Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Gold Class Cinemas: Is it worth it?

First in an occasional series that dares to ask, "Is it worth it?"

I first became aware of Gold Class Cinemas a few weeks ago when I saw a full-page ad for their new Pasadena theatre in the L.A. Times. A relaxed, well-dressed couple were featured in the photo, sitting in what appeared to be first-class airplane seats, fully reclined, enjoying a meal with wine while watching a movie. The ad text touted the luxurious appointments and menu, and stated that each theatre in the fabulous new local multiplex seats only 40 people. Pillows and blankets are available, as well as a full bar; patrons can push a button on the table between the seats to summon a waitron at any time. This place was going to make the ArcLight look like the crummy second-run theatre down the street. The cost? Unclear -- there were no prices mentioned anywhere in the ad.

I decided I had to go.

Norman, Lucy and I, working off Entertainment Weekly's annual list of 25 Movies You Need to See Before Oscar Night (more on that soon), decided to take in Up in the Air last night at this schmancy new theatre. I bought the tickets online for a mere $22 plus $3 service fee per ticket. $25 for a single movie ticket?! Jeez, even Avatar, with its ridiculous extra charge for 3D glasses, didn't cost that much. Still, I got to select where we'd be sitting, and judging by the website's map there didn't appear to be a bad seat in the house. We were going to be in the second row, but since there are only four rows of seats in the entire theatre I didn't regard that as a problem.

When we got to the theatre (a converted AMC that later served, briefly, as a Laemmle), a concierge -- an actual concierge! -- checked us in at the front desk. We got our tickets and left a credit card number to open a tab for drinks and dinner. Then we took two escalators down to the lounge to wait in first-class comfort before the movie began.

Man, I should have brought a camera. Everything was decorated in sleek black, gray and dark orange -- the whole place had an elegant late 60s/early 70s feel to it, minus the cheese factor. We were shown to a corner with a couple of couches and a coffee table to relax before showtime. The three of us had the whole space to ourselves, which was lovely. On Tuesdays, at least for the present, this particular Gold Class Cinema is offering a half-price menu, with about half of their regular menu on sale, as well as a selection of drinks. Lucy went the relatively healthy route and ordered a salad, chicken satay, and berries with angel food croutons. Norman and I went wild -- we splurged on homemade potato chips with blue cheese, calamari, a small pepperoni pizza, mini burgers, and dark chocolate & peanut butter mousse, all of which we shared. I also had a White Russian and Norman a glass of wine. The girl who took our order looked as sleek as her surroundings, beautiful and dressed all in black, but she was incredibly friendly. When we laughed with delight as she explained using the button to summon help during the movie, she laughed, too, and said, "I know! It's weird, but it's really awesome."

Our drinks arrived, and then we were shown to our seats in the theatre. Sure enough, the theatre, which normally could probably seat 150 or so people, only had 40 seats, all of them plush, burnt orange recliners. We were offered pillows, which we promptly accepted, then we settled back, our feet elevated, to watch the previews. Nothing had even really happened yet, but I was pleased when Norman leaned over and whispered, "This is worth every fucking penny."

Our appetizers and dinner arrived smoothly during the movie. The wait staff kneel down next to the aisle seats and carefully place dishes on the tables so as not to block anyone's view. The food, amazingly, was excellent -- the blue cheese chips and the pizza were particular standouts.

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot about the movie. Up in the Air was terrific. The fans I have talked to about it seem to be in two completely different camps: they either think it's good but just a trifle, or they think it's good but depressing. I don't agree with either group: I found it to be a solid, really well-made and well thought-out studio film, full of great acting (George Clooney is perfectly cast, but his female costars more than hold their own) and very real moments. In some ways it is sort of a downer, but it's leavened by humor and hope. Seeing Up in the Air in a Gold Class Cinemas theatre was sort of meta, as Clooney's fancy hotel rooms and business class lounges looked an awful lot like the room we were watching it in.

As the closing credits began and the lights came up, Norman once again leaned over and confided that he had thought a visit to this new theatre would be a lark, a fun but ridiculous splurge, but now, he said, "I want to live here." Lucy looked a bit sober as she wondered how any of us can ever go back to a regular movie theatre again.

So. Gold Class Cinemas: Is it worth it? Yes. Oh, yes.


The Invisible Mo said...

I hadn't heard about these and seldom watch a movie in the theater, as I prefer to wait to watch it in the comfort of my own home, but this sounds fun and relaxing and I think I would enjoy taking in a movie or two a year in a theater like that. Thanks for the review.

Norman said...

Excellent. In particular, I appreciate that you weren't limited to your smart, tidy review of the picture. Critic at large!