Thursday, 27 February 2014


A security air marshall springs into action when he receives death threats against passengers whilst on a trans-Atlantic flight.

'Non-Stop' demonstrates that its mettle and style are all encapsulated in its title by diving straight into the plot without opening credits and then racing with increasing velocity to its somewhat fanciful climax. It is a reasonably thrilling trip with virtually every speaking cast member a suspect at some time or other before the eventual reveal of the perpetrator (or perpetrators).

The trip is best enjoyed with your brain power switched off else you notice and wonder over the canyon size plot holes and in that event this amounts to a superior thriller and 'who-will-dunnit'. I imagine, though, airlines will not rush to show this film on their flights.

Liam Neeson does his thing with a display of superhuman stamina. It is humorous to see that Downton Abbey's Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery) has survived into the 21st Century as a cabin steward. What an ironic fate for this former British aristocrat. Sadly (or fittingly) it falls to her to utter the film's most ridiculous line (in view of where it is placed in the plot) 'All passengers and crew accounted for, Sir'.

Fasten your seat belts, switch off your brain and you likely will enjoy the flight.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Noises Off

(Sydney Theatre Company)

Michael Frayn's 'Noises Off' was first staged in 1982 and revived in the form currently staged by the Sydney Theatre Company in 2000.

The comedy/farce is essentially the staging of an unremarkable act of an unremarkable play by an unremarkable acting company touring unremarkable regional towns of Britain. We see that single act performed three times each time from a different perspective. The humour and cleverness of the piece comes from the deterioration of the performances and the company itself as the tour progresses.

The first staging is a dress rehearsal on the eve of the opening night. We are introduced to the company and its foibles. Naturally there is a not a 'normal' person amongst them or rather each of them is so 'normal' that they are packed with all manner of contradictions and insecurities.

The second staging is a few months into the tour. The company members are fracturing as relationships deteriorate and petty jealousies emerge. All is not well back stage.

The third staging is on the final night of the tour. The company is now at its wit's end and the tour cannot be over soon enough for them. Company discipline has disappeared and it is all that the performers can manage to paper over the errors and disasters occurring on stage.

This is an old fashioned play with and old fashioned appearance but the play still entertains on the strength of fine teamwork and precise timing. The final irony is that the strength of 'Noises Off' is the exact opposite of the weaknesses portrayed in the mythical play it depicts.

Stay beyond the interval for the second and third stagings and your reward is a quaintly innocent, somewhat twee, funny entertainment.

Sunday, 23 February 2014


An elderly man (Bruce Dern), alcoholic and easily confused, embarks by foot from Montana to Nebraska to collect a $1,000,000 award that he has received notification he is entitled to claim. Of course, the notification is a scam designed to lure unsuspecting recipients who will later be fleeced of their money by some other scheme. But Dern's character doesn't (or doesn't want to) see it that way despite the protestations of his wife and sons.

When he cannot be dissuaded from attempting to collect the money, his son (Will Forte) decides to accompany him thus providing some needed protection and guidance.

'Nebraska' is a delightful low key road film in which a father and son finally bond in a combination of circumstances both sad and humorous.

Anyone who has had to care for an elderly relative in the early throws of dementia or a dementia type condition will readily relate to this film. There are numerous small town USA scenes and situations to chuckle over.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Are We Officially Dating?

Casual visitors to this site will have noticed that I see a lot movies. My taste in films is quite wide ranging and not just confined to 'quality' cinema. I'll happily see all manner of movies even those of which I have no high expectations. The latter often feature handsome male actors, a factor which is often sufficient to attract my interest.

Zac Efron is one of those faces (and bodies) I am happy to see on the big screen without much concern to the value of the movie featuring him.

That's why I went to see the clumsily titled 'Are We Officially Dating?' which elsewhere is titled, more relevantly, 'That Awkward Moment'.

The premise of the film is the friendship of three twenty-something men. One is married but he is shocked to be told by his wife that she wants a divorce. The other two, in a show of sympathy, persuade him that they should not enter into any relationships. If there was a time limit, or target, for completing this arrangement then I did not catch it.

Naturally, all three are immediately tempted by burgeoning relationships but because of the agreement none of them can bring themselves to admit this to the others.

The way all this is presented in the film is, to be frank, simply ridiculous. How is it that these three (and their lady friends) can live the lifestyles that they do? The fancy NewYork City residences bulging with original artwork seem well outside of the incomes they would earn from their jobs. Their sex lives are over the top and at times embarrassing. The way in which a snooty group of fifty-somethings respond to Efron's appearance at their soiree is simply unbelievable.

Efron is one of the Producers of this nonsense. I like Efron and I feel he has hinted at a capacity for acting in some earlier films that belies his general reputation but he does himself no favour placing himself in this less than modest trifle.

Friday, 21 February 2014


Driving home today I heard radio reports of an adult and several children pinned by a fallen tree branch at a school in north-west Sydney. The branch was so large that it was mistakenly taken to be an entire tree by observers at the site. Later reports stated the adult and children had been rescued and taken to hospital. One child, aged 8, was said to be in a critical condition.

Sadly, that child has died. Less than three hours after the incident.

How shocking is the thought that a child could be in the expected safety of their school and suffer a fatal accident? How must the child's family feel at this moment?

Hearing the news of a fallen tree my mind immediately turned to the stories you hear about councils refusing pleas to have trees considered to be a risk by virtue of their location or condition managed or removed. Hopefully this does not prove to have been a factor in this awful incident however radio stations are already taking calls suggesting otherwise.

An awful tragedy.

Dallas Buyers Club

Based on a true story but I gather filled with cinematic license 'Dallas Buyers Club' tells the story of Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) who is diagnosed with AIDS in the 1980s and told that he has thirty days to live. Unable to legally access drugs under test in the USA that he believes may help him, Woodroof establishes a 'buyers club' which 'imports' drugs from Mexico which then are distributed to the club's members.

The film revives memories of the early reactions to AIDS as 'the gay disease' when fear and irrational concerns that just being in the same room as a sufferer was a danger to life. Sufferers were treated as pariahs.

Initially indignant at inferences he might be gay, the evidently heterosexual Woodroof embarks on a battle against a rigid legislative and bureaucratic environment that refuses to be flexible in the face of an horrific new illness threatening lives.

McConaughey and Jared Leto, as a fellow sufferer, give superb performances in what is overall a well acted movie.

This is not a pleasant entertainment but the film vividly revisits the world's response to an important health issue. The subject matter and visuals are raw and powerful.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014


(Darlinghurst Theatre Company)

'Falsettos' is the current presentation by the Darlinghurst Theatre Company. This stage work is essentially a pair of one act musicals. In the first musical a husband leaves his wife to start a gay relationship. The estranged couple employ a psychiatrist to help their young son deal with this development only for the psychiatrist and the wife to start a relationship of their own. In the second musical, time has passed and the same characters are now joined by a lesbian couple. Preparations are underway for the son's bar mitzvah whilst the gay partner is diagnosed with AIDS. The musicals are set in the 1980s and are very New York Jewish in character.

The DTC staging is simplicity with a few chairs and open boxes providing the set and scenery. A sole pianist provides the music.

This is a very enjoyable production with outstanding performances from the seven cast members and the pianist. It is probably unfair to single out cast members but I feel I must mention Stephen Anderson (the Psychiatrist), Katrina Retallick (the wife), Anthony Garcia (the son) and Tamlyn Henderson (the husband) who really impressed.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Last Vegas

Four men spend a weekend in Las Vegas to celebrate an impending wedding.

The opening scene of 'Last Vegas' is set in 1950s New York with a simple scene to demonstrate the early bonds of the foursome. The film then jumps forward 58 years. We get the message that three of the men have married in the intervening years. The fourth has remained a womanising bachelor but whilst delivering a eulogy at a funeral he makes a public proposal to his much younger girlfriend. As you do.

In Hollywood this means an instant wedding for what apparently is the following weekend and a wedding in Las Vegas is an excuse for a bachelor party reunion for the four long time friends.

The four friends (Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline) are around the 70 years mark and the film embarks on a series of situations and jokes about ageing. Some of the one liners hit the mark. You don't have to be a senior citizen to get a joke about Lipitor but it certainly helps. Another one liner, when Kline's character is asked was he good at sex, has a response that is well timed, simple and funny.

However, 'Last Vegas' is a very uneven film indeed. One sequence in which the four men judge, for want of a better word, a poolside beauty contest is crass to say the least. The sequence does nothing to contribute or progress the storyline and seems to exist only to fill in five minutes of film time or, as I suspect, to promote Las Vegas as a holiday destination. Simply tacky.

A lot of the film is tacky in fact. A potentially interesting film is let down by a dearth of ideas exemplified by Mary Steenburgen's character, a club singer, who has to sing the same song three times, albeit wearing a different outfit on each occasion.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Closet Valentine

As I have posted previously on Valentines Day, one of the great standard tunes from the 1930/40s, My Funny Valentine, contains lyrics written by Lorenz Hart.

Lorenz Hart

Hart was homosexual at a time when inevitably he had to remain deep in the closet. He was short in stature, an alcoholic, he suffered from depression and generally was full of self-loathing for his appearance.

Yet he wrote magnificent lyrics that would have won over many a romantic interest. It is thought that many of his lyrics were secretly gay love notes including the classic My Funny Valentine (1937) for which Richard Rodgers provided the music.

It remains a favourite 'torch song' of mine. Frank Sinatra's interpretation is as good as anyone's.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Shirley Temple (1928 - 2014)

Do you hear the people sing?

An embarrassing incident at the hospital today.

I was walking the corridors from one section of the campus to another with a staff member beside me when suddenly, quite unexpectedly, the strains of 'Les Miserables' filled the air. We had just left an area where computer technicians were making adjustments to cupboards filled with coloured cables and IT equipment. I assumed they had set off the hospital's PA system.

It is not unusual for music to be heard over the hospital's PA system but the music is normally wordless and either classical or Muzak in style; not the strident strains of Hollywood/Broadway musicals.

The staff member and I looked around in surprise at this unusual intrusion in the otherwise quiet environment of the corridors and we wondered at the source of the music which at that moment seemed clear because we were walking under a loudspeaker. 'Les Mis' continued to fill the air as I travelled an elevator alone up four floors where staff looked curiously my way as the rousing choruses continued.

I returned down the four floors and moved internally through an adjoining building and still the music and singing continued. Waiting patients showed obvious signs of surprise at this unusual broadcast in a hospital.

At this point I should point out that I lost total hearing in one ear following nerve damage about fifteen years ago and since then I have had difficulty determining the direction of the sound that I do hear. I was beginning to wonder when the technicians would realise their mistake and shut down the broadcast when an embarrassing thought began to enter my mind. It occurred to me that the music might be following me. I pulled my iPhone from my pant's pocket and to my horror it was the source of the music. Somehow my iPhone rubbing against my body - settle down, readers - had caused the Music App to activate and it was me who was stirring the people to rise against their masters across four floors and two buildings of the hospital campus.

I dreamed a dream and it was an embarrassing nightmare.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street

'The Wolf of Wall Street' is a satire about the 'greed is good adherents' who inhabited the towers of Wall Street in the jolly stock exchange years of the 1980s when riches were bountiful who then fell to earthly reality in the crash of 1987. The principal example in the film is Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) whose particular mix of charisma and salesmanship saw him at the pinnacle of an out of control stockbroking empire.

Martin Scorsese recreates the era with an over the top romp featuring exaggerated lifestyles filled with drug fuelled hyper sexual activities. At least I assume the portrayal is deliberately exaggerated. This approach amounts to a sledge hammer to demonstrate to the viewer the extent to which these individuals pursued excessive greed. Then again, isn't all greed by definition 'excessive'?

Hour after exhausting hour - the film runs for three hours - Scorsese imagines all manner of debauchery such that even with my liberal attitudes to the rawer aspects of life I started checking my watch with still 75 minutes of the film to run.

It is a strange paradox that prurient elements in the USA rage at a glimpse of female nipple in a 'wardrobe malfunction' on television on the one hand and on the other hand praise with multiple award nominations a film containing over the top sexual and drug addled innuendo and full body nudity amongst its delights.

The film is humorous in parts and DiCaprio delivers an impressive virtuoso performance but the film is overlong and I wonder what message Scorsese intends to deliver. Is it a crime does not pay message? If so, the comparative images of the pursuer travelling home modestly and anonymously by the underground whilst the convicted pursued is off on the international celebrity circuit would leave the impressionable thinking otherwise.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Inside Llewyn Davis

A musician struggles to maintain an income and establish himself as a performer.

'Inside Llewyn Davis' is a film for the folk song aficionado and or those who remember fondly the transition to the 1960s. I wasn't especially interested in that type of music although I recognise some of the numbers and enjoyed most of those performed in the film. Whilst I grew up in the the 1960s I was still (barely) a pre-teen in 1961 when this film is set.

For those familiar with the folk scene there are probably many references that went over my head although I did catch obvious references to artists such as Peter, Paul and Mary and to Bob Dylan. My, who accompanied me, also noticed characters that probably were a pointer to June and Johnny Cash; not that I identified them but I guess there were numerous others.

Oscar Isaac plays the lead character and he appears in every scene with support from some very interesting performing talent in cameo roles.

There is some wry humour but this film from the Coen brothers is one of mood rather than plot with its darkish, palid sequences in settings that are claustrophobic.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Smoke gets in my shower

Stepping into my shower before 6.30am earlier this week I noticed out of the window dark plumes of smoke filling the skyline.

An expensive motor boat, inevitably described in the news as a 'luxury cruiser' was on fire in Double Bay, a suburb adjacent to mine.

Sirens blared in the morning quiet as fire brigades, police rescue and ambulances rushed to the fire. There was a fear that other expensive boats might go up in flames but I don't know that any did. Nor have I heard that anyone was injured. One owner though must have been hurt by the loss of an expensive asset. Or maybe not. Insurance policy anyone?

Unusual excitement early on a Monday morning.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Anniversary in the park

Friends (loosely defined) gathered to mark the anniversary of an acquaintance's arrival in Australia. It was the golden anniversary of her arrival in the country. Ba, British born and still in possession of a noticeable accent, was probably an eager, energetic young woman back in 1964. Now aged well into her 70s she looks no older than myself - more than ten years her junior - and without blowing my trumpet most people who know me say I look younger than my age so she certainly is doing well.

The gathering was a picnic in McKell Park named after Sir William McKell a former Premier of New South Wales and later Governor General of Australia.

Gates to McKell Park

The park is small and located harbour side in the exclusive suburb of Darling Point itself named in honour of the wife of a New South Wales Governor, Ralph Darling. It is sufficiently out of the way not to attract huge crowds, which it could not accommodate anyway, but is popular enough to attract picnickers, outdoor wedding celebrations and the like.

We were lucky that the park was comparatively quiet despite a sunny and warmish day. Strong breezes may have kept some away yet did not stop topless sunbathing by some. See below.

The park provides many delightful harbour glimpses.

Picnickers and sailboat

Sail boats and motor boat


There is a wharf at the foot of the park at which Ferries stop during peak hours on weekdays on the Watsons Bay to Circular Quay run. There are no weekend services to the park however so the wharf was being used for fishing and swimming on this Sunday.

Wharf fishing

Looking west from the wharf is a spectacular view. From left to right, harbour side apartments whose views guarantee a seven figures real estate value, the skyscrapers of Sydney's CBD, the crane towering over the Garden Island naval base, the Opera House and the 'coat hanger' (Sydney Harbour Bridge).

And there is other scenery by the harbour.

There are some valuable properties adjacent to the park. This one, a harbour side house with tennis court, I've always understood was a USA Consular residence but may be in other ownership now.

And then there is this more modern style residence which overlooks the park and I assume has a splendid outlook of both the park and the harbour.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Saving Mr Banks

PL Travers (Emma Thompson) does her best to resist the efforts of Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) to secure the film rights to her book about Mary Poppins. The relentlessly argumentative and negative Mrs Travers is set against her book being 'Disneyfied' and the basis for her behaviour and attitudes become evident through flashback sequences.

'Saving Mr Banks' has been produced by Walt Disney Pictures so it comes as no surprise that its founder and idealogical inspiration comes across as squeaky clean with the patience of Job in the face of Ms Thompson's withering portrayal. I suspect that reality was not quite like that. The Company also misses no opportunity for cross promotion with marketable references to Disneyland and to the corporation's host of cartoon characters.

Nevertheless, the story of Mrs Travers' upbringing in Australia, its influence in the creation of the Mary Poppins character and the battles behind the production of the Mary Poppins film - battles which the end titles to this film demonstrate to have some basis in truth - make for a fascinating and entertaining film.

The acting is top notch throughout.