All posts by Richard Cotter

As a child, Richard loved going to the pictures. He is still getting over the advent of the talkie which set cinema back a century but still sounds off on radio ABC, 2GB and 2UE etc about the state of cinema whenever invited. As well, Richard has been a theatre practitioner for the past 35 years and has been resident director for Big Splash Productions for the past 10 years.

THE IRON LADY

Merryl Streep is outstanding as Maggie Thatcher in THE IRON LADY

Sink the Belgrano and pass me the Oscar. La Stupenda Streep is awesomely scary as Maggie T, the first female Prime Minister of Great Britain.

From a screenplay expertly fashioned by Abi Morgan and intelligently helmed by Phyllida Lloyd we are shown the old Tory’s story in flashback, as she comes to turn with widowhood and the dying of the light.

Close the coalmines and pass me another Oscar – nods will probably go to Meryl and Jim Broadbent as Denis, who seems to be cornering the market in sweet back seat spouses a la Iris and Arthur Christmas.

The seventeenth Oscar nomination for Streep is almost assured as she chameleons into another extraordinary character with the help of a top notch make-up and hair magician.

Besides Broadbent she is more than ably supported by a gallery of British luvvies the likes of Richard E Grant, Nicholas Farrell, John Sessions and Anthony Head.

Impressive too is Alexandra Roach as the young Maggie Thatcher.

A study of power, extreme self confidence, and the sacrifices that come with public office, as well as a potted history of the world between 1959 and 1990,

THE IRON LADY is a fascinating biopic of a ferocious female, forged from war ravaged England who became a first and formidable friend or foe depending on which side of fascism you faced.

© Richard Cotter

23rd December, 2011

ALBERT NOBBS

Jonathon Rhys Meyers and Glenn Close in ALBERT NOBBS

Are Glenn Close and her creative cohorts having a lend?

One has to wonder when the two leading characters in ALBERT NOBBS (M), is a Mister Nobbs and a Miss Dawes? Knobs and doors, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more. To continue with schoolboy snigger, Mr. Nobbs sports a set of knockers as does another cove, a Mr. Page, (Janet McTeer) no page boy this, mammy.

This tale of cross dressing domestics is as much about the upstairs downstairs of certain individuals as it is the social strata of servants in uncivil Victorian era Dublin.

As a master class of acting by Glenn Close it is a success, a triumphal chameleon turn as the transvestite Albert Nobbs, a woman so abused as to sublimate her sexuality and self into servitude, existing as a male solely to survive.

Except for her diminutive stature, all traces of femininity have evaporated, so successful the sublimation of her sex, to the point she fantasises of taking a wife, with no apparent lesbian leaning.

This is tragic transvestism as opposed to the more common cinematic treatment of cross dressing, comedy, and without the need to fall into farce or camp, the final product probably could have done with a little bit of comic leavening.

What we are presented with is a dour Dublin drama that is a bit of a drudge. One of the key plot points, Nobbs’ secret’s discovery is, pardon the pun, a drag, with Janet McTeer’s trannie turn tragically telegraphed by a k.d.lang look and languor.

When Albert gets a bee in her bonnet over a flea in her frillies – actually a parasite in her corset- it’s literally a booby trap. Keeping abreast of anatomical anomaly, it’s tits at ten paces as Page beats her breast, bares her chest, shares the jest, and puts mutual trust to the test.

© Richard Cotter

23rd December, 2011

TIN TIN

Spielberg gets in touch with his inner child in TIN TIN

I am happy to report that TIN TIN (PG) is great fun and a triumph of 3D animation.

The pic gets off to a fine start with a highly imaginative and very busy title sequence which telegraphs the story is an amalgam of three comic book adventures. These have been weaved together by Dr. Who alumnus Steven Moffat, Hot Fuzz/Shaun of the Dead scribe, Edgar Wright, and Attack the Blocker, Joe Cornish.

While Snowy the Dog practically steals the show, there’s a standout performance by Andy Serkis as the alcoholic Captain Haddock, continuing and consolidating his reputation as the go to man in acting for animation, animatronics, CGI etc.
Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are excellent as The Thompson Twins and Daniel Craig puts on his best arch villain voice as the baddies, past and present.

TIN TIN sees Spielberg getting in touch with his inner kid again, something that’s been missing in recent projects and is his best film since CATCH ME IF YOU CAN.

(c) Richard Cotter

23rd December, 2011

THE SKIN I LIVE IN

A cutting scene from the latest Almodovar flick

THE SKIN I LIVE IN is the latest kooky, spooky melodrama from Almodovar.

In this macabre story, lifted from the novel “Mygale” by Thierry Jonquet, and fashioned by Pedro and Agustin Almodovar, Antonio Banderas returns to the Almodovar fold after twenty years (since Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!) to play skin specialist, Dr. Robert Ledgard.

His casa is a compound that has a secret laboratory and operating theatre where he continues to hone his skills of skin grafting. He has been experimenting on the same human guinea-pig for the past many years and his cellular therapy has progressed at a satisfying pace.

But what of the sinister secret of his plastic surgery subject? And just who is his loyal housekeeper? What is the truth behind his wife and daughter?

This dermatological melodrama is Kafkaesque distilled through Hitchcock, Bunuel and Douglas Sirk. One to nip and tuck into!

© Richard Cotter

23rd December, 2011

PUSS IN BOOTS

Dreamworks Animation’s PUSS IN BOOTS (G)

Not quite as successful or sustaining as ARTHUR CHRISTMAS, Dreamworks Animation’s PUSS IN BOOTS (G) is nevertheless an enjoyable romp, a spinoff of the remarkable Shrek series.

Antonio Banderas reprises his role as the fashion footwear feline, one cool cat, a gato that takes the gateaux, and there’s no denying the casting is purr-fect.

The film works best when it focuses on the feline – the milk drinking, the pussy playfulness, the kitty caboodle. When it strides into Zorro zone – an almost irresistible temptation when you have Antonio aboard- it becomes a bit overblown.

Keep the Puss Tom and eschew The Fox, and the Boots has more fidelity and felicity and is less fatuous – in this case Fatuous Catus.

All that litters is not old – it’s just that some writers need to be more malkin savvy for this mouser to sustain feature length without fur-balling.

© Richard Cotter

4th December, 2011

RESTLESS

Mia Wasikowska and Denis Hopper star in Gus Van Sant’s latest, RESTLESS

When a mortuary worker finds Annabel and Enoch, the two protagonists of Gus Van Sant’s latest film RESTLESS (M) scoping out the morgue and asks “Can I help you?” Enoch’s jaunty reply is “No thanks. We’re just browsing.”

Enoch is morbidly obsessed with death. Our first glimpse of him is chalking his own outline as if he was a dead body at a crime scene. Recently orphaned – both parents killed in a car crash which he survived- he is a pathological funeral goer.

It’s at a memorial service he meets Annabel. She is legitimately attending the requiem of a fellow cancer patient. A relationship develops. She has three months to live. He was lucky to survive to car wreck that claimed his parents. She is optimistic and a passionate Darwinian. He is moody, gloomy, and has visitations from the ghost of a Kamikaze pilot.

Annabel lives with her mother and older sister. Mum has hit the bottle as a coping mechanism to deal with her daughter’s disease and imminent death. Her sister is stoic and supportive. Enoch lives with his aunt, Mabel, who he blames for the loss of his parents.

RESTLESS is profoundly more satisfying than most disease of the week sudsers with the seemingly ubiquitous Mia Wasikowska as “the kid with cancer, not a cancer kid” and Denis Hopper’s son, Henry Hopper distilling a quirky existentialism into the character of Enoch. Dad would be proud.

Continuing the Hollywood lineage and legacy, Schuyler Fisk, daughter of Sissy Spacek, stars as Annabel’s sister and the film is produced by Ron Howard’s daughter, Bryce Dallas Howard.

Rounding off an excellent ensemble is Lusia Strus as Annabel’s melancholic alcoholic mama, Jane Adams as Auntie Mabel, and Ryo Kase as the kamikaze ghost.

© Richard Cotter

27th November, 2011

Tags: SYDNEY MOVIE OF THE WEEK, RESTLESS, Gus Van Sant, Mia Wasikowska, Denis Hopper, Schuyler Fisk, Bryce Dallas Howard, Luisa Strus, Jane Adams, Ryo Kase.

THE IDES OF MARCH

Philip Seymour Hoffman and George Clooney star in THE IDES OF MARCH

“Beware the Ides of March” beseeches the soothsayer in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Hubris had the warning go unheeded and a political assassination ensued.

George Clooney’s latest producing/writing/directing/acting gig, THE IDES OF MARCH (M) is based on a play called FARRAGUT NORTH by Beau Willimon. The new title is a much better fit.

Ryan Gosling plays a young, ambitious, media savvy staffer campaigning for Clooney’s Democratic Party’s presidential primary hopeful who is approached by rival Democratic Party campaign captain, played by Paul Giamatti.

Ambition, loyalty, betrayal and revenge makes up the vertebrae of this narrative where political backbone is given Machiavellian manipulation through faction fighting and moral turpitude.

Fans of THE WEST WING will relish this early Christmas treat as should any audience who appreciate sharp, quick witted dialogue and a thriller plot that prods at the political process.

And what a cast! Gosling goes from strength to strength from picture to picture, this latest hot on the heels of his star turn in CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE and DRIVE.

Clooney exudes all the charm, charisma and confidence of a presidential candidate and statesman, almost too good to be true.
Paul Giammatti is gritty, grounded, genuine, as is Philip Seymour Hoffman as Clooney’s campaign captain. His slightly seedy, disheveled but sharp and politically astute character reminded me of a character drawn with a mixture of Richo with some Bob Ellis.

Marissa Tomei shines as the tenacious terrier reporter whose stories can make or break political contenders and Evan Rachel Wood is heartbreaking as the intern that tears the internal affairs, both literally and figuratively, off the campaign caravan.

Dirty tricks, double dealings, private and public improprieties, THE IDES OF MARCH has it all, including the ashes in the mouth that comes with the compromise of idealism being back stabbed by the prevailing pragmatism of ‘whatever it takes.”

© Richard Cotter

23rd November, 2011

Tags: THE IDES OF MARCH, George Clooney, FARRAGUT NORTH, Beau Willimon, Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marissa Tomei.

ARTHUR CHRISTMAS

A scene from ARTHUR CHRISTMAS

Christmas comes early for cinemagoers with the release of ARTHUR CHRISTMAS, a co-production between Aardman and Sony Animation.

The film is about Santa succession and the enduring success Santa enjoys in circumnavigating the globe on one night.

As depicted at the beginning of the picture, it’s a major military operation, a meld of high tech and magic as 21st century Santa eschews the traditional nine reindeer open sleigh with a star ship, the S-1 that has a Kris Kringle cloaking device Klingons would envy.

Continue reading ARTHUR CHRISTMAS

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN

Tilda Swinton as Eva and Jasper Newell as Kevin fail to bond

Not a Labor Party manifesto, rather WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (M) is an exquisitely realised adaptation of the novel by Lionel Shriver.

A captivating, creative, compelling and mesmerizing movie, Lynne Ramsay is totally on track to being the second female director to bring home Oscar bacon.

Her study of a serial killer through the mass murderer’s mother’s perceptions, feelings, and misgivings gives new meaning to the term ‘misconception’.

Movies with demonic children are usually of the horror genre, spawn of Satan sublimating and distancing progeny and parent, a kind of anti Immaculate Conception, born with original sin, malice aforethought, the mark of Cain, and sign of the beast. The Kevin of the title makes THE OMEN’S fallen angel Damien look like a cherub and without all the mumbo jumbo Bible babble superstitious six-six-six silliness.

Almost from conception, Kevin conveys a certain unease within his mother, and certainly from birth, his bearing borders on the unbearable. The beastly baby evolves into a terror toddler and onto a terrorising teenager.

Tilda Swinton takes a tilt and a swipe for another Oscar as the fragile mum whose observational intuition regarding her son grate against the template of maternal instinct. By contrast, her maternal instincts seem to be firing on all cylinders in regard to her second born daughter.

Is it a gender thing? Her male partner ups the ante of antagonism with his suspicion that the disconnect between mother and son is all her fault. His boys- will- be -boys edict consolidates the disconnect to include husband and wife. His lack of support for her is noted by the son who in turn manipulates the father to further his suspicion that she is persecuting the boy by some post-natal notion of alienation. A male doctor she consults is similarly patronising. She appears to be totally devoid of female support.

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN is a provocative portrait of parenthood, an enthralling evocation of the nurture vs. nature idea, and bravely eschews the dysfunctional family cliché by presenting them instead as unsynchronised. The gear box of the family unit crashes and gnashes. When mum wants to clutch, dad decides to break. When mum wants to park, dad wants to reverse.

John C. Reilly plays the dad as a bit of a Pollyanna, a facsimile of a FATHER KNOWS BEST fifties sit com dad blind to the reality that his domestic situation resembles more of a David Lynch environment than a hearty hearth and home scenario.

Three actors are employed as Kevin – toddler Rocky Duer, pre-teen Jasper Newell and teenager Ezra Miller. All convey the petulance and malevolence of a boy who cannot bond with his mother.

Unconventional in its narrative, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN boasts a bravura, visceral visual style and bold sound design. Red is its primary colour, viscous, sticky red, realised in paint or pulped tomatoes, symbolic of anger, rage and blood. Sounds morph from the mundane to the menacing creating a cacophony of confusion. This is engaging and exciting cinema.

© Richard Cotter

16th November, 2011

Tags: Sydney Movie Of The Week, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN, Lynne Ramsay, Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Rocky Duer, Jasper Newell, Ezra Miller.

ANONYMOUS

Rafe Spall plays a shickered SHAKESPEARE in ANONYMOUS

ANONYMOUS (M) comes with inbuilt animosity. Acrimony will come from defendants of William Shakespeare who is accused of not being the author of the canon that has been attributed to him for the past four hundred years.

The premise that the Bard was a beard for a high born has been around for centuries and continues to canker like all conspiracy theories. It is a legitimate premise for a play or picture, but balance is needed in the conjecture and none seems evident in this confused confection.

The picture begins in a theatre with Stratford sceptic Derek Jacobi espousing Shakespeare’s sham directly to camera. The lens then pans us into Elizabethan England, where Ben Johnson and Kit Marlowe are established scribblers but the “swan of Avon” is a sot actor, able to read but not write. Silly stuff.

The shickered Shakespeare is played by Rafe Spall as a cod pieced cad that’s an affront to legitimate investigation. The bias is writ large in this portrayal of the Bard as a buffoon and bore and Shakespeare isn’t the only one to get short shrift – Marlowe is a cardboard cut-out killed by the Avon assassin. Ben Johnson fares better, but only just.

The ill Will of the piece aside, ANONYMOUS is a misconceived mess missing out many dramatic moments and virtually devoid of any leavening mirth. The script by John Orloff and direction by Roland Emmerich are so leadenly earnest the 130 minutes plays like 130 hours!

That’s not to say there are some nice characterisations, principally from the Redgrave mother daughter act with Vanessa playing the older Queen Elizabeth and Joely Richardson playing her at a younger age.

Finally, ANONYMOUS is an abject failure at forging the fiction that Shakespeare was a fraud, a fake, a front. It deserves anonymity.

(c) Richard Cotter

2nd November, 2011

Tags: ANONYMOUS, William Shakespeare, Derek Jacobi, Rafe Spall, Christopher Marlowe, Ben Johnson, John Orloff,Roland Emmerich, Vanessa Redgrave, Joely Richardson.

OUR IDIOT BROTHER

Janet Montgomery and Paul Rudd in OUR IDIOT BROTHER

OUR IDIOT BROTHER (M) is the kind of title that usually has me running for cover, figuring it will be some gross out American teen puerility masquerading as mirth.

So it came as a pleasant surprise that OUR IDIOT BROTHER is a genuine mirth maker about a gormless guy called Ned, played by Paul Rudd, who has a heart of gold and a brain without malice or aforethought, a kind of clueless Kent from King Lear.

It’s a bit of a long bow, but the Lear allusion also manifests itself in the characters of Ned’s three sisters who care for him but find him an embarrassment, one of them actually evicting him.

A myriad of amusing mishaps conspire to tear his relationship with his siblings apart but his gormlessness is tempered with such a beguiling, innocent charm that family feuding cannot prevail indefinitely.

Plotted with aplomb by siblings Jesse and Evgenia Peretz with a screenplay by Evgenia and David Schisgall and directed by Jesse, this film targets sophistication and lampoons the politically correct straight jacket we’ve allowed the lunatics to harness honesty with.

Ned is honest, if not always legal, incapable of cheating or lying, and too trustworthy in these times of spin, where the name of the game is to be less natural, simple or ingenuous.

In this way he is more akin to his wine mellowed mother played by Shirley Knight than his sisters, Liz (Emily Mortimer) subjugated by her spurious spouse, Dylan (Steve Coogan), a pretentious documentary film maker, Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) a flighty journo who wants to graduate from puff piece to serious stories but can’t tell the difference, and Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) confused about her sexuality as she is buffeted between a dominant dyke partner and a cult bamboozled boy.

There’s some hysterical support from Kathryn Hahn and T.J. Miller as Ned’s ex and her idiot new beau who has a dog called Willie Nelson.

A layered and textured comedy with a gauche title, OUR IDIOT BROTHER delivers laughs without detouring your brain.

(c) Richard Cotter

2nd November, 2011

Tags: SYDNEY MOVIE OF THE WEEK, OUR IDIOT BROTHER, Paul Rudd, Jesse Peretz, Evgenia Peretz, David Schisgall, Shirley Knight, Emily Mortimer, Steve Coogan, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Janet Montgomery, Kathryn Hahn, T.J Miller, Willie Nelson.

A NEW BRAIN

Garth Saville and Beth Daly in A NEW BRAIN. Pic Scott Clare

What’s neuro, pussycat? Can a musical about brain surgery be entertaining?!

The grey celled squad from Squabbalogic prove that it’s a no brainer with their energetic production of A NEW BRAIN at Sidetrack Theatre.

Penned by the team behind Falsettos, William Finn and James Lapine, A NEW BRAIN is the story of songwriter Gordon Schwinn, struck down by a brain malady while composing a new melody for children’s show superstar and impresario, Mr. Bungee.

A boyfriend, a girl friend, his mother, a bag lady, a skull capped surgeon, nurses and a padre all add to this brief of grief, played with a patina of light lyric and a pinch of pathos making palatable the preparation of the palliative- neuro fiddles while the home fires burn.

Gavin Leahy as the sconce stricken songster gives good lead with clear voice and characterisation and he’s given great support from a tight company.

Mark Simpson as the big male nurse, Richard, has a commanding and endearingly warm quality and makes the most of two of the best songs in the show; ‘Poor, Unsuccessful and Fat’, and ‘You Boys Are Going to Get Me in Such Trouble’.

As Gordon’s mother, Mimi, Beth Daly impresses with a couple of knockout solos, ‘Throw It Out’ and ‘The Music Still Plays On’.
Squabbalogic supremo Jay James-Moody literally has a spring in his step with his sublime characterisation of Mr. Bungee, a frenetic frog, a megalomaniac amphibian, who leaps, limbers and lurks, and ultimately gives advice against croaking.

Shondelle Pratt as Homeless Lady does some nice shtick and gives good throat in a couple of belters, while a sly comic sensibility shines from Laura Murphy in the dual roles of the wet waitress and the dry nurse, the latter showing a certain gory glee in cerebrum surgery and slight skulduggery in the skull digging.

Keira Daley, Blake Erickson, Garth Saville and Mark Sippel comprise the rest of the company and acquit themselves admirably in this cranio-musical comedy.

The company, both on stage and behind the scenes, are to be applauded for a nice night’s entertainment. The big musicals are attractive for their size and spectacle, but Squabbalogic prove with this production that ebullience and boldness can beat budget and present a class act.

I look forward to their new venture, Ordinary Days, scheduled for January 2012 at the Darlinghurst Theatre.

Squabbalogic’s production of William Finn and James Lapine’s music A NEW BRAIN opened at the Sidetrack theatre, Addison Road complex, 142 Addison Road, Marrickville on Thursday 27th October and runs until Saturday 12th November, 2011.

Tags: A NEW BRAIN, William Finn, James Lapine, Squabbalogic, Sidetrack theatre Marrickville, Beth Daly, Jay James-Moody, Shondelle Pratt, Laura Murphy, Keira Daley, Blake Erickson, Garth Saville, Mark Sippel, Mark Simpson, Gavin Leahy.

DRIVE

Carey Mullian and Ryan Gosling in DRIVE

What a year Ryan Gosling is having. In CRAZY, STUPID LOVE (M) he’s the buff Lothario giving lessons in love to staid Steve Carrel. In DRIVE (MA), he’s the existentialist wheelman with all the cool of a contemporary Steve McQueen.

DRIVE is the latest high octane movie from Danish wunderkind Nicolas Winding Refn. Ryan Gosling plays a driver, gainfully employed as a stunt driver in Hollywood movies but who makes a side-bar stash moonlighting as a getaway driver for robbers.

Like the Jason Stratham character in THE TRANSPORTER films, he has his own strict code of principles and rules, the bending of which lands him up the inevitable scatological creek.

Unlike the character in THE TRANSPORTER, this driver is a working class stiff leading a very quiet existence, almost monastic in the chastity and chattels stakes.

When not working as a wheelman legitimately or otherwise, Driver potters around a workshop run by Shannon (Bryan Cranston), the closest thing he has to a friend, who also brokers the illegitimate gigs for the young man.

When Driver’s neighbour, Irene (Carey Mulligan), a young mother awaiting the release of her husband from prison, brings her car in for a service, a burgeoning relationship blossoms.

On release from prison, her husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac) beseeches the Driver to participate in a heist that is botched by a double cross, complete with a femme fatale, (a sultry, slutty turn by Christina Hendricks) and the Driver goes into overdrive, heading for a head-on collision with a couple of creepy crooks, played by Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman.

The cinematic love child of BULLITT out of TAXI DRIVER, DRIVE is pitch perfect existential neo noir penned by Hossein Amini from the novel by James Sallis, exquisitely shot by Newton Thomas Sigel, edited by Mat Newman, and with a sizzling score by Cliff Martinez.

(c) Richard Cotter

24th October, 2011

Tags: DRIVE, Nicolas Winding Refn, Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Oscar Isaac, Christina Hendricks, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, Hossein Amini, James Sallis, Newton Thomas Sigel. Mat Newman, Cliff Martinez.

WARRIOR

Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton fight it out in WARRIOR(M)

The film year started with a fight movie, THE FIGHTER, and looks set to end on another bona fide classic of the genre.

WARRIOR(M) begins with recovering alcoholic Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte) listening to an audio book of MOBY DICK after attending Mass. At home, he is accosted and berated by his son, Tommy (Tom Hardy) from whom he has been estranged more than a dozen years. It’s a dazzling scene setting up character, relationship and back story in a stunning synergy of writing, staging and performance. It sets the tone and momentum of this monumentally powerful film.

The reason for Tommy’s reunion is not reconciliation but to enlist his father to train him for a shot at Sparta, the biggest winner- take -all event in mixed martial arts.

Meanwhile, Tommy’s brother, Brendan (Joel Edgerton) is finding it hard to make ends meet on his meagre school teacher salary and unbeknownst to his estranged sibling and father, has decided to enter the event also.

This sets up the inevitable clash and confrontation that powerfully puts the max into climax.

Director Gavin O’Connor returns to the generational saga he so richly mined in his last film, PRIDE AND GLORY, and has created an even grittier, bolder, and satisfying film about familial frailty, fragility and fidelity.

The screenplay by O’Connor, Anthony Tambakis and Cliff Dorfman is beautifully layered with surprising plot twists, multi-faceted characters and splendidly rendered dialogue.

The three leads are magnificent – especially Aussie Joel Edgerton now a major contender on the international screen- with uniformly superb support by a stellar cast, particularly Frank Grillo as Brendan’s coach, Frank, who boosts Brendan for battle with Beethoven, and Jennifer Morrison as Brendan’s wife, Tess.

As with all good fight films, the film editing has to be as cutting edge as direction and performance. A gang of four cut this picture – Sean Albertson who punched out ROCKY BALBOA, John Gilroy and Aaron Marshall who worked on PRIDE AND GLORY, and Matt Chesse, Academy Award nominee for FINDING NEVERLAND.

WARRIOR IS A KNOCKOUT!

(C) Richard Cotter

Tags: WARRIOR, Gavin O’Connor, Nick Nolte, Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Anthony Tambakis, Cliff Dorfman, Frank Grillo, Jennifer Morrison, Sean Albertson, John Gilroy, Aaron Marshall, Matt Cheese, mixed martial arts, fight classic

JUDITH

Luisa Hastings Edge as Judith lashes out. Pic Heidrun Lohr

“If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well It were done quickly:” opines Macbeth over the assassination of Duncan. And yet he procrastinates.

Such hesitation over homicide afflicts “the heroine” of Howard Barker’s play JUDITH –A Parting of the Body, a widow-woman who achieved warrior status in ancient Israel for despatching by decapitation the enemy general, Holofernes.

On the eve of his planned annihilation of the Jews, Holofernes, muses on mass murder, philosophises on warfare, and concludes that the meaning of life is to fuck and to fight.

Continue reading JUDITH

THIS YEAR’S ASHES

Nathan Lovejoy and Belinda Bromilow in THIS YEAR’S ASHES. pIc Brett Boardman

On entering the intimate Stables Theatre we are confronted with a set basically comprising a bed with a man and a woman in it. The intimacy rises a notch, but is botched as the lights go down and the coital capers, aiming for comedy, come as anticlimactically coy, as the two are shown to be dramatically overdressed for such between the sheets shenanigans. Notch botched by covered crotch!

It’s a no ball, merely setting up the pitch of the play, that of a country girl in the big smoke of Sydney experiencing alienation and loss, compensating by binge drinking and indiscriminate sex.

The play gets back to the crease in the second scene where we are introduced to the girl’s father, a cricket loving codger, appearing in her life after some absence and brokering a reunion and reconciliation.

It is here where the deft bowling and batting of Jane Bodie’s dialogue takes flight, getting the emotional runs on the board. As Dad takes her through the way of the wicket, Ellen continues to allow a series of men have their wicked way. A not so maiden over, out for a duck.

Tony Llewellyn –Jones has a field day with the cricket obsessed father, delivering a delectable and verbally dexterous performance – the “silly” talk is really quite clever – with the subtle nuance and gravitas desired to pull off one of the major googlies of the play.
Ellen is played with a tangible fragility by Belinda Bromilow, haunted, troubled, and seemingly unable to connect with her sex partners or the city in the cold, sober light of morning.

The men, panoply of personalities ranging from the pathetic bully boy to the sensitive, sympathetic and slightly socially gauche are all played by Nathan Lovejoy, using a simmering, sinewy palette to shade the characters. His jocular jock hunting shtick – all bare bum and bollocks in starkers contrast to the opening scrotal decorum- is a nice play on trying to take your trousers off over your head routine.

Rita Carmody’s set makes very good use of the space, with its sparse bedsit veneer, the bed astride a patch of turf protruding through the floorboards. It’s not only symbolic but literally pitches us into the narrative in the second act.

I’m not sure that THIS YEAR’S ASHES, well directed by Shannon Murphy, is quite the cutting edge theatre that Griffin boasts in its marketing. The phrase is so hackneyed and coddled with cliché it has lost its currency.

Though maybe not the prime of Jane Bodie, happily, THIS YEAR’S ASHES is not hackneyed nor clichéd, and cutting edge or not, (although it could do with a bit of cutting –over 2 hours with interval was a bit too much of a good thing) this production showcases three exceptional acting talents, a virtual thespian hat-trick, declared!

Shannon Murphy’s production of Jane Bodie’s THIS YEAR’S ASHES opened at the Stables theatre, Nimrod street, Kings Cross on Friday 7th October and runs until Saturday 19th November, 2011.

© Richard Cotter

13th October, 2011

Tags: THIS YEAR’S ASHES, Stables Theatre, Jane Bodie, Shannon Murphy, , Belinda Bromilow, Nathan Lovejoy, Tony Llewellyn-Jones, Rita Carmody, Brett Boardman, cricket, The Ashes.

WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER?

Anna Faris and Chris Evans get close in WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER?

Sassy, sexy, raunchy, with just a tincture of sentiment, WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER? (M) is a welcome surprise package amidst the crass, gross offerings that Hollywood usually serves up as comedy.

Anna Faris stars as Ally Darling who on the eve of her little sister, Daisy’s (Ari Graynor) wedding, calculates how many copulation sleeping partners she’s had and decides to remain celibate until she retraces her recreational pillow partners in an endeavour to discover if one of them was truly “The One”.

Recruiting her root rat neighbour, Colin, an Internet literate with sleuthing skills, (Chris Evans) to help track down her past sleeping, a process of elimination becomes a procession of humiliations played to hilarious comic effect.

Based on Karyn Bosnak’s novel, TWENTY TIMES A LADY, screenwriters Gabrielle Allan and Jennifer Crittenden have fashioned a fun, fast flowing narrative that focuses on Faris’s fetching charm and comedic talents.

Like her 2008 film, THE HOUSE BUNNY, Faris executive produced this picture herself and her creative paws are all over it.

Apart from the aforementioned Chris Evans and Ari Graynor, WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER? boasts a bona fide buffet of supporting actors.
Blythe Danner’s turn as Faris’s mother is a bravura of comedy and pathos and Ed Begley Junior as the father similarly hits the spot.
As one of “the numbers”, Martin Freeman shines in an episode that transcends into a fab parody of MY FAIR LADY.

Yes, WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER? plays by the numbers in the rom-com roulette, but in the hands of such an attractive cast and under the perfectly paced direction of Mark Mylod, it’s a very winning formula indeed, and a lot better than the ordinary, so called comedy, crapshoot.

Place your bets.

© Richard Cotter

13th October, 2011

RED STATE

All hell breaks loose in Kevin Smith’s latest film RED STATE

Michael Parks’ performance as the pernicious preacher, Pastor Abin Cooper is just one good reason to see Kevin Smith’s latest irreverence, RED STATE (MA).

Another is John Goodman’s good man in evil circumstances turn as ATF agent, Joseph Keenan, who utters the summation lines, “People just do the strangest things when they believe they’re entitled. But they do even stranger things when they just plain believe”.

Cooper is leader of a sick sect of Christendom whose hatred of homosexuals is homicidal. When he kidnaps three horny teenagers, he tries and tortures them in his tabernacle, his homily a hyper-articulate hate speech for his congregation of consanguine kith and kin, who gladly gladwrap and gun down their captives.

The immoderate remarks made in the monologue are so beautifully mellifluous and modulated by Parks delivery and tone you can understand the charismatic thrall his God fearing flock hold him in. They are all committed and should be committed- to an asylum.

All hell breaks loose when the cult’s compound is surrounded by government agents commanded by Keenan. He’s conscious of avoiding another Waco fiasco, but higher authority orders him to tackle the situation as if it were a terrorist cell using deadly force with extreme prejudice. First and second amendments of the United States Constitution on catastrophic collision course. Armageddon and apocalypse–amen.

The target here is extreme fundamentalism, in this case home grown, and just as an affront to homeland security as foreign religious zealots. Profound and profane, contrary, controversial and confronting – a must see.

(C)Richard Cotter

7th October, 2011

THE HUNTER

Looking for the Tasmanian Tiger in THE HUNTER

THE HUNTER (M) has Willem Dafoe despatched to Tasmania to track the Tasmanian Tiger for a mysterious biotech company. The last thylacine has been rumoured to be roaming the rugged and remote Tasmanian wilderness and so a hunt for the mythical by the unethical is initiated.

Dafoe’s hunter is an enigmatic, detached professional whose persona and façade are whittled away by his encounter with two children who live in the tumbledown where he is billeted – a base camp from which to embark on his trapping bivouacs. The kids’ mother is mourning the disappearance of her partner and has become moribund.

The hunter’s endeavours to regenerate the house with electrical power simultaneously brings rejuvenation to the maudlin mother and a mutual, if muted, attraction is activated. Mollifying his mixed emotions with the rigors of his mission, the hunter is, nevertheless, plunged into the role of protector when local loggers threaten the green leaning lady and her brood. He is also targeted as a tree hugger and comes into conflict with a rather intriguing and ambiguous resident, Jack Mindey, who has an undeclared passion for the mother.

As the plot progresses, the hunter becomes the hunted, the predator the prey, the trapper trapped. Performances are all first rate with Frances O’Connor luminous as the mother, Lucy, and Morgan Davies and Finn Woodlock as her children. Sam Neill as Jack Mindey is wonderful as always.

Of-course, the characters are almost dwarfed by the brooding landscape and atmosphere of the Tasmanian wilderness, absolutely breathtaking in its wild beauty and superbly captured by cinematographer Robert Humphreys.

A fascinating and assured feature film debut from director Daniel Nettheim, THE HUNTER deserves to snare a fair share of the local box-office.

© Richard Cotter

29th September, 2011

CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE

Julianne Moore and Steve Carrell in CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE

CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE is the second shot at feature film directing by duo Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. These boys first came to motion picture prominence by penning Bad Santa, the iconoclastic, caustic, claus with claws comedy. They then adapted the book I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS and apprenticed themselves to helming the project.

With CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE they have decided to hone their helming duties and opted to direct a script by Dan Fogelman. The script is a gift, a beautifully structured scenario about the fallout of a marriage breakdown, full of intricacies and intersections, a comedy that is funny but also intriguing, honest and humane.

Such a fine script has attracted an equally fine cast – Steve Carrell headlines as Cal Weaver whose wife Emily (Julianne Moore) starts the comedy of errors rolling with her wish for a divorce after an indiscretion with her workmate, David (Kevin Bacon).Enter Jacob (Ryan Gosling) a kind of young Henry Higgins, a professor of the heterosexual pick-up, a tutor in the technique of attraction, a Pygmalion who preens Cal into a suave and successful player in the game of pulling playmates.

Poor Cal still pines for Emily however, but reconciliation is put under pressure from all manner of parties including family members, neighbours and teachers. Emma Stone, Marissa Tomei, Beth Littleford and Josh Groben all add their talents to this exceptionally well layered film whose humour comes from the heart and not from the fart that seems to be the insubstantial and inconsequential core of contemporary American comedy.

True comedy has certain humanity with characters that we can empathise with. It has the potential for tragedy if things don’t turn out right. This is true of CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE, – it’s big hearted, warm hearted and potentially heart breaking, audacious enough to be sophisticated and silly, verbally dexterous and deliriously slapstick when required

© Richard Cotter

27th September, 2011

THE WHISTLEBLOWER

Rachel Weisz plays whistleblower Kathryn Bolkovac

Stymied by glass ceiling restraints for transfer and promotion, Nebraska cop Kathryn Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz) accepts a well paying peace keeping gig with the United Nations in Bosnia.Although under the auspices of the UN, her employer is actually a contractor called Democra Security. Of all the countries in all the world participating in international peacekeeping missions, only the U.S. outsources contracts to private companies. This makes a mockery of UN charter and makes the American contingent little more than mercenaries.

Kathryn discovers corruption most cruel in the form of human trafficking. She realises that peacekeepers, U.N. workers, and international police are not only frequenting the brothels housing and abusing trafficking victims but complicit in the trade, profiting from sexual slavery and aided by United Nations policy granting diplomatic immunity for peacekeepers, even if they are guilty of rape, kidnapping, torture and murder.

Is there such a word as GENDERCIDE? There should be. The wilful, wanton, misogyny that murders and maims; the evil men do to women. This was gendercide of the most grievous and Kathryn had to blow the whistle.The crux of the matter in this movie is whether diplomatic immunity should translate into political impunity. Immunity is primarily a biological word but put in political parlance, it seems that some sentient beings – the inhumanity demonstrated disavows the term “human”- are immune to basic decency, particularly male beings that reduce females to chattels.

Not surprisingly, the film gives short shrift to the blokes, although there are a couple of men who are willing to make a stand against their barbarous brothers and not capitulate to the common escape clause credo that “this is Bosnia. These people specialise in fucked up.” And there are depictions of women who by duplicity or bureaucracy aid and abet the abuse.

THE WHISTLEBLOWER is an assured feature film debut from Canadian born Ukranian Larysa Kondracki. Her three female leads are exemplary – Rachel Weisz as the crusading cop, Vanessa Redgrave as her mentor and confidante and Monica Bellucci as the hard headed face of the bureaucracy that hamstrings honest humanitarian intervention.

An intelligent thriller with something to say that transcends any self-important stamp that could have toppled its entertainment value.

(c) Richard Cotter

23rd September, 2011

THE EYE OF THE STORM

Judy Davis as Dorothy in THE EYE OF THE STORM

The meeting of esteemed Australian novelist Patrick White with assured Australian director Fred Schepisi has paid off in spades with the production of THE EYE OF THE STORM (M).

Adapted by Judy Morris and peopled by a sublime cast, THE EYE OF THE STORM is a magical, tragic tale set in 1972 Sydney.

Siblings Basil (Geoffrey Rush) and Dorothy (Judy Davis) are summoned from their European bases to attend malingering mama, Mrs. Hunter (Charlotte Rampling).

Rush has made a mark on the British stage and been knighted, in spite of his blighted rendition of Lear, whilst Davis has gone through a marred marriage to an Italian prince, now dissolved, with title and small allowance the only legacy of the royal wedding.

Both siblings are battered by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and keen to get their hooks on the outrageous fortune that lays a last breath away in the decaying, declining, yet still dominating dame who is their mother!

Using the reluctant services of their family lawyer Arnold Wyburd (John Gaden), a man long in love with Mrs Hunter, they scheme to place their mother in a society nursing home to expedite her demise.

Panic sets in as the staff sense the impending end of their eccentric world. Most eccentric of the staff is Lotte, a refugee from Nazi Germany who is Mrs. Hunter’s cook and private cabaret act. Helen Morse is sensational in the role making an Uber welcome return to the big screen after a hiatus of a decade or more. Her Lotte alone is worth the price of admission, but wait, there’s more with Alexandra Schepisi as the day nurse, Flora, who plans parenthood with Basil, and Maria Theodorakis as the pious night nurse, Mary.

Robyn Nevin, Jane Menelaus, Billie Brown, Heather Mitchell, Liz Alexander are all in the cast, and there is a wonderful star turn by Colin Friels as a droll pollie with PM aspirations who is also on the lookout for a leg over with Dorothy.

A welcome return to the big screen by Fred Schepisi and a brilliant adaptation by Judy Morris, – best Oz film of the year, and certainly best score by the marvellous Paul Grabowsky.

(c) Richard Cotter

7th September, 2011

13 ASSASSINS

Kick Arse Martial Arts in 13 ASSASSINS

A shot of nostalgia for Shogunites and those sentimental for samurai is in store with 13 ASSASSINS (MA), a boisterous blood and blade Bushido opus from prolific filmmaker Takashi Miike.

Set at the end of Japan’s feudal era, a group of unemployed samurai are enlisted to bring down a sadistic lord and prevent him ascending the throne and plunging the country into a war torn future.

Beginning with a ritual suicide, seppuku slides into massacre as the hiss register for the villain goes off the vile meter and our hopes for the thirteen assassins success is ratcheted into retribution hyper drive.

Leading the thirteen is Shinzaemon Shimada played by Koji Yakusho. This fighting fit at fifty-five samurai has gone fishing of late but is quite keen to wield the katana again especially against such a cruel and evil opponent.

His assembled samurai are a rag tag bunch ranging in age, skill and experience but bound by a common goal in ridding their country of a ghoul.

The last to join their ranks is a forest forager, handy with a catapult, who finds the sword-centric samurai arrogant but whose brawls are crazy fun.

Played by Yusuke Iseaya, the hog hunting sling shooter provides the much needed comic relief in what is two hours of choreographed killing and decapitation. Kick Arse Martial arts!

(c) Richard Cotter

4th September, 2011

BEGINNERS

Ewan McGregor plays Oliver in Mike Mills’s BEGINNERS. (C) Focus Features

Like a role reversal of THE SUM OF US, BEGINNERS (M) is just as sweet, charming and endearing.

After nearly half a century of marriage, Hal Fields (Christopher Plummer) finds himself a widower and decides to come out as a gay man at the age of 75. His 38 year old only child, Oliver(Ewan McGregor) supports his father’s new found freedoms, having always sensed, subconsciously, his dad’s secret self.

Hal’s liberation lasts a fleeting five years before succumbing to inoperable cancer but it’s a full five years, featuring a young lover, a flourishing of new friends and a greater closeness between father and son.

BEGINNERS is two stories – one follows father and son as they traverse the territory of new identity and terminal illness, the other is the son’s dealing with dad’s departure to the undiscovered country and his budding romance with Anna (Melanie Laurent).

Oliver meets Anna at a fancy dress party three months after his dad’s death. In a brilliant touch, Oliver is costumed as Sigmund Freud and Anna is suffering from laryngitis. The mute and the mutable.

Using a myriad of narrative devices – flashback, montage, surrealism – writer director Mike Mills affects a richly layered film that hums with humour, heartbreak and humanity.
The three leads are stunningly good as one should expect from actors of their calibre, but there are a couple of outstanding supporting players as well.

In flashbacks to his childhood, Mary Page Keller plays Oliver’s mother, Georgia. Her flamboyance, grace and charm are flecked with a nuance of something unfulfilled.
The other stand out supporting role is fleshed out by a four legged performer called Cosmo who plays Arthur, Hal’s Jack Russell, who is inherited by Oliver, and becomes a kind of canine chorus to the action.

© Richard Cotter

25th August, 2011

Pete Postlethwaite’s: ‘A Spectacle Of Dust’

The great British actor, Pete Postlethwaite

Pete Postlethwaite’s posthumous apologia, A SPECTACLE OF DUST (W&N) begins with a love letter to Liverpool, his spiritual home.During the early part of the 1970s, at the start of his acting career, Liverpool’s magnetism pulled him back again and again.“At the time the city was the most creative, vibrant, exciting, dangerous and magical place on earth.”

It was in Liverpool in 2008 he leapt at portraying Lear, Shakespeare’s lunatic liege, in a troubled production that preyed upon his health.Before becoming an actor, Pete toyed with the idea of becoming a priest then a PE teacher. But the theatre trumped all such vocational vacillations, even usurping his Catholic faith. “But in theatre, we were learning about spirit and soul, about humanity. The text of our plays became my bible. They became my hymns. They became the priests and nuns of my existence.”

Never unemployed, something of a miracle for a jobbing actor, things haven’t always been ship shape and Bristol fashion. Shortly after graduating from Bristol Old Vic, he joined the Everyman theatre, and on a tour of Wales, Bristol fashion became ship-wreck with an appalling attack of paranoia, not helped by rehearsing through a dense fog of booze and hashish haze.

There are heaps of Hollywood stories, but the style of the book is the essence, not any showbiz goss and gloss.However, the general film fan will be intrigued to hear about such cinematic triumphs as In the Name of the Father, The Usual Suspects and Brassed Off. Postlethwaite’s has such a distinctive voice in the narrative of his story that even if you had never seen him on stage or screen, you know exactly how he sounds, and what he stands for.

As surely as it begins as a love letter to Liverpool, the book ends as a love letter to his family.Suspicious of actor autobiography and having an instinctive mistrust and downright dislike for board treaders’ biographies, Pete pontificates and proselytises against celebrity and persuades that he has no desire simply to “cash my story in , to commodify my life”. “

My life isn’t about transcending difficulty; it’s about love and belief. A long time ago I realised that acting wasn’t just a silly game. It has meaning, it has the power to shape and improve lives. But there’s one thing that’s always been above the creative and political in my life: family.”

On reading this book, it’s actually his death is about transcending difficulty. Writing the tome as he contemplated his tomb after being diagnosed with aggressive and inoperable cancer, this memorable memoir becomes a memento mori.To lift from his beloved Lear, “to shake all cares and business from our age…while we unburdened crawl towards death”.

Richard Cotter

2nd August, 2011