Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Case of the Movie That Got Here, but Didn't

Movie chasing in a small city like Roanoke can be exasperating. Even when an anticipated movie comes here, it's sometimes not here at all. Take "Invictus," for example. This is the movie about South Africa President Nelson Mandella's use of an integrated rugby team to bring his country together. My son's family and mine eagerly awaited its arrival from the moment of the viewing of its first trailer.

Consider that "Invictus" is not some indy off-brand chick flick intended for the Birkenstock granola crowd. This is a Clint Eastwood-directed film starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. Mainline all the way. It has earned more than $23 million thus far.

"Invictus" has been in Roanoke three weeks now--in theory--and we still haven't seen it. My son drove up from South Boston twice, at least in part to see "Invictus." We scoured the TV listings in the daily paper, went to the movie theaters' online pages and just showed up. Still, no movie.

The first week "Invictus" was here, we held off going because I wanted to see it with my son. He comes in for Christmas and Christmas day we show up at Salem Valley 8, the worst movie theater in town, and because of that the one least likely to have a line for a movie or a "sold out" sign. The daily paper said the movie was at SV8 for several showings, beginning at 1 p.m. Wasn't there. The young lady selling tickets gave me a dull, disinterested look when I asked for tickets and said, "We don't have that here." I said, "It was in the paper." She said--a little brighter, I thought--"There's a lot in the paper that ain't right."

Back at home we called around and determined that "Invictus" had been assigned to two theaters (Valley View and Tanglewood) and that its only showings were at about 10 p.m., too late for old people like me (the senior discount crowd). We decided we'd give it another week.

Evan shows up this past Thursday (mostly so we can watch Tennessee get mangled by Virginia Tech) and Friday, we find that "Invictus" is still stuck in the 10 p.m. slot, but only at Tanglewood. We go to "Avatar," instead. As we approach the ticket box I ask, just on chance, why "Invictus" is only showing once and the young woman sitting in front of me says, "Because nobody wants to see it. Crowds have been small. But it's showing twice, 4:20 and 10:10." I grin. We'll double up, I say to Evan and he agrees, but after nearly three hours of "Avatar" we reconsider and determin we'll go to the Saturday showing at 4:10.

We do. It doesn't. The sign on the window at Tanglewood says, "The heat in the theater showing 'Invictus' is not working." It's 20 degrees outside. Foiled again. Tanglewood Mall Cinema is stealing one of Salem Valley 8's signature moves: no heat (but Salem Valley 8 still shows the movie in the cold, if my experience is any indicator; you pays your money, you takes your chances).

The upshot of this is that if we're to see "Invictus," it'll be on DVD, which I don't like at all. We have a big TV, but movies on TV become TV movies and I don't like TV movies. I like the movie movies and the experience of seeing them on a 40-foot screen where the rugby ball is as big as me. That's why we pay $10, not $2.

Kathy Chittum of the Grandin Theatre, Roanoke's independent movie theater which specializes in getting movies nobody else wants (because they're at an intellectual level that most of the unwashed can't approach), is constantly having to explain why this movie or that one is not showing at her place. She always takes on an exasperated glow and finally just throws up her hands. I'm in that posture now.

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