Cosmic Candy – Fantasia Festival 2020

Written & Directed by Rinio Dragasaki

Rating: 3 out of 5.

For Anna, there is one constant in her life – the titular Cosmic Candy, a popping candy confectionery which offers a calming relief. Her neighbours are boorish and her colleagues mindless, but the crux of her issues finds Anna stuck in an endless, dreamy loop where she holds tightly to her emotional baggage, with issues around moving on and forging relationships. Despite the fantasy aesthetic, and the film’s opening, it categorically falls more into an exaggerated reality, verging into melodrama. Refraining from tooth-rooting sweetness, Rinio Dragaski’s directorial debut attempts to utilise this spoonful of sugar to accentuate her narrative style but leaves behind a few too many cavities to truly succeed.

Many of the film’s subplots and side-narratives are two-dimensional afterthoughts, where preference should be to offer the relationship between Anna and Persa as much time as possible in the quasi-road-trip meets babysitting adventure. A comedy at heart, it has a distinct visual style and Grecian humour, capitalising on misery and persistent light-hearted sadism.

This relationship holds the frayed, sugary, film together, and thankfully the pair achieve chemistry which holds attention – but it is not all sunshine and day-glow radiance. It takes time, which does reflect the steady building of the pair’s camaraderie, but it makes for slow viewing as Anna takes in young neighbour Persa (following her dad’s disappearance) who for a chunk of the film’s opening outstretches the tolerable range of irritating.

In reality, this is precisely how we are meant to view the character and can be chalked up to Evi Dovelou‘s brilliant performance as the young neighbour, who by the conclusion has aided Anna in her emergence as a flawed being, but a profoundly more comfortable and stable person. The pairing adds to the film’s needed levity, with Dragaski’s writing surprisingly multifaceted and offering plenty for the pair to work with and develop on.

Though the structure of the film does slip on occasion from delightfully capricious into a sense of annoying incontinence, the one constant is Maria Kitsou, who throughout the film captures the essence of Dragaski’s intention of surrounding this one person with all of life’s relatable baggage and fuelling her with bizarre, lucid dream-states. Kitsou has a wide emotional range, and the pace at which she flips from passive to a bursting eruption of frustration is daunting and impressive.

The film’s principal dip into the realms of wacky and weird exposes itself at Anna’s breaking point, her relationships non-existent, and her dignity shattered and choices questioned. Anna is visited by a large, luminous being – the mascot of Cosmic Candy. Designed spectacularly, the short sequence features a blend of artistic and prosthetic effects which don’t feel out of place, even as Pinelopi Valti turns the dial to 11 in showcasing their creative ability and propels the film’s sound and colour palette into an interstellar state of surreal awakening. Manipulating a synthesised Clair De LuneYannis Veslemes concocts a rather intoxicating score which maintains the surreal nature of the film, even when it finds footing in reality. 

An illuminating outing for writer and director Dragaski, Cosmic Candy strays from the confines of safety, demonstrating the filmmaker’s ambitious ability to fuse illustrated fantasy with the doldrums of everyday life. With a vibrant visual style, even in the day-to-day pops of colour to stand out against the dusted greys, Cosmic Candy is a compelling look at the crippling weight of denial, and the implications of blaming others for your insecurities.

Review published for The Wee Review

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga – Netflix

Directed by David Dobkin

Written by Will Ferrel & Andrew Steele

Rating: 3 out of 5.

With 2020 cascading a series of cancellations on major cultural events, none have hit fans as hard than the postponement of The Eurovision Song Contest. Starring Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdamsDavid Dobkin’s musical comedy Eurovision Song Contest: Story of Fire Saga has hit Netflix, and while it’ll scratch the itch, it isn’t quite the same.  Maybe, just maybe, Iceland is in with a shot this year (the irony being their official 2020 participant was a bookies’ favourite). In Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, Lars Erickssong (Ferrell) and best friend/possibly-maybe sister Sigrit (McAdams) have been bothering the locals with their entries to the contest for years. After a horrific boating accident incapacitates the official entry, Fire Saga is the only option left for Iceland to stay in the competition.

Will Ferrell plays Will Ferrell. That’s about all you need to know as far as his dedication to character stretches. Occasionally it works, but more often he swings for the punchline and lands in a puddle of bewildering. There are attempts at a Sacha Barron Cohen mockumentary but he isn’t fully committing. Lars is unfamiliar with other customs, socially awkward and frequently talks about his and other’s genitals, because that’s still funny, right? Fire Saga seems indecisive between a conceptual mockumentary and a parody, the significant issue here is that it hasn’t the wit for the former, and in the case of the latter Eurovision is a parody of itself – and a far more successful one.

Everything seems dire, and then, Dan Stevens enters the fray. Extravagant, delectable, and debonair – Stevens has the capability of saving the film, especially when sharing the screen with Melissanthi Mahut, the Grecian representative. The pair’s raised eyebrows and glittering gowns may seem antagonistic at first, but their sequins and ferocious nature belay a shockingly persuasive background of development. The Russian entry, Stevens’ opulent flamboyance sparks conversations of recent Russian acts displaying a ‘campiness’; Eurovision one of the only acceptable occasions where they can be open without fear of persecution. It’s a small touch, and in the grand scheme of Ferrell’s antics is surprisingly, and touchingly, subtle in its quiet condemnation of Russia’s attitudes towards LGBTQI+ communities.

Steven’s vocally-dubbed performance makes up for his recent stint in Beauty & The Beast, but if Pierce Brosnan thought this would make amends for Mamma Mia!, the jury’s still out on this one. Fulfilling his obligatory role as the disapproving father, Brosnan’s role is as paper-thin as his accent, joining McAdams in ticking all the boxes of a role which could have been played by anyone.

So, what’s Eurovision without the songs? From Lion of Love to Double Trouble, a smattering of the numbers are evidence of Eurotrash homework. We have it all – power ballads, the risqué fleshy routine, disturbing are-they-siblings duets, and to the film’s credit, a sentimental note on countries choosing to forego the English dominance and perform in their regional language. And when succumbing to a jukebox routine inviting a host of whos-who of Eurovision, the resulting cameos will offer an additional joy for fans of the event, and they’re blended enough so non-Eurovision fans won’t have the momentum disturbed.

Not quite Nul Points – this is still trash. Hot Trash. Hot Euro-Trash. Thing is, it’s like the event itself – a hideous idiom – you’ll either enjoy this or won’t get it. With tighter alignment, embracing what it gets right and ditching what was forced and contrived – this could have been an exceptional musical comedy. As it is, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga begins tacky, rises like a phoenix but ends up losing its (bucks) fizz as the runtime stretches, save for the occasional glitter bomb.

Review originally published for The Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/eurovision-song-contest-the-story-of-fire-saga/

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is available to stream from Netflix

Women in Parliament – Lauriston Hall

Original Play – Aristophanes

New Translation by Andrew Wilson

Stage Director and Design by Michael Scott

Tickets available for June 27th and 28th from Usher Hall at: http://www.usherhall.co.uk/whats-on/aristophanes-women-parliament

In translating, an impressive feat, to begin with, Andrew Wilson does an exceptional job in capturing the original structure, satire and levity of Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae or Women in Parliament. It has all the comforts of ancient Greece; hookers, cross-dressing and poo, but it has a distinct Lothians stamp of lively dance, song and self-depreciation.

Athens of the North, Edinburgh to you and I. She shares a tremendous amount with her sister to the South, they both value a feast, a tremendous sense of culture and a responsibility towards democracy, right? Well, far from it really. Time moves forward, we evolve, we advance – but politics roughly remains the same. An assortment of privilege, wealth and lacking in diversity. Aristophanes wrote a series of plays in which the foolishness of men, was highlighted by women. He wasn’t a revolutionary feminist, however. Instead, the women are merely a way to highlight the absurdity of government, how they ‘argue solutions but never come to conclusion’.

Pictured: Hazel Eadie

If for a second you suspect this to have a hidden agenda, with a profound political message and commentary – then all the power to you. Women in Parliament, in keeping with its ancient counterpart, revels in the ludicrous nature of its construction. It isn’t pushing a ‘feminist’ agenda but instead firing pointed harpoons at the current states of government. No one is safe. Not Tory, nor Liberal, Nor defenceless Jeremy Corbyn.

While in the North, it seems fitting to amend the text with Scots dialect and reference. Outside of the Political, Wilson’s translation achieves some of its distinct humour through Aristophanes second favourite pastime after sex – defecating. Oh yes, scatological witticism is rife in the Streets of Athens this evening, so please watch your footing. For those unfamiliar, you will need a slight adjustment time to the toilet humour, but once consigning yourself to the loose bowels of Blepyrus (Mike Towers) you’ll be sure to snigger along.

He, along with Chris Allan, brings a sense of false patriarchal grandeur to the proceedings. Allan, in particular, holds the constant stage presence this evening. Standing against this – leading a procession of marching women determined to undermine the Men of government, who were clearly doing such an exceptional job, are Prazxagora (Angela Estrada) and her crew of disgruntled, beard-clad women.

Pictured: Angela Estrada

Estrada, arguably our lead turns a stellar performance with what is an undoubtedly complex script. While others may stumble and fade, she keeps her pacing and level of authority. She has a way with words which draws our ear immediately, illustrating parallels with other ‘silver-tongued’ world leaders.

Mainly on the fault of Aristophanes (easier to blame the centuries deceased) than Wilson, classical texts traditionally have an altogether different style of pacing. Any accustomed to the likes of Lysistrata will recognise the structure, short finale and bloated early scenes. Scott, along with the cast, seems to anticipate this – making jabs at the audiences snoozing’s and interacting to keep their attention.

Design in mind, Michael Scott’s thrust style staging places the action in the centre of Lauriston Hall. We’re effectively on the back benches observing the baboons dance before us. A backdrop, a tart’s boudoir pink splashed across some doors and windows make for comical entrances, exits and scene change signage. This, along with Gordon Hughes’ lighting design makes for an intense richness from this evening’s performance. Never has a brothel looked quite as sinisterly appealing, or so we are informed…Emily Nash and Gordon Horne doing their best to both entice and repulse us.

Pictured: Colin Povey and Charlie Munro

With such a large venue, quite often our eyes drift to something happening far across the stage. The inclusion of slaves David Cree, Robert Seaton and Alasdair Watson make for slapstick scene changes, but when their buffoon antics occur several feet from where our attention should be focusing, it’s quite distracting.

So, no need to take a visit to ancient Greece, we seem to be living it. Athens of the North’s presentation of Women in Parliament is a delightful homage to Aristophanes’ original, injecting its own Scottish heritage through rhyming verse. It has issues with pacing, a few wayward performances and complexity in a narrative which will be lost on many, but it’s an appealing text, rich in satire and playfulness. A production worthy of support, a delicate blend of classical literature and toilet jokes – what’s not to love?

Runs until June 28th, tickets available from Usher Hall at: http://www.usherhall.co.uk/whats-on/aristophanes-women-parliament