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By midlandsmovies, Sep 19 2019 10:39AM



War Horse at Curve is a thrilling tale of emotion and intensity


War Horse at Curve - Wed 18 Sep to Sat 12 Oct


War Horse is a play based on the book of the same name by writer Michael Morpurgo, adapted for stage by Nick Stafford. And now after an 8 record-record breaking years in London’s West End and having played in 11 countries around the world to over 7 million people, the National Theatre’s acclaimed play came to Curve last night.


If you don’t already know one of the main draws to the various productions are the amazing life-size horse puppets by the Handspring Puppet Company and unlike the novel, whose story is told through the horse's viewpoint, the narrative follows a young boy’s efforts to be reunited with his beloved horse from his childhood.


Movie-wise of course it was adapted again, this time for film by the legendary director Steven Spielberg. With influences from both the novel and the stage play, the 2011 movie was nominated for 6 Academy Awards and starred Jeremy Irvine (in his film acting debut), Emily Watson, David Thewlis, Tom Huddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Marsan & many more in an amazing group cast. The film also has a small Midlands connection with parts being filmed on location at Castle Combe in Wiltshire.


Set around the First World War, War Horse tells of the journey of a horse (Joey) who is raised by British teenager Albert and after being bought by the Army, leads him to encounter numerous individuals and owners throughout Europe whilst the tragedies of war happen around him.


In this version we gallop headlong into events as Joey is bought at auction and forms a bond with young Albert (played with gusto by Scott Miller). And it’s here where the fantastic stage show comes to life by the extraordinary puppeteers. With two actors in the body and one for the head, the masterful demonstration of the art brought real life to the horses on stage. And when the amazing lighting was just right, you’d swear that were real. They were simply that good.


As the horse grows and is eventually sold under Albert’s nose into the military by his debt-ridden father, the stage becomes a brooding playground of war-time imagery. Smoke billows, searchlights cross no-man’s land and a fantastic understated score permeates scenes throughout the show and gives the play a movie-like feel.


A flash of an old photo camera pauses the action like a cinematic freeze-frame and a cavalry charge before the interval had unbelievable slow-motion explosions and horses stopping mid-air. Gunshots too had the audience bolting from their seats in fear, whist clever use of lighting and props were used like movie editing transitions to keep the story flowing.


As well as the emotional impact of the terrible consequences of war on humans and animals, there are moments of lightness. A puppet goose steals the show early-on with its amusing honk and comical conversations in the trench about the “girls back home” are clichéd but were touching and done with a real honesty.


The characterisation in general is quite broad but this allows space for you to enjoy and attach yourself emotionally to the animals – especially later on as an audible gasp was heard from the audience as one of the horses was whipped by an angry German soldier.


As we cantered our way to the show’s conclusion, the emotional intensity increases whilst reining in the sentimentality. And the horrors of war, cruelty, friendship and the relationship between humans and animals are all explored in an expressive, and impressive, final few scenes.


So strap yourself in the saddle, the touching tale of War Horse harnesses an emotional intensity that makes it simply the best touring production around right now and demands to be seen.


Michael Sales


War Horse at Curve - Wed 18 Sep to Sat 12 Oct

The show contains loud sound effects, gunfire, flashing lights and strobe lighting.

Running time: 2hrs 40mins incl. 20 min interval

Age Recommendation: 10+

Tickets £57 – £10


ACCESS PERFORMANCES

Captioned: Sat 28 Sep, 2.15pm

Signed: Tue 1 Oct, 7.30pm

Audio–Described: Fri 4 Oct, 7.30pm

Touch Tour: Fri 4 Oct, 5.30pm


AFTERSHOW DISCUSSION

Thu 26 Sep, 7.30pm


Credits

Book by Michael Morpurgo

Adapted by Nick Stafford

In association with Handspring Puppet Company

Directed by Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris


By midlandsmovies, Aug 5 2018 07:00AM



Ready Player One (2018) Dir. Steven Spielberg


Co-written by Zak Penn (X-Men: The Last Stand) and the novel’s author Ernest Cline, Ready Player One is a new film struggling hard to condense the pop-culture complexity of the book into a 2-hour action blockbuster from Steven Spielberg.


In 2045, the world’s decimated population is immersed in the OASIS – a virtual reality world where ‘anything goes’ – and whose creator James "Anorak" Halliday (Spielberg stalwart Mark Rylance) runs a contest to challenge players to uncover three hidden keys in the game to win full ownership of the pixelated world. A corporation run by Nolan Sorrento (the perennially evil Ben Mendelsohn) is out to use an army of players to find these treasures whilst teenager Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) and his online friends try to get there first.


The beginning is everything I feared from the trailer. Figuratively and literally, the film’s opening is like watching a friend play a computer game – full of CGI, uncanny valley avatars and obvious pop culture references. The cool quirkiness of a Zombieland-esque voiceover filling in the backstory helps flesh the story out but the images are akin to the visual hell of Speed Racer (which is also referenced in the film itself). Its backwards in its introduction with a very quick ‘real-world’ segment before the likeable Sheridan has his amiable acting ditched for an elf-like cartoon avatar.


Ben Mendehlson is having some fun as he overacts his way through a very 80s inspired villain and whilst there are echoes of both Tron films, the quirky Mark Rylance as the OASIS’s creator channels South Park’s Matt Stone, Garth from Wayne’s World and (obviously) Steve Jobs in an eclectic performance.


The film sees Sheridan’s virtual character Parzival team up with Lena Waithe’s virtual mechanic Aech, Philip Zhao’s Sho, Win Morisaki’s Daito and Olivia Cooke’s feisty Art3mis as the "High Five", an informal group jumping from the game challenges to a virtual archive. The archive contains video clips reconstructing Halliday's life which provides clues to the game’s construction, history and to the concealed prizes too.


These historical sections are great and the scenes give a more human aspect to a film filled with so much spinning camera which, as a non-video game player, demonstrated how unattuned to this aesthetic I am. The film is so kinetic I struggled to focus on the action as the camera zipped from one millisecond shot to the next.


It’s not all bad however. I did find myself warming up to the (many) Back to the Future nods – from snippets of score, a ‘Zemeckis cube’ and the DeLorean itself. A section where the gang ‘visit’ The Shining is very good. Like Back to the Future 2, the characters actually go back into the movie in a phenomenal sequence that recreates the iconic hotel and visuals from Kubrick’s film flawlessly.


Whilst the tone varies between Wreck It Ralph and his own Minority Report, Spielberg becomes guilty of the teal/orange ending at the film’s finale making it look like every other blockbuster. The Michael Bay-ness of a huge CGI battle which although looks the business, uses stupidly quick editing and a constantly spinning camera that will give all but die-hard video game fans a migraine.


So I really just wished Ready Player One slowed down so I could savour the characters, story and action. It would really benefit from it as a movie but, again, feels like a real-life game delivering a style to satisfy gamers’ short attention spans.


But that leaves us the question as to who is the film for in the end? Whilst the style reflects modern gaming (MMRPGs and Metal Gear Solid aesthetics) the film references are pure 80s so what’s the audience here? At 38, I recognised most allusions to the trivia of the past but some will be aimed at kids who wouldn’t have a clue about Mad Balls, Chucky and Mecha Godzilla.


Fans of the book may find joy in seeing all their childhood pop-culture dreams come to life but the film feels a mish-mash of wildly varying tones and styles. The actors do the best they can with the material but by spending so long in the OASIS, the computer-generated ‘sprites’ left me cold without the human attachment so badly needed. A fun ride at times for sure, Ready Player One is an entertaining and sometimes dazzling blockbuster for the family. But bring your headache pills for the unfortunate messy action and endless trivia nods which are both at the expense of real character arcs.


7.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike



By midlandsmovies, May 5 2018 09:47AM



The Post (2018) Dir. Steven Spielberg


Is there anything worse than the comment “oh, it’s so the film we need right now”? I think not, and Spielberg doubles down on this statement and runs with it in his ‘analysis’ of the politics of 1970s newspaper journalists and their attempts to expose corruption, in his new flick The Post. In short, what we get is a few Oscar-worthy actors (Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks) idly going through their high-quality motions as they discuss the repercussions of the Washington Post publishing Vietnam secrets buried in the Pentagon Papers.


With Spielberg’s track record, you’d expect nothing less than a well-constructed film but I found its constant pandering to topical issues so heavy-handed that the obvious parallels with current concerns about the US administration were undermined by a rather obvious delivery.


Spielberg’s floating camera and long takes are noticeable as we follow the newspaper’s owner (Streep as Katharine Graham) who is shown having her words literally taken from her mouth by male colleagues at board meetings even though the newspaper is in her hands. Spielberg tackles sexual politics as well as governmental politics, as she is shown physically placed behind groups of males and pushed out of the picture. But once they get hold of these confidential papers, she rises to take a stand and prepares to defy the newspaper's lawyers and publish the damning documents.


Early on, the Washington Post are banned from covering the wedding of Richard Nixon’s daughter' which parallels Trump – who is another grandiose self-obsessed and ugly White House figure much like Nixon himself. A clever highlight for me was showing Nixon from a distance – literally spying on him – like he did on others, and was a great way to foreshadow Watergate along with the constant shady phone-calls throughout.


Alongside this, the actors are often framed in silhouette – with illumination coming from windows (a metaphorical light at the end of the tunnel) – whilst Spielberg also uses slow zooms to echo the surveillance style of The Conversation and other political thrillers from the time. A 4-way telephone conversation hints at crossed-wires and the soundtrack has a mix of John Williams echoing his own JFK melodramatic strings with some of his Catch Me If You Can retro style.


Spielberg’s masterful control of the medium is without peer and his close-ups of the intricacies of the printing press were a beautifully staged montage of a technology long-gone. And the endless piles of paper the journalists sift through are here today in an aternative electronic format as seen on Wikileaks. Old fashioned but still powerful.


It’s just that my personal taste is predisposed to be wary of “topical” films like this obvious attempt. And The Post feels very by-the-book. The movie comes along with a well-respected filmmaker choosing the most blatant of tropes – “Hey, Nixon is like Trump! These secret papers are like Wikileaks! Journalists are being oppressed today!” Relevent? Yes. Rather tedious and obvious to all? Sadly I’d argue yes again. And hugely to its detriment.


For me, it is so representative of his two-trick pony current output – political allegories like Bridge of Spies, Lincoln and War Horse and his sub-par CGI heavy flicks like Tintin, BFG and Ready Player One - as films that haven't touched me in the way his past classics have. The Post therefore ends up going through the motions like a well organised print of a newspaper and this rag is ultimately disposable at the end of the day.


6.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Aug 9 2016 12:03PM

Mike Sales speaks to Midlands born actor Jonathan Holmes who has found fame with a wealth of voiceover work for TV and cinema before being recently cast as a giant in Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s ‘BFG’.


Mike asks the actor about his work to date and how he came to be in such a large Hollywood blockbuster…


Jonathan Holmes grew up in an all boy’s school in the Midlands where he jokes he initially got involved in acting and doing plays as the only way to meet girls. However, since these humble forays into theatre, Jonathan has had a bumpy but never dull journey in his film career so far.


“I spent the first 18 years of my life in and around Shrewsbury. It will always feel like home. I've no film experiences from the region, but lots of happy theatrical memories. And growing up in deepest darkest Shropshire, actually going to the cinema wasn't as easy as it might have been, but I do remember loving (Spielberg’s) Close Encounters. Favourite moment? When Richard Dreyfus tries to wave the UFO past”.




Being Shropshire born and bred suggest Jonathan’s home-grown accent was the perfect match for the quirky Britishness encapsulated in this new CGI world Spielberg created for the film. Yet his casting was somewhat a lucky coincidence for the now Vancouver-based thespian who was originally asked to coach a girl who was up for the part of the film’s protagonist Sophie.


I ask if any roles have come that way to him before.


“In some sense - most of them! There are a whole series of decisions that have to be made before you are cast in any role over which you have no control. So it always feels like a bit of a lottery”.


With extensive CGI in lots of modern literary adaptations (Alice in Wonderland) which portray wild and vivid locations and characters, Jonathan explains that during his the recording of his role as ‘Childchewer’, the inhibiting green-screen process in fact gave him more freedom than most expect.


“We shot using performance capture technology. It takes a little getting used to, but it allows scenes to be shot in the entirety, capturing everything from all conceivable angles simultaneously. So it can actually be liberating. It's as close to theatre in the film world that I've ever encountered”.



Jonathan adds that is was a joy working with actor Martin Freeman who he describes as one of the “funniest and most astute students of the art of acting” he’s ever met and Jonathan has seen previous success as a voice actor in Marvel’s “Hulk Vs” cartoon.


In 2007 the actor worked with Peter Greenaway on ‘Nightwatching’ which he describes as “terrifying” for a different reason than the motion capture concerns. “Peter shoots incredibly beautiful and massively long takes. If you mess up - resetting a shot can take an age. So you don't mess up! But an amazing experience”.


Back to the magical world of Dahl and the BFG, I ask the five-foot-eight Jonathan if he were as tall as the character he plays, what mischief he would get up to.


“I would try out for the NBA. Or possibly be England goalkeeper and bring the glory days back to English football!”


England football glory may be a bigger fairy tale than anything Dahl has written but Jonathan says that his 10 year old daughter loves the author’s books. “Matilda is a big hit in our house,” he says before adding that the appeal of Dahl’s books is that “he can be funny, wicked, tender, intimate and extreme in the space of one paragraph”.


And which one of Dahl’s books would he personally like to see adapted (or re-adapted) for the big screen? “Hmmm...I think an anti-hipster version of The Twits would be fun”.


Now based in Vancouver, Jonathan finds the ‘Hollywood of Canada’ a great place for a working actor. “I've lived in Vancouver for about 15 years, so the majority of my film and TV work has been here. You'd be amazed the amount of work that is shot here, so it doesn't take too long to spot soon familiar landmarks”.


Sadly, Jonathan has also had to overcome unfortunate personal circumstances during his career including dealing with a diagnosis of cancer a few years ago.


“It was very challenging. And around the same time, my step mother sued myself and my 5 year old over my father's will. It was a truly rough time. But you can only appreciate the highs if you embrace the lows. As an actor, life experience can't help but inform performance, and I've had my fair share over the last few years”.


Jonathan is definitely now on the turn-around with his successful role in the BFG and his experiences on that set enriching his outlook on life. And there’s no rest either. Straight from that film he jumps into a new animation series and a video game with the hard-working actor on the rise in a multitude of disciplines.


He also hopes to back in the UK for some theatre also one thing is for sure, Jonathan will be beaming over the fantastic reviews of his and his co-stars performances in one of the most well-received family films of the Summer. Which is surely Jonathan’s biggest and friendliest success of all.


BFG is in cinemas now.


Midlands Movies Mike


Photo of Jonathan courtesy of Kristine Cofsky

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