Last week I listed my five worst theatrical experiences of 2007. It was a difficult thing to do, because as a former proud and happy employee of the theater industry, and as a huge supporter of going to the movies over home viewing, I hated to showcase cinemas and exhibition formats in a bad light. But how else to encourage improvements in movie going if not by pointing out unsatisfactory experiences? Part of my interest in the theater industry has always been to help make improvements where needed, whether it was back when I worked as a theater manager or now when I merely comment on theater practice and procedure. I not only want people to go to the movies; I want them to enjoy going to the movies as much as possible.
I've gone to a great number of movies over the past year, some of which were free and some of which cost too much, and aside from those five experiences listed last week and a few others that were more affected by minor or nitpicky problems. Otherwise I've had a lot of fun going to the movies in 2007. I've seen old movies on the big screen, new movies as they premiered, I've sat among other critics in comfy yet popcorn-lacking press screenings and most enjoyably I've sat with regular audiences in regular cinemas. It's difficult to pick the best kind of theatrical experience, but it wasn't too hard to pinpoint five specific experiences that stood out in my mind as being the best of my theatrical experience in 2007.
Theatrical Experiences of 2007 Part II: The Best
The Darjeeling Limited at Cerrito Speakeasy Theater, El Cerrito, CA -- 12/26/07
Everyone always tells me I have to experience the famed Alamo Drafthouse(s), but I feel the Speakeasy cinemas are probably just as cool. And until or if I experience better, the Speakeasy in El Cerrito is my new favorite place to see a movie. Unfortunately, it's across the country from where I live. It combines three of my favorite things: great movies, restored old cinemas and beer. Also the owners are delightful, the chairs and couches are comfy, they often show old movies, some of which are free, and the popcorn is delicious. I'd already seen The Darjeeling Limited once, but I think it was a better experience this second time, mainly due to the more chill atmosphere in which it was presented. Most important: I'm not that enthusiastic about major chains charging extra for relaxed, living-room-style viewing with wait service (I will be writing about this problem soon), but when it's only $6, like at the Speakeasy (or 2 for $6, as it is there on Wednesday nights), it's absolutely perfect. I wish I could fly back in two weeks to check out The Maltese Falcon there.
Superbad at United Artists Court Street Stadium 12, Brooklyn, NY -- 9/01/07
There are some kinds of movies that are just best to see with an audience, and horror and comedy are the most appropriate. I don't necessarily like horror movies, though, and so my best audience experiences tend to be with comedies, particularly the wild, raunchy kind (for a 2006 best of example, I'd cite Jackass Number Two -- same location). This year I had the best time watching Superbad during a midnight show. The auditorium was completely packed with what I assumed was spillover from the crowd who couldn't get into the sold-out, opening weekend shows of Halloween. It was clear that much of the audience didn't know what to expect from this little high school movie, but telling from the roars of laughter, they were having a good time ... especially near the end when Michael Cera and Jonah Hill were being all sweet and affectionate. Maybe some of the people shouting at the screen in response to and question of the boys' sexuality was a bit much, but overall this was one of those rare times you actually appreciate the movie talkers.
Juno at Regal Union Square Stadium 14, New York, NY, -- 12/11/07
Another great audience for another great film. What really got the mood started was when the 3 Doors Down music video/National Guard ad came on (see last week's worst of list), the guys in front of me were sharing in my confusion and disdain. And then it felt like everyone was sharing the same response to the absurdity and annoyance of the thing. From there the packed crowd seemed totally in sync -- with me and with one another -- in laughter, in attention and in otherwise appropriate behavior. It was the kind of audience you want to invite back to your apartment afterwards for a party and discussion, if only your place was big enough for a stadium-seating theater's amount of movie lovers.
As I mentioned in the worst-of segment, one of the greatest perks about living in New York is having the opportunity to see special screenings with special guests. Some of my favorites over the year included a loopy Donovan presenting Jacques Demy's The Pied Piper; a very friendly Abel Ferrara presenting The King of New York and the Slovenian theorist Slavoj Zizek presenting Duck Soup. The best, though, had to be Edgar Wright presenting 1973's Electric Glide in Blue and then his own latest, Hot Fuzz, a double-feature that was part of the New York participation of the promotional "Hot Fuzztival" tour. And not only were both the films amazing, but following Hot Fuzz, Wright was joined on stage by stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost for a Q&A hosted by Kevin Smith. It was a fanboys wet dream -- or at least it appeared to be for the couple fanboys sitting in the front row and wearing Hot Fuzz costumes -- and it was one of the most hilarious times I've had at the movies in my life.
Meet the Robinsons at National Amusements Showcase Cinemas Bridgeport, Bridgeport, CT -- date unknown
Aside from the frogs, there isn't much to like about this non-Pixar computer-animated film from Disney. Even if you're a fan of Back to the Future (or maybe its especially if you're a fan of Back to the Future). But I went to check it out just to have another chance to watch Real D's Digital 3D in action (I fell in love last fall with its presentation of Monster House). It didn't even matter that I missed the first half hour -- I was just paying my old employer a friendly visit and decided to step in and appreciate the format -- and introduce my brother to the wonderful world of Digital 3D. I meant to only watch a few minutes, but despite the so-so story, I couldn't take my eyes off the screen. My love for Real D only made more disappointing my disappointment with IMAX 3D (again, see last week). Soon, I should be checking out the Dolby Digital 3D system, and hopefully it will be on par with this experience.