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Hitchcock a la Carte

Reviewed by Michael Dalton

After over 100 books and countless tributes written about and to Alfred Hitchcock, Jan Olsson’s Hitchcock a la Carte is a refreshing change of pace. So much has been reported on regarding the macabre director’s childhood, his battles with David O. Selznick, the notorious stories regarding his treatment of leading lady Tippi Hedren on the set of The Birds, the often copied marketing gimmick he artfully prepared for his blockbuster Psycho, and those evasive Oscars he so richly deserved (he was nominated five times and finally received the Irving G. Thalberg memorial award in 1968 as consolation). Has any other film director in history been so dissected? So much ink and so much deliberation but with little fresh insight, until now. Happily, Olsson’s superbly researched book heads off in a different direction, one sure to be of interest to fans of Hitchcock’s thrilling foray into television that resulted in Alfred Hitchcock Presents and then The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Were it not for his television presence, we might not even have Psycho. No studio would touch it so he utilised his crew from Presents to create it. It was finally the most economical move he ever made and, arguably, founded his legend. Some favour Vertigo and others Rear Window but I'll stick with that black and white nightmare.

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Cinema: Room

Reviewed by Michael Dalton

Lenny Abrahamson’s new film Room is a thing of beauty. On the surface the content, which loosely recalls the 2011 German thriller Michael by Markus Schleinzer, suggests a grueling, disturbing journey into the kind of horror few of us could imagine. The situation in this film begs such indulgence. It concerns a woman, Joy, who has been imprisoned in a room for seven years. Her captor raped her and from that came a son, Jack, who is now five years old. The child has of course never known any other life and aside from a light education from his mother, has gained all his knowledge from television. When their captor visits, Jack is confined to the wardrobe. This man refuses to look at his son, instead dropping off supplies and quietly raping Joy; she is powerless to escape as he has a digital lock on the door. So yes, the content sounds off-putting but in Abrahamson’s capable hands, he gives focus to the psychological implications rather than the potentially violent possibilities. Room is disturbing, intelligent, and deeply absorbing.

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Cinema: Carol

Reviewed by Michael Dalton

In the Christmas of 1948, aspiring writer Patricia Highsmith was working at the toy counter in Bloomingdale’s in Manhattan so she could pay for psychoanalysis. At the time she had a fiancé, Marc Brandel, a novelist. She was uncertain about their future and although she viewed homosexuality as a psychological impairment, addressing her own proclivity was never a consideration. One day a woman in mink appeared and bought a doll. She made Highsmith feel “odd and swimmy in the head, near to fainting yet at the same time uplifted”. That night she wrote an outline for the novel The Price of Salt (originally published under her pseudonym Claire Morgan). Now we know it as Carol of course and for Todd Haynes, a 1950s obsessive, it must have been manna from heaven. He’s made a beautiful film out of it. Obsessively detailed in terms of costume and architecture and featuring Cate Blanchett at her most luminous (she’s so beautiful it’s almost a distraction) and Rooney Mara at her mousiest, this is a film to get lost in and an era to long for. Carol is as much as a tribute to the time and its virtues as it is a love story.

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Cinema: The Revenant

Reviewed by Michael Dalton

If there’s one film Leonardo DiCaprio will be remembered for (and let us pause and consider his astounding filmography is one replete with extreme cursing, screaming, abusing, and suffering), it will be The Revenant, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s powerhouse epic replete with cursing, screaming, abusing, and suffering. There is simply no other film in this year’s Oscar race quite like it. Set in 1823, it tells  the story of Hugh Glass, a fur hunter who is left for dead in the unforgiving terrain of the Louisiana Purchase to battle the elements and then, fuelled by revenge, spends every last breath battling his way home to exact it. He even takes a breather inside a horse carcass for comfort. The Revenant, incredibly well made and deeply affecting, isn’t so much a film as an endurance test.

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And on That Bombshell: Inside the Madness and Genius of Top Gear

 

 

Reviewed by Mike Clarke

 

Before I agreed to review this book I did some research amongst friends and contemporaries. My question was “Given that Top Gear ran for thirteen years, how many years did you watch it?” The general consensus was that most respondents were avid watchers once they discovered the show, but over time they lost interest. That also was my initial reaction to the book by Richard Porter. 

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The Scent of Murder

 

 

Reviewed by Terrie Ferman

The Scent of Murder by Felicity Young is set in rural England in the early twentieth century prior to the First World War. It is the third novel in the Dody McCleland series. As a stand-alone read, this novel works well and I found it no disadvantage not to have read the earlier books. 

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Cinema: Daddy's Home

Reviewed by Peter Gray

It’s no surprise after the success of their breakout hit The Other Guys that stars Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg would seek out a project to reunite them.  Ferrell’s shtick is something you either embrace or reject but within the boundaries of the “family comedy" he hasn’t had much luck with dreck like Kicking and Screaming, Get Hard, and Bewitched leaving much to be desired.  Wahlberg, on the other hand, is essentially debuting in the field with his previous comic adventures – namely Ted and its sequel – geared towards adults.  Together they work off each other more effectively than expected, and while this Boxing Day "gift" Daddy’s Home is far from a top-shelf comedy, their rapport almost saves it from cinematic manslaughter. 

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Fromelles & Pozieres: In The Trenches Of Hell

 

 

Reviewed by Don Lawie

In France, during the months of July and August 1916, the battles of Fromelles and Poziѐres resulted in the deaths of 6,800 Australian soldiers plus the wounding of a further 23,000. These men were sacrificed for no gain at all at Fromelles and the capture of a small ridge at Poziѐres. Peter Fitzsimons, the prolific Australian author, tells the story of those battles in 689 indignant, regretful, prideful, blasphemous and angry pages. 

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The Saffron Road

 

Reviewed by Jill 

‘Buddhist nuns are those women whose sons are dead, who are widowed, bankrupt, in debt, and broken-hearted.’(129) runs a Burmese proverb.  Author Christine Toomey set out to learn what draws women to a monastic life, or a life closely connected with Buddhism.  The Saffron Road : a journey with Buddha's daughters is her account of travels to the lands of Buddhism’s origins and to centres in Western countries.  Along the way she met women who told of their experiences and motivations.  Some felt an insistence when very young.  Others had stepped away from satisfying, high-profile careers and family life.  That Burmese proverb in no way reflects the women who have been ordained and who tell their stories.  Life as a nun does not always run smoothly, but they overwhelmingly express joy and a positive and pragmatic approach to their lives.

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Tears of the Cheetah

 

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

 

People tell me that I expect too much of the authors whose books I read and review. It’s true that I select carefully from the great mass of reading material out there. Recent reviews have been The Dismissal by Paul Kelly and Troy Bramston, Keating by Kerry O’Brien, and Paddy Manning’s Born to Rule, an unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull. Several years ago T.M. Clark’s My Brother But One came to my attention. I did not review it because it was a story that tried too hard. Then came Shooting Butterflies that was a talkfest. I passed on that one. What I saw in these books was a growing skill that, prodigious to begin with, grew incrementally better from Book One to Book Two. Then came Tears of the Cheetah, a book that presents the flowering of T.M. Clark’s talent. More convincing than Wilbur Smith, more character sensitive than the late Bryce Courtenay, T.M. Clark is truly the genuine voice of Africa. Tears of the Cheetah is the book that grants Clark the right to claim the Oscar of the literary world. 

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