Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

The final film of the London Film Festival and I have had such a great time. Today has been one of the longest days of my life! The film started at 8:45 this morning and I stayed in Leicester Square for the premiere this evening so, 14 hours since I left the house this morning, I am home.
Although the film was that long ago, I still can’t stop thinking about it.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a dark comedy that tells the story of Mildred Hayes (Francis McDormand) as she puts up some controversial signs on three billboards on a road out from Ebbing. 7 months prior to the story being told, Mildred’s daughter Abbie, was raped and killed and the police department had done nothing to find out who the killer was. Mildred puts up the billboards to draw attention to chief of police, Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) to persuade him to work harder on the case but it ends up leading to a surprising friendship between the two of them. Putting up these signs leads to all sorts of problems and Mildred ends up with having to deal with the police in more ways that she intends. Dragging each and every character into her problems she ends up making a final decision that leaves the audience on a bit of a cliff hanger.
The film unravels in many twists and turns and endless surprises in the beautifully written screenplay from directer Martin McDonagh, his ability to captivate the audience in the dialogue is stunning. Mildred Hayes has an incredible monologue towards the start of the film that made everyone in the screening applaud.

The casting was perfect, I always say how great I think Woody Harrelson is as an actor and hugely underrated. Francis McDormand, Peter Dinklage, Lucas Hedges and many more really shone in this film but for me the star of the show was Sam Rockwell, he plays the useless cop, Jason Dixon, who becomes a redeeming factor in the end and I think he gave an impeccable performance.

I’d give this film a very strong 4 stars, the only reason I found it 1 star away from perfect is because there were times whilst I was watching it I felt conflicted between how I was supposed to be feeling. The audience around me were laughing and I felt like the scene wanted us to cry, I understand that is the definition of a ‘dark comedy’ but maybe that’s the issue I had. It touches on some incredibly sensitive subjects; rape, murder, racism, homophobia, cancer, suicide, depression and yet people around me were howling with laughter, maybe that’s what the director wanted and if it is, he did it perfectly.

I highly recommend it to everyone, it’s something so different to anything I’ve ever seen before and it really was an exciting film to watch, and a great way to close my first film festival.

Thank you BFI, same time next year?

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Downsizing

Downsizing 
Another film filled day at the London Film Festival today. 

The first film of the day was Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing” starring Matt Damon, Kristin Wiig and Christoph Waltz. Easy enough to say what a fabulous cast it is, and it really is that, Christoph Waltz was hilarious and Matt Damon was perfectly charming. 
The film follows the story of Paul and his choice to be ‘downsized’. This is a medical/scientific procedure taking place all over the world that allows people to shrink down to 5 inches tall. The idea behind it is that we will protect the environment by being a lot smaller and thus producing a lot less waste. Complications get in the way of Paul living the fantasy dream life he had hoped. Largely from the betrayal of his wife who, half way through the procedure, decides to back out completely and Paul is left alone. 

I really enjoyed the concept of the film but did feel a bit conflicted in how I was supposed to feel afterwards. I thought it was full of whit and charm but also full of political statements and a fair amount of racism. There was quite a bold statement about Mexicans living on the other side of the big wall/dome to the North Americans. Interesting how that is famously one of Donald Trumps biggest aims as POTUS. 
There were parts of the narrative that I don’t think were needed, one being a random scene in which Paul ends up high at a Hollywood style party, there was something kind of off about this scene, I never quite understood his motivation to take the drugs and what he thought would come from it. 

There’s another scene towards the end where Paul and his three companions travel to Norway in the wake of the end of the world to the first downsized colonie to join them and relocate inside a mountain to stay safe and eventually save the human race. I didn’t get this bit at all. I understand that the whole point of this scene was that Paul was forced to make the ultimate decision, but really it could have been much quicker had he never travelled all the way to Norway to make the decision. 

I really loved the first and second acts, I like the concept and the general story of people becoming small, it’s funny and original. As I always say, theres not enough originality coming out of Hollywood at the moment. 

Ignoring all the political statements and themes it is a charmingly funny film with a few unexpected twists and turns. I recommend seeing it if only for the lovely Matt Damon. He looks great without eyebrows……

Downsizing

The Lovers

This was the second film I went to see at the LFF today, The Lovers, another romantic comedy but this time instead of following the stories of young, conventionally attractive, creative people living trendy lifestyles in New York City, this film tells the story of a middle aged, married couple who are both having affairs.

The film starts off by setting the scene of Mary (Debra Winger) and Michael (Tracy Letts), a married couple of 30-ish years, living in a quiet suburban town both working boring office jobs. Both Mary and Michael have relationships going on outside of their marriage, we can see that their home life is boring and unsatisfying and the only happiness the two of them have comes from their affairs with other people. We learn that their son is coming to visit in a matter of weeks and with their respective partners they decide that that is going to be the time they come clean about their relationships and go their own separate ways. Of course these conversations are happening without the other one being aware of it. Just like in most comedy films, events get in the way that cause tensions between both couples, one of the main issues being that Mary and Michael realize they are still largely sexually attracted to each other which leads to more problems between them and their other partners. There’s a lot of crossed wires and betrayal between each other but what the film does so cleverly is makes those relationships seem utterly hilarious.

The film is charming and heart warming, its a wonderful story that tells the audience that an unhappy marriage is not always the answer and to simply, do what makes you happy. The whole film is absolutely hilarious, the two lead characters and portrayed with complete realism and warmth. I really can’t be more complimentary about the lead actors, they were just fabulous.

One thing I found utterly brilliant about this film is the lack of dialogue, it is such a quiet film, with majority of the narrative told purely through action, a true art and brilliant ability from the writer/director Azazel Jacobs.

I would give this film a strong 4 stars, easily one of my highlights of the Festival so far.

The Lovers

The Boy Downstairs

Today I went to see three films at the London Film Festival, The Boy Downstairs was the first one. A charming rom-com about a young couple told through parallel narratives at different points in their relationship set in beautiful New York City.

Written and directed by Sophie Brookes, this film is full of lovely performances from the entire cast. I particularly loved Deirdre O’Connell’s character, Amy, she is the most wonderfully warming character who despite having her own demons to deal with including the loss of her husband and her tired acting career. I found her so heartwarming and caring and she always put Diana first regardless of what she was dealing with. A truly motherly character.
Diana is also a really wonderful character, played perfectly by Zosia Marnet, her witty, sarcastic nature makes her almost addictive to watch.

I found this film so easy to watch and fall into, you develop a lot of care for the characters and there relationships with each other. I often say that there isn’t enough feel-good films around these days, it’s all doom and gloom or heavy stories, this is the perfect curl up on the sofa on a Sunday evening film.

Like I said, I was lucky enough to see this film at the BFI London Film Festival, but I recommend catching it when it’s released.

 

The Boy Downstairs

Manifesto

I really don’t have a lot I can write about this film because after the first 10 minutes I really hated it. And I knew I had another hour and 20 minutes to get through. Tedious, contrived, patronising, arrogant film. 

I’ve never been much of a fan of Cate Blanchett, I’m not saying she’s a bad actor because that’s not true, but at the red carpet events I’ve been to that she’s attended she swans down the carpet without even looking at her fans or the press and I think that says a lot about a person. Anyway, this isn’t supposed to be a bashing Cate Blanchett post. 

I just really did not like this film, maybe I’m ignorant but they do say that’s bliss, and I’d take bliss over than pretentious crap any day. 

Manifesto

Wonderstruck

Today is my first day at the London Film Festival as an official press pass holder (very exciting, I know!) 

My first film of the festival is Wonderstruck, an adaptation of the best selling novel of the same title. 

Honestly, I’d probably only give it ⭐️⭐️. 

My initial thought was it was far too long, they could have lost half an hour at least and it wouldn’t have lost anything vital. 

The film set in the 1970s tells the story of Ben, a young boy who after an accident involving a telephone and lightning (never a good combination!) looses his hearing. It also follows the parallel story of a young deaf girl, set in black and white 1920s New York, who is looking for her workaholic mother. 

The premise of the film was very clever albeit quite confusing. 

After Ben has his accident he runs away from the hospital to NYC in the hope of finding his birth father. Along the way he meets a young boy called Jamie who becomes his friend and teaches him sign language. I personally think Jamie is a completely irrelevant character and quite frankly a waste of time. 

The performances in general were good, I loved Oakes Fegley and I look forward to seeing what else he has to offer in the future. Julianne Moore has a completely silent role throughout the film despite playing two characters and I think she really holds the whole thing together, really fantastic performance. 

Overall I didn’t love it but it wasn’t awful. I think it would have made a very good 20minute short, loose all the dialogue but keep the artistic flair from the colour vs. black & white.  

Wonderstruck

Starlight Express @ The Other Palace

*BEWARE, SPOILERS!*

I know I don’t normally review theatre productions, but I just can’t resist for this one.

Starlight Express Workshop Performance, 15/09/17
The Other Palace, London

This was a very different production of this wonderful 30 year old classic. It was a semi-staged, 3 day run on a tiny stage. The idea behind this workshop style performance was that creative director Arlene Phillips had the chance to make changes to it to make it more current and acceptable in today’s culture. I will discuss some of the changes made and if I think they worked or not.

Please bare in mind, I have seen this musical twice before; once about 20 years ago at the Apollo Victoria and once on tour in Milton Keynes, I’m not an expert when it comes to Starlight but I am making these comments based on my own opinion. 

Let me set the scene, the stage at The Other Palace is round and has a ascending audience. The band is located above the stage on a mezzanine style platform.

ACT 1:

The show opened with Control making his way up to join the band and sat at the front of the platform. Already we see new additions to the show, this is the first time that we have seen Control in person, usually he is just a pre-recorded voice over.
Instead of having Control playing with a toy train set, they have set him up with a headset and iPad and having him playing a train based game on there, this is the first major update we saw.

‘The Entry of the Trains’ opens the show with a bang, a huge opening number and allows the principle racers to be introduced. There have been a few changes to this, the trains names for one have been altered to make them more relevant and one (although I think we could do with a couple more) of the trains is now played by a female.
The British trains name has changed from “The Prince of Wales” to “Brexit”, I personally am not a fan of this change, although this joke is relevant now, I think it will get old very quickly. I also used to like that the gag with the British train was that it was always running late, this was and still is relevant and therefore would still remain funny, however, they have changed it to being a bumbling fool which some people may find offensive and quite frankly, isn’t as funny.

There are a couple of new songs in the first act which provide the female roles with some more activity which I think is great. I’m glad they haven’t changed the personalities of the coaches, they seemed to be more present in the first half than what I remember from the original soundtrack.
If my memory doesn’t deceive me, they have cut “He’ll Whistle at Me” which is not a great loss, it is a boring and predictable song and never brought much to the show.

The freight trains, one of my favourite parts of the show, have changed also since the original cast recording. The used to be called the Rocky’s, but from what I remember, they changed when the show went on tour to the Hip Hoppers (I personally prefer the Rockys!) One of the Hip Hoppers is now played by a girl, which is fab!

I am so glad they haven’t changed Greaseball at all, he’s a fantastic character, one that you love to hate, and he brings a sense of American humour to the show which I think is important to the story.

Electra is also still the same and I’m glad of that, however, in this production they’ve got him wearing 8 inch red heels which I absolutely loved but does this mean we’re not going to see him in skates in the future? Are the skates going forever? I think it would be a crying shame if so.

I had a thought whilst I was watching the show, about the gender of the characters, aside from some of the principles couldn’t all of the ensemble, and perhaps Mamma/Pappa and the Rockys, be played by either sex? I think it would be great to change from performance to performance. Why couldn’t Flat Top be played by a male and have his understudy as a female? I think it would be great!

We then get introduced to Mamma (formally known as Pappa!) and she belts out her wonderful blues number and leads us to the end of Act 1 when Rusty gets his time to shine with Starlight Express. I was very disappointed with this rendition of this song, for me it is one of the most beautiful songs in the show and it’s completely different to the original. They’ve kept the chorus the same, which is great, but the versus are very different and I didn’t feel the song ever really took off.

The production itself is fantastic, the cast are incredibly talented and so funny and the creative team have made great use of the space available to them. I liked how there were parts, mostly during the race scenes, where the cast moved up and down the aisles around the auditorium, much like when it was in the Apollo Vic they would have skated around the audience. The races worked really well, and I loved how they wrote into the script that the “lights weren’t working and kept going out” because the races couldn’t have been staged properly in that theatre, and this also gave the audience the chance to appreciate the band without any distractions.

ACT 2:

Opened with the much adored “The Rap”; so happy this has made the cut in the revised version. Fantastic song and brilliantly performed.

Red Caboose is a character I don’t remember from the original, maybe he’s just got a new name but either way, he has a new song which was fantastic and he’s an interesting character in the way that he plays with Greaseball, Electra and Dusty to try and double cross them. He soon gets his comeuppance in “One Rock’n’Roll too Many” (another of my personal favourites) which was definitely a highlight of the whole show, still just as funny as it was the first time I saw/heard it 20 years ago.

Pearl is not my favourite character by any means but she was given a couple of new numbers in this production and I don’t find her quite as annoying as I used to. Of course, everyone is routing for Pearl and Rusty throughout the whole show and they’re duet at the end of Act 2 is really sweet.

As it was a workshop production we were given feedback forms to fill in based on our opinion of the show. One of the questions was “were there any parts of the story that you found confusing” in response to this question, yes, there are two plot points that I don’t quite understand; Does Mamma die and turn into the Starlight? and Why do the Rocky’s hate Rusty so much that they end up beating him up? Maybe once there’s a fully staged version of the show I will get the answers!

I really didn’t want this review to be about the cast, I spend too much of my time writing “this person was great” and “I hate this actor” and really this post is more about the production. But, I can’t leave without just making a shout out to the entire cast, the principle performers were all fantastic and given that it is only a 3 day run their character development is incredible. The ensemble on the other hand, I really don’t know how to say it, they were just breathtaking, they all played swings and therefor were portraying about 3-5 characters each and still made it so easy to follow the story without the use of sets, costume changes and makeup.

I’m so glad to see more female performers in this show, as it’s always been quite a male dominated cast, however, I think particularly for Dustin they need to cast a heavier actor.  There are comments made throughout the script about him being a heavy coach and that’s the reason Mamma breaks down in Race 1. I’m not saying the guy that played him tonight wasn’t any good, the complete opposite actually, he was brilliant and had a really stunning voice. I just think we need to see a bit more size diversity and this character is a great one for that.

One last thing before I go to bed – thank you, thank you to the creatives behind this new revised version of this amazing musical, for not cutting my favourite song from any musical ever; U.N.C.O.U.P.L.E.D. For as long as I can remember this has been my favourite and I would have been gutted if it had been cut. (Just like I was when Little People was cut from Les Mis, I’m looking at you Mackintosh.)

Please come home Starlight Express, London has missed you.

 

 

Starlight Express @ The Other Palace