Blakeson - Writer

Cardiff-based film, theatre and gig reviews, cultural ramblings, whingeing, short films, etc.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

"The Girl With All The Gifts" / "Wonderman

It goes without saying that filmmakers’ takes on the "Zombie Apocalypse", vary widely, from the cheap and nasty to the broadly comical, blatantly political and gravely sophisticated. Colm McCarthy’s "The Girl With All The Gifts" (written by Mike Carey, adapting his own novel) falls into the latter category, although many of the familiar tropes are securely in place – head-splattering gunshots, desolated urban landscapes, spurious scientific explanations etc.
The focus, however, is on the eerily centred child, Melanie, wonderfully played by Sennia Nanua, whom we first encounter in a secure research facility, along with dozens of other young virus-carriers; as well as  Glenn Close’s  ruthless scientist, Paddy Considine’s hard-assed guard/soldier and Gemma Arterton as her much-loved teacher, Miss Justineau. Needless to say, they soon find themselves on the road, in search of salvation.
Were it not for the robust language, and the customarily ridiculous level of gruesomeness, this might almost be a children’s film, since Melanie is the primary heroine/villain, and it is the discovery of other children amongst the zombified (or, rather, fungus-infected) hordes which leads the narrative into unexpected territory.  McCarthy makes good use of his transformed locations (including, apparently, my home town of Stoke-On-Trent, which will have needed little work done), and there are even hints of dark humour as Considine’s Sgt Parks gradually rediscovers his humanity.
The heart of the piece, though, is the relationship between Melanie and Miss Justineau, which is beautifully handled; and it is this which gives "The Girl With All The Gifts" the edge over most entries in this over-subscribed genre.
"The Girl With All The Gifts"

A more playful eeriness was, of course, the hallmark of the work of Roald Dahl, whose centenary was celebrated in Cardiff, the town of his birth, recently. The highlight was the huge “City Of The Unexpected” extravaganza, which saw dozens of Dahl-themed characters and vignettes taking over the city-centre; although the excellent weather led to vast crowds, which were largely unmarshalled. A more contained and satisfying spectacle was “Wonderman”, a show at the newly-opened Tramshed venue, in which Gagglebabble conflated several of Dahl’s sinister stories for adults, in their unique gig-theatre style. A great success, despite a few sound problems.

A Giant Peach at Cardiff Castle

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Thursday, September 08, 2016

"Café Society"

"Café Society", the latest film from Woody Allen, doesn't break any new ground, although since he's an acknowledged master of his art, this is no criticism.
Set in the 1930s, it stars Jesse Eisenberg stars as Bobby, a Jewish New Yorker who goes to Hollywood, hoping that his uncle, a high-flying agent played by Steve Carell, will give him a job. There, he falls in love with a beautiful woman who is patently out of his league - Kristen Stewart. Soon, however, circumstances send him back to New York, and involvement with his brother's not entirely above-board business activities.

Courtesy of legendary cinematographer Vittorio Storare (“Apocalypse Now”; “The Last Emperor”), the look is warm and lush throughout, complemented by the soundtrack of jazz standards; and Allen’s voice-over, which is not as annoyingly expository as in previous films, gives it the feel of an extended short story. Not quite a comedy - although there are numerous funny lines - it is more a rites-of-passage tale, as Eisenberg’s awkward, idealistic Bobby grows harder and more cynical as life deals its lessons, harsh and otherwise.

As usual, the casting is key: Eisenberg avoids imitating the young Woody, and Carell relishes the role of a powerful but conflicted man (in a role apparently meant for Bruce Willis); it’s good to see Ken Stott as Bobby’s crabby father, and Sari Lennick is also impressive as his supportive sister.

It’s been said before, and one hopes it will be repeated several times in the future: Woody Allen treading water effortlessly outdoes most other filmmakers.

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Thursday, September 01, 2016

"Mandela Trilogy" / "Block"

There has been little theatre-reviewing action in the past few weeks, since everyone in South Wales has been raving it up at the Edinburgh Festival. I was lucky enough, though,  to get to see “Mandela Trilogy” from Cape Town Opera at the Wales Millennium Centre, which was a treat, if (inevitably) stylistically uneven, since it treated the life of the saviour of South Africa in three distinct musical styles, with three different Nelsons.

And on Bank Holiday Monday, outside the same venue, I unexpectedly caught the spectacular open-air performance of “Block” from NoFit State Circus and Motionhouse – a kind of depiction of the complexity of urban life, featuring highly talented dancer/acrobats. Remarkable stuff.

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Thursday, July 28, 2016

"The Hunting Of The Snark" / "Star Trek Beyond"

Sherman Cymru’s family offering for the summer holidays is an adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s nonsense mini-epic “The Hunting Of The Snark”, with a lively cast of six, including on-stage musician. Great fun, with lots of topical references, although the fact that it focuses on the relationship between the Banker and his son (a character invented by writer Annabel Wigoder) means that any grander themes with which Carroll may have been toying seem to get lost.

"The Hunting Of The Snark" (photo: Mark Douet)

The weekend saw a visit to the National Museum of Wales, and the exhibition focussing on the Battle of Mametz Wood during World War 1, at which many Welsh soldiers fell. There is much memorabilia, poetry and art, most strikingly the painting “The Charge of the Welsh at Mametz Wood, 1916”, by Christopher Williams. Also showing is an exhibition of the work of legendary children’s book illustrator Quentin Blake which, seemed barely less dark, given his long association with the morally complex work of Roald Dahl; his illustrations for Michael Rosen’s “Sad Book” are particularly stark. Also somewhat downbeat, although inspirational in intent, is Shimon Attie’s vivid video-photographic tribute to the people of contemporary Aberfan, which was famously struck by tragedy in 1966.

The Charge of the Welsh at Mametz Wood, 1916”, by Christopher Williams

 Star Trek Beyond”, even though its release is tinged with tragedy following the awful death of Anton Yelchin (“Chekov”), is every bit as heartening as its immediate predecessors, despite the replacement of director J.J. Abrams by Justin “Fast And Furious” Lin. Relationships are foregrounded, as the U.S.S. Enterprise, having been lured to a distant planet, is attacked and the crew separated. Idris Elba plays the villain whose motivation (somewhat topically) is to subvert the Federation’s ethos of peaceful co-operation. The visuals are predictably spectacular, but it is the warmth between the crew-members which leaves the most lasting impression.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

My Month on Amazon Prime

Having accidentally signed up to a month-long free trial of Amazon Prime, I decided to make the most of it; not only catching up with music old (Bowie, Kraftwerk, Frank Zappa) and less old (Christine & The Queens, Richard Ashcroft, Laura Mvula, Chvrches, Royal Blood), but also checking out some recent films which I never got round to seeing in the cinema. These being:

  • Paddington (Paul King) - very amusing, warm-hearted take on Michael Bond’s Peruvian bear with an emphasis on inclusiveness, and excellent performances, especially from Sally Hawkins as Mrs Brown

  • The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) – visually impressive spin on Thurber (and Danny Kaye) but sloppily scripted and not as interesting as it should be

  • Bill (Richard Bracewell) – the “Horrible Histories” version of Shakespeare’s life; reliably witty and irreverent

  • It Follows (David Robert Mitchell) – much-praised indie-teen horror with an unsubtle STD/haunting metaphor, which is well executed but fails to stand up to logical scrutiny

  • The Lego Movie (Phil Lord, Christopher Miller) – very clever tribute to the imaginativeness unleashed by the classic toy bricks, only slightly marred by sentimentality towards the end

  • Veronica Mars (Rob Thomas) – a seamless adjunct to the TV series, with many of the cast returning, primarily Kirsten Bell, relishing a disappointingly rare juicy leading role

  • Live, Die, Repeat aka Edge Of Tomorrow (Doug Liman) –  Groundhog Day meets Independence Day, with Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, and a largely British supporting cast; surprisingly funny, even if it does sink into hard-to-fathom sci-fi action visuals

  • Begin Again (John Carney) – featuring the same plot as Carney’s other films, Once and Sing Street, in which a man finds joy in music thanks to a beautiful woman, but none the worse for that; with winning performances from Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo, it even manages to survive a prominent role for that bloke from Maroon 5

  • Carol (Todd Haynes) – a beautiful if somewhat leisurely version of Patricia Highsmith’s lesbian-themed novel, with cleverly contrasting lead performances from ice-cold Cate Blanchett and naïve Rooney Mara, and the author’s cynical view of human nature dialled down a notch

  • Mr Holmes (Bill Condon) – a twinkly Ian McKellen as the aged Sherlock Holmes haunted by an unsatisfactorily concluded case; focussing on the man more than the detective, it is more likeable than many reviews suggested

  • A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (Ana Lily Amirpour) – vaguely feminist-themed black and white tale of drugs and vampirism; moody and intentionally opaque

  • Girlhood (Céline Sciamma) – a rare look at the lives of French African girl-gang-members; compelling and gritty, even if they do all look like supermodels


  • The Tribe (Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi) – self-consciously stylised tale of teen crime, told in long takes, and entirely without dialogue, set as it is amongst students at a Ukrainian boarding-school for the deaf; very accomplished but extremely bleak

In addition to these, there were the exciting, exclusive “TV” series – a blank-faced Riley Keough transitioning into high-class prostitution in The Girlfriend Experience; season 1 of high-tech nerd-anarchism-and-paranoia drama Mr Robot; and most impressive of all, the first two seasons of Transparent, in which Jeffrey Tambor’s retired professor comes out as transsexual, and manages not to be the most confused or confusing member of his family.

Plus, I got a discount on a Kindle Fire tablet, which was also handy.

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Tuesday, July 05, 2016

"Sing Street"

Sing Street” is the Dublin-set story of fifteen-year-old Cosmo (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) who, partly to cope with the stress of moving to a new school due to his family’s difficult circumstances, and partly to impress a girl – Raphina, an aspiring model, played by Lucy Boynton – decides to put together a band. Since it is 1985, he is heavily influenced by the flashy electro-futurism of Top Of The Pops favourites Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet, before things get a little more emotional.

The firm hand of John Carney – the man behind the delightful “Once” – is on the tiller, so the mechanics of music-making are cleverly dealt with; but issues such as marital breakdown, bullying and abusive priests also get a look-in before being superseded by teen romance. The songs – co-written by Carney and bona fide genius Gary Clark (of Danny Wilson fame) - are spot-on, whether they be pop pastiches or serious statements of intent.

The young cast, especially the leads, are charming – although there is a bit of Dublin mumbling which is quite hard to penetrate. Aiden Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy (star of “The Commitments”, an obvious touchstone) are reliable presences as Cosmo’s warring parents, and Jack Reynor is particularly poignant as his stoner big brother, who seems to come close to finding some much-needed redemption of his own by acting as guru.

Ultimately a tale about the importance of holding on to your dreams, “Sing Street” isn’t quite the feel-good comedy drama I had been expecting, since it delves into some dark corners. It is a highly rewarding watch, however; and it’s worth once more noting how good the tunes are.

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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Sigur Ros in Bristol

My birthday treat this year, coinciding with the disastrous EU referendum, was a trip to Bristol to catch a pre-Glastonbury appearance from long-time favourites Sigur Ros. The venue was the Canon’s Marsh Amphitheatre, an outdoor space in the lively harbour-side area of the city (fairly central, but inevitably I managed to get lost along the way). Mercifully, the rain stayed away.

In support was James Canty, a Liverpool-based singer-songwriter of a darkly romantic bent, whose set veered from folky acoustic guitar balladry to ranting electro wig-outs. There were some technical issues, but he displayed great charm, and was fairly well-received by the impatient crowd.

The headliners came on just after 9pm, and kicked off in ambient mode with “Óveður”, the song which recently sound-tracked their Slow TV Youtube film of a road-trip around their native Iceland; then came the magic moment when they played my absolute favourite song, the unnaturally lovely “Starálfur” – deeply moving. The early part of the set focussed on more familiar material, like “Sæglópur” and “Vaka” (although not their biggest hit, “Hoppipolla”), before settling into a Mogwai-esque “quiet-loud” groove – alongside the beauty (at one point, the seagulls seemed to start joining in, to the amusement of my fellow concert-goers) started there was a surprising amount of rocking out, accompanied by a stunning light-show. With only three band-members on stage, much of the music was inevitably on tape (or its electronic equivalent); but singer Jonsi’s ethereal, choirboy vocals still managed to connect; one could even forgive the fact that he spent most of the time playing his guitar with a violin-bow. They were on-stage for just under ninety minutes, including encores, but I don’t think I could have coped, emotionally, with much more. A remarkable band. 

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