Friday, February 27, 2015

Two films about street urchins in one week. One which I thought (how did this happen?) was a musical for children. The other actually was a musical (of sorts) for children.


And Annie.

Trash was not a musical for children. Stephen Daldry, the Slumdog Millionaire director and a high energy trailer had fooled me into thinking it would be as joyfully uplifting a story. Fooled me to the extent that I bought tickets for the fourteen and a half year old and the TEN year old without a scrap of shame on my face. Only to see with a sort of sick to the pit of my stomach horror when the certificate appeared on screen that the film was rated 15. Still, I thought to myself, 50 Shades of Grey broadened their minds so what harm can this do?? (Joking.) What a marvellously conscientious child sitter I am.  

Trash tells the tale of street urchins who pick out a living on the rubbish heaps of Rio and one day, happen across a wallet with a little money in it and a lot of pieces of innocuous paper that turn out to have mysterious clues. A plot about mayorial corruption is nicely woven together with a plot about the poor and but resourceful street kids dealing themselves some sort of justice in the face of aggressive and affluent opposition. 

It's pretty bloody. Pretty violent. Quite a lot of swearing. No musical numbers. A twisty turny actiony thrillery type movie that the ten year old watched with stoic determination. The two teenagers sobbed through (a bit of mind broadening, I hope). And I cringed through at my hopeless irresponsibility.

I hesitate to give it a glowing review although it's a cracking portrayal of the shitness of life in Brazil with no money and nothing and no-one looking out for you. But it hinges on a whole bunch of plot twists that, if you're being honest, are basically incredible. But if you're after only a grown-up Slumdog, it's just the ticket.  

Annie, on the other hand. My goodness me. 

Now I loved the original. Continue to love the original. Boisterous adorable Annie. Dissolute Miss Hannigan. The louche Rooster played with marvellous swagger by a youthful Tim Curry. Miss Thingummyjiggy peroxide blonde Lily St John or whatever she was called. The suave but endearingly uncertain Daddy W. His buttoned up but yearningly in love PA. This film was packed to the gunnels with stupendous cameos and peppered with cracking musical numbers and joyous grimy dance routines. Who doesn't, on occasion, squeak It's A Hard Knock Life to themselves as they trudge into work?

The remake. Has moments of surprising laugh out loud humour. Made all the more poignant for the guilt you feel in laughing aloud at this awful film.

Its cast is mostly composed of insufferable cliches. With the possible exception of Annie. Who they've turned black to give the film supposed street cred. The urchin kids are mostly endearing. The Daddy W character is turned into a mobile phone mogul (his network never drops a call reportedly - though they never do anything funny with this) who's running for mayor. He's given an additional sidekick for comic effect: a MaxClifford type who advises him on all things image-related. He's a sort of Rooster substitute in the end - but without Tim's casual charm to excuse his bad behaviour. 

And the real travesty is Miss Hannigan. She is still drunk. Still mean. Still man hungry. But she's turned into a foster carer for a much smaller pack of kids living in Brooklyn in a pretty nice apartment by most people's standards (if she kept it tidy). Quite bad decision two: the climactic plot is foiled because she TURNS GOOD. But worse much worse than all of that, someone thought (and she probably petitioned extremely hard to be cast) that Cameron Diaz would be a great choice as the frayed around the edges Annie-hating beeyatch from hell. 

A word to the casting director. She was not.

The trouble, I think, lies with Cameron's physiognomy. You look at her face - she's beautiful - you want to smile at her. You don't look at her and think 'she's a poisonous witch who would take joy from these children's misery'. I don't, anyway. So even when she gets a proper run at it, as the fast-paced script allows scant opportunity for characterisation, such as with the delicious "Little Girls" (less delicious as it appears to have been horribly rewritten), her bitchery is frankly unconvincing. 

Daddy Warbucks has become someone who is hateful because of his association with mobile phones rather than his fundamental dislike of people. His PA woman does nothing for the feminist cause. She just drifts around being efficient. A witchy public records admin woman (who turns almost nice when transformed by Daddy W's unarguable wealth) adds some (limited) nastiness to the film. But it's really intolerance rather than out and out unpleasantness.

Anne is cute. Feisty. Stoically optimistic. In love with tomorrow. But poor Annie. One small girl, a not curly haired dog (oversight) and a succession of increasingly ridiculous song and dance numbers does not (in this instance) a film make. It's just about worth going to see for the soundtrack which manages to weave overtones of the Hard Knock Life and Loving Tomorrow in amongst about everything. 

But unless you're a real devoted fan, this film is hardly worth the celluloid it's printed (pressed?) on. 

Having said all of that, I still ended up weeping at the moment of re-unification. Soft hearted fool.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Davie Grieg, who had the good fortune to go to university in Bristol with Sarah Kane (and subsequently, count her amongst his friends), tweeted a link to this article about her work yesterday.

It made me very much regret not looking up this imminent revival in Sheffield. B S Neill did his best to get me there. And I thought Sheffield? Why would I want to? And Another staging, maybe not a very good one, of 4:48 Psychosis? Why would I want to?

Feeling quite a bit rueful about that now.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Testament of Youth was a book which (if I remember rightly) sat in the communal bathroom at the home of my youth atop the tumble dryer. Or maybe it was the bookcase on the landing. But I always clocked its fatness (would or wouldn't it be worth it?) and its sombre title and didn't pick it up. 

And now they've made it into a film. An incredibly good-looking film. The tale of Vera who wanted to be afforded the same treatment as her dishevelledly boyishly handsome brothers and sulked and shunned her piano until permitted to sit the exam for Somerville College at Oxford. Everything was going swimmingly until war inconsiderately broke out (damn that Gavrilo Princip), her brothers (I could never quite tell how many brothers she had) and their dear friend eagerly enrolled. And off they went to the trenches.

The next bit will be familiar to everyone who's watched any sort of war film. Mud, rain, barbed wire, shells, gas, wistful boyish faces gazing at the sky from the midden that is the home of this peculiarly masochistic form of warfare. Lots of bad stuff happens. Vera realises that war is despicable and her faith in the world's capacity for good is ruined. The end. 

It's a cracking story. A horrific story. A true story. And one replicated millions of times around Europe in 1918. I must see if the book is still sitting in the family home and finally peel open its covers.

But the film bugged me somehow. Vera was gorgeous. Alicia Vikander does do an outstanding job. The brothers / friends / lovers / parents / tutors all beautiful. The family home is beautiful. Obviously, Oxford is. The countryside is all oh to be in England which makes the mud and the filth and the guts in France all the more poignant.

It was a middle class story and of course, it had to be, or she wouldn't have written it down. And it felt like a middle class film. She's bright. She could be brilliant. She's about to be brilliant - then the nasty old war gets in the way. And it forces her to consider that other things than books matter.

B S said it felt like a Merchant Ivory film - and this is the best summary of my vague ambivalence. War isn't beautiful. Loss - of entire generations - isn't beautiful. Life is beautiful. But A Very Long Engagement captured that balance a little better in my humble opinion.

Then I read that The Telegraph liked it. "Stirring", they said. And poor film, poor brilliant Alicia, that was the nail in its coffin.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

I love Stephen Sondheim.

I love Into The Woods.

I was always going to have a lot of time for the new film version, star-studded cast or no.

But in the event, I confess to feeling slightly cheated by it.

I've puzzled over whether this was a consequence of my usual trick of expecting to LOVE something and then feeling vaguely let down.

But in fact, I approached this film with pragmatism because of the all star cast. All stars are all very well. But can they sing Sondheim?

So I conclude that I do just feel vaguely cheated.

It started with rousing vigour. As does the stage show. A cacophonous calamity or fairy tales crunched together leaving almost no room to breathe.

This first section has much wow factor. James Corden. Emily Blunt. Thingummyjiggy (sorry, lady) Jack's mum. Jack! (Les Mis?) Meryl! Skinny little girl who gets all the roles where you have to look smart and so not too attractive (even though she's actually perfectly gorgeous as soon as you slet her be) [Anna Kendrick - I just looked her up] as Cinders. And then the wolf appears and - be still my beating heart - it's Johnny!

So the witch sets the childless couple the challenge (the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, the slipper as pure as gold) and off they go. Via the two daft but handsome Princes, the mother-hating turreted recluse, the feisty cake snatcher, Jack's long suffering mother, some village people, a wicked stepmother, a pair of stupid stepsisters and a giant or two.

It's a rollicking story.

And all credit to the cast. With a score that must be outwith many people's comfort zones, on film - so you can away with far less from a sound point of view I suspect - they do an exceptional job.

There are numerous song highlights (though remember, I love love love this music). You Are Not Alone made me weep. There's a lovely wistful song riddled with metaphor about big tall terrible giants at your door. Meryl's heartbroken Stay With Me to slutty Rapunzel is mesmerising. Children Will Listen. Well, hah. If only they would. And I don't know how much he got paid for Hello Little Girl but every cent was worth it.

The trouble possibly lies with the plot which, after the rollercoaster set up, settles into basically a chase through the woods. And oddly, I found this easier to watch / more absorbing / more fun on stage when they're clearly not running around trying to find each other amidst extensive trees. In the film version, it's like the trees suck the energy out of the story somehow.

OR I didn't care enough about James and Emily gathering their various bits and pieces in order to claim their prize for my interest, music notwithstanding, to be gripped and grasped until the sorrowful but ultimately courageous climax of the film.

Either way, it's a fun couple of hours with some outstanding acting. Fabulous costumes. Excellently accomplished singing. But I'd see the stage show every time.

And I did prefer Jonathan McG to Daniel Huttlestone.