Blakeson - Writer

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

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Bare Fiction - Cardiff launch

I attended the Cardiff launch of an impressive new literary magazine at the city-centre Gwdihw café bar on 29th January – Bare Fiction, whose inaugural edition came out in December, and whose remit takes in poetry, prose, drama and journalism.

Editor and compere Robert Harper kicked off the evening with some moving poems about his late father; this was followed by readings of poetry and prose from Georgia Carys Willams, Richard Owain Roberts and Kirsten Jones. The first half was topped off with a typically rumbustious turn from local hero Boyd Clack.

Post-interval, we were treated to an open-mic session featuring Charlie Hammond, Iwan ap Huw Morgan, Jack Ayres, and a cameo from Mark Blayney (performing an homage to John Cooper Clarke). This was followed by a suite of evocative childbirth-themed poems from Lisa Parry, some prose from young novelist Dan Tyte, and an exclusive from Rachel Trezise, who read from a darkly toned story which will appear in issue 2 of the magazine. An intrusion by a homeless man turned out to be the dramatic climax of the evening – a performance by Gareth Pierce of Neil Bebber’s short play “Breathe”, which appears in issue 1.

An entertaining, inspiring couple of hours, with something to please most palates, in a lively venue (perhaps, occasionally, a little too lively). And I managed to pick up a copy of Boyd Clack’s CD “Last Bus To Porthcawl” at a bargain price.

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

"Inside Llewyn Davis"

The new, much-anticipated (by me, at least) film from Joel and Ethan Coen, “Inside Llewyn Davis” is a thing of great beauty.

Taking place in Greenwich Village in 1961, in a milieu which will be familiar with those who have read Bob Dylan’s peerless “Chronicles”, it is a character study, following a few days in the life of a folk singer, played impeccably by Oscar Isaac, as he struggles to cope with his tangled and unfortunate personal and professional lives. The structure is rambling and discursive, as is typical with the Coens, and the central character makes every effort to be dislikeable. Thus, moments of high drama are few, but when they occur they are subtly heart-breaking.

The music, supervised by T-Bone Burnett and Marcus Mumford and given suitable room to breathe, is delightful; and the supporting performances from such reliable faces as John Goodman (a voluble but unwell jazz-singer) and F. Murray Abraham (the hard-as-nails impresario) are as impressive as might be expected. Carey Mulligan shines in the thankless role of a bitter former lover, and even Justin Timberlake is effective – especially during the film’s comic high point, the “Please Mr Kennedy” sequence. It looks great too, especially the smoky folk-club interiors.

References from the folk scene (Peter Paul and Mary, Tom Paxton, Arlo and Woody Guthrie) and classical literature are plentiful, but the central theme appears to be the close relationship between soul-searching artistry and profound commercial and inter-personal cynicism – something with which the brothers will be greatly familiar given their many years in the film business. Inevitably reminiscent of Woody Allen’s “Sweet And Lowdown”, it’s yet another slow-burning classic.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

"Blue/Orange" / "Mundane Dreams"

Several years ago, I went to see Joe Penhall’s mental health themed play “Blue/Orange” on one of my birthday West End Theatre trips. The cast was to die for – Bill Nighy, Andrew Lincoln, and Chiwetel Ejiofor – and it was an entertaining and thought-provoking experience but I don’t think I quite got it. Last night I saw it again, for the British Theatre Guide, produced by the newly formed Canoe Theatre at Sherman Cymru, and it all seemed much clearer. Excellent work all round.

I’ve made another short mashup film, based on an amusing piece from The Poetry Storehouse, by Jessy Randall and Daniel Shapiro. Jolly fun.

"Mundane Dreams" by Jessy Randall and Daniel Shapiro from OTHNIEL SMITH on Vimeo.

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Friday, January 17, 2014

"Ethics Of The Mothers"

"Ethics Of The Mothers" by Rachel Barenblat from OTHNIEL SMITH on Vimeo.

My latest short mash-up film - this one based on a poem by contemporary American poet (and rabbi) Rachel Barenblat, made available by The Poetry Storehouse. Features a guest appearance from Betty Boop.

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Friday, January 10, 2014

Morrissey: "Autobiography"

AutobiographyAutobiography by Morrissey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As a Smiths devotee of long standing, I was always going to read this book. As the reviews point out, it's a self-serving, self-aggrandising exercise in points-scoring, but what autobiography isn't?

The young Morrissey is outed as good at sports, well-travelled and popular with girls; the transition to awkward, solitary "Morrisseyness" seems horrifyingly seamless. The tale is told via relationships with friends, enemies, and family members, memorable moments described with relish and/or horror, song titles littering the text as befits an artist who sings his life. The style is florid to the point of purpleness, constantly flipping between the present and past tense.

The court case which disfigured relations between himself and his former bandmates is obsessively, excessively detailed - drummer Mike Joyce will presumably not be party to any Smiths reunion. The portrait of guitar hero Johnny Marr is one of many touching love stories contained herein.

"Autobiography" is a vivid, witty tale of despair and triumph, full of profound insights. It surely ranks alongside Dylan's "Chronicles" and Stephen Fry's "Moab Is My Washpot" as one of the great modern autobiographies.

View all my reviews

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Friday, January 03, 2014

"Snow White" / "The Sleeping Beauties"

Having been to see three non-traditional Christmas shows in the past few weeks (most recently, the rather magical "The Sleeping Beauties" at the Sherman Cymru, which I reviewed for the British Theatre Guide"), I thought it might be a good idea to take advantage of a break in my home town to go and see a “proper” pantomime for the first time in many, many years. Thus it was that I dragged my mother to Stoke’s Regent Theatre, to see local favourite Jonathan Wilkes in “Snow White And The Seven Dwarves”.

There was no thigh-slapping female principal boy, unfortunately, and no transvestite dame. Instead, Wilkes took centre stage as the cheeky chappie Muddles, with the more than able assistance of co-director Christian Patterson as the evil queen’s comedy henchman -  probably the highlight. South Wales’ own Katie Elin-Salt was a charming Snow White, with Debbie Chapman hamming it up to great effect as Queen Morgiana. And the dwarves were all present and correct (albeit with slightly modified, non-Disney names), young Paddy Holden going down especially well.

Quite a high-tech production, too, with the speaking mirror joining us by video; and the scene-setting backdrops were beautiful. The repeated local references got a little tired at times; some one-liners were maybe too off-colour for a young audience; a few of the musical numbers did little to advance the narrative; and I could have done without some of the crowbarred-in renditions of pop songs (a little too much One Direction for my personal taste). But the ensemble danced impressively, and Wilkes was a cheerily authoritative presence. Jolly fun.

£6 for a glass of wine, though.

My principal holiday reading was “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn. It’s excellent stuff, as is usual when an American author applies the emotional complexity of “literary” fiction to a genre; in this case, a crime plot of the most circuitous variety, involving a young wife who goes missing, exposing her apparently perfect marriage to public scrutiny. The film version is in the works, which it would be very easy to mess up; apparently, though, Flynn herself is writing the screenplay, which can only be a good thing.

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