Archive for July, 2011

In a nutshell: Just like life.

Popcorn rating: 4/5

Every now and then a love story comes along capable of cracking open even the hardest of hearts. It does this, not with longing looks and expensive shoes, nor perfectly coiffed stars squabbling sexily before falling into bed. No. It wins us over simply by telling a story that achives the perfect duality – a piece of fiction that somehow feels just like life. That is Blue Valentine.

A tale in two  parts, Blue Valentine carefully intertwines the break-up of a marriage with the bittersweet memories of first love.

A pretty girl (Michelle Williams) who seems, somehow, broken, and a boy (Ryan Gosling)  on minimum wage, come together not in a whirlwind flash of love but in a subtle, sweet enfolding of two into one. And, as we see their love blossom, we share in those soft moments, a lost couple simply holding one another, uncovering little nothing secrets, tentatively offering a lifeline.

Cloying? Strangely, no. Life in Blue Valentine is too slow moving, too painstakingly real for that.

For this is the story of a couple falling out of love, charting their evolution over a period of years as they become swallowed up in the mundanity of survival, become disillusioned and distant. A worn out wife who wants more from this life and a husband happy he can knock back a beer at 8 in the morning and still go to work. Love, after all, doesn’t last.

The lynchpin of all is, simply, one night which sees the couple heading off for a romantic getaway, an attempt to return to what they once felt, to save a marriage already crumbling.  These scenes, packed full of tension, unspoken disappointment, are the beating heart of the piece, the centre around which memories circle like wolves.

The success of Blue Valentine and, indeed, testament to the unerring excellence of both Gosling and Ryan,  is that you not only care about this couple as a whole but that you feel enough about each as individuals to understand why they act as they do, to not judge.

Blue Valentine isn’t perfect. It has a tendency to portray men in a poor light (the doctor’s overtures seem unnecessary) and, my biggest gripe of all, would anyone trying to save their marriage, really closet themselves for a night in such a depressingly hideous room? Couldn’t they have even gone out to eat? For a walk even?

Flaws aside, this is a film which could easily sink into the mire of melancholia and cliche, yet never does.  Instead we are offered a bittersweet and compelling glimpse into another’s life. Well worth watching.

Reviewer: Curlyshirley

In a nutshell: What fresh hell is this?

Popcorn rating: -1/5

I like to consider myself an even tempered, liberal type – open to new ideas, not one to judge a book by its cover, slow to anger etc. Burlesque, the 2010 musical drama directed by Steve Antin, however, has disabused me off those silly notions. For I can truly say that if I ever have to sit through this unadulterated, insulting to movie viewers,  ridiculous pap I may very well be driven to violence.

Let there be no qualms or queries. This is a terrible movie, nay, this is a truly, utterly, downright dreadful movie. How this piece of celluloid garbage ever had the audacity to get funded, get made and get a  distribution deal shall evermore remain a mystery to me. And I say that, not as a pompous film critic wittering on about the haunting beauty of say, Terrence Malick. No, my dears, I say that as someone who, every now and then, quite likes a bad movie, even the odd chick flick. Hell, I can admit it, I rather enjoyed Miss Congeniality. But even my low standards have limits.

Over the past couple of years burlesque, as in the art form practiced by the lovely Dita Von Teese, has had a bit of a revival. In fact, corsets and feathers and sparkly nipple tassles, is currently somewhat of a staple of dance classes and hen parties across this fair isle and, presumably, the US too. Unashamedly cashing in on this trend comes Burlesque, the “film”. As wanted by absolutely no one at all. Ever. Probably.

Burlesque tells the well worn story of a small town (and, handily, orphan) gal trying to make her way in the glitz and glammer of the big city. Said orphan is Christina Aguilera in a wig, simpering her way through life as the painfully bland Ali. Fed up in Dullsville, off Ali and her wig trot to LA, where she lands herself a job in a burlesque joint run by the hard hearted (but secretly good hearted) Tess, played by Cher’s death mask.

Naturally, almost everybody loves Ali on sight (“she’s good on the inside too”) and soon she lands her dream job on the stage, where even the big dance pieces fail miserably to ignite, though not for lack of Aguilera’s warbling attempts at song. Anyway, angelic Ali  is soon busy battling the baddest burlesque babe in town (a faintly embarrassed Kristen Bell – who is surely so much better than this) and being swept off her feet by the local bad boy with money. Cher’s death mask lurches around in the background as a pseudo mother figure, the token gay character offers sage and humorous advice and the cute barman secretly lusts after Ali – but are they destined to be together forever? Will the dancing folk fend off the evil businessman and save their club? Well, what do you think?

That’s it. That is really it. If you have 119 mins (almost two full hours) of your life to lose, please feel free to watch. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Reviewer: Curlyshirley

In a nutshell: Movie by numbers

Popcorn rating: 3/5

Ah, we all love a good love story don’t we? No, really, we do. Especially when, say, we are 15 and that story is a love triangle starring everyone’s favourite vampire du jour, Robert Pattinson, looking suitably winsome and scruffy, every piece of his gorgeousness saturated in technicolour. In fact, so very beautiful is Water for Elephants that I actually started to think  I quite fancied Mr Pattinson myself; so heroic, so endearing, so consistently on camera was his rugged, handsome face.

Then the movie finished and, akin to waking from a heroin stupor, I recovered my senses and realised that what I had actually endured was, well, kinda boring, in a Sunday afternoon movie kind of way.

Water for Elephants tells the story of veterinary student, Jacob Jankoski (Pattinson) who, disillusioned with life after the death of his parents, takes to the road (or rather the railways) in Depression era US. After accidentally falling in with a travelling circus, Jankoski finds himself taken under the wing of circus boss and unstable control freak, August (Christoph Waltz, who can be seen not bothering to stretch his acting chops very much in similar roles in Inglourious Bastards and The Green Hornet).

All is going swimmingly until Jankoski finds himself increasingly drawn to August’s enigmatic and (handily) drop dead beautiful missus, Marlena (Reece Witherspoon), a golden haired goddess who regularly drapes herself in such finery as to give argument to the fact her wardrobe and hair alone may have actually caused the Depression.

So far, so blah, blah. Throw in an elephant to give doe-eyed Jankoski and the tragic Marlena summat to bond over and mad old August something to beat up, so the audience knows exactly who are the goodies and baddies in this movie and there you are, Bob’s your uncle. Beginning, middle and oh so predictably happy ending. Yawn, sorry – did I just nod off?

Sure, Water for Elephants isn’t a bad film. Pattinson holds his own, exuding a sweet charm as the naive hero, no mean feat when he is rarely off screen, and Witherspoon is a seasoned enough actress to hold up her side of the bargain. Even Waltz does a plausible enough job of replacing Christopher Walken as everybody’s favourite  psycho (and who can blame him, when it’s bringing in the Hollywood bucks) while the rest of the cast comport themselves accordingly, wringing out emotions and laugh as and when required.

The movie looks absolutely stunning too. From the sheer vibrancy of the colours to the pitch perfect lighting (seriously Witherspoon almost glows at certain points), Water for Elephants truly is a feast for the eyes.

Unfortunately, like so many pretty people out there, Water for Elephants just doesn’t have any substance. It is, let’s be frank here, a bland old love tale, predictable, even boring in parts, an advert for the pretty people that is just all too forgettable. Sorry, what were we talking about?

Reviewer: Curlyshirley

Avenue Q (at The Lowry, Salford)

Posted: July 12, 2011 by davidmrgn in Theatre
Tags: , , , , , ,

In a nutshell: Sesame Street, for grown ups

Popcorn rating: 4/5

Imagine  an adult version of Sesame Street and you’ll have a pretty good idea what to expect from Avenue Q the musical.  Sex, internet pornography, casual racism, questionable sexuality…nothing is off limits to this motley crew living in an American suburb.

It is almost a guilty pleasure to watch these muppet-inspired characters so familiar from your childhood act and sing with a wicked twist. Political correctness is certainly off the table but the story, which is really about friendship, is executed with such warmth and charm it is almost impossible to be offended.

Some of the funniest moments are the uncomfortable truths that form the basis of countless songs.  It was hard not to grin with a guilty smile when the puppets were singing about the satisfaction found at the misfortune of others and that ‘the more you love someone, the more you want to kill them’.

As funny as it is heart warming, Avenue Q tells Princeton’s tale.

He is the newest resident on the block trying to find his purpose and struggling to make his relationship work with Kate Monster.  Along the way, he has to resist the temptations offered by the ‘bad idea bears’ and learn a lesson from ‘Lucy the Slut’.

The show has already had massive success in London’s West End and nothing has been lost in the transition to the Lowry in Salford. Credit goes to the pupeteers who carry the characters around but add such life to the puppets that it is easy to suspend your disbelief.  Avenue Q is nothing short of excellent.

Reviewer: David Morgan