Detroit: Movie Review. Kathryn Bigelow just keeps on delivering.


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It’s fair to say that Kathryn Bigelow is on a roll.

Her last three movies (Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty and now Detroit) have been gut busting horror shows about the human condition.

I love that Kathryn Bigelow sits in the ‘male’ directors’ chair.  I love hat she must be and should be a feminist icon, because she does the sort of movies that she makes much better than most men make them.

Kathryn Bigelow likes an explosion, a gun, a death.  But her female perspective on this raises it from guts and gory/glory into something higher.  Something more profound.

Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker both took on war as the subject matter.  This does too, but it’s the war of the races.  The war of oppression by white men upon black in the Summer of Love.

Ironic, because this is a film about hate.  Racism. Supremacy.

It opens with a short animation that perfectly encapsulates America’s fundamental tic.  The thing that won’t go away.  The displacement of race.  From the displacement of American Indians to the displacement of Africans to the slave plantations of  the Deep South and latterly their displacement into the Northern industrial cities like Detroit.

This displacement, in fact, displaces the white ruling class into the suburbs and that’s the start of deep tension and resentment.

We have witnessed this in the UK too, as gentrification of once unfashionable districts has displaced both black and white working classes into modern day ghettos.  And it aint stopping any day soon.

What Bigelow achieves with this movie is a political calling cry to any liberal minded decent human being, regardless of colour or creed.  It vilifies the atrocious white police force of late sixties Detroit  (Yet, I don’t think Detroit itself was much different from other places – there were riots in Harlem for instance and we all know about 1980’s LA).

She creates an almost documentary feel that is more 4D than any of the 4D Sh!t you’ll see in multiplexes.  Because this is for real.

Apart from the relatively well known John Botega (brilliant thank you) her massive ensemble cast is star-free.  That’s kinda how she rolls.

But each and every one of the 20 or so leads (yes 20) will have had life-affirming, and early career defining, roles in this epic.

But one stands out above all else in this majestic movie.

Will Poulter.

The actual devil incarnate.

Were he real, not an actor, he should rot in hell.  But he’s only an actor and his performance is surely Oscar worthy. You simply despise this evil racist bastard.  And he is unflinching in his evilness.  The smirk at the end of the movie almost gets you out of your seat.

This is a truly great movie.  A movie that should be syllabus material on any High School history course.

Kathryn Bigelow and her team (especially writer Mark Boal) deserve all the awards that this movie will hopefully receive.

Lilith: The Jungle Girl by Sisters Grimm at The Traverse: Edinburgh Fringe Review.


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Sisters Grimm is a multi-award winning Melbourne based experimental queer theatre group and Lilith is the barmy brainchild of Ash Flanders (who plays Lilith) and Declan Greene.

The three person cast includes Candy Bowers as the hilarious Sir Charles Penworth a Dutch based brain surgeon and Genevieve Giuffre as his assistant, Helen Travers, who is deeply in love with him (her as it happens).

The show concerns the civilisation of a feral jungle girl Lilith, who has been brought up by Lions in the jungles of Borneo and has an irrational fear of Penguins.

From the off it is obvious that Lilith is actually a man as Ash Flanders makes his entrance completely naked and ‘soaped up’ in a pink gunge that makes the vinyl floor of the set a veritable ice rink and creates many off script moments of hilarity.

Bowers’ hilarious Victorian bombast creates belly laughs a plenty.  Her performance is at the heart of the show but all three are excellent.  In a particularly amusing ongoing gag he can’t (or won’t) pronounce Helen’s name correctly; it’s a gift that keeps on giving.

There is a degree of Pygmalion about this because if Lilith cannot reach an acceptable level of civilisation and language she will be lobotomised by Sir Charles (or worse).

The threat pushes her onwards and the transformation is real until it all goes wrong and we are transported to London Zoo where Bowers has now assumed the persona of a South London Rapping Lion.

It is again hysterical.

This show is brilliant.

I’m not sure it has any deep meaning, but with its mix of a fine ‘Ripping Yarn’, slapstick, gender bending, extreme full frontal nudity and terrific acting it’s an absolute treat.

4.5*****

 

 

Dolly Would by Sh!t Theatre at Summerhall: Edinburgh Fringe Review


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Well, this one comes from left field.  It’s a mash up of love, real love, for Dolly Parton (in which her legendary breasts feature very prominently and not just in the image above – from near the show’s conclusion) and the fact that Dolly the Sheep (named after Dolly Parton) was created near to Summerhall in the Rosslyn institute.  Given that Summerhall was previously a Veterinary School this is perhaps also appropriate.

The cloning theme is developed by showing the veneration Dolly Parton creates with clone fans galore (famously Dolly herself entered a Dolly Parton lookalike show and lost).

We are left in no doubt that Sh!t Theatre’s two players, Louise Mothersole and Rebecca Biscuit, are lesbian lovers and their love for each other and of Dolly Parton (not uncommon in the gay world as I realised with no uncertainty when I was in the crowd for her legendary Glastonbury legends gig) was a relationship-saving writing project.

Their love for Dolly has no bounds and this reunited them and has led to a totally insane celebration of her life during which the ridiculous treatment she received from the media, focussing largely on her looks and her assets, is ridiculed.

But also her own sexuality is deeply questioned.  Was her great friend Judy really her lover?

I liked the way they used the 1977 Barbara Walters interview with Dolly as a narrative musical device that was a recurring theme in the show, supported by a neat live music loop.

I suppose more questionable was the way they cut their vest tops to expose their breasts for most of the show.  It might make some of the more strident feminist wing of their devotees uncomfortable, but I was fine with it.

Some of Sh!t’s performance is shambolic (the balloon bursting scene for example) and wilfully amateur in its look and feel (a fair bit of corpsing occurs) but that’s all part of its charm.  And I have no doubt it is intended.

I loved it.  My wife hated it.

I guess that’s part for the course.

4****

 

 

 

 

Richard Gadd’s Monkey See, Monkey do at Summerhall: Review, Edinburgh Fringe


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I was taking no risks seeing this.  Voted the hit of last year’s Fringe Gadd has toured the world performing it over 200 times.

what I was not prepared for was its kick in the heart emotional trauma.

This is billed as comedy but it’s so much more than that. (But, yes, it’s outrageously funny.)

The ‘more’ is an entire treatise on sexual abuse and the resultant depression.

The monkey of the title is Gadd’s subconscious creating massive panic attacks and extreme self doubt.  The show is a metaphor about running away from money demons (the monkey on your back) and so, to bring that metaphor to life Gadd performs it from a tread mill and his vest top gradually saturates as his one hour run slowly overwhelms him physically.

But the low-fi technical brilliance of the show with his sound and video designer, Phil, is what makes it so original and ultimately extremely moving.

My wife is not one to demonstrate her emotions by way of leading a standing ovation.

Until last night.

Bravo.

Bravo indeed Richard Gadd.

*****

Border Tales by Protein Dance at Summerhall: Edinburgh Fringe Review


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Another day, another Summerhall 5 star show.  This time it’s dance, but with a BIG twist.  It’s political and it features dancers that sing, act and deliver spoken word monologues that never outstay their welcome.

First off, can I just say the choreography is beautiful with monologues often delivered in brilliant flowing double-hander dance movements where the dancer/actor seems to flow like water supported by their counterpart whilst delivering their insights.

It’s mesmerising and the first time I’ve ever seen anything even remotely like this.

The show is about Britain’s rise of immigrantion from all over the globe.  The cast is led by a gruff Yorkshireman who displays many of the traits we regard as cliches, but performed with a humour and lightness of touch that protects it from parody.  I’m afraid there was no programme so I can’t name names but this central and leading character pulled a difficult gig off with ease.

The six dancers were supported by a Colombian multi instrumentalist who worked in tandem with excellent backing music and beautifully held the show together (he too could act when called upon to do so).

The remaining five in the cast represented a second generation African (Nigerian) Londoner fully immersed in UK culture, a Hong Kong Chinese man, A Taiwanese Chinese girl who, with her poor enunciation of English, became the butt of many of the Yorkshireman’s jokes, An Irish Catholic man and a hirsute Egyptian (parodied as an ‘Arab’) is he african?  Is he middle Eastern?

It all paves the way for questions about the value or otherwise of multiculturalism, some nice subtle digs at Brexit, debate about religion and which one (including trendy atheism) is best.

And it’s at times funny, always brilliantly delivered, original and downright fascinating.

A true melting pot of our times in a show you should do your best to get tickets for.

Nina – A Story about me and Nina Simone. The Traverse Edinburgh Fringe, review.


 

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This is an ambitious theatrical piece but I wonder if it was playing in the wrong place to the wrong audience.

Because the audience is 99.5% white.  We’re all middle class.  We’re mainly liberals.

I want to see this show in Alabama.  In Mississippi. In Detroit.  (as a fly on the wall) Because Josette Bushell-Mingo’s anger, pride and passion for this first lady of Jazz infused political outcry is great.  But I am not her constituency;  much as I might want to be.

It’s part play, part gig and brilliantly defines the anger and political influence of dear departed Nina Simone.

The design is, at times, with the use of an ingenious metal back cloth, absolutely stunning.

 

The band; Shapor Bastansiar on keys, Shaney Forbes (fuck me he’s good) on drums and Jair -Rohm Parker Wells on double bass are electric (but acoustic); but sadly the afternoon we saw Josette the vocal delivery was a big fight as her mic seemed underpowered.

As for Josette. Her voice is amazing.  Her performance is amazing.  The gig part of the show is amazing.

But the point of it.  The politics. In Edinburgh in August?  I’m not convinced.

Josette, if you read this, (I don’t suppose you will) I hope you don’t take this the wrong way.  It’s a brilliant production I just think it could have more impact, rather than luvvie appreciation in other more relevant places.

 

Angels in America Parts 1 and 2, National Theatre Live: Review.


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Eight hours in a theatre (or in this case my two favourite cinemas; The Cameo in Edinburgh for Part 1 and The Hippodrome in Bo’ness for Part 2) is a daunting prospect, especially when the subject matter threatens to overwhelm you emotionally.

In fact it is a breeze because the writing of Tony Kushner and the direction of Marianne Elliot (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night) pepper this doomsday epic with both humour and beauty (in staging, lighting, sound and movement – it’s a technical masterpiece throughout).

The acting is uniformly brilliant with Andrew Garfield in the lead role of AIDS sufferer Prior Walter.  But the support he gets from Nathan Lane, in particular, is astounding.  Core ensemble shout outs also have to go to the entire cast especially Denise Gough, James McArdle, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and Russell Tovey.

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Whilst, at times, you might want Garfield to slightly reign in the histrionics (and the fey gayness to be honest) you sit with bated breath waiting for Nathan Lane to go off on vitriolic outburst after hateful rant.  He plays a corrupt, gay bashing (ironic) lawyer who has no limit to what he will do to save himself (he too had AIDS but says it’s cancer, having spent his entire life in the closet, much to the disgust of most of the rest of the male gay cast).  He is the highlight of the show.

Although ostensibly a ‘gay fantasia’ the background of story is built largely on a religious platform.  The AIDS ‘plague’ has clear biblical connotations and the angels of the title are fantastical creations that are there to question morality, justice, belief and whether or not there is an afterlife.

The creation of the ‘main’ Angel played by six dancers/puppeteers and Amanda Lawrence as the angel itself is breathtakingly original and continuously mesmerising.  She’s magic.

I grew up during the ‘AIDS Epidemic’ and my home city of Edinburgh had to deal with an almost unique needle sharing problem, as well as the gay spread of the disease, (It’s well captured in Trainspotting) so, that meant it was as much a heterosexual issue as a homosexual one in Edinburgh,  Consequently, HIV/AIDS was very front of mind in this city.  Another reason that the story strongly resonated with me.

Two of the central characters are Mormons and that particular creed comes in for some pretty hefty slagging although overall you sense that Kushner has deep religious beliefs or at least is hedging his bets on whether there is a God.  The fact that both Louis and Nathan Lane’s evil character are both Jews is also an important part of the storyline and leads to considerable debate about the morals of that belief, compared to Christianity.

Politics, too, feature heavily in the storyline with a clear leaning towards both Socialism and the Democrats that make Reagan (the then leader) an object of ridicule.  Indeed Part Two is subtitled Perestroika with a certain reverence for it’s chief architect Gorbachov in evidence.

One of the lead characters (a gay nurse, Belize) former lover of both Prior (Garfield) and Luois (McArdle) and an ex drag queen is black and proud of it. As he nurses Lane’s character (Roy Cohn) this opens up another topic for Kushner to at times hilariously, at times terrifyingly, exploit; racism.  The man is a pig and it’s all that Belize can do to maintain his dignity and ethical professionalism to tolerate the monster that he tends.  In fact a relationship develops that is, at times, surprisingly tolerant and even tender.

Meanwhile closet gay and Mormon, Joe Pitt (Tovey), married to valium addicted Harper (the superb Denise Gough) is straying into an experimental homosexual exploration of his sexuality with Louis (former lover of both Belize and Prior) this has massive personal  consequences.  McArdle in particular plays a really strong supporting role and has the subtlety to play his part with conviction and sympathy.  He’s the ‘tart with a heart’ but can’t deal with all the consequences of these tumultuous times for the world’s gay population.

It’s complicated.  And that’s why Kushner needs eight hours to unravel the labyrinthian plot and the fundamental BIG questions it tackles, but he does so with great skill and lightness of touch.

The National Theatre are to be applauded for reviving this monumental work.  And it’s to our great fortune that we can experience it (from essentially front row seats) in small movie theatres all over the world.

A production that has wowed audiences and critics alike, I expect to see it pick up many more London Theatre awards.  If you get the chance to see it when NTLive does a reprise, kill for tickets.