Book review: The Returned

The Returned book review MAIN

 

It would be very hard to find anyone on planet earth who wouldn’t wish for another moment with loved ones who have passed away.

It is only natural that we would want to see them laugh, talk, yes even cry just one more precious time, if only to resolve any lingering issues that might remain between us, no matter how trivial, to re-do if you like the flawed moments, real or imagined, leading up to their passing.

Time is rarely that kind, however, marching onwards with fierce determination, leaving us alone staring back down from whence we came in melancholic, regret-filled contemplation, while it moves determinedly, and inexorably, forward.

“But isn’t that the way with memory? Give it enough time and it will become worn down and covered in a patina of self-serving omissions.” (p. 39)

But what if we were granted that impossible to imagine second chance, what if one day that much-missed person/s simply walked right up to us and stared us in the eye, unchanged from all those years ago?

That’s the tantalising premise of Jason Mott’s The Returned in which people’s loved ones begin turning up all around the world, just as they were in the moment they died, ready to resume their cruelly cut short lives.

It asks, quite rightly, whether we would embrace this opportunity with quite the same enthusiasm we have demonstrated when it was nothing more than a far-fetched theoretical possibility?

For those confronted with the return of precious deceased family and friends, sometimes from many decades in the past, the presence of their loved ones with no warning and no explanation, proves to be a polarising phenomenon.

 

 

It splits humanity between the True Living, extremists who reject The Returned as abominations, tauntingly cruel copies of the original people they knew and loved, and those who embrace the chance to be reunited with the much-missed people from their past, no questions asked.

Caught awkwardly in between are people like Harold Hargrave, who is forced to make a decision when his perfectly preserved son 8 year old Jacob, drowned some 5o years earlier in a tragic accident, turns up at the family’s farmhouse outside of Arcadia, North Carolina.

His initially sceptical, staunchly religious wife, Lucille, has no such qualms, resuming her calling as a nurturing, fiercely protective mother with alacrity, leaving Harold to wrestle with whether it is really his long lost son standing before him.

While he tries to sort out what he believes, the International Bureau of the Returned dispatches Agent Martin Bellamy to Arcadia to determine what is behind the mysterious reappearance of so many once dead people, a man who is challenged by the sudden return of his much loved mother Patricia, who died of Alzheimer’s some years earlier.

“The buses came and went for the rest of the day with the men watching in silence. They were all gripped with a feeling that something about the world was betraying them, right at this very moment, and perhaps it had been betraying them for years.” (p.158)

He is charged, along with countless others worldwide, with assuring a frightened and fractious populace that The Returned pose no danger, even as he and the bureaucratic machinery of governments around the world scramble to desperately work out just what it is they’re dealing with, well and truly out of their depth as they attempt to handle something humanity has never encountered before.

It is a highly charged scenario and Mott does a masterful job of keeping both the mystery of The Returned intact – we are never told what is behind it nor where it is all leading – and dissecting the various reactions to this most unusual and challenging of situations.

Reactions which vary from murderous, fear-filled violence, peaceful demonstrations both for and against the presence of The Returned and overwhelmed bureaucratic indifference.

 

 

He ably demonstrates through the lives of Harold and Lucille Hargrave, and many other members of the townships of Arcadia including Pastor Peters, who is shaken by the arrival of a long lost much-cherished lover, and Fred Green, a one time friend of the Hargraves and now True Living vigilante, the many and varied ways society reacts to The Returned, who for their part simply want to pick up where they left off.

Of course, life is rarely that simple, even the second time around, and Mott doesn’t so much provide answers as a forum for the distillation of the countless ways humanity processed this hitherto wished for but now equally feared and cherished mingling of the living and the dead.

He weaves in issues of faith and fidelity, commitment and abdication, and the nature of love into the many stories of people told in The Returned, deftly balancing between ever-escalating tension and real world crises, and quiet moments of anguished, searching introspection and unmitigated joy, and the uncertainty that lies between the two.

“She [Lucille] looked down at the paper. It all looked simple as it did imposing. The facts were a good enough thing to have, but the facts seldom pointed the way to salvation, she thought. The facts did nothing but sit there and stare out of the darkness of possibility and look into the soul to see what it would do when it faced them.” (p. 248)

Mott’s writing is mostly heartfelt and lyrically poetic, retaining an appealing descriptive beauty even when he is discussing the most troubling of events, only flagging when it commits the cardinal writing sin of stating rather than showing, which tends to rob the narrative of some of its intense vivacity and power to affect.

The Returned also shows a tendency towards the end to favour action over introspection, veering into rather less substantive Hollywood thrills and spills instead of the philosophical and relational richness it mostly sticks to, and this does jar more than a little.

But overall, it is a beautifully written, engagingly thoughtful read, rich in a million and one possibilities and ideas, a worthy attempt at pondering what we would do if we could have exactly what it is our regretful hearts are asking for?

 

The Big Bang Theory gets even bigger: Reunites Darth Vader and Princess Leia

Darth Vader (James Earl Jones) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) come face to face on The Big Bang Theory episode "The Convention Continuum" (image via cbs.com (c) CBS)
Darth Vader (James Earl Jones) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) come face to face on The Big Bang Theory episode “The Convention Continuum” (image via cbs.com (c) CBS)

 SNAPSHOT
After the guys can’t get Comic-Con tickets, Sheldon tries to hold his own convention and winds up spending a wild night with James Earl Jones. Meanwhile, the girls see if they can act like “grown-ups” (source cbs.com)

San Diego Comic-Con, is pretty much THE preeminent pop culture convention in the world, and as a result fiendishly hard to get into whether you’re a professional, a member of the press or simply a dedicated fan looking to get (relatively up close and personal with your favourite stars.

Just how hard it is to get into is vividly in display in this week’s episode of The Big Bang Theory when Leonard (Johnny Galecki), Sheldon (Jim Parsons), Wolowitz (Simon Helberg) and Raj (Kunal Nayyar) devote a considerable amount of time and effort to acquiring tickets to the hallowed, much-in-demand event … and still come up empty.

After the inevitable geeky wailing and gnashing of teeth, Sheldon decides that it’s an entirely feasible idea to run his own convention and who better to be a part of it than the voice of Darth Vader himself, James Earl Jones?

 

So close and yet so far. All the planning and readiness in the world does not a successful Comic-Con ticket purchase make alas (image via cbs.com (c) CBS)
So close and yet so far. All the planning and readiness in the world does not a successful Comic-Con ticket purchase make alas (image via cbs.com (c) CBS)

 

The initial meeting uber fan and screen legend in a restaurant looks like it’s off to a rather shaky, unfriendly start until James Earl Jones grins and says ” I like Star Wars too!”, indicating that Sheldon should join him for a meal.

And naturally hijinks ensue including ferris wheel rides and a no doubt surprise visit to Carrie Fisher’s house, where they receive a less than rapturous reception.

Could it have to do with the late hour? Bad blood between the stars? Lack of proper princess etiquette being displayed?

Hard to say but it looks like a lot of fun and of course … DARTH VADER AND PRINCESS LEIA ARE BACK TOGETHER!

Yes that was a fan bot “squeeeee!” and I shall not apologise for it.

If any episode of The Big Bang Theory warrants child like, geeky delight, it’s this one!

The Big Bang Theory “The Convention Continuum” episode airs 8/7C, Thursday 30 January 2014 on CBS.

 

 

Book review: The Book Thief

The Book Thief book review MAIN

 

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak and first published in 2005, is one of those titles that has long drifted on the edge of my reading consciousness, its scope and ambition well known, its resulting reputation hence almost too intimidating for me to tackle.

Narrated by Death himself, a figure given to great compassion, toil and incisive observation, with nary a scythe or black cape to be seen, and set against one of the most tumultuous and deadly periods in modern human history, World War Two, it is a book that, in one sense at least, cannot be taken lightly.

Its very subject matter is that of genocide, death, fanaticism, propaganda and the demonising of an entire race, who at the stroke of an ideologically-poisoned pen ceased to be regarded by the German political leadership and many of its people, voluntarily or involuntarily, as people, and more as pests to be exterminated by any and all means possible.

“So many humans. So many colours. They keep triggering inside me. They harass my memory. I see them tall in their heaps, all mounted on top of each other. There is air like plastic, a horizon like setting glue. There are skies manufactured by people, punctured and leaking, and there are soft, coal-coloured clouds, beating, like black hearts. And then. There is death. Making his way through all of it. On the surface: unflappable, unwavering. Below: unnerved, untied, and undone.” (Death remembers, p.331)

You cannot approach the Holocaust lightly with the weight of this kind of inhuman thought and behaviour bearing down upon it, and so I skated around it for quite a number of years, fearful of the toil it might take.

Finally deciding the book must be read, if only to allow me to better understand its newly released cinematic companion, I plunged into its pages, and found to my unexpected pleasure, a book deeply rooted in the everyday human experience, its story told with lyricism and a poetic sense of what happens to average people when history present a darker, deeply troubling face.

Yes it is tackled the type of subject matter I feared it had to, how could it not if it was going to be a faithful and true accounting of the period, but it did so from the point of view of the inhabitants of a poor neighbourhood in the Munch satellite city of Molching (a fictitious town as best as I can tell) who to varying degrees were either witnesses or active participants, good or bad, in Nazi Germany’s precipitous rise and fall.

 

 

It is into the deprived but close neighbourhood of Himmel Street (which translates as heaven), riven by the sorts of alliances and rivalries that characterise many small tightly-knit communities, that Liesel Meminger is deposited when her mother is unable to care for her.

Handed across to Hans and Rose Hubermann, a married couple who almost function as a good cop/bad cop combination – Hans the warm, sensitive Papa who soothes Liesel after her many vivid nightmares and who teaches her to read, and Rosa, a cantankerous woman with a strong sense of right and wrong, burdened down by life and included to liberal use of great profanities, many of which become almost terms of endearment to the wide-eyed new arrival whom she loves deep down.

“Outside, through the circle she had made, Liesel could see the tall man’s fingers, still holding the cigarette. Ash stumbled from its edge and lunged and lifted several times before it hit the ground. Fifteen minutes passed till they were able to coax her from the car. It was the tall man who did it. Quietly.” (Rose’s arrival, p28)

Forced to make a life in a city far from home and everything she knows, Liesel is the The Book Thief of the title, her story narrated by Death who follows her from this initially traumatic period in her life, and that of the nation of the Germany itself, through the many good and bad moments of her life to her death in far off Sydney, Australia many years later.

Liesel’s story can’t help but be intertwined with the epoch-searing events of the period, including the persecution and active extermination of the Jews of the people, including at nearby Dachau, most personally when the Hubermann household shelter the grown son of one of Hans’ military comrades of World War One, a Jewish man who effectively gave his life in place of Hans in battle one day.

Max Vandenburg, is given sanctuary as much because of Hans’ unwillingness to comply with a regime he views with great distrust as his honouring of a vow he made to Max’s father to repay a debt he owed him in any way the elder Vandenburg saw fit, and his story and that of Liesel are told against the backdrop of the every day goings on in Himmel Street and its place in the wider tableau of World War Two Germany.

 

 

Given the gravity of the world described in the book, you might think that having Death act as the narrator would be too much of a gimmick, a novelty designed to deflect the tremendous upheaval, pain and horror of the period.

Certainly the thought crossed my mind as Death began re-telling the events of Liesel’s life, her new life with the Hubermans, her staunch friendship and yes nascent teenage romance with romance, and her great love of the written word which began prior to her acquisition of literacy and grew in leaps and bounds after it.

Books are used as a motif in The Book Thief, a way of denoting growth, intimacy, friendship and camaraderie, a reminder that beyond this time, this street and this city lie infinite possibilities and ways of thinking and living, an especially important thing of which to be mindful when all official thought is narrow, intolerant and deadly those whom it does not include within its suffocatingly small and rigid boundaries.

And their presence mirrors the exquisitely nuanced, and beautifully rendered words of Zusak, who manages to infuse the events of the book with as much humour as pain, who takes ordinary, everyday events and gives them a vivacity and life, always striving to remind us that life is never easy or uncomplicated but it is also joyful and hopeful, no matter what the trials at hand.

“Himmel Street was a procession of tangled people, all wrestling with their most precious possessions. In some cases it was a baby. In others, a stack of photo albums or a wooden box. Liesel carried her books between her arm and her ribs.” (Walking to the air raid shelter, p. 399)

The great achievement of The Book Thief is that it unflinchingly addresses life in Nazi Germany in a way that is brutally honest without being wilfully sensationalist or overwrought.

It is simply presented as it is, and we are left to draw our own conclusions about what is right and what is wrong and what motivates the people who live throughout this time.

Zusak, writing with great restraint and remembering that it is the people, whatever their ilk that defines a moment in history, never overplays his hand, making his points with skilful ease and yes in many places, consummately lyrical, heart-rending beauty.

The Book Thief is a remarkable book, grappling with weighty, soul-searing events yes but a powerful, gorgeously written reminder, as you blink through the tears that will inevitably fall at book’s end, that true humanity and its many out workings such as literature, honour, family and love to name a few, are a wondrous thing to behold, even in the darkest days, and yes even when recounted by Death himself.

This is one book that was well worth the wait.

Vroom vroom! The Muppets hit the road in new Toyota Highlander Superbowl ad

(image via wot.motortrend.com)
(image via wot.motortrend.com)

 

ROAD TRIP!

That’s all I could hear in my head, in Animal’s super-enthusiastic voice naturally, when I found out that The Muppets were starring in one of the much talked about Superbowl commercials alongside actor and one time NFL player Terry Crews.

Now while I have little to no interest in cars, except to check that they’re (a) air conditioned and (b) will get me from here to there and back again, and have little to no interest in football (regardless of the country), I LOVE The Muppets and in that regard, the ad does not disappoint at all.

Featuring everyone from Kermit the Frog to Rowlf the Dog, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem and the incomparable, insanely over the top delight that is Animal, it’s a rollicking good ride  for everyone concerned.

There are even chickens galore which frankly every commercial worth its salt should have.

It’s apparently something that was uppermost in Toyota’s mind too:

“Our game-day spot shows how Toyota Highlander puts the ‘fun’ in function,” said Jack Hollis, vice president of Toyota Division Marketing at Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. “Toyota vehicles are built to last and can even endure the most boisterous Muppets, a former NFL player as well as a center console full of chickens.”
(source: comicbook.com)

Kermit was equally as enthusiastic, especially about Animal not being allowed to drive anywhere – “He doesn’t quite get the whole concept of brakes” – so we can only hope there are more Muppet/Toyota pairings in the future.

Until then, hit the road with The Muppets in this spot entitled “Joy Ride”, which is scheduled to air during Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday, February 2, 2014.

 

 

And of course don’t forget it isn’t long till The Muppets are back on an even bigger screen in Muppets Most Wanted which is released in USA on 21 March 2014 and Australia on 24 April 2014.

 

 

#StGeorgeOpenAirCinema Movie review: Dallas Buyers Club

(image via impawards.com)
(image via impawards.com)

 

Mortality is never an easy thing for anyone to grapple with.

But it carries even more sting in its tale when you’re the sort of person who think they’re ten feet tall and bulletproof, immune to the vicissitudes of life, flicking off a pronouncement of imminent death like you’re dispatching annoying gnats on a warm summer evening.

Ron Woodruff, the protagonist in Jean-Marc Vallée’s Dallas Buyers Club, is one such person, played with powerhouse machismo and bravado by Matthew McConaughey in yet another of the transformative roles that have defined his career of late, a beer-guzzling, drug-taking, rodeo bull-riding electrician who has yet to meet a woman who doesn’t immediately fall for his potent charms.

He likes to think he is armour-plated against life, a man who has seized it by the horns, wrestled it to the ground and beaten it into cowering submission.

The truth is, of course, that he is a man on a blue collar wage, living in a trailer park, as emotionally isolated from the world around him as he likes to think he is connected, beaten by life even as he believes he bestrides it like a cowboy hat-wearing god.

His world, as shaky as a house of cards in reality if not in self-belief, gets shaken to its core then when in 1985, after electrocuting himself at work trying to save an injured workmate, he is diagnosed with AIDS and given 30 days to live by the two doctors who attend to him, De Sevard (Denis O’Hare) and Dr Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner), the latter of whom ends up first a reluctant then wholehearted ally in his struggle to beat the system.

 

Rayon (Jared Leto) and Ron Woodruff (Matthew McConaughey) become unlikely allies, and friends, in their desperate race to hang onto life for as long as possible (Photo Credit: Anne Marie Fox / Focus Features / image via focusfeatures.com/dallasbuyersclub)
Rayon (Jared Leto) and Ron Woodruff (Matthew McConaughey) become unlikely allies, and friends, in their desperate race to hang onto life for as long as possible (Photo Credit: Anne Marie Fox / Focus Features / image via focusfeatures.com/dallasbuyersclub)

 

Buoyed by a sense that he is immortal, he initially rejects this diagnosis, refuting any suggestions he is a “homo” or an intravenous drug user, determined to prove to everyone around him that he can defy this most deadly of diseases with the sort of brazen defiance that has characterised his life to date.

But his body refuses to go along with this blad-faced self-deception, and newly aware that he is facing an enemy that bravado alone cannot tame, he finds himself traversing the globe to find the drugs from countries as diverse as Mexico, France and Israel, none of which are approved by the USA’s Food and Drug Administration, that will keep him, and other AIDS patients he meets and befriends alive for as long as possible.

One of these patients is a transgender man called Rayon (played with award-winning sensitivity and ballsy grace by Jared Leto who steals the film out from under a highly impressive McConaughey giving you some idea of the acting calibre on display in the film) who ends up as the homophobic Woodruff’s business partner, and eventual friend.

And it is the friendship between these two people that defines the humanity and desperate will to live that defines so much of Dallas Buyers Club.

What could have simply been a rather conventional bio pic is transformed into a stirring and utterly moving tale of people fighting a system that seems to be callously inured against their very real and all time-restricted plight.

McConaughey ably transforms Woodruff from a slur-spewing redneck who almost spits on every gay man he sees into a man who sees much in common with the gay men and drug users who become members of his “buyers club”, which is formed in a bid to get around the illegality of selling the non-approved drugs directly.

It isn’t a fairytale transformation by any measure, held in check by Woodruff’s unwillingness, even as he fights both looming and a seemingly heartless bureaucracy, to accept that the world he once knew has wholly and irrevocably changed.

 

Dr Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner) initially stands by the system which moves far too slowly for likes of Woodruff and Rayon, but buoyed by their desperate will to live, and the seeming inhumanity of the bureaucracy of which she is part, she realises there is more to this fight that simply playing by the rules (Photo Credit: Anne Marie Fox / Focus Features / image via focusfeatures.com/dallasbuyersclub)
Dr Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner) initially stands by the system which moves far too slowly for likes of Woodruff and Rayon, but buoyed by their desperate will to live, and the seeming inhumanity of the bureaucracy of which she is part, she realises there is more to this fight that simply playing by the rules (Photo Credit: Anne Marie Fox / Focus Features / image via focusfeatures.com/dallasbuyersclub)

 

The changes that occur in the man are gradual, believable and many times, initially at least, driven by a necessity to simply ensure his own survival.

But once they take place, they are as immutable as his once iron clad belief in his own invincibility, and he stands loyally by the at turns funny and heartfelt Rayon and the other club members, determined, in the end, to fight to save them every bit as much as himself.

It is this grounding in initial self-interest and uncaring reality that lifts Dallas Buyers Club out of the realm of the inspirational Oprah-esque bio pic and roots it firmly in the camp of a meaningful and believable tale of the height of the AIDS crisis.

While the film does have some achilles heels – it doesn’t do enough to elevate Dr Saks characters beyond the sympathetic voice of the establishment and a sense of urgency and emotional connection with some characters is oddly lacking at times – it is overall an engrossing, soul-stirring story, beautifully and heartbreakingly played out by two actors very clearly at the top of their game.

 

 

Don’t LEGO of this film! 8 new The LEGO Movie clips to delight you

(image via fandango.com)
(image via fandango.com)

 

SNAPSHOT
A lowly Lego figure (voiced by Chris Pratt) joins a group intent on battling an evil force after a case of mistaken identity in this computer-generated comedy from the filmmakers behind Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and co-director Chris McKay (Robot Chicken). Will Arnett co-stars as the voice of Batman, who along with Superman, make appearances in the Warner Bros. picture. Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, Will Ferrell, Liam Neeson, and Alison Brie head up the rest of the voice cast. (synopsis by Jeremy Wheeler, Rovi via fandango.com)

It takes an awful lot these days to make me feel like a kid again.

It’s not that I have lost my sense of wonder or fun, my ability to see the ridiculous when necessary or my love of insane amounts of giddiness-producing sugar.

No, it’s more that as life has gone on, the ability to be transported to a place of utter glee and joy seems to be harder and harder to get to, barricaded by all the cares and responsibilities and been-there-done-that ennui that comes with adulthood.

Well, I am happy to see I may finally have found my childlike happy place once again with these new clips from the upcoming The LEGO Movie leaving me feeling like a kid again, ready to assemble all kinds of fun from a multitude of tiny coloured bricks.

While I can safely say that none of my LEGO figures ever came alive while I was playing with them, except of course in my fertile imagination, if they had sprung into action in real life, I am certain they would’ve sounded just like the characters in The LEGO Movie (especially Emmet who is an absolute delight and Batman who is over the top silly and pretty much steals every scene he is in).

In all of the clips (below), every single one of the characters act with all the fun and silliness I would’ve expected of LEGO figures; it’s odd because I never really gave much thought to exactly how the LEGO figures I played with would sound but I am sure that this is just how they would’ve acted, talked and behaved.

And I am excited like a little kid about seeing The LEGO Movie when it opens on 3 April 2014 (yes we have to wait ’til school holidays alas; thankfully my niece and nephew will be free to come and see it with me!).

* Thanks to joblo and cinemablend for sharing these clips with the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Australia Day: 3 Aussie movies being released in 2014 worth buying popcorn for

Nina Matthews Photography via photopin cc
Nina Matthews Photography via photopin cc

 

Happy Australia Day everyone!

While I appreciate not everyone will be rushing out to grab a slab of beers (or in my case a Semillon Sauvignon Blanc or two), some lammos (lamingtons or small sponge cakes) and some snags (sausages) to throw on the barbie for a bonzer celebration with their favourite blokes and sheilas – especially if you’re not Australian which makes perfect sense – I thought it’d be fun to mark Australia Day with some Aussie films I am particularly excited about seeing in 2014.

And thanks to the amazing Luke Buckmaster at Crikey, who’s movie reviews are so thoughtful and well-written that I aspire to be as good as him one day, it’s going to be a bumper year for Aussie films with some very fine movies coming our way.

While he noted 10 in particular, I have chosen three that have me especially excited (but by all means check out the full list via the link in the paragraph above) on our national day.

 

THESE FINAL HOURS

Rose (Angourie Rice) and her unexpected protector James (Nathan Phillips) end up at the party to end all parties as the end of the world nears (image via screendaily.com)
Rose (Angourie Rice) and her unexpected protector James (Nathan Phillips) end up at the party to end all parties as the end of the world nears (image via screendaily.com)

For a bright, optimistic, life-loving guy like myself, my obsession with the apocalypse is kind of odd.

But for some reason, I find myself gravitating along with just about everyone else to movies (and yes TV series as my obsession with The Walking Dead amply testifies) that look at the way in which humanity would react to the impending end of everything we hold dear.

And usually, a few glowing embers of humanity aside, it’s not a pretty picture.

These Final Hours, from director Zac Hilditch, stacked full of sex and violence and bacchanalian intent falls fairly and squarely into that camp.

Save, of course, for the very protective relationship that develops when the protagonist James (Nathan Phillips), unable to deal with the fact that his mistress Zoe (Jessica de Gouw) is pregnant decides to attend an end of the world party in Perth – a meteor strike on the other side of the world has doomed the planet – and encounters Rose (Angourie Rice) in peril at the hands of two less than desirable men.

Scooping her under wing, both of them go to the party, thrown to usher in the apocalypse, and discover both the best and worst of humanity as they deal with the inevitable end of their lives and the obliteration of life everywhere.

It will be challenging and confronting viewing for sure, but could be well worth it, and hopefully not a predictor of things to come.

These Final Hours premiered at the Melbourne International Film Festival in August 2013 with a tentative release date of 20 June 2014 in Australia.

 

 

THE ROVER

 

Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson play two men in a "dangerous and damaged near future" who must find a car and an important object it contains (image via therover.com)
Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson play two men in a “dangerous and damaged near future” who must find a car and an important object it contains (image via therover.com)

 

SNAPSHOT
Animal Kingdom screenwriter David Michod writes and directs this post-apocalyptic western about a lone wolf drifter who joins forces with a wounded man to pursue a sadistic band of thieves. A decade after the collapse of the western world, Australia has become a lawless wasteland. As desperate outsiders pillage the country’s precious mineral resources, taciturn Eric (Guy Pearce) travels from town to town searching for signs of life. Then, one day, Eric falls prey to vicious thieves who steal his car. In the process of making their getaway, the thieves abandon Rey (Robert Pattinson), their wounded partner-in-crime. Meanwhile Eric vows to reclaim his most treasures possession by whatever means necessary, and forces Rey to help him track down the men who left him for dead. (synopsis via therover.com)

Again with a semi-apocaylptic movie!

But damn this looks good.

And it should, coming from David Michod, the man who gave us 2010’s Animal Kingdom, a raw and visceral look at a crime family imploding that garnered Jacki Weaver an Oscar nomination and a slew of high profile Hollywood roles, who together with Joel Edgerton has crafted a movie billed as a “post-apocalytic Western”.

With more than a hint of Mad Max to it, The Rover looks set to convincingly portray the life and death struggle for survival in a world that looks inimically opposed to humanity.

With actors of the calibre of Guy Pearce and yes Robert Pattinson, who showed far more promise as an impressive in 2011’s Water For Elephants than the entire Twilight saga gave him a chance to evince, involved, and a script that is bound to be gritty, dark and wonderfully nuanced, The Rover looks set to be one of the films to watch out for this year.

Just make sure you lock your car before you go in to see it.

The Rover has a tentative release date of 31 July 2014.

 

 

UPDATE – full trailer has just released (30 January 2014) …

 

 

PREDESTINATION

 

(image via aceshowbiz.com)
(image via aceshowbiz.com)

 

SNAPSHOT
The film chronicles the life of a temporal agent (played by Ethan Hawke) who, on his final assignment, must recruit his younger self while pursuing the one criminal that has eluded him throughout time. It is based on a short story by revered sci-fi author Robert A Heinlein. (synopsis via if.com.au)

This ticks so many boxes for me as a must see movie that it’s a wonder I am not sitting in a camp chair at my local cinema waiting for them to start selling tickets.

Predestination is the latest film from the imaginatively fertile of the Spierig brothers Michael and Peter, who following the success of their debut effort Undead (yes a zombie comedy that proves the apocalypse is not entirely devoid of humour) and Daybreakers (yes there are vampires Jim but not as we know them) are back with another innovative take on a well worn genre.

In this case sci-fi time travel.

I have been immensely impressed with the efforts of Australia’s very own version of the Coen brothers or the Wachowskis and given the most excellent source material they have drawn from, they’re ability to twist time-honoured tropes into new and pleasing narrative forms, and the fact that they’ve reunited with Ethan Hawke (who appeared in Daybreakers), it would be near impossible for Predestination to be anything other than a stellar film.

Yes my expectations are high but I have every confidence it will be amply rewarded.

Predestination release dates have not been released at this time.

 

 

*Also worthy of note are Felony and Tracks, both of which have been the subject of much favourable buzz.

 

 

A work of art: 5 awesome new clips from The Monuments Men

(image via impawards.com)
(image via impawards.com)

 

SNAPSHOT
Cowriter and director George Clooney adapts author Robert M. Edsel’s book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History to tell the incredible true story of the seven art historians and museum curators who went behind enemy lines during World War II on a mission to recover some of the world’s greatest works of art. As the Third Reich begins to topple, the German army receives explicit orders to destroy every work of art in their possession. Determined to prevent 1000 years of culture from going up in flames, American president Franklin D. Roosevelt assembles an unlikely task force comprised entirely of art experts to enter Germany, recover the works of art, and ensure they are returned to their rightful owners. With little knowledge of modern weapons or warfare tactics, the ragtag squadron successfully makes their way into enemy territory before realizing they’ve got their work cut out for them. (synopsis via fandango.com)

Its admittedly impressive A-list cast aside, what has me most excited about The Monuments Men is its thrillingly epic based-on-a-true-story narrative that sees an international team of art historians and curators in a desperate race against time to secure centuries of grand artistic heritage against the ravages and vicissitudes of war.

World War Two was a destructive war on a number of tragic levels, most notably the loss of human life on an unprecedented and systematically executed scale, with Europe facing the loss of not only tens of millions of people but much of the rich, artistic legacy that had made it the birthplace of Western civilisation.

So President Franklin Delano Rooselvelt tasked the approximately 400 members of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program with achieving a hitherto uncontemplated goal – to save the cultural monuments of a country at the same time as it was fighting a war within it.

It wasn’t easy, with the small teams assigned to the task working on the front lines besides the advancing US army with little to no resources to save as many of the art that had either been stolen or hidden for safekeeping as possible.

It’s a engrossing tale no matter how you tell it, and it looks like The Monuments Men, at least based on the trailer and the five clips below has a good shot of telling it well and in a way that honours the members of the MFAA, whose heroic work was profiled in the book upon which the film is based, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel.

The Monuments Men opens 7 February 2014 in USA and 13 March 2014 in Australia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marvellous Massing of Movie Trailers: Adult World, The Wind Rises, Grand Piano, All the Light in the Sky, Maleficent

Adrian S Jones via photopin cc
Adrian S Jones via photopin cc

 

Keep your eyes peeled at all times my fellow movie-loving amigos!

Such is the torrent, nay, tsunami of movie trailers heading our way at all times that vigilance is a must.

But vigilance can get a little exhausting so I’ve assembled five trailers I am particularly excited about just for you so you can rest those eyes for just a moment.

After you check out the post of course … and grab some popcorn … and soda … and upgrade to comfier seats and …

 

ADULT WORLD

 

(image via studiosystemnews.com)
(image via studiosystemnews.com)

 

SNAPSHOT
A floundering college graduate reluctantly takes a job at an upstate New York sex shop while pursuing an opportunity that could help to launch her career as a poet. Wide-eyed Amy (Emma Roberts) may have graduated from college, but lately life seems to be passing her by. An aspiring poet, she still lives with her parents, and longs for independence. In order to earn a paycheck, Amy goes to work at a local sex shop owned by a spirited older couple. With flamboyant transvestite Rubio and charming local boy Alex on staff, life around the store is rarely dull. Still, Amy can’t help but feeling like the future had something better in store for her, and sets out to land an apprenticeship with notoriously withdrawn writer Rat Billings (John Cusack). Meanwhile, inspiration seems to come from the last place Amy ever expected as her professional relationship with Alex takes a surprise turn toward the romantic. (synopsis by Jason Buchanan, Rovi via fandango.com)

Yes I am sucker for quirky, oddly set indie films with protagonists who know what they want but don’t all at once.

There’s something utterly charming about what someone fumble and stumble through all manner of life situations, most likely because it just reminds me of real life.

Granted the situations these indie Don Quixotes, tilting at their rather modest windmills, find themselves in aren’t completely true to life but it’s that extra element of the absurd, the ever so slightly unreal, that hooks me, that makes me want to watch.

And Adult World seems to have all the qualities I love in abundance.

Along with of course John Cusack and Emma Roberts who make any movie better just by being in it.

Adult World opens in limited release in USA and via Video on Demand on 14 February 2014.

 

 

THE WIND RISES

 

(image via thewindrises.com.au)
(image via thewindrises.com.au)

 

SNAPSHOT
Jiro—inspired by the famous Italian aeronautical designer Caproni—dreams of flying and designing beautiful airplanes. Nearsighted from a young age and thus unable to become a pilot, Jiro joins the aircraft division of a major Japanese engineering company in 1927. His genius is soon recognised, and he grows to become one of the world’s most accomplished airplane designers. The film chronicles much of his life, and depicts key historical events that deeply affected the course of Jiro’s life, including the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, the Great Depression, the tuberculosis epidemic and Japan’s plunge into war. He meets and falls in love with Nahoko, and grows and cherishes his friendship with his colleague Honjo. A tremendous innovator, Jiro leads the aviation world into the future. Miyazaki pays tribute to engineer Jiro Horikoshi and author Tatsuo Hori in his creation of the fictional character Jiro—the center of the epic tale of love, perseverance, and the challenges of living and making choices in a turbulent world. (synopsis via metacritic.com)

I fell headlong in love with the work of Hayao Miyazaki somewhere around Spirited Away in 2001.

Granted I was more than a little late to the party (he’s been hard at work since 1979’s The Castle of Cagliostro), an egregious oversight since I had studied Japanese language and culture at uni in the ’80s and should have come across him then if I had bothered to look, but I made up for lost time devouring every Studio Ghibli he directed as fast as he could make them.

And now, very sadly, we have reached the end of the road.

Not so much in terms of Studio Ghibli but Miyazaki himself, who is retiring with this movie, which looks as visually and narratively as rich as anything he has produced.

He is taking a slightly controversial topic in one sense, but I have no doubt it will be handled with the joy, wonder, sensitivity and love for life that has coloured all his movies.

And yes I may just pay $25 to attend the official Australian premiere … if any movie deserves such largesse, it’s a work by Hayao Miyazaki, one of the masters of animation.

The Wind Rises opens in wide release in USA on 21 February 2014 and Australia on 27 February 2014.

 

 

GRAND PIANO

 

(image via impawards.com)
(image via impawards.com)

 

SNAPSHOT
Tom Selznick, the mots talented pianist of his generation, stopped performing in public because of his stage fright. Years after a catastrophic performance, he reappears in public in a long awaited concert in Chicago. In a packed theater, in front of the expectant audience, Tom finds a message written on the score: “Play one wrong note and you die.” Without leaving the piano, Tom must discover the anonymous sniper’s motives and look for help without anyone realizing… (synopsis vis starburstmagazine.com)

At first glance the storyline for Grand Piano may sound a little narratively restrictive but if you recall Phone Booth, which starred Colin Farrell as a man pinned down in the one very small place by a sniper, and Buried, in which Ryan Reynolds found himself trapped underground in a suffocatingly small box, these sorts of stories can work and work brilliantly well if executed properly.

Yes the film is restricted to one setting usually with an often unseen antagonist but if you have a well-written script, an actor capable of holding our attention when it’s essentially just them and them alone, and a scrupulously wrought sense of timing, you can end up with the sort of movie that has you glued to your seat for its entirety.

And while I am not overly familiar with the work of Spanish director Eugenio Mira and can’t vouch for his ability to make a movie like this work, I firmly believe that Elijah Wood can make this premise come alive.

The key is of course making it short, sharp, and as much as you can with an outlandish idea like that, believable.

Let the tightly constricted tension begin …

Grand Piano opens in limited release in USA on 7 March 2014.

 

 

ALL THE LIGHT IN THE SKY

 

(image via ew,com)
(image via ew,com)

 

SNAPSHOT
Jane Adams is Marie, an actress living in a house precariously perched above the beach in Malibu. Her age exempts her from more and more acting opportunities. That’s when her young, aspiring-actress niece arrives for a weekend stay – a weekend filled with confronting fears, burgeoning relationships, and navigating life in the early 21st century. (written by Production via imdb.com)

Oh but how I can relate to this!

Not so much the aspiring actor element but the idea of reaching a point in your life where things are quite working out quite as you planned them to.

You’re pouring your heart and soul into what you do and no one seems to be paying enough notice to get your dream off the ground.

It’s a whole lot of existential angst wrapped up in a glorious bundle of mid life crisis and ripe for expressing in a movie like All the Light in the Sky, starring the wonderful Jane Adams who I have loved in movies as diverse as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Wackness and Restless.

She has co-written the script with “mumblecore” director Joe Swanberg, and while the movie hasn’t received the most emphatically wonderful reviews, I will give it a chance purely because it speaks to where I am right now as an unemployed writer trying to find his next step in life, and because talented voices like Jane Adams should be given a chance to be heard.

All the Light in the Sky opened in USA on 20 December 2013.

 

 

MALEFICENT

 

(image via impawards.com)
(image via impawards.com)

 

SNAPSHOT
From Disney comes “Maleficent”—the untold story of Disney’s most iconicvillain from the 1959 classic “Sleeping Beauty.” A beautiful, pure-hearted young woman, Maleficent has an idyllic life growing up in a peaceable forest kingdom, until one day when an invading army threatens the harmony of the land. Maleficent rises to be the land’s fiercest protector, but she ultimately suffers a ruthless betrayal—an act that begins to turn her pure heart to stone. Bent on revenge, Maleficent faces an epic battle with the invading king’s successor and, as a result, places a curse upon his newborn infant Aurora. As the child grows, Maleficent realizes that Aurora holds the key to peace in the kingdom—and perhaps to Maleficent’s true happiness as well. (synopsis via disney.co.uk/movies/maleficent)

Disney is leveraging its intellectual property faster than you can say “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”!

The latest movie to have one of its characters spun off in an interesting way is Sleeping Beauty whose antagonist Maleficent is the recipient of her very own movie.

Much like Wicked re-told the story of Elphaba, the green-skinned outcast Wicked Witch of the West who was cast in a far more sympathetic, misunderstood light in the modern re-imagining of her tale.

I can only hope they don’t go too sugary sweet in the tale, something the final part of the official synopsis (above) hints at.

“… and perhaps to Maleficent’s true happiness as well.”

There is a fine line between giving a villain some shades of grey, which if done well renders them as a far more engaging character, stripping them of their cartoonish overtones, and neutering them as simply sadly neglected people who, if given some love and attention blossom.

My hope is that Angelina Jolie will keep Malificent on the bad guy end of the spectrum but with perhaps a shade more grey to render her a fully formed three-dimensional antagonist.

Maleficent opens on 30 May 2014 in USA and on 19 June 2014 in Australia.

 

 

* In honour of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which was recently observed in USA this year (15 January), the producers of 12 Years a Slave released a special promo which features audio from King’s famous and infinitely stirring speech I Have a Dream.

You can view the promo at insidemovies.ew.com

Weekend Pop Art: What if TV shows and movies were Golden Books?

(image via superpunch.net (c) Loren)
(image via superpunch.net (c) Loren)

 

I grew up with Little Golden Books (the first 12 of which were published on October 1, 1942).

I still fondly recall reading The Poky Little Puppy and Three Little Kittens (two of the first twelve 12 titles published), The Monster at the end of this Book (starring Grover) and Scuffy the Tugboat with my mother entranced by the wonderful artwork, fecund imaginations of the authors and the simple but utterly delightful stories.

They are responsible for launching me on a lifetime of reading richness for which I am inordinately grateful.

Now to my unending delight (trust me it goes on and on and …), some inventive artistic souls have come up with the absolutely inspired idea of taking some of today’s most recognisable movies and shows including Doctor Who, Breaking Bad, Moonrise Kingdom, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings and re-imagining them as Little Golden Books titles.

An international roster of talent re-imagines the unforgettable stories, illustrations, and metallic-spined covers of the world’s most recognizable collection of children’s books. The result is a delightful body of work certain to charm your inner child! Join us in celebrating the classic tales that colored our childhoods with infinite imagination and limitless adventure. (The enticing description of the exhibition by Gallery Nucleus)

Not only that but they are being exhibited as Little Golden Tales at Gallery Nucleus in Alhambra, California till 9 February 2014 and you have the chance to buy the pieces should you do desire.

Frankly so charmed am I by the idea of this highly original take on these much loved and highly popular pop culture icons, that I’d jump on a plane right now just to go and see it.

Alas I cannot for a 1001 reasons, which includes the lack of a TARDIS to whisk me forward to where I make my fortune from writing (yes let’s all have a good laugh about that).

However, if you’re in California or anywhere on the west coast of America for that matter, you should totally go and see it.

For the rest of us, there are the wonderful images to glory in and feel like a (very pop literate) child all over again.

 

Star Wars (image via superpunch.net (c) Sadie Figueroa)
Star Wars (image via superpunch.net (c) Sadie Figueroa)

 

Moonrise Kingdom (image vis superpunch.net (c) Jerrod Maruyama)
Moonrise Kingdom (image vis superpunch.net (c) Jerrod Maruyama)

 

Breaking Bad (image via superpunch.net (c) Maxime Mary)
Breaking Bad (image via superpunch.net (c) Maxime Mary)

 

Lord of the Rings (image via superpunch.net (c) Eren Blanquet Unten)
Lord of the Rings (image via superpunch.net (c) Eren Blanquet Unten)

 

* My deepest thanks for cnet.com and superpunch for bringing this beguiling exhibition to my attention.