The Drop

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with The Drop, either aesthetically or narratively. It is hard to fault this effort from Belgian director Michael Roskam as an example of genre filmmaking that is executed very well by all involved. The problem is, for me at least, that I just couldn’t really access the characters enough to really care about what happens to them. The film looks and sounds great and the performances are all fine, but there is just something lacking in the development of the various characters that left me feeling somewhat ambivalent about their plight. Crime dramas are a tricky beast in that there is a fine line between constructing a story that contains sufficient narrative surprises without making the events too convoluted or illogical. Dennis Lehane, who adapted his own short story Animal Rescue, has also penned adapted works such as Mystic River and Gone, Baby Gone and he strikes the right balance.

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British man-of-the-moment Tom Hardy is Bob Saginowski, a slow speaking and somewhat insular man who tends bar in an establishment managed by Marv, the late James Gandolfini in his final film appearance. You see, Marv is an old-school mobster who once owned the bar that bears his name but now finds himself beholden to the Chechan criminals who control the local underworld, including Uncle Marv’s, which they use a drop point for their ill-gotten gains. Whilst Marv is, perhaps understandably, somewhat bitter about his lot in life (he lives with his sister and is paying for his father’s upkeep in a nursing home), Bob is presented as an anomaly in the world he inhabits. He is seemingly thoughtful – allowing an old woman to hang out in the bar all day even though she can’t afford to pay for the drinks she consumes – and he attends mass every week at the local church. When the bar is robbed, the Chechans are not impressed and demand that the stolen money be recovered. Of course, there is more to the robbery than meets the eye and soon enough both Marv and Bob find themselves under threat.

THE DROP

When Bob discovers an abandoned dog in a rubbish bin, the pit bull pup soon becomes his companion. With the help of Nadia (Noomi Rapace), the woman who owns the bin in which the dog – subsequently dubbed Rocco – was found, Bob nurses Rocco back to health and they become a trio of sorts, with Nadia taking responsibility for Rocco when Bob is at the bar. In what is probably her best performance since her breakout in the Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragoon Tattoo (and subsequent sequels), Rapace is very good as a woman reluctant to connect emotionally and her accented English does not seem out of place in this part of New York. Needless to say, as we have come to expect from stories such as this, nobody is exactly what they seem and there is much more going on with all of these characters than meets the eye.

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Roskam certainly knows how to build tension but, as the true nature of the characters reveal themselves, the unease dissipates somewhat when you realise that, with the exception of Nadia and perhaps Rocco, it is hard to care what happens to the various players. I mean, Bob is constructed as the hero of the piece, yet he is far from the sensitive soul that we are expected to believe him to be. That is not to say that Hardy is not fine in the role because he gives a very strong performance, with Gandolfini and Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts – as boastful thug Eric Deeds – also very good. Anybody who has seen Rust and Bone will be aware of what Schoenaerts is capable of. The atmosphere throughout is dark and dour and Rokam has, in keeping with the religious references throughout – portrayed the cluttered lower-income neighbourhoods of Brooklyn as a kind of purgatory. On one level, the story also serves to explore the changing face of criminal culture in contemporary America as the old guard are shunted aside by a new breed of hoods. Whilst The Drop is a reasonably satisfying crime drama, it certainly doesn’t resonate to the point where it lingers in your mind after the credits have rolled.

The Future of Art

Want to view the work of some of Brisbane’s best up and coming artists and designers? Want to celebrate the talents of emerging artists, filmmakers and photographers? Well, this week you have such an opportunity with the Queensland College of Art (QCA) Showcase.

QCA Showcase

The 2014 QCA Showcase will take place on November 27 to 30 with the QCA South Bank campus to be transformed into exhibition spaces featuring the works of graduating students in areas such as Fine Arts (Jewellery, Painting, Sculpture, Print Media), Filmmaking, Photography and Design.

Event Details:
What: Queensland College of Art Showcase
When: Thursday, November 27 to Sunday, November 20
Where: Queensland College of Art, 226 Grey Street, South Bank
How Much: Free

For more information about the QCA Art Showcase, including the full program of events, head to the Griffith University website.

Classic Hollywood on Show in Brisbane

A new exhibition at Museum of Brisbane should appeal to lovers of film and fashion alike. Opening tomorrow (November 22), Costumes from the Golden Age of Hollywood offers a glimpse into the glitz and glamour of Hollywood from the 1920‘s to the 1960’s. The exhibition features a collection of costumes and props associated with the movie stars and designers of the era.

Costumes from the Golden Age

This exhibition will feature costumes that have adorned some of Hollywood’s most famous names, including the likes of Julie Andrews, Fred Astaire, Marlon Brando, Judy Garland, Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, Lana Turner, Barbra Streisand and many more. The exhibition features over 70 costumes and more than 100 photographs, along with props and other collectables.

Drawn from the private collection of Brisbane resident Nicholas Inglis, this is the first time these costumes have been shown in Australia. The Costumes from the Golden Age of Hollywood will be shown exclusively in Brisbane and is absolutely FREE.

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The Museum of Brisbane is located at Brisbane City Hall and the exhibition is open from 10:00am to 5:00pm every day between November 22 and May 24.
For more information about the exhibition and related events, such as curated talks and lectures, visit the Museum of Brisbane website.

Sahara Beck is the Real Deal

Forget all the pop star wannabes seeking an easy road to fame offered by the myriad reality “talent” shows that populate our television schedules. If you want to see genuinely talented singers and songwriters, you simply need to head to your nearest live music venue to catch one of the many local artists showcasing their skills and building their reputation through hard work and dedication. The fact that so many of these artists possess wads of talent and a passion for creating their own original music is a stark contrast to the manufactured artifice that has infected so much of the music industry.

One artist very much worth watching (and listening to) is 18-year-old local Sahara Beck, a singer/songwriter with a burgeoning reputation and an increasingly busy schedule of live gigs here in Queensland and interstate. In recent weeks in Brisbane alone, Beck has performed at venues such as The Bearded Lady, Black Bear Lodge, The Zoo, The Old Museum and, most recently, at The Triffid, in addition to shows at regional and interstate venues, both as a headline artist and supporting the likes of Busby Marou.

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Having secured regular radio airplay and plenty of mainstream print media coverage, with a her Bloom EP in shops and with several music videos proving popular, Beck seems on the cusp of something pretty special and it is no surprise that she has been invited to take part in initiatives such as The Soldier’s Wife, The Longplayer Sessions and Songs That Made Me. Don’t let the Shirley Temple curls and her itty bitty guitar fool you, Beck delivers her songs with gusto and is an increasingly confident live performer, either as a solo artist, with her band or as a duo with inventive percussionist DJ. She seems to possess a genuine enthusiasm for performing her songs, regardless of the size of the venue or the nature of the gig, which makes each show a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

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Yet another talented artist to emerge from Brisbane’s fantastic live music scene, it is surely just a matter of time before Sahara Beck becomes a bona fide folk-pop star. With great songs such as Pretender and Brother Sister (watch the videos below), a strong work ethic and an engaging live persona that is both coy and confident at the same time, Sahara Beck seems destined for success.

For more information about Sahara Beck’s music or upcoming live shows, visit her website or Facebook page. To listen to her music, visit Triple J Unearthed or, better yet, pick up a copy of Bloom and catch a live performance, you won’t be disappointed.

Tackling Teacher Burnout

“When you’re working in a very demanding environment, even if you are extremely passionate, you still get a mental and physical fatigue, and it affects your attitude … When you’re a teacher, your job is standing in front of kids for six hours of your day. That can be very difficult and very stressful when you’re feeling worn out.”

The above quote is from an article in The Atlantic, a story I found particularly pertinent given my own experiences and the frustration being felt by many other teachers. As a teacher who left the profession for the very reasons outlined above, I can understand how/why teacher burnout occurs. Whilst my diagnosis with Depression obviously had a significant impact on the stress levels that developed over time, I know of plenty of other teachers struggling to deal with the physical and mental exhaustion that comes with teaching.

Teacher Burnout

Yes, there are plenty who see teaching as being “easy” because there are “so many holidays”, but such notions are far removed from reality. In my experiences, and from my discussion with others, the biggest problem isn’t so much the stressors that occur within the classroom (of which there are plenty), but more the additional pressures that teachers are being burdened with every day and the lack of support systems in place. Too many teacher are simply left to cope with the burdens of a highly important and demanding job with little or no regard from management at school or governmental level about how teachers are coping, both individually and collectively.

For anybody dealing with any additional stressors – whether it be a mental illness such as Depression or other factors, either temporary or longer term – the likelihood of “burning out” is high and, for whatever reason, Queensland schools are seemingly happy to let this happen. In my case, it wasn’t until I had reached a point that I was engaging in self-destructive behaviours and contemplating suicide that my stress and anxiety came to the attention of the school, and that was because I took it upon myself to notify the school that I had sought psychological treatment. The school administration was completely oblivious to what I was going through, despite myriad warning signs that students had picked up on, nor were they particularly interested in my plight once they became aware, which of course only increases any stress, anxiety and depression you may be experiencing as you realise that you are, essentially, on your own in dealing with it.

As suggested by this article, being too dedicated can drive teachers to suffer increased levels of stress and exhaustion and it is often self-inflicted due to an unwavering commitment to their students, as one teacher in the article states, “a lot of people will grudgingly admit that we as teachers are our own worst enemy in terms of burning ourselves out.” However, as another teacher quite rightly points out, working excessive hours if often necessary to achieve the outcomes we want for students, “I have to be here because the amount of time that we spend on this is absolutely necessary.” I know I can relate to such sentiment because I always felt that, no matter how much time I committed to teaching and preparation, it was never enough. Many times I spent an entire night reading essays and assignments that were handed in that day so that I could get them back to the students the next day. The lack of sleep was worth the sacrifice if it meant students had more time to improve upon their assessment and achieve a better result. I would often spend 12 hours or more a day at school and make myself and my classroom available on weekends for those students who needed extra assistance or access to equipment. That is what teachers do, but it comes at a price.

We are never going to stop teachers overdoing things because the dedicated, passionate ones will always go above and beyond to help their students. What we need is better support mechanisms in schools to identify those teachers at risk of burn out and have strategies in place to assist them. I don’t know how I reached the point of self-destruction without anybody noticing, but it is happening all too often. For me, reaching that point simply resulted in Education Queensland determining that I was no longer suitable to teach because they felt I was a risk to myself and therefore a risk to students. The fact that I had already taken steps to access treatment for my stress and anxiety was irrelevant in their eyes. As far as they were concerned, anybody who “can’t handle the pressure of teaching” is an unacceptable risk and should no longer be permitted to teach. Needless to say, such an attitude didn’t exactly help reduce my stress and anxiety levels and ultimately it was a battle with bureaucracy that I knew I could not win.

Burnout

It is the school administrators and governmental bureaucrats (many of whom have never been in a classroom as a teacher) that burden educators with an ever growing number of additional expectations and responsibilities without ever providing any of the necessary support mechanisms to help manage stress and anxiety. It is a disgrace how little regard there is for the physical and psychological well-being of teachers. Whilst I have come to terms with my own situation and moved on to a new phase of my life (even though I miss being in the classroom), this article just served to remind me about the demands of teachers and why it is that great teachers are often left with no choice but to leave a profession they love. It seems there are some schools in America at least that are making an effort to ensure teachers do not become prone to burn out, but when are Queensland education authorities going to take the plight of teachers seriously? Given the lack of support services that exist for students in schools here and the lack of consideration for their social, emotional and psychological needs, I guess the development of any strategy that might serve to assist and support teachers experiencing stress and anxiety is still a long way off.

You can read the full article here.

Longplayer Finale

The final night of the Longplayer Series at The Zoo on Thursday night featured Kirsty Apps and The Shotgun Shirleys presenting their take on the debut self-titled album by the Indigo Girls before Karl S. Williams finished the night with a crowd pleasing rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Songs of Love and Hate.

Karl S. Williams

Karl S. Williams

With the G20 public holiday the following day, the biggest crowd of the series thus far was in attendance and were treated to another night of fine live music.

Kirsty Apps

Kirsty Apps

For more photos from the event, click here.

Two Days, One Night

Is there any actress better than Marion Cotillard at the moment? That is the first question that sprung to mind when watching Two Days, One Night, the latest offering from the Dardenne brothers in which Cotillard gives a masterful performance as Sandra, a young wife and mother who, having been debilitated with depression, finds herself fighting to save her job. Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne are social realist filmmakers of the highest order, having won the Palme d’Or at Cannes twice for Rosetta (1999) and The Child (2005), along with numerous other awards. Rarely do they work with established stars, but having seen Cotillard’s remarkable performance in Rust and Bone, they wrote the film very much with the French actress in mind. Few actresses could deliver a performance of such subtlety and power and she never ever comes across as an A-lister airlifted into this working class setting purely in the interest of career credibility. As the desperate Sandra, who struggles to keep her illness under control whilst campaigning for a return to her position at a solar panel factory, Cotillard looks real and sounds real and, as such, it is impossible not to become immersed in her plight. Two Days One Night poster While she’s been away, Sandra’s employers have realised that the workload can be managed without her and have offered all the other staff a €1000 bonus if they support a proposal to terminate her. When Sandra learns of the decision, she pleads with her supervisor for a new vote on Monday on the grounds that a factory foreman bullied workers into voting against her. When he agrees to her request, Sandra is faced with the unenviable task of contacting each of the employees to plead her case. If Sandra can get nine of the 16 staff to vote in her favour, she will be “rewarded” with a return to the job that, whilst alienating and dispiriting, is so desperately important for her being able to sustain her family. Sandra sets out to speak with each staff member personally to seek their support. Not surprisingly, the mortifying ordeal of begging her co-workers for a job that is rightfully hers in the first place takes its toll and she finds herself struggling to keep her illness at bay. However, with the unwavering support of her husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione), she plows ahead with her mission, despite the humiliation and anxiety that engulfs her each time she has to ask somebody to forego what is a considerable financial windfall. Two Days One Night 2 For the most part, the staff are sympathetic to her plight and even those who don’t agree to forego their bonus acknowledge that she has not been treated fairly. It’s not that they want Sandra to lose her job, it’s just that the bonus money is a godsend at a time when everybody is struggling to cope with the economic pressures that are a reality in Europe, as elsewhere in the world. The Dardenne’s reference the realities of the globalised economy when the factory manager makes it clear that the decision to downsize the workforce is due to the pressures being applied by cheaper manufacturing outside of Europe. To her credit, Sandra is not resentful towards those staff members who refuse to support her, nor can she find much pleasure in those moments when they do agree to vote in her favour because she knows the sacrifice she is asking them to make. She really has nothing to offer them in return for their support and, if she wins the vote, she has to face these people every day, knowing what they have given up for her. Two Days One Night 1 With Two Days, One Night, Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne have produced another brilliant drama within the social realist tradition. The settings are authentic, the characters are authentic and the predicament Sandra finds herself in is an all too common reality for so many people today. There are no elaborate effects or costumes and music only appears where it would be logical, such as from the car radio, with the soundscape otherwise confined to the natural beats and rhythms of the streets where Sandra spends so much of her time traipsing from house to house. This is an insightful, compelling and compassionate work from the Dardenne brothers in which Cotillard delivers another restrained and dignified performance, capturing every tic of emotion in Sandra’s face as she fluctuates from desperation to hope to fear to resignation and back again and again and again.