Top Pick \ Film
Opens February 2, Rated PG, 100 min.
In a memorable episode of The Goodies, Bill Oddie decides to make his own silent movie as a tribute to a golden age of cinema. To achieve the right look, he forgoes screen trickery and carefully paints everything on set (including himself) black and white.
New French film The Artist employs an equally clever lick of paint. Scratch the simple, 1920s veneer and this is a fiercely smart and modern movie – one that never feels constrained by its borrowed clothes.
From the start, it’s as playful as it is affectionate. At a premiere, silent movie star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) anxiously awaits the audience’s reaction. We worry too, until the penny drops. They are applauding, we’re just not hearing them.
Silence, as we’ll discover, is Valentin’s friend. When the talkies arrive, he finds himself edged off the silver screen by an up-and-coming actress (Bérénice Bejo) whose career he himself kickstarts. As her career soars, he finds himself ever closer to the gutter. Nevertheless, the thread of romance keeps the pair entangled in each other’s lives.
Less talented actors would be seduced into spoof, but there is no hint here of showy melodrama. Both leads manage to find the sweet spot between one and three dimensions. We recognise their iconic outlines from films of yesteryear, but still glimpse the real people behind the grease paint.
No doubt, the zipped lips will be a sticking point for some. Knowing only the film was French, black and white and silent led this critic to fear a pretentious slog. But The Artist is so snappy, so joyful and so heartwarming, it’s impossible to imagine anyone not enjoying it.
THE LION’S ROAR
First Aid Kit (Liberator)
We probably don’t need any more countrified indie bands. But we’ll make an exception for this beautifully summery record from sisters Johanna and Klara Soderberg. It’s so steeped in Americana that you’d never guess the sisters hail from chilly Stockholm. (OK, the names were a clue.)
Of course, the songs are the thing. As you’d expect from a country outfit, there’s a hint of darkness to every bright melody on show. The sun may be shining, but there’s a cold wind due any minute. Even if you’ve heard all it before, these are pretty, striking tunes that deserve to turn heads.
HERE, IN THE SUGARCANE
February 2-4, 7-11, Studio 246, 246a Sydney Road, Brunswick, $18/$15.
Three sisters shelter from a scorching summer in a small patch of sugarcane. There is no shade, no water, no food. All they have is an armchair, a tape player and each other.
This brand-spanking new Australian play, which tackles the extraordinary ways people deal with loss, premieres for a limited season this week. Directed by the award-winning Brigid Gallacher, the intriguing performance should be unmissable for those keeping an eye on Melbourne’s up-and-coming theatre talent.
ABC1, Thursday February 2, 8.30pm
This gritty new Aussie drama series feels like it should be great television. Certainly, it feels as if the makers have a good idea what great TV looks like. Take the opening titles – a homage to HBO hit True Blood so meticulous that it almost feels like parody. There’s also the requisite high-profile casting, in this case British actor Brian Cox (the less famous Hannibal Lecter). Money has clearly been spent on some stunning location photography. And yet it all feels strangely underwhelming.
The obvious reference point seems to be The Sopranos, which brought the mafia to the suburbs, focusing on family dynamics and politics as much as dodgy deals and gunplay. Instead of Tony Soprano and his family of Italian-American gangsters, we have Harry Montebello (Cox) and his family of Torres Strait Islander gangsters. Despite the new, exotic setting, it all feels a little familiar.
That said, there’s definitely potential for innovation when it comes to Harry’s family arrangements – he’s married to an islander woman, with four adopted children.
Harry himself has the makings of a winning character, more affectionate to his ageing dog than to his children. But much of the cast lacks sparkle and their characters feel too close to cliché. The men are violent but useless, while the women are scheming and manipulative.
Still, there’s a sense The Straits might yet be heading somewhere truly interesting. It’s stealing from the best, after all. But its debut only exposes the long road ahead.
Listening \ Cults, in prep for next week’s gig supporting The Drums.
Watching \ Homeland. It really is as good as the hype.
Regretting \ watching The New Girl.
Anticipating \ Luck. Dustin Hoffman. Michael Mann. HBO. Say no more.