Month: August 2014

Boyhood

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11/7/14

Richard Linklater is what used to be known, in the classic days of Hollywood, as a maverick director. Which pretty much means that you never know what to expect from him next. From his assured debut with Dazed and Confused, through School of Rock and the various animated experiments he’s done, he’s kept his viewing public well and truly unbalanced. But who could have anticipated Boyhood?

The USP of this movie is that Linklater filmed his scenes over a twelve year period, using the same cast. The boy of the title is Mason (Ellar Coltrane). When we first meet him he’s a six year old, desperately trying to come to terms with the breakup of his parent’s marriage. Mom, is Patricia Arquette, an independent woman who longs for a career but is hampered by her unerring ability to choose the wrong man every time. Dad is Ethan Hawke, wild, feckless but incredibly likeable. And Mason’s sister is Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, the director’s own daughter). Storywise, what we get is a series of episodic vignettes that follows Mason and his extended family across the years, seeing everyone literally age 12 years in the process. The result is as delicious and it is extraordinarily magical. How many times have we seen three different kids brought in to represent one character? And how often have we seen actors buried under layers of latex to indicate the passing years.

Boyhood is a triumphant film, one that elicits genuine emotions, following as it does the (quite literal) rites of passage as a boy passes from childhood into manhood. And what a superbly eclectic soundtrack! After a recent drought in the cinema, this comes as a much needed drink of cool, refreshing water. Absolutely unmissable.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Theatre Of Blood

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22/08/14

Many people have a favourite Vincent Price movie and for me, it’s always been his 1973 horror-romp, Theatre of Blood. Price plays veteran actor, Edward Lionheart, seemingly returned from the dead to enact grisly vengeance upon the critics who derided his performances, each murder enacted in the style of a Shakespeare play. With a witty screenplay by Anthony Greville-Bell and suitably quirky direction from Douglas Hickcox, the movie serves as a spiritual boost for every artist who has ever suffered at the hands of critics.

A superb seventies ensemble cast includes Ian Hendry, Diana Rigg (as Lionheart’s equally unhinged daughter, Edwina) Robert Morley, Arthur Lowe, Coral Browne (or Mrs Price, as she was sometimes known), Michael Hordern and many more, while Price has great fun hamming up some of the immortal bards best-known lines. Newly released on DVD, this is too good to miss, but be warned. The scene where one character chokes to death on a pie containing his own pet poodles is not for the faint-hearted.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Ace In The Hole

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22/08/14

In 1951, writer/director Billy Wilder was riding the crest of the wave he’d generated with Sunset Boulevarde, a critically acclaimed and very successful movie. But his next film, Ace In The Hole, featured a story so vitriolic and poisonous that it almost sank his career forever.

Now rereleased in a spanking new black and white print, it couldn’t be more prescient and thoroughly deserves re-evaluation. Kirk Douglas, at the height of his considerable powers plays Chuck Tatum, a former big shot reporter who finds himself all washed up in Alberqurque and forced to take a post on a local newspaper. He’s constantly on the lookout for the big story that will propel him back to former glories and thinks he’s found it when he chances upon an accident in an old Indian mine where a luckless restaurant owner, Leo Minosa has been trapped by a cave-in. Chuck sets about creating a ‘human interest’ story about the attempt to rescue Leo and proceeds to milk it for all its worth, even taking steps to ensure that the process takes longer than it needs to.

Though nominated for an Oscar, the American public didn’t take kindly to a film that suggested that newspapers sold lies, that the general public would flock like vultures to a catastrophe and that the lure of easy money will always win out over common decency. Tatum is a vile creation, a man who will stop at nothing to further his career and pretty much every other character around him is revealed as a self-serving, gutless wonder, including Leo’s shrewish wife, Lorraine (Jan Sterling). Despite it’s 1950’s setting, this is a film that still resonates today and ranks amongst Wilder’s finest achievements.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Nathan Penlington’s Choose Your Own Documentary

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19/08/14 Gilded Balloon Teviot, Edinburgh

I kind of know Nathan Penlington – or, at least,  there’s a tenuous connection. We come from the same home town. My brother was friends with his brother for a while, and – when I started my very first teaching job in North Wales – Nathan was in the sixth form. I didn’t teach him, but he wasn’t a kid you could fail to notice: long hair, a penchant for tartan, and a regular performer of magic tricks and poetry. I still have a CD of his poems somewhere, sold at the end of a school event. So, when we saw Choose Your Own Documentary advertised, I was interested to see what he’d ended up doing. And ‘making rather good documentaries’ seems to be at least part of the answer, alongside ‘writing books’ and ‘reflecting on the past.’

Choose Your Own Documentary is an innovative blend of film and spoken word, with a twist of audience participation. Nathan, it transpires, is a long-time fan of Choose Your Own Adventure books, and the documentary tells us of the bulk purchase he made of second-hand copies. Inside the books were the twenty-year old private scribblings of a troubled young boy, whose fragments of diary haunted Penlington, and pre-empted the film: he decided to track down the boy and see what sort of man he had become. For many film-makers, that would be enough.

But Penlington is trickier than that: he doesn’t reveal the whole story. We, the audience, have to decide which parts we want to see. We are given little remote controls, and we have to vote for what comes next. We are inside the frustrating world of the Choose Your Own Adventure series, knowing that there are other – maybe better – permutations. If we want to see those, we have to attend the show again (I think I would, if it weren’t at the Fringe, and there weren’t so many other things I want to catch). It’s clever, it’s original, and it’s also strangely moving. Luckily, there’s a book (The Boy in the Book by Nathan Penlington, published by Headline), which contains the whole story. So we buy that, and leave content.

4.4 stars

Susan Singfield

Scott Capurro

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19/08/14

Assembly Rooms, George Street

Scott Capurro strolls onto the stage at the Assembly Rooms, looking like Kevin Bacon’s half-brother. He takes one look at the (rather sparse) audience and then he’s off and running. His sly, strangely endearing, but openly bitchy persona comes equipped with an excoriating tongue and a recklessness that means no subject is beyond the range of his scorn – race, religion, sexuality, politics… you name it; each subject is set up and summarily chopped down with a series of wicked one-liners. In short, this man doesn’t care who he offends and indeed, appears to revel in it. It’s saying something when a brief allusion to Robin Williams leaves him momentarily misty-eyed and after the vitriolic tirade that has preceded it, it’s this moment that seems shockingly perverse. 

Capurro achieves a powerful rapport with his audience even as he is ripping them to pieces. A guy to my left, despite being accompanied by his girlfriend is ‘secretly gay’ – and so Capurro flirts with him throughout the rest of the act. A married couple across the room, out to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary, are depicted as a pair of inbred knuckle draggers. And when he discovers that Susan and I have been married for exactly one week and two days, we soon find ourselves the butt of his scorn… but we’re laughing and cringing in equal measure. Capurro isn’t going to win any awards for sensitivity but this show is as funny as it is outrageous and clearly deserves a bigger audience than it had tonight. Excellent stuff.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Rob Newman’s New Theory of Evolution

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19/08/14

Stand On The Square, Edinburgh

Back in the 1980’s, as part of influential TV comedy troop The Mary Whitehouse Experience, Rob Newman became a household name. Shortly thereafter, with his partner David Badiel, he was one of the first comedians to play stadium-sized gigs around the UK. But then something went wrong and he dropped out of sight for quite some time. Now, after an absence of seven years, he’s back in Edinburgh, with this slice of anthropologically-inspired comedy.

The first thing to say is that it’s very original material and Newman approaches stand-up like no other comedian I’ve ever seen. It’s probably also fair to say that the results aren’t wildly funny, yielding smirks and knowing sniggers, rather than big laughs. This is clever stuff, perhaps too clever for tonight’s festival crowd, who’ve clearly come out fuelled by a couple of drinks, expecting something rather more accessible than what they’re given.

Matters aren’t helped by the fact that Newman seems decidedly ill at ease with his audience. He stalks up and down the small stage, putting everything he has into his delivery, the effort requiring him to mop at his perspiring face with a handkerchief, but he fails to establish any real rapport and that’s a problem. His wide-ranging talk is actually closer to a lecture than a comedy routine and it’s punctuated by a couple of songs, inexpertly bashed out on a ukelele, that fail to make any impact whatsoever. Perhaps in a more sober environment, this might have managed to generate more sparks, but tonight it comes across as something of a missed opportunity. Shame, because there’s a real intellect at work here, that fails to make a proper connection with its intended audience.

3.2 stars

Philip Caveney

John Lloyd’s Museum of Curiosities Live

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18/08/14

Underbelly, Bristo Square, Edinburgh

Radio 4 listeners will already be familiar with the format of this intriguing show, led by near legendary producer  and self-styled Professor of Ignorance, John Lloyd. This is simply a live performance of the same format but with a few visual aids thrown in. Here Lloyd is assisted by his ‘curator’ (Daniel Schrieber) and three guest speakers – author Frank Cotteral Boyce, QI researcher, Andy Murray (not THAT Andy Murray!) and ‘too many roles to list’ Clive Anderson.

The idea is that each guest suggests something that might be placed into the Museum and they discuss their choices in detail. Boyce chose a printed year-by-year edition of everything that’s on the internet (one hell of a big volume),  Anderson wanted the real King Macbeth (much unlike his Shakespearian equivalent, it seems) and Murray chose leeches, who he maintains, have a totally undeserved bad press. As ever, the show is witty, surprisingly informative and a very pleasant way to spend an hour. The earth didn’t move but after a series of loud frenetic shows, this was a nice relaxing slice of entertainment.

3.5 stars

Philip Caveney

Woyzeck

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17/08/14

Gilded Balloon Teviot, Edinburgh

Splendid Productions’ version of Woyzeck is a real triumph. I have a head full of superlatives, and don’t know where to start.

Well, unlike Splendid, I’ll start at the beginning. The actors are on stage, not in-role, and interacting with the audience. They greet us, make sure we’re comfortable, ask someone to hold a mirror while they finish their make-up. They explain what they are doing (“We’re setting it up so that we can make a tonal change in a minute”), and there is such wit and warm-heartedness in the approach that it’s impossible not to smile.

And then they go to the end. The murder scene. There’s a numbered caption board telling us that this is scene 23, and what happens in it, and there are three actors and there’s a stage full of props. Sound effects are produced on stage in front of us. Costume changes too. The caption cards change with every scene, and the chronology is all over the place. There’s music and singing, and audience participation. We are made to feel complicit in the killing and in Woyzeck’s destruction; why don’t we intervene and stop it? And it’s marvellous, all of it. Brechtian brilliance. Fourth wall ripped away. Lively, confrontational, exciting and joyous. The best thing I’ve seen at this year’s Fringe.

Thank you, Splendid. I’ll be coming to see this again when you go on tour.

5 stars

Susan Singfield

Holly Walsh – Never Had It

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18/08/14

Assembly George Square, Edinburgh

Holly Walsh likes to paint herself as a bit of a nerd – back as a teenager, when all her mates were riding a maelstrom of illegal drugs and enjoying all kinds of sexual encounters, she was the one collecting her Duke of Edinburgh award. This pleasingly intimate performance is supported by her canny use of PowerPoint – a much neglected comedy aid. Some of her selected images have us laughing out loud, particularly her use of marginalia from medieval manuscripts (trust me, it’s much funnier than it sounds).

There’s also plenty of lively interplay with her audience, some cleverly improvised verbal exchanges and the performance never loses sight of its initial concept, that of the perennial ‘uncool’ individual beset by those who actually ‘have it.’ A sequence about a shaming event in a tapas bar was a particular highlight for me but, to be honest, the laughter never flags throughout the hour long set. Walsh may not be the coolest comedian on the block but, on the evidence of this show, she’s well on her way to being one of the funniest.

4.7 stars

Philip Caveney

Just Like That – The Tommy Cooper Show

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18/08/14

Gilded Balloon Teviot, Edinburgh

Tommy Cooper was a legendary comedian and it’s no surprise that in any given year at the Fringe, you’ll find a couple of tribute shows devoted to him. ‘Just Like That,’ featuring Lincolnshire-based John Hewer, comes with the blessing of the Cooper estate – and little wonder. While he doesn’t really resemble the late comedian, he nonetheless inhabits the man’s persona to an uncanny degree, offering a note-perfect set compiled from some of Cooper’s lesser known cabaret routines.

Cooper was one of those rare comedians who was just innately funny. His act, a ragbag collection of terrible puns and amateurish magic would have foundered and sunk in the hands of any other comedian. But Hewer knows exactly how do deliver the goods. Within minutes of his entrance, the audience are laughing hysterically and it never falters throughout the hour long show. Okay, so there are no surprises here – you get exactly what it says on the can. An impersonation of a comedy genius. But as a lifelong Cooper fan, I was transported by this show. Go along expecting nothing but a good, hearty laugh and you won’t be disappointed.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney