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Prey

25/09/22

Disney+

In 1987, Predator was a palpable hit for Arnold Schwarzenegger, a sci-fi action adventure so stuffed full of testosterone it felt like it was going to explode off the screen. Its titular villain, an alien hunter sporting dreadlocks and a face like a shellfish casserole, was memorable enough to prompt a series of sequels, each one less satisfying than the last. Eventually, the creature was pitted against the villain from Alien, which really should have been the end of the story. It seems obvious: if you haven’t got anything new to add to a franchise, why bother?

And then writer/director Dan Trachtenberg has a great idea. What if the alien hunter has been around for a long time? What if he visits Earth in the 1700s? What if he has all those same hi-tech weapons at his disposal but his adversaries are native Americans, armed with nothing more deadly than knives, spears, bows and arrows?

It sounds like a brilliant premise and, from the moment I hear about it, I’m in. But annoyingly, Prey doesn’t get a cinematic release and is exclusively shown on Disney+. Which more or less explains how I wind up viewing it months after its initial release.

No matter, late is better than never, right?

This is the story of Naru (Amber Midthunder), a young Commanche woman who cannot see why she is expected to stay in the tipi with her mother, Aruka (Michelle Thrush), cooking and being practical, while her brother, Taabe (Dakota Beavers), gets to head off on hunts, killing rabbits and deer for the larder and even taking on the occasional larger animal, like the pesky mountain lion that’s been causing havoc amongst the tribe. Naru practises with her weapons at every opportunity, even devising a brilliant technique employing an axe on a length of home-made rope. She wants to be ready if Taabe ever grants her the opportunity to hunt alongside him.

Then one day she sees something in the sky, something she thinks is a vision of the Thunderbird. Of course, it really marks the arrival of the alien hunter, dropping by for another of his brutal safaris. Pretty soon, he’s attacking and killing everything that moves – and it’s only a matter of time before Naru and he are engaged in a desperate struggle for survival…

There’s so much to enjoy here – Midthunder is terrific in the central role (it will be interesting to see where she goes next) and Jeff Cutter’s sumptuous location cinematography sets the scene perfectly. The action sequences are brilliantly devised and filmed, but, unlike the original film, Prey has plenty to say about the nature of hunting, how different it is when people depend upon it in order to stay alive. This point is eloquently enforced when Naru chances on a whole field of skinned buffalo, the victims of a large group of French hunters, who we meet later in the film and who clearly embody the true nature of savagery. Furthermore, there’s a cleverly constructed plot here. Everything that happens to Naru is shown for reasons that will only become fully evident in the film’s final moments. Keep an eye out for Chekov’s quicksand!

Most critics have placed Prey as the second best film in the Predator franchise, but I’d go further than that. For my money, this effort leaves Arnold’s macho swagger in the dust.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

I Came By

02/09/22

Netflix

One thing you can’t say about I Came By is that it’s predictable. Indeed, Babek Anvari’s contemporary thriller seems to go out of its way to upend the conventions of its chosen genre. The average viewer is pretty unlikely to guess where everything is ultimately headed.

Toby (George MacKay) and his best friend, Jay (Percelle Ascot), are self-styled urban guerillas, who specialise in breaking into the homes of the rich and powerful and decorating their living room walls with that titular line of graffiti. We quickly realise that Toby is a bit of a hypocrite, coming from the kind of privilege he rails so vociferously against. His Mum, Lizzie (Kelly Macdonald), is a comfortably-off psychologist and the family home in London looks decidedly swish, even if Toby never bothers to wash the dishes.

When Jay discovers that his girlfriend, Naz (Varadu Sethu), is pregnant, he decides it’s time to clean up his act and promptly bales out of the double act, so Toby has to go it alone when he breaks into the house of former judge, Hector Blake (National Treasure Hugh Bonneville, for once playing a thoroughly bad egg). Toby discovers something rather horrible in the cellar but his attempts to call out the law to sort things out come to nothing. Blake is a regular squash partner of the Chief Constable, so he’s protected. Toby decides he’ll have to take matters into his own hands…

It would perhaps be unfair to reveal anything else about the plot and I rather admire Ansari’s (and co-writer Namsi Khan’s) dogged determination to resist anything too clichéd. What’s more, I Came By has some interesting points to make about race and privilege. But there are real problems here, chiefly in the storytelling, where no figure is really allowed to come to prominence – the four main stars all seem to be playing bit parts in a pointlessly complicated narrative. There are sizeable time shifts that are not well signalled and some of the occurrences should be filed in the ‘rather unlikely’ category. My eyebrows are raised at several points.

Still, those who like to be constantly surprised may want to give this one a go. It’s arguably worth clicking the Netflix button just to watch dear old Hugh doing some really unpleasant things.

3.6 stars

Philip Caveney

Edfest Bouquets 2022

The frenzy of the Fringe is over. It’s been beyond wonderful to see our city so vibrant again, after two quiet years. We’ve seen a startling range of exciting shows, covering many genres. We’re exhausted – but it’s not quite over yet. It’s time to award our virtual bouquets to the best performances we saw. The standard seemed higher than ever this time: has the break given writers and performers more time to sharpen their acts, or were we just lucky with the productions we chose? Either way, there were lots of contenders in each category, but we’ve narrowed them down to our favourite five.

So, without further ado, we present our choice of the best shows we saw at Edfest 2022.

THEATRE

An Audience with Stuart Bagcliffe (ZOO Playground)

An Audience with Stuart Bagcliffe is the sort of play which exemplifies the Fringe at its best. Written by Benny Ainsworth and directed by Sally Paffett (Triptytch Theatre), this ingeniously constructed monologue features Michael Parker as the titular Stuart, delivering Ainsworth’s script with consummate skill.

A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings (Summerhall)

Based on a short story by Gabriel García Márquez and adapted for the stage by Dan Colley, Manus Halligan and Genevieve Hulme Beaman, this is the tale of Elisenda and Palayo, two impoverished people who live in a rickety shack on the edge of a small town. Their tale is related by Elisenda (Karen McCartney) in a deliciously sinister style. She’s aided by Palayo (Manus Halligan), who barely utters a word, but moves humbly around the stage, using a curious mixture of handicrafts and high-tech devices to illustrate the story – a series of simplistic figurines, illuminated by tiny cameras and lights, take us into their miniature world.

Sap (Roundabout @ Summerhall)

Rafaella Marcus has scripted a deliciously labyrinthine tale about sexual identity (specifically bi-invisibility), one that cleverly assimilates a Greek myth into its core. The maze-like structure is beautifully captured by Jessica Clark and Rebecca Banatvala’s hyper-physical performances, directed by Jessica Lazar and Jennifer Fletcher.

Hungry (Roundabout @ Summerhall)

Chris Bush’s sharply written two-hander examines the relationship between Lori (Eleanor Sutton), a chef from a relatively privileged background, and Bex (Melissa Lowe), a waitress from the local estate. Hungry is a class act, so assured that, even amidst the host of treasures on offer at this year’s Roundabout, it dazzles like a precious gem. 

The Tragedy of Macbeth (Assembly Roxy)

Let’s face it, we’ve all seen Macbeth in its various shapes and guises – but I think it’s fairly safe to say we’ve never seen it quite like this. Flabbergast Theatre’s eight-strong cast reel around the stage, plastered in mud and raving and flailing around like demented beings. This is a play about the madness brought on by the seductive power of hubris, so it feels entirely appropriate. It explodes, it capers, it struts its fretful stuff upon the stage and signifies plenty…

COMEDY

Feeling Afraid as if Something Terrible is Going to Happen (Roundabout @ Summerhall)

Both Samuel Barnett and Marcelo Dos Santos deserve huge praise for what is undoubtedly one of the best collaborations between writer and performer that I’ve ever witnessed. The narrator is working me like a master magician, mesmerising me, misdirecting me, even scattering a trail of clues which I somehow manage to overlook. The result? When the piece reaches its conclusion, I feel as though I’ve been punched in the solar plexus.

Kylie Brakeman: Linda Hollywood’s Guide to Hollywood (Gilded Balloon Patterhoose)

Making her Edinburgh Fringe debut, Kylie Brakeman delivers her cleverly scripted lines with consummate skill, and the whip-smart, snarky one-liners flow like honey laced with vinegar. It’s more than just a series of laughs. It also nails the cynicism and hypocrisy of the movie industry with deadly precision. I leave convinced that Brakeman (already a major name online, with over sixty million views) is destined to play much bigger venues than this one. 

Emily Wilson: Fixed (Pleasance Courtyard)

Emily Wilson’s Fixed is part musical, part stand-up and part catharsis. She appeared on The X Factor USA back in 2011, as one half of the earnestly named duo, Ausem. “Because my best friend’s called Austin, and my name’s Emily, so together we’re Ausem!” She was 15 and thought she was destined to become a star. But then she hit a snag. The judges decided they liked Austin, but not Emily… What emerges is a thoughtful commentary on fame, ambition and exploitation, and it’s riveting.

Christopher Bliss: Captain Wordseye (Pleasance Courtyard)

Christopher Bliss (Rob Carter) is a new name to me and I can only regret that it’s taken me this long to encounter him. He’s that rarest of things, a brilliant character comedian… and a literary genius to boot. I can’t wait for his words of advice on poetry, which I have long considered my Achilles heel…

The Anniversary (Pleasance Dome)

Jim (Daniel Tobias) and Barb (Clare Bartholomew) are eagerly preparing for their 50th wedding anniversary but they’re not always in control of things and some of the items in the finger buffet might better be avoided. This handsomely mounted helping of slapstick from Australian company, Salvador Dinosaur, features no real dialogue, just gibberish and the occasional mention of each other’s names – but the soundtrack is far from silent. It’s essentially a piece about the indignities of ageing, replete with references to forgetfulness, dodgy bowels and the ill-advised over-application of both prescription drugs and prunes. It ought to be tragic but it’s somehow horribly funny.

SPECIAL MENTIONS

Fills Monkey: We Will Drum You (Pleasance Courtyard)

Sebastian Rambaud and Yann Coste are two brilliant percussionists, the kind of people you imagine could go through an entire day without ever breaking beat. They begin with conventional sets of drums, hammering out thrilling polyrhythms as the audience claps along. But they have an air of competitiveness about them and the stakes keep rising. It really helps that the two percussionists are also accomplished clowns. Working under the direction of Daniél Briere, they’ve devised a show that switches back and forth through a whole series of scenarios, never lingering too long in one place to ever feel repetitive. 

Manic Street Creature (Roundabout @ Summerhall)

Manic Street Creature, written and performed by Maimuna Memon, is an assured slice of gig theatre that focuses on the subject of mental health from a slightly different perspective – that of the carer. Memon tells the story through a sequence of songs being recorded in a studio session. She’s a confident, assured performer, with a thrilling vocal range, accompanying herself on acoustic and electric guitars, keyboards and shruti box. When everything’s in full flow, the story takes flight and I feel myself propelled along by its urgent, rhythmic pulse.

The Ofsted Massacre (The Space @ Surgeon’s Hall)

Phil Porter’s script feels like it’s been torn from the inside of a stressed-out teacher’s head: a revenge fantasy, born of despair. It’s also a very funny play, drawing on Shakespeare, while lampooning staffroom stereotypes and exposing every cliché. This production, by Kingston Grammar School’s sixth form drama students, is a triumph. The young cast embrace their roles, eliciting gales of laughter from the audience with their well-timed punchlines and impressive slapstick.

Making a Murderer: The Musical (Underbelly Bristo Square)

Like millions of others across the UK, I was transfixed by the Netflix documentary, Making A Murderer – so when I spot a poster on the Royal Mile with the words ‘The Musical‘ tacked onto the end, I’m intrigued – and simultaneously doubtful. Isn’t that going to be… disrespectful? But, in the capable hands of writer Phil Mealey, MAMTM offers a compelling version of the familiar events, a fresh perspective on the story that never feels like a cheap shot. The songs are terrific throughout, ranging from spirited rockers to plaintive ballads. What’s more, the production supports (and is supported by) The Innocence Project.

The Tiger Lillies: One Penny Opera (Underbelly Bristo Square)

Describing an act as ‘unique’ is often considered a cop-out, and yet I can’t think of a more appropriate word to describe The Tiger Lillies, three remarkable musicians currently strutting their inimitable stuff at The Cow Barn on Bristo Square. Originally formed way back in 1989, they’ve been through a number of personnel changes over the years, though the macabre compositions of singer-songwriter Martyn Jacques have remained a constant. They describe themselves as “Brechtian Punk Cabaret”, and who am I to argue with them?

Susan Singfield & Philip Caveney

Making a Murderer: The Musical

24/08/22

Underbelly Bristo Square (Cowbarn), Edinburgh

Like millions of others across the UK, I was transfixed by the Netflix documentary, Making A Murderer – so when I spot a poster on the Royal Mile with the words ‘The Musical‘ tacked onto the end, I’m intrigued – and simultaneously doubtful. I mean, one of the most infamous miscarriages of justice in recent years… with singing and dancing? Isn’t that going to be… disrespectful?

As it turns out, I needn’t worry. In the capable hands of writer Phil Mealey, MAMTM offers a compelling version of the familiar events, a fresh perspective on the story that never feels like a cheap shot. What’s more, the production supports (and is supported by) ‘The Innocence Project’.

We begin with a whistle-stop tour of the little town of Manitowoc, hosted by Betsy (Emma Norman), who at first tries to turn the attention of visitors away from the local lowlife ‘celebrity’, Steven Avery. Shortly thereafter, we are introduced to Avery himself (Matt Bond), his Ma (Amanda Beveridge) and his nephew, Brendan Dassy (Dean Makowski-Clayton). I’m pretty sure I don’t need to tell you what happens to Steven and Brendan. It was a national obsession, after all.

The songs are terrific throughout, ranging from spirited rockers to plaintive ballads. (Apologies to the audience at the show I visit, but the person you can hear sobbing loudly during Ma Avery’s final number is almost certainly me.) Mealey puts in an appearance as the self-aggrandising prosecutor, Ken Kratz, and Nickie Filshie takes the role of Kathleen Zellner, the lawyer determined to get Avery and Dassy out of prison. This is an ensemble piece and the cast are all accomplished singers, but I particularly enjoy the vocals of Makowski-Clayton as the tragic and vulnerable, Brendan Dassy.

It’s shocking to think that the Netflix documentary first aired in the UK in December 2015. Seven years later, Avery and Dassy are still languishing in jail on no credible evidence whatsoever. I appreciate it’s very late in the day to give a shout out for this splendid production, but I’m shouting anyway.

See it while you still can; it’s important that we don’t forget.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

I Feel the Need

21/08/22

Assembly Rooms, George Street (Powder Room), Edinburgh

I Feel the Need is an autobiographical piece delivered by Loree Draude (the surname rhymes with ‘Rowdy’, which explains why it was her call sign when she was a Navy aviator), and was co-written and developed with Beth Bornstein Dunnington. Draude was one of the first women to fly combat planes and she’s very quick to tell us that, while Top Gun: Maverick may be most people’s reference point for her experiences, it is wildly inaccurate. She’s here to talk about what it was really like trying to land an F15 Phantom on an aircraft carrier. She did it more than three hundred times, logged 1600 flight hours and lived to tell the tale – unlike some of her colleagues.

Draude is an interesting and compelling narrator. She begins with memories of her childhood: she was a theatre-obsessed teenager, with dreams of becoming a dancer, something her Catholic parents, who both worked in the armed forces, were horrified to hear. As somebody whose father was also from a military background, I identify with her dilemma. I made my decision to go into the arts from an early age, but Lori took a little longer to arrive at pretty much the same conclusion.

She also lets us in on her personal life, telling us what happened to her after she finished her active service. About the trials and tribulations of motherhood and how she struggled to maintain a marriage with a husband who was steadily drifting away from her.

I Feel the Need is perhaps most exciting in its early stretches, though Draude has to work very hard to recreate the drama of those early flights. The fact that we’re in a converted shipping container on George Street doesn’t help matters but, to give Draude her due, she goes for it. Perhaps the lighting could have been utilised more effectively to help with this: there are a lot of changes, but what they’re supposed to signify is rarely clear.

The more recent realisation that, in order to move on from her failed marriage, she needed to learn to ‘love herself’ feels very earnest and, as a buttoned-up Brit, I’m not quite sure how to take it – but maybe that’s just me. Draude also dedicates her performance to her fellow naval aviators – the ones that didn’t make it out alive – and that seems a decent thing to do

So, anyone on the lookout for a more realistic account of a ‘Top Gun’ life will find what they’re looking for in The Powder Room. Flight suits are optional.

3.5 stars

Philip Caveney

Bullet Train

19/08/22

Cineworld, Edinburgh

David Leitch began his film career as a stunt performer and fight coordinator, so perhaps it’s no great surprise this his films as a director focus primarily on action. I must confess to having a soft spot for his earlier offering, Atomic Blonde, which cast Charlize Theron as a kick-ass secret agent. But Bullet Train is a much more ambitious vehicle (please forgive the unintentional pun). In this film, a large cast of actors climb aboard the titular locomotive and proceed to kick several kinds of shit out of each other.

Brad Pitt is ‘Ladybug’, a former professional assassin, now attempting to pursue a more gentle method of employment and refusing to take a gun along with him. He’s on a mission to locate and steal a mysterious metal suitcase containing large amounts of money and he’s somewhat dismayed to discover that there are a whole bunch of other assassins on board – and they have no qualms about using firearms. What’s more, they’ve mistaken Ladybug for another operative, a man who they’ve been told to kill on sight. Awkward.

The characters all have equally silly code names, and Leitch – who also wrote the screenplay – has assigned them various quirks in a valiant attempt to humanise them. For instance, ‘Prince’ (Joey King) acts like an innocent teenage girl, complete with novelty backpack. ‘Tangerine’ (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) supports Chelsea football club, while his brother, ‘Lemon’ (Brian Tyree Henry), is a fan of Thomas the Tank Engine… This is all well and good but none of it helps me warm to them. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I find it hard to care what happens to a bunch of killers. We’re expected to cheer for Pitt, who – conveniently – only offs people who are trying to kill him, but that’s not enough.

Furthermore, the story is so needlessly complicated, it requires a whole load of flashbacks and explanatory side notes in order for it to make any sense to an audience. Okay, the action scenes (and that’s probably seventy percent of the film) are expertly handled, and yes, it does all build to an impressive hyper-violent apotheosis with the climactic punch up taking place on an out of control train hurtling to destruction – but I still need to care about these people and I really don’t. Maybe a more straightforward plot line and a shorter running time would have helped. Bullet Train weighs in at nearly two hours despite running at 275 miles per hour.

Incidentally, because of limited time availability, I watch this film in a Screen X, which claims to offer a ‘more immersive experience.’ This means that selected scenes are projected onto the walls to the left and right of the main screen. I just find this kind of distracting.

Oh yes, sharper-eyed viewers may spot some ‘blink and you’ll miss ’em’ guest appearances hidden in this film. Look out for them. It’ll help to pass the journey.

3.4 stars

Philip Caveney

The Rip Current

18/08/22

Pleasance Courtyard (Above), Edinburgh

The Rip Current, written and co-directed by Molly Keating, is an ambitious piece of theatre, dealing with themes of truth and identity. It’s his first year at uni, and Jamie (Charlie Bolden) should be proud of his success: he’s made it to Cambridge, after all. But, as a working-class Scot, he’s struggling to fit in. Posh-boy Bertie (James Cummings) keeps putting Irn Bru posters on Jamie’s door, and teasing him about his accent. Adrift, trying desperately to stay afloat, Jamie starts to have nightmares – “or flashbacks” – about his absent dad, Ruiraidh (Max Hanover). The few memories Jamie has are fond ones, so why did his mum, Bridie (Megan Burns), force Ruiraidh to leave? And why won’t she talk about it? After a term away, Jamie’s determined to find out more – about who he is, and where he comes from.

It’s an interesting premise, and throws up a number of intriguing ideas. However, the structure is a little unbalanced. The opening monologue, delivered convincingly by Bolden, sets the subject matter up nicely, but the following scene, at university, is perhaps somewhat overdone. Cummings inhabits Bertie’s role extremely well, but the dialogue makes his sneering too overt, so that it’s not quite credible. The relationship between the two young men is compelling, but – beyond a fleeting vignette in the final moments – we never get to see this develop, nor learn how things play out.

Instead, we’re whisked back home with Jamie, for a long and detailed analysis of how his parents’ marriage went wrong. There are some excellent moments here: Ruiraidh’s slow, deliberate removal of his belt, for example, works well; this restrained and understated piece of direction creates a chilling atmosphere. I also like the way Bridie’s constant busy-ness and bright chatter contrast with Jamie’s inertia and sullen monosyllables; Keating and her co-director, Tess Bailie, clearly have some strong concepts. But the conversation is too repetitive: the dialogue needs to be pared back, to ensure this second half doesn’t lose momentum.

I’m not sure about some of the symbolism. Why does Ruiraidh always enter and exit through the wardrobe door? Is it because he’s been closeted away and kept secret or is it a reference to the fact that Jamie only sees him in dreams? Whatever it’s supposed to represent, it doesn’t quite work for me, and seems a little clunky. The dinner scene is another problem. There are both too many props and too few: the scene is cluttered with dishes, a grater and a loaf of bread, but there’s no sign of the three-course feast they’re supposed to be eating, and this feels like a compromise too far. It would be better either to opt for a more abstract approach, where we don’t see the meal at all, or to at least fill the glasses with water and put something on the plates. Personally, I’d favour the former approach, but either way, something more consistent would benefit the scene.

The Rip Current certainly has potential, but I think it needs some judicious editing before we can really see it at its best.

2.6 stars

Susan Singfield

The Tiger Lillies: One Penny Opera

16/08/22

Underbelly Bristo Square (Cow Barn), Edinburgh

Describing an act as ‘unique’ is often considered a cop-out, and yet I can’t think of a more appropriate word to describe The Tiger Lillies, three remarkable musicians currently strutting their inimitable stuff at The Cow Barn on Bristo Square. Originally formed way back in 1989, they’ve been through a number of personnel changes over the years, though the macabre compositions of singer-songwriter Martyn Jacques have remained a constant. They describe themselves as “Brechtian Punk Cabaret”, and who am I to argue with them?

The current lineup shambles onto the stage looking like characters from your worst nightmare, plastered in grotesque makeup and wearing eccentric outfits. They launch headlong into their opening song, a Germanic foot-tapper that recalls the music of pre-war Berlin, jaunty and uncompromising, while Jacques’ lyrics spin an introduction to a tale of darkness and dismay, a world of crime and vicious retribution, featuring Mack the Knife and Polly Platt. Indeed, the entire hour is devoted to the continuing adventures of these miscreants and their various accomplices, so this is as much a storytelling session as it is a concert.

These days, Jacques handles accordion and keyboards, anchored by the drumming of Budi Butenop and embellished by Adrian Stout’s mercurial musical flourishes. Watching Stout conjure ethereal sounds from the theremin, the electric bass and, at several points, from a battered old saw is like watching a gifted magician at work. If you thought a saw was only good for cutting down trees, think again! Occasionally, Jacques switches to keyboards and offers us beautiful ballads that juxtapose poignant melodies with tales of murder and bestiality. His voice, a weird, soaring soprano, is quite extraordinary too.

I could say that this won’t be for everyone, but judging by the large, spellbound crowd that’s in tonight, The Tiger Lillies’ dark cabaret clearly has an ardent following – and if you need any more convincing, the band won an Olivier Award back in the day for their cult musical Shock Headed Peter.

Those looking for a unique – yes, that word again! – blend of music and theatre should head down to the Cow Barn without delay for a truly unforgettable experience.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

Nope

15/08/22

Cineworld, Edinburgh

From it’s earliest beginnings, Jordan Peele’s Nope has been cloaked in the kind of secrecy, normally reserved for Christopher Nolan movies – and inconveniently, it’s arrived slap bang in the middle of the Edinburgh Festival, a month I usually devote entirely to comedy and theatre. Nevertheless, I make time to see it. Now having done that, I’m not entirely sure I’m any better off.

Nope is the story of the Hayward siblings, OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer), who, after the mysterious death of their father – struck by something unidentified from the heavens – are struggling to keep their business going. They supply horses to the film and television industry but OJ isn’t the best at getting on with people, while Emerald is his polar opposite, too interested in promoting her own projects. (We also learn that Haywards are direct descendants of the unnamed black jockey from the iconic silent film by Eadweard Muybridge.)

With revenue falling, OJ decides to sell some of his stock to Ricky ‘Jupe’ Park (Steven Yeun), who runs a ramshackle Western show, based not far from the Haywards’ ranch. Ricky is a former child actor, whose career was infamously ended when the simian star of his TV series ran amok and attacked his human co-stars. Scenes from the carnage in the studio prefigure the main action, but this feels like an entirely different idea grafted uncomfortably onto the main storyline.

OJ begins to suspect that something is hiding in the clouds above the ranch, something that’s responsible for his father’s death and which might be of extra-terrestrial origin. He and Emerald decide they need to photograph it, telling themselves that the resulting pictures will be their ‘Oprah’ moment, the answer to all their money worries. With this in mind they enlist local tech worker, Angel (Brandon Perea), to help them achieve their goal and they set about capturing the mystery on film.

But what’s up there might not be what they think it is…

Many films are short of ideas, but Nope has the opposite problem. Not content to make a straightforward UFO film, Peele throws in a whole mess of different images and subtexts. Some of them are great, others mystifying, but what’s for sure is that they don’t coalesce enough to make a satisfying whole. While there are certainly spectacular moments here – especially when the IMAX photography concentrates on the heavens and the action taking place up there, I leave feeling annoyed that Nope is neither fish nor foul. It could have been a superior sci-fi epic or it could have been a sinister horror tale. It can’t successfully be both those things.

Which ultimately means that Peele started at the top of his game with Get Out, slipped up somewhat with his second release, the ambitious but flawed Us, and now needs to consider very carefully where he goes next.

3 stars

Philip Caveney

Christopher Bliss: Captain Words Eye

15/08/22

Pleasance Courtyard (Beneath), Edinburgh

Christopher Bliss is just too good to be true. He swaggers into the room to the strains of Living La Vida Loca, slapping the upraised hands of the front row as he sweeps by. He’s dressed in truly horrible style – including the fashion ‘NO!’ of orthopaedic sandals with white socks – and, without further ado, proceeds to deliver his ‘masterclass in novel writing’ with not an ounce of self-awareness. Writing a novel is easy he assures us; he’s written hundreds! He never spends more than five minutes on each of them and he never ever rewrites a single word!

As a (ahem!) novelist, I can only sit there and reflect on the sorry fact that I’ve been doing it wrong for so many years.

Bliss, of course, is a construct (think David Brent or Alan Partridge). He’s the creation of comedian, Rob Carter, but we won’t hold that against him, especially when he’s mastered every written art save for one – the thing that’s always eluded him is character comedy. Meta? I guess so! He proceeds to commandeer the room and quickly has the audience eating out of his hand. Perhaps what we’re witnessing here is actually a master class in audience manipulation. He’s clearly in his element as he interacts with the crowd and soon has us shouting out suggestions, making noises of both attraction and repulsion, even bellowing his ‘catchphrase’ (“Ruddy hell!”) at regular intervals. It seems that he’s on the lookout for an apprentice and one of us might just be that lucky person.

Bliss is a new name to me and I can only regret that it’s taken me this long to encounter him. He’s that rarest of things, a brilliant character comedian… and a literary genius to boot. I can’t wait for his words of advice on poetry, which I have long considered my Achilles heel.

Those seeking his words of wisdom should hurry on down to the Pleasance Courtyard without further delay – it can only be a matter of time before the literary festival claims him as one of their own.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney