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Conversations I've Never Had

 

Reviewed by Hazel Menehira

A young Australian’s rite of passage into adulthood is revealed with poetic clarity in this aptly titled debut collection Conversations I’ve Never Had. The first section is an intimate exploration of her early years in Western Australia. The other sections cover travels made overseas to achieve her academic qualifications. Nostalgia for her homeland permeates Maling’s poems written from Cambridge and from Houston. In England she gained a master degree in criminology research. She also completed a degree in poetry in Houston after receiving an international scholarship from the WA Department of Culture.

 

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Cheerio, Don

 

Reviewed by Donald Lawie

The date is 20 January, 1940. A dairy farmer from northern New South Wales enjoys an austere 21st birthday celebration, then fills in and submits the requisite Manpower Form. Australia has been at war since the previous September and the Army is hungry for men. Don Mitchell is conscripted for service in the Militia and reluctantly goes off to serve his country. Reluctant – not because of any lack of loyalty or courage, but because his absence from the family farm will put a heavy burden of work on his aging father. Cheerio, Don relates the story of Don’s training in Australia then his subsequent active service in New Guinea. Don was a prolific letter writer; he signed off “Cheerio, Don” which gives us the title for the book. Don’s mother lovingly preserved his letters, telegrams and anything relevant to his service. Don’s niece, Susan Alley, came to live with Don when he was an old man, listened to his reminiscences, read his letters, and wrote his story. Susan has woven an intricate tapestry of the Depression era morphing into wartime, punctuated by ongoing war news and vignettes of life in rural Australia.

 

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Literary Aesthetics of Trauma

 

 

Reviewed by Sue Bond

In this densely written and complex book, Literary Aesthetics of Trauma: Virginia Woolf and Jeanette Winterson, the author seeks to ‘open up a creative new avenue for literary applications of trauma theory’ (1). Reina van der Wiel sees benefit in moving on from being trapped within traumatic experience, endlessly repeating it in artistic form, becoming stuck in Freud’s ‘remembering, repeating, and working through’ at the repeating stage, and to use British Object Relations Theory to explore symbolisation, thinking, and working through of traumatic experience instead. She argues for a shift in ‘conceptual emphasis from traumatic memory to the role of thinking within trauma’ (1) using neo-Kleinian psychoanalysis. The theoretical framework of her book is modernist, with the author arguing for the role of reason and thinking in making sense of experience, including traumatic experience (14). She also is careful to make a distinction between different writings around trauma: in this book she is concentrating on works of literature rather than narratives of trauma, as her concern is with the aesthetic transformation that distinguishes the two forms (12). The author seeks to propose an ‘alternative literary aesthetics of trauma’ based on the ‘distinction between symptom and symbol, and between repression and symbolization’ (26).

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Cinema: Big Eyes

Reviewed by Michael Dalton

I’ve been suggesting for years that Tim Burton ankle his career as a filmmaker and devote his time purely to art direction. It’s the one area where you can’t fault any of his films, even the appalling Dark Shadows looked great, and for the last decade set design, colours, and angles are all he seemed concerned with. But brace yourself because with his new film Big Eyes, Tim Burton, the intelligent, attentive, thoughtful Tim Burton, is back and he’s replaced the magic spells, fairy dust, and broken necks with intimacy, morality, and emotion. This is a beautiful, moody film, one that deserves every inch of the biggest screen you can find.

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Cinema: Inherent Vice

Reviewed by Michael Dalton

Verbose, convoluted, and often incomprehensible, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice must be the director’s most divisive film yet. His previous film, The Master, about organised religion, performed a similar feat but there was a charge to that film and the characters, performed beautifully by Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, and the late and truly great Philip Seymour Hoffman, gave the film a hook. They had little to echo, little to draw on, so they all felt like true originals, and they were hugely responsible for the groundswell of support The Master received. Even when it became complex and wayward, the trio was there for us to study and it remains an object of fascination for cinephiles. I doubt many will say the same for Anderson’s latest effort. Set in California in the 1970s, it involves a perpetually stoned detective, Phoenix once again but minus any sort of polish, searching for a missing real estate developer and then, a delectable femme, but here Anderson, who adapted Thomas Pynchon’s novel, loses his way as often as his hero. His nostalgia for the glowing, easy living attitude of the era is obvious, as is his affection for steamy noir (you may choke on the smoke), and he leaves nothing to chance, right down to the ashtrays, but was La La Land this confused?

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DVD: Two Days, One Night

Reviewed by Michael Dalton

There’s something about Marion Cotillard. A true thoroughbred, she is blessed with a near unearthly ability to inhabit her characters in such a way that we're likely to miss the transition. Unrecognisable in La Vie En Rose, menacing in The Dark Knight Rises, and melancholic in Rust and Bone, she is blessed with a face a mere twitch can transform. It doesn’t so much draw us in as it puts us next to her. She invokes empathy. In Two Days, One Night, a role that could’ve been cloying and woeful, she is desperate, fighting depression, and begging for mercy from her co-workers who have to make a difficult choice regarding her future. The title says it all. She has little time, and it is running out fast.

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Stop the Presses: How Greed, Incompetence (and the Internet) Wrecked Fairfax

 

Reviewed by Louise Pascale

Fairfax is a brand synonymous with journalism in Australia. It began with John Fairfax who at age 34 bought the Herald in Sydney in 1841. He had just been in the country two years and Sydney was just fifty years old but what he began was more than a newspaper, it was the beginning of the world’s oldest family newspaper. 

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John Constable: the making of a master


 

Reviewed by Jill

If The Hay Wain and Flatford Mill  define your concept of Constable’s work, the dust cover illustration Rain storm over the Sea will be a surprise  – bold, moody, energetic and emotional.  It is an oil sketch – and oil sketches were significant in Constable’s work.  John Constable: the making of a master has more surprises in store.  Constable and others copied the works of the Old Masters  in order to learn.  These valuable originals would be lent by their owners (no art galleries then).  Constable himself amassed a collection of artworks as good as he could afford.  Works by Constable and others, preliminary drawings and oil sketches, Old Master works and learner copies, mezzotints at various stages of development, and detail sections of finished works complement a text that is both wide-ranging and in-depth. 

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Cinema: Chappie

Reviewed by Michael Dalton

Will you ever forget your first visit to the notorious neighbourhood called District 9 where stranded extraterrestrials had set up home, right down to a brothel? The teasers of a spaceship perched above Johannesburg were just right for Neil Blomkamp’s phenomenal 2009 debut. For once, the advertising was restrained and the payoffs were immense. Then came Elysium, a nutty futuristic odyssey featuring Jodie Foster as a diabolical realtor that few wanted to revisit. Now we have Chappie, a loopy, overlong, dreadfully acted, semi-apocalyptic mess about a robot, a gang of thugs out to harness it for heists, the bot’s creator, and a tiresome villain in revealing shorts with a borderline mullet who looks as if he’s going to hunt elephants. 

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Cinema: Top Five

Reviewed by Michael Dalton

Smooth and sassy, Chris Rock’s hot new film Top Five is one of the best meditations I’ve ever seen on modern celebrity. Released last year in the States, were Oscar not so short sighted, Rock would’ve seen his zippy, thoughtful screenplay competing for gold. No, really. From start to finish this story that wrestles with a renowned comic trying to transition from stand-up comedy and a mindless franchise to serious roles while tracing his journey to sobriety, is a joyful knockout. Even when it turns sleazy, and I doubt you’ll witness a funnier orgy anytime soon, Rock, who wrote and directed, maintains an exuberant pace. Cynics might even call it a vanity project but they’d be way off. Often carefully steered to remind us of its star, they lack depth. Top Five is too smart a film for such an indulgence.

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