Wednesday, January 2, 2013

More Parkway and More Perks of Being a Wallflower

On Sunday, I returned to the New Parkway with a friend who works in downtown Oakland.  Before the screening, we stopped at an Oakland bakery she knew of called Sweet Bar Bakery.  Located at the corner of Broadway and 24th, Sweet Bar is located in the "historic MacFarlane’s Candy and Ice Cream showroom."  MacFarlane Candy & Ice Cream is not a business I was familiar with; it must be one of those old-timey Bay Area institutions (I've only lived here for 20 years).  Just to show how cool Sweet Bar is, it raised over $20,000 via Kickstarter.  Open seven days a week (closing at 7 PM Mon-Sat and 5 PM on Sundays), Sweet Bar is nice place to get a coffee and pastry.  They have some fascinating historic photos of downtown Oakland on their walls.

Having seen every film being screened at the New Parkway on Sunday, I gave my companion her choice of films.  I was hoping she would choose Barbarella which was screened under the theme "Thrillville Theater" - Will "The Thrill" Viharo's Sunday night series.  Viharo hosts "Parkway Classics" on Thursday nights (The Big Lebowski is being shown tomorrow evening at 9 PM).

Instead, she chose The Perks of Being a Wallflower which I saw at the now shuttered Bridge Theater.    I'm glad to say Wallflower stood up well to a second viewing.  There were a few humorous moments which I caught the second time around.  I didn't even realize Paul Rudd was the teacher until the second screening.  Wallflower is a poignant film which mixes in humor for a crowd pleasing experience.  The film has "legs" as they say.  It's box office has gone up every week since its opening in late September. Tellingly, the Landmark Bridge carried it over for a month (or longer) and it was the last film they screened on December 27.  The next day it opened at the Landmark Opera Plaza in their largest auditorium.  That tells me it must be drawing some crowds.  There were 30 or so people at the New Parkway screening I attended.

I cannot recall which screening room is which at the New Parkway.  I think I saw Beasts of the Southern Wild in Theater 1.  We saw The Perks of Being a Wallflower in Theater 2 or the other, smaller screening room.  Theater 2 lacks much of the kitschy charm of the other room.  The floor mostly consists of a number of utilitarian dining tables which gives the impression of a corporate cafeteria.  There is an organ in the corner but I don't think it is functional.  There is a  balcony with three rows of terraces.  We sat in the front row of the balcony.  All but two people sat in the balcony.  I didn't think the floor tables were that bad but my friend insisted on the balcony as she felt the viewing angle was inferior from the floor.  There isn't as much leg room as the first row of the balcony as in the other theater.  Again, there is a side table between seats for your food and drink.

With a bigger crowd, I noticed a few problems.  First, the food runners have less room to maneuver so they were stepping in front of people to get the food to its ultimate destination.  Also, there was quite a bit of noise as servers called out orders, plates clanked and customers asked for condiments or whatever.   I have no doubt that spilled food/drinks and broken dishes/glasses will occur more frequently when the audience is large.  It looked like the Barbarella screening drew a good crowd so I don't know how many people ordered food in total.  The kitchen seemed to have a hard time keeping up as food came in 30 or 40 minutes after Wallflower started.

As for the food, I had the quesadillas.  Not bad but again a very simple dish to prepare so there isn't much to mess up or excel at.  My friend had an apple chicken sausage served like a hot dog.  She wanted more condiment selections but settled on dressing her sausage with olive oil and Sriracha sauce.  She is an exacting connoisseur of food so I take her food judgments with a grain of salt (pun intended).  She carries powdered popcorn toppings and BBQ sauce in the trunk of her car for exigencies such as this.  I don't know why she didn't bring the BBQ sauce in with her.  I saw her retrieve some popcorn seasoning but we didn't order any popcorn.  We split an order of "saucy fries."  I can't recall what the ketchup sauce consisted of, but the mayonaisse was transformed into aioli with some garlic seasoning.

The New Parkway could do a better job with signage.  We arrived more than 30 minutes early so I asked if the theater was open for seating.  Barbarella was still more than 60 minutes from starting.  The employee told us the theater was open and directed us to Theater 1.  As it turned out, that was the theater for Barbarella.  It wasn't until another patron entered and asked if it was the theater for Barbarella that we realized we were in the wrong room.   I said no, someone else said yes.  It turned out we were directed to the wrong theater.  The New Parkway needs to put up signs indicating which film is screening in each theater.  These signs should be placed in clear view as one enters the theater;  even if it is just an 8½ x 11 sheet of paper.  This is standard for any multiscreen theater.  The 4 Star & Balboa have two screening rooms but have signs indicating which film is screening in each theater.

While waiting in the wrong screening room, I noticed there were red wine ring marks on some of the tables and food crumbs on the sofas & love seats.  At least one person didn't bus his/her tableware.  Given that there was an hour before the next screening, I wonder why the staff didn't tidy up the room.  That's going to be crucial going forward.  There needs to be light cleaning and servicing of the theaters in between shows.

After a second trip to the New Parkway, I'm ambivalent.  I go to the PFA frequently so I'm willing to travel to the East Bay for a film but the New Parkway doesn't seem like enough of a draw to make a dedicated trip.  Maybe some of their special programming will draw me in.  On Tuesday (January 8), the New Parkway is hosting a film series called "Brooklyn Reconstructed."  The series is co-sponsored by the Broaklyn Film & Theater Company.

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