Thursday, 15 September 2011

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

WRITTEN BY: Tennessee Williams
DIRECTED BY: Kate Cherry
STARRING: Tom O’Sullivan, Cheree Cassidy, John Stanton, Carol Burns
RATING: 4 stars

Lies. We all hate them and we all tell them from time to time. The themes of secrets, lies and how people deal with death are explored in Tennessee William's classic Pulitzer Prize winning play Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. An obsession with “mendacity” and the search for the truth is at the centre of this play with its lead character Brick (Tom O'Sullivan) using the word to express his disgust with the rules of social conduct. In fact, a repeated line in the play is, “Wouldn't it be funny if that was true?” Cat On A Hot Tin Roof is a passionate, deep and complex story about family, money, sex and relationships.

The Pollitt family has gathered at their 28,000 acre plantation in the Mississippi to celebrate the 65th birthday of patriarch and tycoon Big Daddy (John Stanton), but no one has told him or his wife Big Mama (Carol Burns) that he is dying of cancer. Nonetheless, some members of the family, including Big Daddy's eldest son Gooper (Hugh Parker) and his wife Mae (Caitlin Beresford-Ord), have already started to scheme about how to gain his inheritance. Meanwhile, Big Daddy's youngest son Brick, the former golden child and star athlete, has developed a drinking problem as he battles repressed emotions over the death of his friend Skipper and his strained relationship with his wife Maggie (Cheree Cassidy).

The stage was simple, yet very effective. Set and costume designer Bruce McKinven has certainly done a wonderful job of making the most out of a confined space. Director Kate Cherry, who has directed several Black Swan productions, must also be praised for her efforts. She has brought out the best in the cast. WA's Tom O'Sullivan seemed to be channelling Paul Newman's performance in the 1958 film adaptation of the play and he certainly played the broody, drunkard character well. Cassidy and Burns were also exceptional with their quick and often lengthy dialogue. However, Stanton seemed miscast as Big Daddy. He lacked the authority the character should have, and he also let his southern accent slip too much.

Whether you studied the play in school, saw the film adaptation or have never heard of it at all, this theatre production of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof is definitely worth seeing. The co-production presented by Black Swan State Theatre Company and Queensland Theatre Company is playing at the Heath Ledger Theatre in the State Theatre Centre of WA until October 2.

Tom O'Sullivan and Cheree Cassidy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Photo by Rob Maccoll.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

The Smurfs

DIRECTED BY: Raja Gosnell
WRITTEN BY: J. David Stem, David N. Weiss, Jay Scherick, David Ronn
STARRING: Hank Azaria, Neil Patrick Harris, Katy Perry, Jayma Mays, Jonathan Winters
RATING: 2.5 stars

I loved the William Hanna and Jospeh Barbara animated series of the Smurfs so much as a child that years later as an adult I bought a Smurfette T-shirt I wear proudly - even in public. I was far more excited than the children around me at the cinema, who are far too young to even know what the Smurfs are, but I could definitely see parents with a twinkle in their eyes as the 3D film began. The first five minutes of the film are fun and when the famous Smurfs song is sung you are suddenly transported back to your childhood. Unfortunately, after that, the film rides a roller-coaster of good and disappointing scenes before reaching its climax. While the film isn't “bad” overall, it wasn't quite as fulfilling as I had hoped it would be.

For those unfamiliar with the concept of the Smurfs (and if you're over the age of 20 I'm terribly disappointed in you) the comic strip was created by Belgian Pierre Culliford, also known as Peyo. I'm not sure how he would have felt about the film, but at least there are a few nods to him throughout the film.

We first meet the Smurfs in their secret village where they are preparing to celebrate the Harvest of the Blue Moon when Clumsy (Anton Yelchin) inadvertently leads the evil Gargamel (Hank Azaria) into the secret village. To escape him, Clumsy and several other Smurfs, including Grumpy (George Lopez), Gutsy (Alan Cumming), Brainy (Fred Armisen), Smurfette (Katy Perry) and Papa Smurf (Jonathan Winters) escape through a portal to New York. There they meet advertising gun Patrick Winslow (Neil Patrick Harris) and his wife Grace (Jayma Mays) who are expecting their first child. The Smurfs and the Winslows team up to help each other overcome their obstacles.

There are some good jokes along the way, like arguably the most popular question everyone asks about why Smurfette is the only female among 100 Smurfs in the village. There are actually a lot of sexual jokes in the film for something that is supposed to be children's entertainment. With lines like “Where the Smurf are we?” and “You smurfed with the wrong girl” the film actually treads a thin line, but it's innocent enough that children won't understand the underlying meaning. In fact, it seems the film uses the term “smurf” as a suitable adjective for just about anything.

What makes the film a success is the performances. Hank Azaria is as close to a comedic genius as one could get so there's no surprise he is excellent as Gargamel. Neil Patrick Harris is very likeable and Jayma Mays is just as sweet in this film as she is in Glee. The actors playing the Smurfs are also very good, particularly Winters who played Papa Smurf in the cartoon. So, while I was only half-convinced that The Smurfs is a worthwhile film to see for adults and fans of the comic or cartoon, I can definitely recommend it for children who seemed to never stop laughing during the preview screening.

Friday, 9 September 2011

One Day

DIRECTED BY: Lone Scherfig
WRITTEN BY: David Nicholls
STARRING: Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, Patricia Clarkson
RATING: 3.5 stars

I can't give a fair review of this film without first disclosing that One Day, the book, is one of my all-time favourite novels. Why? Because unlike so many romantic films we see (and I've whined about many times on this blog) One Day feels more real, or at least realistic enough, that I found myself relating to the story so much more. It is essentially a bitter-sweet and tragic love story. Fans of the novel will also be happy to know that author David Nicholls also wrote the screenplay, so it stays pretty close to the original story and some of the best witty lines from the novel are in the film.

We are first introduced to Emma Morley (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter Mayhew (Jim Sturgess) on July 15, 1988, when they are in the 20's and graduating from university. The pair decide to spend the night together, though they don't actually have sex. The next morning they decide to be friends and the the film then explores the next 20 years of their lives, sometimes together and sometimes not, on July 15 every year. Emma is witty and smart, though terribly insecure. She wants to be a writer but she lacks the courage for many years to take that leap. Dexter, on the other hand, is an outgoing and confident television presenter. He never seems to have a problem finding girls or success, but he certainly has some inner-demons. Through all their ups and downs in life, it is their affection for each other and their friendship that perseveres, but can they ever be more than friends?

A lot has been said about Hathaway's terrible British accent. While I think her performance was certainly less than perfect, I can accept the wavering accent perhaps more so than my British counterparts, mostly because I think it's ok for her to have an odd accent since her character moves around a lot. My main problem with Hathaway, who I do usually like as an actress, was that she didn't seem to put enough heart into her Emma, which is a let-down. Nonetheless, she does have good chemistry with Sturgess, who was the perfect Dexter. Good-looking in more of a boy-next-door way, rather than a Brad Pitt way, Sturgess is charismatic like his character. When he cries, you want to cry. When he laughs, you laugh with him. That is exactly what Dexter is supposed to be. Kudos also to the costume department for getting the look right over a 20-year period, because it certainly helped create the characters.

One Day is the kind of film that some people will love like they love The Notebook or Titanic. But if you think about how much people love those films, think as well about how much some people hate those films too. So, some people will love One Day for the tragic love story that it is and others will walk away feeling depressed and will prefer to rent the DVD of something chirpier (Clueless maybe?) All I can say is, if you choose to see One Day, be prepared to cry.

Chalet Girl

DIRECTED BY: Phil Traill
WRITTEN BY: Tom Williams
STARRING: Felicity Jones, Ed Westwick, Bill Nighy, Bill Bailey
RATING: 2.5 stars

Chalet Girl is not your typical teenage romantic comedy. For one thing, it's British, not American. It also has a strong focus on sport, namely snowboarding, and a tells the story of a regular teenage girl with a regular life. This is a refreshing change to the Hollywood teenage romantic comedies about snobby, rich high school girls from the Upper East Side or Orange County. All of this bodes well for the film because it gives audiences a slightly different romantic comedy. Despite some originality though, the film still seems to follow a predictable, though fun, plot.

Kim Matthews (Felicity Jones) used to be a champion skateboarder until a car accident killed her mum and she became stuck in a dead-end job and caring for her unemployed father (Bill Bailey) who never quite got over his wife's death. Through an agency, Kim lands a four-month long contract working as a housekeeper/caterer at a private chalet in the Austrian Alps for the very rich and very handsome (and very taken) Johnny (Ed Westwick) and his family. As with every romantic comedy, Kim and Johnny try to deny their feelings for one another. Meanwhile, Kim also learns how to snowboard and decides to enter a competition with big prize money, if only she can get over the phobia that has plagued her since her mother's death.

Writer Tom Williams has made his feature film screenplay debut with Chalet Girl and, aside from the lame ending, it's not a bad effort, especially with the snowboarding inclusion. In fact, director Phil Traill seems to have taken a lot of time filming these snowboarding scenes and such detail is great to see in a romantic comedy.

Jones gives a solid performance as Kim. She's suitably awkward and shy, which makes her very endearing, and she has enough sweetness and courage that you want everything to work out for her. Gossip Girl star Ed Westwick is so charming, he could have chemistry with a rubbish bin. Together, they make a cute pair for a romantic comedy and I'm sure groups of giggling teenage girls will enjoy the film on the basis of their chemistry alone.

Chalet Girl is not for everyone. I can't say it's a great film, because it's not. But it does deliver exactly what it promises audiences in its trailer. A male friend of mine even liked it just for the snowboarding, so perhaps it will reach a wider audience than one might anticipate. I must remember to add the Austrian Alps to my list of “places to see” too. Magnificent scenery!