FILM REVIEW: A MOST WANTED MAN

psh

 

A Most Wanted Man is an espionage thriller about terrorists. But despite this genre, the film contains no explosions, gun battles or high-tech special effects. Instead, it has more in common with The Ides Of March, in that it is a tense and dramatic labyrinth of power plays where rivals with competing agendas use political strategies to hoodwink the other players in the “game” and these people could be your friend, foe, predator or prey.

The film is an adaptation of a John le Carré novel with a script written by Andrew Bovell. It is also directed by renowned rock photographer, Anton Corbijn, who is also known for having directed the fabulous Ian Curtis biopic,Control. There are certainly some similarities between the gritty gloom of A Most Wanted Man and the dark melancholy of the film about Joy Division’s front man. The score to A Most Wanted Man also uses the same sort of intense, atmospheric tones that the Manchurian group were known for and the setting – industrial Hamburg – shares a lot in common with the band’s Northern English hometown.

Philip Seymour Hoffman stars in one of his last roles in this film and is formidable and engrossing as Günther Bachmann. This slow and nuanced film is really carried by this accomplished actor who plays a chain-smoking, hard-drinking German intelligence agent. Bachmann is smarter than he looks and is determined not to repeat past mistakes. He is also a member of a secret intelligence cell, which was created in the aftermath of September 11 after it was revealed that some of the key players had been living in Hamburg prior to the terrorist act.

The wanted man in this film is Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), a tortured asylum seeker who is half-Chechen and half-Russian. He winds up being taken in by Hamburg’s Islamic community after he arrives in Germany and looks to claim his father’s vast inheritance. It’s unclear whether Karpov is being unduly oppressed because he gives the impression that he wants to give the money away to Muslim charities. The German and American intelligence agencies, however, remain unconvinced and think this is an affront to donate funds to Islamic militants.

Karpov meets Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams) who is a sympathetic human rights lawyer. She helps Karpov meet the dodgy banker (played by Willem Dafoe) but both are eventually used as pawns in Bachmann’s game. The American actors playing German characters is an interesting mix that doesn’t always work as their accents are often muddled and contain twangs of their native tongue.

A Most Wanted Man is hardly ground-breaking material and at times it suffers from being too bogged down in the facts and figures relating to the spy game. It would’ve worked better had some of this material been removed, allowing more airtime for intimate details about the characters (like their motives and feelings) to be revealed. Despite some flaws, A Most Wanted Man is ultimately a slow-burning mystery filled with intrigue, atmosphere and grittiness and shows an unsettling and anxious web of entanglement.

 

Originally published on 30 July 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/07/30/film-review-a-most-wanted-man-uk-usa-germany-2014/

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THEATRE REVIEW: A DOLL’S HOUSE @ SEYMOUR CENTRE, SYDNEY (22.07.2014)

doll's house (1)

 

Photo credit: Seiya Taguchi

 

Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House was met with controversy when it premiered in 1879. It led many to question whether the lead character, Nora Helmer, was a heroic feminist, a rapid neurotic or a selfish runaway. When watching this play in 2014 the answer seems to be that she is some of these things and more, as she is a real chameleon who carries this play through lightness and dark with a pretty and grand defiance.

Sport For Jove are the theatre company behind this 2014 production that is adapted and directed by Adam Cook. While the setting remains the same, it is interesting to see that this bold and classic tale is still important and continues to resonate today. Ultimately, it does lift the veil on a world where the powerful and almighty rule, where hypocrites can be explained away if people choose and a woman’s duty is decided by her husband and this translates into him being considered first and foremost and then to their offspring.

Leading the cast is Matilda Ridgway as Nora. Her acting credits include productions of Shakespeare, among other shows and here she plays the complicated but endearing Nora. At times this character is flighty, flirty and childish while at other points she is branded a liar, frivolous and irresponsible. Yet despite this, in the final act she shows the most maturity, intelligence and clarity of any other character.

The man of the manor is Torvald Helmer (Douglas Hansell) who is initially portrayed as the straight-laced voice of reason who is infatuated by his wife. But this love is a strange one and he is later revealed to be unreasonable, jealous and controlling. Their children are Jon and Ivar (performed at this show by Thom Blake and Bill Blake, respectively, who are making their acting debuts). The rest of the cast includes: housekeeper, Helen (Annie Byron); friend, Dr. Rank (Barry French); Torvald’s employee, Nils Krogstad (Anthony Gooley) and visitor, Kristine Linde (Francesca Savige).

This production is a minimal one with only some minor cosmetic changes to the set and little music used throughout. The costumes – like the décor in the Helmer’s apartment – are in keeping with the 19th century setting. The primary focus of this drama is on Ibsen’s amazing and quotable prose. This is the same author who wrote that “Men and women don’t belong in the same century” and Nora’s own character describes herself as being treated like a doll by her father and husband, which is the inspiration behind the play’s title.

A Doll’s House is a powerful and classic drama that has a slow set-up but comes to a rising crescendo in the final act. The characters are detailed, complex and human and are explored in great detail and with exceptional clarity and intelligence. A Doll’s House manages to do and say an awful lot with few accoutrements and will stay with you after leaving the theatre, as you’re left asking some big questions. In short, it’s brilliant.

 

Originally published on 24 July 2014 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/arts/reviews/sydney/a-dolls-house-seymour-centre-performances-until-august-2nd

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THEATRE REVIEW: BEAUTY & THE BEAST @ RIVERSIDE THEATRE, PARRAMATTA (18.07.2014)

Beast

 

The world of Disney is magical and the story of Beauty & The Beast is enchanted. It was originally a book written by Linda Woolverton and has since enjoyed success as a Broadway musical and animated film with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. The Riverside Theatre in Parramatta is currently hosting a new adaptation of the show, which is produced and directed by Neil Gooding. The show is ultimately a visual feast sprinkled with an extra handful of pixie dust.

For those unfamiliar with the story, the plot revolves around the Beast- a man who was once a very spoilt prince. He encounters an old, haggard woman and refuses to help her. So she casts a spell on him to make him ugly and curses his house by turning the other occupants into inanimate objects (like clocks, teapots, wardrobes, etc). The only way the Beast can reverse this spell is to make a woman fall in love with him before the final petal falls from a rose.

The Beauty in this play is Belle, a strong-willed and determined, provincial girl. She is pursued by and rejects a handsome but dim-witted suitor, Gaston. She also finds herself trapped in the Beast’s palace after she goes to rescue her father from the evil creature’s clutches. Despite being imprisoned, Belle holds her own and refuses to listen to the master of the palace. She proves a great role model and the story itself has some excellent take-home messages for younger people.

This production of Beauty & The Beast boasts a large and strong cast with relative newcomer, Kelsi Boyden shining as Belle. Scott Irwin is excellent and he wins us all over as the Beast. Irwin has previously performed in Les Miserables alongside Donna Lee and Adam Scicluna who play Mrs Potts and Cogsworth, respectively. Other special mentions should go out to David Tucker who plays a camp and over-the-top Lumiere (the excess acting adds some real comedic value to his character) as well as Danny Folpp who is cheeky as the pretty boy, Gaston. The actors also did well on opening night in overcoming some minor sound issues.

The set in this production is not overly complicated with only minor changes to distinguish between the town and the Beast’s castle. The lighting perfectly complements the scenes- from the bright, full-blown frivolity in big, dance numbers like “Be Our Guest” to the gorgeous ballroom-like atmosphere of the title song. It is during this scene where the two leads really fall in love and the audience’s collective heartstrings are tugged for full effect. In short, it’s truly magical.

Beauty & The Beast is full of acrobatics and colourful theatrics as the ensemble members cartwheel and dance their way through numbers like: “Be Our Guest” and “Human Again”. They are backed by a full, 22-piece orchestra and when this is combined with stellar performances and costumes that pop with glitter and tint- it makes for one dazzling display.

Beauty & The Beast is ultimately a sweet and spine-tingling musical which will appeal to young and old thanks to its heady mix of engaging drama, high comedy, thoughtful morality and full technicolour. There’s nothing left to say but be our guest, be enchanted by the spectacle and I defy you to leave the theatre without a smile on your face as you hum along to the catchy tunes. It’s all such fabulous fun as you laugh and jest with the best.

 

Originally published on 21 July 2014 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/arts/reviews/beauty-the-beast-riverside-theatre-parramatta

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DVD REVIEW: THE ANGRIEST MAN IN BROOKLYN

Celebrity Sightings In New York City - September 25, 2012

 

The Angriest Man In Brooklyn could be dubbed “The Diary Of A Mad Man”. The film is a straight-to-DVD release directed by Phil Alden Robinson and stars comedian, Robin Williams as one obnoxious lawyer. After being told he has 90 minutes left to live the irate curmudgeon engages in a frenzied, amazing race around New York to make amends with the individuals he has fractured relationships with. But this is ultimately awkward, artificial and unsatisfying.

Williams has starred in some excellent films and TV programs over the years but this is not one of them. Here, his performance as Henry Altmann feels forced and at times he even seems to be over-acting. Starring opposite Williams is a whiny, Mila Kunis (Black Swan) who puts on an equally poor show. She stars as Dr. Sharon Gill a young, frazzled doctor who is subbed in by her love rat partner (Louis C.K. ) to work that particular Friday.

Dr. Gill is overwhelmed by the recent death of her cat. She also deals with being overworked and emotional by popping pills. After she tells Altmann that he has a brain aneurysm, the latter pushes her to know how long he has left to live. She blurts out that he has 90 minutes, which leads him to seek out his wife (to have sex with), his brother (to make amends) and his son (to give his blessing over the youngster’s choice of profession).

The Angriest Man In Brooklyn is a remake of the Israeli film, 92 Minutes of Mr. Baum. The premise is really silly (who would actually believe that they have such a short period left to live and yet can still go on a crazed running spree) and the characters are too one-dimensional. The film also suffers from trying to be too many things at once. So occasionally it tries to be a light comedy, a thought-provoking family drama, a black comedy or a new-age style lesson à la Eat Pray Love and The Bucket List. The comedy here is outrageous and far too farcical in making light of a serious situation. The fluffy flashbacks try too hard to be sentimental and the voiceovers by Williams and Kunis speaking about their characters in the third person are intrusive and explain unnecessary and simple things.

The supporting cast includes the fabulous Peter Dinklage (Game Of Thrones) and an under-used, James Earl Jones. It’s a shame that this film is such a waste of talent. Ultimately, The Angriest Man In Brooklyn is a soulless and clumsy comedy that suffers from an odd premise, lacklustre script and poor performances. The audiences will be left with little to believe in, even less to emotionally invest in and will no doubt dismiss it all as a rambling and shambolic ride around New York.

 

Originally published on 13 July 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/07/13/dvd-review-the-angriest-man-in-brooklyn-usa-2014/

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FILM REVIEW: DEPARTURES (OKURIBITO)

departures

 

Departures (Okuribito) is a simple, Japanese film about some big subjects: love, life and death. This existential family drama was the winner of the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2009. It is also a subtle and nuanced story where a Zen-like air means that even though the final message is poignant and meaningful, it is clouded by the slow and repetitive rituals that precede it.

The film is directed by Yôjirô Takita and shows a talented but newly-unemployed cellist, Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki) returning to his hometown. This will allow Kobayashi to live in the house he inherited from his mother with his wife, Mika (Ryôko Hirosue). Daigo soon discovers an advertisement in the local newspaper. The job is described as “Departures” and he assumes he will be working for a travel agent. Instead, Daigo is shocked to discover the job is for a nokanshi or coffiner- a person who washes, dresses and makes up a deceased person before they are cremated in a gentle ritual that is performed before the grieving parties.

Daigo initially dislikes the job but eventually he comes to be a master at his profession and appreciate the closure he helps to give to families. This is largely thanks to his deadpan boss (Tsutomu Yamazaki who puts in an excellent performance). In time we learn that Daigo is dealing with his own loss, as his father (Tôru Minegishi) walked out the family when the former was a boy. Daigo grapples with this as well as the growing disapproval regarding his occupation from the people he knows (especially his wife).

Departures is a beautiful, understated and heartfelt film that gradually reveals some rich characters as they deal deftly with a taboo subject, death. The film is subtle, gentle and emotional, but there was also room for it to be tightened in order to create a bigger impact. Because despite having a reverential affair and dealing with a sensitive topic with grace and elegance, this film is ultimately too low-key and soft-paced in its quiet observations to have the profound affect it should have.

 

Originally published on 13 July 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/07/13/japanese-film-festival-encore-review-departures-okuribito-japan-2008/

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BLU-RAY REVIEW: 9 SONGS

9-songs

 

Director Michael Winterbottom is no stranger to showcasing sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll in his work, as one of his most famous films to date is 24 Hour Party People. Four years after that was released came 9 Songs, a movie once described as the most explicit one in British film history. The controversial flick met the ire of the Australian film censors because it showed its lead characters having actual sex and now it’s available on Blu-ray for the very first time.

The film is a low-budget affair where handheld cameras and an improvised script with scant dialogue follow a couple who meet at a Black Rebel Motorcycle Club concert. The pair seem like a normal, young couple and Winterbottom cast two unknown actors, Kieran O’Brien and Margo Stilley. The former plays Matt, a British climatologist while the latter is Lisa, a free-spirited, American exchange student. They both share a mutual passion for sex and they have a lot of it (including vaginal sex, masturbation, oral sex, a little BDSM and sex with a vibrator). And that’s the film in a nutshell.

Michael Winterbottom had said at the time that he was questioning why literature can be graphic but mainstream sex on film generally isn’t real and is almost exclusively simulated. He wanted to show the relationship from its giddy beginnings to the comfortable domestic period and finally at the inevitable break-up and frame this through nine songs. Unfortunately, this is a rather flimsy plot line and there is very little character development or descriptions of the characters’ motivations. It’s just plain old sex and music and the viewer has to fill in the gaps about the two youngsters, if they choose.

The music is perhaps the best part of 9 Songs with live performances from BRMC, The Dandy Warhols, Franz Ferdinand, The Von Bondies, Super Fury Animals, Michael Nyman and Elbow. Some viewers might try to find a link between the chaotic haze and energy of the gigs and the heady stages of the lovers’ relationship, but this link seems tenuous at best. The film is definitely sensual and visceral, with Matt admitting in the opening scene that what he remembers best about Lisa was her taste and the feeling of her skin touching his.

9 Songs is an experimental and raw relationship study. It’s a warm portrayal of a couple that is seated in frank realism but one can’t help but feel like this could’ve made a bigger impact had more time been devoted to looking at the pair as complex people rather than as mere sexual beings. 9 Songs is graphic in showing a couple’s 12 months together in London but it’s an all too simplistic view of sex and music that is like the film equivalent of a one night stand. It tries to be intimate but you’re left walking away knowing virtually nothing about the individuals and what makes them tick.

 

Originally published on 13 July 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/07/13/blu-ray-review-9-songs-uk-2004/

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FILM REVIEW: Tokyo Tower: Mom & Me, & Sometimes Dad (Tôkyô tawâ: Okan to boku to, tokidoki, oton)

tokyo

 

Tokyo Tower: Mom and Me, and Sometimes Dad (Tôkyô tawâ: Okan to boku to, tokidoki, oton) will warm your heart and tug at your heartstrings. The winner of the best film award at the Japanese Academy Awards as well as winning a host of others, is a slow-burning and detailed family drama. It’s also the modest story of a mother and son’s love for each other as they live through laughter, joy, sorrow and sacrifice.

The film is based on the best-selling, autobiographical book of the same name by Lily Franky (also known as Masaya Nakagawa and Rirî Furankî) and is directed by Joji Matsuoka. It begins by showing Masawa Nakagawa as a boy as he witnesses his Mum, Eiko (the younger one played by Yayako Uchida) being beaten up by his alcoholic father (Kaoru Kobayashi). Eiko decides to leave her husband and take their son to live in the rural mining town, Kyushu. It is here that Masawa enjoys a relatively normal childhood while his strong mother works hard to make ends meet.

When Masawa (the older one played by Jô Odagiri) finishes school he decides to go to Tokyo to study art. He is joined by a school friend and it is in this environment that Masawa shows the irresponsible and reckless side he has inherited from his father. Despite this, his mother (the elder one played by Kirin Kiki who is Uchida’s actual mum) still toils away, sacrificing and sending him money. Eventually, he does come to the realisation that he needs to grow up, stop borrowing money from loan sharks and taking advantage of his Mum.

Eiko reveals she has throat cancer but does go into remission. She also tells Masawa that she needs a place to stay. She goes to live in Tokyo with him and discovers that Masawa has become a responsible adult and is working as a fledgling illustrator and radio personality. Kirin Kiki is a stand-out in her role as the family matriarch. She effortlessly shows emotion, heart and sentimentality in the more thought-provoking scenes and also offers up a real sense of humour and light-heartedness in other scenes (especially when she is impersonating Masawa’s grandmother).

Tokyo Tower: Mom and Me, and Sometimes Dad is a simple, coming-of-age drama told through a series of flashbacks and scenes set in the present. It is a nuanced affair brimming with excellent performances, warm music and detailed characterisations that show domestic interludes as well as emotional moments. Despite periods of melancholy and sombreness, Tokyo Tower manages to find the right balance between lightness and darkness to ultimately be a quaint and endearing existential family drama that will touch you through its sincere approach to one mother and son’s relationship.

 

Originally published on 13 July 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/07/13/film-review-tokyo-tower-mom-me-sometimes-dad-tokyo-tawa-okan-to-boku-to-tokidoki-oton-japan-2007/

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DVD REVIEW: TWO MEN IN CHINA

china

 

One country. Two men. Three cities. Two Men In China sees friends- comedian and writer, John Doyle (who is best known as “Rampaging” Roy Slaven) and scientist and activist, Tim Flannery once again taking a trip. This is the pair’s first overseas sojourn as the two have previously travelled across the Great Divide as well as visiting the Murray River and the Top End. This series proves to be an engaging and mostly insightful look at Australia’s biggest trading partner, China.

The three-part documentary looks at the cities of: Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu (the capital of Sichuan) in more detail. The intrepid pair interview a diverse range of interviewees from traditional citizens and experts, to Australian expatriates along with the movers and shakers of new and booming industries. The series is full of Doyle’s provocative interview questions, observations and postulations as well as Flannery’s more sober and informative contributions. The two are a solid pair that share an easy camaraderie with one another, but in some scenes a little more context and variety would’ve helped (like when Chengdu is described as being known for the parks, bars and women).

Two Men In China occasionally covers some rather strange and untraditional ground. At times the behaviour of Doyle could possibly be interpreted by Chinese viewers as going a little too far at being the ocker Aussie taking the p**s. An example of this is when Doyle joins in during an outdoor tai chi class and starts inventing new moves like passing a football and playing a round of golf. It’s a fine line between being humorous and downright offensive to a different culture.

Thankfully, there are other scenes which prove to be more enlightening, like the frightening scene at the bear sanctuary where the barbaric process of collecting bear bile is described. This series does try to strike a balance between off-beat and serious topics and more colourful and funny ones. This means one scene could be about renewable energy and conservation and others can be about public match-making events and exclusive penis restaurants (not to mention the bonus scenes poking fun at the road handbook and the depiction of perhaps the only meat pie shop in the entire country).

Two Men In China is a difficult show to describe because it’s a real hodgepodge of different interviews and a heady mix of funny, silly and informative moments. At times this series captures the essence of this great and rapidly changing country thanks to the inquisitive enthusiasm exhibited by the two presenters, but at other times it does seem to miss the mark. In all, the show proves that China is one misunderstood and exotic mega power and a land full of wonderful contradiction and opportunity.

 

Originally published on 30 June 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/06/30/tv-dvd-review-two-men-in-china-abc-tv-australia-2014/

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