Cameo Cinema Beer & Food Event

Stitched Panorama

25/09/16

We’ve all heard of food and wine tastings, of course, but the good people at the Cameo Cinema clearly feel that beer really should be afforded the same privilege as its close cousin  – and why not? Like many nations around the world, here in the UK, we consume a lot more amber than we do red or white. Beer often gets bad press, but did you know that it is fat free and has considerably fewer calories than wine? And that it has a lot less sugar than you might think? Hence this intimate meeting for forty lucky members of the Cameo Cinema in their delightful cafe bar (already our favourite drinking place in Edinburgh), where four vegetarian food courses are served, each matched with an appropriate beer.

First up, we’re offered a taste of San Miguel, matched with a tasty slice of Spanakopita (spinach pie), a filo pastry parcel filled with feta cheese, spinach and chopped onions. The twosome make a perfect match, the crisp, zesty lager cutting through the tangy taste of the filling. San Miguel is, of course, always perceived as the ultimate Spanish product – so it might surprise you to discover that it was first brewed (to a Spanish recipe) in the Philippines. These days, of course, it’s brewed in an even more exotic location: Northampton.

Next up we are served with a shot of London Pale Ale (I fondly remember this stuff being my dad’s drink of choice before lager was popularised in the 1960s). This is accompanied by a delightfully flaky vegan samosa filled with sweet and spicy mediterranean vegetables. Once again, the two items are an inspired match, the yeasty ale contrasting nicely with the samosa. Pale ale is also, we are told, an excellent partner for burgers and for Mexican food. You’ll hear no argument from me on that score.

The third nibble is a bowl of vegetable chilli, which has a rich, smoky flavour and a powerful kick to boot. This is paired with a wheat beer called Blue Moon, a malted America beer brewed Belgian-style. Here, the strong flavour of the cloudy beer is exactly what’s needed to cut through the strength of those chipotle chillies. Our hosts ask us if we think it’s a good combination and we answer in the affirmative.

I have a small twinge of anxiety as the fourth and final course is served. Out comes a glass of Black Ball stout, a Williams’ Brothers beer (a popular draught option at the Cameo), and this has been paired with a chocolate brownie. Now, I would never drink a stout on its own; I always find the flavour of roasted malt a bit too much, but I have to admit that, when taken in conjunction with a gooey sticky chunk of brownie, something rather magical happens – the two elements combine to provide a mouthful of what can only be described as sheer heaven. This turns out, against all the odds, to be my favourite pairing of the session.

Clearly the Cameo staff know what they’re doing – this event has been expertly put together. Those who would like to explore the subject a bit more should get themselves down to the Cameo bar with all speed – those who would prefer to learn more at a distance may care to investigate beerforthat.com – where all things beer and food-related are examined in more detail.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Under the Shadow

25/09/16

It is the 1980s and, in war-torn post-revolution Tehran, young mother, Shideh (Narges Rashidi), struggles to look after her young daughter, Dorsa (Avin Manshedi). Shideh’s husband, Iraj (Bobby Naderi), is a doctor, and when he’s called away to work at the front line, Shideh feels horribly isolated in her city apartment. She has long wanted to be a doctor herself but, because of her political activism whilst at university, she’s been banned from ever pursuing such a career. Indeed, she has to keep many things secret – even the fact that she owns a VCR on which she watches Jane Fonda workout videos – and naturally, like all women in the city, she can no longer be seen out on the streets without covering her hair with a hijab.

A near miss from an Iraqi missile, plunges her apartment block into turmoil and things get even more complicated, when neighbours start muttering about the presence of Djins – evil spirits, borne on the wind, that seek to take everything from their chosen victims. At first, Shideh dismisses the notion as superstitious nonsense but, as inexplicable occurrences begin to mount, she starts to believe that there may actually be something in the stories; and that one of the things these shadowy creatures wish to take from her is her daughter…

Under the Shadow uses all the tropes of the contemporary horror movie to tell its story – there are jump-cuts and scare moments aplenty here, all of them skilfully executed; but writer/director Babak Abvari’s assured story is quite clearly an allegory, one that relates to the oppressive situation that Shideh finds herself in, while the collapsing apartment building is clearly a comment on her own mental disintegration, as well as the country’s demise. If it reminds me of another film, it’s Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, where Catherine Deneuve goes through a similar process but, where she is alone, Shideh has her vulnerable daughter to worry about (a delightful performance from young Manshedi). As the slow-burning tale builds steadily towards its catharsis, the audience is drawn deeper and deeper into a world of mounting terror.

The intriguing conclusion eloquently points out that the impact of war and the suppression of individuality have a long-lasting effect on their victims. Abvari should be congratulated. He’s created a film that offers everything you’d expect in a successful horror movie… and a good deal more besides.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

The Girl with All the Gifts

1200x675

24/09/16

The Girl with All the Gifts is a  zombie movie with a difference: we see events unfold from Melanie (Senna Nanua)’s point of view – and Melanie is a ‘hungry.’

Hungries are second-generation zombies and they seem different from the depraved creatures first infected by the virus. They can speak and they can learn – and, if Dr Caldwell (Glenn Close) is right, they can be used to develop an antidote that will save the human race. And this is where the tension lies: do we agree with Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton), the teacher and psychologist, who says they’re children? Or do we side with Sgt. Parks (Eddie Considine), who believes they’re monsters?

We’re on Justineau’s side, of course; how can it be otherwise in the face of Melanie’s nature? Sure, she’s hungry for blood, and she might find it hard to curb her appetite, but she’s sweet and clever and vulnerable – and capable of love.

This is a fascinating film, ably directed by Colm McCarthy, a perfect allegory for regime change and its moral complexities. The dystopia is beautifully rendered: a complete vision of a ravaged London, with a dwindling number of safe places, a doomed effort to survive against the odds. The acting is uniformly impressive, and young Nanua shines among this seasoned cast; she’s certainly one to watch.

Okay, so there are a few plot holes: how can Justineau get food without breaking the airlock, for example? And how did that dog manage to stay alive for so long? The scenes where the first-generation zombies give chase all feel a little over-familiar for a film that’s this original. But overall it’s a resounding success and I highly recommend you watch it.

4.6 stars

Susan Singfield

Bridget Jones’s Baby

19/09/16

Okay, I’ll admit it: I don’t like Bridget very much. Admittedly, in 1996, when Bridget Jones’s Diary was a newly-published book, I thought it was an entertaining read. Helen Fielding has a sprightly style, and the humour is easy and accessible. The narrative of noble goal-setting and ignoble failure works really well. And so I read the sequel and then I watched both films. And I don’t think any of them are bad: they’re funny, well-made, appealing tales. It’s just… Bridget. She’s so bloody passive. And I know she’s a character, not a role-model, and I don’t expect a protagonist without flaws, but there’s so much of Bridget, she’s so ubiquitous a figure – and she really, really drives me mad.

In this latest outing, nothing’s really changed. It’s still slick and competent, still laugh-out-loud funny, still complacent with its privileged world view (where Bridget, a successful TV producer living in at least half a million pounds’ worth of property, is somehow presented as a sort-of failure, poorer than all her friends, playing Cinderella to her rich suitors). She’s forty-three now, still single, still waiting for life to happen to her – and she’s bored; the old gang can’t be relied on for company, because they’re all too busy with their kids. She tries hanging out with the younger Miranda (Sarah Solemani) instead, but soon lands herself in trouble: after two one-night stands, she finds herself pregnant. But who’s the father? Is it Jack (Patrick Dempsey), the billionaire dating guru? Or Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), the love of her life?

What follows is a sort of comedy of manners, and it’s adroitly done. Of course it is: look at the cast and crew. Renée Zellweger imbues Bridget with an understated warmth and likability, and Emma Thompson (as Dr Rawlings) is as sardonic and witty as you’d expect – she’s the best thing about this film. It’s an engaging and engrossing tale, and the payoff – if predictable – is worth the wait.

My advice? Watch it. Enjoy it. Try not to get annoyed.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

Tallulah

tallulah

18/09/16

Netflix’s filmic arm continues to grow in stature and Tallulah is a fine example of the kind of project they do particularly well. It reunites Juno’s Ellen Page and Allison Janney, in an absorbing and entertaining story about relationships. Page (who has complained that she struggles to find decent screen roles since coming out as gay, obviously knows a good script when she sees one – she executive-produced this film).

Tallulah (Page) is a rootless young woman, who lives in a van and drifts around America making ends meet by indulging in petty crime. Her boyfriend, Nico (Evan Jonigkeit) is however, beginning to miss the stability of his former home (he hasn’t been back there for two years) and suggests that they pay a call on his mother, Margo (Janney) an academic living alone in a luxury New York apartment after her husband left her and moved in with a man. Tallulah is less than keen on the idea and she and Nico have an argument. The following morning, Tallulah wakes to discover that Nico has walked out on her.

She promptly heads off to Margo’s apartment asking if she has seen Nico, but Margo sends her packing. Shortly afterwards, Tallulah has a chance encounter with Carolyn (Tammy Blanchard) a character who initially seems to have been created to illustrate a ‘how not to parent’ video. Carolyn has a hot date that night and enlists Tallulah (who she’s never met before) to look after her toddler while she’s gone – but Tallulah decides to take the little girl and heads back to Margo’s place…

Tallulah is a decidedly amoral character but Page invests her with great charm, hinting at the damage that was caused to her when she was abandoned by her own mother as a little girl; Janney meanwhile, is on terrific form as a prickly introvert woman who finds all relationships difficult – her clumsy attempt to seduce an amorous doorman is a delight. As the two women spend time in each other’s company, a powerful bond develops between them; but meanwhile, the police are investigating what is, after all, a kidnapping and it soon becomes apparent that things cannot end well for Tallulah.

This is a superior slice of drama, nicely acted, wittily scripted and directed by Sian Heder. More than anything else, it’s a film about women and their relationships – and it absolutely aces the Bechdel test. If you have Netflix, you really should check it out. If you don’t, this could be a valid reason to sign up.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

1200

17/09/16

New Zealander Taika Waititi’s last film, What We Do In The Shadows, offered (against all the odds) a refreshingly original take on vampirism – and the oddly titled Hunt for the Wilderpeople is another quirky and unusual film, set in the writer/director’s homeland. It tells the story of Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), a troubled teenager in care whose unruly behaviour has pretty much exhausted the list of foster families prepared to give him a chance. In a last-gasp effort to find him a suitable home, he is placed with Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her curmudgeonly husband, Hec (Sam Neill), who live in a shotgun shack in the middle of nowhere.

After initial teething troubles, Ricky takes a shine to Bella and, for the first time ever, his future looks promising – but then she dies unexpectedly and Hec isn’t slow to point out that having Ricky here was all his wife’s idea. Plans are set in motion to take Ricky back into care, whereupon, he heads off into the outback, determined to fend for himself – and Hec has little option but to go after him. After an accident obliges Hec to lay up for several weeks to recuperate, Ricky and Hec finally begin to bond…

The interplay between Neil and Dennison is a winning combination, delightful and often hilarious – while the succession of eccentric characters they encounter throughout the film adds to the fun, particularly Rhys Derby’s ‘Psycho Sam,’ a deranged hermit who spends much of his time disguised as a bush. Rachel House also shines as child services official Paula, determined to find Ricky and throw him back into care.

Okay, the film isn’t perfect – you can’t help wondering how Ricky can spend five months in the outback, living only on what he and Hec can forage, without losing so much as a pound in weight, for example –  but the New Zealand locations are absolutely ravishing and there’s no denying that the tale is enough to reel you in and keep you hooked right up until the epilogue. Waititi’s  decision to present the film as a series of chapters is also a nice touch. If you’re looking for something different from the usual Hollywood fare, this is a sure bet and the 12A rating means it’s suitable for family viewing.

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney

Blair Witch

15/09/16

In 1999, The Blair Witch Project was something of a phenomenon, a made-for-buttons movie that became a resounding success, both critically and financially. The pared back plot, the found-footage concept, the shaky-cam and the ingenious blending of the story with real life (fake news reports, the actors listed as ‘missing, presumed dead’ on IMDb, etc.) all combined to make a movie that felt – if a little ragged – at least original and compelling.

The same cannot be said for this 2016 reincarnation. Although ostensibly a sequel (Heather’s brother heads into the woods to search for his sister, taking along a group of friends, one of whom just happens – who’d have thought it? – to be a film student, making a documentary), it’s essentially the same story – but worse.

These adventurers have better technology than their predecessors (they’re definitely from the richer, privileged echelons of society, with student budgets that allow them to buy drones and tiny cameras with built-in GPS) but it doesn’t really help them – or us. The GPS doesn’t work properly in the haunted woods, the drone crashes – and we’re still left watching a load of blurry shaky images.

Where the original used the power of suggestion, showing little and leaving much to the imagination, this new movie shows us too much. The Blair Witch is far less scary when she’s visible, just a dime-a-dollar horror prop. And there are too many jump scares that are all the same: a loud noise, it’s getting closer, oh it’s you, please don’t do that! In fact, it’s repetitive all round. We don’t just run through the house once, we have to follow a second character in there too. And potentially interesting ideas are set up but then fade to nought (what’s the point of showing us Lane’s confederate flag if nothing else he does links back to it?).

It works on some levels: there is tension and a little suspense. The acting is fine. Some of it looks good. But, overall, this is one to miss. It doesn’t stand up to the original.

2.8 stars

Susan Singfield