Tag Archives: [Adolescent Film]

FILM NEWS: “Tomorrow: When the War Began”

17 Sep

Before boy wizards and sparkly vampires dominated the best-seller list, in Australia there was a little series about a group of teenagers waging a guerilla war from ‘Hell’ that captivated  teens everywhere. Considering the unprecedented success of the film adaptations of the Potter series and the first Twlight film,  it seems fair to wonder; will Tomorrow: When the War Began be Australia’s first book-to-screen-series success story?

If you were an Aussie teen growing up in the 90s, you had to have encountered John Marsden’s iconic Tomorrow: When the War Began series. An engrossing story that spanned seven main novels (and a sequel series some years later), the Tomorrow books followed the exploits of a small group of rural-based teenagers, who attempt to fight back after an unspecified nation invades Australia.

These books were essential reading to teens everywhere, whether you waited until it finally became available at your school library, or hit up your nearest and dearest come birthday or Christmas time. And now, for better or worse – though, this cynic can’t help but feel it will be worse – the first Tomorrow book is set to become a feature picture. Beginning filming in late 2009, Ambience Entertainment and Screen Australia have pumped 20 million dollars into this ambitious venture, handing over both directional and screenwriting duties to Stuart Beattie.

The ‘creative mind’ (and I use that term exceedingly loosely) behind the cringe-inducing script for recent ham-fest G.I. Joe, it seems a shame that the screen adaptation of such a definitive novel is being left in the hands of Beattie. Also responsible for the ‘story’ (again, IMDB’s words, not mine) behind Pirates of the Caribbean and the screenplay for Baz Luhrmann’s Australia, it’s difficult to be optimistic about the creative vision that Beattie will bring to the film. Heading up a a cast that will most likely be populated by unknowns is former Neighbours star Caitlin Stasey (as heroine Ellie).

Whether Beattie’s Tomorrow is a horribly misguided mess of a book-to-screen adaptation or a surprising triumph,  perhaps some of the real and unavoidable disappointment arises from the very notion of an adaptation.

While film is a wonderful medium, and easily my favorite means of creative production (stay with me on this one) there is something to be said about reading a text that is so fantastically vivid you’re able to paint your own imagery in your mind. When the words make you imagine something so engaging that it will always outshine whatever you’re physically shown on screen.

Perhaps then, the better the book, the harder it is for the filmmaker? This would certainly seem the case on some of the worse ‘re-imaginings’ of past novels, for example, Nick Earls excellent novel ’48 Shades of Brown should have produced a film far better than the exceedingly shallow 48 Shades.

If this is indeed the case, come next year, it will be with fear and trepidation that I will edge into Beattie’s Tomorrow. And if it is as I expect (read: bad), I will perhaps have to make a note to only watch film adaptations of terrible books.

YOUR GUIDE TO: Hard Candy (2005, dir. David Slade)

1 Sep

hard candy

“Go on then. Worship me.” 

For those that loved:

Freeway, Kill Bill (part one), Halloween

For those that are writing on:

Representation of adolescent femininity/sexuality, positions of spectatorship, revenge cinema, images of women in the cinema, masculinity in crisis, relationships of power (especially in relation to representations of masculine and feminine sexuality)

In a nutshell

Far more brutal than a Mean Girl, and anything but Clueless, sharp-witted and ever-resourceful Hayley Stark is a teenage force to be reckoned with. This is ‘girl power’ in it’s truest, and most dangerous form. An understandably difficult but rewarding film.

Plot

When charming 32-year old photographer Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson) strikes up a flirtatious online ‘friendship’ with seemingly naive 14-year-old-student Hayley Stark (Ellen Paige), the suggestion of a face-to-face meetings seems wrought with danger for Hayley. However, after going back to Jeff’s secluded suburban home, Hayley reveals a strength, intelligence and taste for revenge that throws them both into a tense cat-and-mouse struggle for power. As Hayley forces Jeff to confront his past indiscretions, the viewer is left to ponder the truth behind not only both characters actions, but both characters themselves.

Why should I watch?

Despite the R 18 rating, Hard Candy is not an explicitly violent nor explicitly sexual film, especially when compared to the numerous ‘gore porn’ features (Hostel or Saw anyone) that have found success within recent years, or even the slasher-pics of yore. However, the sensitive subject matter – adolescent sexuality and paedophilia –  at times make Hard Candy a difficult, albeit intriguing watch.

Slade masterfully maintains a tense and uneasy atmosphere throughout Hard Candy, and despite being hampered at times by an occasionally cheesy script, his artful direction and deft editing choices keep the film running at a cracking pace.

Playing out like a cinematic stage play, the relationship between Hayley and Jeff develops in a perhaps not entirely believable, but engrossing way, thanks to skillful performances from both leads. Wilson delivers a problematically charismatic performance, and when considered against the manipulative and almost monstrous Hayley, it is hard to know which side you are cheering for, if any at all. 

Consider/Further study etc

  • Initially Hayley can be seen to embody a fantasy image of adolescent femininity. How does Hayley subvert traditional characteristics of adolescent femininity? How dors she challenge the normative status of such characteristics?
  • How are women and women’s bodies represented throughout Hard Candy
  • Is the act of looking represented as an empowering or disempowering act? 
  • Consider (particularly in relation to Laura Mulvey’s theories of cinematic spectatorship) the spectatorial structures within Hard Candy. Does the film support or challenge Mulvey’s association of the gaze with masculine power and the act of being looked at with feminine submission?
  • Consider the roof scene, towards the end of the film. Here, Jeff’s ‘phallic’ weapon (his knife) is rendered useless. Are there any other instances within the film where a phallic symbol becomes disempowered?
  • Vision and voyeurism play an important role within Hard Candy. How does Jeff view women – ie does he worship them? Fear them? Hate them? What might this suggest about the representation of ‘traditional masculinity’ within Hard Candy?

YOUR GUIDE TO: Brick (2005, dir. Rian Johnson)

8 Aug

brick

“Ain’t bodies got a right to be curious?”

For those that loved:

Pulp Fiction, Magnolia, Layer Cake, Donnie Darko

For those that are writing on:

Adolescent cinema, representations of masculinity (and femininity) in contemporary film, noir, neo-noir or suburban noir, construction of the self (many philosophical possibilities arise from the relationship between Brain and Brendon)

In a nutshell

Drugs, thugs, scheming dames and noir intrigue set amongst a Sunny suburban landscape. Expect heavy lashings of teenage angst; this is Sam Spade, the junior years.

Plot

After receiving a frantic call from his ex-girlfriend Emily (Emilie de Ravin), teenage loner Brendan Frye (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) must unravel the mystery that surrounds her disappearance. Inserting himself into an underground drug ring lead by the scheming Pin (Lukas Haas), with the help of his seemingly only friend Brain (Matt O’Leary) Brendan is determined to “make Em’s troubles mine” until he can uncover the truth.

Why should I watch?

In the strangely parent-less world of Brick, kids converse in hipster noir lingo that seems to be at odds with the sun-streaked suburban locale. The usually banal high school setting is inflected with an eerie seriousness, as are the characters that inhabit this bleak landscape.

An intricate murder mystery is slowly unravelled by the unflappable man-with-a-plan Brendan and while the story is perhaps familiar ground for anyone even vaguely familiar with the noir tradition, it is a story worth telling.

Solid performances are delivered by a relatively unknown cast; Gordon-Levitt in particular shines as Brendan. Having escaped the hell of child stardom (he played Tommy in 90s sitcom ‘Third rock from the Sun’), Gordon-Levitt seems only a few more wise character choices away from indie-to-mainstream, Gyllenhaal-styled stardom (hello, (500) days of summer?).

The almost Western styled guitar strains that echo throughout Brick add to the intence, haunted feel of the film and further emphasise the care put into this production. A promising first feature from director-to-watch Rian Johnson, Brick is the kind of intricate film that benefits from repeat viewings.

Consider/Further Study etc

  • In what ways does Brick resemble classic noir? In what ways does it subvert noir conventions to present a contemporary suburban image of film noir?
  • Film noir is often suggested to be a ‘cinema of paranoia’. In what ways is this reflected within Brick?
  • Consider the last scene that takes place between Brendan and Brain. Without wanting to give too much away, notice Brain’s last path of movement. What might this suggest about his relationship with Brendan?
  • Emily, Kara and Laura all embody vastly different representations of femininity. In what ways are these characters similar to the classic femme fatale archetype? In what ways do they differ?
  • Throughout Brick, Kara is shown in many different costumes, each creating a distinctive representation of femininity. What might this suggest about contemporary understandings and constructions of femininity, and the normative understandings of femininity?
  • In the final exchange between Brendan and Laura, she whispers a “dirty word”. What might this suggest about the representation of masculinity within Brick?

Further Reading

  • Oliver, Kelly and Trigo, Benigo, 2003, Noir Anxiety, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press
  • Tasker, Yvonne, 1998, ‘New Hollywood, New Film Noir and the Femme Fatale’, in Working Girls: Gender and Sexuality in Popular Cinema, London, New York, Routledge
  • Telotte, J.P., 1989, Voices in the Dark: the Narrative Patterns of Film Noir, Urbana, University of Illinois Press