Produced by: Dave Franco, Elizabeth Haggard, Teddy Schwarzman, Ben Stillman, Joe Swanberg, Christopher Storer
Cast: Dan Stevens, Alison Brie, Sheila Vand, Jeremy Allen White, Toby Huss
Cinematography: Christian Sprenger
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
If you’re old like me you will remember the golden era of video rental stores in the 1980’s and 1990’s. I used to love going to the video shop at the weekend and choosing which films to watch. For example, on a Saturday afternoon at Blockbuster I would choose three films usually. One would be a banker like a high quality release or made by an acclaimed filmmaker whose work I was certain to like. Another would be a more commercial choice like a high concept action film or comedy; something to take the brain out for. Lastly, I would take a gamble on either an arthouse or foreign or indie character-driven film; OR an even bigger gamble on a lower-budget or unheard horror film or thriller with a back-of-the-video-box pitch that grabbed me. Often the latter choice would end up being a terribly arty bore or a schlocky B-movie disaster. However, every now and then I would find a film gem which totally gripped me.
With streaming now there’s not so much of a gamble as you haven’t had to walk or drive to the video shop. Even better there’s no need to return the tapes on time and risk getting fined. You switch on your streaming device and choose your film. If you don’t like it you can turn it off, although I do tend to see things through to the end on most occasions. But hey Paul, enough about comparing the past with the present – WHAT’S YOUR POINT! Oh yes, the Dave Franco directed The Rental (2020) is one of those films which I took a chance on because of the cast and the back-of-video-box-pitch (i.e. the Amazon online trailer). I’m glad I did watch it, as it is a terrific thriller with a tension-filled script which leads and misleads you through a series of compelling twists. It’s a simple premise, involving two couples spending the weekend at a beautiful rural property where poor choices destabilise their harmony, only for all hell to break loose when a serious crime escalates the action.
The cast of Dan Stevens, Alison Brie, Shiela Vand and Jeremy Allen White are arguably punching below their weight where the B-movie material is concerned. Yet, they bring quality to the proceedings as the initial peace between the characters descends into chaos when first infidelity and then murder rears its ugly head. One of my favourite character actors, Toby Huss, is excellent here too as the suspicious property manager. I’ve seen some so-so reviews for The Rental (2020), but it’s the kind of tightly plotted suspense thriller I really thrive on. What starts as an idyllic getaway for two relatively wealthy couples is carefully unravelled by Dave Franco’s well-paced direction, complimented by Brie and Steven’s committed performances, has wonderful locations and a seriously proper killer ending.
I recently came back from a week’s holiday in Cornwall with my wife. While I am a simple person who is quite pragmatic about holidays, my wife loves travelling and going to different places. So, I generally get dragged along to her chosen destination. However, with my fear of flying we mostly stay in the Brexit-blighted United Kingdom too. Occasionally I will fly, but like B.A. Baracus from the A-Team, it takes a lot to get me up in the sky.
This year we decided to go way down on the South West coast of England. We stayed in Penzance, Cornwall as a base; then visited lots of places in the surrounding territory. It’s safe to say I had a great time not being at work and although it is a very long drive from London there is so much to recommend down there. Thus, here are six of the best things I loved about Cornwall.
1. THE COAST AND SEA
There’s something very poetic about being by the sea. It suggests danger and fear but also escape and wonder. The rocks, the beaches and the sound of the sea collide to create many feelings and emotions that swell like the tides themselves. Mostly, it can be very calming too.
2. THE FOOD
While I try and watch my dietary intake throughout the year and attend the gym a number of times a week, I LOVE my food. Cornwall is home to some wonderful restaurants and I ate heartily during the week. The breakfast we got at the Chapel House B & B everyday was wonderful and so was many of the meals we ate. My favourite menu was at the Shore Restaurant in Penzance. The design, taste and freshness of the dishes was amazing!
3. THE CULTURE
From a geographical, historical and artistic perspective, Cornwall is a veritable treasure trove. On top of the culinary delights, we visited many places of natural and historical interest. These are places supported by both the National Trust and English Heritage and range from old towns, tin mines, pirate hiding places and castles. While my wife especially enjoyed all the art galleries, we both enjoyed visiting places such as: The Botallack Tin Mines, St Michael’s Mount, Land’s End and Tintagel Castle.
4. THE MINACK THEATRE
Of all the incredible sites and sights in Cornwall, I would say the most amazing is the Minack Theatre. This, incredibly, is a theatre built into the coastal rocks. It was the brainchild and passion of Rowenna Cade, who in 1932 put on her first amateur production. Over the subsequent years, with the help of a few friends and local builders, she developed the site even more. Now, some eighty years later, it puts on theatrical productions come rain or shine. Over 110,000 people attend the shows and even more visit this incredibly rich cultural site every year.
5. ST IVES
While St Ives, for me, was arguably smaller and more packed with tourists compared to other less busy places, it still has a lot to recommend it. The Harbour is a picturesque hub full of local ice cream shops and art galleries. On a larger scale St Ives is also home to the Tate Gallery of Cornwall. While we did not visit the Tate due to the queue, we took in the Barbara Hepworth Museum and all the works of that famed sculptor. Overall, while I much preferred staying in Penzance, St Ives is highly recommended for a day visit.
6. THE WALKS
With big breakfasts and dinners comes great responsibility. As someone who likes to get to the gym so they can eat more food, I had to replace that exercise with a substitute. Thankfully, the Cornwall coast has some amazing scenery and walks. Obviously, you have to be careful, but the steep hills, rocky shores and grassy knolls of Cornwall are a great way to burn off some of those indulgent calories.
2017 EDINBURGH FRINGE FESTIVAL – CULTURAL ROUND-UP
You may or may not know this but the comedy you see on television via the sitcoms, panel shows, live performances etc. plus the Netflix or Amazon specials which are streamed online are just the tip of the iceberg in regard to stand-up, sketch and narrative comedy shows. Because, underneath is a huge population of individuals writing, rehearsing, directing, editing and performing their works live across the clubs, theatres, pubs, basements and attics of the world.
These unsung creative heroes and the occasional lunatic are, on the whole, slogging their guts out following a dream to hit the big time in their chosen stage craft. Either that or they simply revel in performing and delivering their stories, jokes or narratives to the public live. It’s a cathartic experience to release their heart and soul to the world in comedic, theatrical or musical form and most of these people should be saluted for their creativity.
One of the best places to find these purveyors of dance, comedy, performance, mime, acting, music and sometimes science is at the annual Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This year I went, with my wife, on holiday there for a week to check out some shows and sites and lovely restaurants and pubs! Here’s a uncritical round-up of some of the things we caught up with. Amazing fun it was too!
Like many cities Edinburgh has many great places to spend the night including hotels and other bed and breakfast digs. Many of the acts performing at the Fringe have budgets so will use rented accommodation, hostels, vehicles and ditches too to sleep in. My wife likes some comfort when we stay places whereas I have been happy in the past with the gutter; well, a cheap B & B. So she chose Millers 64 on Pilrig Street and what a lovely place it was too. Run by Louise and Shona Clelland, we experienced some of the best hospitality we have ever had so they are highly recommended. Check out their website here.
Scotland and the North in general has been the focus of stereotypical gags at the expense of unhealthy living including: bad diet, alcoholism and drug abuse. I guess characters such as Rab C. Nesbitt and novels/films like Trainspotting only serve to strengthen such ideas. Of course, if you search it out you will find junk food and drink in any place the world over but I actually ate pretty healthily during my week in Scotland.
Of the places we visited I can definitely recommend La Favoritapizza place on Leith Walk. Moreover, the tasting menu at the Gardiners Cottagewas beautifully presented and I very much enjoyed the Indian cuisine at Mother India. There are also hundreds of pubs, cafes and burger restaurants all over Edinburgh.
I enjoyed watching Tottenham Hotspur FC defeat Newcastle FC in the Kilted Pigon the Sunday but my favourite pub was probably The Pear Tree Houseon West Nicolson Street. It had great beer, food, a massive garden and a constant stream of lively entertainment and music.
Having said that the greatest epicurean treat I had was on my birthday at The Kitchin. The food was absolutely exquisite and what made it all the more amazing was my wife treated me to the meal just for getting a year older. I imagine it was very expensive but the whole experience was fantastic as we also visited the kitchen and met the aptly named owner/chef Tom Kitchin.
As I only had a week and there is SO much going on at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival I did not see any theatrical presentations, which, if I’d been there for another week would certainly have been on my cultural agenda. Similarly with musical performances I chose the more comedic acts over others but enjoyed an excellent set by jazz guitarist Graeme Mearns despite this. However, the real humdinger of a show I could not miss was the one by gothic chanteuse Camille O’Sullivan. She is a dark storm of a performer who hails from Ireland and sings haunting and very dramatic versions of tunes written by Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Arcade Fire and Nick Cave. In the elegant tent where I saw her show I was bewitched by the spine-tingling performance borne of fire, shadow, light and ice.
I love comedy. It is a noble craft which on occasions can be propelled to the heights of art and was to the fore of my cultural menu in Edinburgh. In fact, on Monday 14th August I watched SEVEN shows beginning at 11am with the last one finished at 10.30pm. It was a brilliant day and encapsulated all that is great about the Fringe Festival. This is NOT a review of the comedians I saw during the week as all the shows I witnessed were BRILLIANT! I don’t believe in comedy competitions or star ratings as comedy is too subjective for that. But rather, it’s a round-up of and a shout out to a very talented bunch of individuals I saw; and there were thousands I missed too but there was just not enough time alas.
Musical comedy is something I have been really getting into and the alternative genius Robert White presented an exhilarating off-kiltered-joke-a-second-Gershwin-inspired operetta of his life in a show called Instru-mental. Equally energetic was the wonderful Pippa Evans in Joy Division; while the very talented Harriet Braine delivered some excellent cover songs which also educated us about the history of Art!
I also saw some excellent club and storytelling comedians such as: free-wheeling Russell Hicks; Irish mirth-maker Rory O’Hanlon; Cheetah Adam Greene; intelligent Scot Stephen Carlin; conspiracy theorist Don Biswas; witty and frantic Nathan Cassidy; the brilliant comedy-swap laughs of Sketch Thieves; the crafty humour of Ben Clover; plus the ferocious, clever and frantic comedy of Fringe stalwart Richard Herring.
Of the shows that arguably had longevity in terms of their narratives then Darius Davies’ Road to Wrestlemania was really funny. It’s a fast-paced narrative of how, when a naïve teenager, he tried to become a World Wrestling star. Successfully employing multi-media, costumes and music to tell the story it made me laugh (and almost cry) throughout. I also really enjoyed Dominic Holland’s very funny and touching Eclipsed. Holland, who has been a very successful author and comedian found his career eclipsed by his son Tom Holland who last year became the new Spiderman! It’s a brilliant story about success and family togetherness amidst some excellent comedic observations of everyday life.
Of all the comedians I saw I was transfixed by the mercurial delivery and off-centre ideas of Tommy Tiernan. A comedy veteran and Grandmaster of the comedic dark arts, he flits around the stage nimbly while his rich Irish brogue delivers a stream of jokes, observations, non-sequiturs and the occasional barmy rant. He covers many subjects such as: life, death, religion, sex, family, immigrants, football, age and so on. An hour in his company is not enough as I could have listened to him for hours.
So, that was my first Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The whole experience was fantastic to me as I was around the things I love such as comedy, music, food and booze for an intensely concentrated week of pure culture. If you’re like me and hanging around watching shows and feeding off the energy of a cultural oasis then I highly recommend it. I would say a week is definitely not enough for what’s on offer in bonnie Scotland during the month of August!
I’m not religious or addicted to buying crap for people but Christmas is always a great period of the year because I get time off work. To celebrate this I have chosen some alternative Christmas music, films, TV and other ephemera to talk about. Anyway, Merry Christmas everybody! Good luck in 2014!
BAD SANTA (2003)
This film is THE greatest Christmas film of all time. This is just one of the great scenes of many great scenes.
TRADING PLACES (1984)
Dan Ackroyd gives his finest acting performance in this movie and his desperate, drunk and destroyed Santa Claus really hits rock bottom at the hands of arch-capitalists. While it’s very funny there’s some real satirical subtext in there too. Probably.
CHRIS KAMARA – born December 25th 1957
I’m an internal enthusiast but Chris Kamara is heralded here due to his incredible energy and extrovert enthusiasm. I like that he doesn’t mind being the clown either. Great catchphrase too: UNBELIEVABLE!
RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE – 2009 Christmas Number One!
The people who got this to number one deserve much much much kudos. Personally, I quite liked Joe McElderry on X Factor but was glad Simon Cowell got screwed over by the incredible musical geniuses that is Rage Against The Machine. Joe McElderry didn’t do too badly as he switched career and became an Olympic diver named Tom Daley.
BIRTH OF THE INTERNET (SORT OF) – 25th December 1990
Did you know on Christmas Day in 1990 there was the first successful trial run of the system which would become the world wide web. And thank god for that as without it we would not have millions of cat videos online. 9 millions views! Stop the world I want to get off!
LEWIS BLACK ON CHRISTMAS
Shamefully I didn’t know this comedian until I saw him in an episode of Big Bang Theory and then checked him out. He’s grizzled, bitter and very funny. My kind of humourist.
RED SLEIGH DOWN – SOUTH PARK (SEASON 5)
This episode is hilarious as Santa’s sleigh is shot down in Iraq because Cartman is trying right all his wrong-doings over the past year. Jesus and the boys go to Iraq and kick some butt to save Santa! One of South Park’s shittiest characters also makes an appearance – the Christmas Poo – Mr Hankey! What can be more Christmassy than Santa, Jesus and a stinking pile of crap!
SEX PISTOLS – final UK gig – Huddersfield 1977
Johnny Rotten and the lads played a benefit for striking firefighters before their ill-fated trip to the United States. The rest they say is history. And what went on before as well.
MAD WORLD – ANDREWS/JULES Christmas Number 1 2003
This moody, introspective and pretentious song was a great alternative to the usual Christmas hits. Cursory research shows the songs’ lyrics were inspired by Arthur Janov and his book The Primal Scream. I don’t know much about this but it makes me seem mildly intelligent. It was also in Donnie Darko; a brilliant yet very over-rated film. Jake Gyllenhaal was incredible in it though.
BLACKADDER’S CHRISTMAS CAROL
The Christmas Carol story has been done to death and even had Ross Kemp playing a version of Scrooge recently on ITV12 or something. This one-off special subverts the story by initially showing Blackadder as good and then deciding to be bad. Very clever that. And very funny!
THE SILENT PARTNER (1978)
This excellent crime thriller starring Elliot Gould and Christopher Plummer was a real eye-opener to me as a kid as it was the first time I’d seen Santa Claus shown as a negative figure. It’s not shown on telly much now but it certainly stuck with me. Worth checking out if you get the chance.
DIE HARD (1988)
Did you know that Yippee-kay-yay is actually the Eskimo phrase for Happy Christmas. And of course John McClane’s catchphrase in Die Hard. It’s not really a Christmas film as such but shoe-horns Christmas into the plot quite neatly using it ironically to show families brought together in conflict rather than round the table stuffing themselves with turkey and pudding.