Saturday, October 26, 2019

Two-Paragraph Review: In the Tall Grass (2019)

Like the Bird Box, Netflix is chasing, at least as far as I can tell, some kind of a cooking-cutter way of making decent horror movies. They all have a simple premise and use their star actors more than scenography, props or anything like that. In the Tall Grass, the relatively unknown main protagonists are aided by Patrick Wilson's character as they are all lost in a strange field from which no one can escape.

All of this is based on Stephen and Joe King novella by the same name and yes, like all horror things King, it manages to stick to the wall (somehow). The movie, in turn, seems to want little more than the same wall-sticking ability - it is not A Quiert Place nor does it aim that high. It is able to entertain and it fails to be overtly stupid or comical (unlike the much more expensive Bird Box). While it does that, it starts and ends as a microwave-ready horror film but which carries no greater ambition than to be just that.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet

 September 2019

Whilst it merely hints at Shakespeare's play (no star-crossed lovers, feuding families, forced marriage), Matthew Bourne's Romeo and Juliet is astonishing and compelling. His usual, masterful storytelling is at its very best here, climaxing in unexpected ways and prompting such acute emotions that tears coursed down my face at the end.

Set in the Verona Institute, a building where young offenders and the mentally ill are confined, the action gets under way at a pace with Sergei Prokofiev's "Dance of the Knights", part of a re-orchestrated and re-arranged score by Terry Davies for just 15 multi-skilled musicians. Initially sceptical about how this might work, the strength of the sound emanating from the pit was as surprising as the drama on stage, and any doubts were quickly dispelled.

Lez Brotherston's clinical, two-tier, shiny white sets frame the action brilliantly and enable the ever-present tension to smoulder throughout. Superb lighting design by Paule Constable captures the volatility of each scene with subtlety.

Juliet (Cordelia Braithwaite) is already an "inmate" alongside Mercutio, Balthasar, Mercutio's boyfriend Gackson Fisch), and Benvolio (Harrison Dowzell). Romeo (Paris Fitzpatrick) is dumped unceremoniously there by his politician parents who clearly view him as a problem. The youths are guarded by Tybalt (Dan Wright), a brute of a man who appears as troubled as his charges. In an unfortunate accident on press night, Reece Causton, who had been originally cast as Mercutio, injured himself in the early stages of the performance. Bourne took to the stage to report that his replacement would be there after a short pause, and sure enough, Ben Brown leapt to the challenge and the show went on seamlessly.

From the outset, the atmosphere is intoxicating. The action is intense and concise, with Bourne's straightforward vocabulary emphasising the powerful score with rhythmic marching and stark shapes. As the inmates' medication is robotically distributed, Juliet is singled out by Tybalt and, we are led to believe, raped by him off stage. There is little time to digest this properly before the Rev Bernadette Laurence (Daisy May Kemp) has organised the institution disco. This creates the opportunity for Romeo and Juliet to meet and fall in love. What is famously the "balcony"pas de deux, here is an emotionally fulfilling duet that simmers with young love. The couple fall over each other with eagerness and sweeping, graceful movements, delivering the world's longest kiss, whilst rippling over each other's bodies and negotiating the set with feverish ardour.

There's plenty of humour too, but it all starts to go badly wrong when Tybalt, fuelled by alcohol, finds that Juliet has fallen for Romeo. In an uncharacteristic show of weakness, he falls to his knees, only to be openly mocked by the inmates. Tybal's anger is unleashed in a terrifying tour de force from Wright, his blistering fury towering above the cast. The ensuing murders are brutally shocking. Romeo is left to take the blame. It seemed as if he was about to be sent home for bad behaviour, but his ensuing manic episode ensures he remains. There's a nod to Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo, when Juliet sits on her bed in stillness contemplating her next move, then begging the compassionate Rev Bernadette to engineer a meeting between the two young lovers.

What follows is some of the best theatre I have seen in years. Juliet is triggered by the memory of her trauma with Tybalt and "sees" him chasing her around the building. I will not reveal the heartbreaking ending here, but, of course Romeo and Juliet die, as we know they will. Take heed, though, the impact lasts long after curtain down.

The cast is young, making the story appear ferociously real. Bourne selected six young cast dancers including Arianne Morgan, Bethany Hunt and Isabelle Evans, as Juliet’s ‘friends’, whilst Jago Mottart, Dillon Berry and Samuel Dilkes, support Romeo.  Profoundly moving, this production cannot fail to touch the senses and, after all, isn't that why we go to the theatre, to be completely transported? Bourne, his team and his committed company have yet another success on their hands.

Two-Paragraph Review: In the Shadow of the Moon (2019)

It seems like people who want to make a time travel movie these days immediately say to themselves: how can we make our time travel a never-before-seen thing? Surprisingly, they are often quite good at this. Predestination managed to pull it off to a degree, while the much older Primer does the same on a low-budget yet marvelous level. In the Shadow of the Moon is not exactly the cream of the crop, but it does offer something engaging and mysterious, while it skillfully navigates its way around any potential pitfalls.

Naturally, I’m not talking about physics or time travel mechanics, these are always full of holes (apart from the brilliant Primer). Here, I’m thinking more about the actual plot and how it relates to the main characters - in this case, a cop who witnesses a mysterious case of murders and manages to stop the suspect back in the 1980s. Yet, every nine years, the same murder pattern seems to occur again and again. As the mystery deepens, so does the traction the film has, all the while cleverly connecting it to the main character and the people around him. This ends as a not a very innovative time travel mystery, but one that does try to convey something beyond a pulpy sci-fi tale.