After an inexplicable accident, a biker in future Tokyo is
taken by the military for experimenatation. Few films work so hard to blow your
mind – if the cosmic existentialism doesn’t do it, the explosive sound and
intense visceral action will. So relentless it’s hard to endure, Akira is truly
Day of Wrath (1943) Thorkild Roose, Lisbeth Movin, Sigrid
Neiiendam, Preben Lerdorff Rye, Albert Hoeberg. Dir: Carl Theodor Dreyer.
A woman falls for her elderly husband’s son while starting
to suspect she maybe a witch. Atmospheric, complex movie, which suggests the
notion of witchcraft comes from sexual repression and men’s fear of desire.
Gently paced, broodingly intense, and shot with a simple, subtle elegance, this
is masterful individual filmmaking.
The Omega Man (1971) Charlton Heston, Anthony Zerbe, Paul
Koslo, Rosalind Cash, Eric Laneuville. Dir: Boris Sagal.
After a plague wipes out humanity, one healthy man remains,
persecuted by a cult of diseased fanatics. A lone man hunted scenario ought to
create a feeling of discomfort and suspense, but the emotional content is
undermined by gung-ho direction and exciteable scoring. It’s action packed, but
that’s counterproductive to the concept.
Vampyr (1932) Julian West, Maurice Schutz, Rena Mandel, Jan
Hieronimko, Sybille Schmitz, Rena Mandel. Dir: Carl Theodor Dreyer.
A wanderer meets a man who predicts his own death and whose
daughter is a vampire’s victim. Brilliant ghostly fantasy, soaked in startling
gothic imagery. Dreyer develops an unsettling dream like atmosphere rather than
a coherent narrative – just turn out the lights and experience a nightmare
unlike any other.
Son of Kong (1933) Robert Armstrong, Helen Mack, Frank
Reicher, John Marston, Victor Wong. Dir: Ernest B. Schoedsack.
Denham and crew sail away from prosecution, but return to
Kong’s island to seek treasure. In cinemas 9 months after Kong and it shows. The
humans weren’t that interesting before, and aren’t interesting enough to carry
this for the long trip back. And who wants a cuddly Kong? Forgettable nonsense.
An executive recruiter and art thief accidentally picks a
very dangerous target. Gripping non-gloomy Scandinavian thriller that mixes
suspense with black humour and takes a satisfying swipe at the amoral corporate
class. Ingenious set-pieces excite, although a tendency to be too gruesome
jars, and the ending breaches credulity. Very satisfying.
Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) Roddy McDowall,
Kim Hunter, Bradford Dillman, Natalie Trundy, Eric Braeden, Sal Mineo, Ricardo
Montalbán. Dir: Don Taylor.
The ape scientists escape their world’s destruction and
travel back to 20th century earth. The Apes films were always humorous, but
here it over-indulges, detracting from its dark themes – two societies facing
their failings, unable to prevent their destruction. Reduced budget prevents
thrills, though the ending’s as devastating as ever.
Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948) Joan Fontaine, Louis
Jourdan, Mady Christians, Marcel Journet. Dir: Max Ophüls.
A rogue receives a letter from a woman he barely remembers,
but whose life he transformed. Hankies on standby; this weepie keeps its
melodrama in check with elegant brush-strokes and by not sugar-coating the
cruel tragedy at its centre – a life spent chasing a false fantasy. Hollywood
at its best.
The West End is filled will easy-money big stage productions
of Hollywood hits, but at least The Ladykillers is slightly more risky material.
Stories like Singin’ in the Rain and Top Hat are feel-good box office slam-dunks
that you’d have to stage pretty sloppily not to hit the mark. But few West End
headliners can claim to revolve around a gang of crooks and their inability to
murder a kind old lady.
60 years on, The Ladykillers has lost none of its dark comic
charm. It’s a very British film; one about flawed characters who are failures -
villains who aren’t good at being villains. Graham Linehan, of Father Ted and
IT Crowd fame, has elected, quite rightly, to avoid the easy route of putting
the film on the stage line for line. Instead, he’s approached this the way a
filmmaker might approach adapting a stage play for the screen and taken the
opportunity to infuse it with new ideas and to explore angles untouched by the
With an expanded running time, Linehan builds the supporting
parts into larger roles with greater comedic opportunities. Professor Marcus’
gang now includes a cross-dresser (Vicar of Dibley’s James Fleet) a pill-popper
(up-and-comer Stephen Wright), an Eastern European with a child-hood fear of
old Ladies (comedian Ben Miller) and a classic old-fashioned dunce (Clive
The crux characters, the Professor (the Thick of It’s Peter
Capaldi) and Mrs Wilberforce (theatre veteran Marcia Warren) remain largely
unchanged. Capaldi is more energetic and slippery than Alec Guiness, but Warren
seems to channel Katie Johnson perfectly, bringing the same harmless, doddery
indomitable innocence that can cause havoc but receive no reproach. They’re the
stars of the piece, for sure, although the ensemble is so perfect, they all
deserve a slice of the credit.
The set is ingenious – a forced perspective interior that
allow us to see the crooks in their room as well as Mrs Wilberforce pottering
about the home, an ever approaching threat to their plans. But the home spins
on its axis allowing us a view of the roof and the bedroom window, where many
of the cast will meet their fate, and the front of the house, where, in one of
the biggest laughs of the piece, the robbery will be played out – as toy cards
running on tracks with police radio broadcasts.
There are many highlights; perhaps the best is the music
concert, in which the crooks’ attempts to play music are successfully passed
off by the Professor as an experimental music piece, leading to an applause-inciting
line about the middle-classes love of fake art. The Ladykillers is a brilliant
night out, and a great alternative to well-staged but artistically dead, money-hoarding
big movie adaptations.
Bingo – New Vic Theatre
A sparsely staged character piece, Bingo centres on Will
Shakespeare in his Twilight years, as he attempts to live a peaceful life in
retirement. His dubious contentment (he is distant to his wife and daughter) is
disrupted by a wealthy local landowner, who wishes to consolidate his lands, moving
away small farms and replacing them with larger operations.
Shakespeare has invested in the local land, and agrees to
support the plans if his income is guaranteed throughout the changes. But of
course, the redistribution of land has a consequence to the people who
currently live there. This leads to violence, causing Shakespeare to reflect negatively
on the moral consequences of his life.
The idea is that as an artist, Shakespeare has led a
comfortable life, a complacent one. That while he practiced his art,
constructed tales and worlds in his theatre, he paid little heed to those
suffering in the world, and the he himself has contributed to that suffering; indirectly
through complacency, and now directly by protecting his interests.He has aimed through his life for his work to
have enriched the lives of men, yet his security has now cost men dearly.
It’s a situation that’s clearly designed to makes us
consider society as a whole, and not just the bard. That capitalism forces
people to behave in ways that are unavoidably self-serving and to the detriment
of others. Shakespeare discovers that his wealth and security have devastating
consequences to the people he knows and cares for. And he also comes to realise,
reflective in his old age, that he has passed these problems onto the next
Throughout the play, he is dismissive and rude to his
daughter, and neglectful and distant from his wife, who remains unseen. Later,
while drunk, Shakespeare simultaneously berates and apologises to his daughter,
who he sees as superficial and grasping, a consequence of his trying to buy her
love. It seems a cruel attack, yet events prove his reproaches to be accurate.
Shakespeare is played by Patrick Stewart, and his
performance is as good as you’d expect. Despite being silent for many scenes,
his resigned posture and weary, frail frame gives him a constant appearance of
mourning, even when he’s actually doing very little.
While there are scenes that amuse (a drunken encounter with
his rival Ben Johnson is particularly entertaining) the whole thing is undeniably
a bit of a drag. It’s an intelligent and insightful play, and performed with a
sensible economy on stage, but its glumness, and downbeat conclusion, leaves
little room for hope. The issues that trouble the bard remain unresolved, and
the suffering and cruelty around him is simply left to go on. An honest end, I
daresay, just not all that fulfilling.
Swallows & Amazons – Vaudeville Theatre
I’m a big fan of Neil Hannon and his Divine Comedy, so this
was pretty much a must for me. An adaptation of Arthur Ransome’s children’s
classic, it might seem troublesome as it involves sail boats and islands and
the outdoors. But it’s actually an ideal production project, because it’s a
celebration of children’s imagination.
The National Theatre sets all its action in what appears to
be an attic, with the children taking objects - bit of wood, streamers, a
lifebelt – and using them to bring their adventures to life. It gives the whole
effort a rather charming, homemade appeal, which is just as well – as if any
parent would allow their children to sail a boat on their own these days!
I’ve always thought Neil Hannon was at best when working
with a touch of literary pretension – as opposed to when he’s being earnest – and
again it shows. His songs are infectious, catchy and often very funny indeed;
his anthem for the Amazon pirates - “raised by our mum on the banks of the Amazon delta/ With only the clouds
and a four-bedroom house for shelter” - is a particularly memorable
toe-tapper. But there’s no grand orchestrations, the songs are arranged simply
for a small band in keeping with the plays rather intimate presentation.
The kids are all played by rather youthful looking
grown-ups, which doesn’t jar with proceedings much, despite the fact the
youngest is also the biggest, and has a beard. Somehow actor Stewart Wright’s
size manages to make his strops, his shyness and clumsiness that touch more
Although special mention has to go to the gobby Blackett children,
played by Celia Adams and
Sophie Waller, whose foot-stomping, gizzard-bothering Amazons found the most
favour with the audience. They’re probably also a more recognisable character
type for kids anyway, much more relatable than the old-school goodie-two-shoes
Kids are probably the toughest audience to keep fixated, but
with this cosy production, they were engrossed from the off. It was brought off
with warmth and gentle humour, and had respect for the material and never
cocked a sneer at the anachronisms of its time. It’s a wonderful celebration of
the wonder and pleasures of play and imagination, and proof again that kids can
love more, and deserve more, than noisy CGI robots.
is a writer for better and for worse. I got in above my station writing for M&S, but was credit crunched down to writing about sex toys, Viagra and herpes meds. I’m now taking a step back towards legitimacy by writing for JML Direct. I’m awkward and don’t like much.