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Non-Review Review: The Boys in the Band

The Boys in the Band is not only a cinematic adaptation of a classic play, it is a cinematic adaptation of a particular staging of a classic play.

The Boys in the Band is a film designed to capture a snapshot of the 2018 Broadway run of Mart Crowley’s iconic 1968 off-Broadway play. It is directed by Joe Mantello, who is perhaps best know for his theatre work including Wicked and the fiftieth anniversary revival of The Boys in the Band that forms the basis of this filmed version. The film reunites the entire ensemble of that staging, including actors like Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto and Matt Bomer.

Banding together.

In some ways, Hamilton feels like the obvious point of comparison here. The goal is not just to bring a beloved play to the screen, but to capture the particular energy of a particular staging of that beloved play. However, while Hamilton leaned into its attempts to recreate the Broadway experience for an audience watching at home, The Boys in the Band is a much more traditional cinematic adaptation of a theatrical staging. It is a film, but it is a film that feels particularly “stagey.” It recalls a particular brand of awards fare, like Doubt or Fences.

This is perhaps the biggest issue with this adaptation of The Boys in the Band. With the exception of a few framing scenes set outside the apartment at the beginning and the end of the story, The Boys in the Band doesn’t feel like a reimagining so much as a restaging. Then again, it’s debatable to what extent this is a problem. Mantello’s approach to the material is straightforward rather than showy, putting his faith in the script – which was reworked by Crowley shortly before his death with writer Ned Martel – and in the cast, trusting them to carry the film.

Not-so-midnight-cowboy.

This largely works. The Boys in the Band is a fascinating snapshot of a cultural moment. Crowley’s play was famously one of the first pieces of mainstream pop art to focus on a large a diverse cast of gay characters, arriving before the AIDS crisis and before Stonewall. While the play has remained constant in all of those years, the world around it has changed. Its fortunes have ebbed and flowed, while the text seems to remain vital and relevant – it always seemed to say something to the moment, even if that something made critics uneasy.

The Boys in the Band is a welcome reminder that there is nothing inherently wrong with a theatrical approach to cinematic stagings of beloved plays. The Boys in the Band may not pop off the screen in the way that Hamilton does, engaging as much with the audience’s experience of the show as with the content of the show itself. Instead, The Boys in the Band serves largely as a showcase for its actors and for its source material, proof that there is a lot to be said for locking a bunch of talented cast in a confined space with a good script.

Drinking it all in…

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The X-Files – Soft Light (Review)

This August (and a little of September), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the second season of The X-Files. In November, we’ll be looking at the third season. And maybe more.

Soft Light is a bit of an oddity. It’s primarily notable for being Vince Gilligan’s first credit on The X-Files, coming a few years after the release of Wilder Napalm, a film based on his screenplay.

Gilligan, of course, would go on to become a wildly influential television writer. He would join the staff in the show’s third year and produce some of the series’ most memorable episodes. He would also manage the day-to-day running of The Lone Gunmen spin-off. Although, at the moment, Gilligan is probably best known for creating and producing Breaking Bad, which has already been ranked among the best television series ever produced.

Everything burns...

Everything burns…

It is very tempting to look at a writer’s early work and to try to retroactively over-analyse it – to spot familiar themes and images, as if to incorporate it into a large oeuvre. That becomes a bit more complicated in television, where an early screenplay is quite likely to have been written and re-written several times before it reaches the screen. As a freelance writer submitting a script, Gilligan’s work would have been heavily reworked to make it fit within the context of The X-Files.

While there are traces of Gilligan’s later work to be found here, Soft Light is a rather awkward late-season episode, one that seems a little out of place.

Shadows on the wall...

Shadows on the wall…

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Non-Review Review: Pride

Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners is an oft over-looked chapter in the history both the labour and the gay rights movement. Based around the fundamental principle that oppressed groups have a great chance of achieving their goals standing side-by-side (or shoulder-to-shoulder) than they would ever would apart, the alliance forged during the 1984 coal strikes went on to have a lasting and important influence on both the mining community and the gay community.

Pride is perhaps a little bit too whimsical and twee for its own good, going for any number of easy feel-good smiles and affectionate chuckles, but there’s something quite compelling about this tale of two different groups forging an unexpected and unprecedented alliance in pursuit of a common good. Pride is a light and charming “opposites unit” story with enough wit and soul to win over even the most cynical audience members.

Labour of love...

Labour of love…

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Non-Review Review: Limitless

Limitless has an epiphany about half-way through its runtime. We follow our lead, Eddie, as he discovers a miracle drug which manages to somehow make you a genius (he boasts he has “a four-digit IQ”). However, he is stunned to discover that coming off the drug isn’t exactly pretty. Those who haven’t given up have all died. He meets a survivor in a small café, where she recounts how wonderful the experience of using the drug was, but how hallow life seemed afterwards. Having tasted that sort of greatness, she relates how the world seemed boring afterwards, she couldn’t focus and nothing could hold her attention for more than ten minutes. She seems to have been speaking on behalf of the film.

It's all falling into place...

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