Category Archives: Film & TV

Review Overlord by Jonathan Evans

(3 / 5)

Nazis are great, easy villains. They have a simple, distinct name, have an iconic look and logo so can be easily visually recognized as well as overenunciated accents. Plus they obviously committed such atrocities that they lend themselves to any deplorable situation, whether it be factual or some fantastical, made up scenario. This movie is the latter.

Overlord is not a movie like Apocalypse Now, Paths of Glory or Platoon where you come away from it with a unique view of war as well as the human condition. No, it is like running the gauntlet of video game levels where characters are simple, the explanation is minimal and about the experience. From boss fight, the sneaking around to full-on shooters this is like a really cool video game you won’t get to play but is still really cool to watch.

Little time is wasted, as soon as the movie starts we are in a plane filled with paratrooper ready to be dropped into their mission. Said mission is to destroy a radio tower, in France, that is blocking communication for American soldiers which makes it difficult. Bullets start popping up from below them so now it’s time to jump out.

On the ground, some survive the journey down and others don’t. Who we do have is Ed Boyce (Jovan Adepo) one who is possible too gentle a soul to face the harshness of this war, Captain Ford a very experienced, no-nonsense soldier that has a Kurt Russell swagger about him (convenient because he is his son), Tibbet (John Magaro) a wisecracking sniper that is by no means sensitive or an optimist, Chase (Ian De Caestecker) a photographer, Dawson (Jacob Anderson) that wants to write a book about all his experiences after the war and Rosenfield (Dominic Applewhite) Boyce’s friend.

During the course of the movie characters die, I don’t mean the Nazi’s themselves or some random character that was introduced for a minute then gets their brains blown out, I mean the core group that we get introduced to. We get to know them, they have their characteristics and some happen at different points in the movie. These people aren’t invincible and it adds to the action because now we know there are in fact stakes. I consider myself to be wise to the usual way conventional movies playout and there were some surprises to me so there may be some for you too.

When we get under the radio base we learn that there is much more going on that blocking signals. They are using some hidden element and using it to raise the dead. Yes, that’s right, Zombies! In fact Nazi Zombies! But not the Romero dumb, slow walking ones, these seem to remain intelligent but are driven mad because of the heat and are imbued with great strength, feel no pain and are no easily killed at all (then again what zombies are?).

This is stylized action and depictions of the war. The explosions are VERY loud and the soldiers don’t ever seem to suffer the consequences of being rather near an explosion (except the ones that die). Also whenever someone is shot there is half a bucket of blood that is thrown out from the other side. It’s not at the level of a Tarantino movie, but it’s near it, most likely inspired by it.

During the sequence where – sneaks into the base, I realized that the camera was just following him around and the story was being told through visuals. This is the movies Hitchcock scene, usually, these kinds of movies don’t have much faith in their audience to keep their attention beyond gunfights and yelling dialog, but in this scene, it shuts up and embraces the cinematic, visual storytelling element of cinema. This isn’t necessarily a great scene, but it is much more than what I would have expected.

When all is over the war is still going on and some characters survive which opens it up for a sequel which will most likely happen

 

Review The Mash Report by Judi Hughes

The Mash Report – live audience

Review by Judi Hughes

I was fortunate to be allocated tickets to be part of the live audience at the Mash Report recording of Series 3, Episode 3. The ticket offer came as a bit of a surprise as I had applied to be part of a number of BBC shows some time ago. I received an email saying that we’d been allocated tickets, but this didn’t mean we would definitely get in. The show was being filmed at Pinewood Studios in Slough and since we’ve never been there, my husband and I decided that it was worth a punt and planning for the trip began.

I’m giving full details because I think it’s important to let people know what’s involved in a trip like this. The tickets were free but travel and accommodation were not. Booking.com is my goto website for overnights and I booked a night at the Pinewood Hotel for the night of the show, which we were told would finish around 9pm (£88 including a delicious breakfast, not bad for outer London). I chose this hotel because of its good reviews and convenient location – it’s about 5 minutes’ drive from the studios where there was plenty of free public parking. We decided to drive down, an uneventful journey which was made pleasant by sunshine and the amazing colours of autumn leaves.

The hotel was easy enough to find and we were soon ensconced in our room with a bit of time for R&R and a freshen-up before we headed off for the show. The rest of this information is pretty important if you decide to venture to one of these live audience shows and the first piece of it is to do read their copious instructions and follow them as well as you can.

Top of the list is arrive early. We ummed and ahhed about what time to get there and decided on 5pm even though the studio doors didn’t open until 7pm. This was a good decision. We weren’t first in the car park but there were plenty of spaces and we didn’t have to walk far to get to the waiting area (a large marquee with a very small expensive bar and some portable toilets). After passing through security (don’t take a pen knife like the bloke in front of us) were invited to sit in a row of plastic chairs and wait for announcements to be made. Important advice here is to stay in the seats you are allocated as entry to the show is done mainly on a first come, first served basis.

As advised we took sandwiches (M&S ones for a treat) and drinks in plastic bottles as no glass is allowed in the studios. We waited for around an hour, made trips to the loo (do this early as there’s a rush just before the show) and ate our pack-up as more and more people arrived. Then we were issued with wrist bands – lilac for us, red for the people who had come later and white, silver and gold ones for the more important amongst us. We speculated on the reasons for the colours and after a short time it became clear that our early arrival had paid off. It’s worth saying that the organisers had definitely considered access as wheelchair users were called through to the studio first, followed by the important bods then the lilac wristband holders (us!) and followed up by the red wristband holders who weren’t all guaranteed a seat. I don’t think everyone got in – the process if that happens is to offer those who missed out a tickets to another show and guarantee entry.

Pinewood Studios was not the salubrious experience that we had been expecting; we walked past a jumble of buildings and ended up in a sort of storage bay before we were led into the studio itself. A working space with the expected stage set-up and a mix of flat and raised seating. Much to our amazement we ended up in the 3rd row from the front so we had a really good view. Cameras were above and behind us and it was fascinating to watch how the show was filmed, the use of the space and back screens to create the effect of the actors being outside. Observing the process was as much a part of the evening as watching the show.

The audience waited and chatted excitedly for what seemed like ages but was probably only about 10 minutes. Then the warm-up guy appeared and explained how it would all work, how and when we should respond, laugh and clap and really put us at our ease. Nish Kumar then came on stage and talked to us a bit more about the show, who the guests were to be and all the time being titivated by make-up and wardrobe people. Finally we were all set to go.

Nish introduced the show with his familiar satirical rant about topics of the week. The objects of his rhetoric included the Spice Girls, Trump, the USA Mid Term Elections in which a dead brothel owner was elected and also the rise of American women getting into power. Trump was splendidly ridiculed for his treatment of the press.

Over to the News Desk with Steve N Allen and reporter Susan. Their headlines covered the end of Big Brother, the ‘Living’ Wage, the British fixation with the weather and people wearing massive poppies, supported by some very funny reportage featuring Tom Bell, Freya Parker and Jason Forbes.

Back to Nish to introduce Rachel Parris who spoke about the weird rhetoric used when the media and our politicians talk about Brexit: “the conjuring of nostalgia associated with WW2 to argue for Britain exiting Europe”. Farage was the object of her ridicule along with others including reports of David Davis throwing a tantrum and giving up. She painted a ludicrous picture of the war years when instead of wearing tights you just painted your legs with creosote, rising out of the rubble for a good old sing song. Rachel is a genuinely funny lady who delivers her report in an upbeat manner, showing the positively silly side to all the Brexit shenanigans.

Nish then interviewed comedian Geoff Norcott, known for his right leaning views, although on this occasion not particularly a fan of Theresa May’s dancing. He compared Corbyn to a gangster’s wife in the vein of ‘I was present but I wasn’t involved’. His main target this week were the Lib Dems and it seems that they are so low key that he and Nish have been on Question Time more times than they have. He had a go at pretty much everyone, even the Greens, so in the end a very equal opportunity satirist with a slick delivery.

In a rant direct to the audience Nish covered the United Nations investigation, a serious topic about them visiting Britain to explore the impact of a decade of austerity – his lighter comedy tips advised that all the trains would be late and they might be photographed and end up looking fat on Twitter, which had recently happened to him. Some interesting facts here including that Britain is the 6th largest economy in the world yet 20% of the population are living in poverty. He also covered the rise of in-work poverty, with low wages failing to cover the cost of living. He derided the ‘end of austerity’ reporting that people will be worse off under Universal Credit, which has £3billion a year less funding than the previous system. He cited George Osborne’s political choice to feed the rich “this is George, he systematically made life harder for millions of people for a decade – he didn’t give a s**t and he’s minted”. Philip Green got it in the neck and even the Queen didn’t escape with Nish referring to her having diamond hat and a Netflix show about the hat.

The final News Desk told us “Guy Fawkes urged to have another go” and more digs at the Spice Girls: “Susan were you a fan of the Spice Girls?” “Yes, but I was a lot thicker when I was a teenager”.

Susan, played by Ellie Taylor, is the person I enjoyed watching the most on the Mash Report. She can change from chatty to serious in seconds, creating a believable ‘news face’ as she tells an incredibly funny story without laughing. She’s about to leave the series as she’s pregnant so we watched her perform extra items to be aired in future series as well as taking part in the current show. She was so professional and at ease in her role.

Switch back to Nish and an interview with young Ahir Shah to talk about housing which was very London centric but funny all the same. Ahir told Nish that the government’s only option was to “build more f*****g houses mate”. A bit about stereotypical views on immigrants included this old gag: “Brexit Dave – what a guy – thank you for telling me to go back to a country I’ve never been to”. He suggested building on the greenbelt – the bits that don’t look very green. To prevent intergenerational warfare he suggested a meeting of young and old minds, a sort of ‘Stormzy meet Mary Berry’ – the sound track would be excellent and the catering exquisite. He was funny enough but his delivery wasn’t up to the standard of Geoff Norton’s.

A final goodnight from Nish and then we were treated to about 20 minutes of corrections so we had to laugh and clap things we’d heard before. Not a problem as they were often funnier on second hearing.

All in all we had a brilliant time and I would recommend this trip to anyone who likes good satirical humour delivered by a lefty Asian comedian.

If you want to apply for tickets to a variety of shows you can do so on the BBC website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/showsandtours/shows/or SRO Audiences https://sroaudiences.com/

Review: Peterloo at Chapter by Roger Barrington

 

(3 / 5)

Mike Leigh’s rather uneven film of the 1819 “Peterloo Massacre” is an earnest account of the tragic event, but fails to engage.

On 16th August 1819, at St. Peter’s Fields in Manchester, an estimated crowd of 70,000 people peacefully congregated to hear the famous orator Henry Hunt speak about parliamentary reform.

Trouble had been brewing for a little while prior to this, as local malcontents had been rousing people in Manchester and surrounding area, to act about the social injustices of that time, in particular,  the lack of ability to vote for local representation to Parliament. This corrupt system exploited by the wealthy to their advantage, didn’t see any change until the Reform Act of 1832.

Mike Leigh is a fine writer and director. His “Life is Sweet” is one of the finest British films of the 1990’s. There isn’t much in “Peterloo” to proclaim that life is sweet for the vast majority of British people in 1819.

After the huge financial cost of fighting Napoleon’s French Army for 20 years culminating in Wellington’s triumph at Waterloo in 1815, the country endured a pitiless state of austerity, that makes the current situation in Britain pale into insignificance. The link between Waterloo and Peterloo is conveniently carried by Joseph, a bugler at the first and victim in the second encounter. A hero suffering from PTSD after the battle, and a sabered casualty induced by the actions of an intoxicated member of the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry in Manchester.

After the opening scene of Joseph at Waterloo, you witness his long trudge home that he and his companions had to make, whilst parliament decided to award Wellington a colossal financial reward for his victory. When Joseph eventually arrives home, in a state of virtual collapse to the dire living standards that people of the working class had to endure, you can quickly assess where Mike Leigh’s support lies.

This is a very promising start, but then the film stalls going on an endless stream of set pieces of public meeting and political conversations. It seemed like one of those ubiquitous historical documentaries whereby B actors dress up in garb distinctive of their time and station and invariably stare into middle distance. Whilst accepting that you have to provide sufficient background material to explain the ensuing climax, I did feel that I was back in the classroom attending a history lesson, rather than seated in a cinema to be entertained. And I love history!

The climax at St. Peter’s Field is well executed, but, again, not particularly engaging.

Mike Leigh has written a highly eloquent script and has a fine cast of British character actors to work with, and, where the film works best, is in its domestic scenes and personal engagements with Henry Hunt, (Rory Kinnear). He portrays Hunt as a vainglorious man, donning his conspicuous white hat – a brilliant orator, but to what extent he was working for the working class and to what extent he was promoting his own notoriety is questionable. (See image above).

Maxine Peake,  as Nellie, is a fine actress. She plays a stereotypical Manchester mother struggling with bringing up a family in early nineteenth-century Britain,  but is wasted in what she has to work with. Being a Bolton lass. she could play her role in her sleep. At least her accent is authentic, which is more than I can say about others, whose lapses made them sound more like coming from Bristol than Manchester.

Overall, though, the acting is fine. Tim McInnerny as the Prince Regent returning to the period that he so memorably played as Lord Topper in Black Adder the Third, manages to portray the soon to be George IV, as a totally odious man, an opinion that historians tend to agree with. The final scene of the film, where the Regent in an audience with Prime Minister Lord Liverpool, (Robert Wilfort) and Home Secretary, Lord Sidmouth, (Karl Johnson), based on historical fact, has George offering his congratulations to the military for imposing the tranquility of the scene, would be laughable for its irony, if it wasn’t for the fact that 15 men, women and children had been fatally injured and an estimated 400-700 sustaining injuries from the sabre charge of the militia.

Peterloo is obviously a labour of love for Mike Leigh. He has a point to make, and, by and large, he makes it. He doesn’t go overboard with sentimalisimg the working class. Some are odious, and not all the villains of the tragedy, the magistrates who ordered in the militia were evil.

The film reminded me, in some ways of Tony Richardson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade” (1968) and   Sergey Bondarchuk’s “Waterloo) (1970). You can’t but admire it, but you can’t love it.

It is a sobering thought as we navigate the tumultuous waters of Brexit, that very nearly 200 years ago, people in Manchester, in particular were fighting for democracy. After the Battle of Waterloo, soldiers returning home, suffered in the same way as those having fought in WW1. Not a land fit for heroes but one of austerity and hardship. 1815-1918-2018. I believe that many people, in part, voted to leave the European Union because they thought that things couldn’t be any worse than they are now. Perhaps they need to be reminded by films like Peterloo, that, in comparison to our ancestors, nearly all of us live a life of luxury. The perfect irony is that in 2018, one of the areas that are the staunchest supporters of remaining in the Union, Manchester, is the same community that fought for democracy 200 years previously. Now, you could argue, these people have become  victims of the political process that they fought and died for.

 

 

Roger Barrington

Continue reading Review: Peterloo at Chapter by Roger Barrington

Review Widows by Jonathan Evans

(5 / 5)

We have a gang that performs heists together, they all have wives, during one job it goes as bad as it can and now all the members of the gang have widows that must go on without them. A simple and solid set-up that can lend itself to many different end products, what we get is one of the greatest heist movies I have ever seen.

Pretty much as soon as the movie begins you realise you are in the hands of a master. Showing one married couple while startlingly parallel cutting to a disastrous heist that all the husbands are a part of. Already we efficiently have a grasp of who these characters are, how they relate to each other and what the setup is.

The couples are Harry Rawlins (Liam Neeson) and Veronica (Viola Davis), Carlos Perelli (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), Florek Gunner (Jon Bernthal) and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki). All come from different worlds, are different ethnicities, have different relationships and would certainly never be together by their own choice if we’re not for the job and their husbands.

Their husbands may be gone but the consequences are still waiting for them. Harry stole money from a man named Jamaul Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) a crime boss that is also running for office but still wants his money back, also is his younger brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya) a truly merciless creature that kills and tortures without any sign of sympathy.

Veronica is living in a penthouse and has some things to sell but nowhere near the amount Harry stole, however, he did keep a notebook with detailed notes on how to do every job, including the next one that none of them can perform now but the target and money is still there. All that’s required are people that are willing to do it and have the incentive.

Steve McQueen as a filmmaker has never shied away from the tough subject matter. For his debut made Hunger, about IRA prisoners that slowly die due to a hunger strike, then made Shame about a spiraling sex addict and 12 Years a Slave about a free man taken into slavery. Widows is a solid premise that is actually based off a miniseries in the eighties, which McQueen, along with coscreenwriter Gillian Flynn (who also doesn’t shy away from the tough material) have taken the concept and modernized it as well as shifted the setting to the United States. Within his works, we are always given a variety of techniques, from wide still shots to a scene being played out in closeup and sequences of rapid editing. He also incorporates sound very skillfully, some scenes will play very quietly then there will be a loud bang to cut the peaceful mood, others there will be a continuous sound through to the scene to provide timing and texturing of the scene and mood.

Veronica’s and Harry’s penthouse is a slick modern all-white suite that looks out on the city. Also are most of her clothes (slick, modern and white). When she decides to descend into the world of crime by performing a heist there is the inclusion of some black items of clothing before wearing all black for the job itself. Not the most subtle filmmaking ever but effective is effective.

This is a heist movie. However there are still many variations to be had within a genre, recently I reviewed Oceans 8 and talked about how it had a graceful, smooth camera throughout. Such an approach is appropriate for that movie because it is very Hollywood, about witty talking characters and, glamorous outfits and has an upbeat tone. This is street level with, obvious brutal realities and things can go very wrong very fast. When they do the camera goes to shaky hand-held, this is so we feel like we are there in the midst of the running and the catastrophe.

Widows succeed because like any other genre it is not really about the subject matter but a framing. Godzilla isn’t about a monster but a catastrophe, Apocalypse Now isn’t really about the battles but the mentality of war itself and we are not invested in LOGAN for the action set pieces but the character in that situation. Little of the movie’s runtime is the heist itself, but before we go into it we learn who all the characters are and why they are doing this and what is at stake. It is a story about bold, beautiful, damaged and flawed characters dealing with the very difficult hand life has dealt them.

 

Review Halloween (2018) by Jonathan Evans

My god, this franchise is confusing. Ironic because the original movie is so a simple, and minimal with its story.

John Carpenter’s original Halloween is one of the essential watches for horror lovers and movie fans in general. It is the perfection of the slasher genre, with a killer that is pure evil, a simple but effective way of shooting it and a score that hooks itself deep in your brain. Yet at the end of the movie it seems like it was done but the success meant more had to be made and so they made seven more movies, then Rob Zombie told his version of the material with two movies and now we are here, forty years later from the original and ignoring all the middle material. But this is the third movie to be titled Halloween. Told you it was confusing.

Opening the movie are two British podcasters that host a show about killers, crimes and other such grim subject matter. They go to Smith’s Grove Rehabilitation Hospital where for forty years Michael Myers has been kept locked away from the rest of the world, never speaking a single word. One of them has something for Michael though, the mask he wore on his night of rampage. This sends the other inmates into a frenzy but Michael still stands there not saying a word.

Cutting then to the classic score we all know from this franchise and a rotten Jack-O-Lantern that slowly reforms back to life, a symbol of Michaels reawakening, the franchise and this whole gruesome affair.

Carpenter himself does not fill the directing chair this time around but he is back as the composer. Carpenter composed nearly all his movies and Halloween was arguably his best job. A dark theme that is like the pulsing of the heart that grips you in tension and then a movement that ignites fright. In recent years he has been more focused on his music and he is very good at it. Here he gets to do one of the things he does best, he doesn’t completely reinvent the theme or copy and paste it, it stays true to the core of the score and adds little things, like a power chord from a guitar and other layerings to deepen then experience, it’s a great score that has received an appropriate update.

Filling in the directors chair is David Gordon Green. He has a diverse filmography, nothing that would make someone point to him and say “He’s the man for this job!” but we’ve had plenty of surprises of directors taking on franchises and actually doing great things with them. He and cinematographer Michael Simmonds incorporate a few intricate long shots that build up the suspense well and he portrays the kills with loud screams and plenty of blood.

Whenever something becomes truly popular and others seek to replicate it and/or a franchise is kicked off there is a big risk of homogenization. We want to feel like this is the world and characters that we’re familiar with but not a color-by-numbers experience. This gets a little closer to it but luckily strikes the right balance of being its own thing while taking its cues from the original and also giving a few nods while it’s at it. An example of this is that a key image is a white mask Michael wears, there isn’t any true significance to the mask itself, it was chosen because it has blank features which reflect the character, in context Michael stole a mask while getting ready for his night of slaughter. Same for the boiler suit, he happened to cross paths with an unlucky worker, here he by chance kills another worker in a similar navy blue boiler suit, would he have taken a red one? Or not killed him if it was yellow?

The most original part of this entire movie is how it portrays Laurie Strode. She is now a grandmother, slightly estranged from her daughter and granddaughter, living in a fenced off house ready of anyone that comes looking for trouble. It’s not that unbelievable yet I can’t think of many other movies that have done this, so many characters in horror sequels seem to go back into normal life after the traumatic events. Laurie was just a regular teenage girl and for no real reason came face to face with her friends being killed and pure evil. Jamie Lee Curtis fills the role with badass authority, taking no nonsense while she loads her guns and fragility, clearly having to live her life in fear and paranoia.

This is a refocus of Michael Myers as an unstoppable force of nature. A slow monolith of death that will keep coming no matter what. This was the original intention and is what makes the character so endearing. But in the first movie he was twenty one years old, now he’s in his sixties, I have to question whether his slow pace is because he doesn’t need to rush or because he’s getting on in years. Another interesting touch is that Nick Castle is playing him again, he hasn’t done that since the first movie. His average height and build add to his inconspicuous nature and his smooth walk with an upright posture adds to the unsettling nature because he’s about to commit the most barbaric act. An extra touch is the prominent sound of his boots while walking, like the ticking clock of death, they sometimes abandon this when he needs to pop out of the shadows. I guess that would make him easier to find.

This is probably the best sequel that this great movie ever got (though there truly isn’t much heavy competition), it caters to the fans while invites new viewers in. But part of the enduring quality of the first movie was how it could show horrible acts but could be quiet and slow. This movie is more generic and loud. In terms of slasher horrors this could be much less subtle and more poorly made, for Halloween, it could be better but is worthy enough to have the name.

Rating: 3 stars

Review for The Laud of the Rings by Tanica Psalmist – Camden People’s Theatre

(4 / 5)

Josh Gardner’s unique story-telling production entails mix documentation and an anarchic approach to performance. Josh elaborates on privilege and migration through the use of absurd. A space where he isn’t afraid of breaking the fourth wall or going against theatre rules or maintaining his dry humour which not everyone gets but it seemed he purposely wanted to convey that aspect to his character. The Laud of the rings tells the tale of Josh wanting to save Europe by re-enacting Frodo’s journey to Mordor, travelling from Oxford to Istanbul dressed as a hobbit.

The Laud of the Rings is a captivating and provocative performance that follows desperate attempts to live out a fantasy world in a black wig, plastic feet and have an encounter with a Serbian border police officer, as reality and fiction collide in an epic re-make of The Lord of the Rings.

The production is very immersive, it became intriguing when he would climb into the audiences space to sit among them, get the audiences participation by choosing individually who to read out his scripts and jumping on to the stage to blow up a giant, plastic sphere with a noisy air compressor.

There’s episodes where Josh risks the use of being ‘disorganised throughout his performance’ and scatty with minor control on stage, especially as he leaves the theatre nowhere to been seen again, leaving the audience members no opportunity to properly applaud, some audience members went off to find him in the giant, plastic sphere rolling around outside.

Laud Of The Rings is slightly weird, funny and slightly unsettling. It can take a lot for you to laugh, grasp the concept of his character and relate to the emotions of his character sincerely. Josh for me is a man with a gift for deadpan humor, not knowing if he was being generally serious or not made his act original, as he wasn’t scared to be daring or challenging.

 

Review Podcast: 99% Invisible by Judi Hughes

I am a podcast fan. I listen to podcasts on long journeys, while I’m cooking dinner, while I’m gardening and to help me off to sleep. There is a world of fascinating knowledge and stories out there that I can’t get enough of. The first of these, recommended to me by my son, is the encyclopaedic purveyor of unusual facts, 99% Invisible. Produced in Oakland, California it is part of the Radiotopia network and whilst rooted in the USA, has a truly international outlook. I find it delightful.

If you visit their website, the ‘about’ section tells us that “99% Invisible is about all the thought that goes into the things we don’t think about — the unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world.” Fascinating enough, but it’s much more than that. To date there are 325 episodes that you can download, beginning in 2010 and carrying on to the present, they have covered what I consider to be everyday wonders of the world. If you haven’t listened to any of them yet, you’re in for a treat. I wish I could start from Episode 1 again – in fact I may well do that because there are many that I would like to hear again.

Each episode begins with an introduction from the velvety voiced Roman Mars, with the inevitable but very important messages from their sponsors (independent means they need the advertising). “I’m Roman Mars……” and proceeds to tell us about some fascinating thing that we’d really never thought about but might just observe now, like the way that large buildings are designed to make people behave in certain ways – in airports for instance in Episode 126: Walk This Way, and Episode 93, which tells us why we should always use the revolving doors.

Then there are my all-time favourites: Episode 160 Perfect Security reveals that “in the entire history of the world, there was only one brief moment, lasting about 70 years, where you could put something under lock and key — a chest, a safe, your home — and have complete, unwavering certainty that no intruder could get to it.” The story of Bramah, Chubb and the lock controversy of 1851 unfolds. Episode 164 tells us how the discovery of Bakelite helped to make the awful practice of creating billiard balls from elephant tusks come to an end – did you know that by the mid-19th century, elephants were being slaughtered for their ivory at an alarming rate, just to keep up with the demand for high-end billiard balls – no more than eight balls could be made from a single elephant’s tusks. Closer to home is Episode 316 The Shipping Forecast featuring interviews with that reassuring voice of Peter Jefferson that anyone who listened to his dulcet tones late at night in will appreciate.

Wherever you get your podcasts try listening to 99% Invisible. It’s a whole new world. Check out their website: https://99percentinvisible.org.

By the way, they don’t like Trump, so all is safe in their hands.

 

Judi Hughes, 22 October 2018

Review First Man by Kevin Johnson

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This is not what I thought it would be.

A film about the first man to walk on the moon, I expected a sort of ‘successful’ Apollo 13, but what we get instead is a psychological study of Neil Armstrong – test pilot, astronaut, engineer, father and husband- that makes Apollo 13 look ordinary by comparison.

It looks at the kind of man he was, what drove him, the sacrifices that he and others made, how he coped and what it all cost him in the end.

This is a slow-burn film, and at 141 minutes, quite a long one. At one point in the middle I must confess, I almost fell asleep, but I’m so glad I didn’t.

Damian Chazzelle has directed a masterpiece, using all the tricks of the trade, old and new. Handheld cameras, tight close ups, mixed in NASA footage, all give a cinema verite feel, making you experience the claustrophobia of the astronauts.

Right at the start you are taken into the cockpit of an X-15 rocket plane. Flown by Armstrong, it reaches the upper atmosphere and gives him a tantalising glimpse of space. All the flying scenes are done incredibly well, placing you right at the heart of the action.

Ryan Gosling as Neil, and Claire Foy as his wife Jane, make a great couple, and perhaps one of the reasons they were cast is that they act so well with just their eyes. Invaluable when so much is shot in close up.

We start to follow their lives as they go through the death of their two-year old daughter, Karen. Unable to express his grief, Neil applies for the Space Programme and is accepted. Moving to Houston and a fresh start, they befriend other astronauts and their wives, and we are taken through their rigorous training.

Tragedy strikes more than once, and with each friend Neil loses, he becomes more and more withdrawn from Jane and his two sons, and more focused on his work. Eventually he is given command of Apollo 11, the mission to the moon.

The landing itself gave me shivers. Starting slowly, Neil and Buzz Aldrin drift towards the target site only to find it covered in boulders. Taking manual control, the surface drifts closer and closer, the tension mounting with each moment, all aided by the superb musical score, leading to a crescendo as the craft touches down with only thirty seconds of fuel left.

It’s one of the best pieces of cinema I’ve ever seen.

After broadcasting to Earth the historic message “Houston…the Eagle has landed” the two embark on a moon walk, where Chazzelle, possibly using artistic licence, possibly not, creates such a simple, unexpected and emotional ending that it almost made me cry.

Chazelle shows what an incredible talent he is, someone who can subvert conventions with ease. I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins a second Oscar.

This film is an amazing, slow, quiet, shattering experience. The best film of the year so far.

Kevin Johnson

 

Review of “The Seagull” a film version of Chekhov’s play by Roger Barrington

 

 

(4 / 5)

 

 

Anton Chekhov’s famous play, “The Seagull” is given an airing by a stellar cast, in a straightforward and faithful adaptation by director Michael Mayer.

Chekhov set out to write a  comedy, and much of the framework of the story bears witness to this. Many of the principal characters are victims of unrequited love. Konstantin loves Nina who loves Trigorin, who kind of loves Irina who certainly loves him back. Masha loves Konstantin but Medvedenko loves her. You get the picture? Maybe not!

Any film adaptation of a great play, is, to some degree, on a bit of a loser, because the unique intimacy of the stage and its relationship with the audience, is key in such a tight play as this.

Having said that, if you take the film on its own values, then Michael Mayer has done an accomplished job.

The strength of the movie lies in its actors.

Annette Benning as Irina, an actress on the decline – both guilty of love and tenderness, but, chronically self-absorbed, is perfectly cast.  Having just started her seventh decade, she still has the sexiness to be believable as a fading actress, who can still reel in a younger man, and a famous writer at that.

 

Saoirse Ronan, the talented Irish-American actress, whose name always causes me difficulty to pronounce, has the right balance of sensitivity and determination to make Nina a sympathetic heroine.

For me the pick of the female protagonists, (in a competitive field) is Elizabeth Moss as the increasingly dissolute Masha, who realises that she is alive but only physically.  You wish that she had more scenes because she manage to steal every one she is in.

 

Of the male actors, I liked Corey Stoll’s rather laid-back  Boris Trigorin. I have seen stage actors overplay this character, to the extent that he becomes rather annoying. There is a bit of Chekhov in Trigorin, the acknowledged leading writer in Russia, and there is also part of him in Konstantin, ( Billy Howle)- the writer trying to find himself and make his name.

Good support is offered by stalwart Brian Dennehy as Sorin, Irina’s dying brother, and Jon Tenney as Doctor Dorn, who recognises talent in Konstantin’s writing.

Besides the acting, the lighting and cinematography are really good. It manages to retain the level of intimacy that I talked about at the start of this review.

 

 

The final meeting of Konstantin and Nina, is enhanced by the lighting, and renders it a profoundly moving scene, which is exactly what is required.

One small gripe is that I didn’t think it necessary to be quite as explicit at the end. The viewer is left in no doubt what has happened, but the offstage gunshot in the staged version, followed by Dorn and Trigorin leaving to sort out the mess works better.

“The Seagull” is a worthy adaptation of a theatre classic, that allows an audience who can’t get to see it on stage, an admirable substitute.

County: USA

Genre: Drama, Adapted from a play

Running time: 99 minutes

Cert: 12A

The film was viewed at Chapter Screen 1.