R.I.P – HELEN MCCRORY (1968 – 2021) – SIX GREAT SCENES!
“I’m heartbroken to announce that after a heroic battle with cancer, the beautiful and mighty woman that is Helen McCrory has died peacefully at home, surrounded by a wave of love from friends and family. ‘She died as she lived. Fearlessly. God, we love her and know how lucky we are to have had her in our lives. ‘She blazed so brightly. Go now, Little One, into the air, and thank you.” — Damian Lewis
Sad news that one of my favourite actors, Helen McCrory, passed away on the 16th of April 2021 from cancer.
Helen McCrory had an amazing career on stage, television and in cinema. She began studying acting at the Drama Centre in King’s Cross, London. After which she rapidly gained fabulous onstage notices, appearing in theatrical productions at the Donmar Warehouse, National Theatre and Almeida Theatre. It didn’t take long before she was starring in prominent roles on television and cinema screens.
An actress of immense quality and charisma, McCrory would bring a sophistication and heart and magnificent class to every role she inhabited. Her characters were always strong, independent and a little bit dangerous. In tribute, I have chosen six scenes which showcase her incredible talents. No words can describe how big a loss Helen McCrory is to the world and my condolences go out to her family.
*** THE FOLLOWING SCENES CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
HESTER – THE DEEP BLUE SEA (2016 STAGE PRODUCTION)
I haven’t even seen this production, but this excerpt from the play immediately makes me feel so much for Helen McCrory’s character. She gives such a beautifully magnetic performance.
ROSANNA CALVIERRI – DOCTOR WHO (2010)
I personally would have loved to have seen Helen McCrory star as Doctor Who. But she made a wonderfully dark-hearted villain in this episode. This scene is so brilliant as it builds slowly with two fine actors bringing both humour and pathos and stirring drama to their characters.
NARCISSA MALFOY – HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE (2009)
Originally cast in the role of Bellatrix Lestrange, McCrory had to leave the role out due to pregnancy. Eventually cast as the wonderfully name, Narcissa Malfoy, Helen McCrory’s evocative voice and elegance perfectly enlivened the character.
TABITHA – INSIDE NO. 9 (2014)
Many of Helen McCrory’s earlier roles found her portraying strong young women, however, as she matured she grew even more powerful and was also cast in darker more gothic roles. Once such character was the enigmatic Tabitha in the awesome anthology series, Inside No.9 episode, The Harrowing.
POLLY GRAY – PEAKY BLINDERS (2013 – 2019)
The BBC’s flagship drama is a muscular-bleeding-tattooed-up-parade-of-masculinity, but it also presents a set of powerful female characters too who are just as deadly. Helen McCrory as tough-talking, Polly Gray, more than holds her own as a leader within Cillian Murphy’s gang.
MRS POOLE – PENNY DREADFUL (2014 – 2015)
One of my favourite television dramas of recent years had a some incredibly beautiful writing, a wondrous cast and the most elegant of bloody horror. Helen McCrory revelled in the role of Evelyn Poole/Madam Kali, stealing every scene with an over-the-top performance as the immortal uber-witch casting spells and wreaking havoc throughout.
In all the excitement, I seemed to have forgotten about this feature, but will reignite it here. Essentially, I pick a favourite film actor or director or writer or composer or film craftsperson, who I have followed and admired for some time, and pick out five of their works which resonate with me. Usually it is difficult to stick to just five selections, however, I find writing with a rule or discipline sharpens the critical mind. Today’s choice is one of the greatest actors to have walked the boards, appeared on the box, and graced the silver screen. His name is of course, Denzel Washington.
Born in Mount Vernon, New York and having initially attended a military academy, Washington would later gain a BA in Drama and Journalism from Fordham University. He began by acting in Summer Stock theatre, but his first major break was in the television series, St Elsewhere. His performances as Dr Philip Chandler would lead to castings in prominent film roles, notably as Steve Biko in Cry Freedom (1987). In that film he would receive his first Academy award nomination. From then on Washington would go from strength to strength traversing stage and screen roles with incredible range and skill. As writer, director and actor he is an artist who can span genres and disciplines, equally brilliant in commercial projects and more arthouse productions. Here are just five roles which I very much think he excelled. But to be honest, there are many, many more I could have included.
Glory (1989) was the first major Hollywood film to profile the fight of black soldiers to free themselves from slavery in the context of the U.S. Civil War. It is an excellent drama with some brutal battle scenes and memorable characters. None more so that Washington’s portrayal of Private Silas Trip. He is quite understandably an angry man determined to fight all the way against oppressors. Washington delivered a searing performance which would earn him a Best Actor in a Supporting role award. It is an outstanding portrayal full of power and strength.
MALCOLM X (1992)
Washington worked with Spike Lee on many film productions and Malcolm X (1992), is arguably their most significant and impressive film. It charts the life and death of a man born Malcolm Little who would grow to be anything but. After a troubled childhood he became a drug dealer and criminal in order to survive. Having converted to Islam he rejected his slave roots, going on to become one of the most outspoken voices against black oppression the world has ever known. Both Lee and Washington should have won Oscars for their work, and Washington’s intense performance stands as a fine cinematic tribute to a true spokesperson for a generation.
TRAINING DAY (2001)
Washington has played his fair share of heroic and complex anti-heroes trying to find their way in the world, but in David Ayer’s brilliant cop drama Training Day (2001), he revels in the role of bad-ass corrupt cop, Alonzo Harris. Washington and Ethan Hawke are both brilliant as the mentor and apprentice narcotics officers who are about to have a very intense day of plots and double-crosses. Washington spits and chews up Ayer’s meaty dialogue as Harris, who has a devilish plan up his dirty sleeves. Ultimately, the respect between the two erodes and a violent power game ensues with surprising twists ahead. Washington won the Best Actor award at the Academy Awards, and while it was well earned, it was arguably more for his body of incredible film performances overall.
MAN ON FIRE (2004)
While not necessarily the best film on Denzel Washington’s amazing acting C.V., Man on Fire (2004) is one of the more memorable films he made with uber-Hollywood genre filmmaker, Tony Scott. Washington clearly respected Scott as a man and director, and while Scott’s flashy and bombastic style could drown his actors, Washington’s talent always shone through. As John Creasy, Washington’s characterisation is that of a broken ex-military man who has killed for his country, and now realised it was all for nothing as he lost and alone. Alcoholic and suicidal, Creasy finds redemption in the guise of a young girl, portrayed brilliantly by Dakota Fanning, who following her kidnapping, goes on a vengeful kill-crazy-rampage-search-for-justice. Washington’s acting is both muscular and tender in equal measure as Scott delivers an explosive genre film of the highest quality.
Denzel Washington’s honest, down-to-earth and heart-cracking drama is a formidable character piece and acting tour-de-force. Adapted from August Wilson’s prize-winning play, the narrative bristles with authentic working-class lives of 1950s Pittsburgh, and is littered with some wonderful stories and dialogue. At the heart of the drama are Denzel Washington’s complex character, Troy Maxson, and his long-suffering wife, Rose; portrayed with significant humility by Viola Davis. Troy’s character is charismatic, and he delivers some hearty yarns from his past, but he’s also bullies everyone around him. Moreover, Washington directs brilliantly, “fencing” in the characters to create a sense of claustrophobia and intensity. By keeping the players mainly in the yard and the house we feel as trapped as they are by society, social status and their life decisions. It’s an intimate film about proper characters and real lives and overall, the performances alone make the film feel cinematic.
Between the years
of 2008 and 2011, I did some screenwriting work for the Mountview Film Academy;
a filmic extension of the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. Based in London,
they would produce a number of student acting projects including many low budget
short films. Writers would be shuttled in and given a remit to create short
films using specified actors, locations and length of film. Thus, I wrote a
number of scripts which were adapted on very low budgets. Here are the three I
wrote for the year 2011.
2011 was an
interesting year. Britain faced countrywide riots in London, Birmingham,
Manchester and Liverpool. The reasons for the violent outbreaks were mixed and
included social unrest due to government cuts, police brutality, hot weather
and youth discontent. British courts meted out severe justice and law and order
was restored, however, the protests in Tunisia, Jordan, Egypt, Yemen and
Bahrain gave 2011 what became known as the ‘Arab Spring’. Here the people of
the Middle East didn’t just riot and loot but actually took power back from
In other news Vladimir Putin held onto power in Russia while in Britain, again, the News of the World lost its power and position as the major Sunday newspaper. This was due to the phone hacking scandal and heads rolled and injunctions followed. More legal ramifications occurred for a number of MP’s sent to jail for fiddling their expenses. While, in more frivolous news Charlie Sheen has a complete meltdown; Hugh Grant became a father at 51; Adele’s star went stratospheric as she sold millions of recording units; but sadly the pop and soul singer, Amy Winehouse passed away aged only twenty-seven. Meanwhile. . .
BEST LAID PANS (2011)
short comedy is about a guy who gets trapped in a restaurant toilet when striving
to propose to his girlfriend.
This has some great work by the cast, director and crew and my script has a lot of comedic promise. I think it suffers from being over-written for the eight minute running time. With a slightly increased budget and, say a few more minutes, it would have been even funnier. Nonetheless, it’s still quite an entertaining little farce.
short comedy-drama concerns two friends who bump into each other having not
seen each other for years.
I think this is one of my favourite scripts and it is executed to perfection. The story of a too-shy and over-confident couple of buddies trying to “pull” a work colleague is full of twists and dark humour. The acting by the Mountview students is really good and the pacing of the story handled expertly. All involved bring to life my script very well.
There is no way a mere simple page of words from my keyboard can do justice to the decades of incredible theatrical, televisual and cinematic work of the genius that is Mike Leigh. He has, since the 1960s, worked tirelessly creating: drama, comedy, pathos, empathy, love, hatred, politics, harmony, conflict, nihilism and hope through an orchestra of characters and creative endeavour.
For me Mike Leigh is a true artist. He has not only been involved in innumerable film, TV shows and plays since the 1960s but also created his own production modus operandi in the process. He is rightly well regarded for working intimately with his actors organically creating character and stories from the kernel of an emotion or idea. His works are legion and often feature representations the working or under-classes. There are no superheroes or special effects but rather raw emotion and feelings within his body of work.
The My Cinematic Romance series has always sought to praise filmmakers and actors I really love and Mike Leigh is no different. I would have to say though that to pick FIVE of my favourite works is an impossible task as there is so much choice. Nonetheless, these are five of my favourite Mike Leigh works but do check out any of his films as they have much to say about humanity and life and are also very entertaining in their own inimitable style.
ABIGAIL’S PARTY (1977) – BBC TV PLAY
Opening as a stage play in 1977, the seminal tragic-comedy Abigail’s Party sold out for months at the Hampstead Theatre when first released. A filmed TV version was released later to much acclaim that year and starred: Alison Steadman, Janine Duvitski, John Salthouse, Thelma Whiteley and Tim Stern. It’s a comedy of crumbling relationships featuring the passive aggressive clashes between the aspirational classes. The performances, notably from Steadman as the brash and formidable Beverley, are astute, over-the-top but somehow hilariously nuanced too. Moreover, the barbed dialogue and bitchy asides are perfectly delivered during a dinner party that, once seen, will have you laughing throughout. But, like much of Leigh’s work, by the end you somehow feel sad too.
MEANTIME (1983) – CINEMA
The epitome of classic working-class-kitchen-sink-council-estate tragic-comedy, Meantime, features a “Who’s-Who” of now famous actors including: Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, Phil Daniels, Alfred Molina; plus an early appearance from Leigh favourite Peter Wight. Set amidst the bleak concrete landscape of East London the episodic story focusses on the Pollock family, notably the unemployed brothers portrayed by Daniels and Roth. The former is an answer-for-everything-clever-dick while Roth’s Colin is the more subdued, shy and possibly autistic one, very much in his brother’s shadow. Furthermore, a very young-looking Oldman pops up as a bored, thuggish, glue-sniffing and racist skinhead who bullies those around him, especially Colin. Overall, Meantime evokes memories of my own childhood growing up on a rough Battersea council estate and captures the ennui and inertia of unemployment in Thatcher’s Britain. While it may sound depressing there’s also some classic dialogue and a number of hilarious exchanges between the family and characters which certainly silvers the dark, grey clouds on the horizon.
NAKED (1993) – CINEMA
We need to talk about, Johnny! Arguably, of all the characters and creations from Mike Leigh, Johnny Fletcher is the darkest manifestation and representation of his worldview. Unlike the permanently positive Poppy from Leigh’s Happy Go Lucky (2008), Johnny is a dress-in-black, biting and bilious shadow who drifts like smoke from North to South with no aim other than to attack those around him. Sardonic and severe in his outlook, Johnny’s misanthropy knows no bounds as he angrily castigates his ex-girlfriend’s lack of ambition, portrayed by Lesley Sharp, before beginning a doomed sexual liaison with her flatmate, the self-hating Sophie (Katrin Cartlidge). It is not an easy film to watch due to the flagrant and offensive misogyny exhibited by the male characters and the seeming lack of hope throughout. Yet, it remains a compelling portrait of pre-millennial nihilism with some epic monologues delivered by the rasping and mercurial voice of David Thewlis’ in a never-to-be-bettered acting performance.
SECRETS AND LIES (1996) – CINEMA
After the nihilistic dissonance of Naked (1993) Leigh’s next film would return to familial roots and gentler, if still emotionally resonating, domestic drama. The story centres on Marianne Jean-Baptiste’s optometrist attempting to locate the birth mother who gave her up for adoption. In an extremely tender and serene performance, Baptiste as Hortense Cumberbatch finds her search turn up unexpected results. Brenda Blethyn, in the more melodramatic role of Cynthia Purley, runs the gamut of emotions; while the imperious Timothy Spall steals the floor with his noble rendition of Cynthia’s brother, Maurice. Spall’s Maurice is an ordinary, yet noble man, trying to hold the disparate family strands together. I especially loved the opening vignettes of Maurice’s photographic customers which established themes of surface appearances contrasted to hidden family secrets. This overall is what I class as a small epic containing so many brilliant character details, funny looks, and very touching moments where the emotion, quite often, is in the silence. Secret and Lies (1996) was, to date, Mike Leigh’s most accessible and emotionally satisfying film and would deservedly garner acting and directing awards and nominations from the Academy, BAFTA and Cannes.
VERA DRAKE (2004) – CINEMA
Having presented the lively Topsy Turvy (1999) world of Gilbert and Sullivan a few years before, Leigh created another period piece with Vera Drake. Set in 1950s London it centres on Imelda Staunton’s kind housewife who harbours a secret life. Amidst her family and work existence Vera assists young woman who accidentally get in the “family way”. I don’t want to say too much but this is a gut-wrenching and tragic story which highlights the issues of the day with a stunning emotional power. Imelda Staunton is one of the best actors I have ever witnessed on stage and screen and she brings to Vera’s character sympathy, pride and passionate inner strength. The supporting cast of Philip Davis, Eddie Marsan, Daniel Mays, and Sally Hawkins are superb; and a special mention to cinematographer Dick Pope, who has lit most of Leigh’s films. Pope creates, within a palette of greys, greens and browns a salient mood which enhances the performances and Leigh’s masterful direction.
Mike Leigh’s new film PETERLOO (2018) will be released this year in cinemas.
2017 EDINBURGH FRINGE FESTIVAL – CULTURAL ROUND-UP
You may or may not know this but the comedy you see on television via the sitcoms, panel shows, live performances etc. plus the Netflix or Amazon specials which are streamed online are just the tip of the iceberg in regard to stand-up, sketch and narrative comedy shows. Because, underneath is a huge population of individuals writing, rehearsing, directing, editing and performing their works live across the clubs, theatres, pubs, basements and attics of the world.
These unsung creative heroes and the occasional lunatic are, on the whole, slogging their guts out following a dream to hit the big time in their chosen stage craft. Either that or they simply revel in performing and delivering their stories, jokes or narratives to the public live. It’s a cathartic experience to release their heart and soul to the world in comedic, theatrical or musical form and most of these people should be saluted for their creativity.
One of the best places to find these purveyors of dance, comedy, performance, mime, acting, music and sometimes science is at the annual Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This year I went, with my wife, on holiday there for a week to check out some shows and sites and lovely restaurants and pubs! Here’s a uncritical round-up of some of the things we caught up with. Amazing fun it was too!
Like many cities Edinburgh has many great places to spend the night including hotels and other bed and breakfast digs. Many of the acts performing at the Fringe have budgets so will use rented accommodation, hostels, vehicles and ditches too to sleep in. My wife likes some comfort when we stay places whereas I have been happy in the past with the gutter; well, a cheap B & B. So she chose Millers 64 on Pilrig Street and what a lovely place it was too. Run by Louise and Shona Clelland, we experienced some of the best hospitality we have ever had so they are highly recommended. Check out their website here.
Scotland and the North in general has been the focus of stereotypical gags at the expense of unhealthy living including: bad diet, alcoholism and drug abuse. I guess characters such as Rab C. Nesbitt and novels/films like Trainspotting only serve to strengthen such ideas. Of course, if you search it out you will find junk food and drink in any place the world over but I actually ate pretty healthily during my week in Scotland.
Of the places we visited I can definitely recommend La Favoritapizza place on Leith Walk. Moreover, the tasting menu at the Gardiners Cottagewas beautifully presented and I very much enjoyed the Indian cuisine at Mother India. There are also hundreds of pubs, cafes and burger restaurants all over Edinburgh.
I enjoyed watching Tottenham Hotspur FC defeat Newcastle FC in the Kilted Pigon the Sunday but my favourite pub was probably The Pear Tree Houseon West Nicolson Street. It had great beer, food, a massive garden and a constant stream of lively entertainment and music.
Having said that the greatest epicurean treat I had was on my birthday at The Kitchin. The food was absolutely exquisite and what made it all the more amazing was my wife treated me to the meal just for getting a year older. I imagine it was very expensive but the whole experience was fantastic as we also visited the kitchen and met the aptly named owner/chef Tom Kitchin.
As I only had a week and there is SO much going on at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival I did not see any theatrical presentations, which, if I’d been there for another week would certainly have been on my cultural agenda. Similarly with musical performances I chose the more comedic acts over others but enjoyed an excellent set by jazz guitarist Graeme Mearns despite this. However, the real humdinger of a show I could not miss was the one by gothic chanteuse Camille O’Sullivan. She is a dark storm of a performer who hails from Ireland and sings haunting and very dramatic versions of tunes written by Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Arcade Fire and Nick Cave. In the elegant tent where I saw her show I was bewitched by the spine-tingling performance borne of fire, shadow, light and ice.
I love comedy. It is a noble craft which on occasions can be propelled to the heights of art and was to the fore of my cultural menu in Edinburgh. In fact, on Monday 14th August I watched SEVEN shows beginning at 11am with the last one finished at 10.30pm. It was a brilliant day and encapsulated all that is great about the Fringe Festival. This is NOT a review of the comedians I saw during the week as all the shows I witnessed were BRILLIANT! I don’t believe in comedy competitions or star ratings as comedy is too subjective for that. But rather, it’s a round-up of and a shout out to a very talented bunch of individuals I saw; and there were thousands I missed too but there was just not enough time alas.
Musical comedy is something I have been really getting into and the alternative genius Robert White presented an exhilarating off-kiltered-joke-a-second-Gershwin-inspired operetta of his life in a show called Instru-mental. Equally energetic was the wonderful Pippa Evans in Joy Division; while the very talented Harriet Braine delivered some excellent cover songs which also educated us about the history of Art!
I also saw some excellent club and storytelling comedians such as: free-wheeling Russell Hicks; Irish mirth-maker Rory O’Hanlon; Cheetah Adam Greene; intelligent Scot Stephen Carlin; conspiracy theorist Don Biswas; witty and frantic Nathan Cassidy; the brilliant comedy-swap laughs of Sketch Thieves; the crafty humour of Ben Clover; plus the ferocious, clever and frantic comedy of Fringe stalwart Richard Herring.
Of the shows that arguably had longevity in terms of their narratives then Darius Davies’ Road to Wrestlemania was really funny. It’s a fast-paced narrative of how, when a naïve teenager, he tried to become a World Wrestling star. Successfully employing multi-media, costumes and music to tell the story it made me laugh (and almost cry) throughout. I also really enjoyed Dominic Holland’s very funny and touching Eclipsed. Holland, who has been a very successful author and comedian found his career eclipsed by his son Tom Holland who last year became the new Spiderman! It’s a brilliant story about success and family togetherness amidst some excellent comedic observations of everyday life.
Of all the comedians I saw I was transfixed by the mercurial delivery and off-centre ideas of Tommy Tiernan. A comedy veteran and Grandmaster of the comedic dark arts, he flits around the stage nimbly while his rich Irish brogue delivers a stream of jokes, observations, non-sequiturs and the occasional barmy rant. He covers many subjects such as: life, death, religion, sex, family, immigrants, football, age and so on. An hour in his company is not enough as I could have listened to him for hours.
So, that was my first Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The whole experience was fantastic to me as I was around the things I love such as comedy, music, food and booze for an intensely concentrated week of pure culture. If you’re like me and hanging around watching shows and feeding off the energy of a cultural oasis then I highly recommend it. I would say a week is definitely not enough for what’s on offer in bonnie Scotland during the month of August!
A quieter month compared to October but I still watched some decent television and filmic entertainment in the month of November. For your information the current seasons of Doctor Who and South Park are providing cracking entertainment so do check them out too. I will offer a full season review to each show when they have finished. As usual my marks are – in tribute to Spinal Tap – out of eleven!
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
ASSASSIN (2014) – NOW TV
This is a pretty standard crime thriller with Danny Dyer as a contract killer who goes up against a gangsters Martin and Gary Kemp. I quite like Dyer’s cocky style but he plays deep and brooding here which doesn’t suit him. So while he carries the plot pretty well — and there’s some great shots of London — I wanted a bit more wide-boy attitude and humour throughout. (Mark: 5.5 out of 11)
BETTER CALL SAUL (2015) – NETFLIX
I finally caught up with Breaking Bad spin-off and really enjoyed it. I don’t usually like prequels as the drama is generally undercut by knowledge of what has gone before but Jimmy McGill’s story (and Mike’s) was funny, dramatic and actually quite touching. It’s a really compelling plot that takes some unexpected twists throughout and contains some damn fine acting. More episodes please as the writing and Bob Odenkirk are just great; highly recommended. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
BIG EYES (2014) – NOW TV
Tim Burton’s film is a biopic of artist Margaret Keane (Amy Adams) and con-artist husband Walter Keane who infamously fought a court case over ownership of her paintings in the 1960s. It’s wonderfully acted by the two leads and once again Waltz is on fine mischievous form as the brilliant salesmen who duped his wife and a nation. Burton harnesses his usual excessive style for once and this benefits the drama. Overall, it’s a fine character study of an oppressed artist finally finding her voice in an aggressive and masculine world. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
BLACK MASS (2015) – CINEMA
With this performance you realise Johnny Depp has been wasting his acting talent poncing about as a pirate in the Caribbean for far too long. He portrays master criminal Whitey Bulger during 70s and 80s Boston as his gang snake their way up the crime ladder to gangster notoriety. This is a really good film: gritty, bloody, compelling, oozing darkness where humanity is concerned. Depp is almost unrecognizable as the brutal Bulger while Joel Edgerton is excellent as the compromised FBI Agent. Slow, brooding pace sparked by firework violence, plus a supporting cast including Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott and Benedict Cumberbatch make this a superior genre film. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
DOCTOR WHO: SEEDS OF DOOM (1976) – DVD
The mercurial Tom Baker and steady Sarah-Jane find themselves in the Antarctic investigating two mysterious alien pods. Lo and behold the pods explode and cause a massive plant monster to sprout and take over the grounds of a stately home owned by millionaire megalomaniac Harrison Chase. I loved this fun, sci-fi romp which was clearly influenced by The Thing from another World (1951) and The Quatermass Experiment (1953). Baker, as always, is wonderfully wry and booming as the Doctor and even Boycie (John Challis) pops up in a supporting role. Great stuff! (Mark: 8 out of 11)
EX-MACHINA (2014) – NOW TV
A sci-fi A.I. chamber piece set, pretty much, in one location with an excellent cast including Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson and the magnetic Alicia Vikander. It’s a glacial-paced thriller which has some fantastic ideas from writer/director Alex Garland, although it’s essentially a hipster love triangle story with robots. I enjoyed it but the slow pace worked against the suspense and the twist-that’s-not-a-twist is unexpectedly expected. Black Mirror has kind of done this story better, but it’s a decent science fiction experience nonetheless. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
GYPSY (2015) – SAVOY THEATRE
I’m cheating here a little as Screenwash becomes STAGEWASH!!But I really wanted to sneak in a little review of a BIG production and performance. In this classic Broadway musical Imelda Staunton as Mama Rose gave one of the greatest performances I have ever seen on a theatre or comedy stage. It’s a depression set story of rags to riches featuring the ever-so-pushy mother whose daughter eventually hits the big time as burlesque dancer Gypsy Rose Lee. Staunton owned the theatre as her and the cast ripped through some classic songs including: Everything’s Coming up Roses and You Gotta Get a Gimmick. During the heart-storming finale Staunton wrings every note of emotion from the song: Rose’s Turn. I don’t know much about musicals but I know when something’s great; and this was it! (Mark: 10 out of 11)
HUNGER GAMES – MOCKINGJAY PART 2 (2015) – CINEMA
I was disappointed with the final Hunger Games stories (Part 1 and 2) which reduced a fine arc of human revolution to soppy, plodding closure; as well recuperating the positive leading protagonist to a clichéd and reductive vision of femininity. The excellent Jennifer Lawrence finally brings Katniss Everdene’s story home in a finale which had some horrible monsters in the middle but gets bogged down with love-triangle nonsense and laboured manipulative-media-evil-government-geo-politics. The movies’ pace really let it down and splitting the film in two just took liberties. More action and less talking would’ve served a better end to Katniss’ heroic journey. (Mark: 6 out of 11)
LET US PREY (2015) – NOW TV
A nifty little horror film with Liam Cunningham playing a devilish character called SIX who wreaks havoc on an unsuspecting Scottish police station. Faust meets Assault on Precinct 13 in a bloody tale of vengeful murder and gut-wrenching death. All the characters have their demons in a bloody and fiery hellish movie which has some great gore and evil premise at its heart. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
THE LOBSTER (2015) – CINEMA
If you like dark comedies about strange love, fascism and violence then you must see The Lobster. It’s weird, wonderful and very funny as Colin Farrell plays a single man – in the not-too-distant-future – who has a limited time to find a mate or he’ll be turned into an animal of his choice. Obviously, he chooses the eponymous crustacean and what ensues is a peculiarly dark and hilarious satire of human relationships and dating mores which is barbed by moments of extreme violence and strange tenderness. The Greek filmmaker, Yorgos Lanthino, made the equally peculiar Dogtooth (2009) –about a family shut-out from society – and he has crafted one of my favourite films of the year. It is destined to be a cult classic which will reward those after something completely different from the usual homogenous Hollywood shite which peddles love and romance as an illusory saviour to our existentially pointless lives. (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015) – BLU RAY
I have to say on I thought this film may suffer on re-watch but it actually got better because it is a lustful, muscular and jaw-dropping spectacular which while having NO actual plot revels in the orgiastic nature of car-bombing action and deathly stunts. Tom Hardy takes on the iconic Max Rockatansky role in this mega-budget-future-shooting-guitar-flame-throwing-blood-draining-crash-smash-and-burn epic. Enter Charlize Theron’s kick-ass Furiosa who is on a mission of her own to protect those she cares for from nefarious Immortan Joe; the Citadel Overlord!
This is an incredible visual feast with carnage galore in a barren yet beautiful desert setting. Hardy and Theron share great chemistry within the action and Miller executes some mesmerising moments of dialogue-free pure cinema. One may argue that it is style-over-substance but the style IS the substance. The concepts on show such as the flame-throwing guitar; moving blood-banks; mud-people on stilts; assorted pimped-up cars and souped-up weapons are what impress. As such George Miller proves himself a visionary filmmaker who owns the post-apocalypse on screen making it a terrifying and stunning experience. Action film of the year bar none! (Mark: 10/11)
SAN ANDREAS (2015) – DVD
Duwayne “The Rock” Johnson drives, pilots, flies and hovercrafts his family to safety from a gigantic Earthquake and Tsunami which decimates most of California. He gives an impressive action performance and in combination with some jaw-dropping effects makes this a decent, over-the-top and undemanding disaster movie. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)
SPECTRE (2015) – CINEMA
Expectations were very high and alas not met because overall, the first hour-and-a-half of Spectre writes a spectacular cheque the final act cannot quite cash. The big-bad-wolf reveal is not as surprising as I would have hoped and the Orwellian supporting story didn’t feel that deadly to me. . . It’s fine entertainment but overlong and tries to be too tricksy, wasting the talents and Christophe Waltz and Monica Belluci in the process. However, Daniel Craig is excellent and the set-pieces are a real joy. (Mark: 007.5 out of 11)
Pretty bloody busy for me during October with all manner of cultural exploits. I cannot take full credit for the invites to three of these events though as my wonderful girlfriend Melissa obtained the tickets for the theatre, Gala cinema screening and French Jazz master’s performance. So, a big thanks to her for that. Anyway, here’s some stuff I’ve been up to which may be of interest or may not.
ARCELORMITTAL ORBIT – OLYMPIC PARK
Apropos of just fancying a look about the old East End of London I, Melissa and my son Rhys went to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford and went up and then went down the ArcelorMittal Orbit. It’s a big, metal monster-tower made out of scrap and designed by Anish Kapoor. It’s an incredible engineering feat and the view was breathtaking. Walking down the caged-in metal spiral was pretty good exercise too so a cultural and physically stimulating afternoon was had by all.
HAMLET – BARBICAN THEATRE
Sherlock Holmes does Hamlet! How cool is that! And yes he does solve the murders! I really enjoyed this atmospheric production of Shakespeare’s classic existentialist tale of the young Prince seeking revenge for the death of his father. Obviously, the marquee signing of Benedict Cumberbatch raises expectations and he delivers a manic and thoughtful and polished performance. There’s some fine sarcastic bite in his delivery as his Prince veers from confident young clown to depressed and self-destructive lunatic. At times the pace was breath-taking as the dialogue was spun out a furious velocity while on occasions – not enough for me – the cast slowed to allow the drama to breathe. The set and lighting design was incredible and Cumberbatch is supported by a terrific cast including Ciaran Hinds, Jim Norton, Sian Brooke and Anastasia Hille. I don’t know much about theatre really but this was really rather good I reckon.
JOHNNY MARR AT THE LONDON FORUM
What a great gig at the Forum by Johnny Marr. The former Smiths’ maestro is one of the best guitarists I have ever seen live. Not the strongest of voices but suitable for the style of indie-Dad-rock he performs. There are moments of transcendent genius in his guitar playing which careered across the venue. His solo stuff is musically formidable but of course The Smiths renditions tore the roof off notably: How Soon Is Now and There is a Light That Never Goes Out. He even did a burst cover of Crash by The Primitives. Life is a fleeting affair so one must grasp and grip the rail when greatness comes along. I felt privileged tonight as it was a fine time spent in the presence of a musical genius.
MICHEL LE GRAND – RONNIE SCOTT’S
It was my first time at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club and I was very pleased to hear legendary French composer and lyricist Michel Legrand live before he shuffles off to the great orchestra in the sky. Le Grand composed music from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) and Yentl (1983); while perhaps his most famous composition was The Windmills of Your Mind. I’ve never liked Jazz yet after Michel Legrand’s incredible musical performance I fully appreciate the tour de force expertise of his creativity and musical brilliance. I still don’t like Jazz but appreciate I was in the presence of a master of that particular art! Even at the age of 83 he was magnifique.
SUFFRAGETTE WORLD PREMIERE GALA – THE LONDON FILM FESTIVAL
Melissa won us the “red carpet” treatment for this Gala screening of Suffragette (2015) and it was a starry affair with the likes of Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham-Carter and Meryl Streep onstage to present their powerful film to the world. I didn’t feel that comfortable walking in amongst the West End throng into the cinema as I’m not someone who likes a fuss and I always feel these affairs are pretentious, ostentatious and very much against my hypocritical “socialist” roots. Am I a working class traitor – who knows? I still enjoyed the free Green and Black’s chocolate which was in the arm of the Odeon Leicester Square chair where I sat.
The film itself is a cracking drama which has fine direction by Sarah Gavron with a simple, yet effective screenplay by Abi Morgan. It is a worthy cause celebre to film and stands a fine testament to the brave women who fought for the right to vote. Ironically, there was a protest there from Sisters Uncut about the important issues of this bastard Government’s austerity cuts and here’s to them for making their protest. I would have joined them but was too busy eating chocolate and watching the movie.
I was going to include my Nozstock experience in my latest collective cultural review, however, I had such a great weekend that it earned kudos enough for a sole entry into the Captain’s blog. So, myself, Melissa (the girlfriend) and Rhys (my son and heir) drove up to the Midlands on the Thursday and camped out under the stars amidst wonderful countryside, a sea of tents and a bonanza of musical, artistic and comedic entertainment. Alas, it pissed down with rain on the Friday but Saturday’s glorious sunshine dried out the mud precipitated by nature’s will the day before. We left the Festival on Sunday but saw so much in our two full days there it’s worth sharing some images and positive words.
Nostock is, what I would class, one of the smaller festivals I checked out when booking – maximum 5000 punters – but it was big in ideas and heart. The comparative smaller size works in its’ favour as it felt local, family oriented and friendly. And definitely NOT part of the big corporate machine where bands perform as part of contracts to shift units. There were local bands for local people as well as bigger name acts such as De La Soul and old-school Motown act Martha and the Vandellas. This was essentially small but a perfectly formed set-up.
Nozstock takes place on a working farm in Bromyard, Worcestershire but this year they went for a science-fiction theme with which to decorate the various stages and tents and being a sci-fi fan it was quite amusing to see pictures of futuristic robots against a backdrop of verdant pastures. I mean, it’s not everyday you see a wicker Dalek. But somehow it worked as the design was done lovingly and with much humour. It all added a certain post-ironic charm to the whole affair as these photos show.
This had everything you’d want from a festival including: theatre, rock music, dance, rave, cabaret, cinema, food, arts and crafts and you know what apart from a few names on bill (excluding comedians) I knew hardly ANY the artists or performers – and that was fine! I was more than happy to be surprised in a good or bad way and find fresh artists and musicians to entertain me.
There was a great mix of international, local and new singer-songwriters and bands and a couple really stood out: Leeds-based Jenova Collective lit up the Friday gloom with their jolly Electro Swing and Raptor rocked the bandstand with an old-school-retro-rock-and-roll! Beardyman was on WAY too late on the Saturday night but the four tracks I saw of him were fantastic. Big plus were hip-hop legends De La Soul who stepped into fill the headliner’s Wu Tang Clan’s shoes after their Euro-Tour was cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances. Great to hear the tunes from Three-Feet and Rising played live and loud!
We tasted some of the cabaret and cinema stuff including a musical mime adaptation of Holst’s The Planets at the very punny Bantam of the Opera tent. Furthermore, the comedy I watched on the Saturday was top quality with the gags of Mark Simmons, madness of Phil Kay and everyday yet sharp observations of Seann Walsh being highlights. There was just a cornucopia of other delights like rap and reggae at the Raveyard; pilled-up rave-hippies at the Tree of Frogs and some really harsh beats in the Bullpen which were like a musical Magnum 45 and took my head clean off.
It was just a great selection of joy and artistry on show. I just felt free from responsibility and even if I didn’t like something there just round the corner was an alternative stage to savour. So many artists and performers to choose from that the organisers deserve great credit for a fantastically curated festival.
I had an exciting weekend overall. Despite the rain the energy and fun of the proceedings never dulled and big praise to all concerned. I must add that the food choices were pretty decent too and we had a lovely cooked English breakfast from the Oatcake stall. Plus there was enough bars serving tasty beer and cider to keep everyone happy! Incredibly the Portaloos were very clean throughout with none of the horror stories I’ve been experienced at Glasto!
I’ve always loved the Festival experience. You just get a real sense of freedom camping while at the same time experiencing a cultural oasis of entertainment. Nozstock is nowhere near as big as say, Glastonbury, BUT who knows one day it may be. I hope it doesn’t though as it is perfect as it is: a real local, eccentric and energetic bag of fun! Highly recommended!
The last month or so I have been out and about doing bits and pieces from a cultural perspective and jolly good fun was had by all. Here are some of the highlights.
DEMONOLOGUES – COURTYARD THEATRE
Having tasted the greasepaint of such theatrical productions, Oppenheimer and View From The Bridge earlier this year I took in a lower-budget- off-off-Fringe production written and directed by Wendy Metcalf. It was performed by a talented cast of the Boxroom Theatre Company including such thespians as: Rosie Angeni, Tyrone Atkins, Asif Channa, Enid Gayle, Kim White, Mike Stewart and Rob Widdicombe.
Structured within seven magnificent monologues the piece was delivered with palpable conviction by each performer as they embodied the various characters with impressive commitment. One hears of horror stories of indulgent plays which go on for what seems like days but this theatre production rattled by with energy, humour and pathos in equal measure. I would have loved each monologue to somehow be linked in a narrative sense; however, thematically it was very powerful as a series of outsiders contend with matters relating to: death, obsession, performance, existential crisis, age, abuse, homelessness and rather peculiarly boxes. Overall, the writer conjures up some memorable dialogue and characters as the piece delivers moments of humanity which stay with you long after the stage lights have dimmed.
ROTTEN: NO IRISH, NO BLACKS, NO DOGS (1994) – JOHN LYDON (with KEITH & KENT ZIMMERMAN)
John Lydon AKA Johnny Rotten WAS and still IS one of my heroes. The working class lad from the deepest darkest London would emerge from the crumbling council houses of Finsbury Park and wreak havoc on the “Establishment” and sacred cows of Western Capitalism; firing a rocket into the cultural vacuum of the late 70s music industry. This book charts — in his own and other individuals’ words — Lydon’s progress from sick young child to enfant terrible as he became the face and guts of the movement that would become known as PUNK! No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs is structured in linear fashion via a set of interview transcripts as Lydon and the likes of Paul Cook, Steve Jones, Billy Idol, Chrissie Hynde, Richard Branson and many more give their perspectives of the lies and times of the era.
Lydon doesn’t mince his words in attacking those — notably The Sex Pistols manager Malcolm Mclaren — who he feels done him wrong and that anger propels the book. What struck me was the fragmented set of events and shattered points-of-view which spat and crackled at the time; making one realise that punk rock was not a movement of harmony. Instead it was a splintered faction of ideas, styles, influences that exploded from the depressing financial and social climate of the United Kingdom. There was no fixed plan or collective movement or love or heroes but a detonation of unrest and youth in revolt and above all else a spark; and the chief spark being Lydon. You may not agree or even like the warts-and-all personality he presents in the book but one must respect Lydon for his vicious honesty. He’s forever the angry iconoclast and one of the great heroes/anti-heroes of British culture; at times infuriating but above-all-else bloody entertaining.
This comedy night mixing pros, semi-pros, newcomers and general nutters has been going for donkey’s years and proclaims itself to be the “London’s 2nd worst comedy club”! Despite this P-S has always been one of my favourite and dreaded places to perform comedy. I have been funny there and also died a few comedy deaths as well but that was part of the fun too. Run by the legendary comedy duo Brian & Krystal, Antony Miller and a whole host of comedians down the years it came to an end at its current home: The Fitzroy Tavern in Charlotte Street. I went along to say goodbye and thank the club for supporting my comedy ramblings over the years. Safe to say it was all done it the best possible taste and it was a brilliant send-off. There have been some desperately empty times in that room but this was not one of them as hosts, performers and audience (yes – it had an audience!) all joined together for a fantastic last hurrah. Well, until it starts up again in another room (here’s hoping!)
This gem of a place has all the desires of a lovely afternoon out: beautiful grounds; pretty gardens; impressive stately home; and over-priced gift and coffee shop. It’s also got some leg-stretching walks where you can almost taste the serenity. What’s great too is it’s not that far from London either. So you can drive a reasonable distance from the fuel-spluttering-gaseous-urban-corporate-city-poisoned-capital and find yourself in a place of relaxation and historical value. My teenage son said it was “gay” so clearly not a place aimed at kids of his age but younger children, adults, ramblers and history buffs will find something pleasant in this beautiful space lovingly maintained by the National Trust.
RUFUS WAINWRIGHT – ROYAL HOSPITAL CHELSEA
I knew very little about Rufus Wainwright when my American girlfriend suggested we go to his live concert. I had heard of his musician-father Loudon Wainwright III and became aware that he was a young musical protégée and in a way a member of American musical royalty, so to speak. Thus, having brushed up with a “Best-of” album bought on ITunes we headed to the impressively staged outdoor venue set-up at the home of the Chelsea Pensioners: Royal Hospital Chelsea.
Despite the heavens opening and rain bleeding onto a sea of plastic-covered bodies Mr Wainwright delivered a sterling set of beautifully constructed songs from his current and back catalogue. He’s a nervy, neurotic character with a wicked laugh, eager to please and a divine twang in his voice which would suggest he could probably be a great musical comedian too. While containing humour, lyrically, his songs bare his soul while wrapped in a mournful voice which quivers with emotional depth. Safe to say his piano sings a haunting melody although Mr Wainwright certainly picks up the pace with his faithful guitar in hand.
It was a fantastic and memorable performance in the London rain which had scattered by the time he sang the trusty classic Hallelujah. I have since found out Mr Wainwright’s life had it’s fair share of troublesome situations including drug addiction and while I didn’t not know this at the time, the way this soulful troubadour sang his heart out you knew. You just knew.
I’ve kind of cheated a bit with the title of this little cultural review as technically there are only TWO proper doctors Dr Who and Dr J. Robert Oppenheimer. However, for me the mastermind behind The Prodigy — Liam Howlett — is a Professor of hard-beat-dance-music. Plus, there’s always a lot of medication knocking around PRODIGY gigs, I imagine, so there you go,THREE DOCTORS! Of course, Dr Who is NOT a medical Doctor either but he has cured the end of the Earth many times before so that counts as well. Even though he isn’t real. But, who cares!
THE DOCTOR WHO EXPERIENCE – CARDIFF
Doctor Who is a cultural phenomenon. The character and show have been on BBC Television (aside from the mild 90s hiatus) for 50 years, yet, in between that there were still audio recordings and novelisations of his adventures. Over half-a-century he has become a worldwide sensation and one of the most adored and recognised cultural icons; and he’s completely fictitious. Dr Who does NOT exist! He is a story; a myth; a character who has risen and regenerated from the grave many times; a character who performs miracles; has disciples and is an imagined hero who is worshipped by many followers all around. Now, Dr Who has a Church! It’s in Cardiff. Who knows how Dr Who will be seen in 2000 years? Stranger things have happened.
The Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff Bay is a wonderful pilgrimage for fans of the show. I heartily recommend it if you want to see a plethora of old Tardis’, sets, costumes, monsters etc. The setting is a huge aircraft hangar which houses everything Whovian from past to present and I just felt a wonderful sense of nostalgia plus wonder at the imagination and work which has gone into creating the TV show and Whoniverse as a whole. I heartily recommend the Dr Who Experience if you love the show. Even the silly, little interactive tour you get at the start where Peter Capaldi’s Doctor himself guides you through a perilous journey is a laugh. Great fun for big and small kids of all ages!
OPPENHEIMER – VAUDEVILLE THEATRE
Dr J. Robert Oppenheimer: a father of peace or maker of death? One would argue that he’s both! Indeed, this wonderful piece of theatre attempts to answer this complex and many other fascinating questions about the man whose work led to the United States unleashing nuclear hell on Japan during World War II. Being about physics and science stuff this could have been a very dry and dusty play but it was produced with such verve and energy as it collapsed a key period of Oppenheimer’s life into a brisk few hours of performance. But it wasn’t; quite the opposite in fact.
The production bounced and sang with some wonderful scenes explaining the physics, politics and personalities of the time. The many Scientists and Military personnel are shown struggling with the logistics and ethics of the time; none more so than Oppenheimer himself. I mean he wanted to be remembered as a pioneer but he knew it would be to some cost; and so it proved. On the other hand, from another perspective, his and his teams’ actions COULD have saved lives. John Heffernan as the genius, philanderer and bon vivant Oppenheimer is incredible. He lights up the stage like a firework bursting with sparkle then darkens it with shadow as he battles both his doubt and demons. Of course, I know the physics were far more complex but I congratulate the writer for making the subject interesting again and hanging it all on such an intriguing and complex character and period of time.
THE PRODIGY – ALEXANDRA PALACE, LONDON
Life is an interesting experience. I’m not looking forward to death. And I certainly won’t be able to look back on it. Also, some people don’t like the idea of getting old. I don’t mind it. Because as I have got older I have started to like loads of things I didn’t used to like OR was indifferent of. Coffee is one of those things. I love coffee. The Theatre is another thing I really enjoy now. And the dance-electronica-hard-beat-kings-of-Essex The Prodigy are another cultural phenomenon I used to dismiss but now recognise as great music!
I have my son to thank for my new found admiration of The Prodigy. He started listening to them a few years ago and while I knew of their existence I have firmly — aside from a couple of Chemical Brothers albums — been a straight guitar-based-indie-listener as a rule. But having bought Their Law: The Singles, The Day is My Enemy, Invaders Must Die and the under-rated Always Outnumbered – Never Outgunned I became very impressed by the group. To create pulsating, punkish and heart-racing music of their kind and last from the late 80s to now I think shows a great level of ability and commitment to creation.
The gig at Ally Pally itself rocked and the crowd loved every moment of the brilliant lightshow, crunching guitars, pounding drums/beats, driving basslines and frontmen Keith Flint and Maxim screaming and goading the crowd into euphoric submission. Special praise for the architect of the operation — Liam Howlett — who has found a very successful formula and has a tremendous back catalogue of tracks to work with. Howlett bleeds, sutures and threads the sounds together with the skill of a musical surgeon. If that doesn’t make him a kind of Doctor I don’t know what does!