Wednesday, November 28, 2007
The new animated movie BEOWULF is based on the epic 11th century poem of the same name. Like the poem it tells the story of the warrior Beowulf, a hero of the Geats, and his three epic battles against three monsters: the monstrous, murdrous Grendel; Grendel's equally monstrous mother; and, in his old age, a fearsome dragon.
Adapted for the screen by Neil Gaiman (the novelist best known for his Sandman comics for DC) and Roger Avery (whose screen credits also include Rules of Attraction and Pulp Fiction) BEOWULF is directed by Roger Zemeckis, using the same motion-capture technique he first exmployed on The Polar Express.
It's a suprising intelligent reworking of the original Anglo-Saxon poem, and although some liberties have been taken with the story (such as Beowulf becoming Hrothgar's heir and later ruling in his stead rather than returning to his own home) they're done in such a way that they feel neither contrived, nor offensive to anyone who knows the story well. Indeed, the screenplay adds a fatal flaw to Beowulf's character not present in the original epic, from which the third act of the narrative gains both a key plot point and surprising pathos; and transforming it into a true tragedy in the Greek sense of the word.
While there are scenes recalling John Gardner's 1971 novel Grendel (adapted for the screen as an animated feature, Grendel Grendel Grendel, the lugubrious Peter Ustinov voicing the unfortunate monster who narrates both book and the film alike) in which the misshapen monster is cast in an almost sympathetic light; there are scenes countering this which show Grendel as the original poem portrayed him, a "creature of evil: grim and greedy," whose attacks on the folk sleeping in Hereot, the meadhall of King Hrothgar, are savage in the extreme - though not, it must be said, unmotivated. Grendel's mother, conversely, is presented as a much more seductive creature than the skalds of old saw her. Rather than "a monstrous ogress...this water hag, damned thing of the deep", she is a sensual, seductive creature, both voiced by and styled upon Angelina Jolie.
Beowulf is voiced by Ray Winstone, King Hrothgar by Anthony Hopkins, and Hrothgar's beautiful young wife (though tragically for Beowulf, perhaps not beautiful enough) is voiced by Robin Wright Penn.
Save - oddly enough - for Winstone himself, most of these actors are recognisable as themselves, thanks to the motion capture technique used by Zemeckis (which involves filming scenes live and then digitally animating them). While the resulting characters are disconcertingly almost human, but not human enough, they're certainly more convincing than those in The Polar Express, which with their waxy skin and blank eyes looked like aliens pretending to be human, or shop dummies come to life.
The film suffers from a lack of momentum in its middle act, where the story sags a little; and it must be said that some of the dialogue is more than a little silly: as is its classicallyAmerican coyness when it comes to showing nipples on women or genitals on men. The scene where a naked Beowulf is strutting around Hereot, his cock obscured by everything from swords and candles to his best friend's forearm, is the most ludicrous example of this.
Such criticisms aside, I enjoyed Beowulf immensely, certainly more than I expected to; it's immeasurably better than the last animated epic which came along, the dire 300, thanks in part to having characters with more than one dimension who do more than shout 'This is SPARTA!' all the time.
The animation is fluid and detailed, with our point of view moving in ways a real camera never could, ensuring that there are some truly startling and breathtaking scenes on display. Seen in 3D at IMAX, the film becomes quite simply spectacular. Lurid, vivid, gory and dramatic, it also manages to convey mood and dread, atmosphere and emotion in equal measure. The film's spectacular climax, where the aged Beowulf battles a ferocious dragon, is truly one of the most stunning scenes I've seen on screen all year. Grab your popcorn, sit back and prepare to be amazed, because for all its faults, BEOWULF is one hell of a ride.
Not quite four stars, but close.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Voted - no sausage sizzle, damn it. Went to Richmond, took over from KP handing out how-to-vote Green flyers at a polling booth for two and a half hours. Still no sausage sizzle. Bantered with a Liberal, kinda ignored Family First, chatted happily with Labor volunteers.
Polling booth closed; walked over to KP's house for election night party, ended up staying considerably longer than intended because bloody Howard wouldn't do the honourable thing and admit defeat early. It wasn't until 10:30pm that he appeared to tell us what we'd know for hours; that his government had been swept dramatically from power. Elation, and yet...
Last night it all felt unreal, even with Rudd claiming victory on the TV before us. Thence to Trades Hall, and a huge fuck-off-Howard party; a sweaty, drunken, happy mess of a night packed with friends and strangers and delighted, disbelieving faces.
Today, it feels even stranger. After waiting and hoping so long for a change of government, now there's a sense of - waiting? sameness? A pregnant pause? Time to see what happens next; to see what Rudd will act on in his first 100 days of power. Indigenous reconciliation? Ratifying Kyoto? Dismantling WorkChoices? Will he govern well? Radically? Badly?
The sense of joy which filled me last night has been replaced by a sense of calm anticipation, and something else; something I can't quite put my finger on.
Don't fuck it up, Kevin.
Friday, November 23, 2007
"It is understood the short list also includes Adelaide Festival's director, Brett Sheehy, who appears a more obvious choice [than Mark Yeoman].
Not only does he have vastly more experience of Australian conditions — he was director of the Sydney Festival before moving to Adelaide — but also he is more likely to return the Melbourne Festival to its traditional programming mix."
Now, forgive me if I fail to grasp your logic here, Robin - but why should a "traditional" approach to programming - which in your eyes includes opera and symphony orchestras, as you don't hesitate to suggest - make Sheehy the 'obvious choice' to take over from Kristy Edmunds?
Obvious in your eyes, perhaps, given your evident worship of hidebound artforms that have their place in the greater scheme of things; but which, to my mind at least, have little place in a festival such as MIAF, which celebrates and highlights the very best in contemporary art practice.Usher than goes on to belittle Yeoman, currently employed at Groningen's multi-disciplinary theatre festival Noorderzon in the Netherlands, because he is the director of a "small-town" festival in a city "with a population of less than 200,000". Since when did scale have anything to do with innovative programming and artistic excellence? From a quick look at the program Yeoman put together for this year's festival, I'd say he has an intuitive and broad-ranging approach to programming; so how about we consider these candidates on their merits, instead of sneering at the size of the cities they work in, hey Robin?
Me, I'm voting for the Greens again, but however you direct your vote, whether Labor, Democrats or Socialist Alliance; whether you vote above the line or below the line in the Senate, please don't stuff it up - and please consider voting Richard Di Natale into the Senate, to help give the Greens the balance of power in the upper house and re-install the proper system of checks and balances that our so-called democracy is supposed to have.
HOW TO FILL IN YOUR BALLOT PAPER CORRECTLY
Every Australian elector has a vote in the 2007 election, but it only counts if they fill in their ballot papers correctly.
“Electors will be given two ballot papers at the polling place, and I urge you to pay careful attention when filling them out. If you do make a mistake, please ask a polling official for another ballot paper,” said Mr Ian Campbell, Electoral Commissioner.
On the House of Representatives’ green ballot paper, electors must number all the boxes in the order of their choice of candidate. No ticks or crosses should be used, no numbers repeated and no squares left blank.
The white Senate ballot paper gives electors a choice of marking 1 in one box above the line for a party or group, or numbering all the boxes below the line for each candidate in the order or their choice.
The Australian Electoral Commision has a new online ‘How to vote practice tool’ at www.aec.gov.
Electors can find out where to vote locally with the polling place locator at www.aec.gov.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
2. Trying not to hyperventilate.
3. ABC TV coverage.
4. Shrieking, one way or another.
5. The Greens' election night shindig in North Melbourne.
6. Huge fuck-off-Howard (hopefully) piss-up at Trades Hall bar til the wee small hours.
7. Hopefully get a celebratory root, or at least a snog.
8. Streaking optional.
Yes, I know I wrote this as a comment on RYWHM yesterday, but I'm overworked at the moment and couldn't think of anything else to write here today. So sue me. Actually, don't - I have no life savings to speak off, only a stupidly large collection of CDs by obscure indie bands and lots, LOTS of books. I could possibly spare something from my collection of 80s fantasy novels I suppose...
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Instead, it's a fascinating and focussed exploration of the impact of modernist art movements such as Post-Impressionism, Futurism, Surrealism and more, and how they first assailed and ultimately swept aside the stultifying hangover of Victorian values in British art.
In many ways, Modern Britain is a companion piece to last year's NGV exhibition, British Art and the 60s from Tate Britain, which was a detailed survey of art created in the decade when the world's eye swung away from the USA and back to the Britain of David Hockney, The Beatles and The Kray Twins. Unlike that exhibition, however, Modern Britain is drawn from the collections of numerous public galleries rather than just one institution, and is perhaps the richer thereby; coloured as it is by the tastes and interests of dozens of different curators at some 20 galleries, as well as a number of private collectors.
More than 250 works, representing 93 artists, have been taken down from the walls or dusted off from where they've languished in the vaults of galleries across Australia and New Zealand; and loaned to the NGV for this broad survey of art documenting the impact of two World Wars, and much more beside.
Viewing the vibrant, post-impressionistic works of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant; and the paintings of Walter Sickert and other artists of the Camden Town Group, who championed the legitimacy of the everyday as a suitable subject for art in 1911; it's easy to imagine how exciting and confronting such works might have seemed when first seen by audiences who'd grown up on the formal artist conventions enshrined by the Royal Academy, and the refined artifice of the Pre-Raphaelites. So too with the dynamic, Futurist-inspired linocuts of Claude Flight, Lill Tschudi and Sybil Andrews; and Duncan Grant's superb The Bathers (c.1926-33), a glorious, ambitious evocation of masculine beauty and energy.
Grouped both chronologically and thematically, it's possible to gain a sense of the impact made by successive art movements as they rolled like waves across the English Channel from the Continent, and the corresponding social changes that accompanied them. Some artists, however, sank rather than swam, as was the case with the unfortunate, conflicted and presently under-rated Glyn Philpot (1884-1937), whose work is, for me, one of the real highlights of Modern Britain.
Like a character out of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisted, Philpot's life was a struggle between his Catholicism and his sexuality; a struggle which expressed itself, in part, in his richly textured, darkly luminous portraits of Italian soldiers and other young men from the working classes (shades of E.M. Forster's Maurice and the English fascination with rough trade, a factor present in the sexual assignations of another, more successful British artist, Francis Bacon). In Philpot's case, however, there was another conflict playing out in his work, which came to a head in 1931. Exposure to the decadent world of Weimar-era Berlin, followed by a stint in Paris where he explored the work of Picasso and the Surrealists, led to Philpot embracing both his sexuality and the modernist aesthetic, with fatal consequences.
The new painterly style he displayed upon his return to England, in a controversial solo show in 1932, shocked and scandalised the London art world. His painting The God Pan was rejected by the Royal Academy, and the society commissions he depended upon dried up almost completely. The following years saw Philpot beset by financial and personal difficulties, and led to his untimely death in 1937.
From forgotten artists such as Philpot and the wartime painter Louis Duffy, to artists of the stature of Augustus Johns and Lucian Freud, the breadth of work displayed in Modern Britain 1900-1960 is truly remarkable, as well as deeply engaging. It's a vibrant, dynamic exhibition, and one that I unreservedly recommend.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
While there's a modicum of suspense, some beautiful cinematography, and some credible acting going on, its dire script really lets things down. Nor does it help that the vampires, for some unexplained reason, speak a guttural tongue that A) requires subtitles, and B) majorly reduces the ability of the actors playing the leeches to deliver their lines with anything resembling gravitas.
The plot's a cute one though: Barrow, Alaska, is the northernmost town in the USA, and each year experiences 30 days of darkness in mid-winter during which the sun never rises. It's a perfect opportunity for a pack of vampires - led by Danny Huston, pictured - to descend and feed, though they're still careful enough to cover their tracks; they also try to ensure not to turn everyone they feed on into new revenents.
(Exactly why they want to kill everyone in town without turning them into vampires is never explained - I mean, if this was a recruiting mission it would make sense; it's what they do every winter - descend on a town, feed, and increase their numbers. But nope, that's not what these bloodsuckers want. Maybe they just want to kill for the fun of it? But what do they do the rest of the year - sleep beneath the permafrost or something? These, and other questions, remain unanswered...at least in the screenplay. Something tells me the original comics the film is based on would somehow flesh out some of these details...)
Back to the plot. Our hero is Eben, the local sherrif (played an increasingly sombre, scruffy and consistently wooden Josh Hartnett) and his estranged wife Stella (Australian actor Melissa George), who band together and lead the slowly-dwindling handful of survivors as the dark days drag on. And that's about it as far as the plot goes - though the film does touch on a few moral issues from time to time, such as the question of retaining your humanity in the face of such over-whelming horror - it's a pretty light touch though, with director David Slade knowing his core audience of teenage boys doesn't want philosophy or moral conundrums; they want thrills, action and violence.
There's lots of opportunities for decapitation, mutilation, screaming, eye-strainingly-rapid jump-cuts, and furious blood-letting (although thankfully while gruesome the film is not overly graphic - torture-porn this ain't): including a great set-piece shot from above showing the degree of carnage and chaos in the town as the vampires attack en masse.
There could have been opportunities for character development and interpersonal drama beyond the superficial; but there ain't. Instead we're lumbered with expository dialogue - especially between Hartnett and George's characters - and not much else to save the film apart from the extremely active action sequences. I hoped this would be a vivid, frenetic roller-coaster ride, but instead of getting my heart-rate going, I was actually a little bored, 'cos on the genre front, it's basically an action thriller, not a tightly-wound horror movie.
So yeah, the film of 30 Days of Night is a little sucky. I might hunt down the original graphic novel instead.
Speaking of which - how good is the new Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic written by Joss Whedon? If you've been having Buffy withdrawal since the tv series wrapped up at the end of Season Seven, you'll definitely want to pick up the first six issues, which have just been reprinted in a handy collection: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Long Way Home.
The comic is pitched as Season Eight, and pretty much picks up where the tv show ended. All the potential Slayers in the world are now actively fighting the forces of darkness, with a one-eyed Xander helping coordinate the Slayer teams from their magic-and-technology equipted HQ. Whedon's dialogue is just as sharp as ever; all the regular characters are back, including a couple of old villains you know and love; and there's some new villains on the horizon - and like The Initiative, these guys wear uniforms...
I'll definitely be keeping tabs on this series as it unfolds!
Thursday, November 08, 2007
“But then they danced down the street like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centrelight pop and everybody goes “Awww!” What did they call such young people in Goethe’s Germany? Wanting dearly to know how to write like Carlo, the first thing you know, Dean was attacking him with a great amorous soul such as only a conman can have. “Now, Carlo, let me speak - here’s what I’m saying…” I didn’t see them for about two weeks, during which time they cemented their relationship to fiendish allday-allnight talk proportions.”
“…but then they danced down the street like dingledodies, and I shambled after as usual as I’ve been doing all my life after people that interest me, because the only people that interest me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing…but burn, burn, burn, like roman candles across the night. Allen was queer in those days, experimenting with himself to the hilt, and Neal saw that, and a former boyhood hustler himself in the Denver night, and wanting dearly to learn how to write poetry like Allen, the first thing you know he was attacking Allen with a great amorous soul such as only a conman can have. I was in the same room, I heard them across the darkness and I mused and said to myself “Hmm, now something’s started, but I don’t want anything to do with it.” So I didn’t see them for two weeks during which time they cemented their relationship to mad proportions.”
Want to read more? You'll have to wait for the December issue of Australian Book Review, out later this month, which contains my entire 2,700 word essay on Kerouac's life and literature, and which argues that Kerouac should be considered a modernist prose stylist in the league of Joyce or Woolf.
Sorry to be a tease!
I'll be speaking about the need for governments to properly support small to medium arts organisations, and to fund young and emerging arts organisations; and will be appearing alongsodefilm-maker Adam Elliot, the Greens lead senate candidate, Richard Di Natale, x:machine's Olivia Krang, and comedian Rod Quantock.
It all kicks off at 6:30pm Monday, and should be wrapped up by 8pm at the latest. And if the speeches are boring, you can always look at the video art!
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Something I can discuss, though - and I hasten to add that it's something I heard from a completely different source, several days ago, not from Michael - is a rumour concerning subscriptions for the MTC's 2008 season.
It seems that the hardcore subscriber base at the Melbourne Theatre Company are so keen to avoid purchasing tickets to see Holding The Man, based on Tim Connigrave's heartwrending memoir about gay love and loss in the early years of the AIDS crisis; that rather than buy the full 11 play subscription package for the 2008 season, many of them are buying a 9-play subscription and purchasing an additional ticket for a tenth play, which actually costs them more than the 11-play subscription.
If this is true, it's rather astonishing, and certainly says volumes about the conservative mindset of the traditional audience that poor Simon Phillips is lumbered with.
Can any of my fellow theatre bloggers shed light on this rumour; or anyone from the MTC, please? (I know some of you read this blog from time to time!)
Anyone wanna come and see it with me?
Saturday, November 03, 2007
Alternatively, I'm just getting lazy, and/or even more time-poor than before.
Such musings aside, let us turn our attentions to the latest production by Red Stitch Actors' Theatre, Douglas Carter-Beane's scathing comedy of Hollywood manners, The Little Dog Laughed.
Mitchell Green (Tom Wren) is a boy-next-door movie star on the brink of major fame. His power-hungry agent, Diane (Kat Stewart) sees Mitchell's career as her key to life as a big league producer, as long as she can secure him the right vehicle: namely, a hot theatrical property about a pair of gay lovers that's currently winning acolades in New York.
There's only a couple of flies in Diane's ointment: Mitchell's "slight, recurring case of homosexuality" being one; the young rent boy, Alex (Martin Sharpe) who Mitchell is beginning to fall in love with another; and Alex's sort-of-girlfriend, Ellen (Ella Caldwell), who is almost but not entirely peripheral to the main drama that unfolds over the play's 125 minute running time.
An additional complication arises later in the piece, thanks to the unseen New York playwright's insistence that his queer love story not be straightened out in order to cater to the conservative sensitivities of muliplex-flocking Middle America; providing one of the most wickedly funny scenes in the whole play.
Playwright Douglas Carter-Beane's experience as a Hollywood scriptwriter on such projects as To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (a bland rip-off of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) has obviously held him in good stead: his handling of this material, and a theme exploring the conflicting demands of love and success in an industry which lives on lies, is sharply and wittily observed.
Despite saving his best lines for the deliciously manipulative and openly shallow Diane, Carter-Beane also invests the character of the closeted actor, Mitchell Green, with heart and depth. Sadly, Tom Wren fails to convey the degree of desperation the role requires; rendering Mitchell bland rather than flawed and conflicted. Conversely, Kat Stewart is magnificent as Diane, revelling in her character's affected, greedy, monomaniacal world view, to the audience's obvious delight.
Ella Caldwell is the least effective of the cast, largely failing to bring her admittedly two-dimensional character to life; although director David Bell's decision to play up her peripheral role by positioning Caldwell physically at the far edge of the stage, often half hidden in a doorway, doesn't help proceedings.
Conversely, Martin Sharpe as the confused young hustler Alex is a revelation. Though his accent wasn't always convincing (indeed, it seemed at times as if all the cast were so focussed on maintaining their accents that they sometimes failed to properly act), he perfectly encapsulated the nervousness of first love and his character's complex blend of bravado and anxiety. An actor who can bring such depth of feeling to a one-word line is defintely someone to watch.
A simple set design by director David Bell and modest lighting by Matt Scott ensures that the focus is well and truly on Carter-Beane's ascerbic, insightful script. His target is the allegedly liberal Hollywood's hypocrisy when it comes to homosexuality, and the majority of his barbed jokes hit dead-centre; such as a scene where Diane explains to Mitchell that, being gay, he can't possibly play a gay role on screen:
"If a perceived straight actor portrays a gay role in a feature film, it's noble, it's a stretch. It's the pretty lady putting on a fake nose and winning an Oscar. If an actor with a 'friend' portrays a gay role in a feature film, it's boasting."
Looking beneath the play's glittering surface, however, I began to wonder about Carter-Beane's subtext.
Hollywood's double standards drive the play's plot, but what really makes it resonate is Carter-Beane's critical examination of the flexible nature of truth. That's what's really at the heart of The Little Dog Laughed, I think; the degrees of dishonesty that dominate modern life, from Diane's contractual loopholes and nooses, to Mitchell's and Alex's insistence that they're not really gay. It's not much of a stretch to see the play, perhaps, as a subtle indicment of a culture where the big lie can go unquestioned; a world where one nation can invade another nation over non-existent weapons of mass destruction.
Politics aside, there's much to recommend about The Little Dog Laughed. While not without its flaws (including Bell's occasionally slow-footed direction, which allows the pace of the play to sag when it should sparkle), it's a witty, engaging and occasionally striking piece of theatre, and another strong effort from the award-winning Red Stitch.
The Little Dog Laughed runs until November 17. Bookings on 9533 8083 or www.redstitch.net.