September 10, 2013


I liked Upstream Color a great deal. It takes awhile to settle down and is a little overcomplete -- it could do with stopping maybe one scene earlier -- but it's very smart and really quite affecting, with achingly sympathetic central characters. Likely to be one of my films of the year.

Where the original Kick-Ass was witty, charming and clever, its sequel is witless, charmless and stupid. Ack.

Elysium was unreasonably ponderous and unengaging for something with so many promising ingredients. As with KA2 it was hard not to compare it unfavourably to its predecessor and find it wanting in every way.

Of course, as leaden blockbuster epics go, Elysium was as nothing in comparison to Man of Steel. I'd say it was the last word in joyless, humourless, self-important, noisy and interminably dull superhero toss, but that's just wishful thinking: they're still letting that prick Zack Snyder make films.

Oh, there was Star Trek Into Darkness too, wasn't there? Eh. At least JJ has some sense of fun.

The Book of Mormon was very, very funny, and also surprising clever and humane. I had no real idea what to expect from it, and was not particularly optimistic, but I had a great time.

By contrast, the recent version of Merrily We Roll Along left me pretty cold. This is a piece I've liked since I was a teenager, but Maria Friedman's production was strangely unengaging, never quite managing to make lead character Frank into anything other than an irritating twat. The TV interview scene was very well done, though.

The Drowned Man is a staggering exercise in set dressing, and also a very enjoyable evening, much bigger but considerably less coherent than the most obvious recent comparison, Shunt's The Architects. Much of the time it seemed more like Myst or Riven than "theatre", whatever that is, vast and detailed and somewhat open. I could easily go again.

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's Puz/zle was my favourite of the many dance shows of the last few months, certainly a bit noodly in places but shot through with some fabulous images, as well as, pretty early on, a moment of shocking violence that had me quite off balance for much of the rest of the show. The nearly-final set piece was a moment of such precise theatrical perfection that I almost burst into tears right then.

Two Akram Khan pieces a few weeks later probably didn't benefit from the proximity. I liked significant parts of iTMOi, Khan's meditation on The Rite of Spring, which had some nice dancing and some nice images, but overall it seemed just a wee bit laboured. Much worse was the highly-praised full-length solo Desh, which consisted of a few lovely moments padded out with interminably self-indulgent mime, monologuing, and mawkishness. There's no denying that the set for the closing section is fantastic, though. I can only assume that the piece's admirers were so bamboozled by it as to forget the preceding hour and a half.

Hofesh Shecter seems all too much like a one-trick pony these days, but The Art of Not Looking Back at least offers a slightly different angle on his MO, with an all-female cast caught between balletic purity and contemporary roughness, to an uncomfortable soundtrack of intense mother-hatred.

Laurie's concert night with the Kronos Quartet was an odd combination, and probably didn't play to her strengths, but I really enjoyed it all the same. The KQ are certainly brilliant virtuosos.

And finally -- for now -- The Perfect American is very much unlike the Philip Glass operas we know and love, with a much more conventional and grating relationship between the vocal lines and the orchestral score, reminiscent of John Adams. The Improbable/ENO staging is brilliant, though, and it's certainly an interesting take on Uncle Walt -- not one that's likely to make you love him.

Posted by matt at September 10, 2013 1:55 PM