You’ve probably been noticing that I’ve been writing a lot more recently. I was inspired by Sarah Lyall’s piece in the New York Times last month — where she saw 12 movies in 12 different NYC theaters in a span of 48 hours — and decided to try my own version of the social experiment.
My own personal goal: See as many of the 2015 Academy Award-nominated films in different Western New York theaters while spending as little money as possible. With those paramenters in mind, I gave myself a month. Here are the results:
7:10 p.m.: 2015 Oscar-nominated live action shorts at the DIPSON EASTERN HILLS CINEMA 3 (Williamsville, N.Y.)
I’ve always felt at home in indie theaters (Cinemapolis was one of my favorite haunts when I lived in Ithaca, N.Y.) and the Eastern Hills Dipson is one of my favorites. Just off the I-90 East and a few blocks from the Regal Transit Center Stadium 18 & IMAX, the Eastern Hills Dipson has always felt welcoming in its familiarity. Perhaps it’s the comforting pastel-green walls or their array of intelligent and intriguing films, which includes this year’s Oscar-nominated shorts. Or perhaps I enjoy how empty the Eastern Hills Mall usually is, giving me cover in the darkness. It certainly wasn’t empty Sunday night. The slush-filled parking lot was packed with cars and there was even a queue to buy tickets.
With my student ID, $7.50 granted me passage to five foreign films that may made me laugh, cry and think. “Parvaneh” made me feel contemplative; “Butter Lamp” made me feel reflective; “The Phone Call” was sad; “Aya” was perplexing; and “Boogaloo and Graham” made me feel happy and nostalgic. That’s the power of cinema, well-worth the cost.
The McKinley Mall Dipson is a little hard to find if you don’t know exactly where to look. It’s located at the McKinley Mall plaza — right off the Mile Strip Road/Blasdell/Orchard Park exit off the I-90 West. That’s the easy part. The theatre isn’t connected to the mall, but located all the way in the back (yes, past the J.C. Penney’s and Sears). Its marquee sign is missing a couple of its letters and its selection is a little old, but this theatre does have a parking lot. It also happens to offer some of the cheapest prices in Western New York. $2 granted me access to Richard Linklater’s Oscar-nominated time capsule, “Boyhood,” a film that transported me to my childhood and made me re-examine things from an adult’s perspective. Oh, so, this is what parenting sort-of feels like.
Located on Hertel Avenue just past North Park Street, the gorgeous North Park Art Cinema fits in well with the Buffalo revival. The 1920s-era theatre was just restored last year. The result: a work of art. A red, white, blue and yellow marquee protrudes in front of the building, reminding you of the streets of the theatre district in New York City. Across the street, sits a Spot Coffee and (if you’re lucky) the unmistakable bright green of a Lloyd’s Taco truck. The only downside is that it’s hard to find parking — especially on a Saturday afternoon. I ended up finding parking a block away on one of the side streets and had a lovely walk over the unshoveled sidewalks.
Inside, $5 transported me to Asia, where I learned “The Tale of Princess Kaguya,” directed and co-written by Isao Takahata. The theatre itself was fit for a princess. It’s elegant with red walls, high ceilings, and heavy wooden doors. The centerpiece, though, is its celestial domed ceiling — beautifully painted with horses, carriages and angels. In my jeans, sweatshirt and winter coat, I felt underdressed.
This is where I went for midnight premieres of “The Hobbit,” “Skyfall,” “Thor: The Dark World,” “Ender’s Game,” and other big blockbusters. You can get lost in new dimensions when staring at the Regal Transit’s incredibly large IMAX screen. It’s so big that it’s hard to look at the full picture without sitting in the back rows.
The theatre itself is very modern, resembling a space ship. The 3D IMAX theatre towers over the red Regal marquee. It’s lobby is bathed in neon lines: red, yellow, purple. There’s even an air hockey table in the corner. This is the type of place I think of when I picture a stereotypical movie theatre.
So it was interesting to experience theatre at the movies. “Birdman,” after all, is a movie about a play, and director Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu transcends definitions. While movies can be pricey these days (it’s close to $20 bucks for an IMAX screening), they’re still much cheaper than a Broadway ticket. Yet Michael Keaton’s phenomenal in “Birdman,” displaying himself nakedly (both literally and figuratively) on the stage. My cost to see his performance: $5.
The Amherst Dipson sits across from UB South campus next to a McDonald’s (here, student tickets cost $7.50). It’s a cozy theatre that has a selection of Tazo tea at their snack stand. You can just sink into their plushy lounge seats in their lobby, staring at the beautiful painted mural on their wall. James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Audrey Hepburn, Marlon Brando and Charlie Chaplain greet you when you walk in. Their likeness emerge from a painted film strip and projector. Meanwhile, their portraits hang in the bathrooms. Marlon Brando leans against a tree. A motorcycle is about a foot away. James Dean is staring off into space with the collar of his peacoat flipped up. “Dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today,” the quote reads below him. That’s how Julianne Moore’s character in “Still Alice” lived. She desperately tried to hold onto her dreams as her memories were disappearing to Alzheimers:
“I am not suffering,” she says in the film. “I am struggling. Struggling to be part of things, to stay connected to whom I was once. So, ‘live in the moment’ I tell myself. It’s really all I can do, live in the moment. And not beat myself up too much… and not beat myself up too much for mastering the art of losing.”
The Elmwood Regal looks exactly the same as the Transit Regal. The only thing they’re missing is the Transit’s big IMAX tower (but they do offer 3D screenings). Of course, there’s nothing like Oscar season to drive up box office movie sales. “Selma” ticket sales rose 200 percent after they got the Oscar nomination. There was a line when I went to buy my ticket ($5). The people in front of me braved the cold Buffalo weather to go see “Kingsman: The Secret Service.” But the spacious theatre for “Selma” was also packed. I wondered what they thought as they watched the on-screen battle between David Oyelowo’s MLK and Tom Wilkinson’s LJB. Was this how they remembered this part of history? How many of them lived through the the march from Selma to Washington and saw the massacre on their black and white TV screens firsthand? While “Selma” ended with the inevitable signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the fight felt unfinished.
Although the Four Seasons Cinema in Niagara Falls, N.Y., sounds like a hotel, it is a museum, filled with the history of classic Hollywood. A Big Lots and other factory stores hide it from view, but you can see remnants of its former glory. Housing six theaters, the cinema’s halls are like Hollywood’s walk of stars. The oak walls are adorned with iconic posters of old-time movies and its stars: Orson Welles “Citizen Kane,” “The Wizard of Oz,” the Marx brothers in “Duck Soup,” Humphrey Bogart in “Maltese Falcon” and “Casablanca”; Vivian Leigh and Clark Gable in “Gone with the Wind”; and Bugs Bunny, Tweety Bird and the Tasmanian Devil. Next to them rest black and white portraits of Shirley Temple, Aubrey Hepburn as well as a shrine dedicated to Marilyn Monroe. This is part of its charm. The theatre may look a little old and its floor tiles may yellow with age, but these stars will be stay forever young on the silver screen. Perhaps someday, Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen from “The Hunger Games” franchise will join them.
Against the -6°F Buffalo temperatures (which froze Niagara Falls), the Aurora Theatre’s marquee sign was a bright blinking beacon — like a lighthouse calling all who were lost. Tickets here cost $8 (they’re slightly cheaper for seniors) and with one, you can enter this 1925-era theatre.
The theatre’s gorgeous, with heavy mahogany doors and two indoor concession stands. There’s one stage with a theatre that can seat 650 people.
What we got was a concert, conducted by director Damien Chazelle. J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller were the main artists, performing an 107-minute duet called “Whiplash.” There were no intermissions within this concert, but when the music finally stopped, they got a standing ovation.
I’m not used to being asked if I have a preference for where I want to sit when buying my movie ticket ($5.99), but that’s what makes the local AMC unique. This theatre also contains red plushy recliner loveseats, which makes you feel like you’re at home. Of course, I was far from home. “McFarland, USA” director Niki Caro takes you to the poor mostly-Hispanic California town of McFarland, daring us to dream bigger.
The projectors at the Movieland 8 theatre don’t always work. (Full disclosure, I tried to see “The Wolf of Wall Street” here last year and the film quit without getting past the first 20 minutes. “Unbroken” also wasn’t working when I stopped here to see it earlier this month.) But despite that and the older movie selection, the movie prices here are cheap (ranging from $2-$4). It’s one of the reasons I come here. Thursday night, I got lost in the deserts and woods with Reese Witherspoon, who starred as author Cheryl Strayed in the memoir-to-movie “Wild.” She reminded me of how empowering it can be to be out on your own — whether it’s to hike the Pacific Crest Trail or to see 14 movies in theatres within a month.