Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 By the Numbers

Refreshing a post from early 2010, I summarize my 2011 theater going experiences below.

I saw 406 "films" on a theater screen in 2011. This compares to 382 "films" in 2010. For these purposes, a film is not just a feature length film but also includes programs (typically from film festivals) which consist of multiple short films. If it was categorized as a single program in a festival guide, it counts as one film entry on my list. Conversely, I saw several programs which consisted of a short film and a feature length film. For my counting purposes, those are counted a single film entry.


The top 10 venues in which I saw films in 2011 were:

1) Castro Theater (102 films) - 19 films at the 2011 Noir City and 12 films at the 2011 San Francisco Silent Film Festival. While these numbers are comparable to their 2010 coutnerparts, I went to the Castro for their regular or house programming more frequently in 2011 than 2010. I was frequently in attendance at the Cary Grant and Pedro Almodóvar retrospectives.

2) Roxie Theater (78 films) - 23 films as part of their 2011 I Wake Up Dreaming series, 11 films at 2011 Another Hole in the Head and 10 films at the 2011 Docfest.

3) Pacific Film Archive (58 films) - 11 films from the Japanese Divas series, 7 films from the Jeanne Moreau series, 7 films from the 1970s Cinema series and 7 films from the Southern Discomfort series.

4) New People/Viz/SFFS Cinema (27 films) - 6 films at French Cinema Now, 5 films at the Classic Summer Weekends Japanese film series, 4 films at the Hong Kong Cinema Series and 4 films at Taiwan Film Days.

5) Camera Cinemas (24 films) - 22 films at the Camera 12 and 2 films at the Camera 3. Of the 22 films at the Camera 12, 14 films were part of 2011 Cinequest and 8 films were part of the 2011 San Francisco International Asian American Films Fesatival (SFIAAFF).

6) Landmark Theaters (23 films) - six films at Embarcadero Center Cinemas, four at the Clay (all from the 2011 SFIAAFF), four at the Bridge, three at Berkeley Shattuck and the remainders at the Lumiere, Opera Plaza, Berkeley California and Palo Alto Aquarius.

7) Kabuki Cinemas (21 films) - 16 films were part of the 2011 SFIAAFF and five films were part of the 2011 San Francisco International Film Festival.

8) 4 Star (13 films) - six films at the Asian Movie Madness series. Not included in the 13 is the film (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) I saw at the Presidio which is affiliated with the 4 Star.

9) Vogue and Balboa (9 films each) - all nine films at the Vogue were part of the 2011 Mostly British Film Series. All the Balboa films were programmed by the Balboa staff. It's appropriate I saw an equal number of films at these two theaters since the Balboa came under the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation (SFNTF) aegis this year. SFNTF owns and operates the Vogue.

Tied for the 11th place were Stanford and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts with 8 films each.


The top three venues (Castro, Roxie & PFA) remained the same from 2010 although the order was rearranged in 2011.

The 4th place venue (Viz) remained the same as 2010.

Camera Cinemas vaulted into the top 10 (at #5) in 2011 as a result of my going to Cinequest and the San Jose screenings of SFIAAFF.

Camera Cinemas pushed the Landmark Theaters down one spot to #6 in 2011.

The Kabuki and 4 Star swapped relative positions. They came in at #7 and #8 in 2011 vs. #7 and #6 in 2010, respectively.

The Red Vic dropped off the list in 2011. I saw three films there in 2011 before it closed in July

The Vogue cracked the top ten (#9) in 2011 as a result of my attending the Mostly British Film Festival.

The YBCA and Stanford tied for 9th in 2010 and coincidentally tied for 11th in 2011.

The Balboa moved from #11 in 2010 to #9 in 2010.


On 246 days in 2011, I saw at least one film.

My maximum was four films during a single day. I did that eight times in 2011. The first time was in February when I saw three films at the Silent Film Festival's Winter Event and then caught a midnight screening (Nude Nuns With Big Guns) at Indiefest. Five of the eight days were in March when I went to quadruple bills at Cienquest (2 days) and SFIAAFF (3 days). In July, I went to four films on the Saturday and Sunday of the SF Silent Film Festival.

On 16 days, I saw three films. On 100 days, I saw two films. On 122 days, I saw one film.


I still track how much I spend on admission but it's getting difficult to boil everything into one number. Charitable donations and prepayments mean that I paid for some 2011 films in 2010 and incurred costs in 2011 for films I plan to see in 2012.

The cumulative 2010 and 2011 average is $8.49 per admission but that is almost certainly overstated as I have not accounted for the tax deductions I enjoyed and am sitting on a modest stockpile of Landmark Theater Gold Books which will yield savings in 2012 and perhaps beyond.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Gold Arbitrage and I'm Getting Tired of Writing About This

Little did I know that a passing comment about how many cinema discount cards I have could be mined for so many posts...

On Christmas Day, I decided to drive down to San Jose to see Christmas in the Park. What is Christmas in the Park? According to their FAQ, "Each year, the two-acre Plaza De Cesar Chavez is transformed into a holiday fantasy with over 60 musical and animated exhibits, glittering lights and the 60-foot Community Giving Tree. Some of the original displays housed in one of the largest exhibits, the Lima Train, include a melting snowman, caroling mice and elf woodcrafters."

I've long wanted to see what the hullabaloo was all about. It's kind of interesting but I'm getting too old (in chronological age and spirit) to enjoy Xmas extravaganzas like Christmas in the Park. Still, I'm glad I checked it off my To Do list.

Aware that Christmas in the Park is within walking distance of the Camera Cinemas, I took the opportunity to see Sholem Aleichem. Further attempting to make the most of my drive, I timed it so I could swing by the Landmark Aquarius in Palo Alto to see The Descendants on the drive back.

Since discovering the Aquarius is around the corner from the Stanford, I've wanted to stop in to see what the theater is like. Not sure when a theater will close its doors permanently, I'm inclined to see a film in a new theater to see it while I can. The Aquarius has a ocean motif although the name was probably influenced by the hippies. Built in 1969, the Aquarius may be referring to the era or Age of Aquarius. Unlike the Stanford (44 years its senior), the Aquarius has about as much character as the twin screen theaters that would be built in the 1970s. It does have the underwater murals but beyond that, the design is less than utilitarian.

The theater (I was in the #2 auditorium, I believe) is long and narrow. There is a central aisle with three or four seats on the left and right. There are about 70 or 80 rows of seats. The theater seems to have been built to fit the space of the lot. The floor is raked so for me the best spot was about halfway down. Beyond that, the theater didn't have much going for it.

Looking to buy another Gold Book, I asked to purchase one. The cashier charged me $181.25 or $7.25 per admission. I was a surprised by the price since they sell for $193.75 or $7.75 per admission at the San Francisco Landmark Theaters. After the film, I confirmed they were valid at all the Bay Area Landmark Theaters and purchased another Gold Book. So if you are ever in Palo Alto, you may want to buy your discount books down there. I'm not sure if they sell at the same price at the nearby Guild Theater in Menlo Park.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Gold (Book) Rush

In my last post, I mentioned Landmark Theaters Gold Books. As if on cue, I was informed today of an upcoming change in the Landmark Theaters admission policy.

When I went to see Shame earlier today, I redeemed a Gold Book ticket for admission. The cashier told me that the Gold Books are being discontinued soon. They will be replaced by "Platinum Books" and will cost more. The cashier was a light on hard information such as when the Gold Books will be discontinued or how much the Platinum Books will cost but I was able to pin him down on one salient fact. The Gold Books will continue to be honored even after they stop selling them. With that nugget of information, I purchased an additional Gold Book at $193.75 even though I had more than 15 redemptions left on my Gold Book. I may go back and get myself a few more.


Long, long ago, I received a pass for one admission from the Chistopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael. I've only gone there for the Mill Valley Film Festival. The regular film programming at the Smith Rafael largely mirrors that which is available in the City. Given the $5 Golden Gate Bridge toll, I've been reluctant to drive up there to see something I could see in the City. However, this week, the Smith Rafael is screening a restored version of Charlie Chaplin's The Gold Rush (1925) which I don't see screening anywhere else. Given that the pass expires on January 31, 2012, I'll probably make my way up to San Rafael to see The Gold Rush which serendipitously is a film I have not seen before. It's fallen through the cracks of two Chaplin retrospectives in the Bay Area in the past few years.

The Gold Rush plays at 4:30 PM and 6:30 PM daily until Thursday, December 29. On Xmas day, there is only a 4:30 screening.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Gift of Discounted Admission

As a service and in response to a few conversations, I decided to list film theater admission price discounts in the Bay Area.

The 4 Star sells six film discount cards for $40 which works out to $6.67 per admission. That compares to their regular admission price of $10 and $8 for bargain matinees, seniors and children. The discount card can only be used for one admission at a time. Also, it is supposed to be used only once per day but I've used mine twice in a day. I cannot recall if the card expires and I don't have it near me. The card is good for all shows. The 4 Star discount card cannot be used at the Marina or Presidio theaters which are also owned by the Lee family. I know the Presidio has its own discount card (5 films for $40). I've never been to the Marina Theater and cannot tell from the website if there is a Marina discount card. I'm certain the 4 Star is cash only; not sure about the Presidio or Marina.


The Balboa sells a five film discount card for $37.50 which is $7.50 per admission. That compares to their regular admission price of $10 regular admission and $7.50 for bargain matinees, seniors and children. The discount card can be used for two admissions at a time. The card is good for all showings. The discount cards can also be used for the ballets and operas the Balboa broadcasts. However, the ballet & opera admission requires two punches on the discount card which is a $5 saving to the $20 admission price. Also, the Balboa allows free admission on your birthday. The discount card expires six months after purchase. The Balboa is cash only.


The Camera Cinemas in San Jose and Los Gatos sells a ten film discount card for $60.00 which is $6 per admission. That compares to a regular admission price of $10.50 (Camera 12/Camera 7) or $10 (Camera 3/Los Gatos), student/senior/children/matinee admission price of $7.50 (Camera 12/Camera 7) or $7 (Camera 3/Los Gatos) and a bargain matinee price of $5 (all locations). The discount card is good for all Camera locations and all showings except after 6 PM on Saturdays. The discount card can be used for two admissions at a time. There is no expiration date on the discount card. The Camera Cinemas accept credit cards so if you have a cashback credit card, you can get further savings.


The Roxie Theater does not sell a discount card. It used to but does not anymore (presumably after the Stattons took over management). On Mondays, the admission price is $6.50 which compares to their admission price of $10 regular admission, $7 for bargain matinee and $6.50 for seniors and children. The Roxie is cash only although you can buy tickets on-line through their website with a credit card for a $2 service fee.


The Stanford Theater sells a 4 film discount card for $24.00 which is $6 per admission. There is no expiration date on the discount card. That compares to their regular admission price of $7 regular admission and $5 for seniors and children. The Stanford is cash only.


The New People (Viz)/San Francisco Film Society (SFFS) Screen does not sell a discount card. You can purchases an annual SFFS membership for as little as $60 (not tax deductible). At higher membership levels, SFFS membership is partially tax deductible. Membership entitles you to a $2 discount on admission. The general admission price is $11 vs. the member admission price of $9. Seniors/Students/Disabled are charged $10 admission. SFFS membership also gives discounts for tickets to the San Francisco International Film Festival and the SFFS Fall Season Film Series. The discount varies depending on the screening; most are a $2 discount vs. general admission but the discount is larger for opening night and special screenings which cost more.

The SFFS also sells a 10 film Cinevoucher which is can be redeemed for tickets to most festival screenings and regular screenings at the SFFS Screen at New People. The general price for a Cinevoucher is $125; the member price is $105. At first look that doesn't make sense for SFFS screenings. If the member admission is $9; why use a Cinevoucher if the effective cost is $10.50 per admission? The answer is service fees. If you buy on-line, you are assessed a service fee or ticketing fee of $1.50 per ticket. The member on-line purchase price is $9 + $1.50 = $10.50. The Cinevoucher redemptions are exempt from service fees. The Cinevouchers do not expire. SFFS accepts credit cards.

My strategy for SFFS is to flash my membership card at the box office to get the discount when I go to their regular screenings which rarely sell out. I redeem Cinevouchers on-line for the applicable festival screenings (which frequently sell out or go to rush). If you are hard core about optimizing your costs, I recommend loading up on Cinevouchers as your membership expires. You can buy up to 10 Cinevouchers (100 admission vouchers) per transaction. Let the membership lapse and remain inactive until you run out of Cinevouchers at which time you renew your membership.


The PFA does not sell discount cards. You can buy a $50 annual membership which entitles you to a $4 discount on one screening per day. The regular price is $9.50 and the member price is $5.50. There are a bunch of other discounts for Cal students, Cal staff & faculty, seniors, disabled, non-Cal students, etc. If you buy a ticket, you can buy another ticket to the second half of the double feature (if it is a double feature) for $4. Everyone pays $4 for the 2nd film so there is no discount or benefit for being a member w.r.t the 2nd film admission price. The PFA accepts credit cards.

The $50 membership is tax deductible. In addition, the membership entitles one to free admission at the Berkeley Art Museum, discounts at the museum store and free admission at a number of reciprocal university art museums including the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford. Recently, members began receiving discounts through the PFA's East Bay Discount Club. All the participating retailers are located in the East Bay.

Last year, PFA had a membership sale where they allowed members to extend their membership for $40 per year. I took them up on that so my two year membership which expires in July 2012 was $90. I wish I would have bought two or three additional years because they didn't repeat that promotion this year.


The YBCA does not sell discount cards, per se. They sell annual membership for as little as $65 (fully tax deductible). General admission is $8 and the member price is $6. YBCA membership also includes discounts to gallery admission and other performances. The YBCA accepts credit cards.

The YBCA does have what they call "discount cards" which is more like a rewards card. At no cost, you can ask for a discount card (no expiration date) which you present each time you purchase a ticket. They punch a hole in the card for each ticket purchase. After six punches, your next purchase is free. I'm not sure if they punch the card when you buy on-line. On several occasions, they were out of the cards at the box office.


I previously mentioned the Landmark Theaters' discounted tickets. Summarizing the two types of discounted tickets:

1) Gold Book or Gold Cards which are sold in increments of 25 admissions for $193.75 or $7.75 per admission. There are no restrictions on time of use or expiration date. They can be used in any increment; i.e. one to 25 admissions at the time of redemption.

2) Discount Cards which are sold in increments of 5 admissions for $40 or $8 per admission. The Landmark Discount Cards are on good all day on Sundays through Thursdays and before 6 PM on Fridays & Saturdays. The Discount Card can only be redeemed at one or two admissions at a time. In other words, if there were three people, you would need two Discount Cards to cover the three people. Also, the Discount Cards expire six months after purchase.

The Gold Book and Discount Cards compare to a regular admission price of $10.50 general admission and $8 for matinees, seniors, children and students. The student discount is only good for Monday through Thursday. Landmark Theaters accept credit cards. The Gold Book and Discount Cards are redeemable at all Bay Area Landmark Theaters. I don't think they are valid nationwide as Landmark ticket prices vary among different markets.

Separate from this discount system, Landmark Theaters offers a free Film Club Rewards Card. You present the card prior to ticket purchase or Gold Book/Discount Card redemption. The cashier scans it and your account is credited with the number of admissions you purchased or redeemed. For every nine admissions credited to your Film Club Rewards account, you receive a free admission which is equivalent to a 10% discount. Combined with the Gold Book, if you are diligent about presenting your Film Club Rewards Card, you receive at least 27 admissions for $193.75 or $7.18 per admission. You have to spread it out over 9 Gold Books to realize the full 10% discount.

The nice part of Landmark Theaters Film Club Rewards Card is that if you forget to or cannot give the cashier the card at the time of purchase, you go on-line to credit your account. Each ticket issued by Landmark has a unique ID code which you enter to credit your account if needed. Each month there is a concession reward as well which entitles the card holder to discounted or free concessions.

Similar to the Gold Book and Discount Cards, the Landmark Theaters Film Club Rewards Card is not accepted at all locations nationwide.


That only leaves the major chains such as AMC, Cinemark and Regal which are the three largest. All of them sell discounted tickets and have rewards clubs. I've never availed myself to them because I go so infrequently. I do have a Regal Crown Club Reward Card because the nearest movie theater to my father's house is a Regal. However, on recent visits we've been going to a Century Cinema which I haven't bothered to get a rewards card for. Having never reached a rewards level at Regal, I cannot recall what the rewards are. The first few rewards levels are for concessions; it's not until later that a free admission is part of the reward.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Balboa Theater Fundraiser

I dropped by the fundraiser for the Balboa Theater last night.

A few tidbits I learned were:

The Balboa's facade is being refurbished starting today. The scaffolding should be up by the end of the day. The Balboa received a grant from the City to do the work but had to supplement it with donated funds.

Eddie Muller was there and announced that Angie Dickinson would be a guest at the upcoming Noir City (January 20 to 29). Tonight is the Noir City kickoff at the Castro featuring a Deanna Durbin double feature, the unveiling of the full film lineup and more.

The Balboa, stealing a page from the Stanford playbook, will screen It's a Wonderful Life on December 23 and 24.

It was confirmed that The Mostly British Film Festival will take place at the Vogue in February.

Gary Meyer confirmed that the annual Oscar telecast and Balboa birthday party will take place as usual. He even announced the silent film for the birthday party but I cannot recall it.

There are newly installed space heaters at the Balboa.

At the end of the evening, Gary praised the Roxie Theater for the courageousness of their film programming.


As for the fundraiser, I would deem it a success. My estimate would put the total attendance at approximately 100 people. The fundraiser consisted of a $35 admission fee and the auctioning of several cinema and Sutro Baths related items. Most of the items were auctioned via silent auction but some of the big ticket items were auctioned Storage Wars style although no one was a boisterous as Dave Hester. The competition for a few items was intense. The live auction generated at least $4,000 as quadruple digit bids were accepted on a SF Giants tickets & autographed memorabilia package and private screenings at the Balboa or Vogue. For my part, I was the winner for three autographed books by Emily W. Leider - biographies of Myrna Loy, Mae West and Rudolph Valentino.

In addition, they screened a 12 minute documentary called "Then and Now" about old movie houses in SF. Gary emceed most of the evening but was assisted by some SF Neighborhood Theater Foundation Board members. After an intermission, Gary screened a short film which he thought would get a Academy Award nomination. I can't recall the name and walked in halfway through.

The evening ended with Gary Meyer discussing films and actors which he thought had strong chances to get Academy Award nominations. The Descendants, The Artist, My Week With Marilyn, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, We Need to Talk About Kevin and others were discussed and/or their trailer was shown. Meryl Streep's turn as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady was among the strong field of potential Best Actress nominees.

Gary also talked up two soon-to-be-released features, The Flower of War, a Yimou Zhang film starring Christian Bale and A Separation, an Iranian film.

Although schedule for 7 to 9 PM, I didn't get out of there until after 9:45. I didn't realize how tired I was until I woke this morning. Jostling with the crowds in the lobby during the silent auction and trying to get to the open bar/buffet table was exhausting.

The crowd was a little different. It definitely didn't seem like a film festival crowd. A man sitting behind me had no idea what "film noir" meant. The crowd was largely white and older although the $1,000+ bids were submitted by younger looking audience members.

The audience treated Gary Meyer with a mixture of adulation and reverence. From the way Gary spoke, it seems like he is going to continue playing a significant role at the Balboa for the foreseeable future. I left the Balboa unclear as to how or if the Vogue and Balboa's operations would be combined or coordinated. The Balboa seemed very much like it was still Gary's baby except it is being operated under a nonprofit umbrella now. My guess is that fundraisers will become a routine event at the Balboa.

At the silent auction, there were three original Sutro Baths signs which I coveted. Quickly, bidding escalated to the point which I was hesitant to trump the bid. When they closed the silent auction, I was trying to work up enough courage to snipe the Grand Opening sign. I have a bit of remorse today that I didn't "pull the trigger."

Among the local cinematic luminaries in the crowd were Eddie Muller, Judy Wyler Sheldon and John Stanley. When I paid for my auction items, John Stanley was standing behind me in line so he could pay for his merchandise. The young lady processing the payments had no idea who John Stanley was; she even made him spell his name. It reminds me of the time I was at the Muni Museum on Spear. Some tourists came in and asked the cashier who Herb Caen is. The young man was befuddled by the question. After fumbling for an answer, he responded "Does he play for the 49ers?" I think Caen would have liked that story maybe even included it in the three dot lounge...

Monday, December 5, 2011

Whofore Art Thou and The Time of Your Life

I stopped by the 4 Star to catch a double feature yesterday.

Anonymous starring Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave & Joely Richardson; directed by Roland Emmerich; (2011) - Official Website
In Time starring Justin Timberlake & Amanda Seyfried; directed by Andrew Niccol; (2011) - Official Website


Anonymous tells the oft debated "authorship question" with respect to William Shakespeare's works. I was familiar with the suspicions surrounding Shakespeare from an ACT production of The Beard of Avon from 2002. In a nutshell, there are many pieces of circumstantial evidence which would indicate that Shakespeare was not the author of the works attributed to him. These include his education, the mundane language used in his self-written will and his daughters' illiteracy. Speculation about the true authorship of Shakespeare's works focuses on Sir Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe & Edward de Vere. Anonymous goes with the theory that de Vere was the true author.

The political intrigue around Queen Elizabeth I serves as the backdrop for de Vere's nom de plume. Although a fan of conspiracy theories as well as this specific one, I found Anonymous surprisingly uncompelling. The political maneuvering of the Elizabethan court left me uninterested. The film also used a flashback device which I found confusing at times.

The performances were impressive at times including Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Elizabeth, Sebastian Armesto as Ben Johnson, Rhys Ifans as de Vere and Jamie Campbell Bower as young de Vere.


In Time is a nice science fiction film. The premise is that human have been genetically engineered to stop aging at age 25. At that point, they must earn time in order to live which is the currency of the land. They are given one year at age 25 but everything such as groceries, bus fare, etc. costs time. Poor people are working day to day literally. If they run out of time, they die or "time out." Time remaining is conveniently displayed on an implant on one's forearm.

As you can imagine, this sets up many potential plot lines. Wealthy people have centuries on their forearm. It is easy to steal time (one simply grabs another's forearm and flip it over to take the other person's time). Also, since people stop aging, it is impossible to tell someone's age by appearance. Justin Timberlake plays Will Salas, a poor but hard working & honest guy from the "wrong time zone." Olivia Wilde, 3 years younger than Timbelake, plays his mother in a small role. It is her death combined with a chance encounter with a wealthy but suicidal man that sends on his journey.

That journey is ill defined at the start but moving several time zone to the ritzy New Greenwich puts Will in the big leagues. He encounters Philippe Weis at a Texas Hold'em match and takes him for millennium pot. Weis is an über-wealthy time lender with a rebllious and beautiful daughter, Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried). Quickly, Will & Sylvia become attracted to each other. Raymond Leon(Cillian Murphy), a timekeeper (aka cop) investigating the death of the 100 year old man Will encountered to get his first century, arrests Will on suspicion of murder. Will kidnaps Sylvia to make his escape.

Although initially hostile, when the rich girl sees how the other side lives, she quickly buys into Will's evolving plan which seems to be Bonnie & Clyde meets Robin Hood. The two start robbing time banks and distributing the time to the poor. Will has gone up against the world's financial system. Wealthy and powerful people need the poor to always be short on time to exploit them for their own profit and immortality. Using spectacularly monopolistic price fixing, the powerful simply increase interest rates and the price of goods and service such that the time Will has given for free is devalued. How's that for a New World Order?

Eventually, Will and Sylvia decide to steal a 1,000,000 years (also called an epoch) from Sylvia's father to destroy the financial system. This is where the wheels fall off for In Time. The film does a good job developing this dystopian world (not unlike Metropolis) where power is concentrated in the hands of the few. As Salas inches towards socialism, the film seems to decide that it can't quite utter the words or cross the threshold. At any time, I expected Salas to yell "Workers of the world, unite!" Rather than socialism, the ending veers towards anarchy as Will and Sylvia go on to rob bigger time banks, presumably to distribute the time free to the poor. It's like Jesus Christ and Joan of Arc in science fiction.

The selfless nature of Will Salas, a hardscrabble kid from the ghetto, is the chief complaint I have about In Time. That a rich girl would fall for him is not unusual. In fact, it's common enough to be a trope. Salas' behavior defies logic and convention and takes the film to the boundaries of socialist propaganda (right down to the Jewish cabal led by Weis). A more ambiguous hero and ending would have served the film much better. A little more exploration of a society where everyone is 25 years old on the outside but some unknown age on the inside would have also helped the film.

Still, I couldn't help but enjoy In Time. Its time premise was thought provoking and held up throughout the film. Timberlake has become a decent actor. Cilian Murphy as Timekeeper Leon and Vincent Kartheiser as Philippe Weis stood out. Kartheiser could play a young Steve Buscemi.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Eames: The Architect and the Painter

With some unexpected free time on Friday night, I stopped by the Balboa to see Eames: The Architect and the Painter. I considered stopping by the Roxie to see the Midnite for Maniacs tribute to Greydon Clark but recall the last time I tried to see Midnite for Maniacs at the Roxie, it was sold out. The prospect of the Roxie being packed or even my not being to get a ticket was enough to send me home on a Friday night. Restless after a few hours, I looked online and saw Eames playing at the Roxie and recalled a recent San Francisco Chronicle article on the film.

Eames: The Architect and the Painter; directed by Jason Cohn & Bill Jersey; narrated by James Franco; documentary; (2011)

Going into the film, I wasn't sure if I had ever seen an Eames product or at least, knew it was an Eames when I saw it. As the film progressed, I realized I had seen many Eames designs. Charles and Ray Eames (husband and wife, not brothers), were influential furniture designers but as their fame grew, they branched out into films and exhibits for museums and world fairs. Although Charles and Ray were interesting people, their works are the true focus of the film.

Let's start with the Eames chair. Not a single design or model, Eames had a long and fruitful business relationship with Herman Miller which is the only chair company I can name off the top of my head. At work, I sit on perhaps the most famous chair design ever made - the Aeron by Herman Miller. The Aeron is not an Eames design but it was Eames' earlier collaborations with Herman Miller which established it as the most prominent chair manufacturer.

What about the Eames chairs? Well, I can't name them like the Aeron but recall seeing them ubiquitously in the 1970s and 80s. The following are Eames chairs which I recall distinctly from my youth. I still see the swivel chair in use but the molded plastic/plywood chair with armrests seems very 1970s to me now. The third chair, the wood finished one without armrests has a classic look but definitely feels like a Mad Men era piece.

The most memorable Eames work was a film. Eames and IBM had a long relationship where Eames produced short films advertising IBM. Many of the films were conceptual rather than selling a specific product. The Powers of Ten (1977) is perhaps the most famous film that resulted from the Eames/IBM partnership.

Unexpectedly and enjoyably, Eames (whose name I was unfamiliar with) was a nostalgic trip to my youth when these designs and films were all around me. At the time, I wasn't impressed but in hindsight, their works were special and memorable. Memory is a strange thing. You don't think about something as simple as a chair for many years. You see a photo and you recall these chairs from your school or a friend's house or when your father took you into his workplace. Charles and particularly, Ray Eames had interesting lives which shouldn't be overlooked but it's hard not to when their work is so iconic.

Eames: The Architect and the Painter, will be telecast on PBS on December 19 under their American Masters series.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Le Havre

I was able to see Le Havre on the last evening it played at the Landmark Bridge. As I mentioned, I slept through a good portion of Le Havre when I "saw" it at the French Cinema Now series by the San Francisco Film Society. Le Havre is currently screening at the Landmark Opera Plaza.

I'm glad to say that I stayed awake through every second of Le Havre this time. I wish I had stayed awake the first time because the film wasn't worthy of a second viewing. It was middling fairy tale by noted director Aki Kaurismäki. The plot involved a Bohemian Frenchman in Le Havre who stumbles on an African boy (from Liberia?) who is in the country illegally. Intending to be smuggled into the UK in a shipping container, the container gets lost in paperwork and stranded in Le Havre. The boy runs from the police/immigration authorities when Marcel Marx (André Wilms) meets him. Quickly deciding to hide the boy, Marx takes him to his home. Marx's wife is in the hospital with late stage cancer.

As I watched the film, I though Marx's wife would succumb to her disease and Marx and the boy would form a family unit but Le Havre operates in a mystical realm. The sets look artificial, the dialog is delivered in stilted tones and the plot is idyllic. The "villain" are nameless and faceless people who report the whereabouts of the boy. Tracking the boy is Police Inspector Monet (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) who reluctantly follows up leads regarding the boy's whereabouts.

At times, looking and feeling like a French WWII movie with collaborators turning in Jews to the Gestapo, Le Havre is clearly a pro-immigrant rights film. That aspect is fairly easy to ignore that because of the sentimentality throughout the film.

Wilms, Darroussin and Kati Outinen as Marx's better half head a cast with a number of solid supporting actors. The performances perfectly matched the tone of the film. There was an incongruent sequence featuring a rock-n-roller called Little Bob which looked like 1980's music video but the song wasn't half bad.

By the time the film ended, I was extremely mild about Le Havre. It was a well made film with nice performances which wasn't my cup of tea.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Southern (Dis)Comfort (Part 1 of 2)

On Veterans Day, the PFA kicked off a series called Southern (Dis)comfort: The American South in Cinema.

As I mentioned, the Roxie picks up the series on December 10 and continues it until the 15rh. The Roxie's 12 films are Reflections in a Golden Eye, The Strange One, Two Thousand Maniacs!, God's Little Acre*, Moonrise, Swamp Water, Hurry Sundown*, Poor White Trash, Wild River, Spring Night, Summer Night, The Beguiled* and Shy People.

Films followed by an asterisk are also screened at the PFA. Elliot Lavine screened The Strange One last year at Not Necessarily Noir.

Unfortunately, the Roxie run of the series overlaps with the Noir City kickoff and the Balboa fundraiser. I'm not sure how many of the Roxie screening I will attend.

I saw three films in the series at the PFA in November.

House By the River starring Louis Hayward; directed by Fritz Lang; (1950)
The Fugitive Kind starring Marlon Brando, Anna Magnani & Joanne Woodward; directed by Sidney Lumet; (1960)
The Story of Temple Drake starring Mirian Hopkins; directed Stephen Roberts; (1933)

I can't say I'm overly impressed with the series so far. Of the three, House By the River stands out. It's the story of a writer (Louis Hayward) who kills his maid. I liked the scene where he hears water in a drainpipe which indicates his maid is taking bath upstairs. This sends him into a sexual frisson. The writer convinces his reluctant brother to help dispose of the body. Eventually, the body is discovered and attention focused on the writer's brother as the murderer. All this excitement inspires the writer's creativity and he begins to write the best work of his career...loosely based on actual events.

There was nothing particular impressive about the film. Hayward, Lee Bowman as the brother and Jane Wyatt as the writer's wife give decent performances and the plot is serviceable but the film was incredibly mediocre in my opinion.


The Fugitive Kind is one of those weird films based on a Tennessee Williams play. The production code eviscerated Williams' film adaptations leaving the audience to look for "codes" and "hints" as to the film's true intent like some cinematic Where's Waldo. I don't know if that was the case with The Fugitive Kind which is based on pair of Williams plays. In the film, people behave in peculiar ways and speak in allegorical terms. Lumet seems to want to make a film that tells a story without actually telling the story.

At times, the film seems like a showcase for Brando's masculinity and smoldering sexuality. Joanne Woodward shows up looking like she stepped out of Lil Abner cartoon. Anna Magnani has the largest female part as the shop keeper, married to a bedridden Klansman who takes on Brando as an employee and to bed in the little storeroom in the back. For his part, Brando's character is tired of being treated like a prize bull by the women he meets.

I'm sure there was something beneath the surface of this film but I didn't find it. I will say that Brando was the female Marilyn Monroe. When he was on screen, you couldn't take your eyes off him. However, Magnani holds her own in her scenes with Brando.


The Story of Temple Drake was based on a novel by William Faulkner. Steve Seid introduced the film and mentioned the film was pre-Code but so scandalous that it is partially credited with introduction of the Hays Code. The poster for the film is particularly artistic.

The film version portrays Temple Drake (Miriam Hopkins) as a coquette who falls in with some rough characters who don't understand what it means when a girl says no. Some may argue that Drake "got what she deserved" which would have made for a fine ending but they tacked on a feel good ending which soured me. I guess we are fortunate because Seid mentioned the producers considered tacking an epilogue that stated after her ordeal, Temple Drake devoted herself to missionary work in China.

Movie Poster for The Story of Temple Drake


I will write about the rest of the films I see in this series at the PFA and Roxie.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Richard the Lionhearted, Sleeping Beauty, J. Edgar Hoover and Marilyn Monroe

After posting 10 consecutive days and 13 or of the past 14, I'm mostly caught up.

There were a few films here and there which I watched.

The Crusades starring Henry Wilcoxon & Loretta Young; directed by Cecil B. DeMille; (1935)
The Sleeping Beauty starring Julia Artamonov; directed by Catherine Breillat; French with subtitles; (2010)
J. Edgar starring Leonardo DiCaprio; directed by Clint Eastwood; (2011) -
My Week With Marilyn starring Michelle Williams & Eddie Redmayne; with Kenneth Branagh & Judi Dench; directed by Simon Curtis; (2011) - Official Website

The Crusades was part of the UCLA Festival of Preservation at the PFA. The Sleeping Beauty was screened by SFFS at the Viz. I saw J. Edgar and My Week With Marilyn while visiting my father over the Thanksgiving week.


Of those four films, My Week With Marilyn is head and shoulders about the others. It features a stunning transformation by Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe during the filming of The Prince and the Showgirl. Williams whom I mentally picture as rail thin and with a pixie haircut gained weight grew her out and curled it to look quite a bit like Monroe. Williams also found the babydoll voice but those are superficial items which 1000s of impersonators and imitators have mastered. Ammazingly, Williams captures some of Marilyn's on-screen sex appeal and a large part of her vulnerability.

The plot is well known and based on the memoirs of Colin Clark, who as young man was the 3rd Assistant Director on The Prince and the Showgirl. Clark's association with Monroe became a prodigious source of literary output which in turn became the source material for My Week With Marilyn.

My Week With Marilyn is filled with these big, audacious performances beyond Williams' turn as Monroe. Kenneth Branagh seems to be delighted to depict Sir Lawrence Olivier as a bully. In smaller roles, Dougray Scott is spot on as Arthur Miller and Dominic Cooper, Zoë Wanamaker and Judi Dench command attention as Milton Greene (Marilyn's partner in her production company), Paula Strasberg (Marilyn's acting coach) and Dame Sybil Thorndike (a respected theater actress who had a supporting role in The Prince and the Showgirl).

Eddie Redmayne as Colin Clark fades into the background as it he was meant represent the audience's point of view. Frequently, I found myself viewing the film as if I was Clark in the film. Indeed, I cannot recall a scene where we don't see Monroe from Clark's point-of-view. It's a thankless role.

Emma Watson of the Harry Potter series shows up as the wardrobe girl and Clark's erstwhile love interest. She looks a bit like Natalie Portman. In fact, she gets off one of the best lines. After everyone warns Clark to not fall in love with Marilyn because it will end badly, Watson asks him, "Did she break your heart?" Clark responds in the affirmative and Watson rejoins, "Good. It needed a little breaking."

How exhilirating it must have been to Clark. It must have seemed like he was touched by the hand of God. At age 23, out of absolute obscurity, Clark becomes a close confidante to Monroe and sees her at her most unguarded moments. It must have overwhelming like he being consumed by the fires of passion. How I envy Clark and admire this film for conveying that feeling.

I read that Michelle Williams is a strong contender for an Oscar for this performance and I can't disagree.


Clint Eastwood was self-indulgent with J. Edgar. He employed repeated flashbacks to Hoover's early life but didn't really cast much light on what motivated the man. Fussy and quick to be offended, Hoover was strongly motivated by his mother to succeed but he willingness to not just violate people's constitutional right but act in monstrous ways remain unexplained.

Eastwood does a subtle pas de deux. As Hoover ages, his relationship Clyde Tolson emerges. Eastwood would have us believe Tolson and Hoover had fight while vacationing together when Hoover mentioned the possibility of his marrying actress Dorothy Lamour. After a knock down, drag out fight, Tolsom plants a wet one on Hoover's bloodied lips. Poetic license indeed. This portends the future as Hoover and Tolson become partners in their professional and private lives. Hoover's conflicted acceptance of his own sexuality and the unfulfilled (perhaps unconsummated) love towards Tolson gives the film a tragic quality which overwhelms the other aspects of Hoover's life.

DiCaprio is an earnest actor which suits the role of Hoover. It's costar Armie Hammer, last seen as the Winklevoss twins in Social Network, as Tolson who has the break out performance. Dedicated, debonair & selfless, Tolson is Hoover alter ego and Hammer conveys all this with verve and panache.

Also noteworthy is Christopher Shyer as Richard Nixon. Between his makeup and vocal intonations, he evokes Nixon but more strongly evokes a malevolence which Nixon has come to be associated with.

J. Edgar is not a great film. It is well made but not particularly inspired.


The last memory I have from viewing The Crusades in early September is that of the raven haired Katerine DeMille. Cecil B. DeMille's (adopted) daughter and long-time wife of Anthony Quinn, Ms. DeMille has a scheming and dangerous look about her for her limited scenes in The Crusades. She definitely seems to be Berengaria's (Loretta Young) rival for King Richard's (Henry Wilcoxon) affection without every saying word. Her gaze is intimidating.

I was surprised at how accurate The Crusades was. I'm no expert on the Third Crusade but the film hits a few points I recall. As for the performances, Ian Keith as Saladin stood out. I was surprised at how positively Saladin and the Saracens (Muslins) were depicted in The Crusades.


The Sleeping Beauty is the second time director Catherine Breillat has used a fairy tale as the source material. The first was Blue Beard. Allegedly working from the original stories, Breillat presents the more dark and seedy aspects of these stories which are now considered children's stories. For example, I don't recall Sleeping Beauty having a lesbian encounter.

I can't say I fully enjoyed The Sleeping Beauty (or Blue Beard) but it's kind of interesting what Breillat. She deconstructs the fairy tale and returns the story to its origins. Noting the differences between Breillat's version and the one we are familiar with through Disney movies and children's books is an enjoyable pursuit.