April 1945. As the allies push further and further into a defeated Germany, the crew of a Sherman tank, nick-named Fury, encounter hostile resistance wherever they go. When a valued member of their team is killed, he’s replaced by raw recruit, Norman (Logan Lermann,) a man more versed in using a typewriter than a machine gun. The tank’s battle-hardened sergeant, War Daddy (Brad Pitt) realises that if Norman is going to have a chance of survival, he’s going to require a swift and brutal indoctrination and that’s exactly what he gets.
Director David Ayer seems to be in his element when depicting men under pressure – his last release, End of Watch, deals with two cops on the firing line and the bond that exists between them, and here, Ayer successfully portrays the bloody mayhem of battle as seen from the claustrophobic confines of a tank. The battle scenes are mesmerisingly hideous and the moments in between reveal more about the crew themselves and the dehumanising aspects of war. By the way, those of you who normally operate a ‘No Shia Le Beouf Policy’ can relax. Here, he’s totally convincing as a religious man fighting to keep hold of his belief as hell unfolds around him.
The film has been criticised in America for the scene in which War Daddy makes Norman execute an unarmed German solider. It’s harrowing, for sure, but this is a film about warfare and the scene feels totally believable, just one more barbaric act amidst a maelstrom of destruction. Its central message, that war corrupts and destroys everything in its path is no great revelation, but you’ll emerge from this feeling that you have been in the thick of battle and if nothing else, you’ll feel a greater appreciation for what soldiers endured during the Second World War and how much we have to thank them for.
But be warned, this is no date movie. A scene where Norman is obliged to scrape what’s left of the face of his predecessor off the seat he is to occupy requires a strong stomach. It’s powerful stuff, not for the faint-hearted.
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Offered in the great value, A Play, A Pie and A Pint slot, Crash by Andy Duffy is a brilliantly understated monologue that plays with our emotions and never loses momentum from start to finish. Monologues can be tricky. It’s crucial that an audience is brought into the actor’s confidence from the word go and Jamie Michie as ‘The Man’ manages to do just that.
He begins by telling us about an actual crash in which he was the driver and his wife, a passenger. But it also transpires that he is a stock market trader, who in 2007 strikes out on his own, just as the financial world is about to go into meltdown. The Man finds a new partner, experiments with meditation and tries to carve out a new future in the trading business, but deep inside, there is something festering…
Michie plays the role with great aplomb, making us care about a character who we eventually come to realise, we probably shouldn’t invest too much sympathy in. He is in effect, an unreliable narrator and at certain points through the play, the rug is pulled rather sharply out from under our feet as we realise he has led us astray. It’s a measured but powerful performance; when tears are called for, they are provided.
At just £12 for the performance and the lunch, this is a superb matinee that delivers in every sense of the word.
Fright movies come in different styles and formats but usually they have just one thing in common; they’re not really about anything much. People get shredded by murderers or pursued by ghosts, usually for no reason at all. This Australian creep-fest from writer director Jennifer Kent breaks the mould. It’s essentially an allegory about loss, grief and depression but in its own way, it’s even scarier than its American cousins.
Single Mum, Amelia (Essie Davis) is struggling to bring up her young son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman) after the death of her husband Robbie some years ago. The fact that Robbie was driving Amelia to the hospital to give birth to Samuel when he died hasn’t helped matters one little bit and added to that is the fact that Samuel is a bit of handful to say the least, addicted to performing magical tricks and frightened about the monsters that supposedly live under his bed. One night, Amelia reads to Samuel from a storybook he has found on the shelf in his bedroom, a nightmarish pop-up book entitled The Babadook, which they have never seen before. It isn’t long before mysterious things are going bump in the night…
Like all the best fright movies, the Babadook gets a lot of mileage out of very little. The creature of the title is barely more than glimpsed and there’s always the suspicion that it might just be a figment of Amelia’s imagination. The film is also boosted by two superb central performances. Essie Davis is totally convincing as a woman pushed to the very edge of madness and her gradual disintegration through the film is a wonder to behold. Meanwhile, young Noah Wiseman is terrific in the difficult role of a hyperactive (and initially not very likeable) kid.
It’s interesting to note that the film started as a short and that Kent crowd funded it on Kickstarter in order to get the budget to produce a full-length version. It’s a powerful and at times, genuinely nerve shredding debut and it will be interesting to see what this director does next. Meantime, those of a nervous disposition may want to stay away from this one. Because you can’t get rid of the Babadook.
The Stand, Edinburgh 26/10/14
Marcel Lucont’s reputation has evidently preceded him. He’s managed to sell out the Stand Comedy Club, something that better known comedians have sometimes failed to do. Furthermore, he’s achieved this on a rainy Sunday night, no mean feat. He slinks onto the stage, sneer on his lips, glass of red wine in his hand and proceeds to embody every negative stereotype of a Frenchman: rude, vitriolic and distinctly un-PC in his approach to food, drink and matters of sexuality. It’s a clever characterisation, but that’s exactly what it is. Lucont is no more French than I am; he is a creation of comedian Alex Dubus.
Not that it matters. His laid back approach mines plenty of laughs and he intersperses the standup with some witty poems, a couple of novelty songs and some (hilarious) extracts from his upcoming autobiography. There’s even a couple of little videos he’s filmed which run on a screen at the side of the stage. The set is divided into two halves and I have to confess the first of them is stronger and more cohesive than the second, which depends more on audience participation. Perhaps the stormy conditions have battered most of us into submission, but he doesn’t get a lot back from the crowd. Furthermore, our late arrival means that we end up viewing the proceedings standing right at the back of the packed venue and Lucont’s act does depend on a degree of intimacy between him and us.
Nevertheless, Alex Dubus’s sneering, leering ‘Frenchman’ is an interesting and highly original creation that’s worthy of further investigation.
Annabelle began ‘life’ as a short segment in James Wan’s, The Conjuring, a film that proved to be unexpectedly successful. So now we’re offered this 60’s set sequel which gives us Annabelle’s back story. Capably directed by John R. Leonetti, it features fairly effective fright scenes of the silence, silence, silence, boo! persuasion, which would be all right, if the bits in between weren’t so desperately predictable.
Dull as ditchwater young couple, John and Mia Gordon (Ward Horton and Annabelle Wallis) are going to be parents soon. John is training to be a doctor, while Mia spends most of her time at the sewing machine, making… something (we’re never quite sure what.) As a special surprise gift, John buys Mia a doll she’s ‘wanted for a long time. Since the titular Annabelle is a thing of exceptional ugliness, this proves to be the film’s most baffling mystery. Why would anyone give anyone something that looks so downright creepy in the first place?
The Gordon’s blissful life is rudely interrupted when the next door neighbours are brutally murdered by their daughter, now a member of a Charles Manson-like hippie death cult. Mia is injured in the resulting affray and once back from hospital, with her new baby, Leah in tow, things start to bump and creak and generally jump out of cupboards in her direction. Local priest Father Perez (Tony Amandola) is called in to help…
With it’s 60’s apartment-block setting, the film this mostly resembles is Rosemary’s Baby though frankly it’s not in the same league as Polanski’s iconic fright movie. This is a film where every character speaks in exposition and where you can see the ending coming as soon as the friendly bookshop owner steps into view. It has a few scary moments dotted throughout the proceedings but ultimately, it’s just a series of set pieces linked by not very much at all.
He’s a bit of an enigma, Lars Von Trier. In the past, he’s delivered some truly remarkable work – The Idiots and Dancer In The Dark are both impressive films and there’s also his slightly unhinged TV series The Kingdom to consider. But since the hideously misogynistic mess that was Antichrist, he seems intent on embarking on a journey further and further up his own rectum and sadly, Nymphomaniac Parts 1 and 2 only compounds the situation. Which is not to say that it’s totally without merit.
Leaving aside the tabloid-baiting title, this is the story of Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), discovered lying unconscious in an alley one evening by the reclusive Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) and taken back to his grubby flat to recover. Once there, she begins to relate the story of her life and the various events that turned her into the unfortunate sex-obsessed creature that she is. The tale is presented as a series of titled chapters and the fact that Von Trier saw it necessary to spin the story over the course of two full-length films only adds to the inherent pretension at work here. The ‘chapters’ range from the interesting, to the unlikely to the downright risible. (A sequence where an aggrieved mother brings her three children to witness her husband’s infidelity with Joe, frankly beggars belief). There’s also a sado-mashochistic storyline, where Joe voluntarily puts herself under the brutal ministrations of ‘K’ (Jamie Bell) that is frankly very hard to watch and simply enforces the notion that, despite protestations to the contrary, Von Trier really doesn’t like women very much.
Skarsgaard is terrific in his role and Gainsbourg, when called upon to actually act, isn’t that bad either. But there are inconsistencies that serve to bring the overall rating down. Joe’s younger self is played by a succession of actresses who look nothing like Gainsbourg; Shia Le Boeuf sports an English accent that makes Dick Van Dyke sound authentic; and Willem Dafoe wanders in towards the end to personify the least convincing moneylender you’ve ever seen. Von Trier’s attempts to build in some deeper meaning to it all really don’t come off. Meditations on the Fionabacci sequence and Bach’s approach to composing music, when applied to the rather more mundane subject of sexual intercourse, simply don’t wash and there remains the overriding conviction that Von Trier could have made one decent movie rather than two really patchy ones.
It’s a shame, because aside from his recent efforts (and his appallingly ill-judged joke about being a Nazi, a stunt that got him banned from a major film festival) there remains the conviction that there really is a talent in this man and one can only hope that he gets his mojo back soon. Meanwhile, this just isn’t good enough.
Frog and Bucket, Manchester
The UK’s hardest-working comedian brought his Edinburgh Festival show to a sold-out Frog and Bucket, bringing much-needed laughter on a grim and rainy Wednesday night in October. As ever, when you see a show in a different venue, there are pluses and minuses.
The pluses were evident from the word go. Herring was able to extend the material over a more leisurely ninety minutes, instead of the brisk one-hour slots that are the Edinburgh norm, and it was also clear that he’d honed and polished the material since August, extracting every ounce of humour from it. His unique, hectoring style is a joy to behold, finding laughs in the most unlikely places and time and again, he strays perilously close to the indefensible, only to dance nimbly away, defusing the whole thing with a barrage of carefully chosen invective. Laugh and learn folks, laugh and learn. At times, the packed audience was near to hysteria.
The minuses were mostly imposed on Herring by circumstances beyond his control. He couldn’t, for instance, recreate the ingenious circular narrative of the original shows, mostly because of the confines of the club’s tiny stage and the fact that the titular settee (freshly sourced for each location, apparently) looked as though it would have resulted in broken limbs if he’d tried to do what he did in Edinburgh. But ultimately, it didn’t matter. A friend at our table judged this to be one of the best comedy shows he’d ever seen and the iconic name of Daniel Kitson was mentioned as a suitable comparison. This was also an opportunity to get hold of the (reasonably priced and much-longed for) Fist of Fun DVDs. There are still some seats available for later in the tour (Crewe in particular, judging by an off-the-cuff remark that Herring made onstage) so if you have the chance to catch a show, then I would strongly advise you to take it.
Laughter is in perilously short supply these days and this is comedy gold.