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Attn: Movie Theater Owners, or Why I’ll Never Pay to See Another Movie in a Movie Theater Again – Part 2

In yesterdays post, I touched upon parking and ticket prices as the reasons that I will no longer give my business to a movie theater.  Today I intend to bring two more very important and impassioned pleas to theater owners everywhere.  The purpose of this 5 part blog (resulting in 12 reasons) is to voice my opinion, which I know is shared by many.

Of course the temptation to include things that are out of the theater owners hands is there, but I will save that for a letter to the studios.  I could easily compose another week long list containing topics as varied as the lack of intermissions (something the great moving pictures of old are noted for), or the omission of overtures, or the superfluous credits at both the opening and closing of a film, or the editing styles that make those afflicted with ADD resemble Ambien® patients.  But this is not the time, nor the place.  Instead, I continue with my reasons why I’ll never pay to see another movie in a movie theater again.

Reason #3:  Seating

Tell me any other entertainment event that requires the purchase of a ticket where seating isn’t assigned.  There aren’t many.  Sporting events, Theatre productions (ie. Plays), Concerts, Symphony Orchestras, Comedy shows, Circus acts, and Modeling runway shows all assign you a specific seat.  In fact, all of these events feature ticket prices that are tiered according to the “section” your seat is in.  This doesn’t exist in most movie theaters.  Contrary to what theater owners may think, stadium style does have its drawbacks.  Not all seats are created equal. It doesn’t seem right that I have to pay the same price for a seat in the front row as I would for a seat in the prime center of the theater.

What happened to the aisles?  In days of yesteryear, it wasn’t abnormal to find a theater with a middle aisle (going from front to back), an aisle crossing through the middle of that aisle, an aisle in the rear of the theater, the two side aisles, and an aisle in the front of the theater.  Occasionally, a theater could be found that would have two middle aisles (again, from front to back), resulting in six floor seating sections, similar to how you would still find it at an actual performance theater.  This allowed for easy exits to the restroom, or visits to the concession stand.  The aisles always had the small lighting at the ground level, illuminating in the faintest of ways the floor for those moving about during the film.

Handicapped seating is abysmal.  A few years ago, I found myself in need of a wheelchair due to a broken leg (actually 9 breaks, but who’s counting).  Being confined to the lounge chair on wheels didn’t deter from my passion for cinema.  I quickly realized how horrendous the theaters have designed their stadium style auditoriums.  The handicapped section (usually a seat or two has been removed, leaving an empty space amongst the rest of the seats) is usually off to the side, up near the front, or at the rear of the theater.  Never have I seen a small section in the center, or off-center.  If you are in a wheelchair, enjoy the exit sign glowing in your face.

In addition, what happened to the balconies.  They were the best place to see a movie, and often allowed for a young boy to peer into the projection booth and see how the magic was happening.  In fact, many times, the balconies allowed for less of a strained neck, and still allowed for middle of the theater experience.

So I propose that you, Mr. Theater owner, give the local architect a call.  If you’ve lost the number, you can have your $14 seats, so long as you feature numbers on the rows and seats, and those costly tickets are for the chairs in the exact center of the auditorium.  The back-row seats would be slightly cheaper, the end-row seats even cheaper, with the front-row seats being the cheapest, at $4 per seat.  I would pay my fee, and choose from a seating chart on the website, or at the ticket counter, similar in fashion to how Ticketmaster operates.  Otherwise, drop the tickets back down to a price (I told you that many of the topics are related!) that is welcoming, and you can begin to win me back.

Reason #4:  Lack of Special Events

As a young child, there were many special occasions at many of the local cinemas that left an indelible impression on me.  There were many ways a theater catered to the customer in a way that doesn’t exist today.  These were the “Special Events”, or the “Special Features” of movies, (A term that wouldn’t be used for movies until years after theaters stopped offering them, and then for the bonus content on DVD’s/Laserdiscs).

There were many variations of the “Special Events” that a theater offered.  A spectacular “Event” that many theaters were known to partake in were the ‘freebies’.  On many occasions, a theater would give away the poster for the movie to all who purchased a ticket.  There were times such as the day that I went to see “E.T” and the theater was giving away free packs of Reese’s Pieces to every ticket holder.  I vividly recall the time that I went to see “Return of the Jedi” and was given a free paper Yoda mask (similar to the one found on box backs of C-3PO cereal).  Today I’m lucky if I get a free small popcorn (if I happen to go on a Wednesday, that is.)

Often, the “Early Bird” showings mentioned previously would be preceded by a few Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Three Stooges, or Laurel and Hardy shorts.  Of course I am not referring to the days of my grandparents, but to a mere 20 years ago, give or take a few.  In fact, many of the theaters still had organs up front.  On Saturday mornings, they would fire up the old Wurlitzer and play music during those same cartoons and/or shorts (up until a few years ago, the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, CA would still do that, for only $5 admission!  But alas, they too no longer offer that memorable escapade).

There were the regular double features that a theater would offer, usually on a Saturday afternoon.  I can vividly remember the times I’ve gone to a film, paid for one ticket, and gotten to see two films.  And I’m not referring to a drive-in theater, nor theater hopping.  I’m speaking of the times a theater would show two films on the same bill.  The double features that my brother and I attended that I can easily recall were:  “Back to the Future”/”Rocky IV”, “Runaway Train”/”Rambo II”, “Empire Strikes Back”/”Weird Science”, “Cat’s Eye”/”Police Academy 2”, “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”/”Star Trek III: The Search for Spock”, and that just scratches the surface.

And lastly, theaters in every town would have curtains covering the screen.  They were closed before the projector lights turned on.  It gave off the impression that it was a special event, akin to being at the theatre to see the latest Andrew Loyd Webber production.  It was something small, but atmospheric.  It denoted that something special was about to take place.  The lights would darken, the curtains would pull back, and the previews would begin.  After a few minutes of previews, and nothing else, the curtain would pull back a little more, and the film would begin.  Pure enjoyment.

Regarding this, I say to you Mr. Theater owner.  Bring back some features that prove that you care about your customers, and want them to enjoy the movies in your venue, instead of from the comfort of their own couches.  If the complaint is that people aren’t going to the theater because of personal home theaters, give us those special features that cannot be had in the latest Blu-ray Special Edition.  Help us to experience events that will leave lasting impressions, and I’ll be amongst the first to pay you a visit.

Reason #5: Coming tomorrow….

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2010 in Movies

 

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Road to Oscars – The Hurt Locker & Inglorious Basterds

THE HURT LOCKER
2009
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse, Guy Pearce
Genre: War
Rated R For war violence and language

I always enjoy a good war movie.  I rarely need to hear reviews before I’ve already pre-ordered my ticket in my favorite seat at the Arclight Cinema, used my member points to get a concession stand certificate, and invited a few of my closest friends for a guys night out.  I can easily point out a great war movie from each decade that Hollywood has been pumping them out.  Any learned film student will tell you that the films they are asked to watch to learn the craft of filmmaking will undoubtedly contain “The Birth of a Nation”, “Battleship Potemkin”, “The General”, and “Gone with the Wind”.  Moving up through the years, I would include “All Quiet on the Western Front”, “Sergeant York”, “They Were Expendable”, “The Bridge on the River Kwai”, and “The Longest Day”.  And bringing us up to the modern era, I would add “Patton”, “Apocalypse Now”, “Ran”, and “Full Metal Jacket”.  In each of these films, and many more too numerous to name, the intense feeling of being in war is wonderfully conveyed.  So it was with great expectation that I headed into the local cineplex to see Kathryn Bigelow’s magnum opus, “The Hurt Locker”.

This is the tale of the U.S. Army’s elite bomb disposal unit, the EOD, operating in Iraq for the last 39 days of their tour.  SFC William James (Jeremy Renner) is a bomb disposal expert and he is replacing Sgt Matt Thompson, a long-standing member of the team who was recently killed disposing of an improvised explosive device.  He comes in overseeing the squad, consisting of Sergeant JT Sanborn and Specialist Owen Eldridge.

It’s the way that Bigelow portrays him that pulls me out of the enjoyment of this film on the level I was expecting.  For the first half of the film, SFC James comes across as a Rambo-type character.  He has little to no regard for he or his squads safety.  He bursts into each bomb situation in a reckless manner, despite the consternation of the others.  He rips off protective armor, deliberately rushes into a situation with a supposed live and active bomb, without taking precautionary measures, and disobeys the advice of those around him in order to experience the thrill and rush of the job.  Now, the problem I had was, this wasn’t very believable to me.  Why wasn’t he reprimanded?  Why, if he is suffering from such reckless behavior due to PTSD, wasn’t he removed from his position?  Would this really be allowed to go on, when so many other soldiers lives are at stake?  I was happy to see that the 2nd half of the film redeemed, to sorts, the qualms I had regarding the first half.  The intrigue and suspense seemed to rise, and the access into the mind of the character was a welcome respite from his actions.  However, for me, I felt the characters didn’t particularly have much of an arc, nor did I find there to be a substantial display of resolve.  That being said, I did enjoy the atmosphere of the film.  And the sets and situations, aside from the aforementioned, were splendidly directed.  Unfortunately, I don’t think this film by the very talented Kathryn Bigelow will see a spot on my list of top war films in the future.

Rating = *** / 5

INGLORIOUS BASTERDS
2009
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, B.J. Novak
Genre: Drama / Thriller
Rated R For strong graphic violence, language and brief sexuality

Apart from “Kill Bill”, I have thoroughly enjoyed the films of Quentin Tarantino.  My two favorite works of his are “Jackie Brown” and “True Romance” (granted he didn’t direct “True Romance”, but he wrote it, and that is part of his works, natch).  When any person sits to watch a film from this talented filmmaker, they are without a doubt going to witness a true work of passion.  Tarantino is no slouch, rather he is a tenured scholar of the filmmaking lexicon.  The homages to other films, stars, and musical numbers are consistently peppered throughout his bodies of work.  For that sheer fact alone, viewing his films are akin to attending the most engrossing of film schools.

All that being said, I have to be honest.  For some unknown reason, I had zero desire to see the latest contribution to the oeuvre of Mr. Tarantino.  Perhaps it had to do with my dislike of the “Kill Bill” films?  Perhaps it’s because I’ve had my fill of overly grisly films as of late, and I’d heard that “Basterds” fit that bill?  Perhaps it’s simply because I have a busy schedule and find little time to see films I’m not entirely enthralled about?  Nonetheless, when the film garnered an Academy Award nomination, I decided to view the film.  Let me say, I am certainly glad that I did.

The story is that of a Jewish cinema owner (played excellently by Mélanie Laurent) in occupied Paris is forced to host a Nazi movie premiere where the führer himself is slated to attend.  Meanwhile, a rag tag group of American soldiers, brutal in their own conquering way, are called the Basterds, and they hatch a plan to overtake the Nazis in this small little theater.  The only thing standing in their way is the Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz in a simply mezmerizing role).  Many have noted that this is Tarantino’s homage to the classic Spaghetti Western, set during WWII instead of the old west.  I couldn’t agree more.

I found this film quite entertaining and suspenseful.  Being from Tarantino, it should come as no surprise that the film relies heavily on clever dialogue rather than grandiose action sequences.  What little action there is is brutally gruesome and gory.  For those who do not like foreign films, be aware that most of the film is subtitled, as the movie takes place in Nazi occupied France.  If you can get past that, however, you will find that the story is very clever, full of twists, and intrigue.  It kept me from figuring out the end, which is saying a lot if you knew how many films I’ve seen.  When the ending did appear, however, it was depressing and downright hopeless.  Acting in the film is stellar, and the lack of action plays exceptionally well, no doubt a testament to the writing prowess of Tarantino.  While I could have taken a little less of the actual displays of graphic violence (after all, I am a huge fan of the Hitchcockian way of leaving a little to the imagination) sprinkled here and there, I can happily say that the film is deserving of any and all praise it has received.

Rating = **** / 5

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2010 in Movies

 

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