The Spectacular Now

 

FILM REVIEW | The Spectacular Now is part coming-of-age story, part teen romance and part precautionary tale against alcohol abuse.

Sutter Keely (Miles Teller), a charismatic, life-of-the-party 18-year-old, wakes up on an unfamiliar lawn the morning after being dumped by his girlfriend, Cassidy (Brie Larson from The United States of Tara). Standing over him is Aimee Finicky (Shailene Woodley), a nerdy girl from his school.

Hungover to hell and with no idea where he’s left his car, Sutter accompanies Aimee on her paper route so he can find it. From here, a friendship blossoms between the two teens – who, amazingly, look like real teenagers and not some Hollywood airbrushed-to-perfection clones. Sutter tells his mate he wants to help out the intelligent but socially awkward girl, and so begins taking her to parties and making promises about prom dates.

However, this isn’t your stereotypical young romance.  The two do fall in love, but Sutter – whose motto is to live for the now – has significant emotional baggage; if not constantly drunk, he’s on the verge of it. He carries around a monogrammed flask to spike his sodas, goes to school and work drunk, and drives drunk. Hence why the original girlfriend dumped him.

Aimee doesn’t see this. Instead, the girl who has been ignored by boys all her life is infatuated with Sutter and more or less comes down to his level. On the upside, he does help her to value herself and stand up for herself, but when Aimee demands Sutter do likewise, things go badly.

This film starts a little slowly, yet soon picks up pace. It is also a refreshing change from many blockbusters in that the kids actually look and speak like real teenagers, with the story inherently character-driven rather than plot-driven. Aimee is even without make-up for most of the movie – imagine that!

The screenwriters have done an excellent job of bringing Tom Tharp’s novel to life, and I would highly recommend The Spectacular Now to teens and adults alike. You’ll like it if you’re into great dialogue and acting; you won’t if you prefer your movies peppered with car chases and explosion scenes.

Published in Indaily:  http://indaily.com.au/arts-and-culture/2013/12/12/spectacular-now/

Advertisements

2 Guns

2 Guns hits its target

 Samantha Bond | 17 October 2013

 
 
                

FILM REVIEW | This new buddy cop movie starring Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg delivers much  more than you’d expect from this familiar genre.

Washington plays Robert “Bobby” Trench, an undercover Drug Enforcement Agency agent, while Wahlberg is undercover naval intelligence officer Michael “Stig” Stigman. Problem is, neither knows the other is an agent, assuming instead they are the criminals they’re impersonating.

Trench has been tasked with bringing down a Mexican drug cartel, and Stig is his sharp-shooting, wise-cracking muscle. All plans go awry when Trench’s snitch ends up inside a bowling bag – well, his head at least – and the Mexican drug lord pays for forged passports in cash instead of cocaine.

Trench has been working on this case for over 12 months, and so to salvage the operation, he agrees to Stig’s suggestion that they rob a Mexican bank where the drug lord supposedly has $3 million stashed to smoke him out.

It’s about here that things get twisty. A series of hitches sees both Trench and Stig on their own, outside of the law, with only each other to rely and the baddies in hot pursuit.

The main problem with this movie is that all the promos give away one of the biggest plot twists – that Trench and Stig are undercover agents. So when the movie makes a big deal out of this revelation, it’s not a big deal at all, and it should have been.

Still, this is an excellent piece of entertainment with an abundance of plot twists and plenty of bad guys to run from to keep up the momentum. Car chases, shootouts and blowing things up are par for the course in this genre, but they’re not overdone or gratuitous. Washington and Wahlberg’s characters have great chemistry, and Wahlberg’s smart-arsed one-liners add comedy.

This is a fun action caper with a decent storyline, really bad bad-guys, heroes you root for and some scary-looking bulls. You’ll know what to expect for the first third of the movie, but it is one of the better buddy cop flicks to be released in a long time.

The Lady in the Van

The Lady in the Van

 Samantha Bond | 9 October 2013

The Lady in the Van

THEATRE REVIEW | The Stirling Community Theatre was filled to capacity for the opening night of new Stirling Players’ production The Lady in the Van.

Based on Alan Bennett’s diaries, the play tells the true story of how the award-winning British playwright offered Miss Shepherd a place to park the van in which she lived. He thought she’d be in his London yard for a few months when the offer was made in 1974, but she stayed until she died in 1989.

Bennett first meets Shepherd when she begins to park her van in front of houses on his street, moving ever closer to his home as neighbours find ways of ousting her. Witness to her harassment at the hands of local hoodlums, police and council workers, he finally offers her sanctuary. People call him a saint, but he disagrees – the initial invitation is made out of guilt, and then he allows her to stay because he can’t tell her to go.

The play tells the story of the unusual relationship between Bennett and Shepherd, a character of the type usually reserved for fiction. Renowned for her multifarious odour – urine camouflaged by the scent of lavender talcum powder – and for her rants verging on insanity (at one point she petitions for a taller Pope), this woman is as frustrating and endearing as she is funny.

Directed by Dave Simms, the Stirling Players put on a, aherm, sterling  performance.  The cast is excellent, especially the three main actors: Lee Cook, Tim Edhouse and Jill Morrell. Cook and Edhouse both play Alan Bennett , with one the narrator recalling the story, and the other “in” the play. The device of two Alans, while unusual, works well and allows the Jiminy Cricket-type narrator to express frustration at the situation in which he finds himself. Jill Morrell is so believable as the itinerant van lady that she brings to mind another great lady of the stage, Ruth Cracknel.

This probably isn’t a production for younger people, especially in terms of the issues it deals with: ageing parents in need of full-time care, the challenges of ageing yourself and how one continues to survive in this world, and the obligations and guilt faced by carers. There’s not much in the way of plot, but it is an excellent character study.

The Lady in the Van is funny in parts, and moving throughout. If you enjoy memoir-style entertainment, you’ll get a lot out of this excellently performed stage production.

The Stirling Players are presenting the play at the Stirling Community Theatre on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until October 19.

Ute Lemper

Presented by Ute Lemper Reviewed 21 September 2013

Twenty years after first performing in Australia, German born cabaret singer, Ute Lemper, returned to the Thebarton Theatre (“The Thebby”) on Saturday 21 September.

Appearing with her five-piece band, Ms Lemper graced the stage in a crimson dress and style reminiscent of a 1940s jazz club. The Thebby was partially closed off, only the ground floor stalls filled with patrons which created the perfect atmosphere for her performance – not too small to accommodate an accordion, cello, acoustic guitar, violin and piano, but still intimate.

The show itself featured music written by Ms Lemper and Argentinian bandoneonist Marcelo Nisinman to create the delicate and beautiful song cycle utilising the poems of Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda. Neruda won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971 and was a lifelong activist toward a democratic Chile. It was his love poems however, that featured on Saturday night. Lyrics were in French and Spanish with a spattering of English, but even when unable to understand the words, the music was still powerful. This was thanks mainly to the incredible voice of Ms Lemper which has earned her the reputation as the world’s ultimate cabaret artist.

From the first iteration, Ms Lemper demonstrated her enviable range which extended to high, bell-like notes, to a deep and commanding baritone. Her grace and fluidity as she danced called to mind an ageing ballerina, and it was easy to see how she has impersonated Marlene Dietrich over the years. A vocal imitation of a trumpet towards the end of the first set was most impressive.

Ute Lemper is an artist of the world, and has achieved success in both stage and film. Songs have been composed for her by Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Philip Glass and Nick Cave, and in 1994 she won Billboard Magazine’s Crossover Artist of the Year. Her stage performance in the West End Production of Chicago won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical and her film credits include a portrayal of Marie Antoinette, and she was the singing voice of Ariel in the German version of Disney’s The Little Mermaid.  In 2007 she was a juror in Let’s Dance, Germany’s version of Dancing with the Stars, but these days, she resides in New York. In June this year, she performed for the President of the United States, Barack Obama, and the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, at a private dinner, selected as the artist most representative of American-German relations through music.

If the audience members jiving in their seats were anything to go by, Ute Lemper’s Adelaide performance was another career success. Unfortunately she was here for one night only, but if you’re a cabaret buff, or just love beautiful music of the type not played on commercial radio, you can grab a copy of her CD “Forever: The love Poems of Pablo Nerudu.

Reviewed by Samantha Bond

Venue: Thebarton Theatre, 112 Henley Beach Road, Torrensville SA] Season: 21 September 2013 Duration: 2.5 hours

http://www.glamadelaide.com.au/main/music-review-ute-lemper-sings-pablo-nerudas-love-poems/

Losing February

Susanna Freymark’s Losing February

 Samantha Bond | 17 July 2013

The cover image of Losing February.Losing February, by Susanna Freymark, Macmillan Australia, $29.99.

The cover image of Losing February.

BOOK REVIEW | The world, it seems, has gone 50 shades of porn-mad, causing a flood of copycat erotic fiction to hit the market.

Most of it is in the same vein as the atrociously written Fifty Shades, so it was only a matter of time before one made its entry onto the higher end of the literary shelf.

Susanna Freymark’s debut novel, Losing February, is marketed as “a story of love, sex and longing”. A story of love without sex, and sex without love. The cover seems to be designed to set it apart from those books that clearly fall into the erotic porn category, but make no mistake, this is hard-core erotic fiction for women.

The book is split into two parts. The first is “love”, the second “sex”. It tells the story of attractive, 40-something Bernie, and her obsessive love for an old friend, Jack, who comes back into her life shortly after her divorce. While Bernie is free, Jack is still married and is torn between the two women in his life. While he engages in a fevered exchange of emails, letters and poetry with Bernie, the two rarely meet in person, and Jack refuses to commit technical adultery by having sex with her.

Jack is convinced he can turn their relationship into a legitimate friendship and keep both women happy. But this only adds fuel to Bernie’s low self-esteem and the sense of rejection her divorce caused.

Filled with self-hate, Bernie begins to trawl internet chat rooms and the world of online dating, but soon that isn’t enough and she starts pursuing ever-more-dangerous encounters in an effort to feel desired.

Losing February isn’t a bad book, but nor is it great. While the prose is infinitely more competent than that of Fifty Shades and others of its ilk, there are glaring problems. Firstly, the “love” story is just not compelling. Perhaps this is because Jack is rarely “on stage”, and most of what the reader experiences is Bernie’s musings about their love; there is a sense of being told a story, rather than experiencing it. However, this first section really exists only to set up and justify the second section on sex – if Bernie didn’t hate herself, why would she allow herself to be used and abused so badly?

Although the second half is much more fantastical, it is also more compelling. This is where the writer’s talents shine, but unfortunately it is within a storyline that denigrates the female narrator. Some of the scenes border on rape, but Bernie never recognises it, instead immediately going back for more.

While there is definitely a place for erotic fiction, it’s disappointing that it continues to portray women as victims, rather than simply enjoying sex because it’s a good and natural part of life. Losing February is a more high-brow attempt at the erotic genre, however, and may appeal to those who like their erotica a little more on the classy side.

This is the End

This is the End

 Samantha Bond | 19 July 2013

FILM REVIEW | The tag line for This is the End warns of “strong crude humour, coarse language, sexual references, comedic violence, nudity and drug use”.

That’s a pretty good summation of this new offering from Seth Rogen and friends, which certainly isn’t a plot-driven film.

Featuring a who’s who of comedy royalty, the main line up includes Rogen, James Franco, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Emma Watson and Michael Cera playing themselves. Well, sort of. The actors, along with a plethora of cameos from Hollywood heavyweights including Rhianna, play fictionalised versions of themselves which verge on the comically ridiculous.

The premise of this story is that nothing ruins a good party like an apocalypse. Best friends  Baruchel and Rogan are attending a party at Franco’s house when bizarre and terrifying events start to occur. At first it appears there’s been an earthquake, but people don’t usually get zapped up into the sky in beams of blue light during earthquakes, do they?

The group are trapped in the house as the world outside unravels, with dwindling supplies, cabin fever and demon possession threatening to tear apart their lifelong friendships. It’s not long before the boys realise the apocalypse is upon them, and only the worthy have been saved. So why have they been left behind, and how can they redeem themselves?

Those familiar with previous collaborations Superbad and Pineapple Express will have an idea what to expect. Disappointingly, this loosely written horror-comedy doesn’t reach the same heights as these earlier projects. Overall, This is the End is a self-indulgent buddy movie in which doing lots of drugs, ejaculation jokes, an exorcism and kicking a decapitated head around like a soccer ball are par for the cause.

There certainly are very funny bits, especially if you like “blokey” humour, but the self-referential humour grates after a while. The target audience seems to be boys and men, so perhaps they’ll get more out of it. Otherwise, wait for the DVD.

Kick Ass 2

Kick Ass 2

 Samantha Bond | 22 August 2013

Kick Ass 2

FILM REVIEW | Three years ago, the low budget movie Kick Ass garnered a comic-come-movie cult following for its originality, wit and over the top violence.

Now, superheroes Kick Ass and Hit girl are back in Kick Ass 2. The story picks up with Hit Girl learning to live as an orphan under the guardianship of Marcus, her father’s former partner. While no longer a child, she’s still a fifteen year old ninja assassin who can “kill a man with his own finger”. Kick Ass has hung up his wetsuit and put his vigilante days behind him, but of course there would be no movie were things to stay this way.

Enter Chris D’Amico, formerly Red Mist, he’s now rebranded himself as the world’s first Super Villian, ‘Mother F*%^$*r’. After witnessing the murder of his father by bazooka at the hands of Kick Ass, his mental health has deteriorated somewhat. Now he not only wants to kill Kick Ass, but he first wants to inflict as much pain as possible. His main problem with that is he lacks Super Villain- esque strength and skill, and so relies on his real super power (vast wealth) to hire his own squad of deadly comic book type baddies. Special mention should go to former female body builder Olga Kurkulina, who is truly frightening as Mother Russia.

Following the rules that sequels must be bigger and more explosive than their predecessor, Kick Ass also buddies up forming his own band of do-gooder vigilantes in costume who all just want to make the world a better place. Jim Carey is hilarious at Colonel Stars and Stripes, a born again Christian with a mob enforcer background. Other members of the Kick Ass crew include the likes of Night Bitch, Insect Man and Doctor Gravity.

Chloe Grace Moretz is again brilliant as Mindy, aka Hit Girl, discovering that gangsters and pimps have nothing on the true evil that is mean teenage girls. The subplot which has Mindy discovering who she is when she’s not being Hit Girl, has a coming of age slant and in some ways is more compelling than the main revenge and vengeance tale.

While not quite as good as the original, Kick Ass 2 is still a great movie. It has a fast moving plot, satirical one liners, great characters and should win an award for creative violence (death by lawnmower, anyone?). Be warned, however, the violence is graphic and plentiful so probably not for the real young ones, or those with a weak stomach.