Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Riske Business: To Hell and Back: A Moviegoer's Journey

by Adam Riske
I needed a pep talk. So I decided to write one for myself.

For this week’s Riske Business column, I want to go back to the beginning – the first Riske Business piece I wrote called “A Pep Talk to the Frustrated Moviegoer.” The reason being is that something in me has broken as a filmgoer and I want to repair it. I’m a person who loves movies that now hates almost everything about going to the movies. In my heart I know that if I had the option of seeing any movie in theaters or watching it at home, I would choose the latter each and every time. This fact made me sad. Where does that leave me in terms of writing for a movie blog? (I.E. Am I just going to be writing about old shit?) Can I consider myself a dedicated film fan anymore or am I past my prime and relevancy? What will be my new hobby if I’m not going to the movies anymore? Surely, I can’t stay at home all the time watching movies that way…
These feelings have been bubbling under the surface for a while and have finally come to a head. For example, I’ve found myself walking out of movies at a pretty constant rate in the past couple of months, sometimes because the film was not good and sometimes because the atmosphere in the theater was bad. The movie that finally broke me (and made me want to evaluate how I was feeling) was Captain America: Civil War. For the record, I’ve seen the movie once, but I’ve gone to the theaters to see it three times. The first time I tried to see it was the Thursday night before it opened. I was all excited to see CA:CW, primarily because it was the first movie of the summer movie season, but that experience was quickly spoiled by a couple sitting a few seats to the left of me who decided to talk throughout the entire first act of the movie. These people not only did that but they also got up and walked past me (to get more drinks) at least three times at different stretches of the movie. These people don’t care about anybody but themselves. It was enough to ruin the movie for me and I left the theater early vowing to try again at a different theater.

On my second attempt to see Captain America: Civil War, I went to a theater nearby my home which (to my surprise) recently decided to adopt the horrible concept of assigned seating in their theaters. I got to the movie 30 minutes early and my heart immediately sunk when I saw that my assigned seat was about five away from a group of teenage boys. I like to think of myself as a non-discriminatory person but I know (having been one) that a group of teenage boys are more likely than not to misbehave and or be annoying during a movie. To their credit, not all of them were acting up but some were and it sucked because I had an assigned seat and theoretically couldn’t just move away from them in the theater. If the theater had open seating, I sure as shit wouldn’t have chosen to sit in the same row as these kids. So, I dealt with it and sit in my seat and stewed until another gentleman showed up (also by himself) and sat right next to me in his assigned seat in a theater full of other empty seats. I wasn’t on board with this. Fuck assigned seating!
First off: what was he thinking seeing a diagram with the cinema’s open seats and then picking one right next to another person that is a stranger? (The seats to the right of us [closer to the teenage boys] were open). Second, when you realize you’ve done this, don’t you just move over one as a buffer and then move back to your assigned seat if you realize that the one you moved to was sold? But no, this guy didn’t so instead we were crammed together, fighting over an arm rest, like we were on an airplane. Word of advice: if you’re on an airplane and there are three seats to a row and only two people are in the row, move over so there’s a buffer seat. Same thing should apply with assigned seating at a movie theater. After 30 minutes, I couldn’t take it anymore and left because I was feeling so claustrophobic.

The third time was almost not the charm seeing Captain America: Civil War. I went to see it at the big megaplex nearby because I figured surely with 500+ seats I would have room to stretch out and it had open seating, so if I was by talkers I could move, right? Well, it was almost not meant to be. I got there 30 minutes early (again) and sat down. Everything was fine until the theater filled to capacity and I found myself sitting next to what was probably a 10-year old boy. No big deal, but this kid was FREAKING OUT. His dad left him to go get popcorn and once his dad left he started to profusely cry and every once in a while say things like “DADDDDDDYYYYYY!!!!! HURRY!!!!!WHERE ARE YOU?!!!!!” The child seemed to have emotional issues so I don’t want to pick on him, but at the same time I just want to watch fucking Civil War. He’s not my child. I don’t want to deal with this shit. So I found a new seat (near the front of the theater….ugh!) and switched seats. There I sat and watched the entire movie in peace and quiet. Am I a heartless dick? Probably, but I need my moviegoing experience to be the way I want it to be and that’s getting more and more difficult for me.

I’m part of the problem too. I can’t stop looking at my phone. This is a recent development but I simply have to look at my phone. I resisted getting a smartphone forever (my friends and family can attest to this) because I didn’t want to become a phone zombie, but six months into having one, I certainly have become one. If I have a millisecond where I’m bored or have dead air, I’m looking at my stupid fucking phone and it’s killed my attention span, especially when seeing a movie in a theater. This was becoming a real problem. To my credit, I’ll go out of sight of the audience (in the doorway or out in the hall) to check my texts, Facebook, Twitter, etc. but I never used to have to do this pre-smartphone era. Something in me broke. I care more about what’s happening on social media than I do about the actual movie I’m watching in most cases.
So where does that leave me? Where’s the pep talk? Well here it is. Adam, I want you to leave your phone in your car every time you go see a movie. I want you to go out of your way to only see movies in theaters with open seating. I want you to arrive to movies closer to show time so you don’t have to move seats. I want you to go see movies in off-times where there are less people. But mostly, I want you to get out of your head so much and just go back to enjoying being at the movies. Maybe the problem is that I go too often by myself and thus it’s become a more academic endeavor than a communal one. I’m not sure, but that might be worth exploring another time in a different column. After all, when I’m at the movies with my friends, a date, or family I never seem to have these problems. I want my life to be AMC Amazing again!


  1. I completely understand where you're coming from Adam. I'm not sure if the Chicago area has any Alamo Drafthouse theaters, but simply going to one of those theaters will solve (almost) all of your problems. No talking. No texting. Normally (especially for repertory screenings) it draws the right kind of movie-loving crowd. And I almost exclusively see movies on Saturday mornings now, the earliest show possible. I can't remember the last time I went to the movies on a Friday or Saturday night. Sunday morning is good too because a lot of people are either at church or hung over from the night before (two totally different kinds of people haha). A word of warning however... at least in the Northern Virginia/DC area, smaller independent theaters attract an older/borderline elderly crowd (at least when I'm going Saturday mornings). Nothing against older movie-goers, but a lot of the time they don't seem to understand how to turn their phones on silent or adjust the screen brightness.

    1. We're in the same boat Alex, including NOVA!

    2. Repping Arlington/Falls Church! For those who follow commenters across other movie sites as well, Outlaw Vern's Mr. Subtlety and Dan Prestwich are also Arlingtonians.

    3. Alamo is the best. I will drive the 45 minutes it takes to get to my closest Alamo if I think the crowd at the local Regal will be crappy.

  2. Besides checking my phone (which I never do) and walking out on a movie (only movie I ever walked out on 25 minutes in? You've Got Mail), I can't agree more as you know I have been pretty vocal about it here a few times. I only go to the earliest showing now and sometimes that doesn't even work but most of the time the theater is quiet, reasonably empty and spaced out depending on the film I'm seeing.

    1. Ditto. I hate that I have to, but I'll choose the weird showtimes at 3 or 10:30pm on a weekday just so I don't have to be around crappy moviegoers.

      I also find that I'll only check my phone when I'm watching movies at home (amongst other distractions). I hate that my main theater incentives (Better quality and fewer distractions) are slowly diminishing.

  3. Damn, Adam. This is a bummer to hear. I really think your best bet is to go during off hours. I don't even remember the last time I went to a movie on a Friday or Saturday night. I can't handle the crowds. The best time I've found is right after the work day hours, like a 3:30 or 4:00 showing.

    I'd also recommend not going as often either. I like to reserve the movie theater experience only for the films that I really want to see or the ones that demand being seen on the big screen. I don't think I've seen a comedy in a theater in at least 5 years.

    Anyway, best of luck to you.

    Oh, and fuck reserved seating!

  4. Considering some asshole brought a fucking laser pointer into my screening of Civil War (like it was the year 2003 again), I totally get it. However, I would recommend talking to said offenders. 9 out of 10 times these people will stop what they're doing so long as your earnest and cool about it. And if they don't, address them again (and yell this time). The rest of the audience will have your back. I'm not a big guy but I've been backed up by some frightening looking dudes who were happy to help my cause. Is it sad that moving going has come to this? Of course. But if you don't go to the root of the problem, then it will continue.

  5. UGGGHHH I hear you on the phone addiction. I recently got my first smart phone that's not a piece of junk and the pull to look at it all the time is enormous. Almost make me want to get rid of it and go cave man style. haha At least I don't check it during a movie at the theater.

    I still love movie theaters, but I honestly don't have to deal with obnoxious people often. When someone is being too loud I just tell them to keep it down and everything is then usually fine. However, I don't live in a big city like Chicago. That might have something to do with it.

    *no offense to people in big cities*

  6. I recently cut myself off from social media because of how much it distracted me from movies and my own stuff. Obviously this isn't a good idea for 99.9% of people but it's helped me funnel my focus properly and I feel great.

    If only cinemas could just have restrictions on talking like stage theaters do… the world would be an infinitely better place.

  7. I totally get where your coming from Adam (I had a couple yakkety yaks behind me for Civil War, it was annoying) and sadly I do believe that in order to do that we as a theatergoing group will have to get more vigilant on these rule breakers. No longer can we just give them a cold stare of anger we must say something and then if that doesn't work grab the theatre manager. I live in Orlando myself and I have to be very careful about what movies I see, the time of day, and the theatre I am at. (Stay the hell away from Disney Springs at Disney World and only visit Universal Studios movie theatre Mon-Thursdays.)
    My biggest issue I have though is always with horror movies, whether it be "oh shit she just went in there" idiots or people who bring their 5 year olds to the latest Conjuring film. So sadly horror movies must be always done during that Mon-Thurs period. One area where I will disagree with you Adam is the reserved seating, I personally love it. Call me an old timer if you will but I am way over the "stand in line for 2 hours before the show and then run up the stairs to get one of the good seats" thing. I like knowing I can show up a few minutes before showtime with my Coke Icee and be all set if I reserved my seat ahead of time. Also since I usually go during the off period not as many seats are taken so if I do get one of those people who don't respect the seat between moviegoers rule I can move my place after the movie has been playing for a bit. Granted though my fav theatre is the Cinemark Artegon 20 in Orlando which not only has reserved seating but reclining chairs with a small wall between rows so unless someone is being very loud it acts as somewhat of a sound buffer between you and the row behind you. Don't give up Adam, as Orson Welles said in the movie Ed Wood after being asked by Ed in a ladies sweater if all the trouble is it worth it? and Orson says "It is when it works". Also yeah keeping the phone in the car good call

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  9. I think I wrote this already on another similar column, but I can understand most of your points, especially those regarding annoying people disrupting your entertainment with talking, texting, going to the loilet or concession stand several times and so on.
    I remember once a girl right behind me constantly talking. First I asked here politely to stop. After that din´t helped I got so angry that 20 minutes into the movie I stood up and screamed at the top of my lungs that I would smash here teeth right into the back of her head if she only would talk one more word during the entire movie. I was kind of shocked and surprised about myself, normally being a pretty calm guy, but the rest of the audience applauded and the dumbass behind me really shut her damn mouth until she left right at the beginning of the credits.

    What I don´t understand is the problem with reserved seating. That´s the case in almost every movie theater here in Germany and I love it. And where is the problem to change seats if the theater isn´t completely sold out. There is no seat polce slapping you with a fine when you don´t stay on the seat you bought if there are enough free seats. If you are in a theater full of empty seats and you don´t want to sit right next to some stranger, just move. No problem.

    The other point I can´t understand is your phone addiction. Maybe that´s because I conciously stay away from social media like Facebook or Twitter, because until now nobody ever has managed to convince me of any advantage this would have for me. And I´m totally happy without that, so maybe that´s why I don´t ever have the urge to check anything during a movie, but I´m sure social media deniers like me are a minority.