Sorry for the lack of updates recently; it’s a very busy, chaotic time of year. I do have a bunch of new fan photos and review excerpts from STC’s production of Waiting For Godot to share. I’ll also have some new print article scans to post before Christmas if all goes well. I still haven’t received a copy of the Godot program a friend sent, but mail,this time of year often slows to a crawl… I do hope to have everything available as soon as possible. And I’ll again thank Yvette and all the other fans who’ve shared their photos, reviews and comments for those of us unable to make the trip to Australia. You lucky bastards. 😉 (Not that seeing Ian McKellen in the Two Plays In Rep incarnation of the same play doesn’t make ME a lucky bastard. I know it does.) 😉
Waiting For Godot at STC
Here are the latest fan photos, both of the play and of autograph signings afterward. Yvette posted some of these a couple of weeks ago, after Hugo gave her the “best birthday present ever”. (I’m inclined to agree.) The photos of onstage action were posted by Tomas Nemecek to Twitter/Instagram last week.
Hugo signs autographs after a performance of Godot Photo: (plus next three) Yvette
Performance photos of Hugo Weaving and Richard Roxburgh (5) by Tomas Nemecek via Twitter/Instagram
L to R: Luke Mullins, Richard Roxburgh, Philip Quast, Hugo Weaving
Photo: @banjosinthebush via Twitter
The latest reviews of STC’s Godot (excerpts, with links to full reviews at sites of origin):
The Spell of Waking Hours: “The story of Vladimir and Estragon, Waiting for Godot is a perhaps a kind of Groundhog Day for these two tramps, an endless succession of phrases and ideas, actions, beats and moments, that never really seem to mean anything at all. And yet amongst this nothingness, there is a kind of warmth, a kind of shared humanity between us and Vladimir and Estragon, the hapless Lucky and the rotund Pozzo, the messenger boy. Presented here by Sydney Theatre Company, and directed by Andrew Upton (after Tamás Ascher was rendered unfit to travel), this Godot is a treat to behold…
The cast – more than ably led by Hugo Weaving and Richard Roxburgh, as Vladimir and Estragon respectively – are all superb, and it’s utterly enchanting watching them try and articulate their thoughts and ideas to each other through the futile reaches of their words and actions. And I don’t mean that in a disparaging way, either – whether you read Beckett’s play or see it performed, there’s a desperate kind of despair, a manic need to connect with someone else, yet also the inability to do so through mere words and actions; there needs to be something deeper, and that’s where Weaving and Roxburgh’s performances are so poignant, where Luke Mullins’ Lucky is so haunting, Philip Quast’s Pozzo so ghastly, Rory Potter’s Boy so innocent…. Weaving, always one of my favourite actors, does not appear to be consciously acting at all – there is a kind of gentle wonder, a compassion, a want to help and to be with Estragon that is quite beautiful. His Vladimir is capricious, light on his feet, a bit of an old clown, and you cannot help but kind of fall in love with his affable tramp.”
Painting Rainbows: “This was one of the most intellectually challenging plays I’ve seen and I loved it. There were stretches of silence in the play and the three hours was mostly just the two characters waiting. Weaving and Roxburgh were brilliant and so very convincing.”
Victor, Someone For Me: “A line in ‘Waiting for Godot’ something along the lines ‘nothing much happens, no-one comes and no-one goes’ pretty well describes Samuel Beckett’s highly regarded play about two homeless men filling in time waiting for the mysterious and unseen Godot to arrive. No-one seems to know who Godot is, what he does or what will happen when he arrives but does that matter?
Dinner and A Show: “Hugo Weaving plays the cerebral Vladimir, the metaphorical ‘sky’ of the relationship. Weaving danced around the stage with his hulking two-step, kicking up his heels whenever the excitement grew. It was like watching a bird in flight. Weaving has a magnanimous energy as a performer, whilst still attending to the tenderness of the piece. Both Weaving and Roxburgh proved equally adroit in executing what might be called tragic pratfalls, and they communicated the oft times unspoken tenderness that exists between the two characters…
Richard Roxburgh played the more instinctual Estragon. He permeated the character with a simple gruffness which in many ways reinvigorated the role. In his comic play Roxburgh is a tour-de-force – he growls as he walks whilst punching the floor with his stained feet….Whilst Estragon and Vladamir are joking, bickering and musing on the profound, their shared test of endurance is interrupted by the overbearing Pozzo and the hapless Lucky. Philip Quast plays the grotesque tyrant; he is solid and booming. Quast has a lyricism about him that makes his presence electric. He was impressive in all manners of speaking, though arguably his second act was weaker than the first. But the real stand out of this production was Luke Mullins as Lucky, Pozzo’s simpleton slave. Mullins’ Lucky was a disturbingly fragile, twitching bird of a man, sporting long flowing white hair. Mullins was an impressive physical performer and concocted a shattering gasp for Lucky’s communication, always unsettling to hear. His performance was measured and uncompetitive, which made it all the more impressive…”
And Elissa Blake has posted the full text (and some nice high-res photos) of her recent Sydney Morning Herald Unwind cover story/profile of Hugo to her personal webpage.
The remaining performances of STC’s Waiting For Godot are all sold out.
The Desolation of Smaug
After preview audiences (and Hugo himself) more or less confirmed my suspicions that Elrond didn’t appear in the second Hobbit film, I decided not to rush off the the first midnight screenings. Nope, I waited a whole fifteen hours ;), taking in a Friday afternoon matinee which was surprisingly sparsely attended given it was still opening day. I did want to see the film before fans and critics has essentially spoiled every frame of it online, and was also uncertain of how much free time I’d have closer to Christmas when, perversely, I tend to have the most work hours. I’m sorry to have to confirm that the rumors about Elrond are true, and Hugo isn’t in the film. Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel has what amounts to a voice cameo about ten minutes in, which is accompanied by a generic two-second image which looks cropped out of An Unexpected Journey footage. (She warns Gandalf about a growing threat, requiring him to separate from Thorin, Bilbo et al and meet up with Radagast for some Necromancer-related recon.) LOTR favorites Christopher Lee and Andy Serkis also don’t appear, though Serkis did a lot of heavy lifting behind the scenes as a second unit director on the triology. Ian McKellen doesn’t have nearly the amount of screentime he had in An Unexpected Journey, but does make a vivid impression with what he has.
All of this being said, the film is very much worth seeing and most of the actors deliver compelling performances. The pacing problems of the first film are resolved, though Jackson still tends to let action sequences drag on longer than they need to. The CGI is much improved, and the various obstacles and villains Bilbo & co meet up with are far more compelling this time around than the series of blobby, too-similar CG villains in AUJ. I won’t say anything else above the cut, as fans really should see this before they learn too much about it secondhand.
I saw the film in 3D, but not IMAX or HFR. The 3D is nonessential, but effectively done, non-gimmicky, and it does give one a Hobbit’s (or Dwarf’s) eye view of dimensional space, as the landscapes and even interiors seem immense.
I won’t rehash the plot, as most of you already know it; there are some asides and deviations from Tolkien’s original narrative (mostly to make the narrative connection to Lord of the Rings more explicit). Since I’m not a Tolkien purist, I wasn’t bothered by the creation of Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), though I am tired of the Hollywood trope that every central female character must be placed at the center of a romantic triangle which divides fans into infantile “teams” for each suitor. (In general, I’m tired of female characters being defined by which male they end up with rather than their other qualities.) But Lilly does a decent job and, apart from some laughably treacly dialogue about moonlight, Jackson doesn’t push the romance angle. To the film’s credit, the characters pretty much acknowledge that there’s too much at stake to be waylaid by such distractions.
Of the new characters, Luke Evans’ heroic but conflicted Bard probably makes the strongest impression, as the film’s Laketown sequence best recaptures the sense of impending doom and difficult choices that fueled the most compelling moments of LOTR. In general, these films are most moving when they are about diverse sets of characters who don’t necessarily like each other learning to put their differences aside and take a stand together. I still prefer the ‘character moments’ to the action sequences, particularly those which seem protracted to pad out the film’s running time. Also, it would be easier to relate to the Dwarves and their quest if they were a bit more differentiated (after two three-hour films, only Kili, Fili, Balin, Bofur and of course Thorin really stand out.) Or if the script dared to kill some of them off. I don’t mean to be crass, but LOTR made its sense of risk and sacrifice palpable because key characters were willing to die or sacrifice immortality for the greater good.
In smaller roles, Mikael Persbrandt is winningly gruff as Beorn, though he only has a few moments onscreen in human form. Stephen Fry has perhaps his most odious role in The Master of Laketown, and is as masterfully entertaining as always, though he only has three quick scenes. Lee Pace’s Thranduil is disappointingly one-note and the character’s jaded hauteur borders on camp. (I’ve seen Pace deliver excellent, varied work elsewhere, so I blame the script.) Evangeline Lilly overcomes the pitfalls of being handed some of the film’s clumsiest dialogue with a nicely understated performance. (It should be reiterated that neither Tolkien nor Peter Jackson seem to have any facility for love stories whatsoever…) Orlando Bloom has never been my favorite actor, but his work as Legolas is consistent with that in LOTR, and he’s still effective in action sequences.
The film does make Azog the Defiler, the Orc dogging Thorin’s every move, more of a viable threat this time around by connecting his cohort with the Necromancer, and by making the Necromancer’s true identity explicit to anyone who hasn’t long since figured that out. Though he’s not always front and center, Martin Freeman continues to do a fine job as Bilbo, displaying both his growing courage and first hints of Ring-corruption, though viewers will probably think each use of the One Ring is justified or the only option in this film. Richard Armitage makes Thorin perhaps the most complex character in the film in that his motives aren’t always honorable or selfless; the script seems sensitive to charges against the book that the Dwarves are primarily greed-driven. Thorin alternates heroic leadership with angry outbursts and a discomfiting willingness to throw individual members of the company under the bus if they defy or even delay him. We’re pretty sure he’ll end up doing the right thing in the end, but ambiguity gives the film added dimension, and gives Armitage meatier material to work with.
Spoilers for cameo-spotters: Peter Jackson is becoming as obvious as Hitchcock in his onscreen cameos. Unlike his stealth appearance in LOTR, he’s literally the first person you see onscreen, before the action gets underway. His daughter Katie Jackson plays a barmaid in the opening scene, a prologue set before the action of AUJ in which Gandalf meets up with Thorin at The Prancing Pony to sell him on the need for “a burglar”. Political satirist and LOTR ubernerd Stephen Colbert appears in Laketown as one of The Master’s ineffectual spies, sporting an eyepatch.
All well and good, you might say, but what about the dragon? 😉 I’m happy to report that Smaug is worth the price of admission, is the best SFX creation (or melding of CG and human motion-capture) this side of Gollum, and lives up to all the hype. Too many movie dragons are either overly cute or look like they’re rubber toys. If the first film’s SFX were given short shrift to budget time and money for Smaug, it was the right compromise. Smaug is frightening enough that I’d avoid taking small children to see the film. He’s also given ample screentime. Benedict Cumberbatch gives the right combination of dark humor and ferocity to his voice: his conversation with Bilbo is entertaining because one senses Smaug welcomes the amusement of an invigorating conversation before dinner. 😉 The following sequence, in which the Dwarves and Bilbo are chased through the underground forges as the Dwarves come up with a last-minute plan, does drag a bit, but there’s a stinging reversal at the end which ends the film with a cliffhanger and the threat of some rather horrific unintended consequences. I only wish Jackson hadn’t so obviously telegraphed how that will be resolved in earlier scenes… not everyone has read the book, and I haven’t read it since I was 14 or so.
But the last film has potential to be the best of the three, especially with Elrond and Galadriel guaranteed to be back, and most of the new characters still very much in the mix. None of this is up to the level of Lord of the Rings’ achievement, but the source material lacks the epic, transcendent qualities of the later-written trilogy (yes, technically it’s six “books”, divided into three volumes. I did warn you I’m not a purist.) 😉
One rather odd observation, though… there’s a Mirkwood Elf in the film who goes by the name Elros, which, I believe, was the name of Elrond’s human brother in Tolkien lore. This Elros, though, is primarily remarkable for his inability to hold his liquor. 😉
Hugo Weaving Nominated For AACTA Award!
Hugo Weaving was nominated for Best Lead Actor in a film by the Australian Academy of Cinema & Television Arts Awards for his performance in the “Commission” segment of Tim Winton’s The Turning. The nod surprised many because, though Hugo is a lead actor in that short film, it’s a ten-minute segment in the context of a three-hour compendium. (Rose Byrne was similarly nominated for Best Lead Actress for her role in the title sequence.) It’s hard to quantify working out nominations for such a unique project. I have no doubt Hugo is worthy, though I expected a nomination for Best Supporting Actor (Mystery Road) was more likely. And it’s incredible (and infuriating) that Aaron Pedersen wasn’t nominated for Best Actor for his role in Mystery Road, which he’s in every scene of. (Hugo would probably say he wishes the nomination had gone to Pedersen instead of to him, as he’s uncomfortable with the notion of competition for awards to begin with. I’d say they should have nominated Pedersen instead of the chronically overrated Leonardo DiCaprio in Baz Luhrmann’s slicked-up candy floss remake of The Great Gatsby.) 😉
The Turning and Mystery Road were both nominated for Best Picture and, in another odd decision, Tasma Walton was nominated for Lead Actress for what was clearly supporting role in Mystery Road, though she did excellent work in her few scenes. (This makes the Pedersen snub all the more bewildering.) I think Hugo is unlikely to win this time, because he just picked up the Best Supporting Actor prize two years ago for Oranges and Sunshine, and now has four AFI/AACTAs, inspiring some wags to dub him The Meryl Streep of these awards. (The other three wins were for Best Actor, for Proof (1991), The Interview (1998) and Little Fish (2005.) ) More cynically, I think both of these films are likely to be swept by The Rocket, a film with “underdog” cachet that is widely considered crowd-pleasing and socially aware. I’d love to be wrong and for there to be some prizes for both The Turning and Mystery Road. And for whoever wins Best Actor to say “Thanks, but really, Aaron Pedersen should be up here right now.” 😉 Anyhow, for further details on the AACTAs, go to Inside Film, Film Ink and Deadline.com. The Turning picked up a total of 7 awards, Mystery Road 6.
AACTA’s webpage included a highlight reel from this year’s awards, including footage of Hugo, Richard Roxburgh and Cate Blanchett (in a very tight dress) 😉
In Other Hugo News
You can read a new interview with The Turning producer/director Robert Connolly, in his first post-AACTAs nominations comments, at The Daily Review/Crikey. There are new, well-written reviews of Mystery Road at Moviecritic.com.au and . Though the film is still in some Australian cinemas, it will be available via iTunes on 14 February (in Australia only… no word yet on US distribution.)
According to the film’s Facebook page, The Turning will be released on DVD/Blu-Ray in March of next year. No word on international distribution for that film either at present. You can also pre-order the digital version at iTunes (Australia only).
The website Quickflix selected both The Turning and Mystery Road among their top five Australian films of the past year, with The Turning at #1.
Aaron Pedersen spoke about Mystery Road in an interview for the 98.9 FM Podcast.
Nicole Kidman recently made her first public comments about next year’s Strangerland, which costars Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce, and begns fiilming in Broken Hill early next year: “As much as I’m glad to play an Australian, because it’s far less work for me, at the same time the film is really intense and the story is so strong, that’s the lure.” (The Australian)