I remember from my film-school days the Cinematheque. It was this room, in a 19th century building, part of the NYU “campus,” with wooden desks bolted to the floor and a temporary movie screen onto which were projected 16mm prints of classic films. You went at 10 am with a cup of coffee and you could literally sit all day in moviegoer heaven.
Tonight, I went to see the Mad Max reboot/sequel sequel at a movie theater just across the PA border, Painters Crossing. I had been avoiding this joint like a Baptist in Colorado. It is a revamped AMC theater I used to love because they screened movies early on Saturday mornings, at 9:30/9:45, like that. That’s when I like to go to the flickers — when everyone else is still asleep or zombieing around Target or Whole Foods.
But the bastards couldn’t leave good enough alone. Nooooo, they had to “renovate,” literally reinvent the place into what I can only describe as moviegoer hell.
You see, my wife was having party with some female women type friends, so it was either hide in my man-cave or go to the flicks. Seeing as AMC Painters Crossing was one of two theaters in my area previewing Mad Max: Fury Road a day before its official open, I figured it was now or never. (I had already seen the new Avengers movie, which was the longest seven hours of my life, like sitting through one interminable product placement after another, only every product is the film you are watching.)
Anyhoo, you walk in, and the first thing you see is a bar: as if you were in a Broadway theater. A bunch of millennial types hanging out at the bar, chatting about … who knows what. Hats or hedge funds or drugs, whatever was cool at the turn of the millennium. Already I’m annoyed and shooting people incendiary looks to set off fire alarms from here to Brentwood.
I hand the nice ticket lady my Fandangoed paper ticket and ask someone who is positioning himself as the maitre d’ where the concession stand is.
“There is none. We bring the food to your seat.”
I thought about punching him, or screaming “Attica! Attica!” but it had been a long day and I was pooped.
Now I had read and heard about this “fork and knife dine at your seat” phenomenon, but for some reason I refused to believe it, like Roswell and every single episode of The Blacklist. First of all, you can’t sit just anywhere. You have to select a seat when you buy your ticket — just like a Broadway theater. The last time a movie theater pulled that on me was in 1998: it was the Ziegfeld, one of the last remaining single-screen theaters in New York City. A monster house where I once saw special screenings of The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now and that boasted the once-cutting-edge 70mm releases. Only some genius with a bachelor’s in ruining my life had decided it would be a better overall experience if you were shown a topographical map and told to pick your seat in advance — from roughly 1,500 choices. It’s like being asked to pick your favorite cactus in Arizona. I was prepared to walk out but I was with someone, so I bit the bullet and chose my seat — then proceeded to sit wherever the hell I felt like, dragging my nervous companion with me. (The movie was What Dreams May Come, starring Robin Williams and Annabella Sciorra, and was not worth the grief.)
I never stepped foot in the Ziegfeld again until management dropped the new policy (which they did within a matter of months, so I am safe in assuming I was not the only one put off by this fascistic coopting of one’s God-given right to ramble into a movie and sit as far away from whoever will most probably make the next two hours a nightmare).
Fast-forward to tonight. There I am, being escorted to my seat by someone who looked like a poster child for vegan Fridays. Did I write “seat”? No, make that recliner. Literally, a recliner. It seems La-Z-Boy was the sponsor of this hall of horrors. A tray table was hinged to one end. You are tethered to one other seat, which, if you are going solo, as I was this night, means you may find yourself with someone four inches from your elbow — ordering dinner. Yes, the person who seats you is your waiter/waitress! There are freaking menus in a niche behind the arm rest — and a ketchup bottle.
To make matters so much worse, throughout the entire movie I was hearing a sound I had never heard in a movie theater before — silverware.
I’m sitting there trying to watch the film and waiters are taking people’s orders, offering suggestions, bringing the woman next to me extra butter for her metric ton of popcorn. (About halfway through the movie, she presses a button on an upright just behind the armrest and summons the waitress, who takes her cheeseburger and fries order, which, frankly, isn’t as bad as what was going on with the couple on the other side of me, who, from what I could tell, had ordered the left side of the menu and more animal flesh than is currently legally allowable in any children’s zoo in North America.)
I was terrified to order my usual smorgasbord of comestibles, given that I didn’t know what anything cost, there being at least three different laminated menus with pages sharp enough to use as Chinese throwing stars, so I ordered a small bottle of water. I wasn’t allowed to pay for it when it was brought to me. The waitress shows up with my check 20 freaking minutes before the end of the film, just as the final chase scene is heating up. I couldn’t read the tab in the dark, so for all I knew I was being handed the Greek euro debt. The waitress said, “That’s fine, I’ll come back.” I wanted to say, “Why are you threatening me?” Instead I squirmed to see the screen around her abnormally bulbous head.
And another thing: the whole point of “stadium seating” is to pitch the rows of seats at such an angle that you never have to worry whether Kareem Abdul Jabbar sits down in front of you — you always have a good seat. With this setup, even though there’s a good 30 feet between your seat and the one in front of you, you still can’t see the movie, because every five minutes one of the theater staff is standing in the middle of a row in front of you, head bobbing in and out of the movie image like he’s in the cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000, asking Mr. and Mrs. Shmendrick if the chicken a la orange was cooked to perfection.
As the closing credits started to roll, my waitress returned, like Colombo on a case. I was finally able to read the check, which was $4.25. I asked if it was customary to tip. “Yes.” So I gave her a buck. A buck — on a $4.25 bottle of water.
It’s bad enough you pay extortionist prices for concessions at the movies; now you have to tip the people who interrupt your enjoyment of them.
What about the film, you may be asking at this point? I HAVE NO FREAKING CLUE! First of all, it was in 3D, which I despise. I hope the whole multiverse thing turns out to be true, because I’d like to think there’s an alternate universe out there somewhere in which there are only two dimensions, which are more than enough for anybody. In the 70s it was a hoot to have some samurai throw sharp metal objects at you. Now, it just reminds me of the 80s. In New York. When people would throw sharp metal objects at you. Plus, I wear glasses, so that means I have to wear glasses on my glasses. Add the completely disorienting experience of watching a film in what is for all intents and purposes a restaurant, and I couldn’t tell you what was going on if a cure for lupus depended on it.
My best guess? A bunch of circus freaks are chasing another bunch of circus freaks in one direction, then they turn around and chase each other in the other direction. A better guess? The most elaborately staged set piece in the history of American cinema. A storyless story about always being on the road to nowhere. Stunning and original visuals, dexterous camera work to die for, Oscar-worthy editing (by director George Miller’s wife, Margaret Sixel), no dialogue to speak of, a Mad Max who is neither mad nor even named Max until the very very end, and Charlize Theron, who manages to actually give a performance almost totally through her eyes and her one good arm.
The movie missed Mel Gibson. While the original Max wasn’t exactly a character out of Shakespeare, Gibson nevertheless was able to invest him with some recognizably human, sympathetic characteristics, such that you sort of mourned his fate. Tom Hardy, the new Max, whom I lauded with plaudits for his performance in the amazing Locke (not, please note, the Amazing Locke — he’s not a magician), is just a body here, thrown around the screen and the landscape like a tumbleweed, his only distinct attribute, aside from being able to take a pounding better than Rocky Marciano, is that he’s a universal donor. In this iteration of the post-apocalyptic saga, blood is more valuable than fuel. (I don’t blame Hardy; he no doubt did his best in what appears to have been a chaotic and brutally long shoot.)
I realize Gibson would have been too old for the “relationship” with Furiosa (Theron), in which they communicate more or less through furtive glances and right hooks. But they could have spun it in such a way as to make it less creepy. (As for the whole controversy about Fury Road being some feminist screed, both Furiosa and Max sort of save each other —from what is clear: the predations of a pseudo-deity with a netti-pot of a grill strapped to his face, a la Darth Vader, who promises “Valhalla” to his passel of white-washed slaves and multiple wives. It’s the wives, all of whom are barely legal, that Furiosa’s trying to rescue by bringing them to some kind of “Greenland,” her hometown, or what’s left of it. As for the for what, I haven’t a clue. Some have said a feminist Valhalla. I’m thinking the next Road movie.)
Thank heaven the film was loud. (The evil cult chasing down Furiosa and Max is accompanied by its own heavy metal band that makes KISS look like the Partridge Family.) The minute the boom boom boom faded, all you could hear were the gears shifting in the mechanical recliners, the waiters suggesting the fish and not the chicken, and silverware. If this had been My Dinner with Andre, Andre would have had to have been eating at the tray tables with us so we could hear what the hell he blathering on about to Wallace Shawn.
I’ll have to try and see the film again in another theater, one that doesn’t insist on infantilizing its audience by reproducing both their living rooms and their childhoods, when mommy brought you food in bed when you were sick. Is it too much to ask for people to sit upright, quietly, for a scant two hours to focus on something other than their own comfort?
I swear by all that is yellow, if this is the way theaters are going across the board, I am done going to the movies. I’ll sell my car and buy a 120″ 4K TV and wait for films to hit Netflix or VOD.
I HATE EVERYBODY.