The Not-So-Homely Cinema

£7.10 for a single ticket to see a film at the local cinema multiplex now! Wow! With that you do, of course, get half an hour of adverts and film trailers at the beginning. They really must be raking it in – the £7.10 for the ticket, the revenue from all the adverts and also the horrendous price of drinks and snacks. It wouldn’t be so bad if they hadn’t seriously cut back on staff over recent years. When it was originally built it was part of the Virgin Cinemas chain. It was bought out/merged with someone else and became UGC. That’s when the rot set in. Prices have climbed and they are down to skeleton staff now. There was a time when they actually cleaned each screen (meaning the individual theatres, not the projection screens!) between each showing. I’m not sure if they even bother to do it once a day now, it hardly seems like it. Back under Virgin Cinemas management they used to have staff on the door of each screen to check your tickets (and point you to your seat if it was an allocated seating performance). Now they have a barrier across half the lobby – you can’t even get in to the snack shop, the bar or the toilets without showing a ticket. Even the nice little film memorabilia shop has been closed down for some reason. The whole place is a shadow of its former self, yet they have the gaul to push the prices up and up. £7.10?! Two people going to see such a film would find it cheaper to buy the DVD. Then they could also enjoy the extras, in the comfort of their own clean homes and without the good possibility of annoying members of the public to ruin the experience with their talking (or worse). A while ago I made the decision to avoid the cinema as best I could. The place didn’t deserve my custom.

Recently I have returned, though, and with that rant out of the way, time to mention two great films I’ve seen in the past week or so at the public cinema (which, in years to come will be looked back upon in the same way public bath houses are now – the cinema, that is, not the films!) These two films are Casino Royale and Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Both are excellent films, in very different ways. Let’s start, where I did, with the new James Bond film…

casino_royale_teaser.jpgFirst off, despite having the book, I must admit I haven’t read Casino Royale. I had vague intentions of reading it before seeing the film but that never actually happened. In fact I have never actually read any Bond book, even though I have copies of all the Ian Fleming ones. Nonetheless, I think everyone knows how Bond should be, even if they don’t know much about the literary Bond. The films haven’t generally done a very good job of portraying the character – there was a distinct ‘film Bond’. I always liked Dalton’s Bond – he seemed more real, a nasty piece of work under that, in his case, thin veneer. I’d not been overly impressed with the previous couple of Bond films (and I said it at the time, especially after the last one). They were too style over substance, too effects heavy. Invisible car?! Yes, the theory of a car covered with something like LCDs is somewhat (and only just even somewhat) plausible but in practice it just came across as ridiculous. Casino Royale has moved back to a firmer grounding in reality (but still Hollywood reality, of course). The whole thing feels grittier, close enough to real to suspend that disbelief.

Daniel Craig does an outstanding job as a truer Bond. Unlike previous Bond films the character changes over the course of the film – in fact it isn’t really until the final scene that James Bond is really born. Without giving too much away the film starts (in black and white) showing Bond doing the mission that gets him his double-0 status and it even, for the first time I believe, properly incorporates the famous gun barrel sequence into the action. The remainder the the film depicts Bond’s first assignment as 007 and goes on to explain how the character becomes so cold and has such a hate for women. This Bond really is a nasty chap and a hard bast*rd with it, you really wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of him. Just what you would expect from an ex-military man who has been recruited as a cold blooded killer for his country. Nonetheless you can’t help but be fascinated by the character, he has a depth and truth that really highlights how much of a caricature the film Bonds had become. They even hint at his background. Ex-SAS? Probably a bit obvious but you can certainly believe it of this Bond.

The ‘Bond girls’ are also more real this time. Still fantasy characters but not so much that they couldn’t be real this time. Eva Green does a fantastic job as Bond’s companion, Vesper Lynd, and brings a real human element to it. In many ways this film is a character piece for Bond and it is Vesper that really brings that out. This film lives or dies on Eva Green’s performance as much as Daniel Craig’s. That’s another first for the Bond franchise, I think (even including Diana Rigg’s role in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – and this film does have its parallels to that in some ways). It was also good to see the incredibly sexy Christina Cole in a brief role as the Ocean Club receptionist.

The action scenes feel like real stunts this time rather than some of the CGI that marred the last film or two (which one was it that had the blatantly obvious CGI surfing?) The first part of the film fares particularly well, getting most of the action out of the way to make room for the more psychological casino scenes. On first viewing the last 20 minutes or so do seem to drag a little but when you reach the end you realise that had a purpose. I have seen the film twice now (an indication of how much I liked the film, perhaps) and I can say that the second time around it works much better in that regard. The final scene is excellent. On my first viewing an excited woman in the row behind me said quite loudly, as the final scene cut (unexpectedly) into the end credits, “he’s so cool!”, to which several people laughed! Throughout the film the theme from the opening credits can be heard threaded into the incidental music. As the film goes on you start to hear elements of the famous James Bond theme, by Monty Norman, interwoven with that incidental music. It isn’t until that final scene you hear the full Bond theme. It’s very well done, mirroring the journey of the character. That final scene really does end it on a high (and, if the rumours are to be believed, directly leading into the next film for the first time).

You deserve it to yourself to see this film, even if you haven’t previously liked the Bond films. The silliness is gone. The action is still there but this is more than just another action movie. This is a new beginning for the Bond franchise, a wiping clean of the slate. Those things that were bogging the series down are gone. The silly gadgets are gone. The goofy one-liners are gone (though it isn’t completely devoid of humour – “that last hand nearly killed me”). It still seems like Bond, though, and a Bond that feels more authentic to the books – even to someone who hasn’t read them!

borat.jpgNow onto a completely different type of film: Borat. This is what they call a mockumentary – basically it is following a backward Kazakhstani journalist’s journey across America. I’d heard stories of this character, who has previously appeared in Da Ali G Show, but never actually seen him until this film. True to expectations this is a hilariously un-PC cringe inducing film! Basically he goes around, in character, doing and saying things to provoke reactions out of unsuspecting Americans. What could be funnier?! The majority of the film is, apparently, unscripted and using real people rather than actors. There are obvious plot point scenes, usually involving Borat and his producer, that are scripted but their travels across America are freeform enough to incorporate the events as they really unfolded. This isn’t a film for the easily offended. The narrative is deliberately weak, just an excuse to tag together these sketch-like encounters. It works, though. It works brilliantly. It’s hard to say anything about this film without ruining some of the great moments – and it’s chock full of them. You do sometimes wonder what was trimmed out. I also wonder how Sacha Baron Cohen, the man behind the character, manages to keep a straight face – it must be very hard to stay in character sometimes! There are lots of clips of Borat on YouTube – well worth a look!

So, two great films in a row. That’s pretty rare. I’d recommend them both!

One Response to "The Not-So-Homely Cinema"

  1. Ian Mc says:

    Christina Cole coming your way in Doctor Who Series 2, ep.2 “The Shakespeare Code”, I believe.

    Me: Bond… Excellent. Borat… think I’ll wait and catch it on DVD.

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