Saturday, December 19, 2015

Alamo Drafthouse is Open

On Thursday (December 17), the Alamo Drafthouse in San Francisco officially opened.  It is located at 2550 Mission Street (22nd Street) on the site of the former New Mission Theater.  I can't find the citation but I believe I read that the New Mission opened in 1916.  Vacant for several years, the site was most recently a furniture store.

It appears that only the main auditorium is open at this time.  They are screening Star Wars:  The Force Awakens in 2D and 3D.   All the screenings are sold out until December 24.  Their website indicates that The Big Short opens on December 23.  Joy, The Look of Silence and The World of Kanako (which I saw at the San Francisco International Film Festival and can recommend) open on Christmas Day while Star Wars is carried over for several weeks.  The Drafthouse will have five auditoriums - the main one on the ground floor and four smaller ones on the second floor in the converted balcony.

There is also a bar in the lobby called Bear vs. Bull.  That doesn't refer to the stock market but back to the days of Spanish California when there was a tradition of pitting bulls vs. bears in fights-to-the-death (the bear usually won if I remember correctly).  Apparently these fights took place in the Mission District of SF hence the name of the bar.

The Drafthouse had a soft opening starting on Saturday.  Admission was $5 and food & non-alcoholic beverages were 50% off.  I believe the regular evening ticket price will be $13.25.

I went on Sunday night to see Steve Jobs.  The bar was not open and large sections of main auditorium were empty even though all the seats were reserved on the Drafthouse website.  I should note that the Drafthouse is one of these theaters where you select your seats at the time of ticket purchase.  I assume they didn't want to pack the house for the soft opening because the primary purpose was to train the kitchen and wait staffs.

I ordered the Deviled Eggs and Chips & Queso.  They serve the food in metal reusable trays.  Chips & queso are not so popular here but it's a staple in Austin (the Drafthouse's hometown) where I visited many times in 1980s.  Not merely nachos with cheese whiz, the queso is melted cheese with diced tomatoes and roasted chile peppers.  Sometimes it gets more fancy but that's the holy trinity - cheese, tomatoes & chile.  The classic is Velveeta and canned Rotel tomatoes & chile.  The queso I had on Sunday was not as good as I recall but I am 30 years removed from the last time I had authentic queso.  At $10 (regular price), it's also a lot more expensive than I recall.

For those unfamiliar with the Drafthouse, they serve food & beverages (including alcohol) in the theater.  I liken it to the New Parkway in Oakland but more upscale.  The Drafthouse has a strict no cellphone policy as well.  I didn't see anyone being escorted from the theater for using their cell phone on Sunday but am looking forward to witnessing my first exfiltration.

The main auditorium can seat over 300.  The interior design is a little too wide for the screen.  If you are sitting on the edge, the angle is too wide for my taste.  There is ample legroom in the aisles as the servers need to pass by.  I was afraid that the servers moving about would be distracting but it wasn't although some of them got down on the floor and crawled to avoid blocking audience members views.  I found that a little too over-the-top but appreciate the sentiment.  My only complaint I was sitting in the back and could hear the servers talking about the orders.  However, if given a choice, I would sit closer to the screen than I typically would for an auditorium of that size.


As anxious as I was to see the interior and as much as I appreciated the $5 admission (with an additional $1.25 convenience fee), I would not have gone unless the film was compelling.  I've been reading for months that Steve Jobs was the best film no one saw in 2015.

Steve Jobs starring Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen & Jeff Daniels, directed by Danny Boyle, (2015) - Official Website

The film is divided into three acts.  The first act takes place in the Flint Center in Cupertino in 1984 on the day of the launch or unveiling of the Apple Macintosh.  The middle act is at the Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco in 1988 for the launch of the NeXT computer.  The final act is at the San Francisco Opera House for the launch of iMac in 1998.

The scenes are hectic as the last minute preparations are being made before letting the press & public into the buildings.  As Jobs prepares for his presentations, he is interrupted by various individuals and technical glitches.  The constants are Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman, Job's loyal marketing VP who serves as his gatekeeper, chief of staff & conscience, Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniack, co-founder of Apple and yin to Job's yang, Jeff Daniels as John Sculley, Apple's CEO, Jobs mentor cum adversary and Katherine Waterston as Chrisann Brennan, Job's flighty ex-girlfriend and mother to his child (whose paternity Jobs publicly denies).  A trio of actresses play Lisa, Jobs' daughter whom he supports financially if not emotionally.

Based on Walter Isaacson's best selling biography and with dialog by Aaron Sorkin, Steve Jobs is a fascinating films.  Feeling a bit like The West Wing (I was a big fan), the film has Sorkin's trademark "walk and talk" dialog.  Fassbender (as Jobs) says (paraphrasing), "Before every product launch, everyone I know gets drunk and decides to tell me what they really think about me."

The scenes are contrived.  I suspect the events of several years are condensed into the 45 minute acts.  Sorkin almost pulls it off but at times I could tell he is taking Isaacson's narrative prose and forcing the characters to speak expository dialog.  Ultimately it doesn't matter because because Jobs (the man and character) are so fascinating.

The prototypical flawed hero, Jobs (as portrayed in the film) is remote except for the times he acts like a jerk.  Filled with self-confidence to the point of hubris, Jobs first two launches were business failures in the traditional sense.  However, both were necessary in creating the myth of Steve Jobs.  Tellingly, he wears suits and neckties (one is a bow tie) in the 1984 and 1988 scenes.  It's not until the final act that he dons his now famous black mock turtleneck and Levi's blue jeans.

The failure of the Macintosh exiled the prince from the kingdom of Apple and put him in conflict with his surrogate father figure (Sculley) and spiritual brother (Wozniak).  Accompanied by his loyal servant (Hoffman), Jobs wanders the wilderness before ultimately settling at NeXT.  Again, the NeXT computer is a failure but Jobs has learned some of the lessons of life.  The movie would have the audience believe that the NeXT computer was developed only for its operating system.  Jobs knew that Apple's OS was quickly becoming obsolete so he positioned NeXT as a takeover target to facilitate his return to Apple.  The iMac represents Jobs' first (but certainly not final) triumph.

Those old enough to remember may recall that Apple's most successful product for the first 20 years of its existence was the Apple II or one of its variations.  The film sets up a dynamic that the Apple II was Wozniack's achievement even though Jobs received the lion's share of the credit.  However, Jobs knew and resented Woz's role and wanted to create something successful without Woz.  This sets up the key dynamic of the film which is the Lennon-and-McCartneyesque quality of Jobs & Woz's relationship.  Despite a deep and enduring friendship, each resented the other's skills and successes.  If the film is accurate, Wozniack was obsessed for 14 years in getting Jobs to acknowledge the Apple II's engineering and design teams.  Much like Lennon & McCartney (Woz compares himself to Ringo in the film) in the 1960s, your preference of Jobs vs. Woz speaks volumes about your values and personality.

In each act, Jobs is confronted by Woz, Sculley, his daughter and Michael Stuhlbarg as Andy Hertzfeld (an original Macintosh engineer) while Hoffman serves as his confidante and majordomo.  Steve Jobs is a well written and nicely structured film which can easily be adapted to the live theater.  Uniformly strong performances by the cast only buoy the film.  Fassbender and Rogen really captured the mannerism of Jobs & Woz.  Fassbender's Jobs comes off as disagreeable which is consistent with what I have read but he could inspire strong loyalty.  The film makes one wonder why anyone would want to work with Jobs.  Jobs' brilliance and genius are on full display in the film but his charisma seems lacking.

Steve Jobs isn't a great film but it is tremendously enjoyable to watch.  It helps if you have some knowledge of Apple's early history.  The teaming of director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin is particularly intriguing.  I hope they collaborate on more films.

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