Thursday, 28 November 2013

Play: The Dead Wait

Tonight, I took myself off to Finsbury Park to see The Dead Wait. It's a long time since I was there, and I was only there once before, so I'd forgotten you can't take the Overground straight there. And so I took Google Maps' suggestion and went by Tube instead. It's faster.

Not that that's the hard part! The last time I was there, it looked really easy on Google Maps Streetview to get from the station to the Park Theatre. Just a short walk, straight ahead and it's on the left. Except there are at least three exits from the station, and I took the wrong one and got completely lost. Just as well I was early! Coming back, I saw the one I should have taken. So this time, I paid special attention when they told me on the theatre website to take the Wells Terrace exit, and I kept an eye out for the sign. And this time, it was a breeze!

The Park Theatre has a large stage, but not much seating. Four rows of stalls, and a few upstairs. Seating extends around three sides of the stage. Upholstered benches, which are comfy enough, but of course slightly cramped if the place is full, because it's not clear where one seat ends and the next begins. Legroom is ok though. I was second row from the front in the stalls, and let me tell you, that's extremely close to the action. But then the entire stalls are!

This, as someone remarked, looks like a serious play. It is. It's about South Africa - in a broad sense, what it did, and how it is coming to terms with it. More specifically, South Africa's secret involvement in the Angolan civil war. More specifically still, the story of a talented young white South African athlete who joins the army and ends up in Angola, and how they come across a wounded ANC activist, whom the athlete's commanding officer orders him to carry back to the border for questioning. (The ANC were seen by the South African government as terrorists, back when these events are supposed to have happened.) And a bond forms between this young man and the man he's carrying on his back. In the second act, 20 years have passed and the protagonists are trying to come to terms with what happened back then.

It's a long time since I saw such a powerful and intense play. The writing is beautiful, and it's no wonder the playtext was on sale. The title references the African tradition of ancestor worship, which is strongly emphasised during the play. The acting is forceful, and there were actually a couple of scenes that were too intense for me to watch. That, I haven't come across in a play before. I think it's an absolute travesty that this isn't selling out every night - there were some empty seats downstairs, and the balcony was nearly empty from what I could see. People, people - I know it's a little bit out of town, but it's worth it! You'll only have to pay more if it moves to the West End, to see it in a more cramped theatre. It's on the next two nights, with matinees on Saturday and Sunday. Quick! It's much better than the average..

And so I'm off to Ireland for the weekend. Thinking of a film for Monday, but I haven't had time to look at the new ones yet..

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland

Sleigh bells ring, can you hear 'em? In the lane, snow is glistening. A beautiful sight, we're happy tonight, walking in a winter wonderland!

Well, no snow, and it wasn't that cold. Which was better for festive perusing! But we did go to Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland. I was there last year and loved it, and was bound to go back. And tonight, we did. Get off the Tube at Hyde Park Corner and it isn't too hard to find - just follow the twinkly lights and the streaming hordes.

From that station, you come in at the Angels Market - the largest Christmas market I've been at in London.

Two avenues of wooden stalls, which line each side of the path (with some extra at the edges) make for an irresistible shopping experience. There are ornaments of wood, glass, and crystal, there are woolly and furry garments, there is jewellery. Don't spend all your money at once - you could easily spend an hour just checking what stalls are available and you might find better further in. There are food stalls by the dozen - stalls with gift food - jams, cheeses - and places you can eat.

Ultimately, I had a burger (which wasn't great, but filled a spot) and finished off with a much better chosen skewer of four large, chocolate-coated marshmallows I got at a sweet stall further along, when I'd finished the burger. Look out for them - I haven't a clue where they were, but they are worth looking for. Helen had a Belgian waffle, drenched in chocolate sauce. I do believe that went down well too!

We sat to eat in the shadow of one of those horrendous rides where people pay to be catapulted into the air and hurled in a circle. Yes, Winter Wonderland also incorporates a funfair!


So the sound of screaming accompanied our dinner. Well, but it is interesting to be sitting right under one of those things.

Not everything was Christmassy..


There's an ice rink, a Bavarian village, bars (including one that revolves!), a full-blown restaurant.. there are grown-up, scary rides, and rides for littler people. And when you're not in earshot of live rock music, you can hear Christmas tunes. There really is something for everyone.. and not that I went this year (yet), but let me recommend Zippo's Circus, with the Cirque Berserk in the evenings, for adults only. Most rides are paid for with tokens, which you can buy from the token stands dotted around the venue. Oh, and there are cash machines too.
 
And I was well worn out by the time we left, purchases in hand. Tomorrow night should be a much more sedate affair - The Dead Wait, a play at the Park Theatre, Finsbury Park. And then it's back to Ireland for the weekend.. and then it'll be December. Roll on Christmas!


Monday, 25 November 2013

Play: Perfect Nonsense

I like having an excuse to get dressed up on occasion, and this was one such. I went to see Perfect Nonsense, a Jeeves and Wooster farce, at the Duke of York's theatre. The official box office had sold out, but third-party sellers had tickets, and the cheapest were with www.lovetheatre.com.

So, having changed frenziedly after work, I scurried into town and made it as they were giving the three-minute call. I'd booked the rear stalls (row R), because they were cheaper but not advertised as having restricted view. In fact, I'd found an online review of the seat two in from mine, which said that, although at times it felt a bit far from the action, the view was fine and the overhang (which is pronounced) doesn't impact most productions. Indeed, from where I was sitting I could see the overhead lights on stage. I think that's high enough for most people's purposes! Legroom also fine, as you'd expect from the stalls. I noticed that some seats were left empty - I guess they'd been bought up by third-party vendors and not sold on. I think that's a real shame - some venues buy them back and resell them on the evening, which gives theatregoers a chance to see a show they might otherwise not.

Well, I love Jeeves and Wooster. Always have. And I enjoyed this as much as I expected to. Jolly good, I say! Comedy is subjective, and this won't be to everyone's taste, but I found the farce gentle, and just nicely silly enough. Matthew Macfadyen is perfect as Jeeves, the long-suffering "gentleman's gentleman". Sadly, Stephen Mangan was "indisposed", and someone else stood in as Bertie Wooster, the hapless aristocrat - I would have preferred Stephen Mangan, I think he's more naturally funny. But it was a fun evening, and I would certainly recommend it to anyone who enjoys the Jeeves and Wooster stories.

Guildford tomorrow, so perhaps nothing tomorrow night, I'll see how I feel. And then on Wednesday, it's off to Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland! Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow..

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Play: Mucky Kid

Yay! Finally, I think of going to the Latchmere and actually make it! Google Maps suggested I take the Overground to Clapham Junction, and then there's a bus I could take - but it would actually be faster to walk, from Clapham Junction. So I did. Wrapped up well - it's not snowing any more, but it is absolutely freezing out there!

From the Grant Road exit from Clapham Junction station (the one adjacent to the Overground platforms, 1 & 2), you turn right, past the bus park, and left onto Grant Road itself. Walk to the main junction, and turn right onto Battersea Park Road - the Latchmere will be on the right hand side. Eventually. So, I shivered my way into the pub, eventually, and climbed the narrow stairs to the box office. Which turns out to be a whole landing, with chairs, tables, sofas.. a copier in the corner.. must be the office for Theatre 503. At the counter, they told me it was a "pay what you can" day. (Sundays are, it seems - you can pay as little as £3, according to the website.) "So," he said, "what do you want to pay?" I asked him what the common price was and he said "£5 or £10". I checked my wallet and the only notes I had were £20s, so I handed him one and asked him to take £10. Well, I could afford it, I didn't want to take advantage, and frankly, that still represents a saving on the standard price of £15 suggested online. And then he checked whether it was one or two tickets I wanted for my £10. Honestly, this must represent the best value theatre in London. I took a seat to wait, because I was early, and was surprised to feel my hands thawing out. I hadn't realised just how cold I'd been. Of course, walking briskly does help. And I saw shelves of books that you can apparently read while waiting, as well as playtexts you can buy. A very convivial atmosphere.

Seating in the theatre is unallocated, on benches, and a little cramped. But Mucky Kid only lasts an hour anyway. And what an hour that is! It's the story of a girl who, when she was 10, killed another little girl, and has spent her life in prison ever since. She's now grown up, and the play asks us to consider whether she should ever be released. This, or course, reminds us of the case of Jamie Bulger, the little boy who was murdered by two 10-year old boys in 1993. One of them has had trouble with being released into society, and had to be re-incarcerated, although is apparently currently on release again. The play is as intense as you would expect, and the acting is terrific - I've seen a couple of these people in other things, and am continually impressed by them.

The lead actor, in particular, is mesmerising. The writing has us consider the main character's motives - she has been on the run from the prison briefly, was recaptured, and now has to tell the person in charge what she got up to while she was out. As she is made to tell and retell her story, and we come to an ever truer picture of what really happened, we are made to question our initial perceptions of her. Engrossing stuff. As I always say, you get much better bang for your buck in fringe theatre. This runs until the 7th: under-16s not admitted.

I was hungry coming out, and planned to eat in the pub. Was reading a menu when the barman came over and exclaimed that he'd thought all those had been taken in! Turns out they'd run out of food and the kitchen was closed. This was at 6:10 - they were supposed to serve food until 11! Be aware of this if you're headed that way. I had to eat elsewhere.

Well, no more films this week! (Shock, horror!) I've been to all the big releases, so it's time for something(s) new. Tomorrow, I wanted to go to Perfect Nonsense - a Jeeves and Wooster farce at the Duke of York's Theatre. I love Jeeves and Wooster - a farcical tv series about a stereotypically idiotic English aristo - played in this production by Stephen Mangan, whose performances I love - and his long-suffering "gentleman's gentleman", Jeeves. Unfortunately, I couldn't get a ticket on the official website. Undaunted, I trawled other websites, and found the cheapest tickets on www.lovetheatre.com. So I am going after all! On Tuesday, I'm in Guildford, so probably won't go to anything, and on Wednesday I'm hitting Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland! On Thursday, I wanted to go to a play called The Island, but it's completely sold out apart from day tickets (show up at the theatre on the morning and hope to get lucky) - so instead, I'm going to another play, The Dead Wait, at the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park. It's so long since I've been there that I'd actually forgotten I'd been there at all.. Then it's back to Ireland for the weekend.

Yes, I've been busy today! ;-)

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Film: Don Jon

I planned a nice day for myself today. Would go to Don Jon at 10 past 6 in Westfield, but go early and have a trip around the shops first, eating if the fancy took me. And.. so it came to pass!

After a nice late start, I hopped on the train to Shepherds Bush. Only takes five minutes (two stops), and drops you across the road from the shopping centre. And so I spent the next couple of hours shopping. My, but it's been a long time, and retail therapy is a wonderful thing!


So, I started my Christmas card shopping. Looked at a few dresses in House of Fraser, but they were no good when I tried them on. Bought a necklace that might go with the dress for my Christmas party. And before I knew it, it was after 4 and I was hungry, so headed for Nando's - I didn't fancy anything, well, fancier. The queue was horrendous, and I've never seen a Nando's so busy - but neither have I ever seen service so professional. Really, I said I wouldn't have a dessert if it took them too long to bring it, but practically the minute I'd finished my main course they were asking me whether I wanted anything else. So yes, I did have a slice of their delectable choc-o-lot cake!

And with an hour still to go before the film, I headed for the shops again, and struck gold in Monsoon, in the form of one of those dresses that looks unexpectedly good when you try it on..

And so I headed for the cinema. I queued for a ticket machine, and was to find again, as yesterday, that booking had been strong in the past few minutes. I got the last seat that was neither VIP nor in the front row, and headed off for Screen 16. Saw a few interesting trailers, including for the new version of Carrie - pity it's not rated higher on IMDB. Well, maybe it'll come up. I see it stars Julianne Moore as the psycho mother.

She shows up again in Don Jon, which is directed and written by, and stars, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Goodness, wouldn't he look a fool if it had been a flop! Fortunately, it isn't. He plays a modern-day Casanova, envied by his mates for his ability to pull women. We have Tony Danza as his father, and Scarlett Johansson as the woman who finally tames him. The film is set in New Jersey, and as we hear in the trailer, Don Jon has certain priorities in his life - his body, his pad, his ride, his family, his church, his boys, his girls.. and his porn.

Which ends up being the subject of the film. Basically, everything's going fine until he hooks up with Scarlett Johansson, who gives a hilarious turn as a high-maintenance girlfriend. She's a perfect 10, but when she catches him watching porn, she demands he stop it immediately. Frankly, I was worried that was going to be the extent of the plot - he was going to see the error of his ways, she would reform him. This disturbed me mightily, because she was coming across as a controlling cow. Not only was she demanding that he give up porn - she insisted that he take up an evening class, chose which he should do, and when she found out he did his own cleaning, she was horrified (didn't think it was manly, I suppose) and insisted that he was too old to be doing that and when they were living together, he was not to be doing it. Under any circumstances.

Ironically, it's at the evening class that he runs into Julianne Moore, who helps him to see the error of his ways. And this is where the film gets interesting. Because it then takes an uncommon direction. And that, I think, is why this film has the high rating it does - the unusual story direction really lifts it above the ordinary. In the meantime, it's a really enjoyable watch - although some audience members did find Tony Danza's leering after his son's girlfriend rather icky. And weren't afraid to express that!

When I came out, it had been snowing.. here comes Christmas, indeed! Tomorrow, I'm planning on going to a play for a change, having gone to the best of what's on in the cinema. The plan is to go to Mucky Kid in the theatre over the Latchmere Pub. Mind you, I've planned to go there a couple of times before and it hasn't worked out yet - we'll see.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Film: Enough Said

Yay! I finally got to see Enough Said! I saw the trailer a while ago and thought it looked good, and it had a good IMDB rating - but just not good enough that I got to see it before now. And the only reason I got to see it tonight was that art-house films don't usually screen on Fridays - probably not enough people are interested in seeing them after a week's work. So none of the films rated higher than this on my list were showing tonight, and I was free to go to this at last.

And about time too - only one cinema is still showing it in London, the Empire in Leicester Square. And wouldn't you know it, it's in Screen 6 there. Which is where I saw Milius, a while back. Notable for being complicated to find, and absolutely tiny when you get there, with a big screen. Only three rows of seating, and I wouldn't like to be in the front - but it wasn't heavily booked, so I didn't worry. Took the Piccadilly Line to Leicester Square, thus collecting the £9.80 refund that TFL owed me for overcharging me before. Really though, I do find their customer service excellent. And refunds are processed automatically when you touch in at a specified station - in my case Earl's Court, this evening.

I got there just slightly after the advertised time, and bought my ticket from the ATM, shocked to see that sales had picked up and there was now only one seat left in the back two rows - in the back corner. So I chose that and made my way upstairs - easier this time. On the way, I ran into an usher, who was most anxious to ensure that I was happily seated, but explained that she had to go find the manager about something, and to let her know if I had any problems - she seemed to think someone would appropriate my seat. No such problem occurred, although the lady in the seat beside mine had been using mine for her coat, but moved it when I arrived. I must say, the back row is definitely the best in this screen, although I did overhear an elderly woman remark to her companion afterwards that the front row, where they'd been sitting, wasn't bad at all.

Right - this film stars the late James Gandolfini, and is dedicated to him. Most famous for the tv series, The Sopranos, where he plays the head of a crime family, this apparently wasn't his last film - another of his is scheduled for release next year. Of course, he passed away of a heart attack last June, on holiday in Rome, during a heatwave. In this, he plays the unlikely role of romantic male lead in a rom-com, playing opposite someone I was sure starred in Red! but it turns out to be someone else entirely. Well, they do look alike.

So anyway, the plot basically goes that they're middle-aged divorcees, both with daughters about to leave for college, and when they meet at a party, there's an instant attraction. Toni Collette plays her friend, providing the surrogate family that she couldn't possibly be without, because then she'd be all alone, with her daughter moving away. And we can't have that in a Hollywood movie, because she's meant to be a likeable character, and they can't be all alone in the world. Catherine Keener plays James Gandolfini's ex-wife, who, coincidentally, is also his girlfriend's massage client! Cue many amusing incidents where she gives away salacious titbits of info to his new girlfriend, who realises who her client's ex-husband must be, but says nothing, because she wants all the info she can get.

This is a really good film. The script sparkles, and there's great chemistry between the leads. There are plenty of entertaining jokes about encroaching middle-age, and how irritating young people can be, and it's all done good-naturedly. The issues raised ring true, and it makes a nice change from all the romances involving twenty-somethings. There are also some interesting subplots, some involving the teens, some involving Toni Collette's maid. All-in-all, a film of much higher quality than last night's offering.

A film again tomorrow, and I spent a large amount of time deciding which. I rejected one, near the top of my list, by virtue of the fact that it's about a musician I've never heard of and am not interested in learning about. I rejected another two on the grounds of sheer weirdness - even I have my limits. And so, tomorrow seems likely to be Don Jon. Terrific! another I saw the trailer for and thought it looked good, hoping I'd get around to it. Nearest place showing it is the cinema in Westfield - I might head up there early and browse the shops, it's been ages. And with the Overground, I can be there in literally ten minutes!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Film: Calloused Hands

After all the trouble I had confirming information about tonight, the experience of attending the screening of Calloused Hands at the Bolivar Hall at the Venezuelan embassy was surprisingly uneventful. I got the Tube to Warren Street and it was literally around the corner. Mind you, Google Maps had said I'd have about a six-minute wait when changing Tubes, but I got on a Victoria Line train immediately, so I think I beat their timings. And arrived with a few minutes to spare, which is always nice.

The lights were on in Bolivar Hall, reassuringly, and I opened the (very heavy) door to the lobby. And wondered where on earth to get my ticket, as there was no obvious box office. After mistaking a couple of people for ticket sellers, I identified the couple sitting either side of the low coffee table to the left as the ones I wanted. One had a book of raffle tickets, the other a cash box. Just as well I anticipated that they wouldn't have a card machine, and got cash on my way home. A notice on the table told of "suggested" donations of £7 for adults, £5 concessions. At least it was obvious where to go for the hall itself - a flight of stairs leads down to a room where you can just see rows of seats. There was a painting behind the couple selling tickets, but I felt self-conscious about staring over their heads at it, so I went straight in. They offered me the chance to leave my coat in the cloakroom, but I kept it with me.

First thing you notice is that the hall is boiling! Honestly, are they homesick for the heat of Venezuela?! The room isn't that large - there's a stage to the right as you come in, and tiered seating to the left. Tonight, they had set up a large screen on the stage, onto which they projected the film from an aperture in the far wall. The steps alongside the seating squeak rather alarmingly as you climb them. Otherwise, all is well. Interestingly, the armrests tip up. I honestly haven't seen that outside of planes.

And so to the film. Now, this is a film that was shown in the Venezuelan embassy, as part of the Latin American Film Festival. You'd think you'd know what to expect, right? Eh, no. The festival website describes it as "The struggle for identity in the face of a broken world..". Hmm. At least I'd have expected it to be about Latin American identity, maybe. Not really. The only things Latin American about this film were (a) that it was set in Miami (which is pushing it) and (b) it's a coming-of-age story about a teenage boy whose father (whom we never meet, he's in prison) is obviously Latino, by the boy's colouring. Considering that his mother is a blue-eyed, blonde, Caucasian woman. Oh, and his "struggle for identity" involves rejecting the path his mother's abusive, cheating, drug-taking African American boyfriend has laid out for him - into professional baseball, and doubtless an easy ride for himself - and instead embracing his mother's Jewish heritage, embodied by the clean-living young rabbi and the boy's workaholic, businessman grandfather. So, eh, where's the Latin American-ness? I guess the production team have Latin-American names, that's something..

As for the film itself, as you can tell from the above description, the story is one cliché after another. When the mother's boyfriend shoots the guy who was supposed to be looking after his dog, but neglected him, there seem to be no repercussions, apart from the boy's mother throwing him out when he comes home with blood on his shirt. We have a lot of racial stereotyping here - black men are lazy losers (witness the boyfriend's behaviour, and the testimony of the black woman that the boy's mother works with). Jewish men are upstanding citizens - the rabbi, the boy's grandfather (who may be offhand with his daughter, but somehow manages to find time for his grandson).

It's an enjoyable enough watch, and the acting is good. But it doesn't belong in the Latin American film festival, it doesn't deserve a cinema release - it's more a TV movie - and it certainly doesn't merit its rating of 8.2 on IMDB! Interestingly, some of the audience members shared my complaint about the start of the film, that the actors might as well have been speaking in Spanish, because we couldn't understand a word. I think that had more to do with the diction of the lead actor than anything else. I did actually wonder, at the beginning, whether it was in English at all..

Well, that's my curiosity satisfied then. Another film tomorrow, it seems, but I haven't finished going through the list of new films yet - only got as far as M! Watch this space..

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Film: Thor: the Dark World

Today, rather than being cold, was wet. Perfect day for the cinema. Wow, was I lucky I picked yesterday to go the markets! Now, the best rated films showing today, according to IMDB, were Le Mépris and Thor: the Dark World. I figured Thor would be more fun, so booked that, since the nearest place it was showing was Cineworld Hammersmith, and Cineworld gives a discount for advance bookings.

I booked an early showing, and got the Tube straight from the office. Fortunately, I seemed to get before the evening rush. Unfortunately, it was lashing rain when I got off - but I only had a short walk. Was so busy watching my feet that I overshot the cinema - but soon realised my mistake, turned back, and didn't get too much wetter. The ATM in the lobby worked as it should, and we had a short wait while they finished cleaning the cinema. Helpful of them to post tape across the screen door saying they're still cleaning it - I haven't seen that before.

Very small screen - I sat in the second row from the front. Mind you, I suppose it has been showing for a while. As we were waiting for the ads to start, I just had time to eat the Lindt chocolate Santa that I bought on a whim at Tesco today. Well, it is Christmas..! and the fact that the self-service till only charged me £1, instead of the posted price of £1.50, doesn't hurt a bit.

Included in the ads was the trailer for The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug. Looking forward to that - although I can't remember most of what happened in the original Hobbit film. Well, for some films, that doesn't matter. Such as the film I saw tonight.

It would help to have a bit of Norse mythology going into this. Right then, here we go. First off, there are nine worlds. Some of which we visit in the film. Primary among these is Asgard, home of the gods, whose king is Odin. Played in this film by Anthony Hopkins - my, he does get around! Confusingly, in the course of the film, he explains that they're not gods, because they're not immortal, they just live for 5,000 years or so. Anyway. He's married to Frigga, played here by Rene Russo. It's a long time since I've seen her in anything - she is looking well.

They have two sons - Thor and Loki. (Well, they're her stepsons, but howsoever.) Thor, famous for wielding a magical hammer that, among other things, he can fly with, is here played by Chris Hemsworth, whom I really should start to recognise - he's been in a few things I've seen. I didn't see the original Thor film, but he also starred in Rush, and appeared as George Kirk, James T. Kirk's father, in Star Trek: Into Darkness and the 2009 Star Trek. And he was in The Cabin in the Woods! Well, but who noticed anyone out of that except the bad guys..? (In the mythology, Loki, a trickster and not to be trusted, isn't actually related to the others, but never mind.)

Also appearing is Sif, who in the mythology is blonde and is Thor's wife. Here, she's brunette and wants to be his wife, but he's more interested in Natalie Portman. She's a quantum physicist (or something) from Midgard (earth) and doesn't appear in the mythology, funnily enough. But then, Thor always did have a fondness for humans, it seems. She works with Stellan Skarsgård, who plays a particularly batty cosmologist, and she has to fend off the attentions of poor Chris O' Dowd, who's put on a bit of weight since I last saw him. And Christopher Eccleston plays the bad guy trying to destroy the universe, no less.

Right then, that's us all set up. Except you don't really need to know any of this - a surprising amount of it is drip-fed to you during the film. Still, it doesn't hurt to know it in advance. Most of the action takes place on other worlds, with the legions of bad guys battling legions of good guys, with very space-age weaponry, I must say. Personally, I preferred it when they got down to earth and started ripping up London. Nothing personal! Greenwich gets it pretty bad - apparently it's the centre of the convergence (don't ask). Other fun bits (and the film does have a neat sense of humour) include when Thor and the bad guy are battling it out in mid-air and crash into the Gherkin, sliding down the side to the bemusement of people inside (and cracking the glass in the process, tsk) - and when Thor materialises in Charing Cross Tube station and dusts himself off just as a train is pulling in. He asks the stunned young lady just inside the door how to get to Greenwich. Now, pardon me, but from my knowledge of the network, no, you cannot get a direct Tube from Charing Cross to Greenwich, never mind be there in three stops.. maybe it's one of those gravitational anomalies.

Or maybe she just wanted the chance to, you know, sidle up to him. ;-) And yes, Laura, there is quite a gratuitous shot of him, near the start of the film, with his top off, having a wash. Ah yes, lots of fun to be had at this film! Recommended.

Tomorrow is looking, at the moment, like another film. Which currently seems likely to be a Venezuelan offering by the name of Calloused Hands. Which is showing in the Venezuelan Embassy, of all places! In the Bolivar Hall. Apparently, they do all sorts of cultural things. Just, for goodness' sake, don't got to the official website to find out about any of them, because they don't have a single entry there. No, you have to go to their Facebook page. And there you will find a link to their newsletter, where you will discover that this is part of the Latin American Film Festival. Never let it be said that I failed to track down a good film..

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Southbank Christmas Market

Ho-ho-ho! It's Christmas already.. or so it would seem.

I love Christmas markets. I'm a sucker for schmaltz. I was at the Southbank Christmas market last year, liked it, and was bound to go back. And so I did! but my, what a bitterly cold night I had to brave to do so. I bundled myself up in all the woollies I could find, and was glad I did. Too cold to sit and wait for my train, I paced until it came, and had my gloves on the whole way, conscious that I had a bridge to cross to get to my destination.


Panted to the top - that's not a short staircase, and the walk across helps me to get my breath back. It's been a while. I never tire of the view! and at least you can stave off the cold by walking as fast as possible. (This is the view eastbound, you can just see the dome of St. Paul's - that small white blob to the left - and, more prominently, the multi-coloured bulk of the National Theatre on the right.) Trust me, it's more spectacular in person - these pictures were taken with my phone, my camera battery promptly died the minute I wanted to use it. As usual.

It's nice, the stalls are housed in wooden chalets. And they have strings of lights overhead:


Food stalls abounded, and with good smells too, but honestly, it was too cold to stand outside and eat. This isn't one of the largest markets, but I recommend it as a starter - get an idea here of what is on offer, the larger ones will just have more of the same.

I got a couple of presents.. how organised am I, for once! There were a few jewellery stalls, a couple of stalls with decorative crystal, another couple with furry headbands and scarves. One stall with artificial candles, another with artificial snow. Beads. Leather. Bath products. Quite a few police officers wandering about, keeping an eye on us. Or maybe getting present ideas - one was very taken with the medallions for sale. ;-)

Plans for the next couple of days are fluid - watch this space! For now, I'm glad to be in from the cold..

Friday, 15 November 2013

Ideal Homes Christmas Show

With having had such an enjoyable experience at Ideal Christmas last year, and it being just ten minutes walk away from me now, in Earl's Court, I could hardly resist! Having the day off, I got caught up in planning what films I might go to next week, but eventually scurried out of the house, leaving myself about an hour and a half to go around before I had to race for the airport to fly to Ireland for a long weekend.

I love the way they decorate the place. Here's a photo I took the night before..



Fake snow (on sale inside), abounding in Christmas trees, sleigh bells.. Christmas starts here! There are two floors, packed with things you can buy and people eager to sell them to you.

Here's a photo from last year:




There's an ice rink in the centre, a bandstand where a gospel choir started up while I was there, eateries.

The ground floor is mainly furniture and decorations. The food stalls are mainly on the upper floor. For an extra price, you can buy the show guide, which entitles you to a goody bag. My mother was very appreciative of the Yorkshire Gold tea, and I'm sure her cats will just love the free cat treat sample. The rest will probably get the bin, but hey.

In short, for an hour and a half, I raced around, quickly accumulating very heavy bags. I will say that it's great for present-buying - I got presents for fully five people here today! Japanese puzzle boxes. Decorative candles. Children's books, heavily discounted. Unusual bags. Magnetic jewellery, which I like the look of, but don't want to go through the palaver of discussing with the vendor what the health benefits might be. Then there's the Fudge Kitchen stall, which merits a visit all by itself! They have fudge slices, drinking fudge - which I was interested in last year but never bought, so I was kind of obliged to this year! What's nice about there is you can choose which flavours to include in the box of drinking fudge.

There's plenty I missed, that I got to last year, but then I was in a hurry. I didn't see any demonstrations, of which there were some. I didn't have anything to eat, although there were plenty of stalls where I could have, and would have loved to. And I didn't get much of a chance to go around the fashion, which was also upstairs. But, you know, I had enough to carry when I was leaving that I could say I'd done it justice. And I made it to the airport in plenty of time.

So, nothing major planned for the weekend. Watch this space, something might happen. Won't go to anything Monday - I don't bother, when I'm travelling. For Tuesday, well.. I do hear a rumour that the Southbank Christmas market will be open by then, and it was lovely last year..

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Play: Billy the Girl

I should be at Billy the Girl, at the Soho Theatre, right now. Obviously, I ain't. Just as well I got a good discount! Seriously, what is it with this theatre? Didn't make the last play I booked there either. This evening, it was my computer at work, which decided to install fully 14 updates, really slowly. After 40 minutes of staring at it, I shut it down. It was on number 12. I still missed my Tube. By seconds. I watched it pull away. It remains to be seen how much they'll charge my Oyster card for touching in and touching out again - hopefully not that much, since they should figure out I couldn't have gone anywhere.

Anyway. I was looking up what to do tomorrow, and Time Out is telling me that a film is the only thing I can get to before I fly back to Ireland for the weekend. But I think I might be naughty and go to Ideal Christmas instead - a home show down the road from me, in Earl's Court Exhibition Centre. It was great last year..!

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Dance: Blam!

Of course, I left myself tight again to get into town for Blam! by Sadler's Wells, but Google Maps' timing was impeccable, and I made it just as they were calling for people to take their seats.

My side of the balcony was practically empty, and I could have changed seat if I'd wanted, but I was just fine where I was. There are no bad seats in the Peacock Theatre. Blam! is set in an office, with three bored office workers in cubicles, waiting for the boss to turn his back so they can play basketball with waste paper and waste paper baskets. So it starts slowly, and will be familiar to anyone who works in any kind of office.

But hold on to your hats, because they do a lot more than that eventually - what they do to the water cooler is just indescribable! And that poor office at the end of the show.. With a good rock soundtrack, this show is great fun. Runs until Saturday. And as I say, I managed to get a 55p discount on the booking fee, if not the actual ticket price, by booking through www.fromtheboxoffice.com. It is always worth shopping around, and this way you don't get encouraged to give a donation, as you invariably do with the venue's own box office. Not that I mind donating - they are worth it - but it is hard to be constantly hit for more money.

So, my friend who was supposed to go on a walk with me tomorrow night had to postpone, and instead I'm going to a play called Billy the Girl at the Soho Theatre. It's been a while since I was there, and the last time I booked I couldn't make it - forget why. Anyway, I got a terrific deal on my ticket for this by entering the code AYTOFFER at checkout - I found out about it just by searching for cheap tickets. £10 instead of £12.50, on full-price tickets only and subject to availability.. as I say, always shop around!

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Film: Philomena

This is only the second time I've been to Cineworld Fulham Road, and the first since it became my local cinema! I could walk in 23 minutes, according to Google Maps, and so I did. Nice cheap day then, transport-wise. Chilly, but not too cold, and not raining. And I do like to explore. I did find it a revelation to see how many restaurants there are along Old Brompton Road.. plenty to explore then.

I did, indeed, get to the cinema in about 23 minutes, walking briskly. This cinema is all brass, marble, glass, wooden doors - nice décor. The ticket machine worked, unlike some I've met, and I found my way to the screen. Slight confusion over where the toilets were, and I ended up leaving it until I came out. Comfy seats, good legroom. I don't know whether it's just me, but I did get the impression that the screen itself was angled slightly away from the door, meaning that you needed to sit more to the left to get a more balanced view. Anyway, seating was unallocated. Mind you, by the time the film started, the cinema was packed.

Philomena, directed by Stephen Frears and based on the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, by Martin Sixsmith, is the true story of Philomena Lee, played in the film by Dame Judi Dench (Steve Coogan plays Sixsmith), who had a baby boy out of wedlock in Ireland in the 50s, was sent to Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea to have him, and had to work off her debt to the nuns by working in the laundry. Ultimately, her son was sold to an American couple. Fifty years later, she tells her daughter about him, and starts a search for him. In real life, apparently, Sixsmith only got involved after most of the details had been uncovered, but in the film he helps with the search from the beginning.

This is a very sensitively handled film, very sweet. The temptation, of course, is to gun for the nuns that not only caused such misery to young unmarried mothers, and sold their children, but also actively prevented this mother and son from finding each other, years later. However, as in real life, Philomena forgives them, and in the film remarks to Sixsmith that being angry must be very tiring. Ultimately, you see that what was done cannot be undone, and everyone must find a way to live with it.

BTW, Judi Dench manages an Irish accent just fine, but I can't say the same for the girl that plays her younger self. O dear..!

Tomorrow night is Blam!, a Sadler's Wells production at the Peacock Theatre. Looking forward to it, I haven't been to a dance performance in some time. Shall have to look up how to get there though, it has been quite a while. I managed to beat the official price by 55p - the actual ticket price was the same, but the booking fee was 55p less on fromtheboxoffice.com! ;-)

Film: Calais: the Last Border

There were a couple of other things I might have gone to yesterday, but they were sold out, so I ended up reducing my film list again. Calais: the Last Border, this time. Showing with a short film by the same director, Lift. In the Tricycle cinema, which is in the same building as the theatre - I've been to the theatre before, not the cinema, here.

You can get there straight on the Overground. Well, when I say straight.. you'd better have a copy of the timetable. Fortunately, I do, having learned the value of it the hard way. So I could see that the direct trains had stopped running for the day (the Overground timetable isn't nearly as frequent or convenient as the Tube). In fact, my flatmate hates the Overground for that reason, and I must say he has a point. And so I could see that, although Google Maps promised I could make the journey in 24 minutes, in order to get there for 8.45 I'd have to leave in time to catch the Overground at 8.08. So I'd really need to leave around 8.05 - 40 minutes beforehand. Good to know these things.

After a delicious meal at home - Tesco Finest range does a terrific beef wellington - it was a rush to catch the Overground. Just as well I hurried along, the train was pulling in as I was crossing the footbridge. I panted my way onboard and made it in time to the cinema.

It's the same box office as for the theatres, and I could see the cinema sign pointing down a flight of stairs just past the box office. Where I queued, while a couple of ladies tried to buy tickets for Philomena, which they swore the website said was showing that night. Tsk if it did, that's not good! Can't vouch for it myself, I was here to see something else. Anyway, I eventually bought my ticket and went downstairs.

'Tis a lovely cinema. Quite large, and on this occasion, quite empty. Turned out I was attending the UK Jewish Film Festival. Ooh. Some people were handing out questionnaires about the festival, but resolutely ignored me. Hmph. And so the films duly started.

Lift came first. It's a half-hour film where the director stands in a lift, in a block of flats in London, and films people that travel in the lift. Apparently, it was his first film. And it's really good! Starts weirdly, with people looking at him most suspiciously and some refusing to travel, most who do enter the lift not looking at or speaking to him. But he seems to have spent some time there, and it's really interesting to see the same people eventually open up to him and start to chat. And they're interesting folks. I do recommend this, if you come across it.

Calais: the Last Border follows the same idea of interviewing strangers. Not in a lift this time, but around Calais. Filmed 10 years ago, people interviewed include refugees trying to get to England, and Brits trying to make a life for themselves in Calais. It's about an hour long, this one, and again, interesting. I like this guy's interviewing style, he really gets you involved in these people's stories. I'd love to know what happened to them afterwards. Like his subjects in Lift, they were all in transit, and this was a snapshot of their lives. The Afghan whose entire family was killed, and nowhere would do him for asylum but the UK. The Jamaican who had a Eurolines ticket to London, but they stopped him at the border and now there was no bus back to Brussels, where he lived. The Lithuanian who couldn't get to the UK, and now didn't have enough money to get home, so a fellow passenger made up the difference. The Brits, trollies laden with crates of cheap booze, complaining about foreigners making things harder for them. Steve, who'd tried opening a bar in Calais but it wasn't working for him and he finally packed the family into the campervan and headed for an uncertain future in Spain. The elderly couple with a failing tourism business, who were in terrible financial trouble and talking about taking an overdose. It's all here.

Afterwards, there was a Q+A. Now, this was the third Q+A I've been to recently. What I'm used to with these is audience members asking questions. Hmm. What we had in this case was the director (a Jewish chap, which is how he got into the festival) being asked questions by the presenter. Long, academic-style questions. I figured, after a couple, he'd turn to the audience. There was a lady in the front who had her hand up nearly from the start. Well, after half an hour of this interview, just this guy asking questions, the director pointed to the lady in front and remarked that he thought this lady was dying to ask a question. "O yes, of course!" exclaimed the presenter. "I did mean to ask for other questions, I wasn't just going to blabber on.." Yeah. Right. Anyway, her question and the director's answer took another ten minutes. I was beginning to wonder how long this was going to go on for - these things usually have a limit. And then, with no more audience questions forthcoming, the presenter launched into another speech. And he was going off the topic of the film, going into the director's Jewish background and trying to relate that to the film. Scraping the bottom of the barrel, I'd call it. BORING! With an eye on the clock for the last train, I left as soon as he started again. Made the next-to-last train to Willesden Junction, and had a 20-minute wait for the train to West Brompton. Which gave me time to go to the toilet, which I might add was not the cleanest. At least there was toilet paper, I suppose. And then I got home, called my mother, and by that stage it was too late to blog - hence the delay.

Tonight, it's my turn to go to Philomena! (Would have gone to The Geographer Drank His Globe Away, but it sold out again.) Apparently, Philomena is causing a terrible ruckus in Ireland, due, doubtless, to its subject matter of an unmarried woman who has a baby boy that the nuns sell to an American couple for adoption. Fifty years later, she tells someone about it and they suggest she go looking for her son. Based on a true story, and starring Dame Judi Dench as the woman in question, and Steve Coogan as the journalist who takes on the story. Well, we'll soon see what all the fuss is about. Heading to my new nearest cinema, Cineworld Fulham, which I can walk to, or get the bus if the weather is grotty. Tomorrow, I'm going to Blam! - a Sadler's Wells production. About time - it's ages since I was at a dance production. Looking forward to it. And on Thursday, the plan is to go on another guided walk - not sure which yet. I'm taking Friday off, so might get to something in the afternoon before I fly back to Ireland for the weekend - we'll see!

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Film: Blue is the Warmest Colour

If Blue is the Warmest Colour hadn't had such an interesting trailer, I wouldn't have dragged myself out of bed this morning to see it. Turns out it isn't properly opening for a couple of weeks - today was a special preview. Well, anyway, it was a sunny morning..

So I made my way into the Curzon Soho, just off Chinatown. Now, you'd think Sunday morning would be one of the quieter times in London. Not at all! The traffic was completely backed up down our road, whatever was on - you don't normally see traffic on our road at all. Maybe there was a detour. Then there were all these people with dogs - I'd forgotten there was a dog show in Earl's Court. Not that that was responsible for all the traffic..

The Tube was packed as well, but I eventually made my way in. Only to discover a long queue in front of the cinema! As someone ahead of me remarked, he'd never seen a queue outside that cinema before! Well, you know why they were all there.. Fortunately, the film was showing in Screen 1 and there was room for all of us.

So, this is a French film about a young girl, Adele, who's finding herself, shall we say. In fact, the original French title, La Vie d' Adele (Adele's Life), suits it much better I think. The short version of the story is that her first love is a blue-haired lesbian. This is not, however, a short film, running at one minute shorter than three hours. Now, I've often had a problem with French film, which I've found overly introspective. Well, I've never seen more introspective than this, but the film is actually excellent. We spend 90% of the time watching closeups of Adele. At school. In bed. Eating. Actually a pretty good way of putting us inside her head.

The sex is intense. (Wasn't like that when I was at school!) There's one sex scene with a boy, but much more intense are those with the blue-haired girl, when she finally gets together with her. So, hold onto your hats, folks! A French blue movie, for sure.. and at 11 o'clock on a Sunday morning. :-) O dear! In fact, the guy to my right very obviously had trouble with the first lesbian sex scene, which must have lasted ten minutes.. he looked very uncomfortable indeed.

Yeah, it's good, just leave a large block of time. I'm glad I got to see it at a weekend.

For tomorrow, LondonNet told me there was something called Pandas showing at Riverside Studios, but Riverside doesn't seem to have heard about it, so it's Calais: the Last Border at the Tricycle Cinema instead. Now, I've seen plays here, but not a film yet. Be interesting to check out the cinema. And I can get the Overground straight there. Cool.

PS I found the USB cable, so yesterday's photos are now available.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

The Lord Mayor's Show

I was dubious, after yesterday's weather, and really doubted today, when I saw it was pouring rain at midday, whether I would get to the Lord Mayor's Show. So I pored over what film I might go to - and when I got through with that, I noticed the rain had stopped and the sun had come out! So I did too, saying I'd risk it.

The first part of the festivities was a parade. I decided - wisely, as it transpired - to head for the end of the route, at Mansion House. By the time I made it into town, the parade was nearly finished, and this was my best chance to see as much as possible of it. Besides, that was very near where the free guided walks would be happening. And I could get there direct on the District Line. So I arrived at Mansion House, the Lord Mayor's residence, and was immediately glad I'd come. The crowd wasn't that dense, and the costumes and finery were terrific! The whole parade was supposed to take an hour to pass any given point - I estimate I saw about 15mins of it. But it was the best bit, with the dignitaries and the Lord Mayor's coach. So that's all right.

I realised that the best way to find my way to the start of the parade route, where the walks were taking place, would be to follow the parade - which I did, until I saw the distinctive façade of 1 Poultry, the building where we were to assemble for the walks. There was a long queue, but we were processed quickly, and there were plenty of guides. This walk was to last about an hour and a quarter, and have no hills or steps. It mainly centred on the riverbank - I do wonder whether different guides covered different areas, as we didn't come across any other groups on our walk. Anyway, it's a part of the city I'm not that familiar with, so I was well pleased. It started to rain quite persistently during the walk, but I persisted too, and it had stopped by the end, which was outside The Black Friar Pub - just off Blackfriars Bridge, one of the prime locations for the fireworks, conveniently enough. It was too busy to think of going in, and although I was already hungry by that stage, I knew I didn't have time to eat before the fireworks at 5. Oh, and a caveat about the walk - it was excellent, but despite the promise of "no steps", there was a flight right at the end, to climb up to the bridge from the waterfront. Not a big deal for me, but if you did have real trouble with steps, it'd be a point to note. So just be aware of that if going on a "no-steps" walk, and check carefully.

Phew! So I crossed to the railing, and decided that behind the guy with the complicated-looking camera was the place to be. And then we waited, all of us. The railings, the steps, the bridge, were all lined with folks whose gaze was pointed the same way. For the next 40 minutes. Ah, the dedication. And my, what fun when the two little people appeared in front of me - she with psychedelic flashing bunny ears, he with a whistle he kept practising on. Accompanied by their auntie, who was just worried they'd knock over the tripod with the complicated-looking camera on it. And probably send it sailing over the wall and onto the steps down to the wharf. But no, they were good really. And once the fireworks finally started, he forgot all about his whistle! The fireworks were good, although further away than we expected - and I was surprised that they only lasted ten minutes! I'm used to longer for a public display - but well, I suppose, they did have a parade to pay for. And a banquet (to which, sadly, I was not invited).

Photos of the day are now available!

By this stage I was starving, and couldn't wait until I got home to eat. I know there's a very good Pizza Express near the Globe Theatre, just a little bit up - so I headed in that general direction. By now, it was absolutely freezing.. I will have to drag out all those winter woollies. And I couldn't go via the riverbank - it was thronged. So the first restaurant I came across, I stopped at. Turned out to be The Tall House, a Chinese. Which was very good, although not as good as my new local Chinese, Taiwan Village! But it's always good to get around. And when the couple beside me were ordering, she asked for what I was having. Which is a good recommendation for their chicken Szechuan.

Tomorrow is back to the movies. Blue is the Warmest Colour, if I can get up for it (11am in town). Story about a girl who falls for a girl with blue hair..

Friday, 8 November 2013

Film: Short Term 12

So, I was rechecking the film ratings today to see what to go to tonight, and there was almost an upset. The Geographer Drank His Globe Away had risen to the same level as what I had planned to go to, Short Term 12. (It's since dropped slightly again.) Well, I was considering going to this newly risen film, which turns out to be part of the Russian Film Festival (there's a wealth of film festivals in London right now) - but it was already sold out for tonight. So it was back to my original plans, and probably
до свидания (do svidaniya) for good to the Russian film, now that it's fallen in ratings.

Short Term 12 is now only showing in the Vue Piccadilly (Apollo), which I've only been to once before. Had to remind myself how to get there. It's off Piccadilly Circus, of course, so I headed off on the Tube, to the familiar smell of diesel. Arrived in good time. This is the cinema with the dazzling blue lights on the stairs. There was no-one in the lobby, so I made my way down to the basement, where the screens are, to buy my ticket.

My screen was quite small, but there were only four people there when I arrived - a middle-aged couple and a pair of young women. All of whom were having a lively chat about films. The younger women were obviously film buffs, and at one point the couple asked them whether they went to mainstream films as well. Personally, I hate that question. As if there's a difference. A good film is a good film, regardless of who's in it, who made it, how big the budget was, or what language it's in. To be fair, they did respond with a couple of names of "mainstream" films they'd been to, but seemed to have to think a bit. I was tempted to start telling them I'd been to Gravity the night before, but restrained myself..

They, and a couple of American ladies that arrived subsequently, were all quite loudly vocal of their disapproval of the number of ads. Really, you'd think they never normally darkened the doors of a "mainstream" cinema! I was relieved when the film started, just that they'd shut up..

Short Term 12 is set in a short-term care home for foster kids, until the system decides where to put them. They are supposed to stay for a maximum of 12 months. The film centres on a young woman who works there, and kind of supervises the other front-line staff. She is in a long-term relationship with another of the staff, and as the film progresses, we see how good she is with the kids, and that she has her own demons to exorcise.

As one of the young women remarked on the way out, it's a very clever film, in that it is both very funny and very sad. We really care about both the worker and her boyfriend, and the kids in the home. I was dubious about this film, worried that it would be yet another saccharine coming-of-age drama. Or else unpleasantly gritty. Neither - it's charming, the characters are appealing, but never is it smug or patronising. I really, really enjoyed it, and am glad I got the chance to see it before it goes entirely. Excellent film, well deserving of its high rating on IMDB.

Handy there's a Tesco right next door to the cinema, I'd forgotten I was out of milk. And then I had an entertaining Tube ride home - it's five weeks since I was in London at a weekend and I'd forgotten how mad it gets then.

And tomorrow, for something completely different! Not a film, for a change - the plan is to go to the Lord Mayor's show (weather permitting - it was supposed to be fine, but today was atrocious). This marks the tradition of the Lord Mayor of London leaving the old city of London to present his credentials to the king, at Westminster (where the king used to live). So, there'll be an enormous parade, at the end of which will come the Lord Mayor's coach. There will be free guided walks of the old city at 3 - I'll be there for that, it's my favourite part of London - and fireworks from a barge on the river at 5. And they're turning on the Christmas lights in Regent Street, just to finish the spectacle! As I say, hope the weather holds..

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Film: Gravity

So, nothing much happened last night, and there wasn't much to blog about. So I didn't. See, I had to head to Brixton to see what I wanted to see, which involved taking the Tube to Victoria and change to the Victoria line to Brixton. But firstly, the train indicator at West Brompton was telling fibs and I missed my train, and then, as I was finally approaching Victoria, an announcement informed me that the Victoria Line was suspended to Brixton, because of a person under a train. Always happening. After that, there was nothing for it but to just turn around and come straight back. Whereupon TFL charged me a surcharge because they figured I must have gotten off somewhere and not touched out properly, I'd been gone so long. Must see about a refund - couldn't get one earlier, you have to wait 24 hours.

Well, well, well. Tonight, I finally got to see Gravity! Nearest place to me showing it in 2D (3D gives me a headache) is the Coronet cinema in Notting Hill. So I planned to come home first and take the Tube straight there, which is the fastest option - but I stayed in the office longer than expected, and ended up taking the bus, which is the handiest option from there. I would know, given that my last flat was so close to the office. So I arrived in plenty of time, and it was just a short stroll to the cinema.

I haven't been to this cinema before, and what a lovely old cinema it is! It only has two screens - Gravity was showing in Screen 1. Nice cheap ticket price for the area. I was hungry - didn't have time to eat beforehand - so was glad to see a concession stand. And they sell wine too - in plastic glasses, so you can take it in. All very civilised. It's a bit of a maze to get to Screen 1, more so if you want to sit downstairs. Also confusing when, right as you come to the end of your trek, you come across a door leading to Screen 2, which was in the other direction to start with! But I made it, and entered what obviously used to be a theatre, and still has the ornate old mouldings, and not one, but two balconies. The screen is quite small for the space, and I ended up sitting third row from the front (seating isn't allocated). And spent much of my time before the lights went down admiring the fixtures and fittings. Plenty of legroom too. Yes, definitely a cinema I'd recommend.

The more so because there were no ads before the film! Music started playing about fifteen minutes before start time, but then straight into the film. What a refreshing change! And.. so it started. The reviews are saying that the opening shot is spectacular. It is. I can see how this will work very well in 3D. You get a huge shot of (a bit of) the Earth, with this little speck coming into view that is the space shuttle. Upside-down, because that doesn't matter up there. And as it comes closer, the dialogue you can hear gets gradually louder. Mission Control in Houston is talking to the astronauts - three of them, of whom two are Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Ed Harris does the voice of Mission Control. But you can forget about him, he doesn't last long into the film, as they lose contact - which I shall explain shortly.

The scene is quickly set. Sandra Bullock is the newcomer, straight out of training. George Clooney is the veteran astronaut, on his last mission. And Mission Control is telling them that there's been a collision - I forget what hit what, but a satellite was involved - and there's debris heading their way. Get back inside the shuttle asap - they were outside making repairs. Well, of course, they don't get back in quickly enough. And it's not giving much away to say that the shuttle is destroyed and everyone killed except our two heroes. Who are now adrift in space. Fortunately, we have the veteran who has a clear head and enough experience to have some idea what to do.

I have not seen the like of this film. Essentially, the whole film takes place in a weightless environment - I must look up how they achieved that - and you have people spinning around, often out of control, people talking and performing activities upside-down, people talking to each other who are at funny angles to each other.. everything you lose a grip of goes drifting off unstoppably, you have to tether yourself to something to stop yourself doing the same. Now, imagine your ship is destroyed - scattered through space in bits - and you have nothing to tether yourself to. And there is nothing under your feet. Well, except Planet Earth, a long way down. And now imagine that something just hit you and sent you spinning, and Planet Earth is spinning in your field of vision, and there is absolutely nothing to stop you spinning....

Now you're getting an idea of what's in the trailer, and what this film is like. The trailer scared the **** out of me, and the film did the same. I spent the entire thing agape, and the first half hour saying things like "O no", and "O my GOD!" out loud. I had to hold the seat for security. And that was in 2D. It's quite immersive. If you have anything like vertigo, or any fear of heights whatsoever, this film will do the same to you. I am so glad I'm not an astronaut.. (BTW, I do like to be scared in films, so this didn't put me off!)

Now, that's not all that this film is remarkable for. It has a terrifically quiet quality. I mean, when your companions have been killed and contact with Earth lost, and there's nothing in space to carry sound, you will get that. And there's a feeling of loneliness that I remember from the days when I used to read science fiction - particularly Asimov. In short, you get a real feel for the quiet and isolation of outer space. And it's an incredible survival story. As she says at one point, either I get back with a terrific story to tell, or I'm toast in the next 10 minutes.

IMDB gives this 8.5/10. I give it 10/10. It's the best film I've seen in years.

Phew. Very impressive.

Tomorrow, the best film remaining on my list is Short Term 12. Which gets good reviews. I doubt it, or anything in the next while, will live up to what I saw tonight though.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Film: No Fire Zone - the Killing Fields of Sri Lanka

This is certainly a great week for documentaries. One about John Milius yesterday, one about Sri Lanka today, and likely one about adoption tomorrow.

So, it was back to Riverside Studios today for No Fire Zone - the Killing Fields of Sri Lanka. It's the first time I've been here since I moved to the new place - could have walked from the last one, but it was a bit far from the new one, so I took the bus. And therefore approached the Studios from the other side. After climbing all those stairs, I panted my way to the top and chose a seat.

Which would have been less easy, had I arrived later. It was packed. Of course, this was the only showing of this film. Part of their DocHouse Presents season, this is the story of the Sri Lankan government's clampdown on the Tamil Tigers, and consequent massacre of the civilian population. The director, award-winning documentarian Callum McCrae, was present and stayed for a Q+A afterwards.

It's horrifying. He warned us beforehand, and also assured us that every single fact had been checked, double-checked, and verified. In short, the Sri Lankan government chased the Tigers, a militant independence group, into an ever smaller portion of the country. They tore through the civilian population to do it. The most callous thing they did may have been the establishment of "No Fire Zones", where people could flee and be safe. Yeah, right. As their villages were flattened around them - and one of the most moving images, for me, was of a whole village trying to take shelter in a ditch they had dug, while shells were falling around them - the only thing they could do was make for these "safe zones".

Where they were sitting ducks. It became apparent that the government's real intention was to wipe out the Tamils as completely as possible. When the Red Cross came through and found a field hospital, they communicated the coordinates to both warring parties, as is procedure, to make sure that the hospital would be safe, under the terms of the Geneva Convention. In Sri Lanka, however, the hospitals had to ask the Red Cross to stop doing so, because whenever they did, the hospital would be shelled shortly after. The Sri Lankan army was guilty of the rape of female prisoners, and the execution of prisoners, including those who had surrendered. Again, violations of the Geneva Conventions. By definition, war crimes.

Ironic that the president used to be a human rights lawyer. Interesting, also, how he's gotten away scot free. As a UN representative remarked in the film, he gambled that the world would do nothing.. and he was right. And today, the same area in which tens of thousands of people were massacred is aggressively marketed at tourists. And that self-same president - who has voted himself a lifetime term of office and immunity from prosecution - will shortly host the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, which will be attended by David Cameron and Prince Charles.

The Q+A afterwards was the longest, and liveliest, I've seen, lasting nearly an hour. The poor host's attempts to wind things up, because our time was up, were scuppered first by a Tamil lady living in London who'd lost 17 family members in the genocide and couldn't be prevented from speaking, and lastly by an elderly gentleman sitting in the row in front of me, who said he was Sinhalese - the majority race in Sri Lanka, and the one in power. He accused the organisers of preventing Sinhalese from speaking, and said that while he accepted some points made in the film, others were clearly fabricated. When another Sri Lankan challenged him, I was afraid it would come to blows. The audience's applause for the second man's statement gave the host her excuse to applaud the director and wind it up.

Apparently, the film is about to receive its debut screening in India, but the director can't attend - he's been trying to get a visa since February but they're ignoring him. (Tamils aren't terribly popular there, it seems, after a number of attacks some time back.) And during a screening in Kathmandu, the place was raided.

Well, tomorrow will probably be Mercy Mercy: Adoptionens Pris - a documentary about the adoption of two Ethiopian children by a Danish couple. There's another Q+A, although I can't imagine it'll be as lively..!