Tuesday, 23 October 2012

An Interview with Maurice Roëves

Image: Martin Parsons/Fohnhouse

Maurice Roëves has been in everything, from Eastenders to Judge Dredd, and his career shows no signs of slowing down after 50 years. We sat down in Nottingham’s delightful Edin’s Café for a long chat about his career, but keeping to our planned questions proved difficult as Maurice, by his own admission, tends to veer off on tangents in conversation.
One thing you never learn as a child, that your parents can’t teach you, that nobody can teach you, is how to grow old. When it does hit, you could be in your fifties, sixties, seventies…it only hit me five years ago when I had a big cancer operation. I went in on a Monday, had the operation, and was back home on the Saturday, no cancer, no radiation, nothing, and that was all because of early detection.  I do it because as an actor my body is the tool of my trade, so therefore, if you can spend a lot of money doing an MOT on your car, surely to God you can do an MOT on your body once a year, even if you pay for it yourself. It would save the NHS an awful lot of money!

With this in mind, he tried to offer his services to the NHS, thinking that a recognisable face telling their story might spur other people into having regular checkups. They weren’t interested.
The guy…who was the guy who was a postman and became health secretary? [We didn’t know at the time but this was the Right Honourable Alan Johnson – ed.] He wrote back to me and said ‘no, we don’t need this’. I just get so sick – there’s such a lack of common sense out there at the moment. Whether it’s me getting old or not I don’t know…The best comedy series of this year was watching the football the night before last [this was the rained-off World Cup qualifier between England and Poland on the 16thOctober 2012 – ed.]. It was a joke, I mean quarter of an hour before kick-off it was a lake, but they waited another hour and half to make a decision. There’s no way you’re going to clean it up, just cancel the bloody thing and let people go home! Stupid!

Another important bit of business before we got on to his acting career was his name:
I’d better warn you, it’s pronounced 'ROH-EEVS' – because of the two dots over the E. It’s Prussian. It’s called a diaeresis over the E and an umlaut if it’s over the O. I’ve forgotten where I was going because I’ve gone and diverted – I’m like this all the time!

In terms of background, how did he get into acting?
I was one of the last national servicemen. At the time my parents had moved from the slum where we lived in Glasgow. Not their fault, it was where my dad worked. They’d given them a flat for nothing but it was awful. It was interesting watching Obama talking about slums in Kenya – a slum in Kenya is no worse than a slum in Glasgow in 1945, believe you me! So, they moved to a house in a nice district and I joined the church drama club, mainly to meet girls. A part came up, and they said ‘we’re a man short, would you take it?’ and I said ‘yeah’. I still remember; I counted the lines. 16 lines! I don’t count the lines anymore…I’ll always remember walking behind the stage – I know it sounds corny, it’s been said a thousand times, but I could smell the glue on the set, and I walked into the darkness and the lights came on and I suddenly thought ‘this is what I want to do’. I had a good job. At 21 I was an assistant sales manager selling animal food products for Spillers Ltd, a huge big flour company [who also produced pet food such as Winalot – ed.]. I stayed with the company working, but started doing a great deal of amateur work, amateur musicals, I went into everything. I decided to go to drama college, but suddenly the prospect of giving up a regular job with regular money… and your parents were like ‘Are you crazy?’, you know.

Anyway, I sat the audition and it went extremely well, it was extraordinary, but then I said I didn’t think I could do it. The director, Mr Chandler – he was a wonderful lecturer – came out to the house and said ‘we think you should come in, and if you want to come in next year you won’t have to audition’. And then halfway through the year – I’d taken up dancing, because West Side Story had come out and I thought actors have got to know how to dance – I started going out with a dancing girl. She was going off for the summer season, and I upped sticks and left and went and did the summer season! Got fired because I wasn’t that great! So that was how I got started – came back, went to drama college, three of the best years of my life. I loved drama college. It’s now called the Conservatoire, in my day it was the Royal College of Music and Drama, which I think sounds much better. They wrote to me saying ‘what do you think of the new title?’ and I said ‘it sounds like a greenhouse!’ – I wasn’t very popular about that! We were the first of the working class year that went in…It was terribly [adopts a posh English voice] like that and we went in rough and ready.

Was there a friction there with the old guard?
Oh no, it was rape and pillage from our point of view! The posh girls thought they’d never got so lucky and the guys didn’t like it at all! It was great fun.

The other day I was doing a television thing and a young girl doing the wardrobe asked if I lived in London and I said no, I’ve gone off London. It was so good when I lived there, but I said ‘I’m old now, I was living there before you were born!’ I suddenly thought about it… you know that poem ‘Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Light’? It’s a very famous poem about death [‘Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night’ by Dylan Thomas – ed.]. Well I thought ‘Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Age’, because those ten years from the end of 1960s into 1970s were just unbelievable. There was a revolution in music, a revolution in dress design, everything. A revolution in acting with Jimmy Dean and goodness knows what, it was just tremendous. I look back and I think ‘yeah, I was born then!’ and there’s a lot of people who are quite jealous because you had The Beatles come out, the Stones come out – the ugliest group that you’d ever seen in your life when they came out! That was a great decade. I said to the girl ‘of course, if you’re not born in that age and you haven’t lived through it then you haven’t experienced it, so your age may be equally as good’. From my point of view forget it! I wouldn’t want to live in this age. It’s too full of this [demonstrates somebody glued to their phone]. When I arrived today I couldn’t get in because of all these kids on their phones – whether they were twittering or what I don’t know. It’s like… do you know what a dummy tit is? A comforter for kids, babies suck on it. That’s what the modern cell phone is, a modern comforter for people. I see couples in restaurants and they’re both on the phone, and you go ‘why would you come out for a romantic meal and not talk to one another?’ and somebody said that sometimes they’re actually talking to each other! What?! Across a table through a phone?! God! How crazy can you get?! Anyway enough of this... you shouldn’t have asked!

Thursday, 18 October 2012

An Interview with Charlie Paul

Developed over fifteen years, For No Good Reason takes us on an insightful journey of discovering as we’re treated to glimpse into the life of British artist Ralph Steadman. Director Charlie Paul sat down with us to discuss his new film.

Image: Fohnjang Ghebdinga/Fohnhouse

How did the idea to do the film come about?

I’ve always been interested in art – I went to an art college and I’m essentially a painter – and I was very interested in recording artists’ work over time. OK, a quick history… I left art college and I got a job animating in paint for a TV programme called Vision On, in those days, so I used to do painted cartoons. I’d walk up to a canvas, paint it, take a frame of that, go back, paint it, take a frame of that, so the process was like a moving painting. I did that in art college, I did that in my first job after art college, then I did a commercial that won lots of awards, in the same process, so I’d established this way of filming art. Then I made a TV series with 5 great artists doing the same thing: I filmed their paintings and interviewed them a lot, and the combination of those two together was quite exciting, so I approached Ralph, because I heard that Ralph had a video camera that he’d film his work on, and showed him my films and he was, typical Ralph, “oh, I don’t have the time to do that.” That was the only time he was ever actually dismissive of me, and that was fifteen years ago. I went down to his place and we talked, and I realised that his studio, his house, was a fantastic canvas to use to describe what he does, so from then on I used to go visit him, and we’d talk about stuff. The reason this film took a long time is that whole first period: it was all about just talking and looking at what he found interesting and then, after about 5 years, we started filming things… and it just grew from there.

Could you talk a bit about the film’s style and your decision to animate Ralph’s work?

The animation was started at the very beginning of the process. The reason for that is I wanted to avoid the classic documentary thing of looking around paintings and then having to fill that gap with describing what you’re seeing, so I was looking for techniques to fill the time, to entertain you while you made your own mind up.

Ralph loved the work. He’d never let anyone animate his work before. He has had so many requests to reanimate Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as you can imagine; they’ve actually wanted him to reanimate the whole film. As he knows, it’s an absolute disaster. There are only 10 drawings in the book and, all of them, their life is within the text.

And the contemporary soundtrack…

The music came much later on in the edit process. A lot people said, ‘Why don’t you use 70s music?’ ‘Why don’t you try and evoke the era?’ But two things happened there. First of all it is for a young audience. I didn’t want to alienate my audience with music that’s not relevant to them. Secondly, there were certain areas that we wanted to have opposites in, so the fact that we’ve got Crystal Castles on the Leonardo [Da Vinci] suite is quite a bizarre idea. It works really well because it energises the actual passage, and, hopefully, it opens it up to a younger audience.

Half our tracks were chosen because we actually wanted to use certain tracks, and they were difficult because we had to pursue those tracks to the artist. But quite often the artists would write tracks for us. The All American Rejects wrote Gonzo, for example, and Jason Mraz recorded I Love, and Slash recorded the guitar on the war segment. We were in the hands of those artists. We gave them the work, we showed them the cut, they produced the music, and, in the same way I wouldn’t have asked Ralph to change his painting in the process, I wouldn’t have asked the artists to change their interpretation of the music. For better or worse, I think it has made this a very unusual documentary because it’s not a slave to describing what was, but it’s more like a reinterpretation in a current way, and I hope it is as timeless as his work is.

How did the actors (Richard E. Grant, Johnny Depp) get involved?

Everyone loves Ralph so it was very easy to ring up Richard E. Grant and say. ‘Hey, Richard, I’m making a film about Ralph, will you give us a day?’ and he’d go, ‘Yeah, of course I can.” Ralph, also, is very generous. It’s described in the film how Ralph helped Richard out by doing pictures, and he was instrumental to Withnail and I, which was Richard’s big break in filmmaking, so everyone’s connected in this way and everyone came on board that way. The same with Johnny.

Johnny is a good example of someone who, in a way, is so connected through his love of Hunter Thompson that he became important to the whole… he became the frame for the process, in a way - whereas everybody else had an episode that was within Ralph’s life, in a way, Johnny spanned Ralph’s life. Ralph would be in America at an opening of some kind and Johnny would be there and there would be pictures of them all hanging out together. Even down to Hunter’s funeral, Johnny arranged the whole funeral, so I kept on coming across work, things that connected them, so in the end we asked if he would be interested in helping us out and that process started there.

Everyone in the film, and many others we interviewed who were very important who didn’t make the film, sadly, were all there because they are unremovable from the fabric of Ralph’s life. The same goes for Hunter Thompson. It’s impossible to make a film about Ralph without Hunter involved. If you avoided these people you almost had to remove a part of Ralph’s life.

What do you want to achieve with the film?

My first intention was to get Ralph out to the world. The film’s job is to spread Ralph’s word, so I made it for a younger audience who didn’t know about him, and I also made it to touch on all these important subjects: human rights, poverty or injustice, but not to preach because you turn the audience off if you start telling people how they should think, so we’ve kept the art very open for people to interpret their own way. I was very interested in giving people tasters of important subjects and hopefully they are influenced and excited to go out and try it themselves – maybe try painting again, maybe try and make a message in painting, or just to follow up on human rights or on Beat poets like William Burroughs and so on. Hopefully, that’s the job of the film.


Wednesday, 17 October 2012

An Interview with Mat Whitecross

Image: Jason Kempin/Getty Images

While out promoting his new film Spike Island at this year’s London Film Festival, The Road to Guantanamo director Mat Whitecross was nice enough to sit down with us to discuss his new film as well as his relationship with director Michael Winterbottom.

You’ve been involved in a few areas of the industry: you’ve directed shorts, music videos, edited alongside Michael Winterbottom… has directing feature films always been the goal?

I always wanted to be a director. From the moment I found out that there was such as thing as a director of a film rather than these things just appearing fully formed, that’s what I wanted to do. But, growing up in Oxford, I didn’t know anyone in the industry, I didn’t know anyone who had the equipment, I didn’t know how you put something like that together, so it wasn’t until a few years later, with my dad’s camera, that I went off and started shooting stuff. You taught yourself that way. That was film school. Then, when I went to uni, I carried on making things on the fly and studied English.

My first job out of college was working for Michael Winterbottom as the runner. He was finishing off The Claim when I turned up - that was the last week of The Claim, just in the edit suite – and the first film I really worked on properly was 24 Hour Party People. It was amazing. He took me aside and was like, ‘look, what is it you want to do?’ I said I want to be a film director so he asked me what skills I had. I said that I can edit and I can shoot, and within about 6 months I was on the set just filming and editing. It was really amazing. So that became my second film school. But, it’s very hard to get in. It’s like the chicken and egg thing, catch-22. Who’s going to give you the cash when you don’t have the CV? And Michael offered me the chance to edit with him on 9 Songs, and then when we were finishing off 9 Songs I had read about the Tipton Three, who had just been released from Guantanamo, and I thought I wanted to make this film. I was talking to Michael about it one night over a drink, and we were all quite drink because we were supposed to be starting another film of his called Goal!, which then actually fell apart, and I was saying that this is the kind of film we should be making, and he said, ‘well, look, if you really want to make it, we’ll make it together.’ And I never really thought that it would amount to anything, but the next day we got in touch with the lawyers, and 6 months later the thing had started. So that was always were I wanted to get to, but it’s interesting because growing up I would have sawed off my left arm to be a runner on a film set. By the time you do a runner, after about 4 months of that, you’re so sick of it and all you want to do is finally be an editor, and that would be like your dream job, and then you edit on two films and you’re like, ‘God! I just want to be a director.’ So it’s always what I wanted to do, I just never imagined there’d be any way to achieve it.

Did the editing come before the Coldplay collaborations?

Yeah, it did. The thing about editing… it’s a bit like… (this isn’t to denigrate either editing or camera work), but actually, the basics of it, anyone can pick up in a day. It’s so simple. It’s the ideas behind it. Editing, pushing the buttons... you could train a monkey to do it, but actually having the ideas behind it…. So I always work with another editor, the same way Michael works, because actually making decisions about what you’re going to do and having an idea and a philosophy that informs the whole film, that’s the tricky bit.

So at uni they had an edit suite and I just took it over and started cutting things, and that’s how I learnt. But it wasn’t until I started working with Michael that I really ended up doing it as a profession.

Is he a good person to learn under because he’s such a dexterous individual with a wide range of work?

Yeah. It’s true. It was perfect for me. He brings you on board as a colleague, which is terrifying but also quite brave on his part. It not like he sat me down and said, ‘right, I’m taking a big risk, don’t screw it up’. He just rang up and said, ‘do you want to edit a film?’ In fact, he didn’t even ask me, he just said, ‘what are you doing next week?’ I was working on the Fernando Meirelles film The Constant Gardener when he said, ‘do you want to come in, I’ve just been shooting some stuff and I’m not really sure what to do with it… do you want to come and have a quick look?’ So I came in, and he’d shot some footage of a gig, so I cut it together and I said, ‘well, this is one way you could cut it together’, and he said, ‘oh, alright, that’s cool.’ Then he said, ‘well, we’re shooting another gig tomorrow, do you want to come?’ So I was head of the cameras and I edited that together, and then he said, ‘we’ve been filming some stuff with these two guys… do you want to put that together?’ After about three weeks I was like, ‘I suppose I’m kind of the editor!’ We never talked about it contractually or properly. I think on the one hand it’s kind of scary doing it that way, but there’s nothing patronising about it, he just kind of goes, ‘well, look, you’re an editor now, just get on with it’. He doesn’t have to coach you through it. In that sense it’s an amazing opportunity, but he doesn’t set it out like film school 101 or anything like that. It’s very much like. ‘OK, here’s the footage, I trust you, get on with it.’

We should probably ask a question about your new film! 24 Hour Party People, Manchester city etc.. Could you talk about why you wanted to make a film about this particular era?

What’s interesting is that 24 Hour Party People is a film about the Manchester music scene from the top, down, so you’re seeing it from the boss of Factory Records, you’re seeing it from the bands. What I liked about Chris Coghill’s take on this, and Fiona Neilson’s, because they came up with the idea of Spike Island together, was that they were looking at it from the fans’ viewpoint, from the bottom, up. These are the kids who are not part of the music industry, who’d do anything to be in the music industry but they don’t know how they can achieve it. I suppose it’s a little bit like what we were saying before about when I wanted to work in film and I didn’t know how to do it, so that’s partly what appealed to me. But it’s not just about the music. I think because it a rites-of-passage film: I’d grown up on things like Stand By Me and The Goonies, and all these films about kids growing up, and the banter and stuff, and something connected for me and I thought, ‘this is my chance to do something like that’.

I wasn’t around in Manchester in 1990; I was too young to have seen The Stone Roses the first time around, but actually, initially that was a problem for me… I don’t know the area inside out. I had a similar issue with Ian Dury when we were doing Sex & Drugs. I’m not a dyed-in-the-wool fan, am I the right person to do it? But, actually, it’s not so much about the music scene as it is about kids growing up, and I kind of felt like we’ve all been through that.


Tuesday, 16 October 2012

56th BFI London Film Festival: Half-Time Report

Image: Disney

What a week it’s been! The 56th BFI London Film Festival officially kicked off last Wednesday, but due to the array of films we’ve watched, it has been impossible to write a review for every film we’ve seen so far (although we eventually will), so, for now, you can enjoy our ‘wanderful’ half-time report.

In previous years, we’ve only been able to catch a few films showing during the festival period, so this time around, armed with the all-important press pass, we’re doing our damnedest to right that wrong.

Our first day on the circuit saw us enter the political sphere with Stephen Gyllenhaal’s latest feature, Grassroots, as well as discover what has become of legendary British drummer Ginger Baker in the documentary Beware of Mr. Baker.

Grassroots, starring American Pie actor Jason Biggs, tells the story of a young man whose passion for the local monorail drives him to run for city council… against a black man! This Seattle tale was pleasant enough, but it was a bit disconcerting to see that governing, nowadays, ultimately comes down to the colour of a man's skin.

On the other, Beware of Mr. Baker was a revelation. The legendary drummer, who I wasn’t so in tune with before the screening, invites us into his world, gets us to groove to his rhythm, and shows us that he’s actually pretty fly (for a white guy).

Next up was the charming Robot and Frank, in which an ex-con (Frank Langella) with health issues is bought a robot by his son to keep him company and help out around the house. This, obviously, signifies the start of a beautiful friendship! Robot and Frank has a simply concept, but it’s well-crafted, and rather amusing.

Staying within the theme of love, we moved on to Rufus Norris’s Broken. We tried to catch this film in Cannes way back in May but weren’t able to, so we were particularly excited about this one, and weren’t disappointed. Dealing with themes of abuse, death and childhood, Broken is a powerful tale and impressive first feature film from the British director.

While we weren’t so enamoured with Grassroots, Gyllenhaal junior (Jake) and his compadre, Michael Peña, did manage to thrill us with their latest offering, End of Watch. It will be released in the UK in a few weeks so you won’t have to wait long to witness all the bloody action. The handheld, documentary style of shooting doesn't always work, but what it occasionally lacks in the technical department it makes up for with energy, good storytelling and great performances.

The rest of our week continued in a similar fashion: watching good movie after good movie, some of which we’ve talked about already (De Rouille et d’Os and Love, Marilyn), so needless to say, we’re excited about what’s to come. On the agenda for the coming week is Argo, Ben Affleck’s third feature, Seven Psychopaths, Martin McDonagh’s follow up to In Bruges, and some afternoon tea at The May Fair hotel. See you on the other side!


Monday, 15 October 2012

56th LFF: De Rouille et d'Os (Rust and Bone)

Premiering at the 56th BFI London Film Festival on Saturday night, Jacques Audiard’s latest oeuvre tells the tale of a struggling single father (Matthias Schoenaerts) who helps a young girl (Marion Cotillard) regain her strength after a life-changing accident.

De Rouille et d’Os is an arresting, powerful and beautifully crafted love story that highlights the vast talents of the two lead actors, and we thoroughly recommend everyone goes out and sees it when it hits our screens on 2nd November. In the meantime you can check out the trailer above.


An Interview with Liz Garbus

Liz Garbus and her daughter
Image: Fohnjang Ghebdinga/Fohnhouse

Acclaimed director Liz Garbus hit the red carpet last night at the 56th BFI London Film Festival for the premiere of her latest documentary, Love, Marilyn, in which she draws inspiration from newly-discovered letters written by the icon to give us a fresh, poetic look at the life of a superstar - with a little help from a few of her actor friends.

After the screening, Garbus was on hand to discuss her oeuvre with us. Here's what she had to say:

What was your idea behind the cast of the film and why were they keen on participating?

Often in documentaries when you have text like this it’s done through voice over, but in this film we felt that their performance would reflect back upon Marilyn’s own issues around performance and so we would operate on those different levels. 

They came to it because they saw in Marilyn – in these documents – something they hadn’t seen before, parts of her they didn’t know, and they did come in, I think, to celebrate that. Not that she is a saint, but that she is a woman with flesh and struggles and feelings, and that image of her is less known and less discussed so I was blessed to be able to draw on their talents for that.

What were your guiding principles for what you were looking for in terms of telling that particular arc of the story?

The documents provided the bones of the story and the documentary, archival photographs, sort of fleshed it out. Because there has been so much done on her I always question myself, you know, what is the raison d’être? Why are we doing this? We’re doing this because there’s a voice that’s in these documents that’s really important.

I walked into Harrods the other day and there’s a new makeup line with Marilyn’s face on it. I feel almost protective of her. I want this voice to be part of what we see and know of her. I only knew her, before making this film, as a two-dimensional image and now I see the third dimension. That’s what the goal of this film is, so in the story we relied on the documents to provide the framework and then filled it out with more documentary material and great interviews.

How did you extract the performances from your actors? Did they all do the whole read or were you extremely selective in what you gave to each actor?

We were selective but, of course, there was overlap in certain passages because I wanted them to intercut and I wanted it to constantly have the energy that I imagine Marilyn brought to the page when she was writing. So much of this was probably written in the middle of the night. Of course there were those that were more composed, but I wanted the readings to have that type of energy. Some of the actors and actresses were very interested in certain aspects and I worked with them on what they also wanted to do because I felt that if they were drawing from something we would learn something from their interpretation of it. Others were assigned more specific material, so it was kind of an ebb and flow.

The movie is entitled Love, Marilyn… What do you ultimately love about the icon, Marilyn Monroe, having got to know her through this filmmaking process?

I think she was someone who worked incredibly, incredibly hard. Everybody who you talk to about her talked about how incredibly driven she was. I think that she was, as a woman... and sometimes this sounds overly simplified, but she was a trailblazer in many ways. She was dealing with sex and sexuality amidst the 1950s grey flannel suit America in a way that was very bold. She was victimised of course and took advantage of the sexual roles then, but I think it really was a pre-cursor to the sexual revolution. I found her to be very brave in discussing those issues in the audio interviews and what I read of her, and I think she was a clever, very beautiful wordsmith; I think she had a way with words when you see her in press conferences and read the writings. She was incredibly clever and wonderful to listen to. Those are just some of the things that I love about her.

How did you work together with the composer and choose this specific music to reflect this woman?

Well, there’s music that Phil [Sheppard] composed, there’s music of the era that comes from Marilyn’s films, and there are a bunch of modern tracks that I included because they had words or feelings that felt really appropriate for the passages. Philip is an incredible composer and I worked with him on my last film, Bobby Fischer, and he brings a gorgeous tension and beauty that’s tinged with darkness that I felt was perfect for Marilyn’s story. And we worked together by talking about what every scene was trying to deliver and then he would deliver musically what I felt emotionally.

There are lots of conspiracy theories as to whether or not she intended to commit suicide… what do you think about it yourself?

Most of the people who knew Marilyn well feel that it was an accidental overdose. They felt that she was being treated by too many doctors who were too willing to give her all sorts of things; they draw parallels to Michael Jackson’s death and they knew her. From what I know of her, from the work that I’ve done, she didn’t seem to be at a point in her life where she would have chosen to die right then. She seemed to be very optimistic, she had a lot of plans and she had a lot of ideas about her career. Of course she had dark moments of deep, deep depression in which she did consider suicide; we know that she did have overdoses, but I don’t believe that she chose to end her life that night, and I base that on really talking to people who knew her.


Sunday, 14 October 2012

56th BFI London Film Festival: De Rouille et d'Os (Rust and Bone) Premiere

Jacques Audiard, Marion Cotillard & Matthias Schoenaerts
Images: Fohnjang Ghebdinga/Fohnhouse

Monday, 8 October 2012

Taken 2 (2012)

Image: Fohnjang Ghebdinga/Fohnhouse

Four years ago Luc Besson took us to Paris in the action-packed thriller Taken, in which CIA agent Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) hunts down his daughter after she is kidnapped by a gang of thugs who are in the business of sex trafficking. After tracking them down, killing every single one of them and transporting his daughter back to the land of the free (where bad things supposedly never happen), Neeson is in trouble again as the big boss and father of a gang member murdered by Mills seeks revenge.

After developing a cult following and making a bona fide action man out of Neeson with the first movie, Besson gives us another dose of the same medicine with this sequel, but this time Istanbul is the playground and a more serious first foray is now a not-so-sweet clichéd ride. It’s entertaining enough, but a little more effort wouldn’t have gone a miss. We ultimately know how the film is going to end but it wouldn’t have hurt Besson to create a more plausible, surprising and thrilling journey - even though he does (unintentionally, I’m sure) humour us: “your mother and I are about to be TAKEN’!

Bad dialogue aside, though, we are treated to some nice helicopter shots of Istanbul and, while the script is lazy, Neeson and Co. are enjoyable to watch. They're clearly in on the joke so why not play along too for a couple of hours?

More of the same. No harm in watching it if you liked the first one.



Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Northern Ballet’s Madame Butterfly

Image: Jason Tozer/Northern Ballet

Ever since being captivated by their rendition of Dracula way back in 2000, I have tried to make seeing a Northern Ballet Theatre production at Sheffield’s Lyceum Theatre a yearly event. This time round it was Northern Ballet artistic director David Nixon’s staging of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, the tragic story of doomed cross-cultural love. If you know Miss Saigon, you know the story. A young Geisha girl nicknamed Butterfly marries an American officer, only to find herself alone with their child, desperately hoping for his return. When it comes, however, it is not the joyful reunion Butterfly was expecting.
The first act takes a while to hit its stride, and I did wonder if this was to be the blot on Northern Ballet’s otherwise immaculate copybook. The establishment of context is obviously important in ballet, but the focus on local colour stretches on for too long, despite being visually impressive and technically well staged. Of the dancers, the men are definitely the better served initially. The girls put on a good show, but their technique is obscured by some ungainly costumes. It is difficult for ballerinas to express their grace underneath an ornate geisha outfit, though having said that the surprisingly avant-garde finale makes a virtue of the juxtaposition of balletic body-popping and billowing garments. The gents do much better, dressed either in Officer and a Gentleman-style naval whites or more practical Oriental gear. Things improve radically at the end of the act, however, with the story building to its first crescendo in a sensual dance between husband and wife, the furtive courtship of the lovers masterfully expressed (in the performance I saw) by Pippa Moore and Tobias Batley.  
Act Two has none of the problems I perceived at the start, with the narrative flowing along in glorious harmony with the dancing. I don’t know what it is about ballet that makes it the perfect medium to express a doomed love, but in my mind it unquestionably is. With Puccini’s wonderful music underscoring the action, the emotional rollercoaster races to its grim conclusion. Moore and Batley, though apart, carry the intimacy of their conjugal dance into their individual movements and facial expressions. It has been noted that Northern Ballet’s performers are particularly skilled at acting alongside their dancing, and this was certainly proven here. The aforementioned avant-garde conclusion is sure to divide opinion, but personally I applaud them for testing the limits of performance and staging. It was quite unlike anything I have seen done before in ballet; Moore contrasted her previous fluidity with careful rigidity, swamped in her robes, while the gaudy red lighting and screeching Japanese song accentuated this alien dance. Experimentation should be praised, and even those who did not enjoy this weird turn will have trouble forgetting it.
Madame Butterfly stands, then, as yet another triumph for Northern Ballet, with even its weaker points serving to show that this is a company unafraid of testing their limits, stretching their repertoire and exploring new ways to rework classic texts. They will continue their tour of Madame Butterfly at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal from the 9th to the 13th of October. Both for ballet die-hards and those who appreciate brave theatrical efforts, this comes highly recommended.