Archive for the ‘film’ Category

The Illusionist

The IllusionistSylvain Chormet, creator of the quirky full length animation Belville Rendezvous, has focussed on a poignant Jacques Tati story relocated, like his film studio, to Edinburgh.      The Illusionist opened the Edinburgh Film Festival back in June, and opened in cinemas across the country on the 20th August.

On a night too damp for harvesting oats, and absolutely on the spur of the moment, we booked tickets to see this film at the DCA in Dundee.    We joined the packed lovely arthouse cinema, and sat down to enjoy the film.

The story is about a magician in the late 1950s who is past his best, and as new forms of entertainment like rock and roll take over the old variety venues, he embarks on a journey to seek out new opportunities.   Meeting a roaring drunk Scotsman in London, he takes the train north, shares a ferry with sheep and then a small boat piloted by a man in a delightfully blowy kilt.   His illusions beguile a simple island girl who steals away to accompany him to Edinburgh.

The story is touching although perhaps light on plot.    But that is perhaps to miss the point of this stunningly beautiful film, which so uncannily captures the Scottish light in the west and in the Capital.    There is a moment on the journey North as the camera follows the sheep ferry on a  sea loch at dawn when the mists suddenly clear to reveal the moutains and dappled sunlight.   It is breathtaking, and will stir the hearts of Scots everywhere.    

1950s Edinburgh was interesting, with lovely detail.    Part of the charm of this film is the small things that happen in the background to the main action.   And a nice touch to have Tati’s Mon Oncle playing at The Cameo.

At the end there was applause for the film, and people stayed for the credits.    Then a big cheer went up, for the cinema was full of the folk from Ink-Digital in Dundee who did a lot of work on the film.    Congratulations to them and their colleagues.    Clip and more about Ink Digital here.

Sad, beautiful and deeply haunting.   And (partly) made in Dundee.

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Ian Dury and the Blockheads was part of the soundtrack to my College days, as was the Stiff tour which finally reached the northern outpost at Aberdeen.   More recently, Ian and the band played Perth Festival of the Arts – Ian was pretty ill by this stage, but it was still a great gig, and the Blockheads were storming..

As a companion piece to Nowhere Boy, this was every bit as enjoyable thanks to an amazing performance by Andy Serkis as Ian Dury, and a refusal to play the film through as one sweaty gig after another.   We did get the great music, but Dury’s chaotic lifestyle, grim early life and family and other relations made this much more than that.    The film drew parallels between Dury’s early life, and Dury’s son, Baxter – excellently played by Bill Milner, who gets bullied at school ‘because he is posh’.

Andy Serkis plays Ian Dury.

There was plenty of advice sought from Dury’s widow, and she was apparently present at some of the filming – stopping the action to correct Serkis’s scarf to how Ian wore it.

Nowhere Boy was the better film I think, but this had some great moments, and it was fun to revisit the late 1970s for a while.

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I was not sure that I was going to like this film about John Lennon’s early life, but in fact it was surprisingly enjoyable.    It followed John Lennon from his last year or so at school to just before he went off to Hamburg.

Nowhere Boy

John lived with his Aunt Mimi since he was small, but it took him until the end of school to discover that his mother lived only a short walk away.   The film followed the intense relationship that John rebuilt with his mother, and how his Aunt reacted.     John, excluded from school, learned banjo from his mother, decided to form a skiffle group, met Paul McArtney and the rest is, as they say, history.

What made this film special was newcomer Aaron Johnson’s absolutely haunting performance as the young Lennon.     He handled the excitements and disappointments and anguish which life threw at him in spades.     But Kristin Scott Thomas who played his aunt Mimi, and Anne Marie Duff playing Julia, Lennon’s mother also gave great performances.

The screenplay came from a memoir by John’s sister, Julia, so this rollercoaster of a story must be pretty authentic.       Great soundtrack too.   I learnt a lot from this film which went a long way to explaining what came afterwards.    Recommended.

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It has been a rich year in the arts in Scotland, although the  exceptional has remained elusive.

23 plays seen.    In Perth, the year kicked off with an excellent adaptation of Tam O Shanter, and took in the tour of Be Near Me.    With a good cast, Silver Darlings promised much but never quite produced a sum of its parts, which was a disappointment.       In Glasgow, at the Citizens, we enjoyed Ghosts, and a pre-Edinburgh festival production of a Rona Munro’s new play The Last Witch.   At the Tron, we liked That Face, and White Tea.    In Edinburgh, Gregory Burke’s latest play Hoors was not a patch on Black Watch, or Gagarin Way, but we liked The Dark Things a lot.     National Theatre of Scotland’s big autumn production of House of Bernara Alba was interesting, but just did not quite work.   For consistently good theatre in Scotland, Dundee Rep is punching way above its weight exemplified by a really excellent Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ? which gets my best of the year vote.     There was also a very good production of The Elephant Man, directed by Jemima Levick  – the incoming assistant director, who also directed a touring production of Baby Baby (seen at Macrobert), which was enjoyable, but had rather weak material.   Dundee also put on a really special version of  A Christmas Carol.   Nationally, we enjoyed Ken Stott in a View from the Bridge when it came to Glasgow, Theatre de Complicite’s Shun Kin at the Barbican in London, and Inherit the Wind at the Old Vic.       We missed Sub Rosa, at the Citizens which was a pity.   

9 Operas.    RSAMD opera school continued to entertain with The Love of Three Oranges and the Tales of Hoffman.   Scottish Opera produced another set of five fifteen minute operas at Oran Mor, and will have a third set in May 2010.    Main house, Scottish Opera has had a good season with solid productions of Cosi, Manon, the Elixir of Love, and the Italian Girl in Algiers.    Concert performances of operas don’t do it for me usually, but there was a one performance only of I Puritani at Glasgow City Hall, which was outstanding.    We enjoyed the new opera Letters of a Love Betrayed which had one performance at The Traverse.

We have been to quite a few Youth Orchestra Concerts this year, which we have enjoyed.   The Scottish Ensemble continue to tour with well thought out programmes and general excellence.   In Perth, we heard Theatre of Voices with Bang on a Can playing Steve Reich pieces and David Lang’s co-comissioned (Perth Concert Hall with Carnegie Hall in New York) Little Match Girl Passion.     But outstanding performance of 2009  was actually caught on holiday in Krakow where the Wroclaw Symphony Orchestra played a stunning Mahler 9.

We did not get to much by way of dance this year, but enjoyed Michael Marra and Frank McConnell’s Wee Home from Home – first performed 20 years ago , and revived by original director Gerry Mulgrew with new designs by Karen Tennant.

2009 was a memorable year for film, and we liked the genuinely unusual Slumdog Millionaire, the quirky 35 Shots of Rum, Katalin Varga’s smouldering revenge, Jane Campion’s Bright Star, Cannes winner White Ribbon, Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank, and even Opera on the big screenCosi fan Tutti (Salzberg festival production).      I was less sure about Moon, the sci-fi film from Duncan Jones (David Bowie’s son).   An Education and Let The Right One In were special highlights.

We visted the Anish Kapoor exhibition in London – great dods of bright red wax being fired out of a cannon every 20 minutes  into a corner of a room – lots of other stuff too.   Highly entertaining.

2010 has some interesting things ‘coming soon’, and the New Year’s resolution is to write about them here in more detail.

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On the face of it, Tomas Alfredson’s Swedish film about two 12 year olds shouldn’t work, but it really does.    It is fairly disturbing.

Set in a snowy suberb of Stockholm, it tells the story of  the fragile boy Oskar, brilliantly played by Kåre Hedebrant who becomes friendly with his new neighbour Eli, who appears as a girl.    Eli is a vampire, and has been 12 years old for a while.

Let The Right One In

Let The Right One In

And this film, although very gory in bits, as a vampire movie is, actually focuses on the friendship between the two children, and the bullies at Oskar’s school.      It is a love story in a way, and the ending is left very open.

Lots of attention to detail – apparently the most realistic sound of drinking blood was found by trail and error to be yoghurt, and the sound of the children’s eyelids opening and closing was done with sliced grapes.

Without spoiling this for anyone yet to see it, this film is completely spellbinding, and the while the images will haunt you for a while – the performances by the children, and the whole concept will stay with you for longer.    

Highly recommended – and do go and see the original before a Holywood version, already in production, hits the screens.        Subtitles are not difficult!

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Unrelated – Film

This was a really interesting first film from writer and director Joanna Hogg.     Anna, played superbly here by Kathryn Worth in her first film role, arrives to join her old school friend Verena (Mary Roscoe) who is on holiday in a villa in Tuscany with her family and another family in what is clearly an annual arrangement.    Anna was supposed to bring her partner Alex with her, but cited his pressure of work as the reason for her arriving alone.    In fact, it quickly becomes apparent that Alex and Anna’s relationship is in a rocky place, and Anna is in Italy to enjoy a bit of space.

The holiday party divided into the old and the young.    Anna, whose place should have been with her school friend and ‘the olds’, gravitated to the more whizzy youngsters with their loud drinking games, skinny dipping, dope smoking and general hell-raising in a battered Fiat, trustingly lent by neighbouring friends.   Verena’s son Oakley (Tom Hiddleston) began to show an interest in Anna, but he eventually rejected her signals, leaving her struggling to bond with any group.

This was a wonderful film about a woman in her mid-life.    It was also a telling study of an outsider being pitched into a different world.    Verena and her family were well-to-do middle class, but were not an endearing bunch.    The older people were insensitive and unfriendly to Anna, who was in need of someone to talk to;   the youngsters, let loose from public school, were brash and spoilt.    Anyone who has been ignored in a social situation – and there was a wonderful lunch scene here, featuring Mussolini’s sofa – will recognise exactly where Joanne Hogg is coming from, and it makes rather uncomfortable viewing for its target audience.    It takes Anna’s flight to a grim local hotel to finally galvanise Verena into having the conversation she should have had much earlier, in a highly charged scene.

But it was the way that this was filmed which made this something out of the ordinary.    There were lovely set pieces in the Tuscan countryside, and in Sienna, but the weather was not always sunny, and often there was a wind blowing.     Hogg was bold in her approach:    at several points, the camera held steady on Anna, even when conversation and action was going on out of shot, and there were long slow scenes.    A car crash did not show what happened, but only the vehicle being pulled out of a field by a tow truck, with the (unharmed but shaken) occupants standing about, as one does.     A key scene was an almighty row between Oakley and his father George (David Rintoul) which took place inside the villa:    we had to join the families sitting about outside, and like them, we were forced to listen to the dangerous raging coming from inside.   And we all had to wait to see who came out of the house first, and in what state.

The slow pace and arthouse style of film will probably annoy and delight audiences in equal measure.    I loved it and am very keen to see what Joanna Hogg does next.

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Arts Round-Up 2007

24 Plays seen – I can’t manage a favourite, so pick of the best:   Black Watch, All My Sons, Volpone, Wonderful World of Dissocia, Rhinoceros.      We have some really good theatre in Scotland.

9 Films:  best ones:   Lives of Others, Tell No-one, The Counterfeiters, Babel, Atonement.

15 Concerts:  Scottish Ensemble lunchtime concert with Toby Spence in Glasgow takes the prize, although RSNO Mahler 3 was good.

7 Operas:  Barber of Seville at Scottish Opera was great fun, but Albert Herring and Don Giovanni at RSAMD every bit as enjoyable.

3 major art exhibitions:  enjoyed Millais at the Tate, and more recently, the Joan Eardley in Edinburgh.    Also saw a huge amount of art in Paris this summer.

But I think my event of the year is one which straddles categories and was the wonderful production of The Soldier’s Tale seen recently in Glasgow.     Runner up was Rhinoceros at the Royal Court.

Looking forward to an equally interesting 2008.


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Hallam Foe

Hallam Foe is a great new movie from David Mackenzie (Young Adam) and really worthwhile getting along to see.  

Hallam (Jamie Bell) cannot get over the death of his mother in unexplained circumstances, leaving him damaged emotionally.   A committed peeping tom, he leaves home and ends up in Edinburgh where he falls on his feet working in a famous hotel and meets Kate Breck (Sophia Myles).   

It is funny, disturbing and difficult story.   Bell and Myles give superb performances and their direction by Mackenzie make the unlikely believable.     The film is very stylish and showcases Edinburgh roofscapes at night.  

 The 18 certificate is a little puzzling, although there is some ‘strong sex’ – though not as explicit as Red Road.

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Tell No One

Now, here is a really good film to go and see.   Tell No One  is an American story, but a stylish and thrilling French film – and, yes, it is subtitled.   Don’t let that put you off.

Eight years ago, Margot Beck was murdered by a serial killer.   Today Alexandre Beck, her husband, deals with this in his absorbing work as a pediatrician.    The uncovering of two bodies near where Margot’s body was discovered reopens the Police inquiry and Alexandre receives a strange e-mail with a link to a video-surveillance web-cam and a time when to watch …………    

It is a really gripping thriller, and there are some brilliant scenes, and plot twists aplenty.

Sadly, on Thursday night, there were only ten of us in the audience, and this was the main showing.    Queues of folk for Shrek.    Tell No One has been well reviewed in the press and given 4 stars by most, so why was no-one there?

BTW – I was looking at a newspaper cartoon the other day, and if you take off those funny ears, Shrek looks a bit like …….  Alec Salmond.

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The Lives of Others

We forget our recent history all too quickly.   This film takes us back to 1984 in East Germany where the feared secret police, the Stasi had a policy of knowing everything about everybody, and cracking down hard on anything that smacked of dissidence.      East Germany had about 16m population, and there were 90,000 Stasi – an incredible ratio when you think about it.

The film focusses on a high profile playwright who lives in an apartment with his girlfriend.    Despite his good relations with the authorities, the flat is bugged because a government official fancies the girlfriend, and the often shocking plot develops.    It is a really great film, and there are many twists in the story, and a couple of surprises.   The ending is brilliant.

The film is just a touch overlong, but is well worth going to see.   It is a sobering and haunting reminder about a hugely intrusive regime in recent history in a country that is now just a cheap flight away.   And, ultimately, it is about one man’s journey in particular … you’ll have to go and see it to find out the rest.

And please go and see it before the Americans make a Holywood version (sigh).

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