Talking Movies

May 31, 2018

From the Archives: The Edge of Love

Another deep dive into the pre-Talking Movies archives reveals an inert biopic of Dylan Thomas that presumably sent Matthew Rhys scurrying back into the comforting arms of well-written television roles.

Keira Knightley stars in a film written by her mother Sharman Macdonald. One hates to toss around words like nepotism but I would be very surprised if another actress would have been so eager to get this project green-lit. Macdonald is an established playwright, The Winter Guest being her most famous work, and director John Maybury previously directed Love is the Devil, another art-house biopic about a self-destructive artist. Sadly this film about poet Dylan Thomas falls far short of his take on painter Francis Bacon. Brothers & Sisters star Matthew Rhys is magnificent casting as the saturnine poet but the film seems to shy away from Thomas’ mile-wide self-destructive streak until near the end when it belatedly remembers that the man could be a total bastard and that he dedicatedly drank himself to death before he turned 40.

The Edge of Love begins promisingly with a vividly impressionistic take on the horrors of the Blitz, all soft-focus reds and blacks. There are some visual echoes of Atonement though which really hurt this film which lacks the emotional power and crisp scripting of that masterpiece. Keira Knightley (with a passable Welsh accent) is Vera Phillips, an ex-girlfriend of Dylan from Wales, who randomly meets him in war-torn London. A messy love quadrangle quickly forms with Dylan, his wife Caitlin, (Sienna Miller acquitting herself well once she dispenses with a half-attempted Irish accent) and Matthew Killick, a standout performance by Cillian Murphy as a stolid English soldier who is the voice of reason amidst all these selfish Celtic lunatics.

Sadly once Killick leaves to serve in Greece the film’s momentum goes with him. The script becomes so dramatically inert that you recoil in horror on hitting the hour mark as you realise there’s still another 50 minutes to go, which alternate between the incredibly boring and the absolutely infuriating. How you can possibly take the life of Dylan Thomas, add abortion, attempted murder and infidelity and induce yawns is beyond me. The best you can say about The Edge of Love is that it is ‘interesting’, by which of course one means that it assembles a number of good ideas and then leaves them lying around waiting for a coherent script. Killick’s shell-shock for instance is ‘explored’ through ridiculous scenes like him slapping a preposterously irritating woman from the BBC who sneers at his war service.

This film fails miserably at getting inside Dylan Thomas’ head no matter how many lines of poetry it has Rhys sonorously mumble in voiceover. It never really gets to grips with the tormented marriage of Dylan and Caitlin and in fact it really only succeeds, intermittently, in portraying female friendship forged by a connection to a charismatic but repellent man. And that really isn’t enough to sustain nearly 2 hours of cinema.

2/5

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February 15, 2018

Ecuador plots daring escape for Julian Assange

A drunken Ambassador who is shamelessly junketing in South Korea to support Ecuador’s sole entrant in the Winter Olympics has accidentally let slip an elaborate long-term plan to get Wikileaks founder Julian Assange out of their London embassy without being arrested by the Met, writes B. Bradley Bradlee from Pyeongchang.

Julian Assange met with Noam Chomsky to discuss the ethics of selling the movie rights to his forthcoming escape. Mr Chomsky insisted he be played only by philosopher Sam Harris.

Hugo de Bradias, speaking on condition of anonymity, revealed over his seventeenth tequila that the Ecuadorean embassy in London had had enough. “You think we really had a package delivered of mysterious white powder last week? Mystery white powder?! We were just, testing, hiccup, the response time of the Met. All our white powder comes from the Bolivian embassy’s chauffeur. Don’t print that. I’ll deeeny I shaid shit.” Ambassador de Bradias then flourished a piece of paper which was headed ‘Julian Assange Escape Plan’ ™. When pressed on why it was trademarked he mumbled about various copyright infringements, and ‘out-chutzpah’.

The document, which will no doubt be of especial interest to London’s Metropolitan Police, details an elaborate escape plan for Julian Assange – to take place on Hallowe’en night 2018. Ambassador de Bradias laughed so hard he fell off his barstool explaining that the final version of the plan had come together after Assange had gone to bed for the night and the embassy staff stayed up and watched recent episodes of Longmire and Blindspot after Olly Murs had caused chaos on Twitter by implying Oxford Street’s Selfridges had become Nakatomi Plaza with Murs himself as an all-singing all-dancing John McClane.

The plan involves a huge amount of simultaneous Tube platform altercations and minor vandalism on busy shopping streets to divert police resources all over London. The Ecuadorean embassy will be hosting a masked ball for some 10,000 partygoers, flooding the building and grounds. Assange will make a speech from his usual balcony, and get a coughing fit mid-tedious tirade. He will duck inside to get a glass of water, a light bulb will blow, but he will soldier on, giving the speech in half-light. But, and Ambassador de Bradias hooted with glee – this will not be the real Assange.

The real Assange will have disappeared when he went for his glass of water, replaced by a double. At this moment of subterfuge all 10,000 partygoers will flood out of the Ecuadorean embassy; and the mask that everyone is wearing will be revealed to be the face of – Julian Assange. The real Assange escapes because the Met are stretched too thin from all the mayhem to search so many civilians without probable cause. That at least is the plan. Obviously such a massive subterfuge, requiring so much materiel and so many personnel, and, strictly confidential, an outlay for a fake party and gunbattle in Harrods to inspire panicked tweets from an influential useful idiot like Kim Kardashian, would be hugely costly for troubled Ecuador.

When pressed on how the embassy would pay for all this Ambassador de Bradias tapped his nose and alluded to the presence in Pyeongchang of Kim Jong-Un’s diabolical sister, the Livia of North Korea. He was more forthcoming on the plan’s urgency, “This man, Assange, he must go. At first, yay, stick it to the Americans. Now, no. Now he pain in ass. BBC 2 make sitcom about him. What do we get? Nada. We try to interest Aaron Sorkin. Hey, come do research, make movie, Assange he is like Man who come to dinner, no? No. Sorkin, no.” When asked if he was not concerned that Assange, a digital Tom Paine, could end up being beaten with sticks about the kidneys in a floating black site not unlike the prison in Stallone/Schwarzenegger vehicle Escape Plan, the Ambassador gave me a withering look and called for more Ferrero Rocher.

B. Bradley Bradlee is fictional editor emeritus of The New York Times. He is currently covering the Winter Olympics for the German weekly Die Emmerich-Zeitung.

July 25, 2016

Jamie & Spencer Need Movie Dates

“Life imitates art far more than art imitates life” said Oscar Wilde, and so to celebrate the release of Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates on August 10th, eligible bachelors Jamie Laing and Spencer Matthews are looking for two friends to join them as their dates to a preview screening of the film in London on August 2nd.

To enter the competition, applicants must comment on Jamie Laing’s post on Twitter or Instagram, tagging 1 friend that they would like to enter the competition with, explaining why they would make the best dates for Jamie and Spencer.

Entry for the competition is open now and closes Wednesday 27th of July at 11:59pm GMT.

See here for terms and conditions. Entrants must be 18 or older.

Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates sees hard-partying brothers Mike (Adam Devine) and Dave (Zac Efron) place an online ad to find the perfect dates for their sister’s Hawaiian wedding. They’re looking for respectable girls at the insistence of their father (Stephen Root) who doesn’t want them ruining the wedding. But the ad soon goes viral and instead of respectable girls they get a conniving and uncontrollable duo (Aubrey Plaza, Anna Kendrick) and find themselves outsmarted and out-partied.

Kendrick’s 50/50 director Jonathan Levine produces a script by Bad Neighbours creators Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien as SNL and Funny Or Die director Jake Szymanski makes his cinematic debut.

April 9, 2015

The Man in Two Pieces

Stephen Brennan and Gerard Adlum weave a web of fraudulent magic in 1920s rural Ireland in Theatre Upstairs’ new work The Man in Two Pieces.

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Vivid red curtains with an occasionally projected moon above them are the backdrop for this glimpse behind the scenes at Kerrigan’s Vaudeville Troupe. Kerrigan (Stephen Brennan) has been touring the Irish countryside for thirty years; arriving without notice, disappearing without trace, in such unlikely venues as “Gorman’s fourth field”. He keeps the same names and patter for the acts, even as he changes the artistes: his new Italian Adonis is from Sligo, and hypnotist the Great Gustavo is not really from the Black Forest, as his real name, Gordon McAleer, might give away. But just as The Boy runs away with the troupe, entranced by their magical show, the realities of the Anglo-Irish War are about to trump magic as Kerrigan insists on playing Middleton, against warnings both from his artistes and from a menacing local IRA man in Cork…

“We deal in magic” says Kerrigan, and half the trick of his trade is the audience’s desire to believe. Ironically it is just such desire, a wilful self-delusion; that politics can be ignored; which lays Kerrigan low. Brennan is on fine form as Kerrigan, a composite of canny entrepreneur, talented song and dance man, and self-mocking ringmaster who has lied so well, so often, that now all lies sound equally truthful to his ears. He may have come to Ireland from London in pursuit of a Galway girl with a beautiful voice who he made his first vaudeville attraction. He may be from Golden, Tipperary; where he expects a hero’s welcome. There are echoes of Faith Healer in Kerrigan’s contradictory narratives and this impulse to destruction; returning, like Frank Hardy’s Ballybeg, to a place where he must demonstrate his magic.

Playwright Gerard Adlum is the narrator as The Boy, who charmingly remains mute but physically expressive in his scenes with Kerrigan, and also plays the Adonis and Gustavo. He renders one with a cap and a Sligo accent, the other with a Northern accent and, in ‘character’, a German accent akin to Cabaret’s MC but with a notable punctiliousness of gait and business. Such quick changes of character are expertly accomplished through accents, physicality, props, rolling up and down of shirtsleeves, and elegant, fluid blocking by director Sarah Finlay. Finlay seems to enlarge the small playing space of Theatre Upstairs, with Kerrigan’s leaps off the stage for exits and entrances, and the constant feeling that Rebekka Duffy’s colourful and cluttered set of suitcases, brushes, and weights is only part of a wider backstage world that extends off-stage in either direction.

The Man in Two Pieces, even down to Adlum and Nessa Matthews’ two songs, is an affecting and sad play concerned with those left behind, uncomprehending, by political sea-change.

3.5/5

The Man in Two Pieces continues its run in Theatre Upstairs until the 18th of April.

November 1, 2011

Any Other Business: Part II

What is one to do with thoughts that are far too long for Twitter but not nearly long enough for a proper blog post? Why round them up and turn them into a second portmanteau post on television of course!

Burning Down the House
I’m waiting with bated breath for the resumption of Hawaii Five-O after Lenkov’s amazing season one finale. If Moffat seemed to burn the house down with the end of his penultimate episode to season 5 of Doctor Who; which he sardonically described as the Doctor imprisoned in the most secure vault in the universe, Amy dead, Rory made of plastic and all the Whovian villains united – no problem; then Peter M Lenkov took off and nuked his O’ahu abode from orbit. Lenkov in his wisdom killed the Governor who was able to sweep all of the team’s legal transgressions under the pardon rug, framed McGarrett for her murder at the hands of the Yakuza supremo, arrested Kono for stealing millions from lock-up, returned Chin to the police force to work against McGarret, and possibly torpedoed Danny’s resurrected marriage by having him rally round McGarrett. No problem?…

Cockney Voices, Still Dialogue
I was unsurprised to learn that Saffron Burrows had been ditched from Finders after a disastrous try out of its team during a truly terrible Bones episode. To term Finders a Bones spin-off is laughable, it’s merely Hart Hanson using his existing show to try and sell a second show by demonstrating to the network how much people love his all-new adorably quirky characters. And my God were they quirky… Hanson granted each of his trio distinctive modes of speech, Michael Clarke Duncan was Dr Gonzo proffering legal advice, the ‘hero’ was verbose and savanty, and Saffron Burrows was….well, not adorable was the short verdict of the American viewing public and so she had to go. The nature of the problem became clear when shortly afterwards I saw Sienna Guillory appear in a season 11 episode of CSI: LV. Guillory spoke in her normal English accent, and everything was fine, because she was just handed regular CSI: LV dialogue and told to use her natural voice. Hanson wrote dialogue that aimed to be ‘Cockney’ in its Artful Dodger choice of words and rhyming slang, and thus London girl Burrows ended up incredibly unconvincing as a Cockney!

RTE’s feeling for insomniacs
What is wrong with RTE? More specifically what is wrong with their schedulers? Why do they insist on buying major American shows, with big budgets and numerous awards, and then burying them in the graveyard shift? Mad Men barely creeps in before midnight, Hawaii Five-O comes on just before midnight, Castle comes in at around half past midnight, Medium anytime after midnight, Mercy around 1am and No Ordinary Family at 2:20am… TV3 have complained that RTE are being a wealthy dog in the manger and simply preventing other networks having these shows. Assuming that’s not true, there’s still something disgraceful about Castle, one of the very best shows around at the moment for charismatic acting, wonderful gags, and unpredictable mysteries, getting no viewers in this country because no one has the cop-on to shove it on TV at say 10:10pm on Tuesday rather than at 12:35am.

Dirty Horatio
I’ve been watching CSI: Miami and noticing with alarm and bemusement that the writers appear to have mixed up David Caruso’s Horatio Caine character with Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry Callahan somewhere between seasons 8 and 9. The first time we ever saw Caine in action, in an episode of CSI: LV, he was going off the beaten track during a search and found and comforted a missing child. That is Horatio Caine: great with children and dogged in his pursuit of justice. He takes his sun-glasses on and off a lot, smiles at villains, and delivers ‘cool’ lines to a screaming ‘YEEAAHHH!!!’ soundtrack by The Who. He doesn’t throw perps thru windows for the craic, and continually threaten criminals at gunpoint while snarling menacing dialogue at them. Perhaps Caruso felt that Horatio was disappearing into the background and wanted to stand out from the ensemble again, or maybe the change-over of writers has left few people with the memory of the original creation of Caine around to guide the character on a consistent arc. Either way I want more of the Horatio who tells an armadillo-hunting suspect that discovers his gun is missing, “Maybe the armadillos took it…”

Grissom’s Theory of Everything
I’ve written at great length twice about the Morpheus Problem faced by CSI: LV in trying to replace William Petersen’s Gil Grissom with Laurence Fishburne’s Ray Langston as the leader of the heroic criminalists of the Vegas crime lab. But with the hoopla surrounding the desperate quest to replace Fishburne, who’s gone back to Hollywood to resume his rightful role as a figure of authority by being Clark Kent’s editor among other gigs, a new thought sprung to mind. Instead of begging John Lithgow to join the show and then settling for Ted Danson, and announcing a comedic direction because of his arrival, why not just not replace Grissom? Grissom is irreplaceable. His cameo in season 11 only reminded us of that. So why not just trust the ensemble to carry on without him? Catherine, Nick, Sara, Greg, Hodges, Henry, Archie, Mandy, Dr Robbins and David can carry an episode just fine by themselves. Grissom was sometimes tangential to episodes and they worked just fine. Can we not trust that if the writers simply stopped trying to replace Grissom, and just enjoyed his team in motion around a now absent star, then the audience would too?

October 26, 2011

Top 10 Scary Movies

Hallowe’en is almost upon us! This weekend Contagion, Demons Never Die, Paranormal Activity 3, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark and others will all contend for the horror audience at the multiplexes, while the Screen’s Monster Mash and especially the IFI’s Horrorthon with special guest (and cult hero) Michael Biehn (Aliens, Planet Terror) will cater for the hardcore ghouls. But if you’re staying in for TV or DVD scares instead here’re quality shockers to get you thru the horrid holiday.

(10) Psycho
Hitchcock’s 1960 low budget classic influenced all the other films on this list as it dealt a tremendous hammer blow to restrictions on cinematic violence. Hitchcock’s direction is almost parodically showy as the first act of the film is essentially an enormous shaggy-dog story, setting up a number of prolonged blackly comic sequences. Anthony Perkins’s Norman Bates is a terrific resonant villain, especially in the chilling final scene scored by Bernard Hermann with full-on Schoenbergian atonal serialism, while the shower scene with Janet Leigh being slashed to Hermann’s bravura stabbing violins orchestration remains an iconic ‘pure cinema’ scare.

(9) The Host
You may not have heard of this one before but this recent Korean effort is already well on its way to classic status. A hilariously dysfunctional Korean family try to save their abducted youngest member from a mutated monster created by American polluters. Brilliant special effects create scares aplenty while the script is both scathing of American power politics and sublimely absurdist. This pre-dates Rodriguez’s Planet Terror in collecting misfit characters with useless skills, like a hesitant Olympic archer and a Molotov cocktail flinging former student radical, and paying off those set-ups in hilarious and unexpected ways.

(8) Halloween
John Carpenter was probably gazumped by Black Christmas to creating the slasher flick but he certainly codified the conventions of the genre with this 1978 movie. I’ve long thought Carpenter a deeply over-rated director but this film, powered by his deceptively simple yet still creepy music, features numerous sequences of nerve-rending suspense as Jamie Lee Curtis’s baby-sitter is stalked by the homicidal madman Mike Myers in his William Shatner mask. Treasure Donald Pleasance as the psychiatrist Loomis as he dead pans his reply to Curtis’ question “Was that the boogieman?” – “Yes, as a matter of fact it was”.

(7) Night of the Living Dead
George Romero usually gets far too much credit for what is tangential social satire in his Dead films, but there’s no doubt that he invented the modern zombie genre with this piece. By not cutting away when the undead started munching human flesh, and concentrating the action in a claustrophobic setting where the mismatched survivors turn on each other under the constant strain of both repelling the zombies and dealing with the ticking time-bomb of their infected, he gave us the still resonant archetypal zombie set-up. The ending is as chilling as in 1968.

(6) The Exorcist
This 1973 shocker, scored by Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells and directed by William Friedkin at the short-lived height of his powers, remains one of the highest grossing movies ever made. Stephen King thought its secret was that it struck a nerve with parents concerned that they had somehow lost their children to the dark side of the 1960s, while simultaneously attracting those self-same kids eager for transgressive thrills. It’s equally likely that such frighteningly realised demonic possession just freaks people out, especially when Max Von Sydow’s stalwart priest realises he’s once again facing the originating villain, Lucifer.

(5) The Evil Dead
The Evil Dead is not a comedy-horror classic like its acclaimed sequel Evil Dead 2, but an extremely gruelling gore-fest that bookends the extreme horror tendencies of the 1970s. Director Sam Raimi made his name directing his school friend and subsequent cult legend Bruce Campbell as plucky college student Ash, fighting off evil spirits inadvertently summoned by his friends by reading an arcane tome at a remote cabin in a forest where even the trees turn out to be evil, damn evil, and prone to doing things that are still controversial. Prepare to lose your lunch.

(4) 28 Days Later
Alex Garland’s first original screenplay was blatantly a zombie reworking of The Day of the Triffids, but there are worse templates than John Wyndham’s particular variety of realistic sci-fi. The post-apocalyptic concerns of that classic became horror gold through Danny Boyle’s customarily frenetic direction of the terrifyingly energetic Infected pursuing Cillian Murphy thru an eerily deserted London. The obligatory survivors turning on each other motif is enlivened by the quality of rhetoric given to Christopher Eccleston’s barking mad soldier, while the climactic eye gouging is perhaps the most horrific act ever committed by any screen hero.

(3) Don’t Look Now
1973 classic Don’t Look Now is on the surface an art-house study, rendered in editor turned director Nicolas Roeg’s typically disjunctive style, of a couple consumed with grief over the death of their daughter trying to forget their loss and begin again by travelling to Venice. Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland though begin seeing a red coated little girl tailing them at a distance thru the streets, and become convinced that it may be their dead daughter, leading to an ending so genuinely nightmarish that it will freak you out even if you’ve seen it before.

(2) Alien
Alien is a great horror film which skilfully masquerades as sci-fi, including the score from Jerry Goldsmith at his most dissonant. Ridley Scott firmly establishes the characters before bumping them off in his Gothic space-ship full of dark shadows and dripping roofs. Stephen King has noted that the absence of almost any action for the first hour leaves the audience extremely nervy for when events finally occur. The alien attacks are superbly orchestrated and you’d need nerves of steel not to do a sitting high jump at least twice in the final 20 minutes. Don’t watch while eating…

(1) Scream
Neve Campbell confidently carries this 1996 classic directed by rejuvenated horror maestro Wes Craven from Kevin Williamson’s razor sharp script. Scream is a blackly hilarious self-aware dissection of the clichés of slasher movies which is also simultaneously a genuinely brilliant slasher flick filled with gory attacks and jump out of your seat moments. Williamson’s delicious dialogue is brought to memorable life by an ensemble cast on truly top form, including star-making turns from Jamie Kennedy, David Arquette, Rose McGowan and Skeet Ulrich. Enjoy, oh, and please do remember, “Movies don’t create psychos, they just make psychos more creative…”

September 28, 2011

Graham Greene Festival 2011

I’m off to Graham Green’s birthplace Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire for the Graham Greene Festival 2011, which takes place this weekend. I’ve won the thriller category of this year’s creative writing awards for my short story ‘Dieu et Mon Droit’ but this festival, which is only a half-hour train ride from London, is well worth the attention of any Greene fans in the Home Counties as it has a very interesting line up of talks and screenings, including Rowan Joffe introducing his recent Brighton Rock film and the book launch by Dermot Gilvary and Darren Middleton of Dangerous Edges of Graham Greene.

Thursday 29 September
Exhibition: Illustrations from Greene’s books for children
15.30 – 16.30 A Festival Event for Berkhamsted School’s Sixth Form
Old Hall, Berkhamsted School
Sixth-form event with Neil Sinyard speaking to English A-level students.
This event includes the announcement of the titles for the GGBT Creative Writing Awards for 2012.
17.30 – 19.30 Social Gathering and Buffet Supper at The Gatsby
Two courses and coffee with a vegetarian alternative. Please order on the Ticket Application Form and pay by Friday 23 September if you intend to be present.
Cost: £15.
19.45 – 21.30 Film Night at The Rex Cinema
Film: Brighton Rock
111 mins; UK; Director Rowan Joffé. Starring Andrea Riseborough, Sam Riley, Helen Mirren. Classification: 15.
Introduced by Rowan Joffé
Cost: £8

Friday 30 September
Talks at the Town Hall, Berkhamsted
Morning Session
9.30 – 10.30 Christian Hofferbert
“Godless Greene – Changing Extremes in Greene’s Work”
10.30 Break for tea and coffee
11.00 – 12.00 Prof. François Gallix
“Graham Greene’s Books for Children”
Cost: £10.00
12.00 noon Break for Lunch
Afternoon Session
14.15 – 15.15 Martin Jenkins
“At last The Blue Plaque”
Tim Bentink
“How Greene was My Childhood”
15.15 Break for tea and coffee
15.45 – 16.45 Julian Clapp
“Brighton Rock Locations”
Cost: £10.00
Evening Session: Civic Centre, Berkhamsted
19.30 – 22.00 Film: Brighton Rock (1947)
92 minutes, UK, 1947 , starring Richard Attenborough and Carol Marsh. Classification: PG. With an introduction by Quentin Falk who will also lead a discussion afterwards.
Cost: £8.00

Saturday 1 October
Talks and Events in Deans’ Hall, Berkhamsted School
Morning Session
9.30 – 10.30 Prof. Cedric Watts
“Brighton Rock, Janus and Proteus”
10.30 Break for tea and coffee
11.00 – 12.00 Prof. Joyce Stavick
“The Not-so-Quiet Americans: University Students Speak Out as Greene Film Critics”
Cost: £12
12.00 noon. Break for Lunch
Afternoon Session
14.15 – 15.15 Prof. Michael Brennan
“Faith and Authorship in the early Novels”
15.15 Break for tea and coffee
15.45 – 16.45 Lee Langley
“Traps and Escapes”
Cost: £12
Early Evening Session
18.15 – 18.30 Book Launch
Dermot Gilvary and Darren Middleton present: Dangerous Edges of Graham Greene
18.30 Birthday Toast
Andrew Bourget
18.45 – 19.45 Prof. Steve Chibnall
“Problems with Pinkie: Adapting Brighton Rock for the screen, 1947 and 2010”
Cost: £10
Late Evening Session
20.00 The Bourget-Greene Gala Dinner
(sponsored by Andrew Bourget, Graham’s eldest grandson)
Four courses with wine and coffee.
Followed by Ed Reardon
A Short Talk
Cost: £28

OR

Saturday 1 October Alternative Event
9.30 – 16.45: A Creative Writing Workshop in Deans’ Hall, Berkhamsted School
A practical one-day course which should suit aspiring adult writers of all ages
There will be one group, except for an afternoon session when delegates can select Prose Fiction OR Screenplay.
The day will include professional writers’ introductions to two disciplines (in which Graham Greene excelled), shared considerations of sample materials and the opportunity to write creatively in one of the genres.
Delegates will need to bring their own writing paper and pens or pencils.
There will be breaks for tea or coffee, but lunch is not included.
The event includes breaks and attendance at Lee Langley’s talk.
Cost: £30
The Workshop will be led by Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone, whose first novel was Home (Social Disease, 2008); she teaches Creative Writing at City University (London), and she is a partner of Apis Books, an independent publishing company for shorter fiction; and William Ivory, who wrote the screenplay for Made in Dagenham (UK, 2010), which was nominated for a BAFTA Award; and The Sins, for which he won The Edgar Allan Poe Award in New York presented by The Crime Writers Association of America for Best TV Drama Series. Advance booking is essential to guarantee a place on the Creative Writing Workshop.

Sunday 2 October
Talks in Newcroft, Berkhamsted School
Morning Session Only
9.00 – 9.45 David Pearce
Founding Trustee and former director of the Festival: who better to show you around?
Prior registration is essential.
Tour of School
10.00 – 11.00 Dr Bernard Ineichen
“Spies, Lies and Dangerous to Believe—espionage in the writings of Norman Lewis and Graham Greene.”
11.00 Break for tea and coffee
11.30 – 12.30 Prof. Neil Sinyard
“All writers are equal but some writers are more equal than others”
Cost: £12
12.45 – 14.00 Farewell Lunch in Old Hall, Berkhamsted School
Buffet lunch with wine
Tickets: £20

July 12, 2011

Midnight Tango

Following from on my highlighting of one-off performance films during the Dublin Dance Festival here’s a more mainstream one-off dance on film event.

Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace have lit up six seasons of the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing with their stunning Tango routines and have now created their own live stage show – Midnight Tango – which brings the drama, sensuality and elegance of the most exciting of dance forms to life. Set in a late night bar in downtown Buenos Aires, and featuring some of the finest Tango dancers in the world, Midnight Tango unfurls thru dance a story of danger and excitement, joy and jealousy, pain and passion.

Midnight Tango is produced by their Strictly cohort, choreographer Arlene Phillips, and is currently playing a sold out 80 date tour at venues across Britain having shifted 160,000 tickets. The Manchester Evening News’ reaction of “Quite simply breathtaking to watch” is typical of its critical reception and the show will run in the West End for 10 weeks from January 2012, barring any injuries to Simone and Cacace who begin training for a 7th run of Strictly Come Dancing in the next few weeks.

Midnight Tango is to be broadcast live from a packed theatre to selected Irish cinema screens for one night only this Wednesday July 13th. Midnight Tango will be transmitted live to four Dublin cinemas: Cineworld, Movies @ Dundrum, Movies @ Swords, and Swan Rathmines. Show starts at 7.30pm and runs for 90 minutes, not including a 20 minute interval. For more information visit the website at www.midnighttango.co.uk.

July 6, 2011

Top 5 Michael Caine Movies

I wouldn’t like to give the impression that I was mean-spiritedly making fun either of Michael Caine or of cockney accents in last week’s sketch, so as a gesture of atonement here’s a Top 5 of my favourite Michael Caine movies. I’ve picked only ones in which he’s the lead.

6

(5) Get Carter
“You’re a big man, but you’re out of shape”, “She was only thirteen”… A movie plundered both by Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan to sharpen their Caine impressions in The Trip, and arguably by Martin Campbell and Daniel Craig to make the last image of Casino Royale iconic. This gritty thriller, which is still director Mike Hodges’ calling card, sees Caine’s implacable London hard-man Jack Carter head north to avenge his brother’s death with a shotgun. Shot in stylish long-takes with a distancing aesthetic this is an imposing British crime movie that loomed over all that followed.

(4) Educating Rita
“There is more insight in the telephone directory…and probably more wit”. Caine’s jaded English professor helps Julie Walter’s discontented housewife better herself thru an adult education course in a sparkling adaptation of Willy Russell’s play, itself almost a spin on Pygmalion. But this Henry Higgins is on a serious downward spiral; drowning in drink and self-pity in equal measures, cheated on by his wife and despising his own volumes of poetry. Caine’s showy role encompasses glorious high verbal comedy and drunken slapstick, as well as the quiet drama of alcoholic misery. This finally won him a BAFTA.

(3) The Quiet American
“Oh, shit” .Caine’s dead-pan delivery of that line is emblematic of his quiet, measured and ultimately devastating performance in Philip Noyce’s 2002 film. This subtle work is arguably the finest adaptation of Graham Greene’s work since the 1940s. Caine plays the archetypal Greene character. His foreign correspondent boasts of simply observing the chaos of 1950s Vietnam and offering no point of view, no political allegiance. An unwelcome romantic rival (Brendan Fraser’s titular do-gooder) and pressure from London to break a story sparks a belated moral engagement with the ethics of American interference, and opposition to it…

(2) Sleuth
“Be sure and tell them it was all just a bloody game!” Joseph L Mankiewicz’s riveting adaptation of Anthony Shaffer’s play sees a rich aged writer invite his young wife’s lover, a cockney hairdresser, to his rural mansion for some vindictive head-games. Caine’s regional accent and film acting technique go head to head with Olivier’s RADA accent and stage acting style in a contest Caine was easily winning till a desperate Olivier produced a moustache… If you want to empirically measure Caine’s acting ability note how Sleuth’s entire structure disintegrates in the remake because Jude Law can’t act.

(1) The Italian Job
“You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” A truly flawless film; from Quincy Jones’ impossibly catchy original soundtrack and the glorious turn by Noel Coward as the imprisoned crime-lord masterminding proceedings, to the implausible gang apparently composed solely of gay aristocrats and cockney wide-boys and the deranged Carry On antics of Benny Hill, and on to the wonderfully staged Austin Mini car-chase and the definitive cinematic cliff-hanger, it’s impossible not to sit back with a smile pasted on your face throughout as Caine motors the whole film along with a performance of winning charm.

May 25, 2011

Hex to Jonah Hex: The Rise of Fassbender

I realise with a shock that I’ve been neglecting Michael Fassbender in this blog, so it’s only right to devote my 100th blog post to the man from Kerry.

Fassbender has risen in just seven years from playing the villain in a Sky One show to playing the nascent super-villain in a keenly anticipated summer blockbuster. Next week will see a piece focusing on my concept of Fassbendering, but this week let’s focus on how he made this journey. Fassbender had appeared in Band of Brothers but arguably first truly came to public consciousness as the actor in that famous Guinness ad at the end of 2003 who dived off the Cliffs of Moher and swam to New York to say “Sorry” to his brother for hitting on the brother’s girlfriend. Characteristically Fassbender ended the ad by grinning and appearing to hit on the brother’s girlfriend again. He then played the resident Big Bad in Sky One’s Buffy homage/rip-off Hex. As fallen angel Azazeal he impressed with dark charisma, cut-glass English accent, and the distinct vibe that he was enjoying this part far too much.

2004 also saw him star in Canadian TV movie A Bear Called Winnie where, as a compassionate vet in the Canadian Army who rescued an orphaned bear cub en route to Britain for WWI, he showed an admirable ability to goof around with the adorable pet bear that would be immortalised as Winnie the Pooh. He then played the first of his continuing series of historical figures in Gunpowder, Treason and Plot as Guy Fawkes, and ended 2004 in Rupert Everett’s BBC TV movie Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking, displaying his fine ability to be ambiguous as the murder suspect that Holmes insists is a killer despite all evidence clearing him. He then had a showy turn as he smoked and drank his way thru After the Funeral in 2006 as a dissolute possible murderer in ITV’s Poirot, before making the jump from TV movie to actual movie, and London to Hollywood; notably later than his contemporaries Colin Farrell and Cillian Murphy.

Fassbender’s ridiculous role as Stelios in Zack Snyder’s bombastic 300 was where things really caught fire. As the film opens with the 300 marching off to battle Fassbender is already grinning, perhaps because he’s realised just how flashy this supporting role is… Stelios is the Spartan who jumps in slow motion to chop off the arm of the Persian who threatens the Spartans with a thousand nation army, “Our arrows will blot out the sun”. Fassbender delivers the famous riposte in a supremely nonchalant manner, and later forms one half of a Spartan Legolas/Gimili style partnership in mayhem and has a slo-mo fight alongside Astinos where they attack and sever Persian limbs left, right and centre. When the Persian mystics are throwing bombs it is Fassbender who runs out, catches one and throws it back, then shelters behind his shield as the arsenal of bombs explodes. Who does something awesome in the denouement to enable Leonidas be even more awesome? Fassbender, of course. Who holds hands with Leonidas for their butch last lines? Fassbender. This is the kind of thing that gets you noticed when your film is an unexpected massive hit.

2008 saw him tackle two more historical figures and also contribute an upsetting turn to stark English horror Eden Lake. I reviewed that film and argued for it as a socio-economic horror as Fassbender and Kelly Reilly’s polite middle-class London couple travel to an idyllic camping spot only to be mercilessly harassed by hoodie-wearing teenagers who steal their jeep, leading to a nigh unwatchable scene where Fassbender’s innocent victim comes up against the gang’s barbed wire and box-cutters. If Fassbender had undercut his 300 image by playing sacrificial lamb to Kelly Reilly’s survivor type he made up for in Channel 4’s Civil War mini-series The Devil’s Whore where he scooped the most dashing role, coveted by Dominic West, as the Levellers’ leader Thomas Rainsborough. He made Rainsborough so charismatic that you could understand why people ignored the contradiction of an aristocrat leading a prototypical socialist movement. The series itself lost momentum after Rainsborough’s tragic demise, which not only underscored Fassbender’s outshining of West and John Simm as leading man, but ironically hammered home the loss to history of the progressive ideas of the Levellers; stifled by Cromwell only to return as demands by the Chartists in the 1840s and actions by Clement Attlee in the 1940s.

Fassbender combined elements of those roles as sacrificial lamb and charismatic leader for his tour de force performance as Bobby Sands in Steve McQueen’s debut film Hunger. I regard Hunger as a biopic so utterly oblique as to de-politicise its subject; indeed in its shocking single depiction of just what it is the IRA does it invalidates all accusations that McQueen and co-writer Enda Walsh are somehow ‘fellow travellers’. Turner Prize-winner McQueen reinvented the possibilities of cinema with a film that could almost be a video installation on how the human body slowly declines into death, and how beauty can be found in the mundane. Fassbender was luminous in his one lengthy scene with dialogue, where he argues with Liam Cunningham’s priest, forcing you to appreciate both his point of view and why men would follow this man out on hunger strike and die for him. Fassbender also emulated his acting hero Daniel Day-Lewis as he lost 14 kilos while playing the part and weighed just 59 kilos by the end of shooting. Writing about it at the time I praised Fassbender’s “awesome commitment to the part in the third act as he just wastes away in front of your eyes. This is a mesmerising performance of insane dedication that should see Fassbender go on to even juicier roles.”

And go on to juicier roles he did, as 2009 saw Fassbender work with two auteurs, and also Joel Schumacher. Tarantino’s riotous rewriting of history, Inglourious Basterds, oddly enough saw Fassbender being one of the few people playing things straight in his supporting role as Lt. Archie Hicox. As a former film critic dispatched behind enemy lines, most of his lines were delivered (allegedly in a Kerry accent initially) in his second language, German, bar glorious exceptions like “There’s a special place reserved in Hell for people who waste good scotch”. He then starred as Connor opposite newcomer Kate Jarvis as Mia in Andrea Arnold’s kitchen sink drama Fish Tank. A bracingly abrasive picture of life on an Essex council estate punctuated by moments of amazing lyrical beauty, Fassbender’s character opens up possibilities for his girlfriend’s two daughters in a stunning pastoral sequence where he gives them the attention and affection their mother denies them, and encourages Mia to channel her simmering rage at her life into focused attempts to escape it thru professional dancing. Arnold has made the most layered use of the possibilities of Fassbender’s ready smile, as his grinning Connor appears at first as the perfect surrogate father before she traumatically reverses that winning charm. This disquieting role emphasised Fassbender’s freedom from leading men’s crippling need to be loved in every role. Schumacher’s Blood Creek meanwhile may well be remembered eventually as the film where Superman and Magneto clash, but that would require that someone in the world sees it first.

In 2010 he reunited with both Dominic West and Liam Cunningham for Neil Marshall’s nonsensical historical British action film Centurion, which all concerned presumably filed under ‘guilty pleasure’. He ended the year in a nonsensical historical American action film as henchman Burke in Jonah Hex. His first appearance in the trailer saw him grinning manically while setting fire to a barn with someone in it, but sadly the film was shredded from its initial intentions. One hopes that Fassbender may eventually get to properly work with the madmen/auteurs behind the Crank films. And that leads us to right now, one week before the release of X-Men: First Class

So, why is Fassbender a personal hero? Obviously some of it has to do with Fassbendering, but it’s also because Fassbender is a genuinely talented actor with an immense range as well as a charming whimsicality. He can play comedy and tragedy, heroes and villains, equally well, and move from blockbuster to art-house, whimsy to avant-garde, with ease. His part as the younger version of Ian McKellen’s Magneto, as he begins the slow and half-justified decent into super-villainy, is one of the performances I’m anticipating most this year. X-Men: First Class, and Soderbergh’s Haywire in August, as well as Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel Promotheus next year, should catapult Fassbender into the genuine leading man status that Colin Farrell so narrowly missed out on through choosing big-name directors working on vanity projects rather than good scripts. Fassbender in addition appears to be about to make the leap without sacrificing his ability to take on interesting roles in smaller films; with roles as Carl Jung (his latest historical figure) in Cronenberg’s drama A Dangerous Method, Rochester in a pared down Jane Eyre, and the lead in a new Steve McQueen film Shame, all of which are due to be released in the same period as the Vaughn, Soderbergh and Scott blockbusters mentioned above.

The Rise of Fassbender is only just beginning…

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