Outlander: Lallybroch (S1, E12 review)

Jamie and Claire look down upon Lallybroch, where a whole host of cultural potholes await the new wife of the Laird (image via Spoiler TV (c) Starz)
Jamie and Claire look down upon Lallybroch, where a whole host of cultural potholes await the new wife of the Laird (image via Spoiler TV (c) Starz)

 

* SPOILERS AND CULTURAL CLASHES AHEAD *

 

Jamie: “I need you to trust me here. My family. My land. My time. I am Laird and you are my lady. We should conduct ourselves as such.”
Claire: “I’m not the meek and obedient type.”

Soooo … it’s been a while since you’ve been home, what with there being a gigantic price on your head – one that the Duke of Sandringham will hopefully soon have lifted – and as you crest over the hill that looks down upon your beloved Lallybroch, what do you, as the newly-returned Laird, think is the first order of business?

(a) Go and visit the grave of your dearly-departed father (Andrew Whipp) who died at the hands of the sadistic Captain Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies), overcome while watching his beloved son be whipped multiple times in the most violent way possible?

(b) Show your wife Claire (Catriona Balfe) around the estate, a small one to be sure, but one with largely happy tenants, and at which you are lord and master with dibs on the largest bedroom and free rein to fix broken waterwheels at will?

(c) Or do you, hot headed as always, accuse your sister Jenny (Laura Donnelly), quite obviously with child and with a four year old boy playing at her feet, of being a trollop and whore who brought unending shame to the family by allowing herself to be raped four years ago by the evil Captain?

If you answered (a) or (b), both of which happened eventually but not quite as quickly as you might have expected, then go to the back of the drama-writing class for you know Outlander not; if however, you picked (c) then congratulations, you know the heart and mind, and sometimes rash emotional judgement, of the handsome Jamie Frasier (Sam Heughan) and can hold your head high. (Assuming the English leave it in place, always a questionable outcome in the Scotland of this era.)

It turned out, of course, after Jenny unburdened her soul with the sort of pluck and courage she seems to have in spades, that the rape never took place, with Captain Randall not able to, ahem, humiliatingly get the requisite parts in motion (and yes that really was Tobias Menzies’ gear in that scene) – something which Jenny found oddly amusing at the time, a reaction which earned her the sort of deplorably violent response for which Black Jack is infamous – leaving the virtue of Jenny, now married to the handsome one-legged Ian Murray (Steven Cree), well and truly intact.

Which means of course that Jamie rushed to apologise?

Ah not exactly, which left things more than a tad awkward between the two obviously close and loving siblings, a situation not helped by Claire putting her foot in it once again, thanks to her inability to remember she’s not in the 20th century anymore, and suggesting in front of Jenny and Ian, and GASP! the help, that an apology would be a jolly good idea.

It was a suggestion that didn’t go down at all with Jamie and led to yet another “discussion” behind closed doors at this bi-century couple once again had to sort of what was what and when to say it.

 

Ah Lallybroch home sweet home, where Jamie is the Laird or Broch Tuarach means "north-facing tower" in Gaelic. (image via Outland wiki (c) Starz)
Ah Lallybroch home sweet home, where Jamie is the Laird or Broch Tuarach means “north-facing tower” in Gaelic. (image via Outland wiki (c) Starz)

 

A quieter episode than last week’s “WITCHES! BURN THE WITCHES!” episode “The Devil’s Mark, “Lallybroch”, taken from the name of Jamie’s ancestral home, was another well-wrought examination of the perpetual clash of culture and perspectives than inevitably exists when one half of the partnership is from the future and one from a far more prosaic present.

Jamie, to his credit, seems to be handling the whole “My wife is a time traveller” reveal rather nicely, happily asking Claire all about aeroplanes as they ambled homeward, and it’s to the credit of the writers that their conversation seemed entirely natural, and not the sort of sensationalist “YOU’RE FROM THE FUTURE?!” melodrama that lazy scribes might have been tempted to indulge.

It speaks to the quality of the production that the writers don’t take the easy way out; that even in their continuing examination of the gulf that exists whether they like it or not between Claire and Jamie’s life experiences, they handle it with the enlightened understanding that Claire is not necessarily the final word in all things simply because she is from the more “advanced” future.

In fact in a series of key scenes this week, Claire was, very nicely naturally, put in her place, reminded that the good citizens of 18th century Scotland are unthinking, unfeeling savages and that what Claire sees as wrong or unconscionable may also be viewed the same way by the likes of Jamie or Jenny.

Take for instance, Claire’s witnessing of one of Jamie’s tenants brutally beating his child.

Doing the right thing by stepping in and putting a stop to it, and making sure the boy is safe and well fed, her huffing and puffing that no one seemed to be as concerned as she was about his welfare was quickly cut short when it was revealed that Jenny was well aware of the boy’s mistreatment and was taking steps in her own way and time to put an end to it.

This is not to say that Claire did the wrong thing in any way; quite the contrary in fact with the former World War Two nurse doing what any sane person would do by pulling a child away from imminent danger.

But once again she had to learn that she doesn’t have a stranglehold on care and concern for her fellow man, and that Jenny for instance is just as aware in her own way that things are amiss but has to handle them within the rigid social mores of the time.

 

Jenny is every bit as feisty and opinionated as her brother but as her husband Ian observes correctly, their hearts as every bit as big as their obstinacy (image via Spoiler TV (c) Starz)
Jenny is every bit as feisty and opinionated as her brother but as her husband Ian observes correctly, their hearts as every bit as big as their obstinacy (image via Spoiler TV (c) Starz)

 

But Claire wasn’t the only one learning a lesson or two.

Jamie too, who has never been Laird of Lallybroch in his own right, and came in like the proverbial bull in the china shop telling everyone what to do without asking them, in particular Jenny, what it is they do, had to learn that asking a question here or there did not lessen his masculinity or authority in any way.

Admittedly his heavy-handed ways were driven more by insecurity and the need to appear strong than any pigheaded misogyny – I think by now the writers have Jamie’s proto-feminist stripes well and truly painted on – but the effect was the same – the alienation of the people close to him.

He had to learn, and to his credit he did, that simply because he thought there was  a way to do something didn’t mean that was the way to do it (and to his credit he apologised to Jenny, she apologised and there was, as you might expect, all the feels possible).

It underlined again how nicely sophisticated the writing is in Outlander.

Rather than slapdash, roughly-wrought scenes, the writing aims for slow unfurling of observations, all bedrocked in the idea that everyone, high or low in status, male or female, 18th century or 20th century born has a thing or two to learn, and needs to remember that no one is the font of all wisdom and understanding.

Thus Outlander is as much a treatise on the universality of the human experience as it is an examination of the great differences between people from different times and cultures, eschewing in the process the almost imperialist idea that more advanced people are Good, less advanced Bad.

And that’s a refreshing way to approach any drama, driving in Outlander a show that keeps you on the edge of your seat but not at the expense of the integrity of its characters or the depth and nuance of its storytelling.

“Lallybroch”, like all the episodes in the first season so far, is a reminder that you can still have fine, engrossing drama without sacrificing intelligent, well-told, perceptive narratives in the process.

I have no doubt that next week’s episode,  “The Watch”, will continue in that fine tradition …

 

Trips to see grandma just got creepy with M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit

(image via Hey U Guys)
(image via Hey U Guys)

 

SNAPSHOT
The Visit is written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, The Village), which he also produced with Blumhouse Productions (Paranormal Activity, Insidious, The Purge, Sinister). The film employs a found footage style of storytelling to follow a brother and sister (Ed Oxenbould, Olivia DeJonge) who are sent to their grandparents’ remote Pennsylvania farm for a weeklong trip.  Once the children discover that the elderly couple is involved in something deeply disturbing, they see their chances of getting back home are growing smaller every day. (synopsis via First Showing)

I have find memories of childhood visits to my grandparents.

They usually involved a long day of driving – we lived about 10 hours away from them which meant road trips galore which I looked forward to with great excitement because they meant lollies, sleeping on pillows on the seats, and peanut butter sandwiches made by my mum – the thrill of going to the big city of Sydney and the chance to spend a week having fun with two very wonderful people.

My Grandpa would take us for walks and swims on the beach, Nanna would fix her famous coleslaw that we’d have with barbecued fish and chips for dinner, and there’d be all kinds of desserts on offer courtesy of a freezer bulging with Sara Lee delicacies.

Good times, good times.

I am guessing that brother and sister siblings, played by Ed Oxenbould and Olivia Dejonge, can only dream of having those sorts of uncomplicated, warm-and-cosy visits to their grandparents.

Arriving with great excitement to visit their mother’s parents, who the trailer suggests haven’t exactly been an enduring presence in their grandkid’ lives, the brother and sister – oddly none of the sites like IMDb etc list any character names –
arrive to the sort of warm welcome you’d expect.

 

(image via First Showing)
(image via First Showing)

 

But it doesn’t take long for things to get seriously, terrifyingly WEIRD.

Like one step away from head spinningly weird.

Yup, that bat s**t- freaky, hide under the blankets and never emerge again crazy.

And the granddaughter captures it all on film, part of a project to document what should be a heartwarming visit to re-connect with the grandparents she and her brother don’t know all that well.

Um, there could be a reason for that.

The strange thing is the mother, played by Kathryn Hahn seems blithely unconcerned about increasingly stridently emotional entreaties from her children that her parents are a few hundred patients short of a fully-functioning asylum.

Now either she knows about it and figures her kids should experience what she did growing up, which seems kind of cruel and not in keeping with her sunny parental disposition – then again the happier you are in these movies, either the more dead or the more evil you will become – or grandma and grandpa’s freaky late night, and then broad daylight, activities are recent developments.

Either way her kids are in danger and it’s a fair question whether they will emerge unscathed.

We’ll find out when The Visit opens in UK and USA on 11 September and in Australia on 24 September.

 

 

Quake in fear invading cookies of Bon Bon for the Aveggies are here! (Sesame Street parody)

The Aveggies are all that stands between the vegetable-loving citizens of Earth and a dessert-led creaming courtesy of nefarious alien sweet-heart Bon Bon (image via YouTube (c) Childrens' Television Workshop)
The Aveggies are all that stands between the vegetable-loving citizens of Earth and a dessert-led creaming courtesy of nefarious alien sweet-heart Bon Bon (image via YouTube (c) Childrens’ Television Workshop)

 

“People of Earth, prepare to be desserted! Mwahahaha!”

You may have noticed that a small, low budget indie film by the name of Avengers: Age of Ultron is currently in cinemas, the latest in Marvel’s long line of super successful superhero movies to triumph at the box office.

Even if this minor teensy-weensy film has passed you buy, rest assured that the eagle-eyed creative geniuses at the Childrens’ Television Workshop, the inspired minds behind Sesame Street have well and truly noticed it and as is their wonderful way, come up with a parody to honour its presence in the cinemas of the world (where it is, of course, doing very nicely, thank you very much.)

And it is, as are all the parodies that Sesame Street unleashes upon a zeitgeist-embracing public, full of delightfully groan-inducing puns, fantastic names for the health-loving superheroes defending us from an exclusive diet of cookies and cream – Dr. Brownie (Cookie Monster as The Hulk), Onion Man, Captain Americauliflower, Black Bean Widow, Mighty Corn and Zuchin-eye – and naturally an evil calorie-rich villain named Bon Bon who unleashes a Star Trek-shaped giant cookie upon the good broccoli, carrot and asparagus-chomping people of Earth.

As you would expect from a Sesame Street parody, there’s also a message running through the piece; in this case that Cookie Monster, who is easily distracted by cookies, must focus if he is to do his part as a member of the Aveggies.

After all if he doesn’t, fine cauliflower-lovers everywhere could find themselves variously in a jam and creamed and no one wants that!

(OK I do occasionally but don’t tell the Aveggies till I’ve finished my caramel tart.)

source: zap2it

 

Cobie Smulders and Guy Pearce are looking for Results but is life ever really that easy?

(image via IMDb)
(image via IMDb)

 

SNAPSHOT
Recently divorced, newly rich, and utterly miserable, Danny (Kevin Corrigan) would seem to be the perfect test subject for a definitive look at the relationship between money and happiness. Danny’s well-funded ennui is interrupted by a momentous trip to the local gym, where he meets self-styled guru-owner Trevor (Guy Pearce) and irresistibly acerbic trainer Kat (Cobie Smulders). Soon, their three lives are inextricably knotted, both professionally and personally. (official synopsis via Indiewire)

It kinds sucks when we can’t get what we want doesn’t it?

It sucks even more when you’re rich like Danny (noted indie actor Kevin Corrigan), miserable, flabby and looking for something new to lift you from your despondency and the object of your ardour gives you a big fat “NO” (both the short and long versions).

It’s not an easy response to process especially since we live in a society that promotes anything being possible as long as you give it your all.

That positive message of getting what you want works of course when it comes to things getting fit since you control what you eat and how often you exercise; in other words the results are wholly and solely in your hands.

Alas, such an approach doesn’t work quite so well when it comes to affairs of the heart since ideally that involves you and one other person, a rogue factor you can’t control no matter how much you might want to (and Danny appears, in his own sweet hangdog way willing to give it a red hot go).

 

 

And that appears to be the central conceit from the so-called “Godfather of Mumblecore” Andrew Bujalski (Funny Ha HaMutual Appreciation) who looks he has a great deal of fun contrasting the hard and fast results-oriented world of fitness, one of the thriving religions of the 21st century, with the far less predictable, often messy and uncontrollable world of love and romance.

It’s borne out by Variety‘s review of the film, which premiered at Sundance this year, where they observe:

“A healthy body does not always make for a healthy spirit in Andrew Bujalski’s Results, a wry relationship comedy about a team of personal trainers, their clients and their shared desire for progress in and out of the gym.”

It seems that for people like Trevor and Kat who are used to putting in the effort and getting results – there’s that word again! – navigating the human heart is not as cut-and-dried as they imagine it to be.

The same could initially be said for Danny, for completely different reasons, but it is he, notes Variety, who ends out figuring out that which eludes the fitness-duo of Trevor and Kat:

“But the high-energy boost in Bujalski’s protein shake comes from Corrigan, an invaluable side man in American indie movies for the last 25 years who has only occasionally (as in 2009’s Big Fan) had a role this keyed-in to his highly particular, zonked-out rhythms and faintly menacing stoner-shaman air. His Danny starts out the movie as the person least likely to succeed and ends up as the one most capable of effecting change, for himself and others — a flabby Cupid in the land of Adonis.”

It sounds like the kind of film that has some fun with preconceived notions, always a fertile ground for good drama.

Results opens May 29 in USA; no international dates (except for a screening at Riviera Maya Film Festival in Mexico on April 24) available at this time.

Movie review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

(image via IMP Awards)
(image via IMP Awards)

 

There is no denying that Avengers: Age of Ultron, directed as was the first The Avengers film (2012) by the superlatively-talented Joss Whedon, is a big, booming, city-destroying blockbuster of a movie.

It’s clearly meant to be that way, uniting once again the team of Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), who begin as they clearly mean to go on with a full-on, CGI-heavy, one-take bonanza of an opening sequence which sees the team go in guns (and arrows, hammers and shields) blazing in an attack on a Hydra base in the fictional Eastern European country of Sokovia.

A mix between the fairytale 18th century daintiness of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang‘s Vulgaria, and any one of a number of European ski resorts, Sokovia is the hiding place of Loki’s sceptre within which nestles one of the six powerful Infinity Stones, four of which have turned up in the last few years in what Thor observes is a worrying pattern (cue the inevitable further adventures in the Marvel Cinematic Universe).

But secreting itself away in this picturesque European wonderland doesn’t guarantee Hydra, or later, the film’s big baddy A.I. powerhouse Ultron (voiced and motion captured by the always superb James Spader) any real protection against the united, determined forces of the Avengers who have built for themselves a shiny, pretty, skyline-dominating HQ in New York City.

Largely funded by Tony Stark, who despite his journey to existential hell-and-back in Iron Man 3 is as quip-inclined and snarkily jocular as ever – it suggests either that he has a brilliant shrink or that the film’s writer, also Josh Whedon, masterful though he is, isn’t paying as much attention to character continuity as you’d have hoped – HQ is where the team hang out, kick back, share some drinks, oh and begin their fight against Ultron who is accidentally birthed in secret by Stark and Hulk’s Bruce Banner.

Yes, they neglect to tell the rest of their buddies that they’re creating a brand new artificial intelligence – clearly J.A.R.V.I.S. (voiced by Paul Bettany), Stark’s existing interface, isn’t enough for him – and as is the way of things done in the shadows on the q.t. it comes back to bite them, and everyone else, royally on their superhero behinds.

 

 

So far, so pleasingly, bombastically Marvel – team together in soul and spirit and fighting body, big baddy let loose to wreak destruction upon an unsuspecting world (seriously do The Avengers have great third party insurance? Cause they’ll need it once the damage bills come in from all the mayhem they unleash), heroism ready to be writ large on a global scale.

Only a funny happens on the way to the expectedly neat and tidy, world saved once more finale.

Everything goes rather uncharacteristically limp and flat.

This is not to say that Avengers: Age of Ultron is anything other than a fine specimen of the new breed of character-driven, angst-laden, CGI-bristling Marvel films; it is all that and more.

The problem is it feels like a re-tread, a been-there-done-that narrative that not only pays scant attention to the character development of some of the stand alone films – Captain America is another man fresh from a soul-eviscerating solo experience who seems to have no demonstrable scars or lessons to show for it – but delivers up a faintly comical baddy in Ultron who postures and lectures in menacing fashion but only succeeds in coming perilously close to a leering, preening, ineffective Bond villain.

Granted we are given some richly-wrought insights into the hearts and souls and tortured minds of characters like Thor, Black Widow and Captain America, and a tender believable romance is set up between Banner and Romanoff who clearly are meant for each other, but beyond that and a surprise revelation about Barton, there is precious little here to surprise, even if we are mostly delighted.

Perhaps following in the footsteps of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, both of which had some fun playing around with the well-used Marvel template to great success, hasn’t done the second Avengers film any favours.

Or perhaps Whedon, talented though he undoubtedly is, found himself too constrained by the source material or the overall Marvel mythos to which a great deal of obsessive-compulsive attention has been paid to date.

 

 

Whatever the cause of the ennui, Avengers: Age of Ultron lands with more of a whimper than a bang, an odd result given how large and loud it often, though not exclusively, is in many scenes.

And while the character-revelatory scenes are highly welcome, a trademark of Whedon who shows consummate skills in once more adding necessary humanity to the often solely action-centric comic book movie genre, they don’t sit easily against the big climactic scene where naturally Much Is At Stake,  nor with some of the secret squirrel stuff that Stark and Banner get up to behind everyone’s backs.

While the film is never less than thoroughly enjoyable – Whedon is after all even on his bad days (does he even have them I wonder?) a far superior writer and director than many who take a trip into the Marvel Cinematic Universe – and a rich addition to the canon introducing us to new characters the Vision (Paul Bettany), Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and her twin brother Pietro Maximoff / Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), it fails to really counter the sense that we’ve seen it all before.

Grand, blockbuster-y, and often quite engagingly funny – Thor, Hawkeye and Iron Man clearly need to look at doing some stand up comedy sometime – and lot of fun to watch much of the time, it nevertheless is underwhelming, a less than gloriously full colour Xerox copy of the usual Marvel brilliance.

 

Goodnight Westeros: The world’s most entertainingly bloodthirsty bedtime story

(image via YouTube (c) Mashable's Watercooler)
(image via YouTube (c) Mashable’s Watercooler)

 

Who, as a child, didn’t love a lovely relaxing bedtime story right before you went off to join the Sandman in the Land of Nod?

(A scary guy in himself, the very idea of whom gave me the heebie-jeebies as a child; neither he nor the land he inhabits actually sounds all that rest-inducing frankly.)

Everyone you would imagine … except posits Mashable’s The Watercooler YouTube channel, the good, sword-wielding children of Westeros who don’t want to be bothered with the sort of namby-pamby delightfully warm-and-fuzzy stories about happily ever afters that litters the usual bedtime story fare.

No, what these violence-prone youngsters apparently lap up is not something like the classic much-loved nighttime story book Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd with cows and cherubs flitting their way to the magical realms of dreamlands but blood-soaked tales of direwolves ripping out peoples’ throats, severed heads falling, treacherous whores and daggers, White Walkers and dragons setting cities ablaze …

Oh and good night George R. R. Martin who needs all the sleep he can get so he can finish the “f**king books”!

 

Anzac Day book review: The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

(image via and (c) Random House Australia, publisher)
(image via and (c) Random House Australia, publisher)

 

“Anzac Day goes beyond the anniversary of the landing on Gallipoli in 1915. It is the day on which we remember Australians who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations. The spirit of Anzac, with its human qualities of courage, mateship, and sacrifice, continues to have meaning and relevance for our sense of national identity.” (courtesy and (c) Australian War Memorial)

There is a terrible beauty to the exploration of human nature’s inherent contradictions in Richard Flanagan’s 2014 Man Booker Prize-winning novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

Written in response to his father’s harrowing time as one of Colonel “Weary” Dunlop’s 1000 men, Australian soldiers who were captured in Java in World War Two by the Japanese before being forced to labour under horrendous conditions on the “Line” building the infamous Thai-Burma Railway, it captures in powerfully unsettling fashion humanity’s seemingly endless capacity to oppose itself at every turn.

Where there is great honour and integrity, there is also barbaric and blindly devotional adherence to unquestioned beliefs, where beauty and love caress there is also the cruel, unyielding hand of hatred, and in those times where great camaraderie and tenderness is present, there is also astoundingly unfeeling violence.

It is something that the central character in The Narrow Road to the Deep North – its title is drawn from a treasured work Oku no Hosomichi by revered 17th century Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō – Tasmanian Colonel Dorrigo Evans, whose life and accompanying tortured internal monologue pre, post and during war forms the central core of this richly-expressed novel, ponders at one point when he wonders if violence is humanity’s only true calling:

“It was as if man existed only to transmit violence to ensure its domain is eternal. For the world did not change, this violence had always existed and would never be eradicated, men would die under the boot and fists and the horror of other men until the end of time, and all human history was a history of violence.”

But realising “these feelings were too strange and overwhelming to hang on to”, he allows these thoughts, triggered by years of witnessing and experiencing the brutality of the Japanese against his men, to vanish and disappear into the ether, choosing to focus on the more uplifting things he has experienced such as the passionate embrace of the love of his life Amy, a woman who perversely could never truly be his, at least not in the way he wanted her to be.

 

 

It is a theme returned to again and again in Flanagan’s masterful, deeply moving work which talks about memory, and the choices we make in acknowledging and remembering the less palatable parts of our own selves as well the greater darkness that can fall over people, even those who see themselves as inherently good or worthy.

Terrible though the experiences of Evans and his men are as they struggle to survive malnutrition, systemised violence and indignities of the most base and dehumanising kind, each of them, at least who survive the war and they are sadly not many, make decisions about what they will and won’t talk about, pay tribute to, eulogise.

In a mark of how profoundly balanced and true to the universal experience of humanity the book strives to be, the author allows us insight into even the most bestial of the Japanese officers such as Colonel Kota, a man who sees a symmetry and honour in the way in which he beheads prisoners, a bloody act that is always accompanied by exquisitely-transcendent haiku poems.

The violence of man against man is no less confronting for these insights into the ideals, thoughts and emotions that underpin the behaviour of both sides in this most destructive of wars but they allow us to understand, at least in very small part, why people behave the way they do.

It never justifies their actions of course as accepting that dark things lurk within the soul of humanity is never the same as condoning it, and Flanagan’s poetic prose beautifully explores this in ways that will leave you simultaneously in awe and flinching at our masterful ability to be astonishingly honest and deeply deceitful, both to ourselves and those we come to know, for better or ill, in our lives.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North, as much as love letter to goodness and greatness in humanity as an admission of the horrors we also manifest – the power of words is another recurring theme throughout the book; something that Flanagan, whose writing is mesmerisingly beautiful even when he is talking about horrors without explanation, would know only too well – reaffirms that life is never black and white, good or bad but rather a murky, unsettling and at times greatly distressing mix of the two.

Much as we would like to think we are wholly indebted to the better angels of our nature, our propensity for war and brutality reminds us that we cannot escape “the strange, terrible neverendingness of human beings”, and if there is one thing to be learned from this most masterfully and beautifully written of books, it is this one darkly unsettling but ultimately freeing truth.

 

 

 

 

Anzac Day classic movie review: Gallipoli (1981)

(image via IMP Awards)
(image via IMP Awards)

 

“Anzac Day goes beyond the anniversary of the landing on Gallipoli in 1915. It is the day on which we remember Australians who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations. The spirit of Anzac, with its human qualities of courage, mateship, and sacrifice, continues to have meaning and relevance for our sense of national identity.” (courtesy and (c) Australian War Memorial)

Uncle Jack: What are your legs?
Archy Hamilton: Springs. Steel springs.
Uncle Jack: What are they going to do?
Archy Hamilton: Hurl me down the track.
Uncle Jack: How fast can you run?
Archy Hamilton: As fast as a leopard.
Uncle Jack: How fast are you going to run?
Archy Hamilton: As fast as a leopard!
Jack: Then let’s see you do it!

Gallipoli, arguably one of director Peter Weir’s finest, most moving films, is a moving testament to both the very best and the very worst of the human spirit.

In the story of 18 year old stockman and sprinting sensation Archie Hamilton (Mark Lee) and roguishly charming ex-railway labourer and fellow sprinter Frank Dunne (Mel Gibson), we are witness to the way in which two very different men, one gung-ho for war, the other older and far more circumspect, come together as friends, compatriots and ultimately fellow soldiers in the Australian Light Horse Brigade.

Capturing the spirit of the age, in which a newly christened nation – Australia as a country has only been in existence for 14 years at the time – saw fighting in the far off fields of World War One against the German/Ottoman axis as a noble endeavour, even an adventure of sorts, Weir beautifully conveys how the brash, enthusiastic innocence of the 1910s slowly, and then brutally, gave way to the horrifying realities of war.

Enduringly upbeat, Archie is the most excitable of the two, bursting with excitement at the idea of lying about his age – you had to be 21 to enlist but many young men fabricated their ages so they wouldn’t miss out on what was perceived as a grand adventure – and going off to see far lands and do his best for God, family ( who know nothing of his intentions save for his Uncle Frank, played by Bill Kerr, with whom he is close) and country.

In contrast, Frank, of Irish extraction and understandably dubious about the merits of the British Empire, resists enlisting, even when his friends Bill (Robert Grubb), Barney (Tim McKenzie), and Snowy (David Argue) urge him to, only conceding to the ever present pressure to “be in it” when Archie’s idealism and friendship proves too strong a lure.

 

 

Like many men of their day who enlisted with patriotic stars in their eyes, their initial experience of the war confirms the sense that this is once in a lifetime experience to be celebrated and treasured.

Training in Egypt passes in a blur of mock military manoeuvres, days on the town and nights in the brothels of Cairo, and impromptu running races to the pyramids upon which they join Napoleon in carving their names in the ancient stones.

Older, wiser heads like that of their commanding officer, Major Barton (Bill Hunter) know that the reality that will confront at Anzac Cove will be nothing like the almost-holiday like atmosphere out on the Egyptian dunes but stays quiet knowing he cannot compete with the allure of the war mythos so prevalent at the time.

Weir this does an impressive job of comparing the wide-eyed idealism of many of the newly-emlisted troops, eager to engage with the Turks in battle, and some of the calmer, more considered older commanding officers, many of whom are all too aware that this is no adventure, all initial evidence to the contrary.

There is an achingly sad sense throughout this period that, for all the laughter, jocularity and drinking, we are witnessing lambs being led to the slaughter, the clock ticking down to the death of many good men and with them, the spirited innocence of the age.

Here is where idealism died, though not bravery, mateship and innate desire to do your best come what may, and a dark cynicism and despair takes over, the spectre of being witness to bloody omnipresent death haunting the men who survived the crowded, muddy trenches of Gallipoli for the rest of their blighted lives.

 

 

Rather than a grim treatise on the bloody futility of war however, although it most certainly indicts armed conflict between men in the most damning terms simply by showing it happening, Gallipoli is a poignant, deeply moving portayal of the deep bonds of friendship between Archie and Frank.

They act as exemplars of the men who landed, fought and died at Gallipoli, now marking its 100th anniversary, men who, though understandably frightened when the full import of war was made graphically clear, went on to make their mark on the Australian nation and its character for generations to come.

That the film is desperately sad is without question – you can’t witness that kind of  bloodshed without mourning to the core of your being the loss of so many promising men – with its finale among the most moving and emblematic in the history of cinema.

Gallipoli is above all a celebration of a different set of ideals that emerged from this conflict – those of camaraderie, a fair go for all, a healthy disregard for authority and most importantly a self-sacrificial, noble friendship that saw otherwise taciturn men give their all for their fellow soldiers-at-arms.

A great deal was lost at Gallipoli but much was gained, and it is thanks to the men represented by Archie and Frank, men who didn’t see themselves as heroes but once the innocent scales were peeled away from their eyes, fought like them, that many of us can enjoy the freedom we have today.

Weir’s Gallipoli is a testament to these men, a moving tribute to friendship, bravery and the willingness to give everything you have for your fellow man, but one that tells it like it is so we never, ever forget the horrible lessons of this, or any, war.

Lest we forget.

 

The alluring mystery of When Marnie Was There

(image via IMP Awards)
(image via IMP Awards)

 

SNAPSHOT
Anna hasn’t a friend in the world – until she meets Marnie among the sand dunes. But Marnie isn’t all she seems…An atmospheric ghost story with truths to tell about friendship, families and loneliness. Anna lives with foster parents, a misfit with no friends, always on the outside of things. Then she is sent to Norfolk to stay with old Mr and Mrs Pegg, where she runs wild on the sand dunes and around the water. There is a house, the Marsh House, which she feels she recognises – and she soon meets a strange little girl called Marnie, who becomes Anna’s first ever friend. Then one day, Marnie vanishes. A new family, the Lindsays, move into the Marsh House. Having learnt so much from Marnie about friendship, Anna makes firm friends with the Lindsays – and learns some strange truths about Marnie, who was not all she seemed … (synopsis via Slashfilm)

There is a great deal of wistful regret and poignancy attached to the film When Marnie Was There, based on the much-loved book by Joan G. Robinson, and not all of it has to do with the touching story of a young ailing girl named Anna who is sent away to a seaside town to recuperate where she befriends the mysterious Marnie, who will have more of an impact on her life than she could ever have imagined.

In fact, much of the sadness attached to this emotionally and visually-evocative film lies in the fact that it is quite possibly the last feature effort from the famed Japanesse animation house, Studio Ghibli, who since their founding in 1985 have produced 20 gloriously-sublime movies (including Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle and The Wind Rises) and a slew of anime shows for television, as well as many other media projects including video games.

Known as much for their arrestingly gorgeous visuals as their exquisitely-detailed storytelling, Studio Ghibli has taken a decision to suspend its operations, following the retirement of the luminously-talented Hayo Miyazaki (one of the founders of the studio along with Isao Takahata, Toshio Suzuki and Yasuyoshi Tokuma) pending an assessment of where they go from here without the prodigious talents that established and sustained it.

Whether it is the last release from Studio Ghibli, and anyone with a heart and soul and a love for near-animation should hope and pray it isn’t, the film, written and directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (The Secret World of Arrietty) will finally get a wide release outside of Japan this year with an English-language version that features voice work by an impressive array of actors including Hailee Steinfeld, Kiernan Shipka, Kathy Bates, Ellen Burstyn, Geena Davis, Catherine O’Hara, John C. Reilly, Raini Rodriguez and Vanessa Williams.

When Marnie Was There looks in every single way like an archetypical Ghibli film – warm, rich, playful animation, a singular sense of time and place, rich, engaging characters and an intriguing narrative that looks like it will have as many questions as answers – and while it may mark the passing of an era, it looks like a more than worthy way to say goodbye to this most special of animation dynasties.

When Marnie Was There opens in Australia on 14 May 2015 and USA on 22 May.

 

Movie review: The Age of Adaline

(image via IMP Awards)
(image via IMP Awards)

 

You couldn’t blame life immortal for thinking it might need a new PR team.

Time after time of late, in TV shows like Forever and Helix, and movies like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and now director Lee Toland Krieger’s The Age of Adaline, the idea of living forever has not exactly had the most glowing of reviews handed down to it.

Once lauded as a wondrous thing, a chance to cheat death and endure, unchanged, through the ages, Herodotus’ much-fabled fountain of youth is now largely seen as a poisoned chalice, a double-edged sword of dubious value.

This is certainly how Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively, Gossip Girl), curiously altered during a snowfall-triggered car accident in 1937 so that she remains an eternally-youthful 29 year old, views her “gift” of immortality.

More a blessing than a curse, it has forced her to spend her entire life on the run, bolting at the first sign of anyone getting close to her, where they might discern that she is not, even remotely, like the mere mortals around her.

This has led to an understandably closed off life, as Adaline, playing her emotional cards close to her chest by self-perceived necessity, finds herself unable, or as it turns out when true love once again comes calling in the form of the dashing renaissance man Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman, Orphan Black), unwilling to let anyone become privy to her uncomfortable secret, save for her devoted daughter Flemming (Ellen Burstyn).

 

(image via IMP Awards)
(image via IMP Awards)

 

Played with a convincing intensity by Blake Lively who manages to project pain, longing and decades-long sense of resignation to her fate, often in one achingly sad shot, through eye movements or facial gestures alone, Adaline is a tortured soul, cut off from the world around her, by both circumstance and choice, unable to fully partake with any real joy in the supposed fruits of her magically-eternal existence.

Her life is not a playground of indulgent opportunities and god-like omnipotence – save for the ability her longevity affords her to wait patiently for potentially lucrative long term investments to pay off – but rather a prison of sorts, a place where time passes while she watches everyone she loves and everything she cares decay and eventually disappear around her.

All this changes in the way only grandly romantic narratives can allow for, and make no mistake the script by J. Mills Goodloe and Salvador Paskowitz is suffused with all the fairytale wonder and charm you could ask for, when internet millionaire and heart-of-gold philanthropist Ellis Jones sweeps Adaline, rather reluctantly, off her feet.

Though she initially fights this chance to be loved and known for who she is – it is only at the urging of her daughter, who has had to spend much of her life watching her mother from afar – she must finally, and in suitably dramatic circumstances, make a choice about the kind of life she wants to live.

It turns out that Adaline, convinced she is cursed beyond measure and strait-jacketer into a life devoid of the milk of human kindness, actually does have a choice, though for much of the film she is unable to appreciate this is the case.

Accompanied by the requisite grandly romantic visuals – the cinematography by David Lanzenberg is breathtakingly and suitably beautiful; he somehow manages to make the snowy car accident which defines Adaline’s life look like artistic expression more than a violent upending of the status quo – The Age of Adaline is a case study in the perils of more is more and the unexpectedly deleterious effect it can have on the human soul.

 

(image via IMP Awards)
(image via IMP Awards)

 

But, rather surprisingly for a movie possessed of an admittedly slight but deeply engaging narrative and an occasionally limited but engrossing perspective – much of the film is consumed with telling Adaline’s story in newsreel-like flashbacks so we better understand her current emotional malaise – the film has a great deal to say about self-determination, free will and the power of choice, even when it appears there are none to be entertained.

As the film gather paces in its second half, and Adaline’s considerable past and in-the-balance present come crashing together in wholly unforeseen ways, The Age of Adaline explores with more sensitivity and insight than you might rightly expect whether it is possible to find true love and happiness with someone else when you utterly and completely set apart from them.

It’s no surprise in a movie that telegraphs its boldly romantic credentials from almost the first frame that its answer is a resounding yes but it’s the way The Age of Adaline navigates its way to its happily-ever-after conclusion, one that comes with more surprises than its conventional set-up and unfurling might suggest, that will delight anyone with even a hint of a beating heart and a mind to ponder the limitless possibilities that life, eternal or otherwise, can throw up when you might least expect it.