World Press Photo

For more than 50 years, the World Press Photo competition has celebrated the highest standards in photojournalism, rewarding photographers for the best single exposure photographs of each year. Every year, the very best images from around the world are acknowledged and exhibited, not only showcasing the talents of international photojournalists, but also serving  as a powerful indictment about the state of the world and allows us access to people, places and events that might otherwise be beyond our reach.

World Press Photo

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.

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Image by Christian Bobst

This 59th year of the competition saw 5775 photographers from 128 countries submit more than 82 000 images and  and it was a photograph by Australian photographer Warren Richardson that the jury selected as the World Press Photo of the Year.

The World Press Photo Competition exhibition, which travels to 45 countries and is seen by more than 3.5 million people each year, is on now at Brisbane Powerhouse and continues until August 21.

Powerhouse

Student Film Showcase

Check out a series of short films by a bunch of young filmmakers at The Monster Within at Queensland Academy of Creative Industries (QACI) on Thursday, August 4.  Having explored early 20th-century European filmmaking, students have drawn on their study of Avant Garde, Impressionism, Expressionism, Surrealism and Neo-Realism film movements in creating a production of their own that draws inspiration and influence from these film styles.

Monster Within

The films will screen at the QACI Theatre – 61 Musk Avenue, Kelvin Grove – from 7.00pm . Entry is free, but numbers are limited, so you can reserve a seat here.

 

 

 

A Perfect Day

It is very difficult to understand why a film such as this has received such scant distribution in Australia, currently playing on just one screen in Brisbane despite a top notch cast in a story that remains highly relevant at a time when people continue to suffer as a result of ongoing conflicts that rage in various parts of the world. In this instance, the locale is ‘somewhere in the Balkans’ as a small group of NGO-affiliated aid workers attempt to lend assistance to those in need in the aftermath of the Bosnian war. Unfortunately, their efforts are hamstrung as much by the bureaucracy within which they are entrenched as any obstacles they encounter in the field. Directed by Fernando de León de Aranoa, A Perfect Day explores the grisly day-to-day absurdities that these crews encounter, the film’s title a sarcastic refrain uttered by Aid Across Borders newcomer Sophie (Melanie Thierry) when the team find their every effort thwarted.

A Perfect Day poster

The film opens with a visually arresting scene of a dead body being winched out of a well, the rotting corpse having been dumped by parties unknown in an effort to contaminate the water supply. When the rope snaps, the body plunges back into the water and the aid workers – Mambru (Benicio del Toro), B (Tim Robbins), Sophie and their interpreter Damir (Fedja Stukan), set out to find more rope to try again. The rest of the film is this expedition, a seemingly simple mission that turns out to be anything but, delivering a comprehensive portrait of life in a war zone for the residents and those trying to help them. Mambru is the pragmatic yet compassionate group leader supposedly on his last tour, while fellow veteran B is a joker whose wise-cracking bravado masks a commitment to a cause that has cost him any semblance of a normal life. Along the way, they pick up young Nikola (Eldar Residovic), a local kid being harassed by a group of older boys, and they are also joined by Katya (Olga Kurylenko), a representative of their organisation charged with evaluating the (cost) effectiveness of their work in the region.

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This is a movie not so much about war itself, but more specifically about the significant impact it has on those who live in those regions. From the deserted towns littered with debris from bombed and burnt-out houses, to the long journey required each day to procure water – not to mention the racketeers using the contaminated well to their advantaged by selling fresh water at highly inflated prices – A Perfect Day examines the hardships that linger long after the shooting stops. Whilst the film never aims to lay blame with regard to the conflict itself, it certainly takes aim at the likes of the United Nations and the way in which the agreements they reach often make things harder for those trying to help and only serve to inflict further hardship on those desperately in need of assistance.

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The cast are all terrific, with del Toro (Traffic, Sicario, 21 Grams) perfectly cast as a group leader who has given up trying to make sense of things and is resigned to the absurdities that complicate his efforts. As B, Robbins delivers one of his most enjoyable performances for quite a while, perhaps his best since the likes of The Player, The Shawshank Redeption or his Oscar-winning turn in Mystic River. Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace) is very effective as the officious bureaucrat whose romantic history with Mambru brings additional complexity to the group dynamic, while Thierry, Stukan and first timer Residovic are also pitch perfect. Sweeping overhead shots capture the landscape in all its barren glory, with a ripping soundtrack featuring the likes of Lou Reed and Pete Shelley proving the ideal aural accompaniment to the work of cinematographer Alex Catalán. Whilst de Aranoa might be largely unknown in Australia, there is much to like about A Perfect Day, so here’s hoping that it will secure a wider release to enable more people to see it on the big screen.

Maggie’s Plan

This fifth feature from writer-director Rebecca Miller is a surprising delight. With Maggie’s Plan, Miller subverts the traditional love triangle dynamic to deliver a droll treatise on love and friendship in contemporary New York. This is a smart, immensely enjoyable romantic comedy, thanks largely to another wonderfully naturalistic performance from Greta Gerwig as the titular Maggie, a young woman fixated on love yet unable to sustain a relationship beyond six months. As has been the case with some of Gerwig’s previous characters (Frances Ha, Mistress America), Maggie is annoying, complex and unlikeable, but the sheer weight of Gerwig’s performance wins you over and, by the time this unconventional love story has run its course,  you can’t help but love her. Sitting somewhere between the work of Woody Allen and Noah Baumbach (far better than much of the recent work by the former and far less cynical than the work of the latter), Maggie’s Plan is witty, whimsical and most definitely worth watching.

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When we first meet Maggie she is lamenting her inability to maintain a long-term relationship and informing her friend Tony (Bill Hader) of her intention to have a child via a sperm donation courtesy of ‘pickle entrepeneur’ Guy (Travis Fimmel). However, as luck would have it, she meets John (Ethan Hawke) a lecturer at the college where she works. Although he is widely regarded in his field – described as the ‘bad boy of fictocritcal literature – John is being overshadowed by the success of his Danish wife Georgette (Julianne Moore), a brilliant but self-absorbed academic who has enjoyed a stellar career. So, when he asks Maggie to read his novel-in-progress, Maggie is smitten and romance rapidly ensues as John falls under the spell of this effervescent younger woman who recognises his genius. Jump forward two years; John and Maggie are married with a daughter but the dream has soured somewhat as Maggie’s life isn‘t working out how she expected. She finds herself struggling to manage her responsibilities as mother and primary breadwinner, all the while taking on more responsibility for John’s other two children (Mina Sundwall and Jackson Frazer) as his writing drags on with no end in sight. So, what does one do in such circumstances? You hatch a plan to reunite your husband with his ex-wife of course!

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Thus, the second half of the film is about Maggie setting forth on her mission to get John and Georgette back together. As a concept, it sounds kinda naff, but with Gerwig at her heartfelt, endearing best, the ensuing conspiracy between Maggie and Georgette, and the prickly friendship that develops between these two women with personalities that are poles apart and little in common other than their affection for the same man, is both amusing and affecting. It is therefore frustrating that Moore’s accent proves such an irritation. Given Georgette’s greater acclaim within the academic community of which all three characters are a part, perhaps Miller is trying to suggest European academic and cultural superiority. Maybe Miller has simply remained faithful to the characterisation in the original story from Karen Rinaldi, but either way, surely there are Danish performers perfectly capable of taking on the role. This is not to suggest that Moore’s performance (accent aside) is anything less than we would expect from one of America’s finest contemporary actors.

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In fact, all of the performances are great, including Hader and Maya Rudolph as Maggie’s forthright best friends. As Justine, Sundwall presents a teenager refreshingly devoid of histrionics in the face of an ever-changing family dynamic. Maggie is every bit the modern comic character and she proves a charming, idiosyncratic guide through a plot that balances contemplative moments, empathy and emotional sincerity with satire and gentle mockery of those who take themselves far too seriously. The final act lingers a little too long, but overall Maggie’s Plan is a sweet subversive spin on love and romance in the big city.

The Devil’s Candy

Screening as part of the Queensland Film Festival, The Devil’s Candy is a highly stylised horror flick from Australian director Sean Byrne, coming some six years after his well received debut feature The Loved Ones. In many ways, The Devil’s Candy is a fairly typical haunted house tale in which a family find themselves terrorised upon taking up residence in a rural house with a bloody past. However, Byrne has turned to heavy metal music to add something different to what is an otherwise recognisable course of events. Metal infuses every aspect of the story, from the shared love of the genre by both Jesse Hellman (Ethan Embrey) and his teenage daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco), to the foreboding power chords unleashed by childlike antagonist Ray Smilie (Pruett Taylor Vince) to drown out the voices in his head.

Devil's Candy poster

Byrne teases with the promise of a haunted house tale, only to steer the narrative into a story that is more akin to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre than Poltergeist. In fact, the film plays out more as a psychological thriller than it does a horror film. A pre-credits sequence introduces us to Ray when he doesn’t take too kindly to his mother threatening to send him back to hospital. Cut to sometime in the future and we meet the Hellman family, which also includes mother Astrid (Shiri Appleby), as they inspect a too-good-to-be-true bargain basement family home in rural Texas. Needless to say, they dismiss the realtor’s disclosure about the deaths that occurred in the house and, in no time at all, they are moving into what is supposed to be their dream home, complete with suitably eerie shed in which artist Jesse sets up his studio. It isn’t too long before Ray, having escaped from the facility that has housed him since his parent’s deaths, lobs on the front door and takes an instant liking to Zooey, but not in a good way.

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When Jesse starts to hear the exact same voices that have tortured Ray, his work takes a decidedly dark turn and his behaviour becomes increasingly erratic, putting his family at risk. Meanwhile, a lumbering presence resplendent in a red track suit, the rotund Ray is somehow able to avoid the attention of the police, despite his history of violence and the disappearance of several local children. Sure enough, Ray returns to the house for a final bloody showdown that is well staged even if the fate of the various players is never really in doubt.

Embrey is certainly a welcome surprise, delivering an energetic performance as the toned, tattooed Jesse, while it is terrific to see the under-rated Appleby on the big screen. Having spent a long time on television (Roswell, Girls, UnReal) and often single-handedly elevating an otherwise mediocre program into something worth watching, Appleby is an actress whose ability far outweighs her profile, although that may not be the case for much longer. The real standout here though is Glasco, whose only real performance of note before this was in David Cronenberg’s Map to the Stars. Put through an emotional wringer as the object of Ray’s obsession, Glasco handles it with aplomb, presenting Zooey as both feisty and fragile. While the cinematography ominously conveys the isolation of the Hellman’s house and floods the screen with foreboding imagery that is combined with the heavy metal soundtrack to great effect, several plot holes and the lack of character development hamper what is an otherwise solid sophomore film. With a running time of less than 90 minutes, there was certainly plenty of scope for Byrne to delve into each of the characters a bit more in an effort to make us care about what happens to them. The ending is both inconclusive and abrupt, proffering more questions than answers and it certainly doesn’t offer up any insight into the fate of the characters beyond this particularly tumultuous point in their lives, which might leave some viewers feeling short changed.

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

Every day we see people do things that we don’t understand. Make choices that are hard to fathom. Hell, we even do it ourselves; make decisions and engage in all manner of things that we later live to regret. If nothing else, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates serves as a reminder that even those entrenched in the rarefied world of Hollywood can be susceptible to making dodgy decisions.  That is the only way to explain away the presence of Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza in a comedy that is seriously short on laughs. Both Kendrick (Up in the Air, End of Watch) and Plaza (Safety Not Guaranteed, TV’s Parks and Recreation) have proven themselves polished performers, so it is difficult to fathom what, other than the lure of lucre, would draw them to a project such as this. Whilst Zac Efron’s presence here comes as no surprise given his penchant for taking on roles that require him to do little more than look pretty (Bad Neighbours, Dirty Grandpa), it is both disturbing and disappointing that Kendrick and Plaza felt they needed to be a part of this.

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Efron is Dave Stangle who, along with his equally dim-witted brother Mike (Adam Devine), has become synonymous with causing chaos at family gatherings through their childish antics and general stupidity. When their sister Jeanie (Sugar Lyn Beard) announces she is getting married, the boys are ordered to be on their best behaviour at the event and are told that they must find suitable dates to accompany them to the Hawaii nuptials; the hope being that this will prevent them from running amok. It is when the boys attempt to find suitable dates goes viral and culminates with an appearance on a television talk show that Alice (Kendrick) and Tatiana (Plaza) – a couple of stoner chicks who have been sacked from their waitressing jobs after one too many drunken indiscretions – see an opportunity to score a free holiday. Needless to say, the wedding celebrations turn to chaos with myriad mishaps and misunderstandings that are clearly intended to incite guffaws of laughter but are, for the most part, not particularly funny.

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One of the biggest problems is the fact that Alice and Tatiana are presented as two up-for-anything good time girls, but neither Kendrick nor Plaza seem willing to deliver the type of edgy, raunchy, unselfconscious performance that is in keeping with how we are expected to perceive these characters. Subsequently, it is left to Beard to do the hard yards with a series of moments – a ridiculously raunchy massage, a nude ecstasy trip and a face mangled in an ATV mishap – that show a willingness to push the envelope and ultimately upstage her more illustrious co-stars. Beyond Beard, it is Alice Wetterlund who fares best as Cousin Terry; her pursuit of Tatiana providing a few moments of mirth. It’s interesting that Devine (Pitch Perfect 2) has proven himself quite charming and comedic in his various promotional appearances in Australia, but his fast-talking, manic shtick can’t compensate for a screenplay laden with predictability. Stephen Root (Office Space) and TV veteran Stephanie Faracy have little to work with as the boys’ parents, while Sam Richardson is equally hamstrung by an under-developed character in Jeanie’s fiancé Eric. The fact that the marriage between the hulking African-American Eric and the diminutive squeaky-voiced Jeanie is set-up as a joke in itself gives you an idea of what you get with Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates.

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Now this is Hollywood, so the obligatory moments of redemption are attempted in the third act, but none of them are convincing in the least. Whilst based very loosely on real life events, first-time feature director Jake Szymanski and screenwriters Andrew Cohan and Brendan O’Brien have taken the premise to extremes and this results in a messy, ambling sprawl; a series of sketches rather than anything resembling a coherent plot, which perhaps stems from Szymanski’s background helming the likes of Funny or Die and Saturday Night Live. We may never really know what it was that convinced Kendrick and Plaza to take this on and, whilst they are both better than the material they have been presented with here, their failure to fully commit to the persona of their characters only serves to undermine the screen appeal of two enormously likeable performers.

 

Mustang

Combining humour, drama and social commentary to great effect, it is not surprising that Mustang was amongst the nominees for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2016 Academy Awards. Furthermore, it is not surprising that this has been compared with Sofia Coppola’s 1999 directorial debut The Virgin Suicides as there are certainly similarities in that both films track the experiences of five girls kept virtual prisoners in their home due to the religious zealotry of their parents. Whereas The Virgin Suicides is set within a fanatical Christian home in American suburbia, Mustang takes place in small town in Turkey in which local customs and traditions are  very much in keeping with the patriarchal hegemony that pervades Islamic culture. Neither film sets out to demonise a particular faith, rather targeting those individuals who use their religion as a justification for the subjugation of others. Along with the girls themselves, director Deniz Gamze Erguven has included several other characters that serve to challenge the traditional thinking around the role of women in Islamic society.

Mustang poster

With school done for the year, five sisters (Lale, Nur, Ece, Selma and Sonay) head to the beach to celebrate, playfully splashing about, laughing and sitting atop the boys’ shoulders. When they arrive home, gossip has preceded them and their grandmother (Nihal Koldas) admonishes them for engaging in ‘immoral’ behaviour, mortified that the girls have been ‘rubbing their vaginas’ against the necks of the boys. In an effort to demonstrate the ludicrousness of her grandmother’s accusation, one of the girls starts to smash some chairs, declaring that “these chairs touched our assholes! That’s disgusting.” It soon becomes apparent that the grandmother’s rebuke is less to do with her own opinion than it is her awareness of how her son Erol – the uncle with whom the girls have lived following the death of their parents – will react. Sure enough, Erol (Ayberk Pekcan) is livid and subsequently declares that the girls are never to leave the house unsupervised, going so far as to install bars on the doors and later – after the girls have proven resourceful at escaping their upstairs bedroom – on the windows as well, a course of action that hilariously backfires later in the piece.

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Now confined to the house, the girls find themselves subject to further indignities, denied access to a computer and telephone, all the while being trained in the necessary skills (sewing, cooking etc) to become dutiful wives to men chosen by their uncle. The five young actresses (Günes Sensoy, Dogo Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu, Elit Iscan and Ilayda Akdogan) are all great, with each character becoming the focus of events at various times, although the story is ostensibly delivered from the point-of-view of Lale (Sensoy), the youngest of the sisters who becomes increasingly determined to free herself from the shackles of her confinement and avoid the same fate as the older girls. Erguven, who co-wrote the screenplay with French writer/director Alice Winocour, does not shy away from addressing the way women and female sexuality are commodified in Islamic culture. Sonay (Akdogan) explains to her sisters that when she sneaks out to meet her boyfriend, she only has anal sex to protect her “virginity’, while Selma (Sunguroglu) finds herself subjected to a visit from her in-laws on her wedding night to view the blood-stained bed sheets that would prove she was a virgin bride.

Mustang

There is no attempt at moral simplicity here, nor does it condemn entire segments of Turkish society as the girls do occasionally experience unexpected acts of kindness from those who could otherwise victimise them, such as Yasin (Burak Yigit), a young local man who befriends Lale and ultimately plays a critical role in her emancipation. Yasin brings some balance to the way men are portrayed in the film as he appreciates Lale’s free-spirited determination. In fact, he is the only male the girls meet who doesn’t treat them with disdain, demonstrating that the ingrained prejudice the girls encounter at home is not necessarily an attitude that exists in the minds of all men, or all Muslims for that matter.  The cinematography from David Chizallet and Ersin Gok emphasises the hazy light that streams in through the windows and captures the beauty, youth and spirit of the five siblings. Yes, it is depressing at times in its depictions of patriarchal oppression, but an exhilarating final act ensures that Mustang ultimately leaves you feeling hopeful.