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.

CHINESE TAKEAWAY

Ignacio Huang and Ricardo Darin in CHINESE TAKEAWAY

The Spanish Film Festival launched last Monday evening at the Chauvel Cinema with sangria and savouries and a screening of the sweet Argentinean comedy, CHINESE TAKEAWAY.

Predominantly from Spain, the festival features films from other Spanish speaking countries, including Argentina, Peru, Mexico and Columbia. Four of the films come from Argentina and if CHINESE TAKEAWAY is anything to go by, the Argentine contingent alone will be worth the price of a ticket.

The film opens in China with a most surprising, astonishing, bizarre bovine incident then moves to Argentina where we meet the cranky, contrary Roberto Caesar, prickly proprietor of a ferreteria, which to the English seeing eye would suggest weasel wares per chance, but in Spanish translates to hardware store, per favour.

Roberto is a loner, a collector of things, including cuttings of bizarre stories from the newspapers. In a curious coincidence, he stumbles upon the Chinese man from the opening sequence as the fellow is being ditched from a taxi near the airport.

The foreigner, Jun, has an address tattooed on his arm and Roberto drives him there. It is the address of Jun’s uncle, but his father’s brother has moved on.

Receiving no help from the local police or the Chinese embassy, two scenes that brilliantly burst the bureaucratic bubble that beleaguers so many of us at times, Roberto offers to billet the boy, setting a deadline of seven days to find his relatives or return to China.

With no common language, it’s a bewildering time for both men, but a relationship develops between the curmudgeon and his eager to please lodger.

CHINESE TAKEAWAY offers the best kind of comedy, the laughs rising effortlessly from character and situation, layered with pathos as a serious plight underpins proceedings.

Ricardo Darin is spectacular in his personification of isolation, a legacy of a motherless childhood and an absurd stint in military national service. This distancing cannot disguise his inherent integrity, honesty and courage, however, as we see in his deeds with Jun. It is seen with crystal clarity by Mari played by Muriel Santa Ana, who is head over heels in love with him and is willing to wait for his reticence to romance recede.

Written and directed by Sebastian Borensztein, CHINESE TAKEAWAY is a lovely, charming, bittersweet, funny film that celebrates the unpredictability of life, its absurdities and its genuine joys.

CHINESE TAKEAWAY screens at The Chauvel Cinema Friday July 6 at 6.30pm and at the Palace Norton Street Sunday July 8 at 6.30pm, Thursday July 12 at 9.15pm and Saturday July 14 at 6.45pm.

The 15th Spanish Film Festival runs at both venues from July 4 through to July 15.

© Richard Cotter

20th June, 2012

Tags: Spanish Film Festival 2012 Preview, Chauvel Cinema, Ricardo Darin, Muriel Santa Ana, Sebastian Borensztein, CHINESE TAKEAWAY, Sydney Arts Guide, Richard Cotter.

ELENA

Nadezhda Markina is sensational as ELENA

Andrey Zvyagintsev is a man who makes movie masterpieces.

After his breathtakingly beautiful THE RETURN, the movie maestro returns with ELENA (M), a film that revels in the minutiae of life and makes it riveting.

Spare, precise, with a stylish symmetry, this tale of tortured loyalties and familial ties begins with a series of domestic rituals – ablutions, breakfasts, toilets, dressings- the mundane made fascinating by a mantilla of intrigue.

Who is the woman, who rises from a bed in one room, to groom herself and prepare food for the man she awakens in another bed in another room?

She is Elena, he is Vladimir. She nursed him in hospital and he married her. Each has a child from a previous marriage. Her son, Sergey, is a lay-about with a lay-about son of his own and a wife who he keeps barefoot and pregnant. Vladimir’s daughter, Katerina is careless and contrary to her father, a wealthy businessman. Katerina is prickly towards Elena as Vladimir is prickly towards Sergey.

This creates prickles within the couple’s otherwise solid relationship, the nettles nudging piercing point when Vladimir suffers a health crisis, reunites with his daughter, and sets about drafting a new will. Nascent nettles bloom into a catastrophic cactus where maternal instinct conspire to spousal extinct.

Zvyagintsev hitches a ride on the Hitchcock highway where the MacGuffin hurtles into the heartland of moral disarray.

Nadezhda Markina is nothing short of sensational in the title role – the eternal maternal- gentle, sweet, feminine – driven by desperation in defence of her child, however misguided it may be.

It’s a heartbreaking performance of a person corrupted by moral malaise and serves not only as a virtuoso insight into human nature but as an allegory of modern society, ex Soviet or not.

ELENA may be set in Moscow but moviegoers from Mascot to Manly will identify with the machinations of manipulative offspring, breaches in blended families, and the balance between welfare and mollycoddling. Bludgers need bludgeoning before they infect their progeny and cause sins committed on their behalf. It seems some who sacrifice to succor are sacrificed themselves on the altar of selfish sons who take their mothers (and their wives) selflessness for granted.

From the mundane to murder, from grief to guilt, ELENA runs a gamut of detailed drama, thrilling and thoughtful, gorgeously framed and shot, and accompanied by a superb score by Philip Glass.

© Richard Cotter

20th June, 2012

Tags: Sydney Movie Reviews- ELENA, Sydney Movie Of The Week, Audrey Zvyagintsev, Nadezhda Markina, Philip Glass, THE RETURN, Sydney Arts Guide, Richard Cotter.

TAKE THIS WALTZ

Luke Kirby and Michelle Williams in TAKE THIS WALTZ

TAKE THIS WALTZ (M) takes its title from the Leonard Cohen song, which itself was taken from Lorca. It is not, however, some slavish cinematic illustration of the lyrics, rather a thematically entwined rumination of romantic love.

Margot, played by the marvellous Michelle Williams is married to Lou, played by the equally swell Seth Rogen. They have a happy marriage in a kind of goofy juvenile way with childish games and baby talk keeping their selves orbiting within their universe of two.
Then a comet in the form of Daniel enters their atmosphere, and he collides with Lou’s bride, giving her a terrible thrill. Daniel is an artist that has moved in across the street from the couple and uses his fee to make ends meet as a rickshaw driver.

TAKE THIS WALTZ is Sarah Polley’s follow up film to her feature debut AWAY FROM HER and makes a startling companion piece. The former film was about an enduring relationship that hits the rocks of dementia. The latter concerns a five year old marriage that has become moribund to the monotony of matrimony; the emotional amnesia that comes with complacency has settled in.

Lou especially is satisfied with the state of the marriage, a homely type who writes recipe books for a living and comes from a large family whose wholesomeness is only worried by a sister struggling to stay sober, a sensational support starrer by Sarah Silverman.

Sarah Polley has taken this waltz -TAKE THIS WALTZ – take this waltz/ Take its broken waist in your hand/ with a garland of freshly cut tears/ Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay, Take this waltz/ take this waltz /Take this waltz/it’s been dying for years – and danced it to the end of love.

If Leonard Cohen was a film maker rather than a poet, this is what we’d expect.

© Richard Cotter

12th June, 2012

Tags: Sydney Movie Reviews- TAKE THIS WALTZ, Movie Of The Week, Sarah Polley, Leonard Cohen, Michele Williams, Seth Rogen, Sarah Silverman, Sydney Arts Guide, Richard Cotter.

MONSIEUR LAZHAR

Monsieur Lazhar inspiring his students

One of the highlights of the closing weekend of the Sydney Festival is MONSIEUR LAZHAR, a Canadian GOODBYE MR CHIPS by way of TO SIR WITH LOVE.

Nominated in this year’s Oscars as best foreign language film, this concise and coruscating movie belies its stage origins and stands as a fully fledged film experience.

Produced by the dynamic duo of Kim McCraw and Luc Dery, the producing pair responsible for last year’s searing INCENDIE, MONSIEUR LAZHAR is based on a one character play by Evelyne de la Cheneliere and written for the screen and directed by Phillipe Falardeau.

The story is set in Montreal where a shocking incident has left a year six class devoid of a teacher. An Algerian immigrant, Bachir Lazhar, applies for the gig and is hired.

Lazhar is very “old school” when it comes to teaching French and his more formal approach brings him into conflict with some of his pupils and their parents.

But most of his students warm to him, responding to his innate humanity, and fellow staff members endorse his more traditional approach as well.

Discipline and succour, so prone to the excesses of political correctness in schools now, are thrown into the practical spotlight by a provocative thoughtfulness that transcends trendy platitudes.

“Today you work with kids like radioactive waste”, laments a colleague, a sports teacher who dare not touch a child even when its patently obvious physical guidance can only aid sports acuity.

A parent teacher interview shows the contemporary chasm that has opened between these two pivotal players in children’s development, a relationship that teeters on the contemptuous.

As Lazhar seeks to educate les enfants he struggles to come to terms with his own precarious émigré status in this extraordinary empathetic and eloquent 90 minute drama.

In the title role is Fellag, an Algerian performer well known in Europe for his one-man stage shows. Like his character, he knows what it is like to be an exile, and this experience commensurate with his honed craft as an actor makes the characterisation all the more potent.

Pre teens Sophie Nelisse and Emilien Neron as Alice and Simon, two students most profoundly affected by the demise of their original teacher are astonishingly good amongst a class of splendid child performers.

Danielle Proulx, memorable in C.R.A.Z.Y a few years back, is terrific as the school principal tossed upon the cloudy seas of education buffeted by the gale force of bureaucracy, as is Brigitte Poupart as Claire, a sympathetic colleague of Monsieur Lazhar.

An education as well as an entertainment, MONSIEUR LAZHAR is in a class of its own.

(c) Richard Cotter

11th June, 2012

Tags: Sydney Movie Reviews- MONSIEUR LAZHAR, Sydney Film Festival, Sydney Arts Guide, Richard Cotter

A ROYAL AFFAIR

A scene from Nikolaj Arcel’s A ROYAL AFFAIR

King Christian VII of Denmark would rather be an actor than a monarch. Statutes are given short shrift but whole screeds of Shakespeare are committed to memory- although something is rotten in the state of Denmark does not rank; indeed it rankles. Could it have something to do with his step-mother and her overweening aspirations for his step brother?!

In 1766, the stage managed marriage to Caroline Mathilde, sister of George III of England to this cuckoo king takes place, is comically consummated, brings forth issue of a son, and alienates the couple.

On a year-long tour of Europe without his queen and heir, the juvenile liege befriends a German doctor, Struensee, and after bonding over Lear,- “we two alone will sing like birds in a cage” – and bestows on him the garland of royal physician.

Returning to court, the manic monarch ignores his queen. Caroline has grown accustomed to a quiet existence in oppressed Copenhagen but finds an unexpected ally within the kingdom with the comely quack.

The attraction between the two is initially one of shared ideals and philosophy, but it soon turns into a passionate and clandestine affair.

Committed to the ideals of the Enlightenment that are banned in Denmark, Struensee convinces the King to assert his previously untapped power to remove the conservative political council and implement drastic changes to Danish society.

Egad! This bloke wants to put more money into education and health at the cost of defence and the landed gentry!

As the Court plot their return to power and the downfall of the Queen and Struensee, the consequences of their affair are made clear and a cuckolded king is duped into driving Denmark back into the dark ages.

Winner of the Best Actor at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Mads Mikkelsen is magnificent and marvelous as the well meaning medico whose good deeds are brought down by his dalliance with the kid king’s queen.

His co-star, Mikkel Boe Folsgaard took out the best actor at the Berlin Film Festival for his marvelous and magnificent portrayal of the mad monarch, King Christian VII.

As Queen Caroline, Alicia Vikander is transcendent with an incandescent quality that prompts recollection of another Swedish screen star, Greta Garbo.

Trine Dyrholm is sensational, as usual, as the dowager Queen conspiring against the crown, and David Dencik is oozily oily as the unctuous cleric and hypocrite whose conniving crucifies any scrap of scruples the Christian church may aspire to.

Director Nikolaj Arcel, best known to Australian audiences for co-scripting the original THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATOO, blows the dust from history with a sure dramatic drive, steering the screenplay (voted best script at Berlin) by his DRAGON TATOO co-writer, Rasmus Heisterberg, and turns it into a sumptuous, subterfugal cinema experience. Good looking, so refined, if you thought history was dull, wait till you take a look at this zinger.

A ROYAL AFFAIR will be screening at the Sydney Film Festival this Friday before its general release on June 21.

© Richard Cotter
10th June, 2012

Tags: Sydney Movie Reviews- A ROYAL AFFAIR, Denmark Royal Family, Sydney Film Festival, Sydney Arts Guide, Richard Cotter

THE PIANO DIARIES

Funny, fierce, sexy and sassy Joanna Weinberg

Actress and singer-songwriter Joanna Weinberg returned to Camelot on Sunday 27 May with her acclaimed show THE PIANO DIARIES. THE PIANO DIARIES is the story of Joanna’s life written on the piano, instead of in a diary.

Her father, a Jewish musician, her mother a blue stocking, eloped to Paris in the early Sixties. Their passion produced progeny pretty quickly and from there they take the toddler Joanna to live in South Africa where she experiences appalling apartheid. One of the most affecting songs in the show bears tragic witness to this.

At 14, Joanna flees J’berg for Durban, infatuated by a rock star boy god, lead singer of the Cosmic Snails. dropping piano for dramatics, she appears in a groundbreaking production of Othello playing Desdemona to the first black performer to take the lead role.

Migrating to Australia, she takes up the piano again and commences composing and performing. THE PIANO DIARIES is the proud and prodigious product of that reunion, an intensely personal account of a life drenched in music and art, love and disappointment, escape, migration, joy, despair and an indomitable belief in the power of music!

This ninety minute musical maelstrom includes a multitude of memorable songs including an hilarious harmonic homily concerning domestic husbandry attributed to her grandmother, and an ode to art and artists that is inspiring and whimsical.

Funny, fierce, sexy and sassy, it’s a story that crosses continents and decades and dances its way across musical genres- Klezmer, Cabaret, Soul, Jazz. The show features Joanna herself on keyboard and vocals along with accompaniment of cello, percussion, guitar and wind.

Joanna is also performing at Katoomba’s Winter Magic festival on June 23 and then at the Tuggeranong Arts Centre in Canberra on the 28th and 29th of June, 2012.

Just as a footnote, something about the venue. Camelot is a boutique venue that is a home in Sydney for home all manner of World, Jazz, Cabaret, singer/songwriters and other Acoustica.

Part of the radical facelift and reinvention of the space is presenting 2 stages: the music stage (featuring a German Grand Piano) and the sideshow stage (for smaller musical acts, as well as burlesque, magicians, contortionists, hula-hoopers and other carnivalesque offerings!), and the dance-floor will ensure many a fun foot-stomping night!

Camelot, corner 103 Railway Parade & 19 Marrickville Road, Marrickville (directly opposite Sydenham Train Station, a short 2 minute stroll away!) is well worth a visit soon!

© Richard Cotter

29th May, 2012

Tags: Sydney Theatre Reviews- THE PIANO DIARIES, Joanna Weinberg, Camelot, Klezmer, Cabaret, Soul, Jazz, Katomba’s Winter Music Festival, Tuggeranong Arts Centre, Sydney Arts Guide, Richard Cotter.

DEEMING

The postcard for Frank Gauntlett’s DEEMING

Art mirroring reality or reality aping art?

Where does one begin and the other end?

Should art lead or follow?

Without reality there is no art, but art is not merely the factotum of reality.

What elevates art is imagination and in DEEMING playwright Frank Gauntlett imagines how the concept of “reality entertainment” has been with us much longer than the advent of Big Brother, Survivor and My Kitchen Rules.

One hundred and twenty years ago, Frederick Bailey Deeming would have been deemed fit for fronting up to the Old Bailey for sundry unseemly crimes – not the least mass murder, a regular Sweeney Todd, a Deeming barbarian of fleet feet stalking the streets of Antipodes.

Actor manager Alfred Dampier, in cahoots with thespian Alfred Harford, conspires to create a Reality Theatre, called ‘Wilful Murder!’ to cash in on the public thrall that the murder has cast over the play going populace.

The show is a palpable hit but success breeds excess, and so, with surfeit, the lines between fact and fantasy, blur into bloody bombast.

Unlike the play within the play, I doubt this production of DEEMING will be the hit it should be.

The two male leads, Anthony Hunt and Patrick Trumper as the Alfreds Dampier and Halford respectively, are terrific: princes of the proscenium, this pair, playing the Victoriana with vaudevillian vigour. For some reason, Emily Stewart, as Dampier’s wife and showbiz partner, feels like a third wheel. Either the director has failed to tell her she is in a play not a video, or she has wilfully murdered her own role and thus committed stage suicide.

I must give her the benefit of the doubt as I saw no directorial hand at work here.

A director was credited, but the program contained neither biography nor note.

Make of that what you will. The lighting was fanny by gaslight, but often you could see sweet fanny all, so what was the point?
I hope this play is picked up by a producer who shows as much imagination as the script and its two male players.

Frank Gauntlett’s DEEMING opened at the King Street theatre, corner King and Bray Street, Newtown on Wenesday May 23 and runs until Sunday June 3, 2012.

© Richard Cotter

29th May, 2012.

Tags: Sydney Theatre Reviews- DEEMING, King Street Theatre Newtown, Frank Gauntlett, Anthony Hunt, Patrick Trumper, Emily Stewart, Sydney Arts Guide, Richard Cotter.

THE SKIN I LIVE

A cutting scene from the latest Almodovar flick

One of the great mysteries of this year’s Academy Award nominations was the omission of Pedro Almodovar’s scintillating THE SKIN I LIVE IN, from the Best Foreign Language Film category. THE SKIN I LIVE IN (R) the spooky, kooky Almodovar melodrama is now available to enjoy in the privacy of your own home.

A refashioning of the Frankenstein story, THE SKIN I LIVE IN stars Antonio Banderas as famed skin specialist, Doctor Robert Ledgard.

Ostensibly a pillar of the established medical mondo, the dermatological dynamo has a casa that is a compound with a secret laboratory and operating theatre where he burns the midnight oil honing his skills on synthetic skin production. He has been experimenting on the same human guinea pig, a woman incarcerated for many years, and the cellular therapy seems to be accelerating at a satisfactory pace.

But what is the sinister secret of his plastic surgery subject, Vera Cruz, pampered pet and petulant self-harmer, gorgeously personified by Elena Anaya? And just who is his loyal housekeeper, Maria, deliciously Danversesque in the hands of Marisa Paredes, star of Almodovar’s ‘All About My Mother? What is the truth behind the fates of the doctor’s wife and daughter?

All is revealed as the back story is precisely peeled away to reveal the viscera of the story in all its gory glory. We discover that the good doctor’s burning ambition was literally forged in fire and from the ashes of tragedy a Phoenix of fanaticism emerged and a weird pyro Pygmalion scenario engulfed his personal and professional life.

This dermatological drama plays like a literary bizarre bastard child of Franz Kafka and Mary Shelley with its cinematic sensibilities sifted through Bunuel, Sirk and Whale.

Boasting another brilliant score by Alberto Iglesias and stunning production design by Antxon Gomez, THE SKIN I LIVE IN is a sumptuous feast for the ear, eye and psyche.

Pure Almodovar.

© Richard Cotter

23rd May, 2012

Tags: Sydney Movie Reviews- THE SKIN I LIVE IN, Pedro Almodovar, Sydney Arts Guide, Richard Cotter.

SILENT SOULS

A scene from the evocative new Russian film, SILENT SOULS

Subtle, sensuous, and utterly fascinating, SILENT SOULS (M) is a 75 minute road movie of great distinction by Aleksei Fedorchenko.

When manager of a provincial paper mill Miron’s beloved wife Tanya passes away, he asks his best friend and colleague Aist to help him say goodbye to her according to the rituals of the Merja culture, an ancient Finno-Ugric tribe from Lake Nero, a picturesque region in West-Central Russia.

According to the film maker, although the Merja people assimilated into Russians in the 17th century, their myths and traditions live on in their descendants’ modern life.
After tenderly washing Tanya’s body and bunting her pubic hair with ribbons for her last terrestrial journey, the two men set out on a road trip thousands of miles across a land littered with bridges, with them, two small birds, buntings, in a cage.

Along the way, Miron shares intimate memories of his conjugal life. This stirs submerged romantic and erotic feelings in Aist and adds poignancy to the solemn proceedings. As they reach the banks of the sacred lake where they soak her body in spirits, cremate her, and sprinkle her sand mingled ashes on the water, each man realises he wasn’t the only one in love with Tanya!

In addition, there is an intriguing back story to Aist, whose father was an eccentric poet and keeper of the Merja culture. These scenes are slightly off centre with the rest of the narrative and tone and are redolent of the directors’ reputation as a truth thief. He did, after all, make a mockumentary of the Soviets landing on the moon in the Thirties.

Beautifully shot and with minimalist performance from the two leads, SILENT SOULS is an unexpectedly entertaining and anthropologically fascinating film that resonates with a simple majesty of ritual that elevates ordinary lives to a soulful experience.

© Richard Cotter

23rd May, 2012

Tags: Sydney Movie Reviews- SILENT SOULS, Contemporary Russian Cinema, Aleksei Fedorchenko, Sydney Arts Guide, Richard Cotter.

MEN IN BLACK 3

Josh Brolin and Alice Eve in MEN IN BLACK 3

I remember the original MEN IN BLACK, back in 1997, well and fondly, but I think I have been neutralised about the second instalment, a decade ago. Totally forgettable as I remember. A sequel not the equal.

Thankfully, MEN IN BLACK 3 is back in the black –funny, smart, tight, slick – a kind of Black to the Future.

Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones are reprising their roles as Agents J and K and they are joined by Agent O, Emma Thompson.
Film begins in rip roaring fashion, with a an audacious lunar prison breakout by a kind of alien Hannibal Lecter, Boris the Monster, played by Jemaine Clement of FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS fame. He has a blast channeling Hugo Weaving via Anthony Hopkins. He is the last surviving specimen of a rapacious race and is hell bent on revenge against Agent K who took his arm and incarcerated him back in 1969.

And it’s back in 1969 that most of this movie is set. A watershed year when science fiction became science fact with humans setting forth and stepping down on the moon.

Time travel can be a slippery slope but the filmmakers handle it quite cleverly, keeping the pace so that you can’t stop and think too much.

A character called Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg) – he played the lead in the Cohen brothers A SIMPLE MAN a few years back- is an encyclopedia of chronosynclastic infidibulum or time jump space continuum – and makes the head spinning theory seriously funny.
In another casting coup, Josh Brolin plays the young Tommy Lee – to a T. Or should that be K? Another great step for the actor, and a further giant leap for his career.

The Sixties counter culture is depicted as a magnet for extraterrestrials to blend in– The Factory, Andy Warhol and Mick Jagger all come in for a roast and a tease, while race relations and civil rights of the time are gently lampooned .

Barry Sonnenfeld is back in the director’s chair, Danny Elfman’s score is terrific, cinematography by Bill Pope who shot the Matrix pictures, creatures by Rick Baker, and production design by Bo Welch who did Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands for Tim Burton and the previous MIBs, all work to bring the MEN IN BLACK back into the black and 3D to boot!

© Richard Cotter

23rd May, 2012

Tags: Sydney Movie Reviews- MEN IN BLACK 3, Sydney Arts Guide, Richard Cotter.

CRUSHED

Lucy Miller plays the lead Kelly in Melita Rowston’s CRUSHED. Pic Ian Barry

Spared from extinction, of being snuffed out after a solo season, The Spare Room, one of the great innovations of Sydney’s independent theatre scene, rewards its reprieve with the staging of CRUSHED.

At the beginning of the play, the audience is plunged, albeit briefly, into sudden darkness. In the following 80 minutes, we venture into some very dark places, thankfully brought to light with a blow torch wit and bravura.

We meet Kelly, recently returned from Prague where she is a dealer in bric-a-brac. She is back in born and bred Postcode 2477 because evidence of a two decade old murder has been unearthed. The victim was her bestie, Sunny Girl Susie, a sweet sixteen, missing believed slaughtered.

Kelly, once known as Jelly Kelly, has slimmed down and adopted a semblance of European sophistication. She is reunited with two blokes who knew Susie, and because they all knew her, they are implicated in her disappearance. Guilt by association!

Suspicion sticks like shit on an eggshell and impacts on this trio whose shared experience of Susie binds them in a web of secrets, deceits and desires.

Dazza has a distrust of DNA evidence, a mistrust born of the shambles of the Chamberlain case among other miscarriages of justice littering the local legal landscape. The discovery of Susie’s t-shirt drives Dazza dizzy with connotations of Azaria’s matinee jacket and the finger of flawed forensics pointing to his complicity in Susie’s disappearance.

Jason is now a lecturer in paleontology at the local university. His profession is quite ironic now that his own buried past is being dug up and examined, an archaeology of heart ache, an unfulfilled future relegated to the reliquary of his present.

Melita Rowston’s script shows a rich facility of language, clearly defined character creation and narrative arc. Her exploration of the lost child scenario – the stolen, the taken, the abducted, the disappeared– is as well executed as the best in our dramatic dreaming.

An assured grasp of comic irony fuels the play which blasts along with ballistic pace and precision, targeting the tragedy with a trajectory of jocularity that is robust and ribald.

This production, deftly directed by Lucinda Gleeson, is powered by high octane performances by Lucy Miller, Sean Barker and Jeremy Waters.

Miller is marvellous as Kelly, a kinetic energiser confronting cultural cringe, emotional closure and a life changing decision.
Barker bull terriers his way through Dazza, a dazzling display of the dichotomy of openness and simmering volatility, playful as a puppy, dangerous as a rabid.

Water’s laid back academic belies the below-the-surface sense of guilt and shame that has shadowed him since Susie’s disappearance.

Eliza McLean’s simple set of transparent screens serves as stylistic metaphor for the thinly veiled veneer of ‘everything is fine’ and allows for smooth scene changes.

A bold and emphatic production of a very polished play, CRUSHED is a provocative and poignant entertainment that sets the bar high for The Spare Room’s second season. Kudos to Chester Productions and New Theatre.

Lucinda Gleeson’s production of Melita Rowston’s CRUSHED opened at the New Theatre, 542 King Street, Newtown on Friday 18th May and runs until Saturday 9th June, 2012.

© Richard Cotter
20th May, 2012

Tags: Sydney Theatre Reviews- CRUSHED, Melita Rowston, Sydney Arts Guide, Richard Cotter.

THE WOMAN IN BLACK

It’s Creepsville in THE WOMAN IN BLACK

That stalwart of Sixties cinema, the horror house, Hammer, is having somewhat of a renaissance with the release of its first ever feature ghost story, THE WOMAN IN BLACK (M).

The home of horror, Hammer was responsible for creating an icon of Christopher Lee in a series of Dracula movies that bewitched and bedeviled and bemused baby boomers.

THE WOMAN IN BLACK is somewhat of a franchise itself, originally a novel penned by Susan Hill, it has been adapted to radio, television and the stage over the past thirty years, and now, finally, a film.

THE WOMAN IN BLACK has all the accoutrements, or to be cruel, clichés, of the creep show.

There are children, there are dolls, there’s a rocking chair that rocks by itself, there’s the old, dark house, there’s the graveyard and there’s a family tragedy.

Like Jonathan Harker in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Arthur Kipps is a solicitor sent by his firm to a remote and uninviting place to tidy up affairs that are more nefarious than straight forward.

Kipps himself has just suffered a tragedy and may or may not be of sound mind to investigate a last will and testament.
Jane Goldman’s script is competent and James Watkins direction is complimentary keeping the clichés and conventions of the genre in constant motion. It is to their credit they keep the creeps to atmosphere, glimpses rather than gratuitous gore fests.

As Kipps, Daniel Radcliffe is suitably gormless, while Ciaran Hinds and Janet McTeer bring solid support to the solicitor suckered by a sequence of unease.

There is a sense of déjà vu, a feeling we’ve seen it all before, and the narrative does wax and wane, although the wax candles never seem to wane at all, a plentiful number alight in the spooky old house in the dead of night.

When not scaring the living daylights out of grief stricken solicitors, it would appear the apparition tends dutifully to the dying nightlights.

© Richard Cotter

17th May, 2012

Tags: Sydney Movie Reviews- THE WOMAN IN BLACK, Richard Cotter, Sydney Arts Guide

DARK SHADOWS

Johnny Deep and Eva Green in DARK SHADOWS

DARK SHADOWS (M) is Beetlejuice out of Sleepy Hollow and one of the funniest vampire films ever made.

Director Tim Burton is at the top of his game directing his muse Johnny Depp as the dapper Drac, Barnabas Collins, resurrected from his spell induced slumber cast in the late 18th century to contend with 1970s America.

Screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith has enormous fun with both the man out of time components and the supernatural lore and conventions of the story. Depp as the count come lately is a dizzy delight.

In the nearly two hundred years Barnabas has been incarcerated in his subterraneous cell, a coffin clad solitary confinement, the Collins family has fallen on hard times.

The once profitable and privileged entrepreneurial fishing fleet family are floundering, collaterally damaged by the curse that turned Barnabas into a blood sucker.

The curse’s creator, Angelique, a witch spurned by Barnabas, is still alive and survives on the malevolence of seeing the Collins clan suffer. She is played with wanton wonder by the spellbindingly beautiful and fiendishly funny Eva Green. Here’s a witch to watch, and watch and watch, a witch to which to build a dream on.

Barnabas’s dysfunctional descendants are depicted by a dandy cast of droll characters – Michelle Pfeiffer as Elizabeth, modern day matriarch of a motley crew; Chloe Grace Moretz as her not so dutiful daughter, Carolyn; Jonny Lee Miller as the miscreant Roger, embezzler, imbiber, and ingrate; and Gulliver McGrath as Roger’s heir, David, haunted by the ghost of his mother.

The household is also inhabited by Carolyn’s personal shrink, Dr. Hoffman, another lustrous performance by Helena Bonham Carter; David’s governess, Vicky, Bella Heathcote, and the family’s faithful retainer and inveterate inebriate, Loomis, played by Jackie Earle Hayley.

Tim Burton has conferred with long-time collaborators Composer Danny Elfman, Production Designer Rick Heinrichs (Sleepy Hollow) and Costume Designer Colleen Atwood (Oscar winner for Alice in Wonderland) to weave their magic and bring in a delectably detailed and textured film.

DARK SHADOWS is a deft mixture of horror and hilarity, a creepy comedy of manors; family fangster fun. Suck it and see!

(c) Richard Cotter

9th May, 2012

Tags: Sydney Movie Reviews- DARK SHADOWS , Tim Burton, Sydney Arts Guide, Richard Cotter

DELICACY

AudreyTautou memorable again in DELICACY

Delicate, delicious DELICACY(M) certainly lives up to its name as a delicacy of rom com that elevates a popcorn genre to caviar.
Audrey Tautou is enchanting as Natalie, who plummets from joie de vivre to veuve jeune early in the film.

Her sunny disposition is dimmed but not extinguished as she pours all her energies into her job as a manager of incomparable competence.

Her boss makes a move on her and is rebuffed. Her best friend feels guilty when she becomes pregnant. Her family grieve for both the loss of her husband and the engulfing grief of their daughter.

Then, out of the blue, like the proverbial thunderbolt, she becomes involved with the man least likely to all and sundry.

She is gorgeous, he is gauche, she is gamin, he has a bit of a gut, she is glamorous, and he is gormless. Its opposites attract writ large.

He is Scandi work subordinate, Markus, played with a nebbish Nordic charm by Francois Damiens. Cue Joe Jackson’s Is She Really Going Out with Him and you get the picture.

DELICACY is the creation of two brothers, David & Stephane Foenkinos.

David wrote the novel on which the film is based and the film has the flavours of Truffaut, Tati and Blake Edwards.

A lively and idiosyncratic supporting cast add to the texture of the film as does music and songs by Emilie Simon, an ingredient which finely balances the whimsical and the melancholy.

For those who like finesse and subtlety in their rom coms, DELICACY is just the ticket.

(c) Richard Cotter

4 May, 2012

THE WAY

Martin Sheen heads the cast of THE WAY

THE WAY(M) is a powerful and inspirational story about family, friends and the challenges we face while navigating this ever-changing and complicated world.

Martin Sheen plays Tom, an irascible American doctor who comes to France to deal with the tragic loss of his son (played by Emilio Estevez who also wrote and directed the movie). Rather than return home, Tom decides to embark on the historical pilgrimage “The Way of St. James” to honor his son’s desire to finish the journey. What Tom doesn’t plan on is the profound impact this trip will have on him.

THE WAY is a road movie that traverses some truly inspiring countryside through France and Spain. But landscape alone does not fuel this journey, rather the odd assortment of characters that Tom encounters, wanted or not.

First to foil any semblance of solitude is Joost, a fat and jolly Netherlander played with gusto by Yorick van Wageningen. He is on pilgrimage in an effort to lose weight – a losing battle. Then there is acerbic chain smoking Canadian shrew, Sarah, played by Deborah Unger, and finally, Irish Jack, (James Nesbit) hoping to open his writers block.

Nice work also from Tcheky Karo as the sympathetic French detective who aids Tom at the beginning of the film.

Sheen’s Catholicism shines through but does not blind the audience into conversion. This is not the road to Damascus, more a yellow brick road, a retelling of The Wizard of Oz, with a cranky Dorothy, and a trio of travellers who need to find a brain, a heart and some nerve.

© Richard Cotter

4th May, 2012

Tags: Sydney Movie Reviews- THE WAY, Emilio Estevez, Martin Sheen, Deborah Kara Unger, Sydney Arts Guide, Richard Cotter.

TRISHNA

Frieda Pinto is memorable as TRISHNA

Now is the Winterbottom of our sub-continent made glorious cinema by this son of gawk.

TRISHNA is SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE out of TESS OF THE D’URBERVILLES and is the perfect antidote to the saccharine saffron sanitised passage to India presented in THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL.

Winterbottom has taken the Hardy road before– a straight rendition of JUDE THE OBSURE and a frontier Western take on THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE called THE CLAIM.

Tess’s transformation and transmigration to Trishna is successful in that contemporary India represents a place of expansive and explosive industrialisation, education, and technology, just as the England of Thomas Hardy’s era was, and the heroine’s tragedy remains, that she has one foot in the old, traditional world and one foot in the burgeoning, brave new one.

Trishna is played by the breathtakingly beautiful Freida Pinto who gave SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE much of its luminance. Her co-star is Riz Ahmid playing Jay, an amalgam of the two men in the novel, Angel and Alec, an interesting conceit that works well in this particular telling of the tale.

Trishna lives a poor, sheltered life exacerbated when her father incapacitates himself in a vehicle violation. Wealthy young Jay, fresh to India having been brought up in England and now back to run his father’s hotel, offers Trishna work. He is besotted by her beauty and they commence an affair. What appears to be a modern relationship slips into a more traditional one where Trishna ostensibly becomes a sex slave, her new found emancipation emaciated by a chilling chauvinism.

Shot in Rajasthan and Mumbai, Winterbottom delights in the travelogue aspects of the film, with cameras mounted on vehicles in both rural roads and city streets. This gives a veracity and energy to the film’s theme of emerging industrial India contrasting with traditional landscapes, local fauna, specifically simian, and the colours and light of the subcontinent.

The pervading presence of Bollywood prevails as Jay dabbles in its production and Trishna, like all young women apparently, mimics dance moves and takes classes in choreography.

Like SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, TRISHNA boasts a gorgeous score with music by Shigeru Umebayashi and songs by Amit Trivedi, which gives the film a rich aural texture.

Michael Winterbottom’s TRISHNA opens at cinemas on Thursday 10th May, 2012.

© Richard Cotter

2nd May, 2012

Tags: Sydney movie review- TRISHNA, Michael Winterbottom, Frieda Pinto, Riz Ahmed, Shigeru Umebayashi, Amit Trviedi, Sydney Arts Guide, Richard Cotter.

WISH YOU WERE HERE

The partying doesn’t last in WISH YOU WERE HERE

WISH YOU WERE HERE (M) is a superb collaboration between talented spouses lead actress Felicity Price and director Kieran Darcy-Smith. Both are credited with the sparkling screenplay which focuses on four friends – husband and wife Dave and Alice (Joel Edgerton and Felicity Price), Alice’s sister, Steph (Teresa Palmer) and her boyfriend Jeremy (Antony Starr) – who have a hedonistic holiday together in Cambodia.

Heaven turns to hell when Jeremy goes missing and the other three return home harbouring secrets of what went awry.

Very much a paradise lost scenario, with temptation throwing the couple into turmoil, truth and trust torn asunder, the world rent irrevocably from a pleasant past to an uncertain future.

Joel Edgerton is brilliant as Dave, another top notch performance from an actor who continues to grow and prosper, and Felicity Price matches him perfectly – there is a palpable truth in their relationship and an honesty that plays out as they traverse the moral morass that engulfs them.

Production values are top notch with the Cambodian footage full of energy and abandon, and Sydney too shot with natural light and genuine location.

WISH YOU WERE HERE makes you glad that you are not (really there), but delivers a visceral, vibrant, volt charging vicarious journey that is all too credible and real and close.

© Richard Cotter

24th April, 2012

Tags- Sydney Movie Reviews- WISH YOU WERE HERE, Felicity Price, Kieran Darcy-Smith, Joel Edgerton, Teresa Palmer, Anthony Starr, Sydney Arts Guide, Richard Cotter

EYE OF THE STORM – DVD RELEASE

Rampling, Davis and Rush star in EYE OF THE STORM

A beautiful irony – hopefully intentional- is the DVD/Blu- ray release of EYE OF THE STORM just in time for Mother’s Day.

Adapted from the Patrick White novel by Judy Morris, directed by Fred Schepisi and peopled with a sublime cast, EYE OF THE STORM (MA) is a magical, tragical tale set in 1972 Sydney.

Siblings Basil (Geoffrey Rush) and Dorothy (Judy Davis) are summoned from their European bases to attend malingering Mother, magnificently matriarchal in a majestic performance by Charlotte Rampling.

Basil has made a mark on the British stage and been knighted in spite of his blighted Lear, whilst Dorothy has made a marred marriage to an Italian prince, now dissolved, with title and small allowance the only legacy of the folly.

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

Using the reluctant services of the family lawyer Arnold Wyburd, a beautifully understated turn by John Gaden, they scheme to place their moaning mama in a society nursing home to expedite her demise.

Panic sets in to the household staff as they sense the impending end of their secure if eccentric world.

Most eccentric of the staff is Lotte, a refugee from Nazi Germany who is Mother’s cook and private cabaret act. Helen Morse is quite simply sensational in the role.

Basil’s stage connections allow for a cavalcade of luvvies inhabited by Jane Menelaus, Billie Brown and Heather Mitchell, and there is a wonderful star turn by Colin Friels as prole pollie with PM aspirations and on the prowl for a leg over with Dorothy.

Beautifully directed, designed and shot, EYE OF THE STORM also boasts a gorgeous score by composer Paul Grabowsky.

The DVD/Blu-ray edition contains a Q&A with the cast.

(c) Richard Cotter

24th April, 2012

BURNING MAN – DVD RELEASE

Bojana Novakovic in Teplkizky’s BURNING MAN

BURNING MAN. the latest film from Jonathan Teplitzky (BETTER THAN SEX, GETTIN’ SQUARE) is a reckless, haunting, funny, life-affirming love story, all of which is reflected in the film’s opening short scenes: a lovely empty garden, a car crash, a woman crying, a world in flames. Intriguing and slightly bewildering, the potency and beauty of this opening sequence raises questions and yet still portends answers.

The device of keeping the audience off balance is absolutely right for this film for when we finally discover the true spine of the story. When we meet Tom, it’s clear he is a good man, behaving badly. He’s the principal chef at a casually chic restaurant (where he doesn’t respond well to criticism from the clientele), a devoted, if mercurial father to eight year old Oscar, and a man more attractive to women (lots of them) than he is to himself.

Whatever is going on with Tom, his actions seem to be tolerated by those around him. Everything comes to a head when he prepares a party for his son in a beachside park. His anger erupts and he finds himself in police custody. Not much of a birthday for Oscar.

The films artistry and finesse has attracted a wonderful cast. As Tom, Matthew Goode shows just how good an actor he is, treading that fine line between despicable and likeable. He is the central character, but he wouldn’t shine at all without the brilliant satellite performances he reflects from Bojana Novakovic, Rachel Griffiths, Essie Davis, Kerry Fox, Kate Beahan, Marta Dusseldorp,and Gia Carides. These women, in very different ways, ignite, inflame, quell and calm the burning man.

Winner of the Awgie for Best Original Screenplay, BURNING MAN is a smoking, sizzling, sexy experience.

The DVD/Blu- ray release contains audio commentary with writer director Jonathan Teplitzky and a featurette ‘Inside Burning Man’.

Tags” BURNING MAN, Jonathon Teplitzy, Matthew Goode, Bojana Novakovic, Rachel Griffiths, Essie Davis, Kerry Fox, Kate Beahan, Marta Dusseldorp,and Gia Carides, DVD/Blu-ray release.

THE DEEP BLUE SEA

Terrence Davies’s ‘THE DEEP BLUE SEA’

On the face of it, THE DEEP BLUE SEA (M) seems terribly old fashioned and an odd choice of film for a 21st century cinema audience.
Based on the play by Terence Rattigan written sixty years ago, it tells the story of Hester, a high society hostess who heaves her husband aside to co-habitate with a raffish RAF pilot shortly after the end of the hostilities of WW II.

Under the deft direction of Terence Davies, Rattigan’s play slow burns across the screen, a simmering experience rather than a boil over, and all the more enthralling for its subtle nuance.

Terry does Terry a treat, bringing in his trademark sing-alongs in public houses and tube stations to help drive the narrative and establish the era.

In what is basically a ménage a trios, a trio of thesps bring the central characters to vivid life.

As the wedded woman wooed by the dashing flying ace, Rachel Weisz continues to collect career accolades, with a winning performance of pluck and vulnerability, a finely judged characterisation of one wounded while capable of wounding.

As the laddish, cadish, former flyboy whose escapades in the sky have been superseded by the somewhat sedate sidewalks of Civvy Street, Tom Hiddleston, awfully good as F. Scott Fitzgerald in Woody Allen’s MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, casts a dapper dash as a man trying to find his place in peace time.

As the wronged and wounded husband, Sir William Collyer, Simon Russell Beale is excellent as the baffled cuckold bouncing between vindictive, vengeful and forgiving.

The supporting cast are marvelous with particular kudos to Barbara Jefford as Collyer’s mother – frightening!

Davies use of Samuel Barber’s ‘Concerto for Violin and Orchestra’, Op14 is inspired. The composer commenced work on the composition on the eve of WWII but not completed until a month after Hitler had invaded Poland, plunging Europe into six years of chaos and upheaval. The disruption is clear in the piece and has a disjointed resonance that is perfect for the picture’s soundscape.

It’s time , yet again, to give a rat’s about Rattigan.

© Richard Cotter

12th April, 2012

Tags: Sydney Movie Reviews- THE DEEP BLUE SEA, Terrence Rattigan, Terrence Davies, Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston, Simon Russell Beale, Barbara Jefford, Samuel Barber, Sydney Arts Guide, Richard Cotter.

ROMANTICS ANONYMOUS

Isabelle Carre and Benoit Poelvoorde in ROMANTICS ANONYMOUS

A lovely little soufflé of cinema, ROMANTICS ANONYMOUS (M) is a tasty sweet treat that should please the crowd that found CHOCOLAT so enchanting.

Isabelle Carre plays Angelique, a shy chocolatier who hides her cocoalossal confection perfection under the proverbial bushel.
Struggling choc-shop proprietor Jean Rene, played with bashful brio by Benoit Poelvoorde, suffers similar awkward timidity, hires Angelique as his new sales rep, setting the stage for a star crossed lovers scenario that’s sweet without slipping into syrupy sentimentality.

There’s a touching pathos at work here, deftly nuanced by director and co- screenwriter, Jean Pierre Ameris, who turns tension and turmoil into tenderness and trust in a tantalising truffle of a film.

The best comedy comes out of tribulation and this couple has it in spades, emotional timidity trowelled on. He is seeing a shrink about his shyness; she is attending Emotions Anonymous meetings, a 12 step intimacy program for the emotionally challenged.

Panic and pain propel this picture, yet it is packed with an endearing empathy for these people, vulnerable introverts; lonely hearts in cardiac arrest.

A polished ensemble of supporting actors mostly playing a chorus of chocolate makers and locations in the Lyon/Rhone area add to this comedy confection. But this isn’t a movie about eye candy, this is a film about soul sugar.

Who would have thought fear could be so funny?!

© Richard Cotter

12th April, 2012

Tags: Sydney Movie Reviews- ROMANTIC ANONYMOUS, Jean Pierre Ameris, Isabella Carre, Benoit Poelvoorde,

THE PIRATES: BAND OF MISFITS

THE PIRATES: BAND OF MISFITS!

Kids and adults alike have been dudded these school holidays, most especially with the dumbed down, dulled down, in the doldrums Aardman animation THE PIRATES: BAND OF MISFITS!

Admires of Aardman most likely will be disappointed by this pipe and slippers take on what should have been a riotous, rambunctious, robust romp through the seven seas.

Instead we have a tedious time on tardy tides, a shipwreck of a show with a paucity of funny lines and a pace more akin to a sea slug. Director Peter Lord has lost his zest from Chicken Run 12 years back.

After a series of aborted booty attacks, the Pirate Captain boards the Beagle where Charles Darwin identifies the buccaneer’s bird as a dodo.

The credulous captain had always thought his pet a parrot but the biologist convinces him it is indeed the rare breed dodo, thought extinct, and that the pirate can plunder the plumage by presenting it to the Royal Historic Society and Queen Victoria.

Unfortunately, his scheme scuppers the skippers chance of winning the coveted Pirate of the Year award.

Based on Gideon Defoe’s book The Pirates! In an adventure with Scientists, the screenplay is written by the author but fails miserably to translate. Things that have been lost should have been kept, things added should not have been, and the direction is just slack, no winds in the sails at all. At 88 minutes it’s about 80 minutes too long.

Not a patch on Arthur Christmas, Chicken Run or Flushed Away

(c) Richard Cotter

10th April, 2012

THIS MUST BE THE PLACE

Sean Penn as Nazi hunting rock star Cheyenne

THIS MUST BE THE PLACE (M) is a bizarre odyssey tale featuring Sean Penn as a former rock star called Cheyenne – think a cross between Alice Cooper and Robert Smith of The Cure – who is benevolently and benignly bedded and wedded to his bride of 35 years, Jane, a professional fire-fighter, in his baronial Irish manor.

When he learns of the death of his estranged father, a Holocaust survivor, he returns to America and embarks on a road trip of retribution. His quest is driven by the revelation that his father’s concentration camp commandant could still be alive and living in the United States.

Mostly shot in Michigan and New Mexico, this renegade road movie was made by Paolo Sorrentino and takes its title from a Talking Heads song. The writer of the song, David Byrne, pops up in the picture, as himself, a faithful friend of Cheyenne and performs the song in a brilliant conceptual concert, highly theatrical but eminently cinematic. Byrne also contributes to the score in collaboration with Will Oldham.

Not your average Nazi hunter movie, THIS MUST BE THE PLACE bristles with imagination, creativity, and a cast at the top of their game.

Sean Penn is pitch-perfect as the introspective genius, a post-modern punk mime with loads of guy liner and minimal speech and a comma of hair that constantly needs blowing from his field of vision.

Frances McDormand is just lovely as his supportive spouse and Judd Hirsch is outstanding as the professional Nazi hunter cohort, Mordecai Midler, while Harry Dean Stanton, master of the cinematic monologue, is in top form.

Indeed, all the supporting cast, without exception, is conspicuously detailed which gives the film its deliciously finished eccentricity. THIS MUST BE THE PLACE is the place for audiences who enjoy the audacious.

© Richard Cotter

2nd April, 2012

Tags: Sydney Movie Reviews- THIS MUST BE THE PLACE, Paolo Sorrentino, Sean Penn, David Byrne, Talking Heads, Will Oldham, Frances McDormand, Judd Hirsch, Harry Dean Stanton, Sydney Arts Guide, Richard Cotter.

RIN TIN TIN

RIN TIN TIN

Fungible. Sounds like a mushroom mish mash not something I’d instantly associate with Rin Tin Tin, arguably the world’s most famous dog.

Fungible is the word Susan Orlean uses with proclivity in her highly entertaining biography of the dog who was a superstar of stage, silent cinema, talking pictures and television, RIN TIN TIN (ATLANTIC BOOKS).

The definition of the word , being of such nature or kind as to be freely exchangeable or replaceable, in whole or in part, for another of like nature or kind.

And that’s what Rinty became – a canine franchise that survived decades, a dog that had its day for generations, and a legend that won’t lie down.

After the success of her book The Orchid Thief, a publishing phenomenon as well as the source for the Academy award winning film Adaptation, Susan Orlean had a number of stories she could have followed up with, but it was the amazing exploits of this puppy prodigy that took the lead.

“I knew I loved the narrative of Rin Tin Tin because it contained so many stories within it: it was a tale of lost families and identity, and also of the way we live with animals; it was a story of luck, both good and bad, and the half turns that life takes all the time. It was a story of war as well as a story of amusement. It was an account of how we create heroes and what we want from them.”

Of course, first and foremost in people’s minds, Rin Tin Tin was a Hollywood hound, the wonder dog of Warner Brothers who garnered more votes in the inaugural Academy awards than any human actor.

The popularity of the pooch was unmatched, fending off such canine competitors as Lassie, who had a similar longevity due to television.

Orlean’s book is a treasure trove of Hollywood trivia, how deals were done, how sets and back lots were used and reused, the magic of movies and the men and animals that made them.

The two men most responsible for the ensuing and lasting legacy of RIN TIN TIN is the original owner and trainer, Lee Duncan, and the producer, Bert Leonard, protégé of Sam Katzman, and the man who brought Rinty to television, cementing the four legged phenomenon’s seemingly eternal fame.

This book not just scintillates the nostalgia nerve but is good enough to re-arouse real interest in a dog story that’s been lying dormant for too long. More than Orlean’s previous book, this one is howling for the Hollywood treatment, a story of surprise and wonder, a stroke of luck in a luckless time, a fulfilled promise of perfect friendship.

Charlie Kaufman sharpen your pencil!

(c) Richard Cotter

25th March, 2012

Tags- RIN TIN TIN by Susan Orlean, Book Review, Sydney Arts Guide, Richard Cotter

THE RUM DIARY

Johnny Depp as Paul Kemp in THE RUM DIARY

There’s nothing rum about Bruce Robinson’s Bacardi- fuelled adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s novel, THE RUM DIARY (MA) with Johnny Depp as the dipso gonzo gringo journo.

Based on the debut novel by Hunter S. Thompson, THE RUM DIARY tells the increasingly unhinged story of itinerant journalist Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp). Tiring of the noise and madness of New York and the crushing conventions of late Eisenhower-era America, Kemp travels to the pristine island of Puerto Rico to write for a local newspaper, The San Juan Star, run by downtrodden editor Lotterman (Richard Jenkins).

A couple of other ex pat journos form part of his alcohol addled adventure: Paul Risoli is the savvy yet mostly sober, Sala, and Giovanni Ribisi, redeeming himself from the ultra bland Contraband, as the sozzled but sly Moberg, and Julian Holloway makes a nice uber cameo as an ex pat Brit journo, something Graham Greenish, to stamp Bruce’s Britishness.

Adopting the rum-soaked life of the island, Paul soon becomes obsessed with Chenault (Amber Heard), the wildly attractive Connecticut-born fiancée of Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart). Sanderson, a businessman involved in shady property development deals, is one of a growing number of American entrepreneurs who are determined to convert Puerto Rico into a capitalist paradise in service of the wealthy. When Kemp is recruited by Sanderson to write favourably about his latest unsavoury scheme, the journalist is presented with a choice: to use his words for the corrupt businessmen’s financial benefit, or use them to take the bastards down.

Bruce Robinson wrote and directed WITHNAIL & I and THE RUM DIARY should attain the same cult status with wining lines like: “Cuba should be wiped off the face of the earth so that their citizens can live in peace”. And “So we are all in the same Jacuzzi and know what to do when a turd floats up”. And “There is no American dream just a piss puddle of greed.” Gem.

© Richard Cotter

Tags: Sydney Movie Reviews- THE RUM DIARY, Sydney Arts Guide, Richard Cotter.