1917: Movie Review.


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I have a recurring dream.

It’s a common one.

In it I am a soldier trying to evade the grasp of my enemy in a war zone.  I sneak around fields, towns, villages often being spotted, running for my life.  Sometimes I spot the enemy from afar preparing to attack and a sense of dread overwhelms me.  It last all night.

The dream interpreters, not particularly surprisingly, suggest this reflects some form of conflict one are facing in one’s life.

Today, in the cinema I witnessed that dream come to life, imagined by Sam Mendes in a Hades like no other.

It’s terrifying.

Totally and utterly terrifying.

It’s a true story based on the experience of Mendes’ grandfather, Alfred, who shared a fragment of what happened with his grandson.

Mendes’ career is largely theatre-based, and many film critics believe theatre makers do not make good film makers.  Yes, they might be strong on dialogue and characterisation but they tend to be weaker on cinematography.

One way to resolve this is to create your movies with Roger Deakins, surely the greatest cinematographer in history – given not only his ridiculously great eye but also the technology he has to further enhance his art.

There can be NO doubt that this is as much Deakins’ movie as it is Mendes’.  He was Oscar nominated 12 times before he finally landed one for Bladerunner 2049 (along the way his greatness has blessed No Country for Old Men, Skyfall, The Shawshank Redemption, Faro and The Assasination of Jesse James…). This will be his second.  There can be no doubt about that.

The combination of stunning grading, extremely long takes and unworkeoutable steadycam technique defies logic, description and understanding.  It is mesmerising.

Remember the first 20 minutes of Speilberg’s Saving Private Ryan, arguably the greatest War movie of all time?  Would you agree with me that the remaining 90 minutes is patchy at best?  Well, 1917 begins more slowly, but no less electrifyingly, as we settle into Deakins’ art.  The difference though is that the remaining 90 minutes of 1917 grab you by the throat and do not let off.

It’s completely overwhelming.

Technical movies of this competence don’t always have great acting performances.  And this won’t win George Mackay an Oscar, probably not even a nomination, but he does not let the side down, neither does his supporting actor Dean-Charles Chapman, but although this is SUCH a human story it’s the sheer scale and bravado of the overall thing that is what makes it such a compelling piece of filmmaking.

Some will lament the fact that this is so, but I believe Mendes has found the balance.

One other thing Thomas Newman’s soundtrack is so gripping, so menacing that jeopardy is maintained for it’s entirety, it’s a significant achievement.

He has created a nightmare vision that out-horrors even the likes of The Exorcist, because this is no fantasy, this is reality, and it feels like it.

Truly a seminal cinema experience.  This will only be half the movie on your TV set so get up and get down to your local big screen, before it’s too late.

Peerless.

The movie of the year (although I’ve yet to see Parasite) in an already epic year.

 

 

 

Glastonbury 50. The official story of the Glastonbury Festival: My review.


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The Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts celebrates its 5oth anniversary this June and I will be there, for my fourth festival.

In fact although Glastonbury is 50 it’s only the 36th staging as there was a big hole in the 70’s and several ‘fallow years’.

For me it is the greatest music festival in the world, although it is far more than a musical festival, hence its formal name – The Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts.

Did you know that at 200,000 attendees (135,000 tickets, 65,000 staff and volunteers) Glastonbury is more populous than Bath.  The site is bigger than my home town of South Queensferry.

These coffee-table type affairs don’t usually interest me all that much, but anyone who has been to, and fallen in love with, the festival will, like me, be drawn into every minuscule detail of the event.  I lost two long afternoons over the Christmas break devouring every single word and every single picture that tell the story in just the right amount of detail.

Performers share their, universally enthusiastic, memories (of course – it’s pure fan boy).

The Eavis’ father and daughter impressarios share their highs and (many) lows and we can be as geeky as we like, as readers, in dissecting the line ups and remembered highlights.

For me, my two all time highlights are described, both as it happens by Emily Eavis.

2012’s Radiohead secret gig on the Park Stage in the pouring rain and 2013’s masterful moment during Stagger Lee by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, pictured below.  I was about 50 yards away from this.

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Here it is in its entirety.  She rises from the crowd at 7’45”.

I love this comment on Youtube.  Hope it’s true…

To let you all know, I was the one that put the girl on my shoulders. My mate had Nicks foot on his shoulder and the girl in white popped up behind me, she was flustered and asked if i would put her on my shoulders, i accepted. When she came down she said ‘you’ve just made my entire life better’ then gave me a kiss on the cheek and disappeared, not my girlfriend, just a random girl that wanted a moment with nick. 🙂

 

 

Time for Metacritic’s albums of the year, poll of polls.


I love this list because it polls all sorts off music reviewers globally.  From the NME and The Guardian to Pichfork, Drowned in Sound and local papers.

It may represent the mode but there’s enough confidence in this for me to try out the likes of Billie Eilish (interesting) and Weyes Blood (very interesting).

This year I saw Lizzo at Primavera (outstanding – my gig of the year) and Little Simz, also truly brilliant.

I hope to see Lana Del Ray at Either Glastonbury or Primavera (or both) next year.  That will be a treat.  Also hoping to See the imperious Mr Cave again next year.  His album is great but not, IMHO, THAT great.  I think it has benefitted from emotional blinding by the judges.

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The funeral of Jack Merritt.


I don’t know if Nick Cave and his wife Susie had a family connection with murdered graduate Jack Merritt, but I do know Cave demonstrated his boundless humanity by playing my all time favourite song, live, at the end of the young man’s funeral.
A song so achingly and nakedly emotional that I can’t imagine how he even got a performance out of himself in such tragic circumstances.
Indeed it is the song that will be played at the end of my funeral too.
I don’t believe in an interventionist God
But I know, darling, that you do
But if I did, I would kneel down and ask Him
Not to intervene when it came to you
Oh, not to touch a hair on your head
Leave you as you are
If he felt he had to direct you
Then direct you into my arms
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms
And I don’t believe in the existence of angels
But looking at you I wonder if that’s true
But if I did I would summon them together
And ask them to watch over you
Both to each burn a candle for you
To make bright and clear your path
And to walk, like Christ, in grace and love
And guide you into my arms
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms
But I believe in Love
And I know that you do too
And I believe in some kind of path
That we can walk down, me and you
So keep your candles burning
Make her journey bright and pure
That she’ll keep returning
Always and evermore
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms

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.

 

 

 

 

Rent: by B2 Productions.


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I was unfortunate enough to see Bruce Guthrie’s 20th anniversary production of Rent, at the Festival Theatre in 2017.  So poorly staged and, in my view, performed, that my wife and I left at the interval.  (It is a long first act right enough).  So when I heard B2 Productions was staging the show it wasn’t my ‘news of the year’.

Nevertheless, I went to see it on Saturday afternoon having photographed it on the Dress/Tech rehearsal night.

That combination, and being behind a camera, didn’t really give me a sense of what a show, this production, was REALLY going to be like and so my prejudice remained in place as the curtain proverbially rose.

I needn’t have worried.

The show is a bit of a period piece, set in Alphabet City, in New York’s Lower East side, and centres on a group of ‘squatters” certainly they are rent evaders, although they remain connected to, if not best friends with, their apartment owner, an ex student friend turned property-owning tycoon.  He’s changed.

The flat is a hang out for a bunch of entertainers and would be’s that variously date as boy to boy, girl to girl, boy to girl and, I’m sure if written today, would have numerous other configurations.

Critically it’s the tale of one year, Christmas to Christmas, at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the mid 1980’s, and numerous cast members have various degrees of affliction of the dreaded disease.

Coming togethers and breaking ups proliferate over the two hours of the show with a wall to wall score that gives everyone in the ensemble cast a chance to shine – and by God do they do that.  I counted eleven soloists among the cast, each of whom performed miracles with a libretto that is in places quite thin but that adds up, when performed as well as this, to far more than the sum of its parts.

Before I talk about any of the cast, and the incredible band, I need to put this in perspective.

The venue, Leith Theatre, is golden.  It’s an emotional experience just walking through the front door, never mind having the chance to perform on its treasured boards.  It’s an iconic place.  Everything about it is anti the establishment.  It’s not Edinburgh.  It’s not funded or cared for by our government.  It’s a community project of monumental scale.  It needs to be supported.  B2Productions is part of that.

The next thing is THE RENT SIGN.  It was created by Craig Robertson, but I believe Black Light need considerable thanks too.  It dominates the proscenium arch and is a constant reminder of what we are watching, but also it’s the centre-piece for the stunning lighting design by Grant Anderson.

It’s a visual triumph.

So, to the cast, who could do nothing without the direction of Claire Stewart, the movement of Natasha Rose and the magisterial musical direction of Kerry-Anne Dougan.

The performance I attended brought my fellow audience member to a sobbing wreck during Act II’s I’ll Cover You by Charlie West.  Extraordinary.

Sarah Innes, Ronan Rafferty, Hayley Scott, and Daniel Umpleby (an amazing Angel) and  Ben King all make this a truly great musical appreciation.  But may I just mention a few others?

The duet between Mark Smith and Mellisa Jay blew my mind.

Eilidh West showed amazing emotional range.

And to finish off, our guide through this kind of emotional wreck was the understated. but constantly engaging, Gregor Robertson.  A beautiful performance that, for me, finally smashed it in ‘What you own‘ – a rage against America.  It could be now.

I’m biased – of course I am.  But I honestly disliked the professional performance of this (above) so much that I couldn’t see it out.

This, I couldn’t approve of more.