Frozen

Bryony Lavery’s Frozen was a Melbourne Theatre Company production that was brought up to Sydney by STC Artistic Director Robyn Nevin.

This was a powerful drama featuring three intertwined characters. Helen Morse plays Nancy, a mother frozen in grief for her small daughter murdered many years prior.Frank Gallacher was Ralph, the serial killer who can’t stop himself.
Belinda McClory was Agnetha, the criminal psychologist assigned to Ralph’s case.

This was an intimate, in the face production. By play’s close, I felt that I had truly stepped into the shoes of these intense people.

Pocket sized dynamo Morse was strong as the still grieving Nancy. Morse’s brief was a challenge, to play a woman frozen in time by the murder of her daughter, who somehow has to find her way out of deep freeze to ‘life’ again .

In the productions’ program Lavery wrote of what stirred her in to writing the play.
“I was always aware that every time there was another film about the Moors murderers or some other case, these poor souls- the relatives of the dead- would be wheeled out to relive their frozen state. They were locked in a position of hatred, a state with no forward motion in it.
‘The prickly subject of forgiveness is central to ‘Frozen’…I once heard a relative of one of the Moors children saying, ‘I am a forgiving man, but I can’t forgive that’. It’s as if he thought forgiving was conditional”.

Morse’s arc is a huge one that she charts with skill. There are two main steps on the journey. The first step is when she becomes the leader of a victim support group.
The other is when she visits Ralph in jail. It is an electric, disturbing scene with Nancy trying to connect with him, showing him photos, telling him about her life.

Frank Gallacher gave the performance of the night as the strange, scary , vindictive, coarse, misogynistic monster that was Ralph.

The irony was that Ralph, in his own way, was a frozen character. He was also in deep freeze as a result of an abusive childhood and some severe neurological deficits..

Belinda McClory gave an accomplished performance as psychiatrist Agnetha. Belinda had an interesting role to play, the contrast between the supremely confident career woman, and the pain and confusion in her private life.

These main performances were supported by John Benjamin and Darren Schnase who played two guards, positioned on the extremities of the stage, who kept constant vigil on the ‘monster’.

Julian Meyrick directed Frozen, Ralph Myers designed an outstanding set, Paul Jackson did the lights and Tim Dargaville the sound.

‘Frozen’ played Sydney Theatre Company’s Wharf 1 theatre.

AMIGOS

The Sydney Theatre Company’s new production is ‘Amigos’, the latest play by Australia’s most successful playwright, David Williamson.

In 1968 a group of four young Aussie rowers won a bronze medal at the Mexico Olympics. The locals dubbed the team ‘the Amigos’ because they were such a close knit and happy bunch.

A couple of decades later, the three remaining Amigos have one of their rare meetings. They have taken very different paths in life, Dick (Tony Llewelyn-Jones) is a heart specialist, Jim (Gary Day) is a wealthy banker, and Stephen (Gary McDonald) is one of society’s drop-outs.

There have been some telling body blows to the friendship over the years. The play’s dramatic tension comes from answering the question whether there remains a genuine friendship between the remaining Amigos or are they just living in the past?!

I wasn’t a fan of ‘Amigos’. The main reason was that I found the plays’ characters largely unsympathetic. There was no-one I really cared about.

The male characters were a bit nightmarish, and so materialistic and competitive. Williamson wrote that he wanted to write about male friendship, but these men were too busy social climbing to worry about maintaining good friendships!

Merchant banker Jim was the main character, and I found him so unlikable. He dumps his long suffering wife for a younger woman…He judges everyone by material success…He doesn’t help out Stephen, the poor Amigo, when he needs money to pay for his son’s cancer operation. And the main reason he has organized the reunion is to try and persuade Dick to consider him for the Australia Day Honors’ List as he is on the Board.

Williamson decided that his main character should do a U Turn at play’s end, and become a wholesome, giving person. I didn’t buy the change!

The wonderful Tony Llewelyn-Jones played heart surgeon Dick. Dick was a better quality character but also not very endearing. He was too insipid and wouldn’t stand up to Jim’s transparent manipulations. His sordid exploits with escort women in his twenties didn’t endear him either.

Gary McDonald played the character of the ‘poor Amigo’ Stephen. He doesn’t arrive on stage till just prior to interval. Stephen seemed more like a writer’s device than a flesh and blood character. His entrance starts with him planning to dump on Jim and Dick in his book exposing the real Amigos.

Stephen doesn’t have the courage to follow through on the expose, but at least he has a less materialistic approach to the world.

The female roles were not particularly dynamic or interesting. Both women, Hilary and Sophie, play women who have become involved with their bosses.

Natasha Elisabeth Beaumont plays Sophie who was Jim’s personal assistant before becoming his partner. Of the roles, Beaumont’s role is the most colorful, and she plays it well.

Sophie is a sexy young woman but there’s a brain ticking over fast. She’s also independently wealthy.

Rounding out the cast was Wendy Hughes as Dick’s wife, Hilary. One of our finest actors Hughes really had little to do. She just had to play whiny!

Jennifer Flowers competently directed the production.

21 Grams

Teresa Delgado and Benicio Del Toro. Pic Jim Sheldon

I finally got to see the much heralded ’21 Grams’. My response…?! This was one heck of a drama, deeply effecting.
What is it about?! Well, that’s a whole argument in itself. Everyone has their own theories; it is such an intense film.
My reading is that, at its highest, it is about troubled souls, pushed by circumstances to the very edge, and not sure which way to move.

It is about three people’s lives that are forever intertwined after a fatal car accident.

Our own local actress Naomi Watts plays Christina Peck. What an uphill road she has to climb! Her world has been pulled out from under her. Her husband and two young children have been killed in a car accident. She loses her ability to cope.
Christina starts to backslide. Before she was married she had a big drug problem. She resorts back to drugs. Then just as she slides back into the darkness of drugs, an important stranger befriends her.
Watts’s performance is riveting. She gets inside her role with great intensity. My favourite Watts scene…It’s a scene where she doesn’t say any words. It is post the fatal car accident. She is walking through her house, past her marital bedroom, past the childrens’ room, one knows exactly what she’s thinking. She’s thinking loss…enormous, unbearable loss.

Benicio Del Torro, so terrific in ‘Traffic , plays ex con Jack Jordan. Again, he proves what a great dramatic actor he is. Jordan is a man in great conflict. He has turned his life around from a life of crime by his strong Christian faith. He has a beautiful wife and kids.
Then he is the driver responsible for the car accident that kills Christina’s husband and kids. In a panic he leaves the accident scene. Later, he confesses to the police. The accident freezes him in time, he can’t seem to move forward in his life. He can’t reconcile what has happened with his belief in a benevolent God.
My favourite Del Torro scene…He is in a desolate room with a blade in his hand and he is looking at the tattoo of Jesus Christ on his arm. With his blade, he cuts away at the Christ tattoo. His sense of spiritual despair is all pervading.

Sean Penn plays mathematics professor Paul Rivers. Rivers is desperately ill and is awaiting a heart transplant. His wife is trying to get impregnated by him before he passes away. The will to live is draining away from him.
As fate would have it, Rivers is the recipient of Christina’s dead husband’s heart, and has another chance at life. He has a new motivation, to connect with the dead husband’s wife and .
My favourite Sean Penn scene…it was early on in the film. Rivers is smoking in the toilet, which actually says a lot, because the act of smoking is incredibly hazardous for him. Penn conveys his character’s sense of hopelessness and futility.
One can sense that he really feels no purpose in living any further. Again a terrific dramatic scene, and again a scene where not a word is spoken and so much meant.

Directed by Alejandro Inarritu and written by Guillermo Arriags, ‘21 Grams’ is a film well worth seeing.

House of Sand and Fog

‘House of Sand and Fog’ is based on the best selling novel by Andre Dubis the Third with screenplay and direction by Vadim Perelman.

The film tells the story of two people at loggerheads. The movie poster crystallizes this theme showing Kathy (Jennifer Connelly) and Behrani (Ben Kingsley) in an uncompromising, bitter pose.
They both want the same thing and it is a battle to the end as to who will finally have it.

The fight is over a house. Kathy, a beautiful but troubled woman, has been evicted from her home by local county sheriffs for not paying taxes. The house was her inheritance from her father. Kathy gets legal advice that she has been wrongfully evicted.

The problem is that before she can do anything about it, the county has listed her property for sale and the house is sold at a greatly undervalued price. The buyer is a Mr Behrani, a former Iranian colonel. Behrani has brought his family to America to make a fresh start, fleeing from the oppression in his homeland.

What ensues is a gigantic battle of wills as Kathy does everything in her power to get her house back, whilst Behrani determinedly holds onto his new acquisition.

‘House of Sand and Fog’ was an outstanding drama. Greed, procrastination, avarice, lust, abuse of power, manipulation, racism, a spectrum of human vulnerabilities and complexities are all on show.

I found the essence of ‘House of Sand and Fog’ to be that all three main players are slaves to their emotions, and lack any insight into their selfishness, and the damages their actions cause.

Kathy can’t see past her huge emotional investment in her house. Behrani’s vision doesn’t extend past building a financial future for his family. Lester allows his desire for Kathy to overwhelm his career, and his life.

Ben Kingsley is a fine dramatic actor and he demonstrates his prowess in his portrayal of a deeply proud man who cannot cope seeing his feeling of power drain from him.

Connelly matches Kingsley’s performance. She charts her character’s journey well, from something of a self centered prig to a a compassionate, sensitive woman.

Ron Eldard’s performance as Lester was deeply felt. I had a real handle on his character. A wishy washy man, easily swayed and manipulated in any direction. Kathy hardly has to press a button for him to go into action for her.

‘House of Sand and Fog’ is highly recommended. This was one of those films that one can talk about endlessly over a good meal and a glass of wine.

Love’s Brother

‘Love’s Brother’ is a charming, new Australian film that shouldn’t be overlooked.
The film has been written and directed by Jan Sardi who wrote the screenplay to ‘Shine’.

Let me set the scene. It is a town outside Melbourne in the 1950’s, with a large immigrant Italian community. The main character is Angelo, a bit of an ugly duckling who wants to find a wife and settle down. The local community has a dearth of Italian women so, through a local matchmaker, he corresponds with women in Italy who are looking to make a new life for themselves. (This practice was quite common at the time, known as looking for a proxy bride).
Angelo keeps on getting knocked back, and he is despairing of ever finding anyone. It is only with the encouragement of his younger brother, Gino, and his friends that he keeps on trying.
One night he is replying to another sweetheart, and he comes up with an act of desperation. With each letter that he forwards on, he has to attach a photo of himself. This night he chooses to send a photo of his much younger and better looking brother Gino.
Rosetta, a beautiful looking young southern Italian woman from a deeply impoverished family, receives the letter, and taken by the sentiments and the handsome photo, says yes.
As is the case with proxy marriages, quick marriage ceremonies are arranged for Angelo and Rosetta in their home towns. And then Rosetta boards her boat to take her from Italy to the port of Melbourne.

So there we have a quite exquisite set-up. So many lives are now affected.
How is Angelo going to resolve his sticky situation? How is Gino going to react when he finds out his brother has used his photo? The brothers are so close, will their love for each other be people to survive such deception? How will Rosetta cope with being so deceived, will she deal with the situation or will she rush back to Italy? How will Angelo’s local community, so supportive of him, cope with him behaving so dishonestly?

How does ‘Love’s Brother’ unfold? I’m not going to spoil the film by going into any more detail. You will have to have make the effort to see the film, to see how Sardi delicately plays out the various scenarios.
Rest assured that ‘Love’s Brother’ is worth visiting. It is an accomplished film, well orchestrated by Sardi, superbly lit by cinematographer Andrew Lesnie, with a quality cast headed by Amelia Warner, Adam Garcia and Giovani Ribisi.

Lucky One

Prolific fringe playwright and producer Tony Laumberg’s latest play ‘The Lucky One’ has played NIDA’s Parade theatre.This was a very different play from the playwrights’ previous productions, ‘Unsolicited Male’ and ‘The Great Divide’.

Both these plays were rich comedies, stemming from Laumberg’s legal background. Laumberg is a practicing solicitor, working in the eastern suburbs. This time the playwright has chosen a more dramatic and personal theme, the life and struggles of his late father, Max

Max was a miraculous survivor of the Nazi concentration camps. The story goes that when Tony was growing up his father told him that when he was more mature he would tell him about his experiences in the camps. Finally, with Tony in his early thirties, Max was ready to tell his story. And Tony was ready to hear out, with his tape recorder at the ready.

A memorable piece of oral history was being collected. Tony transcribed the tapes, and knew that at some time he would write something with them. After the success of his two plays Tony decided to write a play from the material. And so we come to the ‘The Lucky One’.

These were the things that stood out from ‘The Lucky One’…The wisecracking humour between father and son…also the tension between them as Max tried to make sure his son had a good start to life. A piece of dialogue stood out: Max wanted Tony to be a doctor. Tony’s reply,-‘well I was a stand-up comic, Dad at least I’m a lawyer now’.

Max’s journey was well portrayed. The audience was swept away with Max’s torturous war journey. Every time that he seemed to be finally free from his situation he would be entrapped again. He truly was lucky to have survived.

A scene that stood out was the one depicting how his parents got married. During the Holocaust there was such a sense of danger that people could only think of living one day at a time. There were many Holocaust weddings, instant weddings because people did not know whether they would be around tomorrow. Such was the marriage of his parents.

The two performances by David Ritchie and Scott Agius were excellent.

‘The Lucky One’ was a very personal, touching night at the theatre, and one felt honoured to be part of it.

Girl with a Pearl Earring

With ‘The Girl with a Pearl Earring’ director Peter Webber was given a great story to work with, (Olivia Hetread wrote the screenplay from the best selling novel by Tracy Chevalier), and he have came up with a quite exquisite film.
The film takes place in the mid 1600’s where a young girl named Griet (Scarlett Johansson) goes to work as a maid for the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer (Colin Firth). Vermeer has lately been going through artists’ block. He notices Griet’s presence when she tidies up his studio. He is drawn to the way she seems to have an understanding of the artistic process and requests she work as his studio assistant. This causes waves in the household with Vermeer’s wife Catharina (Essie Davis) wary of her husbands’ motives.

I have spent plenty of time reflecting on Webber’s film, and to its profound effect on me. There were two main attractions.
Firstly, there was the way that I could feel inside the characters as they tried to get their own way despite all the obstacles in their paths.
Little Griet, disadvantaged from her poor background, trying to receive acceptance in the artists’ household…Griet’s rivalry with one of Vermeer’s young daughters who from the start made her feel unwelcome and competes for attention…Vermeer, the single minded artist, trying to ward off his wife’s possessiveness and insecurity. The childlike Catharina who wants her husbands attention all the time…Her mother, Maria, forever practical and trying to balance everyone’s needs.
The films’ other strong attraction was how deeply in love with the art of painting it was. Vermeer is drawn to Griet because she has an innate understanding of painting. She knows about light and angle…When Vermeer commits to doing her portrait, the power of the painting seems to be as much to do with her as with him.

Most films have one scene that stand out above all others. In Webber’s film, it is when Maria gives her daughters’ treasured pearl earrings to use in Griet’s painting.
For Maria this is a huge compromise, with so much at stake. On one hand she knows that her ‘gift’ will, more than likely, seal the brilliance of Vermeer’s painting. On the other hand, when her daughter finds out, she will be furious and unforgiving.

Summing up, I found ‘The Girl With A Pearl Earring’ a quite exquisite film. The performances were strong, none more so than Judy Parfitt as Maria. Her performance as the main power broker was simply chilling.

Elephant

Dear Gus Van Sant,

Thank you for making ‘Elephant’. This was a brave, sensitive, memorable work. I can see where you were coming from. Clearly, like so many of us, you were crushed by the horrifying school massacres that took place in America.

Gus, you had already established a successful career as a filmmaker having directed such successful films as ‘Good Will Hunting’ and ‘Drugstore Cowboy’. As an artist you wanted to make a film that explored the whole energy and world behind such catastrophic events. You wanted to make a film that hit people in the guts.

With ‘Elephant’ you came up with an original treatment. I loved the way, and I think this is why your film worked, you juxtaposed the ordinariness of the schoolies and their school day with the satanic, bizarre mentality of their two colleagues and killers who were destined to live out a vengeful video game fantasy.

I loved your human, frail characters. You seemed to size them up so well. The dorky girl, picked on by the physical education teacher, ends up working in the library… The budding young photographer stopping a young couple in a park to grab some great pics and then developing them in the school photo lab…The popular, good looking blonde guy who is burdened by a father who has a major drinking problem. He has to take over the driver’s wheel when his father drives all over the road when taking him to school.

The three trendy, pretty schoolgirls, in their late teens, carrying on a treat, having a tiff over what true loyalty and friendship is, over lunch at the cafeteria, and then going into the toilets, and throwing up their food, because of bulimia.

Your ‘picture’ of the two killers is speculative but interesting. You saw them as spoilt, bored, middle class, listless adolescents who had no reality check on their violent impulses. Their sexuality was confused which also may have led to some of their inner turmoil.

Gus, I wish you didn’t have one of the guys, Eric, play the piano before going on his killing spree. Eric’s playing of Beethoven’s ‘Fur Elise’ has spoilt that beautiful tune for me forever!

I thought the slow moving, intense nature of the film worked. The way that you followed each of the main characters around, with the camera lingering behind them, worked well. In each case it felt as if the audience was experiencing the world through their eyes.

The switching of viewpoints also worked well, as you went from one characters perspective on the day to another’s.

Gus, one of the stand-out scenes was your long shot of the school sports field with all the schoolies playing excitedly. It was such a scene of peace, compared to the later sad events.

How did I feel when the inevitable climax happened?! Gutted. Above all, there was this sense of loss, of a huge waste! All those bright young lives lost, because of two out of control colleagues.

I Heart Huckabees

‘I Heart Huckabees’ had been on my list to see for a while, and I finally caught up with it today at the Dendy cinema at Newtown. I found it a vibrant and entertaining film and left the cinema on a high.

The thin plot to ‘I Heart Huckabees’ is about Albert Markovski , the environmentalist founder of Open Spaces Coalition, who writes poetry, plants trees in parking lots and wants to know the meaning of recent deep experiences in his life. He hires two existential detectives, Bernard and Vivian, to try and give him some answers. Things develop from there involving Brad Strand from Huckabees retail chain who wants to take over Open Spaces with a subplot about a model, Dawn Campbell, who wants to discard the glamour look.

Yes, this is a wild and fanciful filmmaking in the vein of the Kaufmann films. There’s a top-line cast on board to back up the wacko comedy and it’s good to see that they give good comic performances. Jason Schwartzman plays the existentially challenged Albert, Dustin Hoffman with his Beatle wig, and Lily Tomlin are the two intrepid detectives, the great French actress, Isabella Huppert plays an eccentric psychic, Naomi Watts gives a strong performance as the uptight Huckabees model who is sick of her bimbo role, Jude Law is Brad the handsome, super slick corporate executive for the Company who loves telling tales out of school about some of the celebrities that the company uses, and Mark Wahlberg plays Albert’s offsider, Tommy.

This is a film that does have that feeling that everything but the kitchen sink has been thrown in. Just to give you an idea, these were my favourite scenes.. Albert and Tommy on a bench and continuously hit a huge red ball against their head to give themselves some existential parity …Albert and Tommy having a mud fight, that gets muckier and muckier. There was also a great scene where Tommy, as a fireman saves Dawn from a house fire and gives her a romantic kiss, which was beauiful visually, but God only knows what the scene was doing in the film, it literally made no sense!

Have you got the picture?! ‘I Heart Huckabees’ was hammy, anarchic, cereberal, over the top, excessive, and a lot of fun.

Garden State

Zach Braff’s popular arthouse film ‘Garden State’ gives its central character a meaty personal journey. Andrew Largeman is a B grade television actor working in Los Angeles when he receives a phone call from his Dad that his mother has passed away, and that he needs to return home to the Garden State, New Jersey, for her funeral.
Andrew kick-starts his journey by deciding to leave his bottle of lithium pills behind. He wants to try existence without the necessity of mind numbing medication. Living his life without being in a blur is just one of a huge range of experiences that Andrew goes through upon returning home.

Here’s just a taste of his odyssey. Andrew falls in love big time with cute pocket dynamo, Sam. He has encounters with many of his old friends including some who just happen to work as local gravediggers. He finally gets to have that special talk with his psychiatrist father who has so dominated his life.

There was a good natured, rambling way to ‘Garden State’ though it did run a familiar course as it came towards the end. I loved the films off the wall humour. I can’t resist quoting just two examples. Andrew comes across an old school friend on the street. His friend says, ‘I thought you were dead’, Andrew replies, ‘What?’, the friend says, ‘That wasn’t you?’, Andrew replies with the comeback, ‘No, no, tha- that wasn’t me’.
The other example was when Andrew makes an appointment with a local psychiatrist just to check himself out. He comes into the surgery, and takes a seat. Straight way, the psychiatrist, a Dr Cohen, says, ‘There’s absolutely nothing wrong with you’, Andrew replies, ‘Really’, Dr Cohen then replies, ‘Just kidding, how the hell would I know’!

Amongst the cast of characters, there were a few that I enjoyed. Andrew with his young, urbane, tongue in cheek approach to life…I enjoyed the character of Sam…Ofcourse it helps when you have someone like an in form Natalie Portman playing her role! I liked the character trait that was attributed to her ; her habit of compulsively lying. I thought it was character defining the way she wouldn’t be a passenger in Andrew’s sidecar! I thought Ian Holm was spot on as Andrew’s intense, concerned and over protective psychiatrist father. The other treat was Peter Sarsgaard as Andrew’s mate, Mark. Sarsgaard has just one of those swarmy, decadent natures that makes him always watchable.

Summing up, ‘Garden State’ was not the kind of film that knocked my socks off, but it was a good time in the cinema! I slot it in as a good, urbane romantic comedy, in a style similar in ways to Woody Allen. As a debut film, with Brack taking on due roles as writer and director, it’s undeniably a striking debut!

Meet the Fockers

The new film ‘Meet the Fockers’ had some good moments but it never rose to any great heights.
I found it too predictable and without any real charm.I guess everyone knows the scenario but for the record…..it’s time for Pam’s family to meet Greg’s family. Greg joins the Byrnes family as they take off in their campervan with the destination, Greg’s parents’ home. The characters are well lined up…We have Robert De Niro playing the control freak , former CIA operator Jack Byrnes, who comes against the heart on the sleeve Dustin Hoffman playing Dad Bernie Focker, and his trendy sex therapist wife, Roz, played by none other than Barbara Streisand.

I guess one could define ‘Meet the Fockers’ as a comedy playing against opposites; the archness and conservativeness of the Byrnes family as against the barely contained outrageousness and warm and fuzzies of the Focker family. Add to that the differences between the Byrnes cat and the Focker’s dog and you’ve got the gist of the movie.

Ok I’ll get to the point… It kind of turned me of to see such a talented actor as Robert De Niro playing such a limp sort of role. Barbara Streisand did a pretty good try at a Bette Middler kind of role.
The other thing that really irritated me about this film was that as it steered its course from home I noticed how the films saccharine levels rose dangerously high. Why even Robert De Niro’s character was becoming warm and fuzzy by the end?!
I couldn’t buy the change in his character, and just wasn’t sold by this ordinary film with the killer cast!

APRES VOUS

APRE VOUS

It was a pretty dismal wet Sydney summer’s day and the French film ‘Apre Vous’ was just the right kind of film to see. It put me in a much better frame of mind. It of-course helps when you have one of my favourite french actors, Daniel Auteuil, in one of the leading roles. My God, what a craggy, marvelously expressive face he has.

‘Apre Vous’ , directed by Pierre Dalvadori, has a fetching scenario. Antoine is a mild mannered waiter who works in a sophisticated Paris restaurant. He has finished his shift for the night, and is making his way home through the park when he sees a man, Louis, trying to hang himself off a tree, after his girlfriend has broken up with him. Antoine talks Louis out of suicide and because he is so worried about his state of mind takes him home to care for him.

How to describe the characters of these two leading men?! After all, I’m from the school that believes that character creates plot. Antoine is a pretty straight, conservative,urbane bloke. His biggest trait is that he pretty much has a heart of gold. Louis is the more interesting, and the fleshier of the main characters. How to describe him? He’s a bit of a no-hoper…a basket case…a nerd….a romantic fool…a Jerry Lewis kind of character. Well, that’s a start anyway. Have you got the picture?! He’s the kind of character that one can make a lot more of!

It’s the endless complications that these two characters face as a result of their friendship pact that makes this film such a joy. Antoine’s wife finds it hard to get used to Louis always being around. For her it’s certainly a case of two’s company threes a crowd.
It isn’t long into the film that it hit me that Antoine was developing something of a martyr complex in regards to his new friend. His martyr type nature reminded me of Amelie’s non stop giving nature in the film of the same name.
Antoine decides to, off his own bat, to turn Louis’s life around. He gets the clumsy Louis a job in his restaurant with some hilarious consequences. The guy can’t waiter for anything, and sends the restaurant manager into total hysteria.
Antoine also strives to get Louis’s ex-girlfriend, Martine, who runs a flower shop, to return to him. This particular journey of his is incredibly challenging, especially when Martine in her romantic life is far from a wall flower!

I hope that with this little preview I have given you a good enough taste that you’ll want to go and see this film. This is my hope any way! And one last thing, the film has a really sassy ending, one to die for!

Shorter and Sweeter 2004

It was time to catch some more theatre. I scanned the What’s On Guide and something leapt out at me. It was the Shorter and Sweeter season at the Studio theatre, Sydney Opera House.

For those not in the know, since January 2002 there has been an annual short play festival called ‘Short and Sweet’ at the Newtown theatre in Sydney. In an inspired decision, Mark Cleary, the Festival’s Artistic Director, has put together this current show which features a selection of eight favourite pieces from the canon of Short and Sweet works.

I walked into the Studio Theatre, one of the best theatre spaces in Sydney, with a positive attitude. I wasn’t going to set the bar too high, if it was an entertaining night, and at least a couple of the eight plays worked well, I’d leave as happy as Larry. It would only be if all of the plays were lousy, and the actors pranced around like lost sheep, would I go home and kick the cat!

The news is that there was no need for the cat to hide under the sofa. Sure the night was a little bit of a mixed bag, but there was good stuff in it.

One of the pieces had me in absolute stitches, and was worth the price of admission in itself. The piece was Mrinalini Kamath’s ‘The Sum of All Parts’, directed by Megan Finlay and played by Bryan Moses, Craig Anderson, and Alison Barnes.

The setting is a young woman’s living room. In through the door walks a young couple. The woman leads the guy over to the sofa. It is easy to work out what’s going on. The gal is as horny and hell but the guy keeps on keeping fending her off. It isn’t long before she asks him what’s up, is he gay and so on…The guy comes out with his problem and herein lies much of the comedy.

He tells her that the libido part of him has split from him and become another person. At this time, onto the stage walks his libido in the shape of an ugly, fat, ocker looking guy, who falls onto the sofa and starts hoeing into his takeaway muchies.

She is ofcourse aghast at seeing this part of him. Any way now that the truth has come out, the couple get down to some serious canoodling. The only thing is that when the lovemaking starts to get serious Mr Libido comes over from the sofa and wants some action. As soon as this happens she is completely turned off. A huge exercise in frustration! This was a hilarious vignette which was superbly played out.

One of the features and in fact one of the delights of ‘Shorter and Sweeter’ was its hugely varied program. Christophher Johnson’s ‘Borys the Rotweiler’ was a good comic performance piece for actor Winston Cooper . Cooper was irate Borys who was having a battle with the dogs’ next door.

Van Badham’s piece ‘An Anarchist at Dinner’, directed by Emily Weare and starring Sandie Eldridge, Rebekkah Moore, Alison Barnes, Winston Cooper and Sean Kennedy, was a quirky piece about a yuppie dinner party that goes very wrong.

The most haunting play in the collection was Alex Broun’s ‘The Gift of The Gun’ . This play was directed by George Ogilvie and was performed by Jonathon Elsom and Sean Kennedy. The scenario is a complex one. A gigolo comes to an gay old bloke’s house. He expects to perform some sexual favours and then quickly exit. Imagine his delimma when the old codger doesn’t want sexual favours but offers him a huge wad of money if he will take his gun and kill him, and he has even worked out a way of making it look like suicide, so there are no repercussions.

The suspense builds up well as the young bloke comes to the point of making his mind up. George Ogilvie’s direction was flawless. The performances were well honed, Jonathon Elson as the world weary old bloke and Sean Kennedy as the punky young guy who finds himself into something way too deep.

There was other vignette that I enjoyed. This was Jane Bodie’s ‘Through’, directed by Katy Alexander, and astutely played by Winston Cooper and Rebekkah Moore.

This play was a bit of a revelation in the way that the playwright has captured the brief history of a relationship between a man and woman with just two performers and an empty stage apart from two chairs. I particularly admired the way that Bodie didn’t write a happy ending. The couple aren’t together in the end, and the woman gives her new born child his christian name.

I found Shorter and Sweeter’s other three plays empty sort of experiences. Angus Strachan’s ‘Tea’ was strong enough thematically being about a middle aged couple having a serious discussion over tea. The wife is trying to get the husband to have the courage to bring up an issue with their grown up daughter. The husband tries to do a dance of avoidance but in the end is ensnared.

The remaining two pieces, Mark Cleary’s ‘Per Second Per Second’ about a woman jumping out of an aircraft some 3000 metres above land and coping with the thoughts racing through her mind, and Benito Di Fonzo’s ‘Pokie Face’ about a father and son taking on poker machines at an RSL Club, failed to excite.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ was one of John Hughes’s comedies that he made whilst in his prime. It was another film that was something of a revelation. It showed how much wonderful comedy could be made out of having two extremely unsuited people being made to live out of each others pockets for a while.

Think ‘The Odd Couple’ with the same kind of pathos and good humour. Steve Martin and John Candy play characters caught up in the US traffic log-jam trying to get home for Christmas. Whichever method of transport they use, whether it be by boat, train or plane, new impasses are reached. And..no matter how much they may try to lose each other it always ends up that they land up next to each other.

There are some hysterical scenes. Steve Martin totally going off at a female airport counter clerk when she is too officious and can ‘t get him on an urgent flight. Martin kissing Candy on the eralobe thinking whilst he was fast asleep thinking that he was in fact his wife.

In the end though what I will remember about ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ was that it was a film with a lot of heart.
There are some truly touching scenes as the film moves towards its climax. When Martin realises that Candy does not have a home to go to for Christmas, that his wife had died many years previously, and invites Candy over for a Christmas dinner with his family it’s a scene that really grabs the heart.
All in all, with its rich vein of comedy and a heart of gold, this was a very fine film.

Tomorrow We Move

It was that time of the year again for the Jewish Film Festival. I always try and catch a few films every year.

One of the films I chose was Chantal Akerman’s ‘Tomorrow We Move’. The scenario appealed to me. The film is about a difficult mother/daughter relationship. Charlottte’s mother Catherine, moves in to share her small studio apartment after the death of her husband. The tensions soon mount between this creative couple as they have to share the one small space; Charlotte is a stressed out writer, trying to write a new erotic novel, Catherine is a music teacher, and has brought with her her grand piano.

The deal that I cut was that if the movie had a good play around with the claustrophobic, mature mother daughter relationship then I’d be happy with my ticket. It felt like there would be plenty of room for comedy and even pathos.

Well…I’m afraid that the verdict isn’t good. With ‘Tomorrow We Move’ I felt ripped off. The title was a misnomer. Sure Charlotte and Catherine do move in the end. The thing is that the movie doesn’t really move…anywhere. It is a long time since I’ve seen a film that had so little action. It was made worse that the film went for just under two hours.

There was no real conflict, nothing substantial at stake, to keep audiences interested. No wonder that so many people in the audience walked out by half way through the film. The most exciting that the film got was the tensions that Charlotte felt trying to write her erotic novel with her mother no w hanging around. Well I guess there was a bit of interest when the ‘couple’ started showing people around their apartment but they weren’t really very interesting characters, unfortunately.

There were only very slim pickings to get from this film. They related mainly to one good central performance. I enjoyed Sylvie Testud’s performance as Charlotte. She was a fun, impish sort of character.

Summing up, it’s sad to say but this film was a bit of a yawn. It never really got out of first gear. How this film made it into a film festival program is a curious aberation.

De Lovely

Irwin Winkler’s film ‘De Lovely’, a film on the life and times of Cole Porter, had a strong impact on me. It was by no means a perfect film but I found it challenging.The setting is non-naturalistic. Cole Porter is sitting in the stalls of a theatre with the plays director as they commence watching scenes from the new musical play about his life. They argue with each other over where a good starting point for the play should be. For the next 2 hours the audience is swapped between Porter’s unfolding story and the old Porter’s reaction to it.

I have to admit that the biographical genre is one of my favourite genres. ‘De Lovely’ is one of the best of its kind. Here are my impressions of this portrait.

Wealth comes to the forefront. He was a man of enormous wealth, and lived in the most luxurious of estates. In this sense, he was not like a mere mortal, money was never a problem. Lucky him!
In another respect he was also not very human. Porter came across as a man with infinite talent. It seemed to take him no effort at all for him to come up with a great pop tune.
He was a man who loved to party. The parties he threw at his houses were nothing short of lavish. And of-course a great deal of alcohol was always on tap.

The portrait given shows a man who was extremely self centered. I guess many people would consider that a typical trait of the artist. In this warts and all biography, there are many scenes of unashamed selfishness, times when he left his wife at home whilst he would stay out late and have sexual encounters.

Humble Boy

The Ensemble Theatre’s latest production is the British play by Charlotte Jones ‘Humble Boy’. The play is being performed at the Seymour Centre’s York theatre.
The scenario features a popular narrative hook. The life of a young man is turned around when he has to come back home to his father’s funeral. Felix loved his late father James but has never been close to his mother Flora. His ambivalence to his mother is brought into sharper focus when he finds out within a few weeks that his mother is already having an affair with a local man, George, whom he has never liked.

‘Humble Boy’ has a broad canvas, with the ‘Humble Boy’ at the centre. Felix is an astrophysician. He lives totally in his head. Felix doesn’t know how to relate to people on an emotional level. The play charts the course in Felix trying to find some balance in his life.

‘Humble Boy’ was a middle range theatre experience. The actors each played strong character types well. There were some very poignant scenes especially concerning mother Flora. Steve Rogers, one of our strongest local actors gave a touching performance. Sandra Bates’s direction was tight. Mark Thompson’s garden setting was exceptional.

I will remember this play for an unusual choice made by one of its main characters. One of the plays’ main storylines of the play was Flora’s love triangle. In a surprising decision, Flora decides that, in the end, she doesn’t want George, even though the third part of the triangle is no longer an issue, with her husband having passed away. George sulks rather than slinks out of the action.

Into The Woods

It had been a long week and I was determined to make the most of my Friday nights entertainment. I went to see the New Theatre’s opening night production of Stephen Sondheim’s Ínto The Woods’ directed by Pete Nettell.

I made a pact. As long as this show was entertaining and had a bit of punch then I’d give it the thumbs up. My mood was buoyed when I got to the theatre. There were a throng of people in the foyer and people were flowing out onto the street.

It ended up being a good night which had a lot to do with director Pete Nettell
putting together a good, solid package. The production featured a large cast, with over twenty performers. Sure there was a mixture of quality still everyone gave their all.

The performers did well with the large number of show tunes. Both the slow, emotional numbers and the big chorus numbers were handled well. My pick of the cast were:- Sigrid Langford- Scherf, a Wollongong Uni graduate, who was a delicate Cinderella and had a rich singing voice, Maria O’Hare, an ACTT grad who gave a quirky, comic performance as Milky White the Cow, Jennifer White a Nepean grad who was a confident and passionate Baker’s wife, Nikki Aitken a cheeky Red Riding Hood, and the iconic Jeannie Lewis as the Witch.

The play featured some strong production values.
Wayne Harris’s set was a good showcase for the evening. This was the first time in my experience that I can remember that the New’s ceiling was replete with a large expanse of fairy lights. Another production feature that was the use of booming, reverberating sound effects that rang around the theatre after interval to indicate the foreboding presence of the Giant. These effects were also aided by a flashy lighting design by Spiros Hristias. The bright costumes were designed by Grant Buchanan and Tim Elkington. The taped musical backing worked well, provided by Kathy Peterson- piano, synthesiser, Fiona Gardner- synthesizer and Sarah Cameron- piano.

SCENES FROM A SEPARATION

I guess everything comes down to versions, interpretations. The news we see everyday, the history books we read, there is no such ‘animal’ as pure objectivity. So why should it be any different when we turn our minds and hearts to relationships. It is with this notion in mind that Andrew Bovell and Hannie Rayson have written the play ‘Scenes from a Separation’, currently playing the Drama Theatre at the Sydney Opera House.
The scenario looks behind the scenes of a marriage breakdown between publisher Matthew Molyneux and his wife Nina.
The drama is divided into two Acts, in the first half the break-up is told from the husband’s side, after interval the wife’s version is enacted.

Its new production, ‘Scenes from a Separation, written by Andrew Bovell and Hannie Rayson, delivered an intense, edgy, multi-layered view of contemporary relationships.

9 November 2004

ART

French playwright Yasmina Reza’s play ‘Art, which opened in Paris in 1994, is considered a modern classic.

In ART, Serge has gone out and bought a modern work of art for $200, 000. The thing is that the canvas is simply filled with paint with white lines through it. Serge is content with his purchase except for not being able to make up his mind where he should display it in his flat.

And there’s just another thing, his best friend Marc is giving him a hard time about the purchase. Marc can’t believe that he has spent so much money on something he considers is a worthless painting. Marc then involves Yvan, the other close friend in the group, in what becomes a great debate about the painting.

Reza’s play is a bit of a revelation. Why? Because with her artistry, such a simple idea becomes such thought provoking theatre.

The play conjurs up a plethora of debates-the value of modern art…the superficiality of bourgeois society. Its main subject and theme is friendship. The blowtorch is well and truly set to it. How honest are our communications with our friends…how conditional are our friendships really…and how tied up with conventional expectations are they?!

Structurally ART builds’ beautifully. The play starts off at a bit of a canter but it gathers pace and features an eloquent ending.

The current Ensemble production does justice to Reza’s pearl of a play. Sandra Bates’s direction is respectful and tight, and the performances are accomplished and confident,

Daniel Mitchell as Marc, Mark Kilmurry as Serge, and Brian Meegan plays Yvan. John House’s simple design with the one set to ‘cover’ the living rooms of the three flats was effective.

Martin Kinnane’s lighting design was great and an important feature of the play.

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring

Are you in the mood to get away from it all? Feel like a trip somewhere. Well if you can’t really afford to an alternative is to see the new Korean film ‘Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring’. This was a film that couldn’t be further away from the hustle and bustle of modern life. The setting is a remote and picturesque mountain lake in a South Korean wilderness preserve. It is within this setting that an elderly Buddhist monk and his protege, a young boy, live out an existence in a small wooden house on the lake. The monk teaches the boy in the ways of life, bearing in mind Buddhist teachings.

I connected strongly with this film and many scenes within it. The monk forcing the boy to be weighed down with a stone after he has cruelly tied stones to innocent animals he has been playing with in the bush. The scene when the monk finds out that his protege has been having an affair with a young woman who he has been healing, and he forces her to leave..how gutted the young man is…the lecture that the monk gives the young man about the evils of lust….the scene of the monk stoically ending his life…the scene of the young man climbing the mountain top with a buddha statue, and leaving the buddha there to watch over his home on the water

Forgive the commercial term but this film was a good package. A serene and mystical setting…an intelligent narrative…and a
exquisite orchestral soundtrack made this one of the most special and wistful offerings of the year.

Green Card

Aussie Peter Weir’s 1990 romantic comedy ‘Green Card’ still holds up well today. It is about what ensues when the lives of two very different people are thrown together.

In ‘Green Card’ Frenchman George and American Bronte agree to a marriage of convenience for practical reasons. George has been offered a great job in the states but he needs a work permit, a Green Card. If he is married he will automatically be eligible for a permit. Bronte, a keen gardener, has found the perfect flat with its own greenhouse, but it is only available to married couples. Barely knowing each other George and Bronte agree to live together and get married- platonically- and their only hurdle is the local immigration department.

Ok, that’s enough of a boring plot description! What’s ‘Green Card’ like?! Here are some prompts.

Think romance…this film has a soft, mushy heart. It has one of the most stirring finishes in cinema, featuring one of those great enigmatic endings.

Think the comedy of ‘odd couple’ dynamics. Bronte is conservative, reserved, arch. George is a provocateur, and often deliberately outrageous, especially to Bronte’s far too straight and try hard boyfriend! There are some hilarious scenes such as when George does a little bit of improvising on the piano at a one of Bronte’s friends parties’, and Bronte hides her face in her hands in embarrassment.

Think suspense and real involvement with the main characters. The crunch scenes when George and Bronte have their big interview with immigration, and have to improvise like hell and hope for the best.

Summing up, to use an analogy, ‘Green Card’ felt like a favourite winter jacket that fitted just right.

Russian Doll

‘Russian Doll’, made in 2001, is one of the best Australian films made in recent years. The film features a strong storyline with a good Aussie cast. Hugo Weaving played the main character Harvey, a private investigator and want to be writer. His life is in a state of turmoil when he finds out that his girlfriend is having an affair. He is further thrown when he agrees to do a favour for his best friend Ethan (David Wenham).

Ethan is having an affair with a beautiful young Russian woman, Katia (Natalie Novikova). Katia’s story is that she came out to Sydney as a mail order bride only to discover that her husband to be had suddenly died of a heart attack. Katia befriends Ethan, and he soon becomes more than a shoulder to cry on!
Ethan soon realises his happy marriage with Miriam (Rebecca Frith) is at risk unless Katia can be controlled. He asks Harvey to take her on as a roommate and to wed her in a marriage of convenience. Harvey agrees when Ethan sets him up with plenty of money so he can give up his day job and spend his time writing his great Australian novel. It doesn’t take Harvey too long into the arrangement to know that he is going to have his hands very full coping with Katia!

This was a clear case of the filmmakers, writer/director Stavros Kazantzidis and co-writer Allanah Zitserman,knowing the kind of film they wanted to make, and carrying it off with class. They have come up with a clear blueprint, a good recipe, that makes for a charming, entertaining screwball romantic comedy.

The classic ingredients are all here:- the kooky female lead Katia ala something that Goldie Hawn would have played in her prime… the straight laced, conservative male, a part that would have suited someone like George Segal…a storyline that could have come out of ‘When Harry Meets Sally’-
friends becoming lovers on the rebound, breaking up and then getting back together again…Have you got the picture?!
As well as its many layers, ‘Russian Doll’ has many riches. Most of them relate to good performances from a strong cast. Natalia Novikova shines as the kooky Katia, Hugo Weaving gives his usual good performance. The only star that didn’t shine, so to speak, was David Wenham as Ethan. I found him a little miscast, his performance was stilted.

There were some strong supporting role performances. One of Australia’s best actresses Rebecca Firth was great as Ethan’s naive, homely wife, Miriam. Sasha Horler gave a charismatic, comic performance as one of Katia’s devious, horny Russian girlfriends, and had a wonderful quirky Russian accent.

One of the pleasures of the film was that it was set around Sydney and it was great to see Sydney icons such as the nightclub spot, ‘The Russian Coachman’ featured. Summing up, I strongly recommend ‘Russian Doll’. Take out on DVD one night, have a few glasses of wine, sit back on the couch, and enjoy a well made, feel good local movie.

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