Tuesday, January 10, 2012

It's a Zoo Out There

In December, I read in the San Francisco Chronicle that Keith Arnold was named general manager of operations at the Castro Theater. The article goes on to state Mr. Arnold's bona fides in the film programming community.

However, the second paragraph caught my attention. "The announcement comes on the heels of blogosphere and social media recently erupting with dark rumors concerning the venerable movie palace's future. Arnold, however, says the truth is something altogether brighter."

Erupting? I did a little "research" into the matter. What did research consist of before Google? It turns out that, in early December, The Petrelis Files reported that the Castro was moving away from film exhibition and converting to a "live performance venue." This conversion was to take place in January 2012. The post cited a confidential source who was later revealed.

Before it was refuted by the Castro Theater, the news "erupted." The most prominent person who reported on the "news" (without verification) was Roger Ebert via Twitter. Since I don't tweet, I was unaware of the controversy until after it had been refuted.

Petrelis updated his original post three times. In Update #2, Petrelis wrote "I've conferred with my source and they stand by the changes reported last night that will eventually take place over the next year or so at the Castro. The source maintains the owner is headed in a live performance direction and stands by the information shared with me."

While the issue was still fresh in some people's mind, Petrelis posted a follow up item. In this post, Petrelis revealed that Bill Longen, "who formerly worked at [the] Castro Theatre in many capacities from programmer to technical director," was the confidential source or "Deep Throat" for the original claim.

Petrelis' post quoted from a communication by Longen to Petrelis. In the portion cited by Petrelis, which is implied to be in its entirety, Longen never states definitively that the theater will switch to "live performance" programming. Longen details meetings he had to convert the Castro to a live performance venue but never states that the owners have decided to do so. Longen closes his communication with a cryptic message which can be interpreted many ways. "I hope this blog has rattled a few heads and caused some rethinking. If it has, then my work is done."

Most of Petrelis' second post read like a political manifesto. He listed 10 ideas for enhancing "the Castro's engagement with its audience." Several of them called on the owners to have open forums or dialogs with the public to explain their plans for the theater, their movies programming plans and their civic engagement. The entire episode smacked of "have you stopped beating your wife?" rhetoric. The tone had kind of a petulant, agitprop, 99% edge.

Petrelis went on to suggest a cannabis smoking area adjacent to the parking lot! Some of his other suggestions were more mainstream. He mentioned the Roxie had a "discount card" which I don't believe exists anymore. He urged the Castro to adopt a similar program which I certainly would benefit from. However, issues ranging from the building's historic landmark status to the economic wisdom of having the audience pick a film to be screened on a slow night, rendered his suggestions both helpful and self-serving.

Given that the San Francisco Silent Film Festival has already announced their 2012 festival will be from July 12 to 15 at the Castro Theater, it seems likely that any conversion will not occur before then...if ever.


The second film I saw in 2012 was We Bought a Zoo. It was not a film I wanted to see. I was still in Las Vegas visiting my father. It was the last full day I was there and my father wanted to get out of the house so we ran some errands and this film had a screening time and location which suited our schedule.

We Bought a Zoo starring Matt Damon & Scarlett Johansson; with Thomas Haden Church, Colin Ford, Maggie Elizabeth Jones & Elle Fanning; directed by Cameron Crowe; (2011) - Official Website

I don't have much to write about the film. I immediately noticed the preview trailers included an interesting clip of The Three Stooges, the upcoming Farrelly brothers film. It was the first time I'd seen a preview for that film. Rather than a biopic, it seems the Farrelly brothers have put The Three Stooges in present times. In fact, my father surprised me by asking "Isn't that Snookie?" I didn't even think he knew that Jersey Shore existed.

Back to We Bought a Zoo, I can't find fault with the performances but the plot was predictable and formulaic, despite being based on a true story. Colin Ford, as Matt Damon's son, surprised me in a scene where he argues with Damon. Elle Fanning was interesting as a naive girl who is surprisingly forward in pursuing Ford's character. Maggie Elizabeth Jones, 6 or 7 at the time of filming, gets to call John Michael Higgins "a dick." It's always entertaining to see prepubescents using profanity. Actually, Higgins' performance as the deadly serious, uptight zoo inspector was the highlight of an otherwise cloying film. Director Cameron Crowe dialed the mawkishness factor a little too high on this film. Nice soundtrack though.

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