Judy and Punch

Judyandpunch2019posterWritten and directed by Mirrah Foukes

Cast includes Mia Wasikowska and Damon Herriman

A devastating movie. Beautiful. Breathtaking cinematography. Violent. Cruel. Tense. Extraordinary. If this doesn’t win every award at the next Australian film awards there is something wrong.

Gothic, dark and menacing with a twisted fairytale quality. As well as a bit of Mad Max-type post-apocalyptic chaos and carnage.  Set in a brutal village in a brutal period of history, there’s candlelit rooms, dark laneways of cobblestones, crowds baying for blood and much nocturnal scuttling around in hooded capes. This is a dog eat dog world (or perhaps a dog eat sausage world?) where brutality reigns supreme. Stonings are entertainment. And viciously beating your wife until she’s scarcely alive is… well, ‘that’s how you do it’.  Resonating themes of violence, vengeance and choosing good  are so powerful it’s impossible to see this film without reflecting on the world today. How do we stand up to injustice? How can the unempowered gain strength? A fascinating study of forgiveness and lack of forgiveness.

The famous Punch & Judy puppetry creates a wonderful world of clever recurring imagery – the constable with his baton, Mr Frankly and his truncheon bearing hoons who are skilled at extracting confessions, the rabbits (both dead and worm-infected and cute and alive), the crocodile scene – fabulous!

Brilliant cast. Agonisingly sad when Scaramouche (Terry Norris) remains kindly and polite to the end and his poor wife Maude (Brenda Palmer) simply suffers quietly beyond all imagining. The ensemble of Forest people including the beguiling doctor (Gillian Jones) show by their resourcefulness and courage that they may be outcasts but they will remain together, co-operative, cheerful and courageous. And non-violent aside from skinning those rabbits.

Brilliant script – wry comments here and there that make you laugh out loud even if the situation is so appalling. Like the crying drunk in the lane, supposing that they need ‘to mix it up’ a bit when it comes to hangings and stonings so everyone doesn’t get bored…

Boisterous, playful and wickedly dark. An exceptional tale of how easily crowds can be manipulated, how individuals make their own choices and how much evil lurks in the human heart. As the credits run, the final footage of 1950’s school children watching Punch beat the hell out Judy and the looks of terror on their faces is especially chilling.

Knives Out

Written, produced and directed by Rian Johnson

knives-out-houseOpening shot is divine. Grand old house silhouetted against foreboding sky and in the foreground piles of crunchy autumn leaves lie looking crunchy and autumnal. Two black dogs appear in the distance and run towards camera.

Sort of goes downhill from there. Not downhill, just not particularly memorable.

Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc had me guessing for a little while. Is that a really bad French accent? Surely not. Is he trying to be Hercules Poirot? And then it became clearer – it was a Southern US drawl. Confusing. He was softly spoken but that’s about all. He wasn’t intuitive. He wasn’t passionate. He wasn’t particularly interesting. Sadly he was a spineless anaemic character up on the big screen and Daniel didn’t really have much to play with.

Ana de Armas as Marta Cabrera plays her nursing role beautifully with wide-eyed innocence and sincerity.  A nice portrayal of a young Latino woman in a sticky situation. But could she be involved in this –? And Michael Shannon as Walt with his menacing walking cane. Could he have – ? Would he – ? And the fabulous ditsy Joni (Toni Colette)? It’s fun to guess.

Christopher Plummer gives a fine portrayal as the 85 year old patriarch, full of life, full of money and probably the only one full of good sense. The question is what will he do with all that wealth? And will his beloved family like his decision?

But some gripes…

The sunburst of knives that figures in so many scenes is wonderful. It frames anyone who sits in front of it like an evil halo. But there’s little other imagery that stands out.

Thought it would be a lot funnier than it is. There’s a few jolly moments but not many. The murder/mystery genre has a grand history but the dialogue in this particular movie was pedestrian (“asshole, asshole, asshole”) and lacked wit. Some ruthless script editing would do wonders…it doesn’t  need to be 130 minutes long.

But at least it’s entertaining to watch a seemingly together family descend into chaos because of that bothersome old thing called greed.

 

 

Sombrero Fallout

Sombrero Fallout
by Richard Brautigan

sombrero_fallout.jpg

I have a collection of short stories coming out in early 2020 and one of them (the very last one) has a very strong Richard Brautigan influence.  I love his writing. This book is a gem. Brilliant. Funny. Short. Chapters are unbelievably un-chapter-like. And they all have crazy names. Like Hamburgers. July. Temperature. Berries.

It’s the story of an American writer who is obsessed with his ex-lover, a Japanese woman with extremely long, black hair. He imagines who she is sleeping with and it is at the point of driving him crazy. And then he finds one very long, black hair…

Meanwhile, he begins a story about a sombrero that mystically falls from the sky then rips it into pieces in exasperation. But the story takes on a life of its own.

As the Japanese woman dreams…

And that’s it. Weird, wonderful, so very Brautigan and so tragic.

Love it.

 

 

Caroline, or Change

Book & Lyrics by Tony Kushner
Music by Jeanine Tesori
Directed by Mitchell Butel

23 August to 28 September 2019
Hayes Theatre

Starring Elenoa Rokobaro as Caroline, Nkechi Anele, Andrew Cutcliffe, Alexandra Fricot, Amy Hack, Daniel Harris, Emily Havea, Tony Llewellyn-Jones, Genevieve Lemon, Ruva Ngwenya, Elijah Williams and Ryan Yeates

caroline

Production photo of Elenoa Rokobaro as Caroline by Phil Erbacher

Not sure about this one. Relentless. Blasting music, inter-cut scenes, not a pause to be seen. The only time the audience has time to breathe is right near the end when Caroline sings a song alone on the stage in a strange wrestle-with-myself-and-fling-my-handbag-around. The audience is so shocked at this that they applause. But by then it’s too late.

Like a theatrical Oprah Winfrey Show. Like a Motown Sondheim but with little wit or subtlety.  No light or shade (ironic, really, given the prominence of La Luna) and, sorry to say, no real emotion. Flat. The most poignant song for me was the dad’s song (Anthony Cutcliffe) to his son which is sad considering there were so many woman singing and dancing their hearts out the whole night.

At interval, my friend turned to me and said: There’s no story. He had something there. This is a different kind of structure to musicals Australian audiences are familiar with. The idea is to blast emotion at you. Spinal Taps’ up to 11 all the way. And we’ll be washed along without having to think too much. And in the end we’ll walk out thinking everything’s OK.

Such massive events and emotions touched on  – swelling Civil rights movement, death of JFK, Korean war – but they never quite make it. Small boy (Ryan Yeates as Noah) calling Caroline the President just didn’t gel even though it clunkily flags later reference to JFK.

One of the most beautiful moments was the very beginning. Low lights. Sound of frogs. Caroline standing, staring straight ahead. Backdrop of full moon and Moon Lady (a satin-draped Ruva Ngwenya) are exquisite.

Fragmented stage reflected frenzied score. 3 doowop girls in sequins pays homage to Little Shop of Horrors. Or is a rip-off. Neurotic Jewish family. Well, that’s kinda been done. And overblown lyrics towards the end suddenly trying to wrap up the story – in fact, trying to get a story in there somewhere –  is awkward.

Then there’s a protagonist who doesn’t change. That’s just weird.

Yes, she is a rock. She will be the mother of African Americans who change history. So being a grumpy maid is more than enough. Is that it?

Strong performances – cast was not the problem. Interesting, complex, eclectic music. But sound was muffled particularly in the opening scene with the wolf/devil/evil husband whoever he was. And why did they sometimes say “Caroline” and other times call her “Carolyn”? Is that a Southern thing? And that comma in the title really gets me!

Strangely dissatisfying.

 

Sweeney Todd at Darling Harbour Theatre

anthony warlowSomething very wrong with this production.

Went last night. Memorable because we were KICKED OUT of our seats in the Dress Circle at 7.27PM and forcibly relocated downstairs – consequently about 100 poor souls were LOCKED OUT from opening scene – AND they had the audacity to reassure us: You’ll only miss one song. But that’s another story, thank you to management of ICC and TEG Life Life Touring for ruining the evening…

But back to the show.

Something very wrong. Anthony Warlow was brilliant. A rich, warm, voice; a menacing presence; he seemed to channel Len Cariou. Mesmerising.

The other cast members? Well, they were all over the place. Variable. They seemed to be singing in their own little solo worlds not to each other. Weird. Toby (Jonathan Hickey) was notably good. And barber shop duets with Sweeney and Judge Turpin (Daniel Sumegi) were spot on. As Mrs Lovett, Gina Riley was too nice.

The set was odd. The orchestra took up half the stage. Why?

I have seen countless productions of ST and this set was one of the ugliness and most non-functional. Why the round dining room table? Is that the best they could do? In the final scene, there is the build-up to Sweeney returning. Will he burst out of the oven? Or from below? Or from above?

Nah. He’s just been crouching behind everyone. He hops up on the little steps, stands on the dining room and that’s it. Lame.

Biggest disappointment was the BARBER’S CHAIR . This is everything. It should be the focus of dire violence and vengeance and Sweeney’s dashed hopes and dreams but this barber’s chair is absolutely pathetic. Even amateur productions make excellent use of a trap door so that Sweeney slashes his victim’s throat, pulls the lever and – wham! – they’re gone.

This production had Sweeney slashing throats (with not nearly enough blood) with the victims remaining in the chair, then standing up and walking off stage. ABSOLUTELY PATHETIC. The worst, most anti-climatic interpretation I have ever seen.

Staging was messy. The chorus gathered around that stupid dining room table were hard to place. Were we in the street? Were we in Fogg’s lunatic asylum? Why were some of the women wearing JEANS?? And when Sweeney was writing to Judge Turpin why was one of the chorus sitting at the dining room table mimicking his writing??

Again, Anthony Warlow was brilliant but that’s about it. Strangely uncompelling and antiseptic with not nearly enough blood, gore, lust and passion.

 

 

 

 

Bohemian Rhapsody

What a Fairy Tale!

bohemianrhapsodyLoved this movie. It’s not gritty or shocking or in-your-face which I kinda expected. It’s nice. Very nice. So sit back and think of it as a fairy tale version of reality…I mean that in a nice way.

It’s so rare to get a GOOD script. This was just that. A well-written script with taut writing. I looked up who wrote it…ANTHONY McCARTEN. He is a New Zealander – hooray for our cousins across the ditch! – THAT is why it’s so good.  It’s a fresh take. Not from a formulaic weary wizened up old hack who can only write action heroes. Hope you win something shiny, Anthony!

But back to the script…

It carried everyone along with a really good pace, helped along with nifty camerawork and great editing…even some comic chicken cameos! Emotionally it didn’t really have any great highs and lows but maybe it didn’t need them. There were poignant moments where so much was unsaid that worked beautifully between Freddie and Mary; and between Freddie and his parents. When the script is so tight, you really need good actors to carry it off…happily they did.

Rami Malek was superb. Absolutely mesmerising. With the iconic look, mannerisms & charisma of Freddie Mercury.

If anything, it was too nice. Everyone was NICE. (Well, nearly everyone.) The band were nice guys. “Brian May” had a perpetually pleasant, understanding look on his face. The most raunchy scene was where a bunch of guys in leather jackets got ferried into Freddie’s house for a bit of a good time but, well, over to you to find out what eventuated.  Yes, there was conflict but it was always polite. Spinal Tap had more grit (and more rude words!) and that’s saying something…

The ending – don’t worry, I won’t reveal it –  was too prolonged. Just a couple of songs and then freeze frame would have done just as well. I kept waiting for the final song. Come on, come on, I know it’s about to end, the story is coming to an end, come on…but it kept going.

But all in all, wonderfully entertaining.  A heartwarming movie.  A movie that taps into the human need for friendship and vulnerability and forgiveness. A movie full of music to make you happy – even if you’re not a particular fan of Queen. A really fun movie – watching a bunch of good guys come up with musical ideas, aim high thanks to fearless Freddie, make it in the industry and become a world-wide phenomenon, hey it’s a winner!

As Freddie used to say: “We are the champions, my friend”.

Maggie Stone

maggie stone

Written by Caleb Lewis

Directed by Sandra Eldridge

A Darlinghurst Theatre Company Production

Eternity Theatre, Darlinghurst

29 September to 21 October 2018

Saw this last night. Entertaining.

A nifty look at cultural misunderstandings, altruism and the cost of genuine caring. We have two white women, a white man, a Sudanese family wanting to stand on their own feet and a Muslim mini-mart owner doubling as a doctor.

Audience enjoys it. Laughs at politically incorrect language but probably shouldn’t. Is it drama? Is it comedy? Is it Home & Away?

Opening scene terrific. Comedic but misleading. Set-up with lovely Prosper Deng trying to support his family is hilarious but then we never see him again. Wah!

I seemed to have missed vital information and spent the entire play wanting him to come back and wondering where he was and whether this was going to turn into a fascinating twisted tale. Was Amath lying?  Where was Prosper? Couldn’t believe he had left her. Had she left him? Was he working two jobs to support her? Was it all a ruse? Was he dead? But we just saw him with Maggie. He can’t be. What’s the time frame? Puzzling. And then the Kenyan. Was Prosper the Kenyan? That can’t be. Maybe it’s just me. Help, someone…

A further crucial point I found puzzling. Scene where Maggie brings loan agreement for Amath to sign and Amath looks at document and says something like: what is this? My friend thought she was surprised at being offered the loan. I thought she was alarmed. It was vital to know. Because there is a change of heart from Maggie. She decides to help these people not block them. But why?

But enough confusion. Nice intrigue in gradually discovering relationship between Leo and Maggie. And who the dude in hospital was (I thought at first it was her father…) And seeing the transformation of Benny was heartbreaking but somehow not quite believable. Maybe the attack in the mini-mart needs a rethink. Either fully naturalistic or nightmarishly surreal. It seems it was neither.

Set is busy. Do we need four painted sections on the floor supposedly representing four places? Do we need LED light sign telling us where the action is? Do we really need to be told we are now at the Deng Home? It’s all very clear. No signalling required.

Towards the end of the play, there is an over-reliance on overly-dramatic music. Benny is left sprawled on floor…we don’t need drastic light changes and metallic music to make us feel something. Or do we? I  hope not. Some aspects of this production have very TV-like staging – particular the short scenes, the unexciting character entrances and exits – hmmm.

It would have been nice if Kate Bookallil had more to do. It would have been nice to see Prosper (Thuso Lekwape) one more time (loved that guy!) And I would have loved to have seen Maggie looking as aggro and fed-up as she is in the promos!

Verdict: Clever writing, fine acting, overall look and feel not sure about.

With (in alphabetical order):

Kate Bookallil as Mahira Sadat/Doctor

Branden Christine as Amath Deng

Alan Dukes as Leo the Loan Shark

Anna Lee as Georgina

Thuso Lekwape as Prosper/Benedict Deng

Eliza Logan as Maggie