Thursday, 31 October 2013

Scenes by the sea

Sculpture by the Sea started in 1997 and has been held annually (as far as I can recall) along the walkway that links Bondi Beach with nearby Tamarama Beach to its south. The outdoors exhibition is free and attracts thousands of visitors in its eighteen days' duration.

Here are some scenes from this year's display.

Keizo Ushio






Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Prisoners


When his, and a neighbour's, daughter disappears feared abducted and a police detective's enquiries seem to be leading to nothing Hugh Jackman decides to take matters into his own hands.

'Prisoners' is a taut, edge of your seat, crime thriller with horror overtones along the lines of 'Mystic River' and 'Gone Baby Gone'.

Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal are outstanding but really the entire cast is excellent.

Some scenes had me averting my eyes and the film is perhaps about 20 minutes too long but otherwise it is top notch in its genre.
★★★★

Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Family


A mob family of four from New York lives under witness protection in France but just can't help resolving conflict in the mob manner.

'The Family' is not easy to categorise. Its dry, wry humour appealed to me but sits somewhat at odds with the regular scenes of over the top violence.

Michelle Pfeiffer makes a welcome return to the screen in the unfamiliar role of a gangster's moll. There are plenty of in-jokes involving co-star Robert De Niro, Executive Producer Martin Scorsese and a film they made together, 'Goodfellas'.

Surprisingly appealing if you don't mind, or can cope with, the violent bits.
★★★

Saturday, 26 October 2013

It's bigger than......

The 1959 blockbuster

The excellent website IMDb (Internet Movie Database) lists no fewer than 10 movie and television versions of 'Ben Hur' dating between 1925 and 2010; the most famous being the 1925 silent version starring Ramon Novarro and Francis X Bushman and the 1959 blockbuster. The latter, starring Charlton Heston, won 11 Academy Awards and inspired the cliche 'It is bigger than Ben Hur'.

You would think that ten is sufficient 'Ben Hurs' for everyone's taste but no, MGM has plans to make yet another version.

Apparently Hollywood is in the grip of a biblical revival to match that of the 1950s/60s with movies about Noah (Russell Crowe), Pontius Pilate (Brad Pitt!) and two movies about Moses all nearing release or in planning stages.

So be it........

Friday, 25 October 2013

Diana


I went to see 'Diana' with some trepidation half expecting something tremendously tacky. The film focuses on the supposed relationship Diana, Princess of Wales had with a Pakistani heart surgeon Hasnat Khan.

I don't recall hearing/reading anything about this surgeon and a relationship with the iconic Royal but if the gossip was common knowledge at the time then I concede failure on my part as a gay man with a penchant for celebrity watching to have remained so ignorant.

Naomi Watts, who I have long admired as an actress, makes a fair fist of Diana. She has the voice and the demeanour well covered. Although watched, guarded, monitored and followed continually the film establishes Diana's loneliness and the background images of a luxury lifestyle are a minor thrill for lovers of celebrity gossip.

On the plus side it is interesting to see how Diana schemed and manipulated the media, mostly with disastrous results. On the negative side the affair with the surgeon, which is the major focus of the film, is at times the tacky portrayal I feared.

My guess is that this could have been quite an interesting companion piece for the film, 'The Queen' had it focused on Diana's strategic response to the destruction of her marriage and distancing from her sons rather than the romantic pot boiler it tends to be.

A couple of interesting tangents.  Australia's beloved heart surgeon the late Victor Chang gets considerable mention in the film which is a matter for parochial pride. During the film Naomi Watts dons a dark wig to portray Diana in disguise and I was struck by how closely she resembles her Aussie pal Nicole Kidman in that colouring.

I don't know why anyone would take on the role of such a distinctively remembered personage still so alive within our memories. It's a brave, probably foolhardy, act by Ms Watts. I suspect a better focussed film than this will be made of the same events at a later date by when they will be more of an historical rather than romantic curiosity.
★★

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Stranger by the Lake (L'Inconnou du lac)


(French with English subtitles)

Franck, a gay man, frequents a secluded lakeside spot where others gather for swimming, nude sunbathing and cruising for sex. He befriends, Henri, a stranger who is not gay, has not come to the lake to swim nor sunbathe and is not looking for sex.  Franck also befriends and becomes sexually active with Michel, a gay man who remains frustratingly distant despite the sexual intimacy.

The French have a fascinating film industry. They delight in making films that lack action, and often much plot, but which still entertain because of the sophistication of the characters, their fashion, lifestyles and cafe conversation.

'L'Inconnou du lac', released in Australia as 'Stranger by the Lake', is both typical and an exception to the style above. It is typical in that there is no action, if you exclude a murder presented distantly and unemotionally, and the exception in that it lacks all of the sophistication markers mentioned.

The film contains no music whatsoever. It presents graphic gay sex, nudity, and from memories of my youthful sex life, a quite realistic representation of gay cruising in secluded public areas. Every scene is filmed at or by the side of the lake. The passing of each day is portrayed by an almost identical scene of Franck driving into the lakeside spot.

I didn't really buy the developing relationship between Franck and Henri, who seem to have nothing in common, although by the end I was accepting of it. I was troubled that Franck and the others would continue visiting the spot to cruise and have sex in so doing ignoring the disappearance and apparent murder of one of them and was relieved when the same concern was articulated by the character of a policeman late in the film.

This film won't appeal to many people.

★★

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Gravity 3D


Two astronauts find themselves lost in space when they are cut adrift from their base by rogue satellite debris.

'Gravity 3D' is doing well at the box office so the 'word of mouth' of those seeing it must have been positive. The reviews I have read about it have been supportive, even glowing. Yet a number of my friends disliked the film and one of them even walked out of it mid screening.

So I went to see it intrigued as to how I would react.

Well, I liked it. I liked it a lot.

The film doesn't pretend to be a documentary about space exploration nor does it purport to accurately explain the science of life in outer space. It is an entertainment of strong visual effects and an exercise in suspense.

So let the truth in film people poo poo it but even if the finale is a little too cute the visuals overall are exceptional and the suspense is well delivered. The 3D effects are superior to most I have seen.

★★★★

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Day by day


Ahem, this is not me but I thought it might attract your attention........

I am 23,498 days old. That's 64 years and 122 days including 16 leap years. I was born on a Monday.

If you want to know your age in days try this link.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Oyster, Pearl, Opal......

Do you get it?

A single word. The name of something exotic. Valuable. Easy to remember.

And that becomes the name of your transport card.

We long suffering public transport users in the state of New South Wales have long been promised a Transport Card. One card. A card to use on buses and trains and ferries and, yes, even on the smidgin of light rail that exists in Sydney.

It was all going to be in place for Sydney's Olympic Games. Remember them? Sydney was awarded them in 1993. The Transport Card was going to be introduced in time for the Games as part of our strategy for dealing with the massive passenger movements expected.

The Games were held in 2000. The expected passenger movements occurred. Without a Transport Card. The goodwill and patience of the transport staff and the passengers won the day. The Transport Card did not.

A card had been trialled, mainly using school children movements but each time nothing further developed. Apparently our fare structure was to blame. More complex than equivalent systems elsewhere we were told. And the bureaucracy would not abandon that structure we were told.

Money was spent on developing the card. Lots of money. Contracts were broken (cancelled?). Litigation ensued. Hundreds of millions of dollars compensation was sought. The only loser so far, the tax payer.

Eventually a new Government was elected and finally in the past year a card introduced.

Da Da! Welcome to the Opal Card!

Introduced first on a couple of ferry services. Then extended to further ferry services. Then extended to one section of the rail network (as it happens my local service). Then extended to two adjoining sections of the rail network. Shortly to be extended into bus services.

Finally a Transport Card that is actually operational. To some extent.

Reports indicate 'only' 30,000 cards have been registered so far. That is a minority of the hundreds of thousands of daily trips undertaken. But it seems a reasonable figure to me, especially given the card's still quite limited coverage.

I can't use it yet because as a retired 'senior citizen' I am covered by the Pensioner Excursion Ticket for public transport and Opal does not yet incorporate our fare.

Still, I have visible evidence of the card through the Opal readers at my local train stations and also installed but not yet operational on the buses I use.

This is how Opal will (and won't) work on our buses. Apparently.

I haven't actually seen anyone use an Opal Card as yet. But we are assured it is being used.

With each extension of the system, the current Opposition party (that is; the party that when in government failed to get it going) is seen and heard in the media criticising the card for bringing more expensive travel for some travellers when the intention is supposedly to provide cheaper travel.

At all other times we hear nothing. Neither criticism nor praise.

To my mind any government program that operates without criticism nor praise suggests that the public is accepting of it.

I won't know until I am in a position to use the card.

But finally we have an exotic, valuable, one word Transport Card of our own.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Thanks for Sharing


Ok, let me get one thing straight at the outset. 'Thanks for Sharing' presents one of the most extreme disconnects between its trailer and the actual film that I can recall. The trailer suggested to me a romantic comedy and interestingly the IMDb website describes the film with the same words. Having now seen the film I categorically state my opinion that it is neither romantic nor a comedy.

The plot concerns four members of a support group for sex addicts and their struggles to achieve 'normality' in their familial and social relationships.

I'm not certain what the purpose of the film is. It is not an entertainment as there isn't much that is 'entertaining' about it. It is not a self help guide as the characters all struggle, mostly without obvious signs of success, to overcome their difficulties. Nor is it much of an encouragement to viewers suffering addictions who could easily be discouraged by the difficulties the characters experience.

Nevertheless the film is not without merit as an interesting study of people struggling with addictive personalities, issues of trust and that perennial soap opera feature, failure to communicate.

The ensemble cast is in good form with Alecia Moore ('Pink') a delight. As always I am very impressed by her.

★★★

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Bush fires

Further to the previous post, smoke from the bush fires is being blown across Sydney by strong westerly winds.

The view from my balcony
A southerly change is expected to reach Sydney in about 30 minutes.

Orange and the bright light

With bush fires to Sydney's south, west and north today fanned by 34Âșc heat and strong winds there is an eery orange cloud over most of the city and yet a gap of blue sky is casting an odd light reflected against southern fascias of CBD and North Sydney buildings.

Here is a pic captured a moment ago of North Sydney (not the best photo, I hastily used my iPhone zoom);

(Click to enlarge)

Grease


The Broadway musical 'Grease' is one of the most popular of its type to stage both in professional productions such as is currently playing at the Sydney Lyric and in amateur productions worldwide.

The reasons for the popularity are obvious. The musical is comparatively simple to stage with minimal sets needed, especially for amateur versions. The ensemble cast members each has their moment to shine. The musical contains four or five easily recognisable, toe tappingly popular, tunes. And the musical comes with a ready made reputation mostly from the beloved film version which made international stars of John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.

The musical is a throwback to the style of the early twentieth century creations which mostly comprised  a series of song and dance (and vaudeville) numbers devoid of any real linking plot.

In reality, Grease is not a very good musical. It contains no plot or character development of any consequence and its four of five most popular tunes aside the remainder of the numbers seem to be there simply to fill in time.

None of this was of much concern to the nearly capacity matinee audience of mainly senior citizens yesterday who lapped it all up and left with smiles on their faces and ears ringing from the intense and noisy sound design.

The show has its limitations but the cast gave it their all in an exuberant and vigorous rendering.

★★★

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Super Discount

(Sydney Theatre Company)
A joint production from Back to Back Theatre, Sydney Theatre Company and Malthouse Theatre.

'Super Discount' is a one act play featuring six performers five of whom are intellectually and/or physically impaired. The sixth is self described as an 'actor' who alternates between behaving without impairment challenging the others and at other times behaving as though he possessed an impairment.

The performers act out an audition for the players to play the roles of superheroes and villains.

It is a challenging work, confronting at times.

The joy of the performers' achievement at the conclusion of the work is engaging.

★★★

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Who's at the helm?


Has anyone noticed that the country has been without leadership since the recent election? At least visibly so anyway.

The new Prime Minister has been mostly overseas and interviews with him have been few and far between.

The new Opposition Leader hasn't been elected yet with the Labor Party undertaking a new leadership election process that takes a month or so to complete.

Hasn't it been quiet on the leadership front compared with the pre-election...period...or dare I say...years.

I rather like the quiet.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Penelope

(Siren Theatre Company)

This one act play was staged at the TAP Gallery, a location which I guess is as entertaining in its environment as the productions in the small performance space. The night we attended we enjoyed hot chocolates served in Parisian style coffee bowls snug amongst a library of books and galleries of paintings whilst looking upon men positioned in a semi circle as they created paintings of a nude female model. The walk from this space to the performance area was via a tight corridor with exposed cabling and other material that made me think of the passages to London's underground during the blitz. (No, I wasn't alive during the blitz but I've seen numerous films set in the time.)

Penelope is based on the final chapter of Homer's 'The Odyssey' and portrays four men competing to win the heart of the mysterious woman of the title and thus escape certain death. The setting is a swimming pool and the four men are dressed in swim wear.

I enjoyed some aspects of the play but my concentration lagged during the solemn soliloquies each of the actors gets to deliver.

I suppose it was a bit over my head at times.

★★1/2

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Rush


A drama about the Formula 1 racing car drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda whose fierce rivalry reached a peak in the 1976 season. Hunt, the feckless philanderer and Lauda, the arrogant single minded loner.

'Rush' is a little hum drum at the outset as it sets the scene for two ambitious, and not always likeable, men in the millionaire sport but it really lifts impressively in the final hour when its focus is the dramatic, and at times horrific, 1976 Formula 1 season.

Chris Hemsworth (Hunt) and Daniel Bruhl (Lauda) are convincing in their roles.

I'm not into motor sports but I found this film utterly engrossing, especially in its second half.

★★★★

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet

(Sydney Theatre Company)

William Shakespeare's popular tale of the young lovers from warring families and their doomed relationship.

This production of 'Romeo and Juliet' is set in modern dress and on a revolving set that spins, at times, at a dizzying pace.

There are strong performances particularly from Eryn Jean Norvill (Juliet), Julie Forsyth (Nurse), Eamon Farren (Mercutio) and Colin Moody (Capulet). Our Romeo was a little underwhelming to begin with although he improved as the play progressed.

Overall, quite an enjoyable and generally well acted production.

★★★1/2

Monday, 7 October 2013

Ricky Martin at the NRL Grand Final

Here is a far better photograph of Ricky Martin performing at the NRL Grand Final than my distant pin prick of a photograph in the earlier post; taken from Mr Martin's Twitter account @ricky_martin

@ricky_martin

Daylight-lagged


I'm not a dinosaur on the issue of daylight saving. I don't believe it makes the curtains fade nor do I believe the cows get confused by the change in their milking time; not that I have any cows to milk anyway.

I like daylight saving.

But I do suffer, ever so briefly, in the transition. The first couple of days in the transition - either to daylight saving or from daylight saving - I wake feeling as if I have been drugged. It's not a major thing, just a minor irritation that I can't seem to escape.

It happened again yesterday, the first day of daylight saving for 2013/14 in (some states of) Australia. I awoke feeling very slightly doped. I mentioned this to Cs and Ch with whom I had spent the previous evening on my balcony watching the International Fleet Review fireworks display and they both reported a similar  reaction. Cs felt it might have been the affects of the smokey fireworks atmosphere we had experienced before going to bed.

Maybe that's an explanation but it is a feeling I experience each year.

Battle of the birds

The Sydney Roosters triumphed over the Manly Sea Eagles 26-18 in last night's grand final of the National Rugby League before an attendance of 81,491.

Ricky Martin led the pre-match entertainment. Ricky is the tiny figure in white at the front of the on field stage in this photo;


Players line up for the national anthem ahead of kick-off;


The kick off:


Full time;


The after match presentation;


Sunday, 6 October 2013

Reach for the sky

Between 2pm and 5.30pm yesterday, a series of aeronautical displays bridged the gap between the formal International Fleet Review earlier and the evening fireworks and light display.

Here are some photos; click on them to enlarge.

An F18 I think; very noisy, very fast
Something older, slower and quieter
A quartet of little things
An oddball pair
At 4pm the Rhapsody of the Sea departed for a cruise winding its way down harbour around the warships with the aeronautical display continuing overhead.


Rhapsody of the Sea with the Manly Ferry passing by
A Constellation
The Roulettes performed amazing acrobatics.

The Roulettes over the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House
The Roulettes with Rhapsody of the Sea passing out to the Pacific Ocean
The Roulettes back over the city
Going my way?
One Roulette went off on his own way doing loop the loops whilst the other four continued doing 'lazy' circles in the distance.

Plunging
Bottom of the loop; the other Roulettes in the background
Top of the loop; flying upside down
Spectators watching the Roulettes from Beare Park, Double Bay