I love the Lion King. I love the original Disney animation. I love the musical. And when I saw the trailer for the ‘photorealistic’ computer-generated remake, the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. So there was a lot riding on our return to Pride Rock. The film is technically brilliant – a visual masterpiece that dazzles with intricate detail and epic scale. It’s sure to do very well at the box office. But, on the whole, I was left strangely unmoved by the spectacle. The film lacks much of the charm and expressiveness of the ‘hand-drawn’ original. And the re-worked music seemed under-powered, particularly the African chants and rhythms which underscore the story’s very essence. Beyoncé’s breathy rendition of Elton John’s ‘Can You Feel Love Tonight’ was really disappointing. Gifted as she is, the song doesn’t suit Beyoncé’s range and, in my humble view, Elton’s ballads should never be warbled, X Factor-style. But, I guess that’s the modern way and my musical tastes are distinctly old hat.
I was a huge Elton John fan as a teenager. I had all the albums, lots of the singles and a large poster of Elton in over-sized star-shaped glasses on my bedroom wall. So it was with great anticipation that we saw ‘Rocketman’, the new EJ biopic. So what’s it like? Well, in summary, the beginning (child protégé to blossoming musical genius) is heart-wrenching. The middle bit (meteoric rise to global super-stardom and descent into rock star excess) is, well, middling. And the finale (reformed addict to legendary national treasure) is foot-tapping joy. Elton’s no-holes-barred lifestyle and multiple neuroses are laid bare – delivered by ingenious scene-stealing fantasy sequences set to his best-known songs. And, there’s no ‘straight-washing’ either to placate the censors in less enlightened lands. It’s all out there in sequin-studded, piano-beating, coke-snorting, vodka-swilling, bed-hopping glorious Technicolor.
Taron Egerton as the Rocket Man is perfect, capturing, though not caricaturing, Elton’s mannerisms, shyness, petulance, sulkiness and explosive presence – both on and off stage. And his voice ain’t bad either. The film is good, rather than great, entertaining rather than profound. My only real criticism is, while Elton’s pain is front and centre – honestly told – it’s a tad self-absorbed with little insight into the hurt and mayhem caused to others by the swirling emotional tornado that is Elton Hercules John. But, I’m still a fan.
Come Valentine’s Day, romantically-minded Liam likes to put on a show and the show in question was the Calendar Girls musical at the Theatre Royal, Norwich. And what a show it was too. Adapted from the 2003 film, it’s based on the real-life story of a group of middle-aged Yorkshire lasses from the local Women’s Institute who bare all in a naughty calendar. The husband of one of the racy ladies had died from cancer and the modest aim was to raise enough cash to buy a new sofa for the relatives’ room at their local hospital. The plucky troop battled against their own considerable anxieties and stiff resistance from their local chairlady, horrified as she was that the squeaky-clean, jam and Jerusalem reputation of the WI would be badly sullied. Eventually though, the ladies triumphed. The calendar was a runaway international success and it, and the sequels, have so far raised over £2 million for Leukaemia research. And the ladies bought the sofa. I call that a result.
The musical version, with a score by Gary Barlow from Take That, is emotional without being soppy, tuneful, uplifting, joyous and very, very funny. The touring cast of well-knowns and less well-knowns really know how to belt out a song or two. Like us, the audience lapped it up and gave a standing ovation at the end. For some, though, it was all too much. The lady next to Liam sobbed the whole way through. Cancer, as we all know, is a serious business.
For a taste, here’s the trailer (from the West End production)
Christmas comes but once a year, thank the Lord. You can almost taste the stress in the high street from the world-weary shoppers to the fixed-grin workers with tired old tinsel in their hair. I shop early to avoid the hurly-burly. We do, though, always look forward to the John Lewis festive TV ad, and this year’s offering featuring Elton John is a cracker. But then, I’ve always had a soft spot for Captain Fantastic. Predictably, a few scrooges got all bah humbug about the extravagance in these austere times; the moral high ground can be a joyless place. Besides, it’s our job to fix the ills of society, not a shop.
This year, Liam and I are having a quiet one in the microloft. The calorific grub will come courtesy of Mr Marks and Mr Spencer and the quality of the vino will go up a notch or two. Then we’ll drop onto the sofa to foot-tap our way through Mama Mia – Here We Go Again! Out on DVD just in time for Christmas. A perfect day.
Seasons greetings to one and all. Whatever Christmas means to you, may your day be peaceful.
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?
‘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.
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?
It’s my habit to pop out for a mid-morning coffee following the torture at the gym. One sunny day I parked myself outside a café to rest my weary bones, sip my americano, scan my newspaper and watch the ebb and flow of the eclectic crowd. A sallow-faced, reedy man plonked himself down in front of me. He was playing Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ on his phone – not too loud to cause a stir but loud enough to raise eyebrows.
A silver-haired old chap with a walking stick shuffled past.
‘Like the music?’ he asked.
‘It’s fine,’ I replied. ‘I don’t mind a bit of Rick.’
‘Some Pet Shop Boys would be nicer,’ he said with a wink.
I tend to agree. And so to the Pet Shop Boys anthem which was the soundtrack to many a young man’s coming out back in the day.