Silo, 24 April 2008

In what passes for a local custom, the newly arrived to Canberra are introduced to Silo as a culinary speakeasy. For those of us accustomed to the easily accessible and scrumptious breakfast outing options in the arcades of Melbourne, the bakeries of Surry Hills and the cafes of Paddington we are prone to embrace Silo like a prohibition era gin swiller clutches their mug of hooch. 

And if all that mattered was what is inside that mug then Silo would be the best little speakeasy in Canberra. I won’t fault the freshly baked pain au chocolat, the chocolate melting within the still warm buttery layers of pastry, or the piperade with chorizo which makes for a charmingly European breakfast and I’ll rave about the eggs with chilli jam on bruschetta shortly. But someone really needs to inform Silo that the perceived wasteland of fooding options in Canberra is lifting and that shortcomings in service, atmosphere and overall attitude cannot be surmounted by its food alone. 

I arrived with a new Canberra arrival one Friday morning, and was informed by our breakfasting companions that there would be a wait for a table for four. I, quaintly, enquired as to whether the Silo staff had taken our coffee orders in anticipation of getting us seated shortly. They had not. This is not an unreasonable expectation, the far better and busier staff at Melbourne’s Mitte and European consistently provide this simple service. 

Twenty minutes later, breath frosting before us, we ordered coffees to have on the street until a table become available. In a farcical Fawlty Towers-esque scene we were seated (ten minutes later still sans coffee) next to the entrance with its constantly opening door, eventually given our coffees (apparently silverware isn’t d’jour for we were provided paddlepop sticks), and had our menus taken but not our orders. When we attempted to order at the counter we curtly informed that we must wait for table service. Silo’s mission to make its patrons feel an inconvenience was thus complete. 

But then the poached eggs with chilli jam on bruschetta arrived and it was mouth wateringly good, as Silo’s food invariably is. Simple rustic food cooked well: the eggs were light and the yolks runny, the tomatoes sweet, and the chilli jam a delectable addition to smear across the grilled bread. 

As the friend I introduced Silo to this breakfast rightly summed up: “it was almost worth waiting for.” 

 almost worth the wait 

Food: 4 spoons
Service: 2 knives
Atmosphere: 2 spoons
Overall: 1.5 spoons

Bookings? Not for breakfast, “essential” for lunch ((02) 6260 6060)

Opening Hours: Tuesday to Saturday 7am to 4pm

Silo Bakery, 36 Giles St Kingston ACT 2604 

Oleanna (12-06-2009)

oleannaprod200

Oleanna is an unforgiving theatrical treatise on sexual politics in a world constricted by political correctness. Julia Stiles (of so much more than 10 Things I Hate About You) plays Carol, a self-ascribed intelligent woman who for reasons other than potential is failing at university. Bill Pullman (who really should return to the screen as the leading man he undeniably is) plays John, the affable if oft distracted teacher of the class Carol is struggling to grasp. Pullman and Stiles are remarkable as John and Carol, two characters shaded in grey, with Pullman’s John significantly lighter than Stiles’ dark portrayal of Carol.

The play charts three meetings between John and Carol in John’s office over the course of a semester. But just what is a meeting? Language is wielded as an uncompromising tool by Mamet, and so in turn by Carol, so that one questions when a meeting is merely an appointment, or something more, perhaps an assignation or a tryst.

The first meeting sees Carol make a vulnerably impromptu appearance in John’s office to ostensibly discuss her academic troubles. Perhaps it’s John’s liberal white guilt, or his good mood at being listed for tenure, his distraction at purchasing a new family home, or perhaps he’s simply overcome with a pedagogical impulse to indulge in the Socratic mode of teaching, whatever his motives John injudiciously offers Carol an “A” if she attends six one-on-one tutorial sessions. Here marks John’s Fall.

The second meeting reveals Carol’s allegations of sexual harassment against John, his words recorded literally and without context are twisted until fully ensnaring. I failed to see the lecherous overtures in Pullman’s immensely likable John that Carol (and her cohort) perceive. Which is of course Mamet’s point – the power of words without meaning and the impotence of political correctness will blindside the best (and the worst) of us.

Carol is an interesting character, scripted with an ambiguity much like Shakespeare’s Portia. Portia’s courtroom triumph can be played as a moment of spontaneous legal brilliance or, perhaps more compellingly, as a calculated exercise in manipulating the law to suits one’s needs. Similarly, Carol can be played to either knowingly set out to ruin her university professor from their first fraught mid-semester consultation or she can be gradually swept away by a cause not of her making, used and abandoned just like John.

By the play’s end, gone is the Carol whose thoughts raced too quickly for her to articulate, whose stilted, half-started sentences hung limply in conversation with John. Here stands Carol, backed by an unnamed group, who knows the new state of play. I get the feeling that should Carol follow in Portia’s footsteps she’d be a black letter lawyer of the strictest kind.

“What a cold hearted bitch,” my theatre going companion and others commented after the actors took their bows and left the stage. Which is a fair assessment of Stile’s 2009 Carol. I do wonder whether Stiles was softer, more sympathetic, in her 2004 turn at the Garrick Theatre opposite Aaron Eckhart’s John. Slightly older, more knowing, more nuanced, and opposite Pullman’s well meaning John, there was an unexpected cruelty to Stiles’ current interpretation.

The crescendo of the play is reminiscent of Stanley and Blanche’s infamous tussle in A Streetcar Named Desire: “Tiger, tiger… we’ve had this date from the beginning.” By the final crashing scene you get the distinct feeling John and Carol were always doomed to their own pre-destined date.

PM: 8.5/10

88235140RM01_Oleanna_Taper

Oleanna by David Mamet, d. Doug Hughes, Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles, 12 June 2009

Satis, sometime in 2008

Cautionary tales abound when it comes to Satis: get there early, there’s only seating for six; there’s no phone so don’t think you can book ahead; it’s run by hippies! The consensus was, however, that if you managed to secure a seat and weren’t in a hurry for the arrival of your food then Satis is worth the effort.

My breakfasting companion and I took all these tales to heart and arrived at Watson shops (helpful directions included drive toward Sydney but be sure to turn right before you hit the Federal Highway) promptly at nine one Saturday morning. We were ready, in a manner reminiscent of Augustus Gloop or Veruca Salt, to edge out anyone who might prevent us being amongst the chosen few to gain a seat at Satis.

This was entirely unnecessary. There is ample seating sprawling from outside the entrance to the café with its contemporary tables and stools, inside there is a delightful jumble of colourful cushions adorning several seats and at the rear of the café is a courtyard with more benches and tables.

I can however confirm that there is no phone and no obvious way to make bookings, but to me that lends a certain Surry Hills charm to Satis.

As for the establishment being run by hippies, which I can neither confirm nor deny, I suggest that this assumption may be based on the vegetarian menu which includes fair-trade coffee and biodynamic milk (the latte I had was creamy, nutty and completely deserving of a second cup, which I obligingly ordered).

satis - latte

But then, seated and caffeinated, comes the eternal question: savoury or sweet? Unable to deny one flavour in favour of the other I opted for both: wild rice porridge with home made compote and coconut milk accompanied by a side of hash browns.

satis - wild rice porridge

The porridge was unlike any I’d tasted before. The texture of the wild rice – a firmness utterly different to the usual oats and nothing like congee – is well complemented by the soft sweetness of the berry compote while the coconut milk (of which I only used a delicious dash) lends a silkiness to the overall taste. I was pleasantly surprised to find the hash browns are not typical McDonalds fare, instead expect a rustic stack of roughly chopped potatoes baked with herbs and onions.

satis - hash brown

With Nouvelle Vague filtering through to the courtyard outside whilst I skimmed the weekend paper the vibe at Satis is bourgeois bohemian. I’d expect nothing less of a café that takes its cue from Dickens’ greatest singleton, Miss Havisham, for whom Satis “meant more than it said” and meant one “could want nothing else”. I quite agree.

Food: 4 spoons
Service: 3.5 spoons
Atmosphere: 4 spoons
Overall: 4 spoons

Booking? No.

Opening Hours: Tuesday – Friday: 8.30am – 3.30pm, Saturday: 9am – 4pm, Sunday 9am – 1pm

Satis, Watson Shops, Windeyer Street, Watson, Canberra

PM

Forgive Durden: Razia’s Shadow (2008)

Razia's ShadowIf the subtitle ‘A Musical’ doesn’t pique your interest, perhaps the guest stars will – Forgive Durden‘s Thomas Dutton has assembled a veritable who’s who of the contemporary emo/punk scene to flesh out the cast of his ambitious musical. Although the line-up is weighed down by scene-famous names like Max Bemis (Say Anything), Chris Conley (Saves the Day), Brendon Urie (Panic at the Disco) and Shawn Harris (The Matches) amongst others, they all complement rather than overwhelm Dutton’s fairytale vision of a struggle between light and darkness.

This is not your conventional album: as much as he can within the restraints of the album format, Dutton’s created a virtual soundtrack to a musical that never was. Dutton naturally plays the lead roles, first as the fallen angel Ahrima whose ambition nearly causes the destruction of the world he helped create; and then as Adakias, the young prince who falls in Romeo-and-Juliet-esque love for the princess Anhura (The Hush Sound’s Greta Salpeter, in beautiful form).

Aided by producer Casey Bates and brother Paul Dutton, Dutton’s created the real sound of a stage musical complete with lush strings and orchestration, underscored by Rudy Gajadhar’s (Gatsby’s American Dream) drums.

Stand-out tracks include the urgent, uptempo ‘Life is Looking Up’; the slow build of ‘Toba the Tura’ (ft. Chris Conley); and ‘The Exit’ (ft. Brendon Urie and This Providence’s Dan Young) which succeeds wonderfully in creating a sense of character interaction and storyline. Special mention must also go out to Max Bemis as the Spider on ‘The Spider and the Lamps’ and Shawn Harris on ‘Doctor, Doctor’ for throwing themselves so whole-heartedly into creating such distinctive, sinister and memorable characters.

There are moments when the narrative falters – especially towards the somewhat rushed climax – and on first listen the unabashed theatricality (or cheesiness, depending on your stance on musicals) of tracks like ‘Doctor, Doctor’ or ‘Meet the King’ may take you aback. As a general criticism, I also really wish there had been more for the two female characters (Lizzie Huffman and Salpeter) to do apart from act as foils to Dutton’s leads.

Overall, however, it’s an album and a story that stands up to repeat listens. It’s the strength of Dutton’s melodies and lyrics that make this album as good as it is, and strong enough to persuade me overlook any minor shortfalls between ambition and achievement. This probably isn’t the album anyone was expecting – an emo fantasy musical? come on! – but in many ways it seems like the an appropriate culmination of the literary ambitions always displayed in Forgive Durden’s earlier and more easily categorised (though no less interesting and challenging) work. Highly recommended.

 

AL: 9/10

Forgive Durden: Razia’s Shadow

High Tea at ‘The Loft’, 04-10-2008

Or I believe it was High Tea with a Twist, a step up from the classic version with its sparkling drinks and mocktails.

I have nothing but positive things to say for The Loft’s offering of High Tea. Located at King St Wharf and with an open view of the harbour, The Loft is a plush establishment, carrying the right ambience for a relaxed afternoon High Tea. We were promptly greeted by staff upon entering and seated with a full view of the harbour in soft leather couches that you could sink in. The overcast weather and quiet surroundings leant the day the right amount of a ‘lazy afternoon’ feel.

We started off with our tea selections. The names of the teas were as interesting as the teas themselves, Madagascan Vanilla, Buddha’s Tears, Sencha Quince to name a few. On the whole they were quite lovely, velvety and not too strong, with enough subtle flavours to keep things interesting. Served in clear pots, there’s enough tea to last up to 3 cups. And the variety of the teas offered is such that you’ll be tempted to try your friends’ choices. No complaints here.

Our savouries and sweets arrived in a traditional 3 tier platter. We paced ourselves with the offerings and I believe there was nothing left on the plates by the end.

The sandwiches of chicken, cucumber and cheese and eggplant were tasty and fresh. Particular praise goes to the eggplant and pesto sandwich, surprisingly delicious. I was left wanting more (both because they were good and limited in number), but consoled myself with the fact I had plenty of room left over for the heavier sweets.

The scones, half plain and half with sultanas, were quite good as scones go. Would have preferred a bit more cream and jam to go around but that was a minor quibble. Dividing our attention from the scones were the sweets sitting on the top tier: lemon tarts, apple crumble, and chocolate brownies. I usually skip the lemon tarts but not on this occasion, they carried a nice flavour and weren’t overly heavy as I often find them to be. The apple crumble was tasty, however the big winner was the chocolate brownie. Rich and balanced chocolate flavour, with just the right mix of softness and crunchiness. I’d go back just for the brownie.

On the drinks front, my friends opted for Tea Pot Cocktails while I chose the delightful mocktail Lardi-Dar, a combination of fresh raspberries and strawberries, shaken with home made apple puree, vanilla, and finished with chilled tea. It tasted as good as it looked.

Overall a pleasant experience that will satisfy any high tea enthusiast, I would happily go again.

Food: 4.5 spoons
Service: 3.5 spoons
Atmosphere: 5 spoons
Overall: 4.5 spoons

The Loft, King St Wharf

MF.

RocknRolla

RocknRolla is a rollicking good gangster flick.

 

Lenny (Tom Wilkinson), the arrogant blagueur whose patch of London the film centres on, doesn’t consider himself a gangster and perhaps real gangsters wouldn’t either.  But for those of us that are voyeurs of organised crime from the comfortable safety of the cinema, a gangster is absolutely what Lenny is.

 

Lenny and his right-hand man Archie (played by the ever dependable Mark Strong) control the shady business dealings of organised criminals like Uri (Karel Roden) and the would be bit players like One Two (Gerard Butler). The various threads of the narrative follow Lenny’s management of crooked councillors (Jimi Mistry), his interaction with the infiltration of a new breed of criminal (Uri and his fellow Russians), the alleged death of his step son – the junkie rocker Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell), a detour into the seedier side of music mismanagement, a missing painting, someone snitching on the small timers, and declarations of love and lust.

 

Not so much a twist as back-story of questionable value is the inclusion of flashbacks to Johnny Quid’s childhood where we see Lenny is as domineeringly abusive to his unwanted step son as is he to the petty crims that cross his path regardless of whether or not they cross him.  However, if this initial foray into using the device is what’s necessary to ensure in a later flashback – to Johnny’s stereotypical public school experience – we see Mark Strong in a clinging cardigan, a delightful powder blue rather than the dreary tones he wears the rest of the film, then it’s a very small price I’m prepared to pay.

 

The supporting characters are fabulous, each having small scenes in which to shine – especially Handsome Bob (Tom Hardy) slow dancing with One-Two, and Tank’s (Nonso Anozie) appreciation of English costume drama (Remains of the Day and Pride and Prejudice).

 

Less than fabulous is Thandie Newtown who plays Uri’s accountant, Stella, with such apathy that even dabbling in the interesting art of the double-cross doesn’t add any interest to the character or her performance.  It beggars belief that One Two or Uri would have even the remotest interest in her when there are much more appealing options from within their respective crews. The less said about this sad reduction of a female presence in the film, the better.

 

The set-up is protracted, but like the best rides that deliberately slow initial ascent delivers a damned enjoyable time as you plummet along and around and through the twists that deliver you safely to the end. There are more twists and tangents than a twisty thing that thought about getting a higher education in tangents but settled for a technical qualification in twisting. You’ll either love or loathe the twistiness of RocknRolla, or perhaps you’ll be indifferent and that would ruin the dichotomy I claim exists, but I digress.

 

Guy Ritchie is back on track post-Madge with a script that is entertaining and surprisingly amusing in its homosocial reading of the rocknrolla culture.  

 

PM: 7.5/10

 

RocknRolla (2008 d. Guy Ritchie)

Funny Games

Funny Games is fucked up.

 

I could be polite and proper in carefully articulating the manipulation and condescension of Haneke’s latest cinematic enterprise, but I expect that would merely be retrospective fuel for his auteur-ial fire.

 

The plot-by-numbers is this: a beautiful and affluent family, spoiled for riches and love, is terrorised by two ne’er-do-well villains. But the bad guys wear white, not black, how contrary to expectations! More shocking still, they are white! Haneke would have us agree that the only way such scoundrels could infiltrate the hermetically middle class compound is to be like us – two idle men of colour would surely have raised suspicions much sooner.

 

But if everyone is blond/e and beautiful and polite (oh so cloyingly correct in address but not in action – get it? Haneke really hopes you get it) how can we, simple sods that we are, tell good from bad? We, the uncultured viewer, desperate for the learned guidance of the all-knowing writer/director wait for answers, wait for a discernable narrative or character development or plot furtherance (once again assuming there is a plot), only to wait in vain. Haneke will have you wait a lot longer than the end of the credits for anything of the kind, for Haneke’s film is an exercise of his own devising to broadcast his cleverness.

 

Let me assure you there is nothing dignified or gracious in the territory explored by this film or the way in which it is explored. Haneke, for all his self-aggrandising, has produced an agenda serving plot, which frankly displays no more artistry or ingenuity than Mamma Mia! which pulled together as many ABBA songs as possible under the pretence of its facile narrative. There the similarities end. Funny Games has none of the joy of Mamma Mia!, and to be fair, it is as devoid of joy as any film can be that isn’t documenting despair.

 

What then is the incentive to be part of this production? There was no swanning about Skiathos and Skopelos to be had, no money in return for singing and dancing as poorly as you please and certainly no getting a tan for your troubles.

 

I can appreciate how it would be rewarding as an actor to be allowed to explore the depths of your craft within the intense confines created by Haneke and the five principal actors of Funny Games are very good indeed.  Tim Roth as the husband/father, Naomi Watts as the wife/mother and Devon Gearheart as their child each provide portraits of blameless sympathy as they are broken before us. Their breaking is exacted, presumably for our pleasure, by the joylessly malicious Brady Corbet and Michael Pitt. Pitt is no stranger to the Leopold and Loeb pastiche, having worn that skin in Murder by Numbers. Corbet has experience with working on difficult sets, most notably as Brian in Mysterious Skin. Each of the five actors mentioned could use just about any of their scenes from Funny Games as a worthy addition to their show reel. This does not however make for a great film, film scholarship maybe, but not for the viewing, consuming, or entertaining of the populace.

 

For Haneke, it would seem the only thing we have to fear is not fear itself but bourgeois complacency or perhaps privileged apathy. I fear, in this respect, Haneke has missed the mark as I’d much rather keep company with the likes of Roosevelt, Kennedy or Lupin.  Ultimately, Haneke’s dispassionate discourse on cinematic depravity does not offer triumph for the viewer or the characters, nor, I suspect, for the director himself.

 

As a promotable product (preferably for profit), which, let’s not kid ourselves, is essentially what contemporary film is all about, Funny Games is a hard sell. For a less frequent movie goer than myself, say, someone who sees the occasional film when the mood or the marketing strikes, Funny Games is not something I would recommend. This is not because I claim to “get” Haneke, he fairly beats you with his unsubtle didacticism, but because there is no enjoyment to be derived from the film. Appreciation, yes. Enjoyment? No.

 

PM: 7/10

Funny Games (U.S. 2007 d. Michael Haneke)