Tag Archives: Richard Cotter

A CHAT WITH SOCRATIS : THE HOPE SONG

 

Thespian Socratis Otto doubles as director later this month and he is very excited. He is directing and appearing in the play THE HOPE SONG which has been written by Melbourne playwright Janet Brown.

Socratis began, “The play has received a few productions in Melbourne but this production, part of the Sydney Fringe Festival, is the Sydney premiere.

“I’m excited about Janet’s play because it goes to demystifying mental illness. The seven characters in the play suffer from  various degrees of mental illness. The  positive thing is that they are managing their struggles, and thriving, spirited and humorous in their awareness and disclosures”,

I asked Socratis to tell me a  bit about the background to  the play.

“The play has an interesting background. Janet Brown interviewed seven people with different mental health conditions. The ages varied from a 17 year old girl to a 57 year old man. She asked each person the same questions.  Janet changed the names of the people involved for privacy reasons. Continue reading A CHAT WITH SOCRATIS : THE HOPE SONG

MARBLES : WHEN A FAMILY’S LOVE IS PUT TO THE TEST

Marbles or more to the point losing one’s marbles is what has happened to poor Stanley. The play starts on Stanley’s 77th birthday. Stanley has Alzheimer’s. Natasha, his oldest daughter, has invited his two other daughters over to honour his birthday. The youngest daughter Amelia lives locally and has just had to leave her husband Rod and family for the day but Frances the middle daughter has travelled in from overseas for the celebration, if it can be called that.

The plot hinges on the fact that three years previously Stanley made, or more to the point, got his daughters to agree to signing a letter saying that if he lost his independence and became a ‘vegetable’ that they would find a way to put him out of his misery. Continue reading MARBLES : WHEN A FAMILY’S LOVE IS PUT TO THE TEST

THIRTY THREE @ THE OLD FITZ

 

oldfitz-1A good dose of theatre verite takes over the top tier of the Old Fitz pub as resident production company curate the first of a new series of performances, THIRTY THREE.

THIRTY THREE is not only the title of the play but the capacity of audience allocation as viewers sit along three walls and watch a dinner party thrown by Sas to celebrate her thirty-third birthday degenerate into a debauched debacle. Continue reading THIRTY THREE @ THE OLD FITZ

Journey’s End

RC Sheriff’s play Journey’s End theatretroupe
Andrew George plays Captain Stanhope and Jermey Bridie plays Officer HIbbert in R.C. Sherriff’s classic war drama, JOURNEY’S END

British playwright R.C. Sherriff’s drama JOURNEY’S END presents a detailed and harrowing account of the hell that is war fought in the trenches.

A classic of its genre, Sherriff’s play was wrought out of his  experiences as an officer in the trenches during the First World War. The play was first performed on the 9th December 1928 at London’s Apollo Theatre, in a production by  the Incorporated Stage Society, and starred a very young Laurence Olivier.

The setting is Saint-Quentin, Aisne, France, at a British Army infantry officers’ dugout located just 75 yards from enemy trenches during four days, between the 18th March and the 21st March, 1918, poised very close to the end of the War. It focuses on the interactions between five officers and the Colonel, and depicts the camaraderie between the officers with poignancy. Continue reading Journey’s End

PLAYTHING

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How often do you see a funny existential play that examines the reason and nature of theatre, life, death, meaning and the sheer randomness of the universe?

A man, played impressively by Heath Ivey-Law, walks into a comfortable middle class lounge room, mistaking it for a toilet, sees the audience and is embarrassed. He attempts to go back out of the room but the door will not open. He unsuccessfully tries the doors on the other two walls which only leaves the invisible fourth wall. After some deliberately predictable miming the fourth wall does turn out to be impenetrable. The man is joined by a woman, played with confidence and humour by Jodine Muir, who mistakes the room for a toilet and similarly cannot escape the room. As they can see the audience they begin to wonder if they may be in a play. Neither character can remember anything prior to entering the room. In a profound and revealing question the woman asks, “Perhaps I didn’t exist before I walked on stage?”

The actors discuss the motivation and philosophies of the playwright, Simon Dodd, from various perspectives. The masculine and feminine perspectives are explored, and in this case the man is the more philosophical and cerebral character, whereas the woman is much more practical and grounded in this world. Plaything directly questions the relationships between playwrights, the actors, critics and the audience. Does the audience come for escapism, philosophical musings or for a challenging and thoughtful evening?

Plaything contains many theatre jokes and references. The actors attempt to work out what the next plot point could be and try to trigger events by calling out cues. Peter Adams performs well in his brief role and is one of these critical plot points. The young couple are joined on stage by an older couple, played with elegant and appropriate ham acting by Richard Cotter and Tricia Youlden, which gives the play another level of dynamism and an opportunity to explore youth, optimism and exuberance and to compare these attributes with experience, wisdom and the jaded acceptance of ones fate.

Simon Dodd’s PLAYTHING manages to be entertaining and philosophical whilst cleverly exploring why playwrights write, actors act and audiences go to the theatre.

PLAYTHING was performed at Factory Theatre, Marrickville as part of this years’  Sydney Comedy Festival.

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE LAWYER

Geoff Sirmai and Brigid O'Sullivan
Geoff Sirmai as Ahmed and Brigid O’Sullivan as Rhonda in THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE LAWYER

Henry Crowley is a prominent Sydney CBD lawyer.  Pompous and pragmatic, he lives with his wife, Margaret, in the safe, conservative suburb of St. Ives.

Henry, unaware of his wife’s previous job with ASIO, is also unaware that it is Margaret who wears the trousers in their marriage.  She announces, over several martinis, that she has decided to take in an Iranian refugee from an Indonesian boat, awaiting the outcome of his asylum application, and introduces Ahmed Zahedi, a mathematics professor with a penchant for the theatrical.

Ahmed has already moved in, much to Henry’s horror, particularly as Henry is being interviewed for a feature article by a ruthless journalist from the Financial Review, Rhonda Harper.  Before Rhonda arrives at their home, Henry’s cousin from Queensland, Micky Crowley, also arrives at their usually tranquil doorstep.  Micky is a harmless, but obnoxious chronic gambler, badly dressed in shorts and thongs.

This is a wonderful entrée into a very effective comedy of errors.  The actors all bring fresh and funny idiosyncrasies to their characters.  Mark McCann is particularly enjoyable as bombastic Henry, Tricia Youlden brings great comic timing to her calm and controlling Margaret.  Geoff Sirmai plays a quirky, eccentric Ahmed, Marc Kay brings vulnerability to a reckless and clumsy Micky and Brigid O’Sullivan is fabulous as the scheming journalist Rhonda.

This play is the 13th collaboration between writer Tony Laumberg and director Richard Cotter.  Ten of these have been the well-known ‘Lawyer’ comedies, which have developed quite a cult following, particularly amongst Sydney’s theatre-going legal fraternity.  Laumberg is not only a talented writer, but has a legal practice in his spare time!  The play is well written and highly enjoyable under the clever direction of Cotter.  What impressed me about the play is the lack of racism and clichés.  The humour is inoffensive to all the characters that are represented, bringing a sense of balance to the comedy.

THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE LAWYER plays the Tap Gallery, Darlinghurst, from Thursday 10th October to Sunday 27th October.

 

 

 

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

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What’s in a name? A rose by any other would smell as sweet. Call a spade a spade but you’ll still shovel shit if you pick a name that digs up contentious connotations.

In western culture, names such as Jesus, Atilla, Adolph, and Osama are eschewed from birth registers, but more mundane reasons are raised among family and friends at the imminent patter of tiny feet, where naming rights can produce near riot.

Appellations of those who are unliked from the past or the present, or carry with them some sort of high falutin’ allusion or pretention is the most likely impediments to nixing a moniker.

When Forty-something father to be Vincent announces to his family the nomenclature of his unborn son he figuratively flings that shovelful at the fan.

What should have been a civil celebratory occasion devolves into a dinner where the stable door of secrets is left so far ajar that the stampede of revelations seal the deal of unable to conceal.

Based on a super successful stage play, WHAT’S IN A NAME? (LE PRONOM) makes for a marvelous movie where the comedy has sparkle and bite and the story’s spine has a vertebrae full of funny bones with slipped dramatic discs.

Blessed with a fine ensemble cast that relish in spitfire delivery and comedic timing, WHAT’S IN A NAME is reminiscent of the golden age of comedy where character and situation combine to power the turbine of intelligent entertainment.

What’s in a name turns into what’s in a joke and at whose expense as this clever comedy illustrates the thin line between social decorum and civil disintegration.

Marie Cheminal’s production design is exquisite. Almost all the action of the film takes place in an apartment and it looks and feels so real, so lived in that it’s a marvel – so marvellous and fully dimensional that it becomes a key character in the film.

From the opening credits where all the collaborators are identified by their first names only through to its colossal conclusion, this fabulous film is a joy to the ear and the eye.

Written for the screen and directed by MATTHIEU DELAPORTE & ALEXANDRE DE LA PATELLIÈRE from their original stage play, WHAT’S IN A NAME? is arguably the best comedy to grace our screens since Roman Polanksi’s CARNAGE.

 

RUSSIAN RESURRECTION FILM FESTIVAL 2013

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A scene from the poignant GENTLEMEN OF FORTUNE

Celebrating a decade of détente, a veritable glasnost of cinema, The Russian Resurrection Film Festival kicks of July 24 at the Chauvel Cinema for a fortnight of fun, thrills, thought provocation, and soul searching.

Opening with LEGEND 17, an ice hockey extravaganza that made the Russian box office give a puck , Russian Resurrection Film Festival continues its ten year tenure with a myriad array of movies including dramas, documentaries, and even a disaster flick. Two of the selections, MARATHON and THE GEOGRAPHER are screening here ahead of their Russian release.

One of the highlights is the short and bittersweet THIS IS WHAT’S HAPPENING TO ME, a superbly succinct study of the slings and arrows of ordinary lives set on New Year’s Eve, as two brothers contemplate their father’s imminent demise after receiving a devastating diagnosis on his behalf.

One of the siblings is a city slicker navigating the slippery slide of ambition whilst the other has remained in the less cosmopolitan country town of their birth. Both have moribund relationships with their partners, the mundanity and mendacity of modernity grinding them down.  the hope of the New Year, when things are born anew, the chance of fresh starts and new beginnings lends a poignant motif, especially when The boys become surrogate dads to a disenfranchised teenage girl, neglected by her real parent.

Set to the music of a Seventies Soviet classic, THIS IS WHAT’S HAPPENING TO ME has the tonal ambience of Dorothy Parkers poem, Resume.

The disintegration of the filial paternal paradigm is explored in THE CONDUCTOR, the story of a Moscow maestro taking an orchestra to Jerusalem to perform The Passion of Matthew. The conductor is not there just to make music but to organise the funeral of his estranged son. Disapproving of his son’s apparent lack of discipline, the devastated dad must deal with the grief and guilt of surviving his son. Vladas Bagdonas is majestically monolithic as the maestro, brilliantly conveying the inner turmoil of his distress; a granite like gravitas, sturdy stoicism in the face of despair. To add to his woes, members of his orchestra are experiencing psychological and emotional meltdowns as well, and there is the palpable danger of extremist action in the streets of the city.

A lighter tone is struck with LOVE WITH AN ACCENT, a multi story apartment movie which takes its template from Love, Actually. It could easily have been called Georgia on My Mind as all the stories are set there, eschewing any recent dispute or conflict between the state and Russia, and concentrating on the whimsical and ephemeral. The mountains and valleys and general Georgian scenery are gorgeous and give ample armchair traveller payoff even when the rom com flags.

Also in a lighter vein, GENTLEMEN OF FORTUNE – both the original 1971 film and the remake from 2012. The original concerned a kindergarten teacher recruited by the police to pose as a notorious criminal in order to reclaim an iconic treasure. It was pitched as a family film and had a lovely naivety and charm. The remake is a brasher, bigger budgeted affair, still charming thanks to its leading man, now a children’s entertainer, but it’s certainly more violent and mildly malevolent in comparison. It’s also 12 minutes longer and doesn’t need to be; movie makers whether in Moscow or Malibu all seem to suffer from the malaise of bloated runtimes, especially with comedies that should be bright and breezy and brief.

Some 28 films make up the festival with about half a dozen being retrospectives, reminding us of the difference in style and content from Iron Curtain days to the present.

So crack open the caviar, sip from the samovar or kick back with a vodka, and submerse yourself in some subversive cinema. Screenings at the Chauvel, Paddington from July 24 – August 7, with sessions at Event Cinemas Burwood on Saturday and Sunday August 3 and 4. Tix through MCA or at the Cinemas

BEFORE MIDNIGHT

Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke shine again in BEFORE MIDNIGHT
Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke shine again in BEFORE MIDNIGHT

Thankfully, Richard Linklater’s third instalment in the “Before” trilogy is a triumph.

It’s hard to believe that it’s eighteen years since we were introduced to Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) at their first meeting on the train hurtling through Austria. BEFORE SUNRISE chronicled their night exploring Vienna and their burgeoning romance.  Nine years later, BEFORE SUNSET witnessed their reunion in Celine’s home town, Paris. Now, we have BEFORE MIDNIGHT, with the couple going through a mid life crisis in Greece.

True to the original template, BEFORE MIDNIGHT is a travelogue talk-fest shot in long takes that serves an inherent honesty and truth in narrative and performance.

Credited as co screenwriters, Hawke and Delpy have coalesced their characters into a compelling coupling that has the verisimilitude that comes with genuine, grounded relationship. It’s like 7UP but polished and honed. Jesse and Celine take us to the coalface of long term  relationships as the mundane mendacity of domesticity assails the ramparts of romance gives it the dramatic frisson. We fell in love with the previous movies as the couple fell in love with each other. Now nine years on, we still love these characters, even though they might not be still in love with each other.

At the film’s beginning, Jesse is farewelling his son from his first marriage, and is considering returning to the States to spend more time with him.

Celine seems to have become shrill, disappointed with how the relationship has panned out, motherhood and marriage having marginalised her career ambitions. Jesse, always the greater romantic, to the point of fashioning a fiction around their lives, turning their love story into a tale for mass consumption, remains the incurable romantic, desperately trying to allay any derailment of their relationship.

Intelligent, mature and funny, boasting the best dialogue from an American picture this year, BEFORE MIDNIGHT nevertheless has the worm of worry built into its title. Will this midnight summer dream turn into a domestic nightmare, growing darker before the dawn, the fairy tale ending faltering and fading?

Here’s hoping there will be BEFORE DAWN  nine years hence, but if not, we’ll always have SUNRISE, SUNSET, MIDNIGHT as one of the great trilogies in movie history. Give me middle age over middle earth any day!

 

THE LONE RANGER

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If THE LONE RANGER is an attempt to rebirth the Western, I’m afraid it’s still born. With its unwieldy length, imposition of an old Tonto retelling the story, a dreadful deadpan Depp bordering on dull, this poisons the well of Western box office as devastatingly as an asbestos inhaler.

The best thing that can be said of THE LONE RANGER is that its set pieces are worthy of Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton, but are so mismatched in the feeble narrative as to be puzzling rather than palpable.

The originators of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise probably thought it a no brainer to swap Jack Sparrow’s tri-corner for Tonto’s ornithological chapeau and have Johnny Depp work his magic, but whereas the buccaneer was funny in his flamboyance, the Injun is under the bottom, the dead pan just plain dead, like he’s smoke signaling his performance in.

Armie Hammer – what a name – is asked to look chiseled and no more and so that’s what he does. He is more the lame ranger than the lone – and anyway, he’s certainly not lone, he’s saddled with the annoying, filthy paint faced Comanche. Armie hasn’t been in a movie worth his talent since The Social Network – let’s hope his turn as Illya Kuryakin in the upcoming Man From UNCLE is a better outing.

Helena Bonham Carter is fun but under utilised as the one legged brothel keeper Red Harrington, who keeps a peacemaker in her prosthetic.

Tom Wilkinson is cliché ridden railway mogul; William Fitchner is the vile Butch Cavendish, and Barry Pepper as a Custeresque cavalry man rounds out the cast in search of a script.

This is the first real misstep for director Gore Verbinski ( Mousehunt, The Mexican, Rango)–hopefully he will correct himself and not fall into the Michael Bay abyss. Because this movie looks like it has been made by that brat of bombast.

The Lone Ranger was born of radio – with respect to this pictorial presentation, it’s where he belongs.

Hi ho Silver? Tarnished.

 

 

WE STEAL SECRETS

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It’s interesting, ironic even, that the Fourth of July is the release date of Alex Gibney’s remarkable documentary WE STEAL SECRETS: THE STORY OF WIKILEAKS.

American Independence Day seems a suitable date to examine an act that has its perpetrator, Bradley Manning, on trial for treason against the United States under violations of Articles 92 and 134 (the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Espionage Act), the most serious charge, aiding the enemy, a capital offense. The court martial has commenced and may well continue past July 4.

In the meantime, Gibney’s doco is a brilliant background briefing to what has led to Manning’s trial and Julian Assange’s embedding in the Ecuador embassy.

www. Used to mean world wide web, but in the era of cyber secrets you could well think it stands for  whistleblower website wikileaks, a site dedicated to exposing unjust and secretive systems of government.

Since Wikileaks disseminated the dizzying array of diplomatic dossiers and defence documents, Assange and Manning have been entwined, tarred as traitors and terrorists by some, hailed as heroes by others.

Academy Award winning documentarian Alex Gibney was first drawn to document the drama because he deemed it was a David and Goliath story. Then he discovered it was much more than that.

In the age of the Internet, Facebook, twitter etc, what is secret anyway? What is private? What is public? Another whistle-blower, Edward Snowden, has consequently popped up and alleged that Washington is spying on civilians. With the amount of facile baring that takes place on Facebook there’s scant nothing for spooks to discover.

The first casualty of this brave new world appears to be accountability. Assange believes government ought to be accountable but sees no personal accountability in divulging sensitive and classified information. Dizzying double standards apply.

The Swedes want Assange to be accountable to allegations of sexual impropriety. He claims political asylum. His supporters use cyberspace to insult, attack and sully the Swedish women who say Assange has a case to answer.

The power of the private citizen to attack lack of government transparency generates and promotes an uber public persona which appears to generate and promote paranoia that taints transparency in the company crusading against the politically opaque. It’s like the conundrum, hating hate. Zealotry against zeloutry makes you a zealot

Information is power. Freedom of information is empowering.  But with freedom and power come responsibility and accountability, and the contradictions are colossal, corruption a contagion.

 

 

RAISING THE CURTAIN

Geoffrey Rush is featured in this impressive documentary
Geoffrey Rush is featured in this impressive documentary about Australian theatre

An absolute must for any Australian, whether they are theatre goers or not, is the three part documentary RAISING THE CURTAIN available on DVD through Madman.

A celebration of Australian theatre, it mirrors Australia’s cultural and social evolution, performance being present in the penal colony from almost the raising the flag. Convicts and Corps craved entertainment and so the show must go on.

The gold rush brought an appetite, an economy and an opulence that gilded the industry, girded its loins, and an intense entrepreneurial flurry brought performers in tents out to the fields and finally into grand playhouses.

Through archival footage and interviews with existing veterans, this is a vibrant, compulsively watchable series that explores all facets of show business in Australia, from the indigenous, impresarios, vaudevillians, circus acts, imports, playwrights, hoofers, actors, and cross dressers.

Barry Humphries and Reg Livermore give frank and fertile interviews about their careers and inspirations for their iconic cross-gender creations, Dame Edna and Betty Blokk Buster, marvellously illustrated with fascinating footage.

Like so much of Australian society, the theatre was beholden to colonial roots and later to Broadway musicals and the programme examines the pros and cons of this reality, as well as the exhilarating emergence of home grown theatre, the first great and lasting success being Ray Lawler’s The Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, with the baton being taken up in the Sixties by dramatists like David Williamson and Jack Hibberd, and companies like La Mamma and Nimrod.

The background to this burgeoning bombast of broad talent has commentary by those who were at the barricades, including Graeme Blundell, John Bell, and Jim Sharman.

Present day performance landscape features legendary larrikin ethos along with indigenous drama and dance, a corroboree of cultures coalescing into a contemporary scene that continues to entice, enthral, enrage and entertain.

Thoroughbred thesps like Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Robinson, and Robyn Nevin, reflect and ruminate on the past, present and future in a showcase of achievement and sheer exuberance.

Much more than just a luvvie fest, RAISING THE CURTAIN is a backstage pass to the rise and rise of Aussie theatre, both the show and the business.

RAISING THE CURTAIN,  3 x 54minute episodes, is available through Madman, SBS, and many retail centres.

 

 

DEAD MAN DOWN

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DEAD MAN DOWN (MA) teams Colin Farrell  with the  original girl with the dragon tattoo, Noomi Rapace, in a screwball guns a blazing revenger.

It reteams Rapace with her Dargon Tatoo director, Niels Arden Oplev in his American feature debut

The screenplay by J.H. (Joel) Wyman, writer of the Brad Pitt-Julia Roberts adventure The Mexican,  percolated for six years as the complexities of the story and characters came together. This is a shoot ‘em up that shatters preconceptions that the genre is in danger of being just unimaginative dross.

Farrell plays  a feller  whose festering revenge on the felon who fatally farewelled his family formulates into infiltrating the felonious punk’s gang and waging  a fear campaign that promotes paranoia between criminal king-pins before he starts killing them.

On their first date, she makes an indecent proposal. She has cottoned on that he is  a killer and wants him to top the culpable driver responsible for her ravaged visage. Blackmail and revenge is not a normal bedrock for  a relationship, but these two battered souls strike up a strong if unusual bond.

Add to the mix her hearing impaired mother, played by the incomparable Isabelle Huppert, and the couple’s courting becomes a lot quirkier.

The criminal element is an eclectic , eloquent bunch with Terence Howard as Victor’s prime target, Alphonse, a dangerous dandy and shoe fetishist, his loyal lieutenant, Darcy, played by Dominic Copper. Darcy opens the film with a touching and raw plea to his friend Victor about his trying personal situation, all while cradling his newborn baby, Victor’s godson. The juxtaposition of what he’s saying and who he is doesn’t seem to add up.  It sets him up as complicated from the beginning. He’s capable of violence, but his need and desperation strikes a sympathetic chord.

Armand Assante as Don Lon Gordon, F. Murray Abraham as Gregor, Victor’s mentor give gravitas to what could have been mere subordinate and  subsidiary roles.

There’s action and mayhem  as de rigeur for a film like this, but it’s the characters that provide the cream to this cut above crime caper

A GUN IN EACH HAND

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Opening the Spanish Film Festival tomorrow and then going into general release shortly after, A GUN IN EACH HAND evokes some swaggering macho Western, but in this case of this Catalan comedy, it’s a delicious and sublime irony.

An ensemble piece about a bunch of Barcelona based boys – middle aged men, but still boys – coming to terms with their failures with women, careers, and life in general.

In five vignettes and an epilogue, writer-director Cesc Gay explores the idea of men’s reticence to communicate truly and honestly, either with themselves, other members of their gender and women. Men hate to lose, whether on the playing field or the work place, the boardroom or the bedroom, so they deny defeat and cloak their confusion, obfuscating the truth strutting their stuff in a rut.

In the first encounter, two blokes meet at a lift – one getting out one getting in and they have a conversation in the foyer. Some time has passed since these two last saw each other and a lot of water has flowed under the bridge. A banal banter ensues and slowly truths are teased out about their lives.

Next we have a man visiting his estranged wife, their separation caused by his infidelity, he has hopes of reuniting.  But just as he has moved on from his fling, his spouse has moved on in her life too.

Another story involves a man following his wife, secure in his suspicion that she is having an affair but wanting it irrefutably confirmed, a confirmation that culminates in a comedy of acute awkwardness.

Awkwardness is the conduit in which a lesson is delivered to a silly young man suggesting an office dalliance with a savvy co-worker who turns the tables on his juvenile game playing.

Tale after tale, it’s the women who take the initiative and who are intuitive, while the boys bluster, besieged and baffled by outmoded ideas of masculinity in the so called battle of the sexes. A gun in each hand but half cocked; no ammo and poor aim.

The 16th Spanish Film Festival, presented by Palace cinemas, runs from the 19th June to the 3rd July, playing at both the Palace Verona and Chauvel Cinemas. For more information:- www.spanishfilmfestival.com.au

 

SATELLITE BOY

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SATELLITE BOY (M) could well be the STORM BOY of its time. Again a sublime sense of place in a beautiful part of country, this time the Kimberley, around Wyndham and the Bungle Bungles, and again with an eco message, SATELLITE BOY also features one of the stars of STORM BOY, David Gulpilil. Here he plays grandfather to Pete, a 12 year old who takes off with a mate when their home is jeopardised by a mining company. When the boys become lost, Pete utilises bush skills taught him by his grandfather to survive.

Written and directed by Catriona McKenzie, SATELLITE BOY marks her first foray into features after a stunning career in television, where her credits include REDFERN NOW, THE CIRCUIT and THE ALICE. It’s a totally assured film that contrasts the traditional with the modern, nature and technology, and cultural and spiritual identity.

The fact that home is an old drive-in is amazingly symbolic – the screen that projected white fella dream time is now run down and obsolete- its surrounded by a big sky that’s a natural planetarium at night and rock paintings that are ancient and exciting. As one character says of them–better than Tolkein.

Making his acting debut as Pete, Cameron Wallaby is a natural, as is his mate Kalmain, played by Joseph Pedley. Both boys shine in their likeable, laid back larrikin characters.

Gorgeously photographed by Geoffrey Simpson who shot SHINE and THE SHIRALEE, SATELLITE BOY is a gem of a picture that merits a strong showing at the local box-office.

 

 

THE INTERNSHIP

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Google gets the giggles in THE INTERNSHIP, re-teaming THE WEDDING CRASHERS duo of Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson.

Here they play a couple of dinosaurs whose time has run out – literally. Salesmen for a watch company, wrist chronometers have ceased to sell, and they are forced into early clock-off by their employer, John Goodman, who plans to retire with his wife and her augmented tits.

While Wilson finds employment with a crass mattress maven, a craven cameo by Will Ferrell, Vaughn re invents the dynamic duo as mature age college students and gets them a gig at Google where they partake in a kind of gladiatorial Google-a-rama to gain, well, gainful employment with Google.

These net newbies, wet behind the net, are techno tots compared to their younger competitors, but their street savvy gleaned from life experience, serve them in good stead.

Vince Vaughn conceived the story and co wrote the screenplay with   Jared Stern who co-penned Vaughn’s earlier film, THE WATCH

It’s a nifty feel good, fish out of water stand up and cheer crowd-pleaser with the affable Wilson delightfully down to earth and Vaughn, who can sometimes be aggravatingly focus pulling pluses out the minuses by pulling the pathos parallel with the patter. Rose Byrne is delightful as the Google gal that has Wilson agog.

If the gag’s on Google is it a Gaggle? Helmed by Shawn Levy director of the equally entertaining DATE NIGHT, is a cross generational aspirational comedy that pits HUNGER GAMES s against FLASHDANCE and comes out footloose.

 

MUD

Matthew McConaughy stars in MUD
Matthew McConaughy plays the title role

What the Dickens! GREAT EXPECTATIONS transposed to Arkansas with Matthew McConachy as Magwitch?

Well, not quite, but MUD from writer/director Jeff Nichols certainly has echoes of Great Expectations as well as Mark Twain’s Huck Finn tales.

Matthew McConaughy seems to have cornered the market on memorable Southern characters recently with outstanding performances in BERNIE, THE PAPER BOY, KILLER JOE and MAGIC MIKE, a renaissance for the actor after a series of rom com debacles and disasters, like the aptly named FAILURE TO LAUNCH.

Heir apparent in looks and talent to Paul Newman, McConaughy champions chipped choppers and matted hair in his portrayal of Mud, fool for love and fugitive from the law, holed up in a boat swept into a tree, legacy of a recent Mississippi Delta flood.

It’s the rare and bizarre sight of the arboreal river craft that attracts the attention of ten year old mates, Ellis and Neckbone to this Arkansas atoll, where they befriend Mud.

Ellis is Pip to Mud’s Magwitch, or maybe Huck Finn to Mud’s Jim.

Ellis is going through a watershed moment – his parent’s imminent separation, his severance from the riverbank shack he’s called home since birth, and his first blossoming of romance with a senior school girl. Part of his pact with Mud is to facilitate a reunion between the fugitive and the female for whom he has risked his freedom, a beauty called Juniper, played by Reese Witherspoon.

Tye Sheridan as Ellis and Jacob Lofland as Neckbone are nothing short of sensational. Bonnie Sturdivant as May Pearl, the object of Ellis’s burgeoning desire has an inbuilt “Estelle gene” to dash Ellis’ great expectations.

Sarah Paulsen, so good as the sister in MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, here plays mum becalmed in the once besotted relationship with Dad, Ray McKinnon, bedecked aboard his Mississippi house boat, dissatisfied with his fishing business.

Rounding out the superb supporting cast is Joe Don Baker as a vengeful tycoon, Michael Shannon as Neckbone’s  uncle and guardian, a crawdad harvester, and Sam Shepherd as Mud’s mentor. Shepherd’s character is shady, a sharpshooter with a shadowy past. Easy to see why Sam was attracted to this project as the script shares Shepherd sensibilities in pitch and plot.

The film is as rich as Arkansas alluvial with a story as sturdy as the Mississippi, complete with tributaries and backwaters. So many strands snake their way through this story, and so many snakes slither through it as well – cottonmouth water moccasin a venomous semi aquatic pit viper pivotal to a number of plot points.

It’s a mighty sweep of a picture and writer director Jeff Nichols navigates his narrative with an assured eye and ear. Warm as Tupelo Honey between Little Rock and a hard place, MUD is one of the emphatically unforgettable films of the year.

 

 

LET’S EXPLORE DIABETES WITH OWLS- David Sedaris

David Sedaris. Pic Jacob van Essen
David Sedaris. Pic Jacob van Essen

David Sedaris’ Greek grandmother was a leviathan litterer. The woman would throw anything out a car window. The important thing for her wasn’t a clean outside but a clean inside. “Look at the sky, littered with clouds, or the beach trashed with shells.” How was that mess any different from a hundred cans in a ditch?This is typical of the twisted logic Sedaris encounters from his family and fuels his own skewed attitude that informs the arresting anecdotes and observations that run through LET’S EXPLORE DIABETES WITH OWLS.

Many of the stories are travel pieces or about lengthy sojourns in foreign climes. Sedaris lived for a while in both France and England and his observations from an ex pat American perspective are both acerbic and acute.

His comparison studies of Japan and China are highly informative, contrasting cuisine, health and hygiene between the two oriental powerhouses.

No guessing which country he’s talking about in the story called Laugh, Kookaburra. Sedaris has made two trips Down Under, and this story concerns an outing to Daylesford, Victoria, which David describes as Dodge City designed by homosexuals. Here he ruminates on the song he learned at school – laugh kookaburra laugh, how gay your life must be! – and if owls are the professors of the avian kingdom, then kookaburras might well be the gym teachers.

The ornithological theme continues with Understanding Owls, a treatise on taxidermy and nocturnal bird decorative art. Like all the other stories, it’s a hoot.

Sedaris never explains the title LET’S EXPLORE DIABETES WITH OWLS, but in his author’s note he talks about ‘forensics’, a cross between speech and debate. “Students take published short stories and essays, edit them down to a predetermined length, and recite them competitively. To that end, I have written six brief monologues that young people might deliver before a panel of judges.”

One of them is “from” a husband and father so confused by the issue of state sanctioned same sex marriage that he goes on a murder spree, considers eloping with his neighbour’s ride on mower, and wonders whether legislators will decide that cars don’t belong in garages anymore.

Another is from a woman tearing strips off her crippled sister whose spouse has spurned to the extent of divorcing her and marrying the sister.  The sibling shellacking is triggered by the inappropriate wedding gift received, a set up so grotesque and cruel, you feel bad laughing. But brutality can be so breathtakingly funny; subversion as comedy.

Yet another is from a fundamentalist Christian doing the damning everyone to hell rant that Jesus junkies get almighty high on.

There’s twenty six stories in all – although the final instalment is actually a poem in rhyming couplets about a kaleidoscope of canines – and every one of them is an hilarious corrective for political correctness.

 

 

ME AND RORY MACBEATH- Richard Beasley

me-and-rory-macbeath (2)

 

ME & RORY MACBEATH (Hachette) by Richard Beasley is reminiscent of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Twelve year old Jake Taylor lives with his single parent barrister mum, Harriet, in a street in suburban Adelaide. It’s the street that houses his best friend, Robbie Duncan, son of the local cop, an emigrant from Scotland.

Into their street comes another kid from Caledonia, Rory Macbeath, moving in with his mum, dad, older brother and sister. He’s the same age as Jake and Robbie and soon the boys are mates.

Duncan! Macbeath! Is this some Shakespearean pastiche, you may ask? Not really, but there is sleeping murder and pricking of thumbs, and something this way comes.

A departure from Richard Beasley’s two previous novels, HELL HAS HARBOUR VIEWS and THE AMBULANCE CHASER, both full of adult satirical and sardonic splendour, this take is from the kids’ point of view, and while some of Beasley’s staple humour rears its hilarious head, it steers its course true to tone of pre-teens trying to figure the various vagaries of adults.

There’s the long hot summer that seems seared into every sinew of Australian youth, the street cricket, the public swimming pool, fishing trips, backyard camp-outs, grumpy old bugger neighbours, fledgling attraction to the opposite sex.

Casting a shadow over these hazy, lazy, crazy days of summer is the spectre of domestic violence, which could have been a huge downer, but Beasley, like Harper Lee, manages to make the story thrillingly palatable.

Beasley the writer creates a lovely sense of place and peoples it with wonderful characters. Mothers, fathers, siblings, step-parents, judges, cops, nice and nasty neighbours – comic, tragic, and above all, human – Beasley’s characters are warmly drawn and although they live in a time nearly four decades ago, in a place called Rose Avenue, there is no tint of rose coloured glasses.

Beasley the barrister, for that is his means of making a living, has the practical experience of making the courtroom scenes sizzle with a marvelous verisimilitude. The courtroom drama dénouement is alone worth the price of purchase of this pleasing and pleasurable reading experience. His creation of Harriet, known to family and friends as Harry, is the literary love child of Atticus Finch or perhaps his grand-daughter, out of Scout, transplanted from America’s south to South Australia to champion the rule of law.

Harriet is a chain smoking, hard drinking, fast talking, hard headed, soft hearted woman instilling in her son daily doses of irony and finely honed sense of social justice. By no means a goody two shoes, though, she’s pragmatic about some of the clients she has defended, some of dubious repute, but she has an inherent hunger for litigation and mitigation. Practising at a time when fewer women were at the bar and Family Law was going through major reform, Harry is a formidable advocate, a fierce and fearless fighter for fairness and equality.

Beasley was appointed silk a couple of years ago – we should be attorney-ly grateful that he gives of his spare time a story as entertaining and edifying as ME & RORY MACBEATH.

 

FAREWELL, MY QUEEN

FAREWELL, MY QUEEN
Lea Seydoux is lovely as ‘la lectrice’, Sidonie Laborde

At Versailles, on the eve of the French Revolution, a mosquito squadron chooses who will lay feast to their blood lust. And the winner is……………. Sidonie.

Meanwhile, in Paris a swarm of another kind is bloodletting. When news of the assault on the Bastille reaches the court at Versailles’ ears, the nobles flee along with their servants, deserting the palace.

Sidonie Laborde, a young reader of the Court who is devoted to the Queen, refuses to believe the rumours. She is certain that under Marie- Antoinette’s protection she will come to no harm.

FAREWELL, MY QUEEN (M) tells of the fall of the French monarchy, in the period between the 14th July, the day of the storming of the Bastille, and the 16th, when Louis XVI, under public pressure, was forced to sack Breteuil, the nepotistic  PM he had installed a mere hundred hours before.. The entire story is told through the eyes of a young Sidonie , whose vocation at Versailles is to read fashion mags, poems and prose to her glamorous liege.

In the four-day period that the story covers, we witness the total collapse of the nobility living at Versailles: protocol, conventions, everything collapses and everyone is looking to escape. This story is a bit like the Titanic, says director Benoit Jacquot, where a ship that is considered the most beautiful construction in the world starts taking on water and then sinks, setting off a tsunami of panic.

Léa SEYDOUX is lovely as “la lectrice”, Sidonie Laborde, and Diane KRUGER is a revelation as Marie-Antoinette, her beauty and bearing bringing a magical magisterial quality. Virginie LEDOYEN plays Marie-Antoinette’s latest “lady in waiting”, Gabrielle de Polignac, a smouldering latent eroticism at play between the pair.                        

Based on the novel by Chantal Thomas, this consummate costume drama is directed by Benoît JACQUOT deftly compressing the few days of the narrative into a sublime upstairs/downstairs observation of a turbulent time – a time the ironically named Swiss Banker and Finance Minister Jaques Necker sought to reduce public expenditures by such measures as abolishing unnecessary positions – abolishing the crowned heads literally – by not only severing their sovereignty but their noggins from their bodies.

Finally, the great star of the film is Versailles itself, lavish, lush, a vanity that helped build the bonfire that burned the Bourbons. Its history haunts every frame and imbues the picture with a verisimilitude that traverses the past and makes the events depicted very present.

 

 

SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL 2013 PREVIEW

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Sitthiphon Disamoe stars as the young hero in Kim Mordaunt's THE ROCKET
Sitthiphon Disamoe stars as the young hero in Kim Mordaunt’s THE ROCKET

It’s not rocket science to sense that THE ROCKET may well be the best Australian film of the year.

Set in the rarely seen tribal mountains of Laos, THE ROCKET is a gripping yarn of a young boy triumphing over stigma. Twins are considered bad luck in the stupid superstition of Laotian culture and when one twin survives the other, the grandmother midwife is quick to remind her daughter in law that it would have been better if both had died for the kid is cursed.

First signs that her prophesy has substance is some years later when their village is flooded by an Australian financed hydro scheme and they need to relocate. The trials and tribulations endured only seem to consolidate the credence of the curse as the family proceed on a calamity filled journey through a land scarred by a long ago war.

THE ROCKET stars acclaimed Thai/Lao actor Thep Po-ngarm in the role of a damaged but hilarious former CIA soldier who becomes a mentor to our young hero, played by Sitthiphon Disamoe . Bunsri Yindi as the grumpy, garrulous and goading granny is a treat and Loungnam Kaosainam a pure delight as Kia, the puppy love attractor of the young hero, Ahlo. University of Wollongong graduate, the beautiful and talented Alice Keohavong, is impressive as Ahlo’s mum and stuntie Sumrit Warin plays the stoic dad.

Written and Directed by Kim Mordaunt, THE ROCKET has its genesis in a documentary he made called BOMB HARVEST about bomb disposal experts clearing ordinance leftovers from US missions that were sidebars of the Vietnam conflict. From such a lethal legacy, Mordaunt has salvaged a story of great hope and strikes a blow against savage superstition.

Exotic, exhilarating, excellent, THE ROCKET launches a potentially great feature film career for this artful, heartfelt film maker.

The Sydney Film, playing at various venues, runs between the 5th and the 16th June, 2013.

 

 

 

Inside the feature film, UPSTREAM COLOUR, is a short film struggling to get out. Not so much as a piece of cinema rather a panacea for insomnia, UPSTREAM COLOUR is a colossally confusing cut-up narrative that plays as if the director was on a particularly bad trip. Mescalin motivated mise en scene.  This is telegraphed visually from the film’s first frames where grubs are cultivated for hallucinatory effect. Like the tequila worm myth multiplied to methic (sic) distortions these bugs bring on Burrough’s type hyper hypno-paranoia, parasites that elicit illicit acts. A sort of para-sight by parasite.

The following brain numbing non narrative transports us to towering tedium and the pinnacles of pretentiousness and thoughts of rolling ushers down the aisle and poking the eyes out of the projectionist start to pervade your consciousness. Or unconsciousness. Or subconsciousness.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE purportedly made Mark David Chapman pull the trigger on John Lennon. Henry David Thoreau’s WALDEN was the trigger for this film. Go figure.

A tangle and a wreck, an esoteric brain draining, bum numbing lingam pull. Destined to be a festival luvvy.

 

Sarah Polley’s STORIES WE TELL consolidates her ascendancy as one of contemporary cinema’s superior practitioners.

The film begins with a quote from Margaret Atwood’s ALIAS GRACE:

“When you are in the middle of a story it isn’t a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you ‘retelling it’, to yourself or to someone else”.

STORIES WE TELL is an inspired, genre-twisting film that playfully excavates layers of myth and memory to find the elusive truth at the core of a family of storytellers. Sarah’s mother, Diane, was an actress married to her father Michael, also a thesp and a procrastinating writer.

When Diane becomes pregnant with Sarah after being on tour with a show, true paternity became a running family joke. After Diane dies, Sarah seeks to establish whether there was any foundation to the scuttlebutt and embarks on an enthralling endeavour that is sensational in its secrets and surprises.

A story within stories, a film within a film, this is damnably and compulsively watchable cinema.

 

CHILD’S POSE poses questions of maternal culpability.

60-year-old Cornelia (the phenomenal and formidable Luminita Gheorghiu) leads a life of privilege, social power and abundant material wealth in contemporary Bucharest, but life is not perfect. More than anything in the world, she longs for her 34 year-old son Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache) to reciprocate her unreserved affections. But the pair barely speak, something the domineering Cornelia blames on Barbu’s live-in girlfriend, who has a child from a previous relationship.

When Barbu is involved in a tragic traffic accident, Cornelia sees her chance to reconnect with her son going to extraordinary lengths to do so, including perjury and bribery.

Emasculated and infantilised, Barbu doesn’t want a bar of her, more inclined to take chances with the authorities and the other parties involved.

This quietly unforgettable film poses a lot more thought provocation than the power of a dominating mother. Forgiveness and compassion are cornerstones of the piece, finally a conduit for manning up to mama.

Director CĂLIN PETER NETZER and co-screenwriter RAZVAN RADULESCU have fashioned a searing narrative of overweening nurture usurping sweet nature.

Luminata Gheorghiu’s central performance is powerfully galvanising. The scene where she has a tete-a -tete  with her son’s lover is something you won’t forget in a hurry. And the situation and ramifications of the road accident that is the catalyst of the narrative is something we can all identify with.

 

The Sydney Film, playing at various venues, runs between the 5th and the 16th June, 2013.

 

 

 

HERE AND NOW- Letters 2008-2011- Paul Auster and J.M.Coetzee

Paul Auster abd J.M. Coetzee
Paul Auster and J.M. Coetzee

Can one eavesdrop on written correspondence? If the author’s voice is strong and distinctive, of course one can. The very letters on the page are signs, images of sounds.

Such are the letters collected in HERE & NOW a joint publishing venture between Faber & Faber and Harvill Secker presenting correspondence between Paul Auster and J.M. Coetzee from July 2008 and August 2011.

Enthusiasm for Freud, Kafka and Beckett energize their cross countries conversation as well as meditations on art, sport, film, travel, the Global Financial Crisis, sleep, food, and, of course, writing.

Coetzee on critics – “Quite aside from the question of animus on the critic’s part, there may be errors of fact in the review, or elementary misreading. He (the critic) becomes like the child lobbing pebbles at the gorilla in the zoo, knowing he is protected by the bars”.

On biographical reductionism- “treating fiction as a form of self disguise practiced by writers; the task of the critic is to strip away the disguise and reveal the ‘truth’ behind it.”

Yes, these letters make up a mutual admiration society, but they are never fawning or sycophantic, just honest, open connexions by a pair of erudite minds.

Both men, with their impressive body of works, are now of an age, and sage in their pondering of their advancing years.

“How does one escape the risible fate of turning into Gramps, the old codger, who, when he embarks on one his “back in my time” discourses, makes the children roll their eyes I  silent despair” ruminates Coetzee. Well it helps that is a discourse and not a rant and that is why these two elders of our age are worth reading and listening to.

These letters are remarkable – great hatchet blows of thought, an implacable narrative speed, and a pulverising sense of prose.

 

BURT BACHARACH- ANYONE WHO HAD A HEART

Master songwriter Burt Bacharach
Master Songwriter Burt Bacharach

To the bookstore, walk on, buy.  Fans wishin’ and hopin’ that Burt Bacharach’s autobiography, ANYONE WHO HAD A HEART (Atlantic Books), would be as memorable as his tunes won’t be disappointed.

The story of his life is a real “what’s it all about?” that begins with a startling confession: “I had only been married to Angie Dickinson for about nine months when I started thinking about a divorce”.

Anyone who had a heart would be captivated by this confession, and the heart is further corralled by the revelations of the Burt and Angie’s daughter’s premature birth and her subsequent psychological problems.

But that’s Bacharach to the future. Back to Bacharach’s boyhood, we learn of his sleep deprivation.  “Because I kept hearing music in my head I had real insomnia as a kid”.

“When I was 15 I’d sneak into clubs with a fake ID. Dizzy Gillespie was the guy I loved the most. I’d go to Birdland to catch Count Basie. What I heard in those clubs really turned my head around. That was when I knew for the first time how much I loved music and wanted to be connected to it in some way”.

Teaming up with lyricist Hal David was monumental and the duo ruled the Sixties with a songbook that have not only become classics, but standards. I have those songs in my music collection- I guess a lot of people who would be interested in this book would also have these records – and I found myself playing the songs as I read, thus forming a commentary on their production.

“Whenever I was having a problem in the studio, instead of staying in the control room I would break the orchestra for ten minutes and go into a stall in the men’s room and lock the door behind me.  Thinking it through in my head rather than going to the piano, because if I did that, my hands would just automatically go to all the old familiar places and I would never be able to work through it at all”.

The act of creation is examined as well as the frustrations with the commercial side of the music business.

For instance, Florence Greenberg, music executive, had a track record when it came to not knowing when Hal and Burt had written a hit – she put WALK ON BY as a B side, for example.

The movie business fuelled Bacharach’s ascendency and the book is full of fascinating anecdotes about Hollywood. Pissed off that ALFIE got gazumped by BORN FREE at the Oscars, the Academy Award finally came two fold with BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID for best score and the song, RAINDROPS KEEP FALLING ON MY HEAD.

Those raindrops started falling, flooding into his next film project, and Bacharach was just like the guy whose beat was too big for his head, nothing seemed to fit.

LOST HORIZON was a major disaster, a monumental failure – not only a bad picture but it tore asunder the working relationship of Burt and Hal. “It was really stupid, foolish behaviour on my part and I take all the blame. I can’t imagine how many great songs I could have written with Hal in the years we were apart”.

After LOST HORIZON opened, he got in his car and went down to Del Mar, and disappeared. “I disappeared from Hal, I disappeared from Dionne, and I disappeared from my marriage”.

The disintegration of his marriage to Angie Dickinson culminated in their eventual divorce in 1981 and within a year he wed songstress, Carol Bayer Sager. Again it was a case of music before marriage, riffs before relationships, although it did produce the Oscar winning song THE BEST THAT YOU CAN DO from the film, ARTHUR.

Unfortunately, when it came to his wife, the best that Burt could do was not enough, and the union was dissolved in less than a decade. Carol Bayer Sager was writing songs that were cries for help. “When Aretha Franklin recorded SOMEONE ELSE’S EYES Burt would say “do you think the bass is high enough?”. I don’t think he ever heard the lyrics. All Burt cared about was whether the right sounding syllables were on his notes.”

The best that you can do: To the bookstore. Walk on. Buy.