It's been a little while since I've talked about Riding Lights on this blog, with the tour of Inheritancecoming to an end this Saturday and its prestigious Summer Theatre School still four months away. But in the interim, there is a bit of good news from one aspect of this exquisite company which I have thus far failed to mention.
Since September 2010, Acting Up! Youth Theatre has been providing theatre opportunity to young people aged 13 to 18 who have additional needs or disabilities. The group provides a space where people can learn new skills, socialise and build confidence, and its devised performanced have been growing in stature.
Acting Up! was recently awarded a grant of £40,507 by Children in Need, which has ensured that it will continue to offer these services in the next few years. This is welcome news, given that the previous funding from Children in Need ended in 2014, with the programme only managing to continue thanks to interim funding from the Ed de Nunzio Charitable Trust. But while the running costs of the group are now guaranteed in the short-term, the funding doesn't cover any production budget for the shows - and that is where you come in.
At this year's Riding Lights Members' Day (which I sadly couldn't attend), a goal was set to raise £2,000 for a production budget for Acting Up!, which could cover the cost of costumes, props and technical equipment. Of that amount, £431 was raised at the Members' Day and a further £1,020 has been secured to date. If you can give even a small amount to help make up the difference, you will be helping to change the lives of people who otherwise may not have had access to theatre and all the wonderful things that it brings.
To make a donation to Acting Up!, visit www.justgiving.com/acting-up. If you need any extra incentive, this summer the group are devising a new sci-fi themed show, drawing inspiration from Douglas Adams, Isaac Asimov, Jules Verne and Kurt Vonnegut (further evidence of Riding Lights being daring and intriguing in its subject matter). I'll post more details of the show as they come to light, but until then spread the word and chip in if you can. Thank you.
Shrek Forever After (USA, 2010) Directed by Mike Mitchell Starring Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas
When the quality of a film series has noticably declined, those
responsible for the series often attempt to rectify things with a
last-ditch sequel. Many of these last-ditch efforts try to recapture the
spirit of the original, both to remind fans of how good the franchise
once was and to put memories of the bad apple out of sight and mind.
While it sounds like a cynical tactic, it can occasionally be very
successful, as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade ably demonstrates.
Forever After (originally titled Shrek Goes Fourth) is a somewhat
successful attempt to achieve the same effect with the Shrek series. It
is both a partial return to form and an admission on the part of
Dreamworks that they really screwed up with Shrek the Third. While not
everything about it is as remotely satisfying or as funny as the series
was as its peak, it is also better than we had any right to expect, and
is all things considered a decent way to say goodbye.
the film is better than you might expect given the background of its
director. Mike Mitchell did work as an animator on the second Shrek, as
well as working as a story artist on the passable Monsters vs. Aliens.
But his directorial output has been largely awful, from the schmaltzy
Surviving Christmas to the painfully unfunny Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo.
The relative success of this film is either a stroke of good fortune or
a testament to the fact that film is a collaborate medium.
far as its plot is concerned, Shrek Forever After is essentially an
attempt to recapture the spirit of the first film via the narrative of
It's A Wonderful Life. It has the same basic plot of Frank Capra's film,
with a protagonist who despairs of what his life has become and who
firmly believes that the world would be better off without him in it.
Jimmy Stewart's suicidal tendencies have been commuted to angry, empty
frustration, but the fact remains that Shrek is now effectively George
To this end, all the elements of his life which Shrek has
taken for granted are played out with a sense of detachment. All the
integral elements of the Shrek canon - his love for Fiona, his
friendship with Donkey, the taming of Dragon and so on - are restaged
without him, creating a sense of unsettling familiarity. To children who
are coming to the series for the first time, this will seem like a
novel and compelling idea. For adults who have grown up with the series
or remember Capra's film, it's more of a pleasant rip-off, lacking the
overt sentimentality which for many renders Capra unwatchable.
of the things the film does to justify this device is showing how
depressing Shrek's life has become to warrant his wish with
Rumplestiltskin. We might roll our eyes at how domesticity is so easily
demonised, but few of us would wish to live our entire lives out as the
"loveable lug" circus attraction that he has become. The film could have
gone further with this, using Shrek to send up the vapidity of our
celebrity-obsessed culture, but in the end it settles for the outburst
at the birthday party and leaves it at that.
Scenes like this are
clearly intended to poke fun at the series, showing that it can laugh
at the commercial behemoth that it has become. But drawing attention to
these features is a double-edged sword, because it also highlights how
tame and ungamely the series and character has turned out to be. To use a
musical analogy, it's a bit like listening to The Who play 'My Generation' today: you're impressed that the band can still belt it out,
but it's also rather tragic to hear a 70-something sing "I hope I die
before I get old."
The result of this is that all the funniest
jokes in Shrek Forever After come with an unusual sense of sadness. It's
quite a logical idea for Puss in Boots to have let himself get fat, but
equally it feels like a desperate ploy in the absence of more
meaningful characterisation. When the series restages key moments from
the first film and then tries to surprise us, it's both a welcome
alternative to repetition and an obvious thing to do. Take Donkey's
attempts to woo Dragon: we know that some kind of deliberate punchline
is coming, even if we can't be precisely sure what form it will take.
most successful characterisation in the entire film is Fiona, who has
regained much of the agency which she lost in Shrek the Third. The film
might try and position her as somewhere between Braveheart and Joan of
Arc, but she does eventually emerge as a woman of some emotional depth
outside of her masculine trappings. Many films fall into the trap of
believing that a strong female character is one who can simply behave
like a man, and Mitchell deserves some credit for not reducing Fiona
down to just another ogre.
To this end, the film benefits from
the growing emotional bond between Shrek and Fiona. Unlike many other
aspects of the film, it doesn't entirely suffer from an over-resemblance
to the first film: here Shrek is actively trying to make Fiona fall in
love with him, whereas in Shrek he was trying to do anything but. While
the character dynamic is very predictable, it does become believable
enough, so that by the time Shrek's day is up, we really feel for them.
it is more emotionally resonant than the previous entry in the series,
Shrek Forever After's attempts to send up fairy tales are just as
half-baked. To its credit, it does solve one of Shrek the Third's
biggest problems, having a villain who is convincing in both his motives
and his methods. But while Rumplestiltskin himself is both memorable
and funny, he's the brightest star in an otherwise ordinary firmament.
its predecessor, many of Shrek Forever After's fairytale touches feel
derivative. The inclusion of the witches as sidekicks does feel like the
film was trying to cash in on the continuing (if perplexing) popularity
of Wicked. Others feel like blatant and misguided attempts to get down
with the kids, offering break-dancing and hip-hop where Smash Mouth was
once king. Turning the Pied Piper of Hamelin into a silent assassin is a
pretty nifty concept, but he's severely underused and is reduced by the
script to a brief and disappointing cameo.
The final problem
that the film has to offer is the 3D. Like any number of films which
were designed in 3D, there are numerous shots which exist solely to
enable things to poke out of the screen - a well-worn and pointlessly
pointy novelty. Whether it's the tracking shot through the window of the
royal carriage or the broom chase inside Rumplestiltskin's castle, such
shots are unnecessary and distracting - not what you want when your
film's plot is already on shaky ground.
Shrek Forever After is as
successful a film as we could possibly have hoped for, given all the
baggage which it carries with it. Most if not all of the magic of the
earlier films is a distant memory, and it's just as derivative as its
predecessor in many respects. But its moments of humour and more
resonant emotional core stop it from being completely pointless and
hollow. To return to our musical analogy, it's like watching a
once-great band struggle through one last rousing rendition of their
greatest hits. You applaud politely at they leave the stage, but pray
against there being any encore.
This is a reprint of my review which
was first published on this blog in November 2014, with a number of minor revisions. My original review can be found here.
The Inbetweeners 2 (UK, 2014) Directed by Damon Beesley & Iain Morris Starring Simon Bird, James Buckley, Blake Harrison, Joe Thomas
I've spoken on many occasions about how screenwriters or novelists don't
always make the best directors. As much as we bemoan a director's
vision for a given film not gelling with that of the writer, when
writers get behind a camera they often fail to grasp the difference
between cinematic and literary storytelling. This is true of the cult
classic Westworld, the would-be cult classic Sir Henry at Rawlinson End,
and the coming-of-age drama The Perks of Being A Wallflower.
Inbetweeners 2 sees Damon Beesley and Iain Morris, the creators of the
TV series, stepping behind the camera for a film which bids farewell to
the famous foursome. Just as the first film was an exception to the rule
that all films based on British comedies are terrible, so this film is
an exception to the rule that writers can't direct. While some of the
comedy still doesn't belong, it is both an improvement on the first film
and a fitting way to say goodbye.
The first big success of The
Inbetweeners 2 is that it actually looks and feels like a film. This may
seem an obvious point, but it's one that you can very rarely say about
British comedy adaptations, both in the past and in recent times. While
the production values of The Inbetweeners Movie were pretty decent, it
still looked and felt like an extended TV episode. This is all-round
more cinematic, with better compositions, a wider choice of angles and a
The explanation for this is not straightforward.
Had Beesley and Morris jettisonned all the old crew upon taking the
helm, it would be easy to put this transition down solely to their
creative talents. But the film is shot by the same person as before (Ben
Wheeler), edited by the same person (William Webb) and produced by the
same person (Christopher Young, for Film4). Most if not all of the
production team have done the bulk of their work in television rather
than feature films.
The true explanation lies in a combination of
creative freedom and an understanding of direction in terms of purpose.
Directing a film is not just about making sure that all the constituent
parts fit together in a workable order: it is about communicating a
story, theme or idea with a clear and preferably unique voice. Not only
do Beesley and Morris have more freedom following the success of the
first film, but they have a clear idea of where they want to go,
regardless of audience expectations.
The second big plus of The
Inbetweeners 2 is that it adds depth and humanity to the characters.
This is also one of the characteristics which makes it feel more
cinematic: we actually see the characters grow in a meaningful way
(well, meaningful enough) over a long period of time. This is something
that can be done on both film and TV but in different ways; while TV
episodes can space out and break up character development, on film it
has to be much more seamless, as it is here.
between this film and its predecessor is a dominance of character over
situation. The Inbetweeners Movie was essentially a genre exercise: it
dropped these characters into overly familiar surroundings and sat back
to see what would happen. This film may share some familiar
characteristics of episodes, particularly in the Splash Mountain scenes,
but this time the characters drive any given situation and the
progression from one scene to the next feels a lot more natural.
of the boys have an emotional arc which we can follow through the film
and which makes them more rounded and believable. Will's relationship
with Katie sees him disown his friends, only to realise the emptiness of
both his prep-school friendship with her and the lifestyle that she and
Ben have chosen to inhabit. His tirades around the camp fires are right
on the money, puncturing both the pretentiousness of spiritual tourism
and the egos of the people who take part in it.
relationshipwith Lucy (who has become a complete yandere) sees him
finally stick up for himself when it comes to relationships; even if
it's resolved in a rather convenient manner, he at least goes through
the process of deciding who he values and why. Jay, arguably the least
likeable character at face value, is developed the most when we discover
his capacity for both remorse and genuine love. His insecurity and
regret regarding Jane is very welcome and it prevents the film from
repeating itself. The only one short-changed in this department is Neil;
while arguably he's already happier than all the other boys, he's
ultimately reduced to out-of-context comic relief.
The third big
plus of The Inbetweeners 2 is that it is funnier than its predecessor.
It's still every bit a gross-out comedy which treads the fine line
between edgy and offensive, but there's much less of a reliance on
set-pieces, and what set-pieces there are are much more memorable. With
the log flume incident, it's as though Beesley and Morris saw
Caddyshack, got to the infamous pool scene, and thought: "how can we
make this even funnier?".
Many of the funniest moments in the
film will simultaneously make you howl with laughter and grimace in
disgust. The scene involving Neil in the pub with the dog may feature
unconvincing prostethics, but for the brief glance we get (which is all
we'll ever need), it does its job. The same goes for Will's falsetto
singging around the camp fire, the aforementioned log flume incident,
and Simon getting urinated on by Neil in the Outback.
scenes are funny, however some of the more sexual jokes are completely
unnecessary. The scene where Simon is accused of being a paedophile is
really uncomfortable; it's not attempting to say anything clever or
expose any kind of absurd attitude, it's just plain gruesome and should
have been cut. The same goes for the various mentions of rape which pop
up over the running time. While the film holds back from out-and-out
using sexual violence as a punchline, it seems content to use the word
as a cheap laugh when it should be anything but.
There are other
moments of the film which on deeper reflection don't make a lot of
sense. The scene with the four boys holding hands in the Outback as they
die of thirst is very touching, being somewhere between the existential
loneliness of Walkabout and the incinerator sequence in Toy Story 3.
But then you notice that the boys are avoiding their only source of
shade, and leaning against a car which is roasting hot. It doesn't throw
the film completely off-balance, but it's a niggle that lingers
The Inbetweeners 2 is an improvement on its
predecessor which merits its existence as a means of deepening the
characters. Beesley and Morris both write and direct well, with better
jokes (by and large) and a greater focus on the characters rather than
the situations in which they find themselves. Just like its predecessor,
it's not without its problems, but if this is the last we see of Simon,
Will, Neil and Jay, then it's a fitting way to finish.
Accepted (USA, 2006) Directed by Steve Pink Starring Justin Long, Jonah Hill, Blake Lively, Anthony Heald
National Lampoon's Animal House has a lot to answer for. Ever since John
Landis' comedy became one of the biggest hits of the late-1970s, we
have had to live with a steady trickle of second-rate comedies about
high school or college students. While the level of edginess or
rauchiness has greatly varied from film to film, the vast majority lack
even the slightest degree of subtext, which is ultimately what made
Landis' work distinctive and subversive.
In the post-American Pie
landscape, this trend has further mutated, with all the retrograde
sexual attitudes of the 1970s and 1980s coming back into plain sight
under the misplaced notion that they are ironically funny or - heaven
forbid - empowering. But for all the chauvinistic unpleasantness of
Superbad, or any Judd Apatow film for that matter, they are at least
memorably offensive. Accepted, on the other hand, is a largely
forgetable film which isn't that funny and doesn't try hard enough.
it comes to judging any film which is branded edgy or dangerous, there
is a basic rule of thumb. The rule is that a film's actual amount of
edge, danger, shock value etc. is inversally proportional to the number
of times its creators or commentators claim that it is any of these
things. If you constantly have to tell people that a film is scary, or
shocking, or funny, it's increasingly unlikely that it can be any of
these things. Quality speaks for itself, rather than needing every
journalist and promoter in the land to shout about it.
culture of the lady protesting too much, to borrow a term from
Shakespeare, is a consequence of a film industry obsessively driven by
marketing and strict adherence to convention. Every time a film comes
out whose plot involves a fair amount of sex, it has to be presented as
the rauchiest thing ever made, even if it clearly isn't. Just as Zac and
Miri Make a Porno is actually very tame (at least by the standards of
Boogie Nights or John Waters films), so Accepted is not a new Animal
House or American Pie. Even by the low standards of so many of the films
these two inspired, it's still very tame indeed.
To give the
film some credit, there is a nice little idea at the heart of its
attempts to be raunchy and broad. In its quieter moments, particularly
towards its conclusion, Accepted does touch on how educational
institutions often overlook potential talent on the grounds of tradition
and social expectations. The film doesn't touch on this anything like
as much as it could: it's much more Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj than
Dead Poet's Society, or even Step Up. But equally it pays more than lip
service to the notion, and that gives it some semblance of brains, if
In his seminal book On Liberty, the philosopher John
Stuart Mill wrote: "Persons of genius are... more individual than any
other people - less capable, consequently, of fitting themselves,
without hurtful compression, into any of the small number of moulds
which society provides in order to save its members the trouble of
forming their own character." You would have a hard time defining any of
our leading characters here as geniuses, but the fact remains that they
have potential which is being overlooked or squandered by the
narrow-mindedness of the American education system. Certainly it's hard
to argue that America would be better off with all of its students
ending up like Hoyt Ambrose.
If you were feeling equally
charitable, you could view Accepted as a successor to the
anti-establishment films of the 1960s. Even if we take the rambling,
foul-mouthed, elderly teacher out of the equation, the film has a
somewhat beatnik quality to it, populated as it is by people whose
creativity thrives when not constrained by the established ways of doing
things. If you're looking for a mid-noughties equivalent of Howl or
Kill Your Darlings, you definitely won't find it, but this merest hint
of subtext is there for those who want to see it.
The film also
deserves credit for giving us a young male protagonist who isn't a
completely unlikeable, unpleasant slacker. In Superbad we hated the
characters, finding them so gormless or obnoxious that it was hard to
excuse, let alone like, what they were doing. Bartleby's not exactly as
likeable as Flounder in Animal House (or anyone else in Animal House,
for that matter), but he is at least well-intentioned as a character.
His need to lie to his parents to make them proud is certainly one trait
with which many can empathise.
But despite all these plus
points, the fact remains that, in the end, Accepted is still a pretty
weak film. And its biggest weakness of all, ironically, is that it feels
uncomfortable going as far as it needs to in order to justify either
its reputation or its premise. If you are setting up a story about a
school in which everyone breaks the rules, you can't pull any punches
with the amount of carnage or excess you're prepared to show. You can't
promise us Alice Cooper's 'School's Out' and then give us a tea party.
reasons for this, to bring us almost full circle, lie in the marketing.
Animal House had a raw energy and a spirit to it because it came from
the same youth it was depicting; it was made by people who, at the time,
didn't really know what they were doing. Accepted, on the other hand,
is the product of a committee of middle-aged men, who want the film to
be edgy enough to make a good trailer, but not so outrageous that it
will alienate its core audience. It's a bit like giving someone a
brilliant, bright red Ferrari and then telling them that they can only
drive it when it's foggy, so as not to hurt the feelings of other
Steve Pink is a director who, at least for the present,
plays by the rules of the Hollywood machine. His earlier work as a
writer, such as Grosse Point Blank and High Fidelity, suggested someone
who could bring something new to well-worn stories. But both here and on
Hot Tub Time Machine, he has taken the executive's shilling and gone
down the tried-and-tested route. While he's not unspeakably poor as a
director, there's nothing particularly memorable or energetic about any
of his compositions. Even though it's shot by Matthew F. Leonetti, who
also shot Fast Times at Ridgmont High, it looks and feels like any other
meat-and-potatoes teen comedy.
There are numerous points in its
running time at which Accepted could and should have pushed things a
little further, or gone for something that was a little more risqué.
Teenage comedies of this kind don't always have to go down the Porky's
route of just being gross or sexist; in fact, the film's ideas about the
education system could have been a starting point to challenge such
conventions. But even the biggest set-pieces involving destruction of
property or swearing feel reined in, and as a result none of them are
A further problem with Accepted is its characters.
Although our lead is relatively likeable (at least by the standards of
similar films), none of the characters are distinctive enough to leave
any impression after the film has finished. Some of the older actors are
fleetingly memorable for being over-the-top, such as Bartleby's dad or
Richard van Horne (Dr Chilton from The Silence of the Lambs). But the
young cast, the people for whom we are meant to be rooting, are far too
Jonah Hill's performance is a classic case in point.
Hill's career has had its hits and misses, but his worst films
(Superbad, The Sitter, Evan Almighty) have always been memorably bad.
Here, on the other hand, he has very little to play with, neither
excelling nor failing badly enough to make us watch him on a perverse
level. His character generally fulfils the Flouder role from Animal
House, being the socially awkward outcast who will never be properly
accepted for who he is. But even with the girly scream and the jokes
about his "weiner" (obvious but funny), he eventually blends into the
background along with everyone else.
Accepted is a deeply
forgettable film which demonstrates the problems with Hollywood's
conservative approach to filmmaking. Had Steve Pink or any other
director been given a longer leash, it could have been memorably
outrageous, for better or worse. But as hard as it tries, it's still too
tame and too boring to even risk challenging American Pie. As with so
many modern Hollywood comedies, it's a slice of barely memorable
disappointment which leaves a dull ache and then quickly fades.
Around this time two years ago, I was giving a little, well-deserved plug to PhoniCon, a new science fiction convention held at the Exeter Phoenix, where I used to DJ during my time on Phonic FM. Now I'd like to switch from sci-fi to my childhood love of Gerry Anderson and promote a different
convention from rather further afield.
AnderCon 2015 is a celebration of Anderson's genius and artistic vision, which resulted in some of the most advanced TV shows of the time whose influence and popularity endure today. Over the course of two-and-a-half days in June, Leicester's cultural quarter (yes, there is such a thing) will be teeming with Anderson fans, keen to celebrate the past and look ahead to future projects.
If you even faintly remember Stingray, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet or Space: 1999, AnderCon is the place to be. There's tons of original puppets and props on display, and you could meet three of the original Thunderbirds cast to mark the show's 50th anniversary. But it's not just a nostalgia trip, with exciting previews of Ultramarionation's new show, Firestorm. It is not to be missed!
Anderson will be based at the Athena Leicester from Friday 12th to Sunday 14th June. Tickets are on sale now via AnderCon.co.uk, which also has full events listings and advice on how to get to the various venues hosting them. If you need any further convincing, check out this short message from Scott Tracy:
I’m Daniel Mumby – journalist with The Western Gazette, occasional writer for WhatCulture!, and the curator of this blog you see before you. Here you’ll find all my movie-related musings, including reviews, articles, podcasts and much, much more. Thanks for stopping by!