Cineworld

She Said

29/11/22

Cineworld. Edinburgh

She Said sets out its stall in the first few minutes. New York Times journalist Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) is about to publish a story about women being sexually abused by a presidential candidate, and the accused man calls to refute the claims. He’s boorish and threatening. The story is published, and the victims learn they were right to be afraid of speaking up. While they get death threats and envelopes of dog shit through the post, Donald Trump gets elected president.

So when Twohey and her colleague, Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan), begin to investigate rumours about Harvey Weinstein, they know what an uphill battle they face. The system is skewed in favour of powerful men. Uncovering the truth is relatively easy; acquiring sufficient evidence to publish it is horribly complex. As if persuading understandably anxious women to out themselves to a global audience weren’t difficult enough, there are also NDAs to contend with. How are these malignant settlements even allowed to exist? They’re just get-out-of-jail-free cards for rich arseholes, who can easily afford to spaff megabucks on silencing the people they abuse. But Twohey and Kantor are tenacious, and refuse to give up. It’s not easy for either of them. Kantor has a young family, and Twohey is in the throes of post-natal depression. Calls come at all times of the day and night – both threats from trolls and revelations from sources – but still, they can’t let go. It matters too much. So they grit their teeth and crack on, relying on their partners to do the lion’s share of parenting. (It’s refreshing, actually, to see Ron Lieber and Tom Pelphrey in these peripheral, domestic roles that are usually reserved for women.)

Maria Schrader’s understated direction works well, illuminating the sheer grit required to bring a prolific sex offender to account. The screenplay, by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, draws on the book written by the two journalists, and focuses on the painful process rather than the assaults. This is one instance where telling is better than showing: we don’t need to see these women being abused. Instead, we see the aftermath. We see how, while Weinstein continued to live the high life, perpetuating his attacks over and over again, any woman who dared to reject him or, worse, complain about his behaviour, had her life turned upside down. From Ashley Judd (appearing here as herself) being blacklisted and branded ‘a nightmare to work with’ to Zelda Perkins (Samantha Morton) fleeing to Guatemala, the fallout was immense.

The performances are detailed and meticulous. Kazan and Mulligan both fizz with pent-up energy, and the supporting cast are just as committed. Jennifer Ehle stands out as Laura Madden, attacked by Weinstein back when she was a young assistant, naïve and excited to be working for him. Thirty years later, she has a double mastectomy to deal with, so speaking out seems urgent, not least to show her daughters that they don’t need to internalise abuse.

She Said does a good job of highlighting the inherent power discrepancies in our society, and how ‘consent’ is problematic if one party holds the other’s prospects in their hands. It also shows how we can fight back.

#MeToo.

4.6 stars

Susan Singfield

Tim Minchin: BACK

23/11/22

Cineworld, Edinburgh

The tagline for BACK promises “old songs, new songs and fuck you songs” – and that’s exactly what we get. It’s great to see Minchin ‘back’ on the stage, albeit – for today – via the medium of screen. I loved Matilda, and am truly sorry his animated movie was so cruelly canned, but I did miss Tim-the-performer while he was working on those other projects, and BACK is a triumphant return.

I admire his resilience. Whatever private tears were shed over the Hollywood let-down, his public self is irrepressible. And I imagine live performances as popular as these provide quite the tonic for a bruised ego.

BACK is wide-ranging – both topically and musically. There’s an ode to cheese, a rant about progressives’ infighting and a plaintive memorial to a lost loved one; there’s a capella, solo piano and an accomplished eight-piece band. This makes sense: after all, the show is loosely constructed as a memoir, looking back at almost thirty years of an unusual career.

Three hours seem to fly by. Minchin’s ebullience makes him fascinating to watch, as well as listen to: this is as much a spectacle as it is an evening of song. As if his trademark bare feet, big hair and eyeliner weren’t arresting enough, he’s rarely still, jumping on and off the piano, doing backward rolls off the stool, and even sweeping broken glass off the stage (his own glass, I should add; the crowd is on his side).

Standout moments include If I Didn’t Have You, for it’s cheeky observations, and I’ll Take Lonely Tonight, for its wistful honesty, but the whole show works well. I find myself impressed anew by Minchin’s witty lyrics and musical dexterity, and I’m also engaged by his attempt to confront the thorny issue of ‘cancel culture’ from a liberal standpoint, highlighting the hypocrisy of promoting empathy via rage.

The tour is over, but this recording remains, and – if you get the chance to see it – do. Minchin is a joy.

4.6 stars

Susan Singfield

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris

30/09/22

Cineworld, Edinburgh

I am poorly when I see the 1992 teleplay, Mrs ‘Arris Goes to Paris, nursing a cold. I am lying on my sofa with the TV on, drifting in and out of sleep. At one point, I wake up, and there are Angela Lansbury, Diana Rigg, and, wait, is that Fred from Corrie? Is this a fever dream? I find myself engaging with the story, and watching through to the end. On occasion, I mention it to friends, but nobody has ever heard of it. They look at me sceptically. I let it go…

So I’m weirdly excited about this latest iteration of the tale, which I now know is based on a novel by Paul Gallico. Lesley Manville stars as the titular Mrs Harris (her ‘H’ restored), with Isabelle Huppert and Jason Isaacs as the big name support.

It’s London, 1957. Ada Harris knows in her heart that she’s a war widow, but she’s been waiting years for Eddie’s death to be confirmed. In the meantime, she’s working as a charwoman, cleaning up after a succession of indolent rich folk. She’s not unhappy exactly: she has a busy social life, drinking, dancing and ‘going to the dogs’ with her friends, Violet (Ellen Thomas) and Archie (Isaacs). But something is missing and, when Ada catches a glimpse of an exquisite couture gown in Lady Dant (Anna Chancellor)’s bedroom, she realises exactly what that missing something is…

A posh frock from Paris is beyond Mrs Harris’s slender means, but she’s a determined woman, and sets to with admirable grit, making savings wherever she can. Take the bus to work? No, not when she can walk. And what does she need with evenings out? Better to spend the time altering and repairing people’s clothes, bringing in a few extra shillings. Despite her hard work, however, that Dior dress is still way out of reach.

Until a series of fortunate events occurs, and – of course – she’s off to Paris! (Come on, that’s hardly a spoiler; it’s literally in the title.) The streets of the French capital appear to be paved with litter (there’s a bin strike, which we citizens of Edinburgh can certainly relate to), but Ada rises easily above the stink. She’s having the time of her life, and – with the help of André (Lucas Bravo), Natasha (Alba Baptista) and the dashing Marquis de Chassagne (Lambert Wilson) – she’s rediscovering her mojo. Sure, Mme Colbert (Huppert) is a bit sneery, and Mme Avallon (Guilaine Londez) seems to view her as an enemy, but so what? A couture gown is on its way; what could possibly go wrong?

Mrs Harris Goes to Paris is essentially a fairytale, although it’s not very grim. It’s a frothy concoction, signifying little, but it’s eminently watchable, with warm, engaging characters, and a satisfying (if predictable) story arc. Under Anthony Fabian’s direction, this primarily Hungarian production (no, I don’t know why either) is beautifully shot, and Felix Wiedemann’s cinematography really captures the ethereal beauty of the clothes, so vital to the tale. It’s refreshing to see a love story that doesn’t patronise an older woman, and I’m pleased that the ‘fish out of water’ stuff is played down. Ada is independent: she has lived alone through a war and is used to city life, and she mixes with all kinds. It’s no surprise that she can hold her own in a Parisian restaurant, nor that she’s unfazed by the unfamiliar etiquette of a Dior fashion show. Perhaps the most important theme is one of societal change: just as the political elite in Paris have to accept that the workers won’t settle for poverty wages any more, neither will Ada continue to put up with late payments and disrespect from her employers. The war was a real turning point, and its longterm implications are starting to be felt.

I don’t really know how this compares to the teleplay, because I wasn’t fully compos mentis when I was watching that, but I do know that it’s more enjoyable to see Mrs Harris finding her dream dress when I’m not in a Lemsip fug. And at the cinema too, which is always better (true fact, no counter-arguments accepted).

3.8 stars

Susan Singfield

Parallel Mothers

28/01/22

Cineworld, Edinburgh

Pedro Almadóvar’s latest film is as fascinating as you’d expect; the veteran director is no stranger to serious stories, improbably furnished with lush images and unlikely melodrama. In this sense, Parallel Mothers is more of the same. But it is, of course, gloriously original too, and very much its own film.

Actually, maybe that’s not quite right. Maybe this is really two different films, because the two main strands are very disparate and never really converge. They’re parallel, if you like.

We open with the first – and arguably most interesting – strand. In a studio in Madrid, Janis (Penélope Cruz) is taking photographs of Arturo (Israel Elejalde), an eminent archaeologist. She seizes the opportunity to ask for his help: she wants him to excavate a potential grave-site, where, she believes, her great-grandfather is buried, along with nine other early victims of the  Franco regime. The impact of the past on the present is superbly realised, and reinforces the importance of Spain’s Law of Historical Memory, which – shockingly – only began the process of identifying and exhuming mass graves in 2007. I’m embarrassingly ignorant about the Spanish Civil War; this movie has already made me read up on the basics, and I’m keen to learn more, so – for me, at least – it’s proved successful in raising awareness, which is clearly part of Almadóvar’s aim.

The second strand is more domestic. Janis and Arturo have a casual relationship, which results in a very-much-unplanned pregnancy. She’s delighted; he’s not. He’s married; his wife has cancer; he doesn’t want to start a family. They part amicably. Janis doesn’t mind the idea of raising a child on her own; after all, her own mother did it, and her grandmother too.

In the maternity hospital, Janis’s roommate is a frightened teenager. Ana (Milena Smit) doesn’t want a baby. She’s got all the material support she could need: her mother, Teresa (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón), is a wealthy actress with a big house, and there are staff too: a housekeeper and a nanny. But the emotional support is lacking, and she turns to Janis for comfort. The two women are very different, but their situations similar enough to allow them to bond.

Until something unforeseen happens…

The film ends with a quotation from Eduardo Galeano: “No history is mute. No matter how much they own it, break it, and lie about it, human history refuses to shut its mouth.” This is true of the bodies piled in anonymous graves, and it’s true of the contemporary secret Janis uncovers too.

There are more parallels: between Lorca’s exposé of “the grotesque treatment of women in Spain” in Doña Rosita the Spinster (Teresa’s latest role) and Ana’s tragic backstory; between Janis and her own free spirit of a mum, dead at twenty-seven from an overdose.

There is also humour, and beautiful domestic scenery. Ana and Janis bond over stereotypical ‘women’s work’ – the food imagery is very evocative, and I leave the cinema feeling hungry.

And yet…

This film is gorgeous to watch, thanks to José Luis Alcaine’s cinematography, but there’s no getting past the fact that some plot points are skated over. Without giving any spoilers, I can’t say too much, but there’s a gaping hole where officialdom and bureaucracy should be, and perhaps the tying up of the ‘mothers’ strand feels a little glib.

There’s no glibness in the final shot though; that’s as profound as they come. I’d have liked a better balance between the two strands, I think: the domestic story overshadows the historical one.

But, without doubt, this is a film to watch.

4.1 stars

Susan Singfield

The 355

08/01/22

Cineworld, Edinburgh

The 355 is a lot of fun. It’s a wet afternoon in Edinburgh, and we’re in the mood for some light-hearted distraction, and these female secret agents tick that box expertly. This film is a lively addition to the action-spy pantheon.

It’s an international affair, with operatives from the UK (Lupita Nyong’o), the USA (Jessica Chastain), Germany (Diane Kruger) and Colombia (Penélope Cruz) teaming up to find a hard-drive with the power to destroy the world. Okay, so the stakes are ludicrously high, but they always are in this genre, and director Simon Kinberg does enough to persuade me to suspend my disbelief. It’s not ground-breaking – in fact, it’s pretty generic – but I don’t mind that. I think it’s okay to do ‘James Bond, but with women’ – because, well, why not? This film is both accomplished and diverting, and the performances are universally strong.

The pace is furious, so we’re never given time to dwell on any of the more outré details, which is probably a good thing. We’re in Colombia, then Washington DC, then Paris; Berlin, London, Paris again, Marrakesh, Shanghai. It’s a frantic journey around the globe, the team an object lesson in international relations.

The action scenes are nicely choreographed, and always feel fresh, the standouts being shot in a fish market and the Paris Metro. I’m not sure why Mace (Chastain) wears heels to the former shootout (this isn’t a film that focuses on what the women wear, nor are there any silly sexist jokes about inappropriate footwear), but that’s just a small detail. Some of the dialogue is a little clunky in places but, for the main part, the writing is sprightly and engaging.

In short, The 355 isn’t going to change the world its protagonists save, but it might just brighten up your day.

3.5 stars

Susan Singfield

Spencer

11/11/21

Cineworld, Edinburgh

As a rule, I tend to avoid anything to do with the royal family. I’m opposed to the very idea of a monarchy (I’d use the word ‘republican,’ but that has different connotations these days), and am genuinely bemused by the affection people feel for the current bunch of tax-guzzlers. I’ve never seen a single episode of The Crown and I don’t care one jot where Harry and Meghan live, or if they’ve stopped performing ‘royal duties.’ I do think that Prince Andrew should be held to account for his actions – like anyone else accused of a crime – but that’s another story.

Suffice to say, I’m not drawn to this movie because it’s about Diana. Of course her death was a tragedy; that’s indisputable. Of course the monarchy made her life miserable; that seems indisputable too. But I never engaged in the national pastime of adoring her, nor in the national outpouring of grief at her demise. Hers was a distant story, about someone I didn’t know.

No, the truth is, I’m drawn to this movie because of the casting. I’m a big fan of Kristen Stewart (her performances in Certain Women, Seberg and Personal Shopper are all stellar), and the supporting roles are populated by the great and the good too: to wit, Timothy Spall as baleful equerry Major Alistar Gregory, and Sally Hawkins as Diana’s dresser, Maggie. The trailer is enticing; my interest is piqued.

The premise is simple: it’s Christmas. Like many a family, the royals gather to spend it together. Unlike many other families, they have a plethora of palaces to choose from, and an army of underlings to ensure everything runs smoothly (said underlings, it goes without saying, can’t enjoy the festive season with their own families). So many underlings, in fact, that it’s stultifying, and it’s easy to see why Diana feels trapped and claustrophobic. Even her tiniest transgressions are noted, reported and duly addressed; the traditions are set in stone, and she has no option but to conform.

Although this film is fiction, truth shines through it: the stifling atmosphere is almost palpable. Director Pablo Larrain depicts an inflexible institution; Diana is expected to mask her mental health problems – not just from the outside world, but also from her family, in the home that is so blatantly not hers. Her inability to do this is seen as wilful, as if depression and bulimia can just be wished away. This is a family so out of touch it’s painful. (Obliging a woman with an eating disorder to undergo a humiliating ceremonial weighing to ensure she’s eaten enough Christmas dinner. Really?) Maybe I do care a little bit about where Harry and Meghan live. As far away from this toxic environment as possible, I hope.

Stewart is luminous in this role. She brings Diana to life in a credible, relatable way. She’s fragile, but there’s a strong core: a survival instinct that compels her to rebel. Jonny Greenwood’s score is wonderful: the discordant piano adding to the sense of confinement. In contrast, the final, glorious rendition of All I Need is a Miracle is a breath of fresh air in an open-top car, away from the suffocating velvet curtains, stitched shut.

The people’s princess isn’t sanctified here – we see the carelessness her privilege affords her (wrecking the feast the kitchen staff have prepared for the next day; refusing carefully prepared treats from those who care for her; recalling staff from their holidays; asking the police to lie for her), but she is humanised. She’s presented as essentially sweet-natured, but flawed, as are we all. There’s a montage of memories that takes us from a little girl practising ballet, by way of a nervous bride to a woman running for her life. It’s devastating. I find myself on the edge of my seat, rooting for her, willing her to escape that gilded cage.

And, for a few short years, she did.

4.3 stars

Susan Singfield

Supernova

01/07/21

Cineworld, Edinburgh

Ah, timing. It’s unfortunate for Supernova that its release comes so hot on the heels of the infinitely superior The Father, and that – given their overlapping subject matter – comparison is inevitable. Harry Macqueen’s film isn’t bad by any means, but it’s polite to the point of missing the point, with so much unsaid – and unshown – that it’s difficult to accept the enormity of the endpoint.

Tusker (Stanley Tucci) is a novelist with early-onset dementia; Sam (Colin Firth) is his partner. As an uncertain future looms, the couple take a camper van on a road trip, revisiting significant locations from early in their relationship and calling in on Sam’s sister (Pippa Haywood), until finally they reach a guest house with an out-of tune piano, which – it seems – is all the practice Sam is going to get before he gives his first recital in an unspecified ‘long time.’

Both Tucci and Firth give the sterling performances you’d expect: they’re believable long-term lovers, with all the tics and tender bickering that signify something solid. Neither actor is showy, and that’s good; this is a sombre story, and it deserves the gravitas they bring. Dick Pope’s cinematography is rather lovely too: all long, languorous shots, highlighting the simple beauty of the British countryside.

And yet. There’s not enough here. It’s all anticipation and no substance. There are some poignant moments: the blank pages in Tusker’s notebook giving lie to the fact that he’s still writing; Sam’s realisation that their dog, Ruby, has been bought specifically to keep him company when Tusker no longer can. But we never see any devastation, either clinical or emotional. The worst we see of the encroaching Alzheimer’s is a brief moment when Tusker wanders off and doesn’t know where he is; the most misery we witness is a muted discussion about suicide. Where are the sharp edges, the corners, the spikes? Where is the anguish? Of course, this film is all about not wanting to confront those truths: Tusker wants to die before grim reality kicks in, and Sam wants to pretend it’s never going to happen at all. But we, the audience, need to feel afraid and we don’t: it’s all too glossy, too glib, too bloodless, too bland.

In all, Supernova feels like a slightly wasted opportunity. It’s almost there, but it needs unbuttoning.

3.7 stars

Susan Singfield