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.

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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?

Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula isn’t…

Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula (1992)

I found it somewhat perplexing that Dracula’s character was fleshed out (ha!) at the expense of every other character. It made the movie completely unrelatable.

Worth your time, that is, though it definitely would have been cinematically mindblowing when released in 1992 (or so the Ministry assures me).

It shamelessly invents an entirely new storyline of how Mina Harker (Winona Ryder) is actually somehow a new incarnation, or doppelganger, of Dracula’s (Gary Oldman’s) long-lost wife from five centuries beforehand. Upon seeing each other again in eighteenth-century London they are transfixed by one another again, with Mina living a double life – one as the prim wife of solicitor Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) while secretly totally in love with Dracula and having sexy little meetings with him in which his teeth hover tantalisingly close to her creamy throat.

In the book, Mina is bitten against her will and horrified by the marks left upon her, and bound by a new ferocity to help her husband and his friends destroy the vampire and restore her to her original health and purity.

It’s not that Ryder isn’t good at acting sex-crazed and heaving her bosom and quivering with mouth agape. She is admirable at all these things.

But in order to tell this extra storyline, transforming Mina as it admittedly creates new depth in Dracula, the movie ignores precisely the things I believed made the novel compelling.

Like the excellently drawn characters, including a Renley drawn with detail and pathos, who work together to assemble clues, solve the mystery of Dracula’s evil intents and hatch a desperate plan to thwart him and free Mina.

Including a Dr Van Helsing, sweet and funny, willing to sacrifice all for the friends he is devoted to and views as his children. Despite being played by Anthony Hopkins, a skilled actor, he becomes in this version a leering old nutjob.

Francis Ford Coppola, Dracula, 1992

Suggested drinking game is to drink whenever you see gratuitous boob.

Or Lucy and Mina, originally female characters that managed to be well-rounded and strong and exhibit meaningful friendship and relationships despite the sexism inherent within their context. While they did act as ‘bait’ as a plot device, they also influenced events around them in other, more meaningful ways, and Mina’s personal attributes and skills drove the narrative. Lucy had fine emotional sensitivity, loss of which made her ridiculous character in this film even harder to stomach.

All this nuance was swept away as they ran about with breasts flopping (or alternately lay about with breasts thrust upward through filmy nightdresses). They seduced all without any sign of personal preference, lost in helpless lechery, completely without personal agency. Look, I’m all for a bit of sex appeal, but not at the expense of intelligence.

Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula (1992)

Poor old Keanu never gets a chance. To act, that is.

The plot mostly survives, skeletally, though I believe much of the tension of the final chase is removed as characterisation of Mina and Van Helsing now cannot do its work properly in ratcheting up suspense in the closing passages (replaced by a weird add-on in which Mina tries to seduce this fatherly old gent, which just would never happen in the original story). The love story between Mina and Jonathan, originally a fine and noble thing, is rendered wooden and completely unconvincing and for once it’s not Keanu’s fault.

Watch this movie for its 1990s visual tricks and special effects, so over-the-top in today’s context that they become a bit hilarious. Watch particularly for the obsession with florid cutaways and fade-outs that make much of eye imagery and other round things… I’m surprised there weren’t more nipples appearing in eyeballs, given the boob obsession. As a vampire movie and a popcorn flick and a product of its time and a portrait of Dracula, all excellent. But if you care about your education in the true classics of horror you owe it to yourself to read the book.

I vote someone should do a remake – twenty years on we’re just about due for something edgy, dark and restrained.

 

 

Inside Out (2015)

What a good day it is when a new Pixar movie comes out. The Ministry and I have been salivating over this trailer since seeing it for the first time maybe six months ago so the anticipation level was high.

Here is a terrible picture of me going to see Inside Out. You can't tell because of the scary clown face effect, but in this picture I'm really excited about seeing Inside Out .

Here is a terrible picture of me going to see Inside Out. You can’t tell because of the scary clown face effect, but in this picture I’m really excited about seeing Inside Out .

In case you have been living under a rock, this is a movie about a Riley, an 11-year-old girl who has always been happy and well-adjusted but is teetering on the edge of puberty when her parents uproot the family from its idyllic suburban neighbourhood and move to a grubby inner-city apartment because the dad’s job requires it.

At first they try to make the best of it, but the moving van fails to show up and cracks begin to appear in this previously close family unit.

The viewer not only sees the real action of what’s happening to Riley and her family, like they would in any animated movie, but also has a unique insight into Riley’s mind. The control room is operated various base emotions – Joy, Fear, Anger, Sadness and Disgust – who govern her responses to situations and all work in harmony to keep her safe, well and rounded-out, personality-wise. Around the control room is the rest of her inner world, including a land of imagination, long term memory storage vaults and a dream land. An all-important storage facility for core memories powers various islands that make Riley who she is – Family Island, Hockey Island, Honesty Island, Friendship Island and of course a Train of Thought running through it all.

The shock to the system of the move causes the whole system to tremble. Sadness starts acting out, touching stuff she shouldn’t. Internal infrastructure begins to collapse and Riley becomes sullen, withdrawn and depressed. Her parents are at a loss.

What they can’t see is that Joy, played, well, joyfully, by Amy Poehler, has left the control room to try to sort things out and get Riley back to normal. She’s Riley’s best hope to recover, but that means Riley’s left in the care of some highly unsuitable emotions.

Complex, right? And pretty heavy. But you’ll be glad to know they don’t get bogged down in explaining all this. It just happens. In the words of writing experts everywhere, they don’t tell – they show. The whole system is such an imaginative wonderland, so bright and gorgeous and humorous, that it’s not a chore to work all this out.

The messages about depression and personality and dealing with crises are meaningful, not preachy or forced. The movie is about a kid and any kid you took to see it would love it, but at the same time many of the jokes would go straight over kids’ heads. This is real insight, incredibly relatable, and it rings very true to me. As the Ministry said, it sweeps you up.

The voice casting was great, with a special stroke of genius putting Richard Kind (in lots of stuff, but I’ll always remember him as Mark from Mad About You) as Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong.

This is an incredibly funny, clever, innovative and profound movie. It breaks new ground.

We walked out exhilarated, our words falling over each other, telling each other what bits we loved – an all-too-rare cinema experience. Do it. Do it now!

Here is a terrible picture of me going to see Inside Out. You can't tell because of the scary clown face effect, but in this picture I'm really excited about seeing Inside Out .

Here is a terrible picture of me going to see Inside Out. You can’t tell because of the scary clown face effect, but in this picture I’m really excited about seeing Inside Out .