Month: August 2018

BlackkKlansman

29/08/18

Spike Lee is a passionate and prolific filmmaker, but few would deny that it’s been a while since he released anything of real gravitas. BlacKkKlansman is therefore, far and away the most exciting movie he’s made in years, even though (perhaps typically for him), it’s far from a straightforward proposition.

Take the opening scenes for example. We get that famous sequence from Gone With the Wind, where Scarlett O Hara wanders through hordes of injured Confederate troops and then cut to a 1950s KKK recruitment film shoot featuring Alec Baldwin as ‘Dr Kinnebrew Beauregard,’ spouting his white supremacist worldview as scenes from D W Griffiths’ Birth of a Nation are projected onto his face. The problem with this is that we’ve already been advised that the film is based on a true story – yet Beauregard is a completely fictional character, a twist that seems to undermine Lee’s good intentions. Why not feature the words of a genuine racist? There are surely plenty to choose from.

But then we are into the ‘fo’ real shit’ as Lee likes to call it – and I can’t help thinking that if this wasn’t a true story, nobody would believe it ever happened. It’s the 1970s and Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is the first black man ever employed by the Colorado Springs Police Department. He is eventually allowed to prove his worth and is promoted to the role of undercover cop and, on a slow day in 1979, he impulsively decides to answer a newspaper ad by the Klu Kux Klan, who are looking to form a new chapter. He does this by simply picking up the phone and giving them a call. He hits it off with the man on the other end of the line, former soldier Walter Breachway (Ryan Eggold), by telling him that he hates blacks, Jews and homosexuals and, on that merit, is promptly invited to pop along for an informal chat.

Obviously, that won’t work, so Stallworth talks his white fellow-cop, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), into impersonating him for the meeting. Despite his Jewish upbringing (the KKK are, after all,  equal opportunities racists), Zimmerman manages to infiltrate the organisation, even hooking up with head honcho David Duke (Topher Grace). Meanwhile, Stallworth is becoming romantically involved with black rights activist, Patrice Dumarr (Laura Harrier), who is unaware that he is a police officer and clearly won’t be pleased if she ever finds out…

The tone of the film veers alarmingly between laugh-out-loud depictions of the KKK’s trusting naivety, sprightly ‘afros and flares’ nightclub scenes, full-tilt action sequences and searing polemics about historical injustice. Veteran screen actor Harry Belafonte appears as Jerome Turner, relating the true story of the horrific murder of black teenager, Jesse Washington, accused of raping a white woman in 1916 (the same year that Birth of a Nation was released). This is intercut with scenes at a Klan get-together, where the film is being screened to an enthusiastic crowd. It’s a powerful concept, beautifully shot, but it’s a tad overlong and there remains the overall conviction that, trimmed down a little, the film could have made all the same points just as effectively. It’s as though, Lee, enthused by the project, wants to throw in every idea he has – and sometimes, less is more. But that said, there’s still plenty to enjoy here, not least Washington’s solid and immensely likeable performance in the lead. Driver is good too, but then, I don’t think I’ve seen him make a bad job of any role he’s undertaken.

Just when I think the whole things’s being neatly wrapped up with a pink bow, Lee brings me suddenly and shockingly up to date, with a montage of recent real life footage that sends the audience stumbling out into the night in stunned silence. There is no doubting the director’s commitment to the cause of black rights and no arguing with his view that the world is in dire danger of slipping back into the kind of horrors we thought had been vanquished forever. It’s a sobering moment.

BlacKkKlansman may not be perfect, but it’s nonetheless a heartfelt and important movie that stays with me, long after viewing.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

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Pin Cushion

28/08/18

Deborah Haywood’s directorial debut, Pin Cushion, is based, she says, on her own experiences of being bullied at school. I can only fervently pray that she has exaggerated what went on, because this is a relentlessly bleak story from start to finish – which is not to say that it isn’t a good film. On the contrary, it’s powerful and deeply affecting. But as I watch, I find myself praying for a token beam of light to break through the overpowering gloom and, frankly, it never appears.

Lyn (Joanna Scanlan) is a single mum with a multitude of problems. Afflicted by a deformed spine and a pronounced limp, she takes her teenage daughter, Iona (Lily Newmark), to a unnamed town, somewhere in darkest Derbyshire. Lyn and Iona are in search of a new start. Things clearly haven’t gone too well for them in their previous home. They are mutually dependent, referring to each other as ‘Dafty 1’ and ‘Dafty 2’ and even sharing a bed. But Iona is reaching the age where she longs for new friends and new experiences.

Unfortunately, once installed in the local school, she falls under the influence of alpha-female, Keely (Sacha Cordy-Nice), who immediately sets about making the new arrival’s life hell on earth. Lyn doesn’t fare any better, treated with open disdain by her neighbours and even told not to return to a ‘friendship group’ she visits. (Actually, this is the point in the film where  things becomes faintly unbelievable – could anyone act as horribly as the people in this film? I’d like to believe they wouldn’t.)

Lily’s aspirational fantasies, delivered in magical realism style, may have been the director’s attempt to soften the horror of the situation, but they don’t help overmuch. Indeed, there’s an overall fairytale quality to this film, but it’s definitely of the Grimm variety – and some viewers may spot more than a passing resemblance to Brian de Palma’s Carrie. There are superb performances from the two leads. Of course, we come to this expecting Scanlon to be good, but this is Newmark’s first film, and she certainly makes the most of it.

Tonight’s screening at the Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh, is followed by a Q & A with Joanna Scanlan, who clearly feels passionate about the themes raised here and answers the audience’s questions frankly and intelligently.

So can I honestly say I enjoy Pin Cushion? No, not really. It impresses me, and makes me think that Haywood is a name to watch out for in the future. But I emerge from the screening feeling decidedly shell-shocked – and though, of course,  that may have been the director’s intention, in the end it doesn’t feel like enough.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

 

 

Edfest Bouquets 2018

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It’s that exciting time of year again, when we award bouquets to the very best shows we’ve seen at this year’s Fringe. We’ve seen some amazing productions, and our final choices reflect a mixture of old favourites and new delights. Congratulations to all concerned.

Theatre

The Swell Mob – Flabbergast Theatre

Not in our Neighbourhood – Jamie McCaskill / Kali Kopae / Tikapa Productions

Velvet – Tom Ratcliffe / Andrew Twyman / @workTheatre

Are There More of You? – Alison Skilbeck / Hint of Lime Productions

The Basement Tapes – Stella Reid / Zanetti Productions

Big Aftermath of a Small Disclosure – Alice Malin / ATC

Gulliver Returns – Dan Coleman / Dawn State Theatre

Gutted – Sharon Byrne

 

Comedy

A Serious Play About World War II – Willis & Vere

Flies – Oliver Lansley/ Les Enfants Terribles / Pins and Needles

Beetlemania: Kafka for Kids – Tom Parry / Russel Bolam / Punchline

Either Side of Everything – Wil Greenway

 

Special Mentions

Six the Musical – Lucy Moss / Tony Marlowe

Stardust – Miguel Hernando Torres Umba / Blackboard Theatre

Up Close! – Chris Dugdale

 

Philip Caveney & Susan Singfield

 

 

Hemma

27/08/18

Holyrood Road, Edinburgh

It’s the final day of Edfringe 2018. We’re tired after three weeks of running around like headless chickens and, more worryingly, we’re somewhat hungover from an enthusiastic booze-up with friends last night. Now we’re due to meet two other friends for ‘coffee’ before they get their train back to Manchester. We choose to meet them in Hemma, the Swedish-inspired café-bar, a popular haunt from our early days in the city and a decent walk from the hustle of the city centre. It was better known to us back then as ‘the Bill Murray bar’ because of a random and completely unexplained assortment of paintings of said actor hanging on the walls. They’re gone now, and we kind of miss them.

Hardly surprisingly, we decide that mere coffee isn’t going to be enough to cut through our fuzzled senses – a hearty brunch is much more what we we need. I order the Hemma breakfast and Susan, determined to be at least a little bit healthy, goes for the avocado, pea and mint smash, to which she adds  poached eggs and feta cheese.

The former meal is rather like the venue – quirky, with unexpected elements. It’s by no means perfect. The bacon isn’t as crispy as I’d like, but the haggis and sausages are exactly what’s required. The presence of hasselback potatoes is a surprise, to say the least, but they slip down nicely enough and I have to hand it to whoever thought of adding a little bowl of spicy chilli to the plate. Chilli, in my humble opinion, works at any time of the day or night, and makes a great addition to this meal. My poached eggs are nicely done, though Susan’s prove to be a little on the hard side. She pronounces the pea and avocado delicious however. The chunks of feta add a tangy saltiness to the meal that goes down a treat.

Our hangovers are suitably vanquished and, after a long and enjoyable natter, we’re ready to head back out in to the world, rejuvenated. Hemma, by the way, is the Swedish  for ‘at home.’ If you’re in Edinburgh and you’re suffering from the events of the night before, you could do a lot worse than head out to Holyrood for a little rejuvenation. But don’t expect to see Bill Murray on the walls. He’s just a memory now.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Chris Dugdale: Up Close!

26/08/18

Assembly Rooms, George Street, Edinburgh

The three week blitz that is the Edinburgh Fringe is finally, tragically, coming to a close. On George Street, workers are already taking down the helter skelter and dismantling the outdoor bars. We can’t help feeling a twinge of sadness. For us, this is the busiest time of year, but also the most exciting. In all likelihood, the next show we see will be the last one of Edfringe 2018.

With this in mind, we’re not taking any chances. We want to be sure that our final show will be something that will amaze and delight us. We need a shot of something magical – and Chris Dugdale is a pretty safe bet to deliver the goods. Born in France, based in New York and a regular visitor to the Fringe, his shows combine dazzling sleight of hand, with mind bending manipulation and a slick, polished delivery. We love his droll delivery, his winning way with the people he brings onto the stage.

OK, so this year’s show incorporates many of the elements from last year’s – there are those complex card tricks, performed mere inches from disbelieving onlookers. There’s that little tin that somehow magically refills itself with different contents. There’s that thing he does with a Rubik’s cube… I mean, how? Somebody tell me how! And for 2018, he’s added a brand new illusion called ‘The Triangle,’ in which he manages to manipulate three people picked from the sell-out audience into arriving at the same conclusion.

It’s a phenomenally entertaining hour, so packed with incident that it sprints by like an athlete at full stretch. We gasp, we shake our heads, we applaud. And I tell myself that this year, there’s no way he’s going to make me put the tips of my index fingers together… no way at all. And once again, he makes me do it.

It’s already too late for me to urge you to go and see this show – but I’m looking forward to Edinburgh 2019.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

 

 

Wil Greenway: Either Side of Everything

26/08/18

Underbelly Bristo Square, Edinburgh

Wil Greenway’s whimsical storytelling has been a Fringe highlight for us for the past few years, and his latest offering, Either Side of Everything, is just as beautifully crafted and delivered as his previous shows. Accompanied once again by folk musicians Kathryn Langshaw and Will Galloway, this is a gentle lullaby of a performance – but somehow it still manages to pack a punch.

The writing is lyrical and inventive; the delivery is charming. He’s such an appealing performer, all sparkling eyes and inclusivity, wrapping us up in his tales of love and loss. He lays his methods bare, shows us the mechanics: this is a metaphor; there will be four stories; you won’t understand how they connect until the end. We’re part of it – for an hour at least – our lives and his, this telling, this time. We’re all on the metaphorical boat together, not knowing where this fits in the narrative arcs of our own lives. But here, now, there is Greenway’s melodic prose, a gently strumming guitar, repeated refrains, and a surprising wealth of lol-moments.

There’s sadness in these accounts: dead dogs and grieving women, unspoken love and tender touch. But there’s humour too, and would-you-rathers, the silly stuff that keeps us all going. There’s real skill in the weaving of this show, and – somehow, as always – it leaves me with a profound sense of warmth and wellbeing. There is beauty in this world, even in the misery.

(I do miss his man-bun though. I don’t know why – but it’s true, I do.)

5 stars

Susan Singfield

 

Impact

25/08/18

Pleasance Courtyard (This), Edinburgh

As we take our seats in Pleasance This, our narrator, played by Richard Henderson, invites us to choose from a rack of envelopes set out in front of us, to read their contents and discuss them amongst ourselves. He’ll ‘be back soon,’ he assures us. The envelopes contain various victim impact statements, all relating to the same terrible tragedy – but the details of the incident are nebulous enough to keep us guessing. (A note to the producers: maybe think about printing out the letters in a larger font. I’m sure we’re not the only ones who have trouble reading them in the subdued light.)

The narrator returns and begins his story. He is an office worker, an average guy searching for something more in his life. A chance encounter on a train leads him to visit a group of animal rights activists, an group with whom he becomes more and more involved. As the story progresses, it begins to dawn on us that this narrator is not a very nice person at all… and we eventually learn how far this man will go in order to achieve his aims.

Henderson is compelling in a very difficult role, holding our attention even as he makes us begin to despise the narrator and all he stands for. The juxtaposition of his warm smile and gentle voice with the monstrous nature he gradually reveals is subtle but most effective.

The narrative sags a little in the middle, and it’s disappointing to see some of the most enticing set-ups fizzle into not-very-much, but the denouement is genuinely climactic and ultimately justifies what’s gone before.

4 stars

Philip Caveney & Susan Singfield