Friday, 30 October 2009


So, I've just got back from a week long holiday. It was great, really relaxing and good to have a break.

The first part of our holiday was spent in Blackpool. On the first night we went to see kyran Bracken's Ice Party at the Pleasure Beach Arena, which was meag exciting because I ahd no idea it was going to be on there, so when i arrived it was a really great surprise. It wasn't as good as Hot Ice (sob), but was still really fun. Karen Barber skated for the first time in twenty years. She was a whole lot better than Nicky was and looked so amazing. Overall, the show was quite good and really entertaining. Definitely better than the Holiday on Ice disaster!

The next day we had an amazing day at the Pleasure Beach where I went on twenty three rides. Sadly this did not include The Big One - it was closed because it was too windy, although I have been on it before so I didn't really mind. I still want to go on the Big Dipper, but it's been closed both times that I've been there. That evening I went ice skating, and didn't fall over once. I think I did really well, considering that it was probably the seventh or so time I've ever been ice skating in my whole life!

Sadly, we had to leave Blackpool the next day. We arrived at our Derbyshire holiday home. That evening we watched Monsters vs. Aliens. I don't tend to like Dreamworks films anywhere near as much as I like Pixar films, but I think after Flushed Away this has to be my favourite one of their films. It was funny without trying too hard and a really nice way to spend an evening.

On Wednesday we visited Chatsworth House for the second time. I really love it there, and this time it was even more special because there was na exhibition about the film The Duchess, because it was filmed there. The costumes were actually right in front of me, and I was walking in the same places that Keira Knightley had! Such a wonderful place, if you ever get a chance you should visit.

Thursday evening....our last evening. We hired Michael Clayton, which was actually really good. Well I knew it would be good, I just didn't know I would enjoy it, which I did. I thought Tilda Swinton gave a really great performance, and I'm looking forward to seeing more of her films. I also thought that George Clooney gave the best, most natural performance that I've seen him give.

I also read the novel Julie and Julia (I thought the film was better, there was more about Julia in the film) and Lord of the Flies for English, which I found a lot easier than expected. I'm now back to the House of Night novels, purely for fun and no intellectual gain.

What a great holiday!

Friday, 23 October 2009


This was one of the first words that I ever learnt to say, so it's no wonder that I was wondering if my one year old self would have been delighted with a movie of which I could say the title. However I couldn't actually read when I was one, so this wouldn't have made a scrap of difference. Add to that the fact that the word up was not even said once in the film, then I realised the title was just Pixar, catchy and original, one that everyone will remember.

Pixar movies, along with Matilda, were my first love. I watched them repeatedly, and even now am still eager to sample every one of Pixar's latest offerings. Up is now my Best Picture win for 2009 (I have still only seen 8 movies that have been released this year - what's up with that? It's not even enough to fill a Best Picture line up now it comprises ten nominations instead of five). Anyway, I think, like Wall-e, it will stay in the top ten (five in Wall-e's case) for sheer originality.

What sets Pixar apart from other studios making animated pictures is that they develop the characters properly, meaning that although the concepts are total fantasies, they are totally believable. Whereas with films such as Kung Fu Panda, Ice Age and Madagascar, for me the characters are completely 2 dimensional and implausible, turning it into a children's film. The magical thing about Pixar is that it's enjoyed by people of all ages, and isn't just another recycled, rubbishy film, like most of the other fare that climbs to the top of the box office.

Up was probably not as good as Toy Story or Monsters Inc, but encompassed brilliant character and relationship developments withing a story which was so simple on one level, but so complicated on another. I actually foudn the story quite sad, and nearly cried at one point. Overall it was thoroughly enjoyable, and, similar to An Inspector Calls, I don't want to write a review because I enjoyed it so much and don't want to ruin it for myself.


I don't give these out lightly.....

I've just been voting for the People's Choice awards, and about 90% of what's there is rubbish. Ah, well, my favourite saying: Generally, the more popular something is with the masses, the worser the quality.

Off to work on my top movies list now!

Friday, 16 October 2009

Sister Act!

The West End needs more new musicals. Like Sister Act, which I saw on Wednesday evening at the Palldium, which I've decided is my favourite of the larger West End theatres. Okay, it's based on a film, but it's loosely based on the film, and this was not really a reason why i flocked to see it. I wanted to see it before I had watched the film, and actually thought the film wasn't very good when i watched it on Monday evening.

Admittedly, this, and Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, have been the only two new musicals this year to have survived in London. I never got to see Spring Awakening, so if I had this might have changed because it really seems like my thing, but to me this is the best new musical to open in London since Avenue Q. Better than Wicked, Footloose, The Drowsy Chaperone and Billy Elliot. Just seemed to be a lot more original and fresh. Best of all though, the house was packed.

I won't say it was the best show ever, but it was certainly enjoyable. I gave it four stars, and am loving Alan Menken even more as a composer now than I did before. Hopefully this will change the situation for new musicals and help put more faith into investors. Everyone, go and see Sister Act! I did write a full review, but it's nearly three pages so I won't type it up here...

Sunday, 11 October 2009

An Inspector Calls

I thoroughly enjoyed stuudying this in year nine, so when I realised that the National Theatre production was playing in the West End for eight weeks I knew I had to go.

I had actually never been to see a play before. Well, I had seen the Tempest as open air theatre, but this was my first proper play in a theatre, free of worries about the rain.

Everything about it was anazing. The only other thing I have ever said this about before was the recent revival of Sunset Boulevard. Even though I knew that the house was going to collapse in accordance with the family's bond it still surprised me, and I am sure that this is the most effective use of scenery that I have ever seen.

Although I knew exactly what was going to happen (I foudn myself remembering large chunks of the script...) I was still caught up in all the tension at the right moments. All the performances from the cast were excellent, and Stephen Daldry's direction was superb. I want to see soemthign else on stage that he's directed (I have seen all three of the films he has), but really don't want to see Billy Elliot.

I really want to see the production again, although I definitely prefer musicals to plays. I would recommend this production to anyone!

Friday, 9 October 2009

There's Something About Cameron....

...that makes me want to include her on my favourite actresses list. This is Cameron Diaz I'm talking about by the way. A few months ago I didn't take her seriously as an actress. I cringed every time she apeared on screen, complained that she was cast in My Sister's Keeper before I had even seen it and groaned every time I saw one of her films on DVD in a shop. Now, however, I have realised that she is actually a talented actress and one of the best at playing the romantic comedy role. In some cases, as I add to my 1990s and 2000s Oscar line ups, her name pops up. I suppose it is just the Academy's prejudice towards the type of film she mainly makes which means she has never received a nomination.

Cameron films I have seen:

All the Shrek films (although I wish I hadn't - one of the most overrated and annoying animated franchises ever!) I do love Cameron's voice acting in this though. In fact, I love all the voice acting in it.

Now in chronological order:

1. My Best Friend's Wedding (1997)
Listed as a potential Oscar nominee for Best Supporting Actress for this one (this is the only film other than Titanic that I've seen for 2007, though). I really liked the way that the guy ended up marrying her, because the cliche would have been for him to run off with the nasty Julia Roberts character.

2. There's Something About Mary (1998)
Again, listed as a potential Oscra candidate, Cameron does a great job in playing a conventional romantic comedy role, but giving a proper acting performance, unlike people such as Katherine Heigl.

3. Being John Malkovich (1999)
My favourite Cameron movie. Although eclipsed a little by Catherine Keener, this is definitely another Oscar worthy role (in my opinion) and is in such an original and fantastic movie.

4. Charlie's Angels (2000)
Saw this ages ago and can't remember it. Don't paticularly want to watch it again though.

5. Vanilla Sky (2001)
Currently my best supporting actress win for 2001. I had no expectations for this film so was pleasantly surprised when I watched it.

6. Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (2003)
Was absolute rubbish and probably what made most people stop taking her seriously.

7. In Her Shoes (2005)
I may have to say this: I think in this she outperforms Toni Collette, one of my all time favourite actresses.

8. The Holiday (2006)
Quite good for a romcom, but probably what turned me off her acting at first (eg. car in driveway scene - way too OTT)

9. My Sister's Keeper (2009)
Shamefully I have only seen 7 2009 movies, so Cameron is currently number 3 for the Best Leadign Actress Oscar, losing to Meryl Streep in Julie and Julia. I probably won't end up nominating her, but her performance was such a surprise to me and a pivotal moment - when I realised she could act and may have a career after 40.

Of course, there are still lots of Cameron films I need to see, but I'm so glad that I discovered her as an actress!

Stage/Film Musicals Comparison, Part One

After catching the UK tour of Little Shop of Horrors on Wednesday evening, which was incredibly enjoyable even if it wasn't the best production in the world, I decided to create a comparison between the stage and film versions of all the musicals that I've seen which have both. They're in the order which I saw them, with the year of seeing them in brackets:

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (2004)
I have so many happy memories associated with watching the film, and can barely remember anything about the show, although it was my first ever West End musical.

Oliver (2005)
I don't paticularly like the concept, and the score does nothing for me, but of the two, the stage production was the least boring.

The Lion King (2005)
It was just spectacular, and strangely enough more believable than the film.

Beauty and the Beast (2005 and 2006)
Even though I've seen the show twice I can't really remember it much, and the film was just amazing. It's also worth noting that this was the first animated film to receive a Best Picture Oscar nomination.

Mary Poppins (2008)
It was a lot more grown up and character focused than the film, and the extra songs were brilliant!

Annie (2008)
The film is horrendous, but the show was hardly better - my lowest rated musical.

Chicago (2009)
This is such a close call. Fosse choreography is so much better live and there's no scenery, which emphasises the contrast between the characters even more. The film is probably my favourite movie musical though.

Mamma Mia (2009)
Anything is better than the film...

Little Shop of Horrors (2009)
A different production of the show would have swayed it the other way, though. The choreography was excellent, but the show (which started at the Menier) just didn't seem to work on a larger stage and the way the director interpreted the characters made the relationships too difficult to believe.

So the current score:
Film musicals - 3
Stage musicals - 6

I want to see the non musical film that Sunset Boulevard was based on and the non musical film adaptation of Les Miserables, although I won't include these in this comparison because it's too difficult to compare in that way. I am also seeing Sister Act on Wednesday, so will have to find time to watch the non musical film that that's based on too. This will be the same when I see Legally Blonde in January.

Also, in the next few months, I'll be seeing Rent, Annie Get Your Gun and Sweet Charity, all of which have equivalent musical films, so this list will be updated in due course!

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Les Miserables means...

...the shabby looking. It does not mean "the miserables", it is another one of those irritating French phrases known as "false friends". Anyway, I saw the show in London yesterday. Here is an edited version of my review, which in full is five and a half pages long:

Ever since my first visit to the West End at the age of ten, I had been fascinated with the idea of Les Miserables. I fondly remember asking my parents why a show called miserable was the longest runnign musical in the world as a bus bearing an advert for the show rolled past us on Argyll Street. Fast forward five years, and here I was desperate to see the show that all my theatre pals rave about. I was worried, though, that I would see it, shrug, and mutter, "That was just another overrated hype of a musical," as heard escaping from my lips at the end of Wicked and Mamma Mia. Luckily, though, this was not the case, and I can now proudly say that I have gained a full undertsanding of why this show has sustained a 26 year run in the West End. I generally like to disagree with things that apeal to the masses, but in this case I simply can't. Maybe because this, to me, is such an unusual thing that would apeal to many people.

The score was compelling right from the overture and I now understand why Andrew Lloyd Webber wishes that he wrote this show. Before this I had never seen a sung throigh musical, and I think it helped to move this paticular story along exceedingly well.

The set was exciting. I usually have a less is more aproach to set, especially when it clutters up the stage and it is as though the set is giving the performance and not the actors. The set was lavish in many ways, but so simple in others. The design utilised trap doors, and the boxes, which were not available to audience members due to this. Obviously, the design and therefore the direction, has been altered drastically since the production first opened, because there is no way that in 1983 there would have been a conveyer belt on the stage. I l;oved this - it enabled the directors to show people's thoughts as well as two sceens happening simultaneously without the annoying method of lighting half the stage then lighting the other half.

Speakign of lighting, much of the show was very dark which helped to create atmosphere and give off the intended mood. The final major piece of scenery was a massive construction split into two halves which represented both the bridge and latter the battlefield when it veyr cleverly twisted. All the other scenery was flown in very subtley, and the way the cast were directed to make entrances around all this was nothign short of sublime.

This served as an introdiction to Trevor Nunn's work as a director for me. Of course it was co-directed with John Caird, who is also a well knwon director and has an equally impressive resume. I think it is the most complete direction I have ever seen of a stage show. The pair seemed to get the best out of each and every one of the actors. The collaboration with the set designers was flawless, paticularly in the battle scene. Overall there were no obvious niggling faults, and I found myself wishing that I was born thirty years ago so I could have seen the show at several different points through history as it developed.

The story was a lot simpler than I had anticipated. Neverthless, it was wonderful, and although the fact that SPOILER ** Valjean is Cosette's father SPOILER** was quite obvious from the beginning, it was still compelling throughout with new developments comign with every number. Unusually for an ensemble piece, the pivotal characters were all reasonably developed.

It was interesting the way that Valjean's story was woven into the beginnign through a couple of flashbacks, because this is the way that Boublil and Schoneberg's Marguerite (which I love) was told. I also liked the way the story was similar to Shakespeare plays in that there were lighthearted, perhaps unneccesary to the plot, scenes which broke up the serious action for the audience.

David Shannon was the most anticipated performance for me. With his long affiliation with the show, apearances in Miss Saigon and Martin Guerre, and of course his turn in the title role of Sondheim's thriller Sweeney Todd, i was hoping for something special. As Jean Valjean he certainly did not disapoint. His young Valjean was unintentionally sexy, innocent and naive, before undergoing a complete transformation into the older, stronger and wiser Valjean.One of the most powerful acting performances I have ever seen on the stage, Shannon sung th part perfectly and outshone most who shared the stage with him.

Rebecca Seale as Fantine was a tiny bit disapointing. Her rendition of I Dreamed a Dream was weak, but her acting was decent and believable. She definitely fared better singing the dialogue sections and in Act Two.

Martin Ball and Lorraine Bruce as M. and Mme. Thenadier were enjoyably comic, and all was note perfect.

Eponine was played by Helen Owen, who happened to be the understudy. It is worth noting that, for me, Helen gave a stand out performance. Just before the interval she became the first member of the cast to evoke emotion in me, and even her rendition of On My Own managed to make me forget all about the amusing Forbidden broadway parody of this song.

Cosette is quite a boring role, but Katie Hall gave a good performance which was unfortunately eclipsed by Helen, then later Alistair Brammer as Marius, everytime she was on the stage. Alistair was serviceable as Marius, growing into the role as the show progressed.

Mark Dugdale, the understudy, shone as Enjoras and, after the young Valjean, was easily the most attractive in the show. His movement and acting skills in the battle scene were one of the highlights of the show.

Overall, the ensemble was fantastic, diffusing between different situations effortlessly and making carefully choreographed moves seem natural. They were a tight unit and it was as though it was the first night of the show, A mention must now be made for the excellent costume and overall production design.

Les Miserables is now second on my top ten musicals list, and is only the second show to receive five stars!

Thursday, 1 October 2009


I will admit that I found the book tedious. it was one of those novels where, even though it's easy to read, you just keep reading the same bit again and again before you decide to give up. So today when I (finally) watched the TV film adaptation of it I was definitely surprised.

This had been festering on the Sky planner for about a month. I had taped it on a whim, so when i had a couple of hours to myself today I just decided to watch it.

Eve Myles was really great! Her character Gwen in Torchwood really annoys me, but in this she was actually quite endearing. Her character's style was also impeccable! The rst of the adult cast were good, but the children's performances really let it down, with most of them just trying to say their lines and look cute.

It was really cool because the story is set in a small village in Snowdonia, where I've been on two climbing trips, so I found myself recognising bits of the landcape. It was also really cool to hear some Welsg spoken in it!

We need more TV movies, because this would never have got made as a normal film. The impression I get is that there are a lot more TV movies in America, which can only be a good thing because they're relatively cheap to make.

Okay, it wasn't the most sunningly scripted or directed piece ever, but it was an enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half,a ndalso a tantalising reminder of childhood innocence. I may even try to read the book again now!