It’s official – we have an ArcLight Cinema – I know because I was there on opening day. Friday I got a call from a friend. She was desperate to avoid the boredom that is Santa Monica and wanted to escape to another world. I was ready to step away from the world of family law and angry divorce attorneys, and I thought the opening would be interesting to write about, so we went to see what she said was a “sure Oscar contender.”

We arrived at the Santa Monica Place mall and found easy parking, it was a 12:15 p.m. showing after all, so traffic was light and attendance was low. The sunny day and ocean breeze made the top deck of the mall delightful, and I’d have been happy to grab a Johnny Rockets burger and a chocolate shake (except for this diet I’m on, but that’s another column) but we proceeded to the lobby of the theater.

The ArcLight lobby is no Warner Grand, it is however quite tasteful. There’s a large reception area with the obligatory boards for theater and show listings, and as you enter there are the self-service computers right up front for credit cards or picking up your tickets purchased online. But if you go old school and use that funny green paper stuff – you have to deal with a live human being. They are located up a short set of stairs and are part of the concession stands.

Concessions at the ArcLight are more varied than at most theaters, sure there’s the usual lineup of sodas, candies and popcorn, but this chain has three types of popcorn, traditional, healthy and caramel. Well they’re supposed to. On opening day they only had the traditionally made popcorn, not the healthy alternative they advertised on the board, so I passed and went popcorn-less. I’ve heard tales of people who drive to these ArcLight just to get the caramel popcorn, but that too wasn’t available. I’ll give them a break on this, since it was day one, hour one.

Ticketing was easy, although the $15.75 a ticket was a bit of “Wow!” moment. We proceeded to the nice new “Black Box” theater, which is a marketing phrase that ArcLight uses, and found our seats. There were less than a dozen of us in the theater for this showing of “Secret In Their Eyes” which was not surprising given the time of day. The movie is based on a book, and the story is a crime/thriller/mystery. There may be a secret in someone’s eyes, but in this movie the only secret is why it was made.

Usually having an Oscar winning actress in a film is a good indicator that the movie is a well crafted, professionally produced film. In this case, not so much. Though Julia Roberts is unsurprisingly credible in her role, the script, story and plot devices do not live up to her. The movie is set in present day Los Angeles and bounces back and forth to post 9/11. The film lacked any consistent indicators as to when we were “in the past” or “in the present” which took me out of the movie too often. The writing was lackluster, and the plot itself had holes that you could land a 787 in. Some scenes were literally laugh out loud bad; as in I laughed out loud and was quickly the recipient of an elbow in the ribs.

When I compare “Secret” with what I saw on Sunday at the Hughes Center Cinemark, it is a night and day experience. The Cinemark is a typical modern movie theater, lobby cards, an interactive display of the new motion seating, a giant board of showings, and escalators that you almost trip into. I was there to see “Prem Ratan Dhan Payo.” My first Bollywood experience. I’ve always wanted to see one, and with the bitter taste of “Secret” still in my mouth I decided this was to be the movie. The trailer looked visually gorgeous, the lead actors are stunning and exceedingly handsome. Of course the movie is in Hindi, of which I speak not a word, but the subtitles are in English. I read so quickly that in 3 minutes I stop realizing that I’m reading and I just immerse myself in the story. And this movie had a story. A wonderfully written, mostly well acted, love and redemption story. For 166 minutes I was transported to India and following a tale that’s been told a thousand times, and I absolutely loved it.

This Indian film has the hallmarks of modern Indian design, slightly off lighting, some overacting, a bit of goofiness, a lack of Hollywood polish, and all of it is forgivable because the story was so well told. The Busby Berkeley scenes that Indian movie directors love to use in explosive color were visually engaging and stimulating. As soon as I walked out of the theater, I wanted to sit through it again. It was that enjoyable. I laughed. I cried. I was moved. This is what a movie is supposed to be and do.

In the end a great theater with a bad movie makes for a so-so experience but a great movie makes a memory.

David Pisarra is a Los Angeles Divorce and Child Custody Lawyer specializing in Father’s and Men’s Rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist.  He welcomes your questions and comments.  He can be reached at dpisarra@pisarra.com or 310/664-9969. You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra

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