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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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!

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.

 

 

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 9: An Artist of the Floating World (Kazuo Ishiguro, 1986)

 

Books remaining: 17. Weeks left to read them: 32 (surely doable).

 The best things … are put together of a night and vanish with the morning.

The Curing of a Bibliomaniac Part 9: An Artist of the Floating World (Kazuo Ishiguro, 1986)

The Curing of a Bibliomaniac Part 9: An Artist of the Floating World (Kazuo Ishiguro, 1986)

Amid the debris of postwar Japan, over two years between 1948 and 1950, Masuji Ono is spending his retirement navigating his youngest daughter’s lengthy and delicate marriage negotiations.

Engulfed by memories of war and the choices it led him to make, the ageing artist worries that the mistakes of the not-at-all distant past will jeopardise his family’s future.

I prepared myself for something dense and literary. I thought it might take weeks to get through this slim 200-page volume (Mrs Dalloway, anyone?) but was surprised to realise that despite nothing particularly exciting happening, just a little seed of a mystery kept me curious enough to polish it off in two days.

Masuji’s frequent digressions into the world of his memories continually interrupt the details of unfolding events.

He checks himself constantly, almost apologetically, drawing back to the tale at hand, leaving the reader to ponder the connections between these memories and the present. We don’t know what Masuji has done, or whether we are simply attaching too much significance to the wanderings of an old man.

There is certainly a satisfaction and dignity to be gained in coming to terms with the mistakes one has made in the course of one’s life. In any case, there is surely no great shame in mistakes made in the best of faith. It is surely a thing far more shameful to be unable or unwilling to acknowledge them.

This story’s simplicity belies the complicated darkness of the subjects at its core – war, what men will do in the name of country and the reverberations of these actions across generations to come.

A gentle humour lightens it, particularly in the passages involving Masuji’s headstrong grandson Ichiro and Masuji’s indulgent humouring of him. These breaks strengthen the sense of family bonds that are all Masuji has left in an otherwise empty life and alleviate the alienation a reader might feel towards a character who is otherwise remote. The growing sense that some ominous revelation is imminent keeps you reading, worried for this gentle protagonist and his tiny family.

The writing, refined and careful, fits so nicely into my preconceptions of Japanese culture that I am surprised to read that Ishiguro came to Britain when he was five years old and lives in London.

Sparsely elegant prose evokes the disarray of not only the world Masuji lives in, but increasingly, the disturbed peace of his mind.

If you were to come out of Mrs Kawakami’s as the darkness was setting in, you might feel compelled to pause a moment and gaze at that wasted expanse before you. You might still be able to make out through the gloom those heaps of broken brick and timber, and perhaps here and there, pieces of piping protruding from the ground like weeds. Then as you walked on past more heaps of rubble, numerous small puddles would gleam a moment as they caught in the lamplight.

And if on reaching the foot of the hill which climbs up to my house, if you pause at the Bridge of Hesitation and look back towards the remains of our old pleasure district, if the sun has not yet set completely, you may see the line of old telegraph poles – still without wires to connect them – disappearing into the gloom down the route you have just come. And you may be able to make out the dark clusters of birds perched uncomfortably on the tops of the poles, as though awaiting the wires along which they once lined the sky.

By contrast, he creates a sense of powerful nostalgia the world Masuji once lived in, which he and his fellow art students strived to capture for their teacher.

We lived throughout those years almost entirely in accordance with his values and lifestyle, and this entailed spending much time exploring the city’s ‘floating world’ – the night-time world of pleasure, entertainment and drink which formed the backdrop for all our paintings. I always feel a certain nostalgia now in recalling the city centre as it was in those days; the streets were not so filled with the noise of traffic, and the factories had yet to take the fragrance of seasonal blossoms from the night air.

Moments of wisdom seem the more precious for being unadorned.

My mother fell silent for some moments. Then she said: ‘When you are young, there are many things which appear dull and lifeless. But as you get older, you will find these are the very things that are most important to you.’

There is no flashy revelation in this book, only a sense of acceptance, and its quiet finish left me reflective.

I highly recommend it and will keep an eye out for The Remains of the Day, Ishiguro’s most famous work, which won the 1989 Booker prize. It’s also a rather-good-looking movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson.

This book, incidentally, was on the 1986 Booker shortlist and won Whitbread Book of the Year, so is not to be sniffed at.

Keep or kill? Alas, though, I must be harsh, and so I will pass this on to illuminate someone else’s life (ideally).

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.