Noel Gallagher live at BBC Radio Theatre, 07/12/2015

Setlist
1. It’s Good To Be Free
2. Talk Tonight
3. The Death Of You And Me
4. If I Had A Gun
5. Do You Wanna Be A Spaceman
6. Listen Up
7. Sad Song
8. The Importance of Being Idle
9. Cast No Shadow
10. Half The World Away
11. Slide Away
12. Wonderwall
13. AKA… What A Life
14. Don’t Look Back In Anger

Review
It’s not common to see an artist of Noel Gallagher’s stature in such a small venue. He may be seen at times to be divisive and opinionated, but whether you like him as a person or not, it’s hard to argue against his contribution to the music industry over the last two decades. His successes were never more apparent than tonight’s career-spanning setlist featuring new stripped-down twists on many familiar songs.

In terms of importance, doing a gig like this for BBC Radio 2 is about as big as it gets for most artists. Today Noel has performed a sound check during the Ken Bruce show in the morning (actually just a performance) and was then interviewee during the Simon Mayo drive-time show. The main event was an hour-long performance for Jo Whiley at 8pm, delivered in the intimate 400-capacity BBC Radio Theatre venue but beamed to millions around the world. So that’s three shows with very different demographics, plus the additional buzz for the last week or so on every show on the most popular radio station in Britain, plus coverage on the Red Button on any BBC TV channel.

Whilst Noel Gallagher doesn’t really need to do this now – he’s popular enough that his name will sell enough albums and tickets to turn a profit for everything he does – it’s impeccable timing with all those husbands’ and dads’ stockings to fill and a tour with a smattering of tickets left. It’s never a bad thing to remind everyone how good your tunes are. And that is exactly what he does.

The audience would have been forgiven for expecting stripped down versions of songs from his latest record. His second album Chasing Yesterday, released earlier this year, silenced anyone who was suggesting his debut was only good because he’s been saving songs from Oasis albums throughout their career. It was arguably better than that excellent debut album. However, Chasing Yesterday was conspicuous by its complete absence from the set tonight.

Indeed, prior to the gig my brother and I had joked about what songs he was going to play. Whatever we said, we didn’t honestly think we’d get six Oasis b-sides, two Oasis album tracks, three huge Oasis singles and just three High Flying Birds tracks (all from the first album). By the time Sad Song was being played, we genuinely wondered whether the suggestion that he’d play Little James as the encore seemed a little less unlikely.

With each track completely stripped down to suit the setting and played by a tightly rehearsed band, the songs have rarely sounded this good. This time 10000+ fans weren’t going to be singing every line back to him and with it being transmitted around the globe, precision was key.

So if the goal wasn’t to promote the new album but rather remind the world exactly just how good his back catalogue was, then this was the perfect night for Noel. Topped off with some great banter with the audience (Stoke and John Lewis were on the receiving end of some sharp quips) and a well-behaved crowd (sadly a rarity for Oasis-related gigs), it couldn’t have gone better. The audience left in disbelief that they’d seen so many songs they never thought they’d see live, all the more special when seen in such an intimate setting.

An excellent performance. Well done sir.

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David Nicholas Wilkinson and the truth behind the birth of cinema

The First Film is an explorative documentary film that follows writer, producer, director and presenter David Nicholas Wilkinson in his quest to determine whether or not the first film footage ever recorded was done so in Leeds on 14th October 1888. The footage at the centre of the film is titled Roundhay Garden Scene, filmed by the Frenchman Louis Le Prince. It lasts only a few seconds but is possibly one of the most important breakthroughs in cinematic history.

Wilkinson explores the background of this footage and its claim to being either the first ever recorded film footage or simply the earliest surviving film footage. He also looks into the strange disappearance of Le Prince on 16th September 1890 on a train from Dijon to Paris, a disappearance that meant the argument of Le Prince being the inventor of the moving image cameras had lost its most important voice, paving the way for Thomas Edison to go down in the history books as the inventor of the movie camera. Things get very suspicious when the death of his son Adolphe in an unusual hunting incident in July 1901 lays his argument to rest.

A groundbreaking piece of cinematic history

When I caught up with David Nicholas Wilkinson to discuss the film, he reflected on the underwhelming appearance of the location as it stands today, a discovery that produces one of the most memorable scenes in the film.

“One of the first shots we filmed was of me finding the original location of the scene. I had to laugh. I had no idea what to expect but a cul-de-sac is about as banal a setting as I could imagine.” His presenting style is infectious even when he encounters disappointments like these, such is his passion for the subject matter. He remains upbeat despite such adversity: “I had hoped for something to be left, even if it was a tree.”

A key fact that the film explores is whether or not a photograph in a French morgue is that of Le Prince. It shows only the face of a deceased man who looks remarkably like the groundbreaking filmmaker, but David is not convinced. “I don’t really think it’s him. In 1890 the average height of a man in France was around 5ft 6in. Le Prince was actually 6ft 4in. In the accompanying notes for the photograph, anything unusual or out of the ordinary had been recorded for each person, though it was very scant in general. If it was definitely him it would have been recorded.”

Only one shot that had to be re-filmed, which meant both David and his co-writer Irfan Shan had to try their hand at acting surprised at discovering Le Prince’s grave. “He never wanted to be in it, but he knew most of the answers and stopped me making mistakes.”

The last-minute curveball

As we come to the end of the film, a late revelation throws the argument up in the air again through a discovery by Laurie Schneider. As David explains, “We had to delay. Everyone wanted me to cut it but once I knew what I’d found out about it I knew it was vital to the story.” The fact David’s discoveries are captured on camera means the audience goes on the journey with him, leaving the story open to these kinds of curveballs throughout.

Whilst the film explores the three most plausible explanations for the disappearance of Le Prince, David explains that there are many more doing the rounds. “There are around ten theories about what happened. One theory is that he was a spy for both Britain and USA during a time when there was a threat of a second French Revolution. Another is that he was filming snuff films with Jack The Ripper…” As he tails off there is something in his voice that gives the impression he doesn’t quite believe these avenues of thought.

It is clearly a labour of love and he has produced a compelling argument on what was likely a relatively small budget. One source of frustration for him came from the British Film Institution. “I went for a BFI distribution loan, which would allow me to visit colleges and universities around the UK. I had agreements with thirty out of a planned fifty and saw it as a great way to get the truth around. I was turned down because it was deemed “too educational”. I’m sure their remit is to promote the British film industry. I can’t come up with a tangible reason for it. Maybe they don’t believe me.”

David is the driving force behind the film.

David’s relentless passion for the project is infectious.

The driving force is Wilkinson himself and it becomes very easy to get wrapped up in his determined narrative. This determination comes despite concerns about the film’s viability. “It was a big worry because it had been rejected so many times. I’d been advised not to do it, but I knew people would be interested in this story.” It appears he is correct in this thought given the amount of coverage it is now getting in national newspapers. “It’s a forgotten story and an important part of our history as a film-making nation. People will now know the Le Prince name. In fact, the widespread coverage means the story is getting out even to people who haven’t seen the film.”

“The film has been thirty-three years in the making”, he states, referring to that point being the first time he pitched it to the BBC in 1982. “I’ve laid it to rest now though. Now that it’s out there I can move on. It’s often the case with filmmakers that the one project we’re really passionate about is the one that never gets made. People go decades without making a project and I often believe that they don’t really want it to get made.” It’s lucky that David’s one project was this one and we’re lucky to be able to hear the story, albeit 125 years late. The story deserved to be told and now it deserves to be seen.

The First Film is on limited release now, with the following cinemas offering screenings over the next month.

July

03.07.15 – Regent Street Cinema London
04.07.15 – Regent Street Cinema London
08.07.15 – Gate Cinema London
11.07.15 – Galway Film Fleadh – Ireland
14.07.15 – Triskel Arts Centre, Cork – Ireland
15.07.15 – IFI, Dublin – Ireland
16.07.15 – Queens Film Theatre, Belfast
20.07.15 – Greenwich Picturehouse London
23.07.15 – Ritzy, Brixton, London
26.07.15 – Cambridge Picturehouse
28.07.15 – Norden Farm, Maidenhead
30.07.15 – Kingston Arts Centre

August

01.08.15 – Bath Picturehouse
03.08.15 – Home Manchester
05.08.15 – Vue Leeds
06.08.15 – City Screen, York
07.08.15 – Sheffield Showroom
09:08:15 – Hebden Bridge Picture House
13.08.15 – Electric Palace, Hastings
18:08:15 – Picture House, Uckfield

X+Y (Morgan Matthews, 2014)

X+Y is a British film from BBC Films that follows the story of Nathan (Asa Butterfield), a teenage mathematics prodigy who is more comfortable dealing with numbers than he is with people. When he is selected to represent Great Britain on the International Mathematical Olympiad, he is forced to travel to Taiwan. As pressure to perform in the tournament grows and he finds an unlikely source of romance in Zhang Mai (Jo Yang), he soon finds that being out of his comfort zone is the starting point for a challenging journey of self-realisation.

One thing I was worried about as I sat there in the cinema waiting for it to start, was how they were going to portray autism. Inevitably we’re going to compare lead character Nathan to Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man or Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, probably the two most iconic on-screen portrayals of people on the autistic spectrum. Unfortunately for sufferers of autism, this drastically sells the condition short to people who aren’t overly aware of it. Autism is a condition that affects those close to someone on the spectrum as much as the person themselves, and to assume that they will simply be a bit awkward around people and good at maths is doing it a misjustice. Many sufferers find comfort in the strict rules set out in maths – it’s an emotionless interest. However, others find the same solace in a regimented interpretation of music, with its repetitive patterns and melodies and set mathematics behind complimentary frequencies of notes. Others become obsessive over lists and facts, whatever the topic might be. Others just don’t. There are mild forms of autism and severe forms, which is why diagnosis can be tricky as early signs can’t be placed on the spectrum by someone unfamiliar with the condition. 

So it’s unfortunate that autism has been portrayed on screen by means of a maths genius yet again, even though the director has previous work on autism (2008’s Beautiful Young Minds), which covers it in a more factual manner. However, X+Y is by no means just a light-hearted walk in the park and I enjoyed the fact a lot of time was spent with Nathan’s mother Julie (Sally Hawkins) as she came to terms with the loss of a close relative with no emotional support from her son. This was an important portion of the film that gave the right emphasis to the right areas and should be applauded.



I felt Butterfield’s portrayal of a child suffering from autism was very accurate, and I felt the frustration seeping through his inability to understand others. He has become a very accomplished actor throughout the three or four major films he has been part of so far, and as long as he keeps his feet on the ground for a couple more years he will continue to be successful for a long time.

Another great performance was from Jake Davies as Luke, whose character was a much more acute sufferer of autism. One scene involving a dead prawn stuck out for me and I’m sure we’ll be seeing more from him in the future.

The comradery of the maths students didn’t ring true for me. From first hand experience (I partook in mathematics competitions as a child, to some success), these competitions are far from a sociable affair, with most children very much “in the zone” and either unable or unwilling to communicate with their peers. It was a case of get in, do maths, win. Anything else was just unneccesary. So when there’s laughing and joking and, most notably, a cringeworthy rap session (including an awful rhymical recitation of Pi), I just thought back to the suits and classical music I had to endure and wondered how much it really could have changed.

I felt let down by the end. I’m not going to go into details as the film is yet to be released, but it just didn’t ring true to me and seemed to undo a lot of hard work they’d put in earlier in the film in a manner that suggests to me they got lost with the message they wanted to send out. I’ll let you make your own mind up on that one.

Overall it’s a very accomplished film and has many enjoyable points, but I didn’t feel it quite fulfilled its potential.

X+Y is released at UK cinemas on 13th March 2015.

Saving Mr Banks (John Lee Hancock, 2013)

I was inevitably sceptical about watching this. It’s a film that was created, in part, by Walt Disney Studios and stars family-favourite actor Tom Hanks as family-favourite animator, voice-actor and business magnate Walt Disney. If there’s ever any story that’s going to sugar-coat the facts, it is this.

Fortunately for Saving Mr Banks, Walt Disney is not the main character. That honour goes to Emma Thompson’s portrayal of Mary Poppins author P. L. Travers. Even more fortunately, her portrayal is up there with the finest of her career.

The story centres around Disney’s ongoing pursuit of producing a film adaptation of Poppins, something that Travers had resisted for years due to her apparent hatred of everything the company has ever been associated with.

In particular, we pick up the main thread story as she embarks on a short two-week trip to the studio headquarters to meet with a small creative team consisting of music legends the Sherman brothers (brilliantly portrayed by Jason Schwarzman and B. J. Novak) and Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford). Her main intent is seemingly to sabotage every ounce of creativity in the hopes that the film is never made, lest the essence of her perfectly sculpted tale be destroyed.

This is intertwined with flashbacks to her time growing up in 1907 Queensland. These are the real standout portions of the film, and they shy away from the watered-down story we are unravelling in 1961 Los Angeles. Colin Farrell‘s turn as Traver’s alcoholic father is exceptional and this story is key to understanding how she acts in later life. I wished we had been treated to longer in Australia, but this tale was never going to be a three hour epic.

Back in LA, the story moves along at a reasonable pace, adding enough humour to the mix to ensure we don’t forget how magical the film making process is when Walt is driving it. This often works, but I shook my head in disbelief at the scene in which Travers finally changes her mind and starts to support the film. I won’t spoil it, but I’d love to know whether or not this really happened. I suspect not. It is somewhat ironic that a story centring on someone’s dislike of the Disney filmmaking process should be treated in exactly that manner.

Hanks didn’t have a lot to work with and that’s to be understood. That said, he still gives a stellar performance and he can’t be faulted. He will be considered for the awards season regardless, but not for this film – Captain Phillips is a much meatier role for him to be proud of, and one that will doubtless be featured heavily when the awards nominees are announced in January.

The praise in this film, rather, should be heaped upon Thompson for successfully portraying what must have been an immensely difficult character to master. That she makes us warm so much to a person that was evidently so emotionally cold is something worth admiring, even if everything around her is so sugar-coated.

Saving Mr Banks is released in cinemas in the UK on 29th November 2013.

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