Orson’s Shadow -Broadway Baby Review

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Orson’s shadow looms heavily in Austin Pendleton’s play about the prolific director; not only over the protagonist but over the entire play which whilst fascinating and faithfully performed, struggles to overcome its creative shortfalls.

Orson Welles, Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, incredible icons in their time, brought together in one room. That’s the play’s real hook; an exploration into the lives of these larger than life people. It’s a fascinating subject – when Welles and Olivier teamed up to create a production of Ionesco’s Rhinoceros at the Royal Court in London, it did not go well and what might have been a huge moment in cinema and theatre history went largely unnoticed, as did much of Welles’ talents after he was forever in his own shadow after Citizen Cain. Unfortunately, like its titular character, this play, although clearly containing strokes of genius, also often struggles to find its feet.

Watching actors play actors and critics (Edward Bennet is a brilliant Kenneth Tynan, Orson’s dear friend and critic) is often a curious thing. Particularly if you’re an actor or a critic yourself. It often takes you out of the action, reminds you that you’re watching a performance. There’s clearly an awareness of this feeling in the play’s occasional meta structure which breaks out of the drama to allow a character to talk to the audience about dates and personal opinions, as though looking back in a journal. But that’s all these meta moments do and they often feel like missed opportunities. Why weren’t these meta moments turned into striking cinematic monologues to bridge the gap between these theatre and film icons? And delve deeper into the psychological states of these typically tortured artists? They’re not nearly stylistic or committed enough and often just draw your attention to the limitations of the production.

For a play about one of the most innovative directors of our time, the direction is very pedestrian – with props here and there which often get in the actors’ way as well as the audiences sat in the round. The play oddly feels dated, stuck in the time it takes place, which seems at odds with the narrative which constantly reminds us how Welles was ahead of his time.

The actors too, often struggle to find their own skin in these larger than life roles – that’s not to say the performances are not impressive; John Hodgkinson certainly emits Welles – he’s got the trademark sneer down to a T. And Adrian Lukis exudes the theatricality of Olivier with vocal and physical precision. But the problem is we don’t really get to see the real people behind the icons. We just see them as they were most famous for and the performances, at times, border on stereotype imitation. Olivier is flamboyant and whimsical, Vivian Leigh is manic. Of course that’s probably a perfectly fair portrayal, but there seems to be a layer that the actors have not yet fully found and which the script only scratches the surface of. We almost get there with Gina Bellman’s brilliant and disturbing portrayal of Leigh’s manic depression, but the role doesn’t feel wholly hers, but it may yet. There’s a fantastic and heart-breaking biopic all about Vivian Leigh just waiting to be made.

There are fantastic moments. The second act erupts into side-splitting hilarity and aching drama as we watch Welles attempt to direct Olivier, and we see Vivian Leigh lose control. But there’s an unevenness and sad lack of inventiveness to the production. What’s more it feels long and many of the scenes could do with a healthy edit to sharpen up the otherwise intelligent, witty and well observed dialogue.

It’s definitely worth seeing, particularly if you’re interested in Orson Welles (and why wouldn’t you be?) But it feels like it could have been so much more.


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Slow West – I’m With Geek Review

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by Dave House

Slow West is a brilliant and provocative Western. It begins as a love story and becomes a fable about America, exploring the dreams and ideology behind the mythic Wild West. The first feature film by Writer-Director John Maclean, it won the Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival this year and deservedly so.  Tense, beautifully shot and intelligent, it follows in the footsteps of great modern Westerns like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,The Proposition and the Coen Brothers’ modern day western masterpiece, No Country for Old Men.


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In Slow West, Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a young and naïve boy of 16, has travelled from Scotland to Colorado in search of the woman he loves, Rose (Caren Pistorius).  While roaming the woods of the untamed American Frontier, Jay is discovered by an outlaw named Silas (Michael Fassbender) who offers him protection in return for the youth’s money. Jay accepts, unaware that Silas has his own hidden agenda. It’s a typical Western narrative but Maclean’s unique approach has created a film that feels fresh and contemporary in a genre that can often feel tired and stale.  That’s largely because of the film’s visual flare and its deeper meanings.

This is a stunning movie. Filmed in New Zealand as a stand-in for the Colorado of the Wild West. It’s enriched with a palette of vivid colours which gives the film a mythical dreamlike quality. Yellows, purples and blues fill the screen with majestic landscapes, beautifully framed by cinematographer Robbie Ryan. In one scene a Native American runs through a rich green forest fleeing for his life. The vibrant colours of his war paint, captured beautifully by the rays of sunlight blasting through the trees. One of the last of his kind, he’s chased down and killed by opportunists, his blood adding to the canvas of colours. It’s an impressionist painting of the fleeting final days of the American frontier; the savage acts involved in creating the new world juxtaposed against the beautiful natural backdrops of the old. It’s almost appropriate that it’s not filmed in America. It’s as if to say that the old America was another world, well and truly gone.

Slow West explores the final days of the old frontier as a ruthlessly Darwinian Empire, where different migrant groups are crawling over one another for survival. If they’re smart and good hunters, they can even become rich by eliminating their competition. Fassbender’s Silas is a product of that world. He’s an immigrant outlaw who’s survived by claiming bounties, tricking people and taking advantage whenever he can. He’s a complete contrast to the young and naive Jay, who opens the film looking up at the stars, recounting the constellations and imagining each star shining for him as he pretends to shoot them.  A dreamer and a romantic idealist, Jay embodies the sentiments of the American Dream, the hopefulness of the immigrant, in pursuit of happiness in the west. Silas, on the other hand is a product of greed and the bounty economy that has made the frontier a hunting ground for the opportunistic. He knows what life in the Wild West is like and has adapted to it to survive. But he also admires Jay’s dreamlike vision, which offers a glimpse into what the West could become if people were driven by love and care, instead of greed.


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Fassbender and McPhee play their roles brilliantly. The former emanating a young Eastwood whilst making the role entirely his own, maintaining the brooding intensity and likable suaveness we’ve come to expect of Fassbender. Whilst McPhee emits a tenderness and naivety to his performance that both contrasts and compliments his partner. The relationship between the two characters is a strong dynamic in a movie full of great contrasts.

There’s a mischievous dark humour to Slow West that often comes out in stylistic visual flashes. At one point, Jay and Silas amusingly carry their damp clothes on an improvised washing line between their horses that ends up laughingly saving their lives from a violent native. In another moment, salt falls into a wound at the most appropriate or perhaps most inappropriate time, creating a menacingly amusing moment. It can almost be jarring, pulling you out of the action, to laugh at the irony of the situation with a visual gag. But then another gunshot fires and the film’s brilliant sound mixing pulls you right back into the action with reverberating and deafening gunshots and its ponderous folk tunes.

This is a highly enjoyable film and one that avoids the dust of its aging genre.  It’s a postmodern Western that’s as current as it is historical. Poetic and stunning, with a dry humour and a haunting quality, Slow West ranks among the best in contemporary Westerns.

Slow West is out now

The Calling Review

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The Calling is an average murder mystery that explores faith, fanaticism and mortality. There are some poignant moments, thanks to Jason Stone’s considered direction, and a solid performance from Susan Sarandon. But many will find this a rather sleepy and outdated thriller.

Susan Sarandon plays grouchy and depressed small town detective Hazel Micallef. Living with her mum and addicted to painkillers and booze due to emotional and physical torment, she’s fed up with life. When two murders happen in her otherwise quiet town, Sarandon suspects there might be a serial killer on the loose and springs (or rather, hobbles) into action.


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It’s an old story with all the classic tropes – Aged and bitter small time cop tracks down serial killer. Check. No one will listen. Check. New kid (Topher Grace on surprisingly good form) comes in and proves his worth. Check. Christian fanaticism linked to murders. Check, check and check. It’s a “been there done that” formula that could be an average episode in any detective TV show.

Still, it manages to tweak a few things to deliver an occasionally poignant and almost fresh detective drama.  The film has its moments. It’s refreshing to see a female lead in what tends to be a male centric genre. Sarandon carries the film well, providing a delightfully grumpy and pained performance. Her backstory is typical, but it’s delivered with subtlety and maturity and the emotional depth of Sarandon’s performance permeates the entire film.

Topher Grace is also likable in the film as the young new cop from another town. It’s still the typical new kid done good role he often plays but he does it well, adding nuances and skill that allow him to shine. The villain is similarly interesting if again, all too typical.  Christopher Heyerdahl plays him with a mysterious sense of a higher calling, but comes dangerously close to veering into bad guy ham, thanks largely to the script. Donald Sutherland suffers in a similar way in his supporting role. He acts well but struggles against some ropey scripting and clichés.


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A strength of the film is its mature and thoughtful tone. The music and cinematography play a big part in this, complimenting Sarandon’s powerful performance and channelling the film’s ponderings on mortality. What’s more Stone delivers some solid direction and despite the many weaknesses of the script, the performances in the film are mostly solid and the tone remains emotionally poignant, if somewhat lacklustre. But the film is let down too many times by clumsy plotting and scripting. Witnesses happen to say all the right things from the most minimal of questioning and the killer’s ‘message’ is cracked in the most unlikely of ways in an altogether ridiculous section of the film.

The Calling sometimes feels more like a television drama than a big studio film, somewhat akin to one of the better and more grounded episodes of the X Files. This is actually more of a strength than a weakness. It’s good to see a film like this remaining so grounded. The core metier of the film is in its human characters, and thankfully, they’re never forgotten or pushed aside for spectacle. But it also provides few actual thrills and you might find it more somnolent than thrilling.

The film treads old ground with some slightly newer shoes but doesn’t do enough to truly shine. It’s worth a watch for Sarandon’s performance. If you enjoy cops and murder dramas, it’s for you but there’s little else to entice viewers.

Original article on I’m With Geek at: http://www.imwithgeek.com/film/the-calling-review

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Movie Review

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has been unanimously slammed by the critics, but its been a box office hit. Here’s what I thought of it:

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a fun reboot that mostly feels authentic. The Turtles look great and there are some excellent action scenes. Unfortunately Michael Bay’s blueprint is present and will likely upset as much as please fans of TMNT.

There’s a new crime syndicate in New York, the swat team samurai group, the Foot Clan, led by the evil Shredder. Eager to prove herself as a serious journalist, April O’Neil is determined to get the scoop on the elusive group. Her antics get her into trouble with the clan but she gets rescued by four giant Ninja turtles giving her news pitch a level of crazy and zero credibility as no one has ever seen the Turtles.  But as the clan’s evil activities grow, the Turtles are forced to come out of hiding to take down the evil Shredder. We get to see the turtles grow up, learn how they came to be giant turtle men things, see them train under the tutelage of Splinter the Rat and watch them kick Foot Clan and Shredder butt. It’s directed by Jonathan Liebesman and Patricio Farrell and produced by Michael Bay. The turtles have got steroided up, looking gigantic and they all annoy as much as they entertain, but for the most part, when you remember how awful each live action TMNT movie was, this isn’t so bad except for a few things.

TMNT is updated to the 21st century with gadgetry and pop culture references such as ‘Oh look, he’s doing his Batman voice’. It also boasts some excellent CGI, but it remains locked in the decade it came from with an ugly level of Bay style outdated and offensive misogyny. Megan Fox must get pretty frustrated as she’s expressed that she was keen to avoid this kind of thing. Before the film’s release Megan Fox had an in interview with Entertainment Weekly about the O’Neil character. She said:

“She’s more of a leader when she explores her relationship with the turtles instead of just the human companion that gets dragged along on the adventure. It’s more representative of a modern woman […] I’m completely clothed for the entire movie, there’s no gratuitous skin or sexual anything. Jonathan was really insistent on not wanting her to be sexualised or to take that sort of typical role we’ve seen women take in movies thus far, and that I’ve taken in particular.”

Well sadly, it still happens here. There may not be ‘gratuitous skin or sexual anything”, but there’s plenty of other things that reinforce this crap instead. In the course of the film she gets called a ‘complicated chick’, labelled as  ‘my girlfriend’ by the unfortunately very creepy and pervy Michelangelo who says when he first sees April, ‘She’s so hot, I can feel my shell tightening.’ She also constantly gets perved on by Will Arnett’s lame camera man and the movie’s cameras too, clothed or not. She gets called ‘a little girl’ by Shredder and told she has ‘daddy issues’. How many demeaning things does Megan Fox have to go through if she accepts a film that Michael Bay is involved in?

It’s a big shame, as the rest of the film is enjoyable, and could probably generate an increase in TMNT popularity. But its backward schoolboy attitude offensively and clumsily asserts this as an utterly stupid boy’s film for boys and manchilds only, who are awkward around women. That’s not to say girls can’t or shouldn’t enjoy the film, it’s just not made the most pleasant of viewings when there is a level of objectification in the film. It’s particularly frustrating as this should be and is a kid’s film. So why is there this unpleasant creepy humour intruding into the picture?  It’s also annoying as Megan Fox isn’t bad as April O’Neil. In fact the actor shares the character’s plight in many ways, trying to maintain integrity while she constantly has to do demeaning things.  She suffered equally in the first two Transformers films and did not return for the third. It’s clear then, that while Michael Bay may not have been in the director’s chair, his smutty OMG women have boobs attitude is smeared all over the film he’s produced.

If this doesn’t make you mouth vom, or you love TMNT enough to bypass the intruding shitstorm of Bayhem that does sadly permeate through the entire picture, then there is fun to be had here. There’s certainly a thrill factor in seeing the Turtles reinvented in this way. They feel alive and their design is top notch. Raph is in full grumpy loner mode, and Leonardo is the tough leader he should be. Donatello, also charms with a nerdy genius presence. But Michelangelo . . . Oh Michelangelo, my favourite of the Turtles when I was a kid . . . . is just tragic. He’s reduced to just being dumb and horny and the amount he hits on and pervs on April O’Neil gets uncomfortable. It’s as if Michael Bay was set loose on Michelangelo and just turned him into his teenage self. I’m sure Bay finds this ‘reinvention’ of the character hilarious. Everybody else will likely be cringing. It might be fair to say that a lot of teenage boys are like that, but it irks in the film and just feels awkward. Splinter’s characterisation and art design is great though and the relationship between him and his turtle ‘sons’ is fantastically pitched.

The core relationships and story arc works well and the action scenes really impress. I particularly enjoyed the backstory to the turtles and the scenes of them growing up. Seeing baby and kid turtles is pretty awesome. And don’t worry, there’s no naff stuff about them being aliens. So what about Shredder and the Foot Clan? Well, sadly this may well be another point of contention for fans. Personally I enjoyed the clan and Shredder. But they’re different from the traditional TMNT, particularly in style. The clan are very militarised and Shredder is bling’d out in knives and mechanics. I know he’s called Shredder but he seems to have been slightly Transformered.

If you can get past the Bay blueprint that farts its way through the film, then there is lot of fun to be had here. It’s nowhere near as bad as it looked like it was going to be. But it also could have been much better. You’ll likely enjoy the action and the kids will really enjoy it too, it’s just a shame there’s the creepy moments. Let’s hope that if sequels follow, Michael Bay is appropriately kept at bay from the production.

Original article on I’m With Geek at: http://www.imwithgeek.com/film/teenage-mutant-ninja-turtles-review

Artist Removes One Letter from Famous Movie Titles and Illustrates the Results

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This stuff is great! Definitely worth checking out. Men is my favourite.

TwistedSifter

Writer and illustrator Austin Light recently shared a funny series of sketches from his notebook that reimagines movie titles with one letter removed. The idea started on reddit where users were asked to, “Pick a movie, remove one letter, give a brief description“.

As a daily art project, Light took the concept one step further, drawing a scene from the imaginary film. He also penned a brief synopsis for each. You can see the entire album on Imgur. For more from Austin, check him out at the links below.

AUSTIN LIGHT
Website | Twitter | Online store

1. Obocop

The story of how a police officer works through his PTSD and adjusts to his new robotic implants with the help of the sexy soothing sound of his oboe

movie titles with one letter missing illustrated by austin light (1)

Artwork by AUSTIN LIGHT
Website | Twitter | Online store

2. Rave

One red-haired Scottish girl. One dance floor…

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Movie Appreciation: A little look at The Box Trolls and its links to Charles Dickens and Roald Dahl

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I took my nephew to watch Box Trolls yesterday, not really knowing anything about it. I was delighted to see that it was a film in the style of classic children’s stories like Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol and Roald Dahl’s Matilda and James and the Giant Peach. So I thought I’d write a little blog on how it seems to relate to these classics. It’s also a wonderful film for its appreciation for old school stop motion animation.

Box Trolls is a charming old school stop motion family film with a Steampunk aesthetic and a Roald Dahl and Dickensian mind-set. Based on Alan Snow’s novel, There Be Monsters, The Box Trolls is a tale about little creatures who take people’s rubbish to make things and live off of in their underground homes. When a very young boy is in terrible danger the Box Trolls rescue him and bring him up as one of their own, and affectionately call him Egg. In the meantime a ruthless campaign is enacted to capture the Box Trolls who are labelled as terrible thieves and monsters. As Egg grows, his box troll companions are continually captured by the troll exterminators. When his troll father is taken he goes above ground to look among the humans to try and find him.

The Box Trolls is a beautiful film with a smart allegorical tale. Maybe its just me, but I found there to be quite a few aspects about The Box Trolls that made it feel like a Dickensian morality tale. There is the care and consideration for the young and destitute and themes of greed, corruption and waste. Egg and the Box Trolls are not unlike the characters of Dickens’ Oliver Twist – homeless children, street urchins regarded as pests and treated appallingly and villainously by the authorities.

It may not seem an obvious inspiration but Dickens is there in Box Trolls. In fact there’s quite a lot to this intelligent and beautiful childrens’ film. There are also excellent meta considerations provided by Richard Ayoade’s character. And there are elements of Roald Dahl too with the vulgar selfishness of grownups and the goodness of children, like we see in Matilda and James and the Giant Peach. The visual style of the The Box Trolls is also similar to the movie version of James and the Giant Peach, which is another fantastic family film.

The obvious theme of The Box Trolls is of waste and recycling. The Box Trolls are a bit like The Wombles, making use of our rubbish and making use of it for their homes. Then there are the story’s elements of greed and obsession with wealth and consumerism. The rich despise the Trolls, but the main Troll snatcher, Archibald Snatcher, is a poor man himself desperate to own a shiny white hat and eat cheese like the rich, even though he is severely allergic to it. Each time he eats any or even gets near cheese he suffers from terrible bloating, and I mean terrible, disgusting Roald Dahl style bloating. But he consumes it nevertheless. Cheese is the prime consumer item in The Box Trolls. The rich are obsessed with it. The Duke comments that they thought about using their saved money to buy a children’s hospital but instead spent it all on making a giant wheel of cheese. This could almost be a line from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Eventually greed is Archibald Snatcher’s undoing. The true victors are those with charitable hearts and who are caring and environmentally conscious.

Box Trolls then is a beautifully self-aware Dickensian style tale of environmentally friendly trolls. With elements that also make it like a Roald Dahl story, The Box Trolls is a fantastic morality tale that follows in the footsteps of some of the best of children’s literature.

War Dog

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Tonic walks steadily ahead. Sand and rubble hot beneath his paws. The men in their green and brown cloth and their war poles in and under arm. Tonic’s harness and pouches itch at his fur and the heat makes him want to pant. My boys are scared, he thinks, hearing each soldier’s breath as they watch and watch for signs of the earth being uprooted and eye every scrap of junk on the dirt road. Cans, containers, drink bottles. Things the man pack knows may hide boom strings to blow man, canine and warrior vehicles limb from limb. But Tonic smells nothing suspicious. His right ear twitches at the sound of a louder patter when one war fellow’s foot breaks out of rank, turning to look behind him.

It’s been a quiet month, no run-ins. No boom strings triggered. Just patrols with the man pack.

Corporal Daemon Morris, Tonic’s handler in the veterinary corps is close behind. Tonic feels safer for knowing he’s there and knows Corporal Morris and the rest of the man pack feel safer with Tonic there too. It’s a fact Tonic is proud of and for which he holds his head high.

When Tonic’s not on patrol he mostly stays in or by his kennel. The man pack might want to pet him and Tonic might enjoy a tug at his fur, a scratch under the ear or to play fetch like any other dog, but Tonic is a soldier and doesn’t think on such things. He stays by his kennel, unless called by Corporal Morris for a walk around the camp, or to go out on patrol.
Up ahead the man pack spots something that startles it. ‘A line of stones’ blurts Private Caren Jenkins. Tonic has noticed that when Private Jenkins speaks it sometimes sends an unusual shiver down his spine. Tonic doesn’t know why this happens but somewhere deep in the back of his mind is the memory of a lady just like private Caren Jenkins who used to take him out for walks and scratch him under his ear just the way he likes.

The man pack stops and Tonic stops with them. A row of stones can be a marker left by the enemy for their own man packs, to show that a boom-string is near. But Tonic doesn’t detect anything suspicious. He puts his nose to the ground then lifts it to the air, takes several quick sniffs and one long inhale that makes his nostrils flair. He detects the slightest smell of iron and an extra amount of salt in the air. ‘Tonic’ corporal Morris hisses. He holds Tonic’s face in his hands. ‘What do you smell boy?’ Tonic’s tongue drops out for a brief pant. He looks up into Corporal Morris’s eyes. Sweat roles down his cheek. Tonic is calm. The extra smell of salt in the air is from the increase in sweat of the man pack and the iron from their increased blood pressure. Tonic lets out an affectionate groan. He’s telling Corporal Morris, it’s all right we can go, let me do my job. Morris let’s go, and Tonic bounds on. ‘Go on boy’ says Corporal Morris.

Tonic is a black lab retriever High Assurance Search Dog on his fourth tour in Afghanistan. Soldiers come and go, the man pack changes, the handlers change too but Corporal Morris has remained Tonic’s constant for the whole of his 4th tour. Tonic trusts Corporal Morris and Corporal Morris trusts Tonic.

Morris loosens the lead and Tonic bounds on. Through the rubble and over the line of stones, knocking one with his sniffing nose. Clear of the stones, and a few steps on, Tonic stops and looks back at the man pack. Then as if to say there’s nothing to fear he wags his tail to show it’s clear. The man pack wade through, smiling as they step over the stones and Tonic, faithful Tonic bounds on ahead.

Then suddenly tonic stops, his ear twitches and he drops to the ground. Corporal Morris raises his arm, fist clenched. The man pack stops. Tonic has found something. There, close where Tonic lay impossible to see was something deep below the sand. Not for man or dog but for the wheels of war machines to trigger and to blow apart several men at once.

That was what Tonic found. You couldn’t see it, but it was there. Buried deep in the ground, it was the biggest discovery of an explosive by an animal. Tonic has done his job well today. He’ll take the scratch under the ear, the pat on the back and a good tug at his fur.