Cold War: Movie Review.


The first thing to state about this beautiful movie is that it’s monochrome.  So stunningly so that at times you feel you are in a photographic gallery rather than a cinema.  The quality of the cinematography is quite extraordinary thanks to Lucas Zal.

It’s also in 4:3 format.  Not the square format of Instagram, but close.

We don’t see 4:3 very often these days but Wes Anderson used it to immense effect in Grand Budapest Hotel and so did Lazslo Melis in Son of Saul.

It’s an engaging format that draws you in.  It suggests a time before cinemascope (16:9 etc) and only really works in period cinema of a time.

This time.

But it also lends itself to incredible framing, such as when our female protagonist floats down a river gradually disappearing out of shot, and later in the movie when the chief protagonists leave a bus and walk out of frame in a composition that Henri Cartier Breson would be proud of.

It’s one of the most beautiful movies I’ve seen in many years.

In truth that’s probably its biggest strength.

It is, but it isn’t really, narrative driven.  More episodic than story, but it does tell a tale about director Pawel Pawlikowski’s parents’ love affair set against the Cold War backdrop in his native Poland.

It’s fairly sordid in a way (his mother was abused by her father as a child) but without anything shocking to see.

Imagine, yes.

The two leads ( Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot) are magnificent.  Brooding, beautiful (although unconventionally so) and real.

Lucas Zal has a great time dwelling on three particular things.  Crowd shots.  Amazing, Dance sequences. Amazing.  Joanna Kulig (the lead).  Amazing.

In particular, Joanna Kulig has a stand out performance.  She’s not one to show her enjoyment in life.  Sullen most would say.  But it is an immense performance.

It’s a love story, set against the challenges that Cold War Poland put in front of people of artistic belief where communist doctrine made creativity very difficult.

What Pawel Pawlikowski achieves is a mood piece of exemplary, peerless really, detail.

And it’s a musical.

I was constantly drawn to comparing it to La La Land, yet it is so NOT La La Land.  Partly it’s down to Kulig who shares the unorthodox looks (beauty) of Emma Stone.  Partly it’s the framing of scenes by Zal.

And the music fuses from Polish country folk to French basement jazz (which La La Land would have been so comfortable with).

This is an Oscar nomination shoe in.  It’s absolutely brilliant.

And, at 88 minutes, certainly does not outstay its welcome.


A Straight 10 from me.




The Shape of Water: Movie Review.


The Faberge Egg:  A thing of undoubted beauty, extremely costly but serving no real purpose.

So it is with The Shape of Water.


Constantly Guillermo del Toro leaves me disappointed.  Pan’s Labrynth especially and now this much hyped ‘masterpiece’.  Both miss the target by some distance for me. (I’ll give you, he nailed it in both Cronos – a long time ago now – and Hellboy.)

There’s much to like about The Shape of Water (but NOT the music which is standard fare and I’m puzzled as to why it won the BAFTA).  The design is superb, it really is a sumptuous feast both in period detail, cinematography and mood and the sets are great.

Sally Hawkins is fine in the role of a mute who falls in love with a fishy ‘monster’ but why, oh why, does she need to get full frontal naked and masturbate in her bath in the opening scenes of the movie.  Wholly gratuitous.

Octavia Spencer puts in a decent shift in the supporting female role but, oh my gosh, this is not an Oscar-worthy performance. (Exactly the same can be said about the mystifying nomination for Mary J. Blige in Mudbound – I’ll leave you to your own conclusions on why these were Academy nominated.)

Both the male leads are on form; Michael Shannon as the nasty finder and torturer of the fish man and Richard Jenkins as Hawkins’ neighbourly friend and the narrator; an alcoholic, cat-loving, adman fallen on hard times.

My biggest criticism lies with the script, or more correctly, the plot which has holes the size of the budget (actually, on checking it was only $19.4m, so my Faberge analogy is stretched a little.  Author’s note:  Faberge Eggs sell from around $6m to $33m.)

OK it’s a fantasy movie but it’s pretty silly really and stretches credibility throughout.

I wanted to like this, I really did and I don’t dislike it, it’s just so fundamentally flawed that its 13 Oscar nods verge on ludicrous.  I don’t think it will take home more than three (I wouldn’t give it any with a possible exception for design) – Best Movie most certainly should not be one of them.

My Wonderful Uncle Willie. (20 June 1941 – 23 November 2017)


Kathryn, Kenneth, Willie, Anne, Andrew, Susan and Julie.  All the family.

Although my Uncle Willie passed away on 23rd November we had to wait rather a long time to say our final farewells.  The reason being that he had died from complications as a result of contracting Mesothelioma, a truly horrendous disease caused by inhalation of Asbestos during his time working as an electrician in the construction of his beloved Cockenzie Power Station, which, like him, has been laid to rest.

Although many tears were shed at his funeral mass and then again during a rendition of Annie’s song by John Denver, yesterday was a joyous occasion.   (Amusingly, his granddaughter Lucille told me it was the only song he knew, but it was to open the floodgates yesterday at 12:05; my cousin Georgia and sister Jane somehow managed to sing along through their veil of tears.  Me? I was a goner.)

The family will be taking up the fight against this evil disease, but I can only thank the stars that Willie did not succumb to quite the depths of cruelty it can unleash.

But the fact is, Willie’s no longer with us.  So I’d like to thank him for what he was.  A huge, gentle, giant of a man with a heart of platinum (gold is too cheap an element to use in describing this great man).

His smile, I will never forget it.  It was beatific, almost saintly, it emanated a warmth like no other I have ever seen.  Although, my daughter Ria has ‘inherited’ some of it I have to say.)  And that was, for me, his trademark.

As Ken so beautifully said in his wonderful eulogy, and echoed by the lovable Father Basil, Willie would help ANYONE, do ANYTHING, although his biggest strength was electrics – so many a fridge, theatre power source and bit of wiring was carried out in our house, at Forth Children’s Theatre and at the homes of ALL of his huge wonderful family, his Church family and his youth theatre family.

After the tears though, came the incredible love and happiness that only a great family can bring to your heart.

The wake was a wonderful celebration of his life with more greeting (the letter from his beloved grand-duaughter Madeleine, whose hair he used to prepare for school, was a highlight, although again the tears came – what a beautiful and loving tribute to her Grandad, but also with equal measure to her Grannie,  my wonderful Auntie Anne.)

Perhaps the best was saved for last, at the ‘after wake’, with a smaller almost completely family group we swapped stories, reminiscences and updates of our marvellously varied lives.  You certainly couldn’t accuse us of conforming to a ‘type’ as a family.  A ‘look’, yes, as my brother in law Nik commented, almost open jawed.

And we ran out of whisky, so someone was despatched to raid Willie’s drinks cabinet. A bottle of Glenlivet marvellously appeared and lasted only minutes but that meant we’d had a dram on Willie.  A touching gesture.

Willie, this is not goodbye (as CS Lewis said) it’s au revoir.



Meet Me at Dawn by The Traverse Theatre Company at The Traverse: Edinburgh International Festival Review

My Summerhall Fringe was brilliant, but so too were my Traverse experiences.  With the exception of Party Game by Blue Mouth Inc, which mis-stepped (pun intended) a little, we were fed a great diet of work.

This 4**** show is an intense experience and so created an almost perfect set of emotional experiences; alongside Adam 5*****, Lilith: The Jungle girl 4.5****, Nina 4****, and Party Game 2.5**.

This is the Traverse’s foray into the official Festival and the EIF is to be congratulated for giving ‘The Trav’ this opportunity to impress on the ‘big stage’, in their own home. with their resident director, Orla O’Laughlin, on board – she grows in stature steadily.  I expect this show to feature heavily in the CATS next year.

This is a big, profound piece of theatre, centred on grief.  Its story takes its time to unveil itself as a gay couple (it later transpires) are washed up on a fairly remote island after a boating accident that at first appears to be simply a foolhardy act, but gradually it emerges the consequences of the accident are far greater.

It transpires the accident was indeed fatal and this remote island is an island of the mind where the two lovers are granted a wish.  That one so often said on death beds.  “if only we could have one more day together.”

They do.

But, one day?  One fucking day?  Why not a year?  Why not a fucking new lifetime?

The additional day doesn’t play out perfectly. and in a series of time shifts it’s tricky to decide really which time is now, which then and which in the future.

It’s a bold complex theme, brilliantly directed, designed and lit.

The central performances of Robyn (Neve McIntosh) and Helen (Sharon Duncan-Brewster) are electric.  They revel in the depth of Zinnie Harris’s dense plot and shine light on all the key emotional triggers.

I could hear several sobs coming from the audience as the play reaches its finale.

Great, grown up theatre.




Recent reading. Stoner by John Williams


I only picked this book up because of a series of quickly glanced and actually somewhat disingenuous reviews at the end of last year as 2013’s best books were revealed.

“The undiscovered classic” the reviews shouted, but actually John Williams was far from undiscovered having won the National Book Award for another of his books, Augustus, in 1973.  Far from being un undiscovered classic it is perhaps a forgotten one and certainly, until 2013, an uncelebrated one.  But it’s no longer all that forgotten given that the Vintage paperback that I read was the 30th Edition.

But these are all distractions.  Forgotten, undiscovered, below the radar.  Whichever is the truth, for some reason it rose to prominence in 2013 and I for one am very glad that this novel from 1965 fell into my hands.

The opening page  says it all.

Screen Shot 2014-01-23 at 21.23.52

It’s a profoundly unremarkable opening to a book, about a profoundly unremarkable man leading a profoundly unremarkable life.  It’s not autobiographical it seems, but most certainly it’s acutely observational given John Williams’ career

The novel charts the life story, from rags to moderation, across 65 years of a university professor. Sixty-five years in which he endures two world wars, although he fights in neither, a ludicrous marriage and a career so undistinguished it’s almost as if it never happened.

You’d want to slap him, if you could get past comforting him.

You’d shake him, but he might break.

You crave him growing some balls to stand up the absolute bitch that marries him, who sucks his lifeblood away, but that would only upset him.

At every turn he’s trampled upon, walked over, overlooked, ridiculed, cheated and lampooned.

And yet, amidst a life of bitter anticlimax after bitter disappointment, something about this everyman fills you with deep abiding empathy.

Respect almost.

How Williams achieves this is down to writing of the very highest order.  Never is a scene overstated.  Nothing is overly dramatic and yet it’s completely riveting throughout.

It begins in a period where manners and protocol were everything.  They collude to stifle Stoner’s life unbearably but his sense of propriety stops him challenging all that is happening to him.  The only victim of this painful reticence is Stoner.

Again, and again, and again.

Stoner’s is a life that singularly disappoints.  He is shat upon by all but two people that he comes across; his long time college buddy and Dean of the Faculty and, almost unbelievably, his lover.  These two luminous characters make Stoner’s life worth living and it is their presence in it that saves it from one of utter despair.

Perhaps this makes the novel seem depressing but far from it.  It’s too well written. Too beautiful.

In writing about the Great American depression of the 1930’s this stunning passage grabbed me.

“He saw good men go down into a slow decline of hopelessness, broken as their visions of a decent life was broken; he saw them walking aimlessly upon the streets, their eyes empty like shards of broken glass; he saw them walk up to back doors, with the bitter pride of men who go to their executions, and beg for the bread that would allow them to beg again…”

It’s this sort of elegant prose that turns a life so ordinary into a read so extraordinary, so that whatever kind of classic this book is belatedly described as; lost, found, undiscovered,  it IS a classic.

You must read it.

It’s our twenty first wedding anniversary today (actually it might be our twenty second but who’s counting?)

So I got (made as it happens) the old dear a lovely card because I am the old romantic.  (See below.)

And she just called, as I write, to ask me to tape the first ever episode of Thirtysomething on Sky Atlantic.  Series link of course.

Remember that?

I’m sure I got to fourth base (in our winching days)  during more than one episode.

A view from the Bridge. Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh

His finest hour?  In my experience, yes.

Life is about decorum, ritual, appropriate behaviour, pleasing one’s community and peers.  Not acting instinctively, ferally, as one sees it.  Because the community one lives within; the workplace, the neighbourhood, the church sets the standards and morals.  No matter how much it might be inappropriate or even wrong it’s the rule of the crowd that defines the behaviour of the one.

When Eddie Carbone decides he’s against this collective spirit; driven by jealousy, lust and rage, the rule of the crowd in Italian Brooklyn is jettisoned and Eddie Carbone becomes a lone ranger with disastrously selfish consequences.

It’s a big theme and a big play.  Probably Miller’s greatest, certainly the most thought-provoking I’ve had the privilege to experience.  And experience is the right word to describe John Dove’s “View”.

I kid you not, this was the most compelling and jaw dropping night I have spent in a theatre in my existence.  So powerful are the performances, most notably Stanley Townsend’s which held you in his thrall every moment he uttered a word, that theatre becomes a vehicle of transportation into another world.  Other stand out performances are Richard Conlon’s Marco (restrained but ultimately very scary) and the inimitable Kath Howden.  The whole is held beautifully together ( a la Greek Chorus) by Liam Brennan.

This is no ordinary play.  The subjects it brings out; jealousy, homosexuality, incest, faith, community, life long love, hope are at the very core of one’s being and it does so in a way that is hugely provocative and actually, with a performance of this standard, really quite humbling.

This is not just a five star show; it’s five star+.

A Short Love Story


I am deeply indebted to my mate Nick Gibsone for this touching love story.

A man and a woman who had never met before, and were both married to other people, found themselves assigned to the same sleeping room on a Trans-continental train.

Though initially embarrassed and uneasy over sharing a room, they were both very tired and fell asleep quickly….. He in the upper bunk and she in the lower.

At one am, the man leaned down and gently woke the woman saying,

“Ma’am, I’m sorry to bother you, but would you mind reaching into the closet to get me another blanket? I’m awfully cold.”

“I have a better idea,”  she replied with a twinkle in her eye.

“Just for tonight, let’s pretend that we’re married.”

His eyebrows went up and he smiled, “That’s a great idea!”

“Good,” she replied. “Get your own bloody blanket.”

After a moment of silence, he loudly farted.