BAKER STREET: EVERYMAN CINEMA

Tags

, ,

‘So, where can you enjoy a cinematic experience…where the cinema feels almost like a home from home?’ Well, according to their website, an Everyman cinema is where. It’s a bold claim, but the group’s Baker Street branch certainly tries its best. Small and cosy, with exceedingly welcoming staff, a lovely selection of food and drinks (including a nice culpa or a fresh mint tea, hot food and frozen yoghurt with fresh fruit for afters), comfy seats and intimate screens this is the only cinema I’ve wanted to hang around in after the film for another drink and a catch up with Colin. As nice as some other places have been, once the show’s over it’s time to go, but here we felt welcome and able to relax in the small bar area. This all chimes with the Everyman claim to champion independent cinema and its uncorporate image which puts individual customers first, so I was slightly disconcerted to read online that the group is actually owned by a group of private shareholders who have been criticised for use of zero hours contracts. Nevertheless, the chain of 10 cinemas across the UK are consistently rated amongst the best by cinemagoers and I can certainly see why. This place is great.

Great, but small. On a quiet Tuesday night, this only added to the sense of a very personal experience, but when sold out, it could get a little uncomfortable. Seats are velvet-covered and comfy, with lots of leg room, side tables for those nice cups of tea, and spaces to store bags. I was sitting on the end of a row, slightly tucked behind a pillar. Although initially awkward, having no-one in front of me meant an unimpaired view, but add an average height head and it would be a different story. Likewise, the bathrooms were very nice, but impossible for more than one person. Also, one of my personal bugbears: a hand dryer too weak to work. Honestly, if it’s not putting out enough air to blow out a birthday candle, why bother?

We had a choice of two films: Calvary (billed as a black comedy about Irish Catholic priests, small towns and abuse – sounded ‘hilarious’) and Bad Neighbours (new parents vs frat house, from ‘the guys who brought you This Is The End!’). We went for the easy option and enjoyed Bad Neighbours in a generally harmless, but-I-never-need-to-see-this-film-again kind of way. Colin liked it more than I did and it’s a film clearly aimed at a male crowd, despite the surprisingly decent female lead played well by Rose Byrne. Actually, the acting was pretty good and there were some great jokes (the best showcasing excellent use of an airbag) not entirely spoilt by having all been in the trailer. The repeated dick-jokes and crass depiction of college girls was disappointing but, sadly, standard.

Film aside, I can only repeat that this cinema is great. As soon as this tube-based odyssey is over, I’ll be back.

Combined scores:

How comfy were the seats? 7/10

How good were the snacks? 9/10

How nice were the staff? 10/10

How sticky were the floors? 8/10

How great was the ambience? 9/10

Average: 8.6/10

How much did we like the film? 5/10

Advertisements

Whiteley’s Folly (Queensway via Royal Oak)

Tags

, , , ,

Although one of Henri’s teenage stomping grounds, I elected to write the review for Odeon Whiteleys, mainly to spare everyone a long list of rose-tinted reminiscences about meeting friends near the Christmas tree and buying Bobby Brown cassettes in Tower Records. But it’s worth included a bit of history here, to set the cinema in its current context. Whiteleys as a building has a long history, with the current building constructed in 1863 by William Whiteley (imagine Mr Selfridge, but not so well-remembered, despite his notorious murder in the shop itself) and continuing as a major department store until 1981. It reopened as a shopping centre in 1989, but has been in a steady decline since the mid-1990s. Now in a seriously sorry state, there are often few customers than shops left open and it looks like the cinema is the only business keeping the place going. In fear that it might soon be turned into a block of luxury flats, we co-opted the Odeon at Whiteleys for Royal Oak on the Hammersmith and City line, instead of waiting till we got round to Queensway or Bayswater, both much nearer station stops.

 

I’m glad we did: this cinema really is worth your time. For this visit, we tried a recent innovation, another level above your normal Odeon experience called ‘The Lounge’. This is destination cinema-going. Everything seems pretty much like any Odeon until you pass through the ‘normal’ foyer and ascend a wood panelled staircase to be welcomed by excellent, dedicated staff.   They showed us through to some comfy seats in a bar styled like a west end cocktail bar and our waiter came to talk us through the menu and when it was best to order our food. Yes, no queuing here – a menu of main meals and snacks with a Chinese, Japanese and Lebanese theme, all brought to your table in the bar or your seat in the screening room.

 

The cinema itself is one of five screens with only 20 or so seats. The screen is fairly small, but as all seats are so close that’s not really a problem. The seats are probably the biggest disappointment. At first sight they are huge and comfy, with tables on the right arm, but they are actually a bit too big for real comfort and don’t recline much. And even if they did recline you need to sit up pretty straight, otherwise you get the top of the seat in front moving on to the bottom on the screen. A blanket would have been nice too. The food was really nice, although a bit pricey because it is served to your seat, either via advance order or via the call button activated during the film. This all sounds great, but it does mean you are often distracted by waiters taking and bringing orders throughout the show.

 

Previous blogs have recorded overlong pre-film adverts, but here it was straight into the trailers. This came as a welcome relief, as we were getting pretty used to the standard Odeon and Vue adverts. I expect we’ll be reciting them by heart in a few months’ time! The film we watched was Spiderman 2. Regular readers will know Henri is the biggest fan of comic book films and has the real knowledge to understand how subplots and side characters link to future story lines, but we agreed that this was something of a failure. Clearly an awful lot of money had been spent and there were some great special effects, but it didn’t make up for a lamentable story, terrible script and alarming editing. Pointless characters, needless side plots and overlong, the film wasted a charismatic lead actor in Andrew Garfield and hid Jamie Foxx behind blue CGI and other, random characters. The only success was the chemistry between real-life couple Garfield and Emma Stone and the guts to stick to the original Gwen Stacey story-arc. Overall, a real disappointment. With such a proven money spinner as Spiderman, hopefully someone will improve things for the inevitable third instalment.

 

Going out on the first night of a tube strike probably made the cinema a bit quieter than normal, and I can imagine that on a busier night, with the bar area full and buzzing, this would be a great all round night out with a group of friends or a date. As it was, it was still pretty special and we both heartily recommend The Lounge for your viewing pleasure.

Combined scores: 

How comfy were the seats?             6/10 (For the price and the amount Odeon have spent on them, they should be a lot better.)

How good were the snacks?             8/10 (A nice selection, but pricey.) 

How nice were the staff?                10/10 (Faultless.)

How sticky were the floors?               9/10

How great was the ambience?           8/10 (A nice setup, when you include the pre-film bar area, but food deliveries during the film are distracting and the overall ghost town feeling of Whiteleys just doesn’t help.)

Average:                                                              8.2/10

How much did we like the film?          4/10 (What a waste of time and money…)

Ladbroke Grove: The Electric Cinema

History is on show everywhere at the Electric Cinema on Portobello Road. Built in 1911 and one of the oldest purpose-built cinemas in the UK, the theatre retains its ornate cream and gold stucco interior, carefully restored since a fire in the attached Electric Bistro necessitated a full refurbishment in 2012. Watching a film here is an odd mix of old and new: after collecting your tickets from the old-style booth, you can choose from the Sweet Shoppe pick and mix and order a drink from the almost archaically polite bar tenders. Customer care is obviously a priority here – staff even waited till the audience was settled to start the trailers. By the time you’ve snuggled up in leather armchairs with footstools, tassled lampshades and cashmere blankets, you could have strayed into Miss Marple’s sitting room. But there is also an implicit feeling of trendiness: this is, after all, part of the Soho House group. This contrast is clearly deliberate and nicely illustrated by the bespoke Electric News programme, shown amongst the trailers. Introducing the cinema via actors in period costume, you realise these are no ordinary actors, but the latest ‘it’ faces such as Benedict Cumberbatch and Gemma Arterton http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0g4l5wqK6Sg.

(Disclaimer, The following paras were written by Henri.  A massive Marvel comics fan.  Colin tried to tone it down, but gave up – he thought it was fairly good though IronMan 3 was better.  We struck a deal that I get to write the review of the new Star Wars films)

The general sense of an excellent afternoon out was confirmed by the choice of film. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was an unexpectedly topical and brutal take on intrusive government surveillance, use of the internet for the exposure of state secrets and the cost of individual principle. Chris Evans ain’t Edward Snowden, but he looks better in the superhero costume!

In fact the casting was spot on, the best thing being a set of leading actors that you could almost call diverse. It might not quite pass the Bechdal Test, but three strong women (none of whom end up as someone’s girlfriend) and two black men as leads seems like progress in Hollywood terms. Anthony Mackie was brilliant as Falcon, and what had been a slightly surprising pairing of Black Widow-Capt America turned out to be a winner. Someone so morally compromised working with someone so morally upright and both making the other one stronger and better as a result. And no bedroom antics. As a fan of the comics, it was also a great adaptation of the Winter Soldier story arc. A quick guess at the third film plot: more Bucky, Sharon-Steve romance, Maria Hill heading up a rebooted SHEILD and [deleted for fear of spoilers!] Although missing some of the humour of previous Marvel films, this didn’t detract from a fantastically tense script and some brutal but effective action sequences.

If we had to find one niggle (and it wasn’t easy to find one) it would be the price of hot food and seating options. £5 for a tiny plate of chips and dip felt vaguely ridiculous. For seating, as well as armchairs at £18 a pop, you can choose a two-seater sofa, tucked away in the back corner (ideal for a romantic night out) or a double bed on the front row. At £45 and £30 (full price), they are a special treat for most people. Though to be fair to the Electric, the beds were probably motivated less by profit, and more in response to complaints that sitting in an armchair so close to the screen gave most viewers a sore neck.

All in all, we can’t recommend this cinema highly enough.  But it’s probably more for a special occasion, though you’ll need to consider the crowds of Portobello Road Market when getting there.  And generally speaking you need to book well in advance.

How comfy were the seats? 9/10
Snacks 8/10
How nice were the staff? 9/10
How sticky was the floor? 10/10
Ambience 9.5/10
Film 9.5/10 (after some hours of nerdtastic praise from Henri)

Shepherds Bush: Vue Westfield

The newest and glitziest cinema we have been to yet, even though it actually opened in 2010. We guessed it might be because of the increasing number of film premiere’s being held there, such as Captain America the week before. Being in Westfield Shepherds Bush makes this cinema pretty hard to judge because there is simply so much on the doorstep in terms of good shopping, places to eat and organised transport links.
Going on a Monday also meant it was pretty pleasant shopping before. Being there on a weekend would be a lot different !

It seems to be a Vue policy of having music in the foyer. Unlike the pop music in West5 this time it was film scores. Colin was late and so Henri spent lots of time trying to get the films, with not too much success. This then turned into massive frustration as we attempted the automatic ticketing system. Which, quite simply, didn’t work. And we then noticed many other people having similar troubles. So we had a very long wait at the till to buy direct from a fairly surly member of staff. But there was lots of food and drink options. Including alcohol and also a bar as part of the cinema. We didn’t partake, but at a weekend this could all form part of quite a fun night out.

So overall a pretty nice ambience considering you’re in a massive shopping centre. But they really need to think about sorting their ticketing system and make it clear you can buy tickets with the refreshments.

And the film “The Long way Down”. About four people who meet when they try to commit suicide. A decent cast and good acting just about rescued a naff and predictable script with too many plot holes. Though Colin was particuarly excited to see parts filmed near him in Brixton. Don’t rush to see it.

Scoring:

Seats 4/5. A really new cinema and so no real complaints here.
Staff 1/5. All pretty surly. But this 1 also encompasses their pointless automated ticketing system.
Snacks 4/5. Mainly for proximity to Westfield restaurants, otherwise was normal cinema sugar rush fodder.
Toilets 4/5. Impressively nice, clean and new. But we doubted there were sufficient number if you visited at the weekend.
Ambience 2.5/5. It just wasn’t anything special.
Film 2.5/5 (Decent cast rescued )

Goldhawk Road: West 12 Vue

Onwards to Goldhawk Road, the Vue cinema and the 1960s style vintage West 12 shopping centre, Shepherd’s Bush Green.  Colin’s understanding of West London geography continues with the surprising find of just how close Shepherds Bush is to Hammersmith.  The first surprise is that it’s still here, despite the gargantuan Westfield across the road.  In fact it’s amazing that any retail outlet in the vicinity of Westfield survives at all considering the dire predictions of mass destruction when the new centre opened 6 years ago.  Certainly nearby Kings Street and High Street Kensington have suffered.  And West 12 reflects other shops on the Green, with its fast-food, PoundLand offerings and Fitness First with all those inside easily seen through shop-like windows.  As one online review states, West 12 vs Westfield is ‘like putting the Blackpool Tower next to the pyramids’. Its saving grace might actually be the cinema, as Vue won the Westfield franchise, avoiding a competition which would surely have finished it off for good.

Had that happened, we might not have mourned for too long.  Vue West 12 is not a great beauty, and lacks any compensatory personality.  Though you can get to it quickly from the street, and with shops with little to tempt you inside you’ll probably spend a lot less than you might at Westfield.  However, Colin loved being welcomed by the sound of Toploader’s Dancing in the Moonlight, which shows there’s no accounting for taste.  Vue certainly tries to fulfil all tastes when it comes to snacks:  the range of pick and mix sweets, ice cream, drinks, crisps, popcorn, hotdogs, nachos and chocolates is enough to keep anyone on a sugar high till the closing credits.  And you’ll need some extra energy, as you have to last through 35 minutes of adverts (and a more than usual trailers) before the film starts and survive air-con turned up to 11.  Surly staff and the ultimate sin of having no toilet paper in the ladies loo compounded a generally disappointing cinematic experience.

 

In contrast, the film itself was brilliant.  The Grand Budapest Hotel was a complete joy.  Both of us came out listing the funniest moments and best actors – always a great sign.  Even though there have been countless glowing reviews, it was a struggle to imagine Ralph Fiennes pulling of the whimsical humour and deadpan style of a Wes Anderson piece.  But we were wrong:  he is perfect as the pompous, energetic, foul-mouthed and, ultimately good hearted Gustave H.  In fact, there is not a dud-performance in the whole film. If you’ve never seen a Wes Anderson film, make this your first and even if you have and didn’t quite get it, see this one anyway.  But maybe not at this cinema…

 

 

Combined scores:

 How comfy were the seats? 4/5

How good were the snacks? 4/5

How nice were the staff? 2/5

How sticky were the floors? 1.5/5

How great was the ambience? 2/5

 

Average: 2.7/5

 

How much did we like the film? 4/5

And we’re off! Hammersmith here we come…

Tags

Our journey began at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith.  With a slew of big chains awaiting us over the coming months (and years) we decided to start with an independent local venue.  Anything lacking in modern movie-going amenities – individual opinions of Ben and Jerry’s apply – was more than made up for by the easy going ambience and unique character of the place.

The Riverside has a popular theatre and performance space, a restaurant/bar and a TV recording studio as well as the single screen cinema.  On the night of our visit, Celebrity Juice was filming, resulting in an interesting mix in the foyer.  The tutus and green hair didn’t join us for Nebraska after being ejected by a particularly loud security guard for loitering – and we didn’t hang around to see which particular celebs were on show.

The Riverside is not far from Hammersmith station, but signage could have been more helpful for non-locals.  A big hand for the TFL customer services assistant who approached Colin staring in confusion at a map and asked if he needed any help.  Other than the shouty security, staff at the Riverside were also friendly and helpful.  Seating in the theatre was comfy, but a little short for taller film-goers.  Indeed, the general set up seemed in favour of short-arses, as the excellent tiered seating arrangement meant no one’s head could obscure the view. We were also intrigued by the piano at the side of the screen.  If it’s there to accompany silent film shows, we might have to make a return visit!

A couple of small quibbles: the lack of varied refreshments, which left us somewhat parched and the non-flushing toilet, which left one of us apologising in the ladies loos.  That said, this is a very nice little cinema, close to the Thames and some great looking bars to round the evening off.  Well worth a visit, even if you don’t live close by.

And the film.  Divisive.  Neither of us agreed with the loud blonde lady proclaiming it the best she had ever seen.  Colin was pleased he hadn’t gotten around to reading the overview which might have told him it was in black and white and put him off entirely.  He felt that, despite the great character development and some real humour, it was lacking a ‘great moment’ as such.  On the other hand, Henri thought it was excellent:  the style and acting felt almost like you were watching a documentary, at least until June Squibb flashed her bits in the cemetery.  Bruce Dern’s portrayal of a man sliding into senility – capturing the unpredictable temper and vulnerability that involves – was beautiful and heart-breaking.

 

Combined scores:

 

How comfy were the seats?                        3/5

How good were the snacks?                       2/5

How nice were the staff?                              3/5

How sticky were the floors?                         3/5

How great was the ambience?                   4/5

 

Average:                                                              3/5

 

How much did we like the film?                  3.5/5

 

Sweet or salty – how tasty is this cinema?

As well as our (possibly) interesting observations, we’ll have a quick look scoring system, from 1-5, to rate each cinema. Are these the things you most want to know before visiting the flicks?!

How comfy are the seats?
How good are the snacks?
How nice are the staff?
How sticky is the floor?
How great is the ambience?

And as a totally subjective extra: how good was the film…?