The Smartest Kids in The World?

Amanda Ripley is a literary journalist and author of The Smartest Kids in the World, a book that examines the various education systems around the world and why some are producing much better outcomes for students. Whilst the book focuses on comparisons between the United States and specific countries with outstanding educational outcomes, there is certainly plenty of food for thought for Australia, particularly given the fact that we are not exactly setting the world on fire with regard to educational outcomes. The following video is fascinating as Amanda explains some of the findings from her research and the reasons why particular countries are outshining the likes of Australia and the United States.

It is particularly interesting to hear the comments about facilities and resources, parental influence/involvement and differences in the way teachers are trained and the value/respect afforded teachers. It is also interesting to hear about the significant differences in the way education is valued by students themselves and the impact this has on outcomes.

I don’t think there are a lot of surprises in this, nor is there any surprise that Australia is not keeping up because our education system is fundamentally flawed in that the system as a whole, and schools at an individual level, are reactive rather than pro-active, which always puts us one step behind. We have plenty of smart young people and plenty of great teachers, but they are both operating in a system that is so bogged down with trivialities and bureaucracy that the effectiveness of our schooling suffers.

Upcoming Events

There are a couple of good events coming up over the next few weeks, both of which are at the Brisbane Powerhouse.

Nikon-Walkley

On Thursday, September 5 is the Nikon-Walkley Slide Night featuring the latest works by some of Australia’s most talented and passionate photographers. This is night for anybody who is a photographer (whether a hobbyist or a professional) or simply someone who appreciates great work from others. Best of all, admission is absolutely free.

For more information: http://brisbanepowerhouse.org/events/2013/09/05/nikon-walkley-slide-night/

Unearthed High

The other great event happening at the Powerhouse is the Triple J Unearthed High Muck Up Day concert on Saturday, September 28.

Triple J’s Unearthed High competition receives thousands of entries annually as high school students from across Australia compete for the title of best high school band. Witness the energy and talent of some of the standout entries of this year’s competition, alongside 2012 winner Asta.

This is an all ages event. Tickets are just $25 for adults and $20 for concessions.

For more information: http://brisbanepowerhouse.org/events/2013/09/28/triple-j-unearthed-high-muck-up-day/

What Maisie Knew

Whether a cocaine snorting porn star in Boogie Nights, a money-grabbing trophy wife in Magnolia or an unfaithful lesbian mother in The Kids Are All Right, four-time Academy Award nominee Julianne Moore’s willingness to tackle unconventional or even somewhat unlikeable characters has helped establish the flame-haired actress as one of Hollywood’s most genuine and in-demand performers. In What Maisie Knew, Moore takes up the challenge again in playing Susanna, the self-absorbed and ineffectual mother of 6-year-old Maisie (Onata Aprile). Focussed more on her career as a rock singer than the needs of her daughter, Susanna has few redeeming qualities and Moore embodies the selfish, neglectful nature of her personality with considerable skill. Directed by David Siegel and Scott McGehee, What Maisie Knew is a contemporary take on the Henry James novel of the same name in which Maisie becomes the unwitting pawn in a custody battle between Susanna and her equally loathsome ex-husband Beale (Steve Coogan).

WhatMaisieKnew_640_3

The movie presents the narrative from Maisie’s perspective, with the audience not privy to any more information than what Maisie possesses. She peers through windows and doorways and grabs snippets of muffled conversations in her effort to try and fathom exactly what is happening. We share the confusion and lack of understanding that Maisie endures, all of which she handles remarkably well. Young Aprile is terrific in the title role and it is the quality of her naturalistic performance – given that she is in every scene – that makes this film such a treat despite the appalling behaviour of those around her.

The film opens with the relationship between Susanna and Beale having already disintegrated to the point where Beale has been dismissed from the family home and the locks changed without his knowledge. From this point, court proceedings ensue as the two warring parents vie for custody even though both consider Maisie to be an inconvenience and treat her accordingly. Maisie becomes caught up in the constant attempts at one-upmanship as Susanna and Beale use their daughter as a pawn in their hostilities. It doesn’t take long before both Susanna and Beale remarry, enabling them to further abdicate their parenting responsibilities. Beale marries the much younger Margo (Joanna Vanderham), while Susanna weds bartender Lincoln (True Blood’s Alexander Skarsgard), a man she seems to hardly know who emerges as the only truly decent adult amongst them.

What Maisie Knew

With Beale leaving New York to live in London and Susanna deciding to go on tour, there is little regard for Maisie and ultimately it is Lincoln and Margo who are left to fill the void. The way in which Susanna treats Maisie – all love and attention one minute, followed by long periods of absence and neglect – ultimately leaves the youngster to make some somewhat big decisions about her own future. Skarsgard is terrific as Lincoln, the only character whose love for Maisie seems unburdened by personal agendas or subject to the whims and mood fluctuations that emanate from everybody else in her life. Margo, meanwhile, initially presents as a selfish opportunist in marrying Beale until she realises the error of her ways and develops a strong bond with Maisie through their shared rejection.

Despite the emotional subject matter, What Maisie Knew is very restrained and never lapses into tearjerker territory. Whilst it is a searing examination of bad parenting, it moves at a brisk pace with a sunny disposition, primarily due to Aprile’s cute-without-being-cutesy portrayal of a young girl forced by circumstance be wise beyond her years. Whilst there is no doubt that several of the characters here are extremely unlikeable, it is hard not to admire the performances of Moore and Coogan in their roles. Yes, there is plenty to be angry about when you watch this, but ultimately the film leaves us with a sense of hope as the ending – which apparently differs from the conclusion to the novel – brings relief with Maisie, for the first time ever, afforded an opportunity to make the important decisions about her own life and those with whom she wants to share it.

Kick Ass 2

It is very rare that a sequel ever matches the quality of the film which precedes it and, when the original is a film that enjoys a cult following, the pressure and expectation on the follow-up is increased significantly. Such is the case with Kick Ass 2, the sequel to the hugely popular comic book adaptation Kick Ass. The originality and sheer audacity of Kick Ass saw it transcend the expected comic book geek boy audience to also prove popular amongst more mainstream cinemagoers, ultimately netting $50 million at the box office. Given such success, a sequel was perhaps inevitable and, as a huge fan of the first film, it was with much trepidation that I approached Kick Ass 2.

Unfortunately, despite obvious attempts to inject humour into the narrative, there is a real lack of fun that prevents Kick Ass 2 from soaring anywhere near the heights of its predecessor. It is almost as though Director Jeff Wadlow seems to think that pushing the violence and foul language to extremes will somehow make this a better film. Yes, the original was violent and caused plenty of controversy with its liberal use of words deemed inappropriate for utterance by a 12-year-old girl, but the humour and characterisations were the strength of the film. In Kick Ass 2 it seems as though Wadlow believes that making a better film simply means ramping up the violence and language without any thought for narrative or any of the elements that made the first film such a ride. Then again, given the sheer originality of the first film, perhaps a sequel was always destined to pail in comparison.

Hit Girl

The opening moments of the film are particularly good with Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) – still mourning the loss of her father – taking the hapless Kick Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) under her wing to teach him the skills of a real superhero. In fact, it is the conflicts our two protagonists (aka Mindy and Dave) face as they try to balance their commitments to school, family and their superhero alter-egos that provide some of the most interesting moments of the film. Unfortunately, this part of the narrative is simply not explored enough, seemingly sacrificed for the more ridiculous elements that push this film beyond superhero parody into something altogether less amusing. When the narrative veers away from these two, the film sags and becomes a bloated mess.

Kick-Ass 2

Particularly cringe worthy is Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Chris D’Amico who, having laid his Red Mist persona to rest, reimagines himself as self-proclaimed super villain The Motherfucker. Neither funny nor menacing, every time he is on screen you wince at the sheer awfulness of both the character and the performance. Determined to avenge the death of his father at the hands of Hit Girl and Kick Ass, he assembles an equally appalling gaggle of criminal types to form the Toxic Mega-Cunts. Of these, the only one who presents any kind of threat to anybody is Mother Russia (Olga Kurkulina), who kills several police officers single-handedly while her cohorts look on.

When Hit Girl is forced to curtail her crime fighting exploits and navigate the much more frightening world of high school, Kick Ass teams up with a disparate group of ragtag hero wannabes to form Justice Forever, led by an ebullient former gangster who calls himself Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey). With Kick Ass firmly in the The Motherfucker’s sights and all members of Justice Forever therefore at risk, Hit Girl is forced out of retirement to join Justice Forever in taking on the The Motherfucker and his gang, the outcome of which is never really in doubt.

With Wadlow also writing the screenplay, there really is no one else to blame for this mess, although surely producer Matthew Vaughn – who did such a good job in directing the first instalment – could have had greater input to weed out some of the sillier ideas, such as a device that instantly makes people vomit and shit themselves. Moretz and Taylor-Johnson do the best they can in reprising their roles, with John Leguizamo (Moulin Rouge) and Donald Faison (TV’s Scrubs) also appearing, but perhaps wishing they hadn’t. Meanwhile, Carrey has publicly denounced the film citing the excessive violence, but perhaps he is just embarrassed about the whole thing.

A Week To Go

There is just one week to go before Mr C takes part in the Bridge to Brisbane 10 kilometre fun run in Brisbane on September 1. I am running the event to raise money and awareness for Beyond Blue: The National Depression Initiative and their efforts to assist those suffering from depression and anxiety.

If you would like to lend your support to Beyond Blue, please click on the link below to make a sponsorship contribution. Even the smallest amount will do and all contributions will be greatly appreciated.

https://b2b2013.everydayhero.com/au/misterc-69

I am no athlete, but I will be doing my best to make sure that I finish in the best time possible (but please don’t expect miracles as there is only so much a fat old bloke can do).

If you would like more information about Beyond Blue, go to http://www.beyondblue.org.au/

Frances Ha

There are so many good things about Frances Ha, the latest film from Noah Baumbach, that it’s hard to know where to start. The film privileges character over action in what is a simple yet utterly delightful examination of friendship that never becomes maudlin or overly sentimental. The film possesses charm and mirth in spades and is a thoroughly enjoyable experience on every level. With a terrific performance from Greta Gerwig as the titular character, the film soars from beginning to end as 27-year-old Frances bumbles her way through life with an air of positivity and optimism that doesn’t necessarily reflect the reality of the situations in which she finds herself.

frances_ha_ver2

Shot in black and white – which only adds to the charm – Frances Ha opens with a vignette in which we meet Frances and her best friend and roommate Sophie (Mickey Sumner) as they simply enjoy their life together in New York. The two girls do everything together and Frances even rejects an offer of co-habitation from her boyfriend to stay with Sophie. However, unfortunately for Frances, Sophie suddenly decides to move out and this sets the story in motion as Frances embarks on a journey – both literal and metaphorical – to find a place to live and her place in the world. When she moves in with Lev (Adam Driver) and Benji (Michael Zegen) she seems to have landed on her feet until she loses her job as a dancer and can no longer afford to pay her share of the rent.

Frances-Ha

With Sophie seemingly drifting away due to the demands of her job and boyfriend-cum-fiancé Patch (Patrick Heusinger), Frances journeys to California to see her parents (played by Gerwig’s real life parents) before accepting a job, albeit a short term one – at the college from which she graduated several years earlier. Upon returning to New York, Frances secures temporary accommodation with fellow dancer Rachel (Grace Gummer) and, despite her dwindling resources, makes an impulsive decision to spend a weekend in Paris that, like so much in Frances’ life up to this point, does not turn out as planned. Gerwig imbues the character with so much charm that is impossible not to love Frances: her tribulations are presented with moments of wry humour, coupled with bursts of slapstick physicality (such as Frances’ attempt to find an ATM) that work a treat.

Baumbach’s previous films (The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding, Greenberg) have been insightful and well made, but have featured characters that are, for the most part, somewhat unlikeable. Despite the fact that her life does seem so utterly off kilter, Frances takes it all in her stride with a cheery disposition that, perhaps, conceals a growing sense of dread and uncertainty. This is easily Baumbach’s ‘happiest’ film to date, with Gerwig, who co-wrote the screenplay with Baumbach, bringing charm and energy to the lead role. Sumner (daughter of Sting) also impresses as Sophie and the supporting cast are all fine. The music is fantastic, with the likes of David Bowie and Hot Chocolate used with remarkably good effect.

Francis Ha 2

There are some distinct resemblances between this film and Lena Dunham’s equally impressive television show Girls, which also combines humour and pathos in examining the struggles of young women trying to find their place in the heady world of contemporary New York. Whilst it is unfair to compare the two because they are both highly enjoyable in their own right with enough differences to stand alone, there is no doubt that Frances possesses a more optimistic outlook than any of the Girls girls. Frances Ha is a terrific film that celebrates the importance of friendship, perhaps over everything else, as the relationship between Frances and Sophie endures through it all despite the fact that the latter enjoys all the trappings – successful career, stable relationship etc – that Frances lacks.

Something to Think About…

I think the following articles offer some food for thought about pornography, sex and sexual behaviour in contemporary society and the hypocrisies that dictate what many people think about others and the things they do.

http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/08/19/can-free-speech-and-internet-filters-co-exist/instead-of-resisting-porn-improve-it

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stefanie-williams/the-truth-about-being-a-s_b_3756329.html