Present Laughter at The Old Vic: presented by NT Live.


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I won’t dwell too long on this because it isn’t easy to see, although I think an ‘Encore’ screening is happening again in Edinburgh, in December.  if it is You MUST go see it.

We saw an NT Live screening of it in Leith on Thursday, and it is fantastic.

Although it’s described as an ensemble cast this is one thing above all others, Andrew Scott.  (You know, the sexy, sorry girls he’s gay, priest from Fleagbag?)  He is screamingly, achingly, outrageously funny in a performance that must shed a few pounds in weight each night.  He must have slept well on matinee days.

It’s a simply miraculous performance with so many nuances that you simply sit mouth agape at times.  The laughter, by now, being too painful.  This must be in line for theatre prizes galore.

Noël Coward’s writing seems incredibly of now, and yet the play was written in 1939.  It’s aided by the gender-swapping of Helen and Joe Lyppiatt, so that Garry Essendine’s central character becomes bisexual (homosexual really) and it’s this confusion over his sexuality that makes it far more contemporary than it might have been.  Indeed In the 1970s the director Peter Hall wrote, “what a wonderful play it would be if – as Coward must have wanted – all those love affairs were about homosexuals”.

Director Matthew Warchus has to take the credit for manifesting the legendary Hall’s vision and for pulling off a series of performances that, despite being wonderfully OTT, fully engage the audience.  In particular the thunderously rousing assault that is Daphne Stillingon (by Kitty Archer) is simply breathtaking.  In no other circumstances would she remotely have got away with it.

Every moment of overacting (that clearly Garry is guilty of on the stage) has a knock on effect on the rest of the cast (when a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazonian jungle,  a storm subsequently ravages half of Europe).

Most notably Garry’s secretary Monica Reed (Sophie Thomson) is simply hilarious and Suzie Toase as Helen (should be Henry) Lyppiatt.

The one calming influence in all this is Garry”s estranged wife, Liz (a beautiful study in arch wit by Indira Varma).

Amidst all this hilarity it’s clear that, hidden by the bravado, Garry is a bundle of self doubt.  Indeed his surname, Essendine, is an anagram of “neediness”.  I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

A tremendous and exhausting tour de force that deserves all the five star reviews it mustered in the summer.  See it if you can.

 

 

 

 

 

An Edinburgh Christmas Carol at The Royal Lyceum Edinburgh.


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Ahhhh, The Lyceum Christmas Show is upon us once again and Tony Cownie and his regular core of performers have taken the right decision of NOT descending into pantomime, because the Lyceum doesn’t do panto.  You’ll get that at The Kings.

Instead what he has cleverly done is merged the stories of Greyfriar’s Bobby with Dickens’ perennial favourite, thus giving it a life of its own and a new reason to visit a story that we can all probably recite in our sleep.

And it works a treat.

Bobby is a central character and Cownie gets round the problem of teaching dogs to act by making him (and Tiny Tim) puppets adding a further dimension to an already novel take on the novel.  It’s charming and the puppeteers invest real sympathy into Tiny Tim’s character and zest, bounce and good comedy into Bobby’s.

And because the cast includes Nicola Roy, Steve McNicoll and Grant O’Rourke (pulling off an impressive 13 roles between them and a flurry of costumes) it’s hilarious, with Nicola Roy getting the lion’s share of tasty one-liners. They often feel familiar but are mostly, in fact, new.

He knows his way around a gag does Tony Cownie.  “Aye [Scrooge], he’s so mean if he found a crutch in the street he’d go home and break his leg.”  (Which reminds me of an old favourite of mine: A man sees that dog food is half price in the supermarket, turns to his wife and says “We must buy a dog.”)

Crawford Logan takes the lead as the humbugerous Ebenezer Scrooge and carries the part off with aplomb, transforming beautifully from miser to philanthropist at the drop of a hat.

It barrels along, not allowing any particular sequence to outstay its welcome. The Ghost of Christmas Past sequence is particularly eye-catching and good for the storytelling, Eva Traynor is strong in the role in a spectacular green costume.

It’s all done and dusted by 9pm so time for a few seasonal libations.  Merry Christmas.

 

 

 

 

Marriage Story: Movie Review.


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The movie the attorneys didn’t want to be made.

In which a loving but separating couple (played by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson) blow any possibility of a harmonious separation by bringing in their legal aides.

It’s a sad old movie in which the couple’s divorce seesaws from still best friends to raging monsters. Their natural inclination seems to favour behaviour at the friendlier end of the spectrum, but by employing teams of attorneys (at great cost), whose only interests are fiscal and competitive, any of the harmony that remains between Driver and Johansson is cruelly exposed and used as a weakness.

In the hands of a director less skilled than Noah Baumbach (Margot at the Wedding, Frances Ha) we could easily have ended up with either a black comedy or an overwrought drama, but this finds a line between the two, by steering a complex and subtle, and lengthy,  dialogue (he is the writer) that does not allow the viewer to particularly side with either protagonist – both have their faults and their virtues – but it’s the actions of  their attorneys that bring out the worst, not the best, in them.

That said my wife and I both fell for Driver’s side of the story (and only found out afterwards that the movie is based on Baumbach’s own experience of divorcing Jennifer Jason Leigh, so maybe it’s not quite as agnostic as we thought.

It’s a slow build, with several long monologues that just finish, mostly, before they outstay their welcomes.

But there are also moments of humour.  The visit of a social worker is laugh out loud funny and the rehearsal scene where Johansson prepares her terrified sister to hand over the divorce papers is likewise an absolute comic joy.

But overall it’s both deeply personal and very affecting at times, more than once I was reaching for the Kleenex, and part of that is down to the casting and the highly personal cinematography that shows off the two leads at their most naked (emotionally) and vulnerable with long, lingering close ups on each of them.  That’s one reason that the big screen is always better than the TV for feature films.  Like The Irishman, though, this is a Netflix original and will not be on the big screen for long.

Driver is at the top of his game and that means there are three serious Oscar best actor contenders this year – himself, De Niro and Phoenix.  All three would win in any average year. Driver’s one take performance of Stephen Sondheim’s “Being Alive” at a piano bar is a real highlight and is about a man’;s lack of commitment.  It’s an excellent counterpoint to Randy Newman’s typically accomplished, and in parts quite jaunty, score.

Johannson puts in a career-best shift.  Not only is his beauty put to one side .  No make up and often unflattering close ups, but she acts her socks off.

Also of great note is laura Dern’s performance as her lawyer and a cameo role for a sprightly, 83 year old, Alan Alda.

It’s a slow burn but it comes highly recommended from me (and my wife).  Just go see it in the cinema.

 

 

 

 

Zombieland Double Tap: Movie Review


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I love a zombie movie.  I really do.  And I like spoof zombie movies just as much.

Pound for pound I’d say the zombie genre is one of the most successful to hit our screens – from George Romero to Simon Pegg and here, in this now double franchise, Zombieland.

Of course the original was pure gold and, amazingly, the same director, Ruben Fleisher, and the same star team of Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin (and, whisper it,  Bill Murray) team up for the sequel some ten years later.

Two new stars join the line up – Rosario Dawson (successfully) and Zoey Deutsch (less so as a dumb blonde that’s just a bit annoying).

It  opens brilliantly with a zombie attack on the Columbia logo giving us the first belly laugh within 5 seconds.

What follows is a sort of Fight Club (those captions including an outstanding title sequence) meets Shaun of the Dead but with much higher production values and a cracking script played out by an ensemble of genuine starts that truly look like they are having as much fun as you could ever have making multi-million dollar pay checks.

Sure, it’s not going to trouble any award judges.  True it’s not going to solve any global problems and sure it’s not going to change anyone’s life, but it sure is fun.

If you loved Z1 (7.6 on IMDB) I suspect, like me you will enjoy Z2 (7.2 on IMDB) just about as much, maybe more.

It’s ridiculous and it’s great.

 

 

The Irishman, movie review: Yet another Scorsese masterpiece.


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Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The King Of Comedy, Goodfellas, Casino, Cape Fear, The Departed, Shutter Island, The Wolf of Wall Street, Silence and now The Irishman.  Most Directors would give a limb to have made just one of these magisterial films.  That list numbers 12.  And then there’s a bunch more of note sitting just below these.

The cinema industry is up in arms at Netflix pinching surely one of Scorsese’s last great outings from under their noses.

£200m was pumped into this movie that’s been sitting around, unmade for a decade.

It tempted Joe Pesci out of his retirement and put Pacino, Pesci and De Niro under Scorsese’s gaze for the first time.

And what a gaze.

In a 210 minute film that gives about 5 to women this is a man’s, man’s, man’s outing to outman all of its lofty predecessors, but there were many women in the audience of the big screen showing I attended and they loved it.

Anna Pacquin, De Niro’s daughter, is the only female character of note in the movie (the wives are fairly incidental).  Her single scripted word screams volumes from the screen and makes her appearance meritorious despite its paucity.

Pacino and Pesci are wonderful, but it’s a De Niro movie.  Scorsese’s real muse this bookend’s both of their careers starting with Taxi Driver and surely ending here.  It’s a massive performance full of grit, humour and pathos.  It’s simply breathtaking.  Especially when you consider the mid – late career crud that De Niro has been serving us.

Note this, Phoenix has competition for the Oscar that we all thought was surely a shoo-in only a month or two ago.

The humour is unexpected and one scene, in particular, where an absurd conversation about a fish takes place in a car, reminds us of the Chicken Royale scene in Pulp Fiction.  Clearly Scorsese has been noting the competition and, here, matches or possibly even exceeds them.

This demands to be seen on the big screen.  The monumental running time sits better with a cinema screening where you can tackle it, in its full immensity, without trips to the teapot (or wine cellar – it’s a two bottler).  What it allows Scorsese is the time to tell a complex tale languidly.  It gives him room to explore male relationships, bonding and latterly reflection on a life that has had much shame.

That Scorsese takes maybe 30 minutes to conclude a movie that in other hands would last five is telling.  But it’s exactly this that lies at the heart of an epic that sadly many will just say is boring.

It’s anything but.

Much has been made of the ‘de-aging’ technology, mostly critically, but it really helps to tell a four-decade story using the same actors throughout.  OK, it made De Niro a little rosy-cheeked at times, but it gets away with it.  And the ageing of Pesci, in particular, is amazing.  His final scenes of a man in very old age are moving and gripping.

I was blown away.

 

Well, they’ve done it again. John Lewis has nailed Christmas.


It’s the toughest gig in advertising, making the Christmas TV ad for John Lewis (and Waitrose combined these days).  The song has to be right (and the performance engaging), the story appealing, emotionally engaging but the right side of schmaltzy, well cast, capable of repeat viewing and building in a product message that doesn’t land a horrible anti-climax.

So this year Dougal Wilson (back behind the lens), of Blink, brings us Adam and Eve’s potential turkey.

But no, it’s a golden goose.

Actually it’s a cuddly young dragon called Edgar and his unlikely best friend little red-headed Ava.

Both being orphans (no parents grace our screens and Edgar lives alone in a little dragon house) the two wander around a medieval village wreaking havoc  (this is historically acceptable) with no-one to admonish their behaviour.  But this being JLP land the residents who are having their dreams wrecked by a fire-breathing monster only look on  mildly disdainfully, a series of heavenward looks simply say, ‘Oh Jeez, Ava and that pesky mite Edgar are at it AGAIN’.

Saint George is not brought in to their rescue and it’s Edgar who takes it upon himself to send himself to Coventry, whilst Ava camps outside like a human Greyfriar’s Bobby.

After a while Ava thinks, ‘Sod this’ and gives up her vigil returning, instead, to normal life. Later, whilst baking in her orphanage, she has a Damascan moment (she hasn’t completely given up on Edgar) when she suddenly realises that Edgar can be put to good use (see, she’s on it, she really IS A GOOD FRIEND) by purchasing a Christmas pudding from Waitrose for Edgar’s Christmas (Waitrose est. 1904, Acton, West London, so historically inaccurate).

Of course Edgar’s gift, which is really a gift for ALL of the residents of the medieval village, finally puts his fire-breathing to good effect by setting alight the brandy that the pudding is doused in.  The communal village dinner will be finished to perfection with 5 grammes per head of alcohol-sated dessert.

It’s all pretty ridiculous, but IT’S CHRISTMAS at JLP and it doesn’t actually matter.

What we have is a loveable fantasy enacted well by young Ava, to REO Speedwagon’s biggest hit, Can’t Fight This Feeling, performed by Bastille.

I cried.  So it worked.

 

The Handmaiden: Movie Review.


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I’m late to the party on this one, so I’ll keep it brief.

My only previous experience of director Chan Wook-Park’s work was 2003’s ultra-violent Oldboy that was later remade for US audiences.

This takes a reverse sweep by adapting a western tale for the east.

It uses Sarah Watters’ sublime Victorian lesbian bodice-ripper, Fingersmith, as its source material and translates it into Korean/Japanese culture.

It’s bloody brilliant.

It’s sumptuous in its design.

The acting is universally excellent and the story is a guess a minute thriller that holds your attention for every second of its 155 subtitled minutes (yellow for Japanese dialogue, white for Korean).

The story is all about jeopardy, class and the real meaning of love and it’s sultry, sexy, beautiful and actually quite hilarious in parts.

It’s no wonder it’s made it to IMDB’s top 250 of all time.

I rate it a straight ten.  What a brilliant and unexpected way to spend a wet November Monday night.

 

 

Why the Odeon is the Odeon.


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You will probably look heavenward at this (or not really care) but the penny just dropped with me about a word I’ve never really given a great deal of thought about, in terms of its etymology.

The Odeon (cinema chain) is a shortening of Nickelodeon.  Where, I assume, in the early days of cinema it cost a nickel to see a movie.

But an Odeon is also a Greek amphitheatre of entertainment (a singing place) in ancient Greece.  A nickel to visit a singing place.  With the nickel now dropped.

So there you are.

Who’d have thought.

(Cineworld, Vue, The Filmhouse and Picturehouse are rather more straightforward.)

Doctor Sleep: Movie Review.


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This is a direct follow up to the Shining.

Indeed, the opening scenes star a young Danny Torrance and his mum Wendy (with Alex Essoe playing Shelley Duvall playing Wendy Torrance).  At a later point in the movie a Jack Nicholson impersonator also joins the proceedings (only it’s an uncredited, in IMDB, actor playing Nicholson playing the barman Lloyd).  These could, of course, have been terrible missteps but director Mike Flanagan adeptly carries it off, just.

In fact the entire movie is a dangerous exercise in, just, getting away with it.

It neatly explains some of the mysteries of the much cherished The Shining movie, but steps away from the mostly unspoken horror of Kubrick’s classic to become a sort of Harry Potter fantasy.

So, strangely the first 20 minutes and the last thirty (both truest to the original) are the most satisfying.

In the middle lies a pretty stodgy lump of twaddle really (Flanagan both directs and edits, which contributes to the stodge) and centres on a curious interplay between Ewan MacGregor, as the whisky soaked but recovering alcoholic that Danny has turned into, another shiner, played well enough by 13 year old Kyleigh Curran (her character name Abra is a pretty clunky pun) and a radiant Rebecca Ferguson, as the arch villain and leader of gang of bad ‘shiners’,

McGregor is tolerable, not something I’d often say, playing the part understatedly.

It is what it is.

This is not even a patch on its predecessor but there are just about enough pluses to keep you involved for its challenging 210 minute run time.

A curiosity, I’d say, that committed Shining fans, like me, should on balance, go see.

Just.

 

Sorry We Missed You: Movie review of Ken Loach’s latest drama.


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Sorry we missed you, says the card from the DPD driver.  Your parcel is in your wellingtons in the back garden.

Well, that’s a familiar message to us middle class online shoppers.

How we curse when our delivery man (looking a bit stressed) arrives late.

What we don’t know, until now, is perhaps why he’s late and the repercussions.

Loach and his usual writer, Paul Laverty, have crafted another slice of life drama out of real delivery man stories, real care worker stories.  But the problem with this latest opus is that they have basically lumped all of the worst case scenarios onto one family.

The outcome is, therefore, an almost unbelievable tidal wave of misery.  Of course this story is possible but it’s too contrived.  It’s like following the proverbial gambling addict backing red but black coming up time after time after time on his worst ever losing streak.

Add to this Loach’s penchant for using under-exposed (or non-professional) actors and he runs the risk of it not coming off.  And in this case there are too many misfires from his earnest, but variably talented, cast.

In the lead, Kris Hitchen does a good job of holding the whole thing together, although it’s the relationship with his charming daughter (who largely steals the show) Lisa Jane that is the emotional heart of the movie.  Sadly his world-weary care-working wife, Abbie, played by Debbie Hollywood fails to match up.  She has no previous pedigree and I don’t expect she will progress on the back of this, despite a valiant attempt to pull off a difficult role.

I don’t intend to spoil this with plot detail but I can tell you this is RELENTLESSLY bleak.  To the point of being unbelievable:  few in the gig economy can have ALL of this bad luck but I totally understand that many have some.

If only the misery had been doled out to more characters, and if only the acting had been of a universally higher standard this could have been a Loach great.

But it’s not.

I, Daniel Blake had few of the faults of this latest outing and all of its strengths.

Saying that, Ken Loach is one of our great polemicists and his voice is vital in our hideous Tory-driven self-centred economy.

Boris will never watch this, and if he does he’ll scoff at it.  But, then, we scoff at his privilege.

I’m sorry I can’t rate this amongst Loach’s best, but it deserves to be seen, albeit with a slightly forgiving viewer attitude.

A great director performing at sub-par is nevertheless a great director and I still rate this a 7/10.

 

 

As the General election campaigning starts this would be good to keep in mind.


In 1999 the small Scottish agency, Yellow M, took the king’s shilling…but produced my all time favourite political poster.

A poster that for me sums up the legacy of one man.

It’s this one.

But Tony’s one big lie, which now defines him, pales into insignificance as it was committed, he argues  (wrongly, and unforgivably, in my opinion) in what he says was the nation’s interest.

Twenty years later we can revisit this poster but in a far less oblique way because, dear voters, if you vote for charming, scruffy, chuckly old BoJo, you are voting for a liar.

An outright fibber of the first order.

A Billy Liar in fact.  A man barely capable of telling the truth.

A man who will do ANYTHING to protect his chums, his fortune, their fortunes.

A man with no integrity.

A serial adulterer.  (Who therefore lies to his closest family.)

This man is not fit to be elected as our Prime Minister and he wasn’t elected to that position by the British Public.

If you do vote for a liar.  A barefaced one. We will all have to suffer the consequences.

The 1999 poster, without the aid of Photoshop, can be updated accordingly.

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