Friday, April 12, 2013

The Vagaries of the Kabuki's Admission Prices

In keeping with the renewed focus, CAAMFest seemed to screen fewer films than past years.  At times, I was hard pressed to find a screening I really wanted to see.  I left some gaps in my schedule but can only think of two films I regret missing - Seeking Asian Female and Postcards from the Zoo.  SAF will be airing on PBS' Independent Lens on May 6.

With long stretches of downtime, I squeezed in three non-CAAMFest films during the run of that festival.

Stoker starring Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman & Matthew Goode; directed by Chan-wook Park; (2013) - Official Website
Strange Days starring Ralph Fiennes & Angela Bassett; with Juliette Lewis, Tom Sizemore & Vincent D'Onofrio; directed by Kathryn Bigelow; (1995)
Hitler's Children; documentary; directed by Chanoch Zeevi; German, Hebrew & English with subtitles; (2011) - Official Website

I saw Stoker at the Sundance Kabuki, Strange Days at the Castro and Hitler's Children at the YBCA.

Strange Days was the third film of a Midnites for Maniacs triple bill.  The other two films were Rocky III and Luc Besson's The Professional.  In hindsight, I wish I would have also seen The Professional on the Castro screen as opposed to Nice Girls Crew 2 at CAAMFest.


I can only recall having seen two films at the Sundance Kabuki which weren't film festival screenings.  Buying tickets through the film festivals' websites saved me the puzzling ordeal of deciphering the Kabuki's amenity fee chart.

My memory is hazy but I recall Sundance closed the Kabuki for an extended period and when it reopened, they instituted the assigned seating and amenity fee policies.  Assigned seating seems a little pretentious for a movie theater although some of my co-workers like it.  The assigned seating doesn't get my goat...the dreaded amenity fees do.  The Sundance Kabuki's admission price and amenity fee tables are a thing of beauty unless you are one paying them.  

Why We Have an Amenity Fee

NO ON SCREEN ADVERTISING.  No annoying television ads before the movies, a huge revenue source for all other theatre chains. 

RESERVED SEATING.  All of our seats are reserved for all shows. No waiting in line or running to get a good seat. Sit with your friends. Select your seats and print tickets at home on-line, or come to the theatre and select your seats at the box office or a kiosk. 

 ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY.  In an industry that notoriously ignores "green" ideas, we try to be an evolving conscientious citizen with our extensive building remodel and in our daily practices. 

SUPPORT FOR LOCAL ARTISTS.   Sundance Cinemas supports local artists in keeping with the philosophy of Robert Redford. 

So the amenity fee covers the lost revenue from those ads and previews before films, covers the cost of software & hardware allowing for reserved seating, covers added costs of being green and goes to support local artists.  I'm cynical but I'll accept those words at face value.

What I don't understand is why the fee is semi-hidden.  The posted admission price was $11.50 but they charged me $13.50 and to make it more confusing the receipt was in the amount of $11.50.  I had an inkling the difference was the amenity fee so I didn't challenge the discrepancy with the cashier.  

Also the sheer number of pricing combinations is amazing.  By my estimation, there are about a dozen different prices (admission price + amenity fee) I would be charged depending on the day and time of the film screening I attend.  When you take into account that Seniors and Children have different admission prices and that there are different admission prices for 3D films, there must be 50 or more pricing combinations.  Changing their prices must be a major software update.


Stoker was directed by Chan-wook Park, the South Korean director of Oldboy, Lady Vengeance and more.  As far as I am aware, Stoker is Park's first English language film.  I remembered stars Mia Wasikowska from That Evening Sun and Matthew Goode from Burning Man.  Curious to see what these actors (plus Nicole Kidman) could do under the helm of Park, I snuck away from CAAMFest long enough to view Stoker.  The title of the film refers to the surname of the family involved - teenager India Stoker (Wasikowska), her mother Evelyn (Kidman) and her paternal uncle Charlie (Goode).  India's father, Evelyn's husband and Charlie's older brother, Richard (Dermot Mulroney) has just passed away.  Long travelling around the world, Charlie returns home for Richard's funeral and promptly begins a cozy relationship with Evelyn who doesn't seem to be grieving much for her husband.

Stoker could also refer to Charlie whose appearance stokes passion in Evelyn and trepidation but eventually passion in India also. It could also refer to Bram Stoker, author of Dracula although vampires are not present in the film.  It's actually India's bloodlust which is really being stoked.

India is a little suspicious of her uncle whom her parents have never told of her about.  She is odd teenager on the verge of womanhood.  However, Kidman is already there and stakes a claim on the handsome Charlie. The sets off a twisted love triangle between mother, daughter & uncle.  Although Evelyn comes off as a cold bitch, she is the most well adjusted of the three.

Stoker picks up steam as India becomes more sexually curious and her passions commingle and converge with Charlie's secret.  I won't give away the secret but let's just say Charlie hasn't been globetrotting.  With some memorable cinematography (a scene where a spray of blood splashes against green grass is memorable), stylish sets and and great performances out of the lead three, Stoker never gets under you skin.  Instead you watch the fevered film with a rapt admiration for Park and the actor's skills.


Strange Days is a film I don't recall.  However, for the past year (at least), Jesse Hawthorne Ficks has been showing the trailer for the film at his periodic Midnites for Maniacs screenings.  It looked cool and has an impressive pedigree.  Kathryn Bigelow directed and James Cameron wrote the film.  Ralph Fiennes, two years after Schindler's List and one year before The English Patient is the lead actor.  Angela Bassett, two years removed from What's Love Got to Do With It, is the female lead.  Juliette Lewis, Tom Sizemore and Vincent D'Onofrio costar in the film.

The premise of Strange Days is a device called a SQUID (Superconducting Quantum Interference Device).  The SQUID device attaches to one's head and records the memories of the wearer.  The recording can be played back for another person.  Of course, if the user is doing something boring while wearing the device, his memories aren't worth much.  However, if s/he is doing something intense (like robbing a Chinese food restaurant or having sex), the memories are worth more.  SQUIDs are military devices and bootleg copies are illegal so you have to go to a black marketer like ex-LAPD cop Lenny Nero (Fiennes).

The film is set in the final days of 1999 (no mention of Y2K).  LA is a dystopian society which seems under siege.  Wealthy people hire bodyguards.  Lenny's friend Mace (Bassett) is one such bodyguard.  She disapproves of Lenny's SQUID dealing but forgives him because she has feelings of unrequited love towards him.  Lenny still has feelings for his ex (Juliette Lewis).

This synopsis is getting long.  There are two inspired scenes in the film.  In one scene, a rapist/murderer wears a SQUID device during an attack.  In a moment of true perversity, the attacker connects a second SQUID device to his own and puts the 2nd SQUID on the victim.  As the blindfolded victim is being attacked, she can "see" the attack from her assailant's point of view.

The second impressive scene is a massive crowd scene (I think this was pre-CGI).  A crowd is gathered for New Year's Eve and two dirty cops (D'Onofrio and William Fichtner) are chasing Mace in the crowd.  As they attack her, it starts a riot which is quite the spectacle.

Although the technology is hit and miss when compared to where we are at today, Bigelow's direction is exceptional.  I have noticed that she is able to ratchet up and sustain tension at fevered levels in The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty.  She does that again or more accurately, she did it before in Strange Days.


Hitler's Children is a documentary about the children, grandchildren, nieces & nephews of high ranking Nazi Party members.  Descendant's of Goering, Himmler and others appear on camera.  Although the premise sounded interesting, it appears that most of the subject are fairly well adjusted so there wasn't a lot of fertile ground to cover.  In all cases except one, the subject did not know or barely remembered their Nazi progenitor.  The exception was Niklas Frank, youngest child of Hans Frank, Governor-General of Poland.  The younger Frank was six years old when WWII ended and seven when his father was executed; old enough to recall the man who name is infamous.  Niklas largely repudiates his father's actions which seems like the only sensible thing to do when your father is a high-ranking Nazi.  Still, he recalls paternal moments with the man which humanizes both father & son.

Hermann Goering's daughter lives in New Mexico (near Santa Fe) and bears a strong resemblance.  I think Himmler kids chose to be sterilized and someone's descendants changed their name.

I'm light on details because I didn't learn much new from the film and it was a bit of a slog to get through.  The concept was more interesting than the execution of the film.

1 comment:

Brian said...

The semi-hidden status of the amenity fee is the way the theatre can get away with raising its admission prices without having to raise the amount shared with the Hollywood studios, as the contracts they sign with them to release their films always are based on a percentage of the box office. This is their way of getting revenue without calling it "box office".