Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Paper Towns

Quick Review

I saw this with a friend this week and thought it was pretty good. It’s based on a book by John Green, author of The Fault In Our Stars.

Quentin (Nat Wolff) is in love with his neighbour and childhood friend Margo (Cara Delevingne)(on a side note, whenever they say her name in the film, I can’t help but think of mangos). They haven’t spoken in years as she is a rather wild child and he’s an awkward penguin. They’ve nearly finished high school and one night Margo takes him on an adventurous escapade, before she takes off the next day. Desperate now that he has reconnected with her, he follows a bunch of clues she has left behind and sets off to find her with his equally awkward bunch of friends.

The characters and dialogue are probably the highlights of this film. Quentin’s friends I found very relatable, much like my own friends from high school with their juvenile humour. The dialogue is fairly snappy and keeps things moving sufficiently. There are some standard romantic clichés that are laughable but the film is cute enough to look over these. There’s also a romanticised, idealised depiction of teenage life that filled me with a sense of nostalgia for my own teenage years. The notion of Margo’s character and setting out on an epic night through suburbia resonates with me. I don’t mind wandering though a paper town, as long as I’ve got good company.

Monday, 20 July 2015


The ambition of the creative artist

I have to admit my last review for About a Boy was lackluster, or at least that’s how I felt about it. I wanted to try something different with my review of this movie. I guess that’s the thing about writing, it’s an ongoing process, ever-changing, continually finding new ways to do the same thing. Or as my novel teacher said, we are students ‘til we die.

In Birdman, Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton) is the former star of the Birdman superhero film franchise, echoing Keaton’s own role of Batman in the late 80s and early 90s. Riggan is now much older and washed up, for lack of a better word, so he’s writing, directing and starring in a Broadway adaptation of a Raymond Carver story, ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’. He’s putting everything on the line for this play, even selling a house that his daughter Samantha (Emma Stone) stands to inherit.

What he grapples with is ultimately whether he is doing this for the sake of art, or for his own ego and to save his career.  In a fine performance by Stone, she blasts him at one point, asking “who the fuck are you? You're doing this because you're scared to death, like the rest of us that you don't matter. And you know what? You're right. You don't.” Maybe it helps to think of what Riggan has done in his career up to this point as a trade, taking the roles that pay and give his career a boost, but it’s not what he got into acting for, and now this play is an attempt at work that actually means something. But does being an actor make you an artist? Does being a writer make me an artist?

I’m writing my own novel and recently I made a goal to get up five times a week and write first thing in the morning, in an effort to boost my productivity and ensure that I get to do something that I love. So far it has been truly rewarding, although it only takes up a small part of my life. As I continue work on this novel it may come to consume me, perhaps even to the point of Riggan where the play drives him absolutely insane. It may seem ridiculous, but that’s how creative projects can be — totally absorbing.

The novel itself is a fictionalised story of my own life as a writer. The working title is 'Danno’s Odyssey'. Now how could this possibly be of any interest to the wider world? The story is highly self-referential, with lots of in-jokes that only people who know me will get. And some even might even go over their heads. Well, I still believe that with this project that I am expressing something artistic, that it will hold some philosophical truth, and I am trying to write it with a broader appeal as well. How it ends up remains to be seen, as I’m still in first draft, but I think it’s interesting that I’m pursuing such a project. How does my story hold any more relevance than anyone else’s? Is there part of myself that wants to do this for my own ego?

I’ve begun to re-evaluate my career as a writer, or if I want one at all. I want to write novels, but the occupation of the novelist is kind of dead. Would I want the responsibility anyway, where I was writing novels for the sake of my career? You’ve got me on the thought train now. I think a lot, and it can get rather tiring.

Back to the movie. Mike Shiner (played by Edward Norton in a knockout performance), is a method actor who causes havoc by drinking real gin onstage and trying to rape his co-star, Leslie (Naomi Watts), in order to make a sex scene feel more “real”, in the show’s previews. He and Riggan clash constantly, and their characters clearly contrast. Mike is what Riggan aspires to be, and yet he despises him. Mike takes his craft to the extreme and his dedication cannot be questioned. But in reality he is antagonistic to everyone around him and his personal life is shambolic. When Samantha asks if he would have sex with her, he replies that he’s afraid he wouldn’t be able to get it up, showing a clear difference in his confidence on and offstage. It’s funny that he’s a complete arsehole and yet still has a career.

My friend Pauly said one of the letdowns for him about Birdman was that Norton’s character kind of trails off in the final act, and this is true but to continue his character arc would probably require a whole new story. One actor completely unraveling at a time please.

So an artist can achieve greatness, but it can come at the cost of a stable personal life. I can certainly say that writing, when I’m really in the zone, gives me a rush. Just like acting does for actors. I have a friend who’s a visual artist who would probably say the same. But we’re constantly searching for something new.

The film is setup as though it is shot in one continuous take, evoking a stream of consciousness feel. The improvised jazz-drumming soundtrack also reflects this. I suppose the story and characters are living in a theatrepiece, where there is only one take for everything and they are always expressing through words and actions their deepest desires.

What I take away is that what the creative artist is looking for is a reason to feel alive. The next novel, the next gig. Inside, we want to know what comes next, and if others are paying attention, they do too. You will never be “finished”. I think this is what bothers so many, leading often to suicide.

When asked how things are going, Riggan muses “Yeah, well, I mean, previews were pretty much a train-wreck. We can't seem to get through without a raging fire or a raging hard-on. I'm broke. I'm not sleeping like, you know, at all. And um, this play is kinda starting to feel like a major deformed version of myself that just keeps following me around, hitting me in the balls with a tiny little hammer.” It seems in question whether Riggan is really achieving his objective, as his life is so unbalanced and he’s not thinking straight.

In the climax, Riggan’s inner Birdman speaks to him, and he finally assumes his alter-ego, taking flight over New York City, or at least in his brain that’s what he does. I guess he finally takes on what makes him a great movie star, the show-stopper stuff. In the calm after this high, he decides to shoot himself onstage in the final preview,  supposedly achieving the status of a “true” actor, with his antics dubbed as “super-realism” by one critic. He merely blows his nose off, and wakes up in hospital.

The film’s ending is suitably open to interpretation, when Riggan climbs out of his hospital window. Does he fall or does he rise, transcending the washed up actor and becoming a reborn artist? How much further could he go in his career and his artistic pursuits? I realize I’ve asked lots of questions, so let me know what you think.

Birdman is on my list of all-time favourite films, and I may revisit it as I watch it over and over again.

Birdman is available on Blu-ray, DVD and to download.


Thursday, 2 July 2015

About a Boy by Nick Hornby

What can I say about About a Boy? Well, I saw the film years ago and really enjoyed it. It’s my favourite Hugh Grant film, as his films usually aren’t aimed at my demographic. I picked up the novel, written by Nick Hornby, that the film is based on late last year for a dollar and I was like ‘Score!’ and it is indeed an excellent novel.

Will is a thirty something living in London who has life very easy. His father wrote a Christmas jingle decades ago and Will now lives off the royalties. No need to work. He fills his days with units of time dedicated to shopping, listening to music and watching daytime TV. He can’t see how anyone would have time for a job, and also slips in and out of casual relationships with various women.

Marcus, on the other hand, is a twelve year old who lives with his mum, Fiona. She shelters him, dressing him like a hippie and making him listen to Joni Mitchell. Deep down she is unfulfilled. Marcus, while naïve, is also quirky and observant. Their home life is a struggle, as Marcus is isolated and gets bullied at school but doesn’t want to trouble his mother with his problems. So it’s all a bit of a façade.

Will and Marcus meet by chance when Will begins dating Suzie, a friend of Fiona’s, after discovering a new way to pick up women by posing as a single father at a single parent’s club. After his mother attempts suicide, Marcus figures he needs someone else in the picture for back up and settles on Will. He shows up at Will’s door, discovering that Will has no kid, and uses this as leverage to spend time with Will.

Will is resistant at first, but takes to the boy. After bullies follow Marcus to Will’s door, Will decides he has to do something and gets Marcus some new clothes and a copy of Nevermind to try to make him a little bit more hip and modern.

Marcus meets a girl who he likes at school, the rebellious Ellie. Will also falls head over heels for Rachel, an illustrator. Both characters become important to each other in their respective romantic pursuits.

The relationship between Will and Marcus is peculiar and it is satisfying to see both of them grow and change through their unique bond. In Marcus Will finds someone who he actually cares about, and Marcus finds in Will some older male company and guidance. The novel switches point of view between the two main characters, taking alternate chapters. This is crucial to the layout of the novel and is very effective. The switch is natural at times I felt when after reading one character for a while I had the urge to find out how the other is thinking about the unfolding events. The change in voice is also refreshing.

The film follows the book fairly closely up until the final act, when the rock band Nirvana becomes an essential plot point, and the events differ significantly. I think the book goes deeper into the character arcs here than the movie and articulates the internal and external conflicts very well. I have to say I was expecting more of a revelation from Marcus’ father in the climax, as he is a character who doesn’t really appear in the movie much from memory.

Characters are really well drawn. Marcus is a treasure, seeing the world with both innocence and maturity. Will is a laugh, with plenty of sarcastic one-liners. Ellie is funny too. Fiona is tragic but also a very strong character.

This novel is filled with emotion, drama and humour, and is well worth it.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

The Foundation and Fireplay by Steve P. Vincent

So I just got a signed copy of The Foundation by Steve P. Vincent. Why is this so rad? Well, I had the privilege of interviewing Steve last year on the eve of the release of this debut novel. The interview was published in Infusion 51. His website and a link to the interview can be found here.

Not only was I excited to interview a first-time author who was finding success in publishing, but I became even more excited when I finally read the book. It was a wildly entertaining political thriller, not a genre I have really ever read but an easy read and an enjoyable ride. I thought at the time that this is really like a movie, but I actually prefer that I'm reading it and not watching it.

The story centres around Jack Emery, a Pultzer prize-winning Australian journalist living in USA. He works for EMCorp, the most powerful media organisation in the world. A corrupt terrorist organisation called The Foundation For a New America starts a war in Taiwan through terrorist attacks and political blackmail. EMCorp becomes a major part of this group's plan to overtake US congress and it's not long before Jack is personally affected by the ensuing chaos.

The Foundation includes all the good elements of a political thriller: conspiracy, corruption, double-crossing, and dirty-dealing. Vincent likes to blow shit up, ensuring maximum engagement with the reader. He also isn't afraid to put his characters through physical and mental trauma, which provides some of the most satisfying, and I mean that in a narrative sense, moments of the story.

This is an impressive debut novel, tight and well paced, and a true page-turner. So much so that I read the last third in one sitting.

In anticipation of The Foundation's sequel, Vincent released a prequel novella, titled Fireplay, back in May. And because he's such a cool dude, it's a freebie.

It follows Jack on a trip to Afghanistan, penning a story that ultimately wins him the Pulitzer prize. Explosions ensue, and what's even more explosive is what he uncovers at a US military base.

This prequel establishes Jack's character well, with the weight of his experiences here giving some insight into his alienation and alcoholism in The Foundation.

A lot of fun and an easy read. I read it in about an hour over coffees at my local cafe.

The Foundation and Fireplay are now available to download in e-book, The Foundation is also available in print, and IN EVEN BETTER NEWS the sequel State of Emergency has also been released in e-book! I'll be reviewing State of Emergency once I have read it, so watch this space.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Shots by Don Walker‏

Ironically my first book for this blog is not a work of fiction at all, let alone metafiction. However, the writing is as mesmerising and surreal as any great novel. This memoir is by Don Walker, keyboardist and lead songwriter of Cold Chisel, who is one of the greatest storytellers in popular music.

In August 2011 I received a tip off from a friend that Walker would be making an in-store appearance at Basement Discs in Melbourne. Being unemployed at the time, I took my Catfish CD and caught the train into the city one afternoon. He performed a short set comprised of solo material, songs from Tex, Don and Charlie, and one or two Chisel numbers thrown in. I was in awe of him, and excitedly I lined up afterwards to get my CD signed. It was one of my most treasured memories, and he is one of my greatest influences both as a writer and a musician.

The book is captivating with its sense of place, beginning with his childhood in North Queensland and taking the reader through life on the road around Australia and the world.

The characters of his early life seem occupied and even the ambitious don't seem to be able to break the cycle of small town life, with work, booze and family. Walker is able to break through with his studies and work for the department of defence. Though as he travels and winds up in Adelaide he doesn't seem quite settled with this. Rock n Roll is more suited to his wandering personality, and he continues to observe his surroundings as moves to bleak Melbourne and finally settles in Sydney when the band is signed.

There isn't much focus on Chisel's success, more on what happens to Walker in the incidental moments of life. Coming across many dodgy characters such as landlords and managers as he hangs around the his apartment at the Plaza Hotel and wanders through the seedy Kings Cross, he observes with a sadness and sensitivity how ordinary people play out their lives in the face of continuous monotony. He also has various encounters with desperate women which end rather awkwardly.

Though he empathises, Walker is able to let go and just rolls with where life takes him. After the band's break up, he continues to travel to Paris and Siberia. Thoughts of his daughter back home keep him grounded and from falling into a meandering, transient existence. It is quite sweet and gives this story heart. It's like no matter who he has met through the years, whatever won or lost, he shares the experiences of the human condition and a mutual respect with others because he knows what is important to him.

"Goodnight sweet dreams, the world is well, that's all Danielle that's all."

Fans of Walker and Chisel will definitely be interested in this memoir, and those familiar with the history will recognise events, places and the origins of some lyrics worked into the reflections.

Amazing insight into this creative individual is what resonates with me. The stream of consciousness flow is reminiscent of his liner notes in the 1994 album Teenage Love. Whenever I sat down and read Shots I found it took a few pages to get back into book and then I was hooked by the word pictures of abstract imagery in run on sentences.

You don't have to be a music fan to enjoy this book, and I recommend it to general readers and lovers of memoir.

Shots is now available in E Book format.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron

I haven't seen a blockbuster action film in a while so I gear up with the boys for the second Avengers instalment. The solo movies in between this and the previous Avengers movie have been okay, but the only one to really excite me was Captain America: Winter Soldier. It was well-paced with a good flow and the story was interesting, while still providing action and thrills and gut busting and some sarcastic quips thrown in.

Ultron, the villain of this Avengers, is a hoot. Voiced and motion captured by James Spader, one of my favourite actors, he's a killer robot with a killer sense of humour. He's all like "Oh, you're the Avengers. that's nice. I'm going to destroy all of humanity." He even bends his head slighty like Spader when he stands and talks. Tony Stark (Iron Man, played by Robert Downey Jr.) invents Ultron to be a peacekeeping program with the intention of taking the burden of the world off the Avengers. Of course things go wrong and Ultron becomes the threat to the world that causes the team to get back together and battle once more.

Stark and Bruce Banner (Mark 'The Hulk' Ruffalo) make a cool duo working out all the science in their scenes together. They have an interesting dynamic, as Stark is obsessive and wants to push all the boundaries, and Banner is more reluctant and careful but ultimately compliant with his partner's demands. Banner's character is used well, as there really is no need for a solo Hulk flick so they give him plenty to do here. He also has a romantic subplot with Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow, included for the general audience of non-comic book fans, as they each grapple internally and struggle to open their hearts to each other. How lovely!

Elsewhere the team is much the same. As Stark and Banner are teamed together, Captain America (Chris Evans) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) are allied against them. Cap and Stark have the ego and personality clash again, setting up the next movie 'Captain America: Civil War', and Thor is pissed off at Stark's foolishness. Cap is fairly stoic is this, pretty much just disagreeing with Stark for the most part, and nothing is really developed in the character. Thor is much the same.

The true star of the show is Hawkeye, played by Jeremy Renner. I have now realised it is this lone bowman, I mean archer, who is my favourite Avenger. All the other guys are flashy or awesome heroes who have obvious characteristics and enhancements that make them cool. Iron Man is a "Genius Billionaire Playboy Philanthropist", Captain America has his badass shield and he's the pin-up boy for USA, Thor is a god, and The Hulk is a gigantic green monster. And even though Black Widow is an ordinary human like Hawkeye, she's played by Scarlett Johansson, so she could also be an easy choice for someone's favourite Avenger. But not Hawkeye. He's not special. They even give him his own subplot where he has a family that he is working as an Avenger to support. He's also given a great monologue in the climax of the movie where he proclaims "I'm in the middle of a war with flying robots and the world is falling apart. None of this makes sense."

I should really pitch an idea to the film studio for a sitcom based around Hawkeye. It'd be great. He has a conflict with local council over renovations to his house or something. So he shows up to their office with a bow and arrow and holds a siege. It also shows his daily life, doing laundry and going to his local coffee shop. I really think I'm onto something. One episode could be like an extension of the party scene in Age of Ultron, which I could tell the writers and actors had a lot of fun with.

Anyway, Age of Ultron has everything necessary for a superhero blockbuster. Lots of action and explosions, with just enough clarity to avoid a Transformers screen seizure, and smart humour to move things along. I have been getting weary of the length of these kinds of flicks, where I get tired in the cinema and it just goes on and on. I would like to see a tighter, 90 minute blockbuster at the movies these days, but I realise that I shouldn't hold on to any hope with that. These are big-budget blockbusters, and there's an obligation to make them on this scale now. Still, Age of Ultron kept me engaged all the way through, and it certainly surpassed my expectations. If I look back, the more superhero movies I've seen the less times I've watch each of the films again. It will be interesting to see how Age of Ultron holds up on a second viewing.

Saturday, 9 May 2015


Spike Jonze’s Her is an intriguing and genuinely touching romantic drama starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams and Scarlett Johansson. It received critical acclaim when it was released in 2013 and won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Watching it again, I have no doubt this is much deserved.

My film tastes have skewed in recent years and I’ve found myself watching more films about romance and relationships. This was one that was on my list for ages. It’s a love story for the lonely and broken hearted, with a technological twist.

Theodore (Pheonix) is a man in his thirties who works writing personal letters for other people, and whose marriage has just ended. He falls in love with Samantha (Johansson), his new personalised Operating System with artificial intelligence.

Like always the relationship is satisfying to start with (they even have sex), but then problems emerge. Theodore has serious emotional baggage. I think his ex-wife Catherine puts it best: “You always wanted to have a wife without the challenges of actually dealing with anything real and I'm glad that you found someone. It's perfect.” Poor Guy. Samantha lacks a physical presence, and she’s grows more intelligent and sensitive by the day. It’s very conflicting to have a mind with endless possibilities when you don’t have a body.

The film strikes me for being very intimate and uncomfortable. There are lots of close-ups of people kissing and Theodore’s long face with his crystal-blue eyes.  It’s very unsettling but also revealing. Even his mustache on his face sits uncomfortably, left over like the painful emotions of his failed marriage.

In contrast the locations of broad cityscapes and mountains puts things in a universal perspective and are beautifully shot. The quick montages are effective in how they present flashbacks and give you context and emotion in a simple way.

The screenplay is superbly refined. Every line of dialogue and every interaction between characters is connected to the heart of the story. It provides a strong base for subtlety in the performances onscreen. The reliance on smart devices present in the film reflects greatly on modern society and scarily brings the relationship to life. The story has some similar elements to Ruby Sparks (also to be reviewed on this blog).  Both films present the idea of adapting to changes in relationships, and both protagonists are haunted by the shadow casted by their previous relationship.

Theodore and Amy (Adams) have undeniable chemistry and their friendship is very heartwarming. There’s a mutual respect and affection with how they treat each other. In a world with faster and more instant connection one can be left alienated and even paralyzed. This film brings comfort that real human connections can help one heal in times of pain. A simple visual of two people sitting together on a rooftop overlooking the city is enough relief for me right now.