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.

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.

The difference between L.A. Confidential the book and L.A. Confidential the movie

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Firstly, apologies for my four-month absence, but I have been doing some editing for a friend and it sucked up a fair bit of blogging time. On the plus side, I now know how to edit a doctorate and I now know a lot more than before about the architecture of nations that have been colonised by the Portugese than I did before.
On-topic, it would probably be quicker for me to tell you what is the same about the book and the movie: “The first third. Kinda.”

An abandoned auto court in the San Berdoo foothills; Buzz Meeks checked in with ninety-four thousand dollars, eighteen points of high-grade heroin, a 10-gauge pump, a .38 special, a .45 automatic, and a switchblade he’d bought off a pachuco at the border – right before he spotted the car parked across the line: Mickey Cohen goons in an LAPD unmarked, Tijuana cops standing by to bootjack a piece of his goodies, dump his body in the San Ysidro River.

If you’re a fan of the stylish, brilliantly cast neo-noir film do not waste a minute getting this book. You might think with the quality crime oozing from shelves these days there is no point reading a crime novel from 1990 that is set in the 1950s but you’re dead wrong. This is hands down one of the best crime novels I’ve ever read  (and dude, I have read a boatload).

And it is way, way, way different from the film. I finished this book, with lots of “oh my Gods” and goosebumps, wondering how the hell they were going to fit a plot like that into the movie (which I’d seen long enough ago not to remember the plot too well) so of course I immediately forced the Ministry to watch it with me, though he did not take a lot of forcing because it’s pretty rare to get me to sit still for two and a half hours these days.

So the answer to how to fit a plot like that into the movie was, of course, not to. You think you know the story of L.A. Confidential? What you know is basically a subplot of the grand, horrible, confronting, sordid, brain-teasing, almost impossibly complex story that spans decades. You’ll just about need to keep a notebook next to you. By comparison, it makes the characters in the movie look two-dimensional and the plot like child’s play, safe and tame. And this from a person who loved the movie.

On reading, you’ll not only be rewarded by not only a BONUS NEW ENDING and eye-popping violence but the inimitable, sometimes virtually incomprehensible but always awesome L.A.P.D lingo that plunges you headfirst into a time and a place that is long gone (and full of hinky hopheads) but forever exhilarating.

Bonus fact: this is part of James Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet, which also comprises The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere and White Jazz. I’ve only read The Black Dahlia, which was also dark and strong, but it didn’t knock my socks off like this did. The others I’ll get to, but next up for me is Ellroy’s My Dark Places: an L.A. Crime Memoir.

Ready, Player Two? Ernest Cline’s Armada and how it measures up

Armada - Ernest ClineErnest Cline’s hit 2011 debut Ready Player One was the pure, unfettered brainscream of a child of the 80s,” as American writer and Juno chief executive Charles Ardai memorably put it.

 

For the uninitiated (where have you BEEN?) the novel wove a veritable treasure trove of 80s movie, gamer and pop-cultural references into an engaging post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel relying heavily on these references for its plot development – a novel at once more exciting, more significant in style and more original in conception than the description I just gave could possibly convey.

In short, it created waves of excitement in every 80s-raised-or-remembering person, one of whom I am proud to be (I was born the same year as The Goonies, yo). It excited the rest of the world too, enough for Steven Spielberg lay claim to directing the movie version, now due in 2017.

So obviously, no pressure on that second novel to succeed, Cline.

Enter Zack Lightman, an 18-year-old gamer who lives with his mom in Oregon. His father died in an explosion at 19, when Zack was just a baby, and the young doppelganger lives in a virtual shrine to the memory of his dad, who bequeathed his obsession with (yes…) 80s movies and games to his son by way of a collection of possessions in the attic of the home Zack and his mother now share with just the ageing beagle, Muffitt.

Zack, a dreamer already dealing with some anger issues and worried about his own grip on reality after spending too much time living in the world of his father’s games, notes and conspiracy theory-filled journals, thinks he must finally have lost the plot when one day he sees a ship from global hit game Armada circling the skies outside his classroom window.

But it soon becomes clear that these is a lot more at stake here than one teenager’s sanity, and this is maybe the first time in history that being a really, really good gamer can be called a life skill – a skill crucial to the future of the human race.

Despite my clearly being a member of the target audience, my kinship with the subject matter here ends abruptly at the word ‘gaming’. Thankfully, my long association with nerds has given me the vocabulary to cope, and even if you don’t care about the 80s or gaming, if you have any interest in the nature of modern sci-fi writing, I’d encourage you to give this a try.

Like its predecessor Ready Player One, Armada features the same endearingly enthusiastic tone, like your best friend chewing your ear off about their latest obsession. A nerd’s wet dream, it’s sharp and humorous, giving the reader an almost immodestly fun ride. It really sounds as though Cline had a ball writing this, particularly some of the wise-cracking dialogue, and that kind of enjoyment is contagious.

The writing is not amazing or life-changing. It’s not full of stirring descriptions or memorable quotes. Several times I am jarred slightly by a choice of adjective or simile. But it doesn’t need to be poetry. The language is entirely functional and the sheer momentum of this story needs no help. The pictures Cline paints are clear as daylight and lent soul by the central theme of Zack’s utter devotion to the idea of his father.

Funnily enough, I remember thinking as I read this that it read a bit like the novelisation of a movie, or indeed the script for one. Cline’s books are both very cinematic stuff, so it surprises me not one whit that Spielberg is all over this.

The author has written a confident and worthy successor to Ready Player One and confirmed his place as a truly original and exciting new voice in sci-fi.

They’ll both undoubtedly make kickarse movies, so keep your ear to the ground (or your eyes on the skies).

Want more sci-fi book reviews? 

Ursula le Guin, The Dispossessed
William Kotzwinkle, The Amphora Project
M. John Harrison, Light
John Wyndham, The Outward Urge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Curing of a Bibliomaniac Part 6: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Jonathan Safran Foer, 2005)

Books remaining: 20. Weeks remaining to read them: 40 (argh! Get a move on, lassie. Actually, I blame Umberto Eco). 

“Hilarious!” he said. “It is! I never heard from her again! Oh, well! So many people enter and leave your life! Hundreds of thousands of people! You have to leave the door open so they can come in! But it also means you have to let them go!”

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - Jonathan Safran Foer (COVER)

Oskar’s Dad, Thomas, died in one of the Twin Towers on 9/11.

Nearly two years later, Oskar, his mum and his grandma are trying to work out how to live without Thomas.

Oskar finds that his dad left behind a mystery. And he decides he must solve it, no matter how long that might take.

 

 

From a giant, lovely tangle of words emerges the inner world of Oskar, one of the best-rendered children I have come across in a work of literature. I’m reminded of Arundhati Roy’s classic The God of Small Things, Michael Cunningham’s Flesh and Blood and, more recently, Emma Donoghue’s Room.

Oscar's business card.

Hire this boy.

 

But Oskar is very much his own self, and is quite capable of standing alone, as his business card attests.

 

 

 

 

 

Oskar meets many people on his quest, which takes him across the whole of New York. He sees and hears the private stories of these people’s own losses, obsessions and inexplicable commitments.

My boots were so heavy I was glad there was a column underneath us. How could such a lonely person have been living so close to me my whole life? If I had known, I would have gone up to keep him company. Or I would have made some jewelry for him. Or told him hilarious jokes. Or given him a private tambourine concert. 

It made me start to wonder whether there were other people so lonely so close. I thought about “Eleanor Rigby”. It’s true, where do they all come from? And where do they all belong?

Safran uses special effects: illustration, some inventive punctuation and conversational styles, and other visual devices that rather defy description. But none of it feels contrived, pretentious or pointless. It feels like I am getting a closer look into Oskar’s world and the way he processes information. And the way he processes loss.

Because above all, this is a story about grief – grief, and the guilt that slinks in alongside it. It is about the people left behind, trying to make a new space for loves that will last forever, but that have changed into something invisible. It is about how we try to hold on and how we have to let go.

“Looking for it let me stay close to him for a little while longer.” “But won’t you always be close to him?” I knew the truth. “No.”

This book is 341 pages long. By 305 I was weeping like a baby. I kept it up until the last page, and then for a few more minutes after that. Any book that makes that happen, and still not get called depressing, is special. This book is a heady jumble of ideas, it is funny and illuminating. It charms and puzzles and delights.
I felt as though it understood me and helped me understand myself. It will make your eyes hot and your throat tight. It will remind you of everyone you ever lost. But it’s worth it.

Keep or not? I’ll keep it for the moment, but only so that I can give it to someone who is interested.

Postscript: The Ministry and I tried to watch the film of this a year or two ago. We found it disappointingly mediocre and turned it off after half an hour. I might have another burl at it now, though, not because I think I’ll like it better, but it’s fun watching stories you’ve read come to life, even if they don’t do it the way you wanted.

More on The Curing of a Bibliomaniac project here.

Life of Pi (2013)

I need not have worried. Life of Pi the movie was visually spectacular – check; sweeping and majestic – check; densely wove themes of religion, love, identity, and the nature of humanity, story and truth – check; depicted passage of time, minutely detailed how to survive at sea and journeyed into fantastic worlds – check.

Even more happily, it did all this neatly within the allotted two hours.

I was amazed by the skill of this storytelling. I was so excited I spent most of the time alternately shrinking back in my chair or almost jumping out of it. The rest of the time I spent silently leaking tears.

I loved this movie so much that I sat there throughout all the ads, all the previews and all the movie, despite the coffee AND the diet coke (I went hungover. I needed both. Don’t judge me). After a while I forgot that I even had a body that needed to pee. I was just spellbound.

The CG and the cinematography were lovingly done, and that tiger was damned impressive.

The two small factors – don’t want to ruin any surprises so will mention only briefly – that I noticed differed significantly from the book were the lack of graphic physical violence and blood-and-bone savagery, and the absence of a plot point in its latter half.

These, really, concerned me not a jot. Go for it. Go for the PG audience. The story deserves the widest audience possible, and our imaginations can fill in the rest.

I am glad about how Ang Lee chose to portray the story Pi tells in hospital towards the end, with an unerring focus on Pi’s face as he tells a story that increases in horror and intensity as it unfolds.

At the end, I even had a cathartic “aha!” moment, in which one line – “and so it is with God” – finally made sense to me. It closed the aching little wound Pi’s horrible story had opened up and filled me with the peace of understanding and acceptance.

Well, it did!

I loved this movie, and I hope Lee wins his Best Director and Best Picture Oscars.

Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Feel as though I have been staring at a computer screen since I was born, but I shall drag my burning eyes to the screen one last time for the sake of my followers, who no doubt are avidly waiting for every post.
So, here’s one I prepared earlier.
But you’re not going to get much fire or brimstone, I’m just going to waffle about something I love.
It makes me happy just thinking about this movie. It’s one of my favourite Disney movies, and that’s a hard choice to make. I’m just going to go ahead and say the spoilers. Everyone knows the story.
It’s got that beautiful old-style Disney animation, before things got all cute and rounded (and the newer style is damn cute, don’t get me wrong). It’s all angular and very unrealistic. The knight’s faces look as though they’ve been carved out of a tree stump, the horses’ legs are so skinny they actually disappear between their pointy fetlocks and their knees, and Maleficent looked exactly like a dragon long before she turned into one.
And no dragon-lover could be disappointed with the dragon she eventually does turn into. Even the Ministry, famous for his dragon-love, had no complaints (or, didn’t dare to voice them in the face of my overwhelming enthusiasm).
Anyway, it’s just gorgeous. The colours are gorgeous. The shapes are gorgeous. Even the gargoyles are gorgeous. And it’s not simplistic. I can’t quite describe what they do with the illustrations of the fairies’ gifts, but it’s unusual and gives you funny feelings. Sorry. I did say I was tired.
Even given what I said about the animation being the style it was before it got cute, it’s still adorable. It has a fat king and a thin king. It has rabbits who dance in boots, and three squabbling fairies. It is so cute it’s quite amazing that it manages to be so hellishly scary.
Menace pervades the entire movie (with the possible exception of the scene with the dancing rabbits). Maleficent is terrifying to look at and to listen to, especially since she is immediately shown as someone ready to sentence another to death over not being invited to their birthday party.
Apart from Maleficent, the Tchaikovsky score, taken from the ballet, is the other major factor that makes this film so dreadfully creepy. Sorry I can’t link to a convenient YouTube, but since childhood I have not shaken off the dread that steals over me when Maleficent’s yellow eyes appear in the fireplace and lure the transfixed Aurora upstairs to this simple, but utterly eerie, piece of music.
You couldn’t fault the action of the climax … though, I must note, the Prince would have been hard pressed to do all that hacking of bushes, evading of guards and killing of dragons without those handy fairies.
Finally, of all the fairy-tale Disney endings, this one is about as fairy-tale as you can get. Aurora ends up waltzing in a cloud wearing a ballgown that changes from pink to blue, for crying out loud. It’s a little girl’s wet dream (appropriate? Whatever) and it’s awesome.
Do yourself a favour, and watch the movie.

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!

 

Toy Story 3 (2010)

                           

Toy Story 3 had a lot riding on it: certainly the affection of myself and my entire age group, who basically grew up alongside Andy and had very high expectations born of the high quality of the first first two movies. A trilogy or series comes with a guarantee of a loyal crowd at the box office, but this is balanced by the responsibility to get things right. Filmmakers can, and often do, ignore that responsibility at their peril.

Even outside this personal attachment to the series, anyone who watches this movie will relate to the central idea. Everyone has had to struggle with the changing significance of a beloved childhood toy. Do you keep it? Give it away? Throw it out? Surely not!

We all need to see this struggle faithfully represented.

Andy, now 17, knows he can’t take his toys to college. He also can’t face the dustbin, so he chooses the attic.

Of course the toys never make it to the attic and are pitched out by his well-meaning mother. Hilarity and confusion ensue. Woody knows there’s been a mistake and is desperate to make it back to Andy; the rest of the toys pity him as deluded and try to embrace a new life in a daycare centre.

The structure and pace are faultless, an assault on the attention span. Although it is incredibly fast-paced, it sustains attention with the feeling of the whole story being one scene that just keeps extending relentlessly into the next catastrophe. I’ll wager kids would be as glued to their seats as I was. If something can go wrong, it most certainly will (and has, RIGHT NOW!)

This escalates until the climax, which is almost amusingly epic. Yet you care so much about these toys you won’t laugh.

You just perch on the edge of your seat, entranced by a fabulous use of scale that shows just how vulnerable these tiny beings are; how much they love each other and will stick together until the bitter end.

The animation is spot on and endlessly impressive, particularly the scenes at the children’s playrooms, which glow with colour, life, cuteness and creativity. The care and appreciation that’s gone into the movement of a bunch of toys and dolls has an almost uncannily beautiful result. But it’s nothing nothing less than they deserve. They have a grace, humanity and momentum that’s vintage Pixar.

Andy is done as you would wish. His appearance, movements and speech are all pitch-perfect 17-year-old, as is his confusion about the best final resting place of the relics of his childhood.

This movie never hits a wrong note. It’s hilarious without being heartless, and touching without being sickly. Somehow, the makers managed to find a perfect ending for the series and please all parties. Everyone gets a good deal. You won’t have to hate Andy, and neither will his toys.

At its heart is an honest recognition of an emotional truth – how attached human beings can become to objects. If you put the time into it, it is in many ways alive and worthy of your love. Anyway, that’s how I justify crying like a little girl at the end.

 

Logan’s Run (1976)

Nothing to complain about regarding the premise, which is great. People are all young in this post-apocalyptic, futuristic utopia, and only reach thirty. They’re colour-coded as they age, making for some bangin’ costumes around a central theme of slender limbs and unfettered breasts, and at 29 are ‘Renewed’ (read: exploded and killed) by a Carousel that whirls them ridiculously around as they happily stretch their limbs out, waiting for oblivion.

They have cool red crystals in their palms that start blinking when it’s nearly carking time. That’s when they know that soon they willingly give themselves up to the clearly benign Carousel.

If they feel in any way suspicious about this process, and decide to ‘Run’, the poor fools get shot, or ‘Terminated,’ by police equivalents, who have cool explody guns, before they get as far as the next gleaming white staircase.

Logan, one such enforcer, begins to doubt about the whole thing when he hears about the possible existence of a world beyond the bubble, from a woman who appears on the complex’s prostitute/sex slave conveyor belt-type-thing (I know, right?!!)

As you will now be realising, this is perfectly, reliably old-school sci-fi for those who have the itch to see other worlds and otherworldly objects (and hot 70s girls without bras). For example, the people in this world have cars that whiz through the air in glassy tubes, which every good sci-fi movie should feature regardless of subject.

Everyone in this world is notably thin and sexy seeing as you never see anyone do any exercise except wander languidly about being young. However, you never see them eat either, so I guess it’s fair.

The sets are very cool. From the split-golf-ball ‘bubble’ world the majority of the movie is set in, to the post-apocalyptic ruins of the outside world, the movie uses scale excellently to set scenes and goes blissfully nuts with ‘advanced’ computers and sci-fi devices, cars and other machines that don’t need to be explained (or indeed explainable) to serve their purpose.

The average fan doesn’t need an explanation either, if it’s stylish enough, and anyway you expect old sci-fi movies to make the impossible possible without even approaching actual science. It’s hardly H.G. Wells, but it’s part of their charm and part of why you watch a movie like this in the first place. After all, movies are about escapism.

The old man character, if you get as far as him, is the best character of the lot, and may or not be the Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz movie. I couldn’t be bothered checking.

The female lead is pathetic. She can’t even scream at a critical moment when she is in trouble, let alone do anything sensible like carrying a weapon or using one. She merely gapes in astonishment, thereby ensuring that she will go down in history as yet another lame movie bitch who couldn’t lift a finger (or a tonsil) to save herself or anyone else.  Her talents are: holding hands, taking her clothes on and off, and looking hot no matter how dirty she gets.

_______________________SPOILERS___________________________________________________

When the male character chooses a spectacularly unsuccessful way to prove to their colourful peers that there really is a world outside where people can and do get old (they have an old man to prove it, but choose to get in via a route they can’t take him, so they rely on shouting crazily at people), the female character decides she will help by shouting the exact same thing that has already proved unsuccessful.

_______________________END SPOILERS_______________________________________________

Everything takes a few minutes too many in every scene for my 21st-century sensibility, so that by the end you are wanting to shout GET ON WITH IT at the screen. After you’re halfway through, the scenes just aren’t interesting enough to be so drawn-out. My housemate suggested I call this review “Logan’s Walk”.

However, if you are a vintage sci-fi lover who loves cool sets, atmosphere, hot bodies, lasers, explody guns, inexplicable silver robots and feet that can stand bare on snow and remain uninjured, this is the movie for you and it famous enough that you should really see it.

I do recommend watching it, but I don’t necessarily recommend finishing it.

NB: If you like the premise but not the sound of the movie, then I recommend reading the 1993 young adult/kids book called The Giver by Lois Lowry. This has some similar plot and style elements but much better execution and conclusion. It also develops the thematic material a lot more strongly.  Don’t be put off by the age category – people of any age would enjoy this book if they are interested in the subject matter.