Film review – The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water

Starring Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Octavia Spencer

Directed by Guillermo Del Toro

Certificate 15

Baltimore, 1962, and a mute cleaner at a high-security government laboratory embarks on a relationship like no other in Guillermo Del Toro’s BAFTA-winning masterpiece The Shape of Water.

Sally Hawkins, giving one of the best performances of her career, is Elisa Esposito, the mesmerising heroine who lives above a cinema, is friends with a neighbouring artist (Richard Jenkins), and lives a lonely existence. While he has designs on the cafe worker nearby, she’s an achingly solitary figure who cleans up at the lab a bus ride away.

This is a world of classic Bakelite gadgets and Cadillacs, the sort of nostalgic design you’d expect from a visual maestro like Del Toro. (He’s a film maker who could shoot a movie about the phone book and I’d happily hand over my cash).

Following the fascinating misfire that was Crimson Peak, he’s hit the bull’s eye with this heart-rending tale which feels like a mash-up of The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Amelie, Delicatessen, Frankenstein, Hellboy and ET. And yet despite its influences, it’s also like nothing else I’ve ever seen.

Witnessed after the mega bucks Black Panther, where I didn’t believe in any of the characters, each of Del Toro’s protagonists here feels like they live and breathe, whether it’s air or water.

The casting is spot on, probably because the role was written for Hawkins, and Michael Shannon personifies the tough government stooge so well I can’t imagine anyone else in the role.

Alexandre Desplat’s score is a perfect accompaniment to the unfolding drama that washes over me, and though I try and remind myself it’s only a movie, the fate of the amphibian man at the heart of the drama is as compelling as ET’s in Steven Spielberg’s 1982 classic.

I’m on edge throughout as I just want a happy ending. While i’ll obviously not spoil a thing, I’ll happily see this again to soak up the wondrous imagery, nail-biting action and beautiful romance.

Having been hooked on Guillermo’s work since he started making waves in world cinema in the late 1990s, it’s a relief to say he’s finally made his masterpiece.

Don’t wait for the home release. Rush out and see it at a decent art house cinema, and not a certain multiplex where they turn the lights on the split second the credits roll.

Easily one of the best films of this or any other year.

Gracias Guillermo.



Gig review – Koyaanisqatsi with Go Go Penguin

Gig review – Koyaanisqatsi with Go Go Penguin

Hull City Hall

I can’t remember the last time I saw Koyaanisqatsi, Godfrey Reggio’s stunning art house film from the early 1980s. I remember buying it for a friend’s birthday or Christmas present in 1994, so it was way before then. In fact it’s been so long, I feel like I’m watching a different film when it’s screened at Hull City Hall.

The major difference this time is the score. Philip Glass’s seminal soundtrack is absent, replaced by an original live performance by Go Go Penguin. And boy do they earn their money.

The three-piece tackles such a labour intensive work, I’m exhausted for them during some of the full on bits. Or maybe that’s the painkiller kicking in for my broken wisdom tooth. Either way it’s like watching a new film.

When the movie was released, time lapse footage of anything was a rarity. Cities and landscapes on fast forward were a stunning sight, with cars flowing to and from cities like red and white blood cells pumping through a heart. These days I shoot time lapse all the time on my iPad or phone. Back in the days before digital, I imagine the process cost a fortune. Little wonder the movie needed a big backer and few were bigger than Francis Ford Coppola in the days when he was a force to be reckoned with.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge fan of the maestro, but when a sniffy wine salesman shot me down in a Californian vineyard back in 1995 for trying to buy a ’small’ bottle of Coppola’s wine, I’ve had a chip on my shoulder about the name.

(In retrospect the Scooby Doo tee-shirt and Hawaiian shorts probably didn’t help my case in such a buttoned up, conservative vineyard).

I digress.

Koyaanisqatsi without the Glass score feels like watching Jaws without John Williams’ masterful soundtrack. It’s good but it’s not right.

However, as an accompanying film for a fine chunk of jazz, it works a treat. A shame nobody has shot a homage in Hull to celebrate the City of Culture. (I did film some great time lapses outside the venue in the spring, which almost begs for a highbrow classical score. Great way to pass the time if you love people-watching and are waiting for a friend or relative to arrive).

Did it wow me? Yes and no. Love the film, great new score, but I’ll admit I was sidetracked by earache, and not because of the excellent musicians.

I’m glad I went, but I wouldn’t rush to see it again. Koyaanisqatsi is one of those movies worth a look every few years, or in my case decades, preferably with the original score. I’d like to see Go Go Penguin provide backing for other arthouse classics without much dialogue.

That said, maximum respect to Chris Illingworth (piano), Nick Blacka (double bass) and Rob Turner (drums) for their bold interpretation of a 1983 classic.

Theatre Review – Vampires Rock – Ghost Train

Vampires Rock – Ghost Train

Grand Opera House, York

“What the hell have I just seen?” asks my partner as the curtain descends on a post-Halloween mix of music, comedy and wafer-thin story.

We’ve long had different views on entertainment. I love that thrown-together, low budget grungy feel of production, as well as high end stage shows like Bat Out of Hell (which we saw earlier in the year in Manchester).

Rachel prefers the polished stage show, and during our half-way analysis of Vampires Rock – Ghost Train, we dissect what’s great and less great about the show.

I’d known a little of what to expect after seeing Iconic earlier in the year, Steve Steinman’s other stage show paying homage to cult films. That was a much slicker production in places, but as enjoyable.

Of course amusement parks are meant to be cheaper, grungier and this show reflects that.

I love the vocals, she’s not a fan. I like the Phoenix Nights-style feel of comedy. She doesn’t get it. But that’s the thing about humour. It’s always subjective.

Okay, John Evans, Baron Von Rockula’s comedy stooge Bossley, looks like he’s escaped from a bad kid’s party, but he can belt out many a great track, so it’s not a bad trade-off. And when vampire hunter Van Halensing (or Van Halen-sing, who knows?) turns up, there’s no prizes for guessing who it is.

The ghost train analogy is apt. A scary, fun ride. I’d say it’s more like jumping on a mine car from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and holding on as it careers down a rickety track, picking up speed until we reach that finale. All the time it’s on the verge of coming off the rails. At times it seems to skip the track, or script completely.

The show takes a while to get going, but that’s true of many great stage productions. The weakest element is the story, or lack of it. Like Iconic, VRGT needs a more polished book or script to make the comedy fly. The groanworthy nods to classic rock songs won’t win any awards for subtlety, but while the script may need a bit of work, it’s great soaking up the wealth of rock classics.

By the finale, everyone is on their feet clapping and singing along, and the fact the theatre is packed is testament to the show’s enduring success in all its incarnations.

Like a certain other pantomime that rocks up in York every year, this has that repeat factor which fans keep coming back for more.

It’s pure panto, mixed with rock opera, jukebox musical, end of the pier show and for me at least, it’s glorious fun.

It might not have the multi-million dollar budget of Jim Steinman’s Bat Out Of Hell stage show, but it has the same spirit, and as I have a stupid grin for most of the show, it definitely ticks a lot of boxes.

Dancers and vocalists Hayley Russell, Penny Jones and Victoria Jenkins do a terrific job, and nice to hear a different take on that well worn classic Holding Out For A Hero.

By the time Stars in Their Eyes veteran Steve plays out with his terrific take on Bat Out of Hell, I’m more than happy we made the trip.

On a very grey, dull November night, this is just the splash of (blood-soaked) colour I need to ease my autumn blues.

And full marks to the band who belt out the string of ’iconic’ tracks.

The show returns to York in 2018, but also plays Hull at the start of the year. I can think of worse ways to get over one of the most depressing months on the calendar.

If you don’t emerge from the theatre with a big stupid grin, get someone to check your pulse as you might be dead.

Restaurant review – Villa Di Geggiano, Chiswick, London

“Some believe the ghost of Freddie Mercury still walks the kitchen.”

There are many memorable stories I hear during a few hours at Villa di Geggiano, Chiswick’s premier fine dining residence, and that’s one of the best.

Other tales involve former diners Depeche Mode, and Snoop Dogg, but I like the idea of the Queen legend being a spiritual presence on site. If it’s good enough for one of our greatest rock stars, it’s good enough for me.

Given the quality of the food and drink at 66-68 Chiswick High Road, if there was an afterlife I can think of worse places to spend an eternity. It’s a kind of magic I’ve rarely experienced in any restaurant.

My partner Rachel and I are in town as part of a 36-hour weekend session of fine dining, theatre and culture, and although Chiswick is a bit of a trek from our St James’ Park hotel (around six miles), it’s well worth the trip.

En route we pass the “I Saw You Coming” style shops lampooned by Harry Enfield; high end furniture stores for folks with too much cash, next to shops specialising in bric-a-brac. It’s clearly a moneyed area, but the good news is you don’t need to be a lottery winner to enjoy a special meal.

And there’s no mistaking the eatery when you get there. A glorious frontage in homage the Italian villa which inspired it. It doesn’t so much whisper its presence as scream proudly at you. As well it might.

The original Tuscany villa has been around for centuries, and with hundreds of years of expertise to draw on, it’s little wonder their wine is second to none.

After Prosecco and snacks offered by our excellent culinary MC Lukasz Borowski, we’re shown to our table in a glorious dining room decked out with jaw-dropping blue treelike centrepiece. (Imagine an Avatar tree rendered in Fuzzy Felt). The tactile light stands almost beg you to stroke them; they’re reminiscent of the deer antlers dotted around the room.

With a grand piano dominating the far end of the room, the style is eclectic, eccentric and stylish. Yet it works perfectly.

As does the menu, a dazzling, affordable array of pastas, steaks, and more. The wine list is a feast for anyone who loves a good tipple. I stick to my usual rule of anything over 13 per cent, and our expert sommelier does a fine job of choosing a light red; the 2015 Franz Haas Pinot Noir is ideal.

It’s lunchtime after all and we don’t want to be staggering round the streets of Chiswick like a couple of refugees from Absolutely Fabulous.

My tagliatelle starter with truffles is beautifully al dente, and the Beef Tenderloin fillet with Wild Mushroom and Red Wine Sauce is a work of art. Cooking it ’medium to well done’ is a balancing act, but the behind-the-scenes wizards nail it.

Rachel’s Tuna Steak with Grilled Pumpkin and Vegetable Gremolada is equally exquisite.

Head Chef is a fresh-faced looking Emanuele Morisi, and unlike some restaurants which are a frenzy of behind-the-scenes activity, his team are all calm under pressure. Admittedly we have arrived at a quiet spot. After racing from East Yorkshire to London and enjoying a meal near Victoria the night before, we’re glad of the calm.

Given the fact the property pretty much backs onto recording studio Metropolis, where some of the biggest artist in the world create their audio masterpieces, it’s hardly surprising Mr Mercury used to pop in for dinner so often.

When you come this far for a meal, you hope it’s going to pay off and for both of us, there’s not a weak link in the chain. From our starters to desserts, we’re treated like royalty, and could spend all afternoon chatting to grande formaggio Ilona Pacia, a kindred spirit whose love of art and psychology has ensured diners get the best possible experience for their money.

We think we’ll head back to our hotel after dessert (the Tiramisu and Chocolate Mousse with Mango and Red Chilli Chutney is to die for), but Ms Pacia’s tour of the property, and her stories about Freddie and other music legends are endlessly wonderful.

Some restaurants are all about good food and wine. For us, a visit to Villa di Geggiano is like a history and art lesson as well.

The dessert wine is out of this world, not least because of the extraordinary monogrammed glasses.

If you are dropping in for lunch or dinner, try the (deep breath) Capezzana Conte Contini Bonacossa Vin Santo Di Carmignano. The dried apricot and fig flavours will appeal to anyone with a sweet tooth.

At one point I consider staying until evening, but some of the top brass in British TV are having one of their posh meals and the team are busy prepping for their arrival, so we decide not to outstay our welcome. There’s a chance regular visitor Sir Trevor Nunn might also pop in for a bite. It’s that sort of a place.

I do know we’ll be back one day, preferably in the spring or summer when we can experience one of their outdoor music sessions.

So, we intended to stay for a couple of hours, and around four hours later we say a sad farewell having enjoyed an unforgettable dining experience.

If you want stunning Tuscan cuisine without travelling to Italy for the privilege, this is the next best thing to being there.

We can’t wait to go back.

Gunmetal- Film Extract

Gunmetal/Roger Crow

“The last coherent thing we think the sentry droid said was ’Oh my’. We weren't sure what he saw in those last moments when he was caught in a loop, until we realised that one of his jobs was also waiter. Now we suspect he was delivering an omelette when the scarlet icons of doom wrought havoc on the station.

Back in Miami – Part 3

Touring Miami, there are certain things that need to be seen. Top of the list is Wynwood, the industrial district filled with more stunning murals than you could shake a spray can at. 

Graffiti is too reductive a word for some of the art on display here. It’s a mish mash of basic tags and the more glorious ‘pieces, as in masterpieces, which of course is too long a title for any self respecting street collective. 

As part of a day long tour of Wynwood, Little Havana and assorted other Miami locales, sadly too little time was spent in this urban art gallery. To get the full experience it needs an hour or two rather than 15 minutes.

Little Havana is also a treat, especially with stops for Cuban sandwiches, ice cream and local coffee. Like a super sweet espresso. 

By the end of the day we were back at Bayside mall, one of the first stops we made on a day trip years ago. It had changed enormously, though Hard Rock Cafe was still selling overpriced burgers and generic tee shirts. Somethings never change it seems. 

There was a time when Miami filled me with dread, but after three visits, two in 2015 alone, it’s now a very different story. Thomas Cook’s superb Manchester – Miami service has meant I’ll be back sooner rather than later.