The Cameo Cinema

Sixteen Candles

08/10/17

In general, The Cameo’s John Hughes season is a Very Good Thing. I jumped at the chance to see The Breakfast Club on the big screen last Sunday, and already have my ticket for Ferris Bueller’s Day Off next month. But today is a little different: I’ve never seen Sixteen Candles before, so I’m not wallowing in nostalgia. I’m here to see what I have missed.

And, it turns out, what I’ve missed is something rather different. Sixteen Candles is very uncomfortable to watch. To put it bluntly, this is a racist, sexist embarrassment, which seems to endorse rape. Oh dear.

It stars Molly Ringwald as Sam, a sparky teenager whose parents are so caught up in her sister’s wedding plans that they forget her sixteenth birthday. To make matters worse, the boy Sam has a crush on, Jake (Michael Schoeffling), doesn’t seem to know she exists and anyway, he’s dating Caroline (Haviland Morris), the hottest girl in school. Meanwhile, she has to fend off the unwanted attentions of uber-geek Farmer Ted (Anthony Michael Hall), and sleep on the sofa because her grandparents have comandeered her room. So far, so what I’d expect: some excellently observed insights into the teenage mind, and that trademark understanding of the all-consuming emotions that are part of growing up. Okay, so there are way too many characters, a sprawling cast of family members and schoolkids clogging up the plot and confusing things without really adding much (two sets of grandparents, in-laws, two younger siblings, the geek’s friends, Sam’s best friend, a girl in a neck-brace, a Chinese exchange student – more about him later) but that’s okay; it’s the work of a young film-maker after all, and Hughes certainly learns to pare things back for his next movie, The Breakfast Club.

But it’s impossible to ignore the racism and misogyny that pervade this piece. I wonder if it seemed so blatant on its release in 1984? I like to think I would have been affronted even then (I was thirteen, and quite politically aware); certainly, in 2017, it’s awkward in the extreme. The Chinese exchange student, Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe), for example: what’s his purpose here? Every time his name is mentioned, there’s a wince-inducing gong; I think he’s supposed to be funny just because he’s foreign and has a suggestive name. Urgh. Then there’s Jake, who’s supposedly a ‘good guy’ because he’d like a real relationship with a girl like Sam, instead of the regular sex he’s currently having with prom queen Caroline, who, he complains, likes to party too much. Poor Jake. Still, in the aftermath of a drunken house-party, Jake says that, if Farmer Ted agrees to give him Sam’s knickers (don’t ask), he will repay  him by allowing Ted to drive the unconscious Caroline home, and ‘have some fun’ with her. What a hero. Less sinister but perhaps more baffling is what happens to Sam’s sister, Ginny (Blanche Baker), who – shock horror! – gets her period on her wedding day. Ginny seems to be in her twenties, so she’s likely to have experienced this phenomena every month for a good few years. And about a quarter of brides are probably menstruating as they say their vows – because… biology. So, it really shouldn’t be that big a deal. And yet, somehow, it derails Ginny’s whole day, sending her into a frenzy, and causing her to take ‘muscle relaxants’ that have the effect of a bottle of vodka, rendering her completely helpless. It’s not funny, it’s just odd.

So, yeah. Not such a resounding success, this one, despite Ringwald’s charm and Hall’s delicious awkwardness. It really hasn’t stood the test of time.

2.4 stars

Susan Singfield

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The Breakfast Club

01/10/17

John Hughes’ 1985 coming-of-age movie is fondly remembered by many, exemplifying the writer/director’s instinctive understanding of the teenage mindset. And I’m delighted to report that its heart hasn’t died, despite the fact that it’s grown old.

Actually, it’s not all that long since I’ve watched it; it’s one of those films I return to periodically: an easy fix of feelgood catharsis, guaranteed to make me laugh and cry as I wallow in nostalgia, mouthing the words that I know by heart. But I’ve never seen it on the big screen before, so The Cameo’s John Hughes season is very welcome indeed. I seize my chance.

The plot, such as it is, is very simple: five kids, each representing a different high school social group, spend a Saturday together in detention for various misdeeds. During the course of their enforced proximity, they get to know one another. And they learn, famously, that each one of them is, in fact, “a brain, an athlete, a basket-case, a princess and a criminal” – i.e. that they’re more similar and more complex than their stereotypes suggest.

But this isn’t really about plot at all; it’s character-driven drama in its purest form. Nothing happens and everything happens. It’s a journey of self-discovery, and of developing empathy; an expose of the tragedies – both large and small – that drive young people into reckless acts. From the undeniable awfulness of Bender (Judd Nelson)’s homelife –  where he’s burned with a cigar for spilling paint on the garage floor – to the peer-pressure heaped on spoilt-little-rich-girl Claire (Molly Ringwald), Hughes’s script recognises the reality of their misery, compounded as it is by the lack of autonomy that comes with the territory.

My favourite moment is when Brian (Anthony Michael Hall) explains the reason he’s in detention: he tried to kill himself because he got an F in ‘shop’ (design technology). It’s painful to watch, and always makes me weep, but then it’s so beautifully undercut by the revelation that he messed the suicide up too, attempting to use a flare gun which went off in his locker, which makes the others laugh despite the gravity of what he’s telling them. It’s glorious.

Emilio Estevez (the athlete) and Ally Sheedy (the basket-case) give excellent performances too (although I still think Allison has more style before the make-over scene than after), as does Paul Gleason as the egocentric teacher, Mr Vernon.

If you haven’t seen The Breakfast Club before, it’s honestly a must. And if you’ve not indulged in it for a while, maybe now’s the time to watch it again. It’s a perfect little film: funny as anything and guaranteed to wring tears from all but the stoniest of viewers.

5 stars

Susan Singfield

 

The Cameo Cinema Bar

 

16/09/17

The bar of Edinburgh’s most iconic cinema has long been our favourite place to drink, but lately, what used to be shabby chic was starting to look a bit… well, shabby. So when we heard the place was going to be completely refurbished, we were cautiously optimistic. All too often, an unsympathetic redesign can destroy what attracted you to a venue in the first place.

We needn’t have worried. Though still not quite finished (there are still some stylish drapes to be installed and, any day now,  there will be a new art exhibition on display), the deco-themed interior eloquently echoes the building’s cinematic history. Those sagging couches have gone to be replaced by smart new seating and, over to the right-hand side of the room, there are three cosy little booths, the perfect spot to enjoy a pint and discuss the movie you’ve just watched. More importantly for the charming and friendly staff, there’s a roomier bar area where they actually have space to move.

The Cameo is still going to be our favourite hangout – where else is there, where – once you become a member – every drink you purchase actually earns you points towards watching more movies?

Our idea of heaven? You bet. Maybe we’ll see you there one of these nights.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

 

 

Midnight Cowboy

 

25/06/17

Following hard on the heels of The Graduate, comes this beauty, shown as part of the Cameo Cinema’s Dustin Hoffman season. Released in the UK the year after Mike Nichols’s Oscar winner, this searing evocation of the grimy underbelly of life on the streets of New York was another of the late 60s film that fuelled my early interest in cinema. I first saw it forty-eight years ago and over the intervening period, it has lost none of its considerable powers.

Joe Buck (Jon Voight, eerily displaying the distinctive facial characteristics that his daughter, Angelina Jolie would make famous years later) is a troubled young dishwasher from the ass-end of Texas, who decides to reinvent himself as a cowboy-styled stud and travels to New York city with the intention of earning a living by seducing rich young women for money. Of course, the reality of the situation is quite different from his expectations. After what looks like an initial success, Joe ends up paying the first woman he ‘seduces;’ and things don’t improve when he meets ‘Ratso’ Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), an impoverished huckster who volunteers his services as Joe’s ‘manager.’ Ratso cons money out of Joe on their first meeting, but when they meet up again, the two men move into a filthy derelict building where an uneasy alliance begins to develop.

As with The Graduate, what strikes me here is how edgy and uncompromising this film is and yet it was a huge mainstream hit, back in the day, winning three Oscars and receiving countless nominations for the performances of Voight and Hoffman. It steps fearlessly into territory that hadn’t really been seen in the cinema before, so much so that Nichols famously advised Hoffman not to take the role of Ratso, believing that it would kill his career. The evocations of Poverty Row New York are brilliantly rendered and there’s also an extended sequence set in an Andy Warhol free party that vividly depicts the burgeoning anti-establishment movement of the period. Filmed with an impartial eye by English director John Schlesinger, it expertly nails the shallow, consumer-obsessed tawdriness of America in ways that few native-born directors could hope to achieve.

Fears that the film would be exploitative are largely unfounded. The dominant theme here is the deepening relationship between the two male protagonists and how in the midst of grinding poverty, both of them are fuelled by impossible dreams. This is a triumphant film, from its hard-hitting opening to its poignant conclusion. If you get the chance to see this on the big screen, don’t let it pass you by.

4.8 stars

Philip Caveney

Cameo Cinema Beer & Food Event

Stitched Panorama

25/09/16

We’ve all heard of food and wine tastings, of course, but the good people at the Cameo Cinema clearly feel that beer really should be afforded the same privilege as its close cousin  – and why not? Like many nations around the world, here in the UK, we consume a lot more amber than we do red or white. Beer often gets bad press, but did you know that it is fat free and has considerably fewer calories than wine? And that it has a lot less sugar than you might think? Hence this intimate meeting for forty lucky members of the Cameo Cinema in their delightful cafe bar (already our favourite drinking place in Edinburgh), where four vegetarian food courses are served, each matched with an appropriate beer.

First up, we’re offered a taste of San Miguel, matched with a tasty slice of Spanakopita (spinach pie), a filo pastry parcel filled with feta cheese, spinach and chopped onions. The twosome make a perfect match, the crisp, zesty lager cutting through the tangy taste of the filling. San Miguel is, of course, always perceived as the ultimate Spanish product – so it might surprise you to discover that it was first brewed (to a Spanish recipe) in the Philippines. These days, of course, it’s brewed in an even more exotic location: Northampton.

Next up we are served with a shot of London Pale Ale (I fondly remember this stuff being my dad’s drink of choice before lager was popularised in the 1960s). This is accompanied by a delightfully flaky vegan samosa filled with sweet and spicy mediterranean vegetables. Once again, the two items are an inspired match, the yeasty ale contrasting nicely with the samosa. Pale ale is also, we are told, an excellent partner for burgers and for Mexican food. You’ll hear no argument from me on that score.

The third nibble is a bowl of vegetable chilli, which has a rich, smoky flavour and a powerful kick to boot. This is paired with a wheat beer called Blue Moon, a malted America beer brewed Belgian-style. Here, the strong flavour of the cloudy beer is exactly what’s needed to cut through the strength of those chipotle chillies. Our hosts ask us if we think it’s a good combination and we answer in the affirmative.

I have a small twinge of anxiety as the fourth and final course is served. Out comes a glass of Black Ball stout, a Williams’ Brothers beer (a popular draught option at the Cameo), and this has been paired with a chocolate brownie. Now, I would never drink a stout on its own; I always find the flavour of roasted malt a bit too much, but I have to admit that, when taken in conjunction with a gooey sticky chunk of brownie, something rather magical happens – the two elements combine to provide a mouthful of what can only be described as sheer heaven. This turns out, against all the odds, to be my favourite pairing of the session.

Clearly the Cameo staff know what they’re doing – this event has been expertly put together. Those who would like to explore the subject a bit more should get themselves down to the Cameo bar with all speed – those who would prefer to learn more at a distance may care to investigate beerforthat.com – where all things beer and food-related are examined in more detail.

4 stars

Philip Caveney