The Diary of a Teenage Girl

A film that addresses teenage sexuality in a way that is neither salacious nor condescending is such a rare beast, but alas, that is exactly what we have here. In what is a remarkable debut for several of the key players, The Diary of a Teenage Girl offers an honest examination of the moral and emotional complexities that surround the burgeoning sexual curiosities inherent in being a 15-year-old girl. This is a raw, rambunctious exploration of the confusion, irrationality and experimentation of youth in which Minnie Goetz (Bel Powley) serves as an embodiment of the countless teenagers who, having freed themselves from the shackles of their virginity, have set forth on a path of sexual awakening and enlightenment.  Writer/director Marielle Heller obviously has a close affinity with the story – having adapted Phoebe Gloeckner’s semi-autobiographical illustrated novel into a play in 2010, a production in which she also starred as Minnie – and she has delivered a thoroughly engaging, amusing and convincing cinematic rendition of adolescence.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl poster

Pretty much left to her own devices by her self-absorbed bohemian mother Charlotte (Kristen Wiig), Minnie willingly loses her virginity to Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard), Charlotte’s 35-year-old boyfriend. Whilst the ongoing affair causes Minnie much emotional angst, it is more to do with the deception she is inflicting upon her mother than any issues with the age difference. In fact, the age gap between Monroe and Millie hardly raises an eyebrow and there is certainly no suggestion, thankfully, that Monroe is paedophilic. In fact, given that Charlotte encourages Millie to show some skin and use her ‘assets’ to her advantage, it is hard to imagine that the relationship would cause much of a ripple in the household at all if not for Monroe’s existing status as her mother’s partner. Millie’s sense of self fluctuates from feeling she is too fat or unattractive to a confidence that enables her to take control in her sexual liaisons. Soon enough, Millie is hooking up with those her own age of both genders (and discovering just how clueless teenage boys are when it comes to sex), consuming drugs and alcohol and engaging in the types of behaviours that prove both empowering and extremely risky. Millie is determined to use her new-found sexual powers for all manner of experiences, but is also smart enough to understand when things have gone too far, such as when she and best friend Kimmie (Madeleine Waters) drunkenly deliver blowjobs for money or when the alluring but damaged Tabitha (Margarita Levieva) wants to pimp her out to clear a debt.

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Right from the opening line – “I had sex today. Holy shit!” – The Diary of a Teenage Girl promises something quite different and subsequently delivers. Anchored by an alarmingly assured performance from Powley in her first feature film role (she has since appeared as Princess Margaret in A Royal Night Out) this is a film that is far more mature than the glut of teen flicks designed purely for the titillation of the male audience and in which young women exist purely for the purpose of objectification. There will no doubt be many moronic moralisers who will decry this film as offensive and obscene, but this is most definitely not an exercise in exploitation. Minnie’s experiences resemble those of teenagers the world over and it is so refreshing to see an acknowledgment that sex is very much a part of the teenage experience and is every bit as exhilarating and confusing as every other aspect of adolescence. Despite the emotional roller coaster on which she finds herself, Minnie emerges as the smartest person in the film. Neither Charlotte nor Monroe are particularly adept at the responsibilities of adulthood, while her father Pascal (Christopher Meloni) is a pompous New York-based academic who flitters in and out of her life.

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The 1970’s San Francisco setting is gorgeously rendered, from the set designs to the costumes to the streetscapes, all accompanied by a superb soundtrack from the era that includes the likes of T-Rex and Television. Wiig is so good that you easily forget about the outrageous comic persona on which she has built her career thus far and, with hallucinogenic animated sequences – many of which see Minnie interacting with her cartoonist hero Aline Kominsky-Crumb – along with additional flourishes of magic realism, there is so much that makes this a thoroughly enjoyable viewing experience. Whilst The Diary of a Teenage Girl celebrates the joy of sex, it certainly does not shy away from the pitfalls that come with it. Learning as she goes along, Minnie is ultimately empowered to take control of her body and sexuality and this is exactly the type of movie that teenagers of both sexes need to see.

Go West at GoMA

To this day the western remains one of the most popular and enduring motion picture genres. Reflecting the struggles of man against barren and unforgiving landscapes and drawing on themes such as freedom, individualism and honour, westerns have been around as long as film itself and many of the very best feature in The Western – a program of classic and contemporary westerns from America and elsewhere, including Australia and Japan – that is currently screening at the GoMA Cinemateque in Brisbane.

Meeks Cutoff

Meeks Cutoff

Films from directors such as John Ford, Robert Altman, Clint Eastwood, Sergio Leone, Quentin Tarantino, Akira Kurosawa and the Coen Brothers feature on the program, which runs until November 15, with screenings every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

GoMA

For more information about the program, including the screening schedule and ticket prices, click here.

 

Sicario

Bristling with intensity, this latest offering from French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (Incendies, Prisoners) is very much in the vein of Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic in that it also addresses the futility of the so-called ‘war on drugs’. This pulsating drama tracks a cabal of law enforcement officers as they set forth on a mission to restore some sense of order to the supply channels into America rather than simply continue with their ineffective efforts targeting those at the end of the distribution chain whose arrest and incarceration has little impact on the manufacture and supply of narcotics. In fact, some 15 years later, Sicario sits very well as a companion piece to Traffic as an update on the state of play and the increasingly sophisticated tactics from both sides of this seemingly perpetual battle in which notions of right and wrong are becoming increasingly blurry.

Sicario poster

We are introduced to FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) via an opening scene in which she leads a raid on a house in suburban Phoenix in a bid to extricate hostages, only to be met with something else entirely. She is subsequently recruited onto an elite task force targeting the increasing influence of lethal drug cartels along the U.S-Mexico border. However, it doesn’t take long before she realizes there is much more to this group, and their mission, than she bargained for. The task force is led by the footloose, swaggering Matt Graver (Josh Brolin in his best performance for some time) and includes the mysterious Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), whose personal agenda just happens to fit nicely with Graver’s mission to track down and eliminate the leaders of the Mexican cartels, although Kate soon discovers that the intention is not simply to wipe out drug dealers and she subsequently finds herself both complicit and compromised.

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With set pieces and beautifully choreographed sequences that seem indebted to Michael Mann and eerie night-vision sequences akin to those in Katheryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, Villeneuve has created a pulsating drama that is relentless in its intensity. Whilst this is not an action film per se, there are some fantastically executed scenes bristling with tension and bloodshed, none more so than a spectacular sequence in which a convoy of vehicles transporting the task force becomes enmeshed in a traffic-jam that leaves them exposed and vulnerable to attack. Yes, the film is violent, but not in an over-the-top Rambo kind of way. The vision of mutilated bodies hanging from overpasses is a reflection of the reality we see in news feeds every day. Cinematographer Roger Deakins superbly articulates the geographical encumbrances endured in a battle to protect the borders with majestic aerial shots that emphatically demonstrate the vastness of a barren landscape almost impossible to police effectively. Equally impressive from this 12-time Oscar-nominated Englishman is the way in which he uses the camera – in concert with a musical score from Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson – to engender an energy to everything that happens.

All the actors deliver knockout performances and Del Toro, who picked up an Academy Award for his role in Traffic, may find himself in the running once again with this eerily effective portrayal of a man whose personal mission just happens to suit the needs of those who might ordinarily be his archenemy. Every time he is on the screen he commands your attention, even when he is doing nothing. There are a few shortcomings that can’t be ignored, not the least of which is the fact that Kate’s by-the-book approach and inability to emotionally distance herself from what she experiences suggests that, as a woman (and the only female on the team), she is somehow weaker and less competent than the men around her, a fact that is further emphasised when it is revealed that her inclusion in the operation has less to do with her ability and more to do with being the scapegoat who ultimately legitimises (under considerable duress mind you) the unorthodox and undeniably illegal tactics employed in executing the mission.

Working from a script by actor and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan that is brimming with terrific exchanges – such as when Kate asks Alejandro what’s going on and he replies “You’re asking me how a watch works. Just keep an eye on the time” – everybody involved here is at the peak of their powers and, as a result, Sicario emerges as a riveting and haunting exploration of the moral and legal ambiguities that surround any effort to infiltrate the criminal underworld.

First Fiesta Artists Announced

The 2015 Valley Fiesta is just five weeks away and event organisers have released details of the first batch of artists confirmed for the annual free street party. The event, which will take place in Fortitude Valley from October 23 to 25, will feature live music, food, street art, markets and much more. Once again, the festival will feature an eclectic mix of Australian musical talent performing at multiple stages.

Valley Fiesta 2015

Artists already announced include Young Franco, Asta, Art vs Science and Alpine, along with local bands such as The Jensens, The Cairos and Baskervillain, with further announcements still to come to fill the remaining slots on the schedule. The festivities will kick off on Friday night with sets from various Live and Local competition winners in the Brunswick Street Mall.

Saturday will see three stages in action with Alpine headlining the Brunswick East Stage from 9:00pm. Additional stages in the Brunswick and Chinatown malls will provide plenty of variety for attendees throughout the night.

On Sunday, the Brunswick Street Mall Stage will host the Queensland Music Awards Showcase featuring Leanne Tennant, Electrik Lemonade, Michelle Xen, Waax and Halfway. Over at the Chinatown Mall Stage on Sunday, Fortitude Valley’s LBTGI community will present the Valley Pride program comprising a fun afternoon of entertainment, stage shows and music.

To keep abreast of the latest news, updates and artists announcements, check the Fiesta website or follow on Facebook and Instagram.

The Gift

Having come a long way from his days on Australian television in shows such as Police Rescue and Wildside, Joel Edgerton has now established himself as one of the myriad Australians enjoying considerable success in film and/or television in America and elsewhere, both as an actor and writer. In addition to strong on-screen performances in the likes of Warrior and Zero Dark Thirty, Edgerton has also proven himself a capable writer, penning the original stories from which The Square (directed by his brother Nash) and David Michod’s The Rover are based, as well as crafting the screenplay for Felony, in which he starred alongside Tom Wilkinson.  With The Gift, Edgerton has added another string to his bow, taking on directorial duties in addition to writing the script and playing the strange – and very strange-looking – Gordo, a vengeful figure from the past who weasels his way into the world of executive-on-the-rise Simon (Jason Bateman) and his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall). Although there are a few moments that may surprise the less observant in the audience, ultimately this thriller set in contemporary Los Angeles doesn’t really bring anything particularly new to the genre.

The Gift poster

Simon and Robyn have just relocated to California from Chicago and are in the process of procuring items to furnish their new home when they encounter Gordon (Gordo) Mosely, a former schoolmate of Simon. Next thing we know, Gordo is leaving gifts at the front door of the house and turning up unannounced, none of which seems to bother Robyn too much, although Simon is far from impressed and it becomes apparent pretty quickly that he has something to hide. The look that Edgerton brings to Gordo is unnerving and certainly makes it obvious that his interest in the couple is one of malevolence rather than mateship. Yes, Gordo is damaged as a result of events from the past, but the sheer oddness of his character makes it hard to believe that Robyn would be so willing to embrace his efforts at friendship. There is nothing remotely charming or particularly sympathetic about Gordo and when the details of the catalyst event and the subsequent fall-out that ensued some 20 years earlier is revealed, we are expected to understand the type of person that Simon really is and, perhaps, switch our allegiance to Gordo, but it is really hard to invest too much in either of them.

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Robyn is supposedly an intelligent, successful designer and business owner, yet she is so completely oblivious to the nature of her husband’s true personality that she is ultimately rendered as nothing more than a typical damsel in distress, hampered by an undisclosed medical/psychological condition that seems to be nothing more than a convenient tool for her incapacity to identify and defend the threat that Gordo poses.  In fact, none of the other female characters (played by the likes of Busy Philipps and Allison Tolman) bring anything substantial to the table either, confined to the role of wife, girlfriend or kindly neighbour. Everything that happens in Gordo’s torment of the couple is derivative of so many stalker/avenger films that have come before it that nothing really stands out as a being utterly unique or unexpected. Yes, there are moments of suspense for those not paying close attention to the endless foreshadowing that precedes every such action, but ultimately there isn’t much that surprises. By the end, we are certainly happy for Simon to get his comeuppance, but Gordo engenders no sympathy either because it is actually Robyn who may, or may not, be the ultimate victim of his revenge plot.

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Bateman does this kind of character so often that he has no trouble alternating between that polarities of Simon’s personality, while Edgerton’s Gordo is too overt in his appearance and actions to be truly effective as the tormentor.  Hall, meanwhile, is burdened with a character that is devoid of any real substance and, as a result, finds herself at the mercy of two equally unstable antagonists. This is not Edgerton’s best work as a writer or actor, and it is hard to imagine The Gift (which shouldn’t be confused with Sam Raimi’s superior 2000 film of the same name) satisfying anybody who prefers a bit of complexity or subversion in their suspense thrillers. Upon reflection, I can’t help but wonder if the failings are a result of Edgerton simply taking on too many responsibilities and thereby being unable to objectively identify the shortcomings.

Straight Outta Compton

As much as they are maligned as an element of storytelling, both on screen or elsewhere, the reality is that clichés are reflections of reality, no matter how contrived they may seem when we encounter them. This latest film from F Gary Gray is ripe with clichéd characters, circumstances and events, yet it is drawn from the real-life experiences that led to the creation and of one of the most seminal hip-hop groups in history. Tracking the rise of N.W.A from the slums of Los Angeles to the dizzying heights of success, Straight Outta Compton has all the ingredients typical of such a story. A rags-to-riches trajectory, in-fighting, a shonky manager, sex, drugs and excess and a tragic turn of events are everything we would expect in a tale of this type and, as such, Straight Outta Compton delivers in spades.  As we have seen previously in the likes of 8 Mile, hip-hop has proven to be a tool by which those entrenched in social disadvantage can deliver commentary on their experiences in an effort to address injustice whilst also providing a pathway to a life of unbridled success and all the inherent problems that it brings.

Straight Outta Compton poster

Emerging in the 1980’s as a hip-hop collective who crafted brutally honest rhymes and hardcore beats that relayed their frustration and anger about life in one of the most dangerous places in America – particularly if you happened to be a young black male – N.W.A brought a swagger and bravado to their music that enraptured their fans and infuriated that powers-that-be. Bristling with anger and blessed with talent, N.W.A (Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Dr Dre, DJ Yella and MC Ren) were vaunted and vilified in equal measure as they ignited a social revolution that is still reverberating today. Anybody with even the most rudimentary knowledge of music history would be aware of the shit storm that swept the United States and other locales (Australia included) when N.W.A’s incendiary Fuck tha Police emerged as the first release from their debut album (also titled Straight Outta Compton). The film focuses largely on the relationship between Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jnr) and Dr Dre (Corey Hawkins), a friendship undermined and ultimately fractured by manager Jerry Heller’s deception and dishonesty. As Heller, this is the second such performance from Paul Giamatti as a svengali-like manipulator in the music world following his turn as Dr Eugene Landy in Brian Wilson biopic Love & Mercy.

Straight Outta Compton

The performances are all impressive, with Mitchell and Jackson (who is playing his real-life father) particularly strong and, needless to say, the music is outstanding.  Sure, the film is misogynistic in its depictions of women, but this is a reflection of the world in which the story takes place and hip-hop culture more broadly.  Whilst the fact that it is a true story apparently allows us to be much more forgiving of the clichés around race, social class and hip-hop culture that permeate the narrative, how you react to the film will most likely depend on how much you know about the various characters, both as members of N.W.A and in the time since. Given that Dr Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy-E’s widow Tomica Woods-Wright served as producers, we were never going to get a fully-fledged warts-and-all insight into this story or the characters that populate it and, as such, the choice of Gray, who helmed the Ice Cube-starring Friday and myriad hip-hop videos for the likes of Outkast, Cypress Hill and R. Kelly, as director was an astute (and no doubt somewhat strategic) decision.  For example, there is no mention of Dr Dre’s penchant for assaulting women. Other than Heller, the villain of the piece is Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor), an easy enough target given his involvement in a litany of crimes that have resulted in several periods of incarceration, the most recent of which sees him behind bars following his involvement in a hit-and-run death in Compton last year.

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Cinematographer Matthew Libatique (Ruby Sparks, Black Swan) incorporates myriad visual flourishes – including surfeit lens flares – that bring a romantic energy to the mean streets of Compton and a gaudy glitz to the excesses that follow their rapid rise to the top. Sure, Straight Outta Compton suffers from a lack of objectivity – scrutiny that a fictional story of a similar ilk would not be burdened with – but it is pulsating and powerful at times and offers plenty of insight into the reality endured by young African-American men at the time (and it seems little has changed if recent events in places such as Ferguson, Baltimore, and Cincinnati are any indication) and the lasting impact and influence of the “world’s most dangerous group” on the hip-hop music scene.