JUST AN OBSERVATION

Just an Observation

And so begins the never ending cycle of elections.
The big one though has to be the General Election in June which has has seen our glorious leader turn into what I always suspected she was, a Dalek in drag. With the phrase ‘Strong and Stable Leadership’ now her mantra repeated at every available opportunity and which offers as much clarity as her previous ‘Brexit means Brexit’ statement also trundled out when she had nothing clear to offer, which was often and still is it would seem.
I suppose we have until June 8th now to listen to the lies and mantras on repeat and try and sift through them all for a grain of truth and hope. Good luck with that one. Certainly in Scotland there seems to be some form of hope of an escape from a very Dis-United Kingdom although the right wing bias in the national mainstream media seems to indicate we too are set for a Tory takeover.
Hmmm, we’ll see!
The local elections in May will hopefully see that one-off with its tail between its legs.
Elsewhere away from the world of politics- politics are never far away though these days- I have been shocked and saddened to hear of gay concentration camps in Chechnya where gay men are entrapped then held in camps where they are tortured merely because of their sexual orientation. The fact that this is going on in the 21st century is almost beyond belief.
That is until you consider the way the world has tilted over the last few years with the rise of the far right in most of Europe and the still very unfathomable rise of Donald Trump in the US. Surely these factors and what is going on in Russia should be a lesson for us to put the brakes on now.
In times of crisis there is always music to turn to and whilst the live circuit has been a bit drab recently it looks as if things are on the up over the next short while with the likes of Chrysta Belle and Kraftwerk visiting the capital over the next couple of months. Not to mention both PJ Harvey and Jarvis Cocker both making an appearance during the Festival.
However much as I look forward to seeing these acts unfortunately they do little to help the local music scene which is once again floundering and the worrying news that even the Leith Depot which has done a lot to galvanise its local area is under threat of demolition. What with the closure of the legendary Port O’ Leith and The Parlour- both last weekend- things are looking desperate where they were once looking hopeful.
The state of the roads in the town centre are also ridiculous and although the newly introduced speed limits of 20mph-why exactly?- haven’t helped anything at times it feels as if that stupidly low restriction is actually speeding compared to the remaining stationary for an interminable age whilst travelling I have experienced recently.
Never mind at least there is always ‘Line Of Duty’ to keep our minds active whilst we seem to be at a standstill. No-one could ever accuse this drama of moving at a pedestrian pace and there is absolutely no second guessing what is going to happen next with this one. The latest series finale on Sunday looks like being an explosive one and even I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to its outcome.
Until then I am going to content myself with the new albums by The Gorillaz, assisted by the likes of Grace Jones and Mavis Staples, and Mark Lanegan albums-both out today- which on first listening sound impressive to these judgmental ears. At the cinema I aim to catch Park Chan-wook’s erotic thriller The Handmaiden. Now all we need is for the weather to improve and it could be a great weekend ahead.

I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO

I Am Not Your Negro

This Oscar nominated documentary by Raoul Peck focuses on author and civil rights activist James Baldwin and his personalised recounting of the struggles and assassinations of three of his close friends, allies and fellow civil rights campaigners and/or activists: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Unfortunately he died several months after embarking on this project in 1979 so we will never know what conclusions he eventually reached regarding some of the changes that took place in his lifetime.
It is a stunning and utterly captivating piece of work which highlights the struggles of the African-American in 1960’s culture when it seemed anything was possible and change was not only inevitable but necessary. It was going to be long, hard fight however.
Baldwin’s fictional work at this stage was beautifully written prose and his stand out works- Go Tell it on the Mountain, Giovanni’s Room and Another Country- tackled taboo subjects, both racially and sexually motivated, in a fashion that furthered his beliefs without ever being didactic. His message was always very clear however and that message was one of injustice and that survival meant a change in both moral and racial codes.
Baldwin also published poetry and short stories to further that message even further and also appeared on the TV and lecture circuit where he called out the racist standards inherent in American culture at this time. An interesting excerpt on the Dick Cavett show in 1969- Cavett looks as nervous as he did five years later when confronted with a drug addled David Bowie in his most outlandish and talked about interview- sees him pitted a right-wing conservative ‘expert’ and subsequently demolish him most eloquently and elegantly; making a point without having to force it.
His interesting analogy that black Americans were brought up being force-fed white heroes such as John Wayne and Gary Cooper and rooting for them in the movies as they obliterated the Native tribes was an eye opener for Baldwin when he realised that the native tribes were in fact him and his culture and that he was already being conditioned to oppose them.
The fact that he was also homosexual was a double whammy but that is only looked at briefly in this documentary as it is not the central theme of the work.
The most interesting and poignant thing about this documentary is how far things actually did change. At one point there is talk of a black President in the next forty years and the idea is thoroughly ridiculed. If in fact the two decades leading up to the Obama years were neglected and history moved sharply into the Trump administration it would be easy to say that little change had been effected at all as the racial divisions which drove the civil rights campaign fifty years ago are as wide as they ever were. Or perhaps they are just as apparently obvious again.
This documentary although it looks at a particular time in history is just as relevant as ever. In fact as much can be learnt today from the viewpoints it contains and similarly they can also be acted upon and things can hopefully move forward yet again.

Free Fire

Free Fire

This latest addition to the impressive Ben Wheatley canon draws together a strong cast- Cillian Murphy, Brie Larson, Armie Hamner, Sharlto Copley, Michael Smiley and Sam Riley- and assembles them in a deserted warehouse in 1970’s Boston. There an arms deal between two Irishmen, Chris and Frank-respectively Murphy and Smiley- and a dandy South African Vernon (Shopley) set up by the fixer Justine (Larson) is about to go down.
And go down it certainly does!
Pretty soon an argument breaks out between a couple of the hired help over a transgression the previous night and the whole scenario descends into a shoot out of epic proportions. Comparisons are inevitable with the shoot out in Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs even down to the incongruous anodyne musical choices at moments of tension; here Annie’s Song by John Denver replaces Stealers Wheel’ s Stuck in the Middle with You for comic relief.
What follows for the next hour is a hail of bullets, a barrage of witty dialogue inside a collapsing building and surroundings which ultimately do more harm than the bullet storm; maiming and fatally wounding each participant until it becomes clear that no-one is going to leave that warehouse unscathed even if they do manage to stay alive.
If fast paced action shoot-outs are your type of thing then I have no hesitation in recommending this film as it is definitely a prime example of this particular genre. However I must admit I felt my attention wandering about twenty-five minutes into the carnage and felt that an opportunity had been wasted with such a stellar cast and greater use could have been made of their actual acting abilities- as opposed to rolling around in broken glass, rubble and eventually agonising pain- and there could have been either more build up or comedown before and after the action theme took over with more dialogue and deeper character analysis.
However the premise of this film never was to explain the underlying nature of the characters or to engender any interest in their back story and even the deal at the centre of the whole film is sketchy and vague about who is actually involved or even why.
As an action movie Free Fire delivers admirably on every level and of course Wheatley manages to create an overall look and feel which never disappoints. Add an attractive strong cast and Free Fire is a visually arresting feature which takes no prisoners.

JUST AN OBSERVATION

Just an Observation

It feels this morning as if spring has truly arrived after winter made a late comeback earlier in the week with icy winds, sleet, snow and general misery. It is Scotland however so make the most of it whilst it lasts as who knows what lies around the corner in April. At least with the clocks going forward one thing that is guaranteed is lighter nights and longer days.
This week the news has been focussed on the terrible situation in London and the attacks in Westminster. Horrific times and the loss of four lives is such a tragic waste however what has shocked me most in the aftermath is the reaction on Social Media with many using this tragedy to spout bile, hatred and misconceptions not only about the attacks but also about the political ramifications.
This is not the time for such debates and cheap mudslinging never solves anything and although many of us are on completely different political sides and have different beliefs it is most certainly not the right time to be turning the unnecessary loss of life into some slanging match while trying to prove a point. Ultimately the only point that needs made is that there has been an unnecessary loss of life and how can we help in preventing it from happening again.
Elsewhere the Indy2 debate rages on with a groundswell of support in Scotland where hopefully the inevitable and sadly predictable appearance of Gordon Brown-why does he even bother after his failure to deliver on his ‘promises’ the last time?- can’t stop it. Certainly Theresa May is doing her damnedest to block it but this may be a miscalculation on her part; one of several it would seem.
Again however it is social media and the constant barrage of posts about the referendum- before it has even been officially announced- which is irritating me somewhat. Yes, I am aware it is important but the constant didactic tone of so many people eating up my timelines becomes tiresome to say the least. Does anyone actually believe they are changing anyone else’s opinion with their constant posts on Facebook? If so they are delusional.
Surely a more effective means of having a positive effect- whatever way you intend on voting- is to actually communicate with people face to face and preferably with those who don’t already share the same views already. That might make more of a difference.
Out at the cinema Personal Shopper starring Kristen Stewart is worth catching if only for her stand out performance showcasing her immense talents as an actress. A full review can be found here.
Today also sees the release of the first Jesus and Mary Chain album ‘Damage and Joy’ in quite a few years and although I was quite a fan back in the day I must admit to being slightly underwhelmed by this latest offering with its lame, predictable lyrics and lack of musical inventiveness. Much more impressed by the new Gorillaz single Saturnz Barz also out today and the series of tracks from their upcoming album streaming on Youtube.
I must confess I am genuinely excited by the return of Line of Duty for its 4th series on BBC1 this Sunday at 9pm. Seriously one of the best British dramas in years I am hoping that its shift from BBC2 to BBC1 and from a weekday night to a family friendly ratings winner Sunday 9pm slot will not dilute what has always been a programme of detailed intensity and integrity. The loss of two of its most compelling characters –Lindsay Denton and Matthew ‘The Caddy’ Cotton- will hopefully not have an adverse effect either although in its favour Martin Compston, Vicky McClure and Adrian Dunbar are still on board so I think we are guaranteed another full on intense ride with enough distractions and plot twists to keep us enthralled. Definitely one to watch!

PERSONAL SHOPPER

Personal Shopper

Kriten Stewart gives an outstanding performance in this understated film directed by Oliver Assaya. That is not to say that the film is not flawed in certain respects- in fact the central premise of s supernatural ghost story is unconvincing and the potentially the film’s weakest link- but Stewart’s all engrossing habitation of her character Maureen is never anything less than compelling.
Maureen works as a personal shopper for a celebrity named Kyra- it is never clear exactly what she is famous for- and harbours frustration and resentment at her role as she feels it is unsatisfactory; although it pays well it prevents her from doing what she really wants. A major reason for her staying in this job however is the fact it is based in Paris which is where her twin brother recently died and she believes that by staying there he will try and contact her from the afterlife in a pact they made before his death.
This all becomes secondary however when her life takes an unexpected turn when she becomes a central figure in her boss’s brutal murder and when she becomes embroiled in text message game of cat and mouse with what initially seems like an insignificant character.
The film maintains an underground art-house feel to it although it is similar to this year’s Oscar winner ‘Moonlight’ in that at its conclusion it raises more questions than it answers and this is a relief as the tired formula of a conclusive ending- as demanded by most mainstream films- was always something I found frustrating and a little predictable. By not providing any finite answers Assaya allows the characters and their situations to linger in your mind and imagination some time after the film’s credits have rolled.
As stated before this film is really a tour de force for Stewart and her performance but it is still an intriguing work which captures the uncertainty and stifling nature of its central character’s life. If the ghost story part is unconvincing it is probably just that ghost stories in general are.

T2 TRAINSPOTTING

T2 Trainspotting
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Admittedly I was initially nonplussed by the original Trainspotting feature due to being more impressed by the novel and preferring subsequent stage productions- particularly those at the Edinburgh Fringe over the last two years- but time has mellowed my original weary scepticism and I now wholly appreciate that it is a landmark film of its time; those are the very qualities which clouded my first impressions incidentally.
Anyway who could resist a film which boosted the careers of Iggy Pop and Lou Reed bringing them to the attention and subsequent prominence to a whole new generation?
This sequel, re-introducing the original characters from Irvine Welsh’s book, therefore has a lot to live up to and this is it does to some extent although it offers nothing new nor any clear insights into what returning to your past actually means.
Re-assembling the original cast of Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Ewan Bremner and Robert Carlyle as well as the superfluous addition of Kelly Mac Donald – whose scene is so incongruous it feels as if it is there simply for the sake of giving her a scene. Helmed once again by Danny Boyle this gives the film some additional kudos and a sense of the past merging with the present. However I felt now, as I did with the original production, that Ewan Mc Gregor is all out to sea with his performance and once again is the film’s weakest link.
However both Ewen Bremner as Spud and Robert Carlyle as Begbie are excellent in their roles and Jonny Lee Miller always has his charisma to help him through but the real star of the film is Edinburgh itself.
Never has the city looked so appealing on-screen and even in the more desperate scenes when the city’s underside is used to show its deprivation. It also helps having local characters such as Bradley Welsh in the role of a sauna owner cum gangster type and Garry Fraser as second unit director as well as a host of Edinburgh faces as extras giving the whole thing a local flavour. Even the much maligned trams make what must be their film debut.
The plot, for what it matters, revolves around Mark Renton’s ( Mc Gregor) return to Edinburgh and the people he ripped off for thousands twenty years before. The following action revolves around him setting up another scam and being pursued by an unforgiving Begbie who let’s say hasn’t let twenty years mellow his anger or his thirst for vengeance.
To anyone nostalgic for the thrills the original film provided at a time when ‘Cool Brittania’ ruled our pop culture and Trainspotting flew the Scottish flag high and proud then I would wholeheartedly recommend this film as it will awaken the lost youth of those days. On its own merits though T2 Trainspotting can hold its head high although the remix of Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life at the films dénouement is unnecessary; some things should be left as they are and need neither remixed nor a sequel!
One thing that irked me however was if the film is set twenty years on from the original film which was set in the mid eighties why was there such a proliferation of smart phones which were nowhere near as ubiquitous around 2005-2006 as they are in this film. Just a minor detail but a detail nonetheless!

JUST AN OBSERVATION

Just an Observation
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Well after a benign first three weeks- discounting the ongoing mystery which still surrounds the death of George Michael- 2017 has really stepped up a notch since Donald Trump’s inauguration last Friday. With women, the LGBT community, the environmentalists, Mexicans and so many others -I could continue on and on- already aggrieved by his actions in the first week of this controversial and much maligned Presidency it looks as of there are stormy and uncharted waters ahead. Petulant Trump would be a more fitting moniker for the man who behaves like a three year old toddler any time he doesn’t get his way.
It would seem unless you are white, male and born of privilege there is not much room for you in Trump’s vision of what will make America great again.
Certainly I can’t see how inciting racial hatred, gender divides and generally pissing off the American public alongside the rest of the world is going to result in a stable term in office but after the strange turn of events of 2016 who can really predict what lies ahead in the future?
One thing that has become clear, outright lying is now acceptable only it is now referred to as ‘alternative facts’.
Keep up people!
Not that things are much better this side of the Atlantic with Brexit still top of the agenda and no-one still sure what it actually means or even what it will mean.
Theresa May is meeting with Trump this weekend and early indications are that she is likely to engage with him in some form of trade deal: after much kowtowing, grovelling and being generally obsequious of course. Not because it is good for the country but because it is one of the few options she has left.
The fact that the British Prime Minister is even willing to engage in any deal with someone who mocks the disabled, has no respect for women and is openly racist simple fills me with dread and indicates how far removed from myself and my circle of friends this government is. It puts me in mind of the Spitting Image scenes lampooning the ‘special relationship’ between Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan; only a hundred times worse and actually for real!
Here in Scotland the talk is of another Independence Referendum and whilst I am bored witless with the never-ending cycle of referendums and elections- I feel I have voted more in the last three years than in the previous ten- it would appear that with Scotland being taken out of the EU against its will then it is the only option to protect our own interests and beliefs.
Talking of La La Land- which it feels we are living in with every unfolding news item- can somebody actually explain to me the appeal of that film as I must admit to being so disappointed with it? I find it impossible to fathom why it has been so heavily nominated at the Oscars, not that I put my trust in award ceremonies anyway.
Even though I am quite a fan of Ryan Gosling I actually found his performance rather lacklustre and neither he nor Emma Stone could dance or sing. Certainly not to the standard required to lift such a mundane and boring storyline out of the quagmire of almost average. No No Land was my first post screening impression!
Much more looking forward to the T2 Trainspotting sequel out this weekend and it will be interesting to see how Danny Boyle approaches Irvine Welsh’s characters twenty years on from when we last encountered them. It will also be interesting to see the efforts of several people I know from Edinburgh who were involved in the production thus lending it some local colour and talent rather than simply an outsider perspective as often happens in these situations.
There are some good gigs coming up in the next few weeks, including The Nightingales return at Leith Depot(Feb 16th) and The Pet Shop Boys(22nd) at The Usher Hall. The former was one of my highlights of 2016 and if you haven’t got a ticket yet then I suggest you do as they are selling fast and the venue is not the biggest; hot sweaty and intimate. In fact think very, very hot!
Mind you it may be an idea not to make too many long-term plans with Petulant Trump and Theresa May (or may not) at the helm. Who knows where we will actually be this time next month.