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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The Curing of a Bibliomaniac Part 21: The Mystery of Swordfish Reef (Arthur W. Upfield, 1943)

Books left: 5. Weeks left: 8 (In the words of Douglas Adams, DON’T PANIC)

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Oh no, this was not his natural background, this heaving water which retained nothing on its surface for long. This was 11 January, and the genesis of the case, dated 3 October, was out here far from land. Life and the elements leave their records on the bush for years; but here on the sea life and the elements left no record for even such as he to read.
In all his bush cases he had many allies: the birds and the insects; the ground which was like the pages of a huge book wherein were printed the acts of all living things; the actions of rain and sunlight and wind. And greater than all these added together was his ally Time. And now of all his former allies only Time was with him.

Here lies another author I would never have discovered without working in ye olde secondhand bookshop and being familiar with its ‘literary crime’ section.

Books of this genre are characterised by their size, being neither the new-release “trade paperback” size or the pocket “A-formats” that generally follow. Literary crime novels are usually “B-format,” the same size as your literary fiction, and as they never fit in the general and crime fiction “troughs” so were generally poked into their own sad little section underneath that no-one saw. This was a shame, because these are some of the best books: a little off the beaten track in content as well as location, they represented the best of both worlds. Arthur Upfield proves that this holds true now as ever, a classic example of this rather unlikely genre: this Australian 1940s author’s hero is detective inspector Napoleon Bonaparte, investigator extraordinaire, bush tracker unparalleled and identified as was in those days called a “half-caste” Aborigine.

Upfield’s mysteries have earned their place as classics in Australian as well as crime fiction.

In this title “Bony”, as he prefers to be called, is asked to go to sea, a little swordfishing town called Bermagui on the coast of New South Wales, He must investigate a murder that appears to have occurred on the open water, and that has baffled the local and regional police.

I wondered for the first part whether I would be bored. I am not a particular fan of things angling or any stories that smell of the ocean – for someone who pities genre snobs, I sure do avoid general thrillers and seafaring fiction.

But the passion and suspense of hunting game fish, with all accompanying bloodlust, is masterfully done in this book. I, poor innocent, soon realised that swordfish were not the two or three-foot jobs I had imagined and I quickly became fascinated. I did a lot of Google-imaging before I was sated.

What begins as a charmingly dignified old-school mystery ends in a satisfying wash of adventure.
Without having even familiarised myself with Bony’s usual stomping-ground, I am delighted by the story of his being a fish (ha!) out of water.

When I am in my native bush, gentlemen … everything I observe, except the clouds, is static. On the sea nothing is static. A ship does not leave tracks on the sea.

And oh, the mystery! I was quickly sucked into this tale, with its distinctly Agatha-Christie type premise of a fishing launch, the Do-me, that vanishes without a trace, and the discovery of the murder of one of those aboard when we know she was seaworthy and those on her trustworthy. Like Marple or Poirot, Bony adores a puzzle such as this.

And so, having read all their reports and having gone through their collection of statements, I decided that this was a meaty bone on which to try the teeth of my brain.
It is certainly an out of the way case. I have to admit that I shy clear of crimes of violence where there are fingerprints and revolvers, bodies and missing valuables, and a nark or two in a thieves’ kitchen waiting to inform for the price of a beer. I like my cases minus bodies and minus clues, if possible. Which is why this
Do-me case so attracts me.

Bony is like my beloved Poirot, too, in his immaculate turnout, grand manner and “abnormal vanity” and lack of bother about things like procedure or the chain of custody; “his custom [much like Poirot’s] being to fade away after having placed the key-stone of an investigation into position.”

A note on historical context – apart from the occasional alarming use of the word half-caste, which is to the modern reader the equivalent of throwing a grenade on to the page; and a slightly hair-raising instance of Bony’s “Aboriginal instincts” rising up in a time of extremity to allow a “primitive” rage to rise to the surface, these instances are in exception to the general tone of the book, which has minimal reference to Bony’s origins, apart from the occasional pointing out the lack of prejudice other characters greet him with once they witness his “educated” voice and elegant manners. Perhaps in the other books’ more landlocked settings the racial elements are more pronounced.

Add to Upfield’s masterful mystery and delightful hero a pretty turn of phrase, and like a swordfish, I’m hooked. (Sorry, I’ll stop.).

I have found another crime writer I love… as if I needed one.

More on The Curing of a Bibliomaniac here.

The Curing of a Bibliomaniac Part 4: Grace (Robert Drewe, 2005)

Grace, by Robert Drewe

Grace, by Robert Drewe

Books read: 4/26. Weeks remaining: 47

I got this one lining my nest because Robert Drewe’s The Shark Net was a classic that everybody except me, it seemed, had read. True to bibliomaniac form, I got them both, and still haven’t read the The Shark Net.

In my defence, I also love good Australian literary fiction, which I thought this was bound to be, and I love crime thrillers, and was tantalised by the idea of a book straddling these genres.

So that’s why I have it, but clearly it all wasn’t enough to make me actually read it. All these years later I was drawn to it over the other “D” potentials (the shortlist having comprised Don DeLillo, Philip K. Dick and Daphne du Maurier) because it was set in the Kimberley region of WA. Having just spent my honeymoon in the region, this is the closest I can get – at present – to going back there.

The tale is of 29-year-old Grace, named for her archaeologist father’s famous discovery of a gracile skeleton in the Kimberley desert before her birth. Grace is a film reviewer in Sydney, but when a stalker tears apart her relationship, her job and finally threatens her safety, she flees to the remote Kimberley and becomes a crocodile park worker and nature tour conductor.

Her life, as she slowly learns to appreciate it afresh, is once again complicated, this time by the appearance of a refugee. Police failed to round him up after a cyclone facilitated a mass regional detention centre breakout, and he is nearly out of strength from wandering in the outback.

The two try to help each other as the authorities – and Grace’s stalker – close in.

With my lit-fic-crime-thriller comes a healthy and interesting, if unexpected, dose of subjects including beach worms, archaeology, anthropology, history, crocodiles, Aboriginal rituals surrounding the dead, refugee politics, erotomania and film theory. It was clear the author possesses the wide knowledge born of boundless curiosity (and undoubtedly, meticulous research). But it is not immediately clear what the connection between all of these concepts is.

At least part of an answer hits me, though, after an exchange between Grace and her fugitive friend.

“… there were schools of prehistoric fish swimming right where we are now.”

“I would rather hear about crocodiles.”

“ ‘The crocodile kills hungry. It also kills not hungry.’ That’s an Aboriginal saying.”

“It will attack you whether it’s hungry or not?”

“If it’s in the mood. If it’s hungry, of course. If it’s not hungry it might kill you anyway and store you in its larder for later. Or kill you just because it feels like it, because you’re in its territory. Maybe it’s nesting. There’s a famous one that attacks outboard motors – tries to chew them up. It thinks their noise is the courtship bellowing of another male.”

“What else?”

“They like to kill each other, too. The big ones like to eat the smaller ones; the females like to kill the other females – they’re very intolerant animals.”

This is a story of the hunted. Although, in a place like the Kimberley, Grace and the nameless refugee are surrounded by natural predators, they run from their own kind. Even the gracile skeleton for which Grace was named bears the marks of an inexplicably violent burial ritual.

Grace takes tourists on a walk to see turtles laying eggs and, maddened by goannas preying on the vulnerable eggs, the group beats a goanna to death.

In this climate the nights were far busier and more bloodthirsty than the days. Every morning showed evidence of tiny murders. The scuffle marks, the pile of chest feathers, the ball of bloodstained fluff.

After the constant sense of imminent terror Drewe builds, the end, when it comes, is a surprise and a relief.

This novel is confidently written, periodically funny, and seemingly effortless in its style and poise. I am remotivated to read The Shark Net. So I’m calling that success.

Keep or let go? If you love it, let it go. Must practise this. Grace will be a good read for whoever picks it up off that bus stop bench.

More on The Curing of a Bibliomaniac project here

Shrine (Black Swan State Theatre Company, Heath Ledger Theatre, September 2013)

The hole they leave is bigger than the space they took. How can that be?

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Adam (John Howard) and June (Whitney Richards) in Shrine. Image by Gary Marsh Photography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black Swan’s new production of Tim Winton’s Shrine, now on at Heath Ledger Theatre, fits a big story into small spheres.

There are few plays, surely, that give voice to a story so typical of WA – 19-year-old Jack Mansfield (Paul Ashcroft) and his two schoolmates have a car crash on a country road while returning to Perth from a night out at his parents’ beach house. Jack’s friends survive; he is killed.

This narrow lens opens a window into the lives of people who are part of a story so common in WA: otherwise privileged teenagers drinking and killing themselves in powerful cars on treacherous country roads, so often pitiful crosses such as the one draped in an Eagles scarf on this set are commonplace: sad, but unremarkable. As Jack’s father Adam Mansfield (stage and screen stalwart John Howard) says, his son is just a number.

Despite this pinpoint on a unique place on an island’s most isolated city, Shrine hones in on a theme so universal anyone who has ever lost a loved one will recognise it: grief, and the peculiar hierarchy of who owns the right to it; love, and the different versions of a person known to their loved ones.

Winton is no stranger to human misery, and I must admit, I was a bit dismayed by the picture of abject misery Shrine leapt straight in to. The poster promised coarse language, smoking, nudity and drug use, so I could be forgiven for thinking I might have been in for something rather scintillating.

Some much-appreciated laughs break up the dirge, mostly delivered by Jack’s bereaved, alcoholic father (Howard as believable as ever). Whitney Richards does a pleasingly unaffected, guileless job of Jack’s love interest, regional IGA worker June, though my fellow theatregoer Lurgy thought her “bush pig” accent, with its dropped consonants, a little forced.

Though at times the dialogue feels very much like one should read it in a novel rather than hear it on stage, somewhat at odds with the naturalistic representations of the subject, I cannot deny it is, like all Winton’s work, very well-written.

He does himself proud with teenage vernacular – you feel Jacks’ friends’ derisive comments lash June and wince on her behalf. Will and Ben’s cruelty is something all Western Australians have heard before.

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Will (Luke McMahon) and Ben (Will McNeill) in Shrine. Image by Gary Marsh Photography

Jack’s mother Mary Mansfield was played by Sarah McNeill with fierce commitment, and she portrayed a mother falling apart while maintaining a statuesque sort of dignity. Lurgy was unimpressed, saying McNeill was far too melodramatic, and while I concede her delivery was markedly to the rest of the cast’s and this was a bit jarring (Lurgy: “infuriating”), some people are a English naturally, even in real life Perth. The way she touched her son’s body spoke to me of motherhood. Also in her favour was a powerful closing monologue that caused some distressing physical symptoms: goosebumps rose up, throat closed down and weird salty drops slid out the sides of my eyes.

When that call comes, it’s midnight wherever you are.

The set, a beach littered with fragments of vehicle carcass that also served as furniture and other props, is as good as all Black Swan’s seem to be, and used with the most uplifting effect in the middle, when you see Jack’s and June’s only love scene (of sorts). Blue, hazy spotlighting light and pitch darkness pricked by faraway electric lights create an eerie, freezing night on the water; a momentarily re-purposed half-sunken car roof serves as a surfboard; and delicate music plays, all the more noticeable because of the play’s almost complete lack of other sound effects. It saves the play from the moments of horror and ugliness it depicts.

But these moments expose the meaning beating at the heart of the big-story-within-a-small: everyone wants a piece of grief, wants a piece of that person they loved, and their opinions of who that person was can be as different as night and day. Adam Mansfield hears June’s stories of his son teaching her about wines and, bewildered, tells her he never knew his son knew anything of the sort. He and his wife revolve in their separate circles of grief, each disgusted by the other’s behaviour. She cannot visit the crash site – he cannot keep away from it. Jack’s friends put up a crude shrine there, with alcohol bottles and paraphernalia, and Adam cannot stand it and rips it down repeatedly. June is upset by this and pleads with him to leave it.

It’s better than nothing.

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June (Whitney Richards) in Shrine. Image by Gary Marsh Photography

Shrine tells its audience that people are limited, but grief and love are infinite – and there’s plenty to go around.

Shrine runs at Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre of WA until September 15.

The production will then tour to Albany Entertainment Centre September 19 – 20 and then to Canberra Theatre Centre September 26 – 29.

Turbo blog

Those with short attention spans rejoice! I’m low on time this week, so I’m keeping it snappy with a handful of snippets.

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  • 3rd Rock from the Sun (1990s)

Working through it all over again. As good as ever. Pluses: baby Joseph Joseph Joseph.

  • movie: Kid (Disney schmaltz), 2000

Watchable, harmless couch fluff. Pluses: Bruce Willis being suave, and a funny fat kid.

  • Stranger than Fiction (2006)

Funny and clever. Win. Have never liked Will Ferrell but he does a great job in this. Win. Also, movie has Maggie Gyllenhaal, Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman. Win, win, win. Also, is about literature and baked goods. ALL THE WINS.

  • Hope Springs (2012)

Entirely watchable, but don’t bother seeing it at the movies. Funny but cringey. Would be worthless without Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones (who plays his usual crusty old bugger with an intimacy problem).

  • Easy A (2010)

I know, I’m so behind the rest of the world. Fun, with racy dialogue and a Mean Girls-ish flavour. Highlights: Emma Stone is nice to look at, and one of her adorably dotty parents is Stanley Tucci who even The Lovely Bones couldn’t stop me trusting.

  • Body Melt (1993)

My partner – let’s call him the Ministry of Magic – had a birthday so watched this as a gift to him, cause he’s been talking about it for ages. Worth watching just to see various Blue Heelers cast members and Harold from Neighbours being younger, but still wobbly-jowled. Also, of course, for the bodies melting. Would make a great drinking game.

Ten Canoes (2006)

One hundred and fifty spears, ten canoes, three wives… trouble.

The Matriarch and I settled down to watch this Rolf de Heer movie after loving his latest, The King is Dead!

We’d had the DVD lying around for ages and it seemed the perfect time to get around to Ten Canoes, set in Arnhem land in a time before Aboriginal people made contact with whites.

The narrator tells the story of a group of men making bark canoes and hunting goose eggs. The leader of this group tells his young relative a story (which quickly seems to be shaping up as a cautionary tale) about a young man back in ancient days who longed for his brother’s wife.

The movie is entirely told in a subtitled indigenous dialect. A quick Google says it is Ganalbingu language, and if I had any presence of mind I would have retained the DVD cover to make sure. It’s worth getting this on DVD, because there are extensive and interesting-looking special features.

I’m immediately charmed by the story-within-a-story-within-a-story format. To me it seems to reflect Aboriginal culture itself, which apparently perceives time as a far less linear thing than does European culture.

Whether or not it’s intentionally significant, it’s innovative, and immediately gives the film a new way to communicate that the themes that run through each tale are linked.

It’s naturalistic in quintessential de Heer style, with all the hallmarks of painstaking research.

Yet at times it seems to relish drawing attention to the artifice that goes into the telling of the stories: not only through the three different stories, but by introducing the innermost story’s characters with a rundown each in which they stare awkwardly at the camera, occasionally giving a chuckle or embarrassed look to show they’re listening.

As well as being engaging, this gentle joke shared with the viewer reveals the characters’ humanity, a task that would be difficult when portraying people of an unfamiliar culture in long-ago time.

This emotional connection made the story hard-hitting, incredibly so – I cried, and cried, and cried. No spoilers, but jeez, it tore at my heart.

But I also laughed a lot. De Heer doesn’t seek to make the characters mysterious or venerate them. They’re just people. They have their fart jokes and their deep spiritual side just like everyone else.

What I love most about Rolf de Heer’s storytelling is – and you know I love action in my movies –  he can take his time about things.

He doesn’t have to pull punches in every shot. There’ s something about the way he tells a story that makes you enjoy the journey. He settles you down, he slows you, relaxes you into his own world. This is a rare talent in a filmmaker, and if you didn’t get it absolutely right it would be disastrous.

The tracker shows this trait off stunningly, to the best of my recollection, and to finish off the de Heer kick, we’ll definitely be watching that.

His is a beautiful, quiet way of telling a story and it brings me back to the whole notion of circularity. You’re not rushing towards something, you’re circling around it, getting ever closer to the heart of it, and yet in a way, the whole time, you’ve been there before.

It doesn’t reward impatience. The second storyteller, the lead goose-egg-hunter, tells his young relative he needs patience, and drags the story out for days. The narrator of their story tells the movie-watcher amusedly that he supposes they are impatient too, but finally takes pity on them and gets on with the end.

I wanted to know the end, but I felt patient. I was busy looking and seeing and thinking and feeling and noticing.

And the end, when it came, was just as unexpected as the rest.

Five stars!

 

The King is Dead! (2012)

I’m on a bit of a Rolf de Heer (of Bad Boy Bubby fame) kick, after hearing about this new film. If you can find this, watch it. The Matriarch and I loved it.

A young Aussie couple move into a cute little house in the suburbs: their dream home, they think. On one side, a normal, sweet couple with a little girl: on their right, some scary, loud neighbours are in and out of the house of King.

They endure the constant sounds of domestic violence next door, nocturnal visits from vagrants, burglaries and break-ins to their home and plead in vain with the harmless but hopeless crackhead, King, to control what’s going on next door.

The cops can’t do anything, and after being pushed to their limit by some disturbing and nasty events, they decide to take matters into their own hands.

It is understated and naturalistic in de Heer’s usual style, and the black humour and constant feeling of dread and malice build through the entire thing. You end up laughing more than you normally would at stuff that isn’t, or shouldn’t be, funny, just to release your mounting tension.

It’s a funny film, but it never goes for the cheap, easy laughs. It doesn’t go for predictable character types. Nobody is entirely good, or entirely evil, and you are kept guessing up to the end. It’s unbelievably, unbearably suspenseful.

Four stars.