Hooray for Holly-Łódź: Cinema 5 – Charlie Kino, Movie 5 – Midnight in Paris (6/6)

4 Comments


20:35pm Charlie Kino, Piotrkowska 203/205

Despite having the appearance of a rundown military barracks, Charlie Kino is a real temple of cinema and a deserved Łódź institution.

My Łodż cinema marathon ended up back where it all began for me in this city. Charlie Kino (or Kino Charlie) was the first cinema that I attended in Łódź, when I went to see a screening of Requiem for a Dream if memory serves. Back in 2001 Charlie Kino was outwardly no different from how it looks today, but back then it only consisted of one auditorium, whereas now it has three separate auditoria. The cinema is Łódź’s most important independent film theatre, having been founded by an organisation of film artists and enthusiasts back in 1994. The cinema is tucked away in a run-down looking courtyard off of the northern end of Piotrkowska, in the ‘Manhattan’ area of the city. It is actually housed on the second floor of a former government building and the owners of the cinema have gradually extended this upstairs space to allow for two smaller screens and a functional bar area. Much of the charm and pleasure of Charlie Kino is the ramshackle, almost homemade quality of the space, with lots of movie memorabilia and paraphernalia dotted around the compact foyer and the theatres themselves. The cinema has traditionally been the location of choice for minor film arts festivals in the city, as well as the more avant-garde cinematic fare that wouldn’t normally be picked up by the chain cinemas. In recent years to protect its niche in a more saturated multiplex market, it has focused much more attention on European and non-English language cinema.

Emotionally I have a strong bond with Charlie Kino, as it is so reminiscent of my favourite cinema spaces from back home, such as The Other Cinema in Soho, the Croydon Clocktower cinema, or the Filmhouse in Edinburgh. It acts as a miniature temple to film, a sacred public place in which film is taken as seriously as any religion and patrons unapologetically think of themselves as cinephiles. However, my faith in Charlie’s extra-commercial causes does not prevent me from harshly commenting on the rather woeful third screen (Sala Klubowa) in which I finally was able to catch up with Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. This tiny screen is no more than a home projector put up in an office that is separated from the foyer by a narrow sliding panel. There are no fixed seats in this space, but rather some horrendously uncomfortable Ikea kitchen furniture laid out in narrow rows. Due to the fact that the projector screen is placed fairly high up in the room, I had to crane my head uncomfortably upwards to watch, with absolutely no head support for the duration of the 90 minute running time.

The lovingly decorated interior embraces the film fanaticism of my favourite cinematic haunts such as The Other Cinema in Soho, London and the Edinburgh Filmhouse.

Yes, there are lots of lovely little quaint artifacts and objet d’art, such as an ornate coatstand, a glass chandelier and a post-war Warsaw produced television set, but this should not detract from the bum-numbing, neck fracturing discomfort of sitting through a film in this ill-suited space. Many of these complaints could have been ignored if at least the projection was clean and proportionate, but instead it was almost as bad as the Cinema City effort, with a hideously grainy quality throughout the first half hour, or so. The fact that Charlie charge 14 zł for such screenings doesn’t do it any favours, but I will say that my experiences on the two larger screens have generally been much more satisfactory with Sala Studyjna being fairly close to the scale and precision of Bałtyk’s presentations.

Cinema Experience: 4.5/10

 

I’d purposefully avoided this latest Woody Allen release, as I’d been so thoroughly disillusioned with the utterly objectionable Whatever Works (a film that felt both pretentious and lazy, as well as squandering the combined talents of two fantastic actresses in Evan Rachel Wood and Patricia Clarkson). Allen’s cinematic output has been in an interminable decline for many years now, with only a few brief upswings of the likes of Match Point to consider. The idea of Woody patronising Paris in the same way he had done with London and Barcelona didn’t make me any keener to see this latest ‘return to form’. The impact of Whatever Works had actually been so profound that I had significantly re-evaluated my attitude toward Allen’s oeuvre as a whole, coming to the unsatisfying conclusion that even at his best in the likes of Take the Money and Run, Sleeper, Manhattan, Zelig and Crimes and Misdemeanors, his movies were in essence nothing more than the extended miseries of a chauvinistic misanthrope, who already looked out-of-touch with the times in his 1970’s heyday.

Midnight in Paris by no means sets the world alight and I’d resist describing it as one of Allen’s best works, but it does at least entertain, which is more than can be said for almost any of his films since Bullets over Broadway. It’s in the same magical-realist mode as Play it Again, Sam, The Purple Rose of Cairo and Zelig, with Owen Wilson being cast as the most un-Allen of recent Woody protagonists. Wilson plays Gil, an American screenwriter in Paris with his bride-to-be Inez (played with privileged self-centredness by Rachel McAdams). One night whilst mooching around Paris trying to find his way back to the hotel, Gil is whisked off in a 1920’s carriage-car, by people who claim to be Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. What ensues is a delightfully broad comedy about nostalgia, which manages to excuse Woody’s whimsically romantic notions about European cities by making the romance of nostalgia a central theme.

Wilson is an effortlessly engaging presence, who strikes up the necessary chemistry with Marion Cotillard, who plays his 1920’s love interest a fashion designer who would prefer to be living in Belle Epoque Paris. There are also some amusing cameos, in particular Adrien Brody’s daft turn as a rhinoceros-obsessed Dali. Overall the comedy isn’t as witty as it things, but is nonetheless affectionate, which differentiates it strongly from Allen’s more resolutely downbeat and vindictive recent fare. The biggest disappointment about the movie is that it doesn’t explore in more detail the idea of Gil’s influencing the developments of the past (aside from a brief gag about The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie). My film night ended on a staggeringly coincidental note, as Léa Seydoux turns up as the possible love interest toward the end of the movie, having also been one of the first screen presences in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, way back at 9:30 this morning. One of Łódź’s great urban rhythms is this sense of reoccurring moments of serendipity. After all it was the home of that great director of coincidences Krzysztof Kieślowski.

Film Rating: 6/10

Hooray for Holly-Łódź: Cinema 4 – Silver Screen, Movie 4 – Margin Call (5/6)

1 Comment


18:15pm Silver Screen, Aleja Marszałka Józefa Piłsudskiego 5

The Silver Screen multiplex located in the high-rise 'Manhattan' area in the centre of Łódź.

For the fourth film of the Day I cantered up the remainder of the pedestrianised section of Piotrkowska and slipped through the underpass on Al. Piłsudskiego to hook up with Marta, once more, at the Silver Screen cinema and casino complex. Silver Screen was one of the pioneer multiplex companies in Poland until it was bought out by MultiKino in 2008. Shortly before I arrived in Łódź in 2001 Silver Screen’s flagship complex was opened, which immediately redrew the cinema landscape in the city. With 10 screens on a five-storey, purpose-built, city centre site, Silver Screen was a glamorous addition to the city’s film theatres, a position further enhanced by the small-scale casino operation and ‘sky-bar’ that allowed for essential views of the city skyline, as well as serving up a pretty mean Cuba Libre.

Since the opening of the Cinema City complex in Manafaktura, Silver Screen has lost a little of its new kid on the block allure. Oddly Multikino resisted the urge to alter the Silver Screen brand in Łódź, something that is partly explainable as a result of the multiplex’s unique position within the Multikino family of cinemas as a theatre that profits from screening less obviously commercial cinema. Unlike Multikino’s other Polish cinema’s Silver Screen tends to have a roster of films that aren’t entirely dominated by the latest big-budget Hollywood offerings, which is not to say that Silver Screen is art house, but rather a little more refined than your regular run-of-the-mill multiplex.

One of the annoying characteristics about Silver Screen is the extremely authoritarian approach to screening that the cinema demonstrates. Although seating location is optional, people tend to be corralled into the same seating zones by ticketing staff, whose attitude tends toward the Polish bureaucratic. On top of that the multi-tiered structure of the complex means that exits and entrances are much more regimented than in any of the other city cinema’s, making the whole process of getting in and out of the movie, or making your way to the bar, all the more awkward and confusing.

With screen space at a premium Silver Screen sprawls out over five storeys of a purpose-built entertainment complex.

The screens vary in size from fairly large Cinema City style ‘premier’ screens, to smaller and less well organised auditoria, such as Screen 6 in which we watched the stockmarket horror Margin Call. As with almost all modern cinema chains Silver Screen tend to have very comfortable and cushioned seating, although unlike with Cinema City and the Helios group, they have skimped a little on leg room. The biggest problem that Silver Screen has is to do with the position of seating, with many auditoria having staircases running down the centre, or close to the centre, of the audience area. This means that there are far more seats in the theatre that have awkward, fringe views of the screen, which might leave a number of people disappointed on busy nights – and Silver Screen tends to still have a sizable traffic in terms of audience numbers. Also the auditoria tend to have seating that is very close to the screen, which forces viewers located in these seats to crane their heads upward toward the film projection.

In terms of the projection itself, the image was crisp and clear, with sound at a good level and theatre lighting dropped to near blackness. Unlike Cinema City the film was screened in the correct format ratio and also featured by far the longest trailer reel of any of the cinema chains (a whopping five full previews). The premium price of Silver Screen tickets is 22zł making it rather prohibitive in comparison with most of the other cinema chains visited. That said, in terms of concessions, promotional material and film range it is hard to compete with this venue, which is serviced by a downstairs food court, two cafes, an arcade and the aforementioned ‘sky bar’, as well as the usual sweet counters and popcorn dispensers.

Cinema Experience: 7.5/10

 

Margin Call was a movie I’d heard so little advance information about, which probably made its effect all the more powerful. Producer/star Zachary Quinto was particularly superb as the canary in the corporate counting house, but then a cast which featured such sterling performers as Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Paul Bettany and Stanley Tucci was uniformly excellent throughout. Demi Moore also continued her career resurgence with a tight-lipped, clench-jawed performance as the woman left holding the baby carriage as the bomb goes off. This film was writer-director J.C. Chandor’s debut feature and the signs are that Hollywood has another talent on their hands in the Tony Gilroy mode.

This fictional movie about the origins of the current financial crisis feels aesthetically very similar to two recent Clooney efforts Michael Clayton (written and helmed by the aforementioned Gilroy) and the chilly romance of Up in the Air. In an early sequence the movie actually uses the same employee severance interview structure as the latter of those films. What is remarkable about Chandor’s direction is the way in which it utilises many of the tricks of effective horror cinema, with: slightly out-of-focus shots, mysterious things occurring off-camera or partially obscured within the shot, steadily escalating tension and a methodical use of reaction shots to maximise the perception of fear. This is in essence a horror movie, where the evil villain is the amorphous and wholly nebulous force of chaos. Rather than simply plotting an easy route to condemning the finance industry for getting the world into this latest monetary crisis, Chandor’s script is savvy enough to see that the markets go through cycles of decline and expansion that can be influenced by the behaviour of those operating within them, but can never be wholly controlled or predicted.

It would be easy to criticise the film for taking a too superficial approach to its subject matter, particularly in the way it frequently avoids going into the specifics of the failed projections. Yet this would be to ignore the fact that the lack of knowledge is what is truly terrifying in the movie, with the absence of significant understanding even on the part of mathematicians and analysts hired by the financial sector only adding to the ‘fear factor’. Also it has to be acknowledged that few audience members would be willing to sit through a hardcore dissection of the vagaries of recently created financial investment packages and stock options. In this regard Chandor and Quinto have done an admirable job of approximating the panic of the early stages of a financial crisis, whilst going some of the way to humanising the faceless ‘fat-cat’ villains that so many people now seem to blame.

Another marvellous aspect of the film is the way in which it seems to turn the hustling-bustling New York metropolis into a bizarre ghost town, seemingly on the verge of yet another profound psychic trauma. This effect is established through the impressive way in which Chandor demonstrates the disconnection and remoteness between the people in the glass-panelled offices and the city they nominally inhabit. Kevin Spacey seems to embody the moral outrage, however muted, at the objectionable behaviour of Jeremy Irons’ ruthless corporate head, yet ultimately both characters are doing what they have to do in their own best interests. In this world money talks and its value is the sole arbiter of action. Irons’ character is right to suggest that if his company didn’t dump these assets then another company would. All that they are really guilty of, it would seem, is following a mass social delusion of wealth and having the vision to come to their senses before reality becomes a nightmare.

By far the most interesting and haunting moment in the whole movie is when Paul Bettany visits Stanley Tucci’s sacked risk analyst. Tucci, one of the very best character actors out there, tells an anecdote about his previous work as a civil engineer and the bridge he helped build that actually contributed something to the communities it served. What goes unspoken here is that Tucci’s work for the corporation has none of this tangible value, or meaning, a concern for which brings Tucci broadly in line with Pitt’s Billy Beane from Moneyball.

Film Rating: 7.5/10

Hooray for Holly-Łódź: Cinema 3 – Polonia Kino, Movie 3 – The Extra Man (4/6)

Leave a comment


16:10pm Polonia Kino, Piotrkowska 67

The El Mariachi band will file in around twilight.

Polonia Kino is a sister cinema to Bałtyk and a fellow member of the Helios cinema chain (something equivalent to Odeon). Out of all the cinemas featured in this little project Polonia has perhaps the most ideal location, as it is housed toward the rear of a courtyard, just opposite The Grand Hotel, slap-bang in the centre of the city. There are at least two decent coffee shops barely a 50m walk from the cinema, as well as some of the best bars in the city within a 200m radius. Within the courtyard itself you have the added bonus of a longstanding Mexican theme restaurant, as well as the best of the Łódź Presto franchise Italian restaurants (one of the best value places to eat in the whole city). The exterior of Polonia looks like a traditional two-storey picturehouse, with a large foyer area and three screens. The concessions are a bit more tuckshop style than Bałtyk. I paid for 4 zł for a bottle of Sprite, which despite having been in a chiller was lukewarm at best.

A post-war raised letterbox screen is featured in all three of Polonia's compact auditoria.

Whereas Bałtyk tends to focus on 3D fare, big-budget blockbusters, kids movies and Polish releases, Polonia has diversified into indie fare, non-mainstream American releases and European cinema. My abiding memory of Polonia is as the cinema that I’d visit to watch those quiet little films like The Straight Story, About Schmidt and Genova. It seems fitting then that the movie I hustled up to see today was a low-key oddity starring Paul Dano and Kevin Kline, called The Extra Man. Sadly I was one of only two people in the cinema to watch the film. The screens in Polonia are classically raised, letterbox affairs, of the kind utilised by most provincial European picturehouses during the latter half of the last century. Being quite narrow horizontally it gives the impression that the image is somehow compacted, but really the projection is to ratio, with nothing missing from the frame. Initially the projection was slightly squint, but that was quickly corrected by the projectionist (how quaint) and, as with Bałtyk, the image quality was impressively clean throughout. Sound was functional without having the superior surround range of Bałtyk’s vast auditorium, however that is wholly appropriate for the more intimate charms of Polonia’s cinematic fare. The pricing for Polonia was exactly the same as Bałtyk, with my afternoon ticket costing 17zł. My sole serious complaint would be the prompt start time of the film, which means a complete absence of trailer material.

Cinema Experience: 8/10

 

Paul Dano is one of the most unusual performers currently working in Hollywood and his curious, slightly bruised, physical features and carefully mannered acting style made him a perfect piece of casting in this solid adaptation of Jonathan ‘Bored to Death’ Ames novel. At first the curious rose-tinted period vignette at the beginning of the movie threw me. I momentarily thought I was going to be subjected to the kind of retro-irony to be found in Todd Haynes Far From Heaven. However I was pleasantly surprised to see the way in which this gentle comedy-drama wended its way between the various different New York eccentrics that Ames loves to fixate upon. In the end it brought to mind the John Hurt and Jason Priestley feature Love and Death in Long Island.

The directing and writing team of Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman previously brought Harvey Pekar’s curmudgeonly comic book genius to the big screen in American Splendor and they do a fairly good job  of capturing some of the inspired slapstick and pathos of Ames’ source novel. They are aided on this front by a wonderful performance from Kevin Kline as the contrarily Catholic upper-class gigolo Henry Harrison. Every time that Kline shared the screen with Dano, the younger actor seemed to significantly raise his game, in much the same way as he did in the presence of Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will be Blood.

The quietly affecting absurdism of the film’s central idea, namely the confused sexual identity of Dano’s Louis Ives, provokes some laugh-out-loud funny moments, particular a sequence in which Kline rubs a small lap-dog all over his body to try to transfer fleas to the mutt, but the general tenor of the movie is that of gracefully declining elegy and nostalgia. In some ways it is a companion piece to my last viewing of the night, Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, which similarly deals with a central character who feels woefully out of touch with modernity. The Extra Man is by no means a masterpiece but in its own minor manner it manages to cast a compelling spell upon the attentive viewer, that can induce tears of both joy and sadness from such quirky sights as two men dancing upon a beach in the Hamptons. It also manages to pose the question: why isn’t Katie Holmes in more films?

Film Rating: 6.5/10

Hooray for Holly-Łódź: Cinema 2 – Cinema City, Movie 2 – Moneyball (3/6)

Leave a comment


12:00pm Cinema City, Manufaktura Drewnowska 58

The entranceway to Cinema City is an impressive site, as it comprises some of the original red-brick structure of Poznański's textile factory.

About five years ago Łódź completed an ambitious overhaul of the old Poznański factory complex off of Al. Kościuszki. These dilapidated red brick buildings had been pretty much disused, apart from occasional film shoots or festival usage, since the mid-nineties, making them a rather unfortunate eyesore, particularly as they were situated behind one of Łódź’s most iconic buildings Poznański’s Palace. The factory had been at the centre of Łódź’s booming textile industries since it was opened in the mid 19th century by Polish-Jewish entrepreneur and industrialist Izrael Poznański. During the early part of the 20th century it was one of the most significant employers in Łódź, but post-war it was nationalised and after the fall of Communism in the early nineties fell into rapid decline. Now the factory complex is emblematic of Poland’s rapid conversion to North American and Western European consumer Capitalist models of city development. Whereas once the red brick buildings were the focal point and hub of heavy industry, now they have been lovingly restored and modernised, housing the massive two-tier Manufaktura shopping complex, as well as multiple boutique stores and restaurants, a modern art gallery, a historical factory museum and the large scale Cinema City complex, that I was next to visit.

Manufaktura is spread out around a central square, or concourse, that has spouting fountains, outdoor seating, beer halls, external television screens (for major sporting events) and a beach volleyball sand court. The Cinema City complex takes up one half of the building which also houses the museum and exhibition centre. The popular multiplex chain has utilised the high-ceilinged interiors of the old factory buildings incredibly well, giving the foyer an almost space-age feel. At least three of the fifteen cinema screens can hold 300+ viewers, with one of those screens being a purpose-built IMAX 3D auditorium. Of the smaller screens the standard is around the 120 seat mark. As with many other cinema complexes in the chain, most of the screens are sponsored by a business such as Orange, or SONY. Cinema City has a specific brand identity which means that its concessions tend to be uniform, serving up pic’n’mix sweets, a small selection of alcohol, soft drinks, Mars and Nestle chocolates, ice cream, hot snacks (such as chilli nachos) and popcorn.

Movie marathon days such as this require a bit of logistical planning. With Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol having finished at 11:50am, I had to jog the 1km from Bałtyk, down Piotrkowska, to the Manafaktura complex in ten minutes. My partner Marta, had thankfully got to Cinema City in advance and purchased our tickets for the film Moneyball. The tickets had cost 16 zł with our teacher discount, but normally they would cost 19zł, which rises to 21zł for weekend screenings after 17:00 on a Friday.

Cinema City supposedly prides itself on providing the most comfortable and reliable cinematic experience, but I was somewhat disappointed with the way in which they had decided to treat Moneyball. As a sports drama it had been booked onto one of the smaller screens, screen number ten. This wasn’t a problem in terms of physical comfort, as the well-cushioned, spacious and ergonomically designed seats are exemplary throughout the complex. However, the projection of the film was a source of considerable embarrassment. First of all the movie was absurdly cropped on both the right and left of the screen, so that the image lost about a third of the peripheral frame action. This essentially converted the film into a pan and scan television projection, which was deeply unsatisfying. Furthermore, for about the first twenty minutes of the film the sound was so muffled and low as to make the dialogue almost indecipherable. To make matters worse the sound resolved itself around twenty minutes in, thus demonstrating a problem with the screen settings, rather than the quality of the digital print. If this wasn’t bad enough, at intermittent points during the film significant background noise could be heard seeping in from surrounding auditoria, given Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill’s solemn discussions on baseball stats the unwanted bombast of a series of shuddering explosions. I couldn’t help but think that Cinema City had perhaps attempted to maximise their screen output at the expense of some of the basic requirements of the cinematic experience. One of the few things that I will commend the chain on, however,  was the perfect saltiness of their popcorn. All in all a disappointing experience, although I have had far better from Cinema City in the past.

Cinema Experience: 5/10

 

A film about baseball didn’t particularly jump of the screen and demand my attention. Loving writers like Paul Auster, I appreciate that North American’s have a strong and passionate relationship with the sport, but it’s one that a football loving European like myself is unlikely to understand quite so thoroughly. Hanging around in my limited baseball imagination were movies like Bull Durham, Eight Men Out and Major League. Moneyball is vastly different from all of those, although it attempts to draw similar cultural and political connections to the sport as John Sayles historical drama.

Written by two of the premier screenwriters around at the moment in Steve Zaillian (American Gangster, Gangs of New York) and Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, The West Wing), a certain quality was always guaranteed when it came to this film. What is so surprising is the way in which the movie manages to make something ‘universally’ significant, and at the same time specifically emblematic, out of the curious incursion of mathematical analysis into the realm of professional sports. In much the same way as Sorkin examined the Facebook phenomenon in The Social Network, the film strives for, and achieves, a deeper cultural significance outside of its niche concerns, demonstrating how technology is rapidly changing old paradigms of operation in multiple industries. Early on in the film Brad Pitt’s character comes out with the oft-used gobbet of wisdom “adapt or die”. His character, the Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane, is talking with an experienced member of his scouting network and is essentially laying out the cold, modern reality of many working environments, change is inevitable and you either get with the programme, or you end up on the scrapheap. What makes Moneyball such a fascinating film is the fact that the writers and the director (Bennett Miller) are working with material that ultimately describes that brief moment when an old order, or hierarchy, is desperately trying to fend off the inevitable future.

Billy Beane stumbles upon a Bill James obsessed economics graduate, Peter Brand (an excellent and delightfully understated Jonah Hill), whilst out scouting Cleveland for players for the coming season. Brand has developed a complex statistical model that re-evaluates player worth, based around their effectiveness at doing the scoring basics on the diamond. This detached mathematical approach to the sport ignores all of the ‘human’ eccentricities and intuitions that the scouting industry relies upon, whilst also puncturing much of the pseudo-mystical mumbo-jumbo around the idea of innate talent and skill. In Brand’s analysis a player is only as good as what he statistically brings to each and every on-the-park display. This radical approach to player evaluation enabled Beane to assemble a World Series competing, record-breaking baseball team on a relative shoestring. Although it didn’t transform the face of baseball, Sorkin and Zaillian do point up the ‘silent’ legacy that it put in place that was adopted by John W. Henry (the new Liverpool owner) at Boston, enabling them to win a World Series. The idea of maths as a means of ‘neutral’ assessment is a sensible and logical one, yet none of those within the game at the time seemed willing to embrace it, perhaps because they could foresee the long term consequences it may have upon their careers. What is most effectively realised in the script is the subtle transitions that occur in the characters, with both Beane and Brand gradually acknowledging that the mathematical system must still be supplemented by the human instincts of skilled coaches and talent scouts, in the same way that some of the players gradually grasp how the system is helping them maximise their talents.

Moneyball was a surprisingly funny movie and enabled a non-Baseball loving individual like myself to engage with the drama of the situation immediately. Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill were both on top form, as was an almost unrecognisable Phillip Seymour Hoffman in the role of the stubborn and beleaguered head coach. The final sequences involving Brad Pitt and Arliss Howard’s John Henry, as well as Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, add texture to the story in the way that it seeks to formulate a value, or meaning, that is devoid of the market-driven imperatives of money. It is these little moments that make Brad Pitt’s final sequence all alone in his car with his daughters recording, as he drives past the decaying industries of America, all the more poignant.

Film Rating: 8/10

Hooray for Holly-Łódź: Cinema 1 – Bałtyk Kino, Movie 1 – Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2/6)

2 Comments


9:30am Bałtyk Kino, Prezydenta Gabriela Narutowicza 20

Don't be deceived by the leisure centre exterior and tacky Oscar statue, this is one of the best cinemas I have ever been to.

The thing I love most about being in a city with over 500,000 people and an intense love of film is the fact that you are guaranteed to find at least one cinema screening films at a ridiculously early hour of the day. When I first lived in Łódź, Bałtyk Kino did a particularly good job of catering to my irregular film-going hours, providing me with early morning schedules as well as late-night double feature retrospectives and epic all-night movie marathons. Back in 2001 Bałtyk was still a heavyweight Łodż cinema, with the multiplexes only just having emerged on the Polish cinema landscape. Now owned by the Helios cinema group (who also own Polonia and ran the now defunct Kapitol in the city), Bałtyk has been around since 1927. During the Communist period in Poland it underwent a massive expansion, broadly in line with many of the state-owned Adria cinemas, which left it with a massive main screen, that can comfortably seat 750 viewers in one screening. It’s also one of the few curved screens in Poland, which make it ideal for the perfect presentation of widescreen features.

Until 2003 the cinema was just off Narutowicza, one of the main streets that horizontally bisects Piotrkowksa. Since then the location has remained the same, but the cinema is now at the rear of the newly constructed Philharmonic Hall, with a tunnel-like passageway leading to the main entrance, that oddly lends Bałtyk the air of a grotto. Perhaps the most noteworthy feature of the cinema’s exterior is the somewhat tacky giant Oscar statue that is appended to the wall beside the foyer.

Having had my early morning caffeine fix and taken the short hop from Piotrkowska to Narutowicza, I was surprised to see how little had changed since I’d last been in the cinema, a few years ago. The foyer is still absurdly poky and entirely disproportionate to the size of the screens that lie behind it. In the foyer you have a decent concessions stand that stocks a selection of sweets and crisps, the usual soft drinks and popcorn, as well as a few more ‘luxurious’ items such as ice-cream and nachos. With it being so early in the day, not even a glutton like myself required any hasty nourishment.

One of Bałtyk's superior cinema auditoria, with a massive curved screen for the perfect presentation of Widescreen cinematic releases.

The film I went to see was the latest installment of the Mission Impossible franchise, entitled Mission Impossible: Ghost Franchise. Since the opening of multiplexes like Silver Screen and Cinema City, Bałtyk has tended to focus on screening Polish cinema releases and films that are best suited to projection upon its gigantic main screen. The MI film was being shown on the main screen, which features state-of-the-art Dolby Digital Surround Sound and one of the clearest projections I’ve witnessed in any cinema, ever. The seats are comfortable, being cushioned and yet firm, with plenty of leg space. The rows of seats slope gently upwards away from the screen, but due to the colossal size of the screen there would be little hope of my view being blocked, even if more than the two people in attendance had shown up. Despite being almost alone in the auditorium I felt entirely immersed in a classic cinema-viewing experience and thoroughly enjoyed the film. I can remember previous visits to Bałtyk (the first Lord of the Rings movie in particular) when this main auditorium was packed out and the atmosphere was genuinely electric, seeming much more like a live theatrical event. Despite having to endure increased competition Bałtyk is still an immense cinema, that projects films the way that the director has intended them to be projected. Finally, it doesn’t skimp on the trailers (a vital part of the cinema-going experience) unlike its fellow Helios stablemate Polonia. The price of my ticket was an early morning bargain of just 13 zł (normally 14 zł), with standard ticket prices being 17zł.

Cinema Experience: 10/10

 

In terms of the film Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol was a welcome return to form for a franchise that had looked dead in the water last time out. Tom Cruise may increasingly be looking his age, but he can still deliver a solid performance in the action hero stakes. Cruise obviously had creative control over the project and has been able to equip himself with a solid supporting cast and a good director (Brad Bird coming over from Pixar animation). Jeremy Renner is a welcome addition to the team and lends some dramatic heft to proceedings, whilst Simon Pegg gives good geek as the guy with all the gadgets and Paula Patton is a game and very physical female lead. The movie also manages to find two admirable Euro-villains in Léa Seydoux’s blonde assassin and Michael Nyqvist fanatical physicist, both of whom are eerily self-contained.

There isn’t really much that’s revelatory about the plotting, but MI has rarely been about the story. Intriguingly Cruise and Co. seem to have set their sights on inhabiting the middle-ground between the cool glamour and bravado of the Bond franchise and the gritty, globe-hopping, techno hyper-realism of the Bourne series. The film particular excels in its action set pieces, the most notable of which include: an all-out Russian prison riot, the detonation of the Kremlin and a bit of extreme base-jumping on the world’s tallest building, in Dubai. The BMW corporation clearly provided much of the funding for the movie, as not only do the latest prototype models get an early airing, but the films climactic sequence actually occurs in one of the companies plants. Barely halting to draw breath Cruise seems hell-bent on putting his character, Ethan Hunt, through some of the most adrenalin-fuelled sequences to grace the silver screen in 2011. The film even manages to end with a strangely satisfying emotional coda, that sees Renner and Cruise flex a little acting muscle. All in all a thoroughly enjoyable, big budget romp.

Film Rating: 6/10

Film Review:- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II (2011)

9 Comments


Dir:- David Yates

Starr:- Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Tom Felton, Matthew Lewis, Warwick Davis, Michael Gambon

Note:- Spoilers contained throughout this review. Alas, I’m in a Grinch-mood it would seem, so this is another of my unkinder reviews. In my defence I simply write it as I see it.

Well the Great British Actor’s Pension Plan has finally drawn to a close, with perhaps only Keith Chegwin and Les Dennis failing to benefit. After over sixteen hours of cinema Harry Potter’s ‘dramatic’ adventures as the world’s most unjustly lauded adolescent have come to a cringe-worthy anti-climax. The final shocking revelation? Well, erm, Daniel Radcliffe makes a pretty convincing middle-class thirtysomething parent, which is a whole lot more than can be said for the rest of his performance throughout J.K. Rowling’s beloved children’s saga. Put frankly, Daniel Radcliffe cannot act. At intermittent moments in this final, almost entirely unnecessary, installment of the great Harry Potter love-in Radcliffe does show a modest flair for comic timing that may mark out a future lower profile career as a modern British version of eighties dork-to-order Rick Moranis. However, what had become painfully clear by about Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is confirmed here, Radcliffe just doesn’t have the necessary presence or gravitas to carry off a mature and conflicted central protagonist. In the first three features Radcliffe got by on being relatively cute and absurdly close to Rowling’s vision of the prepubescent wizard. But by the second half of the saga, with puberty kicking in, Radcliffe’s short stature and catastrophic lack of charm seriously hampered a series that had always been about Harry, but was now almost entirely devoted to substantial sections of screen-time dwelling on the vapid thespian talents of its lead.

The myriad failings that can be found in the Harry Potter series go far beyond Radcliffe’s woefully inept turn, although this perception of the series as a relative failure may well be a generational thing. Having read only excerpts from the original novel this review is not meant to be a damning indictment of Rowling’s literary work, but rather focuses exclusively upon the movies. From the very first Chris Columbus directed day-glo dippy film there seemed a curious lack of tension and momentum in Harry Potter’s ‘quest’. As was noted in a previous review of this opening feature Harry Potter seems a very modern child protagonist, almost narcissistically self-involved, incomprehensibly seen as the centre of the universe and overcoming every challenge placed in his way without really having to try too hard, or develop too much. This is heroism devoid of personal growth, a cipher-hero who simply attains ‘champion’ status without having to do anything of distinction to warrant it. Yes, Harry is seen battling all manner of CGI guff, but rarely is he victorious by using skills that he has had to strive hard to achieve, more often action set-pieces unfurl, only to be nipped in the bud with ridiculous ease, by a choice spell, or daft combination of objects, that could have been carried out by anyone (and often is).

There is also a weirdly bland depiction of ‘democracy’ at work throughout the series, which reaches its apogee in the truly awful denouement of the double-length Deathly Hallows, whereby Neville Longbottom’s common-as-muck Northern realist (think a slender, elongated and equally preternaturally aged Phil Kay wannabe) dispatches the final Horcrux (has there ever been a bigger ‘crock of’ in any kids quest?) and then Harry Potter, having finally defeated Voldemort, opts to break the prestigious Elder Wand in two and throw it away. The subtext here appears to read that it is better to be one of the many and share equal power, than grasp for some higher authority and rule. As much as these are admirable sentiments, Harry Potter’s combination of dull, accountant/estate agent charisma and almost sexless physicality, makes the camp ambiguities of Alan Rickman’s heroically elitist Snape, or Tom Felton’s Draco Malfoy far more intriguing, thus diminishing the effect of such a transparent appeal to equality.

What is it with the North-West of England's obsession with the name Neville? Here our loveable BHS Cardigan wearing lummock asks, just one last time, if this is the way to Amarillo?

A lot of column inches have been exhausted in the British media about what a fabulous job the previously unheralded English filmmaker David Yates has made of transferring the darker tones of the later Potter novels to the big screen. Yet surely the most completely realised and effective of all the films was the Alfonso Cuarón directed Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Apparently this third feature treacherously deviated from the source novel (surely something to be expected when switching between mediums) meeting with the considerable ire of Potterite devotees. Yet compare the manner in which Cuarón manages to incorporate character elements into a neatly paced plot, without sacrificing an ounce of the unique atmosphere he created for the film (something that even shows in the intricacy and ingenuity of the end credits sequence), with the manner in which Yates singularly fails to make much of the more affecting material in the final four movies count. Embarrassingly there is a ten minute sequence in Deathly Hallows, Part II that manages to give more inventively constructed plot elements and character background, than pretty much all of the rest of the movies that Yates was assigned to. It’s not that Yates is necessarily a bad director, but he is merely workmanlike and rather pedestrian, whereas Cuarón brought a masterly cinematic aesthetic to the mix. It is hard to envisage the Spaniard settling on the clichéd use of yet further Lord of the Rings style CGI battle sequences, let alone managing to make them so terribly uninvolving. Rather than fearing for the wellbeing of Harry and his intrepid band of cheerleaders (yes Rupert Grint’s Ron Weasley is back to simply exclaiming what the audience should be feeling about the latest bozo SFX sequence, ‘Brilliant!’) the viewer is utterly detached and divorced from the action, leaving the troubling whiff of modern-day news coverage about proceedings. Whilst all around is being laid waste, it is very difficult to relate to this violence in any meaningful and empathetic manner. Yes, this is children’s fantasy literature, but isn’t there something just a little off about the cold remoteness with which the audience is asked to view this carnage?

During the quest for the undiscovered Horcruxes, which has taken up the narrative of the last three movies, Harry, Hermione and Ron are frequently given little cut-away moments to unconvincingly fill in narrative leaps. These tend to take the form of an absurd eureka moment, usually inspired by some random jump of logic performed by the increasingly underused Emma Watson. This gives the action sequences the feel of a particularly fantastical episode of The Crystal Maze, begging the question who is Richard O’ Brien? The way in which Harry becomes the only show in town also robs the films of any sense of ambiguity, or more complex humanity. The manner in which Watson, by far the best of the young actors, is completely sidetracked during the second half of the saga, only emphasizes the ridiculously limited focus and ambition of the Potter story, whilst simultaneously robbing the audience of sympathetic supporting characters that they can invest some degree of emotional commitment in. All character arcs seem to be sacrificed to the convergence-effect of Harry and Voldemort’s stultifying final face-off, which only goes to illustrate how monotonous the narrative is. So much of this final chapter seems hell-bent on inducing sleep in the viewer, despite the swooping crane shots during the battle sequences or the wholly unterrifying and lifeless use of dragons and giants. Even the supposedly insidious voiceover from Ralph Fiennes pantomime dame of a villain, appears primed only toward beckoning in the Land of Nod that little bit sooner. If this is indeed inspiring fantasy fare for children then precisely how dull is 21st century childhood?

Richard O' Brien has become a little more hands-on in the Channel 4 re-boot of The Crystal Maze.

Yates does strive for a solemn moment of cod-philosophising late on. With Harry Potter finally dying (alas, not for good) and being reunited with one of the few genuinely textured characters, namely Michael Gambon’s Dumbledore. Master and pupil are brought together in a blanched approximation of Channel 4’s The Word set, which may or may not be the most lifeless rendering of heaven ever seen on the silver screen. After a mundane exchange about the whole thing resembling King’s Cross Station, only without the trains, Harry and Dumbledore get down to more profound and weightier concerns. With Harry getting as existential as Radcliffe’s limited acting abilities will allow, he mentions that this all feels as if it is happening inside his head (a rather staggering acceptance of the solipsistic narcissism at the series’ core) and not actually occurring in ‘reality’. Dumbledore comes back with a line that Yates’ own directorial limitations can’t help but ghost in on-screen quotation marks: “Of course it’s happening inside your head Harry, but why should that mean it is not real?”. I’m sure that many a ‘pseud’ could parlay that particular nugget of wisdom into some lifeless culture-section piece, or pop tome on Potter and Philosophy, but really it warrants about as much attention as the underwhelming second-half of the Potter saga in its entirety. Within modern market conditions whereby a literary franchise such as Rowling’s can be converted into a multiple media platform cash cow, there seems an expediency toward good old-fashioned waffle and padding, where in previous generations an editorial scalpel may have been dispatched to rend unwanted verbiage from its sticking place. This is ultimately narrative’s loss, but as long as the box office tills keep a-ringing and Amazon enjoy hefty pre-orderings then what incentive brevity and story integrity?

Bland is the Way of the Walk - If this is Heaven then send me straight to Hell. At least there they might have heard of Armani.

Film Review:- The Future (2011)

3 Comments


Dir:- Miranda July

Starr:- Miranda July, Hamish Linklater, David Warshofsky, Joe Putterlik, Isabella Acres

Miranda July’s second full-length feature film cements her growing reputation as a quirky and infuriating talent to watch. Back in 2005 July completed her debut Me and You and Everyone we Know, which was generally received with highly positive critical reviews. The film managed to finally give the actor John Hawkes a vehicle worthy of his considerable talents and seemed to herald the arrival of an intriguing new voice in American independent cinema. With The Future July takes a similar narrative approach to her previous film, only this time it is more tightly focused on a smaller number of loosely related characters, whilst simultaneously appearing to have much more ambitious thematic aims. If anything this latest work comes good upon obsessions that were first crystallized in July’s 1998 short work The Amateurist. Uniquely amongst recent cinematic auteurs July seems all too aware of how the film lens, by its very presence, alters reality. Not only do her films have an obscure, elusive and indefinable quality about them, but they often address directly the way in which the process of filmmaking has insinuated itself covertly into everyday existence. As a performance artist July is an exhibitionist by nature, but rather than just dwelling upon the narcissism of this limited artistic dynamic, she seems to be more actively probing our internet-fed modern obsessions with the instant gratification of capturing an audience, as well as the difficulties that modern technologies pose to a sense of authentic human interaction.

In that early short, The Amateurist, July worked out a film within a film, that effectively saw a supposedly ‘professional woman’ (played by July) comment on the performance of an ‘amateur woman’ (also played by July) she was surveilling. An interaction occurs between the two women that is conducted in the most awkward and difficult of ways, and is almost wholly mediated through the use of abstruse technology and jargon. This latest work by July seems to dwell on a similar predicament, but embellishes it by adding the peculiarly crippling effect of time to the mix. Almost every single character in The Future is directly affected by the manner in which the very idea of ‘the future’ forestalls the taking of action in the present. The present is a particularly elusive concept to pin down, as by its very nature it is fleeting , utterly unknown and only definable only in retrospect. Furthermore there is a sense that computer technology serves as both an enabler and a handicapper within the present, offering a myriad of potential possibilities for creative and social fulfillment, whilst all the time increasing the likelihood that a person will be unable to decide what to do with their existence. July’s work is most adept at navigating the comedy that lies between this interplay of frustration and fantasy, anticipation and reality.

Central to the film are the thirtysomething couple of Sophie (Miranda July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater). They are the kind of modern-day American definition of the term ‘hipster’, yet with none of the success that seems to hover around that unfairly applied and oft-derided term. Sophie is a dance teacher, who seems unable to do anything of particular merit with her supposed skills. Jason is a phone adviser for an IT firm, who works from home and pretends to write a novel. At the opening of the movie the couple have signed up to care for a rescued cat, referred to as ‘Paw-Paw’ and voiced by a vocally distorted July. It is the imminent arrival of the cat, a first serious attempt at responsibility, that forces the couple to take stock of their relationship and their existence. Faced with the prospect of having to look after another living being, the couple suddenly realise that they have achieved so little and want to do so much more. Yet despite this realisation, and the setting aside of a thirty-day window to achieve ‘something’, the future is an oppressive realm and weighs heavily on the couples’ ideas of what to do, as well as ultimately coming between them and tearing their relationship asunder.

Can you remember when the spoken word actually mean more than an emoticon?

With a background in the creative writing workshop short story, as well as performance art, July tends to break her narratives down into little units of ambiguous meaning, that intersect with one another at various different points, creating a vague symphony of nuance that grasps for the poetic but occasionally comes away empty-handed. The Future, although stylistically similar to Me and You and Everyone we Know, is a much more difficult movie to warm to. There is an unevenness to its narrative that isolates little moments of the movie as particularly powerful and effective, whilst failing to make the film work as a satisfying whole.

The movie begins with a visually sumptuous and delightfully framed opening credits sequence in which all of the little bits of bric-a-brac that make up a life spent together are shown, devoid of the human presences that would make these things more than simply generic. In one of the more obvious visual gags in the film Jason returns to the flat after one of his many interviews with a strange, sex-obsessed, old man called Joe (Joe Putterlik), only to find himself looking at the objects in his own flat that are almost identical to that of Joe’s. There is a very intense fear throughout the movie that a person may not be as authentic as they would like to think they are. Many times over the film focuses on replicas of other people’s realities, as if all human experience is really just a shared amalgam of consumer products and hackneyed ways of interacting and creating.

Early on July explores the idea of time being brought to a standstill. Whilst Jason and Sophie are working upon their separate laptops at the movie’s opening – inhabiting the same space but utterly divorced from contact – they briefly discuss what secret powers they possess. Jason suggests he has the ability to stop time, which he then proceeds to playfully simulate. Later in the film Jason actually does stop time, at the moment where Sophie is about to break up with him. As befits the all-encompassing inertia of the film, Jason doesn’t actually magically transform the world in this infinity of stalled time, but rather simply fails to make any suitable decision that would help him ‘progress’. July is daring enough, or reckless enough, to allow the film’s slight narrative to almost entirely collapse in on itself at this point, as if she is taking umbrage with the very idea of ‘progress’ itself. In an intriguing structural decision July actually demonstrates that time is relentlessly mono-directional, by allowing Jason to freeze the reality around him and yet time itself remains unfrozen, so that when Jason brings reality back to motion, time has moved on and the couple have missed their appointment to collect Paw-Paw the cat.

The side-plot of the cat is overly twee and yet quietly affecting, as it demonstrates another facet of this waiting around for the future to come, namely the power that anticipation gives to hope. Paw-paw sees a future with Jason and Sophie and looks forward to the days when he will be outside of the rescue cage and living in the comfort of the couples flat. Like Sophie and Jason, Paw-paw projects forward, imagining a time of comfort and happiness as part of a family with them both. Yet this projection is simply a means of making the unbearable nature of the cats confined existence palatable, until that point when hope turns to disappointment, disillusion and death.

This is what it 'feels' like to let it all out.

Another element of the movie revolves around the distinct ways in which Sophie and Jason deal with the disintegration of their relationship, alongside their possible hopes and dreams. Sophie flings herself into an internet-mediated reality, but cannot bring herself to complete the dance film tasks she sets herself. Instead she makes contact with an older man, called Marshall (David Warshofsky) who is a single father of a daughter, Gabriella (Isabella Acres). Sophie gradually enters into the curiously cold and remote world of Marshall and Gabriella (the girl spends hours inexplicably digging a hole, in which she then buries herself up to the neck, one of the more powerful visual metaphors from the movie) and attempts to make a new and very different life for herself. Meanwhile, Jason divorces himself from the internet and embraces the first cause he comes upon, in this case replanting forests. In his door-to-door advocacy of this conservation project, Jason comes into direct contact with an assortment of different people through whom he experiences a sense of ‘authentic’, unmediated reality, which forces him to question what he is doing and what he actually believes in and cares about.

Throughout these various vagaries of the plot July somehow manages to prevent the film from falling into the alienating preciousness of unsatisfying fare like 3 Backyards. This is partly achieved by the carefully cultivated ironic humour of many sequences, of which July herself is the prime purveyor. More importantly however the film has individual sequences that are so powerful that they make it possible to forgive the film’s more self-indulgent moments. Perhaps the most impressive of these comes during Sophie’s visit to Marshall in the movie’s final third. Taking up residence in his bedroom she comes across the mysterious yellow shirt creature that has absurdly followed her around the film. Pulling the outsized yellow shirt on, she becomes enmeshed in its amorphous form and performs an achingly emotional solo dance, that resembles nothing less than the complete destruction and reformation of a human being. It’s a moment of inspired and arresting wonder and beauty, which absolutely justifies the film’s various eccentricities and infuriating narrative elisions. It also brings July’s concerns with that moment of audience capture full circle, as it bewitches and seduces the viewer into going along with her arch-whimsy. An ice-cold movie, with little eruptions of comic warmth, The Future suggests that humanity finds it impossible to live in the here and now and that the fleeting moment has been devalued and eroded by the proliferation of depictions of self via modern internet media. July, at her strongest, restores some of the profoundly enchanting quality of dream to an otherwise jaded reality.

Older Entries