A charming little weepie


Capitol Manuka and Palace Electric


Over the Christmas break, audiences flocked to see Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut film Quartet which was about, and just to completely dumb the premise down, a bunch of old geezers putting on a show. It was gorgeous and emotive, and there are many similarities between that and this, Paul Andrew Williams’s Song for Marion. Perhaps it was the presence of Maggie Smith in Quartet that makes me use Downton Abbey for a simile – if Quartet is like Downton Abbey, then Song for Marion is Coronation Street. But I do like watching a bit of Coronation Street, me.

The Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) of the title is a beautiful and spirited woman facing the pointy end of a long battle with cancer. Apart from her son James (Christopher Eccleston), granddaughter Jennifer (Orla Hill) and her cranky but loving husband Arthur (Terence Stamp), Marion’s great love is the choir run out of the local community centre by passionate music teacher Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton).

Marion wishes husband Arthur could overcome his shyness and ingrained misanthropy to join in with the odd collection of characters who make up the choir and, seeing Arthur as a soul in need, choir master Elizabeth takes it upon herself to bring Arthur out of his shell.

Director Williams works from his own screenplay based around a personal family story. It is a pretty meat-and-potatoes script. Nothing too substantial, nor original, but offering a great platform for stellar performances from Terence Stamp, Gemma Arterton and Vanessa Redgrave.

Redgrave gives what film writers call a ”brave performance”, which is film industry euphemism for ”she’s not wearing any make-up”.

I could have done with a little less shaky cam from cinematographer Carlos Catalan. There is a reason music companies spend good money on elaborate music videos with boy bands pratting around on beaches in their underwear – it’s because watching vision of people sing only has a limited appeal. No amount of shaky camera sweeping across a choir will change peoples’ minds about that.

The choir, amusingly called the OAPz or Old Age Pensioners (with a ”z” at the end to make it sound fresh), is peopled with some fine British character actors and more than a few over actors.

My partner is in the middle of quitting smoking, again, and taking a course of Champix, which has been something of an emotional rollercoaster, with night terrors and waterworks at things as obscure as a passing mother with a pram, a bank ad or the opening credits to Survivor.

It is this doctor’s prescription to keep anyone on any similar medication away from this film. It was a full-box-of-Kleenex job for me, and I’m relatively emotionally stable. Lovely.

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Rabbitohs win fiery Brookvale encounter

NRL. Manly vs South Sydney. Photo: Anthony Johnson Greg Inglis in a spear tackle by Richie Fa’aoso. Photo: Anthony Johnson

Adam Reynolds attempts to break a tackle. Photo: Anthony Johnson AWJ

Sam Burgess gets to grips with Steve Matai. Photo: Anthony Johnson


The battle of Brookvale II? Or, to put it another way, the match of the season so far, as South Sydney’s premiership credentials were given the sternest test. Not only did they pass it, they did so after overcoming lifting tackles, high shots, a rumble and a Manly performance which lost them no friends.

The Sea Eagles’ comeback from 20-0 down was stirring, if by the end of the match unsuccessful. The contest had everything, including, dare we say it, an obstruction controversy. But what was clear above it all was that both teams, along with Melbourne and Sydney Roosters, are so far clear of the chasing pack right now the rest aren’t even in the rear-view.

Souths were superior on the night, but only just. Manly threw everything at the Rabbitohs, including a Brett Stewart elbow, two Richie Fa’aoso lifting tackles and the obligatory Steve Matai high shot – which sparked the equally obligatory scuffle between two top teams at Brookvale Oval on a Friday night. Thankfully, festivities were contained to the field of play.

Three Manly players on report over four incidents showed the intensity of the contest, as the Rabbitohs inflicted their own damage by putting on three tries on the Sea Eagles in the first 14 minutes of the second half.

Manly started as they always do at Brookvale; cocksure to the point of looking unbeatable. Winger Jorge Taufua busted through two forwards, then ran fullback Greg Inglis inside out, before the Souths star got his man. Manly centre Jamie Lyon’s grubber went just long, while Brett Stewart’s lunge went just short.

But the Rabbitohs responded. The Sea Eagles struggled to hold onto the ball, as the Souths pressure took its toll, and then frustrations led to ill-discipline. First, Richie Fa’aoso was placed on report for a lifting tackle on the fullback, who must be getting sick of watching the world upside down, while Jason King was penalised for another on the same player. The run of penalties, combined with the Sea Eagles’ handling, left the Rabbitohs camped in the Manly half for long periods. The first points of the contest, rather fittingly, came from Manly ill-discipline.

The Rabbitohs’ sixth penalty of the contest prompted loud complaints from Lyon to referee Phil Haines, but a warning from the official that the captain was close to the line: “Watch what you say,” Haines said. Reynolds kicked the ensuing penalty goal.

Just before the half-hour mark, Stewart was placed on report for his indiscretion, which on-field official Ashley Klein described as “unnecessary use of the elbow” on Andrew Everingham. Adding to the lack of necessity was the fact it was off the ball.

Manly are used to ending contests by the halftime break at Brookvale Oval, but on this occasion, they could not even score a point. The fact they still looked good for their duck egg showed the quality of the game, as well as their opponents.

But then, predictably, it only took a minute for one of the sides to finally break. With the queues for drinks on the hill still to subside, it was Inglis who was unshackled. He found space and then played with Brett Stewart, dummying a few times before, as the fullback finally dropped off the tackle, the Rabbitohs player bounded over for the first try.

Fa’aoso found himself on report for a second time for the first offence, a lifting tackle on Inglis, with five-eighth John Sutton taking full advantage by stepping to score, giving his side a stunning 14-0 lead, despite claims of obstruction.

Then came Matai’s moment. His high shot on George Burgess was ruled to have come off the ball, but he was still placed on report, while Sam Burgess was warned for being third man, but first brother, into the melee.

By that stage little was going right for the Sea Eagles, who appeared to have scored through Tom Symonds, only for the video referee to rule that Rabbitohs prop Roy Asotasi had been obstructed. Beau Champion scored a minute later, and – despite a late rally from the home side – their biggest scalp this season was achieved.

SOUTH SYDNEY 20 (B Champion G Inglis J Sutton tries A Reynolds 4 goals) bt MANLY 12 (D Cherry-Evans A Watmough tries J Lyon 2 goals) at Brookvale Oval. Referee: Phil Haines, Ashley Klein. Crowd: 20,510.

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Evans to gamble on the Giro

Cadel Evans knows he has taken a major risk by deciding only a month ago, to the surprise of many, to race the three-week Giro d’Italia starting in Naples next Saturday.

It means the 2011 Tour de France champion – a stickler for long-term planning – will back up from the 3405-kilometre Giro after its finish on May 26 to race the Tour, starting on June 29. Claiming the double is a challenge that attempts in recent years have indicated is arguably too hard, even when planned in detail. The last rider to win the Giro and Tour in the same year was Italian climber Marco Pantani in 1998.

Harder for Evans (BMC) is that he will race the Giro off a shortened preparation.

So why the late change in plan, announced on March 30, to include a three-week event before the Tour de France, rather than build up as normal with shorter races and training/reconnaissance camps?

Evans, who became the first Australian to win the Tour in 2011 but placed seventh last year, has heard all the speculation that his team leadership for the Tour is at risk of being lost to young American Tejay van Garderen (fifth and best young rider in 2012), and that racing the Giro is about fighting for his status, even though he and BMC have said he will be the No. 1 rider.

There have also been suggestions he is scrambling for a second grand tour win, in case he fails in the Tour, and that with his contract up next year, at 36 this may be one of his last chances.

But Evans is adamant the decision to compete in Italy is aimed at accruing the racing kilometres he lost after a virus impaired and ended his season last year, and that he will need to be at his best for the Tour de France.

Evans began this season well, finishing third in the Tour of Oman. But when his form failed to improve as expected in March at the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race in Italy, he realised the idea of racing the Giro, proposed by BMC management, was the best option to take.

”[It] is to recover the days racing lost last year because of the illness … and always to be at my best for the Tour,” Evans said.

”There is always an inherent risk that I will be overdone for the Tour, that I’ll have done too much racing; but I’d rather have done too much than too little. And I feel that making up for race days is what I need to get me back to my very best, and the Giro is a great way to do that.

”But after only two or three weeks’ preparation … I’ll go with high hopes, not high expectations.

”I will be taking it one step at a time – to first try and do a good Giro, do the best Giro I can. Anything that I do good in the Giro is only going to help me in the Tour. They are two hefty objectives, so you’re best to look at one at a time. Otherwise it can get overwhelming. I’m as curious as anyone to see how it pans out, how far I can go on hope.”

At least Evans knows what he is in for. He tackled the Giro-Tour double in 2010. While he failed to reap the success he hoped for due to illness and injury, he knows he can handle the load.

In the 2010 Giro, Evans placed fifth overall, won a stage and the points jersey after being struck by a fever. In the Tour de France that year, he took the yellow jersey on stage eight in the Alps despite a crash in which he fractured his elbow, only to drop off the pace on stage nine due to the pain of his injury.

Later that year, Evans also rode well in the world road championship in Geelong.

But Evans said of the toll such a schedule takes on a rider trying to win them all: ”It’s not easy to recover … and with the Tour a little earlier this year, it’s technically more difficult.”

There is also the issue of who Evans races against. In the Giro, it will include Briton Bradley Wiggins (Sky) who won last year’s Tour, Canadian Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp), the reigning Giro champion, and Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) who won the recent Giro del Trentino.

Evans is unsure – or coy – about how he will race the Giro.

Will he be aggressive and seek early time gains as he did en route to winning the 2011 Tour? Will he pin his hopes on the 17.4-kilometre stage-two team time trial, and two individual time trials on stage eight (55.5 kilometres) and stage 18 (19.4 kilometres), the second being up a mountain? Will he risk all and attack in the Dolomites and Alps in week three, knowing win or lose it may sharpen him for the Tour?

”In any grand tour, where you can get time is [an opportunity] you need to use,” Evans says. ”It depends. Will the climbers be strong, or will they control everything in the mountains? The time trials aren’t exactly flat. Sky, you would expect to race how they won the [2012] Tour, but Ryder brings more interest. Then the Italians … you can’t believe how excited they are to be there.”

Don’t ignore Evans’ Italian ties as motivation either. A former mountain biker, his road career began as an under-23 rider in Italy. He turned professional with the Italian Mapei team, and in his grand tour debut, the 2002 Giro, he placed 14th and wore the leader’s pink jersey for a day.

His wife Chiara Passerini is Italian, and her parents often head out to watch him race.

”My roots as a bike racer are quite Italian. Italian cycling has given me a lot,” Evans says.

”I certainly hope to be able to give something back to it.”

Hence, he has always wanted to race the Giro since his last start in 2010.

”I thought I would come back but a bit later [than now], and [thought] when I do, I want to do well in the race,” he says. ”That’s why my hopes are higher than my expectations.”

Watch every stage of the Giro d’Italia live on Eurosport, and selected stages on SBS One.

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This time, it’s personal


General Release


Let’s get one thing out of the way first: if you enjoyed the earlier Iron Man films, you’ll probably enjoy this one. But although it is fun in a comic-book kind of way, it’s not as good as its predecessors or The Avengers.

It follows on from The Avengers. Our hero, billionaire industrialist Tony Stark (Robert Downey jnr) is still his cocky, wisecracking self (will he never learn?) but it seems he is not immune to the aftereffects of so much death and destruction. It’s an interesting notion that could’ve been carried further but Downey, talented though he is, doesn’t always seem up to things like sincerity and deep emotional pain, at least not here. But worse is yet to come for Stark. A new baddie known as the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) hijacks the airwaves and begins a wave of terror attacks. Stark won’t stand for this and issues a challenge, complete with his home address. You’d think this would have been fairly well known, but apparently not, and as well as a horde of media types, he also attracts an attack that destroys his home and nearly kills his beloved, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). His friend and security chief, Happy (Jon Favreau, who didn’t direct this third instalment: it’s handled by co-writer Shane Black) also ends up comatose in hospital as a result of the new threat. So, yes, this time it’s personal.

Paltrow has a bit more to do this time and Don Cheadle returns as Stark’s fighting friend James Rhodes, who has his own iron suit, and Paul Bettany once again voices helpful supercomputer Jarvis.

New characters include Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) who doesn’t handle rejection well, and Ty Simpkins as Harley, a precocious kid who helps Stark out when he needs it.

The movie is overlong and slow in parts and the first half is largely talk and setting things up with lots of action in the second half.

The stuntwork and special effects are impressive but it can be hard to follow all of the action and some of it seems a bit farfetched, even within the movie’s own surreal universe.

But there are some good lines and interesting reversals and the obligatory cameo by Marvel Comics supremo Stan Lee and post-end credits scene (quite amusing).

If the strain is beginning to show a bit, it’s still not a dud like Green Lantern, which couldn’t even get one movie right.

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Downstairs kitchen comedy a French treat


Capitol Manuka, Palace Electric


For the French, food is no laughing matter, as we know, and their culinary arts have long been revered. However, as our own obsession with iron chefs, naked chefs, celebrity chefs and master chefs grows and grows, it is no longer clear any more that it’s just the French who obsess about food.

In this light and engaging souffle of a comedy from Christian Vincent, that screened during the recent French Film Festival and is now on general release, there are dishes galore from the French provincial cookbook, captured on camera in seductive close-up. The names of the best French wines, signature desserts and exotica are bandied around, so much so, that you feel you just have to alter travel plans and book that next holiday in France.

The kitchen goddess here is Hortense Laborie, played with aplomb by Catherine Frot, a chef and truffles specialist summoned from her farm in the provinces to provide the kind of spread the French president longs for, food like his grandmother used to make. Unfortunately the resident chefs at the Elysee Palace, an all-male team, give her the cold shoulder the moment she arrives, distinctly displeased by the new favourite in their midst. They nickname her Du Barry, after a mistress of King Louis XV, and SuperGran.

The indomitable Hortense is not one to be put down by this, and she can give as good as she gets. The comedy widens to parrying between the factions, the scramble for favours, the army of functionaries that has to respond instantly to presidential whim, and to new era bureaucrats concerned only with the bottom line. Less effective is the awkward, stiff character of the president himself, played by veteran journalist Jean d’Ormesson, someone personally acquainted with French presidents in his time. And even less effective is the clunky comedy the film tries to derive from a phoney-accented Australian television film crew trailing Hortense once she has quit the palace and taken a job in Antarctica.

Haute Cuisine is based on a book by Daniele Delpeuch, a formidable former chef to Francois Mitterand, president of France from 1981-1995. I remember Mitterand, the first socialist president, as colourful with a larger-than-life personality, and hadn’t heard of his predilections in food. Predilections in other areas, but not gastronomy.

Restricting the comedy to the goings-on among the palace staff downstairs without a hint of what was happening upstairs is a missed opportunity, especially given what we now know of Mitterand, his political skeletons in the closet, his affairs, and his mistress and daughter who were a state secret. Haute Cuisine could definitely have milked more from its insider perspective in the corridors of power, however it is still light, lively and engaging.

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