Of Musings and Wonderings











ghastly love of johnny xThe Ghastly Love of Johnny X is a black and white musical, taking inspiration from B-movie sci-fis of the fifties. It works. Brilliantly. All the pieces fit together, as we follow the story of this strange alien and his group of misfits. The plot is simple, easy to follow, but this isn’t a film to watch for the plot. Instead, it’s a great to film to watch for over the top cheesiness, catchy songs and wacky characters.

The characters range from Johnny X, exiled to Earth from his home planet, a juvenile delinquent who heads up his own gang, to Skip, a short order diner cook who has nothing really done anything exciting in his life, until Bliss finds him and enlists his help in escaping from Johnny.

The relationships between the characters are built up quickly, and early on the dynamics between them are established, meaning the rest of the film can move on and let the watcher just sit back and enjoy it. Everything feels firmly rooted, and it’s clear what the filmmakers have set out to do. The black and white effect works wonderfully, really drawing on the elements of these type of films from the fifties, including the ultimate gadget that Johnny is trying to get back, the types of characters used, and the slightly over the top feel to everything that’s going on.

Because everything looks better in black and white.

Because everything looks better in black and white.

The film doesn’t hold back, reminding the viewer, every step of the way, where the influences for this lie. It’s a fun, adventure filled, sci-fi with elements of horror, musical romp, and it just doesn’t care. In a good way. The actors all know exactly what they’re doing, and seem to be having  a hell of a lot of fun doing it. And it passes through when watching it, too. I dare anyone to watch this film and not enjoy it. Unless you hate fun. In which case, there is nothing that can be done.

But, seriously, if you can get a copy of this, (because that was something I found very difficult) then watch it. You won’t regret it.

Advertisements


{September 29, 2013}   Glee – 5×1 [TV]

Glee-Season-5-Beatles-PhotoGlee kicked off their fifth series with a tribute to The Beatles. Not only that, but they’re stretching it into two episodes. The second will be focusing on the later years, the first on the early. After these, there’s another tribute episode, this one to the late Cory Monteith. Following on from my Addiction Returns posts, I’ve been posting about the first episodes of each of the shows I mentioned there. But because of the way Glee is doing the first three episodes of this series, and because of the large effect on the show Monteith’s death will have, I’ll most likely be writing about each of them.

Anyway, onto the actual show.

The episode starts off with a chemistry audition between Rachel and Ioan Gruffudd. As she sits backstage, she hears the actor and director talking about her, discussing how green she is and how she may not be right for the role she thinks she is born to play. Well, to be fair, yeah, they’re right. I get why Rachel wants the role so badly, but surely she should be doing smaller, minor roles before going for Fanny Bryce in Funny Girl? It’s an amazing part, and it’s not like Rachel has actually paid her dues. Anyway. Rachel then breaks into Yesterday, introducing the series with a fairly sad song that packs a strong sense of emotion. And there’s a tinge to it, as viewers will be all too aware of what’s happened between the last series and this one.

Are we ever actually going to see Rachel paying her dues?

Are we ever actually going to see Rachel paying her dues?

The opening is kind of sad and sombre, and it feels like it might be an episode that could play out in that way. Or, at least, an episode that should have a balance of sadness and happiness. Instead, we get dragged to the high school where the Glee club are told they’re going to be doing two weeks of The Beatles, and suddenly it’s all bright, happy and cheerful. It’s a really sudden shift in the mood, and it doesn’t feel like it works. It feels like the emotion has just been pushed aside and ignored.

So what does happen in this episode? Well, the guys figure out that Tina is acting bitter because she points out to Artie that he shouldn’t settle for a secret relationship. Wait, WHAT? She’s trying to help a friend, seeing that yeah, he really doesn’t deserve to be treated like that by Kitty, and suddenly the guys are all “Oh, she’s so bitter now! We must do something and ride to the rescue.” Kurt agrees to get back together with Blaine and, suddenly, PROPOSAL! Blaine, using The Beatles’ brilliant Help, runs around and gathers three other show choirs – all former rivals of New Directions – to help him with his epic proposal to Kurt. Okay, I get it. He loves Kurt. He doesn’t want to live without him. But Kurt DOES have a new life in New York, and Blaine is still in high school and, seriously, why are these Glee kids obsessed with doing everything so fast?

Just because you CAN get married, doesn't mean you have to do it right now.

Just because you CAN get married, doesn’t mean you have to do it right now.

The songs are done okay, though it’s The Beatles and any sort of tribute is going to fall just a little short when compared to the original. But still, the cast do a good job with the material they’re given, bouncing off each other when they need to. But…seriously, can Blaine just STOP, for like, two minutes? The majority of the songs in the episode had him in it, even the one Kurt sang FOR him. Kurt starts off and it turns into a big number with a marching band and then, of course, Blaine is up and singing and Blaine is really starting to get on my nerves. Anyone else feeling it? I’d like to see some of the other male characters take over a little bit, especially Sam. That guy doesn’t get enough.

As an introduction to the fifth season, which is airing four episodes before taking a long break, it was all right. Don’t get me wrong, I love Glee and I think I always will, but that doesn’t mean I can’t see that it has its flaws and they seem to be getting bigger as the show goes on. They can’t seem to get the balance right between focusing on one or two main characters, which was annoying when it felt like the Rachel Berry show, and stretching out to include everyone. The episode jumped between a fair few of the characters while feeling like it was ignoring some of the others. It’d be better if they could focus on just one or two strands per episode, rather than cramming everything – proposals, New York, Sue becoming headmaster, Tina being bitter – into forty-five minutes. Just…slow it down a bit.

Hopefully, once the fifth season gets into its stride, things might change. But, well, it’s the fifth season. It shouldn’t have to get into its stride. Still, fingers crossed. We’ll just have to see what the next few episodes bring.

 



{May 11, 2013}   Save The Last Dance For Me

11072_fullIf you can’t tell already, I love musicals. One of my favourite American Studies modules in Uni was The Hollywood Musical. Give me something where characters burst randomly into song, and I’m happy. Hence my love of Glee. And you know what? I’m glad that we have jukebox musicals. Mamma Mia, We Will Rock You, Rock of Ages…partly because it gives me hope that one day I might actually be able to write a musical, and not have to worry about the actual writing of songs part. (As a side note, I mentioned at the start of Year Twelve in school that I would only audition for a musical, which my school was very big on, if it was We Will Rock You. Guess what they announced for their musical. I can’t sing, I can just about dance, and I can barely act. But I had a hell of a lot of fun in the chorus.)

Anyway! Moving on.

Where I work, I pass the New Theatre in Cardiff, which means I usually see whatever they have playing from one week to the next. And Save The Last Dance practically forced me to walk in there during my lunch break and buy a ticket for me and my Mum.

And I am very glad I did.

Save The Last Dance For Me follows two sisters as they go on holiday without their parents. They meet an American, stationed at a nearby Air Force Base, and attend the dances put on by the military band. The songs are hits that anyone familiar with late 50s/early 60s pop will recognise, all written by the duo of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman. Of course one of the sisters – the younger – falls in love with one of the GIs, but, although they spend a lovely week together, (I love how fast things happen in musicals) he tries to push her away at the end, thinking that no one can accept a black man dating a white woman.

Among this, the older sister briefly dates another of the military men, before realising how much of a scumbag he is and going with the local ice cream man Carlo instead.

The plot is…sort of weak. The racism angle feels like it’s put in just to have a serious edge, and there’s the feeling of pointing at American and going “Oh! So racist,” while showing the British to be more tolerant. (Mum’s comment was, it wasn’t like that at all) The only character who does say something racist ends up being actually quite a nice guy who was only pulling Curtis’ leg, and he still gets the girl. (That’s Carlo, by the way) If her parents tried to stop their relationship because of race, and not just because they’re trying to protect their little girl from over sexed men, it’s not clear.

Weak plots are not a new thing in musical theatre. It’s nice when a musical does have a solid plot to carry through, but in the case of Save The Last Dance, it kind of doesn’t matter. It’s less about the plot and more about the music, and that’s okay. Not everything has to be a masterpiece. Yes, it had its flaws but they were pretty much the same flaws most musicals suffer from.

It was fun. And a nice way to spend the evening, a great treat for my mum, and the cast were brilliant.

With any jukebox musical – and any cover song – it’s difficult to get a balance between your own voice, and matching the original. Especially as these songs are the kind that are well known, and versions of them will be all too familiar to the audience. The cast were clearly more than up to it. Especially outside of the main two. Curtis and Marie were great, of course, but I think the rest of the cast really added to that more than if the leads had outshone everyone else. Milton (Lee Honey-Jones, by the way, from Swansea and was in Mamma Mia. Mum kept asking me “Which one’s the Welsh one who was in Mamma Mia?) had some great songs, including Here I Go Again (not the Whitesnake version), Surrender and Tell Her. His voice worked nicely with the song choices. The big surprise, however, was Carlo (Alan Howell who, judging by the program, has done absolutely everything) basically blew the rest of the cast away.

That guy has a seriously good voice. When he started with Be My Baby, I think I wasn’t the only one who had a serious case of jaw-drop. Every time he sang, both me and Mum would be leaning forward. And at the end, when he did Viva Las Vegas, it was just brilliant. Powerful, and even with that Elvis tinge to it.

The girls all played their parts perfectly, right from the slutty Doris to the innocent Marie, they all managed to make the songs their own while not making them too different. The dances were great, but I would have liked to have seen more. A lot more. It would have been great to see more of the 50s/60s style dances in there for some songs, rather than having half the cast sitting around and doing nothing.

Like I said, we had a brilliant time, and the cast looked like they did too. I think it’s the sign of a good production when the cast make it look easy and fun, and not like they’ve probably put in God knows how many hours into rehearsing. Yes, the plot was weak and a little rushed at times, but it’s not the kind of thing you go to for the plot.

If you get the chance, it’s really worth seeing. Especially if you’re a fan of that kind of music.

As a side-note, and I found this out from reading the program last night, Pomus suffered from polio as a child,  leaving him wheelchair bound in later life. He wrote Save The Last Dance – at first glance a happy, romantic song – after being unable to dance with his wife on their wedding day, and watching from the side-lines as she danced with others. The song takes on a whole new feeling once you know that.

 



{April 20, 2013}   Movie Review: Pitch Pefect
Acca-Bitches

Acca-Bitches

Pitch Perfect follows reluctant student Beca, one of those cool, alternative girls who wants to strike out to LA and make it as a DJ. Her father, however, insists she does a degree first, in order to have something to fall back on, and enlists her at the University he teaches at. In order to make sure she embraces the college life, Beca’s dad tells her to join a club, to make an effort, and if she still hates it, he will help her move to LA.

Before I start, I want to say this. I really enjoyed this film. It feels like a movie length version of Glee. And in a way, that’s exactly what it is. But outside of that, there’s more to this film, with characters who fill up the screen and manage to keep you invested in each of them, even if one does speak so quietly none of the other characters can hear her.

It’s a fun film, and throughout, it manages to remain funny and engaging, especially when you have characters like Fat Amy on-screen. (Who calls herself that so “twig bitches like you don’t do it behind my back”.) There are moments where you just kind of sit back and wonder “what?”, but how can you not love a film that manages to put ‘acca’ in front of so many words?

Anna Kendrick does a brilliant job as Beca, and manages to stop the character from becoming annoying. She makes Beca believable, and likable, and you really root for her. And the relationship between Beca and Jesse just feels so normal and natural. Skylar Astin feels perfect for the part; again, both characters have the potential to be really annoying, but Kendrick and Astin have a nice chemistry and watching them, as a couple they make sense. Case in point; watching the ending of The Breakfast Club, Beca cannot take her eyes off him. He’s completely absorbed in the film, and it’s really sweet. And it’s something very relatable; because, seriously, there’s something oddly hot about seeing someone you like so passionate about something.

Acca-Dorable!

Acca-Dorable!

Ok, well, there was no doubt from his first scene that I was going to fall in love with Jesse. That guy’s first appearance shows him singing, full blast, to Kansas’ Carry On My Wayward Son. That song is my kryptonite.

Moving on before I start delving into all the reasons Jesse is awesome (cute, film fan, loves Kansas, good taste in music, can sing…*ahem*), the characters really carry the film. Fat Amy is clearly only there for comic relief, but it works, and she has some of the best lines in the film. Bumper is your typical dickhead, and I felt like there was more that could have been done with him. Brittany Snow and Anna Camp (Chloe and Aubrey) are wonderful to watch, and like many of the people involved they have this knack of just bouncing off each other. (Though no one in the film can quite compete with John Higgins and Elizabeth Banks)

I think Kendrick is one of my new favourite actresses (along with Jennifer Lawrence). For some reason, actresses just never really stood out to me before. I can’t remember many films which have women who just make me go “Yeah. They’re amazing.” Maybe it’s just me. But now…I think we’re entering an interesting age of interesting actresses. And it’s refreshing to see a film where the vast majority of faces are new or just not that well-known.

pitch perfect

Acca-air stewardess?

The film has problems. Quite a lot of them, actually. The supporting characters are reduced to clichés; nothing is really done, even when it could be. There’s a lot of unexplored territory here; Luke, for example. There’s a hint that he could maybe come between Beca and Jesse. A hint that there could be more than just him hanging around when they’re stacking CDs. But it’s not used. The film moves fast. Once the basic plot is established, the film leaps from one competition to another. And the music…the music could be so much better! Considering the premise of the film, they don’t utilize the music as much as they could.

There’s a reason love duets are part of films. Look up Richard Dyer’s ideas behind musicals as a utopia. One of the ideas is that characters are able to express their real feelings only through song. And song is where characters otherwise at odds can match each other. Love duets are a massive part of this; they usually represent the moment when characters realise they actually do love each other, and show them coming together. (Best recent example; Rock of Ages, I Can’t Fight This Feeling. Tried to get a video but looks like they’ve all been taken off YouTube.) So maybe this doesn’t have to happen with Jesse and Beca. But half of the time, when Beca sings, Jesse just stands there, grinning like an idiot or looking amazed. He barely gets the chance to show off his own singing!

Pitch Perfect is, in the end, a fun film with a great cast, even if they don’t get the chance to step into their own. It’s worth a watch, as long as you can forgive the pacing. The cast are great, and fingers crossed we get to see those involved in more films in the future.



{October 9, 2012}   The Greatest Story Ever Told?

Back in July, I wrote about Superstar, ITV’s search for the next Jesus Christ. (For the musical. But I wouldn’t be surprised if reality TV does start searching for the next Messiah. Coming soon: Save Our Souls, USA!)  You can read it here, and please pay attention to the end, where I state I didn’t think anyone would pay £70+ for a ticket.

Well, this is embarrassing.

I paid.

In my defence, I brought two tickets for my mum’s birthday present – one for me, and one brought with the help of my brothers for her. And you know what, I happily eat my words from the end of that previous post. I had a great time, the show was brilliant, and I walked away with a ten quid program and fifteen quid t-shirt. (I had a lot of money left over from London.) So, here it goes; my review of Jesus Christ Superstar, Cardiff Motorpoint Arena, 3rd October 2012.

When I heard the show had been modernised and set against the backdrop of the riots, I was really excited. I mentioned in my Footloose review that trying to update it didn’t work, but Jesus Christ Superstar is different. The story itself is timeless, and it’s one of those musicals that should be updated and revised. It worked. The show opened with a news broadcast about the frustration of the common people against those in power in the financial world. After this, the cast came on – some were dressed as riot police, and others looked like they had been picked up from the Occupy camps.

Obviously, any form of violence in musicals is stylised, and I love it. I love seeing dance used to convey fighting, and the way the clash was shown between police and rioters was done well. Above it all, the screen showed Twitter and Facebook updates, with mentions of Jesus and the twelve. Actually, one of the things I really liked was in the use of the backdrop; at the camp where Jesus and his followers gathered, it shows a building, a banner hanging from it with #TheTwelve. Nicely done.

Judas, Jesus, Mary and Herod

My favourites from the show all went out before the finals, but two of the wannabe Jesus’ that stood out to me were in the show – in the ensemble. However, Ben Forster, as it turned out, was a brilliant choice for the main role. He, essentially, nailed it, playing the part of Jesus with all the doubt and fear that the role needs. Since the TV show, he seems to have really come into his own, stepping into the role and hitting the all important high notes in Gethsemane. During that particular song, my eyes were ringing.

Considering the backdrop of the show, Tim Minchin was a perfect choice for Judas. He fits in with the feel of it, and, again, managed to convey the emotions needed for the part. You can really feel the love triangle vibe between him, Jesus and Mary, and can really see him desperately trying to find a way to make things right in his eyes. One of my favourite songs belongs to Judas – it makes up part of the opening, and has Judas proclaiming “No talk of God, then we called you a man”. He is, really, the stand in for the audience; questioning and wondering about Jesus, and nowadays, especially, his role seems more important as Atenism seems to grow larger while the Church grows smaller. At times, you really feel yourself siding with him – not just because he doubts Jesus, but because he loves him.

Love at first riot

Mel C as Mary was…well, she wasn’t awful, or bad. I just wasn’t a huge fan. Don’t get me wrong, I grew up on Spice Girls like every other 90’s kid, and I can remember the excitement girls my age felt when they appeared on the scene. To us, they were amazing, and new, and no matter how you think of them now, I do think they inspired a lot of girls (when I was a kid, anyway) to be themselves. Some of my friends still have a soft spot for The Spice Girls. But I don’t think a role like this suited Mel C. Her voice doesn’t suit it, and even with the modern feel to the whole thing, it didn’t feel like she quite fit in. Mind you, Mary’s role isn’t that huge in the musical. The story really does focus on Judas and Jesus. But, of course, one of the most famous songs from the show belongs to this character, and I couldn’t help but cringe slightly when Mel C performed ‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’. (For the record, my mum liked it.) I said in my Footloose review that Ren didn’t have enough anger. Here, Mary didn’t have enough sadness. It’s a touching song, because it’s about falling in love when you don’t want, and it has some key lines, especially when relating to Jesus. (He’s just a man.) I love songs about resisting love; I Won’t Say (I’m In Love), I’ll Never Fall In Love Again, I could go on. But the same feeling in those, the same essence of Disney’s Meg in Hercules should come through with Mary. That sadness about realising he’s not just a man should be there, and she just didn’t have it.

Plus, some of the symbolism in the song was a bit too overdone. They – perhaps the person who directed, rather than just Mel C – seemed to be trying to reflect Mary’s transition from whore to non-whore (?) in a way that was a bit too heavy-handed for me. Oh, look, she’s wiping off her make-up, and taking off her leather jacket, and now she’s in a white dress! She’s pure now! As much as I like Mel C, it just didn’t work. And, again, her voice did not suit the role.

Leather jackets, now in new ‘impure prostitute’ style!

And, finally, King Herod. A lot of people who I mentioned the show to seemed to cringe at the idea of Chris Moyles in a musical and, more importantly, Chris Moyles singing. He doesn’t seem to have the voice that would suit a musical – but, of course, most people would have only heard him on morning radio. To me, it seemed to be an interesting choice, and of course, Herod has one song in the show. The song itself needs a lot of punch, sarcasm and wit, and I didn’t feel too hesitant about seeing Moyles in the role. In truth, there wasn’t a hell of a lot of singing in this version of the song, but the parts that did involve singing…Moyles pulled it off, and brilliantly. He had the whole attitude down, and the addition of making him a talk show host fit perfectly. The setting leant itself to the way they decided to do this one; Herod as a talk show host, inviting the ‘audience’ to vote on whether Jesus is a ‘Lord or Fraud’. (I’m not sure if they forgot how Ben Forester got the role…) He has the charm you’d expect, and the wit is all there, as well as some wonderful additions in the screen at the back of the stage.

The Saviour of Radio One vs The Saviour of Mankind

Overall, it was a great show. The ensemble gelled together, as they should in musicals like this, and the fresh setting really added to the story. Whether Christian, Atheist or anything else, it’s a story you can appreciate. It has, after all, endured for two thousand years (give or take), and back when they wrote it, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice took this tale and created something amazing from it. To me, the musical is a great way of retelling the last few days of Jesus, in a way that you can enjoy it without having to believe in it. And it lends itself to being modernised and retold time and time again. If I could, I would have loved to shake the hands of everyone involved and just say “Well done”. But, I can’t, so I’ll just praise them here, instead.

Which brings me onto what happened after the show.

I kind of wanted to meet the main cast. And why not? Mum and I wandered around to the back of the CIA (sorry, Motorpoint Arena. Which will always really just be CIA to me) and saw a few others waiting there. Always a good sign. We stood around, where one of the women asked who we were hoping to see. I kind of shrugged. “Anyone.” A few years ago, I met The Used waiting outside the back entrance, and it was also how I managed to meet my favourite Joseph from Any Dream Will Do. (Are you noticing a trend?) Sometimes, it pays off. Sometimes, like that night, it doesn’t.

Well, two of the guys who were in Superstar did come out and happily signed things for the small group of us either side of the gates who were waiting. They signed programmes, had photos taken, and looked happy doing so. With that in mind, in case Jeff or Tim ever do read this, thank you. It may not seem like a lot, but just taking the time to put up with people yelling your name left right and centre is kind of a nice thing to do, especially when you could have just carried on walking. Clearly, a lot of people there had been fans of Superstar, and damn did they look happy holding their signed items.

There can be only one…(but those who don’t come first usually do better in the long run, so there is that…)

It didn’t take long for them to get around everyone. There really weren’t many of us waiting there. A guy next to me clutched his Chris Moyles book, while a teenage boy on the other side told of how he’d waited two hours, in the rain, the night before, hoping to meet Tim Minchin. He mentioned how, after two hours, the main cast just got in a van and drove past. And yet this kid was back, ready to try his luck again. For his sake, (and, selfishly, a bit mine) I hoped that night’s Judas would come out. I wouldn’t have been surprised if Mel C and Chris Moyles hadn’t, but for some reason, I did think Tim Minchin and Ben Forster would perhaps meet the fans.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I was disappointed.

After an hour of waiting, the security guards told us that ‘they’ were going to get in the black van we could see waiting and go. They moved the barriers, and we could do nothing but watch as Mel C, Chris Moyles, Tim Minchin and Ben Forster drove past us. Part of me felt angry; okay, maybe they weren’t supposed to meet us, but if that was the case, why make us wait at all? Mel C and Chris Moyles – nothing against either, as I don’t know – I could understand, on some level. After all, they’ve both been around a fair while and you do kind of expect people like that to just not care.

Maybe I’m naive, to think a comedian and musician who at the start of their careers would have really, really needed their fans (for Tim Minchin, maybe a while ago, but Ben Forster, not so much) would have actually come out to meet them. Having gone to a few amateur comedy nights, I realised how much a good fan base can do for someone on the comedy circuit. So, yeah, I thought he’d make an effort. But, again, maybe he’s just been around for long enough now to not bother.

But, seriously, Ben, if you’re ever reading this, remember who put you there. It wasn’t just Andrew Lloyd Webber. You weren’t cast by struggling through West End auditions and trying to get every part you could and praying for a big break. Maybe you have done that, in the past, maybe you have paid your dues, but that’s not how you got the role of Jesus. You got to play Jesus because of the British public. Because people voted for you.

I would love to be in a position one day where people want my autograph, even if it’s only a small group of people who just happen to love my books. I would love to be able to say “I have fans”, and if I ever reach a stage where, for some reason and in some situation, I just go “Nah”, I’ve already asked my mum to slap me around the head and tell me to stop being stupid. Because I’ll remember that teenage boy’s face as, for the second night in a row, his idol just drove right past him, because, for whatever reason, they just didn’t want to meet their fans.



et cetera