Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: Choosing a movie

I’m afraid this week’s “Screening Room” is going to be a pretty short affair, owing to time constraints brought about by helping with this year’s Asheville Film Festival. Even with curtailing the usual amount of time I devote to this, I have a very strong suspicion that I will have forgotten what sleep is until sometime around Tuesday. And by then I may not be coherent enough to care.

However, there is a topic I’ve wanted to address for some time — one that requires little research and nothing by way of illustrative material. I think I touched on this in one of the first of these columns, but it’s a subject that actually fascinates me — and on which I’d like some feedback. I’m curious as to how people choose a movie to go see. I don’t mean doing this in the sense of something you’ve been waiting for with bated breath (“Martha, that new Gustav von Seyffertitz movie’s finally here! Get in the car!”). I’m looking for something more casual and not so planned or anticipated.

As someone who takes movies fairly seriously, I’ve always tended to be rather selective and focused in the matter. This was before I ended up in a position where I had to see damn near everything and lost the right to utter the phrase, “You couldn’t pay me to see that.” Once I’d taken money for sitting through The Santa Clause 2 that door was closed to me forever, since it has been established beyond doubt that, yes, you can pay me to see just about anything. (One of those nasty QED things.) The idea of simply “Let’s go to the movies” isn’t normally within my realm.

I noticed early on in my weekly reviewing that there does seem to be an approach to moviegoing that’s foreign to me. I remember standing in line outside the Hollywood 14 and there were two women in front of me holding (of all things) a Mountain Xpress. It was open to the movie section and one of them was reading bits of reviews to her companion. (Yes, it is an odd feeling to hear someone read your stuff like this.) I realized that even though they were in line to see a movie, they’d no idea what movie they were going to see. Since then I’ve watched people do things like this, as well as stand in front of theaters and study the posters, or even get to the box office and decide on a title from the list of what’s playing at the very last minute.

Now, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this. I’m only saying it’s pretty much foreign to me.

OK, when I was a kid it was pretty much a given that I was going to the Saturday matinee double feature, no matter what was playing. Of course, then I was in a town with one theater and it had one screen. The choice was easier. In fact, it was limited to going or not going. Promoted by the theater manager as “the cheapest babysitting in town,” the approach was popular with parents—you got rid of the kids for about four hours for a quarter. Even if you gave your tiny tot money for popcorn, a drink and a candy bar, you still weren’t out more than a buck. The parents didn’t know it, but we were equally glad to be rid of them for an afternoon, too, and happily lined up around the block to see whatever. (No, I’m not really sure that it was all that much safer to drop off a seven year old back then, but it never occurred to anybody that it wasn’t.)

That, however, was an entirely different animal in terms of casual moviegoing. As an adult — even as an adolescent — I can only think of one time when I just went to a movie without knowing what I wanted to see. That was 20 years ago.

We’d just bought this cavernous house in Fort Pierce, Fla. It was a pure 1920s land boom faux-Spanish monstrosity — eight bedrooms, two baths, two fireplaces — in far worse shape than I’d realized at the point where the enterprise still seemed like a good idea. To say that it was crumbling would be an overstatement, but not by much. It was also incredibly creepy.

I had the bright idea that I’d go there and spend the evening starting to clean the place up a bit prior to moving in. Armed with a boom box and a selection of tapes, I started tackling the upstairs bedrooms. I put on some music—a bad choice of something like a Franz Liszt symphonic poem or maybe his “Dante” Symphony, followed by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera—and set about the task at hand. Then, while I was working, the sun went down. The house was dark and I was alone. Yes, you can see where this is going. In short order, I realized that the combination of musical choices and my solitude in this Old Dark House was creeping me out.

Turning off the music didn’t help. That left me prey to all the strange noises that old houses are wont to make. But I struggled on — until I had to pay my respects to the usual conveniences. Leaving the room I was working on, I went into the long, very dark hallway and realized I was going to have to cover the length of it — past several ominous open doors on either side. Studying the situation, I said to myself, “Intercourse this.” (Well, that’s not quite what I said, but you get the idea.) I then went down the stairs and exited into a Florida night that can best be described as sultry.

But there was a problem. I couldn’t just go home, because I had to wait for my wife to get off work—and that was hours away. What to do? Well, of course, I’d go to the movies. It didn’t matter what was playing very much, it had to be better than being in that house alone. (Plus, it would have a rest room that didn’t require passing dark doorways that were likely hiding axe-wielding madmen.) So I set out for the Sabal Palm Theaters to see something. There were six somethings to choose from and I picked Danny DeVito’s Throw Momma from the Train from the choices on the marquee. It’s not a great movie (nor is it a terrible one), but that night it was just fine with me. (Actually, the scene where Danny DeVito shows Billy Crystal his “coin collection” remains in my mind as one of the sweetest, most touching moments I’ve seen, but that’s another story.)

In any case, that is the only instance I can think of where I went to the movies without knowing what I was going to see before I got there. It’s also obviously a very specific—if somewhat silly—instance, depending wholly on the circumstances. With that in mind, I’m putting forth the question to readers—how do you choose what you’re going to see, and is it always planned or do you sometimes “just go to the movies?”

 

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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20 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: Choosing a movie

  1. Justin Souther

    I usually go to the movie Ken tells me looks to horrible for his own delicate sensibilities to be subjected to.

  2. Ken Hanke

    I usually go to the movie Ken tells me looks to horrible for his own delicate sensibilities to be subjected to.

    Sez the guy who actually came and sat through most of Beverly Hills Chihuhua about the guy who sat through an hour of Sex Drive with him.

  3. I used to have a thing for particular theatres, and would go to see almost anything playing at that theatre. When I was in college it was the Valhalla (later the Northcote theatre, now a shell of its former self). Went there at least once a week – it was a calendar theatre showing off-kilter stuff and second runs, so there was a definite appeal. It also didn’t hurt that it had a balcony, overstuffed seats and they didn’t throw you out if you were drunk, stoned or asleep.

    When I lived near Toronto it was the Music Box theatre. Difficult to get to, cramped, minimal concessions, but a great place to see about anything. Saw “Happiness” there with about 20 people on a typical freezing miserable Canadian winter day, most of us went to a Second Cup across the road to discuss what we had just seen.

    Asheville has nothing comparable. Sorry, Fine Arts theatre, but when you throw me out for being drunk, I can’t quite consider you a place I go to be there. I choose movies pretty carefully now, since nowhere provides a fun movie-going experience, I have to be pretty sure I’m going to enjoy what I’m seeing. I do like Asheville Pizza and Brewing, but maybe it’s becoming too popular, and within seconds of the door opening, there’s jackets tossed over almost every seat in the house, and a line thirty deep to get to the bar, and I’m not the sort of person who regularly turns up 45 minutes early to anything.

  4. Dionysis

    The reason I go out to see a movie at a theater these days is much different than in the past. To begin with, I have difficulty enough picking out a film to watch at home since I’ve amassed a large film collection and have a HD widescreen monitor and surround sytem. When I do go to the theater, it is usually because I have an urge to watch a movie in that setting, which is more of a social component than movie-specific. Another criteria would be simply the kind of film I’m in the mood for (i.e. an action film, a mystery, sci-fi, etc.), and lastly (but very importantly) I’ll read reviews (those in this publication are usually the first I read), or if it is a new release without many reviews, I’ll try and find out as much about the film as I can (actors, directors, plot summaries). Sometimes which theater is showing what films will be a factor.

    Life, and movie selection decisions, were simpler in the past, as you noted in your article.

  5. Ken Hanke

    when you throw me out for being drunk

    Having been in the position of having to eject a drunk from a theater (granted he was standing up in front and lecturing the audience), I’m afraid I have to side with the theatre in this matter.

  6. Ken Hanke

    When I do go to the theater, it is usually because I have an urge to watch a movie in that setting, which is more of a social component than movie-specific.

    Understandableand the social aspect should not be overlooked. At the same time, there are some films that really do need to be seen on a big screen in a theater setting. And every film benefits from it.

    Sometimes which theater is showing what films will be a factor.

    I do have partialities to certain theaters, though often my choice here is based more on convenience than anything else. However, I don’t think I’ve ever passed on a movie based on where it was showing if that was the only available venue.

    Life, and movie selection decisions, were simpler in the past, as you noted in your article.

    Of course, a lot of that is based entirely on lack of selection, which has now gone from that lack to a kind of sensory overload. Back when I first started collecting films seriously on 16mm, the first movie that came in was a bootleg of A Night at the Opera. It was also the only film I had for several weeks. Talk about limited selections! My friends and I saw it a lot. One upside was that there was never any argument about what we should watch.

  7. xvelouria

    If I go to see a movie at a theatre, it’s almost always impulsive. On certain days I just feel in the mood to go see a film. If something I was previously excited about is playing (something by a favorite director or something a respectable friend mentioned for example), I’ll go see that… most of the time, this is not the case, and I’ll open the MX, look for what you guys have rated 4 or 5 stars, and pick out of that. :)

  8. Ken Hanke

    If I go to see a movie at a theatre, it’s almost always impulsive. On certain days I just feel in the mood to go see a film. If something I was previously excited about is playing (something by a favorite director or something a respectable friend mentioned for example), I’ll go see that… most of the time, this is not the case, and I’ll open the MX, look for what you guys have rated 4 or 5 stars, and pick out of that.

    That’s nearer the mark, but yours is still a pretty focused impulse in that you plan what you’re going to go see. You don’t simply show up at the theater to pick something off the posters.

  9. arlene

    I have never gone to a theater with no idea of what I wanted to see. Even back in the day when I might be out $2.00. I would carefully plan from Wednesday, when the new listings came out until the weekend when I would grab my blessed few hours out there in the dark.

    For the past few years, I pick the films I see in an actual theater even more carefully. It takes something I need to see on a large screen or something I want to see while it’s fresh to entice me out of the cocoon of my home and DVD player.

  10. Jim

    Having been in exactly that position just now, the order would be
    1- Fire up the MX website movie page
    2- See what’s playing all around
    3- Google reviews for what I haven’t heard of/can’t suss out
    4- Think about times, prices and locations
    5- Visit Orbit and rent a video

  11. Ken Hanke

    It takes something I need to see on a large screen or something I want to see while it’s fresh to entice me out of the cocoon of my home and DVD player.

    Understandable sentiments, but it still worries me that it’s an attitude that will ultimately impact what comes to DVD because it will impact what comes to the screen. And I still find it amusing that our parents were a generation that answered the question “Have you read” such and such with, “No, I’m waiting for the film,” while we have become the generation that says, “I’m waiting for the DVD.”

  12. Ken Hanke

    5- Visit Orbit and rent a video

    Considering the bulk of what’s in theaters right now, that’s likely a good solution.

  13. Ezekiel

    My criteria are much like Jim’s above, but since my companion is disabled, parking and ease of access are important when considering location. The Fine Arts cinema usually has the most interesting film of the week, but we go only if it’s being shown downstairs. Flat Rock cinema probably has the easiest access (close parking, no steps or incline). Cinebarre is also pretty easy to navigate.

  14. todd

    Barring a shimmering review from Hanke/Souther, I seek out movies featuring guns and/or hobbits.

  15. “Having been in exactly that position just now, the order would be
    1- Fire up the MX website movie page
    2- See what’s playing all around
    3- Google reviews for what I haven’t heard of/can’t suss out
    4- Think about times, prices and locations
    5- Visit Orbit and rent a video ”

    Awww Shucks.

  16. Ken Hanke

    The Fine Arts cinema usually has the most interesting film of the week, but we go only if it’s being shown downstairs.

    Understandable, but it is worth noting that the theater does tend to open most films downstairs and then move them upstairs the second or third week. Of course, that doesn’t work if two films open at once or if something that’s playing to capacity is downstairs, since it would be bad economic sense to move it to a much smaller house in favor of a film that isn’t expected to do much.

  17. Jim Donato

    As a youth/adult I always read The Village Voice to see what amazing films would eventually stumble their way down to Orlando, Florida after 6-12 of packing ’em in in NYC. I followed favorite directors and kept an eye out for new talent. I bought films I wanted to see on beta/laserdisc or saw them deliberately in the theatre if I could get that lucky. Orlando didn’t get a repertory/arts theatre until ’87 when The Enzian came to town. Prior to that, the 21st Century Theatre & Drafthouse filled the void to the best of its ability.

    I never rented a movie. Ever. I was very picky in going to see a film and was disappointed only on singularly rare occasions; Mary Lambert’s debut “Siesta,” a lame Carnival Of Souls ripoff, or David Lynch’s Dune – which friends sat through TWICE and called me from the theatre to extol! I grudgingly went. And was disappointed.

    This all went out the window when I met my wife in ’95 and movies as a constant part of the entertainment mix became part of my life. By then I had already stopped watching television for a few years and thankfully, my wife was fine with this. Instead we rented things and sat through some gawdawful cinematic crimes until we developed the 60 minute rule – if we were not liking a film in its first hour, we could take a vote and bail. Recently, Tristam Shandy – A Cock And Bull Story, got me to invoke it after a mere 15 minutes! So much for liking Michael Winterbottom and Steve Coogan’s previous 24 Hour Party People.

    So I’ve seen a lot of films in the last 13 years that I would not have ever thought that I would have seen earlier. We hardly go out not for reasons of budget, plus my wife has access to a large library of films through her job. Eventually, anything we want to see can show up in our house at no cost. Likewise, after moving to Asheville and the commensurate hit to the previously robust income level; the idea of building a film library no longer has appeal to me. Actually, even before we moved here I was loath to even jump on the DVD bandwagon, and I was at the bleeding edge of home video for many years. Now I could care less. HD? Widescreen? Flatscreen? Not in my lifetime.

    But I’ve still never just gone to the theatre to see a movie!

  18. Ken Hanke

    Orlando didn’t get a repertory/arts theatre until ‘87 when The Enzian came to town. Prior to that, the 21st Century Theatre & Drafthouse filled the void to the best of its ability.

    You must have arrived too late on the scene for the Great Southern Music Hall in downtown Orlando. I don’t remember when it shut down or morphed wholly into a live performing venue or in fact just what became of it, but it was a bit of an oasis. I saw remember seeing Women in Love, A Clockwork Orange, The Fearless Vampire Killers, The Tenant, The Cocoanuts and Duck Soup there in rep, but the only thing I clearly recall that was new and not mainstream was Bob Dylan’s infamous Renaldo and Clara in all its four hour glory. Oh, wait, I saw FM there, too. I have no idea why they played it, nor why I went to see it, come to think of it.

    Where is/was the 21st Century? That one I never encountered.

  19. Jim Donato

    No, I arrived in Orlando in 1972, at the age of 9! In the Great Southern Music Hall’s heyday I was a child/pre/early teen and I didn’t start seeing films in theatres until friends had cars as high school seniors in 80-81. By that time it was kaput. I saw concerts there as the Beacham Theatre in the early 90s. The 21st Century Cinema & Drafthouse was near the Naval Base on Bennett Road from 83-ish to 88. I first saw Polyester there in a repertory showing in ’85, though I recall it playing at the Orange Blossom Twin as a current release in 1981!! I also remember seeing the amusing Liquid Sky at the 21st Century. I had been reading about that one for what seemed years in the Village Voice. Believe me, before there was an Enzian, 21st Century was IT in the 80s in Orlando. I always missed the 21st Century because The Enzian was pretty stuffy and conservative in its pursuit of “respectable art cinema.” The 21st Century was unashamed to wallow and was a lot more fun. Certainly no one else would have shown Eraserhead. Ten years later The Enzian loosened up enough to show the likes of Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! without shame, but it was a tough road getting there.

  20. Ken Hanke

    The Enzian was pretty stuffy and conservative in its pursuit of “respectable art cinema.”

    I never went there. By that time, there was usually more than enough art house fare showing in Tampa — a city I know much better and find easier to navigate — that I had pretty much given up on Orlando. I did get the impression from a friend of mine who did go there that the Enzian was a little on the toffe-nosed side with its private “champagne box.”

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