Latest Posts

Random thoughts about sound and vision.

Odeon And On

The Last Picture Show, part two.

Seems like only a few weeks since a Bournemouth cinema closed down. And that's because it is. Tonight, the former ABC's sister in Westover Road  - the Odeon - brings down the shutters as well.

Unlike the Last Night Of The ABC, however, there will be no grand event to mark its closure. No screening of a film voted by the public, no TV crews, no branded cupcakes. This evening, one Odeon closes down and tomorrow, another rises; a cinematic phoenix without ashes. A state-of-the-art Odeon too, housed in the equally-new BH2 complex. This new Odeon boasts 10 theatres, including an iSense megascreen with a 4K ultra-high definition projection system, 56 channels of Dolby Atmos sound and reclining seats. And as well as the films, there's going to be a smorgasbord of gourmet food offerings to take to your seat as well.

We're not in small-fizzy-drink-and-a-bag-of-popcorn Kansas anymore, Toto.

The old Gaumont One (now Odeon 1)

The old Gaumont One (now Odeon 1)

Which all sounds terrific - a real vote of confidence in Bournemouth's cinema-goers. There is, of course, a tinge of regret at the grand old Odeon's passing. When it opened way back in 1929, it was called the Regent and housed one huge screen. By the time The Beatles played a week-long residency there in 1963, it had changed its name to the Gaumont. In 1969, it was divided into two auditoriums - the Gaumont 1 upstairs, with its gloriously curved Cinerama screen and the mammoth Gaumont 2 downstairs.

The old Gaumont 2, before its demise in 1989.

The old Gaumont 2, before its demise in 1989.

This is where I saw the majority of films back in the late '70s and '80s. You couldn't prebook your seat in those days. For the really big movies - blockbusters like a Star Wars , a James Bond or Alien - you had to start queuing early, joining the line inevitably snaking round the corner and up along the alley that ran beside the building. Join it early and you'd have your pick of the prime viewing locations in the cinema. Arrive too late and you'd either be relegated to the far end of row seats towards the back or - the horror, the horror! - not get in at all. 

In 1986, the Gaumont was re-branded as an Odeon and three years later, the once proud Gaumont 2 screen was diced into four smaller theatres. The large upstairs screen had remained intact but sadly now shows its last frames tonight.

There's been scoffing by some commentators in the local paper about how anyone can get sentimental about a cinema closing. I disagree. As with the ABC, I have great memories of the Gaumont/Odeon and all - well, many - of the films I've seen there. 

Final shot: the Odeon, Westover Road. And fade to black...

Dancin' In The Key Of Life - La La Land review

You can't judge a songbook by its cover.

Take a glance at the poster. Watch the trailer or see the clips on TV. Surely it's all the evidence you need that La La Land is writer/director Damien Chazelle's valentine to the glorious Cinemascope musicals of the 1950s. And it is - clearly, unabashedly, unashamedly. To the film's benefit, however, Chazelle's love for them is not unconditional. 

After a rousing opening number (don't be late taking your seat), we meet the leads. Ryan Gosling is a frustrated jazz pianist. He's either playing standards to an unappreciative bar audience or slumming it in an '80s covers wedding band. Emma Stone works in a film studio cafe, dishing out the coffee and cookies whilst dreaming of starring in her own, one-woman show.   Boy meet-cutes girl and lo and behold, love is in the air. Gosling and Stone then dance and sing their way, in dizzyingly long takes, through L.A.'s most Kodak moment worthy locations, 

Credit: Dale Robinette

Credit: Dale Robinette

La La Land is a rarity - a film musical, with original songs, that hasn't come from Broadway and isn't animated. A musical stands (or falls) on his songs. Fortunately, Justin Hurwitz has composed a soundtrack packed with memorable tunes, the kind that you'll be humming all the way home. And then all the way back to the cinema for your second (or third or fourth) viewing.

What ultimately makes La La Land work so well is that, for each Technicolor fantasy moment (a hillside duet here, a gravity-defying waltz through the stars there), there's a sobering measure of back-down-to-earth reality. Two shots of happy, one shot of sad. It's most clear when late on in the film, Gosling and Stone come across a fork in the yellow brick road of their careers. The route that they choose is not one that would have been taken by the musicals of the '50s. It's this blending of sky's-the-limit fantasy and modern-day reality that makes La La Land such an irresistible movie. Chazelle doesn't shy away from real life - the joy and pain of being in a relationship and how that special person in your life can either raise your craft or hold back your ambitions.   

Truly wonderful, La La Land is a rush of sunshine, perfect for this wintry time of year.

Credit: Dale Robinette

Credit: Dale Robinette

Disorganized Crime: Live By Night review

This is not a hatchet job on Ben Affleck.

For the record, I think he's a decent actor. He was particularly good in Changing Lanes, Hollywoodland and Gone Girl. I liked all three of the films he directed before this one - Gone Baby GoneThe TownArgo. Solid, respectable efforts.  And let's not forget that he's won Oscars for direction and scriptwriting.

The guy's got talent.

However, little of this talent is on show in his latest,  Live By Night. To be blunt, Live By Night is a mess. A good-looking mess, sure, (it's handsomely photographed by Robert Richardson) but as a whole, this is a shockingly sub-par effort by Mr Affleck, who not only directs but wrote the adapted screenplay and takes the central role. 

Ben Affleck as Joe Coughlin in Live By Night.

Ben Affleck as Joe Coughlin in Live By Night.

Night is an adaptation of the book by Dennis Lehane, who also wrote Gone Baby Gone. It starts off in Prohibition era Boston, with Ben's bad boy character having to relocate at short notice. He's in debt to one of the local gangster bosses and so is encouraged to go sort out some problems down in Florida .Once down there. Affleck's character starts butting heads with the Florida branch of the Ku Klux Klan, whilst his plans to build a sprawling casino are dangerously undermined by the local church.

Live By Night isn't a lively movie. Affleck sleepwalks through it, dressed to the nines but mumbling his lines. It's a sign of a bad film when the lead character is the most uninteresting one in the cast. The script (also by Affleck) is similarly dozy, with his narration clearly an attempt to paper over the cracks in the plot. There is a horrible, horrible plot contrivance in the third act - a bullshit coincidence that may well be in the book but one that Academy Award screenwriter and director Ben Affleck should have yanked out at first sight. 

This is a beautifully photographed facade of a gangster film, with no grit or guts under its glossy surface. It's a stumble for Affleck but the quality of his earlier films is surely enough to not write him off just yet.

Back To The Past and Back To The Future

Last night, the curtains closed for a final time at Bournemouth's ABC Cinema.

The cinema group it once belonged to had disappeared years ago, merged into the massive Odeon chain. Bournemouth's ABC had managed to keep its name to avoid confusion with the Odeon cinema up the road. However, with a brand new Odeon complex opening shortly nearby, time had been called on the ABC.

The ABC Cinema has been a part of my movie-going life for as long as I can remember. It boasted three screens - Screen 3 seated 170 people, Screen 2 could entertain 264. Then there was the jewel in the crown - Screen 1, a vast auditorium that could accommodate a capacity audience of 634. Every film performance was an event. As the lights began to dim, the ceiling-to-floor, crimson velvet curtains would dramatically part, revealing the mammoth curved screen. 

I loved Screen 1. It was on that magnificent silver screen that for the first time, I saw many of my favourite films - Raiders Of The Lost Ark, The Shining, Blade Runner, Heat. I reviewed films for local radio back in the late '80s and '90s. Press shows would happen a week or two before a film's general release, when a handful of us critics would be treated to late-night exclusive showings after the cinema emptied. 

During the summer of 1989, there was a wild first public showing at midnight of Batman in Screen 1. Some of the audience were dressed up as the Caped Crusader, others as The Joker - chasing each other up and down the steps of the cinema. There was polite applause through the opening credits but when a simple caption came up onscreen - GOTHAM CITY - the place erupted into cheers. It was more rock show than film show.

I was fortunate enough to attend a couple of 70mm presentations at the ABC. There was an industry-only screening of Far And Away in '92 and a few years later, a showing of Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet - both presented with breathtaking clarity in the high resolution film standard of 70mm.

Last night wasn't to be a wake but a celebration of 70 years of the ABC Cinema . Glasses of champagne were handed out, bags of popcorn left on every seat and a huge cake in the foyer, made in the shape of the ABC logo. Before the film, there was a compilation of vintage ABC idents and trailers. As the curtains closed and then opened again for the main feature, there was spontaneous applause. 

The last film to be projected in Screen 1 was chosen by the public. From the varied short list (which, amongst others, included Top Gun, The Wizard Of Oz and Some Like It Hot) I voted for Lawrence Of Arabia. It would have been terrific to see this classic widescreen epic up on the big screen - a fitting last film for such an auditorium. However, when the votes were counted up, Back To The Future emerged as the winner. Not a bad choice at all. It could have been worse - one of the other candidates on the list was Mamma Mia!

After the credits rolled, a bespoke caption - "19th June 1937 - 5th January 2017" - faded up on the screen and then faded away. And that was it. The projector would be powered down, the popcorn swept up, the lights switched off and the doors locked for a final time.

I've had many good times seeing films at the ABC. It's the end of an era but - Great Scott!! -  I still have the memories. 

Coming Attractions

It's a New Year, so ahead stretches another 12 months of choices for us down the local multiplex. We'll know for sure on December 31st how the cinematic year actually panned out in terms of quality but at this point in time, it's blissfully unknown.

Here then are some of the movies I'm eagerly anticipating this year...

Let's start with a film I was looking forward to and have now seen. A Monster Calls is a fine way to begin 2017 - an emotionally tough but hugely satisfying telling of Patrick Ness' award-winning book. Lewis MacDougall is superb as the young boy having to come to terms with his mother's terminal illness. Liam Neeson provides the voice of the giant tree man that helps MacDougall in his quest. It's remarkable how little sentimentality there is in A Monster Calls and equally how much truth. Strongly recommended.

There's more to look forward to in January. The first quarter of a New Year is traditionally when the big Oscar contenders get a general release and 2017 is no exception. Silence, Manchester By The Sea and Fences are in the frame but the early consensus for a Best Picture Oscar is Damien Chazelle's La La Land. Paying homage to the Hollywood musicals of yesterday, La La Land looks like a gamble that's paid off.

I never expected they'd be a sequel to Trainspotting. The falling out between Danny Boyle and Ewan McGregor over The Beach had surely closed the door on that possibility. But here we are - 20 years on from the original and director, writers and cast have reunited. If it's half as good as the trailer (which beautifully transitions from nostalgia for the original to the present) T2: Trainspotting will be something very special indeed.

Do we need another King Kong film? The 1933 original is a classic and the Peter Jackson '05 reboot wasn't too bad. However, the trailer for Kong:Skull Island puts a strong case why the big ol' ape should be revisited. 1970s setting, killer cast (Sam Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson) and a whole lotta Apocalypse Now-style imagery. 

And again - do we need another Alien film? More specifically, after the so-so Prometheus, do we need another Ridley Scott-directed Alien film? We'll know for sure in May but the trailer promises an increased number of buckets of blood and the reappearance of the xenomorph.

Staying with Mr Scott - it's been 35 years since his seminal classic Blade Runner. Ridley isn't back to direct the sequel but it's in safe hands - Denis (Prisoners, Sicario, Arrival) Villeneuve directs Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford. October can't come round quickly enough.

Director Ben Wheatley is rapidly building an impressive body of work - most recently with A Field In England and last year's High-Rise. He's assembled a great cast for Free Fire, a heist-gone-wrong thriller set in the '70s. It opens in the UK in March.

A new film by Christopher Nolan is always something to look forward to. Dunkirk - his project for summer of 2017 - doesn't buck the trend. A recreation on a huge scale of World War Two's Operation Dynamo, Dunkirk has Nolan regulars Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy leading an impressive cast, including Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance. And also Harry Styles from One Direction...

Finally, there are three new releases from Marvel Films in 2017 - Spider-Man:Homecoming (July), Thor: Ragnarok (October) and arguably the most anticipated, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2, opening in April. The original Guardians exceeded both critical and commercial expectations. Will the sequel coast on goodwill from the first movie or step up to the challenge of producing a different kind of sequel? The teaser trailer indicates that director/writer James Gunn is on the right track. 

My Top 10 Films of 2016

These are my ten favourite films from this year - in reverse order, naturally.

Full disclosure - I saw one film late in 2015 that could have snuck into this list. And if not at the top, then pretty damn close. That film is THE REVENANT, which I raved about here. But I'm a man of my word, so I'm considering it a 2015 watch (sorry, Leo).

Anyway. Let's go to the movies...

10. Deadpool

The surprise hit of the year, DEADPOOL showed that films skewed towards adults can produce blockbuster returns. Kudos to Ryan Reynolds for virtually wiping out the memory of the lame version 1.0 of the character in X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE.

9. The Jungle Book

I went into this film not wanting too like it - the '67 animated classic was a staple part of my childhood. Fortunately, the 2016 version is an immersive marvel, with astonishing visuals and CG characters you genuinely cared about. 

8. De Palma

My favourite documentary of 2016. Veteran suspense movie director Brian De Palma (CARRIE, DRESSED TO KILL, THE INCREDIBLES) candidly talks about his back catalogue and both his successes and failures. Even at two hours, this film was not long enough.

7. The Witch

Supernatural goings-on in 17th century New England. Buckets of atmosphere. Gripping, suspenseful, eerie. The horror film of the year.

6. A Hologram For The King

I'm definitely in the minority for sticking up for this one, as it was thoroughly trashed in reviews. A great fish-out-of-water tale, with Tom Hanks as the stranger in a strange land (Saudi Arabia). The score by Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer was one of my favourite soundtracks of the year.

5. The Nice Guys

Director/co-writer Shane Black's violent, witty detective story, set in the Los Angeles in the groovy Seventies. Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling are the comedy double-act of the year. Who'd have guessed?

4. Sing Street

SING STREET could be lazily (but somewhat accurately) be summed up as THE COMMITMENTS meet GREGORY'S GIRL. It's much more than that, with an acute eye for '80s details and a charming soundtrack.

3. Eye In The Sky

Trimmed to the bone, EYE IN THE SKY doesn't waste one of its 102 minutes. Set in the topical world of military drone surveillance, the tension is often ratcheted up to unbelievable levels.  A film mainly about people looking at screens and talking about what is on those screens should have been deadly dull. EYE IN THE SKY is far from that.

2. Arrival

With this, PRISONERS and SICARIO, Denis Villeneuve has become the director to watch. He makes intelligent, thoughtful films for adults - rare these days in a film industry relentlessly targeting the 12 certificate. It's a mouth-watering prospect that Villeneuve's next project is the Blade Runner sequel, due in late 2017.

1. Hell Or High Water

On one level, it's a thrilling heist movie. On another, it's a damning indictment of how big banks are ruthlessly treating the little people of middle America. However you view it, HELL OR HIGH WATER is engrossing from start to finish.  The witty, razor-sharp dialogue (by Taylor Sheridan, who penned SICARIO) is handsomely delivered by an excellent cast, headed by Jeff Bridges. My film of the year.

Next time, I'll be touching on the films I'm most looking forward to in 2017.