Thursday, 30 April 2009

Widowers' Houses (Manchester Royal Exchange)

I saw Watchmen this evening with my dad again- finally! I wanted to see it like the next day after we first saw it, but I had to wait more than a month!- It was even better the second time, I spent a little time wondering "Did I mention how handsome all of the men in this film are in my review blog? I must have done... But surely, I should mention it again, because, WOW, all these guys are seriously gorgeous. (Not you Rorschack.)"
So there's that out of the way, I thought maybe I should write about the play I saw yesterday, Royal Exchange Theatre, haven't been there since I saw Othello starring Andy Serkis six years ago! Except Andy Serkis was ill and there was no understudy, so the director holding the script in every scene played Iago and it was one of the worst theatre experiences of my life.
Widowers' Houses was not the worst theatre experience of my life, it was an average theatre experience. None of the actors were ill and no miscellaneous actors sat in front of me, next to me or near me.
The play was George Bernard Shaw's first play and written (so it says in the blurb) not to entertain but to inform and raise awareness of growing social problems in Victorian society because of the unproductive rich. But yesterday (in these hard times) it was played as a comedy, the first scene seemed much more P.G. Wodehouse than Social Comment, I blame the young Nigel Havers look-a-like playing the foolish lead. It got better though, less silly, well, not less silly, but silly with some good points -and some fun characters.
Roger Lloyd Pack, last time I saw him he was standing in the National Theatre wearing a hat (I've never seen him on stage, this was just the foyer), I didn't take much notice though 'cause Oliver Cotton walked past me sweeping his hand through his thick grey hair... Wowee, there's someone else who is a hell of a lot more handsome in real life! Anyway, Roger was his usual self- well, he was his usual self if you've ever seen him play serious roles, which I guess some people haven't. I think we were looking forward to seeing him but in the end I prefered all the other characters, the girl especially was wonderfully animated and very tall- I like seeing tall actresses, all the actresses I've met have been tiny.
Sometimes I feel if I don't write about the things I've seen I'll forget them, but maybe this was just one of those forgetable plays, one day on and I can't remember much at all apart from how hot it was in there. Ah well, Lucy Briggs Owen, she's one to watch, I like her.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

The Magic Flute (2006)

One night Kenneth Branagh had a dream(/nightmare) and somehow it got turned into a film.

When I was little I had an audio book for children which summarised the stories behind pieces of classical music, I remember buying the audio book in a Little Chef, hell, I can actually still see it from where I'm now typing. I loved it! I listened to it all the time, and this my friends is where my vast knowledge of classical music comes from. You want to know the story of Peer Gynt put to music by Grieg? I'll tell you!
I saw the film Amadeus (1981) a little later on in my youth, it has remained on my list of top ten films, ever since. The film is one of only two in my top ten made after 1968 (and might I add if it wasn't for The Producers then it would be one of two made after 1952!). I'm a Mozart geek. I love him. He's my favourite.
So I saw the trailers for this film when it was at the pictures and I heard the music and I thought "Wow! I can't wait to see that!" I did wait, I waited until I got a free trial from and I'm glad I did. Though the film lasts just over two hours I managed to sit through seventeen minutes of it before dying inside. I read a review from Nicholas Barber that sums up the cinematography: "It manages to look too expensive and too cheap simultaneously."
It was horrible to look at and then when the singing started, oh my god, what horrible awkward words!! I thought it was going to be in original German with subtitles like a proper opera!! Book by Stephen Fry?! He should be killed!! It was appalling! Opera should NEVER be in English. Two or three years ago Anna and I saw the English National Opera do La Bohème, it was in English!! We couldn't believe how horrible it sounded!!
Anyway, we turned it off after seventeen minutes, well, we fast-forwarded and saw all the big arias etc. (Luckily I knew where they would be thanks to my trusty audio book!) They were horrible as well. Replacing what were once to me beautiful sounds with jarring, embarrassing lyrics is sacrilegious. Remember that bit in Amadeus when Mozart says he wants to write an opera in German and everyone goes "What?! You can't!" And he does and it's The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte) and it's brilliant? Well, they should tell Kenny and Stephen Fry: You CAN'T write an opera in English. It's shit. Also, for eff's sake, the whole film looks like a horrible trip, how much money did this lose whoever was sucker enough to let Kenny B direct something that contained music (Remember his Love's Labours Lost - shudder!)!?!

Monday, 27 April 2009

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1996)

After Our Mutual Friend (1998), Wildfell is my favourite BBC literary period drama of recent-ish years.
We hadn't watched it for a couple of years, since Linn and Suzie came to stay (yes Linn, this is the one you have no memory of watching even though Suzie, Suzie the girl with no memory, remembers it all perfectly. We had pizzas... Remember?!) but we watched it all again last night because Anna is reading through the Brontës' work.
Ah, Toby Stephens; Mr Markham the educated farmer in Anne's Wildfell Hall, Mr Rochester in Charlotte's Jane Eyre, if only he had been cast as Heathcliff in Emily's Wuthering Heights he'd have the whole set. And what a Heathcliff he would have made!! Much more convincingly rugged than Tom Hardy (though maybe not more dangerous, no one's more dangerous that Tom Hardy!) If you're unlucky enough to live in America you might have seen Tom Hardy as Heathcliff in this year's attempt at Wuthering Heights. It hasn't been shown on British telly yet but I've seen it and it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Sure the costumes are on the Robin Hood side of good, and the wigs are equally terrible, but it was the most faithful adaptation I'd ever seen and Tom Hardy has the perfect voice for Heathcliff. Why the hell did they have to change the ending though?!
Anyway, enough of that, back to Wildfell. Again the ending has been changed- they always are- but I think for the better, it's still the same twist, just happening to different people. If you're looking for good faithful adaptations then look to the BBC, Hollywood does it badly. The only think I get a bit pinickity about when it comes to Brontë novels on screen is location. This is another thing I was pleasantly surprised at in the ITV Wuthering Heights (2009), they actually filmed The Moors, on The Moors! Not the North York Moors where craggy rocks cover every bit of open land, but the actual Brontë West Yorkshire moors where I live! Where the Brontës lived!! Yeah, Wildfell falls down when you see people staggering over white rocks that just don't exist here. Same with Jane Eyre if I recall, maybe North Yorkshire is cheaper...
Right, back to what I know about, reviewing the actors' good looks: Toby Stephens here looks a hundred times better than he did in The Camomile Lawn (1994) two years earlier, Tara Fitzgerald looks the same as when she was in The Camomile Lawn, I bet she couldn't believe her eyes seeing young Tobes stride up to her all suddenly handsome! Though he is still not Rochester-handsome ("Look at me, Jane, I'm so unbelievably hideous!" smoulder). Go and see Ibsen's A Doll's House in the West End at the moment to see Tara and Tobes both looking fabulous, except it's all sold out, so you can't, or rather, I can't.
Rupert Graves, Rupert Graves, if one Uptown Boy was missing from my favourite Westlife video, it's you Gravesy. You'd have fit in a treat with those handsome twits and you'd have got my vote. Yes, the reason I love Wildfell is because I love Gravesy. I still love Gravesy even though, let's face it, unlike Tara and Toby he seemed to be at his gorgeous peak back in 1996. As Huntingdon he is a horrible creepy bastard, the kind I love, Tobes is all sweetness and light holding puppy dogs and being lovely, Gravesy treats the viewers to the most disgustingly graphic kisses EVER on TV, he makes your flesh crawl but damn is he charming!
The dialogue is all straight from the novel, Gravesy getting all the best lines. Even though Anne wrote the book to show the perils of drinking and living it up- probably because of old Branwell, the hideous drunk of a brother, I still prefer Huntingdon to Markham, he seemed like a right laugh. Though I suppose if I was somewhere in the novel I wouldn't be goody-two-shoes Helen the abstainer, I would be that fat tart who gets off with Gravesy all the time and dresses like a real dolly bird.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Ashes to Ashes (Series 2 Episode 1)

Ashes is back! Slow start! Cringworthy Life on Mars-style hearing things! Obvious kidnapper! Everyone has different hair!
Well, except the important characters, ie Ray.

Monday, 20 April 2009

La Gloire de mon Père (1990) et Le Château de ma Mère (1990)

The two films are based on the autobiographies of Marcel Pagnol- the author of Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources. I enjoyed the films because they reminded me so much of my childhood holidays to France, this sounds ridiculous as it was only the 80s/early 90s, but my fondest memories of holidays were our on-the-cheap-to-France; living in houses which were clearly just old barns, all sleeping in the same room- because there was only one room, lizards, crickets, rats, people's dogs coming in the house, walking around farmland and sneakily stealing corn and apples. This was what France was to me, it was rustic, old fashioned- cheap! The turn of the century France of the films I swear is the same France I holidayed in.
The people who own those holiday gaffs now have cashed in on them, done them up. We can't afford to stay there now, but if
we could it wouldn't be my childhood, there would be television and swimming pools- horror. I don't have much of a memory but I very clearly remember all of those early hols... The films are about the writer's summer holidays as a child (The house they summer in I'd say was much more up-market than the ones my family stayed in!) The colours and the sounds of the film are all spot on to how I romantically think of my first holidays (and all the dining scenes were perfect too! Huge spreads and all the family sitting down, ah! C'est magnifique!)
The plot, there's not much to it, it's a memoir, it's not supposed to be exciting, it's just beautifully made and charming. Wonderful narrative from Pagnol, perfectly identifiable feelings about one's parents, very sweet, romantic and because of the French humor (my favourite) not at all sentimental. The first film is Marcel losing faith in his schoolmaster father for the first time, but it is not lost for long. The Second film is set immediately after, the next day practically, and is the family returning to their holiday home where Marcel discovers girls (a horrible brat he is smitten by! Luckily he is soon disillusioned.) but mostly is about the family discovering a short-cut to their holiday home via a network of private passageways in the grounds of local manor houses.
Yes, I've said it before, the French can make spellbinding cinema about nothing. The films were nostalgic, romantic and beautiful, I fell in love with them. There are some hilarious scenes; attitudes and characters that would not exist in British or American cinema appear throughout and fill me with joy! A particular favourite was the angry gardener who runs up to the family swearing and brandishing a pitchfork shouting: "I'll kill you!" but whispers to the family, "The boss is watching, please forgive me, the old bastard- I hope he dies soon, next time go down by the tomatoes," "If I catch you here again I'll shoot you!!" "You'd better run, make it look good, I'm so sorry, have a nice holiday."

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Dimetos (at the Donmar Warehouse until 9th May)

You lot know how I feel about Jonathan Pryce. I adore him whatever he does. But there's something so wonderful about seeing him on stage, where he belongs. He is so good, someone who has seen all his films and thinks he is good could not imagine how good he is when live.
He is the play. He's why you see the play. The other actors, no matter how well trained they are suddenly just become his props, he has such stage presence, he's spell binding.
I watched the play, my face twisted with horrible emotion (I think I scared Nick Le Prevost, he was sitting downstairs and looked up at one point to see my gurning mug; "Oh God, it's what's-her-face, looking intense! As usual!"), the story was painful to watch but impossible to look away. I was in tears- and not just because I was terribly drunk...
Ah the play, Dimetos, by Athol Fugard, directed by Douglas Hodge. The story of a brilliant engineer escaping his former life to live in the country with his niece and his rather bitter housekeeper. A Greek Tragedy in modern times, or was it? It wasn't specific, it could have been any time.
Lovely innocent niece. I read that Holliday Grainger, the actress playing Lydia is hating being on stage, she's terrified, only having done some TV until now. Well, I thought she was really excellent. And it would be a shame if she did just go back to Merlin and Robin Hood (shudder) But then maybe I just liked the way she acted, or the things she had to act. I'm always a fan of pain. I loved seeing Jonathan going mental, crying, tearing at his hair and screaming. I watched in spell-bound terror, but I loved it. And Miss Grainger too, I liked her most when she wasn't all innocent, when she figured out what was going on and ended the first act. Woo, scary scary stuff!
The cast were all good, but like I say, I'm there to see Jonathan and he does not disappoint. He was fabulous.
Nice theatre too on another note! Very cosy, liked it better than the Almeida, the only other small theatre I've been to in London. The set was suibtably bleak and interesting and the audience below me (I was on the edge of the circle) were only sometimes distracting.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

The Uncommon Reader (2007) by Alan Bennett

Here's an uncommon treat for you, my readers, a book review!
People who have briefly met me, or overheard me going off on one, might think there's an annoying big-mouth who is well read. Well, I don't consider myself well read at all. I know things, but I probably haven't read them, I've probably just listened to my intense book-aholic sister talk about the books she has read, or listened to my well read mother or my (surprisingly) well read father. Or I've seen the film or the TV series.
I have a lot of books in my room, hundreds, people are easily fooled by them as well- in the same way people were fooled by my immense video collection "Wow! What a good collection!- Wait, what the hell is all this crap!?" Yes, my books are along the same lines. I have a whole three shelves dedicated to P.G. Wodehouse, (hey! you'll never guess what happens in this one! Someone steals the pig before an agricultural show, people get engaged to the wrong chaps but everything works out fine in the end!) I have two shelves for comics, three for picture books, two for reference and three or four for book-books.
Maybe I am well read for the average person these days, but compared to my family and friends I feel like right little idiot sometimes. Anna (my sister) reads at night before going to sleep, I tend to do one of the following: (1)Write, (2)Listen to an old Russell Brand podcast and remember the good old days, or (3)play tetris. I used to read but since that damn ipod came into my life I'm all about podcasts and tetris.
The thing is I go on a lot of train journeys and I like to read on the train, so I have hundreds of books on my shelves that are started. In the last two months I have had about seven books on the go, I can see from here; a book Suzie gave me but I got ill while reading it and haven't gone back to it, Obama's book which was great but my mum told me the childhood bits were the best bits so I didn't bother finishing it! Joseph Heller's Autobiography which is also really REALLY good, Kath and Kin by Stevie Davies which I always read wrong because Kath and Kim (the original Australian show, not the god awful American remake) is genius. And Simon Gray's Smoking Diaries which I thought I'd better re-read before seeing the play (these are very good btw, and remind me a lot of Heller's autobiography, but with more smoking).
My dad Gave me The Uncommon Reader and I read it in two hours.
Yes, I think this is the key, I should read short stories.
The Uncommon Reader is a nice silly short story with a fabulous ending (I didn't know where it was going, but it is perfect) about the Queen suddenly developing a passion for books. She discovers a mobile library in the grounds of Buckingham Palace while walking the dogs and to be polite she checks out a book.
It is fab. Just what you need for a grey afternoon. I was an Alan Bennett fan before, now I find I like him even more. Wow, what a review, I think it totaled about fifty words. Right, off to bed and play tetris!

Spongebob Squarepants: The Sponge Who Could Fly, The Musical (It's a play)

Imagine you are on drugs and you are watching a play about drugs, starring actors who are on drugs. Then imagine you also have a migrane and are surrounded by sticky-fingered children who insist loudly "That's not the real Spongebob, Dad. It isn't!!"
Oh! And imagine your ticket cost twenty five pounds.
Good costumes, good puppets, not as long as some musicals. Currently on at the Lowry in Manchester, probably touring.
Tomorrow I will be sitting in the Donmar Warehouse watching Fugard's Dimetos starring Jonathan Pryce, I wonder if it will live up to The Sponge Who Could Fly...

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Horse People with Alexandra Tolstoy (Tuesday, BBC 2)

Switched on BBC2 last night to see if there was anything worth watching- I'm not keen on TV at the moment, there have been some good nature shows (Nature's Great Events), Madmen continues to be excellent, and I watch Pushing Daisies for a bit of fun and Desperate Housewives out of habit. But there's nothing on TV at the moment. All the recent dramas have been awful. The Radio Times on Red Riding: "Could this be the best drama about the North, ever?!" No. It is bloody awful, have you ever been to the North!? Clearly no. Last week's efforts the Liam Neeson/Jimmy Nesbit thing was appalling as well, and Have you seen BBC1 on a Tuesday night at 9?! Horror, All the Small Things, makes me want to gag. TV is such a waste of time nowadays.
So Horse People last night, we switch it on to some posh bird with a plum in her mouth saying "I love horses!" Switch off... No, wait. Does that say 'Tolstoy'?
It turns out Alexandra Tolstoy is not a posh bird with a plum in her mouth. She is an extremely intelligent woman who speaks both Russian and English fluently, she is not at all patronizing or offensive, she just has a posh voice. She is related to Leo Tolstoy it said it in the paper not in the show, great granddaughter I think, though I can't remember, I reckon this is the reason the farmers said yes.
The show was Alexandra living with some isolated Siberian Horse Farmers for three weeks basically to experience their way of life. These are men who breed horses, ride horses and eat horses. I'm not a horse-nut, I did go riding as a child, but I never wanted a horse as apparently "all" girls do, but Alexandra clearly is- I've just been on her website, she's married to a jockey!- so I thought she would be horrified and disgusted at the idea of killing horses to eat them. But this girl is highly intelligent, she made no judgement because she understood how it worked. And she had no objection to living that life for three weeks; she helped snap the legs of dead arctic hares, skinned a wolf, cleaned intestine meat, chopped up horses hooves to make jelly, and ate all the horse meat with the rustic farmers and actually enjoyed it. One said quietly to her after mortified she apologised for putting her knife accidentally through the fur while they skinning the fox, "You are not as spoiled as I thought you would be."
She was nothing like I initially thought, I will be watching the next two episodes, not that I care much about horses, and I don't really like seeing skinned animals or horses being killed, I just liked her. She was so natural, so polite- and I don't mean she was all manners, there was nothing forced about her, she just became one of the people who lived there.
Watch it on the iPlayer! You'll like her! She's cute and funny!

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Walk the Line (2005)

I stupidly bought Dreamgirls (2006) a couple of days ago because it was reduced to £5 and I'd never seen it. Ugh, why do I keep doing this? Just like when I went to see Mama Mia! and assumed it would be good... I saw Enchanted, Sweeney Todd, Hairspray and something else... Can't remember what, anyway, I saw al those films and thought "Hey! Hollywood's going back to making good old fashioned musicals! The emphasis was on the word good. They were Singing in the Rain standard! (well, not that good, but not friggin' Brigadoon bad!) I'm fooled by these terrible films with songs. Dreamgirls was horrendous, hello, plot? Where are you!? The numbers that the band sang on stage were good! The unexpected songs that the actors suddenly started singing not on stage were jarringly awful! Make your mind up! Make a film about a band where you get to see them doing their numbers or do a musical, don't mix them! Or if you do, make it clear you're going to do that!! Don't put the first off-stage number in more than half an hour into the film! Start with one! Then we know it might happen again and we can leave the cinema!!
Walk the Line. There's a film I should have bought. Instead I watched it a day later, ah, a good film, a film with fantastic musical performances in all the right places- on stage!!! I don't know why I thought Dreamgirls would be good, I think somewhere in my mind I had remembered it was a film about the Supremes. I like the Supremes. There's one memorable song in Dreamgirls, and I only remember it because ITV use it in practically all of their advertising. Johnny Cash, he had some good songs, and thank God, in the film about Johnny Cash they used Johnny Cash songs.
I like Country music and I like Rock and Roll. Early Rock and Roll like this is my favourite. My sister is all about new music, so was my Suzie and my Shona (past flatmates). I don't list music as an interest because I feel I know nothing about it, but I'm always singing and when I do find something I like (which is a couple of times a year I suppose) it's usually Rock and Roll or Country. The last person I added to my music list (in September) was Emmy Lou Harris -guess which genre she comes under.
I got goosebumps at the Bob Dylan cover, I was thrilled when I saw the boy playing Carl Perkins do a number or two and I loved Jerry Lewis, the film was great! Why did I wait so long to see it?! Maybe it was my aversion to Reese Witherspoon's chin, odd, I like a lot of her films, well, Pleasantville and Election. But she and Phoenix were spot on perfect and amazing singers. I'll be watching it again soon.
Anyone seen my Carl Perkins and Chums album? Or whatever it's called... Pals?