ENJOY THE MOVIES
Has your nearest cinema installed a digital 3D screen yet? If you immediately answered "no," check again, because this is a big week for upgrading. The closest movie theater to my home is an old family-owned cinema, and I never would have expected them to be able to afford digital projection, let alone the 3D add-on. But apparently it will be showing Monsters vs. Aliens beginning this Friday with their "New 3D presentation!" Nevermind that this particular cinema is long overdue to improve more general film presentation problems, including a failing sound system, faulty lights and an awkward seating layout.
If I were somehow given the opportunity to host my own moviegoer-based reality show, I would have difficulty deciding what sort of show it would be. One idea is a Travel Channel show in which I'm the movie theater version of Anthony Bourdain, visiting cinemas (and former cinemas) around the world, with a concentration on celebrating moviegoing. However, the other idea is more negative, though it focuses on my desire to fix the many problems with today's theaters. On the flip side, as a movie theater version of Gordon Ramsay (or Tabatha Coffey), I would go to troubled cinemas and give them a makeover.
Do you have any brand loyalty when it comes to movie theaters? I ask this because of the recent news that former Starbucks exec Gerald Lopez has been made head of AMC Theaters, the second-largest cinema chain in North America. Of course, Starbucks may not be a company you think of in terms of loyalty so much as addiction, since people primarily seem to go there either because the coffee chain has taken over their market or because it hooks them with higher doses of caffeine. But thinking of analogous ideas Lopez could implement at AMC, perhaps we'll soon be eating narcotic-supplemented popcorn?
I'm not typically the most kid-friendly moviegoer. In fact, I've gone so far as to complain about screenings purposed specifically for allowing babies. But there's no way I'm against seeing movies in auditoriums filled with children. I just prefer that such an experience be with a film that's appropriate for children. This means I do not want to hear infants and toddlers crying in a late night screening of an adult-oriented movie, and I certainly don't want to accidentally walk in to a "Baby Night" showing at my favorite drafthouse-type cinema, especially for a film as complex and attention necessitating as Synecdoche, New York.
Last week, I focused this column on one kind of subjective moviegoing experience - that of seeing certain films with "beneficial companions." To continue the topic this week, I'd like to discuss the more common act of seeing films because of personal interest or relativity. It's such a typical reason to see a movie, that we don't even think about it most of the time. Those people who love football usually enjoy football movies, good or bad; the same may be true for people who love other sports and their corresponding films. And likewise, someone who loves dogs and/or has one may go see Marley & Me and Bolt and even Hotel for Dogs and will appreciate them subjectively regardless of what film critics have to say about their worth.
Sometimes it's important, or at least worthwhile for my moviegoing experience, to see a particular film with a particular companion. For example, when I went to Doubt, it was essential to my enjoyment of the film that I sat next to a woman who'd gone to Catholic school in the '50s and thereby related completely with the setting and events on screen. She laughed loudly at certain moments depicting the customs of the parish and the conduct in the classroom, scenes she recognized from her youth, and afterwards she praised Meryl Streep's performance as being quite familiar. "The reviews I read criticize her for going over the top with a caricature," my companion said, "but I had many teachers who were exactly like Sister Aloysius."
The Academy had their say, that The Dark Knight isn't one of the five "Best Picture" candidates for 2008. But who cares? Sure, you can't enjoy the Batman sequel as part of AMC's annual marathon of top Oscar contenders, but then again you can't see any of those five films in IMAX either. What would you prefer? Personally, I haven't decided if I like any of the Best Picture nominees any better than The Dark Knight. But I do personally prefer to see a movie as big as possible, as long as that movie is appropriate for such viewing. And not only is The Dark Knight appropriate for the size, but it was partially filmed for it. So, rather than see any of those other movies a second time, I chose to see The Dark Knight again, in IMAX.
I should have gotten wasted before seeing My Bloody Valentine 3-D. After all, I typically see movies as they're meant to be seen. And Lionsgate literally advertises the horror film as being better when you're drunk. Well, the real copy is specifically, "It's actually '4D' if you're wasted." Being in 4D doesn't necessarily mean it's better. Unfortunately, I went to MBV3D totally sober. And not simply because I saw an early show, at a time I typically figure too early to begin drinking. The truth is I've gotten drunk before and during horror films in the past. Once, for a press screening of Zombie Strippers, the alcohol was even supplied to us by the publicists prior to the movie. But each time I ended up nauseous.
Of all movies to see with an auditorium full of crying babies, it just had to be Synecdoche, New York. Fortunately, this was my second time watching the film, which requires a good deal of attention. I usually become distracted when there's only one crying baby, let alone multiple crying babies. Shockingly, I actually came away noticing things in the film I hadn't spotted the first time around. How did this miserable moviegoing experience happen? By accident, of course. Sure, as "The Moviegoer," I've been curious about baby-friendly screenings, but I kept putting off attending one, for obvious reasons. Unfortunately, I had only one night available to visit my favorite East Bay theater, the Cerrito Speakeasy. And wouldn't you know, that one night was "Baby Brigade" night.
I may be a cinephile and a cinemaphile, but I'm hardly a cinemaniac, which means I unfortunately don't see every new release that opens in theaters. And I certainly don't find enough time in the year to see even a fraction of the old films that play in the New York's revival houses and museums. So I should be pickier about what I actually do see on the big screen. Yet I saw Semi-Pro, Jumper and Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins all in the same month that I could have and should have instead seen Paranoid Park, The Band's Visit or any of the movies shown during Film Forum's Sidney Lumet retrospective (call me crazy, but I would have liked to have watched The Wiz on the big screen -- but it wasn't included in the series).
Imagine going to see a film so long that you enter the cinema one year and exit the next. No, I'm not making a joke about the running time of Che nor the seemed length of Synecdoche, New York. I am being playful about the issue of length, though, because I'm simply bringing up the topic of attending a late night screening on New Year's Eve. Yes, such showtimes exist, although as a longtime movie theater employee I never understood why. Well, I do I know the logical reason: enough tickets will be sold for all those late shows this Wednesday night to make it worthwhile to keep the projectors running through the night.
Want to buy a multiplex? In the coming weeks or months, a number of National Amusements cinemas should be up for sale (against the vote of the company's president, Shari Redstone), and because of the way the economy is right now, and with the desperation of the chain's liquidation, they could be priced at a bargain. Unfortunately, they're still going to be too expensive for the likes of me. I'm just a cinephile who would know what to do with a multiplex if I somehow acquired one. Instead, the theaters will likely be swallowed by one of the big chains, probably Regal, who only otherwise keep things the same.