The Kindergarten Teacher: Movie Review.


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Of course any production starring Maggie Gyllenhaal is worthy of consideration because she is a great actor and has been since her breakout performance in Secretary.

Her Deuce (which she produced) was one of the great TV series of recent years and she really goes for it in whatever she does.  That invariably includes getting naked and she doesn’t let us down in that respect here either.

It’s a star vehicle for Gyllenhaal who plays Lisa, a Kindergarten teacher who has a growing up family that are typical millennials; caught up in their own teenage angst and disengaged from Mom.  Her husband is a good soul (a nice performance by Michael Chernus), but he’s become a comfortable home bird who’s get up and go has got up and gone.

So the highlight of her week is her Tuesday night poetry class in which her hunky Spanish tutor likes her, but not her poetry.

It’s a drab life, although clearly Lisa is a good and dedicated teacher.

So imagine her surprise when a five year old pupil, Jimmy, (a pretty wooden, frankly pretty rubbish, performance by Parker Sevak – this is no McCualey Culkin in the making) recites a poem he has created.  She is transfixed and appropriates it for herself and reads it at her poetry class.

Her fellow students and tutor are impressed with the complexity and quality of her creation and so begins a process where she nurtures Jimmy’s talent and champions his talent. She does it for him, not for her despite her initial subterfuge at poetry class.

It’s lovingly directed (female director Sara Colangelo) and is achingly slowly developed as a story.

I didn’t see the twist coming in Act Three.  A twist that draws your breath and makes for a truly epic (although quietly so) denouement.  It takes us into areas of such taboo that escalates the story from a delightful study in teacher/student connection into something way more challenging but it is handled deftly and sympathetically despite the horror of what is unfolding in front of us.

This is an intelligent movie with a commanding performance by Gyllenhaal.  She copes effortlessly with the ‘wooden’ Jimmy and creates a character that you are deeply sympathetic with, and that makes the denouement all the more shocking and sad.

Highly recommended.

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.

Competition and being competitive


I am the competitive dad Amy mentions. I meant it as humorous motivation. But hey, you reap what you sew. I am incredibly proud of Amy though and she can kick my ass fitness wise on anything now, And her siblings – not that that is the point of this.

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It’s not always a good thing.

My family are all pretty competitive. Sometimes playfully, sometimes seriously. Sometimes it starts playfully and we get carried away and then someone ends up in tears (sorry mum).

With a sociable twin brother and sister who were pretty good at sport, had each other to make it easy to get involved in activities at school, they were reasonably competitive. And rightly so, they were talented and put in effort.

I remember as a kid, my sister and I were in a group singing competition and my dad said to us “it’s not the taking part that counts, it’s beating the shit out of the competition”. This was funny at the time, but maybe not the best message for a 10 and 13 year old girl. We’ll put it down to character building and an explanation for my now sarcastic sense of humour.

To say…

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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.)

 

Stan and Ollie: Movie Review.


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What an unexpected joy this delightful ensemble piece is.  An ensemble, how can it be an ensemble when it’s a ‘biopic’ of arguably the world’s funniest double act?

The reason is because the supporting cast, principally the wives (Shirley Henderson as Mrs Hardy and Nina Arianda as Mrs Laurel) along with showbiz impresario Bernard Delfont, played beautifully by Rufus Jones, all add such colour and magic to what is already two show-stopping performances that the whole adds up to so much more than the sum of its parts.

It’s curiously unfunny actually, indeed it’s the opposite.  It’s a sentimental trip through the sad “where are they now years’ of Laurel and Hardy’s final variety theatre British tour in 1953, 16 years after their final movie in 1937.

The tour opens to empty houses (prompting notions of them being ‘has-beens’ and could have led to mawkish self pity but the writing team avoid that trap).

But the tour gradually builds momentum, through some pretty onerous publicity marketing stunts, and pretty much in the same way as the movie builds in its confidence.

I found the movie hard to get into initially – I think perhaps one is initially overly absorbed in Steve Coogan (Stan) and John C. Reilly’s (Olly) impersonations.  But once you’re over that, and have realised that their performances are actually magnificent, I  relaxed and became immersed in the story.

And, you know, it’s terribly, terribly sad.  Although the tour grows in its success their relationships and their health suffer considerably.

It turns out that Stan has been harbouring a grudge since the late 1930’s, when Olly made a film without him.  Hal Roach having contractually split the pair.  Did this mean they were just doing a job together?  After all it was Hal Roach that teamed them up.  they weren’t a ‘thing’ before that.  Indeed Stan had even performed with the great Charlie Chaplin.

This leads to some momentous moments of real emotion that had me choking back the tears.

It’s beautifully shot, with a lovely period feel, despite its obviously low budget.

The direction, by Jon S. Baird, is out of the top drawer, again surprisingly so because his CV doesn’t suggest this is his kind of thing at all.

The interplay between the two wives is actually the funniest part of the movie.  Henderson is kind and supportive to Oliver Hardy; Arianda is a Russian trophy wife, played for laughs, but contained.  She also has a great affection for her husband, Stan.  They are both brilliant and the movie wouldn’t be what it is without them.

All in all, an absolutely tremendous lesson in acting with Coogan putting in a career-best shift.

Very highly recommended.  Take Kleenex.

 

 

Can you ever forgive me? Movie review.


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In which we discover, if proof were needed, that Richard E. Grant (it’s Esterhuysen in case you wondered) only really does Richard E. Grant.

The literary fraud story is spun out a little too long but does make for an excellent vehicle to show off the acting talents of Melissa McCarthy who is almost unrecognisable.  Not to quite the same extent as Patricia Arquette in Escape at Dannemora, but not far off.

The movie cracks along at a fair old pace in Acts I and II but sadly outstays its welcome towards the end.  It tells the story of failed writer and drunk, Lee Israel, who stumbles into a career of writing forged letters by the likes of Dorothy Parker and Noel Coward.  Indeed she writes better Dorothy Parker letters than Dorothy Parker.

There’s several laugh out loud lines in a movie that passed the time but, apart from McCarthy’s excellent turn will quickly be forgotten.

 

 

 

If Beale Street Could Talk: Movie Review.


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Only 48 hours ago my wife and I belatedly watched the Oscar-winning Moonlight (a very odd choice for the best movie Oscar in my opinion), also written and Directed by Barry Jenkins.  Today we saw Jenkins’ follow up. Across the two movies it’s notable that Jenkins doesn’t do ‘action’,as both are glacially paced.  He also doesn’t do white actors.  There are none at all in Moonlight and only 3 or 4 in Beale Street.

Visually, Beale Street is stunning.  Jenkins is not left down by his cinematographer, James Paxton, who was also shot Moonlight.  This has moments of jaw-dropping beauty, and in Kiki Layne and Stephen James he has two faces that make for simply beautiful close ups.  In creating a love story Jenkins has certainly cast a couple that you truly believe are besotted with another, and that is both sweet and charming.

The movie also boasts am excellent soundtrack that has an epic central theme and a great deal of jazz to create mood where dialogue is in short supply.

But the movie is letdown by a pretty unengaging story, some very dense dialogue (it’s famine or feast in that respect) that is virtually indecipherable in places and central performances by the star struck lovers that are more lovely than moving.

The only performance that, for me, leapt off the screen was that of the mother of Kiki Layne, Regina King.  It is nuanced, engaging and powerful and she deserves the recognition she is getting.

This is a year of huge black movies: Black Panther, BlackkKlansman, Green Book and this, all of which have been heavily nominated at The Oscars and BAFTAs.  Of the four through it’s only Spike Lee’s terrific KKK movie that does it for me.

It’s slim pickings in the best movie department in 2019.  Roma is a terrible bore, The Favourite is excellent, but is Lanthimos’ third best feature.  For me the movie of the year is Cold War with The Favourite and A Star is Born close behind.  Not this, that’s for sure.