Cranky Hanke’s screening room: How to go to the movies

Greetings and welcome to the first weekly movie blog. The idea behind this new feature is to allow for a place where things cinematic—and cinema related—can be discussed that don’t find a ready place in the movie reviews themselves. It could encompass anything from notable titles that are coming out on DVD (don’t forget Across the Universe comes out on Tuesday!) or things that might be in the offing on TV or trends in movies (Why do so many films have Kinks songs on the soundtrack these days? Why are so many scenes in 2007 movies set in bowling alleys?) or movies on the horizon or … well, just about anything to do with the movies.

Bear with me while I get my footing (bet you thought I was gonna say “bearings”), since this is very much a work in progress. And, yes, suggestions (at least those not offering a stout piece of rope with instructions) are welcome.

I’m going to indulge myself for this first column and talk about something I’ve long wanted to discuss, but have never quite figured out where to do it. It’s a pretty simple concept: How to Go to the Movies. Now, this might seem a no-brainer — you pick a movie, you go to a theater, you buy a ticket, you watch the movie—but after years of heavier-than-average moviegoing, I realize that it’s not always as easy as it sounds. Let me explain.

For starters, I’ve come to realize that the process of picking a movie is in many cases a lot more random than I would have thought. I can only recall one instance where I went to a theater without having a clue what I was going to go see beforehand (it was a case of needing to kill time), but it does indeed seem that a goodly number of folks will go to the movies just for the sake of going to the movies, and they only choose a title once they’re in line.

If that appeals to you, it doesn’t bother me, but having some general idea what your choices are is worth considering. Standing at the window asking what every movie playing is about — with a line behind you stretching into the parking lot — is just rude.

It’s also a pretty good idea to know what sort of movie you’re choosing. I saw far too many unhappy moviegoers a few years back who’d apparently gone to see The Ladykillers because it starred “that nice Tom Hanks.” Overlooking the fact that the movie was “rated R for strong language” was the cause of the distress. In short, know what you’re getting yourself into.

The next thing to consider these days is the nature of the multiplex theater. All corporate-owned theaters in town are multiplexes, and it’s a good thing, because without the multiplex concept not only would viewing choices become limited, but a lot of titles that gained local favor (I call them “Asheville movies”) —‚ Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Across the Universe, etc. — would have never enjoyed lengthy runs.

But it helps to understand the nature of the multiplex, which isn’t — as I’m sure you’ve noticed — just a collection of auditoriums. Generally, the theaters are built around a handful of large theaters with smaller theaters filling out the rest. Movies are placed in the houses best considered to suit the size of the anticipated audience. In other words, don’t expect that documentary on African wasting diseases to be in one of the larger theaters.

But there’s more to the multiplex concept than that. The longer a movie plays, the further away from the big auditoriums it’s apt to move. By the end of its run — with very few exceptions — a movie is likely going to have been transferred to one of the smaller houses. As attendance drops, it’s only logical that the film in question gets “downgraded.”

This won’t matter to a lot of people — even a 25 foot wide screen provides an experience you’re not going to get at home — but if you’re adamant about seeing something on the biggest screen in the theater with the ne plus ultra in sound (the latter is becoming less of a concern with advances in technology), then don’t wait for the crowds to die down.

Crowds are another matter. If you don’t like dealing with them, then going to the most popular movie in town on a Friday or Saturday night is probably not a good plan. Similarly, think about the kind of audience a given movie is likely to draw. Going to the brand new horror movie (especially a PG-13 rated one) on opening night and expecting to find a nice, sedate crowd is a concept I view with grave misgivings and gloomy foreboding. Let’s face it, these movies are made for a teenage crowd and that crowd is quite likely to talk back to the screen, laugh at inappropriate times and comment on the action.

When Stay Alive came out, there was one poor woman — at the 7 p.m. Friday show — who kept shushing the audience and trying to get an usher to quiet them down. (Considering the quality of the movie in question, I suspect her ire must have been the result of being related to the filmmaker.) Personally, I found her more distracting than the kids, who were clearly enjoying the onscreen antics in a spirit appropriate to the movie.

And then there’s basic etiquette. Cell phones are obnoxious in theaters. Period. Nothing shatters the mood of The Exorcist like a cell phone one row over with “Dixie” as its ringtone. (Yes, it happened.) Turn the damned things off. Very few of us are so important that we can’t be out of touch with the outside world for a couple hours. Text messaging isn’t much better when you’re trying to watch a movie and the person next to you is bathed in a blue glow typing such deathless prose as “I’m watching a movie LOL.” Unnecessary jabbering of any kind is … well, unnecessary. People around you really don’t care where you’re going to dinner after the movie, though they may well wish you’d go ahead and go there.

There’s another kind of etiquette to consider, too. That’s showing some basic respect for the theaters and their staff. For starters, pick up your trash. Oh, I know Jerry Seinfeld has a whole routine built around the concept of being as messy as you can to get back at theaters for their exorbitant prices. But does this “get back” at the theaters? Nope. All you’ve done is make life a little bit worse for some minimum-wage employee, who had nothing to do with setting those prices. Moreover, the next time you find yourself having to wait to be seated, you can thank the folks who went to the previous show and left a Seinfeldian mess to clean up.

Let’s talk showtimes for a minute. If a movie is slated to start at 7:30 and you arrive on the scene at 7:40 only to find a line at the box office, it’s really not the fault of the theater that you’re likely going to be late for your film.

Now, there are people — and they know who they are — who go through this life in a perpetual state of “wanting to see the manager,” and in some cases that’s understandable, but a little common sense in this area would not be out of place. You don’t like having to sit through the ads on the beginning on movies? Join the club. (In fact, it’s even worse for those of us who review movies, because we often see the same ads 15 or more times during the space of a month.) But here’s the catch — this is not a local matter. The theater manager isn’t in control of this. It’s a corporate matter — the same as the prices charged and every other theater policy. Bitching out the manager may allow you to vent, but it accomplishes nothing. If you want to complain, the thing to do is drop a line to the theater chain’s home office.

As for the movies themselves — there’s a splendid scene in a generally forgotten minor classic of the silver screen from 1945 called It’s in the Bag. In this, a beleagured theater manager is being harassed by any angry patron over a movie — called Zombie in the Attic — being shown at his theater, whereupon he explains, “You understand, don’t you, sir, we don’t make these movies, we just show them.” Bear that in mind. Blame the writer or the director or the studio. Blame Justin Souther or myself for recommending a movie you hated, but put the blame where it belongs.

Ken Hanke writes the weekly Xpress film-review column Cranky Hanke

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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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14 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s screening room: How to go to the movies

  1. RingoStarchy

    Great idea Ken. I’m looking forward to reading your blog.

    I’d like to elaborate on one thing you pointed out. Yes, the managers are not responsible for the prices of the movie or concessions.

    Most people wonder why the popcorn, drinks etc. cost so much. While the cost of the material is minimal (I believe the popcorn itself costs around 10 cents a pound), they charge excessive prices out of necessity. The theatre, and indeed the entire corporation itself, makes 100% of its profits from concession sales.

    That $8.50 – $10.50 you spend on a ticket goes entirely to the film distributors, leaving theatres to jack up prices to remain profitable.

  2. Ken Hanke

    “Great idea Ken. I’m looking forward to reading your blog.”

    Thank you. We’ll see how this pans out. I kind of like the idea of something a bit less structured.

    “The theatre, and indeed the entire corporation itself, makes 100% of its profits from concession sales. That $8.50 – $10.50 you spend on a ticket goes entirely to the film distributors”

    There was a time when that was kind of true (there’s an aspect of it that someone a little more knowledgeable on how it used to work could explain), and theater chains love to keep this going, but as it stands now the theater corporation is keeping roughly half the ticket price — a little less at opening, a little more the longer a movie stays at a given theater. At the same time, that’s a relatively small profit margin when you put it up against the $7 bag of popcorn that cost the theater (including bag, salt, oil, electricity and employee par) maybe a dime.

  3. Nam Vet

    Some good points here Ken. I personally am not into crowds, so I like to go to the week night 7:00s or matinees. I often pick a flick from the paper first, so I know ahead of time which one I will see. Sometimes I’ll read a review, sometimes not. Knowing the actors helps. Or the director.

    Foremost for me is just going without preconceived ideas, as much as possible,about what to expect. I let the thinking mind relax,and get absorbed in the entertainment…if it good. And most are good enough. I rarely see one I feel I must walk out on. Luck of the draw perhaps. I love to be transported, entertained. And I love the movies.

  4. Ken Hanke

    “I personally am not into crowds, so I like to go to the week night 7:00s or matinees.”

    That was one of my points. If you want to avoid throngs of people, there are times when that’s largely possible. At the same time, there are movies that benefit from a crowd. Good comedies and bad horror pictures are almost always more fun with the right audience.

  5. Justin Souther

    I enjoyed BLACK CHRISTMAS simply due to the glut of teenage girls yelling at the screen.

  6. Ken Hanke

    “I enjoyed BLACK CHRISTMAS simply due to the glut of teenage girls yelling at the screen.”

    Exactly my point. I referenced STAY ALIVE and it’s hardly a good movie (though there are certainly worse ones), but it became enjoyable due to the audience response. I can’t imagine sitting through it at home on DVD. Well, actually, I can, and that’s why I don’t plan on doing it.

  7. Nam Vet

    Ken said: “That was one of my points. If you want to avoid throngs of people, there are times when that’s largely possible. At the same time, there are movies that benefit from a crowd. Good comedies and bad horror pictures are almost always more fun with the right audience.”

    Agreed Ken. I saw ‘Forest Gump’ in Los Angeles on it’s opening night. The theatre was packed. I watched a lot of movies during my years in LA, but the reaction to Forest Gump was special. After it ended, EVERYONE in the audience spontaneously stood and applauded. Myself included. Great movie. Moving. Well made and well cast and well acted. Hey Tom Hanks has range doesn’t he? I’m glad I saw it with a full theatre.

    Other memories. Here in Asheville at the old theatre that was before Asheville Brew and View. I screened ‘Blazing Saddles’ with a full first night audience. I nearly fell out of my chair laughing at times, as did most of the folks there. Also ‘Jaws’ at the same theatre. Glad it was packed when I saw it. I still get a little antsy in the ocean all these years later.

  8. chip5249

    Well done, Ken

    I generally avoid theaters on weekends – I now live for matinees when there’s so much less chance of having a cold liquid spilled on me. Don’t have to turn sideways in the seat every few minutes etc

    Of course, I do remember being a teenager and sneaking up to the balcony and …

  9. Ken Hanke

    Thanks.

    Yes, matinees are a great way to avoid the perils of moviegoing. For that matter, just about any weekday show is a pretty safe bet.

    I’m glad to see a tendency — so far at least — for people to want to see movies in a theater setting. Nothing against DVDs and home video (I’ve collected movies since the days when you could only do it by tracking down old TV prints and bootleg 16mm prints), but there’s nothing to equal the experience of seeing movies on the big screen.

  10. “If you want to complain, the thing to do is drop a line to the theater chain’s home office.”

    I called the chain’s home office, was put on hold and was forced to listen to movie previews while on hold, then I pulled my toenails out and bathed in the irony.

  11. Ken Hanke

    “I called the chain’s home office, was put on hold and was forced to listen to movie previews while on hold, then I pulled my toenails out and bathed in the irony.”

    That’s why I’d suggest writing them. In the end — having had some dealings with these folks and corporate America in general — it probably won’t matter. Chances are if you complain about their policy of putting ads on movies, they’ll send you some passes, tell you they’ll look into it, and then bitch out the manager for doing what they told him or her to do.

    In all seriousness (and I was only half-kidding), one thing that was pointed out to me was that I didn’t suggest e-mailing the home office when you’ve had a pleasant moviegoing expeience. Consider it suggested. A little deserved praise never hurt anyone — and it’s the only way the higher-ups know that their local representatives are doing an okay job.

  12. Rebecca Nelson-Denmark

    “And then there’s basic etiquette….Unnecessary jabbering of any kind is … well, unnecessary.”
    Thank you for this comment!! My husband and I saw No Country for Old Men this past weekend and I don’t think I have ever heard a woman gasp so much during each and EVERY (and I do stress EVERY) scene! This movie is intense in it’s plot and the characters are intriguing – however it is a bit hard to actually SERIOUSLY enjoy the portrayal of a lunatic mass murder when the lady behind you keeps saying “He’s going to hurt someone – OMG – he’s going to hurt those people – OMG, OMG – OMG OMG He killed more people!” As if we all didn’t pay our $10.50 each for the ticket and we were not aware of the plot!!! Anyway, thanks for the posting Ken – looking forward to your futuer postings.

  13. Ken Hanke

    The woman in question sounds like she was quoting dialogue from CLOVERFIELD!

    I have a couple of pretty bizarre — and annoying — experiences of this kind. One that immediately comes to mind is sitting through Roman Polanski’s THE TENANT while the lady behind me translated all the dialogue into Spanish for her companion. I’ve an even more peculiar story about watching Warren Beatty’s REDS, but I think I’ll save that one for now.

  14. Justin

    Theater Etiquette.

    Actually, people are just as annoying at fast food drive-throughs and video rental stores.

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