SCREEN TIME: Cinema on tap

Can indie movie houses specialize their way to success?

Photo credit: Brandt Gully
LET’S ALL GO TO THE LOBBY: The lobby of The Springs Cinema & Taphouse.

It’s easy to think of The Springs Cinema & Taphouse as one of the city’s most closely-guarded secrets. If you were driving up Roswell Road into Sandy Springs, you’d probably never know an eight-screen cinema was tucked behind one of the strip malls unless you were already clued in.

Originally opened by the General Cinemas chain as the Parkside 8 in 1988, the space has changed hands multiple times over the years. In 2017 Brandt Gully purchased it from Atlanta film impresario George Lefont and changed its name from the Lefont Sandy Springs. Currently it follows the drafthouse model of food and spirits alongside mainstream releases like Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania, along with more indie fare and unique programming.

The cinema completed an extensive renovation in 2019, and the brick, stone and wood stylings of the lobby more of a brewpub atmosphere than the neon-inflected sterility of national cinema chains. Gully says The Springs tries to stand apart from its corporate counterparts.

“Just this past month we showed films in three different languages, a silent film, screenings of locally made indie films, live sporting events on the big screen, retro movies at our parking lot drive-in, numerous indie studio selections, and, of course, the Hollywood blockbusters,” Gully says.

He extends this approach to the taphouse options, which evolved thanks to the feedback of his patrons. “Plenty of movie theaters have a bar these days, but it’s usually an afterthought where some corporate office decided that every one of its locations should feature the same eight beverages,” Gully says. “We spend a ton of time listening to customers and throwing options at them, and now have 18 lines of craft beer, over 60 bourbons, over 25 tequilas and 20-plus wines.”

The Springs brings a pop-cinema sensibility to its series and special events. Its regular Movie Parties encourage dressing up and played games themed to the movies in question, with upcoming films including Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (March 19), Clueless (April 15) and Step Brothers (April 27). Reportedly the latter will feature a specialty drink inspired by the film’s “Catalina Wine Mixer.”

The “Fright Night” horror series hosted by Sunny Midnight features  upcoming screenings of Happy Death Day (March 22), Killer Klowns From Outer Space (April 5) and The Silence of the Lambs (April 19). Other series include “Back to the Eighties,” the “Kids Summer Movie Club” and “Mullets, Muscles & Machine Guns.”

Hopefully the more specialized approach of independent cinemas like The Springs and The Plaza will prove to be a viable business model analogous to today’s independent bookstores. Where large chains like Borders couldn’t compete with Amazon’s pricing and delivery, community-focused bookshops have seen a resurgence in recent years, with hundreds opening across the country in the wake of the pandemic.

Similarly, the Regal Cinema chain has closed dozens of theaters across the country after its bankruptcy, including Atlanta’s beloved Tara Cinema. (Fortunately, Chris Escobar, owner of the Plaza Theatre, has recently announced plans to reopen the movie house as The Tara, probably this spring, with fundraising opportunities available on the new website taraatlanta.com) If major theater chains can’t compete with streaming services and accommodating the changes in audience tastes, they might be opening a lane for The Plaza or The Springs (or The Tara) to cater programming to their communities.

Such flexibility can have surprising results: I remember when the Sandy Springs space was owned by the now-defunct Madstone chain of national arthouse cinemas, and a revival screening of 1978’s Days of Heaven was held over for 18 weeks, the contemplative period drama striking an unexpected chord.

On a recent Sunday I paid my first visit to theater since it became The Springs, choosing an early matinee of a film that had surprisingly good word-of-mouth. I appreciated the warm design of the lobby and screening rooms (both figuratively and literally, as the seats have heating options). I even considered ordering a beer to complete the experience.

But then I imagined employees or parents whispering, "There's a middle-aged guy drinking alone at Puss in Boots: The Last Wish!" So I thought, “Maybe next time.”

The Springs Cinema & Taphouse, Unit C-103, 5920 Roswell Rd., Sandy Springs, GA, 30328. 404-255-0140 springscinema.com


Fri., Feb. 3

Creed IIIMichael B. Jordan both directs and stars in his third outing as boxer Adonis Creed, this time challenged by a resentful childhood friend (Jonathan Majors). This is the first installment in the Rocky franchise that does not feature Sylvester Stallone.— Curt Holman
Fri., Feb, 3. Atlanta area theaters.

Sun, Mar. 5 and Wed., Mar. 8

Casablanca“Here’s looking at you, kid.” This oft-quoted 1942 romantic drama is one of the jewels of Hollywood’s golden age. Humphrey Bogart plays a cynical club owner re-united with his ex (Ingrid Bergman) against a backdrop of war-time intrigue.
Thu., Feb. 2, and Sun, Feb. 5. Atlanta area theaters. fathomevents.com/events

Sun., Mar. 5

LeprechaunA malevolent leprechaun bedevils a group of young people (including Jennifer Aniston shortly before being cast on “Friends”). This 1993 horror-comedy has mixed results with both the horror and the comedy, but Warwick “Willow” Davis really commits to the bit in the title role. This screening co-hosted by Videodrome and Lunchmeat features a live performance by Michael Myerz.
8 p.m. Sun., Feb. 5. Plaza Theatre, 1049 Ponce de Leon Ave NE, Atlanta, 30306. plazaatlanta.com  

Wed., Mar. 8

Troop Beverly HillsWussy Mag co-hosts this screening of the 1989 Shelley Long comedy about a socialite who leads a troop of “Wilderness Girls,” despite having more money than experience.
7 p.m. Wed., Mar. 8. Plaza Theatre, 1049 Ponce de Leon Ave NE, Atlanta, 30306. plazaatlanta.com  

Fri., Mar. 17

Shazam! Fury of the GodsThis sequel to 2019’s Shazam! pits the family of foster siblings-turned-superheroes against a pair of vengeful goddesses played by Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu. Filmed in Atlanta in the summer of 2019.
Opens Fri., Mar. 17. Atlanta area theaters.

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among ThievesGet out your 20-sided dice: the role-playing game inspires a live-action film version in which a band of adventurers (including Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez and “Bridgerton’s” Regé-Jean Page) goes on a quest in a magic kingdom. It’s from the writer-directors of the enjoyable Game Night, and the trailer makes it look more fun than the recent Harry Potter spinoffs.
Opens Fri., Mar. 17. Atlanta area theaters.

Fri., Mar. 24

John Wick: Chapter FourKeanu Reeves returns for a fourth outing as the vengeful ex-hitman, once again embroiled in the machinations of the global underworld. The original gritty revenge film has evolved into a baroque crime epic that somehow feels less realistic than Reeves and co-star Laurence Fishburne’s Matrix movies. Head’s up: this one is more than two hours and 45 minutes long.
Fri., Mar. 24. At area theaters.