TV Review: Trying Series 2 (Apple TV)

Rafe Spall and Esther Smith continue to be charm personified in the second series of Apple TV’s Trying

“No-one’s laminated my life story yet”

As Apple TV continues to try and meaningfully break through, its commitment to its original series is commendable. Ted Lasso is riding the slowburn train to award success and also getting a second series if somewhat more under the radar, sweet comedy Trying has also returned.

The show centres on thirty-something Camdenites Nikki and Jason and their efforts to grow their family. The first series tackled their (lack of) fertility and the start of their journey through the adoption process and this second sees them continuing to navigate this bureaucratic and emotional minefield. Continue reading “TV Review: Trying Series 2 (Apple TV)”

TV Review: Trying (Apple TV)

Rafe Spall and Esther Smith impress in British comedy Trying, helped by the likes of Imelda Staunton and Cush Jumbo

“Hitler?
‘Badminton?'”

Just a quickie for this, as I’ve only just started to actually have a look at what is on AppleTV since they decided to extend my free trial. Created and written by Andy Wolton, Trying is a rather sweet and very typically British sitcom that follows Jason and Nikki, a 30-something couple as they struggle to conceive naturally and decide that they would like to adopt. Led by Rafe Spall and Esther Smith, the show is lots of fun and is blessed with some wonderful supporting performances.

Forever skirting that comedy/drama line, Trying is unafraid of tackling some rather meaty issues. Infertility and what that does to a couple, the inequities of the adoption system, funding for ESOL classes… And even the simplest idea of how relationships grow and are tested by the act of self-reflection – how do you measure achievement when London property prices lock you into renting forever and opportunities to climb the job ladder are way too few and far between. Continue reading “TV Review: Trying (Apple TV)”

Film Review: Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Moralising, heteronormative rubbish. Bohemian Rhapsody really serves its nominal subject very poorly indeed.

“No-one knows what Queen means because it doesn’t mean one thing”

Most everything you need to know about Bohemian Rhapsody is contained within the fact that Brian May and Roger Taylor were engaged as consultants on the film, intimately connected enough to be able to steer the direction of the movie in the way that they wanted. And so any hope of an independently-minded biography of queer icon Freddie Mercury disappeared behind a PG-friendly hagiography of Queen.

In some ways, it doesn’t matter. The film scored huge commercial, if not critical, success, snagging 4 Academy Awards along the way, but it still doesn’t make it right. How are you going to put your name to a film that is filled with inaccuracies? Because those inaccuracies put yourself in a better light, allowing you to show that you were tolerant of Mercury’s sexual proclivities and later AIDS diagnosis but that you were a finger-wagging Cassandra at his pursuit of a life outwith the heteronormative. Continue reading “Film Review: Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)”

TV Review: Will, Episodes 1 + 2

“You are a curiosity”

American versions of Shakespeare (whether his plays or the man himself) are always worth looking up, even if only for a chuckle and new TNT TV series Will is certainly no exception. There’s some weight behind it – it was created by Craig Pearce, the longtime writing partner of filmmaker Baz Luhrmann and has Shekhar Kapur, who directed the award-winning Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age, directing and executive producing and in the role of the Bard himself, there’s a potentially star-making role for British newcomer Laurie Davidson.

I watched the first two episodes and they sure make an arresting introduction. You feel Luhrmann’s influence almost immediately as this is no antiquated version of a sedate Elizabethan London, but rather it is one shot through with bright colours and a punk-filled attitude. Literally so, as they have conceived the burgeoning theatre scene of the time as being akin to the contemporary(ish) world of punk rock – theatres filled with patrons in leather and mohicans, the soundtrack filled with the Clash and drunken singalongs to Lou Reed.  Continue reading “TV Review: Will, Episodes 1 + 2”

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”

Short Film Review #27

Passing Through

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. 


Be Mine

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.

Sweetnightgoodheart

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.

Painkiller

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.

Review: The Tempest, RSC at the Roundhouse

“Do not torment me, prithee”

Last up in the RSC’s Shipwreck Trilogy, in the What country friends is this? season was The Tempest. In some ways I wish I’d seen this closer to The Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night (which I saw on consecutive days in June) as the thrill of watching an ensemble across multiple plays is magnified much more that way. As it was, my enthusiasm for The Tempest – never one of my favourite Shakespeares and now totally ruined by the fact that I’ve now seen what will probably the best version ever –  had waned slightly as I returned to the Roundhouse.

The reality was neither as bad as I had feared nor as good as I might have hoped. David Farr’s production (I wish they’d gotten in a third director to really mix things up) has its moments of  inspiration and interest, but these are scattered throughout rather than invigorating the whole show and so my abiding feeling was of unevenness. For the great visual impact of Prospero having the islanders dress in identikit suits, little is done to enliven the immense amount of speechifying that the character does, Jonathan Slinger’s performance having a strangely unnerving impact more than anything. Continue reading “Review: The Tempest, RSC at the Roundhouse”

Review: Twelfth Night, RSC at the Roundhouse

“I am as well in my wits, fool, as thou art”

What country friends is this? indeed. A nifty line switch and a striking coup-de-théâtre gets the RSC’s Twelfth Night off to a wonderful start as Emily Taaffe’s sodden, anguished Viola emerges from the shipwreck she believes has taken her brother’s life and left her washed up in Illyria. Disguising herself as Cesario, a man, she joins the retinue of the Duke Orsino but finds herself swept up in the love games between him and the grieving countess Olivia, whose eye is taken by the new arrival on the scene. Part of the company’s Shakespeare’s Shipwreck Trilogy, the Roundhouse plays host to the repertory season for just under a month before returning to Stratford-upon-Avon for the rest of the month. 
 
David Farr’s production transfers the majority of the action in Olivia’s household to a Greek hotel (which she presumably owns) which proves a mostly effective and ingenious relocation. Malvolio becomes the hotel manager, Feste the old school variety turn, a reception desk stands in for the box-tree and the swimming pool and revolving doors provide constant amusement. Jon Bausor’s beautifully designed set is actually a triumph, an artfully exploded hotel suite on the sweeping expanse of timber atop a water tank, complete with working lift shaft which comes into its own in the scenes of Malvolio’s torment. Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, RSC at the Roundhouse”

Review: The Comedy of Errors, RSC at the Roundhouse

“I will go lose myself and wander up and down to view the city”

The endless whirl of festivals continues apace with the return of the RSC to its adopted London home at the Roundhouse. As part of the World Shakespeare Festival, which in turn is part of the London 2012 Festival, the RSC’s Shipwreck Trilogy brings together one company and two directors over three plays which are bound together through their similarities, entitled What Country Friends Is This?. First up is Palestinian director Amir Nizar Zuabi’s take on The Comedy of Errors, a fresh and frenetic romp through the play which, whilst it may lack some poetry, has been invested with a great energy.

Ruled over by a maniacal gun-toting Duke, it is instantly clear that this Ephesus is a dangerous place in which the threat of death is ever-present and a genuine reality. Onto a grim looking quayside, Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse are deposited as illegal immigrants in the elusive search for their twin brothers from whom they were separated in a shipwreck. Unbeknownst to them, they’ve alighted in the right place but almost immediately they are mistaken for their Ephesan brothers and brings into motion a hectic tale of misunderstandings and madcap capers. Continue reading “Review: The Comedy of Errors, RSC at the Roundhouse”

DVD Review: The Duchess

“As they say, the Duke of Devonshire is the only man in england not in love with his wife”

Another of the films that I revisited in my period drama splurge over Christmas was The Duchess. This Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes vehicle did fairly well in 2008 and I quite enjoyed it at the cinema, though I remember being a little tired of the marketing shtick that overplayed the title character’s familial connection with the late sainted Diana, Princess of Wales and rather unnecessarily sought to draw huge parallels between the two. The film is about Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, who delighted and scandalised late eighteenth century society with her extravagance, forward fashion sense and a soft spot for gambling. Her marriage to the Duke though was far from happy though and as her public persona rises and rises and she becomes beloved of most everyone, behind closed doors infidelities and terrible betrayals push the Duchess to extreme measures.

I did enjoy watching this again for the most part and it is strongly acted, but for a film that covers at least ten years, it is surprisingly slow moving. Knightley in particular is excellent as Georgiana (I’ve never understood why she is such a polarising figure), a woman ahead of her time in many ways with her intellect and political nous having no official outlet in the society of its time and also challenged by being unable to contain her passion for Dominic Cooper’s Charles Gray (great casting choice!). Her portrayal deepens as the film progresses too, she becomes a convincing mother and pained victim faced with a harrowing choice as Fiennes’ passive-aggressive Duke finally rouses into action. He is superbly controlled throughout, almost terrifying with his impassive domination of all around him and the best scenes of the film, in my opinion, are the masterful shots at the long dinner table with husband and wife at either end and his mistress in the middle – beautifully, excruciatingly done. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Duchess”