Category Archives: Film & TV

Review Jospeh and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat by Rhys Payne

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Musical fans often snub Joseph for being like a school production but I challenge any musical fan to watch Jaymi Hensley in the title role and not be blown away. This production of Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Wales Millennium starred Jaymi Hensley as Joseph and at first, I was apprehensive. Jaymi is famously known for being one of the members of the English pop band Union J and sometimes, in my opinion, they cast famous pop stars just for them to be a famous face and to sell more tickets. However, this was not the case. Jaymi excelled at this role and really helped elevate the show. His acting helped perfectly balance the campiness and seriousness of the show with his exaggerated facial reactions to the audience and emotional portrayal of being reunited with friends. His singing was flawless. He posses an operatic style voice which at first I thought would be distracting but it actually helped showcase Jaymi’s talented without being distracting. In fact, I would say that this show contained the greatest rendition of ‘Any Dream Will Do’ that I have ever heard. My only issue with his singing was that at the end of the performance there was a ‘sing-a-long’ section and because Jaymi was such a fantastic singer that it made it somewhat difficult to sing along but that is a minor detail. With Jaymi’s inclusion of riffs and high notes that I think were added just for him, it helped elevate this show from its school production roots (which was what Joseph was written for) to high quality, West End ready level.

One of the problems I had from the first time I saw Joseph last year was the almost nonsensical setting of this musical. In last year’s version, we jump from the Wild West with “One More Angel” to France with “Those Cannan Days” and while this was fun to watch it did confuse me somewhat. With this year’s production however the staging and lights were used to suggest a theme rather than a location. Rather than being set in France for “Those Cannan Days” there was simply a illuminated Eiffel Tower on the background of the stage , which obviously was not supposed to look like a real-life in-person version of the tower, which served as a reminder of a French theme rather than stating this is where they are. The other thing that confused me the first time I saw this show was the character of Pharaoh as he appeared to be an Elvis impersonator. It was only after this year that I realised it was a play on the moniker of “The King.”

This year the pharaoh, played by Andrew Geater, was amazing. He looked similar to Elvis, he had his mannerisms nailed down and his impression was fantastic. The brothers in this musical are a vital part of the narrative as without them Joseph would not have ended up in Egypt. Within the show, the brothers also added to the comedy and fun of the show but also had fantastic choreography especially in Potiphar’s song titled “Potiphar” where they performed an intricate dance routine with poles which they used to create key objects in the song which was great to watch. All of the brothers were excellent dancers who combined the seriousness and campiness of each number. However, during “Benjamin’s Calypso” the brothers dressed and performed as calypso dancers. Some of the dancers did look a little uncomfortable with this dance number but it was barely visible, apart from this, they were fantastic. They were hilarious and great to watch. Something that was really interesting to see was the portrayal of Potiphars wife. She appeared on stage dressed as a ‘flapper’ and danced accordingly which was a really nice touch as within the story she is supposed to be ‘free spirited.’  At the beginning of the production during “Jacob and Sons” there is supposed to be inflatable sheep on the top of the stage however they did not inflate as they were supposed to and the members of the production had to sort them out. This was a small distraction for the audience.

Overall, I think the choice of costumes and colours worked perfectly together with the narrator in black and silver (with stars across her top) and the brothers, for the majority of the show, plain block colours. The use of colour reached its climax in the iconic image where Joseph is stood with the multi-coloured coat spread out across the stage. The posters and advertising for this show reflected the use of colour by using the raining drops of the rainbow which encapsulated the drama, colour, and the fun of the show. The designers of the advertisements must have thought about this and should be applauded. The show blended the tradition and history of Joseph while at the same time making it modern and the best performance of Joseph I have ever seen. I rate this production at 4 and a half stars.

Review Greta by Jonathan Evans

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

There are some movies that have a killer pitch, ones where at the end they completely pull the rug from under the audiences’ feet and are built on that (for example Psycho). Others, where it changes the perspective of the narrative, like from the villains perspective or a side character. And then, there are others still that have a fairly standard script by all accounts and through solid directing and acting are able to be a little more.

Greta is a movie about a young girl named Frances McCullen in New York that, out of the kindness of her own heart, returns a handbag to its owner, an elderly woman named Greta. Through this, we learn a few things about the other and see the beginning of a friendship that benefits each member and helps themselves. There’s already a nice contrast by the two of them being very different ages. This could be a perfectly effective comedy or drama if it were not for one night when Frances is having dinner at Greta’s place and discovers a drawer full of identical handbags. From there she quickly gets out as fast and calmly as she can but this is not the end. This is where the real movie begins.

There are some subtle hints as to the deeper nature going on within the rest of the narrative and some lines of dialogue that when they are further investigated throughout the movie are revealed to be some sinister stuff. Though to be honest (maybe because I saw the trailer), I knew most of the things that were going to happen, if you walked into this movie completely unknowing at the start then you might be fooled and the shift will be a true surprise for you. But you don’t judge a painting or a photograph of their content, you judge it on how they are framed and the techniques that went into them.

Chloe Grace Moretz as Frances does a truly solid job. She needs to sell herself as this simple, girl who only means well as well as having her own emotional baggage. But it is in the sequences of panic and fear that she excels, when she is meant to be it is vividly painted on her face crystal clear.

Like Kathy Bates in Misery Isabelle Huppert’s performance as Greta will be the main talking point of this movie and is indeed it’s greatest feat. She is able to shift from one mood to the other, sometimes so very fast and suddenly that it is very scary, and those sudden shifts put you on edge because you know that she can turn within an instant.

Why is it that when someone does something nice in a horror movie they always get punished? I understand it when the bullies and horrible people in these movies get eaten by the monster or get dealt terrible fates but there are those times when a nice person does a selfless thing and that buys them a ticket into a crazy world of pain. I doubt there’ll be any Samaritans emerging from seeing this movie.

Director Neil Jordan has built his career on making niche pieces of work. Like A Company of Wolves and Interview with A Vampire. Very unique premises for movies and dipping their toe a little in the horror genre as well as plenty of serving of the surreal. This is one of his more grounded works, nothing fantastical or supernatural going on, but he is able to crystal clearly frame and passes a scene. And sometimes that’s all you need.

Horror is like any genre really, your needs to press the right button within you. Comedy needs to make you laugh, action is supposed to get the blood pumping, drama to engage you with the characters’ trials and tribulations. Horror is meant to scare you, but all of them are also meant to move you as well, that is what separates the masterful from the mundane. Just having something shocking or unpleasant may be enough for a first showing but not so much after that. I quote Guillermo Del Toro on what he said about horror “Inside every horror movie I love, there is a poem.” I believe that means there needs to be something true within the work, these are two people that find themselves alone in a city and are looking for a connection, but one takes that longing and turns it ugly. But having that solid truth at its centre helps of focus and stabilise the movie as a whole.

This is a meat and potatoes horror movie that is minimal with its production but expert in execution. Its deep truth carries over to the acting, passing, sound and end result. A great movie, probably not, but something that is more than a simple scream.R

Behind the Curtains, Part 1: Robinson, The Other Island By Eva Marloes

Robinson, the latest creation of director Mathilde Lopez and John Norton, artistic director of the company Give It A Name, is taking shape in the Stiwdio, the large room part of Chapter Arts Centre. Robinson is as much a sound exploration as a textual engagement with Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Michel Tournier’s Friday. Defoe’s book, published 300 years ago, is a dreary propaganda for colonial exploitation, while in Friday, or The Other Island, written in 1967, Tournier explores the relationship between our ideas of civilisation and of noble savagery. In the hands of Mathilde Lopez, Robinson is a parable of solitude, which is conveyed through an innovative use of sound, designed by John Norton.

Director Mathilde Lopez

I sit down and I am given headphones. Every member of the audience will wear them. I hear the waves of the sea, the tweeting of birds, Caribbean music, and Bianca, played by Luciana Chapman, reading, but not in both ears. The headphones and mics are binaural, to recreate how our ears perceive sound. I hear Bianca speaking softly in my ear as if I were reading a book. I hear birds tweeting and a mosquito buzzing around my left ear evoking a tropical island.

The stage, for the time being, consists of three tables stuck together lengthways cutting the space in two. This will later be replaced by pallets filled with various materials, including cans and empty plastic bottles. The actors perform on the tables and around them. They’re still finding their feet. The text is not finalised, the action still to be worked out, and the cues set. The play is in becoming. I’m witnessing the creative process, which, under Mathilde’s direction, is playful and cooperative. Mathilde often laughs. She laughs at what the actors come up with, she laughs at herself. She makes suggestions, gives indications; she never raises her voice, never criticises. It’s always ‘shall we do this,’ ‘can you do this,’ and ‘thank you.’

A big black box arrives. There’s dough inside. Mathilde has fun taking it out of the box and playing with it. Her happy and excited face is like that of a child. Luciana punches the dough while John, who plays Robinson and is an experienced bread-maker, kneads it. John wants to throw the dough to Luciana. She’s afraid of missing. She doesn’t. Mathilde encourages the game. She thinks that Luciana should drop the big blob of dough on the table. Luciana has put the big blob of dough on her face. Mathilde laughs and says, ‘It’s a bit Elephant Man.’ Turning to sound tech Jack, Mathilde asks for a recording of John as Robinson saying, ‘Can you put the soporific John?’ I stand next to them. It’s intimate and warm in a very cold room. I listen to Luciana reciting her piece. Mathilde, John, and I listen while playing with the dough. It’s like children playing quietly while their mother tells them a story.

This story is one of solitude, colonialism, capitalist ethic, and freedom. It begins with Mathilde’s love for Tournier’s work. In Friday, Robinson has sex with the island and even with the child of the island. Mathilde has focussed on solitude and the antidote to solitude: reading. ‘When you read, it has your voice.’ In Robinson, Bianca reads the book Robinson Crusoe directly into our ears, as if it were our voice. The solitude of reading a book is ‘not the solitude of watching telly,’ she tells me. In reading we use our voice, our rhythm, we are part of the book. ‘Your voice becoming a book is an enormous, physical exercise in compassion,’ says Mathilde. By saying the words in the book, we get closer to the characters and understand them. ‘It’s much harder for actors to remain oblivious to the suffering of the character they’re playing because they’re saying those words.’ Reading is thus a way to open ourselves to others, practise empathy, and participate in the humanity of others.

Robinson is alone on the island for 28 years. We participate in his solitude, but we’re also horrified by his misogyny, racism, and colonial attitude to nature.  The novel Robinson Crusoe is a ‘twisted inheritance,’ tells me Mathilde. Facing up to the slavery and colonialism of the novel, makes you deal with where we’re from. In Mathilde’s play, the passages on slavery are not sanitised. They are kept and dealt with. Bianca gets angry and plays Gil Scott-Heron’s Whitey on the Moon, which in 1970 denounced American social inequality and racism and that is still relevant.

Today, in a world of extreme inequality, where the relentless pursuit of economic growth is threatening our planet’s very existence, Robinson’s obsessive work on the island mirrors our belief of constant activity as a value. ‘It’s morally right to do a lot,’ says Mathilde. The myth of self-reliance of Robinson is but a fig-leaf for exploitation of the land and of the labour of others. Robinson ‘has to do all the time because he’s terrified of living.’ In Tournier’s Friday, when Friday appears and makes all his goods explode, there is a shift in Robinson. He cannot go on in the same way. He no longer imposes ‘civilisation’ on the island.

Robinson’s ‘civilisation’ rests on slavery and the unsustainable use of nature. He looks at the world and the island as a good, as Mathilde explains, just as when we look at one another in terms of what we can get out. ‘Nothing has a value in itself. Everything is a means. The island is only a means for him throughout … Freedom starts at the point when things stop being simply means.’ Nature and human beings are value in themselves. At a time when we might feel discouraged at world governments’ inaction in tackling climate change and inequality, it might be tempting to despair. As Robinson reminds us, despair is a sin. Mathilde says, ‘bad fortune happens, but your own reaction to it is your responsibility.’

Review Robinson: The Other Island, ‘Give It a Name’ by Eva Marloes

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

In the 300th anniversary of the publication of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Robinson. The Other Island offers a multilayered way to rethink the book. Director Mathilde Lopez and John Norton, Artistic Director of the company Give it a Name, blend Robinson Crusoe with Michel Tournier’s Friday and convey a somber mood through an original sound experience, devised by John Norton and Jack Drewry. The play unfolds in our heads as we listen to the sounds, words, and music with headphones. Robinson is more than a play; it is a shared and intimate experience of reading and reflecting on solitude.

The Robinson Crusoe of Robinson. The Other Island (played by John Rowley) suffers a maddening loneliness alone on the Island, but lonely is also Bianca (played by Luciana Chapman), who reads Defoe’s and Tournier’s books. Bianca is alone in her flat, eating microwavable meals, trying to work out how to fix a leaking tap, hiding from her father, and yet seeking a connection with him. As Bianca reads about Robinson in our ears, it is also us who experience loneliness. Isolated from other members of the audience by headphones, yet establishing a connection with them as we watch and listen together. The drama is at times broken by the lively and funny interventions of book clubbers talking about Robinson Crusoe into the mics of Robinson and of Bianca. It is effective, although on opening night there were perhaps too many voices, rather than the one or two during rehearsals, thus losing intensity.

Robinson Crusoe’s misogyny, racism, and colonialism are not brushed under the carpet but take centre stage. They are tackled with humour, puzzlement, and even violence. At the words ‘I bought me a negro slave,’ Bianca gets angry in her anger she becomes Robinson. She orders to fetch the Governor’s coat (Robinson’s), smokes, and reads the horrendous passage where ‘negroes’ are things, tools of work, lesser humans. The colonial racism is juxtaposed with Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘Whitey on the Moon,’

The 1970’s that contrasts the power of white man colonising the moon while black people have no money to pay the doctor’s bill. Bianca takes up a plank of wood and attacks Robinson breaking into the world she is reading about.

Bianca and Robinson interact only slightly. It is a dance of two lonely people seeking connection and forgiveness. Robinson is shown in his humanity: lonely, resourceful, exploring and observing the island, fighting against his destiny, and begging for forgiveness. A soft music creates intimacy. Bianca and Robinson sit together playing with dough like children and like children the audience listens to the voice reading the book. In the week when Jean Vanier, the founder of the community L’Arche, died, Robinson reminds me of his teaching on loneliness:

‘Loneliness is part of being human, because there is nothing in existence that can completely fulfill the needs of the human heart. … It is because we belong with others and see them as brothers and sisters in humanity that we learn not only to accept them as they are, with different gifts and capacities, but to see each one as a person with a vulnerable heart. We learn to forgive those who hurt us or reject us; we ask forgiveness of those we have hurt.’

Robinson is a meditative piece that stimulates thought and nudges us slightly towards compassion.

The production plays at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff and then tours.

Review Robinson: The Other Island, ‘Give It a Name’ by Rhys Payne

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Robinson: The Other Island, performed by the ‘Give It a Name’ theatre company at Chapter Arts Centre in Stiwido Seligman, follows two people who are stranded in two completely different worlds. This stage play is based heavily on the Novel ‘Robinson Crusoe’ by Daniel Defoe which was done in an intriguing and exciting way.

The first thing I noticed when I entered was the studio was that there were headphones on all the seats which at first made me apprehensive as I thought the use of headphones would be a distraction but in fact, it actually really helped with the creation and development of the play itself.   The concept of this play was that Bianca played by Luciana Trapman wanted to escape the modern world through the ‘portal’ of the pages of the three-hundred-year-old book. At the same time, Robinson Crusoe played by John Rowley is trying to escape the island which was clear within the play itself.

Rehearsal images by Jorge Lizalde

The two contrasting characters, the modern day young woman and the shipwrecked old man, provide the perfect contrasts which allowed the audience to easily follow the story and portrayed the area, date, and context of where each ‘part’ was taking place which was cleverly done. As an audience member, we can see the staging being built in front of us which only added to the immersive-ness of the play. The company had engineered the headphones so the audio is split between the left and the right ear which means you can be apart of both of the ‘worlds’ at the same time. While we could hear the calming reading of the book from Bianca in one ear we could also the sounds of the stranded island (e.g. sea noises, voices, etc.) This was done to illustrate the fact that when a person reads a book it helps build a visual picture of what is being described in the book. Due to this the audience is an external third party, we can see Bianca reading the book and the story being created in front of us. This was a really ingenious concept from the director Mathilde Lopez. As a literature fan I could easily recognise and relate to this. The use of headphones made this play unique, modern and contemporary.

Robinson Crusoe was clearly shown as a shipwrecked man and was based on the description as described in the book. The character did look as if he could have been shipwrecked and his voice suited the role perfectly. The character, however, did have some problems. The first time we encounter the character was at the beginning of the play when he delivered a speech about laws and legislation of the new island. However, this speech was done on top of a step ladder into a microphone, which was done facing away from the audience. It may be a personal opinion but having a speech done away from the audience and not being able to see the actors face is confusing for the audience especially considering the headphones make it had to locate where the sound is coming through. After this, we walked across the stage to collect props which sort of detached the character from this the deserted island. The stage could have done with an exit from one side of the ‘stage’ to the other. As Robinson, walking across the stage distracted the audience that could have been avoided. This collecting props was a problem throughout the play. As the prop table was sort of on stage we could hear all the rustling and banging which broke the calmness and soothing-ness of Bianca’s voice.

The actress who played Bianca had a very calming voice. The almost whispered tone was really soothing through the headphone which was really nice for the audience. Her voice was almost ASMR like which was very nice. However, this character was very relatable. She was portrayed almost like a teenager who experiences the struggles of the modern world. Due to this she does use swear words which clashed with the ASMR voice used while reading. This was a little confusing but the actress used two distinct voices for reading (which was the ASMR style voice) and a normal conversation voice she used when chatting to her father etc.

A really nice touch was that when her phone was ringing we could actually see the screen on her phone that told us someone was ringing which was really cool and helped to add to the realness. In conclusion Robinson: The Other Island was an intelligently designed show which was contemporary, unique and unlike another play I have seen before. If you are interested in plays and wonder how theatre can evolve in the future then I advise you to watch this production, it is not to be missed! I give this play 4 out of 5 stars as it showed me a side of theatre I never knew existed!

Review Awakening, National Dance Company Wales By Eva Marloes

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

It is with trepidation that I venture in writing a review of my first ever contemporary dance show, Awakening, a three-piece programme produced by National Dance Company Wales. All the three dance pieces have a distinctive style, show a desire to engage with ideas, and are executed skilfully. Watching the show was an interesting experience that left me intrigued, puzzled, and annoyed. I was intrigued by the attempt at using movement to convey visual effects, puzzled by the overall concern for concept, too often fuzzy, to the detriment of emotion, and annoyed at the diminished role of music, especially in the first two pieces, which but conveys a dystopian atmosphere, instead of being integral part of the performance.

The first piece, Tundra, begins with a captivating image of a dancer in a cone-shaped costume in a red light and an otherworldly voice. The stage is plunged into the dark and the figure disappears. As the stage is lit again by a white light, a group of dancers in white and blue cone-shaped costumes appear. They move together as a group and glide beautifully across the floor. This is perhaps the most striking part of Tundra, albeit relatively short by comparison with the main part of the piece, which consists of dancers in a colourful costume moving together as one. Their legs and arms touch to form one continuous shape and move on the stage like a snake. The choreographer, Marcos Morau, found inspiration in Russian folk music and dance, yet the cone-dress seemed much closer to the Korean traditional dress, while the main ‘snake-like’ performance reminded me of the Chinese dragon dance. The performance is smooth and elegant but the parts are disjointed and the music fails to convey any emotion.

Tundra is followed by Afterimage by choreographer Fernando Melo. The piece plays cleverly with mirrors and light to create the illusion of figures appearing and fading away like ghosts. The illusion effects are inspired by the technique of Henry Dircks and John Henry Pepper, which used light and glass to create ghostly appearances. In Afterimage, the dancers dissolve, often into one another, through multiple reflections. The piece is an exploration of different perspectives that never meet. It is well crafted, interesting, and performed gracefully; yet it feels too concerned with a visual effect conveyed through movement rather than dance. Like Tundra, it is too conceptual to convey emotion, and not aided by the dystopian music.

After the second interval, two women came and sat next to me. They could not make anything out of the first two pieces, ‘too symbolical,’ one said; yet they were enthusiastic about the third piece, the Revellers’ Mass. It is easy to see why. The Revellers’ Mass has a narrative, elaborate costumes, prominent music, and a tinge of humour. The piece begins with a male voice speaking Georgian and a priest lighting candles on a long flat surface. The sacred is alternated with the profane. The flat surface becomes a table and the sacred atmosphere turns into a wild party. At one point, the dancers at the table are reminiscent of the Last Supper, yet the reference serves little purpose and is a far cry from the biting irony of the Last Supper in Louis Bunuel’s Viridiana. Choreographer Caroline Finn is perhaps overambitious in seeking to capture ‘ritual and etiquette, and ceremony, as well as primal human behaviour.’ The conflation of ritual, etiquette, and ceremony is irksome and the contrast with partying as ‘primal human behaviour’ highly problematic. Revellers’ Mass is nevertheless entertaining and ends humorously with drunken revellers being dragged across the floor to the notes of Edith Piaf’s Je ne regrette rien.

As a novice, Awakening has been an interesting and thought-provoking experience. I acknowledge my preference for emotional engagement when it comes to all art forms; yet the three dance pieces have opened a door to a way of experiencing art that has left me curious notwithstanding the frustration. The show has perhaps succeeded in raising questions, the most important of which might be ‘does art need emotion to be art?’

Review Avengers: endgame by Jonathan Evans

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Closing my review for Avengers: Age of Ultron I wrote: “Superhero movies have never been better, this movie now shows that they’ve also never been bigger.” That was back in 2015 which seems so long ago and I, nor do I think anyone (except perhaps Kevin Feige) could have predicted the mass scale that would make that movie seem humble by comparison. Through everything that it accomplishes and also fails to do one thing is irrefutable, Avengers: Endgame is one of the biggest endeavors as well as the hugest movie ever executed.

To properly set the stage I must now spoil the events of Infinity War. You have been warned (though why would you be seeing this movie if you aren’t up to date or have at least seen Infinity War?). The events of the last movie had the big bad villain Thanos (Josh Brolin) go on a quest throughout the galaxy to acquire six Infinity Stones, when he had gathered all of them within his gauntlet he could fulfill his ambitions of erasing half the population of the universe with a snap of his fingers. He gathered them all, and he did wipe out half the universe, reducing them to dust in the wind. Now here we are, our heroes utterly defeated and the villain completed his goal. This was essentially the Empire Strikes Back of the story, almost a cliche to say but it holds true. The last movie was were the bad guys were unrelenting and for the battle, they won. But the war is not over and so we are here, where the forces of good regather themselves, the bad guys have established themselves as a threat, our heroes have a tough fight to regain victory.

As I did last time I feel I have to go through the list of all the characters we have. Others will appear later in the movie so for now, let’s just deal with the ones we get within the first thirty minutes. Iron-Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), War Machine (Don Cheadle) and the latest member Captain Marvel (Brie Larson). There are other that come into the movie later and some that make a brief appearance but for the main plot of the movie, this is who we have.

For the rest of the plot going forward I will forego a detailed description, a lot of this movies appeal on the initial watch is the shock of what is revealed and how the characters go forth. But after the first act out heroes are in disarray and they eventually come up with a plan, the path this takes them down allows them to proceed with their goals while also reflect on what has come before as well as invites the audience to do so. This struck me more as pandering slightly, it came off more as overtly winking at the audience rather than letting the plot unfold in any kind of natural way.

Surprisingly, the weakest element of the movie is its comedy. MARVEL has done such a good job with their comedic elements in other movies before, from Guardians of the Galaxy, to Ant-Man and others where they are either comedically focused or insert comedy within the dialogue and narrative we’ve gotten some great laughs out of these movies. Even in ones as serious and dark as Civil War and Infinity War they were still able to skillfully insert a pun to pepper the mood with some banter and levity. But here, after these heroes have been dealt such a devastating blow, and for the start, it plays it very bleak comes as too much of a contrast.

What I was worried about going into this movie was the annulment of stakes. The whole universe was dealt a devastating blow previous and now they obviously seek to undo it, which makes sense because they are heroes, but narratively it means that there is no stakes and everythings hunky dory again. Such a thing would render all emotional we felt previously to mean nothing. Well, again not spoiling anything, this movie still comes with its stakes and gravity to its situation. There are still things on the line and the heroes know that and are willing to make that decision (that’s what makes them heroes).

As if Infinity War was impossible enough to appreciate without having seen the previous movies this one is especially so. There are so many characters and references being thrown at you that you will not be able to care without having seen their story leading up to this. You’ll be taken out of it and more be asking “Who’s that?” “What are they talking about?” “Ow I recognise them, never saw the movie though.”This is more like tuning into the series finale of a long-running television show rather than seeing a complete story begin and end on its own merits, but I guess that’s just where we are now, this is the state of things in this franchise inclined world we are currently living in. To be fair nearly all the characters on screen have had development in other movies so it’s not as if the work has been put in. It’s not like Ready Player One where they just show you a bunch of pop culture figures, smash them together and expect you to feel something for them.

These movies have grown at an unprecedented scale in terms of having a completely realized cinematic universe. The number of characters that they have realized from their comic book source material and their ability to overlap and make appearances in other movies creating a truly realized environment should not happen. It should have crumbled before it ever really got started. Yet here we are, nearing thirty movies and over ten years and the number of characters has continued to expand and the audience is not getting tired.

Writing this screenplay is not a mammoth task, it is more like a freight shipping mammoths. Taking on the duty is, once again, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. This pair has written all the Captain America movies and Infinity War previously. They make tight screenplays that have characters convey much about them with only a few lines of dialog. They are also versatile enough to write for multiple tones, be they serious, comedic, suspenseful and even tender.

The idea that such a feat as this to even conceive, let alone pull off is a challenge, to say the least, and being that it was made in the first place is a triumph, that does not get done by lazy people. But the fact that it stands so tall and so proud and though not without it’s shaky parts does indeed serve as a testament to this writing and directing team.

Even then, a movie doesn’t just get made with just it’s directors and screenwriters, the crew and post-production team are essential in getting the movie filmed and then creating the special effects rendered. But I want to highlight the role of the Line Producer, a Line Producer is responsible for calculating the budget of a feature and overseeing the day to day progress of filming. According to IMDB, this movies was Nicholas Simon, high praise because the organization and determination required to get all these actors schedule to line up and makes sure everything goes on track is a true feat.

While with some of the other movies that I would name as my favorite, I would acknowledge their flaws but with so much going on and the level of confidence and skill in executing it bringing up the flaws would just be pedantic. This movie, not so much. It has definite, obvious flaws and I was aware of them while the movie was playing and they stare back at me when I reflect on it. In comparison of this movie as a whole Infinity War is the more focused and defined out of the two of them. This one is more self-indulgent and could use some trimming, mostly with some of their jokes. Infinity War opened with Thanos, followed him through it and ended with him, it opened with one character and we delve into their viewpoint and follow their struggles to attain their goals. This movie starts out with a group of people and it’s essentially a story to avenge (convenient being the name of their team), then there’s a padding of some surreal humor, now the movies turned into a heist, and entering the final act is a battle. This is much more mangled experience.

Though it must be said that when the final thirty to forty minutes play out it was some of the most pulse-pounding, audience-pleasing, and moving moments I have had for the ten years I’ve been a loyal audience. I am the one who has put in the time and effort and being paid off, I know that means a lot of other people will be unable to enjoy it on the same level but at this point it should be clear that you have to be a fan to go to a movie with dozens of characters on the poster.

Could any movie reach the scale of this movie again? True much of it is computer generated imagery but that certainly requires a lot of work too. Will there ever come a time when there is another cinematic universe that takes over ten years to reach this crescendo? To be popular enough to keep going for ten years? To amass a cast and audience big enough for a story that goes to this many locations, and has such variations of imagery? I don’t know, but I do know this movie works. It went for everything, stumbled a bit but certainly stuck the landing.

As was said, part of the story is the end. This movie is an end to many things, but not these movies, and one of the most important parts of life is taking the next step. The MARVEL world will certainly never be the same again and the movie world now has a new standard for budget and mass cast of characters.R

Review Fisherman’s Friends by Jonathan Evans

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

“Man from the big city that is a big shot ends up in a small town where he meets salt of the earth people and doesn’t really get them, he discovered potential to sign the local musical band, but they are not interested because they don’t do it for the money just for fun and love of the music, while he signs them he learns that there is more to life than being a big shot and comes round to their simple but purer ways. City people are shallow and terrible while the real people that are of true substance are in the countryside and have roots and history. This is the movie if you are interested in being surprised then turn around now and seek something else.”

Hmm, thats really it, but I guess I should elaborate more.

Fisherman’s Friends is one of those movies that does not get by on it’s screenplay or technical feats, but through the acting and personality of the characters. On these two things it does succeed but I feel there are some major detracting factors that need to be talked about. 

Some London friends get together for one of their bachelor weekends, the main character Danny (Daniel Mays) is one of them. They go to Cornwall for a fun time, while there they spot a performance of the local band comprised of local fisherman and life guards. They sing a Sea Shanty, a type of work song that are very old and tell stories, not like todays music or what they play in the big city thats all electronic and not about anything.

The way that the people in the city are framed is like modern dressing, up to the minute talking business people that are obsessed with whatever is fashionable and are shallow, etc. etc. People that live and are successful in a city have to work very hard, it may not be the same kind of manual work in the country but it is work, true some come from privileged backgrounds so they have it easier but they are the minority and success is still not guaranteed.

The overall message of this movie seems to be that having roots in one place and legacy builds character, to that I say why not travel? Traveling gives you a sense of how big the world is and expand your mentality to other peoples way of life. Not this movie though, it seems to think that you are born in one place and you set up there for life and you and your descendants must do the same, keep that up for six generations and you’ll become a solid person. Granted it does break out of some of these ideals but it holds pretty true to it for most of the run time.

Almost every line in this is predictable. Literally, within the first thirty minutes, I was able to predict what was basically going to be said and sometimes word for word what came out of the characters mouths.

But even with all this said as the third act rolled around I must say that I found that the people had started to grow on me. They do have their charm and personality and along the way, they do get in a few jokes that are winners while even a few tender emotional moments that do indeed strike deep.

There are just about no surprises in this movie but some handsome cinematography, a few winning moments of humour and of course very good music and you have something that is worth a watch. I just wish they would have tried doing something new with the plot or at least thrown in some unconventional dialogue instead of the most conventional.R

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 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.