When thinking about what to write, I was struck how I kept comparing this theater to the more common movie theaters like AMC or Loews. These theaters are the more “general consumer” orientated places and nearly always the places I go, as many others, to watch new mainstream movies. Which means, the vast majority of my movie watching takes place at one of these chains. What I didn’t know is if my expectations from these theaters tainted my ability to fairly evaluate the brand new Angelika Film Center at the Mosaic District in Merrifield, Virgina.
The theater has been opened for months and I had yet to go until yesterday. The wait was caused by neither lack of interest or lack of movies I wanted to see, but more a it’s-on-my-list thing.
When I first learned that a new movie theater would be opening in the recently revamped area of Merrifield and learned it was not a big-box national chain but more of an independent theater with the likes of say the Alamo Drafthouse, my reaction was not positive. The first impression was it would be the type of theater (e.g. Shirlington) that only shows movies with subtitles and two hours of people crying while carrying a baguette. Not that I have anything against these movies, but my thought is if you are going to go spend $40-$50 on tickets and concessions, you might as well try to see a film that is worth seeing on the big screen than at your home.
Then the theater opened and the movies showed there seemed to be a nice mix of the indie films and mainstream blockbusters. I resolved myself to check it out and went yesterday to see Django Unchained.
The building is large and very modern looking with the outside being glass and metal. The ground floor lobby is small with two automated ticket kiosks and one guy (wearing a suit & tie!) behind a small booth. There is also small cafe in the same floor that looked to have three beer taps, a cappuccino machine and display cases for sandwichs or other snacks.
When I walked in, I noticed everyone was waiting in line and no one was using the ticket kiosk. Weird. I decided to use the kiosk, being a geek and all. The only part of the process that seemed really odd was the seat selection screen. Seat selection?! Whoa… this is way too much selection process for me. Not only am I expected to select a movie and a time but where I want to sit to? (There was also a sign saying if you had printed tickets from Fandango, just go on ahead upstairs.)
The second floor contains all the theaters and the concession stand. There is a small ‘third’ floor above the concession area that is bar/lounge. This seems like a neat idea: Eat, drink, and be merry and then go see your movie. No rushing from restaurant to your seats.
The concession stand was where the place really stands apart from a standard theater. First, they serve beer and wine, and not just box wine and Bud. Their selections came from Microbreweries and named wineries. There were two types of popcorn; the plain, old fashioned kind and an odd looking popcorn that had red, brown, and yellow kernels. The other snacks are what you’d expect or dressed up. For example, I ordered nachos and I was asked if I wanted them plain, with cheese, chili con carne, salsa, or guacamole. And the chips themselves were purple.
The fountain drinks are self-serve with those crazy touch-screen machines with every flavor on the planet. There are three of those but only one butter dispensing station for the popcorn. And there is no salt shaker, only tiny, individual salt packets. I was trying to imagine the butter-line back up further than the line to get popcorn. Butter, or the fake butter, needs to flow from a fountain and the salt shaker should be the size of a sugar container.
The theater I was in was enormous, which is deceiving from the general view from the outside. The chairs were big and comfy with up and down arm rests and cupholders in each. The picture and sound quality were about what is to be expected. I did notice from time to time that the side channels seemed to be turned up a bit much, or maybe it was the film.
I think it is a great place to see a movie or definitely take a date. But bring your wallet! The matinee price was $11 / ticket and a beer was between $8-$9. There was a special for $4 off for a ‘bucket of beer’ and I was trying to imagine spending almost $40 in beer. Not to mention trying to make it through the whole movie with four beers in you! Hmm… on second thought, maybe the package is designed to share. Typical me. Hogging all the beer for myself.
My only other complaint would be lack of what I call herding. After the tickets, there isn’t much signage so the stairs seemed like the appropriate path. Yet as soon as I was on top of the stairs, I noticed the two escalators that came up to the 2nd floor. Where the f**k were they hiding. And no one, and I mean NO ONE, took my ticket. Huh? I could have walked in, looked Iike I belonged, and saw as many movies as I wanted to.
The Angelika is a nice, artsy-fartsy kinda place. Modern, clean, new, and expensive. I’d say if it was between this theater and AMC and you were just going for the movie and not the general experience, save your money and got to AMC. But if you feel like spending a couple bucks more and sipping a micro-brew, then this is the place for you.