Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The perils of modern dating

So it seems that 20 year old J. from Reservoir, who I've been seeing on and off over the last few weeks, is actually 18 year old K. - and he's out on parole from the Parkville Juvenile Justice Centre. Do I know how to pick them, or what?

Green Room Award Recipients 2010

Here is the full list of 2010 Green Room Award recipients, as presented last night at The Famous Spiegeltent at the Arts Centre.

Panel: Theatre – Alternative and Hybrid Performance
Outstanding Production: Pin Drop – Tamara Saulwick
Composition & Sound Design: Jethro Woodward – Irony is not Enough (Fragment 31)
Production Design: Claire Britton, Matt Priest, Danny Egger – Conceptual Design – Hole in the Wall (Matt Priest & Claire Britton / Next Wave Festival)
Video Design: Fleur Elise Nobel – 2 Dimensional Life of Her
Mise-en-Scene: The Bougainville Photoplay Project – Paul Dwyer
Site-Specific Production: Southern Crossings – One Step at a Time Like This

Panel: Cabaret
Best Production: Yana Alana and tha Paranas in Concert – Gasworks & Arts Victoria in association with Melbourne Workers Theatre and Yana Alana and tha Paranas
Artiste: Yana Alana – Yana Alana and tha Paranas in Concert
Ensemble: Yana Alana and the Paranas – Yana Alana and tha Paranas in Concert
Original Songs: Yana Alana and tha Paranas – Yana Alana and tha Paranas in Concert
Director: Anni Davey – Yana Alana and the Paranas in Concert
Musical Direction: Sarah Ward, Bec Matthews & Ania Reynolds – Yana Alana and tha Paranas in Concert
Innovative Use of Form: Emily Taylor – Hello You
Contribution to Cabaret: Kaye Sera

Panel: Dance
Music/Sound Composition and Performance: Ezio Bosso & George Gorga – We Unfold (Sydney Dance Company)
Design: Jacob Nash – Set – Artefact (Bangarra Dance Theatre)
Male Dancer: Tim Ohl – Mix Tape (Chunky Move)
Female Dancer: Emily Amisano – We Unfold (Sydney Dance Company)
Ensemble: Bangarra Dance Theatre – Of Earth and Sky
Concept & Realisation: Private Dances (Next Wave Festival & Natalie Cursio)
Betty Pounder Award for Choreography: TIE: Frances Rings – Artefact (Bangarra Dance Theatre) AND Stephanie Lake – Mix Tape (Chunky Move)

Panel: Theatre – Independent
Male Performer: Thomas Conroy (Henry) – Something Natural But Very Childish (Dirty Pretty Theatre / La Mama)
Female Performer: Justine Campbell (Jane Franklin) – The Fate of Franklin and his Gallant Crew (Four Larks Theatre)
Ensemble: Us (Grit Theatre / The Function Room)
Design: Sebastian Peters-Lazaro & Ellen Strasser – Set & Properties Design – Body of work (Four Larks Theatre)
Lighting Design: Bluebottle – Ben Cobham with Jenny Hector – Lighting Design & Realisation – Madeleine (Jenny Kemp & Black Sequin Productions / Arts House)
Sound / Composition: Mat Diafos Sweeney (Four Larks Theatre) – Music/Sound/Composition – Body of work
Direction: Gary Abrahams – Body of work
Production: Us (Grit Theatre / The Function Room)

Panel: Music Theatre
Direction: Richard Eyre & Matthew Bourne – Mary Poppins (Disney / Cameron Mackintosh)
Costume and/or Set Design: Bob Crowley – Set & Costumes – Mary Poppins (Disney / Cameron Mackintosh)
Lightning Design: Trudy Dalgleish – Hairspray (Dainty Consolidated Entertainment / Roadshow Live)
Sound: Peter Grubb – Mary Poppins (Disney / Cameron Mackintosh)
Choreography: Matthew Bourne & Stephen Mear – Mary Poppins (Disney / Cameron Mackintosh)
Musical Direction: Michael Tyack – Mary Poppins (Disney / Cameron Mackintosh)
Female Artist – Leading Role: Verity Hunt-Ballard – Mary Poppins (Disney / Cameron Mackintosh)
Male Artist – Leading Role: Geoffrey Rush – The Drowsy Chaperone (Melbourne Theatre Company)
Male Artist – Featured Role: Philip Quast – Mary Poppins (Disney / Cameron Mackintosh)
Female Artist – Featured Role: Esther Hannaford – Hairspray (Dainty Consolidated Entertainment / Roadshow Live)
Featured Ensemble or Full Ensemble Performance: Mary Poppins (Disney / Cameron Mackintosh)
Best Production: Mary Poppins (Disney / Cameron Mackintosh)

Panel: Opera
Production: La Sonnambula – Opera Australia
Design: Adam Gardir (set) and Harriet Oxley (costume) – Angelique (Victorian Opera)
Female Lead: Emma Matthews (Amina) – La Sonnambula (Opera Australia)
Male Lead: Peter Coleman-Wright (Harry Joy) – Bliss (Opera Australia)
Female Support: Catherine Carby (Orovsky) – Fledermaus and (Hippolyta) – Midsummer Night’s Dream (Opera Australia)
Male Support: Conal Coad (Bottom/Pyramus) – A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Opera Australia)
Conductor: Paul Kildea – The Turn of the Screw (Victorian Opera) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Opera Australia)
Director: Julie Edwardson – La Sonnambula (Opera Australia)
Lighting: Nigel Levings – Bliss (Opera Australia)

Panel: Theatre - Companies
Lighting Design: Rachel Burke – Moth (Malthouse Theatre / Arena Theatre Company)
Set/Costume Design: Shaun Gurton (set) – Richard III (Melbourne Theatre Company)
Sound / Composition: Jethro Woodward (composer) – Moth (Malthouse Theatre / Arena Theatre Company)
Female Actor: Alison Whyte (Queen Elizabeth) – Richard III (Melbourne Theatre Company)
Male Actor: Ewen Leslie (Richard) – Richard III (Melbourne Theatre Company)
Direction: Simon Phillips – Richard III (Melbourne Theatre Company)
Production: Thyestes – Malthouse Theatre / Hayloft Project
Ensemble: Thyestes – Malthouse Theatre / Hayloft Project

Association Awards
Lifetime Achievement Award: Carrillo Gantner AO
Technical Achievement Award: David Miller, Production Manager, Malthouse Theatre
Award for Outstanding Contribution to Melbourne Theatre: Lisle Jones
Best New Original Writing for the Melbourne Stage: Declan Greene – Moth (Malthouse Theatre / Arena Theatre Company)
Best Adaptation for the Melbourne Stage: Simon Stone, Thomas Henning, Chris Ryan & Mark Winter – Thyestes after Seneca (Malthouse Theatre / The Hayloft Project)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

More from the Melbourne Queer Film Festival

There are a few films screening at the 21st Melbourne Queer Film Festival that I've already seen and previously reviewed; one of which I highly recommend (if you like your comedy pitch black) and another I was deeply underwhelmed by.

Glenn Ficarra and John Requa's I Love You Phillip Morris is hilariously funny and totally unpredictable, and a film I very much enjoyed when it screened at MIFF last year. I'm very much looking forward to seeing it again on the big screen. Conversely, the Danish drama nicknamed 'Brokeback Nazi', Brotherhood, failed to engage me due to its underdeveloped screenplay and an over-reliance on dramatic plot contrivances.

Over the last two days I've also caught two collections of lesbian shorts, Femme Fatalities and Short and Girly, and the earnest, energetic UK drama Fit.

Of the shorts, the highlight of the rather mediocre Femme Fatalities collection was Rebecca Thomson's Cupcake: A Zombie Lesbian Musical. Filmed in suburban Hobart, this gleefully gory, tongue in rotting cheek comedy pitted a lesbian couple and their homophobic neighbours against a zombie apocalypse, with entertaining results. The final musical number about zombie pride fell a little flat, but otherwise this little film was a real charmer. Bonus points for the inventive use of a dildo as an improvised weapon, too.

Conversely, Katrina Del Mar's Hell on Wheels: Girl Gangs Forever promised so much but failed to deliver. What could have been an inventive comedy set in a world of skateboarding girl gangs and roller derby was a badly scripted, limply directed, overlong mess. I could see what it was aiming for, but it fell well short.

Thankfully, the films in Short and Girly were of a higher standard, though there will still a couple that only barely limped across the finish line. The best of the bunch by a country mile was Gina Hirsch's concise, warm and witty You Move Me, a comedic celebration of friendship and an evocative demonstration of the film-making adage that less is more. With a sharp script, well developed characters and strong performances, this rare gem of a lesbian buddy movie stood head and shoulders above all the other films in the package.

Written and directed by Rikki Beadle-Blair (who also stars in the film as the out and outgoing dance & drama teacher Loris), the UK teen drama Fit was a real charmer despite being occasionally hindered by its overly earnest and self-consciously educational script.

Adapted from a play designed to address anti-homophobic bullying which has successfully toured UK schools and institutions, the film explores the lives of a disparate group of teens, some of them struggling with their sexuality, other struggling with their peers' preconceptions about their sexuality. There's the closeted gay jock, the straight tomboy who everyone mistakenly assumes is a lesbian, the homophobic bully who is himself bullied by his father, and a range of others who have been brought together in a hip hop dance class at their school for kids who are struggling in the education system.

Is it a trifle over-earnest? Yes. Does it wear its heart on its sleeve? Yes. But the performances are excellent, its message is important, and its vibrant approach to equality and tolerance makes for an engaging, ebullient and delightful film which I thoroughly enjoyed.

21st MQFF review: LA MISSION

The conflicts sparked by generational and cultural change find form and focus in writer/director Peter Bratt’s La Mission, a sometimes predictable but nonetheless engrossing drama set in San Francisco’s slowly gentrifying Mission district.

A vibrant mélange of Mexican and South and Central influences and immigrants, the Mission is virtually another character in the film thanks in part to the dynamic cinematography of Hiro Narita, but the story’s main focus in the tough and uncompromising Che Rivera (Benjamin Bratt, Law and Order, Modern Family), a single father, recovering alcoholic and ex-con.

Che works as a bus driver in order to provide for his son, Jesse (Jeremy Ray Valdez), and takes pride in his position of authority and respect in the neighbourhood; but when he discovers that Jesse is gay, the foundations of Che’s life – family, community, and a slowly developing relationship with his new neighbour, Lena (Erika Alexander) – are dealt a blow from which he may never recover.

The film is somewhat beholden to its traditional three-act narrative structure, and key plot elements unfold with a degree of predictability, but La Mission tells its story with charm and verve thanks to powerful and believable performances from its lead actors, and a script that only occasionally crosses the line into cliché (though when it does, it turns the cliché meter up to 11).

Characters are quickly and deftly sketched, save for Jesse’s boyfriend, who remains little more than a cipher; and the tensions that underpin the film – generational conflict, the shifting demographics of the Mission – are alluded to subtly but effective through the soundtrack, where the youthful voice of hip hop clashes with the funk and soul of Che’s generation.

By the time the film moves into its third act, Che’s battle to avoid the bottle is as constant as his struggle with his son’s sexuality, ensuring that he remains a fascinating and engaging character despite his violent outbursts and old-fashioned, unforgiving machismo.

A tighter pace (and less reliance on unsubtle visual symbolism) would have ensured a stronger film, but its drama packs a punch and the chemistry between its two main leads is palpable. Overall, La Mission overcomes its flaws to become a rewarding and engaging portrait of a man in crisis, and of a father and son – and a community – struggling to adapt to change.

This review originally appeared on Arts Hub.

21st MQFF review: KABOOM

The 21st Melbourne Queer Film Festival kicked off on Thursday night at The Astor, opening with Kaboom, the latest film from queer auteur Gregg Araki (The Living End, The Doom Generation, Totally Fucked Up). It returns to the themes of his earlier, rawer, angrier work – sexual fluidity and teenage angst – with a newfound confidence seemingly gained while making his critically acclaimed, poisonously beautiful drama about the impact of childhood sexual abuse, 2005’s Mysterious Skin.

Set at a nameless Southern Califorian college, Kaboom focuses around film studies major Smith (Thomas Dekker) and his immediate circle of friends, including his sarcastic lesbian buddy Stella (Haley Bennett), the free spirited London (Juno Temple), Smith’s ‘friend with benefits’, and his dumb but gorgeous surfer roommate Thor (Chris Zylka).

As Smith’s 19th birthday draws near, he begins to experience a series of unsettling, possibly prophetic dreams involving a red-haired girl, a mysterious door, and the secrets that lie behind it. In the days that follow, Stella hooks up with the obsessive, supernaturally gifted Lorelei (Roxane Mesquida), and Smith encounters the red-headed woman from his dreams while tripping – only to see her murdered by a pack of animal-masked men, who soon start stalking Smith himself across the campus.

Soon events start to spiral out of control, and the plot threatens to follow. Smith hooks up with a handsome stranger at a nude beach, meets a potential love interest at a concert performed by Texan post-rock band Explosions in the Sky, and discovers the existence of a doomsday cult whose machinations threaten to bring about the end of the world.

This gleefully deranged comedy-drama features many of Araki’s familiar trademarks, including witty one-liners, a colour-saturated design aesthetic, provocative statements about the construction of personality and sexuality, and a dynamic soundtrack featuring a who’s who of contemporary alternative music, including The XX, The Horrors, The Big Pink, Yeah Yeah Yeah and Interpol.

The film’s heady blend of elements may not be especially deep, but Araki is cleverly enjoying himself as he splashes about in the shallow end of the cultural pool, mixing and matching genres with gay (or omnisexual) abandon.

Kaboom blends a hefty dose of horror film and science fiction tropes into its hot-blooded story of sexual and personal awakening; and rockets along at a breakneck pace, ensuring a wildly enjoyable ride for audiences in tune with Araki’s slyly subversive and playful approach to filmmaking.

Kaboom opens in limited release at Cinema Nova on Thursday 27 March.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Review: HOWL

“There is no Beat Generation,” poet Allen Ginsberg (James Franco) tells an anonymous interviewer in 1957. “Just a bunch of guys trying to get published.”

The original Beats, including Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William S. Burroughs were indeed all writers, whose biographical and self-mythologising works directly inspired a countercultural movement that scandalised the USA in the staid 1950s.

The publication of Kerouac’s On the Road in 1957 was a key moment in Beat history, but the catalysing event which rocketed the Beats, Sputnik-like, to fame across the USA was the publication of Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems by San Francisco’s City Lights Press in 1956; and the court case the following year which saw its publisher, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, charged with obscenity.

The trial was widely covered by the press, with articles appearing in both Time and Life magazine; and the decision by Judge Clayton W. Horn that ‘Howl’ was of “redeeming social importance” and was therefore “not obscene” was a significant landmark for freedom of artistic expression.

As writer Fred Kaplan noted in Slate, the court case was ‘serious business':

'If Ferlinghetti had been found guilty, Capt. William Hanrahan, the juvie chief who arrested him, was going to send his cops to sweep the filth from every bookstore in the city – he'd drawn up a long list of titles – and San Francisco, which was just emerging as an avant-garde haven, would have retreated into backwater provincialism for years, if not decades.’
In the hands of Academy Award-winning filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt, The Celluloid Closet), the obscenity trial becomes the dramatic centrepiece of a new docu-drama that explores Ginsberg’s creation of ‘Howl’ and the poem’s lasting cultural impact as a transcendent work of 20th century literature.

Based on court transcripts and a 1957 interview given by Ginsberg, the film uses carefully orchestrated re-enactments and archival footage to capture the spirit of the times, and vivid animation to convey the poem’s dramatic imagery. Also interwoven throughout the film is a vivid recreation of Ginsberg’s first dramatic reading of ‘Howl’ at San Francisco’s Six Gallery on October 7, 1955; a night which Kerouac would later immortalise in his novel The Dharma Bums.

Set in 1957, both the trial – featuring Jon Hamm (Mad Men) as defence attorney J.W ‘Jake the Master’ Ehrlich and David Strathairn as the prosecutor, Ralph McIntosh – and the extended interview with a strikingly frank Ginsberg are shot in colour. Flashback sequences showing the creation of the poem and other key episodes from Ginsberg’s life are shot in crisp black and white.

The film leaps back and forth across its various timelines, with the hallucinatory animated images designed by artist Eric Drooker further complicating its narrative. The overall effect could have been dizzying and confusing; instead, like ‘Howl’ itself, the film is inspiring and ecstatic.

As the young Ginsberg, James Franco is brilliant, capturing the poet’s clipped and awkward speech patterns; his frustrated love for Kerouac (Todd Rotondi) and the “cocksman and Adonis of Denver,” Neal Cassady (Jon Prescott); and his lasting guilt over his mentally ill mother, Naomi, whose lobotomy papers Ginsberg had to sign at the age of 21.

The animated sequences are occasionally a trifle literal, but they also provide an emotional component which is otherwise absent from the film, particularly when illustrating parts II and III of ‘Howl’; and Beat Generation devotees will enjoy spotting scenes which the filmmakers have recreated directly from Ginsberg’s own photographs, such as Kerouac smoking on a New York fire escape, and Allen and his lover Peter Orlovsky (Aaron Tveit) sitting back to back, like one of Plato’s Children of the Sun reunited at last.

The film’s production design, by Thérèse DePrez, is detailed without being flashy, Jake Pushinsky’s editing is excellent, and Carter Burwell’s original music sensitively and generously compliments the action on-screen.

Cleverly cast and imaginatively made, Howl is a fitting testament to the power, beauty and passion of Ginsberg’s poetry, and a fascinating fusion of cinematic forms. At the time of writing it is showing on a single Australian screen, at Melbourne’s Cinema Nova, prior to a Madman DVD release later this year. It deserves a much wider audience.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Xanadu the Musical

Located in the dusty, industrial wastelands of Melbourne's Docklands stands a vast red and yellow marquee reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil's Grand Chapiteau; the custom-built 'pleasure dome' home of Xanadu the Musical, which had its gala Australian opening on Thursday night.

Based on the unsuccessful 1980 movie starring Olivia Newton John and Gene Kelly (which critic Roger Ebert decried as 'a mushy and limp musical fantasy, so insubstantial it keeps evaporating before our eyes') Xanadu the Musical is a tongue-very-firmly-in-cheek retelling of the film about roller-disco and romance to which a hefty dose of contemporary irony has been added.

Reviews of the original Broadway production were strong. As to whether the local production is any good I unfortunately can't say as I walked out of the opening night performance only half an hour after it started.

From where I was seated (section D, row L, seat 124) the sound quality was appalling: thin, tinny and inaudible. I had to strain to hear anything that was said on stage, and once the singing started, the lyrics were muffled and indistinct, even though the music itself seemed hardly loud.

My view of the stage, too, was terrible, with a large tentpole (which doubled as a major lighting rig) blocking a significant degree of the action. I don't mind tickets being sold with a poor view of the stage if they are advertised as 'impeded view' or 'restricted sight lines', but there is absolutely nothing to that effect on the Xanadu the Musical website, which I think is disgraceful.

Had I actually payed for my seats I would have been furious; as it was I was deeply frustrated with the situation, and extremely concerned for those people around me, paying customers including a young child and two elderly women who were becoming increasingly distressed at being unable to clearly hear or see anything of the musical they had come to see.

Based on my experience of the show, I cannot recommend Xanadu the Musical to anyone - unless perhaps (based on the opening night reviews in today's Age and Friday's Herald Sun) you're sitting in the $155.90 a head VIP seats, where sound quality and sight lines were apparently a non-issue.

A Behanding in Spokane

Best known for his magnificent, melancholy and blackly comic feature film In Bruges, and a series of plays which gleefully invert the clichés of the Irish character, A Behanding in Spokane is Anglo-Irish playwright Martin McDonagh’s first new theatre script in 15 years.

Unlike the two trilogies on which his early reputation was based (including The Lonesome West and The Beauty Queen of Leenane), set on Ireland’s rural west coast and written in a white-hot creative frenzy in 1994, A Behanding in Spokane takes place in the United States, and seizes on the familiar tropes of that all-American film genre, the Western – including bloody vengeance, vigilantism, and the quest for justice – in order to tell its tale.

In a shabby, run-down hotel room partially illuminated by the ruddy glow of a neon sign, we meet the hulking Carmichael (Colin Moody), a one-handed racist whose obsessive quest to find missing his left hand, severed and stolen by a gang of hillbillies, has carried him “across this sad, decaying nation” for almost 30 years.

Carmichael has come to meet a young couple, white trash Marilyn (Nicole da Silva) and African-American grifter Toby (Bert LaBonté) who claim to have his hand for sale. Also present is the strange and sardonic Mervyn (Tyler Coppin), a lonely hotel clerk who expounds upon his curious outlook on life in a rambling and imaginative monologue about lesbians, monkeys, and high school massacres that somewhat awkwardly occupies the play’s middle third.

What unfolds between these four characters on Christina Smith’s perfectly realised set provoked laughter, shocked gasps and some genuine surprises on the production’s opening night.

This pitch black comedy is not for the easily offended, with McDonagh’s expletive-laden script featuring enough racial epithets to shock even a Cronulla rioter, and an abundance of grand guignol humour. But for those with the stomach for the playwright’s playfully warped view of the world – typified by a speech late in the piece in which Carmichael screams down the phone at his equally racist mother in order to re-establish his white supremacist credentials – there is much to enjoy.

Peter Evan’s direction keeps the unfolding series of increasingly bizarre events skilfully on track, with Ben Grant’s subtle sound design gently adding to the mood and tone. Performances are mostly strong, especially Moody as the grimly single-minded Carmichael, though da Silva failed to impress with her bland take on an admittedly underwritten character. Conversely, LaBonté excelled as a cringing, weeping petty criminal, showing impeccable and impressive comic timing at every turn.

Darkly entertaining and perversely engrossing, this pitch-black comedy is highly recommended.

A Behanding in Spokane
MTC Sumner Theatre
February 5 – March 19

This review originally appeared on Arts Hub.

The Wau Wau Sisters' Last Supper

Wicked and winsome, The Wau Wau Sisters (US duo Adrienne Truscott and Tanya Gagne) have been leaving a trail of gently ruffled feathers and delighted audiences around the country in recent months. Having already wowed crowds in Sydney, Perth and Adelaide to date, their tour now wends its way to Melbourne and a short season at The Famous Spiegel Garden, serving up a typically ‘Spiegelian’ blend of music, circus, burlesque and cabaret.

Even before the audience are seated in the Famous Spiegeltent, a taste of the show’s irreverent nature is served up – literally – by drag king ushers handing out wafers to the patrons like cross-dressing priests at communion; and when the show gets properly underway it begins with a gleefully blasphemous mockery of Catholic ritual and the peccadilloes of private school girls that includes simulated crucifixion and cunnilingus.

Next the pair slip into country & western costumes and strap on guitars for an acrobatic serenade that boasts witty dialogue, entertaining ad libbing, and some pretty impressive physicality. It quickly becomes apparent that the duo's comedic timing is excellent, as are their circus skills, though the latter only really come into their own later in the show, when willing audience members are hoisted aloft on Truscott and Gagne’s taut and muscular legs in an impressive display of acrobalancing.

With a surreal sensibility reminiscent of local duo The Town Bikes, The Wau Wau Sisters’ Last Supper is an accomplished show which nonetheless fell a little flat in spots on its opening night, particularly during changeovers between acts, but the energy of the two performers soon lifted proceedings back to a more manic level.

A double trapeze act late in the piece was a particular highlight, showcasing the pair’s well honed athleticism and remarkable rapport; and their audience participation was engaging without ever being cruel.

By the time we reached the show’s bacchanalian climax – complete with red wine poured over the pair’s bare breasts and audience members dressed as satyrs devouring bunches of grapes – the repeated transgressions of religious and sexual taboos were growing perhaps a little thin, but overall the show rose above such minor faults to genuinely entertain.

If you have strong religious beliefs this is not the show for you, but for this particular godless sodomite the fare on offer at The Wau Wau Sisters' Last Supper definitely satisfied.

The Wau Wau Sisters’ Last Supper
The Famous Spiegel Garden at the Arts Centre
March 1 – 6

This review originally appeared on Arts Hub.