Small Town Cinema

To my mind, Malibu is one of the best-preserved small towns in America. Some people scoff at that notion, and while it’s true that Malibu is a weird small town — where you stand in line behind Pam Anderson at Starbucks, where there isn’t a home under a million bucks, and Ferraris and paparazzi are as common as cockroaches — it is a small town. Malibu has maybe two grocery stores, some banks, one shopping center and . . . that’s about it. The women at the post office know me. I can trust the car-repair people.

Some call Malibu’s strict antigrowth stance “economic cleansing,” and while it’s true the ’bu is nobody’s idea of a populist paradise, it’s nice that one coastal city hasn’t been completely strip-malled by the creeping gack of suburbia.

Cross Creek Center, tucked in between Surfrider Beach and the Pepperdine campus, is the closest thing Malibu has to a strip mall. A fire there in April 2005 took out half the local chain stores — Ben and Jerry’s, Banana Republic, Fast Frame. It also took out the Cross Creek Plaza Theater, the one and only Malibu movie house that had faithfully served the town’s famous and anonymous for many years. Though it had become a little dim and decrepit over the years, it was a good place to see movie stars onscreen while sitting next to movie stars. I once came out of a dark theater, blinking in the bright sunlight, and nearly ran over a bald Jim Carrey and a hairy David Arquette. Adam Sandler was known to sneak in late, sit in the back during his movies and chart the laughs.

While Sandler and some of Malibu’s other more fortunate citizens could retreat to their home theaters, from April 2005 until November 17, 2006, first-release-loving proles were forced to drive to Santa Monica or (gasp!) the Valley to see Sin City or Crash or Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. When Lords of Dogtown came out, original Z-Boy Allen Sarlo couldn’t see it in his hometown. When The Longest Yard came out, Sandler had to sneak in somewhere else to see which gags were hitting.

I was in Rio de Janeiro during the theater’s grand reopening, and while Rio is always fun, a part of me couldn’t wait to get back home, hike down the Pacific Coast Highway and check out the new theater for a showing of Casino Royale. Still jet-lagged from the hideous 17-hour flight from Rio, I walked to the newly minted Hollywood Theater on a recent Sunday night. The 7 o’clock show was sold out, so I came back for the 10 o’clock. James Cameron, risking the paparazzi and screenplay-wielding citizens, was in line next to me. I pretended not to notice.

This new Bond movie was great in an old-school, but thoroughly modern, way. And so was the new theater. After I had sat in coach for 17 hours, the seats felt like first class: leather, with retractable cup-holder armrests! You could feel the springs on your butt in the old theater. The snack bar had everything from Cinnabon rolls to Ghirardelli chocolates to Pellegrino sparkling water, or Rockstar energy drink. The popcorn was first-rate (Orville Redenbacher), and the sound was awesome. The screening room couldn’t have seated more than 100 people, and two rows in front of me, I spotted one of the women from the post office. I also saw one of the Pepperdine girls who serves coffee at Malibu Kitchen. In here, even we normal folks could enjoy some of the comforts of our more privileged small-town neighbors.

After the movie, feeling a renewed faith in Hollywood, breathing in that cool fall air, I saw James Cameron hustling out of the theater, looking both ways and straight ahead at the same time. I wanted to ask him what he thought of it all, but Cameron was hauling across the parking lot like he had the devil on his tail. I wondered if he was rushing home to put a deal memo together to buy the whole Bond franchise just so he could direct the next one. Or maybe he was inspired to redo his private theater with better seats and better sound.


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