Sunday, November 11, 2007

The ArcLight & Landmark theaters: Cinephile paradise or giant ripoff?

Don’t know about where you live but here in El-Lay we now have state-of-the-art movie complexes. Reserved seating, plush leather seats, designer concessions, all kinds of amenities to make you forget you’re paying more than top dollar to see LIONS FOR LAMBS. Giant screens, stereo sound, THX. Everything a theatergoer could possibly want other than a rewrite. And before and after the film there are cafes, bars, a gift shop (LIONS FOR LAMBS action figures?), and even concierges. (“Excuse me, could you tell where I might rent a car during the show?”)

You’re not going to a movie, you’re having a complete “cinematic experience”.

The first one of these multi-screen modern movie palaces locally was the ArcLight in Hollywood. I’ve only been there once but it was quite lovely. Parking was confusing and expensive and getting to Hollywood is always an ordeal (and all the while you’re thinking to yourself “I must be passing six other theaters showing the same damn movie”) but the ArcLight doesn’t show commercials so it’s almost worth it.

However they do charge a pretty penny. From what I understand, beginning in December tickets will be $16. That’s right. One-six. For movies that will be on American Airlines in two months.

Slightly less expensive is the new challenger, the Landmark on the Westside. My wife and I went to see BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD there this weekend and this was our experience.

Free parking in a well-lit structure underneath. So far so good.

Buying tickets is like checking into the Bellagio. A long counter manned by three high school honor students. And a long snaking line that moves like molasses because each person takes five minutes to process. You have to select your movie, the time, pick out your seat from the seating chart. If there’s an older couple that’s an hour right there. (“What about here?” “No, too close.” “What about here?” “Feh!” “Can we just go in and decide and then come back?”)

And then the credit card transaction, and God forbid someone has a pass and needs to fill out a form. Next time I order online, even if that takes ten minutes and by mistake I’ve rented a condo in Hilton Head.

Matinee tickets: $11. Not terrible when you consider how much money we drop at Starbucks.

There are many cheery ushers, ticket takers, and concession clerks in smart uniforms. It’s like the UP WITH PEOPLE group all got daytime jobs. The candy counter features tony yogurt, mushroom on wheat pizzas, kosher hot dogs, Japanese biscuit sticks, Australian chocolate biscuits, pretzel sticks with choice of raspberry wasabi, apricot ginger, or champagne garlic gourmet mustard. I had popcorn and a drink. $9.

There’s mood lighting in the restroom – why, I don’t know. Do randy couples slip out of movies and scamper to the bathrooms to join the “Ten Feet Above Sea Level Club”?

Skipped the bar and lounge, which seemed more suited to LAX than a multiplex.

Most of the theaters have stadium seating. You better sit in one of the top rows because the lower rows are underneath the screen. From the first row you can almost kick the screen. They’d have to sell Japanese biscuits laced with marijuana for me to sit in one of those seats.

And then there are the “living room seating” theaters. Leather loveseats instead of chairs. Lucky us, we had drawn one of those. But they’re not just loveseats for two. There are also loveseats for three. That’s what we got assigned to. Debby, and me…and some fat guy. We complained to our usher, (Kenneth from 30 ROCK) and after much hand wringing he moved us to a couch for two.

Kenneth told us the idea for this living room arrangement was (a) to cater to the young date night crowd (who goes out on dates of three?) and (b) to simulate your living room experience. This I don’t get. Why would I want to pay big bucks to approximate sitting in my own house watching a DVD I can rent for pennies? And I never have to move over to give the fat guy room.

The previews began and you couldn’t hear them. Someone complained and the volume was raised to the threshold of pain. After the previews the lights went down, the feature began, two seconds later the lights went back on and you could hardly see the screen. And to make matters worse, it was a sex scene. A naked Marissa Tomei and I couldn’t see shit! Movie night at camp had more reliable equipment than this! The screen went blank. The lights went down, the picture came back, the sound was too low and had to be adjusted, and finally, after Marissa had put her top back on, we were able to watch the movie.

I live in a town of luxury boxes, stadium clubs, VIP sections, exclusive clubs. Everyone has to be special, privileged, “on the list”. And they’re willing to way overpay to get it. I go to a movie theater to see a movie, not to hoist a few, not to Christmas shop, not to sample the great biscuits of the world.

I can’t imagine a movie coming out that I would be willing to spend $16 to see. Unless Marissa Tomei was in the loveseat with me. Of course, my wife would want to be there too. Hey, maybe couches for three isn’t such a bad idea.

37 comments :

Julie O. said...

Ha! "Movie night at camp."

Wow, that brought back memories of THE BLOB and cold, damp floors and the clickety-clack of the projector and the smell of old cabins and the awkwardness of preteen boys...

John said...

Funny to read your post... I tried to go see CONTROL today at the Landmark. Couldn't get tickets online (since it's in a couch seating theatre), so my brother and I arrived to find it sold out. How annoying....

And to top it off, parking was really hard to find. Well, at least it was free.

I've had, for the most part, excellent service at the Arclight. I can buy my tickets online and show up moments before. Of course, I live in Hollywood, so it's not the journey it is for you Westsiders.

Of course, I do have to pay for parking and tickets being 16 bucks now (SERIOUSLY) gives me pause. Still.. I'll pay extra money to skip the crap time I had today -- which entailed a long journey West such as it is for you to come East.

The Crutnacker said...

Is it just me or does that first photo look like it took its design cues from a laptop computer.

The Crutnacker said...

And the movie execs scratch their heads at why people are not going to see movies in the theatres.

We had a beloved multiplex here in Louisville that was built by National Amusements/Showcase Cinemas. It was THE theatre for years, with about a dozen theatres, most of them huge, including one sweet 700 seat theatre that had a hugemongous concave screen (complete with curtains that moved across it). It's where I saw virtually every single blockbuster that came out during my lifetime, including Star Wars and Titanic. My wife and I had our first date there, to see the Tom Hanks movie, That Thing You Do. The chairs were very plush and reclined slightly, and even the seats in the front were decent. The sound rocked as well.

Then, as the neighborhood declined and Showcase built smaller multiplexes, this theatre slowly declined, and eventually closed.

My wife and I, just this weekend got to taste a bit of nostalgia when we parked in the parking lot of this theatre to see Ty Pennington and his group build an Extreme Makeover house here in Louisville. The theatre was the shuttle stop to take people to the house. It was sad to see the huge buildings that housed movie screens vacant, with graffiti on the outside, broken neon signs, and the still lit signs that had been there since the 70s that directed you to the lobby of the theatre that hadn't been open in probably 6 or 7 years.

It's soon to be the home of a church run by a "reverend" who (allegedly) moonlights as a corrupt roofer that takes advantage of storm victims. (No joke! http://www.whas11.com/topstories/stories/061807whasmjdTopPastor.1692dc6d.html )

Sorry, felt like reminscing.

Tom Quigley said...

Just out of curiosity, how many people walked out and complained to the management when the projection system broke down right in the middle of Marissa Tomei's topless scene who otherwise wouldn't have cared less if it had happened during the feature?...

On another note regarding the strike: After I had told my mom on Friday about the mass assemblage of writers that were going to be picketing at Fox studios, at some later point in the day she saw a news report showing the rioting and chaos being caused by the political demonstrators in Pakistan and asked me (in all seriousness)"Are those the writers?"... To which I couldn't help but reply "Only the ones picketing at Disney"....

Mary Stella said...

Ahh, the Keys have provided a cinematic experience for years.

Parking is free and there are usually plenty of spaces except on the night that the fishing/tackle shop across the street runs a free seminar. Lots of people turn out to learn about kite-fishing, net-tossing, baiting for mahi, etc.

We have a one screen theater with your choice of traditional theater seats or swiveling club chairs around small round cocktail tables. Your choice of three different beers and a few domestic white and red wines. Popcorn is only $1.55-$3.55.

No long commercials -- just "still" ads for local businesses. The theater recently upgraded to Power Point. Previously the projectionist hand-changed the slides.

Best of all -- tickets are only $6 a night; $5 for matinees. In high tourist season when a hot title's in town, people show up and form a line half an hour before the theater opens.

Len said...

I live on the Westside of LA and almost always will make the drive to Hollywood to see a movie at the Arclight. They do film screenings right. And you don't have to sit through ads for the local real estate lady or Fandango. The Landmark is five minutes from where I live and I regularly skip it. The screening rooms are badly designed and the floor lights as you exit after two hours in the dark are the equivalent of Lasix surgery. And, I have had some sort of projection foulup all three times I have been there.

estiv said...

If memory serves, the last time there was a big push to make movie theaters into a luxury experience was in the early fifties, when TV started sucking business away. So maybe this is all an implicit tribute to the power of the Internet, DVDs, video games, etc. to draw an audience. The theaters are trying to give you an experience you can't get at home. But you know what, as long as ninety percent of all movies truly suck, I'll continue to be a mouse potato most of the time.

Gail Renard said...

What? No free dishes?

Anonymous said...

I'm with estiv on this, most of the movies blow hard these days. I love my indies (live in Toronto and tell me you don't love indies), but they don't show in the small town I live in now. I'm taking in the new Ryan Gosling movie the second I can find a screen near me showing it. Ugh.

I much prefer the old movie cineas that doubled as theatres, like the Music Hall they used for the Chicago movie a few years back, with their worn in rickety seats that make you feel like not only are you enjoying a movie, but a dangerous thrill ride as well. Heh. I used to live a few blocks over from the Music Hall and went there for second and third runs all the time. Where I live now, the only town cinema closed and turned into a Meeting House, and then back into a movie revue cinema. It opened up last year and has had a great welcome reception by the towners.

We use our Air Miles to get movie passes with popcorn and drinks included, so we don't pay the normal $16 CDN/person (17.55 USD) for the plush theatre tickets and they don't even serve decent coffee! I'm so jealous, Ken. The revue tickets typically cost us $6 - 8/person (matinees up to regular first runs). So, with the trade on currency, that would be roughly $6.50 - 8.75 USD.

Anonymous said...

The ArcLight rules. It's worth the 16 bucks. Moved from Los Angeles three years ago. I miss my monthly trips to the ArcLight and Amoeba Records.

juliehaire said...

I do not find the ArcLight experience worth it....it is nicer than your average theater, but the seats aren't anymore comfortable and I could do without the usher's intro at the beginning telling me he's available for any questions. The best thing about it has to be the no commericals rule, though. Maybe that's worth the price of admission.

alan said...

Nice call back at the end. See, I did learn something in The Sitcom Room. My wife is so sick of me yelling "Squiggy" during 30 Rock.

Joey H said...

Forget all the other stuff. I want Cinerama!

Anonymous said...

Forget the theaters. I just time shift my movies. Ok so it takes a few months to be current but hell the presentation is much better on my 50 inch plasma and the popcorn is hot and fresh.

Considered going to see American Gangster on Saturday night. But since the waiting line was stocked with all manner of criminal types and loudmouths on cell phones I knew this was not going to be a pleasant movie going experience.

So Cinemax was debuting the King of Scotland in HD. Damn that idi Amin he was a hell of a gangster.

B

Anonymous said...

Add me to the list of Arclight fans. I live within walking distance of The Grove (which isn't a bad theater) but will happily trek over to the Arclight for the following reasons:

- If I'm late, I don't get stuck in the front or back row, since I bought tickets online and they have assigned seating. I can get there six seconds before the studio logo comes up and still sit right where I planned to sit, even if the show is sold out.

- If I'm early, I can get a martini at the bar. All movies are better after a martini.

Having to pay for parking always rubs me the wrong way, but I think it's only $2 with movie validation. I've had some luck on Vine at the meters after 6pm, so if you don't mind walking a block it's worth a shot.

Now the Beverly Center, don't get me started. You couldn't pay me to see a movie there...

- SR

John said...

Remember Ken, when you shell out for that $16 ticket at Landmark Theaters, you're helping owner Mark Cuban towards his goal of buying the Chicago Cubs. Or giving a raise to Dirk Nowitzki and paying off that breach-of-contract lawsuit by Don Nelson.

Ben said...

Just to play the obligatory "you think you got it bad?" comparison beloved of all bloggers' comments...

I pay £8 to see a film, in a cinema that plainly cannot accommodate my 6ft3 frame. £8 to spend another £4 on popcorn. £8 to watch a print of a film that's seen action inside of a tumble dryer.

So at $2.08 to £1, you've got it lucky.

Dhppy said...

I didn't even know the Westside Landmark theatres had opened. I remember when they were 3 tiny Laemmle ones shunted off in a corner like an afterthought. It was the place to go to mix highbrow foreign/indie entertainment with the lowbrow fun of hearing old people scream and fall down the two dimly lit simple steps placed in the middle of the aisle.

The Arclight is okay, but I'd prefer it if they would sell their caramel popcorn in their store so I could buy it and then go home and eat it while watching a rental.

Anonymous said...

Arclight! They make people be quiet.

And as we all know, the worst are the Beverly Cinemas during Awards season, when every old lady with a tattered SAG card can get a seat and chat away to her heart's content.

D. McEwan said...

Please turn off your cell phones and put your pagers on Vibrate Mode while reading this comment.

First off, about parking at the Arclight. Across the street from the Pantages is the subway station. One parks FREE at a subway station, and takes the subway to Vine, and strolls down a block to the Acrlight. Parking has now been accomplished for free. (Well, you have to pay the subway fare. I get a monthly pass. In any event, it's cheaper than parking at the Arclight.)

My nightmare? I pay $16 for "Living room Experience Seating."

I'm shown to a ratty, worn-out recliner covered in cat hair, with a broken footstand. The screen is the size of my TV (Like at the Beverly Center), There are two speakers. There is a stack of books beside my chair, every one of which is more interesting than the movie.

A phone rings periodically beside me, with someone recorded telling me they've been trying to reach me about the warrenty on the car I don't own.

A cat climbs on my lap halfway through the movie, and three-quarters of the way through, begins to complain that he hasn't been fed in an hour.

Someone knocks the door to sell me something during the car chase, so their school can raise money to keep kids off drugs, or put kids on drugs, or something.

During the loud parts, someone bangs on the ceiling and yells at me to turn it down.

That's my living room experience all right. I go to the movies to get AWAY from my living room experience.

Maybe I could charge myself $16 everytime I watch a DVD. I'd break even, and I could shout "Turn it up!" at myself.

ciachick said...

The Vista. Always the Vista. A movie doesn't cost more than $8. There's extra leg room between rows and while it's not exactly stadium seating, it's not regular seating either, so no problems when someone with a big hat sits in front of you. (Although when does this happen in movie theaters?) And you can bring in your own food if your wife has a big purse.

Cage Free Brown said...

many people in L.A. will pay good money to have their asses buffed and polished to a brilliant shine.

Dwacon® said...

I'd like to combine dinner and a movie. Rather than cramped folding seats, a tier of tables where you can sit side-by side with your date eating drunken rib eye with potatoes lyonnaise and asparagus spears and a fine chateau du pape while watching shia le bouf driving a car that turns into an anthropomorphic robot.

jbryant said...

Sorry to hear the Arclight price is going up. But it will probably still be my first choice. I went to the AMC Burbank last weekend and learned that prices had gone up and the matinee rate now stops at 4 p.m. So I paid full bloody price ($23.00) for two tickets to a show that started when the sun was still out. Sure, parking was free, but a bit of a pain (my friend has a slight disability, so we needed a spot in the nearest lot; we had to circle around a while before a spot opened up). The theatres are nice enough, but they do have the pre-show promos and about 48 trailers (I love trailers, but the Arclight gets it right -- show 3 and then on with the show).

That said, I'll try to confine most of my Arclight visits to matinees, which I assume will be about $13.00. At least their point system ensures you a free ticket or concession items on occasion.

tb said...

They showed "The Shining" in the Hollywood Cemetary on Halloween. I wish I could've gone to that, it sounds so cool. Anybody check it out?

estiv said...

I'd like to combine dinner and a movie. Rather than cramped folding seats, a tier of tables where you can sit side-by side with your date eating drunken rib eye with potatoes lyonnaise and asparagus spears and a fine chateau du pape...

Come to the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin or Houston. What would be every other row in a regular theater is a table. Waitpersons come and get your order, then deliver it. Besides regular movie fare (popcorn, jujubes, soft drinks) you can get pizza, cooked sandwiches, salads, draft beer, wine, etc. Try the puerco guisada--yum. Pay and tip and you're done.

My favorite thing is the special events, such as "Amelie" with a five-course French meal (including creme brulee, natch) and matching wines, or "Godfather" with an Italian feast, or the complete Lord of the Rings trilogy with seven hobbit meals over thirteen hours.

A. Buck Short said...

You guys don’t know when to be grateful. I’ve been shackled to this keyboard so long, this morning Benizar Bhutto IM’d to say I really need to get out more often.

Between what it cost just to get in and the second mortgage for the popcorn, is ArcLight any ArcLessFilling?

Here in Dallas, these “dinner theaters” like the Studio Movie Grills have been popular for quite awhile. Actually not the disruptive experience you’d think, having a full meal or just a snack and unassuming Zinfandel discretely delivered for your dining pleasure just before the feature.

The linen clothed tables between the aisles may be a factor. As you would know if you’ve ever experience those more traditional venues with the aroma of a bucket of chicken or ribs, or pasta putenesca, wafting in from the row behind. Part of it is the SMG guys really like movies.

Mark C. obviously owns the Landmark here too. What with the Magnolia and the Angelikas it’s been awhile, but I remember they did have some loveseats in the back rows – and something even better: “a crying room.” Seating about 20 and separated from the main auditorium by a large picture window. If you couldn’t find a sitter, little Lamar could have his whack attack and you still wouldn’t disturb the other patrons -- much.

I think the idea was to get knocked up in the love seat, and hit the crying room about a year later?

And you know what’s so great about Mark Cuban’s American Airlines Center --- STADIUM SEATING! Haven’t heard that promoted by the theater chains with quite so much gusto, after we realized it meant walking up the equivalent of 7 flights of stairs just to see the Bee Movie. And if you have even less mobility, you need a recliner wheelchair just to look up 90 degrees at the screen.

Awhile ago, American Airlines bragged how they were giving you 6 more inches of leg room on the plane. Do you know where they got that 6 inches? From the aisles at the American Airlines Center. You feel like a Great Wallenda trying to make it to your seat, excuse me, excuse me, excuse me….

A. Buck Shorter said...

The Crutnacker said...
We had a beloved multiplex here in Louisville that was built by National Amusements/Showcase Cinemas. It was THE theatre for years…

But isn’t it nice to know that when Sumner Redstone said “viacom dios” to NA/Showcase ($400 million, privately held) Kentucky was able to help facilitate the acquisition of Paramount, CBS, Blockbuster, yada, and yada?

The Crutnacker said...

Can I sound off on my number one complaint about movies today? DIGITAL SOUND. Just because you can have a huge dynamic range doesn't mean you SHOULD have it. It seems as though all movies are mixed to either blow your speakers or make you turn up your hearing aid.

Anyone remember Lowe's Theatres? Probably the worst theatre chain in America. They owned Boston when I went to school there, and every theater they owned was an armpit. The screens were tiny, and often damaged. The sound was horrid. The projection was rarely in focus. I even remember one theatre where the first seven or eight rows were actually ABOVE the rows behind them. Did they go out of business? "Thank you for coming to Lowes. Sit back and relax. Enjoy the show!"

Sorry, flashbacks.

The Crutnacker said...

Why are you guys paying so much for movies in LA? Don't they still make them there? When I go to Florida, I can get Orange Juice cheaper than I get it up here. Seems like the same should hold true.

Anonymous said...

Here where I am in Australia we have a 'Premium Cinema' at one of the movie houses, with "its own exclusive lounge, full in-seat dining and bar service as well as opulent electric reclining seats" and the top ticket price for Friday night and the weekend is $30 (each).

RAC said...

I give those cushy loveseats and couches about three more months before they start looking and smelling like they've been sitting on the curb at 107th and Wilmington since 1979.

Tim W. said...

You might be in luck, Ken. I heard Marissa Tomei likes quirky, balding men with glasses. Two out of three isn't bad.

A. Buck Short said...

Will it be one of those curbside couches with a mortuary ad? “It’s not bad enough you have to take the bus; while waiting, why not contemplate your own death?”

Anonymous said...

Hey Ken, What do you about Kevin Smith who's still doing production for his new move "Zack and Miri". He doesn't even mention the strike on his blog? Do you feel he's crossing the picket line?

jbryant said...

I checked out Kevin Smith's blog the other day, but didn't stay long. All his fawning posters write in his style, referring to each other as "sir" every few lines. It's a little bit sad.