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Ruben Guthrie’s Sobering Message for Australians

Ruben Guthrie kicks off with a bang – a glamourous awards after-party at a sprawling waterfront Sydney home, with an open bar and shimmering pool.

Ad man Ruben Guthrie (Patrick Brammal) living it up at the opening of the flick

Ad man Ruben Guthrie (Patrick Brammal) living it up at the opening of the flick

Ad man Ruben (played by Patrick Brammal) feels on top of the world. He’s ticking all the boxes – rich, successful, with a Czech supermodel as his fiancee (Abbey Lee). He feels so good in fact, that he jumps off his balcony, aiming for his pool and misses… well kind of misses.

With his arm in a sling, he’s given an ultimatum by his fiancee Zoya: go one year without drinking and get another chance. Which is when we start to see beneath Ruben’s – and Australian society’s – shiny veneer.

 

Ruben Guthrie holds up a mirror to Australian audiences and the result is not always a comfortable one. Australians typically love their booze, whether it’s a glass of white with lunch, a champagne toast, a beer with mates or a night on the sauce. Binge-drinking seems to not only be encouraged in Australian culture, but celebrated.

However, the reaction to those who choose not to drink is both surprising and quite baffling.

After initially supporting Ruben’s little dalliance with sobriety, his friends, boss, and even parents do a swift about-turn, repeatedly asking him to have a drink with them.

Ruben's dad has a hard time connecting with his son when wine isn't involved

Ruben’s dad has a hard time connecting with his son when wine isn’t involved

It’s shocking, but what’s most shocking, is how common that scenario is for Australians.

Writer/director Brendan Cowell (right) based Ruben Guthrie recently on his own experiences giving up alcohol

Writer/director Brendan Cowell (right) based Ruben Guthrie recently on his own experiences giving up alcohol

It’s loosely based on writer/director Brendan Cowell’s own experience giving up alcohol for a year, which led to him losing friends and his social life taking a hit. Cowell even developed tips for anyone who doesn’t want to be pestered about drinking (one: to ask for a soda water with ice and a lime, so people assume it’s a vodka soda and leave you alone).

“How brave of you to stop drinking in this alcoholic country,” Zoya says in the film.

Indeed.

Drinking is ingrained into our culture

Drinking plays a big part in Australian culture

A close friend of mine gave up drinking and what she noticed most, was how uncomfortable is made others feel. Friends would pester her, saying, “when are you going to start drinking again? It was so much fun when you drank.” It’s as if being around sober people, 1) makes others feel guilty about wanting a drink and 2) makes them realise how much they need a drink to have fun. So they push their own insecurities outward.

A small comfort is that these attitudes might either be changing, or young people are comfortable enough not to let peer pressure get to them. A new study has shown the proportion of teens abstaining from alcohol altogether has more than doubled, from 28 per cent in 2001 to 57.3 per cent in 2013.

However, for Australians over 40, drinking is still problematic, and heavy drinking is still stable among young adults, according to the study by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE).

The message hits home in Ruben Guthrie, but it’s not without its problems. Ruben Guthrie was originally a successful stage play by Cowell and I tend to wonder how much this is his message getting lost in the transition from stage to screen.

I firstly did not warm to the amount of blatant product placement. Yes, it helped the film actually get financed and plays into the story of Ruben being in advertising, but ultimately the question has to be, at what cost? Where is the line drawn? It’s an important question, as product placement is likely to play a more and more prominent role in getting an expensive medium like film off the ground. Secondly, I found the characters themselves difficult to empathise with. In particular, I had issue with the depiction of women. Everyone from Ruben’s mother (played by Robyn Nevin), to his fiancee (Abbey Lee) to his girlfriend (Harriet Dyer), are either nasty, selfish, crazy or a little bit of each at different points in the movie.

Abbey Lee, Patrick Brammal and Robyn Nevin star in Ruben Guthrie

Abbey Lee, Patrick Brammal and Robyn Nevin star in Ruben Guthrie

But despite this, Ruben Guthrie is important because it carries a lot of food for thought. It has sparked a conversation about Australia’s drinking culture, which is always a good thing. The more Aussies who watch this film, the better, so people can ponder their own relationship with alcohol and how they might treat a friend who gives it up.

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Ruben Guthrie should be applauded for sparking a conversation about Australia’s drinking culture

 

 

Why you need to watch Inside Out

Let me put it out there straight away – I am an Amy Poehler fan.

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So there’s already a certain amount of bias from me before I even went to see the new Disney/Pixar animated flick Inside Out.

The emotions of 11-year-old Riley in Inside Out

The emotions of 11-year-old Riley in Inside Out

As expected, this sweet flick about the five emotions (Joy, Fear, Disgust, Sadness and Anger) inside an 11-year-old girl’s head, made me sob, guffaw, sob and reminisce about my own childhood. And sob. Did I mention that? This is a real doozy with switching on the waterworks. Which is also expected, considering it’s co-directed by Pete Doctor, who wrote and co-directed that other beautiful tearjerker Up.

But it’s also not just an intelligent, thought-provoking children’s movie. Inside Out is much more than that.

It’s a movie every child and adult should watch as an important lesson in mental health.

In Inside Out, Poehler voices the blue-haired, pixie-looking emotion Joy. No surprises there, considering the ever-optimistic attitude of many of Poehler’s characters, including Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation.

The always-positive Leslie Knope

The always-positive Leslie Knope

 

But Inside Out teaches us it’s not healthy to just have one emotion dominating all the time, as Poehler pointed out in this interview with The Guardian:

Joy and Sadness (voiced by Phyllis Smith)

Joy and Sadness (voiced by Phyllis Smith)

“I feel no one can be Joy all the time (and) I think the film reminds us that we have all the feelings and emotions running through our head,” she said.

“Joy has a really great arc in the film. She goes from thinking, she’s very single minded and thinking that happiness is the number one pursuit, to realising she needs to work with Sadness to get anywhere and she herself gets sad for the first time.”

Happiness seems to be the sole goal of our modern society, but to be constantly happy is not realistic.  It makes it hard when social media demands we only ever present a shiny, positive image to others. But I’m always curious about what’s on the left and right of that frame – where the truth and realism lie.  Our experiences don’t ever have to be defined as one singular feeling. When we’re on a rollercoaster, we can be scared and excited. Sometimes we can be so mad or exasperated at someone, but then they make you laugh. And sometimes we’re sad – and we’re allowed to be.

tumblr_mux65qd1dE1r5c2fso1_250Sure this is all a bit deep for a children’s movie, but it’s still a message that seeps through in a fun, incredibly imaginative way in Inside Out. And it’s an important one, particularly for children today, who I believe are facing so many more challenges than I did at their age.

Children today face many challenges

Children today face many challenges

I didn’t have to worry about Facebook, or Instagram. I could go home and switch off. But in a world that is always buzzing, always online, always demanding interaction, I think education on mental health is necessary to ensure people lead balanced lives.

So Inside Out may not be the greatest animated movie I’ve ever seen, but I think it’s one of the most important.

Just remember to take tissues.

Inside Out gets two thumbs up

Inside Out gets two thumbs up

 

 

8 Book Adaptations To Look Forward To

As the money-making machine that is Hollywood scrounges around for its next big blockbuster, it’s no wonder the studios turn their hopeful eyes to the pages of books or comics.

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The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, the Marvel movies – some of the biggest franchises in history have been adaptations. They bring with them hordes of devoted fans ready to see how their heroes shape up on the big screen. On top of that, sometimes buying the rights of a book can create enough excitement that sales of that go up, which in turn boosts a film’s hype, until something that was meant to be a small, indie flick (such as Twilight), turns into an enormous financial success.

Twilight

Sometimes the film adaptations can even take the basis of a book and turn it into something far more remarkable. Silver Linings Playbook is a prime example of this – it fleshed out characters and twisted the story into a clever romantic comedy about mental illness. Then you have something like American Sniper, which stirred so much debate that it would seem most of the US saw it, with the adaptation of Chris Kyle’s book raking in US$344 million in the States alone.

Now I’m not going to suggest you read Fifty Shades of Grey, Insurgent, or another drippy Nicholas Sparks novel. I’m not going to recommend any of these books that I struggled to read myself, just because they have been made into movies.

But here are eight upcoming adaptation of books that I think look particularly intriguing. FYI Mockingjay – Part Two is a given, hence why it’s not on the list.

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Child 44 by tom rob smith

Tom Hardy often chooses complex character roles and it looks like his part in this adaptation of Tom Rob Smith’s acclaimed thriller is no exception. Set in Soviet Russia, Hardy plays disgraced MGB Agent Leo Demidov, who investigates a series of gruesome child murders. Gary Oldman and Noomi Rapace also star, while Daniel Espinose (who helmed Safe House and Easy Money) is in the director’s chair. It’s the first novel in a trilogy, so if it does well, don’t be surprised to hear of more in the pipeline.

 

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The Jungle Book by rudyard kipling

The beloved classic, which Disney turned into a catchy animated romp in 1967 is getting a live-action makeover (with CGI animals) – something which the Mouse House seems to be doing with all its iconic flicks. This one is being directed by Jon Favreau, aka the guy who directed Iron Man and really helped get that little thing called the Marvel universe off the ground. With Scarlett Johansson providing her husky tones to the slithery serpent Kaa, the loveable Bill Murray voicing the loveable Baloo and Christopher Walken monkeying around as King Louie, on paper it’s sounding pretty spectacular.

 

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The Martian by Andy Weir

Did you like Gravity? Well, this could be the next big survival-driven space flick, with Matt Damon starring as an astronaut who becomes stranded on Mars, after his crew believe he dies in a dust storm. Directed by the man who made space claustrophobic way back in 1979 with Alien – Ridley Scott – it also boasts a jaw-dropping cast. Aside from Damon, there’s Jessica Chastain (fresh off that other high-concept space movie Interstellar),Kristen Wiig, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Kate Mara, Donald Glover and Sean Bean. History would tell us the last cast-members’ character won’t be around long, but you never know.

 

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frankenstein (aka Victor Frankenstein) by mary shelley

James McAvoy might star as the titular character, but in this twist on the classic horror novel, the story focuses on his young assistant Igor, played by Daniel Radcliffe. Told through his perspective, it focuses on Igor’s dark backstory, his friendship with medical student Viktor Von Frankenstein and, of course, how they created the ‘monster’ Frankenstein. It’s a different take to what we’ve seen – let’s just hope it’s better executed than last year’s dismal, I, Frankenstein.

 

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In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel philbrick

Based on a true story, Aussie Chris Hemsworth, Ben Whishaw and Cillian Murphy star in this adaptation of the award-winning nonfiction book about an eighty-foot sperm whale which attacked the whaleship Essex and left its crew stranded at sea with limited supplies. If it sounds familiar, it probably is – it was the incident that inspired Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.  Hemsworth re-teams with his Rush director Ron Howard to bring it to life and with the release date recently being pushed back to December – aka near awards season – it could mean the studio expects big things from this ocean epic.

 

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The Price of Salt (aka carol) by patricia highsmith

Patricia Highsmith’s novels have proved something of a goldmine for filmmakers, although the results have been largely hit and miss. There is, of course, Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951) and The Talented Mr Ripley on the high end of the scale, while last year Two Faces of January took an ambitious stab at the material, but was a bit undercooked. This adaptation of Highsmith’s 1952 novel stars Aussie Cate Blanchett as a suburban housewife who has a love affair with a young woman (played by Rooney Mara) who’s stuck in a department store job she hates. Directed by Todd Haynes, who helmed Far From Heaven and Safe, this is ticking all the boxes for a compelling drama so far.

 

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Truth and Duty (aka truth) by mary mapes

Cate Blanchett is certainly keeping busy, with this political drama also in the works. Filmed in Sydney last year, it stars Blanchett as former CBS television producer Mary Mapes, who penned her memoir after she and news anchor Dan Rather (played by Robert Redford) were fired for reporting that George W. Bush evaded serving in the Vietnam War. The film takes place during Rather’s final days at the network, in the lead-up to him broadcasting the damaging report. It’s the directorial debut for James Vanderbilt, who wrote the screenplay and penned movies such as The Amazing Spider-Man and White House Down. With a strong cast (also including Elisabeth Moss and Topher Grace) and intriguing story, this definitely shows a lot of potential.

 

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Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

After the success of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, it’s no surprise to see another of her chilling novels getting repackaged for the big screen. This one stars Charlize Theron as a woman who survived the brutal killing of her family as a child, but is being forced to face the events of that day again by a secret society who want to find out what really happened. Also starring Nicholas Hoult, Chloe Grace Moretz and Christina Hendricks this thriller is sure to shock and surprise.

 

Cate Blanchett intros Cinderella

Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett walked the red carpet and took to the stage before the Australian premiere of Cinderella in her hometown of Sydney, to give her own thoughts on playing the “wicked, not the ugly, stepmother”.

Blanchett (right) introduces the film at the stunning State Theatre in Sydney

Blanchett (right) introduces the film at the stunning State Theatre in Sydney

It’s a line Blanchett revealed she said to director Kenneth Branagh very early on – that although the stepmother has been variously called wicked and ugly over the centuries, her version would be the former.

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Blanchett grew up on the Wonderful World of Disney, which played every Sunday night at six ‘o’ clock (I too remember the excitement of Sundays for that very reason), so said she was thrilled about tackling a live-action version.

And the result is very traditional.

“I think and hopefully you’ll agree, (it) feels like you’re hearing the story for the very first time,” Blanchett said.

“It’s gone back to Cinderella 101. It’s not a zeitgeisty, now-y telling. It’s got everything that people want from a fairytale and that’s what attracted me.”

And through making Cinderella, she saw a different side to Cinders than what she had seen as a child.

“When I grew up, Cinderella wasn’t actually a fairytale that I gravitated towards, because I thought, she’s a little bit of a doormat,” she said.

“(But) Ken (Branagh) kept talking about kindness as a superpower and everyone’s talking about how hard you can punch, and how brave you can be – but how kind you can actually be, (it) actually comes back at you.

“So the first time seeing the film, I noticed what makes Cinderella tick, and that was a new thing for me, because I didn’t really understand that going in.”

Lily James and Cate Blanchett in Cinderella

Lily James and Cate Blanchett in Cinderella

Now for me, in all honesty, I can’t say I was incredibly excited about seeing this version of Cinderella – the latest Disney animated classic getting the live-action treatment.

Last year there was Maleficent, but what was intriguing about that tale, was how it turned Sleeping Beauty on its head, exploring the POV of the villain. I was pleasantly surprised at the result.

But Cinderella? Don’t get me wrong, I loved the animated flick growing up, mainly because there were talking, singing mice. But I don’t think Cinderella is a particularly layered character. In fact, in this version, she feels almost devoid of personality (played with earnest by Downton Abbey’s Lily James).

And she’s not the only one. Richard Madden aka Robb Stark is reduced to a smiling, besotted Prince, while the stepsisters are over-the-top caricatures. The saving grace is, actually, Blanchett, alongside Helena Bonham Carter as the ditzy fairy godmother.

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Maybe I’m too cynical. But this was actually too traditional for me. It felt like it was pandering to all the little girls who fell in love with princesses after Frozen. Except those princesses had flaws and guts and were fiery (there is actually a Frozen short playing before the film which is tremendously cute).

Having said that all the children around me seemed to love it. But I’m actually looking forward to seeing the next live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast. Belle is a brainy, brave outsider, who stands by her beliefs. On top of that Emma Watson, Emma Thompson and Kevin Kline are already announced for the cast. Be our guest? Yes please!