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A Quiet Place (2018)
10/10
Instant Horror Classic.
18 April 2018
This horror film works extremely powerfully on a number of levels.

It perfectly demonstrates Hitchcock's thinking "There is a distinct difference between 'suspense' and surprise', and yet many pictures continually confuse the two. - if filmmakers keep spectators unaware, they can create "fifteen seconds of surprise," but if they inform them of the impending encounter, they can produce "fifteen minutes of suspense"

In A Quiet Place director (and co-star) John Krasinski (who directed three episodes of The Office - not exactly a training ground for this) has clearly listened to Hitchcock because everything about this superb movie is driven by suspense. I counted ten times when I leaped from my seat, but I was on the edge of it from start to finish.

It's lean, taut, beautifully shot, expertly sound-tracked and superbly sound-crafted (absolutely essential in a movie that's about noise).

His acting, and that of his entire family (particularly the outstanding Emily Blunt - his real life wife), is razor sharp.

And the whole thing is done and dusted in a credible 80 minutes flat.

Bish, bash, bosh. Job done.

Scared the crap out of you.

Now, go home.

Really, this is film craft at its finest and a straight into my top ten horrors of all time alongside...

The Shining It Follows Get Out Alien Jaws Psycho The Exorcist Rec Paranormal Activity What brings these all together (with the exception of The Shining and possibly Rec) is the lack of REAL horror.

Less, in my book, is generally more.

What makes this movie so damned good is the relationship Krasinski builds between members of the family. His willingness to dispose of lead characters with a minimum of fuss makes the whole much more believable and credible and the fact that the story treats its audience with respect. It has a strong beginning, middle and end although we join the story some 89 days into its telling.

The visual clues are subtle. The emotions real, small and detailed.

He makes few plot mistakes (although the 'nail' set up is a little contrived and 'the spaceship' has a pretty big 'guess what's coming' flag attached to it).

The gore is minimal which is how I like it.

Now, look at that list above and you can see a golden age of horror emerging: A Quiet Place, Get Out, It Follows, Rec and, just missing the list, French horror , Raw, are all pretty recent. They are all minimalist but they are all a) brilliantly directed and b) finely acted. The craft skills are evident in abundance in all three, but none of them need a lot of gore to engage their audience.

I hope Krasinski gets his just rewards for this.
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Isle of Dogs (2018)
8/10
More Wes Anderson greatness in his homage to Japan.
5 April 2018
Is it an ode to Millwall? Is it a statement of undying adoration for our four legged friends? Is it a literal description of his movie which features an archipelago where Japanese canine's are despatched offshore?

Whatever it is Wes Anderson's latest minutiae-packed art form is a thing that inspires awe.

You simply have to ADMIRE Wes Anderson's work because no-one (not even Guillermo Del Toro) approaches his craft with such precision, such forensic detail and because this latest epic is created in stop frame animation he has the opportunity to go microscopic; boy does he take it.

I've never seen a stop frame animation so beautifully lit. Nick Park is no slouch but he prefers grand gestures, huge laughs and bold statement. Nothing like this detail. This art.

That all makes it sound sterile, fussy perhaps, but it's not. Under the art lies a beating heart of humour and passion for our fine four legged friends that no-one else could get even CLOSE to emulating.

It's a bit too long, I'll grant you that. And some think its Japanese-ist (I don't buy that). It's not a pastiche of Japan, as some say, it's an homage.

The thrilling 'Taiko' drumming that sets the wheels in motion relentlessly underscores a movie that takes Japaneseness to thrilling heights of respect, with some humour of course - it's Wes.

The, rather slight, story, is about a vile Japanese city-dictator, and cat-lover, banishing all of Megasaki's scabrous dogs to a toxic island of waste. Thereafter it follows the quest of a young boy trying to rescue his pet, Spots, from this hideous prison.

The voices are great, but best by a mile is Bryan Cranston's as the lead stray, Chief.

You can read the detail elsewhere. But a Wes Anderson movie is a Wes Anderson movie and for that reason it has to score highly.

It's stunning, gorgeous, brilliant and nearly as good as Grand Budapest Hotel. But not quite.
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3/10
Sentimental and poorly acted
30 March 2018
Sorry folks. The subject matter is extremely worthy and the sentiment laudable but it's a sickly sweet production that doesn't really have much narrative drive. Everyone in this film is categorised as good guys and bad guys and it lacks any shade or real subtlety.
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10/10
Phoenix's best yet. Lynne Ramsay provides a directing master-class.
20 March 2018
First. A gripe. Why does everyone (reviewers, pundits, friends) call Joaquin Phoenix, Joaquim, with an M. That's not his name.

It's important, because he is.

He is about to assume a place at the altar of greatness, and this is the start of it, thanks to the high priestess of film making, Lynne Ramsay.

I have followed Ramsay's career with close interest given that she is Scottish and I was privileged enough to be invited to the world premiere of her debut, Ratcatcher in 1999.

That particular movie met with dismay with one of my fellow guests, the Marketing Director of VisitScotland, who was despairing of the Scots' film industry's penchance to make depressing (his word) movies about my home country, and his product.

The journey has had few stops in the intervening 19 years. A movie every half decade has not make her a household name. But if you care even a jot about cinema she must feature high in your list of the greatest living directors. Every frame she has committed to celluloid is crafted perfectly and Morvern Callar (an astounding book given a 10/10 treatment by Ramsay), We need to talk about Keven (ditto) and the aforementioned Ratcatcher (her own original screenplay) are all simply great movies.

Every single one of her films (and two short films) have been recognised at Cannes - reflecting her status as auteur in the cinematic world.

You Were Never Really Here is no exception, nominated for the Palm D'or, it is a continuation of Ramsay's faultless performance. What will catch the headlines (small as they may be) though, will be Pheonix's performance, as Joe. It's highly redolent of Javier Bardem's in the Coen Brothers' magnificent No Country for Old Men in which they both play mysterious hitmen with little to say.

His pursuit of justice for the young victims of a New York paedophile circle is cold blooded. Some of the extremely violent acts of retribution captured in this would turn your stomach were they committed to screen, but Ramsay opts instead to deliver them via a series of quite original set ups (for instance on CCTV) or chooses instead to share the aftermath and not the moment (think Tarantino in Reservoir Dogs in which you think you see, but don't, the ear removal to Steeler's Wheel, never to be the same, Stuck in the Middle.)

Phoenix is frankly, awesome in this. His, often topless, performance reveals an ageing body, moobs and all, that tells a million stories. The scars, bruises and lumps are each the souvenir of some untold act of revenge in which he escaped less than Scot-free.

His back story is told in tiny scraps. Clearly he suffered an abused childhood, protected by his still living, and loving, ageing mother. The trauma has shaped his career and although the back-story is never revealed in detail, only suggestion, we get the point that it has traumatised him so much that he often has to breathe into polythene bags, covering his head, to replace his panic-attack-driven hyperventilation with a dose of CO2. The auto suffocation this suggests is not so. It's his way of coping. Of living.

The narrative of the story revolves around the rescue of a New York Governor's abducted daughter - the beautiful Ekaterina Samson (Nina), whom he rescues from a Chelsea apartment in a trail of blood. Stupefied with drugs, she has little more to contribute to the proceedings than Phoenix, and this becomes the start of a gig that's about to go awry.

Really, the story is not that important. We get it, but it's tricky to follow as it pursues a complex narrative (not that there's much spoken dialogue) structure.

What matters is that Phoenix's delivery from his personal hell is increasingly tied to Nina's own safety. His mother too (a lovely performance by Judith Roberts) features heavily in the plot as she appears to be the only real love in the callous Joe's life.

Ramsay has delivered yet another perfect movie. Hideous, beautiful, cold but engaging. She might not be box office gold, but she'll keep her fans baying for more.

Roll on 2023.
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Annihilation (2018)
8/10
High quality sci-fi with a brain.
20 March 2018
If you have access to Netflix you have a treat in store.

Annihilation is Alex Garland's second movie as director/writer after the Oscar nominated Ex-Machina and joins his writing portfolio that includes The Beach, Sunshine and 28 Days Later - all Danny Boyle movies.

Starring Natalie Portman (usually pretty bland and fairly much so here) and the superb Jennifer Jason Leigh (who plays it down in this) it's a full on girl power let's take on the aliens movie without any aliens.

The story concerns five female scientists who are sent into a strange growing entity called 'The Shimmer' on the coast of the USA hat hat has already chewed up and spat out a bunch of marines and inexplicably threatens life on earth. In its early days it needs dealt with and female scientists may hold the key.

Inside 'The Shimmer' we find a world where DNA is 'refracted' in such a way that flora and fauna swap DNA and the resultant organisms range from extremely beautiful to hideously malformed. These along with a breakdown in the scientists' own DNA and organ tissue (leading to madness) form the threats to their existence as the seek the source of 'The Shimmer".

In many ways the concept is pretty close to standard fare but it is treated intelligently. (Too intelligently, it seems, for the US test cinema audience who didn't 'get it' and so it was released straight to Netflix.) Portman's back story adds interesting colour and fleshes the movie out without intruding.

Maybe they tested int in the heart of Trump country because it's not that tricky. Anyway, cinema's loss, your gain. It's a cracking yearn, well acted, well scripted, clever and stunningly shot. My wife, who doesn't go for sci-fi ordinarily, loved it.

Garland is a great ideas man and is already a gifted director. This is a sound addition to his canon of work and I highly recommend it.
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5/10
Too many flaws for this ambitious piece to merit serious praise.
3 March 2018
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.
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I, Tonya (2017)
9/10
A rags to rags story of your ordinary American trailer trash skating icon.
27 February 2018
Alongside some of its more highbrow Oscar contenders I expected I, Tonya to be a little lightweight and, whisper it, maybe one that's really more for the ladies than the gents.

Not so. This movie has balls.

It tells the true life story. (Wait a minute, who says it's true? Ed. Ah, good point Ed. the opening is heavily disclaimered regarding the truth and whose story is correct.)

It tells a multi-faceted rendering of the happenings that surrounded Tonya Harding's rise from poor American trailer trash to, well, just managing American trailer trash, with a tilt at winning the Olympic figure skating Gold medal, as favourite, along the way.

It's a rags to rags story in which poor Tonya has to suffer more than probably any global superstar ever before to make her claim for fame; ending instead in infamy.

Margot Robbie not only stars as the eponymous lead but produced the film and, in similar fashion to Charlize Theron in Monster, ditches her stunning good looks for hair, make up and wardrobe (train tracks and all) that makes her, frankly, a mess.

Her back story, brilliantly and hilariously told in pretty short order, deals with a life (allegedly) mired in terrible abuse; firstly from her disgusting 'Skating Mom' played brilliantly (and a cert for an Oscar) by Alison Janney (West Wing) and her equally disgusting young husband (Sebastian Stan). The opening scene, as a three year old skating prodigy being brought to her first skate class, is hysterical and sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

Somehow, despite this tram-smash of a life, Harding rises above it all and bulldozes her way through the middle-class American skating hierarchy into prime position thanks not only to her generally brilliant ability but, in particular, to her nailing the Triple Axel.

That's when it all goes wrong.

You'll know why, so I won't bore you with the details. But suffice it to say the hapless events that follow are particularly well enacted by her 'security' Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser); reminding me of Four Lions.

Suffice it to say this movie is great. The acting is universally superb. The skating scenes are entirely convincing, the humour (black as the ace of spades) is laugh out loud time and again, and the way that Harding is dealt her cards, and the beatings she takes both physical and mental, are abhorrent and repulsive.

Robbie is a revelation in the role and has joined the Hollywood A list as a consequence. I can't wait to see her in Mary Queen of Scots (alongside, count them, no fewer than eight other announced roles) and whilst she won't beat Frances McDormand to the coveted Best Female Lead in March this performance has set a new bar for which she can only progress beyond.

Bravo. If I had a red rose I'd throw it on the ice right now.

(The soundtrack, all the best worst American MOR ever, is great too.)
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Lady Bird (2017)
8/10
A heartwarming movie that will touch any good parents of teenage children.
18 February 2018
Although this movie explores much trodden territory - a Catholic schoolgirl's coming of age movie - it's one for parents of around my age (50's) rather than the teen lead it features. In that role Saiorse Ronan deservedly nets another Oscar nomination (sadly for her she is up against the imperious Frances McDormand and therefore cannot win) in a performance that is as real and as raw as any you'll see this year.

But it's not just Ronan's performance that makes this the movie it is. It's the triangular relationship between her (a disillusioned small town girl from Sacramento who dreams of the creativity and urban rawness of East Coast New York) her driven, ambitious (for her daughter) and seemingly hard-hearted, unemotional mother (Laurie Metcalfe) and her long-suffering, delightful father (Tracy Letts).

How the three deal with one another and how those relationships play out are at the heart of a movie that touches the heart-strings many times.

Take a hankie.

It's not damning Greta Gerwig's directorial debut with faint praise by describing it as nice because it really is, in the finest tradition of the word, a truly nice cinematic experience. It has grit, humour and emotion, but the overwhelming take out is just how 'nice' it is.

The first act is hilarious in which 'Lady Bird', the given name (given to herself) of Christine, her best friend Julie and her first boyfriends enact small time life, love and prom-going.

The setting, in an all girls' Catholic High School, lends itself to much hilarity, with some excellently original rebellion. My favourite scene is where 'Lady Bird' and Julie scoff a tub of communion wafers whilst talking about sex. ("It's OK. They're not consecrated.")

Although the gradual sexual fulfilment that Lady Bird experiences is nothing new Ronan's performance keeps you interested, and when the consequences lead to confrontations and discussions between her and her parents - rarely acted out as a three hander because Mum and Dad lead separate (although still loving) lives - the movie reveals its depth.

It's the relationship between mother and daughter that is the real dramatic grit in thi particular oyster. Here Gerwig teases out brilliance by both actors and it's the result of this difficult 'ambitious-mom' tension that drives the movie.

As the film reaches its climax how that plays out is what results in the handkerchief moments and leaves you emotionally satisfied in a movie that is greater than the sum of its parts.
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Loveless (2017)
8/10
A tough shift in the cinema but worth it.
15 February 2018
I'm not familiar with the work of Andrey Zvyagintsev, although his previous movie, Leviathan, got a BAFTA nomination (as this has) for Best Film not in the English Language.

However, I'm reliably informed he has a 'style' consistent with that on display in Loveless that could most accurately be described as; bleak.

Shot in naturalistic (i.e. low) light in the depths of Russian winter it makes little or no concession to cinematic gloss. Although the extremely sparingly applied soundtrack by Evgeny and Sasha Galperin is strangely brilliant.

Loveless is the story of a 12 year old boy in Moscow who disappears after hearing a vicious argument between his, very much, not in love parents, neither of whom want the responsibility of bringing him up once their impending divorce is settled.

It's a slow burn after that as we follow the search for the young boy who has left no clues as to how, why or where he is.

It portrays Moscow in as bleak a light as any you'll have seen since those gritty 60's/70's German/Polish dirges and yet it's kind of compelling. It's actually quite engrossing, even as you reel at the circumstances that have led to his parents' estrangement and weirdly unemotional connection with the situation they find themselves in.

Loveless is the perfect title for a movie that deals with intimacy, relationship and familial bonds without even a shred of real love being displayed.

Frankly, it's horrible, but don't let that put you off. It's a fine piece of art if not a multiplex filler.
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10/10
Cinematic craftsmanship at its greatest.
7 February 2018
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.
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Darkest Hour (2017)
5/10
Dullest Hour
28 January 2018
Dullest Hour more like.

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.
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Molly's Game (2017)
6/10
One to save for watching on TV.
19 January 2018
It's always a treat when Aaron Sorkin brings a new script to our screens, large or small, and his output (aside from West Wing) has been quite thinly spread over recent years. For me, the high point was The Social Network, but Steve Jobs was pretty damn fine too.

And it's an unusual move for writers to become directors (albeit Martin McDonagh has done so to remarkable effect). This is Sorkin's directorial bow and he makes a pretty decent fist of it.

It's a good, but not great, film that moves along at typical, for Sorkin, high pace, almost matching that of Tom Lehrer's, The Elements. And that is both its strength and its weakness. It's kind of exhausting keeping up with 140 minutes of non stop verbal action.

The story concerns the real life of Molly Bloom; Olympic skier turned (illegal) poker madame. My first gripe is the huge dependence on narration from the central character (played superbly by Jessica Chastain). It's a tiresome devise that too often intrudes. It doesn't kill the movie but, for me, it hampers it.

The second is that it's just too one-paced. It lacks light and shade.

But it's also absorbing, interesting and full of surprises.

Chastain puts in an an Oscar nominatable performance (but it's in no way winnable, given what Frances McDormand has put down in Three Billboards as a marker).

Idris Elba had the ladies in my company quite hot and bothered and puts in a decent shift as Chastain's legal representative. He's needed because her early cleaner than clean rules of engagement gradually become blurred and loose.

It's a great yarn and it holds the audience throughout. But will I remember it a year from now? Not particularly.
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10/10
The greatest writing delivered in earth shattering performances. exquisite.
13 January 2018
You couldn't get more mid-American than Missouri. You'd be forgiven for not knowing that the state capital is Jefferson City. It's an unremarkable state and Ebbing is an unremarkable town (made up it would seem); it's not trailer trash, it's not deep south. It's just a nondescript, middle-class, American provincial town frequented by the usual mish-mash of not quite Hillbillys, not quite racists. They'd have voted for Trump in big numbers; if the place existed.

It's here that Frances McDormand (just like in the unremarkable town of Fargo) stakes her claim for a place at the top table in the pantheon of greatest living actresses.

It's here that Martin McDonagh cements his position as the greatest living comedy writer. (As if In Bruges wasn't enough, he's got his theatre canon of work to bolster those credentials - The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Lieutenant of Inishmore are both comedic masterpieces.)

And it's here that both Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson put in career defining (and probable Oscar winning) performances.

To say that Frances McDormand has everything you need to be the complete actress is an understatement; she's hilarious, brutal, droll, moving, sympathetic, antagonistic, bombastic, arrogant, crazy, vulnerable, arch, facetious and deadpan. And that's only in the first 20 minutes. This will unquestionably win her, her second Oscar.

And Martin McDonagh will pick up his second for best original screenplay (14 years after winning best short in 2004) and maybe even his third for best director. He already has no fewer than four (yes 4) nominations at the BAFTA's and I expect him to win at least half of them - because this is writing and direction of the very highest order.

He's moved on since In Bruges. Sure the C bomb is dropped very early in the first dialogue scene and turns up several times more. But this is not the full pelt filth that Colin Farrell deployed to intense pleasure in the former.

This is a subtler, equally dark but even more brutal exposition. Each word seems to have been crafted on a lathe. I gasped several times at the sheer dexterity of his writing delivered by masters of their craft.

There's a dwarf, yes.

There's an idiot, yes.

But I ain't telling you no more than that. I saw it without spoilers so you deserve the same respect.

It has a breathtakingly bold finish, I'll tell you that; spoiling nothing.

This is cinema at its absolute finest. The best film I have seen this year by far (and I thought Dunkirk was truly outstanding).

Go Martin.
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Get Out (I) (2017)
9/10
Claims to be a 'horror' but it's so much more than that.
12 January 2018
Once in a while a movie comes along that takes a genre by the scruff of the neck and vigorously shakes it into a new shape.

This is so with Get Out, a horror movie (so the marketing blurb says) that lobs a few horror tropes into a lean and mean 104 minute thriller. But it is really a social observation on the insidiousness of racism. It comes out the other end as a unique movie offering.

It borrows from Pacific Heights, Psycho, Michael Haneke's astonishing Party Games and sub-horror-porn like Saw without ever being any of them.

Without resorting to spoilers its one gigantic twist from start to finish that realises the fears of a young black American guy on a trip to the country to meet his wealthy WASP girlfriend's family on a celebration weekend. Every sentence uttered by every character becomes a retrospective clue as to what the outcome will be.

Given it's described as a 'horror' you can expect a deal of nasty stuff in a climactic ending. What director and screenwriter Jordan Peele (amazingly a debut outing) most cleverly does is apply Hitchcockian tension so that 89 minutes of tension are realised in a mere 15 minutes of terror in such a way that the nasty bits don't (as so often is the case) outstay their welcome.

Superb performances all round from the five principal actors, but especially boyfriend and girlfriend Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams (Girls).

It's should be no surprise that this has been both BAFTA and Golden Globes nominated, but it is because this genre rarely reaches this level of critical acclaim.

It'll get Oscar nods too.
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6/10
I think a little overrated and not sympathetic enough for my liking.
13 December 2017
The Disaster Artist is essentially a biopic of an episode in the life of the mysterious Tommy Wiseau, a failed actor who somehow managed to spend over $6m on making what some regard as the worst film in Hollywood history; The Room. (It scores 3.6 on IMDB for information.)

I would urge you to at least watch some of the 'Best of The Room' videos that you can find on Youtube before seeing tThe Disaster Artist. Better still, go to a screening of the movie which has reached such levels of cult status and interactivity that it's become a bit like a Rocky Horror Picture Show screening or a Singalonga Sound of Music.

I mean it's awful. The Room, that is.

Here we find out how it came about and that means trying to get under the skin of Tommy Wiseau himself, clearly a task that James Franko has tackled with some relish, as he plays the lead role (and, like Wiseua directs the movie). His younger brother Dave Franko plays Wiseau's best friend Greg who plays Mark in the movie.

It's outright weird in places as we try to get to grips with Wiseau's accent - at times he is virtually unintelligible (including in The Room final cut - one of its great charms). He claims to be from St Louis but he looks Chinese or certainly East Asian and sounds Hungarian or certainly Eastern European. It's a bizarre mash up that Franko nails from the off.

Then there's the money, where does it come from? No clues are given. And his sexuality? His relationship with Greg is nothing if not close, but there is no sexual advances made on his 'baby faced" charge who he takes in to his home in LA.

Seth Rogan has a supporting role as an exasperated Script Supervisor/stand in director when Tommy is on screen - one famous scene required 67 takes and is captured hilariously here.

But it's all a little sad. Clearly we are laughing AT Wiseau not WITH him and it all felt a little charmless in that respect. There's no doubt Franko pulls it off and his brother also has a good turn, but for me I'd have liked just a spark of sympathy for the big fella.

The movie has gone on to wash its face and Wiseau has milked it enthusiastically over the years - maybe a little more than a caption to that effect would have given Tommy the last laugh.
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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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