Film Review:

1917

 

The madness and futility of the First World War has been the inspiration for many fine films, beginning in 1930 with Lewis Milestone’s version of the Erich Maria Remarque novel, ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’, which was a daring story for its time, in that it showed the horrors of war from the perspective of German infantrymen.

In Sam Mendes’s ‘1917’, it is the British with whom we sympathise, but in other ways, the themes are similar - incompetent and ego-driven officers, and troops who are treated as cannon fodder. Mendes, however, also gives us officers doing their best in impossible circumstances.

This film is based on a story told to Mendes by his grandfather, Alfred, to whom the film is dedicated. In that respect, it is a very personal project.

But what makes ‘1917’ unique is the way it is filmed as a continuous shot or, at least, the illusion of one. We literally follow the two lance corporals, Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay), on their mission to cross no man’s land and reach the Devonshire battalion in order to warn the colonel that they are heading into a German trap and they should call off their attack. For Corporal Blake, this mission is deeply personal – his brother is a lieutenant with the Devons.

We follow Blake and Schofield as they weave their way through the British trenches and then cross the battlefield, avoiding bomb craters filled with water and rotting bodies. Eventually they reach the abandoned German trenches, where a nasty surprise awaits them.

There are heart-stopping incidents along the way, as well as a poignant encounter with a young French woman who is caring for an orphaned baby, a scene which reminds us humanity can exist in the hell that is the Western Front. Possibly the most moving moment of the entire film is the scene involving the hymn ‘Poor Wayfaring Stranger’. It brought tears to my eyes.

‘1917’ does not have leading men in the traditional sense. The two protagonists are little known* actors; their very anonymity makes the viewer’s identification with them much stronger. There are some ‘name’ actors in the film – an almost unrecognisable Colin Firth as the general who sends the boys on their mission, Andrew Scott (Moriarty from ‘Sherlock’) as a world-weary lieutenant who couldn’t give a damn, and the ubiquitous Benedict Cumberbatch in a brief but nuanced performance as the frazzled colonel in charge of the Devons.

‘1917’ is a moving story of the horrors of war. It has already won a Golden Globe for Best Drama and you can expect an Academy Award to follow for the film and its director.


*George MacKay plays a tortured Ned Kelly in 'The True History of Ned Kelly' (2019)  alongside Essie Davis and Russell Crowe.

Deborah O’Brien

26 January 2020

fbook icon 60Quiz Kid?

Childhood pic 1 

I was a nerdy kid who loved accumulating facts. My Year 5 teacher, Mr Graham, a quiz champion on 'Pick A Box', was my idol.  He knew everything about everything and I wanted to be just like him.

When I was ten or eleven, I persuaded my mother to take me to an audition for the ‘Quiz Kids’, a weekly TV show on the ABC, hosted by John Dease. It was school holidays and I recall going to a hall in Newtown, receiving a name tag and being directed to a seat in a row towards the back, while my mum joined the other parents on benches at the side of the room. Then Mr Dease appeared, a kindly and affable quizmaster with an upper-class English accent. He explained that he would ask each of us a different question in seating order and repeat the procedure over the course of several rounds. Forty bright-eyed children hung on his every word.

Like almost everyone else, I was able to give a correct answer in the first round. But the questions proved to be more difficult second time around, and all too quickly it was my turn again. In his mellifluous voice, Mr Dease asked me:

What is the origin of the word ‘nickname’?

I had absolutely no idea. While I racked my brain, the quizmaster smiled encouragingly. All at once, the answer struck me like a proverbial lightning bolt. With supreme confidence I responded:

‘A nickname is the name that replaces your real name when someone nicks it.’

There were giggles from the other children. Soon it had grown into waves of laughter. Even the parents were chuckling.

Mr Dease responded gently, ‘What an amusing answer, Deborah. We need children with a sense of humour.’

But it wasn’t meant to be funny, I thought to myself, aware that a hot blush was staining my face a bright shade of pink.

Mr Dease must have noticed my discomfort because he added, ‘That was a good attempt.' Then he proceeded to give the correct answer - a nickname is an additional name and comes from the Old English word 'eke', meaning 'addition', which was subsequently mispronounced as 'neke'. Hence 'nekename'.

The quizmaster’s kindness couldn’t soothe my embarrassment. I sank down in the chair and when my turn came to answer again, my mind went blank. It was an easy enough question: ‘What is a depot?’ (Mr Dease pronounced it ‘deeep-oh’) but I couldn’t think straight, and that was the pattern for the rest of the audition. At the end of the afternoon, a select group of students was chosen to join the team. Naturally, I wasn’t among them.

And so my career as a TV ‘Quiz Kid’ was over before it began. Actually, it was much like what happens to my fictional accountant Kevin Dwyer in 'The Trivia Man'* when he auditions for an ’80s program called ‘The World’s Biggest Quiz’. Except that Kevin is asked to name the oldest form of mammal and he gives the correct answer. But a very stern quizmaster called Frank Fortune, who has a completely different answer on his card, tells Kevin he's wrong.

That day I went home and sought out the 'Concise Oxford Dictionary' – yes, the one I’d purchased by saving several months’ worth of pocket money. My trusty dictionary confirmed everything that Mr Dease had said. I leafed to the back where there were blank pages for notes. Taking a pencil I wrote the origin of the word ‘nickname’ in my neatest writing. The annotation remains there to this day.

I’ve never told anyone this story before, not even my closest friends.  

Over the years they've suggested I audition for various TV quiz shows, but I’ve always demurred. Now they know why! 

Dictionary* 'The Trivia Man' will be released 1 June 2015.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also like Trivia Isn't Trivial and The Trivia Man Is Coming.

Deborah O’Brien

1 February, 2015


fbook icon 60 BLOG ARTICLES BY DATE

 

The 'Camille Dupré' Songbook   May 2020

Researching 'Camille Dupré'  May 2020

My Top Three Tips for Aspiring Authors   March 2020

Writing and Art  March 2020

The Five Books That Have Influenced Me Most   March 2020

My Top Five Films about Politics   Feb 2020

Film Review: '1917'   Jan 2020

Home in the Highlands: Autumn  May 2018

Home in the Highlands: The Flying Carpet  July 2018

Home in the Highlands: A Tale of Two Chandeliers  April 2018

Home in the Highlands: The Secret Garden  April 2018

Home in the Highlands: Finding the Dream Home  March 2018

Book Review: 'Lake Hill' by Margareta Osborn   June 2017

Film Review: 'Their Finest'  April 2017

Film Review: 'Alone in Berlin   March 2017

 My Top Six Tips for Writing Historical Fiction   Feb 2017

'The Princess Diarist', Carrie Fisher   Dec 2016

'The Rarest Thing' Playlist   Nov 2016

 Book Review: 'Daintree' by Annie Seaton   Nov 2016

 Interview with Annie Seaton   Nov 2016

 Crafting Characters   Oct 2016

 Welcome to 'The Rarest Thing' Blog Tour    Oct 2016

TV Review: Reality Big Guns  Aug 2016

Five Things I Love about Writing Fiction  Aug 2016

Deborah's Yummy Chocolate Mousse   July 2016

A Gallipoli Story: Finding Uncle Arthur   April 2016

A World Without Downton: The 'Downton Abbey' Finale  April 16

What is 'The Rarest Thing'?   April 2016

Film Review: 'Brooklyn'   Feb 2016

Molly Grows Up   Feb 2016

Film Review: 'The Revenant'   Jan 2016

Book Review: 'Kakadu Sunset' by Annie Seaton Jan 16

Q&A with Annie Seaton   Jan 2016

 

2015

 

Meet Mrs Christmas   Dec 2015

Film Review: 'The Dressmaker'   Dec 2015

'The Trivia Man' Trivia Quiz  Nov 2015

The Nerd as Hero: Reclaiming the Label   July 2015
(Guest Blog for Dark Matter Zine at their website)

Another Bookish Trivia Quiz   July 2015

A Bookish Trivia Quiz   June 2015

The Trivia Man Blog Tour   June 2015

Launching 'The Trivia Man'  June 2015

A Gallipoli Story: The Lost Shearer   April 2015

Meet the Cast of 'The Trivia Man'   April 2015

What Makes a Good Tagline?   March 2015

Quiz Kid?    Feb 2015

Film Review: 'Birdman'  Jan 2015

Film Review: 'The Water Diviner'   Jan 2015

 

2014

 

The Trivia Man Is Coming  Dec 2014

My Christmas Dec 2014

Zucchini and Herb Frittata  Nov 2014

Trivia Isn't Trivial  Nov 2014

Lost and Found    Oct 2014

Film Review: 'Magic in the Moonlight'  Sept 2014

The Cutting Room Floor  Sept 2014

Film Review: 'The 100-Foot Journey'  Aug 2014

Rose Scott Women Writers' Festival  Aug 2014

Film Review: 'Jersey Boys'   July 2014

Emporium Trilogy Quiz (with answers)   June 2014

Film Review: 'The Fault in Our Stars'   June 2014

An Aspiring Author's Guide to Book Jargon   June 2014

The Beatles and Me   June 2014

Book Giveaway Winners   May 2014

Film Review: 'The Grand Budapest Hotel'  May 2014

Launching 'A Place of Her Own'  May 2014

Free Bookmarks to Download   March 2014

Film Review: 'The Monuments Men'  March 2014

Film Review: 'Twelve Years a Slave'  Feb 2014

My Top Ten Romantic Comedies   Feb 2014

Film Review: 'Saving Mr. Banks'    Feb 2014

Four Stories about Platonic Love   Feb 2014

Five Books about Unrequited Love  Jan 2014

First Impressions  Jan 2014 

 

2013

 

Christmas at My Place  Dec 2013

About a Dog  November 2013

What's Next? 'A Place of Her Own'  Nov 2013

The Amazing Mr Carroll  November 2013

Film Review: 'About Time'  October 2013

The Jade Widow@Mr Chen's Emporium  Oct 2013

Ode to Spring   September 2013

When a Platypus's Fancy Turns to Love   Sept 2013

How Big Is Your Book?   September 2013

Fairytale Turrets and Other Fantasies  August 2013 

A Winter's Tale  August 2013

'He Who Would Valiant Be'  August 2013

Country Dog  July 2013

Spot the Anachronism!  July 2013

Puppy Proof?  July 2013 

A World Without Books: 'Fahrenheit 451'  June 2013

A Bonzer Aussie Dog  June 2013

Review: Hope's Road  June 2013

Puppy Love  May 2013

Attack of the Anachronisms  May 2013

When Winter Comes Early  May 2013

The Victorian Art of Scrapbooking  April 2013

In Search of the Emporium  April 2013

Elegant Architecture  April 2013

A Country Sunday  March 2013

Adverbs and Chocolate  Feb 2013

Introducing THE JADE WIDOW  Jan 2013

The Colour Lilac  Jan 2013

 

2012

 

Christmas Dec 2012

Alpacas versus Llamas  Dec 2012

The Jade Widow  Nov 2012

Angie's Westerns  Nov 2012

Recreational Sewing in Cesarine  Oct 2012 

Inspirations for 'Mr Chen's Emporium'  Sept 2012 

An Aladdin's Cave   Sept 2012 

Anatomy of a Gold Rush Town  Sept 2012 

Amy Duncan and her Books  Sept 2012

Old-fashioned Heroes  Sept 2012

Happy Endings?  Sept 2012

Why Is a Book Like a TARDIS?  Sept 2012

An Emporium by Any Other Name  Aug 2012

Never Write When You're Hungry  July 2012

The Case of the Missing Monotremes  June 2012

The World of the Book  May, 2012

Frosty Tales  April 2012

Tales of the Emporium  March 2012

Country Ways  Feb 2012

Life with a Platypus  Feb 2012


 

 
 
 
 
 
 

Film Review: ‘Birdman’


File:Birdman poster.png 

‘Birdman’ is an exhausting film - a helter-skelter journey inside a Broadway production in the lead-up to opening night. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has cleverly constructed his movie to seem like one continuous take. We literally follow the characters through the bowels of a New York theatre, onto the stage, and out the doors into West 44th Street where ‘Phantom of the Opera’ is playing just across the road. The director doesn’t allow us a chance to catch our breath, and before we know it, we’re enmeshed in the dysfunctional yet intriguing lives of the characters.

I’ve never been a Michael Keaton fan but his performance in ‘Birdman’ totally won me over. He’s amazing as Riggan Thomson, a film actor who became famous playing a super-hero called ‘Birdman’ (shades of Keaton’s own fame as Tim Burton’s Batman). Now Thomson is trying to prove that he’s much more than a has-been celebrity. So he’s adapted a Raymond Carver story for the stage. He’s also directing the play and taking the lead role. With all that on his plate, plus a difficult cast and a daughter (Emma Stone) who’s a recovering drug addict, it’s not surprising that Thomson appears to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Among other things, he hallucinates that he can move objects by telekinesis (or maybe he can really do it). And inside his head he can hear the voice of his alter ego (or nemesis), Birdman, egging him on.

One of my favourite actors, Edward Norton is reunited with Naomi Watts, his leading lady from ‘The Painted Veil’, but the parts they play in ‘Birdman’ are as removed from their romantic characters in the Somerset Maugham story as they could possibly be. Norton is mesmerising (and incredibly funny) as Mike Shiner, an über-talented and egotistical actor who wants everything his own way, even to the extent of rewriting the dialogue – his and everyone else’s. Naomi Watts is an insecure actress making her Broadway debut and trying to escape Mike’s libidinous attentions.

Be prepared for an abundance of in-jokes, name-dropping and theatre talk. Director Inarritu has a dig at Method actors in the guise of Edward Norton’s character, and at critics in two scenes involving an influential reviewer played impeccably by another of my favourites, British actress Lindsay Duncan.

In May 2014, when I reviewed ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’, I made a rather rash, long-range forecast that it would win the Oscar for Best Picture*. Now I’m not so sure. Both films are clever, funny and innovative, yet each pays its dues to Hollywood traditions in its own unique way. In ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ it’s the 1930s movies of Lubitsch and Co, set in a mythical Middle Europe; in ‘Birdman’, it’s the dark super-heroes of recent decades.

If either of these outstanding films wins the golden figurine, I’ll be happy, but if I had to make a choice between them, it would be the decorative and stylish confection with a dark centre – ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’.

A warning: There are some graphic scenes in ‘Birdman’ and equally graphic language.

* This week 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' won a Golden Globe Award for Best Picture - Comedy or Musical.

Deborah O’Brien

23 January, 2015


 

fbook icon 60Film Review:

‘The Water Diviner’

 

I have to confess that I came to ‘The Water Diviner’ with a personal agenda. My great-uncle Arthur was one of 8709 Australian soldiers who died at Gallipoli and I feared that this picture might trivialise something which has always been sacred to me. Fortunately I was wrong. In his directorial debut Russell Crowe has crafted a very fine film about a father’s search for his three sons, missing in action on the Gallipoli Peninsula.

Like the three young men in ‘The Water Diviner’, my great-uncle was a country boy caught up in the colonial fervour to serve King and Empire. For them, it was a ‘great adventure’, and although fathers like Joshua Connor and my own great grandfather James Hill would later agonise over having allowed their boys to enlist, the pervading atmosphere at that time was one of flag-waving and glory, and few foresaw the carnage to come. The fictional Connor brothers joined the 7th Battalion AIF recruited from Victoria; my great-uncle the 2nd Infantry Battalion from NSW. The Connor boys went missing in action on 7 August 2015. My uncle Arthur was killed exactly two months earlier. The eldest Connor son, played by the very talented Ryan Corr, shares my great-uncle’s name.

The story begins in December 1915 just after Australian troops have been evacuated without a single casualty – the antithesis of the horrific landing and the bloody campaign itself. The first soldiers we meet are Turkish, under the command of Major Hasan (Yilmaz Erdoğan). They have just discovered that they’ve been tricked by self-firing rifles left in the Australian trenches. We are shown the impact of the campaign from the perspective of these men defending their homeland. In this respect, it is a departure from earlier films such as Peter Weir’s 'Gallipoli'.

Rifle

Self-firing rifle, The Army Museum, Bandiana. Pic courtesy of WGH.

There are many excellent performances in ‘The Water Diviner’ but Russell Crowe is its towering strength. He is the river gum, its roots buried deep within the Australian soil, its trunk solid and sturdy. We see the aching pain he feels for his lost family and the goodness in his heart. Not once do we question his decision to travel to a faraway land in search of his sons or doubt his commitment to bring them home to be buried beside their mother.

My own great grandfather never saw his son’s grave, except in a photograph sent by the army with details of its location in the Lone Pine Cemetery at ANZAC Cove. James Hill received a brown parcel containing a small wallet, a metal disc and a letter – these were Arthur’s only remaining possessions from his six weeks in the Dardanelles. My great grandfather duly signed the acknowledgment form and returned it to the military authorities. Medals followed, but nothing could replace his lost son, the six-foot shearer with grey eyes, olive complexion and dark brown hair.

There are many threads in Crowe’s richly crafted film, all woven together with expert skill – the tale of the magic carpet from the 'Arabian Nights' juxtaposed with Australian icons such as the steel windmill and the cricket bat. Each motif plays its role within the story as both metaphor and practical part of the plot.

Cinematographer Andrew Lesnie gives us images that linger long after the film is over: the dust storms of western Victoria, Istanbul’s magical skyline with its mosques and minarets, the killing fields of Gallipoli. Writers Andrew Knight (of ‘Sea Change’ fame) and Andrew Anastasio have created an engrossing story, an historically accurate framework and a screenplay graced with authentic dialogue. On the latter count, Julian Fellowes, please take note.

In a nutshell, ‘The Water Diviner’ is a moving homage to the Australian and Turkish soldiers who fought at Gallipoli and a hymn to the tragic futility of war. I commend it to you without reservation.


If you would like to read more about Australia's involvement in earlier imperial wars, see my article, He Who Would Valiant Be.

Deborah O’Brien

5 January, 2015


fbook icon 60The Trivia Man Is Coming

 Kevin Portrait

When you’ve been working on a manuscript for several years and you finally submit the finished product to your publisher, it’s incredibly nerve-racking. A couple of weeks pass without a word, and by then you’ve convinced yourself that they hate your whimsical, offbeat story but are too polite to tell you so.

Then an email pings into your inbox from the publisher entitled ‘The Trivia Man’. It takes a while to summon the courage to open it. You come up with a series of delaying tactics – a cup of tea, a Tim Tam (or two), a ball game with the dog, another cup of tea – but eventually you have to return to your laptop and face the inevitable. You click on the email and start to read. Here is what it says:

‘I loved it. Such beautiful characters and a heart-warming story . . . an enchanting book’.

‘The Trivia Man’ is very special to me for many reasons, but I can’t go into them without giving away the plot. Suffice it to say that the book explores a range of issues – from the dangers of stereotyping people to the need we all have to find a place to belong.

As for genre, the book is hard to classify. There’s romance in the story but it’s not romantic fiction. There’s humour but it’s not a comedy. There’s a good amount of nostalgia but the setting is contemporary rather than historical. In a nutshell, ‘The Trivia Man’ is funny, sweet, sad and quirky. I hope you'll like it. And I'll let you into a secret -  it's my favourite of all the books I've written.

*‘The Trivia Man’ will be released by Random House Books Australia on 1 June  2015.


P.S. For my personal connection with all things related to trivia, see: 'Trivia Isn't Trivial'.

Trivia Girl cropped

Text and illustrations: Deborah O'Brien

6 December, 2014