Interviewed by Jade Raykovski

Recently I was lucky enough to be interviewed on Jade Raykovski’s blog. Jade is a talented writer and budding author, currently working on her first children’s novel.

I talked about why I write and what I like to write and what I hope to achieve in the future. Find the original publication here and check out Jade’s blog. She writes and shares many interesting things aside from focusing on her own work so signing up for her newsletter would be a valuable exercise.

Here is the transcript of the interview:

Tell me about your blog, Poignant Things. Why did you decide to start it and for how long has it been running?

I created it about three years ago while I was still in University. There were a few major reasons: it would persuade me to write more regularly, it would test the waters to see if a diverse range of readers liked my writing, and it would provide me with a good outlet to vent my sadness, frustration, happiness, or whatever else it may be. It was a way of telling people close to me how I was feeling without really ‘telling’ them.

‘For those who read with music in their ears’ – where did the blog’s tagline come from?

This stems from what I draw a lot of inspiration from. Music is a big influencer on me. I seem to be very sensitive to the tones and moods that music can convey. Often, I’ll listen to an instrumental track and from that, a whole idea for a poem or story will come to me. Usually I’ll begin writing in that very moment, responding to the flow of the song. It’s the same when I’m reading. Commonly I’ll have music on while I’m reading and the passages, be they dramatic or melancholy, will be heightened by certain songs, similar to what happens in films. The right music in a film can turn a good scene into an iconic scene. So, the tagline is saying this blog is for people like me, and I hope people can find the right song to listen to while they read each poem.

What motivates you to write, particularly poetry?

Mostly I write for my own self-interest. I doubt there’d ever be a huge audience for the poetry I write. A lot of the time it’s to process my thoughts and dump my stress onto the page and out of my body, but also it’s to help anyone who’s reading it who may be struggling with similar emotions. It’s quite normal in teenage and young adult years to experience a lack of direction, frustration, and depressive emotions because trying to sort your life out is very hard! Sometimes, people think they’re alone in what they’re feeling but it simply isn’t true and I hope people realise this when they read some of my pieces.

On the other hand I write to get better so I can one day become a published novelist. At the moment, I write poetry because it’s such a good medium for the emotional venting I spoke about and I find it quicker to craft a poem than a story because poetry is so fluid, there’s no real rules or restrictions. Any style of poetry can work if executed well. I also love the ‘snapshot’ element of poetry. It captures single moments, specific images that can hold a lot of weight and there’s something comforting about staying contained within smaller scenes.

Are there any other projects you’re working on, apart from the blog?

Yes, I would dearly love to publish an illustrated collection of poetry one day. I’m in the process of trying to get enough good poems together and I’ll submit some of them to journals or competitions to hopefully get some feedback and guidance on their quality. As for the illustrations, if you know any fantastic pencil illustrators send them my way! Beyond this, I have two or three novel ideas which I’m quietly confident will work if I’m good enough to write them well (a big if!) They’ll all have a strong foundation in family, relationships, the environment, and morality. Oh, and they’ll probably all be fairly dark/moody.

What was the first piece you had published? What did that feel like?

I might go back further than that and talk about when I first received recognition for writing. In high school, I won the senior poetry competition for NAIDOC week. The principal read my work at the school assembly and even on a local radio station I think. Obviously I was very pleased with that and it was the moment when I thought to myself that perhaps I could pursue writing further, both creatively and professionally. It also taught me more about myself. I was obviously relieved to find out I was someone who could show compassion for others, balance cultural sensitivities, and see things from a perspective completely different from my own. It may sound strange, but up until then I wasn’t sure if I understood these things. Now, I have a few little pieces published and am motivated to achieve bigger goals. I’m also writing for a living as a copywriter so I’m extremely happy that I’ve been able to do what I love and get something out of it.

Do you have any advice for other emerging writers, particularly those who are just starting out and may not have anything published yet?

Hopefully they’re already avid readers but if they aren’t they should start working on a reading list. Read as much as possible and try to encompass a diverse range of writers. Reading widely is great for learning, vocabulary, and inspiration. As for writing, regularity is key. Write as often as possible in conjunction with your reading and you will get better. Also, it’s important to find your niche. Find what inspires you and find what excites you the most when writing. For me, music and film inspire me and I really enjoy writing pieces strong in imagery and emotion. For someone else they may find they’re inspired by the study of history and adore writing fantasy. But that’s the important thing, write what you enjoy and never be afraid to submit your work to the numerous competitions and publications that are still very much alive in the industry. Know one thing for sure; rejection will happen and more than once. This does not mean you’re a bad writer.

Advertisements

My Favourite Films of 2016

Once again, I haven’t been able to see some powerful films that were released in 2016 due to living in Australia but of those I did catch, here are my best.

10. A Bigger Splash

a-bigger-splash

Enter a caption

Superbly written and acted, this film was dialogue heavy with some serious work being put into tension and implications. The characters in A Bigger Splash were all too real. Frustratingly human, they invoked many feelings in the viewer, mostly negative. Personally, I was angry and disgusted by the end of the film. It affected me in a big way and I didn’t forget it. While I may not have ‘liked’ the characters, the way this film was crafted has to be appreciated.

9. The Lobster

 

lobster-movie-poster

Wholly unique, The Lobster is weird and offbeat for sure. At times it’s funny, at others disturbing. Effectively a satire, it points a laser beam at the pressures of contemporary society and adulthood and lets us see some of them for what they are: ridiculous and dangerous. Grounded by a great performance from Colin Farrell, it may be too strange and uncomfortable for some but for those who go along, it’ll serve up some serious quality.

8. Swiss Army Man

swiss-army-manAnother extremely quirky film that rests on a fresh idea. If you can get past the abundance of flatulence, this is a beautiful and heart-warming (also slightly creepy) film of emotional connection and discovery. We can all learn a little about ourselves watching this. Some magical imagery and an outstanding score make this one of the year’s most immersive movies.

7. Deadpool

deadpool-poster-8

Yet another superhero film hit the cinemas but this time we got something different, something that recognised all the usual tropes and turned them into a joke. Not only did Deadpool dare to be outrageously violent, crass, and hilarious but it was a passion project for Ryan Reynolds and it shows. His performance as the titular character is one of the most charismatic of the year. It’s his commitment that made this film work as well as it did, and propel it above other Marvel or DC entries.

6. Arrival

arrival

Director Denis Villenueve is quickly proving himself to be a master. This is another example of his refusal to sacrifice storytelling for the sake of cheap thrills. His movies always deal with complexities in a way that is perfectly balanced. His movies are made to settle into, become entrenched in. They always offer something you don’t quite expect and Arrival is no exception. Stunning cinematography is combined with a tense, multi-faceted, and emotionally wrenching story. The moral conundrum is a punch to the gut.

5. Demolition

demolition

The writing in this film does fluctuate somewhat from very good to not so good but the good is brilliantly affecting. There are many interesting things it has to say about life; about relationships and about ourselves. It doesn’t always hit the mark and the approach it takes to convey its messages is sometimes flawed but at the end of the day the tone and mood (slightly depressive and resigned to the sadness while also finding ways of experiencing joy) of Demolition is something I gravitate very strongly towards. To top it off, Jake Gyllenhaal can do no wrong and he’s amazing again here.

4. Zootopia

zootopia

Rare for me to include an animated film and as fun as Zootopia was, it wouldn’t have been enough to get it over the line. What makes it stand out is the positive messages it makes accessible to the children who watch it. It also speaks of some broader issues like gender equality in way that more serious films haven’t been able to. Adults will almost certainly pick up on some thought provoking stuff. To be able to present this within such a fun-riot of a film and have it all still work must be celebrated.

3. The Nice Guys

the-nice-guysWriter and director Shane Black sure knows how to do noir. He’s got buddy films down to a tee at this point. The Nice Guys might be his best yet. It’s a film that is just so stylish, funny, and exciting you can’t help but like it. There’s also an undercurrent of emotion driving the main characters that never explodes but bubbles every now and then just to remind us that there is more at stake than making us laugh. But laugh we do. The chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe is seamless. Gosling again proves his comedic talent, confirming he’s as diverse an actor as exists right now. Australian actress Angourie Rice also shines as a newcomer, playing Gosling’s plucky daughter.

2. Nocturnal Animals

nocturnal-animals

A second entry for Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal. They both deserve it. There is something about this film that gets right under your skin and stays there. Director Tom Ford adapts the novel into a screenplay that is so tight and well balanced it’s almost a masterpiece. The intricacy of the story and the way it’s told was doomed to fail and yet it doesn’t. It triumphs. Nothing can be criticised. The drama is intense, scary even. The emotion is gut-wrenching, the violence shocking. Amidst all this is a vein of black humour that strikes at exactly the right moments. This film has one of the best endings I think I’ve ever seen. In the context of the rest of the movie, it’s perfect. Tom Ford shows his background in design with a beautiful aesthetic throughout and the two leads are faultless in their performance as is Michael Shannon. Superb.

1. La La Land

la-la-land

When you hate musicals but happen to adore a film that is a musical, it says something about how good it is. La La Land brings back the magic of cinema. You just don’t see films like this anymore. A simple plot does nothing to diminish the complicated nature of the characters lives in a story where dreams are chased and lost and chased again. Along the way, love is juggled back and forth with various consequences. There’s so much passion and beauty in this film. It shines down from Director Damian Chezelle through every aspect of the project. Every scene is gorgeous and interesting to look at. Every musical and dance number is engaging. The composition and choreography is off the charts. There’s context to every set-piece and real weight to every conversation. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone work so well together, injecting the humour of the film with even more laughs, the drama with even more heartache, the love with even more ‘feels’. La La Land has captured a lot of Oscar buzz and for once, I agree with the buzz.

Film Review: Nocturnal Animals

A shocking, beautiful, and constantly engaging tale of heartbreak and revenge.

nocturnal-animals-banner-poster

‘Nocturnal Animals’ is directed by Tom Ford, starring Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, and Armie Hammer. It’s a film that takes an exquisite look at betrayal, revenge, and the impact of our decisions on others; and our own happiness.

With a narrative style that is decidedly unconventional, the storytelling faced some potential pitfalls but, with just his second film, writer and director Tom Ford has established himself as a master of balance, pacing, and affectation.

The basic plot sees Susan (Amy Adams) running an art gallery and living in an unhappy marriage with Hutton (Armie Hammer). She’s taken aback when her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) sends her a manuscript of a novel he has written and dedicated to her. She begins to read and soon, we see the fictional world and real world start to intertwine.

The first thing to say about ‘Nocturnal Animals’ is how stunning it is to feast your eyes on and meticulously it is designed and shot. It’s no surprise, considering Ford is also a fashion designer who has worked for Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, but every shot is perfectly composed and infinitely interesting to look at, just like a good piece of art. No prop, costume, angle, colour, or slice of light is wasted here. This is explicitly established in the opening title sequence, which is perhaps best left undescribed.

A beautiful-looking film only goes so far on aesthetics though. Ultimately it needs to engage the viewer on another level. The narrative was where people might believe Ford would suffer but it seems he’s also an incredible writer. The delicate nature in which he was required to balance this kind of storytelling would have brought many undone, yet he was almost faultless. As stated, the pacing of the film is perfect. Every cut is made precisely when it needs to be, allowing the viewer just enough to digest without having anything shoved down their throat. Understanding the film comes gradually and naturally, and Ford never has to perform an expose for the audience. Rather he uses effective visual cues and the expertise of his actors. It’s the tone of the film that is so surprisingly well done. This is a brutal and intense drama that boils certain characters down to their base emotions, and us with them. However, it’s also a scathingly clever and at times funny movie. Somehow, these two opposing moods don’t block or intrude upon each other; yet another tick for Ford’s ability.

As for the actors, the film is led superbly by Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal with a fantastic turn by Michael Shannon. Amy Adams continues to sign onto great films and give suitably great performances. Her performance is magnificently understated and emotive at the same time. Jake Gyllenhaal is the perennial professional who never puts a foot wrong. Here he’s particularly good for a very important reason I won’t spoil but it’s with him we ride the biggest waves of shock, despair, and pain. Michael Shannon is just badass as a hard-as-nails country detective.

Underpinning, and tying together, all of this is a haunting and mournful score put together by Abel Korzeniowski. Often, you almost don’t notice it because it fits so well with what is happening on screen that it seems an organic piece of the drama.

All in all, ‘Nocturnal Animals’ can only be described as being crafted by someone with immense attention to detail and passion for their work. Tom Ford and co. have delivered one of the year’s best films and I would urgently encourage people to go see it.

Top Ten 2015 Films

Please note the following list is based on films that saw a release in Australia in 2015, which unfortunately discounts films such as The Revenant and The Hateful 8.

So in no particular order, here are my choices for the best films of 2015.

1. Ex Machina

ex machina.jpg

Here is a great example to show that you don’t need a massive budget, cast, or set to make a great film. All you need is good writing and good performances. The four main contributors for this film; writer/director Alex Garland, actress Alicia Vikander, actors Domhnall Gleeson, and Oscar Isaac, delivered in spades to create a beautiful, interesting, and tense sci-fi movie that asks a lot of questions about humanity. Also has a great and unexpected dance scene.

 

2. Dope

dope

This is why we love indie films. We’ve got three lead performers who are relatively unknown so we’re just seeing them purely as the characters they are playing. Dope is a joy. Original, creative, crazy, funny, and most of all heartfelt. It’s a great take on the story of finding your place in the world with a great score to boot and be assured, it will take you by surprise in more ways than one.

 

3. Inside Out

inside out.jpg

Without doubt one of Disney – Pixar’s best films. Equally accessible by children and adults, it’s an incredibly imaginative exploration of the human psyche. Funny and touching, it can also teach us a lot about how we perceive ourselves and others. I’d watch it for Rage alone.

 

4. Chappie

chappie

Some critics couldn’t get past the casting choices or tonal shifts of this film. On the contrary I think the injection of Die Antwoord as main characters and the use of humour through the middle act made this film all the better and unique. Director Neil Blomkamp stamped it with his typical style of balancing serious issues with offbeat jokes and casting Sharlto Copley, who did a good job by the way. Chappie is essentially a condensed version of childhood, nature vs nurture, and what it means to be human. It’s charming, funny, and emotional on top of also being a good action film.

 

5. Mad Max: Fury Road

mad max

Not much needs to be said here. It’s one of the most intense action films you’re ever likely to see. It never lets up, it never slows down. Incredibly stark cinematography combines with amazing stunt work to create a full-on experience that may be overbearing for some but heaven for others. Although most of the plaudits are for guitar guy.

 

6. It Follows

it follows

I’m not a horror fan but I think that’s because the genre has lost its way. It Follows is an example of how it should be done. Instead of relying on unnecessary shocks like gore and loud noises it uses tension and a far more interesting story than you’ll find in other horror films. There’s a good film here in general with an underlying theme, not just a good horror film. Don’t watch if you’re overly worried about sti’s.

7. The Martian

the martian

Ridley Scott returns with this extremely surprising survival story. After the ultra serious Gravity and Interstellar, The Martian turned towards levity with great effect. Matt Damon’s central performance was outstanding and made the movie work as well as it did. As someone who was never thrilled about Damon, I was shocked by how much I enjoyed this film and he deserves a lot of praise.

 

8. Lost River

lost river

Ryan Gosling’s debut as a writer/director was not loved by critics who criticised him for borrowing and meshing the styles of some of his mentors like Nicholas Winding-Refn and Derek Cianfrance but who isn’t inspired by the artists they love? In reality this is very much Gosling’s film. The way he chose to tell his story was as original and creative as it gets. Every shot in this movie is beautiful to look at and his actors gave their all for him, they’re faultless. The music, curated by Johnnie Jewel is magnetic and there are so many scenes in this film that are hypnotic. Yes, it will be a little on the strange side for some but if you see film as an art form, this is one to watch. Ben Mendelsohn also challenges Oscar Isaac for best dance of the year. Hmm, is dancing becoming a theme here?

9. A Most Violent Year

year

 

Oscar Isaac gets his second mention on the list and neither have been Star Wars. Sue me. Here’s a film that received very little media attention. It’s not a blockbuster, not a comedy. It’s not even violent, as the title would suggest, just a supremely tightly wound drama that is terrifically acted by Isaac and Jessica Chastein. Understated and intimate, it slowly makes an impression on you, one you won’t forget.

 

10. Sicario

sicario

Director Denis Villenueve is a master of tension and suspense nothing has changed here. Sicario is gritty, grimy, shocking and might have you grinding your teeth. Look out for some exceptional cinematography alongside brilliant performances from Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro.

Chappie – Not what the critics wanted but ‘Zef so fresh’*

*Warning: Review contains minor spoilers*

Chappie is director Neil Blomkamps’ third offering and it has come under some heavy criticism from critics who are angry it wasn’t the movie they wanted it to be. Well tough luck, it’s better than the movie you wanted it to be. The majority of reviewers seemed to want Chappie to delve into the arguments surrounding artificial intelligence. Is it wrong for scientists and engineers to play God? Or should it be pushed to its limits in the aid of creation and progress? Chappie certainly hints at these arguments throughout but it isn’t really what the movie is about. Thank goodness, we’ve seen enough of those moral balancing acts. Time for something different.

The basic outline of the plot is as follows: Johannesburg is a crime epicentre which is now being policed by AI robots, known as Scouts. They’re doing quite well in reducing crime but Vincent Moore, played by Hugh Jackman, is unhappy his human controlled behemoth The Moose isn’t being utilised ahead of these ‘Godless’ creatures. The creator of the droids Deon, played by Dev Patel, wants to push his work further and create a sentient robot that can think and feel like a human. Meanwhile Die Antwoord, basically playing themselves, have Deon in their sights as someone who can help them get free of a particularly nasty gangster who will kill them if they fail to pay his debt. Enter Chappie, a scout commissioned for destruction that Deon steals and makes conscious, but not before being kidnapped by Ninja, Yolandi, and Amerika. Unpredictable events ensue.

Chappie also doesn’t really qualify as a science fiction film either, although of course it will fall in this genre. Chappie, the main character, is portrayed as a human rather than the physical robot he actually is. Chappie is about a boy being pulled in three different directions. His ‘mummy’ (Yolandi) just wants to love him like any mother loves their child. The creator (Deon) wants Chappie to maximise his potential and his ‘daddy’ (Ninja) wants him to assist in a heist. Being only days old, this is all very complicated for Chappie, as smart as he is. He makes promises he doesn’t fully understand and tries his best to please everyone. All the while he is discovering the joyous highs of what life has to offer (painting, literature, dogs), as well as the horrifying lows (violence, dishonesty, death). Eventually he must learn for himself what is right and what he should do.

Only the heartless will fail to be moved by Chappie’s struggles, or amused by his transition into a streetwise gangsta. “Chappie has bling.” There are some truly heart touching moments, such as when Chappie is attacked by a gang of youths despite his confused pleas for them to stop and when Yolandi is reading him Black Sheep (perhaps a metaphor for the movie as a whole in addition to Chappie).

The casting of the film is interesting to say the least and there are some definite flaws here. Sigourney Weaver’s character is so boring and pointless she may as well not exist. There’s really nothing to say about her. Hugh Jackman’s villain is more of a shell than a fully fleshed out character. His extreme rage or psychopathic nature is not explained and his Australian idiosyncrasies are a little overdone. He doesn’t fit quite right and this lets the film down. What’s surprising is that Die Antwoord aren’t horrible as actors or characters. At times they are shaky but for the most part they’re enjoyable viewing, especially Yolandi who is so taken by Chappie she becomes more conflicted than we might have expected. Ninja is not particularly likeable for most of the movie but we learn to understand him and he does redeem himself in the latter stages. One scene specifically showcases his humane qualities. Chappie is inspecting a dog that has been killed in a gambling ring. Ninja looks upon the animal with what seems like regret and sympathy despite his previously violent tempers and dismissive attitude. He remarks; ‘It’s dead Chappie. Life is hard; you have to be tough to survive.’ He points to a dog still living. ‘Do you want to be this dog or that dog?’ We see here Ninja is not inherently evil but he does what he needs to do to survive. Later we see how deeply he cares for Chappie and Yolandi. He even aids Deon, who he openly showed derision towards earlier. Sharlto Copley does a great job as Chappie, aided of course by a fantastic effects team. Dev Patel is acceptably earnest and ambitious as a man who truly cares about his creation.

Die Antwoord get plenty of free publicity and perhaps they should. They’re a major reason this film looks so good, with their colourful self-styled outfits and weapons along with their graffiti riddled place of residence. Their music makes up probably half the score and adds to the film’s offbeat tone. Chappie is amazing to watch, especially after he has been remodelled by his new family.

All in all the film takes an unexpected approach which generally works. The comic relief throughout the middle act is welcome and not too over the top. The plight of Chappie struggling to cope with life is engaging and touching. The action sequences are well executed and entertaining. Jackman and Weaver are weak links through no fault of their own and some elements are not afforded the effort and explanation they need. Chappie isn’t a masterpiece but it’s nowhere near as bad as the critics want you to think it is.

Recommendation: See it before it leaves theatres.

*Enter The Ninja – Die Antwoord