I set myself the task of reading all of the books that were long-listed for the Stellar prize this year, and this one was, for me, the most difficult. Firstly, it’s non-fiction, and I’m not a lover of non-fiction writing. It’s just not my jam – I often enjoy it, but if I’m going to be reading, I really love reading me some fiction. Secondly, it’s really hard subject matter. Living in Australia today means living in a country that treats a lot of people badly, and asylum seekers, especially if they arrive by boat, are amongst the worst. If you don’t believe it, read this book.
I’m glad I read it. It summarises what happened to have government policy create these offshore camps, what appalling conditions existed, the number of attempts to show how bad it was and the way the government refused to admit any error. One day, there will be an official apology to the people who were on these islands – and maybe to the staff as well – but not for decades. For now, both still house asylum seekers.
Set in the small Irish town of Mountfern in the early sixties, Firefly Summer follows the life of the townsfolk as they come to terms with the big American Patrick O’Neill, who has come back to the town of his forefathers to restore the old estate into a large Hotel. In particular, it’s about the Ryan family who run the nearest pub to the site and how they deal with the potential effects that it will have on their lives.
Maeve Binchy was such a go to in my teenage years. She creates these worlds where you get to go and live for a while, these characters that you love and become invested in. Her first two novels, Light a Penny Candle and Echoes will probably always be my favourites, but this is up there. I’m not sure if I’d have liked it as much if I read it now without my prior love of the book, but it was a great trip down memory lane to reread it.
There are some films that I really think don’t need to be made – and I guess what I mean by that is that there are people who can be really fabulously clever and funny, and it’s disappointing when you see something that is less than great from them. Masterminds is one of those films. It’s a ridiculous film based on a real story. Though surely the real story is not so absurd.
Zach Galifanakis stars as David Ghantt, a man with a terrible haircut, not much brainpower and who works for an armoured car company. Engaged to the strangely insane Jandice (Kate McKinnon), he is briefly partnered with a woman who he develops a deep crush on, Kelly (Kristen Wiig). So when she, after leaving the job, decides to convince him to rob a van, he goes happily along to do this, in the stupidest possible way, with his unknown sidekicks lead by Steve(Owen Wilson).
There’s some humour here. Silly, bad hair, spider eating humour. But really, it’s a dud. It’s like this is a script that should have been workshopped a lot more, perhaps something could have been made of it. Instead, it’s a bit of silly fun that is several levels below what most of the cast can do, and it was really disappointing.
Linda (Frances McDormand) and Chad work at Hard Bodies Gym in Washington DC and have a disc with what appears to be sensitive security information and decide to return it to the owner, Osborne Cox (John Malcovich), an analyst recently forced into retirement. However, Cox has a short fuse and having been booted out by his wife Katie (Tilda Swinton), he won’t tolerate this. Then there is Harry (George Clooney) who is having an affair with Katie, and then also with Linda but is married to Sandy (Elizabeth Marvel), and Ted (Richard Jenkins) who is love with Linda. And then the Russians are brought in, and the whole ‘cluster fuck’ is being overseen by a mysterious CIA figure played by JK Simmons. And being a Coen brothers production, it’s fabulous.
There are Coen brother films that are amazing (No Country for Old Men, The Man Who Wasn’t There) and Coen brother films that are weird (Barton Fink, A Serious Man, ) and there are Coen brother films that are hilarious (Fargo, O Brother Where Art Thou?, The Big Lebowski). That’s probably simplifying it too much, but it seems to be the way I sort them in my brain – and the fact that they can do so many films across different genres and I love them all (or, at the very least, appreciate them all) is fabulous for me. Burn After Reading is a ridiculous film, for me in the hilarious basket. It’s pretty much my favourite ever Brad Pitt performance, and I just love all the weirdness, like Harry’s present in the basement (what?) or the amount of carrots cut up. Too good. Not for everyone, but certainly for me.
Burn After Reading was nominated for Golden Globes for Best Motion Picutre – Comedy or Musical and Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picutre – Comedy or Musical (Frances McDormand), and for a BAFTA for Best Screenplay – Original (Joel and Ethan Coen).
Most people who live in the world with news services and the like will have heard of Edward Snowden. He’s the guy who worked for the US government and blew the whistle on the mass surveillance in place of all Americans – and indeed, kind of the whole world. This is the biopic of him. And it’s quite beautiful.
Snowden is played by Joseph Gordon- Levitt and Shailene Woodley plays Snowden’s girlfriend, Lindsay Mills. I know that every film has to choose what they put in and what they leave out, but when the role of the girlfriend is to be sweet when falling in love and then to nag, nag, nag, it’s just not a great role. What’s more, the concept of the film is that Snowden creates and/or discovers the way different technology is being used against ‘the people’. But, in real life, I doubt things would have been explained in such simple terms. It made me think that this film is a very polite and nice version of what happened – and I don’t feel much closer to the truth. If I ever will be.
Having to go to ground after the events of the first film, the four horsemen are toey. These guys are performers, they need an audience. Well no Isla Fisher’s character – she’s not in this film. Anyhow, they (Jesse Eisenberg as Atlas, Woody Harrelson as McKinney, Dave Franco as Wilder and joined by Lizzy Caplan as Lula) come back, with the help of Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), but there is a new player in the game – Walt Wabry (Daniel Radcliffe) a millionaire eccentric who loves magic. Now Bradley (Morgan Freeman) and Tressler (Michael Caine) also need to come back, and we have a lot of fun. Big magic, big tricks, no idea about what’s going on and then BAM things get fun. It’s ace in the same way the first one is ace. I doubt they’ll make another, but I kinda hope they will.
Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr) is the unreliable narrator in this complex and hilarious mystery film. He is a thief who accidentally stumbles into an audition and is flown out to Hollywood to prepare for a role. His agent, Dabney Shaw (Larry Miller) even arranges for him to work with private eye Gay Perry (Val Kilmer) on a case to prepare – and there he gets entangled with actress Harmony Faith Lane (Michelle Monaghan who should be in everything – she’s fabulous), and a whole heap of other people – it’s very complex. In fact, despite having seen this film several times in the past, I was distracted watching this and had to go back to the start. Because what is the point of having a surprise plot twist if you have no idea what is happening.
I love it. It’s funny, it’s violent, it’s confusing, it’s an amazing cast and I think it is hugely underrated.