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It's theaters galore! Now we need good flicks

sandra thompson
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© St. Petersburg Times, published April 21, 2001

Have you noticed the subtle difference in life Fridays through Sundays? We're now a two-movie-weekend town. No longer do we have to scan the movie listings for the possibility of one, just one, movie that might be worth seeing. We are no longer bereft when the Tampa Theatre holds over the film we saw last weekend. Nor do we have to debate whether it's worth the drive up the Veterans Expressway to see the occasional independent or foreign film that shows up on the smallest of the Veterans 24 screens.

When friends in New York and L.A. tell us about an interesting new film, we don't have to sigh and say, "It'll probably never come here."

Now, it probably will.

In the past six months, we've been given Muvico's Centro Ybor 20, AMC's Westshore 14 and Regal's Channelside 9.

Last weekend we saw Bridget Jones's Diary at Centro Ybor on Friday night and The Widow of Saint-Pierre at the Tampa Theatre on Sunday in the early evening. We've seen a number of the alternative films at Channelside, including the stunning In the Mood for Love. We've seen mainstream movies, like Traffic and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon at the Westshore 14, my pick for ambiance over Channelside's glitz and Centro Ybor's faux Tuscan villa theme.

Centro Ybor has its premier adults-only screens, where tickets cost $10, and you can get cocktails and wine, even sushi (all extra), and sit in wide leather seats. At 9:30 on Friday, there was only one couple in the bar, but the bartender said the place doesn't really heat up till about 10:30. (We'll never know.)

Otherwise, the new theaters are distinguished by, I hate to say it, parking.

Westshore has the best parking with a second-story lot right outside the theater lobby, plus free valet parking at the mall entrance. The Centro Ybor garage is now free for the first three hours. Channelside has free valet parking, though a few weekends ago, we waited in line for 25 minutes to get our car.

The question is, will this movie nirvana last?

We expected a mob scene at Bridget Jones on a Friday night, also the movie's opening night, at Centro Ybor. Yet the theater wasn't even half full. Centro Ybor acknowledges its theaters, which opened in October, are not doing as well as they'd expected. Cory Caminiti, Centro's marketing director, said their main challenge is to change the behavioral patterns of people in Tampa, who are not programmed to think of Ybor City as a movie destination. She says it'll be a boost when the apartments on Palm fill up and more people live in Ybor.

Westshore 14, which opened in November, is doing well, as they had always expected, said WestShore Plaza manager Tom Miles. People in South Tampa and Town 'N Country and Westchase had indicated they'd go to the movies at the mall. There's still "room for improvement," he said -- the two very popular movies we saw there had a hefty audience but plenty of empty seats -- and that could come when two new restaurants open this summer, Maggianno's and the Palm.

Channelside theaters opened last, in January, in a ghost town, the first tenant in the complex, which now at least has Pop City. Russ Nunley, communications manager at Regal Cinemas, says their audience will grow as new restaurants open at Channelside. They plan to stick with their "cinema art" programming, showing art films and the better mainstream movies -- geared to an audience a little older than Ybor's or, for that matter, Westshore's. (I.e., don't expect Joe Dirt here.)

So, now we can only pray movies will be better than last year -- I mean, look at the Academy Awards. Movies are still the catalyst for much of our cultural dialogue. Or, as Al Pacino remarked at the Golden Globe Awards, "Movies are the literature of our time."

I flinched at that, but I knew he was right.

- Sandra Thompson is a writer living in Tampa. She can be reached at City Life appears on Saturdays.

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