The Look of Love

Michael Winterbottom is, without doubt, one of the most interesting contemporary filmmakers, having crafted great films such as Welcome to Sarajevo, A Mighty Heart, Genova and The Killer Inside Me. Love him or hate him, it cannot be denied that he has always been willing to push the envelope in the themes and stylistic approaches that he explores in his films. From documentaries such as The Road to Guantanamo to the real life sex of 9 Songs, the prolific Winterbottom has courted controversy but consistently refused to compromise his artistic vision.

In his latest celluloid offering The Look of Love, Winterbottom explores the life of Paul Raymond, a theatre and soft core porn impresario once regarded as Britain’s richest man. Working again with Steve Coogan, who has previously appeared for Winterbottom in the likes of 24 Hour Party People, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story and The Trip, Winterbottom explores Raymond’s rise to prominence in the 1960’s and 1970’s and his relationships with the various women in his life. Given that an extended television mini-series would be needed to explore Raymond’s life in intricate detail, Winterbottom does a good job in exploring the various complexities of Raymond’s personality and lifestyle. Coogan is very effective as a man whose life of wealth and sucess is tinged with tragedy.

Given the nature of Raymond’s business enterprises and decadent lifestyle, there are boobs and pubes galore in the film, but there is nothing that could be considered gratuitous. In fact, Winterbottom has shown great restraint in this regard. The central focus of the film is Raymond’s relationships with the three key women in his life, namely his wife Jean (Anna Friel), girlfriend Fiona Richmond (Tamsin Egerton) and his daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots). With unfettered access to an endless array of young women, it is Raymond’s inability to remain faithful that ultimately ends his relationships with both Jean and the beautiful Fiona. However, the relationship between Paul and Debbie is one of mutual, unconditional love that endures through the triumphs and tragedies of Debbie’s life, many of which are facilitated by her father. The opening scene of the movie alerts viewers to Debbie’s fate, so there should be no surprises in this regard even for those unfamiliar with the real-life story.

Look of Love

While Friel, Egerton and Poots are great as the women who play such a prominent role in Raymond’s life, sons Howard (Matthew Beard) and Derry (Liam Doyle) only make fleeting appearances in the narrative. Yes, Raymond was a philanderer who, some will no doubt argue, accumulated much of his wealth through exploiting women, but if the portrayal presented by Winterbottom and Coogan is in any way accurate, it is hard not to like the guy. Ultimately, The Look of Love is effective in capturing a particular period in British history through the story of a man who saw and seized the opportunities presented by the changing social and political climate of the time. With brief cameos from Stephen Fry and Matt Lucas, there is plenty to like in this film although, like many of Winterbottom’s films, it will no doubt leave audiences divided.

World War Z

There is no doubt that World War Z was a pet project for Brad Pitt. The actor acquired the rights to the novel (written by Max Brooks) through his production company Plan B Entertainment, subsequently serving as a Producer as well as taking on the leading role in the zombie action film. Directed by Marc Forster, whose eclectic filmography includes the likes of Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland and Quantum of Solace, World War Z sees the world in a state of chaos as an ever growing horde of rabid zombies swarm through cities across the globe with nobody able to identify how it began or how it can be stopped. It needs to be said that this is an action film first and foremost with little in common with the myriad zombie narratives that have gone before it.

The zombies in this film move with astonishing speed, as opposed to the lumbering movement that we more typically associate with such characters. There are attempts to explain this in the film, but the reality is that it is simply a more effective way to produce the sense of chaos and panic needed to drive the narrative. This film most resembles the likes of Contagion or Outbreak as opposed to Night of the Living Dead or any of the hundreds of zombie flicks that have followed in its wake. The film is essentially about one man’s quest to find a cure for a virus that, once transmitted, instantaneously transforms the infected into a zombie, for want of a better word.

Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a United Nations investigator who is charged with the task of sourcing the cause of the outbreak and devising a solution before the planet is overrun with the walking (running) dead. Initially reluctant to get involved, it is only the threat of his family being denied protection by the military that sparks Lane into action. Lane treks from his home in Philadelphia, where he is seemingly happy playing house husband, to New York, New Jersey, South Korea and Israel before arriving at a World Health Organisation research facility in Wales, but not before emerging as one of just two survivors from a spectacular plane crash. The scenes in the walled city of Jerusalem are particularly impressive and it is here that Lane witnesses something that ultimately leads him to a potential solution; albeit only a way to stop any further spread of the virus rather than a cure for the infected.

Once in Wales, Lane and his trusty sidekick – an Israeli soldier played by Daniella Kertesz – have to overcome a small group of zombies that occupy part of the research facility to ultimately save the day. This is Pitt’s film so, needless to say, Lane emerges unscathed as the hero of the piece. Whilst this was a troubled production across a six-year span, Forster has done a good job in constructing a film that is entertaining and engaging despite the ludicrousness of the premise. Pitt is very effective in the lead role, with everybody else confined to bit parts, although Kertesz is fine and David Morse is almost unrecognisable as an imprisoned former CIA agent.

After all the good work that goes before it, the ending is a major disappointment. We never really find out if the zombie hordes are contained and whether Lane’s globetrotting heroics have been worthwhile. Furthermore, we are suddenly struck with a voiceover from Pitt (as Lane) that accompanies a schmaltzy sequence in which Lane is reunited with his family. Other than this final scene that smacks of compromise or a lack of vision, World War Z is a very effective entry into the epidemic-action oeuvre.

Farewell, My Queen

Marie Antoinette is a controversial figure whose ignorance, arrogance and decadence have been documented on screen several times before. However, Farewell My Queen attempts to humanise Antoinette to some extent, focussing on her relationship with servant Sidonie (Lea Seydoux) and her friendship with Duchess Gabrielle de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen). Whilst Diane Kruger is fine as Marie Antoinette, exuding a vulnerability and self-centred disregard for others in equal measure, it is Seydoux who impresses most as Sidonie, whose blind loyalty to the queen ultimately puts her in danger as the French Revolution builds momentum.

The film offers considerable insight into the machinations of the royal place and the various roles and relationships between the seemingly hundreds of people who work there in servitude of Antoinette and King Louis XVI, whose role in the narrative is virtually non-existent. The film captures the decadence of the royal household extremely well and everything looks fabulous, with costumes and period details meticulously rendered. The atmosphere of fear and uncertainty amongst the staff and guests at the palace is also well articulated as they find themselves conflicted between duty and self-preservation.

Seydoux, who appeared in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds and the most recent Mission Impossible film and features in this year’s Cannes Palme D’or-winning Blue is the Warmest Colour, imbues Sidonie with a certain naivety that leads her to believe that the Queen will protect her from the escalating threat. However, Marie Antoinette is much more interested in the welfare and wellbeing of Gabrielle de Polignac. While a sexual relationship between the two is hinted at, there is distinct lack of clarity proffered with regard to the nature of their friendship.

Directed by Benoit Jacquot, Farewell My Queen is a very well executed film that explores love, desire, loyalty and betrayal. At times, there are jumps in time and place and a lack of subtlety in the transitions between scenes that suggest the film has been heavily edited, although this may simply be Jacquot trying to replicate the chaos and uncertainty that pervaded the palace at this time of great social upheaval.

There is little chance that this film will appeal to a mainstream cinema audience raised on vacuous Hollywood blockbusters, but there is plenty to enjoy for those who like their cinematic fair a little more sophisticated. This is a visually sumptuous and mostly engaging film that, whilst only a speculative examination of a very specific moment in Marie Antoinette’s notorious reign, does offer some insight into the manoeuvrings of the French aristocracy at a very particular moment in history.

10 Things I Hate……Part 1

I have deliberately titled this Part 1 because no doubt there will be many more things that I can’t stand that will be revealed in due course. Some people just make it so easy to hate.

Reality TV: What has become of our world when people by the millions are watching the sheer banality that is reality television? Are we really that stupid as a race that we willingly accept and embrace this as a legitimate form of entertainment? God help us all.

Ed Hardy: Anybody who wears anything adorned with any Ed Hardy motif is a douchebag. Enough said.

Homophobes: Whether it be those who openly abuse and vilify homosexuals, whether it be those who think it’s okay to use ‘That’s gay’ or ‘You’re gay’ as an insult, whether it’s those who oppose gay marriage or whether it’s those who like to preface their opinions with ‘I have no problem with gay people, but…”. Such bigoted narrow-mindedness is pathetic and it is those who possess such attitudes and espouse such views that make the world such a fucked-up place, rather than those they seek to demonise.

Liars: Unfortunately, in my experience, this seems to be almost everybody. Why can’t people just be honest all the time?

Illegal downloading: How stupid must you be not to realise that stealing music, music or television programs can only have a negative impact on the industry? Alternatively, these fuckwits just don’t care and therefore deserve all the bad things that happen to them.

Wowsers and puritans: Everybody should be free to do whatever the fuck they want if it doesn’t hurt anybody else without having to endure any kind of moral judgement from anybody else. If you don’t like the way somebody lives their life, that’s fine, just shut the fuck up about it and do your own thing. The only exception to this is passing judgement on those who wear Ed Hardy, because they are douchebags.

Commercial radio: Further evidence of the stupidity of the populous. Why would anybody have such little self-respect to willingly spend time listening to the endless mindless sameness that is commercial radio. From the presenters to the music to the advertising, it is all completely interchangeable and utterly devoid of originality. People who wear Ed Hardy are likely to love commercial radio, which pretty much says it all.

Bandwagoners: I can’t stand those people who, completely devoid of any original ideas of their own, jump on the bandwagon whenever something ‘new’ comes along. Think planking, using stupid terms like YOLO or wearing Ed Hardy and you get what I mean. Of course, the first person to do these things is the biggest tool of all, but it is of great concern that so many people seem so desperate to follow. How lame.

Parents: Why are so many parents so fucked in the head? Being a parent is the single most important role that somebody can assume and yet is pretty much the only thing that anybody is allowed to do that requires no training or qualifications. Furthermore, there are no real requirements that they do it well. What hope have young people got when, in so many cases, their parents are complete dickheads.

Excessive Rules: New rules, laws and regulations are constantly being created to protect the stupid from themselves. Why do we want to do that? Sensible, intelligent people know right from wrong and can behave in a safe, sensible, honest manner without the need to be told what is acceptable and what isn’t. The morons of the world just make life harder for the rest of us.

Hypocrisy and dishonesty abounds in Queensland schools

Across all of the Queensland schools in which I have worked, there have been a myriad of differences in the way in which schools are run with wide variances in policy and action across a multitude of curriculum, pedagogical and administrative practices and expectations. However, the one area of common ground that I have encountered is the dishonesty, hypocrisy and double standards that are dished up to students on a daily basis. It is almost as though school administrators are not capable of engaging honestly with their students, preferring to engage in actions and behaviours that only serve to make them objects of ridicule, rather than respect.

Examples of such instances are numerous and there is hardly a day goes by when a school Principal or Deputy Principal or Head of Department or Year Coordinator or some such similar role by any other name makes a very public proclamation about some behaviour or action before failing to follow through. As a teacher, it is very difficult to convince students to respect those who continually lie to them and treat them as fools. Don’t say you are going to do something and then fail to follow through, because that destroys your credibility and the likelihood of students taking anything you say seriously. If you get up on a school assembly and tell students that a particular action brings a particular consequence, you must follow through every time otherwise it is reasonable to expect that students are not going to take anything you say seriously. For teachers it becomes particularly problematic when the powers-that-be instigate some new initiative but then fail to lead by example in ensuring it is implemented consistently.

The school at which I am currently appointed and their policy surrounding mobile phones and other mobile technologies is a perfect example. The school has decided that, for whatever reason, mobile phones, MP3 players, tablets, portable gaming devices and the like are not permitted at school. Now, establishing such a policy is fine as many schools do it (although would be good to think a logical explanation could be provided – to teachers at least – to justify the policy), however a policy is meaningless if it is not implemented in practice. Throughout the year, various representatives of the school administration get up on assemblies and other forums and drone on and on about these technologies not being permitted at school. Furthermore, at staff meetings teachers are reminded of the policy and instructed to confiscate these items each and every time one is seen. Putting aside that most teachers fail to follow these instructions, which only makes life harder for those teachers who do (including those who don’t agree with the policy but follow the directive as expected), the biggest problem is that those who develop and introduce these policies don’t enforce it, which thereby renders it meaningless. There have been innumerable occasions where a member of the school teaching staff and/or administration team will be engaging with a student who has one of these items clearly on display or in their possession or, in many instances, in use. When no action is taken, the student quickly realises that the prohibition of such items is, in fact, just rhetoric that has no substance. This may seem a somewhat petty quibble (and it could be argued that banning such items in the first place is petty) but the problem is that once students realise there is a disconnect between what an ‘authority’ figure says and what they do, it is only to be expected that they will start to question the validity and credibility of these so-called rules and those that espouse them.

This is merely one example of such a scenario, as there are myriad other polices that schools introduce for which breaches supposedly carry consequences. Whether it be uniform, attendance, assessment or any other aspect of the daily school routine, there are an abundance of rules and regulations that are espoused infinitum to all and sundry, yet never implemented with the level of certainty that is threatened/promised. I understand that schools feel the need to have such policies in place as part of their marketing strategy to entice parents, but ultimately it is pretty pointless if the school has no intention of actually implementing them. The problem is that schools develop strategies for dealing with various issues without necessarily thinking through the practicalities that go with it. The aforementioned example of policy surrounding technology is a perfect example where a school (and this isn’t limited to just one school by any means) has a vision for what they would like the school environment to be like without actually thinking whether this is possible or even practical. It isn’t surprising that teachers don’t follow through in confiscating these items when they see them because this would take up a large portion of the day and it only encourages students to become sneakier and less overt in their use of these devices. A much more logical approach would be for schools to develop policies that can be implemented effectively to ensure that students have reason to believe that what they are told matches the reality that they encounter on a daily basis. If, for example, a school cannot in all practicality enforce a particular course of action then they shouldn’t pretend otherwise as it only serves to tarnish their credibility in the eyes of the school populous and the broader community.

I am not suggesting that schools should, or shouldn’t, develop policies/procedures/rules that they believe are in the best interests of maintaining order and maximising student educational outcomes. I personally believe that new technologies can actually be extremely beneficial in a learning context, but I also accept some of the reasoning offered by schools who wish to ban these items. However, what is important is that when a school says it is going to do something, it needs to follow through consistently. It is pointless, for example, banning the use of mobile phones in a school and then having some teachers following the expected course of action by confiscating the items while other teachers allow students to use them, whether in a classroom context or otherwise. There needs to be consistency, which is best achieved if the policy is both logical and reasonable in the first place. It is dishonest for schools to proclaim in their marketing material or enrolment documentation that, for example, ‘mobile phones are not permitted’ when that is not the case in reality (and may not actually be possible given the way such devices are so deeply entrenched in our culture, for better or worse).

I am not advocating the banning, or otherwise, of technology in schools. I am simply drawing on this particular issue as an example of the way in which schools engage in dishonesty and hypocrisy on a daily basis and there are a multitude of other examples I could have explored. Uniform policy is one which springs to mind as I cannot think of any day that I have attended a school in which every student has been attired in the correct uniform, even in schools who claim to have a ‘zero tolerance’ policy in this regard. Once again, don’t make claims that aren’t supported by what we see in the school grounds every day. There are arguments to be made on both sides of the uniform debate, but that is irrelevant. Once a school has made a decision and declared what the expected standards are, they must follow through to maintain the credibility and validity of these expectations.

Surely, two of the key virtues we should be trying to instil in young people are honesty and respect. When schools administrators continually fail to deliver on the promises they have made with regard to student – and teacher – expectations, they are acting dishonestly and therefore cannot realistically demand the respect of the students or their families. Once that credibility is gone, it is very hard to get it back, so maybe those charged with establishing the framework within which a school will operate should think long and hard about the practicalities of the various policies, procedures, rules and/or regulations before implementing them. Too often, a knee-jerk reaction leads to the development of initiatives that ultimately prove to be impractical and unnecessary and I think our young people, for whom high school is such a critical time in their life, deserve better.

The Great Gatsby

Despite being swathed in Baz Luhrmann’s signature flamboyance, or perhaps because of it, The Great Gatsby is a somewhat disappointing experience. Tackling such a canonical novel was always fraught with danger but, given his success updating Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, there was every reason to believe that Luhrmann might do the same for what is widely regarded as the Great American Novel. However, on this occasion, it really seems as though Luhrmann has chosen this particular text as an opportunity for his costume designer wife Catherine Martin to demonstrate her considerable skills, rather than any desire to offer an engaging cinematic telling of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic story. Much of the film looks fabulous, but many elements are overblown and, ultimately, so unbelievable that engagement with the characters is difficult. Plot and characterisation are sacrificed for spectacle, of which there is plenty.

Set in the decadent 1920’s of New York, the story is told through the eyes of Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), a wannabe writer who finds himself lured into the orbit of enigmatic millionaire neighbour Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). Carraway finds himself caught in the middle and hopelessly out of his depth when Gatsby sets out to rekindle his romance with Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), who is trapped in a loveless marriage with the brutish Tom (Joel Edgerton). After staging a series of lavish parties that failed to secure her attention, Gatsby uses Carraway as a pawn in his efforts to lure Daisy back into his arms.

DiCaprio is great as Gatsby, a man whose past and present are shrouded in mystery, rumour and innuendo, with only Carraway and the decidedly dodgy Meyer Wolfsheim (Amitabh Bachchan) having access to the truth. Whilst many critics have decried Maguire’s performance as Carraway, I think his bug-eyed naivety works well in this role and his narration does reflect the sense of bewilderment that seems to pervade his memory of events. The always amazing Carey Mulligan is fine as the self-absorbed Daisy, a character who is very difficult to like as she manipulates all of the men in her life, ultimately with tragic consequences.

It is many of the other characters that ultimately pitch The Great Gatsby towards the realm of soap opera-like melodrama. Edgerton’s accent and stilted posturing as Tom is almost comical, while Isla Fischer is somewhat shrill as Tom’s mistress Myrtle Wilson. Elizabeth Debicki has nothing to do as Jordan Baker and Jason Clarke’s portrayal of George Wilson harks back to his dim witted redneck role in Lawless. Jack Thompson (Dr Perkins), Richard Carter (Herzog) and Felix Williamson (Henri) are amongst the bevy of Australians who feature, although the likes of Vince Colosimo, Steve Bisley, Barry Otto, Max Cullen, Gemma Ward and Nick Tate are confined to blink-and-you-mess-them roles that bely their talent and, in several instances, their status within the local industry.

The sets, costumes and period detail are terrific and the film is great to look at, with the elaborate party sequences choreographed spectacularly to capture the hedonistic lifestyle of the filthy rich. However, ultimately, the film lacks heart and we spend too much time on the surface, never really afforded any opportunity to see what makes the characters tick. In privileging style over substance, Luhrmann has ultimately constructed a film that, much like Daisy Buchanan, is gorgeous to look at but ultimately lacks substance, lending considerable weight to claims that Fitzgerald’s tome, or the essence of it at least, is unfilmable.

Star Trek Into Darkness

You don’t need to be familiar with Star Trek to get something out of J.J. Abrams’ latest incarnation of the iconic sci-fi series because Star Trek Into Darkness, whilst referential to characters and events from previous films, works perfectly well as stand-alone piece of cinema. Whilst the characters are the same and the Starship Enterprise is once again the trusty steed on which Captain Kirk and his crew go galloping across the universe in search of new worlds, familiarity with anything that has happened in previous films is not necessary.

With Kirk (Chris Pine) struggling to balance his responsibility to his crew and upholding the rules by which he is bound, he loses command of the Enterprise momentarily when he breaches protocol in his efforts to rescue Mr Spock (Zachary Quinto) from within an erupting volcano. However, it isn’t long before Kirk’s replacement is killed by bad guy Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Kirk finds himself reunited with his crew, which includes Doctor ‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Sulu (John Cho), Scotty (Simon Pegg) and the dodgy-accented Chekov (Anton Yelchin). Sci-fi nuts are no doubt excited by the appearance of original Robocop Peter Weller as the rogue Admiral Marcus, whose daughter Carol (Alice Eve) scams her way onto the Enterprise for reasons that are not particularly well articulated. The fact that she strips to her underwear seems to be reason enough for Kirk to let her stay.

The plot revolves around Kirk and the crew chasing down Khan to avenge his attack on Starfleet headquarters. Of course nothing so simple ever is and their mission becomes complicated when, following a confrontation with a Klingon patrol in an isolated part of the planet Kronos, Khan surrenders and subsequently joins forces with Kirk to dispose of Marcus, albeit with vastly different agendas. Of course, there are no major surprises in how everything pans out as we need all the characters to survive to set up the next movie, or two, or three in this seemingly perpetual franchise.

There are moments where Abrams has attempted to inject humour into the narrative, but unfortunately Pine, Urban, Quinto and company do not possess the comic flair that, say, Robert Downey Jnr exudes. Alternatively, maybe it is the jokes themselves that are the problem, but either way, some of the intended funny moments don’t really crackle like they should. Furthermore, the romance between Spock and Uhura serves as nothing more than a distraction that really serves little purpose in propelling the narrative, other than giving Saldana an opportunity to emote when Spock’s life looks to be in jeopardy. A real highlight though was a cameo by the original Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy, whose legacy remains very much entrenched in the history of this franchise.

The special effects and action sequences are all fine, as you would expect from Abrams given his experience with the first film in the Star Trek reboot and his appointment as Director of the upcoming Star Wars sequels. Some of the performances are wooden – Pine and Urban in particular – but overall this is an enjoyable enough journey into yet another cinematic rendering of a distant future.