BIRTH DAYS

Trying something a little different today with the publication of a short story I wrote for university last year. The resulting grade of Distinction has given me the confidence to put it on the world wide web. I suspect the high mark was less for my writing and more for how I effectively displayed the power of narrative techniques. I hope though that some of you may enjoy it or see certain things in it, feel free to comment. Despite the first person narration I must point out this is a work of fiction reflecting none of my own or people that I dearly love’s experiences. It is meant to be universal in it’s appeal and themes.

Birthday

My birthday. I hate my life. It’s cold, it’s loud, it’s bright. Soft cloth envelops me tightly and I start to feel warmer. There is a clucking sound nearby that I like. The brightness flickers away and I am in darkness and warmth. That’s better I think and I sleep.

My 1st birthday

The candle glows bright at the centre of the cake. I reach out to touch it but it’s too far and Mum won’t let me lean forward. I look up at the bright fluorescent night and down at my family. Everybody is staring at me and chanting something. I want to touch the flame at the centre of the cake. It looks pretty and even from here I can feel its warmth. With all of my strength I rail against my mother’s hand and smash my fists into the cake’s edge. I never get close to the candle.

My 2nd Birthday

I am sat down in a big leather sofa on the lap of a very old man. He has a walker in the corner of the room. I’ve only been walking for about a year so I can sympathise with him if he can’t quite master it but he doesn’t seem bothered by it. He’s smiling a very big smile and after a few seconds I realise he’s smiling at me. I don’t know this guy. There’s Dad and Mum nearby and also Pa and Nanna but this guy is getting called Dad by Nanna. I point to Dad and tell Nanna that’s Dad. Everybody starts laughing but I’m not making a joke, I’m trying to help. The old guy gives me a kiss and laughs too. I don’t know why but this makes me feel good. I look up and see he has the eyes I see every time I look in the mirror…maybe that’s why. In the years to come I will never remember any of this moment. I will ask Mum all the time did “Great Grandpa like me?” The answer is right here in this moment that I will forget.

My 5th Birthday

My fifth birthday and Trevor Maybury is coming right at me with a box wrapped in cellophane. He looks a bit embarrassed because everybody is watching him. He threw a rock at me last week and now he’s here at my birthday. He hasn’t thrown a rock at me so far today and it’s already dark now. Maybe he likes me, looking at him give me the present does not fill me with confidence. Trevor’s Mum calls out to him to say happy birthday. Trevor dutifully complies and then my mother tells me to say “Thank you.” What a scam I think and Trevor seems to think so too. We share a smile.

My 8th Birthday

The night sky is awfully beautiful as I look up at the moon. I wonder if Nanna is closer to the moon now that she has died. I mean you rise up in the air like Jesus did to go to Heaven so she must be up there somewhere. Mr Thomas tells us in class that beyond the moon and stars are more stars and more stars that stretch on forever. I wonder when do you get to heaven, is it right at the end? Mr Thomas doesn’t think there is an end. Mum has been calling me and Dad comes out to get me. I don’t want to push my luck but I ask him is Nanna on the moon watching us or further away. Dad looks at me puzzled and then looks up at moon. He stares just a little too long at it in silence that I become uncomfortable. He doesn’t move and then suddenly he pats my chest, “She’s watching right here.” He tells me then lifts me over his shoulder and brings me inside.

My 14th Birthday

My head is full of Carolina, sweet Carolina with auburn hair and freckles. I’ve seen her in science class across the room. Sometimes when she turns I catch a glimpse of her bra between two buttons of her shirt. I’m a library monitor and she’s come in to grab her book. She’s looking for something in particular and has taken me to the back stack. I can smell her hair as she leans into me. My heart is beating so fast. BANG! BANG! Her ass brushes up against my groin and I can barely breath. Time stops. All that matters is the smell of that hair, the feel of her body against mine. BANG! BANG!

“If you don’t come out of the bathroom right now we’re cutting the cake without you and you’re not getting a piece.” I hear my mother on the other side of the door. Carolina and the library are gone. It’s just me in my parents’ house getting yelled at. I scream back that I don’t want the cake. Mum spent all day making it, she made the icing using butter just how I like it. She bangs the door again “How dare you speak to me like that?” I know she’s right. I can hear Dad coming. I put my pants back on and flush the toilet. I’m not going to eat the cake tonight. If I’m lucky I might get some tomorrow. I feel sorry for Mum after all the trouble she went to but thoughts drift back to Carolina. I know I’ll never get to touch her breast but I seriously wonder if I’ll ever get to touch any.

My 19th Birthday

“Stand fast.” I yell and we all jump to our feet at attention. The Corporal seems pleased as he walks into our room. Nobody was gobbing off, our gear is squared away, Tommy was ironing, Mick was polishing brass and Carl was reading the pam going over his IA Drills. The Corporal looks straight at me with that mean grin of his. I realise I’m the weak chain. I was writing a letter home to Pa. Nothing wrong with that but just not as productive to learning as the others. “What are you doing?” he asks walking over to the desk. “I was writing Corporal.”

“Writing what?”

“A letter.”

“A letter to a girlfriend? Can I read? I might be able to help you; I’m quite the Casanova you know.”

“Yes I do Corporal but I don’t have a girlfriend. It’s a letter to my Pa.”

“Your Parr. Is he back on de ranch waitin for you to help with dis ere’s crop?”

“No Corporal.”

“Are u going to tell him how your birthday here went?”

Carl inhales in surprise giving it away. I hadn’t told anybody. I wanted to be a gray man and given we’d made it to 7:02pm I figured I was safe.

The Corporal smiles even wider.

“You look nervous? Are you afraid of something?”

“No Corporal.”

He stares at me letting the silence hang.

I tilt my head towards him to meet his eyes. “Should I be Corporal?” and I muster the slightest of grins. He smiles back and walks to the doorframe.

“Make sure you tell your Pa in your letter how you did on the high ropes course. You never gave up. He’ll be proud to hear that and you better be writing to your mother too!”

“I am Corporal.”

“Happy birthday kid.”

My 20th Birthday

I see the muzzle flash in the dark and the tracer round go off. I can’t tell where the bullet lands but I’m still unhurt and I fire my rifle in response. Out of the corner of my eye Stewart has dropped to the ground and is firing. I leap up and charge forward and muzzle flashes appear all over the jungle. I fire a few rounds from the hip and land in line with Stewy. He goes to get up and I send rounds downrange straight at where I see a shadow moving. It seems to shake and go down. Did I get one?

My 23rd Birthday

I’m sitting in the test looking at the questions wondering if I have the right answer. The question seems to be asked in a way that can be interpreted both ways. I know what our readings said but the question confuses me. I studied so hard for this test. Dad says his department hires guys with this qualification all the time. I look up at the front row where Kimberley sits. I think about that time we smoked after class before my Dad picked me up. I wonder if that is why she didn’t talk to me again since I don’t have my own car. I’m going to be 23 today and I still don’t have my own license. Still live at home with my parents. I’m looking forward to the cake though with the butter icing Mum still makes for me. “Time’s up.” The tutor calls at the front. I tick the box.

My 24th Birthday

Dad and I are looking up at the moon in the backyard. I’m smoking a cigarette since Mum doesn’t like me to smoke them inside their house. Kimberley of course doesn’t mind at our place. She’s helping Mum apply the butter icing.

My 26th Birthday

“You’re really selling?” I ask him as we stand outside in the backyard.

“What do you care? Aren’t you and Kimbo looking to buy your first house? Can’t raise a baby in an apartment?” he smacks me on the back. I haven’t told him what the Doctor said. It’s still uncertain anyway and he’s right, we are looking for a house.

“We are looking but sometimes… I tell Kim about Saigon sometimes and we think about. I mean she’s always wanted to go to Antarctica.”

“Antarctica.” He repeats but there’s no hint of emotion.

“It’s like when I went to Nam I saw a bit of this big interesting world out there and now I’m filling out forms in a basement and uh I think about how I could have died and… Did you ever want to go anywhere?”

“Your mother wanted to go Paris. We talked about it when your Pa died but we’re too old son. Your mum with the arthritis, it would be too tough. But you go, you go to Antarctica.” He tells me and there is a bit of wistfulness in the expression on his face.

My 28th Birthday

Kimberley is riding me, her hips slightly rocking mine as my hands reach up and squeeze her breasts. Her skin glistens with sweat in the moonlight seeping in from the balcony. I reach one thumb down to her clit and rub. Her body starts to tense and her breathing become erratic. She’s holding my wrist guiding me while I rub with my thumb blindly. The tension builds and then releases. She collapses on top of me and smiles. “I thought it was your birthday not mine.”

My 32nd Birthday

Mum falls back into the car seat with a huff. I place her walking stick down on the ground next to the seat and lean in to do up her seatbelt. I’ve got it she protests but she loses her grip. I tell her its okay and buckle her up. I kiss Kimberley and she waves as we drive out.

“She’s really good for you.” She says staring out the window. “Like your father was for me? I hope I don’t make it too difficult.”

“You don’t make it difficult Mum.” I tell her. It’s a beautiful clear night as the wind runs through the windows and cools us down.

My 33rd Birthday

Jack sits on my lap as Kimberley lights the candles on my cake. Mum is reaching out and tickling his cheek. He laughs and my heart melts. I have a son, a wife, a family, a house, a home. The wall behind Kimberley is still not painted. Too many nights working late and too many weekends drinking beers and sleeping in. Kimberley is not impressed but she smiles now. It’s my birthday and it’s a good one.

My 37th Birthday

The phone is ringing yet again and I know I can’t afford to ignore it again. I pick it up and my wife is on the other end.

“When are you coming home now?”

“I told you I got to get this done tonight. It’s just bad timing it fell on my desk this morning.”

“It’s a quarter to seven…it’s 7:02pm. They can’t make you work that late unpaid. C’mon I think I got your mother’s recipe for the icing perfect this time.” I can hear Jack in the background.

“They can make me work back. If we want to get the loan for the extension I need this promotion and that means I got to stay back!”

“We both know you’re the only one who cares about the extension. I want you home with your family. You’ve been spending too much time at work.”

“Please don’t nag me now. I will be home soon but I got to get this done.”

Kimberley hangs up and I look around the office and wonder why it is that I was happier when I was in a jungle getting shot at on my birthday?

My 40th Birthday

As soon as I open the door Jack comes racing up to me with a piece of paper. I pick him up and lift him in the air. He’s made me a birthday card in class which he is very proud of. Kimberley smiles as I enter the kitchen. “Thought you weren’t going to make it?” and I give her a kiss. She asks me if I’ve been smoking again and I shrug and say a couple.

“We can’t all be quitters like you.” I mock tease her but I know she’s right. Lately I’ve been feeling out of breath way too much when painting the gazebo.

My 46th Birthday

I rock up to the school hall and Jack is there in his Karate outfit with the head instructor talking to him and a few of the other kids. I must be a little late but not too much. I walk up the steps confused whether it’s easier since I’ve stopped smoking or harder since I put on 5kgs after I quit smoking.

“Sensei Dan my Dad was in Vietnam too.” Jack tells him and Sensei Dan sizes me up with his eyes.

“Oh yeah which battalion?”

“3RAR.” I answer.

“I was with 6RAR. Much harder tour.”

“You were with 6 huh?”

“Yeah.”

“God you must be so old.”

One of the kids can’t help himself and snorts but my son, my loyal loving son looks mortified.

Sensei Dan just smiles and shakes my hand.

“Anytime you want to join us in class let me know Mr Cordwell. Lose some of that Christmas pudding.” He tells me and the same kids snorts again. I turn around to leave and Jack is already half way to the car.

 My 50th Birthday

“Do you think Jack is having any girls around to the house while we’re away?” Kim asks me and I shrug my shoulders reaching for my glass of wine.

“I don’t care if my son is getting lucky tonight; all I care about is whether I’m going to get lucky tonight.” I tease.

“Well put another log on the fire and let’s see where this night takes us.” She replies so I get up and go over to the fireplace. I hear her coughing behind me. It’s getting worse.

“Why don’t we go to Antarctica?”

“It’s off season now. I’ll be right in the thick of treatments when it starts up again. Besides c’mon along with the medical bills, the mortgage still has a couple of years to go and Jack is in uni.”

“You always wanted to go?”

“And I will.”

My 51st Birthday

“How’s Europe son?” I ask him and his voice comes all the way down the telephone from Europe.

“Paris is awesome Dad. I’m going to celebrate your birthday when I get back next week.”

“Don’t worry about that.”

“Nah c’mon Dad. Did you go out with the boys?”

“No but they had cake for me at work. Fuckin cream icing shit. How about you? What did you and the guys get up to?”

“Actually I’ve met this girl on the tour and she comes from Brisbane too.”

“What’s her name?”

My 52nd Birthday

Minnie is a beautiful young girl and is practically glowing with her pregnancy. Jack comes barging through the door after her with a cake in one hand, loosening the tie from his work shirt in the other. He’s made the cake with butter icing just like he said he would. We walk into the kitchen past the photographs of my family. My grandparents, my parents, my wife. I miss them and I have no doubt I will see them soon. But I love my life. My life is good.

© Copyright Lloyd Marken.

STEVE JOBS GETS THE SORKIN TREATMENT

Steve Jobs is a good movie; let’s get out of the way right now. Written by Aaron Sorkin, directed by Danny Boyle and starring-wait for it-Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels, Seth Rogen, Katherine Waterston, Michael Stuhlbarg and Sarah Snook. A biopic about a high profile personality that changed the way we live, it followed a familiar path for awards season hopefuls. Launched first at Telluride Film Festival, and then given a limited release where it scored the highest per screen average gross of 2015 before opening wide to have it on everybody’s mind when award nominations were considered. Sadly the film did not open with big numbers in America and was pulled from wide release after only two weeks before limping through foreign territories. Kate Winslet and Aaron Sorkin did pick up Golden Globes for their efforts and the film did receive two Oscar nominations but compared to the similar The Social Network, Steve Jobs was seen as a failure. This is a shame because it boasts the same kind of quality we’ve come to expect from all involved.

Steve Jobs is not really supposed to be about the man we all know; sure it takes facets of that myth that we know all and sprinkles them throughout. It’s widely reported that he may not have been a very nice man, at least not in the beginning of his career and the film asks an age old question. Can only great things be done by people who are so driven they cannot sustain any sincere and worthy relationships. The film is structured around three acts like a play with each act taking place behind the scenes leading up to a presentation to launch a new product. I could tell you what they are but it doesn’t really matter. The film is about a father and a daughter, there’s a lot of noise about, various work colleagues and what their relationship was to Jobs, how they changed him and were changed by him, whether they pushed him into failures or better decisions. None of it is as important as the relationship between parents and children.

Mackenzie Moss plays Lisa in 1984 when Jobs wants to put a personal computer in every home and change the world. He’s young, ambitious and furious that ex-girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston) is claiming her child is his. Seth Rogen is Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak who is trusted and cared for by Jobs seen as someone very tech-minded but not necessarily as strong willed as Jobs. Apple CEO John Sculley appears at the launch to offer advice and show his support, they have a warm relationship. Backstage Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) is being pressured to fix glitches or face consequences as an original Mac team member. Some people are treated well by the icon, others stand up to him, and others seem to know how to deal with him. Only one is truly able to communicate with him and that is marketing executive Joanna Hoffman played by Kate Winslet.

In every subsequent act the relationships Jobs has with these people changes, arguably one for the better, but the relationship with Hoffman never changes. She is his confidant, his moral compass and while her patience wears thin as the years pass by she never leaves his side or stops being close to him. If half of what this film says is true Joanna Hoffman would be a fascinating person to meet and talk to. Jobs remains an enigma played as a real man by Michael Fassbender with volatile emotions but always able to keep something to himself. We see him angry, his pride hurt, his mind frantic for a way to win, smug in victory. The intelligence and energy of the man are on display but tellingly there may only be one genuine significant smile throughout the film. Talk about driven but for true thoughts and feelings maybe only Joanna knows. Kate Winslet plays her as firm when she needs to be but gentle as well, she appeals to his good side in a way most people wouldn’t dare.

Ripley Sobo as Lisa in 1988 and Perla Haney-Jardine as Lisa in 1998 effectively convey a child struggling to be acknowledged by their parent in some way and the anger and confusion that will result from that. Their story is the one building to a climax, not Jobs triumphant return to Apple. Rogen has an opportunity here to sprout Sorkin dialogue and be in a different type of movie and acquits himself well. Possibly now as celebrated and recognised for his contributions as Steve Jobs, you don’t ever hear too many stories about Steve Wozniak being an unpleasant person to work with and there is something in that given quiet dignity in Rogen’s performance. Jeff Daniels who got to play leading man on Sorkin’s The News Room here is an unwilling antagonist as John Sculley. The Sorkin scripted showdown between Sculley and Jobs are riveting but far more important are there scenes in 1998.

I still can’t shake that for all the talking that goes on in a Sorkin screenplay, Fassbender’s main achievement is to convey so much of Job’s growth in subtleties. One of the greatest actors working today, Fassbender is so consistent we may start taking for granted how good he is. Sorkin writes clever dialogue for smart characters but always with an emotional through line, this is another tour de force by him.

After David Fincher’s collaboration with Sorkin yielded The Social Network, Danny Boyle being attached to this movie sounded like an exciting prospect and Boyle doesn’t disappoint. Lacking most of his more energetic flourishes from other films there has still been distinctive technical chances that make the film look and sound interesting and reflect the growth of the technology and the characters in the story. Cinematographer Alwin Kuchler shoots in 16mm for the 1984 scenes, 35mm for 1988 and digital in 1998. At the same time score composer Daniel Pemberton used analogue synthesizers for the 1984 scenes, a more orchestral score for 1988 and digitally produced music for 1998. These are all great touches that you stop noticing after a while but help create mood and reflect the changing of time and characters. Similar choices were made in terms of production design and where each launch would be set. This is high end filmmaking that can’t be faulted, not only does it look great but it serves a purpose. For example notice where late important conversations occur in and with whom in each act. Act I a walk around outside from one building to the other. Act II down in the bowels of a theatre in a dark hallway. Act III in a high up in a rooftop carpark out in the open again.

There were better films that came out during Oscar season like Spotlight. Something is off here, maybe Jobs himself remains too aloof or maybe we can’t care too much about rich business people being mean to each other. Maybe the people involved have delivered for us too much that we now expect more. If you haven’t seen it, give it a chance the film effectively and movingly tells a story about a father and daughter reconciling and maybe a man who finally figured out what was truly important.

-Lloyd Marken

EDDIE THE EAGLE SOARS ENOUGH TO QUALIFY

Most people sit in an office cubicle, on a work site, at a factory line for days on end, year after year. The commute might change, the company might be re-located, the pay may increase and the time straining your back may decrease but it’s all the same. Working for a pay cheque towards one holiday, one house, and one kid with a college degree and good teeth. Most enjoy their jobs to a point; very few would state it was their dream. Nobody gets exactly what they want out of life and that’s okay but it’s why we push our kids to pursue opportunity and it is why we watch Greats. Athletes, leaders and celebrities-we’re in love with them all. They tell us they were poor, they tell us they were knocked back and told they were no good and we think yeah maybe if one thing went my way I could have been just like them. How often is that really true? Eddie the Eagle implausibly showed up at the 1988 Winter Olympics as Britain’s sole Ski Jump competitor. His performance was so significantly behind the second last place getter that a new rule was instituted making it more difficult to place in the sport for the Olympics. There are those who to this day who were embarrassed that he was there and confounded by his popularity. That’s because they don’t know what it’s like on that factory floor or in that office cubicle. Eddie had dreamed the impossible dream and we like dreamers. We need them, when they achieve something they keep our dreams alive. They make anything possible, thank you Eddie.

The reality was despite always running low on funds and living rough, Eddie was a gifted and experienced athlete. A quick look at Wikipedia reveals he was the world number nine in amateur speed skiing at one point, narrowly missed the Great Britain team in 1984 for his original sport downhill skiing and had already competed at the 1987 World Championships in Ski Jumping placing 55th in the world when he arrived in Calgary. How many people can say they were 55th in the world at anything?

Eddie the Eagle the movie does not relate a lot of these facts. It makes you believe he jumped the 90m ski jump for the first time at Calgary for example which is not true. I suppose it’s hypocritical to not blanch at Creed which depicts a boxer with limited experience having a bout against the current world champion and then fear this movie is criminally unrealistic when Eddie continues to fling himself down mountains at high speeds with little training but that was my reaction. Maybe I’m getting old but when his father urges him to be a plasterer and stay in England I couldn’t help but see his point.

The film is criminally put together with Hollywood tropes and artificial drama. The film begins with Eddie narrowly missing the team in 1984 for downhill skiing and sets off overseas to train in ski jumping. Early scenes with his father Terry (Keith Allen) are more effective than latter ones. Terry fears his son is throwing away good money and time on an amateur sport which will yield no true results for him. As Eddie waits at a bus stop to leave he drives by and tells him “I’m not made of stone.” And his son replies “Goodbye Dad.” With clear determination to chase his dreams. We like dreamers. We admire both men in this scene for who they are and what they believe. Later the film miscalculates as his father sits down and is surprised his wife is going to watch their son at Calgary. Dad at that point becomes nothing but a caricature that will inevitably make a late minute turn around in his support of his son.

Eddie arrives in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany (he actually went to Lake Placid in real life) with no support and low on funds where he comes across fictional coach Bronson Peary. Peary played by Hugh Jackman conveniently has every cliché you need for a film like this, he’s a former naturally talented skier who never lived up to his potential and now drinks while working the snow plough at the training facility trying to forget how disappointed he made Christopher Walken. tv christopher walken weapon of choiceOh. Eddie offers him the kind of redemption his character so desperately needs. Watching Hugh Jackman be ignored by pretty girls and lose fights is a little refreshing but I’m not buying it, he was far more authentic and mature as Jean Valjean. Only one sequence truly implies what is at stake when something goes wrong in this sport which truly requires courage. At Calgary it was perpetuated that Eddie was afraid of heights to which he has said “They said I was afraid of heights. But I was doing sixty jumps a day then, which is hardly something someone who was afraid of heights, would do.” The film does not give the impression Eddie Edwards had done 60 jumps before he arrived at Calgary.

As you may have guessed by now, the film is predictable and full of clichés. But! It’s about a dreamer and we like dreamers. Taron Egerton (a ridiculously good looking kid) convinces as Edwards with a strained jaw and polite manner. It’s a delight to see his steely resolve come out from beneath his unassuming demeanour every time people write him off. Hugh Jackman meanwhile might be too nice to effectively be a grumpy coach but he has an easy chemistry with Egerton and he plays a scene teaching Eddie how to control the body in the run down the slope just right. Others would’ve played it louder and it would have been too much. See the film and you’ll know what I mean.

80s power ballads blare suiting the period and theme of the film and there’s some great location shooting and doubles instead of CGI appear to have been used where they can. The action could have been staged better maybe but we get a sense of the sport and the risks involved. It wouldn’t be argued this is a great film but you follow Eddie in his plight no matter how crazy at times it may seem. Whatever the film makes up, it charms and hooks you in with the true appeal of Eddie the man who is a nice guy and a dreamer…          We like dreamers.

In real life Eddie Edwards attempted to qualify for 1992, 1994 and 1998 Winter Olympics. He’s done a variety of things since including co-hosting radio shows and appearing on reality competition television programmes. In 2013 he competed in a celebrity diving TV program called Splash on ITV. He trained hard and did an inward 1.5 somersault pike from 10m in the semi-final. He won by public vote after a synchronised dive in the final. An athlete at heart still, a Champion in spirit, A True Olympian.

-Lloyd Marken

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6FWAiXll_jw

movies christopher walken weapon of choice

CAPTAIN REG SAUNDERS OF THE AUSTRALIAN ARMY

Two decades before he was recognised as a citizen of his country he fought for it in two wars. He couldn’t vote in his own country where his people had been for thousands of years. This was nothing new. His father Walter (Chris) Saunders and uncle William Reginald Rawlings MM had done so before him in the Great War, the uncle not returning home. His family would continue to pay a cost for serving the nation. His brother Harry Saunders would die at Kokoda and his first marriage would not withstand his time away in Korea. What did change was that he became the first Aboriginal to be commissioned into the Australian Army going on to command 100 men in combat.

He was born in Victoria of the Gunditjmara people and worked in a sawmill from a young age. In 1940 he joined the Australian Imperial Force immediately displaying natural leadership skill, in 6 weeks he was promoted to Lance Corporal and within 3 months he had made Sergeant. He was posted to the 2/7th Battalion after training where his rank reverted to Private and he went to Benghazi and then the island of Crete. The 2/7th took part in the fighting around Canae and temporarily checked the German advance with a bayonet charge on 42nd street. As the Allies evacuated, Saunders’ unit fought rearguard actions and were left behind. Most were taken prisoner, a few hid out in the hills and caves of the islands relying on help from the locals. Saunders was one who evaded capture for 12 months and managed to escape rejoining the 2/7th.

He next fought in the Salamaua-Lae campaing where as a platoon sergeant he took command of the platoon when the platoon commander was wounded. Subsequently his commanding officer recommended that he receive a commission. This caused the Army some trepidation given “its special significance” but Saunders  completed sixteen weeks of training back in Australia and received his commission. During training he shared a tent with Victoria Cross winner Tom Derrick.

He returned to New Guinea and was a platoon commander during the Aitape-Wewak campaign with the 2/7th serving until the end of the war. He was hospitalised for 3 weeks after being wounded by Japanese gunfire at Maprik.

Rejected for service with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF) in Japan, he was a shipping clerk and builder’s labourer following the war. With the outbreak of hostilities in Korea he rejoined the Army and was allocated to 3RAR rising to the lofty heights of Captain. He commanded C Company during the Battle of Kapyong April 22nd to April 25 (ANZAC Day) 1951. At Kapyong, a Brigade of United Nations Force stalled the advance of a whole Chinese division pivotally avoiding a breakthrough on the UN’s Command Central Front. 3RAR was subsequently awarded a US Presidential Unit Citation for their actions.

He oversaw training for national servicemen after returning from Korea but he left the Army in 1954 going to work first in the logging industry and then for the next decade in the Austral Bronze company. Saunders also became involved in the Returned and Services League. In 1967 be became an Aboriginal Liaison Officer in the Office of Aboriginal Affairs. In the Queen’s Birthday Honours of June 1971 his community work was recognised when he was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (Civil Division). He passed away in 1990 leaving behind 8 of his 10 children. Two had sadly predeceased him.

He was the first Aboriginal serviceman to command a Rifle Company, and was respected and popular with his men. His biographer and friend, Harry Gordon, an Australian journalist in Korea, wrote of him “He was accepted unreservedly by the men who served with him because false values do not flourish among front-line soldiers.”

-Lloyd Marken

THE BOSS IS AS LIKEABLE AS MOST BOSSES

The Boss is the second pairing of star Melissa McCarthy with her husband Ben Falcone as director working off a script they wrote with fellow former Groundling Steve Mallory. A first such pairing of director and star yielded Tammy in 2014 which was a box office success but not as critically celebrated as McCarthy’s pairings with director Paul Feig. A comparison that was unfair in the sense that Tammy rather than being a broad comedy was designed to say something about life and the people who fall through the cracks of our society. It was a harder going narrative despite some comic riffing which can’t earn forgiveness for all its sins but can help explain why it is not as enjoyable as other films. The marketing has presented The Boss as a broader comedy with a larger than life protagonist and huge over the top set piece where Girl Scouts have the kind of street fight Ron Burgundy would find himself in. Yet it too is a parable about relationships being more important that success and having the courage to let people in but it’s a lot less depressing than Tammy at times could be.

Michelle Darnell was created years ago by McCarthy when she was a member of the comedy troupe Groundlings. A parody of self-help gurus and successful business entrepreneurs, Michelle Darnell finds herself charged with white collar crime and all her assets frozen. When she gets out of jail the only person who will speak to her is her former personal assistant Claire Rawlins (Kristen Bell) who is now working a dead end job to help take care of her daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson). While at a meeting for Rachel’s Dandelions Group (they’re Girl Scouts in everything but name) where fundraising is mentioned, Darnell sees an opportunity for a new business venture. She creates a rival group of Darnell’s Darlings who sell Brownies that Claire makes. There are forces at work including a former betrayed lover and colleague of Michelle called Renault played by Peter Dinklage. There’s also a love interest in the form of Tyler Labine’s Mike Beals who works with Claire, is a nice guy and is funny and has a nice face but is not being asked to pose for the cover of Vanity Fair next week.

There’s something uneven in the tone of The Boss, one minute we’re feeling the very real harshness of a woman walking the streets with nowhere else to go. In one scene people attempt to kill people with swords and it all feels like a little too real to shrug off when it’s over. On the other hand the overblown street fight was a lot of fun but seems out of place with some of the realities the film acknowledges. There are some great insults and put downs and some don’t care for predictable pratfalls but the audience did laugh when a sofa bed sprang McCarthy into a wall. If you’re going to knock on the door, I guess you got to step through it. Some moments also feel underserved; maybe to keep Darnell a character rather than a caricature they missed some opportunities to really parody similar real life figures.

Yet the film looks good enough for a second time director although editing could be tighter, I particularly like the aping of a heist sequence. The editing could be tighter but at least Falcone has mastered establishing shots, maybe Zack Snyder should call him for some tips. The cast is likeable enough, Anderson, Bell & McCarthy share a nice chemistry as the heart of the film and there is a good message under all the gross jokes and pratfalls. At times you feel like celebrating the fact that here is a gross out comedy that has 3 central female characters at the heart of it and celebrates motherhood and strong female relationships. At other times cookies get shoved down butt cracks and you wonder if something has been lost. One of the funniest bits has been featured a lot in advertising where McCarthy and Bell prepare Claire for her first date with Tyler. Other scenes don’t stick the landing as good as this but there’s enough here to recommend for fans of McCarthy. Based off this second effort I would be interested to see whether the third time pairing would be a charm.

-Lloyd Marken

THE HUNTSMAN: AN UNNECESSARY SEQUEL THAT IS NOT NECESSARILY BAD

The Huntsman: Winter’s War is a completely unnecessary prequel, sequel and spin-off but that is not to say it is not without merits. Snow White and The Huntsman was a big hit for Universal but bad press followed when it was published that the married director Rupert Sanders and young starlet Kristen Stewart had been involved in an affair. Sometimes the public doesn’t care about such things but sometimes it causes issues and given it ended the relationship between Stewart and her Twilight co-star Robert Pattison the media interest was going to reach fever pitch. Snow White had proved a bona fide hit for young Stewart offering her chance to get work beyond the Twilight franchise and quirky indie hits. So what to do after shitting the bed? movies kristen stewart ms snow white swathThe inevitable follow-up went through a stilted development with whether Sanders would return (he didn’t), Stewart would reprise her role (she doesn’t) and whether the film that followed focussing on The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) would be a prequel? (hmm kinda).

Following the events of the first film we get into the back story of Eric, The Huntsman which turns out to be quite a tale requiring us to look back at events involving Ravenna (Charlize Theron) many years before Snow White. Freya (Emily Blunt) a younger sister of Ravenna following a personal tragedy left for the icy north where she raised an army out of soldiers captured and trained to fight from childhood. Her finest soldiers are Sara (Jessica Chastain) and Eric who plan to escape and marry which is forbidden in Freya’s Kingdom. When Freya learns of this Eric sees Sara murdered before him and barely escapes to the southern kingdom where he will take part in the first film’s events. Now in present day a darkness has taken over Snow White’s Kingdom and Snow White herself (the great triumphant female heroine from the first film reduced to a shot from behind of her sick and knelt in front of her nemesis’s Magical Mirror) and maybe only the mighty Tho-sorry Eric can save us.

my edit charlize theron evil queen the huntsman the huntsman winters war

On paper The Huntsman appears like a poor cash in, the focus has shifted to a side character, the original’s visual effects supervisor Cedric Nicolas-Troyan is making his directorial debut with this film and seven dwarves have shrunk to two (we get four in the end). The budget of the original was $170 million dollars and this sequel cost $110 million dollars, while the film looks good and sports great effects, sets and sequences it lacks the large scale set pieces with extras and real locations that the original sported. Despite what the marketing would have you believe, the franchise’s biggest star Charlize Theron is mostly absent from proceedings essentially showing up in the third act with a glorified cameo as if the filmmakers didn’t trust their own tale to carry enough impact without her. Which given how much the film lifts when she appears may just be good common sense on their part. Balancing this out is newcomers Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain who are two of the hottest young actresses working in Hollywood at the moment. Hot in the sense

chastain oscar 2013emily blunt charlize theron chris hemsworth jessica chastain the huntsman

but also hot in the sense that their proven talent and previous work makes them highly sought after. Their casting lends a lot of prestige to this sequel which at times often feels like half measures compared to the original. Blunt conveys a steely bitter resolve that you never quite trust will not crumble (she’s been better in other films but it makes sense for her not to quite have the presence of Theron) and Chastain is suitably kick-ass.

The Huntsman: Winter's War movie emily blunt charlize theron chris hemsworth

Chris Hemsworth enjoys his opportunity to be the lead albeit in yet another ensemble, sporting a fake Scottish accent, smiling charmingly and filing out leather pants as good as Chastain does (why doesn’t she gets sleeves too or perhaps the question should be why does he have sleeves?!). The previous film allowed him in one scene to really stretch his acting muscles too, I’m not sure this sequel did but his performance is fun enough. That’s the entire film in a way, completely unnecessary but fun enough. There are wisecracks, loved up couples all around, castles, sorceress’s, monsters, fights, and all shot effectively, all told with a wink and a smile. Hey, I’m not complaining.

-Lloyd Marken

The Huntsman: Winter's War jessica chastain movie emily blunt charlize theron

HAIL, CAESAR! A LOVELY FILM FOR THOSE WHO LOVE FILMS

PLEASE NOTE: A SHORTER REVIEW BY ME CAN BE READ HERE.

Hail, Caesar! is another delight from the Coen brothers, their lighter fare tends to impress less than their dramatic work (think Burn After Reading compared to No Country for Old Men) of which this would be included but when the filmmakers are this talented you just sit back and enjoy the show.

Hail, Caesar! is all about putting on a show taking place in a big movie studio in 1951 when movie was king and streaming…my God did the word even exist let alone get used?! Eddie Mannix is a fixer for Capitol Studios (long term Coen fans may recognise the name), problem solving anything from scandals, injuries, personality clashes to kidnappings. In the socially conservative Eisenhower years he keeps bad press for the studio out of the paper and makes sure stars show up on set. Mannix played by Josh Brolin, has been doing this job a long time and is good at it but he questions some of the things he’s done and Lockheed are looking to hire him for a much higher paying job. On maybe a particularly rough day, (the movie never implies directly that it is anything but another day at the office) Mannix has to deal with the studio’s biggest star being kidnapped and held to ransom and Mannix remains torn about which career to pursue. The Lockheed guy meets with him for lunch and tells him “They’re a serious company” and Brolin’s face frowns. Maybe Mannix is hesitant despite his guilt and troubles because well he loves the movies and Hail, Caesar! loves the movies too. The best films about making movies have always loved the movies and been made by people who love making movies and adored by those who love watching movies, Singing in the Rain being the best example.

channing tatum sailor hail caesar coen brothers

That love shines through in every sequence of the film, the Coens have actually bothered to do full dance sequences and synchronised swimming musical numbers, Westerns and yes old religious epics. Matte shots, horse tricks, missed lines that ruin takes, celebrity set ups, dancers harbouring secrets, winking at the camera are all on show. The Coens both lampoon old filmmaking and celebrate it by meticulously recreating it with a restrained use of modern technologies (CGI is used meticulously to have effects appear like old model work or rear projection). There is an added poignancy to proceedings lent by the very real fading of that era. Location manager John Panzarella (whose work includes L.A. Confidential) noted “Period locations are disappearing fast.” And cinematographer Roger Deakins noted “I don’t think the infrastructure is there” [for shooting on film in the future] due to limited stocks and processing options. Old Hollywood has been gone so long the ways of faking it are diminishing.

Yet this is not a film that exclusively looks back with rose tinted glasses, the Red menace of the Cold War evokes the same fear that ISIS does now, there is a Latino starlet Carlotta Valdez (Veronica Osorio) hoping for the same opportunities afforded her white co-stars, this is the era of McCarthy which may remind us a little that we now tear ourselves apart with political tribalism and humming in the background when Hollywood is in the final bloom of its Golden Age is the advent of stars demanding more and television only a few years away threatening the revenue streams that were taken for granted. Even more interestingly is the difference between Mrs Mannix (Alison Pill) (a basic stereotype of housewifedom from the 1950s fixing dinner late for her husband and deferring to his judgment even when he asks her what she thinks). Contrast this with Scarlett Johansson’s starlet DeeAnna Moran who relaxes into her chair, talks with a stern demeanour and calls anybody on the hypocrisy of her situation. Hail, Caesar! may be a light comedy but it has a lot to say and says it well.

That makes it sound like a social diatribe and I assure you it is not. It is a film that is fun, makes you smile and even laugh at times. As usual that is due to the exceptionally clever dialogue of a Coen brother’s screenplay and also in the utterly lovable character of Hobie Doyle who has been pulled off his usual B-grade cowboy fare to stare in a witty period drama. Alden Ehrenreich has been getting rave reviews as Hobie Doyle and this will be one of his break-out roles.

movie hail caesar coen brothers joel coen ethan coen

The Coen dramas seem to be more universally applauded than their comedies, almost like the latter are palette cleansers before they ramp back up again. Their best comedies though have grown in cult status over time such as The Big Lebowski and O Brother, Where Art Thou? Hail, Caesar! may not stack up next to those mighty achievements but it reminds you that the Coens are perhaps able to make such classics because they pour their heart and soul into doing what they love. Making movies. What a grand thing.

-Lloyd Marken