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.


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

Pride: An inspiring film that everyone, Everyone should see.

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Set in British Cinema’s favourite decade – the 80’s – beneath the iron grip of Thatcher and amidst the miners strike, a group of headstrong gay and lesbian young activists decide to try and help the miners’ cause by raising money for them in an attempt to rally together against a common foe. With the group title Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners or L.G.S.M, no one wants to have anything to do with them in 1984 But then a phone call to a Welsh mining town sets up an unlikely alliance and ultimately, friendship between two groups of sidelined people. it’s all based on a true story and is told exceptionally well with some astounding performances particularly from Andrew Scott and Bill Nighy who demonstrates a subtlety you rarely get to see from him.

Pride is an inspiring film that is heartfelt and uplifting. Occasionally it becomes almost too sentimental and slightly cheesy, but always manages to pull it back with very assured performances and an overall well crafted script from Stephen Beresford. It’s also different and refreshing to see an L.G.B.T. film that is so overwhelmingly positive and does not end all in tears like other films of the genre. Brokeback Mountain for example is an excellent film, but certainly not an easy watch. One of the main strengths of Pride is that it feels honest and consistent in its portrayal of hardships, prejudice and loss. Appropriately H.I.V. comes into the film as an integral part of L.G.B.T. history but does not become a focus. The focus is solidarity and celebration. The film has clearly been designed for mass appeal – it follows in the footsteps of well loved and heartwarming Brit flicks such as The Full Monty and Made In Dagenham with its up heartwarming proud Brit style. This may provoke fair criticisms but is also one of the film’s strengths. The point is that this is a film and subject matter everyone should be able to embrace and feel happy and proud to.

I urge you to see Pride. Particularly if this strikes you as a film that is not for you. Believe me it is.