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Attn: Movie Theater Owners, or Why I’ll Never Pay to See Another Movie in a Movie Theater Again – Part 3

In Parts 1 and 2 of this 5 part series, I’ve touched upon parking, ticket prices, seating, and lack of special events as reasons I’ll not give my business to the local theater.  Granted, there are always exceptions to the rule (I’ll touch on some of those in a later post).  Not every theater, thankfully, will get negative marks next to all 12 reasons.  But unfortunately, I’ve found more and more theaters in my area falling into these 12 categories.  The reason I write this isn’t because I don’t like the theater experience.  When done properly, I love it.  There is no comparison.  Seeing a film, complete with the flickering glow of the projector above, up on a 30 foot silver coated screen, is sui generis (my Latin for the day!).

Today’s topics are tough for me to write about.  As a director and editor of commercials, I tread lightly on reason #5.  However, as I’ve said before, I do believe that there is a time and place for everything.  And the movie theater is not one of them.  Let me get right to it.

Reason #5: Commercials

The major concern that I hear from theater owners (and the studios, of course) is that they need to devise a way to make the theater experience even more different from the home theater experience in order to get the crowds.  Hence the reason we’ve recently seen 7.1 Dolby, 3D, Stadium Style seating, etc.  Then why, I ask, do you reverse your progress by making the theater experience even more similar to the home theater experience by introducing commercials to it?  I recently went to a movie, where I sat through 45 minutes of commercials (a coupling of the section dubbed “The Pre-Show Entertainment with the actual made-for-tv commercials)!  45 minutes!  That’s a quarter of the length of the movie!  Of course, I point out the worst case scenario.  But it’s not uncommon to have to sit through 20 minutes of this, all before the first trailer begins.

As I wrote in yesterdays post, I am not opposed to entertainment preceding the feature film.  I used to love the shorts that were in front.  And I usually enjoy a very well made trailer.  I especially enjoy the trailers that are filmed and created specifically for that purpose.  Think the “Jurassic Park” teaser trailer that featured footage created specifically for the trailer.  Or the “Spider-man” trailer.

Let me explain.  I would not be opposed to commercials if they were entertainment.  If they were shot as a 2-3 minute dramatic short film (or comedic, or sci-fi, etc.), but obviously were advertising a product (or two or three), I wouldn’t object.  The Los Angeles times used to create theater specific ads that were mini-docs on the entertainment biz, and I always enjoyed seeing those.  If they were presented as an ongoing serial (á la the Maxwell House commercials a few years back), I’d be even more apt to enjoy them.  Of course, that seems, on the surface, to be out of the theater owners hands.  But if the theater owners currently work with the ad agencies  to secure the ads, they could lay down some rules as well.  The ad agencies would likely comply, in order to get their products noticed on the level they currently do.

As you’ll see in the posts later this week, I believe that the audience’s behavior is determined by the atmosphere in which they sit.  If the first thing they are presented with is a slew of 30 second commercials, something they get at their own home, they are likely to react in the same way they do at their home during commercials.  That is, talk, use cell phones, play a game on their Nintendo DS (why someone would bring that to a movie theater is beyond me?), and any other distracting behavior.  Of course, by the time the movie begins, they are already in that frame of mind, and it now impacts all around them.

So please do away with the commercials.  In fact, if you want to raise the price (I know, what about Reason #1 right?) in order that I do not have to sit through them, feel free.  After all, that is one reason why I love the Arclight cinema in Hollywood, CA so very much.

Reason #6:  Concessions

Many of you may be thinking that here is where I continue on about pricing.  You would be wrong.  I am not implying that the costs of concessions are outrageously cost prohibitive (they are), nor am I suggesting that the nutritional values of the snacks are worse than eating a stick of butter (they are), but I am proposing that you do away with the concession stands entirely.  This is also hard for me to say, as I have fond memories of going to the cinema and eating a hot bucket of popcorn coated in real butter with a package of peanut M&M’s on top!  (I was recently made aware that the Laemmle theaters still use real butter!)  Unfortunately, because of (reason #10), this just no longer works.

One of the many features that I enjoy about going to a private screening of a film is that there is never a snack stand at the theater.  It seems that the people in charge of industry screenings understand that the mess left behind is akin to watching a film at a recycling yard, complete with crumbs in the seats, sticky and/or wet floors, and chewing gum stuck under the arms of the chairs.  The distracting noise of a cellophane wrapper being torn during the quietest part of the film, or the sounds of the last few drops of liquid amidst the melting ice cubes in the bottom of the cup being sucked through the straw slowly and methodically is exasperating.  The Jumbo Size Cola needing to find its way out of the person seated next to you three times during the film is anything but welcome.  Times that by 10 or so, and you have 30 people reenacting the Bugs Bunny scene from “Hare Do” in your row alone.  The smell of a greasy, over-cooked, heat lamp incubated hot dog is nauseating, to say the least.  The added orchestra of crunching nacho chips throughout the film only deters from the millions spent to properly record the features soundtrack.

Instead, I propose that you open a small cafe area.  In fact, this may help contribute to the overall “event” of going to the movies.  You can sell small sandwiches, along with the other commodities typically found at the concession stand.  A couple can do a “dinner and a movie” date within the confines of your establishment, all at the benefit of your other customers.  You likely would garner more business, as some people may purchase your “Dinner Date” package, which for a higher ticket price, would get them seats in a specially reserved section, as well as their own personal usher/waiter.  Win/Win.

Or perhaps you create new seating (again, I point out how these reasons are all related!) that has a special section for those desiring to eat during the film.  I was in Austin, TX not too long ago and paid a visit to the much talked about Alamo Drafthouse.  It was a very interesting experience, in that you could order a complete meal and eat it in your seat.  If there was a special section for that, I would have no qualms.  Or another  option would be to have a specific showing for those who desire food, and another for those that do not (The Arclight cinemas do something similar.  That is, they offer a screening they’ve dubbed the “21+ screenings”, where those in attendance can have alcohol if they prefer).

Reason #7 – 3D

This is related to costs.  Let me preface this reason by giving a little backstory.  When I went to see the private screening of “Avatar”, they gave us special 3D glasses that we could take home with us.  I was excited to receive these freebies, as I knew that I would be able to carry them with me to every other 3D film from here on out.  Fast forward to the “Avatar” showing at the AMC that my wife and I went to the other day.  I have my free passes in hand, my 3D glasses in the other.  I get to the window, present my passes, and am told that the total will be $10.  Surprised, I ask the reason.  I’m quickly told that the added fee is for the 3D glasses.  I state that I am in possession of my own pair, and thus would only need to pay for the one pair.  I am then informed that I will not be allowed to bring in my own pair of glasses!  I retort that I’ll opt to not use the glasses, as I’ve already seen the film and don’t care to sit through it with the glasses this time out.  Again, I am told that I cannot enter without paying the fee for two pairs of glasses.

Now, I understand that $10 is not that big of a deal, given that I was using two free passes.  However, if I had paid for the tickets, my movie alone would have put me back $34!  And I had my own pair of glasses!

I then noticed the still on the movie screen during the “pre-show entertainment” that was intended to bamboozle the audience into thinking the reason for returning the glasses upon the completion of the film was to “stay green”.  Ok, how is having to produce another pair of plastic glasses “being green”?  If you would allow me, as well as the many other theater goers who are like-minded, to keep our glasses, the need to produce more would be drastically reduced, resulting in a truer form of “being green”.

I wouldn’t raise such a ruckus regarding this if the glasses were free.  I would happily return them as I exit the theater.  However, I’ve paid for the glasses.  I’ve not been given the choice to use my own over the use of those you are providing me.  Don’t even get me started on the fake Imax that you also asked me to pay extra for a few months ago.

So I ask, either allow those of us who have our own glasses to bring them in, just as you allow those of us who have free passes to enter your theater.  I also ask that you stop charging extra for the pair you offer.  I understand that the studio “forces” you to pay that fee.  But if you all would refuse to show their films in 3D unless they paid for it themselves, you would have the upper hand.  In fact, you already do.  They need you to show their films.  Treat it that way.

And lastly, if nothing else, I ask that you at least honor the free passes in a manner that allows me to truly see the film for free.

Reason #8Coming Tomorrow

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2010 in Music

 

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Road to Oscars – Up & Up in the Air

UP
2009
Directed by: Pete Doctor
Cast: Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer, Delroy Lindo, John Ratzenberger
Genre: Animated
Rated PG for Some peril and action

Oh Pixar.  Can you do no wrong?  I’m not sure what is going on up there in Pixar-ville, but most other studios need to take note.  Pixar does it right.  They are most assuredly in a class all on their own.  For those still unsure, I’ll come right out and say it.  I loved this film.  In fact, there hasn’t been a Pixar film that I haven’t enjoyed.  It appears that the folks at Pixar put a great deal of importance on the story, something most other studios seem to have forgotten about.  This is evident in the way a studio markets their animated pictures.  Most of the time, an animated film’s poster will feature the names of every A-list actor lending a voice to the film.  Not Pixar.  They put such stock in story and animation, that the voice actors only add to the films eminence.

In a first for a Pixar film, the viewer is instantly introduced to reality in the death of one of its characters.  After his wife of many years dies, 78-year-old Carl Fredricksen sets out to fulfill his lifelong dream to see the wilds of South America.  He ties bunches of balloons to his house, and sets off on an adventure of a lifetime.  However, unbeknownst to him, he has inadvertently picked up a stowaway in Russell, an 8 year old Wilderness Explorer.  Together, they embark on a journey full of talking animals and an other unexpected surprises.

The film originally was released theatrically in 3D.  However, the film needn’t be seen in 3D in order to appreciate the fine talents of the folks at 1200 Park Avenue.  One can simply sit back and enjoy the film for what it is;  An excellent piece of work from screenwriters Pete Doctor & Bob Peterson.  You’d be best to give this DVD/Blu-ray a spin today.  You’ll certainly be glad that you did.

Rating = ***** / 5

UP IN THE AIR
2009
Directed by: Jason Reitman
Cast: George Clooney, Anna Kendrick, Vera Farmiga, Jason Bateman
Genre: Comedy / Drama
Rated R For some language and sexual content

I am a fan of Jason Reitman’s work.  I enjoyed his freshman take on Big Tobacco in “Thank You for Smoking”.  His sophomoric follow-up, “Juno” was only strengthened by the excellent script from Diablo Cody.  For his third time at the plate, he hits one out of the ballpark with “Up in the Air”, a script he’d been working on for over 7 years.  In a strange twist of fate, the film about a corporate downsizing expert (Clooney) tasked with traveling around the country to notify people that they’ve been fired from their jobs couldn’t have been timed any better.  Couple that with the second story of Clooney’s character, Ryan Bingham, suffering from a phobia of committing to a monogamous relationship (ahem, another twist of irony?) and you have yourself a true winner that resonates with audiences both young and old.

The coupling of Clooney with Anna Kendrick is spectacular, bringing tension and camaraderie reminiscent of the screwball comedies of yesteryear.  At moments I felt as though I were watching the reincarnation of Grant/Russell or Grant/Hepburn.  The witty banter Reitman writes for Clooney/Kendrick, and the success at which they pull it off, is something I hope other filmmakers take note off.  Add to that mix the wonderful performance by Vera Farmiga as Clooney’s love interest, and an always welcome appearance by the talented Jason Bateman, and this home run is a grand slam.

The fact that Reitman chose to film actual people from middle America who recently found themselves standing in the local unemployment line only served to add an air of credibility to this film.  SPOILER ALERT:  At one point, even Bingham finds himself on the receiving end of the pink slip due to technology, a point that also no doubt resonates close to home for some in the viewing audience.  And to be honest, I didn’t see the end coming until it was upon me, which was very welcome indeed.  Seeing Bingham’s realization and transformation unfold was easy to embrace and atypical of other Hollywood fare.  I certainly would recommend this film to others.  I don’t think you will be disappointed in the least.

Rating = **** / 5

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2010 in Movies

 

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Road to Oscars – The Blind Side & Precious

THE BLIND SIDE
2009
Directed by: John Lee Hancock
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Quinton Aaron, Tim McGraw, Jae Head, Kathy Bates
Genre: Drama
Rated PG-13 For one scene involving brief violence, drug and sexual references.

I generally am not a fan of modern day football movies.  The last good film that I saw was likely 1993’s Sean Astin vehicle “Rudy” (which also featured a very cool guy and actor Charles S. “Rock” Dutton).  Sure there have been many films since then: “We Are Marshall”, “Remember the Titans”, “Friday Night Lights”, “Facing the Giants”, “Leatherheads”, and “Hometown Legend”(sorry Jimmy!).  But they all are very clichéd films.  Very formulaic.  Played out plot-lines, with forgettable performances.  Each time, I feel I am watching a reboot of “Rudy”, or ‘“Hoosiers” with football’.  None of them are as original or memorable as films such as 1925’s “The Freshman”, “Brian’s Song”, “The Longest Yard” (The original 1974 version, natch), “All the Right Moves”, “North Dallas Forty”, or “Lucas”.  Which is why I went into “The Blind Side” with extreme hesitation.

I am happy to report back that I found “The Blind Side” thoroughly enjoyable.  The story is that of Michael Oher, who went from a troubled and parentless childhood to professional offensive tackle for the Baltimore Ravens after being taken in by the wealthy Tuohy family.  One night, Leigh Anne Tuohy, played by Sandra Bullock, meets Oher, and for some reason decides to help him.  The whole family takes an immediate liking to Michael, and Leigh and husband Sean decide to let him stay with them, pay for his education, help him find tutoring, and raise him as their own alongside their two children.  While most of the acting is simply OK, it’s the performance by Sandra Bullock that elevates this film above the aforementioned films.  For the first time in many years, audiences got a glimpse of a woman who CAN ACT!  The perfect southern accent, the soccer mom portrayal, the genuine care for Oher, all are played with perfection.  It became very apparent to me why Bullock had been receiving the accolades and awards.  And secondly, newcomer Quinton Aaron gives a perfect performance as Michael, a man devastated by his harsh past and unable to relate to those around him.  The fact that this film tackles racism, although subtly, certainly adds to the films ability to stand apart from the other more clichéd fare.  The focus of the film isn’t the sport.  It isn’t the team.  It’s the character.  And it’s the love for human beings less fortunate than ourselves that certainly is resonating with audiences in the current financial climate.

Rating = **** / 5

PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL ‘PUSH’ BY SAPPHIRE
2009
Directed by: Lee Daniels
Cast: Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz
Genre: Drama
Rated R for Child abuse including sexual assault, and pervasive language

Disturbing?  Check.  Uncomfortable?  Check.  Dark?  Check.  Vulgar?  Check.  Excellently made movie with stellar acting to boot?  Check.  I was enthralled by the story of Precious Jones, a viciously abused and pregnant overweight teen from Harlem, as it was a film like no other this year.  The young girl, who suffers from verbal and physical harrassment by her mother (excellently portrayed by a Golden Globe-winning Mo’Nique) and incestuous rape by her father,  enrolls in an alternative school, where she must battle unimaginable barriers to succeed in life.   I was astounded at the performances by Mo’Nique and Gaboruey Sidibe in this film.  I was repulsed at the things I witnessed on the screen, which doesn’t happen often for me.  I was taken in by the performances in a way that left me feeling like I just witnessed one of the most disturbing documentaries of the year.  I was equally caught off guard by surprisingly top notch performances by Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz as well.

As anyone who knows my taste in films, I like a film that portrays its characters in a believable way.  That goes from everything from actions the character takes (their behaviors must be befitting their lifestyle/career choice) to language (hearing Michael Corleone constantly use the “F” word is consistent with his lifestyle)  With Precious, I had no complaints in such regard.  I was taken in and left feeling sorrow for the young woman on the screen.  In fact, it came as little surprise for me to learn of the recognition this film garnered upon its release.  Disturbing though it may have been, it was a film that surely will get director Lee Daniels another film or two to add to his stable.  Let’s just hope the next one is a little more uplifting!

Rating = **** / 5

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2010 in Movies

 

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Road to Oscars – An Education & A Serious Man

AN EDUCATION
2009
Directed by: Lone Scherfig
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Alfred Molina, Emma Thompson, Peter Sarsgaard
Genre: Drama
Rated PG-13 For mature thematic material involving sexual content, and for smoking

I deliberately went into this film having avoided any and all reviews, trailers, or blog posts.  I usually am a sucker for romantic dramas.  My wife has no problem getting me into  the local cineplex to see wonderfully crafted films such as “Once”, “Pride and Prejudice”, “Before Sunrise”, or “Remains of the Day”.  I’m even a fan of excellently produced May-December romance pics such as “An Affair to Remember”, “The Graduate”, “Crazy Heart”, and “Love in the Afternoon”.  I appreciate a story that begins with the appearance that the characters are destined for failure, but eventually overcome any hurdles by films end, proving the old adage that “Love Conquers All”.  “An Education” fits only part of that bill.

Newcomer Carey Mulligan is a fine actress, and is amazingly believable in her portrayal of a smitten young teen.  If nothing else, I wouldn’t be surprised if she wins the Best Actress Oscar, and goes on to a very fulfilling career in film.  Mulligan plays a credulous 16 year old who meets the guile older man, played by Peter Sarsgaard with perfection, and begins to fall head-over-heels for him and his sophisticated/avant-garde lifestyle.  All those around her seem to support her relationship with her new suitor, despite the fact that he is twice her age, and she is a minor.  The only exception being that of her instructor, played by Emma Thompson.  This was the only fault I had with this film.  I simply had a hard time believing that at least one of her parents wouldn’t have at least questioned the relationship, considering how “conservative” the father initially was portrayed.  The music and set designs of the film are excellently crafted together to further prove that Lone Scherfig is a very talented film-maker.  As entertaining as though the film may be, I found it a little predictable towards the end.  Thankfully, the film is rescued by the acting all around, and is worth a viewing for the performances alone.

Rating
= *** / 5


A SERIOUS MAN
2009
Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen
Cast: Michael Stuhlbarg, Aaron Wolff, Richard Kind
Genre: Drama
Rated R For language, some sexuality/nudity and brief violence

Let me preface this review by stating that I generally am a fan of the Coen brothers’ films.  “Raising Arizona” and “The Big Lebowski” are easily in my top 100 list.  The wry, often dark, humor that peppers the brothers’ films sets their body of work above the rest.  Which is why a film like “A Serious Man” disappoints.  I can’t quite place my finger on the reason this film didn’t resonate with me the way films like “Fargo”, “Hudsucker Proxy”, or “Barton Fink” had.  Perhaps it’s my lack of knowledge in the subject matter.  This is a work of love; a very passionate film deeply entwined with the customs and language of a Jewish family.

I can appreciate the film for it’s portrayal of a 1967 Jewish neighborhood that bears a strong resemblance to the neighborhood familiar to the Coen’s.  What I can’t get past is that there fails to be a character in the film to stand behind and root for.  There isn’t a character that is portrayed in an overall positive light.  Larry Gopnik, played by Michael Stuhlbarg, is a miserable man who doesn’t know what he wants in life.  Larry’s wife, Judith, is having an affair, and thus leaves him, for “friendly” neighbor Sy Ableman. Larry’s children are equally as contemptible.  His daughter is a materialistic thief, stealing money from her own father for her selfish ambitions.   His son is a loaf who gives more energy into watching TV and listening to the latest album than prepare for something as important as his bar mitzvah.  Larry’s lazy brother does nothing but lounge on his couch all day.  Even the somber “Fargo” had a positive, likable character in Marge Gunderson.  It’s hard to get behind a film, when you can’t get behind any of the characters.

Rating
= ** / 5

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2010 in Movies

 

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