20 November 2015

The Best of Canberra - Cinemas winner is ...

| Charlotte
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Palace Electric

Remember browsing at Electric Shadows Bookstore after watching Jean de Florette or the Three Colours films at Electric Shadows cinema?

The indie cinema operated in Civic from 1979 to 2006, and the bookstore, which first opened in 1987 and had a second life on a new site in Braddon, closed in April this year.

For a while after the cinema closed, Dendy filled that gap for me, with Borders downstairs in the Canberra Centre for post-film book-browsing, and the added benefit of a licensed bar on site. But then Borders closed down and the selection of films on offer seemed to veer more to the mainstream.

Enter Palace Electric at New Acton, with its name reminiscent of its much-loved predecessor. It seems hardly a week goes by without an international film festival underway at Palace, and while there is no bookshop in the vicinity, the arty surrounds of the precinct almost make up for that. There are world class bars, cafes and restaurants a few steps from door, and there is always enough parking right underneath the cinema. Like Dendy, it offers a glass of sparkling or wine in the on-site Prosecco bar (pictured above), and the circular alcove in which you can sit with a friend and enjoy a drink or snack before the film is more enticing than its Dendy counterpart.

Palace is my choice for Best of Canberra – Cinema for all of these reasons, but also because of the service. The staff at Palace Electric remind me of hosts at a private dinner party rather than people hired to dispense film tickets and ice-creams. Last week, I arrived with a spare ticket and tried to give it to a passing cinema-goer. The bloke behind the counter called me over and offered to take it back and provide me with a complimentary pass valid for a year at any Palace cinema in Australia. There are some limitations (not for use on a Saturday after 6pm or during film festivals among them), but he made my day.

We need to give Tuggeranong favourite Limelight a special mention. It scored a couple of recommendations from readers responding to our callout, including this one on Facebook from Tammy Wolffs: “Limelight for mainstream releases; Palace for almost everything else (but a bit wary of overcrowded opening night festival screenings). Dendy where a Premium screening is called for.”

She’s right, of course. Different cinemas suit different purposes. I love taking the kids to Hoyts at Belconnen and Woden, but for a night with a girlfriend or for date night, I’ll see you at Palace Electric or Dendy. Sometimes Manuka works better for geographical reasons, and there is the added benefit of being able to visit Paperchain for some book browsing there too.

The next cinema-going dilemma is where to see the upcoming Star Wars film. We will have kids with us, and given Hoyts are in the process of upgrading their seating and adding vino to the candy bar menu, it might be the perfect compromise for a family outing.

Oh, just remembered one more special mention, especially for the budget-conscious: the ANU Film Group, which has operated in Canberra since 1966 and offers memberships to everyone, not just those connected with the ANU.

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As newly arrived residents of Canberra and regular moviegoers I’ll give our we’ve-been-here-less-than-a-month expert opinion.
So far we’ve been to Hoyts Belconnen, Palace Electric and Dendy Premium.

was pretty much as we’d expect it to be. Perfect for “just” going to the movies. I look forward to seeing what their upgraded seating provides.

Palace Electric:
We liked the vive at Palace Electric plus their selection of films means there will almost always be something on that we might go to see. Their movie club also seems to be a good deal for even semi-regular moviegoers. The parking discount is nice too. On our initial visit we went into the attached carpark because we haven’t yet worked out alternatives, and got a shock at how much it was going to cost us. Luckily the parking voucher discount you get at PE relieved some of that pain.
Unfortunately I ordered an iced mocha from the bar, and I got…same strange chocolately thing filled with ice cubes. Now, I don’t mind that much if they don’t serve *proper* iced coffee/iced mochas, but please say so and don’t just have a go. A clock in the foyer and bar areas woud be nice, too.
To be honest, if you want to see how arthouse/independent/trendy cinema should be done, visit the State Cinema in Hobart. PE is having a go at least but the State blows it away.

Dendy Premium:
We save premium/gold class-type sessions for either special or long films. In this case, Spectre at 148 minutes ticks the “we love Bond films and it is freakin’ long so let’s see what Dendy Premium has to offer” box.
We were a tad underwhelmed by Dendy Premium. Similar to PE above, it suffers in comparison to Village Gold Class in Hobart. When you arrive there a staff member greets you then takes you to a seat and takes note of your movie, then escorts you to your seat in the cinema when the movie is about to begin. They also provide table service for any food and drink orders. When we arrived at Dendy there was…nothing. Just a long queue at the counter. By the time we were able to eventually get our drinks order in it was five minutes past our movie starting time – not cool.
Once inside the cinema I found the seats not the best; their most upright position is somewhat reclined so it is impossible to sit up without your head drooping backwards. Plus, the a/c was too cold. I shouldn’t need to think about wearing a jacket *inside* the cinema.
The staff bringing orders in during the movie were sloppy – clinking plates and glasses everywhere, getting orders wrong and standing in the aisle trying to work out where they had to deliver to. Hobart’s Gold Class staff are excellent in this regard – quiet, unobtrusive, minimal disruption to your viewing.
Dendy also don’t have their speakers set up particularly well, at least in the premium cinema. During talking head scenes dialogue was noticeably separated from the actor’s mouth and causes immediate loss of suspension of disbelief. I also felt that volume was substituted for an enveloping sound. On the plus side though their subwoofers had good extension, much better than Palace Electric.
Finally, the Premium foyer was disappointing. Again I will compare to Gold Class Hobart: it is clean, modern, and feels upmarket with good decor and good pencil drawings of Hollywood stars mounted around the foyer. Dendy’s seemed more like a slightly tatty cafe, and the look-how-arthouse-we-are foreign language movie posters are trying just too hard.

If it seems I’ve given a good bagging to Dendy, well, Premium tickets aren’t cheap and for the spend you want to feel that you get *something*. The whole point is the illusion that you are a VIP, not just to go to a movie where you can take a drink in (Palace Electric is perfectly fine for that). For a regular movie outing Dendy look just fine, the premium still needs work. If Hoyts puts in a Lux cinema then Dendy will gave to shape up fast.

rosscoact said :

I agree with the Palace, love the place. With the major exception being the Brown Bros prosecco ad which they have had from day one. Model thingies putting their acting school lessons to good use in front of a green screen.

For some reason this really grinds my gears. 😀

Why don’t you try a glass or three and you will go into automatic overdrive.

I agree with the Palace, love the place. With the major exception being the Brown Bros prosecco ad which they have had from day one. Model thingies putting their acting school lessons to good use in front of a green screen.

For some reason this really grinds my gears. 😀

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