Movie Review: Grace of Monaco

I love Grace Kelly. She has an effortless style and elegance about her that I really wish I could achieve. I went to see the exhibit of her wardrobe when it came to Bendigo a few years ago and that synched the deal for me: Grace Kelly and her wardrobe are amazing. So when a friend of mine announced that the girls would be going to see Grace of Monaco for her birthday, I was pretty keen.

grace_of_monacoGrace of Monaco is certainly a chick flick if ever there was one. It centres around Grace and her struggles with her marriage, her position as Princess of Monaco and her Hollywood career. The film is full of lovely clothes, beautiful countryside, amazing palaces and tears. The plot is slow and character based. No action here ladies. It also had  too many close-ups. Way too many. Almost every second or third shot was a super close-up of Nicole’s face, focusing on her eyes, nose and mouth. It gave a sense of claustrophobia to the film, which would have been a nice touch if used sparingly. However, it was definitely overdone, giving the film a slow, cramped and disjointed feel. The director, Olivier Dahan, should have taken his queues from Grace Kelly’s fashion style: less is more. The ending was also a little lacking in panache. It was far to ambiguous for my liking. After following Grace on her struggles, I wanted to have a decision made. I wanted to know how she felt after she made her stand. I was left stranded, still uncertain about whether it was a happy ending or not. While this form of ending has its merits, I felt that this movie needed more clarity.

Grace Kelly - civil weddingHowever, it did have a very strong message about marriage. Marriage, Grace of Monaco tells us, isn’t about the fairy tale. It isn’t about white dress and Prince Charming, the honeymoon and the palace. Marriage is about sticking together through thick and thin. It’s about both parties giving themselves to the other in unconditional love. It means sacrificing for the person you love. Marriage means children and what is best for them. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a movie that states these values so strongly. Perhaps this is because, once, everyone understood these values to be inherent in marriage; intrinsic principles that didn’t need explaining. But, needs must. It is great to see a film that stands up for tough love in the midst of wishy-washy images of ‘free love’.

Overall, this was a film that just missed out on being really good. Its beautiful scenery and, of course, clothing, made the film sparkle. But the devil is in the detail. The cinematography killed this film, which would otherwise have been a lovely trip down memory lane spiced up with a spirited defence of traditional marriage.


Movie Review: The Monuments Men

It has been a long time since I wrote. It has been just as long since The Monuments Men came out. All the same, I still feel that this movie warrants a review. There will be spoilers, so read on at own risk.

This film is based on a true and intriguing WWII story of a group of men who went into the front line to save historical artworks from the destruction of war. In 1944, the original Monuments Men began hunting down and rescuing countless artworks from all over Europe. The film credits finished with some of the photos from the actual operation, which really sent home the reality of the amazing work these men and women did.aaa_howethom_44942.jpg__600x0_q85_subject_location-515,91_upscale

The Monuments Men isn’t your average WWII action-packed movie. It’s an amalgamation. There aren’t any massive hero moments, or edge-of-your-seat fights. It really isn’t a film that leaves you crying from sadness nor laughter. It’s a little bit funny, a little bit sad, a little bit action and not quite anything. The Monuments Men is a lot like real life. I enjoyed that aspect of it: it was just like life. However, we are so used to watching movies that are so fantastically outside the norm that when we come across a film that reflects real life, it leaves us a little flat. We crave that fast plot, this gripping action, that glowing romance. The Monuments Men didn’t deliver on any of those grounds. Despite the film’s shortcomings I enjoyed it. It had some great moments of excitement, hilarity and sadness. My favourite part has to be the moment when James Granger (Matt Damon) stands on a mine.

Another part of the film that really endeared it to me was the beautiful scene in which James Granger resists the lures of Claire Simone (played by Cate Blanchett). James is a married man and despite Claire’s attempts to seduce him, he remains faithful to his marriage vows. It isn’t often that a movie shows such dedication to the married state and I found it very refreshing. Not that it would be very hard to resist Blanchett’s flat attempts at seduction, but that’s beside the point.

I don’t think The Monuments Men will ever be one of those completely unforgettable films, but it was a wonderful, honest and realistic look at the heroism displayed by a small team of people who knew that we cannot have a future when we have been divorced from our past.aaa_howethom_44938.jpg__600x0_q85_subject_location-474,250_upscale

Of Assignments and Broken Thumbs

It’s only the beginning of the year, but already university has, like a virulent blackberry vine, completely overtaken my writing garden. The interesting thing about a double writing degree is that it gives you very little time to write for yourself. Perhaps it is one way of forcing introverted writers to serve the public sphere with their writing. Perhaps. Another set back to my writing is a recently broken thumb. I am now typing one-handed, which reduces my output enormously. The tale of my broken thumb is mundane, so I will not relate  it here. An effort to make it interesting would require too much fictionalisation. However, it  was a very interesting experience: no pain no gain I guess.

When my thumb is out of its very restricting cast I will have a few book reviews ready for you all. This year’s uni reading list includes some very interesting books like The Book Thief . I look forward to reading them and writing about them afterwards.

Movie Review: The Book Thief

Crisp, well written prose speaks for itself. It paints vibrant pictures and draws the reader into them. Writing like this can make a reader laugh and cry; it makes them read on, intrigued about the fate of the characters. There are films which can do the same thing, but they are rare. The Book Thief is one of thief 5

I can’t remember when I have enjoyed a film more than The Book Thief. It hit every nail squarely on the head. There was beautiful cinematography and delicate music. I loved the wide shots of Germany in the snow and the tight, claustrophobic ones of Heaven Street and its houses. The music was nicely understated, just floating along in the background, lending the right mood to every scene. Often the music was left out altogether, giving a hard reality to some sections.

There was crisp, realistic dialogue and superb acting. No corny one-liners here. The dialogue saved the film from melodrama, which has a nasty habit of sidling its flamboyant self into serious films. The actors put on a splendid performance bringing the dialogue to life. The longer you watch The Book Thief, the less you think of Sophie Nelisse, Nico Leirsch, Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson as actors. They are Liesel, Rudy, Hans and Rosa. The only actor who left me underwhelmed was Ben Schnetzer who played Max. His acting felt a little strained at times and half-hearted at others. Although, to be fair, he was meant to be unconscious for most of his screen time. The voice-over narration by Death was also interesting. I liked the sound of Death’s voice. It fit my idea of what Death might sound like if it had a voice; quiet, smooth and ever so slightly sad.

There were scenes that made you cry (or very nearly) with the harsh reality of it all and there were scenes that made you laugh through your tears. It was brilliant. I was either chuckling or close to crying for the whole film, which doesn’t happen very often. Mixing humour and tragedy was a wonderful touch as it didn’t leave you too depressed by the end of the movie. Just with that small sad feeling that reminds you that you’ve just seen a good movie.

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But the nail that really when home was the story-line and its simple message. I have not yet read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak—although I will be reading it as soon as I get my hands on a copy—so I cannot compare the movie to the book and its plot. However, as a movie in itself, the story-line was engaging and entertaining. If you prefer movies with clear story arcs like hero-takes-on-villain, then you may find The Book Thief wanting, since it is a story about its characters and their growth.  The message of the importance of literature and the reminder of the horror of the holocaust (and of war) were beautifully understated. And their very understated-ness made them all the more powerful.

The Book Thief has definitely been my favourite film these holidays. Frozen was amazing, but it sits on a different plane. The Book Thief is a film that got me laughing, crying, talking and thinking well after the end credits had run. Any movie that can do that makes my must-watch list.

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A Note on Uncle Jack

Some of my readers have expressed interest in my series of articles The Hunt for  JackUnfortunately, university has started again and I am unable to commit time to the research and writing of this series. I hope to continue with some research throughout the year and will hopefully complete the articles at the end of this year in the summer holidays.

Meanwhile, I will keep publishing book and movie reviews and a few shorter pieces in between my university commitments.

Happy reading!

The Hunt for Jack: Prologue

The night before Remembrance Day, 2010. I sat at the computer, my fingers nervously tapping the keyboard. Late that same afternoon, my Commanding Officer (CO) from cadets had called and asked me to make a speech at the Remembrance Day ceremony to be held in Moonee Ponds. No one else, he said, was able or willing to take it and I, a very junior cadet at the time, was his last hope. I had to say yes, but how I wished I had found some way out of it. I needed to come up with an amazing speech in just one night.

The topic was to be ‘what Remembrance Day means to you’, which struck me as horribly broad topic for a ten minute speech. I began by trying to narrow down my feelings on the 11th of November to a few bullet points. As I went, I thought about those members of my family who might have fought in either of the world wars. Just too add a nice dash of history and connection to the fallen and those who served. Talking with my parents brought a few names to light; Great Uncle Bruno, Great Uncle Werner and Great Uncle Jack. Inspired, I wrote late into the night.

Remembrance Day saw me suffering from the worst case of nerves I have ever experienced, before or since. I took my seat between two politicians in the VIP seating area and tried to stop my knees from knocking against the flimsy plastic legs of my chair. The MC began and was followed by ex-servicemen, politicians and school children. I was up next. I got to the lectern without doing anything embarrassing and laid my speech notes down, holding them tightly against the snappy spring breeze. I heard a staccato tapping sound and, looking down, realized it was the ring on my shaking hand tapping against the metal edge of the lectern. I clasped my hands quickly and began. Moonee_Ponds_Cenotaph-11756-32682

I knew I had started too fast. I slowed myself down. I wasn’t nervous any more. I knew I was speaking at a good pace, looking up, not upon a sea of starring faces, but on a kindly, anonymous blur. I was enjoying myself and as I concluded I felt a serge of pride that I’ve only ever felt at the end of one of those inspirational movies. I felt that good feeling through the whole morning. Even hitting my hat at the salute didn’t dim my feeling of fulfillment.

In the reception after the ceremony I was approached by an elderly gentleman. He washed along with the crowd until he came to where I stood with my fellow cadets, conspicuous in our blue uniforms.

‘That was a wonderful speech. You did a great job.’ We shook hands as my friends moved aside to continue their conversation.

‘Thanks!’ I felt my colour rise at the compliment. The price of fame.

‘You said your, great uncle, er, Jack, wasn’t it? Said he fought in France. Do you know where exactly?’

‘No, I really don’t know much about my family’s war history at all.’ That was an embarrassing admission.

‘Well, you can find these things out with the National Archives these days. It might be interesting to find out about him, and your German relatives too.’

I agreed and after another compliment, he floated away into the crowd around the sandwich table. His comments and his compliments, did not float away. ‘You can find these things out with the National Archives these days.’ Yes, it wouldn’t be hard to access war records if you went about it the right way. ‘Might be interesting to find out about him.’ Yes, think of the stories …

Three years later, I was on the trail of Slattery, John James. Corporal, Australian Army. It was the first piece of the jigsaw puzzle. Think of the stories. His story. Great Uncle Jack’s story.

To be continued in Part One.

Copyright Madeleine van der Linden 2014

Book Review: The Longest Day

The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan was something I had to read for my year 10 history. On the overleaf of the book was a quote from Field Marshal Erwin Rommel to his aide. It read: ‘Believe me Lang, the first twenty-four hours of the invasion will be decisive … the fate of Germany depends on the out-come … for the Allies, as well as for Germany, it will be the longest day.” I was hooked. The quote explained the title of the book and there was a sense of poetic justice about Rommel’s quote becoming the title of a book about D-Day. I couldn’t wait to start reading.

I enjoy historical fiction; I love to read it and to write it. I also enjoy historical non-fiction, provided it is well written. The Longest Day is very well written, taking a myriad of different stories from the men involved in D-Day and blending them all into a cohesive and well paced narrative. The footnotes are intriguing and the inclusion of some photos from the D-Day campaign help to create a solid picture of what it was like on June 6, 1944 on the beaches of Normandy. Ryan writes sections of the book from the perspective of the Americans, the English, the French resistance and the Germans so that every aspect of the day is explained, usually through anecdotes, rather than a dull list of facts and dates. The Longest Day is quite a page-turner.


Cornelius Ryan

Cornelius Ryan, (5 June 1920 – 23 November 1974) was an Irish journalist and non-fiction writer. He started out at The Daily Telegraph before moving on to TIME in the USA. In his war reporting he often when into battle with the soldiers, flying into places like Europe, Jerusalem and the Pacific. Ryan wrote several books on the war including One Minute to Ditch!, A Bridge Too Far and The Longest Day. The latter two books were made into movies under the same names.

I think what really made this book a great read was the way each major ‘narrator’ or ‘character’ that Ryan used was developed until you began to get a sense of who that person was, not just what they did. Rommel becomes a three-dimensional character, not simply ‘the bad guy’. Several soldiers whose stories were told became men who suffered and fought for their children’s freedom, not just faceless casualties. It made The Longest Day as interesting as a novel, but far more touching because you knew that what you were reading about actually happened.

Whether you are a non-fiction buff or more of a fiction fan, I would suggest giving this book a try. If you’re already into historical books, I’m sure this one will go down a treat. If you aren’t into non-fiction, I think there is enough of the novel in this book to draw you in. Once you are in the story of D-Day, I think you will find it very hard to put down.