Is Jack Reacher signalling a new type of action flick?

Jack Reacher Never Go BackI recently watched Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, and had high hopes because I rather liked the first one. And there’s there’s always the appeal of watching Tom Cruise; regardless of how he lives privately, he is an immensely likeable screen presence.

The first film in this series established Cruise’s broken hero Jack Reacher as an emotionally-driven righter-of-wrongs. An ex-military Robin Hood who keeps a low profile and, presumably, wrestles with his own conscience for actions he’s committed in his own life. It had a moral spine, tenuously linked to war and the mental cost of military service.

In the sequel, the military is the story, with Reacher on a conspiracy trail, trying to help wrongly-imprisoned army major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders). Like the rest of Cruise’s action films of late, the male-female dynamic is generous and deeper than your standard Bond film (admittedly not a high bar to reach, but still). This might please a lot of people who are tired of the very worn-out cliche of damsels in distress etc.

But what really struck me about the film was its focus on war. Cruise is getting older, and his character shows a similar fatigue; he’s worn down by life, but he’s also, quite simply, older. Having a moral compass can excuse Reacher’s violence, but it doesn’t make him a happier person. And nor does war create a happier nation. And is it really safe if its inhabitants live in fear?

Depending on how deeply you look into them, action films rarely transcend their limitations as popcorn flicks. The film is certainly an action flick, but rather than take the well-trodden route of proving the US’ honour in foreign affairs, Reacher questions these things.

This isn’t a highly suspenseful film; it’s not even fast-paced. We know who the bad guys are and Reacher has no real investment in the outcome. It’s not the journey to discovery that’s strongest here, it’s the acknowledgement that war has casualties long after a tour of service has ended. It seems quietly to suggest that sometimes the enemy is within.

Reacher’s nemesis in the film – ‘The Hunter’ – is, like Reacher, ex-military. At one point Reacher asks him when he got back from service, clearly recognising that he’s a damaged man who is unable to separate himself from violence. “I don’t think I ever did,” The Hunter responds.

Another line: “We hurt people.”

I talked about the insidiousness of Hollywood’s cliched Bad Guys from foreign countries over at Junkee when London Has Fallen came out. I’ve criticised American Sniper for the way it glorified the US’ presence in the Middle East and reduced Arabs to dirty, bloodthirsty enemies abroad. But the latest Reacher indicates that Hollywood might just be recognising that audiences are not necessarily seeking more of the same US versus The World narrative. While the film isn’t as good as the original, here’s hoping this instalment is the beginning of a more refreshing, thoughtful narrative when it comes to war.

Will Hollywood Ever Stop White Dudes Gunning Down Random Arab Baddies?

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Update

So I’m obviously not great at updating the website… but work has taken over and I’m not complaining. But I have strayed mainly because any content I write or produce I tend to let live on the website I did it for, rather than simply repost here. Meaning, I haven’t done anything solely for the website in a while. I’d say this is primarily because I’m not always sure what Three Quarters Full is about… but I suppose that’s what makes it mine.

In any case, I’m going to recalibrate and bring you up to speed.

I’m knee-deep in books on spirituality, mysticism and real life stuff. I’m going to try to get into a novel again soon. But I seem to be increasingly leaning towards non-fiction. On that note, I have to say that I quite enjoyed actress/comedian Lauren Weedman’s  Miss Fortune: Fresh Perspectives on Having It All from Someone Who Is Not Okay. Before that I read Leah Remini’s
Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology. I find the scientology stuff pretty interesting.

But it’s not all Hollywood. I also dove into Raja Shehadeh’s Language of War, Language of Peace: Palestine, Israel and the Search for Justice. Beautifully written – it’s bursting with emotion even though it’s as much about politics as daily life. I highly recommend it.

Here is a segment I did for ABC RN’s Life Matters program recently – part of an ongoing migrant series I’m doing there between producing on the show.

Alissar Gazal in her kitchen, where she cooked up a storm while sharing stories about her life and connection to the kitchen

Alissar Gazal in her kitchen, where she cooked up a storm while sharing stories about her life and connection to the kitchen

I’m also writing for SBS Life – this is a feature I wrote after reading a provocative update by Ophelia Haragli on Facebook. She runs My Sisters Keeper, and as a cancer sufferer, has a lot to share on living with cancer, and how feel-good campaigns can affect people when they’re unwell.

And for Junkee, I wrote this screed on Hollywood’s tendency to take inspiration from, and exploit, real-world geo-politics in its stories.

Amy review

Fame seems to have lost its elusiveness in recent times. As the swarm of reality TV shows engulfs us, it’s easy to think that being well-known has lost some of its lustre – not because being famous isn’t a lucrative deal, but rather, because it’s ubiquitous.

Then you watch Amy, Asif Kapadia’s documentary on the short life of jazz singer Amy Winehouse, and realise that there is celebrity… and there is celebrity. Perhaps one of the most interesting revelations of this moving documentary is that celebrity can still be a cruel – and in some cases, unwanted – outcome.

It’s an undeniably sad portrait of a woman whose talent and natural goodness were burdened by buried grief. A child of divorced parents, Winehouse appears a long-troubled figure, who longs for male approval – starting with her estranged father.

It’s a good film. You won’t be bored. But it’s also hopeless. There is no happy ending to be found in the two-plus hours of what is essentially a young woman’s gradual but sure downfall. And this is what makes it harrowing and heartbreaking.

It’s clear that Amy is looking to point fingers, and it’s a point on which the alleged culprits have taken the makers to task. More specifically, Winehouse’s ‘great love’, Blake Fielder Civil, who broke her heart a couple of times; and Winehouse’s father, who seems to reappear when she becomes famous.

Sure, they’re not sympathetic characters. They don’t redeem themselves in their interviews; the footage of them throughout does too much damage. Certainly, they were cognisant of Winehouse’s instability and inability to stay away from alcohol and drugs. At one point, a doctor soberly explains that Winehouse’s alcohol and drug abuse, in combination with years of bulimia, placed extreme pressure on her body. Ticking time bomb, if you will.

But it’s also a bit simplistic to suggest these “bad guys” are the cause. Like any manifestation of depression, drug abuse and alcoholism (Winehouse succumbed to all three), I would argue that they are symptoms. Like I said, they’re not likeable, but Winehouse must also be recognised as the ultimate owner of her fate. She was, clearly, someone who was not comfortable with fame, more than once declaring that the idea of it frightened her, and that it would destroy her. You believe her when she says she just likes to sing jazz, particularly in front of an intimate audience, rather than a stadium of screaming fans.

But perhaps the key revelation in this film is not that she had an ex-manager and childhood friends who genuinely tried to help her or that she had her once estranged father and a troublesome boyfriend then husband who led her down much darker pathways. It’s when a childhood friend Juliette recounts a sober Winehouse telling her post-Grammys victory that being sober isn’t fun. It’s not a lighthearted moment. It’s one steeped in agonising desperation.

Here is a woman who never asked for fame, but her ridiculous amount of talent got her bundles of it anyway. And an already lost person diminished further into her tiny frame. At one point she seems truly not to live but to exist; a shell of a human, seeking refuge in others.

Which brings me to the other major villain in this tragedy – the media. They were, it appears, quick to celebrate her voice and talent but just as fast to mock Winehouse at her most vulnerable. There’s no denying that they bombarded her. The footage is disturbing – Winehouse, looking a wreck, couldn’t walk down the street without being pounded by the loud demands and blinding flashes of a bloodthirsty media pack. It’s shameful and sad.

Once again, though, it’s but one factor of an increasingly grim whole. Winehouse needed more than rehab. And while there is its share of loving “good guys”, including devoted music producer Salaam Remi and good friend Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def), they weren’t enough to save someone who seemed at odds with her earthly existence.

Amy is out on July 2.

The Age of Adaline review


Synopsis:

Blake Lively is Adaline Bowman, a beautiful young woman who ceases to age after a mysterious near-fatal accident. For almost eight decades, immune to the ravages of time while others grow old, Adaline leads a solitary life, never allowing herself to get close to anyone who might reveal her secret. But a chance encounter with charismatic philanthropist, Ellis Jones, reawakens her passion for life and love. When a weekend with his parents threatens to uncover the truth, Adaline makes a decision that will change her life forever.

—–

You can tell from the trailer that The Age of Adaline is a sumptuous feast for the eyes, not only because of its beautiful cast, but also the beauty of the settings. It hints at, rather than delves into, different eras. This is the world through vintage, rose-tinted glasses. It is aesthetically pleasing in even its darkest moments, which is strange for a film that is meant to reproach the human obsession with eternal beauty and youth.

The film’s director, Lee Toland Krieger (The Vicious Kind, and Celeste and Jesse Forever) said the screenplay resonated with him because of its essential theme of life’s cycles and the process of ageing.

“I had never read anything that focused on the beauty of growing old. The world we live in is so consumed with youth and vanity. I thought this was a very touching idea.”

It is certainly sentimental, and posits the idea that eternal youth isn’t as enticing a prospect as enjoying the natural cycles of life.

Yet, the film seems also to be a celebration of literal beauty – Lively’s in particular – and indeed that “special” kind of woman who is not your everyday kind of girl. She turns heads, no matter what decade she lives in. As I watched, captivated by Lively’s stunning presence, her amazing wardrobe, and her hair, the latter of which deserves a screen credit of its own, all I could think was: This should be called The Beauty of Blake Lively, not The Age of Adaline.

I like stories that incorporate magical realism, but it seems the most interesting part of Adaline’s transformation would be that she sees decades of existence. We are only treated to mere glimpses of these. This is not a journey but the culmination of decades of living like a hermit. We don’t see it so much as get told the difficulty of such an experience through a jarring narration, and a strange mother/daughter dynamic – Ellen Burstyn playing a youthful elderly daughter to Lively’s hardened and wooden centenarian.

On that point, it’s worth noting the entrance of Harrison Ford, who delivers a strong performance as a man ravaged by lost love, and Game of Thrones’ Michiel Huisman as Ellis, the (current) love interest of Adaline, also delivers a charismatic performance as the infatuated suitor.

Perhaps it’s that we live in such dark times that films succeed the most when they are truly escapist, but even then, the better ones are fun, silly and far from reality. The Age of Adaline, while beautiful in picture, doesn’t really say much at all, and we don’t really get to have fun while Adaline tries to work her way out of a hermit-like existence.

 

The reviews begin

I have to share a couple of thoughtful reviews of my new book, This Is How You Get Better.

From Sajjeling:

“As Awad guides you through the tale of misplaced lust, mild despair and evident self-loathing you emerge with an appreciation for the simplicity of a drama-free life and the things that have gone right, whilst being reminded that even the poorest of life choices can offer the opportunity for the greatest growth.”

Full review here.

From samreads:

“Amal Awad is a writer of characters. She makes them whole. She makes them vulnerable. She makes you care. She writes about emotional angst, confusion and the big questions of life in a simple and realistic style.”

Full review here.

 

American Sniper

Like many, I have read about the effect American Sniper has had on people – on one side, the “right-wing”, “U-S-A!!! U-S-A!!!” mob, who I have no doubt felt their juices flowing throughout as the Arabs were pounded into oblivion (it’s that kind of film); on the other side, the “left wing” contingent who thinks it’s irresponsible to provoke more backlash against Arabs by portraying them as “evil” and absent of any humanity and complexity in a movie about, of all things, the complex effects of war.

I wondered if, maybe, it was just that Clint Eastwood had inadvertently given the haters material to work with. After all, he can’t be responsible for how people perceive his work. Years ago, a film called The Siege caused uproar and was riddled with accusations of racism. While I don’t think the movie does much to dispel the “Arabs must be feared” trope we so often see, it tries to. It actually does have a point (even though by the time the film gets to it, you probably don’t care).

And this is the thing about American Sniper – by the end of the film, you are asked to feel very deeply about the loss of every American life, but you are not given any reason to care about the people on the other end of the conflict.

It’s completely one-sided. There is a total absence of humanity on the part of the Iraqis. There are glimpses – very brief moments – where Bradley Cooper’s Chris Kyle is clearly torn, feeling remorse or something, because he frowns and looks sad. He’s got feelings, at least. But you can’t actually watch this movie and care about the Iraqis, so it seems a flimsy attempt to suggest war has a cost on the mind and soul.

Seriously. It was like a video game. Pew! Pew! Killing the dirty, dark, sinister Arabs.

They were constantly referred to as savages, motherf***ers, and evil, and very little was done to address this hatred, this easy dismissal of anyone who wasn’t an American. There was zero insight into who the Iraqis were, and how they perceived the invasion by American soldiers. The Iraqi sniper whom Chris is determined to snuff out doesn’t even speak. He is portrayed simply and purely as a dark shadow of evil. Not even his personal history as an Olympic champion works in his favour. It seems almost like a nod to “what might have been”. Eastwood is saying, “See? This guy should have stuck to sports.”

However, we are offered the soldiers’ perspectives. The movie is drenched in the sadness and fear and the momentary gungho “f**k yeahs!” you often see in military movies.

Bradley Cooper says that it was meant to be a study of the soldier and the cost of war on them and their families. You certainly get that, and you’re allowed to feel for these angry, aggressive, hate-filled men hating their time in the Middle East where “the dirt tastes like dog s**t”.

Yep. Even the Middle Eastern dirt tastes bad.

Notes on storytelling

More specifically, this is a summary of the advice two This American Life (TAL) producers – Brian Reed and Miki Meek – provided in a keynote. I wish I could share notes from the much-touted Masterclass at Pause Fest, but it was in the keynote that the most important lessons were imparted.

I’m a fan of TAL, introduced to it in my screenwriting course at AFTRS a while back. It has helped me re-orient my viewpoints on storytelling, and has gently nudged me towards thinking bigger and more creatively about how to capture the audience’s interest and hold their attention. In other words, you don’t need print or visual mediums to keep people interested in the story. Audio can be an extremely powerful way of telling a tale.

TAL is a well-oiled machine, with 13 staffers, and as I discovered in the keynote, a very long-term approach to stories because it’s considered long-form storytelling. They will do lengthy interviews (up to seven hours if necessary); they chase a lot of stories that are abandoned when they’re not “enough”; and they have some key points that have to be ticked off to make a story viable.

  • Characters – a likeable character who has had something interesting happen to him/her
  • Action & surprise – the good character isn’t enough
  • Move it beyond an anecdote by making it reflective – it’s as simple as asking the interviewee how a formative event made them feel
  • Stakes – this is a big one, and the point I felt I needed to reinforce in my own mind. I love interviewing interesting people and hearing their stories. But it’s not enough to make compelling storytelling. What is at stake for this person? What do they want? Will they get it? Just like the classic hero’s journey, you want the audience to invest in the person’s outcome, regardless of whether or not they agree with it. Basically, raise a question.
  • Make sure you’re not getting caught up in the personality of the interviewee without imparting information
  • Go in with a strategy and plan ahead – but leave room for moments of surprise
  • Apparently, Ira Glass’ advice to his staff is – and I’m paraphrasing here – every interview has to be like a party for the interviewee. In other words, depending on the subject matter, it’s probably not much fun unpacking events to a reporter, so make it worthwhile

 

Time for tea

Like every self-respecting journalist, I have a vice, and it’s generally caffeine (and you can probably include sugar, too). But, and this is the truth, I know I need to curb the addiction. So lately, despite going from a three-quarter full coffee to a piccolo size, I’ve been gravitating towards tea. And there is certainly no shortage of them. The supermarket aisle is bursting with options, and there are dedicated stores dispensing every kind of tea you can imagine. I particularly love the range at Perfect Potion – lots of soothing blends.

So I was interested in a new line of teas by naturopath Mim Beim, called Beaming with Health Herbal Tea. The range seems to address common issues relating to digestion, anxiety, colds, low energy and so on. I wanted to ask Mim about the healing qualities if herbal tea, and address the scepticism you often come across when products claim to target certain conditions. (Think supplements and vitamins, etc).

Hope you enjoy the Q&A I did with Mim – even if you don’t subscribe to naturopathy (I can’t say I do!), I would give these lovely teas a try.

Mim Beim

Why is tea so good for our health?
It is important for good health, let alone glowing skin to be well hydrated. Herbal tea is the perfect alternative to soft drinks, alcohol or coffee. Herbal tea is not only and excellent way to fulfil the fluid quota in your day, but they are also medicinal. For instance peppermint tea helps with bloating and flatulence, chamomile helps relax your nervous system and the sweetly delicious liquorice tea helps restore flagging adrenal glands while  ginger is excellent for improving circulation and as an anti-inflammatory.

Nighty Night tea

Nighty Night tea

What differentiates your tea from other teas on the market?
Beaming with Health herbal teas are blends that are made from medicinal herbs that are predominantly grown organically in Australia. The blends are based on over 25 years of my clinical practice. The big difference with my medicinal blends is that not only are these teas good for you, they taste amazing. This is so important for patient compliance. No matter how good something is for you, no one is going to drink 3 cups of something that tastes awful.

How has naturopathy influenced your tea products?
I created the Beaming with Health blends in order to complement my naturopathic practice.  For each patient, in addition to dietary changes, and if necessary herbal tinctures or nutritional supplements I find recommending a herbal tea is a nice way to add to the treatment without being another tablet.  Drinking herbal teas is a way of bringing medicine into the day to day.  Because they taste so good, they can be enjoyed anytime of day, before meals or before bed.

A lot of people I know are skeptical about things that claim to be for a specific ailment. For example, tea that is good for stress, etc. How do you feel about that?
Herbs are mankind’s oldest medicine. There are more and more studies that back up the long history of the therapeutic benefits of herbs. Every culture has a history of using herbs and particularly herbal teas as medicine. Herbal teas may not be as strong as a herbal tincture or tablet, and for this reason are often recommended as an adjunct to a treatment plan. And as they are more gentle, can be enjoyed by all ages.

On average, how much tea is suitable for daily consumption?
The general recommendation is three (3) cups of a particular herbal blend daily to see therapeutic effects. It depends on the health condition. Something like reflux will respond almost immediately to a cup of Settle Petal, where as a skin condition such as eczema may take a few weeks to improve. Herbal tea can be enjoyed at any time, hot or cold and can be a large part of your fluid intake. You can’t really overdo it.

What is important to know about drinking teas that address bodily functions? E.g. water intake.
All herbal teas will add to fluid intake and will help the kidneys flush out bodily wastes and toxins.   Depending on the herb, this will determine what part of the body will benefit. For instance Dandelion Root is very good for liver function, calendula helps the lymphatic system and Echinacea helps your immune system.

Where can we find your teas?
My teas are available from www.beamingwithhealth.com.au

Beaming with Health tea by Mim Beim

My Ramadan documentaries

So for the last few weeks, I’ve been in the thick of some amazing work at the ABC for Sunday Nights’ The Good Life. I’ve been working on four segments, which are more like documentaries, about Ramadan – well, the experience of it.

I’m a big fan of This American Life (like so many others, no doubt). It’s great storytelling, and what really strikes me about it is how unexpected, unusual and downright quirky many of the stories are. And it’s all happening in the real world, not the pages of a fictional book.

So I gave myself a primary objective: this needed to be an exploration that dug deep and brought out the gems. The stuff of Ramadan that no one really talks about in depth, or at least, in a documentary style.

The first two pieces have aired and are online now and on the Sunday Nights podcast:

Ramadan and the ‘moonsighting wars’

Good sport in Ramadan

Two more to go. This Sunday night’s one I am especially excited about. Lots of funny stories and an evening somewhere a little different.