The older you get, the harder it is to buy presents for someone; birthdays and Christmas become less of a celebration and more of a tightrope walk between disappointment and frustration. Philippe Petit has nothing on someone trying to get a gift that’s surprising and thoughtful, yet wanted.
Thank Dawkins Warner Bros. decided to turn Leavesden Studios into a dedicated museum to the Harry Potter movies. At least this year, Ang’s birthday didn’t involve the words Frack, What and The.
Housed in two gigantic buildings, the Harry Potter Experience contains almost every piece of Harry Potter arcana that any fan might want to see, including a fully dressed Great Hall, Diagon Alley, and the scale model of Hogwarts used during filming. The latter really has to be seen to be believed: fifty feet wide, the size of a very large room, and with two and a half thousand optic fibres inside, it took eighty-six artists a total of seventy-four man years to create.
Even more breathtaking, once you go outside you can stand in Privet Drive itself while looking at the Knight Bus and the cottage where the story began. In a moment of marketing genius, Warner Bros. have allowed the taking of photographs, which means that most of the people will have their experience looking through an iPhone screen whilst screaming.
The Harry Potter Experience certainly is worth a visit even if you aren’t as foaming-at-the-mouth of a fan as Ang, though it’s likely to turn you into a confirmed agoraphobic as the sheer numbers of people passing through makes it feel like rush hour on the Central Line. If you do go, steer clear of the butterbeer.
Remember the last time you saw a movie without knowing anything about it? No, me neither – it’s impossible to see anything these days without having been subjected to a six-month long campaign of press junkets, teasers, trailers, and even teasers for the trailers. The Internet has turned the wait for a new movie, book, or television series to come out into a gauntlet of neck-bearded, socially maladroit, anonymous sources rushing to gain whatever kudos they think exist for leaking story details on to the internet so that by the time you finally smack your £10 down on the counter you know everything that will happen. And that’s just Ain’t it Cool News.
You owe it to yourself, your children, and their children’s children to go see this movie without knowing anything more than this: it’s about five college students (including Thor himself) who go off to the woods for a weekend to blow off steam, then BAD STUFF HAPPENS. Then very good stuff happens. Trust Joss, he’s given us Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse, and soon Avengers Assemble (a silly name in the UK to avoid audiences expecting Honor Blackman and Patrick Macnee; as if they could fight crime at their age) so just go and be blown away by the best horror since…
It wasn’t familiarity with my birthplace that make it hard to suspend disbelief, even though Gina Carano‘s teaky depiction of rogue agent Mallory appeared to run around Dublin with nothing but contempt for natural laws of geography. In one chase sequence she appeared to have crossed the Liffey three times without using a bridge, which can only mean that Aperture Science has joined Amazon, Facebook and Twitter in basing their European offices there.
It wasn’t even the fact that a room at the Shelbourne Hotel was trashed and no-one bothered to complain until the following morning. “Calm down,” I muttered, “it’s still more realistic than Leap Year.”
No, what made me realise that this was pure fantasy was the fact that Grafton Street still had shops open and people spending money. There’s suspension of disbelief and then there’s the pure naivety of believing Ireland still has an economy.
What about the rest of the movie? Remember the sort of showthat would beon Saturday evenings on ITV in the eighties? That’s exactly it – Haywire felt like a pilot for one of those bloodless, gung-ho, let’s-shoot-a-lot-of-weapons-and-have-a-bit-of-fighting-before-bathtime and nothing more nuanced than a two-part episode of the A-Team.
I’m not saying the parts of the story wedged between the She-ra-esque set pieces were dull but, at one point, an actual tumbleweed rolled past in the mid-distance as Michael Douglas tried to exposit his way out of a paper-thin plot. Still, at ninety minutes, it’s not going to be too much of your life wasted.
Once a year, usually around my birthday, my parents come over to visit and make sure Ang hasn’t killed me yet. Now, there’s one trait all Irish people of a certain generation have when it comes to food: they’re not adventurous. A bit of meat, a few potatoes, and the odd carrot or growth of cabbage and they’re happy and there’s no-one more set in his ways than my father. To keep the peace, occasionally he’ll let us go for a meal in a Chinese restaurant (only because he was in one once in 2001 and it didn’t kill him). This has become one of the highlights of my poor mother’s year, so when a new restaurant opened in Cambridge she couldn’t wait to drag him there.
Picture the scene as we waited for the menu. Me, Ang and mam drooling in anticipation after starving ourselves all day, putting on the elasticated pants and getting ready to take in a year’s worth of Weightwatchers points in one sitting. And my father, pulling at the leash like a dog who doesn’t want his walkies to end.
Then it arrived. The menu.
Oh dear God the menu.
Nothing was made from a part of the animal we’d use as by-product, let alone eat. Not the husband and wife starter (ox and cow tongue intertwined – one for Valentine’s Day). Not the roast maw. Not the medley of duck tongue, cow intestines, pigs trotters or any other item on a menu that started off exotic and gradually turned in to the effects department props from the Saw franchise. I’m pretty sure they’d just started making up internal organs by page six.
That’s the funny thing about Chinese food, none of it’s really authentic. Take General Tso’s Chicken. Apart from the name, there’s nothing Chinese about it, but it’s good and since I haven’t had it in a decade it had taken on godlike properties in my mind. After hearing me talk about it non-stop every time we got a take away, Ang made me find a recipe and get it out of my system. Mission accomplished – we need the elasticated pants.
Oh, and Dad’s excuse for leaving Seven Days before the seat cushions had warmed under us and fleeing to the steakhouse next door? No beer on draught.