Parky At the Pictures (14/10/2022)
(Reviews of Tomorrow Morning; In From the Side; and All That Breathes)
Laurence Mark Whyte's 2008 musical, Tomorrow Morning, has enjoyed considerable success on stage. In adapting it for Nick Winston's screen version, Whyte has written a handful of new songs. However, he has also removed the show's big reveal by making it clear that a decade separates the wedding and divorce sequences and that the characters involved (despite the different names) are the same two people. Presumably Jack/John has been changed to Will/Bill so the Cat/Catherine dynamic has a smirking royal associations.
Having cast musical theatre talents like Samantha Barks and Ramin Karimloo, this makes sense. It also puts the film in firmly the stage transfer tradition, as Hollywood frequently dropped items from the Broadway song score and replaced them with numbers to which they already held the rights or new compositions by in-house tunesmiths. However, it leaves one wondering what motivated the changes and how they change the musical, let alone whether they improve it.
Catherine (Barks) and Bill (Karimloo) are about to get a divorce. Adding to the pressure is the fact that he is late with the strapline for the diamond campaign fronted by agency boss Karen (Anita Dobson), while Catherine is finalising the settlement terms with lawyer Jonathan (Henry Goodman). A decade earlier, Will had plans to become a novelist, while budding artist Cat was excited about buying a wedding dress with her mum, Joy (Harriet Thorpe), and best friend, India (Fleur East). A bout of morning sickness changed the tone, however.
Ten years on, son Zach (Oliver Clayton) hates hearing his parents bicker and isn't looking forward into moving out of the Wapping penthouse and changing schools. Nana Anna (Joan Collins) badgers Catherine to make sure she keeps the penthouse, while Bill is determined to sell because he won't be able to afford alternative accommodation. Despite the nagging of father Dariush (Omad Djalili), however, he doesn't want to make extravagant demands in the financial settlement.
Tormented by his situation, Bill reflects on the ambitions he had when he first met Cat and how they had slipped through his fingers as she had become successful and too preoccupied to laugh at his jokes. Workmate Rachel (Adwoa Akoto) had flirted with him and he made her cry by insisting he still loved his wife. But Catherine had taken his post-40 confession that he needed to see if he could retrieve his dreams very badly and the rot had set in.
Following a clumsy flashback to Will boozing with mate Nick (George Maguire) on the night before the wedding (to showcase a salsa routine featuring Strictly Come Dancing's Karen Hauer), Bill and Catherine sing a miles-apart duet about how good they used to be together and how they wish they could put things right. A decade earlier, Cat had been summoning the courage to tell Will on the night before the wedding that she's pregnant. But, now, she's discovered that Zach has run away and she calls Bill (who is having a moment watching his younger and older selves chatting across a table) to find him.
He's waiting at Bill's place and he delivers him home. But he winds up arguing with Catherine (even though they sing a parted duet about their shared love for their son) and she sings a summation solo in her studio (complete with a passage about running gag ex-boyfriend, David Koplinsky [Alex Michael Stoll]), which culminates in her deciding she'd live her life in the same way again. A lurch back takes us to Tower Bridge on the night before the big day, with Will delighted about the pregnancy and them vowing to remember this feeling to get them though the tough times.
On the morning of the divorce hearing, Bill comes to take Zach to school. His simple words of wisdom inspire Bill to tell Catherine that he's made a mistake and wants to stay together. Just like that, her heart melts and we flip back to the split-screen dance routines at their wedding reception before we close with the happy family gazing across the Thames.
While watching this eager, but far from engaging feature, it's hard not to be reminded of Jason Robert Brown's 2001 musical, The Last Five Years. This centres on a novelist and an actress going through a crisis and was filmed with Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick by Richard LaGravanese in 2014. It's not that musically appealing or dramatically innovative, but it feels markedly more filmic than this rather hollow series of mediocre pop videos linked together by soap opera dialogue.
Despite the best efforts of the willing leads, the characters are paper thin and descend from soppy to self-absorbed during the course of a marriage that appears devoid of any unifying bonds. Even their son feels more like a convenient plot device than a cherished product of all-embracing love. Consequently, it's hard to care about Will/Cat/Bill/Catherine or their fate, especially as the lyrics offer little or no psychological insight or palpable emotion worthy of empathy.
The songs are okay in the modern idiom popularised by the likes of Jonathan Larson, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Benji Pasek and Justin Paul. But the melodies feel very generic, while the lyrics are hardly Cole Porter. Hardly helping matters is Theo Buckley's muzaky score, which feels as bland as Dave Thorp's visuals and Kiara Gourlay's colour supplement interiors, while Cat's paintings and Bill's copywriting are similarly blah. Christopher David's editing is more accomplished, as it pieces together scenes and songs from two different timeframes. But Nick Winston (who worked with Barks and Karimloo on a Tokyo production of Chess) consistently falls into first-timer traps that expose the chasm between directing for the stage and the screen.
IN FROM THE SIDE.
It seems odd that a film about being a team player should have been directed, co-written, photographed, edited, scored, sound designed, foleyed, and co-produced by one man. It's almost a surprise to discover that he didn't treat himself to a choice acting role or even a walk-on cameo, although he did have a hand in the costume design, the casting, the transportation and singing some of the original songs. But the debuting Matt Carter is clearly keen to use In From the Side to showcase his varied talents. He also has credit for the closing crawl animation and the visual effects, although there isn't much call for digital wizardry in this tale of a divisive romance at a gay rugby club.
Mark Newton (Alexander Lincoln) has just joined the B team at the South London Stags rugby club. But not everyone is happy about the 2nd XV and there's a definite resentment about the A squad's arrogant sense of entitlement. It's awkward, therefore, when Mark tumbles into bed with Warren Hunt (Alexander King), as he's not only a first-teamer, but also in a long-term relationship with teammate John Penrose (Peter McPherson). As it happens, Mark is also living with Richard (Alex Hammond). But he is always away for work and, besides, they have an open arrangement.
Having exchanged glances at training, they have another tryst when Warren comes to the Elephant & Castle apartment to apologise. They also end up at dinner together because John is pals with Mark's mate, Henry (William Hearle). Following a night at a funfair, Mark takes a Polaroid of Warren in bed, knowing he is breaking Richard's rule about honesty and repeat dates. But he's the one who is furious when Warren gets himself picked for an away game in Cardiff and books them a hotel room.
Under coach Stuart (Chris Garner) and skipper Jimmy (Christopher Sherwood), the team secures its first victory on a quagmire under leaden skies. Warren is named man of the match, although Gareth (Carl Loughlin) resents him taking his place. Henry gets maudlin because he rarely sees Mark anymore and he entrusts him to team comedian, Pinky (Pearse Egan), while he goes in search of Warren.
A night of torrid passion ensues, which lands Mark in hot water at breakfast when his teammates complain about having to look after a very wasted Henry. Anxious glances are exchanged on the train home, where Mark gets jittery when Richard finds Warren's shirt in his kitbag. They squabble about Christmas arrangements and Henry gives Mark grief about being a rubbish friend. So, after a knee-trembler in a toilet cubicle at the clubhouse, Mark invites John to spend the holidays with his parents, Leonard (Nigel Fairs) and Alice (Mary Lincoln), in Aspen, Colorado.
All looks fun from the snowy montage, but mum plants a seed of doubt when she tells Mark how she stole his father from his high-school sweetheart and warns him that liaisons derived from deception will always be prone to more. Confused after dad advises him to seize the day, Mark gets home to an empty flat and a maelstrom of trouble when he and Warren are rumbled at the spiteful Gareth's New Year party and John punches him to the floor.
Getting home to find Richard with the Polaroid, Mark cries as he's given his marching order. Leaving next day with a holdall and a single cardboard box, he moves into a hotel. Three months later, he's found a flat and meets up with Pinky, who tells him that the B team has been disbanded for besmirching the Stag name. He urges Warren to contact Mark and they have an uncomfortable reunion on a park bench, as Mark insists Warren had his chance and blew it.
Missing his rugby, Mark returns to training and scores the key try as the Stags beat Rochester in their final game. Warren and Richard are on the touchline, as is the club chairman, Barry (Tom Murphy). As he is reminded by Stuart that winning isn't everything, Mark and Richard have a quiet moment together, as do Mark and Warren, as the latter announces he's leaving the club. They kiss and Warren sobs over a montage flashback of idyllic moments. In the bar, Mark celebrates with his pals and catches the eye of a hunky opponent.
Taking its title from an infringement at a ruck or maul, this is a may be as sleek as a slaloming centre, but it's also as ponderous as a lumbering prop. Carter and co-scribe Adam Silver elongate each scene and drench them in syrupy muzak that makes it difficult for viewers to have their own emotional response to the action. The Aspen sequence feels expendable, as does the subplot involving the waywardly neglected Henry, if only because he's as much of a stick figure as the other rugger chums and the cuckolded partners.
Alexander Lincoln and Alexander King aren't given much chance to generate sparks, but the former holds the piece together in his more vulnerable moments. Pearse Egan also leaves his mark as the Irishman giving rugby another go after being mercilessly teased at school. He also looks the part in the training and match-day scenes, which have admirable (if homoerotic) authenticity thanks to Carter's experience as a coach.
His use of light, colour and tone is also commendable, with the shots of the nocturnal Thameside skyline being particularly evocative. Indeed, for all the first paragraph teasing, Carter acquits himself well in all other regards, too, although he overdoes the montages and the score is inescapable. What's not in doubt, thought, is that the Kickstarter contributors got their money's worth.
ALL THAT BREATHES.
Having reported on the perils facing the homeless of New Delhi in Cities of Sleep (2015), documentarist Shaunak Sen turns his attention to air pollution and political protest in All That Breathes, which profiles a pair of brothers who have dedicated themselves to caring for the Indian capital's avian population.
Night in the mainly Muslim neighbourhood of
Ghazipur. The human population may be asleep, but cats, dogs and lots of rats are very much awake on a litter-strewn patch of wasteland. Morning comes and ants scurry through a puddle, as goats are herded by. People go about their business in the bustling streets, unaware that they are being watched from above by a gliding black kite.
Brothers Mohammed Saud and Nadeem Shahzad started tending to injured birds when they were teenage bodybuilders. They had been taught that helping birds would bring a `sawab' or religious blessing and founded Wildlife Rescue in 2003 to minister to birds in need. They run a soap dispenser business on the side, with their cousin assistant Salik Rehman, who has his glasses swiped from his face while feeding the kites on the roof.
As they work, the conversation turns to the impact that a nuclear war between India and Pakistan would have on the kites. They wander by the river that attracts wild boar under cover of darkness and spot a wounded bird on an island. Saud and Salik strip off to their shorts to swim across and retrieve it in a floating box. Nadeem ticks them off from the bank, only for the creature to die during a power cut as it's being treated.
A centipede crawls out of a puddle that reflects an aeroplane flying overhead, as Nadeem muses in voiceover about the way in which wildlife adapts to its changing environment. Meanwhile, a dispute about the one-bounce catch rule flares up during an indoor game of cricket before work resumes. The siblings discuss a rejected funding application and the need to shore up their property against the monsoon floods. All the time, the rescued birds perch silently and stare at the camera. Over supper, the talk is dominated by proposed measures to deport Pakistani and Bangladeshi residents, even though religious discrimination is outlawed by the Indian constitution.
The sky fills with circling kites, while others brood watchfully on an undulating landfill site. A brother explains how the birds have learned to adapt to exploit their changing relationship with humankind and notes that urban kites have much sharper wits than their country cousins. Some have started putting cigarette butts in their cages to keep ticks away. Salik learns that Nature finds a way to deal with waste and how the kites took over when the vultures left. But there are tensions between the brothers as the price of meat rises and the grinder they use to mince it keeps breaking down.
Nadeem concedes that things are difficult, as birds are dropping from the sky. Delhi is an open wound and Wildlife Rescue is merely a tiny Band Aid. After 20 years of sacrifice, he wonders if there isn't more to life, while Saud continues to focus on the job in hand. He used to dream of flying as a boy, but realises that humans can never understand animals, no matter how much we love them. They credit their devotion to their late mother, who taught them about the interdependency of everything that breathes and they press on with their mission, even though it often feels like a losing cause.
Shortly after they deal with an aggressive pair of nesting parents on a neighbour's roof, the brothers have a foreign funding application approved after they are profiled by the New York Times. They use the money to move out of the basement and build a hospital on the roof. However, Saud feels betrayed when Nadeem is offered a chance to study in the United States. He also has misgivings when his wife, Tabassum, insists he should go on one of the demonstrations against the proposed amendments to the Citizenship Act, but he claims to be too busy.
There is an increase in the number of ailing kites and Saud is dismayed by how many are dying. Moreover, the meat freezer has broken down and can't be repaired. Salik (who keeps a baby chipmunk in his shirt pocket) does what he can, but becomes despondent at having to bury so many birds. Their situation is mirrored by shots of a small tortoise negotiating its way through rubbish, a frog silhouetted against street bonfires, monkeys clambering over fences, cows wading through flood water, and the kites huddled in the cages.
Violent sectarian protests follow looting in the area and the casualties rise. We see phone footage of a Hindu rioter climbing the minaret of a mosque to remove its crescent sign. Saud sends his wife, children and father to relatives in Old Delhi, while he joins Nadeem and Salik at the opening of their new cage. It's a small triumph to see one of their patients taking to the skies again. Similarly when the new Wildlife Rescue sign is hung outside. But they worry the roads are becoming too pitted for people to bring them birds and the film ends on a downbeat, as the line freezes as Nadeem tries to greet Saud from America.
Keen to make a film about birds without making a Nature documentary, Shaunak Sen has succeeded in producing a lyrically melancholic rumination on the fragility of life and the interdependence of the species. Abetted by cinematographer Ben Bernhard and colleagues Riju Das and Saumyananda Sahi, he shows the proximity of the creatures in the Delhi neighbourhood and how life is, for the majority of them, a daily struggle. The search for food and shelter is paramount and, consequently, even the scurrying ranks of rodents are not demonised.
But it's the black kites who are prioritised, as Sen shows them swirling en masse and suffering in isolation. Many are stricken by the deteriorating air quality, but others have had their wings damaged by the manja string attached to the colourful paper kites that so many fly from their rooftops. They look so lifeless when Salik fishes them out of the cardboard boxes he uses to carry them to Wildlife Rescue. But under Nadeem and Saud's skilled hands, they are healed and left to recover in their crowded cages.
Over the years, they have tended to around 20,000 birds. Some, like the nesting father, are released as quickly as possible so that they can return to their egg-sitting duties. All are treated with dignity and diligence by the amateur vets who are driven by their faith and the memory of their mother's gentle goodness.
We don't see many people outside the immediate family and more might have been made of Tabassum's opinion of her husband's all-encompassing workload. But the outside world leaks in through news bulletins and the sound of protest marches and street fighting. Sen avoids making overt political points, but the message of co-existence is both tacit and potent.