Monday, January 29, 2007


Breaking and Entering is the first film to be made from an original script by Anthony Minghella since his debut feature Truly Madly Deeply. Since then he has assiduously adapted famous and important novels. There’s nothing wrong with adaptations but they do cause you to ask why go down so literal a path. I have to say however that I found that while his versions of Cold Mountain and The English Patient hewed along the familiar literary path, his version of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley took a lot of liberties. Ripley was made explicitly gay and for some reason the film was set in 1959 almost ten years after the book but forty years before the more logical present. It was all part of a feast of period glamour that the film sought to invoke. I thought those decisions unforgivable.

Breaking and Entering starts out as an attempt by Minghella to do his own version of Highsmith but it soon shows yet again just how hard that trick is to pull off, (even when trying for literal adaptations of the great woman’s work).

Patricia Highsmith liked to write books which examined the effect of guilt on her characters and she often used a schema of doubling, putting one person into the shoes or shadown of another. Violence ensued. Minghella’s schema involves putting Will, a smart young architect with a wife named Liv and a child named Bea (yeah right) in the path of another woman, a beautiful Bosnian refugee with an errant, anti-social son. Both women in fact are beautiful. Like any Highsmith plot, small lies and deceptions come back to haunt the man, make him decide to do stupid things, generate a sense of panic and moral slippage until it all careers out of control. It takes some time to tell. Somehwere beyond forty minutes elapse before Will has actually met the Bosnian. In between there’s an elaborate sub-plot with a Russian prostitute, a character employed largely to cause Will to tell even more lies. Her presence does give him one telling moment when her presents her with a bottle of his wife’s perfume so that the wife wont again pick up the foreign scent. She's furious.

Finally however, as we move towards a climax where Will’s lies have caused mayhem and all the characters appear doomed, someone has deemed that the film has to end well. Minghella’s schematics suddenly collapse into some sort of happy ending, two happy endings in fact, though the second has absolutely no emotional conviction at all. Yah, boo, sucks. Will was a creep and no Highsmith creep ever escaped scot free or was so easily forgiven.

I suspect, without knowing anything of course, that the forgiveness is the product of script intervention by those intellectual giants, the Weinstein Bros. Their odious fingerprints are all over the film’s ending. They’ve done it often enough to have plenty of form. Even some Australian producers have suffered their ministrations. If my suspicions are true then we can say that at some point someone decided to remove what little merit the film otherwise had by not allowing it to be true to its characters and their modern dilemmas. Notwithstanding all this intervention I doubt it will save the film from box office oblivion.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Mr Jolly - Tony Blair and HRH

The Queen has a lot of things to intrigue. There is for a start the delicious sense that we are going to be privy to secrets of one of the world’s most famous, and famously dysfunctional, families. These are not to be secrets of the speculative kind or romantic notions. The writer Peter Morgan has sought to create an exactitude of detail about one of the famous narratives of recent history and claims to have succeeded. No one has rung him up to say that he’s got it wrong. Then again they wouldn’t would they. Engaging in a public argument with a mere meretricious observer is hardly the stuff of Royal life. The quiet seethe is their last, largely only, resort. And when Diana was killed it set off a lot of quiet seething.

Then there are the impersonations themselves. They vary in detail. Helen Mirren’s is the key. Without her doing a lookalike, soundalike job the whole enterprise would fall apart in its own lack of credibility. People worry about those sort of things. (I still remember some dill at an early performance of The Boy from Oz I attended yelling out about Todd McKenney's impersonation of Peter Allen: “Doesn’t look anything like him!"). Michael Sheen as Tony Blair seems to be note and gesture perfect but his slightly rotund appearance is at odds with Blair’s rather skeletal look. James Cromwell’s Philip gives all the arrogance full reign. He also has the best line. (“Have you seen the guest list?.... No…. Well don’t look. Its full of soap stars and homosexuals”).

A couple of points in the story were quite revelatory. The Queen having been forced back to Buckingham Palace by public outrage stops to inspect the mass of flowers at the gate. The camera lingers on one hateful message after another. HRH simply purses her lips. It had never occurred to me that so many of the messages could have been so viciously anti-House of Windsor. The film is generally fairly positive about Elizabeth and gives her a moment of respite in the incident with the little girl and the flowers.

You also know there have to be villains in this chamber opera. There are viciously nasty and probably well-deserved portraits of Cherie Blair, Alistair Campbell and, in absentia and momentarily, Princess Margaret. Some of the plot elements like the killing of the stag and the Queen’s reaction to it are brilliant interventions. Whether the Queen is capable of such a one-liner as“Well we wont hold that against him” which occurs early on is doubtful to me.

Which brings me to ask a question. What has happened to the hour long drama Frears made for Channel 4 about the rivalry between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. It was made in 2003 and is titled The Deal. Michael Sheen also played Blair in that one. It’s time for one of the festivals to rescue that from its current oblivion especially as, according to a piece in the October Sight and Sound, the writer Peter Morgan is now working on a third episode about Blair and his relations with Bush and Clinton. Blair’s reputation for brilliant political management on show in The Queen would have to take a battering in any narrative about his relationship with the Texan buffoon. So when/if it happens one hopes that Frears is also on board and that he remembers he can be a consummate vulgarian when the need arises. Anyone who has seen his 80s TV film Mr Jolly Lives Next Door with Adrian Edmondson and Rik Mayall will know what I mean.

Or maybe someone should gather up all the director's TV stuff, virtually none of it ever screened in Australia and give us a real treat.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Another chapter in the history of magic

My personal history of magic took another quantum leap when we attended last night's performance of La Clique at the Famous Spiegeltent in Hyde Park. Before we went in we heard myserious words about an act involving a red handkerchief. Then amid all the acrobatics, an elegantly dressed woman, in a costume resembling that of an air hostess comes out and stuffs a small red handkerchief inside her fist and makes it disappear. She finds it in a coat pocket, removes the coat and then makes the handkerchief disappear. It is found in her skirt, then in her bra, then in her G-string. She removes them all until she is stark naked whereupon she makes the handkerchief disappear and finds it one last time. The audience sits in a state of surprise, nay disbelief. I was told it was an act that had started in ‘German porno cabarets’ whatever they are. Truly a milestone. The magician was Ursula Martinez. She came back later and sang a very bawdy song in Spanish before we were informed that she was from Croydon in England. All performances of La Clique have sold out. It was close to two hours of very scintillating stuff.

Kenny on DVD

Like maybe a million others I watched Kenny on DVD at Christmas. Somehow or other three copies of it were exchanged around our Christmas tree. I actually wanted to clear up a couple of things. When I saw it in the cinema I noted that a few of the audience members left precisely at the moment when Kenny says he cant make a decision about leaving his hands on job for an executive post until after the Melbourne Cup. Projections of the drunken behaviour soon to be on show were enough to convince some they’d had enough. “Oh not, not the Melbourne Cup’ they probably thought, having already endured rock festivals and the Bob Jane speedway. My memory said that moment occurred somewhere about the 70 minute mark and that the film dragged on for another half hour or so. In fact it occurs at the 86 minute mark and the film only lasts another twelve minutes. Maybe the closing sequences are a bit like the perception you get in a car accident when time slows down. Otherwise the best jokes remains smart on a second viewing and the line with Kenny’s view of marriage as something where you could cut out the middleman, just find someone you hate and give them a house, remains the funniest of the year.

The extras on the DVD are interesting. There are a dozen deleted scenes all of which were best left out. The Jacobsen bros clearly aren’t dummies as to what works best. It seems the film took a couple of years to make and they took lots of advice. The many thanks to offered at the end include mentions to James Hewitson of the Melbourne Film Festival and to film buff himself Paul Harris. The commentary track is the real dud. Clayton Jacobsen opens up and then introduces “Kenny” himself and Shane tries to keep the faux-naif joke going. After ten minutes of unfunny un-enlightenment I switched it off.