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?

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.

 

The Lover at The Lyceum Theatre (until Feb 3rd.)


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This, if you’ll forgive the pun, is a stellar line up of theatrical co-producers; The Royal Lyceum Theatre Co, Scottish Dance Theatre and (clears throat) Stellar Quines.

Indeed, it’s the first time (outside of the Festival) that The Lyceum has staged dance since 1972.  It’s been a long wait.

I’d have to say to begin with that it’s a bit of a Marmite piece; if you’re looking for ribald comedy you’ll have to wait for next month’s production of The Belle’s Strategem, and if in your face, angry drama is your bag this won’t get you going.

Instead, we’re served an extremely original, thought provoking reflection on love (or is it lust), class, race and sexual politics in 1930’s Indo-China-Vietnam – a French colony (interestingly explored in its dying days in Francis Ford Copolla’s brilliant Apocalypse Now – but only in the Director’s Cut).

The colonial setting brings with it an interesting role reversal of what you would expect; it’s about an affair between a privileged, but poor, 15 year old French private school girl and a rich, 27 year old, Chinese man (dancer Yosuke Kusano).

Despite his worth the Chinaman is nevertheless the poor relation because of his skin colour and he is toyed with by the adventurous and lusty young girl (played by dancer Amy Hollinshead).

The play is carried by the girl, now in her middle age, reflecting on her relationship both with the man and her two brothers and mother.

As a woman (played with a calm steeliness by Susan Vidler) she views the relationship and tells the story of how love and money become inextricably intertwined.

Despite their impoverishment the brothers still maintain a life of hedonistic, and at times violent, pleasure that often threatens to invade the lovers’ space.

What makes this such an interesting production is the way in which dance, drama, music and sound combine to present a unique theatrical experience.  The dance is never less than engaging with a subtle snakelike quality to both the sexual relationship and the general storytelling.

It’s the Woman’s narration that is the biggest trick in the bag for Dramaturg, David Greig and co directors Fleur Darkin (Scottish Dance) and Jemima Levick (Stellar Quines). Not only does she tell the story from the stage but she voices (through clever lip synching) all of the characters from her youth (affecting a younger timbre to her voice) but she also delivers large sections on tape and in whispered asides projected from the rear of the theatre.  It’s highly engaging and very unusual.

The slow, extremely deliberate pace of the language is often in contrast to the music bed and the dance.  (At times it reminded me of the extraordinary 2015 puppet movie, Anomalisa.)  Throughout, you could hear a pin drop in an engrosssed audience.

It’s a refreshingly original, albeit languidly paced production with much to savour.  Just remember if it’s action and belly laughs you’re seeking, seek elsewhere.

Molly’s Game: Movie review.


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It’s always a treat when Aaron Sorkin brings a new script to our screens, large or small, and his output (aside from West Wing) has been quite thinly spread over recent years.  For me, the high point was The Social Network, but Steve Jobs was pretty damn fine too.

And it’s an unusual move for writers to become directors (albeit Martin McDonagh has done so to remarkable effect).  This is Sorkin’s directorial bow and he makes a pretty decent fist of it.

It’s a good, but not great, film that moves along at typical, for Sorkin, high pace, almost matching that of Tom Lehrer’s, The Elements.  And that is both its strength and its weakness.  It’s kind of exhausting keeping up with 140 minutes of non stop verbal action.

The story concerns the real life of Molly Bloom; Olympic skier turned (illegal) poker madame.  My first gripe is the huge dependence on narration from the central character (played superbly by Jessica Chastain).  It’s a tiresome devise that too often intrudes.  It doesn’t kill the movie but, for me, it hampers it.

The second is that it’s just too one-paced.  It lacks light and shade.

But it’s also absorbing, interesting and full of surprises.

Chastain puts in an an Oscar nominatable performance (but it’s in no way winnable, given what Frances McDormand has put down in Three Billboards as a marker).

Idris Elba had the ladies in my company quite hot and bothered and puts in a decent shift as Chastain’s legal representative.  He’s needed because her early cleaner than clean rules of engagement gradually become blurred and loose.

It’s a great yarn and it holds the audience throughout.  But will I remember it a year from now?  Not particularly.