peter A cross

ramblings from a troubled mind

Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

Would Neighbourhood Watch Have Prevented Underbelly?

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I’ve been reluctant to post, review or even put finger to keyboard over the last few months for a variety of reasons – mainly I would say laziness but also I have been underwhelmed by so much of what I have seen that my enthusiasm for theatre has sadly been dissipated by the amount of schlock I have sat through.
I know I’ve said it before but Terminus has left me with such high expectations that most everything else has paled in comparison.
However Belvoir Street has gone a long way with its latest production Neighbourhood Watch’ in restoring my faith in new theatre and especially new Australian theatre.
Written by Lally Katz, directed by Simon Stone and starring Robyn Nevin, in what should go down as one of her best performances. ‘Neighbourhood Watch’, which is now deservedly sold out, is a simple story told quietly without all the flash and trappings that have marked some productions in Sydney.
There is a certain freedom in allowing the audience to ‘imagine’ scenarios and settings rather than feeling the need to cover weak narrative or shallow characterisations with flashy sets and expensive costumes. Of course I am referencing my BFF play ‘Terminus’ here but also giving more than a passing nod to ‘Wild Duck’ (also directed by Simon Stone) as examples of good, simple story telling – allowing actors to act with honesty and integrity.

Kris McQuade as Milova

Most of the other reviews I have read have said everything that needs to be said about this play if you want to read one of the better written reviews I would suggest    however I did want to make particular mention to an almost unrecognisable Kris McQuade as the thankless Milova.

After thought: I was reminded of the STC’s production of Thornton Wilder’s play ‘Our Town’.

So thank heavens for Belvoir Street, one for restoring my faith in Australian writing and two for getting my fingers twitching again.

“And now to the  movies Margaret”

“Thanks David”:  One of the great things about being a reviewer (yes you can argue the point) is that you get asked to many different types of  events.  In the last couple of weeks I have been privileged (and it is a privilege) to see screenings of two new movies – well they were new at the time – Green Lantern’ and ‘Horrible Bosses’,  one a big budget, CGI, 3D, blockbuster glam movie premiere and the other a character driven black comedy in the style of ‘The Hangover’.

‘Green Lantern’, forgetting Ryan Reynolds in body hugging, form-fitting tights, is an expensive attempt to jump on the current super hero band wagon that seems to be sweeping the celluloid universe. NO amount of smoke and mirrors can hide the fact that without a story and character that some movies should not be made. Thin plot, shallow characters and no emotional connection, this movie hits the trifecta.

‘Horrible Bosses’ starring Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell and a potty mouthed Jennifer Anniston is a modern, darker version of ‘Nine to Five’. Now this movie doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is – a misogynistic, nudge nudge, wink wink, embarrassing pleasure. It’s a groan out loud and laugh – with some great cameos and some truly awful gags. I am embarrassed to admit just how much I enjoyed it.

(One movie to keep your eyes and ears peeled for is ‘The Staff’.)

Underbelly: Razor – Channel 9’s much hyped and heavily advertised reputation saving (hopefully) latest installment of the Australian crime franchise. As a longterm resident of Darlinghurst I’m always excited to see my ‘hood’ on the telly but really this sexed up version of Darlo in the twenties is one storyline too many. The first ‘Underbelly’ was groundbreaking, professional and passionate TV now it seems to be heading down that road to ‘period soap opera’. I have to admit I spent most of the time wondering why they were all smoking filter tipped cigarettes which didn’t really take off until the 1950s rather than rolling their own and pondering why the streets were so busy during the day rather than focusing on the plot. Engaged – no, entertained – no, will I watch the rest of the series – doubtful.
Such a shame, still it rated well when combined with The Block giving CH 9 an overall 46.9% of viewing public. A record audience.

However all is not lost in the wonderful glare of the cathode ray box that dominates every house in every street across this wide brown land of ours. I can highly recommend ‘Misfits’, a series about five British kids caught up in a freak weather event that gives them each a special power, ranging from invisibility to being able to wind back time. Good, strong characters with strong plot lines; it’s worth looking out for.


Written by peteracross

August 22, 2011 at 16:41

hmmm just a petite francaise s’il vous plaît

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Not every film should be a ‘Citizen Kane’ or an ‘Inception’, sometimes it’s a real pleasure to go to the movies and just let a film wash over you like a gentle brook in the late summer of the French country side. I know it’s too much but these are the kind of feelings that bubble to the surface when you see ‘My Afternoons with Margueritte’. No CGI, no spectacular sets, no scintillating drawing-room wit just good honest story telling from beginning to end. Director Jean Becker has created one of those movies that you know, almost from the opening scenes, how it’s going to end without ever being disappointed by the road it takes. The plot is simple, and I use the word simple in its most innocent sense, and it is a delight. To use the phrase that sends shudders of terror up your fellow scribe’s spines… it’s heart warming.

Germain (Gerard Depardieu) plays a mostly illiterate man in his fifties who has clearly had one too many baguettes; he meets Margueritte (Giselle Casadesus) an older and much lighter, brighter woman in the local park. She is air to his mountain. They strike up a friendship, as you do, and she begins to expand his mind as she reads aloud to him extracts from her favourite novels. Giselle, of course is beginning to lose her eyesight and as their friendship grows Germain takes over as her reader. Once thought of as the village buffoon Germain slowly begins to change as new worlds open for him and then, through him, for the others in the village.

It’s that simple, a love story without the complications of sex; a flirtatious tale of mutual respect.

Depardieu fits nicely in the role of overweight gentle giant with a boyish charm and Casadesus is an absolute joy to watch, under playing each scene brilliantly yet still acting the pants off her much younger fellow cast members.

Both Depardieu and Casadesus have worked with director Becker before so there is already a thread that links these three together and creates a bond that gives them the freedom to trust each other. And although Casadesus is ninety-five there is an incredible vibrancy and youthfulness in her performance.

All the supporting cast are strong but special mention should be made of Claire Maurier who plays Depardieu’s la mère’ and has a ball as the much maligned and slightly mad parental foil of this hulk of a man.

I know I’m going on about it a bit now but I really liked the gentleness, the soft touches and heart of the movie. I feel as if I should write so much more about it but it would just be padding.

If you want a pleasant afternoon or evening where you won’t be challenged but you will be offered the chance to just enjoy a movie again then this is for you. If you want ‘The Reader’ you’ll still go home smiling… in spite of yourself.

‘My Afternoons with Margueritte’ opens in limited release, from April 7 2011.

Written by peteracross

April 5, 2011 at 16:41

It’s catch up time kiddies – theatre and film oh my!

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So you laugh and then you cry


I feel sort of, kind of guilty bad, I haven’t written anything about nothing for this little blog of mine for a while so I’m going to use this night to just catch up. See how we are all travelling.              

Now to the y’arts:              

I’ve been seeing a lot of film and theatre lately – some good, some not so good. Well it has been Oscar season.              

The crop of movies that hit the Oscar awards trail this year was pretty damn fine.                            

I was left untouched by Black Swan – although I did think Mila Kunis was very good – she’s the annoying Jackie from ‘That 70’s Show’.  Natalie didn’t really do it for me and Mamma played by Barbra Hershey – well I wasn’t having a bar of her. (I know but sometimes you just have to say it)                            

True Grit I thought the girl, the child; the little one was brilliant, I mean she acted the pants off most of the people working in film today; she was a joy to watch, listen to and get carried away with. I really enjoyed the movie even though it took me a good half an hour to work out what Jeff Bridges was saying.                            

Inception I loved every hour of every minute of every second. I can’t understand why people found it so hard to follow – were they on drugs?                            

The King’s Speech, well I need say nothing about that, so of course I will; a movie right up my processional arch. From Jeff to Cole to little ol’ Helen it hit every right nerve – I was a tingle throughout, despite a few little errors of historical fact.                            

The Social Network I enjoyed but wasn’t in raptures and I am a huge FaceBook fan. And I always love a good-looking young cast – so I was as surprised as anyone not to be swept up by it. Little Juzzie T is turning into a fine young actor – he might have a career there one day.                            

Toy Story 3 what can I say: I want to see actors now – I’m at that age. As good as it was and as real as they looked and as well done as it was – damn it I want humans on stage.                            

The Fighter, The Kid’s Are Alright and 127 Hours I didn’t get to see but I’m sure I will over the next month. I had so much good, heavy film I was very pleased to be asked to the premiere of Hall Pass; mindless entertainment with laugh out loud (lol) moments, nothing taxing but good ol’ fashioned fun.                            

Oh and just for the hell of it a movie I am one of the Executive Producers on, Violet Tendencies which had two screenings at Queer Screen, with a third screening coming up at the Beresford Hotel  on Monday 21 March (I will be stuck with Hamlet  at the STC ) – go see it or hand in your queer card.                            

And then there was the Theatre:                            

The great thing about seeing live theatre – as opposed to dead theatre I guess – is the variety and this last week has been one heck of a ride.                            

From Ruhl to Rossini, from Rossini to Islam, from Islam to Ibsen and not in that particular order.                            

The Barber of Seville,  or as I wittily remarked Barbra of Seville, was a bit like a Farrelly movie – nothing taxing just a few humable ditties and a bit of ol’ farce. All in all a good night at Oprah’s place.                            

As for Islamic Harmonics (not really a play but I went) I can see why the middle ages were in the middle. They are a bit like the third series of a TV show – I kept looking for the shark to jump and there she was all trussed up and disguised as Winsome Evans.  Too much of Winsome spoils you for all that follow. But seriously I enjoyed the night even though I felt that one of the two Whirling Dervishes didn’t really whirl as much as one hoped he would. Perhaps he was all whirled out from an earlier unannounced whirl.                            

The Other Room or The Vibrator Play even though it got PMSLOL from the opening night crowd left me wanting something a bit… more, harder, something with more bone in it. It seemed to be an opportunity missed to actually deal with the issues that surrounded sexuality and isolation at the turn of the century – the last century that is not the one that we are in. Performances were all okay, direction seemed adequate, staging was very much a tribute to the era but something didn’t gel. There were pockets of resistance through the room and at half time, because it felt like we were in it for the long haul, we wondered “What are we missing here? Why aren’t we getting it?” No one had a good answer.                            

The Wild Duck, well thank heavens for mallards. Simple set dialogue cut back and down and what a great story to be told. It was a great end to a couple of weeks of theatre and if this is an indication of how Belvoir will go post Neil Armfield then we are in for a heck of a good year of theatre.                            

The STC is playing catch up and they have a lot of running to do.                            

So this week it’s Zebra at the STC with Colin Friels, Bryan Brown and Nadine Garner and back to semi-proper reviews.                            

Thanks for staying with me and as my old parish priest used to say “See you in the dark.”              

And only because I love the opening credits so much I’ve added this:              

Keeping it in the family

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Rachel Ward and Brian Brown are becoming ‘protected species’, like the Koala they are untouchable.

The reviews so far for ‘Beautiful Kate’ have been glowing, Margaret and David both gave it 4 ½ stars. So once again I am left feeling like some heathen who has missed the point and plot. The movie left me cold and not in the way the director intended.

Adapted by Rachel Ward from the novel by Newton Thornburg , originally set in the snowbound outskirts of Chicago, Ward has transported the movie to the Flinders Ranges in the South Australian bush.

Mendelsohn, Brown, Griffith and Dermody

Mendelsohn, Brown, Griffith and Dermody

Writer, Ned Kendall (Ben Mendelsohn), accompanied by his younger and extremely annoying girlfriend, Toni (Maeve Dermody), travels back for the first time in 20 something years to the farm he grew up on to pay a final visit to his dying father, Bruce (Brian Brown), and his younger sister, Sally (Rachel Griffiths) who has taken on the role of carer. For Ned the memory of his adolescence and the secret that he has tried to suppress for the last two decades begins to bubble back to the surface and like any good writer he puts pen to paper in the hope of erasing his demons and on the way possibly creating another best seller. The more he writes the clearer the memory becomes. Told in flashback; the events that drove him away from the farm and his father are replayed by younger versions of Ned (Scott O’Donnell), a pretty good double for Mendelsohn, his twin sister Kate (Sophie Lowe), and brother Cliff (Josh McFarlane).

The film is about secrets and how one family deals with tragedy after the loss of siblings and children. With the exception of Griffith’s character none of the others are what you would describe as likeable. Brown tries to imbue the dying Bruce with as much venom and vitriol as he can muster but in the end the portrayal comes across as arch; it’s as if his character from ‘Australia’, King Carney, has been compressed from Vista Vision to Super 8. Mendelsohn is fine as the guilt ravaged arrogant Ned, who is almost as unlikeable as his father; he wears his self loathing hidden under a veneer of swagger and booze.

Scott O'Donnell and Sophie Lowe

Scott O'Donnell and Sophie Lowe

But it is really the younger cast who bring this film back from the edge; they each bring a level of maturity and innocence to their performance, in most of these scenes Ward’s direction is pretty spot on.

Ward has written a decent script but the movie perhaps needed a more experienced director to bring out the subtlety of the characters.

The subject matter is bleak, the setting is bleak; in fact the entire experience was bleak, but considering the subject matter that will come as no surprise.

‘Beautiful Kate’ is playing at cinemas across Australia.

Written by peteracross

August 20, 2009 at 16:41

Russell Crowe Gives Good Head(line)

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Here is the gag line – “Russell Crowe gives good head(line).”

After sitting through the forgettable ‘Angels and Demons’, I was beginning to think that Hollywood had lost the art of story telling; ‘State of Play” reminded me that when Hollywood gets it right, they get it right brilliantly. This is a movie for adults; ‘State of Play’ directed by Kevin MacDonald (The Last King of Scotland), starring Russell Crowe (A Beautiful Mind), Ben Affleck (Good Will Hunting), Rachel McAdams (The Notebook), Helen Mirren (Gosford Park) and Jason Bateman (Arrested Development) has enough talent both on screen and off to guarantee that you that you are in for a treat.

Without giving away all of the tricks; it’s set in Washington, Cal McAffrey (Crowe) a hard drinking, hard assed, old school newspaper reporter teams up with a young blogger/reporter Della Frye (McAdams), to investigate the death of one of Congressman Collins’, (Affleck), aides. The seemingly unrelated death of a bag snatcher proves that there is more going on here than just a random act of violence. Collins was having an affair and making some very powerful people extremely nervous. That’s just the start; throw in Homeland Security, mercenaries, corruption and conspiracy and you have the makings of a really good yarn with enough twists, turns and last minute surprises to keep you guessing right through to the end credits, and stay for the credits they are worth seeing. Director MacDonald, who also made ‘One Day in September’, keeps the movie ticking along and just when you think you have it worked out you realise that … well see the movie.

Whether you like him or loathe him Crowe delivers, he never just phones in a performance. From ‘The Insider’ to ‘The Gladiator’, he commits. Sometimes it becomes hard to tell where the character ends and Crowe begins. He really is one of the great talents of the last fifteen years and I’m not even a fan.

Ben Affleck, who seems to have had a hit and miss approach to acting since ‘Good Will Hunting’ and has made some pretty forgettable movies between then and now, dare I mention ‘Gigli’. His Congressman Collins, decorated war hero and all around good guy, is one of those roles that fit Mr. Affleck like a well tailored suit.

Rachel McAdams is terrific as the blogger/reporter with aspirations that is mentored by Crowe.

The most surprising performance for me in this film was Jason Bateman, (Dominic Foy), who has a ball as a narcissistic, pill popping sexually gregarious PR consultant.

There is a message in this movie that quietly gnaws away at you as you are taken up by the events on screen. We are becoming so used to people like me, bloggers, people who write without too much research and spew forth opinion as if it is fact. What place does real reporting have in a society of Facebook journalism, a society where Wikipedia is the first and sometimes the last reference tool used. As newspapers begin to close and on-line sites begin to prosper what hope is there for the ‘old fashioned’ investigative journalist of day’s gone bye?

‘State of Play’ is running in wide release at a cinema near you – do yourself a favour go see it.

Written by peteracross

May 28, 2009 at 16:41