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Posts Tagged ‘Birmingham’

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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Once in a while I go off on a tangent and write about something other than movies. On Saturday , I did something a little different. Looking online for things to do on his planned visit to Birmingham, Jon, a friend from university came across Keyhunter.

In the words of their own website: “Keyhunter is an entertaining puzzle-based live escape game; a new form of entertainment where you must escape from a room you are trapped in by finding hints and clues that point you to the right direction to solve various puzzles. These puzzles are the key to the objective of the game: unlock the safe, get the key, and escape.”Keyhunter

Not knowing exactly what to expect we booked online and headed down on Saturday morning. Located in an unassuming building on the fringe of Birmingham city centre on the aptly named Sherlock street. There is a choice of three games: “The Triads, The Double Crossing and The Red Curse”, we went for the middle difficulty The Double Crossing. After a short briefing we were locked in a room with an 1 hour countdown timer on the wall. The Game involves finding clues to unlock locks. These in turn lead to further clues to open other locks, until eventually you get to a safe containing a key to escape the room. They did give us a two-way radio allowing us to ask for up to three hints. Not wanting to give anything away, I will not say any more about the game.sherlock street

Starting slowly, taking ten minutes and needing to use one of our hints to solve the first puzzle, we quickly got the hang of things and finished the game with just over ten minutes to spare. The organisers recommend between three and six members per game, so we felt pleased with ourselves to complete the game with just two of us.Keyhunter Andy and Jon

Brilliant in its simplicity, amazingly I can’t find anyone else doing anything similar. If you are ever in Birmingham, I would recommend you give it a try. Jon is already planning a return visit with his wife Helen keen to join in too. Find out more on their website HERE.

 

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As a movie fan I am relatively well located. Living just a short drive from the centre of a major UK city, England’s so called second city, Birmingham, I have access to many cinemas including a great independent and a multiplex with an IMAX screen. However I am beginning to feel a little short changed.

For the second time this year a much hyped movie doesn’t appear to be coming anywhere near my city. The first was Upstream Colour (2013) Shane Carruth’s long anticipated follow up to Primer (2004). More recently Blue Is the Warmest Colour (2013), the controversial Palme d’Or winner from this years Cannes Film Festival. Earlier in the year Amour (2012) received a single screening after it had won the Best Foreign Language Oscar. Had it not won, it is unlikely that it would have made it to a multiplex.Upstream Colour

Back to my local multiplex I mentioned above. They have over 80 UK cinemas. Five of them are showing Blue Is the Warmest Colour. All but one of the five are in London. While I accept that we don’t get as many of the smaller movies as they do in the capital, but if they are unable to show a Palme d’Or winner in England’s second city what is the point of modern technology? The modern technology that is supposed to make it easier and cheaper for cinemas to show more films making smaller films more accessible and available.Blue Is the Warmest Colour

Upstream Colour and Blue is the Warmest Colour are set for release on DVD on 30th December and 17th March respectively, I fear these will be my first opportunities to see them. I am also confident they will find their way onto FIlm4 before too long. This however isn’t the point, I don’t just want to watch movies, I want to watch them where they are made to be seen, on a giant screen in a cinema.Nebraska

Before you feel too sorry for me, I do get to see more films than many people and will most likely be going to see Alexander Payne’s Nebraska tomorrow.

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As I sit watching the second episode of Peaky Blinders I can’t help thinking about the fundamental difference between British and American television drama. On first sight British television is the poor relation. While an American show will run for more than twenty episodes to a season more often than not any British program with high production costs will only get six episodes per season. The best examples of this are The Hour (12 over two seasons), Case Histories (9 episodes over 2 seasons) and Luther (14 episodes over 3 seasons). . What they lack in quantity they more than make up for in quality. I am not saying British shows are better than American ones, clearly they are not in comparison to programs like Justified, Mad Men and The Wire. However the restraint and constraint of the short seasons allow the best shows to remain fresh, original and leave the audiences wanting more. This becomes more evident when you look at shows like CSI, The Sopranos and Lost who all started well but lost their way.4482400-high_res-peaky-blinders.jpg

So how is Peaky Blinders shaping up? Whilst not up to the best of British or American drama mentioned above, it is certainly an enjoyable program that is building and unfolding nicely. Cillian Murphy is very good in the lead role despite his inconsistent Birmingham accent but is overshadowed by the excellent Helen McCrery (who depending on your point of view is best know as either Damian Lewis’ or Narcissa Malfoy). The format is as much an urban western as family dram or gangster show.  The production design excellent giving a believable post World War 1 inner city setting. And that is the interest for me, the setting. While the setting for British film and television has diversified and moved away from just London in recent years one location has been mostly overlooked, my home city Birmingham. An industrial city in the heart of England and at the forefront of the industrial revolution, Birmingham built cars and motorcycles are know all over the world, as the music of Birmingham bands but it is a city that has never made a dent in film and television.Peaky Blinders

And that takes us back to the start, when it comes to film and television, England’s second city has an identity crisis and an inferiority complex, just like British television drama. The BBC or ITV (responsible for Downton Abbey) simply can’t compete with AMC, HBO and Fox for budget this doesn’t stop people comparing British show being compared to or described in relation to bigger American shows and thus, Peaky Blinders is the British Boardwalk Empire. There are certainly similarities, but there are also big differences. Set at a similar time in two very different places, they are actually worth watching together.

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