Blakeson - Writer

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

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


I’ve never been a fan of the James Bond films. I remember greatly enjoying the novels in my teens, impressed by Ian Fleming’s style and erudition (although they did make me paranoid about Russia, which, I suppose, was the aim). The films, however, seem to go out of their way to keep one from caring about the hero (“On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” being a notable exception), and some of the Roger Moore efforts were crimes against cinema (less to do with the star than the fact that the British film industry was in creative crisis at the time). Even the admirable Daniel Craig’s assumption of the role couldn’t make me warm to “Casino Royale” - I preferred the 1960s one, which is, legendarily, a compete mess.

So, why did I go and see “Skyfall”? Mainly because of director Sam Mendes, who was responsible for two of my favourite films of the past couple of decades in “American Beauty” and “The Road To Perdition” (both of which seem to have lost their critical lustre of late). If anyone can humanise such a cynical franchise (and given that the Broccoli family are hardly going to give the gig to Mike Leigh or Ken Loach), surely he can.
And he does an excellent job. While Mendes hardly succeeds in turning “Skyfall” into a profound human drama, he at least manages to make the spectacular action sequences appear coherent, and as though they are taking place in the real world. Craig is as incapable as ever of looking as though his character is out of his depth, leaving it to Dame Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes and Rory Kinnear to deal with nuances – while Naomie Harris’ Eve surely deserves a film of her own. The casting of Javier Bardem as the villain is a particular masterstroke. He arrives nearly half-way through, introduced via a clever monologue; as a camp, damaged character motivated by hatred and the desire for vengeance rather than the lust for power or wealth (very post-9/11), he is a magnetic presence.

The themes are well-worn – death and resurrection, low- vs high-tech warfare, ageing, disappearing certainties. There’s some unforgivably glib dialogue, and while cinematographer Roger Deakins does sterling work as usual, there is perhaps a little too much architectural photography for my taste. It’s certainly a highly effective action thriller, though, constantly engaging and tightly plotted, with all the elements well marshalled. Certainly, speaking as a non-devotee, the best Bond film ever.


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Monday, October 22, 2012

Made In Roath 2012

I managed to participate, on a vague level, in Cardiff’s Made In Roath 2012 Arts festival, with one of my short mash-up films (“The Great Longing”) taking its place in an exhibit at the SHO Gallery, and another (“Farewell, Farewell”) part of an entertaining “Roathbud” screening, hosted by filmmaker Tom Betts upstairs at the Gower Pub. And wandering about the area over the weekend, one did manage to catch sight of the occasional work of art.

On the final evening, I attended an evening of spoken-word entertainment at the Coffi House. Curated and hosted by the genial and amusing Mark Blayney, it was labelled “Octopoet”, with eight poets each doing eight minutes. Inevitably it over-ran, but it was none the less diverting for that. A wide range of both performance and writing styles: the venerable Betty Lane with her legendary Dylan Thomas reminiscence; Stephen Quantick’s dark comic monologues; Clare Potter’s musically-inflected lyricism; the professorial elegance of Philip Gross; Mike Greenhough’s playful cleverness; the densely contemplative tragi-comedy of Clare Ferguson-Walker; Nicholas Whitehead’s slickly amusing take on righteous indignation (his ode to Jimmy Savile was especially well-received); topped off with the witty, crowd-pleasing social commentary of Mab Jones. Excellent. Nice cake as well.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Latest short film: The Goddess (Remix)

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Artes Mundi 2012

I paid a visit to the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, to check out the contenders for the  2012 Artes Mundi Prize – or at least those whose work is actually exhibited there (Tania Bruguera’s “Immigrant Respect Campaign” consists of a number of non-gallery events; and Apolonija Šušteršič’s “Politics ‘In Space’/ Tiger Bay Project”, an examination of the Cardiff  Bay Redevelopment, is represented only by a big-screen documentary and a newspaper).

The first piece to be encountered is Miriam Bäckström’s “Smile As If We Have Already Won” a huge, iridescent tapestry, striking in its beauty. Darius Mikšys’ “The Code” is a kind of artistic self-examination taking the form of a mini-museum compiled from objects in the host institution’s collection. Sheela Gowdi’s  “Kagabangara” is an installation consisting of artfully arranged steel drums and sheets of tarpaulin (clever, but it left me cold); this is being shown alongside her “Heartland” -  an affecting, politically-slanted painting derived from an altered news photograph. Phil Collins’ “Free Fotolab” is a strangely hypnotic slideshow featuring snapshots taken from strangers’ rolls of film. Most subtly impressive, in my view, is Teresa Margolles’ exhibit, consisting of a number of subtle meditations on death – a sound recording from an autopsy; part of a floor on which a friend died; hot metal plates on which drip water from a morgue.  

As always, an inspirational, low-key show which gives even the casual, inexpert viewer much to think about.


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Sunday, October 07, 2012


As I suggest in my review, “WiLD”, by Teifi Emerald is one of those shows I’d probably have steered well clear of, had I not taken the opportunity to review it for the British Theatre Guide. A multi-media one-woman performance piece (staged at Chapter), using monsters as a metaphor for various insecurities, it’s highly engaging, and there is much disingenuously self-effacing humour.

Being put in the position of having to write vaguely intelligent assessments of plays has enhanced the theatre-going experience, somewhat. One has to exercise mindfulness, paying attention at all times - or carefully noting why one has failed to pay attention. Given the ephemeral nature of theatre, any process which helps one to imprint such experiences on one’s memory is extremely valuable.

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Friday, October 05, 2012

"Whose Coat Is That Jacket"

"Whose Coat Is That Jacket" (from Frapetsus Productions) belongs to that enduring but little-documented genre of ostensibly cosy Welsh commercial theatre, which is exemplified most notably by the work of Frank Vickery. The latest staging of Jack Llewellyn's domestic comedy-drama ended its Welsh tour at Cardiff's New Theatre, doing pretty good business, as far as I could tell. The story focuses on two brothers - the younger of whom, Ieuan, is desperate to leave his stifling family and head off to university in London, while the elder (Rhodri, played by Llewellyn, giving himself the least interesting role) has settled back into a too-comfortable life, close to his jokingly bickering parents - a cloyingly manipulative Mam (Sara Harris-Davies) and the father (Ieuan Rhys) who plays along, for an easy life. This is all to the increasing dismay of Rhodri's English wife, Ruth, played, in something of a casting coup, by pulchritudinous former "Hollyoaks" star Terri Dwyer. There were several sharp comic exchanges designed to resonate with the South Wales audience and underline the theme of non-communication within relationships; and the broad physical humour was cleverly managed by director Maxine Evans. Despite some voice projection problems near the beginning, and maybe some second-act clunkiness, this is an enjoyable sit-com, with a telling and borderline bitter critique of parochialism not so far beneath the surface.

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