Thursday, January 22, 2009
Give or take an S
Or, "How to tell if a theater is on its last legs."
My wife and I finally saw Baz Luhrmann's Australia last night. She's Australian, so this was long overdue. In fact, we made a thwarted attempt a few days before Christmas, but failed to check the showtime on the actual day, and by that time they'd changed it. We had heard it was bad, but for my wife, seeing the movie was part of the duty of being an Australian ... or something to that effect. Me, I just like big spectacles.
We waited long enough that now it's only playing in the second-run theaters, which is how we found ourselves at one particular second-run theater in downtown Culver City last night. It's actually probably the closest theater to our home, but there are a number of reasons we usually don't go -- many of which were confirmed last night.
I ended up liking the film fine -- or in any case, I could find no reason to get all up in arms about its poor quality. It was a giant throwback Hollywood epic, some very cheesy stuff happened, and it looked really good. What else were you expecting?
But maybe I liked it because I actually saw Autralia, minus the S. That's what it said on my ticket: Autralia. When I noticed this, I shared a story with my wife about having come here last Memorial Day weekend, which I chose to kick off via an after-work movie on Friday. The movie I saw then? Baby's Mama. That's right, Baby's Mama. While I commended them on what would ordinarily be a correct usage of grammar, that was not, in fact, the title of the movie. Then my wife came up with a real zinger: The S wasn't available for Autralia because it had already been expended superfluously on Baby's Mama. It really wouldn't surprise me if this theater actually did have a finite supply of the letter S. And don't think it was just that they didn't have enough characters to fit the whole title on the ticket. Baby's Mama is two characters longer than even the complete word Australia, counting the apostrophe and the space.
The funny thing is, I've seen one other film at this theater since it became a full-on second-run joint sometime in 2007. That film was Religulous, and in that case -- when the word was entirely made up -- they spelled it correctly.
Other ways we can tell they've basically given up at this theater ...
1) The men's bathroom has no mirrors. Oh, it's not like there isn't any space for them -- it's that they were actually removed. You can see the little splotches of putty where they used to adhere to the wall. Either the mirrors broke and they were just too cheap to replace them, or they actually feared that the mirrors would be vulnerable to vandalism, so removed them as a preemptive strike. Either way, I'd bet some guys on dates are pretty bummed not to be able to primp themselves in the bathroom. Then again, maybe they don't care that much if they were taking their date to a second-run theater in the first place.
2) There are only six other people in the theater, no matter what movie you see. Maybe it's the fate of a second-run theater that you never get big crowds, but it's really unnerving to be in a theater that only has a smattering of people in the lobby at any given time, and then even fewer at your particular movie. I guess I don't usually go on Friday nights, but I feel like I can make an educated guess about this. The silence is deafening.
3) And speaking of silence ... They don't play music or even a rotating slideshow in the theaters before the movie starts. Yeah, those trivia questions are brainlessly easy -- but at least it's something to look at. The silence, of course, is much worse than the lack of visuals. I've been at times when everyone there was seeing the movie by him/herself, which means there wasn't even an undercurrent of chatter -- just thick, soporific silence. And if you do have someone with you, talking is difficult anyway because your every word is picked up by everyone else in the theater. Unnerving.
4) They've let the place go. Not only were there things just stacked randomly and left in full view of the public, but the actual screen on which we watched Autralia was in dire need of repair. There was a worn-through patch to the lower right of the center of the screen, and whenever the film stock was bright, that flaw was really distracting. I did get used to it -- eventually.
5) Moviefone can't even get their listings right. Granted, it's a little confusing, because there's a first-run theater just a couple blocks away. But when I went to see Religulous the day before Thanksgiving, I had actually been intending to see Role Models. And I swear I read the moviefone.com page correctly. Nonetheless, Role Models was not playing at this theater -- and I probably should have known, considering that it was released only 2-3 weeks before that. But who am I to question what I see online? And I was extra cautious to make sure I was right, because when I went to see Baby's Mama, I had actually been intending to see Forgetting Sarah Marshall -- and it too was playing at the nearby first-run theater. I think in that case it might have been my fault, but it did have the effect of making me extra cautious on my next attempt -- as it turned out, to no avail. I did eventually see Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but have yet to see Role Models.
I think I've taken up enough of your time for today. Tune in bright and early tomorrow morning to see my top ... however many it will be ... of 2008.