TV Review: The Crown, Series 1

“To do nothing is the hardest job of all” 

It’s taken a little time to getting round to watching all of The Crown because, in a first for me, I found it impossible to binge-watch the show. Even with Netflix kindly providing offline downloads just at the point where I had a lot of travelling to do, Peter Morgan’s drama was lots of fun to watch but rarely captured the buzzy energy that has accompanied much online programming. Because it many ways it isn’t like much of Netflix’s previous output, it really is an encroachment into BBC Sunday night and as such, I felt it worked best spread out in almost weekly installments.

That’s partly down to the nature of the subject material, we’re not likely to get many surprises in a detailed retelling of the history of the House of Windsor. But it is also due to Morgan’s writing which tends a little to the formulaic, especially in the middle part of the series, which is when my interest was most in danger of waning. The opening two episodes started brightly but once the shock of becoming monarch was over, the rhythm became very much one of someone close to the queen has an issue and she has to weigh personal desires against public duty, the latter always winning out. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown, Series 1”

TV Review: The Crown Episodes 1 + 2

“The country needs to be led by someone strong”

You’d be hard-pressed not to know that Netflix have a new series called The Crown as a substantial portion of the £100 million plus budget has clearly been spent on blanket marketing coverage. And like a good punter brainwashed by adverts, I’ve watched the first two episodes to get a sense of what it is like.

Written by Peter Morgan and directed by Stephen Daldry, its credentials are impeccable and there is a slight sense of stepping on the BBC’s toes here, something alluded to in pre-show publicity that informed us the Beeb were less than willing to share archive footage from Buckingham Palace. But with as considerable and lavishly-spent a budget as this, the comparison isn’t quite fair as the ambitions here are most grand. Continue reading “TV Review: The Crown Episodes 1 + 2”

Short Film Review #36

Tortoise, written and directed by Andy Bloom, details the relationship between two teenage brothers who live a sheltered life deep in rural isolation. Things are made worse by the presence of their violent and unpredictable father, a brilliantly unlikeable Matthew Kelly, who dominates their every waking moment and so older brother Charlie, a steely-jawed Tom Hughes, has determined to escape the situation. Problem is the more fragile Billy, a cowed Rob Ostlere, isn’t completely sure and so they’ve waited for over a year until finally provoked once too many. Grim but reflective, a powerful reminder of how they fuck you up, your mum and dad. Sometimes. 

Small Things 
 
Another trip into Icelandic Cinema Online threw up this little gem, Small Things or Litlir Hlutir by Davíð Óskar Ólafsson. A Lantana-like confection, combining together disparate stories and characters into one interconnected world where one small thing for one person sets in chain huge events for others. Gripping stuff which you can watch for a euro here. http://icelandiccinema.com/watch/187  Continue reading “Short Film Review #36”

Short Film Review #35

Knowledgy

Another Icelandic short (it’s a slippery slope once I start on these things…) and this time it’s a jet black comedy. Hrefna Hagalín and Kristín Bára Haraldsdóttir’s Knowledgy follows a naïve Icelandic couple as they get suckered into an LA-based cult by the charismatic leaders (and the example of Ashton Kutcher). Following their every move is their lodger who is filming their story for his film project and provides an excellent external view into this ever-darkening tale.


Audiobook

Another short and sharp clip, James Spinney’s Audiobook is a wryly funny look at the recording of an actor’s memoirs. Daniel Ings’ arrogant Aussie is a volatile presence who threatens to completely overwhelm Oliver Stevens’ young sound technician with his over-inflated and easily-pricked ego. Stevens also wrote the film, which may be short but has a punchy sense of humour about it.


Eddie Loves Mary

A dinky little thing, Hannah Rothschild’s Eddie Loves Mary is a lovely sweet-natured film that wears its sentimental heart proudly on its sleeve. Kevin McNally and Gina McKee lead the cast but there’s a host of brief appearances from familiar faces like Steven Mackintosh, Anna Maxwell Martin and Stephen Mangan as we get closer to the mystery of who is spray-painting Eddie Loves Mary all over the place.


Grow Up

Ivan Madeira’s Grow Up serves as a really nice companion piece to Kate Tempest’s Wasted starring as it does Cary Crankson who appears in both. Grow Up is the precursor, a 10 minute blast through the trials of getting through the mundaneness of young adulthood and the onset of real life and responsibility. Lots of fun and full of astute observations.

Short Film Review #34

Korriró

The Icelandic Vesturport company are well known here for their theatre work – I’ve seen their collaborations on Faust and The Heart of Robin Hood – but they are also film producers, both long and short. The first of their shorts that I caught was Björn Hlynur Haraldsson’s Korriró as it starred two actors I’ve previously seen – Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir and Gísli Örn Garðarsson. Filippusdóttir plays a homeless woman who happens on an open garage door into a luxury home which offers a brief respite from the drudgery of her life. It is beautifully shot and uncompromisingly direct – confronting us all with our attitudes towards the homeless and those from whom we avert our gaze.


The Last Temptation of William Shaw

Described as a promotional trailer for the upcoming feature ‘My Power Animal is the Pigeon” (of which I can find no trace), The Last Temptation of William Shaw has the double whammy benefit of a shirtless Daniel Ings and an animated Ings too. A mixture of live action and animation from Alois Di Leo and Mat Rawlins, it’s only brief but intriguingly effective – I wonder if there’s any future life in the Pigeon. 

Gone to the Dogs

Liz Tuccillo’s Gone to the Dogs captures perfectly the most annoying aspects of the anthropomorphisation of having a dog, which seems to be becoming increasingly prevalent in our culture, whilst also managing to remind us of its sheer inconsequentiality. When a latecomer to a dinner party brings along her pooch as a plus one and brings him to the table, the scene is set for some serious debate about how far we’re willing to go for our animals and it is all engagingly good. Great stuff, and the presence of the ever-excellent Martha Plimpton makes it even better. 

Bloom

On paper, I ought to have really liked Bloom – a gentle rom-com in the making with shades of Little Shop of Horrors, but it never really quite manages to hit the mark. Amanda Root’s shy Helen is more than a little surprised when her tidy flat is taken over by marauding greenery and though she has never previously said a word to her neighbour, Richard Hope’s green-fingered Richard, it soon emerges he is her only hope. Emma Scott Robinson’s script doesn’t establish the characters well enough to make us care though and so it passes by amiably enough but never compelling. 

A Sunny Morning

Charlie Cox is one of those actors I wish I could see more of, he doesn’t work anywhere near enough for my liking (plus I haven’t gotten round to starting Boardwalk Empire yet) so I was glad to be able to spot him in a couple of shorts. Joseph Proctor’s A Sunny Morning is a simple two hander also starring Sophia Myles as a couple enter the aftermath of an argument with her having decided on something big. Clues are there – a copy of Hedda Gabler is on the nightstand next to her wedding ring – but as she and her husband chat, will her resolve falter? Cox is delightfully handsome as ever in his ruffled way but the film really belongs to Myles and her hugely expressive face, full of subtleties and emotion captured beautifully in Trevor Speed’s cinematography.

Review: The Hotel Plays, Langham Hotel

“The world is a circle, and everything comes back to where it started”

A soldier on leave, a lover in the cupboard, an actress in her dotage; newlyweds, mistresses, hucksters; satin pyjamas, warm croissants, endless liquor. Such is the stuff of many a hotel and in the plush surroundings of the Langham, London, all of the above and more can be found in Defibrillator Theatre Company’s revival of The Hotel Plays, a suite of three Tennessee Williams short plays performed in three suites in the hotel itself.

Site-specific performances are sometimes guilty of square peg round hole syndrome but here, the marriage of material and setting is perfect. The seating may not always be the most comfortable but that’s only right as we’re the ones eavesdropping on the private affairs unfolding in these most intimate of surroundings, flies on the wall of Williams’ mini-universes full of heartbreak, hedonism and heists. Continue reading “Review: The Hotel Plays, Langham Hotel”

Review: Macbeth, St Peter’s Church Manchester

“Thou call’st thyself a hotter name than any is in hell”

One of the big ticket numbers in the Manchester International Festival this year has to be the return of Kenneth Branagh to Shakespeare, with him taking on the role of Macbeth in a production that was surrounded in secrecy and full of advisory warnings to the lucky few with tickets such as “don’t wear any dry-clean only outfits”, “you may not leave your seat once it has started” and possibly the toughest given its 2 hour interval-free running time, “no toilets in the venue”. That venue has now been revealed to be St Peter’s Church in Ancoats, a deconsecrated space used by the Hallé orchestra to rehearse in and whilst the toilets may be five minutes away at Murray’s Mill where tickets are collected from, any fears of emerging from the show drenched in mud and/or blood were left unfounded.

One can see straightaway though why the warnings have been made. The audience is placed in traverse either side of an earth-covered aisle and within moments of the start, a huge battle rages just inches from the audience with rain pouring, mud churning and sparks flying as swords clash. It’s an incredibly visceral start to a frequently breath-taking production – co-directed by Branagh and Rob Ashford – which successfully marries tradition with innovation, reinvigorating rather than reinventing Shakespeare’s timeless tale of the corrupting influence of power and ambition. Ashford’s eye for theatrical spectacle is combined with Branagh’s acute Shakespearean expertise and together, create something uniquely special. Continue reading “Review: Macbeth, St Peter’s Church Manchester”

Short Film Review #11

The latest set of short films that have crossed my path.

I haven’t covered any animated films before, but the voice cast for Cooked was just too irresistible, featuring as it does Katherine Parkinson, Stephen Mangan and David Morrissey. And I’m glad I did as this tale of an everyday love triangle between a walrus, a lobster and a seal by German animators Jens & Anna is just adorable. My limited experience in the field makes the comparison with Aardman’s work a little lazy but it really does have some of the same fresh and quirky sense of humour about it and visually it looks really impressive, using a variety of techniques to create something that feels nicely different. At barely six minutes long, you should definitely give this a watch. Continue reading “Short Film Review #11”

Review: Howl’s Moving Castle, Southwark Playhouse

“I don’t cook! I’m a scary and powerful fire demon!”

Though not intended to be, this is a review of a preview. I was booked into the press night for Howl’s Moving Castle at the Southwark Playhouse but the creative team behind the show needed more time to work through some technical challenges and so the press night was delayed by a few days. My diary being what it is, I could not reschedule. This is the first stage adaptation of one of Diana Wynne Jones’ novels – though this was memorably animated by Studio Ghibli into a gorgeous film version – and director/designer team Davy and Kristin McGuire have taken a massive step up from their miniature theatre show The Icebook which combined paper cutouts with video work to create an exquisite pop-up book to create a full-scale festive show at the Southwark Playhouse. The ambition at work here is quite considerable and the initial impact of the design with its giant cut-out storybook castle is fantastic. And as the video work starts on the blank screens either side of the castle, it’s clear that this is something quite different.

It’s not a story that immediately springs to mind as one that could be transported onto the stage but Mize Sizemore’s adaptation is cleverly done, paring back the tale to just four characters. Sophie is an 18 year old girl working in a hat shop who unintentionally angers the Witch of the Waste who then casts a spell, turning her into an old woman. To try and break free, Sophie ends up in the home of mysterious wizard Howl, whose flying castle can move between time, space and all manner of dimensions but along this journey, she discovers that she is not the only one in need of rescue. Continue reading “Review: Howl’s Moving Castle, Southwark Playhouse”

Re-review: Frankenstein, National Theatre

“Why did you make me?”

Perhaps one of the less-successful decisions I have made this year was to revisit Frankenstein at the National Theatre. There was a number of reasons: the opportunity to see Jonny Lee Miller take on the role of the Creature and directly compare and contrast him with Benedict Cumberbatch; it was the final performance of the run; it was actually the third time I had a pair of tickets to see the windy Miller – I’d passed on the other tickets to more receptive friends but given one last chance, I ended up biting the bullet in the spirit of perhaps finding something new in the production.

For I did see it much earlier in the run, you can read the review here, and I found it a most problematic play. And my opinion of it still holds firm after a second viewing, I find it simply astounding how forgiving the official reviews were of this show. For sure, the production values are at times sensational and a welcome shot in the arm for National Theatre stagings which will hopefully inspire more creativity in future productions. But the play itself is so terribly weak that to close one’s eyes to its many problems feels like an absolute crime and try as I might, I could not ignore them and try to focus on having a ‘good time’ as my companion attempted to admonish me. Continue reading “Re-review: Frankenstein, National Theatre”