Friday 18 March 2016

High-Rise hits cinemas today... if only I could see it

High-Rise stars Tom Hiddleston, aka Loki in The Avengers

I live in Southend-on-Sea, a nondescript English town about 40 miles to the east of London. It has one cinema - an Odeon - and I'd be lying if I said it even came close to satisfying my needs as a regular filmgoer with eclectic tastes. 

I have no difficulty seeing the big blockbusters locally (I shall check out Zootropolis and Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice over Easter) nor high-profile Hollywood dramas and comedies. However, a problem arises if I want to see something a little more niche or, god forbid, with subtitles. Even with a gun to my head I could not reliably tell you the last time my local Odeon showed a film in a language other than English. (I don't think they even screened Pawel Pawlikowski's Oscar-winning Ida, despite Southend having a fair-sized Polish population). I could just about tolerate this state of affairs - after all, view on demand services such as Curzon Home Cinema show a lot of new-release foreign language stuff - if I was able to see a varied selection of British and American films locally. But I really can't.

Take this last couple of weeks as an example. Anomalisa is a critically-adored, Oscar-nominated stop-motion adult animation from the febrile mind of Charlie Kaufman - aka the guy that wrote Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. It isn't being shown at my local cinema. At all. Not even one late-night showing for students and beard-stroking film buffs. Nor is The Witch, a slow-burn horror movie that has done good box-office in the States and another film festooned with critical plaudits. 

Anomalisa: a stop-motion, adult animation from Charlie Kaufman

Most egregious, however, is the decision not to screen High-Rise, Ben Wheatley's long-awaited adaptation of the JG Ballard novel, starring Tom Hiddleston. That's Ben Wheatley, who has directed episodes of world-famous sci-fi TV show Doctor Who, and Tom Hiddleston, the actor who plays Loki in the mega-successful Avengers and Thor franchises. Even if you remove Wheatley, Ballard and Who from the equation, people will see High-Rise for Hiddleston. As well as playing one of the most celebrated movie villains of all time, he's also in the running to be the next James Bond and his BBC1 drama - The Night Manager - is coming to the end of its run on prime-time Sunday nights, garnering decent ratings and laudatory critical notices along the way. Even if High-Rise isn't as commercial a proposition as The Avengers, whichever way you cut it, the man's a big star with an enormous fan base. And yet his latest film - British film, I might add - can't get a look-in while the likes of Allegiant and Ride Along 2 can.

I'm sure Odeon aren't entirely to blame for the situation. I know distributors have limited resources and end up targeting their films in those areas where they think they'll perform best but I'm not sure why that would exclude Southend. There's a university here and, whilst I doubt its students wander about smoking Gauloises and quoting À Bout de Souffle at each other, I'm pretty certain their cinematic tastes extend beyond Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2. For whatever reason, Southend's cinemagoers are being shortchanged, especially those who have recently invested in one of Odeon's new Limitless cards. You pay £17.99 a month (more in London) and for that can see as many films as you like (a variety of restrictions permitting). Thing is, if there's bugger all worth seeing, where's the value for money in that transaction?

I reached out to Odeon on Facebook, asking them why High-Rise wasn't being shown in Southend. That was two days ago and I'm still awaiting a response.

The Witch: slow-burn horror set in 17th Century New England

So, if I can't see Anomalisa, The Witch, and High-Rise locally, what am I supposed to do?

I could try watching them illegally. I've no idea if downloadable files exist for these films but I certainly know where to look. That way, I'd get to see the films for nothing and the people who sweated blood to make them would receive bugger all in return. That doesn't sound like a good solution to me but it's little wonder piracy persists when it's often so difficult and/or expensive to see new-release films.

I could travel to the Empire cinema in Basildon to see them but that would involve train and taxi fares on top of movie tickets, bumping up the cost by around £20 each time. I would be left very out of pocket simply because I want to see a film at the same time as moviegoers in bigger towns and cities. How very unreasonable of me.

Or I could wait for the films to come out on DVD, Blu-ray and View On Demand. Let's have a look on Amazon, shall we? Anomalisa is released on July 11, The Witch on July 18 - both four months away - and High-Rise hasn't even got a release date yet. This isn't a good solution either because I want to see the movies now because it's the 21st century and, while we might not yet have jet-packs, instant gratification is supposed to be a way of life. But w
hile I can buy any book, graphic novel, video game, DVD/Blu-ray, CD/MP3, car, toy or novelty hat at the same time as everyone else in the country, when it comes to new-release movies I'm screwed. 

It's a ridiculous state of affairs. Every week I read about these great new films in magazines and newspapers, or hear about them on TV and radio, but can't actually see them. It reminds me of that Jerry Seinfeld bit about TV cooking shows: “I will never understand why they cook on TV. I can’t smell it. Can’t eat it. Can’t taste it. The end of the show they hold it up to the camera, ‘Well, here it is. You can’t have any. Thanks for watching. Goodbye'.”

Steven Spielberg: one of the big names backing the Screening Room

Every now and again, some bright spark suggests a different way of doing things. The latest is Napster founder Sean Parker whose Screening Room project plans to make Hollywood blockbusters available for home viewing on the same day as they are released in cinemas. His scheme is reportedly backed by JJ Abrams, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Peter Jackson, with the likes of Sony, Universal and Fox showing an interest. But it wouldn't come cheap. A set-top box to receive the films would be $150 (a little over £100), each rental would be $50 (£35). To keep big cinema chains sweet (they usually insist on a three-month window between theatre and home release), Parker's suggesting they pocket $20 of every sale and that each rental comes free with two cinema tickets for the same film so they don't lose out on concession sales. Thirty-five quid to rent a film may seem a lot and it probably would be if you were viewing alone. Watching with family or friends, though, would soon bring that cost per head right down. 

As I say, the putative service would be for major Hollywood blockbusters and it therefore wouldn't solve the problem of being able to see smaller, niche films in their first weeks of release. But the fact such a service is even being considered is a definite step in the right direction. In the meantime, where's that timetable? I don't want to miss my train to Basildon...


  1. We found the same problem, having just forked out for Limitless cards. Odeon were quicker to respond on Twitter than you've found on Facebook. We were about to ask, and found someone else in the Midlands had already asked. The response: "We've not had confirmation on any other cinemas, sadly :(".

    At least we've got the Phoenix arthouse cinema and The Showcase Cinema Deluxe screening it, but it's a bit annoying to have an unlimited cinema card in our pockets and have to pay to see it elsewhere!

  2. Just found a new reply to someone else. They say that the distributor only gave them a small number of copies, so they're having to do short runs.

  3. I ended up having to go to Basildon - I saw High-Rise, Anomalisa and The Witch over two days there. I have a Limitless card so it's frustrating but, if I'm honest, it's still decent value for money. At £17.99 a month it's barely two cinema visits and I clock up far more than that most months.