Monday, November 16, 2009

Double feature: solid, then threatened, then converted

Another quick double feature story. I'll actually keep it quick this time.

I'm feeling a frenzy rising inside me about all the movies I want to see, need to see, so I decided it was a good idea to take in two yesterday. You know, with the second one conveniently timed to be free.

But as it usually is, this was a solo mission, and I was trying to complete a delicate task: see two movies that my wife didn't have much interest in seeing with me. I came across a good, thematically appropriate double feature that almost accomplished this. My wife didn't care at all about The Box, having thrown her hands up in the air on Richard Kelly after Southland Tales. However, she did really want to see The Fourth Kind. But she acknowledged that it was her decision to spend her day of rest at home, rather than hitting the cinema, and she didn't want to hold me back.

The trouble was, the only theater where these two were timed up conveniently was a theater I'd never staked out before. It was in the Baldwin Hills area of Los Angeles, a predominantly black neighborhood. Since I'm not in that area very much, the way I stumbled across it was by going three pages deep on Moviefone's list of theaters in my area. But since it had a good dozen screens, I thought there was a decent chance that they'd rip your ticket at the entrance and then let you run free. And it was only 5-6 miles from my house.

The first thing that struck me about the theater, other than being one of only two white people on the premises (the other being a dude in his 60s), was that there was an actual line for tickets. I don't know what it is about the theaters I usually go to, but there's almost never a line. Then again, we tend to avoid going to the movies on weekend nights. But this was a 2:35 showing (followed by a 4:35 showing), so it was a surprise indeed. For a moment I worried about actually making the show, but they opened up another lane and I was in. (The other worry was whether they'd let me bring in my backpack, which carried three mini cans of Coke, a bag of gummy worms and a bag of Snap Peas. I thought that the black theaters might actually racially profile their own kind, and prevent people from entering with bags where they could conceal weapons. And maybe they do, but maybe they sized me up and assumed I wouldn't be up to any trouble.)

Once I was in, I saw I was home free. There were two long hallways of screens with the snack bar (where I picked up a popcorn) dividing them in the middle. Once your ticket was ripped, you could go in either direction. Mine was to the right, and I saw that digital readouts outside each theater announced the movie title and next show. Easy as pie.

But midway through The Fourth Kind, right at a part when it had actually started to get scary, a large security guy in his 50s -- but looking like he could kick the ass of a person half his age -- lumbered down the aisle and started to hassle the people in front of me. I didn't hear what he said to them, but the result was that they produced their tickets. They didn't seem like anyone who was up to anything -- just a young guy and a young girl on an afternoon date. Seeming satisfied by their proof, he then looked around gloweringly at the rest of us. I was supremely annoyed by this, as it was right at the part from the ads where that guy sits bolt upright in bed and starts to levitate. The security guard ruined that moment. A few moments later I noticed he'd walked down the other aisle, and did the same kind of annoyed surveillance of the sparse crowd.

Once he'd left, I started to reconsider my second feature. What if this guy gets a head count for how many tickets were sold for each show, then walks the theaters to make sure the correct number of people are actually sitting in the movie? It seemed ridiculous, but I could think of no other explanation. And since there were less than a dozen of us there, it would be easy to count. I didn't expect the numbers to be much different for The Box.

So I had basically decided I wasn't going to complete the double feature. I would abort to avoid any trouble. But that's not all I would do. I planned to go find some manager or concierge or the like and complain about the fact that this man had rudely bothered two viewers in front of me at the scariest part of the movie. I might even ask if that's a common practice, to ensure the legitimacy of everyone at the theater. By this I might accomplish two things: 1) I might be offered my money back, or a free pass to another screening; 2) I might be able to figure out whether to expect him during The Box, and use that information to decide whether or not to go, if I didn't consider my cover blown by this incident with the manager.

In the end I decided not to go to the manager ... but also not to give up on the double feature. When the disappointing Fourth Kind let out, I hit the bathroom and then began scanning for The Box. This is when I discovered that not all the digital readouts were working -- and the vast majority of those that were seemed to be for Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (which I also desperately want to see). In fact, by a quick count, it must have been playing on at least five screens. I guess they think they know their own clientele pretty well at this theater.

Naturally, The Box was playing on one of the screens with a non-functioning readout. So I was back to the kind of fumbling around from my last double feature. But I remained determined.

After walking into a showing of 2012 at a part when nothing was blowing up, I found The Box on my second try, almost directly across from where The Fourth Kind had been. Again, I had to ask some of the sparse gathered crowd in order to get a confirmation.

I chose a seat in the middle of the third row, thinking that the middle was the safest. If I were sitting on the edge, the security guard would have no qualms about bothering me -- he'd already proven that. But if he had to wade four seats in to confront me? I decided I had a good shot. Even if he was willing to go this extra step, I could make a big stink of finding my ticket in the darkness and could complain that I couldn't find it, and that he was disturbing everybody. (Though I probably wouldn't be able to go to the manager on this one, having no stub to validate my non-existent purchase.) Still, I started out with my body scrunched as low in the seat as possible, hoping that my head would not peek above the top. That way, he might not see me from a quick glance at the entrance. As the movie moved along, I abandoned that posture.

But there was one more obstacle to overcome. The sound was all garbled in the trailers. I thought it might just be the first trailer, but then it continued in the second. So after committing to the second film, I thought I might have to abort nonetheless for technical reasons. But instead of just sitting there and hoping, I left my seat and flagged down some passing employees in the hallway. About two trailers later they finally got it under control, but not before stopping the whole thing for about 30 seconds. Who knew if they'd recover from that issue, or whether it might be fatal -- in which case someone might offer us a refund with our proof of purchase, and I'd quietly scoot away without taking them up on the offer. But they did, and there were no more incidents worth mentioning. The security guard never materialized, or at least never came down to the front.

After all that, it might have been just as well if I'd missed The Box after all. Since I love Donnie Darko, also directed by Richard Kelly, I knew I was going to see this eventually, regardless of how terrible it might be. And it turned out to be about that terrible. It's never as howlingly bad as the worst parts of Southland Tales, but its best parts are also not as good as the best (trying not to laugh) parts of Southland Tales. So overall I found it to be an even less effective film -- terribly acted, confusingly plotted, and showing almost no accountability to making sense.

Did I say quick? Damn.

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