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.

COUNTING & CRACKING: A CRACKER BY ANY ACCOUNT

It’s three hours and thirty minutes long but who’s counting, as COUNTING & CRACKING delivers exhilarating theatre at cracking pace.

Length cannot wither this production, a co-show between Belvoir and Co-Curious, nor custom stale it’s infinite variety of drama, tragedy, comedy, political intrigue and cultural identity.

Spanning a half century of upheaval, relocation and reunion, COUNTING & CRACKING looks at how the big political picture impacts upon the lives of people, and how easily populist policy can degenerate into genocide, and the creation of refugees.

COUNTING & CRACKING bubbles from the turmoil that beset Sri Lanka when populist National politics set Sinhalese against Tamil, dividing a country, with a quotient finding themselves in Australia.

Mathematical allusion is manifest in S. Shackthidharan’s superb and epic script with a central character being both mathematician and politician: “ One is one. Two is one plus one is two. If one always has a unit answering to every unit of the other, then we pronounce both sides equal.”

The quality of equality is core to COUNTING & CRACKING, exhibited and espoused by an exhilarating international ensemble displaying thrilling synchronicity, with so called minor characters emanating the same detail and minutiae as that of what would be considered traditional leads. Indeed, peerless performances abound, without exception, in this robust and international cast.

There’s a high octane energy propelling this production, a cavalcade of colour and movement, emotion and intellect, a precise and precious pageant of a play, sometimes fuelled by fear and frenzy, but mostly fed by humour and hope.

COUNTING & CRACKING is an astonishing amalgamation of realism and the magic of pure theatricality with live music – the actors are accompanied by two musicians in a succession of percussion which adds timbre and texture to this elixir of joy – and traditional dance.

Sydney Town Hall has been transformed into a grand theatrical space by set and costume designer, Dale Ferguson, in which a sprawling saga of people and democracy displaced unfolds in a most spectacular way.

Like his production of Sami in Paradise last year, Eamon Flack’s direction is an object lesson in the organisation of nuanced chaos and the comedy of compassion and community – a universe of exuberance.

Enthralling, exciting, playful and thought provoking, COUNTING & CRACKING is a must see theatrical event.

CRACKING & COUNTING PLAYS TILL 2 FEBRUARY 2019 at
SYDNEY TOWN HALL

STORM BOY: A VIEW FROM THE PELI-CAM

Geoffrey Rush is Storm Boy in a new screen version of STORM BOY.
Well, actually, he’s Storm Boy all grown up, who recounts to his grand-daughter, Maddy, how he got the name, Storm Boy, over half a century ago.

It’s a neat choice in Justin Monjo’s script to bring Colin Thiele’s novella, which was set sixty years ago, into a contemporary perspective.

A pity that some other choices prompt the question, “Why remake a classic Australian film?”

The politics are pretty clear, as we tackle the balance between the environment and the economy, and grapple with the still contentious issues of land rights. It is right, fitting and proper that the arts, crafts and sciences of film making continue the conversation of conservation and cultural sensibilities.

The trump card in director Shawn Seet’s suite is the peli-cam.
Thesps of the stature of Geoffrey Rush play second fiddle to the avian antics of the assembled pelicans in this production, Mr. Percival, of course, principal player. There were two aspects of the pelicans in STORM BOY that are of
paramount importance: to create the majority of the pelican performances in camera with real birds, and to establish a tangible connection between these real pelicans and the actor, Finn Little, playing Storm Boy.

Producers have had the prescience of procuring Paul Mander to train the pelicans and process the bonding between actor and avian. The results are first class, with Mr Percival, Mr. Ponder and Mr. Proud top flight performances.

The other feather in the cap of this production of STORM BOY is the location. Point a camera in any direction of the Coorong and you scope a breathtaking beauty.

Trevor Jamieson plays Fingerbone Bill, the character portrayed in the original film by David Gulpilil, and Gulpilil makes a cameo as Fingerbone’s father.

It would be nice to see STORM BOY storm the box office this Summer, like a blockbuster super hero movie. No capes, cowls or masks for this role model , rather raw courage, persistence and an open heart.

FRENCH EXIT: AN EXIT WORTH ESCAPING THROUGH

“Have you fallen in with a mad cast of plucky, down at heel characters?” asks a surprising antagonist in Patrick de Witt’s surprising and delightful new novel, FRENCH EXIT.

The query comes from a cat, which gives this hilariously biting satire a touch of the mog magicals, a feline flourish that fuels the narrative and keeps it purring.

Think Auntie Mame out of Edward St Aubyn’s Melrose saga, FRENCH EXIT is the kind of book that sparks envy in other writers, procurement by motion picture producers, and competition from actors hoping to play these characters and wrap their mouths around the glorious dialogue.

The title alludes to an escape from Manhattan to Paris by Frances and her grown son, Malcolm, and their cat, Small Frank, via cruise ship.

The first third of the novel takes part in New York and the vessel, with a detailed account of Frances’ fiscal planning and faint reasoning for decamping, replete with an episode at the Captain’s Table, a visit to the ship’s morgue, and a defused contretemps with a Customs official.

The rest of FRENCH EXIT is set in Paris where Frances and Malcolm encounter a mad cast of ex pats, winemakers, private eyes and people presenting from their past.

De Witt has precision machined a marvellous and memorable woman in Frances, an elegiac and elegant eccentric that electrifies every page she inhabits.

In an economy of peerless prose, the author gives us backstory of her upbringing and the dissolution of her marriage to the lothario lawyer, Franklin Price.

‘The first time she had set foot in a church was for her mother’s funeral. Looking up at Christ’s admirable rib cage, she quietly told him, ‘’ I’m glad she’s dead. Thank you for killing her.’’

‘Her father smelled of cigarettes and drink and aftershave, a combination of scents that she loved devotedly from this moment to the span of her life. Franklin had emanated that same deadly troika when they’d met, before the alcohol had turned sour in him, and the smoke acrid.’

There is a brutal wit at play here, packaged in a madcap spree. FRENCH EXIT is haunting and hilarious, complete with, arguably, the most sincere, surreal and splendidly spirited séance in literature – a séance on a wet nosed after-life.

As Mme Reynard , the expat Paris-cile ruefully says, “Do you ever feel that adulthood was thrust upon you at too young an age and that you are still essentially a child mimicking the behaviours of the adults all around you in hopes they won’t discover the meagre contents of your heart?”, PARIS EXIT is a mixing pot of memories and sweet melancholy, stirred with satire and hi jinx, in a climate of d’humeur orageuse.

The wild, eccentric socialite could be a cliché, but in De Witt’s witty wordplay, it is made irresistibly fresh and tantalising. And besides, as Frances herself says in the novel, “Yes, my life is riddled by clichés, but do you know what a cliché is? It’s a story so fine and thrilling that it’s grown old in its hopeful retelling. People tell it. Not so many live it.”

If you are up for a spree, you’ll have such an exciting time, you’ll shriek with delight, lost in the pages of FRENCH EXIT. It’s an exit worth finding for a great literary escape.

FRENCH EXIT by Patrick de Witt is published by Bloomsbury.

THE FAVOURITE: ONE OF THE BEST MOVIES OF THE YEAR

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos from a screenplay by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, THE FAVOURITE is firming up to be a favourite of this film going year.

Reminiscent and redolent of Stanley Kubrick and Peter Greenaway, Lanthimos shooting style is bold and audacious in its composition, palette and performance, a symbiotic choreography of camera and character that is breathtaking in its scope and synergy.

To be blunt, THE FAVOURITE is about the cunt struck court of Queen Anne, possibly England’s least known ruler, not least of all because she left no heirs to speak of her, despite an extraordinary 17 pregnancies.

This sequence of still births, miscarriages and infant mortality took a significant and profound psychological and physical toll, nevertheless, she ascended to the throne at the turn of the 18th Century, essentially because no other Protestant successors to the Stuart royal line were available.

THE FAVOURITE is set several years after her final pregnancy, and a year or two after being widowed. Perhaps. Fact and date checks don’t amount to a hill duck poo and bunny pellets. She is cantankerously and robustly frail, corpulent and non ambulatory. England is at war with the French. Nevertheless, duck racing and pineapple eating are thriving. And she keeps a brood of bunnies each named for a deceased child.

Her close friend Lady Sarah Churchill, longtime principal Lady of the Bedchamber, governs the country in her stead while tending to Anne’s ill health, mercurial temper and Regina Vagina.

Into this cosy arrangement, a new servant, Abigail Masham arrives, endears herself to Sarah who takes Abigail under her wing. Abigail soon inveigles herself into the royal bedchamber unleashing a seething mass of scheming, manipulation and ulcerating usurpation.

Hell hath no fury as these three women bitch, connive, concoct and one up themselves, favouring all manner of malice and aforethought, mirroring the shocking new era of acrimonious national division, with Whigs and Tories taking sides as partisans and bitterly battling each other for influence as a young two-party political system lay its tangled and treacherous roots.

THE FAVOURITE fields three pedigree performances from three pedigreed performers.

Olivia Colman is magnificent as the moribund Anne, a towering infirmity of combustible, corpulent cripple toppling into tantrum and playing favourites in fickle fashion. Her childlessness seems to have created a childishness, easily chiding, in need of constant cajoling, easily coerced into fecklessness.

Rachel Weisz is marvellous as Sarah Churchill, cunning linguist to the Queen, velvet fist in an iron glove, source of sovereign comfort and joy, the woman behind the throne.

Emma Stone is sublime as Abigail Masham, so subtle in her scheme to make the Queen keen for her, restore her aristocratic station and secure her future. She flirts and flatters with fallacious facility and felicity. And very funny.

The script by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara is pungent, cogent, profane and hysterically, hilariously funny.

The costumes by triple Academy Award winning costume designer, Sandy Powell are a benchmark of craft and artistry.

Destined to become a favourite now and in the future, THE FAVOURITE deserves both audience applause and award accolades.

MARY POPPINS RETURNS: WELCOME BACK

A musical number reminiscent of Chicago absolutely seals Rob Marshall’s directorial signature on MARY POPPINS RETURNS, the sequel fifty four years in the coming.

Marshall, best known for helming the Oscar winning musical, Chicago, brings a touch of the brass to the prim, proper and preternatural Poppins, ratcheting up the raunch.

The scene I’m alluding to, is almost like an amalgamation homage to Julie Andrews, a sort of a spoonful of Poppins with a dash of Victor Victoria. It’s as if the brolly toting floating nanny has eschewed the sugar and racked up the spice and plunged into a belting burlesque.

MARY POPPINS RETURNS is Viagra for the nostalgia bone, with characters, choreography and songs redolent and reminiscent of the classic, a similarity that breeds content.

Trip A Little Light Fantastic is this films equivalent to Chim Chim Cher-eee (which won Best Song at the Oscars that year) and Royal Doultan Music Hall has more than a whiff of Supercalifragilistics.

Mary Poppins won 5 Oscars and Mary Poppins Returns will surely be nominated in Song and Score gongs. The sequel’s music is written by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, whose work you’ll know from Hairspray, and the South Park movie.

Visual and sound effects are sensational, and Oscar should hopefully bestow a Best Supporting actor nomination for Lin-Manuel Miranda, here playing the Bert like role of Jack, a former chimney sweet now lamp lighter.

And speaking of Bert, the actor who breathed mock Cockney into the cheeky chimney sweep, Dick Van Dyke, pops up in a most delightful cameo.

Emily Blunt is a little more sultry as the no nonsense nanny and the costuming is a lot less staid.

There’s a terrific supporting cast comprising Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Julie Walters, Meryl Streep, Colin Firth and Angela Lansbury.

MARY POPPINS RETURNS is a return worth waiting for.

Reverent but refreshed, referenced with respect rather than regurgitation, it’s lively and vivid, joyous and gorgeous and charming not at all cloying, and all together entertaining.

A sweet surrender to a major charm offensive.

COLD WAR: A MUST SEE

“Christ, I miss the Cold War” M famously spits in Casino Royale. She’d certainly be spitting if she missed Pawel Pawlikowski’s latest film, COLD WAR.

Spanning fifteen years across Warsaw, Berlin, Paris and Yugoslavia, COLD WAR meticulously recreates the era with breathtakingly beautiful black and white cinematography and an extraordinary soundtrack.

COLD WAR commences in the ruins of post-WWII Poland, where pianist Wiktor played by Tomasz Kot is commissioned by the Soviet state to form a musical ensemble to help rekindle national pride.

Whilst touring the villages in search of talent he meets the beautiful Zula portrayed by Joanna Kulig, a fiery and charismatic singer with a past. Zula comes from the wrong side of the tracks in a drab provincial town. She pretends to be from the country in order to get into a folk ensemble, which she sees as a way out of poverty. She’s rumoured to have done time for murdering her abusive father. ‘He mistook me for my mother so I used a knife to show him the difference,’ she tells Wiktor.

She can sing and dance, she has chutzpah and charm and a chip on her shoulder, and the two fall passionately in love. When a performance in Berlin offers the pair an opportunity for escape to the West, a last-minute decision finds them stranded on either side of the Iron Curtain. As the years march on, Wiktor and Zula – whether through political circumstance or personal impetuosity – struggle to find their moment in time.

Writer director Pawel Pawlikowski weaves the same cinematic magic that made his previous work, the Oscar winning, Ida, so memorable. The visual brilliance of the black and white photography – from high-contrast jazz club smokiness, to the wintry chill of the Polish countryside – sets the tone superbly, and secures a second triumph for cinematographer Łukasz Żal, after his stunning work on Ida.

Performances are top notch, with Joanna Kulig in particular as the firecracker triple threat, Zula, astonishing in an incandescence that illuminates the screen like a Kleig lamp. Her tempestuousness is beautifully contrasted by Tomasz Kot’s calm, stable and urbane Wiktor.

Achingly romantic but devoid of sentimentality, COLD WAR is an epic love story told with evocative economy and an exactness that cuts to the marrow of an emotional experience that is intense, volatile and explosive.

Like that bona fide black and white classic, Casablanca, COLD WAR concerns itself with things that never go out of date: Hearts full of passion, Jealousy and hate. A case of do or die, the world will always welcome lovers as time goes by.

Deliriously, deliciously lyrical, impossibly romantic and visually stunning, COLD WAR is a must see, and more than once.

COLETTE: SUMPTUOUS COMPANION PIECE TO ‘THE WIFE’

An opening shot of a pussy languidly licking itself on a sun drenched bed instantly sets up a bucolic atmosphere, a realm that is at odds with the sophisticated world the girl sharing the feline’s sheets will soon be plunged into.

After falling in love with and marrying a Parisian man of letters, widely known by the single name, “Willy”, Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette is transplanted from the tranquil environs of rural, 1890s France to the bustling streets and flourishing salons of turn of the century Paris.

Calling herself simply “Colette”, she adapts to her new life and is soon absorbed into the intellectual, literary and artistic world of her husband, although she struggles to accept his extra marital affairs. The hypercritical philanderer of course will will not countenance any such infidelity in her, except same sex dalliance, which, he assumes, he can share. Continue reading COLETTE: SUMPTUOUS COMPANION PIECE TO ‘THE WIFE’

THE PORTRAIT OF MOLLY DEAN: THE START OF AN EXCITING NEW SERIES

Move over Phryne Fisher, there’s a new female investigator on the block and she’s just as stunning, sassy and a dogged sleuth for the truth.

Allusions to Phryne Fisher may be a slight furphy as the sassy sleuth is actually late 20th Century, indeed, on the cusp of the new millennium, but the murder she’s investigating is Fisher familiar 1930 Melbourne, dripping with Bohemian rhapsodies and crooked cop concertos.

Strike the musical allusions, because THE PORTRAIT OF MOLLY DEAN is concerned with the painterly precinct of the arts end of the world.

Author Katherine Kovacic, veterinarian turned art historian, has as her heroin, Alex Clayton, a savvy art dealer whose pickup of a portrait by Colin Colahan thrusts her into a seventy year old murder mystery where the clues are in the canvas and the canvassing of the suspects, then and now, create clear and present dangers.

The narrative is split between two time frames, 1930 when the murder was committed and 1999 when Alex Clayton conducts her cold case investigation. It’s a bold stroke choice and Kovacic pulls it off with panache, painting a dazzling portrait of Molly Dean and her world as well as delivering a delicious depiction of Alex Clayton and her accomplices and acquaintances.

The period placements are beautifully evocative of the time Melbournites had Meldrumites at the vanguard of the city’s Bohemian culture, setting the real, the rich and the wretched, environment Molly Dean lived and dreamed, and tragically died.

Kovacic’s plotting, pacing and economy combined with an erudite, educational and entertaining exactness in art appreciation churns through this dual narrative, doubling the pleasure, doubling the fun, in a compulsively page turning romp.

Kovacic’s eye for art is matched by her ear for dialogue, and the repartee between Alex and her pal, the art conservator, John Porter, puts the spar into sparkling, with a rich palette of patter and persiflage. More Mulder and Scully than Holmes and Watson, it’s a partnership of professional regard and genuine affection.

THE PORTRAIT OF MOLLY DEAN is a palimpsest of a plot, taking a factual murder and overlaying it with a fictional patina of resolution in a most satisfying, accomplished, witty and gripping piece of story telling, artfully done.

A sequel, Painting in the Shadows, is slated for publication next March, so now is the time to prime yourself for what will hopefully be an exciting new series of jaunty capers.

THE PORTRAIT OF MOLLY DEAN by Katherine Kovacic is published by Echo

101 MARVELLOUS MOVIES YOU MAY HAVE MISSED

In any year, there is a multitude of marvellous movies that the masses miss.

These are the forgotten, the neglected and the lost that need to be remembered, regarded and resurrected.

Over a ton of them are are given restorative review in 101 MARVELLOUS MOVIES YOU MAY HAVE MISSED by David Stratton.

From 1980 to the almost present, Stratton cites a century plus one of underappreciated cinema, some very small but decidedly high impact productions, and some, somewhat surprisingly, forgotten films that star very famous and popular actors including Dustin Hoffman, Sean Connery, Clint Eastwood, Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchett and directed by luminaries like Lumet, Lynch and Ang Lee.

It is extraordinary, for instance, that two films directed by Sean Penn and starring Jack Nicholson, The Crossing Guard and The Pledge, did not ignite a blaze in the box office.

Nineteen “pure” Australian films are listed among the hundred and one plus three co-productions made in collaboration with three other countries.

It’s interesting to see how many of them feature Ben Mendelssohn, now quite a success in American productions and a staple of US TV and film.

All but one are in the English language and all kinds of genres are represented – comedies, westerns, musicals, thrillers and romances.

In his introduction to 101 MARVELLOUS MOVIES YOU MAY HAVE MISSED, Stratton says that in researching the book it became clear that the political film is probably the most difficult to market in the cinema. “Audiences, it seems, aren’t very keen to go to the cinema to see political films, and, given that reality, it’s interesting that so many are still being produced.”
One fears that the brilliant current film, VICE may fall foul of this box office truism and find itself featured in the book’s sequel.

Recent research shows we are a nation of binge viewers, a phenomenon forged from the proliferation of superior television from HBO and their prodigy.

101 MARVELLOUS MOVIES YOU MAY HAVE MISSED is your ideal guide to binge watch these original, audacious, overlooked and obscure films that deserve a wider audience and communal consideration.

101 MARVELLOUS MOVIES YOU MAY HAVE MISSED by David Stratton is published by Allen & Unwin.

MAN AT THE WINDOW: BRILLIANT DEBUT THRILLER

Perfectly placed for some serious holiday reading, Robert Jeffreys’ MAN AT THE WINDOW heralds the arrival of an exciting new voice on the Australian crime writing scene.

Set in Perth in late 1965, MAN AT THE WINDOW involves the investigation of the shooting death of a paedophile teacher at a well to do private school, where ranks close to cover up rank behaviour.

Thought to be an accidental slaying from a stray bullet fired by roo shooters, the poisoned cup investigation is handed to Detective Sergeant Cardilini, a seemingly washed up cop wallowing in widower-hood, whose drinking disgusts himself, his troubled teenage son, Paul, and his colleagues.

The case appears to be open and shut, but Cardilini’s instincts, intuitiveness and basic disinclination towards elitism and arrogance, prompts him to probe deeper, believing the shooting to be an assassination, or rather an execution of an abusive predator. Continue reading MAN AT THE WINDOW: BRILLIANT DEBUT THRILLER

CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?: RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL

Melissa McCarthy as “Lee Israel” and Richard E. Grant as “Jack Hock” in the film CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? Photo by Mary Cybulski. © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Clink of ice, splashes of liquor, petty larceny, writers block, Blossom Dearie. These are some of the ingredients of CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? The film version of Lee Israel’s confessional of fraud, forgery and posthumous profiteering.

Lee Israel never envisioned a life of poverty and crime. In the heady days of 1970s Manhattan, she was a celebrated biographer with big aspirations. Her two best-selling books well-received biographies of screen star Tallulah Bankhead and showbiz reporter Dorothy Kilgallen, won her entry into New York’s swanky literary scene. But when her third book, a biography of Estee Lauder, tanked, in the blink of an eye, Israel’s life flipped upside down. In a new era of mega-bestsellers and “brand name” authors, like Tom Clancy, Israel was literary cat litter.

Soon she was living in squalor, surrounded only by a dilapidated library and her beloved cat, Jersey. Continue reading CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?: RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL