Not so much theatre shows as exercises in tedium, these new pieces from Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh would never have seen the light of day if they didn’t have his name attached. An audience expecting the skanky wit and vim of Trainspotting will be disappointed by this duo of tired and clumsy plays.
Performers, written with Dean Cavanagh, is potentially the more interesting of the two. Apparently, when making the 1970 movie Performance, which starred Mick Jagger and James Fox, directors Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell wanted to hire real villains to play the gangsters. Their quest for authenticity sees low-life criminals Alf (Perry Benson) and Bert (George Russo) turning up at the production offices. But with slack direction from Nick Moran, it has all the tension of a used teabag. The comic tour de force that is supposed to ensue when a pretentious young assistant director persuades Alf to take off his clothes is embarrassingly limp.
Set in 1969, it would have looked dated and if it had actually been written that year, and – in their own quest for authenticity – Welsh and Cavanagh appear to have copied out a cockney rhyming slang dictionary lock, stock and barrel.
If Performers aims for comic grittiness and misses by a mile, Creatives is all bland, slick shininess; straight out of the Fame mould. It’s a musical, written with Don de Grazia, about a group of would-be songwriters attending a Chicago course run by former punk Paul, whose career has nosedived and whose personal life is complicated.
The students are all stereotypes, ranging from moody goth girl to (bizarrely) a redneck Trump supporter, and the entire thing starts to resemble an audition for the X Factor but with less convincing back stories, until a violent plot twist pushes it into outright melodrama.
The US cast are game, and Laurence Mark Wythe’s music and lyrics cry out for a better vehicle than this cliched attempt to explore the price of creativity and the pressures to sell out for a quick buck. One imagines that is exactly what Welsh has done with these abysmal efforts.
You can practically see it from here… ” Kenneth Branagh’s stoical naval commander is talking about “home”, the word that recurs throughout Christopher Nolan’s long-nurtured epic of wartime retreat. Yet he could equally have been referring to the Imax 70mm presentation in which I saw Dunkirk, and which was also probably visible from France – a jaw-dropping spectacle in which the picture for the most part stretched beyond my field of vision, both vertically and horizontally. “We have a big love for the big format,” says cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, who works agile wonders with the bulky film cameras used to capture such stunning images. Available in a dizzying array of projection formats (digital, 35mm, 70mm etc), Dunkirk hits our screens with aspect ratios ranging from square to oblong and all points in between, depending upon which version you choose to see. But see it you must.
The story of the Dunkirkevacuation, which saw a flotilla of small civilian vessels assist in the rescue of stranded troops from France in 1940, has been addressed before on screen. As early as 1942, William Wyler’s Oscar-winner Mrs Miniver was painting a morale-boosting portrait of ordinary people volunteering to make the cross-channel crusade, while in 1958’s Dunkirk Leslie Norman (father of Barry) gave us John Mills and Richard Attenborough exhibiting British pluck.
More recently we’ve had the astonishingly choreographed beach scene of Joe Wright’s Atonement (2007), and the larkiness of Bill Nighy bumbling through a wartime film shoot (“Can someone please get Mr Hilliard out of Dunkirk!”) in Lone Scherfig’s Their Finest. Yet despite such diverse precedents, writer/director Nolan makes this land his own with a film that will doubtless become the definitive cinematic depiction of this remarkable chapter of history.
We open with a street skirmish, as Fionn Whitehead’s young Tommy scurries toward the Dunkirk seafront, dodging bullets and falling leaflets that threateningly declare “We surround you!” Intertitles tell us that British and French troops are “hoping for deliverance… for a miracle”, while the Bergman-esque spectre of death haunts the beach. Entitled “The Mole” (after the jutting stone and wood structure from which marine evacuation beckons), this land-based narrative strand is one of three. A second, “The Sea”, finds Mark Rylance’s determined Mr Dawson piloting his “pleasure craft” across the Channel, picking up Cillian Murphy’s shellshocked soldier en route. A third, “The Air”, follows Tom Hardy’s Spitfire pilot Farrier as he battles with the Luftwaffe.
Ingeniously, these strands play out over three different time periods; one week, one day and one hour respectively. As the stories interlace, with boats, boots and planes converging at Dunkirk, so time itself is variously compressed and elongated in Inception-like loops, conjuring shifts and reversals as complex – yet still crucially as clear – as those of Nolan’s 2000 psychological thriller Memento. For all its visual splendour, Dunkirk is a masterclass in dextrous temporal elasticity, a recurrent theme for Nolan, sparked by his love of Graham Swift’s novel Waterland and explored most recently in Interstellar.With its thunderous sound design, Dunkirk assaults our senses. Yet minimal dialogue means that large sections of the film play like classic silent cinema, owing more of a debt to Abel Gance’s Napoleon (1927)than to Guy Hamilton’s The Battle of Britain (1969). As for the dogfights, they rival Howard Hughes’s 1930 Hell’s Angels in terms of audience impact, placing us right there in the cockpit amid breathtaking expanses of sky. It’s an utterly immersive experience that fulfils Nolan’s promise of creating “virtual reality without the goggles”.
Beneath it all is Hans Zimmer’s devastating score, a blend of regret, tension and expectation that rises like the tide, moving from metronomic staccato stabs through growling bass beats to ethereal elegiac suspensions that bizarrely bridge the gap between Elgar and Angelo Badalamenti. Even the most nail-biting sequences have a mournful quality – Nolan cites All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)as a tonal inspiration – with which Zimmer is perfectly in tune.
There are a few false notes. Although structurally immaculate, Nolan’s script requires former One Direction star Harry Styles to deliver a line about someone having “an accent thicker than sauerkraut sauce”, a challenge even for an accomplished actor. But such quibbles aside, I was left marvelling that a film of such scale was ultimately defined not by its action sequences, but by quieter visions – of a man walking hopelessly into the sea (towards home?), or the expression on Branagh’s face as he stares out into the lost horizon. These are the things that stayed with me and that will stand the test of time.
25th over: India 92-2 (Punam 39, Harmanpreet 32). Sciver brought back to replace Marsh. Keeps Punam honest, a decent shout for leg before. It’s going down, and then quickly realise that and don’t review. Mel Jones on radio complimentary of Sarah Taylor’s influence in preventing any wild referrals. Four singles, including another Punam ramp. We’re at the half-way mark. England were 103-3. Don’t yell at me, I know this means nothing. I’m just sharing.
24th over: India 88-2 (Punam 36, Harmanpreet 30). Oh that’s magnificent from Harmanpreet, the back pad along the ground, swinging with the straightest arms. The contact enough, landing in the grandstand, the chap in the front row putting down the catch. Second time she’s done that. Into the 30s. Nine from the Hartley over – the bowler she seems most keen to take on, much as she was the left-arm orthodox of Jess Jonassen on Thursday. She won’t need long to rip this game apart.
23rd over: India 79-2 (Punam 36, Harmanpreet 22). Marsh’s third over on the bounce where four singles have been added. Nothing more. Both sides probably happy enough with that. Three of those down the ground. A scoop too. Punam had a couple of goes at that now.
“It seems an obvious point to make but Jenny Gunn is a bit good, isn’t she?” James Higgott likes the England all-rounder’s work. “She fires them in, barrel straight, on target every time. She’s an automatic pick for me. I’m glad they’ve held a few of her overs back, keeping her powder dry for later.”
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22nd over: India 75-2 (Punam 34, Harmanpreet 20). Hartley encourages a Harmanpreet dance early in the over. As I tried to explain after her 171 the other day, you just have to hold your breathwhen she goes down the track like that. Each time is an event. It only gets her a single this time though. Two from it. Hartley doing plenty right here early on.21st over: India 73-2 (Punam 33, Harmanpreet 19). 75 for Duckworth Lewis at the end of this over. I raise this becuase we have a game with 20 overs now registered. They get four from the over, all risk-free, leaving them two runs short of that mark. But the point is, we have a smashing contest on our hands here. Especially with Harmanpreet now up and about. Get yourself in front of a TV. This is spot on. 20th over: India 69-2 (Punam 31, Harmanpreet 17). A mate of mine popped on the social media the other day that when his boy grows up he hopes he can keep like Sarah Taylor. She shows her unique game awareness again here, dancing around while Punam is mid-ramp. So close to gloving it, too. Oh but forget about that: Harmanpreet has just done her thing! Dance, stop prop, swing of the arms, connect, six! And a big’un! Nearly into the crowd, 20m beyond the actual boundary. On ABC TV in Australia overnight Gideon Haigh compared her posture to that of the iconic Victor Trumper image (that he’s literally written the book on, so he would know). Buckle up. 19th over: India 59-2 (Punam 28, Harmanpreet 10). Excellent little session since Raj was removed, England conceding 16 runs in 35 balls thereafter with Marsh’s set here conceding four. India helped by a legside wide. But it did give Taylor the chance to show off her mad skillz again behind the stumps.18th over: India 55-2 (Punam 27, Harmanpreet 8). Right, so it’s Hartley. We’ve seen her left-arm spin claim big wickets in this tournament, not least Meg Lanning. That was the game with the biggest crowd before this one, and she as ice cold under pressure. Here, she tosses it up to Harmanpreet from the get go, 45mph. Five high-quality dots before the Indian matchwinner goes sweeping to end the set. A single to square leg keeps her the strike. Big contest between those two coming up, surely.17th over: India 54-2 (Punam 27, Harmanpreet 7). Marsh giving it some air, encouraging both the drive. Harmanpreet doesn’t make great contact and it goes back to the bowler. Looked close to reaching her on the full. Not to be. Punam more convincing, out to deep point for a couple. Four from it. Time for a drink in the middle, with Alex Hartley ready to take the ball for the first time in England’s defence of 228 when they return. And for those on weather watch, it is very sunny. And we’re three overs away from “a game” as they say in DLS speak. On the radio, Lottie says England are “just in front.” 16th over: India 50-2 (Punam 24, Harmanpreet 6). Maiden for Jenny Gunn. Completed after a fantasic diving stop on the circle at cover to end the over. Didn’t quite catch who it was – maybe Beaumont. That’s what India did so well. The standard of fielding lifting for the final.
Spider-Man: Homecoming: ‘bouncy, likable and completely devoid of threat’. Photograph: Allstar/Marvel Studios/Columbia Pictures
Even diehard comic-book movie fans must have noticed by now the glitch in the Avengers universe. Whatever algorithm is used to calculate the perfect ratio of self-satisfied banter to bludgeoning FX has resulted in ever-decreasing variations on a theme. If not quite the same movie, they recycle the same plot points and devices, the same blustering displays of CGI muscle. Deep within the Marvel laboratories, it seems genetic experiments have been taking place as the DNA of the comic-book action flick is spliced with that of other films. Spider-Man: Homecoming is the labradoodle of this cross-genre breeding programme. Part superhero movie, part high-school coming-of-age story, it’s bouncy, likable and completely devoid of threat.
This latest reboot of the webslinger narrative casts Tom Holland as an irrepressible 15-year-old Peter Parker. As eager to please as a puppy, his taste of Avengers action (a cameo at the end of Captain America: Civil War) has left him hungry to right wrongs. So far, more Spider-Boy than man, his ventures have been low-key and the rewards minor (a churro from a nice Dominican lady he helped across the road). But then he stumbles across a crime scene beefed up with some serious alien-sourced weapons tech. And he finds himself on the radar of scissor-winged scavenger the Vulture (Michael Keaton). Meanwhile, in the real world, he struggles with teen angst, high-school social standing and a bruising crush on Liz (Laura Harrier), the unobtainable debate-club beauty.
A deft reveal on the night of the school dance links Peter’s two parallel lives together; but the action climax that follows – a battle fought on the outside of a camouflaged Stark Industries transport plane – is an onslaught of effects so confusing that you forget to worry about the outcome.
In fact, the only moment of real tension in the preview I attended came when my son got his arm wedged in the cup-holder of his chair. Anyone who has ever had to try and prise the arm fat of a panicking child out of a circulation-stopping plastic ring is unlikely to be particularly fazed by the sight of Michael Keatonwearing a beak.