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By midlandsmovies, Sep 29 2017 11:18AM


Lights! Camera! Action! With The Shawshank Redemption, The Graduate and Grease, Leicester’s Curve Theatre is already a regional hub for brilliantly realised stage versions of some of the world’s most classic films. And tonight was no exception as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s infamous 1993 musical Sunset Boulevard (itself based around Billy Wilder’s 1950 Oscar winning noir classic) debuted in Leicester.


The musical matches the film’s narrative closely where struggling Hollywood screenwriter Joe Gillis (Hollyoaks and Strictly Come Dancing star Danny Mac) escapes his debtors and winds up re-writing the atrocious script of faded silent-movie star Norma Desmond. Desmond is played by Welsh West End stage star Ria Jones and boy does she deserve her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.


The show opens with a bang as a full chorus explodes onto the stage with "Let's Have Lunch" which immediately whisks us into the old glamour of a bygone movie era from The Paramount production company archway to sleazy journalists, loud-mouth directors and Hollywood hopefuls.


Mac is superb as the witty writer, doing what he has to do to survive and his American style delivery is boastful yet classic at once. However, much like Norma herself, the show centres around Ria Jones but unlike the deluded and self-absorbed house-bound harridan, this starlet shines bright every time she takes the stage.


The times she is not front and centre, the play still fully delivers with the wry clothes-swapping "The Lady's Paying" being a comedy delight whilst Molly Lynch as Betty Schaefer holds her own as the lovelorn film company script-reader. Her note perfect high-pitched duet on “Girl Meets Boy” played softly against the harsher dynamics of Joe and Norma’s tempestuous turns.


The technical playing of the musical’s tunes was the show’s biggest-kept secret accomplishment. Once the curtain fell an eager Leicester crowd gathered near the orchestral pit to give specific congratulations to the fantastic (and unsung) players of the night and fully deserved it was too with the sweeping score moving from bombastic to gentle without fault.


Director Nikolai Foster kept the play moving fast and choreographer Lee Proud mixed show tune flamboyancy with tiny touches (the movement of a wine bottle past almost unnoticed between three separate characters in seconds) and that level of detail is why the 2-hour plus performance flew by joyously.




With the amazing music and Jones’ impeccable delivery, the theatre was alight with talent and the props and their unique usage became key to understanding the show’s Los Angeles locations. The staircase in Desmond’s mansion became the focus of a power-dynamic with her dominating presence looming over Mac’s Joe Gillis. As she descends her ‘stairway to Hollywood heaven’, Desmond comes back to earth with the faintest glimpses of reality peeking in behind her foolish belief of a successful return to the screen.


But finally, with all the components working perfectly with each other, Jones delivered the film’s infamous “I’m ready for my close-up” line and along with her note-holding final song, the theatre erupted into a more than deserved standing ovation. Far from a silent success, this new take on Sunset Boulevard should be sung from the Hollywood hills with its beautiful gift of glamour and glitz.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Aug 31 2017 03:44PM

2017 Movie Catch-Up Blog Part 3




24x36: A Movie about Movie Posters (2017) Dir. Kevin Burke

This documentary concerns the lost (and now maybe regained) art of the illustrated movie poster. With conversations from key artists over the last 40 years, the film shines a nostalgic light to the changes within the industry from the iconic (and painted) nature of the past to the resistance of the homogenised digital ‘Photoshop-ing’ of the present. It also follows the resurgence of the MONDO brand who, in the absence of Hollywood’s calling, filled the gap for creative, limited edition, screen-printed posters which has grown into an underground (but maybe no more) phenomenon. The doc is structured with the usual voice-overs and interviews yet despite its average structure, if you’re a fan of the subject then it does a great deal to explain the industry’s avoidance of creative risks with the increase use of focus groups. Similar to “Drew: The Man Behind the Poster” (2013) – a doc focused on the most famous poster-creator of them all Drew Struzan – the passion of the collectors just pulls it over the line – as was a surprise appearance from Leicester’s own Thomas Hodge whose 80s-flavoured posters are part of the scene’s rebirth. As a fan of alternative poster art (see our blogs here & here) I enjoyed the documentary, but for the passing fan however, it may be a bit too bland in style to grab you like well-designed placard. 6.5/10




Prevenge (2017) Dir. Alice Lowe

A pregnant woman who commits murder owing to voices she believes come from her unborn foetus is the dark narrative from this new British comedy horror. I had high hopes for this film after a spate of fine reviews yet right off the bat, the film is neither shocking nor comedic enough to warrant such regard. The movie’s positives include a terrific turn by writer/director/actor Alice Lowe who brings some depth to the troubled character but it delivered a poor script that thought it was far cleverer than it was. The overall feel was a few “skits” tied together with an over-arching and confusingly delivered narrative. The themes of female passions are surface level at best and an (almost) hand-held filming style meant I couldn’t get beyond the mix of its low budget technical style combined with the self-important themes and 6th Form-level wit. Apparently it was filmed in 2 weeks and boy can you tell. No laughs and no scares make Prevenge a dull girl. 4/10




Opening Night (2017) Dir. Isaac Rentz

A low budget frolic into the world of the musical stage sees Topher Grace playing a backstage producer of a new show that is as haphazard as it is a giant mess. Mixing the front of house musical numbers with the chaotic backstage antics of divas and dead-headed actors, the film is a light-hearted and enthusiastic tribute to the stresses of putting on a professional performance for the first time. Grace brings his inoffensive but warm persona from That 70s Show and a great comedic support cast delivers a stock love-story that, like the show within the film, wins the audience over despite its amateurism. Even though I’ve toured in a rock band myself, I have but a passing interest in film musicals as bursting into song in the middle of a scene has never really connected with me away from the stage. However, Opening Night is itself a meta-musical with the actors at times singing and dancing ‘outside’ of their own show. In many ways it works much more naturally than the artificial construct of most musicals. Like Moulin Rouge, well known pop songs are mixed with a handful of originals (which helps) and overall the movie avoids blandness as it harmlessly pokes fun at the crazy dramas of the theatrical world. 6.5/10




It Comes at Night (2017) Dir. Trey Edward Shults

Another film coming with a raft of praise-worthy reviews, this minimalist horror-drama also sadly fails to live up to expectations with a story about an unknown contagious disease and two families’ attempts at secluding themselves in the forest away from its ravages. One unit is headed by Joel Edgerton delivering an intense rage-filled role we’ve come to expect from him. He tries to ensure the safety of his family with a firm-hand and strict set of rules until he crosses paths with Will (Christopher Abbott) and his wife and child. The two then come together for both company and the sharing of scarce resources. However, the slow build up creates an unsettling distrust and from ‘sleepwalking’ children to barking dogs, the filmmaker aims to increase both the character’s and audience’s paranoia throughout. With dream and nightmare sequences though, the film is very ambiguous in what it is presenting. This at times works owing to the fear of the unknown but unfortunately this ‘open-to-interpretation’ delivery is stretched to a point of confusion. As the water and supplies dwindled, so did my interest and the director delivered some stock Hollywood horrors (a tree rustle here, a locked red door there – ooh spooky) whilst the investigations and infections come to an unsatisfying conclusion. It’s therefore a big shame the film failed to grab me as there are a few glimpses of a more narratively coherent horror in here. Yet It Comes at Night is ultimately a well-filmed and beautifully lit chamber-piece that some viewers will find tense, ambiguous and atmospheric whilst I predict a majority will come away simply bored to death. 5.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Aug 6 2017 06:50PM



Bantock House Outdoor Cinema: La La Land


Open air cinemas are all the rage right now. Aside from those with the “pick a carpark and pack it out” approach, they provide the opportunity to ditch the multiplexes and experience something unique. La La Land at Wolverhampton’s Bantock House perfectly epitomised such an experience.


July the 29th saw over 200 film fans fill the Rose Garden, making for an intimate setting which even the rain couldn’t, ahem, dampen the spirits of. Those eager to see the musical were first serenaded all the way back to Hollywood’s golden era by the retro harmony stylings of The Miss Fortunes, it goes without saying that already, this was infinitely more immersive than 30 minutes of Audi and Apple adverts.


Black Country Touring and Films in a Flash made sure the logistics and technical aspects ran without a hitch (be sure to check out their page for what they’ve got lined up next). Regardless of the inclement weather and early evening lighting difficulties that the British Summertime offers, the film looked and sounded every bit like an Oscar winner.


The good news is that this is just the beginning for Bantock House’s Outdoor Cinema. Event organisers Jeremy Brown and Andrew Atkinson had this to say about how it went and what the West Midlands can expect next:


Midlands Movies: “So, how did you feel the inaugural event went?”

Andrew Atkinson: “I personally feel it was a great success, if you take out the weather factor. But we held an exit poll as people left, and it proved that everyone enjoyed themselves.”

Jeremy Brown: “We had a very, very good turnout…if you put the right product in front of people, they will come out, despite it being an experiment (the first time) and despite of the weather. I think we had a good mix in the audience: it was nice to some families, some diversity. The other thing was, the venue does work very well for these types of events: it’s got a friendly sort of intimacy and it does feels a bit special, especially for a film like La La Land. To be able to stage it in a landscaped garden space in a country house adds value to the whole event experience.”


MM: “There’s some exclusivity there isn’t there. Like you’re part of a club. Who else was involved in the staging?”

“Black Country Touring were very helpful and identified Films in a Flash as potential providers who were relatively local and felt a good match. They did a great job with the ancillary lighting and the PA system for the band. They seemed keen to add value and work in partnership rather than treat it as a commercial event.”


MM: “Speaking of the band, Miss Fortunes was really a nice warm-up act.”

JB: “We felt if people were going to come out, bring a picnic and make an evening of it, it would be fun to have something extra which would feel sympathetic to the film. A bit of harmony singing and period music felt right and added to the celebratory feel.”


MM: “Where do you think the enthusiasm for open air cinema as an alternative to the multiplexes comes from?”

Andrew Atkinson: “Well, you were there. It started to rain as soon as the titles came up and stopped as soon as the end came up and it hasn’t rained since! (Laughs). But had it been a good evening I think people would have been dancing in the aisles.”

JB: “The multiplex issue is a tricky one and we’re fortunate to have the Lighthouse in Wolverhampton. It’s interesting to see the clientele that regularly attend and they’re the kind of people we’re trying to attract. Multiplexes haven’t done themselves any favours. The prices have increased…the levels of hygiene, cleanliness, noise. Just the cinema going experience can be a bit chequered. To have an alternative to that is a really positive one. Thinking about the kind of films that would work in the future, we’d be exploring that slightly more upmarket experience. There are some very commercial organisations that are doing Top Gun, Dirty Dancing and Grease singalongs. I think a lot of that is about how many people you can cram into a space and how many beers you can sell. We’d rather have a more exclusive feel but still have people come along and enjoy them.”


MM: “With going more upmarket then, what ideas have you got for future screenings?”

AA: “To be quite honest, the dust hasn’t settled from the first one and we’re still in the post-mortem stages. All we can say with confidence is yes, there will be another one, perhaps in the late summer. Perhaps two dates pencilled in for 2018, if not more.”

JB: “In terms of the films and grown up cinema, perhaps more feel good than Dunkirk, perhaps (with La La Land) it would have been appropriate after the awards ceremony if we put Moonlight on by accident (laughs). That would be the right sort of film again. I think a film like Baby Driver could attract a real interest, again, it’s got a fantastic score and a real sense of fun…maybe a film like Pride, which has got a feel good resonance and would work in that context. We’re keeping an eye out for some of those really high quality, thought provoking films…rather than the shoot ‘em up, popcorn material. One of the nice things about working with the community…is that we can run a straw poll: put a list together, pick the ones you’d like to see and get buy in as well”.

AA: “It’s always been my mantra that if we’re going to do anything, then we’re going to do it well. We’re providing a quality product…and we’ll bring the arts to the area and to a wider Wolverhampton audience.”



MM: “You mentioned introducing people to silent cinema too.”

JB: “We’re trying that with Funny Things, a pilot comedy festival in Wolverhampton in October. We’re toying with the idea of a live piano accompaniment to a Harold Lloyd movie which we could stage in the tractor shed which holds 70 people and could be an intimate and fun experience. We certainly enjoyed Buster Keaton’s The General when Flatpack put that on at the Brownhills Community Centre last summer.”


MM: “So finally, how can people get involved and support you?”

JB: “Finchfield and Castlecroft Community Association has its own website (Link - http://www.finchfieldandcastlecroft.com/ ) and we’re lucky to work with the council’s events team at the Wolverhampton Art Gallery so we’re keen to hear from people through those networks. Our funding comes from Creative Black Country; they’re very keen to work with any voluntary sector organisation who may wish to engage in quality art activity.”


MM: “Thanks for your time, both.”


You can keep up with the Bantock House Outdoor Cinema events through the sites above and of course, through Midlands Movies.


Robb Sheppard

https://twitter.com/RedBezzle



By midlandsmovies, Dec 13 2016 10:43AM



Grease at The Curve catches lightning in a bottle


Let’s put this straight out there – Grease is my favourite musical. The combination of catchy 50s-influenced pop hits together with a classic tale of boyfriend and girlfriend from opposite sides of the track is as fantastic now as it was when the film version was released in 1978.


In this version Nikolai Foster directs a new production of Warren Casey and Jim Jacobs' 1971 musical and takes many cues from the original version rather than the film adaptation. Here the T-Birds we know from the motion picture revert to the original Burger Boys gang, but the same saga of Summer Lovin’ returning to high school is still the story’s driving force.


This version also includes songs the movie omitted but film-fans shouldn’t be dismayed as solo performances of Grease’s unforgettable classics including “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee”, by the amazing Djalenga Scott as a raw Rizzo and "Hopelessly Devoted to You" from Jessica Paul as Sandy showed the talent of the cast and why the latter was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song.


The story remains mostly the same with popular gang rebel Danny Zuko (played with assured confidence by Dex Lee) meeting goodie two-shoes Sandy during summer only for them to be re-united once school reconvenes. The subsequent clash between their romantic liaison and friends’ peer pressure see the two try to rekindle their whirlwind romance at Rydell High.


Sitting alongside 1950s high school classics like American Graffiti (and even Back to the Future) the film delivered the showtunes by two of the most popular stars at the time; John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. But those big shoes are excellently filled by the two leads here as well as a high quality support cast who get equally as many funny lines and songs as the protagonists.


Faithful stage recreations of the hand-jive dance off, the burger joint and various school locations are brilliantly rendered with steps doubling up as tiered bleachers and household stairs whilst benches, pummel horses and gym equipment resonate from the period. Designer Colin Richmond should be commended on this innovative use of identifiable school symbols as well as descending Teen Angels, flying Grease Lightning cars and 50s neon signs that evoke the period and help showcase the talents of the cast.


Choreographer Nick Winston brings updated moves and sporty boogies to the athletic stage jiving and twists the audience’s knowledge of the film version’s style with brand new takes on Travolta’s hip shaking gyrations and the gang’s ‘wella-wella’ thrusts.


The music was spot-on with not a note misplaced and included some excellent guitar solos. Particular highlights included the extended (and reprised) ‘Born to Hand Jive’ and the frankly amazing acoustic rendition of ‘Those Magic Changes’. This version goes from chord structure to cast choir in a melodic minute of well-performed music and dialogue.


‘Beauty School Drop Out’ could have done with the crooner-style of Frankie Avalon rather than the modern Glee-ish delivery we were treated to but this was more of a personal preference. However, some mature experience was brought by Darren Bennett whose Vince Fontaine was a comedy cameo of such hilarious quality he nearly stole the show with a pantomime performance of high kicks and sweaty dance twirls.


The whole production of Grease uses its perfect technical and creative attributes alongside the already infamous songs to create an incredible stage show, Daddy-O. Either as a newcomer or Grease enthusiast, this new version at Leicester’s Curve encapsulates the joy of the film whilst music and cast go together like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong!


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Aug 26 2016 09:10AM

A splurge of talent comes to Leicester in gangster film musical Bugsy Malone


Released in the summer of 1976, Alan Parker’s Bugsy Malone is a musical gangster film set in New York in the 1920s with a cast of only child actors and this new Curve Community Production brings that Jazz age vibe to the Leicester theatre stage.


Directed and choreographed by Nick Winston, the show takes the music of songwriter Paul Williams and tells the story of washed up boxing promoter Bugsy Malone as he flirts with aspiring singer Blousey Brown amidst a backdrop of a city-wide gang rivalry between Fat Sam and newcomer Dandy Dan and his hoods.


The original 70’s film was Parker's feature-length directorial debut and introduced actor Scott Baio (later of Happy Days fame) as well as a 13-year old Jodie Foster as Tallulah. At the time of filming, all of the cast were under 17 years old.


For this local production, director Nick Winston has brought along his unique choreography previously used in other film-related shows such as Legally Blonde and Grease to design a fantastic piece which showcases Leicester’s brightest young talent. Taking on everything from “Fat Sam's Grand Slam" speakeasy showtune to upbeat "So You Wanna Be a Boxer?" the adolescent actors encapsulated the music and prohibition vibe in all its glory.


In a whirl of gangsters and guns - for the uninitiated, the splurge guns fire kid-friendly whipped cream – the community cast and orchestra undersold their talents as an ‘amateur’ company and delivered the goods in all the important areas. The modern Smooth Criminal-influenced speakeasy dance number complimented the Charleston bopping as showgirls danced on tables whilst the acting of Alfie Bright (Dandy Dan) and Joel Fossard-Jones as the hero Bugsy Malone were particular standouts.


The acting was top notch across the board though as Arlo Mulligan-Vassel (Fizzy) delivered a brilliant solo rendition of “Tomorrow Never Comes” early in the show whilst Harvey Thorpe encapsulated a superb sleazy (Fat) Sam and Amica Kuroda (Lena) almost stole the show as a diminutive but strong loudmouth singer at an audition.


Special note should go to the stage design. A series of elevated train lines (Chicago’s infamous ‘L’ track) alongside a huge skyscraper-like video board allowed the audience to be whisked away to different parts of the city – even at times becoming a visual printing press for the narrative’s news style. As well as these impressive visual designs, the display was a practical prop too with some ‘screens’ opening up as windows and doors adding physicality to the stage as well. At times the smoky silhouettes of the dark city streets were straight from a film noir further enhancing the play’s dazzling cinematic quality.


This show’s success mirrors the film’s achievements where it gained award nominations including Best Motion Picture, Best Score and Best Song at the Golden Globes and an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song Score. Alan Parker received the BAFTA Award for Best Original Screenplay, and a nomination for Best Direction too.


Back to the stage though, Bugsy Malone is a phenomenal success – it being one of my favourite musicals may have made me slightly biased – but the costumes, music and especially the delivery of song and dance numbers by the whole cast made this a magical and marvellous “Malone” night to remember. Check it out while you still can.


Midlands Movies Mike


Bugsy Malone can be caught at The Curve from Friday 19th August — Sunday 28th August



By midlandsmovies, Jun 15 2016 01:50PM

Local Leicester theatre The Curve is showcasing local talent with a new Midlands production of Bugsy Malone. Midlands Movies Mike speaks to The Curve to find out more about the child-focused musical.


Bugsy Malone was written by Alan Parker with music and lyrics by Paul Williams and used a child-only cast to show a time of 1930s prohibition with the rival gangs of Fat Sam and Dandy Dan fighting it out on the streets. Sam’s only hope is washed up boxer Bugsy Malone who also has eyes for wannabe showgirl Blousey Brown. The original 1976 film version was Parker's feature-length directorial debut and introduced young actor Scott Baio and featured a 13-year old Jodie Foster.


At the end of Summer, Leicester’s premier theatre will host an adaptation using over 30 young performers, and a home-grown orchestra will also be present at this year’s Made at Curve Community Production of the quirky musical.


In this version, up-and-coming local talent makes up the show’s crew of gangsters and showgirls including Joel Fossard-Jones as Bugsy Malone, Maeve Woods as Blousey, Harvey Thorpe as Fat Sam, Alfie Bright as Dandy Dan, Muhammed Ibraheem as Roxy Robinson and Benjamin Cowan as Knuckles. Femme-fatale Tallulah, Jodie Foster’s original role, will be played by Jennifer Brown.


Joel Fossard-Jones returns to Curve in the title-role following performances in previous productions including Adrian Mole in The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole The Musical, and in other film-spinoffs as The Artful Dodger in Oliver! and Kurt Von Trapp in The Sound of Music.


The Curve itself is a spectacular state-of-the-art theatre based in the heart of Leicester’s vibrant Cultural Quarter with an award-winning building designed by acclaimed architect Rafael Viñoly.


For this production, and a first for Curve, Bugsy Malone will also feature a community orchestra made entirely of local musicians. Musical director George Dyer will lead the orchestra with many of the participants performing in an on-stage production for the first time.


The annual community productions provide an opportunity for people of all ages to work with Curve’s professional production and technical teams. The shows are central to Curve’s ongoing commitment to nurture, develop and celebrate local talent from across the region. Curve Associate Artist and choreographer for Legally Blonde and Grease, Nick Winston, will direct.


Curve Artistic Director Nikolai Foster explains, “The Curve Community Production is always a season highlight for us, combining the incredibly important work we create with our communities with our work on stage”.


The show runs from Fri 19 Aug – Sun 28 Aug and tickets can be purchased from the Box Office 0116 2423595 or booked online at www.curveonline.co.uk


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