Film Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

“Tale as old as time”

It’s taken me a little time to get round to writing this review, which is rarely a good sign, as I was struggling for anything entirely constructive to say about this film. The 1991 animated Beauty and the Beast was Disney close to its best but these days, nothing is left alone if it has even the merest hint of cash cow about it. So it has previously hit the stage as a musical and following the success of Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, it now has a cinematic live-action remake.

Which is all fine and good but just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. And at no point does Bill Condon’s film ever convince us that the world needed this version of Beauty and the Beast, there’s rarely any sense of it bringing something new and insightful to the story. Plus the contortions it (and star Emma Watson) has had to make to try and convince of its feminist credentials scarcely seem worth it in the final analysis. Continue reading “Film Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)”

Album Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017) – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

“How could anyone be gloomy and depressed?
We’ll make you shout ‘encore!'”

The live action remake of Beauty and the Beast will be arriving in cinemas on 17th March but should you be so inclined, you can listen to the film’s soundtrack here on YouTube, other digital platforms or buy the album from wherever it is that records are sold near you. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s music and lyrics will be intensely familiar to fans of the original Disney film but after director Bill Condon decided not to include any of the songs that were written for the musical with Tim Rice, Menken composed a number of new songs for this film which ought to pique the interest of any right-thinking musicals fan.

None of the old-school classic feel of the music has been lost in this recording, which was a great relief to me, and its new twists on these old songs are certainly interesting. I really enjoyed Josh Gad and Luke Evans’ freshly comic take on ‘Gaston’ and though Emma Watson is no out-and-out singer, she gives a sweetly decent account of herself. Emma Thompson has perhaps a trickier job in tackling the iconic legacy of Angela Lansbury’s Mrs Potts, her accent choice is somewhat distracting but once you’re accustomed to it, the lushness of the orchestrations make the title track spine-tingling and ‘Be My Guest’ is immense fun as Ewan McGregor, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Ian McKellen chip in too. Continue reading “Album Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017) – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack”

DVD Review: The Ghost

“Well don’t tell me you’re going to read it now”

Roman Polanski’s The Ghost, retitled The Ghost Writer in the rest of the world, may have been released in 2010 but remains as powerfully pertinent and indeed politically relevant as ever. Based on the Robert Harris novel of the same name, Ewan McGregor’s nameless protagonist is employed by former British PM Adam Lang, a slippery Pierce Brosnan, to finish his memoirs at the Martha’s Vineyard residence where he’s staying with his wife Ruth, an excellent Olivia Williams.

The task in hand is made more complicated though when Lang is indicted for potential war crimes in collusion with the US administration and the writer is forced to live in-house, where his tentative investigations into Lang’s career uncover conspiracy after conspiracy. The parallels with Tony Blair are clear but not overworked and Polanski’s delivery of a tense thriller with a strong narrative is superlatively done here. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Ghost”

DVD Review: Moulin Rouge

“I’m paid to make men believe what they want to believe” 

‘Spectacular, spectacular!’ It’s donkey’s years since I’ve seen Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 hit film Moulin Rouge, I probably watched it too many times in a short period of time so I remember declaring myself over it but for a goodly while, I was very much under its spell. And giving it another spin now reminded me why. Its bold and brash vision is just as arresting today as it was over a decade ago and the sheer cinematic vision that it indulges in as sumptuous and inventive as any pastiche-jukebox musical (gotta love a Wikipedia descriptor!) made since, managing that rare feat for a musical of being nominated for best film at the Oscars.

From the fiercely romantic and indeed passionate love story between penniless writer Christian (a fresh-faced Ewan McGregor) and ailing star courtesan Satine (a luminous Nicole Kidman, to a soundtrack that iconoclastically cherry-picks musical snippets from the entire 20th century to create a fabuous collage of sonic invention, the film leaps from the screen with glitter and glee. The costume and production design (Angus Strathie, Catherine Martin and Brigitte Broch) is lavish beyond belief, the choreography recalls a marvelous sense of Parisian decadence and the whole thing constantly teeters on the brink of overwhelming. Continue reading “DVD Review: Moulin Rouge”

Review: The Real Thing, American Airlines Theatre

“Half as long as Das Kapital and only twice as funny”

Arcadia aside, it does appear I have my Stoppard issues but in the running theme of my Broadway booking, (relative) star casting trumped common sense. In this case, it was Maggie Gyllenhaal and Cynthia Nixon that tempted me (plus Ewan McGregor and Ronan Raftery) along to this most lauded of his plays. And whilst I was glad of the opportunity to see this company, and be suitably impressed by both Gyllenhaal and Nixon, I couldn’t help but feel that I just don’t get the thing about The Real Thing.

>Seeing it for the second time, the sucker punch of the metatheatrics is necessarily lessened. Knowing the layers of the Russian dolls are just that didn’t really bring anything new for me in my feeling for the play (or the play-within-the-play, or etc etc) and I think Sam Gold’s production is mostly responsible for that with a whole lot of theatrical fussiness that adds bulk but not genuine substance – musical interludes drag, David Zimm’s set distracts with its open blandness, so much of it just feels flat.

Continue reading “Review: The Real Thing, American Airlines Theatre”

Blogged: Stars in my eyes

I’m going to New York and this time, nobody’s gonna stop me… At the third time of trying (after traumatic passport lost and a wedding cancellation (someone else’s I should add), I will finally be making my way over to the Great White Way over New Year and though it will be my first trip there, I’m thinking I’m pretty much going to spend most of it in the theatre (where else!). I can do the touristy stuff next time because at the moment I’m just dazzled by the opportunities to see some proper famous people on the stage, shallow fame whore that I have turned out to be.

But even then, the people who I’m most excited about aren’t necessarily the ones you might expect – Bradley Cooper is headlining The Elephant Man but it’s Patricia Clarkson who’s most exciting me in that cast, Ewan McGregor may be the biggest name in Stoppard’s The Real Thingbut it’s the opportunity to see Maggie Gyllenhaal and Cynthia Nixon that is getting me there and if Hugh Jackman is the main draw in The River, it’s the unexpected appearance of our very own Cush Jumbo that is most intriguing. That said, there’s no point in me pretending that I’m more excited about Ruth Wilson than Jake Gyllenhaal in Nick Payne’s extraordinary Constellations – we’ll call it the most high-scoring draw ever.

Continue reading “Blogged: Stars in my eyes”

DVD Review: Emma (1996 Film)

“Badly done, Emma. Badly done”

Written and directed by Douglas McGrath, this 1996 film adaptation of Emma may have had a starrier cast than the television version from the same year but it sadly pales by comparison. Gwyneth Paltrow gives a brittle, aloof performance as Emma Woodhouse, an almost princessy take on the character which may work for the unthinkingness of her actions but something that also detaches her emotionally from her friends and colleagues, robbing the film of the charming resonance it ought to possess as the romantic trials of Highbury unfold around her matchmaking.

This starchiness is something that affects the whole film – Greta Scacchi’s former governess is too mannered for a good friend, Alan Cumming’s Mr Bates just feels wrongly pitched and whilst I normally love any opportunity to see Juliet Stevenson, her arrival as his wife is unbelievable and underplayed, and the delightful Toni Collette struggles with the meek Harriet, her natural ebullience hemmed in awkwardly. Even the normally reliable Jeremy Northam misses the mark as Knightley. (I won’t mention Ewan McGregor’s Frank Churchill to help to erase it from my memory). Continue reading “DVD Review: Emma (1996 Film)”

TV Review: Muse of Fire

We found Shakespeare tough at school” 

What a brilliant little film – tucked away on BBC4 but fortunately on the iPlayer for another few days yet, Muse of Fire: A Shakespearean Road Movie is a one hour documentary by actors Giles Terera and Dan Poole exploring the Bard’s reputation for being difficult to understand. This they do by speaking to an astonishing array of people including “ten Oscar nominees, five Oscar winners, one dame, seven knights” along with some of our greatest actors – it’s one of the most impressive roll-calls you’ll see all year (at least until the NT’s 50th bash next week…) – and some regular people too, from estate agents Cambridge to baffled students. 

This extraordinary depth of collaboration is at once the strength and the weakness of the film. We get such a wide range of insights from luminaries such as Ian McKellen, Fiona Shaw, Michael Gambon, Judi Dench and Derek Jacobi but there’s only time for snippets, the glorious Frances Barber is seen briefly at the beginning never to reappear and the list of credits at the end show all sorts who haven’t made the final cut. There’s so much fascinating stuff that must have been left on the cutting room floor that one can’t help but be a little frustrated – can we get a director’s cut?!  Continue reading “TV Review: Muse of Fire”

Review: Guys and Dolls, Piccadilly

Though the big draw for this Donmar production of Broadway classic Guys and Dolls in the West End was Ewan McGregor, I was actually much more excited to see Jane Krakowski on stage. As the ditzy receptionist Elaine in Ally McBeal, she frequently stole the show for me and having displayed her vocal talents on the TV too, I was very much excited to see her. I hadn’t actually seen the show (or the film for that matter) before but it really was one of those where I discovered that I knew far more of the songs than I realised.

Set in 1950s New York, Nathan Detroit is an organiser of gambling tournaments whose long-suffering showgirl fiancée Miss Adelaide is determined to finally get him up the aisle. Sky Masterton is a gambler who is bet that he can’t get a woman of Detroit’s choosing to have dinner with him in Havana, but when he chooses missionary Sarah Brown, the unexpected happens for all of them. But the show is probably best known for Frank Loesser’s songs, a genuinely classic score full of amazing numbers. Continue reading “Review: Guys and Dolls, Piccadilly”