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Going back to Cali

California Theater reopens its doors this week

By Kamala Appel, Special to the Berkeley Daily Planet
Saturday July 13, 2002

Most people know that Berkeley hosts a long list of movie theaters that screen great independent and foreign films. Since October 2001, the list is one theater shorter. During the last nine months, the California Theater has been closed for renovations.  

On Thursday, July 11, the California Theater hosted a celebratory reopening for Berkeley cinephiles. The UC Berkeley band performed for a crowd that eagerly waited for the doors to open so that they could satisfy their curiosity. When the doors finally opened, smiling faces and enthusiastic banter filled the auditorium.  

In addition to new carpets, a renovated concession stand and more comfortable seating, the California will feature the largest screen in Berkeley. It is also worth noting that this theater offers ample wheelchair-friendly seating. 

The evening festivities continued with the spinning of the Deco wheel and the bestowal of prizes from various Berkeley merchants. The prizes included gift certificates for dinner, a night stay at the Shattuck Hotel, merchandise from Dark Crystal, games from Games of Berkeley, CDs from Amoeba Music, computer accessories for the Mac, a Homer Simpson Rubix cube, and of course, free tickets to the Landmark Cinemas (including the California Theater). 

After the gifting concluded, Mayor Shirley Dean spoke to the restless crowd. Mayor Dean commended the Landmark Theaters ownership for their commitment to keeping theaters like the California open in the wake of multiplexes. She referred to the decision to renovate instead of closing as "a labor of love" that will "keep the beautiful, comfortable, and safe movie theater open for years to come". Dean also declared July as California Theater month in the City of Berkeley. 

A free screening of "Lovely & Amazing" followed the Mayor's speech and ceremonious ribbon cutting. "Lovely & Amazing" shares the stories of four female relatives, each at different life stages and each struggling with different issues related to low self-esteem.  

The ensemble cast truly brings the characters to life in a way that promises to speak to audiences, especially women. Brenda Blethyn portrays the aging mother who sees how lovely and amazing each of her daughters is, but sees only physical imperfections in herself. Catherine Keener depicts the oldest and middle-aged daughter who has anger management issues with everyone she encounters, primarily because she cannot stand herself. Emily Mortimer plays the middle thirty-something daughter, whose career as an actress magnifies her self-consciousness about her body and sexual attractiveness. Raven Goodwin portrays the youngest sister, who views herself as the family outsider and, despite her age (8), she becomes the most endearing and insightful character. Goodwin steals the screen whenever she is in the scene, which is quite an accomplishment considering that she is a newcomer amidst some seasoned actors. Dermot Mulroney, Jake Gyllenhaal, and James LeGros depict the males who come in and out of their lives, raising and lowering their feelings of self-worth. (This film will open on July 12 at the Landmark's Albany). 

If you plan to go to the California this weekend, you have the option of seeing the MIB sequel. "MIB 2" definitely serves up a hearty helping of entertainment and action, but I doubt that it will blow away audiences as the first one did.  

In this episode, K (Tommy Lee Jones) and J (Will Smith) return to save the planet. This time the earthly duo fight a light-seeking alien opponent named Serleena who, when she is not disguised as a Victoria Secret model, resembles a cross between Cousin It and Medusa. Lara Flynn Boyle plays the wicked Serleena in human form.  

As one would expect, this sequel features great special effects, including a lot of CGI aliens; action, and the return of many of the funny characters that made the first film such a delight. However, "MIB 2" lacks the adventure and sustainable story of the first. We do get to see J fall in love and view the softer, civilian side of K, but the most amusing character development is that of the talking pug.  

The California will also screen the re-release of "Cinema Paradiso", the director's cut, with new footage. This modern-day Italian classic was an international hit when it originally opened in 1988. If you love movies about amore and if you are an aficionado of cinema, you will enjoy "Cinema Paradiso". 

The reopening of the California Theater was a success, and the it will be open all summer. So, what are you doing this weekend? 

The California Theater is located at 2113 Kittredge St. Call 843-3456 for information.