Thursday, December 2, 2010

Best of Broadway: Wicked

There’s no other way to say it. Wicked is, simply, a phenomenon. A world-wide smash hit, after more than 7 years on Broadway, it’s currently the 25th longest-running show in musical theatre history and the 17th longest-running Broadway show. 
A few facts to get us started:
  • Wicked has broken box office records around the world, holding weekly records in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Louis, and London, and the record for biggest opening in the West End.
  • Both the West End production and the North American tour have been seen by over two million theatre-goers.
  • The show was nominated for ten Tony Awards, winning for Best Actress (Idina Menzel), Scenic Design and Costume Design.
  • Broadway success led to productions of Wicked in Chicago, Los Angeles, London's West End, San Francisco, international productions in Japan, Germany and Australia, and two North American tours.
 Wicked is based (loosely) on Gregory Maguire’s very adult and subversive novel: “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West”, a political, social, and ethical commentary on the nature of good and evil, featuring the famous characters of L. Frank Baum’s Oz. Maguire’s Oz, however, is a different place altogether. In the years leading to Dorothy's arrival, the novel centres on Elphaba, the misunderstood green-skinned girl who grows up to become the Wicked Witch of the West.

The musical focuses on Elphaba’s relationship with Galinda, later Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. Their friendship begins at Shiz University, where they struggle with opposing views on everything from politics, friendship, education, and even a rivalry for the same love interest, ultimately leading to Elphaba’s (unfair) public fall from grace. With plenty of clever and knowing references to Baum’s world (particularly 1939’s classic The Wizard of Oz), Wicked has become the envy of musical producers worldwide- a bone-fide family theatre smash hit. Think Phantom of the Opera, but with even more family appeal. If you listen closely, you can hear the cash registers chiming.

Wicked is one of those productions that inspires a certain level of obsession in its most ardent fans. It’s most ardent fans tend to be teenagers, and teenagers can be loud and very passionate (speaking as someone who, as a teenager, was loud and very passionate). But the truth is that Wicked inspires this passion because it deserves it. It’s so much fun. The musical’s book may be sometimes confusing to those unfamiliar with the source material (especially the subplot about Animal rights), but Stephen Schwartz’s songs are accessible and memorable, the costumes and staging are divine, and every cent is up on that stage. Performed by incomparable original cast members Idina Menzel (as Elphaba, the green girl), and Kristin Chenoweth (as Galinda/Glinda, the popular girl), songs like the epic Defying Gravity, impossibly catchy Popular, the sweet I’m Not That Girl, the heartbreaking For Good, and the haunting No Good Deed showcase the power, terrific acting, perfect timing, and range of Wicked’s leads. The wholly original Elphaba, in particular, is not a role to be taken on by a lightweight.

The divine Idina Menzel
I’ve seen Wicked in New York, Brisbane, and in Melbourne, and the electricity in the audience is something that strikes me each time. Wicked may be a musical powerhouse, but its themes of friendship and independence strike chords with theatre-goers worldwide. And when Elphaba "Defies Gravity", well, that's Broadway at its most magnificent.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Nobody ever really put Baby in a corner

I really don’t think it’s an exaggeration to call Jennifer Grey’s win on the 11th season of the US Dancing With the Stars (DWTS) the feel good story of 2010.

It has all the vital elements; a cancer survival, struggle with persistent injury, a revival after a hey-day in the 80’s movie super stardom.

But was Baby ever really put in a corner? This is being heralded at Jennifer Grey’s big comeback, but as I’ve said before here, comeback is an overused word and to use it to talk about Jennifer Grey isn’t really fair. I don’t think she really ever went anywhere; she just wasn’t living everyday of her life in front of the paparazzi or making three movies a year.

In the lead up to the finale of DWTS on Tuesday, things got pretty heated. According to some reports in the US last week, one angry man blasted his TV set with a shotgun while watching the show, and an envelope filled with what turned out to be talcum powder turned up on the show's Los Angeles set.

Unless you were lucky enough to be in the US watching the final episode live on Tuesday – you may need a bit of a catch up in how The Feel Good Story of the Year wrapped up.

Monday – The Finale Performances

Jen is up against Bristol Palin (WTF? Can NOT dance), daughter of former US Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin and actor Kyle Massey (not sure exactly who is he is but I think he’s a former Disney actor).

She whips out the big guns by performing a freestyle routine to the classic ‘Do You Love Me (Now That I Can Dance)’ from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack, complete with the watermelon just like the one Baby carried in the movie. This was a genius move by her dance partner and choreographer Derek Hough, who also used a song from the iconic movie’s soundtrack for Jen’s very first performance of a Viennese waltz. The pair’s second performance was an encore of their Paso Doble from earlier in the competition, which then didn’t see them score highly, but this week shot them into first place with a perfect score of 30. The couple wowed the judges with both routines, got a standing ovation and scored a perfect 60 leading into the final results show.

Tuesday – The Results Show

From there it was up to people power – the viewer vote - and 24 million Americans tuned in to watch the result. Jen wasn’t a safe bet – there was a late surge by Bristol Palin, which many attributed to a conspiracy by the both the Republican Party and the new Tea Party movement.

But the conspiracy theories didn’t materialise – and the US Dancing With the Stars Season 11 crowning glory and mirror ball trophy was bestowed on Jennifer Grey – queen of the dance floor.

There’s now talk of Jennifer featuring in an episode of Glee. Bring it on, I say. And welcome back Jen, even though you really never went away.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Harry Potter and the Enthusiastic Fandom

A very important chapter in my life will soon be drawing to a close. Those of you who know me well will be thinking, 'whatever, you're turning 30. Blah blah blah". But I couldn't care less about that. Thirty smerty. Who cares? Ever since I read a horoscope that told me that my 30s were going to be awesome - I've been waiting with bated breath. No, I am much more upset about another significant event. My decade long love affair with all things Harry Potter is drawing to a close. With the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 this week, and Part 2 in July next year, the nerdtastic behaviour I have revelled in and tortured my friends with shall be no more.

I still remember the day I realised that maybe I was just a little bit obsessed with this series. The 23rd of June, 2003. Two days after the release of the Order of the Phoenix. After a friend had given me the first Harry Potter book for Christmas one year, I'd gone and bought the next three and quickly devoured them. Carrying them around with me constantly, I couldn't put them down. I knew that I loved these books and thought they were fantastic, but I was yet unaware of this strange, powerful influence JK Rowling's words would have over my common sense.

In the days leading up to the release of Order of the Phoenix, I laughed at all the fans lining up. Who would line up just to get a book? I could wait thanks... I lasted two days. The Monday after the book had been released, I was starting to get antsy about wanting to read it. What was going to happen next? Voldemort had just come back. Cedric had just been killed. Shit had gone down. How could I possibly wait to find out what had happened? How could I stand to have that knowledge out there in the universe and not be aware of it myself!! So sneaking out of work five minutes early, I sped to the local shopping centre, determined that I just had to find a copy of the book. And of course I couldn't find one. Two stores were sold out before I found a horribly over-priced adult cover version. Which obviously I had to buy - desperate to have any kind of version of the book.

As I was walking out of the shopping centre, a horrible, stupid tucked away bookstore appeared out of nowhere completely packed to the roof full of the kids cover at half the price. GAH!! Not fair. I left slightly pissed I'd missed out on a bargain, but happy to be able to read the book. And what a glorious night of reading to 2am it was. The next day, with about half of the book to go, work was ridiculously tedious. I just wanted to go home and read. So I did. I chucked a sickie, drove back to the shopping centre, got a refund for the book I'd half read, went to the secret cheap bookstore, bought my half-price kids cover version, drove home and finished the book.

My next holiday destination
 Clearly this is the moment I cracked. And ever since I've been an unapologetic Potter-file. Every time a book or movie is released, in the weeks leading up I become a ridiculous ball of energy. A fine layer of excitement permeates the air. I'm on the internet almost constantly checking for all the latest updates. But with the movies coming to an end and with my imminent adult style birthday approaching, one can't help but think that the coincidence of these two events is a sign to finally let go and grow up. And I'm going to use this opportunity to finally admit to all my Harry Potter nerdiness. A therapeutic confessional outpouring if you will.

››  I own five Harry Potter action figures. Three of which are Ron dolls. I must point out that I only bought myself ONE of these - the talking Ron doll (complete with iconic catchphrases such as "Who are you and what have you done with Hermione Granger?").

››  Whilst lining up for the Goblet of Fire movie, I may have knocked over a small child in my haste to get into the theatre.

››  The Harry Potter websites,, and are bookmarked on my computer and I check them fairly regularly.

››  I postponed my move from Australia to London by two days, because I had originally planned it for the day the Half Blood Prince book came out and there was no way I wasn't locking myself in my room and finishing the book that day!

Goblet of Fire premiere in Leicester Square, London
››  And probably my most hilarious Harry Potter indulgence - I went to the World Premiere of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in London. Lining up in the rain for 8 hours with thousands and thousands of other Potter fans just to get a glimpse of the stars of the movie - all the while trying to stand upright as I was being pushed about in the moshpit of excited fans screaming for Daniel Radcliffe ("Oh my god. He's so cute!!"). It was a completely ridiculous day and I don't think I'll ever be doing that again, but god it was hilarious! Never again will I be able to randomly talk to the people next to me about the characters and stories in Harry Potter as if they were real. And for those of you who came with me - I did NOT make you come. I casually mentioned I was going to go and you willingly chose to come along with me!

Aww. Who am I kidding? I'll never let Harry Potter go. NEVER! And if anyone wants to buy me a present for my birthday, I'm open to accepting all forms of Harry Potter Lego.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Not quite prime time: The return of Team Coco

It's a big week for Australian television. And no, it's not Eddie and his IQ Test or the over-hyped Packed to the Rafters funeral (Did someone actually die in real life? No? Then move on people and stop putting it on the front page of the paper). No I'm talking about one of the funniest people on the planet finally back where he belongs - on the air. YAY!! Conan O'Brien is back on TV. And the best part - Channel Nine is doing Australia a favour and playing his talk show on free-to-air channel Gem Tuesdays to Fridays at 11:30pm.

For those not aware of the late night talk show war in January this year, Conan had taken over the famed Tonight Show only for the bigwigs at NBC to try a ratings shuffle and push Conan back a timeslot and reinstate former host Jay Leno in his stead. Conan refused and one of the funniest weeks of talk show history ensued. Instead of the latest political gaffes or Tiger Woods sex jokes, the target was late night itself with potshots at NBC and Leno. Those hilarious news peeps in Taiwan succinctly summed up the situation thusly.

Luckily for us all, Conan was able to get his own show on basic cable channel TBS and it debuted this week in the US and is being fast-tracked to Australian shores on Gem (god bless digital TV).

I've been a big fan of Conan's for years, having been lucky enough to have awesome parents with pay television so I could watch his Late Night talk show on the Comedy Channel. And a few years ago I managed to score tickets to be an audience member for Late Night with Conan O'Brien when I visited New York with fellow blogger Amy. I don't think either of us have ever laughed as hard as we did watching the intro package of all of Conan's best-ofs as we waited in the audience for the show to start taping. He's such a random, gangly ridiculous nerd - and I love it!

Talk shows or variety shows can be a tricky format. So much relies on the host being able to engage the audience, engage the guests, and just generally be hilarious whilst doing so. Australian attempts always seem too eager. Rove always tried hard, often hitting the mark, but more often than not the format felt forced and there was an awkwardness that was obvious to the audience. And don't even get me started on the mess that is Daryl Somers and Hey Hey! Out of the predominant American shows Leno panders to the audience too much and Letterman always seems above it all, treating his guests and the audience with a thinly veiled sheen of contempt.

For me, Conan has always hit the mark. Yeah, there are off nights and off guests, but when you run a show 5 nights a week, that's pretty good odds. For example his first show started off strong (with a hilarious intro package of Conan playing up his move from NBC complete with a cameo from Don Draper himself and a very apt reference to The Godfather), but unengaging guests Seth Rogan and Lea Michele were probably not the best to be starting out with. Luckily Jack White was there in all his awesome glory to rock out with Conan and his band to round out the show. All in all, I'm excited to see Conan back on TV and I'm looking forward to more of his kooky hilarity.

Here are some of my favourite Conan clips from the past:

And one of the funniest things I've ever seen on television

5)  Conan goes behind-the-scenes with an 1860s re-enactment baseball team.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Top 20 Rom Coms: The Last 25 Years

In Part One of this list of Top 20 Rom Coms, we explored the origins of the genre, its first 50 years from 1934 – 1984. Now we complete the list with the best of the last 25 years. See how things have changed, or stayed the same (that all important chemistry between the leads!), and let us know what you think in the comments below!

Working Girl – 1988

I have a head for business and a bod for sin. Is there anything wrong with that?

What it’s about: When a secretary (Melanie Griffith) has her idea stolen by her boss (Sigourney Weaver), she seizes an opportunity to steal it back, teaming up with an investment broker (Harrison Ford) and pretending she has her boss's job.

Why it’s great: Mike Nichols’ Working Girl is a perfect 80s rom-com. As Roger Ebert explained of its plot: “the problem with working your way up the ladder of life is that sometimes you can't get there from here.” The story still resonates today, and compliments the great performances, including baby-voiced Griffith’s breakout role.

Key Scene:

When Harry Met Sally... 1989

I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.

What it’s about: Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) have known each other for years, and have become great friends, but they fear sex would ruin the friendship.

Why it’s great: For me, When Harry Met Sally... is the perfect romantic comedy, and another personal favourite. It’s not just the ever-essential chemistry between the leads, which Ryan and Crystal have to spare; the movie covers all the rom-com musts with a true originality, converging perfectly: the witty script, the lovable “best friends” (Bruno Kirby, Carrie Fisher), the real stakes and conversations about relationships between men and women, and the grand gesture at the end. Perfect.

Key Scene:

Say Anything... – 1989

What I really want to do with my life - what I want to do for a living - is I want to be with your daughter. I'm good at it.

What it’s about: A noble underachiever (John Cusack) and a beautiful valedictorian (Ione Skye) fall in love the summer before she goes off to college.

Why it’s great: Let’s face it, every girl wants a Lloyd Dobler, and John Cusack’s superb portrayal of the passionate and honest high school graduate in Say Anything... leaves us in no doubt of his love for Ione Skye’s Diane. Peter Gabriel never sounded so good.

Key Scene:

Pretty Woman – 1990

I appreciate this whole seduction thing you've got going on here, but let me give you a tip: I'm a sure thing.

What it’s about: A ruthless businessman (Richard Gere) needs an escort for some social events, and hires a beautiful prostitute (Julia Roberts). They take a liking to each other and he offers her money if she'll stay with him for an entire week.

Why it’s great: Pretty Woman started what would become a slew of rom-coms throughout the 1990’s. Perhaps none is more famous than this, the launching pad for Hollywood sweetheart Julia Roberts and her mega-watt smile. A classic in the genre.

Key Scene

Sleepless in Seattle – 1993

Destiny is something we've invented because we can't stand the fact that everything that happens is accidental.

What it’s about: The son of a recently-widowed man (Tom Hanks) calls a radio talk show in an attempt to find his father a partner. Newspaper journalist Annie (Meg Ryan) becomes infatuated with his story.

Why it’s great: Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks are terrific, and the tribute to the classic “An Affair to Remember” is perfectly evoked in this Nora Ephron gem. Playing at our ideas of destiny and fate, Sleepless in Seattle is romance in its most precious form.

Key Scene:

Four Weddings and a Funeral – 1994

A toast before we go into battle. True love. In whatever shape or form it may come. May we all in our dotage be proud to say, "I was adored once too."

What it’s about: Following the fortunes and various weddings (and a funeral) of a group of London friends, Charles (Hugh Grant) thinks he's found "Miss Right" in Carrie (Andie MacDowell), an American.

Why it’s great: I cannot watch Four Weddings and a Funeral without wishing Charles had just ended up with his bestie Fiona (Kristin Scott Thomas). That’s the power of Four Weddings… it’s very, very British, and so it follows that we’d want our main man to end up with the girl that, well, he doesn’t. Bucking trends, it’s the friends in this film that provide the real romance and comedy.

Key Scene:

My Best Friend’s Wedding – 1997

Getting what you deserve is totally unfair.

What it’s about: When Julianne’s (Julie Roberts) long-time friend (Dermot Mulroney) announces his engagement to another woman (Cameron Diaz), she realizes she loves him herself, and sets out to get him with only days before the wedding.

Why it’s great: My Best Friend’s Wedding stars the queen of the rom com, Julia Roberts, and has probably one of the most satisfying “didn’t get the get the girl/guy” endings in movies. Instead, Julia ends up with her gay best friend George (Rupert Everett). So much more rewarding than the original ending, which had her with another potential boyfriend.

Key Scene:

10 Things I Hate About You – 1999

Who needs affection when I have blind hatred?

What it’s about: A remake of the classic Shakespeare play "The Taming of the Shrew” set in a modern day high school.

Why it’s great: Starring the late Heath Ledger in his first big American role, 10 Things I Hate About You is a clever adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic. Julia Stiles is a true original, playing the part of Kat as though the Bard had her in mind when he wrote the prickly part, and she and Ledger have chemistry to burn.

Key Scene

Bridget Jones’s Diary – 2001

It is a truth universally acknowledged that when one part of your life starts going okay, another falls spectacularly to pieces.

What it’s about: A single woman (Renee Zellweger), determined to improve herself as a New Years resolution, keeps a diary while struggling with her feelings for her caddish boss (Hugh Grant) and a disagreeable acquaintance (Colin Firth).

Why it’s great: Bridget Jones’s Diary is a modern classic, based on Helen Fielding’s bestseller. The imperfectly perfect Bridget, played with confidence and fantastic humour by Zellweger, quickly became a modern day heroine. With Grant and Firth along for the ride, the movie has real wit and pathos, while maintaining all the personality of the book. Who hasn’t had a Bridget moment?

Key Scene:

50 First Dates – 2004

I've never even met you.

What it’s about: Henry (Adam Sandler) meets Lucy (Drew Barrymore), and thinks he's finally found the girl of his dreams, until he discovers she has short-term memory loss and forgets him the very next day.

Why it’s great: Like many a good rom com pairing, Sandler and Barrymore have worked together several times now, both maintaining a warm and truthful screen presence when they team up. 50 First Dates and its Hawaiian setting are delightfully romantic and, although unlikely and also featuring Rob Schneider, holds up to repeat viewings.

Key Scene:

The Proposal – 2009

Margaret, will you marry me? Because I'd like to date you.

What it’s about: A pushy boss (Sandra Bullock) forces her assistant (Ryan Reynolds) to marry her in order to keep her Visa status in the U.S. and avoid deportation to Canada. To keep up the ruse, they head to Alaska to meet his family.

Why it’s great: Bullock and Reynolds seem like a new, hot rom com pairing. Both are wonderful in The Proposal, a heart-felt and genuinely funny addition to the genre. Reynolds has perfect comic timing, and Bullock’s screen presence must be the envy of her peers.

Key Scene:

Monday, November 8, 2010

Top 20 Rom Coms: The Early Years

The all-powerful and knowing Wikipedia describes romantic comedies as “films with light-hearted, humorous plotlines, centered on romantic ideals such as a true love able to surmount most obstacles”. That sounds about right. There is definitely an art to the successful romantic comedy. It’s the most predictable of film genres, but when done well, you won't notice that. Good romantic comedies have you laughing (or crying) into your popcorn and feeling content as the credits roll, like you’ve spent the evening with friends. When compiling this list of the first 50 years of romantic comedies, I was surprised at how many number among my favourite movies. Check out my list of Top 20 Rom Coms: The Last 25 Years, but before that, let us know what you think in the comments below!

It Happened One Night – 1934

Perhaps you're interested in how a man undresses. You know, it's a funny thing about that. Quite a study in psychology. No two men do it alike..

What it’s about: A spoiled heiress (Claudette Colbert), running away from her family, is helped by a man who's actually a reporter (Clark Gable) looking for a story.

Why it’s great: Considered by many to be the first romantic comedy, It Happened One Night is also surely one of the finest. The convoluted plot set the tone for many romantic comedies to come. Colbert and Gable have fantastic chemistry, and the quick wit of the script today seems ahead of its time.

Key Scene:

His Girl Friday – 1940

- There's been a lamp burning in the window for ya, honey... here.
- Oh, I jumped out that window a long time ago.

What it’s about: A newspaper editor (Cary Grant) uses every trick in the book to keep his ace reporter ex-wife (Rosalind Russell) from remarrying.

Why it’s great: Two words: Cary and Rosalind. Cary Grant makes another appearance on this list, and if all things were fair, so would Rosalind Russell. These two are sparky and funny, both real naturals in the genre. Lucky, as His Girl Friday is one of the first films to feature characters speaking over the top of each other, testing their talents. Both pass with flying colours. Robert Altman, eat your heart out.

Key Scene:

The Philadelphia Story – 1940

The time to make up your mind about people is never.

What it’s about: When a rich woman's (Katharine Hepburn) ex-husband (Cary Grant) and a tabloid-type reporter (James Stewart) turn up just before her planned remarriage, she begins to learn the truth about herself.

Why it’s great: Full disclosure: The Philadelphia Story is one of my all-time favourite movies. It’s brilliant: funny, sexy, with a uniformly flawless group of actors, perfectly cast. Its cracking script is full of those moments that make you think “I wish I could come up with a response like that!”. Aside from the incomparable trifeca of Hepburn as Tracy Lord, Grant as CK Dexter Haven, and Stewart as Macaulay Connor, The Philadelphia Story features some of the best supporting players in movies: Ruth Hussey as the earthy Miss Imbrie, Ronald Young and his perfectly delivered one-liners as Uncle Willie, and Virginia Wiedler as Tracy’s precocious younger sister, Dinah.

Key Scene: "Seems the minute she hit the water, the wine hit her."

"Someday... over the rainbow..."

Adam’s Rib – 1943

No matter what you think you think, you think the same as I think.

What it’s about: Domestic and professional tensions mount when a husband (Spencer Tracy) and wife (Katharine Hepburn) work as opposing lawyers in a case involving a woman who shot her husband.

Why it’s great: For proof that Hepburn and Tracy were simply on fire whenever they were together, look no further than Adam’s Rib. It is perhaps the most successful of the nine films the couple made together over 25 years; their off-screen relationship lasted just as long. A must for any good 1940s romantic comedy is razor-sharp dialogue delivered at a lightning pace. It took real chops to pull it off. Look no further than Adam’s Rib for evidence.

Key Scene: "Licorice. If there's anything I'm a sucker for, it's licorice."

Tracy and Hepburn at their best

Pillow Talk – 1959

I've had hangovers before, but this time, even my hair hurts.

What it’s about: A man (Rock Hudson) and woman (Doris Day) share a telephone line and despise each other, but then he has fun by romancing her with his voice disguised.

Why it’s great: Another consummate romantic comedy pairing (hey, if the chemistry is there, why mess with it, right?), the perky Doris Day and knowing Rock Hudson combination was a winner for sure; the pair made three movies together. Pillow Talk is Day and Hudson at their cheeky, bedroom comedy, best.

Key Scene:

The Apartment – 1960

Ya know, I used to live like Robinson Crusoe; I mean, shipwrecked among 8 million people. And then one day I saw a footprint in the sand, and there you were.

What it’s about: CC Baxter (Jack Lemmon) tries to rise in his company by letting its executive’s use his apartment for trysts, but complications and a romance with elevator girl Fran (Shirley MacLaine) ensue.

Why it’s great: Another personal favourite, Billy Wilder’s The Apartment shows a maturing of the romantic comedy genre, with real stakes (depression, loneliness) and consequences among everyday players in the Big Apple. MacLaine is not your average romantic comedy foil, and her quirkiness matches perfectly with Lemmon’s everyman in a careful balance between farce and melancholy.

Key Scene:

Breakfast at Tiffany’s - 1961

It's useful being top banana in the shock department.

What it’s about: A young New York socialite, Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) becomes interested in a young man (George Peppard) who has moved into her apartment building.

Why it’s great: This somewhat watered-down adaptation of Truman Capote’s best seller features a breathtaking Audrey Hepburn in perhaps her most famous role (apologies to My Fair Lady). Holly Golightly is so shining and iconic that it’s easy to forget about Peppard’s Paul (shame), and Mickey Rooney’s Mr Yunioshi (thankfully).

Key Scene:

Annie Hall – 1977

Honey, there's a spider in your bathroom the size of a Buick.

What it’s about: Neurotic New York comedian Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) falls in love with the ditzy Annie Hall (Diana Keaton), we trace the course of their relationship from their first meeting.

Why it’s great: Annie Hall is my favourite movie. It’s funny, clever, and truthful, and won Best Picture at the Oscars, beating Star Wars. A unique and inventive look at relationships in New York City in the 1970s, the film mirrors the real-life connection between its lead actors. Annie Hall is a true original in the romantic comedy genre; it is cynical and bold, and doesn’t end traditionally with the leads together, happily ever after. Unsurprisingly, it’s the only 1970s film to make this list. Times were changing.

Key Scene:

Romancing the Stone – 1984

-You're the best time I've ever had.
-I've never been anybody's best time.

What it’s about: A romance writer (Kathleen Turner) sets off to Colombia to ransom her kidnapped sister, and soon finds herself in the middle of a dangerous adventure with a soldier of fortune (Michael Douglas).

Why it’s great: Romancing the Stone is a rollicking chase movie that I simply adored when I was younger and it was on TV. It’s fun and funny, silly, and a little bit naughty (well, at least when you’re 8 it is). Turner and Douglas are wonderful, and as is a theme with this genre when there is undeniable chemistry between the leads, Romancing the Stone marked the first of several times the pair would team up on screen.

Key Scene:

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Jennifer Grey - Time of her life or overrated comeback?

Any fan of the iconic 80’s movie, Dirty Dancing, will be relishing in the apparent ‘comeback’ of it’s female star Jennifer Grey, who was almost as famous for her later nose job, as the movie which shot her to stardom.

Comeback is a bit of an overused dirty word I think. But I digress…

So the story goes, for those who haven’t heard, Jennifer well and truly hit the big time when Dirty Dancing, a low budget film not really expected to do big things, went nuts at the box office and became a cult classic. Following this meteoric rise, Jennifer, who had a distinctive nose, made the decision to undergo rhinoplasty. The surgery was botched, to the point where she says her friends couldn’t recognise her. She had surgery again to correct the mistake – changing her face forever.

It must have been a pretty hard thing to go through; she says she even considered changing her name to match her new face, but decided against that in the end. Not many of us could say our career and livelihood banked on how we looked. Jennifer found it increasingly difficult to get work after the surgery – no one recognised her as the awkward yet loveable Baby Houseman, or Ferris Bueller’s sister.

And so it seemed Jennifer was cast into the Hollywood purgatory, which exists for so many stars who hit the big time in one or two movies. They disappear into obscurity, only to show up in the odd B-grade ad or TV reunion.

So when Jennifer accepted a spot on the US version of Dancing With the Stars (DWTS), the irony was lost on no one. Her first performance, cleverly choreographed to a track from Dirty Dancing – ‘These Arms of Mine’ - was praised by the judges, put her on top of the leader board and saw her tipped to take out the competition.

Since Jennifer’s very first performance hit You Tube, I’ve been addicted to the weekly performances, streamed over the internet. Its like I’m experiencing my obsession with Dirty Dancing all over again. Her stylish week one Viennese waltz with that classic 1960 track by Otis Redding from the movie, with its soulful tones, was just mesmerising. I got goose bumps the first time I saw it (and yes, I may have watched it a hundred times since then). If you squint really hard Jennifer’s partner Derek Hough could almost be a young Patrick Swayze.

I was hopelessly in love with Patrick Swayze from the moment I first saw Dirty Dancing – I think I was probably eight years old. It was a big thing for my mum to let me watch it, after all, everyone knows THAT dirty dancing scene where Baby carries the watermelons and stumbles across the underground dance club. And I swear it’s purely a coincidence my boyfriend, when his hair is done just so, and the light is right, looks a little like a Patrick Swayze, circa Dirty Dancing.

I didn’t really understand the whole abortion sub-plot. And so goes the story – neither did around 40% of test viewers before the movie was even released. A studio executive famously said they should ‘burn the negative and collect the insurance’.

Thank the lord they didn’t. I can’t imagine not being able to quip “nobody puts Baby in a corner” anytime a conversation remotely allows.

Jennifer’s week two DWTS performance saw her and partner Derek take on a jive, followed by a stunning Argentine tango, which both resulted in continuing high praise and scores from the judging panel. Jennifer’s most recent week six performance wasn’t as well received as the first few. She performed a paso doble, where she was labelled ‘out of control’.

I have to admit – I’ve grown a little tired of the Australian version of Dancing with the Stars – I loved the first couple of seasons – but now the bare chests of B-grade celebrities just all look the same. I’ve seen the odd clip of the US show – but Jennifer Grey has really got me interested this year’s US season. Viewers who loved Dirty Dancing and were inspired to take up dancing themselves, are exactly the ones who will be inspired by Jennifer Grey all over again, tuning in every week to DWTS. It also helps that the TV packages leading into her performance are littered with Grey’s laughter – reminiscent of that iconic scene from Dirty Dancing, where Baby and Johnny practice lifts in the lake.

Adding to the intrigue of Jennifer’s reappearance is her recent battle with cancer. A lump was found in her thyroid and removed. She didn’t undergo any chemotherapy treatment. Grey says she’s happy just to be alive and doing something she never thought she would have the guts to do.

So why has this reappearance of Jennifer Grey struck such a chord with me and so many others? I’m not entirely sure, to be honest, but I think it's somewhere in between my love of the underdog (after all she is making a ‘comeback’ after more than two decades in the Hollywood wilderness) and the fact that Jennifer actually doesn’t come across like she was looking for a comeback at all. She seems to be taking it in her stride and I don’t get the impression this is the best thing that’s ever happened to her. I suspect, from the calm and happiness she exudes, that this success is a triumph for her – like flipping the bird to Hollywood. But I also get the feeling she’s happily lived her life out of the spotlight.

The assumption that an actor or actress isn’t successful if they’re not in the spotlight for their whole career, or life for that matter, is laughable. Why is it even called a comeback? She wasn’t dead. The fact that Jennifer comes across like she could take or leave her return to fame, is what maker her so loveable – all over again.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Valentino and the art of gallery survival

Living in Australia, most of the galleries and museums I have visited have been overseas. I’ve been lucky to see some amazing pieces, paintings and pictures in my travels, but never really at home.

Valentino: Retrospective, in Brisbane
thanks to Les Arts Décoratifs
That's why I was so thrilled to learn that Valentino, Retrospective: Past/Present/Future was coming to Brisbane's relatively new Gallery of Modern Art. Brisbane is kind of my home "city"; by that I mean I didn't exactly grow up here, but I grew up near here. GoMA had a coup on its hands with this exhibition, that's for sure.

Developed by Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris, Valentino, Retrospective explores the work of the Italian fashion house known around the world for its sophisticated, timeless design and glamorous clientele. It has been in Brisbane at GoMA since early August, and so time was running out to see the gowns all in one place, so close to home. I met up with my sister on a rainy Sunday afternoon, and we bought our tickets for a divine hour or so of fabulous fashion and general gorgeousness.

And the gowns were stunning. We had a great time guessing the year, or even decade, of some of those on display. Sometimes we’d pick the 1960s, and be correct, or we’d guess the 2000s, and the dress would actually be from 1959. Amazing, the style changes, repetition, and evolution, and how beautiful, intricate and timeless the vintage gowns were. We both adored the stunning row of black “rock” dresses from the most recent Valentino collection, fascinating that what most appealed was that which was most recent. Finger on the pulse, that Valentino.

As we wandered, we sometimes had to stop ourselves from laughing. Not at the dresses (although, some of those animal print sack-styles from the 70s were… different), no. Here’s the thing: have you ever listened to people talking in an art gallery or museum? Because, as I have learned over the years, it is hilarious. A few gems overheard at Valentino, Retrospective:

• “Yeah, it’s pretty. But if it were me, I’d take away all those side bits and just leave the middle.”
• “That looks like chicken wings. Totally. Chicken wings.”
• “Ew! So many feathers. That would be so itchy.”
• “How does she walk in those stupid shoes. She’s going to break her neck!”
• “Ha! Hope you don’t want to sit down with all that layering.”
• “Oh my god Ez, look how skinny Cate Blanchett is to fit into that dress.”*
(*last one may have been me)

So, my day at GoMA had me reflecting on the many hilarious moments I’ve had at art galleries, shows, and museums in New York, London, Paris, Rome, Venice, and Florence. It’s not just the comments, it’s also the type of gallery-goer. While most of us are content to appreciate the gallery or museum at our own quiet pace, there are also, I have observed over the years, several different gallery-going “types”:

1. The completist

This person buys the guide-book, signs up for the gallery tour, hires the audio-tour and must spend at least 90 seconds looking at and considering each and every piece in the gallery or museum. Don’t try to interrupt them or get in their way! They are too focused, even if they’re not really taking in what’s in front of them and are just counting down the seconds until they can move to the next piece.

2. The erratic

Also known as “my friend Kelly”. I would now like to invite you on a journey into what it’s like to attend a gallery/museum with Kelly. I have visited many with her during our travels, but have never actually spent the entire time in her presence, until Venice’s Gallerie dell'Accademia when we were forced, in some bizarre social experiment, to share headphones as they only had one audio tour remaining. Usually, I would wander the galleries alone, leisurely appreciating the work at my own pace. I had no idea where Kelly disappeared to, and I never asked. All I know is that she never, ever, takes in a gallery in any discernable order. Nope. Right from the entrance, Kelly darts about, revisiting her favourites, occasionally checking in with me with funny stories about what she’s overheard, or forewarning me about what’s ahead. She’s not unlike a puppy. This had never bothered me, until we were joined at the head in Venice. I started on my  relaxed way, which I’m reliably informed (as she told me so) made Kelly feel like she was being tethered and trapped, much like she was going insane. It was no better for me. As I wandered,  at faster than my usual speed, Kelly at various times tried to rip my head off my shoulders in a last-ditch attempt to view the gallery in her usual erratic way. Never again.

3. The over-appreciater

Of all the gallery visitors, this person drives me the craziest. They’re usually the ones who stand (in front of you, no doubt) and take a close up photograph of the picture before them. They don’t look at the piece, oh no. They take a photo of it and move on. You know, a picture, like you could find from a simple Google Image search. But being in the gallery, surely you want to appreciate what’s in front of you, in real life? No? Just want to show the folks at home that you were there? Okay. At least switch off the flash then.

4. The critic

I’m not talking about art critics here. I’m talking about the pretentious, loud, obnoxious gallery-goer who must share their (usually negative) opinion with the rest of us. We don’t care what changes you’d make to “improve” a piece. We don’t care that it reminds you of your days vacationing in the Greek Islands. We especially don’t care that you’re trying to impress us by having an “opinion”. Sure, think about what you’re looking at, but if you must, please talk about it quietly. And maybe lose the attitude? It’s not necessary to be critical of everything. Just taking it in can be half the fun!

And, there you have it. I know most of us probably fall somewhere in between those categories, but you know someone who fits at least one of them perfectly, admit it!  Regardless, I’m especially proud of Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art for bringing such an exquisite exhibition to the River City. And as the crowds attested to on Sunday afternoon, if you bring it, they will come. And who am I to say, maybe the dress would work better without those side bits?

Friday, October 1, 2010

TV shows that rocked my world: True Blood

Why is it we love the TV shows we love? Is it the actors/actresses we secretly fantasise about? Is it the storyline? Is it because it’s so well written that it makes us examine our own lives? Maybe. But the reason True Blood continues to rock my world, is the escape.

I wasn’t watching True Blood from the time debuted HBO in the US in 2008 - and I hadn’t even discovered the books yet. But my sister was already obsessed with the books and was begging me to buy Season One on DVD, as soon as it was released. I never got around to it (I kick myself now – I could have been drooling over Eric the vampire so much sooner!). So she bought it for me for my birthday; she knew I would love it. At the time, I had a lot of stress in my life and I was commuting to work for more than an hour morning and night every day. So I watched True Blood on the train, at home, anywhere I could. True Blood was my escape; the gothic southern imagery, the haunting original score, the juxtaposition of religion and lawlessness, the witty, sharp and sometimes hilarious one liners.

Created by Alan Ball, the genius who brought us Six Feet Under and wrote American Beauty, True Blood is an addictive, engrossing vampire saga, based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels by American author Charlaine Harris. The series centres on Sookie Stackhouse, a telepathic waitress living in the small town of Bon Temps, Louisiana, struggling with her unusual ‘gift’ for hearing people’s thoughts. Life is relatively quiet until she meets and falls in love with local vampire Bill Compton. True Blood’s setting is modern day with a difference. A world where vampires have ‘come out of the coffin’, that is, revealed themselves to the world in a simultaneous and systematic revelation. As a result, vampires are largely treated as the ‘new’ second class citizens of the Deep South, and are fighting for the right to legally own assets and marry.

THAT Rolling Stone cover
On one hand, you can’t get much further from reality than a world where vampires live side by side with humans, not to mention the supernaturals which still live in secret; the werewolves, shape shifters and fairies.

But on the other, True Blood has smatterings of normalcy amongst the fantasy, times when we can identify with the characters. Sookie Stackhouse, the telepathic waitress, who apart from her special talent, led a simple yet isolated life before she met her lover, Bill. It’s easy to identify with the isolation Sookie feels as a ‘local freak’ with her telepathic skills. She represents anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider, like they didn’t fit in. And I’d challenge the most reluctant vampire fan not to feel just a bit of empathy for the internal struggle Bill experiences in Season One, to maintain his human qualities of love, empathy and compassion, whilst fighting his urge to hunt and drink human blood (including Sookie’s). Or Bill’s progeny child-vamp Jessica, who will remain 16 forever, experiencing the typical angst of a teenager, losing her virginity, dating – and some not so typical, like accidently killing her dinner in Season Three and struggling to control her young, new-vampire urges.

So what makes True Blood so additive? Millions of people round the world are die-hard fans (or Truebies). The appeal this TV show makes to the vampire sub-culture and pop culture phenomenon that is the vampire genre was cleverly recognised by Allan Ball back in 2007, when the show’s pilot was shot. For me it’s the fantasy combined with super cool scripting and killer one liners from Sookie like “Bill, you were just licking blood out of my head, it don't think it gets much more personal than that” or from Lafayette Reynolds “That boy is sex on a stick. I don't give a good damn how stuck up he is” or “Conscience off. D*ck on”.

Not to mention the super-sexy cast (hello, Rolling Stone Magazine cover??). They have some responsibility for the addictive nature of this show. Generally, the show has been cast really well, keeping some homage to the book series characters. Two of the most central, Sookie and Bill, (Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer) are actually now married in real life, after meeting on set. A dream for the HBO marketing department I’m sure. But the chemistry in their very first scenes together practically oozes out from the TV screen. Sookie’s later chemistry with thousand year old vampire (and sex on legs) Eric, keeps things just as steamy.

The cast of True Blood - Season 3

Yes, I will admit the acting in True Blood is not always the best acting you’ve ever seen (although Paquin is pretty damn good), but to the thousands of Truebies around the world, that doesn’t matter. This show was never intended to be taken too seriously or pretended to be anything other than pop culture goodness. Creator Allan Ball has never purported it to be anything else. The same can pretty much be said for Charlaine Harris’ books. This doesn’t take away from their appeal and brilliance.

There’s an ever increasing debate between fans on the book series’ storylines and the tendency for the TV show to totally abandon them or twist them out of order. And as the recent Season Three finale has shown us, the show continues to jump around, basing entire seasons only loosely on storylines from the imagination of Charlaine Harris. For me, I love the books and I love the show. The show is like a new tangent of Sookie’s story and I find both the book storylines and the TV storylines as equally addictive. I think Allan Ball has made a clever decision to put his own ingenious stamp on True Blood, making it into an animal all of its own.

For me, my ultimate favourite episode is the very first one. It’s the beginning of an incredible journey. The electric chemistry between dangerous and brooding vampire (Bill), when he first lays his eyes on an outcast, oddball, lonely girl (Sookie) still gives me chills. I’ve watched it several times – and could watch it a thousand more. I can’t thank my sister enough. May True Blood never die ‘The True Death’.