Category Archives: Film

Date with Disney

March 31st, 2017. We’d been planning this night for months. My partner and two of our dearest friends on a cheesy double date to the highly anticipated Beauty and the Beast.
We all met up, oh-so-Australian Malteasers in hand, and went to get the tickets in an episode which would prove to be more dramatic than the film. Here’s a detailed plan on how to make getting tickets far more complicated than it should be.

  1. Turn up and head to the kiosk.
  2. Discover that the next session is Xtreme Screen and the only seats left are in the very front row. Discuss as a group whether you really want to be that close.
  3. Check movie times across the road via phone. Race over to the other cinema only to discover that one is in 3D. Another group discussion follows.
  4. The theatre staff say that the ads are still playing at the 7:35 session and we can make it. Buy the tickets, rush in, and discover the film is halfway through the song Belle.
  5. Leave the theatre, get a refund and go back to the original theatre to get the Xtreme Screen tickets. Discover they have also sold out.
  6. After even MORE discussion, get tickets for the 8:45 session, now one hour away. Also the Xtreme Screen in the front row.
  7. Go kill time at San Churros where you order New York Cheesecake instead of churros.
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WHY MUST EVERYTHING BE SO DIFFICULT?!?

At 8:45pm, we finally took our reclining seats and the film began. All those months of anticipation, all the excitement of seeing my favourite animated Disney film in the flesh, on the big screen.

I left in a state of mixed emotions and mainly asking “Why?” I don’t even know if I can actually decide how I feel about the movie.

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Here we go again….

Alright, alright, put your torches and pitchforks down for a second and relax. I don’t hate this movie. I don’t even dislike it. There were aspects of the film I absolutely loved. Aspects that were, dare I say, even a slight improvement over the almost flawless 1991 film. Credit must always go where credit is due.
That being said though, I can’t sit back and pretend that this movie even comes close to the brilliance of the original film or the Broadway adaptation. Nor can I ignore the glaring problems with the film.

In the interest of keeping my blog shorter than the Bible, let’s get down to some ground rules. First off, this is not about the debate over whether Beauty and the Beast is about Stockholm Syndrome or bestiality. Those arguments are irrelevant and frankly boring to me. Secondly, if you disagree, more power to you. For all criticism of any art form, good or bad, there’s always going to be conflicting perspectives and we should only learn from them.

The Original

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The animated Beauty and the Beast is bar none my favourite Disney animated film. Everything about it is almost perfect. The characters are memorable, well-written and interesting. Belle is arguably the best female lead in the whole Disney canon. Top three, easily. The movie engulfs itself in the fairytale and throws a few twists along the way. The villain is not your typical bad guy; he’s actually the town hero but failing to get his way turns him to more desperate and evil measures. The animation is spectacular. The music is one of the best scores ever written. It was the first animated film to ever be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. Possibly it’s the reason we have a Best Animated category at all. (Time out – Moana should have won this year. I’ve been stewing over that for weeks! Ok ok, stay on topic…)
The point is, the 1991 original is about as perfect an animated film as you can get. So…really, why remake it at all? What was the reasoning behind it? I know Disney is all about live action remakes lately. And while I can understand the logic of wanting to ‘correct’ the mistakes of the past with Maleficent – which failed hard –  Cinderella or The Jungle Book, with a movie as good and timeless as Beauty and the Beast, it just really seems unnecessary.
But to be fair, it’s entirely possible for a remake to be great, and when I first heard of the remake, I was keen. Maybe a remake of Beauty and the Beast could focus on some aspects of the Beast’s past, or go into greater detail about Belle. I was open to it, and even kind of excited.

The Cast

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All the characters in Beauty and the Beast are nothing short of iconic, and so it only seems logical that the remake have the finest possible cast as well.
When the casting was announced for the remake, I got even more hyped. Emma Watson as Belle? Makes sense. Ewan McGregor as Lumiere? Yes please. Kevin Kline as Maurice? I’ll watch that any day. Ian McKellen as Cogsworth? Absolutely. Josh Gad as Lefou? That works, obviously. Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts? Definitely. Living theatrical goddess Audra McDonald? I’m sold. I had no idea who Dan Stevens (Beast) and Luke Evans (Gaston) were and I admit that with no shame whatsoever.
Obviously this new cast had big shoes to fill, considering the treasure trove that was the original voice cast. Paige O’Hara (Belle), Robby Benson (Beast), Angela Lansbury (Mrs. Potts), David Ogden Stiers (Cogsworth), Richard White (Gaston), the late Jerry Orbach (Lumiere). But there’s no reason to assume that they can’t reach and even surpass the original.
My verdict? Everyone in the remake is at least watchable. Some are better than others, and this is mainly due to screen time and the writing. Which brings me to….

The Characters

Belle

In the original, Belle is a role model for the ages. She’s kind, but she has her limits. She’s smart, but doesn’t show off. She’s beautiful, but there’s a lot more to her than that.People talk about her, but she doesn’t let that stop her from doing what she loves. She knows she’s destined for greater things and desires something greater than herself.
Emma Watson was a very fitting choice for Belle, not least because of Hermione also being a massive bookworm. And I’m just going to say here, I think Emma Watson is a decent actress, an inspirational person and beautiful both inside and out.
Her performance as Belle is…ok. She certainly knows the character and heaven knows she’s trying. But compare this performance to the animated version and you will be sadly disappointed.
In the original, the way Belle is animated and voice-acted gives her a real identity and they make it absolutely clear that she is unique. She is the only character in her town that wears blue until the Beast shows up. In the remake, Belle is not the only one wearing blue, and not a lot about her really stands out as different. She talks to more people, she doesn’t really act any different, she doesn’t even read that much. In short, she’s not as interesting.
And yes, let’s get to the elephant in the room. Emma Watson’s singing. Um…how can I put this….it was terrible. I’m not even sorry. She cannot sing and anyone who tries to convince me otherwise is fighting a losing battle. And yes, I can judge since I have a qualification in music theatre and have been singing professionally for over seven years.
Not only was her voice shaky, hesitant and auto-tuned beyond belief, but there was zero acting involved and she also sounded like she was trying to imitate an American teen pop sound as opposed to a grand musical theatre style. Sometimes, like the case with The Rock in Moana or Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables, a non-singer can use charm, charisma, or just incredible acting skills to the point where a not-so great sound doesn’t actually matter. Emma Watson does not do this. It’s really uncomfortable to watch and not pleasant to listen to. Add to the fact that the original film had Paige O’Hara, and the original Broadway production starred Susan Egan, and there’s just no way in the world to make such bad singing redeemable.

Frankly, I’m sick to death of Hollywood casting people who can’t sing (Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, anyone?) in musicals. If you cannot sing, you have no business being in a musical, let alone one of the most beloved musical films ever. I say either cast real singers or bring back dubbing!

The Beast

Oh movie. You tried so hard to make the Beast have more of a backstory. You were so close. You mentioned that the Prince only became selfish because of his father’s influence brought about by his mother’s death.
So why in the name of all that’s good and holy didn’t you explore it? It went absolutely nowhere. This could have been fascinating to watch. We could have seen a major character arc, explored the parental influence, commented on the fact that the servants apparently sat back and allowed this to happen. The ‘flashback’ was so brief it was blink-and-you-miss-it! Also, the animation in the original had a zillion times more emotional expression than the CGI thing you stuck on the screen. When Belle sees Maurice is in trouble through the enchanted mirror, the animation shows the Beast actually struggle with what to do, and ultimately make a very painful decision. When Belle arrives at the castle, you see the regret and even awkwardness on his face. You can see the loss of hope when Gaston arrives to kill him. He’s given up. Then when Belle arrives, you can see the resolve to fight back. I could go on and on about this, giving examples of moments with ALL the characters. You feel the changes and emotions through the music, the acting and the drawings. It’s shown, not told and this is why people loved the Beast so much to begin with. He was freaking interesting!
With the remake, the lack of expression makes it harder to have any chemistry between Belle and the Beast. This Beast wasn’t bad by any means…he’s just not as compelling to watch.
However, to be fair, it made a lot more sense for the Beast to be educated in this context, since that makes sense with the time period and also gives him and Belle some more common ground.

Now let’s get to the absolute best things about the film!

Maurice

I think my mother put it best “I’d watch Kevin Kline do a Coke ad,”
If Kevin Kline has ever given a bad performance, I’m yet to see it, and this film is no exception. He is absolutely beautiful as Maurice and the way he’s written makes the character so much more believable that the original. As mentioned before, he creates music boxes instead of inventions. He’s slightly eccentric, but nowhere near the bumbling fool of 1991. He was brave and could stand up for himself. He has a backstory (although why did he insist on keeping it secret?), he clearly loves his daughter, he’s really fun to watch and that song he sings in his introductory scene…it was magical. He was absolutely perfect in every way.

Gaston and Lefou

I have zero complaints about these two also. Not only are Luke Evan and Josh Gad having the time of their lives in their roles, but Gaston and Lefou have been expanded and made more realistic for a live-action retelling. Gaston being a celebrated soldier makes a lot of sense and having Lefou being given a moral dilemma was quite enjoyable. Every scene with them made me laugh hard.

And in terms of the alleged LGBT moment….I honestly don’t understand why people were having a heart attack over it. It was so unimportant in the grand scheme of things.

Objects

The objects are fine in the remake and they look great. The acting is good, the designs work, they have some fun moments. You have no trouble believing that this is how people might look if they were turned into these items. But I do have one MAJOR gripe that I simply cannot let slide.

Broadway star Audra McDonald is in this movie. She is a living legend. The woman has the voice of an angel and her acting skills are nearly unrivalled. She could sing the phone book from 1998 and make it enthralling. She has SIX Tony awards, more than anyone in human history. She’s also the only person to win a Tony in every acting category.
How dare you only give Audra McDonald about 6 lines. Shame on you.

Essentially the characters are a mixed bag and so is…..

The Story

How can I put this? The movie is almost twice as long as the original yet it felt like it was on fast forward. At times it seemed like an almost shot-for-shot rehash, but all the important moments were almost glanced at.
I didn’t feel there was a single moment when Belle fell in love with the Beast or vice versa. In the original, the Beast knows right from the get-go that Belle could be the one to break the spell. He doesn’t give her a room and actually gets angry at Lumiere for letting her out of the dungeon. He doesn’t invite her to dinner until she’s in her room refusing to come out. He expresses absolutely zero desire to get to know her. In the original, he gives her the library as the most grand romantic gesture possible. He seemed almost bored in the remake. I didn’t believe for a second that they were forming a connection, as none was shown through looks, music or acting. How can the pacing and emotional journey be so superior for an animated film where there’s all kinds of time constraints and restrictions? The original felt like the story was moving, like characters were actually doing something and changing.
That is essentially the main flaw with this remake. It is banking on the fact that you’ve seen the 1991 animated film. This is why characters aren’t as interesting or fleshed out. This is why the most crucial elements of the story are treated as an afterthought. It’s like they thought it wasn’t necessary to throw effort into certain scenes.
There were potentially great plot points that could have been added but were practically glossed over. There was a pre-release mention of Belle being an inventor while Maurice made music boxes and I was totally down with that. But come the movie, and it’s barely even mentioned. The laundry device she supposedly makes appears for about ten seconds. We don’t know how she came up with the idea, how she put it together, or if this is something she does regularly. This could have been an added dimension to an already good character. It was missed. There was a moment where Belle was teaching a little girl to read, which was a lovely scene. But again, ten seconds later and it’s never brought up again. The little girl never reappears and it’s never explored why she would approach Belle.
But the added tangent I actually despised was the scene where Belle and the Beast go into that ridiculous magic book. That was completely pointless and felt like an entirely different movie. Aside from that appalling “tourist” joke which dragged you completely out of the moment, why did this enchanted book even have to be there? It was never mentioned again. Supposedly the Enchantress left it along with the rose and I assume the mirror since the remake never actually said where the enchanted mirror even came from. Again, they rely on the knowledge of the original.
And ok, Belle’s mother died from the plague. Fair enough. So what does Belle do? She brings back that rose pen thing which is presumably infected with plague bacteria and is now going to spread death and destruction everywhere.

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Congratulations Belle. You’ve doomed the entire village.

And finally, the music. I was sorely disappointed and confused as to why on earth four new songs were written for the film when there were six new songs added to the stage musical.
Though I could stomach the lyric changes well enough, the film’s new songs were generally just not as good. The reason the new songs worked well in the stage show was because they were based in the instrumental score so everything tied together. Home, Maison Des Lunes, No Matter What, A Change in Me, Human Again, If I Can’t Love Her. I was dying to see that last song on the big screen. It’s a beautiful piece of music and a great moment for the Beast. I’ll admit I have a soft spot for Evermore, the Beast’s new number, and the moment in the film was a good spot for a song, but it just didn’t have the power that If I Can’t Love Her had. I sincerely wish that they had simply incorporated the Broadway tracks into the film. That would have been fine. Although I’d be lying if I said I wanted to hear Emma Watson’s attempts to sing Home.

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I know, Alice. I know

I realise this review is sort of all over the place, but so is the movie. It seems like the film is trying to be a carbon copy of the original we love, and also be it’s own thing. This half-half leaves an inferior remake behind, trying to fix what was never broken.

Beauty and the Beast did not have to be remade, but it has been, so hopefully you can draw your own conclusions and decide whether it’s worth the two hours. I’m glad I saw it, but I can’t say I’ll be rushing to see it again and again. If you go in expecting a masterpiece you probably won’t find it. You’re more likely to come out appreciating the original masterpiece a lot more. Or maybe you’ll find it a delightful film. Either way, be my guest.

Bully Part 2: My Story

  • *PLEASE NOTE*: Writing about my experiences with severe bullying is not an easy thing to do. I don’t wish to seek sympathy or appear as if I have not dealt with my past. I’m finally sharing my story in the hope that it will help others. *In the interest of identity, names and initials have been changed. I refer to myself as A in the story. I do not have any feelings of hatred towards the people involved in what I went through. I only feel sorry for them now. 

It began when I was very young.

My wonderful mother, who is a teacher, read to me and my brother every night. But we didn’t read picture books. We read novels like Charlotte’s Web and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. I would sit beside Mum and read along with her, sounding out the words. That’s how I learned to read at the age of three.
I developed an insatiable appetite for books of all kinds, and my vocabulary swelled. With my little pink glasses, huge smile and vivacious nature, coupled with words far beyond my years, I was so excited to start school.

I was different. Very different.

This never bothered me much, but it obviously bothered a lot of other people

Perhaps it was inevitable that I’d run into trouble. Maybe it was bound to happen. But regardless, throughout my entire primary school life, I was bullied. Every day I would be called names, with teacher’s pet being a recurring favourite. Kids would throw things at me. They’d threaten to hit me, or even kill me. My schoolwork would be covered in graffitti. The boys would act as through I was poisonous, yelling “Ew, gross!” every time I walked past. I was excluded from a lot of activities, and even got beaten up on a few occasions.

I was always in floods of tears every single day it happened. But there was nobody at school I could turn to. I tried, of course, but always heard the same thing. Grow a thick skin. You’re too emotional. Get over it. Stand up for yourself. One day when I was eight, my teacher told me to my face that I was a “smartypants” and that was “why no-one liked me,” That cruel and inaccurate comment haunted me for years.

Mum offered to let me change schools so many times but I always refused out of fear. I’d already changed schools in kindergarten because we’d needed after school care (single parent family!). I endured it, hating every moment until I finally left for high school.

My Primary education had been in the public system. I went off to a private Christian high school hoping things would be different. And at first, they were.
I met two girls, J* and E*. We clicked right away. They seemed so sweet and kind. Like me, they were the only members of their primary schools to enrol at this high school.
They told me they’d been through similar bullying experiences and swore that we would always be friends. I believed them, and for a few months, I was completely happy. The years at primary school seemed far behind me. Life was fantastic.

But inexplicably, J was changing. She was constantly telling me stories of extreme physical abuse at home, but there was no evidence of the bruising or injuries she should have had from apparently being strangled and beaten. Before anyone dismisses me as a victim-blamer, J told me profusely not to tell anyone. I did tell the principal, but I couldn’t help suspecting that she was lying to me. I shrugged it off. It was impossible that sweet-natured, innocent J could ever lie.
From there, things started going downhill. J started slapping me across the face regularly. I would ask her to stop, but she’d become all sullen and guilt-tripping me until I apologised and agreed that I had deserved it.
J and E began hanging out together a lot, ignoring me and only speaking to me to give me a fresh list of complaints against my personality. I was uptight. Not fun anymore. Annoying. Bossy. Too quiet. Too shy. Too friendly.
I suggested we all go see the school counsellor together to sort out any conflicts. J refused. She was happy to go with E. But not me. Eventually, J and E both agreed to go together. But from the second we entered that room, J blamed every single problem on me and me alone. I was in tears by the end of the session, but I was desperate to salvage the only friendships I had at this school. Everyone else in our year had come from the same primary schools. Cliques were long established and I had no hope of entering.

Finally, things came to a head. They’d been sneaking away from me for weeks, and then came the final nail in the coffin.
There was a rumour going around our year that this boy named Daniel* liked me. One day J came to me and handed me a love letter, saying Daniel had asked her to give it to me. I went into a complete state of panic. I was only 13, desperately shy, didn’t know how to talk to boys, and had no idea what I was meant to do.
J and E laughed at me while I was crying and hyperventilating. I asked Daniel himself about the note, and he said he had never written it. I was stunned. J and E would never do that to me. Never.
The next day, J and E admitted it had all been a sick joke to scare me. I ran off in tears, humiliated for falling for such a stupid trick and furious at myself for embarrassing Daniel.
One day later, November 16th 2005, our year advisor pulled me out of class and told me the truth. J and E weren’t just having fun. The whole scheme had been a set up. They didn’t want to be my friend anymore, and this was all a plan to make me angry enough to leave their group of my own accord.
I was then taken to the school counsellor’s office where J and E were waiting, apparently sobbing. They later bragged to everyone that they had just been laughing at me while pretending to cry.
Mrs C, the counsellor, told them to be honest with me. E exchanged a deer-in-the-headlights look with J. “Can we go outside and talk about it first?”
I wanted to scream at them to get a backbone, to stop weaselling out of being truthful, to tell them how broken I felt inside. But I couldn’t make any words form.
J and E were sent to sick bay to ‘calm down’ together. I was left in the office. Nobody stayed with me.

The grief I experienced was staggering. I had never known a human could feel so much pain and still breathe. For the rest of the year, I had to watch J and E stay close, and hear about the rumours they were spreading that I was a horrible person.

I went into Year 8 thinking that the Christmas holidays were what I had needed. I was ready to move on with my life. But J wasn’t.
She wasn’t content to hate me herself. She wanted everyone to hate me.
I was already an outsider. When I sat down at tables or near others, people would literally get up and move. Or they’d ask me to leave so their friends could sit there. At first, I’d quietly say no, or joke “I don’t see their name on it,” only to receive a look of disgust and a comment “Sorry, (friend who apparently owned the seat) A’s being a total bitch and won’t let you sit down,” and then I’d get glared at so much eventually I’d just move anyway.

I tried to make new friends. But J’s plan of attack was to approach whoever I was talking to and, in front of me, invite them to sit with her. She wouldn’t look at me or even acknowledge my existence. Then later on, when I wasn’t around, J would tell them that they would be ‘way happier’ hanging out with her.
It didn’t take me long to figure out what she was doing. It got to the point where I actually had to warn people I was friendly with that she was going to try to sway them to her side. They always swore they would be loyal, but in the end they turned from me and I was alone, which was exactly what J wanted.

The boys absolutely loved it. Their favourite trick was to stir J up to do more. They would get together with J and plan attacks on me. J and the boys would borrow people’s phones to send me nasty text messages. In Year 8, a group of the boys told J that I had told everybody the combination to her locker. I hadn’t, but J ran off and reported me straight away. I got grilled in the assistant principal’s office for a good hour, refusing to admit I had done it. There was no way I was going to be punished for something I hadn’t done. J came to me the next day with watery eyes. “A, I accused you before I knew the facts, and I’m going to make it right,”
She never did.
From there, things got worse and worse.The attacks escalated.  I’d go to my locker to find it filled with rubbish. Every time I walked down the hall, someone would yell out a stupid comment about my alleged sex life. Apparently I was having affairs with all the boys in my grade. One of my most awful memories of the school is when I was walking towards the train station on my way home. Without warning, the boys came and formed a tight circle around me, asking me shocking questions about my body and alleged sexual antics. It was absolutely terrifying. Even as I type about it a decade later, I can still recall the shame and fear.

Every day I would hide in the library and read. But even there I wasn’t safe. J would sit in the library and stare daggers at me the entire time while I ignored her. The boys searched for me all over the school to attack me further.
One day, the boys entered as per usual, for ‘a bit of fun with A.’ I heard my name being called. Like an idiot, I walked over. The gang of boys was sitting with J.
“J,” one said, “Do you like A?”
J’s eyes locked directly with mine. They were full of loathing as she coldly said “No,”

My grades dropped. I couldn’t eat. My weight dropped down to as low as 38kg from the stress. I’ll never forget the night I ended up in the hospital from the horror and despair I felt.
Eventually I gave up trying to get help from school. Their only solution was to not think about J, because she wasn’t doing anything to me. The school counsellor said she was powerless. And one huge advantage J had was her appearance. Curly red hair, tiny physique, freckles, glasses, sugary voice. She was the portrait of purity to everyone. How could someone so cute be a bully? How could such a tiny girl torment someone twice as tall? I don’t necessarily blame anyone for being fooled by J.  I’d fallen for her innocent act myself.
I began thinking that maybe I deserved what I was getting. Maybe it was my place in life. Maybe I was paranoid and blaming J for things that weren’t her fault. I did attempt to make peace with J a few times, but she always took advantage of that and went right back to the torture.
Eventually, after one too many cruel acts and her pleas to the school being flat-out ignored, Mum told me I had to change schools.
I was so scared. The school wasn’t THAT bad. And if they hated me here, why on earth would another school accept me?
Thankfully, Mum was insistent and pulled me out of the Christian school. I enrolled at a performing arts school in Year 10. And finally, I found somewhere I belonged.
I was in my element. People liked talking to me and genuinely wanted to be my friend. They understood and identified with my love of the arts and reading. And I was happy.

For an entire year after I changed schools, the bullies from my first school went to incredible lengths to find me. But I had an amazing group of friends now who protected me, and I knew how to protect myself online.
The scars remained. Despite my new life, it took a long time for me to realise that I didn’t deserve to be bullied and that I did deserve to be happy. But I know that now. I’m still undoing the years the bullies tried to take from me. But I am alive. I’m travelling the country teaching kids that they have the power to stop bullying.
I see the news stories about the children who get desperate enough to end their lives over bullying and my heart breaks. I know all too well about feeling like there’s literally no way out.
We need to fight bullying together. We can’t let it win. We need to stop glorifying such behaviour in the media. We need to stop comforting the bullies and start taking care of the victims. We need to teach resilience and empathy to everyone regardless of age. I’ve overcome bullying. Anybody can. There IS life after such experiences.

What I have written here is NOT about saying “Ha, suck it! I’m so much better than you haters!” That approach would be counterproductive.  I don’t know if anyone who was involved in my story will read this. I don’t know if they feel any remorse and I don’t particularly care what they think of me anymore. I’m not even sure they would admit to being bullies. But if they do, I only have this to say.
I don’t hate you.
You didn’t win.
You didn’t beat me.
I am my own person.
I am not ashamed of my story.
I’m not a victim.
I’m not just a girl who was bullied at school.

Being bullied is only part of my life, and it absolutely does not define who I am. And as long as this is the outcome, my story has only begun.

Help fight bullying at http://www.standforthesilent.org/

 

Bully Part 1: The Bullying Epidemic

“Kids will be kids,”
“Boys will be boys,”
“They’re cruel at that age”
“It’s a part of life,”
“You’ll get over it,”
“Why can’t you just be friends?”
“Just ignore it,”

Anybody who’s been bullied has heard those words. Bullying seems to be expected in school. It’s almost considered a rite of passage. We hear about it on the news, another precious human has taken their own life because of bullying. Everyone stands up briefly and shouts about how wrong it is. They call for change. They agree this should never happen again.
Then the victim blaming begins. The victim started it. They were just as responsible. They should have told someone. Just ignore it and it will go away. It can’t have been THAT bad!
The media stops reporting. The world moves on, and a shattered family is left with the ashes of their ruined lives.
The sad fact is that bullying is not something that ‘goes away’ when you grow up. Adults can be bullies, and be bullied. We live in a world that allows and encourages lying and cheating your way to the top. We watch reality shows that purposely puts awful human beings against each other in the name of entertainment. I can think of at least one prominent example of a bully with a huge platform….

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Not naming any names, of course

In 2011, Australian teen Casey Heynes became an international hero when mobile footage of him standing up to a bully went viral. After being brutally punched in the jaw, Casey physically lifted his assailant over his head, slamming him into the ground. Despite being suspended, he was applauded all over the world. Today, Casey is still an anti-bullying advocate with no plans to slow down.
2011 was also the year that an American documentary film Bully was released, amid a rating controversy, and became an instant hit. Critics and audiences alike called it “essential viewing” for children. I disagree. It’s essential viewing for every person in the world, regardless of age or gender.

When Bully was released, I wanted to see it, but I knew it wasn’t a good idea just yet. I was 19 and still very damaged by the relentless bullying I’d experienced in school. But now, in my early 20s, I’ve finally seen it. And I’m glad I didn’t see the film in theatres. There’s little doubt in my mind that I would have ended up under the seats in a sobbing mess.

Bully follows the lives of five young victims of bullying. Alex Libby, a sweet-natured 13 year old with social and learning difficulties is tormented beyond belief on the school bus. Kelby Johnson, 16, is ostracised by her Bible Belt town when she comes out as a lesbian. The teachers at her school join in with the tormenting and she tells of being purposely hit by a minivan containing six boys from her school. Ja’Meya, 14, faces felony charges after bringing her mother’s gun on the school bus, attempting to intimidate the bullies into leaving her alone.
But the most tragic of the five are the two children we never meet, as they have taken their own lives. 17 year old Tyler Long hung himself after being harassed and abused for years. He was shoved into lockers and had his clothes taken while showering. Finally, there is Ty Smalley, who committed suicide aged only 11.

Bully is not easy to sit through. During the scenes where Alex is being stabbed while the bus driver doesn’t even look, you find yourself fighting the urge to jump up and do something about it. The filmmakers ended up showing footage to the school and Alex’s parents, only for the assistant principal to give a plastic smile and a promise to do something.
“That’s what she said in the fall,” Alex’s mother says tearfully. “She’s not going to do anything,”
The administrators and teachers at the school are shown to be apparently oblivious/uncaring to the widespread bullying problem. In perhaps the most infuriating scene of all, a boy identified only as “Cole” is pulled aside by the aforementioned assistant principal with a boy who has been bullying him terribly. She orders the boy to shake hands and make up. The bully, who has the smile of a snake oil salesman, sticks out his hand. Cole refuses to accept it. The assistant principal berates Cole for not accepting an apology. “You’re just as bad as him!” she claims. The audience shouts at the screen at this idiotic woman. She simply refuses to see the truth. Instead, she launches into the victim blaming. Why is Cole hanging out with this kid. “I’m not,” Cole says, close to tears. “He comes and finds me,”

Bully isn’t interested in lecturing anyone. It’s not interested in giving a definitive answer. It just wants to show real life, and it wants to give hope. And I love documentaries that do that. Instead of launching straight into scenes of violence, the film is very clever about drawing us into this world, creating connections with these children and their families, allowing us to see the truth.

The biggest lie/misconception is that ALL bullies bully because they feel bad about themselves. And I don’t believe it for a second. The bully who has been tormenting Cole is about as sincere as Kanye West being happy for Taylor Swift at the Grammys. You look at his face. You look at his grin. You see the meaningless handshake. The assistant principal watches the young ones get on the bus to go home. “My little cherubs,” she smiles fondly. The film then cuts to those ‘little cherubs’ stabbing Alex with pencils. Choking him. Punching him. Slamming his head into the back of the seat while others shout encouragement. Later, shown telling outright lies about what went down.
Bullies don’t always have a self-esteem issue. They have a lack of empathy. That is their problem. They don’t care about how other people feel. They’re narcissistic. They only think of themselves. They enjoy the power.
Bullying isn’t just physical. It’s psychological, social, emotion, verbal. Bullying is not just isolated to the school building anymore. The power of the internet has given rise to cyber bullying and the anonymity of such attacks gives even more sense of power. Bullying is everywhere now. In schools, homes, the internet, the workplace. And it needs to stop.

Bully has been criticised for apparently offering no solutions to the problem. And that’s perfectly true. The documentary simply shows what the problem is. It shows the truth, raw and brutal, of how bad bullying can get. But that’s only half the story.
My day job is touring to schools all around Australia, performing anti-bullying plays to primary and high schools. During the Q&A sessions I share my experiences with the kids and teach them how they can stop bullying. And as a prop for one of the shows, I use a book. It’s called Bully.

Bully (2011) DVD Cover.jpg

 

Yes, it’s the companion book to the film. Several hundred pages of information and strategies to combat bullying. And the best thing about it? It does NOT blame the victim. On the contrary, it emphasises that the victim is not at fault. I want to see a world where bullying isn’t tolerated or dismissed as harmless. I want to see a world where victims can report without fear of being disbelieved or being told they brought it upon themselves.

Bully is five years old now, but everyone needs to see it. It’s raw, hard-hitting and difficult to stomach at times. You’ll be fighting the urge to throw things at the screen. You’ll want to shake those adults and make them come to their senses. You’ll want to rip those brats off Alex while they stab him. But it contains truth that you just don’t see normally. They don’t talk at the kids. They show them the brutality of schoolyard life. But they also show hope. The final moments of the film show the foundation Ty Smalley’s parents set up, Stand for the Silent. Balloons are released for children who lost hope and committed suicide. Ty’s father delivers an emotional speech where he vows to fight bullying forever, because his son “will be 11 years old forever,”

This is an issue that isn’t going away any time soon, and the only way to fight it is by standing up against it as a community.

For more information on the film and the anti-bullying movement, visit  http://www.thebullyproject.com/

Next Blog: Bully Part 2-My Story

Brooklyn delivers where The Dressmaker failed

I don’t care about Valentine’s Day much and neither does my partner. However, neither of us object to a nice night out at the movies, so that was his Valentine’s Day gift to me this year.

I’ll be honest, I’d heard Brooklyn was a good film, but I didn’t know much about it. In some respects, this allowed me to go in with a very clear mind, free of preconceptions. And heavens alive, did this film deliver.

Brooklyn.0

I could kiss this movie

Brooklyn tells the story of Eilis Lacey (in an exquisite performance by Saoirse Ronan) as she emigrates from a small Irish town to Brooklyn, leaving behind her mother, sister and a very gossipy neighbourhood. She struggles to adapt to her surroundings, and is faced with the prospect of love.

Right away, this is a great if simple set-up, and the movie accepts it. There’s no attempts to embellish or make the story anything it isn’t. And you know what? Thank the heavens above, because this is enough. Seeing Eilis in this situation is all we need as an audience. It’s not about huge political, social or economical issues, it’s just a slice of life. Eilis seems human. She has real emotions. She’s homesick. She’s lonely. She’s happy. She’s hopeful. She’s scared. She’s conflicted. Eilis’ relationships with her mother, sister and boyfriend are very natural and relatable to everyone.
The other characters are memorable with defined personalities. You remember them all because again, they’re real. There’s no pretense or falseness here. The movie works so well because it’s firmly grounded in reality and therefore, the audience can connect with these characters and stay invested.

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I wish I had that swimsuit

Without giving away too much, the third act of the film centres on a dilemma Eilis has where it appears she needs to choose between the life she truly wants. Again, it’s a very real struggle, and you genuinely don’t know what she’s going to do. But the choice she makes is the right one for her, if somewhat sad, and the ending scene is absolutely perfect, bringing the character arc to a flawless conclusion.

The entire time I was watching Brooklyn I was thinking to myself “This is what The Dressmaker could have been;” and while I don’t know if I fully believe that, I still feel a lot more satisfied by what Brooklyn did. Both films were about two women trying to make a new life. Both were about two small towns with some vindictive members. Both had a love story and both were centred around a certain country.
Now, I loathed The Dressmaker for a number of reasons, notably the unfocused vision and unjustified violence (if you haven’t read my rant on The Dressmaker, click here and knock yourself out). The Dressmaker ultimately didn’t know what the overall theme and message was and instead made a very unsavoury and sub-par film. Brooklyn knows the scope, the audience and the overall tone. It accepts what it has to work with and engulfs itself in the story.
This movie has everything. It’s well paced, beautiful to look at and an engaging story with relatable characters. The acting is perfect and you stay invested every step of the way. I am so grateful that this movie was made, and made so well. It’s a rite of passage/transitional period story told to perfection. It’s a shame it missed out on Oscars, but hopefully it can have a strong DVD life. See it if you haven’t already.

 

The Dressmaker: Everything Wrong with Australian Films

The Dressmaker is one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had in the cinema.  It’s rare that a movie makes me this fundamentally outraged. It may be a critical and financial success but for me, The Dressmaker is an example of everything wrong with the Australian film industry. I know I’m in a minority here. I know a lot of people are going to disagree with me on this. And that’s fine, everyone likes different things. It’s not about whether you like or dislike a movie/TV show/anything. What matters is how well you can explain your reasons.

Based on the popular 2000 novel by Rosalie Ham, The Dressmaker tells the story of Tilly Dunnage, a talented dressmaker who returns to her childhood town to care for her mentally unstable mother. However, at the age of 10, Tilly was accused of murdering a local boy and was sent away. For some reason, Tilly can’t remember anything about the alleged incident and seeks both answers and revenge.
It’s one of the most successful Australian films. But that does not a good movie make. At least for my taste. It’s not like there’s an abundance of Australian films to begin with, and even less that are actually good. The only Australian films I like are The Castle, The Black Balloon, Gallipoli and Strictly Ballroom. Harsh? Maybe, but I can’t force myself to like something, and as a critic, I certainly can’t overlook such glaring flaws.

Rest assured, I am going to add as many spoilers as humanly possible. Fair warning to those who want to see it. And if you think the movie is a masterpiece, I advise you to stop reading. I don’t want to ruin anything for you. Also, I’m going on record here by saying I have not read the original novel. I didn’t even know it was a novel. It’s quite rare for me to see a movie without having read the book, but here we are. Frankly, I’m going to make sure I don’t read the book. That’s how much I disliked the movie.
I could write an essay here, but to spare my sanity and yours, here’s 4 reasons why I don’t like The Dressmaker.

checklist

Hollywood has checklists for cliches. I can have them too.

1. It’s miserable and unpleasant

What could be more uplifting than a false accusation of murder, rape, infidelity, abuse and revenge?
As I said, it’s a revenge film (poorly executed, but I’ll get to that later). The problem is that it’s in the guise of a comedy, and there is little comedy in this. This is a thoroughly unpleasant, depressing, mean-spirited movie.
From the minute Tilly enters, she’s hated by the town, and it seems like that was the case her whole life. Her mother isn’t exactly a bundle of joy either. Tilly was subjected to terrible bullying as a child from both school and adults alike. She was sent away, she’s treated with suspicion and nobody is interested in her side of the story. And just when it seems like something nice might FINALLY happen to our main character, the movie douses it with petrol and sets it alight while cackling madly. She just never gets a break. It’s exhausting, depressing and downright nasty. The movie was hell bent on making Tilly suffer as much as possible.
To give a better idea of what I’m talking about,  let’s look at another “classic” Australian film. Muriel’s Wedding.

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Take off the rose tinted glasses for a minute and hear me out.

Muriel’s Wedding is touted as a ‘feel-good’ movie.

How?!?

When, at any point in the movie, is this a ‘feel-good’ flick? Point to me that moment. Is it when Muriel is arrested on a false accusation someone made out of spite? Is it when she steals money from her family and goes on holiday to Bali? Then runs away? When her ‘friends’ disown her? How about her abusive father telling his family they’re all useless? Oh, I know. It must be when her best friend gets cancer and loses the ability to walk. Or when her dad has an affair and drives their browbeaten mother to suicide!
You beginning to see what I mean here? Adding all this violence (physical, emotional etc) is not going to make us feel more sympathy for the main character. Especially if, like Muriel’s Wedding, the main character is a pretty horrible person herself. Muriel lies, steals, manipulates and abandons people just to get what she wants. Sure, she’s horribly abused by people but that doesn’t give her the right to behave the way she does. There’s far better ways of dealing with things like this.
So right from the outset, we have a movie that delights in suffering, for the pleasure of the audience and other characters. That’s such a great foundation to lay a film on.

 

2. It makes no sense

What was the focus of this movie? What was the driving point? The love story? The truth about this murder? Revenge? Dressmaking? Small towns? The relationship between Tilly and her mother? How much I’m supposed to hate these characters?
Why can’t Tilly remember what really happened when Stewart Pettyman died? Who forgets the circumstances of a death which you’re accused of being responsible for?!?!?
How had Stewart Pettyman’s mother never heard that Tilly was supposedly the one who killed her son???? If the town is so malicious, why is Tilly’s mother Molly still there? And that deus ex machina plot point about Teddy’s mentally unstable brother somehow being a witness to the death but nobody ever mentioned it? He never said anything? And once he is revealed as an eyewitness and the other witness was lying, they do precisely NOTHING with this information. They don’t tell anyone, it’s never resolved, she’s never exonerated, nothing. Just a completely stupid sex scene. There was also no reason to kill off Teddy. Or Tilly’s mother for that matter. It was just more ways to ensure Tilly was downtrodden even further.
By the way, if Teddy was so smart, who jumps into a silo after a delivery? Stupid thing to do.
Whoever wrote this needs a high five. In the face. With a crowbar.

3. The characters are terrible

It’s bad enough that the story is sheer misery. They didn’t need to go so far as to make characters with no personality outside of being the worst human beings in the world. This was a who’s who of great Australian talent and none were utilised to their full potential.
With the exception of Tilly (mainly due to Kate Winslet’s performance), I hated these characters. They had little to no redeeming qualities and other than that were cliched as hell.
You have Gertrude Pratt, the town’s ugly duckling who is in love with someone who’s way out of her league. Sheesh, haven’t seen that in a zillion other movies and TV shows.

She gets the cliche of having a makeover, suddenly becomes the belle of the ball, is immediately engaged to him and with no transition whatsoever, becomes a complete and utter stuck up maniac. She had no transition and the flimsiest of excuses for existing in the first place.
Then you have the great Barry Otto as the loathsome chemist. He’s cruel to Tilly as a child and behaves in a downright sadistic manner while Molly dies in pain from a stroke.  And technically, Tilly is responsible for him drowning. Great. We’re supposed to think she’s innocent and mistreated but there you go. There’s no reason for this chemist to exist apart from being another despicable character.
Hugo Weaving is having a lot of fun as the cross dressing sergeant, but what cop could be bribed with a damn feather boa to reveal secret witness statements???
Evan Pettyman is probably the character I despised the most in the entire mess however. Shane Bourne gives a good performance but this character was just so thoroughly unlikeable he was DOA. This is a man who sleeps with every woman he sees, while drugging his wife Marigold and raping her while she’s unconscious. He’s also suddenly revealed as Tilly’s father. Ugh.
Of course, Marigold eventually discovers her husband’s affairs thanks to Tilly. What follows is a horrifying scene where she slices his Achilles’ tendons with a butcher knife and leaves him to bleed to death. This disturbing act is portrayed as both triumphant and somewhat comedic. And I am absolutely not ok with that.
Both genders were given a disservice here. The men were cheating scumbags and the women were gold-digging harpies. Teddy was the only character with a likeable personality but let’s face it, he was just eye candy and because they killed him off, anything remotely pleasant vanished from the movie.

4. There’s no message or reason for it to exist

As I said before, this is an incredibly dark movie. And on the surface, that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with dark themes. Australian theatre is full of them. Look at The Boys by Gordon Graham. If you don’t know, it’s a highly fictionalised play about the brutal 1986 murder of Sydney nurse Anita Cobby. The Boys is hard hitting, raw and violent, but it’s all done through the writing and characters. No crime is committed on stage. But the reason The Boys works is because there is a definite message. It’s anti-violence, and explores the reasons behind crimes and mob mentality. Because the play is told through the eyes of the women (the mother and girlfriends of the boys), the audience is pulled into the drama and urgency, leaving with deep questions about violence and the cause of anger and hate. Blackrock, also about the real life murder of teenager Leigh Leigh, ponders the responsibility of a community and the reactions to a crime. Radiance talks about rejection, history and family. Look at international works such as Spring Awakening. That deals with rape, homosexuality, abortion, death, suicide, teenage self-discovery, sado-masochism and all to show the consequences of improper communication and not being honest with teens about sex. None of these plays, and a list of others, are sunshine and roses. But again, the darkness has purpose. The violence and confronting themes are to make a point. To say something worthwhile. The Dressmaker does not do this. There was no message here. No attempt to make this a better world. The movie is essentially saying that revenge is the way to handle things. That murder and arson are completely justified if you feel so inclined. That is where I draw the line.
Allow me to use a line from Batman Begins.

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Because Batman is awesome

“Justice is about harmony. Revenge is about making yourself feel better,”

Tilly’s revenge solved nothing. It just created a whole world of anger and suffering. Like the movie did to me!

I know a lot of people like this movie but I’m sorry. I just think it’s horrendous. As an artist, I am mortified that this is the calibre of films Australia continues to produce.
The reason films like Gallipoli, The Castle and The Black Balloon are good films is because they’re about real people and real issues. The Kerrigans in The Castle are a loving family, though slightly off-beat, and they’re fighting for their home. Gallipoli shows the tragedy of WWI by making us connect to these characters as real humans. The Black Balloon touches on the rarely explored issue of mental disabilities and the effects on people.
Instead of being an interesting story of discovering the truth and righting what is wrong, The Dressmaker just shows that violence is justified if people wrong you. The characters are stereotypes and like I said, it’s surprisingly unfocused and mean spirited. I give the actors credit for their performances but it felt like their talent was going to waste.
This could have been a good movie. This could have been a unique and touching film about a young woman reconnecting with her mother after a troubled childhood. But it was a bloody mess.

This is what’s wrong with Australian film. There are few outlets for artists to utilise their abilities effectively. There’s very little funding or resources and as a result, our film industry is almost non-existent, and the quality of movies are nowhere near the quality they could be. Most movies are stereotypes, unsavoury and not very well written. But because they’re Australian, we’re expected to love them no matter their flaws.

The Australian film industry deserves so much more. But as long as the funding is locked away and talented filmmakers are denied resources in favour of movies like The Dressmaker, it will continue to suffer.

Into the Woods: From Stage to Screen

Into the Woods is without doubt my favourite musical of all time. I consider it a masterpiece of story telling. The characters are wonderful, the score is flawless, there’s a perfect blend of comedy and drama and the story is beyond ingenious. It’s also pretty much the only time I will ever admit to being an original cast snob. The DVD recording of the original Broadway cast remains one of my most beloved possessions.

The movie was stuck in development hell for years, but when it was finally announced for a 2014 release, I had mixed feelings. On one hand I was excited at the thought of seeing this show being immortalised in cinematic form. On the other hand, I was apprehensive. With a show this good, there’s a lot that can go wrong. Plus, this is a very hard adaptation to pull of since the musical is so theatrical, and has the advantage of an intermission.

However, the movie had a stellar cast (so I thought) and the director of Chicago at the helm, so I put any preconceived notions behind, and went to see the movie. And what did I get? A mixed bag. There were some elements that were done perfectly, and other elements that didn’t even make it up to bat. It’s definitely not the best musical movie but there was still so much the filmmakers got right. And overall, I quite liked it. So what worked? What didn’t? Let’s take a look.

Oh, by the way, spoilers ahead.

itwbroadway

It’s your last warning!

Into the Woods, for those of you who don’t know, is based on the 1987 Tony Award winning musical composed by the legendary Stephen Sondheim. Into the Woods cleverly interweaves the classic tales of Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel alongside an original story about a childless Baker and his wife. When a Witch reveals she cursed the pair to infertility in vengeance against his father, the Baker and his wife are tasked with finding four magical ingredients. The cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, and the slipper as pure as gold. As you can imagine, the characters all cross paths as they go to get their wishes granted, and everything ends happily….for the first act. The second act goes into detail about what happens after ‘happily ever after’ as the characters are forced to face the consequences of their actions in Act One.
This was one of the first examples of twisted fairytales. It brings the stories into the world of reality, by showing how life doesn’t always have a happy ending and what you want isn’t necessarily what’s best for you. It’s really the ultimate ‘be careful what you wish for’ message.
All the characters, main or supporting, have beautifully defined personalities that go beyond the fairytale archetypes. This is a true ensemble piece, and everyone has a realistic and developed character arc.
This story could have been a cluttered mess, and granted it is a rather dense plot, but it’s told in a way that never leaves you confused or lost. The pacing is excellent, and you have an even distribution of comedy and drama. They aren’t afraid to make you laugh and they don’t shy away from raw emotional scenes either. There’s a lot of very clever fourth wall jokes, the best one being the characters feeding the narrator to the Giant in Act 2. The score is absolutely brilliant (come on, it’s Sondheim!) with sweeping instrumentals and clever lyrics that only Sondheim in all his genius can supply.
It’s about as perfect a musical I can think of. If I had to nitpick anything, and I mean really scraping the bottom of the barrel, the ending does drag on just a little bit too long. But that’s honestly the only thing I can think of.

Ok, ok, I’ve sung the show’s praises. Time to compare.

The original cast starred Bernadette Peters (The Witch), Joanna Gleason (Baker’s Wife), Chip Zien (Baker), Danielle Ferland (Little Red), Ben Wright (Jack) and Kim Crosby (Cinderella).
In the film we had Meryl Streep (Witch) James Corden (Baker), Emily Blunt (Baker’s Wife), Anna Kendrick (Cinderella), Chris Pine (Cinderella’s Prince), Lilla Crawford (Little Red), Daniel Huttlestone (Jack), and Mackenzie Mauzy (Rapunzel). Generally speaking, this is solid casting, with most of these actors being good choices for the roles and many turning in strong performances. James Corden and Emily Blunt carry the film exceptionally well as two ordinary homemakers thrust into a world they don’t understand. Lilla Crawford and Daniel Huttlestone, though both too young for the roles imbibe them with youthfulness and energy. None of the supporting cast (Christine Baranski, Billy Magnussen, Johnny Depp, etc) stand out in negative ways, but the actress who really blew me away was Mackenzie Mauzy. Rapunzel isn’t a giant role in the musical and considering how much of her story was cut (which will be discussed later) she created something truly heartfelt and mesmerising.
However, this cast was not without weak links. As I said, Lilla Crawford and Daniel Huttlestone , while doing a good job, were both too young. Personally, I think Jack comes across as more comical when played older (around 18-20), considering the dynamics with his mother. As for Little Red, she’s always played by an adult who looks young (20-25 or so) for reasons that become dazzlingly clear as soon as the Wolf appears. The sexual tension in that scene just becomes creepy otherwise. I rolled my eyes when the Wolf opened his jacket, revealing an array of lollies. Subtlety? What’s that?
As for Anna Kendrick, her singing sounded lovely (possible autotune?) but her acting was…lacking. Granted, Cinderella is probably the hardest character to play in Into the Woods, but it can definitely be done. Kim Crosby turned this role into something quirky, funny and strong willed. Anna Kendrick let so many lines fall flat and missed a lot of opportunities for comedy and real drama. I don’t know if it was the character choices or the director, but her Cinderella came off as bland and not very interesting.
Then we have Meryl Streep. When I heard she was cast as the Witch, I was hyped. She seemed the perfect choice, no question. So we have the legendary actress of our time…in one of the most confusing performances I’ve ever seen. Every time I watch her, I shake my head and have less idea what she was trying to accomplish. She’s so over the top, but with no focus or reason. She adds all this weird physicality; it’s like she’s incapable of being still. I don’t know what went wrong here. It’s like she was afraid to be grounded and commanding and thought the safest option was to ham it up to 11. To be fair though, her singing has improved miles since Mamma Mia (which I am NOT planning to review any time soon, by the way) and her crowning moment was during Stay With Me. It’s not a bad performance per se, but it’s certainly not what I wanted or thought I was going to see from such talent. And in such an iconic musical theatre role. Bring on Bernadette Peters any day.
The music, however, is the star of the film, and it sounds magnificent with that orchestra. It sounds lush, epic, and majestically carries the plot forward. The staging of the songs is at times extremely clever, such as On the Steps of the Palace freezing time or the visuals in I Know Things Now. My favourite number by far was Agony, which was absolutely perfect. It’s one of the few male duets in modern musical theatre, and one of the funniest. Both Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen work off each other fantastically and the rivalry dynamic works a charm. The waterfall was a creative setting too (actually, the movie was visually stunning and didn’t rely on it either!). I do wish the reprise had been included, but you can’t have everything you want.
The only song I really missed in the film was No More, which is actually my favourite song from the musical. I can kind of see why it was cut though. Without the Mysterious Man, and therefore very little of the Baker’s Father, the song may have felt shoehorned in. But this also created a world of problems. Without the song, the Baker didn’t have much reason to return. His father’s speech made little impact. There was no decision made about whether to keep fighting on. The Baker just walks away, cries for less than ten seconds and suddenly he’s ok. Sense! Please make it!

Into-The-Woods-The-Baker-Wallpapers

There weren’t all that many changes to the story, and most of the changes I can understand and even like, because hey, it’s a movie, not a stage show. Having the Baker narrate the show was an inspired move, although I did miss the Mysterious Man. I’ll also admit I laughed out loud when the Baker’s Wife became pregnant in a microsecond. At least they had the smarts to actually make a joke about it.
But I do have one problem with the movie, and unfortunately it’s kind of a big one.

into-the-woods-cast

Great, good, meh, awkward, good, good, …what?, good, good, hilarious

In my humble opinion, the biggest mistake the movie made was not killing off Rapunzel. Why? Because it pulls the entire second act apart. In the stage show, Rapunzel suffers from Post traumatic stress disorder and post natal depression from her treatment at the hands of the Witch. The Giant’s wife climbs down the second beanstalk looking for revenge on Jack for killing her husband and stealing their things. Fair enough.  In the initial confrontation, the Narrator is fed to the Giant, Jack’s Mother is accidentally killed by the Prince’s Steward, and Rapunzel is trampled to death. The Witch sings Lament over her adoptive daughter’s fate, and spends the rest of the show trying to give Jack over to the Giant in revenge.

In the movie, Rapunzel simply tells the Witch she wants nothing to do with her anymore and rides off with her Prince. And that’s it. We never see her again.

This plot change was revealed prior to release, but the producers assured us that Rapunzel would still have a tragic ending. But this is far from a tragic ending. The Witch singing Lament, while still a beautiful song, has much less impact when sung about a person who has simply released a toxic person from their life. Additionally, because Rapunzel doesn’t die, the Witch has zero motivation to go after Jack. She has no reason to want the Giant dead. This also waters down the Last Midnight, as the Witch’s role as the ironic voice of reason is lessened since she has nothing at stake.

I realise the producers probably didn’t want to upset the kids in the audience by killing off Rapunzel. But here’s my argument: just who do they think this story is aimed at? It is not a children’s story. There’s a number of reasons why there’s a junior version of Into the Woods. Fairytales were originally dark and gruesome. They were cautionary tales. Killing off Rapunzel is one of the many brave choices James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim made in the original. None of the characters are in the right. The things they wished for didn’t bring them true happiness. There have been serious consequences, including death. In most fairytales, the Witch would be the villain, but as I said above, here she’s the voice of reason. The writers of the musical were not afraid of these changes in the pursuit of the message and story they were telling. The movie is another example of Hollywood being terrified of giving audiences the truth.

But at the end of the day, this is still a good film of a very difficult adaptation and it’s not getting out of here without a recommendation. Still, I would also highly recommend checking out the original Broadway cast DVD. Whichever way you choose, Into the Woods is musical theatre at its finest.

Inside Out: A lesson in good family films

Over the last month in my Seuss on Screen series, I’ve ripped apart the terrible Dr Seuss films one by one. Complaining about everything from lazy writing to deviation from the source material, I haven’t left a single fibre intact.

However, the time has come for some positive words. To shower praise on a film that deserves to be placed on a pedestal. Pixar’s Inside Out. I’ve been hard-pressed to find anyone who hasn’t seen this movie yet, but I’m sure there’s people who haven’t, so a warning. Spoilers ahead.

My favourite Pixar film is Up, and anyone who’s seen it will know why. I’d heard Inside Out was good, and the concept seemed creative, so I was pretty excited. Once I found out that Pete Docter was at the helm (director and writer of Up), I was sold. I simply had to go. I went and saw the film on my 23rd birthday this year, because I’m an adult. My partner and friends and I, all in our twenties and thirties, crowded into the theatre. And let me tell you now, this film did not disappoint. I think we enjoyed it more than anyone else in the theatre. Including the kids. Inside Out is everything I was told it is, and more.

First, the story for the two of you who don’t know it. Inside Out takes place inside the head of an 11 year old girl named Riley. Her five emotions are manifested in Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust. Riley has recently moved from Minnesota to San Francisco and is struggling with the adjustment. Through an accident, Joy and Sadness are sucked out of headquarters into the rest of Riley’s mind, leaving Anger, Fear and Disgust to run the show. It’s up to Joy and Sadness to return the core memories back to Headquarters and make Riley happy again.

See, Riley’s mind runs on her emotions and memories, which are coloured according to what emotion she was feeling at the time. Most are stored away in Long Term Memory Storage, but there’s 5 core memories, which come from a vital moment in Riley’s life. Each core memory powers the Islands of Personality (Hockey Island, Honesty Island, Friendship Island, Family Island and Goofball Island). With no core memories, the Islands are shut down. Riley can’t show emotion at all.

Throughout the entire introduction I was going “Brilliant. Brilliant”. It was just ingenious. There’s so much potential for creativity and imagination with this set up and believe me, the movie takes full advantage of it. From Riley’s dreams being made on Dream Productions movie sets to a hilarious running gag that explains why you can’t get that catchy song out of your head, the world of Riley’s mind is wildly creative and fun. Imagination Land, French Fry Forest, Cloudtown, all these places made me feel like a child again. Every second of commentary on the mind (“These facts and opinions look so similar!” “There’s conductive reasoning, there’s deja vu, there’s language processing, there’s deja vu, there’s critical thinking, there’s deja vu…”) rings true. There’s a joke about ice-cream related brain freeze, they talk about memories fading, they’ve really explored all the possibilities with how the human brain and emotions function.

There’s so much comedy in this, but the best thing about the comedy is that it all comes from the concept, not a reliance on pop culture references. In fact, in terms of the pop culture nods, I counted four. (I swear I was the only one laughing at the Chinatown reference!) The comedy comes from the world, and the characters.

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Anger, Fear, Disgust, Joy and Sadness are such wonderful personalities and they’re so much fun to watch. They’re more than just stereotypes, and this comes across strongly in the voice acting. What perfect casting. Amy Poehler as Joy is a smiley faced optimist with the most infectious energy, Mindy Kahling is a riot as the sassy Disgust, Bill Hader is hilarious as a hysterical Fear and Phyllis Smith hits every note as Sadness. But the one who steals the show, for me at least, is comedian Lewis Black as Anger. His biting delivery and dry humour is beyond pitch perfect.

These emotions work off each other brilliantly and their character arcs are rock solid. The Emotions go beyond simply being scared or happy. Fear is“really good at keeping Riley safe”. Disgust “keeps Riley from being poisoned, physically and socially,” and Anger “cares very deeply about things being fair,” And when Riley is unable to show any emotion, it’s a true representation of depression. Depression goes beyond being sad. It’s having nothing. I’ve heard the filmmakers consulted heavily with psychologists during production and my hats off to them. The way emotions and feelings and their relationship with what’s happening around you is so well represented in a way children can understand and identify with. Psychologists now are actually using the film to treat children and help them process their feelings, and you can see why.

Despite the charming humour, they also know the power of silence and visuals. There’s a number of moments in the film that give the characters and the audience a chance to draw breath. Look at Bing Bong, Riley’s imaginary friend. He’s one of the funniest characters in the movie, but he isn’t always the life of the party. He has several crying moments, such as when his rocket is sent to the dump. That moment sets up the character/story arc with Joy and Sadness later without rubbing your face in it. This, any horrible family film who happens to be reading this, is how you create pacing and foreshadowing correctly.

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Are you listening?

And now it’s time to talk about my absolute favourite aspect of the film. The moral.

Joy has to learn the importance of Sadness, and so does the audience. In the end, Fear, Disgust, Joy and Anger are all powerless to stop Riley running away. Only Sadness can get the idea out of her head. Only Sadness can make Riley feel anything again. Only Sadness can signal to the parents that Riley isn’t ok. And it’s without doubt one of the greatest scenes in cinema history. It shows the power of all emotions, and the importance of not masking your feelings. It humanises the parents, and shows the connection Riley has with them.

But after all that, Riley doesn’t have her typical happy ending, where she gets to go home. She learns to live in San Francisco. Just how it would play in real life. And this is a story about real life. When Bing Bong sacrifices himself for Riley and Joy, he doesn’t miraculously return. He stays forgotten. And it’s tragic, but it’s also real life. I know a lot people were very touched by that moment, because it brought back memories for them. I remembered my imaginary friend Michelle at that moment, and it was bittersweet. This is a film that is not afraid of the truth, and is not afraid of reality.

In today’s world, with the explosion of technology and social media, depression and feelings of inadequacy are rampant. With sites such as Facebook and Instagram, we can choose the persona we present to the world, and in desperation to feel like we have it all together, we often present the highlights and exaggerate how perfect life is. But the truth is that nobody’s life is perfect, and it’s ok to admit that not everything is bunnies and rainbows. Inside Out knows this, and I can only give it a standing ovation.

It’s rare that I say this, but this is about the most perfect movie you can imagine. Everything about this movie is the pinnacle of quality entertainment. And the best thing about it? It’s not just for kids. This movie has a message that is vital for every human being to know, especially in the 21st century.

I am so grateful a movie like Inside Out exists. It has everything. Wonderful characters, great acting, brilliant writing, creativity, originality, beautiful animation and a moral which is desperately needed.

For all these reasons and more, Inside Out has found a very special place in my heart. It’s a movie I can proclaim as a masterpiece of animation. An instant classic. Like everyone else, I simply love this movie and I’ll gush over it til the day I die. If you haven’t seen it, get that DVD, stat.

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You’ll never be forgotten by me 😥