Friday, January 11, 2013

Studio Movie Grill – A Review

Me and my wife are both big fans of the Movie Tavern. If you don’t know, the Movie Tavern is a national chain of movie theaters that offer a good quality movie experience along with reasonably-priced food and adult beverages. The food is above-average bar food and – for us, anyway – the great part of the adult beverages is that you can purchase a 39-ounce beer stein and have it refilled for seven bucks on subsequent visits. And believe me – thirty-nine ounces of beer is as much as you need for one 90 – 120 minute movie.

A few months ago a competitor to the Movie Tavern franchise opened up a location that is slightly closer to home. It’s called Studio Movie Grill and it is in Duluth near Gwinnett Place Mall. I don’t like trying new things, so we hadn’t gone there. Then I ended up with a couple of passes a week or so ago and we decided that we’d give the place a try when we went to see Texas Chainsaw 3D. That may not seem like a very good dinner movie, but it was one that was relatively low risk as far as a bad movie-going experience screwing it up. It was going to be awesome or not awesome on its own merits. Not the sort of thing you’re going to be too bent out of shape about if your food is cold or the picture is shitty.

It didn’t occur to me as we were going to the movie that I would be writing a review of this place. As such, I didn’t take any pictures. I wish I had.

From the outside the place was just this big box with a sign. It didn’t even particularly resemble a movie theater, but honestly all you should need is a sign at the road that says “We Show Movies Here”. The entrance was a long series of glass doors with a large speaker on either side blasting 80’s music. It may not always be 80’s music, but it was when we were there and I was appreciative of that. It made the place feel like a party in a way that no modern pop music would. Once we got inside the place looked more like a nightclub than a movie theater. There were two areas to the right laden with LCD screens featuring showtimes and movies. To the left was a very large bar area with colored lights above the bar oscillating to the beat of the music, which was quieter inside than out. Beyond the entryway was a podium where an attendant takes your tickets, gives you menus, and directs you to your theater.

This all struck me as very cutting-edge. Everything was clean, white, and angular and felt very fancy. We honestly weren’t even sure what to do when we first walked in. I was halfway waiting for a robot to glide out and ask us if we wanted space martinis. Granted, within six months I’m sure everything will be just as dirty and worn as everything else in the Gwinnett Place Mall area, but for right now it’s pretty darn spiffy.

We finally realized there were a couple of girls off to the left in front of one of the walls of screens. We made our way over to buy our tickets. Both girls were very pleasant and helpful, which was good because we were complete dumbasses. What occurred next is why I don’t try new things.

When you go to a movie theater you have either bought your tickets online, buy them at a kiosk on-site, or buy them from the human at the window. You pick your movie, hand over your form of payment, get your ticket, and go in. But after we told the young lady behind the cash register which movie we wanted to see, she asked where we wanted to sit and this screen on the front of the cash register lit up with some sort of complicated grid. She pointed to the grid and asked where we would like to sit. I wasn’t ready to make that decision. Nobody thinks about where they’re going to sit until they get inside the theater. Why would you? You don’t know who else is in there or where they’re sitting. What if you get inside and end up next to some sort of drooling booger-eater who won’t put their phone away? Or you end up behind a Mexican baby who won’t stop peering over the back of his seat at you during the scene where Leatherface is cutting some poor girl’s tits off? But this is how Studio Movie Grill works. The girl pointed at the screen and asked again for us to pick. I literally could not make my brain understand that we had to make this decision NOW – a full half hour before the movie even started – so I asked Mrs. Troublemaker where would be a good place. This was totally unfair because she wasn’t even paying attention and didn’t care anyway, but I needed time to think, dammit. She looked at the display and asked where the movie screen was and I laughed and pointed at the top and said, “Right there where it says ‘screen’,” which was obviously a stupid thing to do and even as the words came out of my mouth my genitals withdrew up into my abdomen in fear of the look I was going to get. But the delaying tactic worked and I got a couple of extra seconds to think.

There were four red “X” marks right in the sweet spot in the middle. I didn’t want to be within three seats of those in any direction. I could pick the same general area that we sat in at the Movie Tavern, but it looked like that would be further from the screen and also leave rows open behind us. Finally, with my brain just shouting, “Pick something before the world ends, you retard!” I jabbed my finger at the left side and said, “Uh, there. K1 and K2.” And then I jabbed it again because I thought it was a touch screen but it wasn’t. Between the venomous look Mrs. Troublemaker was giving me and the almost pitying look I was getting from the cashier I was ready for a beer.

I had read that we might have to pay a difference for a 3D movie with the passes we had, but the girl didn’t charge us any extra, so that was great.

We walked over to the podium to hand over our tickets, but the girl there said that our theater wasn’t ready yet. We were pretty early. So we headed over to the bar area to have a couple of pre-emptive beverages.

The bar was to the left of the entrance, on the far side of a sort of lounge area with a circle of couches and end tables. It had the feel of an area with too much room for the designer to know what to do with, but it was nice that it was open and airy. The bar itself was nice enough, with comfortable barstools and a neat, clean appearance. There was nobody there when we sat down and it took a minute for the bartender to show up. She was nice enough and asked what movie we were seeing. When we said Texas Chainsaw, she laughed and said she’d heard it was hilarious. Which was not entirely reassuring.

We paid $11.50 plus tip for a Sam Adams and a Miller Lite, which is absurd. I don’t know how many ounces the glasses were, but they were just regular glasses. I will say that it was nice being able to just chill out and sip our beers without worrying about getting into the theater to claim seats. Our seats were assigned, so even if we strolled in during the credits we’d have them.

The bartender left while we were drinking and we ended up having to wait for her to return to pay. While we were waiting we checked out the menu and brother, it was redonkulous. Mrs. Troublemaker quite literally laughed out loud at this nonsense:

And as you can see I couldn’t help but take a picture of it. By the time I did the bartender was back and we were openly mocking the menu right in front of her. I wouldn’t normally do such a thing, but when you have $9.50 cheese and fucking crackers on your menu I think you should be ready to deal with some shit. Even considering movie theater prices that’s crazy.

We finished our beers up and headed to the theater to sit down and order our food. There’s some kind of downstairs area that can be accessed by a ramp on the left side of the corridor that leads to the theaters. It was a large, glassed-in room and I’m guessing it can be rented for parties or something. Further down the corridor and also to the left was a smallish, glassed-in room with several banks of computer equipment with little lights all over and screens with various pieces of information displayed. It was pretty awesome-looking and I really wish I had gotten a picture of that. I think those were the main control consoles for each theater.

The theater itself was massive, and I would have chosen seats closer to the screen if I had realized that. There was an attendant’s kiosk at the top of the entryway ramp where the waiters hung out and an usher distributed 3D glasses. The 3D glasses were not comfortable and mine were pretty smudgy. I guess I could have gone and asked for another pair, but I suspected they would all be like that. I developed a sore spot on the right side of my head from wearing them and Mrs. Troublemaker actually had to take hers off about halfway through the movie. It wasn’t a big deal because the 3D in Texas Chainsaw 3D is negligible. But I’ll get into that on Monday in my review.

Each chair had a swiveling tray attached to it with a light-up red button on the left side. Overall the theater looks kind of like I would expect the movie theater on the USS Enterprise to look if they didn’t have a Holodeck. It all looked sleek and fancy.

Looks aren’t everything.

The theater seats were quite big, but did that kind of reclining where they only stay back if you sit there pushing constantly with your legs. I’ve never understood that form of reclining. The trays were in your way no matter what and swung in to the seat quite snugly. Also, they had a slight slant towards the seat so that when you set something on them in the wrong spot that item would start to slide towards the edge. If you didn’t stop it, it would dump right into your lap. There were rubber bumpers on the outside edge of the trays, but none on the inside. I pointed this problem out to our waiter and he said they were looking into it. Apparently there had been a few incidents already, one of which was an entire pink daiquiri tipping right into somebody’s lap.

For their part, the staff were fantastic. The ushers and waiters and attendants… man – this place had a lot of employees. But they were all super-nice and did everything they could to make our experience a great one. Except, of course, for the fact that they were walking in front of us and obstructing our view of the screen every five minutes. And the awesome thing is that they all hunched over to do it. It did not occur to them that by hunching over rather than standing upright they were actually increasing their profile and the amount of time they were obstructing our view. Unfortunately, there was no way around it. The Movie Tavern is arranged in such a way that the wait staff can move freely throughout the theater without getting in anybody’s way. The seats are raised and there are walkways behind each row. This place was set up like a regular movie theater, so the waiters had to walk all the way down an aisle every time they had to serve somebody. It was ridiculous.

Speaking of ridiculous, the house lights stayed on through the whole movie. Not overly bright ones, but bright enough that the darker portions of the film and even some daylight scenes with heavy shadows were hard to watch. We couldn’t see characters’ faces and sometimes important details on screen.

Now for the food.

Mrs. Troublemaker’s mushroom and Swiss burger was $11.50 and my buffalo chicken fingers were $10.99. They both came with seasoned fries and were served in these fancy, trapezoidal bowls that had a slick finish that made them perfect for sliding off of the tray tables. I think we both liked the fries, but Mrs. Troublemaker hated her burger. My chicken fingers were cold and flat. The only saving grace was that the sauce was pretty spicy and acceptable. Not special or delicious; but adequate. So the food was not very good and cost almost half again as much as the food at Movie Tavern, which is delicious.

By the end of the night I had spent over sixty dollars. If I had paid for the actual movie tickets it would have worked out to twice what we spend at Movie Tavern. Yikes.

Studio Movie Grill is very nice. There are a lot of good ideas in play, but the bad far outweighs the good. Mediocre food, lighting during the movies, and staff members constantly walking in between us and the screen are all just too much to deal with. We won’t be returning to Studio Movie Grill, not even for free. Mrs. Troublemaker gave it six months to survive. I think if they address some of their issues they could make a go of it, but I’m not sure I see a solution for the view obstruction problem.

Come back Monday for my review of Texas Chainsaw 3D.



  1. you should check out CineBistro at Town Brookhaven. Upscale all the way. Atmosphere, food/drink and service. NO kids after 6pm!

    1. Thanks for the tip, but upscale is maybe not so much my thing. Not for movie night, anyway. I believe we're Movie Tavern folks through and through.


  2. What do you have against Mexican kids anyway? All races of kids are annoying at the movies, even my own.

    1. This is a reference to an earlier post where I watched a horror movie with a large number of Hispanic children in the row in front of me. That, however, was a reference to a Brian Posehn comedy bit. The kids were in my theater, but the phrasing was used to evoke Posehn. There are A LOT of references on Needless Things that only a small number of readers are going to get. Personally I don't have anything against Mexican babies unless they're staring at me while I am watching a horror movie.


  3. Unfortunately, Movie Tavern now requires you to choose your seat before you enter the theatre too.