Flare Update!

bfi-flare-2015So here is the full list of articles I wrote for the 2015 BFI Flare London LGBT Film Festival, please do click the link to check out my review of feature films ‘Futuro Beach’, ‘The Falling’ and ‘I Am Michael’, as well as two interviews – one with actress Florence Pugh about her role in ‘The Falling’, and one with Colin Rothbart, director of ‘Dressed as a Girl’ – and finally my coverage of the massively ground breaking cinematic gay rights event, ‘5 Films 4 Freedom’, in which I review the selection of five shorts chosen to be screened globally for free during the festival.  ‘Morning is Broken’ in particular deserves a look as it is not only, in my opinion, the best of the selection, but also features my lovely fiancé, actor Nigel Allen.  Anyway! Click to read everything I’ve been up to:

http://www.frontrowreviews.co.uk/category/bfi-flare-2015

BFI Flare London LGBT Film Festival!

FullSizeRenderI’ve been a bit quiet on here recently due to being busy with the BFI Flare Festival 🙂  After it finishes on the 29th March I will be reviewing the latest TV series and lots more on here, but for now please check out Front Row Reviews to read the reviews I’ve written on films at Flare so far:

I Am Michael

http://www.frontrowreviews.co.uk/reviews/i-am-michael-review-bfi-flare-london-lgbt-film-festival/33068

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The Falling

http://www.frontrowreviews.co.uk/reviews/the-falling-review-bfi-flare-london-lgbt-film-festival/33046

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

There’s nothing like the thrill of your first freebie!  Over the weekend I had the pleasure of receiving, watching and reviewing The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One on behalf of Front Row Reviews.  This Monday 16th March 2015 it was released in the Uk on DVD, Blu-ray and Steelbook.  Check out my review!

The Hunger Games Mockingjay – Part 1 DVD Review

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Banished – Episode 1 (BBC2)

Fans of British comedy gems ‘Him and Her’ and ‘Green Wing’:  sit up and pay attention.  It’s Russell Tovey and Julian Rhind-Tutt, and they are doing ruggedly serious – and seriously rugged – really rather well.  Gone are the gentle quips and droll calamities displayed by both actors in their respective feel-good sitcoms, to be replaced by something raw, savage, desperate and hungry.p02l8gpt

It’s 1788, and The First Fleet has deposited its cluster of frightened prisoners onto the impossibly majestic shores of Australia, where they labour under the alien heat and severe gaze of British soldiers.  This is about survival and humanity; a pre-civilised world in which Faustian pacts are made to escape execution and rape is used as blackmail currency.  There are other familiar faces too, of course, from Game of Thrones, Downton, Episodes and more – it’s an eclectic cast that hurls themselves into the fray of the penal colony with raucous abandon, and we can’t help but be instantly absorbed.  Historically accurate it may not be (what on earth have all these dashingly heroic working-class men and sweetly moral working-class women been convicted for, anyway?), but as Jimmy McGovern himself emphasises of his creation: ‘it is fiction. It is entertainment.’  And entertaining it very much is, right through to the ecstatic lows and highs of the first episode’s concluding moments: we can turn a blind eye to the ‘goodies’ being a bunch of thieving crooks, and concentrate on despising the red-coated aristocratic ‘baddies’.  In a world where lying with your sweetheart is punishable by death, the language of right and wrong is entirely distorted anyway.

So BBC1 has Cornwall.  BBC2 has New South Wales.  Let’s see whether it will be Poldark or Banished who will triumph in the Eighteenth Century coastal gallop of a race to this spring’s TV limelight.

The Casual Vacancy – Episode One (BBC One)

imagesMaybe it’s the presence of Julia McKenzie, but The Casual Vacancy feels very Miss Marple, only with a deflated air of its own failure to be an edgy version.  I love Mckenzie; and Gambon, Kinnear and JK Rowling, and I wanted to love this; but I just didn’t.  Adapted from Rowling’s venture into adult literature, the story takes place in a rural west-country village where parish council meetings get heated and bicycle wheels get bent out of malice.  One character gets slightly weird premonitions of death (In these genre-confused, Halloweenish moments, we could be watching Hot Fuzz) and then, well, dies.  Meanwhile a piously clichéd storyline unfolds on the neighbouring council estate, complete with references to drug-taking and a neglected toddler being raised by its teenage sister:  a somewhat patronising, golly-gosh examination of class division.  Sadly, The Casual Vacancy gives us little to care about, lacking the vigour and atmosphere expected of the thriller it’s trying to be but also refusing to embrace the twee identity it sways more towards.

Perhaps, in the same way Harry Potter isn’t done justice by its schmaltzy film counterpart, The Casual Vacancy is better as a book.  I’m a loyal Rowling-ite, so I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt – but I won’t bother tuning in to BBC1 next week.

Better Call Saul – Uno (AMC/Netflix)

maxresdefaultLast Sunday, 4.4 million people aged between 18 and 49 sat down, loaded with expectancy, to watch the first episode of Better Call Saul – an all-time record in cable history.  The pressure was on for creative legends Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould; and it’s no wonder, because Breaking Bad is one of the best shows in TV history.  The big question on everybody’s lips is, will the seven-years-earlier prequel pale by comparison, or carve its own identity? And can Saul Goodman, or rather, Jimmy McGill, captivate the screen in his own right in the absence of Bryan Cranston’s enthralling brilliance?  Well, mere minutes in, things are looking pretty promising.

There is a definite whiff of film noir about the slick, assured black and white opening sequence, in which Bob Odenkirk’s Jimmy is apron-clad and working behind a Cinnabon counter.   A 30’s Rhythm and Blues soundtrack from The Ink Spots is set jauntily to the inky shadowing; a snappy montage of the mass production of cinnamon buns bears a gleefully canny resemblance to Breaking Bad’s iconic montages of Crystal Meth production.  And the further we plunge into the full swing of the episode, the more we become reunited with delightfully familiar strains of tongue-in-cheek stylisation. Playful camera positioning is in abundance, dialogue is smart and entertaining and Odenkirk commands the courtroom and bathroom alike with gusto, gravelly-voiced charm and a dash of pitifulness.  One or two known characters pop up with a flourish.  It’s like returning home.

Despite the pleasing familiarity however, there is still a brand-new slant on the sweaty-collared lawyer as we know him.  Early in the episode it is established that this is an entirely different ball game, as we take a brief visit to present-day and Jimmy is granted the stillness and gravitas of a sustained moment alone in his home.  In the same way we scrutinised and became intimately acquainted with the wretched Walter White as he pondered his thoughts for un-scored, tension-filled moments at a time, Gilligan and Gould boldly offer us a new specimen.  Ballsy jokes momentarily stripped from him, Odenkirk’s normally cartoonish character gets a chance to be taken seriously – it’s a bit like seeing backstage photographs of a surly, depressed comedian’s true self in between acts.  It’s intriguing in its own right, and from thereon out we continue unhesitatingly into the thick of this new adventure.  And just like that, the creators have skilfully signed us up.  More, please.

Wolf Hall – Three Card Trick (BBC2)

There has been a buzz surrounding Wolf Hall.  Ever since the hype of the RSC’s stage adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies last year, audiences have been brimming with anticipation for how the BBC will deliver their version of the historically-based fiction.  It’s the big event of British TV: actors I know have lusted after a chance to audition for it, mega screen buffs have been poised like birds of prey to ravish this high-production-value series, and everyone else is looking forward to a juicy new period drama that hosts a string of prestigious leads.  Let’s face it, from Shakespeare to Game of Thrones, from Robin Hood to The White Queen, everyone loves a good costume drama.  Corsets, bloodshed and tremulous ye-olde dialogue set against stirring music and beautiful candle-lit stone chambers are what sets this nation’s hearts a-racing.  And Peter Kosminsky’s little gem does just that – although The Tudors it very definitely ain’t.  Rich and intricate, this is a series that you really do have to commit all your academic, clear-headed attention to, and you kind of also need to have a knowledge of British history circa the 1520’s.  If you don’t, a little background reading wouldn’t go amiss to maximise your enjoyment.  That said, for the amount of detail poured into the first episode alone, the narrative is skilfully woven, the pace is excellent and despite the leaps back and forth within a decade – blink and you’ll miss the crucial captions explaining which moment in time you are in – it is surprisingly clear and well-driven.Wolf-Hall The cast does not disappoint: Claire Foy’s Anne Boleyn is a cruel English rose whom you are compelled to keep watching; Damian Lewis’s Henry VIII, only arriving on the scene just before the end, is both unnervingly cool and alarmingly dashing; Jonathan Pryce’s Cardinal Wolsey is beady-eyed and warmly wry.  But the real star of the show is Mark Rylance’s Thomas Cromwell himself.  There is something incredibly mesmerising about his performance; a huge energy behind the calm, unwavering intensity of his deep brown eyes.  As a lead he is both downtrodden and edgy:  an underdog with a lot of bite.  And the spine-tingling understatement with which he announces some tragic news in one particular scene is downright genius.  All in all, this is a series you will be drawn to continue following, but Rylance seals the deal.

Kooza – Cirque Du Soleil

image1In my spare time, I’m secretly a circus fanatic. Well, secretly isn’t really the right word; to friends and family it’s not so much a secret as a full-on obsessive hobby I won’t shut up about – never a week goes by without me hanging, sweaty and rosin-covered, from some apparatus attempting to nail a new trick or drop.  So when my boyfriend surprised me with tickets to go and see Cirque Du Soleil’s Kooza at The Royal Albert Hall for my birthday I was frothing at the mouth with excitement.  And it did not disappoint.

With dizzying hypnotism, the stage morphed into a fantasy world – the set was revealed from under a curtain like a majestic, floating ship, and off we sailed, an audience of thousands, into a world of colour and tingling hyper-reality.  The performers themselves, rubbery and lithe as chewing gum, brilliant and peculiar in their skintight, dazzling outfits, both inspired me and put my humble amateurishness to shame.  This was a superhuman display of not only the physical beauty of the human body pushed to the extreme and honed to perfection, but it was also a defiance of all survival instinct.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so united with a crowd of strangers in total fear.  And I don’t mean the sort of Woman in Black, gleeful with goosebumps sort of fear.  I mean a white-knuckled, slightly nauseous fear that had everyone around me on their feet, grabbing handfuls of their own hair and so breathless it’s a wonder nobody keeled over from hyperventilation.  A trapeze artiste flashed through thin air hanging off one ankle, a tower of stern-faced men rode a unicycle across a several-storey-high tightwire, and probably most heart-stoppingly memorable of all was the ‘Wheel of Death’: two devil-attired acrobats, saturated in blood-red lights, sprinted inside pendulum-like wheels to create momentum.  Gravity and space became meaningless as they flirted with possible death and progressed to flips, leaps and even skipping ropes aboard this terrifying, revolving metal structure.

One thing that struck me later, as we sat on the night bus home in awed silence, was how bizarre it is that circus – even on a scale as big as Cirque du Soleil – does not use names to draw a crowd.  Even as a keen circus amateur, I can’t name any Cirque performers off the top of my head – I’d have to look them up or browse through my programme to the modest thumbnail photographs accompanied by a couple of sentences, to identify these truly accomplished human beings who are worthy of worldwide recognition. They are ‘unknowns’ in the world of the arts; I don’t know or care who they are dating or where they live or what they wear, and the general public are not asking for that either.  And yet why is it that so many other live arts, namely West End plays and musical theatre shows, do not always rely on casting from the vast pool of artists who are equally talented – but also not famous – in their own field, but instead so often feel the need to use celebrities in plum roles to promote themselves?  How is it that circus can flourish and draw vast crowds whilst its stars, arguably refreshingly, remain anonymous?

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2014 BFI London Film Festival!

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Busy month!! I’m delighted to have attended the 2014 BFI London Film Festival to review some films for Front Row Reviews!  They are now all up so check out these links to see them published on their website…

REVIEW – 10.000KM:

http://www.frontrowreviews.co.uk/reviews/10-000km-review/30700

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REVIEW – Listen Up Philip:

http://www.frontrowreviews.co.uk/reviews/listen-up-philip-london-film-festival-2014/31241

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REVIEW – If You Don’t, I Will:

http://www.frontrowreviews.co.uk/reviews/if-you-dont-i-will-london-film-festival-2014-2/31253

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REVIEW – 3 Hearts:

http://www.frontrowreviews.co.uk/reviews/3-hearts-london-film-festival-2014/31266

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REVIEW – Three Brothers:

http://www.frontrowreviews.co.uk/reviews/three-brothers-short-london-film-festival-2014/31281

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REVIEW – 7.2:

http://www.frontrowreviews.co.uk/reviews/7-2-review-short-london-film-festival-2014/31294

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REVIEW – Kakara:

http://www.frontrowreviews.co.uk/reviews/kakara-short-london-film-festival-2014/31300

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Our World War – Episode One (BBC3, Bruce Goodison)

With the centenary of the First World War upon us, I thought I’d give BBC3’s series of short dramas a whirl.  Not least because it features me and my boyfriend’s good friend and very talented actor, Sion Daniel Young.  See below.Our World War

Mellow blues, browns and dusty greys bathe the picture of pale, uniformed soldiers, red blood is tinted to respectful burgundy, and dialogue is delivered neatly in chirpy regional accents: another British period drama TV cliché? Refreshingly, BBC3’s ‘Our World War’ (dir. Bruce Goodison) is anything but. Inspired by BAFTA-winning series ‘Our War’, this electric retelling of WW1 is raw, relevant and gripping.

Throbbing with contemporary drums and guitars, the action is intercut with video-game style mapping of infra-red, grub-like figures swarming onto the riverbanks of Mons. Innovative POV camerawork allows us to sprint, chest-eye-view, into the first battle of the war – looking down gun barrels, pressed jaunty-angled into the mud, confronted cheek to cheek with our comrades as they take bullets to the flesh. It’s intimate, shocking and intrusive. The cast is excellently devoid of sentimentality.  Dominic Thorburn is notably engaging as Lieutenant Dease; young, articulate and irritating, yet emanating simple vulnerability as the action draws us towards his harrowing fate. Next week takes us to the Somme and a fresh scene of tragedy; have tissues close by.