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!

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Amnesia: the ‘new’ Peter Carey book

Peter Carey’s easily one of my top five authors and on my fantasy dinner party list, so of course I leapt straight on to his new book. Well, I meant to.

Now that I’ve finally got round to it I realise that Amnesia was published in 2012, so shame on me. But it’s certainly not lost any of its potency during its patient wait for me on the shelves of the recently opened City of Perth Library (beautiful and well worth a visit).

Peter Carey's Amnesia

Disgraced political journalist Felix Moore, unemployed after a highly public defamation conviction, is commissioned by a shady but powerful ally to write a biography of – and thereby potentially gain public sympathy for – young Australian hacker Gaby Bailleux, whose parents he knew in their younger days.

She faces extradition to America for infiltrating prison systems there and at home and Moore is promised access to her in her hideout – but the access never eventuates. Moore, held by shadowy figures of the resistance movement in remote locations for his own ‘protection’, is forced into a dreamlike attempt to grasp his elusive subject, and pin her inner life to paper, through the infuriatingly scant and subjective secondary materials she sees fit to provide.

He writes her life story, each page whisked away for an editing process completely beyond his control. He is unable to separate her from the backdrop of the society into which she was born – one whose politics is forever troubled by its murky relationship with America, from Vietnam War-era machinations between the CIA and Australian government until the present.

It sounds complex, and it is. This plot is not for the faint-hearted, and I confess to a rather foggy understanding at times. It requires a focus beyond the level neede for your average page-turner or blog post; perhaps that’s why it’s taken me four years to read it.

But that’s not to say it’s boring. Its ambitious plot reflects a leap for Carey into a heady new direction for his style, in which he crafts a modern thriller that still bears the Carey hallmarks. His dialogue is immediate and unhampered by quotation marks, a feature of much of his writing, which adds to the sense of surreal displacement experienced by his narrator. It’s a part of his style that has been described as fabulism, in which a sense of the fantastic is blended with a realistically reported narrative. In fact, the whole book embodies this concept, in a sense – the story of the objective political reporter who suddenly finds himself flung down the rabbit hole.

Above all, the novel retains the sublime power of description I love Carey for, a power so great it really goes beyond description, in which words do not seem to go through your brain for translation into pictures and feelings, but instead seem to cut straight into your soul.

Amnesia, to be truthful, did not grab me by the heart and the imagination in quite the same unforgettable way his Oscar and Lucinda, or The True History of the Kelly Gang, did.

But it did reaffirm my belief that Carey is one of the world’s greatest living novelists. In it I could see the expertise that has built over the decades and appears to still be growing. A privilege to read.

 

The Curing of a Bibliomaniac Part 17: The Wife Drought – Why Women Need Lives and Men Need Wives (Annabel Crabb, 2014)

Books left: 9. Weeks left: 14 (it’s when the first number gets higher than the second that we’ll really need to start worrying. Until then, so far so good). 

the wife droughtNow, I know we’re up to Q, but I didn’t have any Q authors so thought I’d substitute this as it was a Christmas present from the Matriarch and I could actually review a contemporary, relevant title.

Just to shock you all.

I have been a hopeless Annabel Crabb fan-girl ever since I discovered her work while knee-deep in my journalism postgrad. The seasoned political columnist and host of ABC show Kitchen Cabinet is the only writer I know who can so successfully pair politics and humour, so when I heard The Wife Drought was coming out, I swallowed my characteristic queasiness about non-fiction and wrote it down on my wishlist.

I think Leigh Sales puts it rather well in this interview she did with Crabb:

LS Between your television show, newspaper columns, radio appearances, and raising your three children, you’ve now written a book, The Wife Drought. When are you going to get off your lazy bum and actually do something with your life?

My excitement to hear about Crabb’s nutso productivity was nothing to the excitement that built after I started the book. Finally someone was putting numbers and facts to my own beliefs and anxieties on the subject of women and work, and by some miracle, doing so amusingly. Central to the book is an investigation of the social construct of a ‘wife’ as not necessarily a man or a woman, but any partner who draws back on work responsibilities in order to run the couple’s household and/or family and enable the other partner to work. Crabb argues that any professional man or woman in possession of a ‘wife’ has a powerful economic and social asset backing their career. It just so happens that it’s usually the men who get wives, and women don’t get this luxury.

Crabb manages to both talk about the reasons for this without simplifying them into the two baskets she says explanations usually fall into – ‘women are hopeless’ and ‘men are awful’ –  and, moreover, says the end result is that it’s not just women who are missing out.

The book faced some criticism after its release for not adding much in the way of solutions to the debate surrounding this subject, criticism any book on this subject would probably face. But I would argue it rounds out the discussion in an unprecedented way by not only focusing on what women are losing out on, but on what men are losing out on too. Crabb illuminates a subject rarely spoken of – the barriers, both official and unspoken, that prevent men from adjusting their lives to take part more fully in family and home life. It turns out that men who would like to adjust their working lives after they have children are less likely to ask – and if they do, they’re less likely to be told it’s OK.

Crabb sets her solid base of compelling social research in the context of the unique perspective her life as a political journalist has afforded her – the revelations about some of the country’s most high-powered men and women and how they approach work-life balance, or lack thereof, are fascinating. Topping off this powerful mix are wry and frequently hilarious observations from Crabb, a mother of three in a dual-income household. Together, this combination of historical context, modern insight and personal experience makes the book a slam-dunk portrait of what the ‘wife drought’ is – and why we need to talk about it.

By writing this Crabb has cemented her place in my heart as the Terry Pratchett of Australian politics and society. I have an almost pathological fear of non-fiction (despite hoarding an entire bookcase full of the stuff) but I speed through this in days and, believe it or not, giggle out loud for much of it.

I feel I have hardly done justice to the level of insight in this book and cannot overestimate its importance. Women should read it, but men should read it too – and what’s more, they’ll like it.

More on The Curing of a Bibliomaniac project here.

Gasp! (Black Swan State Theatre Company and Queensland Theatre Company, Heath Ledger Theatre)

Everyone owns the air, don’t they? We don’t have the right to sell it…?

Phillip (Damon Lockwood), Lockheart (Greg McNeill) and Sandy (Steven Rooke) in Gasp! Image by Gary Marsh Photography.

Phillip (Damon Lockwood), Lockheart (Greg McNeill) and Sandy (Steven Rooke) in Gasp! Image by Gary Marsh Photography.

Gasp! is written by Ben Elton, stand-up comic, writer of such awesome books as High Society (read it) sitcoms including Blackadder and The Young Ones.

When big mining starts to run out of stuff to dig up, young executive Phillip (Damon Lockwood) is under pressure to perform. He comes up with the bright idea of marketing designer air, free from the unpleasant odours that of everyday life. Of course, it all goes dreadfully wrong and children in Africa begin to suffocate while the rich drink in designer air sucked in from exotic locations.

Gasp! is an update of Elton’s earlier hit Gasping. When I say updated, I mean no-kidding updated, leaving nowhere for contemporary Australia to hide from this – most unforgiving – portrayal of itself.

Apple, Palmer, Packer, Rineheart, Murdoch, PR, Labor, Liberal and the press, from The Australian to the ABC – none are safe from the glare of this most egalitarian mockery.

If you’re too busy to delegate yourself, for God’s sake get someone to do it for you.

In a fabulous scene, Phillip tries to have a serious conversation with new girlfriend Peggy (Lucy Goleby) as the audience giggles madly, watching him take girlish sips from a bucket-sized Starbonks cup. Yes, Starbonks.

Phillip, Lockheart and Sandy get down to business in the sauna. Image: Gary Marsh Photography

Phillip, Lockheart and Sandy get down to business in the sauna. Image: Gary Marsh Photography

I was eagerly awaiting the sets, which did not disappoint. Spare, simple and formed by key pieces of furniture and a screen backdrop, they roll on and off sideways, suggesting by turns an executive office, hospital room, PR-shark office-slash-playroom, cute living room – complete with that most iconic of Australian suburban symbols, the flying ducks – sauna, press briefing room and, cleverest of all, airport travelator.

Changes are rapid and made exciting with effective use of music and the actors’ silhouetted figures.

Lockwood, a hapless hero with a definite air of J. Pierrepont Finch – the whole show is very How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying – is an excellent lead, sharp and funny, with an elastic face and seemingly endless capacity to ad-lib over the odd technical difficulty, effortlessly charming the audience.

All the casting, in fact, was spot-on, with each actor fitting their role beautifully.

The Matriarch, my guest for the evening, thought the relationship between Phillip and Peggy a touch stilted, and I had to agree – there lacked a bit of the warmth their innocent courtship could have had, an opportunity to humanise the play a bit more. But this is a minor criticism of a play that proves an incisive critique of Australia’s resources-reliant economy and big businesses, albeit one that never lags or gets preachy.

It’s laugh-out-loud funny throughout, acidic satire tempered with lashings of toilet humour and a smidge of nudity, topped off by a hilariously dotty closing scene.

A great night out and a reminder of how satisfying and energetic contemporary theatre can be.

The production is on at Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre of WA until Sunday 9 November, and then travels to Queensland.

Bookings: ticketek.com.au, 1300 795 012 or in person at venue box office.

Day One, A Hotel, Evening (Black Swan State Theatre Company, State Theatre Centre, June 2013)

The party supply business is rife with corporate espionage.

Stella (Roz Hammond) and Madeleine (Michelle Fornasier) in Day One, A Hotel, Evening. Photo by Gary Marsh Photography

Stella (Roz Hammond) and Madeleine (Michelle Fornasier) in Day One, A Hotel, Evening. Photo by Gary Marsh Photography

This is just a taste of the rapid-fire dialogue in Australian playwright Joanna Murray-Smith’s Day One, A Hotel, Evening, Black Swan Theatre Company’s latest show at Northbridge’s Heath Ledger Theatre.

The fast pace is echoed by the swiftness of the set changes – once again, Black Swan shows off its talent for very cool sets, this time with a set of revolving brickwork interiors setting the scene for countless murky liaisons between three married couples.

We have only two responsibilities: to be curious and promiscuous… in a cafe.

Sadly, even these responsibilities might be too much for Murray-Smith’s upper-middle-class malcontents, who can’t even seem to cheat on each other very successfully.

There’s no cure for intuition.

Incredibly fast-paced, like an HBO series crammed into an hour and a half, the show is littered with contemporary references – everything from Berlusconi to Apple, and keeps the audience in fits throughout the bewildering array of adultery it is presented with.

I’m what you’d call aggressive aggressive. It wastes less time, but some people find it a little off-putting.

The play isn’t completely devoid of higher meaning – by the end, clear themes emerge on suburbia and the discontent it can breed, where happiness is not a given, but a decision one must make.

If what you have doesn’t cost anything, what’s it worth?

All of the actors do splendidly in the repartee-heavy script, delivering flurries of razor-sharp one-liners and put-downs with clarity and excellent comic timing.

The standout, however, is Roz Hammond of the impressive resume – clearly an actress with staying power (http://www.inmycommunity.com.au/going-out/theatre-and-the-arts/The-test-of-time-/7645963/).

Her dotty Stella is fabulous and the perfect choice to deliver the play’s wistful stabs in the gut as it draws to a close.

Will it stand the test of time? Possibly it won’t become what you’d call a classic, but if classics were all we ever got, the theatre would die a swift death. We are living here and now and we want good plays, with solid – if whirlwind – plotting and plenty of laughs, and Joanna Murray-Smith is clearly a playwright who can deliver.

Disclosure: I was a guest of Black Swan for this show. But I write without fear or favour.

Hurry: Ends this Sunday, June 30. Tickets:  http://www.bsstc.com.au/whats-on/day-one-a-hotel-evening/

Strictly Ballroom (1992)

“By putting your trust in the Federation, you’re doing the right thing.” 

image

I am amazed by Baz Luhrmann’s ability to stamp his personality on everything* he touches. You would think a man so in love with romantic intensity, rich colour and pure glamour would find slim cinematographic (a word?) pickings in early 1990s Australia – yet he seems to relish electric-blue eyeshadow, men in heels and scary big hair and make them his own.

Hereafter, I will abandon style and call him Baz, firstly because I feel like he is my friend (who I met when I was 11 and in love with Leonardo DiCaprio) and also because he has an awkward surname.

There is such a sense of menace in Baz’s films. He is a master of the wheeling shot that looks as though the camera is peering from the eyes of a character reeling on the spot and about to topple, whether they have been overwhelmed by drugs, sickness or as in the case of Strictly Ballroom, just by other people.

Sometimes other people make me feel like that too, Baz.

The blackness of his humour translates perfectly to this premise, in which dark, mysterious forces within the national dancing authority try to stamp out a young couple’s creativity on the dance floor. Though it is a hilarious look at nutty stage parenting and small-town insularity, it draws downright chilling parallels between the Federation and a totalitarian regime with a charismatic, yet slightly insane and very power-hungry ruler.

The colours are vivid and the shots frequently grotesque, with many a looming moon-face, bright red with self-importance or anger, looking as though someone has laid an orange-pink filter over it.

But equally, like all of Baz’s works, it is a film of great beauty and sensuality. His use of the soundtrack is as effective as ever,* and there is such intensity to the dancing and such chemistry between his two main characters that the story’s climax will make you hold your breath.

Many elements could seem hackneyed, more than 20 years after this movie was made: an ugly, clumsy duckling is revealed to be beautiful and graceful; a closed community cuts itself off from the world, only to implode; there is even a slow clap.

But it doesn’t feel hackneyed, it feels original and heartfelt and leaves you feeling utterly bouyant… not to mention a little defiant.

*Disclaimer: I have not seen Australia, so assume all my comments about Baz Luhrmann are in reference to his “red curtain” movies.  

Turbo blog

Presenting my guide to what I’ve been consuming recently. You’ll be happy to know I’m not including foodstuffs. I don’t want anyone to know these. 

  • Parrot and Olivier in America (Peter Carey, 2009)

Sadly, the picture of the cover is not that of the incredibly DROOLINGLY HANDSOME BLACK LEATHER-BOUND WITH STAMPED TITLE LIMITED EDITION SIGNED BY AUTHOR WITH RED RIBBON BOOKMARK copy that I have been reading. But I can’t really take a photo that will showcase its beauty.

I haven’t finished this yet. But as his novels get bigger and weirder, the more I love them. Even if you start a Peter Carey book thinking “oh, this is set in a place/time/culture that I know” you will soon leave your own realities far, far behind, scrabbling for footholds in Carey’s completely unique universe. No two books are the same, except for his reliably amazing writing, and – so far – this one has not disappointed. It’s talked about By Jennifer Byrne and the team on the ABC’s First Tuesday Book Club Christmas Special, 5/12/10. Watch the video here: http://www.abc.net.au/tv/firsttuesday/

  • SAS: The Search for Warriors. Two-Part Documentary: Military History, 2010 

For the first time in 25 years the SAS has allowed documentary photography. The resulting two-hour-ish experience spread over two episodes is unrelenting, adrenaline-filled, clear-your-schedule viewing and should not be missed. Whether you’re a military history devotee or absolutely not, you have my personal guarantee that you will be fascinated by every solitary minute of this deeply impressive and thought-provoking doco. Watch it here: http://www.sbs.com.au/documentary/program/sasthesearchforwarriors

  • Independence Day. Movie: Science Fiction/Action, 1996

Once again, the L.A.P.D. is asking Los Angelenos not to fire their guns at the visitor spacecraft. You may inadvertently trigger an interstellar war.

You can’t go wrong with this movie. You need to watch this intermittently throughout the whole of your adult life to retain top mental functioning and psychological health. An admirable choice for your Boxing Day stupors, now and in the future.