Scared of What Exactly?

The ignorance and disregard for young people demonstrated by members of the Australian Government in recent days has been disturbing and disgusting. The attacks on the Safe Schools program that is being implemented in over 500 Australian schools is typical of an administration that has thrived on creating and maintaining divisiveness within the Australian community. Cory Bernardi and his crackpot cronies need to stop it with their attacks on a program that, as far as I can tell from both those who delivering it and those who undertaken it, is doing a considerable amount of good. Given that few schools have any kind of genuine anti-bullying strategy in place, any program targeting such behaviours is a godsend and a program that specifically addresses one of the primary triggers of bullying in our schools – sexual orientation and  identity – is long overdue.

Tolerance is critical in establishing safe environments for all students and, for so long, LGBT students have been subjected to behaviours and attitudes that are borne from ignorance and intolerance, attitudes that are subsequently endorsed by attacks on the Safe Schools program and other initiatives seeking better treatment for members of the LGBTI community, such as the legalisation of same-sex marriage.

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Surely any program that helps schools develop strategies that helps both LGBTI students feel confident in their sexual identity whilst also educating others about the impact  of ignorance and intolerance – which typically manifests as bullying –  must be a good thing? Right? It is important that school communities enact strategies to eliminate any kind of bullying or harassment for all students, so the attitude of Bernardi and the like is mindboggling. Is he suggesting that LGBTI people should be subjected to bullying and mistreatment? Does he not think that everybody should have the same right to safety and security at school and in the broader community?

Bernardi’s suggestion that Safe Schools is ‘indoctrinating’ students is ludicrous in the extreme. You can’t make somebody gay, so what is he afraid of exactly? Providing information and trying to develop a greater understanding about other members of our community is not indoctrination, it is education. Furthermore, developing strategies that embrace diversity and encourage students to be confident in their own identity (such as eliminating gender-specific uniforms) is fantastic.

We have a long way to go before all LGBTI people, young or old, can live without fear of judgement or discrimination. If the Safe Schools program can provide LGBTI people with a sense of confidence about their place in the world and educate others about the impact of bullying, then it’s hard to see any reason why the program shouldn’t continue long into the future. Of course, the ideal scenario is that we become such a tolerant, enlightened and accepting nation that such programs are never needed.

To find out more about the Safe Schools program, click here.

 

 

Deadpool

Unlike so many superhero action flicks, Deadpool can never be accused of taking itself too seriously. If you have seen the trailer, you should know what to expect with wisecracks aplenty from the titular character played, as he did in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, by Ryan Reynolds, albeit in a vastly different guise on this occasion. Not being familiar with the comics from which the character was borne, I have no way of knowing which depiction most accurately resembles the original construct. This Deadpool though is a far cry from the version we saw in Wolverine, covered head to toe in spandex to hide a disfigurement inexorably linked to his indestructibility. Wade Wilson is a smartarse standover man and mercenary-for-hire transformed into an indestructible force who most certainly doesn’t see himself as a hero. In fact, his whole motivation for the wrath he wreaks on various criminal types is to rescue his girlfriend from the clutches of Ajax (Ed Skrein), the very man responsible for the bad-ass skills he now possesses.

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Tim Miller, an animator and visual effects artist directing his first feature, has gone out of his way to subvert the earnestness that has plagued so many superhero narratives, with Reynolds unrelenting in his rapid-fire repartee of endless witticisms and wisecracks, all the while slicing and dicing his way through a bevy of bad guys. With swearing and extreme violence aplenty and even some sex in the mix, this is a comic book adaptation aimed squarely at an adult audience. The narrative structure is disjointed and jumps back and forward between time periods, with Deadpool breaking the fourth wall on more than one occasion. The opening moments are very much about creating the point of difference between Deadpool and other super hero types who can draw upon superpowers, technological wizardry or great wealth in their battles against the bad guys. You see, Deadpool is such an everyman that he catches a cab to his showdown with Ajax and his myriad henchmen, offering romance advice to the driver along the way that becomes a running joke throughout the film. From here, we launch into the backstory in which Wilson meets Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) and falls in love, their relationship trajectory told via a montage of sex scenes that coincide with various national holidays.

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Soon enough, a mysterious recruiter comes calling and offers Wilson a deal. If he signs up as a participant in the Weapon X program (which created Wolverine) his life will be saved. A series of experiments by Ajax and his partner Angel Dust (Gina Carano) activate Wilson’s latent mutant genes and he emerges with regenerative powers that enable injuries to heal, effectively make him impossible to kill. Although, when Ajax leaves Wilson in a burning building, the scarring he suffers doesn’t heal (?) so Wilson crafts himself a costume, becomes Deadpool and sets forth on a quest for revenge. When Vanessa is snatched by Ajax, Deadpool enlists the help of a couple of low-rent X-Men in Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) for a final face-off. Given that Deadpool tries so hard to challenge the conventions of the superhero flick and present itself as something darker and edgier, the clichés that pervade this final confrontation undermine any such efforts.

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Perhaps the biggest problem with Deadpool is that none of the supporting characters are fully formed, leaving Reynolds to carry the entire film. He certainly takes on the challenge with gusto, injecting an energy that’s been missing from superhero movies of late. Baccarin (Spy, TV’s Homeland) is a talented actress whose character initially presents as a confident, capable woman before being reduced to nothing more than a damsel in distress by the third act. Should there be a sequel (which seems inevitable) it would be great to see Vanessa take a much more substantial role in proceedings.  Serving as a meta commentary on superheroes, popular culture and those that take these things too seriously, Deadpool revels in mocking the self-righteous earnestness of the genre as a whole. Despite drifting into melodrama and predictability in the closing moments, Deadpool is a fun ride that combines dismembering, head-splattering action with myriad visual flourishes and an endless succession of jokes to deliver something that resembles Kick-Ass more so than a typical Marvel property.

Uniform Changes a Great Move

In another great story about progressive educators who are putting their students first, the new uniform policy at Sydney’s Newtown High School of the Performing Arts  allows “students to wear boys or girls uniforms regardless of their gender.”

Furthermore, whilst transitioning students previously had to seek special approval to access alternative toilets, students no longer need to seek formal permission. This means that anyone identifying as a girl, for example, can use the female toilets.

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This is a great advance for students and whist it has seemingly secured the support of parents, The Australian  Christian Lobby have – surprise, surprise –  spoken out in opposition to the changes.

It is so good to see a school taking a genuine interest in the welfare of students and making policy changes to better reflect the fluidity of gender and sexuality without kowtowing to Christian crazies and other narrow-minded groups who would like to deny young people the freedom to express their gender and/or sexuality with confidence.

To read more, click here or here.

 

All Hail an Education Hero

Queensland has a new hero! Paul Thomson, the principal at Kimberley College has taken a stand against the all-pervasive NAPLAN testing regime that has infected Queensland schools. According to a story published in the Courier-Mail today, only a dozen of the more than 300 eligible students at the school sat the NAPLAN tests last year and Thomson is adamant that such testing regimes only serve to place unnecessary pressure on students and deliver little, if any, educational benefit.

It is so good to hear somebody taking a stand and putting the interests of students ahead of the unquenchable thirst for data that, in reality, offers little by the way of meaningful information for students, teachers or parents. If any teacher or parent learns anything from a student’s NAPLAN results that they didn’t already know, then clearly they are not doing their job properly.

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In response, ACARA chief executive officer Rob Randall used all the approved vocabulary in declaring that NAPLAN was a “vital tool for parents, educators and the public”, declaring that “taking NAPLAN requires less than four hours over three days, four times during a student’s time at school, and from that small investment comes a wealth of student, school and national information.” Such a statement is disingenuous in that Randall would know (or should know) that schools spend considerable amounts of time ‘preparing’ students for the tests, such is the pressure on schools and students to perform at a level that satisfies the politicians and bureaucrats sufficiently for them to feel confident of remaining in their high-paid position; a position that they were seemingly able to attain without the need to sit a NAPLAN test. Yet, Randall claims that without NAPLAN testing, students will experience negative impacts through their life. Have you ever heard such rot?

It’s about time that more principals and teachers put their student’s interests first and took a stand against these pointless tests, the pressure they place on students and the disruption they cause to curriculum delivery. If student welfare and educational outcomes are the number one priority, then all school principals should follow Paul Thomson’s lead and remove the pressure and expectation that NAPLAN invariably brings.

To read the Courier-Mail article in full, click here.

Trumbo

There couldn’t be a more relevant time for Trumbo to be in cinemas given the hysteria sweeping America with regard to the ‘threat’ posed by those from other countries, cultures and/or religious persuasions. Whilst governments of today use immigration and ‘boat people’ as a tactic to create a sense of panic amongst the populous and deflect attention away from the more important issues, in  1947 it was Communism being touted as a threat to America’s safety, security and way of life. As with the immigration debate of today, the government of the time didn’t have to prove there was a threat, they just had to make people scared enough to support the vilification of those being accused of subversive behaviours imply because of their political beliefs or, as is the case here, because of their unwillingness to cooperate with those desperately seeking scapegoats. As such, Hollywood became the focus of investigations by the House Un-American Activities Committee due to the perceived potential for communists to use movies as a tool for the dispersion of a political agenda that was somehow a threat to the good ole US of A.

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Front and centre of the HUAC witch hunt was talented screenwriter and novelist Dalton Trumbo, an admitted Communist who became a pariah in a fight that saw him blacklisted from the industry and ultimately jailed for daring to support a political system that challenged the hegemonic social and political structures of the day. Played with a frenetic fervour by Bryan Cranston, Trumbo is a talented if not particularly likeable man whose commitment to the Communist cause seemed at odds with a lifestyle considerably more extravagant than the vast majority of Americans. Given that belonging to the Communist Party was not a crime, it was Trumbo’s refusal to give testimony – and thereby incriminate others – at HUAC hearings that saw him incarcerated for two years along with fellow members of a collective dubbed the Hollywood Ten, a group of writers and directors who also refused cooperate with the HUAC. Once released from prison, Trumbo was blacklisted by all of the Hollywood studios and resorted to writing and ‘fixing’ screenplays for lowbrow production houses such King Brothers Productions (John Goodman is great fun as Frank King). It was during this period that Trumbo, writing under a pseudonym, won his first Academy Award for The Brave One. He would subsequently win another Oscar for Roman Holiday, crediting the script to fellow writer Ian McLellan Hunter (Alan Tudyk), who collected the statuette. The beginning of the end for the blacklist came in 1960 when Trumbo was credited for the screenplays of Otto Preminger’s Exodus and Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus.

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Working from a book by Bruce Cook, director Jay Roach paints a picture of a Hollywood divided in which friendships and careers are destroyed in the name of serving the hysterical paranoia of a government desperate to deflect attention from their own shortcomings. Screen icon John Wayne (David James Elliott) is presented as an arrogant bully, gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) a paranoid racist (among many other unsavoury personality traits) and actor Edward G. Robinson (played by Michael Stuhlbarg) as weak-willed and selfish. It is a fascinating insight into just how ridiculous the HUAC investigations were and the impact it had on those who stood accused. The costumes are a delight, capturing the sartorial sophistication of the time; although Hedda’s collection of hats only serves to further emphasise the ridiculousness of a most loathsome character.

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A talented, eccentric and, at times, unpleasant man, Trumbo did most of his writing in the bath, cigarette dangling, berating any member of the family who dare interrupt. Cranston is terrific in the role, perfectly embodying the gifted writer whose energetic, verbose and highly articulate way of speaking proves a source of irritation for those around him, including Arlen Hird (an impressive Louis C.K.), a composite character based on five real-life members of the Hollywood Ten. Diane Lane and Elle Fanning are also good as Trumbo’s wife and eldest daughter respectively, while New Zealander Dan O’Gorman’s uncanny resemblance makes him an excellent choice to play Kirk Douglas. It is not easy to decide whether Trumbo is a good person for his refusal to bend in the face of enormous pressure at great personal sacrifice, or whether he is a selfish bastard who put everything ahead of his family. With Trumbo, Roach has found the right balance between humour and drama to deliver a fast-moving examination of a particularly shameful period in America’s political history.

Sisters

While watching Sisters you will invariably sense that you have seen this move before. However, aside from the obvious differences – such as the fact that our two irresponsible adults trying to relive their youth are women – the thing that sets this apart from other films of this ilk is the crackling chemistry between the two leads. As long time friends, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have a palpable connection that makes their on-screen relationships seem genuine, no matter how ridiculous the situations in which they find themselves. In Sisters, Fey and Poehler take on the types of characters and outlandish situations usually reserved for the likes of Will Ferrell and the two women throw themselves into their roles with gusto, the result of which is a movie far more entertaining than perhaps it may have otherwise been.  The out-of-control-party as the central narrative device has been done many, many times before so it is great credit to the two leads that, amidst the nonsense, this does feel refreshing.

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In a reversal of their character types from their previous collaboration – 2008’s Baby Mama – Fey plays the fuck-up against Poehler’s uptight straight-laced success story. Kate (Fey) is a hairdresser who can’t keep a job and has nowhere for her and her teenage daughter Haley (Madison Davenport) to live, while Poehler’s Maura is a recently divorced nurse who worries about everything. When the two find out that their parents are selling the family home, their initial outrage morphs into reminiscences about their past, which ultimately leads to plans for a last hurrah; one final, wild bash in an effort to recapture the spirit of their youth. The problem, for Maura at least, is that her teenage years were spent cleaning up after Kate – both literally and figuratively – at the expense of her own enjoyment. Thus, it is agreed that Kate will assume the role of ‘supervisor’ at the party, allowing Maura to cut loose for the first time in her life. The girls round up various old school friends and, needless to say, with copious amounts of alcohol at their disposal, the opportunity to break from the mundane lives they now lead proves irresistible and chaos ensues.  There is a core nugget of truth here though and anybody who has had the life sucked out of them by work and children will understand just how liberating it would be to run amok without a care in the world, especially when you are not the one who has to clean it up.

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Such is the comic timing and easy rapport between Fey and Poehler, their characters play more like best friends than sisters, especially given the fact that they look nothing alike. Whilst the two leads deliver the humour in sufficient doses, there are also plenty of fun moments courtesy of the various supporting players, from James Brolin and Diane Weist as their exasperated parents, to Maya Rudolph as gate-crashing uppity spoilsport Brinda, to the handsome neighbour James (Ike Barinholtz) on whom Maura has set her sights or Korean beautician Hae-Won (Greta Lee). On the other hand, unfunny Alex (Bobby Moynihan) is not at all funny in his unfunniness and his role is significant enough for this to become an ongoing annoyance. The likes of John Leguizamo, John Cena and Rachel Dratch also feature amongst the party-goers.

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There is a sudden (but certainly not unexpected) tonal shift at the end of the chaos as the potty-mouthed screwball comedy becomes a redemptive tale about the importance of family. It becomes obvious that that the two girls are going to settle into a life of domestic drudgery, which is a disappointing end to a film that had been, until that point, about making every effort to avoid exactly that. Even though Director Jason Moore (Pitch Perfect) and writer Paula Pell (a SNL alumni) have ultimately opted for safe instead of subversive, there are enough genuinely funny moments courtesy of the two leading ladies to make Sisters a surprisingly satisfying experience.

Brooklyn

Sometimes a film can fail to resonate despite being of the highest quality in every aspect of production. The direction is solid, the acting excellent and the design exquisite, yet somehow it leaves you underwhelmed even in your appreciation of everything that is good about it. Such is the case with Brooklyn, the latest in a long line of popular novels to hit our screens, with none other than Nick Hornby penning the screenplay. Adapted from a book by Colm Tóibín, Brooklyn tells a simple story of a young Irish girl whisked away to New York for a better life, finding love along the way. The story itself is a very conventional romantic drama; girl meets boy and love blossoms but obstacles must be overcome before our young lovers can embark on a life of happily ever after.

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Soairse Ronin is Eilis Lacey, the girl in question who secures sponsored passage to New York with a guarantee of a job, something that is in short supply in her homeland. After the initial struggles inherent in adapting to life in a foreign country, Eilise starts to find her feet thanks to the assistance of kindly Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), an understanding boss (Jessica Pare) and the eccentric Mrs Keough (Julie Walters), the woman who runs the boarding house she shares with several other young women. Soon enough, she meets Italian charmer Tony (Emory Cohen) at a church dance and romance ensues, although the 1950’s setting ensures that it is all very chaste. When Eilise receives tragic news from home, she returns to Ireland, is wooed by local lad Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson) and finds herself under pressure from family and friends to stay. Oh, what is a girl to do? There are no real surprises as to which course of action our protagonist pursues, a decision made easier by a couple of characters who are just grating beyond belief and seem totally at odds with everybody else who populates the narrative.

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Eilis’s mother (Jane Brennan) is a selfish shrew whose quietly demanding nature is a burden to both Eilise and her older sister Rose (Fiona Glascott), while local store owner Miss Kelly (Brid Brennan) is a bizarre construct whose abusive attitude towards both staff and customers is ridiculous in the extreme. However, by and large, the characters are a lovely bunch in a lovely old-style movie that is unlikely to offend anybody. Cohen is charming as the kind of boyfriend that any mother would love and even Gleeson’s Farrell is a perfectly pleasant young man. The problem is that none of them are likely to leave any kind of lasting impression once you leave the cinema.

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Director John Crowley and his creative team have crafted the look and sounds of Brooklyn with considerable care, delivering an immigrant story that beautifully illustrates the struggles of trying to adjust in a new environment. Exquisitely photographed and edited with a captivating and talented lead actress, Brooklyn is a very well-made film that works as both a coming-of-age-drama and a love story.   Since her breakout role in Atonement as a 13-year-old, Ronin’s career hasn’t perhaps reached the heights that many expected – despite good performances in Hanna and The Grand Budapest Hotel – but this might just be her most mature performance yet, hitting all of the emotional cues and character subtleties as a young woman with dignity, determination, strength and sensitivity. Charming and heart-felt, Brooklyn is a throwback to the era of Classic Hollywood where everything looks lovely and the story follows a very predictable path, which will no doubt please many people very much, but ultimately it is this absence of anything new that serves as the fatal flaw in a film that is otherwise impressive.