Una

There is no disguising the stage origins of Una, the first foray into the feature film realm for Australian theatre and opera director Benedict Andrews. This is a film where the characters and the relationship between them are everything and it is easy to see how this story could be contained to a stage. Whilst Andrews makes every effort to make things more cinematic, ultimately the narrative is not much more than a tension-filled conversation between the titular Una (Rooney Mara) and Ray (Ben Mendelsohn), a figure from her past who has served jail time as a result of events that took place 15 years earlier. Every movement and gesture is deliberate and it is to Williams’ considerable fortune that he has such polished performers in the leads, with both actors bringing ambiguity and intensity to their roles. Adapted for the screen by David Harrower from his own Tony-nominated play Blackbird, the film is never salacious in its exploration of the relationship between Ray and 13-year-old Una, who has struggled to find much happiness in the years since.

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After an opening ruminative shot of the young Una (Ruby Stokes), the film flashes forward to Rooney’s adult version of the character engaged in an act of emotionless sex in a nightclub bathroom, staring blankly in the mirror as she is fucked from behind. Still living in her childhood bedroom, Una’s relationship with her widowed mother is confined to a few stilted conversations and it is obvious that, whilst both women remain affected by the course of events, they are unable to connect in any meaningful way. When Ray’s picture appears in the local newspaper, she sets off to track him down at the warehouse where he is now working, albeit with a new identity. What ensues is a complicated tangle between the pair, interspersed with bursts of memory-driven flashbacks in which we see Ray establish a rapport with his teenage neighbour. It isn’t long before the two take flight to a seaside town with plans to spend their lives together. There is no question about the nature of their relationship, but what transpires immediately after they have sex in a motel room is told from the perspectives of both characters and viewers are asked to consider which version of events is more credible. Believing Ray has abandoned her – an accusation he refutes in his telling – Una panics and sets off the events that lead to Ray’s trial and subsequent imprisonment. Since his release after serving four years, Ray has created a new life for himself and is working in a large warehouse facility which, aside from the flashbacks and a final scene at Ray’s house, is where all of the drama unfolds.

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It is never clear what Una is hoping to achieve in reconnecting with Ray. Is she out for reconciliation or revenge? Is it just curiosity? Is it an admission or apology of some kind that she seeks? It is certainly Ray who has the most to lose and the film raises questions around whether conventional definitions of sexual abuse are too simplistic. Can Ray really be seen as a paedophile or simply somebody who allowed his emotions to cloud his judgment? Initially there is some satisfaction in seeing Ray’s domesticity smashed wide open by Una, leaving him defenceless and with little choice but to engage with her but, after a while, Una’s reasons for finding Ray become somewhat clouded and there is a subsequent shift in the dynamic between the pair and it is the ebb and flow of power throughout this film that makes it so engrossing. It is to Mendelsohn’s great credit that he somehow makes Ray seem somewhat less despicable than we might otherwise expect given what has transpired because Harrower and Andrews have delivered a much more objective take than you might typically see in a film dealing with such subject matter.

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Any story that revolves around acts of sexual abuse, and particularly those involving children, are invariably a delicate balancing act to avoid being seen as exploitative and whilst some will watch this film and feel betrayed by the dynamic between Una and Ray, the filmmakers have attempted something rarely seen in stories of sexual abuse in telling the story from the perspective of the victim, rather than the perpetrator. Mara is remarkable as a lonely, damaged young woman and Mendelsohn is also outstanding as the manipulative Ray, while Riz Ahmed’s Scott is the only other character with significant screen time. This is a dialogue-driven film with a minimalist aesthetic that some will find hard to embrace, but Una is a compelling and highly relevant piece that raises a lot of questions without ever telling the audience what to think.

Teneriffe Time Again

The Teneriffe Festival is on again this weekend (Saturday, July 1) with food, fashion, market stalls, entertainment and live music throughout the afternoon. Despite the fact that a few locals have gone out of their way to undermine the festival in recent years, it has continued to grow as a celebration of an area that has a rich history. Teneriffe served as the centre of Brisbane’s wool export trade throughout the first half of the 20th century and was also utilised as a submarine base during World War 2 before transforming into an industrial hub prior to its emergence as a sought after residential area comprising apartments which were once wool stores, coupled with new residential developments, restaurants and retail spaces.

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Whilst the riverside location and proximity to the attractions of New Farm, Bulimba, Newstead and Fortitude Valley also makes Teneriffe a popular destination for visitors from throughout Brisbane and further afield, the festival is a celebration of everything that Teneriffe has to offer. Occupying Vernon Terrace between Commercial Road and Florence Street, the festival site includes laneways off Ethel and Darth Streets and the parklands along the river.

The live music program on The Triffid River Stage kicks off at 12.45pm with Hannah Rosa and continues into the evening, with The Steel Syndicate rounding out the show from 8.00pm. Also on the bill are Shag Rock, Christian Patey, Will Anderson and 2016 Queensland Music Award winners in Doolie and Tia Gostelow, whose brand new music video can be viewed below.

For more information about the 2017 Teneriffe Festival, visit the event website or follow Teneriffe Festival on Facebook.

QFF Schedule Released

The emergence of the Queensland Film Festival has given Brisbane movie lovers access to screen content to which they may not otherwise have access and this year sees the festival continuing to grow, offering up an array of contemporary and classic feature films, documentaries and shorts. The 2017 program, which runs from July 13 to 23 at New Farm Cinemas, includes more than 20 films from Australia and overseas, including some highly acclaimed, and much anticipated, titles.

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The opening film of the 2017 QFF will be Claire’s Camera, a French-Korean co-production from director Hong Sang-Soo and starring Isabelle Huppert. Also on opening night will be Relationships Shorts, a program of local and international short films, all of which revolve around the theme of relationships. On Saturday, July 15 the Horror Shorts program will, as the name suggests, bring together a selection of short horror films from around the world, while several of the feature screenings will also be preceded by short films.

Amongst the features being showcased this year are Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women, the Academy Award-nominated documentary I am Not Your Negro and The Untamed, the latest offering from Mexican filmmaker Amat Escalante. Starring three of the best actresses going around in Laura Dern, Michelle Williams and Kristen Stewart, Certain Women won Best Film at the 2016 London Film Festival, while The Untamed arrives in Brisbane on the back of Escalante winning the Silver Lion for Best Director at the Venice Film Festival. Also featuring at the festival is Good Time, a thriller from the Safdie brothers starring an almost unrecognisable Robert Pattinson.

Single screening tickets are just $16 ($12 concessions) and once again the festival includes panel sessions (The Ecstacy of Film and Editing, Film X Art), as well as an editing master class with Dr Karen Pearlman, all of which are absolutely free. For full details about the 2017 Queensland Film Festival, head to the festival website or follow them on Facebook.

All Eyez on Me

In the wake of the success of F. Gary Gray’s Straight Outta Compton (2015), further biographical renderings of influential figures within the hip hop community were an inevitability and there seems no better candidate for such a treatment than Tupac Shakur, the west coast rapper shot dead in Las Vegas at the age of 26 at the height of his success. To this day, Shakur remains a revered figure amongst hip hop aficionados and his story seems perfect fodder for the big screen, which is why it is such a shame that All Eyez on Me is so tedious and tepid in its telling, failing to capture any of the charisma that Shakur supposedly possessed. It is hard to imagine that a movie set in this world could be so uninspired, but director Benny Boom presents a biopic that is more like the insipid schlock that Australian commercial television networks might churn out (think recent efforts such as Molly or Brock for example) than the dynamic, energetic exploration of a talented individual that we might reasonably expect.

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The framing device for the narrative is an interview with Shakur whilst he is in prison and the film quickly becomes a hodge-podge of fragments from Shakur’s life, playing out like one long (very long) montage of moments. Few sequences run longer than a couple of minutes and this never allows the audience to develop any real understanding of the character. The journalist (Hill Harper) is seeking Tupac’s version of the events that shaped his life, which is fine, except we only ever get that one side of the story as Boom makes no effort at objectivity. Despite being incarcerated and involved in some decidedly dodgy dealings, the film seems to excuse Shakur for his actions and the misogyny and slut-shaming that surrounds the sexual assault for which he was jailed is particularly worrisome. Furthermore, whilst lead actor Demetrius Shipp Jr does bear a resemblance to Tupac, his performance is not particularly convincing and fails to provide much access into Tupac’s thoughts, talent or personality, although that is probably more to do with the superficial screenplay from Jeremy Haft, Eddie Gonzalez and Steven Bagatourian than anything else. Even the concert sequences lack any sense of excitement, failing to present Shakur as a particularly dynamic performer.

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Snoop Dogg (Jarrett Ellis) and Dr Dre (Harold Moore) are amongst the myriad hip hop identities who appear at various stages, particularly once Shakur signs with the notorious Suge Knight (Dominic Santana) at Death Row Records, but the best of the supporting cast are Kat Graham and Annie Ilonzeh as Jada Pinkett and Kidada Jones respectively. Pinkett befriended Shakur when they were both students at the Baltimore School of Arts and, according to this version of events, remained a voice of reason, cautioning her friend about the potential pitfalls of becoming entrenched in his self-proclaimed thug life, while Jones was engaged to Shakur at the time of his death. It is actually difficult to understand why Jones became involved with Shakur given that he had made some very distasteful comments about her music producer father. Speaking about Quincy Jones in a magazine interview, Shakur declared that “all he does is stick his dick in white bitches and make fucked up kids”, prompting Kikada’s then 17-year-old sister Rashida to write a scathing response. Because we never get a glimpse of the charm or contrition that Shakur must have wielded in being able to convince Kidada of his worth (and apparently making amends with both Rashida and Quincy as well), you find yourself questioning what the hell she is doing with him. We never see the real human connection that obviously existed between Tupac and Kidada because Boom never spends long enough on any aspect of the story to deliver any real insight into the character/s. He never lingers long enough to establish a rhythm and just when it feels as though something meaningful is happening, he moves on to something else.

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The most frustrating thing of all is the fact that despite (or perhaps because of) Boom’s rapid-fire approach to covering as much as possible in as little detail as possible, the whole thing becomes quite boring and, given that you already know how the story ends, you find yourself wishing that this Tupac would just hurry up and die already. Thankfully, the film ends immediately after the shots are fired, a very long 140 minutes after it began. Some solid supporting performances aside, there is little to recommend in this formulaic biopic that leaves you with no idea of why Tupac Shakur was such a big deal and why his legacy continues to loom large some 25 years after his murder, which remains unsolved. Boom’s intentions may be noble, but ultimately All Eyez on Me is neither informative nor entertaining.

Wonder Woman

Unfortunately for Gal Gadot, her casting as the titular superhero has brought her scrutiny for pretty much everything other than her performance. The overwhelming majority of (male) critics have spent an inordinate amount of time and page space commenting on her looks and whether her level of ‘sexiness’ is in keeping with their expectations. As such, any assessment of her performance, or her suitability for the role for that matter, seems to be based more on her ability to arouse that in it is on her talents as an actress. Furthermore, Gadot’s Israeli heritage has also been the subject of much media reportage, particularly in light of the film being banned in Lebanon and other territories as a result, and whilst this kind of publicity is probably more likely to help than hurt the bottom line, it only serves as a further distraction from the fact that the 32-year-old actress is very effective in the role. Of course, there has also been plenty of commentary on the fact that Wonder Woman is directed by a woman, including suggestions that Patty Jenkins only secured the gig because she was female, her proven track record as the director of the Academy Award-winning Monster playing second fiddle to her gender in the minds of those who have subsequently been proven wrong in their misogynistic misgivings.

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In collaboration with screenwriter Allan Heinberg, Jenkins has, in fact, created the best thing to come out of the DC stable for quite some time, inserting just enough wit amidst the drama to ensure nobody takes it too seriously, but never losing sight of the need to please those for whom Wonder Woman is a revered comic book character. If Jenkins was an inspired choice as director, the casting of Gadot is a masterstroke because the former model balances the contradictions of the character extremely well. Such is her presence, both as Wonder Woman and her alter ego Diana Prince, Gadot commands your attention and leaves Chris Pine struggling to make as much impression as Steve Trevor, the WW1 spy who crash lands off the coast of Themyscira, the island paradise created by Zeus as a homeland for the Amazons, the all-female warrior clan to which Diana belongs. Yes, it is all very silly, but such absurdity is to be expected in superhero narratives. I mean, we have a lasso of truth here for goodness sake, so anybody expecting anything remotely real should look elsewhere. Having been retrieved from his sinking plane by Diana, Steve is subjected to an interrogation under the spell of said lasso and reveals that the world beyond Themyscira is under threat. Diana dons her battle suit, grabs her sword and shield and heads off into the unknown with Steve to save the world.

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Several fish-out-of-water scenarios ensue as Diana tries to come to terms with life in the much bleaker, sun-starved London, and Gadot handles the lighter moments just as well as she masters the action sequences where her martial arts experience and military training no doubt proved very useful. There is nothing particularly lacking in Pine’s performance, but his character is very much in service of Diana as they set forth to prevent German General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston) from unleashing a chemical weapon. Accompanied by a trio of motley mercenaries (Said Taghmaoui, Eugene Brave Rock and Trainspotting’s Ewen Bremmer) whose collective purpose seems comic relief more than any particular skills they possess, Steve and Diana reach the trenches where British troops are bogged down in what seems an exercise in futility until Wonder Woman changes the course of the battle by beating down a swathe of enemy soldiers. From here, they proceed to an airfield for a showdown with Ludendorff and it is following this that Jenkins falls into the trap of the studio playbook by throwing in one more action sequence that simply isn’t needed. In fact, until this point, the film had been comparatively light on elaborate digital effects sequences and it is only in these final moments where things go unnecessarily over the top.

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With the exception of the culminating confrontation, Wonder Woman is an exercise in restraint where the physical strengths and dexterity of the central character are privileged over the more blatant digital trickery that too often overwhelms films of this type. Lucy Davis is great fun as Steve’s assistant Etta and David Thewlis also features, with Connie Nielsen and Robyn Wright appearing in the opening scenes on Themyscira as Diana’s mother and mentor respectively. Gadot is great, Pine is charming and Jenkins has crafted a film that, whilst not perfect – the bloated finale, underutilising a quality supporting cast, the sheer corniness of the lasso – it still emerges as the best DC film since Christopher Nolan’s Batman saga.

The Promise

War and military conflict have always proven fine fodder for cinema stories and there has been upwards of 200 films made capturing the horrors and heroics of World War 1 since the conflict ended in 1918. Of these, less than 20 have focussed on the Armenian Genocide of 1915 that saw more than 500 000 people murdered at the hands of the Ottoman Government (the exact number killed is unknown but could be in excess of 1 million). If nothing else, The Promise serves as a timely reminder of how intolerance of ethnic or religious difference can result in devastating consequences for marginalised groups. Directed by Terry George (Hotel Rwanda), The Promise is a film in two parts; an opening portion that focuses on a love triangle between a budding doctor, an American journalist and an artist who has returned from Paris following the death of her father, while the second segment focuses on the efforts of the Ottoman forces to eliminate the entire Armenian population. This attempt to eradicate an entire nation of people is a story that needs to be told and the casting of Christian Bale and Oscar Isaac makes the film accessible to a mainstream audience, so it is a shame that so much time is wasted on the romance narrative, rather than offering a more in-depth examination of the historical context of the events and the political machinations that resulted in human suffering on a grand scale.

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Isaac (Ex Machina, Inside Llewyn Davis) is Mikael Boghosian, the apothecary (pharmacist) in a village located in what is now southern Turkey, a community in which Turkish Muslims and Armenian Christians have lived together harmoniously forever. Literally within the first five minutes of screen time, Mikael has betrothed himself to a local woman, used her dowry to pay for a place in medical school in Constantinople, taken up residence in the city with his wealthy uncle and fallen in love with Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), who has arrived back in town after an extended period living in with Paris and has journalist Chris Myers (Bale) in tow. Ana’s time in Paris is emphasised purely, it would seem, to justify her French accent and the fact that everybody speaks English is something that obviously detracts from the authenticity of the story. As anti-Armenian sentiment spills into the streets, Ana and Mikael find themselves in danger and it isn’t long before Armenian residents are being rounded up to be executed or sent to work in labour camps, which is when the movie gets interesting.

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With his hopes of a medical career dashed and now on the run from the authorities, Mikael returns home, only to find the village and its residents under threat. There are some harrowing moments as people are slaughtered en-masse for no reason other than their Armenian heritage and their determined, but ultimately doomed, efforts of resistance in the face of overwhelming odds is a very timely reminder of how it comes to be that people can be forced to flee their homeland purely as a means of survival. The difference in this instance is that those lucky enough to survive were, quite rightly, treated as victims of oppression and assisted in their efforts to flee, which is a far cry from the way we treat refugees today. It is hard to fathom how a soap opera-ish love triangle came to be the centre of the story when what’s happening elsewhere is so much more interesting. There are numerous people whose stories offer plenty of narrative potential (such as the priest providing safe passage for Armenian children at considerable risk to himself), but with so much time dedicated to the love story, there is little time to explore any of the characters in any depth.

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The script, penned by George and Robin Swicord (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), is underwhelming and prone to many moments of melodrama that gives a quality cast, which includes Shohreh Aghdashloo as Mikael’s mother and both James Cromwell and Jean Reno in very small roles, very little to work with. However, the latter stages do compensate somewhat for the syrupy cliché-ridden romance. There are many who declare that James Cameron’s Titanic only gets interesting when the boat begins to sink and a similar claim could be made here. Suffer through the soppy stuff and a far more engaging story emerges.