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Am I just getting old?


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#1 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 23 August 2008 - 03:30 PM

I used to love to go and see the summer movies when I was younger. But somethings happened with either me or the films.

So, I went to see Hellboy II as it came very highly recommended by my friends. I saw the first one, but didn't like it. If Ron Perlman hadn't been in it, I would have fallen asleep. But I decided to give it a second chance. Not the least because some critics have called the director, Del Toro, the new Orson Welles.

I have a few dramatic rules that I think work. Tension, for instance, is best created by presenting a seemingly insurmountable problems or forces to our woefully under-equipped protagonist. Classic David vs. Goliath stuff. But it seems like today they think the tension box is ticked as long as you just make the opponent bigger and badder. But no, unless you strip the superhero from his superheroness, then no real threat can exists. We all know the superhero is a superhero and cannot lose. Alas, no tension whatsoever.

This happens in all of these movies these days and Hellboy II was just like the rest. Orson Welles? Please. Hellboy encounters one CGI fest monster that looks lifted out of a PS3 game after another. They're wanky designfests for nerds at post houses, but nothing really new. At all. They all have legs, arms and very big teeth and roar very loudly just before they charge (all CGI monsters have to do this - it's a requirement). And they're all defeatable by Hellboy's Big Baby cannon in the end. Can someone please wake me when the real tension starts?

The camera work and composition is all over the shop - and I mean that literally. There isn't a single shot that doesn't crane, track or swirl Bay-style around it all. OK, so you have a Technocrane with a stab head. That's fantastic, gentlemen. All I can think of is Hitchcock in all of this: "If you want people to listen, don't move the camera". I mean, why are they so terrified - petrified - of having one single shot that doesn't move? It drives me nuts.

It's just so extremely sloppy and lazy filmmaking. I just want to scream: "block and execute the scene properly you bastards!" Instead they hide behind fancy moves and fast cuts to mask their total cluelessness in telling stories with images. Spielberg is damn near the only one in Hollywood that blocks shots anymore now that McTiernan can't get arrested.

The week before that I saw the box office smash The Dark Knight. It was much better in the CGI department, but it suffers from the same basic flaw: superheroes are dull as hell. Superheroes can't lose. Superheroes take care of any and all problems that arise. Zzzzzzzzz.

I've seen pretty much every superhero movie ever made and the verdict is in: not one - not one- has been good. Or even close to being good.

You know you've become a sad, grumpy f**k when the only film in the last year that's been even remotely decent was The Assasination Of Jesse James and that did zero business and got snubbed at the Oscars.

So what's wrong - what's happening? Am I just getting old or are the films so totally atrocious these days that stabbing my eyes out with a lettuce fork seems like a less painful way to spend the evening?
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#2 Michael Belanger

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Posted 23 August 2008 - 03:53 PM

Blame this on Star Wars. I remember watching it in the theaters when I was 7 years old, and leaving thinking it was an amazing thrill ride, like a roller coaster basically but on screen. Watching it now from a story perspective is a bit painful.

I've seen Dark Night and like you I was unimpressed. it's interesting that Bat Man is almost barely in these movies. They all seem to be about the villain who is a much more interesting character. You'd think a story about a rich, secluded billionaire who was traumatized by the death of his parents and has taken on an alternate personality to vainly avenge their deaths while fighting crime in a corrupt metropolis would have something to say about the actual guy. Especially considering they're using the actor from the Machinist.

Oh, and that's not just a CGI monster thing. Stop Motion monsters do that too. As do guy-in-rubber-suit monsters, kung fu bad guys, crazed mobsters with machine guns... I guess everyone does that. That's what makes it so relevant I guess. Who hasn't had the neighbors dog or a drunk guy at a night club roar at the top of their lungs (while a camera moves 180 degrees around them) before they charge toward us full steam?
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#3 Paul Bruening

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Posted 23 August 2008 - 04:10 PM

Thank you, Adam, for bringing this up. I had these feelings a couple years back and kinda' got jabbed at by fan-boys of (place crummy movie title here) to the point that I quit making posts like this. So, I will stand behind you on this one. I think you're right. Completely right.

Now, what's happened? Hollywood has always been a crap-factory. But, amidst this the industry has managed to produce some very fine and meaningful work. Has "meaning" changed? Or, as you suggest in your title, do our needs for meaning change as we get older? My brother is certain that there is a brain-drain in movie making. He suspects that the sharper people have gone into other fields of creativity. Of course, if he's right, what does that make me? Oooops.
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#4 Bill DiPietra

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Posted 23 August 2008 - 04:20 PM

Adam,

I lost my faith in Hollywood years ago. As a result, I've immersed myself in avant garde, foreign and silent films that have far more meaning than the majority of eye-candy that is being created these days. It's very sad. Everyone says that this stuff goes in "cycles" and that quality filmmaking will come back to Hollywood. I honestly don't see how that can happen since the studios have now bought up the independent film scene. Now studios feel that they can say they are "independent filmmakers" simply because they have an "indie film division." The hypocrasy is so thick you could cut it with a knife.

I would like to see a group of talented filmmakers and film lovers rise up and bring back the cinema...

Edited by Bill DiPietra, 23 August 2008 - 04:21 PM.

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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 23 August 2008 - 04:26 PM

I try to avoid drawing conclusions that any artform (or life in general) was "better" in the past, though obviously any artform has certain peaks and valleys, some glory days. And there are stylistic trends over time that may suit one's own sensibilities better than other trends at other times.

But I also wonder if I am simply getting too old for most fantasy / sci-fi / action movies that were the joy of most of my viewing life -- they are clearly made for people with different tastes now. I start to nod off at most all-CGI battles that cap movies these days.

I think "Dark Knight" is different though -- the superhero barely overcomes anything by the end and the villain barely is defeated. The movie tries to show just how hard it is to stamp out evil and crime, and suggests that the harder you try, the worse you may make things. Batman's heroics creates copycat Batman's that end up suffering, creating more problems, it creates bigger villains that need even more effort to defeat, and in the end, the good people die anyway and Batman is left, as his only solution, to take the blame for a crime he didn't even commit -- hardly the CGI action uplifting ending of most comic book movies ala "Ironman" (which I enjoyed up until the climax) and "The Incredible Hulk". Nolan & Pfister give me some hope for the genre.

But otherwise, I tend to agree that movies aren't as fun as they used to be. The financial stakes are SO high these days that there is a feeling of desperation to entertain, to throw things at the viewer, and therefore there is no lightness of touch (something the original "Star Wars" had that was missing after that.)

Makes me prefer watching an old Ernst Lubitsch movie instead...

As for directing trends, I agree completely -- the art of blocking & staging to camera with editing in mind is lost on most directors these days. There is this belief that all you need to do is follow the actors around the room on a tight lens and call it a day. And many actors these days are so babied, so coddled, that they aren't expected to be professional and work with the director and DP at staging to the lens and saying certain lines on certain marks, etc. So the art of composition and editing is weakened; most movies simply capture what happens in front of the lens, with some arbitrary camera movement tossed in there to add visual interest to dull staging.
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#6 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 23 August 2008 - 04:31 PM

You just gotta discern between the glorified over-budgeted neo-B/exploitation-movies vs. the ones that come from original storytellers and true artists within the realm of filmmaking.

It may be pretty easy for most of us, but I think we have to be reminded that a lot of the summer blockbusters are just continuing the Hollywood swill tradition that began in the early days. Only nowadays the audience is bigger, therefore the budgets are larger and more impressive at first glance.
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#7 Paul Bruening

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Posted 23 August 2008 - 04:41 PM

Adam,

Sorry to reiterate and belabor your question of "What's happened?" It's just that it's been boiling on my back burner for some time. I hope this thread will expand broadly, as I am very curious about a wide spread of observations from the people I've grown to respect the opinions of.
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#8 Daniel Smith

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Posted 23 August 2008 - 04:46 PM

I think there are some pretty amazing films out these days to be honest. Atonement, Jesse James, No Country, Valley of Elah, We Own the Night, Kite Runner etc.

I think looking back on films has a nostalgic effect. I have a friend whom I'm sure will look back in 20 years and say 'arr they don't make films like Armageddon anymore...', as do people nowadays say about films made years ago when their taste was slightly more liberal, who hate Armageddon. I'll always look back at films like Forrest Gump, Star Wars etc. but now my taste has developed (slightly) I probably wouldn't bother with films like those released nowadays. That and more than just memories of the films come back when looking back on them, they represent an era in your life that you probably miss

just my thoughts.
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#9 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 23 August 2008 - 05:38 PM

Right, the good movies don't make any money because they don't appeal to the lowest common denominator and throw things at the viewer as David says. I blame Rambo movies for this "superhero never dies," explosions by the minute type filmmaking.

We should start our own purist school of filmmaking. But who is gonna come see the movies, who is going to bankroll them?

As David suggests, the financial stakes are so high, the producers are desperate to make the money back and turn a profit, and appealing to the lowest common denominator is the cheapest way to do it. Dumb and Dumber, anyone? Additionally, there are so many movies being produced in search of audience, fame and fortune, that it is only bound to make things desperately cut-throat and content-cheap.

That seems to be the industry-wide trend, until movies can be produced for less money so that the financial returns are not leading the movie to the depths of hell where most movies seem to be going to these days. Maybe the internet will change all that? An internet distributing model that targets smaller market niches and turns a profit? There are some current internet trends that sort of address that, especially in comedy, but not quite really turning a profit. The August 08 edition of Fast Company has a very interesting article about this, but I cannot find it online . . .
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#10 Daniel Smith

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Posted 23 August 2008 - 06:15 PM

Thing is, I'm not sure how people can say movies these days are just pumped out into the market like a big machine, when cinemas and films were far more popular 50 years ago.

I'd say it was probably more commercial back then than it is now.
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#11 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 23 August 2008 - 07:01 PM

Here is what I could go and see tomorrow:

Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging
Get Smart
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Kung Fu Panda
Mamma Mia
Space Chimps
Star Wars: The Clone Wars
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
Wall-E
Wild Child
You Don't Mess with the Zohan

Now, where do we start on this choice selection?

The fact that it's possible to have that many films on at once without offering one that's vaguely watchable?

The fact that several of them ("Space Chimps?") are clearly the result of packaging deals which require exhibitors to take bad films along with the good?

The fact that it won't, in any case, be possible to watch any of them without constant cellphone interruptions which will be answered and a conversation had?

I can't go to the movies anymore without wanting to physically hurt someone.

P
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#12 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 23 August 2008 - 11:27 PM

Hollywood has always been a commercial machine, but its output used to be more wide and varied, rather than putting so much effort into creating a few "tentpole franchises". I think this is partly due to the nature of who owns Hollywood these days -- big multi-national corporations with big expectations of profit, plus this desire to release a movie around the world on the same day in thousands of theaters and get 90% of the ultimate profit within the first week.

Back in the 1930's and 40's, Hollywood studios owned their own theater chains and tailored the movies to where their theaters were located, hence the gritty crime movies of Warners compared to the glossy musicals of MGM. Sure, a lot of material was just programmers, but it did create a training ground for directors and crews, and through sheer volume of production, some good stuff got through. But when you scale back production from 300 movies a year to 50, let's say, then the 50 you do make have to generate a lot more profit per movie to compensate for the fewer numbers of titles.

On the other hand, there is a lot of truth in the notion that it all depends on how old you are -- we fall in love with the movies in our youth, but we don't have the same openess and acceptance, the same passions, when we get older. We get more critical, our tastes get narrowed or more complex, we've seen too many movies over the years that remind us of other movies, etc.
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#13 Scott Fritzshall

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Posted 23 August 2008 - 11:41 PM

Here is what I could go and see tomorrow:


Wall-E

Alright, I can see you holding that opinion about the rest of the films on your list (though I liked Hellboy 2; it wasn't great but it was fairly entertaining and very imaginative), but seriously Wall-e? It's not only very entertaining throughout and absolutely adorable without ever being annoyingly cutesy, but it's also one of the most biting criticisms of American consumerist culture that I've seen in I don't even know how long. I don't even know how it would be possible to dislike this movie; if you dismiss it as just cutesy kids stuff you're doing yourself a great disservice.

Edited by Scott Fritzshall, 23 August 2008 - 11:41 PM.

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#14 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 24 August 2008 - 02:11 AM

Here is what I could go and see tomorrow:

Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging
Get Smart
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Kung Fu Panda
Mamma Mia
Space Chimps
Star Wars: The Clone Wars
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
Wall-E
Wild Child
You Don't Mess with the Zohan

Now, where do we start on this choice selection?

The fact that it's possible to have that many films on at once without offering one that's vaguely watchable?

The fact that several of them ("Space Chimps?") are clearly the result of packaging deals which require exhibitors to take bad films along with the good?

The fact that it won't, in any case, be possible to watch any of them without constant cellphone interruptions which will be answered and a conversation had?

I can't go to the movies anymore without wanting to physically hurt someone.

P


I could not agree more (with the exception of Wall-E), Phil. This is another thing - friends call me up and say "let's go to the movies" and as soon as we check the trades you instantly lose faith. There is never, ever anything I want to see. It's always full of stuff like Phil's list above.

I mean, if you haven't laughed once in a Judd Apatow film despite seeing them all, then chances are I won't be funnier the next time around. If you can't stand Will Ferrell or Adam Sandler, then that means your pretty much poop out of luck with comedies for the next 3 years until some new star or writer captures the fancy.

If you don't enjoy superhero movies on top of that, then your really out of luck. Now I read in Variety that Hollywood - fortified by the success of the Dark Knight - is going to put even more money into comic book adaptations. DC and Marvel's ninth-rate characters that no one even liked or cared about the first time are now gonna get filmed as well. Hope you will enjoy the remake of Electra and the Human Torch series.

I think I'm just gonna stay in and rewatch my DVD's until the remake of The Dambusters is done. That I'll see.
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#15 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 24 August 2008 - 03:01 AM

... the art of blocking & staging to camera with editing in mind is lost on most directors these days.

I think that this trend will pass though. I've noticed that in most of the student films I've been involved in, the filmmakers still block their shots to camera and actors are expected to hit marks. "Shooting the rehearsal" has not yet become the norm in the student world from what I've seen (probably because film is still the most expensive part of the student budget). I hear "shoot the rehearsal" much more often on video-originated corporate/industrial/commercial-type stuff that I work on. But those guys aren't interested in shooting narrative features since they already make a very comfortable living and can go home to their families at a reasonable hour.

So as these students graduate to making bigger and bigger films, I'm hopeful that they will bring these changes with them. The bad news is that this way of working generally comes from the DPs, not the directors who are often seemingly uninvolved in many of the camera placement and blocking decisions. I don't know if this is because they are intimidated by their DPs who have more filmmaking experience, or if they are just generally clueless but I take it as a bad sign that they will pass these kinds of decisions off to their DPs.

Adam, at least you have a DVD player, and through that access to an enormous library of films (including current indie/underground/foreign film fare) that a generation ago would have been virtually inaccessible to you. That's got to count for something...
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#16 Dave Green

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Posted 24 August 2008 - 07:07 AM

I used to love to go and see the summer movies when I was younger. But somethings happened with either me or the films.


Probably both - I know that's certainly what's happened to me. The older we get, the more we've seen, the harder it is to see something new. However...

In the English speaking world the US is absolutely king of films: they make the most, they make the biggest, they control the cinemas. Unfortunately, they also have to make the big profits and appeal predominantely to their biggest market, the US audience, which they seem to think is populated by people for whom thinking is an alien concept.

Apart from Hard Candy, which I did like, I can't remember the last US film that was either any good or not massively biased to a US audience and their very passionate nationalism. As someone who isn't American the nationalism alone can be hard to sit through in the cinema <1>, never mind contantly being spoon fed the film's story because I, as an audience member, can't possibly be allowed to think for myself.

Sadly, the UK's film industry offers very little alternative.

Over the last few years I've discovered a whole new world of film thanks to the increasing ease of buying world cinema from people like Amazon. Watching films from countries like France and continents like Asia I've found that it's not really me becoming a film snob or anti-Hollywood, it's simply that as an English speaker I'm given little opportunity to go to the cinema and see anything that's not from the US, and US films simply don't have the imagination (or, probably more accurately, aren't allowed to explore techniques and themes that don't conform to the accepted norm due to box office paranoia) or the confidence in their audience to let them think.

As for the topic of tension in films, I think this is a talent that has been all but lost and replaced with wobbly cameras and CGI eye-candy.

<1> And before anyone starts thinking 'oh, he's anti-American', this is simply a cultural difference between the US and the UK. Generally speaking people in the UK don't have anywhere near the same level of nationalism that we see in the US and, indeed, many see it as being a negative attitude to have rather than a positive one. To give those of you in the US some idea on how big the difference is - having a British flag flying outside your house is considered at best offensive, more lilkely, however, a sign that the person in that house is a racist.
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#17 Sam Wells

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Posted 24 August 2008 - 10:09 AM

Adam,

I lost my faith in Hollywood years ago. As a result, I've immersed myself in avant garde, foreign and silent films that have far more meaning than the majority of eye-candy that is being created these days.


I would like to see a group of talented filmmakers and film lovers rise up and bring back the cinema...


Well me too, more or less on bot counts.

On the second -- what do you do, though ? David Gordon Greene (for example) has to make "Pineapple Express" (I haven't seen it - so no opinion) in order to have a film that plays more than 5 or 6 movie theater for a week or two at most ---

-Sam
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#18 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 24 August 2008 - 10:22 AM

I read a while ago that there's actually deep concern in the industry about falling profits, and I think the reason is simple - there's a quality problem, which makes all this conservatism (both big and small C) seem a bit less appropriate.

Probably a lot more, much cheaper films should be made. I'd like to see fewer of these 75-100 million "blockbusters", and instead 8-10 smaller films made for the same money. Scattergun approach, but it allows slightly more risk-taking.

P
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#19 Ira Ratner

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Posted 24 August 2008 - 10:46 AM

Adam, I'm in the same boat--and everyone tells me I'm just an old fart (51).

The Dark Knight? Big deal.

Ironman? Boom, smash, crash--what innovation!

The Hulk? Give me a break.

I think the thing is, the action blockbusters are the films that are going to bring in the dollars, because they bring in the entire families at once. And not only do they have to appeal to the lowest common dominator, I don't think 99% of filmmakers can do otherwise in the first place anyway.

And with the cost of going to the movies these days, who the heck is going to shell out that kind of money to see something innovative and questionable? The attitude is, "We'll wait until it gets to HBO or DVD." And for love stories (eech), avant garde, comedies, and off-the-wall themes, again--same attitude. Why spend that kind of money to see it on the huge screen when I can wait to see it on my gorgeous high-def at home for a fraction of the cost?

But a lot of the computer-animated children's stuff coming out has been UNBELIEVABLE, and unless you have youngin's and see films like Shrek on the big screen, you'll never know. Beautiful to look at, great stories, and written with an adult perspective to entertain the parents as well.

Maybe the film industry is getting to a point like the music industry, where production and distribution of the product is not going to be determined by the large movie companies, but instead, by smaller production companies delivering their product direct to the consumer via download or pay-per-view. The bad side is that unlike music, where the production costs remain fairly static (they all just work in an audio studio), the cost of shooting films is astronomical for most genres, and the limited income from direct to consumer sales just can't support it.

However, my guess (or hope) is that there's going to be one film taking this approach, it's going to be an incredible work of art and successful, and other companies will follow suit.

I know many of you here can't envision it, but I sure can--a world without movie theaters and $10 boxes of popcorn. To me, it's just the future, and you can't stop it.

Yeah, yeah--I know there's an argument to be made that when cable TV first came out that everyone was worried that it would destroy the movies and it didn't. But that was then and this is now.
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#20 Andy_Alderslade

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Posted 24 August 2008 - 10:55 AM

This sort of discussion really infuriates me, it seems to pop every year or so.

It seems people A. confuse the fact that as there have been a few classic/great summer movies that all summer movies are great, B. that when living in London, Los Angeles or New York that one can only frequent multiplexes and watch conglomerate produced fan-fare.

A. Most summer movies are what they are, factory produced products designed to pull in kids and teenagers out of the sunlight while on their holidays and make lots of money. 5 or so years ago when I had to program my uni's student cinema, going through the list of summer blockbusters was like scraping a barrel, for every Bourne Identity, there was a host of tiresome sequels and Chris Rock films. If Walle and The Dark Knight are to two really good films, then you're already above average!

B. Why should we just pass our money on to Richard Branson or Rupert Murdoch, when you can go to an independent cinema and watch an independent film, you have the chance of seeing a film which is as every bit as entertaining or moving, even more so, than in a Virgin cinema in-front of a 20th Century Fox-film. When you live in a big city you have no excuse not to try the alternative.

Just look at the choices playing in London today, just naming a few

In Kilburn the Trycicle cinema is playing Somers Town
In Hammersmith the Riverside Studios is playing a David Lean double, Doctor Zhivago/The Passionate Friends
In the Prince Charles in Liecester Square you have Happy Go Lucky and In Search of a Midnight Kiss
The Curzon's are playing Man on Wire
The NFT is playing The Ghost of St Michael's with Will Hays
The Rio of East London is playing Jules et Jim

Edited by Andy_Alderslade, 24 August 2008 - 10:56 AM.

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