Thursday, March 16, 2017

Reserved Seating: This Used to Be My Playground

by Rob DiCristino and Adam Riske
This week, Rob and Adam debate innovation in movie theaters, re-releases and film festival coverage.

Rob: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Rob DiCristino.

Adam: And I’m Adam Riske. On today’s special edition of Reserved Seating, Rob and I will discuss a variety of moviegoing related topics. Up first: day and date releasing. With the rise of Video On Demand and other streaming services such as Netflix, the way we watch movies is starting to change significantly. Rob, what would you like to see theaters do to compensate for the evolution of the theatrical experience to the home theater? Also, how do you feel about watching movies On Demand and via streaming? Do you prefer it to going to the movies? Has there been a dropoff in quality?

Rob: I think theaters should continue to upscale and incentivize with food and drink and such, but I also think streaming and On Demand services are changing the release model for the better. Not only do we get great back catalogs of stuff we might never have sought out otherwise (I love that I can tell a student where they can find a film online), but it’s also really interesting to see quality people make quality production deals with Netflix and Amazon. I honestly think the streamlining of distribution is going to ease tension between creatives and suits in the production phase. We’re going to get better stuff and we’re going to get it more conveniently.
And this might just be because of where I’m at in my particular life, but there’s almost no conceivable reality in which I’d rather go to the movies than stay at home. It’s not even about the rising ticket prices, really, or the fact that I hate dealing with almost everyone in the general public. It’s about comfort. And I grew up behind a movie theater! My friends and I had tons of great experiences. We saw the Rollerball remake and The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course! Hell, I saw The Phantom Menace six times because I was bored after school! But I’m old and tired now. Put it through my home tube hole.

How about you? You see more movies in the theater than anyone I’ve ever met.

Adam: I still like going to the movies because it allows me to leave the jail I’ve built for myself (by that I mean my apartment). The fact that it is not my home is incentive enough to visit a movie theater. Being a bachelor is tedious. I need to go to the movies or else I’ll stay home watching five hours of MSNBC every night. I’m also going to sound like a crazy person, do I put this...movies on demand don’t feel like real movies to me sometimes. I know, I know. It’s just I can’t get past that feeling. I say that having put a few VOD releases on my top 10 lists in years past. There are some diamonds in the rough, but I think many VOD movies feel under-budgeted/resourced and that makes it more difficult to stand out from the pack. The fact that Martin Scorsese’s next film is going to be released on Netflix really bothers me. Like it’s Vinyl and not a true Scorsese movie.

Rob: Totally understandable, and I should say that I value a good theatrical experience as much as anyone. I think it’s just getting harder for me to have one. Along those lines, what do you think about theaters installing playgrounds and slides and whatnot for kids’ movie screenings? Convenient way for parents to kill two hours on a Saturday, or the death of cinema as we know it?
Adam: I’m totally fine with it. People are overreacting to this news in my opinion. I don’t have children, but I imagine parents taking their kids to the movies are more there for an experience with their kid than to study the film they’re watching without distraction. I’m all for unique experiences for people based on a variety of reasons (e.g. age [kids] or people with different sensory needs). Movies are for everyone and not just for cinephiles. Plus, I think it’s overstated which movies will have these playplace areas. I don’t see Logan being shown in one of those theaters. It’s probably in the auditorium playing The Boss Baby. Does it teach children how to behave in a theater? No, but honestly they’ll get it one day (if they’re not a moron) and if they don’t get it it’s probably because they’re too dumb and nothing would have changed that. I also think it’s a great opportunity to play Madonna’s “This Used To Be My Playground” the first time a kid enters a theater with no slides or ball pits. That song will be so resonant for them! What do you think?

Rob: More of a “True Blue” guy myself, but I see your point. I’m in the same boat. Movies are many things to many people, and this seems like a very good option for Normal People. I’d never rob a parent of an opportunity to relax. Still, it’s not something I’d do with my kid. His introduction to movies has been very delicate and deliberately-paced. I would never confuse him with any kind of sensory experience that would diminish the importance of getting engrossed in the experience of watching a movie. But that’s just me. That’s just me being better than most parents. Because most parents are assholes. I’m not an asshole, Adam.

Adam: No, you’re not. You’re a very good person. There are things that bother me about the theatrical experience more than the idea of a playground in the theater for a kids movie. For example, the namesake of our show: reserved seating. Not a fan! It takes a lot of the spontaneity out of going to a movie for me because I have to look at a seating chart and see where the best seats are before I even leave my house (with reserved seating, there are fewer seats in auditoriums so I check before I leave to make sure a show isn’t sold out). It becomes work. I’ve had a few times where I’ll look at a show time on Fandango and talk myself out of seeing a movie because I don’t want to deal with some arbitrary number of people (e.g. I almost saw Lion the other day but I was like “Four people? Who needs that?”). It also engenders weird situations like when I saw Logan and I bought my ticket a week in advance only to learn there was a giant wall and staircase in front of my recliner seat (that wasn’t on the seating chart) or when I saw Kong: Skull Island and the dipshit sitting next to me didn’t need to sit next to me but did (and then didn’t move over) because he wasn’t paying attention to the seating chart when he walked up to buy his ticket. It also removes the ability for me to move seats to get away from annoying patrons because then I might have to play a game of musical chairs since I don’t know what seats are sold. Fuck! This is getting me aggravated. I think I need time on the monkey bars.

Rob: There should be a Beauty and the Beast screening soon. Go work out some frustration. I think reserved seating is a way to add fake value to the moviegoing experience. It makes people feel more important without really doing much to prove it. Then again, I’m not the kind of person who goes to see movies in large groups, so maybe it’s not for me to begin with? Who knows? More often than not, it’s just a major inconvenience for all the reasons you described (and more), I don’t see us going backward on this one, though. I’m sure Fandango is logging our seat selection habits in order to better advertise to us.

Speaking of transition, where do you fall on re-releases? Repertory screenings of classic and cult films are one thing, but is seeing Terminator 2 on the big screen really worth my fifteen bucks when I can see it at home?
Adam: That’s a tough question. I go back and forth on it. There are some days I love re-releases or rep screenings because it becomes a little movie get together with friends. It’s a fun, nostalgic night out. Other times I think it feels weird to pay more than the amount it would cost to buy a movie to see it on the big screen. I’m not a person who is usually saying “there’s nothing like seeing it on the big screen” because I don’t really care about the romantic aspect of rep screenings anymore. I used to a few years ago but, something changed. I also think it’s a result of there being so many new movies out nowadays that it feels weird choosing an older title (unless, like I said, you’re with some friends or at a critics screening with a Q&A afterwards). I re-watch movies much less than I used to as well. Part of it is a time reason and another is that a lot of times I want to keep the memory I have of a movie from its original run in my head. So, long story short, I don’t think I will be seeing Terminator 2 when it’s re-released in 3D. What about you?

Rob: If it’s something I’m really anxious to see with a crowd or, like you said, a special event with the filmmakers, I’m down. But other than that, I’ve always found it tedious. Jaws, for example, my favorite film of all time, was not as thrilling to finally see on the big screen as I thought it would be. For one, it was one of those garbage Fathom Events screenings where you walk in and see the Blu-ray disc menus on the screen. For another, the theater was mostly empty. I think my favorite way to watch Jaws is while working, cleaning, or doing something on a Sunday afternoon where I can have it on in the background and say all the lines out loud. I know “white noise” viewing experiences aren’t really what we’re talking about here, but my point is that -- even if it’s a movie I love -- there needs to be something to really sell me on a screening like that if it’s going to be worthwhile.

Adam: I’m glad you mentioned the “white noise” thing, actually. I find it so imposing to plan out seeing a rep screening whereas I adore just not thinking about what I’m going to watch, letting movie Jesus (Jim Caviezel) take the wheel and just watching whatever is on cable or Netflix. For example, I re-watched Eraser yesterday and I would have never planned that experience otherwise, but on a whim it was a lot of fun. The moment my entertainment feels like work, it’s ruined.

I used to make more of a conscious effort to seek out the movies I “need” to see but now I’m more satisfied if I just decide to watch something by impulse. Also, the movies I really, really want to see will get seen. I’m not going to have to think about those.

Last question I have for you: how do you feel about festival reviews? I’m conflicted about them. I appreciate that this is a way many critics sustain their living and I have friends who report from fests and I don’t want to take anything away from them. On the other hand, I get the sense that a few fest reviewers or reporters are more or less bragging that they were first and can’t help themselves to not ruin my experience with movies in one way or another. I’m not talking explicitly about spoilers, but they do things that I feel guide my emotional reaction to something in the movie. For example, if they say some movie has a shocking ending then I’m primed for that, or if they say it made them cry then I’m disappointed if it doesn’t emotionally grip me like it did that reviewer. I appreciate getting the head’s up on a lot of movies (because I often hear about indies first from fest reports), but at the same time it is sort of bothersome that they’re sharing while I don’t have the opportunity to experience it for myself for several months. I’m not picking on the reviewers here; I want to be clear on that. I’m more upset with the concept of festival reporting in general. It’s an existential dilemma. What do you think about that?
Rob: I’m of a few minds about it. Festival reviews always feel like someone walking around a buffet and talking about what looks good. The writers have so little time to really reflect that everything is usually just a first impression. That said, writing those first impressions isn’t easy! I know that so many people bend over backwards all day at these festivals just trying to get to each screening and get something out for their outlet as soon as possible. So I have sympathy as a writer because it’s so much work! I don’t know. I like skimming through the reviews and seeing what the buzz is, but I usually forget what they said by the time the films hit wide release, anyway. Except Baby Driver. I refuse to read or watch anything about that movie before I see it. It just means too much to me.

Last question, rapid fire: Abolish summer movie season. Yeah or nay?

Adam: What’s the alternative?

Rob: Year-round tentpole releases. Stop stacking the deck and give everyone a chance.

Adam: Oh, no no no no no. I do not like the spread-out tentpole schedule. That’s how you end up with a weak ass May and June. Like this year, Memorial Day is fucking Baywatch and Pirates 5 and 4th of July is like Transformers 5 and Despicable Me 3. I’d much rather have had Memorial Day be Logan and the 4th be Fate of the Furious or something like that. One of my favorite things back in the day was to go see the new big summer movie every Friday night and now there will be weeks with just bizarre choices because the tentpoles are spread around.

Rob: Fair enough. I have no opinion on this. I just wanted to see you get all worked up again. What are we doing next week?

Adam: We’ve got a date with Disney and we’re reviewing their new live-action update of Beauty and the Beast. I’m still not sure about Emma Watson as a grown-up actress, so I’m hoping this helps me understand my feelings better. Plus it’s so scandalous it was almost banned in Russia and, I think, Alabama!

Rob: Topical! So, what you’re saying is that readers should be week? Eh? Eh, Sally?

Sally: Tale as old as time (laughs hysterically at her own joke).

Adam: Sally, you so crazy! Until next time…

Rob: These seats are reserved.


  1. If they don't start branding it F8 of the Furious soon I'm going to explode. I barely got through the 4th Transformers debacle, this one might kill me.

    I'm kinda with both of you on the Direct to Streaming movies - I'm with Riske on them feeling like less of a movie somehow but with Rob in it being the potential solution to the creatives/suits tension that we can no longer rely on mountains of cocaine to resolve. It's a toughie.

  2. i also feel like you guys about streaming, though it's a great alternative for a movie addict like me.

    on the other side, i can't stand going to the movies anymore. people suck. they talk, they eat crap, they use their phones.

    i try to pick times when there's less people, but having a 9to5 job it's kinda hard

    but i love movies, so what am i supposed to do.

  3. Here in the Cleve, there's a wonderful network of independent cinemas grouped together as Cleveland Cinemas. They're always doing really great rep screenings, and have a very strict "shut the fuck up" policy, unless they're screening something like Rocky Horror or a Grease sing-along. I never really thought about how important this rule was until I went to one of those very special Jaws screenings at a regular theater. It was here where I met the very worst kind of moviegoer, the "look how well I know this movie" guy. Shouted at least 20 lines right before the actors. Waited a few seconds to laugh at every joke so everyone could hear him laughing. Shouting "woo hook John Williams" when the theme would play. Fantom events, the worst, and for the worst people. Never again.

    Any way, if anyone is in the Cleveland area, the Capitol is doing a screening of Fury Road Black & Chrome. Should be pretty dope.

  4. I like reserved seating. Mind you, all the big cinemas here in Finland have it, so I'm used to it. I usually buy or reserve my tickets days in advance, so there's no rush to get to the theater.

    You can also reserve your seats in advance and you only have to buy them 45 mins before the movie starts, a fact I take full advantage of regularly. I often reserve a seat before I know whether I'm even free then, or reserve several seats before asking my friends if they'd like to go.