Regularly added bite-sized reviews about Literature, Art, Music & Film.
Voltaire said the secret of being boring is to say everything.
We do not wish to say everything or see everything; life, though long is too short for that.
We hope you take these little syntheses in the spirit of shared enthusiasm.
(By Robert Louis Stevenson; Sydney Theatre Company adaption and direction by Kip Williams: Her Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide, 5 March 2023)
Stevenson‘s 1885 fable of the dangers of suppressing the id “is for ever being recalled, throughout the English-speaking world, to signify man’s divided nature.”* Filmed, staged and broadcast hundreds of times, the story is superior to the telling, and in this adaptation (by the team that presented The Picture of Dorian Gray) we are treated to a Gothic glory, vivified for the stage by dark demonic videographers, swarming hornet-like about the players. So it is not quite a two-hander.
Stevenson’s key character of the lawyer, Utterson (Matthew Backer), is revived, and the ‘other guys’ are played by Ewen Leslie, in a virtuoso performance (or performances). Vast slabs of text are hurled at us in an impressive display of rote, but the effect comes-off as much too talky.
As in Dorian Gray, Williams employs imaginative stagecraft, melding on-stage actors, live video, and pre-recorded video (by moving flats and screens) to heighten the sense of nervous, blurry fragmentation. The set design, really more Edinburgh than London, is minimalist but apt, with its fog and lamps and autumn leaves, but is dominated by the video design. Yet the use, arguably, the overuse, of such techniques, tends to detract from the dramatic activity, particularly when the real characters are obscured by the set and we are reduced, as it were, to watch them on TV.
This production is clever, but (dare we use that critic’s weasel phrase) “too clever.” Styled as a thriller, the piece is so well known that the denouement lacks mystery. More profoundly, Hyde comes-off as a figure of pity, rather than horror. He is a murderer and villain, yes, but we do not get the sense of the evil that potentially enters (or “enters in”) the human heart. And when Utterson has a crack at Jekyll’s potion and gets a rush akin to an opium or acid trip, the switch is flicked to vaudeville. Some edits are due: this show would resonate more at 90 rather than 120 minutes.
It has been suggested that Hyde was inspired by a French villain, Eugene Chantrelle, who invited his victims in Edinburgh to supper parties with toasted cheese and opium. This production, sumptuous as it is, has a tad too much cheese.[* J. B. Priestley, Literature and Western Man (1960), p. 272.] Continue Reading →
(AF, Adelaide Town Hall, 4 March 2023)
Founded in the 13th century, this ensemble is the oldest extant boys’ choir in the world and its rigorous training and selection criteria ensure its standards never slip. The choirboys of Escolania are taught the Benedictine sacred repertoire at the Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey in Catalonia (established in 1,025AD). Their core duty is to enliven pilgrims who come to Montserrat, so to see them on tour – 36 of the full complement of 50 – is quite special.
Llorenç Castelló (see below) conducted the choir, who entered the Hall from the back, singing a Gregorian chant (full programme below). Pieces ranged from the full historical liturgical works to Catalan folk songs, contemporary pieces, the classic prayer to the Virgin (a daily work at the monastery) Salve Regina, (a rather terrifying piece, with the Town Hall’s great organ blasting out Hammer Horror sounds) and of course, Ave Maria. The choir was dynamic, changing places and disporting themselves about the stage and on one occasion, the audience floor, with the precision and timing of expert Swiss Guards or football players. This ‘surround sound’ presentation was sublime. Accompaniment was sparse, once with a lonely tambourine and hand drum, but generally either via the grand organ or grand piano, both brilliantly executed by Mercè Sanchis. The young men, in their crisp black and white smocks, sang as if they were angels. (It makes you regret the inevitability of puberty.)
ESCOLANIA SINGS TO THE VIRGIN
Gregorian chant (Introit of the Solemnity Mass to Our Lady of Montserrat, that the Escolania used to sing every morning around the main altar of the church.)
Codex XIV century (Written in the 14th century, the Montserrat Codex contains different sections (religious and astronomical, for example) and a songbook of ten medieval songs and dances dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the result of the pilgrims’ devotion to the Virgin. It is a polyphonic motet, adapted to three voices, in which the figure of the Virgin Mary is praised.)
Anselm Viola (1738 – 1798)
Magnificat (Anselm Viola is considered one of the most prestigious musicians of the Montserrat music school. He devoted himself to his life’s work, which was teaching music to the choristers. His musical task was not limited to teaching, however, as he found time to compose musical works to cater for the religious requirements of the monastery. The vocal and instrumental works of Viola that have been preserved reveal a mature and prolific composer, up-to-date with the modern techniques and forms of his time. His style is characterised by highlighting especially graphic parts of the text with a correspondingly expressive musical setting, as well as by unexpected modulations.)
Àngel Rodamilans (1874-1936)
Moreneta en sou (Father Rodamilans is, without doubt, a special, rare and unique composer with a strong and charismatic personality and whose works have a characteristic mark that never leaves someone the same. The works from his dense and daring final period (with Moreneta en sou, for example), takes inspiration from the works of the first era, yet demonstrate a constant interest in evolving to a more complex and innovative style. We shall never forget the compositional bravery of Rodamilans, who didn’t want to follow certain norms or rules put in place by the era, but instead valued his own freedom of imagination and expression.)
Bernat Vivancos (b.1973)
Two liturgical pieces to the Virgin:
Ave Maria (from Ave Maria by Franz Schubert) (“I arranged it [Schubert’s Ave Maria] for my wedding… I found it ready-made!” said Bernat Vivancos with a grin, proof of his fascination for, and natural acceptance of, the mysteries of creativity. To open one’s eyes and let oneself be caressed by Ave Maria is to discover the effect of harmony in the minor key which, after the surprise of the initial disruption of expectations, becomes delectable in the unexpected expressive quality of the melody.)
Salve Regina (The Salve Regina is the prayer that the Escolania sings to the Virgin Mary every day at 1pm. This text has been set to music by many composers of very different styles and eras. The one we present to you comes from a contemporary aesthetic, which employs canatabile fragments, delicacy fragments and ferocious organ interludes. The composer, of international recognition, was a student at the Escolania and was also the director of the choir between 2007 and 2014.)
CATALAN FOLKSONGS AND COMPOSERS
Francesc Civil (1895-1990)
La gata i el belitre (The cat and the scoundrel) (A Catalan folk song of a humorous nature that narrates the vicissitudes in the relationship between a cat and a dog. It is harmonised by Francesc Civil, a former chorister of Montserrat. He goes beyond the simple adaptation and harmonisation to finally become a new creation, developing the themes, making variations and adding new melodies.)
Bernat Vivancos (b.1973)
L’ametller (The almond tree) (Inspired by a poem by Catalan writer Joan Margall’s poem, Bernat Vivancos’ L’ametller (“The Almond Tree”), presents us with a landscape where the arpeggiated resonances of the piano surround a serene, three-voiced melody. The piece creates a painting of very personal tones.)
Josep Ma. Ruera (1900 – 1988)
La nostra dansa (Our dance) (This is an example of the sardana, a typical Catalan dance. This choir sardana has a fresh, bright and playful character with a high musical quality, reflecting the importance that Ruera gave to the sardana and the need to spread it at all levels.)
Bernat Vivancos (b.1973)
El cant dels ocells (The song of the birds) (A Catalan folk song, popularised by Pau Casals,this work narrates the announcement of the birth of the Infant Jesus through the refined song of the birds in the sky. The harmonisation adopts a neutral and modal language without ever disfiguring the main melody, always present, enveloped by an aura of sound that aims to be constant and uniform.)
Albert Guinovart (b. 1962)
Three pieces from El Bestiolari:
Aranya de sostre (Common spider)
Rossinyol viatger (Travelling nightingale)
Ull de bou de festa major (The chiffchaff of the festival) (These are three playful poems dedicated to three creatures: the common spider, the nightingale and the common chiffchaff. Music, always at the service of the word, plays, laughs and gets excited, giving rise to three small musical gifts.)
Walking Tour (Adelaide Fringe Festival, 2 March 2023)
Parkside, an old suburb just to the south of the Parklands which encircle the Adelaide CBD, is famous for one of the most well-known of all Adelaide’s infamous homicides – the one known as “the body-in-the-freezer murder”. But, while those of us who knew someone involved in this macabre crime, or who worked in the odd building which housed the freezer, are familiar indeed with the gory details, there are some – particularly people born this century – who must have only a vague notion of the events, if any notion at all. And surely some of the guests joining The Oily Rag Theatre’s ‘The Dark Side of Parkside’ tours would be interested to know more about the most startling event to ever occur in that suburb.
Strangely, however, our hosts on the tour on an early March night mentioned it a few times cryptically and only in passing. Nor did they take the tour to the nearby bare triangle of land where the hemlock-ceilinged, skateboard-track-like building once stood. The building was levelled by the Bhagwan (yes, The Beatles’ Bhagwan, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh) who bought it because it sat next door to the birthplace of his right-hand man and had otherwise favourable Vedic aspects (whether those include the original owner being shot in the head and stuffed into a piece of kitchen equipment is a moot point). An interesting spot, surely, for those interested in Parkside’s nether regions?
Also rather odd was the repeated lack of connection between the historical event described on the tour and the place in which we stood. The path trodden by the 20 or so guests seemed to be mostly random.
These shortcomings, however, do not detract from the overall entertaining aspects of the Oily Rag Theatre’s Parkside tour. As the dusk settled, enraged dogs barked and the bats threw fruit around, most of the 20 or so of us who trod the uneven footpaths of the venerable poor sister of Unley were engaged and cheerful. There were florid tales of couples violently de-coupling, consciously and not: mostly of the crime passionnel variety, Parkside locals being a bit more honest in their bad behaviour and untroubled by Deoxyribonucleic acid.
Heather Crawford and Shannon Norfolk played deceased sisters Annie and Penny (spirits who were summoned to guide us). They were confident and professional, although our theatre friend was disappointed that they read from scripts, and tended to talk down to the crowd, as ghosts do. Another friend would have liked clearer exposition of the history of Parkside. (We did say “most of the 20 or so of us…were engaged and cheerful”). We at TVC feel that these criticisms miss the point. The Oily Rag Theatre’s tours lead by bickering ghosts in appropriately ghastly green period dresses (made by one of the ghosts) are a lighthearted exposition of the weirder aspects of our suburbs. They are inventive and inexpensive; not Oscar-eligible performances or historical treatises.
Even though the Parkside tours are booked out, the team was very good about letting us change our tickets when the night of the tour which we were originally scheduled to attend was just too hot.Continue Reading →
(By Edward Albee: Directed by Mitchell Butel – State Theatre Company SA, 21 February 2023)
Albee wrote some killer lines in his time. He had a flair for haute psychomania. He also was very clever at combining comedy with drama. Alas, he fell short with The Goat, that descends to farce, and exchanges drama for histrionic displays of temper. Feydeau he wasn’t.
It was perfectly watchable the other night. Claudia Karvan, as Stevie, Nathan Page as Martin, and Mark Saturno as Ross, all deliver their overheated lines in an overheated (American) way. Newcomer Yazeed Daher, as son Billy, throws flamboyant tantrums. There are some good laugh lines. The set is a dream, an upper class, upper east-side architect’s pad with a woman’s touch, according to Good Housekeeping: very satisfying to see it becoming steadily trashed.
The problem is the play, a weird hot mess that fails as comedy or drama. Wikipedia tells us that Zoophilia was estimated to be prevalent in 2% of the population in 2021. So we find the concept of a Pritzker Architecture Prize-winning architect with a happy marriage having sex, and falling in love, with a she-goat, to be simply unbelievable. Is it a metaphor for love rivalry? A savage attack on bourgeois society? A riff on the obsession with reputational damage? Who knows, or cares, really?
Martin (the architect), despite his outward success, has been distracted by his visit to a chichi farm and forming a love affair with Sylvia (the goat). He confides in his smug progressive friend who instantly reacts with prim conservative horror. For Martin, it is love, not betrayal, even though he attends a therapy group of beast-botherers to deal with his new situation. His wife, Stevie, takes the news badly, but she seems to fear a rival, rather than having Martin committed; after trashing their living room, she takes-off to confront said rival for an earnest girl talk (how she locates Sylvia is unexplained). The whole melange is a thin and mean goat-curry – lean meat on offer, but missing roti, rice and potatoes.Continue Reading →
(Directed by Tom Gormican, 2022)
It’s just silly. Hell, it’s Goofy. But as a buddy movie, it has some hilarious bits, until it goes into Full Utter Cage Kick-Ass-Action Mode (F.U.C.K.) and peters-out with a whimper.
Nicolas Cage (Nicolas Cage) is in a slump. His agent has no good news, except he can clear his debts if he agrees to a guest appearance at a birthday party in Mallorca thrown by a rich fan, Javi Gutierrez. That rich fan (the very funny Pedro Pascal), is developing a script for Nic, despite the actor’s declared intention to retire. Javi’s persistence wilts Nic’s resistance, until he is co-opted by the CIA into a scheme to spy on Javi, who (they say) is actually a notorious weapons-smuggler and crime-lord (Gee, the CIA is almost as incompetent and corrupt here as in real life).
So Nic is playing double-roles: the Star collaborating on a nuanced script suffused with cinematic realism, while searching for a kidnapped daughter of a politician. Javi, having shared LSD with Nic to assist with script development (it worked for S.T. Coleridge, didn’t it?), brings out Nic’s estranged wife and their teenaged daughter to help with his ‘issues’, but Nic thinks it is a hostage ploy. It all resolves in the type of action chase, with fist-i-cuffs and gun play and knife play, that we have come to expect from Nic in action films such as The Rock, Face-Off, Con-Air, and Gone in Sixty Seconds (yawn).
Cage has turned-in some brilliant performances, we understand. We’ve seen at least 2 of these: Leaving Las Vegas and Adaptation. But while this current piece from his portfolio is easy to watch and occasionally laugh-out-loud-funny, if you want real hilarious insight, check out his lovely, blank-faced, cabaret turn (with assistance from Andy Samberg) on Saturday Night Live in 2012:
(A Memoir, 2022; edited by David Rosenthal from taped conversations, recorded from 1986 to 1991)
George Segal said, “Paul Newman is the last star. He’s the link. We’re just actors.” Impossibly pretty, and self-consciously ‘cool,’ Newman was a Great Big Movie Star for about thirty years, and since filmgoers managed to look past the looks and the sass, he avoided becoming a symbol during most of that time.
His best films are (or include) The Left-Handed Gun (1958), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), The Hustler (1961), Sweet Bird of Youth (1962), Hud (1963), Cool Hand Luke (1967), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), W.U.S.A. (1970), The Sting (1973), Absence of Malice (1981) and The Verdict (1982).
Newman emerges as an interesting, occasionally introspective man, who struggles to be a better person. If that sounds like a bromide, the problem with this book is that transcribed conversations (Newman himself deleted the actual recordings) are like most epistolary novels, only worse. Perhaps because he’s been so successful in his career we would rather avoid his psychological ramblings, although they are occasionally profound for all that, as he discusses his early life (beware of the impossible Mom! and don’t look for help from distant Dad!), troubles with alcohol, uncertainties over a career, a careless first marriage, artistic triumphs and disasters, car racing, and juggling movie career(s) [his 2nd wife, Joanne Woodward, was the better actor] with a large growing family. His son from marriage 1, Scott, had a short and troubled life for which Newman takes a full mead of blame.
Newman’s ruminations are broadly but not slavishly chronological, and are interspersed with thoughts from actors, directors, family and friends, etc. Some examples of his thoughts (‘Newman’s Own’):
“…my mother became a very private woman with only a few close friends. And while she was devoted to her house and her husband, she ultimately despised them both, and mistrusted all of her family. She was the most suspicious woman who ever lived, hysterical with the thought she’d never be accepted or get her fair share of anything. And those suspicions followed us throughout our lives.”
“My one recurring nightmare is only sound, and it has never gone away.”
“I never enjoyed acting, never enjoyed going out there and doing it. I enjoyed all the preliminary work – the detail, the observation, putting things together…It’s probably a reason I drank as much as I did.”
“[in a production of Antigone] The company took a break, but we had to work until three a.m. before I could enter stage left and proclaim “The sergeant found the shovel” with a straight face.”
“I had no awareness that I could shape things myself.”
“For me, the experience of making The Silver Chalice became a metaphor for the whole movie junk, the failure of it, the hollowness, the superficiality…I always had that trust fund of appearance. I could get by on that. But I realized that to survive, I needed something else.”
“I don’t have a gift for fathering. And then there’s the celebrity aspect…There was a time, long before he died, that I thought the only way I could free Scott to go his own way would be to shoot myself…I never had a sense of my children as people.”
“With my children I think about their strengths, their individuality, their disappointments, their eccentricities – and I wonder how to allocate responsibility for all of that.”[Even his indubitable charitable magnanimity he treats with doubt] “The easiest thing I can do, frankly, is to give away money…What’s hard to give is time…I sometimes suspect the root of my charity came from having no civic impulses at all, just inventing them the way I invented everything else.” [His foundation has reportedly donated hundreds of millions of dollars to various charitable causes.]
Last word to his soulmate, Joanne Woodward: “I used to think the only peace Paul ever found was that peace he used to find in being dead drunk. Now he finds it in racing cars. Peace and grace, the comfort of knowing he has done something well.”Continue Reading →
Directed by Todd Field (2022)
To err is human; to forgive, Divine; to cancel, de rigueur.
Lydia Tár (not her real name?) is a pianist, ethnomusicologist, composer, and the first female chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic. She’s as busy as a bee: at a festschrift, she plugs her new book to Adam Gopnik of the ‘New Yorker’ (they wouldn’t invite Steve Bannon, but this luvvie? No problem!) and she is preparing the forthcoming live recording of Mahler’s 5th. She’s teaching (and bullying) at Juilliard; lunching with a moneyman who wants to pick her brains; she’s hiring and firing; she’s leering at new talent, and ignoring the needy outreach of a young musician, Krista.
Then come unusual degrees of dissonance: Her ‘transactional relationships’ start falling apart – from marital troubles with wife Sharon, professional issues with PA Francesca and deputy conductor Sebastian (involving her mentor, Andris), an unrequited lunge for a young cellist Olga, and Krista suiciding. Lydia’s arrogance on the way to the top prompts swirling forces to pummel her on the way down: accusations cascade, of favouritism, sexual harassment and predatory conduct, bullying, spoliation of incriminating evidence, and marital insouciance. They all do her in eventually.
If not for two key factors, this film could have flopped completely. After all, the script is filled with things people would have liked to say (or not say) ex post facto: it is difficult to locate a single human one could admire; it is long, often opaque, and at times clichéd. What pull this piece into and near the head of the line are the delicious care taken in the direction, down to the very last detail, and the performances.
TVC has no wish, whatsoever, to meet Cate Blanchett – but clearly she is the best actor of the current generation. She’s virtually on screen all the time and manages to give us Lydia (Linda?) in full. It is a magnificent performance that never fails to convince, tasked as she is with not only portraying a leading conductor (not merely a matter of waving hands and sticks but full mental and physical respiration, the kind Alan Bates exhibits in The Shout), but responding to being subjected to the ominous, slightly surreal discordant sounds (like the broken string in The Cherry Orchard), images (weary sideways glances, SMS messages, a Handbag), physical twinges, and sundry horrific episodes strewn across Lydia’s path.
Likewise, the wheedling of Tár’s second conductor Sebastian (Allan Corduner), her treacherous PA, Francesca (Noémie Merlant), and patron/colleague Eliot Kaplan (Mark Strong), might have struck false but for the skill of these actors and the sure touch of the director. It is a pity that Field has junked more projects than Orson Welles, over the last couple of decades.
There are signs of political predilection here, to be sure, probably to augment Oscar-favour, if anyone still takes that seriously. For example, the ‘New York Post’ is traduced as a ‘rag’ (although Hunter’s real actual laptop has more credibility than the ‘edited’ version of Tár’s lesson at Juilliard uploaded to social media). In an interview, she mentions the Hebrew term “kavanah” which draws a snide reference to the evil conservative Supreme Court Justice of a similar name. The Me Too (Her Too?) references seem a progressive strawman here, where we are meant to side with the ludicrous BIPOC student. It surely is no surprise in 2023 that nasty conduct is an equal opportunity employment. Sex, Nazism, moral relativism, all get a thorough rinse here, and not necessarily in a good way. Me Too, and the outrages of Weinstein et al that gave rise to Me Too, emanate of course from the same sources, well presented here: human perfidy, human cupidity, human betrayal, human cruelty. (We do it so much better than the lower animals, don’t we? Good old us.)
‘Tellings Off’ – Notable ones in film include Gregory Peck to Hugh Marlowe in Twelve O’Clock High; John Mills to Richard Attenborough in Morning Departure; George C. Scott to Tim Considine in Patton; Al Pacino to Kevin Spacey in Glengarry Glen Ross. There are quite a few ‘tellings off’ in Tár ; the first (which we have alluded to above) being the somewhat over-freighted and expository scene where the conductor, in a class at Juilliard, mocks a student for rejecting the work of Bach because he was a white cis-gender male. It helps establish character and plot points, but demolishing a twit for confusing the singer with his song is taking candy from a baby. The other key telling-off is much more significant, and satisfying in a chilling way: Tár confronts a little bully in her daughter’s schoolyard.
Only a few other quibbles: whilst the motif of the badly-behaved, megalomaniacal conductor has the force of historical truth – think Toscanini and his smashed fob watch, Solti’s skull screaming, Fritz Reiner’s William-Wyler-like exhortation to a trumpeter to ‘Do it Again’, James Levine and his ‘inappropriate behaviour’ – we had difficulty accepting the deranged cathartic tantrum at the climactic live performance of Mahler’s 5th (even though there may be historical precedents). And surely, after a somewhat meandering set-up, her decline thereafter was a tad abrupt, (reduced to Staten Island and the Philippines, ye gods!) perhaps necessitated by the film’s length at 157 odd minutes? Finally, though touted by some as an examination of the creative impulse, it hardly does this (oddly, in the same way, Death in Venice also fails in this regard – perhaps only At Eternity’s Gate gets close to this elusive concept). But as an examination of power and its abuse, it succeeds splendidly.Continue Reading →
(Directed by David O. Russell) (2022)
The judgment of eminent film critic David Stratton is, we suspect, affected by seeing everything. TVC perhaps suffers from the reverse circumstance: we don’t see very many films, because life is too short. We do try to guard against the impulse to stick to films we’ve already seen, and remind ourselves that it was ever the case that 90% of films made are rubbish. It is just that now the rubbish is even more nauseating in its freighted agitprop, the production quotas and standards that would make the Hays Office blanch (in a different way), and the tendency to infantilism.
David published his “Top Movies of 2022” list in “The Weekend Australian” (31/12/22):
The Banshees of Inisherin
Decision to Leave
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande
Quo Vadis Aida (sic)
Three Thousand Years of Longing
We have seen 4 of the above, and would only agree that Quo Vadis, Aida? belongs on a best list. Belfast is wafer-thin fare smothered with a lavish dripping of indulgent, nostalgic povo-porn (the kind of thing we fear Spielberg is trying, on an upper-mittel-class level, with The Fabelmans). Parallel Mothers is a typical ho-hum piece from Pedro Almodóvar – it was lionized at Venice, which is always a ‘tell’.
Which brings us to Amsterdam.
Stratton says: “…for my money…the most underrated film of the year. I enjoyed this richly textured movie so much that I saw it twice over the space of a few days*. With its Hitchcockian blend of humour and suspense, and boasting an unusually fine cast – Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Rami Malek, Anya Taylor-Joy plus Robert de (sic) Niro at his best, this has an intriguing plot inspired by real events – the fascist movement in pre-World War II America.” [* Perhaps he watched it the 2nd time to try to make sense of it.]
We can imagine the Amsterdam Pitch…
“What’s the peg?”
“Now you’re talking!”
“Yeah but I’m making it a period allegory, see? Instead of the 1/6/21 insurrection infamy. So we focus on the so-called Business Plot of the 1930s, when rich white supremacists tried to take over government from FDR in a RWNJ coup. It takes a shot at the wrong side of Wall Street (not Democrat donors), Trump, Peter Thiel, Trump, the Tea Party, Trump, MAGA, Republicans, Elon Musk, and Trump. It’s got razy lacisim, gender outlaws, reparations, white-supremacy eugenics, a war romance, speeches about threats to democracy, murder mystery…”
“Murder? Is this an action thriller? I thought you said comedy.”
“It’s ALL THREE…plus so much more! and we’ve got Christian Bale signed. He’s always wanted to parody Woody Allen; well, Woody melded with Al Pacino.”
We’ll spare you the full synopsis: let’s just record that Amsterdam is a witless, chaotic, heavy-handed, impenetrable omnishambles, studded with woke trash (and worthless cameos, by dozens of celebs, such as Taylor Swift). It doesn’t even succeed as a period piece: the whole mélange being drenched in fake sepia and House-of-Eliot-style fabrication. The music jars, much like those skits where they set Kamala Harris speeches to bongos. The script is unintelligible. The plot has been carelessly confected, ideas good and bad thrown into the Cuisinart. The attitudes and exchanges are painfully anachronistic. Imagine black boys saying this stuff, c.1933!
The performances are decidedly patchy: Margot Robbie and John David Washington, as the lovers, adopt long, fixed, vacant stares at each other, and at everyone else. Many of the supporting players spend time standing and staring also, as if awaiting direction. As do even the Brownshirts (yes, that’s right, Brownshirts). Bob De Niro does what he does best these days: appears. To sledgehammer home the Adam Schiff-approved script, Anya Taylor-Joy plays a bug-eyed cross between Eva Braun and Melania Trump, and Rami Malek seems to channel Rudi Giuliani. Chris Rock provides a screaming chorus. Many actors seem to have been cast based on their epidermis, or ability to provide declamatory exposition. Christian Bale, however, has clearly been cast to help us decide if this is the worst turn of his we’ve seen. His ludicrous, dopey, eye-rolling** performance is down there with his work in Vice, American Hustle and, of course, that monumental atrocity, Knight of Cups.
Amsterdam makes the top ten list. We agree with Mr. Stratton about that. Where we depart from him is in identifying the appropriate list. Worst Films of the Year is our choice for this farrago, made by alleged professionals. The cinema-going public seems to agree, based on theatre receipts: projected losses are said to be $97m. Go Woke, go Broke.[** unfortunate, since the character is meant to have one glass eye.] Continue Reading →
By Jared Kushner (2022)
Kushner is no prose stylist. But this tome is a valuable guide to the tour-of-duty of an outsider in a White House full of outsiders. It shows how a transactional background with amateur oversight, ego, and the Art of the Deal, can actually accomplish something in the Deep Swamp that is American federal executive governance. Take, for example, the Abraham Accords. The conventional wisdom, espoused by the likes of the never-right-but-never-in-doubt John Kerry, was that a Palestinian solution was a necessary pre-cursor to improvement of general Arab-Israeli relations. Yet the Trump administration, at Kushner’s suggestion, flipped that script and achieved an agreement for the normalisation of relations (recognition of sovereignty, full diplomatic relations and commercial activity) between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan. Whilst no doubt permeated by realpolitik – resembling something like the Nixon/Kissinger ‘triangulation’ play, only directed at Palestine and Iran – the Accords were a once-in-a-generation breakthrough in the troubled region, and would have earned any president, apart from The Donald, the Nobel Peace Prize.
Like Trump, Kushner was a deal-maker (together, they drove a fairly impressive NAFTA 2.0, did some counter-intuitive things on criminal justice reform, and handled Covid-19 reasonably, in retrospect). But as the ‘token’ liberal (and Jew) in the office, with nil experience in public administration, he was often blindsided, unused to bureaucratic inertia, out of his depth, and resented as the beneficiary of nepotism (he is Trump’s son-in-law). His editor at the New York Observer, which he bought in 2006, reportedly said of Kushner: “This guy doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.” That naivety helped him get embroiled in the Russian Collusion nonsense that distracted the Trump administration for a good chunk of its term, although he appears to have been blameless.
In the event, the book is worth reading as one of the small assortment of books about POTUS 45 that is not suffused with hysteria.Continue Reading →
Those who were charmed and a little shocked by the intrigues of the first series of HBO’s The White Lotus, might come to series two with the wrong expectations. This series, set in a sumptuous Sicilian hotel in the eponymous chain, has little charm, but plenty of shocks.
It looks beautiful, some of the clothes are beautiful – although we’d like to know what Hayley Lu Richardson did to upset the the wardrobe, hair and makeup departments so much. Sadly, Murray Bartlett’s marvellous manager character did not survive series one, but the manager of this White Lotus, lovelorn, man-hating Valentina (the lovely Sabrina Impacciatore) provides what little humour and compassion there is in this sequel to date.
Most of the performances are fine. Jennifer Coolidge reappears as Tanya, left behind with her assistant when her gold-digging, philandering husband flees the hotel and their marriage. She is even larger, clumsier, more sleepy-eyed and vulnerable than in the first series. At the end of episode six we are worried about her future. We think that her friendship with the sophisticated Quentin (Tom Hollander) and his louche entourage might not be a good idea. Her miserable, lazy and rude assistant, Portia (the aforementioned Hayley Lu Richardson) might be able to help her, but she’s busy with a hideous English lout Jack (Leo Woodall – again, a sterling appearance in a thankless role).
Harper (Aubrey Plaza, a slightly less sneering plank than the one she perfected in Parks and Recreation) rivals Portia for Miserable Character of the series. Harper and her moping husband Ethan (Will Sharpe) play out the irritating plot device of a misunderstanding which could be cleared up in a minute if the protagonists spoke to each other like real people do. But no, each must keep a pointless secret and glare at the other behind his or her back. Ethan and Harper are on holiday with Cameron (Theo James) and Daphne (Meghann Fahy), both of whom Harper hates, even more than she despises her husband. Ethan has just sold his company for a lot of money and Cameron wants to give him financial advice.
Cameron cheats on Daphne, who pretends to cheat on him. As almost everyone in this series watches porn and cheats on their partner with whomever is around there are many curiously unerotic sex scenes, although the nude Freddie Mercury lookalike is interesting. There’s also much orange fake tan on display. Grubby-looking prostitutes Lucia (Simona Tabasco in a fright wig), and Mia (Beatrice Granno) swagger about the hotel in the ugliest skimpy clothes seen this side of Rihanna’s wardrobe. Their presence seems entirely gratuitous, other than to provide yet more tedious sex scenes and to enable Mia to tinkle the ivories and whisper ballads at the hotel’s bar. Granno must be related to the producers. Bert (F Murray Abraham) and Dominic (Michael Imperioli) are a sleazy father and son, who have come to Sicily together with Dominic’s son Albie (Adam DiMarco) (who has even less gorm than Tanya) to find distant relatives. Along the way of course the three get tangled-up with Lucia and Mia, and it couldn’t be uglier.
On the good side of the ledger – the opening credits and main theme (Renaissance (Main Title Theme) are eerie. An angry peasant woman uses an artichoke as a weapon. We do know from the first episode that some guests turn up dead, which creates suspense and interest in the final episode, but ultimately we don’t really care, because the production and its people are nasty and soulless.Continue Reading →