The Cameo Cinema

The Empire Podcast

19/09/19

Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh

Can we review a podcast? Well, we reviewed No Such Thing As a Fish, didn’t we? And, nobody complained about that. Besides, me and Empire, we have some history…

The first issue of Empire came out in July 1989 and I purchased a copy. It wasn’t a particularly auspicious month to launch a movie magazine. The featured film was, if memory serves correctly, Great Balls of Fire starring Dennis Quaid and Winona Ryder. This isn’t a film that lingers long in the memory, nor one that’s likely to feature in The Criterion Collection, but nonetheless, I liked what I read in the magazine and, being the absolute obsessive that I am, I’ve purchased every single copy published since then. I’ve been reading it for more than thirty years, Indeed, anyone who possesses a copy of  issue 100 will find a picture of yours truly, grinning like an idiot, dressed in my grey Empire T-shirt (which I still own) and proudly showing off my collection of one hundred pristine magazines.

Somewhere back down the years (probably around the time when a copy started taking a bit less than three hours to download), I switched to a digital edition and I now read Empire from cover-to-cover on my iPad. The podcast, a relatively recent development, is something I listen to on my daily visits to the gym. Consequently, I know things about these people. I know, for instance, that Chris Hewitt’s greatest shame is giving a 5 star review to Attack of the Clones

So imagine my delight when I hear that the regular team of Chris (resident clown-prince), Helen O’ Hara (resident sage), James Dyer (resident grumpy-git) and Terri White (resident snappy dresser and editor-in-chief) are coming to Edinburgh – and, moreover, that they will be hosting their podcast at our beloved Cameo Cinema, less than a ten minute stroll from Caveney-Singfield Towers. Are we going to buy tickets? Are bears Catholics? Does the pope shit in the woods?

And sure enough, here we are. The Cameo is completely sold out, Chris is performing his rendition of Call Me By Your Name (as requested by yours truly via Twitter) and Scottish actor Jack Lowden is explaining why his greatest ambition is to play a character a foot shorter than his actual height. I even get to ask the team a question (“Which film would you nominate as the biggest ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ contender of recent years?”). Chris goes for Suspiria (agreed!), Terri chooses Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (agreed!), Helen opts for La La Land (Susan definitely agrees!) and James chooses… The Shape of Water (really don’t agree, but I did warn you he can be a curmudgeon).

Afterwards, there’s time to score a Bangily Bang! T-shirt and get a photograph with the team in the bar. And I reflect that podcasts really are weird things because, when you hear those familiar voices over and over, you start to feel that you are friends with these people, that you know them intimately – and, of course you don’t, and surely never will.

But I enjoyed their visit to Edinburgh and I’m already looking forward to getting on the old crosstrainer and listening back to that recording…

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

15/09/19

We’re deep into our annual scramble at the Edinburgh Fringe, but there’s a problem. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has opened and I need to see it. Not, I should hasten to add, because I’m a fan of Quentin Tarantino. Quite the opposite. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say that – in my opinion – he’s the most overrated film director in history. But, The Cameo is screening the film in 35 mm, using a projector that was made some time in the 1940s and that’s something that the geek in me needs to see. So, a two-hour-and-forty-one minute slot is located in our schedule, and here I sit as the lights dim and the screen kicks into life.

The first thing to say is that the film looks incredible. Light projected through celluloid will always be superior to a digital print. That’s a fact. And I will also add that the film’s musical score is also pretty fantastic, featuring a plethora of sparkling 60s pop classics. But I’m afraid that’s the last good thing I have to say about Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

The plot: actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) was once a big name in Hollywood, due to regular starring roles in Western TV shows, but now his star is beginning to wane. He lives in a big house on Cielo Drive and is driven around by his gofer, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), who lives in a lowly caravan a short distance away. Booth too is on his uppers. Once a respected stuntman, he is now reduced to fetching and carrying for Rick. Oh, and the rumour is that back in the day, he murdered his wife. Next door lives the director du jour, Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha), fresh off the hit film Rosemary’s Baby, and his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). And meanwhile, up at Spahn’s Ranch, the Manson family are gearing up for some very dark deeds…

Look, the truth is, I really should like this film. The era fascinates me and so does the central story around which this is based. But what I see onscreen is an interminable trudge through a series of over-extended background stories, with Tarantino spending far too long on telling them and being far too pleased with his evocations of 60s cinema and television. Margot Robbie barely gets any lines of dialogue (which sadly enforces Tarantino’s reputation as a misogynist), the great Bruce Lee is depicted as an absolute dick, and a whole troupe of respected actors – Bruce Dern, Dakota Fanning, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, Al Pacino – are brought onscreen to perform five minutes of pointless ‘acting,’ before being summarily dismissed.

And then there’s that fairytale ending, applauded by many film critics as ‘audacious,’ but which to me seems merely dumb and kind of borderline offensive. Tarantino has previous form here as anyone who saw Inglourious Basterds will know.

Look, the man has many fans and this film has already been widely praised by other critics, so maybe I just need to accept that his style of filmmaking is not for me. But nobody is ever going to convince me that he is a director in control of his own process. Two hours and forty one minutes? Really?

But that 35mm print. Now that is class.

2.5 stars

Philip Caveney

Grave of the Fireflies

04/03/18

I like to think that I have a fairly broad knowledge of most things cinematic but if there’s a weak spot in my armoury, it’s definitely animation – and in particular, the large body of work created by Japan’s Studio Ghibli. This is not intentional, merely the fact that such work is hard to find on the big screen, which I feel is the best place to view it. But The Red Turtle, Ghibli’s co-production with Michael Dudok de Wit featured in our ‘best of 2017’ selection, so I was definitely in the market to see more of it – and then I heard that Edinburgh’s Cameo Cinema were planning a Ghibli retrospective. Perfect.

Grave of the Fireflies (1988) is set in Japan towards the end of World War 2 as Allied bombers move in to decimate any last traces of opposition. (Yes, Walt Disney this most emphatically is not). A teenage boy, Seita (voiced by Tsutomu Tatsumi) is faced with the tricky task of looking after his little sister, Setsuko (Ayano Shiraishi), when their mother dies after a devastating bombing raid. Their father, a battleship commander, is nowhere to be seen and they have no way of contacting him. In the aftermath of the war, even finding food is a major problem. At first, the two youngsters move in with their aunt and uncle, who are ready to fulfil their familial obligations, but resentment soon begins to smoulder and Seita and Setsuko eventually decide that they will be much happier looking after themselves…

As an introduction to Studio Ghibli, this is an inspired choice. The film is curiously bleak, shot through with an almost overwhelming sense of melancholy, yet for all that, there are moments of genuine enchantment here. The characterisation of  Setsuko is particularly engaging, effortlessly capturing the bewilderment of a little girl cruelly torn from her parents, yet still capable of finding wonder in the simplest of things. And of course, every frame looks absolutely sumptuous. I also loved the circular narrative of the story. When we first encounter the two youngsters, they are vintage ghosts, haunting the streets of modern city – and there’s the clever device of a sweet tin containing marbles that only begins to fully make sense as the story builds. The film’s overpoweringly sad conclusion will wring tears from all but the most stoic of viewers, but that’s no bad thing – and it’s easy to appreciate the love and care that has gone in to every frame of this lovely and haunting film.

The Cameo will be screening a Studio Ghibli classic every Sunday afternoon for the next five weeks. Next up, My Neighbour Totoro. Can’t wait.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

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

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