Saturday, 30 January 2010

Beames on Film

My co-host on the Splendor Cinema podcast, Robert Beames, is a passionate and knowledgeable cinephile who writes his own blog. He has plenty of smart things to say over at Beames on Film. Check it out.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Flick's Flicks - with Jon

I stepped in and hosted Flicks Flicks this month as Felicity is on her honeymoon!

Monday, 25 January 2010

UK Box Office 22-24 Jan

I won't even mention AVATAR. You must be getting bored of seeing it at the top. It's nowhere near hitting the biggest of all time, not even top of the year in terms of box office. But nearly £50 million in six weeks is nothing to dismiss. Great to see A PROPHET in the Top 10 - it's been packed at the Duke of York's.

1- AVATAR (£5,129,944)
2- SHERLOCK HOLMES (£1,631,767)
3- ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS 2 (£1,449,998)
4- UP IN THE AIR (£1,205,881)
5- IT'S COMPLICATED (£1,140,683)
6- TOY STORY 2 (3D)(£909,093)
7- THE BOOK OF ELI (£825,722)
8- DAYBREAKERS (£420,199)
9- BROTHERS (£366,290)
10- A PROPHET (£289,728)

The Shining - Jan Harlan Interview

On Sunday 28th February we'll be screening THE SHINING, on occasion of its 30th Anniversary, and we've invited Executive Producer Jan Harlan to the event. Jan served as Executive Producer on all of Kubrick's films (and Stanley Kubrick's brother in law) from BARRY LYNDON onwards, and since Kurbrick's death, has served as a kind of ambassador for his legacy. He directed the moving and insightful A LIFE IN PICTURES, a fantastic documentary about Stanley Kubrick.

I saw him speak at a special screening of EYES WIDE SHUT at the Barbican a couple of years ago, and he is one of the most interesting people I have ever heard speak publicly. Even if Kubrick films are not your thing (are you mad?) he's good value. That film in particular is one I adore and which received a poor critical reception when released. Like all of his films, it is now slowly being regarded as a latter day masterpiece.

THE SHINING, for my money, is the scariest cinematic experience I have ever had (I saw it first on video as a teenager and then once all alone in a cinema in Times Square late at night) and not because of the traditional horror elements, but because, in typical Kubrick fashion, he extricates the most unsettling elements about King's original story (obsession, abuse, sex, martial alienation) and explores them with his unparalleled cinematic skill.

I asked Jan the now standard Splendor Cinema questionnaire, and he gave me brief but fascinating answers:

What is your favourite cinema in the country?
THE REX in Berkhamsted
What is your first memory of moviegoing?
THE SEAHAWK with Errol Flynn
What is your strangest/exciting/scariest moviegoing experience?
THE WAGES OF FEAR, when I saw it as a teenager
What film project that you have been associated with are you proudest of?
What is one thing that the UK film industry could do to improve success?
FILM APPRECIATION as part of school curriculum - this would give "film" the latest art-form added to architecture, writing, painting, composing etc. the standing it deserves.

I should add, by way of a plug, that there are some tickets left for this event - but not many..

Friday, 22 January 2010

Simply (one of) the Best

The Guardian names us one of Britain's Top 10 Cinemas today.

Just a quick post to plug this great news. Feels good when we get the recognition, even if the piece inaccurately claims that the Electric in Birmingham is the oldest working cinema in the UK. Wrong!

Thursday, 21 January 2010


Nikki Finke's DHD blog picked up the story I posted about a while back, about the proposed UKFC-BFI merger.

It's no surprise that there is an intense power struggle between the two instituions, and the nature of the merger, which at first seemed to be a takeover of the BFI by the UKFC, seems to be tilting towards the BFI. Whatever the outcome, it would be wise for them to fix the problem before a Tory government comes in and slashes both their budgets and forces them to co-exist in a much less thoughtful way.

The UKFC, with its emphasis on production and business, and the BFI, with its cultural remit, are strange bedfellows and it won't be pretty to see them working together. However, it is true that this country (and this industry) doesn't need two government agencies.

No matter what the result is, I sure hope exhibition doesn't get even less help than it currently does (a hard thing to do!).

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Little Trouble in Big China

News emerged yesterday that the 2D prints of AVATAR had been pulled from cinemas in China, in an effort to make some space for Chinese films. China has an upper limit of 20 foreign films per year to protect the homegrown industry. Instantly commentators are speculating that the content of the film is too 'subversive' for Chinese authorities. Can I be the first to say that AVATAR is many things, but subversive it ain't. Many other Hollywood films with similar themes and plots have played in China with no problem and the fact that they are keeping the 3D version (which accounts for 90% of box office) tells me it's economic, not political.

What this highlights for me is the fiercely protective nature of the Chinese government towards its own industry. Other countries such as South Korea, and more famously, France, have measures to protect their own cinemas from being overrun with Hollywood product and its no surprise that these countries have healthy, creative and successful film industries. How much should a country protect itself? What place does protectionism have in the creative industries?

It is tempting, as an arthouse cinema manager, to advocate an upper limit on Hollywood in this country, as it can be a tad frustrating to pop down to your local multiplex (with anything up to 10 or 12 screens) and find two or three films playing, all inevitably aimed at teenagers. Meanwhile, at The Dukes, we often play 6-7 different features on one screen.

The unintended consequence of countries where Hollywood product is outright not available (Iran, Cuba) means that they have been forced to create an indigenous industry which has gone on to worlwide recognition, as well as providing distinct and unique films which bear no relation to the US-made stuff.

If you wanted to go out for dinner and the only restaurants in town were McDonalds and Burger King, you too might start advocating government intervention.

Monday, 18 January 2010

UK Box Office 15-17 Jan

Oh boy. So AVATAR wins the Golden Globe, most likely the Oscar, and is the number one at the box office FIFTH week in a row. Cameron certainly knows how to create global phenomenons eh? More on the awards fever in another post.
BOOK OF ELI doesn't really make the splash it made stateside, and UP IN THE AIR carries a decent £4k average.

1- AVATAR (£5,496,485)
2- SHERLOCK HOLMES (£2,030,332)
3- ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS (£1,537,032)
4- UP IN THE AIR (£1,300,851)
5- IT'S COMPLICATED (£1,300,419)
6- BOOK OF ELI (£1,231,642)
7- DAYBREAKERS (£804,732)
8- THE ROAD (£472,610)
10- ST TRINIAN'S 2 (£282,047)

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Duke of York's: the First 100 years

As most of you know, this year we turn 100 years old. We're the oldest purpose built cinema still operating in the UK, and we're aging well. There are going to be a lot of events, screenings and one big party on the actual birthday (22nd September), the first of which is a screening of PENNY POINTS TO PARADISE on the 17th January at 1.30pm. A film shot in Brighton and starring 'The Goons' (Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan et al), its a fantastic link to our city and the forgotten history of cinema (did you know movies were invented here?).

Also there is a brand new website launching with history, pictures and a place to add your own stories, anecdotes and memories of coming to (or working at) the Dukes. Watch this space as more content is added!

Duke of York's 100th Anniversary Website

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Splendor Cinema Podcast

Our new episode has arrived. Rob & I discuss The Road and first movie-going experiences. You can find this gem (and subscribe) on iTunes or get an RSS feed here:


Happy listening!

Monday, 11 January 2010

UK Box Office 8-10 Jan

No surprises here. AVATAR continues to run amok, taking people's money with no regard for decency or box office records. In any other marketplace, SHERLOCK HOLMES would be considered a huge success (and it is), its just never cracked the top spot. THE ROAD opened to mixed reviews but a really solid £3,947 screen average. It's been huge at the Dukes.

1- AVATAR (£4,741,148)
2- SHERLOCK HOLMES (£2,024,609)
3- ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS II (£1,214,000)
4- IT'S COMPLICATED (£1,099,434)
5- DAYBREAKERS (£1,072,683)
6- THE ROAD (£619,684)
8- NINE (£338,358)
9- ST TRINIAN'S 2 (£293,591)
10- SEX, DRUGS AND ROCK N' ROLL (£173,341)

Saturday, 9 January 2010


We're recording a new podcast next week. In the meantime, here's the link for the RSS feed:


It'll be on itunes by tomorrow as well....

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Kind of Blue

Last night I popped down to the ODEON to see AVATAR. It was completely packed, so my friend and I had to sit right in the corner in the front row. That made the whole 3D experience a little strange.

The film itself is deeply flawed, and better critics have pointed those flaws out elsewhere. What was surprising was the overwhelmingly positive reaction from the crowd, which including spontaneous applause, laughter and sighs and awwws.

Whatever the faults in narrative,(there are plenty) script,(loads) and design(huge problems), somehow this film has tapped into audiences in a real way, beyond what any studio publicity could manafacture. The figures, weeks after release, are a testament to it. I personally think that there is visible excitement about what is clearly an effort from Cameron , and the industry as a whole, to present something that they can't get at home, something different from both your average blockbuster and obviously your average 3D film. Cameron is nothing if not ambitious, and there is a recognition in the audience of that ambition and a desire to witness its execution.

And here is my co-host on the podcast Robert Beames with a typically pitch-perfect review:

There are two ways to treat Avatar as a reviewer and one is probably unfair but difficult to avoid. Avatar is, when looked at objectively, a good blockbuster movie with amazing effects and boasting the most advanced motion capture you have ever seen. It isn’t a “film”, but a “movie” in the true sense of the word. It’s the sort of movie where you get to see a cigar-chomping Sarge-figure strap himself into a mech and fall thousands of feet through the air and land perfectly, gun cocked, as the world explodes in the background bathing him in fire. Amidst the explosions and chases are two dimensional characters spouting cheesy one liners (anyone of which could easily belong in Cameron’s Terminator or Aliens films) and a plot taken directly out of Fern Gulley or Pocahontas. Yet Avatar is as satisfying and enjoyable as anything James Cameron has made. However, it is hard to remain objective about a film heralded by so many as epoch-making. A film which we are told has been in the making for over a decade and which has become the most expensive ever produced. Unfortunately Avatar is simply a polished and highly enjoyable version of what we have seen many times before. Yes, the motion capture is breathtakingly good and the 3D the best yet seen, but it won’t be for my generation what Star Wars was to people in 1977. It is difficult not to view Avatar through a prism of so many outlandish statements about its importance to the art of cinema, and in doing so it is difficult not to come away feeling a little underwhelmed.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

Some readers, tweeters and people at the cinema have asked me lately about the Dukes. I realise that sometimes this blog focuses on the wider picture, and that stuff that goes on down at the cinema might be of interest to y'all (as they say in Texas).

So I thought I'd give you a brief update of what's going on down at the Dukes lately.

For starters, 2009 was a pretty good year for us. We sold about 110,000 tickets, which for a single screen cinema is not only not bad, it's way above average (50,000 for a single screen). We won the Brighton and Hove Business Award for Best Customer Service second year in a row, we raised loads of money for Picturehouse's water charity in Niger, enough cash to save our clock, and some money for a beleaguered little cinema in Central America.

On a more technical note, the transition to digital really came together this year for us, with our ads and trailers arriving in USB pens instead of reels, and about 80% of the films we showed coming off our HD projector. This has changed our work practices significantly, with Jimmy (who's been here 30 years!) remaining our only full time projectionist, and the Duty Managers, including me, filling in the rest of the hours.

Christmas was a real revelation for us as we counter programmed against AVATAR with family friendly, seasonal stuff like IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, WIZARD OF OZ and THE RED SHOES and did great business. Then two smaller but really popular films, NOWHERE BOY and THE WHITE RIBBON (which hadn't played anywhere else in Brighton) opened. So there is room for everyone on this boat.

Our dearest Monica had a baby. She's called Maya and is very cute. Abi and Jonathan were promoted to Duty Managers and a whole new team of Front of House Staff joined, so you've probably seen some new faces behind the counters. I hope they were all smiling!

I'll post more updates and stories as they come along. If there is something about the cinema you are particularly interested in, please let me know.

Monday, 4 January 2010

UK Box Office 1-3 Jan

James Cameron's digital epic AVATAR takes the top spot once again, and its worldwide take is over $800 million. Could this mean that Cameron will take the #1 and #2 spot of highest grossing films ever?
Meanwhile homegrown flick SHERLOCK HOLMES takes decent money and NINE doesn't fare so well.

Here's the top 10:

1- AVATAR (£5,896,826)
2- SHERLOCK HOLMES (£3,435,169)
3- ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS 2 (£2,435,580)
5- NINE (£780,255)
6- ST TRINIANS 2 (£671,480)
7- 3 IDIOTS (£331,166)
8- NOWHERE BOY (£235,782)
9- TWILIGHT: NEW MOON (£214,171)
10- PLANET 51 (£163,542)