Film Review: Spectre (2015)

After the emotional triumph of Skyfall, the lethargic pacing of Spectre can’t help but feel a letdown

“Why, given every other possible option, does a man choose the life of a paid assassin?”

After the rip-roaring success of Skyfall, it seems little surprise that director Sam Mendes and lead scribe John Logan would return for the next instalment of the Bond series. But Spectre ends up as part of the yoyo-ing trend of Daniel Craig’s tenure which had previously seen the excellence of Casino Royale followed up by the not-excellence of Quantum of Solace. Delving deep back in Bond folklore, its overlong running time and stultifying pace sadly makes it a bit of a challenge.

This time round, surveillance networks are the villain as Bond investigates global conglomerate Spectre and their nefarious plans under Blofeld, whilst M and co do battle with the enemy within in the form of Andrew Scott’s smarmy C. Despite his class, Ralph Fiennes is a much less impactful M than Dame Judi but Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris and Rory Kinnear are all settling well into their MI6 roles, popping in and out as needed. Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld is vividly effective but the problem lies in an ineffectual plot that doesn’t grip anywhere near as much as Skyfall did. Continue reading “Film Review: Spectre (2015)”

Film Review: Skyfall (2012)

As much an M movie as a Bond flick, Skyfall benefits from putting Dame Judi Dench front and centre to make this one of the best Bond films of recent times

“Well, I suppose I see a different world than you do and the truth is that what I see frightens me”

One of the best aspects of Bond in the Daniel Craig era has been the introduction of actual consequences for people. We’re not dealing with total realism to be sure, but rather a thoughtfulness that is too rarely seen in the action genre. Written by John Logan and directed by Sam Mendes, Skyfall is a masterful entry in the Bond canon, playing out the complex relationship between Bond and Judi Dench’s steely M right through to its devastating end. 

Delving into both of their pasts and hauling them up to account, the notion of personal vengeance as all-encompassing motive is far more effective than the fate of the Bolivian water supply. And Javier Bardem’s Silva is one of the most genuinely chilling villains for that very reason, his cyberterrorist truly compelling in his psychopathy – that climactic scene in the chapel is simply stunning on all levels.

It’s not perfect: the queer-baiting, sorely underusing Helen McCrory in just one scene, and all the business on the tube is ridiculous (it’s rush hour in the station but the train that crashes is somehow empty? And you can’t slide down the escalators like they do, there’s things in the way. And yes, I know it is a film, hehe). But I’m picking at small things cos I can – the new Q is introduced perfectly (all credit to Ben Whishaw) and ultimately, it’s just a great film, never mind a great Bond film. Continue reading “Film Review: Skyfall (2012)”

New TV shows to get stuck into

I get stuck into the first episodes of TV shows Van Der Valk, The Good Fight, Gangs of London and Penny Dreadful: City of Angels to see what my next must-see will be

“Who else was masturbating into plants?!”

I’m of course far too young to remember the original Van Der Valk – had I seen it before though, I might well have saved myself this couple of hours. Importing a British cast to play Dutch detectives in a crime serial set in Amsterdam seems like such a retrograde move, I still can’t get my head around it, especially in this day and age when so much quality foreign-language drama is readily available. Written by Chris Murray, this revival sees Marc Warren head up the cast as a maverick detective with a team who aid and abet his behaviour – there’s not a smack of originality about it, nor any real interest sadly…great locations though. Am already dreaming of my return to the city, but not sure I’ll be revisiting this show. Continue reading “New TV shows to get stuck into”

Review: Red, Wyndham’s Theatre

There’s two Alfreds for the price of one in this polished revival of Red, the first of two shows in Michael Grandage’s mini-season at the Wyndham’s Theatre

“There is only one thing I fear in life my friend”

I was a fan of Red when it first played London back in 2010 and so was pleased by the news that Michael Grandage would be reviving that Donmar Warehouse production for a belated turn in the West End at the Wyndham’s. Take a read of my four star review for Cheap Theatre Tickets here.

Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Johan Persson
Red is booking at the Wyndham’s until 28th July

TV Review: Penny Dreadful Season 3

“Why would the devil be interested in you?”

And so the penny drops, John Logan’s Penny Dreadful comes to an end after 3 highly atmospheric seasons of gothic drama, anchored by a sensational performance from Eva Green that ought to have been way more recognised that it was. It’s taken me a little while to get round to watching the series after writing about the first episode so apologies for that, but sometimes, life (and summer holidays) just get in the way. Beware, spoilers will abound.

In some ways, the ending of Season 2 acted as a finale that really worked, the key characters left shell-shocked by what had befallen them and scattered across the globe, as manifested in a gloriously down-beat last half-hour of Episode 10. And so the main challenge of Season 3 was to find a way to reconnect their stories in a way that was at least thematically interesting, if not necessarily the most dramatically satisfying. Continue reading “TV Review: Penny Dreadful Season 3”

DVD Review: Coriolanus (2011)

“What would you have, you curs that like nor peace nor war?”

Ralph Fiennes and Vanessa Redgrave will be starring together in the Almeida’s Richard III later this year but it’s not their first time doing Shakespeare together – Redgrave played an excellent Volumnia to Fiennes’ Coriolanus in this 2011 film adaptation which was directed by Fiennes himself. Scripted by John Logan in a trimmed and taut two hours, it’s a fiercely contemporary retelling that draws heavily on modern conflicts such as the Balkans and the Arab Spring.

The brutal sense of savage civil war is apparent from the shocking outset, there’s a real sense of the nervy tension on the streets of this version of Rome as warrior Caius Martius defends it from the invading Volscian army, simultaneously barely holding off a riot from within as the public rise up against an out-of-touch ruling class. But persuaded to run for office and unable to conceal his contempt for the mob, he is exiled and Rome’s biggest hero becomes its most unpredictable enemy. Continue reading “DVD Review: Coriolanus (2011)”

TV Review: Penny Dreadful Season 2

“We are bound on a wheel on pain”

The first series of Penny Dreadful may not have been perfect but I really rather liked it and was glad to hear a second season had been commissioned. And when I discovered the triple whammy of Helen McCrory and Simon Russell Beale being promoted to series regulars, Billie Piper’s distracting Oirish brogue being excised and Patti LuPone appearing as a guest star, I was in heaven. Saving up the 10 episodes to binge-watch on holiday also worked well for me, ain’t technology grand!

Having established its world of gothic Victoriana, John Logan’s writing picks up some of the strands of the first series’ finale – the consequences of sometime-werewolf Ethan’s bloodbath being chased up by a tenacious policeman and Victor Frankenstein’s newest creation inspiring an unlikely love triangle. But it succeeds most by re-introducing McCrory’s Evelyn Poole as a series-long villain as the head of a witches coven and maker of some of the creepiest puppet dolls you have ever seen – it’s no secret I love her but this really is a career highlight for this most superb of actresses. Continue reading “TV Review: Penny Dreadful Season 2”

Review: The Last Ship, Neil Simon Theatre

“And when you become a woman of a certain age

You’ll find it’s difficult to trust a man” 

The signs for The Last Ship were not good even before I boarded – Sting stepping into a key role to shore up ticket sales over Christmas – and just days after I saw it, the producers decided to cut their losses and it posted closing notices for the end of the month. Indeed, this review comes too late to even persuade a last few people to visit as Saturday saw the final performance. And whilst I’d love to be able to say that it is a huge loss to the Broadway stage, to me it really didn’t feel like the complete package.

First things first – Sting’s score is genuinely excellent, binding together influences like Celtic folk and sea shanties to the more standard driving anthems and heartfelt balladry that one might expect from a big musical. Real emotion and a strong sense of character come flooding out of songs like ‘Autumn Winds’, the title song and ‘If You Ever See Me Talking To A Sailor’ and it is little surprise that the soundtrack made a strong concept album when released in 2013. Continue reading “Review: The Last Ship, Neil Simon Theatre”

DVD Review: Penny Dreadful (Series 1)

“Do you believe that there is a demi-monde?”
 

It is hard to credit that the first series of Penny Dreadful managed to encompass something as sublime as Eva Green’s magisterial lead performance as the haunted Vanessa Ives as well as one of the worst accents ever committed to celluloid (or whatever it is these days) in the form of Billie Piper’s Northern Irish brogue which, without due care, could well ignite some Troubles of its own. The transatlantic Showtime/Sky Atlantic co-production aired this summer and was conceived and written by John Logan and with an executive producer credit for Sam Mendes, it is no surprise that it is a quality product, albeit not without its issues.

Penny dreadfuls were a British 19th-century invention, sensationalist fiction with often lurid subject matter, and Logan has drawn on these alongside more well-known tales from the time from authors such as Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde. So the show is set in 1891 London in a world heavy with the supernatural where noted explorer Sir Malcolm Murray is searching for his kidnapped daughter Mina. He is assisted by a motley crew – Green’s prepossessed Vanessa, Josh Hartnett’s sharp-shooting Ethan, Danny Sapani’s enigmatic Sembene, Harry Treadaway’s tortured Victor – but they soon find that (to borrow a phrase), the night is dark and full of terrors (and unexpected gayness).

I won’t say much more about the story as it is full of clever little reveals within the overarching narrative and I loved these ah-ha moments, Logan balances them well against his primary storytelling and the general feel of Gothic horror is maintained brilliantly. As with anything to do with the supernatural, it is more effective in suggesting what lies in the shadows (thus the séance of episode 2 is way creepier than the possession of episode 7) but that said, the make-up and effects are highly superior and the composition of Xani Giminez’s cinematography is just beautiful as the Dublin locations are utilised to their full advantage.

Continue reading “DVD Review: Penny Dreadful (Series 1)”