Sunday, 9 December 2012

REVIEW | The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey | Film | Directed by Peter Jackson


It’s been ten years since the first Lord of the Rings film and although the buzz has been rising slowly around The Hobbit, I can’t help feeling it just can’t reach the dizzy heights of the trilogy that, in the case of the films, started it all. It’s slightly strange when you realise that The Hobbit (as a story) came before the trilogy and is only a single book. So how, I hear you ask, can they possibly stretch that concept over a brand new trilogy? Well, I guess we’ll see...

I didn’t have massively high expectations for this prequel, but having seen Prometheus, Star Trek and a whole host of other films jumping on that particular ‘prequel’ band wagon, I had an open mind. 

The opening segment is actually rather lovely. We see some familiar faces in a setting we are all familiar with (if we’ve watched the Lord of the Rings that is). There’s a real feeling that this is a much more toned down take on the whole franchise, but that does change some way in with a lot (and I mean a lot) of fight induced bloodshed. We are introduced to Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in a rather beautifully scripted bit of whimsy. The introduction of the other characters is done with a gentle pace and with some nice characterisation, although it does seem to take a long time to get into any narrative or action. 

The performances are, on the whole, very good. There’s a lot of energy and focus on material that you can tell probably wasn’t the easiest to get involved in. One stand out performance I must point out was Sylvester McCoy who is perfectly cast as one of the five wizards who protect Middle Earth. He’s a wonderful antidote to Ian McKellan’s severity and melodrama. Martin Freeman was good, but I feel he struggles to play anything other than 'bewildered everyman'. Fortunately in this it worked better than it could have.

This is the main problem I see with The Hobbit. It’s slow. Very slow. Too slow. You can really tell the whole narrative is a protracted effort to sex up what is a rather short children's book. It’s also (characteristically) long. I wasn’t keeping tabs on the timings of each segment but I know my bum was numb by half way through, but that’s to be expected with a Jackson flick these days.

Visually there’s nothing particularly new in the film. We are now entirely used to the New Zealand panoramic views and stylistic vistas from the previous films so we expect to be blown away (and in expecting so, we aren’t). Without being too cruel to the effort that’s obviously been put into the film (and that’s something the film gets top marks for) I have to say that the visuals do feel like a series of well designed screen savers, albeit incredible ones. 

This film uses a brand new type of 3D which uses forty eight frames per second (the standard is twenty four). This sounds like a leap forwards but from what I saw it actually cheapens the overall look of the film. It really felt like the footage hadn’t been graded and the studio footage really looked like that. You can notice it more during shots showing fast movement as it looks like frames are missing (oddly). It’s difficult to explain, but it was really distracting. Not that there was too much on screen to be distracted from.

As a film in its own right, I personally don’t think it stands up; it’s a soup of Lord of the Rings, children’s literature, English myth and visuals that don’t really bring the whole thing together. It will appeal to fans and a younger audience but all I could think of whenever I saw Gandalf was Magical Trevor. And that song doesn't get out of your head quickly.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

REVIEW | Daddy Long Legs | St. James Theatre

 It just goes to show how important branding is to any production whether it be TV, film or theatre when you glance at a leaflet, a poster or an ad online and immediately make a judgement. A judgement which results in you totally ignoring it.

I had disregarded Daddy Long Legs, a musical, for three reasons; the theatre was too small to do a musical justice, the branding made the show look like a modern comedy that was bound to disappoint and the title conjured images of an ensemble cast prancing about the stage in a strained attempt to be ‘edgy’.


Daddy Long Legs is an absolutely stunning, charming and beautiful production wonderfully  put together through use of lyrical wit and astounding simplicity. Our two protagonists are brought to life with a subtle humanity and delicacy that draws you in from the off, and the performances of Megan McGinnis and Robert Adelman Hancock are so touching and real you forget you’re watching a musical (which is curious given they are singing throughout). 

The theatre I thought would be too small (the newly refurbished St James Theatre in Victoria) was perfect for the intimate setting the director obviously wanted to present and the title was actually spot on for the narrative and couldn’t have been any more fitting.

With a fantastic story by John Caird which tells the tale of an orphan who is sponsored by a mysterious benefactor to attend college and become more than she would be otherwise, and a gentle, uplifting score by Paul Gordon (who also wrote the painfully emotive lyrics) the production flowed by effortlessly with an audience gripped throughout.

For the sake of balance I feel obliged to point out the tiny niggles of the show; the set, although excellent, could have been used a little more rather than a backdrop to the entire show. The use of trunks on set was clever but sometimes detracted from the songs being sung in the background. The music had an air of Jason Robert Brown (The Last Five Years), sometimes verging on being a tad derivative. And lastly Megan McGinnis’ singing voice was more consistently flawless than Robert Adelman Hancock's, HOWEVER I need to point out that these anal observations were so slight that I feel guilty for even mentioning them.

In essence this is the kind of show the West End would be stupid not to drag kicking and screaming to a central theatre (not that the St. James Theatre wasn’t a great venue, but it deserves a longer run) with the right promotion to show that London can still rival Broadway in its selection of quality, top notch productions. 

REVIEW | Our Boys | Duchess Theatre

When a theatre production is on a fairly high profile venue (in this case the Duchess Theatre in Aldwych) and has a cast of six promising and established actors you assume the best. However that means that the fall becomes that much further when it isn’t up to scratch. 

Unfortunately for me, Our Boys was one of those shows. 

With the cast consisting of Cian Barry, Jolyon Coy, Arthur Darvill, Laurence Fox, Matthew Lewis and Lewis Reeves, you’d be forgiven for expecting a lot from this rather flat play. It starts promisingly with a set looking like an exact replica of an NHS hospital ward with clothes hanging by the beds that betray the eighties era, but as soon as the action (I use the term loosely) begins you’re left looking more at the hospital detail than the drama unfolding on stage.
It struck me that the audience weren’t maybe your typical West End bunch and maybe came down to see ‘that one off Doctor Who’, which makes me feel slightly more sorry for them. What was delivered were a series of dramatic sketches with only a handful of moments I remember being funny (and not laugh out loud, more of a titter) and more awkward silences (or pregnant pauses as I’m sure the director was going for) than a blind date with tourettes. 

The story itself wasn’t bad as such, and the poignant reminder that these men and women in the armed forces who get injured physically and psychologically don’t always receive the best care when they return from service, was timely and just. The actors tried their best with rather bitty dialogue, but even then there were some obvious moments of dodgy performance that could have been ironed out a little. And strangely I got the feeling that not everyone got on with each other offstage, which I don’t think I should have noticed. 

I can’t help feeling that the entire script should have been edited down massively, and that an additional layer of plot would have lifted this otherwise wet, pale and slightly stale production, however as it was you’re left feeling a little cheated having sat through two hours of angst, over hyped finger pointing at the treatment of soldiers and general awkwardness. 

I’m lead to believe that the writer, Jonathan Guy Lewis, wrote it from his own experience, but as nobel as this seems it really needed something more for the point of the show to hit home to a modern audience. A plot maybe.