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Review Bump/Bully by Kevin Johnson

BUMP BY KELLY JONES
18/4/2019

Raw, unfinished and incredibly gripping.

Joanne, a journalist, auntie and ‘lioness’, tells us about her nephew, Bump, and how she was prepared to take on the whole world to protect him from everything, except for the one thing she never saw coming…


Kelly Jones is a young playwright from Dagenham, who writes with a gritty fondness for her birthplace, and does it well. Her prose is sometimes a little too much, both in a less-is-more style, and also by telling stories we might not want to listen to but really need to hear.

The effects of Fundamentalism, Iraq, Credit Crunch, Austerity and Brexit on the 21st century generation are examined,
dissected and displayed. The murder of MP Jo Cox in 2016 by a right-wing Brexiter gives an unfortunate authenticity to this
drama. Joanne is fleshed out beautifully by Hannah McPake and deftly directed by Jennifer Lunn. Together they give us a
window into a new, fairly unknown world.

Like Shaun Edwards with the WRU, Kelly is an English talent Wales needs to hang onto, because if Bump is anything to go by,this is the start of a talented career.

Her prose is, like nature, ‘red in tooth and claw’, and its rhythms almost touch on the poetic. I look forward to seeing
her future work.

BULLY BY TOM WENTWORTH

The companion play to Bump, written by Tom Wentworth and
performed by Ben Owen-Jones, this is hard, harsh and unapologetically truthful.

Eddie is a lad, a keen rugby-player, and no stranger to the club scene. Then a tragic accident changes everything. He has to reassess his life, and how that impacts those around him…
Bitter, vile and uncompromising, this is not pretty, but it gives us a realistic view of what it is to be disabled, and how that
doesn’t confer automatic sainthood on anyone. 

Eddie is no hero, and his resentment grows at being expected to be one. In fact one of his few saving graces is his stubbornness and refusal to conform to such a stereotype. As he says ‘survival is being selfish’. He isn’t just physically disabled, Eddie is also emotionally disabled, but he never comes to terms with it, and that leads to further tragedy. Like Bump, this isn’t sugar-coated, and all the better for being so. The direction of Abigail Pickard Price and the performance of Ben Owen-Jones give us a person who we pity but we’d cross the street to avoid. As Eddie says “if I’d had my legs blown off in Iraq, you’d all want to shake my hand”.
Instead, we just shake our heads.

The weakness here is the almost relentless scatalogical language, and the bleakness. Eddie is not a likeable person, andthis tests the audiences patience. But like Bump, these are things that need to be said, and they are said well.

Review Hellboy (2019) by Jonathan Evans

2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

Remakes and reboots are a bit of a tricky subject for reviews. Reviews themselves should be relative not absolute but you still need to take into account better or worse movies within the genre or subject matter. We have a new Hellboy movie that is not a continuation or has any involvement from what Guillermo Del Toro started back in 2004 when it must also be noted there were far fewer Superhero movies. A movie that carries the same name as the original has to stay true to the spirit and tone of what it is adapting or remaking while still distinguishing itself. It’s a delicate act, but some have done it right.

What helps Hellboy be distinct is Hellboy himself. He has an obvious, distinct visual to him but also his mentality, he is essentially a blue-collar Superhero. He wants to do the job in as short a period as possible, then kicks back and watch the latest sports game and enjoy a beer. When he goes in and investigates and it turns out there’s a monster his thoughts are “Ah hell, this is gonna take a bunch more hours.” One of the strongest elements of this movie was the casting of David Harbour, he comes with a deep voice, dry humor and a nonchalant attitude that fits for the character and this world. 

Anyway, the movie kicks off with an opening voice monologue spoken by the character Trevour Bruttenholm (Ian McShane). About the old days in King Arthurs time when an evil witch Vivian Nimue (Mia Jovovich) was about to unleash demons upon the land but was betrayed by her own witches and King Arthur impales her and cut her into pieces, but she does not die, so each of her body parts is sent far away to be hidden. While this is playing out it is in black and white except for anything that is red and a few swear words are thrown in. It sets up the movie as a whole well, some sort of cool stuff, a bunch of violence and a few swear words in the mix in an attempt to be cool.

Apart from Harbour, McShane and a few others in the background, these are bad actors. Well, not so much as they are bad but these are bad performances. I’ve seen some of these actors in other things and know they’re capable, but they do not do their best work here. Their line delivery is flat and unenthusiastic. Perhaps this is a case of the director not spending enough time with them, or they were uninvested in the material I don’t know and at this point, it doesn’t matter, we have two actors doing a good job and the rest just don’t care. 

Speaking of line delivery something went wrong with recording during filming or during ADR because we can hear all the actors reading their lines crystal clear. You would think that this would be good but there’s no leveling going on. If a character is in a close-up or far away it’s still like they are right next to us and rings of artificiality. Maybe if they had some supernatural, all-powerful specter on screen speaking then there would be a reason for this but for every character, it is one of those finer details of post-production that goes a long way if you do a good job on, which they haven’t.

Special effects do not make a movie but they are needed so you believe something is really there. These are terrible special effects. Whatever digital company did these effects are not up to scratch, they are poorly rendered and obviously artificial that this whole movie could be mistaken for coming out in the early two-thousands. There are a few effects where they linger on them for a long time so you can get a good long look at it as if they were proud of it, but it reeks of fake.  Even then some of this could be forgiven if you cared about the people/demons that were within the scene, but we don’t, it’s the worst kind of narrative, where you aren’t invested, nothing clever is happening and so it’s just stuff happening on-screen.

Editing is one of the most essential elements of movie making. It is what defines it from theater or literature. It is the art of taking the raw footage and carving it into something defined and with shape. Timing the cuts right and sometimes not cutting so you can let the actor’s expressions really sink in and to mood resonate. This is neither of those. What has come with the fast format of digital is the ability to cut willy-nilly and go crazy without thought or reason. The editing within this movie is a mess, they cut and cut not because one thing leads to another but because they want to keep the audience paying attention and think that by editing it within a blender is the way to do that. this isn’t cutting the footage, it’s hacking at it so now you just have a mess.

If you are going to compare this movie to Del Toro’s movie then Del Toro is the winner. If you let this movie stand on its own then it still isn’t very good.  It is still unique amongst the now much more crowded competition of Superhero movies but even then they are of a much higher quality.

Review Bully, Unsolicited Theatre, WMC By Rhys Payne

Bully was a one person play performed in Ffresh at the Wales Millennium Centre. It was written for Unsolicited Theatre by playwright Tom Wentworth.  This was a work in-progress reading which makes this play difficult to review. This play follows the story of Eddie a gay rugby player who becomes disabled during an accident. He becomes angry and frustrated and takes this out on the people closest to him.

The character of Eddie was played by an actor who was a wheelchair user and so this served as a visual reference that Eddie is disabled. Due to prior knowledge and experience this made the character justified in his anger as he was confined to his chair which was discussed heavily through the play. This production was raw, somewhat realist and very emotional. As this play was a work-in progress reading and had no staging and props (excluding the wheelchair itself) the focus should have been on the acting or performance of the play, instead it was focussed on the script and its story. But unlike Bump I seemed to focus on the page turning of the script. This script reading became very obvious as it was held by a metal arm attached to the wheelchair and sometimes appeared in front of the actors face. This took the focus off the actor and onto the paper script itself which was something I did not think should happen but understandable with it being a work in progress.

This play was told by a friendly and approachable character in a wheelchair. His mannerisms and speech patterns made me feel as if this character was somehow related to me. We have all experienced a uncle or family friend telling us a story about when they were young and doing silly things to try and warn us against it. As this story was about something that happened in the past it felt like one of these stories. On top of this the story contained many funny lines which made the audience chuckle which only added to the relatability of the character. The section of the play where Eddie discussed being in the crash and being in the hospital was very vivid and realistic. To the point where I could image myself experiencing the accident while the words were being said it created a clear imagine of the hospital in my head.

This production was a lot less moving and emotional than Bump which may have been to the actor moving across the stage, while this did allow for change of topics and a chance for the audience to understand what had happened and to add to the realism of the piece. At times it created unnecessary pauses and forced my attention to the captioning (where parts of speech were missed out and certain words were incorrect, which would have caused problems for people who needed them.) The thing that confused me most about this production was why was it called ‘Bully?’ On Unsolicited Theatres website it states the character becomes a bully while being disabled and them becomes bullied. I think this concept was missed in the production. The events at the end of the play are somewhat like a bully but I felt as if it appeared more as a loss of anger then something he would do respectively. But this may have been due to the fact I felt a connection to the actor and so unconsciously refused to accept him as a bully, which is a sign of good writing. Either way, Bully is a hard-hitting play that gives an insight into how it feels to become disabled which made for a very interesting watch.

Review Bump, Unsolicited Theatre, WMC by Rhys Payne

Bump was a one person play performed in Ffresh at the Wales Millennium Centre. It was written for Unsolicited Theatre by playwright Kelly Jones.  This was a work in-progress reading which makes this play difficult to review. As Kelly had the script in her hand while on stage this meant there was little (although there was some) acting or performance, instead it was focussed on the script and its story.

I can definitely see the potential in this script and a venue such as Ffresh worked and would work as a full production.  This production contained no props and very little staging (all they used were two chairs on the stage) this meant the focus would, eventually, just be on the character of Jo but due to this being a work in progress reading and the character not being fully realised .The focus was on the story. Despite this however, Kelly’s performance was amazing and she did ‘perform’ certain aspects of the script.

This play was unlike any play I have seen before. I must confess that I tend to not enjoy plays, just out of preference, but this reading was unique. This story follows the character of Jo from the modern day, back to fifteen years and then back to modern day again. The audience discover that Reggie had to drop out of school to look after her new-born nephew and deals with some very controversial and complex issues.  As the story was set in the past fifteen years, it was relatable. The story was also contemporary as it involved concepts such as Facebook, laptops and mobile phones. I felt as if this story was based on something that could have easily have happened recently. This meant the audience could easily empathise with Jo and relate to her hardships. The script was written to portray to the audience that Reggie had really experienced what had happened. At times the character would talk about things that were off topic, she would make jokes and experience things/emotions that everyone at one point or another had gone through. This all made the story and the character seem like a normal person and so made it relatable for the audience. The monologue of the character was spoken as if it was meant to be direct to each audience member. The actress playing Reggie,  forced eye contact to the audience and the script used conversational language which made everyone feel part of the story. As a result of this, the entire play was emotional and moving for everyone experiencing it.

This play covered some very controversial issues but did so in a respectful way. The character of Reggie was a lesbian but this was not the main focus of the story or a ‘big reveal’ set up in the play, instead it was a casual remark (she being female and saying she was dating another female) which is an important thing for modern theatre. This helps audiences become more aware of the the sexual preference of homosexuality and makes people who are part of the LGTBQ community feel more like everyone else and accepted in society, which can only be a positive thing. It also discussed the act of motherhood and how many people are not sure if they could look after a baby. Or what to do with a new baby which, while comical at times, would have put new mothers at ease and made them feel as if its not just themselves who are stressed and confused. The play also dealt with the role of family on someone’s upbringing from childhood even into adulthood and the important/effects of perspectives.

I would have to give a warning to people wanting to watch this play as it does contain a lot of swearing which many people may find uncomfortable. But also, as stated earlier, this play deals with many topics (acts of terrorism, homosexuality) which many people may not be comfortable with.  Due to this being a work on progress reading there is a limit on how well I can rate it as I’m rating it’s potential rather that the performance  I actually saw. It displays a grittier and real side of life through the medium of drama which avid theatre fans would enjoy.

Review Orpheus Descending by Tennessee Williams, Theatre Clwyd and Menier Chocolate Factory by Karis Alaina

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Tamara Harvey  – hot off her Olivier award for Home I’m Darling’ could have played safe – and ran a nice little Ayckbourn – instead she plucked a little known Tennessee Williams play that was in the main considered a flop, set in a convenience store in the Deep South of America –  no doubt she could have had her West End and Broadway, Tony Award winning designer Jonathan Fensom create a replica 1950’s American store, instead it appears she asked him to design as little as they could get away with… this could look like an ‘A’ level workshop production – a set from what’s lying around – on the surface minimal direction and caricatured characters – and in principle that is what this is – but I mean that as an incredible compliment.

Some of the best work I have seen has been from peers in workshops. The actors are able to use the words, their skill and their craft and although the characters are caricatures these actors did not act them in this way.  By being basic, the set took no focus away from the actors – yet gave them enough to do on stage, the master piece of the design was the hues of the lighting by Tim Mascall and the use of smoke – which was only noticeable by it’s absence . Finally the lack of direction – I find two reasons for noting the lack of direction one because the actors look awkward or lost on set and direction is missing – or direction is lacking because it is perfect and you feel as though you have just watched characters as the author intended. There was no apparent direction present in this play, it was perfection.

It took me a good 10 minutes to acclimatise to the tone of the play – the accents (although spot on) took some adjusting too – and a lot of information was thrust upon you from the start – this is not a play you can attend – to just half watch and unwind at the end of a long day – it is not light relief – although peppered with humours moments – in the main it is an intense reflection into the complex nature of humanity….. or lack of….

We hear  about the owners of the store (Lady and Jabe)  through the brilliant gossipy narrative of  Belulah Binnings, the main form of the light relief comes from Catrin Aaron (previous TC production  –  Little Voice) – before we even meet the couple the past 15 years of their unhappy marriage is laid bare in 10 minutes and secrets that have been hidden are revealed to the audience hinting this play will not end well. This is a clever use of narrative instantly we take sides, and as an audience we are willing Lady to know the truth.

The first part is in the main tone setting – and it sizzles with the introduction of snake skin wearing, guitar playing Val – the beautiful Seth Numrich – who honestly if he had walked off set and asked me to run away with – I would have! He wooed every woman, possibly every man in the theatre – especially when he played his guitar and sang. His character I was unsure of except until the very end – he claimed to be on a journey to reform from his past – which kept coming to taunt him in the form of the flesh baring makeup wearing Carol Cutere ( Jemima Rooper)– who  created as much hysteria in a room as the local black man, as we learn during this production. The play had a large cast who all had an important role to play – no role was small – and all expertly executed. However the main hook of the play was the heat between Lady (Hattie Morahan) and Val (Numrich) they share a lot of stage time, long looks, desire and the occasion interruption from the phone or from above – leave every word dripping with sexual tension or hidden connotation to an unhappy past (on both parts) There is a delightful scene near the end of the second half when both are truly happy and the audience is lost in that moment with them which enables the audience to be as shocked by what happens next as the Lady and Val.

Do not come to watch this play if you are after a giggle with the girls and want to see the Full Monty – watch this play because you love theatre, because you want to know what clever set design is, because you want to know how a good actor can be a great actor. Come and watch this play if you like tension and drama  – if you are a theatre student of any description you need to see this play before it heads to the West End.

I have struggled with why the play wasn’t a hit when first produced –   but my knowledge of Williams is not strong enough to judge – however if I had to comment I think Carol (Roopers) Character could be the answer – addressing racism in 1950’s America was risky but a white women defending black men in 1950’s America was perhaps too big a pill to swallow . Thankfully Sami Ibrahim and Carys Lewis (TC’s residents in writing) have brought a forgotten gem back to life and the Williams play will finally get the credit it deserves.

A brutal insight to self righteous 1950’s slavery, intensely acted, perfectly directed and dripping with sexual tension.

Orpheus Descending plays at Theatr Clwyd, Mold from 15 April – 27 April 2019. It then plays at Menier Chocolate Factory, London from 9 May – 6 July.

Review Top Girls, Caryl Churchill, National Theatre by Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Upon the National Theatre stage – a stage I only saw a short time ago transformed into a slanted living room, I now see a chic and expensive looking restaurant set.

Coming into celebrate, we meet a whole host of historical female figures – all with their own blood thirsty, unbelievable and hilarious stories, the cross over between the time set play in the 1980’s with much older eras makes this play instantly comical and poignant to the power of women.

In a time of the Me Too movement, and continued fight for equality, a play focussing on how extraordinary women have always been, the struggles the still face and the pressures we experience is not exactly new. But Churchill, having written this 1982, seems to have been way ahead of her time in writing a piece of theatre that we have only really been seeing develop across fringe and west end stages in the last few years. While at the time of Maggie Thatcher; a time where the glass ceiling began to break, we have still found ourselves continuing the fight till 2019. And so Top Girls feels even more inspiring to this day.

The performers, as expected at the NT are impeccable. A beautiful all female cast, not a single male is seen on stage and this emphasises the sheer power of the play.

The first half features these hammed up yet interesting characters – perhaps a little stereotyped – they cover a range of feminist topics that we were unaware that would be an issue in their era. They did try to cross over conversations, perhaps to make this seem more like a natural meal amongst friends than a staged one. I am not sure how much I felt it worked; it was a struggle to tell what each person was saying at different times.

The second half really brought up the sense of family, of growing up and a dysfunctional family and their relationship with one another and men. Again, the interactions were perfect and we felt real emotion in the scenes.

A play that could have easily aged badly, Top Girls is as important as ever – funny, clever and poignant, any female identifying as a feminist needs this play in their life.

Review The Bodyguard, Wales Millennium Centre by Rhys Payne

All images credit Paul Coltas

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Before watching ‘The Bodyguard’, at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff I was very excited. The songs are many of my favourites and so I knew it would be an enjoyable performance, but this show did not disappoint. At first, I thought it would be similar to Motown in which the songs are great and popular, and people would sing along to, but the narrative is somewhat less important, but I could not have been more wrong. In fact, I would consider ‘The Bodyguard’ as one of the best all-round productions that I have seen. Having some of my ‘guilty pleasure’ songs included in this production was the icing on the cake.  The last time I saw Alexander Burke in a production was in ‘Sister Act,’ which I felt she didn’t suit but this powerful ballad-based character was a lot more suited to Alexander and her singing style.

The production’s opening was a striking shadow-projected scene, which had loud sound effects, which caused audible gasps from the audience. This was a fantastic way to grab audience attention in the first few minutes of the show. It was easy to spot that this scene would be book-ending the whole production and a similar scene would take place at the end of the show. This is the first time, in my experience, that this type of structure is used which made me keep the image in my head to see how the plot would lead to it again in the end. This meant the entire time I was thinking about this opening scene, which was not a distraction in any sense but would be considered an effective opening scene. The opening number however was flawless. The production values of staging, light and pyros was superb and the dancing was incredible. I don’t know if it was intentional, but I instantly drew comparisons of the character ‘Rachel Marron’ both are super successful artists, costumes show similarities to one another and the ‘performance’ of their songs (especially this one) were of the highest quality. However, I believe that this performance topped the Beyoncé performances I have seen live and this number could have easily been a show in itself. It would not have been out of place as a concert/performance in somewhere like the 02 Arena. The one small drawback to this number was, Alexander Burke, who played Rachel Marron, is an incredible singer and actor but her dancing is the weakest of the three (all of which are obviously of a high level but her dancing is not quite as good as the other two) which could be noticed through the big dance numbers such as this one and also during the opening number there was a short scene of dialogue which took place. Due to everything that was happening on the stage (lights, dancers, music etc.) I missed a lot of this dialogue which was clearly not what the directors would have wanted. The bold opening scene and awe-inspiring opening number contrasted each other perfectly and ‘set the scene’ for the rest of the production. This show alternates between these amazing, popular songs and tense dramatic scenes, which the opening sequences set up for the rest of the show beautifully.

Many of the supporting characters in this production were very relatable and believable which is important for productions like this. The young boy who plays Fetcher was an incredible dancer, which was shown in one of the dance rehearsals scenes towards the beginning of the musical. He was amazing and I would say upstaged some of the other dancers. They used the young boy to perform lifts and flips which obviously would have been easier due to the size of the actor. Although, during this scene the character crawled through a table which I believe did not quite fit the rest of the choreography, but this is a minor detail. This character would have primarily involved to provide an ‘awww’ factor as he is the young son of Rachel who gets caught up in the events of the stalker. This did build the sympathy toward Rachel and ‘hatred’ toward the stalker. The stalker (played by Phil Atkinson) was a key character although he is barely on the stage, even when he wasn’t on stage his presence could still be felt. When he was on stage when he is silent and is in almost darkness, which was an extremely effective way to build tension, and it is only in act two that he speaks. The whole presentation (including casting) of this character was perfect and this character-built fear from the audience. Although it was a bit strange that this character spent a lot the time without a top on.

One of the most enjoyable scenes in the whole show was a karaoke scene not because of dramatic staging, of phenomenal singing or whatever it was just a fun scene. It opened with three girls drunkenly singing ‘Where Do Broken Hearts Go’ it was really funny and I felt like I have seen the same scene in real life. A group of girls singing a popular song like that in karaoke while ‘butchering’ the song, but the difference was in this show these actresses were doing it intentionally. This seemed to be a common theme in this production. Later in this scene, Frank Farmer, the bodyguard (played by Benoit Marechal) goes onto karaoke to take on Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ which I have personally been tempted to do but never have had the guts to due to the power of the song. However, Frank combated this by ‘talking’ the song, which had the whole audience rolling in laughter. Which was really nice to see the softer side of frank. This scene was ended by the iconic song ‘I Have Nothing’ which was beautifully sung by Alexander. Which was obviously sang to and about Frank as we found out they have an attraction between the two of them.

The final scene of this act was in a club. It revolved around Frank and Tony Scibeli, the security guard (played by Craig Berry) protecting Rachel from any potential threats in the club. In this scene the spotlight illuminates the stalker. This meant my eyes were following the stalker’s track around the stage, which only added to the tension and drama. IThis scene looked more like it took place in a nightclub due to the flashing lights and music rather than a normal club but apart from this the scene was well staged and executed.

The beginning of Act Two had a big dance number to the song ‘I’m Every Woman’, which is a song I know very well. The dancers in this scene were excellent and the acrobatics were a spectacle to watch. However, at certain points in the number there were movements that were supposed to be done at the same time and were actually out of time with one another. But I really enjoyed this opening, as its ‘over-the-top ness’ was a perfect way to regain the excitement after the intermission. There was a few people in the audience singing along with the music which I personally find great as it shows they are enjoying the song etc., but I know some people are against this, so this is worth noting.

In one scene the staging changed from a luxurious mansion to a log cabin. I really liked the concept of the staging as a log cabin suggest warmth and safety, which was exactly what it was supposed to do within the story. The contrasts between these two setting also helped shift the focus from Rachel and her fame/money etc. to family. This is added to be a heart-warming rendition of ‘Jesus Loves Me’ between Nicky Marron, Rachel and Fletcher. Fletcher however did struggle with this song as it is a complex rhythm and strange vocals but as he was a child this was somewhat ignored. The lights and effects were continued to be used to make the Stalker actually terrifying as he appears from nowhere at points and disappears quickly after.

Probably the biggest and best number in the entire production is the classic ‘I Will Always Love You.’ This song was kept right until the end to act as an emotional tribute to everything that happened throughout the narrative. As the earlier ‘rendition’ by Frank in karaoke, was comical this final number was show stopping. The staging, costume and lights worked perfectly to add to the emotional nature of the song and Alexander’s vocals were outstanding. She did change some of the vocal trills from the original, which were fantastic. During this song there was a montage projected onto the stage of the Rachel and Frank and their story so far. I found this to be somewhat distracting from the song and could have done without it, but the montage was not a cheesy and unnecessary  it was heartfelt and emotional. After all this happened the entire cast sung ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody.’ This involved solos from different members of the cast, including the Stalker (which was a nice inclusion in my opinion), dance sequences and ‘party’ lighting. This was when the audience were encouraged to sing and dance. The two songs (I Will Always Love You and I Wanna Dance with Somebody) obviously contrasted each other and helped cement the pairing of drama and fun.

This production was well thought out and planned. Everything from music, lighting, costumes to props used all worked perfectly together, which was really nice to watch. The production aspects of the show were fantastic and one of the best I have seen. Alexander Burke’s portrayal of the iconic role is on par with Whitney’s (which is high praise) and this a show not to miss.

Review Missing Link by Jonathan Evans

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Laika likes to be grand, go ambitious and portray the unconventional. They latch onto stories about characters that don’t quite fit in and meet other such outsides and plots that take them to unique places. They also are not content with doing what they know they can do, each time they want to be challenged with their craft and artistry in some way. So here is their next feature, Missing Link, a story about an odd pairing if ever there was one and all the other trails and characters they meet along to way for them to reach their goal.

From the opening, we get a firm understanding of who the main character is and what kind of adventure we are in for. We open on a footprint of a large creature, then it wipes to a skinny boot print then the camera glides above the water of a lake to a little boat, it rises up to a fancy tea set being poured and then up to the man having it, he complains that it’s gotten a bit cold. His assistant apologizes but sets things up for capturing evidence of the Loch Ness Monster. The creature does appear, with the encouragement of bagpipes, and proceeds to eat the assistant and dive down, but through some bold adventuring by the gentleman, he saves his assistant, however, the camera which would have captured proof of the monster gets smashed.

This gentleman is Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman), an explorer of the strange, unique and often dangerous. Which leads to his latest assistant quitting. While browsing through his pile of mail he finds one crudely written letter saying that if they follow their directions then he will find proof of the legendary Sasquatch.

He goes to the Gentlemen Explorers Club that is filled with stuffy, pompous, thickly mustached, or bearded or sideburned old men in black and white suits that gather around a fireplace and a reminisce about how they shot an animal or killed some foreign people. They have no interest in granting Frist membership because he is unconventional and he always failed to bring back proof of his oddities. So a wager is made, if he can bring back proof this time then he will be granted membership,

Within this scene, you can see Laikas talent for not just animation but comedy. This scene serves as pure exposition, needed to spell out his motivation and what will be the goals going forward. These scenes are usually the dullest and slowest parts of any movie unless they are done right. While these men are standing around talking they really on unique character movement, visuals and fun inserts of comedy that keep us looking and listening. This is something essential yet you’d be surprised at how many movies have these scenes and put nothing unique or even fun in it to keep you interested.

When he arrives at the specified location and does indeed find the Sasquatch (Zach Galifianakis), however, he is most surprised to find out that he is able to speak, English! Rather well and also that he was the one who wrote him the letter. The Sasquatch is all alone in the forest, which is being diminished by trees being cut down, and believes that he has relatives in the snowy mountains, the yetis! Frost agrees to help him reach his relatives if he gives him proof of his existence so he can join the Gentelmens Explorers Club. However the sasquatch needs a name, Frost suggests Mr. Link which is also humorous because it’s like missing link, the sasquatch doesn’t get it.

Mr. Link has very little experience with people or interactions of any kind. He takes things at face value and is very literal so he needs tuirns of frazes explained to him and if asked to do something he literally does it. Take one scene when he is passes a rope and a grappling hook and asked to “Throw this over the wall” he does, all of it in one go. This is the main type of jokes we get from him and you eventually get wise to it and they become the weakenst part of the movie. 

While traveling they realize they’ll need a map of the Himalayas, luckily Frost knows where to find one. Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana) has it, her and Frost were a couple years ago but he was more interested in his adventures and so she married his best friend. As you would expect his just showing up after not being in contact after years and only doing so to get a map that her late husband died for does not go over well. But they desperately need it so they come back in the night to steal it, she isn’t happy of course but she also realizes she hasn’t been living her life, so this duo becomes a trio.

It seems like they went for sheer impressive spectacle with Kubo of the Two Strings and here they want to try out some more subtle things. Not to say that this movie is devoiud of a grand ambition or has scope, far from it, but they want to get smaller details down. Take one scene that takes place on a boat, theres a conversation between Frost and Adelina, it’s goining through some harsh waves so it rocks, while the conversation unfolds the room itsef is swaying ever so gracefully, so the characters have to adjust their footing to balance and furniture slides around, sometimes very slowly others abrubtly. Other times when they have a camera that moves along with the character and shifts angles when they change direction. All of this must be discussed, planned, built, painted and then finally animated, one frame at a time. Or other times when Mr. Link is standing with the wind hitting him and every chunk of his fur blows in the wind.

Laika operates as Disney did in the old days. Art challenges the technology, technology informs the art. They constantly embrace and seek out the odd and fascinating. Like Mr. Link himself there is nothing else like this movie, flaws yes, but why be safe if you can be bold and beautiful.

Review Shazam! by Jonathan Evans

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

What world am I living in? If you wound the clock back to 2012 and say that there’s a new DC cinematic universe coming and Batman and Superman will be the disasters but Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and now Shazam! will be the winners of the bunch, I’d have looked at you like you were bonkers. Yet here we are, a movie about a beloved character from the comics that I’d thought would never get his own movie and if he did it would be forced through that dark or complex filter that DC movies seem to put most of their characters through. I am so happy this is not the case and we’ve got what we got.

Side note, this character was referred to as “Captain Marvel” for a long time, but due to legal reasons, it has been changed to Shazam which adds a whole lot of complications to it. I guess obviously if this movie was out and Captain Marvel that would lead to a very confused audience, both in the movie theaters and in the comic stores.

The setting is not of the dark gritty crime-ridden streets of Batman, the high tech science fiction of Superman, the mythological scale of Wonder Woman but a realm of magic, as in true fantasy magic, wizards, words, robes, and staffs. This gives the character and now the movie it’s own unique tone and personality to distinguish itself amongst its competition.

Our tale begins on a dark snowy night where a little boy is in the back of a car and his father is driving and elder brother is in the front.  The elder brother and father clearly get along and care very little for him. But suddenly the little boy is transported to a deep cave with statues and an old man with a long beard, covered in long robes and holding a staff. This old man is a wizard (Djimon Housou) that offers this little boy great power, but the statues (that represent the seven deadly sins) tempt the boy to take an evil eye, this was a test and he has failed so he is cast out. Back to his old, loveless relatives.

We are then taken to years later and a little boy is at a carnival with his mother, trying to win him a toy tiger. She can’t win the tiger but does get him a compass. While walking through the crowd the two get separated, the boy is taken in by the police and his mother never comes for him, he is alone. Skipping again to years later, now present day and the boy has grown up a few years into an early teenager and his name is Bill Batson (Ashner Angel), he’s been in and out of foster homes for years always looking for his mother. Now he is in Philadelphia and put into another home. This one of the Vazquez, who have adopted many foster children. One of which is Freddy (Zack Dylan Grazer) who requires a crutch to walk but certainly never lets that get his spirits down. 

Now in the present, the little boy in the car has grown up to become Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong). he has been searching for years for a way to get back into that mysterious realm of the wizard, fortunately for him he has now found it and takes the dark power for himself, unleashing the seven deadly sins from captivity and upon the world. So now we have our villain!

So, in his desperation, Billy Batson is taken to the cave and offered the power f the wizard known as Shazam! The powers are mean to be bestowed on a person with a pure heart but Billy is simply a good enough person. So when he speaks the wizards name a bolt of lightning hits him and he is transformed into a full grown man in his very own super suit, light up logo, cape and everything.

It is the casting of Zachary Levi as Shazam that is the cornerstone for the movie’s success. He is so unashamedly a big kid, from his energy to his broad expressions you believe that there is a child working this adult body. 

This movie takes place in the winter and within the gray streets of a city, but it is the characters clothing that makes them pop. Each character has their main color, Billy is red, Freddy is blue, another is purple, another is green and the villain wears black. This is a color move and a stylized superhero one so naturally, people are color-coordinated.

So now that he has been granted the body of an adult and has superpowers what to do now? Test them out! In a montage set to Queens Don’t Stop Me Now where Billy along with Freddy test out his new body and see what its capable of. This sequence is for the audience to learn what powers Shazam has too as well as a simple serving of fun. These are children that have been handed these amazing abilities, of course, this is how they’d go about it.

This movie knows what it wants to be. It knows that it wants to tell a superhero story from the perspective of a child that isn’t taking this all too seriously so neither are the filmmakers. It knows to insert it’s tongue firmly in its cheek. However, this is probably the movie the be the most emotionally heavy, some filmmakers believe that dark equals emotional, it does not, something does not have to be dark it just needs to mean something of great importance to the characters and for you to be able to connect to it. If it’s all dark then it’s just unpleasant, but with the right amount of balancing between colorful and heavy emotional moments, then you have a truly whole experience.

As a fan of Superman and Batman, I am saddened by them getting poor treatment movies, but they have already had their good treatments and left their cinematic mark. It is time for new characters to get their time in the sun and for people to learn about their unique mythos and characters. I wholeheartedly embrace the renaissance of the underdog superheroes getting the treatment they deserve. This movie is fun, dark, emotional and well crafted, like an Ablin movie at their peak.
R

Review Pepperland at the Wales Millennium Centre by Lois Arcari

Review of Pepperland at the Wales Millenium Centre by Lois Arcari

2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

I was unsure of what to expect when I sat down to watch Mark Morris’ Pepperland at the Wales Millenium Centre. It’s practically criminal not to know and love the Beatles in at least some tangential way, or not to have one go to song to draw out as your favourite. But I wasn’t watching with the nostalgia of many of the audience who had been there the first time, who could see themselves in the chorus of screaming fans in the opening scenes. I’m also generally unfamiliar with the dance genre and haven’t watched professional dance shows in years. But I thought that the show would be the perfect splash of colour to brighten up characteristically unpredictable Easter behaviour.

The opening scene sealed my unease, with Ethan Iverson’s inventive score somewhat undermined by unearned hints of darkness. The theremin was a particular point of contention for this show. Personally, I adore this unconventional instrument, especially in the rightfully iconic Ed Wood theme. However, It’s an instrument best used sparingly.

When placed artfully in pieces like the ‘Penny Lane’ dance, it was unexpected but refreshing. However, there were moments where it threatened to drown the score and the audience with it, through no fault of the talented performer. The show seemed to have that sort of tone problem throughout. While sombre notes in the orchestration sometimes clashed welcomely with the candy cane cheer of the costumes, more often than not they felt misplaced and unearnt in regards to the dancers, who were performing – wonderfully as always throughout the production – dances that didn’t meet the new tone to the music.

Again, when it worked it worked, but there were only brief flashes where it did. Some of the transitional dances were overly repetitive, but the technical prowess of the dancers can’t be faulted. Whatever the audience felt about the score or singing – and we’ll come to that later – the dancers had them all immediately onside, providing the audience with plenty of laughs alongside genuinely warm applause.

Despite their obvious prowess during the more cheerful numbers – especially my favorite of the set, ‘Penny Lane’, they were equally as impressive, if not more, when performing more tender and sombre scenes. The romantic dances especially were things of beauty. They represented a tender sixties fairytale where race, gender, sexuality and time meant nothing. Love and light were all, even when the lights dimmed and love faded. The show managed to give it’s very basic staging maximum impact. The ebbs and flows of lights and colour flexing to the music. Of particular note was the way that Iverson drew out the Beatles’ Indian influences to their most lavish conclusion.

The singer, however, was met with mixed reviews. Not doubting his vocal talents, he simply didn’t seem to fit the production. The dancers and their costumes indicated something more joyful which would take itself less seriously. The score was theatrical but often confused. Vocal talent and power alone can’t replicate charm, and the operatic style seemed like just another confusion added to the pile. The singer would have benefited from a show which approached its tone with more intent, or allowing himself some lapses in technical skill for raw emotion. In those brief moments where he did falter, his singing became much more powerful.

Perhaps the best way of summarising this show is ‘if you’re here for a beatles sing-along, that’s not going to happen.’ This mild, half unknowing derision of the audience suggests that this show has ambitions beyond its color palate, and has left fans outside of the review circuit – including my plus one – feeling rather cold, while it enjoys status as a critical darling. Still, the genuine love that emanates from the company’s every dance move – and the Beatles themselves as an evergreen subject matter – were enough to keep some lonely hearts more firmly on its side.