The Punk Singer

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DIR: Sini Anderson • WRISimon Kinberg PRO: Sini Anderson, Gwen Bialic, Tamra Davis, Rachel Dengiz, Erin Owens, Alan Oxman • DOP: Jennie Jeddry, Moira Morel • CAST: Kathleen Hanna, Carrie Brownstein, Kim Gordon

While most people will say that punk is dead, this film attests to the fact that it might still be alive and well, its spirit encapsulated in the body of one Ms. Kathleen Hanna. Similarly, while some people might think that feminism isn’t a “thing” anymore (sure we have the vote now right?), this film will demonstrate the continuing importance of being a feminist and making just as much noise about it as possible.

The Punk Singer is a vibrant documentary which charts the beginnings of feminist punk movement riot grrrl and its legacy, while also detailing Hanna’s personal journey from her days fronting Bikini Kill to the present day. While the documentary is – like the riot grrrl movement – extremely energetic, it also has some incredibly poignant moments in which details of Hanna’s reasons for disappearing from the music scene are addressed.

The riot grrrl movement can be seen to coincide with the blossoming of third-wave feminism whereby, rather than seeing “femininity” as antithetical to feminism (concurrent with the general views of the second-wavers) young women were reclaiming femininity as an essential part of their feminist identities. Cue a bunch of young artistic American women forming punk bands in the early ’90s, calling themselves “grrrls”, dressing however they wanted and singing lyrics about sexual abuse and victimisation as though to a male audience. And yet, these women were championing other young girls and women, calling them to the front of the stage at their gigs and ultimately creating a space in which young women felt that their voices were being heard. That is the legacy of riot grrrl and of Kathleen Hanna.

While riot grrrl was an incredibly inspiring feminist subcultural movement, The Punk Singer does not shy away from detailing the problems that Hanna encountered being in the middle of it all. In 1997, Hanna moved on to a solo project which she called Julie Ruin. Recording the music at home, Hanna addresses the way in which the bedrooms of young women often become their secret spaces of creativity and it was this feeling that she wanted her solo music to evoke. Finally quitting Bikini Kill in 1999 – ten years after the band was formed –  she soon joined another band called Le Tigre, with whom she wrote more positive, upbeat music (something she says she needed to do). While the reason for quitting Le Tigre is revealed along the way, Hanna still continues to make music with her band The Julie Ruin, thus showing that, despite the many obstacles that came her way both in her musical career and personal life, she won’t be silenced.

The Punk Singer is an important and entertaining documentary in which Kathleen Hanna’s fierce spirit and musical talents are laid out for a whole new generation of “grrrls” to be inspired by. As Hanna once said about being a musician, “you don’t have to have magic unicorn powers. You work at it, and you get better. It’s like anything: You sit there and do it every day, and eventually you get good at it.”

Heather Browning

80 mins

The Punk Singer is released on 23rd May 2014

The Punk Singer – Official Website

 

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Cinema Review: We Are the Best!

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DIR/WRI: Lukas Moodysson  •  PRO: Lars Jönsson • DOP: Ulf Brantås • ED: Michal Leszczylowski • DES: Paola Hölmer • CAST: Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin, Liv LeMoyne, Anna Rydgren, David Dencik

We Are the Best! is the latest film from Swedish filmmaker Lukas Moodysson, director of such films as Lilya 4-ever (2002) and Mammoth (2009). The film – an adaptation of his wife Coco’s graphic novel Never Goodnight – is set in Sweden in 1982 and comprises the story of Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and her friend Klara (Mira Grosin), who wear their hair short and above all, love punk music.

Fed up at how they are being treated at their local youth centre, the two girls decide to book a slot in the centre’s music room and, despite not knowing how to play an instrument,  start a band. Soon after, they recruit a religious girl, Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), whose classical guitar playing may not go down well at the school concert, but whose ability to actually play an instrument seems good enough for Bobo and Klara. While Bobo is uncertain of herself, Klara ever self-assured and Hedvig quietly confident. We Are the Best! charts the girls’ evolution into a band but, at the core, is a narrative about girlhood and female friendship.

In fact, it was incredibly refreshing to see a film in which music forms a central part in the lives of three young pre-teen girls; figures that are usually depicted as being fans of bands, but never actually being in them. Indeed, there are so few representations of girlhood as boisterous, noisy, in-your-face and vibrant that this film really stood out in this regard. However, rather than make it seem as though being a pre-teen punk girl is somehow easy, We Are the Best! highlights the pressure put on young women to conform to an ideal standard of beauty, albeit in a subtle fashion. In one rather poignant scene, Bobo’s dawning realisation that her appearance might matter in life, results in her spitting at her reflection in the mirror.

In We Are the Best! female friendship is not depicted as being catty or divisive, rather it is enriching, inclusive and encouraging. One segment in the film navigates the thorny issue of boys versus best friends but, rather than fating female friendship to being inevitably tricky, the film – like the girls’ friendship – marches on decisively; being in their band is ultimately more important than fighting over a punk heartthrob from a neighbouring band.

The girls are mocked and patronised by those around them with insults ranging from “punk is dead” to calling them a “girl band” to insisting on showing Hedwig how to play an instrument that she has been playing for years. However, it is their friendship that ultimately keeps them going, not to mention their (rather catchy) song “Hate the Sport”. The film is insightful, full of humour and touching in many ways. Perhaps being the only female in the room at the time it was screened, this film meant slightly more to me in the sense that I was incredibly grateful to finally witness an accurate and engaging depiction of girlhood and of female friendship on screen. I certainly came out of the film smiling. We are the Best! truly is the best.

Heather Browning

15A (See IFCO for details)
101 mins

We Are the Best! is released on 18th April 2014

 

 

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Cinema Review: The Stag

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DIR: John Butler • WRI: John Butler, Peter McDonald • PRO: Rebecca O’Flanagan, Robert Walpole • DOP: Peter Robertson • ED: John O’Connor • MUS: Stephen Rennicks • DES: Ferdia Murphy • CAST: Andrew Scott, Hugh O’Conor, Peter McDonald, Brian Gleeson

New Irish comedy The Stag boasts an impressive cast including Brian Gleeson, Andrew Scott (fresh from his Sherlock fame) and the film’s co-writer Peter McDonald. Not forgetting, of course, Amy Huberman who – I was surprised to note – wasn’t attending to any table-setting, à la her recent advertising campaign.

The premise is simple enough: Ruth (Amy Huberman) desperately wants her fiancé Fionnan (Hugh O’ Conor) to go on a Stag weekend, and enlists the help of his best friend Davin (Andrew Scott) to get him to go on a “manly” adventure, or rather, to take a trip to the mountains. The catch is that Ruth insists that her mysterious brother “The Machine” (Peter McDonald) must be included in the plans, to the chagrin of all involved. So up the mountains they go, with a series of misadventures guiding the rest of the film along.

As with any road movie or narrative which has a trip at its centre, The Stag is more about an exploration of identity and the journey towards the realisation of that identity, than about the upcoming nuptials of Ruth and Fionnan. It wouldn’t be an Irish film without probing Irish identity just a little, now would it?  Moreover, The Stag is really concerned with the exploration of Irish masculinity and in typical Irish fashion, works through these issues in the format of a comedy.

These men don’t belong in the wilderness – gone are the days of representations of rugged Irish masculinity and the idea of Irish identity being tied to the land. Instead, we have the new Irish metro-sexual man in Fionnan, who plans his wedding meticulously, would rather attend a Hens than a Stags and contributes Frere Jaques to an Irish sing-song.

However – this is not a film which takes itself seriously in any way. The working through of Irish masculinity is played for laughs; there is one scene in which the group of lads find themselves naked in the woods (wearing only cavemen-esque attire), as Fionnan and Davin begin to talk through their feelings and emotion is at an all-time high.

The film sets itself up as a parody of sorts, and uses as shorthand for “us Irish” references to the recession and the love/hate relationship we have with U2. Despite making fun of Irish identity in a way that will almost certainly have an audience laughing, the film ironically falls into the trap of perpetuating these same, somewhat jaded discourses. Having said that, the film is a good-natured romp that will certainly entertain. Just, enough with Irish masculinity already. We’re ready for something else.

Heather Browning

15A (See IFCO for details)
94  mins

The Stag  is released on 7th March 2014

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Cinema Review: Carrie

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DIR: Kimberly Peirce  • WRI: Lawrence D. Cohen, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa • PRO: Kevin Misher • DOP: Steve Yedlin • ED: Lee Percy, Nancy Richardson •  DES: Carol Spier •  MUS: Marco Beltrami • CAST: Chloë Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Judy Greer, Ansel Elgort

There is no doubt that I was incredibly sceptical about the idea of a Carrie remake. Brian De Palma’s 1976 film adaptation of Carrie – originally a novel by Stephen King – is a personal favourite. Undoubtedly creepy, the film – like many old horror classics – is perhaps made more pleasurable for a contemporary audience because of its camp qualities, owing to the time that has elapsed since it first appeared on screen. By today’s standards, immersed as we are in the horror generated by big-budget CGI affairs, De Palma’s Carrie seems quaint, and therefore – in my opinion – all the more enjoyable.

Although faithful to the narrative, director Kimberley Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry, Stop-Loss) spins Carrie in a slightly different direction which has equal potential to please or irritate audiences. The horror aspect of the original film is stripped away, and in its place we have the story of teen bullying and high-school politics. While Carrie has – at its most basic level – always been a story about bullying, this film takes it a step further. By focusing on how bullying is perpetuated through the use of social media, Carrie resonates poignantly with today’s society in which many teens are victims of assaults mediated by online outlets. If you think that the original film’s famous shower scene is uncomfortable viewing, just add a smart-phone and it takes on a whole new level of vicious realism. By contemporising the film in this way, Carrie is made fresher and more appealing for a younger audience, although its infidelity to the horror conventions deployed in the original will not please old-school Carrie fans.

Chloë Grace Moretz – no stranger to the odd remake (think 2010’s Let Me In) – plays the protagonist. While certainly not as creepy and delightfully off-putting as Sissy Spacek’s depiction of Carrie, Moretz – with her wide-eyed innocence and youthful face – works extremely well in the role of a high-school teenager. Although technically just as pretty as the other girls, Moretz’s body language signifies the awkwardness of those in-between years, and a scene which takes place in a swimming pool at the beginning of the film poignantly encapsulates the alienating experience that outsiders like Carrie encounter in school.

However, the depiction of Carrie’s deranged mother Margaret White is disappointing. While the casting is perfect (who doesn’t love Julianne Moore?) it is a pity that although the film succeeds at modernising the characters and scenarios in Carrie, Margaret White remains relatively unchanged. While it is imperative that she is a creepy and sinister figure (as this is a large part of the story), it seems a shame that there is less of a creative re-imagining of her character than there is with the rest of the cast. Indeed, the film differentiates itself from the original by fleshing out high-school girls Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) and Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday), which gives the film an interesting depth. Unfortunately, and despite her acting abilities, Moore’s dialogue seems to stem from the script of the original film, which ultimately feels disorientating in a context whereby there is an obvious attempt to breathe new life into something old.

2013’s Carrie works on a different level to its 1976 counterpart – as teen fare devoid of the horror and hysteria of the original – and will therefore make the story more accessible for a generation raised on Instagram. Whether that’s a good thing is perhaps debatable. Fans of the original will probably not be too impressed, but unfortunately this is somewhat inevitable when one chooses to remake an already much-loved film. They may not be laughing at you anymore Carrie. Arguably, they’ll be crying.

Heather Browning

16  (See IFCO for details)

99  mins

Carrie is released on 29th November 2013

Carrie – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hcgOVzR9dHE

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