Molly’s story: not just any card game

MOLLY'S GAME

TAKING the world on with integrity: Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) and Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba), her lawyer. Photograph courtesy http://www.theverge.com

THE CHALLENGE OF telling a complicated story in bold brush strokes in such a way that detail and nuance are not part of the casualties is a stiff one. The creative team behind Molly’s Game has achieved almost the impossible with this finely honed piece of filmography that is at once beautiful and sexy, intelligent and thought-provoking. It is informative and has a moral core; it’s magnificent to look at and will keep your conversations for weeks after you’ve seen it, peppered with suppositions and reminiscences.

On one level, it’s a poker movie. But if you’re not a poker buff, it doesn’t matter. The game and its morality, the energy behind its allure, are portrayed with a slick suaveness that never becomes self-indulgent. Indeed, there are explanatory overlays that speak of the potency of different hands, and it’s a directorial feat achieved with balance.

Similarly, the story is told on an almost documentary level. There’s a narrator to the work which fills in the narrative interstices and lends the story historical flow without dumbing down the performances or making them illustrative.

And then, there is Jessica Chastain in the leading role. She’s beautiful in the sense that LA-film critic Mick La Salle describes French actresses: there’s a realness, an almost harshness, to her which lifts her stature beyond that of bimbo and into the messy realm of high-end gambling behind closed doors. She really looks at the characters she interfaces with, and she embodies her character with a wrenching earnestness that never feels forced.

As the trailer will show you, there’s lots of high velocity gambling, with the lights, the bling, the revealing dresses and the dodgy rich men. But what the trailer doesn’t show you is the deeply intellectual soul of the story.

It’s the true tale of Olympic skier Molly Bloom, who is shaped by the urge to conquer the most difficult challenges, an urge which takes her in a completely different direction to what any of her fans or enemies might have imagined. It’s a tale with heart and soul, blending and twisting James Joyce’s Ulysses and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible deliciously into its narrative and its screenplay.

With honed and strong performances by Idris Elba and Kevin Costner, it’s a work that foregrounds a young woman’s relationship to men in power, and there are psychological themes and intellectual choruses in the work which are allowed to develop in strata.

In short, this yarn, which touches all mythologist Joseph Campbell’s values about the way in which a hero’s life story is constructed, is tight and intelligently made. There are simply no flaws in it. And you will not be satisfied with a single watching of it. This is one of those films that slides into classic status automatically.

  • Molly’s Game is directed by Aaron Sorkin and features a cast headed by Gurdeep Ahluwalla, Mary Ashton, Nicholas Banks, Jon Bass, Tom Black, Jacob Blair, Chris Boyle, Steve Brandes, Gary Brennan, Joey Brooks, Catherine Burdon, Bill Camp, Jessica Chastain, Michael Cera, Laura Cilevitz, Ari Cohen, Michael Cohen, Kevin Costner, Brian d’Arcy James, Karl Danhoffer, Todd Thomas Dark, Lizzy DeClement, Linette Doherty, Dennis Drummond, Dan Duran, Idris Elba, Frank Falcone, David Gingrich, Jake Goldsbie, Zachary Goodbaum, Angela Gots, Graham Greene, Shane Harbinson, Thomas Hauff, Daoud Heidami, Stephanie Herfield, Kjartan Hewitt, Chris Hoffman, Piper Howell, James Hurlburg, Samantha Isler, Morgan David Jones, Tommy Julien, Jeff Kassel, Joe Keery, Robert B Kennedy, Justine Kirk, Khalid Klein, Michael Kostroff, Natalie Krill, John Krpan, David Lafontaine, Maria Lerinman, Dan Lett, Ken Linton, Alanna Macaulay, JC MacKenzie, Bo Martyn, Matthew D Matteo, Madison McKinley, Elisa Moolecherry, Timothy Mooney, Duane Murray, John Nelles, Randy Noojin, Chris O’Dowd, Chris Owens, Vasilios Pappas, Jeffrey Parazzo, Whitney Peak, AC Peterson, Jason Pithawalla, Phil Primmer, Jonathan Purdon, Claire Rankin, Robin Read, David Reale, Amy Rutherford, Victor Serfaty, Chris Siddiqi, Rachel Skartsten, Tony Stellisano, Amy Stewart, Rae Anne Stroeder, Jeremy Strong, George Tchortov, Dov Tiefenbach, Vladimir Tsyglian, Rico Tudico, Alyssa Veniece, Bruno Verdoni, Leo Vernik, Jason Weinberg and Moti Yona. It is written by Aaron Sorkin, based on Molly Bloom’s autobiography. Produced by Mark Gordon, Matt Jackson and Amy Pascal, it features creative input by Daniel Pemberton (music), Charlotte Bruus Christensen (cinematography), Alan Baumgarten, Elliot Graham and Josh Schaeffer (editing), Francine Maisler (casting), David Wasco (production design) and Susan Lyall (costume design). Release date: January 12 2018.

 

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Five little girls and Mamiwata

Crucifixion

THERE’S SOMETHING INESTIMABLY exciting about a new production that is conceived of, written and brought to life by a group of practitioners that is fast becoming recognised as a repertory group in the classical tradition. Why? Simply because you have seen their work in the past, and know that you’re in safe hands when it comes to exceptionally fine theatre that tweaks the edges just that little bit to keep your focus riveted.

Think of British director Alan Bleasdale and the performers of the ilk of Julie Walters, Robert Lindsay, Lindsay Duncan and David Ross from the mid-1990s, who put together an unrivalled level of collaboration with classics and new work that even made it to South African tv screens, in the form of miniseries Melissa and Jake’s Progress. While you’re thinking of this splendid work, think of this very ensemble, headed in this production by Jovan Muthray and Mlindeli Zondi, who are quietly redefining theatre making in this country, one production at a time: their relentless energy promises the Bleasedale equivalent in South Africa.

But let’s not digress. The Crucifixion of Amagqwirha is a tale woven around the values espoused in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (1953). But it is moored in contemporary South Africa, and amidst a rich concatenation of superstition and self-belief, members of a community who are young and ambitious and others who are old and hold onto tradition, and little girls who are vanishing with no explanation. And there’s also speak of the ghostly presence of Mamiwata, a creature, believed to be half woman, half snake, who patrols deep and quiet waters.

Blending shadow puppetry that engages the sinister in a manner so much more direct and fearsome than actors on a stage can project, the work is beautifully balanced and hard hitting in terms of social foibles and mob mentality.

But it is the performance of Nyakallo Motloung, Sanelisiwe Jobodwana, Campbell Meas and Star Anka that unequivocally capture the fierce yet tender bravado of little girls, while they embrace the elderly and punctuate the broader, scary tale with home truths and real South Africanisms. The work will take you from laughing out loud to shivering in your shoes, at the eerie prospect of the things out there that we cannot fathom.

The energy of the entire ensemble in creating this piece is palpable; there’s a give and take in dialogue and thinking which brings to mind the feisty dynamism in their work, Just Antigone, performed last year. When the four little girls are debating issues, it’s there. When the elders of the community are calling for a witch hunt, it’s there too.

The only downside of this extraordinarily beautifully crafted work is that it enjoyed but one performance at this festival. It deserves legs in many more contexts.

  • The Crucifixion of Amagqwirha is written and designed by the ensemble. It is directed by Jovan Muthray and Mlindeli Zondi and features creative input by Jovan Muthray and Mlindeli Zondi (lighting) and Binnie Christie (puppets and set). It was performed by Star Anka, Sanelisiwe Jobodwana, Campbell Meas and Nyakallo Motloung at the Downstairs Theatre on July 21, as part of the Wits 969 Festival. Visit webtickets.co.za or visit Wits 969 on facebook.

Response: a conversation of broken skulls, transparent pelvises and chance

Call and response: Bronwyn Lace's pelvis sculptures in contradistinction with Neels Coetzee's skull works cast in bronze. Photograph courtesy Circa Gallery

Call and response: Bronwyn Lace’s pelvis sculptures in contradistinction with Neels Coetzee’s skull works cast in bronze. Photograph courtesy Circa Gallery

Artist Bronwyn Lace enjoyed an important friendship with the late Neels Coetzee. She graduated from Wits University two years before she first encountered his work and knew him more as a friend and master of South African sculpture, in the latter part of his life, than as teacher. In so many respects, her artistic voice is the most ideal to form a dialogue with that of Coetzee’s, in this, an extension of the unmissable retrospective of his work, entitled The Crucible, curated by Koulla Xinisteris.

Like The Crucible, Response embraces a profound resonance with musical rhetoric and tradition. The construct of call and response – where two musicians or groups of musicians create dialogue by repeating musical phrases that are distinct but different from one another, reaches throughout the history of musicmaking. Lace’s work interfolds with that of Coetzee’s without upstaging it, in a visual phraseology that really does respond to it, respectfully enhancing your experience of the work of both artists.

Coetzee’s work engages very directly and poignantly with the crushing presence of death – through his skull sculptures, his maquettes of monuments to the tormented and the bones and metal detritus of AK-47 weapons. Conversely, Lace offers a subtle and detailed contemplation of the beginning of life: the pelvis. She presents a series of resin casts of the bones, and has worked into x-rays of a human pelvis with gold thread.

The most powerful of her works on this show, however are her “light sculptures”, pieces that take the sheer poetry of her crepuscular contemplation of the atmospheric phenomenon of God’s fingers, exhibited in this gallery some years ago, and tweaks it into a greater and deeper sense of subtlety. Collectively entitled Ascension, the three pieces silently, yet dramatically, speak of chance encounters, of the glancing of light against thread, of the bittersweetness of transience and the way in which death leaves us all in awe of what life may mean.

This is not a religious work in the conventional understanding of the idea, and yet, in the ways in which it flows and blooms, teases and upbraids the layout of Coetzee’s work, it touches deeply.

Most of the piece informing The Crucible remain in the gallery space, as and how they were since early September when this retrospective opened, including Coetzee’s achingly fine line drawings and lithographs. Lace’s pieces have been inserted into the space with an astute sense of space, of composition, of time and light. While the sense of grand finale that you were deeply aware of in Circa’s astonishing oval well, as you encountered the eponymous work itself, is modulated and slighted diluted by the strong light in Lace’s two Ascension pieces installed there, the sense of ritual balance is not lost.

  • Bronwyn Lace’s exhibition Response, curated by Koulls Xinisteris is in the two spaces of Circa gallery, Jellicoe Avenue, Rosebank, until October 31. Visit circaonjellicoe.co.za or call 011-788-4806.