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JEEPERS CREEPERS – Leicester Square Lounge

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

Marty Feldman was a unique comedy turn who could have been a giant. His distinctive boggled eye face and wild hair set him apart visually and as a peer of some of the late 20th century comedy greats he wrote for, and performed with, the best. Jeepers Creepers, written by Robert Ross, looks at Feldman away from the stage and studio, focussing instead on the philanderer and his devoted, even if humiliated, spouse Lauretta.

Backtrack – Film Review

In Opinion, Reviews by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

**

Written by Mick Sands
Directed by Tom Sands

Julian Glover prepares to hit some unwittingyoung campers for six
Backtrack is an ambitiously self-proclaimed “psychological horror” whose far-fetched story rests upon 4 unfortunate young people who regress (either deliberately or without realising) into their “past-lives”. Unfortunately ley lines get tangled and it turns out that the past-lives in question coincide with the very much present life of a now-doddery Nazi parachutist who had been sent into Britain to cause mayhem during World War Two. His mission failed when his plane crashed on Sussex’s South Downs and now the old and gruesomely scarred German ekes out his days as a devil-worshipping recluse in a Sussex barn, quietly awaiting the opportunity to avenge the deaths of his wife and kids who didn’t survive the war. 
Julian Glover, veteran of the RSC and almost a national treasure, plays the old man and that this movie even scores two stars is due to Glover’s outstanding contribution, making the often execrable dialog sound threatening. Elsewhere Haydn West’s sumptuous Downs photography and Richard Morson’s score also impress.
But that’s it. Opening with a WW2 battle sequence that seems inspired by the Call Of Duty video game, with references elsewhere to horror classics The Shining and An American Werewolf In London, director Sands’ ambitions are high. His achievement however is a movie that resembles a cross between a shoddier version of Carry On Camping, crossed with a DIY instruction video as Glover gets medieval with a blowtorch on the unfortunate youngsters. 
Good horror along with well executed gory effects is all part of the magic of the movies. But Backtrack just isn’t good. Glover apart, the acting disappoints, with much of the film proving unintentionally comical (the scene in which a tractor drags an occupied tent across a field could be straight out of Top Gear). Further, too much of the graphic violence is gratuitously laboured, with shoddy visual effects to boot. In their recent film Big Bad Wolves, directors Keshales and Papushado showed how horrific a blowtorch can be, when photographed by a skilled and subtle director. Unfortunately Backtrack’s racks of sizzling human flesh amount to little more than cheap “torture porn” 
Nonetheless the movie does represent a new filmmaker practising his craft and when I spoke with Glover about the shoot, the actor, who to his credit has a recognised history of supporting emerging creative talent, spoke highly of the professionalism of Sands and his cast and crew. 
Accompanied by a good drink and maybe a takeaway, Backtrack could make for an evening’s entertainment. Just go easy on ordering anything flame-grilled.

UK RELEASE: Backtrack is now available in the UK on DVD and LoveFilm through Mandala Films and on Amazon Prime and Blinkbox through Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment under the alternate title ‘Nazi Vengeance.’

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Bad Jews – Review

In by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

Arts Theatre, London
**
Written by Joshua HarmonDirected by Michael Longhurst 

Ilan Goodman and Jenna Augen
Acclaimed at Bath last year and sold out at London’s St James Theatre in January, Bad Jews now makes the short hop across town to the Arts Theatre to meet an almost insatiable demand to see the show. Indeed the clamour for tickets has been so strong that it led comedienne Ruby Wax to tweet recently of Bad Jews’ “mostly Jewish audience. If you insult them, they will come”.
The play is provocatively titled because as Harmon admits in the programme, eleven years ago and before a plot had even evolved, he thought it would be “a good title for a play”. Hmm. A dodgy premise for any creative work. Substance needs to come before the packaging and ultimately Bad Jews makes for mediocre drama.
Three Jewish cousins (plus Melody the Christian girlfriend of one cousin) are gathered in New York for the funeral of grandfather Poppy, a Holocaust survivor. Amidst familiar and familial spats of jealousy, rivalry and momentary affection, the plot’s action focusses upon a Jewish necklace (a Chai) that Poppy had kept concealed during his time in the camps.

Religiously committed granddaughter Daphna believes the Chai should rightfully be hers whilst assimilated cousin Liam (who via some family chicanery, already possesses the necklace) is on the cusp of proposing to Melody and plans to give her the Chai in place of a traditional engagement ring. Daphna’s nauseated fury at Liam’s plan is understandable. However where Harmon abuses our disbelief, whose suspension is already hanging by a thread, is in asking us to accept the conceit that WASP Melody would even prefer the battered Chai over a diamond solitaire.  It makes for an in-credible pivotal plot-line.
To be fair, Harmon does thread some strands of relevance into his work. His exposition of the vain and arrogant self-belief of Daphna’s piety is spot-on and he offers a further morsel of intellectual meat to chew on as he references the impact of assimilation and “marrying out” upon Judaism’s cultural heritage. Noble arguments and credit too for his attempt to address the impact of the Holocaust upon third generation survivors. But ultimately it’s all packaged up in a bundle of writing that far too often makes for a tedious naivety. Where Arthur Miller once brought a scalpel-like precision to such complex studies of humanity, Harmon wields mallet and chisel and it shows.
Speaking to The Guardian recently Harmon tells of how just before the play opened in Bath, that he had cut a line from the text that referred to the safety in being Jewish today, recognising that the sentiment didn’t accurately reflect the current experience of European Jews. Whilst the edit was necessary, actually the chopped words should never have been written in the first place. For most of the last millennium continental Europe has been a deadly place for Jews – and that’s both before and after Hitler – and Harmon’s failure to acknowledge that continuum, even as he wrote Bad Jews, evidences a worrying ignorance.
And that side-splitting comedy? The programme notes reference Mel Brooks’ The Producers in which Brooks brilliantly lampooned Hitler in his 1968 farce and subsequent musical.  However, that The Producers worked at all was because Brooks craftily mocked an evil regime. Here, by contrast, Bad Jews’ audience rather than laughing at the Nazis, are invited to guffaw at a surviving family’s struggles to cope with the Holocaust’s devastating legacy. There’s a whiff of freak-show here and it leaves a nasty taste.
Further credit to some of the performers. Ilan Goodman’s Liam is a focussed channelled force, who notwithstanding the ridiculously Fawlty-esque extremes imposed upon his character, makes us believe in his comfortably assimilated Jewish identity, as well as his love for Melody. Playing his love interest, Gina Bramhill is a strawberry blonde genteel gentile. It’s a novel twist that sees the non-Jew sketched out as a caricatured stereotype, but again and to her credit, Bramhill makes fabulous work of some occasionally ghastly dialogue. That Jenna Augen’s Daphna, almost a year into the play’s run, speaks too often in a squeaky gabble is mind boggling.
Completing the quartet, Joe Coen’s Jonah is the Beavis-type silent one, who too little too late offers an endgame revelation that deserves more analysis from Harmon than the (yet another) sensational moment it is given.
In his song Shikse Goddess, taken from The Last Five Years, Broadway composer Jason Robert Brown, nails the complex and awkward nuances of assimilation with witty yet profound analysis in four minutes. Harmon takes more than an hour and a half to clumsily cover much of the same ground. Somewhere in Bad Jews there could be a good play struggling to emerge. This ain’t it.

Runs to 30th May 2015