12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 2:3

“Sod ‘name in lights’, you’re an app now my brother”

On the sixth day of Christmas, Black Mirror gave to me…the always welcome Tobias Menzies

It’s little surprise that Black Mirror returns to the world of politics in The Waldo Moment given how effectively it skewered its contemporary shallowness in The National Anthem. Here, the focus is larger than just the Prime Minister, centring on a protest vote movement that builds up around Waldo, a profane animated bear who interviews celebrities disarmingly in an Ali G-like manner. 

Waldo’s latest victim is Tobias Menzies’ insidious prospective Tory MP Liam Monroe and when an encounter between the pair goes viral, the powers-that-be behind the cartoon decide to enter him into the by-election. But the man who voices and plays Waldo via motion capture technology is far less convinced, failed comedian Jamie (Daniel Rigby) has no confidence in himself and as the public get thoroughly behind this new anti-establishment candidate, he finds it harder and harder to disentangle himself. Continue reading “12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 2:3”

DVD Review: Kingsman – The Secret Service

“I’m a Catholic whore, currently enjoying congress out of wedlock with my black Jewish boyfriend who works at a military abortion clinic. So, hail Satan, and have a lovely afternoon, madam”

Matthew Vaughan and Jane Goldman’s collaboration on comic book adaptation Kick Ass went rather well for them, so reuniting for spy caper Kingsman: The Secret Service – based on The Secret Service by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons – seemed like a no-brainer. So much so that Vaughan walked away from directing X-Men: Days of Future Past for this project, and it is indeed a whole heap of fun, poking irreverently at the often po-faced spy film genre with great glee.

The film follows mouthy teenager Gary “Eggsy” Unwin as he is recruited and trained up by the same secret spy organisation that his long-dead father belonged to, ultimately having to wise up quickly as a plot by an evil megalomaniac threatens the whole world. So far so Bond, but where Kingsman shines is in ramping everything that 007 can’t do up to 12. So there’s huge amounts of creative swearing,  and more gratuitous violence than you can shake a bag of severed limbs at. Continue reading “DVD Review: Kingsman – The Secret Service”

DVD Review: Paddington (2014)

“I’m going to stuff you, bear”

A rather unexpectedly lovely surprise from the end of last year whose key message of acceptance of foreigners feels ever more pertinent in the current circumstances. Paul King’s Paddington, based on Michael Bond’s classic creation, has that warm feel of a classic family film, full of set-pieces and humour and a deal of minor peril, but none so much as to really make you scared. Instead, there’s a glowing happiness that almost (sadly) feels as old-fashioned as a marmalade sandwich.

As if you didn’t know, Paddington comes from darkest Peru and a wittily filmed black and white prologue shows us how a British geographer called Montgomery Clyde befriended his family in the jungle, eventually leaving with a promise of a place to stay should they ever visit London. When circumstances conspire to leave Paddington alone on a railway platform in W2, he’s taken in by the Brown family and capers ensue. Continue reading “DVD Review: Paddington (2014)”

DVD Review: The Riot Club

“I’m afraid you’re not really the right sort of chap”

Laura Wade’s Posh took the Royal Court by storm in 2010 and then the West End in 2012 with a slightly amended version, each time slipping quite easily into the contemporary political narrative with its skewering of a fictionalised version of the Bullingdon Club, an elite Oxford student dining club that has boasted the likes of David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson in its ranks. Wade’s intimation is clear, that the reckless and thoughtless behaviour of these men as students is symptomatic of their charmed future political careers as a whole and enclosed in the claustrophobic dining room of a gastropub that they proceed to thoroughly trash, the play had a horrendously compelling energy to it.

Wade has adapted her own play here into The Riot Club  and through the determined effort to make it work on screen, it has become quite the different beast. Personally, I wasn’t too keen on it, the changes detracting from the strengths of the story as I saw them, and the realities of making – and casting – a feature film have altered the whole underlying theme. A cast headed by model-handsome men (Sam Claflin, Douglas Booth, Sam Reid, Max Irons etc), most of whom get to ‘learn a lesson’ by the end, takes away from the vileness of their behaviour – it almost feels like director Lone Scherfig is letting them get away with it without ever really showing us the true ugliness of their political and personal prejudices.

Continue reading “DVD Review: The Riot Club”

Film Review: The Imitation Game

“Alan, I’ve a funny feeling you’re going to be rather good at this”

As Hollywood gears up for another Academy Award season, the early frontrunners are starting to appear in our cinemas and chief amongst those is The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, one of the more criminally maligned and under-appreciated figures in British history. Responsible for heading up the team that built the machine that was to crack the Nazi’s Enigma code thereby changing the course of the Second World War, his life ended in ignominy as the Official Secrets Act shielded his achievements from public knowledge and a conviction for gross indecency unimaginably marred his final years.

But this being prime Oscar-bait, the film is a lot more perky than that. That’s perhaps a tad unfair as this is a genuinely good piece of cinema but one can’t help but wonder what might have been had Morten Tyldum’s direction and Graham Moore’s script been a little braver in exploring Turing’s homosexuality and how that shaped his interior life, especially in those later years. It’s the one major weakness in an otherwise fully-fleshed characterisation of an awkward genius. A man who can crack codes but not jokes, respond to complex formulae but not to simple lunch invitations, can detect Soviet spies but not the gently breaking heart of his friend Joan. Continue reading “Film Review: The Imitation Game”

Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)

“There’s no room for cynicism in the reviewing of art”

One might equally say there’s no room for cynicism in my reviewing of Mike Leigh’s work, such a fan of his oeuvre am I and the laidback, gruff charms of Mr Turner are no exception, confirming the iconic director in the full flush of his prime. Timothy Spall has already been deservedly rewarded for his wonderfully harrumphing performance of the last 10 years of the life of this most famous of painters and it is a compelling portrait, of a man established in his world as a bachelor, a master painter, and later a lover. Leigh’s episodic style fits perfectly into this biographical mode, dipping in and out of his life with the precision of one of Turner’s paintbrushes, colouring in a captivating collage of his later life.

Spall is excellent but around him, the women in his life provide some of the most hauntingly beautiful moments of the film. As Sarah Danby, the mistress and mother of the two daughters he would not recognise, Ruth Sheen is piercingly vivid, her barely contained fury resonating deeply. As Hannah Danby, her niece who was Turner’s long-suffering and long-serving housekeeper, Dorothy Atkinson is painfully brilliant as a woman subjugated and subdued by his wanton sexual advances, the psoriasis that afflicted her, and her deep love for the man. As “self-taught Scotswoman” and scientist Mary Somerville, Lesley Manville near steals the film in a simply beautiful self-contained vignette. Continue reading “Film Review: Mr Turner (2014)”

Film Review: Walking on Sunshine

“I’m not one of those people who goes wobbly when a boy take his shirt off”

You had me at 80s jukebox musical… Sometimes, after a crappy Wednesday in the office, all you really need is some uncomplicated, good-natured fun and that is exactly what Walking On Sunshine provides. A fresh-faced cast, the glorious Puglian sunshine, some nifty group dance routines and a track-listing that opens with the holy trifecta of Madonna’s ‘Holiday’, Bananarama’s ‘Venus’ and Whitney’s ‘How Will I Know’ – you pretty much know what you’re getting with this film (I won a bet by guessing one of the final plot flourishes just 10 minutes in) and on leaving the cinema, its fun and exuberance had done its job.

Joshua St Johnston’s writing is naff in the extreme, never quite living up to the (Italian) tongue-in-cheek spirit it opens with as Maddie (Annabel Scholey) invites her sister Taylor (Hannah Arterton) and erotic novelist friend Lil (Katy Brand) to her holiday home to surprise her with news of a lightning fast wedding to a man who just happens to be Taylor’s holiday romance three years prior, although she remains blissfully unaware of the fact. Scholey and Arterton are great value for money, throwing themselves whole-heartedly into the whole shebang – the former turns out to be quite the dancer too – and delivering 80s fierceness. Continue reading “Film Review: Walking on Sunshine”

TV Review: Death Comes to Pemberley

“We must stay positive my dear, and hope that he at least died in a duel”

The jewel in the BBC’s Christmas programming for 2013 was the adaptation of PD James’ Death Comes to Pemberley, her continuation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice but in the vein of her own murder mystery style. Stripped over three days (because schedulers don’t seem to believe we can wait between episodes any more), the trio of hour-long, lusciously-filmed episodes were perfect for plumping in front of the telly for, without having to engage the brain too much, and proved an interesting exemplar of both the weaknesses and strengths of James’ enterprise.

The story begins six years after the wedding between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy as the preparations for their annual ball are rudely disrupted by the wayward arrival of Lydia’s coach and her breathless announcement of murder. An investigation into the woods around Pemberley soon reveals a body and it is Lydia’s husband the dastardly Mr Wickham who is suspected of the deed. Thus follows a crime procedural (of sorts) as Lizzie and Darcy try to get to the bottom of who exactly killed the man, whilst negotiating their tangled history of their families and trying to avoid social shame.  Continue reading “TV Review: Death Comes to Pemberley”

Review: Lord of the Flies, Open Air Theatre Regent’s Park

“Which is better – to have rules and agree, or to hunt and kill?”

Watching theatre outdoors is always a bit of a challenge in this country and the weather for the last while has been so changeable and unseasonably cold at times that the prospect of going to see Lord of the Flies at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park was not one that filled me with much anticipation. But as may be evident by now, it doesn’t take too much to convince me (3 gin and tonics, if you’re wondering) and thankfully the gods were kind to us with no rain falling, even if it was extremely chilly.

Timothy Sheader’s production of William Golding’s classic novel of a group of schoolboys stranded on a desert island and left to their own devices, is nominally an updating – hints abound in the debris of the crashed-plane set – but in truth, very little concession is made to this. The language, the diction, the performances all speak of Golding’s original post-war era which fitted the rather traditional feel better than any pretence at locating this story firmly in the modern day. Continue reading “Review: Lord of the Flies, Open Air Theatre Regent’s Park”