5 Stars for The Regal Cinema

Owen Harvey writes about the cinema with a difference (and reviews Room while he’s at it).

If you travel to downtown Birmingham Gardens on a weekend, you’re bound to notice a line of people outside a building adorned with a scarlet sign proclaiming ‘The Regal Cinema’. Since re-opening two years ago, the Regal has gone from strength to strength, and there is no doubt patrons agree.

But what makes this little theatre so special that it manages to fill so many of its sessions? Well I guess this is the point in the article where I list off the many reasons.

After paying the cheap price of $8, guests are treated to an unequivocally friendly atmosphere. Tasty complementary snacks and drinks are provided by an assiduous array of volunteers. Once you settle into your seat, George the programmer (slash-man-in-the-booth) introduces the film. Sure, if you’re a regular like me, his routine is well-worn, but you’ll still chuckle and clap in the appropriate places because of his charming presence. His partner, Jo, moves through the aisles, taking rubbish and glasses and generally making sure everyone is comfortably seated (preferably with drinks in hand).

And the movie plays. This is how a film is meant to be experienced, with a full crowd reacting with laughter, gasps, possibly even tears. George manages to pick a diverse range of movies from cult classics to independent films to notable award darlings. The films screening often run for extended periods, so you have the chance to catch them long after they’ve left other cinemas (if they were there to begin with). Plus, try and get along to one of the special event screenings if you can. Previous nights have included St Patrick’s Day with green beer, dress-ups for cult classic nights (yes, my housemate and I won free tickets for dressing as the Blues Brothers), and the recent tribute for music superstar David Bowie with a screening of his final tour.

No, the Regal doesn’t provide Maximum Sound™ or Ultra-Mega Screens™ that blockbusters seem to demand nowadays, but if you want to watch quality films with an enthusiastic audience for the best price, The Regal Cinema is a great night out for cinephiles, and makes going to movies a proper social experience again.

Recently I got to see Room at The Regal, and it’s clear why this film got so much praise from critics and audiences alike. The story follows Joy (played by Brie Larson) and her five-year-old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay), who have spent years locked inside ‘Room’, trapped there by Old Nick. Eventually, the two manage to escape and they then have to adapt to life in the outside world, which is basically another planet in Jack’s eyes.

Inspired by disturbing cases like Josef Fritzl, Emma Donoghue wrote her original novel to portray the perspective of the victims. This is translated to the movie as we watch events unfold with Jack, while barely any background is given on the looming Old Nick. Room itself doesn’t feel as claustrophobic as it should because the camera exploits every angle to convey this child’s entire world. Jack’s innocent, oblivious outlook almost makes his life seem idyllic, spending time with his Ma, telling stories and watching TV. However, as the story progresses we see the true horrors of living in isolation.

And though I don’t want to spoil the movie, the characters’ ordeal doesn’t stop once they manage to escape. Room also offers a critical eye on what these survivors go through trying to fit into a different world. While the media may praise them as heroes, that doesn’t convey the everyday struggles survivors face, both physical and mental.

Room is driven by its excellent, realistic performances. I can barely stand most child actors for more than five minutes without throwing something at the screen, but Jacob Tremblay is engrossing and one (of the many) overlooked by the Academy Awards. Fortunately, Oscar tipped his hat to Brie Larson; her harrowing portrayal of Ma has her playing hopeful, depressed, desperate, scared, brave and angry, often at the same time.

Room is a fantastic independent film that sympathetically shows vulnerable people who have suffered needlessly at the hands of others.

Room plays at The Regal Cinema on Saturday, March 19th (12pm) and 26th (3pm). Films now showing include Trumbo, Brooklyn, La Famille Bélier, Suffragette, Spotlight. Upcoming films include Risen, Hail, Caesar! and Easter Parade. Book ahead via Facebook message, email bookregalcinema@gmail.com, phone 4951 7630 (leave a message), or arrive early and buy at the door (4 Moore St, Birmingham Gardens). Open Friday nights and weekends.