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    Birmingham, Culture, Music and Movies

    Movies I watched in the cinema in 2018

    watching 100+ films in 2018 (1)

    After realising in June I would easily do 50 films at the cinema in 2018, I doubled it to 100.  And by the end of the year I’d seen 105 showings.

    There were some duplicates: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Avengers Infinity War (once in IMAX, once is 2D), and Crazy Rich Asians I saw twice each.  Three Billboards surprised me because I thought it was going to be one of those dreadfully worthy Oscar films, so I saw it early and thought it was great, so when a friend who couldn’t get to the cinema much wanted to see it again, I agreed.  Avengers Infinity War I could’ve left at one viewing but a friend wanted to see it in IMAX and it was certainly worth it for some of those epic views of Wakanda, but not a film that needs a second viewing.  And Crazy Rich Asians I had the chance to see on preview, and then with some friends who have Chinese heritage and I really wanted to hear what they felt about it – and I love a good romantic comedy, and Hollywood doesn’t seem to churn them out like they used to.

    And I didn’t just limit it to current Hollywood blockbusters, I also saw a rerelease of Heathers to mark its 30th anniversary, a showing of 2012’s Sightseers and a Q&A with actress Alice Lowe, and two black and white Christmas movies, The Shop Around the Corner and It’s A Wonderful Life.  Blue Brothers I saw as a surprise birthday celebration for Simon AKA Mr Brum Breakfast Club, and I finally saw the original The Italian Job, only it was accompanied by a live orchestra.

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    I saw a few documentaries too: The Prince of Nothingwood; Can You Dig This and Syria’s Disappeared, both as part of Kopfkino held in Stirchley, which aims to show films to get you thinking; Invisible Women as part of SHOUT Festival; and the problematic Three Identical Strangers.

    There were a few non-English movies too, including Timecrimes aka Los Cronocrímenes, Indian comedy-drama Padman (which I adored), Love Sonia and Cycle as part of Birmingham Indian Film Festival (BIFF), A Prayer Before Dawn and Under the Tree as part of Shock & Gore festival, and the Japanese movie Shoplifters.

    I tried to make sure I put my money where my mouth is and see more films made by women, including In the Fade, Pin Cushion, Lady Bird, A Wrinkle in Time, Leave No Trace, The Butterfly Tree, The Spy Who Dumped Me and The Rider.

    I also spent a lot of time listening to podcasts, my favourite of which still remains Eavesdropping at the Movies. It’s locally recorded which means if I wasn’t already planning to see it, I can usually catch it on someone nearby.  Hosts Jose and Mike are clearly knowledgable about film, and they discuss the movie in depth without namedropping obscure films for the sake of it, and it feels like listening to two smart friends discussing the film on the way home. Because that’s pretty much what it is.

    Here is the whole list of all 105 films.

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    What did I learn?

    Basically, I spent a lot of the time at the cinema, and a lot of time researching what was on.  I quickly came to realise that my Cineworld Unlimited card was excellent value for seeing all the big Hollywood blockbusters and very occasionally less well-known gem.  I wish they’d do more of that, both from a cost perspective for me, but also because it often feels like we don’t have a lot of places doing the less well known stuff.

    Thankfully we have the mac arts centre in Cannon Hill Park and the Electric Cinema, which meant that I got to see a lot of the films I’d heard about but weren’t exactly going to knock the latest superhero movie off from its multiple screening perch.  Thankfully finances allowed me to spend a lot more time at both of these, partly due to taking up offers like the concession costs at The Electric with my Independent Birmingham card, and the Screensaver deal at mac, which meant I bought a chunk of tickets in advance and had something to look forward to.  Because multiple trips to the cinema are expensive.

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    What’s 2019’s movie challenge?

    Repeating the challenge feels a bit pointless, and upping the number feels a bit extreme.  Whilst I’m well on my way to watching a good amount of movies this year already, I spent a lot of time at the cinema last year at the expense of other things.  Having the challenge in 2018 made me spend a lot more time looking at what was on and I certainly want to keep doing that, because I saw some things I never would if I wasn’t actively looking.

    I want to continue exploring cinema beyond just the big blockbuster Hollywood films.  One thing I miss about the demise of video rental stores is seeing more foreign films, so I’m going to try and challenge myself to do that more (and regain the ability to watch a movie at home without getting distracted).

    I also want to try and hunt out more people doing interesting things in Birmingham.  I’m off to the first Stirchley Open Cinema screening of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri (despite having seen it twice) to support them, and I’m going to try and make it along to more community film screenings like Journey Film Club and Birmingham Arthouse Cinema.

    I’m really exited about the CineQ Queer Film Festival coming up in March, and I’m still torn between getting a weekend pass or booking for individual screenings (mainly because I like to know I’ve got a seat before I show up).  And then of course there’s Flatpack Film Festival from 30th April – 5th May in my diary, and Cine-Excess and SHOUT Festival worth keeping an eye on too.

    I will be continuing to get good value from my Cineworld Unlimited card, and I intend to try and spend as many of my spare pounds at the mac and Electric as time / money will allow.

    Music and Movies

    Eavesdropping on a podcast

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    Having rediscovered podcasting a few months ago, there’s been one that I listen to fairly religiously.  Eavesdropping at the Movies does exactly as you’d expect, it’s like listening to two people who know movies, discuss what they’ve just seen with a

    I was delighted to be asked to join them to watch the fabulous Mildred Pierce movie, a 1940’s noir crime-drama starring Joan Crawford, which tells the story of the titular character who leaves her husband and raises their two daughters whilst trying to forge a path for herself.  Afterwards we recorded the podcast and you can listen to it on the Eavesdropping at the Movies website, or below via soundcloud.

    Music and Movies

    The Italian Job at Birmingham Symphony Hall

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    Confession: until this evening I’d never seen The Italian Job in full. I’m not entirely sure how this happened; I’ve always watched a lot of films, both at the cinema now, and growing up as a child on video and taped from the telly, and yet somehow I never got round to watching it.  Perhaps it’s one of those films most people see thanks to their parents, but my dad grew up in rural Ireland, where there didn’t appear to be much in the way of cinemas and he was too busy riding horses into the city centre to watch a British blockbuster.  I know all the classic bits from the film, the “you’re only meant to blow the bloody doors off”, the self preservation society song, and yet I managed not to watch it, even in 2003 when the remake was released.

    So when there was an opportunity to see a HD remastered version of the 1969 version of The Italian Job, performed ‘in Concert’ with a live orchestra (for the first time), playing the famous soundtrack by legendary composer Quincy Jones, I figured it was about time I got round to seeing it.

    And what a way to see it, it was.

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    The plot of the film is a fairly simple one, by modern standards.  Recently released from prison Charlie Croker, played by Michael Caine, is left the plans for a multi-million pound heist by an old friend who has been murdered by the mob.  Convincing a major British crime lord to finance the plan takes some work, but eventually it’s full steam ahead and even intimidation and the destruption of their beloved cars (integral to the plan) by the same mafia mob who killed his friend isn’t enough to stop Croker and his gang.  They head to Turin to enact their plan, which involves disrupting the traffic lights and causing a major jam, steal several bars of gold and engaging in a cat-and-mouse car chase.

    Sure it’s a bit predictable, but it’s a fun, comedic film, evokes full on nostalgia for the 1960s and has some well known British actors, including Michael Caine, Noel Coward and Benny Hill, to name a few.  And it’s easy to see why it gets included in lots of the top British film lists, as lots of being have a soft spot for it.

    I really can’t believe it has taken me this long to see The Italian Job, but I’m glad that when I finally got round to it, this is the way I got to see it in full for the first time.  The orchestra were a brilliant edition adding a real richness to the screening, really bringing the film to life.  At times I’d forgotten that the band weren’t always part of the show, it was that well timed and knitted together.  I adored their rendition of “Getta Bloomin’ Move On” or as it’s more commonly know  “The Self-Preservation Society” – I did wonder how they’d do it with the cockney accents, but they’d retained this from the original acre, layering them over the live big band music.  It was a lovely way to spend a Sunday evening.

    It looks like Birmingham Symphony Hall are showing a few other films in a similar format, including the beloved British movie Brassed Off with the Grimethorpe Colliery Band to provide the soundtrack.  Although the one I’m most excited about is  Jurassic Park with a full symphony orchestra performing John Williams’ legendary and magnificent score live.

    Music and Movies

    Kopfkino at Stirchley Baths: Can You Dig This

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    I love living where I do and I love seeing films that make me think.  And lucky for me the two combine with Kopfkino, a quarterly film club that shows a film or documentary aimed at getting you thinking.

    Kopfkino, which literally translates from German is “head cinema”, has previously put on I Daniel Blake and a documentary about the Syrian crisis.  This time round it was a bit more upbeat, with a documentary called Can You Dig This.

    Set in South Los Angeles, infamous for gangs, drugs, liquor stores, abandoned buildings and vacant lots, Can You Dig This follows the lives of several of South LA’s local residents through their urban gardening, showing how they are trying to transform their neighbourhoods through an urban gardening, and changing their own lives in the process.

    The evening started with a talk from Northfield Eco Centre, in the process of rebranding to Eco Birmingham, about the work they do on encouraging sustainable living through grass roots activities, events and programmes for the local community.  One of the projects, Edible Brum, helps people to learn how they can grow it themselves, and looks at ways to tackle food poverty and waste.

    I’d seen the TED talk of Ron Finley, one of the subjects of the documentary as a previous TEDxBrum and adored his no-nonsense attitude to wanting to change the food desert in his neighbourhood.  But Can You Dig This went one step further, looking at other residents on south LA, including two men who had previously been released after a long stint in prison, a woman who had dreams of becoming a healthcare professional and a somewhat lost man who found belonging in the community gardens.  It is a charming and uplifting documentary that made me want to go plant a vegetable garden – sadly the lack of garden hinders that somewhat.

    For a taster of the documentary, here’s Ron Finley’s TED Talk…

    Birmingham, Music and Movies

    Flatpack Festival is back!

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    There’s not a lot I can do at the moment, as I’ve been struck down with the lurgy, but the good folk at Flatpack Festival have released their line-up and I’ve been having a look through it.

    Returning for a ten-day festival of cinematic invention and audio-visual delights, #flatpack12 has yet another a great line-up this spring.  Running from 13-22 April 2018, Swedish witchcraft, animated sushi, teenage mermaids, silent trapeze and Shakespearean puppets are just a few of the delights.  And if that’s just a few of the selected highlights, then you know there’s going to be so much more creativity in store.

    Continue reading “Flatpack Festival is back!” »

    Music and Movies

    Pad Man and period poverty

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    Last Sunday I dashed out of my flat to catch Pad Man, a Bollywood film based around the real-life story of social activist Arunachalam Muruganantham and his low cost menstrual hygiene machines.  Sadly it didn’t seem to be showing in many cinemas, so you may well have missed it – if it is showing near you, I highly recommend seeing it.

    Played by Bollywood star Akshay Kumar, Lakshmi is a newly-married welder who works in a rural village in India.  Lakshmi discovers his wife uses an unhygienic rag during her period and is banished from the house, forced to sleep outside.  Upon discovering the prohibitive costs of commercial sanitary pads, Lakshmi is determined to find a way to make them cheaper.  After several attempts earn him the ire of the community for discussing a taboo topic, Lakshmi is banished from the village but is determined not to give up.

    Continue reading “Pad Man and period poverty” »

    Birmingham, Music and Movies

    Stumbling across live music

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    I love living in a city for so many reasons, but one of which is the richness of live street art and music that you can stumble across – sometimes it’s part of a festival and sometimes it’s just because.  Last night whilst I was ambling around the city centre, trying to decide what I should do for dinner, I spotted three people setting up equipment for a gig.  It’s not uncommon to see people playing around this area in Birmingham, but usually it’s a soloist with maybe a single amp, mic and possibly a guitar; a drum kit and enough kit for a full gig is quite unusual.  That, and the make up of some of the band, made me want to stick around to find out more.  Plus, I still hadn’t decided what to have for tea.

    Unsurprisingly it turned out they were a rock band, and the man in front of me was right in his assertion they looked like they were going to be worth sticking around for. Once they’d told the group of bemused onlookers who they were, I did a quick online search and turns out StOp,sToP! have quite the following. I stuck around for a few songs, ignoring my rumbling tummy, and thoroughly enjoyed their rendition of Proud Mary in particular.

    Stop Stop Birmingham 2

    In a week when terrible things have happened in our fellow second city, armed police patrol the streets and trains, we’re told trauma centres are on high alert, and the country’s threat level is raised to critical, a rock band plays a free gig in Birmingham city centre. It feels ridiculous and defiant, and as the crowd sung and danced along, it felt like the right.