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Toni Erdmann: Movie Review

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Naming German comedies could easily be a substitute parlour game for naming famous Belgians in the rather snooty middle class homes of the British Isles.  I confess my list would consist of Toni Erdmann and… Deutschland ’83 (well, it has funny bits, doesn’t it?)

And as you leave the film theatre 162 minutes after the opening of a spectacularly soundtrack-free Toni Erdmann you’re left reflecting on the fact that it was funny, and when I say funny I mean screaming out loud as part of a cacophonous melee of filmgoers, but was it REALLY a comedy?

You see, it’s also deeply moving and actually the underlying sadness of the whole thing, the painful loneliness of the two extraordinary leads (both of whom should be Oscar nominated), makes your unrestrained laughter feel like a betrayal of their fragile mental health.

Father and daughter, Winfreid (alias Toni Erdmann) and Ines, are a dysfunctional 69 year old and 40 something.

He’s a semi retired music teacher with a practical joker streak.  She’s a hard as nails management consultant who’s idea of a good time is to take a client’s wife mall-shopping, anything to succeed in her high stress work environment where she’s willing to trample over people to the top.

She has eliminated emotion from her life and that’s hurting no-one more than her dad Winfred (Peter Simonischek).

On a flying trip home from her temporary workplace in Bucharest, Romania she stages fake phone calls so as to distance herself from her family and friends group who are hosting an early birthday party for her.  Her father can’t bear it and so springs a surprise trip to Bucharest, only days later, to see if he can win back her stone cold affection.

Sandra Huller, who played Ines, is magnificent in her role.  She engages in filthy hotel room sex with her underling but completely without love or desire. She attends conventions on weekends, she socialises with a girl group but it’s a veneer of enjoyment as she sips unenthusiastically from half full drinks glasses – letting drink overwhelm her would be a DISASTER -and she has seemingly lost the ability to even FAKE smile.

She is a world class cold fish.

Arriving in Bucharest, her dad tracks her down and starts following her having assumed a persona, Toni Erdmann, Life Coach,  in a long brown wig and oversized false teeth and somehow inveigles his way into her work group.  That’s where the humour really kicks in, as he pursues a series on ‘did he really do that’ set pieces that contain a variety of comedy tropes including mime, slapstick and pathos.

It’s devastatingly funny in places.  Most notably when he attends Ines’ actual birthday party which has already assumed levels of absurdity never before seen on screen.

This is an absurdist comedy at the end of the day.  In places completely surreal.  That’s why it’s certainly not for everyone. The reviews on IMDB range from awestruck to awful so I hesitate to say you’ll love it, but me and my wife both did.

It’s glacially slow but stick with it.

It rewards patience and stamina, but is engrossing from first frame to last.

This truly is a comedy classic.

You may need hankies.



Manchester by The Sea: Review

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About one third of the way through this, quite long (137 minutes) movie the swelling strings and organ of Tomaso Albinoni’s Adagio for Strings and Organ in G Minor start to stir and build through 8 minutes and 35 seconds.

Unlike traditional screenplay music the classical piece, performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, does not subtly grace the background, it grabs you by the throat and dominates the proceedings to the point, almost, of discomfort.

(Some reviewers feel it is heavy-handed, I felt it was well judged.)

The fact that it is in a minor key and is achingly melancholic bursting with sadness, despair and grief absolutely encapsulates the mood of Lonergan’s creation.

I found these lyrics written for the Adagio and they could in fact be the inspiration for Kenneth Lonergan’s Screenplay although I very much doubt he has seen them…

So turn away!
Turn away, turn away

I am alone, I am alone!
I am alone
I am alone
I am alone

Go turn away, go turn away
Turn away, turn away
Turn away,
Turn me away

Alone!
Damned!
Go home!
Gone in darkness
Light, surpasses

All ….
All, is one now!
All, is gone now!
All, is gone
Truthfully
Truthfully
Truthfully
I am gone.

I don’t recall a Hollywood movie so built around grief and that grief is etched into every pore of Casey Affleck’s face. Surely he is a shoe in for best actor at this year’s Oscars.

Lucas Hedges, as his orphaned nephew who Casey Affleck, as Leo – a dead end Janitor – suddenly becomes guardian to after the death of his brother, plays a nuanced role as the troubled teen who can at least find solace in school, sex and band practice; even if his band is dire.

(Actually, there are also a lot of laugh out loud, mainly awkward, moments in it which were entirely unexpected to me.)

It’s  essentially a two header between them although Michelle Williams plays a strong support role, albeit brief in screen time.

To be honest, even calling it a two-header is to downplay the importance of Casey Affleck in this movie.  In truth it is really a study of him alone with supporting characters used ostensibly as dramatic devices and props.

The trailers do not reveal the depth of the storyline, which is devastatingly sad, and for some almost too much to bear.  My wife sobbed almost uncontrollably throughout the third act.

But despite all this, personally, it didn’t quite capture my heart.

Maybe I was in the wrong frame of mind.  It’s a great, albeit slightly one dimensional, movie with a brilliant central performance and a strong screenplay with a good ensemble supporting cast, but that’s not enough to make it the movie of the year.

That said, I would strongly recommend it.

 



The OA: review

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Netflix has surpassed itself with the OA.  It’s a feast of creativity, originality and puzzlement.

Frankly it’s not the sort of show I’d expect to like, loaded to the hilt as it is with mysticism, other dimensions, expressive movement, spells, spiritualism and a central character (the Original Angel) that is as near to a full on hippy as we’ve seen on our screens in forty years.  It’s a fantasy show that’s grounded in reality and borrows in style from Cronenberg and Jonathon Demme.

Part mystery, part meaning of existence it centres on the story of OA who starts out life as a blind Russian girl, daughter of an oligarch who has a near death experience at the age of six when her bus full of junior oligarchs is attacked on a bridge by a terrorist group.  All but her die and for safety she is shipped to America where she is adopted by an ageing couple who, on doctors orders, heavily sedate her for the next 15 years to treat the possible impact of schizophrenia.

On her 21st birthday she goes to meet her father (one of many premonitions) at the foot of the Statue of Liberty but instead meets Hap.  The man who is to become the central feature of her life for the next seven years.

I will stop with the storyline here as the rest will just become spoilers.

What emerges is a hugely complex plot that is impressively gripping and impossible to second guess.  Ten more characters perform as a brilliant ensemble as the story plays out.

It’s odd how Netfilx works, isn’t it?

There are no ads.  Indeed for this there were not even any trailers.

And because there is no ‘schedule’ the episodes can be as long or as short as they need to be which is very refreshing and makes them essentially unairable on traditional television.  One episode is around 65 minutes long, and one only 31, with a variety in between.

The OA is spectacular viewing.  Right up there with Stranger Things as the revelation of 2016 on ‘TV’.  It’s not for everyone but I’d imagine it is for most.

The ending has divided opinion but I for one thought it was good and after a bit of post showing research it’s entirely relevant and actually closes off a huge number of loose ends.

Enjoy.  Wish I could see it again without knowing its meaning.

One last thing.  the Title.  The OA.  It probably means Original Angel but I wonder if it could also derive from Oral Administration (of drugs) or could it be an inverse of Alpha and Omega? As in Jesus Christ proclaiming, as God, that he is the Alpha and the Omega (meaning the beginning and the end of existence).  Just a thought.



Jock’s Jocks by Gary West: Review

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For those of you not in the know, Gary West is a Professor of Scottish Ethnology and presenter of Pipeline on Radio Scotland.

What Gary West doesn’t know about the bagpipe in its multifarious manifestations ain’t worth a skirl.  So it’s no surprise that this absorbing evening of drama, humour and music opens with Professor West playing small pipes to the accompaniment of the ten stringed, renaissance dated, cittern.  I have to say this was my first ever exposure to such a delightful beast.

The scene is a Scottish kitchen where three men and a youngster (played by Gary West’s son Charlie) have gathered for an evening of chat and music.  It seems a tradition.

Arriving late, Charlie brandishes an envelope full of ‘stuff’ that excites the men.  They want to know its contents but West junior only wants a dram.  For that he has to play the fiddle for the group’s entertainment.

Duly obliging we then watch, over the course of the next 40 minutes, a bottle and a half of fine malt disappear at breakneck speed.

A bit like the play really, which gathers no dust – unlike, until now, the contents of the envelope.  For these are the transcripts of interviews with Scots (mainly Highland) soldiers recounting their memories of WWI.

It’s fitting, then, that these stories are recounted in the Scottish Storytelling Centre on Remembrance Day.

In one particularly moving section of the play, which effortlessly slips from seemingly ad libbed pure storytelling and reminiscence into full blown theatre, the four men, in turn, reel off the names of men engaged in Gallipoli (a battle that has, over time, been appropriated almost exclusively to the Australian army).

Not so.

4th, 5th and 7th Royal Scots Fusiliers, 1st Battalion Kings Own Borderers, 7th and 8th Scottish Rifles, 5th, 6th and 7th Highland Light Infantry, 5th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and more, many more.  Each take their place on stage as their involvement in this terrible bloody battle are recalled in personal memories.

The toll taken on the horses who battled through extreme conditions, only to be slaughtered on arrival, exhausted, on the beaches draws gasps from the audience.

Indeed horse stories feature prominently in the evening’s entertainment along with the human reminiscenses.

All four actors deserve praise for they inhabit the lives, however briefly, of the collection of memoirs some funny, some poignant that have been painstaking collected, at first on paper and then on tape, by Jock Duncan (hence the name): the ensemble is completed by Scott Gardiner and Chris Wright.

They interact with ease, chuckling, heckling (there;s a few university gags thrown in, singing, playing their tunes and reading, often in deep Doric dialect the tales that underpin 20th Century Scots culture so sadly and so profoundly.

These are survivors tales, but it’s noted that in one bloody field there were but three graves and now there are six acres.  And that’s just one site.

This is a play that deserves a wider audience.  Although it was sold out it had only the one performance and yet it is a new and massively worthwhile piece of cultural history that would entertain and engage universally. (Many of the songs elicited audience participation, although I’m ashamed to say my only contribution was to Waltzing Matilda, which bookended the Gallipoli section on ‘moothie’ and in song.)

The University of Edinburgh’s School of Scottish Studies Archive is to be praised for supporting this and I, for one, hope it reaches a far wider audience in the years to come.

 

 

 



Love Halloween or hate it (that’s me folks) you’ll love this.

Jimmy Kimmel has an annual prank that he plays on kids.  This year he got a whole load of his viewers to pretend that they had eaten all of the candy that their hard earned Trick or Treating kids had collected.

The range of reactions is priceless.



I do
October 18, 2016, 2:55 pm
Filed under: Arts, creativity, family, food, humour, life, photography, religion, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

We were in Shoreditch, London at the weekend and found this great place called Dinerama.

Here’s what they say about themselves…

Dinerama is back roofed and winterproofed every Thu/Fri/Sat from 5pm to late. Tuck into Street Feast favourites Smokestak, Breddos, Yum Bun and Fundi, plus new heroes Farang and loads more. Head upstairs for Hot Wine and Frozen Toffee Vodka from Dick’s Magic T-Bar, proper cocktails from The Zephyr Lounge and tiki drinks in all the colours of the rumbow in the House of Bamboo.”

It’s a kind of warehouse/ popup venue with bars, DJ’s and lots of food.  It’s great fun.

This couple (Mandy and Reggie) were being married and I thought this image, shot through the reflection from inside the venue, as it poured with rain, was just magic.

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So much so that I got a whole bunch more…

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kissthebride

look

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



One More time with feeling; Review of Nick Cave documentary
September 9, 2016, 12:08 pm
Filed under: Arts, bbc, creativity, family, gigs, movies, music, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

Don’t get me wrong I was willing, urging this film to be magnificent.  But will as I did, it isn’t.

In fact it’s like the ultimate home movie utilising the finest cinematographers money can buy (Benoit Debie and Alwin H Kuchler – I suspect one was on 2D duty, one on 3D – I saw it in 2D).

The back story is important here.  The documentary was commissioned to film the making of Cave’s brilliant new album, Skeleton Tree, (I know it’s brilliant because it was played in full on its release 11 hours ago on the BBC 6 Music Mary Anne Hobbs Show).  What nobody predicted was that it would become a film about grief because, as I understand the timing, no sooner had filming started than Cave’s 15 year old son, Arthur, died in a climbing accident.  The chronology of this is not clear in the film’s narrative.

When I read of Arthur’s death I was devastated for Nick Cave (I truly love the man) and so I expected the film to be an emotional roller coaster.

It isn’t.

Instead what we get is a strung out self indulgence piece.  And I don’t mean Nick Cave’s self indulgence, I mean Andrew Dominik’s. (Director of Cave-soundtracked, and awesome, movie The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.)

It is sumptuously photographed and of course the music is stellar but the glue that binds it, the storyline, is fragmented, dull and seemingly endless.  OK, I accept Cave is a private man and he doesn’t want to spill his grief out on camera, his wife too, but when he describes breaking down in the arms of a virtual stranger on the High Street in Brighton we get a glimpse of what he is going through.

But that’s it.

My companion fell asleep several times.  Thanks partly to the heat in The Filmhouse, Edinburgh where we saw this.  Extremely uncomfortable.  Did they not know they had a sell out audience?

I don’t like being negative about a film of this nature but if Dominik had an Executive Producer with a firmer hand we might have seen a more pared down and rewarding experience.

If you want to see Nick Cave at his very best on film watch the far superior 20,000 Days on Earth, directed by Jane Pollard and Iain Forsyth.  It’s magnificent.