Phantom Thread by Paul Thomas Anderson: Movie Review.


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I lay in bed for some time this morning tossing about in my mind how best to convey the impact of Phantom Thread.  I’ve only got one shot at this and I don’t want to tarnish my impression by getting all luvvie about it, or resorting to my overused canon of superlatives.  I will try therefore to create a picture that captures my sense of wonder as I sat in Edinburgh’s Cameo cinema last night watching the masters at work; those masters being Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis.

If, as is rumoured, we are never to see Day-Lewis on our screens again this should be cause for mourning because the man has no peer – he has won three of his leading actor Oscars (from 5 nominations) and this is his sixth.  There’s a reason for that.

In Phantom Thread, Day-Lewis is caressed by PTA’s quite stunning camerawork (not only did he write and direct the movie, he is its cinematographer to boot) in a way that is usually reserved for leading ladies. (Darren Aranofsky was accused of overdoing so in his fine Mother! with his muse and real life partner Jennifer Lawrence last year.)  But that’s because it’s as if PTA is trying to squeeze every ounce of juice out of Day-Lewis’s colossal performance.  It’s hardly surprising because Day-Lewis takes craggy, older man, handsomeness to a new scale (he was 60 during filming).

He plays a 1950’s London based couturier with a client list of Royalty and society movers and shakers.  Clinically obsessed with quality this makes him mildly sociopathic and he is certainly ‘on the scale’.  He’s kept in check by an icy protector – his sister Cyril: an aloof Lesley Manville, in a career-defining-performance in which she constantly reminded me of Anna Massey’s Mrs Danvers in Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca – the TV adaptation from 1979.

Day-Lewis’s personal tics, foibles, routine, sense of decorum and inner sociopathic tendencies simmer just below, occasional breaching, the surface for the entire two and a bit hours of this masterful performance and represent a case study in containment. For my money this is by far and away a superior acting achievement than Gary Oldman’s, show-stealing, Winston Churchill impersonation in the downright boring and turgid Darkest Hour.

His confirmed bachelorhood, devotion (or certainly commitment) to his sister and a necessary effeteness, in keeping with his status as a master dressmaker, suggest initially that Day Lewis’s character, Reynolds Woodcock, is assuredly homosexual.  But this is quickly dispelled upon a weekend trip to ‘the country’ in a humorously ‘overcranked’ road trip to Whitby in a gorgeous burgundy Bristol 405.

In his lodgings Woodcock meets, and immediately invites to dinner, the breakfast waitress who quickly becomes his lover and muse, thereby dispelling any homosexuality theories.   Alma, a European girl, of indistinct national origin (although actress Vicky Krieps is from Luxembourg) is sweet, defiantly ‘un beautiful’ in the classic flimstar definition, with breasts that are ‘too small’ and a face that has a rugged outdoors sensitivity.  She soon matches Day-Lewis for lingering camera sweeps as the movie settles into a slow thesis on what becomes a complex power struggle of a relationship; in which Cyril makes three.

Krieps is surprisingly missing from most awards shortlists which amazes me because she is no third best in this tremendous acting menage.  Her performance is spare and engrossing and she trades punches all the way with both Day-Lewis and Manville.

Silk, organza and lace also feature lovingly in a pean to the craftsmanship of dressmaking. Indeed, such was PTA and DDL’s attention to detail that PTA hired seamstresses rather than actors to play the boutique roles, and DDL learned to sew,  making his wife a dress, in his classic method practice.

Sitting high in the credits, and rightly so, is Production Designer Mark Tildesley, because he creates a sense of place that marks this is a classic period drama.  This is aided and abetted by the extraordinary film grain that PTA elects to use, to further enhance Tildesley’s sense of place (if not time – not time because movies of that era would be either super saturated colour or black and white, the film grain he employs is redolent, instead, of amateur photography of the period).

And lastly, I have to make mention of the extraordinary score by Jonny Greenwood.  Nothing could be further from his Radiohead work.  It is classically styled with nods to Chopin in particular and underscores the movie almost throughout.  This adds a sense of wonder so some of the slower, more crafted, scenes where action is at a premium.

All in all this has reinstated Paul Thomas Anderson as my favourite director after his one career slip with the abysmal Inherent Vice.  It sits alongside Punch Drunk Love, Magnolia, There will be Blood and The Master as film making of craft and distinction.

I sat with mouth agape, grinning like a 50’s child watching a box set of Disney, for much of the film, in sheer wonderment at the genius that is Paul Thomas Anderson.

It is not to be missed, although, be warned, it moves along at a pace that could best be described as languid.

 

Fire and Fury, Inside the Trump White House, by Michael Wolff: Book review.


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Not a political reader?  Read this.

Think Donald Trump is a dangerous idiot?  Read this.

Feeling the February blues?  Read this.

Whilst the focus, in reviews of this epic book, has been firmly on Trump’s shenanigans the reality is that it features a large cast that could probably be described as Dumb and Dumber, and Dumber still, and even more Dumber and so Dumb it doesn’t compute, and those vying for the Dumbest of the Dumb.

Chief amongst them, and clearly living the aphorism that in the land of the blind the one eyed man is king, is Stephen K Bannon.  A serial schmuck who, at best, scrambled through a career of wannabe jobs before stumbling upon Bob and Rebekah Mercer, father and daughter multi-billionaires who spent vast sums to build a “radical free-market,small-government,home=schooling, anti liberal, gold-standard, pro-death-penalty, anti-Muslim, pro-Christian, monetarist, anti-civil-rights political movement.”

The Mercers installed Bannon as CEO of the tiny ultra-right-wing TV network, Brietbart, that overtook Murdoch’s Fox network as the voice-piece of the far right (and the Tea Party) and gave Bannon his way into Trump Towers.

The hold (albeit precarious) that Bannon had over Trump is remarkable.  He became his svengali and, against all the odds, overcame the Clinton Juggernaut to instate Trump in a totally unexpected presidential role.  The chapter on the victory has you howling with laughter.

The book charts the relationships Trump (and Bannon) then forge in the nascent government.  (It was meant to cover the first 100 days but Wolff was having so much fun, and so much unchecked access, that it actually takes us, via a postscript, to October 2017.)

Wolff claims he had dozens of, unscrutinised, interviews with aides and central characters in the book.  He had ‘a seat in the White House’, and was never challenged.

It’s like a fervent 5 set, Grand Slam Final, tennis match of deceit and counter deceit, leaks, backstabbing, plotting, firings, hirings, regret about hirings and various other daily occurrences amongst a team of advisors and departmental heads that had no more experience of US politics than I have.

It starts off laugh out loud funny, and I mean gut wrenchingly so, before settling into a torrid succession of horrendous back stories and tales of who was next for the firing line.

Central to the story are Bannon, of course, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (idiot), and the hilarious construct that is Jarvanka (Jared Kushner, son of a criminal, and his wife Ivanka Trump; Daddy’s Girl).

Jarvanka come in for relentless ridicule; mainly from the mouth of Bannon but there can be no doubt Wolff sees them as a laughable pair of complete morons.

Of course, Sean Spicer gets it in the neck (although we see him as a sympathetic character here, completely overwhelmed by Trump’s madness.)

What the serial womaniser sees in the gorgeous, and startlingly unqualified, Hope Hicks – his closest advisor, is anyone’s guess, but her position is as solid as anyone’s could ever be in this tram smash of a court.

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No idea what Trump sees in the beautiful Hope Hicks.

Startlingly missing are both Melania and Vice President, Pence (who is castigated as even more of an idiot than Trump).

It’s a completely and utterly biased malicious character assassination of a man you wouldn’t put in charge of running a bath.  It exposes, time and again, Trump’s complete incompetence and reliance (100%) on gut feel.

That this man is an idiot of monumental  proportions is no great revelation – we all know that.  It’s the day to day incompetence that makes for the meat and potatoes of a political read like no other.

It’s a must read.

Go on, read it, before Kim Jong-un blows us all up.

 

Gentlemen. How’s your waltz technique?


I laughed out loud this morning when Shaun Keaveny, on BBC 6 Music’s breakfast radio show, described his dancing the waltz as resembling a woman shifting a wardrobe.

I struck a chord with me.

I couldn’t find the perfect illustration of this so this will have to do.

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My attempt at a waltz with an unnamed lady.

In comparison, my tap dancing is like watching an excited puppy seek attention in a roomful of crushed tin cans.

Darkest Hour: Movie Review.


Dullest Hour more like.

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It was all I could do to stay awake in this admittedly luscious, extremely well acted production.

But usually the Ring Cycle is also both of those things.  It doesn’t mean it’s enjoyable though.

Honestly, it goes on and on and on with little or no light and shade (other than in the sumptuous lighting of almost every shot  – Joe Wright sure can create a filmic canvas, but once you’ve seen 100 Caravaggios you’ve seen a thousand, and there’s a thousand on show here.)

Now, let’s consider Oldman’s performance.  It’s highly celebrated and he is hot favourite for all the acting gongs this season.  But it’s an impersonation (and one that’s been done well on more than one occasion before).

Compared to Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out it is far less engaging in my opinion.  His fear and horror is palpable.

Oldman does capture more than a cliched portrait of Churchill and shows sensitivity and wit, but he’s encumbered by too much screen time, monotonous styling and a sense of ‘wait for it, the big quote is heading this way in 30 seconds,’ time and again.

King George and Viscount Halifax both have to deal with speech defects that may well be historically accurate, but do nothing for either of their gravitas.

In a massively male movie (which is fair enough) Lily James as Churchill’s secretary adds light relief, but Kristen Scott Thomas throws shards of light.  If only she had more screen time.

Christopher Nolan’s magnificent Dunkirk makes a far more interesting exposition of the happenings in the French port in May/June 1940.  By contrast, this is just rather self indulgent, with little in the way of either entertainment or historical insight.

 

Creative Edinburgh Awarded Major Funding Package.


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I’ve been Chair of Creative Edinburgh since 2012, and introduced the fledgling organisation to a large audience alongside Fiona Hyslop in 2011 at The Hub in Leith Street.

It was a grand night with lots of dreams (wandering around the room I heard mutterings of cynicism.  “Another (another) creative organisation for Edinburgh, that’s all we need.”) I paraphrase of course.  But for a while that was a prevailing attitude that we had to overcome.

However,  Janine and Lynsey (our directors) were tough as old boots, rolled their sleeves up, donned creative curatorial hats and said “Stuff ’em, we’re gonna make this work.” (Again, I paraphrase.)

Jim Galloway, of the City Council’s Economic Development team, was not one of the cynics.  far from it.

He saw the light.

He had a modest budget from which to draw, and for six years now he has convinced his colleagues not just to fund us, but to celebrate us, endorse us and commission us for consultancy projects (when appropriate).

We’ve never let him down.  He’s never let us down.

The cynics slowly dropped away (but let’s never kid ourselves, no organisation is free from its critics, though few in our case are particularly ‘open’ with their criticism).

We’ve done a good job.  Of that I am in no doubt.  And when I say ‘we’, I principally mean the executive team of directors (Janine, Lynsey and now Claire) ably abetted by their own teams; currently Anna and Rachel but also Jenny, Holly, Catriona and several more.

We’ve drawn on our members to help us in lots of areas and we’ve created an excellent Steering Group who soon put us right when our ideas go a bit off track.

Our board (past and present) has been brilliant.  An eclectic, multi-skilled bunch of proper personalities with a grounding in good governance (thanks especilly to Mike Davidson for that).

Our members’ jams, meet ups and surveys have kept us informed.

And so we’ve grown.

One, two, three, soon four thousand (I hope) members.

We’ve travelled, literally, the world – all over Europe, North America and Asia so far.

But it’s been tight; very, very tight – financially.

Each year has seen a couple of stale biscuits and a half bottle of red wine line the cupboard.  Half a box of Dairylee in the fridge.

But our funders, and sponsors have grown in variety and commitment.  Each year that Dairlyee has looked more likely to be there on April the 6th, and not snaffled by the bailiffs.

And so, yesterday, it was with a mixture of relief and joy that we found out Creative Scotland (who I also have to say have been an increasingly amazing source of support and vision) announced that we, and our great friends and partners at Creative Dundee, had been granted Regularly Funded Organisation (RFO) status along with 114 others.

This is a game changer.  Our funding will now be greater than ever before, and ‘guaranteed’ (so long as we deliver) for three years.

It doesn’t mean we don’t need Jim and the other supporters we have taken on over the years, quite the opposite.  And hopefully some of this recognition will rub off on them.  I particularly have to single out Anderson Strathern, Codebase, FreeAgent, CGI, Chris Stewart Group, Federation of Small Businesses, The Fruitmarket Gallery, Whitespace,The Skinny and others.  Thank you all.  Please continue to support us as we grow.

We wil be doing more, but not haphazardly.  We have a plan to help develop, educate, meet, grow, focus and spotlight the creative industries in Edinburgh.

We’ll work closely with our friends in Dundee.  Gillian Easson has done an amazing job there and she too has been recognised as an RFO.

My heart goes out to those organisations that lost RFO funding (and those that were reduced).  Sadly in this habitat there are always winners and losers.  May you live on and return renewed and invigorated to the fray.

For me, this is a bit of a career highlight.

I’ve known, since I met Janine and Lynsey, that this could, and would, work.  They leave a great legacy and are both still heavily involved (formally and informally).

We have a strong, committed, enthusiastic executive and governance team.  We have committed members.  We now have more robust funding to underpin our vision.

As Jeff Bezos says. “This remains day one.”

The Lover at The Lyceum Theatre (until Feb 3rd.)


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This, if you’ll forgive the pun, is a stellar line up of theatrical co-producers; The Royal Lyceum Theatre Co, Scottish Dance Theatre and (clears throat) Stellar Quines.

Indeed, it’s the first time (outside of the Festival) that The Lyceum has staged dance since 1972.  It’s been a long wait.

I’d have to say to begin with that it’s a bit of a Marmite piece; if you’re looking for ribald comedy you’ll have to wait for next month’s production of The Belle’s Strategem, and if in your face, angry drama is your bag this won’t get you going.

Instead, we’re served an extremely original, thought provoking reflection on love (or is it lust), class, race and sexual politics in 1930’s Indo-China-Vietnam – a French colony (interestingly explored in its dying days in Francis Ford Copolla’s brilliant Apocalypse Now – but only in the Director’s Cut).

The colonial setting brings with it an interesting role reversal of what you would expect; it’s about an affair between a privileged, but poor, 15 year old French private school girl and a rich, 27 year old, Chinese man (dancer Yosuke Kusano).

Despite his worth the Chinaman is nevertheless the poor relation because of his skin colour and he is toyed with by the adventurous and lusty young girl (played by dancer Amy Hollinshead).

The play is carried by the girl, now in her middle age, reflecting on her relationship both with the man and her two brothers and mother.

As a woman (played with a calm steeliness by Susan Vidler) she views the relationship and tells the story of how love and money become inextricably intertwined.

Despite their impoverishment the brothers still maintain a life of hedonistic, and at times violent, pleasure that often threatens to invade the lovers’ space.

What makes this such an interesting production is the way in which dance, drama, music and sound combine to present a unique theatrical experience.  The dance is never less than engaging with a subtle snakelike quality to both the sexual relationship and the general storytelling.

It’s the Woman’s narration that is the biggest trick in the bag for Dramaturg, David Greig and co directors Fleur Darkin (Scottish Dance) and Jemima Levick (Stellar Quines). Not only does she tell the story from the stage but she voices (through clever lip synching) all of the characters from her youth (affecting a younger timbre to her voice) but she also delivers large sections on tape and in whispered asides projected from the rear of the theatre.  It’s highly engaging and very unusual.

The slow, extremely deliberate pace of the language is often in contrast to the music bed and the dance.  (At times it reminded me of the extraordinary 2015 puppet movie, Anomalisa.)  Throughout, you could hear a pin drop in an engrosssed audience.

It’s a refreshingly original, albeit languidly paced production with much to savour.  Just remember if it’s action and belly laughs you’re seeking, seek elsewhere.

Fire and Fury. Inside the Trump White House.


I’m reading this mind spinning book and one third of way through I think I have the measure of The Donald.

Basically it’s pretty easy to get a gig as a special advisor to the POTUS.  You don’t actually need any talent.

Anyway. I have spotted the main flaw in his presidency and so I’d like to share a bit of consultancy advice that I’ve used in first year advertising lectures in the past.

It’s a familiar statement that many of you will know but if heeded could transform his premiership.

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Can I have a job now please Mr President?