Movie Tavern: Skeptic Turned Believer

I had read enough about the Alamo Drafthouse franchise in Texas to be slightly skeptical about the Movie Tavern that just opened it’s doors in Collegeville, PA. For those not familiar with this trend, both the Alamo and Movie Tavern provide theatergoers with food, drink, and seat service during a film. As fantastic as this sounds, as someone who gets cranky when they hear the crinkle of a candy bag, I was expecting a full blown aneurism at the prospect of listening to the orchestra of people eating a full-blown meal.

But I’m happy to report that I actually had a positive experience at Movie Tavern, and here’s why:

1. The auditorium setup
Because waiters need to be able to access everyone’s seat without too much disruption, the aisles in these theaters are huge. And consequently, so are the seats. Let’s just say this is probably the only time in my life I will experience what first class is like on an airplane. With so much room, it’s easy to get comfortable and enjoy the movie you’re watching.

2.  The fluidity/timing/ease of ordering food
Movie Tavern recommends arriving a half hour before your movie time to ensure that there is ample time to get seats, and order food and drinks. Because mostly everyone in the theater is ordering the bulk of their food before the movie even starts there is little risk of multiple interruptions while the film is playing. I think I was only passed three times by a waiter during the course of a two hour movie. Each seat has a tray to hold everything, and a button that you press for service. After you receive your food, the waiter only comes back if you push the button. To my surprise, very few people continued to order things throughout the movie. I guess I had little faith that people would remember the primary reason they go to theater: to see a movie, and not to eat.

3. The movie itself
Selection of the movie is an important thing to consider in this situation. I believe my experience was as positive as it was because I saw Cowboys & Aliens, an action movie that required little thought on my part, and enough noise to block out any mastication in my general area. Because I was in the middle of eating during the first twenty minutes of the movie, my attention wasn’t always up at the screen. I wouldn’t normally condone this, as I like to be fully immersed in the film from beginning to end, but Cowboys & Aliens is one of those fun, easy films that doesn’t require such stiffness. I want to stress again that I don’t think I would chose Movie Tavern for quieter, more introspective films where excess noise in the theater becomes a distraction.

4.  An extensive and reasonably priced menu
I was thrilled and surprised by the amount of choices offered. Movie Tavern has a full bar, and plenty of menu options (and dessert!) to please just about everyone. The food isn’t stellar, but not any worse than a large casual restaurant chain, like Applebee’s. It’s also a nice luxury to be able to drink beer during a film (without having to hide an ice pack in your coat and possibly be kicked out or worse, your beer confiscated).

5. Friendly waitstaff and employees
I think I was told “Enjoy your movie” five times before I even sat down. And while such enthusiasm may wane after the initial opening (trust me I’ve worked in service jobs before), I felt very welcome and taken care of while there. I’m calling out the service specifically because another one of our local theaters that we frequent out of necessity lacks the same friendly face. I’m not sure if it has anything to do with the moody teens that work there or what, but because there’s alcohol being served in the theater, a majority of the staff is older and less full of angst.

I came into this experience as a purist, believing that anything added to the theater experience was probably taking away from it. And in some cases, I believe Movie Tavern could take away from film watching. But if you’re looking for a fun, different, and social night outing with friends, then Movie Tavern may be something to look into-as long as the movie you’re watching isn’t The Tree of Life.

Movie Tavern website.

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Why a Theater Should Not Include Picnic Tables

This post is in response to a hilarious article at slashfilm regarding an obnoxious patron and her voice mail complaint to the Alamo Drafthouse. The Drafthouse theater incorporated the message into a “no texting” PSA that is played before each film. If you haven’t seen the PSA, you can view it here.

This whole situation is humorous on a variety of levels. For starters, it’s amazing to me that there are still people who need to be told that cell phones are obnoxious in movie theaters and that they should never even be seen from the moment the lights go down to the time the credits are rolling. Secondly, and most obviously, that Alamo Drafthouse created this amazing video to begin with, and lastly, that everyone missed the biggest offense in this whole scenario. I doubt I would pay much attention to the blinding glare of a cell phone when I’m too busy listening to the opus of chomping, slurping, and lip smacking that is inevitably going on all around me because instead of watching a movie, I’m apparently eating dinner.

Now, I have nothing against the Alamo Drafthouse, or other theater chains who feel it’s necessary to proliferate the mentality that no matter what Americans are doing they might as well be eating crappy food. Because that’s obviously what we need. I’m sure you’re saying, well, people already expect that everyone in the audience is going to be eating, and since they’re eating as well, they’re not bothered by it. AND, if you don’t like it, don’t go. Again, I totally understand that. But, I think it’s an unfortunate state of affairs when people insist on turning a beloved theater experience into basically a Friday night dinner at their house. One of my favorite things to do with friends is watch a movie (usually an “oldie but goodie”) and stuff pizza down my throat in the comfort of my own home. I also usually talk during these little get togethers because adding food to a group of people is bound to get them talking. It just happens. Eating is a social experience and that’s great.

But that’s just it-this only occurs in my home because I find it to be an intimate experience that is shared with great friends. When I go to a theater I have a different experience in mind. Usually I’m seeing a film for the first time, and crazy people like me, who are avid film lovers want to be completely immersed in the experience of watching and being attentive to a movie. Adding food in the mix diminishes this experience. I fear that if this becomes popular (and I hope that high prices keep most people away) everything I cherish about the filmgoing experience will be ruined. The dimmed lights, people reacting to the film and not the clams casino. Can we please just have one place where a giant feed bag isn’t required America? Isn’t dealing with cell phones and their idiot owners enough?

Movie Theater Chains Really Can Screw Up Just About Anything

Ever since our minor disaster at our midnight showing of the most recent Harry Potter film, in which the print was burned through at least twice, I have been making a minor effort to try to see as many films projected digitally as possible. I figured, “How could they possibly mess this up? All they have to do is keep the lenses clean and in focus, and hit ‘play.’ Right?”

Wrong. Ty Burr, a reporter for the Boston Globe, has a fascinating article about the current problems with digital projection (seriously, go read it!). Basically, the projector Sony has been offering the theater chains for free (in exchange for running Sony programming before screenings) has a lens that requires not only technically advanced knowledge but also:

James Bond, a Chicago-based projection guru who serves as technical expert for Roger Ebert’s Ebertfest, said issues with the Sonys are more than mechanical. Opening the projector alone involves security clearances and Internet passwords, “and if you don’t do it right, the machine will shut down on you.’’ The result, in his view, is that often the lens change isn’t made and “audiences are getting shortchanged.’’

As a result, the theater chains are just leaving the polarized lenses on the projectors, which results in films appearing 50-85% darker. Right now the chains are saying it’s up to the theater managers to decide, and the managers are giving the suggestion that the decision comes higher up.

Besides not having a lot of the problems that film prints might have (like, I don’t know, burning the print at a midnight showing of Harry Potter!!), they are also cheaper to operate and acquire films for, which potentially could lead the way for more selection at your local cineplex.

As regular theater-goers, it’s our job to get the word out. Luckily, there is a small consolation, because it is easy to tell if they aren’t removing the lens:

…There’s an easy way to tell. If you’re in a theater playing a digital print (the marquee at the ticket booth should have a “D’’ next to the film’s name), look back at the projection booth.

If you see two beams of light, one stacked on top of the other, that’s a Sony with the 3-D lens still in place. If there’s a single beam, it’s either a Sony with the 3-D lens removed or a different brand of digital projector, such as Christie or Barco.

So be on the lookout, and demand to be switched to a different screening if you see it. This is unacceptable.

The AMC Empire 25 Strikes Back

I love movie theaters, and I love visiting different theaters, though I admit I am hard pressed to spend some of my vacation time in a movie theater, because I always feel like I should be doing something more ‘local.’ My personal favorite theaters are smaller, more arthouse theaters, as they usually have a stronger sense of character about them. I always love going to the Ritz, Ambler or County theaters, but I also have fond memories of Cinema Center 3, in Newark DE, where I went to college. It was within easy walking distance from campus, and had the top new releases (loved seeing Snakes on a Plane there) as well as hosting film festivals and, of course, The Rocky Horror Picture Show every Saturday night at 11:59PM.

Although I have never worked in a movie theater, I often think I might have enjoyed being a projectionist, back when that was actually a job. In any case, the inner workings of a movie theater have always intrigued me, and perhaps my projectionist dream is one of romanticism more than actuality. In any case, The Hollywood Reporter recently had an excellent article about the AMC Empire 25 on 42nd Street in Times Square.

I have walked by this theater many times, but since I usually only venture up to New York for day trips, I don’t often have the time to take in a movie (especially because their regular tickets are $13 each!). However, this may change the next time I am there. The Empire has a lot of interesting things about it. It’s the top-grossing theater in the entire country, and they use their 25 screens to show a huge variety of films. I’m sure at our local AMC Neshaminy 24 this weekend, they’ll use half the screens on Thor and Fast Five alone, which is nice if you want to see those movies, but not so nice if you’re trying to see POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.

Not only that, the theater does have a long history, dating back to its original opening in 1912. By the Depression, it was a burlesque house that was eventually shut down by Mayor LaGuardia, later becoming a grindhouse/adult film theater by the 1950s, and remained that way until the Giuliani era Times Square clean up. Running a theater that size is obviously a massive undertaking, and THR makes it seem like the Empire is a well-oiled machine, despite AMC not allowing their employees to comment by name. 

The Empire is now on my radar for a future NYC visit, and I highly recommend reading the full article. 

What are your favorite movie theaters?

Abandoned Theaters

Happy Friday everyone-I wanted to share this link Ryan found a couple days ago-some haunting pics of deserted theaters across the country. It’s sad, but kind of interesting at the same time. What do you think should become of these buildings in the future?

How to Fix the Movies? Some Suggestions

Recently, Entertainment Weekly had a 10-item list about what studios and theater chains should do to create a better moviegoing experience. Here is their list:
1. For every giant CGI-filled blockbuster, commit to a modestly budgeted drama or comedy, a la Black Swan, or The Kids Are All Right
2. Don’t remake good movies, remake bad ones
3. Stop killing us with your popcorn
4. Embrace the On-Demand button-have a simultaneous theatrical and on-demand release-especially for indie movies.
5. Treat 3D like the good silverware-only bring it out for special occasions
6. Admit you’re jealous of TV and hire its best writers
7. Before a project gets a greenlight, someone involved with the project has to believe it will be a good movie. Ask, what makes this movie special?
8. Get rid of the commercials
9. No more than four screenwriters per script
10. Create separate screenings for schmucks (people too addicted to their phones)

These are all fine suggestions, but here are some of my own tweaks to their ideas:

1. Learn how to market films other than giant blockbusters
As this awards season proved, there are more than a few great indies and general non-dramas out there, but unless they are a surefire “prestige” picture, they get left by the wayside, dumped to winter, spring, or direct to dvd, without a real chance to find an audience.

It’s mostly smaller art houses that produce these movies, and the budgets just aren’t there for an all-out media assault (or, the films are only later picked up by large production houses after buzz is created, but no attempt at a proper campaign is made). All the more reason for larger studios to back up the little guys and throw some money at proper (and creative?) ad campaigns that yield results.

2. Don’t make movies based on merchandise/tie-in sales
I am glad EW didn’t just flat out object to remakes, but I think the problem is really in franchise films. Recently, it was discovered that Disney will only make sequels to films based on the sales of toys and other tie-ins, rather than the quality of the ideas.

3. Stop killing us with your popcorn prices
We all know it’s bad for us, but the least they can do is cut the prices. A bag of popcorn currently going for five or six dollars probably costs about a dollar to make. That’s a huge markup. Better concessions would be great, but you really just have to go to theaters like Landmark or Alamo Drafthouse to actually get good food at the movies. I know it’s how the movie chains make their money, but there has to be a compromise between theaters and moviegoers at some point; many people cite the outrageous concession prices as the reason they refuse to go to the theater in the first place!

4. Let me watch more movies sooner, at home and in the theater
I love going to the movies (which is apparently foreign to some people), but I don’t have the time or money to see all of the films I want to see in the theater. At home, I thrive on Netflix, which allows me to watch a virtually unlimited amount of movies for a flat fee. In this way, I can expose myself to many more films than I would ever be able to see in theaters. I’d love to be able to leave the theater with a voucher to download the movie I just watched, and have theater chains utilize the ease of digital projection to screen more movies in other markets that until now would only screen in New York or LA.

5. 3D should be an event
I agree with this one, completely. If I am going to spend the extra money to see 3D, it better be damn good. So far I’ve only felt that way with Avatar and Tron: Legacy.

6. Hire real comedy writers. You know, from TV.
I totally agree with this one too. Comedy films are dying. At this point, there are maybe two good comedies released a year, and they are all of the R-rated variety. On TV, however, comedy is blossoming, with great shows like The Office, 30Rock, Community, and Modern Family. All of these programs are on broadcast television, and can’t utilize the R-rated comedic repertoire, yet they possess some of the funniest written comedy around.

7. Put more effort into making each film special
Look, we all know for every Winter’s Bone, we get another Drive Angry 3D, and another Fast and Furious sequel. But there are ways to make great ‘B’ movies, that are at least inventive and fun, like Piranha 3D or Kick-Ass.

8. Bring back entertainment before the show
We always get to the movies way before the showtime, in order to get the best seats. And we are bombarded with ads and meaningless promotional drivel until the trailers start. An awesome solution would be to screen the wonderful live action, documentary, and animated shorts before films, or at least play some web videos or something. Maybe get some of those Tisch students to supply their senior film projects…

9. Don’t start shooting movies before you finished the script
See Pirates 2 and 3, many other franchise films, but no example is better than Men in Black 3:

“So the idea was to shoot the first act of the film in 2010, then take that planned hiatus, polish up the complicated time-travel parts of the script, and get back into it in February. But as one ‘former studio chief’ is quoted, “If [Will Smith] wasn’t satisfied after it’s been years in development, how are you going to fix that at Christmas?” (from slashfilm)
Crazy.

10. Create special screenings for adults.
Tweens, teens, and parents are my biggest problem at the movies, really. Adults I can speak to if they are talking too much or whatever, but I am tired of going into a ‘hard’ PG-13 movie on a Friday night and end up sitting in front of some 11- year- old with mom and dad, or next to some 14- year- olds who got dropped off. Basically, I end up going later at night, and then texting, talking teens are the issue. I say give them their own theater to jerk around in, and leave the adults to their film and box of Junior Mints in peace. Recently it seems that baby boomers are staging a theater resurgence, so this “separate schmuck screenings” idea may actually be a possibility.