I,Tonya: Movie Review.


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Alongside some of its more highbrow Oscar contenders I expected I, Tonya to be a little lightweight and, whisper it, maybe one that’s really more for the ladies than the gents.

Not so.  This movie has balls.

It tells the true life story.  (Wait a minute, who says it’s true? Ed.  Ah, good point Ed. the opening is heavily disclaimered regarding the truth and whose story is correct.)

It tells a multi-faceted rendering of the happenings that surrounded Tonya Harding’s rise from poor American trailer trash to, well, just managing American trailer trash, with a tilt at winning the Olympic figure skating Gold medal, as favourite, along the way.

It’s a rags to rags story in which poor Tonya has to suffer more than probably any global superstar ever before to make her claim for fame; ending instead in infamy.

Margot Robbie not only stars as the eponymous lead but produced the film and, in similar fashion to Charlize Theron in Monster,  ditches her stunning good looks for hair, make up and wardrobe (train tracks and all) that makes her, frankly, a mess.

Her back story, brilliantly and hilariously told in pretty short order, deals with a life (allegedly) mired in terrible abuse; firstly from her disgusting ‘Skating Mom’ played brilliantly (and a cert for an Oscar) by Alison Janney (West Wing) and her equally disgusting young husband (Sebastian Stan).  The opening scene, as a three year old skating prodigy being brought to her first skate class, is hysterical and sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

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Somehow, despite this tram-smash of a life, Harding rises above it all and bulldozes her way through the middle-class American skating hierarchy into prime position thanks not only to her generally brilliant ability but, in particular, to her nailing the Triple Axel.

That’s when it all goes wrong.

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You’ll know why, so I won’t bore you with the details.  But suffice it to say the hapless events that follow are particularly well enacted by her ‘security’ Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser); reminding me of Four Lions.

Suffice it to say this movie is great.  The acting is universally superb.  The skating scenes are entirely convincing, the humour (black as the ace of spades) is laugh out loud time and again, and the way that Harding is dealt her cards, and the beatings she takes both physical and mental, are abhorrent and repulsive.

Robbie is a revelation in the role and has joined the Hollywood A list as a consequence.  I can’t wait to see her in Mary Queen of Scots (alongside, count them, no fewer than eight other announced roles) and whilst she won’t beat Frances McDormand to the coveted Best Female Lead in March this performance has set a new bar for which she can only progress beyond.

Bravo.  If I had a red rose I’d throw it on the ice right now.

(The soundtrack, all the best worst American MOR ever, is great too.)

 

Lady Bird: Movie Review.


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Although this movie explores much trodden territory – a Catholic schoolgirl’s coming of age movie – it’s one for parents of around my age (50’s) rather than the teen lead it features.  In that role Saiorse Ronan deservedly nets another Oscar nomination (sadly for her she is up against the imperious Frances McDormand and therefore cannot win) in a performance that is as real and as raw as any you’ll see this year.

But it’s not just Ronan’s performance that makes this the movie it is. It’s the triangular relationship between her (a disillusioned small town girl from Sacramento who dreams of the creativity and urban rawness of East Coast New York) her driven, ambitious (for her daughter) and seemingly hard-hearted, unemotional mother (Laurie Metcalfe) and her long-suffering, delightful father (Tracy Letts).

How the three deal with one another and how those relationships play out are at the heart of a movie that touches the heart-strings many times.

Take a hankie.

It’s not damning Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut with faint praise by describing it as nice because it really is, in the finest tradition of the word, a truly nice cinematic experience.  It has grit, humour and emotion, but the overwhelming take out is just how ‘nice’ it is.

The first act is hilarious in which ‘Lady Bird’, the given name (given to herself) of Christine, her best friend Julie and her first boyfriends enact small time life, love and prom-going.

The setting, in an all girls’ Catholic High School, lends itself to much hilarity, with some excellently original rebellion.  My favourite scene is where ‘Lady Bird’ and Julie scoff a tub of communion wafers whilst talking about sex. (“It’s OK.  They’re not consecrated.”)

Although the gradual sexual fulfilment that Lady Bird experiences is nothing new Ronan’s performance keeps you interested, and when the consequences lead to confrontations and discussions between her and her parents – rarely acted out as a three hander because Mum and Dad lead separate (although still loving) lives – the movie reveals its depth.

It’s the relationship between mother and daughter that is the real dramatic grit in thi particular oyster.  Here Gerwig teases out brilliance by both actors and it’s the result of this difficult ‘ambitious-mom’ tension that drives the movie.

As the film reaches its climax how that plays out is what results in the handkerchief moments and leaves you emotionally satisfied in a movie that is greater than the sum of its parts.

 

 

 

Pressure. Theatre Review. Kings Theatre Edinburgh and Touring.


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Amazingly it’s nearly four years since this play premiered at The Lyceum before transferring to Chichester Festival Theatre.  Written by and starring David Haig it’s a modern day classic.

It tells the story of Dalkeith meteorologist James Stagg and his role as the allies’ choice as chief meteorologist advising on the D-Day operations (overlord) to General Dwight Eisenhower.

What most people do not know is that the weather in the lead up to the operation was flat calm and glorious English summer conditions, convincing his American oppo (Colonel Irving Krick – a bit of a weather celebrity of the day; certainly compared to dour Scotsman, Stagg) that historical precedent suggested almost certain ideal conditions on the day of the attack.

Stagg begs to differ and cites the vagaries of the British summer (four seasons in a day) as reason not to be confident of anything.

What follows is a tussle of intellect, nerve and belief (or otherwise) in the emerging science connected to the then relatively unknown ‘Jet Stream’.

Underscoring the drama is the imminent arrival of Stagg’s second child to his wife, some three hours drive away from the military base in which he has set up his temporary weather station.  His wife is suffering from high blood pressure (see what he did there?) and the experience of their first child’s birth weighs heavily on Stagg’s seemingly inscrutable (some would say curmudgeonly) personality.  Frankly, it’s the last thing he needs in these high stakes times.

And the stakes are indeed high.  Bad weather could kill 50,000 allied troops and calling it wrong would be their death sentence.

The play features 12 actors who represent the allied forces in various shapes and forms, but rotates around what is effectively a three-hander between Stagg, Eisenhower and Eisenhower’s English female driver and assistant (not to mention lover) Colonel Sommersby (the excellent Laura Rodgers).

It runs through the emotions and becomes an incredibly tense thriller with its share of laughs.

But at its heart is a superb performance by David Hare that makes you will the unlikely hero on with all of your heart.

The story contains a few twists that I’ll not share here. It’s on in Edinburgh till Saturday and then on tour before opening in London in late March.

February 1-10, Cambridge Arts Theatre
February 13-17, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
February 20-24, Theatre Royal,Newcastle
February 27-March 3, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford
March 6-10, Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
March 12-17, Theatre Royal, Bath
March 20-24, Richmond Theatre
March 28-April 28, Park Theatre, London
.

Here’s the original Lyceum trailer.

Loveless (Nelyubov): Movie review


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I’m not familiar with the work of Andrey Zvyagintsev, although his previous movie, Leviathan, got a BAFTA nomination (as this has) for Best Film not in the English Language.

However, I’m reliably informed he has a ‘style’ consistent with that on display in Loveless that could most accurately be described as; bleak.

Shot in naturalistic (i.e. low) light in the depths of Russian winter it makes little or no concession to cinematic gloss.  Although the extremely sparingly applied soundtrack by Evgeny and Sasha Galperin is strangely brilliant.

Loveless is the story of a 12 year old boy in Moscow who disappears after hearing a vicious argument between his, very much, not in love parents, neither of whom want the responsibility of bringing him up once their impending divorce is settled.

It’s a slow burn after that as we follow the search for the young boy who has left no clues as to how, why or where he is.

It portrays Moscow in as bleak a light as any you’ll have seen since those gritty 60’s/70’s German/Polish dirges and yet it’s kind of compelling.  It’s actually quite engrossing, even as you reel at the circumstances that have led to his parents’ estrangement and weirdly unemotional connection with the situation they find themselves in.

Loveless is the perfect title for a movie that deals with intimacy, relationship and familial bonds without even a shred of real love being displayed.

Frankly, it’s horrible, but don’t let that put you off.  It’s a fine piece of art if not a multiplex filler.

 

This. Is London. Greatness from Nike.


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London gets its own Nike ad.

We regionistas should hate it ‘cos it’s Lundin, innit.

But nah; it’s just great.  the fastest three minutes in advertising you will see in a long time.

What I particularly love about it is that it twists the ULTIMATE regional yarn – the Four Yorkshireman sketch from the 1970’s by Monty Python – and makes it relevant to both London and 2018.

Every sport, every exercise, every trope explored with wit and excellent cultural mixing.

Everyone comes out of it well.

Except Peckham.

What’s wrong with Peckham?

Talking to My Daughter About the Economy (A Brief History of Capitalism) by Yanis Varoufakis: Book Review


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Yanis Varoufakis is the economist that shot to fame as the poster boy of Greek economic fuckwittery.  His job was to unfuck the institutionalised fuckwittery, caused by a seemingly ingrained national sport of ‘not paying tax’, that left the Greek economy as the basket-case of the Euro, in the wake of the economic crisis in 2008/2009.

Varoufakis became Greek Finance Minister in January 2015 and lasted till July of that year.  Not exactly jaw-dropping credentials for being the Oracle on succesful economic strategy.

But he was an academic, so he knew the answers, right?

Frankly, he seems to have been spending his time writing books about his experience rather than actually unfucking up Greece.  And maybe that’s why he only lasted 7 months doing the job.

This is one of the books.

Its construct is as a letter to his, now, 14 year old daughter, Xenia, who lives with her mother in Australia.  One assumes Yanis and Mrs Varoufakis had some sort of marital difference of opinion.

And I’m speculating that Yanis’ wife said to Xenia.  “Darling, let’s get out of this country that your dad is supposed to be unfucking up.  As far as I can see he’s too busy writing books about how the economy got fucked up in the first place to actually unfuck it.  But I’ve heard the Australians understand the economy and we can swap a diet of olives and Retsina for steak and Shiraz.”

Several months later Xenia woke her mum to say.

“Mum, fuck sake, Dad’s written me this fucking 200 page letter about the fucking economy that’s all fucking fucked, instead of fucking unfucking it.”

I mean, if you were 13 years old (then), and on another continent, and missing your Dad would you be high-fiving the entire population of Sydney High School shouting.  “Whoa guys, my Dad just wrote me a 200 page book about Capitalism, what did your Dad do?  Take you to the Melbourne Cup?  Go surfing all weekend?  Barbie like it’s 1999?  Fucking losers!”

So, the reader is treated like a 13 year old girl (who probably doesn’t give a flying fuck about anything other than getting to second base with Bruce) as Yanis explains the principles of Capitalism, and consequently how the economy works.  Why he believes he is qualified to do this, when his only practical experience is of not succeeding in reducing the world’s oldest and most enduring culture to a pile of rotting fishbones, I know not.

Perhaps it’s his academic credentials.

Anyway, he succeeds in explaining what inequality, money, labour, tax, trade debt, profit, and banking are before reaching out to his local pharmacist to ingest a cocktail of hallucinogenic drugs (roughly half way through).

Thereafter, he explores the Oedipal Complex, the Flight of Icarus, The Matrix, ( revisited no fewer than seven times – I mean, nobody on Planet Earth understand The Matrix, so why use it seven times to ‘simplify’ a concept as obtuse as capitalism and the economy),  V for Vendetta, The Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales, The Terminator, The Sorceror’s Apprentice, Faust and Doctor Faustus (seven times),  Frankenstein (six times), Harry Potter, Blade Runner, and Star Trek (five times) in an attempt to make the cerebral concept of Capitalism (and the economy) a bit more down with the kids.

The second half of the book would have made excellent arse-wiping material for Salvador Dali.

But the ‘best’ bit of all is his conclusion. (To his then 13 year old daughter, remember.)

In it he postures…

“OK, you will say, you reject the markets-everywhere solution and propose instead the democracy-everywhere alternative (really? is that what she’s grafiti-ing on the walls of Sydney High?). But how on Earth will your democracy save the planet, put the robots to work for us and make money function sensibly and smoothly?  What a great question! (If I say so myself.) While it would take a whole other book to answer it properly, let me offer a hint that may help you write that sequel yourself one day.”

“Aye. That. Will. Be. Right. Dad.  (Says Xenia.) Like I’m gonna write a fucking sequal to Talking to My Daughter About the Economy (A brief History of Capitalism) ‘cos you don’t know the fucking answers yourself (and made silly Brits fork out £12 to not give them any fucking answers – well, at least I got to read the crazy pish for free).”

In his epilogue, like we needed more reading after the previous 80 pages of intellectual wank, he writes this.

“How can Dad have confused me with someone who gives a damn?”.  That is a very, very, very good question and probably the best in the book.

But he ploughs on regardless, sharing with us this earth-shattering hypothesis to conclude.

HALPEVAM.

HALPEVAM is a ‘magnificent’ computer created by a mad scientist (any guess who that might be readers?)

HALPEVAM: Heuristic ALgorithmic, Pleasure & Experiential VAlue Maximiser. (Oh, come on, the acronym isn’t even a fucking acronym, it’s a fucking fag packet doodle.  Let me help you Yanis.  How about: Heuristic Algorithmic Leisue,nValue-Add,  Experiential Pleasure Maximiser?  There: that nearly spells fucking HALVEPAM!

Or how about Bloody Unbelievable Leisure-Life Sensitivity Heuristic Improving Transactional Organ Made Easy To Effect Relaxation?

He explains: “HALPEVAM is the opposite of the horrible, misanthropic machines in The Matrix – it’s the ultimate pleasure machine”.

(You still with us, 13 year old Xenia?  Or are you in a Psychologist’s practice in Sydney asking for information on psychosis ‘for a friend’?)

Poor Xenia.

But, Xenia’s not our problem, Yanis is raking it in and Mrs Varoufakis is presumably on a pretty big financial settlement (if only Greece reported its taxes).

Try it, it’s fun.

 

Three. Is the magic number. Calling all you Intelligent Finance [sic] customers out there.


Is Intelligent Finance the dumbest bank in the world?
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0845 xxx xxxx. Intelligent Finance’s Home Page and Security Page contact number.

This morning I thought “It’s champagne time – Intelligent Finance [sic] have, after 3 years of constantly asking them, updated their customer phone number”.
But no, only on 2 of their 3 customer facing pages.
The one when you are actually looking at your account is STILL WRONG.
They’re still Dullard Finance.
Incompetence beyond comprehension frankly.
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0345 xxx xxxx.  Intelligent Finance’s Accounts Page, where you can see your balance etc and might decide you need to call them to query something – by now you are through security and, of course, failed to write down the correct phone number while you were there on the assumption that the number would be correct throughout the site.  But, you know when happens when you assume.  Yes,  U make and ASS out of ME

 So, as I entitled this elegant thought-piece, Three. Is the magic number.  As I will leave De la Soul to prove.

Phantom Thread by Paul Thomas Anderson: Movie Review.


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I lay in bed for some time this morning tossing about in my mind how best to convey the impact of Phantom Thread.  I’ve only got one shot at this and I don’t want to tarnish my impression by getting all luvvie about it, or resorting to my overused canon of superlatives.  I will try therefore to create a picture that captures my sense of wonder as I sat in Edinburgh’s Cameo cinema last night watching the masters at work; those masters being Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis.

If, as is rumoured, we are never to see Day-Lewis on our screens again this should be cause for mourning because the man has no peer – he has won three of his leading actor Oscars (from 5 nominations) and this is his sixth.  There’s a reason for that.

In Phantom Thread, Day-Lewis is caressed by PTA’s quite stunning camerawork (not only did he write and direct the movie, he is its cinematographer to boot) in a way that is usually reserved for leading ladies. (Darren Aranofsky was accused of overdoing so in his fine Mother! with his muse and real life partner Jennifer Lawrence last year.)  But that’s because it’s as if PTA is trying to squeeze every ounce of juice out of Day-Lewis’s colossal performance.  It’s hardly surprising because Day-Lewis takes craggy, older man, handsomeness to a new scale (he was 60 during filming).

He plays a 1950’s London based couturier with a client list of Royalty and society movers and shakers.  Clinically obsessed with quality this makes him mildly sociopathic and he is certainly ‘on the scale’.  He’s kept in check by an icy protector – his sister Cyril: an aloof Lesley Manville, in a career-defining-performance in which she constantly reminded me of Anna Massey’s Mrs Danvers in Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca – the TV adaptation from 1979.

Day-Lewis’s personal tics, foibles, routine, sense of decorum and inner sociopathic tendencies simmer just below, occasional breaching, the surface for the entire two and a bit hours of this masterful performance and represent a case study in containment. For my money this is by far and away a superior acting achievement than Gary Oldman’s, show-stealing, Winston Churchill impersonation in the downright boring and turgid Darkest Hour.

His confirmed bachelorhood, devotion (or certainly commitment) to his sister and a necessary effeteness, in keeping with his status as a master dressmaker, suggest initially that Day Lewis’s character, Reynolds Woodcock, is assuredly homosexual.  But this is quickly dispelled upon a weekend trip to ‘the country’ in a humorously ‘overcranked’ road trip to Whitby in a gorgeous burgundy Bristol 405.

In his lodgings Woodcock meets, and immediately invites to dinner, the breakfast waitress who quickly becomes his lover and muse, thereby dispelling any homosexuality theories.   Alma, a European girl, of indistinct national origin (although actress Vicky Krieps is from Luxembourg) is sweet, defiantly ‘un beautiful’ in the classic flimstar definition, with breasts that are ‘too small’ and a face that has a rugged outdoors sensitivity.  She soon matches Day-Lewis for lingering camera sweeps as the movie settles into a slow thesis on what becomes a complex power struggle of a relationship; in which Cyril makes three.

Krieps is surprisingly missing from most awards shortlists which amazes me because she is no third best in this tremendous acting menage.  Her performance is spare and engrossing and she trades punches all the way with both Day-Lewis and Manville.

Silk, organza and lace also feature lovingly in a pean to the craftsmanship of dressmaking. Indeed, such was PTA and DDL’s attention to detail that PTA hired seamstresses rather than actors to play the boutique roles, and DDL learned to sew,  making his wife a dress, in his classic method practice.

Sitting high in the credits, and rightly so, is Production Designer Mark Tildesley, because he creates a sense of place that marks this is a classic period drama.  This is aided and abetted by the extraordinary film grain that PTA elects to use, to further enhance Tildesley’s sense of place (if not time – not time because movies of that era would be either super saturated colour or black and white, the film grain he employs is redolent, instead, of amateur photography of the period).

And lastly, I have to make mention of the extraordinary score by Jonny Greenwood.  Nothing could be further from his Radiohead work.  It is classically styled with nods to Chopin in particular and underscores the movie almost throughout.  This adds a sense of wonder so some of the slower, more crafted, scenes where action is at a premium.

All in all this has reinstated Paul Thomas Anderson as my favourite director after his one career slip with the abysmal Inherent Vice.  It sits alongside Punch Drunk Love, Magnolia, There will be Blood and The Master as film making of craft and distinction.

I sat with mouth agape, grinning like a 50’s child watching a box set of Disney, for much of the film, in sheer wonderment at the genius that is Paul Thomas Anderson.

It is not to be missed, although, be warned, it moves along at a pace that could best be described as languid.

 

Fire and Fury, Inside the Trump White House, by Michael Wolff: Book review.


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Not a political reader?  Read this.

Think Donald Trump is a dangerous idiot?  Read this.

Feeling the February blues?  Read this.

Whilst the focus, in reviews of this epic book, has been firmly on Trump’s shenanigans the reality is that it features a large cast that could probably be described as Dumb and Dumber, and Dumber still, and even more Dumber and so Dumb it doesn’t compute, and those vying for the Dumbest of the Dumb.

Chief amongst them, and clearly living the aphorism that in the land of the blind the one eyed man is king, is Stephen K Bannon.  A serial schmuck who, at best, scrambled through a career of wannabe jobs before stumbling upon Bob and Rebekah Mercer, father and daughter multi-billionaires who spent vast sums to build a “radical free-market,small-government,home=schooling, anti liberal, gold-standard, pro-death-penalty, anti-Muslim, pro-Christian, monetarist, anti-civil-rights political movement.”

The Mercers installed Bannon as CEO of the tiny ultra-right-wing TV network, Brietbart, that overtook Murdoch’s Fox network as the voice-piece of the far right (and the Tea Party) and gave Bannon his way into Trump Towers.

The hold (albeit precarious) that Bannon had over Trump is remarkable.  He became his svengali and, against all the odds, overcame the Clinton Juggernaut to instate Trump in a totally unexpected presidential role.  The chapter on the victory has you howling with laughter.

The book charts the relationships Trump (and Bannon) then forge in the nascent government.  (It was meant to cover the first 100 days but Wolff was having so much fun, and so much unchecked access, that it actually takes us, via a postscript, to October 2017.)

Wolff claims he had dozens of, unscrutinised, interviews with aides and central characters in the book.  He had ‘a seat in the White House’, and was never challenged.

It’s like a fervent 5 set, Grand Slam Final, tennis match of deceit and counter deceit, leaks, backstabbing, plotting, firings, hirings, regret about hirings and various other daily occurrences amongst a team of advisors and departmental heads that had no more experience of US politics than I have.

It starts off laugh out loud funny, and I mean gut wrenchingly so, before settling into a torrid succession of horrendous back stories and tales of who was next for the firing line.

Central to the story are Bannon, of course, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (idiot), and the hilarious construct that is Jarvanka (Jared Kushner, son of a criminal, and his wife Ivanka Trump; Daddy’s Girl).

Jarvanka come in for relentless ridicule; mainly from the mouth of Bannon but there can be no doubt Wolff sees them as a laughable pair of complete morons.

Of course, Sean Spicer gets it in the neck (although we see him as a sympathetic character here, completely overwhelmed by Trump’s madness.)

What the serial womaniser sees in the gorgeous, and startlingly unqualified, Hope Hicks – his closest advisor, is anyone’s guess, but her position is as solid as anyone’s could ever be in this tram smash of a court.

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No idea what Trump sees in the beautiful Hope Hicks.

Startlingly missing are both Melania and Vice President, Pence (who is castigated as even more of an idiot than Trump).

It’s a completely and utterly biased malicious character assassination of a man you wouldn’t put in charge of running a bath.  It exposes, time and again, Trump’s complete incompetence and reliance (100%) on gut feel.

That this man is an idiot of monumental  proportions is no great revelation – we all know that.  It’s the day to day incompetence that makes for the meat and potatoes of a political read like no other.

It’s a must read.

Go on, read it, before Kim Jong-un blows us all up.