1917: Movie Review.


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I have a recurring dream.

It’s a common one.

In it I am a soldier trying to evade the grasp of my enemy in a war zone.  I sneak around fields, towns, villages often being spotted, running for my life.  Sometimes I spot the enemy from afar preparing to attack and a sense of dread overwhelms me.  It last all night.

The dream interpreters, not particularly surprisingly, suggest this reflects some form of conflict one are facing in one’s life.

Today, in the cinema I witnessed that dream come to life, imagined by Sam Mendes in a Hades like no other.

It’s terrifying.

Totally and utterly terrifying.

It’s a true story based on the experience of Mendes’ grandfather, Alfred, who shared a fragment of what happened with his grandson.

Mendes’ career is largely theatre-based, and many film critics believe theatre makers do not make good film makers.  Yes, they might be strong on dialogue and characterisation but they tend to be weaker on cinematography.

One way to resolve this is to create your movies with Roger Deakins, surely the greatest cinematographer in history – given not only his ridiculously great eye but also the technology he has to further enhance his art.

There can be NO doubt that this is as much Deakins’ movie as it is Mendes’.  He was Oscar nominated 12 times before he finally landed one for Bladerunner 2049 (along the way his greatness has blessed No Country for Old Men, Skyfall, The Shawshank Redemption, Faro and The Assasination of Jesse James…). This will be his second.  There can be no doubt about that.

The combination of stunning grading, extremely long takes and unworkeoutable steadycam technique defies logic, description and understanding.  It is mesmerising.

Remember the first 20 minutes of Speilberg’s Saving Private Ryan, arguably the greatest War movie of all time?  Would you agree with me that the remaining 90 minutes is patchy at best?  Well, 1917 begins more slowly, but no less electrifyingly, as we settle into Deakins’ art.  The difference though is that the remaining 90 minutes of 1917 grab you by the throat and do not let off.

It’s completely overwhelming.

Technical movies of this competence don’t always have great acting performances.  And this won’t win George Mackay an Oscar, probably not even a nomination, but he does not let the side down, neither does his supporting actor Dean-Charles Chapman, but although this is SUCH a human story it’s the sheer scale and bravado of the overall thing that is what makes it such a compelling piece of filmmaking.

Some will lament the fact that this is so, but I believe Mendes has found the balance.

One other thing Thomas Newman’s soundtrack is so gripping, so menacing that jeopardy is maintained for it’s entirety, it’s a significant achievement.

He has created a nightmare vision that out-horrors even the likes of The Exorcist, because this is no fantasy, this is reality, and it feels like it.

Truly a seminal cinema experience.  This will only be half the movie on your TV set so get up and get down to your local big screen, before it’s too late.

Peerless.

The movie of the year (although I’ve yet to see Parasite) in an already epic year.

 

 

 

Worth Dying for: The power and politics of flags by Tim Marshall: Book Review


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The title is a statement, not a question.  So is the author suggesting that, yes, flags are worth dying for?

In this terrific book Tim Marshall explores, over about 300 pages, why it is that flags have become such strong semiotic devices across the 21st century globe.

As Amazon says in its splurge; In nine chapters (covering the USA, UK, Europe, Middle East, Asia, Africa, Latin America, international flags and flags of terror), Tim Marshall draws on more than twenty-five years of global reporting experience to reveal the histories, the power and the politics of the symbols that unite us – and divide us.

I absolutely loved this.

Marshall has a nice line in sarcasm although he keeps that to a minimum.  Largely the book is a fascinating historical insight into the power of flags, usually three colours or less.

Why green is so important in Islamic countries.  Why blue can represent sky, sea and many other things.  Why red is typically the colour of blood.  Or, of communism.

Why maybe a half of global flags have a religious significance, almost all of those crosses are, yup, crucifixes.

Why regions congregate around themes.  Ever wondered why all the Scandi flags are left biased crosses, just with different colour ways?  Find out here.

It’s not just political flags either, we read about the chequered flag, the Olympic flag, the red cross and more.

A great read and a great opportunity to increase your score on University Challenge.

 

Upright. New TV series by Tim Minchin.


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I’ll start by confessing that Tim Minchin has done nothing.  NOTHING for me in his fairly long and, largely, highly succesful career, so when it was suggested I watch this I doubted I’d get past episode one.

How wrong could I have been?

By the end of episode eight, binged in two days, the tears rolled down my cheeks.

It’s bawdy, ballsy, rude, ridiculous, hilarious, breathtaking, touching, sincere and is based on a largely unpredictable storyline that twists and turns like a Tasmanian Devil.

It also features a stand out, frankly equal footing, performance by 19 year old Australian actress, Milly Alcock, remember that name, she’s the next Margot Robbie.

A truly excellent TV series, right up there with Succession, Fleabag and Chernobyl as my favourites of 2019.

 

Glastonbury 50. The official story of the Glastonbury Festival: My review.


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The Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts celebrates its 5oth anniversary this June and I will be there, for my fourth festival.

In fact although Glastonbury is 50 it’s only the 36th staging as there was a big hole in the 70’s and several ‘fallow years’.

For me it is the greatest music festival in the world, although it is far more than a musical festival, hence its formal name – The Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts.

Did you know that at 200,000 attendees (135,000 tickets, 65,000 staff and volunteers) Glastonbury is more populous than Bath.  The site is bigger than my home town of South Queensferry.

These coffee-table type affairs don’t usually interest me all that much, but anyone who has been to, and fallen in love with, the festival will, like me, be drawn into every minuscule detail of the event.  I lost two long afternoons over the Christmas break devouring every single word and every single picture that tell the story in just the right amount of detail.

Performers share their, universally enthusiastic, memories (of course – it’s pure fan boy).

The Eavis’ father and daughter impressarios share their highs and (many) lows and we can be as geeky as we like, as readers, in dissecting the line ups and remembered highlights.

For me, my two all time highlights are described, both as it happens by Emily Eavis.

2012’s Radiohead secret gig on the Park Stage in the pouring rain and 2013’s masterful moment during Stagger Lee by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, pictured below.  I was about 50 yards away from this.

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Here it is in its entirety.  She rises from the crowd at 7’45”.

I love this comment on Youtube.  Hope it’s true…

To let you all know, I was the one that put the girl on my shoulders. My mate had Nicks foot on his shoulder and the girl in white popped up behind me, she was flustered and asked if i would put her on my shoulders, i accepted. When she came down she said ‘you’ve just made my entire life better’ then gave me a kiss on the cheek and disappeared, not my girlfriend, just a random girl that wanted a moment with nick. 🙂

 

 

Little Women: Movie Review.


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I haven’t read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, neither have I seen any of the previous film incarnations of her famed novel, so I came to this with no expectations other than that the cast is stellar and the director, Greta Gerwig, is highly noteworthy. (Lady Bird was superb in my opinion – next up is Barbie, written by Noah Baumbach and starring Margot Robbie – that should be interesting.)

What interested me structurally about the movie is that it is essentially both an autobiography and a fiction – the novel itself is represented as little stories but the narrative describes how the book came about.  For some critics this has been problematic as it requires (or allows if you prefer) a considerable amount of time-switching, that is not always captioned for the hard of intelligence.

The movie is an emotional rollercoaster with peaks of hilarity and depths of real pity as the four March sisters, that make up the main protagonists, live a struggling middle class life surrounded in close proximity by deep poverty and significant wealth.  It is this relationship with money, and the pursuit thereof, that is the central philosophical backbone of the movie and allows for many excellent vignettes and clear messaging that money is not the root of all happiness.

On the side of the rich sit three excellent portrayals; Timothy Chalomet (outstanding as the main love interest Laurie), his wonderful and generous of spirit grandfather (played beautifully and touchingly by Chris Cooper) and the ‘evil'(ish) rich Aunt March (Meryl Streep).  Laura Dern continues her annus mirabilis as the girls’ mother (it complements her performance in Marriage Story.)

More than once the beautiful tableaux’ that Gerwig sets up reminded me of Dorothea Langue’s Migrant Mother.  In that it resonates love and tenderness in the face of adversity.

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This is a tremendous piece of film making in every way.  It’s funny, moving, beautiful to look at, poignant and thought provoking.

Saoirse Ronan is excellent, as always, but Florence Pugh’s ability to appear both 14 and 26 is even more remarkable.  Emma Watson is solid and poor little Beth is played touchingly by Eliza Scanlen.

Overall it’s a great ensemble production with the real star of the show, Great Gerwig.

Bravo!

 

 

 

2019: The Highlights


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My favourite picture.  Sunrise in Stratford East by Amy Gorman.

It sure was a busy year.

Got a new job, sort of.

Enjoyed a lot of culture.

Picked up and dropped off a lot of my children at airports.

And had a tremendous holiday in Puglia, Campagna and Basilicata with the highlight of that being Matera.

Did PrimaveraSound again in Barcelona.

And had shitty weather at Gleneagles in Scotland.

Kick my son’s ass at golf all but one time I played him, which was satisfying.

But I ruined my white jeans that came out of a wash all piss-coloured and never recovered.  RIP.

So what were my cultural highs and lows?

Live Music

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Primaverasound was the 50% girl version and looked a little unpromising if I’m honest but turned out to be great.  Highlights were Little Simz, Lizzo, Kate Tempest and Sons of Kemet with a star turn from Amyl and the Sniffers that got the boys going and multiple nip-slips during the Dream Wife gig.

At the Festival my gig of the year was probably Anna Calvi thanks to Grant Anderson’s tremendous (ungiglike) lighting.  Breathtaking.  But This is the Kit and Villagers were also immense and Efterklang were delicious.

The Steely Dan gig was the first I have enjoyed at The Hydro.  It was excellent and worth waiting half a lifetime for.

Theatre

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Another amazing year with many highlights.  Among them Crocodile Fever and a second viewing of Ulster American at The Traverse.

At the Official Festival I loved Kala Kuta Republic (where I met Billy Gillespie and his wife – they were lovely and Tom now has the opening line from Loaded tattooed on his clavicle as a sort of consequence).   The Rite of Spring by Yang Liping’s Peacock Dance Company, and Peter Gynt.

On the Fringe Ontroered Goed, -Are we not drawn onward to new erA- was astonishing.  A play spoken backwards.  Literally.  They are a tremendous company.  The Patient Gloria was astonishing (again at The Traverse) and Baby Reindeer.  OMG, Richard Gadd’s performance was ridiculous. And a great show called the Incident Room.  FCT’s Once on this Island was damed fine too.

The Lyceum had a mixed year but An Edinburgh Christmas Carol, Solaris, Twelfth Night and Local Hero were all excellent. Unlike most I didn’t care for Touching The Void much.

NT Live continued its fine form and the Hot priest from Fleabag was awesome in Present Laughter, I loved the Lehman Trilogy and All About Eve.

Cinema

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A lot of five star movies this year, topped by Netflix’s Marriage Story, The Two Popes and The Irishman. But also great were; Zombieland: Double Tap, the documentary For Sama, broke my heart, Guilty ( one man film almost ), Eighth grade with music from Anna Meredith is tremendous and overlooked,  Blakkklansman was a great return to form for Spike Lee,  Free Solo was another great doc (about climbing El Capitan with no ropes – jeez) ,  Once Upon a time in Hollywood was great but not Tarantino’s finest and The Favourite oozed class.

But king of them all was Joker with the performance of a great year from Joaquim Phoenix.  Oscar certainty.

TV

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A great year for TV topped by Succession which just slayed me, although Chernobyl ran it close.  There was a great documentary called Inside Europe: 10 Years of Turmoil that succe=eded in making Angela Merkel a superhero in my eyes.  Fleabag 2 was outstanding.  The Virtues took Stephen Graham’s career to a new high.  I loved Ricky Gervaises grief comedy After Life and The End of the Fucking World staged a great second series.  I loved Seven Worlds: One Planet too.

Recorded Music.

Here’s a link to my favourite songs of 2019

…and another to my best of the teenies.

My album of the year was Julia Jacklin’s Crushing, but others I loved were Little Simz Grey Area, and one I’ve just discovered is Titanic Ring by Weyes Blood, Norman Fucking Rockwell by Lana Del Ray is the Critics’ choice as Is Ghosteen by Nick Cave.  I loved the former and am only passable about the latter.  I fear it is a little overrated.  If you want grief, do Black Star by Bowie.

I very much liked Andrew Wasylyk’s the Paralian and I found myself delving a lot into Fela Kuti’s back catalogue this year.

Books

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I read some good stuff this year.

I loved the Michelle Obama autobiography and Margaret Atwood, The Testaments was great but not as good as the predecessor (The Handmaid’s Tale).

Another great female autobiography was  To Throw Away Unopened by Viv Albertine of Slits fame.  A beautiful death bed tale about her difficult relationship with her mother.

Child of God by Cormac McCarthy was awesome and short.

Middle England was good but a bit flawed.

The Establishment (and how to get away with it) by everyone’s favourite Marxist Owen Jones was my favourite political read of the year.  Completely biased and completely believable.

The Death of Grass by John Christopher is like a 1950’s The Road with strong left wing leanings also present.  A great discovery and well worth reading.

I didn’t much like Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance.

So that’s it.  A great year with much too savour.  Probably a lot I have missed.

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I’ll be here again next June.  Glastonbury.