All posts by Roger Balch

After an overly sensible young adulthood in the UK blighted by a business degree and attempts at climbing the corporate ladder, Roger saw the light and moved to Australia where he drifted into journalism and reignited a teenage love of the arts and general wonderment at the world. Viewed as slightly odd for his habit of reading books in pubs, he lives in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs. He has no pets.

The Green Prince

Mosab Hassan Youssef and Gonan Ben Yitzhak in Nadav Schirman's documentary THE GREEN PRINCE
Mosab Hassan Youssef and Gonan Ben Yitzhak play themselves in Nadav Schirman’s documentary THE GREEN PRINCE based on Yousef’s stunning memoir SON OF HAMAS

THE GREEN PRINCE is Shakespearean in its gripping portrayal of humanity’s eternal themes – family, love, identity, trust, hope and betrayal – a staggering achievement for a documentary which is essentially a two-hander.

Directed by Nadav Schirman, THE GREEN PRINCE tells the tale of how Shin Bet operative Gonen Ben Yitzhak recruited the young son of a Hamas founder, Mosab Hassan Yousef, to spy on his own father.

Mosab on camera is so wide-eyed and sincere that he comes across as almost an innocent even after all that has happened, while the bull-necked Gonen comes across as entirely manipulative before becoming fatherly towards his charge. Continue reading The Green Prince

Sydney Festival 2015 preview

January is a lazy languid time in Sydney, so it’s slightly unfair that the art lover’s idylls should be rudely interrupted – but in the best possible way – by the massive feast of cultural events that is the Sydney Festival.

Like a refreshing summer shower, some of the festival’s most appetising events are fleeting, lasting for only one or two nights; others, like a lingering heatwave, bask the greater Sydney region in their glow for weeks.

This year’s 179 events spread from the CBD to the Blue Mountains, 85 of them are free and there are almost 500 performances in total. Eight of them have exclamation marks in their title (one even has two!!) so expect some very exciting shows!

As always with the Sydney Festival, it’s best to get in early: by the time you hear about them they have may have vanished or sold out.

Continue reading Sydney Festival 2015 preview

Emerald City

Ben Winspear and Kelly Paterniti in EMERALD CITY. Pic Brett Boardman
Ben Winspear and Kelly Paterniti in EMERALD CITY. Pic Brett Boardman

Given that the definitive play about Sydney’s shallowness was first performed in 1987, audiences may well question the contemporary relevance of David Williamson’s EMERALD CITY.

And also ask how this intimate Griffin Theatre Company production works on the small screen as it were, seeing as this play is about the lengths to which people will go to bag a harbour view made its sparkling debut oh so appropriately all those years ago at the Sydney Opera House.

EMERALD CITY pits Melbourne against Sydney and values against cash in the shape of fortysomething Colin Rogers (Mitchell Butel) and his publisher wife Kate (Lucy Bell) who make the move from Melbourne to Sydney, the city that gives good hedonism and where vicious cocktail parties are a necessary evil. Continue reading Emerald City

Before I Go To Sleep

before i go to sleep

Amnesia is the gift that keeps on giving for filmmakers, from 1945’s sublime Spellbound to the ridiculous but fun 50 First Dates of 2004 via a host of others including Guy Pearce’s 2000 Memento, a poster of which turned up on a teenage girl’s bedroom door in the recent French TV drama The Returned.

The latest director to have a go at tapping into this bounty is Rowan Joffe, whose BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP stars Nicole Kidman as Christine, the thirties something wife of a schoolteacher living in a London suburb. Continue reading Before I Go To Sleep

What We Do In The Shadows

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Vampire films have been crying out for a spoof movie and WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS, directed by Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi (director of Boy and Eagle vs Shark) has all the makings of a cult comedy classic.

The mockumentary follows the adventures of four flatmates in a ramshackle shabby house in Wellington: the relatively youthful Viago (Waititi), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), Vladislav (Clement) who clock in at a mere several hundred years apiece each and the positively ancient 8000-year-old veteran Petyr (Ben Fransham). Continue reading What We Do In The Shadows

CHILD’S POSE

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Luminata Gherghiu delivers a towering portrayal of a mother’s torment over her troubled son

When the speeding motorist’s car hit the 14-year-old boy at some 150 kmh, the body flew up 26 metres in the air before hitting the ground. This parabola foreshadows the emotional journey taken by the motorist’s mother, Cornelia, in CHILD’S POSE, the latest film by Romanian director Calin Peter Netzer.

At the start of the film, 60-year-old Cornelia (Luminata Gheorghiu) is polished, accomplished and secure in her arty middle-class lifestyle as she slags off adult son Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache) to her sister Olga (Natasa Raab). The scene in which Cornelia describes their combative relationship is a crash course for anyone wanting to learn Romanian swear words; and it’s the fallout from the car crash in which her son is involved that by the end of the film will see her reduced to a sniveling emotional wreck. But this is the price she willingly pays for defending her “baby” against the “hyenas” in the legal system who are circling her son and trying to bring him down.

Continue reading CHILD’S POSE

THE DOUBLE

Pics by Dean Rogers
Scenes from Richard Ayoade’s new film, THE DOUBLE. Pics by Dean Rogers

The gorgeously visual opening scenes of Richard Ayoade’s THE DOUBLE shout cult movie, one complete with plentiful Orwellian and Kafkaesque references and a pained central character, Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg).

THE DOUBLE is set in a dystopian past where 1950s austerity Britain meets Gulag chic, and our hero’s offices are all chunky Bakelite and eerily green-glowing clunky office equipment, the interiors and work cubicles drenched in dirty greens and greys and browns. Outside, fog drifts between equally soulless apartment blocks. No wonder then that the police have a dedicated unit to investigate the many resultant suicides and which is the source of some much-needed humour, wry though it is.

Continue reading THE DOUBLE

YOUNG AND BEAUTIFUL

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Teenage girl from a good family decides to become a hooker is the premise of YOUNG & BEAUTIFUL, a thought-provoking film from Francois Ozon, director of Swimming Pool, 5×2 and 8 Women).

The key word here is decides: no one forces her to, she doesn’t need the money (she squirrels it all away), there’s no obvious trauma in her life. So, as the audience endures Isabelle’s succession of soulless transactional couplings, the obvious question is why.

The film opens in the south of France at the height of summer when the girl’s family are enjoying their vacation: lazy days at the beach followed by long boozy al fresco dinners complete with a naughty joint for the oldies. One evening, the winsome Isabelle (Marine Vacth), fluctuating between endearing and sullen, sneaks off to the beach to lose her virginity with holiday romancer Felix while mother and stepfather enjoy a crafty smoke with friends.

Continue reading YOUNG AND BEAUTIFUL

EXIT MARRAKECH

A troubled father and son relationship is at the heart of the new German film, EXIT MARRAKECH
A troubled father and son relationship is at the heart of the new German film, EXIT MARRAKECH

Although sixteen-year-old Ben leads a privileged life he is failing to engage with it. EXIT MARRAKECH opens with his luxurious private school in Germany breaking up for the summer holidays and the principal calling him in for a little chat and telling him he must become a more active participant in life.

While his chums are jetting off to the beaches of the south France, a grumpy Ben (Samuel Schneider) finds himself in a chauffeur-driven limousine en-route to the airport and Morocco, where his divorced and emotionally distant father is directing a worthy German play in this poor country grappling with the implications of the Arab Spring.

Continue reading EXIT MARRAKECH

i, MALVOLIO

Tim Crouch as Malvolio. Pic Prudence Upton
Tim Crouch as Malvolio. Pic Prudence Upton

There’s a complete and utter nutter already on the sparsely dressed stage when the audience enters the small theatre for the Sydney Festival production of Tim Crouch’s I, MALVOLIO.

The nutter is Malvolio (Tim Crouch), steward to the beautiful and aristocratic Olivia in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

We’re more used to seeing Malvolio formally attired rather than in this hideously stained and bespattered, and torn and moth-eaten, one-piece undergarment which his arse is literally hanging out of. He’s also wearing a grubby medieval-looking cap festooned with antennae-like wires and two horns, and a bright-red gonad-like turkey’s wattle around his neck.

Continue reading i, MALVOLIO

WITTENBERG

Lana Kershaw as the Eternal Feminine and Alexander Butt as Hamlet in WITTENBERG. Pic Katy Green Loughrey
Lana Kershaw as the Eternal Feminine and Alexander Butt as Hamlet in WITTENBERG.
Pic Katy Green Loughrey

This production of David Davalos’s WITTENBERG is a fast-paced, witty triumph of a play in which the views of an unformed young Hamlet (Alexander Butt) are bounced around between the worldly John Faustus (David Woodland) and the earnest Martin Luther (Nick Curnow). No surprise then that Hamlet spends much of the play in his tennis togs and in one high-energy scene imaginary tennis balls are volleyed at him thick and fast.

Continue reading WITTENBERG