Category Archives: Reviews

On the radio: Life on Egg

A prison built in a giant prehistoric egg that is now far off land in the Atlantic Ocean is the setting for Daniel Maier’s Life on Egg. What was that about radio having the best pictures?

Using the fifteen minute, late-night format perfectly, this was wonderful radio. Harry Hill as the Governor, all chuckling observation and attempted control; Karen Bartke and Marek Larwood providing varying levels of confused support. And Gyles Brandreth.

Of course the stories were silly. Have you seen the setting? But the narratives were smart and there were plenty of laugh out loud lines and moments – the short-lived visit of a Hollywood star doing research was absolute genius. I also enjoyed the meta moments of the “thank you for that bit of exposition” used in dialogue kind.

I’m sure I will now get bored of it as it gets a dozen or more reruns on Radio 4 Extra in the slot after the extended News Quiz but if there are more whimsical, surreal and occasionally violent visits to the Egg then I will definitely want to hear those.


Film Review: The Sky in Bloom

The tropes of the British gangster flick are all here. The wise-cracking duo who stop their gags long enough to terrorise and kill. A dealer in people who also has a quirk (in this case, carpets). A beautiful woman who is ignorant of the truth. And all manner of brooding eastern European bad guys. With so much stereotypery, it’s just as well that The Sky in Bloom is rather good.

Not a masterpiece by any means. But it has the courage to stick to its amorality and not give any easy outs. Violence is inevitable but not glorified. A needless road rage is not an opportunity for quips and strength but, as it happens mostly off-screen, a chance for others to be bored and regretful. The plot ticks by nicely and the direction by Toor Mian is good with some neat angles and washed out cinematography.

Sean Knopp as Sean and Ross Mullan as Ducek, the two bantering and sometimes bickering ,enforcers carry most of the film; Bill Thomas as the dying trafficker Branick does all that is asked of him, fluctuating between whimsy and tenacity, the with cold fury always just about to erupt. Kelly Eastwood does good work as his daughter, the pretty, tempting and naive, Amy.

The Sky in Bloom came out a few years ago and doesn’t exactly seem to have set the world alight. It can be found now on Amazon Prime. It’s worth doing so.

Film Review: The Incredible Jessica James

Blasting into and out of your life in the time it takes the first episode of your new box set to get to the end of its tortuous initial exposition, The Incredible Jessica James is a Netflix exclusive that, whilst not likely to make you sign up by itself, is a good addition to your watchlist.

Jessica Williams is Jessica James. A far too cool aspiring playwright who teaches kids in a Hell’s Kitchen project whilst also attempting to get over her break-up. Set up by a friend on a blind date she winds up having a sort of good time with Boone (Chris O’Dowd) and its their sort of relationship that is the central narrative of the film.

There’s quite a bit else as well. For 83 minutes you get a nice load of vibrator gags and some deft observations on breaking up and staying together in the social media age, as well some touching interplay, some between the romantic leads and some involving the children at the project. The script and direction via James C Strouse fall just the right side of both hipster and cheesy.

It’s all bright, it’s mostly breezy and if it doesn’t warm your cockles at all then I’ll assume you’re dead inside.

Film Review: Pitch Perfect 3

The Bellas are back. They’re not singing any more and are instead pursuing suitably terrible and uninspiring jobs. But, heh, there’s one last chance for them to get the band back together and reach that star. Or something. Pitch Perfect 3 has a plot so flimsy it disappears on any kind of inspection. It also has John Lithgow putting on an Australian so appalling the nation should sue. It shouldn’t work. To a lot of people it probably doesn’t. I smiled most of the way through.

It’s usual by the second sequel to have jettisoned anything superfluous to the core selling appeal of the original. Thus, there is a competition but it’s so vague – an opening spot with DJ Khaled – as to be meaningless. There are rivals but they barely do more than grimace at the start and resignedly smile at the end. There are a few romantic digressions but they exist primarily to shove in a few jokes. Your emotions are unlikely to be too sorely tested. And how much you laugh at the jokes may very well depend on how much patience you have Rebel Wilson.

So why was I smiling? I’m a sucker for a fun and joyous a capella riff off and assorted music mash ups. And Pitch Perfect 3 delivers. There’s nothing as screen poppingly fun as the finale from the original but then no one should expect there to be. Go in with expectations that you’ve seen all this before, drop the cynicism and enjoy the show. Pitch Perfect 3 is basically a jukebox musical or an old-style Hollywood song and dance flick. And it’s a good one. Sure, there are flaws and desperately unsubtle product placement but it’s also knowing, smart, good to look at, fun, tolerant and tuneful. There really are worse things to be.


On Netflix: Godless

You can, in my humble opinion, judge a western by how the characters react to getting shot in the gut. A slight grimace before they carry on shooting, perhaps with their hand over the blood, and we know we are in make believe land. Most Westerns are like this. Nobody simply winces in Godless even though a lot of people end up shot. Godless is perhaps the most Western Western of recent times – and that is mostly a very good thing.

Mis-sold as the story of a town where the men have all gone and the women are in control, Godless has a remarkably simple central narrative. Disappointingly for some, the main story is as male as they come. Peter Griffin, a slaughtering outlaw who pauses for occasional acts of kindness and charity, has sworn revenge not only on Roy Goode for leaving his gang of bandits but also any town and community that harbours him. In the opening episode we see the aftermath of such an event as the town of Crede smoulders and its residents swing from gallows.

It is in the context for this drama that our town almost without men – La Belle – comes to life. Alice Fletcher (Michelle Dockery) out on her ranch, trying to break in the horses and get the well to reach water; Mary Agnes McNue (Merritt Weaver), who now wears trousers and lives as liberated as she dare; and her brother Bill (Scott McNairy) as the sight-failing sheriff determined for one more shot at bravery. The other widows and survivors get their own depth and story, which they should over a series that runs to around eight hours, but it does sometimes feel that it would be nice to see more about this strange little world, so at odds with the violence and dirt that surrounds it, and a little less of two conflicted men heading towards their destiny. Godless does it a lot better than most have ever done but it’s still a story we’ve seen many times before.

Jeff Daniels as Peter Griffin and Jack O’Connell as Roy Goode carry the burden of the story with ease. Daniels will almost certainly win whatever awards are going. Godless homages pretty much every great Western there has ever been in terms of look and feel – even part-time cineastes like me will recognise the use of the internal door framing the outside world from The Searchers. There’s a good script too and some unexpectedly affecting moments.

Some might feel the story takes a long time to get anywhere. The majority of the episodes clock in at 70 minutes; 50 minutes feels like a breeze. There are a lot of digressions, some of which engage more than others, and as well as the women of La Belle, there are other towns, characters and episodes to chart. Godless gives us a world which may, at times, test your patience. It still moves quicker than Westworld though.

The promise on Netflix is that this is a limited season. There are no arcs needing a second, third, ninth series to complete. I hope so with one caveat. The story of Goode and Griffin is done and dusted in this season but there are characters in that hinterland I would want to see more of if such a thing could be done well – and perhaps with a touch more brevity.

At Stables Theatre: Tom’s Midnight Garden

The clock strikes thirteen and Tom finds that he can move between the world of his aunt and uncle’s flat, where he is quarantined on account of being a carrier of measles, and a time in the past where the grand house in which the flat sits was unified and had a huge garden. From the 1950s to Victorian times he glides, unseen. Until, one of the girls in the past, Hatty, sticks out her tongue and their friendship starts.

Adapted from Philippa Pearce’s 1958 novel by David Wood in 2001, this production at the Stables in Hastings was a thoroughly charming and, when necessary, poignant experience. The interplay between Harper Jackson as Tom and Rebecca Barrie as the younger Hatty was particularly sweet. Hatty ages, with months going by for her between visits, but for Tom time barely moves forward at all. As with all time travel plots there are some ‘hang on, but what if …’ moments but they pass. And the final reveal, although hardly a Sixth Sense revelation, is well paced and beautifully handled.

The production was well realised. It’s amazing what can be done with a door on wheels, an impressionistic window, some steps, a ramp and a tree. Oh, and a clock. Quite important that grandfather clock.

It was good to see the Stables close to capacity for this Sunday matinee. Embarrassingly, it’s my first visit to the place despite driving, cycling and walking by almost daily for the past few years. With the promise of productions as good as this I’m sure I will be back soon.

On the Radio: The Devil’s Passion

December is an odd time to choose to put on a passion play but then Radio 3 do like to do things their own way. And so, to celebrate the first Sunday of Advent, the clever clogs from the Third Programme went with Justin Butcher’s The Devil’s Passion which starred David Suchet as Satan, looking on as Y’Shua Bar-Yessuf knocked down all the gates on the way to becoming humanity’s saviour.

An impressive soundscape covered our Satanic means of observation.  CCTV, donkey disguises, and drone coverage of betrayal. Jesus ploughed serenely on but the Devil was getting lost in impotent fury. Think of it like a more worldly, sinister Screwtape Letters. There were some decent lines and Suchet had a blast. Satan came across like one of those alt-right warriors who want to disrupt everything in the name of freedom but who then struggle to understand why people choose to act the way they do; Jesus’s compassion was nicely played without being cloying.

I assume, for Holy Week, Radio 3 will be giving us a nativity as reimagined by the guiding star.