Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Film: Kapringen (A Hijacking)

Rated at 7.1 on IMDBA Hijacking was a film I thought I'd never get down to seeing, given that I tend to go in order of ratings. This, in fact, is the lowest-rated film I've seen since I moved here. Apart from The Moth Diaries, and that was just because I got a free ticket.

A sweltering journey in on the Piccadilly Line. I'm kind of glad I won't be here this weekend, when temperatures are predicted to rise again. I booked, because it's the Odeon and I get a discount (actually, I got this one for free, having accumulated enough points), and I was glad to be able to go straight to the machine and bypass the couple who seemed to be taking forever at the till.

It had been a toss-up between this and The Heat. Boy, am I glad I chose this one - nothing against The Heat, I'll probably see it eventually, but this is such a good film. And it was my last chance - well, today and tomorrow. After having shown in London for so long, this was its last week, and only at the Odeon Panton Street. It's a Danish film, telling the story of a Danish ship hijacked by Somali pirates, and the subsequent negotiations for the crew's release. The contrast between the tense, sweaty situation onboard and the cool, calm company offices, where the CEO is negotiating with the hostages, couldn't be more pronounced. Demonstrated at the beginning as a skilled negotiator, he finds the situation to be more than he reckoned on, or has experienced before. An understated film, it deserves far more than 7.1/10.

Tomorrow, the plan is to finally see World War Z. With it rated at 7.2, I would normally have gone to see it first, but the only accessible place it's on at a reasonable time is only showing it tomorrow - so, tomorrow it is. I'm back in Ireland for the weekend, going to the Summer Music on the Shannon festival on Saturday night, on the shores of Lough Derg.  I plan finally to see The Conjuring next week - but not on Tuesday, when I'm booked to see Red 2 - again, booked because it's in the Odeon. I haven't seen the first, but I figure that won't be an issue, and they are saying it's better than the first!

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Film: Into the Abyss

You might think that Into the Abyss is a horror film. It's not - it's a Werner Herzog documentary about a triple homicide in Texas, and centres around interviews with all sorts of people involved with the men convicted of the crime, one of whom is on death row.

The interviewees are the stars of the show. There's the cop that investigated the crime. There's the reverend who accompanies the condemned to the "death house", with their permission, of course. He's opposed to the death penalty and gets very upset when describing executions. There's the former captain of the death house team, who quit, forfeiting his pension, following a disturbing execution - the first of a woman in which he'd participated - when she looked at him, just before the end, and thanked him for all he'd done for her. There are the relatives of the murder victims, who are made to hold photos of their murdered relatives and talk about how it affected them.

There are the convicted men, both of whom deny any part in the crime. And a dreadful crime it was. One got a life sentence after an emotional courtroom plea by his father, who's also serving life. He was interviewed too, and was all penitent over being such a bad father. And there's the woman who married his son. She's the least unhappy person in the whole business, only having got to know him after he'd been convicted, it seems. Kinda quirky, kinda coy, especially about how exactly she got pregnant with her husband locked up and no conjugal visits allowed..

All in all, a fascinating collection of characters and I was glad to hear their tales, although the film itself dragged in parts.

Tomorrow was supposed to be The Conjuring. But I got a phone call today that changed all that. See, it's only previewing at the moment, and only being shown by the Slacker's Club at the Picturehouse cinemas. And it turns out that's just for students (who get to see films for free). So I'll have to wait until next week at least.. but I will get a refund. Top of my now greatly depleted list to replace it was World War Z, but tomorrow that's only on way out of town, involving much unnecessary travel when I can see it in the city centre on Thursday. So, instead, I moved to a new low point on my list. Drum roll please.. for tomorrow, I have booked a ticket to see A Hijacking, which is rated at just 7.1 on IMDB! Doesn't mean it's a bad film - far from it. It's just there's so much choice in London that up to now I haven't gone below 7.3.. Oh, and it's in the Odeon, and I've saved up enough points with them that I got it for free. Goodee!

Monday, 29 July 2013

Film: Blackfish

A change to the advertised schedule! See, when I checked the IMDB ratings today, Blackfish had risen a point, so I decided to go see that instead.

The closest place it's showing is the Curzon Mayfair, so I went to see it there. This is unfortunate, because I keep forgetting how much I hate going there. The Tube is desperately crowded, but the crowds less friendly than, say, Piccadilly Circus, being less composed of tourists. At the cinema itself, I invariably have to buy my ticket at the bar, the box office being closed - and the staff must be the slowest of any cinema I've seen. Oh, and it's horrendously overpriced.

At least the seats are comfy. And my, am I glad I chose to go to this film this evening! It's a documentary about something I noticed vaguely in the press when it happened - the killing of a trainer at SeaWorld, by one of the whales. The film contains many interviews with ex-SeaWorld trainers, many beautiful shots of whales, and an interview with one guy who, I believe, is still at SeaWorld, and was the only one to defend them. SeaWorld themselves apparently repeatedly declined to be interviewed.

Two things stay with me. The first, and strongest, impression I have of the film is the beauty and majesty of these enormous creatures, drifting, floating, and spinning through the water. Particularly the open ocean, in the waters off Vancouver Island. Ah, beautiful part of the world..

The second impression I was left with was absolute disgust. SeaWorld came across as irresponsible and misleading. Tilikum, the subject of this documentary, is an orca responsible for the deaths of three people. Not only did SeaWorld hide this fact from its employees, and misrepresent the cause of the third death, but Tilikum continues to perform at SeaWorld, with trainers, to this day. The ex-trainers in the film explain that Tilikum, SeaWorld's most prolific stud, is too valuable to the company to have him retired. The courts have ordered SeaWorld to keep a barrier between whales and trainers at all times, but they are appealing. SeaWorld employees are shown in the film explaining how orcas live longer in captivity, when scientific studies have shown the opposite. SeaWorld employees have stated that the collapsed dorsal fins of male orcas represent no higher a proportion in captivity than in the wild, which is a fact again refuted by scientific research.

I know I will never, ever go to SeaWorld. This film, the love of the trainers for the whales, and their description of their treatment in captivity left me in tears. I am amazed that this company is allowed to continue in business.

Tomorrow, I'm booked to see Into the Abyss, a Werner Herzog documentary about a man convicted of a triple homicide, in the BFI. On Wednesday, I'm going to a preview of The Conjuring - it seems to have sold out in Notting Hill (well, you could book yesterday but not today), so I'm heading to Greenwich. Looks like it'll be worth it though!

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Film: Pattes Blanches

I'm doing a great job of getting through my film list these days, of which more later. Anyway, today was Pattes Blanches, at the BFI - a French film from 1949.

I didn't wheeze today after climbing onto the Hungerford Bridge - that's an improvement. Also an improvement on last time I was at the BFI was that the film wasn't in Screen 1 (NFT1), which would have meant I had to come all the way back from the box office to where I entered the building in the first place. No, this evening's was in NFT2, which is a lot closer to the box office. And I do like the programme notes they make available for each showing - a study of the film, on two sides of an A4 page. Just had time to read it before the lights went down.

So, this is a romantic French melodrama from 1949, set on the wild coast of Normandy. Jock, the local innkeeper, arrives from town with a new squeeze, Odette, whom he introduces as his niece but with whom he shares a bedroom. The maid, Mimi, a hunchback, is ordered to wait hand and foot on her, and of course resents it. Then we have the lord of the manor, Julien - impoverished these days, and made fun of - and his illegitimate and resentful half-brother, Maurice, both of whom take a fancy to Odette, just as Mimi develops a crush on Julien. Ah yes, 'tis worthy of a Shakespearian tragedy - and, indeed, things do not end well. But, as a whole, 'twas charming, and I thought Mimi was gorgeous, despite her stoop. And Maurice plays a blinder as the villain of the piece.

Tomorrow is another of those double-bills at Riverside Studios, and I think I may go. French again - 8 Women and In the House, which is one I've wanted to see for a long time and is my reason for considering this double-bill. They're good value though, two films for the price of one. Then I've booked for Into the Abyss on Tuesday, at the BFI again - another Werner Herzog documentary, it's a study of a man on death row, convicted of a triple homicide. Also today, I finally found a date when I could get tickets for A Season in the Congo, which is packing them in at the Young Vic. For the matinee of Saturday 10th August, there were precisely two tickets left - one at the higher price level, downstairs, and one in the gallery. But that turned out to be a stool. Doesn't sound too comfortable - so I booked the ticket downstairs. Which is a relief, because now I can STOP CHECKING!!

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Film: Blancanieves

Finally got to Blancanieves this evening. I chose to go to Watermans Centre, in Brentford - it's about the closest it's showing, and I have been there before. Not hard - Tube to Gunnersbury, then the 237 or 267 to Watermans Centre. Takes about half an hour, all told. The same friendly face even sold me my ticket as last time! I was allocated a seat, but switched to the seat beside me once the lights went down, because of the large head in my line of sight..

So, this is a Spanish version of Snow White, set in 1920s Seville. I knew it was in black and white - wasn't aware it was also silent! That's getting more popular, and delightfully, allowed us to enjoy some glorious flamenco music all the way through. It did occur to me that silent films are a lot easier to translate into other languages.. This version also has Snow White as a bullfighter. Which is appropriate for Seville, but doubly interesting, given that I saw much about Barcelona and Catalunya in the credits (they've banned bullfighting, y'know). Anyhoo - it's a very moving film, visually stunning, quite surreal. Highly recommended. Even if I did get soaked on the way home.

I've already booked my next two films at the BFI, because they were half booked out already: Pattes Blanches for tomorrow and Into the Abyss for Tuesday. The former is an aristocratic French love story from 1949, the latter yet another Werner Herzog documentary, a study of a man on death row, convicted of a triple homicide.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Film: The World's End

Well, I heard a bad review of this, but you see, here's the story; looking for a film this evening, top of my list was an Indian film about an athlete called the Flying Sikh. There were two problems with this film - firstly, I'd never heard of the man, and secondly, the film is over three hours long. The climax of the film is obviously supposed to occur when he's running races, but frankly, I don't give a hoot whether he wins. So that wasn't going to work. Then there was a film in Hoxton, but that's only showing at 11pm. Off the list. Then there was a film called Frances Ha. This is apparently about a twenty-something woman with a Walter Mitty vibe, who seems to live a life of pretence. Said to be good, but frankly, she sounded annoying. Then I watched the trailer, and she looked annoying. And then there was a whole heap of films not showing today.

Which brought us to a choice of two - The World's End, or The Village at the End of the World. The latter being a documentary about a village in Greenland - which is, no doubt, very interesting - nonetheless, I thought The World's End stood a better chance of being entertaining. So I said I'd give it a shot, and it was nice to go to something local for a change - cheaper, and less hassle. And it was a lovely evening for walking. So I booked myself a ticket, as it's in the Odeon Kensington, and I'm a member and get a discount for booking in advance. It was in Screen 1, which I've never been in before, and I saw that it's divided into different price sections. The cheapest seats are in the front four rows, which have unreserved seating. So I hummed and hawed and decided that would be ok. And then they gave me 100 points more than they should have! which was nice, if unexpected. (You also get points for Odeon purchases, if you're a member.)

When I got there, I discovered why I had got the extra points. Turns out this film is named British No. 1 film, or something, and you get 100 points extra for booking it, until 4th August. Cool. Nipped up the road to get cheap chocolate from Waitrose, and when I returned to the cinema, was amazed to see that, for the first time ever, there was somebody to take my ticket! Well, I never. Turns out that getting to Screens 1 and 2 is rather confusing, as there's no sign to say that you don't climb more stairs - I only knew from experience that upstairs from that is just Screen 3. I see there are more concession stands outside Screens 1 & 2 - I don't know how often they get used, though; they looked quite abandoned.

The screen itself, as you would expect, is nice and big, and I was pleased to discover that the fourth row from the front, which had all of one occupant before me, was quite far enough away from the screen to be comfortable. Speaking of occupancy, I really don't know that this film, for all its publicity, is making anyone any money - there weren't a dozen people at this screening, in the main screen, at prime time on a Friday night.

BTW, the trailer for The Conjuring was included in the programme. Now, I'm a huge horror fan and very interested in this, which is very highly rated - sadly, not quite out yet. I had avoided seeing the trailer until now, but was glad to be given an excuse. Verdict? I didn't see a single thing in the trailer - which I scrutinised very closely - that I haven't seen before in many horror films: which I suspect means that this film isn't really original - unless there's something they've hidden from the trailer - but the ratings, and the filmmakers' cv, make me think that they've probably done it really well. And that makes it worth a look. I expect to be seeing this fairly promptly.

PS Just watched a much scarier trailer on YouTube..

Back to the business at hand. So, this is a pub crawl film, and d'you know, it's fine. It's about as entertaining as many a night I've had in pubs. I chuckled at many parts, didn't expect much, because of what I'd heard about it, and had a quite decent time. The only thing I can really say I didn't like about it was I thought they went a bit far with the aliens. I thought the filmmakers were a bit optimistic with the pontificating aliens, and I didn't think it really worked - as I didn't think the apocalyptic ending really worked. It would've worked much better had they stayed a bit more realistic, perhaps. Hey-ho. Not a wasted night.

Tomorrow is film again, and those films that weren't showing today aren't showing again tomorrow. Well, nothing if not consistent. Anyhoo, that allows me to get down to films that I wouldn't otherwise see, and I have a choice of three for tomorrow, at a rating of 7.3. There's Blancanieves, a Spanish version of Snow White, set in 1920s Seville. Frankly, it wins over the other two, at the BFI. And I'm delighted to finally get to see it - it's been on the listings for ages. Interestingly though, I was reminded to check the cinemas' own websites for showing times - the time shown on LondonNet for Blancanieves was completely different to the time on the cinema website.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Film: Wadjda

Mmm, yes, I know. This is not the film I was supposed to be going to see tonight - but I didn't check my route until today, and Google Maps had me going by Cannon Street station. Uh-oh, I said. I know that closes early. Sure enough, they had me coming back by a longer route, and no way would I be back by midnight. Never mind, I've missed Drive often enough before - I might see it one day!

So I consulted my film list again. There was one other film at the top of the ratings, but when I checked LondonNet to see where it was on tonight, and indeed whether it was on tonight, I ran into my usual problem. When they display the new week's listings, if a film will not be showing in the coming week, it doesn't display in the list, so you can't check where it's showing for the remainder of the current week. I should have checked earlier, but so it goes. And so I came, at last, to Wadjda.

I have really been looking forward to this film. Take note: this is the first feature-length film made by a woman from Saudi Arabia. Apparently, she had to shoot the outdoor sequences in Riyadh from the back of a van with covered windows. There are so many reasons to see this film. Curiosity about what such a film will be like. Curiosity about what downtown Riyadh looks like (not attractive, IMHO. Every breeze sends sand drifting down the street.) Curiosity about what Saudi customs are really like. I haven't seen anything before that would give me much inkling about what daily life is like for these people. Curiosity about what the treatment of women will be.

The story concerns a young girl - Wadjda - who wants to buy a bike to race her friend, Abdullah. Unfortunately, girls in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to ride bikes. She's stubborn, this one, though. As we follow her story, the director doesn't miss a trick, showing us also what her mother has to go through. Things like how her teaching job is in jeopardy because she has a falling-out with her driver and, well, she isn't allowed to drive herself to work. I can tell you, I got a real shock when, after being introduced to this vibrant woman in her home, we see her leaving to go to work, and shrouded head to foot in black, only her eyes visible. There's also a shot I found quite shocking, where Wadjda has bought her mother a present of a mug with a picture of them together. Well, shall we say, it's a picture of Wadjda, with a taller figure in black behind her, everything covered but the eyes. Quite spooky.

Through the whole film, I couldn't shake the feeling that Wadjda's freedom would soon be over, that when she was a few years older she wouldn't be allowed to roam like this. And it's simply mind-boggling when one of her classmates gets into trouble for bringing photos into school (they're forbidden). They're wedding photos. From her own wedding. The kid looks about 12.

But you know, there's a spirit of hope running through the whole thing. And the symbolism of the final image made me cry. It's beautifully directed. There was some applause at the end, unusually, and I joined in. This is an absolute must-see: if you're interested in Saudi Arabia, in foreign countries in general, in women's rights.. or just want to see a film that's a cut above the rest. It's haunting, and it'll stay with me.

There was an Indian on the way back to South Ken station, but when I crossed the road to it, I noticed an unassuming restaurant next door. Turned out to be Chinese, and I decided I'd rather a Chinese. Jia is the name. The décor is minimalist, the service friendly and efficient, and the food excellent, from my one experience, although online reviews are mixed. I loved the shredded chicken with ginger and spring onion that I had for starter, but must put a health warning on the kung po - it's the hottest I've had! Still, I would recommend this place.

Another film tomorrow, methinks - but I'll have to look at the list of new releases to see exactly what!

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Circus: Timber

I saw the ad for Timber when I was at the Queen Elizabeth Hall for Alexei Sayle, and thought it looked interesting, so was glad to go tonight. And, as usual, I was to be glad I started early. I can generally count on the Tube covering two stops in five minutes, but always have to add five minutes if I'm on the District Line - and this evening, I paid attention to why that is. You can fairly well guarantee that it will take ten minutes to cover the distance between West Ken and Gloucester Road - two stops. What with red signals, unexplained stops, and long stops in Earl's Court, the station between, your journey is guaranteed to be delayed.

Anyway, I was in time this evening. Having had a chest cold that's still affecting me, I wheezed my way up the steps of the Hungerford Bridge - ooh, that was hard. Well, I survived, and even made it to the theatre in time. I had bought a cheap ticket - hard to do here, there is no obvious distinction, you have to mouse over all the seats to see what the prices are - and was in the rear stalls. O dear, I thought when I sat down, I don't like this seat much (CC5, FYI). I was kind of to the side, and realised I should have gone more central, even if I had to be further up. Not a problem, however - there was no-one else in my row on that side, and when the lights went down, I simply moved further along the row and had a fine view.

And my, but this is a fun show! Cirque Alfonse, the performers, have apparently worked with Cirque du Soleil, and it shows. There are some spectacular acrobatics, axe-juggling, log-rolling, aerial tricks, and the whole thing accompanied by a band, with plenty of traditional Québecois folk music. Ah oui, les Québecois sont arrivés... Even grandpapa gets hoisted to the rafters and spun around. And little Artur, just a toddler, gets trotted on at the end and captures everyone's hearts by his obsession with the see-saw. Witness the next generation! Highly recommended - and there's no interval, so it finishes nice and early. Hurry though - it only runs until Wednesday..

Tomorrow night is looking, so far, like a film, and that film is looking like Drive. I'd love to see this - somehow I missed it when it first came out, and every now and again it pops up again. Tomorrow only, it's showing at Greenwich Picturehouse. At 9, but it's not a long film, so it's feasible..

Film: Maryan

..or Mariyan.. or Mariyaan..

Well, when I was looking for a film to go to yesterday, this was top of my list, and showing in three different Cineworlds around London. However, one of them wasn't showing it yesterday, one was only showing it quite late, and would take an age to get there, and another age to get back from, and it was a school night. So that left Cineworld Ilford, which would also take an age to get to, but where it was showing at 7.15, which was doable.

I left straight from work, and with some advice from those in the know (thanks Helen!) had a trouble-free journey, despite having to change twice. Yep, the Stratford Interchange is quite easy to negotiate, even though I did manage to get slightly lost in it.. well, there isn't a clear sign when you get to Platform 8! But they upgraded it for the Olympics, and it shows. Caught the fast train, next stop Ilford, which I shared with many people and a large-ish dog, and arrived in Ilford something less than 55 minutes after the train left West Ken.

Left the station to be assailed by a large gentleman bellowing about Christ and hellfire, and handing out leaflets - which makes this the most colourful stop I've been to. So far. Thanks to Google Maps Streetview, which I wouldn't be without, I found the cinema no problem. Got my ticket, and queued for food. I settled for chocolate this time, after my last experience with a Cineworld hot dog. Found my screen. Which was quite full - well, I guess this isn't showing in many locations. And I was the only white person there, which was a first for me. :-) Actually, an elderly Indian lady in the row behind me decided to check, before the film started, that I was in the right place.. I assured her that yes, I had come to see the Tamil film.

I was interested in this film. Different from the usual Indian film, this is based on the true story of workers from Tamil Nadu who were kidnapped in Darfur, in the Sudan. So, in the film, we have a poor fisherman who takes up a construction contract in Sudan, and is just about to come home when he and two others are kidnapped. He has a girlfriend waiting at home.. will he make it back, under impossible circumstances? Most striking about the film is the cinematography, and the amazing constrast between the seaside village he comes from, and the arid desert he is now stuck in. I could almost smell the sea.. I could almost feel the desert heat. And Sudan is portrayed, as you might expect, as a Not Very Nice Place to visit. It's an interesting film.. suffice to say, I didn't leave at the intermission.

There didn't seem to be a fast train going back to Stratford, so I just took the slow one - which takes all of five minutes longer. And so, eventually, home and bed. Tonight, I'm heading to a Québecois lumberjack show (!) - "Timber" at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in the Southbank Centre. At least I should know where to go.. that's where I saw Alexei Sayle. And these lumberjacks sing, apparently, as well as juggling axes and such. Well now, that should take me right back to my days in Canada.. and I have a cheap seat, so not too close to the axes. Mind you, the seat selection process was annoying.. two price levels, but no indication which seats were at which price, unless you hover over individual seats! Very vexing.

Monday, 22 July 2013

The American Plan

Finally, a couple of new plays have come high in the Time Out listings. One is sold out until at least Saturday, but I booked the other - The American Plan, showing in the St. James Theatre, for tonight. Finally, my first play of the month!

And with other events occurring today, it suddenly occurred to me that the theatre is very near Buckingham Palace.. where the announcement of the birth of the baby of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge would be announced, at some point during the day.. so I left a bit early, to see whether I could catch some of the atmosphere. Just as well, there were such delays on the Tube..

Disembarking - always a relief in this heat - I headed down the road to the palace, which is only a few minutes away from the theatre. No news yet - although we were later to learn that the baby was born by this time, but the news not yet released - but the crowds were on hand:

(Note the bridal couple who decided to get photos taken at the scene.. and the rows of broadcasters' booths in the last photo..)
And then I hurried off to my play. Where, surprise, surprise, I was upgraded (having booked a seat in the back row, which is cheaper). What actually was a surprise was that I was moved to another aisle seat. I wonder whether they recognised the name, and my preferences.. if so, kudos to them for observation! I was moved four rows forward, to Row H, and actually, just before the show started, an usher told me I could move further forward again if I liked. I had noticed that the row in front of me had great legroom at the aisle, because of the curvature of the auditorium, so I duly moved there. Pay attention people - Row G has probably the best legroom in the place. At the ends, that is.
BTW, I noticed a woman in the row behind me with a notebook and pen. That's funny, it's not the first time.. can't remember whether it was the same woman, though. Does someone take notes on the play every night, I wonder..?

And so to the play, which is a delight. It's set in the Catskills in the 50s - a love story between a lonely girl with psychological problems, desperate to escape her overbearing mother, and a handsome visitor to the area. Written by Richard Greenberg, it's sparklingly witty, perfectly cast, and has a plot with more twists than your average Agatha Christie. (Not that anyone dies. Not during the play, at least.) Really, in this play, nothing is as it seems. Very highly recommended. Runs until the 10th.
Upon leaving, I decided to have a run along to the palace again. Sure enough, there was news. You could tell by the anthill of people piled up against the railings. They move the easel along the railings to let everyone get a view. Of course, not being willing to climb on top of anyone else, or able to fly, I hadn't a hope of actually seeing the announcement, and gave up trying after a while. I would have loved to have seen it for myself. I had doubted the sanity of announcing the news like this, but the atmosphere was terrific, and tv crews were much in abundance, looking for people to interview. And I got the news online before I left. And noticed that the London Eye, just visible over the trees, was lit up in red, white, and blue. Ahhh..
Had a quick Indian before I came home, in the Buckingham Balti. Which is appropriate, given that I've booked to go to an Indian film tomorrow night - Maryan. Sounds interesting, and is highly rated. It is showing in three different Cineworlds this week, but only two tomorrow, and in one of those it's showing too late to make it back at a reasonable hour, with work in the morning. So, that leaves Ilford. Well, it'll be my first time there..
(The meal was excellent, by the way, but they could really do with some air conditioning!)

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Film: Much Ado About Nothing (2012)

I was very keen to see the new film version of Much Ado About Nothing, after seeing the trailer - particularly upon discovering that they use the original text, in a modern setting. I always think that makes it more striking.

So, off I went to see it this evening. Glad I arrived early, as I had a voucher and they'd never seen one before.. anyway, they figured out what to do with it and in I went, to a gloriously cool, air-conditioned, cinema. And o my, but what an excellent production this is! It's quite modern and un-self-affected, quite cool and laid-back (for the most part), the actors are charming, the soundtrack is great, and their take on the play is so sparkling and fresh. I guess what I'm trying to say is that this is one of the most natural renderings of Shakespeare I've seen, which makes this, one of the most enjoyable of his plays, a joy to watch.

Now, I'm becoming very impressed with Joss Whedon. I hadn't realised, but this guy co-wrote The Cabin in the Woods, one of the most original horror films in existence. And he directed this version of Much Ado about Nothing, adapted the play for screen, and even composed a couple of tracks on the soundtrack. Round of applause, please! I shall keep an eye out for that name in future.

Tied up for the next couple of nights, and back to Ireland at the weekend. Could be going to yet another film on Monday, but no idea what yet.. watch this space!

Monday, 15 July 2013

Film: Little Dieter Needs to Fly

Given that Little Dieter Needs to Fly was showing in the BFI, which is where I was supposed to be headed yesterday until a signal failure derailed my plans, I could be forgiven for some trepidation this evening. But I made it with, oh, minutes to spare.

Delighted to find that central London was substantially cooler than Kensington, I made my way from the Tube station, entering the BFI from the river front, which meant that I had to scuttle past the cinema I actually wanted to get to the box office, and then scuttle all the way back again. Anyway, I made it well before the lights went down. This was showing in NFT1, the largest screen, which, given the meagre turnout, seemed excessive. But I suppose it worked out best for scheduling. My first time in that screen, and my, it's impressive.

The film itself is a documentary about, and starring, Dieter Dengler - who grew up fascinated by planes, even the ones bombing his German town at the end of the second world war - and, there being no German air force at the time, emigrated to the States and joined the Navy. He subsequently flew in the Vietnam war, and was shot down over Laos, then captured and held in inhumane conditions and tortured for two months, before escaping and ultimately being rescued. His story apparently inspired the film Rescue Dawn, directed, as is this documentary, by Werner Herzog. They're running a season of his at the BFI, but with all his films that are available on YouTube, this is likely to be the only one I actually go to see.

Well, you couldn't make it up, and I see why they made a film of it, as well as a documentary. The details - like how, when he was a child, they would scour bombed buildings and bring home wallpaper, which their mother would cook because of the nutrients in the glue. The descriptions of the prison camp, and the reconstructions of the marches through the jungle. Gripping. In spite of Dieter's tendency to talk nineteen-to-the-dozen, until you hardly know what he's saying. Glad I saw this film.

So, tomorrow is set to be another film - Much Ado About Nothing. With the original Shakespearian text, in a modern setting. The trailer looks great, and it's on in the Odeon, which means I can use my voucher. Hooray!

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Film: Now You See Me

Regular, eagle-eyed readers will notice that this film is not the one I thought yesterday that I'd be going to today! This is true..

The film I was supposed to be going to was on in town at 4. I left home at about 3.10, made it to the Tube at about 3.15, caught a Tube at about 3.20. We were at the next stop, Earl's Court, at about 3.25. So far so good.

..and there we stayed. And waited, in the sweltering heat. After about 10 minutes, the driver came on the PA to tell us that there was a signal failure at the next stop, and he didn't know when we'd be underway again. I waited another five minutes, then, noting that if we didn't leave immediately I'd be late, and with no indication of when we might leave, I myself left. On foot. Back home. At least I was close enough to walk.

Mind you, by the time I did get home I was drenched in sweat - 30 degrees again today. Checked my film list for an alternative. The first three films are only showing tomorrow. So that brought me down to the two rated at 7.5 / 10 on IMDB - Much Ado About Nothing and Now You See Me. This was a choice I'd been expecting to make on Tuesday. On balance, I decided on Now You See Me - I'll see the other on Tuesday, all going well. This choice of film did have the advantage that the film is showing locally and I could walk. Signals not an issue, whereas I could have had serious trouble getting into town for the other one. And there was a showing in about an hour - excellent! Now, both of these are showing in the Odeon, and I have an Odeon voucher - but when I checked, it's only valid Monday to Thursday. Fine, I can use it on Tuesday.

So along I went shortly after, and collected the ticket I'd booked in advance (I get a discount with Odeon for that, being a member). Passing through the lobby, after all that walking in the heat, I fancied an ice cream - lighted on Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Brownie. And waited to pay. And waited.. Honestly, I don't know what it is with the staff in the Odeon Kensington, but they're hopeless at serving! Usually, I can't get anyone to take my ticket, although there tend to be plenty of people at the tills. Today, of course, there were all of three people waiting to take tickets, but was there anyone on the tills?! Had to wait some minutes before being served. Then the poor fellow was confused that I didn't want a cinema ticket, not that he said it - but after taking for the ice cream, he said he hoped I'd enjoy.. my evening. Obviously not wanting to say "the film", just in case I wasn't seeing one..

I do like that the Odeon has done away with specific seat reservations. It was very annoying, having to choose your seat in advance without necessarily knowing where was a good place to sit. And so to the film - now, this is a very good film indeed! and what a nice change, to see something classifiable as a major Hollywood release, and which is actually worth seeing. Stars plenty of people you'll recognise; Jesse Eisenberg (who played Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, but whom I didn't recognise for most of the film), Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, and some guy I didn't recognise play talented magicians who are recruited by a mysterious figure to rob banks during their shows and distribute the proceeds to the audience. Mark Ruffalo is the FBI agent out to get them, Mélanie Laurent (whom you might know from Inglourious Basterds) the Interpol agent who gets involved when they rob a French bank, Michael Caine is their backer, and Morgan Freeman the man who makes a living from exposing magicians' tricks, and is out to get them in that way.

It's a glorious piece of misdirection, this film - right to the end. The actors are misdirected, and so are we. Even the magicians who are stars of the show don't really know what's going on until the last few minutes of the film. And the shows themselves are spectacularly staged - it's just like going to a big Vegas production. The film is packed with magic tricks, old and new, and will be a delight in particular to anyone with any interest in magic. Go see - this is an unusually good film, for a major release.

Right - films for the next couple of days. Tomorrow's is (ahem) Little Dieter Needs to Fly. Well, it is top of the list.. as long as it stays there, that's on the menu for tomorrow. Assuming I can get into town. And, as I say, Much Ado About Nothing for Tuesday, which is the original Shakespearian text in a modern setting. The trailer looks gorgeous - looking forward to that!

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Film: Bande a Part

On a day when it's actually too hot to be outdoors, I took myself to the Cine Lumiere in the Institut Francais to see Bande a Part, part of the Paris Seen By.. season. Mind you, it's odd that the season home page quotes a price of £8 per film, whereas I had to pay £10. But never mind..

Not a long journey, thankfully. The building was cool, but the cinema quite airless in the beginning, until - I don't know what they did, open the door, turn on a fan - but there was a nice cooling breeze. The film itself is a quirky crime comedy/drama from 1964, set in Paris, where a naïve young girl allows herself to be taken in by two crooks who have designs on the money kept in his room by her aunt's lodger. Things don't turn out happily - not for everyone, at least - but the film is stylish and cute, and very watchable. I do love that London cinemas, Cine Lumiere among them, continue to resurrect these older films. It's always interesting to watch the world that existed before my time - and something made then, as opposed to just being set then.

Going to another film - Los Olvidados - in the BFI tomorrow. Hey, it's great to be getting through my list! :-)

Friday, 12 July 2013

Film: Lootera

I wasn't at all sure what to go to tonight. It was always probably going to be a film, and I eventually finished ranking the currently showing films in terms of their score out of 10 on IMDB, and started working down from the top to see what was on the menu for tonight.

Generally, the films at the top of the list tend to be arthouse, or old, or rare, or all of the above, and not for popular consumption. So you'll find that they aren't showing in many cinemas - maybe not more than one - and where they are showing, they won't be showing every day. And so it proved that the first 15 or so films on my list weren't showing at all today.

Then there was Pacific Rim, which sounded good, being directed by Guillermo del Toro, whose work I have loved. It also had the advantage of showing widely, which meant I could see it locally - even walk to the cinema. And was highly ranked. Then I read the review on LondonNet, which is my resource for checking what films are on and where, and I quote: "It's difficult to believe the writer-director of Pan's Labyrinth and the quirky Hellboy saga has surrendered all of the humanity, which underpinned his previous work, to oversee what is essentially 131 exhausting minutes of wanton destruction. The script, co-written by Travis Beacham, is a wasteland of two-dimensional characters and hoary clichés.." So I watched the trailer, and came to the same conclusion. Off my list it came.

There was a Werner Herzog film - they're doing a season of his films at the BFI - but I knew a lot of his films are on YouTube. So I checked, and sure enough, there it is. For free. I kept on looking. There was a film called El Alcalde (The Mayor), a documentary about the mayor of a Mexican town. Unfortunately, it's only showing somewhere that takes, according to Google Maps, 53 minutes to get to, and frankly, I don't give enough of a damn. And so it was that I came, with a sigh, to Lootera. It's an Indian love story set in 1953, and at least it's playing in town - Cineworld Shaftesbury Avenue, to be precise. So, with 10% off if you book in advance, I booked it. I wasn't that keen really, but couldn't come up with a good reason not to go, and as someone pointed out, I had previously said that this policy of going to the best rated films gets me to lots that I would never otherwise consider.

I haven't been to this particular cinema before, so looked up how to get there. Google Maps said to go to Piccadilly Circus and down Shaftesbury Avenue, but I couldn't see a cinema on Streetview, so looked up directions from the cinema website instead. They said to come through the Trocadero, which has a basement entrance from the Tube station. Still confused, as I'd never been to the Trocadero before, despite having passed it several times, I looked up the Trocadero website. I discovered there's a whole shopping centre there, and it said that indeed you can enter from the Tube station, or else to look for Ripley's Believe It Or Not museum.

Yeah, right. Firstly, the Tube entrance seemed to be closed - certainly, it was completely dark. So I said I'd go to street level and look for Ripley's, that there must be an entrance there. I found the museum easily enough - no sign of this cinema though. Bemused, and glad I was early, I continued down Shaftesbury Avenue, passing the street entrances of places I'd seen mentioned on the Trocadero website, but with no idea how to find the cinema, until I finally came across it. So, to find this cinema, head down Shaftesbury Avenue from Piccadilly Circus, keep going until you find it. It's just past the Rainforest Café and the Golden Nugget Casino, on the right.

When I got inside, I immediately became confused again. Escalators all over the place, no sign of the cinema, lots of shops.. I found the cinema entrance to be up the escalator to my right. Collected my ticket, queued for quite a while to get a hot dog, as I was hungry. I do approve of them having separate ticket and concession stands though, so as not to hold up people who don't want anything but a ticket. Then I noticed a huge queue at the entrance to the screens.. fortunately, not for mine. I guess there are a few films showing that could have provoked such a crowd..

The seats here are lovely and comfortable, among the most comfortable I've experienced. Unfortunately, my hot dog was not so lovely, and I ended up leaving a lot of it. The film itself, however, more than made up for all the trouble getting there, and the hot dog, and the ladies beside me, who chattered all the way through the trailers as though they hadn't seen each other in a year - and the trailers themselves, where the sound effects were plenty loud, but the actors' voices were barely audible.

This film is sponsored by Mills & Boon, among others, which tells you that you're in for a romance. But this is a beautiful film, sweet and charming, not as sickly sweet as you might expect from many a Hollywood romance. It's not at all overdone, it's quite believable, the actors are great together, and I could not believe, when I looked at my watch at the end, that I'd been there for nearly three hours. Well, I guess that's what you get when you have an intermission! And I cried near the end, as did many around me. If Mills & Boon stories are all like this, I might even become a fan..

Thinking of the French film Bande a Part for tomorrow, at the Cine Lumiere at the French Institute. A lovely cinema, more comfy seating and tons of legroom. Wouldn't be the first Saturday afternoon I've whiled away there..

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Film: Stories We Tell

Heard great reviews of Stories We Tell, so was keen to see it, and delighted to get the chance this evening. Turns out it's a series of interviews, conducted by a young Canadian film-maker with members of her family and family friends, about her late mother, and the big family secret. Which I won't divulge here.

But it's quite charming, as are the participants, and it holds the interest. The official critics make a big thing about differing family views of the same events, but frankly I couldn't see them so much. There are some subtle differences, but no glaring inconsistencies. This isn't a tell-all expose, but it does make for an interesting story and I can recommend it.

It's no reflection at all on the film that I practically fell asleep at one point - has more to do with spending the last couple of nights coughing. Still, I seem to be on the mend now.

Ate afterwards in the Black Bean again. I notice the food has improved! but the service was very perfunctory. I guess it's the busy season..

So, I plan to get through some of my film list in the next while, having not managed it for some time now. Of course, the listings change tomorrow and in checking ratings of the new films, I'm still only down to H. So it's something of a mystery what I'll be going to tomorrow night! Only adds to the fun..

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Concert: The Return Flight of the Earls

So, I knew this was in St. Botolph's Church, on the east side of the City. Turns out, mind you, that there are four St. Botolph's churches, and I had the wrong one. The one I wanted was St. Botolph Without Bishopsgate, which simply means the one at Bishopsgate. Fortunately, I discovered my mistake in time.

After quite a long Tube journey, I alighted at Liverpool Street Tube station. Now, St. Botolph's website is quite helpful about how to get there. It says to take the Bishopsgate exit from the station, and turn right at the top of the escalator. Still, I was lucky I'd been there before and had an idea of the exit they were talking about - the only directions from the Tube station were towards Broad Street and to the mainline station. I figured, correctly, that the main station was the way to go, but had I not been there before, I doubt I'd have got it right. Anyway, I eventually made my way to the main station, found the Bishopsgate exit and the escalator, and was on my way down the street. And, may I say, for two buildings so close together - the station and the church - each is really well hidden from the other. You have to go on faith that your destination is just a few more steps along the road. Even though you can't see a thing that looks like it.

So, I found the church. And the main doors were closed, and no indication of where to go for this event. Luckily, I guessed right and headed for the gardens, where I discovered an open door with a City of London Festival official in front of it. Who informed me that the "concert" (oh, that's what we're calling it!) was in the hall, over there. Not in the main church. And so I came at last to my destination.

Now, The Return Flight of the Earls was a "concert" involving, firstly, free wine. Goodee. That was my first port of call. Suitably supplied with wine, I found a seat - seating was unreserved - near the back, as it was quite full at this stage, although not completely. First impression, which proved the most enduring - it was way too hot. There was no air-conditioning in this room, which was quite full of people, and it was stifling. Also, quite hard to see anything from the back. The evening was to consist of Hugo O' Neill, known as "The O' Neill", head of the O' Neill clan, telling us the history of the O' Neills, with musical accompaniment. The music was performed by a trio on piano and violin, and a baritone, who all turned out to be from Northern Ireland, and the occasion was in association with St Ethelburga's Centre for Reconciliation and Peace. So this was all a sort of crash-course on Irish history.

The first thing we saw was a flip-chart, with summary details of the O' Neill family timeline, as it relates to the country as a whole. You'd have had to stand up really, to read it properly. And then our host (also a Northerner) introduced us to Hugo, who started telling us about the history of the O' Neills prior to the Flight of the Earls in 1607. This was when Hugh O' Neill and Rory O' Donnell, the High Kings of Ulster, known as earls in Britain, decided to flee the country to seek help from Spain to rebel against the British. Unfortunately, the help was not forthcoming and they never returned. That was the end of Gaelic aristocracy in the North and left the way clear for their confiscated lands to be given to British, mostly Scottish, planters. In turn, this led to a loyalist majority in the north of Ireland, and eventually to the creation of the political entity of Northern Ireland.

Hugo obviously has a great knowledge of, and passion for, Irish history. He's not really a great orator, but it was interesting. The thing that struck me most about this was - most of it is familiar to me from school, although I may have forgotten much of the detail. But they don't actually learn about this at all in Northern Ireland. The host explained to us what a revelation all this was to her, because Irish history is not taught in Northern Irish schools. Yes, local area history, and modern history - but not Irish history pre-partition. And that reminded me of a conference I was at once in Northern Ireland, where one of the delegates was an Englishman who was so excited, because he'd never been in Ireland before. And he was at our table at the conference dinner. Unfortunately, his attempt to make conversation led him to explain that he'd never learned a thing about Ireland in school, or about how British rule was in Ireland. And then he decided he'd ask us what we, as Irish people, were taught in school about what British rule was like. Now there was a conversation-killer..

Hugo got through his bit in about half an hour, and it was time for music. And that's when my cough decided to reappear. I don't know what it is about this cough - maybe it doesn't like music. Same thing happened on Monday - I was absolutely fine until the first song started. At least tonight it was less violent, and I managed to control it with water and mints. It also helped that there was applause after each song, during which I could happily cough my throat out, unlike Monday's concert, where there was dead silence until the end of the night. The music, by the way, was excellent, and I did love that they played the Coulin, which has always been one of my favourite pieces. And the baritone was stunning.

There was a five-minute interval, during which the doors were opened and some fresh air circulated, and they offered us another glass of wine if we wanted! Now there's value for money.. some people left at the interval, which meant I had a better view in the second half. Hugo told us about the history of the O' Neills post-Flight of the Earls, and there was some more music, including some Irish poems that Beethoven, of all people, set to music. As I say, an interesting evening. I wanted to eat before going home, but choices were limited and I ended up in KFC again. Where the food was underheated and the chicken salty. The chips were cold before I was halfway through my meal. Might skip that branch in future.

Thinking of going to the pictures on Friday, maybe tomorrow (Thursday) as well, I'll see what happens. For Friday, there'll be a whole new list of films, so I need to do some more research on that.. If I go on Thursday, the film of choice is Stories We Tell, a documentary about storytellers, which is getting rave reviews.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Concert: LSO with Tenebrae

Tonight was the concert I had booked as part of the City of London Festival, with the London Symphony Orchestra, accompanied by Tenebrae, performing at St. Paul's cathedral. So, with my cough showing no signs of dissipating, I was worried about having a coughing fit in St. Paul's, of all places..

Anyway, Google Maps suggested taking the Tube straight to Blackfriars, from which it would be a five-minute walk, so that's what I did. As usual, the District Line took five minutes longer than Google predicted, and indeed than other lines would have taken to cover the same number of stops. But it always does, and I had plenty of time. I was looking forward to the walk through the City - being the oldest part of town, even if the original buildings are not always still standing, the streets are interesting - following old, winding routes, they hark back to a time when the roads followed the line of the buildings, rather than buildings being built along straight roads. And the walk was, indeed, only five minutes, and easier than it looked on the map.

You could hardly miss St. Paul's - it is rather large. Still, you don't see it as you approach, as it's hidden by the surrounding buildings - so it always comes as a surprise. And this was the first time I'd been inside, as I consider the entrance fee rather high. So I was curious as I climbed the steps. First impression, once inside, was that it reminded me more of an old university, or maybe a library. I don't know why, it just didn't seem like a church. As I say, that was my first impression - probably because, at first, all I could see were marble walls and candelabras. Second thought I had was that it reminded me of St. Mary's cathedral in Limerick! Now, I do know exactly where that thought came from. St. Mary's also often hosts classical concerts, and they have exactly the same candelabras..

I didn't have far to go to my seat, which was in the rear nave. So, took my seat and out with the camera:


(the monument in the picture on the right is to Wellington). It was, honestly, only after I'd put it away that I noticed the sign at the end of our row, forbidding photography. :-) Well, it wouldn't be my first time.. and I was by no means the only amateur photographer there this evening.

And so the concert began, with a tribute to Benjamin Britten. And, predictably, it wasn't long before the cough reared its ugly head. I was seriously considering leaving until the very nice gentleman beside me gave me a Ricola dual action cough drop. Really, it was extremely strong, with an anaesthetic action, and filled with juice. Took the whole drop before the cough was quietened, but my goodness it did the trick, for what had been a very nasty cough. I will be looking for that brand in future..

One thing that I liked about the way the concert was staged was how the choir moved around the cathedral. Songs alternated with instrumental pieces, during which the choir would up and leave for another part of the building. They started in our nave, but with the terrific acoustics, were perfectly audible from all corners. And quite the most enchanting part of the evening for me was watching the setting sun's rays illuminate the dome - the gilt blazing in the sun, then less and less as the sun moved across the sky, 'till only a corner was lit.

The musical highlights were the final pieces - Metamorphosen, by Richard Strauss, and Barber's Adagio / Agnus Dei, used memorably in The Killing Fields. I believe that St. Paul's is hosting a number of concerts during this festival - I would like to come here again, perhaps sit in a different part.. maybe the transept.

Next event I'm booked in for is also part of the festival - The Return Flight of the Earls, in St. Botolph's church on Wednesday. Should be interesting, and I will also be interested in seeing another part of the City..

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Stand-up: Alexei Sayle

Well, and didn't it turn into a lovely, sunny, warm evening, after such a cloudy, cool day! I felt somewhat overdressed, wearing what had kept me warm in the morning. Must remember for tomorrow..

Anyway. Alexei Sayle appeared tonight in the Queen Elizabeth hall, in the Southbank Centre. I already knew exactly where this is, I've passed it the last few times I've been to the National Theatre, and every time I've been down Bankside. It did occur to me this evening, however, as I hurried across the bridge, that I've never actually been inside. And that it looks every bit as complicated a building as the National, whose geography I haven't yet managed to figure out.

Fortunately, for once, I did a terrific job of it here! As I approached the end of the bridge, I noted that the bottom floor of the Southbank Centre seemed to be all restaurants, and the entrance was probably on the next floor up. And I knew that there were two sets of stairs leading down from the bridge. I'm already familiar with the stairs by the water, that lead down to ground level - so I wondered whether the other stairs mightn't lead to the first floor of the Southbank Centre. And do you know..!

First success. Then I saw the entrance to the Festival Hall, and over yonder the entrance to the Queen Elizabeth Hall. And I thought the venue name had royal connotations - so I checked my confirmation email, and sure enough that was the one. Passed the fountain that had formed a puddle in the courtyard, and I was in. Decided to try the ticket machines for once, only to discover that neither was working.. didn't even register my card. There was an employee watching me do this, who was most apologetic afterwards as I went to a human being to give me my ticket. Technology, eh? ;-)

I was second row from the stage - no price difference. Nice, comfy leather seats. Mind you, he compared them later to the seats in a Chevrolet.. Good legroom too, especially considering I was behind an empty wheelchair space. There would have been space for me to lie horizontal.. Opening act was good, and featured my second coughing fit of the evening - the first had been on the Tube. Fortunately, I was well supplied with mints, and it passed. I was worried about the main act, though.

Needn't have been - it might have been the frequent laughing I did, because the coughing started again afterwards - but I was fine for the main performance. Alexei told us how this is his comeback tour, he hasn't done a live show in 17 years.. he told plenty of anecdotes, and this ageing Scouse Marxist was most at home doing the political stuff. I did like the story about his Palestinian friend, who had spent time in the refugee camps, and when he was back in the UK and they were down the pub and asked him what he wanted to drink, and then why that particular drink, he said that was the only one available in the camps. What was it? Bailey's Irish Cream. As Alexei said - the Red Cross couldn't get through, the Red Crescent couldn't get through. Who could get through? The Bailey's rep, dressed as a Bedouin. "Hello, Mr. Arafat, try some of our Irish Coffee. I know you're Muslim, but it really warms you up on those cold winter nights!"

Indeed. (And he does a decent Irish accent. Which isn't easy.)

Coming out onto the terrace afterwards, it was just getting dark and the lights were on across the river. And it was beautiful. And a lovely warm breeze was blowing. And the busker who's always on the bridge was playing "No Woman, No Cry". (Mind you, it was better when he didn't sing along.) And there is the most gorgeous view from that bridge:

And with the beautiful view, and the warm breeze, and the busker playing (and mostly not singing), what was the conversation about that I overheard between two young men that passed me? Money, of course. Some people just have no soul..
So. Back to Ireland for the weekend, and on Monday and Wednesday of next week I'm at the City of London festival, which is staging some very interesting events. On Monday, I'm at a London Symphony Orchestra concert in St. Paul's cathedral, which is nice, because I have never been there, because of the exorbitant entrance fee. And - get this - since I have a cheap ticket for the concert, I actually get in for less than the regular entrance fee!! Heh.

And on Wednesday, I'm going to an event called The Return Flight of the Earls. This evening centres on the events of 1607, when Hugh O' Neill and Rory O' Donnell, the High Kings of Ulster, fled for the continent. Rebellion at home having failed, they decided to seek help abroad, but failed in their mission and never returned. The consequence was the loss of the Irish aristocracy of the north, the plantation of Ulster by British (mostly Scottish) settlers, and the foundations of what would become the political entity of Northern Ireland. Anyway, this event on Wednesday features Hugo O' Neill, current head of the O' Neill clan, who hails from Portugal and will tell us all about it. There's also music, in the form of 200-year-old traditional Irish songs, arranged by Beethoven, and we get a free glass of wine. And it's in St. Botolph's Church, which will be another first for me. Yes, London continues to surprise..

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Film: Before Midnight

Could have walked to Cineworld Hammersmith in half an hour, but I wanted to go home first, so ended up taking the Tube and reminding myself what my commute used to be like, as I used to live out that direction. :-) It's much nicer walking than standing in a crowded Tube carriage..

There were about a dozen people at today's showing of Before Midnight. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I cannot understand why more people aren't rushing to see this film. Ok granted, this was an early showing for a weekday, but why are the three cinemas closer to me not showing it at all? Why is this one only showing it at this unpopular time, and ending its run today? Incomprehensible.

Anyway, for those who saw and loved this film's prequels, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, I hardly need to say more than - this is more of the same. Go and love it and be surprised, as I was, at the end of the film, that it was over already. It's interesting, actually, looking at the IMDB ratings, that while both of its predecessors rate 8, this comes in at 8.5. I wonder how it'll age. As for this film, it does have the difference that Celine and Jesse are now an established couple, without the urgency of their previous meetings, but with plenty of the problems of everyday life getting in the way of what they'd really like to do. But their conversation is as fascinating and varied as ever, Greece looks appealing enough to make you long for a holiday on the Med (maybe not just there, just now - there is an interesting hint about Greece's troubles to come, in something Jesse says), and Julie Delpy is looking a lot better than in the last film, now that she's put on a bit of weight. If you ask me.

Walked home, through leafy Hammersmith. Ate in KFC again, because it was the first place I saw that I felt like, and I know this one to be much better than the last I tried, in Dalston. Sure enough, the hygiene was impeccable, the chicken wasn't salty, and the girl that served me came out from behind the counter to wipe every table that customers had just left, and even asked me how I was enjoying my meal. Recommended.

There's a play in Richmond tomorrow night, called Unrivalled Landscape, after a description of Richmond by Sir Walter Scott. It's a series of six interconnected stories, set in Richmond, and sounds interesting. I'll see how things go. Then Alexei Sayle on Thursday. And, in exciting news, I heard today that U2 has finished the latest album.. so that means a tour. Rumour has them performing a mini-tour (6x6 - 6 cities, 6 concerts per city) at the end of 2014, with a full-scale tour in 2015. Right, I'm ready to go.. just give me the dates and places..

Monday, 1 July 2013

Opera: Simon Boccanegra

Well, they certainly don't tolerate latecomers at the Royal Opera House! As I was showing my ticket, they were pulling a huge door across to bar the entrance. I just beat them to it.. and we agreed, in the lift all the way up to the amphitheatre, that lifts are a great and wonderful thing. Mind you, I was on my own for the last level.. that's how far up I was this time.

Not the very last row - actually, second from last. There were (some) people higher than I was. My bit had loose seats, which were very comfortable, and a railing in front of us, which was handy for leaning on, on occasion. There was a standing area on the other side of it, but we were elevated, so the standers' heads were at the level of our feet and didn't pose a problem. Much more of a problem was the extremely tall man, two rows further front, whose head was right in my line of sight, which meant that I had to spend the entire show leaning to one side, then the other, to try to get a view of the main singers. Apart from him, I had no problems with this seat.. I think the standing folks had a problem with him too; after a while, they disappeared somewhere else. I think there is some flexibility about where you stand, as long as it's in the same area.

The show was Simon Boccanegra, by Verdi. Packed house - when I booked, there were 11 tickets left in the whole place. Much better availability for subsequent shows, for some reason. I have seen a few Verdi operas in my time, never saw this one before. It has your traditional operatic drama, fraught confrontations, a completely unbelievable story, a tragic ending, and some terrific crowd scenes, which were the highlight for me. Overall, though, I get more from Aida. Won't be rushing back. But it was interesting. And the frequent scene changes were handy, given that I'm coming down with a throat infection all of a sudden and kept needing to find my Strepsils.

Wasn't until I was queueing to get into the Tube on the way back and saw some girls with maple-leaf sunglasses that I remembered it was Canada Day! Aww.. belated Happy Canada Day, to whom it may concern.

So, on Sunday I was thinking about what to do tomorrow (Tuesday) night, and Before Midnight came up again, so I checked to see where it was playing. Well, would you credit it, it's already (after one week) gone from the three cinemas closest to me! No demand, I guess. A damning indictment of the cinema-going public (gee, like we need another). So, the nearest place to me that it's on is Cineworld Hammersmith, and needs must - that's where I'll (finally) be seeing it tomorrow. At 6.10 - it's the only showing. And the last day they're showing it! I dunno.. Anyway, this means I can't use my voucher for it, because the voucher is for the Odeon. But not such a bad thing - the Odeon is quite expensive in comparison, and the price at Cineworld is less even than the voucher price at the Odeon.. and not using the voucher meant I could book in advance, and Cineworld gives a 10% discount if you do that - so I did, which is why, with any luck, I will finally get to see it. Ooh, and I'm quite excited for Thursday, because I got a ticket to Alexei Sayle. I love Alexei Sayle, and his run at the Soho Theatre sold out, so I didn't get to see him. He's currently playing the Southbank Centre, which is a lot larger.. so for Thursday, I'm centre block, second row from the front. :-) This is very cool..