(Note: Yet another new feature I've been meaning to get off the ground in recent months. I don't think it needs any more explanation than the title. Welcome to my homes away from home!)
Since it opened in 1995, the five-screen Lagoon Theater in the Uptown neighborhood of south Minneapolis has been a refuge for those of us interested in independent, foreign, and documentary films. Operated in recent years by Mark Cuban's Landmark Theatres chain, you can always count on the Lagoon to carry a new film that would otherwise never be shown in Minneapolis, even if only for a week.
In recent months, regulars at the Lagoon have been horrified to see major studio films creep into the weekly lineup, often eating up a screen or two that could otherwise have been devoted to something like Shotgun Stories, which has eluded my grasp all year. On one hand I understand that the survival of the theater (which is always rumored to be in jeopardy) depends on attendance numbers, but on the other hand, seeing The Dark Knight, Mamma Mia!, and Quantum of Solace on the marquee just feels...wrong. Add this annoyance to the list of release schedule frustrations.
Concessions are, as per the Landmark norm, outrageously priced compared to local independent theaters and even those in the AMC chain. And honestly, who is getting Dove bars and espressos at the movies?
Fortunately there's nothing too smelly on the concessions menu, but the elitist reputation of the theater is deserved if fare such as vegan cookies and $4 Odwallas are the hot sellers. Might as well install a salad bar while you're at it.
Additionally, the Lagoon has jacked up its ticket prices significantly over the past 18 months. I don't know if this is a Landmark-directed move or the natural evolution of admission prices, but at this point it's hardly even worth buying the "discount passes", which have saved me significant cash for almost a decade now. Used to be $25 for 5, now it's $36. If my math is correct, that's $7.2o per admission, when the matinee price is only $7. Of course I can still occasionally use the pass to avoid the $9.00 regular price, but the fact is that now I have to figure out when to use it and when not to, when before I knew I was getting a deal no matter what. Ah, the frustrations of a movie addict...
Despite all of my complaining, however, guess where you'll find me just about every week of the year? That's right - the glorious Lagoon, without which my wallet would be fatter and my mind would be narrower.
In just the last year or so, I've enjoyed films such as The Pool, In the Shadow of the Moon, The Pixar Story, Boy A, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, Manda Bala, Frozen River, War Dance, the 2008 Oscar Animated Shorts, My Kid Could Paint That, Man on Wire, City of Men, Surfwise, and most recently, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers. Without the Lagoon, it's unlikely that I would have been able to see any of those in the theater. And a cozy little theater it is. The five screens are all about the same size, and each of them provides an inviting and intimate experience with the film. Considering the size of most multiplex theaters or even other local independent theaters like the Uptown and the Parkway, that intimacy is not something I take for granted.
Nor are the mature movie-goers at the Lagoon, where there's never a kid crying in the back row or teenagers running around (there's no room anyway). This place might as well be 21+, since both the featured movies and the ticket prices discourage the younger crowds from showing up, which is just fine by me. The older audience also probably explains why the theater is kept in very good condition throughout the year, making the job of cleaning that much easier for the friendly Lagoon staff.
Uptown would hardly be a neighborhood worth visiting if not for the Lagoon and Uptown theaters, but the number of local bars and restaurants can save your outing even after a terrible movie. You might want to avoid the weekend scene so as to avoid 23 year-old guys with popped collars and questionably young women wearing skimpy dresses, but then again if you're going to movies at 7:00 PM on opening night then you're probably crazy enough not to care.
Anyway you look at it, the presence of the Lagoon adds significant cachet to the Twin Cities film scene. Even if you're a critic of the Landmark chain and this particular theater's high prices and questionable blockbuster releases, it would be difficult to convince any local movie-goer that the Lagoon isn't one of the best theaters in Minneapolis.
Official Scorecard (as of November 2008):
- since I recently moved about a five minute walk away from the front door
- the pay lot is fine, and there's plenty of street parking on Lagoon Ave. east of Hennepin Ave.
Admission Value: 8/10
- and that's possibly generous considering the discount pass fiasco
- too expensive and too limited in variety
Theater Seats: 9/10
- a little tight but well spaced, well maintained, and on a decent downward slope
Overall Cleanliness: 9/10
- lobby and concession area are in good shape and the theater floors are rarely sticky
Sound/Picture Quality: 10/10
- can't remember there ever being an A/V issue, film always sharp and at the right volume
- friendly, competent, and dedicated to their work (how do you like that, Matt Gamble?)
Audience Behavior: 5/5
- occasionally rambunctious but usually quiet and focused
- mostly clean but cramped, and a messy sink area (I've only been in the men's bathroom)
Local Dining Options: 5/5
- my apartment or any of the bars and restaurants nearby, preferably Old Chicago
Theater History/Vibe/Atmosphere: 4/5
- makes up for young age of theater with classic film posters, but decor/architecture screams 1995
Total: 90/100 = A-