Sunday, October 2, 2011

Irish Cops and Portuguese Lovers

For reasons which are not clear to me, I've been going to Landmark Cinemas quite a bit in 2011 compared to previous years. In many ways, Landmark is old school regarding tickets. It's owned by Mark Cuban who put it up for sale earlier this year. I don't know the status of the sale but I know the Landmark website looks a little dated.

I have been using Discount Cards which are five admissions for $40. The cards cannot be used on Friday and Saturday nights. The cards are a piece of thick paper with perforations. Each time you use the card, the box office employee tears off one of the perforations. The system worked fine for me although there were times I wanted to see something on Friday or Saturday night. Regular prices for evening screenings are $10.50 and matinees are $8.25. Frequently, I'd use the discount cards for evening screenings only to get a bigger savings. If I went to a matinee, I'd pay full price ($8.25). The Discount Cards expire six months after they are sold. Sometimes, as I approached the six month mark, I'd use the card to see a matinee or a film I didn't really want to see.

On a visit to the Embaracdero Center Cinemas a couple months ago, they had a handwritten sign at the box office advertising their Gold Tickets, Gold Book or Gold Cards. These Gold Tickets were sold in increments of 25 at $7.75 per admission or $193.75 for 25. I chatted with the box office employee and he said the Gold Tickets could be used for all performances including Friday and Saturday nights. Also, they had no expiration dates. The Discount Cards could only be used for two admissions per screening whereas the Gold Tickets could be used in any increment. He pointed to a group milling about the lobby and said they just bought one and used it for 17 or 18 admissions for a screening about to start. The only restriction was an occasional film which did not allow discount cards. He said the only film he could remember in the past year or so which was restricted in that manner was Terrence Malick's Tree of Life.

Based on this information, my increased patronage and the knowledge I could get 1% cash back on my credit card purchases ($7.67 per screening!), I purchased a Gold Book recently. It's old school too - 25 small piece of paper stapled together with perforations at the top of each page. Tear off a page or ticket and submit it to the box office for admission.

The reason I mention all this is because I can't find either mentioned on the Landmark Theater website - no mention of the $40 discount cards or the $193.75 Gold Books.


In the past month, I saw two films at the Embardero Center Cinemas:

The Guard starring Brendan Gleeson & Don Cheadle; (2011) - Official Website
Mysteries of Lisbon; Portuguese & French with subtitles; (2010) - Official Website

The Guard is a comedy about a small town Irish cop (Garda
for those familiar with Irish law enforcment). Brendan Gleeson plays Sergeant Gerry Boyle. Sgt. Boyle enjoys a pint of ale, pharmaceuticals and the services of prostitutes. He sees no reason to keep his recreational habits a secret...I guess there are no secrets in small towns. Don Cheadle plays FBI agent Wendell Everett, an American heading up an international drug task force which has indications that a major drug shipment is coming ashore in the small town Boyle polices.

The film is set up as a cop buddy movie as well as stranger in a strange land. Everett is a straight-laced, by-the-book cop who is in disbelief of some of Boyle's behavior. The film also makes clear that small town folks in Ireland don't like outsiders, particularly English speakers and Yanks. Everett could benefit from a little more blarney whereas Boyle probably committed career suicide by adhering to his picaresque lifestyle.

On the other side of the ledger are a trio of ruthless, Nietzsche quoting, introspective drug dealers (Mark Strong, Liam Cunningham & David Wilmot). One is weary of the job, on is more committed and other is a sociopath. The film sounds very dark and it broaches some serious subject - Boyle's mother is dying and a fellow cop is killed leaving Boyle to deal with the widow. However, the film is a comedy through and through. Anti-Irish, anti-American and gallows humor permeate the film. Several scenes stand out in my memory - Boyle drinking a milkshake while declining a bribe, Boyle mistaking the cop's widow for a prostitute and Boyle's initial meeting with Everett. I thoroughly enjoyed The Guard.


Mysteries of Lisbon allows me to digress some more. When I was in high school (a public school, mind you), I recall my English teacher giving some context to the works of Charles Dickens before we embarked on Oliver Twist. She said that Dickens published his works serially in newspapers or literary anthologies. As a result, he was paid by the word or chapter length. As such, he frequently had to pad out the chapters or the entire novel to 1) fulfill his contractual obligations and/or 2) maximize his income. It took more than two years to publish Oliver Twist. This fact explains a lot about Dickens' writing style.

The reason I mentioned this is because Mysteries of Lisbon is described as a cross between Dickens and Victor Hugo. I doubt Mysteries of Lisbon was required to be a certain length but I'm not sure how else to explain the 4 hours and 40 minutes of runtime (including a 10 minute intermission). An employee of the theater introduced the film before it started and mentioned the length. Several audience members let out audible signs of disbelief and surprise. At the intermission, several people left and did not return. I saw the 7:30 PM screening and around midnight more people left before the film was complete. I suspect they were worried about missing the last East Bay BART train. The film let out around 12:15 AM and I strolled to the Embarcadero BART station (knowing Peninsula bound trains run until nearly 1 AM). Not more than 5 minutes after I got to the platform, the last East Bay train was pulling into the station.

I'm not going to go over the plot of Mysteries of Lisbon. It's a bit of a roundelay as each character experiences love (or unrequited love), jealousy and death. Let's see if I can name all the characters this happens to - a beautiful Countess, her true love, her husband (not her true love), the priest who gives her shelter, the monk at the monastery where she becomes a nun, an assassin who killed her love and took pity on her infant son, her son and the assassin's lover. I may have missed a few. As a young man, the monk cuckolded an aristocrat who sounded like Sean Connery speaking Portuguese.

There was a definite similarity to each story. As each character launched into their story, the audience responded with knowing laughter. Many of the scenes appeared to be on the same set - doors at the right and left of the room and the action taking place in the middle. As each character made the same or similar mistake as one of the others, the point was driven home. Also, even though each character had a secret, there were no secrets as there was always someone outside the door listening. Many times, the camera angle made the theater audience the eavesdropper. The film moved backward and forward in time as flashback scenes unfolded - plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

At two hours, the film was kind of fun; at three hours, it was pretentious; at four hours, it was arduous. I stuck it out because I wondered how they were going to wrap things up.

I can think of better ways to spend 4.5 hours than Mysteries of Lisbon but the film is not completely without merit. The performances of Adriano Luz as the priest, Ricardo Pereira as the assassin and Clotilde Hesme as his lover were colorful and multifaceted. Like a "good" trashy novel, I became engrossed in the liaisons and revenge plots. Although anathema to admit, Mysteries of Lisbon is one of those films that is better on a DVD or streaming so that one can digest it in serial format (like Dickens).


The recently departed Red Vic Movie House is holding a "final" poster sale on Saturday, October 8 from 1 PM to 5 PM.

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