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Simulcasts bring TV, theater and more to cinemas 

Gillian Anderson in 'A Streetcar Named Desire'

Photo by Johan Persson

Gillian Anderson in 'A Streetcar Named Desire'

The movie theater: It's not just for movies anymore. With the advent of digital distribution in cinemas, exhibitors have a wide range of options for screening events this fall. Most theaters in the Triangle have switched to digital, and many now host simulcasts—by way of live satellite feeds—of sports, concerts and cultural events, from boxing prizefights to the Metropolitan Opera to one-off screenings for specialty audiences.

For instance, last Monday, Doctor Who fans had their choice of five area theaters in which to see the first episode of the latest BBC series, trading the traditional TV experience for the particular movie experience of being in a theater with like-minded strangers. And in September, at least three local theaters will simulcast A Streetcar Named Desire live from London's Young Vic theater, with Gillian Anderson as Blanche DuBois.

At the multiplex chains, this programming is almost exclusively handled by a company called Fathom Events, which is operated by the nation's three largest cinema chains, AMC, Cinemark and Regal. Fathom is part of a larger operation, National CineMedia, which runs all the advertising in affiliate movie theaters, including those interminable preshow commercial sequences.

Recently, Fathom has branched out into events targeting very specific audiences. In June, theaters nationwide simulcast an event with conservative provocateur Glenn Beck. They also do movies, on occasion.

For a film with sufficiently rabid fans, Fathom will broadcast world premieres from New York, red carpet coverage included. (Before a recent screening of YA sci-fi thriller The Giver, the advertised 15-minute preshow stretched to a torturous 90.)

The multiplexes' prices for simulcast tickets, which you can usually get in advance online, vary. Admission to Streetcar at Raleigh's North Hills Stadium 14 costs $18 online, whereas the upcoming Floyd Mayweather fight runs $25. Not all events are live, either. Some, like the Met operas, are pre-recorded, edited and distributed to theaters on hard drives.

Independent cinemas are getting in on the act, too. Durham's Carolina Theatre hosts two popular simulcast series. The monthly NY Film Critics Series features upcoming movies followed by filmmaker Q&A sessions, and Live from NY's 92nd Street Y features discussions with leading cultural figures.

To keep track of all the ways simulcasts are bringing TV, theater and music to the movies this fall, you can search for upcoming events by area code at fathomevents.com.

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FILM: 10 TO SEE

In movie theaters, fall has almost become an interlude between summer blockbusters and the prestige film season, but there are still plenty of new releases worth watching between now and Thanksgiving. (Note that scheduled release dates are always subject to change by the studios.) —Neil Morris

THE SKELETON TWINS (Sept. 12)—Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader play estranged twins trying to mend their relationship after coinciding life-altering events. Huge positive buzz precedes this comedy-drama, winner of a Sundance screenwriting award for writer-director Craig Johnson.

GONE GIRL (Oct. 3)—Director David Fincher (say no more ...) adapts Gillian Flynn's best-selling crime novel about a husband (Ben Affleck) suspected in the disappearance of his wife (Rosamund Pike). One of the marquee releases of the fall season.

KILL THE MESSENGER (Oct. 10)—This thriller is based on the true story of journalist Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner), who was targeted by a smear campaign after uncovering links between the CIA, Contra rebels in Nicaragua and cocaine importation into California.

FURY (Oct. 17)—An American Sherman tank crew and its war-weary sergeant (Brad Pitt) embark on a mission behind Nazi Germany lines during the final days of World War II. The cast—which also includes Shia LaBeouf, Michael Pena and Jason Isaacs—and some gorgeous cinematography in the trailer have my attention.

BIRDMAN (Oct. 17)—Michael Keaton is already being touted for his performance as a washed-up actor, famous for once playing a superhero, trying to overcome his ego and personal woes in a comeback bid on Broadway. This black comedy is directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu (Amores Perros and Babel) and co-stars Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts and Zach Galifianakis.

ST. VINCENT (Oct. 24)—A child of recently divorced parents forms an unlikely bond with the uncouth war-vet retiree (Bill Murray) living next door. The comedy-drama plot by writer-director Ted Melfi seems benign enough; it's the involvement of Murray—perhaps aiming for a second Oscar nomination—that propels the film onto my list. Also starring Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts and Chris O'Dowd.

NIGHTCRAWLER (Oct. 31)—No relation to the Marvel Comics character. An ambitious upstart (Jake Gyllenhaal) gets caught up in the nocturnal underworld of L.A. freelance crime journalism. Written and directed by Dan Gilroy, this looks like an awards hopeful for Gyllenhaal.

INTERSTELLAR (Nov. 7)Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway headline an all-star cast in this science-fiction drama about explorers who embark on a voyage through a newly discovered wormhole and into the far reaches of space. Seemingly more akin to 2001: A Space Odyssey than Gravity, it's the latest from director Christopher Nolan, and that's enough reason to see it.

FOXCATCHER (Nov. 14)—Bennett Miller won Best Director at Cannes for this true-crime saga based on the story of eccentric millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell) and his complex relationship with Olympic wrestling champion Dave Schultz (Channing Tatum), the brother of Olympic wrestling champion Mark Schultz (Mark Ruffalo).

THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY ­ – PART 1 (Nov. 21)—The revolution has begun; resistance is futile. Like it or not, you know you're going to see it.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Live at the movies"

  • There's more than just movies at the the theaters

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