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Toni Erdmann: Movie Review

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Naming German comedies could easily be a substitute parlour game for naming famous Belgians in the rather snooty middle class homes of the British Isles.  I confess my list would consist of Toni Erdmann and… Deutschland ’83 (well, it has funny bits, doesn’t it?)

And as you leave the film theatre 162 minutes after the opening of a spectacularly soundtrack-free Toni Erdmann you’re left reflecting on the fact that it was funny, and when I say funny I mean screaming out loud as part of a cacophonous melee of filmgoers, but was it REALLY a comedy?

You see, it’s also deeply moving and actually the underlying sadness of the whole thing, the painful loneliness of the two extraordinary leads (both of whom should be Oscar nominated), makes your unrestrained laughter feel like a betrayal of their fragile mental health.

Father and daughter, Winfreid (alias Toni Erdmann) and Ines, are a dysfunctional 69 year old and 40 something.

He’s a semi retired music teacher with a practical joker streak.  She’s a hard as nails management consultant who’s idea of a good time is to take a client’s wife mall-shopping, anything to succeed in her high stress work environment where she’s willing to trample over people to the top.

She has eliminated emotion from her life and that’s hurting no-one more than her dad Winfred (Peter Simonischek).

On a flying trip home from her temporary workplace in Bucharest, Romania she stages fake phone calls so as to distance herself from her family and friends group who are hosting an early birthday party for her.  Her father can’t bear it and so springs a surprise trip to Bucharest, only days later, to see if he can win back her stone cold affection.

Sandra Huller, who played Ines, is magnificent in her role.  She engages in filthy hotel room sex with her underling but completely without love or desire. She attends conventions on weekends, she socialises with a girl group but it’s a veneer of enjoyment as she sips unenthusiastically from half full drinks glasses – letting drink overwhelm her would be a DISASTER -and she has seemingly lost the ability to even FAKE smile.

She is a world class cold fish.

Arriving in Bucharest, her dad tracks her down and starts following her having assumed a persona, Toni Erdmann, Life Coach,  in a long brown wig and oversized false teeth and somehow inveigles his way into her work group.  That’s where the humour really kicks in, as he pursues a series on ‘did he really do that’ set pieces that contain a variety of comedy tropes including mime, slapstick and pathos.

It’s devastatingly funny in places.  Most notably when he attends Ines’ actual birthday party which has already assumed levels of absurdity never before seen on screen.

This is an absurdist comedy at the end of the day.  In places completely surreal.  That’s why it’s certainly not for everyone. The reviews on IMDB range from awestruck to awful so I hesitate to say you’ll love it, but me and my wife both did.

It’s glacially slow but stick with it.

It rewards patience and stamina, but is engrossing from first frame to last.

This truly is a comedy classic.

You may need hankies.



Super Furry Animals at The Usher Hall Edinburgh: Review
December 13, 2016, 12:14 pm
Filed under: Arts, creativity, gigs, music, Rants, Reviews | Tags: , ,

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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.

 



Jock’s Jocks by Gary West: Review

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For those of you not in the know, Gary West is a Professor of Scottish Ethnology and presenter of Pipeline on Radio Scotland.

What Gary West doesn’t know about the bagpipe in its multifarious manifestations ain’t worth a skirl.  So it’s no surprise that this absorbing evening of drama, humour and music opens with Professor West playing small pipes to the accompaniment of the ten stringed, renaissance dated, cittern.  I have to say this was my first ever exposure to such a delightful beast.

The scene is a Scottish kitchen where three men and a youngster (played by Gary West’s son Charlie) have gathered for an evening of chat and music.  It seems a tradition.

Arriving late, Charlie brandishes an envelope full of ‘stuff’ that excites the men.  They want to know its contents but West junior only wants a dram.  For that he has to play the fiddle for the group’s entertainment.

Duly obliging we then watch, over the course of the next 40 minutes, a bottle and a half of fine malt disappear at breakneck speed.

A bit like the play really, which gathers no dust – unlike, until now, the contents of the envelope.  For these are the transcripts of interviews with Scots (mainly Highland) soldiers recounting their memories of WWI.

It’s fitting, then, that these stories are recounted in the Scottish Storytelling Centre on Remembrance Day.

In one particularly moving section of the play, which effortlessly slips from seemingly ad libbed pure storytelling and reminiscence into full blown theatre, the four men, in turn, reel off the names of men engaged in Gallipoli (a battle that has, over time, been appropriated almost exclusively to the Australian army).

Not so.

4th, 5th and 7th Royal Scots Fusiliers, 1st Battalion Kings Own Borderers, 7th and 8th Scottish Rifles, 5th, 6th and 7th Highland Light Infantry, 5th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and more, many more.  Each take their place on stage as their involvement in this terrible bloody battle are recalled in personal memories.

The toll taken on the horses who battled through extreme conditions, only to be slaughtered on arrival, exhausted, on the beaches draws gasps from the audience.

Indeed horse stories feature prominently in the evening’s entertainment along with the human reminiscenses.

All four actors deserve praise for they inhabit the lives, however briefly, of the collection of memoirs some funny, some poignant that have been painstaking collected, at first on paper and then on tape, by Jock Duncan (hence the name): the ensemble is completed by Scott Gardiner and Chris Wright.

They interact with ease, chuckling, heckling (there;s a few university gags thrown in, singing, playing their tunes and reading, often in deep Doric dialect the tales that underpin 20th Century Scots culture so sadly and so profoundly.

These are survivors tales, but it’s noted that in one bloody field there were but three graves and now there are six acres.  And that’s just one site.

This is a play that deserves a wider audience.  Although it was sold out it had only the one performance and yet it is a new and massively worthwhile piece of cultural history that would entertain and engage universally. (Many of the songs elicited audience participation, although I’m ashamed to say my only contribution was to Waltzing Matilda, which bookended the Gallipoli section on ‘moothie’ and in song.)

The University of Edinburgh’s School of Scottish Studies Archive is to be praised for supporting this and I, for one, hope it reaches a far wider audience in the years to come.

 

 

 



The Neon Demon: review

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This is a marmite number I would say.

In Drive, Nicola Wynding Refn made a stonewall classic that was so cool, so violent it just oozed class.  No real reference points although I think some people found it reminiscent of Heat.

In this latest outing however Refn is wearing his influences on his sleeve and most obvious of them all is David Lynch (in his Twin Peaks/Mullholland Drive era).

Again it oozes class thanks to the superb cinematography by Natasha Braier and this astonishing electronic soundtrack (following up his Drive opus) by Cliff Martinez.

It’s achingly slow partly so that Braier can seduce the film’s lead ( a very young looking Elle Fanning) with her camera,  and boy can she look stunningly beautiful (albeit verging on Lolitaesque).

The violence is slow in coming but eventually it does with an ending that smacks a little of Heathers.

The story is slight.  The theme is around natural beauty that only Fanning possesses. Her rivals on the catwalk world, that she breezes into in LA, have been nipped and cut to blazes in a vain attempt to preserve their once natural beauty.

Needless to say, they hate her; the new Queen Bitch.

Overall it feels  a little voyeuristic.  The treatment of Fanning verges on the uncomfortable and the plot is pretty weak.

But it’s a thing of beauty.  An artifice.  But so what?

Sometimes art survives on artifice alone.

This does.



Laurence O’Keefe. My new favourite Musical theatre writer.

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In the past fortnight I have had the pleasure of being in the audience for two Larry O’Keefe Shows.  Batboy: The Musical and Heathers: The Musical.

He is best known for Legally Blonde.

I have yet to see Legally Blonde, but the two lesser shows in his income stream are both outrageous, hilarious, original and compelling from start to finish.

Both productions were university musical theatre society shows (Batboy: Glasgow Uni Cecilians and Heathers: Dundee Uni Operatic Society) and both were triumphs.

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His style is, shall we say, unorthodox and treads in the same furrow as Avenue Q, Jerry Springer The Opera and, I imagine not having seen it, Book of Mormon.

Irreverent, rude, taboo challenging.

If you’ve seen Avenue Q you’ll love ‘Everyone’s a little bit racist’ and that’s a good reference point as in these O’Keefe shows we get zero racism BUT we DO get insights into incest, homophobia, mental health issues, gang rape, mouth sword fencing and a smattering of other ‘uncomfortable’ observations.

Foul language, extreme sexual references and semi-nudity pepper both shows.  They are a delight and I will forever be looking for Fringe and amateur productions in the years to come.

Thank you Larry.  You’ve made me very happy.

 

 



Viv Albertine: Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys.
February 26, 2016, 11:33 am
Filed under: Arts, books, creativity, life, music, Reviews, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

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I missed this when it came out and I see it has (rightly) picked up a bunch of awards.  Not the Pulitzer admittedly, but it’s not a Pulitzer book.

What it is is a damn good read, a hugely insightful rummage around in the mucky underwear of the punk era and, at times, a heartbreaking tale of one woman’s battle with life.

Viv Albertine was the guitarist in The Slits, but by her own admittance it was a struggle to get there.  She painfully explains the process by which she found her voice as meanwhile,  Ari Up, the child singer of the band confidently found her own precocious style.

It’s kind of a rags to rags story with a lot, and I mean a LOT, of bodily fluids shared along the way.

But it’s hugely engaging, often hilarious and deeply affecting.  Her moral code is set up for all to see, to be challenged but stoutly defended throughout.  It’s fair to say Viv has had a few encounters.

Her style of writing is particularly engaging.  She has no aspirations to be the next Donna Tartt but she can, and does, write a great story flitting about, as it does, in time sharing with us the minutiae of fashion in London in the 70’s. (In a small way like Tartt’s ex lover, Brett Easton Elliss, does in American Psycho)

Her description of John Lydon ‘s performance on stage with the Sex Pistols is a highlight and viscerally recreates that whole scene and, more importantly, the culture behind it.

Short chapters.

Short sentences

It drives along relentlessly.

And of course, you reach the end of the punk era with a sense of disappointment. The rest, about half of the book, remains.  How can it hold our interest ?

But not only does it do that, it actually gets even better as we hear of her terrible failed marriage, her horrendous IVF treatments, cancer and her uncertain return to the big stage.

OK, it’s a music book.  But in reality it’s the tale of a tortured woman who had a lot of fun.

It’s compelling and I urge you to buy it.