Film Review: Last Christmas (2019)

Any film with Patti LuPone has to be a winner, even if Last Christmas only features her for 90 seconds or so. Nowhere near as bad as they’d have you believe…

“Before we eat lesbian pudding…”

There’s always a measure of slight disappointment when something doesn’t live up to its billing. To look at most of its press coverage, you’d think Last Christmas was ZOMG WORST FILM IN THE WORLD™ (a title it might have held at least for the four weeks before Cats came out…). But the reality, as per usual, is something much more mundane – it’s a perfectly serviceable piece of festive fluff, hardly ground-breaking but then what rom-com is?

Obviously I’m biased since the great Patti LuPone makes a random cameo early on, but I found the whole thing to be quite watchable. Its guest cast is a winner from start to finish – Michelle Yeoh! David Mumeni’s inexplicably rebuffed pub guy, Anna Calder-Marshall’s spiky homeless woman, Lydia Leonard and Jade Anouka as a lesbian couple, Amit Shah’s bumbling estate agent…and that joy of trying to work out which bit of London is being used at any given time. Continue reading “Film Review: Last Christmas (2019)”

Nominees for the 8th annual Mousetrap Awards

BEST FEMALE PERFORMER AWARD:
Marisha Wallace as Effie in Dreamgirls
Natalie Kassanga, as Diana Ross in Motown the Musical
Patsy Ferran as Alma in Summer and Smoke
Jodie Steele as Chandler in Heathers

BEST MALE PERFORMER AWARD:
Jonny Labey, as Scott in Strictly Ballroom
John Pfumojena, as Okot in The Jungle
Kyle Soller, as Eric Glass in The Inheritance
John McCrea, as Jamie in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie Continue reading “Nominees for the 8th annual Mousetrap Awards”

Mission: Impossible – Fallout Review

Tom Cruise might have just outdone himself in the sixth and latest movie in the epic Mission: Impossible franchise. To no one’s surprise, Mission: Impossible – Fallout does not disappoint. It’s satisfyingly filled with all the sequences that have made the franchise awesome: Cruise’s signature run, intensely gratifying motorcycle and car chases, and the all-out display of the actor’s athletic ability and overall disregard for his personal safety. It’s hard to believe that Hollywood’s favourite action star is already 56 years old.

In fact, it is Cruise’s age and his still youthful charm, which perfectly encapsulates the success of Mission: Impossible – Fallout. Even as Cruise is still in the peak of his physical prowess, he no longer looks young enough to pass for the eternal twenty-something that most people remember him to be. Instead, he succeeds at looking just past half his age, a perfect fit for the now mature IMF secret operative who’s stopped his fair share of world-destroying plots. Director Christopher McQuarrie actually uses this element in the film brilliantly. He succeeds in creating a narrative that ties in relevant elements from the past Mission: Impossible films to create a continuity that has been previously absent in the acclaimed action franchise. Continue reading “Mission: Impossible – Fallout Review”

TV Review: Fearless, ITV

“I learned a long time ago not to trust what people tell me”

I did want to love Fearless, I really did. Any series with Helen McCrory in its leading role has to be worthy of consideration and ITV have been upping their drama game (qv Unforgotten) recently. But despite an intriguing opener, the six episodes of Fearless increasingly tested the patience as Patrick Harbinson’s script failed to deliver on its twistily complex promise, instead giving us a fairly run-of-the-mill thriller that ultimately proved less than thrilling.
 
With a playbook that threw out major themes with regularity – miscarriages of justice, the Syrian refugee crisis, institutional corruption, the war in Iraq, the ethics of the surveillance state, just to name a few – it was inevitable that some would fall by the wayside. But with the amount of personal backstory for McCrory’s Emma also shoehorned in there, the narrative was both painfully overstuffed and sadly inconsequential – it was increasingly hard to know what we were meant to care about.

Continue reading “TV Review: Fearless, ITV”

TV Review: Fearless Episode 1

“You let a terrorist’s wife live in your home and you set a murderer free”

Fearless is a new six-part drama on ITV and whilst some people might be excited by the fact that it is written by one of the writers of Homeland (Patrick Harbinson), all right-thinking people will of course be psyched that it is giving Helen McCrory a stonking leading role. She plays human rights lawyer Emma Banville who is utterly unafraid to butt heads with the world as she investigates miscarriages of justice.

Her latest case draws her into the orbit of Kevin Russell (definite fave Sam Swainsbury) whose conviction for murder looks to be a little iffy. With perhaps a little too much ease, she finds it unsafe and secures a retrial but looks set to have opened up quite the can of national security-flavoured worms as a serious-looking transatlantic phone call on a secure line seems to suggest that there is much more to this than meets the eye. Continue reading “TV Review: Fearless Episode 1”

Casting awareness for ITV’s Fearless

“There’s something else going on here”
 
I can’t call this a casting announcement as who knows when this news was actually revealed. But I’ve only just got around to looking at the cast for new ITV drama Fearless and oh lordy, it’s a good’un. Written by Homeland writer and executive producer Patrick Harbinson, Fearless has Helen McCrory in its lead role which of course makes it an instant winner, but by putting the likes of Sam Swainsbury, Jamie Bamber, David Mumeni and Sam Crane in the ensemble makes it a must-see – purely for the acting talent of course… 😉
 
 

 

Review: PLAY, VAULT Festival

“I don’t even know what a colossus of the creative industries is”

 PLAY is a new writing initiative that aims to inspire collaborative working by bringing together writers and directors and giving them two weeks to come up with a short play. And here at the VAULT Festival, there’s two sets of four plays, or PLAYs, bringing together a rather exciting set of creatives to produce some spankingly fresh theatre. The second set takes place mid-February but I’d urge you to book for this one now (you’ve got until Sunday) as I reckon it’s the best tenner you can spend this week, with some seriously impressive work going on here.

Play 9, written by Chloe Todd Fordham and directed by Polina Kalinina, felt like a bit of a riff on Shallow Grave, three university pals skirting around an uncomfortable truth about their (unseen) flatmate. Starting off with a well-choreographed sequence of fighting over a remote, Fordham’s writing quickly slipped into its structure of three differing accounts of what happened, slightly complementary, slightly contradictory, full of detail fleshing out the complex relationships herein, slowly but surely moving the place of real revelation. A couple of right-up-to-the-minute references perhaps overplayed their hand but I did mostly enjoy the shifty evasion of this guilty trio.  Continue reading “Review: PLAY, VAULT Festival”

Leading Man of the Year 2015

 
I do aim for a relatively professional standard on this blog but there comes a point in the year when you have to surrender to the pretty and once a year, we get a list of the leading men who have caught my attention one way or another.

 

 

 

 

 
And far be it from me to deny my readers as these posts habitually end up being among the most read – or looked at – of the year! Naughty  😉

 

 

 

                         
 
 

Continue reading “Leading Man of the Year 2015”

Review: Lela & Co., Royal Court

“A story that becomes true in the telling”

As a director who has put live pigs on the stage (in last year’s I’d Rather Goya Robbed Me Of My Sleep Than Some Other Arsehole), a certain degree of expectation now comes from a Jude Christian production but I don’t think anyone could have expected the brilliantly punishing lengths to which she pushes Lela & Co. Royal Court debutant Cordelia Lynn’s play is already a masterly piece of theatrical writing – essentially a monologue but one that is interrupted and challenged by other voices, questioning the veracity of what is being told.

 
In the glitzy world of Ana Inés Jabares-Pita’s set, caught somewhere between circus and chat show, Katie West’s Lela begins the telling of her life story. A torrent of words flow from her like champagne bubbles from a glass, the effervescence of her descriptions of the rural traditions of her extended family life, dominated by the totemic figure of her father as the only man in a house full of women. But hints of darkness peek through even at this seemingly innocuous time and as her life takes a desperately tragic turn for the worse, Lela’s life (and by extension our experience) becomes an unforgettable journey. Continue reading “Review: Lela & Co., Royal Court”

Review: The Machine / The Masque of Anarchy, MIF

“And these words shall then become
Like Oppression’s thundered doom
Ringing through each heart and brain.
Heard again—again—again—“

A sneaky brief return trip to Manchester allowed me to take in two more of the shows in this year’s Manchester International Festival and whilst one was definitely world class, the other didn’t quite match up for me. Starting with the latter, Matt Charman’s play The Machine dramatises the iconic chess series between Garry Kasparov and the IBM computer Deep Blue and delves way back into their respective pasts to see how they came to be – Kasparov driven to grandmaster status by his determined mother, Deep Blue brought into being by an equally fierce creator, the Taiwanese Dr Feng-hsiung Hsu.

In Campfield Market Hall, Josie Rourke’s production of this sprawling play feels very much like a sub-Enron pastiche, borrowing heavily from the visual audacity of that Headlong play but floundering in the far greater space of this stage. The scale means that the play often achieves the level of spectacle but it rarely feels like great theatre. Multiple scenes wind back through history to trace the progress of the entities that would contest this match-up and there’s undoubtedly strong work from Hadley Fraser and Francesca Annis as Kasparov and his fearsome mother, and Kenneth Lee as the prof, helped out by Brian Sills’ grandmaster employed to teach strategy to the computer.  Continue reading “Review: The Machine / The Masque of Anarchy, MIF”