Sneak Preview ‘Behind the Curtain’

While NSW & parts of Qld are on fire and I’m chipping away at my final project for university, here’s a preview of the latest radio play I’m involved in.
This is the pilot for ‘Behind the Curtain’, a comedy/soap opera that is set in Tasmania but has relevance to any small city. Tons of fun to be part of as an actor but a slick production thanks to the excellent writing by Matt Dean​ and sound effects, production and theme tune by Mike Raine​!

Hope you enjoy it – and please let me know what you think!

I’ll get back to being academic now and see you all in early December, when I hope to be in a position to write regularly for this blog!

Take care lovelies ❤

Ad Astra

Ad Astra (2019)

Directed by James Gray, screenplay by James Gray and Ethan Gross.

I’m in the midst of the madness that is my final undergraduate unit, a special screen studies research project that is quietly driving me to distraction at the moment. So, what better way to distract myself from writing about films than go to the movies!

Ad Astra was just the tonic I needed. Gorgeously shot by Hoyte Van Hoytema (Director of Photography for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Interstellar and Dunkirk among his many credits), this is a stunningly beautiful film that, in terms of framing and colourisation, owes a tremendous debt to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and narratively to Joseph Conrad’s novella ‘Heart of Darkness’. From the opening, gut turning sequence, this is a visual feast.

In essence, this is a story of men told from an extreme male perspective and women are ethereal and clearly seen through the male gaze (Liv Tyler’s Eve) or pointedly asexual (Ruth Negga’s quietly understated Helen Lantos). The essential conflict here is between fathers and sons, and within Roy. The idea of buttoned up masculinity he inherited from his father is on clear display, and Roy’s ability to compartmentalise his feelings does nothing to help him (or any man) engage with or process the inner demons of his emotional life. The story is narrated throughout by Roy and while it helps at times having that inner voice, I found it strayed into some very on the nose musings, particularly in the last act. This wasn’t helped by some pacing issues in the second act that drew me out of the film in a fairly abrupt way.

Brad Pitt has never been high on my list of preferred actors but I really liked him in this. The sulky restraint he shows here as Roy McBride is reminiscent of his taciturn Jesse James in Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford (2007), still far and away my favourite Pitt vehicle (if you haven’t seen it, just do it – you can thank me later!) But there is no room for Brad to be the grump when there’s the godfather of grouchiness, Tommy Lee Jones to contend with! As Roy’s father, H. Clifford McBride, he just has to glower at the camera and I’m sold.

Despite its fairly obvious flaws this is still an enjoyable watch, and overall, I found it to be a surprisingly immersive film, helped tremendously by the Max Richter score. However, for those of you with a passion for science and particularly physics, try and put your knowledge on hold – a lot of the science doesn’t hold up to scrutiny – but it’s a fun and at times, quite thrilling ride!

Suspiria (1977) & Suspiria (2018)

I have to confess, the original Suspiria (1977) has always been one of my favourite horror films and Dario Argento a director I generally enjoy, despite the unevenness of his oeuvre. So when the remake was announced, I was a little concerned that anyone should mess with one of the movies that ushered me into adulthood.

On the plus side, Luca Guadagnino has made some good films, such as The Protagonists (1999) and Call Me by Your Name (2017). He’s a regular collaborator with Tilda Swinton and I’d read enough to know that he wasn’t going to try to do a shot-for-shot remake. I decided finally to watch both in the same day, starting with the original.

I can’t remember where I saw Suspiria when it finally arrived in Australia – it might have been at a film festival – but I know it was in a cinema. I do remember being awed by both its astonishingly bright colour palette and the really wonderful score by prog-rock band, Goblin. Jessica Harper stars as the virginal Suzy Bannion, who arrives as the new American student at a dance academy in Freiburg, all to the background of the Munich hostage crisis. There was also an absence of men, which was unusual for most horror films of the era, let alone giallo – a traditional domain of the leering, usually psychotic, sex-crazed maniac! Instead, male characters are sidelined and the screen is dominated by women of all ages, body types and dispositions ranging from the ridiculously innocent to the truly evil. Harper is sublime as the ingénue whose dewy eyed innocence is so lovingly captured in Argento’s frame.

While many aspects of this film haven’t aged particularly well (even back in the day it could be read as camp) it has an undeniable atmosphere, a creepiness that builds throughout to a climax that is ridiculous, gory and oddly satisfying all at once. Every time I’ve watched this over the years, I always think of it as a drug-fuelled, psychedelic Alice in Wonderland horror for the late 1970s.

Guadagnino’s Suspiria is unsurprisingly, a completely different beast. To start with, the academy has been transferred to Berlin, though in the same time period. Interiors are muted and drab and exteriors are predominantly in rain or snow, which gives a bleak coldness to the film. There are sub-plots involving Baader-Meinhof terrorism and Germany coming to terms with its Nazi history which I found muddied the central theme of the dance academy as a home for an ancient coven.

Dakota Johnson takes the central role of Susie and while I like her as an actress, I found it difficult to connect with her in the role of the innocent ingénue (Mia Goth as Sara seemed to fit this role with far more ease and believability). Nevertheless, there is a sincerity that Johnson brings to Susie, applying herself to the bizarre tasks required for the sake of the dance. And dance is a major theme in this version.

Where Argento used it only as a mechanism to provide a house full of women, Guadagnino milks it relentlessly, particularly as a means of controlling and manipulating the bodies and minds of the young dancers. Head of the academy, Madame Blanc is played with equal parts relish and menace by the always wonderful Tilda Swinton. It also made me realise she is undoubtedly one of the most graceful women on the planet and it’s worth watching just for her. She also plays a prominent male role (albeit under a lot of make-up) which works up to a point.

Thom Yorke provides a good musical score as expected and Jessica Harper makes a welcome appearance in a small role, but where this film fell down for me was in attempting to make something much deeper than the material allowed.

Throughout, I felt Guadagnino was trying to dig down deep into the psychological underpinnings of horror but in an altogether far too knowing manner. The result was for me, a ham-fisted and overly long mess – and turning what should have been an emotional and (literally) gut-wrenching ending into a pastiche of 21st Century nihilist cinema with added red.

Worth watching if only for Swinton and it has some good moments – but for me, ultimately a disappointment.

Suspiria (1977) is available to watch in Australia on Tubi and Suspiria (2018) is currently on Amazon Prime

Spider-Man: Far From Home *NO SPOILERS*

Spider-Man: Far From Home

Directed by Jon Watts

A quick review tonight. We’re in the midst of flu season here in Tasmania and this is the first chance I’ve had to get to a cinema to see this movie.

This was always going to be a difficult film, coming after the high drama of Infinity War (2018) and Endgame (2019) but for the most part this is a fun, surprisingly frothy romp around Europe with Peter Parker and his school friends. While I’m definitely not in the target demographic for this, I really related to the awkward teen moments of Peter, MJ and co.

As one would expect this far into the franchise, Marvel’s visual effects are up to their usual high standard and the production values generally are what I’ve come to really appreciate. But I felt there were issues with how the narrative works and particularly the motivations of the villain not being plausible. In Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) Vulture was a fully realised bad guy, with very believable reasons for his actions, but here I couldn’t find the same rationale.

There’s an old maxim in writing that says you can never have a really satisfying protagonist without a fully formed antagonist. Without heading into spoiler territory, our main villain and his happy band of hench-people just didn’t ring true to me. That amount of maniacal, mad scientist level vitriol and egotism was something I’d expect to see in the 70s cartoons, not the urbane, hip, 21st century MCU.

Nevertheless, this is still a solid entry, with a great central performance from Tom Holland who balances the awkward teen who just wants to be a normal kid and the smart, heroic action hero. He is undoubtedly now my favourite Spider-Man. The rest of the cast are just as strong, and it was lovely to see Jon Favreau and Marissa Tomei having a ton of fun as Happy Hogan and Aunt May. The final set piece is really very satisfying and though this isn’t my favourite film in the franchise, it’s still a rollicking good ride.

Do stay for the very end, the two cut scenes are not only very funny but also nod to future directions for the MCU Phase 4.

Baw-da Farce – A Radio Satire

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Australia, I live in Hobart, the capital of the southern-most state, Tasmania. While it’s a small city (just over 200, 000) it’s really quite an extraordinary place for creative endeavours and recently I’ve been reminded of the many amazingly talented people I’m blessed to rub shoulders with.

One of them is Matt Dean, originally from the UK (via Western Australia), a fellow songwriter, singer, multi-instrumentalist, stand-up comedian, educator and generally decent human. The last few months he’s been quietly writing, recording and producing a radio show which satirises some of the issues we’re currently facing locally and as a nation. The episodes are quite short (all around 10 minutes) and have provided quite a lot of laughter in my house these past months.

Last weekend, I had the immense privilege of recording three episodes in an afternoon with Matt and his ensemble. The first of these, ‘Rolf Creep’ is up for listening now on Soundcloud and I think it’s laugh-out-loud funny. It harks back to radio satire that I grew up with and still love.

Please note this is for adults. There is bad language (some of it from me), very questionable themes and Australian references that should travel well – but don’t hesitate to ask if you need a translation! I hope you enjoy it ❤

Apollo 11

Apollo 11 (2019)

Directed by Todd Douglas Miller

Like so many kids of my generation I was obsessed with space and space travel, something that has persisted in my love of pure science as well as science fiction literature and film. One of my earliest preschool memories was running around our yard in rural Australia with an empty cereal box as a helmet, telling anyone who would listen I was going to be the first singing astronaut.

This week marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission and my local, the State Cinema in Hobart has joined with a few other independent cinemas to run a Moon Festival. This short season of moon-related features opened tonight with the documentary Apollo 11.

As a child of the 60s (I was 10 when Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon) this film bought back many memories, such as having the day off school in the middle of winter, sitting with my friends on our couch, all with our legs raised trying to put our foot on the ground the same time as Neil Armstrong. And long conversations with my beloved father about physics, space travel, what we might find there and the hope the Apollo missions represented for humanity.

So, as soon as the pre-mission countdown began at Cape Kennedy (now Cape Canaveral) and the luscious sound design started to work its magic, I knew I was being emotionally manipulated by a very cleverly made documentary – and I welcomed it with open arms! Rather than filling screen with facts and figures, this film explores more the feeling of the time and the profound nature of the mission. Even though I know how the story goes, I felt the tension build in me as the astronauts and their ground crews approached crisis points.

Everything about this film is big – the opening scenes of the Saturn 5 rocket sitting on the launch pad, the crowds who came to Florida to watch the launch, the sound of take-off and the beautiful, insistent score by Matt Morton that doesn’t intrude but blends beautifully with the overall sound design by Eric Milano and the superb film editing by Todd Douglas Miller.

Unsurprisingly, this movie won the editing award and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize (documentary) at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and I have no doubt it will go on to earn further industry accolades. If you have an interest in the moon landing, space exploration, lived through the event or just an interest in modern history, this is a great film. See it on the largest screen you possibly can, (there is an IMAX version) preferably one with a very good sound system.

This superb film has taken archival footage and made it meaningful for new audiences half a century later, no mean feat! I found it stirring and incredibly uplifting but I left the cinema with a profound sense of sadness that my generation never followed through on the promise of truly going to the stars.

The Moment I Wept – Ode To a Little Hen

It’s been a very sad morning.

Apart from suffering from a very nasty virus the past few weeks (I blame Dark Mofo Festival) the weather’s been pretty awful and I’ve been watching the elderly hens and particularly B1 & B2 fairly closely. Although they’re younger than the rest, Isa Browns are notoriously frail little things, not bred to live long, just as egg-laying machines. These two came to us over 4 years ago from a paddock-run operation outside of Hobart. At 18 months they were too old to be commercial layers, but they suited us just fine and have been reliable egg-layers ever since. Incredibly tame, these docile little girls also enjoyed being picked up and petted, unusual among my rabble

Today I had to made the call to euthanase B2. I examined her and she was clearly starting to suffer, so I removed her from their run to a sunny spot near the apple trees. It was quick, as pain free as I could make it with a sharp hatchet. She left this plane being thanked for the joy she bought into our lives – not to mention the eggs. She was buried deep with great ceremony in a fallow bed, her final task to condition the soil over the coming months.

I was sad but this is the pact we make when we decide to keep backyard poultry or any companion animal. Chickens in particular can go downhill very quickly and I hate the thought of any creature in my care suffering needlessly. I kept it together until I went back with some barley greens for the other chickens.

There was B1, standing at the gateway, looking for her sister……

Vale B2

 

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