Film Review: Rocketman (2019)

Elton John gets in on the self-produced musical biopic game, meaning Rocketman is gonna take a long long time to get anywhere near the truth

“People don’t pay to see Reginald Dwight… 
they pay to see *Elton John*!”

I always find there being something a little suspect about the subject of a biopic being intimately involved behind the scenes, that sense that you’re only being permitted to see a carefully curated version of this particular story (cf Tina the Musical, On Your Feet onstage; Bohemian Rhapsody most recently on film). And Rocketman ultimately proves no exception, with Elton John executive producing and husband David Furnish getting a producer credit, and Wikipedia thus offering up a substantial list of deviations from what actually happened

You might argue that as the film, written by Lee Hall and directed by Dexter Fletcher, isn’t a documentary, it doesn’t need to concern itself with an absolute fidelity to historical record. But I just find it fascinating this need to embellish, so much being smuggled under the umbrella of ‘creative license’ that can’t always be explained away with the ‘needs’ of filmmaking. Things as fundamental as changing the inspiration for Reg Dwight’s stage name from his mentor Long John Baldry to John Lennon, or claiming that ‘Daniel’ and ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues’ were the songs he auditioned for with Dick James when neither had been written yet. At what point does that creative license start being straight-up dishonesty? Continue reading “Film Review: Rocketman (2019)”

Film Review: Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

54 years is quite the wait for a sequel but Mary Poppins Returns is full of nostalgic sweetness and charm  

“Are you sure this is quite safe?
‘Not in the slightest. Ready!'”

54 years is quite the wait for a sequel but the sweetness and charm with which Mary Poppins Returns lands on our screens makes it pretty much worth it. It’s a film that does more than wrap you up in a warm blanket of nostalgia, it tucks you in, throws another log on the fire and makes you a steaming hot chocolate (no marshmallows though!).

Set 30 years after the much cherished original, the story (by David Magee, Rob Marshall and John DeLuca based off of PL Travers’s original tales) sees us rejoin Cherry Tree Lane where the adult Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) lives with his young family (Pixie Davies, Nathaniel Saleh and Joel Dawson). But much like the other long-held sequel of the year, a sadness fills the house for a mother has died. And Michael’s artistic inclinations and part-time job at the bank aren’t bringing in enough to keep them from repossession. Who could possibly save the day…? Continue reading “Film Review: Mary Poppins Returns (2018)”

Film Review: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)

On the two viewings I’ve managed so far, I’m pretty sure Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is the epoch-defining film that we don’t deserve but which we sorely need

“When you’re gone
How can I even try to go on?”

I was lucky enough to see an early screening of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again last week and I thought it was fricking fantastic. But as the occasion fuelled by an afternoon tea that was heavy on the bubbles and the raucous atmosphere of a stagey audience and not quite bold enough to stick by the courage of my convictions, I opted to wait until seeing the film a second time before officially declaring my opinion.

And I have to say I really do think this is a superb film. The sequel that no-one really knew they wanted, whipped together in under 12 months once the green light had been given, that somehow manages to do everything you expect it to, and but better, and infinitely more moving than it has any right to be. I knew I’d shed a tear or three of joy but there was more than one moment where I was just sobbing, so rich is the emotion here. And that’s only fitting considering the bittersweet melancholy that is ABBA’s true calling card, rather than the cheesiness they are famed for. Continue reading “Film Review: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)”

Review: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Open Air Theatre

“Secretly they was overjoyed”

Rachel Kavanaugh’s glorious take on The Sound of Music two years ago for the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park was a wonderful thing indeed so it is little surprise to see her welcomed back to this venue to tackle another Golden Age classic, this time Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. It’s a canny decision as her familiarity with the space shows, utterly unafraid to use its full width and depth for unexpected arrivals, slow reveals and thrilling chase sequences and of course, the coup de théâtre that is the pinnacle of Peter McKintosh’s design which is a real piece of old-fashioned theatre magic.

Kavanaugh also makes small but pointed attempts to address the dubious gender politics of the show, without ever sacrificing the spirit of fun that should always characterise such classic musical theatre. So from the first moment Adam and Milly clap eyes on each other, there’s no doubting that the erotic charge between them is mutual, her lustful glances perhaps even more overt than his. And the strength of Laura Pitt-Pulford’s performance is that she never lets us forget she’s a woman making her own choices, even if its just making the best of a bad lot. It’s not a perfect reconciliation of the issues but it feels enough for her, for now. Continue reading “Review: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Open Air Theatre”

Re-review: Miss Saigon, Prince Edward Theatre

“Why God? Why today?” 

I wasn’t the hugest fan of Miss Saigon first time round as my review from then clearly attests but I’m never one to be entirely closed-minded (though it may not often seem that way…) so when the opportunity to take a friend who had not previously been popped up, I made a return visit to the Prince Edward Theatre. The show is still basking in the glow of recently winning 9 What’s On Stage awards and it is clear that it is attracting a younger and atypically passionate crowd (for a West End show at least). 

That passion cuts both ways though as the overexcited group behind us couldn’t hold back from the flash photography and the young woman in front of me was less enthused than the rest of her party and spent most of the show on Facebook. It makes for a different kind of theatre experience when you’re having to do battle with that kind of behaviour but given my continued lack of engagement with the storyline of this particular musical theatre behemoth, it was as much a distraction for me as anything.  Continue reading “Re-review: Miss Saigon, Prince Edward Theatre”

DVD Review: Billy Elliot Live

“When the stars look down and know our history”

And what history there is to behold – a run in the West End which has stretched for nearly a decade now, a company that ranges from ages 6 to 84 (surely a record!), a live broadcast to cinemas worldwide which was the first event cinema release to top the UK box office and which contained a finale that brought together 25 young men who have all played the role of Billy. That recording of Billy Elliot the Musical has now been released on DVD so that the theatrical experience can now be recreated in the comfort of your own home and allows to see the detail that you may have missed from your seat in the Victoria Palace Theatre.

That’s the crucial bit really. For all those that worry that filmed recordings are going to replace live theatre, there does seem to be a missing of this salient point that not everyone sees the show from prime seats in the centre stalls. The magic of the theatrical experience can and is tempered by uncomfortable seats and unfortunate viewing lines – so a DVD offering close-ups and other unique shots offers a much-welcomed addition to that experience – and as reasonable a deal as £105 is for a family ticket (the starting price I should add), £15 or so enables a necessary widening of access to a show, which captivate a new audience so much they decide to book tickets – this isn’t a zero-sum game. Continue reading “DVD Review: Billy Elliot Live”