Maybe you’ve seen him sitting there in the dark wearing those silly, thick-rimmed 3-D glasses, or standing in the line at the concession for some salty, butter flavoured popcorn.
A regular fixture at the local cinema, Jason Armstrong has ventured through the dark to find his usual seat on the aisle to watch the latest flick many, many times.
He’s repeated this ritual twice a week for the past two decades, and estimates he has viewed at least 2,300 movies in that time.
He’s sat through remakes both good (Footloose), bad (Planet of the Apes) and ugly (Piranha 3D), warmed up to all seven Harry Potter films, suffered (his words) through Twilight to Breaking Dawn Part 1, and has probably consumed more popcorn than most of us have in a lifetime.
But like most movies, all good things must come to an end. So after 23 years, The Morning Star’s longtime film reviewer is hanging up his pen.
Yes, the Aisle Seat, at least on paper, is closing.
Whether you agreed with him or strongly disagreed (hello, Twihards!), there’s no doubt that Armstrong has been an invaluable source to the readers, and arts editor, of this newspaper.
Armstrong’s decision to leave his longtime Morning Star post comes on his promotion as program director at Vernon radio station Kiss FM, and to spend more time with his family, which includes wife Nicole and children, Christian, 17, Ally, 15, and Hannah, 10.
“I have one kid leaving for college, and I don’t want to spend all my free hours at the theatre, I want to spend it with them,” said Armstrong, as his main reason for retiring his column. “Besides, after 23 years it’s time… I know I’m getting crankier. The movies I see now I would have probably given better reviews to 10 years ago, but I’ve become impatient.”
Armstrong’s penchant for film started when he was a teenager when he started writing reviews for the Vernon Secondary School paper, the VSS Panther, until graduating in 1987.
Armstrong’s interest in radio also started around that time. While in Grade 11, he decided to get into broadcasting and soon after, started taking correspondence courses. He was hired as a weekend announcer at CJIB (now Kiss FM) in 1989, and has worked at the station in various capacities ever since. (On a side note, Armstrong’s recorded voice was also the one people heard when calling the Vernon Towne Theatre’s movie information line back in the late ‘80s.)
In 1988, Armstrong was approached by newspaper publisher Don Kendall about writing a column for the newly-started Morning Star, a two-times weekly community newspaper covering the North Okanagan.
“The column was called After Dark and I was covering the night scene in Vernon, while throwing in the occasional bit about a film I’d seen,” said Armstrong, laughing at the irony as there was basically one nightclub in Vernon at that time.
“I did it for a year, and then said I preferred doing movies rather than just a capsule thing, and (Kendall) went for it.”
The Aisle Seat was born, and the column eventually evolved into two weekly reviews when The Morning Star started publishing three times a week in 1990.
“I used to sit at the back of the theatre on the aisle, so that’s how I got the name,” remembers Armstrong, adding he now likes to sit closer to the front especially at the newly renovated Galaxy Cinemas in Vernon.
Armstrong also remembers his first full film review was the very first Naked Gun, although he can’t remember how many stars he gave it.
“I think I gave it a good review,” he said. “I am often asked what I gave a movie three years ago, and I just can’t remember.”
Ask some readers what Armstrong thought about a film, and they’ll be likely to tell you. His opinion occasionally came with its detractors –– especially from aforementioned Twilight fanatics.
Not a fan of the sparkly skinned vampire love story, Armstrong’s review of the second film in the series, New Moon, evoked a few letters to the editor.
“I tried to mask disdain with humour, and well it didn’t really work out,” he said. “It’s granted that people are passionate about the movies and their favourite actor or film, so they defend them. If I don’t agree, I’m going to get a reaction and everyone is entitled to their opinion… It comes with the territory. I don’t take it personally, but I have had people come up to me in anger and that’s a bit scary.”
Also known for giving his opinion around awards time with his annual Oscar picks, Armstrong is quick to answer when asked about his favourite film.
“Anything by Clint Eastwood. That guy talks directly to me. We often forget about him (as a director) because he was such a great actor. When it comes to the great directors, Scorsese and Spielberg often come up, but if you look at Clint’s films, they are all magnificent. You can tell the actors all love him… I even loved The Bridges of Madison County, which had me as a target in a room full of guys.”
With his very last column appearing in today’s Morning Star (see page A31), Armstrong still intends to go to the movies and will talk about them on his Friday afternoon radio program, also called Aisle Seat, on Kiss FM.
“I love movies and I love talking about them,” he said. “I certainly could have picked a worse way to spend two decades, and I learned a lot over the years.”
Ed note: The Morning Star thanks Jason for all his years of writing about the movies, never missing a deadline, and generally being a great guy to deal with. We wish him well with his future endeavours.