Cinema paradiso: The Grand Cinema reaches voting age

By Christian Carvajal on April 10, 2015

When I was a kid in L.A., most walk-in cinemas looked like The Grand Cinema. I remember my parents dropping me off and leaving me in a theater for hours-no helicopter parenting for me - as I watched a double feature or, often, the same movie twice in a row. (Back then, before studios clamped down on rental agreements, theaters looked the other way, content to raise future cinephiles.) A megahit like Star Wars could tie up a town's sole theater for months. Popcorn cost a buck, which seemed overpriced at the time. I remember hearing a radio news report in 1982 about a multiplex in West Hollywood that'd house 14 screens. What a wonderland, I thought. So many choices! There'll be room for every domestic and foreign release! Too bad it'll never catch on. That's way too extravagant for the average American.

Oh, but how wrong I was. The late '80s and 1990s saw a wave of expansion that culminated in 30-screen theaters in Ontario, California and Sterling Heights, Michigan (a suburb of Detroit). As the multiplex craze exploded alongside the viral proliferation of box stores, many family-owned cinemas were driven out of business. Though many cinema chains overextended and declared bankruptcy (AMC being a notable exception), the atmosphere remained perilous for smaller movie houses. That's why it's remarkable that The Grand has survived 18 years without sacrificing the sincerity or quality of its product.

Consider: I'm writing this on a Friday, the day most movies go into general release. I searched Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and computed the average critical approval percentage for two theaters, The Grand and the largest multiplex in our area. Despite unexpectedly low scores for The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Woman in Gold, The Grand managed a respectable average of 72 percent. Meanwhile, despite stunningly widespread approval for Cinderella, Furious 7 and It Follows, the multiplex eked out a mere 56.5 percent; and that's not the chain theater's fault. Its modus operandi is to aim for the widest possible demographic spread, so it must program clunkers like Do You Believe? and The Longest Ride. The Grand has the luxury of pursuing movie connoisseurs - folks like you, perhaps?

Show The Grand some love on April 16. It'll reward your patronage with a $2.50 ticket discount, popcorn at 1980 prices, a birthday photo booth, and two free months tacked onto any yearlong membership. Enjoy What We Do in the Shadows, a vampire comedy that pulled an astonishing 96 percent on, or Selma, that day's installment of Tacoma Community College's Diversity Festival. The Grand's board, staff, and merry volunteers are fighting the good fight against Hollywood's barrage of pop-cultural pap. Let 'em know how awesome it is that they've stuck it out in style.

THE GRAND CINEMA'S 18TH ANNIVERSARY, Thursday, April 16, 606 S. Fawcett Ave., Tacoma, 253.572.6062