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)”

DVD Review: Testament of Youth (2014)

“The whole situation’s been really quite dreadful”

Based on Vera Brittain’s First World War memoir, Testament of Youth hit cinemas in late 2014, perfect timing to capitalise on the rising star of Alicia Vikander whose moment would culminate in winning an Academy Award for The Danish Girl. Her work here in this film is equally spectacular though, directed by James Kent and written by Juliette Towhidi, an elegiac beauty washes through the whole production as Vera’s determination first to study at Oxford and then to help with the war effort plays out.

We first meet Vera in the good company of three good-looking men and as the film progresses, it’s refreshing to see that her journey isn’t defined by them, merely informed. Kit Harington’s poet Roland, Colin Morgan’s shyly besotted Victor, Taron Egerton’s faithful brother (who shares his sister’s eye for a good-looking chap and when it’s Jonny Bailey, who wouldn’t!). And as war plucks each of them from their country idyll, her relationship with each has to bend and reshape. Continue reading “DVD Review: Testament of Youth (2014)”

DVD Review: Legend

“It took a lot of love to hate him”

On the one hand, Legend has a pair of cracking performances from Tom Hardy, who plays both Ronnie and Reggie Kray, that makes it an instantly interesting proposition. On the other, it’s a rather shallow, even sanitised version of events that delves into zero psychological depth and smacks of a irresponsibly glamourised take on violence that plays up to the enduring roll-call of British crime flicks that just keep on coming.

Writer and director Brian Helgeland begins with the Krays already established as East End hoodlums and tracks their rise to power as they seek to control more and more and have all of the capital under their thumb. This is seen through the prism of Reggie’s relationship and eventual marriage to Frances Shea, the teenage sister of his driver, a sprightly turn from Emily Browning when she’s allowed to act but too often she’s forced to deliver syrupy voiceover.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Legend”

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”

Short Film Review #32

At what point does a short film stop being a short film?

Hereafter comes in at just over half an hour so I’m not sure exactly where it stands but no matter what you want to call it, there is no denying it is a rather nifty bit of sci-fi. Set in a grim version of the near future, a figure called The Ghost is haunting the minds and actions of people, driving them to murder and suicide, and it is up to The Guardians to stop it if they can. Becoming a Guardian is a perilous business but resourceful orphan Katcher is shortlisted for the process, which turns out to be brutal beyond belief and made more dangerous by the ever-approaching Ghost. Continue reading “Short Film Review #32”

Review: No Quarter, Royal Court

“I would punch a baby for a cigarette”

During Dominic Cooke’s reign, the Royal Court has done an excellent job in nurturing a generation of new young female playwrights and Polly Stenham surely has to be considered as one of the breakout successes from this cohort, managing to maintain an air of great anticipation alongside a unhurried workrate. Her third play No Quarter, for the Royal Court as with That Face and Tusk Tusk, occupies similar territory as her earlier work, in the chronicling of dysfunction in families of the more privileged classes, but it could be said it is with diminishing returns.

24 year old music school dropout Robin has lost himself in a haze of drink and drugs but when he returns to the dilapidated manor house that is his family home, it is to the suffocatingly intense embrace of his dementia-stricken mother who wants his help to ease her way into death. But when he finds that the home he thought he would inherit has actually been sold from under him to developers, his self-destructive instincts kick in and the night of her wake sees him attract an assorted crowd for a wild party to end all parties, anything to avoid confronting the enduring malaise that weighs him down. Continue reading “Review: No Quarter, Royal Court”

Re-review: The Last of the Haussmans, National Theatre

“Mystic, wonderful, amazing things are going to happen”

In what turned out to be a rather fortuitous piece of timing, my return visit to The Last of the Haussmans came at a point when I was beginning to think that I’d left my love of theatre back with a broken pair of flip-flops on holiday, so uninspiring have my last few trips to the theatre been. But this play blew me away back in June, I left the National Theatre via the bookshop to immediately pick up the playtext and already planning who I might invite on a return trip. And sure enough it did the job, a jolt of theatrical Prozac that more than lived up to my expectations and reconfirmed my belief that this is one of the most exciting new plays of the year.

I won’t say much here as it would just be a retread of my original review and to be frank, there are only so many ways that one can describe the eighth wonder of the world that is Helen McCrory. She is just so truthful an actress that her mere presence on the stage is just hypnotic, and her talent so great that it really does convince people (as it did again tonight) that she is corpsing in one particular scene here. I thought I’d spend a little less time watching her as I did first time round and concentrate more on the other actors, but it was not to be – every time I looked away from her I felt like I was missing out on something! Continue reading “Re-review: The Last of the Haussmans, National Theatre”

Review: The Last of the Haussmans

“’Mixed family’ this one says. Something of an understatement”

Sometimes you get to end of a show and just think ‘this is why I come to the theatre’. To be accurate it was my companion for the evening who said it but I was thinking the same thing (honest!) as the company for The Last of the Haussmans took their extremely well-deserved bows. In something of a coup for writer Stephen Beresford, his first play has been given a home in the Lyttelton at the National Theatre and with the kind of superlative cast that most dream of: Julie Walters, Rory Kinnear and, in the most exciting development for yours truly, Helen McCrory. Fortunately, the play lives up to the billing and for me, it was one of the most exhilarating pieces of new writing I have seen for quite some time.  

When ageing hippy Judy is diagnosed with cancer, her children return to their Devon homestead to be with her, but this is no sweet family reunion. Recently dumped Libby is embittered about the world, a trait passed onto her stroppy daughter Summer, and seemingly more interested in the prospects of her inheritance and her gay, former junkie brother Nick’s unanchored lifestyle shows no real signs of abating either. Over a few months, the three generations of Haussmans prowl around each other, dissecting the legacy left behind for them in a life full of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll and giving us a delicious insight into how the 60s didn’t quite swing the right way for everyone. Continue reading “Review: The Last of the Haussmans”

Winner of 2011 Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year

Winner

Taron Egerton (RADA)

Runner-up

Katie Bernstein (LIPA)

Finalists

Claire Chambers (Central School of Speech and Drama)
Sarah O’Connor (CPA Studios)
Craig Rhys Barlow (GSA)
Jennifer Logan (RADA)
Hannah Blake (Royal Academy of Music) 
Dom Hodson (Royal Academy of Music)
Kim Anderson (Stella Mann College of Performing Arts)
Howard Jenkins (Arden School of Theatre, Manchester)
Sam Hallion (Musical Theatre Academy)
Bronte Tadman (Oxford School of Drama)

Finalists of 2011 Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year

Claire Chambers (Central School of Speech and Drama)
Sarah O’Connor (CPA Studios)
Craig Rhys Barlow (GSA)
Katie Bernstein (LIPA)
Taron Egerton (RADA)
Jennifer Logan (RADA)
Hannah Blake (Royal Academy of Music) 
Dom Hodson (Royal Academy of Music)
Kim Anderson (Stella Mann College of Performing Arts)
Howard Jenkins (Arden School of Theatre, Manchester)
Sam Hallion (Musical Theatre Academy)
Bronte Tadman (Oxford School of Drama)

Host: Haydn Gwynne
Judges: Edward Seckerson (Chair), Kerry Ellis, Julia McKenzie, Timothy Sheader, Sarah Travis and Anna Francolini