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Posts Tagged ‘Cineworld’

As we wait for cinemas to reopen following England’s second lockdown, I can’t help wondering what their future will be.  Even before we entered the second lockdown in November Cineworld, the UK’s largest and the world’s second largest chain, closed all their venues until further notice.  So what next?  To predict that we may have to look back to the last big change to cinemas.  

In the early days of cinema in the US, the major film studios (Warner Brothers, RKO, Fox, MGM, and Paramount) owned their own theatres that exclusively screened their films.  Films that were produced by writers, directors, technicians, and actors who were under contract to the studios,  They also owned the laboratories, that processed the film and created the prints.  To put is it simply the studios were vertically integrated. 

The Paramount Decree as it became known was an antitrust case correctly titled United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc., 334 U.S. 131 (1948).  The case changed the face of film exacerbation in the US, ripples of its effects can be felt all over the world to this day.  The ruling forced the separation of motion picture production and exhibition companies.  This had the desired effect of increasing the number of both independent productions, and independent cinema’s/movie theatres.  As the Hollywood studio system began to breakdown it clearly did its job, and was responsible for the end of what is known as golden age of cinema.  There was also a more far reaching unexpected result;  independent cinema’s free to choose their own programming started to show more international and independent “art” movies.  This was the first steps towards the weakening of the Motion Picture Production Code, the eventual emergence of New Hollywood.  So why is this important now? The antitrust decrees  had no expiration dates, however, last year The United States Department of Justice Antitrust Division began a review of the “Paramount decrees” and decreed that as of this summer they would enter a “two-year sunset period” followed by the termination of the decrees in 2022.  To quote the great Sam Cooke: “a change gonna come“.

The way we consume movies (and television) at home has changed dramatically in recent years.  Just a few years ago here in the UK, a film would be screened in cinema’s, around six months later it would be made available to rent (and sometimes buy) on video, then a few years later be screened on free to air TV.  The first major change to this came with satellite and cable TV channels who began showing films after the video release but before they made it to free to air TV.  Fast forward through a few changes to cable/satellite TV and we have Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video as well as countless other streaming services.  They started screening movies and TV shows, but before long they were making their own content.  Now Disney has joined the party and will soon be the only place to stream Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, and Disney Content, not to mention the back catalogue of the recently acquired 20th Century-Fox (now know as 20th Century Studios).

Film critic Mark Kermode has long advocated so-called “day-and-date” release, a simultaneous release across multiple platforms.  The concept has been used, mainly by independent films during the disruption caused by Covid 19.  Although the process is likely to reduce film piracy, most cinema chains have resisted the concept fearing it will reduce attendances.  This is most likely true, but given the state of the industry, all bets are off.  Who is most likely to support day-and-date release? Simply the people who own more than one platform.  Will Amazon, Netflix, or Disney move into cinema ownership? Given the money they all have, they are the obvious choices.  What are the consequences of companies like this owning cinema’s?  One notable point, is that there is now a further level of integration with streaming offering a new way method of distribution unimaginable in the Golden Age.  On the flipside, filmmakers are no longer tied to a studio (we can thank Olivia de Havilland for that, but that’s another story).  There are potential advantages.  My biggest problem with Netflix in particular is their reluctance to show films in cinemas.  If they owned the establishments and were pocketing the box-office, it may encourage them to screen films where they belong, on the largest possible screen.  There is another possibility; we are all suffering from platform fatigue!  With an ever increasing number of streaming platforms most of us have to pick and choose which we subscribe to.   Cineworld Unlimited and Odeon Limitless offer unlimited movies for a month subscription.  Is there room for a joint home, and theatrical subscription?  This would certainly be an incentive! 

There are certain to be a few twists and turns before these strange times are over, I just hope there are still plenty of cinemas left when the dust settles.

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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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Last night I attended Cineworld’s secret screening.  I was delighted by the choice of Le Mans 66, not only did it proved to be a really enjoyable film, but also one I was really interested in. This is not a review of the film but does contain some plot details that may be considered SPOILERS. Le mans 66

When I heard about Ford v Ferrari as it was originally billed (and is still called in other territories) I was excited. I had read about Carroll Shelby as a kid, and seen lot about him on TV.  The only driver to win Le Mans in a Aston Martin. A race he drove in against doctors orders knowing he could die at any time from a heart condition.  I’m pleased to report he survived the race, and lived for another 53 years until the age of 89, but that’s another story. He was the man responsible for the legendry AC Cobra, and the Shelby/Cobra versions of The Ford Mustang.  As this story tells, he was also the man behind Ford’s Le Man winning team, and the development of the GT40, the car that beat Ferrari.  A Le Mans Story only rivalled by the epic Bentley v Mercedes battle of 1930.

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The story started really started with Lee Iacocca (who passed away earlier this year aged 94), the man credited with saving Ford. In a bid to make Ford sporty and sexy (he had already been instrumental in the introduction of the Ford Mustang), Iacocca proposed purchasing Ferrari. A company second to none on the track, but nearing bankruptcy.  We will never know if Enzo Ferrari didn’t want his company owned by Americans, or if he always intended to sell to Fiat, and used the Ford deal to push the price up, or as is alluded to in the film it was a disagreement over total control of his racing team.  The film doesn’t dwell on this, it concentrates on what happened next.  The epic battle to beet Ferrari on the track, more on that to come.  When I heard the title was being changed from Ford v Ferrari to Le Mans ’66 I thought it was a mistake, as the original title was stronger, more evocative.  However, having seen the film, it makes sense.  As the film explains in its one (or possibly two) Basil Exposition moments, Ford were not really at war with Ferrari.  Ford were at war with Chevrolet; Ferrari was a battle they got into along the way.  Chevrolet were beating Ford, in the new key younger marketplace with the Chevelle, and were considered a more desirable and exciting brand thanks to the their success on track with the Corvette.

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All good stories, or at least interesting ones, are about people, not things, and this film is about people.  Not Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari, but Ken Miles and Carroll Shelby, played Christian Bale and Matt Damon.  What I didn’t expect was how much the film is about Ken Miles, possibly even more that Carroll  Shelby.  I knew a little of Ken Miles going into the movie, I had read about him, again as a kid, pre Internet, so didn’t know that much.  But what I did know, was like me he was from Sutton Coldfield, Then a small town in Warwickshire, now a suburb of Birmingham, West Midlands. Nobody famous comes from Sutton so I was intrigued. The most notable thing I had read about him was the end of the 1966 Le Mans race, that I won’t spoil for those who don’t know.  There are so many movie “inspired” by real events where you find charters are composites, or creations of the film makers, as far as I can tell, the key characters here are all real.

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The film whips along at great pace making you forget the two and half hour runtime.  It also sticks firmly to the most important rule of cinema, show don’t tell! As mentioned, there is very little exposition or explanation.  One such thing is the actual origin of the car.  There is a moment in the film where a prototype is flow from England with no real explanation.  What actually happened: after the Ferrari deal fell through and before Shelby was onboard, Ford looked for a partner company who could help them.  They turned to the home of motorsport England, initially talking to Formula One teams Lotus (already a partner on other projects) and Cooper, but settling on Lola.  Lola had already built the “The Lola Mk6 GT”.  Three Mk6 GT’s were produced, taking many of the ideas Cooper had introduced to F1, most notably the mid mounted engine, and putting them into a V8 GT car.  One of the three cars actually competed at Le Mans in 1963, but crashed out.  The GT40 was developed in England by an American Ford team.  The car competed in various races in 1964 without success, notably retiring from Le Mans after 14 hours without being in contention.  This is where Carroll Shelby came in, and the origin of the car we see in the film.  At this time, Shelby’s Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupe had just won its class, and finished fourth overall at the 1964 Le Mans.  His car started life out as the AC Ace, a lightweight British sports car, Shelby turned it into the AC Cobra with a stiffer body and a Ford V8, and for endurance racing a GT/Coupe body.  At the time, the road going version, the AC Cobra 427 was probably the fastest production car in the world. To find out what happened next, you will need to watch the film, and/or the excellent 2016 documentary The 24 Hour War.

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As mentioned, this isn’t a review, but I couldn’t end without a few thoughts.  Director James Mangold may not be the biggest household name, but his career highlights are pretty impressive: Cop Land (1997), Girl, Interrupted (1999), 3:10 to Yuma (2007), Logan (2017).  Two of his actors have won Oscars; Reese Witherspoon for Walk the Line, Angelina Jolie for Girl, Interrupted. I mention this as the cast are all fantastic: Christian Bale (Ken Miles), Matt Damon (Carroll Shelby), Caitriona Balfe (Mollie Miles), Jon Bernthal (Lee Iacocca), Tracy Letts (Henry Ford II), Ray McKinnon (Phil Remington), and a special mention for Josh Lucas who does a great job as the films requisite hissable villain Leo Beebe.  Christian Bale even attempts a hint at a Birmingham accent, while Caitriona Balfe as his wife manages a very convincing one.  As mentioned the film is long, but it never feels that way, the story moves along never dwelling on a moment too long.  There are plenty of moments of tension and drama, and just as many of levity and comedy, largely thanks to Bale and Damon.   The film looks and sounds fantastic with extremely well shot and edited racing scenes that are and totally convincing.

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Going back to my earlier point, this is a film about people, but it is also a sports film, a film about fighting the odds.  This is why it works as a film, and not just a motor racing film.  If like me you are a bit of a nerd for motorsport, you will love it, but you don’t need to know the first thing about cars or racing to enjoy it as a film.

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The Hollywood studio system came to an end in the late 40’s because of anti-trust laws. A Supreme Court ruling dictated that film production, distribution and exhibition should be separated thus ending vertical integration. Was it a good or a bad thing? There were merits and drawbacks, we will never know how things would have been different had the laws not been passed. Although on a smaller scale, we are seeing an example of government competition rules interfering with the film industry here in the UK following Cineworld’s purchase of The Picturehouse group.

The Ritzy in Brixton

Last December Cineworld purchased Picturehouse Cinemas for a reported £47.3m. With their largest cinema (The Ritzy in London) having five screens Picture house Cinemas are very different from the multiplexes that dominate the market (and form the basis for Cineworld‘s own branded sites). They also cater to less mainstream tastes with an emphasis on foreign language, independent and cult movies as well as mainstream Hollywood films. Most of their locations are named and include some famous cinemas: The Cameo in Edinburgh, The Ritzy in Brixton, The Belmont in Aberdeen and Phoenix in Oxford (not to be confused with The Phoenix East Finchley). They offer a good balance between independent and chain cinemas.

Arts Picture House Cambridge . Picture by David Johnson .

Unfortunately, The Competition Commission has decided that the group must sell venues in Aberdeen, Bury St Edmunds and Cambridge. They have “reluctantly” agreed to sell The Belmont in Aberdeen, and its Picturehouse cinema in Bury St Edmunds and Cambridge. Concerned local filmgoers have written to Competition Commission and signed a petition (including a reported 14,000 names to save the St Andrew’s Street cinema in Cambridge), explaining that a new operator will change the nature of the cinemas or even worse fail to make a profit jeopardising the future of the venues. Sticking to their guns, the Competition Commission are sticking to their guns and have stated: “The sale of one of the cinemas in Aberdeen, Bury St Edmunds and Cambridge to a competing cinema operator will restore competition in these areas and protect customers’ interests.”

cineworld

If one chain owned all the multiplexes in a town they could dictate what movies are available for people to watch and how much they pay for them. In this instance it would make sense to split them up, but the situation here is very different. The two brands are very different and can happily exist within the same group. Cineworld seem to be a good match for Picturehouse, even in their multiplexes they show a reasonable number of smaller independent and foreign language movies. They also have an “Unlimited Card” allowing customers to see as many films as they like for a monthly fee. This makes it much cheaper for regular cinema goers. On the downside, like so many multiplexes they make most of their money from food and drink, and in some locations close their box-office forcing customers to buy tickets from the concessions stand.

ElectricCinema

I could be overreacting, and a buyer could be found who will make a better job of running The Belmont in Aberdeen, The Abbeygate Picturehouse in Bury St Edmunds and Arts Picturehouse in Cambridge. Before I come across as an apologist for Cineworld, they don’t come out of this scot-free. I am not so naive to think that Cineworld would have spent a millisecond thinking about selling one of its multiplexes instead of one of the arts cinemas. However; it is hard to believe that a company like Cineworld didn’t employ an army of lawyers who warned them this could happen. As I don’t live near a Picturehouse cinema, I have no vested interest in the situation, however as someone who lives in a city containing a great multiplex (with an IMAX screen) and a fantastic independent cinema, I know how fortunate I am as s movie lover.

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