 16
Screen: No. 13 (third floor)
Location: Downtown Seattle
Chain: Regal Entertainment Group, which, according to their Web site, operates “6,773 screens in 549 theatres in 39 states and the District of Columbia as of April 2, 2009.” That’s a helluva screen-to-theater ratio. REG’s corporate offices are in Knoxville, Tennessee, on their own street: 7132 Regal Lane.
Operating: The Meridian? Since December 4, 1996. But when it switched hands from Cineplex Odeon to Regal, I have no idea.
Arrived: 3:49, six minutes before scheduled showtime.
Before the scheduled showtime:
Unlike AMC theaters, which offers moviegoers (or demands moviegoers watch) “The AMC Movie Watchers Network” before scheduled showtimes, Regal Cinemas, at least at the Meridian, offers (or demands) music and slideshow. The music is generally slow hip-hop and pop (what a nice man Nat King Cole is to keep singing songs with his daughter!), while the slideshow includes overt ads (a fizzing Coke with the line “Thinkin’ About It?”) and subtle ads (How the makers of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” worked with Levi Strauss Co. to get the right vintage clothes). There are ads to advertise during the slideshow, ads to rent the theater, ads for Regal Gift Cards, and “Know Your Ratings” promos. The movie-related quizzes (“Who said...?”) are often nothing quotes from movies that haven’t opened yet. (I.e., ads.) Yesterday we got “Live long and prosper,” which, while it’s from a movie that hasn’t opened yet (“Star Trek”), at least has the advantage of being famous.
3:55: Slideshow ends, video ads begin.
- Nintendo DSI ad with the elephant man/teenager. A sad commentary on what we think is funny.
- Canon HD Camcorder using a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Tender is the Night” to demonstrate how images have now surpassed words. A sad commentary on what we think of words.
- “Year One,” the TV ad
- “Expedition Africa” on the History Channel
- “Wipeout” on ABC
- Sprite ad
- Sprint chimp ad
- “Ice Age”: An extended, funny scene that gives away nothing of the plot and kind of makes me want to see the movie. It has a Road Runner/Wiley E. Coyote vibe to it. It’s also less trailer than cartoon short. Appreciated.
- “District 9”: The most interesting trailer of the bunch — for the audience reaction if nothing else. It begins documentary-style with people complaining about new immigrants: “Why do they have to live here?” You get shots of slums. It feels like an independent film, all liberal and shit, and you can almost feel the audience slumping in their chairs. Then we see the immigrants. They’re extraterrestrials. Boom! To a man, everyone sits up straighter and shuts up.
- “Funny People”: I want to see this new Judd Apatow movie but I hope they haven’t given away too much here. From the trailer we know: It’s about a friendship between two comedians, one rising (Rogen) one established and a movie star (Sandler). But wait: the established comedian is dying. But wait: he might be beating it. And from the experience he realizes how precious life is. And there’s a girl he loves. OK... so how much of the story is left?
- “Terminator: Salvation”: Wake me when it’s over. The whole thing. This whole franchise.
- “Night at the Museum” sequel: He's at the Smithsonian now, which allows more mingling of high and low culture: Amelia Earhart and Darth Vader. We also get miniature Albert Einsteins looking like the California Raisins and singing K.C. and the Sunshine Band songs. We want our geniuses funky in this country. Or the butt of jokes. Or both. Like here.