Indoor movie theaters are making a comeback in the United States, with “TENET” the first official post-shutdown release to gross a significant amount of money at the box office. I had a safe, socially distant experience when I saw it last week. If you plan on going to an indoor cinema over these next few weeks or months, I hope the same happens for you.
As I approach the end of my 15th year as a film critic, I think back to some of my favorite and most surprising experiences I’ve had at movie theaters. You never know what can happen.
At the end of 2008, I went with my cousins to see Disney’s “Bolt” for the second time. As we were waiting to go in, I noticed a group of people standing off to the side. And the person in the center looked just like Susie Essman, who voices Mittens in “Bolt”.
I couldn’t believe it. What in the world is Susie Essman doing at a multiplex in Albany, NY? I walked-up to her, introduced myself, and asked that question. Turns out she recently married a man from the Capital Region, and she was taking her family to see “Bolt”. They had just left the showing.
A couple weeks later, at the start of ’09, I interviewed Essman for a segment on the Time Warner TV station I worked at, then called Capital News 9. Essman and her husband came to the station, and we sat down and had a nice conversation. I wore a “Bolt” t-shirt.
As Essman was leaving, a few of the CN9 staff members left their cubicles to meet her. They asked her about “Curb Your Enthusiasm” — a show she said I shouldn’t be watching… but I was anyway. It’s funny! Essman told them that in a few days she was going to California to film the new, seventh season (which began airing that September). Essman, known for her colorful vocabulary as Susie Green, teased it by saying, “Larry and I have words.”
A few years later, at that same multiplex, “The Today Show” filmed part of a profile piece on me. The lovely Jenna Wolfe, currently the host of Fox Sports 1’s “First Things First”, travelled up from NYC to Albany to spend the day. We walked around the lobby area as she asked me questions, and then we went into one of the auditoriums.
To save time, instead of showing an entire feature, the theater decided to play a 20-minute set of trailers. Twice. During these, we talked and did funny bits with popcorn, and the “Today” crew filmed us doing various reaction shots. It was a lot of fun.
And just this January, I was in Los Angeles for the Critics Choice Awards. A few days before that, I attended a taping of “Wheel of Fortune” in Culver City and then swung on over to one of the multiplexes for a showing of “Underwater” with Kristen Stewart. As I walked into the lobby, I noticed a table off to the side.
It’s common, especially in big cities, to see studio reps at tables. There’s probably a screening that night. But on this particular evening, these reps were running Film Independent’s Spirit Awards voter screenings. The nominations had been out for nearly two months, with the awards still about a month away.
I had no idea that this was happening… and at this specific theater. And on this particular evening, they were showing “The Vast of Night”, a film co-written by my critic colleague and friend Craig Sanger, that I had been anxiously awaiting to see (but didn’t know when it was going to happen).
So I went-in to one auditorium for “Underwater” and then shortly after was able to go into another one for “Vast”. I couldn’t believe it. Out of all the theaters. Out of all the movies. Out of all the showtimes. Movie theaters always hold a special place in my heart, and I hope to continue making more special (and safe) memories at them soon.