Monday, June 11, 2018

Hereditary yes, Cineplex No

I seldom have good experiences at Cineplex movie theatres, but I still occasionally go see movies there. Sometimes - as with Hereditary, yesterday - I really enjoy the movies that I see at Cineplex. But going to Cineplex often also means:

1. Having staff walk in front of the screen to perform some sort of obscure security check, more than once during the film. They send an employee cross the screen to do whatever they do at the box on the far wall. I've seen this happen more than once during a screening, and since I tend to sit somewhat close to the screen, that usually means a bobbing, capped head ghosting along the bottom quadrant of the image. Not sure what purpose this practice could possibly serve, other than distracting viewers from the film; if it is meant to reassure me that my security is being looked out for - it does not. 

2. Having the lights go up in the movie house before the film is over. I've had this happen more than once, including during a film where there were still images on the screen, accompanying the credits: blam, as soon as the credits rolled, the lights were full on. It doesn't always happen this way - but sometimes it does. They don't have a very good sense of timing. I tried to explain why this was problematic to a cinema manager, last I encountered it, and was blinked at by him like I had come from another planet, with no apparent comprehension of why this would be a problem.

3. Watching a constant barrage of annoyingly shouty "advertorial" trivia, pitched at the rock-bottom of the barrel of cinema consumption, usually about very pretty stars whose names I can't even remember as I write this and can't be arsed to look up. This followed by an onslaught of ads, with the whole experience lasting at least half an hour before the trailers even start. Sure, that's part and parcel of the commercial movie experience nowadays - except I don't have to watch A SINGLE FUCKING AD if I stay home and watch Netflix or a Blu-Ray (except for movie trailers, of course, which are fine, though it would be especially nice if cinemas made sure these trailers fit the film they're playing; the trailers for Hereditary yesterday were a random mix of other films distributed by Elevation Pictures, including what seemed a cringeworthy Afro-American telemarketing comedy and two other non-horror movies which have passed, thankfully, from memory, but which were about as far from the content of Hereditary as could be imagined). Nor do you have to watch ads, generally (except for a few trailers) if you go to the Vancity Theatre or the Cinematheque. As I recall, even the Hollywood 3 discount chain, which serves second-run movies at half the price, is ad-free, except for trailers. When I see Hollywood movies theatrically, these days, this is usually my preferred means. Caught I Feel Pretty and Rampage with Erika as a double bill out in Surrey not long ago. Neither of them were great movies, but some of the sting gets taken away when you're paying less than half what you would for a Cineplex screening, and not being bombarded with car ads to boot.

4. Paying exorbitant prices for films. We paid $13.25 per ticket for what I considered a matinee yesterday of Hereditary at Metrotown, and that wasn't even with all the annoying bells and whistles - 3D, hi-def, seat shaking gimmicks, smell-o-vision - that they use to justify charging even more. $13.25 for a single ticket of a film screening at 4:25 PM seems obscene to me (especially when I can wait a few weeks and see the same film for $5 or so at the Hollywood, or pretty much for free on Netflix).

5. Being serviced by robots. This, again, is the way of the world lately - Landmark New West, which has vastly better seats, also has a predominantly kiosk-based service - but I was still shocked by the latest manifestation, again at Metrotown: the front-of-house human tellers have all been replaced by automated tellers, with the people who previously took your cash now running back and forth between the machines, helping you work them. This is ridiculous and alienating, but worse, it isn't even an improvement in service, because Cineplex Metropolis, in their wisdom, have also removed the kiosks that were PREVIOUSLY to the side of the human tellers, so you still have to line up, to be served by the same number of machines as they used to have human employees. There are, I believe, in fact FEWER places to buy tickets now at that cinema, for their "technological improvements" - though of course you can order online, something I never do; I would rather buy a ticket from a person, personally. Maybe I have questions. Maybe I enjoy the social exchange. Maybe I like the idea of people being paid to work somewhere, so I feel less like a pawn in a profit-generating machine, and more like a human being myself. Maybe I just like to be thanked in person, rather than read words on a screen (somehow being thanked by a computer seldom seems sincere). Note that there is apparently an option of lining up somewhere else at Metrotown if you want to pay by cash, but it would have involved following an usher's vague directions and finding the appropriate teller, in some nebulous other region of the cinema. I had someone to meet at front-of-house, and I wasn't paying cash, anyhow...

In short, going to Cineplex at all, ever, these days means holding my nose. But there are still some things they get right. It's great that they're even playing Hereditary - a singularly ambitious weird-ass horror film that will appeal, say, to fans of Zulawski or people who know about The Evil Within, except you won't see Zulawski or The Evil Within at a mainstream movie theatre. To see such a culty, odd film in a 3/4 full house at a mall cinema was bizarrely appealing - a sign of a smarter, more demanding, or at least better-informed audience, maybe.  It also must be said that Cineplex has never yet, that I've seen, misprojected a film. I have had cause to complain at competing chains that the images have seemed under-lit, so much so that - a problem at Landmark New West - the red lights of the "exit" signs, reflected on the screen, were actually brighter than the film itself, so you could see red patches at either extremity of the image. This has never been an issue at Cineplex. So I have - up until yesterday - still been willing to pay them money, occasionally, even if they're pretty much LAST on my list of cinema choices (which are, in descending order, the Vancity Theatre; the Cinematheque; the Rio; any location of the Hollywood 3; Landmark New West; and finally, anything run by Cineplex. Bear in mind that I live a five minute walk from Metropolis, so it really is quite significant that I feel this way; the least convenient movie theatre to get to, for me, is in fact my first choice, and the most convenient, my last).

Hereditary, let me mention - by way of setting up my final big complaint - is really a worthwhile film. People are saying it's on the level with classics like Rosemary's Baby or The Exorcist (a film I have mixed feelings about but it certainly deserves its rep). I'm not quite sure about any of that, but it's at least as good as or better than the last few cult horror movies to rise to the surface in recent years, like It Follows and The Babadook, and will definitely warrant a repeat viewing. It is inventive and original, has some genuinely scary and disturbing images, and it will keep you guessing as to where it is going. (It is another good film to watch with as few spoilers as possible, though I was pretty impressed that the one trailer I saw didn't even reveal that Gabriel Byrne, the film's biggest star, was in it). There's a whole boatload of suspense built up by the end of the film, as it draws to a climax that pays off in terms of both meaning and action (which is to say, the last big scare is also the point where you finally get to understand what's been going on; a friend has quibbled rightly that they get a bit too spoon-feedy there, with a voiceover from an offscreen character that explains more than it needs to, in case you are lost, but I must admit, there were bits I had not caught in that explanation, myself.) It's brilliant to have a film that pits your desire to understand what you've been seeing with the fear that something really scary is going to happen; I'm not even sure how to begin to describe that inward tension, but it's about as potent a confrontation with the fear of the unknown as you can get. You cannot understand UNLESS you face your fear. I like this. (And I like that, as is not the case with most films, I have absolutely no handy interpretation as to what it all REALLY means; I can't begin to suggest what the film is about thematically).

Here's where Cineplex Metropolis REALLY blew it yesterday. At the very peak of suspense of the film, four cleaning staff, pushing two giant carts with garbage bins, opened the doors, rolled up the aisle, and stood at the margins of the cinema, waiting for the movie to end so they could get to work. Not only were the credits not rolling, THE FILM STILL HAD NOT REACHED ITS CLIMAX. It was in the very process of doing so. It was OBVIOUSLY not over. And yet, not only did they not stop what they were doing as soon as they saw the film was going on - leaving the carts and waiting outside; they continued up the aisle and just stupidly stood there, doing NO WORK AT ALL, so it wasn't even aiding them much. It had the overall effect of making their waiting to clean up the spilled popcorn a part of the cinema-going experience, and our still being in the theatre an inconvenience to their jobs.

During the LAST. FIVE. MINUTES. OF. THE. FUCKING. MOVIE.

One member of the audience - because there was some discussion about this afterwards - said he actually jumped when the garbage carts rolled up the aisle, like it was somehow manifesting the scary things going on on screen. There was a minute of sheer confusion on my part as well - oh no, the movie is coming up the aisle! (Thoughts of William Castle's The Tingler flickered).

Admittedly, as soon as the credits rolled, I got angrier than I perhaps should have. I lost my temper, as I sometimes do when confronted with gross, blinking incompetence. I addressed the staff directly: "Are you dumb, or is this policy?" I applaud the guy who had wit enough to respond, "Well, we're not dumb, so you should probably go talk to the manager" - which was a pretty composed smartassed reply, even if it had the effect of escalating my irritation and having me repeat my question, louder, to the other staff, who stood there stupidly (and possibly not understanding the question; they didn't seem to have much in the way of English-language skills, seemed to have that look of complete impartiality you get when being yelled at by someone using words you don't understand). On the way to actually talking to the manager, I got chewed out in turn by a female audience member, who admitted she also thought the cart manifestation was ridiculous and unprofessional, but who emphasized that you cannot be so disrespectful to the staff ("do you know what they're being paid?" To which I really should have replied that *I WAS THE ONE PAYING THEM,* because in a way, that was true; certainly I was being paid NOTHING to be there, myself, which, whatever paltry wage they receive, is still a smaller amount. They were plus at least $20 for the two hour runtime of the film, while I was down $13.25!).

When I found her, the manager - a chubby woman in her fifties, who looked like she could be as easily managing a Canadian Tire - manifested that same blinking indifference that I have seen so frequently when complaining at Cineplex. She did say, in the most neutral terms possible, that she was sorry; she did say that the staff was not supposed to wheel in the carts before the movie was over. She offered me no recompense (maybe because she rightly assumed I would have told her to shove it). I told her I would never again come to the Metrotown Cineplex (which was true, especially after I had made a scene; I'm really good at such moments at burning bridges). As she stood impassive, I then told her in fact that I would think twice about seeing any movie at Cineplex (which in fact is what I already do). She maintained her impassivity - she may have repeated, lamely and neutrally, that, again, she was sorry and shouldn't have happened, but again, her blandness gave me no satisfaction. "It's disrespectful of the audience!" I shouted. "It's disrespectful of your paying customers! It's disrespecful of the film." I probably waved my arms a little, as she stood there, blank and blinking. "In fact," I declaimed, digging out my wallet - "here, I've got 600 points on it, and you can KEEP it." I threw my Scene card on the floor. She made no move to pick it up, made no move to say or do anything further, so, having said my piece, I walked away.

(Note: I didn't realize til after that a friend of the friend I was with retrieved said Scene card for me; thanks, man. I got a bit worried after I walked away that maybe someone would use the card to access my information in a nefarious way. It was very considerate of you).

So here you go, dear Cineplex. Since you seem confused about it, THIS IS WHY your revenues are down. It isn't just that you mostly play giant shitty blockbuster movies. It isn't just that you gouge every penny out of your customers, or speak to them with your ads and pre-show trivia like they're total idiots, or that you generally strive, with your automation, to make the experience as impersonal and robotic as possible. It's that you send the message loudly to your audiences that you respect neither them nor the movies you're screening; that our love of cinema and desire to intimately engage with it is in fact an inconvenience to you, a necessary evil at best, rather than THE WHOLE FUCKING POINT OF THE ENTERPRISE. And then, when we get annoyed with you, you blink stupidly, say you're sorry, and wait for us to leave. 

Boo, I say. Bollocks. There's lots of other ways to see movies, and they're ALL better than doing business with you.

Repent and change your ways.

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