Latest trends in the modern moviegoing experienceJul 21, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 42 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
Something interesting happened a year ago: The movie theater a few blocks from my house was radically redesigned. This came as a surprise, for the AMC 84th Street wasn’t failing in any way. Indeed, from its opening in 1985 to the present day, it has been one of the most successful theaters in America (for a decade, the highest-grossing).
But the 84th Street certainly had gotten ragged around the edges. Its success meant it had hard use, especially given that it specialized in fare for kids and teenagers. So when the Alamo Cinema and Drafthouse chain, universally considered the best in the country, announced it was building a fancy complex less than a mile away, AMC decided it had to upgrade fast.
Alas for us Upper-West-Siders, Alamo canceled its plans. But the blessings of capitalism rained down upon us nonetheless, for the threat of competition alone proved to be enough to transform our neighborhood theater—and the results were staggering enough to suggest that there might be transformations in your neighborhood theater as well over the next few years.
What was most surprising was the nature of the change: The number of seats in each of the theater’s six audi-tor-i-ums was reduced by nearly two-thirds. Hundreds of conventional seats were removed so that AMC could install new ones twice as large—seats that required a great deal of space in front and behind. They are plush, thick recliners that, at the push of a button, can go almost horizontal. And every seat is reserved, as though the audience were attending a live theatrical production. When you buy your ticket, either beforehand online or at a theater credit-card kiosk, you must select your specific seat.
AMC has found, to its amazement, that this combination of extreme comfort and choice of seat placement has been a financial boon. For even though the number of seats is only a third of what it was before, attendance is up 80 percent—and audiences are not balking at paying significantly higher ticket prices. (The top seat at the 84th Street is $16.50; 16 blocks downtown, at another AMC multiplex, the top seat is $14.50.)
Now, according to the Wall Street Journal, “The company plans to spend about $600 million over the next five years to ‘reseat’ 1,800 of its nearly 5,000 screens. The renovations typically cost $350,000 to $500,000 per auditorium.” This is a necessary concession to reality. The improvements in home entertainment options—HDTV, good sound, access to streaming programming from Netflix and Amazon—are threatening to make a night out at the movies an ana-chronism. Ticket sales have not grown in a decade (indeed, they’ve fallen over the past year), even as the population has increased by 30 million nationwide.
This is reminiscent of a comparable moment in the 1980s, when the VCR revolution and the advent of cable television made staying home an attractive option. These joint disruptions forced theater owners to end the practice of smooshing people into small, often oddly shaped triplex theaters in strip malls and office buildings. In 1987, I wrote an article for U.S. News & World Report on the National Amusements chain, which actually pioneered the use of the term “multiplex.” It built gigantic boxes with 12 or 14 theaters on the sites of former drive-ins, put video games in the lobbies, and invested in cushy new chairs that rocked.
For the first time in decades, the National Amusements people reported to me at the time, people went to the theater without knowing or caring what movie they were going to see. They found the experience of seeing something there so much more innately pleasurable than at any other local venue that they would just show up and pick something. That is exactly what the 84th Street is like, with the added dollop that if you decide to go the day before, you can make sure your seat is where you want it—and you can show up without having to get there early and see 11 trailers you’ve already seen.
Moviegoing is not the default form of high-level entertainment, which is what it was for almost 80 years; it is now just a choice among many—an expensive choice, and a choice that all too often brings you into excessive proximity with ill-mannered staff and rude fellow patrons who have the power to ruin your evening and make the money you spent a waste.
AMC has figured out that movie-going is now a luxury product, and it will have to do everything in its power to give its audiences a luxurious experience if it wants its business to survive. National Amusements showed the way to survival when cable and VCRs threatened extinction. I’m not sure anything is going to save conventional moviegoing in the long run from these technological changes. But in the meantime, you have to love those recliners.
John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary, is The Weekly Standard’s movie critic.
There’s a flaw at the heart of this unpretentious tearjerkerJun 30, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 40 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
The key to understanding the publishing sensation called The Fault in Our Stars—John Green’s young-adult novel that has dominated bestseller lists for more than two years and has already sold more than nine million copies worldwide—is first to imagine Holden Caulfield in the 21st century. Then imagine that, rather than being anxious and upset and in a funk for no good reason, Holden Caulfield actually has a very good reason, which is that he has terminal cancer.
For Tom Cruise, from top gun to second fiddle? Jun 23, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 39 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
Movie stars go cold. It’s part of the way popular culture works. For a long time, people just love watching them. People can’t get enough of them. And then, after they go to the well once too often with a formula that has gone flat, or after their messy personal lives get all mixed up in the characters they’re playing, stars become even slightly distasteful.
A parody of a spoof of a well-worn formula. Jun 16, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 38 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
The much-maligned new comedy A Million Ways to Die in the West is actually pretty funny in spots. But it’s very strange. It’s an affectionate western homage, a mash-up western, a western pastiche. That’s not odd. What’s odd is that it’s an homage to a parody, and paying tribute to a spoof is just weird.
A ‘food-cart-as-spiritual-salvation’ idea that works. May 26, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 35 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
The new movie Chef is about a hotshot cook who loses his way and then finds himself anew selling Cuban sandwiches off a truck.
An old idea gets a surprisingly fresh treatment. May 12, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 33 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
Adultery comedies usually follow a pat formula: A perfectly sensible married person is being cheated on. Revenge is plotted, and the punishment usually involves taking advantage of the fact that the person with whom the spouse is cheating is either a gorgeous bimbo or a brainless hunk. The Other Woman is an inventive riff on this formula. There’s a sensible person and there’s a ditz, but here the sensible person is the mistress.
Science fiction plus magic equals disaster. May 5, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 32 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
In 1962, Arthur C. Clarke famously observed that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” This observation is both brilliantly true and wildly overblown: After all, for many of us, even the most basic technologies, even those hundreds of years old, are still nearly supernatural.
Nice enough, and all that, but worth the trouble? Apr 28, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 31 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
There’s a new movie called Draft Day you’re almost certainly not going to see in a theater if you didn’t go see it during its first weekend—and because you didn’t, it won’t be around much longer. Twenty-five years ago, Draft Day might have been a hit. Its headline performer, Kevin Costner, was the biggest star in America around then, after all.
The comic-book movie enters its Commie Age. Apr 21, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 30 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
Aficionados often refer to comic books in terms of eras: the Golden Age, the Silver Age, the Bronze Age. The same may now be true of the comic-book movie. Judging from last year’s mega-hit Iron Man 3, and the brand-new mega-hit Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the comic-book movie has entered the Commie Age.
Noah meets the Book of Enoch, rock monsters, and a ravenous Eve. Apr 14, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 29 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
First and foremost, Noah is a movie, and the first question about a movie is whether it is good or bad as a movie. That turns out to be a difficult one to answer.
There’s a lot going on at the Grand Budapest, but to what end? Mar 31, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 28 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
The Grand Budapest Hotel, the latest offering from the writer and director Wes Anderson, is a laborious confection, rather like one of the Mitteleuropa cakes made by one of its characters. It is elaborate and beautiful. It is sweet. It is a work of true artistry. But it is also heavy, and slightly sickening. It may look scrumptious, but it doesn’t go down well.
The Hollywood response to the challenge of war. Mar 24, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 27 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
It is almost unimaginable: five men past the age of 35 (one nearing 50), among the most successful and garlanded professionals in their field and at the height of their earning powers, leaving their jobs and their families to produce government propaganda. The experience was frustrating and often profoundly unsatisfying.
The white-trashing of American television. Mar 17, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 26 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
What does a poor or lower-middle-class white person, especially one from the South or Southwest, have to do to get a break from fancy high-end TV producers? It is a remarkable fact about this new Golden Age of television, which began with The Sopranos in 1999, that its primary focus of attention is the population cohort known (with the exquisite cultural sensitivity we have all learned in the era of political correctness) as “white trash.”
The perfect war story becomes an imperfect star vehicle.
Mar 10, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 25 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
The Monuments Men is a profoundly well-intentioned movie that seeks to pay deserved tribute to a subject both moving and dramatic: the effort by the Allies to protect the cultural patrimony of the West during World War II. But just as the road to hell is paved with good intentions, so, too, it would appear, is the road to excruciating boredom.
Product placement in the form of ‘satire.’ Feb 24, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 23 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
Never before in history have liberal clichés about the evils and the rapacity of capitalism been combined so ironically as they are in The Lego Movie, a gargantuan triumph at the box office in its first weekend. This fast, flashy, colorful, and intermittently hilarious movie—from the writing-directing team that transmuted the 1990s teen-cop TV drama 21 Jump Street into a wild and funny 2012 comedy with Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill—earned nearly $70 million.