Monday, 29 October 2012

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Argo


In November 1979 a group of militants took over the United States Embassy in Tehran holding 52 staff members hostage for 444 days. Six diplomats who evaded capture hid in other Embassies until they were rescued a year ahead of the others under a ruse that they were participating in a film project.

'Argo' tells the story of that ruse and rescue or rather that ruse and rescue are the inspiration for this thriller. The film does not purport to be a factual representation, instead it states it is 'based' on a true story. The title 'Argo' is said to be the title of the film that the six fake film workers were planning to make.

You don't have to have much historical knowledge to realise that theatrical licence has been taken with the actual events. For one thing it seems highly unlikely the Iranians would have approved a film project at that sensitive time which promoted itself with scantily clad women. Nevertheless 'Argo' skillfully blends actual news images from the time with its own photography. The end credits include an interesting comparison of actual images of the events and participants with the film's equivalents.

Viewed simply as a thriller this is quite an enjoyable film.


★★★★

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Death of a Salesman

(Belvoir Street Theatre)
(Belvoir Street Theatre @ Theatre Royal)

Arthur Miller's 'Death of a Salesman' is four months older than I; that is 63 years old. We both are older now than the play's principal character, Willy Loman, a travelling salesman unfilled late in his life and pinning his hopes on his older son Biff, a college football star. It is a classic play of lost dreams and generational clashes.

The Belvoir Street production was a sold out success prompting this unplanned transfer to the Theatre Royal. The production design created with the intimate Belvoir Street performance space in mind has been retained for the larger Theatre Royal environment.

The actors use their Australian accents whilst preforming this very American work. The same strategy was employed by the Sydney Theatre Company in its recent production of 'Sex with Strangers'. In the latter case, that didn't seem to be a problem after the first ten minutes or so but in this case I sense some of the rhythm of the play's language is lost. There are other oddities. The sole item on stage is a contemporary looking car with right hand drive (in the Australian style) which sits at odds with the American setting.

Why this production has been so successful is probably the fine performances of the cast, especially Colin Friels as Willy and Patrick Brammall as Biff, in particular in the second act which made this a memorable visit to the theatre.


★★★★

Friday, 26 October 2012

Home, sweet, home

I've acquired some new furniture items. Nothing special, just some settling in items from, where else but, China.


Desk and office chair for the study which already looks a mess.


Outdoor furniture for the balcony. I think I should have purchased another two chairs to make it a setting for six. There is sufficient space when the table is pulled away from the balcony wall.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Savages


Two young men, one (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) a botanist, idealistic and sensitive, the other (Taylor Kitsch) a tough and volatile returned serviceman with anger boiling just below the surface have created a lucrative drug distribution empire in Southern California which is eyed enviously by drug cartels across the border in Mexico. As well as being business partners the two share a seamy relationship with (Blake Lively). The credibility of this menage a trois is crucial to 'Savages' because most of the action of the film relates to the two men's attempts to rescue Lively when the cartels kidnap her when they move to wrest the drug business from them.

Just exactly who our heroes are up against was not entirely clear to me; that is, I never quite worked out the relationships between them, but Salma Hayek and Benecio Del Toro are there in the mix. Also involved is a corrupt Federal Agent John Travolta.

The film has a highly coloured tropical summer look and comes with a ceaseless contemporary musical score. It has two endings, so you can take your pick.

'Savages' is also viciously violent. Not for the fainthearted.


★★★

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Bridge

tonight, 50.00%, 5/12, jumped five places on the last two boards.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

A plate by any other number would look the same*.....

(* apologies to William Shakespeare)

A recent post from fellow blogger Andrew about personalised number plates for cars triggered a memory for me from the 1980s.

Personalised number plates had recently been introduced by the State government and having moved back to New South Wales after living in the Australian Capital Territory for five years I decided to apply for plates with my initials when it was time to register my car in the state. They were the only type of personalised plates offered at that time. I applied for VB000 and was told that this number plate was already taken. I decided on VB111 instead which I was told was available. It would take about six weeks for the plate to be produced.


(As an aside, I believed at the time that number plates were produced by prisoners in gaols. Was that true and, if so, is it still the case?)

Weeks later I was told my plates were ready for collection. As I could not take time off work to collect them my father went on my behalf. He rang me from the Motor Registry and asked whether I had ordered motor cycle plates. Why did he ask that I wondered. Well, it was motor cycle size plates that had been produced.

Of course, motor cycle size plates were not appropriate so I had to reorder plates for my car but my father was told they could no longer be VB111 as this number was now taken by the motor cycle plates. This seemed unnecessarily bureaucratic to me but the registry was insistent.

What other number would suit me? By then I didn't care so I left it for the registry to decide. In the end the number plate they produced for me was VB234.


The number 234 had no specific relevance for me but people would often ask me what was the significance of the number. In the end I just made up an answer; 'it is my highest ten pin bowling score' I lied. That seemed to satisfy all enquirers.

I have long since given away using personalised number plates.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

To Rome With Love


Woody Allen is working his way through Europe. Starting with London (Match Point - 2005), then Barcelona (Vicky Cristina Barcelona - 2008) and Paris (Midnight in Paris - 2011) Allen has moved on 'To Rome With Love'.

There are four story strands. An undertaker who possesses a glorious operatic voice but only when he sings in the shower. A man who inexplicably becomes famous simply for being famous. A honeymooning groom stuck with an unknown prostitute pretending to be his bride and a young architecture student tempted by his girlfriend's girlfriend.

Set in the glorious environment of the eternal city these four stories canvass the vagaries of celebrity, fads and romance.

Reviewing the film recently, Margaret Pomeranz savaged it saying that she could barely bring herself to rate it 1 star arguing vehemently with her companion critic David Stratton who agreeing that the film was not amongst Allen's better films rated it (from memory) 3 stars.

Having seen the film now for myself I think Pomeranz's criticism was particularly harsh. I suspect Pomeranz may have been motivated by the previous week's reviews when it was Stratton who was highly critical of a movie that she favoured.

This is not one of Allen's better films, indeed it misfires as much as it hits the mark but it is not without its humorous touches especially in its second half. It is not a match for the three films mentioned above. None of the four story strands is a total success. The 'famous for being famous' strand probably works best whilst the 'student' strand could be excised in its entirety and I doubt anybody would notice.

Rome looks magnificent in the background.


★★

Friday, 19 October 2012

Taken 2


I never saw 'Taken', the 2008 predecessor to 'Taken 2' but I presume the original was pretty successful for this sequel to be considered. I presume there was something interesting about the original. I didn't find a great deal to interest me in this sequel. Actually despite all the noise and rushing about on the screen, I found myself nodding off repeatedly. Perhaps I missed the best bits.

'Taken 2' seems to follow on from the (unseen by me) original in a fairly lazy way. The title is scarcely imaginative. Couldn't the creators at least have had the wit of using 'Taken Too' or 'Taken Again' as a title? It seems that either title would have fitted what is presented.

Liam Neeson plays a security expert or intelligence officer - I wasn't sure which - who completes what seems to be a security task in Turkey - apparently entirely on his own. He is joined there by his ex-wife and daughter for a short holiday. Neeson and the ex-wife are promptly kidnapped and the daughter attempts to free them.

What ensues is a chase movie with implausibility piled upon implausibility to an extent almost higher than the mountain of dead bodies the chase produces. Are we expected to view this with a straight face? What does one make of a scene where Neeson smashes his way through the high security of the surrounds of the US Embassy in Istanbul, finds himself trapped with his daughter in a stolen taxi from which he rings a mate playing a round of golf in the USA requesting that he telephone the Embassy to have them safely extricated from the vehicle.

Perhaps this is meant to be a comedy rather than an adventure? When her boyfriend learns that the daughter does not have a drivers license he reacts with the sort of incredulity one might expect had he just been told that she has three breasts.

Most of the movie is set in Istanbul and with nearly every scene in line of sight of the famous Hagia Sophia there are some spectacular images. Otherwise there is little to recommend this film. If you must see it, save it for a very rainy day.


★★

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

It's a bird, it's a plane....

...it's a patient........

George Reeves, television's Superman in the 1950s

....seen at the hospital, a patient in preparation for medical imaging, dressed only in his underwear with his paper gown billowing behind him like Superman's cape.

I immediately thought of the legendary man of steel.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The Intouchables


(French, English subtitles)

A wealthy man, made quadriplegic following a sky diving accident, engages an untrained African immigrant as his carer with surprising results.

The opening credits state that 'The Intouchables' is based on a true story and the real characters portrayed in the film are revealed at the end. It is a delightful film filled with humour. Both the carer and the cared-for confront their demons as they search for dignity and love to fill their lives. They are different as can be, yet each man will have impact on the other in unforeseen ways.

Recommended.


★★★★


Sunday, 14 October 2012

The Words


A coincidence. The week started with 'Sex With Strangers', a play about two writers and it closes with 'The Words', a film about three writers.

Dennis Quaid is an author doing readings of his new book. The new book concerns a struggling author, Bradley Cooper, who hits the big time when a manuscript he found in an old briefcase about a doomed love affair is published as his work.  Jeremy Irons is the old man who emerges to confront Cooper as the true creator of the manuscript.

The film's structure is like a Faberge doll. A story within a story within another story. All three stories are essentially the same but seen from different perspectives. Set in New York and Paris the stories take us from the present to the post war period and back again.

A romantic drama focussing on three men, each unfulfilled in his own way.


★★★★

Friday, 12 October 2012

Not forgotten

2002 Bali bombing memorial at Coogee Beach, Sydney

Several bombs detonated this day ten years ago in Bali killed 202 people including 88 Australians.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

'Day of shame'.....

...the headline in this morning's major Sydney newspaper. The newspaper was referring to yesterday evening's sudden resignation of the Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives in somewhat scandalous circumstances.

For a moment, though, I thought it was me who had made the front page of the newspaper. I have my own day of shame. I won't go into the details but I made critical comments to a staff member at the hospital for what I considered were deficiencies in the organisation of a training course. The staff member did not take my comments well and has lodged a complaint. I concede that I overstepped the mark so I have been asked to apologise in writing.

The great, the less than great and the anonymous all make their mistakes.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Sex with Strangers

(Sydney Theatre Company)

Jacqueline McKenzie and Ryan Corr find themselves sharing a holiday retreat. Both are aspiring writers. McKenzie has written a book that disappeared without trace whilst Corr has a hit book on his hands based on his blog that detailed his sexual adventures.

The play 'Sex with Strangers' matches a couple who are half a generation apart in age and a world apart technologically. It also contrasts the world of book publishing with the emerging world of electronic publishing.

'Sex with Strangers' is a play for the times; a two hander with fast paced dialogue. McKenzie and Corr are well matched, delivering likeable performances. The literary quotations that pass across the backdrop and separate the scenes add spice to the spoken dialogue.


★★★★

Sunday, 7 October 2012

On The Road


Based on Jack Kerouac's novel, 'On The Road' follows two would-be writers, Sal and Dean, as they criss cross the United States of America in the late 1940s and early 1950s. From the East coast through the Mid West to the West coast and later into the Mexico the pair and assorted friends and strangers live their lives filled with booze, benzedrine and sex. Nothing is too outlandish for them whether it be petty thieving for the necessities, sex for services or sponging off anyone and everyone.

They lead a lifestyle constantly on the move searching for something elusive and unsuccessfully seeking escape from reality. Sal, notebook at hand, records it all in longhand as he grapples to produce his signature novel.

This atmospheric film presents a lifestyle both shocking and thrillingly adventurous. A host of eccentric characters come and go, most never to be seen again after their five minutes or so of exposure. Some of the images are stylish and striking.

An interesting film with a terrific soundtrack of jazz, blues and what I imagine might be classed as redneck music but for me the whole thing was about half an hour too long.


★★★

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Damsels in Distress


Three college girls tutor a newcomer in the ways of men, proper living and how to avoid suicide leading depression. The answer to the first, in their view, is to take on boys inferior to themselves so that they are grateful just to have them as their girlfriend and as for the last point their answer lies in tap dancing and doughnuts.

If that is the sort of humour that appeals then is the film for you. I found the three girls to be particularly annoying and would have cheerfully throttled them.

I had a few giggles but most of Damsels in Distress is rather twee.


★★

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Looper


Thirty years into the future and some are involved in time travel which has not yet been invented - but it will be soon. It is 2044 and Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a Looper. That is the name for paid assassins whose job it is to kill the targets of organised crime who have been sent back through time from a further 30 years advanced. Loopers are paid in silver for their services but when eventually the victim of their next kill is their thirty years older self they are paid off in gold and their services dispensed with. Joe is faced with this prospect when his thirty years older self (Bruce Willis) arrives through time as his next kill. The Looper is deemed to have 'closed the loop' when he kills off his older alter ego.

I may not have explained this clearly but it is pretty imaginative science fiction. The movie spends about its first third setting up the situation explaining the concept through the use of off-screen commentary. Then we see the interesting situation of both Joe and Old Joe racing around trying to avoid death whilst seeking out their dangerous foes. There are a few twists and turns along the way.

As with most science fiction it is best not to delve too deeply into the logic of the plot. Taken at face value this is an intriguing situation and the movie is well constructed with fine effects that rarely go over the top.

Cs and I enjoyed the movie and comparing opinions at the end we found we had reached the same conclusion about the meaning of the final plot twist.

There is a degree of violence - so common to films nowadays - and as Cs observed 'why is that Hollywood always depicts the future as such a dark, dirty, struggling world'.

Superior science fiction.


★★★★