Freeheld

There is a very good chance you will come away from Freeheld feeling furious, frustrated or both. You might be angry at the blatant inequality that gay people endured just a few short years ago (and let’s face it, continue to experience) OR you may be more in line with the Tony Abbott way of thinking and find yourself furious at the audacity of gay people to expect the same rights and opportunities as the rest of the population OR you might just be frustrated that the film fails to attack the story with any real gusto. This true story follows the fight by terminally ill New Jersey police detective Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) to ensure her partner Stacey (Ellen Page) has access to her pension upon her death. You see, what seems like a reasonable expectation is far from it in the eyes of the local council who oversee employee entitlements. The fact that Laurel has given some 20 years exemplary service to the county is inconsequential to those who are much more concerned about their own re-election than they are about seeing justice done. Hiding behind an ambiguous regulatory framework, Laurel’s request is denied because pensions can only be paid to the spouse of an employee which, of course, Stacey could never be due to the fact that gay couples were not permitted to marry.

Freeheld poster

The opening half hour or so focuses on Laurel at work alongside Michael Shannon’s Dane Wells circa 2002, putting herself in harm’s way and earning accolades for her success, all the while taking extreme measures to conceal her sexuality for fear of personal and professional reprisals. When she meets the much younger Stacey, there is an instant rapport and the two quickly become entrenched in a relationship, although one that remains very much hidden from the view of Laurel’s colleagues. Skip forward 12 months and we find Laurel and Stacey still going strong and settling into a house in the suburbs. Just when everything is looking rosy, a cancer diagnosis leaves Laurel debilitated and desperate to ensure Stacey will be looked after into the future. This a very slow-paced affair for much of the running time, with Steve Carell’s introduction as gay marriage campaigner Steven Goldstein bringing some much needed oomph to the piece. Proudly and loudly proclaiming himself a “middle-class, Jewish homosexual from New Jersey”, Goldstein take up the fight for Laurel, coordinating protests and media coverage that also happens to serve his own interests.

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The flamboyant Goldstein risks alienating those on both sides of the debate with his desperate-times-call-for-desperate-measures approach, but he pares his performance back when his tactics fail to sway the decision-makers. Shannon is great as a cop conflicted by his support for his friend and his own entrenched understandings of sexuality, masculinity and friendship. Wells challenges his colleagues to put aside their own prejudices and he proves to be one of Laurel’s greatest advocates in her battle with the bureaucrats and the inevitability of her illness. Ultimately, it is his work behind the scenes that proves more effective than Goldstein’s grandstanding. There are times when Freeheld veers toward daytime television movie of the week territory as director Peter Sollett (Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist) keeps the whole thing as chaste and low key as can possibly be and the lack of action will no doubt leave many feeling underwhelmed.

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The two leads do their best to rise above a generic script and Sollett’s pedestrian direction and there is no doubt that this story is important as one of the real-life personal accounts that helped pave the way for the recent U.S. High Court ruling that legalised gay marriage. Yes, Freeheld does a service in highlighting the kind of inequality that the gay community endures, but it never really delves into the intricacies of the lives and relationships of the characters in any depth. Whilst this is a somewhat superficial examination of a critically important and undoubtedly emotional series of events that is saved largely by the performances, your reaction to the outcome of the proceedings will probably still depend largely on which side of the political divide you are situated.

The Last Witch Hunter

Despite an esteemed career that includes two Academy Awards, Michael Caine has been involved with the occasional stinker (Jaws: The Revenge anybody?), but it is very difficult to fathom just why, on the back of recent performances in the likes of The Dark Knight, Interstellar and Youth, he would get involved with this hot mess, other than the lure of an easy pay day. Caine plays Dolan 36th, a priest who serves as the trusty confidante and advisor to Vin Diesel’s Kaulder, a 400-year-old witch hunter single-handedly responsible for maintaining the peace between witches and humans. Diesel brings neither energy nor charisma to this somewhat convoluted tale that is light on thrills and rendered unintentionally comedic by a screenplay that is filled with leaden, laughable dialogue and a general premise that lacks any kind of logic. It is easy enough to blame Diesel for this misfire because, let’s face it, he has hardly proven himself an actor of any real substance, but everybody involved here must take some responsibility for what has transpired. It is hard to pinpoint how it all went so wrong, but The Last Witch Hunter is inglorious in both concept and execution.

Last Witch Hunter poster

It is never fun to take aim at a movie because you know that a lot of people have put a lot of work into it, but it is very difficult to find much to recommend The Last Witch Hunter, which opens with Diesel – resplendent with ludicrous beard – leading a band of fellow 14th-century hipsters into a battle against the Queen Witch that, believe it or not, takes place inside a giant tree. Upon slaying her evil highness, Kaulder is cursed (or blessed perhaps) with immortality. Alas, in modern day New York, the queen is resurrected, Dolan 36’s life is on the line and Kaulder has to do it all over again.  Of course there is a girl in the mix, a feisty witch named Chloe (Rose Leslie from Game of Thrones) who overcomes her disdain for Kaulder (of course) to join forces with him. If it sounds silly, that’s because it is. Diesel only has one expression throughout the whole movie so it is impossible to know exactly what his emotional state might be and, quite frankly, it is hard to care. The action sequences lack any real tension and the two clashes between Kaulder and the Witch Queen are over in very quick time.

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There are attempts to develop audience empathy with Kaulder though flashbacks of his time with his family, who were slain by the dark forces prior to his first showdown with the queen, but that was some 400 years ago, so he has had plenty of time to get over it and move on. It’s all just so silly that there were plenty of sniggers amongst the audience in the screening I attended and none of these were at moments where there seemed any conscious attempt at humour. As Dolan 37, brought in as a replacement when it seemed as though 36 was not long for this world, Elijah Wood looks utterly confused by it all and must surely be wishing he was safely back in Middle Earth. In fact, part of the problem with The Last Witch Hunter is that everybody takes it so seriously when the sheer preposterousness of it all requires some levity. Caine does try, but not even he is capable of turning this into something remotely engaging.

Leslie is perhaps the best of the players here, no doubt desperate to try and make some kind of presence in her Hollywood feature debut. Directed by Breck Eisner and shot by Oscar-winning Aussie cinematographer Dean Semler, The Last Witch Hunter is an expensive (upwards of $90 million) exercise in mediocrity that leads one to ponder how films like this come to be so utterly uninspiring. Then again, if, as some reports have suggested, Kaulder is partly based on an entity created by Diesel as a Dungeons & Dragons character (apparently, he is an avid D&D player), perhaps that explains it all.

Crimson Peak

To be sure, Crimson Peak is very much a victory for style over substance with director Guillermo del Toro, in conjunction with production designer Tom Sanders (Dracula, Braveheart) and cinematographer Dan Laustsen constructing a quasi-horror film that looks ravishing; saturated with colour and brimming with ornate gothic architectural influences. Most of the action takes place at Ellerdale Hall, an imposing, run-down Cumbrian mansion that is home to Thomas and Lucille Sharpe, siblings who love each other just a little too much. With the house in disrepair and their fortunes very much on the slide, their only hope lays in extracting the red clay that lays beneath the house (and nowhere else apparently). This is not just any clay mind you; this is a liquid substance that permeates the walls of the house and is slowly consuming the building. Add a naïve bride who sees dead people and the scene is set for all manner of ghostly delights.

Crimson Peak poster

The ghost-whispering bride is New York socialite and wannabe writer Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) who, following the death of her father in somewhat unsavoury circumstances, marries Thomas (Tom Hiddleston) and takes up residence in Ellerdale. Unbeknownst to Edith, her marriage is merely a ploy by Thomas and Lucille (Jessica Chastain) to secure access to her inheritance. Whilst Crimson Peak is billed as a horror movie, there are no real scares to be had and the ghosts are nothing more than a device through which the sins of the Sharpe’s past are revealed to Edith. Each encounter with the apparitions leads Edith closer to understanding exactly what she has got herself into. Of course, a few contrivances along the way also help her in her search for answers, such as the fact that Thomas and Lucille, despite being so determined to keep the truth from Edith, just happen to leave some important information sitting in a cupboard waiting to be found. Of course, Tom’s insistence that she shouldn’t go into the basement and Lucille’s refusal to give her any keys to the house should have immediately sent Edith scarpering for the exits, but alas she sticks around. It is only when she discovers the exact nature of the relationship between Tom and Lucille that the penny finally drops and prompts Edith to skedaddle.

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Whilst her character is not real bright, Wasikowska is no dim bulb and she lights up the screen, bringing a likeability to her character that she probably doesn’t deserve. The Aussie actress is always great, often better than the material she has to work with, and that is pretty much the case here. As for rest of the players, Hiddleston is even less animated here than he is playing Loki in the Marvel films, Chastain has little chance to shine as her character remains muchly a mystery and Charlie Hunnam is a far cry from his Sons of Anarchy persona as the kindly doctor who finds himself in the firing line in his bid to rescue Edith. It is rare to find a film that offers such a talented cast so little chance to showcase their talents. From the staircases that seem to stretch upwards forever to the snowdrifts atop the bright red earth, del Toro has certainly created a vision splendid. In fact, it is so lush to look out that you will probably find yourself prepared to overlook shortcomings elsewhere, such as plot, dialogue and characterisation.

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Yes, Crimson Peak is beautifully atmospheric and there is even a beauty in the ghosts that float through the house, trailing wisps of spectral energy. The influences are obvious – from Hitchcock to German Expressionism to the Hammer horror of the ‘50’s and ‘60’s and even the best of Tim Burton – and del Toro is an avowed fanboy who will make whatever type of film takes his fancy, an attitude that has certainly served Quentin Tarantino well. As long as you don’t expect to be surprised by anything that happens, Crimson Peak is satisfying enough as a campy, colourful period drama set in a creepy ramshackle mansion, but the wait continues for del Toro to again produce something as rich and remarkable as his 2006 masterwork Pan’s Labyrinth.

Festival Week in West End

In addition to the free music and entertainment options in Fortitude Valley (Valley Fiesta) and Woolloongabba (End of the Line Festival) this weekend, the West End festival also gets underway on Sunday with the 8th Kurilpa Derby along Boundary Street (between Vulture and Russell Streets). The Kurilpa Derby is an annual event that celebrates “lives lived on wheels” and includes all manner of wheeled creations, including wheelchairs, bicycles, skates, skateboards, billy carts, trolleys and a wide range of utterly unique creations constructed exclusively for the event. Festivities kick off with a parade from 1:30pm that travels from the Dornoch Terrace Bridge.

West End Festival

The West End Festival will continue throughout the week with markets, music, street parties, public forums, food and art, with many events free of charge. Highlights include the West End Film Festival Music Video Awards on Wednesday night (October 28) at Rumpus Room Cinema, a Halloween-themed burlesque at Jungle Bar on Friday evening and live music at venues such as The Bearded Lady and The Motor Room throughout the week.

West End Music Video Awards

The Festival wraps up next Sunday (October 31) with Brisbane Fiesta Latina to celebrate Day of the Dead. There will be art, craft, music, dancing and Latin American food galore in Boundary Street between 3:00pm and 10:00pm.

For more information about the West End Festival, check out the website or follow them on Facebook.

 

 

Tangerine

A film that could easily be seen as some kind of Kevin Smith-John Waters-Larry Clark hybrid, Tangerine is a crazy, frenetic examination of a day in the life of a transgender prostitute who, having just been released from prison, sets out in search of her pimp/boyfriend and the woman with whom he has supposedly been fornicating in her absence. Filled with strange camera angles, crazy characters and a rough-around-the-edges aesthetic, Tangerine is a hugely entertaining romp, thanks in large part to the sheer energy that Kitana Kiki Rodriguez brings to her performance as Sin-Dee, a force of nature who stalks through a side of Hollywood that is far less glamorous than we typically get to see. Whilst the film has achieved some notoriety because director Sean Baker shot it entirely using three iPhones, it is easy enough to overlook the limitations that such a choice inevitably invokes because of the commitment from all involved to present a raw, realistic and ultimately sympathetic portrayal of a group of people who are too often demonised or marginalised on screen.

Tangerine poster

Upon her release from incarceration on Christmas Eve, Sin-Dee meets up with her bestie Alexandra (Mya Taylor) at a donut shop in the area where the two typically ply their trade. When Sin-Dee learns that Chester (James Ransone), the pimp with whom she is in love, has cheated on her, she launches into a rage that never lets up as her fury fuels her determination to track them down. The discovery that this other woman, whose name is confirmed as Dinah after much confusion – is not only white and blonde but also cisgender only serves to increase her indignation. Whilst Sin-Dee’s mission is the crux of the story, there are a couple of parallel narratives that supplement the action. One centres on Alexandra’s efforts to entice an audience to her performance at a local bar; she hands out flyers whilst trying to keep track of Sin-Dee’s movements. One scene in which Alexandra takes on a client who has refused to pay for services rendered is hilarious as the two brawl in the street while the police look on with detached amusement before finally deciding to intervene. As ludicrous as the scene seems, you can’t help but feel there is some sense of truth playing out here in Alexandra’s desperation to get what is owing to her.

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The second strand revolves around Razmik (Karren Karagulian), an Armenian cab driver who is married with a child but just can’t shake his penchant for transgender prostitutes; but only those with their male genitalia still intact as we discover when he mistakenly solicits a young lady, only to banish her back to the street when he discovers she is sans appendage. There are some elements in Tangerine that some people might find problematic, such as the violent and somewhat degrading treatment that Sin-Dee dishes to Dinah (Mickey O’Hagan) as she drags her through town – stopping to catch Alexandra’s performance along the way – for a confrontation with Chester. It is this showdown – ironically back where it all started – that brings the story full circle. Truths are told and secrets are revealed as the various characters engage in an extended exchange filled with sassy banter, brutal put-downs and smart-ass comebacks that is both funny and affecting.

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Co-written by Baker with and Chris Bergoch, much of Tangerine has an improvisational feel to it, both in performance and presentation. There is a clandestine tone that pervades the piece through which the melting pot of Los Angeles is presented in new and exciting, if not altogether positive, ways. The performances certainly lack polish, but the actors – and Rodriguez in particular – more than make up for it with energy and bravado. Sure, it may not be perfect from a performance or technical standpoint, but this is a film made with a true independent spirit featuring characters and situations that mainstream cinema generally won’t touch. Despite its shortcomings, Tangerine is humorous, heartfelt and hugely entertaining.

The Fiesta is Almost Here

The Valley Fiesta is just a few sleeps away and the final set times have been released, with music on multiple stages in Fortitude Valley from this Friday (October 23).  This annual street party and celebration is one of the best annual events on the Brisbane live music calendar, bringing local, national and international bands, food, art and entertainment to the streets, malls and laneways of Fortitude Valley over three days (October 23 – 25).

Valley Fiesta 2015

Friday night will launch the festival with performances from the Live and Local winners on the Brunswick Mall Stage from 6:00pm to 9:00pm. Come Saturday, there will be three stages to choose from with Baskervillain getting things underway on the Brunswick Street Mall Stage at 1.00pm, followed by the likes of Gill Bates, Luke Million, The Cairos, The Resin Dogs, Asta and Gypsy & the Cat.

Further along Brunswick Street on the Festival Main Stage, The Jensens will kick start proceedings at 3.45pm, with Art vs Science following at 4.30.  Young Franco and Last Dinosaurs will be amongst those taking to the stage before headliners Alpine bring the evening to a close from 9.00pm.

Also on Saturday, Fortitude Valley’s LGBTI community will present an afternoon of music, fun and entertainment on the Chinatown Mall Stage, while Sunday will feature a Queensland Music Awards Showcase in Brunswick Street Mall from 2.00pm. Artists featuring include Leanne Tennant, Electrik Lemonade, Michelle Xen, Waax and Halfway.

Winn Lane will host Late Night Shopping on Friday evening with a record and fashion market all day Saturday. Across the way, Bakery Lane will stage a unique Dinner Under the Stars on Friday evening before converting to a market space on Saturday.

Other Fiesta events scheduled over the weekend include the Revelry Laneway Fiesta & Outdoor Cinema, live street art, photography projections, busker competitions, pop-up performances and the Fiesta Feast.

For set times and information about any of the Valley Fiesta events and activities, head to the event website or stay tuned to Facebook.

The Intern

Although not an absolute stinker by any stretch, The Intern is a perfect example of everything that is wrong with movies churned out through the Hollywood studio system. Somebody comes up with an idea, some high profile actors are locked in for the leads and away we go. Of course, the challenge is then to expand the idea into 90+ minutes of feel good entertainment for the masses. Now, this may not be exactly how The Intern was developed, but the problem is that it feels as though this may well have been the process by which it came to fruition. For every good moment, there is another that leaves you cringing. Perhaps one of the biggest disappointments is the fact that, despite being directed by experienced female director Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, It’s Complicated), the film is far from flattering in its portrayal of women.

Intern poster

Anne Hathaway is Jules Ostin, the quirky, workaholic creator of an online fashion outlet that is expanding at a rate beyond what anybody imagined.  Robert De Niro is Ben Whittaker, a 70-year-old retired widower who is accepted into a senior’s internship program with the company. Despite having founded the company and guided it to its current level of success, there is a push by investors to appoint a CEO and relieve Jules of some of her responsibilities and control. I mean, she is a woman after all, and a young(ish) one at that, so she could not possibly be capable of running what has grown into a substantial organisation. At least that is the message being delivered here. Not only does she undertake a series of interviews with potential candidates (all of whom, as far as I can tell given that we only hear about them but never see them, are men), she also overcomes her initial disdain of Ben and the intern program to become reliant on his worldly wisdom to help her manage both her business and familial dilemmas, not the least of which is her husband’s infidelity (which is justified, believe it or not, by Jules’ work ethic and long hours). How dare she work hard in an effort to make herself and her business a success and expect her husband to remain faithful. He gave up his job to look after their precocious cute-as-a button daughter after all, so surely it is only fair that he can fuck whoever he wants? I mean, that’s reasonable; right?

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Hathaway embodies Jules with the charm and likeability that she brings to many of her characters, while De Niro is fine in a role that offers no challenges for a man who remains, in the eyes of many, America’s greatest living actor. He is certainly not required to debase himself like he did in the Fokker franchise and his Ben is a charming, genuinely nice guy who is simply looking for an opportunity to escape the tedium that his life has become. Unfortunately, Hathaway is let down by a screenplay that ultimately presents Jules as somebody who, despite her success and obvious intelligence, is emotionally unstable, a characterisation that only serves to  perpetuate the views about women in business that are bandied about in the media at regular intervals (a recent example being comments from rapper T.I. that got plenty of traction in the press in which he declared that he couldn’t vote for a female presidential candidate because he knows that “women make rash decisions emotionally”). An extended scene in a hotel room during which Jules launches into a teary meltdown amid the mounting pressure at work at home only serves to support such outdated notions of women being unable to cope with the pressures of corporate leadership. Other women don’t fair very well either; Jules’ personal assistant Becky (Christina Scherer) is a bumbling, disorganised mess until Ben is assigned to ‘assist’ her, while Doris (Celia Weston), another of the senior interns, is unable to leave a parking space without causing a major traffic incident when she is drafted to replace Ben as Jules’ driver.

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It is good to see that, unlike many of his contemporaries, De Niro is willing to play his age and he brings a charm to Ben that is hard to resist, while Nat Wolff, Adam DeVine, Zack Pearlman, Andrew Rannells and Jason Orley feature as a motley group of co-workers. Sure there are a few laughs to be had, but The Intern might have better with more emphasis on Ben’s story; a senior citizen finding purpose in life and a potential new love in Rene Russo’s masseuse Fiona. As it turns out, the message here seems to be that behind any successful woman is a wise man guiding her through life, a proposition that surely belongs in a bygone era.