‘Hereditary’

hereditaryWhat a disappointment! Hyper-lauded by critics (87 on metacritic) as a true classic horror, director Ari Aster’s directorial debut is a derivative mishmash of much of what has come before it. Ghostly apparitions, (dead) granny on the ceiling, bumps in the night, devil-worship and ancient mythologies…

As a psychological family drama, Hereditary starts off well enough with Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine, Muriel’s Wedding) and family barely grieving for her recently deceased, belligerent mother. But then her 13 year-old daughter dies in a freak accident and everything goes down hill from there – including the film.

For a horror film, there are few scary bits – and even those are a very long time coming.

Rating: 36%

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‘Disobedience’

disobedience-movie-poster-2018-1020778187-1An intense, claustrophobic love triangle in London’s Orthodox Jewish community as Ronit (Rachel Weisz – The Constant Gardener, The Lobster) returns from a self-imposed New York exile on the death of her rabbi father.

Ronit left the close-knit community under a cloud – and finds herself once more deeply attracted to best friend from school, Esti (Rachel McAdams – Spotlight, Sherlock Holmes). Only Esti is married to the new rabbi-elect, Alessandro Nivola (Selma, American Hustle).

An emotionally honest and authentic drama, director Sebastian Lelio (A Fantastic Woman, Gloria) allows the dialogue and nuanced performances from the three leads to question love, faith, friendship and desire.

Rating:  67%

‘Bring Larks and Heroes’ by Thomas Keneally

larksLaying bare the horrors of the Australian convict era, Keneally’s Miles Franklin Award winning Bring Larks and Heroes was one of the earliest fictions exploring the period. Seen from the witty, irreverent perspective of Corporal Phelim Halloran, the Irish Marine, the fictional penal colony in the South Pacific is a mirror of the settlement of Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour) with key dates shuffled to be suitably non-specific.

A man destined originally to be of the (Catholic) cloth, Halloran instead joined the Marines to avoid his fate as an Irish nationalist arrested at an illegal gathering. Intelligent and idealist, it is Halloran’s love for the young serving girl, Anne, that drives him to take risks. But it is also his witnessing the inhumanity of the so-called civilising society, where dissent is crushed (400 lashes), simply ended (the hanging of an accused rapist in spite of the man being a eunuch) or, in the case of the indigenous population, simply left to die from smallpox. The worst excesses of English society and an unjust system have been transported thousands of miles to the other side of the world.

It is the injustices that ultimately lead to the eventual downfall of the honest Halloran (and Anne) and his conscience as he is called to task by Hearn, the clerk and political prisoner who has come about a tract reporting the French Revolution (Keneally has altered dates, remember). Choose your side, demands Hearn, knowing where the young Catholic Irishman’s sympathies lie.

Bring Larks and Heroes is an early work by one of Australia’s foremost novelistsHimself an outspoken Australian Republican and former seminarian, Keneally explores the individual’s commitment to faith and personal morality without being overly doctrinaire. But his style is slight and erring towards obscure; language overbearing; narrative non-compelling.

It’s a subject Keneally was to revisit in the 1987 novel, The Playmaker – to my mind a much more successful and significant narrative and which was later adapted for the stage by playwright, Timberlake Wertenbaker, as Our Country’s Good for the Royal Court Theatre in London. Bring Larks and Heroes was awarded the 1967 Miles Franklin Award.

‘LBJ’

LBJ_(film)A worthy, slightly dull talkfest of events immediately prior to and following the assassination of John F Kennedy – with a focus on Texan Vice President Lyndon B Johnson.

Forthright and vulgar – and diametrically opposed to a number of Kennedy’s key policies, including the Civil Rights Bill – Johnson nevertheless stepped up to the mark on Kennedy’s death. Some, including Bobby Kennedy (a fresh-faced Michael Stahl-David – Cloverfield, In Your Eyes), believing callously too quickly.

LBJ is an informative biopic of the man who pushed through a great number of landmark social policies but who is ultimately judged as the president who escalated American involvement in Vietnam. But the film very much belongs to Woody Harrelson (The People Versus Larry Flint, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) and his vibrant, convincing performance as the man carrying the weight of the free world on his shoulders.

Rating: 56%

‘Sorry’ by Gail Jones

sorryAn elegant, elegiac tale of childhood, memory, friendship and love, Jones’ deft narrative and luminous prose creates a compelling and compassionate story.

Sorry is set in the remote town of Broome in northern Western Australia in the late 1930s/early 1940s and the onset of war. A young English anthropologist and his wife, Stella, struggle with the harsh conditions of their new surrounds, living in little more than a shack several miles from town. Their lonely daughter, Perdita, makes friends with a deaf mute boy, Billy, and an Aboriginal girl, Mary. The trio develop a deep and profound bond until tragedy strikes. Their lives are torn apart and, coinciding with Japanese bombardment of the northern Australian coastline, are forced, for different reasons, to travel south to Perth.

Written in a mix of first and third person, Sorry is essentially a memory of an older Perdita looking back on events, the fractured chronology providing a level of objectivity and evaluation for the adult Perdita.

Deeply traumatised by events, dealing with a profound stutter and an unstable, Shakespeare quoting mother, Perdita is an isolated and bullied teenager. It is only with foster parents, Flora and Ted Ramsay, that she is introduced to stability and a sense of normality. But, in reconnecting with Mary and Billy in Perth, Perdita’s perception of ‘normal’ is at odds with the White European values of 1940s Australia.

The word ‘sorry’ has complicated meanings in Australia insofar that it took an Australian government until 2008 to apologise to the Stolen Generations and formally acknowledge the suffering caused by decades of mistreatment of Indigenous Australians. Gail Jones’ Sorry is a personal testament in the spirit of reconciliation, a novel of sacrifice and loyalty, of childhood and innocence with its hopes, its aspirations and, devastatingly, its lost opportunities.

And only then, turning the pages, peering at what Mary had read, did she begin to know, did she begin to open and grieve. There was a flood of hot tears, and a sudden heart breaking.

 I should have said sorry to my sister, Mary. Sorry, my sister, oh my sister, sorry.

Gail Jones’ fourth novel was shortlisted for the 2008 Miles Franklin Award (her third time on the shortlist in four years) but lost out to Steven Carroll and The Time We
Have Taken
.

‘Ocean’s 8’

oceanGary Ross (Seabiscuit, The Hunger Games) is no Steven Soderbergh. Consequently, the quick-witted pizzazz and slick style of Ocean’s 11 and 12 (OK, 13 can be ignored…) are sadly and noticeably missing.

Released from prison, Sandra Bullock (sister of George Clooney’s recently deceased Danny Ocean) rounds up the gals for a massive diamond heist at the First Monday of May Met gala. Cue the likes of Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham-Carter, Rihanna and Sarah Paulson joining the fray – with the Cartier Toussaint necklace, to be worn by Anne Hathaway, the main target.

It’s more zircon than diamond, with a star-studded cast and plentiful cameos wholly wasted (with the exception of the quirky Helena Bonham-Carter). A damp squib.

Rating: 46%

‘Gauguin’

gauguinA gaunt Vincent Cassel (Black Swan, Mesrine) perfectly captures the destitution of a man prepared to sacrifice everything for his art. But sadly, director Edouard Deluc (Welcome to Argentina) fails to instil any sense of magic into the film that focusses on the first visit (1891-93) to Tahiti by Paul Gauguin.

Neither a virtually unspoilt paradise nor (in the film, if not in real life) a marriage to a local woman allays the desperate poverty, with Gauguin eventually being repatriated to France on a state-provided free passage.

In spite of its restricted time span, a too broad a narrative is covered by Deluc. With its slow-pacing and too frequent insistence on capturing the moment of a famed work by the artist, the result is a somewhat dull film – ultimately not helped by the morosely beautiful soundtrack from Warren Ellis (sometime collaborator with Nick Cave).

Rating 44%

‘Their Brilliant Careers’ by Ryan O’Neill

their_brilliant_careersA bravura hotchpotch of the lives of 16 (fictional) Australian writers from inveterate racist through to manipulating blackmailer, from overbearing bully to a fiction within her own fiction, Ryan O’Neill’s Their Brilliant Careers is a satirical swipe at the literary establishment.

Sixteen people, sixteen stories, sixteen histories. Ranging over approximately one hundred years, inevitably there are numerous overlaps – the biographer of one, the child of another, the editor of many.

Satire abounds in the short biographies (an average of 15-20 pages per person) and Their Brilliant Careers builds towards a crescendo as it looks to its last exposé. The construct of O’Neill’s Australian literary world is a wholly believable one. It’s detailed and intricate, with each writer provided with a distinctive idiosyncrasy. Absurd but rarely dull, ironic without being monotonous, O’Neill instils a sense of a fun, light read. It’s a commanding insight into that literary world. That’s the positive side of Their Brilliant Careers.

But it also becomes a little too formulaic, a little too much misery with early deaths in miserable circumstances. Satire becomes spoof – and not always successfully, slipping into the very self-aggrandisement it’s mirroring and commenting upon. The result is that the joke wears thin.

At its best, Their Brilliant Careers is certainly entertaining (personal favourites were the lives of editor, Robert Bush, whose favourite copyediting symbol was ‘delete’ and used only purple ink; the reclusive, forgotten Helen Harkaway) but Their Brilliant Careers cried out for more than its lightweight content. Pastiche can carry only so much. A slightly longer, ‘ordinary’ story of a writer/historian/publisher would have provided the balance.

Shortlisted for the 2017 Miles Franklin Award, Ryan O’Neill lost out to Josephine Wilson and her Extractions.

‘Cargo’

cargoposterThe ‘Z’ word may not be mentioned, but enjoyable Australian film Cargo firmly falls into the zombie-horror genre, but with more than a little social commentary.

With suggestions of fracking and other environmental abuses the cause of the epidemic that has decimated the country, Martin Freeman (The Hobbit, Black Panther) searches the outback for someone to look after his baby daughter.

Developed from a seven minute short by directors Yolande Ramke and Ben Howling (both making their feature film debut), whilst Cargo is occasionally plot and dialogue creaky, Freeman instils an engaging level of pathos to proceedings. And the final minutes are stirring and moving.

Rating: 61%

‘Family Matters’ by Rohinton Mistry

family-mattersSadly, Rohinton Mistry has only written three novels – with Family Matters, written in 2002, the last. All three have been shortlisted for the Booker Prize (although none won the coveted award) and garlanded with awards and prizes.

A domestic drama, in Family Matters Mistry takes us once more into the realms of Parsi culture and traditions as the Vakeel and Chenoy families struggle to eke out a living in modern-day Bombay/ Mumbai.

Patriarch Nariman Vakeel, already 79 and diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, breaks his ankle and finds himself wholly dependent upon his unmarried stepchildren, Coomy and Jal. A spacious apartment aside, the two struggle to tend to his physical needs. Blaming him for the early death of their mother, Coomy in particular is resentful and bitter towards her ageing stepfather. She plots with her brother to move the responsibility of looking after the invalid onto his daughter, Roxanna, and her family.

A former lecturer of English, the irony of his position is not lost on Nariman as he compares his situation to that of King Lear. Cast out by his stepchildren having signed over the property into their names many years previously, he is forced to take solace at the home of his youngest child.

Roxanna and her husband Yezad Chenoy live with their two young sons in a cramped, two-room flat. For Murad and Jehangir, the arrival of their grandfather is an adventure. But his arrival puts a strain, both emotionally and financially, on their parents.

As with his earlier novels, Mistry is a magical storyteller, finding beauty, humour, tension and compassion in the mundane and the everyday. The world of the Chenoys and the streets of Bombay come to life; the decay of the family and those same streets evocatively captured; the tenderness unsentimentally portrayed. And whilst Family Matters does not achieve the dizzy heights of the magnificent A Fine Balance (the italicised backstory of a younger Nariman and his love for the non-Parsi Lucy is surprisingly pedestrian and undermines the impact of Mistry’s third novel), it remains a wonderful accomplishment.

Family Matters was nominated for the 2002 Booker Prize but lost out to Yann Martel and Life of Pi.