Strictly Ornamental (daasgrrl) wrote,
Strictly Ornamental

Mr Burns, Sydney Film Festival, Ros and Guil, Only Heaven Knows, DM3

Lazy. And busy. Mostly lazy. But a quick run-down of stuff, some six weeks old now:

Mr Burns, a Post-Electric Play (Anne Washburn) - Belvoir Theatre

Some unnamed apocalypse has devastated the earth, and the survivors attempt to reconstruct popular culture, one group beginning with the Simpsons episode "Cape Feare". (If you're a Simpsons fan, you will recall this as the one where Sideshow Bob escapes from prison, kidnaps Bart, trips over a few rakes, and sails down the river giving a lone rendition of the entire score of HMS Pinafore - I loved it.). A few years later, travelling reconstructions of various Simpsons episodes (presumably together with other shows and plays) tour the countryside, exchanging "repertoire" in the form of episodes and remembered lines, all jealously guarded. A hundred years on, the reclaimed scraps of popular culture have morphed into some bizarre quasi-religious performance.

Let's just say this summary makes the play sound about a thousand times better than it was. Nice idea, but... there were essentially no characters, no plot development, no explanation of past events or current social conditions, and no discernible themes. Now, I like to think that it could have been a tribute to the power of storytelling, and the ways in which culture binds a civilisation together, and can flow and morph to fill human and social needs (an idea captured perfectly in The Book of Mormon) but it was a complete mess, imo. The most entertaining bits were all lifted from elsewhere, and the rest was just sound and fury. Ick.

Dream Empire - Sydney Film Festival

This was a documentary about the rise and fall of the Chinese real estate dream, told through the story of Yana, a girl from the countryside who came to Chongqing hoping to make something of herself and send money home to her impoverished parents. She finds a job in the promotion machine for new apartment sales, which are grand events featuring performing foreigners - "singers", "musicians", "models", "dancers" - to show how progressive and cosmopolitan the apartments are. Yana's job is basically to go around to pubs and recruit as many white (and black) people as she can, train them to put on a show of some kind, and "sell" their performances to real estate developers. These are known to said foreigners as "white monkey shows", and the documentary itself was made by one of the "white monkeys", a Danish guy called David Borenstein (also a passable saxophone player). The performances are pretty dismal - in some cases, hilariously terrible - but do their job in helping sell the apartments. But since many of the apartments are in the middle of nowhere, with no infrastructure and no jobs nearby, the boom can't last forever...

It was a film that touched on so many interesting things - the rapid growth of China, urban migration, the sheer overweening ambition of real estate developers, ghost cities, the status of women in China, naivety and exploitation, and a mirror-world where white people only exist as promotional gimmicks. Disturbing, but fascinating.

Liberation Day - Sydney Film Festival

In 2015, ex-Yugoslavian band Laibach (the Guardian describes them as "art-rock", so I'll go with that) were somehow invited to perform in North Korea, making them the first "Western" band to do so. The result is a mix of travelogue, music documentary, and satire, only it's difficult to be sure where one ends and another begins. Laibach appear to have made their name in populating their songs and cover versions with extreme facist imagery, but with the aim of subversion, not promotion. However, it's difficult to know exactly how the North Koreans perceive them, or why they chose them to come. Wildly entertaining and very, very strange.

Laibach's version of "Do-Re-Mi" (apparently The Sound of Music is big in North Korea, so part of their performance included a medley) is enough to give any child nightmares. But their English rendition of "Mt Paektu" is great, with the lead singer's growling bass declaring, "We’ll go in springtime / we’ll go in winter too / we'll go in our dreams /we’ll go at any time. We’ll go for a lifetime /we'll continue going through generations" giving it a thoroughly menacing edge. (Mt. Paektu is a sacred site in North Korea, being the alleged birthplace of Kim Jong-Il (it's not); the original version of the song is super-bubbly and upbeat, like a children's show.)

God's Own Country - Sydney Film Festival

Marketed as a British Brokeback Mountain, but really nothing of the kind. A romance between a lonely Yorkshire sheep farmer (don't laugh) and a Romanian labourer who comes to work for him. I liked it well enough, but I have to say that I noticed that it was one of those films where the pathetic grumpy racist white English Johnny's journey is all that matters, and the gorgeous and capable Gheorghe, who outclasses him in every way apart from "not being English", exists only to guide Johnny along the path to self-actualisation without having a significant or meaningful story of his own. Maybe I should give it a pass because it's a gay film, but I can't, sorry. Despite the tragic gay trope, if we're comparing, I'd still say Brokeback Mountain was the better film.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead - NT Live screening

Starring Joshua McGuire as Guildenstern and Daniel Radcliffe as Rosencrantz. I thoroughly enjoyed this without loving it to pieces. It's probably the best version I've seen, in terms of hitting most - not all - of the beats that I wanted it to hit, but still lacking something. McGuire was great, but Radcliffe was fine without having any particular energy to him. I'd like to pair McGuire's Guildenstern with Tim Minchin's Rosencrantz from the Sydney Theatre Company production a few years back - then there might be sparks. The Player King was good, but the rest of the cast were once again acting in different plays - the King, Gertrude, and Ophelia straight down the line, Hamlet subtly satirical, Polonius with a foot in both camps. I really enjoyed Hamlet's take once I warmed up to what he was doing, then realised during the credits he was played by Luke Mullins, who stole the show in Sydney Theatre Company's Waiting for Godot. And another one runs off to London *g*

Only Heaven Knows (Alex Harding) - Hayes Theatre

That rarest of creatures, a revival of a 1988 boy-meets-boy Australian musical. Set in the 1940s, it shows fresh-faced Tim leaving his disapproving aunt and uncle for the seedy glamour of Sydney's King's Cross (our red-light district and drug hub). There he settles in, finds a job, makes a few friends - supportive landlady Guinea, raging queen Lana, arch Alan - and takes a lover, Cliff (still illegal back then, of course). At first it's all parties and good times, but then darker questions emerge. Alan isn't sure he wants to be gay and dabbles in shock aversion therapy while Lana worries about him, and Tim wants to go to London to pursue his playwriting dream, while Cliff wants them to buy a house together and settle down. Guinea just wants everyone to pay their rent and be happy.

It's one of those productions that I basically enjoyed because it existed, rather than anything particularly great about the show, although it was pleasant enough. It's just lovely to see something set locally (the Hayes Theatre is basically next door to King's Cross) and hear unabashedly Australian-accented dialogue for a change. Standouts performances were Lana (Hayden Tee) and Alan (Tom Sharah), while the lead pair Tim (Ben Hall) and Cliff (Tim Draxl) were very... pretty. Blazey Best (Guinea) was strong and charismatic, as she always is.

Despicable Me 3

I have issues with these films, but I went anyway, lured by Trey Parker as 80s-throwback villain, Balthazar Bratt (think Rubik's cubes, bubble gum, lycra, and sweatbands). It was charming in parts, but I... still have issues with these films.

Tags: movies, theatre

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