FILM REVIEW: Are We Officially Dating?

Words by Denis Semchenko

“So… What do you want to do with this?” is a question many daters dread. We’ve all been there and done that in our love lives; we’ve all endured highly confusing conversations and found ourselves in situations where we’d wished the ground beneath would open up and swallow us. Which is why the ability to poke good-hearted humour at these very human things and a stellar young cast make Are We Officially Dating? perhaps the ultimate contender for the title of 2014 Valentine Day’s flick.

Written and directed by emerging filmmaker Tom Gormican, the movie revolves around three sort-of musketeers: unattached Manhattan flatmates Jason (Zac Efron) and Daniel (The Spectacular Now’s Miles Teller), young, hip and ever-so-slightly-smarmy publishing company employees, and Mikey (The Wire’s Michael B. Jordan), a considerably more settled-down hospital worker. When Mikey breaks up with his wife Vera (Jessica Lucas), the boys invite him to move in with them and live up the bachelorhood. All three join an impromptu “no relationships” pact, yet no later than they hit the clubs, matters get complicated with the arrival on the scene of Ellie (Imogen Poots, familiar through 28 Weeks Later), an ambitious, level-headed girl with a fondness for spontaneity and sarcasm to match Jason’s.

Are We Officially Dating?

Although the latter executes a swift post-coital runner, he is gobsmacked to see Ellie in his company’s office as a client and offers her a sincere apology, which she accepts. The two begin seeing each other — but not officially dating just yet. Right on cue, the boys’ pact unravels: wisecracking Daniel, although terrified at the prospect of a female face in their “den of masculinity”, finds himself outside the friendzone with his longtime consigliore Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis), while Mikey inexplicably starts dating his ex-wife. Goodbye singledom; hello feelings and subsequent confusion.

Like numerous modern rom-coms with a twist, Are We Officially Dating? centres on a particular demographic: career-focused young people paranoid about forming “official” relationships. Although it doesn’t really break new topical ground, the film provides plenty of useful commentary in its accurate dissection of a commitment-phobic generation and the “Wal-Mart attitude”, or the habit of trying to get rid of someone as soon as they become “too much” for you. And once again, the performers do a spectacular job: ex-teen heartthrob Efron once again proves his worth as an organic character actor; Teller shoots off one uproarious one-liner after another and both Poots and Davis turn in superb performances as assertive young females who know exactly what they want and have no qualms in voicing their displeasure at their partners’ behaviour. Take your date out to see this, absorb the sentiment and get an idea.

Are We Officially Dating? (romantic comedy, USA. Running time: 91 mins) is out now.

Denis Semchenko is OffStreet’s former music editor. He is a writer, social media addict, vinyl enthusiast and serial muso. You can annoy Denis @gigarussian.

FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW: Russian Resurrection 2013

Words by Denis Semchenko

This year’s Russian Resurrection not only marks a decade of acquainting Australian moviegoers with prime cinematic art from the land of Mikhalkov and Sokurov, but also delivers a clear message: the Russian movie industry, while consistently rich on thought-provoking product since USSR’s heyday, presently has the capacity to “go Hollywood” with class. Here, we briefly examine our top five picks from the 2013 selection.

The festival’s opener The Geographer is everything one could wish for in a good movie: funny and sad, hopeful and tragic. Perhaps the most-recognised Russian actor nowadays, Konstantin Khabensky (of the Night Watch trilogy) stars as the alcoholic high school teacher whose heart of gold and dodgy best friend eventually win over his family troubles and motley, nihilistic class.

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The Geographer

On top of a strong cast and remarkable character studies (Khabensky’s sad dad/unorthodox teacher is a revelation), the film delights in contrasting Perm’s bleak post-Soviet landscapes and the region’s majestic white water wilderness — and, in a series of scenes, drips with classic Russian heartache. One to own.

One of the year’s biggest Russian box office hits, Rezo Gigienishvili’s Love With An Accent doesn’t hide its intention to sell Russia’s temporary political foe Georgia to potential holidaymakers — or, for that matter, tickle Western moviegoers’ buds. Imagine a lengthy, if very well-produced Tourism Georgia ad with patches of romantic comedy and you’re pretty much there.

"Love With An Accent"

Love With An Accent

Shot in glossy hypercolour, the movie tracks a number of (occasionally idiosyncratic) modern love stories: a young couple, on the run from the girl’s irate father, helped out by a kindly streetwise local; a lonely, frumpy Lithuanian TV worker who follows her dream of a Georgian child to Tbilisi and an overenthusiastic busboy; a jaded, mid-divorce Moscow actor who ends up in a remote mountain village following a textbook comedy-of-errors development; a genial conman at large pursuing a classical music fan’s affection. It’s all bright, optimistic and often visually fascinating, yet a little short on depth.

Getting its official international launch in Australia, Legend No. 17 brings one of Soviet sport’s greatest tales to the wide screen. Like many “sports sagas”, it dispenses with a few historical accuracies in its depiction of Valeriy Kharlamov’s rise to a forward position in the USSR ice hockey team — and with it, international fame following his almost single-handed demolition of the previously invincible Canadians in the 1972 Super Series’ opening game (recreated with near-deadset accuracy as the movie’s key sequence).

Legend #17

Legend #17

Rising star Danila Kozlovsky (Soulless) portrays the diminutive half-Spanish prodigy with the right amount of fire and skill, while veteran actor Oleg Menshikov (The Siberian Barber) is superb as mercurial coach Anatoly Tarasov. Putting the spotlight on oft-astonishing game choreography, the adrenalin-charged film hits you with the force of a well-aimed puck.

Perhaps the program’s most strongly “Russian Hollywood” offering, Metro is certainly as close as Russian filmmakers have ever got to an all-out Western disaster movie. Heavy on CGI and screeching metal noise, it’s as intense as you would expect from a scenario where the Moscow River breaks through the railings at one of the city subway’s busiest sections, flooding the tunnel and wrecking a rush-hour train.

"Metro"

Metro

Trapped underground and trying their hardest to get out are a colourful bunch of survivors from all walks of life including an estranged father, his little daughter and (as it transpires later) a successful, cynical love rival, a pair of students thrown together by the incident, a tough-nut former handball player and … a tiny dog. Top-drawer actress Svetlana Khodchenkova (who remains surface-level throughout) adds to the requisite emotional tension; naturally, there are well-placed nail-biters aplenty. Big, loud and merciless — as befits a fictional catastrophic event in a 15-million city.

Titled after a song from 1976’s iconic Soviet film Fortune’s Irony, Viktor Shamirov’s This Is What’s Happening To Me is a remarkable study in modern-day big city isolation — albeit with a pronounced Russian spin. Set in Moscow, it’s centred on the unlikely reconnection of two brothers thrown together by their father’s cancer diagnosis and aided by a slew of chaotic circumstances and unforgiving metropolitan traffic.

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This Is What’s Happening To Me

Wonderfully portrayed, the siblings are distinctly different people: one (Shamirov), a meek, neurotic yet highly moralistic family man, is trying to make his plane back to Volgograd, while the other (Gosha Kutsenko), a high-flying, detached corporate cog, obsesses over his scheduled singing performance at his company’s New Year’s ball. Along the way, they encounter a teenage girl who tries to make it across town to her estranged father. All of the above adds up to a thoughtful New Year’s Eve story with a little bit of a Lost In Translation vibe.

RUSSIAN RESURRECTION 2013 runs at Palace Centro from 26 July to 4 Aug.

REVIEW: The Nightingale and the Rose (Anywhere Fest)

Directorial team Jennifer Bismire (live production, puppetry and design), Belinda McCulloch (film) and Richard Grantham (music) transform Oscar Wilde’s tale of “love perfected through death” into a multimedia performance piece. Published in 1888, Wilde’s short story tells of nightingale’s sacrifice for a young student in need of a red rose to give his beloved. The parable unfolds through puppetry, text, film and music across seven screens in the Powerhouse Labyrinth and Ruins.

Let’s get any biases out of the way: I know key members of the team, and very much respect their work. (After a while, it’s hard not to know at least someone in any given Brisbane show.) Still, I trust them to trust me to review honestly.

There’s something mystical about shadow puppets. These articulated silhouettes are deftly handled by a large cast of puppeteers (Caitlin Marie Adie, Emily Bruce, Perie Essex, Eloise Maree, Lauren Neilson, Helen Stephens and Sami Van Barneveld).

The garden, across three screens, takes centre stage. At the far left, subtitles tell the Nightingale’s tragic story. On the other side, a live-action film plays out philosophical conversations between the Student and his professors. It’s a very different way to view a show; The Nightingale and the Rose is part-theatre, part-cinema and part-art installation, with the mood of a silent film. You don’t want to miss a thing — but there’s a lot to follow, and missing some (at least from the front row) is inevitable.

The Nightingale and the Rose

The filmed portion introduces new characters to Wilde’s story: two professors who consider the Nightingale’s plight as a thought experiment and guide their lovelorn Student. Wilde’s narration is split between these three figures. With regard to adapting a seven-page story for an hour-long show, it’s a clever idea; however, John Grey, Michael Croome and Tim Gollan’s performances feel unprepared and their dialogue lacks the conviction to transcend its role as a collection of leftover witticisms.

For the show, Grantham has arranged compositions based on works by Lili Boulanger and Olivier Messianen. His evocative performance transfixes, transporting us from the Powerhouse Ruins into the Nightingale’s garden. Still, the presence of the outside world is part of what makes Anywhere Festival different — you can’t stop passers-by chattering, nearby meditators chanting or car headlights flashing, so you may as well embrace the ambient soundtrack. I admired the cast, in particular, as they pressed on during an outburst from a gentleman who verbally abused an usher. (Yes, it’s a ticketed event in a public space — deal with it.)

It’s brave to stage this quiet, thoughtful piece outside of a traditional theatre space. Interestingly, some audience members behave more like cinemagoers: some chat while others even come and go. In last week’s interview, Bismire raised a pertinent question: “How many forms do we have to saturate a contemporary audience with to get across the same story?” Bismire, McCulloch and Grantham’s production is beautiful, but in the attempt to appeal to all types of viewers the story’s simplicity is sacrificed — along with the Nightingale.

The Nightingale and the Rose runs in the Powerhouse Labyrinth and Ruins from 9 to 18 May, 2013. Anywhere Fest.