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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.



T2: Review. So much better than the original.

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On the day that the infamous ‘Banana Flats’ in Leith were accorded ‘A listed’ architectural heritage status I was in the cinema to see the sequel to the movie that contributed to the Brutalist building’s cultural credibility.

Trainspotting left me cold in 1996. Danny Boyle’s casting of Ewan McGregor as Renton sat extremely uncomfortably with his characterisation in Irvine Welsh’s mind-blowing source novel.  The stage adaptation that featured both Ewen Bremner and Susan Vidler was much more mind-blowing and credible than the movie.

A public schoolboy from Creiff simply did not fit my vision of an, albeit relatively educated compared to his peers, junkie from West Granton.

The low budget special effects were largely corny.

The baby on the ceiling?  Come on.

The filthiest toilet in Scotland?  With crystal clear water?  Come on.

But the music was outstanding and it clearly nailed a cultural moment (I hesitate to say zeitgeist).

So, my expectations of a sequal, especially of a cult youth movie, twenty years on, were hardly sky high.

They should have been, because in my view this is everything that Trainspotting was not.

“Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family…. “ Renton’s cynical rant in the original is a sardonic take on the AIDS campaign that fitted so perfectly with the drug addled HIV capital of Europe  moniker that Edinburgh ‘enjoyed’ in the mid 1990’s.  The city’s unique needle-sharing skag culture had contributed to a minor epidemic, and choosing life was  not a decision, merely a potential outcome.

This underclass had zero control.

Zero choice.

Only Renton (who at least had supportive parents) had the wherewithal to escape; not just from the vicious circle, but from the country itself. Set up with £12,000 of his mates’ money, the proceeds of a London drug sale that he had, admittedly, part funded (That gets overlooked and is a slight plot-hole for me.) he escaped to Amsterdam and a new life.

That he chose.

T2 opens on Renton’s return to the Promised Land, an Edinburgh where the airport meeter greeters are Eastern European.  A family without his mother (he didn’t make the funeral).  A Leith that is part-gentrified, although Sick Boy’s Salamader Street flat symbolically overlooks a massive scrap metal yard, the graveyard of dream cars.  A metaphor for life’s finite span.

The movie (very) roughly adapts Welch’s Porno, but with many flashbacks and additional scenes from the Trainspotting novel that could have been in the original (not least the scene in Leith Central Station).

The budget is six times the original and it shows.  In a good way.  The cinematography bristles from start to finish (Anthony Dod Mantle) and the script bristles with comedy and tragedy in almost equal measure.  The scene in the King William Bar (1690) is a classic.

Not all the characters have fared as well as Renton.

SickBoy, although lithe (thanks to the Charlie) owns his Aunty’s boozer (the beautifully named Port Sunshine – Hibees ya bass) it’s a doss house and in need of investment. His Bulgarian girlfriend Veronika is the only new character to join the fray and cleverly plays the tart with, half, a heart.

Spud’s still a, now suicidal, junkie.

Begbie’s still a fucking bampot on the run from the jail.

Spud, Sickboy and Renton join forces to turn the Port Sunshine into a cultural heritage landmark in Leith attracting considerable public investment.  (For cultural heritage read brothel, sorry, sauna.)

It turns into a hilarious revenge thriller with Begbie on the rampage.

In a turnkey scene Renton sits with Veronika in the fancy Harvey Nichols Forth [sic] floor restaurant.  He reminisces on the Choose Life soliloquy but reframes it, every bit as cynically, for 2017.

“Choose Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and hope that someone, somewhere cares … Choose reality TV, slut shaming, revenge porn. Choose a zero-hours contract, a two-hour journey to work. And choose the same for your kids, only worse …”

This is the point of the movie.  I don’t think it’s about nostalgia as so many reviews have said.  What was great about the foursome’s life in 1996?  Fuck all.

No, this is about regret and the search for middle aged redemption.  A new opportunity to escape the cycle of shit that the trio (Begbie couldnae give a fuck) have immersed themselves in.

It’s an echo of the 1996 dream that, for Sickboy and Begbie, was stolen from them in that London hotel room.  But you know, deep down, it’s not going to work out.  Is it?

Danny Boyle and John Hodge have created a monumental movie.  Poignant, funny, beautifully nuanced and reflecting (not nostalgically) their acknowledged masterpiece of 1996.  The weaving together of three generations of the key chartacters’ respective lives is effortless and the music mirrors that extremely subtly.

Ewen Bremner is the real star with his beautifully sad performance as Spud.  Ewan McGregor has grown into Renton’s skin and can finally be forgiven the original miscasting. Robert Carlyle’s Begbie just manages to steer clear of charicature, and delivers moments of high camp scary bastardness.

The whole thing is a fucking blast.

Go see it.

By the way, credit to Harvey Nichols for granting the rights to use, and adapt, their outstanding shoplifting commercial as part of the movie.



Prevenge: Movie Review. The best pregnant, slasher, comedy, horror movie…ever.

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The three  Greek Furies that feature prominently in the 1934 Noirish movie, Crime Without Passion, are the central metaphor in Alice Lowe’s extraordinarily dark Prevenge, billed as the world’s  first pregnant, slasher, comedy, horror movie.

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In it, Alice Lowe’s character, Ruth, embarks on a revenge murder spree goaded on by her helium-voiced, gestating baby.

It takes her to Wales and, in one breathtaking scene, the streets of Cardiff on Halloween night where she claims she almost needed protection from the boozed-up locals in a sequence reminiscent of Scarlett Johnassonn’s Under The Skin street walk in Glasgow.

The reason for her bloody revenge spree is only revealed in drips (so I won’t spoil it – like a preview I read before the screening did for me) which adds greatly to the narrative tension.

The making of this low budget Film Four offering is remarkable.  Lowe was offered development money and finding herself pregnant used her condition to inspire this blackest of black script.  She then wrote, produced, cast and filmed (in 11 days) the whole affair before her baby arrived.

Seeing an actor perform whilst heavily pregnant, and genuinely playing a pregnant character, is a rarity (my only recollection is Frances McDormand in Fargo) and Lowe certainly makes the most of the opportunity.  Shooting took place in her late third Trimester.

The Furies are the ultimate avenging angels and she uses the extraordinary scenes from Crime Without Passion to symbolise her quest for justice, viewing the movie from the comfort of her hotel room where she takes respite, despite noisily bonking near neighbours, from her exhausting killings.

The killings themselves are simple but bloody affairs and each has hilarious set ups.  Can she complete her task before the long arm of the law catches up on her careful forensic clean ups?  You’ll have to see it to find out.

This is classic British black comedy at its best.  Using its low budget as a virtue but still making some moments of genuinely great cinematography, most notably in an exotic pet shop and a beautiful full facial dream sequence in a yoga class.

It has echoes of Mike Leigh’s early work and Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers is an obvious reference point.  Obvious because Lowe is its co-star and it too shares a murderous plotline.

But, comparisons aside, this is an entirely original take on several genres that does its damnedest to create a genre of its own.

Whether there’s room for thousands of pregnant, slasher, comedy, horror movies is debatable.

So we’ll just have to agree on one thing.  The original and best.

 

 



Well done The Sunday Herald. You’ve gone global

No doubt you’ve seen yesterday’s superb Sunday Herald TV listing for Trump’s inauguration, but if you haven’t here it is.

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Great so see the paper get high quality recognition in this piece in Time.

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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.

 

 

 



The End of an era at Ripping Records. Simply the best.

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Every great music city has a Mecca.

In London it was Rough Trade, in New York it’s Bleeker Street Records.

In Edinburgh it was Ripping Records.

But on Saturday 26th November that Mecca closes for the final time.  John Richardson is retiring.

I was particularly privileged to have an ‘insiders’ relationship with Ripping, because my mate, then sister’s boyfriend and not long after, Brother in Law, was the second Lieutenant, Nik Sutherland.

It was a privilege indeed because it gave me access to quite a few guest list tickets.  Had I have been greedy enough I suppose I could have been out in Edinburgh’s music scene every night of the week but that would have been wrong.  You can only ask for so many favours. (Don’t get my wrong I bought plenty too.)

Every time I popped in, Nik or John would bung me a promo disc saying “you might like this” and back in the record rep days w hen there were thousands of T shirts on the go, I’d often be the recipient of Nik’s cast offs.

I have a few to this day.

It all started for me as a student in the late 1970’s.  In those days John took care of proceedings downstairs and Nik ran the record exchange upstairs.  It was, in a way, the predecessor to e-Bay.  Hundreds of (mainly) punk singles put on display by their owners at their stated “buy now” price for which Ripping took a commission.  I was an avid collector of Stranglers singles and purchased most of them at Ripping and then, when I was at my poorest, ironically when I’d started my first real job, I sold them there at a significant premium.

It was good business.

Ripping was cool, if a little scary.  John and Nik (and Davey) took no shit from anyone (including me) and there were plenty of wee bampots that used to hang around there, so there was always the chance of something kicking off, but it was cool as fuck and I was anything but cool, so it gave me a bit of swagger and second hand street cred, to be associated by marriage.

As my kids grew up they were able to pretty much guarantee themselves T in the Park Tickets and that was great too.

But mostly what I loved about Ripping was that it was just a cultural hang out where you could talk music for hours with John and Nik.  I was always made welcome and could chat round and about the busy comings and goings of the place.

It was, of course, part of its own micro-economy of The Bridges where local traders helped each other out.

One story I loved was when the girl from the shoe shop told Nik and John that she’s had a customer in that morning.  Let’s just say she wasn’t the most sophisticated Fifer in Fife.

She’d come in looking for long lace up boots that had a certain role.

“Huv yae goat any ae thae shaggin’ bits?” was her query.

Of course it was tough.  Always tough.  The other Record Shop in Cockburn Street was cheaper.  HMV muscled in on the ticket scene.  TicketScotland threatened to become a monopoly.  Ripping never had the buying clout to compete and it seemed to me from about 1990 they hardly sold any music.

It was tickets that became its game and slowly but surely an idiosyncratic website emerged that was an Aladdin’s Cave of musical treasure.  I’m sure John will join me in thanking the venues that resolutely refused to cut Ripping out of the musical ecosystem of Edinburgh and allowed them to continue to make a living and be THE place in Scotland to buy your tickets.

The buses to Glasgow (predominatly to Barrowlands in my experience, but most likely that hell hole that was the SECC too) were the stuff of legend.  One night Nik would be on his way to a death metal gig, the next a boy band and sometimes to bands he actually wanted to see.

Thanks John and Nik and Davy.

It was fucking brilliant.

Fore!



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.