Little Women: Movie Review.


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I haven’t read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, neither have I seen any of the previous film incarnations of her famed novel, so I came to this with no expectations other than that the cast is stellar and the director, Greta Gerwig, is highly noteworthy. (Lady Bird was superb in my opinion – next up is Barbie, written by Noah Baumbach and starring Margot Robbie – that should be interesting.)

What interested me structurally about the movie is that it is essentially both an autobiography and a fiction – the novel itself is represented as little stories but the narrative describes how the book came about.  For some critics this has been problematic as it requires (or allows if you prefer) a considerable amount of time-switching, that is not always captioned for the hard of intelligence.

The movie is an emotional rollercoaster with peaks of hilarity and depths of real pity as the four March sisters, that make up the main protagonists, live a struggling middle class life surrounded in close proximity by deep poverty and significant wealth.  It is this relationship with money, and the pursuit thereof, that is the central philosophical backbone of the movie and allows for many excellent vignettes and clear messaging that money is not the root of all happiness.

On the side of the rich sit three excellent portrayals; Timothy Chalomet (outstanding as the main love interest Laurie), his wonderful and generous of spirit grandfather (played beautifully and touchingly by Chris Cooper) and the ‘evil'(ish) rich Aunt March (Meryl Streep).  Laura Dern continues her annus mirabilis as the girls’ mother (it complements her performance in Marriage Story.)

More than once the beautiful tableaux’ that Gerwig sets up reminded me of Dorothea Langue’s Migrant Mother.  In that it resonates love and tenderness in the face of adversity.

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This is a tremendous piece of film making in every way.  It’s funny, moving, beautiful to look at, poignant and thought provoking.

Saoirse Ronan is excellent, as always, but Florence Pugh’s ability to appear both 14 and 26 is even more remarkable.  Emma Watson is solid and poor little Beth is played touchingly by Eliza Scanlen.

Overall it’s a great ensemble production with the real star of the show, Great Gerwig.

Bravo!

 

 

 

2019: The Highlights


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My favourite picture.  Sunrise in Stratford East by Amy Gorman.

It sure was a busy year.

Got a new job, sort of.

Enjoyed a lot of culture.

Picked up and dropped off a lot of my children at airports.

And had a tremendous holiday in Puglia, Campagna and Basilicata with the highlight of that being Matera.

Did PrimaveraSound again in Barcelona.

And had shitty weather at Gleneagles in Scotland.

Kick my son’s ass at golf all but one time I played him, which was satisfying.

But I ruined my white jeans that came out of a wash all piss-coloured and never recovered.  RIP.

So what were my cultural highs and lows?

Live Music

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Primaverasound was the 50% girl version and looked a little unpromising if I’m honest but turned out to be great.  Highlights were Little Simz, Lizzo, Kate Tempest and Sons of Kemet with a star turn from Amyl and the Sniffers that got the boys going and multiple nip-slips during the Dream Wife gig.

At the Festival my gig of the year was probably Anna Calvi thanks to Grant Anderson’s tremendous (ungiglike) lighting.  Breathtaking.  But This is the Kit and Villagers were also immense and Efterklang were delicious.

The Steely Dan gig was the first I have enjoyed at The Hydro.  It was excellent and worth waiting half a lifetime for.

Theatre

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Another amazing year with many highlights.  Among them Crocodile Fever and a second viewing of Ulster American at The Traverse.

At the Official Festival I loved Kala Kuta Republic (where I met Billy Gillespie and his wife – they were lovely and Tom now has the opening line from Loaded tattooed on his clavicle as a sort of consequence).   The Rite of Spring by Yang Liping’s Peacock Dance Company, and Peter Gynt.

On the Fringe Ontroered Goed, -Are we not drawn onward to new erA- was astonishing.  A play spoken backwards.  Literally.  They are a tremendous company.  The Patient Gloria was astonishing (again at The Traverse) and Baby Reindeer.  OMG, Richard Gadd’s performance was ridiculous. And a great show called the Incident Room.  FCT’s Once on this Island was damed fine too.

The Lyceum had a mixed year but An Edinburgh Christmas Carol, Solaris, Twelfth Night and Local Hero were all excellent. Unlike most I didn’t care for Touching The Void much.

NT Live continued its fine form and the Hot priest from Fleabag was awesome in Present Laughter, I loved the Lehman Trilogy and All About Eve.

Cinema

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A lot of five star movies this year, topped by Netflix’s Marriage Story, The Two Popes and The Irishman. But also great were; Zombieland: Double Tap, the documentary For Sama, broke my heart, Guilty ( one man film almost ), Eighth grade with music from Anna Meredith is tremendous and overlooked,  Blakkklansman was a great return to form for Spike Lee,  Free Solo was another great doc (about climbing El Capitan with no ropes – jeez) ,  Once Upon a time in Hollywood was great but not Tarantino’s finest and The Favourite oozed class.

But king of them all was Joker with the performance of a great year from Joaquim Phoenix.  Oscar certainty.

TV

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A great year for TV topped by Succession which just slayed me, although Chernobyl ran it close.  There was a great documentary called Inside Europe: 10 Years of Turmoil that succe=eded in making Angela Merkel a superhero in my eyes.  Fleabag 2 was outstanding.  The Virtues took Stephen Graham’s career to a new high.  I loved Ricky Gervaises grief comedy After Life and The End of the Fucking World staged a great second series.  I loved Seven Worlds: One Planet too.

Recorded Music.

Here’s a link to my favourite songs of 2019

…and another to my best of the teenies.

My album of the year was Julia Jacklin’s Crushing, but others I loved were Little Simz Grey Area, and one I’ve just discovered is Titanic Ring by Weyes Blood, Norman Fucking Rockwell by Lana Del Ray is the Critics’ choice as Is Ghosteen by Nick Cave.  I loved the former and am only passable about the latter.  I fear it is a little overrated.  If you want grief, do Black Star by Bowie.

I very much liked Andrew Wasylyk’s the Paralian and I found myself delving a lot into Fela Kuti’s back catalogue this year.

Books

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I read some good stuff this year.

I loved the Michelle Obama autobiography and Margaret Atwood, The Testaments was great but not as good as the predecessor (The Handmaid’s Tale).

Another great female autobiography was  To Throw Away Unopened by Viv Albertine of Slits fame.  A beautiful death bed tale about her difficult relationship with her mother.

Child of God by Cormac McCarthy was awesome and short.

Middle England was good but a bit flawed.

The Establishment (and how to get away with it) by everyone’s favourite Marxist Owen Jones was my favourite political read of the year.  Completely biased and completely believable.

The Death of Grass by John Christopher is like a 1950’s The Road with strong left wing leanings also present.  A great discovery and well worth reading.

I didn’t much like Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance.

So that’s it.  A great year with much too savour.  Probably a lot I have missed.

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I’ll be here again next June.  Glastonbury.

 

 

The Two Popes: Movie Review


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Blimey, not only are the male actors on fire this year, but so too is Netflix.

This is another cracker in which Anthony Hopkins and, even more so, Jonathan Pryce show that two hours of religious dialogue between a couple of pensioners need not be a great big crushing bore.  In fact far from it.

The movie tackles the challenges that the ailing  and conservative Pope Benedict (Hopkins) is trying to leave behind as he tries to persuade the Argentinian papal prospect to become the incoming Pope.  But he is extremely reluctant (but very popular).  We know him now as Pope Francis  (Pryce).

The acting is extraordinary and the dramatic action is interwoven with multiple documentary sources so that the movie actually moves along at a fair old crack.

One doesn’t feel that one is being subjected to a Catholic propaganda machine, simply a brilliant study of two human beings in the face of monumental decision making, age and fraternal respect.  Against a troubled political background. (Pope Benedict did not cover himself in glory around the whole child abuse scandal.)

Many scenes are shot in the Vatican, especially in the Sistene Chapel, and it has a feel of a decidedly juicy behind the scenes look at something that is actually meant to be a huge secret.

There’s nothing particular in director Fernando Meirelles’ back catalogue to suggest a film of this nature was lying in wait (Both City of God and The Constant Gardener are good movies, but are nothing even remotely like this drama-documentary).

It’s funny, it’s engaging and most importantly it’s a masterclass in acting.

My God, the best actor category this awards season is going to be a hotbed of disappointment for at least three great actors.

Recommended.

 

Solar by Ian McEwan: Book Review.


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This slipped under my radar, having read every one of his first 13 novels, novellas and short story collections.  I used to consider McEwan my favourite writer but that title has been lost after two out of three damp squibs.  This being one of them.

Solar was followed by the awful Sweet Tooth and it’s kind of a companion piece of sorts.  Although Solar is nominally about climate change, it’s really about a misogynistic old man’s sexual desires and, in that respect, riffs off the follow up which explores sexuality from the female side. Although Sweet Tooth is written in the first person (a terrible mistake as McEwan is a long way detached from a 20 something female’s perspective) this is written in the third person narrative, although I use the word narrative with reservations.  It doesn’t make it any better.

It’s just plain boring from start to finish, is the problem.  Long ponderous descriptive set pieces, deep dive examinations of a character’s character from the despicable anti=hero’s perspective – the deathly dull Nobel Prize winning philanderer Michael Beard.

McEwan creates a character that is so unremittingly unlikeable that it’s difficult to find any purchase in the proceedings.  I simply didn’t care about him one whit.

Writing about unsympathetic or unpleasant characters is by no means a forlorn task.  Jeckyl and Hyde, Frankenstein, Patrick Suskind’s Perfume; all feature monsters that are utterly compelling.

This just features a monster.

The cover blurb states that it is the winner of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction.  I am incredulous at that as it is simply not funny.  Grotesque perhaps, but funny – no.

If McEwan hadn’t followed up sweet tooth with The Children Act I’d say his career was over, but The Children Act is a formidable piece of writing and storytelling that sits along his best.

This and Sweet Tooth, by contrast, feel self-indulgent, knocked off with particularly thin premises for their existence.  Thank God it’s over.

Avoid.

Marriage Story: Movie Review.


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The movie the attorneys didn’t want to be made.

In which a loving but separating couple (played by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson) blow any possibility of a harmonious separation by bringing in their legal aides.

It’s a sad old movie in which the couple’s divorce seesaws from still best friends to raging monsters. Their natural inclination seems to favour behaviour at the friendlier end of the spectrum, but by employing teams of attorneys (at great cost), whose only interests are fiscal and competitive, any of the harmony that remains between Driver and Johansson is cruelly exposed and used as a weakness.

In the hands of a director less skilled than Noah Baumbach (Margot at the Wedding, Frances Ha) we could easily have ended up with either a black comedy or an overwrought drama, but this finds a line between the two, by steering a complex and subtle, and lengthy,  dialogue (he is the writer) that does not allow the viewer to particularly side with either protagonist – both have their faults and their virtues – but it’s the actions of  their attorneys that bring out the worst, not the best, in them.

That said my wife and I both fell for Driver’s side of the story (and only found out afterwards that the movie is based on Baumbach’s own experience of divorcing Jennifer Jason Leigh, so maybe it’s not quite as agnostic as we thought.

It’s a slow build, with several long monologues that just finish, mostly, before they outstay their welcomes.

But there are also moments of humour.  The visit of a social worker is laugh out loud funny and the rehearsal scene where Johansson prepares her terrified sister to hand over the divorce papers is likewise an absolute comic joy.

But overall it’s both deeply personal and very affecting at times, more than once I was reaching for the Kleenex, and part of that is down to the casting and the highly personal cinematography that shows off the two leads at their most naked (emotionally) and vulnerable with long, lingering close ups on each of them.  That’s one reason that the big screen is always better than the TV for feature films.  Like The Irishman, though, this is a Netflix original and will not be on the big screen for long.

Driver is at the top of his game and that means there are three serious Oscar best actor contenders this year – himself, De Niro and Phoenix.  All three would win in any average year. Driver’s one take performance of Stephen Sondheim’s “Being Alive” at a piano bar is a real highlight and is about a man’;s lack of commitment.  It’s an excellent counterpoint to Randy Newman’s typically accomplished, and in parts quite jaunty, score.

Johannson puts in a career-best shift.  Not only is his beauty put to one side .  No make up and often unflattering close ups, but she acts her socks off.

Also of great note is laura Dern’s performance as her lawyer and a cameo role for a sprightly, 83 year old, Alan Alda.

It’s a slow burn but it comes highly recommended from me (and my wife).  Just go see it in the cinema.

 

 

 

 

Zombieland Double Tap: Movie Review


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I love a zombie movie.  I really do.  And I like spoof zombie movies just as much.

Pound for pound I’d say the zombie genre is one of the most successful to hit our screens – from George Romero to Simon Pegg and here, in this now double franchise, Zombieland.

Of course the original was pure gold and, amazingly, the same director, Ruben Fleisher, and the same star team of Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin (and, whisper it,  Bill Murray) team up for the sequel some ten years later.

Two new stars join the line up – Rosario Dawson (successfully) and Zoey Deutsch (less so as a dumb blonde that’s just a bit annoying).

It  opens brilliantly with a zombie attack on the Columbia logo giving us the first belly laugh within 5 seconds.

What follows is a sort of Fight Club (those captions including an outstanding title sequence) meets Shaun of the Dead but with much higher production values and a cracking script played out by an ensemble of genuine starts that truly look like they are having as much fun as you could ever have making multi-million dollar pay checks.

Sure, it’s not going to trouble any award judges.  True it’s not going to solve any global problems and sure it’s not going to change anyone’s life, but it sure is fun.

If you loved Z1 (7.6 on IMDB) I suspect, like me you will enjoy Z2 (7.2 on IMDB) just about as much, maybe more.

It’s ridiculous and it’s great.