My wife was busy with a work function tonight so I decided to make it a boys night out with my 10 year-old son. Friday marked the opening night of Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit. My son likes the characters and anything even remotely cartoon-like and I’ve found past snippets of this pair to be fairly entertaining. Adding to the choice is that, at the time, the movie was rated a 95 on Rotten Tomatoes. I’ve had some real problems with movies rated that highly of late. In fact, Chicken Run (from the same team as Wallace & Gromit) is rated a 97 and everyone I know found it to be a complete bore.
Anyway, the main concern with seeing the movie was that it’s playing at the local Loews Cineplex. Here in Cherry Hill we have a state-of-the-art, very new Loews with 24 screens. When it first opened, a couple of years back, it was a stunning experience. The luster, however, eroded quickly and devolved into one bad experience after another. Thankfully, the next town over has a wonderful theater known as The Ritz that caters to more discriminating movie goers. The Ritz is always the first choice in my circle of friends and family. Straying outside The Ritz has proven to just beg for disappointment. Disappointment is no stranger to Loews. I don’t know a single person who has said that they prefer going there and yet they appear to be thriving.
My list of complaints with Loews has gone entirely unresolved over the few years that it’s been here and seems to only get worse with time. Friday night was no exception and I’ll get to that in a moment.
First, when you go to Loews you end up having to deal with employees who appear to have been culled from a pool of McDonald’s cast-offs. Many seem clearly to have no interest in the customer experience, clearly act as if they have better things to be doing and often make basic mistakes on the most basic of orders. If they’re not behind a counter, the odds that they speak English are pretty thin. Understand that I live in southern New Jersey where immigration isn’t exactly a major issue.
The oddity is that The Ritz hires from the same generation and yet seems to find excellent people who clearly care about themselves and the job, at least enough to make the customer experience a positive one.
Second, everything at Loews is overpriced to a degree that really makes your head spin. For our family of three, we rarely escape from the concession stand for under $30. Add to this the fact that their ticket prices are significantly higher than the other area theaters (plus the $1 per person fee for using Fandango to buy the tickets online to avoid having to deal with the slow ticket counter people) and it turns into a major investment. It’s gotten so bad that I now don’t feel too much guilt in going to Wawa (that’s a local convenience chain that puts 7-Eleven to shame and has nearly run them out of business here) to pick up snacks and my preferred Evian water. I’m waiting for the day that someone at the theater challenges me on bringing in my own drink but so far that hasn’t happened. When it does happen, there will be a heated debate and its one I won’t lose. Understand that I only employ this tactic at Loews to combat the feeling of overt gouging.
Third, the theaters themselves are always filthy and often suffer from one form of technical problem or another. I see people showing up to clean the theaters when I leave but somehow when I arrive, the theaters still manage to look as if no one was there.
Fourth, and most concerning, is the element that frequents Loews. I don’t know what it is about Loews but it manages to attract a high percentage of people who clearly are morally challenged in life. This has nothing to do with race, age, religion, size, etc. I’ve seen every combination fail to show common etiquette at Loews. The worst offenders are the cell phone users who seem to be multiplying with each new showing. On a recent visit to see the excellent, Batman Begins I actually had to endure two teens sitting next to each other using their phone throughout the movie. One kept getting naked pictures of women sent to his phone and had to immediately comment on them and share them with his friends. The other friend not only used one phone, but continually answered two different phones during the movie. When he wasn’t actually using one of the phones, he’d chew on the flip portion opening it up and engaging its halo-like light.
I have often thought about breaking a pretty ridiculous US law by purchasing a cell phone service-blocking device. These are for sale all over the Net and mainly come from the UK but run about $300 and up. Why every theater doesn’t provide this service is a bit of a mystery. I can only assume that it’s because they fear being sued by the one case where a doctor misses a critical call and someone dies as a result. It’s that case that I wouldn’t mind. Perhaps we need a law that only people with such critical needs can bring a phone into a theater.
I could, of course, grow a spine and make a scene (something I would have done years ago) but somehow that just doesn’t seem like the adult course of action. At The Ritz, I’ve only, knock on wood, had one experience where someone used a cell phone during the show. I’m not brain dead enough to think that number won’t grow but clearly something is different with the environment at The Ritz that keeps this sort of nonsense to a minimum.
Lastly there’s all the pre-show garbage that Loews forces you to sit through. I despise paying to watch commercials and theirs are often the worst types of commercials. Fanta girls, Fandango ads, Inconsiderate Cell Phone Guy (who clearly is having no effect), Coke ads a-plenty, etc.
So we come to Friday and Wallace & Gromit. We showed up and parked a good distance from the theater (it seems to always be mobbed) and then headed in to get our tickets. I’ve often had trouble with the automatic kiosks and tonight was no exception. The one I started with wouldn’t read my debit card. I then waited and hopped over to the next kiosk and got our tickets.
We then headed to the concession stand and, amazingly, found a register on the side with one person at it that was nearing completion of his transaction. We got to the head of the line and put in our order. My son saw that they had a new flavor of Dasini water (Strawberry) and said, “I’ll have a strawberry water” at which point the cashier headed directly off not taking the rest of our order. He then returned with nothing and asked if we wanted anything else. Okay…. So I then said I wanted chicken fingers and an order of fries but didn’t need the combo as we already had our drinks in order. I also wanted a cherry Icee. The cashier then went off again and returned to ask what kind of Icee I wanted. “Cherry”. Off he went. He returned again empty-handed and pointed out that they were out of strawberry water. Yet again he headed off but this time returned with the Icee. He then asked what kind of drink I wanted with my combo. For those paying close attention, you’ll recall that I didn’t want a combo and as I was saying it, my son said, “fruit punch” as a replacement for his missing water. The cashier then pointed out that I’d be better off with the combo given the water situation so I agreed. We then got our receipt and order number for the food.
They called out order 312 and I picked up the chicken fingers and fries. My son had somehow managed to vanish during this wait and it took me a moment to realize that he ran off to the theater to get seats as he’s always worried about getting the right seat in a theater. I had to resort to quite a balancing act to carry my water, the fruit punch, my ticket and the combo platter box down to the theater but somehow I managed to get it all there.
On the plus side the entire process drug out long enough that I managed to miss most of the annoying commercials. I sat down and immediately had to start removing the trash left from the previous show. Once settled in I realized that the picture was askew and in the center of the screen the image was covered with some sort of horizontal “noise” that lasted for the entire movie.
Not long into the movie the person at the end of my row flipped open his cell phone. Here we go. Are people completely oblivious to the fact that in a dark environment, these cell phones light up like a neon light in Vegas? You can’t help but notice it. Thankfully whatever the person was trying to do was short-lived and he turned off the phone quickly.
Then a 35-ish mother two rows ahead of us flipped open her phone, dialed a number and started having a conversation. When finished she then turned to a woman on her right and started chatting. Whatever it was they spoke about I can only guess at but it caused the second woman to pull out her phone and call someone else to have another conversation with. Apparently this is a viral problem. Soon after the second woman ended her call a teenager at the end of their row started his own conversation that lasted several minutes.
At this point I was seriously thinking about using my peanut M&M’s as anonymous projectile complaint markers. I even started to motion with my arm to see how obvious it would be and realized it’d be very obvious. Just as the teenager ended his call an usher appeared, with a lighted flashlight and stood on the isle, with the flashlight continuously on. At least no one used a phone while he was there.
Then a new twist on this old problem cropped up. On the left corner of a seat down in front, a woman turned on a pen light and pulled out a large clipboard and started observing the entire clipboard as if it was the most normal thing in the world to do at a movie. She went from top-to-bottom, bottom-to-top, side-to-side, back and forth, round and round and, given enough time I have no doubt she’d have tried upside-down. She even kept adjusting the clipboard upward, away from her lap so that it was clearly visible to everyone in the theater. I have NO idea what that was all about but finally she turned off the light, motioned to her neighbor who opened up her cell phone and started to make a call when both of them got up and left for good.
Oh, apart from all of this we did see the movie. It wasn’t quite as bad as Chicken Run but it also fell a bit flat. Few people were laughing and there were lots of slow sections. I couldn’t help but think, on my way out of the theater (while making my way past the employees masquerading as cleaning crew) that Rotten Tomatoes rating system needs some work. It seems fine in the middle but anything on the fringes end up being questionable. Once in a while they get one right that’s in the 90’s (like March of the Penguins) but all too often, the system fails us.
For anyone who cares, I have called Loews management on more than one occasion to point out my concerns but each call has fallen on fairly deaf ears. All that I’m given is excuse after excuse about how there is nothing that can be done. With this sort of thinking I can’t make up my mind as to whether it’s best that Loews succeed or fail. If they fail then the ethically challenged customers they had would find The Ritz and really leave me with no options but if they succeed, they’ll likely just breed more bad habits which is likely to spread to The Ritz over time.
No wonder DVD sales are impacting movie viewership.