Tag Archives: Theatre

Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln – Review

21 Jan

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Probably the most anticipated film of the awards calendar, Lincoln is set to hit cinema screens (finally) in the UK on the 25th January. Having cleaned up in terms of the nominations at the BAFTAs, Golden Globes and Oscars, expectations are high on this biopic looking at the last few months of American President Abraham Lincoln’s life as he attempts to pass the 13th Amendment through the House of Representatives and abolish slavery forever.

With a stellar cast including Academy Award nominees Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field and honest Abe himself, Daniel Day-Lewis, from the moment the public first got a glimpse at the posters for the film, we all Screen Shot 2013-01-19 at 13.08.42knew that this was going to be something special. With Steven Spielberg at the helm and Tony Kushner drafting the screenplay, this dialogue heavy insight into one of the most riveting moments of American history is in my mind, not one to be missed.

At a whopping 150 minutes however, I can almost guarantee that this film will divide audiences. We as a country are aware of this historic moment, and are all grateful for its passing. However, unlike American children and children before them we’re not brought up learning about this in great detail. So audiences in the UK are interested in this story, and invest trust in it’s telling because of Spielberg and Daniel-Day Lewis’s portfolio of previous work, but we’re not necessarily as passionate as our friends across the pond. You may think this about a number of dramatized storylines, which we have watched over the years in cinema, but with a highly anticipated world release, audiences perceptions once they have seen this film, will be vastly different because of the style in which it takes.

For example, in my screening alone, there were many different opinions. Some loved it like myself, whilst others felt the pace too slow and wondered where they would get two and a half hours of their life back from. The question is, what is it about this film that makes us all wonder whether or not it’s worth a watch?

The good elements are its simplicity in the storytelling. Spielberg in various interviews talks about his fascination with Lincoln from childhood, and his repertoire of historical films such as Schindler’s List and Screen Shot 2013-01-19 at 13.09.09Empire of the Sun speak for themselves. But with Lincoln as a much-loved president who achieved so much in his time in office, the starting point was finding the right angle in which to tell his story. Should the film become an epic tale of boy, to man, to President? Or is there something a little more focused that shows all those key elements in a shorter period of time. Abraham Lincoln had a very rare quality about himself where he’s almost mythical, what we do know of him are his achievements, and that he was loved by the people, but we didn’t know enough about the man himself, he seems to almost be a representative of America’s beliefs and maybe just an emblem, but not in some respects a real living breathing man. So it’s this side of him and the forgotten family man that Spielberg brings to our screens so expertly.

This film couldn’t have been made without Daniel Day-Lewis in my opinion, and I’m sure this is shared by others, the ultimate method actor, immersive in every sense of this character, I found myself looking, after the screening, at pictures of the real Abraham Lincoln and completely amazed by the resemblance. Clever make-up you may think, but without Day-Lewis’s masterful approach all the make up in the world wouldn’t have made you forget you’re watching a film and feel like you’re peeping into a glimpse of history quite like this. From his shuffles to voice and passive nature, you cannot fault Day-Lewis’s characterization and awards a-plenty should be placed firmly in his hands.

Hot on his heels, and in parts edging his performance out, is Tommy Lee Jones as radical pro-abolitionScreen Shot 2013-01-19 at 13.08.18 supporter Thaddeus Stephens. His quick tongued, imposing authority guides us through the House of Representative scenes mesmerizingly when Day Lewis is not present. The surprising humour within this film falls mainly on the shoulders of Jones, whose quick quips and great uses of words which instantly make you chuckle such as ‘nincompoop’ are well executed with effortless ease and gives a welcomed light relief in parts. This Texan actor is back to his best in this film and like Day-Lewis picks his key moments to truly shine and provide award worthy performances throughout. Rounding out the rest of the cast, there are no performances big or small that fall through the cracks. Every character is carefully considered and acted with dedication and conviction, most notably through David Strathairn, James Spader and Hal Holbrook.

What people may not like about this film however, is its theatrical format. Taking a step back from glossy visuals, Spielberg and Kushner have opted for a narrative heavy portrayal. With this comes a lot of information about legislation and you realize just the sheer volume of characters that are featuring throughout. My recommendation is that you go back for a second viewing, it is well worth it to fully Screen Shot 2013-01-19 at 13.07.56understand the complexities of the Amendment and indeed this film. However Spielberg devotees may find this quite tough to handle. From the opening scene you feel like you are about to embark on another Saving Private Ryan-esq extended battle scene, but this is only a momentary glimpse, which isn’t returned to until Lincoln goes back to truly experience the aftermath of the Civil War.

Some of the disappointment in this format may also be down to the marketing of the film, which is really a continual gripe of mine.  The trailer (arguably quite rightly) showcases some of the more epic scenes of the film, however the majority of the time you’re watching less grandeur scenes of men in cold rooms stoking fires, sitting around desks and trying to work out how to work to procure votes – the film has sharp and quick moving dialogue which is a lot to take in and follow, but it is none the less still engaging and clever, just perhaps what is not expected initially.

So, should you go watch this film? Well, yes, its pacing may seem problematic, but the content is so strong that you will find Lincoln strangely exciting and in some parts heart-warming. This is essentially the story of Screen Shot 2013-01-19 at 13.07.26a strong minded man who could foresee what was best for the future and not just now, and with a gentile manner and determined heart, this ensemble shows the public just why Abraham Lincoln is one of America’s best loved Presidents. It’s a turn away from Spielberg’s normal formats, but one should view that as an exciting new chapter in his body of work. Finally if you walk out with a new interest in this historical story, you can also read the book which Spielberg used as his main reference guide for the film, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kerans Goodwin.

4 Stars

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Ones to watch in 2013…

5 Jan

Happy New Year Film Fans!

So it’s been a great 2012 in the world of film, and to properly finish it off, I was lucky enough to feature on Channel 5 News at the end of December to chat about my favourite Christmas film to watch over the festive period. I decided that my top two films had to be those that were most nostalgic and memorable to me rather than those that were just critically acclaimed, and I’m sure a lot of twenty-somethings who grew up with these films will probably feel the same.

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So, I chose, first and foremost, Home Alone – the star making turn from Macaulay Culkin. I remember everything about this film, from the opening musical score to the amazing traps Kevin McAllister managed to set for bungling burglars Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern. This is a film, which turns aScreen Shot 2013-01-04 at 14.03.19potentially tragic circumstance into something that becomes one of the most well remembered modern slapstick Christmas comedies of all time.

The other film that is important to me, but not always remembered as a Christmas film (but most certainly is), is Hook. Robin Williams plays the boy who actually did grow up, and it’s a tale of self-belief and acceptance with a lot of fun thrown in. Again, it’s a star-studded cast with Julia Roberts, Bob Hoskins and Dustin Hoffman easily putting any panto Captain Hook to shame. It’s a film that I have always returned to and watched, again, and again and again, and will probably always continue to do so.

Screen Shot 2013-01-04 at 14.04.02 Anyway, if you managed to catch these two films over the Xmas period, well done you… you took my good advice, and if you don’t have these in your Blu-Ray or DVD collection, go get them in the January sales – they should be staple additions to your collection! But its 2013 now, and what a year of films we have ahead.

Hope you’re excited, if not, I wanted to share a list of my most anticipated films for the first half of the year, so you know what you have to look forward to over the next six months:

Les Miserables

Musical Theatre fans need wait no longer for this luscious retelling of the Victor Hugo book/Cameron MacKintosh stage phenomenon. I’ve seen it, and as a massive fan of the show liked it, but never the less managed to still pick holes in the fact that its never quite going to live up to the musical that I love and admire so dearly.

This film will be a must see for any fans of the show, and for anyone new and intrigued about this concept, you’ll be viewing an almost certain Oscar winning performance from Anne Hathaway as Fantine, and will hopefully enjoy this star-studded cast lead by Hollywood favourite Hugh Jackman. But be prepared, it’s verging on the three-hour mark, with little spoken dialogue and no interval!

For my full review check out my earlier blog post:  https://rebeccaperfectfilmpresenter.wordpress.com/2012/12/18/476/

Les Miserables hits cinema screens 11th January 2013

Django Unchained

It may contain a silent “d” but Django Unchained is causing plenty of controversy over its extensive use of the “N” word in this  American slavery based story. Starring firm favourites Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx, and Christoph Waltz, this most certainly should be a must for any Tarantino fans – and I will be front of the queue.

Hailed as one of Tarantino’s best films by those who have seen it, it’s probably not for the faint hearted but will be an interesting and daring take on a very difficult subject matter.

Django Unchained hits cinemas 18th January 2013.

Zero Dark Thirty

Remember when The Hurt Locker came out and the Oscars hosted the biggest David and Goliath showdown between Avatar director and “King of the World” James Cameron and ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow? Well triumphant Bigelow is back with a bold production looking at Al-Quaeda terrorism and the hunt for the most dangerous man in the world.

Starring Jessica Chastain and Joel Edgerton, Zero Dark Thirty is already causing considerable awards buzz and as the critics screenings have just started we are starting to see the influx of glowing reviews as well as some further questioning from government forces into the level of  information exchanged between Bigelow’s team and the CIA – which probably means this film is verging more on fact than fiction and that we should probably keep a keen eye out when watching.

If you remain intrigued, then you only have to wait until the end of the month as Zero Dark Thirty hits cinema screens on 25th January 2013. Watch out Homeland…

Warm Bodies

I really hope this doesn’t turn out to be a big, fat, zombie turkey, because the trailer looks lots of fun. Nicholas Hoult moves on from Skins, About a Boy and UK territory altogether as he takes on this lead in this adaptation from the popular Issac Marion book of the same name.

The basic premise is that a zombie manages to prove that he’s not all gore and stunted walking as he falls in love with a human girl and gradually cures himself as a result – what will happen to the rest of the human race? We’ll just have to see…but rest assured it will probably be better than Hoult’s other 2013 film – Jack and the Giant Killer!

Warm Bodies ventures on to our cinema screens on the 8th February 2013.

The Great Gatsby

Speaking of book adaptations, F.Scott Fitzgerald’s classic has had a few re-tellings, but if Baz Luhrmann is anything to go by, this is going to be a Moulin Rouge visual feast…lets just hope it has substance to its style.

The trailer looks magnificent, and with a star-studded cast such as Leonardo DiCaprio in the titular role, Tobey Maguire as Nick, Carey Mulligan as Daisy, we’ll have to wait and see whether or not this takes its place as the biggest film of Summer 2013.

The Great Gatsby swings onto cinema screens ever so stylishly on the 17th May 2013.

Star Trek: Into Darkness

If you, like me, were pleasantly surprised by JJ Abrams re-versioning of this sci-fi series, then you’ll be just as excited to see what the directors next installment has in store for us all.

With the ever cryptic addition of British actor Benedict Cumberbatch (yes Sherlock fans get excited) as one of the baddies, it will be great to see what happens as Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto once again feed into the “Captains log” (sorry!) with their next adventure.

Star Trek into Darkness hits screens on 17th May 2013

Man of Steel

We’ll sort of forgive Zack Snider for Sucker Punch, now that he’s under the close watch of Christopher Nolan for Man of Steel. The trailer looks Batman Begins esq – so I can’t help but feel uber excited for this. Superman isn’t one of DC Comic’s best superheroes in my opinion, but over the years most of the films have done ok…

Hopefully Man of Steel will launch Clapham boy Henry Cavill to the A-List and no longer will he be losing out as one of the last two at every audition he attends (this happened apparently in Bond and Twilight amongst others – poor boy!) Plus the ever diverse Amy Adams steps up as Lois Lane – cannot wait!!

Man of Steel flies into action on 14th June 2013.

 

So just a few snippets of big ones to watch over the next six months. There’s also lots of offerings from World War Z through to Pacific Rim, Oblivion, Evil Dead and Welcome to the Punch – 2013 is shaping up to be a very strong year for films, so as ever, enjoy watching all is on offer, I know I will!

 

Les Miserable – Film Review

18 Dec

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“Can you hear the people sing? Singing the song of angry men?” no? Well neither did I at this screening… as it was indeed more about jubilation as Les Miserables took from stage to screen in Tom Hoopers bold production.

The all singing story follows prisoner 24601 aka Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) ,imprisoned for stealing some bread for his sister, as he breaks parole and becomes a better man thanks to the compassion of a priest and a promise to young mother Fantine (Anne Hathaway) as she lays on her deathbed. The only problem being that persistent and law obsessive Javert is on a manhunt and nothing will stop him bringing this convict to justice.

Les Miserables is the longest running musical in history and its success is a testament to the story and the incredible musical numbers that expertly guide the audience through this complex tale. Tom Hooper has embraced this and done a valiant job in making it more widely available through the Screen Shot 2012-12-16 at 11.26.17silver screen. To this I’m grateful, but as a Les Miserable fan, I can’t help but be a little nit-picking. After all, some of the wonders of the theatre production can never really have the same impact on screen, but it was interesting to see where the balance shifted and what surprised me the most.

First, lets look at the casting. By far the standout performance is from Anne Hathaway, in fact her portrayal as Fantine is Oscar worthy. She managed to reduce me to a quivering wreck throughout I Dreamed a Dream. The raw desperation in her performance will move even the biggest sceptic. I have seen the stage show six times and I have never seen a performance quite like this and I challenge anyone to not shed a tear throughout this song. The power that Hathaway possesses in this is also balanced with the simplicity of the shot which remains in a medium close up following her intimately.

Hugh Jackman is incredibly competent as Jean Valjean, he guides the audience with ease, and delivers some impressive vocals, however you can’t help but think that Alfie Boe would have delivered a far more commanding version and be able to hit the correct register as intended (and is the challenge) for numbers such as Bring Him Home. Never the less, out of Hollywood’s hot pickings, there is none more suitable than Jackson who, we must not forget has his roots firmly planted in Musical Theatre.

Pleasant surprises come also from baby faced Eddie Redmayne, who, bar an occasionally distracting “jiggly jaw” as I like to call it, demonstrates that his choir boy days at Eton have served him well, and he embodies Marius with ease and sends an exemplary chill down the spines of the audience throughout Empty Chairs at Empty Tables. Samantha Barks also shines as Eponine, however does not manage to provoke quite as much emotion from the audience throughout On My Own. However this may be down to the uncomfortable shot position given by Hooper throughout this song. Regardless, who would have thought that a spot on BBC’s I’d Do Anything, would have seen her just a few short years later be part of a major Hollywood film.

Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen delight as Monsieur and Madame Thenadier, and provide the light relief necessary throughout the Screen Shot 2012-12-16 at 11.23.59film. Cohen is particularly standout with his ad-hoc one liners and surprisingly good singing voice. For Carter, although good, you can’t help but think you’ve seen her character multiple times before, as she dons a Tim Burton esq portrayal which is delivered like clockwork. Their biggest number Master of the House, is played for laughs as it should be, but is slightly drowned by the background noise and ambience that some of the particularly funny one liners are somewhat lost on occasions as it could have been one of the most memorable numbers.

The biggest surprise has to be Russell Crowe. Huge skepticism surrounded his casting as Javert, however, although clunky at times, he delivers an impressive performance.

Overall this film rests, as it should, on the ability of its cast members, but Director Tom Hooper brings to life a convincing 19th Century France. Some of the settings, particularly the rounding up of revolutionaries (shot in Greenwich) is visually spectacular, and you feel the excitement building for the big barracade showdown. However, when the time comes to see this spectacle, which on stage is one of the biggest wonders and ores of the production, you are left slightly underwhelmed. The enclosed area of streets in which this is set, very much look like part of a set and takes away from the marvel of the scene we have just seen, this is a shame, because it makes viewing inconsistent and those Les Mis fans who are very familiar with the stage production will be particularly observant in these parts.

Hoopers’ camera angles at times are also interesting. He mixes some of the most simple shots with some which more feel like he’s puffing up his peacock feathers to show his dominance in the film world. Ironically, it is the more simplistic work, which demonstrates his talent more effectively, Screen Shot 2012-12-16 at 11.25.01rather than the more auteuristic attempts. It’s interesting however, seeing what works better on stage than on film. The magic of the theatre is about pushing peoples imagination, and scenes like the sewer are not as impactful in the film version. On the flipside, the visual portrayals in Master of the House really help elevate the song and the comedic element to the scene.

Overall this is a strong attempt at taking this concept to a cinematic audience. The faults are highlighted but are in no way damning to this pleasing production. Never before has anyone brought this musical version of the Victor Hugo novel to the cinema successfully before, and although I think there are far too many strong contenders for best picture at the Oscars this year, I think Les Miserable will have a considerable run at the awards ceremonies.

But whilst we wait for the award based outcome of this film, we can check out some interviews from the New York premiere…which aren’t quite what they seem…

The Bodyguard – The Musical…my must see!

8 Dec

 

 

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Often it is the conversion from stage to screen, which is the success (Warhorse, Evita and hopefully Les Mis), and sometimes converting something from screen to stage can go wrong…very wrong (Dirty Dancing). So you can understand my skepticism when going to one of the preview nights of The Bodyguard – The Musical. In the back of my mind I feared a cheesy homage to Whitney and a poor stage version lifted from one of my much-loved films, but I’m pleased to report no such thing.

 

Directed by one of London theatre’s brightest stars Thea Sharrock (The Misanthrope) the stage version of The Bodyguard stays true to the films roots but brings an innovative and exciting new twist to the tale and how it is set. The setting, was one of the most impressive elements. It Screen Shot 2012-12-08 at 11.30.14crosses the boundary between theatre and film, combining previously filmed montages and live action which allow for the expert scene changes to keep the story’s momentum throughout – I found myself trying to work out how Heather Hadley’s Rachel Marron appears in one door and a minute later manages to make a costume change and appear at the top of the set, with breath to spare. I realize the trickery of this, is the engagement the audience has with the characters filling in the time between these stage/costume changes, that time just flies by through what is probably a fair few verses of one of The Bodyguard’s unforgettable soundtrack.

 

One particularly impressive piece of set is Frank Farmers fathers house – you remember from the film, his retreat in the snow, far far away from LA LA Land. As if out of nowhere, an (almost) full sized log cabin appears and dominates the stage, rotates and provides a fitting setting for the start of the third act of this story. A spectacle that really must be applauded.

 

But it’s not just the set that keeps the audience wanting more, the performances of all the cast members are top notch. The Bodyguard has one of the most iconic soundtracks of the last fifty years and with everyone in the audience knowing the majority of the songs back to back, the pressure is well and truly on. So for Heather Hadley taking on the iconic role of Rachel Marron, daunting is probably one of the words that would describe this prospect. But Hadley, manages to embody this character with such ease and effortlessness that she deserves all the praise Screen Shot 2012-12-08 at 11.31.03she gets for being one of theatre-lands “next big things”. Barely opening her mouth she manages to hit some of the highest and most powerful notes, and the finale of I Will Always Love You is a fitting crescendo which demands a standing ovation at every performance.  But its not all about her singing, Hadley manages to act the part as if in front of the camera, a cool, understated and relaxed performance, which makes this musical something far removed from some of the hammed up “hen do” musicals which scatter London’s West End.

 

As her bodyguard, RADA trained Lloyd Owen is equally as cool if not as relaxed in the role as Hadley. With no singing required (well, apart from one little gem), his stern portrayal draws comparisons with Kevin Costner’s original Frank Farmer, but the familiarity is forgivable given the characters lack of ability to be anything other than what is required. Never the less, the chemistry between Owen and Hadley is clear and in the encore, where the actors truly let loose, you can definitely see that the two leads have had a blast bringing these characters to life.

 

Additional mention must go to Debbie Kurrup as Nicki Marron, Rachel’s sibling in the shadows, if anyone was to have a talent rivaling Rachel Marron, its her sister. The duet of Run to You quite easily brings a tear to your eye as it is sung on a rollercoaster of amazing harmonies and fully believable passion from both the characters for Frank Farmer – one of the highlights of the entire set list.  You feel the pain of unrequited love for Nicki and I’m sure anyone who has been in the background of an over achieving sister or brother will easily relate to this character.

 

There are still elements of this show that can be tightened up, the dancing for example is not always as ‘on point’ as it could be, and the larger Screen Shot 2012-12-08 at 11.30.38ensemble cast feels at times that they are still finding their feet, but if this run continues for a considerable amount of time, this show has the ability to become a very well oiled machine, but is still quite obviously in its embryonic stages. Additionally, there is a lack of magic in the costume department. I was excited to see Queen of the Night performed complete with metal head-dress and matching outfit – something I was hoping to be replicated from the film, however I was faced with tacky looking corsets and jeans – slightly disappointing. However to the show’s defense I was quickly reminded that Heather Hadley does have around thirty costume changes throughout the show itself, so a few dodgy but easily wearable items can be forgiven…ah the magic of the theatre.

 

Overall The Bodyguard The Musical provides strong musical theatre performances as they should be, staging so bafflingly clever you could be still trying to work it out days later and a show which is the perfect go to on a night out with the girls (and boys) and a brilliant date night! Whitney really would be proud.

Anna Karenina Review – I’m being nice and balanced here but wish I didn’t have to be!

10 Sep

 

 

The Plot:

Set in late-19th-century Russia high-society, the aristocrat Anna Karenina enters into a life-changing affair with the affluent Count Vronsky.

The Good:

With any Joe Wright production you’ll see a lavish array of costumes and set design, and Anna Karenina is no exception. This time Wright’s world is almost entirely set on an old theatre stage and the intricate transitions from one scene to another are seamlessly done.

This is a big budget production, using clever means to depict a familiar story while taking a bold step away from past adaptations of Leo Tolstoy’s book. This re-telling can definitely walk away confident that it will almost certainly gather Oscar nods for costume, set, sound and potentially cinematography.

In terms of casting, Jude Law is sublime as Alexei Karenin, (Anna’s passive and tolerant husband) and by doing next to nothing, his presence on screen is scene stealing and captivating to watch. Aaron Johnson (despite his mustache) is a convincing Count Vronsky, a young virile officer who is tempted by the allure of married Anna.

As light relief, Matthew McFadden who previously played the brooding Mr Darcy, successfully don’s a jovial moustache as Anna’s lothario brother Oblonsky. Additionally newcomer Alicia Vikander deserves a notable mention for her innocent and gentile portrayal as Kitty.

The Bad:

Sadly there are a few flaws in Joe Wright’s beautiful effort. First and foremost the film is 130minutes long, which may stretch the patience of audiences, especially those that might not appreciate the film’s new take on period drama.

Though some of the film’s elaborate set-changing choreography works very well, particularly during the early portions of the film, as the story progresses it’s harder to sustain. Once the initial novelty of twirling scenery and people wears off, it may prove a distraction, especially for those eager to dismiss such an approach as heavy handed or pretentious.

However good the cast are, all the glamorous visuals can leave little room at times for them to fully develop their characters. The film’s central narrative is laid out in such clear parts that it can feel almost episodic at times, with gradual emotions making way for lavish production value.

Keira Knightley in the title role of Anna is at least breathtaking to look at as she takes on one of the most complex female characters in literature. However, even the former First Lady of the silver screen Gretta Garbo had trouble tackling the part in 1935. Sadly critics will once again claim that Keira’s performance is perhaps overly reliant on gasps and corsets.

Keira was Oscar nominated for Pride & Prejudice but it’s unlikely she’ll find similar accolades for Anna Karenina. The set and costume departments steal her thunder this time. Fans may also find her chemistry with Aaron Johnson, less passionately convincing than the intensity she found with James McAvoy in Atonement.

The Ugly Truth:

If you’re after a visual feast of beautiful costumes, make up and set design you will definitely not be disappointed. The high concept theatricality of Joe Wright’s production and Keira Knightley’s trademark performance may not entirely charm or convince everyone though.