Remember the Alamo!

No, this isn’t a reference to THE Alamo in San Antonio. Actually, we didn’t make it there on this trip – I have a cunning travelling plan that involves deliberately missing out on interesting places so that I always have something to go back for (and a second Texan experience is already being planned in my head). People may think it’s a foolish idea, but it’s the reason why I still, despite two trips down under, haven’t been to New Zealand’s South Island.

The illuminating exterior 
& the joys of unlimited Hibiscus Mint Iced Tea and a box of Sour Patch Kids
The Alamo I did make it to and will forever remember was the Ritz Alamo Drafthouse, which provided me with a cinematic experience that will take some beating. And to think, I nearly let jet lag and an adverse reaction to mosquito bites overcome me!

Regular readers will know that I am a film fan but a cinema hater, the latter owing much to two significant factors:
1. The price of cinema going in London
2. The behaviour of people in the cinema

The Alamo overcame both these issues with aplomb. Firstly, the tickets to the late night, B-movie screening we attended were $2 – that’s like a 10th of what a central London ticket would cost. Secondly, they have very strict rules about behaviour…

The film we watched was the so-bad-it’s-good The Sword and the Sorcerer, which was introduced by a real-life person before it began. As he ended his intro, he recited the penalties for talking during the movie – which included physical violence – and the procedure patrons should follow should someone near them break the no talking rule. I had a sudden epiphany – I had heard of this place! It had certainly featured on Wittertainment during formulation of their code of conduct and hadn’t there been some brilliant story of a woman who’d fallen foul of the rule?

Later investigation revealed the details…
The discovery of the video below [NSFW by the way] brought it all back – I’d definitely watched this somewhere last summer. I love the attitude of a cinema chain who takes a situation like this and simply says “You know what? We don’t actually need customers like you, because most people want to watch films without talking, or light pollution from phones!”

Honestly, in no uncertain terms is this rule taken seriously. In the trailers that followed the film’s introduction (which were hilarious and featured everything that was bad with 1980’s mythology based film) our Austin hosts murmured something and were immediately called out – and it was on the trailers! I then resorted to note passing – using the paper provided for waitress service – in order to get the odd bit of info across to my neighbours. The guy in charge was sat behind us and sporadically moved into the aisle, watching our group like a hawk. Did he not realise that we were excellent film goers?!

It has to be said, it’s amazing just how difficult it is not to talk, especially in a film as ridiculous as the Sword and the Sorcerer. Here’s a sample of the dialogue: 
“My sword stands poised, Miss.” 

“My sheath is not a place I want you putting your sword in, Sir.” 
“But my sword is very very long… and I want to put it in your sheath for I am worried about it injuring someone if I leave it out.” 
“How long did you say your sword was?”
See, utterly ridiculous! (If you’re intrigued, I’ve checked and the entire movie’s available on YouTube.)

The other thing that makes the Alamo is the waitress service. Yes, waitress service, during a movie –
which requires no talking. The seats have a bar-like table running in front of you, on which are sat menus, paper and pens. Your waitress greets you at the start and explains the system – which boils down to choosing what you want (unlimited hibiscus iced tea, a bucket of beer, frozen margaritas or sour patch kids…), writing it down on a slip of paper, sticking it in a slot on the table, and waiting for the waitress to collect it. Genius. Even the payment at the end isn’t obtrusive.

Having endured many a miserable film experience, and knowing that the closest London gets to this kind of quality (the ‘Sceen on the…’ and Curzon chains) are still way, way behind, I’d like to begin a campaign to get something akin to the Alamo over here. Who’s with me?! At the moment I’ve got a select band of London friends and one in Oxford, but surely more would love to join?

"Isn’t everything a metaphor for a Christological meta-narrative?"

You know how, on Friday, I was going to watch HP7b in a nice, grown up cinema? I thought this would be a nice, grown up viewing with none of the irritating childish behaviour common to multiplexes. I was wrong. On arrival, there did indeed prove to be few children – however, there did appear to be a number of teenagers of a European tourist variety.

Three boys – possibly Swiss – sat in the seats nearest us and were annoying almost as soon as the film began. One kept talking (loudly) until his friends shushed him. Then a phone rang next to me, and was answered. Texts were sent and received. An hour or so later the phone rang again and was answered again. By this point I was on the verge of confiscating the phone for the duration, though apparently my companion would have stopped me if I’d gone for it (she could tell I was all set to go for it).

I would have been livid were it not for two things:
1. The grown up cinema has a bar, therefore we walked into the screening clutching an ice bucket containing a bottle of wine & two glasses. Classy. [I need to stop referring to the fabulous Everyman Screen on Baker Street as an ‘adult cinema’ as it suggests it shows porn. It doesn’t.]
2. I was greatly amused that some poor person developed hiccups at one of the film’s tensest moments. Whenever there was a moment of silence during the Battle of Hogwarts a distinct “hiccough” could be heard and this had me wiping away my tears and giggling.

This, people, is why the Wittertainment Code of Conduct is essential. All cinemas need to adopt it urgently and give staff (or customers, possibly) the right to enforce it:

Rant over.

Anyway, needless to say that HP7b was a wonderful experience. Laughter, tears and some fairly decent closure. All good. Plus, as I went with a colleague whose job title is ‘Evangelism in Contemporary Culture Officer’, it’s possibly unsurprising that it has resulted in some rather deep, possibly pointless, certainly controversial theological wonderings – a discussion on which Harry Potter characters might match figures from the Gospels/early church.

The discussion began last night after a couple of comments about Deathly Hallows’ theme of resurrection and how this related generally to resurrection theology – so far, so good. It’s fairly reasonable to relate the resurrection of a fictional character to Jesus’ resurrection. Then we went deeper and after a few minutes I made what was possibly a mistake – I mentioned it on Twitter. Cue an hour of frenetic tweeting amongst Twitter’s theologians…

We began with the following ideas:

  • Who was Peter? Originally Jo argued it was Neville [who makes a marvellous comeback in HP7b] yet Neville never denied Harry, so I suggested Ron – especially as during Deathly Hallows he abandons Hermione and Harry to their mission.
  • Who does Hermione fit? My first suggestion was Mary Magdalene, but we then decided that Ginny Weasley fitted her better. Hermione could be John, and, according to my theologian friend, HP7 is very ‘Johannine in terms of signs and wonders’.
  • Draco Malfoy is Saul/Paul. During the final battle with Voldemort, he’s still on the dark side – but he starts to soften after Harry saves his life in the Room of Requirement. In the epilogue he’s with Harry at the Hogwarts Express, so at some point along the way he must have had a complete conversion.
Then Twitter got involved, and the following thoughts cropped up, while me and Jo carried on our conversation on Facebook:

  • Some thought Dumbledore ought to be John; while me & Jo thought he was God; and someone else had him down as the Holy Spirit. Someone thought McGonagall ought to be God – resulting in a random idea of the trinity being Dumbledore, McGonagall & Harry…
  • Lucius Malfoy [we did comply with Wittertainment’s other Code and greeted Jason Isaacs when he appeared] as Pontius Pilate. He stands up to Harry, then washes his hands of it and walks away.
  • Percy Weasley as the Prodigal Son. (Though others felt this fitted Ron’s abandonment of Harry & Hermione better.)
  • We mused over Snape for quite a while, eventually landing upon Gabriel. (Especially interesting given as Rickman played Gabriel in the fabulous Dogma.)
  • Sirius Black as John the Baptist, paving the way for Harry. (There was a debate over whether Lily and James = Mary & Joseph that hasn’t been resolved yet.)
  • Bellatrix Lestrange as Herod – after all, not only is she responsible for Sirius’ death, but also the massacring of many innocents…
  • Cedric Diggory as Stephen the Martyr.
  • Dobby the House Elf as the Samaritan Woman at the Well. Or, the more I’ve thought about it, the leper who came back and said thank-you after Jesus healed a group of them…

It was after I told C this last one this morning that he informed me that “you need to stop thinking about this”. He may have a point, but it was a lot of fun and probably a good distraction for Jo as she faces a Phd viva in two days time! Some tweeters worried that we were taking this seriously – we were not – and besides, people have already written many, many books on the subject. All good fun though, and just goes to show that my theologian parents really ought to get on board and read the books themselves.

Can I write essays on this sort of thing at theological college?

If you only see one film

There’s a classic film review cliché: “the only film you’ll need to see this year”, which is utterly ridiculous because firstly, why would you ‘need’ to see a film and secondly, what are the chances that there’d just be one out of the hundreds of movies released annually?

However, having seen just the one film in the last year (well, 14 months actually) I can say that I’m thoroughly happy with my choice. Africa United (12A, 88mins) is the story of five children from various parts of Africa who trek from Rwanda to the opening of the World Cup. Along the way, the film touches upon the issues of HIV/AIDS, child soldiers, prostitution, poverty and war – but by no means is it an ‘issue’ film.

The cinematography is stunning, doing justice to a beautiful part of the world. It also incorporates animation sequences, telling a story that Dodo (pronounced ‘do-do’, not as in the extinct creature) makes up for the other children along the journey. Made out of objects the animators discovered in Rwandan markets, it makes the film stand out as more than a travelogue. The story, though simple, is captivating and the characters so engaging that it’s impossible not to empathise with them. Dodo is a fabulous individual – a self-styled football manager, obsessed with the beautiful game, with speech that’s littered with football malapropisms as well as random NGO speak. The opening scene in which he teaches boys how to make a football out of a condom and a carrier bag is in turns hilarious and poignant – setting the tone for the rest of the film.

It also made me cry. (This isn’t that unusual, I’m quite secure in my habit of letting tears flow during films, it’s immensely cathartic.) I’m not going to give anything away, but the final 15mins really tugged at my heartstrings, to the extent that I nearly cried again after the film, when I realised the impact one event would have had on another character…I was probably thinking a little too much.

I suppose I should confess that I might be a tad biased. The film is directed by someone who goes to my church – and various friends were involved at points in its development, including my lovely wise friend providing vocals for the soundtrack. (Plus, my church gets a thank-you in the credits.) Thanks to this connection, we had a private screening followed by a Q&A with the director in a West End cinema last night. This is also what managed to get me into a cinema for the first time in over a year…

I love films, but I hate the cinema. I know I’ve ranted about this before (last time I went, in fact), but the more I listen to the Wittertainment podcast and Mark Kermode’s rants about cinema goers, the more I dislike the idea of going. Not to mention the fact that a central London cinema ticket costs £11.50 – for £10 you can see a more than decent play at the National Theatre.

But last night was a beautiful experience. True, the fact that the whole screen had been hired by a church made it feel a little like a Sunday school outing, but it also meant that I knew most of the audience. [An exceptionally random moment being when I bumped into girls I’d already spent two of the previous three evenings with, who don’t actually have any connection with my church.] This meant that even if people did misbehave, no one had any qualms in telling them off. No one kicked the seats, played with their phones, ate gross smelly food, there were no children…it was bliss.

The nature of the audience also provided one amusing moment. In a scene where the children are in a boat on Lake Tanganyika, one character tosses his phone into the water (he’s a middle class Rwandan and the only one with a phone). This took place just minutes after an encounter with a big cat, yet which got the loudest reaction? Big cat – muted gasps. Throwing a phone away – loud gasps and genuine shock. Such is the technologically dependent character of 20-something Londoners.

Even better, the usual post-film discussion (which I usually fair badly in, as it takes me about 24 hours to process whatever I’ve just watched) was avoided because all the questions you’d raise in the pub were instead raised with the Director in person. So now I know how they filmed the scenes at the World Cup, what the budget was, how the animators got their inspiration and that one of the leads was a chance discovery in Norwich.

Articles on the film are littered across the internet and newspapers, so you should be able to find information if you’re interested, plus the writer’s also interviewed on this week’s Wittertainment. Or, just watch the trailer. But if you get the chance, go see it – especially as Pathé will donate 25% of the film’s profits to Comic Relief, so it’s properly worthy too!

The supermarket challenge…

I love films, but I have become a very lazy watcher of them over the last 6 months. Once upon time I’d watch several a week – sometimes up to three in an evening – but that was because I spent a lot of time at the home of a die-hard cinema buff. As a result I was exposed to plenty of films that I’d never normally choose, often pleasantly surprised that I in fact liked stuff I’d assumed I’d hate. (Like Kill Bill or Straightheads.)

Recently I’ve missed this variety. Left to my own devices, I either watch nothing, or simply re-watch old favourites. (This could explain why, in recent months, I’ve watched, amongst others: Legally Blonde 1&2, My Girl 1&2, Notting Hill and When Harry Met Sally.)
As a way of escaping this tedium, I’ve devised a game. It’s called “how good a film can you buy for under £5 in the supermarket?”. Both my local Tesco & Asda do good budget films and it’s a highlight of the otherwise dull grocery shop (when your trolley is full of low-fat stuff, DVDs are a real excitement).
There have been good buys: today I found Steel Magnolias for £2 – a classic for a bargain price (watched it this afternoon and cried buckets!). Then less good ones: a couple of weeks ago I found Prime for £3 – I figured that as it starred Meryl Streep I couldn’t go wrong. Turns out I could. (Dull, predicatable, Streep plays a stereotypical Jewish therapist and I can’t remember how it ended.)
I’m wondering if I should continue this game – you don’t often get truly artistic classics for under a fiver, just chick-flicks – or whether the time has come to sign up to LoveFilm or similar. I need to diversify and put more effort into my film-watching. I love foreign language films (and have a couple waiting to be watched on the shelf) but my multi-tasking approach to life makes watching them difficult. You can’t read subtitles whilst carefully painting your nails or playing on Facebook…
I’ve also decided I need recommendations and/or people to watch movies with who’ll encourage me to branch out a bit, so suggestions are welcome! (For films, not people to watch them with!) In the meantime, I’m going to make the most of having two long-haul flights in the next couple of weeks which should entail plenty of film watching possibilities.

G&T with HP

I don’t go to the cinema often. In fact, as I took my seat this afternoon, I figured it was probably exactly a year since my last visit. (A visit, en famille, to see Mamma Mia in Belfast.) One of the reasons for this, I think, is that it’s actually not a very pleasant experience.

For one, it’s expensive. Even in Surrey Quays (which I can assure you is the London equivalent of the middle of nowhere) an adult ticket costs over £8. Extortion. Secondly, all the food and drink is over-priced – and bad for you. Thirdly, there are other people there. Other people who you can’t even choose, they’re forced upon you, with their noise, smell and irritating children (and their inability to not go to the toilet for two hours).
On top of that, cinema seats are downright uncomfortable. I’d far rather be ensconsed on my sofa, with cushions & blankets, rather than annoying seats with plastic arms. This is why I was so impressed when this week I discovered ‘VIP Cinema’ on another blog. It’s a genius thing! In Bangkok they have cinemas with beds, it looks exactly how cinema seats should be given the amount of time you spend in them and the amount of money you shell out for them. I’m almost tempted not to go to the cinema again until we get them!
But you know what made today’s trip bearable? (Apart from the gripping-ness of Harry Potter and my endless listing of ways in which it differed from the book, obviously.) G&T in a can. Yes, I took my own booze with me. It’s been around for a while (it makes long train journeys a lot more entertaining), but only recently with slimline tonic, which is my preference. Spotting some in Sainsburys today I thought it was an ideal accompaniment to my viewing.
And, on the subject of Harry… [Possible spoiler alert depending on your sensitivities!]
  • Yay for the Millenium Bridge scene and the indication that Diagon Alley’s in Covent Garden – something I had long suspected.
  • Nay for the way over-done teenage angst which is definitely only a minor part of the book. Dumbledore making comments on Harry’s lovelife (and stubble!!)? I don’t think so.
  • Yay for the scenery and the fact that the Great Hall is still the room in which I had choir rehearsals on Monday nights for many years.
  • Nay for the ending – no fight? No Bill Weasley being attacked by a werewolf? No funeral?!??
  • And yay, yay, yay for Alan Rickman! (Though, is it bad that I came away with the tiniest crush on Ron??)
But immensely watchable all the same. How long till the next one? Oh heck. I think I might reach the dreaded 30 before it appears…that’s depressing.
[And P, sorry I went without you & Annabelle, but I had the day off & couldn’t resist!]