Pinter 1, Pinter at the Pinter season, Pinter Theatre, London WC1

 
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Pinter at the Pinter is a season of all of Harold Pinter’s one act plays in 7 different programmes over a period of 6 months. I saw Pinter 2 first. Pinter 2, Pinter at the Pinter Season, Pinter Theatre, London WC1

Pinter 1 is a collection of 9 short plays, sketches and poems, mostly from the 1980s and 1990s. The are generally political, often about authoritarianism, occasionally funny but broadly bleak and dark. The sketches “Press Conference”, “The Pres and an Officer” and the poem “American Football” are dark comedy but still light relief among the rest of the fare on offer here. “The Pres and an Officer” was discovered late last year, almost 10 years after his death. It seems to be so precisely what we would expect Pinter to say about Donald Trump that, if it is truly a Pinter piece, it is eerily prescient.

It is a measure of grimness of the writing that the next lightest piece is a poem called “Death”. This is lyrical, sad and it is beautifully delivered by Maggie Steed. “Precisely” is a comedy sketch about a nuclear holocaust. “The New World Order” a sketch about torture. “Mountain Language” is a moving short piece about the suppression of a language by an authoritarian state. The acting is phenomenal. Jonjo O’Neill is excellent as various political bullies in the pieces named above.

“One for the Road” is a piece about authoritarian interrogation. A man, wife, and their 7 year old son are interrogated in separate rooms by a tyrannical bully, played by Antony Sher. The violence is implied, as it all happens in the rooms we are not watching at the time, however it is actually more palpable because of this. A truly magnificent piece of writing, it was surely instrumental in his receiving of the Nobel Prize for literature, but in no way is it an easy watch. Paapa Essiedu and Kate O’Flynn are both amazing as the husband and wife.

They also play the husband and wife in “Ashes to Ashes”.  This is a later play, more abstract in narrative, though still dark in tone, experimental in the shifting of subject matter. It could be about the loss of a child, about the holocaust, about an abusive marriage or even about a murder. It hints at these, changes focus and moves on…  It is an interesting and brave piece, written by an ambitious author, confident of his ability.

All the pieces bar the last are directed by Jamie Lloyd and have a cold, metal, prison-cell like setting which suit the mood of the pieces. “Ashes to Ashes” is directed by Lia Williams, this is set in a living room and changes in lighting match the flow of the dialogue. It is ingenious how she makes the set feel more intimate without making it feel more warm.

Pinter 1 is a hard watch, I can’t imagine how tough it must be to act each day. It is dark and bleak with implied violence, both mental and physical. It may be emotionally draining, but the writing is strong, the themes are universal and the acting is tremendous. To say that I enjoyed it would not be entirely accurate, but I am really pleased to have seen it and if it were to return in at some point in the future, I would certainly gather together my mental strength and go to see it again. Warning! This collection is stimulating and disturbing and is definitely one to avoid on date night.

 
 
 
 

Michael Clayton (dir. Tony Gilroy) 2007

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The story of a giant multi national company and the lawyers who sold their souls to defend them. Let’s get the bad out of the way first, the storyline seems a bit hackneyed now and there are a couple of minor plot holes where you have to work to suspend your disbelief. However, these points aside, this is a most enjoyable film. This movie is a thriller and although we aware right from the start which are the good guys and which are the baddies, we are never quite sure how it will all turn out.

The acting is spectacular. Tilda Swinton won, a well deserved, Oscar for her portrayal of a stressed out legal advisor. George Clooney and Tom Wilkinson were both nominated for theirs. The script is great; sharp, real, and occasionally bruising. The direction is clever and taut, even though it is just under two hours long, there is no let up in the action. It is hard to believe that this is Tony Gilroy’s first film, you wonder how he managed to get a studio to trust him with either the budget or stars. However the trust was justified,  he manages to keep the viewer on edge, even though you can sometimes guess where the plot is going. The ending is quick, clean and satisfying.

This film was on many best of year lists, it was nominated for 7 Academy Awards including best film and best director.  Michael Clayton is a classic example of its genre, definitely worth watching.

Shrek (dir. Andrew Adamson & Vicky Jensen) 2001

 

shrekShrek has just turned sixteen and it is now available on Netflix.  I remember having enjoyed it when it came out, so it is interesting to see how it has fared in the intervening years.

It has aged well. It is crammed full with jokes and these are still funny, the cultural references have remained relevant and the story is that rare mixture of knowing and sweet. The cast of fairytale characters are timeless and their lines are clever and likeable. The evil lord is wonderfully nasty without being either frightening or creepy.  The story has a nice uplifting moral tone and you are longing for the heroes to prevail. The animation and delivery are both well done, Eddie Murphy is particularly good as Donkey, how bittersweet to have your most enduring role as an animated ass!
This film won the first Oscar for Best Animated Film and it is a deserving opening winner. It is a big feat to have a movie that is principled and simple enough to entertain you as a child, but subversive and referential enough to provide a new set of pleasures when you watch with your own kids. I believe that I enjoyed it just as much now as I did then.

A lovely film that stands the test of time.

Spaced (1999- 2000) Channel 4

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Spaced is two series worth of London slacker comedy.
It was written by Jessica Hynes and Simon Pegg in 1999 and 2000 and is crammed full of references to popular taste from the time. Hynes and Pegg play two early 20s  flat hunters who must pretend to be a couple in order to get the only flat in North London that their meagre incomes can afford.
It is very funny, well written with great dialogue and fantastic characterisation. Not only do you come to love Daisy and Tim, played by Hynes and Pegg, but you also become attached to the bizarre friends and acquaintances that inhabit their lives.
It was brilliant when it was first aired and it is a testimony to their writing that almost 20 years later that it is even better now. All the references and homages to 80s and 90s pop culture, give the series an added dimension of nostalgia.
This is the ultimate British millennial (not) coming of age comedy.

Defiance (dir. Edward Zwick) 2008

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A the start of the movie we are told this is a true story. Edward Zwick is the director and he made the decision to sacrifice realism for action and character development. I am sure that this has made it more interesting and exciting to watch, for it is both of these things, but it is a Hollywood version of a true story.
Defiance is an apt title given that the movie depicts a large group of Jewish refugees surviving harsh winters in the forests of Belorussia, despite the attempts of the Nazis to annihilate them. Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber and Jamie Bell are all excellent as the brothers who led the group, and the story told is both gripping and inspiring.
It was nominated for an Academy Award for the best Original Score. The script is rough and the point of view fixed, this makes some of the characters seem a little two dimensional. However, in terms of action and tension, the film works well and it held my interest right to the closing credits.

Traitor (dir. Jeffrey Nachmanoff) 2008

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This is a gripping spy thriller about recruiting and dispatching suicide bombers and about the enforcement agencies attempting to prevent this.
Don Cheadle is excellent as a devout Muslim, bomb expert, training suicide bombers. His internal strife keeps you guessing which side he identifies with, right through the film. Guy Pearce turns in another very nuanced performance as an American agent trying to catch him. The script is well written in that none of the major characters see the conflict in purely black and white terms even though their individual part in it is uncompromising.
The story was written by Steve Martin, better known for his comedy. It is clever and has enough twists to hold your interest until close to the end. The direction is dark and gritty, which suits the subject matter.
The ending is at odds with the rest of the film in that it ties up all the loose ends a little too nicely but, I guess, with a more realistic ending, it probably would not have been made at all.

Requiem for a Dream (dir. Darren Aronofsky) 2000

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I really liked this film. I really disliked this film. They say about good art; it invokes strong feelings.
I found the story preachy and two dimensional. There was no suspense and you will foresee the end, before you are five minutes into the film. It made me think of the 1930’s movie “Reefer Madness” or the 1970’s “Go Ask Alice” – remade for the 21st Century.
However….it is very well made. The acting, writing, direction and soundtrack are all very good.
Ellen Burstyn was nominated for an Academy Award for her part in this and she is wonderful. Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly and Marlon Wayans are very good too. All four characters are beautifully written and we genuinely care about what happens to them. The direction is clever, Darren Aaronofsky illustrates the circuits of addiction elegantly, so it is compelling to watch – even as you tell yourself that you shouldn’t be watching.
Finally, the soundtrack is fantastic. Clint Mansell and The Brodsky Quartet, have created a hypnotic and immersive soundscape that fits perfectly with the mood of this film.
This is a great movie. I didn’t enjoy it. I don’t think it was made for enjoyment, but it is still good art.