Month: December 2017

Cinderella

06/12/17

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

It’s hard to believe but the pantomime season is already upon us! In Edinburgh, of course, that can mean only one thing: the annual Christmas panto at the King’s Theatre, presented once again (in fact, for the thirteenth year in succession!) by the ‘gleesome threesome’ of Allan Stewart, Andy Grey and Grant Stott. If you were worried that their enduring domination of this seasonal slot might have led to a certain sloppiness, don’t be misled. Cinderella is just as assured a production as ever, and the ease of the three performers with each other is evident from the off-set. The highest compliment I can give them is that they make this look so easy, when in fact pantomime is one of the hardest theatrical disciplines to get right.

Mind you, they don’t mind subverting some of the established rules of panto either. Why not have four dames, for instance? A nice one (Stewart as Fairy May), a mean one (Stott as Baroness Hibernia Hardup), and two that are … well, women (Clare Grey and Maureen Carr as the Ugly Sisters)? And who ever said that Cinderella (Gillian Parkhouse) and Prince Charming (James Darch) can’t be involved in some of the funniest scenes? Meanwhile, it’s left to Grey to deliver his usual dim-witted, prat-falling persona as Buttons. Okay, so some of his material may have sailed into Edinburgh with Noah, but my goodness, he makes me laugh!

So, what we get is a fine festive banquet, replete with colourful costumes, energetic dance routines, double entendres, local banter and lashings of general silliness. Any mistakes that occur are gleefully pounced upon and incorporated into the hilarity and there’s plenty of skilful audience interplay – anyone would think these guys know what they’re doing.  Just when I’m thinking ‘this is great but there’s nothing here to rival last year’s stunning ‘helicopter’ sequence’, the special visual effects team unleash a creation that has large sections of the audience – me included – gasping out loud in a ‘how did they do that?’ kind of way. 

If you and your family are looking to get into the festive spirit, this would be a really good place to start. Cinderella runs until January 21st and there are still some tickets available at time of writing, but please don’t hang about… they’re selling like the proverbial hot mince pies!

5 stars

Philip Caveney

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Wonder

 

 

04/12/17

In the golden age of Hollywood, some films were often described as ‘four-handkerchief-weepies.’ Wonder may qualify as an ‘economy-sized-kleenex-weepie.’ From about fifteen minutes in to its running time I am in a hopeless state, tears pouring copiously down my face and having to make a conscious effort not to sob out loud – and this is a condition  that stays with me pretty much throughout proceedings. Stephen Chbosky’s adaptation of R.J. Palacio’s best-selling novel launches an all-out attack on the heart strings with devastating results. It’s not that the film is over-manipulative, either. This is just a genuinely sad story, told with great skill, and one that never allows itself to wander too far into the land of mawkishness.

Auggie (Jacob Tremblay, who made such an impact in Room), was born with severe facial deformities. His parents, Isabel (Julia Roberts) and Nate (Owen Wilson) have been naturally protective of their son, home-schooling him for years, but as he approaches the age to enter fifth grade, Isabel comes to a momentous decision. Auggie needs to go to a proper middle-school, where he at least has a chance to meet new people. He is naturally anxious about this, but eventually accepts his fate and does his best to fit in, painfully aware of the appalled stares of his classmates whenever he enters a room. His life takes a turn for the better when he makes friends with classmate Jack Will (Noah Jupe), but he soon learns that the path of friendship is not always an easy one to negotiate…

Meanwhile, Auggie’s older sister, Via (Isabela Vidovic) goes through some problems of her own, when she loses touch with her long-time best friend, Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell). Via’s problems simply don’t get the attention that Auggie’s do, but since the death of her closest ally, her much-beloved Grandmother, she has learned that her best option is just to quietly get on with things. Her parents’ attentions are always focused on her brother and she has nobody else to turn to…

Critics could argue that Wonder is a bit of a misery fest – Auggie’s family seems to lurch from one heartbreaking disaster to the next – but it’s done with such warmth and skill, that it’s easy to forgive its occasional excesses and the film’s conclusion is uplifting enough to make you forget the agony that you’ve just been put through. The performances, meanwhile, are uniformly good. Tremblay manages to emote brilliantly despite having to act under layers of latex and Jupe (who was one of the best things in George Clooney’s Suburbicon), clearly has a bright future ahead of him. Lovely too, to see Mandy Patinkin in a small but memorable role as the schools’ head, Mr Tushman. At the end of the day, if weepies are not your thing, then this may not be the film for you. If on the other hand, you’re partial to shedding the occasional tear in the stalls, fill your pockets with tissues and get along to see this at your earliest convenience.

I leave the cinema feeling absolutely destroyed but as anyone will tell you, I’m a proper softie when it comes to this kind of thing. See it and weep.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

The Room

03/12/17

We are sitting in a packed cinema and large sections of the audience are hurling handfuls of plastic spoons at the screen…

No, it’s not some weird cinema-related nightmare, but a showing of Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 magnum hopeless The Room, screening at The Cameo Cinema, because these people know a cult when they see one – and with James Franco’s The Disaster Artist looming on the horizon, there really couldn’t be a more propitious time to do this. Up until a week ago, The Room had managed to completely pass us by, but I knew that my daughter and her beau were longtime fans and, wanting to be able to view Franco’s film with some background knowledge of its inspiration, I asked if we could borrow their precious (signed by Tommy W!) DVD copy. Shortly after viewing it, we heard that The Cameo would be doing a screening and felt we had to go along and experience it with an audience. Perhaps, I thought, we’d missed something first time around…

Some films become a cause celebre because they are brilliant. The Room has earned that accolade because it is, frankly, terrible. From the endlessly repeated shots of the Golden Gate Bridge, to the interminable soft-porn sex scenes (one of them shown twice!), to the fact that Wiseau cannot even seem to walk convincingly, let alone act, write or direct a feature film, this is risible stuff. And it doesn’t matter how often Wiseau claims that it was always meant to be a comedy, it’s quite clear that what he actually thought he was delivering was a deep and powerful meditation on the human condition. Oh dear…

Johnny (Wiseau) is a man who works in a bank. In what capacity, we can only guess, but we do learn that he is frustrated that he has yet to be given the ‘promotion’ he feels he so richly deserves. He is however, endlessly devoted to his girlfriend, Lisa (Juliette Danielle), who he is planning to marry in just a couple of weeks. We are led to believe that Lisa has a job, though we never actually see her doing work of any description, unless you count her indolently pushing a broom around the apartment every now and again. Johnny’s best friend, Mark (Greg Sestero), is somewhat bemused when Lisa starts trying to seduce him and keeps reminding her that he is Johnny’s best friend, and she is getting married soon and yet, he somehow can’t quite bring himself to resist her advances. Suffice to say that Lisa is depicted as an evil, self-centred banshee, callous enough to risk her relationship for a bit on the side, and even brushing aside her mother’s announcement that she has breast cancer with a glib, ‘Oh, don’t worry about it.’ Johnny is… well, equally unbelievable.… and you know what, it’s really not worth going into any more detail on the plot, which is pretty nonsensical anyway. No character here does or says anything remotely convincing.

Often described as ‘the Citizen Kane of bad movies,’ The Room is certainly shoddy enough, but not so enjoyably bad that it actually becomes ‘good.’ I mean, it’s not Plan 9 From Outer Space, for instance, a film that I can watch repeatedly and never tire of – but I will admit that watching Wiseau’s efforts with a crowd of laughing, jeering devotees, certainly helps to lift the mood. I laughed a lot. Having said that, I really don’t feel compelled to watch it again for a very long time.

Which brings me to a conundrum. It is, of course, our practice to awards star ratings to movies and I feel that in the normal run of things, I’d be hard pushed to give this any more than one. Having experienced it in a cinema with a crowd of fans, then okay, I’m prepared to go for two stars, but I really don’t feel good about it – and I have to say that Wiseau is incredibly lucky that his lamentable efforts have been rewarded with a sizable following in his own lifetime, something that Ed Wood, who died an alcoholic pauper, never experienced. And Cameo, if you’re reading this, a showing of Plan 9 From Outer Space strikes me as a really good idea.

Oh, the spoons? Good question. Pay close attention to the framed pictures in Johnny’s apartment and you’ll get the gist.

2 stars

Philip Caveney

The Box of Delights

02/12/17

The Box of Delights might have started life as a novel by John Masefield in 1935 but, for me, it will always belong to 1984 and television.

The BBC children’s adaptation was my first ‘box-set binge,’ enjoyed even before I knew those words existed in formation. It was Christmas Eve, early afternoon. I was thirteen, my brother three years younger. Mum called us down to the front room, where there were blankets on the sofa and a plate of mince pies on the coffee table. And she handed us a present. A small, VHS-sized box, containing – we soon discovered – the whole six-part series, painstakingly recorded every week, and saved up for this festive treat (a cunning plan, of course, designed to keep us out of the way while our parents did the busy stuff that parents do on Christmas Eve, but we were blissfully ignorant of this then). We settled in for the long haul, and were mesmerised by the tale that unfolded.

I never revisited the story: never read the book, never sought to see it again. But when I saw it advertised as part of The Cameo’s 2017 Christmas season, I couldn’t resist the chance to view it, on a somewhat larger screen than the 14″ one we had back then.

And it’s lovely; no wonder the memory is so golden. Okay, some of the special effects – so impressive in their day – look pretty shonky now, and there are gaping plot-holes that need to be plugged. But the overall effect is still magical; the story still engaging.

Orphan Kay Harker (Devin Stanfield) is home from boarding school for the holidays. He’s staying with his guardian, Caroline Louisa (Carol Frazer) in his ancestral home, Seekings. He’s pleased to find that his friends, the Jones, will be staying for the holidays, as their parents have had to go abroad (there are four Jones kids, but only two of them really have anything to do, namely Maria (Joanna Dukes) –  a fierce little thing who’s a dab hand with a pistol – and Peter (Crispin Mair), who’s a bit of a drip really, but proves to be a useful ally in Kay’s adventuring. Susan and Jemima (Flora Page and Heidi Burton respectively) remain in the background, Peter’s ‘sensible sisters’ – I’m not sure why they’re there). Maria’s fears that the festive season might prove dull are certainly unfounded: Kay, it seems, has been identified as someone who can help those in the magic world, and Cole Hawlings (Patrick Troughton) has a mission for the boy. For Hawlings has a magic box, and the evil Abner Brown (Robert Stephens) is in hot pursuit of it; Kay must look after the Box of Delights until it can be returned to its rightful owner…

The ‘returning it to its rightful owner’ is by far the worst part of the series. It’s episode five; we’re reaching the dramatic climax. And then there’s a bizarre scene where Kay goes ‘to the past’ to seek Arnold of Todi (Philip Locke), by way of some badly rendered pyramids and some English-speaking ancient Egyptians. It’s the weakest moment by far, but it doesn’t prevent me from enjoying the show. Nor does the odd acceptance everyone seems to have of kids going missing (a whole gaggle of choirboys are kidnapped, and there’re no parents waiting for them when they’re finally rescued).

Because, despite the flaws, there’s a lot to love. Jonathan Stephens is really funny as inept gangster, Chubby Joe, and Robert Stephens is as delightfully malevolent as you’d expect, clearly relishing the role of arch-villain Abner Brown. The scenes with Herne the Hunter  (Glyn Baker) are spectacular, and some of the effects are truly impressive, even after all these years (the shrunken posse of kids standing next to Chubby Joe’s big foot is particularly well-conceived). It’s a joyous, festive slice of nostalgia. Seriously, what’s not to love?

Now, pass the mince pies!

4 stars

Susan Singfield