July 31, 2015

Book Review—Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

The much discussed release from Harper Lee. It has had many tongues wagging, from rumours of shady dealings by lawyers and publishers to fears that it will taint Lee’s legacy. Now that it has been released we can finally see for ourselves.

26 year old Jean Louise “Scout” Finch returns to Maycomb from New York to visit her family. Her visit comes at a time when many changes are happening in the country, particularly regarding race relations. But on this return trip she discovers that all the small changes that she has been witnessing in Maycomb are but a precursor to the sweeping social shift that will affect everyone, including her much loved and admired father, Atticus.

It is difficult not to make comparisons with To Kill a Mockingbird, Watchman being an earlier incarnation.  The most apparent difference is that Watchman does not have the charm of its successor. Gone is the child narrator, and although the mix of folk tales and tall tales that so enlivened Mockingbrid are here, these whimsicalities are only shades, with the dialogues and tales that would, in subsequent rewrites, become the exchanges that gave Mockingbird its uniqueness and heft apparent only in sketches.

The South’s struggle with segregation is still present, but where Mockingbird focused on the personal Watchman deals with the political dimensions. Its treatment of Atticus is more complex, Mockingbird being, after all, Scout’s reminiscences of her heroic father. In Watchman this idolisation is replaced with disillusion. He may have upheld Tom Robinson’s rights, but that does not mean this old Southern gent isn’t worried about Southern heritage, including all the fears of miscegenation, worries about state’s rights and individual liberties, and a mistrust of outside forces like the federal government and NAACP that go along with the Southern mentality. But even these passages are often laden with stereotypes and awkward phrasing, giving reminders that Watchman, even in published form, is a draft, both in how it handles its subject matter and also in its flow.

Despite its short comings it is not the death knell of Lee’s reputation. When viewed alongside Mockingbird it provides a unique study not just into the creation of a much loved classic, but of an author who began with an admirable if muddled story and was able, with some help from an editor, to craft it into a fascinating tale.

July 29, 2015

Film Review—The Babadook by Jennifer Kent

Amelia (Essie Davis), a widow, tries to live with her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) who has behavioural issues. Hyperactive, he fears monsters, a fear that has real world effects on both mother and son. One night she lets him choose his bedtime story and he selects Mister Babadook. In the pages is a terrifying bogeyman, who warns “the more you deny/ the stronger I get”. Having to deal with the lurking grief of her husband’s death as well as Samuel’s increasingly severe behaviour, Amelia becomes more disturbed by her son’s focus on The Babadook and the real threat it begins to pose.

The film is disconcerting throughout, presenting a world that resembles ours but with the strange proportions of a Grimm’s fairy-tale. This is heightened by the fairy-tale like Mister Babadook, reminiscent of old children’s tales like the Great, Long, Red-legged Scissor Man, that both fascinate and frighten children and adults. The colour palate of the film is true to its story, where we get hints of emotion that slowly build, rather than raucous shifts in mood, or the overused and ineffective quite-quiet-LOUD copout that passes for ‘technique’ in so many horror films. The spectre of the Babadook and Amelia’s grief are fantastically twined within the cold and claustrophobic tinge that stains every shot and conjures the evocative interplay of light and shadow. The result is a subtle story where even the happy ending is marred.

Understated and unsettling, The Babadook is not just horror cinema at its finest, but a strangely beautiful look at grief.

July 27, 2015

Film Review - Gone - By Director - Heitor Dhalia and Writer Allison Burrett

Jill is a beautiful young women living with her alcoholic sister. She was previously a kidnap victim of a serial killer but as no evidence was found, the police didn’t believe her and she was committed to a mental institution for a number of years.

In Gone, when Jill's sister disappears she is convinced her kidnapper is back so she takes matters into her own hands, as the police believe it is all in her head. Brilliant acting by Amanda Seyfrend (Mamma Mia).
Rated M 15+
I thoroughly enjoyed this movie as it keeps you on the edge of your seat till the very end. Anne

July 24, 2015

Book Review—The Eye of the Sheep by Sofie Laguna

Winner of the Miles Franklin Literary Award 2015

Jimmy Flick is a child with behavioural issues with a manic energy and fascination. His mother, Paula, is deeply protective of him with a strong and special bond. Gavin, his father, is an abusive alcoholic, like his father before him. His brother, Robby, is frustrated with the life he was born into and wants to leave, but feels a sense of duty to Paula and Jimmy. As Jimmy grows we see the struggles of different members of the family to remain personally whole while trying desperately to maintain their bonds, with the very members of these bonds receiving the brunt of these conflicts.

Laguna’s writing is striking in the voice of Jimmy, giving slanted, strange, surreal descriptions to the commonplace and the domestic. For him the acts of everyday life are cause for wonder, from the pipes that fuel the machinery inside us all, to the engine of crying and the taps that control tears, to the transfer of energy from a slap to a look and the clouds of laughter that float above our heads in moments of joy. But this does not detract from the brutal passages when Gavin strikes Paula, or the poignant scene when Robby makes his difficult decision. Despite their unusual expression these thoughts and emotions are still human, the reality of the actions and consequences immediately apparent.

The Eye of the Sheep is a mesmerising, warming yet gritty look at the struggle of domestic life in a working class family.

July 22, 2015

Film Review—Nightcrawler by Dan Gilroy

Louis "Lou" Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a driven young man who sees a future career as a stringer, a freelance cameraman who films violent accidents and brutal crimes to sell to television news outlets. He discovers he has a talent and interest in this activity, and begins to gain more and more success. But his behaviour, already on the border of decency, slips, and he starts going to extreme lengths to get the best footage.

Gyllenhaal is phenomenally creepy with an unsettling charm that lures both business associates and the audience. The warped Bloom, with his frightening focus and unhinged outlook on life provides an arresting lead into the pseudo-world that is overly sensationalised media. But the skewed reality extends to overt corporation and the isolating affects it and media have on lives. Sometimes these jabs at mass media and business become a little redundant and clichéd. But when viewed as a distorted character study, through the prism of Bloom, who views the world through this media lens and interacts and negotiates life in business jargon, the film really takes hold. “It looks so real on the news”, Bloom says in woeful awe to a backdrop of the Los Angeles cityscape in the studio. He has indeed found his niche in this world, where the hyper-reality of the news and the detachment of business can fuel his strained waking hours.

Nightcrawler is an alluringly repugnant neo-noir thriller with a sensational lead performance.

July 20, 2015

Book Review - Hawaii - Lonely Planet Written and researched by Sara Benson and five others

This guide book is filled with amazing experiences, plans for the perfect trip and ways to get off the beaten track. 
It includes features such as:
  • Scenic driving tour itineraries
  • Outdoor adventure planning
  • Inspirational photos
Insights into island culture with its beautiful beaches and big surf it’s understandable why Hawaii is such a popular holiday destination. This guide also includes a map of the islands.
From the North Shore to Hanauma Bay, this Hawaii Lonely Planet Guide is filled with information about arts and culture as well as the best food, drink and accommodation. Also listing the top 20 attractions to see.
This book is true to Lonely Planets reputation; it’s easy to read and look up information and filled with expert recommendations. Definitely inspirational for the next holiday escape from winter. 

July 17, 2015

Book Review—Improbable Libraries by Alex Johnson

Can you put a library there? A question asked by many people looking at many spaces in many parts of the world. From train station convenience stores, to the back of elephants and camels, to red English phone booths, the book reveals some of the imaginative approaches to libraries around the globe.

It would have been great if the book could have taken a broader look at the changing nature of libraries, taking into account digital developments and creative activates that are becoming so much a part of their life force. But the local colour it does focus on is enthusing and vibrant, from the necessity of the boat library in Laos, the humanity of the deaf library in Burundi, the playfulness of the Little Free Library in New York.  But these are not simply novelty fodder for coffee tables books.  These unlikely libraries serve real people in real communities, from commuters in Madrid to remote villagers in Mongolia. Encouraging and inspiring not just for librarians but for members of communities everywhere. 

July 15, 2015

Film Review—A Most Wanted Man

A John Le Carre adaptation starring, in his final role, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Günther Bachmann (Hoffman) leads a special espionage unit in Hamburg that gathers intelligence from the local Islamic community. He has been monitoring Dr. Faisal Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi), a prominent figure in the community who works with many charities, suspecting him of financing extremist activities. His attentions are also on Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) a refugee who may be a potential terrorist. Through a web worthy of Le Carre’s status, Bachmann attempts to entangle Abdullah and Karpov. But as the flies are lured into the web Bachmann discovers that he too is in another’s web.

Hoffman is superb as the damaged, drained Bachmann. Dishevelled and weighed down, he sees the importance of what he is doing, but is too battered to uphold any romanticism. His approach is based on compassion and a weariness of perpetuity, which he suspects of the hard and short sighted tactics of his American counterparts and some German colleagues. His pessimism is from a true, deep seated longing to “make the world a safer place” only to be confronted with his and others' insufficiencies.

Not just for Hoffman fans, A Most Wanted Man is an unintentional yet eerily perfect swansong of a supreme actor.

July 13, 2015

Film Review - Mud by Jeff Nichols

It’s a drama about 2 young boys who encounter Mud, a fugitive whom they decide to help.

A murderer, Mud has bounty hunters after him. He sets up a plan to run away with the girl of his dreams with the help of the young boys.
The movie Mud contains a number of different love stories some gritty and obsessive. It is also a coming of age movie. Superb acting by Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon.

Rated  M- Violence and Sexual references.
I really enjoyed the movie and thought it was very original. Anne

July 06, 2015

Movie Club—The Searchers

This month’s Movie Club screening is The Searchers. One of 14 collaborations between John Wayne and John Ford, the film has gone on to gain critical acclaim, often considered one of the greatest westerns of all time.

Ethan Edwards is a Civil War veteran who fought on the side of the Confederacy. After returning to his brother’s home in Texas they are attacked by a Comanche raiding party. The only survivor is his niece who has been taken, and Edwards embarks on a five year long journey to save them.

Edwards is obsessive, unrelenting, and flawed. The motives for his unending search are less to bring his niece back to civilisation than to remove her from the clutches of the Comaches, even if that means killing her. At the heart of the film is Ford’s look at the role of race in the development of the American West and the Western film genre to which he made significant contributions. This has led the film to gain a reputation as a revisionist Western. But the question remains if its actual intention came through or if it is simply another addition to a genre that is so based on and so enthralled in the conflict between white settlers and native Americans.

Either way it is a technically stunning piece of cinematography from a master director as well as having a lot going on in its reels. The screening will be Wednesday 8 July at 6pm at Narellan Library with a discussion about all the ideas and depictions afterwards. Share your thoughts or use the discussion questions to get a debate going.