Book Launch – ‘Breath’ by Tim Winton

28 May, 2008

Book Launch – ‘Breath’ by Tim Winton

Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne, 15 May, 2008

Previous book launches I’ve attended have been the literary equivalent of watching a band play at the local pub. The launch of Winton’s Breath on the other hand, was more akin to a U2 stadium spectacular – big and impressive, but not particularly intimate.

The place was packed to the rafters by Tim’s adoring fans, including more than a smattering of CAE PWE students. The launch was sponsored by Readings, who charged people a fairly hefty $10 per ticket for the privilege of having something sold to them.

Despite likening to ordeal to being subjected to ‘a ball-bearing enema’, Winton was an engaging and generally entertaining speaker.

A large portion of his one hour set was taken up by readings from his book. The theatre was funeral-silent as Tim read out some appropriate passages – enough to give a flavour for the book and characters without spoiling the plot. Tim’s reading was full of pauses and inflections – and noticeably at a different rhythm to my own prior reading of those passages.

Winton provided a broad outline of the plot and descriptions of the main characters and gave some background information about the writing of the book, and his take on the underlying themes and subtext. It was interesting to note that he doesn’t fully understand the themes of his books, even long after they’re finished. His view on these changes as he gets older and more reflective.

Question time was a highlight. The house lights came on, and Winton was genuinely surprised to discover that there were not one, not two, but three levels of fans hanging on his every word.

The MC reminded the audience that Tim was seeking questions and not comments. I’d never heard this before, but it made sense for this type of forum. Happily, the audience complied, and there were plenty of interesting questions without the microphone-hogging monologues that you often get at these gigs.

We learnt that Tim works hard on new writing for around four hours each morning – he’s ‘rubbish’ after about 1pm, so he uses to afternoon for other tasks related to the business of writing. He generally has a few things on the go; this was particularly the case when he was a younger writer struggling to make ends. He had to keep churning out the work, so moved from piece to piece when he became stuck.

We also learnt that although there are elements of Tim in his writing and characters, this is generally via descriptions of the landscapes of his youth, and his feelings in general. The main details of character and plot in the book are made up. He prides himself on being a story-teller.

Afterwards, Tim obliged his fans with a book signing. The queue snaked through the theatre, out the door, and halfway to Swanson Street. Pre-signed copies were available for purchase. A friend got mine signed and asked Tim for some advice for aspiring writers – it was “don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

Onya Tim.

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My Top 5 Concerts Ever

24 May, 2008

This is my 200th post – thought I’d put in a bit more effort than usual.

In the spirit of the great John Cusack movie High Fidelity, here’s a list of the best five gigs I’ve ever attended.

Let me know your own top five.

Green Day, Bullet in a Bible tour, Telstra Dome, Melbourne, December, 2005

My daughter Beks and I were frantic with excitement in the weeks leading up to this gig. Me being a Green Day fan from way back, and her being a recent convert, we gave the Bullet in a Bible CD a massive workover in anticipation. The concert was my Christmas present to Beks that year and judging by her screams, I think she was pretty happy with it.

Wakes came along too, and she had a neat time, apart from us giving her grief about being the only person in the whole stadium that refused to participate in any of the usual lame crowd participation exercises. “After me, 1…2…1,2,3,4”

As usual for a stadium gig, the acoustics were crappy and not loud enough (I wanted my ears to bleed, dammit) and we were sitting in the gods (Beks was a bit too young for the mosh pit – next time GD come to Oz we’re definitely going to be down in the fun zone) – but the boys put on a memorable show nonetheless. Pretty impressive given it was the last leg of a gruelling tour for them.

Hurry back boys.

AC/DC & Angels, Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne, February, 1981

Me and my High School buddy Paul Kelly took our pimply 17 year-old faces to the Myer Music Bowl to experience the raw power and energy of AC/DC, backed up by the magnificent Angels.

Doc Neeson and the boys wound up the crowd with a massive set of their favourite tunes (personally I thought they were better than accadacca), then out came AC/DC, fronted by Brian Johnson, Bon Scott having died the year before. (I just looked it up – did you know Bon Scott was christened Ronald Belford Scott. Belford???)

The concert was memorable not only for Angus Young’s endless power riffs, but also for the crowd carnage that night. It seemed as everyone in Melbourne under 40 years old was at the Bowl that night, ripping out trees, brawling, vomiting, pissing in people’s lawns and keeping the nearby hospital patients awake. The Sun newspaper had a field day with its usual indignant outrage. Paul and I refrained from any hooliganism of course (the only goody goodies there that night).

Fuck it was fun.

U2, Unforgettable Fire tour, Melbourne Sports & Entertainment Centre, September, 1984

I’m not sure if this was U2’s first visit to Australia but I know I only bought a ticket on the strength of ‘New Years Day’ which I loved at the time and still think is a cracker of a song.

I wasn’t expecting that much from U2, and I always found the MSEC a shithouse venue, so when Bono came walzing out and almost physically grabbed the crowd by the scruff of the neck and DEMANDED they get out of their seats, I was blown away.

You know what it’s usually like at those venues. If someone stands up and starts to dance, the middle-aged farts sitting behind them ’tisk’ and tap them on the shoulder and tell them to sit down. Not at this gig. Bono urged the crowd to GET UP! GET UP! GET UP! until everyone was on their feet, having a grouse time. Even the middle aged farts.

It shits me that I can’t get anywhere near a U2 ticket now.

Neil Young, Festival Hall, Melbourne, July, 1985

Details are a bit sketchy. A whole crew of us met up in a pub in North Melbourne and had copious quantities of beer beforehand. Lurch was definitely there. And Baz Boy. People around us were smoking funny smelling cigarettes. (I tried not to inhale). I think someone had a hip flask.

I do remember being absolutely in awe of seeing the great man, Neil Young on stage. One of my great buddies, Lurch was a lifelong fan, responsible for brainwashing the rest of us younger ones. Live Rust was played at every party, every night, every morning after. (Lurch also had a thing for Stevie Nicks, but that’s another story).

I remember The Needle and the Damage Done. I remember Cinnamon Girl. I remember Cortez the Killer. And check out the last 4 songs of the night (a lazy 28 song play list on the night, how’s that for value?):

  • Hey Hey, My My
  • Tonight’s The Night
  • Like A Hurricane
  • Powderfinger

Check out the full play list – AWESOME!

Neil Young, you rock.

Violent Femmes, The Palace, Melbourne, August, 1990

“It’s one, one, one for the money…”

I think I was a bit pished at this gig as well. What I do remember is that the Femmes really turned it on.And lots of crowd surfing and mosh-pit action.

Oh, and the crowd were really, really weird (at least for a normal suburban guy like me).

You know, piercings, gelled hair, tats, that type of thing.

Over to you readers. Did you go to any of these gigs? Have you been to better ones?


Movie Review – The Black Balloon

24 March, 2008

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Thomas Mollison (Rhys Wakefield) is a sensitive adolescent, constantly changing schools as his regular Army father Simon (Erik Thompson) moves from base to base. Making life especially difficult for the Mollisons is Thomas’ autistic brother, Charlie, brilliantly played by Luke Ford. Charlie is a handful at the best of times, demanding constant attention and unable to communicate except via grunting and rudimentary signing.

Toni Collette is great (yet again) as the dynamic mother, Maggie Mollison. She displays endless love and patience for Charlie, and an amazing amount of energy, despite being heavily pregnant with a third child. Maggie and Simon are philosophical as to their ‘burden’ – ‘your mother thinks we got Charlie because we’re strong enough to cope’ – however Thomas struggles to deal with the attention that Charlie demands and receives from all in the family.

I enjoyed the scenes of Thomas’ life at his new school – those tight Warrick Capper uniform shorts brought back some embarrassing memories as did the bathers that Thomas is loaned on his first day at the pool. Despite being significantly less cool than the other boys at his school, and having his credibility ruined by having a ‘spazzo’ for a brother, Thomas manages to woo the lovely Jackie Masters (Gemma Ward), who provides a nice counterpoint to the insensitive bullying of Thomas’ other classmates.

Director/writer Elissa Down draws on her own personal experiences (she has two autistic brothers), and manages to perfectly capture the humour, love, despair, and challenges of living with an autistic person. There were a couple of particularly powerful scenes – the aftermath of Charles being left on his own; and Thomas’ disastrous 16th birthday party, to name a few – and a few very funny scenes.

The Black Balloon scores 4 stars and some big thumbs up for all of the cast.


Movie Review – Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

22 March, 2008

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The title of the movie is taken from an Irish toast, ‘May you have food and raiment, a soft pillow for your head; may you be 40 years in heaven, before the devil knows you’re dead.’

Directed by 83 year old master, Sidney Lumet (Serpico, Network, Dog Day Afternoon), ‘Devil’ is a gripping and moving cinema experience. Two brothers, Andy and Hank Hanson, need money, and fast. The manipulative Andy comes up with a plan for Hank to rob the jewellery store owned by their elderly parents, however the devil is in the detail, and things quickly go wrong, with disastrous consequences.

Lumet makes great use of chronological jumps backwards and forwards in time, and shows the same scenes from various characters’ points of view, to slowly provide the audience with more and more information about the story. Sort of like Memento, but a bit easier to follow.

The cast are brilliant – Philip Seymour Hoffman seems a strange choice as the bitter and twisted Andy, though he pulls it off well (and gets to enjoy one of his rare on-screen pants-off moments – not a pretty sight); Ethan Hawke is perfect as the bumbling and downtrodden Hank; Marisa Tomei provides a nice balance as Andy’s unsatisfied wife Gina (her pants-off moments make much better viewing); and Albert Finney is convincing as Charles Hanson, the patriarch of the family. The stars feed off each other expertly, and bring newcomer Kelly Masterton’s excellent script to life.

Only a couple of criticisms: I thought a couple of Hoffman’s scenes were a bit overplayed, and the ending was a little unsatisfying, but overall, ‘Devil’ was an entertaining film and earns 4 stars.

The movie was also memorable for the complete stranger who sat next to me and peppered me with movie questions and commentary before and after the film. A strange dude indeed. Wakes thought he had a thing for me. Methinks chemicals played some role in his strangeness…


Movie Review – There Will Be Blood

3 March, 2008

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Yes, there was blood. There was also:

  • Plenty of oil;
  • Some fine acting from Daniel Day-Lewis, intersperced with a few over-indulgent scenes;
  • Some pretty crappy fonts in the opening and closing credits;
  • An annoying soundtrack;
  • No female characters of any substance;
  • A running time that was 45 minutes too long

A disappointed 3 stars from this reviewer.

PS – is it just me, or is DD-L a dead ringer for Magnum PI?

there-will-be-blood.jpg Daniel Day-Lewis

magnum-pi.jpg Magnum PI


The new David Stratton

24 February, 2008

SBS Move Show

I’ve been submitting most of my movie reviews to the SBS Movie Show site. It’s good practice, and every now and then I win one of their weekly prizes.

I was pretty chuffed to be their ‘Featured Reviewer’ earlier in the week, and at the moment my review of 3:10 to Yuma is the Editor’s Pick on the home page.

Over the past few months I’ve received a few accolades including Review of the Week, Most Informative and Most Humourous.

But the one I’m most proud of is Best Use of a Superlative.

That has got to be the greatest compliment I’ve ever received. And the most unexpected. And probably the most unwarranted.

I just wish I knew which of my superlatives was the most impressive.


Movie Review – Juno

1 February, 2008

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Juno is a brilliantly made and highly entertaining film, and thoroughly deserves its 4 Oscar nominations.

Ellen Page is terrific as Juno McDuff, a fiesty 16 year-old who falls pregnant to the dorky Bleeker (Michael Cera). She decides to have the baby and put it up for adoption rather than take the seemingly easier abortion route taken by some of her high school peers.

Juno’s parents (played by JK Simmons and Allison Janney) are wonderfully idiosyncratic, and resignedly support Juno through her decision and subsequent search for a pair of appropriate adoptive parents for her child.

Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman play the adoptive parents-to-be, Vanessa and Mark, with warmth and sensitivity; Garner in particular is a revalation and her scene with Juno in a shopping mall is pure cinema magic. Go on, I dare you not to cry.

The script is quirky; at times humourous and at times touchingly sad.

Juno is a feel-good movie even though the underlying themes of teenage pregnancy and adult infertility are anything but the usual feel-good material. Some people will no doubt be critical of the shallow treatment given to the pro’s and con’s of Juno’s decision and the absence of any subsequent soul-searching on her behalf. Similarly, the lack of parental input into Juno’s life-defining decision is a little hard to swallow.

But there are plenty of movies out there exploring those type of themes in depth. Juno is what it is, and it does what it does brilliantly. And if the crowds of teenagers rustling their lolly wrappers in my ear throughout the movie are any indication, its target market thinks so too.

Bravo.