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.

 

Succession Series 1 and 2. Review.


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And here they are.  All of the pigs in one big poke.

Stupidly I missed Season 1.  For some reason I didn’t zone in on its qualities on first airing and let it go by me.  But the early rave reviews in the national press for Season 2 made me reconsider it and I started again, binging the 20 episodes over the last month or so.

And what a treat it was.

Jesse Armstrong (the show runner) was previously responsible for Peep Show, The Thick of it and even, back in the day, contributed to the excellent Smack The Pony.  He wrote the hilarious Four Lions too.

What this means is that although Succession is essentially a drama it is, in fact, a full blown comic feast with one liners ricocheting across the screen with siege-like ferocity and quantity.

Chief gag thrower is the astounding Keiran Culkin, the weasel-faced runt of the Roy Litter who you’d never tire of punishing, but whose acerbic put downs are guaranteed to split your sides ten times an episode.  he takes particular fun in tormenting the, also excellent, Jeremy Strong who plays his inept, drug-consuming brother Kendall with doe-eyed misery as his privileged life gradually falls into greater and greater disrepair.  He’s a car crash of a human being.

The other comic character who never ceases to amuse with his rhinoceros-skin dimness is Matthew Macfadyen as Tom, the dipstick husband of the power hungry Shiv (daughter of the patriarch from hell Logan Roy – Brian Cox in his greatest ever role).

A good sport in this show is to decide which of these feckless fecks you hate the most.  For not a single one of them has any redeeming features.

That said, my wife had a soft spot for the manslaughterer Kendall and I could at least tolerate the inept (but surprisingly devious) Greig – the limpid cousin.  But that’s it, the rest are as hideous human beings as you could make up.

Or are they made up?

The reality is that this is just a great big mash up of the Trumps, Weinsteins and the Murdochs.

Everything in this cesspit is about power and success.  They are consumed with the need, as a media conglomerate, to acquire more and more businesses and with manslaughter and sexual misconduct (and subsequent cover-ups) thrown into the mix the result is a mosh pit of vanity and greed.

Supporting roles of note go to Helen Hunter who is delicious as the two timing competitor CEO who briefly joins the company.  And the outstanding Peter Freidman as Francis and Jean Smith-Cameron as Gerri – Roy’s Nick and Margaret.

The milf- (or gilf-) like attraction that Gerri has for Roman makes for some of the show’s highlights with truly hysterical moments aplenty.

But at its core, and the bedrock of all that is truly awful in the human race, is the commanding presence of bastard-in-chief, Brian Cox, as the patriarchal Logan who surely has never been gifted a role as meaty as this.  Despite over 200 roles on TV and cinema only once has Cox been recognised at the big ones, a lone nominee in the Golden Globes nearly 20 years ago.  This is surely about to change.  His presence is so all consuming that this has the look of certainty about it.

It’s utterly compelling TV with a cinematic quality and a soundtrack to rival the best that Hollywood has to0 offer.  And, oh, that theme music.  My tune of the year, bar none.

Enjoy!

 

Joker: Movie review


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“A gritty character study of Arthur Fleck, a man disregarded by society” is IMDB’s excellent byline description of this deep exploration of disintegrating (disintegrated?) mental health.

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It’s described as taking place in the ‘Scorseseverse’ by some critics, in that Phoenix’s performance as Arthur Fleck appears to be an homage to many of Scorsese’s monumental 70’s characters.  And what’s more, De Niro has a supporting role that shows he still can deliver the goods when not just taking a part for the money.

So I’ve already used the M word and in this Academy Award winning performance (of that there is no doubt) Joaquim Phoenix’s monumental performance will put the Academy back on track after their laughable decision to recognise Rami Malek for impersonating Freddie Mercury last year.

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I detest impersonation movies on the whole, but this is no impersonation, this is a character crafted out of magic.  It’s not a superhero movie in the slightest and all the better for it. It’s simply a character study of great depth and extreme nuance.

One thing I loved about this intense study of a disintegrating man is the extreme close ups that shows Phoenix in all his imperfections, his upper lip, his wonky teeth, his chewed finger nails, his nicotine stained fingers (possibly make-up).  It’s glorious.

It is unquestionably a masterpiece, not just for Phoenix’s performance, but for every SINGLE aspect of cinema:  music (White Room by Cream blasts out of the screen in the final apocalyptic act to tremendous effect – but it’s outstanding throughout), make-up (stunning), costume (stunning), cinematography (stunning – the dance on the steps and the aerial train track shot particularly blew me away), design (epic) and direction (Todd Phillips follows up his epic production, but not direction, of A Star Is Born remarkably It’s interesting looking at Todd Phillips’ Filmography though – a real mixed bag with much of it centred on comedy – The Hangover in particular.)

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But you don’t need me to tell you  how good this movie is – you don’t get a 9.1 rating on IMDB without reason.

See it and bathe in its mastery.