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 60Film Review: ‘Jersey Boys’

 

When a cinema audience applauds at the end of a film, you know they’ve enjoyed it in a big way. That’s what happened yesterday when I saw ‘Jersey Boys’, the bio-pic about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, adapted from the musical of the same name. Admittedly, the audience consisted almost exclusively of Baby Boomers and older Gen Xers, the very people who grew up with the catchy music which made the Four Seasons famous. But I have a feeling that whatever the demographic of the audience, they would have found this a highly entertaining movie.

Now for some stats. This is the thirty-third film that eighty-four-year-old Clint Eastwood has directed. And yes, I admit I’m an Eastwood fan. If you thought he could only make Westerns, think again. This guy is versatile in the extreme – he can direct any genre. One of the best thrillers ever made (and an archetype for thriller-makers to come) was Eastwood’s directorial debut, ‘Play Misty for Me’, in which he also starred. And if you’re puzzled about Clint directing a musical, he’s no tyro when it comes to music. He included a long (some might say over-long) sequence in ‘Play Misty for Me’ set at the Monterey Jazz Festival. And in the eighties he directed ‘Bird’, the bio-pic about Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker, the quintessential jazz saxophonist. Clint is wise enough to approach his latest film with a light hand, allowing his talented team of actors to do their thing and the musical soundtrack to propel the action.

The theatrical origins of 'Jersey Boys' are obvious in the way the characters address the audience directly at key points in the story. But rather than detracting from the film, these direct-to-camera moments add to its richness. And I love the final ensemble number which could have come straight out of a theatre and spilt onto the street.

The performances are perfect in every respect. That’s why it’s hard to single out anyone for special notice. Having said that, John Lloyd Young, who was in the original Broadway cast, is outstanding as Frankie Valli, short in stature but endowed with a good heart and an amazing voice. Erich Bergen is great too as the immensely talented songwriter/performer Bob Gaudio. Jut-jawed Vincent Piazza as Tommy de Vito captures the bravado and vulnerability of the founding member of the band. And Christopher Walken was born to play the mob boss who’s very scary but also possesses a sense of humour as indicated by a raised eyebrow or the briefest of Walkenian smiles. Being a movie buff, I loved Joey Russo playing a very young Joe Pesce, yes, the famous Joe Pesce of ‘Goodfellas’ fame, but before he became an actor, when he was just Tommy de Vito's buddy.

The look of this film is perfect too, especially the early scenes set in the 1950s in Belleville, New Jersey. Eastwood has used sepia and olive tones to capture the atmosphere of the Jersey streets. There are many natty touches in the set design. For example, when we first enter Frankie’s home, the camera pauses briefly on a gilt wall clock with framed portraits flanking the dial. On one side, as you’d expect, there’s a picture of the Pope; on the other, who else but Frank Sinatra? Every Jersey boy, and particularly anyone who could sing, wanted to grow up to be Frank.

One of the best lines in a screenplay full of pithy dialogue is spoken by Frankie’s first wife, Mary Delgado (played by Renée Marino). Frankie tells her he wants to change his name from Castelluccio to Vally but she tells him firmly that it has to be spelt ‘Valli’ with an 'i' because Italian names have to end in a vowel.

I couldn’t finish this review without mentioning the costumes. I expect this film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Costume Design. In fact, Frankie Valli’s array of sweaters deserve an award of their own.

So, if you have a spare couple of hours this coming weekend, I’d recommend Eastwood’s ‘Jersey Boys’. You’ll be humming along with the songs (‘Sherry’, ‘Rag Doll’, ‘Oh What a Night’, ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’) and tapping your feet to the rhythm. And if you’re like me, the melodies will linger in your head long after you leave the cinema.


Deborah O’Brien

July 13, 2014


 


fbook icon 60The Emporium Trilogy Trivia Quiz

Kinokinuya cropped

 

Answers at the end.

 

  1. Immediately before coming to Millbrooke, Amy Duncan stayed with her aunt in Sydney. What is the aunt’s name?   A) Margaret  B) Molly  C) Charlotte  D) Rose 
  2. Angie Wallace first met her husband Phil at:  A) a party  B) high school  C) a pub  D) university
  3. What is Richard’s profession?   A) Architect  B) Accountant  C) Builder  D) Teacher
  4. Which native Australian animal makes an appearance in all of the Emporium Trilogy books? 
  5. What is Millbrooke’s local paper called?   A) The Millbrooke Bulletin  B) The Millbrooke Guardian  C) The Millbrooke Times  D) The Millbrooke Gazette
  6. What is the name of Angie’s best friend from Sydney?    A) Moira  B) Tanya  C) Jennie  D) Vicky
  7. What is the name of the mining company in ‘Mr Chen’s Emporium’?  A) Bowerbird Minerals  B) Silverbird Minerals  C) Songbird Minerals  D) Lyrebird Minerals
  8. Name one of Angie’s two sons.
  9. Which Millbrooke event clashes with the launch of Angie's B&B at the beginning of 'A Place of Her Own'?
  10. Which famous nineteenth-century political figure makes a cameo appearance in ‘The Jade Widow’? 
  11. What is the modern name for an 'ascending cabinet'?
  12. Name one of Eliza Miller’s brothers. 
ANSWERS

1         1.   B) Molly

2       2.   C) a pub

3       3.   A) Architect

4       4.   Platypus

5       5.   D) The Millbrooke Gazette

6       6.   D) Vicky

7       7.   C) Songbird Minerals

8       8.   Blake or Tim

9       9.   The opening of the new amenities block

1       10.  Sir Henry Parkes

1       11.  A lift or elevator

1       12.  Joseph or Daniel


         Deborah O'Brien, June 29, 2014


 

 

       fbook icon 60     Film Review: ‘The Fault in Our Stars’

 File:The Fault in Our Stars (Official Film Poster).png


"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings."

Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141)

WARNING: This review contains mild spoilers.


I’m always partial to a book or film which has a literary allusion in the title, and I have to confess it was the title that drew me to ‘The Fault in Our Stars’. I should also own up about not having read the best-selling novel by John Green on which the film is based. So I really didn’t know what to expect when I lined up at the cinema yesterday to buy tickets to ‘The Fault in Our Stars’.

It was the longest queue I’ve seen at our local picture theatre for quite some time. There were dozens of adolescent girls sporting long ponytails and fur-trimmed anoraks, purchasing buckets of popcorn. In retrospect, I realise the absence of grown-ups wasn’t surprising, considering the film is aimed at the lucrative ‘young adult’ market.

'The Fault in Our Stars' starts promisingly enough with a disclaimer by the lead character, seventeen-year-old cancer victim, Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley), that her story will be neither stereotypical nor soppy. And for the first third of this very long film (125 minutes), that’s exactly the case, thanks largely to Woodley’s understated yet riveting performance. Even when Hazel meets the amiable Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort) at a cancer support group, the story doesn’t turn to schmaltz. Gus has faced his own battle with cancer - osteosarcoma – and has lost his lower leg as a result. Although Elgort plays the part charmingly, he tends to get by on an engaging smile and never quite gives us the substance we’d like to see from him.

There are many things to like about this film – the cute text messages, the way Hazel and Augustus adopt the word 'okay’ to mean so many things, the discussion about pain, both physical and emotional, and the fact that it has to be felt. 

But there are negatives as well. During the scenes set in Amsterdam, the story declines into a soap opera cum travelogue. Hazel goes there, wanting to meet the author of a novel she’s come to see as her bible - 'The Imperial Affliction' about a young girl with cancer. But the author turns out to be a cantankerous Willem Dafoe, who still seems to be over-acting following his stint as the villain in ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ (where a mannered, over-the-top performance was indeed appropriate, but not here). Even though the subsequent visit to the Anne Frank House is obviously intended to give an extra layer of meaning to the story, the special location actually makes the scene look superficial by comparison. 

Back in Indianapolis, the story picks up for a while but takes far too long to resolve itself. Like everyone else in the cinema, I was dabbing at my eyes through the last half hour or so. At the same time I was berating myself for being manipulated by such a blatant tearjerker. Having said that, if I’d been a teenager viewing 'The Fault in Our Stars', I would have loved it. Perhaps I’ve just become a cranky old cynic.

Deborah O’Brien

June 23, 2014


 

  

fbook icon 60 A Guide to Book Jargon

 for Aspiring Authors

 writing equipment cropped

Every profession has its jargon, and publishing is no exception. If you’re a writer trying to get published or a first-time author working your way through the publishing process, here’s my select, subjective glossary of buzz words.

Acks:

Otherwise known as ‘Acknowledgments’, these are the author's version of an Academy Awards acceptance speech.  The best speeches tend to be short and sweet. Having said that, first-timers have a lot of people to thank.

Regarding the spelling of the word itself, there’s a dilemma - whether to use an ‘e’ between the third and fourth syllables. You may find that the final decision is a function of your publishing house and their style/spelling guide.

Note: The ‘acks’ are entirely different from the book’s dedication which has a page to itself at the front.

Author pic:

Agents/publishers will ask for an author photo. Yes, I know writers are notoriously shy about such things, but author pics are a reality you can’t avoid. So give it your best shot (pardon the pun) and please don’t use that ‘selfie’ you took last week.

You don’t need to look gorgeous in a Tara Moss or Kate Morton kind of way, although if you are, then use it to your advantage. For the rest of us, here are my thoughts. Mysterious is good - see M.L. Stedman's author pic on the Random House Australia website.

Craggy is also interesting (no examples here for fear of offending anyone). A nice, friendly smile works well but so does a thoughtful gaze. Go to a bookstore and look at some author pics, particularly in your genre. Then decide on your approach.

Author platform:

As a tyro, I actually thought that ‘building an author platform’ referred to the construction of the stage on which authors speak at book festivals. Thank goodness, I’ve never said that out loud (well, not until now!) In reality, it refers to the author’s interface with the world, the way they market themselves – via book talks, library visits, social media, etc. By the way, it’s a good idea to have some social media (such as a writer’s blog) in place before you approach an agent or publisher with your book.

End matter:

Never fear - this has nothing to do with biological functions. It simply describes the stuff at the back of the book, such as the author bio (unless you’re very famous, in which case this might appear at the front), acknowledgments, bibliography (nowadays even novels can have bibliographies), promo material from your publisher and so on.

Indies:

No, not the East or West Indies. In the publishing world, this is the abbreviation for independent book shops.

DDS, by the way, refers to discount and department stores.

Full:

Refers to the full manuscript. If you’ve sent an agent (or a publisher) an excerpt from your book, having taken care to follow the exact specifications on their website, and they contact you requesting the ‘full’, this is a very good sign indeed. Not exactly a fait accompli but extremely promising.

Market position:

In the simplest terms, this means your book’s genre and its target market (ie. the readers at whom it’s aimed, for example, women over 40, upper primary school children and so on). Even though you might have written your entire manuscript without having given a conscious thought to such dastardly commercial considerations as market position, it's something you'll need to reflect upon if you’re going to submit your work to an agent/publisher. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Where would my book sit on the shelves of a bookstore? In the Crime section? Romance?Historical fiction?  Young adult? Or does my book straddle genres and sub-genres? In which case, you might say, for example, it’s a thriller with romantic elements.
  • Who would want to read my book and why?
  • What are the comparables? In other words, the books in a similar vein?
  • And then ask yourself this: What makes my book stand out from the rest? What makes it unique?

MS:

Short for manuscript.

Pitch/Proposal

The use of the word ‘pitch’ in the sense of a sales pitch originated in the late 19th century when the advertising industry was in its nascence. Nowadays everyone is pitching something to someone else. If you’re an aspiring writer, your ‘product’ will be your manuscript.

A formal proposal or submission may include your covering letter, bio, synopsis, sample chapter/s and possibly a market position statement - in fact, whatever the agent/publisher requires. The most comprehensive and practical book that I’ve read on this subject is ‘A Decent Proposal: How to Sell Your Book to an Australian Literary Agent or Publisher’ by Rhonda Whitton and Sheila Hollingworth (Keesing Press). 

Synopsis:

It’s sometimes said that writing a synopsis is as hard as writing a novel, and I most definitely agree. To tell you the truth, I’m wont to spend weeks, even months on mine.

Don’t leave the synopsis until the last minute. While you’re writing the manuscript, start thinking about how you’ll approach it when the time comes. A good synopsis will distil the essence of your story in a beguiling way. It’s the hook to lure an the agent or publisher to read your first three chapters or whatever you’ve been required to send. Conversely, if your synopsis is dull, ponderous or badly written, they may not read beyond the first paragraph.

By the way, agents/publishers will specify a word count for a reason. I know it’s hard to distil 90,000 words into, say, 300 words or a single page, but if that’s what they want, it has to be done.

Tweaking – the process of refining and polishing your work until it shines. One of the most common mistakes that a first-time writer will make is to send off their work too early. Make sure you’ve proofed it thoroughly for typos, spelling and grammar mistakes. Reading your MS aloud is always helpful, not just for spotting typos but for checking the flow of the text and identifying clunky language. I also suggest seeking objective advice about your manuscript before going to an agent or publisher. If you’re in a writers’ group, be brave and ask for feedback from your peers.


Good luck!


Deborah O’Brien

June 15, 2014 

 


fbook icon 60The Beatles and Me

 

Beatles LP Paul

My original 'Revolver' LP

1964 was the year I fell in love for the first time. I was in primary school and the object of my affections was a certain Beatle called Paul McCartney.

As this is the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ tour of Australia, I’ve been thinking about my relationship with the Beatles, and Paul in particular. It’s always been a long-distance affair except for the time in March, 1993 when I sat in the tenth row of Parramatta Stadium during Paul’s Sydney concert. I still have the ticket.

But back to 1964. The evening newspaper – I can’t remember if it was ‘The Mirror’ or ‘The Sun’ – ran a competition to win a place at Paul’s twenty-second birthday party. All you had to do was write in fifty words or less why you wanted to attend. I penned multiple drafts in my childish printing, trying to express my feelings for Paul within the word limit. It wasn’t easy. Finally I filled in the coupon and gave it to my dad to post. Whether he actually sent it or not is another matter. Probably not - my dad didn't approve of the mop-topped quartet and besides, I was way under the minimum age for the competition.

A week or so later I was devastated when the winners were announced and I wasn’t among them. I recall one of the winning entries saying something to the effect of: ‘My parents think I have Buckleys of winning this so I’m going to prove them wrong.’ What kind of entry was that? I asked myself. And who or what was ‘Buckleys’?

A few weeks later, when the Beatles flew out of Sydney, my friends and I - all devoted little Beatles fans  - stood in the school playground, waving at a plane that we imagined was theirs. There were tears and hysteria. That afternoon our teacher couldn’t manage us at all.

From then on, I started to keep a Beatles scrapbook. If I still had it, that book of memorabilia would be worth a lot of money. A few years later, I came home from school to find my dad burning some rubbish in the incinerator. ‘I thought I’d clear out all that junk in the cupboard’, he said. The cupboard! That was where I kept my precious scrapbook. I threw open the doors and the shelves were empty. I cried for days. I’ve never really gotten over losing that scrapbook.

Was it the end of my relationship with the Beatles? Of course not. You never let go of your first love. It stays with you forever. 

Beatles 1

My Beatles jewellery

Deborah O’Brien

June 11, 2014