Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Colin Firth and Me

Last night we hosted a Green Party fundraiser screening of IN PRISON MY WHOLE LIFE, a documentary about Mumia Abu-Jamal, the radical journalist on death row accused of the death of a Philadelphia policeman. He's always claimed innocence, and many prominent celebrities and activists have taken up his cause.

Colin and Livia Firth are producers of the film, and were at The Dukes to promote it. They were interviewed by Green Party MEP Caroline Lucas (who is running for MP in the next general election).

The audience for the film was probably about 50% screaming female fans, 15-65, all looking for a chance to talk to Mr Darcy. What they made of the film, who knows. The fact that they showed up to watch this documentary is a testament to the power of celebrity. It's good to see some celebrities using it for good.

Fresh from his Best Actor win at Venice, Colin me and talked Festival faves and Italian politics. Turns out he's a massive Todd Solondz fan, and has deep knowledge of the intricacies of print versus broadcast power of the Italian media. Nice chap.

Monday, 28 September 2009

UK Box Office 25-27 Sep

This weekend the kids from FAME ruled the box office with the remake of the 1980 Alan Parker movie, made safe for the High School Musical generation. Bruce Willis isn't what he used to be in the action genre, opening in third place with SURROGATES, and THE SOLOIST confirms Universal's fears about the proposects of Joe Wright's oft-delayed Oscar bait. THE GODFATHER had a decent screen average of £1,436 given the length and good weather this weekend. Here's the full list:

1- FAME (£2,408,211)
3- SURROGATES (£960,116)
4- DISTRICT 9 (£558,954)
5- THE SOLOIST (£371,097)
6- 500 DAYS OF SUMMER (£335,622)
8- DORIAN GRAY (£233,603)
9- GAMER (£209,255)
10- CREATION (£193,540)

Guardian Mention!

Despite my posts constantly trashing the quality of journalism at The Guardian, we've been mentioned this weekend in their Blog Roll column, alongside some other really cool blogs. We've arrived!

Thursday, 24 September 2009


In the spirit of giving good stuff away, the nice folks at Revolver Entertainment are offering some free DVDs of the film SYNECHDOCHE, NY. You'll remember we played this at the cinema in May, and for a moment it seemed like Kaufman was coming over for a Q&A, and then he cancelled. To show that we hold no grudge, we're hosting a little competition.

Here's the official synposis of this particulary challenging, interesting and clever film: Having written Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Charlie Kaufman's hotly anticipated first outing as director is a singularly inventive affair. As rewarding as it is dazzlingly perplexing, it is the story of theatre director Caden Cotard (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and his drive to produce his masterwork.

The film is being released on 12th October on DVD and Blu-ray.We have three copies of the film to giveaway, on either DVD or Blu-ray, courtesy of Revolver Entertainment. Answer the following question:

- What is Charlie Kaufman's brother in ADAPTATION called?

Email me at with the answer and I'll get back to the lucky winners.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Tweet! Tweet!

Last night I realised we had hit a tipping point in our use of Twitter. Dozens of people who follow us on Twitter (and whom we follow) were in attendance at our screening of CASABLANCA, and the next morning there was a lively online exchange about the evening.

We only signed up to Twitter in January, but have found plenty to talk about with our 1,100-odd followers: films, projection, cake, programming and the quality of the sound. I also use it to point people in the direction of this blog (and will be doing it with this post as well). We try not to sell anything, as we have other channels for that. It's just about talking to our audience in an informal and fun way, and yes, we hope that as a consequence of this chat, you'll come to the cinema more often.

Some of the people we hear and get lots of love from are @nikkib, @LaGirafa, @caracourage,@mockduck; we appreciate the frequent visits from @laurencehill, and sarcastic comments from ex-staff members @dipperr and @rosielikescats. There are hundreds of others out there and the dialogue reminds us that you're thinking about us even when you're not in the building.

So as we turned 99 years old last night, the room was filled with people brought together by a technology only a few years old. The old and new metaphors could write themselves.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Happy Birthday Dukes

On September 22nd, 1910, crowds lined the streets outside a brand new building in Preston Circus, where Dame Violett Menotta, a famed West End actress, was opening a new cinema with an elegant Edwardian frontage on the site of an old brewery.

The Byways of Byron was the very first film to play, and the Dukes one of the earliest purpose-built cinemas in the UK. After 15 years in town halls, churches, penny gaffes and tents, the cinema had grown up, moved out and got its own place. Four years later an usher from the Dukes would fire the opening salvo of World War II in France, and cinema building would come to a halt until 1918.

Still standing, unaltered (apart from the naughty legs) the Duke of York's is the oldest cinema in the UK, and in my humble opinion, the best. Not only is it a architectural beauty, it has bags of atmosphere and a truly eclectic programme. It also serves as a cool venue for all kinds of stuff and seems to attract really cool people as staff and customers.

Tonight, we're celebrating by showing CASABLANCA and using all the money we make to repair our old clock. As they used to say, 'bring her to the Dukes, it's fit for a Duchess'.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Cambridge, Day 5: The Red Shoes

Today I saw Park Circus' restored and remastered digitised version of the classic THE RED SHOES. It was spectacular. The Jack Cardiff-photographed Technicolor just leapt off the screen, and the story, acting and mise-en-scene was not what I expected at all. This is one of those films that has been on my list of must-sees for years, and I just never got 'round to it. It was funny, moving, beautiful, and an invigorating, fast paced rollercoaster of a movie.

I probably won't have time to watch any other films tomorrow or Monday as I'll be working long hours at the cinema. I had a brief chat today with filmmaker Jon Amiel, who was presenting his new film CREATION. Nice guy, I always thought he was American!

Friday, 18 September 2009

Why economics dictates 3D will survive

In Tuesday's Guardian, Cory Doctorow wrote a widely circulated piece about how 3D won't work in the long run. His main argument is that 3D is a cinema-only experience; as he says:
Movies, after all, rely on the aftermarket of satellite, broadcast and cable licenses, of home DVD releases and releases to airline entertainment systems and hotel room video-on-demand services – none of which are in 3D. If the movie couldn't be properly enjoyed in boring old 2D, the economics of filmmaking would collapse. So no filmmaker can afford to make a big-budget movie that is intended as a 3D-only experience, except as a vanity project.

This might be true in 2009, but in the next years a few things are going to happen that will make 3D more than a kids' movies feature: 3D Television, reduced costs of 3D filmaking and finally, respectable filmmakers using 3D for non-mainstream films. Sony have put their muscle behind it. Moore's law dictates that the costs of 3D will diminish.

He also argues that cinema-owners who've shelled out big money to retrofit their auditoriums for 3D projection don't want to tie up their small supply of 3D screens with art-house movies. They especially don't want to do this when there's plenty of competition from giant-budget 3D movies that add in the 3D as an optional adjunct, a marketing gimmick that can be used to draw in a few more punters during the cinematic exhibition window

This is completely untrue - once you have a digital projector, adding 3D capabilities is only an extra £10,000. This is a small investment when you consider the extra cash you can make with 3D product. The real challenge that cinemas face is converting to digital in the first place, but that debate is completely separate from the 3D argument.

Once more, Doctorow:
In 10 years, we'll look back on the current round of 3D films and say, "Remember that 3D gimmick? Whatever happened to that, anyway?

I think it'll be the opposite - when Martin Scorsese wins an Oscar for a 3D film, or the new MAN ON WIRE is in 3D, or the glasses fall out of the equation and we just expect to see things on screen the way we do in real life - in three dimensions - then we'll look back and see 2D the way we see silent cinema or black and white cinematograpy - a relic (a beautiful relic) of the past.

Cambridge Day 4

Today I watched WHITE LIGHTNIN', a violent, lighter-fluid soaked, perverse biopic of tap-dancing white trash legend Jesco White. Imagine WALK THE LINE, now imagine the complete opposite: no redemption, no love story, no Hollywood-tinged clean-up. This is the real deal. Not sure if its suitable for most audiences (lots and lots of violence), and actor Edward Hogg's boyish good looks and perfect teeth don't really fit the character he is playing, but still this is a ballsy, dynamic film.

I made a mistake in my earlier post - I thought today was Saturday an instead of WHITE LIGHTNIN' I thought I'd be watching THE RED SHOES. Oh well. That's tomorrow. Till then.

Picture caption: The Cambridge film poster collection. Oh to have the space.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Cambridge Day 3

Today was the kick off to the Festival and I saw my first film: BIRDWATCHERS. A stunning film, heartbreaking, beautiful and dare I say it, important. We're showing this at the cinema.

There was a champagne reception at the bar, and then a screening of ARMY OF CRIME, which unfortunately I missed. The staff at the Arts Picturehouse are really an enthusiastic and creative bunch, and have made a series of short films with no budget, and are showing them tomorrow night. Check out the trailer here. It's genius.

Tomorrow I am working 4pm till closing time, so I'll be aiming to watch the restored version of THE RED SHOES which is playing as part of a Jack Cardiff retrospective.

If you ever wondered what a 70mm print looks like, check out the pic of the print of EDWARD SCISSORHANDS I found in the Cambridge projection room!

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Cambridge, Day 1&2

I arrived in Cambridge yesterday to work at the Arts Picturehouse for the Cambridge Film Festival, which was set up in 1977 and is run by Tony Jones, a legend in UK exhibtion circles.

I'm here just to support the management team and help out in anyway I can. I also hope to see some films while I am here. The Festival kicks off tomorrow, and today I got a grand tour of the building, including one of the most amazing projection boxes I have ever visited (and one of the few to include 70mm!).

Free Sony Blu-Ray DVDs - closed now!

This blog is normally not where you come to enter competitions, but the prize is pretty good, so I thought I'd let you guys decide. Free stuff is always nice. Specially free movies.

Sony are going all out in trying to promote the new standard format for DVDs, Blu-Ray. They've launched a new website for their catalogue and new releases and they're enhancing all the new BLU-RAY DVDs with what they call MovieIQ, an interactive feature that allows you to gain insight into the movie as you watch it. I often find myself googling or IMDB'ing movies as I watch them at home, and this is like a natural extension of that.

Here's a demo of what it looks like.

If you want to try this out yourself, Sony are giving away a bundle of Blu-ray films including ANGELS AND DEMONS, THE INTERNATIONAL, CADILLAC RECORDS, RACHEL GETTING MARRIED, CASINO ROYALE and THE DA VINCI CODE. Ignore the dodgy Dan Brown titles and you got yourself a nice little collection there.

To win all you have to do is email with the answer to the following question:

- What is the name of the failed (but far superior) videocassette format from the 1980s, which lost the format war to VHS and is now used exclusively amongst professionals?

Good luck!

Sony Blu Ray website: SONY BLU RAY

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Patrick Swayze 1952-2009

You surely have heard that Patrick Swayze died yesterday of the pancreatic cancer he'd been fighting since 2008. Swayze was far past his late 1980s stardom, and although he was the subject of much mockery, I always had a soft spot for him.

One of his earliest roles was in Coppola's excellent teen drama THE OUTSIDERS, where his tough-guy persona was quickly established. Fans of the ridiculous right-wing fantasy RED DAWN will remember him as Jed, leader of the 'resistance'. But his emblematic part was in DIRTY DANCING, where he rode the wave of a cultural phenomenon and became a world-wide sex symbol. Now a cheesy classic, that film was originally a true independent, made with no budget by a minor studio.

My favorite Swayze movie has to be Kathryn Bigelow's POINT BREAK, where he plays a surfer-bank robber- adrenaline junkie. The energy and dynamism he projects is one of those intangible things that have nothing to do with acting chops. Another fine moment came late in his career in DONNIE DARKO, where he played with his own public persona to great effect.

Monday, 14 September 2009

UK Box Office 11-13 Sep

DISTRICT 9 held the number one spot for a second week in a row, proving you don't need a huge budget or big stars to turn a smart script into a hit. DORIAN GRAY opened in third place. SORORITY ROW, JULIE & JULIA and ADVENTURELAND all opened modestly, and Tarantinos' BASTERDS defies critics and a long running time to achieve almost £10 million at the UK box office.

Here's the breakdown:

1 - DISTRICT 9 (£1,183,457)
2 - THE FINAL DESTINATION 3-D (£839,881)
3 - DORIAN GRAY (£587,687)
4 - 500 DAYS OF SUMMER (£580,692)
5 - SORORITY ROW (£543,745)
6 - JULIE & JULIA (£467,522)
8 - ALIENS IN THE ATTIC (£262,874)
9 - FUNNY PEOPLE (£218,209)
10 - ADVENTURELAND (£209,343)

Friday, 11 September 2009

Nicolas Roeg

Last night I attended Jason Wood's book launch at the Riverside Studios, where a brand-new, second edition of his book 100 AMERICAN INDEPENDENT FILMS was being promoted. A fantastic BFI pocket edition, it features 100 great indies and is essential reading for anyone interested in the subject.

Legendary filmmaker Nicolas Roeg (DON'T LOOK NOW, PERFORMANCE, THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, WALKABOUT) was there and when the first film due to screen (SUTURE) was cancelled, I ended up having a few drinks with the director and his lovely wife Harriet.

Turns out Nicolas grew up in Brighton as a child, and has great childhood memories before his parents moved to London. He's a humble, friendly guy whose personality doesn't match the superb, epic catalogue of films he's created. We talked films (he loved INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS) and technology (he loves YouTube) and memories (he shot a film with Joan Collins at the Riverside Studios in the 50s).

If only the screening of THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE had been as memorable. The new Soderbergh is flat - unsexy, boring and a tad pretentious.

It's a rare thing that you get to have a fun, relaxed and informal conversation with someone you admire so much. I've raved about Roeg's films for many years and I think he's due a revival - certainly most of his work is timeless and features some of the most striking cinematography ever committed to film. It's up to the chaps at the BFI to get a retrospective going.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Venice Day 10 - The End

Back in the UK after 10 long days on San Servolo island, and although the quality of the presentations wasn't great, it was a fantastic opportunity to meet and network with 50 other cinemas, plus 20-odd other industry professionals, as well as watch some films at the Mostra. I also made some fantastic new friends. Who knew people who work at cinemas were so nice?

I am completely exhausted, but tomorrow I'll be attending a preview of Soderbergh's THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, where Jason Wood will be launching a new edition of 100 AMERICAN INDEPENDENT MOVIES.

And on Tuesday I'll be heading off to the Cambridge Film Festival, where I'll be working as a manager at the Arts Picturehouse. I'll be blogging about stuff from there all next week.

Sorry I've been out of the loop with regards to most non-Venice related things, but by Monday we'll be back to normal.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Venice, Day 8 & 9

I took the day off yesterday from the CICAE courses and saw five films at the Mostra: Michael Moore's CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY, Claire Denis' WHITE MATERIAL, TOY STORY in 3D, Franco Rossi's classic 1959 MORTI DI UN AMICO and finally Oliver Stone's doc SOUTH OF THE BORDER. I'll run through these briefly:

The morning started at 8.30am with the new Michael Moore doc, which, depending on your opinion on the controversial filmmaker, you will find moving, enraging, funny and completely necessary, or manipulative, crass and simplistic. Moore is the Spielberg of the doc genre: sentimental, populist (and popular), and a master of his craft. I loved it and given the subject matter, I predict it will be another hit after the failure of SICKO outside of the US.

Straight afterwards I saw WHITE MATERIAL, starring Isabelle Huppert as a coffee plantation owner in an unnamed African country in the middle of a civil war. The ingredients for a fantastic film were all there: Denis' superb camerawork, Huppert in another obssesive role, explosive subject matter - but it left me cold. I have a feeling a lot of people will like this.

Me and Bastien (arthouse cinema manager from Belgium) needed some light relief so we went to see TOY STORY in 3D. Director John Lassetter and Festival Director Marco Muller were in attendance. It was by far the best 3D experience I have had - it appeared as though the filmmakers knew, in 1995, that this would eventually be shown in three dimensions.

We killed the two hours till the Stone doc by checking out MORTI DI UN AMICO, a 1959 Italian film (co-written by Pasolini) about two friends in Rome. It was perfect. The classic Italian mix of comedy and melodrama, it was a perfect palate cleanser after Pixar.

Finally, SOUTH OF THE BORDER is the latest in Oliver Stone's series of documentaries (he did COMANDANTE about Castro and PERSONA NON GRATA about Arafat) about enemies of the United States. Basically a series of interviews with leaders of the new leftist governments in Latin America, it's fascinating for someone with an interest in the subject but will have limited theatrical future.

Festival anecdote: as I was waiting to see SOUTH OF THE BORDER, the door to the smaller screening room opened (it was also the exit door for the Sala Grande) and standing in front of me was George Lucas. He said 'excuse me', and I let the bearded Jedi Master through. He's alot shorter than I thought.

Tomorrow is my last day here, and I probably won't have any time to watch any other films. I'll update with some final thoughts tomorrow.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Venice, Day 6 & 7

Unfortunately we got shut out of THE ROAD, so no review there. However last night I saw John Turturro's PROVE PER UNA TRAGEDIA SICILIANA, a documentary about his attempt to make a film in Sicily, the birthplace of his grandparents. It's a very personal movie, beautiful to look at, and I found it very moving. Its commercial prospects are limited however.

Courses continue non-stop and there is just too much information to even summarise here. Suffice to say that although many of the topics and information discussed here is familiar (digital cinema, public funding, cinema networks, etc) the real value is in the interaction between the 50 delegates - the amount of practices, good work and challenges really gives you tons of food for thought.

Tomorrow I am taking the whole day off and will be spending it on the Lido watching: CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY, WHITE MATERIAL and Oliver Stone's Latin American doc SOUTH OF THE BORDER. Reviews to follow.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Venice Day 5

The pink building in the picture is my 'Pallazina' on the island. Not too shabby eh?

Saw my first MOSTRA screening today, Todd Solondz's LIFE DURING WARTIME. After the projectionists sorted out the out-of-synch subtitles and the rowdy crowd settled down, the hilarious film, which is a sort of sequel to HAPPINESS, played to continuous audience laughter. Solondz's style of sunny cinematography, upsetting subject matter and characters displaying complete lack of self-awarness makes for both disturbing and very funny comedy. Great turns by Ciaran Hands, Allison Janney, Ally Sheedy (yes, Ally Sheedy!) and Charlotte Rampling. Although inferior to HAPPINESS, I think it's a true return to form for this great director.

Will be trying to get into THE ROAD(which, like LIFE, features a performance from Omar from THE WIRE!) tonight at 10pm (should be a busy one) so will have review up tomorrow.


Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Venice, Day 3 & 4

Sorry for the lack of updates yesterday, but I barely had a chance to sleep! Things move at an alarming rate here, with classes from 9am till about 6pm, then screenings, and of course networking.

The Economics of Cinema, The Chain of Rights, Classics and Short Films were the subjects we've covered, plus of course all the homework we have to do. Tonight is the opening of the Mostra de Cinema (Film Fest) and I'll be scooting off in a vaporetto to the Lido in a little while to see some films.

It's really fascinating to be in the company of people from 20 od countries who all have your same job. I rarely meet other cinema managers in the UK, let alone across Europe. I'll be coming back loaded with ideas stolen from the best.

Back tomorrow with film reviews!