Captain Phillips

Tom Hanks is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get. When he is good, he demonstrates supreme skill as an actor, but when he is bad, Hanks can be downright annoying to the point of being insufferable. Standout turns in the likes of Philadelphia and Saving Private Ryan are interspersed with insipid romantic leads such as those in Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail or some of the most irritating characters ever to appear on screen, including Forrest Gump, Viktor Narvorski in The Terminal and Chuck Nolan in Castaway. However, just when all hope seems lost – watching the Da Vinci Code films or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close will have sapped you of your will to live – Hanks re-emerges in a film that restores your faith in his talents and demonstrates why he is one of Hollywood’s most enduring leading men.

In Captain Phillips, Hanks plays the titular character whose cargo ship comes under attack from Somali pirates while traveling between Oman and Kenya. As a re-enactment of real life events from 2009, the role very much demands an everyman actor rather than an action hero-type and Hanks proves to be the ideal choice to shoulder the heavy going in this tale of what is, apparently, the first hijacking of an American ship in over 200 years. The opening moments of the film introduce us, somewhat superficially, to Phillips on dry land as he leaves America for Oman to rendezvous with his ship, the Maersk Alabama. The shots of the port and the ship being loaded are the types of which we rarely see in film and it does offer some insight into the size of these ships and the logistics of transporting this cargo around the world. Once on board, Phillips is all business and presents as a thoroughly professional and competent captain.

Tom Hanks

As Phillips and crew set forth on their journey, we cut to a beachside village in Somalia where a local warlord is recruiting for crews from amongst the local fishermen whose livelihoods have been eroded by commercial fishing operations. There is no shortage of volunteers and soon a motley crew are on the water to await the first container ship that comes their way. It isn’t long before the pirates, led by the confident but ultimately clueless Muse (Barkhad Abdi), are riding in the Maersk Alabama’s wake. Whilst their initial foray is thwarted, the pirates eventually make it on board and this is where the story really begins. When one of the pirates is injured and Muse is captured by the crew while undertaking a search of the ship, the tension mounts and Phillips finds himself taken captive in a life boat as the pirates set a course for home with plans of securing a ransom.

Captain Phillips

The claustrophobic confines of the lifeboat cabin are magnified by the signature hand-held shooting style of director Paul Greengrass, who was responsible for bringing other real-life stories to screen with Bloody Sunday and United 93. Whilst there seems to be a begrudging respect between Phillips and Muse, the tension inside the lifeboat reaches boiling point as the US Navy looms large in pursuit. With an extended running time, the film loses momentum on a couple of occasions before the protracted ‘negotiations’ between the navy and the pirates finally bears fruit. The screenplay by Billy Ray does reference the circumstances that have driven the people of Somalia to such desperate measures, which certainly engenders some sympathy towards the pirates.

Whilst Tom Hanks is terrific in the lead role, this is very much a two-hander with Abdi also impressive as the pirate leader who refuses to concede defeat no matter what the odds. The various crew members – on the Maersk Alabama, the lifeboat and the various navy vessels – are solid enough in support, while the considerable talents of Catherine Keener are completely wasted as Phillips’ wife Andrea, an infinitesimal role that surely must have been something more significant at some point in the production process. Despite the inevitability of the conclusion, Greengrass maintains the tension until the end with abundant edge-of-your-seat moments in what is a highly entertaining adventure on the high seas.

About Time

Richard Curtis might just be the most romantic man in the world. After all, the 57-year-old Brit has written and/or directed several of the most successful romantic comedies to adorn cinema screens over the last 20 or so years. As a writer, Curtis started his career on television comedies such as Not the Nine O’Clock News and Blackadder before broadening his horizons into motion pictures with his screenplay for the underwhelming The Tall Guy. However, from this point, Curtis struck gold with scripts for Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Bridget Jones’ Diary. He upped the ante in 2003 when made his directorial debut with yet another hugely successful romance in Love Actually. Since then, Curtis has penned screenplays for the Bridget Jones sequel and Steven Spielberg’s War Horse and well as writing and directing The Boat the Rocked, an ensemble comedy that failed to harness the affection from critics and audiences that is deserved.

About Time trailer - video

With About Time, Curtis returns to what he does best, helming a romantic comedy that, whilst taking its cues from his earlier work, does offer something a little different. On this occasion, Curtis has introduced a science-fiction element into his otherwise typical boy-meets-girl-and-overcomes-all-obstacles-to-live-happily-ever-after narrative awash with eccentric British characters and cool music. Taking over from Hugh Grant on leading man duties is the relatively unknown Domhnall Gleeson, making the step up from supporting roles in the likes of Never Let Me Go, Anna Karenina and a couple of the Harry Potter films to play Tim, a decent and kindly bloke who enjoys a very happy relationship with his family, who spend their days lolling about their house on the picturesque Cornish coast. .

Of course, it goes without saying that our hero is awkward around women so when, on his 21st birthday, he is told by his father (Bill Nighy) that all the men in the family can travel back in time to revisit moments in their own lives, Tim’s immediate reaction to his newfound power is to identify its value in helping him to secure a girlfriend. Before long, Tim’s quest begins to bear fruit when he, quite literally, bumps into Mary (Rachel McAdams) at a restaurant in which customers dine – somewhat bizarrely – in total darkness. As their relationship develops, Tim uses his gift to correct those moments that don’t really go according to plan and thereby sell himself as being much more competent and confident than he really is. This does raise questions about the authenticity of their relationship given that the Tim with whom Mary falls in love is somewhat different to the ‘real’ version. He manipulates events so that she really has no choice, so you probably need to be able to accept Tim’s actions as romantic rather than creepy to enjoy the film.

About Time 1

The charm of the film lies very much with the cast, in particular the two leads. Gleeson is charming as Tim and McAdams, who has never looked better on screen, is delightful as Mary. Despite the contrived nature of their coupling, there is an authenticity in the performances and the relationship feels real. As the family patriarch, Nighy is great fun, even in the darkest moments of the film, while Lindsay Duncan doesn’t have a lot to do as Tim’s mother. As expected, there is a gaggle of ‘quirky’ supporting characters, while a secondary narrative thread centred on Tim’s sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson) only serves as a distraction because her strange behaviours are never really explained satisfactorily.

Whilst there are several moral questions posed in About Time, Curtis seems much more interested in using the time-travel element simply to propel the narrative and as the basis for some of the best comedic moments. With a plot that is Groundhog Day meets any other Richard Curtis rom-com, there are enough laugh-out-loud moments to overlook the lack of logic in the premise and other distractions, such as the completely unnecessary use of hand-held camera. Perhaps it drifts into over-sentimentality at times but, overall, About Time is a sweet romance that should to raise a few laughs from even the most curmudgeonly amongst us.

Time to Get High

This weekend (Saturday, November 2), Backbone Youth Arts presents the 2013 2High Festival at the Brisbane Powerhouse. This multi-arts festival is a free all-ages event that features interactive and dynamic displays of visual art, music and performance. The 2High Festival provides opportunities for young and up-and-coming artists to showcase their creative works. Artworks, theatre performances, circus and musical artists across a wide range of styles will feature throughout the day on multiple stages and performance spaces.

2High Festival

Backbone are a Brisbane-based who create youth arts company who create “local, regional and interstate projects” that are “driven by creative risk, contemporary aesthetic and artistic excellence.” Backbone deliver opportunities through “cultural events, studio performance works, festivals, training and mentoring” to empower young people to pursue creative futures and to pursue careers in the arts as performers and cultural producers.

There will be 130 artists, 20 bands and 16 shows on offer at The Powerhouse on Saturday, including circus artists, a vast array of artworks, theatre performances and an eclectic mix of musicians on multiple stages. Headlining the musical component will be Jakarta Criers, with the likes of Little Odessa and Hannah Rosa also on the bill. The number of exhibitions and performances is exceptional and it is all completely FREE and ALL AGES.

For a schedule of events and/or more information about any of the artists, exhibitions or performances, click here.

Mystery Road

Despite the fact that the merest mention of Australian films to anybody other than the most informed of film viewers will usually be met with eye-rolls of derision, this country continues to produce a cinematic output of the highest standard. It is no coincidence that so many Australians are working in Hollywood and elsewhere overseas as actors, directors, cinematographers and in all manner of roles because Australia has always made good films that showcase the talent of these individuals. Unfortunately, the cultural cringe pertaining to our home grown filmic output ensures that few Australian films enjoy the financial return or recognition success they deserve.

The latest example of such ambivalence towards domestic product is the very limited cinematic release afforded Ivan Sen’s Mystery Road. Drawing on the genre tropes of the western and the thriller, Mystery Road is a gripping murder mystery that explores crime, corruption and the divide between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous inhabitants of an outback Australian town. The film is as much about indifference – towards the victim and the broader social problems within the community – as it is about the crime itself. Aaron Pederson is Detective Jay Swan who, having recently returned after a stint in the city, finds himself charged with investigating the murder of a local aboriginal girl whose body has been found under a highway culvert outside of town. As an Indigenous policeman, Swan is an outcast amongst his fellow officers and also struggles to secure the assistance of an aboriginal community who question his motives and loyalties. Through the course of his investigation, Swan discovers a rotten underbelly in the town with tentacles that stretch as far as his own daughter.

Mystery Road 2

Swan encounters a variety of mostly despicable characters in the course of his investigation, almost all of whom seem to have something to hide. The story unfolds at a languid pace – yet is never boring – as Swan not only questions his own instincts as a police officer but is also forced to examine his failings as a father. Pedersen is very good as Swan, a man trying to reconcile his responsibilities to his job, his culture and his family. As his efforts to resolve the case become increasingly hamstrung by those around him, Swan starts to delve deeper into the darker recesses of the community and soon finds himself under attack from all sides – quite literally in the final showdown. Unlike a lot of Australian filmmakers, Sen is not interested in romanticising the outback or small town life. Yes, the film features some stunning vistas but these are contrasted with the reality of the streetscapes in which the characters live. The use of overhead shots is particularly effective at capturing their somewhat bleak and desolate existence.

Mystery Road 3

Filmed in the Queensland locales of Winton and Ipswich, Sen has gathered a stellar cast for the myriad supporting characters, including Jack Thompson, Hugo Weaving, David Field, Ryan Kwanten, Bruce Spence, Tony Barry, Damien Walshe-Howling, Tasma Walton, Robert Mammone, Roy Billing, Jack Charles and an unrecognisable Zoe Carides. Despite the mega-watt ensemble gathered around him, it is Pedersen who carries the piece. He is in every scene and it is often the silences that tell us more about this character – such as when he is sitting alone at home having dinner – than anything he says.

Sen has crafted a satisfying contemporary thriller that is unequivocally Australian, yet universal in many of the themes that are being explored. With polished previous efforts such as Beneath Clouds (2002) and Toomelah (2011), Sen has successfully made the transition into genre territory with Mystery Road and consolidated his reputation as one of Australia’s finest filmmaking talents. As the writer, director, cinematographer, editor and composer, Sen has drawn on his own life experiences to craft a film examining the impact of drugs and alcohol on rural communities that, despite the bleak subject matter and sombre tones, is eminently watchable and deserves to reach a wide audience.

World Teachers Day

The opportunity to teach young people is an absolute privilege and I will always appreciate being afforded such an opportunity. Few jobs allow you to make a difference in the lives of others and every day spent in the classroom is a pleasurable one. Yes, there are frustrations with the bureaucracy that often seems hell bent on hindering your ability to do your job properly and is often completely clueless with regard to what is best for your students, but the pleasures the job brings outweigh such obstacles. It is always exciting to go to work as a teacher, so anybody who gets to do this for a living should cherish every moment and always remember how lucky they are.

Days like today are nice as I guess it is good to have your efforts acknowledged, recognised and appreciated, but the greatest reward we can receive is the success and happiness our students enjoy through school and beyond, knowing we perhaps played some small role. There are triumphs and tragedies that go hand-in-hand with such a job, but I cannot think of any other career where even the very worst days will always have moments that inspire and motivate you and make you realise that there is nothing else you could do that is as satisfying. There are times when you laugh and there are times when you cry, but there are so many jobs that make you feel nothing at all that I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do.

World Teachers Day

Prisoners

It has been suggested that Prisoners is nothing more than a genre piece; an extended episode of Criminal Minds or Law and Order or any of the other police procedurals that pockmark the weekly television schedule, albeit with better acting and higher production values. Furthermore, it has been said that Prisoners is simply another opportunity for Hugh Jackman to perfect the angry avenger persona that he has articulated so well in his multiple portrayals of Wolverine. Whilst there might be some truth to such claims, this does not necessarily mean that the first Hollywood production from Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve fails to resonate as a piece of engaging drama.

Make no mistake, as Keller Dover, Jackman is a very angry man. Initially, this is understandable and we can forgive his histrionics given that his daughter Anna (Erin Gerasimovich) – along with neighbour’s daughter Joy (Kyla Drew Simmons) – has disappeared without a trace. Dover is manic in his desperation to find her and little obstacles like justice and the law won’t stand in his way as he takes matters into his own hands, a decision that puts him at loggerheads with detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) and could potentially compromise the investigation. Any sympathy we may have for Dover soon dissipates as we learn more about him, which is somewhat problematic because you don’t really want him to be rewarded for his actions, which in turn means that you are kinda hoping that his daughter isn’t found safe and well, as messed up as that sounds. In fact, Dover is so over the top in his extreme measures to secure information from prime suspect Alex Jones (Paul Dano) that you start to feel sorry for Jones, even though it is distinctly possible that he may have committed the crime despite having been released from custody due to a lack of evidence.

Prisonrs 2

Joy’s parents Franklin and Nancy (Terrence Howard and Viola Davis), distance themselves from Keller, with whom they have enjoyed a strong friendship. In fact, it is a social gathering of the two families from which the girls disappear. Keller’s wife Grace (Maria Bello) remains oblivious to pretty much everything that is going on around her. Both Davis and Bello are underutilised, with the latter’s character confined to either fits of hysterics or sedated mumblings in most of her scenes. Gyllenhaal, meanwhile, is effective as Loki, a solitary detective seemingly disconnected from real emotion. With a perfect track record, Loki is under pressure to find the girls whilst hamstrung by the somewhat clichéd Captain O’Malley (Wayne Duvall). Also in the mix is Academy Award winner Melissa Leo (Frozen River, The Fighter) who is, as always, excellent as Paul’s “aunt” Holly.

PRISONERS

Lensed by 10-time Oscar nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins, the film is suitably eerie with dark lighting, rain galore and a brooding atmosphere that is sustained throughout. The mood and narrative have been compared with Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River, which is quite apt as both films are elevated above the ordinary by strong performances and the moral complexities of the story. There are scenes that will make you wince and there are several genuine edge-of-your-seat moments, but the film is longer than it needs to be at over 2½ hours and, despite this, there are several plot contrivances and key points that are not explained well, if at all.

Universally acclaimed for his previous film Incendies (2010), Villeneuve has again proven himself an accomplished filmmaker despite a few missteps along the way, which may well be as a result of compromises to meet studio expectations. Prisoners is a dark, haunting experience that is exceptionally gripping at times. To his credit, Villeneuve has presented an ending that offers considerable ambiguity with regard to Dover’s fate, leaving the viewers to determine in their own mind what might, or should, happen to a man whose actions will no doubt leave audiences divided.

Sarah Silverman Sitcom Pilot

Check out the full pilot episode of Sarah Silverman’s sitcom Susan 313. The series never progressed beyond this pilot and, whilst it is easy to see why a network might not take a chance on a show such as this, it is still better than some of the drivel we see on television at the moment. In fact, this is far from Silverman at her absolute best, but she is worth watching in anything. As a stand-up comedian Silverman uses satirical comedy to address social taboos and controversial topics such as racism, sexism, religion and social values – “I don’t care if you think I’m racist. I just want you to think I’m thin.”

She has always been very open about many aspects of her life, including her lifelong battle with clinical depression. Silverman has an extensive presence on You Tube and elsewhere online and is one of the most interesting, provocative and genuinely funny contemporary female comedians.

Her previous sitcom The Sarah Silverman Program ran for three years and Silverman has also featured on television in Seinfeld and The Larry Sanders Show and films such as School of Rock, Take this Waltz and Wreck-It Ralph.

Her use of foul language and social satire has seen her compared to the likes Lenny Bruce and she has certainly never been afraid to court controversy due to her willingness to skewer anybody and anything that she feels deserves such treatment.

Basically, Sarah Silverman is pretty fucking amazing, so check out her sitcom pilot and then take the time to appreciate her wider body of work – if you dare.