Sunday, May 31, 2009

Mad Persons

You certainly get a quick intro to this series when the advertising executives discuss a product and one asks "What is the woman's angle on this?" The leading man shrugs his shoulders and mutters "Who cares?". Its a shock and it should be.

Surely this beautiful series could not have come at a better time when people like me are longing for the 'put together' looks of Audrey Hepburn and the sharp hair cuts and tailored suits of the men of long ago. 'Mad Men' is about the time when women wore petticoats and suspenders and men wore hats and looked very fine in them too. Nobody wanted to be like a New York criminal and boys wore their jeans round their torsoes not their knees. But with all this snappy attire came cigarettes and sexism, very odd canapes and a giant amount of alcohol.

That's the awful fascination of this as you watch the men compete with each other for every step up the ladder, driving their wives mad with suspicion that turns into avarice while their husbands dally with mistresses from the office and then step casually into their fabulous cars, fully tanked themselves. And the racism is of another order altogether. It is all so beautifully done that wounds and insults slide by in a congenial fog of beauty and style and you are left at the end blinking at the closing credits following the 'Mad' Madison Avenue man as he spirals down the sheer cliff face of his multi storey office block.

Thank your lucky stars I say and give it a long hard look. We've come a long way and it was well worth the trouble.

To see a trailer of Mad Men Series 1&2, click here:

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The State of Washington

In my constant quest to find as many films which feature older women in powerful roles as I can, here's another. 'State of Play' is a fast paced thriller with Helen Mirren as the Editor of The Washington Globe and Russel Crowe as the top reporter. She has great wisecracks, pithy retorts and quite a nice line in power dressing. Lean and tanned, she is showing the results of her years in L.A. but has lost none of the direct, disturbing focus she used to interrogate 'persons of interest' in 'Prime Suspect.'

I went to see a preview put on by 'Popcorn Taxi' - the gen Y conduit to the latest movies and their makers. In the time afterwards, they had director Kevin Macdonald on the phone from England. He explained his casting dilemma - with Brad Pitt leaving the movie only a week before the shoot as a result of a script disagreement. Russel Crowe stepped in and saved the day but still they had no rehearsal for what is a tense, tight, thriller. To see how many people are assembled for a big film like this,click on the 'What Just Happened' trailer for the Bruce Willis scene. Macdonald and Russel Crowe had a weekend to go over the role before Monday rolled in and the whole show began.

I don't know how people pull together a performance so fast when they have to be an ensemble for so much of it, let alone master an intricate plot line that grabs you from the initial short, sharp, shock through to the end. For 'Mao's Last Dancer' one of the overseas actors had the plot line for his character typed out in bold letters at the head of each scene. That's one way of knowing exactly where you stand.

To see the trailer for 'State of Play click here:

Friday, May 22, 2009

What just happened?

Well, I don't think this a comedy anyway. The movie starring Robert De Niro as a producer is almost a straight doco. Funny in parts but, when NIDA friend and long time film-going partner John Paramor, said he hated the 'Director' character, I asked if he had ever worked with people like that? His answer, 'YES' was so large there's not a big enough type face to write it.

De Niro is the revelation. Sometimes it's sad to see heroes age on screen but I was warned about his mellowing when I saw him interviewed in Cannes on TV. He sat low in his chair giggling like a baby, looking sweet and amiable. Is this the once 'Raging Bull?' He has stepped into a new persona you wouldn't have been able to imagine a decade ago. Calm and mature, there's a steadiness about him that belies all previous violence.

I always thought his best roles were 'Everyman in a Cold World' parts a la 'Midnight Run' but its a joy to see him as a thoughtful father, implacable businessman, wounded husband and amused entrepreneur. He is now the 'man of the world' even in the worst underwear in history and the film, made as it is by seasoned insiders, is a delight.

Go thinking to catch a glimpse of real Hollywood and then the humour emerges but there are no belly laughs. It's a world as weird as the deep waters of the oceans and as fascinating. The seduction scene in the men's loo when De Niro is approached by a perfect beauty murmuring soft endearments, is one of the spine chilling moments when you realise how hard marriages must be to maintain in FilmLand L.A.

One of the highlights is the calm power of the Studio Boss. I wonder how many creative people have wanted to say - change this or "I'll take this movie away from you and re-cut it myself"?

To see the trailer of 'What just happened?' click here:

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ask Grannie

The Spanish film festival was on in Sydney last week and a friend of mine who had lived in Spain, rang me. We decided on a film called 'The Anarchist's wife' which had good reviews while I dodged a ticket to an opera with a 'modern interpretation.' Arriving at dusk, I was offered a pamphlet which seemed to be a plot outline. The foyer was full of Sydney's Spanish population. I lined up at the box office to get my ticket to find another actress serving."How's things?""Fine thanks." "You?" "Fine." You often see familiar faces in box offices. I looked down at my pamphlet to find it an Anarchist manifesto.

The audience was the usual unruly bunch of what used to be called 'Pseuds'. Young and old pretending to know all about what they were about to see, plus a sprinkling of spaniards who were loud and happy and seemed to have brought their dinner. As the lights dimmed, there was no cessation of noise and I moved my head to one side to avoid the block of heads eagerly kissing each other in the seats in front.

The Anarchist's wife was of unearthly beauty and worryingly young. She seemed to have a very grown up child, a succession of fine fur coats and quite a lot of real estate. The Anarchist read out stirring speeches on rebel radio from besieged townships and sooner or later, they were parted. Ho Hum. Still somewhere along this unlikely fairy story, the wondrous earnestness of their acting and the domestic troubles of the 'interesting' times they were living through caught me unawares. I was carried along, fine fur coats and all through an hour and a half of Spanish Civil War and its consequences and came out feeling I knew a bit more about this time, which figures so heavily in our modern history. Especially the horrible aftermath of Spanish refugees and their flight to France. Strange to say, the wife didn't age much but her child grew to maidenhood and the Anarchist himself looked very worn. Rightly, as he had been through a civil war, a world war and a concentration camp.

I think that is the virtue of film festivals - you get to see how other countries handle their culture. The blackness which underlies the Spanish soul and sits side by side with its lustrous beauty, is a little unsettling. On screen they portray far more than Anglo Celts do - you wander into the loo with their characters and watch them in all sorts of daily activities that we would close the door on but still, they have a siren song of loveliness and honesty that is appealing. I'm not sure there was much of it in this film but it was alluring in the best sense. Not the least being the ugly rebellion of the long suffering daughter.

So...ask your parents or grandparents, as the film recommends us to do and see what they say about those times.

To see a german language trailer of 'The Anarchist's Wife' click here:

Thursday, May 7, 2009

'Life' Really Matters

A very sad thing has happened to my favourite series...Channel 10's 'Life'. NBC have cancelled it. Of course its a lot to expect a weird sexy stylish cop drama full of good actors, to last. It did have that quintessential good guy Damian Lewis in it and he has a long list of credits in English TV and stage behind him, but he took to being American like a duck to water. Beautiful accent, scary with a gun etc etc.

'Life' had a lot of weird things. Odd and very funny sexual politics, a bizarrely balletic flow of movement and a very tricky plot line. It was drama for grown ups I thought and now its over. But its worth remembering that it actually got on screen in the first place.

In this day of bullying, its interesting to know that Damian Lewis' background is the high flown school of Eton in England. Apart from surviving the inbuilt hustling which is routine in most 'public' schools in England, Joanna McCallum, the daughter of Googie Withers (The Lady Vanishes) and John McCallum (Skippy producer) told me she was discussing confidence with him one day and he admitted that the school had helped him there. I don't know that a childhood in top hat and tails is always a good thing for an actor but it seems to have given him a great work ethic - he not only has the accent but also the body language and rhythm of the character he plays. Compare that to his performance as the uptight Soames Forsyte in the ITV series 'The Forsyte Saga.'

As much as an English or Australian accent is very rare to find in American films so it is rare to hear it convincingly on the other side of the ocean. Rachel Griffiths is an acknowledged master of it for 'Brothers and Sisters' and she does it meticulously line for line. Everything is different including the way the tongue moves to form the words. She once showed me some exercises in an Art Gallery behind cupped hands. It is not a beautiful thing to see two people trying to manoeuvre their tongues to the idiosyncrasies of American dialect and I think we needed Restoration style fans to hide behind.

To see what actors really do even in top class drama, click here:

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Running and Hiding

Coming out of 'Defiance' somebody sneezed without putting their hand to their mouth and we were all wrenched out of our brave war torn world and into modern day worries in a flash.

I am a big fan of the two actors who played the main protagonists in a family of four real life brothers who are the basis for this movie. So to see Daniel Craig and Leiv Schreiber as the two elder Bielski brothers was wonderful in terms of performance but also because, as a baby boomer brought up in Europe, I spent quite a lot of early childhood surrounded by ex soldiers. Our priest at school squeaked down the aisle on his wooden leg (blown off during the war) and I was taught piano by a woman whose left hand had been sheared in half by a buzz bomb. She played on and the vicar marched on and so I suppose you get to suss out flim flam soldiery very quickly when you see it on screen. For all that I actually saw no war, this film does seem to incorporate the kind of persona those men had even though perhaps the two Russian army partisans were cast more for their fabulous faces than their manly physiques.

On the down side, I don't remember European forests being quite so beautifully light and I missed the feeling of wildlife but the brothers are not given the moral high ground exclusively and there are several vignettes of forest life that bring the chill and famine a little too close for comfort. I liked the way the young brother grew into his authority and felt a strange sense of the wild gamble that life in a war must be,with all its unlikely good fortune and heartbreaking bad.

On a personal side, it is amazing to me that performers cast in such a film do not do basic weight loss diets working on these stories. You just can't slim down chubby cheeks with make up and it does only take a very small effort to get it off. I was stunned when working on Bruce Beresford's 'Paradise Road' how few of us took the extremely careful dietary regime we were asked to go on seriously. One of the extras used to walk down the lunch table laid out for the crew (no holds barred scrumptious food to keep a physically active person going for 12 hours) and send her husband down the actors table (lean but highly nutritious food) - she looked like a pork barrel all the way through the movie and she wasn't the only one. There were some shots of 'starving' people in this film that make you long for a Jenny Craig representative.