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Archive for July, 2020

Cinemas are in the process of reopening after four long months.  This is certainly something to celebrate, but as the title of this post suggests, there is another reason to celebrate, this month marks 20 years of my unlimited membership.

Prior to Unlimited I used to buy a 4 or 8 week Mega Pass from Virgin.   Virgin operated two cinemas in the area: The 9-screen located in the Arcadian Centre in Birmingham City Centre (originally opened in 1991 as an MGM cinema, before being purchased by Virgin four years later).  The second was a little further out, but worth the trip.  The 13-screen at Great Park Rubery, was the best cinema I had ever visited at the time with large screens, stadium seating and best of all THX sound throughout.

The Arcadian was closed in the early 2000’s and Rubery sold off to Empire Cinemas a few years later, But I had all but stopped going to both by this time, Virgin had announced the a shiny new venue on Broad Street in the centre of Birmingham.  It never actually operated under the Virgin brand, by the time they opened they had been taken over by the French company UGC. Broad Street

While the name, UGC was a little uninspiring, the was and remains fantastic, and the Unlimited Card was a brilliant idea.  £9.99 a month (as it was at the time) for unlimited movies, what more could you ask?  The price has remained pretty consistent since then going up in line with ticket prices.  You need to see two movies a month to make a saving.  I have averaged two a week, for twenty years.  When you adjust for inflation, and average out matinee and peak prices, it gets complicated, but best guess I have saved £12,000.

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The first film I watched at the new Broad Street cinema back in 2000 was The Perfect Storm.  I was less than impressed.  I remember commenting after that George Clooney had only made a few decent films and would never be a really big star! Shows how much I know!  But I have seen many amazing films since.  My favourite films I have seen at UGC/Cineworld are Mulholland Dr. and Oldboy.  The latter I saw prior to its UK release as part of the Tartan Asian Extreme Festival, then again last year in a  4K Restoration.

While I live with a city with some excellent independent Cinema’s that I also support, may favourite place to watch films remains Cineworld, Broad Street Birmingham.  Now I’m looking forward to another twenty years of Unlimited movies, hopefully without the interruption of another global pandemic!

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I’m not a great collector of ornaments, or memorabilia, but do have two things in my house that could be described as both ornaments, and memorabilia.  Model cars, both gifts from my brother.  One from a movie and one from a TV show: a 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am form Smokey and the Bandit, and a 1969 Dodge Charger R/T from The Dukes of Hazzard.  Both of these cars have become problematic recently, as they both feature the Confederate flag.  I have read reports that Warner Brothers have announced they will stop selling any Dukes of Hazzard merchandise featuring the Confederate Flag*.  At the same time many retailers, including Amazon, and eBay have said they will stop selling items with a Confederate flag.  A quick search on both sites show that General Lee models are still widely available, although now at an inflated price.  General Lee and Bandit One

What does all this mean and why am I talking about it?  Being from the UK, I can look at the flag with some detachment.  A flag is merely a symbol, and as such it on means what we choose let it signify.  To many the Confederate Flag is a sign of an outlaw spirit that the south symbolises for many.  This is why it was so perfect for The Dukes of Hazard, and Smokey and the Bandit.  These were people living outside the law,  but “never meanin’ no harm”.  The authority figures who they were pitted against were either corrupt, or tyrants.  They are after-all from a country whose existence began with a war of independence were it freed itself from it colonial masters.  But this seance of freedom is always overshadowed, and undermined by by those who adopted the flag to suggest that some people are less than them because of their race.  It is impossible to overlook the words of the great filmmaker Spike Lee, who suggested [the flag made him feel] “the same way my Jewish brothers and sisters feel about the swastika”.

In conclusion, I have no problem displaying toy replica’s of cars featuring Confederate Flag, but I would not wave the flag, and would have a problem if I observed anybody doing so.  I would not wear a T’shit showing the it, and would question the reason anybody did at this time!

*Note, The flag in question is variation on the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, that was featured as part of: The second national flag of the Confederate States of America.  The version as seen on the General Lee and adopted by racists and white supremacists was never represented the Confederate States of America as a country, nor in that form was it ever officially recognised as one of Confederate States national flags, the  and its variants, in short it is a Confederate Flag, it is not The Confederate Flag, nor is it the “Stars and Bars”, that is an entirely different flag (that was actually The Confederate Flag for a time!).  However the flag in question has become known as the Confederate Flag, so for simplicity I will call it that for the purposes of this article.

And to give a brief flavour of the movies, I am talking about, below is an article I published on this site when I was more prolific, about ten years ago.

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When I was a kid (from the age of around five) The Dukes of Hazzard was my favourite program on TV. It was therefore no great surprise that when as a family we got our first VCR I gravitated to a certain type of movie.

I don’t know what to call it, a genre or sub genre I guess, I’m not sure if anyone has ever given it a name. Sometimes B movies, others were high grossing blockbusters. Usually featuring bootleggers, truckers and small town sheriffs and nearly always set in America’s southern states. Typically the men (it is a very male genre) are simple talking, rough tough men with rough edges but a heart in the right place. The characters often spent their time just the wrong side of the law or taking the law into their own hands. These films were all made in the 70’s and they belong in the 70’s, there have been attempts to recreate the style many times but they don’t really work in the modern era. Quentin Tarantino has given us a nod at the genre but Strangely Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson has probably come closest with the remake of Walking Tall and Faster, but you have to go back to the original movies of the 70’s to appreciate the genre.

Although it’s a 70’s genre its roots go back before that to films like the Robert Mitchum bootlegger classic Thunder Road (1958). Mainstay of 70’s cinema and the genre, Burt Reynolds stars as Bobby “Gator” McKlusky in White Lightning (1973). Reynolds plays a moonshine runner who is let out of prison to help bring down a corrupt sheriff (Ned Beatty) who was responsible for the death of his younger brother. Cars are an important part of the genre and this movie is no exception. Gator’s vehicle isn’t an exotic sport car but a working class hero, a suitably anonymous muscle car, a souped up Ford Custom 500. From the same year Last American Hero sees a young Jeff Bridges as Elroy Jackson Jr. a character based on real life moonshiner turned NASCAR driver Junior Johnson. Also from ‘73 the original Walking Tall stars Joe Don Baker and is loosely based on the life of Tennessee sheriff Buford Pusser who cleans up his small town at great personal cost. Forget the remake and watch the classic original.

An underrated actor, Jan-Michael Vincent. Is probably best know in the UK for the TV show Airwolf, his first entry on this list is in White Line Fever (1975). Returning home from Vietnam and setting himself up as an independent truck driver that predates Convoy by three years. A lot of the movie is of its time, but the themes of fighting against corruption and oppression are timeless.  I started by talking about The Dukes of Hazzard, Moonrunners (1975) was actually the origin on the TV show: directed by Dukes of Hazzard creator Gy Waldron, the Balladeer (Waylon Jennings) introduces us to cousins, Grady and Bobby Lee Hagg, who run moonshine for their Uncle Jesse. A lot of the elements of the movie were toned down for the family friendly TV show but were reinstated for the (rubbish) 2005 movie. Although fictional Moonrunners was inspired by the life of bootlegger turned stock car racer Jerry Rushing. Rushing was a contemporary of and raced against Junior Johnson mentioned above. The movie is dated but worth a look for fans of the genre. I’m not aware of it ever being released on DVD and the hard to find VHS copies date from the early 80’s but you can find it streaming online with the claim it is now in the public domain.

Burt Reynolds returned in Gator (1976) a sequel to White Lightning, with a similar story to the first movie it is very much a case of more of the same, it is most notable as Reynolds first feature as a director. Continuing the theme of returning Vietnam veterans, Rolling Thunder (1977) is the story of Major Charles Rane (William Devane) a former POW who returns home to a small town in Texas. A brutal revenge drama the movie has more in common with Walking Tall than the other films on the list. It is also one of the best movies from the ever reliable William Devane and an early film role for Tommy Lee Jones.  Possibly the most well known movies of the genre Smokey and the Bandit (1977) was a huge hit and spawned two sequels and countless imitators. A lighter more fun and comic film than the others mentioned, the movie is basically one big car chase from Texas to Georgia. Reynolds may be the star of the movie but Jackie Gleason’s Sheriff Buford T. Justice has all the best lines and steels the movie from under him.

Reynolds was back again in Hooper (1978) reunited with Smokey and the Bandit director Hal Needham and co-star Sally Field. It also featured Jan-Michael Vincent. Although very different to the other movies I have mentioned in story and setting, it has the same spirit of character as many of them so I felt compelled to include it. Reynolds plays a veteran stuntman and Vincent the new up and coming rival. It is as much a story of an end of an era as it is a tribute to movie stuntmen. Very fitting as Reynolds and director Hal Needham both began their careers as stuntmen. Is Convoy (1978) an attempt to cash in on the CB radio craze of the time? Or a protest at the 55 MPH speed limit? Or even an exploration of equality or race? Its probably a combination of all three. Like Hooper above it is also the story of an end of an era, and this is the speciality of director Sam Peckinpah. Kris Kristofferson and Ali MacGraw are perfectly cast, but the real star is Ernest Borgnine.

By the 80’s the genre was dead having become a pastiche of itself with movies like The Cannonball Run. But we still have a whole decade of movies to enjoy and to remind us the 70’s was about more than New Hollywood, Jaws and Star Wars.

 

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