Tag Archives: Ritzy

Opposites attract: a spoiler-free comment on Avengers: Age of Ultron

24 Apr

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“Just one ticket?” I could hear the surprise in her voice. Seeing that I had heard it, she looked embarrassed. But I got that the ticket girl wasn’t saying “you sad man, seeing a film on your own” – if Ritzy staff can’t understand the joys of solo film appreciation, who can? – but rather, “you don’t have a child in tow? I mean, you do know this is a superhero movie?”

Lady, I was inhaling this superhero shit before yo’ mamma was born.

I’m sure I was more excited than the kids in the row behind me. At least, I didn’t see them bouncing in their seat the moment the Marvel logo came up on the big screen.

So does Avengers: Age of Ultron live up to expectations? Yeah. Not quite as laugh-out-loud funny as Avengers Assemble, a little less cohesive in terms of plot, a little too CGI-tastic, but still huge fun and an incredible feat in juggling ten lead characters and giving them all a distinct voice. Joss Whedon won me over right from the outset: there’s this big chase and battle scene, and it’s all motorbikes and tanks and guns and flying shields and mystic hammers, and I’m like woah, too fast, too jerky, I can’t see, and Whedon knew we’d be thinking that, because that’s the moment he slo-moed everything way down, practically freeze-frame, for this beautifully choreographed comic-panel shot of the whole Avengers team flying or leaping through the air in their own individual styles.

I’m not going to tell you anything about the plot. Why spoil the anticipation? But I will say, in terms of script-writing lessons, look for how Whedon uses opposites to powerful effect. Stark vs his metal twin; peace-loving Banner vs ragenik Hulk; sentimental Natasha vs assassin Romanoff; peace vs war; saving life vs extinguishing it; even, at the climax, going up vs coming down. It’s an effective technique, and elaborated on brilliantly by BBC script guru John Yorke in his recent Into the Woods: How Stories Work and Why we Tell Them. (Writers: buy it.)

If this is how the blockbuster summer begins, I’m all for it. Now roll on Mad Max.

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Revealed: the Ritzy’s roots

2 Mar
The original Electric Pavilion

The original Electric Pavilion

There’s a lovely piece in the Brixton Bugle about the origins of the Ritzy Cinema. I particularly like the details that it was saved by the 1981 Brixton riots, and scuppered by the 1995 ones; and also that it first came about through an ad in Time Out. (So many creative people I’ve spoken to over the years owe some sort of debt to Time Out; David Hare would always speak to us as he credited Time Out with helping to launch his career, back in fringe theatre days.)

I remember the “Little Bit Ritzy” well, as it was then: an art-house cinema showing the sorts of movies people now take for granted on DVD or streaming, but which back in the early ’80s we would have to scour listings and travel across town to see. It was so purist about film that it refused to serve popcorn, lest the munching disturb fellow film-goers (you’ll still get shushed for munching now), though in compensation the carrot-cake was superb.

The Ritzy is one of the main reasons I have chosen to live in and around Brixton for more than 20 years. Though it is now a six-screen multiplex, allowing more films to be shown, they achieved this without — as so many cinemas have — breaking up the wonderful main auditorium, instead building on an extension. Given the cinema’s egalitarian, right-on roots, I was incensed by the recent wage dispute, about which I wrote several blogs; they are now happily resolved, so it’s okay to love the Ritzy again.

If you love the Ritzy too, read the full article here.

Shock around the Troc: Picturehouse announces huge Trocadero development

19 Sep
Trocadero rooftop

Rooftop bar planned for the new Picturehouse Trocadero

Wow. Today’s online Standard has broken the news that Picturehouse cinemas will be taking over the Trocadero Centre on Piccadilly Circus, and from the drawings and plans, it looks ace. I particularly like the rooftop bar, with a view of the London Eye and Houses of Parliament.

The cinema that was there before was a Cineworld multiplex. It was unloved and dilapidated, with ViewLondon reviews complaining of mice (always a problem in cinemas, mind you, with spilt popcorn etc – that’s why rep cinemas always used to have a cat).

Picturehouses, on the other hand, I love. I live five minutes from the Brixton Ritzy, my favourite cinema ever since I moved to London three decades ago (at least after the Scala closed down). As an Oxford student, I used to haunt the Phoenix and the Penultimate Picture Palace, also both now Picturehouse Cinemas. They cater to an artier, hipper crowd, who (lucratively, from the chain’s point of view) are happy to sit around in the bar afterwards discussing the movie. They have an ace loyalty card that gives you discounted beer and food as well as discounted film tickets.

(Less happily, the Ritzy have a workforce who had been striking, since not enough of that beer money was flowing back to them. Last Friday, staff finally accepted a deal which, while it fell short of the London Living Wage they sought, offered 26% pay rise over the next three years. Just in time for the opening of the miners’ strike film Pride, aptly enough.)

Picturehouse Trocadero

Yet more bar space at the Picturehouse Trocadero

The Trocadero deal is a funny old thing, though. Since 2012, as the Standard strangely did not point out, Picturehouse Cinemas have been owned by Cineworld. So really, the new Trocadero complex is less a grand new development, than a grand new rebranding. With a lot of funky bar space thrown in for those hipster movie discussions.

When the buy-out happened, movie fans were concerned that Cineworld would tarnish the Picturehouse brand, turn these quirky indie-feel cinemas into soulless corporates. On the evidence of the Trocadero development, however, the opposite may be the case. If so, hurrah. A movie example might be when Disney bought out Pixar – but rather than ruining Pixar, installed its supremo John Lasseter as creative head of both.

If all multiplexes could become a little bit more Picturehouse, I’d drink to that. Preferably in a rooftop hipster bar.

Texting in the cinema: a capital offence?

14 Jan
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Ssssh! A ‘noise ninja’ from the Prince Charles cinema

Today, retired cop Curtis Reeves was charged with second-degree murder for shooting a man in the chest at point-blank range. The man’s offence? Texting in a Florida cinema. My unworthy first thought was that if the jury were composed of film critics, he could walk free for justifiable homicide.

The battle over peace in cinemas has raged for decades. When I edited Time Out, the popcorn debate provoked more reader letters than Julie Burchill. The Ritzy in Brixton refused to serve it, though their excellent carrot cake nearly made up for it. Nowadays, of course, that particular battle is forever lost: the economics of the modern film business dictate that cinemas are not actually in the business of showing films; they are in the business of selling popcorn and drinks, with films but the bait to attract consumers.

But I’m not sure anyway that movie theatres should be silent churches in which to worship cinema. A film by Kiarostami, perhaps. But the fatal altercation occurred at a showing of war flick Lone Survivor; and during the previews at that. One of the most entertaining screenings I have ever been to was of School of Rock at Peckham, where the local kids ended up dancing in the aisles.

If audiences were always quiet as mice, the Rocky Horror Picture Show would never have become a cult hit, with key lines shouted out and Charles Grey’s neck heckled, or rather lack of it. When in 2012 the Prince Charles cinema engaged a team of ‘noise ninjas’ in skin-tight ‘Morphsuits’ to pounce on distracting viewers, that owed more to a canny PR manager than any genuine desire to create silence: they are famed for their singalonga Rocky Horrors and Sounds of Music, after all.

Film in the cinema, as opposed to on your own ginormous plasma TV with surroundsound, is a communal experience. We want to laugh, cry and sigh together. That’s why critics are often more dismissive of comedies and blockbusters: seeing them in small Soho preview cinemas in the middle of the afternoon with a handful of fellow critics, all stifling their natural emotional responses, it’s much harder to enjoy these films. I’m famous among friends for yelping in scary moments: I’m so wrapped up in the film I can’t help it. I hope it just adds to the atmosphere.

But that is why texting – or, worse, talking on your phone – is the least forgivable of distracting crimes. It takes the perpetrator away from that communal experience, and out of the cinema altogether to wherever the person on the other end of the phone is.

I don’t ask my fellow viewers not to crunch popcorn. I don’t ask them not to turn to their partner and ask how the detective finally worked out whodunit. But I do ask them to be there, with me, thrilling to the same explosions, laughing at the same jokes, jumping at the same scares, and even heckling the same rubbish (as with the Ritzy screening of Tom Cruise’s Oblivion). It’s why I go to the cinema. Otherwise, we might as well all just sit at home alone.