Sunday, 31 January 2016

The Fantasticks


'The Fantasticks' has the reputation of having the longest continuous run of any entertainment in the United States. The stage musical played off Broadway for 42 years. Then after a break of only 4 years the play was revived and the revival has now played for about ten years.

This peculiar, almost supernatural, success was not replicated elsewhere. The film version was not released initially and in Britain, two separate theatrical seasons flopped badly.

We were curious to see the work in its recent Sydney season.

The subject of the play is a twist on Romeo and Juliet. Neighbours stage a feud in the hope their respective son and daughter will be attracted to each other - to spite their fathers - and marry.

The play shows its age. The musical numbers are tuneful and the cast made the best of it but the work  really is little more than a curiosity nowadays.

★★1/2


Saturday, 30 January 2016

The 5th Wave


I think we have been here before.

An alien spaceship hovers over Earth generating all manner of destruction in a series of 'waves' which seem intended to eradicate human inhabitation of the planet. The fate and future of Earth falls to a small group of photogenic teenagers.

'The 5th Wave' brings nothing new to the science fiction and destruction movie genres. A disguised 'surprise' villain was easily identifiable at first appearance and the screenplay is woefully lamentable at moments. It goes without saying that logic is not a strongpoint of the plot.

The computerised effects are competent.

★★

Friday, 29 January 2016

The Golden Age

(Sydney Theatre Company)

'The Golden Age' is a Sydney Theatre Company revival of the Louis Nowra play written in 1986.

Two friends hiking in remote Tasmania in 1939 become lost and stumble across a small community isolated in time and location, speaking an unrecognisable language. The community, apparently suffering the consequences of inbreeding, accompany the hikers back to the state capital where they are taken under the wing of a local doctor. After Australia enters the war against Germany, the Government perceives the group as a potential tool for Nazi propaganda and they are incarcerated in an asylum.

A play that takes us across six or seven years and from the wilderness of Tasmania to war ravaged Berlin and back again is almost by definition epic.

A very strong and striking production.

★★★★

Thursday, 28 January 2016

The Danish Girl


Eddie Redmayne plays Danish artist Einar Wegener who was one of the first to undergo gender reassignment surgery in Germany in the early 1930s.

'The Danish Girl' is visually beautiful with its careful design, images and costumes. The performances by Redmayne and Alicia Vikander as Einar's devoted wife are mostly impressive although Redmayne's simpering manner as the feminine Lili Elbe becomes a little annoying by the end.

★★★

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Shipping movements

P&O cruise vessels on the move in the past twenty four hours.

Pacific Eden passing by the Wharf Theatre
Pacific Pearl anchored off Point Piper for Australia Day harbour activities

Happy Australia Day 2016


Saturday, 23 January 2016

Loving my city

The annual Sydney Festival is drawing to a close and today we saw '40 ways to love your city'.

An hour of cheerful banter and music celebrating Sydney in general and the forty years of Sydney Festivals in particular.

Raconteur Warren Fahey and Mic Conway's National Junk Band

The Famous Spiegeltent

Lots of fun.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Brisbane again

A quick trip to Brisbane and back today to visit Ll recovering in hospital from bowel surgery.

Flying over Kurnell on ascent from Sydney Airport
Flying over Ballina and the Richmond River



Thursday, 21 January 2016

The Unreal Days of the Bold and the Restless Years

Oh those soap operas! What longevity some of them enjoy.

I recall my first exposure to 'The Young and the Restless' on Hong Kong television in the late 1970s. The episodes were only about 20 minutes in length and they led into the evening news. It started in 1973.

The Young and the Restless 1974
Then there is 'The Days of Our Lives' which is even older having started in 1965. I think I came across this series in Hong Kong as well.

The Days of Our Lives 1973
It was my parents who, holidaying on the Gold Coast in the 1990s, alerted me to 'The Bold and the Beautiful', a comparative baby in the soap opera world dating back to only 1987. Even on their holiday my parents, no matter where they were, had to rush back to their hotel for the afternoon screening of this nonsense. My father, who had no interest in television if it wasn't news, current affairs or a (real) opera broadcast, was addicted to the 'lives' of Ridge, Storm et al.

The Bold and the Beautiful 1987
At different stages I was addicted to each of these series but thankfully I have long since lost that affliction. Every now and then I come across an episode from these shows and will watch it out of curiosity but no more than that. Each of them still has performers from those long ago years of my serial viewing days.

Many things have changed. Fashions and hair styles obviously. The romantic tangles may be modern but the underlying thread of them seems no different.

One very noticeable change is the move from indoor scenes to apparently outdoor scenes. In those 1970/80s days every scene was set indoors as far as I recall.

Nowadays, in an apparent attempt for greater reality, outdoor scenes are featured. Sometimes they are actually filmed outdoors but mostly it seems they are still indoor productions. In those moments I focus my attention on the extras in the background; not on the main protagonists.

The extras presumably are supposed to represent a realistic group of people in a public space. Except that they don't act realistically at all.

There are couples standing or sitting and mouthing silent conversations in the background. If the extras move it is mostly slowly as though in slow motion. No-one is in a hurry. There are no prams blocking aisles. There are no children screaming at hassled parents. There are no wayward shopping trolleys whose wheels defy the intentions of the pusher. There is no traffic noise.

As ever, these soap operas inhabit the most unreal of worlds.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Build it and they will come


The Sydney Light Rail has announced it is adding 90 services a week to its Central Station to Dulwich Hill line. Passenger numbers rose 60% in the last financial year. The line was extended to Dulwich Hill in 2014.

This bodes well for the Randwick and CBD extensions currently under construction.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Jasper Jones

Belvoir Street Theatre

Country town Aboriginal teenager Jasper Jones finds the body of a teenage girl hanging from a tree in a secluded area which he frequents. Fearing that the police will accuse him of responsibility for the death Jasper seeks the assistance of a sympathetic schoolfriend.

This play which is being marketed to teenagers as well as adults contains plenty of humour but also has a deep, dark side to it.

This is an exciting first play for Belvoir Street's 2016 subscription season. The performances are excellent. The staging also is excellent with lovely touches enhancing the overall image of the production. The way a cricket match is portrayed completely won over the audience, sports lovers or not, leading to enthusiastic applause and cheers at the scene's ending.

Highly recommended.

★★★★1/2

Sunday, 17 January 2016

The Big Short


'The Big Short' tells the story of the sub prime mortgage loan scandal in the United States; the role of the banks and what happened to a number of investment traders who foresaw the looming collapse and sought to hedge their positions by betting against the scheme.

Presented in a mix of narrative, voiceover and quasi documentary style the film provides helpful explanations of terms through asides to the audience and on screen definitions. Yet it remains dense with technical language which I never mastered. Despite that, I was completely enthralled as the film unfolded.

Christian BaleSteve Carell and Ryan Gosling are outstanding at the head of a large cast which does not have a single weak link.

I really enjoyed this film.

★★★★

Saturday, 16 January 2016

From Scotland

It was 39Âșc in Sydney so it was a relief to spend time in the cool of the Art Gallery of New South Wales which currently has an exhibition of masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland.

Not just Scottish generated or centred work but a range of artwork from those Galleries. It is a wide ranging exhibition with landscapes, portraits and sketches. Something for everyone.

The exhibition is spread over seven rooms;


My personal favourite is this portrait of Lady Agnew of Lochnaw by John Singer Sargent which seems to me to be both periodic and contemporary in its appearance and style;


Friday, 15 January 2016

Bad things come in threes....

So often it seems the case; or at least we can usually identify three negative occurrences as being loosely linked.

So are we about to lose another talented performer?

Alan Rickman 1946-2016

David Bowie 1946-2016

Both aged 69, both suffering cancer, both deaths unexpected.

A sad week.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Point Break


'Point Break' apparently is a remake of sorts of the 1991 film of the same name.

A young probationary FBI agent infiltrates a group behind a sequence of daring international robberies. Those responsible for the robberies seem to be highly athletic and the probationary agent is challenged to identify the culprits.

The plot of 'Point Break' is fairly muddled with its 'mish mash' of eco warrior, Robin Hood, extreme and ultra sports themes all part of the 'stew'. Really the plot is almost an irrelevance as the main purpose of the film seems to be a display of extreme sporting type activities in as many spectacularly visual, hair raising, locations as possible.

The screenplay is diabolical, littered as it is with predictable cliches at every moment.

Two Australian actors, neither of them known to me, feature prominently. I was not surprised to read that the 'hero', Luke Bracey, started his acting career in Australian television soap opera. His acting is rather wooden and it strikes me that he is a suitable heir to a character originated by Keanu Reeves.

Some of the images and effects are spectacular.

★★

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

A character and a gentleman

David Bowie 1947 - 1969


I met David Bowie in Hong Kong in the late 1970s. He was en route to perform in Australia and I was a Government official who was required to speak to him about his entry and stay. Mr Bowie was part way through a long and tiring journey and his manager wanted to spare him the nuisance of personal attendance to this matter.

As an internationally renowned celebrity Mr Bowie could have been irritated by this bureaucratic 'intrusion' into his day to day business. He could have spat the dummy or he could have sought special and priority treatment in some display of self importance. That would have been the behaviour we so often hear about from those whose lives seem to exist in some superior world.

None of this was the case when I met Mr Bowie. He was polite, respectful and simply...a nice 'bloke'.

I have never forgotten that half an hour meeting.

David Bowie; a character and a decent man.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Bridge

Tonight, 51.39%, 4/9

Suffragette



I wasn't looking forward to seeing 'Suffragette' expecting it to be heavy going and perhaps turgid.

As it turns out this film which focuses on a group of women who became drawn into the suffragette movement in Britain in the early twentieth century seeking the vote for women and some equality of rights with men is a solid drama detailing matter of factly the inequity of women's lives and the class barriers of the time.

It is a fight that is not over to this day, a fact alluded to in the end credits. All classes and groups of discriminated against individuals would connect with this film.

★★★★

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Youth


'Youth' is like one of those slow release pills. At first you do not notice any impact but then over time the effects start to take hold.

The film's setting is a health and holiday type resort in the mountains of Switzerland. Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel are amongst the guests and although the resort seems at first to be a facility for the elderly there are guests and staff of all ages present.

The film is a series of images, carefully composed, embellished with music of many varieties although classical music dominates.

There is little action as such, although a plot develops eventually as pieces of information are revealed. There is a well concealed twist near the end.

This is bum numbing stuff, slow and overlong, but if you prefer deliberate style to action then this is a film for you.

The Director and Writer is Paolo Sorrentino who also directed and wrote 'The Great Beauty'; a film of very similar style.

★★★

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Brisbane

Yes, once again I am in Brisbane. A belated Christmas come New Year reunion with good friends dating back from our days on posting together in Beijing. A friendship now more than thirty five years old.

One of the main events organised for this gathering was a couple of nights attending the Brisbane International tennis tournament. For some years MT has wanted us to spend time in Melbourne at the Australian Open tournament but this always looked too expensive for some of our Brisbane based friends. Having caucused unsuccessfully about a Melbourne visit MT last year suggested the Brisbane alternative and this was agreed to and organised.

In one of life's ironies MT fell quite ill and was hospitalised last weekend on the eve of our gathering. She has missed out entirely on this visit of which she was the principal architect. She has been discharged from hospital and appears to be on the mend but her doctor vetoed her travel and so she has ended up watching the tennis from home on television instead. At her insistence we've had to describe the colour of the clothes we are wearing so she can pick us out in the crowd scenes. Unsurprisingly she has not seen us on either night.

It was of some little consolation to MT that the seats she booked for us were excellent. Here is the view we had on the first night;


We saw Bernard Tomic play Radek Stepanek. Local 'boy' Tomic won but his performance was not exactly stellar. However the play was very close and the likely outcome looked uncertain until the final points.

RS, who ate sushi purchased at the courts, fell violently ill the next day with food poisoning. Our reunion was starting to look jinxed!

The next night - and with a substitute attendee for the recovering RS - we had these seats. Just a little to the right of where we had sat the previous night and still a very good view.


This time we watched Roger Federer play Tobias Kamke. The quality of play - especially from Federer - was a class above what was on show the earlier night but the match itself was less interesting simply because the tension of wondering who would win was absent. Nonetheless it was a treat to see a champion player performing in the flesh.

None of us purchased sushi for dinner this night.

I'm returning to Sydney tomorrow.

Friday, 8 January 2016

King Lear

(Sydney Theatre Company)

Shakespeare's King Lear is presented in contemporary dress and on a sparse stage in this production from the Sydney Theatre Company.

Geoffrey Rush is Lear, the King who abdicates in favour of two of his three daughters thus setting up a power play between them and their partners as his own power declines.

This is an excellent production, beautifully performed.
★★★★

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Joy



'Joy' is based, I guess loosely, on Joy Mangano who invented the squeeze mop and became a business tycoon. Oops, probably allowed a spoiler through there but then this is a matter of history so scarcely a surprise twist in Joy's story.

The film begins by detailing Joy's keen inventive mind as a child and how she toiled to provide for her extended family. Having established how downtrodden Joy is the film then depicts her struggle to establish herself against the odds.

The film relies on Jennifer Lawrence's performance in the title role. Lawrence is impressive in a film that otherwise didn't really win me over.

The Director and Writer is David O Russell who has established a reputation for creating films which seem to straddle art house and mainstream sectors without quite winning over either side, let alone both. It is the quirky elements of Russell's films that supposedly lift them. In 'Joy' the quirky element is his inclusion of soap opera scenes. I don't think it worked very well.

★★1/2

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Cambodia Day 18 - Siem Reap and flight home

Departure day. No official activities. Our flight out was not until late in the day. We took a walk around the streets surrounding the hotel.

The King

The King is aged in his sixties, is unmarried and once studied ballet dancing. Not drawing any conclusions from this.

The cleanup from the previous two days of the River Festival and water races was getting under way this early morning.






Later that afternoon we flew to Singapore.


Then on to Sydney.



Landed at Sydney Airport

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Cambodia Day 17 - Siem Reap

This was the last full day of our trip. We were bused to Tonle Sap Lake which we were told is the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia. During the monsoon season the lake expands to four times it usual size. The lake is the home of both permanent resident water people and seasonal workers who return each season to set up temporary homes from which to carry out their seasonal work.

A village alongside the lake.




Reaching the lake we glimpsed races to celebrate the second day of the country's River Festival.


Life on the lake.











 



We returned to Siem Reap and in the evening - the final night of the trip - we travelled by a fleet of Tuk Tuks to a restaurant for our farewell dinner. We got caught for ages in the gridlock of traffic leaving town after the day's River Festival activities and each Tuk Tuk lost sight of the others for the best part of forty-five minutes.



Eventually each of the Tuk Tuks cleared itself from the traffic jam and on into the dark back lanes of suburban Siem Reap then as if by magic arrived one by one at the gates of the restaurant.