Johnny English, Johnny English Reborn and Johnny English Strikes Again prove ideal brainless festive watching
“I’ve been dropped into the Kalahari Desert carrying nothing more than a toothbrush and a packet of sherbet lemons”
I don’t believe in any of my pleasures being guilty, if something makes you smile then who is anyone else to dictate whether that’s acceptable? The Johhny English film trilogy – Johnny English (2003), Johnny English Reborn (2011), and Johnny English Strikes Again (2018) – holds a special place in my heart (well, the first two do) as they formed the backdrop to a couple of great family holidays and several of the funnier lines have snuck into the family vernacular.
Written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and William Davies and directed by Peter Howitt, Johnny English is an amusing entry into the series. Rowan Atkinson’s English is a hapless MI7 employee whose bumbling sees their top agent accidentally killed and then all their other agents massacred in a bomb at his funeral. As the sole agent left, he has to thwart a plot to steal the Crown Jewels and decipher John Malkovich’s comedy villain French accent. Continue reading “Film review: the Johnny English trilogy”
Armando Iannucci’s rollicking adaptation of The Personal History of David Copperfield is huge amounts of fun to watch
“You can’t complain about a nice bit of kipper”
You might not have picked a Charles Dickens adaptation for an Armando Iannucci big screen feature but evidenced in The Personal History of David Copperfield, it’s a pretty darn fantastic match. It’s a rollicking romp through the story, absolutely refreshed by this treatment as its warm comedy is sprinkled with notes of ruminative reflection on class and identity and just a touch of satirical bite. And by employing a truly diverse and talented ensemble, there’s something special here.
For all the magnificence of Tilda Swinton’s Betsey Trotwood (truly exceptional), Peter Capaldi’s Mr Micawber and Ben Whishaw’s malevolent Uriah Heep, the real joy in the casting comes from the opportunities now given. Nikki Amuka-Bird is fantastic as the starched Mrs Steerforth, the kind of role she just hasn’t gotten to play before; so too Benedict Wong as Wickfield, it’s great to see such talent stretch their acting muscle this way, and so well too. Continue reading “Film Review: The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019)”
Kwame Kwei-Armah, Artistic Director of the Young Vic, has announced the start of the Young Vic’s 50th birthday with a year-long programme of work entitled We are the New Tide, dedicated to the theatre’s milestone birthday.
The 50th birthday year of work begins with three major commissions:
- The New Tomorrow– for the first piece of live theatre since the pandemic closed UK theatres, this weekend festival of speeches and monologues asks what the next fifty years hold. Writers and artists Jade Anouka, Marina Carr, Jasmine Lee-Jones, Ruth Madeley, Amy Ng, Stef Smith, Jack Thorne, Isobel Waller-Bridge and Steve Waters will explore the change that has come and is coming. Cast to be announced.
3 & 4 October, 4pm, Main House, free
Series 2 of Top Boy- Summerhouse is, quite frankly, exceptional
“I don’t wanna go to Ramsgate”
The first series of Top Boy surprised me at just how good it was, making a mockery of my earlier decision that it wasn’t my kind of thing. So I launched straight into the second series (now labelled Top Boy- Summerhouse on Netflix), unprepared for how harrowing it would get. It may have taken two years for it to be created but boy it was worth the wait.
Ronan Bennett’s series picks up one year later with Dushane’s (Ashley Walters_ status at the head of the Summerhouse estate as equally precarious and secure as ever, forever dependent on the next big drug delivery. But the Albanians have got their own plans, former besty Sully is setting up his own rival crew and the police have just dug up a body – eep! Continue reading “TV Review: Top Boy – Summerhouse (Series 2)”
Top Boy – Summerhouse easily makes a mockery of my previous decision that this wasn’t my type of thing.
“We’re gonna need some more time, and we’re gonna need some guns”
With the renewed vigour behind the Black Lives Matter movement and people’s determination (myself included) to do better at recognising black talent, it’s interesting to look back at the challenges they have faced. You’d imagine that Top Boy, a crime drama set in the heart of a fictional estate in Hackney, East London, would have been written by a black writer but as it turns out, Ronan Bennett is white and hails from Northern Ireland.
The series dates back to 2011 and I can’t speak to the realities of Channel 4’s commissioning process but it merits a raised eyebrow. Fortunately, Bennett’s assiduous research means that Top Boy (renamed Top Boy – Summerhouse on Netflix) does better than most at evoking the brutality and bullishness of gang life in the East End, where conventional notions of good and bad are cast aside in the name of survival by whatever means. Continue reading “TV Review: Top Boy – Summerhouse (Series 1)”
Oof, the start of the downfall…Series 9 of Spooks turns into the Lucas North show with terrible ramifications
“Do you know how I knew it was true? Because for the first time you made sense”
It couldn’t last, two strong series of Spooks back-to-back were undone by the horrors of Series 9. And it needn’t have been this way, it opens with a great 10 minutes. Ros;s funeral! A proposal! Harry as an assassin! Ruth getting called “that dogged, brilliant bitch”! But new head writers Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent then have the trickier task of reconstructing a new team, and don’t quite nail it with Sophia Myles’ Beth and Max Brown’s Dimitri only ever appearing in shades of beige.
Worse though, is the shifting of the entire season’s narrative onto Richard Armitage’s Lucas who – dun dun dur – is actually someone else called John Bateman, whose torturously wrangled personal history is dragged out through the presence of Iain Glen’s Vaughan. Undoing all the good work that Armitage had done in building the fascinating ambiguities of Lucas North, the entire John Bateman storyline was a huge mis-step and ultimately indulges Spooks at its worst.
Never better than turning Harry down, she’s a vital steadying presence in a show that badly needs it. Continue reading “Lockdown TV Review: Spooks Series 9”
“He wants people to face the consequences of what they say and do”
On the twelfth day of Christmas, Black Mirror gave to me…the bees, THE BEES!
After a slight hiccup in previous episode Men Against Fire, feature-length episode Hated in the Nation restored Black Mirror to its rightful glory to round off this third series. Adopting something of a police procedural approach and aligning itself closer to today’s society than the majority of previous instalments, this was a proper thriller and hugely enjoyable with it.
In a world where mini-drones have replaced the collapsing bee population, Kelly McDonald’s DCI Karin Parke is investigating a series of deaths where the victims are celebrities who have recently provoked the ire of social media. Along with newly transferred colleague and tech wiz Blue (Faye Marsay), solving the crimes leads them down a merry path of murderous hashtags, governmental misdemeanours and social responsibility. Continue reading “12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror 3:6”
Best Actor in a Play
Philip Duguid-McQuillan & Jamie Samuel, Jumpers for Goalposts
Maybe a bit of a cheat, but I couldn’t pick between the two stars of one of the best new plays of recent years and the most genuinely lovely depiction of teenage romance you could ever hope to see. I’ve seen them three times and have a sneaky trip booked to the last performance at the Bush too.
Honourable mention: Al Weaver, The Pride
Beautifully affecting, Weaver has been an actor I’ve had my eye on for a time and so it was pleasing to see him deliver the goods in a major production, opposite Harry Hadden-Paton in Jamie Lloyd’s The Pride.
Brian Cox, The Weir
Hugo Koolschijn, Scenes from a Marriage (Toneelgroep Amsterdam)
Benedict Wong, Chimerica
Richard Clothier, 50 Words; Harry Hadden-Paton, The Pride; Mark Quartley, Armstrong’s War; Ben Whishaw, Mojo
Best Actor in a Musical
Kyle Scatliffe, The Scottsboro Boys
As Scottsboro boy-in-chief Haywood Patterson, Scatliffe personified beautifully the horrendous struggle of the young men who found themselves at the mercy of the justice system in the Deep South. The burden was strong given the under-writing of his compatriots but he delivered intense emotion and fervent conviction that the right thing would eventually happen, in what has to be a career-defining role.
Honourable mention: Declan Bennett, Once the musical
The brooding intensity of Bennett’s Guy fitted the aching romance of Once like a glove, elevating the score from any potential moments of lachrymosity into something subtly beautiful and stirring in its simplicity.
David Birrell, Sweeney Todd
Nick Hendrix, The Light Princess
Matt Smith, American Psycho
Michael Xavier, The Sound of Music
Gavin Creel, The Book of Mormon; Fra Fee, Candide; Douglas Hodge, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; David Hunter, The Hired Man
With the news that the wonderful Rio cinema in Dalston is once again under threat, Paul Rapacioli and Joe Shaw’s film Passing Through feels an entirely appropriate starting point for this post, even though it was made in 2002. A ruminative love letter to the cinema – both in terms of classic film-making and also the demise of old-school picture houses – it’s a powerfully moving and beautiful piece of work as Graham Pountney’s projectionist marks his last day at work, before enforced early retirement, with an uncharacteristic act of rebellion. It’s a heartfelt choice and even in the depths of despair, it brings to him something infinitely lasting, reminding us all of the magic of the cinema. Highly recommended.
The premise behind Joyce Treasure’s Be Mine is really rather lovely – a 10 year girl from some rough area of Birmingham dreams of a shiny red bike in a local shop window, and expresses her desire mainly through the medium of song and dance. And in Esther May Campbell’s 2005 film, it has a delightfully homespun charm about it as Sophie Jukes’ Tina tries to persuade her mum (Maxine Peake) that it would be the perfect birthday present. As part of the Bollywood Shorts competition, it draws on sub-Continental influences but could have perhaps gone a little further – the main dance routine does come a little out of nowhere – but the ambition of this project is definitely delightful.
Dan Zeff’s film features a most fresh-faced David Tennant as Pete, an attentive young man agonising over the most painless way to dump his girlfriend Juliet. He makes everything as nice as can be, treats her well and prepares her for a life-changing revelation but before he actually gets to it, the phone rings and Juliet answers, revealing that she’s got the wrong end of the stick and thinks he is trying to propose. The ‘news’ soon spreads quickly and an array of well-wishers turn up to wish them well, including nice turns from Diana Hardcastle as her mother, Thusitha Jayasundera as a colleague of hers, the hilarious Bruce Mackinnon as one of his friends and Barry McCarthy as his dad. The final note doesn’t quite have the impact it desires, the abrupt end a little too brutal but it’s fun none the less.
Benedict Wong has had a great year on the stage but delving into his filmography has been lots of fun too as his short film work is pretty bloody good too. Selina Lim’s Painkiller is another example of his extraordinary talent at bringing portrayals of bruised masculinity to life as a stick-up of a convenience store goes wrong with him stuck inside. Franz Drameh’s Dominic is the youthful robber determined to make a quick getaway but finds himself distracted and nearly derailed by Wong’s Jay, a depressed taxi driver who manages to connect with him. Director Mustapha Kseibati keeps us on our toes throughout, throwing in sharp beats, comic beats, dark beats, particularly where Kris Saddler’s hapless cashier is involved, and it makes for a brilliant piece of film.