Another dream palace gone

showc2Recent news that the Showcase Cinema where I’d watched films throughout the 1990s (starting with Batman, The Abyss etc in 1989) has closed forever has had me getting nostalgic. At the time it opened in 1989 the multiplex was a revelation, with state of the art seating and projection and sound a far cry cry from what excused for film presentation in our then-current haunts of the old ABC and Odeon Cinemas in town. Once I saw Batman at the Showcase I never went back to the old ABC and that cinema itself closed not long after. The Showcase too would eventually fall behind the times, superseded by newer, better cinemas and its been decade or more since I ever went there, but yeah, its awfully sad. I have some great memories from going there:

A late-Saturday night preview showing of Total Recall that remains the craziest, wildest cinema screening of my life. When the film began, with that incredible Jerry Goldsmith title music blasted out loud, the palpable energy of that testosterone-fuelled audience was something I don’t think I’ve experienced since, it was almost like some kind of rock concert. 

Watching The Abyss and then coming out to the carpark in a wild storm, rain hammering down sideways in a gale just like the storm portrayed in the film, one of those strange moments that felt like a film bleeding out into reality. Those moments are the best: I remember coming out of a screening of Cocoon, of all things, and seeing a sliver of crescent moon hanging in the sky just the same as in that film’s poster. Its like the film has come out with you.

Sometimes, back in the dark days when I was unemployed between jobs I’d go alone to watch cheap afternoon screenings to escape my lot (Fantasia, Always, for example), one of which was my worst cinema-going experience ever, the execrable Naked Lunch– the one film I very nearly walked out on.  

I remember going on a blind date there, with my cousin and his girlfriend and a girl she knew -where we watched, of all things, Jacobs Ladder, which confused the shit out of the three of them (“it was something to do with Vietnam, wasn’t it?” I was asked) while I came out buzzing, confident I’d seen something extraordinary and spent an hour in the pub afterwards trying to explain the damn movie to them (I never went out on a second date with that girl).

Going there every week with my future-wife during our courting days, when we’d go and end up watching whatever was on that took our fancy, some good, some bad (one of the baddest, The Flintstones).

A midnight Saturday preview of Alien 3, when we came out in the early hours of a Sunday morning wondering what we’d just seen (I actually liked it, because it was more like Alien than Aliens, which I really disliked with a passion, but my cousin was a fan of Aliens so anyway, our discussion was like a microcosm of the next few decades of Alien 3 discourse). Christ, I haven’t seen/spoken to that cousin in twenty years or more (and no, that’s not because of Alien 3).

So anyway, waxing so nostalgic about those Showcase Memories had me thinking about those other cinemas too, like the ABC in town where I saw Blade Runner and many others (my folks took me to watch John Carpenter’s Elvis there, and I saw loads of films in the 1980s there, like Superman II, Someone to Watch Over Me, Outland, Howard the Duck, Life Force, Legend, Batman…), and the Odeon cinema across town where I saw Star Wars, Close Encounters and Empire Strikes Back etc. I remember the threadbare seats with holes, stuffing coming out of them, in the Screen 3 in the ABC where I saw Howard the Duck. Indeed its funny what you remember: I recall a tramp in there sheltering from the rain (considering how bad Howard was, he probably regretted not staying out in the rain). Or the time me and Andy saw a double-bill of Outland and Blade Runner, and after watching Outland one of the other patrons walked out just as Blade Runner started, and Andy and I just sat, gobsmacked at this blatant and unforgivable affront to the Greatest Film Ever Made- I mean, here I am almost 40 years later and I still vividly recall the guy just getting up and walking out to our dismay. Much fancier a cinema was the luxurious Gaumont in Birmingham which must have been really something in its heyday, where we queued for hours to watch Return of the Jedi back in 1983, and I remember the film looked amazing on its huge screen (one of our group, a friend of my brothers, sat down in the front row and surely couldn’t have seen half what was going on, the screen was so wide most of it was out of his line of sight) but even that cinema closed just a year or so later.

That Showcase Cinema getting demolished feels all kinds of wrong; when a cinema which opened in 1989 (and you still feel like its ‘new’ because 1989 isn’t all that long ago, really, is it? Is it?) is getting torn down, you know you’re getting old. The place where I visited other planets and visited the bottom of the ocean etc is going to be a giant second-hand car retail outlet or something by the end of the year. I recently texted my mate Andy paraphrasing Roy Batty’s speech: “The films I’ve seen, in cinemas you wouldn’t believe…!” 

Walk in the park… and then a doze.

IMG_20210423_110211836_HDR (2)Weather has been unusually fine of late, so plenty of Spring chores in the garden have taken our time, but we took the opportunity this morning to take Ed for a walk in a nearby park that he loves. Usually we follow the paths through the gardens and around the woods and fishing pool, but this morning adventure is in the air- we find a trail  leading off into the woods. Ed takes to this new territory with relish – he takes the lead and dashes ahead exploring the territory, as if he’s the first dog to ever follow this trail through a wilderness winding through the trees (well, its certainly a first for him, which is all that matters). He takes us up one pathway that leads through the trees and then winds down to a woodland pond, where two ducks on the opposite bank regard him with suspicion before wisely waddling off to the safety of the centre of the pond. A grey squirrel hasn’t been paying attention and leaps up startled when Ed sniffs in his direction; Ed suddenly yanks me on his lead as he dashes in vain pursuit until I pull him back in. I do wonder if Ed thinks he can also clamber up trees like a squirrel given enough of a run-up. Undeterred at me spoiling his fun, Ed finds a trail on that opposite side that winds up a grassy bank up into the trees, and we are off again…

 

This afternoon having gotten home and had lunch, we resume our chores in the back garden tidying up the patio (hopefully for a lazy summer chilling with books etc. but you know, English summer = plenty of rain, its like we never learn). Ed stretches out on the grass looking at us as if we are fools- its obviously far too warm for any such exertions.P1100366 (2)

He decides that its time for a doze on the cool grass. Its a dogs life.

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Oscars?

They’re doing the Oscars this year? After the year we just had? Millionaire movie-people, gigantic ego’s and beautiful celebs etc are going to give themselves awards and congratulate themselves on jobs well done etc.? Oh boy, Tenet made more sense than this does. Why? I always figured Hollywood was some other seperate reality to my own, but I guess this proves it. There’s a bonfire of the cinemas going on in most towns and cities all over the world but the millionaire creatives gotta party and celebrate how cool and great they are (socially distanced on Zoom or something from their mansions in Beverly Hills etc. obviously).

Moody walk this morning

IMG_20201207_105919502_HDR (3)Took Ed to the vets today for his annual booster. He was as nervous as ever, which only made us all the more anxious about what most dog owners treat a routine visit. Not that Covid restrictions helped, its turning everything into something out of a biological disaster movie; you have to call from the carpark to gain entry, three pets in the premises at any one time, one owner per pet, distances dictated on the floor; I don’t think I will ever get used to wearing a mask and must confess to being curious why dog’s don’t even seem to notice. Ed of course was eager to get in there but terrified once he realised where ‘there’ was, and as usual turned a quick injection into a bit of a drama. Terrified terriers can be such charmingly endearing wimps.

Anyway, as a reward/apology to Ed, on our way home we took him to a local park. Shrouded in an Autumnal fog that refused to fade away, it resulted in a  damp, cold and moodily atmospheric walk that felt a very different landscape to the walks of the past. Everything seemed to fade quickly to grey in the middle-distance, lost in murk, the world suddenly very small around us, and strangely quiet too. I was quite entranced by the spectral trees, branches bare of leaves reaching up into the sky and fading away in the mist, and took this quick snap with my phone. 

Its beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

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But Ed isn’t impressed. Every year he watches us put up the Christmas tree with abject horror. I suppose most dogs are creatures of habit and routine, and Ed is no exception. I’m pretty certain he thinks our home is his kennel, basically, and he prefers things left as they should be- he certainly doesn’t appreciate his owners suddenly erecting a tree blocking his view through the window. Well, what’s a dog to do other than sulk? Ed can sulk like a champion, especially when his Christmas telly is ruined.

Ah, well a bit of explanation is in order about Ed and the window. He is obsessed with it- I don’t know, maybe its a Terrier thing, because he seems to be all territorial with everything beyond the window. We’re lucky, we have a field outside our front window, so that we overlook a central green of fields and pathways, which affords a really nice view of the seasons changing and people walking their dogs to and fro – naturally Ed knows most of them from encounters on our walks, he gets along famously with some, gets along less so with others. The ones he doesn’t get along with so well… well, Ed treats the fields as his own private space, naturally, and tells any miscreants off with passionate wild barks. Boy, Westies can bark (after two King Charles Cavaliers, its something of a culture shock).

We’ve taken to calling the window Ed’s television: we open the blinds in the morning and tell Ed his breakfast telly show is on, and he leaps up onto the sofa and surveys his territory eagerly… and if he goes too wild barking at some nuisance collie or huskie (two breeds he has a particular disgust at) we threaten him that we’ll switch his telly off and close the blinds. “Thats it! Telly’s off!” we’ll declare, shutting the blinds. Very often when I pop downstairs from working in the backroom and I see Ed still sitting in his usual attentive position looking out the window, I ask him if its just another repeat show (dog-walkers are creatures of habit too, and very often you could set your clock by them walking first one way, then back twenty minutes later) and late in the evening I’ll tell him its time for closedown as I close the blinds for the night. I don’t know. Maybe we’re going a little bit crazy.

Alas, we’ve gone and put up our Christmas tree today, blocking most of Ed’s usual television screen. Hence the sulk. Hopefully he doesn’t pull it down overnight…

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Bonfire of the Cinemas: The Sequel!

dune2There you go, I have a rough week at work and am unable to do any posting here and suddenly all hell breaks lose. In honour of grand Hollywood tradition, let it not be said that I’m loathe to ignore opportunity for a sequel, so after Octobers post about cinema woes, here comes a totally superfluous post. Bear with me though, I’ve just done a twelve-hour stint at my work laptop so my eyes are blurry and my head fuzzier than normal. Yeah, doesn’t bode well, does it, but the same is true of movie sequels isn’t it? I guess that’s my way of suggesting its not wise to expect this post to be The Empire Strikes Back or Godfather Pt.2 of blog follow-ups.

So what’s been happening? Well news broke late last night that Warner Bros has announced that its entire slate of films for 2021 are now going to debut on streaming channel HBO Max on the same day as each films theatrical release. This includes films such as Mortal Kombat (hey a reboot I was blissfully unaware of till now), Godzilla v Kong, Matrix 4 (I thought this had been pushed back to 2022, maybe I was wrong) and of course Villeneuve’s much-anticipated (by me, anyway) Dune; the list totals 21 films in all.

I honestly thought it was internet hyperbole but I woke up this morning to find it confirmed on the BBC. Fairly ugly news for movie lovers really, on the face of it, but rather than The End Of Blockbusters As We Know It (which it still may be) I have to wonder if this is more a Studio move to dismantle the current distribution network (in the States, at least) by destroying the current cinema chains in order to just move in and replace them in a year or two. I believe that, in the old Hollywood glory days, studios had their hands in the theatrical pie but were litigated out of it, therefore having to share cinema takings and profits with the vendors/cinema chains like AMC etc. I suppose that’d be a bit like Netflix having to share its subscriber money with the Internet Service Providers that carries its content into peoples homes.

Part of the reason why Disney has its Disney+ is so that eventually there will be a Brave New World in which the only way to watch a Star Wars, Disney, Pixar or Marvel movie will be to pay up monthly for its streaming channel. In such a world without physical discs on shelves, it’d just be digital streaming (not even digital downloads) as the only way of watching its content, and ultimately only through its channel, if subscriptions are successful enough that it no longer needed traditional partners like the TV networks, satellite and cable TV providers etc. that it currently sells its content to. If Disney could also own its own cinema chains to monopolise that part of things too, all the better. Clearly the intention is not to share any of the revenue with anybody. And hey, without any competition, and with a captive audience having no alternative, Disney could go all Star Wars Evil Empire and raise its prices to, well, whatever it wanted. Add premium charges for new content, restrict ‘star’ movies to PPV only, downgrade the low entry-price subscription tier to films/content six months old. Hey, if I can think up things like that after a twelve-hour shift, you can be sure the execs at Disney can.

The reason why Warners seem to have jumped into this fray are the woes being suffered by HBO Max, a streaming network in the States owned by Warners’ parent company AT&T which is currently languishing as an also-ran in the the streaming wars currently led by Netflix, Amazon and Disney+. They seem to think having a big Hollywood movie hitting HBO Max will get subscriber numbers soaring, but I do wonder if its a dangerous gamble, certainly for Warners. How in the world they think they can get enough money that way to pay for the huge budgets of some of those movies is beyond me, really. HBO Max may suddenly get a bigger share of the streaming audience and more numbers in, but surely that’s never going to be anything like the $1 billion numbers of the big blockbusters from old-fashioned cinema takings. Unless I’m under-estimating what the revenue streams of business like Netflix are (which is possibly what Disney and the other studios are looking at).

I suppose playing the long game, the studios may intend to pick up all those empty bankrupted cinemas and return to the old distribution model (but owning all the distribution, theatrical as well as streaming), but once punters get used to films being beamed day one into their homes for a monthly fee (that remember is supposed to pay for all of a months content, other movies, doc and tv series, not just Warners’ latest movie), is there a risk it will diminish the public’s sense of worth of said blockbusters? Goodness knows many people astonish me enough by still buying/watching DVDs, so the idea they will go out and pay more for a cinematic experience may not be as reasonable as the studio execs think once they get used to Wonder Woman 84, The Matrix 4 and Dune beamed to their screens on Day One. Disney+ will surely be following its own similar move with Mulan with some of its other films still waiting in the wings (Black Widow seems to be the next likely suspect), all further dismantling the perception of newly-launched films being worth premium ticket prices in cinema multiplexes.

I wonder what James Cameron thinks of all this, with four Avatar films on the go. Its like his franchise just hit a proverbial iceberg (oh the irony).

From my own perspective, my immediate concern is the fate of all these movies from this year and next, the James Bonds etc, and where all this will leave them- particularly Dune, whose performance predicates us ever getting the sequel that completes its story. It could be a magnificent adult space opera, Star Wars for adults, as  Villeneuve himself has hinted, which gets decimated by this Bonfire of the Cinemas and the streaming wars. Its already been pushed back a year, which means any Part Two is at least, what, four years away now? How can its performance be properly judged in this crazy Covid world, never mind what any post-Covid world might look like? The film cost $200 million to make… how does it ever get the financial remuneration to ensure execs think its worth another $200 million punt? Will such $200 million ‘punts’ even exist in this future world- returning to my earlier note, might this indeed actually signal The End Of Blockbusters As We Know It? Would that necessarily be a bad thing? Is the era of huge paychecks for directors and actors over?

And if I had shares in Cineworld, would I possibly get any sleep tonight?

On a Squirrel-hunt

edrun (2)After many years owning King Charles Cavaliers, I can only assume that Ed’s fascination-closing-on-obsession for hunting for squirrels when we are walking him in local parks is simply a Terrier thing (there are LOTS of ‘Terrier things’ as I have come to learn, all kinds of causes of endearment and amused frustration). The squirrels really don’t seem to mind- like cats, they seem to treat Ed with bored indifference, the grey rascals racing to the nearest tree and up into the leafy heights with nonchalant grace. Unfortunately as I’ve always got Ed on the lead, when he suddenly dashes off after his quarry he yanks at me so hard its caused me some shoulder injury when I’m walking one way and my arm is suddenly pulled some other (more important, as far as Ed is concerned) direction. 

Yesterday afternoon’s walk resulted in a grand total of seven squirrel sightings, which seemed to thrill Ed no end, even though he as usual got nowhere near them (if indeed God loves a trier then Ed has a special place in His affection). As a bonus Ed did spot a few cats on the walk to and from the park, but cats seem to treat leashed Westies with even more casual ignorance than squirrels do. Most of the feline fiends just sit there watching him go by (Ed often being dragged away by me, ‘natch), and Ed does his best to intimidate them with growls/barks and impressively threatening body language, but all to no avail. Cats are smart; they seem to know when a dog is on a lead and besides, they often know he’s hardly going to swing open a garden gate or leap over that hedge. And I suspect if ever Ed did catch up with a feline quarry, he’d come off the worst from such an encounter, so its perhaps just as well.

Its funny how terriers seem to represent all those characteristics of old tales of dogs. Can’t really say my Cavillers Barney or Ben were really perturbed by our postie, but Ed goes berserk whenever he observes the postie’s temerity of walking down our street -or worse, actually daring to walk up to our front door. All those Beano and Dandy comics I used to read as a kid, depicting dogs chasing posties or pulling letters out the letterbox, or barking after cats etc- turns out it was all true; not all dogs, it seems, are as chilled-out King Charles Cavillers. 

And yet, considering all the bravo and bluster that Ed demonstrates, the slightest crack of a distant firework sends him racing over to me to be picked up for the apparent rescue/safety of my arms, the trembling hairy wimp. Yes we’re really looking forward to Halloween/Firework season this Autumn.  

Apologies for the poor image quality illustrating this post, taken in fairly poor light on my phone its a wonder there is anything recognisable of my Westie at all- as far as Ed is concerned, when squirrels are abroad, posing for photographs is not at all important). 

Bonfire of the Cinemas

News today that Villeneuve’s Dune has been pushed back from its December release to, not just next year, but as late as October next year -yes, October 2021, a whole year away as I type this- was possibly expected, but still comes as something of a shock. Following on from confirmation that Cineworld cinemas here in the UK -and in the US, too I believe- intend to close for the next four to six months, making as many as 5,500 UK employees redundant, well, its all very alarming. It really feels like we are witnessing a bonfire of the cinemas. 

The Class of 2020, save for a few unlikely candidates like Disney’s Mulan and Warner Bros Tenet, seem to have upped sticks and walked off to the pavilion (to strike a very British cricket analogy) and not coming out to play until 2021. All those films we expected to see, from James Bond to Black Widow to Wonder Woman to Dune, and possibly later own on disc editions on our shelves by late Winter or early Spring, remain unseen, possibly for another six months (and certainly twelve months, in the case of Dune). And of course, those films gate-crashing the 2021 party have left those films already planned for 2021 up in the air (Dune moving to next October has pushed The Batman to March 2022, which seems such a long time away). 

One has to wonder though, how many cinemas will still be around next summer to show those tardy 2020 flicks rubbing shoulders with the ‘proper’ 2021 flicks that refuse to be shoved around. Or perhaps the more important question is who will be running them/owning those cinemas. Maybe the fittest will survive and will be all the better for it, with less competition ensuring fuller cinema screens for those that remain viable, while others have the shutters up for good. Also, if the marketplace gets overly crowded next year, will some films suffer when another blockbuster comes out the following week to steal its seats and punters, or will we see a Nuclear Box-Office Summer with studios bullishly putting out tentpole films out on the same weekends? That’s if we even get a summer box office next year, its hard to say what state things will be in regards Covid.  Will audiences feel confident enough to return to cinemas in droves next summer? I read some pundit claiming that it will take cinemas five years to recover audience numbers to what they were last year, in a similar fashion to how the airline industry is claiming it will be several years before flight numbers recover properly. 

How many times can Eon delay its next Bond movie? At this rate Tom Hardy will be getting too old to play the guy.

And indeed, what does this mean for the already crumbling physical media market without new product- it surely cannot thrive with endless catalogue titles being re-released in 4K and Blu-ray. Its a question if it can even survive like that, nevermind thrive. The 4K format is already fairly niche (one could well argue that even Blu-ray is niche, as DVD still seems to dominate what little shelf-space physical discs enjoy in Supermarket real estate) and what 4K UHD needs in order to in any way progress is titles like the new Bond, or visual spectacles like Dune and other blockbusters. The release schedules for the Autumn already look desperately anaemic, when we should be looking forward to the home releases of all those films that thrilled us in May – July.  Except of course they didn’t. 

Its all frankly mind-boggling. Time to find a good book, maybe….

Ed is Four Today!

edis4How time flies! Our Westie, Eddie, is four years old today. He had a great day today- Covid may have put a halt to his birthday party plans – so no Milo, Dizzy, Sulass, Buffy, Bailey, Beau, Sparky, Gracie, Logan, Lucy, Bonnie, Winnie,  Diesel, Oscar, Dexter, Poppy, Harry, Minnie, Charlie, Coolie, Billy, Alfie, Blue and Dave, new girl Coco (…yeah he knows lots of dogs on the walk, he’s definitely more popular than I am)- so instead we took him out for an afternoon walk somewhere new; Northycote Farm, which isn’t at all far from home but is a surprisingly large woodland walk considering its hiding away within an urban conurbation. No doubt a future frequent destination, because it was really nice and Ed loved it. Better still, it was a nice warm sunny day, more like July or August than mid-September- very lucky, considering the weather forecasts reckon a cold turn arrives tomorrow after some rain tonight. So a long afternoon walk somewhere new, with lots of new smells and people to get fussed by, plenty of treats at mealtimes and two new cuddly toys to play with. As birthdays go, Ed’s got me beat.

 

 

Last Week

Real-life got in the way of Blog-life last week, as may have been noticed by my one measly posting (Terminator: Dark Fate). Indeed, I actually only watched three films last week-the Burt Lancaster/Kirk Douglas crime/mobster flick I Walk Alone, Terminator: Dark Fate and new Netflix film The Devil All the Time (which is absolutely brilliant).

One thing that didn’t help – as if the news of Covid going all Hollywood Reboot here, with my area going back to local lockdown next Tuesday, wasn’t enough- was my mother in law having burglars trespassing her back yard one night last week, taking the door off her garden shed in an attempt to find something worthwhile to steal. Things are really getting back to normal Out There aren’t they, with our criminal fraternity deciding to go back to work, so to speak. Putting shed doors back up and repairing bolts on garden gates demonstrate the limits of my carpentry skills, I just hope I don’t get further opportunity for practice. But really, what is the world coming to? As if we don’t have it bad enough with Covid and Brexit and politicians finding whole new ways to demonstrate their magnificent ineptitude.

I have been reading a bit- with the Super Deluxe of Sign o’the Times coming next week, I’ve been reading a book about Prince by Joseph Vogel, This Thing Called Life. Its a little academic but none the worse for that. Vogel examines what Prince thought about politics, race, religion, sex, death, through events in his life but chiefly through his music and lyrics. Of course, a lot of this is subjective, its Vogel interpreting things from lyrics and via historical interviews with Prince or his associates, rather than what Prince might have voiced himself in his own memoir. If nothing else, its a rather touching, surprisingly emotional reminder of the times that we, and Prince lived in, the Gulf Wars, Live Aid, Presidencies, Aids… In his life Prince carefully cultivated the enigma of Prince, and I suspect he will therefore be an endless fascination. If its true that to know what he truly thought and felt about things we should simply listen to his music  and examine all his vast catalogue (and the Vault recordings now surfacing probably more important here than what we are already familiar with) then it could be a journey of discovery with years ahead of us.