Author: samcooney

The King (2019)

Written for RAF News October 2019

Shakespeare’s Henriad plays become a modernised historical epic but pared down to a few characters and fewer battles. The King appears more as a toothless morality play about the compromise that comes with power and the inevitability of war.

Image result for the king

Timothée Chalamet is Prince Hal, the wayward son of King Henry, a drunken Lothario albeit with perfect curls. His reluctance to fight his father’s war loses him favour and the crown. But when his father (Ben Mendelsohn) is unable to keep peace within the country it seems rebellious young Hal might just be what England needs, as a series of events lead him to become King Henry V.

A self-proclaimed pacifist, the new King resists trivial provocations from France but with council in his ear speaking of politics and ‘the mood of the people’, he finds himself drawn in. Co-written and directed by David Michôd, you might expect harsh and unflinching violence, what with his debut Animal Factory. The King bides its time however, and for the most part consists of Henry trying to avoid battle, deliberating with his advisor (Sean Harris) and the Archbishop (Andrew Havill). When violence eventually creeps into the film, and war is waged against France, it appears at various stages to mark the compromise of Henry’s stance, it’s graphic depiction marking each lost foothold with gruesome impact.

This aspect of the film appears original, but serves only to highlight the larger parts of the film which are all too familiar and dramatically played out. The Battle of Agintcour interestingly begins messy and unclear, suffocating under the weight of clattering armour down in the mud, until King Henry’s right hand man Sir John Falstaff stands and takes off his helmet so we can follow along.

Joel Edgerton, who shares a writing credit, is Falstaff: bulky and burly with a Yorkshire affectation – one that stands up against Chalamet’s impressive but sometimes waining English and Robert Pattinson’s double-barrelled French accent, as the almost moustache twirling Dauphin.

It is entertaining at times, original in moments, but for the most part The King is just flat with some interesting performances thrown on top.

By the Grace of God (2019)

Written for RAF News October 2019

Based on true accounts and a scandal that is currently going to trial, Francois Ozon’s dramatisation looks at a group of child-abuse victims who band together as adults to speak out against their abuser and the system that allowed him to act with impunity: The Catholic Church.

Image result for by the grace of god

The film begins with Alexandre (Melvil Poupaud), a devout Christian family man who is moved to action when he sees that the priest who abused him as a young boy is back in Lyon working with children. Bringing back traumatic memories, he becomes determined to prevent Father Preynat (Bernard Verley) from doing further damage and to make the church a safe and morally responsible place for children such as his own.

The first third of the film sticks closely to the shared correspondence between Alex and different figureheads from the church, formally written and delivered as voice-overs to shots of him with his family and Preynat with his congregation. This measured approach only gets so far before being met with closed doors, and so a disconsolate Alex files an official complaint which becomes the flap of the butterfly’s wing that leads to a previous case being reopened.

François had a similar experience to Alexandre but his confrontational approach is far different. Continuing a police investigation and gaining the interest of the press, he forms a support group that becomes an open forum for victims, eventually receiving an overwhelming number of similar child-abuse testimonies of kids 30 years ago. From here the group put a case together against the Priest and now renowned Cardinal Barbarin (François Marthouret), who kept the cases from being reported to civil authorities.

There is a definite reminder of recent Oscar winner Spotlight, but By The Grace focusses on the victims as opposed to the journalists reporting the story. And rather than maintain a sorrowful and sympathetic tone, it allows the characters to be normalised: they have flaws and a sense of humour like anyone else. It doesn’t impact their deserved empathy, it makes them feel more real.

The length of time spent with each character could lessen the immediate impact, but Ozon has made a bold film that gives insight to the varied long-term affects of abuse.

Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)

Written for RAF News October 2019

Zak is a 22 year old with Down Syndrome and no guardian, making him a begruding patient at a retirement home. That is until roomate (Bruce Dern) helps him escape through the barred windows late one night, leaving him greased up with no clothes or possessions, just a dream of making it to a wrestling school run by his hero The Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Hayden Church).

Image result for peanut butter falcon

Finding shelter in a small docked boat, Zak wakes to find himself on the move, being chased by some frenzied fisherman. Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), the driver of the boat, has evidently ruffled some feathers and is looking to make an escape himself. This is the meet-cute for our soppy looking buddy movie: two unlikely outlaws on the lamb in the indie film Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Tyler is gruff and grumbling, aggressive out of the gate and unsympathetic towards the near-nude joy-rider he finds under tarp on deck. That is until he discovers that he is also a runaway on a mission, with care worker Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) hot on his tail. And so it seems that this trouble starting crab fisherman has found himself an accomplice and an alibi as they head together to find this wrestling school in the middle of nowhere.

The moral lesson and shape of the story might be clear from the outset but the charm of the actors and their chemistry is utterly disarming, even when it crashes into  narrative convenience or cliche. There is a rhythm to the dialogue that feels less filmy thanks to non-actor Zack Gottsagen, lending itself perfectly to the reality of the relationship, bringing out the humour as well as the pathos.

Tyler is aloof initially but as he becomes buds with Zak he makes a point of being intentionally unpatronising and non-coddling, which makes the moments of kindness and flashes of vulnerability resonate.

Funny and earning its sentimentality, Peanut Butter Falcon is a charming film that is hard not to like.

Photograph (2019)

Written for RAF News July 2019

Photograph sees an unlikely relationship develop between Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), who takes photos of tourists by the Mumbai Gateway, and a fleeting subject (Sanya Malhotra) who he talks into posing for a quick snap before she floats away in a crowd, before even taking her polaroid.

Image result for photograph film

Hearing that his grandmother has stopped taking her medication, despairing over the fact that he has not found a partner, Rafi sends the polaroid – which so delights her that she comes to visit, so that she may meet this fictional girlfriend.

Rafi finds solace in the fabricated relationship with the girl in the photograph – giving her a name and fantasising about her perfection. But this isn’t enough, he must find the girl and convince her to join in the charade and convince his hypercritical grandmother (Farrukh Jaffar). Her real name is Miloni, an accounting student with such promise that she is front and centre on billboards advertising the school that she attends. Their fate is marked on their first meeting, and the film will gently and gradually pull them together.

Miloni agrees to play pretend as recompense for having left him at the gates – this is a classic comedy set-up but it is used to bring out empathy and understanding. Through grandma’s insults and anecdotes, Rafi appears meek and sensitive, qualities that Miloni seems to admire or at least to which she can relate. Both introverted and with domineering parents, they share a tenderness.

Conflict comes in the shape of class difference, shown by their living situation, education and careers. At one point Miloni joins in eating some street food, which makes her ill. Grandma doesn’t understand, insisting that they are fine and that she’ll get used to it. Small observed details help to paint the picture, in their preferences of Cola and Kulfi for example, details which are not surprising coming from Ritesh Batra, the writer/director of The Lunchbox – a Mumbai love story communicated primary through food.

Photograph is almost a throwback to a classic love story, sentimental but grounded in small expressions and details.

Quantum Fomo

6 years since my first Glastonbury, I’m working the same jewellery stall and so have some idea of what to expect. I pack two bags too many, 40 beers and some shoddily stashed contraband. On the drive up I’m blessed with a hopeful weather forecast and a live session by Mattiel on 6 Music.

Arrive on Tuesday afternoon, set-up the stall and work through until Thursday afternoon. Sun shining bright, we bolt through Glade where some old dreaded crusties are throwing out D&B with some theramin for good measure. They look delighted; like they’ll be talking about this forever. A girl with a bejewelled face walks towards the tent with her hand raised high, clearly the first bit of live music she has seen, “This is going to be shiiiiiiiiit”. Bless ’em.

20190627_183220

Rush coming on but in need of food, we follow the path to the gate of Permaculture and grab a Som Tam curry, fire-side where some pakora is being prepped. Everyone here is volunteering, including the chef who has just almost cut off his finger. Onto the Greenfields we explore the installations of the Healing Fields, hand cranking a dragon made of olive oil tins and reanimating the head of David Attenborough by pressing a traffic lights button. A quick hug from the Lorax, forwarding the picture to my boy who cannot believe that I met the real real Lorax.

20190627_18440120190307_071918.jpg

We watch the sunset from Aradia’s Pangea – where there was once a DJ booth in a mechanical spider, with eyes that shoot lasers and legs that articulate and shoot fire, there is now a crane, that moves just like a crane. There are still jets of fire shooting from around the perimeter, but maybe more controlled since that spider roasted a kid a few years back. Hush now, the cranes moving a hook about. Apparently there’s a 5 year plan to build up this stage to it’s former glory, whilst meeting health & safety requirements and minimising the death count.

20190627_212822

Now dark, fly through the cabaret tents to catch some campy comedy and a campier trapeze act. Cold now, so some tea on a double decker doesn’t sound like the terrible idea that it is. Return meekly to camp with burnt tongues.

Up and out early Friday, up close for Ta’shan’s Foodie. Hungry now, grab something on the way to Mo at Other stage. Like a Europop Sia, produced to within an inch, but she is captivating. 2 songs is plenty though, back to Cabaret in the day time now it’s much more sprawling and interactive, leaking everywhere. Thought I’d be better at slacklining. Fuck it, Mac DeMarco’s on soon best dust off to get a spot up front.

Saw him a few days previously at Rough Trade in Shoreditch thanks to my shrewdly swift GF, a solo acoustic session with the intimacy that it implies. Now he’s in his element, albeit with the flu. Always undercutting the beauty of his falsetto, he perfectly interrupts the last sustained note of The Stars Keep On Calling My Name shouting REAL SAUSAGES REAL MASH in a Mockney accent – one of the food stalls behind the crowd.

Pit stop at the tent for a bag’o’beers and a bit of the other, climb up to the John Peel for some Pond. Turnover’s are tight now, catch Paint Me Silver before hot-stepping across the site to West Holts for Comet is Coming. Cut through Greenpeace and walk right into Mattiel at the Deforestation stage, no bigger than my fucking kitchen! I have to stay for a song, but my girl back home has already bagged us tickets to an intimate Mattiel show in a weeks time, so I feel some obligation to stick to the plan.

20190628_183827

Mind blown by some fish-gilled saxophany, I begrudgingly dance away from where Maribou State and Holly Walker will now appear, regrettably past where Idles will play The Park, to get back to work.

Lock up at midnight, up and out to catch some of Four Tet at WOW, not my vibe right now, head across the way to Pussy Parlour to discover Afrofuturist champions of self-belief: Oshun. Two female vocalists with soulful melodies and flow, singing, rapping, taking prayer breaks in songs and with rehearsed patter to each other underlining the message of the songs. Confusingly they have a DJ pushing a Sci-Fi narrarive, steering a spaceship through his laptop’s soundboard, and announcing arrival at different planets with dog-in-car-window glee. Utterly endearing and musically impressive, they are a baffling treat in the run up to tonight’s main event: Tank and the Bangas. The stage-setting fills some of the delay, as giant green cloud-shaped balloons are filled and placed about with other such decorations. The ensemble make it out at 2am and elevate the crowd. I am front and centre as Jelly lights the place up, wearing thin neon green overalls filled with green balloons that she releases throughout the set. Electric excitement through all of us. How to sleep after this.

20190629_181008

Work Saturday morning, missing Mattiel’s only listed performance at The Park. Head to the top of the hill there anyway after my shift to see the mystery guest. Foals – not my jam, shimmy over the hill to a little bar called The Crow’s Nest. Grab a coffee and realise that I’m standing next to Mattiel! Apparently having just played another unannounced pop-up, an unplugged set that was 5 minutes from me. I’m about to say something when she disappears behind the bar. Meet a veteran litter picker who gives me a hot tip for the evening, we trade recommendations and I head back to change my clothes and grab supplies.

Back to The Park. Kurt Vile and the Violators are playing, I queue for the Rainbow Tower to get a decent view. It takes longer than expected. By the time I get up there the sun is setting behind the stage and Kate Tempest opens her show with EUROPE IS LOST, the song that I revere her for. The wardens of the tower see my glee and let me stay for this song. I dip down into the crowd where Kate whips up a contentious spirit, her lyrics challenging government give berth to applause, stirring the discontent in us all. This I admire greatly, and I see it’s place here, but I want to dance – so I bolt to Avalon to catch some electrofunk in the shape of Ibibio Sound Machine. Cut into the crowd to dance it out to Give Me A Reason.

Wu-Tang’s C.R.E.A.M plays me out as I head past an impressive beatboxer at the Deforestation stage, over to the Wormhole. This venue is a new addition for 2019, an intimate two floor bar with a stage dedicated to the UKs new-wave of Jazz. I manage to get in quickly to see Sons of Kemet vs. Ezra Collective. The same saxophonist as Comet is Coming battles some trumpet, all with such intensity that the entire place, which is now shoulder to shoulder, with a couple hours of queue outside, jump in unison. It is exhilarating and never lets up, to the point of exhaustion. I lose my breath and my ankles numb. The highlight of the festival for sure.

I float out towards Shangrila and check out the Unfairground. It’s empty this early so I decide to get tentways to get more involved and pick up some company. I dive a little too deep and things get too wonky. Out to the Pussy Parlour, Kiddy Smile are now on stage, PVC clad men in drag with inflatable hair 3 feet above their heads dance in front of a giant inflatable mouth. It’s dancy but dark. The frontman, I recognise from Noe’s Climax, screams – for long enough that the music splits out, the music strobes, and it dips slightly into something terrifying. I want to get a picture to remember but have forgotten my phone. Ditch back and then to try and make it out to Shangrila but the tracks have been reversed for the night time route and things are already looking upside down from my point of view. Herded with the masses before taking refuge at a small stage where some jungle reggae is playing. People dance and skank, the guy next to us shouts that the music is misogynistic and homophobic. He’s not wrong, but that rhythm is the only thing that makes sense to me right now. Home please.

20190629_225714

Sunday morning, off to the Acoustic tent for Hackney Colliery Band. Toto’d through the crowd, quick sprint to West Holts for This is The Kit. Prize spot at the front but something about the setting, her voice and the lyrics move me to tears a few times, so I hope that I’m not distracting. I meet Kate from The Kit moments after at the tent adjacent, almost accidentally meeting Jeff Goldblum instead. This would have been fine.

Work until 1am, then head out to Shangrila properly, constructing a rave halo out of a flower garland and some LEDs on a wire. ICON and Block 9 for some techno with incredible panoramic visuals and bump mapping technology. Lose the group and dance solo through Shangrila, making sure to go to every open door and live act. Sleaford Mods bemoaning the fall of BHS at the Truth stage. A full lap, I ask if there’s any other place open on the site at this time (4am), probably not, okay I head back in and queue for Carousel and am greeted by a sweaty crowd and some hard D&B with constant builds and drops, whilst a collection of clowns dance a few feet away. A fight almost starts, an oddity, but the mute little clown girl leans in and wags her finger. We dance.

20190701_051714

Sunrise at Glade, hug some strangers en route back to the tent, listening to people glowing about this place and its magic.

Toys

Returning from a week away at the festival, my first weekend with the boy was filled with activities that included catching the latest, perfect-trilogy-breaking Toy Story 4. Best we catch up with the last film so it’s fresh in memory…

Image result for toy story andy's mum

I had watched TS3 at the cinema when it came out in 2010. A year into my university degree, it held a mirror up to my own maturation and matriculation. I had grown up with Andy, and now he was leaving his toys behind for college. It struck me that I was now in the process of leaving behind adolescence and the time for play was over.

This had some poignant resonance that I was able to push down, at least for the next few years of intermittent debauchery, but it bubbled up once again this second viewing, now from a different angle.

With the boy under my arm, we watched as Woody would make desperate plays to make himself relevant to Andy, not wanting to be left behind. The moment which appears to console and allay his neuroses is telling: he watches Andy hug his mother, who is crying, out of focus in the background, and realises that they are one and the same. As do I.

He understands that his time with the boy is transitory, it exists for a short time in which the relationship is close and intertwined, but then you have to move onto other things, invest your love somewhere else.

Andy is not just leaving behind his toys, he is leaving his family.

Realising that the bond I have with this boy under my arm may never be as strong as this present moment, knowing that eventually he will outgrow the role and no longer need me, I crumble and the tears stream from my face.

I saw my father cry twice: once at a funeral for a friend, and once as he told me, without words, that our dog had been put down. And now here’s me sobbing into an existential void brought on by a fucking animated toy.

I wipe my face and look over at the boy – smiling ear to ear, clueless of his Dad’s pitiful neediness – at least we have this moment now.

Balcooney

I’m partial to the odd deep dive into the bizarre recesses of the internet, delving into rabbit holes to plunder some obscure gold that I can show off to others given the right opportunity.

I found my moment a little while back, when I had free reign of a cinema after hours, celebrating a youngun’s bee-day. Whilst people floated about outside the auditorium I slid some of my finds on the big screen and cranked up the volume. Some take the bait, others I coax in by dancing towards the light.

I introduce a particular playlist that I had always had dreams of playing in a different context. My last flat was three stories up and my room looked out onto the high street, perfectly opposite a club called Urban 9. A similar building, this pay-to-enter, shirts-and-shoes joint matched my room in having music play on all floors. Although it had levels, it’s not huge inside, and this would mean that a queue would sometimes form outside.

My genius idea was to DJ a set to the queue outside from my balcony, lifting the vertical windows – like proper waist to ceiling Dawson’s Creek sliding motherfuckers – positioning my speakers and blasting some Dutch hip-hop to those unsheltered patrons thirsty for music. And like all ideas that I think are great, I tell someone and try to expand on it until it gets too big and becomes unwieldy. At one point we had planned a regular residency, with myself wearing a costume and mask, hosting a party in my flat, projecting the music videos on my wall whilst the music is thrown out across the road. Ridiculous.

I tried to stay true to Doug Stanhope’s credo that it’s only funny if you do it, but the simple plan grew until the point that I moved house and fucked it for myself.

So the night of this lad’s birthday I decide to sneak out my Balcooney playlist of Dutch hip-hop, and all it takes is one playthrough when I get asked the name of the artists. I say I might share my private playlist later.

It doesn’t matter, as it seems between them they have Shazam’d each and every one of them, digitally pick-pocketing me of my precious gold. This playlist had one lacklustre debut and now they’re off out in the world without me.

So fuck it, here is that playlist. I still plan to work this into a house-party that has a screen large enough to accommodate. Or I could always give a knock to my old place, in full regalia, and explain that I have a show to play.

(All of these songs have become favourites of my son. This one in particular which he requests every car journey. A child of 4 years old is truly the best captive audience).