Film Review: Anna (2019)

Luc Bresson’s Anna is totally ridiculous but ultimately proves enjoyable hangover viewing fodder

“I shouldn’t be having conversations like this with anyone”

There’s a time and a place for all sorts and right now, I have to say that I am enjoying a fair bit of mindless culture, aka big, brash popcorn films that allow you to just switch your brain off whilst watching. Which is a long-winded way of introducing the concept that Anna is a trash film but also that it was ideal viewing on a hungover afternoon.

A Luc Besson film whose release last year was kiboshed due to serious allegations made about the director, there’s a slight sense that even without these troubles, Anna wouldn’t have fared too well. Retreading familiar territory in the world of female assassins, a serious case of diminishing returns sets in, exacerbated by a lead performance from model Sasha Luss that leaves her lack of experience cruelly exposed. Continue reading “Film Review: Anna (2019)”

10 of my top moments of the decade

Ever behind the curve, I present 10 of my top moments in a theatre over the last ten years (plus a few bonus extra ones because whittling down this list was hard, and it will probably be different tomorrow anyway!)

© James Bellorini

Extraordinary Public Acts for a National Theatre

The establishment of the Public Acts programme at the National Theatre offered up something sensational in Pericles, an initiative designed to connect grassroot community organisations with major theatres, resulting in a production that swept over 200 non-professional performers onto the stage of the Olivier to create something that moved me more than 99% of professional productions.  A truly joyous and momentous occasion. 

Honourable mention: this year’s musical take on As You Like It proved just as heart-swellingly beautiful over at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch. Continue reading “10 of my top moments of the decade”

Album Review: Luke Evans – At Last

Luke Evans’ debut album At Last is full of emphatic pop covers and his powerful voice at full stretch, not always a winning combination 

“No one can tell us we’re wrong”

Luke Evans’ debut album At Last is a collection of mainly pop covers that range across the ages, with a focus on songs best known for being sung by female artists. As a budding actor, Evans starred in musicals such as Avenue Q and Piaf but upon establishing himself as a Hollywood movie star, has somewhat turned his back on the world of musical theatre (to the point where many were surprised at the revelation he could sing in the remake of Beauty and the Beast). But we remember…and he can really sing.

Album opener ‘Love Is a Battlefield’ is drenched in orchestral and choral bombast which does eventually wear you down with its forceful determination. But Evans’ tendency to open out his voice to a powerful belt means that his interpretative skills as a singer tend to get left by the wayside, reduced to the opening and closing 30 seconds once the booster button has been released. As such, his version of Ewan McColl’s ‘First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ opens, and closes, with a beautiful subtlety that is missed in much of the middle. Continue reading “Album Review: Luke Evans – At Last”

Album Review: Jon Robyns – Musical Direction

I’ve long admired Jon Robyns and his new album Musical Direction reflects on his career so far beautifully, as well as suggesting what fun lies ahead

“You can get what you want or you get old”

Having fallen in love with Jon Robyns in parallel with tumbling hard for Avenue Q, he really is the leading man of my (entirely platonic) dreams, so news of a new solo album was certainly up my strasse. And Musical Direction manages an excellent job of balancing many of the aspects of that come with musical theatre performers making their own recordings.

There are nods to his performance past – a chirpy take on The Last Five Years’ ‘Moving Too Fast’ and a delicately beautiful glide through Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s Hushabye Mountain  – and a perfectly timed look to the future too. And this is where the cleverness kicks in as you may not think you really need another version of ‘Bring Him Home’ but this acoustic, cello-drenched arrangement is spine-tingling good, certainly whetting the appetite for his imminent debut as Jean Valjean when Les Misérables reopens the Sondheim Theatre. Continue reading “Album Review: Jon Robyns – Musical Direction”

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”

Hallowe’en DVD Review: Dracula Untold (2014)

“Drink…and let the games begin”

You gotta love an origin story, even for the dark lord himself, as everyone’s misunderstood, no-one’s that bad really. Or so Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless would have us believe in Dracula Untold, a 2014 Gary Shore film that ultimately did fairly good business. Here, Luke Evans’ Vlad is a good lad who only got the nickname ‘The Impaler’ because he was kidnapped by the Ottoman Empire as a boy and trained into their most deadly assassin. 

But he’s escaped now and has a wife and kid so all is good. Or is it? When a Turkish helmet (not a euphemism) is found in a river, Vlad realises that his childhood friend Mehmet, now Mehmet II, played by Dominic Cooper in a huge amount of fake tan (because you know, Hollywood couldn’t possibly try and turn a Turkish actor into a star) is up to no good. So he follows the stream to a cave where Charles Dance is hiding. Continue reading “Hallowe’en DVD Review: Dracula Untold (2014)”

DVD Review: Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

“I’ve always encouraged you Ian”

I’d heard of Ian Dury to be sure, but never really engaged with his music or life story so the film Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll – a biography of his life – was pretty much brand new information for me. For those not to speed like me, Dury was stricken with polio at a young age, suffering lifelong disabilities as a result but also gaining the drive and determination to become one of the founder of the punk-rock music scene in Britain in the 1970s with his band The Blockheads. At the same time, his personal life wound a chaotic path as he balanced a wife and two children with the demands of a touring band and his parade of lovers.

Mat Whitecross’ film is full of boundless energy as it mixes Dury’s rise to fame with flashbacks to a childhood spent in a brutal institution and enthusiastic performance clips with Andy Serkis rocking the joint in an excellent performance as Dury. He reveals Dury to be a proudly artistic soul, a talented wordsmith and determined to weave his own path through life, even as he causes the wreckage of many others alongside him. Personally, I’m not a fan of the archetypal narrative that often accompanies genius, their gifts to the world exculpating them from being decent human beings and that is true here.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll”

Not an Album Review: Taboo (Original London Cast)

“My father said: ‘don’t panic, it’s a phase’
‘Phase one’ I said”

I did want to love Boy George’s Taboo, I really did, but something about it just holds me back. I felt that way when I saw it live and I felt it again when listening to the original London cast recording so there you have it.