A Day in the Life

alarmAlarm vibrates. Sensation before first thought. Cold. Am I coming down with the flu? No. Um, possibly. I need to be strong, fight through. Check phone. New emails. Refresh podcasts. Work emails? No. I’ll be there soon enough. Will I write today? Yes, when I get home. What will I have for dinner? How long will it take to prepare and cook? How much time will that suck out of my evening?

Wash. Get dressed. Pack my bag. Will I bring my book today? Yes. Don’t waste time sleeping on the train. Pack notebook. My battered and scribble-filled notebook. Damn, I forgot to read those research articles I printed out at work yesterday. I’ll get to them another time.

Driving to train station. I wonder about my main character. How will he react when demands are made of him? Where will the drama come from? What is his truth? Can I write it well? A reminder to write something down when I get on the train: Rylin Webster wants to tell his story, his way, on his terms. A scene forms fast in my head. I watch the odometer. I check the clock. Train leaves in five minutes. I’m two minutes away from station car park. Trying to hang onto a thread of thought. The scene gets vivid and intense. I speak a line of dialogue out loud.

“Don’t make a promise you can’t keep.”

Who says this?

trainPark car. Hustle to platform. Train comes. Find seat. Flip open notebook. Scrawl and scribble. Thoughts come quicker than I can write. Words are illegible. Will I be able to read this later? Will it make sense or will I lose the gist? PA announcement. Thoughts exhausted. The distraction of landscape speeding by at 100kmph.

Read my book. Can’t focus for more than a page or two at a time. Thoughts beget thoughts. Ideas form but have no place. Context is elusive. Open notebook. Scribble. Empty my brain. Close notebook. Take a few deep breaths. Read some more but don’t absorb what I’m reading.

WTFTrain reaches its destination. Earphone in. Podcasts at the ready. Maybe NBA’s The Starters. Maybe Marc Maron’s WTF. Maybe TOFOP. Twenty minute walk. My mind remains active. Plot lines weave in and out of the audio flowing into my head. Traffic noise on Broadway coming from Harris St drowns out everything.

At work. Put all thoughts of writing and being a writer to one side. Really? Good luck with thtrafficat. Do my job. Earn my keep. Read occasional online articles of interest. Send quotes, links and ideas to myself via email throughout the day. Making a cup of tea, wonder about Rylin Webster’s marriage. Why did his supermodel wife fall in love with him in the first place? Make small talk with a colleague about the upcoming weekend. Day’s end is getting closer.

inceptionWalk back to train station. New thoughts emerge. Links connect. Links miss their mark. Kill the podcast feed. Need music instead. The National? The Shins? No. This story feeds off the energy from movie soundtracks. Hans Zimmer. Interstellar? I know, Inception. Traffic noise. The roar of a motorcycle. The pang of hunger and the yawn of mental, if not physical, tiredness.

Make train ten minutes early. Open notebook. Scribble quickly, furiously, illegibly. Smile to myself that the adverbs I’m using in my notes will not make my manuscript. Why do I care what Stephen King thinks? Bret Easton Ellis, a writer I love, embraces adverbs. Look at Glamorama?Glamorama

As the train pulls out of the station, close notebook. Take out earphones. No music. No novel. No writing. Sydney’s inner-west suburbs slip by. Macdonaldtown. Newtown. Stanmore. Petersham. Lewisham. My eyes start to get heavy. I sit up, get out my book. Red or Dead by David Peace. Read a page. Battle tiredness. Read half-a-page more before my head drops. Strathfield, Epping, Hornsby don’t register.  I wake up with my finger between pages like a bookmark. Read another page. Then jack into another podcast. Pete Holmes laughs then gets deep, questions our understanding of the universe, then asks his guest whether success can come too soon?You-Made-It-Weird

Its six’o’clock. Hunger has full sway over me. That means I won’t be writing until at least seven, maybe eight. I already know what scene I want to write, need to write, if I’m to drive the story forward.

Walk in the front door. Hello to my wife, bear-tackle my son. Get changed and play dinosaurs for half-an-hour. Hunger lingers, distracts me. The desire to write lingers, distracts me. Cook dinner alone. Use the process of flouring a chicken breast, dipping it in egg and covering it in breadcrumbs, to untether my mind from now, from the day that’s been, from myself.

Too full afterdeadmau5-Superliminal-300x300 dinner, I shower and shave. Wash the day away. Start preparing for the day to come. Clothes laid out. Shoes polished. Top up Opal Card. Check work emails. Flick a few away. Exclaim in frustration over a client who is beyond demanding. Turn off phone’s WiFi. Mac on. iTunes is a ‘Go!’ Deadmau5 – Superliminal. Google Docs open. Here it comes. The manuscript loads up. I scroll down to the last page and read the notes I left from the previous day.Timmy-Mallet-with-Malletts-Mallet

I’m writing. Dialogue flows. Too much dialogue. Go back. Insert thoughts, description. Maintain tone. Not enough tension. Too much conflict? Where’s this scene going? Oh, wow. Yes, that works. I could never have planned that. There’s a knock on the door. My son comes in, jumps on my bed. ‘Let’s play Mallet’s Mallett?’

‘Ten minutes, Buddy.’

Where was I? Oh, yeah. Lots of dialogue to finish. Lots of red squiggly lines under misspelt words. Rylin Webster is angry but doesn’t know it. He’s pushing everyone around him away. He thinks this is normal. A lightbulb moment. A new scene. Not the next scene. File it away. The door opens. My wife brings a glass of wine. ‘House of Cards is starting.’

The manuscript automatically savhouse-of-cardses. I shut down the computer. Frank Underwood, my wife and a glass of wine awaits.

Later, sleep beckons. I hold on through a nothing episode of Game of Thrones. I wonder about tomorrow? What will happen? What will I achieve? How long will it be until I get to write again? In bed, before sleep fully takes over, I imagine Rylin Webster on the basketball court. He’s hurting his defender. He’s hurting his team. He’s hurting himself. An idea teases, never fully settles and then, nothing.

ANZAC Day after 100 years

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.

Laurence Binyon

Tomorrow morning many of us will wake in the dark to early alarms and make the devoted trek to a Dawn Service at one of countless events held in parks and amphitheaters around the country.

We will stand in the chilly pre-dawn air bearing poppies and wreathes. We will sing the Anthem and recite the Ode. We will listen to the Last Post and maintain a minute’s silence with a shiver on our skin.

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The Eternal Flame in Anzac Square, Brisbane. Photo: Karen Nielsen.

Australians are devoted to the ANZAC legend. It is a source of national pride, a symbol of our gratitude and a demonstration of our deep enduring respect for the men and women who won us our lucky freedom.

Far from a celebration of victory, like other wartime anniversaries such as Remembrance Day, ANZAC Day pays tribute to the beginning of a long and bloody campaign waged on the Turkish Peninsula that ultimately failed in its objective. It’s not a celebration, it is a commemoration: a moment to consider what it really means to be an Australian.

Anzac Day goes beyond the anniversary of the landing on Gallipoli in 1915. It is the day on which we remember Australians who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations. The spirit of Anzac, with its human qualities of courage, mateship, and sacrifice, continues to have meaning and relevance for our sense of national identity.

Australian War Memorial

This ANZAC tradition is not one we take lightly. Almost every Australian town, no matter how bijou, will have an ANZAC Park with a memorial dedicated to the men who lost their lives on that day, or who fought in some war at some point in the history of our small but wiry nation. It represents for us not only the integrity of Australian mate-ship but more importantly what we, a small and relatively insignificant nation, are capable of when we band together and put our shoulder to the wheel.

Like most Australians I am fiercely proud of our ANZAC history. Even though I’m several generations removed from the First World War I am immensely moved by the ceremony and what it represents.

My grandfather was a naval engineer in the Second World War. ANZAC Day attendance was an annual requirement in my formative years, a meaningful day for our family, blurred in my child’s eyes by the mystery of time and the greatness of the past. As I grew to understand the true scope of the event it only became more significant and more incredible to me. It’s something that was part of the fabric of my life and the life of my family.

And yet on this, the 100th anniversary of ANZAC Day, I am led to ponder the nature of the cultural tributes we pay to our wartime history. Most Australians will have seen the movie Gallipoli at some point in their lives, a beautifully understated and shockingly realistic depiction of the journey young men faced when they left their hometown for the battlefront. Yet the most recent retelling of the event, a well-produced mini-series that aired on Channel Nine, struggled to compete in ratings with inane reality TV shows.

Gallipoli

What’s wrong with us? Some commentators believe that the more removed we become from the experiences of war, the less new generations care for remembrances such as ANZAC Day. I disagree, having taught in many schools where students are intensely aware of the significance of the occasion. And yet if society is somehow losing perspective on ANZAC Day, isn’t that our fault? As Australians it’s our responsibility to keep our remarkable heritage alive in the social and cultural consciousness of our own nation.

Unlike many nations around the world, our military history is actually something to be proud of. We have never initiated a conflict with another nation and yet we have always come to the aid of our allies when fighting for peace and the civil rights of cultures and nations far removed from ours.

Our soldiers are renowned for their strength, resilience, loyalty and commitment. Despite being such a small nation, in many ways we have a greater fighting spirit than countries far larger and more powerful than us.

And yet what are we doing with this incredible part of our identity? Many Australians are more familiar with the conflicts of the USA or Europe than that of their own homeland. Simply because of the amount of cultural currency we attribute to the exploits of other nations compared to that of our own.

I have no doubt this is largely because of long-entrenched national identity problems such as the ubiquitous Cultural Cringe, somehow wrapped up in our ridiculous obsession with self-deprecation and achievement-avoidance known as the Tall Poppy Syndrome.

In reality, we are now better known around the world for these two insecurity issues than we are for the actual reality of our nation’s history and achievements. How absurd.

In fact, how shamefully embarrassing. Do we have such a low opinion of ourselves that this is the legacy we have created? Or do we just care so little about anything that we simply can’t be bothered?

As I think about it now I find it utterly dumbfounding. I’m frustrated by the lack of understanding we have about our own significance and our own cultural strength. I’m angered by the subsequent lack of understanding that this generates in the eyes of the world. Why don’t we celebrate our history? Why don’t we make it part of our identity? Why don’t we think it’s even worth the value of artistic effort?

In truth there’s a vast disconnect between our world stance and our true national identity. And it’s our fault. What are we going to do about it?

We owe it to ourselves to retell the stories that shaped our identity as a nation, to learn how to celebrate our achievements instead of hiding them behind false modesty. Really, we owe it to the world to stand up and own our history, to reverse the negative legacy we have built for ourselves.

But most of all we owe it to the men and women who made possible the freedom we enjoy today, and upon whose sacrifice our identity is built.

 

Elise Janes

Sam Simon: A Writer’s Life (Taxi, The Simpsons and so much more)

Up until last week, thesimpsons credits reference Sam Simon was nothing more to me than a name on the credits rolls of The Simpsons. I knew nothing of the man, his life, his achievements, and his role as co-creator on one of the greatest animated series ever. Without The Simpsons, I never would have met my wife and my life would be unimaginably different (not for the better).

sam simon

Sam Simon died on 8th March after a battle with cancer, aged 49. It was only seeing his name alongside The Simpsons in online headlines made me stop and take notice. And having taken notice, his story, his life as a writer and producer offers a lot to inspire.

 

Simon wamighty mouses always a skilled and inventive when it came to drawing. Aged 24, after years of sketching comic strips for the San Francisco Chronicle, he got his first writing credit on The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse soon followed by Heckle & Jeckle and Fat Albert. ‘What I learned, honestly, that was so valuable was…they made me a writer. They said we want you to write scripts.’

Over the next couple of years he worked on a number of shows that were either going nowhere or seemed to be leading him nowhere. The measure of the man came in 1982 when he submitted a script on spec to the TV show Taxi (starring Danny DeVito and Andy Kaufmann).

taxi

‘I wrote a script and I mailed it in…I decided as long as I’m writing TV I should write something I’m not embarrassed about.’

How Simon forged a path for himself based on talent, desire and integrity, reminded me of @elise_janes recent post on The Cringe where she got real about shoulda, coulda, woulda and how bullshit that all is – we need to go after what we want.

These lessons and examples are all around us: people who achieve through a willingness to work hard with no guarantee of a return, no guarantee of acknowledgement or success. Those who commit themselves to following through on their creative endeavour, because it matters. Maybe you know someone like this. Maybe this is who are working hard to become. I know I am.

Sam Simon left us writers and creators with three tips. In his own words, this is ‘the best advice ever’:

  1. Story above all
  2. Don’t be afraid of the quiet moments
  3. Love your characters

I’ll give the last word to The Simpsons themselves. On the most recent show, which aired in the US on Sunday 15th March, they ended the episode with a simple and touching tribute:

thank you

 

Ken Ward

 

(Quotes sourced from Marc Maron’s podcast, WTF, ‘Episode 389 – Sam Simon’, May 16, 2013)

Kiss & Cry

Guest contributor Frances Chapman reviews Kiss & Cry, a live-art performance from the Sydney Festival that pushes the boundaries of staged artistic work.

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Kiss & Cry is a sweeping cinematic romance with a twist: its stars are a duo of dexterous, dancing hands, moving with grace and precision onscreen through a series of miniature landscapes. Shot and projected onscreen simultaneously, a sensual small-scale ballet comes to life before your eyes.

From prize-winning filmmaker Jaco Van Dormael and choreographer Michèle Anne De Mey, a founding member of Rosas dance company, this story of forgotten love, told from a beautiful tiny world, has charmed audiences of all ages.

A moving love story – and a showcase for some seriously inspired handiwork – Kiss & Cryis a gorgeous intertwining of film and dance, as nimble of finger as it is nimble of imagination.

– from the Sydney Festival

It is unusual to see a truly original piece of theatre. Live audio visual hook-ups, meta “re-imaginings”, a guy painted red and shouting grandly into the abyss – we’ve seen it all. But Kiss and Cry, the darling of this year’s Sydney Festival, is truly something new.

Part dance piece, part movie, part small-scale puppet show, Belgium’s Charleroi Danses’ Kiss and Cry is hard to categorise. Choreographed by Michele Anne de Mey, of the Rosas dance company, and co-directed by filmmaker Jaco Van Dormael, Kiss and Cry is a simple and meditative love story. Looking back over her life, an old woman waits at a station and remembers her five great loves: the first, so brief, a boy in a train carriage when she was twelve, right up to the humdrum long relationship of her late adulthood.

Carriageworks’ Bay 17 is transformed into a movie studio, complete with miniature sets and an array of cameras capturing a range of creative angles. The story is told through poetic pre-recorded narration from British actor Tony Regbo, whose Jude Law-esque enunciation lends a whimsical tone, and brought to life by two hands (one de May’s, the other of dancer Gregory Grosjean), which dance together and apart, their small intimacies projected onto a large screen. A tiny ballet unfolds, the camerawork seamlessly capturing the precision of the dancers’ hands.

15305388158_ca106ac98b_bThere is plenty to watch: the dancers, the simultaneous film onscreen, and the backstage crew who comprise an ensemble themselves as they go about creating visual effects: blowing cigarette smoke across a dancefloor, moving dolls with great delicacy, working in unison to bring the finished product to the screen above. This is a theatre piece which shows the great beauty in the process of making art, as well as in the art itself.

Kiss and Cry takes our most used appendages, the taken-for-granted, humble hands, and projects them, naked and huge, onto the screen for micro-examination. Its ruminations on lost love are simple and poignant, but the spectacle of the minute is truly extraordinary.

Frances Chapman

Shakespeare, Spacey, and the Sublime

A review of documentary Now: In the Wings on a World Stage

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At first the idea of Hollywood denizen Kevin Spacey helming a world Shakespearean tour seems slightly self-indulgent, if not rather absurd. And few besides Spacey would have the audacity to film the whole experience for a limited-release feature-length documentary. However the result, Now: In the Wings on a World Stage, is more than surprisingly fresh, it’s a moving and, dare I say it, inspirational reminder of why theatre is one of the oldest and most enduring art forms.

Many critics of the film have majored on the self-congratulatory nature of such a project for Spacey, or the lack of focus on audience response and the small amount of live performance included in the final screening. These reviewers have wildly missed the point of the whole endeavor (ahem, Mike McCahill), which was never to be a screened version of the play, nor a sociological examination of the reception of Shakespeare throughout different cultures. The film exists to demonstrate the human quality of bringing an ancient text to life and at this it exceeds magnificently.

In an age when it’s easy to roll your eyes at the excessive celebrity and attention-seeking antics of those in the acting profession, this film serves as a reminder that actors essentially love their craft, surely a human right to which we are all entitled. Away from the glimmering screen realm, theatre throws performance back into the raw essential nature that makes it such a vulnerable exposé of human experience. A touring production is one of the most intimate and exhilarating collaborative experiences an artist can have, and it is the wide-eyed wonder seen on even the most weathered of faces in this film that reminds us of the simple, unifying power of doing something great together.

NOW-DVDI quickly found myself desperately wishing to have been amongst the fortunate audience able to share the Bridge Project Company’s ambitious production. The documentary, directed by Jeremy Whelehan, follows the trans-continental cast and crew of Sam Mendes’s Richard III production as it tours from London’s Old Vic Theatre, across Europe, Asia, Australia and North America, finally landing for its closing week in Brooklyn’s BAM theatre. Revealing beautiful moments of cast and crew interaction, the complex mechanics of hosting a world tour, and the magnificence of Richard III itself, the film is both intimate and grand; a fitting tribute to what must have been an incomparably unique performance.

The cast is a surprising mélange of well- and lesser-known thespians. A particular delight is English screen monarch Gemma Jones in the role of the murderous king’s mother, Queen Margaret. The documentary reveals her not only to be the esteemed matriarchal veteran of the tour, but also one of its most risqué party girls, at one point referring to actor Isaiah Johnson: “…a magnificent piece of manhood. I’d like to see him without his clothes on.”

These backstage antics enhance our wonder at the actors’ onstage transformation in the small glimpses of performance that Whelehan includes in the film, providing just the right amount of detail to demonstrate the tone and impact of the live production. The diversity of the cast is particularly exposed through the bold decision for actors to maintain native accents. While the idea of Shakespeare through a North American twang is mildly offensive to any English-speaker, the resultant blend actually creates a strange sort of dialectic harmony that enhances characterisation and stage chemistry.

And the chemistry is surprisingly taut, as the actors bring to stage deep reserves of anger, fear, lust and desperation. While Spacey flits back and forth throughout the film like a benevolent omnipresent deity, it is refreshing to see Whelehan focus on some of the more obscure tour members, extracting personal anecdotes and demonstrating without much effort the vast emotional impact the production is having on all members of cast and crew.

Spacey has more than proved his mettle in an array of screen triumphs, further cemented by his Best Actor Oscar for 1999’s American Beauty (also directed by Sam Mendes who likewise received an Oscar). While his eccentric oeuvre lacks the consistent brilliance of actors such as Gary Oldman and Dustin Hoffman, he has nonetheless brought vibrant life to some of the most unique and captivating roles, notably in LA Confidential and The Usual Suspects.

Lately his work on the acclaimed Netflix show House of Cards has reinvigorated his silvering career, and it is the same beguiling barefaced ruthlessness seen in Francis Underwood that suffuses his portrayal of the crippled King Richard with breathtaking aggression. Critics of the production were unanimously impressed, though the more astute noted the absence of that particular shade of self-exposure that truly masterful Shakespearean actors bring to such roles. Despite the brilliant savagery of his delivery there was still that underlying Kevin Spacey-ness in his performance. But you do forgive him for that every time he smiles his trademark conspiratorial twinkle at the audience.

Theater The Bridge ProjectThe production makes creative use of live-filmed screening, stark lighting and a bare stage that both imitates the brutality of the play and also throws its lush characterisations into sharp relief. When the lights fall and Spacey, costumed like a deranged groomsman, bursts through the central door hunch-backed and lurching violently on a cane, the first word of text explodes forth from his twisted scowl rendering the performance space at once silent and yet alive with a fervor of expectation and wonder: Now! It’s hard not to feel tingles up your spine, even second-hand through the movie screen, when we hear that most venerated of first-lines and we know the true master, the bard himself, has arrived.

The blunt immediacy of theatre makes it tangibly powerful. Almost as soon as that line is spoken it’s gone again and we are left somewhat stunned in the wake of its poetry, savagery and beauty. “It can only exist there,” as actor Jeremy Bobb says, “The fact that you can miss it – is pretty awesome.” This onrush of hyper-awareness is what brings adrenalin to theatrical experience, and this weighty responsibility grows in the cast throughout the world tour as they sense the vast impact such a magical experience is having on all of them. That the tour is now over, that the production no longer exists except in documentary form, makes viewing it through these excerpts that much more rare and wondrous.

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Whelehan wields some magnificent travel scapes, taking us from the peaceful spiritualism of Buddhist temples to the Great Wall of China and the expansive beauty of a desert sunset. One particular highlight, which is tracked parallel throughout the documentary, is the performance in the Epidavros amphitheatre, an awe-filled experience for both cast and audience alike. As night falls and golden lights illuminate ancient stone tiers in an ethereal glow, we see the time-lapse blossoming of the stage area and an immense anticipation arises. After following several of the actors through make-up and preparation, we see the audience begin to fill, eliciting expressions of humility and wonder, and whispers of disbelief from cast and crew. A voice-over from Mendes observes the suspended exhilaration that only live theatre can bring: “It’s like feeling the heart-beat of the world.” This is what Whelehan’s film sets out to capture, and this is what it delivers, with precision, honesty, and a little stage magic.

 

Now: In the Wings on a World Stage can be downloaded from iTunes or streamed online.

 

Elise Janes

 

Letting Go (or, Did I ever really have a grip?)

How bound together is my writing and me?

And by writing, I mean my actual output, ideas shared in the form of reflective opinion pieces (like this one) or short stories (like this – wow, what shameless self-promotion) or my novels (sorry, no links yet). At times, I have been consumed by the belief of how entwined and inseparable we are.

As I see it, my writing is my possession. Where I go, it goes. Where it goes, I follow.

What am I trying to say here?

My writing (my form of passionate expression) will lift me up, will be my golden ticket and my Wonkavator all wrapped into one. Doors will open. New and exciting connections will be made.

We are not separate. How I live my life and how I perceive the world will influence how I express myself as a writer. We come together – we’re a package deal.

Except, what if we’re not?

searching-for-sugar-man-dvd-ukA couple of weeks ago a friend recommended a 2012 documentary by Swedish film maker, Malik Bendjelloul (1977-2014) called Searching for Sugar Man. The film tells the incredible true story of Rodriguez, the greatest ’70s rock icon who never was.

Virtually unknown in America, the Dylan-esque Rodriguez’s two albums, Cold Fact and Coming From Reality vanished into obscurity. However, 8,000 miles away in South Africa, after a bootleg copy was brought in from the States and shared amongst friends throughout Cape Town, the music resonated deeply with the country’s youth who were experiencing the confusion and fear of the violently oppressive Apartheid system.

Unbeknownst, it seems to anyone outside of South Africa, including Rodriguez and his record label, over the course of more than 20 years, his albums combined sold more than half-a-million copies.

And thus, the journey documented in Searching for Sugar Man begins.

That an artist could be so removed from the life of his art was hard to accept. This remarkable story was a slap to my face. I can’t hold my writing so tightly and be so bound to its outcome.

For my writing to become whatever it’s meant to be, I need to move beyond it being mine.

The expression and craft is my own but the product is wholly its own thing; needs time and space to develop its own voice and character.

So, is it a case of me learning to let go, or realising I never had a grip in the first place?

Ken Ward

Top Ten Christmas Movie Themes

If you need an alternative to “Jingle Bells” for your seasonal playlist this year, the following Christmas movie themes will more than suffice.

Pushing beyond vocal soundtracks the movies on this list are notable for their incredible orchestral themes and underscoring, though some do have quality soundtracks (double win) and also happen to be great movies. Really, this is an all-round great list for your festive entertainment needs.

Home Alone

  1. Home Alone (1990) – John Williams

There’s no particular order here but it wouldn’t be right unless “Home Alone” had the top spot. Remember the old days when kid’s movies had live actors? Just one of the many reasons this movie is an eternal classic. Another is John Williams. No one writes a melody quite like him and you’ll be humming “Somewhere in My Memory” for days. The overture opens with a foreshadowing of Williams’s “Harry Potter” in playful jingle bells and creepy Christmas-mystery chromaticism, and then expands magically into that simple but perfect melody, the quintessence of Christmas movie magic. Add a children’s choir and melt-in-your-mouth strings and the effect is complete. Home Alone 2 revisits the same melodic material, and some claim it’s even better than the original.

  1. Love Actually (2003) – Craig Armstrong

The first and best (and most English) of ensemble movies, “Love Actually” is a proven hit. Managing to be equal parts festive, funny and romantic the movie gets away with the cheese by being just the right amount of self-deprecating and then nailing the emotional climaxes. Bill Nighy’s “Christmas is All Around You” is a highlight, but the true magic happens in the scoring. You’ll never forget the revelatory moment when Juliet watches Mark’s video to that simple, heartbreaking piano motif. The Portuguese Love Theme is another gem, delicate yet triumphant, but the penultimate scene with Sam running through the airport toward his New York love would be nothing without Armstrong’s immaculate scoring. He wields strings, French horns and timpani in a grand, festive crescendo and if you aren’t struck with goosebumps for those few minutes than there’s something wrong with you.

  1. The Holiday (2006) – Hans Zimmer

A more predictable festive romance, “The Holiday” is still a well-produced story with some surprisingly fun details, the best of which is Eli Wallach. Hans Zimmer wisely opts for a lightly textured score, steering away from grandiose orchestral romanticism that could have cheapened the fairy-floss story. Where Williams is master of the melody, Zimmer specializes in layered motifs, making clever use of piano, electric guitar and drum kit alongside strings and minimal woodwind. The oscillating string movement of the central theme is stirringly uplifting while also cleverly evoking the wildness and mystery of the Santa Ana winds. Zimmer also does a great job of blending with Frou Frou’s spacious soundtrack items. The emotional climax of the story, the Cry, is an appropriately triumphant moment without pushing too far into cheese territory.

  1. The Polar Express (2004) – Alan Silvestri

Criticised by some for being too dark and ghostly (have people not seen A Christmas Carol?) “The Polar Express” is a quirky magical journey and a welcome alternative to the bubbly children’s comedies usual of the genre. Alan Silvestri is no stranger to Christmas movies and his bouncy music-hall tunes and expansive orchestral landscaping mark one of the highlights of his composing credits. Try not to focus on the nasal twangs of Tom Hanks half-singing the title song, and listen instead to the musical genius beneath. The opening refrain of the main theme is epic, mysterious and appropriately skin-tingling, complete with wordless choir and wind-chime glissandos. Silvestri contrasts the grand orchestral moments with sections of shimmering strings and panpipe, evoking the glistening moonlit landscape. The songs are also clever, fun and catchy, especially “Hot Chocolate” and “Polar Express”.

  1. Miracle on 34th St (1994) – Bruce Broughton

Even with credits like “Silverado” and “Tombstone” to his name, Bruce Broughton is strangely no longer a household name in movie composition. Though he continues to write for the screen to this day, “Miracle on 34th St” marks one of his last well-known scores. Opening with the famous Christmas-bell herald that forms the musical leitmotif of the movie, Broughton segues seamlessly into the Miracle theme demonstrating a deft hand at the powerful evocation of Christmas joy (he also composed for “All I Want for Christmas” in 1991). He creates a delicate atmosphere with light strings, brass, and, of course, Christmas bells. You may notice the ‘evil’ theme sounds strangely similar to parts of “The Lion King”, composed by Hans Zimmer in the same year. The truly amazing moment, however, comes with his use of a cappella children’s choir, building a powerful, sacred moment from a wordless medieval melody.

NOTE: Though the movie is enjoyable, and stars David Attenborough, do yourself a favour and unearth the 1947 version instead.

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  1. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) – Danny Elfman

Tim Burton and Danny Elfman go way back, a unique artistic partnership that has given us such flawlessly deranged movies as “Edward Scissorhands” and “Corpse Bride”. “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is no exception, and it’s dark silliness forms a fun counterpoint to the whimsical romantic comedies on offer. The Overture demonstrates the artistic variety of Elfman’s scoring, opening with a Star Wars-esque expansiveness which soon breaks into a zany galloping dance and then into melodic hints of the great songs to come, “This Is Halloween” and “Jack’s Lament”. With bells and other metallic percussion used liberally throughout, contrasted frequently with heavy lower brass and woodwind, Elfman masterfully blends chromatic eeriness, dreamlike delicacy, and heavy black drama into an active score. Listen attentively and you’ll soon realize that the music is as vital to the story as the brilliant animation, never once letting up for the entire movie.

  1. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) – James Horner

A fitting contrast to Elfman’s lively, detailed scoring, James Horner specializes more in full orchestral sweeps and unobtrusively fluid themes. Famous for his work on “Titanic”, “Avatar” and “Braveheart”, it’s clear that subtle grandeur most defines his style. Employing full, slow-moving string layers with delicate woodwind and piano solos (you’ll notice how much he loves the oboe), and the requisite Christmas bells, he creates a suitably glistening carpet of sound to mirror the snowy beauty of Whoville. It’s rather clear his talent doesn’t lie in comic songs (eg, “Happy Who-lidays”) so fortunately most of The Grinch is orchestral and Horner more than makes up for it in moments like Memories of a Green Christmas.

  1. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) – Vince Guaraldi Trio

The sophisticated comic awareness of “Peanuts” creator Charles M. Schultz is perfectly depicted in the musical choice for this animated Snoopy short. The link between childhood innocence and timeless wisdom is brought to life in laid-back jazz meanderings from the Vince Guaraldi Trio. Improvising on some well-known Christmas favourites, such as “Christmas Time is Here” and “O Tannenbaum”, the Trio also add brilliance to the simple beauty of character scenes like Ice Skating. The full soundtrack makes for excellent Christmas cocktail-party music, and would be equally useful for a romantic eggnog-by-the-fire evening.

  1. Joyeux Noel (2005) – Phillippe Rombi

The power of a single voice was the inspiration behind “Joyeux Noel”, and it fittingly forms the genesis of the most powerful Christmas movie moment ever. Though not a festive song, the simple, rustic melody of “I’m Dreaming of Home” evolves powerfully from a wordless hum into a fully orchestrated work under the brilliant hand of Phillippe Rombi, with echoes of Barber’s “Adagio for Strings”. A truly exceptional musical experience on its own, the movie itself is another level altogether. The titular scene, complete with bagpipes, a Scottish men’s chorus and an a cappella rendition of “Stille Nacht”, will have you in goosebumps from the outset if not in a complete teary mess. If you’ve lost some Christmas spirit over the years, this movie should be the first on your list.

Joyeux Noel

  1. L.A. Confidential (1997) – Jerry Goldsmith

It’s not the most Christmassy narrative on the list but it’s a perfect antidote to glimmering holiday cheer if it all becomes a little to much. The soundtrack itself is brilliant, with upbeat jazz-age standards mixed among festive favourites, but the movie gets its lone-wolf noir atmosphere from the haunting solo trumpet brilliantly woven through the score by Goldsmith. He also plays a clever hand blending grand orchestral sweeps with edgy jazz drum fills. Understated but extremely clever, Goldsmith’s score plays a huge role in the movie’s success as one of the most highly rated films of all time. Ok, yeah, and Kevin Spacey might also have something to do with that. 

Special mentions

Definitely worth a watch for its full-length orchestrated score that brings the innocent animation to life, but most notable for it’s ethereal child solo: Walking in the Air.

Silvestri blends echoes of every famous carol into a surprisingly original score. Perfect for clever instrumental reinventions of your favourite carols.

This one is more famous for the songs but that’s only because almost all of them have since become Christmas standards, particularly “White Christmas”, made famous by Bing Crosby in “Holiday Inn” long before the movie of the same title was made ten years later. Berlin is also responsible for bringing us “Happy Holiday”. If that’s not enough, just watch it for Fred Astaire and Bing himself. Swoon.

Finally…

If you need some more Art music ways to enjoy Christmas, find a live performance of “The Messiah” or “The Nutcracker” that you can witness in the flesh. You won’t regret it. If none are accessible in your local area, try these exceptional versions on YouTube:

‘Gone Girl’: A Discussion of Themes & Implications (spoilers)

When the dust settles what does Gone Girl tell us about men, women and relationships*?

gone-girl-01_Amy DunneI’m still on the fence about Gone Girl. While I admire the clever plot and the exceptional interrogation of human nature, I find myself a little angry at the negative depiction of marriage and gender that such a contradictory book delivers. Whatever your opinion, one thing is certain: the book is incredibly influential. Creative influence is a responsibility, and not one to be taken lightly. As with any book carrying significant cultural weight, it’s important to consider the themes raised in the book and the impact they may have on gender issues and relationships.

The story is clever and the themes are unsettling. Both elements make the narrative particularly engrossing, but when all is said and done we are left with some confusing messages. It’s a mistake to write off the portrayal of Nick and Amy’s marriage as complete fiction, as the story raises many significant issues about how men and women see themselves and each other. I think it’s equally dangerous to take it at face value, as some have done, and use it as proof that all men are dicks and all women are evil and the world is screwed.

This is where I get concerned. Considering the impact such a widely popular story will have on people, I wonder exactly what Flynn had in mind besides making a pretty dollar off the sensationalism.

Nothing is sacred in the novel. Love, marriage, family, neighbours, men, women, city life, country life, the media, the economy, the police, the judicial system, the masses, parenthood, childhood, fame, destitution, old writers, new writers, cultural legacy, pop culture, rich people, poor people, the educated, the ignorant, the young, the old, sanity, mental illness, you name it. The only safe element is the cat, Bleecker. It’s hard not to leave the story frustrated by the utterly desolate portrayal of everything that makes up our modern way of life. Sometimes you can’t help but feel that Flynn has created a story that shits on everything just for the sake of it.

Many people hated the book and the movie for this reason, mainly because they expected some kind of justified resolution. They wanted someone to win: a righteous ending so justice could be served, or utter tragedy so the audience could write it off as black fiction. The exact awfulness of the ending is just unresolved enough to leave us perpetually uncomfortable because we can’t just tuck it all away in a convenient genre. We actually have to think about it, and we don’t like that because it cuts too close to home. I think a lot of the people who have denigrated the novel entirely are people who ultimately don’t want to admit that there was a lot of truth to the characters.

Perhaps that’s what Flynn is ultimately trying to say: that we deceive each other and ourselves because reality is too damn hard. Yet the truth about marriage is much more nuanced and positive than Flynn would have us believe. The fact is that men and women do have different expectations of each other when entering a relationship, and rarely are those misunderstandings fully solved. But the final ‘comment’ of Flynn’s story is that you can never be yourself in a partnership; that the only way things work is for both to continue in self-deception. While I don’t agree that this is the only possible outcome for all relationships, I do think it bears some consideration.

Here’s a quick look at some ideas raised in the book.

Marriage
GONE GIRL, from left: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, 2014. ph: Merrick Morton/TM & copyright ©20thThe novel explores many contemporary issues about marriage that are disturbingly relevant. Foremost are the tensions created by external factors, such as job redundancies, financial constraints, cultural tensions between the city girl and the country boy, the stress of relocating, the influence of in-laws, and dealing with family sickness and death. These are all highly powerful influences on the health of a marriage, and Flynn depicts both positive and negative reactions to these issues in Amy and Nick’s relationship.

Just as relevant are the internal factors, such as whether or not to have kids, where to invest money, deciding to relocate, how to handle dwindling romantic energy, how to balance gender roles, how much to expect of each other, how to be attentive, how to communicate effectively with each other, how to consider one another’s needs and desires.

In reality, most marriages have successfully overcome or compromised on these issues, but many have also sputtered and failed as a result. Flynn’s depiction of the slowly building tensions and the lack of effective communication between Nick and Amy is frighteningly realistic, more detailed and accurate than the normal reader expects from a thriller. The way the novel’s characters respond to relational fallout has a lot to do with their upbringing, their personalities, and their mental health. As Amy is clearly a sociopath (or technically, suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder), her response is not ‘usual’ so we can (hopefully) assume that not all relationships will end in someone trying to frame the other for murder. However, as we all have a little bit of crazy, and mental health is a very present factor in a lot of marriages, it can also be expected that most of us won’t necessarily respond well to all of these issues.

So where does reality sit? The bottom line is that relationships are tough, but we can’t exist without them. They require some effort, but inevitably they make your life worth the living. You can’t expect any relationship to be perfect, but you can expect it to be great. The key, really, is to know when and how to compromise and when and how to stand your ground. Be ready for the crap when it comes (because it inevitably will) and be determined to overcome it together and move on.

This is where Nick and Amy really fail each other, long before the affair and the set-up. It’s too easy to say they were screwed from the start because she was a psycho and he was a spineless mummy’s boy. The cracks came through in the false expectations they had of each other and of marriage. Perceived failure, resentment and guilt, incubated by a lack of authentic communication, ultimately drove them apart, resulting in the vengeful actions (on both their parts) that lead to the events of the novel.

Men
gone-girl-vigilThe portrayal of Nick Dunne is complex and exceptional, and it’s unclear at the end of the novel if he should be regarded as the hero of the book, or an equal and willing partner to the horrors he’s endured. When it comes to male gender identity the important thing is not deciding if his behaviour is right or wrong, but in filtering through the sensationalism to find the truth in his character.

Nick starts out genuinely wanting to make things work with Amy but gradually stops trying, ultimately starting an affair and wanting a divorce. The hinted reasons for this change include his hurt pride at being made redundant, his dependence on Amy’s finance, his constant guilt about moving them to Missouri, further guilt about not living up to her (treasure-hunt) expectations, his inability to effectively communicate his feelings, and a deep-seated resentment toward strong women (a feeling which he suppresses and denies, but still surfaces).

Is this a true representation of all men’s response to marriage? No, but it would definitely ring true for some. The grey area here is that all these reasons can both be valid and invalid in their own way, and so it becomes far too easy (and incorrect) to place blame wholly on him or wholly on her.

For example many would argue that the difficulty of relying on your wife for financial support is a result of deep-seated ‘provider’ psychology in males and is therefore justified. While this may be true, is it not fair then to say that sometimes we need to get over our pride in order to make a relationship work?

Another example is his perceived guilt for not living up to Amy’s expectations. Again, this is valid on some level, but is it ok to live in resentment without trying to communicate how you feel? Is it not valid for Amy to have some expectation for how she wants the marriage to work out? Was his guilt a result of knowing he had deliberately failed to consider her in some decisions?

At one point he complains that he is sick of being surrounded by nagging women, but earlier in the book Amy points out that there are behaviors he reverts to that force her into a nagging role. Both valid. Yet he often genuinely wants to help people and do the right thing, and frequently acts out of love for the women in his life: moving home to help his sick mother and maintaining a consistently positive relationship with Margo.

All of this simply serves to illustrate that Nick is human. He fails and is likewise failed by others, ultimately playing an equal hand in the disintegration of his marriage. Unfortunately, in the wake of the revelation about Amy’s deception, the novel leaves us with a conflicted portrayal of male identity in marriage and in society.

Nick’s insecurities about turning out just like his own father haunt his every step, and it’s ultimately this fear that makes him decide to stay with Amy: he wants, above all, to be the great father he never had.

Making his determination all the more poignant are the behaviors and attitudes that surface throughout the book that show him to be exactly like his father. While we are left with a somewhat positive impression of Nick’s commitment to his unborn son, Flynn has created just enough grey area so there’s no guarantee that he won’t gradually succumb to the emotional pressure of living with a murderous sociopath and become the same father he resented.

Nick’s upbringing has far-reaching effects on his emotional life and reflects a very relevant issue in modern families. At the core we have the negative male role model in Nick’s life: the emotionally abusive, woman-hating father. The de-masculinising of men is a real problem in society and one that must be addressed, but does it excuse weak and abusive behavior in men? Of course not.

How, then, are men expected to behave? And are the expectations society generates actually valid? And what prevents some men from being present in the family as strong parental role models? It’s a cop-out to say that bitchy women or spineless men are to blame for this modern gender identity crisis, but unfortunately that’s one way Flynn’s narrative could be interpreted. The greyness and complexity of this issue is subverted by the fact that Amy is a sociopath. It then becomes too easy to blame all his selfish actions on her craziness, or to blame her breakdown on his selfishness.

Nick is portrayed as sympathetic but also flawed. He does try to be a good guy but he also deliberately distances himself from Amy instead of trying to work out their issues, ultimately choosing to have an affair. The point is not that Nick was or wasn’t valid in his feelings and actions, as his insecurities are borne of real struggles that many men face. The point, again, is that he and Amy failed to communicate effectively about them, resulting in destructive responses from both.

Women
gone.girl_diaryLeaving aside the fact that Amy is a sociopath, her reflections on what it means to be a woman in a relationship are often accurate and insightful.

Her rant about the ‘Cool Girl’ syndrome is particularly true, and bears some serious consideration. Cool Girl is described, basically, as being effortlessly and consistently gorgeous, sexy and brilliant, having flawless confidence and easy-goingness, and unfailingly loving all the things men love. As Amy rightly says, Cool Girl doesn’t exist. She is a myth perpetuated by women pretending to be what men want, and men lazily expecting their women to be exactly what they want. Flynn’s discussion of Cool Girl lasts over four pages in the novel and is itself an essay in contemporary gender dilemmas. And that’s the problem. It’s not something that sociopathic women like Amy invented in order to hate on men; it’s a real and present issue in modern society.

So, why, Flynn? Why write such an insightful and concerning gender essay and then make the character an unhinged murderess?

Amy’s desire to constantly be the perfect partner is an accurate depiction of most women, the extent of which depends on individual personalities but nevertheless rings true. How many women spend their lives adapting to perceived expectations, only to end up exhausted and frustrated? Too many. Again, this is a two-sided issue of women perceiving expectations from their partners that are not necessarily true, but also of partners not observing that their wives are making such an effort.

As discussed above, a lot of Amy’s problems with Nick come down to her miscommunicated expectations and the resultant feelings of guilt in Nick. The point about the treasure-hunts is disconcerting, because of course everyone wants to know that their partner ‘understands’ them and cares enough to notice what they’re like. At the same time, everyone is human and you can never know everything there is to know about another person. To avoid this becoming a huge issue in their marriage, Nick and Amy clearly needed to make some effort: Amy to mitigate her expectations, and Nick to make a concerted effort to be more attentive.

Though it’s impossible to know exactly how much Diary Amy is Real Amy, it’s clear that most entries are an accurate reflection of her feelings and actions. If I put myself in her place, I can’t help but sympathise with her feelings of desolation and her desire to make things right (though I wouldn’t go about it quite like she did).

If I faced two job losses in the household and my parents’ financial ruin, and then my husband up and moved me away from my hometown without consulting me, I would be more than momentarily upset. I would start to question the health of our marriage. Having similarly relocated to my husband’s hometown (though voluntarily; my husband would never force that on me), I completely sympathise with Amy’s feelings of isolation and the difficulty of trying to fit in with a family and a community culture that is vastly different to your own. If my husband then continued to distance himself from me, used our remaining finance to set up a ‘hobby’ job, and cared so little for me that he didn’t even know what I did with my time, I would start to freak out emotionally too. If I then caught him cheating on me with a ‘perfect’ young girl after I had tried so hard to be the perfect wife? Well, that would be a tipper. Would it induce me to commit murder by framing him? No. But then again, I’m not a sociopath.

And this is where I get annoyed at Flynn. She sets up sympathetic and complex male and female identities, creates a compelling case for marital disharmony, and then screws over any truth to their relationship by making Amy a murdering sociopath. This then gives every dissatisfied and ignorant man an excuse to blame any valid female behavior that they don’t like on the misguided premise that all women are psychos. Of course, the book wouldn’t have worked if Amy had been sane, but the true concerns raised by Flynn combined with Amy’s extreme behaviours create a disturbing message about female identity, one that can confuse both men and women.

In a way we should thank Flynn for creating such an impeccable female villain. It’s about time, really. But instead of the one-dimensional, totally crazy villains we expect from this kind of story (Norman Bates) Amy is a real woman. Which sadly makes it seem that any remotely intelligent woman with expectations and standards in life must be a sociopath.

I hope that modern audiences are open-minded enough to both accept the truth of this novel and also to see beyond the final curtain to a balanced view on the nature of relationships. Unfortunately a quick scan of recent forums demonstrates this is not the case; it’s too tempting for modern readers to let the novel validate their malcontents instead of challenge them. Try to put your knee-jerk irritations aside and examine these issues in an honest way. Interrogate the truth to Flynn’s characters while also seeing them for what they are: a simple exercise, albeit a highly successful one, in mass-sensationalist controversy.

Elise Janes

What are your thoughts?

 

*Note: The discussion in this essay stems from heterosexual marriage and gender identities due to the subject matter of the novel.

‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn – Review (no spoilers)

The Book

Gone_Girl_(Flynn_novel)

These days it’s rare to find a novel that can truly surprise readers. We’re all too busy and too opinionated to be messed around by sneaky genre-bending narratives. Authors are encouraged to satisfy reader expectations and dance to the tune of stylistic conceits, in ‘literary’ works as much as in ‘commercial’ fiction. While Gone Girl sits firmly in the crime/psychological thriller category, the explosive success of the novel has much more to do with how well Gillian Flynn bends the rules than with how well she follows them.

The novel has far more reality than we usually expect from our crime fiction, and a bit too much character exploration for our ‘genre’ comfort-zones. Predictably, this means people either love it or hate it, and vehemently so, which is indicative of both the quality of writing and the intensely disturbing plot. One thing is guaranteed, though: the novel will surprise you.

Premise:
Amy Dunne goes missing under suspicious circumstances on the morning of her fifth wedding anniversary and her husband Nick is caught in the headlights of the ensuing media frenzy. It unravels from there in alternate POV threads: the husband in present tense, and the wife’s diary entries leading up to the fateful day.

Surprise 1: Narrative
With twists coming in unexpected ways and at blindsiding intervals throughout the narrative, it’s very difficult to talk about the book without ruining it completely. Audiences love a good sting but this is one novel where you really will be guessing at the numerous red herrings (wondering if they even are red herrings) right up to each reveal, and sometimes beyond. And even if you do guess right, Flynn finds another way to slap you in the face.

Surprise 2: Characterisation
Flynn masterfully creates two distinct and intricate voices in Nick and Amy. Her painstakingly thorough character portraits feature some of the most insightful portrayals of human nature you can read. You find yourself squirming at the blatant honesty of these two flawed and complex people and you will think (more than once) they are repulsive; they are just like me. Add to that a well-pitched supporting cast, with some surprises of their own, and you realize you are dealing with an expert in emotional intelligence.

Surprise 3: Style
Overlaying all the narrative details and character complexity, Flynn weaves a beautiful and immensely readable style. She manages to circumvent all normal adjectival use by endlessly inventing new and brilliant ways to describe people, things, events and emotional reactions. Even though she kind of breaks Strunk & White’s Rule #17, you forgive her for the hyphenated adverbs because they are so darn clever.

One technical downfall that bears noting is that the structure seems a little out of balance. The first half of the book crescendos at a measured and excruciating pace and the following sections feel rushed in comparison. Pushing reader patience at 470 pages, Flynn could have paced with greater care.

Surprise 4: Themes
Binding all these elements together and making the novel truly uncomfortable to read is the stark interrogation of marriage and relationships in the 21st century, and therein lies the issue most people have with the story. Flynn has applied her twisted realism to the portrayal of all relationships in the book, but the interaction between Nick and Amy, with their fragile in-jokes, dangerous misunderstandings, and niggling frustrations, will make you question the tumultuous undertow of even the very best marriage. Highly disconcerting.

So, despite it’s brilliance I have to be honest and admit I didn’t actually enjoy reading the novel. It reads like witnessing a tragic disaster in slow motion, and if you’re angling for a nice generic who-dunnit, this is not your biscuit. The thematic surprises have pissed off more than one reviewer, proving that messing with our expectations is not always a popular angle. Though, considering the enormous hype borne of this controversy, one might be forgiven for suspecting that’s exactly what Flynn was going for. It doesn’t change the fact that I read the whole thing and would encourage you to do the same.

The Movie

Gone-Girl-Ben-Affleck-Rosamund-Pike-Entertainment-Weekly-cover

Apparently Gillian Flynn did what all Hollywood executives fear: demand to write her own screenplay. While many have lauded her screenwriting talent I suspect it’s largely on account of the brilliance of the story rather than the particular quality of the dialogue, detail, and pacing. Flynn did write the story and deserves to be commended for it, but I think a writing partnership would have drilled out those minor niggles that a lot of amateur movie reviewers are latching onto, such as the shortened-timeline issues (different in the book), perceived ‘holes’ in the narrative (there are none, they just aren’t well explained in the movie), and misrepresentation of certain character motives (again, more explicit in the book). She did well to pack all the relevant plot points into a two-hour movie, but those small inconsistencies were distracting and would have been ironed out by a fresh writing eye.

Nevertheless it is an impressive, entertaining, and affecting standalone movie. Director David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) seems to specialise in mystery narratives with a twist. He was an ideal choice to direct a character-focused, deliberately paced thriller, and as expected his work is clever and visually beautiful. Under another hand the movie could well have been ruined through over-dramatisation or visual monotony. Yet his style can be distracting, as is the case with any unique director, and you find him at times being a little too clever for his own good.

Ben Affleck is slowly crawling back into public favour with his recent acting and directing credits and he is perfectly cast as Nick Dunne, more or less described (physically) as a guy whose face you’d want to punch (you could say Affleck was born for the role). While his coiled reserve was highly effective, I was disappointed he didn’t do more with the emotional fallout, particularly in the second half of the movie.

Rosamund Pike I’ve found generally underwhelming but she’s pleasantly surprising as Amy Dunne. Considering the other casting options (only Chastain could have brought the same wide-eyed distance) she was the obvious choice. Her portrayal is excellent, restrained and effective: just the right amount of everything. Can’t say more without spoilers.

The supporting roles were impressive, particularly Kim Dickens (Boney), Patrick Fugit (Gilpin) and Tyler Perry (Bolt). Sadly Amy’s parents were cast to emotional stereotypes, and Neil Patrick Harris, though perfect as Desi, could’ve tried harder. My one real bone was Margo. Many reviewers liked her but I don’t think she was the right fit. As I read the novel I kept picturing Jennifer Carpenter from Dexter as the confused but devoted sister. I suppose after her brilliant portrayal of Debra Morgan no other screen sister will impress me.

I won’t discuss the ending here but will explore the themes in the follow-up essay. I will say that people either love the movie for its clever plot or dislike it for the themes and implications. And both views are justified.

My final take on the movie, despite its obvious strengths and weaknesses, is that the director tried too hard to make it cool. It felt a bit like clever mumblecore with a plot. Literally there were moments when I couldn’t understand the dialogue because of the bad sound mastering, but jokes aside everything felt a little underdone. The performances were just a bit too unemotional; the editing just a bit too sharp and clever; the score just a little too smug and creepy. Ten years ago we reveled in the indie revolution of understated grit and moping characters, but for a movie like this it just feels contrived. Across the board, now, the subtlety for subtlety’s sake is getting tiresome.

It’s a brilliant story and worth a view, but not as perfect as all the hype would lead you to believe. The high scores it’s garnered are a result of the shock value of the plot, which is warranted, but after that wears off the movie loses a star or two under objective reflection.

Elise Janes

The Rejectee’s Guide to Recovery

Despite the tact with which a rejecter will attempt to frame their delicate response, we all know it comes down to one simple fact: they don’t like your work. Maybe you’re not what they’re looking for right now, or the timing is wrong, or you’re simply not up to scratch, but the underlying point is that if they loved it, they’d take it, and they haven’t, so they don’t.

Rejection sucks because no matter what anyone says, it is personal.

So why not accept it? Take a moment for some well-deserved self-pity and emotional wallowing with the aid of a few practical tools. I give you the best five things to read, watch and listen to in the post-rejection wasteland:

Read

  1. The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway

The thinly veiled autobiography of writerly disillusionment offers a number of good tips for the emotionally wasted: drink absinthe in Paris, fish in the Pyrenees, drink wine in Pamplona, argue with friends, watch a bloody spectacle, run with the bulls. It’s also a nice melancholy reflection on desiring something eternally out of reach.

  • ALSO: Anything by Hemingway or Fitzgerald will have a close effect.
  1. The Motorcycle Diaries – Ernesto “Che” Guevara

A startlingly beautiful memoir of the fateful nine months a 23-year-old Guevara spent travelling South America. Between the gorgeous landscape and fascinating anecdotes, get worked up about social injustice and indigenous poverty. Let loose your vicarious desire to join a revolution and make this damn unfair world a better place.

  • ALSO: On the Road, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Less Than Zero and other romans à clef will serve a similar purpose.
  1. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

Not only is Heathcliff the best literary creation ever, you can also shelve your murderous impulses and let him take your vengeful fantasies to the extreme. Themes of obsession, possession, revenge and passionate, destructive love will make you feel righteously justified, and the gothic atmosphere will add depth to your moodiness.

  • ALSO: Jane Eyre and Rebecca for hauntings of the past; The Count of Monte Cristo for elaborately plotted revenge.
  1. The White Tiger – Aravind Adiga

Read, with growing unease, the story of Balram Halwai’s gradual corruption as he sheds his family background to transcend poverty in a heavily caste-riven society. The message is clear and discomforting, confirming your suspicions that the only way to get ahead is to cut a few corners/throats.

  • ALSO: For atmosphere: English, August by Upamanyu Chatterjee. For classic rags-to-riches: Vanity Fair and Great Expectations.
  1. Carrie – Stephen King

Whether or not you’re a fan of the King, sometimes a good horror story is just necessary. He can also weave a damn good yarn and surprisingly three-dimensional characters into the gore and strangeness. A bullied adolescent girl getting hers back is satisfying on so many levels, no matter who you are.

  • ALSO: Other violent revenge tales such as True Grit, Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado, and of course Hamlet.

Watch

  1. Empire Records (1995)

Many 90s movies showcased the quirkiness of youth and the value (or futility) of standing up to The Man. None with such colourful aplomb as Empire Records. The characters are zany, the music fantastic, the dialogue hilarious, and the embrace-your-inner-crazy-and-refuse-to-sell-out message is charmingly encouraging. It gets better with each watch.

  1. The Big Sleep (1946)

Raymond Chandler wrote crime novels that didn’t always make sense but we forgave him because he created Philip Marlowe and invented noir. Read the book as well but the 1946 movie, with Humphrey Bogart, is a standalone classic. Be encouraged by frequent double-crossings, the latent atmosphere of disillusionment and the general shittiness of people.

  1. Django Unchained (2012)

Eccentric characters, tangled plot, memorable dialogue, and unnecessary amounts of blood. Must be Tarantino. His deft mood-changes from slapstick comedy to nail-biting rage somehow pinpoint both the endearing and horrific qualities of human nature with great authenticity. No one does revenge quite like him.

  1. On the Waterfront (1954)

Corruption narratives are so cathartic when you’ve been screwed over. Nominated for 12 Oscars, the cast and crew read like a who’s who of golden-era greats. Your fists will clench at the fate of Marlon Brando’s character Terry Malloy, particularly the moment he delivers that line: I coulda been a contender! And you will think: me too, buddy. Me too.

  1. Magnolia (1999) & Crash (2004)

Both movies feature brilliantly interwoven storylines with star-spangled ensemble casts delivering pivotal performances. Dark themes abound but situations manage to resolve with surprising optimism, and without too much Hollywood contrivance. Magnolia is the less crowd-pleasing of the two, and it also has Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Listen

  1. Oasis – (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?

In this seminal album the band manage to sum up all the melancholic love, confusion and frustrated desire of every generation alive. It goes without saying that “Don’t Look Back in Anger” and “Wonderwall” should be the first on your playlist.

  1. The Darkness – Permission to Land

The best album for air-guitaring and hair-swinging to come out of the noughties. Catchy falsetto lyrics give everyone permission to sing out of tune at the top of their lungs. “Get Your Hands Off My Woman” is one of the most satisfying experiences in the universe.

  1. Ben Folds – Whatever and Ever Amen

The epitome of Ben Fold’s early work: revel in his angsty, anti-adolescent rage and insecurity with “One Angry Dwarf”, “The Battle of Who Could Care Less” and the superbly appropriate “Song for the Dumped”.

  1. Colin Hay – Going Somewhere

Leaving Men at Work far behind, his solo acoustic stuff is where Hay’s talent really shines. We have Zach Braff to thank for bringing him back into the light on Scrubs. Do not miss “Beautiful World”, an acoustic cover of “Overkill”, or “Waiting for My Real Life to Begin”.

  1. Rock of Ages Soundtrack – Various

Yeah it’s a compilation but there’s something about cheesy 80s rock that just feels so good when you’re pissed off. This collection features the full range from “We’re Not Gonna Take It” to “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” and “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”.

So after enjoying the vicarious fulfillment of your emotional frustrations, take a moment to reflect. All of this incredible art came from people who felt just as shitty as you at some point in their lives. And if they can make the proverbial lemonade out of rejection’s lemons, then why can’t you?

Elise Janes

Share with us! Suggest your own artistic rejection-remedy in the comments below.