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Forget Netflix - The Real Joy of Movies is Still in Theaters

by Anick Jesdanun .
Friday Feb 22, 2019

Sure, it's easy to Netflix and chill these days. Or Prime and recline. Or Hulu and ... well, whatever. But if you really want to savor a film, there's still no substitute for a movie theater.

Turns out that there are few better ways to rediscover the joy of heading to the theater than a year of free movie tickets, courtesy of MoviePass. Among the greatest attractions: no distractions from Facebook, online chats, household chores and what not.

I was a regular moviegoer until ticket prices rocketed past $10 several years ago. In New York, $15 is now common; some theaters can charge $18 or $19, even before 3D and other surcharges. Streaming at home became far more affordable — and convenient. Who has time to go to the movies when you're already behind on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and everything else?

But then came a too-good-to-be-true subscription deal from MoviePass, offering a daily movie for a year for just $94. With ticket prices no longer an issue, I ended up seeing 181 movies that would have cost me $2,747 without MoviePass. That's 52 cents per film, a 97 percent discount from $15. The deal was so good that MoviePass no longer offers it.

That MoviePass subscription has expired, but I've already seen 42 movies on other subscriptions this year — a mix of Sinemia, AMC A-List and memberships with individual theaters. It's costing about $60 a month in all, far more than the $8 a month with MoviePass — but all worth it.

I confess I have it easier than many people. Having no kids means no worries about babysitters and bedtime. I can squeeze in a 10 p.m. showing after a night out with friends.

Once the lights dim, it's just the movie and me.

When watching Netflix, you need discipline to put your phone or laptop away. I've sometimes had to consult Wikipedia for a plot point I missed because I was responding to a text or reading about the next movie to watch. Even folding laundry takes your eyes off the screen.

And while it's convenient to be able to stream movies in bits and pieces, as time permits, that detracts from their rhythm and pacing. Some movies, such as the Netflix drama "Roma," are meant to feel slow and deliberate, but you lose that feeling if you multitask on Facebook. The Netflix thriller "Bird Box" just doesn't feel right without the proper buildup of suspense.

Costumes and landscapes come to life on the theater's big screen. Rock climber Alex Honnold's nerve-wracking, rope-free ascent of the gigantic Yosemite rock formation El Capitan in "Free Solo" wouldn't have been the same on a phone. This documentary was even worth watching a second time, in the mega-size Imax format.

Then there was "Cold War," a Polish drama on romance in the Eastern Bloc. It was filmed in black and white in the boxy, 4-by-3 frame used by TV screens of that era. That gives the movie a nostalgic feel, even though it just came out. With streaming, video sometimes gets squeezed or stretched to match the dimensions of the TV or phone.

Sound quality at many theaters far exceeds what I could get at home. That became clear watching — and hearing — "Bohemian Rhapsody," about the rock band Queen, and "A Star is Born," a Lady Gaga-led drama on a singer's rise to fame.

True, theaters can still be a hassle. You have to be there at showtime — and then big theater chains show nearly a half-hour of trailers. (I typically read an e-book at low brightness or catch up on podcasts.) Coordinating schedules with friends can also be complicated, though if you're OK watching movies alone, that doesn't have to be a problem.

Spending all that time at the multiplex has changed how I watch movies and shows at home. I try harder to pay attention; my phone's screen-time controls, which block message notifications and the like, help me focus. But it still takes willpower, like avoiding the chocolate cake that's right in front of you.

For that reason, I choose theaters when I can, even when streaming is available right away. Some movies never make it to theaters outside big cities. I don't have that problem in New York, where several theaters show more than just the latest mega-blockbuster sequels.

So instead of asking, "Who has time to go the movies?," I ask myself, "Who has time for streaming?" And Netflix just raised its prices yet again. Hmmm.

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