Saturday, 30 November 2013

Carrie The Musical

In what I imagine was a coincidence in timing Sydney has just had a short season of the stage production Carrie The Musical just as a film remake of the iconic 1976 horror film Carrie is released in Sydney.

It is difficult to imagine that Stephen King's horror short story could be turned into a musical but this is exactly what was done in 1988 in a production by no less than the Royal Shakespeare Company in England and subsequently on Broadway the same year in a production that lasted only 16 previews and 5 performances despite all the shows being sold out. The financial backers withdrew in the face of mixed reviews.

In fact the musical is surprisingly good, especially the first act although the second act falls away somewhat in comparison.

The Sydney staging was by Squabbalogic Independent Music Theatre a quirky theatre company I had never heard about and what an unexpected pleasure the production proved to be. The mostly young cast of aspiring performers was very good. The small orchestra played well and the simple staging was effective throughout.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

I haven't read the Hunger Games books nor did I see the initial film so I have come to the second film in the series, 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire' without foreknowledge.

The film is set at some future date with a community divided between those who live in the Capital, who appear to have a comfortable existence under the rule of a Dictator, and those living in outlying regions referred to simply by numbered Districts. The District residents mostly live in oppressed conditions in a barren industrial environment.

To distract the residents of the Districts periodic Games are held comprising representatives of each District who face life and death challenges in a sort of super reality series broadcast presumably to the citizens. The competitors must compete both as individuals and as teams in cutthroat activities with the one who defies death the longest being the winner.

Well, that's what I sort of gathered from this standalone film which provides no introductory recap of the earlier edition for we newbies to the series. The plot seems to have evolved using the Biblical book of Exodus for inspiration mixed with an extreme adaptation of reality television programs such as Big Brother, Survivor and The Apprentice. There is no specific ending for this film which cuts off abruptly obviously setting up for the sequel.

As with most fantasy adventures the plot contains more holes than a portion of swiss cheese but as an entertainment it is surprisingly effective despite the frustration of an ending without conclusion.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013


'Adoration', apparently released elsewhere under the title 'Adore' has a very French sensibility which would explain the heavy French influence in its production. Based on a short story, 'The Grandmothers', by recently deceased Noble Laureate for Literature, Doris Lessing, the film has also been known as 'Two Mothers' and 'Perfect Mothers'. Does this suggest uncertainty about the film's identity or marketability?

The story will not appeal to everyone. Two mothers, friends since childhood, each enters into an affair with the other's son.

Set in Australia on the NSW Central Coast, the scenery and images are often spectacular and are very reminiscent of Australian summer beach holidays of years gone by. Many North American actors fail to master an Australian accent usually sounding more Cockney than Antipodean but Robin Wright, whilst not perfect, makes a good fist of the task.

Xavier Samuel and James Frecheville provide splendid eye candy but the plot is rather farfetched.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Father of the bride

('Father of the Bride', MGM 1950)

I'm back from a lightning visit, in more ways than one, to the Gold Coast for the wedding celebrations of a daughter of one of my longest standing friends.

There was thunder and lightning and rain in Sydney shortly before my flight's departure time and there was more thunder and lightning and rain on the Gold Coast during the wedding reception. Fortunately those weather conditions did not prevail whilst I was in the air so apart from very strong winds on the flight up - which provided a few mildly anxious moments - I was not exposed to much in the way of adverse conditions whilst in transit throughout the weekend.

The flying time between the two cities is about 1 hour and 30 minutes each way but a good 15 minutes of that each way is spent simply on the plane taxi-ing between the Sydney terminals and Sydney's third runway which is the runway used for nearly all domestic services.

The main north/south runway is reserved it seems for international services and the east/west runway seems to only be used for certain wind directions or for those limited times when the Eastern suburbs of Sydney are required to take our (minor) share of aircraft noise to give the inner western suburbs relief from the majority of noise they have to bear. (Queue sardonic comment from Andrew at this point.)

It is odd that the so called 'third runway' is always referred to with that name yet the original north/south runway and the subsequent east/west runway are never called the first and second runways respectively.

Anyway, to get back to the wedding my friend Rt, the father of the bride, is a good natured soul. He is never short of a joke and has endless anecdotes to relate. In what must be a contender for the longest Father of the Bride speech ever delivered Rt tried to fit every possible joke and anecdote into his speech which he read, seemingly word for word, from one sheet of paper. His comments not only covered his daughter, the bride, but also his wife, his two other daughters - already married - his son -not yet married - his two grandchildren and a third on the way and his new son in law and family. I didn't time it precisely but I think it was a speech of about 40 minutes, give or take a few seconds.

I'm amazed that so much speech, word for word, could be drawn from one sheet of paper.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Everyone knows....

29 May 1917 to 22 November 1963

It was said for years afterwards that everyone knows where they were when they heard the news of the assassination of President Kennedy.

I was 14 years old. It was Saturday morning, 23 November, Sydney time when I woke. I had to prepare to play school cricket. I turned my transistor radio on as was my habit every morning and heard the unusual sound of a short wave broadcast from one of our local stations.

Nowadays with 21st Century communication we think nothing of hearing voices live from all around the world coming through crystal clear as though they were people sitting across the table. That was not the case fifty years ago. It was most unusual then to hear broadcasts directly from overseas and the short wave signal of those days meant a variable, scratchy sound with volume rising and falling like the waves of an ocean.

So the short wave broadcast immediately signalled to me an event of great significance. It took minutes to dawn on me what these strange American voices on our local radio station were saying. The President has been shot. He is dead.

It was stunning news. Our reactions unprecedented in my short lifetime to that date and matched only be subsequent shock and disbelief at the news of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales and later on the attacks on the World Trade Centre on 11 September 2001.

Yes, I know and have always remembered where I was when I heard that news. It still seems like only yesterday and I scarcely believe 50 years have passed.

There will probably never be a funeral quite like President Kennedy's again.

Not just the respectful pageantry;

But also Heads of State, Kings, Presidents, Emperors and the like walking in open procession completely unprotected from the mass crowds.

President De Gaulle of France and Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia et al

Finally in one of the most famous of all funeral photos a young and innocent John Kennedy Junior salutes his dead father.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

The Butler

'Inspired by a true story', the credits state which probably means that 'The Butler' who served eight US Presidents actually existed but the rest of his story, or rather most of the rest of it, involves theatrical license, fanciful supposition and downright story telling.

But the actual story of the film is the civil rights movement in the USA and that was reality. A cavalcade of talented performers take their turn in cameos to recreate a period from 1926 to the election of President Obama and the battle by African Americans to acquire the dignity of equality or something approaching equality.

Forest Whitaker gives an impressive performance as the title character and is well supported by David Oyelowo as his activist son. Oprah Winfrey gives a nicely understated performance as the wife only blemished by a curiously poor final scene. The Presidential cameos are an uneven set.

The film opens with a particularly shocking incident that draws the viewer immediately into the brutality of the race relations. Documentary footage is then used cleverly to illustrate how the civil rights movement evolved and developed.

'The Butler' is not without flaws as a movie but it is instructive for those unaware of the history and if drawing an emotional response is a purpose of cinema then this film is a success. I was in tears at the end; an emotional reaction I rarely experience.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

He's been doin it all day.......*

* A familiar call from the crowd at football matches in Australia; usually an appeal to the referee to penalise a player from the opposition team.

This man apparently was removed from a NFL match in the USA for wearing only Speedos. I'm sure there is more to the story than that but, hey, what a photo opportunity!

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Enough Said

Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late James Gandolfini play lonely divorcees with high school daughters about to leave home and they meet at a party where there is a spark of attraction sufficient for them to have a tentative follow up date.

No-one is perfect in 'Enough Said', least of all the two lead characters, but all of us have imperfections and it's a matter of how we respond whether and how far a relationship is possible.

Gandolfini is gentle and likeable within a scruffy exterior so will Louis-Dreyfus overcome her preconceptions to stick with him?

This low key romantic drama is quite engaging.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Cookies are bad for you

I was online researching for travel insurance. We are going on a cruise next month around New Zealand. Most times in the past I have not bothered about travel insurance gambling that nothing would go wrong requiring me to spend money of any significance but as you get older you have that realisation might be...helpful.

I decided to go with my health fund provider. This involved scrolling through screen after screen providing personal information, health information (don't they already know that from my health claims?), selecting a level of insurance, agreeing to terms and conditions, attesting to the truthfulness and completeness of the information I provided and finally (crucially) my credit card details for payment.

'Wait thirty seconds and don't leave this screen' I was instructed. I did (wait) and I didn't (leave the screen). So what happened then? A message appeared asking me to ask my browser to allow cookies. My purchase couldn't proceed otherwise. And as it turns out it couldn't proceed either. That is, allowing the cookies wiped everything I had done to that point anyway and I had to go back to the beginning.

Couldn't the site have warned at the outset, 'allow cookies'? Why wait to the very last step?

Cookies are bad for you; whether you have them, or not.

Friday, 15 November 2013

White sails in the sunset?

The song is 'Red Sails in the Sunset' (Music, Hugh Williams; Lyrics, Jimmy Kennedy) but today's late Friday afternoon sports sailing on the harbour - that blogger Andrew is so fond to point out is the view from my apartment -  is white sails, not red, and no sunset is evident yet with clouds filling the rainy sky.

(Click to enlarge)

Still, it is a pretty sight; is it not?

The Wharf Revue 2013

(Sydney Theatre Company)

The Wharf Revue has been an annual event for numerous seasons but this is the first year that I have attended.

Off the top of my head I believe Jonathan Biggins and Drew Forsythe have been regular members of the Revue and with Phillip Scott the trio have created a very witty satire around Australian politicians and events, snippets of which I have seen on television in previous years. Simon Burke and Amanda Bishop round off the performers in the 2013 revue accompanied by Musical Director Andrew Worboys.

They perform a series of sketches, fifteen this year, which provide ninety minutes of biting and hilarious representations of those men and women we love to hate.

There wasn't really a weak item this year. The standouts for me included a romantic duet between 'Gina Rinehart' and 'Clive Palmer' sung to, what else than, the love theme from the movie 'Titanic' and a never before seen episode of 'Annabel Crabb's Kitchen Cabinet' featuring 'Bob Katter'. A solo by 'Julia Gillard' and a lesson for the Australian Labor Party in an adaptation of 'The Wizard of Oz' are also highlights.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Vere (Faith)

(Sydney Theatre Company)

In 'Vere (Faith)' an academic is diagnosed with dementia and faces his future of diminished capacity.

'Vere' as a name is said to be of French origin which according to this play means 'faith'. It is an uncommon name which seems to have gone out of favour in Australia as a given name - if it ever was in favour - from the mid twentieth century. The most famous men to have borne this given name in Australia appear to have been Herbert Vere Evatt, a politician at both state and federal level who as a representative of Australia played a role in the establishment of the United Nations, and Vere Gordon Childe, an archaeologist and philologist. Both are referenced in the play.

'Vere (Faith)' is a new play by John Doyle and it is inspired by Doyle's experience caring for his father who suffered dementia and Doyle's interest in Childe's career. The play has some rough edges which no doubt will be worked on the more it is staged but even so it has relevance to contemporary issues and contains much humour laced with a degree of sadness.

Paul Blackwell is a delight as the title character displaying much kindness, wisdom and generosity. Geoff Morell is also standout especially in the first half in his character as a Vice Chancellor with a roving eye for attractive young women.

Anyone who has been a carer for an elderly (or ageing) dementia sufferer will relate to this work. People with a literal belief in religion may prefer to steer clear of it.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

The Counselor

Michael Fassbender is 'The Counselor' (lawyer) who finds himself a target for revenge when a drug deal goes awry.

The production design is the highlight for me with contrasting scenes of the high and low life of crime providing some stunning images.

The narrative progresses with a series of conversations interspersed with violent and occasionally bizarre activities.

Fassbender, a devious Cameron Diaz and a typically uber-cool Brad Pitt are the standout performers in a film where image mostly trumps plot.

Saturday, 9 November 2013


(Belvoir St Theatre)

Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' in which the seemingly mad Prince of Denmark exacts revenge against his uncle and mother following the murder of his father, the King.

As usual this Belvoir Street Theatre staging is spare in setting and striking in interpretation. Characters are dropped from the production and scenes shed. A pianist sits at a grand piano in the corner providing musical accompaniment and a counter tenor wanders across stage singing baroque type ballads.

Toby Schmitz is a tormented, physical Hamlet.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Hay Fever

The New Theatre is a small theatre company that for 80 years has focussed on staging left leaning political and social conscious works so its choice of Noel Coward's 'Hay Fever' for this year's season is very odd indeed.

Coward's 1920s comedies about British upper class social manners in a bygone era would seem nowadays rather old fashioned, even distasteful to some.

In 'Hay Fever' the four members of a family each invites, without the knowledge of the others, a house guest to spend the weekend. This sets up a situation of mayhem in which the guests become the innocent pawns of their mindless, self absorbed, scheming hosts.

The results are either hilarious or infuriating depending upon your point of view. The cast obviously had lots of fun and we enjoyed its silly frothiness too.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

About Time

I think the charm of the Richard Curtis style of romantic comedy is wearing off on me. Yes, I enjoyed 'Notting Hill' and 'Love Actually' wasn't too bad if overstuffed with competing story lines.

And now we have 'About Time', a romantic comedy about a fumbling young man who upon turning 21 learns the family secret that the men in the family can time travel and make minor adjustments to what happened in the past.

It's all a bit twee with the usual array of eccentric, occasionally irritating, English personalities. I don't mind the notion of time travel but I spent most of the movie turning over in my mind the practical illogicalities of revisiting an incident multiple times and so lost interest in the film well before the obvious finale.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

All My Sons

(Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

The Darlinghurst Theatre Company has moved to new premises where they have renovated an old, disused, Tabernacle and converted it into a boutique theatre, the Eternity Playhouse, with an audience capacity of about 200. The conversion is very impressive with much of the old Tabernacle retained (stained glass windows and all) and a fine auditorium, foyer and bar area created.

The opening production is Arthur Miller's 'All My Sons'. The play is set in the immediate post WW2 era when two families are torn apart by earlier personal actions. It's an excellent play beautifully rendered in this production which I highly recommend.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

More works by the sea

iBought it

Apple Store, Bondi Junction

The Apple Store was still heaving yesterday afternoon when I got to it after my shift at the hospital. It was the first day of sales of the new iPad Air and I purchased one to replace my iPad2. My preferred colour had sold out in the morning but otherwise I was able to get the model I wanted.

Same size screen as but smaller than my previous iPad and noticeably lighter I am very happy with my purchase. i watched the hour long iView replay of this week's episode the ABC's Redfern Now on it last night holding the iPad the entire time and my hands never tired.

I'm going to enjoy using it.