King Charles III – Theatre Review

King Charles III

Imagine if some time in the near future Prince Charles took the throne and if years later Shakespeare wrote a history play about the eventful reign of King Charles III. What you have in your mind right now is the play currently in its final week at the Almeida Theatre in North London. Mike Bartlett takes the place of Shakespeare and has written a modern play in the style of the bard with a contemporary twist and a cast of familiar characters. This is a play in which the Duchess of Cambridge (Lydia Wilson) takes on an almost Lady Macbeth-like role; a sweet but sharp woman nudging her husband towards the crown, and the ghost of Diana (Katie Brayben) stalks the minimalist stage.

The plot is clever and surprisingly relevant; the Queen is dead and Charles (Tim Pigott-Smith) is the new Monarch awaiting coronation. In his first meeting with the current Labour Prime Minister (Adam James) Charles discusses an upcoming Privacy bill that will restrict the freedom of the press and protect the general public from intrusion. The vote has already been taken in Westminster and the bill has been passed but Charles has his doubts and, after some manipulation from the Conservative leader (Nicholas Rowe), exercises the Royal Assent; the power every monarch has to veto a parliamentary bill but which hasn’t been used for well over a century.

With Charles demanding parliament reconsider the bill the Prime Minister refuses and takes this as a direct affront to democracy. Soon government is sparring with the royal family, the Windors are fighting amongst themselves, and the country is divided between republicans and royalists. Prince Harry (Richard Goulding) wants out of the family altogether to be with his new love Jess (Tafline Steen), who is suffering from press intrusion herself, Prince William (Oliver Chris) is torn between loyalty to his father and his country, and both he and Charles find themselves visited by the veiled spectre of the people’s Princess.

King Charles III - Tim Pigott-Smith

The conceit of the play, that of what would happen if the monarchy actually exercised their rights as head of state, forces the audience to consider what is the bigger sacrifice; Britain losing its monarchy or weakening its democratic status by allowing the royals to force government to rethink its decisions. The whole issue is made all the more current with the recent uproar that resulted when Prince Charles dared to express a negative opinion of Putin when he likened the Russian leader to Hitler last week. Should the royal family be forced to stay silent on political issues or do they have the freedom of speech we all enjoy, and how influential should their opinion be? Arguably this isn’t a hard decision for most people so perhaps the real question is whether there is a role for royals in modern society at all.

Alongside all this thought-provoking theatrics is a thoroughly enjoyable play. Whilst imitating the flow of a Shakespearian classic King Charles III plays with the form with the aid of a cheeky sense of humour and the result never feels anything less than fresh, engaging, and energetic. The cast are all superb and their characterisations of familiar faces help us to see the people that stand behind the pomp and circumstance. There was laughter, there were tears, and when all was said and done my mind was racing from an excellent evening at the theatre.

This was my first visit to the Almeida Theatre but it won’t be my last. In a space as intimate as at my beloved Donmar the audience is never far from the action and, sitting in the second row, we often found ourselves in the midst of a scene.

King Charles III is a timeless play that was both classical and contemporary and reminded me just how good theatre can be. Superb stuff.

King Charles III closes at the Almeida this Saturday and is all sold out but is getting a West End transfer to the Wyndham’s Theatre for September and October of this year with tickets going on sale soon from the Almeida website.

Out Now – 24th May 2014

X-Men Days of Future Pat

X-Men: Days of Future Past
Following on from events in X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men: First Class, and The Wolverine this is one film with a lot of loose ends to tie up and from the sounds of things the result is a little messy. As superhero franchises go though the X-Men are given a lot of slack and despite three disastrous films out of the six released so far anticipation for this ultimate mutant mash-up remains incredibly high.

Not sure I follow this but “after a bad blind date, a man and woman find themselves stuck together at a resort for families”. Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler team up for their third romantic comedy together. My only real experience with them as a duo was while watching 50 First Dates on a plane with no sound and that’s as far as I am willing to go.

Postman Pat: The Movie
“A veteran postman finds his beliefs challenged after he enters a TV talent show competition.” That’s right, Pat abandons his post (PUN INTENDED) to enter an X-Factor-style singing competition while robots take over his old job. In order to keep my childhood memories untarnished I will be steering clear.

Fading Gigolo
John Turturro writes and directs a sex comedy within which he has given himself the starring role of a man who late in life finds employment as a gigolo with Woody Allen as his pimp. With clients including Sharon Stone this may well just be a window into Turturro’s wildest fantasies.

Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return
One horrible looking computer animated instalment in the long and meandering Oz franchise. If I were you I would stay well away and just watch Return to Oz instead.

Run & Jump
The extraordinary Maxine Peake stars alongside SNL-alum Will Forte in a drama about a woman who is forced to take charge of her family after her husband suffers a stroke and a personality change. Forte in the American doctor who comes to investigate the unusual case. Forte as a comedic actor can be a little trying but Nebraska showed us that he is much more sympathetic when he turns his sights to drama.

The Punk Singer
“A look at the life of activist, musician, and cultural icon Kathleen Hanna, who formed the punk band Bikini Kill and pioneered the “riot grrrl” movement of the 1990s.”

Mexican drama in which “Heli, a factory worker in rural Mexico must try to protect his young family when his 12-year-old sister inadvertently involves them in the brutal drug world when she agrees to look after some cocaine found by her older boyfriend. When the drug cartel want their drugs back they go after the boyfriend and Heli’s young family.” Kermode loved it but described this as difficult to watch. Judging by the BBFC report sex, rape, genital mutilation and sadistic violence are all on the cards.

Beyond the Edge
It has been 60 years since Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary climbed Everest, this film dramatises that feat. So there.

Top Dog
Martin Kemp (yes, that one) has directed a British crime drama. Apparently he directed a horror film four years ago. Who knew? Suffice it to say that he is making films that no one is talking about.

“A saga of revenge undertaken by a son for his father’s name and his kingdom.”

Matt Thorne – Interview

8 Minutes Idle

Back in February the dark British indie comedy 8 Minutes Idle had a limited release in UK cinemas. For anyone that missed it on the big screen the little film that could is out on DVD from 26th May 2014. (You can also by the original novel right now by co-screenwriter Matt Thorne which is in my opinion the superior version). While you’re waiting on your copy of the DVD why not give our exclusive interview with author and screenwriter Matt Thorne another read? Matt answered my questions on writing, film-making, and of course his favourite carbs…

What is your favourite carb?
Bread. I eat far too much bread. In fact I eat bread for every meal if possible
What’s the first thing you ate this morning?
I didn’t have any breakfast this morning so the first thing I ate was some whitebait which I know sounds odd
What’s the first thing you said this morning?
I was talking to my children. They came in to say that they hope that the premiere went well
If you could be any stationery product what would you be and why?
A pen
If you were to die tomorrow who would you like to punch in the face before you go?
Whoever was the cause of me dying tomorrow

And now for the real interview: Continue reading

Out Now – 16th May 2014

The Two faces of Godzilla

If you want to be entertained by a good old-fashioned monster movie then you can’t do much better than the latest iteration of Godzilla.It’s a whole lot of fun and Godzilla itself is ridiculously big. I bloody loved it! And did I mention the beast is BIG? Here the word big is rampaging through my text like Godzilla through the world.

In Secret
Sharing Elizabeth Olsen with Godzilla and not a lot else this period drama is focussed on a young woman trapped in a marriage. The “sexually repressed beautiful young woman” then embarks on an affair with one of her husband’s friends. The illicit relationship must be kept… In Secret.

The Two Faces of January
Sharing Oscar Isaac with In Secret this thriller allows you the rare opportunity of having a triple bill cinema experience in which you can play a form of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Bonus points for going home and watching A History of Violence with Viggo Mortensen (who is in The Two Faces of January) and William Hurt, Love with William Hurt and Sean Penn, and Mystic River with Sean Penn and Kevin Bacon. BOOM!

After suffering a concussion a wife and mother decides to pack it all in and become an escort for female-only clients. This is the art house version of that synopsis so expect less crude jokes and gratuitous nudity than if it had been turned into a romantic comedy starring Cameron Diaz. Less exploitation more exploration.

Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey
“A documentary on Arnel Pineda, who was plucked from YouTube to become the new singer for the rock & roll band, Journey.” You know Journey, they sang a cover of that song from Glee or something? #justkidding #dohashtagsevenworkinthemiddleofapostonthissite #hashtaghumouristhebest #meta tag

Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist
Documentary exploring the life and death of renowned cyclist and drug addict Marco Pantani. “This is the story of the tragic battles fought by the most important Italian cyclist of his generation; man verses mountain, athlete verses addiction, Marco Pantani verses himself.”

An Autumn Afternoon
BFI re-release of the 1960s Japanese drama about an aging widower arranging a marriage for his daughter. My interest is piqued.

Touchy Feely
Writer and director of the underexposed Your Sister’s Sister Lynn Shelton is back with a film about a massage therapist who develops an aversion to human contact. With a cast including Rosemarie DeWitt, Ellen Page, and Allison Janney this might be worth hunting out during its limited release.

A Touch of Sin
The answer to the question, “how much sin would you like with your tea?” Or rather “Four independent stories set in modern China about random acts of violence.”

Godzilla – Trailer, Trailer, & Trailer


As a Friday afternoon distraction I’ve been watching Godzilla trailers and enjoyed the varying tone, special effects quality, and typeface that typifies the era they were produced in. The 1954 trailer in particular has some gorgeous lettering while the 2014 edition has the prettiest visuals overall. As for the class of 1998… well it certainly entertained me at the time.

Enjoy the journey through a very selective, and admittedly Western, view of Godzilla history.

Godzilla – 1954 – Ishirô Honda

Highlight: “Dynamic Violence!”

Godzilla – 1988 – Roland Emmerich

Highlight: The bouncing cars as Godzilla approaches.

Godzilla – 2014 – Gareth Edwards

Highlight: The red flares. The music. The whole damn thing.

Godzilla – Film Review

Godzilla 4

The history of Godzilla goes back to 1954 when a Japanese film was released featuring a fire breathing dinosaur-like colossus rampaging its way through Tokyo. The film was a huge hit and acted as a scathing morality tale about the horrors that the country suffered during Atomic bombings in World War II.

Sadly my personal history of Godzilla only goes back to 1998 when an American film was released featuring a giant T-Rex that somehow manages to hide in downtown Manhattan. The film was negatively received and a potential trilogy was abandoned. This iteration was perfect for the ten-year-old me who saw the film in the cinema but subsequent viewing revealed it for the astonishing Matthew Broderick starring mess it was. This particular Godzilla was just a bit of fun, some light entertainment for a Sunday afternoon in front of the TV but nothing more than that.

The history of 2014’s Godzilla goes back to 2010 when British visual effects whiz Gareth Edwards released his debut feature as writer and director; Monsters. The film was a small story about two people trying to get back to America from Mexico in a time when the American border has been turned into a quarantine zone filled with extraterrestrial creatures. Working on a micro-budget, and creating his own visual effects, Edwards demonstrated a great visual eye and an ability to put characters first ahead of relying on the, admittedly excellent, CGI beasts. The question going into Godzilla is whether Edwards can learn from Roland Emmerich’s mistakes and make a film worthy of the 1954 original utlising the talents he showcased in Monsters.

Godzilla Still 7

On most fronts Edwards’ Godzilla is hugely successful. The sheer scale, bulk, and scope of both the monster and its setting is frankly jaw-dropping. Godzilla is big. I mean BIG. Seriously though, Godzilla is BIG. The press notes alone were over 40 pages long; everything about this film is done on a bigger scale than I have seen in a cinema before. In what is a film with a relatively serious tone the only laughter I allowed myself (aside from a few amusingly convenient plot contrivances) was when I just had to giggle at the spectacle of what I was seeing on screen. It was just plain ridiculous. Ridiculous and sublime. And BIG. As the chaos got more and more chaotic I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself and shake my head in disbelief – a wonderful thing to be able to do at the cinema I’m sure you will agree.

With Godzilla as his second film Edwards is displaying some serious chops when it comes to a striking visual. While initially being coy about showing us the titular creature he is sure to give us our eyeful of monolithic prehistoric riotous beast before the film is done. When we aren’t feasting on creature visuals the film is littered with gorgeous photography filled with gloomy smoke, looming shadows, and this film’s signature red hue. While the 1998 Godzilla was a lumbering mess this is a gorgeous piece of cinema with endless treats for the eyes that need to be seen on the big screen. While I’m not going to be plugging the IMAX or 3D experience I really do think that this is a film that deserves a large cinema screen with loud speakers surrounding you.

Godzilla Still 4

All that Godzilla lacks, something Monsters had in spades, is intimacy. While we follow the action through the experiences of a soldier (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and his family (Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, and Juliette Binoche) the characters are rarely seen together so their disparate experiences don’t tie together in a satisfying way. The superb cast list is rounded out by Sally Hawkins and Ken Watanabe as Godzilla experts but they too feel a little underserved. The fact that I didn’t care who lived and who died is definitely a flaw but at the end of the day this is a story on a global scale with a large monster as its star. If you want a more intimate story about a big beasty might I suggest both Cloverfield and The Host? Both are films that take their stories down a notch to give a real human experience amongst the madness of a monster movie.

Godzilla is a big and beautiful film that knows what it needs to deliver to impress its audience. Special effects can so often leave me numb and disconnected but Edwards has a way of dealing with fantastical scenes to make them seem real and grounded. Both Godzilla and Godzilla have a real heft to them and the idea of a gargantuan creature and its effect on mankind is taken as seriously as is possible.

When the film was over my heart was pounding and I let out a quiet “bloody hell”. For well crafted spectacle you can’t do much better than Godzilla. There is room alongside the smaller, independant fare to enjoy big meaty blockbusters and I only wish they were all as good as this was.

Godzilla is in UK cinemas from today.

Film4 Summer Screen at Somerset House 2014

Summer Screen at Somerset House 2014

It’s that time of year again where I say “It’s that time of year again” (Exhibit A, Exhibit B) and encourage you all to take your film viewing outside this summer to sit/lie in the courtyard of Somerset House and watch one of the films that Film4 have selected.

It’s been a few years since I made the trip down to watch a film under the stars but thoroughly enjoyed myself when I did. You can read about my experience and the vital tips I learned along the way in my Somerset House Survival Guide. SPOILER ALERT: Food, layers, and a cushion are essentials.

Tickets go on sale this Friday 16th May from the Somerset House website and the full line-up for this tenth anniversary year of screenings can be found below.

Two Days, One Night
Thursday 7th August 2014

Rosemary’s Baby
Friday 8th August 2014

A Fistful of Dollars / Mad Max 2
Saturday 9th August 2014

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Sunday 10th August 2014

Sense and Sensibility
Monday 11th August 2014

Annie Hall
Tuesday 12th August 2014

20,000 Days on Earth
Wednesday 13th August 2014

The Great Beauty
Thursday 14th August 2014

Hairspray / Spring Breakers
Friday 15th August 2014

Ghostbusters / Big Trouble in Little China
Saturday 16th August 2014

The Royal Tenenbaums
Sunday 17th August 2014

The 400 Blows
Monday 18th August 2014

Tenth Anniversary Screening
Tuesday 19th August 2014

What We Do in the Shadows
Wednesday 20th August 2014

There are too many to choose from, I might just have to move in.

Privacy – Theatre Review

Joshua McGuire in Privacy Photo by Johan Persson

I love the Donmar Warehouse as a theatre venue as the small space allows for no bad seats and maximum intimacy; you’re never going to be more than 20 feet from the actors which is a stark contrast to sitting in the third circle of the majority of West End theatres. As fond as I am with the venue I hadn’t managed to see a play there that had really got to me; I’ve seen four or more plays there over the past through years, including the excellent Inadmissible Evidence, but none had given me that special feeling of having seen something new, thought-provoking, and all together special.

This changed a few nights ago when I went to see James Graham’s new play Privacy. A patchwork play consisting of scores of interviews with journalists, politicians, and those in the know is tied together by the presumably partly fictionalised story of the Writer (Joshua McGuire) researching the play under duress the Director (Michelle Terry). As the Writer discovers how we all share too much information through social media, just by having our phones turned on, and simply by what we Google so do the audience and an ensemble cast flit from character to character to deliver verbatim dialogue.

The staging is simple with a few items of furniture providing half a dozen locations, sometimes all at once, and the backdrop is a large screen onto which is projected the digital fingerprints of the audience/the contributors/the world in general. The screen was vital in keeping track of what characters were on stage at any one time as helpful documentary style captions accompanied their appearance and it was also utilised to demonstrate the various discoveries and revelations regarding privacy that the Writer had uncovered. Imagine a giant iPhone showing the recommended purchases on Amazon or the leaked NSA and GCHQ slides being presented to the audience as if in an online surveillance training seminar.

From Amazon to GCHQ Privacy certainly runs the gamut when it comes to organisations accessing our personal data. Some of the quirks of online advertising or how we present ourselves on Facebook are shown as an almost fun quirk. The idea that brands were getting to know us by snooping on our activity generated more surprised laughter than gasps of horror as we all sort of know it’s happening and don’t know whether we approve or not. I should confess here that when not writing here I have another job with the word “data” in the title so perhaps was more aware going in than most. It was when the play turned to the behaviour of government agencies that a chill set in amongst the enraptured audience.

Paul Chahidi and Joshua McGuire in Privacy Photo by Johan Persson

For the most part Privacy has a light, lively air with what could be quite dry facts presented in amusing ways with huge diversity in delivery. Amid all this fun and frivolity is a message about the very real danger of having our privacy invaded. Once we were all suitably amused and relaxed the play pulled the rug from under us and suddenly we weren’t laughing any more. Without going into details the evening ended with me feeling complicit in the very thing we were earlier worrying might be happening to us.

With a strong cast lead by Joshua McGuire and Michelle Terry Privacy leans on its cast to make what could be an unpredictable show really work. The rest of the ensemble cast, Gunnar Cauthery, Jonathan Coy, Nina Sosanya, and (my personal highlight) Paul Chahidi, switch between characters with ease and distinction.

As a whole Privacy is an endless entertaining, informative, scary, and funny evening at the theatre that feels a little too real. It took days for me to stop telling everyone around me as much as I dared about the show and the moment I got home my Facebook profile underwent a minor overhaul. If Privacy lacks anything then it is a real plot beyond someone writing the play itself. There is a last-minute attempt at a narrative but it doesn’t quite come together and, arguably, it wasn’t really needed. The ideas explored within Privacy and the way they are presented are grand enough to stand on their own.

In summary Privacy is the play I have been waiting for and it is essential viewing for anyone whose ever wondered why they see the ads they do online or wondering how much the government, and advertisers, know about what they’ve been up to.

Privacy runs at the Donmar Warehouse until May 31st 2014 and a West End transfer is surely in its future. I urge you to go and see it in this intimate space; in a theatre so small that when the light go up you see the other half of the audience sitting across from you in a manner that feels suddenly violating after the evening’s events. The final batch of £10 Barclays Front Row tickets (your last chance really to see the show) go on sale at 10am tomorrow morning at the Donmar Website.

One last thing… If you are asked if you want to take part, go for it. I did and have no regrets. And remember, “If you have nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear”

Out Now – 9th May 2014

The Frank Rises

Schwarzenegger stars in an action crime drama in which “members of an elite DEA task force find themselves being taken down one by one after they rob a drug cartel safe house.” There are lots of good films on this week so let’s not linger on this one too long…

I’ve immersed myself in the story of this film for weeks so can’t not see it now that it is finally out. Jon Ronson (SUPERB non-fiction writer) co-writes this story which is inspired by his years playing keyboards in Frank Sidebottom’s The Oh Blimey Big Band. Sidebottom’s creator requested than he not tell the real story so the iconic Frank head has been taken on a fictional ride with Fassbender (clothed), Gleeson (junior), and Gyllenhaal (female) in tow. I cannot wait.

The Wind Rises
The final film from Hayao Miyazaki is a must see for any fan of Studio Ghibli, animation, or film in general. For his swan song Miyazaki has chosen to tell the fictionalised biography of the man who designed Japanese fighter planes during World War II. Interesting to see how this goes down in American after the whole Pearl Harbour thing.

Silent Sonata
A dialogue free film about… everything and nothing. In the midst of a war a travelling circus comes across a family in a farmhouse who have suffered from an attack. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before and is a lovely little film that I highly recommend.

Before the Winter Chill
Kristin Scott Thomas is still being French and stars in this drama as a woman who believes her husband is having an affair. What will she uncover as she snoops into his private life? Will Kristen Scott Thomas ever admit that she was born in Cornwall and not the French Riviera?

American Interior
Just going to pop the trailer here and let it speak for itself:

Next Goal Wins
British documentary following the “weakest football team in the world”, that of American Samoa, as they try to regain their dignity and qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Surprisingly I really want to see this film, not least because the American Samoa team features the first transgender player to play international football.

Advanced Style
“Advanced Style examines the lives of seven unique New Yorkers whose eclectic personal style and vital spirit have guided their approach to aging.” It sounds as though Saga and Dove have gotten together to make a film.

The Canyons
The director of American Gigolo and author of American Psycho come together to make a film that stars celebrity train wreck Lindsay Lohan, porn star James Deen, and renowned director Gus Van Sant. What the result will be is anybody’s guess but reviews have not been kind.

Silent Sonata – Film Review

Silent Sonata 1

Much like when I first saw The Fairy back in 2012 I went into the screening of Silent Sonata with low expectations and had a completely wonderful experience. All I knew going into the screening was that I was about to watch a Slovenian film about war that had no dialogue and the side of myself that prejudges everything rolled its eyes and noted the 77 minute running time with relief. More fool me for deciding my level of enjoyment before seeing the film.

Silent Sonata isn’t really a film about war. Certainly not any war in particular. There is a war going on and in the opening scene devastation is unleashed on an isolated farmhouse but the film, helped by lack of dialogue, resists being tied down to any specific location or time. This war could be anywhere in the world in the past century.

Once the initial warfare has died down the farmhouse and its surviving residents are visiting by a passing travelling circus. The family and the circus performers form a tentative union and from there the plot gives way in favour of moments of surreal beauty and intrigue. The performers face down a tank through the medium of an acrobatic contest, a widower grieves for his wife, two children decorate the bodies of fallen soldiers, and the circus gives one stunning performance to their small audience. This is not a film that can by synopsised; it is a series of perfect, unique moments that have to be seen to be appreciated.

Silent Sonata 2

With no dialogue to distract or explain I found myself completely engrossed in the visuals, the music, and all other sounds. For a film like this to work you really have to give yourself over to it and despite my initial hesitation it wasn’t hard to be won over by the striking balletic performances and consistently surprising scenes. This really is a film that needs to be seen to be appreciated, this is perhaps why I am struggling to find the words to explain why I enjoyed it so much.

No film in cinemas is more inventive than Silent Sonata; this short and sweet Slovenian film has a global cast of circus acts and actors and deserves universal appeal despite its elusive description.

Silent Sonata is in UK cinemas from 9th May 2014.