2017 Oscars – pre-ceremony thoughts

“For whatever reason, he spared a hamster”

When you see as much theatre as I do, it can be difficult to keep up to date with cinematic releases – if I have a night off, I rarely want to spend it in a dark room… – but I have tried my best this year to see at least some of the Oscar-nominated films, so that I can chip in once they’ve been distributed in a way that will doubtless cause some controversy or other.

Continue reading “2017 Oscars – pre-ceremony thoughts”

DVD Review: The Nativity Story (2006)/The Nativity (2010)

“Joseph, please don’t hate me”

As one of those stories that so many of us learnt whilst very young, the tale of the Nativity occupies a near-unassailable position in the cultural consciousness and so it is unsurprising that it has received the odd televisual adaptation or two. But both versions that I watched this week suffered criminally from a po-faced seriousness, trying to create a literal interpretation of the Biblical story despite the ever-so-tiny possibility that it might not necessarily be based in deep realism…

The Nativity Story, the 2006 film version, written by Mike Rich and directed by Catherine Hardwicke, is particularly onerous, deadly serious in tone and mostly traditional in its storytelling, so that Keisha Castle-Hughes’ Mary unblinkingly accepts the arrival of the Angel Gabriel and the news that she’s gonna be expecting. Yet Hardwicke can’t resist a little of the Bella Swan stroppiness as Mary gets to complain (unrealistically) about her enforced betrothal to Joseph.

Continue reading “DVD Review: The Nativity Story (2006)/The Nativity (2010)”

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”

Short Film Review #15

 

The danger of ripping the piss out of something is that you often leave yourself open to the same charge. And so whilst Brian Crano’s 2008 film Official Selection sets about parodying many of the tropes of contemporary (and possibly pretentious) short film making, it takes a lengthy 10 minutes to do what it basically achieves in half the time.

It is undoubtedly amusing: watching Rebecca Hall deliver po-faced dialogue and simultaneously share an apple with a native American, Amanda Seyfried rubbing apple slices everywhere, Stephen Campbell Moore as a random astronaut and Dominic Cooper doing smell-the-fart acting, amongst many others, is lots of fun. And it is comical because much of it is true, so many of the arty shots here are highly recognisable as ways in which people have tried, and largely failed, to make their films more interesting. It’s worth the watch, but had it been half the length it might well have been twice as funny. Continue reading “Short Film Review #15”

Short Film Review #14

An Irish short from 2009 written and directed by Hugh O’Conor, Corduroy is a simply gorgeous piece of film. Inspired by a charity that teaches autistic children to surf, we dip briefly but powerfully into the life of Jessie, a young woman whose Asperger Syndrome has left her deeply depressed. With gentle encouragement from a support worker, she is introduced to the sea and all its power and possibly, just possibly, begins to hope that life might get a little brighter.

It’s extraordinarily acted by Caoilfhionn Dunne as Jessie, movingly understated and painfully authentic in its awkwardness, the glimmers of connection with Domhnall Gleeson’s Mahon are played just right. But it is O’Conor’s direction which is just superb, adroitly suggesting the different way in which people at different points on the autistic spectrum might see and hear the world – audio and visual effects employed with intelligence and compassion to offer insight, understanding, appreciation. Highly recommended. Continue reading “Short Film Review #14”

Short Film Review #12

Instalment 12 of the Short Film Review – keep those recommendations coming and I promise I will get round to them all eventually, I’ve a fair few to work through đŸ˜‰

Bride of Vernon

A rather playful take on the Frankenstein story, The Bride of Vernon is a stop-motion animation in the mould of Wallace and Gromit which was written, animated and directed by Calvin Dyson and ended up winning the Best UK Short Film Award at the 2012 Manchester International Film Festival. Vernon Van Dyke, the appealingly voiced Dan Clark, is the lonely young scientist who is battling against the repeated failures of his experiment to create himself a bride and even the faithful Fritz (David Schofield as the Igor-style assistant) is rebelling and demanding better pay and conditions due to his recent unionisation.


Things brighten up though with the arrival of Mary Mae, a real life woman who offers a whole new world of possibility to Vernon as they start dating and here, Katherine Parkinson is excellent casting, her richly expressive voice is beautifully suited to the hesitant goodness of this character and they are so sweet together. Of course, things go wrong over dinner with an accidental poisoning and it is up to Vernon to see if he can save Mary Mae by hook or by crook. The film is really well put together, it looks a high quality product and Michael Slevin Uttley’s score fits over it like a glove to make this what seems to be a well-deserving prize winner.

Standing Room Only 
With a cast including the likes of Michael Gambon, Hugh Jackman, Maureen Lipman and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, you’d be forgiven that thinking that Standing Room Only is no common-or-garden short film and you’d be right. It undoubtedly owes its star-studded nature to the marital connections of its writer/director Deborra-Lee Furness, otherwise known as Mrs Hugh Jackman, but it makes a rather amusing study of the politics of day seating for a sold out show. Mostly silent (although this version of the clip is dubbed in Russian – translating the signs I think…), we see a queue of people slowly build up outside the New Ambassadors Theatre to see the hugely popular Man of a Thousand Faces.


I’ve not done a huge amount of day-seating myself but I know people who have and so there is a wry amusement of much of the little details here which seem authentically familiar. And it is a pleasure to see the likes of Gambon, Jackman  and Joanna Lumley cutting loose on something comedic and light – Furness includes a flirtatiously delicious moment from her husband  at 5.27 – and it is all a breezy bit of fun, even if I wasn’t mad keen on the way that it ends.

The Rules of the Game 

This film is directed by Tom Daley but lest you think it is connected with anything misguidedly-orange and publicity-hunting, it ain’t anything to do with diving… No, it’s a 2009 short written by Sam Michell, a monologue written about a groom-to-be who is preparing for a stag night to remember in a smart country house. Christopher Harper plays Henry and over the 7 or so minutes of film, he fills us in on all the gory details of his last few months and the revelations that have raised the stake of this occasion just ever so slightly.


Harper is excellent as the narrator, his direct address to the camera is always playful rather than too intense, Michell’s writing dancing with the lightness of stream-of-consciousness and imagined actions as well as putting across the story itself. And Daley directs with a smooth fluidity as we constantly move throughout the stately home, Max McGill’s cinematography making everything look delicious and usefully reminding me of how much I like Harper as an actor.

3-minute 4-play 

At a brief 3 minutes (and change), Johnny O’Reilly’s 3-Minute 4-Play is a cracking little Irish battle of the sexes thing. Set in a dreamlike white space where things can be wished into reality, Ristéard Cooper’s man conjures up the girl of his dreams – Ruth Negga – but as always, one has to be careful about what one wishes for as it turns out that he can’t control her, and her own desires don’t necessarily match up with his. It’s simply done but very effective and highly watchable – Cooper is always charismatic and I loved seeing and hearing Negga working in her natural accent. Lots of fun.

DVD Review: Criminal Justice Series 1

“We’ve got the best criminal justice system in the world and the jury will get it right”

I do love me a good crime/legal procedural on the television (see North Square, The Jury, Murder One, Damages) but I rarely have the time to watch everything I want to these days and the BBC series Criminal Justice is one of the ones that slipped through the cracks. It has sat on my Lovefilm queue for ages and after a conversation about Ben Whishaw with one of his fans, I decided to finally get round to watching both the series on DVD.

Predictably, I loved it. Written by Peter Moffat (who also penned North Square), it is a five episode trek through one person’s journey through the various stages of the criminal justice system. The 2008 first series starred the aforementioned Whishaw as Ben Coulter, an aspiring footballer who finds himself accused of murder after a drink and drug-fuelled night out with a girl who ends up stabbed to death whilst Ben struggles to remember any of the details of what actually happened. And so from interview rooms in the police station to failed bail appeals and prison cells and then the subsequent court case, Ben’s experience at the hands of the system is thrillingly portrayed.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Criminal Justice Series 1”

DVD Review: Personal Affairs

“It’s always going to be someone else’s lipstick”

A completely random discovery, via an excellent bundle of birthday presents, was this BBC3 series from 2009, Personal Affairs. In its easy mixture of comedy and drama of 4 City PAs trying to discover what happened to one of their friends who has disappeared, it was rather enjoyable if hardly ground-breaking over its six episodes. But where it was huge amounts of fun was in the sheer number of theatrical spots it contained which made it a highly entertaining watch for me.

Whether it was Annabel Scholey as Scouse X-Factor wannabe Midge or Ruth Negga’s strident temp Sid amongst the leads, Al Weaver as a plotting boyfriend or a gorgeously bearded Kieran Bew (correctly assessed as the main attraction for me!)  as a potential love interest and Mark Benton and Emily Bruni amongst the bosses, the regular cast held much delight. Combined with a supporting guest cast which featured the likes of Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Mark Bonnar and Annette Badland, the acting was predictably of a high quality which ensured it was always extremely watchable. Continue reading “DVD Review: Personal Affairs”

Review: The Playboy of the Western World, Old Vic

“A daring fellow is the jewel of the world”

Daring indeed for Robert Sheehan, known to some, if not me, for his part in Misfits, chose to make his professional stage debut at the Old Vic in this revival of The Playboy of the Western World. A 1907 play by Irish writer JM Synge which caused riots with its opening performance which seems rather hard to fathom now, but its Set on the West Coast of Ireland in the early 1900s, Christy Mahon is a mysterious stranger who arrives in a County Mayo pub and declares that he has killed his father. But the locals love the drama and the story-telling wit that he brings into their life and rather than condemning him, elevate him with hero-worship and he attracts the romantic attentions of many of a woman, including engaged barmaid Pegeen.

I have to say I was thoroughly underwhelmed by Sheehan’s Christy, lacking the real verve and charisma needed to convince as the absolute charmer he’s meant to be, a really odd piece of casting in that I just couldn’t see what it was that he was meant to be bringing to the show, it certainly wasn’t the gift of the gab. Ruth Negga fared better as Pegeen but also didn’t really possess the kind of mastery of the text that would have pulled me into this world a bit more. But then I don’t think it would have won me over in any case as this is a very broad, Oirish world in John Crowley’s production, with many performances from supporting characters on a knife edge of just too much. Continue reading “Review: The Playboy of the Western World, Old Vic”