Review: Art, Old Vic

“I just wanted an enjoyable evening”

 As someone who considers themselves otherwise rather culturally inclined, I always feel a bit sheepish admitting that I don’t much care for art. Going around a gallery with other people all around and pretending to know what is good about this painting or that is just not my bag, although I did spend an enjoyable couple of hours at the Rijksmuseum last week, on my own and with their app providing commentary on a recommended tour of the highlights, so perhaps there’s hope for me yet.

Which is all a prelude to saying that the idea of Yasmin Reza’s Art never appealed to me during its previous stays in the West End, and that even tripping along to the Old Vic for this new revival marking the twentieth anniversary of the play was something of a reluctant stretch. But go I did, to see Matthew Warchus resurrect his original production in the theatre where he is now artistic director, reuniting his creative team with a new cast of Rufus Sewell, Paul Ritter and Tim Key. Continue reading “Review: Art, Old Vic”

DVD Review: I Give It A Year

“Is it possible that some people just aren’t supposed to be married”

Joseph Millson having a threesome and Jane Asher swearing are the main high points in Dan Mazer’s I Give It A Year, a film that could do with a whole lot more. The sheen on Nat and Josh’s whirlwind marriage has worn off a little, leaving them facing serious questions as they approach their one year anniversary. With former loves reappearing, new current attractions popping up and friends and family placing bets on whether they’ll make it to the landmark 12 months, the odds seem unlikely.

Which adds up to the film’s major problem, a distinct lack of any real dramatic imperative in hoping that Nat and Josh stay together. Rose Byrne does her best with a thanklessly constructed part who seems solely designed to frustrate Rafe Spall’s hangdog novelistic intentions but as the film opens with a fast-forward through the heady days of early romance, we’re not left with anything to convince us that we should be rooting for them to actually make it to a year, hell, even the end of the film! Continue reading “DVD Review: I Give It A Year”

DVD Review: A Young Doctor’s Notebook

 “Even letters don’t want to be sent here”

The term black comedy is often used in reference to Russian works and in the case of A Young Doctor’s Notebook, it is well–earned. A short TV series from 2012 produced by Sky and based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s collection of short stories entitled A Country Doctor’s Notebook, it follows the experiences of a young doctor fresh out of medical school in Moscow and landed with an isolated post deep in the Russian countryside where even the nearest shop is half a day away by coach.

It frames these growing pains of a doctor (Daniel Radcliffe) learning how to deal with the practical, as opposed to the theoretical study at which he excelled, with scenes from 20 years or so in the future, when the doctor (now played by Jon Hamm) has been exposed as a morphine addict and has found his old diary. Hamm’s Doctor then dips in and out of the earlier scenes, interacting solely with his younger self and trying to offer a way through his crises of inexperience. Continue reading “DVD Review: A Young Doctor’s Notebook”

Short Film Review #17

Mockingbird

Sometimes, just sometimes, one of these films comes from nowhere to just punch in the guts with its downright amazingness yet simultaneously leaving unable to really articulate just why it is so. Joe Tunmer’s Mockingbird is such a film – achingly beautiful, gorgeously shot and infinitely moving. William Houston is extraordinary, Eliza Darby refreshingly appealing and there’s bonus Olivia Williams – what more do you want?!

Farrington

A 7 minute clip from Aneil Karia, Farrington is one of the funnier short films I’ve had the pleasure to watch recently. Robert Bathurst plays an investment banker named Henry who opts to take a wee career break to take part in a reality TV show where he will have 12 days to try and learn a whole new craft and convince a panel at the end that he is indeed a master of said skill. The joy comes from what that thing is and I won’t spoil it here, save to say it is refreshingly un-PC and leads to some cracking lines from the team of ‘experts’ set up to help, including Prasanna Puwanarajah and James Garnon. Definitely recommended.

Rover’s Return

The central idea of Rover’s Return – rich person pays someone to babysit their dearest love, who turns out to be a pet – and something goes horribly wrong – is not a new one – I’ve seen at least two other short films execute something similar. It’s clearly not a bad idea and who knows who had it first but coming in now for me, this version felt a little uninspired. Indira Varma is the high-flyer who is heading to Paris for a nookie-filled break and Andrea Lowe her junior colleague who is looking after the mutt in her absence. She’s inexperienced with dogs and predictably things go pear-shaped – it’s all a bit predictable and lacks any particularly unique facet to hook the attention, either in Oliver Ledwith’s direction or Patrick Ledwith’s script. 

The Honeymoon Suite

Possessed of an utterly gorgeous rasping voice, Alexis Zegerman is one of those actors I could listen to all day, but for her short film debut, The Honeymoon Suite, she opted to remain behind the camera. Lola Zidi-Rénier and Tim Key take on the role of a newly-wed Jewish couple who barely know each other, pushed together in some kind of arranged marriage and as they tumble into their hotel room after the ceremony, they get their first moment of quiet together, but it is the worst kind of awkward silence that fills the room. As they painfully tease out detail after detail about each other that seems to make them increasingly ill-suited together, they eventually find a tiny glimmer of hope that things might not be so bad after all. It is well done and nicely understated by all involved.

Veils

Another film funded by the Jewish Film Council is Dan Susman’s Veils, an insightful look into the Jewish/Palestinian conflict through the eyes of impending marriage for a Jewish girl and a Palestinian man in modern-day North London. As each prepare themselves on the wedding day, we see how the intransigent attitudes of some of their extended families are so strongly held that not even the joy of nuptial bliss can sway them, the difficulties of reconciliation laid bare in front of us as grandfather rejects grandson, family friends finding the most obscure of excuses not to attend. It is well-shot and cleverly structured too in the way that it teases the expectations. 

Short Film Review #16

Stalking Ben Chadz

 

The characters of Stalking Ben Chadz – June and Izzy – have appeared in another short film Mourning Rules which I previously reviewed here http://oughttobeclowns.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/short-film-review-5.html and enjoyed so I was pleased to see another film from Montserrat Lombard and Olivia Poulet along with their co-writer Daniel Castella. It’s another brief glimpse into the somewhat batty lives of these sisters, here literally stalking a guy named Ben, who Izzy has decided is the love of her life. It’s witty – the phone call is great fun – and silly and huge amounts of fun, both Lombard and Poulet have a gift for observational comedy and so it’s well worth 2 minutes 30 of your day.

Continue reading “Short Film Review #16”

Review: Joseph K, Gate Theatre

“It’s like a site-specific, interactive-type thing, isn’t it”

Joseph K is a modern retelling of Franz Kafka’s The Trial, where a man is arrested and subsequently persecuted by a faceless Authority despite never finding out what his purported crime is, moving the action to 21st century London. Tom Basden is the comedian and writer who has adapted it here at the Gate Theatre. It takes a look at the absurdities of the depersonalisation of modern life and particularly its dependency on technology, playing on all too recognisable fears about store loyalty card points going missing, mobile phones stop working, what photograph plucked from Facebook would be used as your mugshot and the trials of dealing with disinterested call-centre workers, but really centres on the powerlessness that can be felt when trying, and failing, to deal with a bureaucracy that does not (can not) listen.

Pip Carter is well cast as the initially bullish 30 year old banker whose arrogance when first arrested is slowly eroded as although he is ostensibly allowed to remain free, his life becomes one huge faceless bureaucratic nightmare with no answers and no-one to turn to. His nightmare is all-too-recognisable and Carter plays the strained communications and mounting desperation well as Joseph is forced to question the reality of what is happening to him as things take an increasingly surreal turn, yet remaining a brutal boss to his underling all the while.

Yet despite everything, something just didn’t quite connect to elevate this to great theatre. The tone never quite progressed enough for me, the momentum never really generated to take it to the darker places suggested within. I felt this was mainly to do with the format of the show with its relatively short scenes, prolonged changeovers and, I suspect, a little self-indulgence in the writing process. Basden and regular collaborator Tim Key play a multitude of supporting characters in a dizzying array but the overall effect comes across mainly as playing to their own strengths as rapid-fire comedians and dominating the focus at the expense of our lead character. And along with ‘real’ actress Siân Brooke who fulfils a similar role, what should come across as a spiralling descent into increasingly nightmarish madness, plays more like a sketch show, it was just too disjointed for me to convince fully as drama.

This is not to say that I didn’t find it funny, indeed some sections were hilarious, the dismissive Latin-speaking Bond-villain lawyer was excellent and the pops at radio shows were really well done. The performances were strong across the board, both Brooke and Carter really impressed me, and if nothing it was a scarily plausible premise that never felt so outlandish as to be that incredible. But something was awry in the balance for me, between the darkness and the surrealism and an ending which seemed to go in the face of the way the show was going. So ultimately more of a curiosity for me, than a must-see.

Running time: 90 minutes
Booking until 18th December