I live fairly close to all of the Santa Monica movie theaters and recently saw films in all four. After each movie, I became disgusted with the state of these theaters. Each has big problems and each pales in comparison the new Landmark Theater at the Westside Pavilion and the recently remodeled AMC Century 14 at Century City. Because of these uncomfortable and unpleasant experiences, I decided to update the theater reviews for each.
The Laemelle Monica Theater, on Second Street in Santa Monica, between Santa Monica Boulevard and Arizona Avenue used to be a good choice for viewing independent and foreign films. Part of the Laemelle chain, this chain has long been one of the few venues offering opportunities to see films that don't play to the masses. Without the Landmark and Laemelle Theaters, we would never have the opportunity to see filmmakers like David Lynch, the Coen Brothers, Steven Soderbergh and others.
But now, with the addition of the Landmark Theater in the Westside Pavilion, this theater has fallen behind the times and clearly appears to be struggling to find people to fill seats.
I recently decided to see "Bright Star" at this theater and arrived at 6:50 for a 7:00 show, on opening night to find a half full theater. It was also playing at the Landmark where I am sure it was sold out. The film was playing in theater 4, the largest, which was nice. About ninety minutes into the film, I needed to shift in my seat and had a huge pang of pain travel through my body from my butt. It was really painful and detracted from the enjoyment of the film immensely. The seats here are old and need to be replaced.
The theater isn't very modern. The large lobby greets you upon entering. A concession stand sits at the back. As this is a chain that specializes in independent and foreign films, the clientele is older and looking for better quality snacks. I am almost positive that they pop their popcorn fresh and they use real butter. Coca Cola, higher end chocolates and snacks and bottled water round out the selections available. Lacking any other adornments, the lobby is lined with posters for upcoming films. Above these, the walls are lined with posters for the foreign releases of classic films. They're nice to look at if you have a few moments.
This complex has four theaters. Theater Four is the largest. The entrance is to the right of the snack bar as you walk through the front door. This screen is fairly large, rivaling the Nuart and Royal, and features Dolby Digital. This is a good alternative if a studio or minimajor is releasing a new film here. The large screen and great sound will enhance the experience exponentially. There is only one seating area in the center of the theater. During a busy show, people will be crawling over you at some point. This screen has the traditional sloped floor that was common before stadium seating was introduced and seems to provide good sightlines. If someone very tall sits in front of you, you might have problems. However, I have noticed that most people at this theater take a few extra moments to try to make sure that this doesn't happen. People often switch seats or move down a few seats to avoid sitting directly in front of someone else. The first few rows at the front sit on ground that slopes up again. I have only used these seats a few times, when everyplace else was taken. They seem odd to me.
There is no architectural embellishment in this theater or throughout the complex. The back of the theater is a small aisle that runs behind the last row of seats. The whole area is fairly dark and takes a moment to adjust to. At the opposite end of this aisle, there is a strange turn, dictated by the layout of the building, to get to the aisle on the opposite side of the theater. Make sure your eyes are adjusted to the dark before attempting this or you will probably run into someone in a seat, or a pillar.
Theaters Two and Three are on the opposite side of the snack bar. They appear fairly similar in both size and style. Each is not small but not large either. Somehow, these theaters seem appropriate for watching a new film by Jim Jarmusch or Wayne Wang. They are intimate. Each has a central aisle down the middle. In Theater Three, you often hear sound bleed through from Theater Four, especially when the film is in Dolby Digital. Recently, I was watching a film in Theater Two and heard bleed through from the screening of "Beyond The Sea" that was in the theater next door.
Theater One is the smallest theater in the complex and a theater I often try to avoid. I will only watch a film here if it is playing nowhere else. Small and rectangularly boxy, this theater is to the left of the entrance. It couldn't have more than fifty seats and the screen is fairly small. Generally, this is the last stop for a film in this complex before it heads to DVD.
The men's rooms are below ground level with stairs on each side. The women's rooms are up a short flight of stairs on each side. If you are unable to use stairs, there is a handicapped accessible restroom on the side leading to Theater Four.
Parking in Santa Monica is fairly good. There are a number of lots on Second and Fourth Street with easy access to Third Street Promenade. In any of these city lots, if you park before 6pm, you get two hours free. Additional half hours are $1. If you park after 6pm, there is a $3 flat fee. Don't park anywhere else. There is a lot very central to this theater, between Santa Monica and Arizona. The elevator on the Ocean Side of the structure lets you out to a walkway that leads to a crosswalk that leads directly to the theater.
The Monica 4 is a good venue. It's a multiplex that still manages to seem like a neighborhood theater.