That Sugar Film

I was lucky enough in the past week to host five screening + Q&As for a new Aussie film that’s about to take the nation (and probably western world) by storm.
It’s called That Sugar Film and is directed by Damon Gameau, an Australian actor and filmmaker, who actually won Tropfest Short Film Festival back in 2011 with Animal Beatbox, to much online debate.

His new film is kind of like a Supersize Me, but with sugar. But instead of chowing down on Maccas everyday, Damon eats 40 teaspoons worth of sugar everyday for 60 days – and only through foods advertised as ‘healthy’. So no chocolate, ice-cream or lollies. Just cereals, low-fat yoghurts, pre-packaged stir fry sauces and the like.

The equivalent of how many teaspoons of sugar Damon ate every day

The equivalent of how many teaspoons of sugar Damon ate every day

It’s astonishing to a) see how easy it is to eat 40 teaspoons each day and b) see just how sick he becomes.

What also surprised me, is just how palatable (no pun intended) this film is. A lot of people don’t enjoy documentaries, because the stereotype is they can be dry and intensely factual. But while That Sugar Film might lose a bit of steam about three quarters in, it’s hugely entertaining and tremendous fun, considering we’re watching a guy torture his body with sugar for two months. In the screenings I was at, small children sat as mesmerised as their parents while watching Damon happily poke fun at himself and get people laughing – and learning – at the same time.

It’s definitely a flick that stays with you. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to look at cereal the same way.  And in fact, just today, in an effort to cut out some of the hidden sugars in my diet, I made some cottage cheese muffins so I wouldn’t reach for a chocolate pick-me-up. And after the shock-horror of seeing how much junk goes into wraps, I also whipped up a few homemade versions of them too.

Cottage cheese muffins from 101 Cookbooks

Cottage cheese muffins from 101 Cookbooks

That Sugar Film just got a limited run on screens here in Australia and it’s heading to cinemas around the world. Definitely worth seeing this doco, which packs a lot of food for thought. Just remember to skip the candy bar on your way – you’ve been warned!

 

 

Women in Film

It’s International Women’s Day on March 8 and as someone who lives and breathes film, it makes me wonder what that actually means for the ladies in the industry.
This past year has been a fascinating one in the realm of the gender debate in film.
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Most recently, we had Patricia Arquette delivering a passionate speech about wage equality during her Oscars acceptance speech, even if the message was soured backstage.
Anyone who still believed that action movies with women don’t sell, was well and truly silenced with the Jennifer Lawrence driven sequel Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 becoming the top grossing film in the US and in Australia.

Similarly, Scarlett Johansson-starrer Lucy gobbled up the box office in the US on its opening weekend with US$44 million, while action hero Dwayne Johnson’s Hercules only took $29 million the same weekend.

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AND the screenplay for box office smash Guardians of the Galaxy was actually written by a woman – Nicole Perlman – before director James Gunn took over the reins.

So there’s a lot to be pleased about as a woman in film. But it’s not all arrow-slinging heroines out there.

As revealed by the Sony hack late in 2014, J-Law may be reeling in the big bucks for studios with The Hunger Games, Silver Linings Playbook and the X-Men flicks, but when it came to coughing up the cash for her role in American Hustle, she and Amy Adams were paid less than their male counterparts.

I get why the writer/director David O Russell is earning more and in some ways I maybe understand why Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale might be, seeing as Lawrence’s character is more of a supporting role than theirs. But 1) how does that explain the gap with Amy Adams, who is definitely a lead role and 2) why would Jeremy Renner be earning more? Fanbase size aside, which Lawrence is probably leading in anyway, I think how valuable they are can be judged in another way: Renner’s role in American Hustle could have been played by another actor and it wouldn’t have changed the film much, but Lawrence owned that part. I don’t think anyone could have played it as well. It gave American Hustle a much-needed boost of energy and humour.

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Additionally, there was also the obvious and worrying lack of female nominees at the Oscars this year, particularly for Selma director Ava DuVernay and Gone Girl screenwriter Gillian Flynn. Some said this was because of the lack of representation in the Academy, however I believe the problem is far deeper.

It is a problem when there is only one woman people believe is in the running for best director at the Oscars. Many should be vying for a place there and for stories about women. Why is it that every single film nominated for the Best Picture was a story revolving around a man. Women apparently make up around half of the population, so why is it that we apparently aren’t watching their stories on screen? Where are all the female directors and screenwriters?

And then you have something like Wild. A personal, passionate memoir written by Cheryl Strayed, it’s produced by Reese Witherspoon, who also stars, and yet it’s adapted for the screen by men. I’m not saying that screenwriter Nick Hornby isn’t fantastic – An Education is a wonderful movie – and I’m not saying Jean-Marc Vallee who directed Dallas Buyers Club isn’t talented either. I’m just saying, if you have such a personal tale that focuses on that wonderfully complex mother-daughter relationship, why wouldn’t a female screenwriter, or a female director be the right choice to put it on screen?

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Author Cheryl Strayed and actress/producer Reese Witherspoon

 

Maybe there’s just not enough women out there who want a career in film. Apparently a recent report by Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University showed that of the 250 top grossing films, only 7 per cent of the directors were women. It was a two per cent drop over the last 17 years.

It’s easy to get disheartened by such figures. But then you watch a movie such as exceptionally frightening and fabulous The Babadook by Australian director Jennifer Kent, or revisit some of the work of Lynn Shelton, Jane Campion or Tina Fey. Or maybe you catch the documentary Citizenfour by Laura Poitras or a personal fave, Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley. And you realise there are voices out there. Loud voices. They’re being heard, but just not yet in the volumes we need.

Whiplash (2014)

A talented 19-year-old drummer with a lot of promise catches the eye of a music teacher, whose terrifying methods try to make students realise their full potential.

Not a great sell, on paper, hey?

What this basic synopsis of Whiplash doesn’t tell you is how this is a gripping, edge-of-your-seat nail-biter.

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That it’s a tight, twisting thriller masterfully written and directed by Damien Chazelle.

That you can’t guess the ending.

That you’ll see someone pushed to the brink of insanity, drumming until their hands bleed and fleck of blood splatter the drum kit.

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And you’ll see JK Simmons in one of his greatest, most commanding, performances yet as music instructor Terence Fletcher . He’s unpredictable and is almost like a cat stalking it’s prey – circling, maybe joking a bit to let its guard down and striking the next.

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Keep an eye out for Simmons come Oscars time – he will be a frontrunner for Best Supporting Actor.

But Miles Teller really holds his own against Simmons’ abuse-blasting Fletcher as Andrew, a student obsessed with becoming the greatest jazz drummer in history – and what he’s willing to sacrifice to achieve that.

You might remember Teller from Rabbit Hole, The Spectacular Now (worth a watch) or this year’s Divergent, but he really shines in this meatier role, in a way he hasn’t been able to in boysy comedies like 21 and Over or teen fare.

And we’re going to hear a lot more from him in the future, because he’s not only part of the Divergent franchise, he’s also playing Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic in 2015’s Fantastic Four reboot, and there’s a sequel to that planned for 2017.

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But back to Whiplash.

I have to say, I am a little biased with this film, because I grew up playing drums and saxophone in different highschool bands.

I never had a teacher like Fletcher, but I totally recognised this world – and that feeling, that yell-out-loud frustration, when you’re practising, and practicing, and practicing and you just can’t seem to nail it.

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Whiplash is ferorcious, it’s visceral, it has a brilliant ending, and I can’t say enough about how impressed I was with it. I also actually, funnily enough, was really inspired by it. It’s made me want to pull out my old saxophone for the first time in years.

GO SEE THIS MOVIE!

GO SEE THIS MOVIE!

Some fun facts:

– Whiplash is actually based on Damien Chazelle’s own experiences – he is a drummer and based Fletcher on a high school teacher.

– Miles Teller has been playing drums (rock, not jazz) since he was a teen and nearly all of what you see onscreen is him. Even on the soundtrack apparently around 40 per cent is Teller.

– Teller had to take a jazz drumming crash course, because he was a rock drummer – his actual teacher plays one of his onscreen drumming rivals in the film
– This was amazingly, filmed over just 19 days

– It premiered at Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and won the Grand Jury Prize.

– The title refers to the 1972 song by Hank Levy that’s played in the film… Damien Chazelle has said was the bane of his existence growing up.

This Is Where I Leave You (narrated with Tina Fey GIFs)

 

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When I first heard of This I Where I Leave You, it ticked all the boxes.

1. It stars Tina Fey and Adam Driver, amongst others, who are two people that can do no wrong in my mind (I’m obviously not biased at all). **

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2. It is a dysfunctional family drama, which has equalled awesomeness in the past (Little Miss Sunshine is a personal fave).

3. I came across yet another excellent podcast by Elvis Mitchell for KCRW’s The Treatment, where he chatted to the director Shawn Levy and it amped me up more.

Getting excited

Getting excited

There was also the fact that it was selected to screen at Toronto, which doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but hey, Levy’s other films like Date Night weren’t, so it potentially said something about what kind of movie I was going to see.

Then I saw the trailer, which was pretty sigh-worthy. It looked a lot like The Family Stone and seemed determined not to really explain what the movie was about.

So I went into this flick, thinking it could go either way.

Unfortunately, however, it went with the former and was quite underwhelming.

Ok this is an exaggeration.. I was a little disappointed

Ok this is an exaggeration.. I was a little disappointed

It had its moments, but actually, what This Is Where I Leave You felt like, was more of a series of nice moments strung together.

It focuses on Jason Bateman’s Judd Altman, whose life has taken a big dump on any plans he might have had. After walking in on his boss sleeping with his wife, he finds out his father has died, and heads back to his family home, where he, his sister (Fey), mother (Jane Fonda) and two brothers (Driver and House of Cards’ Corey Stoll) must ‘sit shiva’ for a week.

Apparently it was his father’s dying wish for them to take part in the Jewish week-long mourning ritual, that in this case, traps five family members who rarely see each other in the same house for seven days, along with and their significant others and children.

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Of course, past issues and current issues, old flames, and all the drama that you expect bubbles to the surface, but more with a melancholy sigh, than with gusto. The only character I really felt anything for was Tina Fey’s Wendy, who has a heartbreaking storyline about an old boyfriend.

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This Is Where I Leave You is sweet and sentimental, but not much more.

And with a cast of this calibre, I want to be leaving the cinema punching the air and planning my next trip to see it. Not walking out with a shrug.

** Just need a moment to rave about Adam Driver, who you probably recognise from the TV series GIRLS. The guy is a superb actor. He’s just so raw and unpredictable. If you haven’t seen him in Aussie film Tracks, stop reading this now and go watch it. BRILLIANT film.

Adam Driver in Tracks - a must-see Aussie film also starring Mia Wasikowska (Copyright The Weinstein Company 2014)

Adam Driver in Tracks – a must-see Aussie film (Copyright The Weinstein Company 2014)

And on a final note…. Just cause I can

Just cause I can