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Lady and the Tramp (2019, dir. Charlie Bean)

Doing a “live-action” remake of an animated film, particularly one as enduring as so many of Disney’s, is not actually a bad idea by definition. It is nakedly a commercial enterprise. The inherent conservatism of a company rehashing properties it’s already dined out on for decades for yet another round at the box office is undignified whoever’s doing it. That said, there’s no reason why this can’t result in a great film.

A lot of the Disney remakes aren’t great films. I’ve seen most of them now. The ones Linda Woolverton has (co-)written are the most interesting conceptually, since they are the revisionist takes on Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent, but the resulting films are the least successful. Then you have the remakes of the 90s films – Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and Aladdin – which are relatively inoffensive, and make some interesting changes, but mostly they seem entirely unnecessary. I enjoyed 101 Dalmatians as a kid, and 102 less. I’d like to watch them again.

The Jungle Book and Cinderella are towards the top of the pile. It might be because they are more interested in the source material of the films, and the experience of watching the animated versions, rather than rather shallowly aping the original. It could be that Branagh and Favreau are more hit than miss when it comes to films on this scale. It could be dumb luck. In any case, they’re the only ones where I’d consider putting them on rather than the original once in a while, rather than hardly ever.

The best films are ones that fit the definition more dubiously, since they’re based on hybrid movies. Pete’s Dragon turns the musical comedy into a children’s fantasy adventure in the woods. It’s far from perfect, but I admire it, and I should seek out more films by David Lowery. The best is Mary Poppins Returns, which does the Force Awakens sequel-remake trick right. I love that film with bells on. It’s approaching Paddington when it comes to the best modern family entertainment.

So with all that throat-clearing out of the way we come to the remake of Lady and the Tramp. You’ve got to be honest about how you reacted to a film. Since it was released straight to Disney+, I had no confidence in it at all. However, not only was I pleasantly surprised, I really enjoyed it. Critically, it’s a game of two halves, to use a cliche. The CG dog faces never work, but the real dogs are very cute. The script essentially turns the slight original into a boilerplate pet adventure film, but the classical romance overtones really work. The song replacing “The Siamese Cat Song” is forgettable, but it’s 300% less racist.

Uncritically, it’s a warm hug of a film. The classic moments are recreated and improved upon. (“Bella Notte” is pretty funny, and still sweet.) The voice acting is never less than engaging throughout. The human actors are perfectly fine. “He’s a Tramp” is a more convincing musical number than the entirety of Cats. I highly recommend it, particularly in such strange and uncertain times. It tickles the part of my brain that loves Once and the Before Trilogy. It’s certainly worth spending the £5.99 or doing the free trial to get Disney+ and watch it. You may be surprised by how much you like it – although less likely now that I’ve hyped it up somewhat.

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Film diary: 2/20

If you’re on letterboxd, I’m here.

Films seen: 30
Films directed by women: 6 (up 4)
Strong recommendations: Room 237, Clueless, Okja, Suspiria (1977), Parasite, The Lighthouse, Lady Bird, Blade Runner, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Ocean Waves

Obviously, great month of film. I haven’t been reviewing them as I’ve been watching them this month, so it’s a much fuller diary than expected. I don’t expect I’ll watch as many next month.

Many of the new films have non-UK release dates, which I regret, but can’t be bothered to change. I’ve started tracking the number of films I’ve seen that have been directed by women to 1) keep me honest and 2) subtly pressure me into seeing more of them.

Quick note on inclusion: I put in short films if I remember to. I leave out behind-the-scenes docs unless I’m compelled otherwise. I’m making this up as I go along.

Full list follows:

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Film diary: 1/20

If you’re on letterboxd, I’m here.

Films seen: 24
Films directed by women: 2
Strong recommendations: Little Women, Marriage Story, The Big Short, Midsommar

Full list follows:

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Little Women (2019, dir. Greta Gerwig)

Little Women is only a brilliant film if you want to cry all the way through it. It’s a very undignified experience. (I’ve been reading bits of the script, put online to help with Oscars nominations, and I’ve been tearing up reading that. Complete and utter shambles.) Awards are nonsense, but it deserves all the awards.

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Yooka-Laylee and Helping the Incompetent

As a quick addendum to my previous post, I got Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair for free from the Epic Games launcher, so I’ve been playing it a bit. I played through a bit of the previous game, which was a Banjo-Kazooie-inspired 3D platformer, and had some fun until I drifted, as I often do with video games.

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Spectre review

I’ve been trying to review more things, just because it’s good for the old brain. There’s plenty of words available on Bond at the moment, and this one wanders around a bit, but you might find it interesting.

Perhaps you can review Daniel Craig’s Bond films simply by looking at the theme songs.

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Frozen, Princess films, and the Disney Canon

Frozen theatrical poster, (c) Disney

A rather lengthy post because all my friends love Frozen and I have mixed feelings. Spoilers, probably.

I’m a big fan of Disney films. I’ve seen a lot of them (though thanks to primarily those ’40s compilation films, not all) and tend to have sussed out what I like and what I don’t. There’s been a lot of development over the 75 or so years since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but there’s definitely a thread from which you can split the good stuff from the less so. And while I reckon Frozen is good – it’s hilarious and enjoyable, and hopefully a sign of a continued resurgence in the general quality Walt Disney Animation Studios films – I don’t think it stands up to the best, and even pales in comparison with its most immediate predecessors.

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2013 in Review

I occasionally run a little “Inspirations” section under a blogpost to share what stuff I’m interested in or enjoying, because sooner or later what goes in will show up in what comes out. Plus, any chance to send people towards good stuff is one that should be taken up. This is a massive version of that sort of thing. I go on a bit, because it’s my blog and I’m allowed to.

I include old stuff that I’ve discovered this year, since this is the Internet age and it doesn’t really matter when something is released. I don’t really watch TV, so that’s out. As for theatre, I’ve seen quite a few shows this year (more than one, which is a lot for me), mainly at the RSC. None of them have moved me enough to produce an actual list, but the RSC productions of A Mad World, My Masters, All’s Well That Ends Well, and Wendy & Peter Pan were particularly good.

Obviously, this isn’t a decree, it’s a conversation. Tell me I’m wrong, what I’ve missed, what I’d like, what I have to look forward to.

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Blogging will be a thing again, and some reviews

Blogging has again become sporadic and erratic. Fear not Putting on a Show will return, as will #fridayflash, but travelling and other factors have caused some skip weeks.

You’re probably owed an explanation of what else I’ve been up to creatively apart from Nando’s, but sadly the answer to that is not much. Rehearsing a musical somewhere you don’t live, setting up a multiplatform writing partnership, attempting to escape graduate unemployment, and readjusting to the family home and its pets and schedules, plus god knows what else, has very much taken up the available brain space that I would prefer to use for creativity. As such, not much is getting done, I’m afraid.

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Input, output, poem

Hello again. My brief life update is that my collaboration Nando’s and Nandon’ts recieved its second draft performance at the Y Theatre, Leicester, which was enormously helpful, and I look forward to working it up into a full piece with Will Breden. Also, DSMing Curve Young Company’s The Tempest turns full-on on Monday, as tech/show week starts! Strange to think exactly a year after the Shakespeare Marathon (if I didn’t write about it this time last year prod me for details), I’m doing another many-hours Bard project.

For this entry I thought I’d go a little more into what I’ve been putting into my brain, since it will out itself eventually in my writing. Also, I have many thoughts about some things. I’m going to look at a book, a comic, and a film. Then there’s a poem I happened to write for those who scroll to the end. UPDATE: I’ve also renovated the poetry and prose sections.

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Review in The Ripple

A quick update – the work for The Ripple I mentioned a while back has basically culminated in this one album review. It’s only a hundred words in print, but longer here. I’m currently mulling over whether the investment was worth the result. At this moment, I’m not feeling it.

Spector – Enjoy It While It Lasts

James Ward

By titling their album Enjoy it While It Lasts, Spector seem to be following The Vaccines by deliberately underselling their debut. It certainly starts softly, with ‘True Love (For Now)’ featuring a building synth intro. The drums kick in for the second verse, and soon enough we’re into a big chorus, with crashing drums, guitars and mastered to make your ears bleed. They’re pretty good at them, which is fortunate because it’s the record’s main characteristic. Indeed, the strongest tracks such as ‘Chevy Thunder’ and ‘Celestine’ rip along bearing some cracking melodies to shout-along to. Spector also do a line in synthesiser-led atmospheric ballads, such as ‘Grey Suit & Tie’ and ‘Lay Low’, which are perfectly fine but nowhere near as thrilling. The best example is ‘Never Fade Away’, which makes up for not being the Buddy Holly song by building gradually and satisfyingly to a suitably grandiose finale. It also benefits from being one of the few songs where there is actually space in the mix, giving you a chance to listen to its elements rather than be blasted at by them.

The album title also points to a melancholic vein in the record. Songs such as ‘Twenty Nothing’ may sound chirpy enough, but the lyrics tend to look wistfully back at teenage abandon rather than live in the heat of it. The break-ups outnumber the hook-ups, and the declaration of ‘Friday Night, Don’t Ever Let It End’ is delivered dripping with irony. Indeed, Fred Macpherson’s singing is pretty much Spector’s only USP – none of the instrumentation stands out as particularly inspired, much of it being a basic backing white noise. Macpherson has a deeper, more ringing sound than many other indie rock vocalists, which gives the band a grander tone. However, he performs with a strange mix of sincerity and ironic detachment, which isn’t an issue on the faster tracks but muddies the enjoyment of songs such as ‘No Adventure’. Ultimately, what this suggests is while Spector may have some witty turns of phrase, there’s no depth to the music. Although, I suppose suggesting this album is mainly concerned with surface sound is obvious from the first play.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with an album being all looks, but it does jeopardise an album’s staying power. There’s certainly nothing here to suggest any future for the band, and the record may well be swept under the carpet and forgotten by next year. However, the big songs are great fun to blast, nothing save ‘Grim Reefer’ drags and it’s perfectly pleasant to mix in amongst whatever else you may be listening to at pre-drinking. So, with Enjoy It While It Lasts, we have an album where the title accurately describes the experience. The Trading Standards Agency will be so pleased.

The Ripple

Lower Than Atlantis – Changing Tune

John Anderson

2012 has been set up to be Lower Than Atlantis’ year in the realm of small-to-medium sized UK rock bands. Their first ever headline tour sold out entirely via pre-sale. Radio One guru Zane Lowe had been a fervent advocate of the Watford quartet for a good twelve months. They signed a deal with Island Records making them labelmates with such eclectic and superstar artists as Tori Amos, Mariah Carey, Justin Bieber and Psy (yes, Gangnam Style). Promises are tricky fiends, however, despite all the hype their forthcoming album exuded.

LTA’s first two full-lengths are modern British rock gems. Far Q took the hardcore stylings of early work and melded it with a heavy Foo Fighters alternative influence – the British tend to do things with more grit than Americans. Rough around the edges, this latter style emerged fully-fledged from chrysalis on…

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