Monday, May 5, 2014

Series revives theatre going experience

What a joy it was last Tuesday to be at the Birmingham Maple Theater – my first visit after its reno - to check out the theatre, take part in its inaugural film from the new New York Film Critics Series – and enjoy a terrific movie to boot…..

First the theatre. I didn’t know what to expect from the major renovation after Cloud Nine took the Maple over. Landmark Theatres used to screen films there (see April 28 post). The entire look is dark, smart and sophisticated, with a bar and café offering upscale light meals. Patrons can also bring booze back to their seats. The last two rows of seating offer wider more luxurious “club” seats but you book them at a premium, prices varying by time of day and presentation. The various old fashioned movie cameras attached to one wall in the cafe make for a nice piece of “cinematic art.” The fact you can get a decent meal without having to go to an often hard to find neighbourhood restaurant (I still lament the closing of Crust pizza in the same West Bloomfield plaza) is nice. Okay, on to the NY Film Critics Series.

Last Tuesday the Maple was welcomed to the series, which features newly-released films that are pre-screened at select cinemas across the U.S. before general release. That’s what took place with Locke directed by Steven Knight and starring Tom Hardy. The series is an effort to ramp up interest in independent film (and good cinema generally) as well as encourage public theatre-going. The pre-screened films (tomorrow night is Chef by Jon Favreau and starring him, Dustin Hoffman, Scarlett Johansson and John Leguizamo) are shown just once, and may or may not open later at an area theatre. “Whether or not the titles open as regular features will vary from title to title,” says the Maple’s Jeremy Mills, “ I believe Locke will be going to the Birmingham 8 in a week or two, but Chef will definitely be at The Maple.”..…The evenings are events with an introduction to the series and film by people like Rolling Stone movie critic Peter Travers and Alison Bailes of More Magazine. Following Locke there was an interview - with questions and answers from audience members at select theatres across the U.S. (giving the appearance of live but actually pre-recorded) with director Knight and actor Hardy. Another nice touch is a slide show of participating cinemas across the U.S., most of vintage quality with their preserved historical marquees. There’s obviously a move afoot to preserve these cinema palaces and recreate a traditional movie going experience.

As for Locke, this one man movie is unlike most movies you’ve seen lately. Ivan Locke is a construction engineer who must drive one night from Birmingham to London along the A-10 taking about an hour and a half – almost in real time to the film. During the drive he’s confronted with a series of tension-filled and ethical questions related to his work and personal lives. See it.

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