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Wednesday, 27 February 2013

DVD - Rust and Bone - directed by Jacques Audiard

Star rating - 6/10

French director Jacques Audiard has already ably demonstrated his skill for looking at life's underbelly with an amazing lens in his previous films, The Beat That My Heart Skipped and the excellent A Prophet. This time out the subject matter is more sentimental, although still mining the rich seam of life's outsiders to the full.

In Rust and Bone he deals with the relationship between Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), a killer whale trainer, and Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), a street fighter with a young son in tow who is very much down on his luck. These two not particularly likeable people are thrown together when he rescues her from trouble in a club in his temporary role as a bouncer. And he comes into his own as a friend and occasional lover when her feet are ripped off in a Jaws-like accident with a whale at her work.

The plot follows these two prickly and damaged people as they support each other as best they can through the many twists and turns of their complicated lives. And in truth there are a few too many plot turns for the impact of the film to last much after the credits, and the sentimentality is layered on a bit too thickly at times for my tastes. But this film has a good basic heart, and is worth watching also for the impressive performances from Cotillard and Schoenaerts, who have real chemistry as the spiky characters.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Theatre - Bull - Crucible Studio Theatre, Sheffield

Star rating - 5/10

Eighties power ballads greet the audience as they assemble around the sides of the Crucible's Studio Theatre for Mike Bartlett's office power play drama Bull.  And into the fray of this boxing ring type arrangement, complete with harsh strip lighting and a water cooler - step the protagonists. What follows is not pretty, nor is it meant to be. 

This is a short one hour drama about the harsh realities of office politics, which anyone who has ever worked in one knows can be quite vicious. The trouble is that instead of a subtly nuanced observational piece, this play takes three sledgehammers, in the shape of two colleagues and a big boss, to crack a very small nut, in this case Thomas, played by Sam Troughton. It completely over bakes the harshness and cruelty that he suffers at their hands, so that the impact is lost.  

It simply isn't true to life in terms of how such an unpleasant situation would be handled, which would be much more underhand and duplicitous. The action feels relentless, cruel and somewhat pointless. In reality the sometimes toxic relationships that can develop at work are a lot greyer than this - and I am not  just referring to the suits. It's a pity but this felt like an opportunity missed.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Theatre - To Kill A Mockingbird - Royal Exchange Theatre

Star rating - 9/10

I always get slightly nervous when a much loved book or play is revived. It can either result in the murder of a classic, or in a fabulous reimagining. And I am very happy to report that in To Kill a Mockingbird, the Royal Exchange has a wonderful production on its hands. Director Max Webster manages to create the same sweltering Southern tension that so thrilled here last year in Orpheus Descending.
And whilst there is no star turn this time to rival the stupendous Imogen Stubbs, the play does not need one, as the whole cast sparkles - without exception.

Harper Lee's 1960 novel is well known, and indeed a set text for many students and school pupils still.  And the brilliant 1962 film adaptation starring Gregory Peck is hard to dispel from the memory. Peck played Atticus Finch, the morally upstanding and highly principled lawyer who shocks his 1930's Alabama community by defending a black man who is accused of raping a white woman.  And at first I thought that Nigel Cooke might be undercooking the role slightly. But as his fabulous understated portrait of this brave man emerges, Cooke's nuanced delivery only adds to its impact.

Atticus knows no other way but to stand up for what he believes to be right - no matter what the consequences, and he strives to instil these values into his two children Jem and Scout. Jem is actually the narrator of the novel, and her narration is very cleverly used here via the voices of other actors through the piece. Shannon Tarbet is an accomplished young actor, and gives a spellbinding performance as the feisty young girl. 

The courtroom scene is breathtakingly dramatic, with Okeize Morro and Scarlett Brookes totally convincing as the wrongly accused and false accuser, both of whose pain is palpable. The sparse dirt set is ingeniously transformed by the cast using palettes during the action.  And these is a wonderful bluegrass band setting just the right tone as a rich musical backdrop to the action. 

It is sad that the themes of racism and prejudice are still as relevant today as when Lee's masterpiece was penned.  And the sometimes misplaced faith in a jury to come to the right conclusion is oddly poignant when the Vicky Pryce speeding points legal debacle is still ongoing. So this play is another triumph for my favourite theatre in the whole wide world - and it makes me very happy when I am able to say that. 

Thursday, 21 February 2013

DVD - Ginger & Rosa - directed by Sally Potter

Star rating - 6/10

The post war build up of nuclear weapons is the back drop to this teenage coming of age film, set in a London amidst a growing CND movement. It deals as much with the political and social issues of the day, as with the friendship of two schoolgirl best friends Ginger and Rosa (played by young actresses American Elle Fanning and Australian Alice Englert).

Both girls are trying to escape domestic unhappiness, Rosa who lives with her single parent mother and feels little love at home, and Ginger who finds herself in the middle of her parents' unhappy marriage.  Her father Roland is a pretty selfish, despicable character who cares more about his principles than those around him. He was sent to prison during the war as a conscientious objector, and he feels morally superior to all around him, and certainly does not play by society's rules.

But the impending relationship between Roland and seventeen year old Rosa is a bit too telegraphed early on - with knowing glances between them in the rear view mirror of his car. So that when it unfolds,  the impact has been diluted. The two young leads give good performances, and there are also some strong supporting roles from Timothy Spall and Annette Bening in particular as family friends.

But the story line is a bit too weak to be either especially interesting, or particularly moving, and it has an unsatisfactory ending with loose ends not tied up in a manner which feels careless rather than intriguing. 

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Interview with Gabriel Minnikin

Read my interview with Canadian musician Gabriel Minnikin ahead of his gig at the Kings Arms in Salford on 10th March supporting The Lonesome & Penniless Cowboys at the Creative Tourist website: