Film review – A Star is Born (2018)

A Star is Born (2018)

Stars Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott

Directed by Bradley Cooper

Certificate 15

I doubt the world was desperate for another version of A Star is Born, the tale of a musician on the descent whose path crosses with one on the rise. That intersection is what makes the tale work. It’s a format as old as the hills, but of course it’s the dynamic between the two leads which sells the concept.

Barring repeat listens of Evergreen, that phenomenal Barbra Streisand Oscar-winner from 1976, I’ve never ’experienced’ any version until now.

A pet project for Bradley Cooper, who took over the movie when Clint Eastwood dropped out, he’s perfectly believable as the gruff, alcoholic drug-taking music star Jackson Maine. The man can carry a tune, and is obviously a great actor as he’s proved countless times over the years.

When Maine looks for a post-gig drink, he stops off at a drag bar, is figuratively knocked out by former waitress Ally (Lady Gaga), and she literally tries to knock someone else out.

Taping frozen peas to her bruised hand in a parking lot is not exactly textbook seduction in the movies, but it tells you a lot about Jackson, the practical sort who obviously knows a lot about improv medical solutions on the road. A car park is also neutral ground, so both let their guard down, and Jackson gets a glimpse of what a skilled singer-songwriter Ally is.

What unfolds is pure movie magic for the first half as they fall in love; she overcomes her shyness to guest at one of his gigs; the inevitable agent spots her potential and sets her on the road to stardom. The clue’s in the title.

What’s not as obvious is how much the film gets under your skin, like cracking song Shallows. It’s no Evergreen, but it is a slow-burner, like the film itself.

Cooper and Gaga are phenomenal. Jackson’s descent is heartbreaking while Ally’s rise is captivating. Every time she’s on screen I can’t take my eyes off her, and I’m not that much of a fan of Lady Gaga.

ASIB, as no one is calling it, should touch a chord with anyone haunted by personal demons. Yes, there a certain predictability about the second half, but it’s handled so well, including that stunning final five minutes and standout last few seconds, that niggles are forgiven.

If there’s any justice, Gaga should land Oscar and BAFTA noms for her turn, while Cooper should be a shoo-in for either acting, directing or both. We’ll have an indication of how the Oscars shortlist will go when the Golden Globes nominations are released. (Academy Award judges are pretty lazy and tend to use that as a guide).

There’s a good chance the iconic Sam Elliott will also get a nod as Best Supporting Actor. He’s long been one of the best thesps in the business with the finest ’tache in Hollywood. There’s a truth to the film, which is crucial for any movie to work. I completely bought the relationship between its leads, and when things inevitably go south, it’s not the story of two music stars coping with the price of fame, but partners dealing with the disease of other addictions, including escaping the shadow of a lost parent.

Take tissues and an open mind, even if a certain star’s work usually leaves you poker-faced. One rabid anti-Gaga fan was converted by the closing credits, so there’s hope for all viewers.

A day after the screening and the film still lingers, like that song you can’t get out of your head before you leave for work.

Take a bow Bradley Cooper. You’ve done a fine job, though like the movie, I’m guessing your co-star will steal much of your thunder.

9/10

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An Interview with Mike Holoway 

An Interview with Mike Holoway 

Actor and singer Mike Holoway rose to fame in the 1970s as part of the band Flintlock, and as one of The Tomorrow People. He talks to Roger Crow about that cult show, the price of fame and plans for the future. 

What are your memories of working on the original Tomorrow People? 

Well, fond because when you look back you don’t realise how good things were at the time until the bubble bursts. 

Do you have a favourite episode? 

My favourite episodes were the ones about Hitler. Not because of the subject matter, because of sensitive political reasons, but because I had a great part in it, and the writing was brilliant. Hitler’s Last Stand. There were four episodes.

I was still finding my feet as young actor then. 

You were a regular cover star on Look-In, but was fame the cash cow it appeared to be?

To have that kind of exposure! I was on every cover of every magazine. I was on telly every other day as you know. And I was exhausted, I have to tell you.

If it was managed and done like it is in this day and age, then I’d be a millionaire. 

A lot of the performers – Bay City Rollers, the Glitter Band, Flintlock, me  – we didn’t make the money. It was the television companies and the managers and the agents that took the dosh, so that’s the only bugbear.

Did you see any of the rebooted Tomorrow People, and what did you think of the American version?

The Australian version and the American one fell short for the same reason. You could throw money and special effects and computer graphic enhancements and CGI and all this malarkey, but for me and I think for the staunch following of the series, you rip out the heart of TIM (the computer) and the lab and the association of the Tomorrow People. That was the heart of The Tomorrow People, and I don’t think they ever replaced that personally.

It looks quite funny now but back in the day we were groundbreaking pioneers with the effects we were trying to achieve. But it had a good story; it had good heart; it had good messages. 

Can we see you on tour at any point? 

Well this is the thing. When you haven’t been on telly, people think you’ve died. 

I’ve always been working, especially with big theatre tours like Joseph, Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell, Pirates of Penzance, Grease, Tommy and all the big rock ‘n’ roll shows that I’ve done over the past 20 years. So I’ve always been out there, but TV is, let’s be blunt, it tends to be dominated by, with great respect, reality TV people that just have an attitude and don’t really have a lot of talent to back it up. 

It’s very difficult to get on television because how do you fight that?

I think you’d be fantastic on I’m a Celebrity…

Absolutely, I’ve been working on it. But I’ve had the #Metoo… I’ve had experiences; it happens to men in showbusiness. It’s not just the women. I’m not allowed to say anything prior to my book, but when the book comes out in the near future… obviously legals are being checked, but that was another reason for some major opportunities that didn’t fall into place.

When can we expect the book? 

Well it’s gonna be within the next year. They take a phenomenal amount of time to do. We’ve  attached a ghost writer to the project now, and it’s a case of crossing the ‘Ts’ and dotting the ‘Is’ that goes into anyone’s book, not just mine. Hopefully this time next year the autobiography will be available, which will be very exciting.

What’s next for you?

My EP Tides of Love is out now. I’ve been working on brand new material for the larger concept album. And I’m working on An Evening with Mike Holoway, which will be my story through showbusiness since the age of 12 to 55. 

:: Mike Holoway’s EP Tides of Love is out now on iTunes and Amazon. For more information: MikeHoloway.co.uk

Hotel review – Hotel Indigo, Dundee

Hotel review – Hotel Indigo, Dundee

When I’m invited to review the relatively new Hotel Indigo in Dundee, it turns out to be just the autumnal challenge I’m looking for.

I never need much of an excuse to go to Scotland, even if it’s a five-hour drive. And with so much I’ve not explored, the idea of visiting Dundee (a first) is hugely appealing.

As someone weaned on The Beano, The Dandy and many other comics produced by DC Thomson, the fact we’re staying half a mile from the home of Desperate Dan is a bonus. I’ve never checked into any hotel which had three copies of The Beano waiting for me. A definite plus point from the off.

“Set in a former textile mill with a landmark bell tower, our hotel reflects its industrial heritage with bare-brick walls, hardwood timber floors and simple, pendant lighting,” boasts the advertising blurb. And they’d be right to wax lyrical about the residence’s interiors and ambience. The bare brick-ceiling offers an essential feel of the hostelry’s history.

Bespoke fabrics and antique furnishings in our room reference the city’s historic linen trade. A nice touch, though many will be more concerned with the hugely comfy bed. There are also plenty of essentials to ensure our stay is a memorable one.

There’s a huge smart TV with speaker linked to the bathroom. A weird side effect being when you change channels in the bedroom, it sounds like a dripping tap in the bathroom.

And the latter is splendid, with an elegant bath, power shower (with all-important waterfall setting – the norm in many posh hotels), and standard shower – ideal for freshening up before dinner.

The superfast WiFi means we’re online in no time, uploading photos and refreshing stati like the social media obsessives we are. There’s also USB ports for charging assorted devices, in case you’ve forgotten a plug.

Tea and coffee-making facilities are provided, but strangely there’s very few UHT milk cartons. However, as with Hotel Indigo a week earlier on Walmgate, we ask at reception and soon have a small bottle of milk to tide us over.

You can drive or walk into town, but we’re booked into the Daisy Tasker restaurant on the ground floor, and want to see what it has to offer.

Design-wise, it’s a welcoming mix of industrial chic, with exposed air-con vents and cool, soft lighting.

For starters I enjoy Arbroath smokie chowder with charred leek and chive oil. Together with warm mini rolls and butter, it’s a delicious autumnal treat, though pretty filling.

Rachel has char-grilled leek and preserved mushroom with croutons. Though she’s uninspired by the menu’s vegetarian choices, the food itself soon wins her over.

I’m sold from the outset. My Schiehallion battered fish and chips with tartar and pickled onions is terrific. The melt-in-the-mouth batter is crisp and delicious.

Rachel’s pearl barley risotto with greens, goat’s cheese and a quail’s egg is far from disappointing either.

Towards the end of service we meet head chef Macca, and I congratulate him on the dishes with a handshake. It’s not quite as legendary as Paul Hollywood’s, but given the quality of food I reckon Macca could give the twinkly eyed Bake Off veteran a run for his money.

We wrap things up with a couple of desserts.

“It’s like a Cadbury’s creme egg in a pastry base. It’s ace,” enthuses Rachel over her chocolate marshmallow fondant with orange sorbet.

The citrus zing is certainly a welcome counterpoint to the chocolate.

My dessert, white chocolate ganache with tarragon, meringue and caramel ice cream, is equally welcome and not too overpowering. I just wish I had room to finish it. The plentiful chowder scuppered those chances, but it was a worthy trade-off.

Defeated, we head back to our room after soaking up the ambience of the reception area, with a collection of type-writers, video game ephemera and vintage cash point, all elements of the rich history of Dundee.

Our bed is so comfy there’s little wonder we’re both asleep in no time, though there is some much needed air con adjustment in the middle of the night as it feels like we’re sleeping in a sauna. Once sorted, we enjoy a peaceful Sunday morning. Blackout curtains ensure we get a good rest, and we rush back to the restaurant where we had dinner for a terrific breakfast in one of the elegant booths. Like all waiting staff during our stay, Alice is courteous and hugely efficient.

I grab a bowl of mueseli before ordering my full Scottish. It comes complete with obligatory haggis, sausage patty, tattie scone, baked beans and bacon. The poached eggs look like a work of art and the mushroom is phenomenal. It’s all beautifully prepared.

Rachel’s tatties with wilted spinach and poached eggs is demolished in no time, and she is in her element with locally made marmalade on toast. So, a perfect breakfast to set us up for the day.

Like the tourists we are, we enjoy a walk round town; a photo op near the beloved DC Thomson office, and a look round the free McManus art gallery, featuring gorgeous art from The Beano as well as assorted other historic masterpieces. Ideal for those on a budget on a rainy day, which sadly it is. However, if you prefer pottering round the shops, there’s plenty of those at the Overview mall. Outside, we enjoy another photo by a Desperate Dan statue. The neighbouring Minnie The Minx also brings a wealth of childhood memories flooding back.

There’s an impressive looking venue in Caird Hall, and our hotel is perfectly located should we come back for a random gig in the future.

We’ve still got an enormous amount of Scotland to explore on future trips, but we won’t have to think too hard about where we want to stay when we return to Dundee.

Less a case of Hotel Indigo and more Hotel In We Go.

Hotel review: Balbirnie House Hotel, Fife

Hotel review

Balbirnie House Hotel, Fife

Some posh houses take your breath away, and Balbirnie House Hotel, Fife certainly looks impressive when we arrive one autumnal Sunday afternoon.

It’s nestled within 400 acres of beautiful parkland in the heart of Fife.

The Grade A listed Georgian mansion is near the village of Markinch, between Edinburgh and St Andrews. So no shortage of attractions on the doorstep.

There’s the remains of a wedding fair on, so we navigate around the assorted bride and groom ephemera as that winds down.

Check-in proves surprisingly easy, which is just as well considering we’ve had a whirlwind 24-plus hours, having driven up from East Yorkshire the day before.

After an engaging stay in Dundee, we’ve travelled around 45 miles south for what looks like the highlight of our long weekend to Scotland.

After navigating round the winding corridors, we find our room, and it’s breathtaking. It’s also huge, with a large bed, high ceiling and impressive bathroom. The bedside cabinets are terrific, as is the wardrobe and full-length mirror.

Yet there’s something not quite right about the peripheral touches.

The room might be the epitome of opulence, but the TV is relatively tiny compared to the standard giant flat screens my wife and I have marvelled over at previous hotels. Thankfully there’s a sofa at the end of the bed, so I get to watch Doctor Who (with the aid of my specs). The cheap plastic kettle also feels out of place, like it’s arrived via a budget motorway hotel. At least there’s plenty of UHT milk, coffee and tea sachets to keep us going.

However, in order to make a cuppa, we have to put the kettle on the floor by the bathroom as fiddling around at the back of the TV for a plug socket sets personal alarm bells ringing.

There’s no chance of fitting the kettle under the bathroom tap, and there’s no carafe to act as a go-between, so just filling the kettle proves more laborious than it should be.

The quality of the well-worn hotel info in the obligatory room pack looks like a photocopy of a photocopy from 1984. It’s all a bit shabby, and yet so easy to do well. A room this gorgeous deserves to be well represented in its literature.

Tea made, we decide to have a wander around the grounds before it gets dark to witness what the place has to offer.

The beautifully mown lawn we can see from our window promises much, so we have a potter up the adjoining path, and up steps to a larger, more unkempt lawn. It’s attractive enough, but in the words of Frank Drebin in The Naked Gun, “There’s nothing to see here”.

No water feature, no hidden attractions. It’s all just a bit of a let down. Having done a circuit of the grounds, we go back to our room and chill out before dinner.

As it goes dark, one thing becomes very clear: the room doesn’t have enough lights. There’s assorted lamps, all seemingly powered by dim bulbs, but no main overhead light, so it’s a struggle to read or do anything without straining our eyes.

As mentioned, the bathroom is terrific with twin sinks, a beautiful bath (with shower attachment) and spotless tiling.

During one of our wanders round the hotel, it looks like we have better bathroom than the ostentatious bridal suite, so we can’t complain. But again a cheap plastic rubbish bin in ours lets the side down.

We head to dinner in a large, chilly dining room and I put my starter on hold after sampling a slate of assorted treats, including haggis bon bon and mini quiche.

My main, sautéed chicken breast with vegetables and braised potato, glazed turnip and grain mustard sauce is a big success. I devour every mouthful, but Rachel fares less well. She’s unimpressed with the vegan menu, and having eventually decided on the veggie ’burger’, when it turns up she’s far from happy. It’s not actually a burger but layers of veggies, including mushroom, peppers and cheese on a soggy bun. It all feels underwhelming, and the chips and side of onion rings are so greasy, she leaves half of everything.

The dessert menu fails to float our boats, and as we’re the last occupants in that chilly dining room, and a bunch of spotlights have just fizzled out, we decide to take cappuccinos in one of the empty lounge areas.

The muzak, which started off hilariously bad, has now turned into the equivalent of nails down a blackboard.

Glamour Girl by Louie Austen is one of those songs Graham Norton plays on his I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better slots On Radio Two. We sit through it for what seems like an age, and a few minutes later it starts again. I do something I’ve never done in years of hotel reviews and BEG the staff to turn it off. We’re the only ones there, so it’s not like we’re depriving anyone else. Thankfully they comply, and suddenly the hotel seems so much better. I relax and enjoy my coffee while surveying the surroundings. The furniture, like the wallpaper, is scuffed in places and the paintings are all a bit randomly hung. A shame as it’s a beautiful room with a gorgeous carved coffee table.

We have an early start in the morning and have requested an early breakfast, so we retire for the night and pack up.

The room temperature is too hot, so some essential radiator control is called for, and the pillows are too hard, so sleep is fitful, though the bed itself is terrific.

When our alarms go off at the crack of dawn, we look out for our breakfast outside the door, but there’s no sign. By the time we leave, still nothing, and there’s nobody on front desk, so we leave the keys and head off.

There’s a lot right with Balbirnie House Hotel, but better lighting; a bigger room TV; posher kettle and bathroom bin; and coffee table by the sofa would make a good stay great, especially as the room is so opulent. A carafe to help fill the kettle would be a massive bonus.

A decent water feature outside, and some elegant exterior lighting would help show off the place a treat. It’s been around since 1777 and certainly deserves it.

And while music taste is obviously subjective, better to stick to classical or nothing at all than annoying muzak that outstays its welcome.

Ends

Film review – The Post

The Post

Stars Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Bob Oedenkirk

Certificate 12A

Director Steven Spielberg

There are a couple of films worth watching before Steven Spielberg’s 2017 movie The Post. Classic Watergate thriller All the President’s Men, and Robert McNamara’s excellent documentary The Fog of War.

Not that you need to do any homework before diving into the maestro’s grown-up drama; the movie he shot while Ready Player One was having special effects added by artists who weren’t born when The Washington Post faced one of the biggest dilemmas of its career.

We see how, in 1966, during the Vietnam War, military analyst Daniel Ellsberg documents the progress of military activities for Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara.

While returning home, McNamara informs Ellsberg that he thinks the Vietnam war is hopeless, despite telling the Press he has every confidence in the war effort.

Years later, Ellsberg secretly photocopies covert reports documenting America’s conflict in Vietnam, and leaks them to reporters at The New York Times.

The meat of the story centres on newspaper heiress Katharine Graham, publisher of The Washington Post, and editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee.

When Bradlee’s staff receive the top secret documents, Graham has to decide whether to publish and be damned, or face prison and the closure of her paper.

That’s it. Of course in the hands of a lesser director, this could have been yawnsome, but Spielberg was a master in his early twenties. Decades later, he can do this sort of thing with one hand tied behind his back.

And while Streep is as excellent as ever as Graham, Hanks is phenomenal as Bradlee, doing that thing he does.

Whether leaning against a chair waiting for a decision, or sat with his feet on the table. Yes, he’s still good old Tom Hanks with a different hair cut, but here he seems to embody the spirit of a seasoned newspaper man. It’s a fabulous performance, but there’s still room for a little Hanks schtick to lighten the mood.

It’s also a joy to witness the old school composition of a newspaper page in the age before it was all done digitally.

And on the subject of compositions, John Williams is as outstanding as ever, delivering another powerhouse score.

The timing of The Post is no coincidence. Set in an age when Nixon was in the White House, the movie’s masterstroke is to remind us that freedom of the Press is still a necessity, especially when ’fake news’ has become the catchphrase to question everything, even when it’s the truth.

As events in Washington play out like an episode of The Man in the High Castle, (the show in which Nazis rule an alternate America), this is one of those movies worth watching a couple of times.

Yes, the sub-text about a woman operating in a man’s world is as subtle as a round of applause in a library, but it still features a sucker punch moment during the final few minutes as Streep’s character leaves court.

If you’ve not seen All the President’s Men, have it on standby to watch after, and then give The Fog of War a look.

Those extras will make a great movie even better.

8/10

Film review – The Commuter

The Commuter

Stars Liam Neeson, Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

Certificate 15

One evening after a late shift, I slipped my headphones on and watched Non-Stop. It was one of the most immersive home movie experiences of recent years as the bulk of it took place on a flight, and felt like I was actually on a red eye.

The set-up was simple: troubled law enforcer Liam Neeson was going from A to B, got a mystery message and had to solve a mystery.

It was the same premise as Jodie Foster’s Flightplan, but a lot more thrilling.

And as Neeson and director Jaume Collet-Serra had struck gold with Non Stop and the earlier thriller Unknown, there was little surprise when they teamed up again for this film in three parts.

The first is mostly terrific. Neeson is Michael, an ex cop who has spent a decade commuting to a life insurance job. He knows pretty much everyone on his train. So when he gets the sack, gets drunk with some old cop colleagues (one called Alex Murphy, possibly as a nod to RoboCop’s alter ego), and goes home to break the news to his wife, his life really starts to fall apart.

His phone is stolen, but on the plus side he starts chatting to mystery woman Joanna (Vera Farmiga). No chance of any funny business as he emphasises the fact he’s married. She’s not bothered as she’s apparently carrying out a psychological study.

(Fans of Farmiga’s Source Code will get flashbacks to that superior train-based thriller).

Up to his neck in debt and with a kid off to college, the tempting carrot of a stack of cash to carry out a hypothetical task is too good to resist. When the lady vanishes, Liam/Michael goes off to find the theoretical money. And what do you know? He finds it.

Michael is soon forced to uncover the identity of a hidden passenger on the train before the last stop.

What follows is a mostly gripping thriller which mirrors the same tried-and-tested formula of Non Stop… until an ’axe’ versus axe fight scene, a runaway train sequence straight from Unstoppable, and a shark-jumping explosive set piece. When 60-year-old Liam/Michael fights with a far younger man, the movie turns into a bad Die Hard clone.

Now Liam is obviously great when the occasion demands, but during some of the fight scenes, he turns into the cringeworthy tragi-comedy character from cult 1990 offering Darkman. More ham than a butcher’s shop window.

Once the train comes to a stop, and the movie starts sounding like a send up of Spartacus, plot threads are tied up, and the lengthy finale oustays its welcome like the delayed Leeds to King’s Cross.

As Michael is unwittingly caught up in a criminal conspiracy that involves everyone on the train, you wonder how much more ridiculous things will get.

There’s a nice in-joke regarding a phone and the film Unknown, and great closing titles, but those annoying action scenes push this into the realms of farce. Neeson scrabbling around under the train is pure comedy, and again reminiscent of the time he had to race across the top of one in Darkman.

There was a first-class thriller here, and had Serra stuck to Hitchcock-style tension rather than ridiculous set pieces, it would have been a lot more successful instead of literally going off the rails.

The special effects aren’t bad, but for the most part it looks like a video game cut scene. Too many elaborate camera moves, such as a pull-back through the entire train, which would have looked dated in 2008.

Perhaps best to watch the first half, and when things start getting (really) silly, turn it off and watch the original version of The Lady Vanishes.

That’s far more satisfying because flashy camera moves and explosions are no substitute for a great story.

7/10

An Interview with Dusty and Me Director Betsan Morris Evans and Actor Ian Hart 

An Interview with Dusty and Me Director Betsan Morris Evans and Actor Ian Hart

By Roger Crow

Dusty and Me is the 1970s-set tale of one young man and his adopted dog. Roger Crow visited the East Yorkshire set and spoke to director Betsan Morris Evans and star Ian Hart.

Betsan, what attracted you to the movie?

“I love the story. I love the fact it was a picture set in the north, and not in a ’It’s grim up north’-type way.

“It has a fairytale element, so it sort of has that Amelie-style feel to it.”

Tell us about the look and tone of the project. 

“We went with really heightened colours. We wanted to do something very distinctive. And yet the heart of it… it’s just a very strong story about a family. There’s no car chases. Nothing desperately exciting happens. And it’s about a dog and a boy, and through the dog, the boy reconnects with his family.

“Dislocation with families is very big at the moment. In the 1970s they used to take children from working class backgrounds and send the great and the good to public schools. Which made them not settle at home. And not belong at school either. So it was an interesting social experiment. This looks at that, and through this dog he gets back with his family. And not only do his family relate with him again, they also begin to relate to each other. So we’ve got resolutions of lots of relationships.”

Have you worked with any of the cast before? 

“No, and we had a very short run-up (to filming). So we were in the situation of four weeks before starting (filming), trying to find a cast. And the actors fell in love with the script. They all said ’Yes’. Which was exciting.

“We’ve had to work around Iain Glen; he’s arrived from Game of Thrones, from Madrid, and then went off to Belfast. The actors made an effort. And they’ve taken the script and run with it.”

How difficult was it having a greyhound as your star?

“Really hard. It’s not like a nice Labrador that you can say ’Sit. Lie down’. But a greyhound looks at you and goes… nothing, because they’re not interested in food, so you can’t bribe them. And they’re proper greyhounds. They race. They’re two sisters that look identical. They’re not interested in people. They’re just interested in running, when they want to run. That’s the interesting thing. It meant we had four weeks, which is short for a movie anyway, and it had dogs.”

It looks like it has an international appeal. 

“Yeah, it’s a simple story. It’s not a big, dramatic… when you think of The Full Monty, which was set against the industrial sackings and stuff like that, it doesn’t have that political weight. It’s much more in my mind about a family like in Little Miss Sunshine. That’s been our reference. And we’ve got people appearing on the screen talking to each other, which is touches of Amelie.

“We were very lucky to work with the University of York with the CGI. So they’ve made what is a small budget, a huge budget. And everyone’s pulled together.”

I let Betsan get back to work and finally meet one of my favourite actors, Ian Hart.

You may have seen him in assorted projects, including Backbeat, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Bates Motel and Boardwalk Empire.

Tell us about your character.

“I’m playing the patriarch of the family. He is somewhat disengaged with his family. So they’re all off doing other things, and he’s basically spending all of his time in the pub.

“He used to work on the docks. He’s probably on long-term compensation, whatever it was called back in the 70s. ’Governmental relief’ for having a bad back. And a malingerer. He is such a miserable sod. And the rest of the family try to be all happy and lovable, and they drag him with them. So eventually he realises there is some benefit in the love of his family. He is such a curmudgeon.”

What persuaded you to come from sunny LA to the north of England? 

“The weather,” he laughs. “As always. Perpetual sunshine is just too much. The ocean, and the mountains, the humming birds. I don’t know, it seemed like the right thing to do.

“When I met Betsan and I read the script… it’s such a nice, light-hearted piece. There’s a lot of drama that is based in misery.

“I was recently a judge at a film festival and the theme may as well have been misery. Every now and again it’s nice to leave that world behind and do something which is a little bit more light-hearted. And I seldom do that, so for me it was a good opportunity.”

You’ve appeared in so many great projects. What’s been your favourite?

“I did this thing called Five Daughters, and that’s a piece of work I’m quite proud of. I really enjoyed Boardwalk Empire; I was so glad to do that.

“I did a little bit on a pilot for Martin Scorsese; I always wanted to work with him. Sadly it was so brief. I played Led Zeppelin’s manager, Peter Grant. I got to meet Scorsese, only for a few days but nonetheless it was such a thrill. I wouldn’t say was the best performance I’ve ever given, but it was a nice experience.

As a Marvel fan, it was good to see you in Agents of Shield.

“Yeah, the anomalous things you do when you need the rent money. When I was living in LA, my rent was huge. It was the nature of the school district. I’ve got two kids so I had to live in the school district that was applicable. And with that, like everything else comes a massive rent bill. I did Agents of Shield. That paid that month’s rent. You go in and you do two of three days or whatever it was. The people are lovely, so I’ve no regrets.”

Dusty and Me is released in selected cinemas on September 28, and VoD On October 1

Dusty and Me trailer

Film review: The Disaster Artist

The Disaster Artist

Stars James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen

Certificate 15

If there’s one thing Hollywood loves more than films about itself, it’s movies about romance.

The town is filled with bruised romantics either smarting from a costly divorce or in the honeymoon phase of a new romance.

And when a film is made about a cult movie with a bromance attached, it touches a chord with every aspiring writer/producer/star who tried and failed to get a film off the ground.

In short: the underdog.

I’ve never seen The Room, Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 project regarded as one of the worst movies ever made.

Considering a passion for cult flicks, I’m surprised it wasn’t more of a blip on my radar until a few years ago when it started getting repeat screenings in Hull.

The Disaster Artist, produced, directed by and starring James Franco (as Wiseau), is inspired by said film, and proof that success can be crafted from failure.

Penned by Scott Neustadter and Michael H Weber, it’s based on Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell’s 2013 book which examines the making of Wiseau’s vanity project, a tale of love, friendship, and rejection. Had it been made for a few thousand dollars, you can understand if it suffered from a lack of quality. The Room cost a reported $6million, largely due to a huge deficit of directorial common sense.

It helps that Wiseau is such a mystery figure. Nobody knows where he’s from, how old he is or the source of his vast wealth, and while cash might buy movie cameras, it doesn’t buy the respect he craves.

It opens in San Francisco, 1998, where 19-year-old Greg Sestero (Dave Franco – a Matt Damon/Team America doppelgänger) meets Tommy Wiseau in acting classes.

Though Tommy’s eccentric performance of a scene from A Streetcar Named Desire leaves the acting coach (played by Melanie Griffith) non-plussed, Greg is inspired and the two become friends, and move to Los Angeles (where Tommy has an apartment he barely uses!) to pursue acting careers.

Though Greg lands an agent (Sharon Stone, in a cameo), Tommy’s barely coherent speech patterns and inability to take direction mean he’s less successful. However, his assorted rejections do lead to a eureka moment when his mate suggests they make a film.

This “Let’s do the show right here,” scene is the staple for countless movies, and could have been a cliche, but James Franco plays it straight. Easy enough when making a film about such an extraordinary character prone to random outbursts.

Wiseau’s script for The Room proves a baffling enigma, but as long as the cast and crew are getting paid, they go along with it.

Of course it raises key questions. If Wiseau has all this cash, why didn’t he make the movie from the word go? His answer is because he never had a friend to make it with before.

And for the actors working on such a weird film, why do they put themselves through it with such a tyrannical director?

The answer comes with a scene which touches a chord with anyone who’s ever loved making, starring in or reporting on films – a killer line from actress Carolyn Minnott (Jacki Weaver): “Even the worst day on a movie set is better than the best day doing anything else.”

Sadly for the film’s production, Greg’s romance with nightclub worker Amber (the excellent Alison Brie) leads to Tommy’s jealousy; his one friend has been snatched away, so he throws his toys out of the pram and behaves like a monster on set. It’s both hilarious and touching.

Like Tim Burton’s luminous biopic of Ed Wood, the maker of some of the worst films ever made, The Disaster Artist may focus on a bad movie, but for those who’ve had a friendship ruined through ego, or a dream of getting their vision on screen, it’s a huge success.

Not sure we needed the side-by-side comparisons between the original movie and TDA’s recreations, but that’s Hollywood for you. Like a cinematic narcissus in a hall of mirrors, it’s fascinated by an endless reflection of itself, especially the facets which are less clear than others.

8/10

Film review – The Krays: Dead Man Walking

The Krays: Dead Man Walking

Starring Rita Simons, Josh Myers, Guy Henry

Directed by Richard John Taylor

It’s almost 30 years since the Kemp brothers played London gangsters Ronnie and Reggie. Though Peter Medak’s film had its moments, ’The Krays’ proved arguably less entertaining than ’Legend’, the 2015 Tom Hardy drama in which he proved mesmerising in both roles.

Boasting a huge budget, star talent and the muscle of Brian (LA Confidential) Helgeland in the director’s chair, it was a piece of stunt casting that paid off.

I’m guessing the latest take on the story, or one of them, cost less than Legend’s catering budget, but while The Krays: Dead Man Walking is obviously a modest production, it’s not without its high points.

Terrific portentous opening titles and score (by Aztec Camera and The Smiths veteran Craig Gannon); a magnificent performance by EastEnder Rita Simons, and the ever reliable Guy Henry chewing every scene he’s in as Lord Boothby. (Sadly he’s not in it enough, so I’m hoping for a sequel featuring more of the shady character).

It centres on the Krays as they break Frank ‘The Mad Axeman’ Mitchell from Dartmoor Prison in December 1966.

Familiar faces such as Darren Day and Linda Lusardi help flesh out the story, while the siege-like feel of the drama ensures there’s plenty of tension throughout.

It’s grim, moody, violent and not for the faint of heart.

NathanJohn Carter and Marc Pickering make a good fist as the notorious twins. It helps that they don’t carry as much baggage as the Kemps or Tom Hardy, while it’s great to see Nicholas Ball making an appearance 40 years after brightening up British TVs with cult drama Hazell. (I also have a fondness for his brief turn in epic 1985 sci-fi chiller Lifeforce, but that’s another story).

Josh Myers gives an unnerving performance as Mitchell, and its achingly sad to see Leslie Grantham in his final performance.

I get the feeling this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Carter and Pickering as you know who. The movie doesn’t outstay its welcome, and while it obviously won’t be for all tastes, if you like Brit indie gangster flicks with a mean streak, this certainly passes the time, even if it does feel like a feature-length teaser for something bigger.

7/10

Film review: Await Further Instructions

Await Further Instructions

Starring Grant Masters, Sam Gittins, Neerja Naik

Directed by Johnny Kevorkian

One Christmas in the early 1980s, my dad took the plug off the TV so my brother and I wouldn’t spend the morning glued to it. Seemed harsh at the time, but I can see his point. It’s a time for family and not worshipping the one-eyed god in the corner of the room.

Funny how I’m reminded of that moment while watching one of the most unnerving films of the year.

But first a little context.

In 2015 I spent a few hours on the set of Await Further Instructions, a horror fantasy filmed in Bubwith with a largely unknown cast.

Though I missed Game of Thrones’ David Bradley, I did have a good chat with Grant Masters, Holly Weston and Abigail Cruttenden. The latter rather aptly pops up in Lee Mack’s sitcom Not Going Out, the unofficial alternate title for writer Gavin Williams’ movie.

During a return visit we chatted about the dark effects-driven climax and I was like a kid on Christmas morning in video village watching the magic being constructed next door. Rather aptly my second visit was on Hallowe’en 2015.

I was desperate to see how the movie turned out, and hoped by 2016 we’d see the result.

It took longer than expected, but finally I get the chance – and it’s a mesmerising piece of work.

The plot is simple: a young white Brit and his Asian girlfriend head to his folks for Christmas. She has a bit of a cold. He has a racist granddad, an uptight father and a pregnant sister who’s home with her boyfriend. Together with their mum, they hope for the usual family festivities, but things turn sour and the visitors decide to head off early next morning.

However, a mysterious black substance has surrounded the house and the TV warns them to ’Stay Indoors and Await Further Instructions’.

Bearing in mind I’d wandered around the brilliantly crafted set, I find it hard to believe I wasn’t in a real house.

When I was lucky enough to leave through the front door (not a luxury for the characters), it was a surreal experience being back in the film studio outside that domestic setting.

And seeing how smoothly it cuts with the exterior shots is a tribute to the filmmakers. Yes, it’s obvious movie magic, but beautifully done.

So, what unfolds in the next 75 minutes or so when the premise is set up makes for extraordinary viewing. Dark, scary, weird, surreal and utterly compelling.

Memories of Videodrome, The Thing, the Tetuso movies, Demon Seed and the Hellraiser saga merge with Alan Ayckbourn’s Seasons Greetings. A great mix for any Brit horror.

Full marks to all the cast, especially Grant Masters, Sam Gittins and Neerja Naik for lending a necessary degree of gravitas. And kudos to the effects crew for that finale.

Await Further Instructions is as special and weird as I’d hoped.

With great cinematography by Annika Summerson, a glorious score by Richard Wells, and excellent direction by Johnny Kevorkian, this is proof that a limited set, a great cast and a terrific script is worth more than a multi-million dollar budget, a dozen helicopters and hundreds of extras.

And thanks heavens, or hell, for that.

Unlike my dad and our TV on that memorable Christmas morning, I’m more than happy to give it a plug.

9/10