Wednesday, 22 November 2017

In Defence Of: The Romantic Comedy

By Claire

Full disclosure: I am writing this piece while wearing my Notting Hill movie t-shirt, drinking out of my Legally Blonde mug, surrounded by books on Nora Ephron and When Harry Met Sally, Clueless, and writing romantic comedy screenplays, next to my Breakfast at Tiffany’s poster.
Imagine this:
All your life, you have loved helping people. At your actual job, you live and breathe for your boss, whom you are an assistant for and happen to be desperately in love with. Just when you work up the courage to admit your feelings, your wild and younger sister swoops in, stealing the man of your dreams. After a whirlwind romance, the new couple are to be married in three weeks. To top it all off, your idol turns out to be a real asshole. A few fights, a drunk and passionate rendition of “Benny and the Jets,” a one-night stand, miscommunication, and a teary admission of love at a random wedding reception on a boat in the Hudson River later, and it’s happily ever after.
So goes the plot of 2008’s 27 Dresses (dir. Anne Fletcher), one of my favourite romantic comedies (and movies) ever.
To say I love romantic comedies is an understatement. 
The Romantic Comedy is a genre of film where two characters meet (often boy meets girl or girl meets boy), and after a series of trials and tribulations, the two falls in love and live happily ever after. This usually takes place in a metropolitan setting, with a kooky ensemble of friends involved, and features an adult-contemporary soundtrack.

Katherine Heigl as Jane, the perfect bridesmaid, in 27 Dresses

In 27 Dresses, Katherine Heigl is Jane, an executive assistant at an outdoor magazine and freelance wedding planner, who has been a bridesmaid twenty-seven times. It never gets more “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” than Jane, but she can’t say no and loves to help make people’s dreams happen. Enter the devastatingly handsome James Marsden as Kevin, a journalist who writes for the Commitments section of a newspaper under a pseudonym, and Jane’s favourite writer. Jane loves weddings and Kevin, despite his job, hates them. 
Naturally, they clash. 
Naturally, they fall in love, but isn’t that always the way?
I know what you’re all thinking: another romcom about weddings, another hetero-normative movie that teaches women that marital bliss is the only way she will become complete! And yes, you are correct in this. I will be the first to point out all the feminist faults in this plot line, having literally written about the limits of post-feminism in contemporary romantic comedies. However, I won’t, because even though I’m a feminist, I love weddings. The feminist agenda isn’t against weddings, or marriage or love (although for some facets of radical feminism, it is, and I do acknowledge this agenda is not the same for everyone). If anything, despite a few choice words from Kevin about Jane needing to be “taken care of”, something he is more than willing to do (yikes, my man), Jane doesn’t need to change a thing about her other than gaining the confidence to say no and put herself first occasionally. With that, I am content in this film.

James Marsden and Heigl in 27 Dresses, post-Benny and the Jets

As a genre, romcoms are often dismissed and looked over, the result of high critique and cynicism: The plot lines and happy endings are just too unrealistic; real life isn’t like that; this isn’t the movies, kid, get your head out of the clouds!
To that I say: so what? Movies being unrealistic? Oh, I’m sorry, I was just waiting around for the zombie apocalypse to arrive while I ride with my alien friend in my bike—which can fly—back to its home on another planet...
Movies don’t have to be realistic, they are fiction! You can create an entirely new world, where you control the story, so why not give the characters a happy ending?
Secondly, romantic comedies are viewed as a predominantly female genre, or rather, as a “woman’s film”. At my old local video store, the shelves included a “chick flick” and “dick flick” section. While I stood in front of these shelves looking for my next Friday night movie, in the former I found an abundance of romantic comedies, musicals and Nicholas Sparks movies; the latter housed action, fantasy adventures, gross-out comedies and more guns than you can count.
Despite many of the greatest romantic comedies having been directed by the likes of Gary Marshall (Pretty Woman), P.J Hogan (My Best Friend’s Wedding, Muriel’s Wedding), Rob Reiner (Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally) and Paul Feig (Bridesmaids), Hollywood tends to discount women almost entirely. 
Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal in Nora Ephron's and Rob Reiner's When Harry Met Sally

As outlined in his article '7 Reasons Hollywood doesn’t make romantic comedies anymore', (and you have to disregard the kind of gross critique of Katherine Heigl here, as if she is the sole woman/person to blame) Todd VanDerWerff regards the double standard of a movie like Casablanca, a romantic melodrama centred around a male, can receive Best Picture and be herald as one of the greatest movies of all time, whereas the same cannot be afforded to a romantic melodrama about a woman. These films are woman’s films and do not stand in the same league as the male-centric narratives in the craft.
This, of course, is ridiculous. Nora Ephron and Nancy Meyers are titans of the genre, and according to the MPAA report in 2016, women make up 52% of the cinema-going audience.  Women are powerful at the box office. Passing off romantic comedies and other romantic melodrama’s as a “woman’s film” with a sneer and off-handed gesture negates women the space to fully participate and exist within film culture, just for liking romantic comedies.
Thirdly, most rom-coms feature a white male and female, ending in marriage/monogamy. The ultimate lesson is we need a partner of the opposite sex to complete us. This may not be everyone’s cup of tea (heck, as a feminist it’s hardly my cup of tea), but if we look at what has been happening on screen these past five years, this is not to say that things aren’t changing within the genre.
At the start of the year, Jen Chaney wrote for Vulture’s The Romcom Lives! Week an article called 'The Romantic Comedy Is Not Dead – It’s Just Not the Same As You Remember'. Chaney argues that the romantic comedy is not dead, it has been subverted to address the old critiques and to suit today’s viewing climate. Romantic comedy genre is thriving on television and streaming platforms, with diverse casts and featuring well-rounded female characters (HBO’s Insecure, the CW’s Jane the Virgn), or even those which actively work within the romantic comedy ideals—and flips them on their head (Hulu’s The Mindy Project, the CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend).
For movies, romcoms are exploring new kinds of love stories: one-night stand leads to an unwanted pregnancy and an abortion on Valentine’s Day in a really sweet way in Obvious Child; the biggest romantic comedy release of 2017, The Big Sick, features a Pakistani-American as the lead and an interracial couple; and even How To Be Single, for all its faults was actually a film I really enjoy, ends with Dakota Johnson falling in love with herself and relishing in being alone. In 2015, Katherine Heigl herself starred in yet another romcom about weddings—this time as a lesbian, who works to convince her parents to come to her wedding to The Handmaid’s Tale Alexis Bledel in Jenny’s Wedding.
Zoe Kazan and Kumail Nanjiani in 2017's The Big Sick
Things are changing. Films, plot lines, and characters, are adapting to the needs of the shifting cultural focus.
It seems too easy to discount an entire genre, perhaps because one is cynical and chose not to not believe in happy endings.
But life is too short to not believe in happy endings. Life is too short to watch serious and sad movies all the time. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my fair share of dramas, but at the end of the day, when I’m feeling sad, am sick in bed, or need a mental break, I’d rather escape for a few hours into a world where love prevails, preferably starring Katherine Heigl.

Cause a Cine do not own any of the images used

Thursday, 29 June 2017

7 LGBTQ movies which shaped me as a gay person | Film

By Sophie

1.      Carol (2015, dir. Todd Haynes)

    Based on the 1952 novel The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, this dreamy vintage lesbian masterpiece is a must-see. Set in 1950s New York, it follows aspiring photographer Therese Belivet (played by Rooney Mara) as she is swept off her feet by the endlessly alluring Carol Aird (played by Cate Blanchett). The first time I saw Carol, I was snuggled up at Cinema Nova here in Melbourne with my girlfriend, and it was so infinitely reassuring to see a healthy representation of a lesbian couple who (spoiler alert) eventually get their happily ever after. Cara and I are two movie-loving lesbians in a happy and healthy long term relationship, so this movie was a particularly meaningful one for us to see.

2.      Pride (2014, dir. Matthew Warchus)

This one is such a gem that I saw it twice in theatres. During the conservative reign of Margaret Thatcher, a feisty group of lesbians and gays from London lend one hell of a helping hand to striking Welsh coal miners. This somewhat unlikely pairing is founded on each group’s shared experience of oppression and violence from the police, conservatives, and Ms Thatcher. Inspired by a true story, this film is sure to leave your spirit soaring, despite a few tears shed. Additionally, the message of inter-community solidarity strikes me as particularly apt in this current political climate.

3.      But I’m a Cheerleader (1999, dir. Jamie Babbit)

If all you want is a cheesy lesbian rom-com with a happy ending, look no further. The beautiful Natasha Lyonne (who now stars as Nicky on Orange is the New Black) plays Megan, a seemingly stereotypical American high-schooler, as she comes to terms with her lesbianism. It’s cute and colourful, though I’d avoid it if you find any mention of conversion therapy particularly difficult. This was the first lesbian movie I ever sought out as a questioning baby-gay, and I watched it in secret on my little red iPod touch in my bedroom. I’m very sentimental about this one.

4.      Holding the Man (2015, dir. Neil Armfield)

Based on Timothy Conigrave’s memoir of the same name, this romantic drama follows two teenage boys in late 1970s-1980s Australian suburbia as they fall in love, grow up, and build a life together. I don’t want to spoil anything so that’s all I’ll say, but this movie will break your heart. I sobbed so loudly that I’m grateful I didn’t see it in theatres, to be honest. But it’s that profoundly pure kind of movie-grief, and I hope it doesn’t drive you away from witnessing this truly beautiful story.

5.      My Summer of Love (2004, dir. Pawel Pawlikowski and Paul Pavlikovsky)

This was another one of my early iPod touch indulgences, and it cemented a big ol’ crush on Emily Blunt. Two girls from different socioeconomic backgrounds bond over their dysfunctional family lives, and fall kind-of in love in the process. It’s one of those LGBT movies where they never explicitly name their desires, but worth a watch if only for the Edith Piaf- heavy soundtrack.

6.      The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994, dir. Stephan Elliott)

     What kind of Aussie-gay would I even be if this wasn’t on the list? Two drag queens and a transgender woman hit the road to bring their drag act to the Australian outback. It’s got all the glitter and camp humour you could want. If you love Rupaul’s Drag Race this is an essential movie for you, honey.

7.      The Celluloid Closet (1995, dir. Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman)

The Celluloid Closet is a seminal documentary in LGBT cinema history, based on Vito Russo’s book of the same name. It intersperses clips of gay film moments throughout Hollywood history with insightful commentary from a range of industry and LGBT perspectives. As a gay film nerd, this tickles my fancy, and I’m sure you’ll love it too.

Collectively, these films have allowed me to see myself, or who I could grow to be, reflected up on the silver screen. They have taught me important aspects of my cultural history as a member of the LGBT community, allowing me to contextualise my own experience as a young Australian lesbian in a wider historical lens. Most importantly, these movies have made me feel less alone. It is comforting to see narratives of people you can directly empathise with onscreen, and that simple fact is what makes media/cinematic representation so important for myself and members of other diverse groups.

Addendum: Movies on my to-see list that should be on yours too:

  1.       Moonlight (2016, dir. Barry Jenkins)
  2.       Milk (2008, dir. Gus Van Sant)
  3.       The Kids Are Alright (2010, dir. Lisa Cholodenko)
  4.       Pariah (2011, Dee Rees)
  5.       Brokeback Mountain (2005, dir. Ang Lee)
  6.       Freeheld (2015, dir. Peter Sollett)
  7.       The Watermelon Woman (1997, Cheryl Dunye)

And that’s it, folks! Happy Pride Month and a big thank-you to the lovely Claire for inviting me to contribute to Cause a Cine!

Cause a Cine do not own any of the images used in this post. 

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Bring Sense8 Back: What Netflix's latest series cancellation means for global diversity on screen | TV

By Claire.

This morning, my sister woke me up to tell me there was bad news overnight: after two seasons, Netflix has decided to cancel Sense8.

This announcement comes a week after the cancellation of Baz Luhrmann’s 1970s hip-hop and disco musical extravaganza The Get Down, another artistic and diverse master piece. Netflix may like to come off as a platform which champions diversity, but at the moment, is failing to keep that image up.

Created by Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski and J. Michael Straczynski, Sense8 follows the lives of eight people from across the globe, who are interconnected in their minds, called “sensates”, allowing for these people to visit each other, feel their thoughts and emotions, and share skills to kick ass.

All 8 sensates together comforting Sun in Korea - So many different types of people supporting one another.

Filmed in sixteen cities and thirteen countries, what sets this show apart is not only the immense diversity of its characters, but also its production value, filming on location in each country the character is from and with local actors and film crew. From Seoul, Nairobi, Mumbai and Bombay, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, San Francisco, Chicago, Berlin, Reykjavik, London and Amsterdam, the show is literally the most global production seen on television.

Which is what makes the cancellation so disappointing.

In a review of the first season for Variety, Brian Lowry argued “‘Sense8’ becomes a pretty mundane, chaotic soap opera, following the lives of its various characters without doing much to advance what binds them.” I fail to see how this is a bad thing. 

Not only are we living in one of the most exciting time for television, where production values are bigger, the stories are more inclusive, and it is television shows which have more of an effect on society than film, but we also live in a time of intense international turmoil. So Sense8 may be turning more into a “soap opera”, about the characters lives rather than advancing what connects them, I don’t see this as a bad thing. (sidebar: was I the only one seeing all the action, fight scenes, and the whole cluster—what the group of sensates are called—banding together to defeat the enemy aka BPO?) Having a show where eight people around the word, from different cultures and ways of life, all banding together and helping each other in any way possible, is so important and life affirming to see. What connects us is our humanity, that we all live on this earth, and nothing demonstrates that more than Sense8.

Miguel Ángel Silvestre as Lito and Alfonso Herrera as Hernando at the Sao Paulo Pride Parade.

Actress Tina Desai, who plays Kala from Mumbai, told The Hollywood Reporter, "We might be culturally different, but we all think and feel the same way. If we can just respect that difference and then get over it and be more accepting, there really isn't any problem. The problem comes around when you resist change. That's what the show is doing: We all get past our differences and create something really amazing." 

The show teaches empathy, teaches tolerance. Wolfgang Bogdanow (Max Riemelt), a grumpy tough guy from an East Berlin crime family can blow up his uncle with a rocket launcher one scene, and help kick a homophobe’s ass in the next. Kala Dandekar (Desai), a devout Indian chemist can find out her husband’s company sends expired medicine to countries like Kenya, and feel the most intense betrayal. Sun Bak (Doona Bae), a Korean business woman who is an insanely skilled fighter is the one to help Capheus Onyango (Aml Ameen in season 1, Toby Onwumere in season 2), a tall and solid, Kenyan man fight his battles with her martial arts. A joke around the Sense8 fandom is that Will Gorski (Brian J. Smith), the All-American Chicago cop is the Cluster Dad, and Riley Blue (Tuppance Middleton), the Icelandic DJ is Cluster Mum. Although they come from different worlds, Nomi Marks (Jamie Clayton), a transgender woman in San Francisco offers advice and support to Lito Rodriguez (Miguel Ángel Silvestre), a Mexican actor who must deal with being publicly outed while in the spotlight.

Berliner Wolfgang Bogdanow (Max Riemelt, right) experiences Kala Dendakar's (Tina Desai, left) Mumbai through their connection. 

There is no accounting for how much this show means for a global audience as well. In a featurette uploaded by Netflix, actress Jamie Clayton says “I don’t think there’s one person in any part of the world who could watch the show and not feel connected to someone.” The show isn’t even just about people of diverse races, but also of sexuality, gender identity, religion, and subverting gender norms. In season one, Lito experiences Sun’s period pain; as mentioned above, the same woman helps a man fight; one of the most intelligent people in the cluster, Kala, is a woman; and in the final episode of season two, it is a white man who needs to be saved.  

Left to right: Freema Ageyman as Nomi's girlfriend Amanita Caplan and sensates Doona Bae as Sun Bak and Jamie Clayton as Nomi Marks. 

Fans have taken to Twitter to voice their disappointment, with Vine star Thomas Sanders writing:

A petition to renew the series has already be created.

In addition to the shows immense diversity, it is also a stunning and artistic production. Filming on location, instead of in a studio, provides an authenticity to the show and the character’s stories. The scenes are like pure art forms, and the editing is flawless. In a show where people are connected mentally, the ability to effectively show how the characters visit each other, but are unseen by those around them, is incredibly detailed and tricky to orchestrate, yet the editors pull it off seamlessly.

Some of the incredible editing. Source.

Not only do platforms such as Netflix need to champion stories of diversity, but they should also celebrate project which extend the boundaries of what a TV show is. To move forward in an already constantly changing industry, with the development of technology and a plethora of content already out in the world, isn’t it time to be bold and take risks in new formats? No other show does what Sense8 does. It is purely unique in its scope. Why doesn’t Netflix see the merits in that?

Netflix CEO and founder Reed Hastings told CNBC the platform has too many hits and not a high enough cancellation rate. If Netflix needs to cancel shows, why did they renew the teen drama Thirteen Reasons Why, which glorifies suicide? What will connect the characters now that the tapes are over? I will admit, I enjoyed the show and I think it demonstrates what it’s like to be a teenager in an adult way, but I don’t think it needs a second season. It’s lost on me. Sense8 comes together to fight a common evil both literally with the corporation BPO, and figurately in fighting bigots with lack of understanding. Love, empathy, sex and courage: This is what Sense8 is about, and I want to see more of that.

Bring Sense8 back.  


Both season's of Sense8 are available to stream on Netflix.

Cause a Cine do not own any of the images used in this post.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Girls Like Us: The case for women in film in 'Their Finest' | Review

By Claire.


Title: Their Finest
Director: Lone Scherfig
Writer: Gaby Chiappe, based on the novel ‘Their Finest Hour and a Half’ by Lissa Evans
Starring: Gemma Arterton, Bill Nighy, Sam Claflin, Jack Huston, Paul Ritter, Jake Lacy

“Authenticity, optimism, and a dog” is everything you need to make a successful film. However, as Lone Scherfig’s latest period drama argues, the key ingredient is something which has been there all along: heroic and brave women.

Led by a steadfast Gemma Arterton, Their Finest tells the story of a team of filmmakers in 1940 London, determined to make a film guaranteed to lift war-time spirits. Their film is of Dunkirk: twin sisters steal their drunkard father’s boat to aid the evacuation. Arterton is Catrin Cole, a copywriter hired to write the women’s dialogue alongside the impenetrable and cocky Buckley (Sam Claflin) and his writing partner, Parfitt (Paul Ritter), for the film division of the Ministry of Information. What follows is a surprising, strong-willed and heart-warming film.

 Buckley (Sam Claflin) and Catrin (Gemma Arterton) on set of their film, 'The Nancy Starling'.(Source)

Adapted by Lissa Evan’s novel ‘Their Finest Hour and a Half’, Gaby Chiappe’s script is full of biting wit and is masterfully executed by the cast. The repartee and comedic timing of the whole cast keeps the film alive. In a memorable scene, scriptwriters Buckley and Parfitt knock out the details of their film’s plot with flawless pacing, and is sure to make any film-lover giggle in their seat. Bill Nighy as the ageing actor coming to terms with his new role in film and life, Ambrose Hilliard, is delightfully melodramatic and equally touching. A stand out is Rachel Stirling as Ministry worker Phyl More. Demonised by Buckley in an “anti-authority” artistic kind of way, her ability to be strong and authorative in her work, yet compassionate and kind when she needs to be, is seamless. Nary do we get to experience such a well-rounded, not only female but lesbian, character on screen.

Do not be fooled, with war-time London comes tragedy, and no holds are barred here. With no illusion to the harsh reality of the Blitz, multiple air-raids shake the windows and blast out of the sky.

Their Finest takes you right into the middle of Blitz torn London. (Source)

Above all else, Their Finest sets forward a contemporary and enduring argument for the outstanding power of women in film. With Arterton’s Catrin as scriptwriter, she is the one with the talent to placate Nighy’s Hilliard into appreciating his “drunk uncle” role, she is the one to save the day with her ideas, and the one to perfect the film’s ending. In the cinema, she is surrounded by teary-eyed audiences—men and women alike—who are more than happy to see the film multiple times, and in her room, a postcard reads that the characters in her film has inspired real women to become engineers themselves.

What Scherfig and Chiappe do with Their Finest isn’t just another movie about the Blitz, nor is it just another dreamy English film for Scherfig. This film demonstrates exactly what we’ve been trying to tell you all this time—women are bloody good filmmakers, and there is nothing more powerful than positive representation and unrestricted female characters. Much like Catrin and Buckley’s film ‘The Nancy Starling’, Their Finest is a call to arms—girls like us, we can do anything.  

Women in film are powerful: Arterton and Bill Nighy in Their Finest. (Source)

Their Finest is now in cinemas.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Strong Women and Despicable Men: The Story of Sexual Assault in Broadchurch | TV

By Rachel

** Warning: Spoilers and discussion of sexual assault

Now finished its third and final season, the newest episodes of British crime drama Broadchurch have revealed many things to its viewers that were never thought possible in previous decades of the genre. Strong-willed female characters can dominate crime and (no surprises here) still make it great television. Some offences (not necessarily of the criminal type) are forgivable and can even change a person’s life for the better. And, perhaps most surprising of all, Detective Hardy can be found on Tinder.

Amongst the crime and the intrigue, there is a consistent sense that women are integral to the unravelling plot of this show. A no-brainer for some – of course women work in law enforcement – but there is still a persistent domination of the crime genre by male characters, providing not-so-nuanced perspectives of criminals and their wrongdoings from a male point of view, even regarding crimes that specifically affect women. On the other hand, Broadchurch provides the viewer with an insight into a more diverse police force. This allows for a subsequently distinct outlook on crime and the people affected by it.

Detectives Miller and Hardy make one unstoppable team. (Image Source)

Season Three in particular has demonstrated a very unique portrayal of sexual assault in only eight episodes. The season begins with local woman Trish Winterman (Julie Hesmondhalgh) speaking to Broadchurch police after being raped days earlier at her friend Cath Atwood’s (Sarah Parish) 50th birthday party. What will surprise viewers is that Trish is in her 40s, and not particularly representative of the rape victim stereotype reflected in other crime shows. Trish is mother to a teenage daughter and recently separated from her husband, Ian (Charlie Higson), also in attendance at the party. It is later revealed that she has been sleeping with multiple sexual partners following the separation, including Cath’s husband in a one-off affair on the morning of the party. A thought-provoking binary – on one hand, Trish has experienced an undeniably brutal crime and, on the other, has committed an in many ways unforgivable offense against a friend.

Of course, a brutal rape and a consensual sexual indiscretion are in no way comparable. Nevertheless, after hearing the news of the affair, Cath lets her anger get the better of her, incredulously asking: ‘Of all the women at that party, why would someone rape you?’ Cath’s situation is not enviable – she is seemingly stuck in a marriage devoid of love and intimacy, and has just lost a close friend due to a moment of weakness and a bad decision. But ultimately, we side with Trish – she makes some terrible life decisions, as almost every character in the show does. However, none of her minor wrongdoings are deserving of punishment by a horrifying sexual assault.  

She is portrayed as an everyday person, trying to survive a slightly messy break-up with her husband, but having a bit of fun in the meantime – and who can blame her? But the writers of Broadchurch are in one way testing the viewer – does our perspective of Trish as a survivor of rape change after we learn the news of the affair? It shouldn’t, and this is indeed one of the novel elements of the show.  

Trish revisits the scene of the crime with Detective Miller and Beth Latimer. (Image Source)

Again, this might be a no-brainer – of course a rape committed by another person has nothing to do with the victim’s life choices. But past film and media would suggest otherwise. When Jill Meagher was raped and murdered by Adrian Bayley, a criminal whose past crimes should have been enough to encourage the public to focus on what he had done wrong, Jill was instead criticised for walking home at night rather than getting a taxi or accepting a lift from a friend. Speaking to the press regarding the murder of 17-year-old Masa Vukotic in almost broad daylight at 7pm (during daylight savings), homicide squad chief Detective Inspector Mick Hughes suggested that women walk or run with a companion in parks rather than alone. Well, maybe we should just lock ourselves up inside (where many of violent crimes against women occur anyway) and not interact with the public at all? When men are murdered in public, why is no similar suggestion made?

Alcohol consumption, level of sexual activity, how one dresses - all are aspects of a rape case that, when mentioned by the media, suggest the victim intentionally chose to be in a particular place, in a particular state, with the full knowledge that they would be raped. (In the now over-quoted film Taken, for example, it always bothered me that the more sexually willing friend of Bryan Mills’ daughter who invites the kidnappers inside is raped and drugged to death, whilst her naïve friend – a virgin – escapes this fate. Perhaps not an intentional metaphor, but an unwelcome one all the same.)

In Broadchurch, Detectives Ellie Miller (Olivia Coleman) and Alec Hardy (David Tennant) reiterate over and over again to Trish: ‘This is not your fault.’ Trish’s one-time affair with Jim Atwood (Mark Bazeley), whilst somewhat relevant in terms of finding a suspect, is not at any point made an issue in terms of the reliability of Trish’s story. Miller and Hardy believe Trish, and they want her to know that.

Meanwhile, Miller is dealing not only with the personal aftermath of Season Two, in which her husband Joe is acquitted of murdering Danny Latimer, but with the recent actions of her teenage son. Reeling from the crimes of his father, Tom (Adam Wilson) is caught at school with pornography on his phone. Miller is furious – in many ways that you would expect, at one point smashing his laptop with a hammer when she discovers him with the porn still on his phone. This reminds us that Miller is exposed to the threat of sex crimes in a way that her son is not, and seems to connect pornography with the rape culture still prevalent in their town.

Miller’s aging father comments that these days everyone’s a victim of rape, reflecting the still unbelievably strong conviction that intoxicated women cannot be victims of sexual assault. Miller proceeds to inform her son of how important consent is, no matter what the situation; she wants to make sure that Tom does not commit the crimes of his father or the unidentified rapist, and she views his exposure to porn as relevant to this.

 Michael Lucus (left), the later-revealed rapist, shares pornography with Detective Miller’s son Tom (right). (Image source)

Whilst no character is perfect, the writers’ emphasis on the flaws of a large number of the town’s male population can’t really be denied. In this season especially, we’re introduced to serial cheater Jim Atwood, stalker Ed Burnett (Lenny Henry), installer-of-software-on-ex-wife’s-computer-so-he-can-spy-on-her Ian Winterman, and, finally, the person responsible for the rape – 16-year-old Michael Lucas (Deon Lee-Williams) who has been ‘groomed’ to assault women by a slightly older and arguably more despicable man (who many viewers would no doubt consider the true villain of the story).

And yet, even after seeing the intense trauma experienced by Trish as a rape survivor and the desperation of Miller and Hardy to apprehend the person responsible, the final result is a sad, unsatisfying, one. Rather than feeling outright fury towards the rapist, I felt mixed emotions of anger, incredulity, and sadness This is because a young, extremely impressionable man has committed a horrifying, life-changing act. Trish, too, on hearing the news, appears more shocked than angry, because her rapist is a boy that her daughter knows from school.

We are reminded that just as rapes can be committed against anyone, so too can anyone become a rapist. Whether in cases of alcohol consumption and ‘confusion’ over consent, or of more aggravated assaults and kidnappings, Broadchurch demonstrates that rapists are not ‘monsters’ – many, if not most, are what society considers ‘ordinary’ men; the men that we don’t expect to be committers of violent sexual crimes. 

As Tom Meagher, husband of Jill Meagher, wrote following the conviction of Adrian Bayley, the public and the media must no longer spread the pervasive ‘monster myth’ of the rapist. The idea that brutal rapists are inhuman monsters, whilst other, supposedly less serious sexual criminals, such as someone’s husband, boyfriend, or one-night stand, are just people who ‘make mistakes’ is a dangerous one. Although Hardy may tell Miller that Leo Humphries (Chris Mason), the man who pressures Michael to rape Trish, is not like other men, the reality is that the actual rapist in this situation is a seemingly ordinary teenager, with an undesirable home life, who is peer-pressured into assaulting a vulnerable woman. And yet, as ordinary as he is, he is still, and will always be, a rapist. That the ordinary can also be the despicable is a reality that many of us still need to come to terms with, and is something that Broadchurch portrays in a nuanced and confronting way. 

If you are feeling distressed, contact Lifeline
Phone helpline: 13 11 14


Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Alienated Women: The Terror in Mica Levi’s Scores for Under the Skin and Jackie | Film

This post appears on Bitch Flicks. It is cross-posted with permission. 

By Zoë

When I saw the trailer for Pablo Larraín’s Jackie (2016), my first thought was, “Why do I feel so afraid?” I was unsurprised then, to discover that the woman behind the music was Mica Levi, who composed the score to Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin (2013). After seeing Jackie, it occurred to me the two films that Levi has composed music for have more in common than it initially appears. Under the Skin is a sci-fi angle on the femme fatale, where Scarlett Johansson plays an alien who seduces and kills men in Scotland. Jackie is the Oscar-ready biopic of Jackie Kennedy, centred on a masterfully emotive performance by Natalie Portman. Yet both films feature women who are lost, distanced from others and profoundly alone. Those around them cannot understand them, and so they are alienated. It is the haunted feeling of such alienation that Levi’s scores illuminate.

Johansson’s alien in Under the Skin is of course the more literal embodiment of alienation. She blankly visits human settings such as shopping centres and nightclubs, never sure of how to arrange her face to fit in with those around her. She lacks human empathy, illustrated starkly in a scene where she leaves a baby on a beach with a tide coming in. When she experiences sex with a human man, she is so overwhelmed that she flees. Levi’s score is fittingly otherworldly, pulsing with unidentifiable noises, the viola screeching like a wounded animal. It’s utterly unlike other film scores, giving the audience no easy emotional cues. The nails-on-chalkboard discomfort it conjures makes audible the colossal distance between the alien and humanity. One cannot relax when listening to the score, instead feeling a constant sense of dread at what this unknowable creature might do next.

Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin

This constant dread, this grim unease, are present also in Levi’s score for Jackie. Jackie, in contrast to the alien, is utterly, familiarly human. Her grief and trauma over her husband’s death is the bedrock of the narrative. The audience knows how she feels, due to Portman’s highly expressive face. Jackie is also privileged, famous and powerful. But as the narrative demonstrates how quickly Jackie loses her power, Levi’s score highlights the instability of Jackie’s world in the aftermath of her husband’s death. The score is more lush and regal than the score for Under the Skin, in part because there’s an orchestra and in part to reflect the high-class American world that Jackie inhabits. But the discomfort that Levi brought to Under the Skin is present in Jackie, too. Many times when the score begins, it sounds light, almost cheerful, before being undercut by low, ominous strings that lurk obtrusively in the background. The result is a feeling of disturbance, that something familiar and romantic has been polluted by a grim terror.

Natalie Portman in Jackie

Just as Under the Skin showed how Scotland was a completely foreign world to the alien, Jackie displays how the First Lady losing her title and home throws her into a world that’s entirely unfamiliar. Visually, this is represented through particular, subtle moments: the look of shock on Jackie’s face when Lyndon B. Johnson is greeted as “Mr President” hours after JFK’s death; the camera lingering on Lady Bird Johnson picking out new White House curtains while Jackie watches, unseen. Jackie is constantly filmed on her own, without even the presence of bodyguards or servants to lessen the impression of her alienation. Her friendship with her assistant, Nancy, is shown to be of great value to her, but the film’s repeated shots of a solitary Jackie make clear that she feels cut off from everyone around her. In the film’s final minutes, a happy sequence of her playing on the beach with her children is concluded with a close-up of her grief-stricken face, and her children out of the frame. Then, she sits alone on the couch while the Life interviewer talks on the phone. Then, at the burial of JFK, she stands starkly apart from everyone else. The final shot is of her dancing at a party in JFK’s arms, placing her feelings of joy and belonging firmly in the past.

Angelica Jade Bastién writes that Jackie uses horror movie techniques to illustrate Jackie’s grief. Levi’s score is an integral part of this, the relentless, ominous strings suggesting that life has changed for Jackie in a most terrifying way. When she finally returns to the White House from Dallas, the score is fundamentally eerie, sadness undercut with grim foreboding. It’s a score suited to a dangerous expedition into unknown territory, rather than a return home. Levi’s score communicates what doesn’t need to be said through dialogue; the White House isn’t home anymore, and Jackie’s power has disappeared with her First Lady title. The terror of being cut off from a familiar world, and the subsequent alienation, are made salient in Levi’s grim, uncomfortable music.

The alien in Under the Skin has no possessions apart from her classic predator’s white van, and the outfit she chooses to resemble the common woman. Although dressed in the finest of outfits, Jackie finds herself similarly dispossessed, telling the Life reporter that the White House and her current house never belonged to her. “Nothing’s mine, not for keeps anyway,” she tells him. Separated from the home planet or the White House, both women are anchorless, adrift. Even when surrounded by revellers in metropolitan Glasgow, or watched by thousands at her husband’s funeral, the alien and Jackie remain fundamentally alone. Haunted by their inability to connect with others, to slot in to this world, they stand lost and detached. Jackie’s deeply emotional outbursts may stand in stark contrast to the alien’s lack of empathy, but both women share a troubling alienation from the people around them. Levi’s scores make this alienation audible, the grim discomfort of her music allowing the audience to feel, even for 90 minutes, the terror of such a solitude. 

Sunday, 26 February 2017

How to successfully adapt an Australian story the Jasper Jones way | Review

By Claire.

Small town Western Australia, 1965. The bright and inquisitive Charlie Bucktin is woken in the middle of the night by the town’s mixed-race outcast, Jasper Jones. Begging for help, Jasper lures Charlie to a clearing in the bush on the outskirts of town to find a sinister end for local girl Laura Wishart. Charlie is thus whisked into a whirlwind of mystery and secrecy, as he tries to find out who killed this girl. Three kids swept up into a complicated adult world, Jasper Jones is the ultimate young Australian gothic, and one of the best Australian films I have ever seen.

Prior to university, when I thought of Australian film I thought of the low calibre, ocker and subversive. This perception was founded on too many viewings of Round the Twist, and little actual knowledge of Australian film. Here’s the thing, though: Australia can make great films, of high calibre - they just occur few and far between.

(left to right) Angourie Rice as Eliza Wishart, Aaron L. McGrath as Jasper Jones and Levi Miller as Charlie Bucktin

Directed by Rachel Perkins, Jasper Jones is an example of the standard that Australian films can demonstrate. What Perkins achieves, and sets the film apart, is a deep understanding and respect not only for the text, but for Australian stories. This level of respect is something last year’s Joe Cinque’s Consolation fell short of achieving. Both stories of crime, both adapted from books, but both with vastly different outcomes. In an article for The Guardian, James Robert Douglas argues the issue with Joe Cinque’s Consolation was that the author of the book, Helen Garner, wasn’t involved in the adaption. Based on a true story, instead of a straight adaption of Garner’s investigation, director and writer Sotiris Dounoukos chose to dramatise the events of Joe Cinque’s murder, in a way which had myself and others in the cinema cringing, not gasping. Harsh words, but the film had a distinct aura of not taking itself seriously. This could be due to it being Dounoukos’ first feature, or a lack of understanding as deep as only Garner’s investigative reporting and writing can provide. 

On the other hand, there is Jasper Jones. Adapted from the Australian modern classic by Craig Silvey, Silvey was primary writer on the screenplay and actively on set every day, keeping a close eye on the adaption and providing support as a person who knew the story. In addition, as revealed at the Cinema Nova Q&A, what eventually led producers Vincent Sheehan and David Jowsey to choose Perkins for the role of director was her deep understanding of the book. What results is a story taken seriously and filled with intricate details, and a film that hits the mark, spot on.

Charlie and Jasper confronting Mad Jack Lionel in Jasper Jones

This successful inclusion of the author is also the case for The Dressmaker. Directed by Jocelyn Moorehouse and based on the book by Rosalie Ham, The Dressmaker opened at #1 in the Australian box office - no small feat in a culture which often overlooks Australian film for the latest US blockbuster. Unlike Silvey, Ham did not write the screenplay for the adaption of her book, but early interviews indicate she was active in the production.

Like Jasper Jones, The Dressmaker is a mid-century Australian gothic set in a small town. In the hands of any other directors both films could have fallen into the all-too-familiar pit of the ocker and larrikin typical of many Australian male directors, as evident in the absurdly successful Crocodile Dundee in the 1980s and ever-present in Australian films ever since. The effect this has had on Australian films is the notion of cultural cringe, parodies of Australian life, as if the filmmakers are embarrassed of telling an Australian story. Perkins and Moorehouse avoid this, though, and tell Australian stories with heart. Perhaps this is due to them being women. The ocker and its ties to Crocodile Dundee is a masculine perspective, whereas women are not included in this identity. The ocker does not influence their style, and thus female directors offer a fresh perspective for Australian screens.

(left to right) Judy Davis, Sarah Snook and Kate Winslet in The Dressmaker

This is not to say Australian men can’t make beautiful films, such as Simon Stone’s The Daughter and Garth Davis’ Lion, but the perception of ockerness persists. The inclusion of female directors gives a fresh, more serious point of view to Australian cinema. Due to being outside of the traditional Australian identity, female directors know how to make a good film, as they aren’t bound to Australia’s history of the ocker and the subversive. Of course, this is improving, with Screen Australia’s Gender Matters initiative, and active conversations happening around the country and throughout the industry. Women need to be given more opportunities to tell stories, because time and time again these films have shown what should define the Australian film industry.

Jasper Jones is out in cinemas March 2nd.


Cause a Cine do not own any images used in this post.