Okay.... if you read my last review, I was pretty-much done with going to the movies.
So, yeah. About that...
After that final disappointing trip to the theater, I began to realize something: going to the movies had become a chore. And it had been for quite some time, too.
Besides the two trips to see Age of Ultron, I'd been to a string of bad screenings. Dim projection, bad sound, dirty screens, and just really poorly run theaters. Snacks were marginal - flat, diluted soda, stale popcorn with rancid "buttery-flavored topping", distracting bright green LED aisle lights (during the movie), annoying commercials before a seemingly endless parade of trailers (I lost count at eight during Age of Ultron), and ushers walking around the theater with flashlights while the movies were running. That was all commonplace. And that doesn't even take into account having to deal with obnoxious patrons who text or don't shut their phones off, idiot "vapers" who think puffing on e-cigs is somehow acceptable in a movie theater, or just waiting in long lines on busy nights in the vain hope of getting a decent seat.
No wonder it became a chore.
Even for movies I wanted to go see, I can't recall the last time I actually liked going to the theater to see them. Maybe seeing Tron: Legacy at a dedicated IMAX theater was it. Going to a theater was something that I had to do to see a movie, not something I enjoyed. It would be like if the only place you could get a pizza was Chuck E. Cheese's. You'd probably stop getting pizza. I would.
But not all movie theaters are like that. I know this because I work with people who actually go to movies and enjoy them. There are good theaters in the area. There kind-of have to be - I live not all that far from Hollywood, and that's the self-proclaimed movie capital of the world, right? The trick is, where is the nearest one, and is it worth the drive?
The ones I'd heard the most consistent reports about were the ArcLight theaters. The nearest one to me being in Sherman Oaks - about 18 miles from here, along the 405, which is one of the worst stretches of freeway in L.A. But if I avoid typical rush hour traffic, it's only about a 1/2 hour drive. So I decided rather than let my enjoyment of movies get snuffed out without so much as a fight, I'd give it one more shot.
I'm glad I did.
You can check out their website for details, but let me give you a few highlights about what ArcLight does that's so different (but really should be standard practice).
It's all about the movies.
- ArcLight makes sure their theaters exceed THX standards for sound and projection. They make sure everything is working properly - and even have someone come into the theater right before the lights dim to chat up the crowd and let everyone know that their goal is to ensure that everything is going to be presented the best that it can. And it was - the picture was razor-sharp and bright. The screen was flawlessly clean. The sound (Dolby Atmos for this screening) was perfect.
- They have a "black box" approach to their theaters. This means no distractions. They are there to present the movie - not commercials. None. And they run minimal trailers. Just three when I was there. And when the theater goes dark - it goes dark. Aisle lights are kept to a necessary, but still safe, minimum.
[*]It's all about the enjoyment.
- No ushers walking around during the show. The one usher came in, introduced the show (and was very engaging while doing so), and I never saw another one during the movie.
- No texting or cellphones allowed during the movie. Sure, other movie theaters encourage that, but it's actually respected here.
- Wider seats with more legroom and wider armrests (you don't feel like you're stuffed into a coach airline seat).
- The theater was clean. Noticeably so. They had a big crew go in there to take care of it - not just one or two kids with trash bags.
- Fresh popcorn with real butter. Seriously - real butter. I can't begin to tell you what a difference this makes. And every size of their popcorn comes in tubs - not those horrible bags everyone else uses.
- Their "small" soda is actually a small soda. Not 32 oz. Thank you for understanding that not everyone wants to drink an entire bucket of soda.
- They even have a café in the lobby, so you can eat before or after the show. I'll have to check that out sometime.
[*]It's all about the customers.
- Every employee I encountered there - repeat - every employee was courteous and friendly. Not disaffected and bored. The guy at the snack counter was actually enthusiastic. Infectiously so. My enjoyment of the movie started even before I'd set foot in the theater!
- To ensure a minimum of disruptions - after the movie starts, nobody gets in. You snooze, you lose. (Yes - you can step out to use the bathroom and get back in, but otherwise - no.) And since they start on time, that means you'd better get there on time.
- They validate your parking. Parking at the Galleria is not free - but you get four hours' worth if you go to the ArcLight.
- And here's the kicker - reserved seating. I bought my ticket Saturday for a Sunday show, online, and got a fantastic seat. This means no waiting in lines. Sure, I was early so I had to wait for the crew to clean up after the previous screening, but I didn't have to fight for, or worry about a decent seat. This needs to be standard operating procedure everywhere.
This was, by far, the best movie-going experience I've had in years. Maybe decades. I want to go back. I want to watch movies again, because here - it was actually about movies!
I'd almost forgotten what that was like.
So, with the theater sorted out, what was the movie like?
I'll admit I had about zero interest in seeing Tomorrowland.
The commercials and trailers didn't really tell enough about the movie for me to get excited about it. There's a fine line in trailers between piquing an audience's interest, and spoiling the best parts of the film. Tomorrowland never achieved the former.
Another hang-up I had with it was that it had George Clooney in it. Generally, Clooney usually plays the same character in every film - the affable, snarky, smarmy goofball. Like in Ocean's 11. And Ocean's 12. And Ocean's 13. And Gravity.
But that was before I saw the film.
And I'll also admit that the only reason I saw the film was because it was directed by Brad Bird. Brad's an alum of the program where I work (the movie is listed as an "A113 Production" in the opening credits), as well as the director of Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille (two of Pixar's best films) and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (well, there's only so much you can do with Tom Cruise).
Of course, just because someone is good at directing animation, doesn't mean they're bullet-proof when it comes to live action.
So, let's get the 800-pound gorilla out of the way first. Or some such metaphor.
George Clooney was not the problem here. He was fine. Or at least, not annoying. Let's just say he didn't stick out like a sore thumb and ruin the movie. In fact, the cast, across the board, was fine. Not special. Not great. But pretty good. The exception being Raffey Cassidy who, as the heart and soul of the film, was really a lot of fun to watch. Unfortunately, she wasn't really supposed to be the heart and soul of the film. Britt Robertson was. Although she too, was fine.
Here's the problem with the film. And it comes from a line from within the film itself - where Robertson's character comes to a realization that she was promised one version of Tomorrowland, but that's not what she got.
And it's not what we got either.
I was actually enjoying the movie pretty well - until the characters got to Tomorrowland. Then it fell apart. The most interesting story about Tomorrowland is the one they didn't tell. We see glimpses of it, and hints of it, and what it was supposed to be. But we're not even sure if ever was that. We're told only the vaguest history of how it came to be, and what happened to it. Tomorrowland is what the movie trailers are about. It's the place the whole movie is supposed to be about. It builds to it... it teases it... then disappoints. To quote a line from a Peanuts strip, "the anticipation far exceeded the actual event".
From that point on, the film degenerates rapidly into clichéd predictability. Everything is telegraphed so nothing is a surprise. Nobody's emotions really ring true. And frankly, the whole plot device that everything is hinging on and the solution for it could have been lifted from even the most pedestrian episodic sci-fi TV show or Saturday morning cartoon. The ending is completely unsatisfying because the threat of the movie never felt real. It was presented like, "for no apparent reason, all of this is going to happen". Well... there was a reason, actually. It was sledgehammered home in one hokey, overblown, self-righteous speech from the film's villain, in which humanity was deemed as a bunch of hateful, hopeless, war-mongering, environment-killing sadists, who deserved whatever their fate was. It was very haphazardly slapped into the movie, and just really didn't fit in with the tone of the rest of the film.
And it's too bad, too. Because Tomorrowland looked like it could have been a fun place to explore and visit. But it didn't deliver that. In the end, Tomorrowland's biggest problem... was Tomorrowland.
Maybe Brad should've taken Disney up on their offer to do that other film.
Tomorrowland gets a 5/10, because half of the film was pretty good.
But man... the theater was awesome. ArcLight gets a 9/10.