Take Yourself to a Movie — Alone

Posted on April 3, 2018 at 8:00 am

I love seeing movies with my husband, my family, and my friends.  I also love the pre-release screenings, where I get to hang out with my fellow movie critics, who are great friends and lots of fun to talk with about movies.  But I also love to go go movies by myself (okay, I love seeing movies pretty much any way they come) and was delighted to read this tribute to solo movie viewing by Matthew Monagle of Film School Rejects:

Perhaps my favorite thing about watching movies by myself, however, is the lack of pressure to form an immediate opinion. Much to the annoyance of my friends and family members, I’m not particularly good at articulating how I feel about a movie until I’ve had a little time to think it over. Even then, I might not truly know how I feel until I start trying to write things down. Pauline Kael once described her writing process – and I’m paraphrasing pretty heavily here – as essential to the development of her opinion: she wouldn’t know how she truly felt about a movie until her words hit the page. I’m prone to that same sort of self-discovery. Sometimes it’s because I don’t want to commit to an opinion until I’m certain it’ll hold up under intense scrutiny; other times it’s because I can’t pin down my vague feelings of slight-dislike or slight-like for a movie I just watched. Whatever the reason, those extra minutes I spend to myself after watching a movie – on the subway, in the car, along the street – give me time to bounce ideas around in my head before trying an opinion on for size. And when you come across a movie you truly love, like The Devil’s Candy? Sometimes it’s just nice to sit and bask in it for a little bit without having to dig any deeper.

So the next time a movie catches your eye and you can’t find anyone to go see it with you, try something you may find a little uncomfortable at first: go by yourself.

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Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Kristen Lopez on Movie Theater Accessibility for Rogerebert.com

Posted on March 29, 2018 at 9:27 am

Bravo to Kristen Lopez for her outstanding piece on rogerebert.com about the accessibility — or inaccessibility — of movie theaters for people with disabilities.

A movie theater should be a peaceful, relaxing place, and I’m sure it is for most in light of reserved seating. Movie theaters have gussied the concept up as the perfect way for all audiences to get the best seat in the house. But movie fans with wheelchairs or other limited mobility don’t get the best seat—they get the only seat. Theaters are mandated to make approximately 10% of the theater seats accessible, so obtaining the two to four wheelchair spaces in my theater can be like a terrible game of musical chairs. The outdated, ableist thinking is wheelchair users bring their own seat, like a lawn chair you plant on a soccer field. It gives them access, but how is this effective with such a small field to play on? Wheelchair users are often stuck sitting in the front rows, on flat ground with no elevation to keep a clear view. The changeover to wider, recliner-style chairs has actually decreased the number of handicap seats, and many of these new chairs come with oversized footrests or outward facing tray tables that prevent wheelchair users from transferring into them to begin with. The same Cinemark I was in has one presumably handicap seat that requires a wheelchair user to climb over the armrest to transfer into. All so you can find a place to set down your popcorn.

This is especially meaningful because Roger Ebert himself used a wheelchair for the last years of his life, and well understood the barriers — physical, logistical, and ignorant — that keep people out of movies, the very art form he called “an empathy machine.”

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Critics Disabilities and Different Abilities

Masking — Why It Matters When Movie Theaters Get It Wrong

Posted on September 25, 2016 at 8:00 am

Movie theaters have to work harder and harder to entice viewers away from their big-screen TVs and same-day streaming options. The most important difference has to be in the quality of the viewing experience, and Screen Crush reports that they are increasingly failing at the most basic requirement — getting the screen proportions right. In saving money via automation, they lose the ability to make sure that each individual film is shown the way it was intended to be shown.

Screen masking involves expanding or shrinking the borders of a theater screen so that a film fills its dimensions exactly. Most mainstream movies are released in one of two aspect ratios: 1.85:1, also known as “flat” and the taller of the two, and 2.35:1, known as “scope” and the wider of the two. Masking ensures that both aspect ratios are displayed on the same screen with none of the image being lost, and none of the unused areas of the screen left visible.

Because movies come in both sizes, and because theaters often show multiple movies at the same time, screens must be built to accommodate both aspect ratios and then masked, either on the sides or on the top and bottom, with black curtains. If you’ve ever arrived early at the theater and noticed motorized curtains retract between the multiplex’s pre-show (which is typically flat) and the feature presentation (which in this case would be scope), you’ve seen screen masking in action.

If you see a film that looks distorted or otherwise not optimally displayed, speak to a manager.

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Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Movie Theaters Worth the Drive?

Posted on December 8, 2014 at 8:00 am

Movie theater owners are constantly having to up their game to sell tickets, knowing that many film-lovers have well-equipped home theaters and will wait three or four months until the movies are available for home viewing. It can be tough when changes made to accommodate more films result in a diminished (literally) viewing experience. Brookes Barnes writes about what some theaters are doing in the New York Times.

“When I step back and think about what will get people off a couch, in a car, down the road and into a theater, the answer is not postage stamp-sized screens and old seats,” said Gerardo I. Lopez, the chief executive of AMC Entertainment, the No. 2 chain in the United States. “Why would they bother? What the hell, stay in the house.”

So, what’s the answer? Barnes writes that:

some theater chains are now installing undulating seats, scent machines and 270-degree screens.

For an $8 premium, a Regal theater here even sprays patrons with water and pumps scents (burning rubber, gun powder) into the auditorium. Can’t cope with two hours away from your smartphone? One theater company has found success with instant on-screen messaging — the texted comments pop up next to the action.

And if you find yourself in Seattle, be sure to make time for the sumptuous Cinerama theater extensively by Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen.

Even before its latest remodeling, the Cinerama was a jewel: an increasingly rare single-screen theater with comfortable seats, fantastic sightlines and state-of-the-art digital projection and sound.

But if you are as rich as Mr. Allen — No. 46 on the Forbes billionaire list — that isn’t good enough. The renovated Cinerama has a new digital projector — the first installed in a commercial theater, according to Mr. Allen’s representatives — that uses a laser as a light source rather than the xenon lamps used by older digital projectors.

The benefits of the new projector will be more apparent in 3-D movies, providing a brighter image and less eyestrain than from older 3-D projectors, said Ryan Hufford, a senior systems engineer for Vulcan, Mr. Allen’s investment firm.

The Cinerama has 110 new speakers, up from about 60 before, made by Meyer Sound, the high-end manufacturer that makes the speakers in Carnegie Hall. The system uses a new sound technology called Dolby Atmos that envelopes theatergoers with sounds from all directions, including above their heads.

Don’t miss his EMP Museum, either.

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