Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Film: The Night of the Hunter

If I hadn't booked tonight's ticket to The Night of the Hunter, at the British Film Institute - because it sold out on Friday, when I originally intended to see it - I probably wouldn't have gone, purely because I have to lug a blasted laptop around with me to go to the Guildford office tomorrow! And I had to go straight from work, so needs must, the laptop had to go too. Well, at least the Tube wasn't too crowded - I could even find space on the floor at my feet for the bag, and even got a seat at Victoria - a popular interchange, where many people got off and the carriage was almost half empty, briefly. And the rain, while peskily persistent, wasn't too bad.

Mind you, when I got to the BFI, it was annoying to find that the Riverfront entrance was closed all day for a private function. I have entered from the other side, coming from Waterloo, but I'm not used to finding it from that side and got turned around for a couple of minutes. I finally figured out my way, and at least, coming in that way, you're closer to the box office. Actually, it might be faster to just go around the building, if the box office is where you need to be - it's a bit of a maze inside.

The girl giving me my ticket asked me whether I'd seen it before. I hadn't. She assured me I'd love it, and advised me to read the programme notes, which are always available at BFI films, afterwards and just enjoy it for itself. Mind you, I wouldn't have had time to read them beforehand anyway - I had barely taken my seat when the lights went down. Just in time! I am so glad that I didn't go yesterday - I considered it, but it was showing 10 minutes earlier and I'd never have made it! So I stuffed the laptop bag, my handbag, the paper I'd picked up on the way, and the program notes, at my feet, rolled my coat up on my lap, and we were off. My row was full, although there were some seats left elsewhere in the cinema, and I couldn't have done anything else.

And so to the film. Again, it's showing as part of the Gothic season at the BFI, which ends this week, sadly. This film, from 1955, directed by Charles Laughton (and partly by Robert Mitchum), stars Robert Mitchum as a fanatical preacher, with "LOVE" tattooed on one fist and "HATE" on the other, who, while in prison, discovers that his cellmate has hidden a large sum of money from a robbery, but will not reveal where, before his execution. When the preacher gets out, he persuades the man's widow, Shelley Winters, to marry him, and terrorises her children to try to get them to tell him where their pa hid the money. In the whole film, the only person who can help them is a kindly woman, played by Lillian Gish, who has a farm and takes in stray children. Of whom there are many, because this is set during the Depression. James Gleason plays the children's alcoholic uncle.

It's immediately apparent that this is going to be a terrific film. Robert Mitchum's character is spectacular, with his black suit and wide-brimmed black hat, spouting scripture. But at the start of the film, when he's being tried for auto theft, as the judge is about to pass sentence, he calls him "Mr. Powell". The preacher corrects him - "Preacher Powell!" The judge remarks - "Arrested for auto theft - where you were (he was arrested in a strip club) - you're no preacher!" Indeed, the main manifestation of his faith seems to be marrying and murdering wealthy widows, so as to prevent them tempting other men into acts of sin.

This is brilliantly contrasted with Lillian Gish's character, who portrays the loving side of Christianity, telling the children bible stories and showing them discipline, but always with love. When the eldest girl in her care, who's in her early teens, confesses that she's been sneaking off to meet boys, and says "You'll beat me!", the older woman says, "Beat you?! I would never!" She's the only one - apart from the dead man's son - unimpressed with this preacher, and when she has taken the children under her care and he comes for them, still wanting to know where the money is, there's a terrific scene with her sitting on the front porch with a rifle, he's sitting on a stump in the yard, threatening to come in, and singing a hymn, and she joins in. Doesn't let go of the rifle, though.

Throughout, the lighting and staging are fantastic. It's got a real dream-like quality - one review remarked that it was the closest that reviewer had seen to the nightmares that children commonly have. I read the notes on the way home, and discovered that they consisted of two reviews. Unfortunately, I found the second review quite illegible - a film like this will inspire very arty comments, and frankly, I couldn't even understand the terminology he was using. But it is a terrific film. One thing you will notice, watching it, is the dismissive attitude towards women. The preacher, of course, sees them as the root of all evil, and Lillian Gish's character keeps remarking what fools women are, letting their heads be turned by men. Can't argue with that in this case - Shelley Winters' character is baffling in her gullibility. Mind you, they're not the only ones - just portrayed as somewhat worse than men, because their heads can be turned like this.

Anyway, I'm delighted to have seen it at last, and do recommend it, if you get the chance. Decided to come by Waterloo and avoid the stairs on the way back, and, my local supermarket being closed, and too tired to walk to Tesco, I went for a Chinese. Switched to the Kung Po tonight, and was well pleased! As I finished, they were decorating for Chinese New Year. Pity I'll be out of town for it.

Should be in bed already, going to Guildford tomorrow - not going out tomorrow night, on account of that. Then back to Ireland at the weekend, and the Ennis Gospel Choir on Saturday. And that Beckett Trilogy on Monday..!

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Film: Dark Days

Top of my list for films for today was Dark Days, but I was dubious. Did I really want to go to see a film about homeless people living in a subway tunnel? After some reading, I decided it was worth a shot. Looking on the website to check it wasn't selling out, I noticed that they were charging the same for full price tickets as for concessions. Which must have been an error (different prices had been quoted on the previous page). So I took full advantage!

It's showing exclusively in the Institute of Contemporary Arts. I checked Google Maps to remind myself how to get there - it's been a while - and noticed that, despite my having complained a couple of times, their directions STILL lead you around the back of the building, where there is no entrance! No, people, no - yes, you go to Piccadilly Circus and go down Regent Street (Tube exit straight ahead as you come off the escalator), and continue to the end, where the statue is. But then you do NOT turn left and look for a way in - there isn't one. What you do is carry on down the steps that descend behind the statue, and the ICA is at the bottom, on the left. Really, it ain't that hard..!

This is the place with the most excellent bookshop, which it's been an age since I had the time to peruse. This must be the first time, however, that, after perusal, I didn't find anything I wanted to own! (Not that I've ever bought anything in it - I just get inspiration and then check whether it's cheaper online, which it always is.) I was in plenty of time, and, ironically, they were in no hurry to open the cinema door. I had picked up a Metro on my way, though - they always have some left over at Earl's Court - and whiled the time away reading that until they let us in - somewhat reluctantly, I thought! Funnily enough, he did ask whether anyone was there to see Kiss the Water, showing in the other screen. Well, I'm sorry, but a film about fly fishing.. I guess it must be hard, choosing which arthouse films to screen, how unusual is too unusual. At least you know where you are with multiplexes!

As we entered, I caught myself wondering when on earth I'd last been in here! The last several times I've been to the ICA, I was in Screen 2 - it must be absolutely ages since I've been in Screen 1, which is much bigger. I positioned myself in a decent seat - seating is unassigned. And after a while a young couple sat in the row in front of me, just to the right. Just at the corner of my field of vision. And started canoodling. And then did some more of it. And some more. In fact, they only stopped when the film came on. Oh, and when they had to stand to let someone past them. And then they were at it again within 30 seconds. Very distracting. It also occurred to me that this was a strange choice for a date movie..

Well, it does what it says on the tin - it's a film, made in 2000, about homeless people in a disused subway tunnel in New York. They built themselves their own shacks and everything, underground. The filmmaker made this all on his own, interviewing these people and using them as film assistants when they weren't being interviewed. With something like this, you might worry that it all becomes a bit like an anthropological study, a bit dull. And it starts off like that. But this film is highly rated for a reason - it really takes off when we start to get to know the characters, meet and know the people, some of whom have been down there for up to 25 years. Some of them have horrific stories, some are hilarious. In the end, Amtrak decided they didn't want them down there anymore, and after negotiation, the city was prevailed upon to provide them with housing permits, and they got apartments of their own. Above ground. And you come away with a real interest in these people, and hoping they got on ok with their lives thereafter.

And then it lashed rain all the way home. And the traffic lights are still out, where I have to cross the road. Bah humbug!

Let's hope for better weather tomorrow, when I'm going to see The Night of the Hunter, finally, at the British Film Institute. Which involves crossing a bridge. Unfortunate thing is, given that I'm in the Guildford office next day, I'll need to take my laptop with me. Up all those steps, and probably standing on a packed Tube.. ugh. Well, it's exercise, at least! Not going out after I come back from Guildford, I'll be too tired. Then I fly to Ireland for the weekend - and I keep forgetting to mention, I'm going to see the Ennis Gospel Choir on Saturday. And I'm going to the opening night of the Beckett Trilogy on Monday..

Monday, 27 January 2014

Play: Rapture, Blister, Burn

Those of you who've been reading regularly will know that tonight's play - Rapture, Blister, Burn - was third on my list, the other two being sold out, and that there were only two tickets left for it.. was it worth it? Read on!

It involved a trip to Hampstead Theatre, and when I looked it up on Google Maps, I realised that yes, this was one of the first places I blogged about! Which means I've been there exactly once before, last April. So first, I looked up what Google had to say about getting there. Unlike last time, this time they were promoting the Overground. Which is fine and dandy, if it got you straight there - unfortunately, you then have to change to a bus or the Tube. Which, again, is fine if you have a travelcard - I don't, so it would work out more expensive than getting the Tube straight there, for which you pay a fixed fare the whole way. So that's what I did.

So I rattled along on first the Piccadilly Line, then the Jubilee Line. (And my, that Jubilee Line does tear along at a ferocious pace! Holding onto something is definitely recommended.) This theatre is the one where you get off at Swiss Cottage. And I'm quite glad that I had looked at the blog, and that the blog recommended Exit 2, because, while it does mention "Hampstead Theatre" on the sign, I was in something of a hurry. I should have mentioned in my blog that you turn right out of the station - it being dark, I was confused for a moment. But all went well, and the "House Full" sign outside was very satisfying, considering I had a ticket! Good job I hadn't left it any later - the two-minute call went as I climbed the stairs to the upper level.

It didn't take me very long at all to figure out that this is an excellent play. It's clever - which, frankly, makes a nice change. It's about two old college friends who meet after about 13 years. One has become a housewife and mother, the other a successful academic. Each envies the other - the housewife wishes she had a career and freedom, the academic that she had a family. The fun comes when they figure out a way to switch. But what will happen if they switch? Which life will they prefer? And, to throw some spice into the mix, the academic seems to specialise in women's studies.

So, we have an analysis of the second wave of women's lib, compared to what we have today. And we have the housewife's babysitter and the academic's mother to add another couple of generations into the mix. An awful lot of ideas are bandied around here - about relationships, independence, porn, horror films.. it's fascinating stuff and I'm not at all surprised that it's selling out. Runs until the 22nd February, but many shows sold out - check the website for details if you're interested. And you should be, if you can get to this.

So far, tomorrow is looking like a film, and top of the list is Dark Days - a documentary about the homeless of New York. Goodee. I'll see how I feel.. Wednesday is The Night of the Hunter (finally!), Thursday I'm in the Guildford office, back to Ireland for the weekend, and the Beckett Trilogy on Monday. Yum!

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Film: Tim's Vermeer

Ah, the unpredictability of not having something booked! So I was back to films again, and Tim's Vermeer has been top of my list all week (having seen the higher-rated ones). Actually, checking my list, I saw that The Square is now at the same rating. It's about Egyptian revolutionaries, and honestly, I'd have rather seen that, but by this time it was too late to make it to this week's only showing. So, Tim's Vermeer it was, by a convoluted route!

It's only showing at the Odeon Panton Street. A wet and miserable day (again), and the traffic lights still out where I have to cross the road. And, as usual, when I got to Piccadilly Circus, I couldn't remember which exit (4) to take for Haymarket. Still, I was in plenty of time, and I see the weather didn't bother everyone..

I am so glad I ended up going to this film! Really, you don't have to be an art expert to enjoy this. I know what I like, but I was not expecting to enjoy this film as much! The plot goes thusly: the Tim of the title is a software designer with an interest in graphics, who has his own company, pots of money, and the time to devote to projects like this. He has always had a fascination with Vermeer, and how he incorporated light into his paintings. Then he got a present of a book about a theory about how Vermeer managed it, using lenses. And he was off and running!

Essentially, the technique he settled on, after some experimentation, involves the use of a lens, such as in a camera obscura, to project an image onto the wall. He then uses a mirror on the wall (curved, to increase the area he sees), to focus the projected image, and a second mirror to paint with. This is the innovative bit - it's just a small, plain mirror, on a stand, that can be positioned over the canvas and reflects what he sees in the mirror on the wall - simultaneously inverting the image, which has been turned upside-down by the lens, so that it's now right-side up again. And then he paints exactly what he sees in the plain mirror. He can see the reflection of different parts of the image just by moving his head, and the genius of this method is that it allows him to get the colours exactly right - he just compares the colours on the canvas to the colours he's seeing in the mirror. As he says, "When the edge of the mirror disappears," (and it all looks like a continuous image), "you know you have the colours right!"

Does that all sound very theoretical? That's not what the film is like at all. It's highly entertaining, it's hilarious, and, best of all, Tim sets himself to prove his theory that Vermeer himself did something like this - by reproducing one of his works. And what's more, he chooses The Music Lesson. As someone behind me remarked, he could have chosen an easier one..! (Tons of detail.)

The painting was nearly the least of it. He also had to build a room that was a replica of the one in the painting, with the same furniture - and, as he pointed out, this was in a museum in Delft, but they were hardly going to loan it to him! So he, eh, built his own. Including his own windows, with the kind of glass they would have had then. And he mixed his own paints, as they would have done then. And it took him months just to paint.. and, as a painter that he consulted remarked, he did a better job than Vermeer! (Despite having no painting experience.)

Really, give this film a look if you have the chance. It's gorgeous! And as someone behind me remarked to her companion, "Which are you gonna paint?"

Tomorrow I trek to Hampstead, for Rapture, Blister, Burn.. hope the weather improves!

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Walking Tour: St. Pancras Hotel

It was quite a rush getting out this morning, considering I was up late last night, and, knowing I was heading to the other side of town for 12.30, had set the alarm for 10, just to give myself enough time. Imagine, therefore, my surprise when I awoke to discover that it was 11.10, and I had slept right through the alarm, which would have kept going for an hour! I guess I needed the sleep.. So that wasn't exactly a relaxed start to the day. To my credit, I left the house at 11.32! Clothes, yes. Breakfast, no. Never mind.

To compound my difficulties, I was headed to Earl's Court to catch a direct Tube, which meant I had to cross the road, and it turned out that the traffic lights were out of order because of roadworks. Which made the crossing more exciting than usual. Anyway, I made it to the station eventually, arrived on the platform to find a train there waiting for me, and arrived at St. Pancras station at 12.10. Good for me!

Now, I was headed to St. Pancras Hotel for a walking tour, and it abuts the station - you can see it. What's not so easy to see is where the hotel entrance is! So here's my advice - if inside the station, head up to the Grand Terrace. If outside, head up to the upper level. When you're up there (if coming from inside the station, go outside), walk along the outside, with the hotel to your right, and the entrance is towards the end of that level, on your right. It's the one with the name over it. Seriously, it's tricky not to just end up back in the station again!

Inside, the reception area has a large seating area in the middle, where it seems you can have afternoon tea and the like. The concierge desk, which you're advised to head for, when you buy a ticket to a walking tour, is at the end of the reception area, on the right. Past the reception desks. However, there's really no need - if you already have a ticket, just grab a seat or hang around the (v comfy) sofa opposite the desks. If not, you can save some time by buying a ticket directly from reception. (You get a free ticket, apparently, if staying in the hotel.) The guide arrived at about 12.15 or 12.20, mustered us all together and checked us off her list. No checking of ID, I noticed. Chatting, it transpired that these tours have only been running for about eight months, which probably explains why the hotel website says nothing about them. We had about 20 people on our run, which is about the max, and I guess typical of a weekend - the tours only run during the day, so most people would have trouble making them during the week. So I'd say, if you want to come at the weekend,, either come on the morning tour, or book in advance.. Time Out is the only place I know so far that does tickets, apart from the hotel itself.

And we were off! For a 75 - 90 minute tour of the hotel, seeing the bits the public doesn't normally get to see. Although you're welcome to eat and drink in the bar, restaurant and café. The guides are blue-badge guides, so you're guaranteed a knowledgeable companion, and ours was most entertaining, with tons of titbits you wouldn't have thought to ask about. We got to climb the grand staircase - which tested my fitness: thankfully, it's not necessary to climb to the very top level, you can see plenty from the level below. We also got to see the Royal Suite, and the modern art "Sphere of Air", for which the hotel owner apparently paid £10,000. Eh, right.

Photos here (you can take photos throughout):

Afterwards, I was starving, but didn't quite fancy the menu at Carluccio's, which was right nearby. So I carried on, reasoning that there must be plenty of eateries around, and ended up having brunch at Des Vins, downstairs. Where I had the chicken - which was a bit dry, I wouldn't rush to have it again - garlic bread, which was served cold (a bit icky), and a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, which was a bit insipid. But I did have a second glass. And since they were out of the chocolate tart, they gave me the chocolate courant (with a runny centre) for the same price instead, where it should have cost more. Which was nice.

I dropped into Tesco on the way home for some things, and made it home just before the most awful thunderstorm, with howling wind and lashing rain. Tomorrow, there's another musical revue, I see, called The World Goes 'Round, at the Union Theatre. It's based on the music of Kander & Ebb, the composers of Cabaret & Chicago, and of the song New York, New York. Might head to that. Then I'm off to Rapture, Blister, Burn in Hampstead on Monday.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Film: The Spiral Staircase

I decided to go to The Night of the Hunter tonight, in the BFI. But I hadn't booked it, and despite earlier having seemed not to be selling out, sold out it was, when I arrived. Next on my list showing tonight was The Spiral Staircase, at the same venue a couple of hours later. So I bought a ticket for that instead, getting one of the few remaining, and took myself down to Eat, just a couple of minutes away, to do just that.

I didn't want a full meal, given that I didn't have that much time, and it was convenient. I hadn't tried them before, and found them fine - particularly the very nice chocolate and caramel crispie bar. I had a hot chocolate because it was so cold and miserable out, and was now raining, but my! what is it about this part of the world that they can't produce decent hot chocolate?! I used to live in Canada, and in both Vancouver and Montreal have had the most wonderful hot chocolate. Including out of machines. Why is it that here, they must remove all the flavour? Two sachets of sugar and it still wasn't right..

I made it back in plenty of time, and took my seat as soon as I saw the cinema was open. Ah, those nice comfy, plush seats.. This is part of the BFI's Gothic Season, which ends this month - about time I saw something in it! So is The Night of the Hunter, BTW. Had time to read the film notes, where I read that the cinematographer was the same that worked on Cat People - a terrific recommendation, and indeed the lighting in this was excellent.

The introduction to the film was given by a fellow who's written a number of books on horror cinema. (Available in the BFI bookshop, natch!) It's a melodrama, from 1945, about a serial killer who targets young girls with some imperfection. Our star, who says virtually nothing for the entire film, is mute as a result of a traumatic incident in childhood, and is likely to be the killer's next victim! As the guy giving the introduction pointed out, he hoped we liked thunderstorms, as practically the whole of this film takes place during one. As I watched, it occurred to me that I have seen it before, but so long ago that I neither remembered the fact, nor the plot. So that's all right then, and it is a superior film. Influenced many that came after, what with its creepy lighting, close-ups of the killer's eye, and so on.

So, I need to get myself up tomorrow for a walking tour of St Pancras' Hotel. For which I need to take the voucher I've printed out and signed, the card I paid with, and photo ID. And my camera, if allowed.. Sunday is looking like a film called Tim's Vermeer, which, as I understand it, is about a fellow who can paint just like Vermeer.

For Monday, I was looking at a couple of plays, which turned out to be completely sold out for their entire runs! Honestly, it's getting so you can hardly show up to anything spontaneously in London anymore. The third play was the charm, and so on Monday I'm heading all the way up to Hampstead, to see a play called Rapture, Blister, Burn, which is one of a couple of feminist plays doing the rounds at the moment. I would have gone to The Night of the Hunter on Tuesday, but it's a little too early to get from work, so I'm seeing it on Wednesday instead, when it's on a little later. And this time, it's booked! And about time too, it's appeared so often in the listings.. On Thursday, I'm in the Guildford office, so not going out that night - too long a day. Then I'm in Ireland for the weekend.

And o joy, the Monday after (3rd February), I have a ticket to the opening night of a Beckett trilogy - Not I, Footfalls, and Rockaby - at the Duchess Theatre. He's my favourite playwright, Not I is my favourite play. Given how quickly tickets sold the last time Beckett was performed in London, I jumped on this one. All three are short plays involving a single woman. That poor woman - she is doing all three, every day, and certainly, Not I is a terrifically hard play to enact - a rapid-fire, practically nonstop monologue, fast as you can get it out - the record, apparently, is 9 minutes. The first performance took 22 and Beckett, apparently, was disgusted. And during the whole thing, all we can see is a disembodied mouth - so she can't move. Apart from speaking. Always a breathtaking experience to watch! Cheapest tickets are with - the stated price is £1 more than, but significantly, they don't charge booking fees, whereas charge a £2 fee..

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Musical: Putting It Together

Tonight took me to the St James Theatre, just down from Victoria. So, a direct Tube. I see the platform indicator at West Brompton is broken again - with time tight, I just hopped the first train that came and changed at Earls Court, which has more connections.

There were delays, and some unscheduled stops, but that was nothing to the Victoria Line, as we heard on the announcements. Apparently, a large chunk of it was closed in both directions, due to a "flood" in the signal room at Victoria. Imagine my surprise, just now, to discover that the flood was of fast-setting cement..! You couldn't make it up. That section of the line has been closed for six hours now..

As I exited Victoria station, I was greeted by a giant cat photo:

I swear, as you climb the stairs, it's staring right at you.. and it doesn't look best pleased..

Anyway, in no time I was at the theatre, joined the throng at the box office and collected my ticket. As I mentioned before, I got an aisle seat, but not in the back row, as I normally do, where it's cheaper. Sure enough, tonight was a sell-out. I am always glad to get an aisle seat, with my bad knees - as the girl beside me remarked to her companion, it's not so much the legroom, it's the fact that you have nowhere to put your feet - unlike some places, where they fit under the seat in front - so they, of necessity, take up some of the space, leaving less for your legs.

The show was the West End debut of Putting It Together, a revue of Stephen Sondheim songs. So, we have a stage, with a chaise longue and a chandelier, and a chamber orchestra at the back. And we have five performers - two women, three men - of fine voice. And the show throws together a whole heap of Stephen Sondheim show-stoppers. In short, if you like show tunes, you are guaranteed to like this. The standing ovation was well deserved. If you don't like show tunes, stay away. The only quibble I have is that there are so many terrific numbers, one after the other, that they blend into each other somewhat. But I loved it, and left the theatre with.. something.. running through my head. I just don't know which song it was! Runs until the 1st - booking essential, I would say, and probably cheapest through the venue website.

As I walked back to the station, I was asked for directions by, of all people, a cab driver. He was working for Kabbee. Really, he should get a satnav like most of them - or at least an A-Z! Next thing I have booked is on Saturday - a guided tour of St. Pancras Hotel. Bookable only through Time Out, there are three a day - I chose the 12.30. Must remember to take my camera..

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Play: The Day Shall Declare It

Well, it was awkward this evening, with The Day Shall Declare It being on at 7, in Marylebone. It was quite a dash - Google Maps had suggested that the fastest way would be to take the Overground to Shepherd's Bush and a Tube from there, but said that taking the Tube all the way would only take a few minutes more. Since both my local station, West Brompton, and Shepherd's Bush are in the same travel zone, it would cost the same to go by Tube from either, but if I took the Overground as well, I'd have to pay extra. So, Tube all the way. And I made the Tube with literally one minute to spare! At least the platform indicator was working this evening..

Long pauses at Earl's Court and Paddington worried me, given that time was tight and I hadn't been to this venue before, so had to allow for getting lost. I had to change at Edgeware Road, and was delighted when the train pulled in just as I arrived on the platform. And then it was held, because it was ahead of schedule! At least it was only one more stop to Baker Street, where my walk would begin. Beautiful old station - it's only the second time that I've been there, and it's full of wood panelling, tiled floors and ceilings..

So, I made my way out of the station, past a large statue of Sherlock Holmes. I had carefully studied Google Maps Streetview, and managed to find the street I needed. Trotting down it, I passed the Sherlock Holmes Hotel. Oh, for goodness' sake. Enough already. Anyway, I turned onto Paddington Street, where I noted a couple of Indian restaurants across the road - I knew the play would only last an hour, and I hadn't had time to eat. And in short order, I reached my destination, which, helpfully, had a sign in front of it, advertising the play.

I had booked because I was afraid I wouldn't be able to get a ticket on the spot, but I think I might have been able to - I think I noticed a cash box. Anyway, most people had booked, and they had a list of our names. I knew it was on the fourth floor, but it was a nice surprise to be told that there was a bar on the second floor, where we should wait until the play started. So, that broke the climb. The bar was a very inventive space! The entire building is unused, this theatre group just moved in and used what they needed - so the bar consists of a counter at one end of the room (with a helpful sign over it saying "BAR" and a limited drinks list, written on a blackboard), some tables and chairs, some lights, and a table at the other end of the room where they have set up a cloakroom for you to leave anything you don't want to be carrying for the next hour. Although they recommended we keep our coats on - I don't know that there's heating in this building.

Well, despite my rush, it was nearly half an hour before we were called. Someone enquired about the delay, and was told that it was because Tubes were delayed. I think they were waiting for all the people on the list to arrive - which would be a good reason to book.. Finally, we were told to go up, but that we couldn't take our drinks.

For this production, they use four rooms, two of which are sparsely decorated. The first is decorated like a dance hall, with paper chains on the ceilings and loud jazz, but no furniture. This was my only quibble with the performance - the music in this room was too loud to hear some of the dialogue. The play itself forms a loose narrative, and is compiled from some unknown works of Tennessee Williams. In this first scene, we see a young couple meet on the dancefloor. We also see the first of the evening's audience interaction, which is never too intrusive, but the actors do engage with audience members..

We were then led gently through to another room, decorated as a down-at-heel apartment. The couple have now been together long enough to have a child, but are feeling stifled by poverty and domesticity. Tennessee Williams' dialogue sparkles here, as always, and this scene is dominated by a powerful dance sequence, woven through the dialogue. This room is notable for being the one where audience members have to do the most dodging of actors, who are tearing about the room. Watch your backs, folks..

The third room is a drawing room, with a wall full of clocks, a fireplace, a couple of armchairs, a games table, bookshelves. More dialogues, more dance. Finally, we are led through to the fourth room - bare except for a bathtub and some glass jars with sand in them. Quite a dreamy sequence in this room.

I love immersive theatre, and this is a beautiful example. The dialogue is predictably great, the dancing is inventive, the scene switches are fantastic, in how they convey us from room to room. You could not get closer to the action! Highly recommended. Runs until the 1st. Do give it a look, if you want more than just a show - this is an experience.

Dropped by the toilet on the way out - they were very short of toilet paper, and there was nothing to dry your hands. Otherwise ok, despite only having one working cubicle. Of the two Indian restaurants on my way back, I chose Bombay Spice, and had a very good meal, with a couple of what sounded like Scottish doctors at the next table, and some Americans at the table at the back. I love that about London - you never know who'll be sharing a room with you. Oh, and it was some relief to sit, after having stood through the play, let me tell you!

So, tomorrow I'm off to a more conventional show, where I get to sit, and it's a little easier to get to. Putting It Together, a Stephen Sondheim revue, at the St James Theatre.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Film: The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street is the second enormously popular film I've been to in two days. Of course, this time of year, as I've said before, is great for cinema, with all the releases in advance of awards ceremonies. And it makes a nice change for me to go to popular films!

The cinema was more thronged than I've ever seen it. There were queues at all the ticket machines, at the box office, horrendous queues at the concession stands. I arrived just before the scheduled film time, and knowing that the film runs to three hours, decided that beforehand was a good time to visit the toilet - which, at least, didn't have queues. And then straight into the screen. Screen 1 was packed - I wouldn't advise arriving too late for this film if you want a decent seat. I got a decent seat - until some suit plonked himself in the seat beside me, just before the film started, and opened a packet of crisps. And was slurping from a bottle of something fizzy. Banker, just come from work perhaps, and this was his dinner? I later got the impression he doesn't come to the cinema much anyway, given the way he was splaying his elbows. Just as well there wasn't anyone in the seat on my other side, and I could lean that way..

Right - so to the film. It is.. awesome. It hits you like a juggernaut, right from the start. Based on the autobiography by Jordan Belfort, the stockbroker who was jailed for fraud, it's no morality tale. Indeed, according to Wikipedia, he isn't making great strides towards repaying the people he defrauded. And there's very little remorse in this film. But, as I say, it's based on his story, and this is how he sees things. And it is fantastic fun. Until everything goes to pot. Even then, the tale is so unbelievable that it has to be true.

The partying is riotous. They go crazy in every conceivable way, and some you've probably never thought of. They do an incredible amount of drugs, make an insane amount of money, have a lifestyle you can only gawp at. The film has, apparently, a record number of instances of the word "fuck". They come across as a bunch of guys who managed to find a way to never grow up, and you're secretly rooting for them the whole way, even as you know you shouldn't. Directed and produced by Scorsese, the lead role is taken by Leonardo DiCaprio, who powers his way through this film. He has the presence to carry it - few would. His protégé is played by Jonah Hill, his second wife by Margot Robbie, who also played the unattainable young woman in About Time. Matthew McConaughey does a hilarious star turn as his boss. Kyle Chandler plays the FBI agent out to get him. Even Joanna Lumley shows up as his wife's aunt, whom he uses to smuggle money to Switzerland at one point, out of the FBI's clutches. Yup, half the world wants to be in this film.

Highly recommended - as long as you're not easily offended. Just hold onto your hats. I was glad I hadn't waited until after to go to the toilet - there were queues for that now. And as for whether it's realistic? I overheard the guy who'd been sitting beside me, as we were making our slow way out, compare Belfort's drug use to what he was accustomed to.. slightly different pharmaceutical product, same idea. I hear the bankers of the world are flocking to see this. Who can say whether it's for educational purposes, as a cautionary moral tale, or just to see themselves reflected on screen?

Well! After joining the massing hordes to see the two films I've seen over the last two days, I'm taking a break from film for a change! Tomorrow, I've booked to see a play called The Day Shall Declare It. It's a series of short plays by Tennessee Williams, staged in Marylebone, by a pop-up theatre company, so, with no guarantee that I'd be able to get a ticket at the door - it not being a regular theatre - I said I'd better book. It's a walkthrough performance, staged in different rooms. I like those, they tend to be intimate. And on Thursday, I'm going to something a bit more traditional - a Sondheim revue called Putting It Together, at the St James theatre. That's the one where I make sure to sit on the aisle - I didn't manage to get a cheap, back row seat this time though, but am on the aisle further down. Cheapest tickets available from the venue website.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Film: Waar

Waar is only showing in about five Cineworlds in London, of which the closest to me is Wandsworth, so that's where I went tonight Considering it's so highly rated, it had to be worth a look.

Now, we've had some bathroom trouble lately in the flat, one instance of which involved my flatmate breaking the pull-cord for the light and having to pay for an electrician to fix it - only to discover that the letting agent would have provided an electrician gratis! If only she'd told us.. anyway, while he sulked in his room, I took myself off early to the cinema.

A handy bus each way meant I was there in plenty of time. And, unlike other places I could name, I had no problem with the ticket machine. So I was quite early for the film. This, and the size of the queue into the screens, meant I took advantage of the toilet facilities beforehand.

Were all those people queueing for Waar? Quite possibly. Certainly, the screen, which was quite large, was also quite full. I grabbed a seat in the row with the aisle in front of it - plenty of legroom. And, after hardly any ads at all, the film started.

The highest-grossing film ever in Pakistan, and the highest-rated film of the last year on IMDB, Waar is an action-adventure, based on true events, dealing with Pakistan's fight against the Taliban. This is, in more ways than one, a film of two halves. Firstly, because, despite it being only about two hours long, there is an intermission. Always, with Indian / Pakistani films! This may be why there weren't many ads beforehand, actually - if there had been, we'd have been there all night!

Secondly, the film divides into two distinct halves. The second half is noticeably more action-packed, and that's where I thought the film improved dramatically. Possibly largely because, in the long exposition scenes in the first half, much of the dialogue was in Urdu. See now, I was wondering why, although Cineworld generally mentions when films have subtitles, it said nothing for this one! What they've done is put the film largely in English - but some scenes, with politicians or Taliban members, would have done much to flesh out the film for non-Urdu speakers. Like me. Instead, there are many scenes where we're left wondering what everyone is laughing at, because there are no subtitles. Pity. In particular, I would have been fascinated to know what they had the Taliban saying. They seemed mainly to be making fun of them, but it was hard to tell precisely.

So anyway. Does it deserve 9.5/10, as it has got on IMDB? No, but I wasn't expecting it to. Maybe a 7 - it is a good film, but some of the music, and a lot of the acting, is just a bit cheesy to Western tastes. Having said that, there are some moving moments, and the action is thrilling. This is almost the only time I've seen the Taliban actually depicted in film - mentioned, sure, but we hardly ever see them. Only, generally, in films made in that part of the world. And I must say, there's something very novel - and satisfying - about watching a training camp, in the mountains, populated by men with long beards, turbans, white shalwar kameez, and machine guns, get blown to kingdom come. Another first for me, in this film, is an up-close depiction of a suicide bomber. "Idiots", the Pakistani woman beside me muttered as the two women strapped on their explosives. But it is gripping cinema, as she strolls into a canteen, moving unobtrusively to the centre, then we have a close-up, she smiles, closes her eyes.. and the place goes up in flames. Wow. Oh, and the attack on the police academy - based on a real-life attack in Lahore in 2009 - is absolute gold. That section is worth seeing the film for, all on its own.

As I say, the cinema was crowded, and we had the usual crowd problems. Phones constantly ringing - do they never learn? and a baby that would not stop crying! On and on.. eventually it stopped, they must have left. Really, I know it's hard to get a babysitter, but this is hardly suitable viewing for small people. But their reaction at the end was interesting. As the film drew to a close, I hadn't a hope of hearing what the lead actor was saying, for all the clapping, cheering, whooping and hollering going on around me. And that was nothing to when he stopped speaking, and this roar erupted all around! I can compare it to nothing but a rock concert. No wonder it has such a high rating on IMDB..! I have never seen a reaction like this to a film. What is it, I wonder - hatred of the Taliban?

Tomorrow, something completely different. The Wolf of Wall Street, finally. In my local Cineworld, this time, so I can walk.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Film: Take Care of Your Scarf, Tatjana

It was pouring this evening, so if I hadn't already booked to see Take Care of Your Scarf, Tatjana, I mightn't have bothered. But I had booked, it having already half sold out, so off I ventured, into the rain, dodging the large puddles when a fast moving vehicle was ploughing towards them. It was at the BFI, which meant catching the Tube - which I did from West Kensington, being the closest station to work, and given that it was on early enough that I left from there.

Handily enough, they now distribute Evening Standards at the entrance, I see! Good idea - they typically store them a bit down from the entrance, and I, for one, didn't realise for ages that they had them at all! I was waiting a bit for the train, and when it came, it was the most packed train I've been on for a long while. The hazards of leaving at rush hour. Anyway, I squashed on, and indeed, was lucky to have got on there, considering the crowds later. There were a number of stations where there just wasn't room for everyone to get on - St James's Park was a notable example. And for most of the journey, I felt like a sardine. It was a relief when my stop finally came. And it wasn't raining - although it did start again when I was about halfway across the bridge. Not as heavy as before, though.

I knew my time to get to the film would be tight. It was scheduled to start at 6.20, and the BFI has a strict policy about latecomers. It states in the terms and conditions that you can be up to 10 minutes late, and I just made it within that timeframe. With the Tube being so crowded, you see, it had slowed things down, or I'd have done better. Longer times for people to get on and off, more people getting trapped in doors, which meant they opened again and departure was delayed. The BFI also warns that, if you're late, you may not get the seat you booked. That's what happened to me - I was let in, but they don't like to have latecomers push past others, and since there was someone at the end of my row, I was asked to take a seat at the front, since the front two rows had no-one at the aisle. Fair enough, and I sat in the second row, which was fine. And someone else came into the front row a couple of minutes later. I must conclude, though, that they've relaxed their latecomers ban, because a third woman arrived about half an hour in, and sat in the front row! obligingly ducking so as not to obscure others' view.

So, this film is about a couple of Finns who decide to go for a drive. I was too late to see their precise motivation. The film is set, by the look of it, in the 60s and is shot in black and white. They're a dopey pair. They duly pick up a pair of female hitchhikers (one of whom is called Tatjana), who set about flirting with them, but this pair are as oblivious as can be, with barely a word out of them, despite the girls' efforts. Will the ladies ever have their way? Basically, it's a pleasant, deadpan comedy. Catch it on telly, if it comes on and you have a free hour and a bit - it's not terribly long.

And so, back to Ireland for the weekend, where it will probably rain even worse than here. Next Monday, I was expecting that the highest rated film would be The Wolf of Wall Street, so imagine my surprise when it turned out to be a Pakistani film, Waar - apparently the highest grossing film ever in Pakistan, it's based on the true story of the fight against the Taliban. So I'm going to see that instead. By bus, and not at rush hour, so shouldn't have the trouble I had tonight!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Film: The Railway Man

It was raining quite badly in the middle of the day today, so I researched bus routes to and from the cinema. Fortunately though, it was fine in the evening, and I ended up walking both ways.

It was my first time buying a ticket from the machine at the Odeon, and my problem was that I wanted to add points to my card as well. It was a bit of a palaver, but I figured out how eventually. And I was peckish, having come straight from work, so bought a packet of Rolos on my way in. And made sure I got points on those, too! There was someone wandering around to take tickets, so I got my ticket checked fairly immediately for once, and I was in Screen 5, which is one of the closest to the lobby, so for once, no traipsing all over the cinema. When I got in, I was surprised at the size of the screen, which was tiny! for the size of the room, anyway. So I sat third row from the front - further forward than anyone else there.

The Railway Man is an excellent film, I'm happy to say. It stars Colin Firth as a war veteran, with baggage from his time in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. He marries Nicole Kidman, who's shocked to see how badly he's been damaged, and who seeks the help of another veteran, Stellan Skarsgard, who has founded the local veteran's club, and is able to tell her much of what happened to her husband during the war. Jeremy Irvine, whom you might remember from War Horse, does a decent job of playing Colin Firth's younger self. But it's really Colin himself who steals the film - he's electrifying every time he's on screen, playing an unpredictable character.

Towards the end of the film, the story started to sound familiar to me, and I realised that I read about the real story in the papers some years back. Apparently, this guy wrote a book about it, and this is the film of the book. He died in 2012.. I won't give away any more of the details, but it's a great story.

Tomorrow evening, I've booked to see Take Care of Your Scarf, Tatjana. Showing at the BFI again, it's apparently a Finnish road movie. Well, fine by me! And then it's back to Ireland for the weekend..

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Film: Child's Pose

I fully determined to go to The Missing Picture last night - but was so soaked in a thunderstorm (with hail) on the way home from work that I said sod it, I couldn't be bothered. So, given that I didn't have it booked, I stayed in.

However, tonight I had booked to go to Child's Pose, at the BFI. When I checked, it was half sold out already - and indeed, I ended up getting the last of the cheap Tuesday tickets! Which then led me to the BFI booking conundrum. You see, you're hit three times if you book with BFI. First, they suggest you might like to donate an amount equal to 10% of the ticket price. OK, that's not unreasonable. Then they charge you a booking fee. Finally, they suggest you might like to make another donation! Now really. I drew the line at the third charge on this occasion - this was the first time I'd seen them add three charges! but the booking fee is the only compulsory one, and I added 10% of the ticket price to that.

Déja vu tonight - the same announcement at West Brompton station about the indicator on Platform 2 maybe not showing correct information. This time though, it was. When we got to Earl's Court, the obliging driver informed us that we would be held a while there, and the train on the other platform was leaving first - which, of course, led to a stampede to the other train. How unusually helpful.. that train was more usually used for the Circle Line, by the décor, and the fact that it was newer and more spacious than the other. Made a nice change. I panted my way up onto the bridge at Embankment - not yet used to it after the Christmas break - and felt some spots of rain as I was crossing the river.

Made the BFI in good time and got my ticket. I had to ask where the screen was - I've never been in the Studio before. She wasn't actually quite sure herself! but spotted it just across from the ticket desks. So I made my way in. Although my row had been sold out - apart from the seat I booked and a couple at the other end - the middle ended up being empty. Maybe they hadn't fancied coming out in the rain. Of course, I would be beside the overweight, middle-aged man with the loud breathing. Why does that happen to me so often..?

Being the BFI, they provide program notes at the entrance to every screen. I had time, for once, to read the notes for this, which pointed out that the lead actress is well known in Romania for small roles, but this was her first starring role. Well, I must say, she plays a blinder. It's a terrific character study. She is the domineering, well-to-do mother, who, upon learning that her son was involved in a road accident in which a young boy was killed, immediately goes into overdrive, protecting him, massaging the facts, bribing whoever needs to be bribed. The film is less about the legal case, and more about her fight with her son over who really gets to run his life. Very telling, very real. The stand-out scene is where she has a heart-to-heart with her son's girlfriend, of whom she has never approved, but who, in this scene, quietly tells her some home truths. As the notes say, the temptation would be to turn this mother into a harridan - but she's actually quite sympathetic, and the story is told from her point of view. A film well worth a look, if you come across it.

It was pouring as I came home, but nothing as bad as yesterday..

Well, it's looking like a film again tomorrow - I would have gone to see the film I was going to see last night, but it's only showing in the afternoon tomorrow, so that's a no-go. Instead, the plan so far is to go to The Railway Man, in which Nicole Kidman falls for Colin Firth, before learning that he has baggage, in the form of time spent in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp. It's on at the Odeon, so I can collect more points. I notice, however, that as well as hiking the number of points required for free screenings, they've ended member discounts! All of which makes being an Odeon member that much less attractive.. The night after, I've booked at the BFI again, this time for a fetchingly named flick called Take Care of Your Scarf, Tatjana, from Finland. (This time, I gave no donation at all!) A very mixed bag, this week, then - and back to Ireland for the weekend.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

London Ice Sculpture Festival

Went to the London Ice Sculpting Festival today, in Canary Wharf. Catching the Tube from West Brompton, I again listened to the announcement warning us not to believe the indicator on Platform 2. Oh, why don't they just dismantle it and have done with it?!

Changed at Monument station for the DLR, which was well signposted, and soon found myself in Canary Wharf. And completely lost - the map supplied on the Ice Festival website was pretty useless, and there were no signposts from the station. Still, I figured out which way to go, and to be fair, despite the high buildings, it's not a large area and it wasn't more than about five minutes before I found a sign saying "Ice Sculpture Festival", with a big arrow on it. Which was all I needed.

First thing I saw was an ice "graffiti wall", where, under supervision of people who apparently knew what they were doing, you could chisel messages or whatever. After that, it was just a case of follow the crowd, down to the main display area. There were only about eight or nine competing teams - from different countries, each was working on a large sculpture. A PA informed us that, if they got finished early, they'd start on a small block, to "display their skills". Some seemed to have started earlier than others, or worked faster - while a couple were finished by the time I left, some seemed only half done! I do wonder whether they all got finished in time - I watched several people working on the sculptures, and there's an amount of work involved! Chainsaws first, for the large cuts, chisels for the finer work, smoothing and polishing, till it looks like clear glass..

After an initial pass through, the food market at the end looked inviting. I had an Argentinian beef empanada, followed by a crepe, followed by a (large) hot chocolate with all the trimmings. All of which were delicious. There was a bar, and had it been warmer I'd have had a white wine, but under the circumstances, heat was the priority. It was FREEZING! Mind you, what else can you expect at an ice sculpting festival? The ice was melting as they were working on it. But that breeze coming off the docks was cruel. The same breeze that hurried me on yesterday evening, as I browsed the bookstalls outside the National Theatre after the play. Really, you can't stay out long in it. I made another pass through, and was pleased to see they'd made quite a bit of progress - snapped off some shots (link below) and then scurried for the station to get home asap.

Photos are here:

Tomorrow is looking like a rather curious film, The Missing Picture, whose closest showing is in the Ciné Lumiere. From what I can gather, it uses clay figures to depict the Khmer Rouge's regime in Cambodia. Then on Tuesday, I'm going to see a Romanian film, Child's Pose, in the BFI.. at least I'll be indoors, eh?

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Play: From Morning to Midnight

Today, I went to see From Morning to Midnight at the National Theatre.

I left in good time to catch the Tube, which was a good thing, considering the confusion at West Brompton station. I've spoken before about the electronic indicator on Platform 2, which almost never gives the correct information, and I did wonder, as I descended the stairs to the platform today, whether they'd fixed it. Anyway, it indicated that the next train was to Edgeware Road, and that there was a train to town a few minutes after. Goodee. Except, after the Edgeware Road train pulled out, there was another of those announcements not to trust the platform indicator. And then it started working, and changed its mind, now telling us that there would be another two trains in the Edgeware Road direction before the next train to the city. As proved to be the case. Really, do they need that many trains to Edgeware Road? Any day of the week?

Anyway, I was still in time. Panted my way up the steps to the bridge (it's been a while), and threaded my way through the crowds to the theatre. Beautiful, sunny day, although breezy. I made my seat with four minutes to spare - an unusual experience for me. I was third row from the very back, upstairs, but dead centre and with a great view. There are no bad seats here, and I'm happy to take a cheap seat - book with the venue for cheap seats for this show, unless you get a special offer.

And so to the play. I didn't pay much attention when I was booking this - I'm generally willing to give things a shot, if first impressions are good - and while the review on Time Out wasn't terrific, it did say that it was visually stunning, which was enough for me. Turns out it's an example of German expressionist theatre, and indeed one of the most frequently performed of its kind. Now, I don't know much about expressionism, but from the evidence of this play, it can be summarised as "anything goes"!

So basically, it concerns a humble bank clerk, who does his job day in, day out, until one day his world is shaken by the arrival of a beautiful, exotic Italian woman, needing a cash advance of a sizeable amount of money. However, the authorisation from her home bank has not yet arrived, and the manager sends her away, promising to contact her when the authorisation comes through, but actually disbelieving of her story. The clerk, in a moment of madness, seizes his chance, and embezzles a huge amount of money, with the aim of helping her out, and with the thought that they can run away together.

However, it turns out that she is on the level, and he has condemned himself unnecessarily. Moreover, she has no interest in him. The thought of just returning to his humdrum life appals him, and he decides to use the money to have "an experience" - so he embarks on a series of experiments to see what kind of experience money can buy.

They're right - it is visually stunning. I initially thought I'd booked for a dance performance - for a long period at the beginning, there is no dialogue, and the movements are choreographed. But it looks terrific. Later, the dialog begins, but the visuals are still breathtaking, and inventive. Particular praise belongs to how they depict a snowstorm, and a cycle race. Sit back and prepare to be stunned. The ending was a bit unsatisfying for my taste, but that's not to take at all from what went before. Cheaper tickets until next Wednesday, then runs until the 26th. Go see, give yourself a treat!

Tomorrow, I'm off to the London Ice Sculpting Festival, in Canary Wharf. If the weather is like today, it'll be a treat! And I'm keen to see how the sculptures look against the skyscrapers of the financial district. And how they look in the evening, when it's getting dark and the area is lit up. Which reminds me, must check my camera battery is charged.. and remember to take it..!

Friday, 10 January 2014

Film: 12 Years a Slave

Tonight, I went to see 12 Years a Slave in my local cinema. At least I already had my ticket, so no dramas tonight! (See last night's post.)

I arrived two minutes before the scheduled showing time, and joined a steady stream of people coming to see the same film. I wouldn't have liked to be much later - the cinema was already mostly full. So, for the sake of getting a good seat, I advise early arrival - until the fuss dies down, at least. Of course, the large crowd meant some annoyances - a steady thump-thump of people plodding out to the toilet (and in again), and a couple of mobiles that weren't turned off. I saw one across the cinema from where I was, just as someone behind me called to them to please turn it off. Mind you, the couple right in front of me seemed to have their Blackberry on for the whole film. Honestly, if you're that uninterested, stay home and play with your Blackberry, and stop distracting the rest of us! Hate that.

Ah yes, the film. By this stage, everyone knows the story - it's based on the true story of a black violinist from New York state, who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. And in slavery he languished, for 12 years, until he chanced across someone who agreed to help him, and he was saved. And duly wrote a book about it, which is now a film. There are a few famous faces in this - Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Fassbender as a violent drunk, married to an embittered Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt, Alfre Woodard, whom I thought I knew from somewhere and it turns out to be True Blood - but the film belongs to the lead actor, who plays the unfortunate, wrongly enslaved man Solomon Northup.

At the start of the film, I wondered at the lack of emotion. By the end, I realised why they'd underplayed it - any more emotion would have been overload. And anyway, this was just matter-of-fact to the whites in the business of trading in, or owning, slaves. It reminded me of the tv series Roots, in content and in intensity. The slave traders are as callous as you would expect, the slave owners can be kind or cruel, but ultimately are in the business of maintaining their own interests. Aren't we all, really? Personally, I found the plantation owners' wives interesting. They came across as kind, compassionate - but show them a slave that is considered wayward, and you will quickly see whose side they support.

All the scenes you would expect are here - the beatings, the running away, the rape. Two scenes merit mention. In one, the plantation owner is flaunting one of the slaves, with whom he is having an affair, in front of his wife, who demands he get rid of the slave or she will leave him. Whereupon she discovers just how little power she has, as he tells her that he would rather be rid of her than of the slave.

Another scene has our hero, before his kidnapping, out shopping with his family. A white man is passing the shop where they are. His slave is astonished to see these black people, unaccompanied by white masters, chatting to the shopkeeper. The slave enters the shop, as if in a trance. The shopkeeper thinks he is another customer, until his master misses him and comes to get him, apologising for the intrusion. Solomon tells him that's quite all right. The slave owner, unsettled by this black man speaking to him as an equal, ignores him, bids farewell to the shopkeeper, and leaves with his slave.

Telling, indeed. A very good film, particularly moving when he regains his freedom.

A break from films for the weekend - tomorrow, I'm heading to the National Theatre to see From Morning to Midnight, and on Sunday I plan to head to the London Ice Sculpting Festival, at Canary Wharf. Should be lovely, especially with the buildings of the financial district as a backdrop. And once the sun goes down, that's a lovely part of town, with the lights.. I see the Jubilee Line is partly closed on Sunday, for engineering works. I'd normally go that way, and Google Maps, for once, doesn't seem to know about the closure! but TFL is always reliable, and I like their suggestion to take the DLR. That'll be a first for me..

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Film: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Well, I finally got to see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty! If you recall, I was supposed to see it last month, but they gave away too many tickets, refunded me, and I went to Anchorman 2 instead, for free. And then we were to see it over Christmas, but the weather intervened. It was with some sense of relief, therefore, that I booked it for tonight (it being in Cineworld, who give booking discounts).

I saw it in my local, Cineworld Fulham. With the problem I had before with them scanning the printed ticket, I again decided to try the ATM. Well, this time, the one that worked before wouldn't take the card - probably because I had two bookings (I'm going there again tomorrow night to see 12 Years a Slave). The machine said I should go to the ticket desk. Problem was, all the desks were unoccupied. And the two staff members standing in the lobby just continued to stand there, looking at me, until I asked whether one of them could get me my ticket. In the end, I did get both.

And so to the film. Frankly, I didn't expect a Ben Stiller film to be this good. I like him, but his films are generally not what you'd call classics. Now, we all know the story. Walter, played by Ben (who also directs and co-produces), is a dreamer. Always going off into a daydream, then waking to find himself the butt of a joke, with people standing around staring at him, bemused. And there's this girl he fancies (Kristen Wiig), but whom he never has the courage to ask out. Shirley MacLaine plays his mother, Sean Penn the elusive photographer whom he must track down - Walter works for Life magazine, and an important photo taken by this photographer has gone missing. Oh, and Gore Verbinski is one of the executive producers.

The first thing that struck me was - this was made by people with impeccable comic timing. It's laugh-out-loud funny. In an understated way. Most of the comedies out there could learn a lot from this. We can all recognise Walter's humdrum everyday life - no wonder he daydreams! The daydreams themselves hold nothing back - they're completely audacious. Personally, I cracked up every time he woke from one of them to find everyone peering at him. And when he finally starts to live his dreams.. o my. Suffice to say one of the filming locations is Iceland. And does it look good.. Recommended, for those of us who love to dream.

Back outside, and in the ladies' toilets, the cubicle door on the left doesn't lock, and there was no soap in the dispenser. Bah humbug.

Anyway, as I say, 12 Years a Slave there tomorrow night. On Saturday, I'm taking a break from films and heading to the National Theatre for the first time in an age, for the matinee of From Morning to Midnight.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Film: Solaris (1972)

Tonight, I went to see the 1972, Russian, film version of Solaris, showing tonight only, in the Prince Charles Cinema. The lobby was crowded, as was the screen, but it's a large one, and I got a decent seat.

Well now. This was remade in 2002, by Steven Soderbergh, and starred George Clooney and Natascha McElhone. Indeed, someone remarked, as we were coming out, that he would never have understood this except for the Steven Soderbergh version. Truly, it does help to have an idea of the story when you go in.

Basically, the crew of a space station seem to have gone ga-ga, and someone is sent to investigate. When he gets there, however, he is plunged into a strange world of visitations by beings that shouldn't be there - such as his dead wife. It turns out that the planet has some sort of intelligence, and is creating these beings from the thought patterns of the scientists onboard the ship.

Ooh, freaky!

It's deeply cerebral, dealing, as it does, with the scientists' lack of connection with their inner selves, if you will, or with their humanity. Apparently, the original book also dealt with the idea of lack of communication between human and non-human species, but the filmmakers obviously decided that was a step too far for audiences and left it at the aforementioned, concentrating on the relationship between this freaked-out scientist and the recreation of his dead wife, who doesn't know who or what she really is.

It is fascinating, although I nearly fell asleep during the long exposition at the start. Too many late nights blogging! Things picked up once the dead woman appeared.

Films in my local cinema again for the next two nights - The Secret Life of Walter Mitty tomorrow, and 12 Years a Slave on Friday, which is the earliest I could get to it. This is a terrific time to go to the cinema, with awards season upon us and all the good ones released. So you should find that the quality of films in your local mainstream cinema greatly increases for the moment. On Saturday though, I'm taking a break from films for the day and heading to the matinee of From Morning to Midnight, showing at the National Theatre. It's quite a while since I've been there. Plenty of ticket agents are carrying tickets for this, but if you're not fussy where you sit, you're better off booking through the venue direct - that's where I found the cheapest tickets. Possibly other vendors offer good deals for top-price seats.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Film: American Hustle

Ahh.. finally got to see American Hustle tonight! In my local cinema, so I walked. Note to self: those shoes are not made for walking.. when I got there, decided to try the ATM, since I had some trouble handing them my scannable ticket last time. Well, they were the ones with the problem, trying to hold the scanner the correct distance away. Anyway, note to anyone using the ATMs in Cineworld Fulham - the one on the left doesn't read cards. The next one does, though.

And so, straight to the film.

What can I say? It's a classic. I currently have Donna Summer on loop, have been singing that song all the way home.. one reviewer described this as Scorsese, without the violence! I don't know what to praise most. The direction is terrific. David O. Russell strikes again. There are times when the framing is breathtaking. The acting.. o my. It's been a while since I longed for characters to come back on screen, just to see what they'd do next.

As the opening screen states - "Some of this actually happened". It's based on the Abscam sting operation of the late 70s, where the FBI tricked public representatives into taking bribes, believing they were doing business with a sheikh. To do this, they enlisted the services of a conman. The rules surrounding undercover operations were later tightened up, as a result of the events depicted here. In the film, Bradley Cooper is the rogue FBI agent with the crazy idea, pushing the stakes higher and higher. And my, but he can do crazy, with those big baby blues..

Our conman is a practically unrecognisable Christian Bale, with a paunch and a very complicated combover. He's married to Jennifer Lawrence, who doesn't really get much screen time, but does her part when she appears, as the dissatisfied, boozy wife. Instead, he's fallen for Amy Adams, who becomes his partner in crime - and what he lacks in sexiness, she more than makes up for. Her outfits were cut so low, I was sure the poor girl would get a chest infection. Let's just say she always had to be careful how she moved.. but I must give her credit, not many women can pull off a sexy scene with their hair full of rollers. (Oh, and she does a damn good English accent.)

Yep, that was just one surprising element of a film that was full of them. Robert de Niro showed up as the mob boss, uncredited. Amy Adams wasn't the only one with her hair full of rollers - Bradley Cooper was made to wear even more of them. There were laugh-out-loud moments, there's a terrific story twist. And throughout, the attention to period detail is phenomenal. Costumes, décor, electrical equipment. Took me right back. And the soundtrack.. that song I have on loop? Donna Summer - I feel love. In fact, I just bought that mp3 with the last of my Amazon Local voucher. Particularly in the second half of the film, the music just takes off!

Classic. Go see. And watch out for it at the Oscars..

To round off the evening, spotted our local fox again on the way home.

Don't have anything booked for tomorrow, but am thinking of another film - an oldie this time, the 1972, Russian, version of Solaris, the sci-fi film about the investigator sent to see why the spacecraft crew all seem to have gone insane. Supposed to be v good, and showing tomorrow only at the Prince Charles cinema in Leicester Square.