Mockingjay’s a muted pick of the week…

Is a trip to the pictures too expensive? Can current pricing be a bad thing for British films made on modest budgets? One prominent industry figure thinks so, and has a suggestion…

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That was the week in which…

Lionsgate CEO Zygi Kamasa suggested discounting ticket prices for British films. 

The argument goes something like this: cinema admissions are in decline; a huge budget film costs the same to see as a relatively small indie; 2015 is likely to see a bunch of blockbusters dominating the box office with little of substance in support; and that will potentially lead to big imports exuding a huge cultural domination over new British films.

Quite a pickle, eh? So, he argued, why not charge a tenner for an American blockbuster and four quid for a Brit indie?

If, like me, you spent your economics class waiting for the teacher to turn up while the class clown flicked boogers at your hair, you probably still recall the basic lessons of supply and demand. Theoretically, cheaper tickets lead to more demand. But would it really make much difference?

Even if we ignore the multitude of potential pitfalls that come with classifying a film’s nationality (for example, Fast And Furious 6 counts as a UK-qualifying film according to the BFI), the more striking factor is awareness. It’s safe to assume that almost everyone would aware of the release of the next big franchise given their ubiquitous presence across almost every type of media imaginable. In comparison, the majority of indie films – British or otherwise – are a niche interest, almost the sole preserve of those already in the know.

Similarly, the likes of The Hunger Games, Spider-Man and Star Wars are safe viewing experiences. Okay, so the sequel might not be as good as the previous film, but even accounting for the possibility of a spiritual successor to Jar Jar Binks ruining your day, it’s not going to fall too far short of expectations. As for an indie? Neat idea; good reviews; think I saw the lead in something, once: it’s a much riskier proposition.

Price alone can only offer a tokenistic sway. Let’s say you get to go to the cinema once a week, once a fortnight, or once a month: the need to spend your film-viewing time wisely is surely as important as the price, and an unknown quantity carries the greater risk that you’ll be slumped in a stinker that inspires nothing more than growing uncertainty about the point of life.

And, of course, there are Brit films that have huge domestic demand. Both Inbetweeners films pocketed a massive wad of cash in their clunge, for example. The Woman In Black was a spectacular success in financial terms, and next year’s sequel probably won’t be scrabbling around in the gutter for loose change, either.

It’s arguable whether cinema is good value for money. £12.10 to see The Hunger Games at Westfield London’s standard screen tonight is definitely a bit pricey, but it also doesn’t seem like a rip-off compared to other similar forms of entertainment. But £12.10 to see something far cheaper, and more likely to disappoint? Well that doesn’t sound so reasonable, especially for the casual film-goer.

Ultimately the concept needs contextualisation. If distributors and exhibitors alike could establish a method of offering substantial opening week discounts for films with the potential to build via word-of-mouth, it could be a marketing tool that benefits business and fans alike. Greater accessibility of a wider variety of titles that attract a more diverse audience would benefit everyone, but is such idealism a pipedream?

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The Big Film: The Hunger Games, Mockingjay – Part 1

The penultimate part of arguably one of the most engaging YA franchises around. Having been liberated from the Hunger Games arena in Catching Fire, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is asked to be a poster child for the brewing revolution against the evil Capitol. However, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) has his own anti-rebel figurehead – Katniss’ Hunger Games partner, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) – leading to a propaganda war for the hearts and minds of the impoverished citizens of Panem. Reluctant to be a hero, Katniss agrees to lead the rebels in return for Peeta’s liberation, but can they get there in time?

Mockingjay is the latest in the intriguing modern phenomenon of two-part finales. Harry Potter did it, Twilight did it, The Hobbit split into three; and universally this has led to ‘part ones’ that are, more or less, a little slow. Just as we waited and waited in the invisible tent in part one of The Deathly Hallows, here we spend a lot of time in the rebel bunker with Lawrence’s Katniss staring down all comers defiantly.

It’s an engaging enough storyline that provides sufficient entertainment for now while teasing a huge finale, but lacks some of the flourishes of the previous two instalments. Whereas the first and second films clashed gritty, impoverished locales of the districts with the lurid, colourful vistas of the Capitol, now the feel is more or less blockbuster sci-fi, with everyone in sleek black armour and dodging big CGI set-pieces.

As ever, the performances are impressive and provide most of the reason for watching. Lawrence is angry and defiant throughout, and Sutherland remains a deliciously sinister baddie. Big ticket addition Julianne Moore classes up the place as the rebel leader reluctant to play politics, while Phillip Seymour Hoffman is reliable as ever (in sadly his own penultimate screen performance) as her adviser.

A strong finale would vindicate this muted first half, but taken on its own merits Mockingjay, Part 1 keeps you interested, if not blown away. Words: James Luxford

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Also Out: Get On Up

It doesn’t take long to establish that James Brown biopic Get On Up isn’t going to be the sort of film that demurely follows a life in a logical, linear fashion. It starts in the late 1980s with Brown waving a gun around in an office while everyone else cowers in fear: the reason being that someone has taken a shit that’s stinky enough to offend his senses. Within minutes, he’s almost blown out of the sky en route to Vietnam and then, almost immediately, we’re cast back to the poverty of his childhood.

This stream-of-consciousness approach continues throughout with probably more than a hint of legend added to the most famous elements of his tale; all intercut with an almost over-exploitation of Brown’s relentlessly energetic back catalogue.

It’s all engaging scrappy fun, held together by a phenomenal performance by Chadwick Boseman. A whirlwind of swift-steppin’ dance moves and a fireball of charisma, Boseman also captures Brown’s volatile change of moods with ease.

Tonally, it shifts gear as quickly as the plot darts between eras – sometimes it feels like a big emotional biopic which wants to be pure Oscar bait, and at others it addresses the social commentary of a bygone era. But mostly it leans towards playful crowd-pleasing fun rather than beefy dramatics. It’s basically the best James Brown tribute act you’ll ever seen, with a pretty good story wrapped around it.

Related: Clash interviews Chadwick Boseman

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Shorts

Despite a storming start from The Imitation Game, Interstellar maintained a comfortable lead at the top of last weekend’s UK box office. Nativity 3: Dude, Where’s My Donkey? is 1) too damn early for my liking, and 2) named around a joke that its target audience won’t understand. It claimed the #3 spot despite scathing reviews. The Telegraph’s Robbie Collins, however, deserves 10/10 for concluding his review with the line: “As soon as I left the cinema, I went looking for a donkey to kick me in the head.” The Drop came in at #5, thus demonstrating that there’s an audience for the nascent underground crime / animal welfare genre.

Mike Nichols (pictured above), the director of films such as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Graduate, Catch 22 and Silkwood, died at the age of 83. Meryl Streep was one of many who paid him a glowing tribute: “An inspiration and joy to know, a director who cried when he laughed, a friend without whom, well, we can't imagine our world, an indelible irreplaceable man.”

Finally, Paul Bettany 4, Twitter trolls 0:

 

 

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Words: Ben Hopkins, except where indicated

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