Is This the Real Life? Is This Just Fantasy?

Is This the Real Life? Is This Just Fantasy?

We were planning to see Bohemian Rhapsody, the new Freddie Mercury biopic. But the reviews have been decidedly mixed, despite Rami Malek’s astonishing portrayal as the Queen of Queen. It’s been said that, as producers of the film, the surviving members of the band all come across as a bit too saintly. Of course, they’re not saints. Nobody is. And Freddie’s sexuality has been sanitised, presumably to appeal to the widest international audience possible. Freddie’s excesses are well-documented. His AIDS-related death was awful and, for me, profoundly affecting. I remember it all too well. I once saw Freddie at a gay club back in the day, surrounded by his acolytes. There was nothing ambiguous about Freddie. So we decided to give the film a miss to avoid the disappointment. Instead, we lunched at Bishop’s, one of Norwich best indie restaurants. The meal was courtesy of the staff at the village surgery where Liam earns an honest crust. We’d already had our joint birthday treat at the newly opened Ivy Brasserie. But you can never have too many birthday treats, can you?

A Star is Born… Again, Again and Again

A Star is Born… Again, Again and Again

‘I’m going to see A Star is Born,’ said a colleague of Liam’s. ‘It’s supposed to be brilliant,’ she gushed. ‘Have you seen the original, you know, the one with Barbra Streisand?’

‘That’s not the original’ he replied.

Liam was right. Ms Streisand and her dodgy seventies curly perm was not the first. That honour goes to the 1937 version with Janet Gaynor and Frederic March. Then there was the more famous remake – the 1954 musical with Judy Garland and England’s very own James Mason. And who could forget the 2013 Bollywood incarnation? No, I didn’t see it either.

a Star is Born Compilation

Image courtesy of The Atlantic

Now it’s been rolled out again, this time with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper in the leads. Reviews have been star-bright and Liam’s a sucker for a gay icon – Garland, Streisand, Gaga (though I’m not sure about Gaynor, unless it’s Gloria, of course). Naturally, we couldn’t resist.

It’s a well-trodden plot – a maelstrom of passion and torment as girl on the way up mates with boy on the way down – so no need to recount it here. But was it worth the ticket price?

Well, sort of. Both leads are excellent and Lady Gaga lets it go with both barrels but the film is way too long, the dialogue way too mumbly and the script way too sweary. I’m no prude and I’ve been known to utter the odd profanity myself but, really, there’s no need to say f*ck with every other word. It dulls the effect, especially for a weepy. It left me unmoved. What would Judy say?

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

‘Mamma Mia!’ is silly singalong foot-tapping ABBA-fest, a huge block of cheesiness that leaves a warm glow inside like a sugary bowl of Ready Brek. It’s one the most successful British films ever. So what about the sequel, ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’? Often sequels are rubbish. This one, though, is right on the money, money, money. The one liners are sharper, the flares wider, the platforms higher, the sequins flashier. The cast had a ball and so did we. And there wasn’t a dry eye in the house by the end.

Mamma Mia

 

Nothing Like a Dame

1d19-nothing like a dame banner

We took our seats at Cinema City for Nothing Like a Dame, a film that captures four great thespian dames – Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright and Eileen Atkins – in conversation. We had great expectations and we weren’t disappointed. All the director had to do was point the camera, say ‘action’, sit back and watch them rock. And rock they did with gossipy warmth, wit and insight, humour, naughtiness and modesty – without a hint of the pompous luvviness you might expect from these titans of the stage. It really hit me when I released that Joan Plowright, who could out-act anyone with just a look, is now blind. I had no idea. Despite this, the film was a voyeuristic joy, and it was a privilege to see it.

And so, in the best pansies tradition, here’s the trailer…

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

For the uninitiated, the Channel Islands are an archipelago in the English Channel, spitting distance from the French coast of Normandy. They include, among smaller fry, Jersey and Guernsey. Traditionally, the islands are thought of as the last vestiges of the Duchy of Normandy still in English hands – think William the Conqueror, 1066 and all that. These days, Jersey and Guernsey are wealthy tax havens taking full advantage of their legal status as Crown dependencies beyond the jurisdiction of the British tax authorities. It’s where the canny and the criminal stash their cash and where global companies avoid their dues.

Back in 1940, the economy was very different. Many islanders were dirt poor, scraping a meagre living from the land and the sea. When France fell to the Germans in June of that year, the fate of the islands was sealed. Geography made them indefensible and the Germans occupied them unopposed. The British Government evacuated who they could in a hurry and urged the rest to cooperate.

Germans marching through Guernsey – image from Getty

As was mostly the case throughout the occupied West, life under the Third Reich was not as deadly as in the occupied East – unless of course you happened to be Jewish/ gay/ socialist/ liberal/ Roma (delete according to badge), but it was still very harsh. And then there was the slave labour imported to construct the colossal fortifications built as part of the Atlantic Wall. Few of those poor souls survived. Conditions gradually worsened for everyone, ending in near starvation for both occupied and occupiers during the winter of 1944–45.

This is the backdrop to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a film based on a bestselling novel of the same name. I’m guessing the first half of the title refers to the German desire to maintain ordinary activities during extraordinary times and the second part is an ironic response to the subsistence rations suffered by the locals. The plot goes something like this…

Just after the war, an up-and-coming writer based in battle-torn London begins exchanging letters with members of the society. Feeling compelled to visit, she starts digging about for a story and a picture emerges of life during the occupation. She soon discovers that, while book reading was involved, the society was also a cunning ruse to avoid the night-time curfew and to consume illicit pork and home-brewed gin. Sounds like my kind of society. As she digs deeper, dark secrets begin to surface – needs must as they say – and there was a fine line between cooperation and collaboration. After all, not all Germans were Nazis.

The film also provides some love interest. Will the pretty young novelist shack up with her handsome Yank in his New York apartment with views across Central Park or get down and dirty with the hunky pig farmer with his rough hands, puppy-dog eyes and no electricity? I know who I’d choose.

The film won’t win any awards, but it’s a solid period piece with an interesting theme and not a bad way to spend a raining Sunday afternoon. And it won’t do Guernsey tourism any harm either, even though it was mostly shot in Cornwall and Devon.

 

Middle England or Middle America?

Middle England or Middle America?

Middle England or middle America? Imelda Staunton or Frances McDormand? Who could choose? Not us, so we did both.

First up, Imelda was finding her feet in Finding Your Feet, ably supported by a sterling cast of foot-tapping veterans. The trailer doesn’t really do justice to this winter warmer of knobs and snobs, free love and last chances. Charming, witty, a little bit sad and very, very British, I’m so glad I didn’t let the underpowered promo put me off.

And what can anyone say about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri?  I’ll leave it to Ann Hornaday at the Washington Post who wrote…

The film is as dark as they come, a pitch-black, often laceratingly funny look at human nature at its most nasty, brutish and dim-witted.

Amen to that. Frances McDormand bristles with benign menace and the film is pitilessly brilliant, blurring the lines between right and wrong. Oh, and there’s an awful lot of swearing in it too. Here’s the trailer. Best change channels now if you’re offended by the C word.

Tales from Hollywood

Two Hollywood stories caught my eye recently as I flicked through my newspaper and sipped my coffee in a local café. The first was the revelation that comedy actor Richard Prior and brooding macho heartthrob Marlon Brando had been lovers. Generally, I don’t go in for celebrity tittle tattle. I really don’t care who does who as long as it’s consensual and they don’t frighten the horses, but it was the statement from Richard Prior’s widow that, given enough cocaine, her husband would…

…f**k a radiator and send it flowers in the morning…

that had me spitting out my americano. What a woman. I’m not sure I would have been quite so magnanimous.

The second story was the news that British-born actor John Mahoney had died at the age of 77. John Mahoney found fame later in life as the crabby blue-collar dad in ‘Frazier’ who delighted in pricking the pretensions of his snobby sons. He was often handed the best lines and one of the best was…

Boy, things have really changed since my day. Back then, if a girl got into trouble, her family would send her away to relatives in another state and if anyone asked, just lied and said she went to Europe. Then when she came back, they’d raise the baby as a little sister. Not like today, we had morals and values back then.

I remember those values. And I see them coming round again.