Month: March 2022

The Eyes of Tammy Faye


Disney +

The Eyes of Tammy Faye never made it to ‘a cinema near us,’ despite being relentlessly trailed. Still, as previously documented, we’ve signed up to Disney+ for a short spell, thanks to their dastardly decision not to release Turning Red anywhere else – and the presence of Tammy Faye on the platform makes us slightly less aggrieved about it.

Michael Showalter’s film works just fine on the small screen; it’s about TV after all: an intimate biopic of one of the USA’s most infamous televangelists, based on a documentary by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato. After hosting a successful Christian puppet show for their local channel, Tammy Faye (Jessica Chastain) and her husband, Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield), co-founded The PTL Club in 1974, and soon found they had a TV hit on their hands. By 1978, they were ready to embark on a new money-making project: a Christian theme park called Heritage USA, all funded by their fans/parishioners – or ‘partners’ as they referred to them.

The couple’s finances burgeoned along with their popularity, and they were soon splashing the cash, luxuriating in fur coats and art-filled mansions. Tammy gained notoriety for her outspoken support for the LGBT community, and particularly HIV/AIDS sufferers. Other high-profile evangelists disapproved of her convictions, but Tammy’s public preaching of love and acceptance made a real difference to the popular discourse. Jim, on the other hand, was causing controversy in other ways, and – in 1989 – found himself convicted on several counts of fraud and conspiracy, and was imprisoned for his crimes.

If Tammy is a woman of contradictions (and she is), then so is the film. There are some glorious sequences (the final rendition of Hallelujah, for example, and Tammy’s disarming approach to a group of teenage hoodlums poking fun at her). But there are also glaring omissions. The couple’s early path to local TV is never shown, and Richard’s extra-marital dalliances and abuses – both hetero and homosexual – are only tangentially referred to. Of course, we are seeing things through Tammy’s eyes, as the title makes clear, but her ignorance means that we miss some of the most compelling aspects of the tale.

Make no mistake, Chastain is exceptional in the titular role: this is a truly stellar performance. Her Tammy is a wonderfully appealing woman, a heady mix of strength and vulnerability, naïvety and nouse. Even when she’s ridiculous – with her tattooed make-up and desperate smile – she’s somehow dignified and commands respect. Chastain pulled the Oscar for this last night, and it’s not hard to see why.

Still, a perfect performance doesn’t always equate to a perfect film, and this one sadly falls short.

3.7 stars

Susan Singfield



Teviot Underground, Edinburgh

We’re at another student production, down in the Teviot Underground, where we’ve seen many excellent Fringe shows over the years. It’s here that Theatre Paradok have taken on Ondine, a fascinating play by Jean Giradaux, first performed in 1938 (and which, in the 1960s, famously featured Audrey Hepburn in the title role).

All the usual problems are in evidence tonight: a tiny, oddly-shaped stage; a selection of cobbled-together costumes and ramshackle props. There’s also a background buzz of voices coming from the bar next door, and yet the sizeable cast overcome these problems with admirable skill and determination. 

In a remote cottage, Fisherman Auguste (Huw Turnbull) and his wife Eugenie (Sophie Craig) await the return of their ‘daughter,’ Ondine (Clare Robinson). They are fully aware that she’s not their real child, but a changeling, substituted for their infant years ago, and now running wild in the midst of a storm. Ondine is a nature spirit who, though supposedly fifteen years old, has actually been around for centuries and is immortal.

Into this weird scenario wanders Hans (Kristjan Gudjonsson) a knight-errant, currently in love with and betrothed to Princess Bertha (Alice Humphries). He’s ridden into the country to contemplate his upcoming nuptials, but one look at Ondine and he is entranced. She too seems impetuously keen to be his bride.

But by the play’s second act, it’s already clear that the new union is beset by insurmountable problems, not least the fact that, in order to become Hans’s bride, Ondine has been forced to make a draconian pact with The Old One…

To suggest that Ondine is a weird play would be something of an understatement. It occasionally borders on the deranged. But its themes seem powerfully prescient today – the frailty of mankind, the ways in which we have lost touch with the healing powers of nature – and are right there in the story’s subtext. There are some terrific performances here, particularly from Robinson, who manages to keep the feverish intensity of the central character blazing throughout and whose inability to tell lies is the cause of much humour. Gudjonsson is also terrific, imbuing Hans with a sardonic wit and a sense of fatalism, which make his final scenes genuinely poignant. I also enjoy Adam Wu’s double role of The Old One and The Illusionist, managing to slip effortlessly from silent threat to cheerful swagger, while Angus Morrison and Trudy Kalvynaite offer a cheerfully knockabout double act as the two pompous magistrates called in to judge Ondine’s ‘infidelity.’

Director Philomène Cheynet has worked wonders with the uncompromising performance space, making me forgive its shortcomings and allowing me to focus on the strength of the performances. 

Ondine continues until the 30th March, and those looking for something quirky and absolutely unique should definitely seek it out.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

The Worst Person in the World


Cineworld, Edinburgh

I have to confess to an almost total ignorance of Norwegian cinema before the good word-of-mouth for Joachim Trier’s latest film prompts me to give it a try.

The Worst Person in the World is a rare beauty, a picaresque tale of life and love in contemporary Oslo, built around a superb, award-winning performance by Renate Reinsve. She’s Julie, who, when we first encounter her, is a medical student, bored by the reality of slicing up bodies and fast coming to the conclusion that’s she’s chosen the wrong subject.

Shortly thereafter, she breaks up with her boyfriend, decides to study psychology instead, and then jumps ship again in favour of a photography course.

Until she starts dabbling with writing…

Fast approaching her thirtieth birthday, Julie realises that, despite all her best endeavours, she still doesn’t have a game plan for the future and, when she meets acclaimed comic artist, Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), the two of them hit it off immediately. Soon they’re sharing an apartment. But Aksel is older than her and already talking about the possibility of starting a family. Julie appreciates she’s supposed to want that too, but is painfully aware that she still hasn’t found her own path.

And then one night, she skips out of a dull launch for Aksel’s latest book and recklessly crashes a stranger’s wedding party, where she has a chance encounter with Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), an easygoing barista. The two of them share their darkest secrets and Julie begins to realise, to her dismay, that she is falling for him…

If this all sounds like something you’ve seen a thousand times before, don’t be misled. TWPITW, co- written by Trier with Eskil Vogt, is a multi-faceted creation. Broken down into a kind of visual novel, it’s related in twelve ‘chapters,’ along with a prologue and an epilogue. The film positively buzzes with invention – from the magical scene where Julie runs through an Oslo where every other character is frozen into immobility to a weird magic mushroom experience at a house party – and on to a conclusion that is both heart-breaking yet, somehow, life-affirming. It’s all brilliantly paced and thoroughly entertaining. An eclectic soundtrack featuring a whole variety of performers only adds to the ‘whatever next?’ atmosphere.

I love the fact that Julie is an unreliable character, struggling to find her way in the world. Is she the ‘Worst Person’ of the title? Well, it’s actually Aksel who uses the phrase, but he’s referring to himself when he says it. But really he’s just a little out of touch in a world where all his long-held views are increasingly perceived as controversial. And Julie isn’t terrible either; she just wants to find her own identity and won’t settle for anything less.

This feels uncannily like real life, with all its messy complications, many of which can never be resolved, only put down to the twisted trials of human experience.

It’s hard to remember a film that has nailed the convoluted path to maturity with such absolute conviction. If you’re tired of the conventional (and happy to read subtitles), The Worst Person in the World may be just the cinematic experience you’ve been waiting for. However you feel about this film, I’m pretty confident you won’t be bored by it.

4.7 stars

Philip Caveney

Turning Red


Disney +

The House of Mouse’s decision to release all new Pixar films directly to their in-house streaming service seems incredibly short-sighted – and not just because this is a time when cinemas are really struggling to tempt viewers back into seats. Mostly, it’s because the gorgeous animation that exemplifies Pixar is made to be shown on the biggest screens available. However, Disney seem not for turning, so it’s time to renew that monthly subscription.

Turning Red is set in Toronto in 2002 . Meilin (Rosalie Chiang) is thirteen years old, a good girl who excels as a scholar and spends most of her spare time helping her domineering Mother, Ming (Sandra Oh), to run the family temple, a place dedicated to their illustrious ancestor, Sun Yee. Meanwhile, Meilin’s father, Jin (Orion Lee), cooks up some amazing food. In scenes that could have come straight from a Studio Ghibli feature, his dishes are enough to make this reviewer’s mouth water.

With her three bosom buddies, Miriam (Ava Morse), Priya (Maitreyi Remakrishnan) and Abby (Hyein Park), Meilin is a fan of the hot new boy band, 4*Town. She also discovers, to her dismay, that she’s developing a crush on handsome local store clerk, Tyler (Tristran Allerick Chen), who she has always professed to hate. She is hurtling headlong towards puberty and the resulting rush of hormones has an unfortunate effect on Meilin. She finds herself suddenly transforming into a giant red panda at the most inopportune moments (although I’m not sure when would be a good time). This is the result of an ancient transformation that every young woman of her family must undergo.

It can be cured, Ming assures her daughter, but not until a month has passed. Awkward.

And then news reaches Meilin that 4*Town are going to be performing at a huge concert in Toronto and she and her friends know that, whatever else comes or goes, they will have to be there in order to ‘become women.’ So how are they ever going to raise the hefty price of admission?

From the outset it’s clear that Pixar, already the most innovative of animation studios, is setting out to walk a path where no other cartoon makers have dared to venture. The Red Panda is clearly a metaphor, standing in for the turmoil and confusion of adolescence – the film even manages to cover the subject of menstruation without raising so much as an eyebrow. All credit to director Domee Shi, who has clearly used her own youth in Canada as inspiration for the story, co-writing the screenplay with Julia Cho and Sarah Streicher. Hats off also to songwriters Billie Eilish and Finneas, who manage to capture the vapid tosh that is 4*Town’s music with ease.

This is a gorgeous film, all about the power of womanhood and the healing properties of friendship. The fact that it’s wrapped up in a pretty parcel of jaw-dropping animation doesn’t dilute its message one jot – and the climactic showdown at the 4*Town arena concert – where events begin to feel a little like Pandazilla – brings everything to a suitably powerful conclusion.

Even on our modest screen at home this looks dazzling, so how it would have looked on IMAX can only be wistfully imagined.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney



Lothian Road, Edinburgh

We’ve had a fun day. Philip’s been visiting schools in North Lanarkshire as part of the Read to Succeed author tour, and, as I’m not working today, I’ve been acting as his chauffeur. We’ve been blessed with glorious sunshine, and have managed to squeeze a lunchtime walk around Drumpellier Park into our itinerary, as well as a quick visit to sculptor Andy Scott’s fabulous Kelpies, that loom over the motorway on our way home. So we’re feeling great, and want the good vibes to continue. Why not pop out for dinner?

Mexican restaurant Topolabamba is a two minute walk from our flat, but – thanks to its location, right by Byron, Wildwood, Nando’s, etc. – we’ve always assumed it’s part of a mega-chain, and so dismissed it as “not for us.” But a chance remark on someone else’s Facebook post makes me realise this is not the case. Topolabamba only has two branches (the other is in Glasgow), and, what’s more, the menu looks exciting. We’re sold.

Inside, the restaurant is a cacophony of colour: it’s a lively place, full of quirky wall-art and vivid lighting. The service is friendly and efficient, relaxed and unfussy. So far, so good.

We spend a long time choosing our dishes. There are ‘mains’ (called ‘The Big Boys’) but the majority of dishes come under the headings ‘Street Food’ and ‘Classics,’ and there’s a note on the menu recommending an order size of three to four dishes per person. We take this as gospel, and do as suggested, which leads me to my only real complaint: it’s too much food. It barely fits on the table. And if it’s too much food for me and Philip, then I’ll wager it’s too much food for most people (we both have hearty appetites).

Thankfully, it’s all delicious.

We share a range of dishes as eclectic as the decor: guacamole with tortilla chips and salsa; two lots of tostadas (prawn, cucumber salsa & guacamole and crab ceviche); quesadillas with smoked chicken & Oaxacan onions; classic queso fundido (basically a cheese fondue); Baja surf chowder, and some chipotle honey ribs. They’re all delicious and absolutely bursting with flavour. The standouts include the chowder, which is packed full of fish; it’s rich and intense and very more-ish. The smoky quesadillas are the very definition of comfort food, and the prawn tostadas are fresh and zingy with lime.

We’re pleasantly surprised by the bill. All of that mouth-watering fodder, as well as a large glass of house white and a pint of El Borracho, comes to a grand total of £65.39 – and that includes service!

We leave, smiling. How lucky we are to have such a fabulous eaterie on our doorstep. We’ll definitely be back. Next time, however, we’ll order as we go along – making sure there’s enough space on the table as well as in our bellies.

4.3 stars

Susan SIngfield

The Phantom of the Open


Cineworld, Edinburgh

Good golf movies are few and far between. Tin Cup, maybe. Happy Gilmore?

After being trumpeted for what seems like forever, The Phantom of the Open has finally er… opened and, after having seen the needlessly detailed trailer for what feels like a thousand viewings, it’s hard for the actual film to generate any real surprises. Which is a pity, though hardly the fault of writer Simon Farnaby or director Craig Roberts.

This is the true story of Maurice Flitcroft, a sixty-five-year-old crane operator, who, despite having no experience of – or indeed aptitude for – the game of golf, decides to enter the British Open Golf Championship. He initially appears as himself but, later, when he becomes persona non grata, under a series of increasingly unlikely nom de plumes. He’s also the father of twins, who briefly became the disco dancing champions of the world. (Seriously, you couldn’t make this stuff up.) It’s an immensely likeable story and, as played by Mark Rylance, Flitcroft is an immensely likeable chap: shy and unassuming, but with the dogged determination to keep going, no matter what.

‘Practice makes perfect,’ he’s fond of saying. A lot.

His lofty ambitions are aided by his ever-supportive wife, Jean (Sally Hawkins), but vigorously opposed by his nemesis, Keith McKenzie (Rhys Ifans), a sneering official who sees golf as the realm of the well-to-do, not for some working-class oik with ideas above his station.

But of course, the fickle public does have a habit of flocking to support an underdog. When Flitcroft’s lamentable debut earns him the worst score in the history of the Open, he’s spotted by Daily Mirror journalist Lloyd Donovan (Ash Tandon), who takes the opportunity to give him that titular nickname and to ensure that plenty of other golf fans hear all about him.

And that’s pretty much all we get in this warm-hearted romp – from Flitcroft’s disastrous attempts to gain skills in his adopted sport to the unexpected discovery that, in America, there’s a whole society of golfers who follow him with adoration. There’s an attempt to instil more dramatic meat into the story when Flitcroft’s desperate misadventures embarrass his upwardly-mobile stepson, Michael (Jake Davies), a wheeler and dealer at the shipyard where his father is employed. Can the two of them ever reconcile their differences? But this feels like a side-issue. The Phantom of the Open is mostly a good-natured attack on the old chuckle-muscles and in that respect, it comes up to par.

As an aside though, I do wish cinema trailers would resist giving away so much of an upcoming film. This might have fared better in my affections if I hadn’t felt as though I could act as a prompt for most of the actors’ lines. Just saying.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

Human Nurture


Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

It’s Harry (Lucas Button)’s eighteenth birthday and, when his old friend ‘Roger’ (Justice Ritchie) turns up out of the blue, bringing him a Colin the Caterpillar cake and a selection of shared memories, he’s initially delighted. The two of them recall their days in the care system together: the adventures they had, the everyday trials they faced. 

But now things have changed somewhat. Harry is still struggling to make his way in the world, while Roger, who prefers now to answer to Runaku – his real name; the name his parents gave him – is about to set off for university and exciting new horizons. 

But before he leaves, he has some issues that need to be addressed. 

Harry has been pretty vocal on social media lately and many of his views are racially insensitive, to say the least. Runaku wants him to face up to his duplicity but, as Harry protests, how can he be a racist when his best friend is black?

Ryan Calais Cameron’s punchy play handles a complex subject with surefooted skill and nails the central flaw that lies at the heart of Harry’s logic. We soon learn that Runaku has been marginalised all through their years together, and that Harry needs to face up to something he’s avoided since the beginning of their friendship.

Both Button and Ritchie attack their roles with vigour and the physicality of their performances prevents this two-hander from ever becoming static. Movement director Yami Löfvenberg and Rob Watt’s pacy direction have them hurling themselves around the stage, slipping expertly through a whole range of emotions from cheery bonhomie to outright anger. I also enjoy the live music from musician Neeta Saarl and the way she interacts with the performers – though the lengthy electronic overture she performs at the beginning feels suspiciously like an attempt to pad out the play’s brisk running time.

But this is thought-provoking stuff, that isn’t afraid to tackle its sensitive material with refreshing honesty.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Ali & Ava


Cineworld, Edinburgh

Clio Bernard is not exactly the most prolific of directors. Her last outing, Dark River, was released in 2017 – and we have to go all the way back to 2013 for The Selfish Giant. Her films are essentially evocations of working class life that might, initially, appear slight, but which are cleverly nuanced. Her characters are never allowed to be stereotypes; indeed, at times they are positively surprising.

Ali & Ava sits happily with her former endeavours: gentle, essentially heartwarming – but with hidden depths.

The setting is the multi-cultural hub of Bradford and, when we first meet Ali (Adeel Ahktar), he’s standing on the roof of his car, dancing to the techno-music blasting from his headphones. Ali is an affable fellow, a landlord of sorts,. He’s hyperactive (and probably somewhere on the autistic spectrum) and has a passion for listening to (and making) music. Meanwhile, he collects the various rents he’s owed, looks after his extended family and tries to come to terms with the fact that his wife, Runa (Ellora Torchia), after the death of their first child, has fallen out of love with him and is ready to move on with her life.

He has accepted this, but steadfastly refuses to announce the change to the rest of his family.

Ava (Claire Rushbrook) works as a teaching assistant at the local primary school. After the death of her Irish Catholic husband, she has devoted her life to her children and grandchildren. Her youngest son, Callum (Shaun Thomas), already a father himself, is still mourning the passing of the dad he idolised, even though his parents’ marriage was hardly a blissful union. Indeed, Ava chose to leave her husband because of his regular physical abuse of her.

Inevitably, Ali and Ava fall into each other’s orbits and, as their friendship deepens and blossoms into something more serious, so their lives become ever more difficult. Callum is immediately hostile to Ali, seeing him as an intruder, and it seems that everything the couple attempt together is subject to unsympathetic scrutiny from those around them.

In the midst of this hard-scrabble existence, Barnard manages to conjure moments of real beauty: fireworks blossoming silently above the rooftops of the city; children parading through the streets with coloured lights. There’s a joyful moment where Ali’s boundless enthusiasm manages to turn a potentially nasty situation into an uninhibited dance in the middle of a dodgy estate. Barnard draws intriguing comparisons between Ali in one of his music-fuelled trances and a little girl at the primary school, who is happy to clamber to the top of a climbing frame, but afraid to descend.

Ali & Ava isn’t exactly a blockbuster but, in its quiet, assured way, it’s worthy of attention – and further confirmation that Barnard is a director with a rare talent for realistic drama.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

The Bombardment



The Bombardment (original title The Shadow in My Eye, or Skyggen i mit øje) would be a harrowing movie at any time. Right now, as the war in Ukraine escalates and dominates the newsreels, it’s an especially difficult watch. And, of course, all the more vital. Writer/director Ole Bornedal’s unflinching portrayal of this true-life tragedy doesn’t allow us to avert our gaze from the human cost of war.

Copenhagen, 1945. The city is in Nazi hands. Members of the Danish resistance have been strategically positioned under the roof of the Gestapo headquarters, forming a human shield the Germans hope will make the Allies think twice before bombing. The RAF devise a dangerous plan, to attack the building from the side. But it’s risky, not least because of how low the jets must fly, and hitting the right target is far from assured…

Bornedal’s deceptively scattershot approach to the story works well: the details accumulate to form a devastating account of what occupation and bombing really mean to the people on the ground – and in the air. There’s a whole host of characters – all vulnerable, all flawed, all damaged by the war. Frederik (Alex Høgh Andersen) is a traitor, despised by his family, working alongside the Nazis; Teresa (Fanny Bornedal) is a novice nun, her faith sorely tested by the horrors her God has failed to stop. Perhaps the most tragic figure of all is Henry (Bertram Bisgaard Enevoldsen), a young boy so traumatised by what he’s witnessed that he’s lost the power of speech. He’s especially afraid of the open sky, so – in desperation – his mother sends him to the city, where he’s taken under the wings of his vivacious younger cousin, Rigmor (Ester Birch), and her friend, Eva (Ella Josephine Lund Nilsson). The children’s performances are heartbreaking: between them, they exude a horribly credible mix of youthful exuberance and awful anxiety, and it’s hard to deal with just how defenceless they are.

Lasse Frank Johannessen’s cinematography is as unrelenting as Bornedal’s script: although the landscapes and architecture are undoubtedly beautiful, nothing is sugar-coated here. The grimy underbelly is as visible as the polished exteriors; there is no attempt to hide the harsh realities.

Despite the violence and frantic manoeuvring, the film moves at a slow pace, giving us time to understand the characters, to care about them and their fates. Of course, this only serves to make the final climactic scenes all the more devastating. This is a powerful piece of cinema, but it’s not for the faint-hearted.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

Red Rocket


Cineworld, Edinburgh

The Florida Project was one of the undoubted cinematic highlights of 2017. Director Sean Baker’s ability to depict working-class American life is his real strength. No matter how wretched his characters, no matter how squalid their existences, he somehow manages to invest them with an innate nobility, finding the true characters hiding beneath the masks they show to the world.

Red Rocket continues in that vein, following the misadventures of one Mikey Saber (Simon Rex), former porn star, now down on his luck. Carrying the cuts and bruises of a recent business ‘disagreement,’ he arrives in his former hometown of Texas City with no car, no luggage and only twenty-two dollars to his name. He wastes no time but walks directly to the home of his estranged wife, Lexi (Bree Elrod), who now lives with her mother, Lil (Brenda Deiss). Neither of them is pleased to have him turn up unannounced on their doorstep, but Mikey pleads with them and eventually gets permission to sleep on their sofa ‘just for a few nights.’

Once in, he starts to wear them down, his first objective to get off that sofa and into his wife’s double bed. At first, he goes everywhere on Lexi’s borrowed bike, but soon begins to exploit his local ‘celeb’ status, starting with impressionable next-door neighbour, Lonnie (Ethan Darbonne), who quickly accepts the role of Mikey’s unpaid chauffeur. After some doomed attempts to find honest work, Mikey enlists with local drug queenpin, Leondria (Judy Hill), selling dope and steadily accruing the funds he needs to relaunch his stalled career.

And then, he visits local coffee shop, The Donut Hole, where he meets seventeen year old ‘Strawberry’ (Suzanna Son), a sparky young waitress who’s drawn to Mikey’s glamorous swagger and outsider status. He is instantly smitten too, not by love, but by the idea of a hot business opportunity. Surely he can act as Strawberry’s manager and launch her as the porn industry’s hottest new star? Would that be a way back in?

As you will have gathered, Mikey is an utterly detestable creep and I really ought to be hissing him off the screen, but, as played by Rex (himself a former porn star), he radiates so much charm and charisma that I absolutely understand how so many people are taken in by him. Here is a man always on the lookout for an opportunity to help himself to whatever’s available, who thinks nothing of dumping on those who have put their trust in him. It’s surely no accident that the television screens repeatedly reference a certain Donald Trump – proof positive that, in America, a shameless liar really can can make it to the top of the tree.

Red Rocket is built around an extraordinary performance from Rex – he is simply outstanding in the central role. Son too is fabulous as the naive teenager he’s so callously grooming. But there are some people who can see through Mikey’s charms. Leondria’s hard-bitten daughter, June (Brittany Rodriguez), recognises him instantly for what he is – and makes no secret of the fact that she distrusts him.

Baker’s film, despite a running time of over two hours, never puts a foot wrong. His cast of characters are brilliantly explored and (as in The Florida Project) he even makes the grotty urban landscapes of Texas City look vibrant and – especially at night – shimmering with possibility.

Catch this on the big screen if you can. It’s a must-see.

5 stars

Philip Caveney