Entertainment Corner

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                Life just hasn’t been the same for Harry Potter fans since we learned Harry’s fate, re-read the books, saw all the movies, and signed up for author J.K. Rowling’s website, Pottermore. Yes, we’re excited that the Hogwarts textbook “Fantastical Creatures and Where to Find Them” is being turned into a film, but where’s the suspense? Those fortunate enough to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando revel in immersing oneself in that exciting, yet limited version of Harry’s world. Like us, many left wanting more, including a Hogwarts Express that actually moved. Prepare to be levitated to a whole new level.

                This summer, Universal will open a much larger theme park addition, set along the “London waterfront” that will allow you to enter and experience Diagon Alley and its Florian Fortesque’s Ice Cream Parlor, Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes, Madame Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions, the Leaky Cauldron, Quality Quidditch Supplies, and, if you dare, Borgin & Burkes along Knockturn Alley!

                We will finally be able to travel on the Hogwarts Express, boarding from either the existing Hogsmeade/Hogwarts side, or the new Kings Cross Station in the Diagon Alley section. The attraction’s creators, noting the distance between the two locales in the books, wanted to provide the feeling of traveling it at the park. The new Diagon Alley is therefore located in the Universal Studio section of the theme park. The Hogwarts/Hogsmeade section is located in the Islands of Adventure portion. Handy colorful maps will point the way.

                But wait, there’s more! If you thought that Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s escape from the depths of Gringott’s Bank would make a great thrill ride, now it is! Little has been revealed, giving us back that familiar, beloved Potter suspense. With the rapidly evolving technology employed in such rides today, this will be a corker.

                Information, videos, renderings, and an enticing chat with the Weasley twins, Luna Lovegood, and Neville Longbottom can be seen on www.insidethemagic.net. In one video, Luna marvels at how much Universal’s Hogwarts Express emulates the one she rode in with Harry in the films. We wanted more from Universal, but this is more than we hoped for. That old excitement is back! We’re planning our visit for 2015, giving Universal a year to work out any kinks.

At the Movies

                Prompted by intrepid Red Bank film buff David Prown, I finally discovered the totally unique experience that is The ShowRoom “art house” movie theatre on Cookman Avenue, in Asbury Park. So should you. The small, fully-equipped, clean and comfortable theatre offers both first run as well as independent films, documentaries, Oscar-nominated shorts, and other entertaining events in an atmosphere you won’t find any place else.

                The ShowRoom offers three theatres of different sizes. Previously located in a smaller location across the street, it moved to its current, completely renovated home in 2012. Proprietors Nancy Sabino and Mike Sodano travel to festivals, including Sundance, to find films you won’t see at your local multiplex. That’s where they found “20 Feet from Stardom,” the Oscar-nominated documentary about backup singers that drew me there. This great flick, featuring such legendary warblers as Merry Clayton, Darlene Love, and Patti Austin with commentary by Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, and Chris Botti, among others, is a must for music fans. 

                I watched “20 Feet from Stardom” in a cozy space with eight comfy chairs, end tables, and an ample screen with excellent sound. The other couple there that snowbound night turned around when the lights went up and said, “Isn’t this place great?” I concurred and we happily extolled its virtues. Walk to any one of the nearby quintessentially Asbury restaurants (or the boardwalk in warmer months) and discuss what you’ve seen over drinks and eats to extend the fun.

                The ShowRoom was recently voted Best Independent Movie House in the state by New Jersey Monthly. It can be rented for meetings, parties, or events. For films, times, information, and more, visit www.theshowroomap.com or call (732) 502-0472.

                We recently wrote in this column about other movie theatre evolutions, citing the dine-in theatre at Menlo Park Mall and the electronically reclining lounge chairs at the Luxury Cinemas on Route 18 in East Brunswick. The AMC Loew’s at Monmouth Mall was undergoing a renovation in February to add larger, more comfortable seats.

                Menlo also has a new wrinkle. Portions have been converted into adults-only “cinema suites.” Those wonderful reclining seats have been installed there, as well. Unfortunately, to recline sans kiddies, you pay almost double. Since I was there during a weekday afternoon seeing a film that would not attract kids anyway, I was miffed at having to spend $14.50 instead of the $7.50 my fellow movie-goers were paying next door. Menlo is, however, the only theatre near here with a full, attractive bar with sofa seating in the lobby. Similar theaters are popping up elsewhere, including at the South Street Seaport in New York.

                See you at the movies, when I’m not shopping on Diagon Alley.