The Virtues: Channel 4.


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This is Stephen Graham, Channel 4, Shane Meadows and just British TV overall at its very best.  The Russians and the Poles can make movies this depressing but the Brits excel at it.

Occassionaly.

And this is one of those occasions.

I thought Stephen Graham was decent in Line of Duty, but that was a mere warm-up outing for this career-defining hour of TV.  He is simply breathtaking.

The second act, in which he gets smashed to drown the sorrows of the loss of his son who has emigrated with his new ‘dad’ to Australia, is indescribably brilliant.

Doing a drunk is tricky.  (Even Gillian Anderson struggled in All About Eve) but this captures it astonishingly, in no small part because of the direction of Shane Meadows and genre-bending camera work.

It was deeply disturbing TV from start to finish with a constant barrage of depression. But that’s what makes Meadows such a unique talent.  What lies ahead one can only guess but you can be sure of one thing.  It ain’t gonna be comedy.

Wonderful, wonderful TV.  Thanks guys.

The Unthanks: Live at The Pleasance Theatre, Edinburgh 11/5/2019: Review


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Tonight’s gig saw glowing and proud new mothers, Rachel and Becky Unthank, joined on stage by Niopha Keegan.

This is the nucleus of the Unthanks and the point of them really.

Yes, we missed the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band, but that was OK because we knew in advance that they wouldn’t be there, and neither would the Unthanks band.

Instead, what we savoured was the most stripped of performances.

Pure, naked vocals.  Perfect harmony. No instruments other than their incredible voices.

If you don’t know the Unthanks, do yourself a favour and find out.

But here’s the pitch…”North East of England at its preternatural core”.

This IS the North East.

Most of the set is grounded there.  Folklore, ghost stories, industrial past – the Tyne features heavily.

My friends and I are essentially rock and roll guys, we do techno and electronica and dance, but mainly we do guitar based stuff.  Nevertheless, we unanimously agreed that this was music at its purest, its most spiritual, its most lovely.

A true gem of musical performance, thoroughly enjoyed by an appreciative and largely knowledgeable audience.

It was nice not to feel like the oldest people in the room for once.

 

 

 

The ethics of art. Venice Biennale


I suspect this piece may cause some controversy.

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It’s the wreck of the boat that carried between 700 and 1,100 refugees (not migrants) from Libya to the Italian island of Lampedusa.  But it collided with a vessel that had responding to its distress call and all but 28 died.

The boat as artwork statement was conceived by the Swiss-Icelandic artist Christoph Büchel.

Organisers of the Biennale – the art world’s most prominent international gathering that opens to the public on Saturday hope it will prompt visitors to stand for two minutes in respect.

Jeana and I went to the Biennale two years ago and it is simply awesome.  Amazingly it is also very affordable, not something you’d expect of Venice – from memory about €20 a day.

I think it could be a profoundly moving piece of work and I applaud it – especially in Italy, a country that can ill afford to take the brunt of the refugee crisis and so I applaud the Italian government and the Biennale team for this.

But I am sure it will have its critics.

What do you think?

To Throw Away Unopened by Viv Albertine: Book review


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Viv is about 60 but she retains the spirit of her 20-something Slits guitarist days.  She wrote about that eloquently in Clothes. Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys Boys, Boys.

The title of that autobiography was drawn from her mother’s criticism that that was all she thought about as a late teenager.

It’s an absolute belter.

But now we’re considering her SECOND autobiography and it raises the bar even further.

What a thing this is.

It’s not a laugh, I have to say, but there are humorous moments.

Essentially, it takes the form of a description of the day her 95 year old mother died, told in short snippets interspersed with Albertine’s memoire of her family, and love, life.

It’s grim, abusive stuff.

Midway into the book she finds her estranged father’s diaries and later her mother’s.  Both forensically detail a period in the young Albertine’s life where they are preparing to divorce and it ain’t ‘Little House on the Prairie’ that’s for sure.

But what Albertine does most in this history of her life is reveal her inner thinkings in a way that is uncommon on autobiographies.  She was a punk, a rebel, a man-hater – that loved sex with men – OK, maybe not a man-hater, quite, but a fierce feminist for sure – and with reason.  And underpinning that personality trait is self doubt, insecurity, self loathing at times.  All explained, all considered, all consuming.

It’s gripping, utterly compelling stuff and as the death of her mother plays out we are treated to, shall we say, an unusual farewell.

It’s also beautifully crafted.  Viv Albertine can wield a pen even more successfully than she wielded guitar in her Slits days.

Highly recommended and only £3 at Fopp.

 

 

 

Eighth Grade: Movie Review.


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I don’t imagine many 13 year olds have been nominated for a Golden Globe, although some brief research reveals that Jodie Foster won  an Academy Award at the age of 13 for Taxi Driver.

Jodie Foster had an important role in the aforementioned movie but she was playing opposite De Niro at his best so she didn’t have to OWN the movie.

Elsie Fisher OWNS Eighth Grade in a remarkable way and that’s why she was nominated this year.  Such a shame she didn’t win because she deserved to.

It opens on an extreme close up monologue of her talking into her laptop’s Photo Booth as she records a self help YouTube film that nobody will ever watch. It closes on the same but with the camera on her face.

In between we experience her life, not her story; her being, her existence.

What’s unusual about the opening is that we see Fisher, warts (well zits) and all, nothing hidden. All her blemishes exposed to the world.  Later in an uncomfortable scene we see her at a pool party with a similar degree of intensity.

It’s not pervy, it’s just honest.

This film steers an excruciating course through everything that we all went through, as a thirteen year old.  When I say ‘all’ I exclude prom queens from the list because they, in their bubbles of popularity, are immune to the absolute horror show that is being 13, shy and free of attraction from (but not for) the opposite sex.

Add to this the fact that Fisher (playing Kayla Day) is a single child with a single, male, parent (played sympathetically by Josh Hamilton – he has one moment that’s so laugh out loud in a mall that I nearly choked), and the spots, and the puppy fat, and the panic attacks all add up to one hell of an eighth grade (the end of middle school) for Kayla.

Fisher’s performance is mind-blowingly good.

The direction by first time director (and stand up comedian ) Bo Burnham looks like the work of a seasoned pro.  It’s stunning.

But the reason I wanted to see the movie, in the first place, was because it was scored by Anna Meredith and the pool party scene I referred to earlier is presented on top of her epic tuba piece called Nautilus.  It’s like a cross between Jaws and National Lampoon’s Vacation.  The music which BURSTS onto the soundtrack is cranked up to the max and does not disappoint.  Bravo Anna.

At one or two points the movie drops into slightly too low a gear, but when it is performing at its most efficient it is at turns hilarious, toe curling, deeply moving, cruel, redemptory and hopeful.

It’s a truly beautiful work of art and I urge you to see it, preferably in the cinema on its very limited UK release.

 

 

 

 

Us: Movie Review


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The ‘tethered’ family who come to terrorise their human (or are they) doppelgängers.

The Us of the title are Jordan Peele’s ‘tethered’ doppelgängers of North Americans (pictured) who live underground. After many years underground the Rapture has arrived  as predicted in Jeremiah 11:11 and the human race faces a challenge that it will struggle to overcome.

Peele’s second horror is every bit as intellectually challenging as Get Out And like that debut features a fine central performance; this time in the form of Lupita Nyong’o, her family and their ‘tethers’.  For quite long sequences of the movie Nyong’o shares the screen with herself in absolutely seamless editing and post production that takes your breath away. In fact much of this film does that with its incredible design and vivid photography.

The main cast is almost exclusively black, but a fine cameo by Elizabeth Moss and her family is the exception.

A starting point may have been Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

Nyong’o, as a young child in 1986, is drawn into this sinister underworld in a beach-side fairground show on Santa Cruz promenade. Wearing the Thriller T shirt her dad has won in a coconut shy she is taken from this world to a backdrop of Hands Across America, which was supported by Jackson.

It’s not the scariest horror you will ever see (although it has enough jumps to keep your heart going) but it’s one of the creepiest.  It sits neatly in the latest greats of the genre (Get Out, It follows) that treats its viewer with respect and keeps you guessing right to the end.

I won’t say much more as it will only lead me to spoilers but, put it this way, we are in the hands of a master craftsman here – his next movie project is a rewrite of Candyman by the way.

Local Hero by Bill Forsyth & David Greig: My Thoughts.


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It was announced that Local Hero could be a possibility while I was still on the Royal Lyceum board three years ago and it seemed like a wild dream, almost a fantasy really; that one of Scotland’s most iconic movies could be turned into a stage play, and a musical at that.

Even though it rates only a solid, but unspectacular 7.4 on IMDB, it has been taken to Scotland’s heart.  I only watched it myself, a month ago, in anticipation of this production finally, miraculously landing.  But I wasn’t overly taken with the movie I have to say.  It has dated and I found too many of the performances pretty easy to criticise and that let  it down. So I approached last night nervously.

There was no need to worry.  This is a smash hit in the making.  The buzz around The Lyceum was palpable and the after show party felt like the West End had dropped into Edinburgh.

The Director is John Crowley for God’s sake – he of the Oscar-nominated movie Brooklyn: the man who has just directed the most anticipated movie (for me anyway) of 2019; The Goldfinch.

The set designer is Scott Pask – Book of Mormon – heard of that?

And, of course, the music was developed and expanded by none other than Mark Knopfler himself.

The cast is not a Take The High Road reunion, indeed only two of the 15 have ever appeared on The Lyceum stage, and have Girl From The North Country, Kinky Boots, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, Les Mis, This House, Wolf Hall , School of Rock and Sweeney Todd, amongst many others, littering their CVs.

This is the real deal.  This is monumental ambition for a 600 seat theatre in  Scotland. (Albeit the Old Vic are co-producers).

So, onto a couple of old upturned fish boxes sidle Matthew Pigeon, as Gordon the hotel-owner and chief negotiator, and Ownie (Scott Ainslie) to conclude Ownie’s accountancy requirements with change from a fiver.  If only Gordon had change.

It’s a quiet start that does not prepare you for the technical wizardry that underpins the first showstopper of the night, “A Barrel of Crude”.  And there’s a laugh right from the off. Light humour that litters an excellent script.

Through the opening half hour the lilting lament that formed the musical motif of the movie slips and slides into earshot before finally emerging fully formed.  It’s beautiful.

The story is pretty much as per the movie, but the morals feels somehow even more upfront as we chart the greed of the locals over the environmental consequences of their signing away their home village of Ferness (You can’t eat scenery though).

The big bad American oilman (played impeccably by Damian Humbley) is a great foil to Katrina Bryan’s Stella and Matthew Pigeon’s Gordon in a love triangle that doesn’t really quite come off (that would be my only real criticism of the show).

I particularly liked the movement in this (directed by Lucy Hind).  It’s a play about contrasting scales (big skies, small villages, small-mindedness and big ambitions) and what she skilfully does is play with that scale through subtle but lovely choreography to bridge scenes and dramatise that juxtaposition of scales.  It’s really nice to see great movement that’s NOT trying to be John Tiffany: again.

The dance movement is slick and light of touch.  With a big mixed-age, mixed-size cast that’s no mean feat.

The band is top notch and excellently MD’d by Phil Bateman on keys.

Although the score is inspired mainly by the Celtic canon it succeeds much more than Come From Away (that I saw on Monday) which too draws from that canon – but does it to death.  Here we have ballads, tangos, a bit of rock and roll and, yes, that plaintive motif.

The light and shade in this production’s musical content, for me, frankly blows the multi Olivier-nominated Come From Away out of the water.  Indeed, on every level this is a much more enjoyable evening of theatre – so roll on the Oliviers 2020.

The comparisons can’t fail be made – both are Celtic musicals set in tiny communities, in wildernesses where big America comes to visit.

The Local Hero ensemble is universally excellent, the direction superb but the showstopper of it all is the scenic design.  You’ll need to see it to appreciate it.  I ain’t gonna do it any justice here.  All I’ll say is this.  You haven’t seen the aurora borealis until you’ve seen Local Hero at The Lyceum.

Bravo Lyceum.  Bravo.

The show richly deserves both its standing ovation and the Sold Out boards you’ll find in Grindlay Street for the next six weeks.

(I did take a peek at the website box office and you CAN get tickets for late in the run.  I’d do it if I were you.)