Thursday, 26 September 2013

Restaurant: Postino

Well, here I go, bucking my schedule again. See, we went for drinks after work, and then food was mentioned. I was due to go to the cinema, but didn't have it booked, and did need to eat, so decided to do that instead. Valeria wanted to go to the Hare & Tortoise. Laura and I accompanied her, but the place was not only full, but had quite a queue. Valeria persisted, but Laura and I decided to try our luck at the Italian up the road.

I'd forgotten there are actually two. Jeez, you'd think I'd remember, the number of times I've passed them! Il Portico was a bit expensive, so we continued to Postino, just a few doors away. Where we were seated quickly, as it wasn't terribly full. I fancied the scaloppine alla crema e funghi, while Laura pointed out that they had "starsign" pizzas, named for various astrological signs. So she had hers - the Capricorno.

Service throughout was friendly and quite efficient (although they had to be reminded to bring us the bill), my white wine, cream, and mushroom sauce was delicious, and the house wine was fine. Décor was charming. I would go there again. Recommended - closed Mondays.

Well, I'm back to Ireland for the weekend. Next week, I have booked two films in the Odeon Kensington - for Monday, Prisoners, a tense drama starring Hugh Jackman as the father of a little girl who goes missing along with her little friend. Jake Gyllenhaal plays the investigating officer. Very watchable chap. :-)

On Wednesday, I'm going to see Blue Jasmine. This is the new Woody Allen film, with Cate Blanchett in the sort of role he would have taken - neurotic, down on her luck. Also stars Alec Baldwin - as her ex, I think - and Peter Saasgaard. Very highly rated.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Film: Happiness

This sounded good, on the ICA website. "Happiness: Todd Solondz' shocking third feature is one of the boldest ensemble comedies ever produced in America, depicting the intertwining romantic lives of a group of dysfunctional New Jersey suburbanites." So, that sold me!

Had trouble getting there on time, what with delays of my own, coupled with numerous unscheduled stops, as usual, on the District Line. No wonder Google Maps advised me to take the Piccadilly! But I didn't, and arrived about five minutes late. And sweaty - the Tube had been crowded and hot, despite the cool weather.

At least this wasn't the BFI, which frowns very much on latecomers. No, they were happy to sell me a ticket and tell me I could sit wherever I wanted. The place was only half full, so that was easy. I arrived during the ads - again, the BFI doesn't tend to show ads, which is awkward if you're delayed. Here, the ads are all for films - I don't like missing film ads, but what could I do.. I did annoy someone by blowing my nose noisily during an ad, which made me paranoid for the rest of the film.

And the film opened, and I thought - o hell, I've seen this! That opening scene, with Jane Adams on an awkward date with Jon Lovitz in a restaurant.. that looked familiar. And Cynthia Stevenson as her sister, Trish - that looked familiar. Then there were bits that weren't. I finally concluded that I had probably seen it, but as it's 15 years old and I couldn't remember a single thing about it, that was fine.

So, we also have Trish's psychiatrist husband Bill, played by Dylan Baker - Lara Flynn Boyle as her other sister, Helen - the late Ben Gazzara as their father - and Philip Seymour Hoffman, who's also one of Bill's patients and has an obsession with Helen, and Camryn Manheim as Helen's neighbours. Quite a few familiar faces, then.

I absolutely love this film. I completely understand why I saw it before - if I did. If you don't find something in this film to shock you, you must be dead. We are presented with so many taboos, not in a provocative way, but gently, as part of the intricate plot. It's outrageous - and it's hilarious. Should be required viewing. Sadly, that was its only showing for the time being. But keep an eye out for it!

Tomorrow is looking like Earthbound, at the Vue Piccadilly. It's sci-fi, as you might expect, and tarnation if it isn't Irish as well! When did we start making sci-fis..? Anyway, lots of vaguely familiar faces in this. To me, at least. The most famous of whom - to me - is Carrie Crowley, who used to be a presenter on RTÉ television. Sadly, it's only on at a cinema in Piccadilly, which makes the whole journey more confusing. Ah well..!

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Film: About Time

It's ironic. Someone remarked to me on Saturday how much I was going out, and here I am and haven't been out since, until tonight. Stinking flu, y'see - I've been in bed ever since. Took yesterday off work, only made it back today - and might have gone straight back to bed this evening, except I'd booked to see About Time, and wasn't feeling too bad, so I went. And boy, I'm glad I did!

I'm saving tons on the Oyster card - what with not going out over the last two days, and walking to the cinema this evening.. It's in the Odeon Kensington, you see. And, for once, there was actually someone there to take my ticket! Ooh.. Unfortunately, it was in Screen 3, which is at the top of the house. And I'm still getting out of this flu, and climbing to the second floor was the last thing I needed. I had to stop a couple of times to get my breath. Well, as it occurred to me during my ordeal - good job it's not the Coliseum!

So, this is another of those charming, light romantic comedies, brought to you by the people who made Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Love Actually, and the Bridget Jones films. Oh, and the writer also wrote several Mr Bean episodes, it seems. Anyway, it was already highly rated, and I see its IMDB rating has increased since I booked it. Besides, frankly, it's impossible not to like one of these films.

Taking the Hugh Grant role, we have Domhnall Gleeson, with a plausible English accent. We have Bill Nighy as his father, and Rachel McAdams as his love interest - whom I know primarily from the disaster that was Morning Glory, in which she was one of the very few good things. Perky, I think she's best described as. (And much prettier in this, as a brunette, than in the hideous photo of her on her IMDB page. What was she thinking?!)

Anyway, if you've seen any of the hype for About Time, you'll know that our hero's father takes him aside at one point to explain that the men of the family can time travel. This proves very useful, as they can use it to go back to points in their lives where they felt they could have done better. Cue many hilarious redos.

So far, so much frothy entertainment. But, you know, it's impossible to dislike one of these films - they're so sweet. And eventually, they start to bring in plot points you hadn't thought of, and they start to gently bring in a message, and I was in tears by the end. Really, it's a lovely film - more understated than the others, but well worthy of taking its place amongst them.

And I did love place-spotting, now that I live here. :-) So, he goes to the National Theatre one evening - well, I've been there often enough! I was there just last week for Edward II.  By the look of it, I think they were in the Lyttleton, but I couldn't swear to it. The BFI is right next door, with the Southbank Centre just down from that. And they're pictured outside, describing how buzzing the area is, with all the public displays. Check. And then they cross the same bridge I do. Check! And I presume that's Embankment station, although he's not taking the same line I do, so I can't be sure. And Lonsdale Road is pictured - Notting Hill direction, I know where that is. She has a flat in St John's Wood.. OK, it's not definitely there.. they get the Tube from Maida Vale.. well, I see there are 1-beds available in Maida Vale from about £250 per week, which is affordable.

So, to conclude, I'm extremely glad I went. Not least because it beats another night in the flat. There is one place advertised - currently on "Early Bird", which means I'd have to pay to upgrade my account to contact them. Not wishing to act prematurely, given that my lease isn't up until January, I'm waiting until it comes off Early Bird, and then I might contact them about a viewing, if it's still available. It'd cost a bit more than I'm paying now, but so did the last place I was in. It's still walking distance from work, albeit a bit further. And it seems to have way more storage than where I am now, which is a major consideration. And a cleaner, which avoids those awkward inter-flatmate arguments about cleaning.

Tomorrow night, there's a film called Happiness playing at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. Sounds sufficiently quirky for my taste.. and I do believe I'm back in the saddle now. So to speak.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

The Merry Wives of Windsor

I was all set to go to something else, but hadn't it booked, when ShowFilmFirst came along with a free ticket to The Merry Wives of Windsor. So off I went to that instead.

I thought I'd never get there. I got home at a reasonable time, and had milk to put in the fridge, which is a good thing - otherwise I'd never have realised that someone had turned it off! I'm guessing it was the one who always turns off the microwave switch, which is beside it. Anyway, I hadn't anything perishable in it, but it would have caused a right mess, for which I'd have been blamed. Hey-ho, I've finally decided to move out anyway, can't stand living with these people anymore. Watch this space.. I still had to clean up the fridge.

Then I had to Skype my mother, who has a woeful internet connection. Of course, it turned out to be one of those evenings.. where we had to wait to get connected, then wait to see whether there was a delay in the call (there always is), where it takes several seconds between someone saying something and the other person hearing it. Then we constantly had to endure calls freezing, then crashing with a "Hold on while we try to reconnect you" message, before finally dropping entirely. And you try again, and go through the whole thing again. Generally when it does finally reconnect, the delay has improved, at least. All in all, it took 25 minutes to give her the number of the hotel I'm staying in for the weekend and add five extra items to the grocery list. That's as much communication as we got done, and then I had to rush off. It's a long way to Croydon.

Tube to Victoria - clunky and slow as ever, and then push through the crowds to get to the mainline station for a train to East Croydon. I'd looked it up on Google Maps earlier, and they said that was the best way. It occurred to me, as I started off, that I hadn't looked up what train to take at Victoria - just the stop I was to get off at, but not the train destinations. O dear, too late now! Well, I consoled myself with thoughts of the large electronic departures board at Victoria - I know it well from the days when I used to fly from Gatwick, and took the train from there.

Sure enough, I came upon the train eventually. There are so many.. this one went to Brighton, with East Croydon the second stop. Lovely! And it was on platform 16, all the way towards the end. Not so lovely! At least I could use my Oyster, and didn't have to get a ticket. I had three minutes, by the station clock.. and I was too tired to run. And I had all those crowds to push through.. and I made it with 90 seconds to spare, by the station clock! Dashed through the first door at the back of the train, to make sure I didn't miss it.

The station clock must have been fast, or those 90 seconds passed very slowly. I would've loved to sit down, and there were a couple of seats, but then I started worrying about an announcement I'd vaguely heard as I was dashing for the train, about this train and something about what stop you had to be in the front for - and of course, I was in the very back.. so I spent the whole twenty minutes to Croydon worrying unnecessarily about that.

And then spent a solid five minutes trying to find my way out of East Croydon station! To be fair, it was my first time here, and I wasn't the only one. Turns out you don't take the overbridge.. I'm so used to that being the way out! Not here, it ain't - you have to walk past it to the end of the platform, where there are ramps. Huh. So by the time I'd figured that out, and made my way to Fairfield Halls, where my event was on (Google Maps showed me the path to take from the station), I was, of course, late.

They asked whether I had my ticket already. I said I had. They asked whether it was an actual ticket, or a ShowFilmFirst ticket. I said it was from ShowFilmFirst. They said I'd have to get another ticket, which they gave me, then pointed me in the direction of the theatre. I was shown in with hushed directions, and entered the theatre. Where.. there was a play on. Yes, this turns out to be a theatrical production, by a company called Creative Cow! Goodness. Not a film at all, then.

Well, I have seen it before, and it is a good yarn. Don't be put off by the initial farcical scenes - it is actually very funny, and this company did themselves credit. They can certainly play comedy! They're touring England, I recommend seeing this if you get the chance. I see that, among other places, they're in Islington and Guildford next month.

At the interval, I headed out in search of a toilet and something to nibble. I was quite impressed with the venue - it's multi-function, with several usable spaces and ample toilet and eating facilities - a brasserie, a "cloakroom" that sells snacks, and a sizeable bar. Plenty of seating too. All you'd need, really, in a large enough space to accommodate a crowd.

And, heading back, I was struck by the length of Laura's commute, in comparison with mine. Yup, must try and get somewhere within walking distance of the office again, it really is worth it!

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Film: Rush

My, but it was nice to be able to walk to something again. Close enough, and a fine evening, if chilly coming home. And, for once, the usher apologised for having walked right past without taking my ticket. An improvement, then, for the Odeon Kensington.

There was a scattering of people there, which, I guess, is good for a Wednesday. But then, they do have these Orange Wednesday Two-for-One cinema ticket offers, which probably helps. And there was an old man with a cane, who gingerly made his way to the front row. I guess he's really into his motor racing.

The ads, as someone remarked coming out, had, as you'd expect, a conspicuous motoring theme. And so to the main feature. Rush, directed by Ron Howard, highlights the rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda, which culminated in the 1976 F1 season, during which Lauda suffered a horrendous crash that left him badly burned and permanently scarred, and nearly killed him. And then he was back racing a month later.

Does that turn you off if you're not a F1 fan? DON'T LET IT! I'm not either - although, after this film, I'm not so sure. The racing sequences are thrilling, and, despite the very interesting personal stories of the drivers, the races are the thing I was always dying for the film to get back to. And my, such races.. you nearly need a seatbelt just to watch them. The suspense, the tension.. the camera angles, the roar of the engines. O yes, it has all that. It's great. And I don't know about the reviewers saying we were rooting for one or the other - I was rooting for both. Terrific film, with a real sense of the period and some great music of the day. Go see, even if you never took an interest in F1. And if you are interested in it.. what are you waiting for?

Small quibble about the toilets - no toilet paper. In more than just my cubicle, by the sound of it. But they were fragrant, at least.

Tomorrow night, I'm off to a free preview of The Merry Wives of Windsor, in Croydon - which will be my first time there. And for the weekend, I'm taking myself off to Greywell, for some festivities - weather promised good!

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Edward II (play)

It was raining when I set out for the National tonight. Nonetheless, I decided to go over the bridge again, rather than revert to my old route, via Waterloo, which takes longer and I didn't have time for. I think I'll stick to this route in general - it's both quicker and more scenic. Having said that, it was very misty when I crossed to the theatre this evening - you could easily tell which was the Shard, with its tip in the clouds!

Oh, I am sick of trying to find my way around the National. At least I knew I was in the Olivier Theatre - of course, they have a separate box office for each, and that for the Olivier is on the second floor. First thing I saw was a lift to the Olivier, with an "Out of Order" sign on it. Now, I don't know where my head was - probably frazzled with rushing to get there - but I completely forgot there is another lift beside it; to be fair, it's been a while. I then completely neglected to notice the other lifts, with "Olivier" written over them, and headed for the staircase I could see. Bad idea. It goes up, but not to the Olivier. Getting increasingly more frazzled, I returned to the ground floor and retraced my steps, where I saw the staircase I should have taken. With a sign over it saying "Olivier". And saw a working lift, which I took.

They could also do with taking a leaf from the BFI's handbook when it comes to finding your seat. The lights weren't even down, and I couldn't see whether the seat was mine! The seat numbers are tucked inconspicuously towards the back of the inside of the armrests. Honestly.. I had to ask the guy in the seat next to mine what number it was.

This production of Edward II, by Christopher Marlowe, has received mixed reviews, owing to its juxtaposition of modern elements in the telling of a tale of medieval times. I was curious to see whether this would work, as it often can. I'm delighted to say that, in my opinion, it definitely did here. As we took our seats, we were treated to a medieval tune, with a harpsichord effect. Played by a guy wearing sunglasses, playing an electronic keyboard onstage. So far, so good.

The play opens with the coronation of Edward II. Not too many props in this play - just a throne, a golden curtain that could be raised and lowered as required, and wooden screens forming a separate room onstage, where surreptitious meetings could be had, and so on. Interestingly, for practically the entire play, one of the cast members carried a video camera, whose images are broadcast on two large video screens either side of the stage. Much of what this is used for was to show what was happening in this hidden room. Worked well! Helpfully, the screens also gave us the background - the coronation of Edward II, Gaveston's exile, and so on.

They had a few male parts played by females, I guess to redress the gender imbalance. I thought the combination of modern and medieval dress by various characters worked well. The man sitting on my other side remarked to his companion at the interval that he'd never thought that Isabelle's character was very strong in this play, but he was impressed by what this actress made of her, playing her as a hard, drinking, smoking, sexy woman. They also turned the Earls of Kent and Pembroke into women, addressing them as such too. Kent spends the first part of the play in a modern business suit.

The audience seemed to think it was played for laughs more than I did, although some parts definitely were. Gaveston started the play in the audience, and clambered his way, most acrobatically, onto the stage. The conspirators took messages by telephone, and I have to admit that the sight of a man in armour answering the phone with a stern "Warwick" deserved its laugh. Overall, I have to commend the vigour of this play, which was vibrant and not one bit dull, compared with some worthy Shakespearian productions I've seen over the years. And, with one of those cheap £12 Travelex tickets, a real bargain. I loved it.

Coming back, I noted, as I did last night, that they've removed the sandpit they had on the South Bank all summer. Autumn is here at last - and with the weather this evening, you couldn't disagree.

And now for something completely different! Going to see Rush tomorrow. At least it's not on until 8.30, which gives me a little time to breathe. And there's a change in plan for Thursday - still going to a film, but I managed to get a free ticket to The Merry Wives of Windsor, with ShowFilmFirst. Supposed to be good. Then I'm off to Greywell for the weekend - or most of it; if I'm back in time, I'll try and get to some buildings in the Open House festival on Sunday.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Film: Classe Tous Risques

I wasn't intending to go out tonight - I rarely do after a trip to Guildford, I have to get up so early - but I was home early, and it was so sunny I didn't feel like staying in all evening. Having said that, it was dark by the time I left, but anyway!

So I went to see Classe Tous Risques, part of the Claude Sautet season at the BFI. There had been a couple of higher-rated (on IMDB) films on my list that were showing tonight, but I wasn't ready in time for them, so Classe Tous Risques it was. I just made it as they were calling for people to take their seats - they take punctuality seriously in the BFI. An usher pointed out to the people that came behind me that there were programme notes (they always supply them), but they probably wouldn't have time to read them. And I settled into my comfy seat and waited as the lights went down.

This is a thriller, made in 1960, French. It's good, it's stylish, and it's always interesting to see how different life was back then. Like how you had to go to a post office to make an international call - there were phone booths, and you asked the people working there to place a call for you and waited for it to be patched through. My, they could've done with mobiles.. I was also intrigued by the shot of the petrol pump attendant in high heels. My, the sophistication!

It's sensitively done - the story of a man on the run and down on his luck, which doesn't improve through the film. It's also a story about loyalty. It ended more abruptly than I'm used to, i.e. extremely, but otherwise is very watchable, and well recommended if you like French film, or film from the 60s. I'm thinking of seeing another Claude Sautet film on Thursday - Les Choses de la Vie. Was won over by this song from it..

Going to Edward II in the National tomorrow evening - a very modern production, apparently, of a play by Christopher Marlowe. Should be interesting. And I'm going to see the much-hyped Rush on Wednesday. So, a week of contrasts! When is it not..?

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Film: 2 Guns

2 Guns was the last of the films on my list at 7.1, so if I wasn't going to The Moo Man, this was my film option for tonight. At least it was on in Shepherds Bush, which meant I could walk, weather permitting - which it did. My, it felt good! Long time since I walked that much.

In this film, Denzel Washington plays a DEA agent and Mark Wahlberg a US Navy intelligence officer. They're working together, but undercover, and each is unaware of the other's true identity. But something bigger is going on, and they're both set up.

Recommendation; leave your brain at home for this one. It's fine if you like shoot-'em-ups, which I find boring. Which is not to say that it's terrible, it's just stupid. Ironic - last night I went to see Ain't Them Bodies Saints, rated the same on IMDB, and thought it deserved much higher. This, I thought, deserved much lower. Balances out, I guess. The plot of 2 Guns has so many holes, it's a miracle it doesn't fall apart. I got the impression that everybody stopped caring at some point. Lots of throwaway liberal stuff too - US government bad, Mexican immigrants good. That kind of thing.

But it has entertaining moments, and if you like brainless fluff, you'll enjoy watching this while eating popcorn. For me, it was pretty much a waste of time.

So, this weekend I'm back to Ireland, and on Monday I'm in Guildford. Next planned outing is Tuesday, when I'm taking a break from films, and I'm off to Edward II, in the National. Written by Christopher Marlowe, this version, however, apparently has several modern twists. Mixed reviews - I'm looking forward to it..

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Film: Ain't Them Bodies Saints

Yes, amazingly, I got to see the film I intended this evening! There was a question over it, because the nearest place that Ain't Them Bodies Saints is showing is in Wandsworth, and with the traffic, I missed the film I was to see there on Monday. Well, but tonight's wasn't on until 6.50, and I was sure that Monday's traffic was an aberration. So I bravely booked for tonight's.

I left the house about 6, went to the bus stop, only to see that my bus had just pulled away. Rats! But then I saw that it was stopped in traffic, and figured I had a fair to middling chance of getting to the next stop before it did, which would be much quicker than waiting for the next one. Plus, that junction is a nightmare when the traffic is busy, so it made a lot of sense to head to the next stop, past the junction. I certainly made it in time.. it was a five-minute walk, but it was 6.20 by the time the bus got there!

When it did, I saw that its destination had changed. It was no longer going all the way, but only to Wandsworth Bridge, South Side. Well, it wasn't close enough to walk, but at least it was the other side of the bridge, and it was raining quite persistently on me at this point, so I said I'd take it, and maybe there'd be a different bus route to take me the rest of the way, since by then I'd be in the vicinity. Certainly, we flew down the road (in comparison with what happened on Monday) - had the bus been going to the stop I wanted, I'd have made it to the cinema in 35 minutes: the projected time, and early enough that I'd be there for the scheduled start time of the film. Far from the 65 minutes it took on Monday! Sadly, we were deposited at a damp bus stop on the south side of the bridge, and waited shiveringly for another bus. Not a very safe place to stand, that - the cycle lane from the bridge peters out at that point and runs into the pavement, so the bus stop is right in the cyclists' trajectory.

After about another 10 minutes, another bus appeared and we were off again. Wound our way into Wandsworth, down the main street.. and as a young lady got on, there was a clang! She and the driver looked in the direction of the front door, and she pointed out to him that a bit had just fallen off the door.. he got out of the cab to investigate and picked up a length of black plastic. Tried to get the door closed, and it turned out that, whatever that bit of plastic actually did, without it, that side of the door wouldn't close.

I'm sitting there thinking to myself - Am I never again destined to see a film in this cinema in the early evening?

Anyway, since we were nearly at the terminus, he decided to continue, as long as we promised not to try to jump out the half-open door. O yes Sir, we nodded. So on we meandered, and I finally made it to the cinema, 20 minutes after the scheduled start time.

And then I couldn't retrieve my prebooked ticket from the ATM. I'd forgotten that about Cineworld - you can't seem to retrieve prebooked tickets with the card you paid with. It seemed too much hassle to find my booking reference number, so I went in search of a human at a cash point instead. Which wasn't that easy, as the only humans there were on the food tills, and most of them were upstairs. Anyway, I queued, and got my ticket in the end. For the finale, the door I should have gone in by was closed, and I had to go to the other one and walk back - then, the screen I wanted turned out to be right at the end, tucked away at the end of the corridor. Still, I arrived while the trailers were still on. Result!! In fact, I had another 10 minutes before the film started. Worth remembering!

Well, this is a truly splendid film. I cannot recommend it highly enough - seriously, I cannot see the reasoning behind the people who gave it a 7.1 on IMDB. I think it deserves at least an 8. But, reading the forum on IMDB, it becomes apparent that folks' objection to it is that they feel it lacks originality of plot, that it's an old story and no amount of prettifying can get over that.

I think it's stunning - and originality has never been the most important to me in a film, as long as the story is well told. I hear that the director wanted to make a film like a folk song, and I do believe he's succeeded admirably. It occurred to me, during the film, that it was like a fable, or a dream. The soundtrack is hypnotic, the cinematography seductive. The story is, indeed, simple - Casey Affleck, and a fine hunk of manhood he is too, is married to Rooney Mara, who is pregnant when he goes to prison for life. His dream is to escape and be with her and the child he's never seen, and ultimately he does escape, and comes looking for them. Oh, but the spell that the film weaves can't be described so simply. Go see..

So. Tomorrow, I was thinking of going to see The Moo Man, which is on in the Lexi, a cinema I've never been to, and that looks interesting. Sadly, it's a documentary about a man and his cows. Now, I'm sure it's very good, but frankly, I'm Irish. I've grown up with cows on the telly, cows on the news, and, being from the countryside, cows blocking the roads. They looked very like the cows in this film - and after watching the trailer, and feeling as though I was watching an episode of Ear to the Ground, I have to conclude that I am not interested in seeing any more cows. I feel no city-dweller nostalgia for the country idyll - I have been covered head to foot in cow dung and I have had quite enough of cows, thank you very much! So, returning to my now shrunken film list, I see that the highest rated film remaining to me is 2 Guns. Well and good, it's on in Shepherds Bush, and I can walk there, thus ending my transportation problems for the time being. Assuming it's not raining, which it has been pretty much all week..

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Talk: Rising Tides

For this evening, I'd booked a ticket (because reservations are compulsory) to a Thames Festival talk - "Rising Tides", an environmental affair - at City Hall. I actually got an email during the day, advising me to arrive early because of security checks. Just as well I got out early then, because the District Line was up to its usual trick of stalling randomly, for variable periods of time. 'Twas so crowded that, for the first part of the journey, I had the choice of reading the email the guy beside me was typing (something work-related) or watching the young lass standing in front of me extravagantly eat a sugary bun. I was rather relieved when they got off. That was quite intense.. on the Jubilee Line, in contrast, I had the entertainment of listening to the chap that was sounding off about everything and nothing, to the whole world. He remarked at one point that he was glad he wasn't one of us (wage slaves, I gather).

I knew the way without having to look it up, although I did consult the Google Maps direction finder just to remind myself of how long it would take - City Hall is right beside the Scoop, the outdoor amphitheatre where I was, not so long ago. When it was warmer. I pity those who avail of the free films they're showing these days. Anyway, when I got to City Hall, there was indeed a long queue, for airport-style security. Our talk was in the Chamber, which is, apparently, generally open to the public. You can take a lift, or there's quite a dramatic ramp, curving around the edge of the building. I took the lift up - otherwise, I'd have run into the queue of people coming through security.

There's a lot of glass in this building, including surrounding the Chamber, as well as, by the look of it, most offices - the building is designed to be lopsided, so you can see a bit of the floors above. When we passed through the double set of doors into the Chamber, it became apparent that the plush seating that was immediately visible was not for us plebs. No, they had the numbers, and had set up camp chairs in the centre. Made more sense, of course, for a small group. Interestingly, we had to be let into the centre section by the ushers, who opened a transparent gate for us. Well, maybe we could have opened it ourselves, I don't know. Anyway, I was well jealous of those who arrived late, and were sat in the plush seats round the edge.

Beautiful, beautiful view from the windows. I didn't bother photographing it - I already have, in my entry on Oedipus Rex and Antigone. The Financial District to the left, the Tower and Tower Bridge to the right. It did strike me that the view would make it hard for anyone to get any work done in this building.. and then the talk began, and I started to nod off. Well, that's what continual late nights will do for you, and the combination of plush surroundings and the muted sound of the microphone. I kept thinking how lovely it would be to be at a cocktail party with that view.. and that put me in mind of all those flashy dramas set in London..

I'm glad I managed to stay awake, because this was a very interesting talk indeed. The speaker, Mark Lynas, was, apparently, once a member of Greenpeace. He's not a scientist by training, and had to come by his knowledge through rigorous study later on, but my, he seems to know his stuff. And what he has to say is very interesting:
  • He's in favour of nuclear power. It's cleaner and more efficient.
  • He's in favour of genetic modification. He said it's unfair for us well fed Westerners to impose our opinions on people who depend on GM foods to supply them with enough food to eat, and which is disease-resistant. He also pointed out a scientific study that indicated that, after extensive tests, there was no extra danger involved in eating GM foods. He criticised Greenpeace for protesting against GM foods, said their position was outdated and not based on evidence. He asked why we trust scientists when they're predicting climate change, but not when they start to genetically modify food.
  • He's in favour of intensive farming. He showed us a graph of how much land would have to be given over to agriculture if we went back to the way farming was in the 60s. As he says, basically, there would be no rainforests - there'd be no room for them! He pointed out that organic farming is inefficient, and highlighted the case of E-Coli poisoning in organic beansprouts in Germany two years ago, which led to 50 deaths.
  • He says that population growth isn't so much a factor of how many children people are having as it is of increased life expectancy, so that people are living long enough to reproduce.
  • He says fracking is no worse than other means of extraction of fossil fuels.
  • When someone asked him about the bee crisis, he said he thought it was overstated, and pointed out that most crops don't depend on insect pollination anyhow.
So. Controversial! I don't claim to have any specialist knowledge about the topics he's dealing with, but I must say, he was well informed, and well able for any questions that came his way at the end. A very thought-provoking talk. First talk I've been to in an age, and I'm glad I went. The festival, complete with talks, runs in various venues until Sunday.

Tomorrow, I'm off to another film - Ain't Them Bodies Saints - in, of all places, Wandsworth again. Well, it is the nearest place it's showing, and it isn't on until 6.50, so even at the time I arrived last night I'd have been ok for that.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Film: We're the Millers

Yes folks, another change to the advertised schedule. :-) Remember how I said I liked buses..? Well, the easiest way to Wandsworth from West Kensington is by bus. And I got one straight away after leaving the office. Now, I'm used to it taking half an hour or less, in heavy traffic..


It took 65 minutes. Even the driver stopped another driver to ask him what on earth the traffic was about. Needless to say, I missed the film. Plan B kicked in. I figured the easiest thing to do was go to another film there, and this would probably be We're the Millers, which is the highest-ranked mainstream film on IMDB that I would be interested in but hadn't seen. Sure enough, when I checked what was on there, that was indeed the highest rated film (I practically have that list memorised by now). I got to the cinema at 6.55, the film was on at 8.20. Great, that gave me time to eat..

They had a Nando's, so that suited fine. Must have been the lack of customers, but my, the service was slow. I had ordered chicken with sides of garlic bread and mash. Finally, this guy meanders over with a small plate on which sat two slices of garlic bread. "Garlic bread?" quoth he. "Yes," said I, "and creamy mash, and chicken.." So he went back and I could see them ladle the garlic bread onto a plate, on which resided a chicken. And they added some mash. And there it sat for another five minutes. Mind you, I did have time, and the girl who finally brought it was so sweet you couldn't be mad at her.. I even had time for their excellent choc-a-lot cake.

Well, it must have been fate that threw that traffic in my way. I would probably have got to this film eventually, but not for a while. And it is excellent! No, really, a comedy that's actually not stupid!! Do you know how rare that is?! It's witty, it's aimed at people that are old enough to laugh at what teenagers get up to, it's got likeable characters, and frankly, it's the first film in a long time that I wouldn't mind seeing again. Just to catch all the jokes, which come thick and fast, and are often subtle. D'you know what? I think I'll buy it..(pause) there, ordered!

And the bus back only took 15 minutes.. huh.

Tomorrow, I'm off to a Thames Festival talk at City Hall, about the environment. By Tube.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Film: La Grande Belleza (The Great Beauty)

It was a bit of a saga deciding what to do today. Initially, I thought I'd go to a film. Then, Time Out listed a play that sounded ok - Cake and Congo. Then I checked again today, thought of doing something in the Thames Festival, currently running - they had a carnival. I was all set to go to that, then it started raining. Finally, I ended up back with films.

Then there was the question of what film to see. Top of the list in terms of IMDB ratings was a Japanese documentary called KanZeOn. It's showing as part of the Peckham and Nunhead Free Film Festival. So I mapped out how to get all the way out there, then thought I'd better watch the trailer. I already had, in the office, with the sound down - but this is a musical documentary, so I thought I'd better watch again. And that's what changed my mind. Able to hear the music, it was altogether too.. exotic for my taste. A bit too clangy. Small doses of that I can take, but not 86 minutes' worth. Just as well really - I just noticed on the festival website that, although some chairs and cushions are provided, you're asked to bring something to sit on if you can. Huh. Not gonna happen. I can just see myself, dragging a chair, first on the Tube, then by bus. And back. Next highest on my list showing today was La Grande Belleza (The Great Beauty). Looking up the website, I saw it was already over half sold out, so I decided I'd better book - and I did.

I'd been planning to see this next Thursday, when the nearest place I could manage is the Curzon Mayfair - a venue I hate. As stated in a previous blog, the nearest station, Green Park, is horrendously crowded, even by London standards, the commuters are ruder than usual, and when you do fight your way to the cinema, the staff are the most laid-back I've seen. Which is fine, as long as you don't require them to actually serve you. No, I was delighted to see the film in the Gate, Notting Hill instead - as well as being much easier to get to, and with more useful staff, it's cheaper to get to, given that I can take the bus straight there from outside my door, and that's cheaper than the Tube. Cinema ticket price also slightly less. It is showing there on Thursday, but it'd be tricky to make it in time from work.

Oh, but it's ages since I took the bus! It's lovely to do that for a change - you see more of your surroundings, and you can people-watch. When I got there, the lobby was chaotic - I think they only have one screen, and I was soon to find it had sold out. I've only been here once before - ages ago, for Beasts of the Southern Wild. I recalled that the screen has opulent décor, but had forgotten that, between every second pair of seats, there's a little table. V handy. I also note that, like the British Film Institute, they have the seat numbers on the seat backs. Even handier!

The trailers and other ads came on with the sound really low - that, and the fact that the lights still hadn't been dimmed, meant that the capacity crowd saw no reason to quiet down - which was a shame, given that the first thing on screen was a short film called Mourning Rules, which I could hardly hear a word of, and therefore couldn't make sense of. Fortunately, you can frequently find these things on YouTube, which I have. So now I know what I missed. Interestingly, the one thing people did quiet down for was the trailer for Diana..

And so to the film. La Grande Belleza isn't so much a film as a song - or an artwork - it has that feel about it. No plot to speak of, just an ageing socialite, in Rome, who discovers that his first love has just died. This prompts him to reconsider the shallowness of his life. Which, by the way, is very photogenic. But the film also highlights some memorable philosophical points, and is frequently laugh-out-loud funny, as well as being breathtakingly beautiful. Definitely reminds us of why Italy is regarded as one of the style capitals of the world. Gorgeous. And intelligent. Mind you, not to everyone's taste - such as the lady beside me, who left quite early. Probably thought it was all a bit trivial. But I can't speak for her.

Tomorrow is Jadoo, in Wandsworth - ages since I've been there. I hope it's more to my taste than the last Indian comedy I saw. And on Tuesday, I will be making it to the Thames Festival - one of their talks, "Rising Tides", about things environmental. Anyway, it's be my first time inside City Hall, so that'll be interesting!

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Film: Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth

I wasn't so keen on seeing Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth, really. The name didn't mean anything to me, although, once I saw her on screen, I remembered having once seen her on a talk show. But the IMDB rating for this film is high, and that's usually a good recommendation. Certainly, I've benefitted from following that as a guide to what to see.

I arrived after the ads had started and they'd closed the door. They're strict at the British Film Institute, and there is absolutely no admission if you arrive more than 10 minutes after the scheduled start time. Within that 10 minute period, they might let you in, but might not seat you in your reserved seat - depends how much disruption that would cause. So I was relieved to be shown to the seat I had booked, which I chose for its proximity to the centre of the theatre - a good place to watch a film, generally. And, groping my way to my seat in the dark, I was pleasantly surprised to note that they have the numbers on the seat backs, as well as the undersides. This makes them much more visible, and is much appreciated in such a situation. Never noticed it before.

Well, I've been vindicated again. The IMDB ratings are a great way to choose films - I've so often been pleasantly surprised. Including tonight. The film is fascinating, dealing with Alice's family, her upbringing in Georgia, her going to college in Alabama, her involvement with the Civil Rights movement, her marriage to a white, Jewish lawyer. The story of her family - poor sharecroppers - is fascinating. The story of her marriage and the shock of their respective families is hilarious. The footage of civil rights demonstrations is shocking. Then they left for New York, she got into feminism, her career took off in a big way, and he decided she'd be better off without him. There's a large section devoted to The Color Purple, her most famous book. And throughout, we have snippets of her sparkling poetry and luminous prose. Highly recommended. Even if you have no interest in The Color Purple!

Remembered my phone this time:

It's not quite as spectacular as in the full dark, but the twilight is nice. And in the second shot, you can see the Shard behind the National Theatre.

I ate in La Piazza again afterwards. I won't say "never again", because there are some things they do really well - but you do need to take care. The starter of garlic bread was delicious. The veal was supposed to come with a mushroom sauce, which it did - but I don't remember prawns being mentioned on the menu. My plate was covered in them. Ah well. The sauce itself was very so-so, and I must say the best part of the main course were the chips. Interestingly, although it took just 25 minutes to order, be served, and eat my starter and main, it took another 25 minutes to get anyone to bring me the dessert menu! I had to ask her twice, and then find the other person working there to take my order. Beware the server with the plait, she doesn't give a damn.. I did leave a tip - less than usual - but I thought seriously about it first.

Tomorrow is looking like a play called Cake and Congo, playing in the Latchmere pub, Battersea. I've been known to go further on a Sunday.. where would we be without London pub theatres? Monday, for the first time in a long time, I'm heading to Wandsworth, to see an Indian comedy called Jadoo. I do hope it's better than the last Indian comedy I saw..

Friday, 6 September 2013

Films: Sikkim, The Inner Eye, Bala, Two

It's been a long time since I saw so many films in one day! The British Film Institute is running a Satyajit Ray season, and I had booked for a trilogy of his documentaries - Sikkim, The Inner Eye, and Bala. I then discovered that another of his shorts - Two - which was supposed to be screening on another night, would be shown tonight instead, after the others. There's value..

The first film, Sikkim, was the longest, and is a documentary about the state of Sikkim, which, we were informed, lies between Nepal and Bhutan. At the time of filming, it was independent, and had its own monarchy. This was abolished in 1975, and the country merged with India. It lies in the foothills of the Himalayas, so expect gorgeous mountain scenery. Interesting, but maybe a tad over-long.

The other films were more to my taste. The second, The Inner Eye, was a fascinating documentary about Binode Bihari Mukherjee, a talented Indian painter who went blind but continued to work. Like Sikkim, it's available on YouTube. The third, Bala, was a documentary about a famous traditional Indian dancer, Balasaraswati. Very enjoyable.

The last film, Two, was fictional, for a change - about two little boys. One, a spoiled rich kid, is alone in his house with all his toys when he hears music coming from outside. Investigating, he sees a little poor boy playing the flute. From then on, the film is an amusing fable about each boy trying to outdo the other. Highly recommended, if you come across it. It's only 11 minutes long.

I'm back there tomorrow, for Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth - a documentary about the writer of The Color Purple. Must remember to take something I can take photos with - tonight was the first night I've noticed the view of the National Theatre with the Shard behind, lit up after dark. See, it hasn't been that dark when I've been coming south across the bridge, and I haven't noticed when I've been going the other way. And the last time I came there in the dark, it was winter and I decided to take the option that avoided the bridge, and the searing breeze on top. So, here I was, seeing this for the first time. And I had nothing with me that could take a picture. Of all the luck..

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Film: Winter of Discontent

Tonight, I went to see the film Winter of Discontent, in the Institute of Contemporary Arts. Just to be sure I remembered where it was - it being a while since I was there - I consulted Google Maps, only to find them giving me what I knew were not the best directions, despite not being strictly incorrect. They had me changing Tube lines to go to Piccadilly Circus - when I knew the direct Tube to Embankment brought me just as close - and then the walking directions had me going to the back of the ICA. Just as well I've been before.. I've reported the problem. They've been having a few of those lately.

Anyway, as usual, I left it a bit tight and had something of a brisk walk. Didn't have time to peruse their excellent bookshop - but I did arrive while the ads were still on and the trailers hadn't started yet.

This is a really excellent film, dealing with the revolution of 2011 in Egypt, and set in Cairo. It focuses specifically on a young couple - he involved with what the government considers seditious activities on the internet, she a television presenter. The film shows them break up over his commitment to change, while she remains loyal to the establishment - but we see her gradual awakening to what's going on around her, and the change in her priorities. We follow their story up to the point of Mubarak's resignation.

For a film that's set largely in police torture units, and shows actual torture scenes, as well as street protests, it's surprisingly gentle, and thoughtful. The cinematography is beautiful, and the characters compelling. Nearly every scene makes you think - when it isn't gripping you with suspense. A real tribute to the revolution, and a credit to the filmmakers.

Just a thought, though. I'm currently reading a book about Al-Jazeera, the Arab tv news station, famous in the Arab world for not being a mouthpiece for any government, but instead reporting fairly and truthfully. And, out of curiosity, I logged onto their website. Where I noticed a story about how Egypt is blocking their signals. What does the interim military government not want broadcast..? Ironic, given that much of the film concerns media censorship. Plus ca change..

Anyway. Tomorrow is a trilogy of documentaries by Satyajit Ray, an Indian filmmaker, at the British Film Institute. And we get an extra short film at the end, which is nice. I'm there again on Saturday, for Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth. Yes, I'll get through this film list eventually!

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Afraid of the Dark

So, Laura and I went to see Afraid of the Dark tonight, at the Charing Cross Theatre on Villiers Street. Villiers Street, of course, has a couple of advantages over some other venues. It's handy for getting home - on the District Line, convenient for both of us, and also has plenty of eateries. We decided to eat in Café Rouge, at the top of the street, where we've both eaten before.

It was busy, but they managed to seat us, and service was friendly throughout. If rather slow, which I guess was a consequence of how busy they were. The last couple of times I ate here, I went for beef bourguignon, so I decided on a modification tonight and went for steak. Laura had mussels, which arrived (eventually) in a rather enormous and roasting hot pot. My steak, for some reason, was less hot, as though it had been left sitting. Still, it was very tasty, with a lovely pepper sauce. With the combination of a short amount of time and very slow service, we didn't have time for starter or dessert, sadly - this is the place I remember that does the dessert that tastes exactly like a Penguin chocolate biscuit.

Anyway, we headed for the theatre, whose location I vaguely remembered as being in the passageway under the railway arches with other businesses. I was right. We had booked cheap tickets through Living Social, separately, and been allocated separate seats. We asked whether we could sit together, and were told that Row M was, at that stage, completely empty, and we should go there - we could move if necessary. It turned out not to be necessary, and thus we ended up several rows further forward than we should've been. Nice one..

This play came with a lot of hype - always a bad sign. So I wasn't expecting much. Having said that, the opening half, in particular, was promising, with some classic horror touches, excellent lighting and sound effects, and, eh, audience participation. The main problem was that the story fell completely apart as the play wore on, and fizzled out towards the end. I do wonder whether this (anonymous) playwright just couldn't think of a decent ending. Can happen to the best of us, y'know. All in all, enjoyable, watchable, but not unmissable. And I think those with heart conditions can, by and large, feel safe in watching this. Contrary to what the advertising says. Runs until October 26.

I'm thinking of films for the next while. For tomorrow, it's looking like Winter of Discontent, a political thriller set in Cairo and showing in the Institute for Contemporary Arts. For Saturday, I've booked a ticket for Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth, showing at the British Film Institute, because it was already half sold out, and for Monday, I've booked an Indian film called Jadoo, because it's showing in Cineworld, and, having registered on the site, I get a discount for booking. Honestly, I can't remember when so many new films were released in one week..

Tuesday, 3 September 2013


Went to see Home tonight, in the Shed at the National Theatre. I thought I'd never make it on time, if at all - the train stopped four times between stations. But we just made it in decent time. Lordy, but I am out of practice at climbing the steps up to the Hungerford Bridge! Well, it's a not insignificant climb, to be fair.. and there is enough bridge to walk across afterwards that you can get your breath back!

Now, I've had trouble finding venues at the National before - well, they have three theatres in the main building, before you even get around to the Shed. The Shed follows in their glorious tradition of confusing the punters. I have never seen anyone do it so well.

Tip 1: The entrance is not accessible from the near side of the building, as you come from the Hungerford Bridge. This side is blocked off, and going there is a waste of time. Go round the other side.

Tip 2: Yes, the entrance is through the Shed Bar, in the main building. Most easily accessed from right beside the Shed. On the aforementioned side.

Tip 3: The box office is at the far end of the bar. This simple fact is impossible to ascertain right before a popular show, when the bar is full of customers. There is no sign that says "box office" or gives any hint of its location.

Having negotiated these hurdles, I entered the Shed. For this show, based on the true stories of homeless people, I'd read that the whole place is decorated like a homeless shelter. Yep, I suppose so - although I was rushing to get in, so didn't pay it much mind, except to note that it reminded me of the backpackers hostels I used to stay in, back in the day. It did vex me that entrance to the theatre proper was through two fire doors, one either side of the stage, that really didn't look as though we were meant to go through them. Frankly, I'd had such trouble finding my way in, I could have done without that. Anyway, my seat was upstairs, Row K. Upstairs I found without difficulty. Row K? Here we go again. The row lettering turns out to be scribbled with ballpoint pen on scraps of paper at the aisle, a bit over from the stairs. So I nearly accused some people of being in my seat, before considering that perhaps this wasn't my row.. Turned out I had rather a good seat, just on the corner, so good legroom - although that wasn't a problem in general, I think - and in the front row of the gallery. Cool! Comfy seats too.

Well, the place was packed - and I don't blame them. This play is excellent. Sounds a bit po-faced, dealing with social problems and such - but it's hilarious. And it's a musical (!). Well, in parts. With one young woman who could give Larvell Jones, in the Police Academy films, a run for his money in reproducing sounds. Unusually, I actually regretted being upstairs for this show, because the people downstairs were closer to the action, and I think for this one, that might have been good. Terrifically edited, entertaining, real. Great performances, musically and otherwise. 10 out of 10, folks! I was happy to join in the standing ovation. Runs until Saturday, so hurry - advance booking essential.

Despite the panting climb coming across the bridge, I'm always happy to return across it:

That blaze of multi-coloured lights is the National Theatre, with the dome of St. Paul's visible, on the other bank, to the left.

And tomorrow night, I'm off to see Afraid of the Dark, which is billing itself as something new in scary theatre. Got a cheap ticket from Living Social (thanks Helen!). Hope it lives up to the hype.. on Thursday, I'm thinking of going to the pictures, but watch this space, because there's been a shake-up in the IMDB ratings. So what I go to next in the cinema is, for the moment, a mystery..

Monday, 2 September 2013

Film: Plein Soleil

"Purple Noon", the English title - so I wore some purple. Somebody being imaginative there - that ain't what it means. Anyway, I was reluctant at first to go see it, since it's the French version of a film I've already seen - The Talented Mr. Ripley - but given that the IMDB rating is higher than for that film, I relented. I noticed, in the film review in Friday's Evening Standard, that it's a reissue.

So I set off on the clunky District Line to Earl's Court.. which stopped twice on the way.. but just got me there in time to catch a Piccadilly Line into town - because this is only showing in the Odeon Panton Street. I do like that Odeon have discounts on Mondays - hadn't noticed that before. I had the usual confusion on exiting the Tube at Piccadilly Circus, but after a minute orienting myself, I headed off and was soon there.

It's showing in what must be the smallest Screen 1 I've ever seen. Anyway, there was hardly anyone there. The air conditioning was nice, despite coming on noisily a few times during the showing. And so to the film - which I see has been remastered.

And it does look well! This was made in 1960, and looks perfect. Straight away, I can see the attraction over the remake in 1999 - Alain Delon looks much less worried than Matt Damon, playing the same role 39 years later. The film is, therefore, less depressing. Not to mention that they've cheered up the ending. But there are as many variations to the ending of this story as there are versions. To each their own. Personally, I prefer this version. Haven't read the book. But I do recommend this, to anyone who likes a good thriller.

Cool busker in Piccadilly Station on the way home, playing Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. With a cheery grin, and a band of muppets. Well, you couldn't fail to give him something..

Tomorrow, I'm off to see Home, at the Shed, in the National Theatre - or just outside it. I have passed it, but never been inside. It resembles a large, red, upside-down table. And somewhere in this construction is a box office, where I must pick up my ticket. On Wednesday, I'm off to see something new - just started today - and interesting, called Afraid of the Dark, premiering at the Charing Cross Theatre.  Under-12s not admitted. Not suitable for those of a nervous disposition, or with heart conditions. Playwright to remain anonymous for now. Yes, hmm. Watch this space..