Girl Asleep – Film Review

If there’s anything more horrifying than a sweet sixteenth birthday party, it’s the horrifying thought of a forgettable fifteenth birthday party. So, it’s no surprise that Greta Driscoll would prefer to be a Girl Asleep when she enters the school corridor to find her mother has invited every single pubescent fool to her birthday party.

The thought of being fifteen again is so harrowing, that it’s easy to see why Molly Ringwall demanded that sixteenth candle be placed on her cake – just so she could move things right along.

Not in the case of protagonist Greta, whose mother is looking for her own excuse to dance, father is wanting to hang a cheesy birthday banner and sister is just wanting a party to invite her boyfriend to.

Set in the 1970s, Girl Asleep is a bizarre mix of the ocker humour of Muriel’s Wedding and the fantastical dark whimsy of Maurice Sendak’s picture book Where the Wild Things Are. It’s a film in two parts, in that it’s grounded in the banality of Australian suburban life (albeit an overblown surreal representation), while later transcending into a parallel world inhabited by mystical creatures.

It’s hard to pin down what makes this such an enjoyable film. Perhaps it is the familiarity in the nostalgic portrait of seventies’ Australia; Certainly there’s a disarming enthusiasm from Harrison Feldman’s performance (much like his character Oscar in Upper Middle Bogan) that makes it hard to look away. Most of all it is likely to be we’re empathising with young Greta’s quest to escape back into her innocence of youth, as many of us often try/want to do.

The Diary of A Teenage Girl – Film Review

In an era before children could document their private lives on social media, Minnie (Bel Powley) records her most inner thoughts on a pile of old cassette tapes. It’s the 70s and she’s 14 years old and sleeping with her mother’s boyfriend Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård). The affair supposedly unfolds right under the nose of Minnie’s mother (Kristin Wiig) – a poor reflection on the mother’s child rearing skills let alone her ability to keep tabs on her own boyfriend.

Yet here we find them sitting in the kitchen, the mother unaware of her boyfriend’s predatory relationship with her daughter. Perhaps it’s symptomatic of her own insecurities and narcissism. The film plays out a sad reality that adults are often incapable of looking after themselves let alone their children. The only real maturity separating the mother from her daughter is the money she has from her first marriage. The adults have financial security to look after their children, while their emotional security is left frozen in the teenage romanticism experienced by people who watch too many back-to-back episodes of daytime soap operas. They wait to be figuratively swept off their feet by their prince, and find themselves figuratively and literally sweeping the floor of a loveless marriage instead.

Minnie’s mother Charlotte sits casually dragging on her cigarette, while Minnies attempts to digest a sandwich hoping her mother does not realise what is happening. Furthermore, Charlotte, completely unaware of the debauchery, is blindly pushing her daughter towards chasing boys. She regales stories of her own youthful exploits, especially with the girl’s father. You begin to wonder whether some form of reverse Oedipus syndrome may take place.

It’s this type of emotional neglect, born from parents own self obsession, that causes the over-sexed teens to pursue the unhealthiest of human relationships. It’s Minnie’s awareness of her own exploitation by Monroe, which becomes most unsettling. Aware enough of being a victim, yet seeking solace, validation and fulfilment of her curiosity through a brutal coming-of-age. Despite her confident bravado, plus the notion she thinks she is the seductress of the older Monroe, this is a film about paedophilia.

It’s more and more uncomfortable at every turn. Knowing it’s based on the semi-autobiographical book by Phoebe Gloeckner makes it all the more concerning yet intriguing at the same time. Handled with careful respect by Marielle Heller’s screenplay and direction; this is a film that adults, young girls and young boys should see to understand better the respect we should show each other’s emotions and bodies.

Goosebumps – Film Review

Why are young boys so hell bent on being infatuated with the girl next door? Haven’t they heard of stranger danger? Just because they live within a hundred yards of your own house, does not mean you can start pursuing the adolescent child, of your neighbour, as a romantic love interest.

Of course this is Goosebumps, so rather than turning out to be a teenage version of American Beauty, Zachary Cooper (Dylan Minnette) finds himself face to face with the girl of his dreams and a myriad of supernatural third-wheels to his dating experience; Not to mention the fact that his love interest’s old man is R. L. Stine himself.

In the same ‘Pandora’s box’-vein as Jumanji, Zachary and his buddy Champ (Ryan Lee) recklessly open the manuscripts of Stine, while snooping for mementos they can steal from Hannah Stine (Odeya Rush) – presumably so they can stare at them dreamily while fantasising about a ghoul free future in Suburban American. Stine’s back catalogue of monstrous creations escapes from the manuscripts and subsequently wreak havoc on the city.

This setup is disappointing on two fronts. Firstly because half the appeal of R. L. Stine is his real life enigmatic persona, is brought to life in the most unlikely form of Jack Black. It ruins any notions fans may have had of the authors appearance or true existence (that is to say despite the real R. L. Stine having made a number of public appearances throughout his life, it’s easy to imagine the real R. L. Stine may indeed be merely a dark cellar full of ghost-writers).

The second disappointment is the lack of plot surrounding the escape of the monsters from the manuscripts. It doesn’t hold a candle to Jumanji in terms of overarching purpose, nor does it serve to teach adults or children any useful life lessons.

In short it provides kids with the Hollywood fallacy that you can pursue the attentions of the most attractive girl at school as long as she lives next door and despite her widowed father being a ferocious disciplinarian. Jack Black is better than this film, and the 1990’s television adaption was miles ahead of this monstrosity.

Tale of Tales – Film Review

It’s that age old story; woman (Salma Hayek) can’t get pregnant, she and her husband (John C Reilly) get a visit from a magical old man, magical old man tells them to retrieve the heart of a magical underwater dragon and eat it raw.

It’s the sort of thing that makes In vitro fertilisation look like a swim in the lake. In this case it was a swim in the lake, but it was a more difficult swim in the lake because the king had to slaughter the dragon so his wife could eat the heart.

It’s enjoyable how this film taps into the human condition and vulnerabilities, despite its fanciful fairytale setting. Most specifically the story above deals with all the complexities surrounding the desire for parenthood.

Where modern stories would see a barren character head to the fertility clinic, Tale of Tales heads to the magical dragon. Perhaps this is a story as old as time. Both Into the Woods and The Tale of Princess Kaguya, are based on fairy tales dealing with parents who can’t produce offspring.

The themes of youth and childrearing don’t end there. Hayek’s albino son leaves her abandoned in a maze at one point – a mean trick to play on anyone’s mother; another king (Toby Jones) becomes more obsessed doting on his pet flea than his teenage daughter (Bebe Cave); and an old woman (Hayley Carmichael) convinces a witch to turn her into an younger and extremely pretty version of herself (Stacey Martin).

Adults wanting kids to love, kids wanting adults to love them, and adults wanting to be kids so adults love them. It’s a complex playing out of an inherent want for acceptance and purpose.

The film transcends its fairy tale environment to spin some of the oldest fairy tales, in the world (they are from The Pentamerone), into a cinematic masterpiece of fantasy that trumps similar fare like Stardust, Ella Enchanted and dare I say it The Princess Bride.

That Sugar Film – Film Review

The teeth in the picture above belong to teenager Larry from Barbourville, Kentucky. Well they did belong to Larry until they were all pulled out. He drank too much Mountain Dew.

A problem not uncommon, according to dentist Dr Edwin Smith, who appears in Damon Gameau’s documentary That Sugar Film. In the film Dr Smith points out that he’s seen so many teeth rotted by Mountain Dew that he’s coined the term ‘Mountain Dew Mouth’.

Larry’s teeth are not replaced by the end of the documentary though, because his system would not respond properly to the anaesthetic required. In a relieving piece of news, available on Facebook, he has now had all his teeth replaced.

Images like the one above certainly add the shock value to this documentary. Other sugar-free crusaders have been slowly adding to the pile of evidence pointing towards the heinous crimes of this carbohydrate. Jamie Oliver for one recently upped the ante, on Gameau’s ‘Mountain Dew Mouth’ footage, by sitting in on a foot amputation caused by type two diabetes and screening footage of mothers bottle feeding their babies Coca-Cola.

Gameau also goes for the immersive documentarian stunt of subjecting himself to a sugar-filled diet for sixty days. This has direct echoes of the headline grabbing efforts of Morgan Spurlock bingeing on MacDonalds in Super Size Me; or the time that Werner Herzog ate his shoe in Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe.

But it is not really the masochistic element of the film that hits home. To the average person it is common knowledge that substituting your children’s drinking water with sugar-loaded beverages will have lasting health effects. But what Gameau uncovers is deeper. He brings to the fore all those products we thought were good for us. Things like zero-per-cent fat milk, one-hundred-per-cent fruit juices, health bars, Nutri-grain, and so forth, are all in the firing line. It turns out all of these products are high in sugar-content also. Perhaps this is even worse than Coca-Cola or McDonalds, because these other items come with a health message.

These are the things filling our children’s cereal bowls, lunch boxes and dinner plates.

But what to do Mr Gameau? What to do? Our children are already addicted. So if we don’t coat our broccoli in chocolate sauce and poach our asparagus in sugar syrup, how will our children eat? They will go hungry and die of starvation (mind you, seeing the speed at which Gameau’s stomach bloats in the first few days of his sugar diet, you’d be loath to feed your child half an Uncle Toby’s muesli bar).

Perhaps Hamish and Andy have the answer. Listening to Hamish Blake talking about his son’s first experience with sugar it became clear that perhaps the perfect answer to a sugar-free future is never having it in the first place. Sarah Wilson’s book could be condensed to a pamphlet that says don’t feed babies sugar. Davina McCall’s five week plan to a sugar free diet could be condensed to a five second plan where you never feed your baby sugar. Kids would be none the wiser. For what they don’t know, they won’t miss. But then again you can never tell what sugary treat may be round the corner when a parent turns their back. My first taste of sugar was delivered in the form of a Tiny Teddy from my grandmother.

The balance of sugar for children is at the front of Gameau’s mind for most of the film, as he explores the effects of his diet in the lead up to the birth of his first child. While he looks at the health of some of his contemporaries. He is most concerned with the children of tomorrow. Another such example being the aims of the filmmaker to action change beyond the film in school canteens and the Aboriginal community of Amata, where government cuts have meant children’s sugar-intake has increased.

And what of other crusaders? What of Jamie Oliver’s proposed sugar-tax? He’s implementing it in his own restaurants. But where will that end? Is that the police state going too far? Soon enough we’ll find bags of sugar being treated like cigarette packets that have been branded with gruesome photos of the health consequences. We’ll be walking into the baking aisle of the supermarket to find images of amputated limbs on our baking goods; photographs of damaged livers on our chocolate bars; or pictures of ‘Mountain Dew Mouth’ on our Mountain Dew bottles.

While That Sugar Film states some obvious outcomes of certain diets, it really provides a wake-up call for the fringe-dwellers of obesity. The people (like myself) who get away with over consumption of processed foods due to lucky metabolisms and predisposed genetic makeup. It gets us to think about the damage we can’t see. Fat and skinny might go to war, but if skinny is sharing fat’s lunchbox, they’re both going to end up with messed up insulin levels.

Having watched this film, I’ve consciously made change. Sure I’m not going to cut it out completely. Hell, we’ve already been told gluten, fat, lactose and salt are bad for us. Now sugar as well. I’d be left eating air before too long. So I’m going to eat all those things in moderation.

I’m not going to throw out my tin of strawberry flavoured Nesquik just yet, because that would be wasteful. However, I am slowly eating down my pantry of such tooth-decaying ingredients to try and have a more basic diet. I’ll still eat cakes and the odd treat, because having had that first Tiny Teddy twenty-eight years ago, I am now sugar dependant. But I do plan to cut out more of the processed sugars and move to a diet of foods made from base ingredients.

And if everything becomes too tasteless I can always add more garlic, chillies or ginger to flavour things up. Until we find out that those foods are bad for us too.

Film Review – Testament of Youth

When Vera Brittain (Alicia Vikander) received a new piano as a gift, she was unimpressed. Very unimpressed.

Her father had just spent a large sum of money on the baby grand piano, when she was wanting him to save that money for her to go to Oxford. Now she would be left to go to some other subpar educational institution.

Oh, that one of my own students shared similar sentiment. The kids I teach would neither long for the piano nor an Oxbridge education. Instead a child told me on Tuesday that they were hoping to convince their parents to purchase a £500 self-balancing scooter. This same child was probably receiving free school meals from the government.

No, I do not teach children such as Vera Brittain. But then I suppose children like Vera are just constructed by Hollywood film studios to trick us into thinking kids care about their education.

Sorry, I have just remembered Vera Brittain was a real person.

Oh, that I could teach in the bygone era when teenagers refused to accept gifts of musical instruments in preference for their education.

But then again, there’d be all the going to war; getting engaged to Jon Snow – sorry Roland Leighton (Kit Harrington); delaying degrees to become a nurse; and general anguish.

No, I feel that I am lucky to have been born in era where we have the peace that pacifists like Vera Brittain fought for.

The peace to watch this masterful depiction of her life and hardships, set against the romantic backdrops and poetic flow.

The peace to reflect upon the strength and tenacity of her character both in reality and on screen in this film.

And the peace to spend time finding the best deal on Amazon for a self-balancing scooter.

It Follows – Film Review

The wonderful thing about It Follows, is the realism for the non-supernatural elements of the film. It is free of the melodramatic over-acting present in many of its predecessors such as I know what you did last summer or Scream.

In fact the opening scenes involving Jay (Maika Monroe) appear to be reminiscent of most independent features about small American towns.

A group of youths, spending their summers together hanging out playing board games, watching movies and swimming in an above-ground pool. The general comradery and jest is present when Jay exits the pool and shakes her wet hair over her sister while her friend lets out a fart. This is all happening while they sit on the couch reading e-books, eating Cheetos and watching Killers from Space.

Then, as with all good horror films, the picture-perfect slice of American pie begins crumbling around the central characters as ‘It’ begins to follow.

I have no intention of spoiling what ‘It’ is; you must see ‘It’ for yourself.

What must briefly be discussed is a sequence that happens during the calm before the storm.

Jay is swimming in her above ground swimming pool. It’s suburban America at its finest. The entire atmosphere is reminiscent of my Australian childhood summers spent playing shark attack games with my cousins in their above ground swimming pool. The difference here is there’s no tomfoolery. Just one lone person floating on her back.

Then all of a sudden you realise she’s being watched. Is it by some evil pervert, a monstrous beast or a masked serial killer? No, it’s a couple of ten year old boys – neither looking like children of the corn, but more like Tom Sayer and Huckleberry Finn.

In this case, it seems Tom and Huck have just discovered girls. But more importantly, I ask, where are their parents?

It Follows 2

Have they not had the birds and bees talk so these two kids hiding in the bushes can realise they’re batting out of their league. This young lady is almost twice their age, and she has a date lined up for the evening. Both those kids should be down the park batting with an actual baseball bat, instead of whatever batting it is they’re trying to do at this moment.

Plus it’s rude to stare. No manners at all.

Poor Jay realises the boys are there and tells them as much. She laughs them off. But she still feels the need to get out of her own swimming pool and head inside, just because these vernal voyeurs couldn’t keep their eye balls to themselves.

Peeping Tom and Huck have proven that objectification of women can start at a young age.

Perhaps I am not unlike these two lads, in that I’ve been watching this film gazing at the female form as she is terrorised by ‘It’ who follows.