November 20, 2008

Local Theater Love #1: The Lagoon

(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):

Location: 10/10
- since I recently moved about a five minute walk away from the front door

Parking: 9/10
- 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

Concessions: 7/10
- 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

Staff: 10/10
- 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

Bathrooms: 4/5
- 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-



    I would consider doing a feature like this. But there are enough individuals of questionable stability on the net that I would prefer that people not be able to pinpoint EXACTLY where I live.


    I'm one of these people that feels strongly that the entire THEATRICAL EXPERIENCE is one of the reasons that I'm a regular filmgoer. I think I've said before (here at GETAFILM and a few other places) that I have gone to various movies and the deciding factor sometimes comes down to where it's playing.

    Surrounding neighbourhoods and welcoming staff DO count when it comes to the spending of your entertainment dollars.

    You did raise a point in this article that I've given a little bit of thought to lately, Danny.

    I see this phenomenon (for lack of a better word) mostly in malls these days. WTH is it with young women (midteens to approximately 25)now?

    As you might imagine, I have no problem with other women being provocative. I think it's what being alive is all about.

    But the phrase SKIMPY ATTIRE doesn't even begin to tell the entire story.

    I'm not one to throw stones. I have mini skirts and halter dresses in my closet. I'm not what you would call a conservative individual. By any means.

    But some of these cases are REALLY rather extreme.

    I mean, shouldn't someone tell these girls that "cleavage" doesn't mean the exposure of your ENTIRE chest area and that "a short skirt" doesn't necessarily dictate showing large portions of your lower body with no underwear?

    I see this quite a bit now. I guess these girls are trying out their womanliness like we all have to at that particular age.

    We all have to push the envelope at some point, I know. But I feel kind of embarrassed for them. Attractiveness has nothing to do with it. A lot of these girls are very striking. At least.

    But where do you draw the line?

    Growing up sucks. But why make it harder on yourself?

    But some of this was hilarious.

    "I've only been in the mens' bathroom." Hah. Where you supposed to be somewhere else, Danny?

    Dining Options: "My apartment..."

    That's awesome.

    Sounds ultra peachy.

    Long live THE LAGOON...

  2. Concessions just got jacked up again this week Daniel. Landmark is now the most expensive chain in the Cities. Woo hoo!

    We're #1!!!

    But yeah, if you thought $4 Odwallas were bad, now imagine $5 Odwallas.

    Also, I call BS on the limited Concessions. The candy offered at Landmark kicks the crap out of any theatre in town. We've got candy that is imported from 3 different countries. Chocolate covered potato chips. Chocolate covered blueberries/cherries/hazelnuts/almonds and a few others that I can't remember. Hell, we even sell Peace Coffee now. And if our DM would listen to me we would be selling D'Amico as well. If we are going to charge premium prices we might as well try and sell actual food.

    And that premium price makes it all the more head scratching that they still have Quantum on 2 screens. Or clientel aren't stupid. They aren't going to pay more money to see a mainstream action film on a screen half the size of any other chains.

  3. Thanks, Miranda. We know by now that all of the movies I see are in the comfort of a theater, so I figured it was worth bringing everyone along virtually.

    Your thoughts on female attire are probably worth a post of their own at Glamorous Excess. The crowd in Uptown maybe isn't as bad as I suggested, but it's by far one of the youngest neighborhoods in the city, which has its pros and cons.

    Most expensive theater in town...ugh. Not something to advertise, Matt. Nothing like spiking prices during a recession, but I guess that's where you guys make your cash anyway.

    The candy - yeah, it's fancy alright, but whenever the concession prices rival the ticket prices, something ain't right (unless, as you say, you REALLY start serving food. But then you'd need to put in a kitchen and a dining area and...). Peace Coffee I have no problem with - my girlfriend works for PC. But chocolate covered potato chips?!? I just want some Dots, maybe an Icee, maybe some peanut M & M's. Your popcorn is pretty solid, though.

    And to be honest, I buy concessions like 1 out of every 10 movies, so it's not a dealbreaker anyway.

    At least you don't have the bagel dogs or whatever like the Edina, or the suffocating popcorn smell like the Uptown.

    Get Quantum out of there! We need Fears of the Dark, Dear Zachary, Crossing Over, Ashes of Time: Redux, etc., etc., etc.

  4. Your peanut M&M's just jumped a $1 in price. They are now $4 for a 3 oz bag. Utterly ridiculous. Please feel free to email Landmark Theatres and complain. Please. No seriously. Please. This is the third concessions increase within a year and we have had two ticket increases as well. It is coming directly from corporate and they certainly aren't listening to the employees so the customers are the only ones who can scare them into changing this terrible habit.

    I really think D'Amico would work well. Caribou has been pretty successful with it in town, so I don't see why we couldn't pull it off. I also want to try and get carmel corn from a local supplier rather then having it shipped in from California. It would taste fresher, be cheaper, and be able to offer better selection. All while helping the local economy. But what the hell do I know?

    PS - The chocolate covered potato chips rule. Dots are for old men.

  5. Might as well walk over to Rainbow and pick up a pound bad of M&M's for $2.89. Or a box of Dots, thank you very much.

    Alright you've spurned me to action. I'm going to contact Mark Cuban today and tell him that Landmark prices need to drop wholesale or I'm going to reveal further evidence of his insider trading practices.

    I suppose D'Amico would work if you had a cooler for sandwiches and salads, but they seem a little messy for in-theater noshing. You guys don't want to pick up that kind of stuff from the floors.

    Thinking local is the right idea, though.

    Here's another question - why doesn't Landmark have a loyalty program like AMC Moviewatcher, which I thought was silly until I realized about five years ago that I was getting free stuff every few movies.

    It's the least Landmark can do to make up for higher prices and double-screen blockbuster releases, although I'm not sure I would eat chocolate-covered potato chips even if they were free.

  6. Emailing Cuban works. When Landmark eliminated the Discount cards about a year and a half ago Cuban got a flood of emails from regular customers and he made Landmark reinstate them only a few weeks after they were dropped.

    People already sneak in sandwiches and all manner of food and it increases each time we increase prices. I wouldn't mind cleaning it up if we were actually getting some income from the purchase.

    As for a loyalty program, we've never been given a straight answer. My guess is they don't want to pay the money to setup the infrastructure, as the website hasn't even been able to handle online purchases until a few months ago. Which is ridiculous considering Cuban is an internet guru. Landmark has a bad habit of pussyfooting around when it comes to new tech and it ends up costing us more money in the long run. The business plan seems incredibly short sighted, and it is frustrating as hell as an employee. Sure the email list gives out screening passes fairly regularly, but the vast majority of those people (they are known as Pass Whores) only come for free screenings and don't buy any concessions, effectively costing the theatres money. It is annoying and I wish the employees had more sway with corporate but we don't. They just keep leaving us in the dark and expect us to deal with the angry complaints as they inevitably come in.

    Other then that my job totally rules. :)

  7. If only there was some way to convince Cuban that I mean business. Maybe I'll direct him to this post, but then I guess he'd see that little non-threat about insider trading. I'll give it a shot anyway, especially if he's that responsive to customer feedback.

    I get what you mean about D'Amico and the loss of revenue from sneakers. Didn't think about the fact that it's already happening like that. Maybe the only way to combat it is to offer more food. If that's the case, I vote for locals like Luce or even Davanni's. Just take over Drink next door, throw up a skyway and let's make this thing a real "landmark" theater...

    Regarding technology, I agree that there should at least be AMC-style kiosks. Those things are awesome. I haven't bought a ticket from an AMC box-office person in years.

    I get to a few of those free preview screenings, but it's usually like 23-hour notice so I can't make it. Anyway, I figure I make up for it with paid admissions.

    My fear about the lack of a loyalty program is that it possibly speaks to the future of the independent theater. Is Landmark in jeopardy? Does nobody want to put something in place because we only have a few years left? I'm scared...

  8. All three theatres have kiosks, but they never work so they are rarely turned on. You have to hae a staff member standing right there to guide people through the menus and fix printer jams and whatever else might go wrong.

    And make sure to email Cuban. He reads every email he gets and responds to most of them. He isn't involved with day to day ops, but if you give him reasoned complaints he's sure to listen.

    All three theatres in Minneapolis are in the black so hopefully that eases some concerns. The chain as a whole seems to be doing fine, though it doesn't make money like AMC does. But then who does? But Cuban has so much money sunk into Landmark, 2929, Magnolia and Magnet that I can't see the theatres going away anytime soon. They offer too great an opportunity to advertise their own products.

    What I'd really like them to do more of is really create a more dynamic brand. We are the only theatre chain that has its own movie studio and production company and they should be using that to their advantage. 2929 Entertainment and Magnolia Pictures release several films a year, and they should be keeping them in Landmark Theatres as an exclusive in the markets that they have cinemas. They've put out some quality films, and now with Magnet they are releasing some great genre films as well. They should be cornering this market rather then watering down their product by pushing these films to as many theatres as possible. Make the theatres a premium destination with movies that can't be seen anywhere else and people will come.

  9. Yeah those kiosks are hardly convenient like the AMC ones. I don't even know where the one is at the Edina, but the one at the Uptown never works (but there's fortunately never a line anyway) and the one at the Lagoon is in the way of the box-office line - if it's even on.

    I love the idea about an exclusive deal through Landmark for Magnolia-produced movies. Seems like they're moving online or On Demand instead, though, since both Mister Foe and Quid Pro Quo didn't make it into theaters.

    You weren't kidding about Cuban. I emailed him and he got back to me within half an hour. Here's his response to my idea for the loyalty program:

    "thats a great idea.

    I will have the CEO get in touch. At worst, we can customize something that fits your budget and works for you.

    what do you think the parameters of the program should be ?


    Pretty gracious response, if he's serious. Now I have to get back to him with something clever. I can't imagine I'm the first one to suggest this, or that a program would get off the ground simply from a random email, but if so, this would be my greatest film-related accomplishment since seeing four different movies at four different theaters in one day.

  10. what a fun looking theater...the inside pics of the auditorium with the "lagoon" feel are great.

    yea...can't say I've ever had a dove bar and espresso at the movies :-)

    it's great to have a place that gives you an opportunity to see more than beverly hills chihuahua.

  11. Thanks, RC. It has a fair amount of charm for being such a young theater. Beverly Hills Chihuahua fortunately did NOT play here, but I wouldn't rule it out in the future. And actually, I bet they're kicking themselves for not trying - that dog went crazy at the box office.

    Also, update from Cuban: he's offering a matinee-only discount pass. Five movies for $25, or $30 with a free small soda and popcorn as a kicker. He doesn't seem to be taking the loyalty program seriously, which is unfortunate. Join me in my quest and email him, too!

  12. Interesting article and discussion here. It is kind of crazy (hilarious?) that you're bartering with Mark Cuban on matinee tickets. That being said 5 for 25 gets you the same $2 discount you mentioned with the other pass. I'm more interested in his thoughts on exclusive distribution of his productions and video on demand but I guess I could probably go to his site for that.

    Also just had to mention, I count 89/100. Sorry to be a douche.

  13. What are you, a math major?

    So I gave concessions an extra point because of our discussion here - the overall 90 remains. It was perhaps unfair to claim there is little variety at concession stand, but I'm still sore about the prices, and I'm still not eating chocolate covered potato chips.

    Good points - the matinee pass would be a huge score on Saturdays, however, where it would end up being a $4.00 savings. Currently, the matinee price is only given on the weekends for the first show of the day, which could be 11:30 AM. If you want to go at 1:00 PM on Saturday, you're paying $9.00 right now - or $7.00, if you use the pass.

    So if that's down to $5.00, that's fantastic. But you're right - you'd be back to paying $9.00 on weeknights if you can't use the pass.

    The model was perfect until they jacked the price up to $36.00. At $25 it was a steal, at $30 and $32 it was still a deal. Now it's creeping toward not being worth it.

    I don't know why it would be so hard to get a loyalty program off the ground. Even a punch card - something. I see no holes in any of the recommendations we've made here, from the prices to the programs to the technology to the distribution deals. I even still think absorbing Drink into the theater would be a good idea.

    Cuban's been copying a bunch of people on our email chain, but what are the odds anyone's going to be moved to act?

  14. Best series idea ever (except for Reel Life). It'll push you to search out small theatres you've never been to and that's AWESOME!

  15. Great, Scott - glad you like this one, too! I actually think I've been to all of the theaters I'm going to profile, but I'm sure I'll look at them all quite differently afterwards.

    And a Cuban update - he's left me hanging, it seems...

  16. I do love the Lagoon, but I'm so with you on the discount pass price hike! WTF???

  17. It's unexplainable, really. An increase of almost $10 in just a couple of years, thereby erasing the whole point of buying one.

    It's time for Plan B:...anybody?

  18. Mmmmmm...

    Protest march...?

  19. I considered that. Then I remembered it's not going to top 20 degrees F here for the next 4 months or so. It'll be all I can do to just get to the theater, let alone stand outside it. Maybe I can organize something for the spring. Which is like June...


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