peter A cross

ramblings from a troubled mind

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:              

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You’re not in Kansas anymore.

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Home is…   

It was the summer that we both decided who we would be. Our last year of high school, he was going to university and I was coming here, to Sydney.   

I can still feel the sun tracing its warming finger along the nape of my neck. The clean salt water crashing over our sun-stained shoulders as we dived in through the break like modern Atlantans, we were princes. Warm zephyrs ran freely through our blonded hair, weighed down after a season of salt water. The last of the summer days slid by us as the waves crashed onto the shore that had been our home for the last few months.   

Sunrise


How quick it now seems that summer passed and yet how slow it was at the time.   

We raced to make our escape from those last lingering traces of boyhood; to leave our mark in a world that was indifferent. We longed for it to be over but yet we yearned to make it last forever. Neither of us willing to say goodbye, both knowing that beyond that horizon where the blue of the sky and the ocean collided, the thunder clouds of our futures were gathering and there was nothing he or I could do about it.   

Each day we met, always at the same place on the pebble hot beach, our boyish banter tapering off to the comfortable silence of easy familiarity.   

Rising as one, we walked slowly, then faster, finally running over the stones as the heat seared the soles of our feet toward the water, diving through the waves – finally breaking free, laughing. All that mattered was here and now, all that was important was that we were home together.   

We had no secrets that summer; nothing was hidden from the other. Lying on that beach as the sun-dried and left the crystallised salt on our bodies, we both talked about how we felt, our dreams, our desires, our bond and our unspoken but acknowledged love.   

Days moved into nights.   

Sultry nights with the sickly sweet scent of Freesias drifting on the breeze as it scurried across the grass and hid inside my bedroom; we lay there together, quietly – squeezed tight in the gentle embrace of the yellow glow of the old bakelite radio that serenaded us to sleep. And then in the morning as dawn crept above the Norfolk Pines that line the Marine Parade, he would slide, silently, from my bed. Brushing the hair from my eyes he would smile and then slip secretly back to his own home.   

Finally the day came when we faced each other one last time. He knew – I knew – that what we had felt and experienced, what we had come to mean to each other would be the thread that tied us together, no matter where the rest of our lives took us.   

He was the first to go, driven south by his parents towards Wellington and university leaving me alone. A week later I flew from Napier to Auckland and then on to Sydney.   

It was today, it was yesterday suddenly it was forty years ago.   

Ten years ago on a wet night in June, we were both back in Napier for our class reunion. We hadn’t seen each other since that day all those years ago.   

We escaped the anniversary for dinner and for one brief shining moment on that cold night, we were back in the ocean swimming free, Princes of Atlantis again, cresting the waves of our youth in that long forgotten summer of 1976, boys again with everything before us.   

Across the dinner table we talked about what we had done and achieved; the regrets that we both shared. Our hands touched and lingered, we smiled, so easily comfortable again with each other.   

We walked along the beach and stood looking out at the darkness, straining to see the ocean that we had shared that long ago summer. Home again; each carrying the scars of our travels but finally home together again even if just for the night.   

He showed me his family, his wife and three children: two daughters and a son, and I saw in the face of his son the image of boy I had loved. I raised my hand and stroked the side of his face, he leaned into the caress and brushing the hair from my eyes he smiled, turned and silently made his way back to his hotel.   

Home is… here.

Written by peteracross

February 15, 2011 at 16:41

‘Hereafter’ is here… and now.

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There is a kind of unspoken daddy/son bro-mance growing between Clint Eastwood and Matt Damon, after their successful deflowering in Invictus (2009) they have rekindled their partnership in the new movie Hereafter. Damon has said that he would read the phone book if Eastwood asked him to, perhaps he and Clint could finally get that much promised but long ignored movie version of The Front Runner off the page and onto film, but that might just be my particular fantasy. However let’s get back to Hereafter.
The plot:   Somewhere in Thailand at a resort, French television journalist Marie (Cecile de France) is shopping for presents for her producer boyfriend’s children when there is an earthquake and she is gathered up by the Tsunami that follows and she is left for dead -she survives. Across the world in San Francisco, retired psychic George (Matt Damon) is forced by his brother Billy (Jay Mohr) to perform one more reading in the craft that he considers a curse not a gift. In England two teenage twin boys Marcus and Jason (George and Frankie McLaren) try to look after their drug addict mother until one of them, Jason, is hit and killed by a truck as he tries to escape the neighbourhood ‘bovver boys’. What follows links these three lives together, providing each of the protagonists with a chance to move on with their lives.
It sounds pretty Mills and Boon on the page but the genius of Eastwood weaves the threads of the three story lines together until the final scene. This is a slow movie don’t go expecting some psychic version of Inception.
Eastwood has become one of those directors that will not be rushed, he is allowed to make the movie he wants to make and tell the story in the time he wants to tell it. He will not be hurried by audience or studio. Sometimes it works brilliantly – Gran Torino – sometimes it misses – Invictus.

Clint Eastwood and Matt Damon

Although Damon is the bankable star of the movie, the name that will secure the cash, it is not his movie alone, although he does give a marvellous quiet, understated performance – a man who is scared to touch others both physically and emotionally because of his gift/curse. Damon seems much more comfortable in this role than he did as the captain of the South African rugby union team. The movie stands, or falls, on the performances of all three of the leads.

Writer Peter Morgan (The Queen, The Last King of Scotland) writes ordinary people with simplicity and economy of dialogue and allows the actors and the director to flesh out their characters. His work seems to fit neatly in to Eastwood’s style, to let the natural action of the scene play out rather than embellish it with tricks.
Unusually for an Eastwood film there is a flash of the modern with a well timed and judicious use CGI. It is used only for as long as necessary and not a moment longer. Spielberg is one of the executive producers so you know the CGI is going to be top notch.
The film will not please everyone; it could be trimmed by twenty minutes and not lose the emotional payoff at the end. However once you relax and let the story surround you, by the end you are, or at least I was, shocked at how much emotional investment I had made in these characters and their story.
If Hereafter is a sign of things to come from this eighty year old director then the next few years will be well worth hanging around for.
Hereafter is playing in wide release from February 10, 2011.

Written by peteracross

February 9, 2011 at 16:41

Do you want to go down the Rabbit Hole?

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Becca (Kidman) and Howie (Eckhart)

Grief affects all of us differently. Yet we all have to deal with it in our own way; what works for one does not necessarily work for the other. Rabbit Hole allows all of the characters to explore their own feelings of grief until they come to some form of acceptance and return to some form of normalcy.

The plot:  An upper middle class couple living in up-state New York have for the last eight months been trying to deal with the loss of their son who has been run over by a car driven by a local teenager. No one is to blame – it was an accident, yet each person feels responsible in some way. Nicole Kidman’s (Becca)  walls are up and impenetrable, insulating herself physically and emotionally from her husband Aaron Eckhart (Howie) who has taken refuge in the past, reliving happier times late at night through the flickering images on an iPhone. When Tammy Blanchard (Izzy) Becca’s younger sister becomes pregnant the tensions and emotions that have been simmering underneath finally start to boil.

I was really hoping that this was not going to be just another one of those upper middle class repressed WASP movies about families refusing to deal with their emotions.  Ordinary People kind of has that genre covered. While they are certainly upper middle class and they are certainly WASP, thanks, largely to playwright and screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire and director John Cameron Mitchell (Shortbus), the movie for most part avoids all of the really obvious clichés.

Aaron Eckhart plays the stoic, lantern-jawed, loving husband whose marriage is falling apart, finding solace in the passenger seat of pot smoking, professional mourner Sandra Oh’s  (Gaby) car.

Dianne Weist (Nat) gives a solid performance as Kidman’s mother. Weist’s monologue on how she carries her grief at the loss of her own son with her every day is pretty damn fine. West’s role is the kind that you imagine Jackie Weaver will be offered now that she is ‘known.’

Jason (Teller) and Becca (Kidman)

Miles Teller (Jason) as the teenager who accidentally runs over Kidman and Eckhart’s boy is quietly amazing. He carries his own grief and guilt, unsure if there was anything that he could have done to avoid the accident.

But this movie belongs to Kidman. The director allows her the luxury to slowly build her character; layering it, letting the words; the images and the emotion do their work. There is only one scene that you could label as emotionally over the top but that has more to do with Eckhart’s performance than hers.
Kidman is contained, almost the perfect ice-princess and where it would be so easy to seep into melodrama, Kidman pulls back, except in one scene but that has more to do with Eckhart’s performance than hers.

If there is one thing Kidman does well it’s the tortured heroine. This is one of her better performances.

Rabbit Hole opens in cinemas on February 17 2011

Written by peteracross

February 3, 2011 at 16:41

Not enough variety in this Variations

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If only they had wheeled him out and left him out

 

There is so much to get excited about in Sydney over summer: the beach, outdoor cinema, long lazy days relaxing watching cricket, Eddie Perfect, iOTA, yes there certainly are a lot of exciting things in Sydney during the Sydney Festival, unfortunately John Malkovich  in The Giacomo Variations  was not one of them. 

For three hours on the Concert Hall stage at the Opera House, in front of a packed house, the Sydney Symphony and John Malkovich try to bring to life one of the great lovers of history, Casanova

The plot: Casanova is nearing the end of his life and is busily trying to finish his memoirs while trying to seduce his Irish maid. Through the artifice of flashback we glimpse the once great lover in his prime as he seduces his way into the history books. Rutting, first with a woman who then gives birth, unknown to him, to his daughter, who he then falls in love with and after some debate gets her pregnant to give birth to his son who is actually her brother. 

 It’s worthy of an episode of Desperate Housewives. 

Using the music of Mozart and the lyrics of Da Ponte, director Michael Sturminger tries to give us a glimpse of what made this man, pardon my French, so ‘fuck-able’, how could this one man have possibly made love to the thousands of women he claims to have bedded? Why was he so damned attractive? What power did he have over not only women but men? You would expect that Malkovich, probably most famous for his role in “Dangerous Liaisons” would have found this part a stroll in Green Park, however, his lacklustre, energy less, old and excruciating performance had the audience on opening night booing and after interval a large number of empty seats magically appeared in the theatre. 

The set (not the Concert Hall)

The Set - but not at the Concert Hall

 

And it wasn’t just Malkovich that let this ill-conceived, misdirected, badly produced production drag those of us who were silly enough to stay for the second act into a deep well of depression. 

The sound design was appalling, microphones not turned on or up; the set or what there was of it, although very pretty was lost on the cavernous Concert Hall stage. House lights that came and then went down – I assume to allow Malkovich to break the third wall and talk direct to the audience. God help those who were sitting just behind the stage – all they would have seen was a blur of moving fabric every now and then and the backs of the actors head. 

Wrong show, wrong venue – wrong cast. 

Still it is a festival and not every show can or should be a hit, some shows should be there simply to provoke you, to make you think, to expand your mind. This aberration did none of that. 

‘The Giacomo Variations’ closed on Friday 21 January 2011.

Written by peteracross

January 23, 2011 at 16:41

The King’s Speech

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The King's Speech

 

There is nothing more frightening than being on stage and unable to speak; the eyes of the audience stare at you and each silent second seems like an eternity. Imagine then, standing in front of thousands of people with the accusing red light  of a live microphone beaming this silence to all quarters of the largest empire that the world has ever seen. 

This is the opening scene of The King’s Speech

The plot:  Bertie, the Duke of York (Colin Firth), the second son of George V, suffers from a debilitating psychological speech impediment; for someone who is expected to make speeches almost every day of his life, this is no small thing. Enter a failed Australian actor from Adelaide, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) and one of the great egalitarian friendships of the last century is born. One is a stubborn, foul mouth man prone to temper tantrums who will also one day be King and the other is a man who gave voice to soldiers suffering from shell shock after the First World War. The movie charts their relationship through the death of Bertie’s father, the abdication of his elder brother, the hugely popular, Edward VIII (Guy Pearce) through to the outbreak of the Second World War. 

It would have been so easy for director Tom Hooper (John Adams, Longford) and writer David Seidler to make this one of those big costume dramas with all the necessary pomp and pageantry, thankfully, because of budgetary restraints, this is a ‘small’ movie that has as its main focus the simple relationship between Logue and the King, and the bond that forms between them as each learns trust and humility under the amused eye of Helena Bonham-Carter as Queen Elizabeth. 

Firth gives one of the performances of his career, he manages to capture the insecurity, the wit, the humility and, in the end, the courage of the man who is forced into a role that he does not desire. His obvious admiration and affection for the character he is playing shines through. 

Rush is a marvel to watch as the failed actor turned speech therapist, he has such an ease and command of the medium. It would be so easy for him to play caricature but he captures the essence of Logue and with a tilt of the head or a raised eyebrow he rebuts any sense of bombast that the future King throws his way. 

 Michael Gambon and Claire Bloom make cameo appearances as George V and Queen Mary, Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill and Anthony Andrews as Stanley Baldwin. 

Thanks to the newly discovered diaries of Logue the writer (Seidler) has been given a wonderful insight into what was one of the most discreet relationships of last century, the sight of the future King-Emperor letting loose with a torrent of obscenities as way of opening up his throat is hilarious or the sight of the Queen Mother sitting on her husband’s stomach as Rush deadpans “And up comes Her Royal Highness and down goes Her Royal Highness.” 

Tightly directed and succinctly written this movie deserves all the awards and praise that others have heaped on it. At the time of writing the film has been nominated for seven Golden Globes and there is a strong sense that there are Oscar nominations to follow. This has been one of the highlights of my cinema going year. 

The King’s Speech opens in Australia on December 26, 2010. 

Written by peteracross

December 15, 2010 at 16:41

Les Miz – the Birthday bash

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Les Miserables - half a century later

   

Twenty-five years ago, (1985), something astounding happened in London at the Barbican Arts Centre, a musical based on a Victor Hugo novel opened and took the West End and then the world by storm.      

Les Misérablesa musical set against a failed student revolution in Paris during the early 19th century.      

The plot:  Jean Valjean, prisoner 24601, is released on parole after 19 years of hard labour for stealing a loaf of bread. His jailer Javert warns him that he is still not a free man so he better behave. Valjean is taken in by a kindly bishop who he promptly robs; the bishop lies to Javert to save Valjean. Taking stock of his life Valjean decides to break his parole and start anew. The rest of the very long musical is really Javert chasing Valjean through the streets and years of Paris until they meet once again on the barricades of revolution. Valjean saves Javert; Javert unable to live with the humiliation commits suicide. Along the way women are wooed, men lose their hearts, love triangles collapse, money is made, fortunes are lost and a revolution fails.      

Originally the musical was met with critical scepticism and the show was nicknamed ‘The Glums’ by the critics, but the public seemed to like it and eventually the musical took over the world in much the same way that ‘Cats’ and ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ have done. There is no country, with the possible exception of North Korea that has not had at least one production of these shows.      

Twenty-five years later with two major productions already playing in England Cameron Macintosh has once again reinvented this musical. He has devised an “event” – a concert version of the show featuring a cast of over five hundred which includes a massed choir and a full orchestra to celebrate the anniversary.      

Starring Alfie Boe as Jean Valjean, who rightfully stopped the show with his performance of ‘Bring Him Home’, bringing the 20,000 members of the audience in the O2 Arena to their feet. This is not the kind of thing you see every day.      

Norm Lewis as Javert has a beautiful baritone voice. A voice that reaches out and enfolds you and leaves you shaken by his raw emotion, especially during his duet with Boe near the end of the concert when they perform ‘Javert’s Suicide.”      

Matt Lucas, yes you read it correctly Matt Lucas from ‘Little Britain,’ plays Thernardier, and surprisingly, considering the opportunities to play up to the crowd, delivers a restrained performance that manages to capture the sinister humour the character requires – a kind of French version of ‘Fagin’.      

Samantha Barks as Eponine is captivating, even though you could argue she is far too good looking for the part, her voice and her acting ability carry her through especially in her big number ‘On My Own.’      

Nick Jonas as Marius unfortunately doesn’t have the voice (yet) to carry the part but he does deliver a more than adequate performance and his version of ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’ was very moving. His scenes with Katie Hall, Cosette, are sweet, romantic and easy to watch. (A piece of trivia for the show queens reading – Nick Jonas­ played Gavroche on Broadway in 2003.)      

Other standouts in the cast are Jenny Galloway as Mdme Thenardier and Ramin Karimlool as the handsome revolutionary Enjoloras.      

The O2 Areana

   

There are inherent problems in transferring a stage show designed for a proscenium arch to the vast expanse of an arena like the O2.      

How do you manage to get 20,000 people involved and keep them interested for over two hours in what is now basically a static show?      

The answer of course is three huge video screens set high above the choir and massive lighting racks that become part of the action most noticeably during the defence of the barricades.      

But the strength of the theatricality of the stage show is also the concert versions greatest weakness, at times there is nothing happening and because of the twenty or so cameras filming you see every dead minute of stage time.      

Oh did I not mention that the show was also beamed live into cinemas around the world. This is a huge undertaking.      

But wait there’s more!      

After final bows have been taken the cast is joined on stage by the two other current English Les Miz casts and the original West End cast. The four Valjeans: Colm Wilkinson (the original), Simon Bowman (Queen’s Theatre cast), John Owen-Jones (Barbican Art’s Centre) all combine with Alfie Boe to perform one of the most moving performances I have seen in a long time, ‘Bring Him Home’, followed by the original 1985 cast singing ‘Óne Day More.’      

Never one to let a microphone go unattended Cameron Mackintosh introduced the writers and composers: Claude Michel Schonberg, Alain Boublil, and Herbert Kretzmer.      

And then – yes there is still more – as a last tribute, hundreds of students who perform in the school’s version of Les Miz paraded down the stairs to the front of the stage singing ‘Do You Hear the People Sing.”      

This is event theatre on a scale that I have never seen before and for all its faults it works.  If it plays at a cinema near you and you have even the slightest interest in musical theatre then it’s a must see. Otherwise you will be able to buy the Blu-Ray widescreen digital HD DVD version from your favourite outlet, probably in time for Christmas.

Written by peteracross

December 6, 2010 at 16:41