Tuesday, April 12, 2016

at the late-night, double feature picture show

The experience of going to the movies has greatly improved at the same rate that the movies themselves have declined. When I was a kid, in the 1960s, going to the movies meant paying a buck for admission to a theater jammed with other screaming kids on a Saturday afternoon. It meant buying a giant bucket of popcorn — some to be eaten, some to be thrown. It meant a shitty sound system with barely-understood dialog pumped through ancient, crackly speakers. And the movie? Well, in my neighborhood, we had to wait several weeks until the big Hollywood productions made their way out of the ritzy, downtown theaters and into the twin-screen cinemas in the so-called "Greater Northeast," a section of the city that, while geographically was "northeast" of Philadelphia, was, by no means "great." So, our entertainment was provided by a movie that the rest of the world saw a month earlier or a years old, third-rate K. Gordon Murray twisted child fantasy. Nevertheless, it was a memorable experience. 

By the time I reached high school, the first-run policy had been relaxed and movies would premiere just a short drive from my house, in theaters that had been expanded to accommodate up to four separate screens. Most times, this was accomplished by splitting existing auditoriums in half. Economically, this made perfect sense for the theater chains, but the viewing experience was akin to watching a movie in a bowling alley. The ticket prices increased, of course, to subsidize the renovations, but the seats seemed more comfortable and the concession stands seemed to offer a wider and better selection of food.

Although I love movies, I stopped going when the ticket prices skyrocketed and the quality of the actual films diminished. There was that glut of big-screen versions of television shows — mostly miscast and filled with contrived premises. Then there were the plotless action films with more attention paid to explosions than to an actual script. So, I stayed away. Also, thanks to the advent of home video,  people just flat out forgot how to behave in the company of other people. They'd talk loudly, text incessantly and parade up and down the aisles regularly. Some even brought screaming children to inappropriate films. My son and I watched a couple wander into a theater pushing, not one, but two strollers for a 9:15 PM showing of Hellboy. Really, Mom and Dad? Hellboy?

Then theaters began installing stadium seating and sophisticated, state-of-the-art sound systems. Concession stands were stocked with menus featuring deli-style sandwiches and side orders like french fries alongside the M&Ms and popcorn. The auditoriums were even cleaner. Shoes no longer stuck to the floor while walking to a seat. It was slowly becoming a welcoming experience again, albeit very slowly. My wife and I, however, could still categorize our movie-going frequency as "infrequent." 

Last night, Mrs. P and I took in the pinnacle of the movie-going experience. A local branch of the innovative theater chain Movie Tavern opened in late 2015 a mere twenty minute drive from our house. I had heard about how great it was, with a full-service bar, restaurant and movie theater combined into one big, convenient conglomeration. Not content with a package of Twizzlers and a bathtub-size cup of Sprite? Well, how about sweet potato fries, Margherita Flatbread pizza or a 1/3 pound bacon cheeseburger while you watch your choice of films on your choice of eight screens? Remember John Travolta's revelation in Pulp Fiction as he explained about getting a glass of beer in a movie theater? Well, Movie Tavern makes that reality. Yes sir, someone was doing some thinking and they hit upon a concept so simple, I'm surprised it took so long.

Mrs. P and I were led to our reserved seats by Kyle, an overly-friendly and overly-attentive server. Kyle answered all of our procedural questions without once mocking us for behaving as though we had never been out of the house. He showed us the control to make the deep-cushioned seat recline to almost a flat position. He showed us the magical "call button" that would summon him at a second's notice. (Mrs. P immediately tried it out while he was still going through his explanation.) We ordered dinner and I anxiously pondered how disruptive the food delivery would be. Soon the theater darkened and, as coming attractions splashed across the enormous screen, a warm bowl of spinach-artichoke dip silently arrived at our seats. This was gonna be great! The main feature began. (Despite horrible reviews, we were seeing Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I hate superhero movies. My wife loves superhero movies, I love my wife, ergo...) Our main course arrived just as stealthily as our appetizer — a hefty and delicious roasted vegetable wrap for me and a grilled portobello mushroom "burger" for the Mrs. In the dark, we exchanged approving nods for the food, the seats, the service and the theater. We agreed that we may never go to another movie theater again. If we can get them to serve Chinese food on Christmas, this place could be as close to Heaven as one could get.

The movie, however, was another story. Jam-packed with convoluted sub-plots, faux-profound dialog, relentlessly lengthy fight scenes and a plethora of unnecessarily menacing characters (not to mention Ben Affleck's ligneous acting), it's no wonder this 151-minute mish-mash tanked in its second week of release. Even Mrs. P — who still enjoys 1983's misguided Superman III — shook her head in disgust at this mess.

Current movies still suck, but, damn!, if Movie Tavern don't got it goin' on.



  1. Sounds like the ticket price must've gone up some more to pay for all the luxury. Congrats to the in-law's for having the birthday of their choice :)

    1. Actually, tickets were the same as any movie theater, around $12.50. Dinner prices were comparable to TGIFriday's.