Wednesday, 27 June 2012

18th Biennale of Sydney opening at the MCA

Ling Meewei (2009) 'The Mending Project':
an interactive piece looking at healing, where  the audience can bring in clothes to mend.

The theme for this year's Sydney Biennale is 'All Our Relations', a concept primarily brought to life by international curators Gerald McMaster and Catherine de Zegher. As an addition to the iconic sandstone building, the modern new spaces are now host to a variety of artworks with a variety of ideas. Overall, the art seems much more approachable in comparison to previous MCA exhibits, with works returning back to traditional media of canvas, film and sculpture - that's to say, there were no 'statement' works, piles of clothes, rocks etc. 

Zoe Keramea (2010) 'Leopard Moth':
There are a few of these scattered around the exhibit,
hand-folded paper and thread looking at manipulation of textures. 

Director Liz Ann Macgregor has done a great job of making the entire experience more interactive - a great number of artists were hanging around their work ready to chat to the public, and will be continuing to do so throughout the next three months of the Biennale. The key term brought up by Macgregor in her speech was connection, as well as collaboration, and there is definitely an atmosphere of that throughout the exhibit. De Zegher will also be working on next year's Australian pavilion in the Venice Biennale, so it will be interesting to see what she curates. The Sydney Biennale is extended to other venues, including Walsh Bay, Cockatoo Island and the Art Gallery of NSW.

Pinaree Sanpitak (2009) 'Anything Can Break':
handmade paper, glass and sound system suspended from the ceiling. 

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Film Review - "Friends With Kids" directed by Jennifer Westfeldt

Friends With Kids (2012)   ★ ★ ★ 1/2

It's not your typical family-friendly chick flick or romantic comedy, but Friends With Kids is both an entertaining and emotional watch. The story starts with a New York band of six friends, living the sexy childless life in Manhattan but after the characters hit their late 20s, it's a confusing mishmash of uncontrollable children and disillusionment. Two of the group Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt, also wrote and directed the film) and Jason (Adam Scott) decide to have a child together, while avoiding the difficulties of being together. The dialogue starts out witty and sardonic, with the pair realising the gritty reality that is early married life with children. Some scenes are in a sense overplayed, mother Leslie (Bridesmaid's Maya Rudolph) for one is for the most part a shrieking, hormonal mess and her counterpart Missy (Kristen Wiig) a drunk, depressed mute with a constant scowl. However, the film makes its point in focusing acutely on family strife and how kids change the dynamics of all close relationships.

The film's nearly exclusively set in Manhattan apartments - apart from the token ski trip to Vermont - and the domestic settings are a perfect opportunity to closely examine the nuances of everyday dialogue and action in the typical modern home. Almost a less funny version of television's Modern Family, Westfeldt brings a relatively feminist view to the parenting role. The women are highly emotional and out of control while the men seem to be clueless about their children and homely duties. Missy's husband Ben (John Hamm) brings a ruthless take on the inevitable disappointment of adult life, and his strong role seems to carry most of the film's messages. On the other hand, boyish father Alex (Chris O'Dowd) can be a bit immature but is not as irritating as his character's wife, played by Rudolph.

The ending is somewhat unsatisfactory and abrupt but the film is a good starting point for other more satirical, dialogue-led family films. There's a rollercoaster of emotions, ultimately a comedy, the film has its surprisingly tragic moments as well. It's simply worth seeing to watch Julie and Jason's experiment unfold throughout the story. 

Sunday, 17 June 2012

'Hamlet' at the Seymour Centre

The latest theatre production of Shakespeare's psycho-thriller Hamlet brings the familiar symbols and speech back to life with an intense and intimate approach. Director Damien Ryan led a passionately performed and yet refreshingly comprehensive performance - and the high standard of acting across the cast broke down barriers for any audience member. Hamlet deals with confronting themes but the family strife and self-destruction which culminates throughout the story seemed very tangible. There were a few stage tricks, which brought a movie-like quality to murder scenes, but overall the production returns to the natural roots of Shakespeare, the simplicity of the stage.

Lindsay Farris tackled his principal role as Hamlet with commendable zeal, delving into the dark disturbed elements of the character as well as commanding comic dialogue. The environment in which this boy lives in, and he does appear in this production as a young spiteful boy, is rich and regal yet his inner torment pierces through the illusions of the adults' comfortable lives. The circular stage allows for varying perspectives and brings the audience right into the action, and although some seats on the side have limited exposure to characters, nearly everyone in the house has a clear view of the storyline.

The dynamics of the script were acted out so naturally and the movement perfectly choreographed that Ryan's piece plunges the audience into the story. The play is not strictly in order but for the purposes of understanding it from a contemporary viewpoint and to exemplify the character's intentions, it worked well. The set was ever-changing and realistic, and a clever update of technology into the play further provoked questions on close relationships and inner turmoil. There was less soliloquising than in the original work but watching the interactions between the characters was mesmerising and Farris' Hamlet connected immediately with the audience.

A play for both adult and young audiences, Hamlet proves to bring a touch of contemporary stage practices to the traditional Shakespeare production and succeeds in telling a story of love and obsession.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Happy Birthday to Johnny Depp

            Johnny Depp proves to be one of Hollywood’s mysterious characters, with his filmic roles ranging from the spooky to eccentric. Born in Kentucky and raised in Florida, Depp himself has admitted to alcohol and drug abuse, but he’s avoided the major breakdown of some his co-stars.  Nevertheless, Depp is said to be Hollywood’s richest actor, Guinness World Book of Records 2012, with $75 million. He gained prominence from his principal role on the original television show 21 Jump Street during the 90’s and had a cameo appearance in the 2012 filmic remake. With 3 Academy Award nominations and a Golden Globe win for Best Actor, Johnny Depp has certainly left his mark on the Hollywood landscape. Of course his most popular performance is Captain Jack Sparrow in The Pirates of the Caribbean series, which, from 2003, catapulted him into the commercial film fan base.

            Perhaps his iconic early role is Edward Scissorhands in 1990, which brought about a succession of collaborations with Tim Burton (eight in total) – including 2005’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and this year’s Dark Shadows adaptation.  Edward was an eerie yet loveable character, and the story has become a classic for the young kids of the decade. It also sparked his four-year year relationship with Winona Ryder.

            One of the movies that passed under the radar, or at least which doesn’t compare to his current successes, is that of 1993’s Benny and Joon.  Depp plays an artistic quirky individual who develops an unlikely friendship with his friend’s autistic sister. It’s not his most commercial performance but it’s sweet and a flashback to classic silent-screen comedy. The late 90s saw Depp realise some darker, fantasising characters that have led to such roles, as he is most well known for today. 1998’s film adaptation of Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas has acquired somewhat of a cult following – with Depp playing the role of American hedonistic drug-taking writer Hunter S. Thompson (And not for the last time- appearing in last year’s The Rum Diary as the very same character).

           In 2004, Depp took on the role of another prominent writer, this time Scottish, as Peter Pans J.M. Barrie in Finding Neverland. Paired with Kate Winslet, he didn’t seem totally unconvincing from his usual American drawl. He especially took on the ‘lost boy’ character, or isolated man who keeps returning in his casting. However his dark, atypical personality doesn’t send fans away, but draws them in even further. Even in People Magazine Depp was voted ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ in both 2003 and 2009.

            Depp returned to his original musical roots with his frightening performance in Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, a performance which ultimately won him his Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. The film heightened the gothic horror of the original film but Depp’s voice was a pleasant surprise to all and he suited the grim role. In 2009, once more, he was a villain – playing Chicago’s famous criminal John Dillinger in Public Enemies. The movie didn’t receive great criticism but it was a great portrayal of the classic 1920s crim landscape. In a slightly more playful role, in 2011 he appeared in the animated feature film Rango, as the main character, bringing his much-loved spunkiness and enigmatic persona.

Johnny Depp may be turning 50 next year but he doesn’t look like he’ll be stopping anytime soon.

As published on