The Prom

The Prom is a joy-filled song fest that works to keep the spirits up in these in-between Christmas and New Year days

I’ve spent a few hours re-reading entries from this time of year on my blog. I realise I wrote a lot of film reviews when I was blogging. As a result, I’ve been reevaluating what I thought about House Of Flying Daggers, Napoleon Dynamite, Love Actually and The Lord of The Rings. The main problem with this, of course, is that blogging is stuck in the early 2000s. So, what about a more contemporary review?

It’s December 2020 and London is in COVID-19 lockdown tier 4 which means that cinemas are closed and, thus, a film review may be hard. Having said that, streaming is the new cinema and tonight we watched The Prom on Netflix.

I do not come with preconceptions of the film based on any prior knowledge of the musical on which this is based. The film was recommended by my friend Rob and my Dad which suggests a broad appeal. The adaption is by Ryan Murphy, who I know as creator of Glee and one of my lockdown highlights, Netflix’s Hollywood.

The movie is set in world where ‘Eleanor: The Eleanor Roosevelt Story’ closes after first-night terrible reviews that tag the stars (played by Meryl Streep and James Corden) as the worst of self-obsessed celebrity. Somehow (and here my memory of any plot is gone), characters played by Nicole Kidman and Andrew Rannells become part of their ‘Broadway liberals’ gang.

Meanwhile, in Indiana a school’s PTA cancels the school prom because a female student – Emma – wants to take a girl to the dance. The schools head teacher seems to be the only supportive character in the town of Edgewater. Thus, a cause is created for the New York performers to prove they’re not as self-obsessed as the reviewers said. They all get on a bus to head to Indiana. This is not a Priscilla road trip movie and, before you know it, Broadway’s stars are trying to check into a Holiday Inn Express. Or something like that.

You do have to suspend disbelief here – in spite of the real-life roots of the story – because it’s a musical and the story is advanced in song. The premise manages to be both a big-old cliche and remarkably well-done at the same time. If you can work with the idea that an entire town’s moral compass can be re-pointed by an Andrew Rannells’ song and dance routine set in a shopping mall and using the water feature fountains as a central prop, performing a song called Love Thy Neighbor, then you’re going love this film. And, if you think you’re not going to find that concept remotely appealing, you probably should still watch this film because it’s funny, with the right amount of musical theatre camp to keep it rooted in a joyful place even when the story, inevitably has it’s downbeat moments. And at this point in 2020 we all need a bit of cheering-up.

The musical numbers are more Legally Blonde than Hamilton (although a pinch of Chicago, with all the associated jazz hands, is added for flavour) but they’re good fun and, in true Andrew Lloyd Webber style, move the plot on at a decent pace.

Two different story lines – the prom story and the redemption plot – work together so well that they can conjure up Tracey Ullman (but saying as who and why would be too much of a spoiler). Supporting cast, Kerry Washington, Jo Ellen Pellman, Keegan-Michael Key and Ariana DeBose are all excellent but we tuned in for the A-listers, didn’t we?

Meryl Streep is a pure joy to watch as Dee Dee Allen (she has two Tony awards, you know). A really solid, believable performance and you could watch an entire movie based on her character. James Corden, as Barry, manages to hold the camp to right side of funny – and tragic, when it matters – while walking a tightrope where he could, at any moment, fall into the offensive side. I think he handles it well. For me, Nicole Kidman playing a Chicago chorus girl is under used, especially at the start because she manages to be the only Broadway liberal to manage empathy and, I think, that provides the thread that holds the story together. Andrew Rannells’ character doesn’t quite have the depth of the others to make him quite so real but it’s a great perforamance and, after all, manages to convince an entire shopping mall that same-sex relationships are not an abomination in under 4 minutes. It’s a work of genius.

The Prom is a joy-filled song fest that works to keep the spirits up in these in-between Christmas and New Year days. And it’s on Netflix so, if you have a subscription, you can spend a couple of hours laughing for no extra cash. An actual New Year bargain

Polar Express Revisited

Does The Polar Express stand-up to a viewing 21 years later?

Back in January 2005 I wrote about the Polar Express on my blog (because film reviews were a thing I seemed to do quite a bit back then). I said that I could see the film enduring.

Almost 21 years later we watched it again, streaming from Amazon Prime. It was £4.99 – I wonder what we paid the first time? In 2005 I really enjoyed it and I did on this viewing too. I may have seen it once in the intervening years but, unlike The Nightmare before Christmas, it’s not a Christmas staple in my life so there were many things I didn’t remember (and that’s no criticism because I don’t remember the detail of many films that I have seen).

I saw the original in it’s big screen 3D glory and noted that the filmmakers “used the 3D format to full-effect” but I don’t think it lost much on my 2D television.

I said I thought this film would ‘endure’ – meaning it would last – and I think it has lasted well. In my opinion, Tom Hanks is still brilliant as the main voice of this movie. Glad I watched it again.

Among The Trees, Hayward Gallery

The brutalist concrete of London’s Southbank Centre, some of it originally set for the Festival of Britain in 1951, seems a place at odds – if not an odd place – to hold an exhibition that asks us to think about our relationship with trees and forests. But, that’s what the Hayward Gallery’s ‘Among The Trees’ is asking us to do.  It reopened yesterday after being closed at the start of the COVID crisis and is now extended until October, so ignore the out-of-date dates on promotional banners.  Visitor numbers are limited and there’s a one-way system introduced so that social distancing norms can be observed. 

I’m no art critic, but I think I am with the ES Magazine’s “there’s much here to absorb, unsettle and even, occasionally, provoke wonder” over Time Out’s “the rest just sort of blurs into one, and by the end, you can’t see the art for the trees”.  Most reviewers seem to agree that Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s six-screen, horizontal video of a giant Finnish spruce is the most powerful piece and it is visually very impressive.   Eva Jospin’s forest from cardboard, which is one of the first exhibits you come to, reminds us of both the beauty of the forest and the damage caused by humans.  Later, Steve McQueen’s Lynching Tree, depicting a tree that once served as a gallows for slaves, provides another reminder of our cruel and destructive nature.

In many ways, that grey concrete architecture – a material which itself replaced the need for wood in some construction projects and is the core of the Hayward Gallery – is the perfect backdrop to the trees that form the exhibition. Perhaps my only criticism is that there’s not enough of the contrast, the hard and the soft, exploited within.

The restrictions caused by timed-entry and fewer people in the gallery space, may not be great for the gallery’s finances, but make the experience itself very nice indeed.  No real queues, except to get into the shop afterwards,  and no crowds around the big art pieces. And, given how much of the world is closed off to us right now, the reopening is a  real treat. Although, perhaps we should be spending these beautiful summer days in nature for real.

Tweetless or Tweet Less?

I realised I only tweeted 10 times in 2019 so I wondered (to myself) what I had written about.

My morning routine, after I have arrived in the office, usually entails eating breakfast while reading a couple of blog posts before diving into my email. This morning, I thought about some content I used to follow on Twitter and decided to look it up. It’s still there: but that’s not the point of this post. Then I thought I would write something to welcome the new decade as, although a day late, I thought it worth marking in my timeline.

That’s when I realised I only tweeted 10 times in 2019. That’s pretty terrible really. I used to use Twitter a lot. Sadly, I find it a pretty depressing place most of the time which – I think – is why I have generally shied away from the platform recently. I’m pretty certain if I had the time I could curate a list that was much more positive to read.

Nonetheless, I decided to look at the topics I did tweet about in 2019 – my logic being that if I use the platform so rarely then what I did tweet about must have been worth the effort of opening the app and might be interesting to see what I cared about in 2019. Sadly not. Here’s my ranking:

So, here’s the tweet I went with:my first of the new decade. I thought about something I’d seen earlier in the day which seemed like positive news:

Give this is my 11th tweet in just over a year, I thought I would look at my posting trends. Using TweetStats and picking July as the sample month for no real reason except it was the first month on TweetStats’ graph, my tweet trend is not looking good. Maybe I should do better.

Currently, I am better at Instagram. Come join me there. As an aside, if Twitter made curating lists and generally managing your feed easier then maybe I would spend time creating the view I want.