Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dear Cinema City McGillivray: I hate you!

Pay no attention to the flashing, red light at the bottom of the screen.
Wah, wah, wah.

Love movies, hate movie theatres.

My love/hate affair with the cinema has been well documented on this blog, most recently last July when I named my five ways to improve movie theatres.

Among my recommendations to theatre owners:
  • Putting ushers back into the theatres;
  • Checking the projection quality and fixing it if it sucks;
  • Banning cell phones/blocking signals/punishing scofflaws;
  • Ending the promo reel that runs loudly before the lights go down;
  • Remembering that the product you're selling is "movies."
To that list, CreComm grad Wade Argo adds "more comfy seats" and "enough with the morons who arrive at the last minute to ruin the experience of those who got there early to scope out their good seats."

As I said in my original blog, I'm hard pressed to think of any other service-oriented industry that treats its patrons with more disrespect and contempt, other than airlines and cell phone providers. But for sheer, "F*** you, patrons!" movie theatres win the grand prize.

Screw you, cheap theatre!

For your consideration, I give you Cinema City McGillivray, where I went to see Zombieland yesterday. The film wasn't my choice, but I enjoyed it until the film's big cameo died and it became other tedious horror movie that ends in nonsensical action and violence at a theme park.

Movie aside, a host of humiliations and disappointments I did find at Cinema City McGillivray, including:

1. Low admission, low expectations

I knew that something was up when I generously treated my friend to the movie, and our two tickets came to a grand total of $3. They don't call me Moneybags Larsen for nothing!

So, the air was not thick with expectation or excitement as we walked through the lobby, and noted that there was no ticket taker to be found anywhere in the building, which means we could've just walked in off the street for free - $3 be damned! - like everyone else seemed to be doing.

As well, my least-favorite theatre innovation was operating in full force - the one that makes the multiplex an "amusement destination" and turns the movie theatre lobby into an arcade.

But instead of the irritating air-hockey game at Silver City, which is clearly audible inside the theatres - great planning! - I got the even-more-irritating dance-a-thon 2000 video game being danced upon by two guys, who had clearly played the game about 1,000 times before and came to the theatre wearing gym shorts under their pants for their big night out.

I don't want to begrudge our dancers for doing what they love, but the effect reminded me a lot of what it feels like to be in a New York City restaurant when a subway train hurls down the tunnel underneath it, sending everyone and everything flying across the room.

Two hours later, when I left the theatre, they were still dancing. Really, isn't that what the Nintendo Wii is for?

2. Loud ads double your displeasure

When I walked into the theatre about half an hour before the movie started, there were already loud ads blaring from the screen; to make matters worse, we in the captive audience were subjected to the same Stella Artois ad twice in a row - the one where "the cool guy" sends the paper boat across the fountain to "the babe" on the other side, and "the cooler guy" sends another boat to sink the first one.

It wasn't funny the first time.

3. I see red, I see red, I see red

So, you're in the movie business, which - let's say for the sake of argument - means that you're in the business of showing films on a screen.

The worst thing you could do as a purveyor of onscreen entertainment, then, would be something that would hurt the consumption of the product, right? Right!

For some reason, the good folks at Cinema City McGillivray installed the flashing, red Exit sign so close to the screen, the bottom, right quarter lit up with an eerie, red, flashing glow for the duration of the film (see above photo). Nice.

4. No ushers mean no respect

Yes, it's true that I took the above photograph with the iPhone in the theatre, which is bad. An usher should have stopped me.

I justify it on the grounds that 1) there was no flash, 2) I was in the back row, 3) I was exposing a greater evil than my own, 4) I took it during the ads/previews portion of the evening.

Not more than two seconds after I took the picture, a guy sitting nearby got a call on his cell phone - ring! ring! - and he actually answered it. Completely oblivious to my angry glares and catcalls, he merrily continued the conversation.

Throughout the rest of the movie, this same idiot constantly checked his cell phone for messages, and - even after realizing that he was pissing people off - kept his ringer on and, when another call came in, took it again.

I was the only guy who said something ("Shut up, Peppy!") and he didn't even react or look my way. Maybe because his name isn't "Peppy."

So I took the advice of my earlier blog, took out a piece, and wasted him. Lesson learned at the movies: one less zombie is always a good thing.

The book

As luck would have it, I was reading the book The Age of Persuasion on the bus this morning, and found kindred spirits in authors Terry O'Reilly and Mike Tennant who, like me, are advertising guys who hate movie theatres and the ads they show.

When I knock ads in movie theatres - which I routinely do - people always call me on it for being an advertising hypocrite. "How can you knock ads when you teach advertising?


O'Reilly says:
"The moviegoer has been demoted from welcome guest to mere chattel. Free (but ad-laden) magazines in the lobby promote upcoming films, ads appear in pre-movie slideshows projected onto the big screen, movie times are adjusted to include cinema ads among the "Coming Attractions" trailers, and all manner of product placements might be tucked within the feature film.

"It isn't the advertising itself that causes movie theatres to violate the contract. It's the erosion of the moviegoing experience, from an evening focused on giving the audience a hilarious, pleasurable, or cathartic time to a litany of non-entertaining sales devices designed to exploit a captive audience.

"And for this you pay them."
Less and less all the time.


  1. Well, this is off topic a bit from the advertising perspective, but something that has always really irked me about Cinema City is the fact the so called cheap seats isn't really accessible by bus. The target demo for the theatre is people who are too cheap/poor to pay 10 bucks to see a movie.

    Anyone who lives in central Winnipeg is within walking distance of both the Globe and the Towne. While the Globe is a bit pricier and shows films that are a bit off the beaten path, the Towne plays first run, mainstream movies that will be at Cinema City later on. And tickets are wait for it....five bucks. And it's a nice, small theater with relatively no distractions and none of the insane ads that play before hand.

  2. I have often followed a rule of which movies I'll wait for and those I won't (the latest Bond or any action movie I'm really interesting in? Silver City. A comedy that I'm vaguely interested in that doesn't require a superior screen/sound combo? Cinema City.)As such, I have frequented Cinema City quite a bit since it first opened some ten years ago or so.

    First- The theatre caters to the "kids", so it stands to reason that it will be filled with arcade games and such. But the great thing is that you can walk past all that Kenton and move to the safety of the darkened theatre.

    Second- Yes, the ads are annoying but they're far better now than a mere couple of years ago when CC was still using outdated slide shows featuring 1990's movie trivia. Thanks to Cineplex for that one (as well as CC actually taking plastic now).

    Third- Did you notice the red exit sign after the movie started? If you were still fixated on it then, perhaps the quality of the movie was more in question than the exit sign itself.

    Fourth- As previously discussed, ushers would be a welcome change, but there's something to consider. Who would these ushers be? Muscle bound jocks similar to bar bouncers? Or a bunch of gangly teenagers like all the other theatre workers? Also, considering the overall lack of consideration for others that already exists in society, what outcome would this noble ideal likely lead to? I'm thinking the ensuing arguments would create a far bigger scene and thus inconvenience for those around the scoundrel.

    Oddly enough, I've always thought the little spring back red chairs at CC are not that bad. I especially enjoy having empty seats in the row in front of me so I can put my feet on the armrests for greater viewing comfort. Not that I get that opportunity very often, but that hope springs eternal anyway.

  3. I rarely go to Cinema City because I find that I'd rather pay the extra to see most movies in a comfortable chair, and in a slightly more polite atmosphere. At the Globe, I've never experienced someone picking up their cellphone during a movie. At Silver city, you get the occasional idiot, but it's generally not that bad. Plus the arcade is near the entrance and it's easy to ignore.

    Like Wade said, Cinema City is more for pre-teens and teenagers who may not have jobs yet. I know when I was first going to movies without the parents I would almost always go to Cinema City. But I at least knew when to be quiet, and kept my phone shut off. Too many parents "forget" to teach their kids proper manners in the theatre.

    Another pet peeve of mine: people who keep the Bluetooth on and in their ear. The blue light is very distracting. Oh, and the people who think it's okay to kick your seat.

  4. Good point about the buses, Dave.

    I rarely go to Cinema City - but I find that the general "screw you" attitude is in effect at most theatres in one way or another.

    The Globe is especially bad for projection quality and inexperienced projectionists - though they do get good films that I really want to see.

    The lame behavior is everywhere, I'm afraid: Grant Park is probably just as bad as Cinema City for morons on cell phones - but that's a sign of the times in which we live.

    The red exit sign: I found it impossible to ignore. Flash, flash, flash: at first I thought it was a fire warning!

    The picture on the blog doesn't really do it justice. It was bad, bad, bad! If only there was an usher or ticket taker I could complain to.

    I don't think ushers need to be big, beefy guys - I used to be an usher at the Towne Cinema, and we booted out drunks and ne'er do wells all the time. Five scrawny ushers beat one, big drunk hands down!

  5. Visit ArcLight Theatre's Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles.

    Easily the best theatre I've ever seen a film in. I saw "Zaotoichi" there in 2004 and I still remember the experience vividly. I think it was about $15 U.S. at the time, but not only was it a beautiful theatre, but there were attentive ushers in uniform and with flashlights, no admittance once the show's trailers had begun, and each seat had two armrests and about five inches of space between seats. It was absolutely glorious.

    On a side note: I used to go to the Towne 8 pretty regularly, but it's degenerated to the point now where I feel like I need to bring a S.W.A.T team along.

    Best theatre in town is still the Globe.

  6. Booth:

    The Towne's really not that bad. Optically, the clientele don't look great but I went on almost a weekly basis for a stretch not long ago and never had a problem.

    Christ, I'm at Portage Place every day and people sell meth there. The Towne is almost exclusively families.

    Plus, that's where I saw Jackie Brown one of my all time favorite movies so it has a very special place in my heart.


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