This past weekend saw the release of something major I’ve been looking forward to for years now.

It’s not a movie, though there were a couple fantastic new releases. But we’ll get to those in a bit.

No, this week brought the grand opening of something highly anticipated by many movie fans in the Oklahoma City area.

A brand new Warren Theatre located in Midwest City.

Those who have kept up with my reviews over the past couple years are likely aware of my love of the Warren Theatre in Moore.

Ever since I first walked through those beautiful glass double doors back in 2008, with a smiling employee dressed in green tuxedo jacket greeting me while holding the door, I knew there was something different about going to the movies at the Warren.

For me it was a life changing moment. Before that I didn’t know how wonderful going to the theater could be.

After experiencing the Warren, I simply didn’t want to watch movies anywhere else.

Since then, I’ve watched nearly every major release there. And by the beginning of 2016, I spent almost every weekend at the Moore Warren, watching each and every new film.

It practically became my home away from home. No matter how good or terrible a movie was, it was always a pleasure seeing a film at the Warren.

Then 2017 came and everything changed.

In the middle of May, the owner of Warren Theatres, Bill Warren, confirmed the sale of all his operating theater complexes to Regal Entertainment. A move that left me, and many others, incredibly concerned for my favorite theater’s future.

And since Regal’s acquisition, the Moore Warren has changed quite a bit. And sadly, a lot of it hasn’t been for the better.

Sure, there’s been new conveniences added. Like barcode scanners by the ticket takers so you don’t have to stand in line to get a print out of online orders, or Regal’s reward point system where you can earn things like free popcorn or tickets if you frequent the theater enough.

But in return for those few benefits Regal took away much of what made going to the Warren special.

Where before you could arrive early to a movie and enjoy a quiet conversation with your companions, now you’re treated to a barrage of uncomfortably loud advertisements for new movies, TV shows, local businesses, and of course Coca-Cola products.

And the ads don’t stop once your showtime begins.

Instead of just watching three trailers before your feature film began, now they shove as many previews as they can before a movie.

Up to six trailers total, plus an occasional ad for whatever movie Regal happens to have a special promotion with, plus an ad attempting to recruit new employees, plus an ad advertising their rewards points or unlimited service, plus a short film by college students featuring popcorn and Coke products.

Before Regal took over, you would only have to watch about 10 minutes of trailers before your movie started. Afterwards, it was often well over 20.

That might not sound like a lot to some, but for someone like me who spends every weekend at the movies watching nearly every film, seeing this constant bombardment of the same advertisements over and over really cheapened the experience of going to my favorite theater.

Over the past two years I’ve wished the Moore Warren could go back to the way it used to be, back to when I first fell in love with going to the movies.

Which brings me to the Midwest City Warren.

A new beginning

The new Warren Theatre in Midwest City, located at 5901 SE 15th St., opened for business Thursday, August 22, 2019. The theater features 10 auditoriums and four balconies, each fitted with heated reclining seats, large curved screens, 4K projectors, and 7.1 surround sound.

Back in 2017, after Bill Warren sold to Regal, Bill came back with a promise for a new cinema, one not owned by Regal.

Later though, word was released that while Bill Warren would retain ownership of this new theater, it would still be managed by Regal Entertainment.

News of this collaboration left me curious about what kind of experience this new Warren would bring.

Would it be the same as the Moore location, with non-stop ads and 20 minutes of previews before your showing?

Or would it somehow be a return to the early days of the Warren, the same Warren experience I fell in love with over a decade ago?

Well, I am absolutely thrilled to tell everyone though Regal is involved with the management of this new cinema, it is, without a doubt, a Bill Warren theater through and through.

A step into the past

The lobby at the Midwest City Warren, featuring a ticket counter near the entrance, concession stand on the far side, two hallways stretching out left and right leading to the 10 auditoriums, and a stairwell to the four balconies for 21 and older guests, along with an elevator to the second floor for less mobile patrons.

Right off the bat, anyone who’s ever been to the Moore Warren will feel right at home in the Midwest City theater.

The decor is very much similar, with the same old fashioned art deco look and velvet curtains covering every screen. Even the old neon lit clocks inside the theaters make a grand return.

Once through the doors, you enter a central lobby, with a ticket counter near the doors, concessions on the opposite side, and velvet clad benches surrounding a central sculpture made of glass and metal.

At the concession stands you can order your typical movie snacks like candy, nachos, or popcorn. Plus you can also order entire entrées like burgers or pizza to bring with you to eat at your seat.

There’s even an area off to the side of the concessions where you can order a selection of alcoholic beverages. That’s right, you can actually drink a beer while watching a movie without being forced to buy a higher priced ticket to a balcony showing. That’s something the Moore Warren never offered.

Sadly, the food selection here seems to be exactly the same as what the Moore Warren was recently changed to, with both locations now using the standardized Regal menu.

I was really hoping we’d see the return of some of my favorite Warren dishes, like their Grand Burger, but I guess I can’t get everything I want.

After you’ve picked up your tickets and whatever snacks you might want, you can go down one of two hallways stretching out left and right from the central lobby, with men’s and women’s restrooms on both sides of either entrances.

Room with a view

A look at the Grand Infinity from the auditorium’s balcony at the Midwest City Warren. Each of the two Infinity auditoriums seat up to 125 patrons downstairs and 59 in the balcony.

Both hallways feature five auditoriums, making for 10 screens total. And four of these auditoriums have 21 and over balconies on the second floor, where you can order food and drinks and have them delivered right to your seat, much like at the Moore Warren.

Every single auditorium in this theater, including the balconies, feature heated reclining seats with individual armrests on either side, a small table on the right, and two cup holders.

For anyone who’s ever visited the Moore Warren, the seats are almost exactly like the ones in their Screening Rooms, same width and everything, with two notable exceptions.

Seated among the clouds

The balcony above one of the two Grand Infinity auditoriums at the Midwest City Warren. The balconies at the Warren are only for guests 21 and older, and feature full service at your seat to order drinks, snacks, or even a meal.

The first being the seats are covered in leather instead of cloth. And the second, the buttons for controlling the heat and reclining are somewhat recessed, making them slightly harder to accidentally press while you’re sitting down. A very welcome modification for anyone on the larger side like myself.

These auditoriums, while similar in layout to the Moore Warren, are noticeably much smaller than its sister theater.

While the Grand Auditorium in Moore can fit upwards of 450 patrons, the largest one in the Midwest City location, their Grand Infinity, can only seat 125.

Mildly grand

The smaller of the two Grand Auditoriums at the Midwest City Warren offer a slightly cozier viewing experience, with seats for only 58 people downstairs and 36 in the balcony.

And there’s only two auditoriums that large in Midwest City. Excluding the balcony, the two smaller Grands can accommodate 74, the two larger stadiums can hold 120, and the four small stadiums can only seat a scant 42 people total. That’s barely more than that can fit in Moore’s Director’s Suites.

Luckily, I didn’t have a problem getting my tickets since I ordered online well ahead of time, but I could see the limited seating becoming an issue for more popular movies.

But while this Warren might be a bit cozier than the Moore location, the movie watching experience itself was ridiculously better.

Supersized screening room

The second largest of the auditoriums at the Midwest City Warren seat wise, these two stadiums have the capacity to accommodate up to 120 patrons.

For starters, there’s zero advertising before the film starts. No hearing about the latest TV show from Amazon, zilch from AT&T advertising their unlimited plan, and certainly nothing from Maria Menounos telling you about the latest cocamamy Noovie app.

That’s right. You can actually walk in before a movie begins and have a quiet conversation with your companions without having to yell to hear each other.

And the good times don’t stop there.

Cozy surroundings

The smallest of the Midwest City Warren’s auditoriums, each of these four stadiums only seat 42 people at maximum.

Once the actual showtime arrives, The Voice of the Theater gives you a brief welcome to the Warren, the curtain goes up, the screen shows three trailers, and your movie begins.

Instead of being forced to sit through over 20 minutes of previews like most theaters, this one plays less than 10.

It’s been so long since I haven’t had to sit through six trailers before a film, I almost felt like I had whiplash from how quick the movie started. It was absolutely wonderful though.

I don’t think I quite realized how much I missed the Warren movie going experience until this past weekend.

While the Midwest City Warren is operated by Regal, including using their ticketing service and concessions, it still very much feels like a Bill Warren theater.

In many ways, this theater represents the best of both worlds. It has the exceptional movie watching experience of a Warren theater, plus all the added benefits of being managed by Regal, like their reward points and even Regal’s unlimited plan.

This brand new Warren has been advertised as the next level in luxury movie watching, and I’m firmly inclined to agree.

But with that luxury comes a noticeably higher price point. Tickets at Midwest City cost $11.99 for a matinee showing, $12.99 after 4:00 p.m., and $14.99 for the balcony seats. And none of those prices include tax.

In my opinion though, watching a movie here is worth the extra cost.

I loved every second I spent at this theater. The Midwest City Warren is absolutely beautiful, and out of all the theaters I’ve visited in the Oklahoma City area, the movie watching experience was second to none.

It’s going to be really hard to go back to any other cinema after visiting this one.

To me, this new Warren just felt like home. One I can’t wait to go back and visit.

***

Well that was long winded.

I suppose after all that, I should probably actually review some of the movies I watched instead of just gushing about the theater I saw them in.

And lucky for me, there were four of them this week.

This time around we’ve got a movie about a bride forced to play a deadly game of hide and seek on her wedding night, the next chapter of Gerard Butler’s “Fallen” film series, a faith-based drama from the director of “War Room,” and the tale of a young man with Down syndrome who runs away to fulfill his dream of becoming a professional wrestler.

Let’s get to the reviews.

***

Ready Or Not

First this week is “Ready Or Not.”

This movie follows Grace, a young bride (Samara Weaving) who couldn’t be happier after she marries Alex (Mark O’Brien), the man of her dreams, at his family’s luxurious estate.

But as her wedding night continues, Grace soon discovers the eccentric Le Domas family she married into hides a sinister past, as she’s forced to participate in a tradition that turns into a lethal game with everyone fighting for their survival.

That’s right, everyone. As you might have guessed from the title, this is a horror movie about a group of adults who play a game of hide and seek.

If you’re a cynical person, you might see a hokey title like this and automatically assume the movie is complete garbage. Maybe similar to last year’s “Truth or Dare,” since they’re both games for children turned horror movies.

But let me assure you, this film could not be further from the generic mess that was Blumhouse’s “Truth or Dare.”

This movie is a wonderful mixture of disturbingly visceral horror and clever subversive comedy. One that made for an incredibly tense and frequently hilarious experience.

Our two main characters of Grace and Alex are very down-to-earth, and quite likeable. Plus they provide a great contrast to the openly hateful attitude of Alex’s entire family.

I absolutely loved Samara Weaving as Grace. Out of everyone in the movie, she’s by far the most relatable, and overall makes for a very easy to root for horror protagonist.

Despite her character having absolutely no idea what she’s gotten herself involved with by marrying into this insane family, she adapts surprisingly quickly. And as the film goes on, the rage she expresses towards everyone else in the movie is almost palpable.

I haven’t seen much of Samara Weaving outside of this movie, but after this performance I’d love to see more. She was fantastic here.

And the fun characters don’t stop with our married couple.

The entire Le Domas clan is filled to the brim with a collection of uniquely vile people, all of which are equally fun to watch spew spiteful lines of dialogue at each other.

Even though they don’t all get a ton of individual screen time, each character here is very distinct and every single one of them have multiple, often hilarious, moments to shine.

But while this movie is constantly funny, it manages to not completely drift into being an all out satirical farce.

“Ready Or Not” really strikes a wonderful balance between horror and comedy. Many times in horror comedies you end up completely losing the feeling of apprehension. The result being a comedy film that just uses horror tropes as a facade. Not here though.

The film takes itself seriously enough that these incredibly gruesome consequences feel quite threatening to our main character. In fact I was surprised by how much tension I felt from scene to scene, despite laughing through nearly the entire film.

As you might have guessed, I really enjoyed this movie. I dare say it was one of my favorite movie going experiences of the year.

The editing was spot on, the horror scenes were tense and visceral, the dialogue was constantly hilarious, and the characters were absolutely wonderful, if mostly horrible people.

If you’re like me and don’t mind films with mixed genres, this movie is definitely a must watch.

“Ready or Not” is rated R.

***

Angel Has Fallen

Next up is “Angel Has Fallen.”

When an assassination attempt on U.S. President Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) threatens the life of the leader of the free world, his trusted confidant, Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), is wrongfully accused and taken into custody.

After escaping capture, he becomes a man on the run, evading his own agency and outsmarting the FBI in order to find the real assassins. Desperate to uncover the truth, Banning turns to unlikely allies to help clear his name, keep his family from harm, and save the country from imminent danger.

I guess it’s been about three years since the last one, so it’s time for yet another “insert the blank” Has Fallen movie.

You know, I actually didn’t mind the first film, “Olympus Has Fallen.” Sure it’s really dumb, but it was still mostly entertaining and the action was okay.

But then they had to go and release “London Has Fallen,” a movie which ended up being one of my least favorite films of 2016.

I outright hated it, and had just about put it out of my mind until one day I saw a trailer for yet another addition to this creatively bankrupt series. Ever since seeing that preview, I’ve been dreading the day I would have to sit down and watch this film.

But luckily for me, this movie didn’t end up being quite as awful as its predecessor.

That’s not to say I’d ever in a million years call it good, but I have to admit it wasn’t as terrible of an experience as I had originally expected. Not by much though.

The action here is still frantic, and way over edited. Plus, for an action flick, this movie is decidedly dull. 

The story is one you’ve seen dozens of times in other movies, and this film doesn’t do anything uniquely different to set itself apart.

It’s painfully obvious where the plot is headed, and you can see all the twists and turns coming from a mile away.

Towards the end I definitely felt my eyes start to glaze over, just from how uninteresting it all was.

In addition to not caring about the story whatsoever, I absolutely hate the way this movie was shot.

For some reason the camera operator is constantly moving or panning the camera around, adjusting the focus, and making scenes blurry for seemingly no reason beyond the aesthetic of being random.

They also really loved their shallow depth of field closeups with blurred backgrounds. I don’t necessarily mind shots like these, but in this film they’re just way overused.

I guess if there’s one positive thing here, it would have to be Nick Nolte’s character in the film.

He at least manages to add a few much needed moments of levity, and as far as comedy goes, he definitely stole the show. If you happen to laugh while watching this film, it’s most likely because of Nolte.

Beyond that this movie is mediocre at best, and a snooze fest at worst. Sure, it’s better than “London Has Fallen,” but that’s like saying getting shot in the leg is better than getting shot in the face. At the end of the day, both are decidedly unpleasant experiences.

Please don’t watch this movie. Three years from now I really don’t want to be surprised with yet another sequel to this waste of an action series.

“Angel Has Fallen” is rated R.

***

Overcomer

Third this week is “Overcomer.”

Life changes overnight for coach John Harrison (Alex Kendrick) when his high school basketball team and state championship dreams are crushed under the weight of unexpected news, leading him to worry how he and his family will face an uncertain future.

After reluctantly agreeing to coach cross-country, John and his wife, Amy (Shari Rigby), meet an aspiring athlete (Aryn Wright-Thompson) who’s pushing her limits on a journey toward discovery. Inspired by the words and prayers of a new-found friend (Cameron Arnett), John becomes the least likely coach helping the least likely runner attempt the impossible in the biggest race of the year.

Oh boy. From the writer and director of “Courageous,” “Fireproof,” and “War Room” comes yet another sermon from filmmaker Alex Kendrick.

If you’ve followed my reviews for any amount of time, you’re probably aware of my feelings towards faith based movies.

For the most part this is a genre filled to the brim with low budget, low effort movies that have zero regard to the art of filmmaking and only serve as a medium to put a two hour sermon on the big screen.

There are a few notable exceptions of course.

Movies like last year’s “I Can Only Imagine” or “The Case for Christ” the year before that. Films that actually included some much needed depth to the writing and characters, and even managed to throw in some decent cinematography at the same time.

Sadly, quality films like these ones are exceedingly rare. The large majority of faith-based movies solely exist to share an affirming message to believers, without any regard to the quality of the actual film.

And unfortunately “Overcomer” is no exception.

This movie is ridiculously unfocused, and downright horribly paced. There’s so many pointless scenes that should have been left on the cutting room floor, moments that go nowhere and never payoff in any meaningful way.

It’s so bad you probably could have cut out about a half hour of this bloated nearly two hour film, without any real loss. 

In addition to the over encumbered narrative and horrible editing, the writing somehow manages to be even worse.

The dialogue here is ridiculously wooden and feels completely unnatural coming out of these characters’ mouths.

In fact, the only person who’s scenes even have a glimpse of emotional resonance come from Cameron Arnett, who plays John Harrison’s new found hospital bound friend.

Everyone else could have been replaced with a five and a half foot plank of pressure treated lumber, and you wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference.

But of course this is an Alex Kendrick movie. That means writing, directing, and performances always take a backseat to the sermon. After all, he’s a pastor first and a filmmaker second.

Instead of people interacting and solving their interpersonal conflicts, they just pray.

Why have your characters deal with the emotion of a teenager not knowing their parents, or a coach worried about his future, or wife concerned her husband’s emotional state when you can just pray those feelings away?

After all, this isn’t a movie trying to create real characters with relatable problems. It’s a message from a pulpit, given a wide release in theaters.

That said, there are a few decent ideas in this movie, and pieces of it could have ended up resulting in an okay sports drama.

For one, I liked the concept of the ending. It’s incredibly contrived and could have been better executed, but the idea was solid.

Sadly, any good in this film is buried under a mountain of faith based schmaltz. Not to mention the wooden dialogue, hackneyed writing, and lazy direction.

Filmmakers can make good faith based movies. I’ve seen them. It can be done. Unfortunately, it seems Alex Kendrick is definitely not one of those filmmakers.

If you don’t care about the quality of a movie, and just want to watch a sermon in theaters, you’ll probably enjoy this movie just fine. Heck, you might even love it.

But if you’re looking for a movie with a Christian message, and you even care a little about the art of filmmaking, you can do so much better. 

“Overcomer” is rated PG.

***

The Peanut Butter Falcon

Finally, last this week is “The Peanut Butter Falcon.”

This film tells the story of Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a young man with Down syndrome, who runs away from a residential nursing home to follow his dream of attending the professional wrestling school of his idol, The Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church).

A strange turn of events pairs him on the road with Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a small time outlaw on the run, who becomes Zak’s unlikely coach and ally. Together they wind through deltas, elude capture, and convince Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), a kind nursing home employee charged with Zak’s return, to join them on their journey.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen Shia LaBeouf in a lead role. Truth be told, I’ve kind of missed seeing him around.

Best known for his performance as Sam Witwicky in the first three “Transformers” movies, lately Shia has been taking a break from big budget action fare and instead exploring smaller, more character driven movies.

And I’m quite grateful he has. He’s a talented actor, and nowhere has that been more apparent than in this film.

As the movie itself likes to reference, this is a modern day Mark Twain like story. A tale of two men who want to escape societal norms, each for their own reasons, and along the way develop a very genuine friendship.

You might think that an actor with Down syndrome wouldn’t be able to cut it in a full feature film, but Zack Gottsagen is here to prove you completely wrong.

Zack’s performance was fantastic. His character was incredibly likeable, and out of everyone in the film he could deliver a punchline like no other. It’s no surprise considering the role was written with him in mind, but regardless he did a great job.

Both Shia and Zack are wonderful here. I absolutely loved their dialogue, the chemistry between them felt completely natural, and their interactions together had a very personal, almost primal feeling to it.

Dakota Johnson was also quite good here too.

Frankly I’m just happy to see her in a role which isn’t remotely related to “Fifty Shades of Grey,” but this really was a great performance from her.

She does a good job of spicing up the dynamic between our two leading men, and her character’s concern for Zak comes across as incredibly genuine.

I also have to mention the soundtrack, which was absolutely perfect. The entire movie is filled with bluegrass, folk songs, and even old fashioned spirituals. Songs that really complete the adventurous southern feel of the film.

There’s really not much more to say. I loved this movie.

It’s a beautifully filmed, well acted, well written, incredibly heartwarming piece of cinema.

If you have the chance, you should by all means watch this film. Frankly, I can’t recommend it enough.

“The Peanut Butter Falcon” is rated PG-13.

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