Get Slammed at the Powerhouse

Slam poets take over Brisbane Powerhouse this Saturday (August 1) for the first Brisbane heat of the 2015 Australian Poetry Slam. Contestants have just two minutes to rock the mic, impress the judges and secure a spot in the final.

Powerhouse

Judges from the audience will rate each performance and the two highest scoring word wizards will advance to the Queensland Final on Sunday, August 30 at the Judith Wright Centre as part of the Queensland Poetry Festival.

The slam kicks off at 4:30pm, with competitor sign-up from 4:00pm. Only the first 20 competitors to sign up will be able to compete.

The event, which will be hosted by MC Adam Hadley and feature a set from electronic outfit The Architects of Sound, will be held on the Turbine Platform stage and entry is FREE.

Poetry Slam

QPS

 

 

 

Trainwreck

Amy Schumer is very funny.  Her comedy skit program is bold, edgy, subversive and full of insight and hilarity that, more often than not, challenges the hegemonic hypocrisies that exist in the media industry and the broader community. She has never been one to blindly accept the status quo or kowtow to any normative notions of gender, sex and relationships or adopt those attitudes and behaviours that are typically considered acceptable for women. And by ‘acceptable behaviour’ I mean those words or deeds that only serve to endorse existing inequities that perpetuate patriarchal values and belief systems. As such, Trainwreck has been one of the most eagerly anticipated comedic releases for quite some time.  Written and co-produced by Schumer and directed by the prolific Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, This is 40), Trainwreck is an opportunity for Schumer to showcase her talent to a much broader audience.  It is unfortunate then that, whilst the film has some very funny moments, it lacks the satirical bent that makes her television output so exciting. This might be a deliberate choice on her part, or it could be the influence of Apatow and/or nervous studio executives too scared to really push the envelope but, whatever the reason, the film ultimately becomes far too typical in its narrative trajectory and plotting to emerge as the transgressive take on the romantic comedy genre that we were perhaps expecting.

Trainwreck poster

The first part of the film is very much in keeping with Schumer’s television work and is therefore, not surprisingly, the funniest.  Schumer plays a writer for a magazine – who also happens to be named Amy in a nod to the autobiographical nature of the story – whose social life comprises excessive drinking and an endless run of one-night stands, an attitude that harks to the example set by her father Gordon (Colin Quinn), whose mantra of ‘monogamy is unrealistic’ was drummed into Amy and her sister Kim (Brie Larsen) at a young age. As such, Amy makes every effort to avoid even the merest hint of any emotional connection with the various men she beds. What seems a somewhat salacious premise is far less so in execution and anybody hoping for a sex-filled flesh fest will be somewhat disappointed. However, the Amy of the first half of the film is a lot of fun; a crass, straight-talking party girl whose lifestyle is at odds with the suburban idyll in which Kim is quite happily ensconced with husband Tom (Mike Birbiglia) and step-son Allister (Evan Brinkman).

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When magazine editor Dianna (Tilda Swinton) despatches Amy to write a profile on acclaimed sports surgeon Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), the possibility of something developing beyond a casual fling seems a real possibility; the etiquettes and expectations of which are, of course, foreign to Amy and result in the inevitable conflicts that our couple must overcome to live happily ever after. It is the way this plays out that proves the biggest disappointment as the film simply follows a well worn path to the inevitable, privileging the ideological perspective that women can only find true happiness by falling in love with a man and ‘settling down’. I was really hoping to see Schumer push against such patronising portrayals but, alas, Trainwreck obediently falls into line with the established formula.

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Whilst Schumer is obviously the centrepiece of the narrative, basketball superstar LeBron James emerges as a surprisingly stout comic performer as the yin to Aaron’s yang; the interplay between the two providing some of the best moments. Larson’s considerable talents are never stretched as Kim but it is always great to see her on screen, while Quinn is a standout as Gordon, a man steadfast in his beliefs who refuses to change his ways for anybody. Despite a few misfires along way, such as the movie-within-the-movie starring Daniel Radcliffe and Marisa Tomei, an intervention scene featuring Matthew Broderick and former tennis star Chris Evert and the attempt to pass 20-something Ezra Miller off as a 16-year-old intern, there are still plenty of laughs to be had. Although lacking the political and social critique of her other work, Trainwreck confirms Schumer’s bona fides as a comedy writer and performer. It would just be great to see her really cut loose on the big screen.

Battle Royale

By Government decree, each year a group of teenagers are selected and sent forth into the wild to do battle in a fight to the death. Each participant is provided with weapons with which to wreak their destruction as they strive to become the sole survivor. Sound familiar? This is the premise of Battle Royale and the similarities between this and the Hunger Games don’t end there, so if anybody tries to convince you that the series of books from Suzanne Collins and the subsequent film adaptations starring Jennifer Lawrence are not ‘inspired’ by this Japanese classic from 2000, you must tell them, in the words of Darryl Kerrigan, that “they’re dreamin’.” I won’t elaborate on the myriad similarities between the two because these have already been explored in depth elsewhere, with this article providing a snapshot that demonstrates the extent to which the plotting, narrative devices and characterisations overlap.

Battle Royale poster

Directed by the late Kinji Fukasaku, whose output included more than 60 feature films in a 40-year career, Battle Royale is screening as part of the Cult Japan retrospective at the Australian Cinemateque within Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA). This story is set in a Japan of the near future, a country on the brink of social and economic collapse. Unemployment is at an all-time high, youth violence is spiralling out of control and children are boycotting school. The Battle Royale Act has been introduced in which a random school class is transported to a deserted island and forced to fight each other until only one student remains. Despite their similarities, Battle Royale has two key elements that the Hunger Games lacks; humour and violence. Unlike the somewhat sanitised Hollywood take on the idea, blood flows freely in Battle Royale as the various competitors are despatched. Despite the carnage, there are many moments that are genuinely funny, although perhaps not always intentionally. A source of much mirth is Kitano (Takeshi Kitano), a character more bizarre than anybody who inhabits Collins’ dystopian construct. Estranged from his family, his only pleasure seems to be in overseeing the competition and providing contestants with information about the fate of their rivals, occasionally throwing in some half-hearted attempt at motivation with pearlers such as “it’s tough when friends die on you, but hang in there”, a platitude that completely undermines the kill-or-be-killed mantra that he has drummed into them before they set out.

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Sure, there are plenty of gory moments, not the least of which is a severed head being thrown into a warehouse with a hand grenade wedged between its teeth, but it is certainly nowhere near as gruesome as I had been led to believe. Certainly, it pales in comparison to the levels of violence that we see on screen now. Whilst each of the students are provided with weapons and a pack of supplies, it is a lottery with regard to what this might include. Whilst some have guns or knives or machetes, poor Shuya (Tatsuya Fujiwara) has only a saucepan lid with which to defend himself and somehow eradicate his rivals. Another has only binoculars and another just a GPS tracker, so it isn’t by any means a fair fight, which forces some to improvise in a bid to stay alive. Anybody who is familiar with The Hunger Games should be able to work out fairly early who will emerge victorious as there are remarkable parallels between the two in this regard.

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Having been aware of Battle Royale for some time (a recommendation from a former student), I have been waiting for the opportunity to see it in a cinema and I am certainly glad that I did. This is a film that, like all the others showing as part of this program – and pretty much every movie ever made for that matter – is best enjoyed on the big screen and the large audience at the screening I attended seems to agree. It is not a masterpiece in a technical or artistic sense, but there is so much to like about it that you can overlook its failings. Some of the acting leaves a lot to be desired and there is plenty that doesn’t make any sense or simply isn’t explained particularly well, but overall it somehow comes together to make a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

GoMA

The Cult Japan program continues at GoMA until September 2, with a range of classic and contemporary films across four thematic strands, including more than 10 productions from animation master Hayao Miyazaki. Event information and tickets are program available online.

Ant-Man

Given the myriad problems that have plagued this production from conception to birth – not the least of which have been numerous rewrites and a change of director – it is surprising that this film got made at all, let alone emerged as one of the best comic book adaptations of recent times. More Jules Verne than Marvel in concept and execution, Ant-Man is an old-school action-adventure yarn that stumbles at times but ultimately satisfies. More so than any other film to emerge from the Marvel studio of late – and perhaps necessarily given the premise that drives the narrative – the action has, for the most part, been dialled back a notch or two (or three) and the movie is much better for it. Furthermore, Paul Rudd – whose casting caused consternation for some – is surprisingly effective in the lead role as a burglar recruited to serve as the titular hero. Of course, the science of shrinkage that is the crux of this story is just as illogical as that proposed in other films, such as The Incredible Shrinking Man, Alice in Wonderland or the Rick Moranis-starring Honey I Shrunk the Kids, but the technology of today certainly makes for a more realistic rendering of the special effects that are necessarily the centrepiece of such stories.

Ant-Man poster

Sure, on a purely intellectual level this is nonsense, but at least it is set in a world somewhat more recognisable than might typically be the case in a Marvel property. After all, there are no aliens as the enemy, no hammer-wielding gods as heroes, nor any cities being lifted into the air, which makes for a pleasant change of pace. Freshly out of prison, Rudd’s Scott Lang is desperate to turn his fortunes around to support his young daughter but finds himself being lured back into a life of crime when he is targeted by former SHIELD scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) as the person who will don the magical suit that renders him a miniscule marauder charged with bringing down Pym’s former protégé Darren Cross (aka Yellowjacket), played by Corey Stoll. In remarkably fine fettle for a 70-year-old, Douglas continues the tradition of higher profile performers taking on mentor-type characters in superhero flicks (Michael Caine, Kevin Costner, Sally Field et al) and it is a surprisingly subdued performance from an actor who isn’t always quite so restrained. The various action sequences in which Lang is interacting with his ant minions are great and Rudd brings enough levity to his performance to stop anybody from taking any of it too seriously.

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Even though director Peyton Reed, who took over when Edgar Wright abandoned ship, has seemingly made a conscious effort to dial down the destruction, he still falls into the Marvel trap of an over-the-top finale that, although providing a cameo from Thomas the Tank Engine, wasn’t really necessary. There was a perfect end point in the previous scene when a showdown between Ant-Man and Yellowjacket concludes with the latter being swatted into a backyard bug zapper. The only other bum note is a lame flashback sequence over which Pym recounts the events leading to the death of his wife, a story that is supposed to bring some emotional resonance to the film but comes across as quite silly. There are numerous references to other Marvel characters, with the likes of Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell swathed in aging make-up) making an appearance. John Slattery (Mad Men) also features as Howard Stark while, for the second time in as many blockbusters (following Jurassic World), Judy Greer is criminally underutilised, this time as Lang’s ex-wife Maggie.

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Beneath a ridiculous wig, Evangeline Lily is almost unrecognisable as Pym’s daughter Hope, a caricature more than a character, while Bobby Cannavale and Michael Pena also feature in the ensemble. Even the most ardent comic book fans and superhero obsessives should find plenty to enjoy in Ant-Man, while more casual viewers should also be satisfied. Yes, many of the Marvel business imperatives are there – including the not-too-subtle product placement and a scene amongst the closing credits that sets things up for the inevitable sequel – but this is a different kind of superhero movie that serves to remind us that bigger isn’t always better.

 

 

Milk Factory Music

A selection of images from the Music for the Girls event at The Milk Factory on Friday night (July 17) have been posted in the gallery.

Rowen

The event, which featured performances from Astrid, Fieu and Rowen, raised money for One Girl, a charity organisation assisting in the provision of educational opportunities for girls in Africa.

Paper Towns

Adapted from a novel by YA writer-of-the-moment John Green and featuring model Cara Delevingne – yes, she of the magnificent eyebrows – in a key role, Paper Towns is aimed very squarely at the teen demographic. Following the success of Green’s The Fault in our Stars, which was a superior film, it seems a fair bet that we will see more adaptations of his novels hitting screens in the years ahead. Directed by Jake Schreier, written by the same team who penned the screenplay for The Fault in Our Stars – Michael Weber and Scott Neustadler – and starring that film’s Nat Wolff in the lead role as Quentin “Q” Jacobsen, Paper Towns suffers from trying to be too many things at once – comedy, romance, mystery, road movie – without ever really nailing any of them. Wolff’s Quentin is a straight-laced straight-A high school student in love with Margo (Delevingne), his childhood friend who lives across the street. Of course, Margo just happens to be everything that Quentin isn’t; popular, free-spirited and discontent with her life in suburban Orlando. The fact that she hasn’t spoken to him for years hasn’t dampened his desire one iota, so it is a very welcome surprise when Margo appears at his bedroom window in the middle of the night seeking his assistance. Paper Towns poster Whilst it is Margo who drives the narrative, she disappears for a good portion of the movie, vanishing immediately after the night with Q, which was spent enacting a revenge plot against her cheating boyfriend. This is a fun sequence as various persons become the subject of pranks in which Q becomes more and more complicit as the night progresses. It is all fairly harmless fun that takes a darker turn come morn when Margo has absconded with nary a word to anybody. Whilst there are suggestions as to why she may have uprooted, such as vile comments from Margo’s mother in declaring her daughter’s disappearance as nothing more than ‘attention seeking’, there is never any exploration of Margo’s life to provide any insight into her motivations. Make no mistake; Margo is no Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She is neither bubbly nor girlie nor particularly quirky. She is free-spirited  and disillusioned with a depth to her character that is implied if never really demonstrated.  With graduation looming, Q teams up with his friends Radar (Justice Smith) and Ben (Austin Abrams) to unravel a series of clues left by Margo in a bid to track her down and, in Q’s mind at least, lure her home for a life of happy-ever-after. A road trip ensues as the group, which includes Radar’s girlfriend Angela (Jaz Sinclair) and Margo’s best friend Lacey (Halston Sage), race against time to find Margo and make it home for prom.

DF-11873 Margo (Cara Delevingne) and Quentin (Nat Wolff) enjoy an unforgettable evening together. Photo credit: Michael Tackett

Schreier never pushes the envelope with the material, an ongoing dialogue from Ben about wanting to have sex with Q’s mother is about as risqué as things get. In fact the biggest problem with the film is just how middling it is across the board. The edgier elements never really amount to anything significant and whilst there are some humorous moments, the laughs are never really sustained for any length of time. When Q eventually tracks Margo down and the film is best positioned to say something or do something atypical, it falls infuriatingly short. You see when Q is reunited with Margo, literally nothing happens and it leaves you wondering “what was the point?” There is no grand revelation about why Margo left and Q can’t bring himself to give up the comfort of his middle-class existence for the woman he has pursued halfway across the country. The entire road trip, which takes up a good portion of the film, is ultimately a waste of everyone’s time. Paper Towns 2 What makes it all bearable is Delevingne. Her husky voice is reminiscent of Lauren Bacall who, like Delevingne, started out as a model before being thrust onto the screen alongside Bogart in To Have or to Have Not. With an entrancing screen presence, it is no surprise that Delevingne currently has five other projects in various states of production and she may just emerge as a star of some significance, but she will need better material than this because Paper Towns is exasperating in its failure to be anything more than superficial.

Far from the Madding Crowd

This latest screen adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel is a film in which the cinematography ostensibly comprises three elements; innumerable close-ups of Carey Mulligan as feisty farmer Bathsheba Everdene, sweeping panoramas of the English countryside (rolling hills, spectacular sunsets and the like) and myriad moments of men standing slack-jawed and beholden to the splendour of a woman who bewitches them the moment they lay eyes on her. She is, after all, the perfect catch. Gorgeous, gregarious and generous, Bethsheda is also strong-willed, hard working and fiercely independent as the owner of a farm that came to her in an inheritance.

Madding Crowd poster

It is hard to imagine anybody owning this role the way that Mulligan has here.  She was born to play Bathsheba and the focus on her face – all coquettish and captivating – is a sheer delight. Mulligan makes it easy to understand why these men are so  instantly smitten with her. You see, the first marriage proposal comes literally within the first 10 minutes of the film and from there it is a case of Bathsheba beguiling the men she meets and finding herself in constant deliberation about the various offers that come her way, all of which would require a compromise in her determination to remain an independent spirit. The narrative arc follows the same trajectory as pretty much every love story ever told: boy meets girl, complications arise but true love conquers all. As such, you don’t need to have read the novel to know how this story will ultimately pan out, so it is the journey to this end point that needs to be engaging and director Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt) presents a film that is a thoroughly enjoyable romp.

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Courted by three vastly different men, it is a seductive soldier who ignites the lust within Bathsheba. Whilst searching for Fanny Robin (Juno Temple), the servant girl who he believes abandoned him at the altar, Sergeant Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge) literally stumbles upon Bathsheba late at night. At a subsequent rendezvous in the woods, Bathsheba is aroused by a demonstration of his sword skills and Troy seizes the opportunity to wile his way into her world. Also fighting for her affections are Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a shepherd whose loyal servitude is driven by desire and an appreciation for the opportunity afforded him when his own fortunes take a turn for the worst, and the uptight, dignified neighbour William Boldwood, a man of status whose longing verges on the obsessive, albeit ignited initially by a prank played upon him by Bathsheba. So good in Rust and Bone, Schoenaerts is terrific here as well in a completely different type of role as a very subdued and inherently decent man. For Sheen, Boldwood is a 19th century version of his TV persona Dr William Masters, all buttoned-down and unable to communicate on a truly emotional level. His offers of marriage come across more as business proposals than declarations of love and it is his desperation to impress Bathsheba that proves the catalyst for the tragedy that ensues.

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Shot on location in the real Dorset, Vinterberg, cinematographer Charlotte Christensen and costume designer Janet Patterson have successfully created what one can only imagine is a somewhat authentic rendering of the era; a hard-working society toiling amidst a ruggedly beautiful backdrop. It is hard to imagine though that Bathsheba wouldn’t have encountered much stronger resistance as a woman challenging the status quo in a society in which a masculine hegemony is still very much at the forefront of the social structures. With Mulligan entrancing as Bathsheba, strong support from the likes of Schoenaerts, Sturridge and Sheen and luscious landscapes aplenty, Far from the Madding Crowd is an accomplished, if not overly ambitious, take on a literary favourite.