Five Reasons to Love Downtown's New Sundance Cinemas

The Angelika Theater was a lot like our favorite dive bar -- it was worn and weird and smelled a little funny, but the people were good and we saw things there we couldn't see anywhere else. Upon learning the indie theater had unexpectedly closed its doors last August, Art Attack's thoughts were in line with commenter West: "Perfect, now they can put in a Buffalo Wild Wings and the d-bagging of [downtown] will be complete."

We imagine West was just as relieved as we were to learn the Bayou Place address would remain devoted to the finest in film as the third location of Sundance Cinemas, the art house theater chain headed by Robert Redford seeking to provide a more "grown-up" moviegoing experience.

Yesterday Art Attack had the opportunity to tour the 36,000-square-foot eight-theater site, still in the midst of a $2.25 million makeover, and found all dive-y reminders of the previous tenant to be long gone. We're happy to report that Houstonians have a lot to look forward to when the location opens its doors to the public on November 23, and our top five reasons to get excited about Sundance Cinemas are listed below.

5. Same Indie Programming, Better Picture. Sundance Cinemas' programming is summed up as "the best of what's in distribution," whether it be a popular mainstream hit or a buzz-generating indie selection. There is also a desire to support local arts, from airing local cinema and collaborating with MFAH Films, to a prominent wall in the lobby devoted to a different local artist every three months.

And those familiar with the Angelika's sometimes grainy projections and spotty sound will surely appreciate the souped-up digital and 3D amenities, Dolby surround sound, and Skype-ready connections in the newly renovated theaters.

4. No Annoying TV Ads (or Waiters). Some of us out there actually like previews. But few people show up early for a movie hoping to see a T-Mobile ad projected onto a 50-foot screen. The practice of airing television ads before movies has become increasingly more common as they are a gigantic source of revenue for theaters, but Sundance wants to keep the experience entirely devoted to film. This is also the logic behind eliminating the distraction of aisle-roaming waitstaff incorporated by other theater chains serving food and alcohol.

3. Foodie Approved Concessions. Speaking of food and alcohol, expect traditional movie fare, with a twist. There will still be popcorn (with real butter), candy, soda and (gourmet) hot dogs, along with a wide array of specialty sodas, cocktails, draft beer and wine, as well as an assortment of epicurean food, desserts and salads to be enjoyed inside or out of the theater.

2. Sweet, Sweet Validated Parking. Sundance plans to continue the Angelika's blessed practice of validating parking in the Theater District Parking Lot for up to three hours, yet another reason for Art Attack's friends to quit their incessant bitchin' about parking downtown.

1. Reserved Seating What!? Reserved seating in a movie theater? Worst. Idea. Ever. At least that's what we thought at first. But the company discovered the seat deemed "best in the house" at a movie differs wildly from person to person, and demonstrated this theory by asking each of the 20 or so media representatives to sit in the spot they would choose in an empty theater. Art Attack anticipated a stampede headed for dead center, about ten rows up, and yet we found ourselves sitting alone, the crowd dispersed evenly from front row to back. And the seats themselves -- high-backed plush wool "rockers" paired off in sets of two and separated by a wooden "table-ette" -- aren't too shabby either.

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