Thursday, 30 October 2014

This Is Where I Leave You


A high powered cast represents a family gathered together to sit Shiva (a Jewish period of mourning) for the deceased patriarch of their family. Reunited at close quarters and at a stressful period inevitably highlights tensions within family relationships and generates new sources for tension too.

The group setting is a familiar structure for establishing a dramatic and/or comedic environment. With performers of the calibre of Jane Fonda and Tina Fey the casting element of 'This Is Where I Leave You' is set up for success but for the mine the film goes off the rails somewhat. For example, the Rabbi (admittedly, an incidental character) is as unlikely a spiritual leader as one could imagine. And you know a film about 'adult' issues and relationships is struggling when one of the recurring threads is a joke about a baby's pooping activities.

With all that talent on show this could have been better.
★★1/2

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Force Majeure


In 'Force Majeure' a Swedish family, Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) , Ebba  (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and their two children are on a skiing holiday in France when they find themselves in danger from an apparent avalanche. Ebba instinctively tries to protect the children but Tomas seems to run away to safety. The remainder of the film focuses on how the family and others they encounter respond to this moment of behaviour under stress.

Many will find this movie too long and lacking in action and it is indeed overlong and filled with plenty of static, dialogue free scenes. The creators also seem to be undecided on how to bring the film to a conclusion. In the final ten minutes I observed at least five possible endings emerging all of which are retained in the movie as though you should pick the ending you prefer along with the eventual 'non end' final moments. Despite all this I found the film curiously interesting.

For one thing, the many sights and sounds of how the snow resort is maintained and managed were fascinating to me as one unfamiliar with the skiing world. The oddly science fiction and mysterious nature of this activity had me intrigued. Secondly, the angles and stylistic photography appealed to me. Finally, the ginger headed Kuhnke is quite a spunk and notwithstanding his over the top, overwrought, big emotional scene, I could happily watch him for hours on end.

Not for everyone but I liked it.
★★★1/2

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Skylight

(National Theatre of Great Britain)

I love these cinema screenings of live stage performances and those from the National Theatre of Great Britain are amongst the best I have seen.

'Skylight' is about an evening when an older man renews acquaintances with his young mistress some years after their relationship had concluded. His wife has died in the intervening period and she has moved on to pursue a career in teaching. Are these old friends enjoying a catchup, or former lovers seeking to revive a past passion?

The cut and thrust of David Hare's dialogue is delivered expertly by Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan in beautiful performances.
★★★★

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Climbing the mountain


It took me enough hours to download and install Apple's new Yosemite operating system to my MacBook so I knew what I was in for when I volunteered today to take Ae's MacBook home to update hers.

Ae's prepaid internet connection simply doesn't have enough capacity for the required amount of download to be handled speedily and I knew that Ae would panic at the apparent lack of progress if left to monitor the download herself.

As it turned out I was 4/5 of the way through the download to her MacBook when my internet connection dropped out and when I got it going again the download restarted from the beginning. Four hours after I started and with much relief the download and installation finally were accomplished.

Children of the Sun

Sydney Theatre Company

Andrew Upton has adapted Maxim Gorky's play 'Children of the Sun'.

Nineteenth century Russia and we find a number of middle class characters are distracted by their relationships; mostly unsatisfactory and unsatisfied relationships. Meanwhile their servants are engrossed in their own mysterious relationships.

Having not seen a version of the original play I am not sure how close this adaption is to Gorky's vision and watching it I felt afterwards that I just didn't 'get it'. Was this play an allegory about impending revolution? Or a mild clash of class structures? Or a depiction of social manners? Maybe all of these things?

I came away from the play somewhat baffled.
★★1/2

Friday, 24 October 2014

Before I Go To Sleep


A woman (Nicole Kidman) awakes each morning not knowing who she is, where she is, or who this man besides her in bed is. That man (Colin Firth) patiently tells her each morning that she is his wife and that she suffers amnesia following an accident. After the man goes to work, leaving the woman at home alone, a Doctor telephones each morning to speak to the woman, to tell her who she is and to seek answers as to how she got to be in this condition.

I suppose this is a potentially interesting plot but its silliness - for one thing how is it that these events occur every day without fail and in the same sequence each day - had me distracted for most of the running time of 'Before I Go To Sleep'.

The eventual 'reveals' made little sense to me.
★★

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Spring has sprung


Departing the Opera House last Saturday after attending the matinee of 'The King and I' and the bar and cafes along the concourse were crowded in the late afternoon early spring sunshine.

Monday, 20 October 2014

The King and I

(Opera Australia and John Frost)

Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical 'The King and I' is this year's money spinning musical to complete the 2014 Opera Australia Sydney season.

This production of the experience of Anna Leonowens who travels to the court of the King of Siam to teach dozens of Royal children has been around since the late 1990s and is deceptively simple in its staging but still visually stunning.

It is difficult to imagine any stage production matching the superb film version of 1956 in which Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr made the two main characters absolutely their own but to my surprise Lisa McCune especially and Teddy Tahu Rhodes come mighty close in their performances.

I don't know why this production presents Sir Edward Ramsay as a bit of a buffoon which makes one wonder why Anna would have tolerated him as an early beau but his is an incidental character with only the one appearance and so this is a minor quibble.

Just about as good as it gets for classic Broadway musicals.
★★★★1/2

Sunday, 19 October 2014

A holiday from the holiday



In retrospect it wasn't smart planning.

Five weeks of overseas travelling. Seven flights spanning the globe. Many changes of time zones. Hours and hours of walking each day.

What should have followed all that was a short period of rest and recovery.

Instead, what have I done in the two weeks since returning from overseas? Six days of volunteer work, attended five theatre performances, saw four films, played three sessions of bridge, had the car serviced, a podiatrist appointment, a doctor's appointment, a blood test, one funeral, attended one football grand final, participated in one Consumer Advisory Group meeting and wasted two hours speaking to a call centre in India.

I need a holiday from my holiday.

Friday, 17 October 2014

A swell send-off

It was simply by chance. Wednesday morning and our nursing home participants are delayed arriving because of heavy traffic. So, whilst I wait I flick through the newspaper and there I notice in the funeral announcements, a section of the paper I only occasionally look at, the name of a former work colleague and friend with whom I have had no contact since exchanging Christmas niceties last year. What a shock. He'd seemed in acceptable health always and a death announcement was unexpected.

The funeral was today. More than 250 in attendance. Clearly a man respected by many. His grown up family impressive in their demeanour and speech. Charming young grandchildren participating articulately and with poise beyond their youth. Widow dignified.

I shed a tear as the coffin was carried out of the church.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Judge


A brash, aggressive and successful big city lawyer (Robert Downey Jr) returns to his small town of origin to attend his mother's funeral and finds his father, the long serving local Judge, (Robert Duvall) facing a serious criminal charge.

'The Judge' has received some mixed reviews and low ratings which I think is rather harsh. It is a well acted film with an original plot that doesn't entirely follow predictable lines. Yes, there is the occasional misstep. One of those is the moment when an unexpected court room confession brings a noisy intake of breath from the assembled observers; a rather silly unintentionally comical moment.

Overall this is a superior drama about family relationships.
★★★★

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Skeleton Twins


Adult twins are reunited after a separation of ten years when Maggie (Kristen Wiig) comes to the aid of her brother Milo (Bill Hader) following his unsuccessful attempt at suicide.

'The Skeleton Twins' is a gentle examination of troubled souls haunted by a past they barely understand. Both siblings have unfulfilled ambitions but find solace in their obvious love for each other.
★★★1/2

Sunday, 12 October 2014

The Motherf**ker with the Hat

Darlinghurst Theatre Company

In 'The Motherf**ker with the Hat' a New York Hispanic American couple's relationship is strained when the boyfriend discovers a stranger's hat in his girlfriend's apartment.

This profanity laden play is often funny and despite its characters behaving badly you develop a sympathy for the tribulations they experience in developing relationships and resisting addictions.

A nicely performed play whose only drawback is that it is a little long for a one act work.
★★★1/2

Saturday, 11 October 2014

The Glass Menagerie

Belvoir St Theatre

This is the first time I have seen Tennessee Williams' play which established his reputation; 'The Glass Menagerie'.

The play tells of the Wingfield family. A deserted mother is desperate to find a suitor for her introverted and handicapped daughter. Her son, narrating the play in flashback, loves his sister dearly but can no longer abide his mother's yearnings and her living in the past.

This is a beautifully performed production especially by Pamela Rabe as the mother and Rose Riley as the daughter.
★★★★

Friday, 10 October 2014

Sondheim on Sondheim


'Sondheim on Sondheim' is a mixed film and live performance. The composer, Stephen Sondheim, is seen on the big screen speaking about his life, his work and his thoughts. These reminiscences are interspersed with live musical and dance numbers by an ensemble of eight supported by a an orchestra of 7 or 8 musicians. The live performances are excellent.

Sondheim lovers will need little encouragement to see this production but I highly recommend it to anyone interested in an insight into one of the singular talents of the past sixty years.
★★★★1/2

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Gone Girl


'Gone Girl' is the flavour of the month; the movie that everyone is talking about and raving about.

Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike are a married couple, apparently happy and the picture perfect envy of others. One day Affleck comes home to find an apparent break-in and his wife missing. As time passes and with the Police investigation seemingly going nowhere the media becomes besotted with the mystery taking sides and identifying their victim and villain. But who is truly the victim and who is truly the villain?

The dual narrative structure with husband and wife perspectives alternating quickly exposes that the couple's relationship is not as surface images suggest.

'Gone Girl' is a little overlong but always absorbing. The highly styled nature of the film is impressive and whilst the outstanding design of the film cannot entirely paper over loose threads in the plot it is a cut above the average. Ms Pike's performance is a standout.
★★★★

Monday, 6 October 2014

Kryptonite

(Sydney Theatre Company)

'Kryptonite' is an new Australian play commissioned jointly by the Sydney Theatre Company and Playwriting Australia.

The two hander concerns a female Chinese student in Australia who develops a personal and then business relationship with a laid-back young Australian. The events span across twenty five years including the Tiananmen Square demonstrations and massacre.

Ursula Mills and Tim Walter play the pair and the chemistry between them ensures the relationship comes across as believable.

An impressive new play, very nicely acted and simply staged.
★★★★

Sunday, 5 October 2014

A night at the football

The day after returning to Australia I attended the 2014 National Rugby League Grand Final which had more interest than usual with foundation club South Sydney (partly owned by Russell Crowe) qualifying for the first time in 43 years and seeking their first Premiership in all those years having previously won a record 20 Premierships in the preceding 59 years.

The pre match 'entertainment' at the NRL Grand Final is traditionally noisy, smokey and incomprehensible and so it was yet again this year.

The pre match noise and smoke
South Sydney won the match over neighbouring club Canterbury Bankstown in a match that was far closer than the final score suggests and were deserving winners thus completing the 'fairy tale' year.

The match is over. Players, officials and the crowd rise to enjoy the moment.


The crowd, most of the 83,833 of whom favoured South Sydney on the night, soak up the result.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

And so, it ends....

My transport home; in loading at Hong Kong Airport;

Cathay Pacific A330
My seat in Business Class;



Breakfast

Twenty minutes from landing:


Through the cloud;

Cronulla Beach in Sydney's south

Home!

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Do you hear the people sing....

Tomorrow I will take an overnight flight home to Sydney. I don't expect to post again until I have returned so in place of a post for tomorrow here is a second one for today.

Late this afternoon I took the MTR back across to HK Island and got off at the Admiralty Station which is adjacent to where protestors have occupied streets for the past week and I mingled amongst the crowds.









Hopping around HK Island

With only one full day at my disposal I decided to do the very touristy thing and take the Hop On/Hop Off bus tour of Hong Kong Island that encompasses Repulse Bay, the suburb where I lived for 39 months from 1977 to 1980. I was interested to see how my former home had changed and given HK's propensity to pull down relatively young buildings to replace them with something grander and newer I fully expected to find my own building gone.

I also was interested to see what had replaced the Connaught Centre, the office tower where I worked during those years. I had looked for it last night in the dark from the Kowloon (mainland) side and could not see it, so as I half expected it must have been replaced as well.

The first step of purchasing a ticket for the tour proved surprisingly difficult as I was sent on a wild goose chase across Kowloon because the tour arrangements 'have changed', according to the Tourist Office person I approached. It was only later, when I saw the following sign, that I twigged 'changed arrangements' was probably a euphemism for disruptions caused by the current street demonstrations.

Another euphemism, 'public activity'
Anyway, with tour ticket finally in hand and - I regret to say sweating like a pig in the humid heat - I made my way across the harbour on Hong Kong's iconic Star Ferry to join the bus at the Island terminal. A much shorter journey now than when I regularly made the same crossing all those years ago as a result of the shore line extensions with land reclaimed from the harbour.

Northern Star making the reverse journey
Approaching the Island I had my first surprise. The Connaught Centre still stands and looks the same as when I worked there apart from apparently sporting some new blinds. The reason I didn't notice it last night, apart from the darkness, was probably that with reclaimed land it no longer stands over the waterside as it did then but is located several blocks back, shielded by other, taller buildings. Notice the round windows? It was common gossip that the Cantonese referred to the building in their language as 'the building of a thousand arseholes'! This was because of all those round windows not, I hasten to add, a comment on those who worked there.

Connaught Centre
There was a twenty five minutes wait for our bus to depart on the tour which was more than sufficient time to have me roasting in the heat and the roofless bus provided another danger altogether as it passed dangerously close, centimetres really, to protruding rocks and tree branches which cracked menacingly as they hit the sides of the racing bus. Although the bus had many stops for traffic lights it otherwise raced along giving little opportunity for passengers to set up their photographs. You just had to snap away and hope for the best, all the while ducking for cover as the bus lurched into the next branch or rockface. On reflection, a ride more dangerous and thrilling than at any theme park.

Anyway as we reached Repulse Bay I had my second surprise. The apartment building, one of a complex of six identical buildings, still stands. The buildings have been refurbished but they are certainly the same buildings that I lived in and amongst.

Mine was the second building from the left
Here they are again, seen distantly this time from the other side of the Bay, with my building - second from the left in the group -  looking straight down the beach which was the view I had from my apartment.

Repulse Bay Beach
Repulse Bay Beach glimpsed again as we passed by on the return journey. In summer, it was wall to wall people across that sand.

Repulse Bay Beach
In summer we would gather in the adjoining bay, Deepwater Bay, because it was slightly off the main transport route and therefore comparatively less crowded. So it seemed again today.

Deepwater Bay
A glimpse of our twisting route;

Ocean Park Road
A much cleaner Aberdeen Harbour than I remember
Apartment blocks at Pok Fu Lam with gaps in their middle, no doubt as recommended by Feng Shui advisers;


About 2 kilometres from trip's end and with our bus on an overhead motorway with no provision for pedestrians we suddenly heard a loud crack and then a recurring sound similar to a flat tyre. The driver stopped for an inspection on the motorway and I momentarily had visions of us having to dodge cars to get back to the terminal but the driver apparently satisfied he could continue resumed driving the bus albeit at a much slower speed. This enabled me to take a photograph in some comfort of the new tallest building in Hong Kong, located on the Kowloon side.


And the chance to capture a photo of a rare piece of sedate, greenery on the Island that is next to the Macau Ferry Terminal. I think the statue may be of Sun Yat Sen, as the adjacent sporting facility bears his name.


So, the tour over, it was back to travel by foot and all those people;


and, of course, that ubiquitous popular fruit;


I decided to try out my Octopus card and return to Kowloon by the local MTR rather than the Star Ferry. I succeeded....in a fashion, after crossing under the harbour three times when I realised my first choice of MTR line was incorrect and would not get me to the Tsim Sha Tsui station near my hotel. It was a natural mistake for a tourist; after all the MTR crosses under the harbour through four separate tunnels.