Book review: Time To Act – Simon Annand

Simon Annand’s Time To Act is a beautiful book of photos capturing actors in the minutes before they go on stage

Tackling the constraints of the pandemic in its own way, Simon Annand’s fantastic new book of photos Time To Act has launched a virtual exhibition of some of the photographs which has now been extended to until Christmas. It’s an ingenious way of sharing some of the hundreds of images from the book and should surely whet the appetite for either just buying it now or putting on your list for Santa to collect soon.

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Book review: The Half – Simon Annand

The Half – Photographs of Actors Preparing for the Stage by Simon Annand

Just a quickie for this book as The Half – Photographs of Actors Preparing for the Stage by Simon Annand was released in 2008. But with an imminent new exhibition of these photos and a bargainous copy of the book popping up on Ebay, I thought I’d take the plunge.

And I’m glad I did as it is a proper work of art in its own right. Annand has been photographing actors for over 25 years and as such, has a veritable treasure trove of shots to share with us, resulting from the trusting relationships he has built up with so many, from the new kids on the block to veritable dames. Continue reading “Book review: The Half – Simon Annand”

DVD Review: Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

“I’ve always encouraged you Ian”

I’d heard of Ian Dury to be sure, but never really engaged with his music or life story so the film Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll – a biography of his life – was pretty much brand new information for me. For those not to speed like me, Dury was stricken with polio at a young age, suffering lifelong disabilities as a result but also gaining the drive and determination to become one of the founder of the punk-rock music scene in Britain in the 1970s with his band The Blockheads. At the same time, his personal life wound a chaotic path as he balanced a wife and two children with the demands of a touring band and his parade of lovers.

Mat Whitecross’ film is full of boundless energy as it mixes Dury’s rise to fame with flashbacks to a childhood spent in a brutal institution and enthusiastic performance clips with Andy Serkis rocking the joint in an excellent performance as Dury. He reveals Dury to be a proudly artistic soul, a talented wordsmith and determined to weave his own path through life, even as he causes the wreckage of many others alongside him. Personally, I’m not a fan of the archetypal narrative that often accompanies genius, their gifts to the world exculpating them from being decent human beings and that is true here.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll”

Film Review: In Secret (or Thérèse) (or Thérèse Raquin)

“It’s always the ones in the corner you have too worry about”

This film version of Thérèse Raquin was originally entitled Thérèse Raquin as it is based on Neal Bell’s stage adaptation but between presumed focus groups and a less than stellar premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, it was renamed Thérèse and in advance of its muted recent wider release, it changed again to In Secret. It is hard to see the logic of divorcing the title entirely from any connection with Zola as the generic replacement is hardly a big pull but who knows how the minds of Hollywood executives work.

As it is, I don’t think it would have made too much difference to the success of the film, as stellar performance from Jessica Lange aside, it is a fairly hokey take on the story which somewhat misses the mark. A young Thérèse gets a potted backstory as she’s left in the care of her aunt (Lange) by kindly parents and quickly morphs into a gamine Elizabeth Olsen who must play nursemaid and companion, and eventually wife, to her sickly cousin Camille (a brilliantly washed out Tom Felton).

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DVD Review: One Chance

“Kind of like the opera of my life”

Next up in the list of films I didn’t think I’d ever watch was Paul Potts’ biopic One Chance. For those not in the know or at least have little knowledge of Britain’s Got Talent, he emerged as the winner of the first series, his backstory as an unremarkable mobile telephone salesman with bad teeth the perfect foil for a rich operatic tenor. And as it turns out, his life was a catalogue of misfortunes, bullying and bad health holding back his dream of becoming a singer – perfect material to make into a film one might think.

Not on this evidence. David Frankel’s film is hamstrung from the outset by the fatal miscasting of James Corden in the leading role. Potts, or at least the version that is presented here, is a shy, retiring type full of crippling vulnerabilities and crucially enlivened through the gift of music but Corden conveys little, if any of this through his performance. He’s not helped by having to mime along to Potts’ own voice but there’s something more fundamentally wrong here, Corden’s cursory attempts at impersonation horribly superficial. Continue reading “DVD Review: One Chance”

20th Screen Actors Guild Awards nominees

Film
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
Bruce Dern – Nebraska as Woody Grant
Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave as Solomon Northup
Tom Hanks – Captain Phillips as Captain Richard Phillips
Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club as Ron Woodroof
Forest Whitaker – The Butler as Cecil Gaines

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine as Jeanette “Jasmine” Francis
Sandra Bullock – Gravity as Dr. Ryan Stone
Judi Dench – Philomena as Philomena Lee
Meryl Streep – August: Osage County as Violet Weston
Emma Thompson – Saving Mr. Banks as P. L. Travers Continue reading “20th Screen Actors Guild Awards nominees”

TV Review: Muse of Fire

We found Shakespeare tough at school” 

What a brilliant little film – tucked away on BBC4 but fortunately on the iPlayer for another few days yet, Muse of Fire: A Shakespearean Road Movie is a one hour documentary by actors Giles Terera and Dan Poole exploring the Bard’s reputation for being difficult to understand. This they do by speaking to an astonishing array of people including “ten Oscar nominees, five Oscar winners, one dame, seven knights” along with some of our greatest actors – it’s one of the most impressive roll-calls you’ll see all year (at least until the NT’s 50th bash next week…) – and some regular people too, from estate agents Cambridge to baffled students. 

This extraordinary depth of collaboration is at once the strength and the weakness of the film. We get such a wide range of insights from luminaries such as Ian McKellen, Fiona Shaw, Michael Gambon, Judi Dench and Derek Jacobi but there’s only time for snippets, the glorious Frances Barber is seen briefly at the beginning never to reappear and the list of credits at the end show all sorts who haven’t made the final cut. There’s so much fascinating stuff that must have been left on the cutting room floor that one can’t help but be a little frustrated – can we get a director’s cut?!  Continue reading “TV Review: Muse of Fire”

Review: The Recruiting Officer, Donmar Warehouse

“There’s a pleasure sure, in being mad, which none but mad-men know”

Josie Rourke’s inaugural season as Artistic Director of the Donmar Warehouse starts off with the Donmar’s first ever Restoration comedy – George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer. Written in 1706, it is also well known as the play that is rehearsed by the convicts in Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good and Rourke has assembled a truly impressive cast in order to make a splash with her debut. Plotwise, it is mainly about men who go ‘huzzah’ a lot as they try to recruit the young men of Shrewsbury into the army, balanced with two central romances which are negotiating the impact of a big inheritance on female romantic inclinations.

It’s a whole lot of bawdy fun rather than making any serious points about anything if one is brutally honest, but it is totally made by the quality of the cast. Tobias Menzies exudes charisma as the bounding Captain Plume, well partnered by Mackenzie Crook’s Sergeant Kite, and together they brazenly try to wheedle their way into the sense of duty of the male populace and sweep them off to war. Completely amoral but largely quite funny about it, the scene with the faux crystal ball reader is extremely well done, Nicholas Burns’ demonstrating some nifty moves as gentleman Worthy, and many a laugh is garnered. Most of them come though from the friendly(ish) rivalry with Captain Brazen, a rival recruiting officer who is well portrayed as Mark Gatiss nearly steals the show with an outrageously foppish performance: his vocal delivery at one crucial point was just delicious. Continue reading “Review: The Recruiting Officer, Donmar Warehouse”

DVD Review: The Merchant of Venice

“If you tickle us, do we not laugh”

I remember loving this 2004 film of The Merchant of Venice hugely when it came out at the cinema, not least for the dreamy Joseph Fiennes but also for the fact that it seemed to make sense of a play which I’d never seen on stage yet always heard how problematic it apparently was. Having not seen it since then, I was quite happy to pick it up as a fab bargain along with some other goodies in a charity shop and in rewatching it, I was reminded of how pleasingly strong a piece of work it is.

The relationship between Antonio and Bassanio is thoroughly played up, from the off Jeremy Irons’ Antonio gazes wistfully and openly out the window at the arriving Bassanio and their relationship is given significant heft by Joseph Fiennes’ highly flirtatious manner. His request for yet more money is accompanied by a knowing trip to recline on the bed between them, his eyes inviting Antonio to join him and whilst the connection between them is never made explicit – the one kiss doesn’t count – it feels extremely real and makes Antonio’s willingness to sacrifice himself all the more believable. And Fiennes’ attractiveness to all and sundry is played on later with Al Weaver’s Stephano getting breathlessly excited about Bassanio’s arrival at his mistress’s home. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Merchant of Venice”