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Next to a park bench, across from Bob & Edith’s Diner on Columbia Pike, there’s a converted newspaper box with the words “Free Blockbuster,” framed by that nostalgic dark yellow movie ticket stub, spray-painted on the front.

Inside, passersby can find free movies, popcorn and candy to enjoy a movie night at home.

The Free Blockbuster box was set up by Ryan Daley, who split his childhood between Arlington and D.C. The Wakefield High School grad said he saw one in Philadelphia filled with movies for locals to take and leave. He quickly decided to set up two here in Arlington and one in D.C.

Daley chose the spot near Bob and Edith’s for the box because, in his words, “I feel like diners and movies go together.” The box has been there since last Monday, July 19.

“I wanted to do something special for the movie lovers in the area, for the ones who enjoy movies as much as I do,” said Daley, who said he is in the early stages of creating an independent movie company. “I went to several thrift stores and pawn shops in the area and hand-picked over 100 movies, all movies I thought were amazing and worth watching.”

Daley also set up a Free Blockbuster in Prospect Hill Park, near Pentagon City, a place he frequently went as a child and has fond memories of. Another is in Lincoln Park in D.C. for the same reason.

Brian Morrison set up the first Free Blockbuster box in 2019. He says there are now over 50 Free Blockbusters across the U.S. and one in Canada. The Los Angeles local and movie buff says the concept is to “take a dead space and make it into a live space.”

Morrison said he wants today’s families to have the experience of going to pick out a movie in person together, an experience he says he enjoyed in his childhood, and one that is rare in the age of streaming services, after the bankruptcy of Blockbuster.

(Out of the thousands of stores worldwide, only one Blockbuster store remains — a store in Bend, Oregon that was recently the subject of a documentary.)

The inspiration for Free Blockbuster came from a trio of observations and experiences, Morrison says. One source was his friend, a fellow movie buff who couldn’t take her large collection of movies with her on a cross-country move and was struggling to figure out what to do with them. At the same time, he noticed a local newspaper, LA Weekly, was cutting down on their print publication, leaving lots of empty newspaper dispensers around the city unused or filled with trash.

He decided to find a use for the receptacles and create a way for people to get and give movies to their neighbors — following the model of Little Free Library, a nonprofit that helps people set up free libraries across the U.S.

Morrison emphasized that the box is for borrowing movies, not taking them, saying, “we generally hope things make their way back.”

And movies are not the only items one might find in a Free Blockbuster. Some can be found filled with candy and popcorn, and sometimes gaming consoles, VCR players and VHS tapes, said Morrison.

The Free Blockbuster website sells all the supplies one would need to make a Free Blockbuster, including a logo stencil, logo stickers and Free Blockbuster box.

“Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for people to make a Free Blockbuster,” said Morrison.

But Daley decided to use his own supplies to build Arlington’s boxes. He drove around a few different neighborhoods and found some abandoned newspaper stands that he took home to spray-paint.

“I had to laser print the stencil myself,” he said.

Daley dubbed the boxes “Kurt’s Movie Rack,” which he said is an homage to his “favorite human, Kurt Cobain,” the late frontman of ’90s grunge band Nirvana.

Daley has been documenting the creation of his Free Blockbuster boxes and the development of his indie movie company on his Blue Tape Movies Instagram account, which already has more than 10,000 followers.

Hat tip to Chris Slatt

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Clip from The Royal Tenenbaums (via YouTube)

“Moonrise Kingdom,” “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “Rushmore” and other beloved Wes Anderson films will be showing at Westpost Plaza, formerly Pentagon Row, every other week for the rest of the summer.

“Pull up a chair or blanket and join us on the plaza on Wednesday evenings for movie nights,” says an event listing. “Grab a drink (to-go drinks from our restaurants are allowed) and food from one of our restaurants, and enjoy the weird wonderful world of Wes Anderson.”

This is the first outdoor movie series at the plaza, located at 1201 S. Joyce Street. Movies will be shown on Wednesdays starting tomorrow, July 28, and running through Sept. 22.

The schedule is as follows:

  • July 28, 8 p.m.: Moonrise Kingdom
  • Aug. 11, 8 p.m.: The Life Aquatic
  • Aug. 25, 8 p.m.: Rushmore
  • Sept. 8, 7 p.m.: The Royal Tenenbaums
  • Sept. 22, 7 p.m.: Fantastic Mr. Fox

Tickets are free, but attendance will be limited to 125 people per film. Ticket reservations can be made online.

Westpost asks moviegoers to bring a chair or blanket, as seating will not be provided.

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Outdoor movies are returning to Columbia Pike.

The Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization will be screening summer cinema from the Arlington Career Center parking lot starting this Saturday.

The group’s annual movie series, now in its 11th year, was held under the stars until the pandemic struck. Last summer, it decided to offer a drive-in movie theater experience instead, a format that the CPRO will be repeating this year.

Admission requires a donation to the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization and registration in advance. Both can be done through forthcoming links in the neighborhood’s newsletter, which is sent out every Thursday. The event is being funded in part by Amazon and the Washington Forrest Foundation.

Showtime begins at sunset, between 8 and 8:30 p.m. depending on the evening. The movies are rated between G and PG-13 and the lineup ranges from dramas to animated films, and musicals to action flicks:

  • July 3, 8:30 p.m.: La Misma Luna
  • July 10, 8:30 p.m.: The Addams Family
  • July 17, 8:30 p.m.: The Farewell
  • July 24, 8:30 p.m.: Just Mercy
  • July 31, 8:30 p.m.: Hairspray
  • Aug. 7, 8:15 p.m.: Gojira
  • Aug. 17, 8 p.m.: A League of Their Own
  • Aug. 28, 8 p.m.: Raya and the Last Dragon

Each movie will be shown in English with Spanish subtitles.

The Arlington Career Center Parking lot can be accessed by entering on S. Walter Reed Drive, according to the event page. There will be no public bathrooms available at the facility while the film is shown.

Moviegoers can arrive up to one hour early to secure a spot for their vehicles, the event page said. A Kona Ice truck will be making shaved ice treats before the movie.

Photos courtesy of CPRO

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Alamo Drafthouse Cinema is planning to open its Crystal City location about a year from now.

Set to be located at 1660 Crystal Drive, the nine-screen, 50,000-square-foot Alamo Drafthouse National Landing will be near a new CVS, Solidcore, and likely linked to a specialty grocery store (perhaps Amazon Fresh).

Just last week, the Texas-based movie theater chain announced it was emerging from bankruptcy and poised to open a number of new theaters, including two in the D.C-area. The Crystal City location is currently expected to open in May or June 2022, theater representatives confirm to ARLnow.

The other new theater will be in Northeast D.C.’s Edgewood neighborhood. That one is planning a November 2021 opening.

Founded in 1997, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema has nearly 40 locations while marketing itself as a movie-lover’s oasis, complete with craft beers and locally-sourced snacks.

The theater in Crystal City will be operated by a franchisee, Cojeaux Cinemas. The company operates three other Alamo Drafthouse franchises in Virginia as well as the new D.C. location.

Cojeaux Cinemas has had an eye on the Arlington market for the better part of a decade, but jumped at a deal a few years ago amid an opportunity presented itself.

“We signed this deal in 2017 when JBG Smith gained control of Crystal City,” Joseph Edwards, co-owner Cojeaux Cinemas, tells ARLnow. “We had confidence in their vision and their people to transition the market by bringing tenants like us in to rebalance the overall mix of office, residential, retail and entertainment, creating a more modernized urban area that will draw from all the surrounding areas.”

Just last week, JBG Smith released an investor relations video detailing its ambitious plans for National Landing.

JBG Smith has nearly finished its portion of the work on the building that will house the movie theater, and Cojeaux Cinemas will start the interior build-out within the next couple of months, Edwards said. The theaters will all have laser projectors, large recliners with individual tables, and call buttons to request service (“quietly and seamlessly during the show”).

There will also be a themed bar with the exact concept still in development.

As the operator of other Virginia theaters, the last year has been an immense challenge, Cojeaux co-owner Anthony Coco concedes. But they are confident that folks are ready to go back to the movies.

“Having seen some fantastic box office numbers, like we saw last weekend, it is clear that movie goers are ready to get back in cinemas,” writes Coco. “And enjoy the craveable, one of a kind experience that Alamo Drafthouse provides its guests.”

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Rosslyn’s annual outdoor movie series is back after a pandemic hiatus.

As usual, the movies will be held at Gateway Park (1300 Lee Highway) on Friday nights. This year’s abbreviated Rosslyn Cinema series is not a total return to normal, however: registration is required and viewing parties will be distanced from one another.

This year’s movie lineup, which kicks off next Friday with the 2016 musical La La Land and also includes the locally-filmed Wonder Woman 1984, is below.

  • Friday, June 4 – La La Land
  • Friday, June 11 – Monsters Inc.
  • Friday, June 18 – Wonder Woman 1984
  • Friday, June 25 – Cool Runnings

The Rosslyn Business Improvement District is, as before, sponsoring the film series. Registration for the first movie is set to open tomorrow (Wednesday).

More from the BID’s website:

Rosslyn Cinema is back this summer with a full line up of your favorite movies to enjoy outdoors from the lawn in Gateway Park, Fridays in June. Attendees must register in advance of each showing via Eventbrite and check-in will begin at 7:15 p.m., with movies starting at sundown (approximately 8 p.m. in June). Space is limited, and reservations will open the Wednesday before each movie showing, so be sure to sign up for the BID’s newsletter for weekly reminders.

Seating will be sectioned off based on group size to allow for physical distancing between guests, and groups are limited to a maximum of six people. Please register for a spot based on your accurate group size, and include the names of all members of your party. At check-in, you will be assigned a section number and directed toward your seats.

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Feeling a little stir-crazy for the movie experience but not quite ready to return to theaters yet? The National Landing BID is bringing back an outdoor film festival next month.

The BID will show a new movie every Friday at 8 p.m. on a softball field at Virginia Highlands Park (1600 S. Hayes Street) in the Pentagon City area.

“Social distancing circles” will be sprayed onto the field with a four-person limit per circle. Masks will be required outside of those circles.

Tickets are free but registration in advance is required.

The “Movies in the Park” lineup for May is:

Image via Orion Pictures/YouTube

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About two-third of the way through Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf offers Frodo some encouragement as the hobbit despairs that he lives in difficult times.

“So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

It’s a line that might as well be aimed at the staff of Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse (2903 Columbia Pike), who are starting their return to showing films with a Lord of the Rings trilogy screening as part of a tiring struggle to stay afloat amid COVID-19.

“We are hanging in there,” said Tim Clark, owner of the venue. “It’s not pretty, but we’re starting to see people coming back out.”

Events at the drafthouse are still operating at under 30% capacity to allow for social distancing which, if every show is a sell out, is financially is just treading water.

“Right now trying to go through grant process, but it’s not sustainable,” Clark said. “I don’t think many restaurant theater business operations are built to run on 30%. And that’s 30% if we sell out, and we’re not selling out every show. If you take averages and you’re at 20%, it’s really not sustainable.”

Clark said March will be the trial run for starting movies again, noting that the recent rolling back of curfews and restaurant restrictions should help smooth operations at the venue.

“We’re trying to be more creative for movies,” Clark said. “There’s limited content because studios aren’t releasing much.”

The first event will be a Lord of the Rings Trilogy festival on March 7. Tickets are $10 for all day access and the event will feature themed specials. Attendees are also encouraged to dress in costumes — with masks required — and winners of a costume contest will receive prizes.

The movies start at noon with Fellowship of the Ring, then 3:15 p.m. for Two Towers and 6:30 p.m. for Return of the King. The films will be the theatrical cuts rather than the full 11.3 hour extended editions, but Clark said that mostly came down to crunching the times.

Other movies throughout March include:

Clark said comedy acts at Arlington Drafthouse have helped carry the venue through the last few months.

“We’re starting to see a little bit more activity for some of the bigger name comics,” Clark said. “People have been following the rules and we’ve had good audiences. There are people that are excited to get back out and we’re hearing from people who aren’t ready to get back out but are excited to support us.”

Comedy acts coming up over the next month include:

The full calendar of events is available online, and Clark said he’s starting to book events into June. In the meantime, the drafthouse is going to keep applying for grants and hoping for the best with vaccinations and the COVID recovery.

“We’ve applied for an SVOG grant, which is basically for theatrical venues, live entertainment, and they haven’t quite got the application ready yet but we’re headed in that direction,” Clark said. “Hoping that carries us through, but just buying time.”

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Don’t worry, bumble coffee — that concoction of orange juice, caramel and espresso over ice — is still on the menu at the cafe formerly known as This is Fine Coffee in Clarendon.

Kino Coffee has the same menu, but its offerings now include independent movies.

In May, owners Jason Blevins and Anna Tsybko converted a back room of their shop at 2607 Wilson Blvd into a small pop-up cinema. They painted the walls black and installed a large screen for indie films and documentaries.

Blevins and Tsybko opened This is Fine Coffee in January, taking over the space previously occupied for three years by Blümen Cafe.

“Nothing was wrong with [the old name],” Blevins told ARLnow. “There’s a bit of humor with ‘This Is Fine,’ but 2020 killed some of the humor with it. When we started to incorporate a pop-up cinema to the business model, we found it harder to convey that in the name. So, we chose ‘Kino’, which means movie theater in Russian and German and a bunch of languages.”

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the theater can only hold nine people, and tickets will be $8. The first movies will start premiering next month, and the theater has partnered with Magnolia Pictures to showcase new films, including “Stray” in March.

“We just opened seating inside two weeks ago,” Blevins said. “Until then, we actually hadn’t had anyone in the whole entire space longer than it took for them to pick up their coffee and leave.”

Blevins studied film at New York University, and said that old cartoons and silent movies from the Soviet Union will play in the theater on most days.

“We have movies going on in the back room and Eastern European-inspired drinks and pastry options,” he said.

Among Kino’s offerings is one sure to keep you awake during the slow scenes: the Atomic Bumble, an eye-opening mix of ghost pepper, espresso, orange juice and tonic water over ice.

“We just hope that people appreciate a different experience in terms of cinema and supporting independent businesses,” said Blevins.

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After new movie releases came to a grinding halt due to the pandemic, the Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse (2903 Columbia Pike) has pivoted to older movies, alternative events, and a greater reliance on live comedy.

“The movie industry is a big black hole right now,” owner Tim Clark said. “Studios are pushing release dates farther and farther out, and dedicating more resources to direct-to-streaming.”

Since reopening in August, the Drafthouse has shown classic films and cartoons, and brought in live stand-up comedians for groups no larger than 85 people, or 30% of the space’s capacity.

“Movie attendance is down across the board with all theaters,” Clark said. “Comedy has been fairly steady and now we’re trying fun stuff.”

This week, Clark is leaning into spooky season with Halloween-themed events.

This weekend, “Spoons, Toons and Booze,” a Drafthouse special event with free cereal, cartoons and brunch-themed cocktails, will show cartoons from the 1940s to present day that feature creatures who go bump in the night. Tonight, “Witches and Wine” ticket holders get to celebrate Wine Wednesday and watch the cult classic “Hocus Pocus.”

Wednesday night’s event, with half-priced wine, has sold at least 40 tickets, “which is incredible for an old Disney film,” he said. Another cult classic, Beetlejuice, is set for Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

“Witches and Wine” may bring out crowds for the novelty, but most showings of old films are not bringing people out. Half of the films to which Drafthouse has access are available on-demand or on cable, Clark noted. Comedy is now the driving force for filling seats at the Drafthouse.

“I think it’s going to be comedy-driven for a while before movies return,” Clark said.

With Christmas season seemingly coming earlier and earlier each year, Clark is already preparing creative, fun and themed holiday events. He’s hoping for something of a holiday miracle: a return to normality sooner rather than later.

“I’m not sure where we’re going to be in a couple of months as a country, but at this point, with a 30% reduced capacity, it’s not a long term sustainable model,” he said. “It helps a bit, but there’s only so much you can do.”

The schedule for the rest of the year includes weekends of stand-up comedy and a Mongolian film called “Six Feet” about what humans have done in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

More live comedy is already on the schedule for 2021, including “Curb Your Enthusiasm” star Jeff Garlin on March 26 and 27.

Photo via @cinemadraft/Twitter

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Morning Notes

Ballston Movie Theater to Close Again — “Cineworld Group, the owner of Regal Cinemas, will suspend operations at all of its theaters in the United States and the United Kingdom beginning on Thursday. The closures will affect 45,000 employees.” [CNN, Axios]

N. Va. Trending in Right Direction — “The health department’s new pandemic metrics, updated Monday based on data through Saturday, show that the disease is currently at a ‘low burden’ level in Northern Virginia, is trending downward, and has low levels of community transmission. All other region’s of the state either have moderate or high levels of burden of the virus and community transmission.” [InsideNova]

County Joins Eviction Task Force — “Arlington has joined the Northern Virginia Eviction Prevention and Community Stability Task Force, a diverse coalition of stakeholders from the housing sector in Northern Virginia, to identify best practices to prevent evictions and stabilize households.” [Arlington County]

Greens Want Local Bag Tax — “The Arlington Green Party is pushing the Arlington County Board to enact a tax on single-use grocery bags, now that the General Assembly has given localities the permission to do so. Party members on Sept. 2 endorsed the proposal to enact a 5-cent tax on bags, and plan to present a petition to the County Board in November.” [InsideNova]

New Police Dog’s Official Photo — “FRK9 Brooks recently sat for his official department photo and gave the camera his best puppy dog eyes.” [@ArlingtonVaPD/Twitter]

More I-66 Ramp Closures — “Alternating overnight ramp closures are scheduled to occur this week on I-66 East in Arlington for final asphalt paving and striping as part of the I-66 Eastbound Widening Project.” [VDOT]

Flickr pool photo by Tom Mockler

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Morning Notes

Boat Catches Fire Near Gravelly Point — “Update boat fire Gravelly Point. Vessel is well involved. #DCsBravest Fireboats in active attack on burning vessel. The 11 occupants are being transported to Fire/Police pier for evaluation.” [Twitter, Twitter]

Flags at Half Staff in Va., U.S. — “Per an order from @GovernorVA, the Virginia flag is to be lowered to half staff at all federal, state and local government facilities across Virginia in memory of U.S Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Friday. Flags are to remain lowered until burial.” [Twitter, White House]

AMC Shirlington Temporarily Closed — The AMC Shirlington 7 theater appears to have suddenly, temporarily closed over the weekend. AMC’s website shows no planned showtimes at the theater. The reason for the closure was not given. The theater reopened on Aug. 27 at a reduced capacity after closing at the beginning of the pandemic. [Twitter]

Beyer Still Pushing for Rosslyn Boathouse — “The seemingly interminable planning process for a new boathouse facility in Rosslyn already has outlasted one of its champions in Congress, and while U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th) is not planning on departing any time soon, one wonders if it might outlast him, too. Not if Beyer has anything to say about it. ‘It’s moving very slowly, but it will be done,’ Beyer vowed.” [InsideNova]

Local Startup’s Return to Office Normalcy — “Phone2Action’s first step toward that elusive new normalcy appears to be going as planned. That’s the latest word from Jeb Ory, CEO and founder of the advocacy platform, who said those employee volunteers the company selected to be the first workers back into Phone2Action’s headquarters at 1500 Wilson Blvd. seem to adapting well to the workplace changes.” [Washington Business Journal]

County Board Approves New Bonds — From last week: “The Board [voted] to authorize the sale of up to $172.32 million in General Obligation Public Improvement Bonds for new projects and the refunding of existing bonds to lower interest rates and save taxpayer money.” [Arlington County]

Arrest Made in Eden Center Nightclub Homicide — “City of Falls Church Police identified Geovanny Alexander Mejia Castro as the homicide victim in the September 11, 2020 shooting at the Diva Lounge (6763 Wilson Blvd.). Mr. Castro, a security guard at the nightclub, died from multiple gunshot wounds.” [City of Falls Church]

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