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.

La La Land: Movie Review. The greatest movie musical ever made? No spoilers I promise.


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A bold statement I admit, when you have to size it up against West Side Story and Singin’ in the Rain.  But from the first bar of Another Day of Sun  – a huge Busby Berkeleyesque number – that erupts on the gridlocked freeways of LA you know you are actually in heaven.

The two central characters, Mia and Sebastian, are introduced at its finale and we set off on a love story like no other.  (Are there even any other actors in the film.  I’ll have to look next time.  Oh yes.  John Legend completely taking the Mickey out of himself.  Tip your hat to him for that.)

Well, it’s like the Umbrellas of Cherbourg actually, but better, so so much better.

There are only actually 7 songs in it.  So it’s quite an unmusical, musical.  And neither Ryan Gosling nor Emma Stone can really properly sing.  But that’s beside the point.

Writer and director Damian Chazelle (Whiplash – another magical movie about jazz) subverts the musical genre by having almost no music in the third and fourth acts.  But it doesn’t matter because now he has a story to tell.

Emma Stone is nothing short of mesmerising.

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Those eyes.

That cinematography.

Those costumes.

Ryan Gosling.  A fault free cinema superstar.  He rises eloquently  and handsomely to the occasion.

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But even though they are both brilliant this is Damian Chazelle’s movie.  He has the mark of a master with his direction and storytelling.

It even has tap dancing.

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I won’t spoil it for you by sharing the full storyline as I knew nothing of it before I went to see it but I confess I was worried about the hype and the knowledge that the leads can’t sing.  There was no need to worry and you shouldn’t either because this movie is about the unique vision of Damian Chazelle.  He is clearly a scholar of big studio big budget musicals and has used the power of Whiplash’s success to create a dream that no-one has been allowed to tamper with.  It’s a deconstruction and reconstruction of everything that makes great musicals great but with the twist outlined above.

City of Stars has already picked up a Golden Globe, and rightly so,  but it’s not even the best song in the movie.

It’s difficult to go much further without spoilers so I’ll leave it at that.

Probably the best musical movie ever made.  I led the applause and went to buy a ticket for the showing immediately after the one I’d seen but circumstances prevented me from watching it back to back.  I’ll have to wait until later this week when it opens properly.

Put it this way I’m now extremely jealous of the 99% of the world’s population who have yet to see La La Land and I beseech you to follow my actions.

A straight 10/10.  No question.

Super Furry Animals at The Usher Hall Edinburgh: Review


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Usually with bands I prefer their early work before they ‘sell out’.  So this retrospective set of 1996’s Fuzzy Logic and 1997’s Radiator should have got me going.

But, see, I likes their later stuff. 2000’s Myng, 2001’s Rings Around the World and 2003’s Phantom Power.

There was nothing particularly wrong about this rendering of their two debut albums.  Not from the band anyway.

But the sound.  Oh my sweet Lord.

Helen Keller wearing an aqualung could have put on a better performance than this.

Go to your next gig wearing a parka with your hood up, wrap your head in a duvet and then get a dog to piss on it and you’d be getting close to experiencing what went on the Usher Hall last night.

Rubbish. And, consequently, boring.

Another great example of why Edinburgh is crying out for a good mid sized venue (it was only half sold out) because the Usher Hall is putrid for rock and roll.

1 star.

 

Ragtime at the Charing Cross Theatre


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Ragtime is the greatest musical ever written.

Of that there is no question.

But how well it is performed is another question.

My fondness for the original cast recording on Broadway is muted.  My own youth theatre’s performance in the 2009 Edinburgh Festival Fringe is a lifetime high.  The Regents Park open air show was good, but odd.

Take four then.

Thom Southerland’s, off West End, production at The Charing Cross Theatre.

First off.  This is a brilliant theatre.  Great box office and bar staff.  Nice loos.  Reasonably priced drinks (and tickets).  All good.

Now for the bad news.

I travelled to London at short notice and paid £120 for my train ticket, such was my enthusiasm to see its penultimate performance, but having arrived at the theatre the show was delayed by 30 minutes because Nolan Frederick (Booker T. Washington) has been taken ill.  Rather than cancelling the show the cast, crew and production team had rapidly pulled together a compromise.  A semi staged concert performance.

That did not bode well.

But, and it’s a huge but, what followed was a performance that I feel sure had more, not less, gusto than its normal 5 star delivery as each actor sought to make the most of an unfortunate situation.

What transpired was a masterpiece.

The performances were, universally, outrageously brilliant and the stand in for Nolan Frederick, an ensemble tuba playing cast member, Lemuel Knights, was spot on from start to finish.

This is a great production.

A really great production.

With cast doubling up as orchestra playing everything from to Cello to Recorder (and that’s just Joanna Hickman as Evelyn Nesbitt).  Accordion, Tuba, Banjo, Guitar, Drums, Piano (of course), Flute, Piccolo all feature prominantly.

The political nous of the piece can never have been higher as Britain wallows in something approaching mass hysteria about immigration.  The rise of the immigrant Tateh (amazingly performed by Gary Tushaw) is like a two fingered salute to the evil that is Nigel Farage.

And the dignity and stoicism of Ako Mitchell’s Coalhouse (and metaphorically his and Sarah’s baby) sets the scene for the contribution of the ‘negroes’ that have risen to the ultimate prominence as Barack Obama vacates the White House for an ungracious white supremacist.

I cannot praise this highly enough.  E.L. Doctorow’s source novel is a classic,  and McNally, Flaherty and Ahren’s take on it cannot actually be performed any better than this.

A special mention to Samuel Peterson and Riya Vyas (adorable) as the little boy and girl.

A very, very special moment in my life that I will never forget.

My 8 years of Royal Lyceum Theatre bliss…


 

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Amy Manson in Caucasian Chalk Circle

Bliss?  Blessed more like.

I have had the extreme privilege of spending 8 years on the board of The Royal Lyceum Theatre Company in Edinburgh and last night it came to a close.  Good governance rules said two terms of four years was my limit and so I’ve had to move on.

I have plenty of alternative pursuits to engage me but I wanted to publicly thank the staff and fellow board members of this venerable institution for making it eight years of sublime mental stimulation, a huge schoolroom, both artistically and professionally and the scene of more parties than anywhere else in my life.

It has been monumental.

Now, it would’t be me if I wasn’t to choose a few favourites and so my top ten from my period on the board are as follows…

Caucasian Chalk Circle: Mark Thomson (my all time favourite)

Waiting for Godot: Mark Thomson 

Educating Agnes: Tony Cownie

The Venetian Twins: Tony Cownie

Bondagers: Lu Kemp

Pressure: John Dove

The Crucible: John Dove

The Suppliant Women: Ramin Gray

Dunsinane: Roxana Silbert

Hidden (various directors for Lyceum Youth Theatre)

Best Music of 2016. It’s out now.


Free to a good home.

This is my 10th instalment, having begun the tradition in 2007.  (It’s the best year for donkeys.)

There is a strong electronic (4songs) and hip hop/dance (also 4 songs) element this year.

With fewer female solo artists than I’ve become known for (only 2 in fact).

It opens with Bowie’s closer and closes with Kosmicher Laufer’s opener. (For those not in the know they are a Leith based 1972 East German Olympic Athletics team training regime music spoof, redolent of early Kraftwerk – so what’s not to love.)

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