Free Solo: Movie review (documentary).


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The poster reads “in theatres this fall”. Let’s hope that’s not a prediction.

And breathe…

Leaving the film theatre finally allows your diaphragm to return to normality because the final thirty minutes of this monumental documentary is like being put through the worst nightmare Alfred Hitchcock could ever have dreamed up.

You see, you’ve just witnessed Alex Honnold attempt the first ever solo rope-free ascent of the 3,000foot high El Capitan cliff face in Yosemite National Park.

Apple Mac Users will know it as that home screen on a recent Mac Operating System.

This one!

os-x-el-capitan-mac-007.jpgBefore the attempt Honnold was a legend of free climbing in the mountaineering community.  Now, he is simply a legend.

This National Geographic Doc (that has been Oscar nominated for best feature length documentary) works on four levels;

  1. Understanding Honnold’s psyche
  2. Watching, slightly voyeuristically, the development of the relationship with his first relatively long-term girlfriend, Sanni McCandless. (He reveals the L word was never used in his family life and he struggles with it.)
  3. The climb
  4. The filming of the climb by his support team, led by director, Jimmy Chin.

Each component is critical in making the film add to up to more than the sum of its parts.

But it’s the climb that is the centrepiece, for obvious reasons, and the camerawork of Chin, Matt Clegg, Clair Poplin and Mikey Schaefer is like nothing you will ever have seen in your life.

And there, standing erect, brooding, terrifying, is El Capitan at the heart of it all.

Defiant.

This is boy’s own stuff on a truly grand scale, but it is a film with a heart too and I loved every second of it.  It will be some feat to beat this at The Kodak Theatre in March.

100% recommended. 10/10.

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance: Book Review


6dd2691efe3dd93d052f16345fe4364badd03c26-book.jpgI wanted to like this ‘ornery Joe memoir.  I really did.

It started reasonably well with a recounting of JD’s childhood in Hillbilly country; Ohio and Kentucky specifically and in the Appalachian Mountains precisely.

Brought up in a small town called Middletown known locally as Middletucky, because it’s ‘in the middle of Kentucky’ this is a story about JD’s remarkably impoverished childhood with a narcotics abusing mother, a hugely aggressive grandmother and a series of stepdads.  It’s not easy.

JD had an unremarkable schooling largely due to the string of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) that he had to endure. But several stars aligned to help him escape this awful childhood, firstly his grandparents, then the marines, then college and finally an unlikely entry to Yale where he studied law and walked into a high level job.

So it’s got to be a can’t put down page turner, right?

I’m sorry to say it isn’t.  The early momentum that Vance establishes gradually turns into a bit of a lecture about poverty, lack of opportunity and just downright dull storytelling.

It needs judicious editing because even though it’s not very long it becomes a Groundhog Day read with endless reploughing of the same old furrow.

By the end I was bored to tears and most of my sympathy had deserted me.

I can’t recommend this, although the sentiment is admirable.

Also, the front cover puff suggests insights into both Brexit (Brexit? It’s set in Rust Belt America) and Trumpism.  Trump isn’t even mentioned.

 

 

 

BlacKkKlansman: Movie Review. A spike Lee Joint.


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Kaboooooooom!

That’s the sound of Spike Lee returning with a bang.

Lee’s work has been lean pickings for me since his heyday in the late 80’s and early 90’s with movies like Do the Right Thing and She’s Gotta Have It.

But the rest of his cannon (maybe through ignorance on my part) has failed to engage me.

But this almost nails it.

My one overall criticism is that, at times, I’m not sure if Lee wants to make a comedy or a searingly monstrous docu-drama.

For me the hate he brings to the screen out punches the comedy 10:1.

Two characters in the movie should have been booted into touch: both are lampoons and detract from what is otherwise a great whole.  These are the hate-filled racist local cop (Officer Clay Mulaney) and the KKK sidekick Ivanhoe (Paul Walter Hauser – hilarious in a similar slapstick role in I Tonya, but misplaced here).

They are minor distractions but become grit in your eye, detracting from the overall menace and subtle humour surrounding a subject that is far from humorous.

What Lee does with this is face up, full on, to the endemic prejudice that fuels the police force and the local white population in small town Colorado.

He creates a sense of time and place that is authentic and cool man. As you would expect from a Spike Lee Joint the black cast are dealt most of the best hands, but Adam Driver (as a Jewish cop – only one step removed from being black in this chapter of the KKK’s eyes) performs an excellent supporting role as the white man who infiltrates the KKK on behalf of his black colleague (John David Washington).

You’ll know the plot constuct by now so I won’t bore you with that.

What makes it a great movie is the sense of time, place and politics, the soundtrack and the unflinching ability of Lee to capture the racist poison that is encapsulated in the performance of Jasper Pääkkönen as Felix Kendrikson; by far the most committed and cynical of the Klansmen.  And yet it is underpinned by nice comedic moments (other than the slapstick I described earlier).

There’s a scene in which the Chapter watch a screening of Birth of a Nation where, although underpinned by some humour, that hatred really does come across compellingly.  It’s chilling.

It’s a great (true) story that is extremely well told.

At times the cinematography is truly outstanding – in particular the scene in which a visiting black political speaker (Kwame Toure, played by Corey Hawkins) addresses the local black student population.  Lee creates a montage of faces from the crowd that echoes Queen’s seminal Bohemian Rhapsody video but so stylistically and handsomely that it’s art on screen for just a few fleeting moments.

It’s seared on my mind.

Recommended.

Jeremy Corbyn. How the mighty have fallen.


When Jeremy Corbyn scrambled into the Labour throne it was initially slightly comedic but quickly settled into something that most certainly became a breath of fresh air.

Love was in the air.  Something fresh, invigorating, and exciting was blowing through British politics.  It may have been populism, but it was GOOD populism,

For some time I wore this T Shirt to in a small way articulate my disappointment (hatred frankly) with Tony Blair’s New Labour (new Tory more like) neoliberal rhetoric.

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But all of a sudden, under Corbyn that T shirt became redundant.

Instead I opted for this one.  It garnered smiles, back slaps and an incredibly warm response.  Especially from young people who loved Corbyn’s attitude.

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Corbyn was the new face of democratic politics in the UK that almost moved me away from the solid social democracy of the excellent and consistent SNP.

But as Brexit has unfolded he has steadily unravelled and shown himself to be as conceited, party political, AT ALL COSTS, as his disgusting opposite number, Theresa May.  His handling of the anti-semitism accusations was laughable.

Now, imagine him running a whole goddam country.  It doesn’t bear thinking about.

His party is every bit as divided as the Tories and well he knows it.

But it has reached a zenith this week. In particular, his decision not to join May’s cross party ‘outreach’ discussions, that begin today, makes him both unelectable and dangerous.  He has lost the fucking plot.

Sure, May’s  ‘reaching out’ might be in name only – but you’ve got to be in it to win it – and Corbyn is sat sulking, like a stupid little schoolboy, in some corridor while the biggest decision in my political life is made without him.

The look on his face when his vote of no confidence lost was pathetic; a scowling, sulking brat.

Jeremy.  You blew it.

 

Roma: Movie Review.


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Choices.  a) watch paint drying or b) fast forward to 75 minutes.

In the light of today’s BAFTA nominations I had to pull my socks up and watch Roma.

I started it before Christmas but I wasn’t in the mood, it seemed a little dull at the time. But that was probably the time of year I thought.

Nope.

Tonight I endured its full effect.  All 135 minutes of it.

The first 80 made some of the French New Wave’s slower stuff seem like Prodigy videos.

But it got better.

Seriously, I have had more fun in my first job, in which I spent 72 hours extracting staples from booklets.

It is colossally slow.

Literally NOTHING happens.

We see a lot of planes fly overhead and we see a lot, and I mean a LOT, of dogs wandering aimlessly; farm dogs, stray dogs, domestic dogs, stuffed dog heads (that was a good bit).  The star dog defecates in an unprecedented manner.

It takes us through Cleo’s – the main protagonist – pregnancy, seemingly in real time.

This is not new territory for Alfonso Cuaron.  Here’s what I wrote about his previous feature, Gravity, in 2013.

It is exciting from time to time.  But in between the exciting bits (whisper this) it’s a little bit boring.

Just a little bit.  But.  It. Is. A. Little. Bit. Boring.

But Roma takes boring to Golgothan proportions, to an art form that has no equal.  We’re talking stumbling into monochrome art films in art galleries that you walk out of, relieved that you aren’t obliged to sit through any more, after about 12 seconds.

But, heavens above, after about 75 minutes suddenly a great 50 minute featurette emerges from this torpid cocoon and transmogrifies into what a cinematic treasure.

It’s bewildering.

We’re talking games of two halves here like no other.  It’s like a football match that’s 0-0 at half time with no shots on target, no corners, throw-ins, bookings.

No anything,.

Followed by the first third of the second half with more of the same, until six substitutions are made simultaneously and the match ends 7 all.

The transition really is that dramatic.

I won’t bore you with the plot (there is none) or the technical details (Cuaron did everything except dolly grip operator – and I’ll tell you what, the Dolly Grip was a busy bunny as Cuaron has more pan shots than a series of Jamie Oliver TV shows).

Cuaron LOVES A PAN SHOT!

So, do yourself a favour.  Fast forward to 70 minutes and start watching from there.

You’ve only missed a pregnancy.

The Favourite: Film Review.


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I am a big, big fan of Yorgos Lanthimos whose two previous deadpan comedic features (The Killing of a Scared Deer and The Lobster) are outstanding movies.

The feature of both of these movies is Lanthimos’ extremely black humour delivered in a unique style.

However, for The Favourite Lanthimos has taken a big decision in abandoning the scriptwriting and handing the duties over to Deborah Davis (her debut) and Tony McNamara (lots of minor TV but no cinema history).  It’s  strange choice of writing team because they don’t bring any previous to the mix, and neither are fresh-faced youths.  But what they bring is an entirely different tonality to Lanthimos’ work and that leaves him to focus on direction, with cinematography provided by Robbie Ryan, who made a big contribution (in my view) to American Honey.  Indeed, the cinematography is a major talking point after the writing.  Gone is Lanthimos’ naturalistic, almost clinical, lighting of the Lobster and “Deer” instead, although we again go au natural, it’s through a gloom of candle and fire light that renders the screen largely black for a great deal of its 2+ hours.

His frequent choice of extreme wide angle (almost fish eye) lens to capture the scale of the huge palace rooms is highly unusual in cinema and is much more like stills photography. One scene, shot in a long corridor, makes it look like a u-bend when in fact it is completely straight – unlike the principal characters!

But the real meat here is this terrific all female star line-up.  In the #MeToo era this is a real vote of confidence in female actors with attitude and sheer quality.  Come March it is entirely possible that all of the leads; Olivia Coleman (national treasure that she is), Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone will be career Oscar winners because Coleman’s performance is quite brilliant.  The other two already hold this distinction and each has a good chance of adding to their trophy haul.

Although, As Queen Anne, Coleman (who gained 2.5 stone top play the gout-ridden Queen’s part) is the designated lead the film is essentially a three player ensemble with some ineffectual men put into bat to be made to look ridiculous and, oh, they do in Sandy Powell’s outrageous costumes and Beverley Binda’s even more outrageous hair and make up.  (“You look like a dead badger’ Weisz tells the Queen as she sets out on a royal engagement.)

The story echoes All About Eve as Queen Anne’s favourite lady in waiting, and lesbian lover, Lady Sarah Marlborough, The Wife of the Duke of Marlborough who is leading the war with France, is gradually pushed out of favouritism by one time lady and now servant girl, Abigail (Emma Stone).  Although she does not go without  fight.

This is where the scriptwriting team get the nod to create a bawdy and vicious rivalry set in a Draughtsman Contract-esque world.

Overindulgence, poisoning and illness leads to all three leads vomiting at least once each, reflecting this world of excess.

The music track is at times intrusive, but to my mind in a good way; it’s a sort of early 18th Century version of Atticus Rose and Trent Resnor’s soundtrack to The Social Network.

What everyone is talking about is the lead performances. Each is supremely talented and each is given so much scope to truly flex their acting muscles that what results is an acting master-class.  In the trailer it seems like a knockabout farce but in reality the movie is actually quite slow paced with moments of true hilarity and enough foul language to shock some of our more prurient audience members.  That said, my wife who abhors the C-word volunteered that it was used to great effect several times in this.

The lesbian relationships Queen Anne enjoyed are worthy of note. In a life that saw her lose 17 children (5 still born and many miscarried) her tipping of the velvet was, apart from a bulimic relationship with food, one of her few pleasures.  Both Lady Marlborough and Abigail are adept in their duty to pleasure their monarch.

Coleman comes steadily into her own as the movie progresses.  The first half belongs to Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone plays a beautifully judged and paced part in which she will do anything to get ahead but in the end it’s Coleman who wins the day with the last 20 minutes belonging to her as she suffers the vagaries of her life.  Her portrayal of Queen Anne as a stroke victim is as good a performance as you will see anywhere this year.

It’s a fascinating movie, although I’m not convinced it’s quite as good as its hype.  That said, for lovers of history and lovers of Olivia Coleman it has to be seen.

 

 

 

 

 

Let me be frank.


This is an incredible intervention into the legal process.

I know not whether Kevin Spacey is guilty of the charges put against him.  In fact I do not exactly know what they are and I’,m not going to speculate here.

But isn’t this odd.  Prior to his trial(s?) he puts out this three minute film in the persona of the President Frank Underwood (House of Cards).

In it he questions justice and why he has been thrown out of office and impeached without a trial.  See what he’s doing there?

It’s either a stroke of genius or a worrying disregard for the legal process.  You decide.

Whichever it is, it’s awfully clever.

I imagine Donald Trump will be signing him up as an advisor.