Pencak Silat Martial Arts

Brace yourselves. On Sunday October 5th there’s going to be a quite literally kick-arse event taking place at the Avondale Heights Stadium in Melbourne.

It’s recently been brought to our attention by the Australian Pencak Silat Federation that the Australian Pencak Silat Championships take place not long after our big screen double bill showcasing precisely that style of Indonesian Martial Arts.

Next Thursday (September 25th) we’ve got a double bill of The Raid (Redemption) (2012) + The Raid 2: Berandal (2014) scheduled, sure to blow your mind with its superbly choreographed fight scenes. If you’ve seen either of these films before then you’ll know what we mean – some pretty astonishing moves. Well, this mesmerising stuff takes place in Melbourne too and the Aus Pencak Silat Fed are still accepting late entrants to the tournament – and it’s open to all styles of martial arts – so if you’re interested in trying your hand (or foot) at this artistic athleticism, then you really ought to hop to it!

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The championships are being held on Sunday the 5th of October,
at Avondale Heights Stadium,
68-89 Military Rd, Avondale Heights, 3034
Tickets are $15 and it commences at 9am, with an opening ceremony, some Silat demonstrations, and fights following.

This tournament is the Australian National Championships, with victorious combatants  selected in the Australian Pencak Silat Team, to contend at the World Championships in Thailand, January 2015.

Anyone wishing to purchase tickets, or find out more about the Tournament-  or even if you just want to find a school in Melbourne where you can learn Silat – then you can contact the federation via email: apsf[at]silataustralia[dot]com[dot]au or check them out on Facebook.

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If you’re not sure what it’s all about then come along to our Raid double bill and see Pencak Silat in action for yourself! It’s pretty impressive stuff.

The Raid (Redemption) + The Raid 2: Berandal screens as a double bill on Thursday September 25th 7.30pm. All tickets $13

Lucy CGIs her way towards 100%

It is a popular notion that humans utilise only ten per cent of their brain capacity, a notion that according to modern neuroscience seems to be more urban myth than scientific fact. But let us suppose it were true. One then wonders what might be possible if humans could tap into the remaining ninety per cent of their cerebral potential. This is the premise for Luc Besson’s latest motion picture Lucy (2014), a rambunctious blend of science-fiction and action from the director of The Professional (Leon, 1994), The Fifth Element (1997), Angel-A (2005) and The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec (2010).

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Without divulging too many particulars of the plot, the story concerns a woman named Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) who, due to being contaminated by a powerful narcotic stimulant, acquires the ability to access an ever-increasing amount of her mind. The potentialities of tapping into the supposedly unused ninety per cent of cerebral matter are foreshadowed in a series of speeches from neuroscientist Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman). Lucy launches a one-woman assault on the drug traffickers responsible for her unstable condition, as she becomes ‘superhuman’ in her mental abilities, blessed with powers such as telekinesis (the ability to move objects without contacting them physically – the same talent exhibited by Sissy Spacek in the 1976 film Carrie) and extra sensory perception (also know as the sixth sense).

Although it makes for a dazzling sci-fi action spectacle, one flaw with Lucy is that due to the increasingly invincible state of its eponymous character, suspense and drama are quickly deflated, as Lucy’s nogoodnik adversaries go from being genuinely menacing to comically pathetic – and a heroine is only as good as her opponents. Another liability is Besson’s over-reliance on computer-generated imagery (CGI). One may argue in favour of such cinematic technology when it’s in service of the story or no other options are available, but here it just feels like overkill. Also, CGI, more often than not, has a tendency to look somewhat inauthentic. Nowhere in Lucy is this more apparent than the appearance of the title character’s namesake, the simian creature believed by evolutionary scientists to be humankind’s original ancestor (if you want to see what such a being should look like, I refer you to the cave dwellers in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey).

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On a related note, I recall a television interview with Star Wars creator George Lucas, where he responded to the critics of his heavy dependence upon computer-generated special effects for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999), with a condescending “Duh, movies aren’t real!” Well, “Duh!” right back at you, Mister Lucas – no kidding movies “aren’t real”, but they’re at least meant to appear authentic; otherwise, nobody would care about silly little things such as appropriate period detail and thespians remaining in character. Yes, we know that a man can’t fly, but we don’t want to see the wires that allow Superman to remain airborne. And this is the problem with films such as Lucy. As impressive as the special effects might be, it’s all too obvious that they are special effects. Those viewers who were fortunate enough to experience Luc Besson’s marine life documentary Atlantis (1991) this past week at the Astor know that the French filmmaker requires little if any hi-tech trickery to astound his audience. So the CGI overload presented in Lucy is somewhat puzzling to say the least. Ultimately, it distracts rather than engages.

Still, despite its numerous flaws and excesses, Lucy does manage to keep us guessing as to what might become of its heroine once she connects to 100 per cent of her mind’s abilities (inter-titles appear at various points in the picture to inform us of the percentage of Lucy’s accessed brain capacity), so it does retain at least some sliver of intrigue. For those viewers who typically enjoy Luc Besson’s directorial output, Lucy is a worthy of at least a once-around. Even though its premise is scientifically suspect, this is a science fiction picture (you will need to accept it on its own terms) and it does raise some interesting ideas as to what human beings might be capable of realising as the species evolves over the next several thousand years – unless, of course, we outsmart ourselves and wipe humankind from the face of the planet.

Written by Mark Vanselow for the Astor Theatre

Lucy screens on Sunday September 14 at 4pm.

The stats are in – Fliks Cinema Census

Talking about online movie piracy in Australia isn’t a beloved topic. It’s not difficult to understand why when the official rhetoric is only interested in treating those who ‘illegally’ download online content as criminals. Though I’ve never personally considered watching a crappy quality torrent as equal to grand theft auto, this is what many of the anti-piracy campaigns would have you believe.

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Unlike industry execs, however, we don’t think it’s the greatest threat to the film industry – the studios are plenty capable of junking prints and jacking up consuming prices, thus removing much movie magic, all by themselves.

There are a number of stats out there that tell us about who’s engaged in piracy and why. The most recent online study has come from the people at fliks.com.au with their Cinema Census. Asking and identifying some key issues, the Fliks Cinema Census turned up the following results that really get to the heart of what we do here at the Astor:

* 62% of survey respondents said they download because legal alternatives are not available for the films they want to watch.

* 79% said cinema ticket prices were too high

* 73% said they prefer to watch films in a cinema

* 82% want mobile phones banned and 50% said people talking in cinemas was the most annoying cinema habit.

What this data reflects is exactly the same as what we experience as a cinema. Every film we screen is available to see on another format by the time we screen it. As a rep house, all our content is either available through legal home entertainment formats or illegally online. But we don’t have empty seats, and that’s because the environment and the experience of seeing a film are equally as important as the film itself. We also don’t charge $20+ for cinema tickets. High price tickets are exclusionary, making it difficult for low-income earners, students, pensioners, the unemployed and others to see films. It isn’t true that only rich people want and should get to enjoy cinema-going. Of course, we do still have to make money to keep the doors open. But there’s a balance. Currently it sits at $16 / $15 / $14.

Finally, and most significantly, it’s the experience that matters. If people prefer to watch films in a cinema it’s because the experience is unmatched by home entertainment. That has to do with a number of things that begin with picture and sound quality and the social experience of sharing something unique with others, but it’s also extends to the ideal that the cinema is free from real life distractions – including mobile phones and talking.

The stats are out. The Cinema Census website even has a pie chart. Check it out, come watch great films on our BIG screen, and please turn off your mobile phone and refrain from talking during the movie. Thanks.

Written by Tara Judah for the Astor Theatre.

Saturday night at the Astor

When I first started coming to the Astor, as a teenager, the shows were BUSY. I remember always queuing for tickets, the ladies cloaks’ and the candy bar. Sometime in the earlier 2000s I visited the theatre again, only the requisite queues weren’t there. In the past few years those queues have returned. If you’ve been to any of our re-release seasons (we know that many thousands of you were here for Labyrinth!) then you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s a good thing we have so many seats because if we were to program the way we do in any other cinema in Melbourne, well, we would have to turn hundreds of people away – you simply can’t squeeze more than 600 people into a standard multiplex auditorium!

On Saturday night I watched the glorious 35mm and 70mm film prints of Rear Window and Vertigo, inside my favourite cinema anywhere in the world. The dress circle was full and the stalls open. The foyers were bursting with long-time Astor attendees as well as first time visitors. There was excitement in the air as we filed in to take our seats and inside the auditorium the atmosphere was electric. The moment the screening commenced, there was stillness. There is something truly special about being in a room with hundreds of individuals all quietly, respectfully watching the same films. The only movement to be felt is the occasional sound of someone drawing breath during a tense moment in the onscreen narrative, or a shared chuckle at that trademark dry wit Hitch inserts every now and again to give his audience a moment of respite.

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Saturday night at the Astor. I can’t imagine living in a version of Melbourne where this doesn’t exist and, quite frankly, I don’t want to. It’s easy when you’re at the Astor to forget that anything could ever change – it’s like a magical solace from the outside world where both space and time are contorted. But, as this particular evening came to a close, and as I left the building, that all too sobering reminder of an alternate future hit me – blindingly, like the sickly artificial lighting that has since replaced our once enchanting chasers. My joy was interrupted: what if the interior is fated to resemble the now replica veranda with its fluorescent tubing? Then the experience I’ve just enjoyed won’t exist anymore.

As I reflect over the great night I’ve had, journeying home, I can understand my enjoyment as the culmination of a number of things; the screening of rare 35mm and 70mm film prints, a glorious screen, quality projection (including constant focus and re-focus from a trained projectionist, correct masking, the right aperture plates, manual lighting, no tolerance for mobile phones and the gold curtains that have signaled the start and finish of many hundreds of film experiences in my life), the very same Astor logo that I’ve watched on 35mm for the almost twenty years I’ve been coming to the Astor, the carpet made especially for the theatre, sitting in the same seat that a cinema-goer from 1936 sat in when the theatre first opened and every one of my shared experiences of laughter, tears, fear, excitement and love, still living inside these walls. It’s busy, loved and cherished. And so much more than just the bricks and mortar that house it.

Written by Tara Judah for The Astor Theatre.

Some Clarification

It’s been a very difficult and emotional weekend as our announcement has reached far and beyond 100,000 people. We have received thousands of messages across email, twitter, Facebook, this blog, through our website and of course at the theatre itself. There has been an incredible and surmounting support for what we do here at the Astor Theatre, for that we are grateful and humbled.

A number of questions have arisen from those messages and though we do our best to reply personally to every query we receive, we feel that it might be best to address here some of what is most frequently asked.

IS THE BUILDING HERITAGE LISTED?

The building, the land, the 1929 Western Electric amplifier, original screen and original projector are registered. The details of that listing can be found in the Victorian Heritage Database.  The building is also listed on the National Trust register. This means that elements of the current building and site cannot be changed (i.e. the building cannot be demolished to put up an apartment complex).

What it does not protect, however, are other important aspects of what “The Astor” (the business inside the building) has cultivated for Melbourne cinema-goers. These include but are not limited to; the purpose (as a single screen cinema), the capacity of the auditorium, chattels, interior design, lighting, candy bar, office spaces, projection booth, etc.

Most significantly, Victorian Heritage and National Trust listings do not protect what you have come to know and love as The Astor Theatre: the entity that has created and maintained a unique cinema-going experience since 1982, under the proprietorship of George Florence. That includes but is not limited to; the unique programming, the Astor Calendar, our incredibly passionate and personable staff, Astor Choc-Ices, beloved theatre cats (Magenta, Marzipan), the very best in film and digital presentation, regular presentation of rare 35mm and 70mm film prints, masterful projection, personalised and genuine love and passion for cinema, cinema-going, film and so much more.

WHAT DOES THE LANDLORD INTEND TO DO?

This is unknown. We have not been told what the future plans are, only that they do not include us.

The following articles, that were published over the weekend, include comments from a spokesperson for Ralph Taranto, but they do not state clearly what will happen.

SBS; ‘Melbourne’s cherished cinema The Astor to close May 2015′

The Age; ‘The Astor Theatre to close in 2015′

WA Today; ‘The Astor will live as a cinema, the owner vows’

CAN WE START A FUNDRAISING CAMPAIGN?

It is not advisable at this time to begin fundraising. Though we are most certainly moved by the overwhelming response from everyone and the intense passion we all share to keep the Astor as it is, we cannot, at this time, launch a fundraising campaign.

As far as we are aware, the landlord has no intention to sell the property. We appreciate your support very much but we cannot take money unless we know that there is an option to purchase.

We hope this serves to clear up some of your many questions. We also want to thank you for your unwavering love and support of what we do and absolutely encourage you to continue to visit the theatre and celebrate what’s so great about The Astor in the coming months.

Astor Theatre: 1982-2015

It is with heavy hearts that we make this announcement.

In 2015 the Astor Theatre as you know it will close its doors.

Melbourne has seen thirty-two years of the finest repertory programming and the very best in film and now digital presentation thanks to George Florence. It has always been George’s vision that the Astor would take on a new lease of life under a not-for-profit trust so that the Astor could continue on into the future in perpetuity.

This was always the long-term plan and before St Michel’s Grammar School sold the building to Ralamar Nominees, we were led to believe that our new landlord would work together with Friends of the Astor Association to build that long and prosperous future for the programming, atmosphere and passion that the Astor has brought to Melburnians for so long. We stepped back from exercising our first option to purchase the property, based on these concept that a trust would be put in place. Unfortunately, the implementation of a trust was off the table after the contract of sale.

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Without a lease renewal, the expert repertory programming we have cultivated for a community of Melbourne moviegoers, and the ‘Astor Experience’ will come to an end. We were offered a lease that would have been financially and operationally crippling, but negotiations failed to resolve the key issues.

The Astor is so much more than just the bricks and mortar that has become Melbourne’s spiritual home for film. Without a lease renewal and without any intention to include FOTAA in future plans, the expert repertory programming we have cultivated for a community of Melbourne moviegoers will come to an end.

We do not know what the landlord has planned for the future of the building, only that we are not included in those plans.

It is no doubt as difficult to read these words, as it has been to write them. We want to take this opportunity to thank the many tens of thousands of people who have supported us over the years. We also hope you will continue to visit the Astor until our doors close, to celebrate the few final months of something so special, that has contributed to the rich film culture we have here in Melbourne. Our final months will no doubt be emotional, but they will also be some of the most special, as we put together more of the very best in film and ignite the most fantastic atmosphere to celebrate everything everyone who’s ever been here has loved so dearly about the Astor.

007 Festival – 4K Digital remasters

This one has been a long time in the pipeline. It’s probably close to two years since we first heard that the James Bond titles would be getting the 4K treatment. Digitally remastered DCPs – when done well – can look glorious (not ‘better’ than film – they’re different formats and not truly comparable – but spectacular in their own way). Having made room on a couple of calendars to date, the DCPs will finally be ready for us to unveil onscreen this year, starting on October 18th with the very first and second 007 titles: Dr No (1962) and From Russia With Love (1963).

Beginning with Sean Connery and making our way forwards with George Lazenby and Roger Moore, our 007 Festival brings a popular character back to the big screen where he belongs. According to our calendar (which will be hitting the streets next week!) Sean Connery is the Bond we love best. Who’s your favourite Bond? And what about Bond villains? Does 7’2″ with steel teeth impress you or are you more interested in plots focused on world domination? There’s plenty of nefarious types to choose from and yes, the series does come with a large dose of sexism delivered through dialogue, narrative and lack of agency. In typical Bond style the women are showcased as beautiful but aren’t given all that much to do besides.

In terms of further exploring the world of 007 we’ve got you covered there too – the Sunday before our 007 Festival begins we’ll be screening a documentary that delves into the world of villains, beauties and a British guy who values being suave above all else. It’s called Everything or Nothing (2012) and it screens Sunday October 12th at 4.30pm. 

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Full listings and details will soon be up on our website but until then, here’s the line up for our 007 Festival:

Bond 1Saturday October 18th 7.30pm
Dr No [1962] (PG) + From Russia With Love [1963] (PG)
Sean Connery, the Bond we love the best, investigates strange occurrences in Jamaica and overcomes the evil Dr. No, who of course has a serious plot to rule the world. After intermission, pitted against a blonde Robert Shaw and Lotte Lenya with a dagger in her shoe, Connery returns. Plenty of suspense and action, and one of the longest, most exciting fight scenes ever staged.

Bond 2Saturday October 25th 7.30pm
Goldfinger [1964] (PG) + Thunderball [1965] (PG)
Full of ingenious gadgets and nefarious villains, with a hair-raising climax inside Fort Knox. After intermission there are plenty of gimmicks and Academy Award winning special effects as the world is threatened with destruction, set in the Caribbean.

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Saturday November 1st 7.30pm
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service [1969] (PG)
Lazenby, as the first non-Connery Bond, battles Blofeld amidst incredible action sequences, and a plot with a novel twist. The requisite components persist: nefarious villain, beautiful women and scenery, and great action sequences, but this Bond film is set apart by its maturity and emotional depth of characterization.

Bond 4Saturday November 8th 7.30pm
The Spy Who Loved Me [1977] (PG) + For Your Eyes Only [1981] (M)
In this lavish adventure 007 joins forces with a seductive Russian agent to quash arch villain Stromberg’s plans for world destruction. Nobody does it better, indeed. After intermission, bereft of the space age gadgetry, cartoon villains and female mannequins, we have the Bond film that has created the most debate among 007 fans.

Bond 5Saturday November 15th 7.30pm
Octopussy [1983] (PG) + A View to Kill [1985] (M)
When a “00” agent is found holding a Faberge egg, the British are suspicious and send James Bond to investigate. 007 discovers a connection between the priceless egg, an elaborate smuggling operation and a plot by a renegade Soviet general to instigate World War Three. After intermission, it’s Moore’s final appearance as 007, but hardly the strongest of the Bond series. An investigation of a horse-racing scam leads 007 to a mad industrialist who plans to create a worldwide microchip monopoly by destroying California’s Silicon Valley.

All films presented in brand new, remastered 4K DCP format.