Blakeson - Writer

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

Friday, March 28, 2008

"The Orphanage"

I tend to avoid modern horror films, since the real world is scary enough. A multitude of good reviews, however, prompted me to go and see “The Orphanage/El Orfanato”, directed by Guillermo Del Toro protégé, J. A. Bayona, which I found extremely effective and affecting, dealing as it does with the real pain of believably drawn characters rather than the slicing-up of cardboard cut-outs. It makes good use of vintage staples such as the old, dark house, spooky children, and the creepy old lady (cf. Amenabar’s “The Others”), and is anchored by a superb central performance from Belen Rueda, as a woman who re-opens the orphanage where she grew up in order to deal with ghosts from the past, and finds them endangering her ostensibly happy family. There are several subtle shock moments, and only one instance of full-on gore; and whilst one does not emerge from the cinema bursting with joy, the story does have something of a redemptive theme, which is vaguely comforting. Apparently a Hollywood re-make is in the offing, but doubtless shorn of its Euro-exoticism and historical context (there are hints of dark goings on under Franco), it will be just another horror movie.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Ida Maria / Cage The Elephant / "No Country" Pt.2

I paid my first visit for a good few months to the Cardiff Barfly this week, for what promised to be an unmissable smorgasbord of international treats. First up were locals the Spencer McGarry Season, who’ve made excellent use of social networking sites in building up a following; very slick, witty and engaging guitar-led pop-rock. Next on were Cage The Elephant, out of Bowling Green, Kentucky, who played a punky variation on traditional Southern boogie, with rolling bass, and some manically stoned rock’n’roll dancing. They bravely kicked off with current single “In One Ear”, and mercifully all their material was similarly infectious. Headlining was the pixie-ish Norwegian Ida Maria, who reported having had a “miserable” day, although this only manifested itself in her failure to play “Stella”, the current single, which had presumably been planned for the encore which never materialised. The set was excellent, though, melodic trad-rock with the occasional tender moment. Given the high profile of the acts on stage (i.e. the on-air patronage of Steve Lamacq and Jo Whiley), however, I was surprised by the moderate turn-out.

Having seen the film, I purchased and read Cormac McCarthy’sNo Country For Old Men” – then felt strangely, retrospectively cheated by the Coen brothers’ adaptation. Peerless in terms of atmosphere and characterisation, I found some of their story-telling unclear towards the end, but assumed that this was in the cause of fidelity to impenetrably complex source material. I now discover, however, that McCarthy’s beautiful novel is the very model of narrative clarity throughout; therefore, Ethan and Joel were being confusing on purpose. Which is obviously their prerogative. I’m just not sure whether to respect them more or less.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

“The Almond And The Seahorse”

“If we can get hit on the head and become a different person, what does that tell us about being human?” This is the central question raised by Kaite O’Reilly’s play “The Almond And The Seahorse”, the new production from Sherman Cymru, Cardiff (I was fortunate enough to receive an invitation to a preview performance), which tells the story of four people whose relationships are adversely affected by memory loss caused by brain injury. Thus there’s the younger couple, played by Nia Gwynne and Celyn Jones, the male half of which has suffered a brain tumour, and is consequently locked into a constant present; and the older couple, Ian Saynor and Olwen Rees – she went through a windscreen, and is now stuck in the past, to the point of no longer recognising her husband. Given the raw material, it would be easy for a writer to succumb to mawkishness, but O’Reilly manages to avoid this by focussing on the wittiness of the banter between the younger pair, and on the older man’s bitterness. Mojisola Adebayo plays the doctor who watches over both couples, and ruminates on their problems, never letting her professional facade drop, at least in their presence. From the programme, I gathered that the director, Philip Zarilli is more at home with experimental theatre, and his non-literal approach works well - the set is spare and evocative, and there is very good use of onstage subtitling. Some of the poetic dialogue - the sufferers use metaphor to describe their plight - wafted over my head, but this is a fault with my brain rather than the writing. The scene in which the younger man, severely impaired but not realising it, has to juggle multiple alarms, his pill-box, a packet of cigarettes and a telephone is brilliantly realised; and while the need to provide a narrative means that melodrama threatens to appear on the horizon, the ending is mercifully merciless. Heartbreaking, for all the right reasons.