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5/10
Not the great tennis breakthrough movie it might have been.
27 November 2017
Whilst Emma Stone puts down her marker for a possible third Oscar nomination the film as a whole left me slightly cold.  But then, when did you last see a GREAT tennis movie.  That's right.  You didn't.

But this potentially offered more because it appeared multi layered and could have been more nuanced than it is.

It tackles two themes simultaneously.  First, Billie Jean King's lesbian relationship with her hairdresser Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) that eventually ended in controversy as she was publicly outed by her lover when they split in 1981.  Throughout King remained married to her first love Larry (played sympathetically but a little limply by Austin Stowell).  This is handled very tastefully and, for me, was the better part of the whole.

Second, and the source of the title, the movie explores sexism in the women's tennis game that led to her breaking away from the WTA and its sexist president, Jack Kramer (in an unconvincing performance by Bill Pullman), and taking on a challenge billed as THE BATTLE OF THE SEXES with 55 year old ex tennis champion and self proclaimed Male Chauvinist, Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell).  

I disliked Carell's part greatly, not because he didn't perform it well but that it is written to make him out to be a complete idiot (which no doubt he was).  He becomes a character of himself quickly and I neither liked nor disliked him (I was annoyed by him though).  It all makes for a strange mix of comedy, politics, sexuality and revolt.

And the revolt was all too gentlemanly for me - despite the subject matter and the ire it must have stirred nobody really ever loses the plot and so the film lacks edge and dramatic tension.

What's more, it's 30 minutes too long and the overwrought soundtrack (Nicholas Britell - it really is a shocker) is over-pervasive and just plain annoying.

Emma Stone rarely puts a foot wrong in my view and at times you really do think BJK is on screen.  That part, and the general 70's styling of the movie, is excellent but it's ponderously directed and although the final shoot out between BJK and Riggs has an element of tension we all know the outcome and Britell's pomp and circumstance was gradually doing my nut in.

Just because you loved Little Miss Sunshine it does not follow that you will love this.
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9/10
A thing of great beauty, if you have the patience.
7 November 2017
Wow.

Just wow.

Sorry for the repetition.

It's not easy to reinvent cinema; but Yorgos Lanthimos is doing just that.

He's pulling in Hollywood A listers to put in career defining performances in his movies and hey, with a Greek shrug of his shoulders, he's pulling it off.

Agamemnon would cheer; I think.

This is a great piece of work. It's art house and it's extremely challenging, but nobody left the screening I was at, despite several flinching moments.

I can't review this on a plot basis because it would spoil it entirely.

But I will say it's a masterpiece in direction, superb acted by all three main protagonists and darkly hilarious, although not many in the auditorium laughed.

And beautiful.

Just beautiful.
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7/10
It's good but it's a bit indulgent.
20 October 2017
Someone needs to get Ridley Scott in check.  His recent Alien movie was awful and overindulgent.  This is far from awful but it has his stamp all over it and at two and a half hours long is really quite indulgent.

Ryan Gosling may also need to go to some acting classes because his one trick pony is wearing rather thin now.

Having said that, the bad stuff, there's a lot to like about this movie.

Roger Deakins is in fine form with a simply gorgeous cinematographic experience.  The yellow city and the green biodome actually take your breath away.

The CGI is universally excellent.  The opening aerial sequence draws your breath and there's a love scene in which a hologram juxtaposes the body of a replicant hooker that is one of the most imaginative things I've ever seen in the cinema.

Indeed this movie is RAMMED with great creative ideas.

I mostly didn't mind how slow it is until perhaps the third act when, even with the excellent introduction of Harrison Ford, it began to outstay its welcome.

Clearly it's a little Marmite as I've rarely seen so many of an audience leave, and its length certainly tested many a bladder.  Not mine thankfully.

The plot has its challenges and I'm not going to go there as it would be too easy to spoil for you, but it's interesting and quite clever.

The score by Hans Zimmer is simply brilliant.  All booming, crashing percussive synth punctuated by little moments of Vangelis (echoing the original).  He's on fire just now, what with Dunkirk under his belt.  He'll have more than one soundtrack Oscar nomination come February.

I liked the way director Denis Villeneuve dwells on scenes, allowing you take in the mastery of Deakins' and the technical team's work but when he dwells lingeringly on Gosling again and again and again you do wish it would push on a bit.

So, overall, a good, but not great, movie.  I wouldn't want to see it again actually given its drawn out editing.  But I liked it much more than I didn't.
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Detroit (2017)
9/10
Kathryn Bigelow is on a roll. Three classics in a row. This may be the best.
22 September 2017
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 ain't 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.
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Mother! (2017)
9/10
Aranofsky's masterpiece but it's not for everyone.
21 September 2017
Darren Aronofsky has followed up his biblical epic, Noah, with another biblical horror story starring Jennifer Lawrence (his partner in real life) and Javier Bardem.

Whilst advance publicity had suggested this might be heavily inspired by Rosemary's Baby this is not in fact the case.  Far from it. Rosemary's Baby is about the birth of Satan. This is not.

I found it helpful to know in advance what the premise of this film was and there is  a brilliant deconstruction of the plot in a great article by Adam White in the Telegraph. (Google it)

You may not want to know before you see it, but it's a great read after the fact and confirmed most of my assumptions about the heavy allegory and metaphor used in the movie.

To make two consecutive biblical films is surprising because Aronofsky has declared his atheism but presumably the source material is such brilliant storytelling that he simply could't resist.

What results in mother! is a film of such epic proportions, such horror, such artistry that at times your jaw actually drops.  Aronofsky stops at nothing.  There are no sacred beliefs that he cannot explore or visualise.  What he does not do is ridicule them.  This is a representative telling of Genesis, the New Testament,  earth science theory and sustainability all wrapped in one great Gothic whole.

And it's gorgeous, sumptuous and creepy.

The performances by Bardem and Lawrence are electrifying, albeit their togetherness as man and wife seems unlikely, but as the plot unravels it's obvious why.

The appearance of a married couple in the shape of Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer (both extraordinary performances) into their lives is startling in its aloofness and cruelty.  One feels Lawrence's panic bubbling over as the idyll she is trying to create in an island home is about to gradually unwind.

And unwind it does; in increasingly spectacular fashion.

I'm not going to go into spoiler territory (read the Telegraph article for that - after you've seen the movie) so I'll stop here.  

Suffice it to say that although this won't appeal to many; for those that it does this is a truly great movie.
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It (I) (2017)
9/10
Proper scary. Proper quality . Stephen King at his very, very best.
8 September 2017
Right.  This is 'Stranger Things: The Nightmare'.

Which means it's; 'ET, The Goonies, Stand by Me: The Nightmare.'

Not least because it stars Finn Wolfhard.

And, if nothing else it has unearthed the preternaturally beautiful Sophia Lillis, as Beverley, who, like Wolfhard, surely has a massive career ahead of her.

It is proper scary.

Kids fight monsters.  What's not to like?

Nothing beats proper scary in my book and few writers create scariness better than Stephen King.  The Shining and Carrie are two of the best horror films ever made and this is his hat-trick.

We open in year 27 (1989 with lots of neat historical references) of a 27 year cycle in which mayhem descends on the small town of Derry (in Maine?) and follows a group of Losers; geeks, fatties, stutterers, black kids, scaredycats and a tomboy with attitude (Beverley) who also provides the love interest.

The movie starts with stutterer Bill (beautifully played by Jaeden Leiberher) losing his beloved younger brother, Georgie, to a demonic clown who lives in the town's sewers.  It's the start of a series of disappearances amongst children in the town.  And the clown, played superbly by Bill Skarskgard, called Pennywise is out to wreak havoc having been let loose in year 27.

The movie has plenty of jumps.  And some of the appearances of Pennywise are frankly terrifying.

Despite its length, over two hours, it maintains interest throughout and the story develops brilliantly.  Top marks to director Andy Muschietti who is adept at creating mood, atmosphere and moments of humour.

"Who invited Molly Ringwold" asks Wolfhard in reference to the short red haired Beverley.  It's a laugh out loud moment (and Wolfhard has them all).

There's a neat subplot about school bullying (that begins a little clichéd but develops nicely) with a good performance from Nicholas Hamilton as a proper bully, Henry Bowers.

But the heart of the movie is dedicated to scaring the 'you know what' out of you.

And it succeeds triumphantly.

It's a great horror movie.  It really is.
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10/10
An absolute theatrical masterpiece
1 September 2017
This is a ferocious theatrical experience.

It's a little odd to see in a cinema because the episodic nature of it, and the titling that addresses each chapter and subchapter are rendered as video. In the theatre is it a lightbox or is video suspended above the stage? I know not.

Accompanying each title is music that starts out loud and ends up deafening, moving from luscious Spanish folk to out and out death metal.

It's a suitable underscore to the action on stage which charts the descent into madness of the main protagonist 'Her' played mindblowingly by Billie Piper.

Yerma is Spanish for 'Barren' and it's a 1930's tale by Lorca reimagined for 21st century London by Director Simon Stone in a dazzling production. It starts in almost chaos with 'Her' and her future husband John (Brendan Cowell) raging against each other in drunken love with a disturbing undertone of violence, almost hatred, underpinning their love.

He's a successful consultant, she a struggling blogger. Their highly sexual relationship is turning as she has notions of motherhood, he anything but. Nevertheless 'Her' wins the day and he agrees to conceive.

They never do.

Perhaps her abortion of a foetus from previous lover, Victor (John Macmillan), is the reason. But she has fertile eggs, he has strong sperm.

It seems it just isn't destined to be.

And that drives him to erectile dysfunction and stress, her to madness.

The sense of despair is tangible and grows unremittingly.

The pace picks up constantly.

The chapters flow faster.

The noise ratchets.

The glass box in which they perform is a goldfish bowl of voyeuriam. We shouldn't be here. It's JUST. TOO. INTIMATE. JUST. TOO. PRIVATE. We REALLY shouldn't be here looking in as this relationship collapses and erupts in total anger.

Technically the play is a masterpiece. It reminded me of Malthouse Theatre's incredible imagining of Picnic at Hanging Rock. Massive snap blackouts. Seconds later a carpet of grass, of carpet, of soil.

How?

Billie Piper is collosal.

Brendan Cowell is her match.

Simon Stone has imagined a masterpiece.
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7/10
A mixed bag but very good overall
10 August 2017
Andrea Arnold's debut movie, Red Road, is a shocking social documentary style movie that is breathtaking in its boldness and unflinching in its depiction of a Glasgow underclass that most of us do not know.  American Honey does a similar job of depicting an American class that's seldom caught on screen and was cast mainly from the street.

It too is pretty unflinching in its depiction of drug taking, young sex and the unwinding of an American dream; of sorts.

It's a road movie that follows the fortunes of 18 year old abused runaway, Star, and her relationship with a group of young magazine salespeople touring the country looking for door to door sales in a variety of American housing schemes (both rich and poor).

It leads to an episodic series of events that range from amusing to totally horrific.

Arnold's style is uncompromising.  It, like Grand Budapest Hotel, is shot in square (Instagram) format which gives it a certain contemporaneity and the photography, that is mainly cinema verite, occasionally bursts into beautiful, glorious, rich warmth such that it takes your breath away.

It's a compelling performance by Sasha Lane as Star and Shia LaBeouf also impresses as her mentor and, later, lover.  Riley Keogh is also excellent as the aloof, slightly terrifying team leader who lives a separate life of relative luxury while her band of stoner sales people rough it in hostels.

But it's an uncomfortable ride that rewards your patience.
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9/10
Thank you NT Live for sharing this epic show.
27 July 2017
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.

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 labyrinthine 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.
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9/10
Thank you NT LIVE this was brilliant.
27 July 2017
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.

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 labyrinthine 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.
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