Blakeson - Writer

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

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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