In The Loop (Sat. evening Apr. 18, 2009, Odeon Kensington #4, 1.5 slithy toads) was a British movie that had gotten some decent reviews. I decided to go in part because I'd walked by the Odeon Kensington on every trip to London without ever actually seeing a movie there, and I decided it was high time. In that regard, I was able to peek in to the big screen (#3) and see that it is a very nice and very big balcony theatre that will be worth keeping in mind for the future. I wasn't sure I should go because this was a late show on the same day as my castle walk, and I was tired. And in that regard, In The Loop did not help keep me awake. It's a political satire spun off from a British TV show. A cabinet minister puts his foot in mouth about the war in Iraq. The media minister scolds him. Efforts to improve situation only make it worse. Minister is exiled to DC to a study committee on the war. Only makes things worse. The media minister curses up a storm wherever he goes, he's modeled after some minister in the Tony Blair cabinet but maybe for us in the US think of a minister who's Dick Cheney talking about Pat Leahy or Rahm Emanuel with his famous temper and then taken not just to 11 but to 18 on the dial. Most of the laughs (and not just to me but also the handful of other people in the audience) are from this one character's abundantly foul language. Otherwise, I don't want to say it's bad, but it's not very good either. It's just a little flat, the occasional chuckle or wry observation but badly in need of something more.
I've had good luck seeing movies at the Odeon Covent Garden, what used to be the ABC Shaftesbury Avenue. In fact, I believe the very first movie I ever saw in London was the delightful comedy East is East in 1999 at this theatre, and Arlington Road is another film I quite liked which I saw here. So let's add The Damned United (Sun afternoon. Apr. 19, Odeon Covent Garden, Aud. #1, 3 slithy toads) to that list. This is a sports movie with an excellent pedigree that is unlike any sports movie you might have seen in the US in the past 30 years. Michael Sheen, who plays David Frost in Frost/Nixon and Tony Blair in The Queen, here plays Brian Clough, a British football (i.e., soccer) coach who gets his dream job taking over the Leeds United team from his arch-rival, well-played by Colm Meaney. The script is by Peter Morgan (also Frost/Nixon, also The Queen) and director Tom Hooper did the highly regarded John Adams mini-series for HBO. So as I said, good pedigree, and I should also single out Timothy Spall who adds wonderful supporting work as Clough's right-hand man and Jim Broadbent is in the cast as well. So we all know this script, new coach takes over from arch-rival and it leads up to the big game where the new coach goes up against the old coach and wins dramatically. And since I wasn't familiar with Clough's real-life story (and this movie is adapted from a novel based on Clough's story by David Peace, said novel all over bookstores in the UK), I kept waiting eagerly for the movie to tick off all of the sports movie cliches I am so fond of and so used to. The big moment when the new coach goes up against the inherited players and makes the team his own. But you know what, that's not what happens. Clough fails miserably, the holdover players mutiny, management sides with the players, and several weeks into the season Clough is booted off the job and forced to beg his right-hand man whom he'd abandoned to take his dream job to re-up on their pairing. It's not really a sports movie at all but rather a fascinating character study of a man in need, who has to have someone or something to balance his insatiable drive and lacking that drives himself off a cliff. It's an excellent movie. I don't know if it will come to these shores, but if it does you should seek it out.
My final UK movie would be a treat no matter how the movie was because it was playing on the main screen at the Empire Leicester Square. This is one of the nicest movie theatres in the world, I feel safe in saying. It's a somewhat small scale version of Radio City, with a huge huge screen and wonderful sightlines and excellent sound. There are multi-colored lights in the auditorium that cycle thru so you can just admire that while you wait for the movie, and then as the film is about to begin the lights in the auditorim give way to a twinkling firmament above the screen. I love going to this theatre. It is a true Cinema Treasure. The movie was State of Play (Wed. eve. April 22, 2009, 2.5 slithy toads). This is a well-acted and well-made thriller with a frisson of old-time All The President's Men excitement and lots of appeal to a newspaper sentimentalist such as myself. The ending starts to tie itself up in a few knots too many. But Russell Crowe good, and Ben Affleck, and Helen Mirren, and Rachel McAdams, and Jeff Daniels. I could find quibbles, and I'm giving this only a moderately favorable rating instead of a very favorable one, but bottom line is that it is well-acted, it does entertain, and I would say to see this when it comes out on video.
If I were in London today, my ambivalence about seeing Terminator Salvation would resolve, because any movie you have even the tiniest desire to see, when you can do it on the big screen at the Empire you want to do it because the evening will be a special occasion regardless. I love the Empire.