Thursday, 29 December 2016

Allied - Film Review

What:  Allied
Release Date: 26 December
Featuring: Marion Cottilard and Brad Pitt

Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard
Allied is a World War II Romance of the style we have not seen come out of Hollywood since the middle of the last century. Featuring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, this movie strongly references the 1942 classic Casablanca.

The story is based around two spies - Max Vatan (Pitt) and Marianne Beausejour (Cotillard) - who find themselves working together on an operation in Casablanca and posing as husband and wife. Everything about these opening scenes are unabashedly referential to the 1942 movie, from the cinematography, the colour grading which references film noir, and the second unit cinematography. Lacking subtlety, but highly referential is the dust storm surrounding the spies as they break protocol and have sex because they may die the next day.

Pitt and Cotillard also base their characters on Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Unfortunately, Pitt's version of reserve lacks the depth and complexity Bogart manages and there is no chemistry between Pitt and Cotillard, although Cotillard works hard to soften Pitt's robotic performance. Director Robert Zemeckis has gone so far as to film Cottillard with the same luminescence Curtiz used for Bergman and Cottilard does live up to her predecessor's magic.

Vatan and Beausejour survive their assassination task and Vatan asks Beausejour to come to England and be his wife. She says yes. This moment stands out as the most unbelievable of the film. I just couldn't make myself believe they were in love. In fact, I had a hard time believing there was any real danger but that may be because I have been spoiled by the realism of war films since the 170's - Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Saving Private Ryan, etc.

The film moves into more comfortable territory once the couple are in London. Pitt does relax a little but I spent a lot of time during the movie wondering if Pitt was trying to set himself up as the next James Bond. Zemeckis has cleverly situated the character of Vatan as a Canadian secondment to the British Army to explain Pitt's American accent.

Whilst I had a lot of trouble believing in the start of the movie, curiously I found myself thoroughly engaged by the second half. Cotillard has the most amazing eyes which the audience can drown in and she uses them to devastating effect, never letting us know whether she is a double agent or just what she appears to be. It reminded me of Bergman's comment about not knowing which character she was supposed to truly be in love with in Casablanca.

The Casablanca references abound, including a wonderfully oblique nod to the 'Marseillaise' scene in the 1942 movie. The ending for Allied has a similar impact to Casablanca as the realities of what needs to happen force an impasse with only one solution. The flip of sacrifice from the older movie is an inspired choice and one which brings the movie into a modern aesthetic. 

I confess I cried. Allied is unapologetically romantic and pushes all the right buttons. The nostalgia of the approach seems to give the audience permission to indulge in the pathos in a manner we are not as comfortable with these days. An old world story told in old world ways - it kind of works.

Apparently, the idea for this story came from a 'true' story told to Stephen Knight (original script writer) when he was 21. The story may be true but the movie does not work because of that. It works because it is pure romantic fantasy untainted by modern realism or cynicism.

Despite Pitt's performance there is enough here to make this a fine film to watch and a brilliant one to take older relatives to as a festive gift. Want to calm the waters with mother's-in-law or grandparents? This is the perfect way to head into the holiday family festivities.

4 Stars

Sunday, 11 December 2016

The Burly Q Club - Cabaret Review

What: The Burley Q Club
When: 3-17 December 
Where: Greyhound Hotel


Sina King - photo courtesy of Encore PR

The Burly Q Club is an exciting new burlesque/dinner theatre experience produced by Miss Burlesque Australia 2011, Sina King. The show is currently being presented at the Greyhound Hotel in St Kilda and is a raunchy and rollicking recap of the fun and feathers of the heyday of American burlesque.

Burlesque began in the mid 1800's in Britain as a lower class form of comedy revue. A century later and across the oceans Americans added the art of strip tease to the line up to compete with the emerging movie industry for entertainment dollars. By the 1960's burlesque - or burly Q as is was fondly called - was a dying art form.

Dying but not dead yet, a resurgence of burlesque has emerged over the last two decades, the most prominent advocate probably being the luscious 
Dita von Teese.

Australia has never let burlesque die out completely - probably because of the essence of humour and satire which is essential to the full burlesque experience and whilst burlesque used to be associated with comedy, in modern times it has allied itself with the circus arts. Artists such as Moira Finucane lead the way internationally with the show (now approaching it's 13th year) Glory Box

The Burly Q Club is Sina King's latest creation and as dinner theatre it focuses more on the titillation aspect of burlesque with all of the acts incorporating strip tease in some form or another. Circus also features with one of the best aerial hoop acts (Miss Kopalova) I have ever seen. Morphing into a rhythmic gymnatics routine we are amazed to discover "what you can do with a bowling ball" as the MC breathlessly puts it.

Aurora Kirth, compere extraordinaire, brings much of the humour (with a little hint of dominatrix) to the proceedings in the form of Leila, the "multi-accentual" grand dame of undiscoverable European provenance. Leila keeps the crowd in line and in laughter as we journey through the garden of Eden on an exploration of temptation, indulgence, and acrobatics.

Sina King brings the magic of the medicine woman as she plays with a (real) snake in her jungle of temptation, and Zelia Rose brings some tribal "black honey" into the mix - her bananas swaying madly as she proudly reveals her talents.

Things get very hot and heavy, with just a touch of BDSM as Bray Beunrostro and Miss Kopalova explore sexual power in a mind blowing acrobatics routine. This act will leave images never to be forgotten.

Hannie Helsdon brings back the comedy with a cheeky Barbie doll hula hoop routine, and as a little something for the women Rowan Thomas does a strip tease on the Cyr Wheel. Ah, men and their toys...

This is a dinner event, so Leila gives the audience some breaks as the three course meal is served encouraging us to "take a moment to fan down your groin" before once again reminding us "Love is in the air. Reach out and fondle it."

The Burly Q Club is a sexy, awe inspiring night complete with some of the most accomplished burlesque and circus artists I have seen. Magnificently curated it is a wonderful cabaret performance with ostrich feathers and booby tassels galore. As Leila tells us, "Strangers you arrive and lovers you shall leave."

5 Stars

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Professor Rosi Braidotti - Event Review

What: Professor Rosi Braidotti
When: 9 December 2016
Where: Victorian College of the Arts

Rosi Braidotti - all photos by Samsara

One of the great secrets of every university town is the public lectures available to the community. University of Melbourne is a well-spring of current thinking and ideas and they run an ongoing series of free public lectures on everything from the physics of entropy through to the randomness of chance and probability.

Last night I attended an incredibly inspiring lecture by world renowned philosopher Professor Rosi Braidotti. Braidotti is currently a professor at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, and is a pioneer in European Women's Studies.

Speaking in Federation Hall at the Victorian College of the Arts, Braidotti addressed the question of what it is to be a feminist in a post-human age. Braidotti is an incredibly lively and engaging speaker and it was impossible to not get caught up in her indignation of the past, frustration in the present, and enthusiasm for the future.

Braidotti grounded this presentation in the works of Foucault and Deleuze, but the true foundation of the talk centred around the ideas underlying the philosophies of Baruch Spinoza. Spinoza laid the groundwork for the Age of Enlightenment with his monistic concept of humanity, the universe and God as well as his belief in the future of mankind being determinist rather than an act of free will.

Beginning with the presentation of Leonardo da Vinci's drawing of the Vitruvian Man, Braidotti condemned the idea of this image being a representation of humanity and thereby, the universal. She asked the question "If this is human and I am not this [white male], than am I human?" She took this idea even further, asking can a concept of universal be represented by female or - an even bigger leap - can the concept of universal be represented by other than human?

One of the intriguing insights raised by Braidotti was the amount of money being poured into future studies in Europe. In particular, she talked about the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University and how it is investigating ways to augment biological humanity to help us keep up with the computers and machines we are inventing which outstrip our own unenhanced capabilities.

As such, questions about the usefulness of the concept of other are raised. In a world where humans require augmentation and we are attempting to build moral algorithms into our unmanned killing machines is there really any difference between human and machine, living and non-living, or human and alt-speciies.

Spinoza and Braidotti share the monistic viewpoint and Braidotti is careful to remind us that being part of the whole does not mean we are the same. On the other hand, being different is not about being other. In a post-Brexit, pre-Trump world where the 'other' (such as refugees) are considered disposable these ideas are really important to think about and consider.

These public lectures are a wonderful way to expand our thinking. For example, one of the important observations raised by Braidotti is how it appears the 21st century seems to be a reliving of the 17th century. As such, another Age of Enlightenment is bound to reemerge, unfortunately just not in our lifetime.

Public lectures are a great alternative to movies and sports and gets your brain working in ways it is not used to. They also provide excellent fodder for dinner party conversations and lively debates among friends. And they're free.

To find out what other intriguing and exciting lectures are on offer click HERE.

Monday, 5 December 2016

The Tempest - Theatre Review

What: The Tempest
When: 2 - 11 December
Where: St Kilda Botanical Gardens
Written by: William Shakespeare
Directed by: Jennifer Sarah Dean
Musical Direction by: Ben Adams
Choreographed by: Camilla Cream
Performed by: Madeline Dunkley, Carly Ellis, Andrew Isles, May Jasper, Khisraw Jones, Victoria Mantynen, Jonathan Peck, Hunter Perske, Emma Louise Pursey, Mitch Ralston, John Reed, Paul Robertson, Charles Sturgeon, Jessica Tanner, and Lara Vocisano,
Costumes by: Rhiannon Irving
Stage Managed by: Gin Rosse

Photo courtesy of Melbourne Shakespeare Company
Summer fun with garden productions of Shakespeare has begun and the newest company in the line up, Melbourne Shakespeare Company, are kicking off the season with a laugh packed romp through The Tempest. Hidden away in the beautiful St Kilda Botanical Gardens the shipwrecked souls from Milan sing and swig and bemuse and beguile their way through an hour and a half of enchantment and intrigue.

Watching this production was the first time I ever realised The Tempest is a comedy. Every production and remediation I have ever seen has been dark and gloomy and heavy. Watching the Melbourne Shakespeare Company prance and gesticulate their way through this tale seemed so right and natural, and had me wondering why it is not done more often by companies such as the Australian Shakespeare Company, It has all the fun and frolick of A Midsummer Night's Dream with somewhat more intelligibility!

The Tempest is a play about intrigue, betrayal, magic and love - and it begins with a shipwreck. What more could you want for a fantasy garden tale told in the early sunset hours?

Whilst the original play only has one female part - Miranda (played by Ellis) - Melbourne Shakespeare Company are presenting the play with almost equal numbers of men and women. I don't think this is a political statement as only minimal gender changes have been made to the script. I think it is more just a reflection of our times. It certainly does not hurt the play to do this. Pursey has all the power and gravitas Prospero needs, and Jasper (Stephano) is a very convincing comic drunkard indeed.

The men hold their own though and you will find it hard to find a funnier Trinculo than the one played by Peck. Ralston's Caliban is also excellent with a physicality which adds a great dynamic to the tableaus developed by Dean.

The Tempest is one of Shakespeare's most musical plays - a truth born out by the 46 or so operas which have been inspired by the play. This version indulges in the music without restraint, bringing a litany of pop medleys to amuse and delight. Some of them are a bit too long, but every song choice is amusing, which is completely in tune with the tone of the play. There is a lot of singing in this show and it gets quite pitchy, but there is no reinforcement so there is not much that can be done for that. A pitch pipe would help...

All of the design elements are fantastic. The costumes are truly fabulous, and Irving's work with Prospero and the Ariels is divine. Irving's background is in musicals and this shows in the dynamics and synergies she has created across the costumes of the entire ensemble.

Did you notice I said 'the Ariels'? There is not one, not two...but three of them! It is a really wonderful choice. Apart from echoing Shakespeares use of feminine triads (Macbeth, King Lear, etc), the number 3 is significant in The Tempest including the fact that the whole experience on the island is said to take place over only three hours. Whilst not quite a chorus in the Greek sense, it does allow Ariel to have greater agency in the large playing area and works with the idea of them as spirits of the island who are changeable and changing.

It also allows some fun individual interactions with other cast members and solves a myriad of complexities. It also gives them a strange connection to the natural world of the gardens themselves as they disappear into the surrounding foliage and then reappear at will, their movements echoing the swaying of the branches above.

Dean demonstrates a strong sense of visual aesthetics and knows how to move a large cast around a big space. This is a very physical production and whilst there are a lot of moments when timing is perfect, there are some group moments which are sloppy. Given the scope of this production and the fact they are a new ensemble this is not surprising though. As they work together more, they will develop the syncopation they are evidently aiming at.

Whilst patchy in parts this production of The Tempest is clever and a lot of fun. It is truly family friendly, being accessible to children but still weighted enough for adults to have fun.

3.5 Stars




Friday, 2 December 2016

Mr Phase - Theatre Review

What: Mr Phase
When: 1-3 December
Where: La Mama Theatre
Written by: Christopher Brown
Performed by: Christopher Brown and Solomon Brown

Mr Phase 2002 - photo by Tao Weis
Mr Phase is showing at La Mama Theatre as part of their current Explorations series. You may have a dim memory of this work prodding at your brain and you would be right to think you have seen it before - or a version of it at least.

Christopher Brown first developed Mr Phase in 2002 with the Next Wave Festival and then presented it in 2003 as part of the Melbourne International Festival. Over a decade later he has decided the world has shifted enough to bring Mr Phase out of the closet and take another MRI for a health check.

The Explorations platform at La Mama is not about finished work. It is about artists developing ideas and exploring concepts and showcasing work which they may go on to sculpt into fully formed performances.

You might think this is not the right place for a pre-existing work, but as with all health checks, whilst Mr Phase has the 2003 version to look back on, the current state of health is a completely independent examination requiring a new set of images and a new diagnostic analysis. 2016 is a very different world from that at the turn of the century, and we are being bombarded with 'the smearing accumulation of disparate, unconnected and disconnected experiences...' as the program tells us.

Why do I keep making medical references, I hear you asking. MR Phase is the term used in medicine which refers to an MRI imaging technique which looks at the flow of fluids through the body. As you probably know, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a high contrast technique which allows radiologists to see extraordinary detail in the internal organs of the body and is the favoured tool for diagnosing neurological cancers. It generally detects fat and water - a detail reflected in the costumes of the show - white and blue.

I don't want this review to become some sort of crazy physics lesson, but to truly understand what Christopher Brown is doing, there are some ideas you need to know. A phase is a distinct stage in a process of change, and these stages can be simultaneous, or overlap. They can also be sympathetic (in phase) or contradictory (out of phase). You may have heard of this in terms of sound and music of which there is a lot of in this show - DJ turn table, sampling, playback, live microphones, etc.

MR phase is the use of spin to create a 4 dimensional image (the fourth dimension being time) to detect the velocity of change. MR phase captures two images at the same time and separates them to explore their unique identities and how they work upon each other. This is the limit of my understanding of this technique so I hope it is enough to make the rest of what I say make sense.

In Mr Phase Christopher Brown begins by playing records on a turntable with a sampler on top - it is a dj set up. He is half dancing around wrapped in a huge white terry toweling bath robe with a red light stuck in his mouth and a huge visor over his eyes. This suggests he is about to reveal something, something hidden, a form of nudity, something deep inside.

It is a very modern image but then out of nowhere he changes the record and we get Pachelbel's Canon in D major, the robe comes of and there he is in a blue polyester sweat suit reminiscent of the 70's. This is the beginnings of an exploration of the influences which have worked on him over time. As the show progresses we see the influences of targeted marketing, and the randomness of information overload working on a soul of odd generosity.

Mr Phase is hilarious. It is something more than stand up comedy, yet something slightly less than dramatic monologue. It is participatory, yet not immersive. It is natural,yet not naturalism. Christopher Brown spins discs, and Solomon Brown spins Christopher (when not playing a mean bass guitar), and both are surrounded by spin as the show goes on.

There is a gentleness and generosity to Mr Phase which is surprising - especially given the content. The audience are invited to slip into something 'more comfortable', and a communion of crackers joins the audience in a moment of gentle worship to the great gods of spin - the advertising gurus.

This iteration of Mr Phase is still in development but the bones are interesting and a strong and engaging piece of unique and thoughtful theatre is about to emerge. Transitions are complicated and unclear at this point, yet the ideas are clear and the points already hit home. I can't wait to see this show fully redeveloped.

4 Stars


Thursday, 1 December 2016

The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name - Theatre Review

What: The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name
Where: The Owl and Cat Theatre
When: 28 November - 16 December
Written by: Thomas Ian Doyle
Directed by: Sarah Vickery
Performed by: Toby Rice, Gabrielle Savrone, and Fiona Scarlett

Fiona Scarlett and Toby Rice - photo courtesy of The Owl and Cat Theatre

The Love That Dare Not Speak It's Name is Doyle's latest project and is the first of a series of three planned presentations which form 'The Upstairs Trilogy'. It is the beginning of something like a theatrical mini series and as with all good 'first episodes', this one is engaging, intriguing and left me eager to see part two.

The Owl and Cat is an intimate theatre - not unusual in Melbourne. What is unusual is that the creatives truly understand what this means for the theatre which is presented in that building. Not only that, but this depth of understanding means that they have been able to utilize and understand the spaces available throughout the building and use each of them to create perfect theatrical experiences which explore not only topics of interest, but also the site of the experience as part of the conversation. 

Bordello was the ultimate example of how they can use the entire building as a single, simultaneous performance experience. I thought in Bordello I had seen all of their available spaces, but last night I was introduced to a new one - a garret it you like - and it was magical.

The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name is a voyeuristic experience. The audience watch the happenings inside a seedy motel room as a dystopian future as the spirit of the people inside is slowly sapped by outrageous social policy and discrimination.

The year is 2022. In 2021 the Australian government passed the Homosexual Practices Act which requires LGBTI people to undergo 'treatment'. In 2022 a census is taken and one of the questions asks for your sexual identity. In light of the recent new law, how do you answer? Do you lie? Do you tell the truth?

Saffy and Bell have holed up in a dingy, dusty, decrepit room at the Kensington Hotel as they try and work through the consequences of their choices. Each had to face these question alone on census night but now they are trying to find a future together. As they discover though, the question never goes away and the longer they try and hide, the more the pressure builds to come out into the open until it literally becomes a life and death situation.

The intimacy of the venue and the voyeuristic nature of this work means that it has a filmic quality to it which defies our expectations of live theatre. The actors have carefully gauged their performances to allow for that and Vickery has managed their use of such a tiny space with creativity, flare, and nuance.

Savrone and Scarlett have developed a lovely intimacy and produce a brave and detailed performances we don't see enough of. There is  a lot of nudity but it has the rare quality of being appropriate and necessary for the story telling rather than being a sensationalist exhibition for audience titillation.

Rice plays Bell's brother Terrence. His brooding presence intrudes on the womens' haven again and again, constantly reminding them they have not dealt with anything, reminding them they are not living, reminding them they must eventually emerge from their cocoon. He is their confident, their saviour, and their oppressor all in one.

I was particularly struck by this piece because of the furor which surrounded our recent census about the new information it requested. In a world being once more overrun by dictatorships the ideas of this work (which are very reminiscent of Orwell's 1984 in tone and content) are not as far-fetched as we might wish. My only reservation is that the play implies that sexual identity is chemical matter and I think we have reached a point of understanding that it is so much more than that. If it could be 'corrected' by medication alone, I suspect this law would have been passed a long time ago.

I feel confident in saying you will not see anything like this play anywhere else in Melbourne at the moment. As someone who tends to not like realism in theatre on the whole, I found The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name to be revealing and change my opinion which is refreshing!  This play is a great story told with mastery and performed with skill and intelligence.

4 Stars