Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Like old times

Ever since I got my critics card last July, sneaking into second halves of illegal double features has become a thing of the past.

That tradition was revived last night in a scenario borne of necessity.

At 6:45 I attended a critics screening of 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, which only just opens here on Thursday. I call it a "critics screening" to make it sound a bit fancier than it actually was. I was there because I'm a critic and had been invited for that reason, but for most of the others it was simply an advanced screening. As such, we got free popcorn and a soda. (Score.)

This was a perfectly timed screening as it would allow me to emerge from the 144-minute movie just in time for a 9 o'clock showing of How to Be Single, another movie I would be reviewing. In fact, depending on when you read this, links to my thoughts on both 13 Hours and Single should appear in the column to the right.

I had intended to use my AFCA card to secure a ticket to Single, as Monday is one of two nights (along with Wednesday) when the card is actually accepted at the Hoyts chain after 5 p.m. But as I spent enough time eating a couple of slices of pizza at the food court downstairs -- a dinner that seemed a bit superfluous once I realized there would be popcorn -- I forgot to go to the box office to pick up that ticket.

I thought I'd still have time to go pick one up, but when I powered on my phone after 13 Hours, it was already 9:13 p.m. I knew Single would still be in trailers or possibly even ads, but I also knew that descending an escalator and potentially waiting in line for my turn at the window would endanger the start of the movie. I never like to risk that, but when I'm reviewing something it seems like even less of an inviting proposition.

So I called on my old school instincts and began the hunt to find what screen it was playing on, since they don't post the movie titles outside. In fact, so concerned was I about missing the start that I didn't even use the bathroom -- despite having a lingering need to relieve myself that dated back to even before the start of 13 Hours.

Naturally, Single was the last one I tried. (Well of course it was the last one I tried, since I stopped looking after I found it, but it was also the last choice.) Before that I walked in on two foreign movies in the middle of their running times (Hoyts is devoted exclusively to blockbusters -- and to movies from Bollywood and Asian cinema), two empty screening rooms, and another movie that was about to start that turned out not to be How to Be Single. When I asked a guy in there if I'd indeed arrived at the right movie, he said, "I don't think so, no." Of course, he didn't tell me where I had actually ended up, so that will remain a mystery.

And naturally -- to anyone familiar with the elongated advertising block before your typical multiplex movie -- I still had two full trailers and part of a third to watch before the movie actually started. Fortunately, my bladder obliged me until the end without too much difficulty.

I felt a bit funny having to resort to my old criminal ways, those that were designed to let me see as many movies as possible in the theater without overly taxing my wallet. I mean, I'm legit now -- movie don't cost me anything without having to cheat the system. But then again, for that very reason, it wasn't really a criminal act after all. I wasn't going to pay for How to Be Single anyway; Hoyts was never going to collect and entry fee for me. The only difference is that now, there's no paper trail of my attendance in the form of a signed voucher.

But as funny as I felt, there was also something enjoyable about it. I used to love the comparatively victimless crime of a free second movie in a double feature, always assuaging whatever guilt arose by the knowledge that they'd be showing the movie whether I was sitting in one of the many empty seats or not. And I liked the minimal level of cleverness it required -- locating where the movie was playing without looking like that's what I was doing, walking confidently past various theater employees while secretly wondering if they identified me as a guy whose paid ticket had been ripped two hours earlier, and so on. It felt like a perfected trade skill, a professional necessity for the modern, unpaid film critic.

And one day I won't live here anymore, won't be able to flash a critics card to get me into movies for free.

Gotta keep those skills fresh, don't I?

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