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AS IS – West End

In London theatre, Plays, Reviews by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

As one sits in the Trafalgar Studios waiting for Andrew Keates’ production of As Is to begin, there is an awareness of a gentle backdrop of conversation that eventually distils into individuals speaking of when they learned of their AIDS diagnosis. Gradually it builds, with statistics about the numbers of people dying or infected beginning to get louder. Perhaps the most uncomfortable soundbites are the (1981) news stories declaiming in loud American voices the menace of “The Gay Plague” along with vox pop interviews of members of the public saying how “they only have themselves to blame”.

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July 4th – On Jaws 40th Anniversary – I speak to Carl Gottlieb

In Features, London theatre, Reviews by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat…”
On the Fourth of July 2015, some 40 years after Steven Spielberg’s summer blockbuster Jaws exploded into the world’s cinema and psyche, it’s worth recalling a line in the movie spoken by Amity City’s odious mayor Larry Vaughan (played by Murray Hamilton) to Roy Scheider’s police chief Brody, as the mayor summed-up the impact of a shark attack on his seaside town’s summer season.
 “I don’t think you appreciate the gut reaction people have to these things.., it’s all psychological….
You yell ‘Barracuda!’ everybody says ‘Huh? What?’  You yell ‘Shark!,’ we’ve got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July.”

Memorable words penned by gifted American screenwriter Carl Gottlieb, who in one movie gave the world both a fabulously structured fable and some of the most oft-repeated movie-quotes of all time. 
Gottlieb was kind enough to take some time to talk with me and as an LA late bird, his preferred local time to speak on the phone is around 1am. So it was that early on a foggy London morning I found myself speaking with the man whose Twitter name says it all: @JawsWriter
JB:    Tell me about the genesis of your Jaws screenplay?
CG:    I had read the book and had a good understanding of the story and started working on the script maybe three weeks before principal photography commenced.
I kept writing just ahead of the schedule. The text is mine and although the structure of the movie is mine and Steven’s, he is the author of the film.
I don’t think anybody had any notion of Jaws’ global impact. In telling a story that was to be plagued with mechanical difficulties, we were trying to get through it un-damaged and be faithful to the idea of making a good movie. That’s all we wanted to do.
JB:    Peter Benchley’s novel included a passionate love affair that develops between Hooper oceanographer and Ellen, Brody’s wife. Why did you excise that from the film?
CG:    I made the decision to remove the love interest. When we started filming, the love interest was still in there. But it quickly became apparent from the performances that the idea for thee affair was all wrong and misplaced the actors’ motivation. The three principals are so likeable and attractive, I couldn’t imagine Hooper cuckolding Brody. So we said it muddies the waters, lose it. And we did.
JB:    Over the years, many observers have commented that the movie’s plot marginalises women. Was this an intentional thread?
CG:    1974 was to see the first real wave of American feminism, with consciousness of the issue only starting to emerge. Neither Zanuck and Brown (Jaws’ producers) nor the studio had their consciousness raised and it was only myself and Richard Dreyfuss (who played Hooper) that had mixed in the same circles in which this new paradigm was emerging.
In our storytelling it was men against the sea and to be fair, there isn’t a strong woman in the novel. It wasn’t in our minds at the time, we were making an adventure movie. Three guys – and that’s how it appeared. Post-analysis has asked: where was the feminine angle? In1974 that was a long way from being anyone’s concern. 
JB:    You just referenced Jaws as an adventure film, yet increasingly it has been badged as horror, with the American Film Institute including it amongst their Top 100 Horror Movies. What genre would you apply to it?
CG:    Its true genre was probably horror. In 1974, no mainstream studio made horror per se except the rarely scheduled items such as The Exorcist or Psycho. The horror genre was widely considered exploitative.
JB:    The quality of writing and performance, make it very much a drama movie.
CG:    (laughing) Moby Dick meets Enemy Of The People!
JB:    Jaws is widely credited as being a seminal and influential piece of cinema. Do you ever see your work in Jaws being reflected elsewhere?
CG:    I think so, yes. I was simply following the basic principles of good story telling as I understood them, but remember, my background was in comedy. I knew the value of humor both in adding dimension to a character and in setting the audience up for a scream or a shock.
The wise cracking action hero has kind of become the template but that’s not to do with me. Burt Lancaster did a wonderful send up in 1952 with The Crimson Pirate, a perfect parody, yet at the same time an excellent action piece. The use of comedy and laugh lines to lull the audience off guard, so that they can be shocked a moment later has become part of the vocabulary of the action film, to varying degrees of success depending upon the cleverness and the sense of humour of the writers and directors.
In some cases, there is no sense of humour, because the director is pre occupied with big things banging together.
JB:    Your line – and a classic- “You’re gonna need a bigger boat “. Does that characterise your comedic approach?
CG:    Yes – that and a little earlier, when the shark makes its first full-face appearance which comes straight after the laugh line, “you come on down and chum some of this shit”. The shriek when the shark appears, works better because of the line that came before it.
I wrote those words, or I wrote something so close, that when the actors were ad-libbing, which is a tribute to the writer, in than when you write a character so completely, such that when the actor inhabits that character and goes “off book”, he will ad lib in character.
I also want to pay a tribute to Howard Sackler who located the Indianapolis episode (in which Robert Shaw’s shark-hunter Quint tells of a shark attack on the survivors of the torpedoed USS Indianapolis) and who is very little remembered for that contribution. Good writer, sailor and navy man.
JB:    In the evolution of mobile story telling over the last 40 years, who has impressed and who has disappointed you?
CG:    CGI (computer generated imagery) storytelling has devolved rather than evolved. We are seeing great stories in low budget pictures, whilst studios, in order to protect multi-million dollar tentpole movies, continue to offer sequels / prequels / reboots / reimaginings or comic book adaptations. In large budget films, there is often very little story telling going on. Frequently the narrative is a stupid hero’s journey, with some guy having to fight titanic forces, that explode across the screen in ever increasing CGI complexity, with no doubt of the plot’s outcome.
JB:    How easy do you think CGI makes the task for the writer?
CG:    CGI makes some things easier – but in terms of storytelling which is character and relationships, a good writer is still very much in demand. The screenwriter is more concerned with telling a compelling narrative, with interesting characters in interesting places in complex relationships. Tentpole action, genre film doesn’t do that. Andrew Marlow, the screenwriter, has described big action as like writing a libretto for opera, where the crash and burns are the arias and the narrative is the recitative and typically out of 100 pages, maybe only 40 are dialog and character with the rest being a description of explosions.
It is simpler (and more simple minded) to write a series of inter-stitial scenes between explosions. The challenge remains to write that in an interesting way. Probably one of the few films that has managed that successfully was Iron Man 1 where Robert Downey Jr brought a certain charisma and wit to the performance. 
The writers who I admire now, like perhaps the Wachowski brothers, don’t write in that genre, whilst the old masters of the big action genre are not even being hired to write the new movies.
The writing profession is being split in two. Today its guys who can construct a big action narrative and who get used by the handfuls on each major project. The other half is writers who compare about narrative and dialogue and for that you need a longer slower movie, or at least a more literate one, where actors can speak actors and compellingly. I use compelling a lot, because much of what I am seeing now is not of interest.

JB:    Carl – Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me.

Jaws is widely available to download.

On July 4th the movie will be screened in London at The Prince Charles Cinema and in LA at The New Beverly Cinema

Carl Gottlieb

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In Cabaret, London theatre, Reviews by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

Crazy Coqs, London
****Kit and McConnel
The cabaret duo Kit and McConnel have only been performing together for 3 years, so this show’s title The Game Is Old dues not suggest themselves. Instead it refers perhaps to their satirical act that contains classic melodies given a modern twist, as they cover contemporary issues with razor-sharp wit. Nominated for the 2015 London Cabaret Award, Kit Hesketh-Harvey and James McConnel make a welcome return to The Crazy Coqs.
From the outset, the sight of the debonair McConnel on piano and the exuberant presence of vocalist Kit commands our attention. A wave of nostalgia for a bygone era in their first number quickly makes way for the crowd pleasing Nandos (parodying Abba’s Fernando) containing some sharp and incredibly funny observations. There Are No Plumbers Left in Poland is satire at its best, as is the very true to the mark Pilates.
Between songs the dry humour of McConnel is evident in his stories, with his virtuosic piano skills proving incredible during the Liszt improvisation game.
A cleverly constructed original playlist is never an easy task, but the beautiful and finely observed second act songs such as All The Things We Never Said and Afghanistan offer a wonderful contrast to the mostly comic elements of the evening’s programme.
Kit and McConnel are seasoned performers who combine their obvious great talent of music and comedy with charismatic and endearing personae. There is room for them to explore their set’s tender moments further, similarly we could hear more of McConnel’s humorous stories with input from Kit. But this show has the power to make an audience laugh from the beginning of a song right to its end and remains a privilege to watch.

In residence until 4th JulyGuest reviewer: Francesca Mepham

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ALL I KNOW NOW: Wonderings & Reflections on Growing up Gracefully – Book Review

In Books, London theatre, Musicals, Reviews by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

Growing up, she was the youngest sibling of two. But today Carrie Hope Fletcher is a virtual big sister to thousands of young girls across the world. A stage star – currently she is an acclaimed Eponine in London’s Les Miserables – Fletcher is also a hugely successful YouTube vlogger, with a wildly loyal fanbase. On top of this she is a songwriter, illustrator and now, a published author.

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Two Jacks – Review

In London theatre, Reviews by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

Written and directed by Bernard Rose

Jack Huston
There’s a stylish cast and concept to Two Jacks, out this month from Bernard Rose.
Taking an idea from Tolstoy’s Russian fable The Two Hussars, Rose pitches his tale straight into a genre of updated Hollywood noir. It makes for  neat conceit and in a movie set entirely in and around Tinseltown, the atmosphere Rose that creates of smoke filled poker parlours, bare-fisted brawls and beautiful women casually seduced, could be straight out of Raymond Chandler. 
There is a hint of real life imitating the art on screen, for as the story tells of fictional wild film director Jack Hussar seducing the beautiful Diana (a sizzlingly demure performance from Sienna Miller) and who, years later sees his son Jack Jnr return to become entangled with Diana’s daughter, Rose casts Danny Huston to play the older man, with his nephew Jack playing the younger man. That both men are direct descendants of legendary director John Huston contributes to the story’s grit and that Danny Huston, in both appearance and demeanour bears more than a passing resemblance to Jeremy Clarkson, only adds to the tale.   
Two Jacks’ womanising, gambling, alcohol and thundery rainstorms are timeless nods to Hollywood’s darker side and with Jacqueline Bissett playing the (much older) Diana many years into the plot, the classy credentials of Rose’s cast are only enhanced.
Whilst the movie is mostly chic and the acting a delight, Rose is let down by occasional script naiveties and also a budgetary constraint (I guess ?) that sees him not only write and direct, but also photograph and edit the movie too. That’s unfortunate for there are moments of poor continuity, lighting and focus-pulling, that would never have made it out of a decent film school, let alone form part of a commercial release.
Bringing the picture straight out to the DVD and download markets after playing the festivals a couple of years ago is probably wise, with Two Jacks making for a wonderfully romantic movie, beautifully performed.

Out on DVD and download 29th JuneTrailer:

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The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence) – Review

In London theatre, Reviews by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment



Certificate 18

Written and directed by Tom Six

Dieter Laser
The Human Centipede 3 – Final Sequence (HC3) marks the last chapter of Tom Six’s trilogy of everyday folk who find themselves joined, stitched mouth-to-anus, to their fellow citizens. Throughout his series, Six has tended to play fast and loose with the word “centipede”. His first movie’s creature featured only 6 legs (formed of three unfortunates) whilst the beast in Final Sequence, formed of 500 souls, sports 2,000 limbs- but this is Hollywood so what’s a leg-count here or there anyway?
The movies’ notoriety has snowballed with each emerging sequel. HC1 took a “traditionally” horrific take on Six’s vision, with German actor Dieter Laser portraying the deranged Doctor Heiter, who was to hand-craft the first creature, in an unflinchingly dark movie.
HC2’s raison d’etre could not have been more corny, even if its metier was still born of a heart of darkness. Laurence R Harvey played Martin, a ghastly misfit, who is introduced to us watching a DVD of HC1, before going on to replicate Heiter’s experiment himself. 
With the third film, Six adopts an end of term/semester approach to the concept. Where HCs 1 and 2 were dark, Final Sequence lobs in some ironic comedy and in so doing offers us what is possibly (and literally) the most tongue in cheek film ever made. 
Set in a prison in the southern USA, Six indulges himself with an outrageous grindhouse satire. Think of 2011’s Hobo With A Shotgun that starred Rutger Hauer and you start to get an idea of ​​Six’s skewed reality.
As a further nod to the franchise’s heritage, both Laser and Lawrence return. This time the German plays Bill Boss, the stetson toting prison governor (deranged, natch) who also sports a phallus-replacing six-shooter, with Harvey as Dwight, his trusted sidekick accountant. When Dwight suggests that a human centipede would make for an ideal punishment in addition to incarceration, the movie takes off . 
Along the way, Six makes no bones about offending and exploiting everybody. Men and women alike are horrifically violated (there is no one-side sexploitational misogyny here), religion is mocked, with Hollywood B-listers Bree Olson and Eric Roberts adding to the carnage.
A satirical sub-theme hints at the story offering a version of violent and medieval punishment that much of the USA’s right of centre population would happily see meted out to criminals. Six has to tread this particular mockery carefully especially as he is on record (and confirmed in a movie cameo) as saying that the idea of ​​the centipede came to him initially, as an appropriate form of punishment for paedophiles. 
There’s minimal CGI on display here and what you see is the action that Six has photographed. Those with an insatiable appetite for taboo-busting cinema that includes, amongst other moments, scenes of castration, boiling-waterboarding and the eating (literally eating, this ain’t porn) of both genders’ genitalia will be more than entertained by what Six, his designer Rodrigo Cabral and their uber-talented special effects team have come up with. Oh, and just like in real life, the bad guy comes out on top too.
If you like your horror bloody yet still ridiculously overdone, you won’t be disappointed. 

In cinemas from 10th July

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In Dance, London theatre, Regional theatre, Reviews by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

Opening with Perpetuum Mobile, a short work choreographed by Christopher Hampson. Set to Bach’s Violin Concerto in E Major, the performance mirrored the increasingly complex layers of music found within the composition. The dancers’ movements proved continual, fluid and dynamic with Lucia Solari, Ayami Miyata and Javier Torres in particular offering captivating performances. Created over 15 years ago, Hampson says he was “initially inspired by the score.” This was evident and it is the close marriage between movement and music that made Perpetuum Mobile a joyous contemporary piece to watch.

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Eric Yves Garcia – Review

In Cabaret, London theatre, Reviews by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

Crazy Coqs, London


Eric Garcia
In recent years New York singer-pianist Eric Yves Garcia has made quite an impact. An award winning cabaret artiste, he is here for a week’s residency at the Crazy Coqs with his show, One Night Standards. 

Relaxed from the outset, it was hard to comprehend that this was Garcia’s UK debut. Beginning with Arlen and Mercer’s Ridin’ On The Moon, it rapidly became clear that Garcia is a performer who can make one believe every note and lyric. Accompanied by Joe Pettit throughout on double bass, his first song declared his arrival and from there it continued with the deliciously naughty One Hour With You. If there is one male singer who can deliver this Whiting and Robin treat with the perfect mix of glint in their eye and silky vocals, it is Garcia. 
The mesmerizingly good-looking Garcia has a self-deprecating patter that forms an impressive part of his gig. With pinpoint timing he talks of performing in Florida (or as he described it, ‘’god’s waiting room’), to an audience response that is testament to his raconteur ability. 
Numbers that were more emotionally exposed such as Hey Look, No Cryin’ proved a powerful highlight of the set, with Garcia’s understated vocals and vulnerability counteracting the wit and charm of his earlier comical pieces. 
Captivating is an oft overused word but it describes Garcia perfectly. From an astounding musicianship and controlled velvet voice, to his well-honed comic presence, the man is a delight. If a performance could transport the audience to another era, one of forgotten romance, that still manages to sound as fresh as it did sixty years ago, then this is it.

Performs until 13th June 2015
Guest reviewer: Francesca Mepham