Film Review: Yesterday (2019)

Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away…this British romcom doesn’t do it for my heartbear or my funny bone

“I’m trying to live outside the traditional concept of time”

Truth be told, I’ve never been the biggest fan of The Beatles (I know). Their music wasn’t a part of my childhood soundtrack and my first real memory of it comes from having to learn ‘Yellow Submarine’ and ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ in primary school choir. So the notion of Yesterday wasn’t one that particularly jumped out at me, even as it posits a world in which no-one has heard of the Fab Four.

Written by Richard Curtis, from a story by Curtis and Jack Barth, and directed by Danny Boyle, it aims squarely for that ineffably British romcom aesthetic and pretty much lands it. Unrequited love interest/friend of the opposite sex, gawky best pal, garrulous inner circle, Himesh Patel’s Jack checks off all the Curtis tropes one by one, with the added twist of twee sci-fi in the mix too.  It should work, right?

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Lockdown Theatre Review: One Man, Two Guvnors, National Theatre at Home

I really love National Theatre at Home
I really don’t love One Man, Two Guvnors 

“I’ve paid for these sausage rolls, so why waste ’em”

To start on a positive, I think we can agree that National Theatre at Home is a huge success. The type of scheme that only large institutions can hope to really pull off but even so, managing the kind of appointment-to-view occasion that was its debut with One Man, Two Guvnors was still a remarkable achievement. Because it is more than just releasing digital versions of plays on streaming services, it is about trying to capture just a spark of that special charge of electricity that comes with going to see live theatre.

Whilst that particular pleasure is denied us during the Covid-19 crisis, this strategy of drip-releasing the NT’s considerable archive on a weekly basis feels like an extremely canny move. Clamouring voices have been demanding that every production they can think of be released but a mass dump of everything would be counter-productive, too easily forgotten once the initial excitement has passed. Heck, even I was excited for this Thursday to arrive to take part, despite being no lover of One Man, Two Guvnors or James Corden. Continue reading “Lockdown Theatre Review: One Man, Two Guvnors, National Theatre at Home”

News: National Theatre announces National Theatre at Home

National Theatre announces National Theatre at Home, starting with One Man Two Guvnors, Jane Eyre, Treasure Island and Twelfth Night 

During this unprecedented time which has seen the closure of theatres, cinemas and schools, the National Theatre today announces new initiative National Theatre at Home providing access to content online to serve audiences in their homes. Audiences around the world can stream NT Live productions for free via YouTube, and students and teachers have access to the National Theatre Collection at home, delivered in partnership with Bloomsbury Publishing.

From Thursday 2 April, a number of productions previously screened in cinemas globally as a part of National Theatre Live will be made available to watch via the National Theatre’s YouTube channel. The first production to be broadcast as part of National Theatre at Home will be Richard Bean’s One Man Two Guvnors featuring a Tony Award-winning performance from James Corden. Each production will be free and screened live every Thursday at 7.00pm GMT, it will then be available on demand for seven days. Alongside the streamed productions, National Theatre at Home will also feature accompanying interactive content such as Q&As with cast and creative teams and post-stream talks, with further details of this programme to be announced.

Working closely with YouTube, other productions streamed as part of National Theatre at Home include:
Sally Cookson’s stage adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre on the 9th April,
Bryony Lavery’s adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island on 16th April, and 
Twelfth Night on the 23rd April featuring Tamsin Greig as Malvolia in Shakespeare’s classic comedy, with further titles to be announced. What would you like to see added to the programme?

Photo credits:
One Man Two Guvnors – Johan Persson
Jane Eyre –
Manuel Harlan
Treasure Island –
Johan Persson 
Twelfth Night – Marc Brenner

 

Film Review: Cats (2019)

Against a barrage of bad reviews, I tried to give Cats a fair hearing. There may have been wine involved…

“I remember the time I knew what happiness was”

I wanted to like Cats, honest. But…but…everytime you look at a detail in this unexpected horror film, there’s something ungainly or odd that distracts you inordinately:

  • the scale of the damn thing. The mind boggles as the cats change from being tiny compared to railway tracks to almost human-sized at Nelson’s Column, bringing almost any object into screen ends up pulling focus as you try and work out wtf is going on
  • why do some of them wear shoes (the ‘street’ cats in trainers, TSwift in heels…?) and of those who don’t, what’s with the toes
  • in fact the whole anthropomorphic thing. There’s cleavage and six packs but no genitals or anuses. You wouldn’t think it would bother you so much but there’s so many lingering shots of these places…! 
  • the dancing cockroaches in danger of being eaten. Whyyyyyyyy?!
  • it’s rather amusing that pretty much every reaction shot of Dench is her looking aghast, we know how you feel Judi

An unfortunate waste of talent all-round I’m afraid.

News: Cats trailer released

The only good thing to come out of the release of the trailer for the forthcoming movie adaptation of Cats is Twitter’s collective response

 

And if you must see the original for yourself…

 

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 6

“Demons run when a good man goes to war”

And here it is, the point at which I stopped loving new Doctor Who, even in a series that has two of the best episodes it has done, and the first series that I haven’t ever rewatched in its entirety. I do enjoy Matt Smith’s Eleven immensely but the writing across this season – which was split into two for transmission – was just fatally erratic for me. Alongside the innovative work from Neil Gaiman in The Doctor’s Wife and Steve Thompson in The Girl Who Waited, two contrasting but superlative pieces of writing, stories such as The Curse of the Black Spot and Night Terrors took the show to a less sophisticated place – (or do I really mean that I started to feel that this version of Doctor Who wasn’t necessarily aimed at me…?)

Even the big finales (for there were two, one for each half) fell a little flat. The premonition that the Doctor would “fall so much further” than ever before in A Good Man Goes to War raised expectations only to be dashed by an overloaded episode with little emotional heft aside from the River Song reveal, and The Wedding of River Song suffered from the general over-use of the characters dying-but-not-really-dying trope (poor Arthur Darvill…). That said, the high points of the series are so very good – the striking US-set opening double-bill, the Doctor finally meeting the TARDIS, and brain-scratching sci-fi with real heart. Frustratingly inconsistent. Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 6”

Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 5

“I’ve seen many things, my friend. But you’re right. Nothing’s quite as wonderful as the things you see”

So as David Tennant’s Ten regenerates into Matt Smith’s Eleven, Doctor Who also changed showrunner/lead writer/executive producer/oddjob man as Steven Moffat took over the reins from Russell T Davies. The pressure was on both to deliver – the relatively unknown Smith had low expectations, Moffat had sky-high ones due to his much-garlanded writing – and I don’t think you can argue that they didn’t. Smith revealed an impossibly ancient soul to his youthful frame with a Doctor unafraid to be as angrily dark as hyper-actively quirky. And Moffat constructed a complex series, introducing the depths of new companion Amy Pond slowly, and building to a multi-stranded timey-wimey finale that makes the head hurt just to think about it.

Elsewhere, the overused Daleks returned in multicoloured format, the Weeping Angels were much more successfully reprised in a stonking double-header, the Silurians also came back, and Arthur Darvill’s Rory grew in stature to become an effective second companion as opposed to a third wheel. Oh, and Helen McCrory stole the show, but then you knew I’d say that didn’t you 😉 Continue reading “Countdown to new Who: Doctor Who Series 5”

Film Review: The Lady in the Van

“You wouldn’t see Harold Pinter pushing vans down the street”

It is more than 15 years since Maggie Smith starred in Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van in the West End but one can only imagine that the intervening years have deepened and enriched her performance as in this cinematic version, directed by Nicholas Hytner, she is just fantastic. The titular lady is Miss Shepherd, a cantankerous homeless woman who sets up shop on a Camden street in her junk-filled camper van and strikes up an unlikely friendship with Bennett, in whose driveway she eventually convinces him to let her park.

This happened in real life to Bennett, she spent 15 or so years there in the end, and amping up the realism, the film was shot on location in the real street but it is also a highly theatrical version of events. Alex Jennings plays two iterations of Bennett, one the somewhat timid man, the other the acutely observational writer inside, and they often argue with each other, disagreeing on whether things happened a certain way, and debating his various reasons for letting Miss Shepherd so totally into his life. Continue reading “Film Review: The Lady in the Van”

Album Review: Into the Woods soundtrack

“Let the moment go, don’t forget it for a moment though”

The big screen version of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods has now become a huge box office success, apparently heralding a new golden age of movie musicals, and as a musical it comes complete with a soundtrack which you can get in either single-disc or deluxe-double-disc edition.

The main reason to get this soundtrack would be to get Emily Blunt’s gorgeous renditions of her songs. Her voice was an absolute revelation in the film and she brings such character to The Baker’s Wife that is just irresistible – she nails all the emotional colour of ‘Moments in the Woods’ and blows James Corden off the turntable with her wondrous delight in ‘It Takes Two’. I remain a fan of Anna Kendrick’s Cinderella and Meryl Streep’s Witch is also good, solid rather than spectacular if we’re being picky, in her solo moments. Continue reading “Album Review: Into the Woods soundtrack”

Film Review: Into the Woods

“Into the woods to see the King, to sell the cow, to make the potion”

After the Oscar-winning success of Chicago, it is little surprise that Rob Marshall keeps returning to the world of musical theatre for his films and it is now the turn of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods to get the full cinematic treatment. The story pulls together a whole raft of characters from various fairytales and asks the question ‘what happens after happy ever after?’. So we meet familiar characters like Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Jack on their respective journeys but keep on following them deeper into the woods as they’re forced to deal with the consequences of their actions.

So Cinderella has to deal with the fact she’s married to a man she barely knows, Jack is called out for thieving so many of the Giant’s possession back down the beanstalk and so on, and the characters also crash into each other’s stories too, further muddying the waters. At the heart of the film is the Baker and his wife whose desperation for a child is a key contributing factor to the chaos that emerges and Marshall manages to keep the strands of this multi-threaded story clear and comprehensible – the staging is rarely audaciously exciting but the lack of tricksiness actually works in the film’s favour. 

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