Dope

Arriving in Brisbane cinemas will little fanfare, Dope is the type of movie that should be chasing and securing a much larger audience, particularly amongst younger viewers. With a killer soundtrack, the likes of Pharrell Williams and Sean “P Diddy” Combs serving as executive producers and a talented young cast, this is very much a film for the hip-hop generation, if only they knew about it. Written and directed by Rick Famuyiwa, Dope is a coming-of-age comedy/drama set in the Darby-Dixon neighbourhood of Inglewood (California), known colloquially as the The Bottoms. This part of greater Los Angeles comprises more than 90% African-American and Hispanic residents and the percentage of families in Inglewood living below the poverty line is twice the national average. In this world in which dodging gangs and drug dealers is part of the daily commute to and from school, super-smart geeky high school senior Malcolm is determined to escape a fate to which so many have succumbed.

Dope poster

Despite being told by his school principal that he is arrogant for daring to dream of securing a place at Harvard, Malcolm (Shameik Moore) seems on track to achieve his goal until a decision to attend an underground party – ostensibly to impress the girlfriend of local dealer Dom (a solid acting debut from rapper A$AP Rocky) – puts him and his loyal friends Diggy (Kiersey Clemens) and Jib (Tony Revolori) in the firing line, both literally and figuratively. When our plucky trio, who share a love of ‘90’s hop-hop, inexplicably find themselves laden with a drug consignment, their lives become a series of misadventures as they hustle to stay one step ahead of those looking to do them some serious harm. As such, the film bounces between moments of mirth and menace, often leaving you no time to catch your breath from laughter before something quite serious, and often violent, takes place. Some people may find this disconcerting but it effectively demonstrates the dichotomy of living in such circumstances.

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They encounter myriad offbeat characters in their efforts to offload their cargo, including the duplicitous Austin Jacoby (Roger Smith) and his very odd offspring Jaleel (Quincy Brown) – a delusional wannabe music producer – and the bored, brazen, bonkers Lily (Chanel Iman). As much as Lily’s character seems just too over-the-top, all is forgiven when her antics result in a When Harry Met Sally-style “I’ll have what she’s having” spontaneous viral marketing campaign that sends demand for Malcolm’s supply through the roof and probably isn’t too far removed from the realities of how You Tube and the like influence attitudes and behaviours. Through it all, the bond between Malcolm, Diggy and Jib never waivers and although they present a positive affirmation of the power of friendship in overcoming adversity, the film never becomes overly sentimental or trite in its portrayal of this trio of misfits. They are essentially good kids caught in a bad situation who use their smarts to get themselves out of trouble.

DOPE

The film hinges on the performance of Moore in his first feature film lead role and he handles the responsibility with aplomb for the most part, stumbling only in a moment of intimate verbal intercourse with Nakia (Zoe Kravitz), the femme whose flirtations set the series of events in motion. Following his breakout performance in The Grand Budapest Hotel, Revolori is fabulous again as Jib, while Clemens makes a terrific transition from television to the big screen as Diggy. Keith Stanfield, so good in Short Term 12 that he already has another 10 features under his belt, also features. Along the way, Dope finds time to explore the murky world of the dark web, skewer the white appropriation of black culture – primarily through comedian Blake Anderson’s turn as hacker/stoner Will – and take aim at the failings of the education system, but the film is never preachy or condescending and refuses to take sides in any moral debate that surrounds the course of action that Malcolm and his sidekicks ultimately undertake. Although Famuyiwa has fallen into the trap that has ensnared so many of his contemporaries – underestimating the intelligence of the audience by relying on an unnecessary voiceover (courtesy of Forrest Whittaker in this instance) – there is much to like here, not the least of which is Rachel Morrison’s cinematography. Energy and wit abound in this story about a determination to succeed despite the forces that conspire to hold you back. Dope is, well, pretty dope, so catch it while you can.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

The latest in a series of young adult novels adapted for the screen and the second to feature a central character with a cancer diagnosis after The Fault in our Stars, this bittersweet teen comedy from director  Alfonso Gomez-Rejon scored big at the Sundance Film Festival, winning both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize. It is not surprising that the film struck a chord because Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is, despite the tragedy to which the title alludes, a thoroughly enjoyable exploration of teen friendship. There is no romance to be found here, it is simply a story about three young people whose friendship is tested under the most trying of circumstances. More than that though, it is a film that never tries to construct any of the young people as anything more than typical. The way they react to the circumstances of their lives is understandable and the film, which was adapted by Jesse Andrews from his own novel, very successfully straddles the line between comedy and drama without ever seeming manipulative. It is irreverent, intense, sarcastic, sad and silly – sometimes all at the same time – but it somehow works as a genuinely engaging treatise on friendship, mortality, the fear of intimacy and the expectations and uncertainties of post-school life.

Me and Earl poster

The “me” of the title is Greg (Thomas Mann), a somewhat detached teenager who has cultivated his invisibility at school by acquainting himself with all of the myriad sub-cultures and cliques without actually joining any of them, preferring to spend his lunch breaks watching movies with Earl (RJ Cyler) in the office of their history teacher. Although the two have been friends since childhood, Greg refuses to acknowledge the nature of the relationship, referring to Earl as his co-worker, a reference to the myriad absurdist lo-fi movie spoofs they have produced together, 47 of which appear throughout the film apparently, although I didn’t count them so I can neither confirm nor deny such claims. However, I can attest that these films, with titles such as 2:48pm Cowboy, Senior Citizen Kane and Anatomy of a Burger are terrifically entertaining in their own right despite their utter lack of sophistication. It is a shared love of cinema that drives both their creative output and their friendship.

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When classmate Rachel (Olivia Cooke) is diagnosed with cancer, Greg’s mother (Connie Britton) insists that he make an effort to spend time with her. Despite hardly knowing Rachel, Greg finds himself begging her to let him hang out just once to placate his mother. Sure enough, a friendship starts to blossom as Greg finds himself connecting emotionally with somebody for the first time. Rachel possesses a doomed resignation about her fate, watching those around struggle with her diagnosis. Earl’s reaction is what you might expect from a teenage boy, asking Greg on several occasions whether he has seen Rachel’s ‘titties’. Whilst Earl refuses to pander to Rachel’s illness in the way that he treats her, he still demonstrates more understanding of what is at stake than Greg does. As the inevitability of her condition looms, Earl and Greg decide to make a film for Rachel, the first time they have had to make something for somebody other than themselves.

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Whilst it all sounds very bleak and sombre, there are a lot of laughs to be had courtesy of the titular trio and an array of supporting characters, including Rachel’s mother Denise (Molly Shannon), who relies on a never-ending glass of wine to help her cope. Whilst all three leads are fine, it is Cooke who really shines as Rachel, a young woman resigned to her fate who does not want to be seen as a victim. Jon Bernthal (TV’s The Walking Dead) is great as teacher/mentor Mr McCarthy, while Katherine Hughes also impresses as Madison. In fact the only bum note is, surprisingly, Nick Offerman as Greg’s dad, a character who seems quirky for quirk’s sake and just doesn’t present as believable or particularly interesting. With an aesthetic akin to the works of Wes Anderson, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl has much to enjoy. The ending is emotional without being overwrought and Gomez-Rejon, who started as a personal assistant to the likes of Scorsese and Inarritu before cutting his directorial teeth in television, has created a prescient teen comedy-drama that is both heartfelt and hilarious.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl opens in Brisbane on September 3.

Record Revival @ The Foundry

With vinyl becoming increasingly popular as the format of choice amongst music lovers, a new store has just opened in Fortitude Valley that will no doubt prove a popular destination for those seeking the latest vinyl releases, re-issues or classic recordings. Part of the recently re-launched Foundry live venue and arts space, Foundry Records has plenty to offer music fans.

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In addition to stocking a wide selection of vinyl records, Foundry Records also stock CD’s and the latest issues of all the leading local and international music magazines. Furthermore, they are serving Blackstar Coffee, craft beers and a selection of breads and pastries from Le Sebastian Bakery. There is a stage for in-store performances and signings and, with a range of signed prints from rock photographer Ross Halfin adorning the walls – which include images featuring the likes of Jimmy Page, Jack White and Foo Fighters – Foundry Records is an exciting new addition to the retail music scene.

Open 7 days a week, Foundry Records is located at 228 Wickham Street in the heart of the Fortitude Valley live music and entertainment precinct.

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To keep pace with all the news from Foundry Records, follow them on Facebook or just drop in for a coffee and maybe discover some great new additions to your music collection.

World Press Photo

Established for 60 years, the World Press Photo competition has encouraged and celebrated the highest standards in photojournalism. Every year, the very best images from around the world are acknowledged and presented in a series of exhibitions that not only showcase the talents of international photojournalists but also offer an insight into the state of the world and the people within it.

Gaza Conflict by Sergey Ponomarev

Gaza Conflict by Sergey Ponomarev

The World Press Photo competition is a celebration of the power of photography to capture history and the events that shape the world. Often harrowing, but always insightful, the exhibition delivers access to tragedy and triumph from across all geographic, social, political and cultural spectrums.

The 2015 World Press Photo Competition exhibition, which includes the World Press Photo of the Year by Danish photographer Mads Nissen, is on now at Brisbane Powerhouse and continues until August 30.

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This exhibition serves as a powerful indictment about the state of the world and allows us access to people, places and events that might otherwise be off limits and a visit to Brisbane Powerhouse is highly recommended. To see the winning productions in the Interactive Documentary categories, click here.

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Last Cab to Darwin

Since creating one of Australia’s most beloved movie characters in The Castle’s laconic family matriarch Darrell Kerrigan back in 1997, Michael Caton has amassed a broad body of work in movies and television and he draws upon his wealth of experience to deliver an emotionally-charged performance as Rex McRae, a man with terminal cancer desperate to die with dignity. Whilst Caton has spent considerable time mired in television soap opera of late, his return to the big screen comes via an adaptation of a stage play that traverses multiple genres – comedy, romance, drama, road movie and political polemic – and somehow manages to bring all these elements together with great effect. Director Jeremy Sims, who also helmed the theatre production, has crafted a film that will likely unleash a full range of emotions in viewers, from joy to sadness to anger and frustration as Rex and his supporting players traverse the minefield of inequity, bureaucracy and populist politics that is contemporary Australia.

Last Cab to Darwin poster

Given his last two big screen outings were the dreadful Strange Bedfellows and the equally dire The Animal, it is great so see Caton back on the big screen in a role of substance as somebody who finds himself the unwitting pin-up boy for those advocating the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia. Having spent his entire life in the New South Wales outpost of Broken Hill, where he lives alone and works as a cab driver, Rex learns of a push by a Northern Territory doctor to secure approval for a ‘suicide machine’ that would enable the terminally ill to facilitate their own death and avoid the humiliation of hospitalisation and around-the-clock palliative care. Although Rex has a girlfriend, Polly (Ningali Lawford), who lives in the house across the street and a group of drinking buddies, he has always maintained his independence and doesn’t share the news of his terminal diagnosis with them. Desperate to die with dignity, Rex sets forth on a 3000km road trip to Darwin, collecting a couple of companions along the way in Tilly (Mark Coles Smith), a talented but self-destructive young Indigenous man and Julie (Emma Hamilton), an English nurse on a backpacking holiday. This is a journey filled with moments of hilarity, hostility and heartbreak as friendships are formed and the trio become a blended family of sorts.

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Of course, upon reaching Darwin, everything is not what it seems and Rex is forced to fight for the right to end his life, all the while dealing with a self-serving Dr Farmer (Jacki Weaver) and the realisation of what (who) he has left behind and the broader impact of his decision. Whilst Australia’s antiquated laws around euthanasia are obviously under the microscope here, Sims (Last Train to Freo, Beneath Hill 60) is far from heavy-handed in his approach and leaves it to the audience to make up their own mind. Through the experiences of Polly (who is not allowed to drink in the same Broken Hill bar that Rex frequents) and Tilly (a talented footballer battling to overcome his demons and find his place in the world) we are also reminded of the ongoing hardships and discrimination still being experienced by Aboriginal people in Australia.

Whilst Caton is extraordinarily subtle and naturalistic in his performance and carries the considerable weight of Rex’s plight on his shoulders with aplomb, the supporting cast are also uniformly excellent.  Lawford (Rabbit-Proof Fence, Bran Nue Dae) is terrific fun as the feisty Polly, whose frustration at Rex is only outweighed by her love for him, while both Coles Smith and Hamilton are also fabulous and seem destined for much bigger things. Weaver’s Dr Farmer is the least likeable of the characters, with any empathy for Rex’s plight often being overwhelmed by her determination to get her message across. The likes of David Field, John Howard, Alan Dukes and Leah Purcell also feature, as does Brendan Cowell in a brief cameo. Whilst the screenplay, written by Sims with Reg Cribb (who penned the play inspired by the real-life journey of Max Bell), veers towards melodrama at times, Last Cab to Darwin paints a vivid portrait of outback life without shying away from the uglier elements and ultimately emerges as another example of high quality Australian filmmaking.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

A cross between James Bond and Get Smart is a simplistic but not altogether inaccurate summation of this latest television adaptation to reach cinema screens. Helmed by Guy Ritchie, The Man from U.N.C.L.E has everything we have come to expect from the British director. Rapid-fire editing, visual gimmickry (split screen, overt transitions), comedic violence and witty repartee amongst the characters are all on display. However, this espionage thriller set in 1963 is a case of style over substance as a trio of handsome, immaculately costumed characters set about retrieving a nuclear warhead from an international crime syndicate. In his first leading role since Man of Steel, Henry Cavill plays Napoleon Solo, a cocky former criminal recruited to work for the CIA who is forced to team with KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) to locate a missing German scientist believed to be leading the rogue nuclear program, perhaps against his will. Joining the two men on their mission is sassy motor mechanic Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), who just happens to be the estranged daughter of said scientist.

Man from UNCLE poster

Like Robert Downey Jnr and Jude Law in Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films, the relationship between Cavill and Hammer is one of distrust and perpetual one-upmanship that ultimately leads to a grudging acceptance of their mandated mutual mission to infiltrate the criminal cartel and curtail their nuclear ambitions. Free of the shackles of the uptight Clark Kent and his alter-ego superhero, Cavill is actually quite effective as the chiselled charmer who does quite literally channel both Bond and Maxwell Smart in his portrayal. One moment he is charming a hotel clerk out of her clothes within minutes of meeting her while later he sits idly by consuming wine and food from an unattended lunch hamper while his partner tries desperately to outrun his pursuers in a speedboat chase. Hammer has far fewer opportunities to charm and his character is as much a caricature as one could possibly be, including the obligatory dodgy Russian accent. Despite her obvious assets – she is beautiful and a highly capable actress as evidenced in her remarkable performance in Ex-Machina – Vikander is under-utilised as the sexy, self-assured Gaby, whose collection of iconic outfits are one of many visual delights in the film.

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Australian actress Elizabeth Debicki (The Great Gatsby) hams it up as the villainous Contessa, while Hugh Grant is amusing as genial British intelligence operative Alexander Waverly. In fact, the film would be benefit from more of Grant’s sardonic presence. There are a suite of ham-fisted criminal types in the mix, not the least of which is Rudi (Sylvester Groth), whose constantly malfunctioning torture machine is reminiscent of the failings and failures of Siegfried, that most hapless of KAOS agents. The action sequences are mostly well-staged if uncomplicated; the opening moments of the film feature a vehicular pursuit through the streets of the newly segregated Berlin that introduces our three main characters to us and each other.

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Ritchie’s films have always had a kinetic energy to them; effervescent, masculine narratives delivered at a frantic pace. On this occasion though, the pace inhibits our ability to saviour the splendour of the various European locales and the artefacts of the era, which are beautifully rendered by cinematographer John Mathieson and the team responsible for production design and costuming. At a time when so many action movies are entrenched in future worlds, The Man from U.N.C.L.E is very much a throwback to classic spy movies and the swinging ‘60’s. It’s not particularly deep or insightful and the distinct lack of sex, profanity or on-screen violence not only makes the film accessible to the widest possible audience, it is also very much in keeping with the tone of the original television series.