Movie version of Jasper Jones is off with a bang

Jasper Jones - Photograph by David Dare Parker

Jasper Jones – Photograph by David Dare Parker

It’s been eight years since Fremantle author Craig Silvey’s novel Jasper Jones hit the shelves and was devoured with equal adoration by both critics and the public.

If he’s been a little quiet since, I hear it’s because Silvey has spent the intervening years crafting and honing that remarkable novel into a tight, twisty hour-and-45-minute screenplay.

Read more at WAtoday.

Seven TV shows I abandoned in 2016

This list is riddled with spoilers, but they’re all very old news, so you should be all right.
It's not you, House of Cards. It's me.

It’s not you, House of Cards. It’s me.

There’s something about my life these days that makes me battle to become absorbed in a TV show, and so fickle I’m ready to quit at a moment’s notice.
The Ministry reckons it’s not the shows, but that I’m changing – probably valuing my time more highly. I was maybe more excited about other things in my life than about TV shows in 2016, making it harder to sit still for anything longer than 20 minutes… and boy, is it hard for find a decent 20-minute show these days.
So maybe the below shows deserved my neglect and eventual abandonment, maybe not. I’d be interested to hear if anyone else fell out of love at the same points or for the same reasons.
The Good Wife 
We quit late season five, after the certain shocking event I will not mention here even given my spoiler warning, just in case you decide to begin and finish this show based on my review, because I had it spoiled for me (oh God, the pain). I adored this show in its first few seasons, a fantastic drama with a compelling lead actress, beguiling premise, dramatic overarching storyline and also excellent episodic legal procedural plots. By season 5 the Ministry and I had started to go off it, thinking the plot lines were coming off the boil, and I grew miserable about the demise of the Will-Alicia relationship. I think the tension of that relationship was a major driver for the series, so when they were over, it lost magic for me. I somehow tolerate it less and less these days when shows make me miserable. Then The Event happened and I got way more miserable. I made it through maybe one or two more episodes and just couldn’t face any more.
I’d still heartily recommend starting the series. But I couldn’t finish it.
Game of Thrones 
Oh, be quiet, it’s not that shocking. See previous notes about things making me sad. Early GoT was so funny, sexy, sharp – and emotionally, it grabbed you by the throat. But by season five I was no longer being amused and titillated and amazed as I was early on. I was damned sick of being emotionally grabbed by the throat. Scenes got nastier and nastier. I felt like the show was in a race to the bottom of how awful and depressing shows could get. Then someone burned a nine-year-old to death at the stake. Then a sad princess got raped onscreen. Again, I started wanting out. I love gratuitous on-screen violence as much as the next man, but this was no longer enjoyable. I felt like I needed to knock back a scotch and clench a length of rope between my teeth just to get through an episode. The quality of the surrounding storylines and character development didn’t feel as though it was worth watching all this horror.
The Ministry watched season six without me, though he pretty much related in detail everything that happened in every episode. The final couple of episodes he watched, then insisted on showing me highlights reels, fast-forwarding the boring bits. I will concede the closing episodes looked pretty badass, and the Ministry says the makers have decided on fewer episodes for season seven, with higher budgets and a laser focus on quality (and I hear maybe some revenge for poor ole Sansa). So my attempt to quit this show might weaken when season seven comes out.
Breaking Bad
I know. Everybody just loved Breaking Bad. Mums, dads, probably sweet little old grannies, meditation teachers, everyone. For a while it was the name on everyone’s lips. I’d tried to watch it when it first came out and gave up at season two. This time, I tried again, and I only made it up to perhaps early season three. I knew it was supposed to have this amazing build and then a jaw-dropping finale, but again, this show just felt like it was no fun for me. I just felt depressed by it. Bryan Cranston is fantastic in the role. It’s got tension, humour, comedy and style in spades. I wanted to push through the horror of the end of season two, but it just felt too bleak for me.
Orange is the New Black was hilarious, edgy and original - made for binge watching. And one day, the binge was over.

Orange is the New Black was hilarious, edgy and original – made for binge watching. And one day, the binge was over.

House of Cards
I guess we’re starting to see a pattern. Another brilliant show that I just felt too dirty after watching to go on with season three. A brilliant first couple of seasons, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to keep going. I’m a sap, OK? I’d hoped for redemption for Doug. I didn’t get it. I got sad again. I’ve heard the new seasons are amazing. Yes, there’s definitely a pattern beginning here. It’s not you, TV. It’s me.
Girls
The Ministry reminded me I’d abandoned this one, surprising me somewhat, because unlike the others, I didn’t so much quit Girls as much as forget to keep watching it. I would forget, then remember and go back, then my interest would flicker and die again. I’ve Googled, and I believe I last forgot to keep watching around season four episode seven.
I related to it so hard at first (well, the me of 10 years ago who still lives on inside related to it) but the cringe factor frequently outweighs the awesome for me. However, it remains incredibly frank and perceptive about the experience of being a young woman – I kind of think men should be made to watch this for educational purposes – and manages to be likeable despite its characters being anything but. I’ve got a vague intention of restarting, this show, but it’s very vague. And I think the Ministry is hoping his education is complete.
Suits
This was a little different to the others in that I never loved this, and conked out in less than a season. I just couldn’t quite seem to work up any care factor. I don’t think it had the necessary style or swagger, though its attempts were obvious. We only made it through less than a season, so I haven’t given it much of a chance, but what the hell – life’s too short to watch TV shows that bore you. I don’t think I’d recommend this show to anyone. Even if they were terribly bored.
It should have been written by Aaron Sorkin. Then it would have been better.
Orange is the new Black 
This was a bloody fantastic show. The first two seasons I loved. In fact, this show and The Good Wife were the only ones in the list that prompted me to binge-watch. But I think I just felt that by the end of season two, neither the Ministry nor I were that interested in new storylines going forward, and we made a mutual decision to quit. We just felt like we’d had the best of what the show has to offer. I could be wrong. But I don’t think I am. It was a good time, but not a long time.
I look forward to quitting many more shows in 2017.
But lest you think I’m just impossible to please, I’ll be back soon with a list of shows I did NOT quit in 2016.

Rogue 1: The best Star Wars movie since Star Wars

Well, you know what I mean.
Disclaimer: this post is written by someone who came to Star Wars late in life and does not have ingrained knowledge or fandom, just normal fandom. 
Woot!

Woot!

The previous instalment in this franchise, The Force Awakens, while good – and a big relief even for me – seemed like the bar was set at “just don’t fuck it up” and that’s what they achieved … a return to Star Wars of old.
Finally, Rogue 1 breaks new ground. The feel of it can can best be described as a war movie, with a vintage look that blends it nicely with the original trilogy, while mixing in modern CGI and special effects.
The characters are stronger overall than they were in The Force Awakens, with no disrespect to Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford, who were a highlight. Bonus points are awarded here for a strong female lead and another excellent droid in K-2SO.
This movie stands alone beautifully, but also weaves its storyline seamlessly into that of A New Hope, along the way addressing a plot hole nerds have been complaining about for years.
And I mean seamlessly!  The end of this movie was so well done our entire theatre actually burst into spontaneous applause as it ended. And you can’t really give better feedback than that.

Madman releases Jasper Jones trailer

Madman Entertainment has finally released the trailer for Jasper Jones, adapted from Fremantle author Craig Silvey’s best-seller and featuring an all-star Australian cast including Hugo Weaving and Toni Collette.

Silvey is also known for his debut Rhubarb, but I and most people I speak to agree Jasper Jones is by far the favourite: a novel you never forget. It’s done the book club rounds because it’s that rarest of combinations, a literary novel and a thumping good read.

Now from Bran Nue Dae director Rachel Perkins, Animal Kingdom producer Vincent Sheehan and Goldstone producer David Jowsey comes this eagerly awaited adaptation.

It feels like it’s been a long time coming, with my anticipation heightened by Barking Gecko’s stage version a couple of years ago at the State Theatre Centre of WA, and more recently by hearing about the advance premiere screening of this adaptation at CinefestOZ in Margaret River some months ago.

The movie, set for theatrical release in March, follows Charlie Bucktin, a bookish 14-year-old misfit living in a small Australian town in 1969.

In the dead of night during the scorching summer, Charlie is startled awake by local outcast Jasper Jones outside his window, pleading for help.

Jasper leads him deep into the forest to show him something that will change his life forever, setting them both on a dangerous journey to solve a mystery that will consume the entire community.

In an isolated town full of secrecy, gossip and thinly veiled tragedy, Charlie faces family breakdown, finds his first love and discovers the meaning of courage.

But don’t think this is going to be boring and worthy. This was a seriously funny and vibrant book – that’s why its following is so loyal.

As well as Collette and Weaving, stars include Levi Miller from Pan and Angourie Rice from the excellent These Final Hours. Just looking at the stills makes me think they’ve cast this movie perfectly. I’m excited!

Down the rabbit hole with: Jane Austen

One of my favourite things about the world of books and movies is the way they lead you around by the nose, back and forth between them.

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An author, genre or entire series can form a rabbit hole, some I emerge from in a matter of weeks, others forming a whole warren that can take years to traverse, interconnecting with other related authors, genres and series. I fell into a warren of Stephen King books and adaptations about five years ago I’m yet to clamber out of, blinking. It doesn’t help that he is master of the cross-reference, meaning new works constantly lead you to back catalogue. Nice sales tactic, King!  

My most recent rabbit hole, literary biographies, saw me off crashing down side route after side route, and I have emerged from one as convert to the cult of known as Janeites.

Three literary biographies survived 2016’s Minimalist Challenge and 2015s Curing of a Bibliomaniac. My experience over the past year writing my own first novel has led me to poke with increasingly greedy interest into the lives of the authors I most admire.

So I devoured A. N. Wilson on the life of C. S. Lewis, Peter Ackroyd on Charles Dickens and my beloved Carol Shields on Jane Austen with gluttonous pleasure, wondering how did they write even one book, which bitter experience now informs me is a gruesome, impossible task?

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Deserves its own post. A standout biography.

All these were outstanding and made me determined to fill in the blanks of my reading and to re-read favourites. Starting with the blanks, I’m two-thirds through Oliver Twist and have now read Lewis’ sci-fi novel trilogy. Yes, he wrote space books! (They are a bit heavy. Strictly for extreme Lewis or sci-fi nerds).

Knowing the depth of the rabbit hole Lewis’ non-fiction list represents, and ditto for re-reading the entire Dickens canon, I tackled Austen first, since she was the only  one I’d never read at all. 

Another profoundly affecting book.

Another profoundly affecting book.

The story of her life – and untimely death – moved me and captured my imagination. Lewis and Dickens, while they certainly struggled, at least were born men. All the world wanted from Jane Austen was for her to get married and procreate, but with the encouragement of a lovely Dad she forged her own path, sometimes a lonely and difficult one, and in doing so gave the world gifts it still treasures.

And all to be struck down in her prime. This author who had suddenly hit national fame with just a few works of brilliant insight was struck with sudden illness and wasted quickly to a death at about 40 years old, without so much as a diagnosis. They now think it was perhaps breast cancer, the Shields biography explained.  

It’s hard for a modern soul to comprehend how such a woman, famous, beloved and blessed with a rare genius just flowering, not to mention committed to succeeding despite some serious odds, could simply be permitted to expire without any fanfare or medicine or even a knowledge of why she was dying. And yet this is what happened to Jane Austen, who was denied life and whose further works were hence denied to humanity. 

Struck by these ideas and by the social constraints that inspired Austen as much as they confined her, I picked up a giant omnibus and worked my way delightedly through Sense and Sensibility, then Pride and Prejudice. I found their intelligence and wit, their painstaking evocation of a world complete in and of itself, as utterly worthy of inclusion on any required reading list of English literature – and a damn sight more enjoyable than many other books on said list.

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A very large book.

I stopped here, however, having failed to get through the omnibus in six weeks, but now dying to see it all recreated on screen. I had a stab at Mansfield Park, on Netflix, which utterly failed to hold my interest, then turned to the BBC Pride and Prejudice.

This is in itself required viewing, as Bridget Jones’ dedication to Mr Darcy in a wet white shirt shows, and hits the jackpot. Glorious escapism and a near faultless adaptation, with excellent scripting, casting and story transmission. It even preserved the essential humour. The Ministry, who I was by episode three confident enough to drag into it, turned to me and said, “Is this supposed to be a comedy?” “Yes!” I replied, joyfully.

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My cheat sheet to get the Ministery up to speed on the plot of Pride and Prejudice.

Next we debated Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but I don’t want to go there. It might ruin my pleasure in the BBC series. It got 5.8 on IMDB, encouraging for a zombie movie, but all things considered it’s low priority. After all, there is The Walking Dead to provide zombies as required when the interminable mid-season break ends. 

Next I’ll probably read Emma, then re-watch the film for 90s nostalgia purposes. I’ve discovered the Ministry hasn’t seen it; terribly remiss, since his only reason is an irrational fear of Gwyneth Paltrow. He hasn’t seen Sliding Doors, either, so we’ve clearly got some remedial work to do these holidays.

Then maybe I’ll hunt out a good screen adaptation of Oliver Twist.

See what I mean?  The rabbit hole is a delightful place to be. It’s amazing I ever come up for air.



 

 

The verdict: Jack Reacher 2, Never Go Back

When an email about the new Rack Reacher movie went around the office one colleague responded simply with this screenshot.
tomThis quick-witted fellow has a point and he wasn’t the first to make it. Physically Tom Cruise is as far from Reacher as you can really get, and for a series that plays so heavily on the almost abnormal height and bulk of its hero, the choice of Tom Cruise – felt some, including me – was cheeky to the extreme even given his acting chops.
I was crushingly disappointed by the first movie. It wasn’t Cruise’s fault, even. Despite his physically not fitting the bill I believe he’s a good enough actor to make up for it with charisma and subtlety. But there was nothing subtle or charismatic about the first film, even remaining open-minded about film adaptations of books in general.
It was lacklustre and completely failed to communicate to a new audience just why Jack Reacher is a juggernaut in crime fiction, an iconic and truly original hero. It also failed to capitalise on the many opportunities for innovative storytelling that the books invite – his quirky inner dialogue, internal clock, travelling kit, deductive reasoning in fight scenes and in detection. All these could have been portrayed with a little originality – think some of the innovations used in the recent Sherlock Holmes series – but instead we got a generic action flick no different from any other.
This time, my expectations were low, but despite this die-hard Lee Child fan guarding her emotions jealously this time round, I still hoped. And I got excited.
So when I turned to the Ministry on my way out and exclaimed, “I didn’t hate it!” you will appreciate how big that was. It was a definite improvement on the first. Having said that, there’s still some way to go before this franchise would become what I wish it would be.
The makers had a bit of a stab this time round at some creative representation of Reacher’s thought processes, though it was a bit inconsistent and half-heartedly done with only a couple of examples.
The ‘maybe daughter’ was well cast, with Danika Yarosh playing Samantha Dayton, as was Cobie Saunders (Robin from How I met Your Mother) as Major Susan Turner.
Some of the liberties taken with the storyline were a bit eye-opening, though to be expected. The fight scenes were too filled with loud overdone THWACK sound effects and back-and-forth to be adequate Reacher fights in which Reacher just really is supposed to annihilate each opponent and remain largely unchallenged. I was a disappointed by the airplane toilet fight scene which should have been a damn good one, and people survived an astonishing number of what should have been fatal head injuries. In other words, it was a completely standard action movie, when it could have been so much more.
But I was happy overall with the improvement on the first – at least there was a little more well-placed humour in this – and I was thankful they didn’t waste time on sex scenes. Plus, Lee Child does a quick cameo as a policeman! So I settled down to watch the second half quite happily. I look forward to the third. Things can only get better. Right?

Suspend your disbelief for new Netflix doco, Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru

Tony Robbins: I am Not Your Guru

Tony Robbins: I am Not Your Guru

Every year 2500 people from 71 countries come to Tony Robbins’ Date With Destiny seminar in Florida.

The word seminar seems a little inadequate. It’s $5000 a ticket for six 12-hour days in which Robbins speaks and performs ‘interventions’ for audience members. Attendees also attend intensive group therapy  sessions to confront their demons, build relationships and eventually create strategies to take their ‘breakthroughs’ into the future.

Robbins was someone I had previously thought of as a fat old white dude who writes self help books for a living, but turns out to be a relatively young, foul-mouthed and funny behemoth of a man who looks like Jack Reacher and burns with an almost evangelical passion to help people, a passion that arose from the ashes of a troubled childhood.

His brand of ‘intervention’ is a technique he calls ‘practical psychology’, a unique blend of performance and personal connection in which people (like deer in headlights) tell him darkets secrets in front of a crowd of thousands. He doesn’t know the outcome of these conversations at the outset, but under the pressure of the spotlight he questions them closely, pays close attention to body language and every time, leads them to catharsis, usually using a heady blend of humour and tough love.

Tony Robbins: I am Not Your Guru. Photo credit: Courtesy of Third Eye Motion Picture Company/Netflix

Tony Robbins: I am Not Your Guru. Photo credit: Courtesy of Third Eye Motion Picture Company/Netflix

This sounds terribly weird, even grotesque, but it’s fascinating. His huge team of staff (the coordination  of this event is a wonder in itself) who run the groups identify from extensive questionnaires the ‘red flags’, or most damaged attendees, those at risk of self-harm or worse, and keep a close eye on them, as does Robbins himself, throughout the process.

I’m a noted sook, but I defy you not to cry at seeing people, who in some cases have faced unimaginable trauma, finding hope in a place they thought of as a last chance at life. It’s also an insight into a man who the phrase ‘larger than life’ was probably written for.

This is the first time in the event’s 25-year history that Robbins has let media in and the result is this remarkable documentary by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Joe Berlinger (Brother’s Keeper, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, the Paradise Lost triology).

Robbins said in a recent long-form podcast interview (worth a look itself) that after the premiere he got a letter from Michael Moore, telling him that watching it left him both a better man and a better filmmaker.

Suspend your disbelief and check it out – at the very least, it’s grand spectacle, but for many it’s redemption.