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Eureka Street Online
January-February 2001
Flash in the Pan
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January-February 2001
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Also this month:

In his own write: Alex McDermott looks at recent Ned Kelly literature, including Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang.

Naming rites: Brian McCoy on language matters.

A farewell to the Australian welfare state: McClure is newer, but not better, argues Francis G. Castles.

Flash in the Pan: reviews of the films Sunshine and Charlie’s Angels.

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Flash in the Pan

Epochal epic

Sunshine, dir. Istvan Szabo. This is a rich and thoughtful film. You’d expect nothing less from a director of Szabo’s finesse and track record. The texture is authentic—Szabo knows his Europe and his Hungary in particular. The scope is ambitious: three generations of a Hungarian Jewish family living across the span of history that encompasses the dying glamour of the Austro-Hungarian empire, two world wars and, finally, the disintegration of Communist rule in Hungary.

The cast is international and accomplished. Szabo shuffles a whole pack to get three generations of the family Sonnenschein, with only one actor, Ralph Fiennes, playing multiple roles across the generations. (Fiennes is pictured above, right, with Jennifer Ehle and James Frain as Valerie and Gustave Sonnenschein.) Fiennes’ triple incarnation as a Sonnenschein/Sors (the name change, for ‘integration’ reasons, is a film in itself) is a laudable technical achievement, but more repressed than mercurial. It seems ironic that Steven Spielberg, a softer director than Szabo, could elicit a multi-layered performance from Fiennes (as Amon Goeth, the self-aware Nazi villain in Schindler’s List), while the grittier European can get from him intensity, but not range. In the wings of expectation, of course, stands the peerless Klaus Maria Brandauer, star of Szabo’s earlier triumphs, Mephisto and Colonel Redl. I kept hoping he’d walk on and make a match for Jennifer Ehle, in the pivotal role of Valerie Sonnenschein as a young woman (the older Valerie is well played by Ehle’s mother, Rosemary Harris). Ehle, like Brandauer, acts from the eyes out, with crackling energy. Fiennes’ performance seems like a monumental effort of will concentrated in his upper lip. William Hurt, subtle and convincing as the Communist Andor Knorr, makes Fiennes’ effort seem even more strenuous by comparison.

But that aside, Sunshine is still a formidably good film. Szabo knows how to fix on the image that will conjure period and emotion. His memory, part autobiographical—of cafes, courtyards, Jewish family life, custom, class, terror, self-deception, love—is tenacious and exacting. He is always the thinker, never the mere decorator. And he thinks in epic terms. Sunshine is three hours long. I wouldn’t have missed a second of it.

—Morag Fraser

High minx

Charlie’s Angels, dir. McG. I could hardly wait to see Charlie’s Angels. I was excited because as more than a casual fan of the original series, I wanted to see how a movie-length update might work. And I didn’t really care if it was fabulous or a turkey, I wanted it to be authentic. I wanted the writers and producers to have studied and appreciated the camp value of Charlie’s Angels circa 1975. But then I am a 32-year-old, taking it all too seriously. The young boys who exited the cinema while I was waiting for my session, who would not have been born when Farrah was flipping the light fantastic, agreed enthusiastically that the movie was ‘awesome’. Authenticity be damned.

Whatever your expectations, this movie is fabulous. It is funny and camp, there is action (kickboxing predominantly, and very few guns) and car chases and, joy of joys, dance sequences. The plot so diaphanous, you can see clear into the sequel. But then who cares, because we all know that Angels can fix complicated machinery with chewing gum—that at the very least was in the original series.

The casting is terrific. Lucy Liu, Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz are fine as the three Angels. Diaz gets most of the best lines, but Liu and Barrymore are not completely neglected, and all three are superb in the action scenes. Here are heroines who can change out of evening gowns and into leather fighting suits while running down stairs in killer heels. Can you ask for more? Bill Murray has a ball as Bosley. Tim Curry, Crispin Glover, Kelly Lynch, David Arquette and Matt Le Blanc all play various second fiddles, and are hams in the right proportions.

And now I find myself wanting to tell you about hair colour and wigs. But I really must show restraint. That would be telling too much of the plot.

—Annelise Balsamo

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Copyright © 2001. All rights reserved. Eureka Street is published by Jesuit Publications
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