Last Wednesday, after waiting over six weeks to receive the moviepass membership card that I was promised would arrive within five to seven days when I paid for it in August, I finally received the little red card in my mailbox that would send me grant me access to a new movie every day, wherever and whenever I want.
or so I thought. As I was to discover, the reality of MoviePass does not match the promise.
But the $9.95 monthly price is too good to resist, and it’s enough of a bargain to make up for a lot of sins.
My original plan in August was to pay for the service, sign up and use it three times, then write a review after a week or so. instead, what happened was a difficult experience over the last month and a half, with multiple promises broken by the company and a customer service department that was not 100% responsive to my multiple inquiries.
read more: CEO mitch lowe pulls back the curtain on moviepass and explains its economics
Once I received the card and was able to use the service, I also ran into a number of unforeseen issues, some minor, others considerably more concerning. but once I got the hang of it and understood the ins and outs of moviepass better, I found it to be good value for money.
The day the card arrived, I decided to leave work early at 5 p.m. I wanted to pick a movie that I probably wouldn’t watch otherwise, but would probably enjoy. i opened the moviepass app on my android smartphone and after entering my user id and password i scrolled through the theater listings and noticed that the amc marina marketplace was showing the animated disney movie the princess and the toad, one that I heard my children rave about and I chose to go there.
I’ve been trained by my years in l.a. experience of going to the movies to reserve the ticket in advance, or better, to print it out in case there were cell phone coverage problems near the theater that would render my phone unusable. But MoviePass only allows you to book your ticket using the mobile app, and only when you’re within 100 yards of the location you’ve chosen. I anticipated this could be a problem.
With rush hour traffic, I figured I’d probably make it to the theater just in time for the 6:00 p.m. showing to start. m., and even then only if you used a navigation app to find the optimal route through the city. I saw that my phone battery was only at 35% but there was no time to charge it at home so I had to make do with the car charging cord which worried me as it lacks the charging power to overcome the battery hogging the waze app i knew i would have to use to get to the movies on time.
As expected, I arrived at the amc just before 6 p.m. m. I jumped out of my car and, running to check my phone before the battery died, I opened the moviepass app. it again asked for my user id and password, a bit of an annoying quirk, and just as I was about to start the ticket selection process, my phone turned off and the battery died. I must have scared the other movie patrons in the parking lot with my scream of frustration.
I ran back to the car, plugged in my phone, started the engine and waited 15 minutes for enough battery power to retry my ticket. As I sat there, I debated going back, knowing I’d miss the beginning of the movie. I was also wondering what kind of hostile reaction I would get from the ticket seller at the theater, having read that AMC Theaters management had publicly mocked MoviePass and threatened to ban its use.
but I decided to go ahead, and this time, after entering my user id and password for the third time, I got the app to grant me permission to go and buy my ticket with the moviepass debit card. at the ticket counter I timidly offered the card and to my surprise the ticket seller said, kindly enough, let’s use his movie pass and take you to the movie.
the ticket price was $11.99 and since I had already paid my $9.95 monthly subscription fee with moviepass, the price was covered and I already had a couple bucks ahead of me on my first ticket.
I finally got into the theater about 10 minutes after the movie started, somewhat annoyed that the cumbersome moviepass process had put me in that position, but once I got settled in, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I left satisfied that the moviepass card in my pocket had encouraged me to have that experience.
The next afternoon I found myself in my auto mechanic shop in Century City, waiting for a repair that would take four hours. Sitting there with nothing to do, I decided to make the 25-minute walk to the AMC Century City Theater in the Westfield Mall. While walking I opened the moviepass app and for the first time it didn’t ask me to enter my user id and password. apparently, it had the ability to store my information, it only took a few tries to do so.
I knew I’d have to be at the theater to get approved by moviepass to check in, so I didn’t bother choosing a movie until I got there. once i did i scanned the schedules and saw that the only image i could see that would finish in time to allow me to get back to the mechanic before the shop closed for the day was a 2d projection of blade runner 2049. there were a couple of 3d and imax screenings that would have worked too, but I knew they weren’t available on the moviepass plan.
I tried to choose the 2d projection and to my dismay the app wouldn’t let me select it. the display time I wanted was “grayed out” which made the link to choose it dead. i went to the ticket counter and asked about the screening and was told it was in a special dolby atmos theater (advanced 3d sound system) and the ticket price was $19.99.
Why the moviepass app didn’t indicate this, and indeed why the app shows movies that it doesn’t allow the user to buy tickets for, remains a mystery to me. Frustrated yet again by the service and not wanting to pay the ticket out of pocket, I made the 25-minute walk back to my mechanic, having lost an hour of my day.
the next night, friday, i decided to go see a movie i had heard good things about, noah baumbach’s new drama, the meyerowitz stories. I knew the movie was showing simultaneously on Netflix, but I wanted to see it on a big screen. the only place near me showing the film was the iconic theater in the westside pavilion mall. “great”, I thought, “my favorite theater in the city”.
I made sure my phone battery was fully charged before making the 20-minute drive to the waypoint. when i arrived, i tried to find the movie on the moviepass app, but the theater was not showing up at all. I inquired at the box office and learned, to my great disappointment, that flagship theaters do not accept MoviePass. my favorite theater was a moviepass deadzone. I turned around and headed home, another wasted hour.
Back home, I ended up watching the meyerowitz stories on netflix (an excellent movie, by the way). Doing some research, I learned that at least one more of my favorite theaters, the iPix in Westwood, is also not available through MoviePass. since ipix and landmark are specialty theaters that show quite a few exclusive share movies, i would have to pay out of pocket or attend hollywood industry screenings to see those movies, as moviepass would not pay for them.
I had told myself I would try moviepass three times before writing my review, and I made all three attempts with decidedly mixed to disappointing results. but recognizing that at least some of the problems I had encountered were avoidable, I decided to give it one more try.
saturday night i arranged to meet a friend at century city amc to watch marshall, the courtroom drama about then-naacp attorney thurgood marshall’s successful defense of an african-american chauffeur who had been falsely accused of rape by your connecticut socialite employer.
This time my moviepass experience was everything I hoped it would be. check-in was smooth and quick, and since there was a long line at the ticket counter, my friend and I bought our tickets at the automated kiosk, he with his credit card and me with my moviepass. the moviepass behaved exactly like a credit card would. The movie was enjoyable, at least in part because I knew I wouldn’t have seen it in the theater if it weren’t for the MoviePass service. the ticket cost my friend $15.99 and was free for me, covered by my moviepass subscription.
so, in summary, after four attempts with moviepass, I was able to see two movies, one of them cut down by ten minutes, wasted a few hours on failed attempts, and got $28 worth of tickets. for my $9.95 fee. the service is good when it works and frustrating when it doesn’t. Some deficiencies of MoviePass can be fixed as the user learns to make the best use of the service, while others, such as the exclusion of certain cinemas, are significant inconveniences. The requirement that the subscriber be at the theater to make the purchase is not an issue on a slow weekday, but can be a real inconvenience on weekend nights when features tend to sell out in advance.
Overall, I’m ready and willing to stick with the card for a while and hope that moviepass adequately resolves its many issues. I give it a rating of three stars out of five.
read more: 5 ways moviepass could and should have improved their $9.95/mo launch