Are movies still worth the money?

I love going to the movies. And it may surprise the folks who know me as a life-long penny pincher that I splurge on the overpriced popcorn and other concession items. (My favorite theater has a tasty burger and fries combo.)

But I’ve drawn the line on paying an extra $3 for 3-D. I’ve also become much more selective in the movies I’ll see. If I’m going to spend $11.50 for a movie, I want to have fun and not be sent home depressed. That’s why I haven’t seen “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” just yet. I liked the first installment, but the previews for the second film in the series are just, well, too darn serious. Really it’s gloomy. It’s summer. I want to have fun.

I was complaining to my husband about this and bam, my favorite movie critic, Ann Hornaday, who also works at The Washington Post, summed up so wonderfully my dissatisfaction with a lot of movies of late.

Hornaday wrote: “I suspect that most people who flocked to ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ over the weekend might have also shared my twinge of ambivalence when it was all over: Rather than turn to one another with goofy, what-a-great-flick glee, they were more likely to shuffle out of the multiplex in a mood of subdued solemnity. Is ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ impressive? Without a doubt. Is it admirably smart and ambitious? You bet. Is it fun? Eh . . . not so much.”

Yes. That’s it. I want to be surprised when I see a movie. I want to cheer for something or even cry happy tears during a romantic comedy. I do not, however, want to spend my hard-earned money to emerge from the darkness in a dark mood.

But as Hornaday writes, “‘Dawn’s’” funereal tone seems to be the norm these days, especially for reboots of legacy franchises that, in their efforts not to succumb to sentimental nostalgia or trivialized camp, succumb to amped-up carnage and inflated self-seriousness instead.”

Too many films, “whether it’s Superman or James Bond or Godzilla, feel obligated to take their protagonist into ever darker, more violent territory, both exterior and interior,” she writes. “The solemnicizing of pop entertainment has resulted in a remarkably joyless enterprise — devoid of the simple exhilarations and visceral delights that made Hollywood fantasies such escapist pleasures in the first place.”

Moviegoers are not going to the movies in huge numbers anymore, reports TheStreet’s Jason Notte.

Here’s our future, Notte writes: “More money at the movie theater for less riveting productions.”

Color of Money question of the week

Are you staying home from the movies this summer? Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name, city and state.

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Picking up public assistance in a Mercedes

In a popular piece for The Washington Post, Darlena Cunha, a former television producer now stay-at-home mom, wrote about her stint in poverty.

A pink slip pushed the solid middle-income family into financial distress.

“The days of unemployment turned into weeks, months, and, eventually, years,” she writes. “In just two months, we’d gone from making a combined $120,000 a year to making just $25,000 and leeching out funds to a mortgage we couldn’t afford. Our savings dwindled, then disappeared. So I did what I had to do. I signed up for Medicaid and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.”

Cunha said she wrote about her situation so that her twin daughters wouldn’t judge others who lean on government assistance.

For last week’s Color of Money Question I asked: What do you think of Cunha’s story?

“Darlene was really an example of someone being broke but not poor,” writes Steve Wells from Gaithersburg, Md. “She had education, had previously been employed in a good job, she knew what was necessary to get her and her family out of being broke.”

Wells went on to write: “The end of the article where she describes how it was temporary and her husband now has a good job shows that she and her family were never poor; they were just broke.”

Yvette Mathesen from Arizona writes: “This is not poverty. If she had to borrow [a] nice car to go for her WIC that is one thing, but that car was worth 1,000 times what she was getting for food. That is not poverty. Taking the bus because you don’t have a car to get to a potential job, or when you get a job but can’t get to it on the bus route by your house, that is poverty. I remember when my family was living ‘below the poverty line’ and I remember feeling poor but not feeling poverty. I knew I had choices and chances and the ability to better my situation, I knew that to be true and it was. Poverty is when you know those words are not true then you are in poverty of privilege.”

Others agreed that Cunha’s temporary financial fall didn’t reflect the depths of poverty others experience.

Debbie Anderson from Summervile, S.C., writes: “Watching your children go hungry and trying to sleep when you are too cold or too hot because you can’t afford or don’t have electricity is a little different than driving up in your paid for Mercedes to get food stamps. Working two or three minimum wage jobs to try to make ends meet, and still coming up short because your child needs a pair of shoes and the local Salvation Army Thrift Store doesn’t have any in his size is poverty. While Darlena experienced a temporary financial setback, she did not live true poverty. They weren’t living in a car or shelter eating scraps or meals from a soup kitchen. She went on to tell how she went back to school for an advanced degree when her husband got a job so he obviously didn’t go to work for minimum wage. While her story does show how the middle class gets into financial trouble, all it really illustrates is her months of discomfort because some people didn’t approve of her. Gee, I’m so sorry for her.”

Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20071, or michelle.singletary@washpost.com. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to www.postbusiness.com

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.”
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