Priced Out of Indie Cinemas

Picturehouse Central

The Cineworld in London’s Trocadero near Leicester Square was a grim place; mice scuttled across the floor and every surface was sticky. When the lights went down and a film started to play it was a sweet release to be lost in a fictional world but when the final credits rolled the horror of the surroundings dragged you back to reality with a bump. A sticky, slightly squelchy, bump. Thankfully the dark days of the Trocadero Cineworld are behind us and the era of Picturehouse Central is here.

 

Picturehouse Central is a beautiful temple to cinema with exposed brickwork, a grand staircase, and an inefficient but effective use of light-bulbs. While the Cineworld was an ugly duckling the site has now grown into a gorgeous Picturehouse swan. What films do they show you ask? Why only the finest selection of mainstream and art house films of course! (And Ted 2.) So why did I go to book tickets last week and balk at the idea?

£18 a ticket is why.

This combined with a £1.50 booking fee makes the new Picturehouse Cinema more expensive (for a standard adult ticket) than going to the country’s biggest screen at the BFI IMAX. Admittedly a closer look at the ticket prices does reveal discounts for Picturehouse members and £8 tickets until 2016 for a select group of screenings including Picturehouse DOCS, Discover Tuesdays, Vintage Sundays and Culture Shock. Sadly no sign of the £7 tickets on a Monday as mentioned when the cinema first opened last month.

The independent cinema chains (an oxymoron surely?) do tend to be a bit pricier but even the Curzon Soho, just up the road from the Trocadero, only charges £14 and the truly independent, and truly spectacular, Price Charles Cinema clocks in at £11 at peak times.

I love films and I love Picturehouses, Greenwich and Hackney Picturehouses have been graced with my presence on multiple occasions, but I struggle to justify spending more than £15 on a single cinema ticket. Call me cheap or call me sane but prices this high will simply make most screenings at an otherwise fantastic cinema inaccessible to those below a certain salary band. My main point is that I really, really want to go to Picturehouse Central. I want to eat organic snacks in tastefully upholstered seating but don’t have enough disposable income to do so.

To put the £18 ticket fee in context, and to find a more affordable place to spend time in the dark, I have taken a look at all the cinemas you can find in central London to see how much they charge. I’ve even put them all on a map for you. Clicking on each cinema on the map shows the price of a single adult ticket for a Thursday evening 2D screening with no concessions or membership deals taken into account. Booking fees are shown in brackets where available.

If you are looking for a mainstream movie your best bet is to visit one of the not too sticky smaller Odeons and for smaller films the Prince Charles Cinema is always worth a look. When you’re feeling a bit more flush then maybe you’ll want to give Picturehouse Central a try. Take me with you when you go, I’ll buy dinner if you get the tickets.

For updates on events, offers, and openings in and around London sign up to The Slice from Metro.

Still the Water – LFF Review

Still the Water

On the subtropical Japanese island of Amami two young teenagers find themselves struggling to deal with their parents while awkwardly taking their first romantic steps together. Kyôko (Jun Yoshinaga) lives with her parents in a house shaded by a 400-year-old banyan tree. Her mother, a shaman, is sick and dying and all Kyôko and her father can do is try to make her comfortable and savour the time they have left together. Kyôko’s friend Kaito (Nijiro Murakami) has moved to the island with his mother. They have left a city life in Tokyo and Kaito’s tattooist father behind. As Kyôko must come to terms with losing her mother while surrounded by a large extended family, Kaito is forced to adjust to life with just his mother on an island cut off from civilisation and his heritage. Through sadness, anger, heartbreak, and companionship Kyôko and Kaito are bonded together and a sweet teenage romance blossoms.

Spread out over two hours Still the Water is not a film of thrilling action and explosive stunts but one of quiet emotions and the slow development of characters and relationships. Rather than follow the traditional three act structure made up of scenes that service a simple plot and drive towards its conclusion Still the Water instead takes on a more fluid pace. Scenes flow from one to the next in slow, lyrical fashion with mood and tone more important than exposition and function.

Still the Water 2

Kyôko’s journey through the film is one tinged with sadness. Much as the impending death of her mother casts its shadow over events she remains a positive presence and could never be said to have wallowed. Moments featuring Kyôko and her parents just sitting around their house and talking are tender in their simplicity. These authentic moments of a family enjoying each other’s company, teasing and joking with one another, are what make the film sing. Kyôko’s story is so painfully sad because the audience believes in her family and the love they share. There is an innocence to be found in the story of a young girl and her sick mother, a fable told through numerous Studio Ghibli films, and upon losing her mother this girl finds her strength within the sadness.

Kaito’s story is just as painful for him but tinged more with anger than sorrow. Wrenched away from his previous life in the bustling metropolis of Tokyo and struggling to deal with the separation of his parents Kaito turns his mother into his own personal antagonist. Kaito’s pain is at once completely understandable and totally unreasonable. His upset comes not from a logical place but from a deep instinctive sense of betrayal. Despite both having trouble in their families when Kaito and Kyôko are together they retreat into childish playfulness and happiness. Theirs is such a tender, tentative romance. One that flashes into maturity when emotions and events come to a head and Kyôko shows her strength by putting aside personal grief to try to control her young love’s rage.

If what I have said so far sounds like waffle then it is only because Still the Water is so hard to justify using words. This is a film that expresses itself best through stunning visuals, quiet moments of contemplation, and a gentle rocking pace. Writer & director Naomi Kawase has created a film that feels truly organic. A natural phenomenon that talks of the loss of innocence and subtle power that love can bring.

A quiet film about love, life, and death Still the Water will make you smile through your tears.

Still the Water is on limited release in the UK now..

BFI LFF 2014

52 Tuesdays – Trailer & Poster

52 Tuesdays

I’m not a huge fan of posting trailers but I will make an exception for a film that really got me in the gut.

52 Tuesdays comes from debut director Sophie Hyde and follows one year in the life of Billie (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) as her mother (Del Herbert-Jane) transitions from woman to man. The film was shot one day every week for a year and as a result brims with authenticity.

A full review will come nearer the release on 7th August but for now let me just say that it is a beautiful and tender film that tackles issues of gender, identity, and growing up and handles potentially heavy issues with a lightness of touch. You can tell it’s going to be five stars already can’t you?

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – DVD Review

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell
The Series
Sitting on my bookshelf is a book I bought for my mum, borrowed from her, started and never finished. That book is Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell; the adaptation of which just finished a seven week run on the BBC. Having enjoyed what little I managed to read all those years ago I decided to give the TV series a try. I loved it from the start.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is set in an alternative version of 19th-century England in which magic is real but has not been practiced for hundreds of years. Instead magical societies are made up of theoretical magicians who are no more likely to produce a spell than an astronomer is to produce a star. Enter Mr Norrell (Eddie Marsan) a quiet and studious man who has slowly amassed a great library of books on magic. Norrell wagers with his local magical society that if he can perform a feat of magic they must disband and never be allowed to call themselves magicians again. Sure enough magic is restored to England with Norrell the sole practitioner.

Meanwhile Jonathan Strange (Bertie Carvel), a wealthy man with no vocation, is approached by a mad man and told that he is a magician. Strange takes his cue and pursues magic and before too long the two magicians are in London trying to work together. Norrell favours a modern scholarly approach to magic whilst Strange possesses a more natural talent and seeks to access the older magic of the Raven King; a mythical figure who seemingly brought magic to the country before turning against it. Throw in the Napoleonic war, making deals with mystical creatures to raise people from the dead, and the polite sparring of two English gentleman and you have yourself a series.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is great. Need I say more? The series is funny, dark, and fantastical. Considering it has to combine both period elements and supernatural special effects the show does a wonderful job of realising both. With BBC productions I come to expect a certain level of ropiness when it comes to special effects but Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell somehow executes everything flawlessly. There is a real cinematic quality to the visuals that takes the show above and beyond expectations. It is all the easier to succumb to a show when you aren’t constantly pointing out where the green screen was used.

Great visuals are all well and good but without a strong cast they are worthless. Luckily the acting is just as good. Carvel gives a wonderful performance as he takes Strange from a layabout to a passionate magician and finally presents him as a man possessed. Marsan as Norrell gives a subtle and relatable performance as a man slowly corrupted by his desire to do good. I want to single out other members of the cast but once I started it got a bit out of control. Suffice it to say that there is no weak link amongst them.

In adapting Susanna Clarke’s original novel Peter Harness has successfully wrangled a hefty book into a stripped down narrative. The resulting series is both terrifying and funny, moving and fantastical. I wish the BBC made more of this quality, and less like The Casual Vacancy. I also wish that more people had seen Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell when it aired as it is a real treat.

If only they could get it on DVD instead…

I think I might finish that book now.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell 2
The Extras
The series is accompanied by a decent set of extras. There is sadly no nerdily in-depth behind the scenes documentary but there is a good package of mostly talking heads from the cast and crew. Surprisingly enough there is a bloopers reel which was OK and a few deleted scenes which were much more interesting. For anyone marvelling at the visuals like me the most intriguing extra will be the breakdowns of special effects from the first two episodes. The extras might not be worth investing in the DVD for but the quality and entertainment value of the series more than makes up for it.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is out now on DVD, Blu-ray, and… book. It is well worth your time and money.

Shorts on Tap – Life Thru a Lens

Shorts on Tap

You might remember that sometime towards the end of 2013 I attended and acted as a judge at a short film evening hosted by Shorts on Tap. They are hosting another evening of short films (as they do every month) tomorrow in East London.

Why should you care? Because it is always a great night of watching short films from new talent with optional mingling for those of a social nature.

Why should you care this month in particular? Shorts of Tap have teamed up with London Documentary Network to show 7 short documentary films. AND they are supporting HOPE International Development Agency (UK) who I tried to organise some fundraising screenings for earlier in the month.

If you are free tomorrow (30th June) and can get to Cafe 1001 on Brick Lane by 7pm then please do come along. Entry is just £5 so you will have plenty of money left over to donate to HOPE.

To whet your appetite watch the trailer for one of the shorts, Planet Gong, below. I have seen the full documentary before and can heartily recommend watching.

Planet Gong Documentary Trailer from Ian Habgood on Vimeo.