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Now In the Wings on a World Stage

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Now In the Wings On a World Stage

Depicting the Old Vic’s touring production of Shakespeare’s Richard III in 2011, this documentary – directed by Jeremy Whelehan - explores how a theatre company goes about presenting Shakespeare to a contemporary global audience.

Back in 2003, actor Kevin Spacey took over as the artistic director of the Old Vic theatre in London and one of his aims was to revive the kind of plays that made it famous, especially revivals of Shakespeare.

Perhaps the most iconic performance of Richard III was Laurence Olivier’s portrayal at the Old Vic in 1944, where the nascent National Theatre company was later born, so this seemed like a natural play for Spacey to reinterpret.

What gave this contemporary production an extra dimension was not just the fact that it was directed by Sam Mendes, collaborating with Spacey for the first time since American Beauty (1999), but that it would tour cities around the world in Greece, Turkey, Italy, China, Australia, Doha and America.

It was also part of the ‘Bridge Project’, which saw US and UK actors participate in a transatlantic ensemble of American and British actors in several productions, such as The Tempest, The Cherry Orchard and As You Like It.

Beginning with Mendes and his cast in rehearsals, the film soon sees Spacey (in the titular role) and his cast take the play around the world.

Crosscutting backstage interviews with scenes of onstage action, it provides illuminating insights into a touring company on the road.

The most momentous place they visit is the ancient site at Epidarus, which is still the best example of a surviving Greek theatre, and provides a stunning backdrop to clearly awed actors.

Istanbul provides an interesting backdrop as the city where east meets west and as tensions in the Arab Spring unfold we see real life tensions mirror the events of the play, with dictators being toppled amidst frequent bloodshed and intrigue.

When they reach Sydney, the real life downfall of Gaddafi even influenced Spacey’s costume in the 2nd Act and the already simmering parallels between Shakespearean villains and more recent ones becomes all too apparent.

Aside from Spacey we get to hear from the company of actors who range from veterans of the British stage (Gemma Jones) to younger Americans (Jeremy Bobb) and a range in-between.

The cultural differences are lightly touched upon but it seems touring has been a bonding experience.

Perhaps the most intriguing venue they visit is Beijing (the National Centre for the Performing Arts), where the Chinese audience is respectfully silent at first but does respond heartily to the unexpected comic aspects of the play.

At one point Mendes describes Spacey as ‘mercurial’, despite working with him on two major projects, and how the process on American Beauty was similar to Richard III.

Although Spacey is generous in describing his thoughts and feelings to camera, you somehow get the feeling that he likes to hold some things back, maybe fearful of revealing what makes his best performances tick.

Given that he filmed the widely acclaimed US remake of ‘House of Cards’ straight after playing Richard III for several months, you can sense how it influenced his performance.

It was already a thinly veiled update of Richard III, with its main villain (Frank Underwood) centre stage and giving frequent asides, but his version seems to be infused with more energy and humour, possibly as a result off his experiences touring the villain around the world.

As the film concludes, with the play finishing in New York, we have witnessed the sights and sounds of what a theatre company go through as they travel the globe.

But there is a sense that the film could have probed a little deeper.

Al Pacino’s marvellous documentary Looking for Richard (1996), which also featured Spacey, was a more compelling and poetic film about what Shakespeare means in the modern age, as Pacino was a more magnetic presence in channelling the spirit of the Bard.

That being said, Now In the Wings An A World Stage, is still an interesting examination of actors still trying to communicate themes and language from the 16th century.

> Official website for the film
> Buy it via Amazon UK
> Find out more about William Shakespeare and Richard III at Wikipedia
> CUNY TV interview with Kevin Spacey about the film (26m)

Written by Ambrose Heron

July 20th, 2014 at 11:59 pm

DVD & Blu-ray Picks: July 2014

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DVD and Blu-ray Picks - June 2014

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Written by Ambrose Heron

June 9th, 2014 at 10:42 pm

Star Trek – Live in Concert at The Royal Albert Hall

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Star Trek at the Royal Albert Hall

The Royal Albert Hall in London is one of the world’s iconic music venues and recently they have been screening films in front of an orchestra.

Last week they screened Gladiator (2000) with Lisa Gerrard providing live vocals, and in the following days they showed J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek (2009) and its sequel Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), with the 21st Century Orchestra.

As the lights dimmed Simon Pegg, who plays Scotty in the current iteration of the long running sci-fi franchise, walked on stage and the crowd went suitably wild.

It wasn’t just sci-fi geeks wearing Star Trek tops getting excited, but a more mixed crowd that saw film fans of all ages. (Although the conductor came out for the second half of the concert wearing a yellow James T. Kirk top!)

This perhaps being a reflection of how Abrams’ latest films have refreshed the long running saga for a mainstream audience whilst honouring the traditions set down by Gene Rodenberry’s TV in the 1960s and the subsequent spin-offs.

Although these kind of musical events have been done before, they seem to be part of a new kind of theatrical experience which is seeks to get people back into cinemas in different ways.

I had never experienced a ‘live-to-score’ screening before and it was quite something to behold: wonderful sound, a huge screen and an iconic venue all made for an absorbing night.

It helped that the venue was sold out (and not just by Star Trek fans) and there was a good atmosphere, but it was also interesting to observe the musicians from the 21st Century Orchestra playing their instruments in-sync with the movie.

At times, it was difficult to decide what to watch: the film unfolding on screen or the musicians playing beneath them.

Ultimately, a mixture of the two was probably what I ended up doing, but it was a tribute to the musicianship of the orchestra that it was perfectly in sync, as there was no margin for error.

There was the added treat of introduction from Simon Pegg (Scotty), Michael Giacchino (composer) and J.J. Abrams (director), the latter getting a particularly large round of applause as he had just come from the set of his latest film (which also has the word ‘Star’ in the title).

Perhaps J.J. might be back sometime for a live to screening of that, but in the meantime I’d love to see Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), whose climax famously takes place at the Albert Hall.

How cool would that be?

> Royal Albert Hall and YouTube channel
> Star Trek (2009) at Wikipedia

Written by Ambrose Heron

June 5th, 2014 at 11:30 pm

DVD & Blu-ray Picks: May 2014

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DVD and Blu-ray MAY 2014

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May 16th, 2014 at 2:28 am

DVD & Blu-ray Picks: April 2014

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DVD and Blu-ray Picks April 2014

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> DVD & Blu-ray Picks for March 2014
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Written by Ambrose Heron

April 11th, 2014 at 12:09 pm

DVD & Blu-ray Picks: March 2014

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DVD Blu Picks March 2014

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Gravity (Warner Home Video) [Buy from Amazon UK]
Brazil (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) [Buy from Amazon UK]
Short Term 12 (Verve Pictures) [Buy from Amazon UK]
Metro Manila (Independent Distribution) [Buy from Amazon UK]
The Stuff (Arrow Video) [Buy from Amazon UK]
Blue Is the Warmest Colour (Artificial Eye) [Buy from Amazon UK]
The Counsellor (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) [Buy from Amazon UK]
Kagemusha (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) [Buy from Amazon UK]
Predator (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) [Buy from Amazon UK]
Au Hasard Balthazar (Artificial Eye) [Buy from Amazon UK]
Philomena (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) [Buy from Amazon UK]
Saving Mr. Banks (Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.) [Buy from Amazon UK]
The Atom Egoyan Collection (Artificial Eye) [Buy from Amazon UK]
Frozen (Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.) [Buy from Amazon UK]

DVD & Blu-ray Picks for February 2014
The Best DVD and Blu-rays of 2013

Written by Ambrose Heron

March 8th, 2014 at 9:52 pm

Philip Seymour Hoffman (1967-2014)

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Philip Seymour Hoffman in Magnolia

The acclaimed actor passed away in New York yesterday aged 46.

Hoffman was a true modern great, second only perhaps to Daniel Day-Lewis (but far more prolific), who made the breakthrough from a great supporting actor to lead since the late 1990s.

He won the Oscar for Best Actor with his remarkable turn as Truman Capote in Capote (2005) and was also nominated three times for Best Supporting Actor, as well as receiving three Tony nominations for his work on stage.

Although he cropped up in minor roles in movies during the 1990s, such as Scent of a Woman (1992) and Twister (1996), he really started to come into his own with memorable roles in Happiness (1998) and The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999).

But it was his collaborations with writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson that brought him to a wider audience and linger in the memory: the shy boom operator in Boogie Nights (1997); the male nurse in Magnolia (1999); and most recently as a cult leader in The Master (2012).

In the DVD extras for Magnolia there is a 75 minute documentary, which is one of the best of its kind, and one of the highlights is seeing Anderson working with Hoffman.

His smaller roles in Anderson’s Hard Eight (1996) and Punch-Drunk Love (2002) were also examples of his working chemistry with the director who seemed to have a special connection with him.

Whilst I wasn’t the biggest fan of The Master (2012), he was sensational in it, bringing a unique charm and intensity to the character of Lancaster Dodd.

Hoffman was also a versatile supporting presence in mainstream films like Mission Impossible III (2006) and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) whilst maintaining his presence in classier fare like Charlie Wilson’s War (2007), The Savages (2007), Doubt (2008), Moneyball (2011) and The Ides of March (2011).

Roles in bleaker films such as Love Liza (2002) and Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007) hinted at an ability to portray addictive characters, although whether or not this came easily to him, only he will have truly known.

In such a celebrated and varied career (around 50 films), it seems remarkable that he should be gone at the age of 46.

Time will tell what will be seen as his greatest role, though the sheer volume of work makes that difficult.

The obvious pick is Capote, but his role as theatre director Caden Cotard in Synedoche, New York (2008) would be my choice.

Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut was a strange, puzzle-box of a movie but Hoffman’s performance was integral to the film, which remains a highly inventive and haunting meditation on how humans age and die.

One can only speculate on Hoffman’s inner demons that led him back to drugs and an early death, but for now the world of acting has lost one of its finest practitioners.

> Philip Seymour Hoffman at the IMDb
> Find out more about Philip Seymour Hoffman at Wikipedia

Written by Ambrose Heron

February 5th, 2014 at 12:49 am

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DVD & Blu-ray Picks: February 2014

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February 4th, 2014 at 1:53 am

DVD & Blu-ray Picks: January 2014

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DVD and Blu-ray January 2014

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Written by Ambrose Heron

January 14th, 2014 at 3:11 pm