The Light Between Oceans

08/08/2014 at 8:15 AM (Australian Literature, Books, Historical) (, , , , )

The Light Between Oceans was a heartbreaking story about the consequences of a momentous decision made in the throes of grief and haste. Tom Sherbourne is a lighthouse keeper living on  Janus, a remote island off the West Coast of Australia together with his wife Isabel. He harbours Lucy, a baby who washed up on to the shores of the island in a boat, because of guilt over his wife’s miscarriage. However when a chance encounter with the mother of the child preys on his conscience, he can no longer keep silent. When his wife learns of his betrayal, they drift apart while Lucy tries to acclimatise herself to the stranger who keeps calling her Grace and makes a claim that tears the fabric of existence she has hitherto known.

The decision the couple makes to pass the child off as their own has heartbreaking results. Lies quickly unravel, unflattering truths come to light and a lot of pain and hurt is felt. In the middle of this, Lucy navigates trying to find her true identity while locked in a battle of two mothers vying for her custody, one with a legal claim who had never seen her since she was a baby and one with no legal claim but one who raised her in her formative years. M.L. Stedman’s poignant, riveting novel received several literary accolades and awards and since then Hollywood rights have been acquired for film production by Dreamworks.

Three characters stood out to me in this novel because of the internal conflicts each faced and weathered. Isabel struggles to cope with the loss of her baby but the arrival of Lucy changes her life but by the time she is willing to admit the truth, it is too late to not hurt anyone which nearly made a villain out of her to me due to her selfish desires. Meanwhile Tom is guilt-ridden because he feels survivor’s guilt after escaping physically unscathed from the war. This is why he goes against his straight-laced ethics when he decides to omit details in his logbook to keep Isabel happy. Hannah is sympathetic as the mother who thought her child was literally dead but has to fight an uphill battle to convince Lucy of the truth of the situation. The Light Between Oceans plot is complex as it encompasses a moral dilemma and it is possible to be empathetic to both the female leads but as the story unfolds, it shows justice for one party can lead to tragic loss for the other party. The conclusion however just might surprise you.

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Welcome 2012 & Saroja Review

01/09/2012 at 11:59 AM (Culture, Drama, Historical, Movies) (, , , , )

So 2011 has said its goodbye. It was a pretty eventful year with two part-time jobs gone and a full-time job gained. So with the arrival of 2012, I’ve got that job in publishing I wanted – it’s a paid one too this time.

I kept my promise of delivering a blog post each week last year (sometimes there were even more than one in a week). Hooray for a non broken New Year resolution from last year! I’m not so sure if I’ll have time to read as much, watch movies as much or go take photos in 2012 as much given the new responsibilities I have but I’ll try.

So I have joined my company’s book club. Unlike me who reads at least one book per week, they read a book per month. So my book reviews will still remain even if my post count might drop and I’ll keep watching movies!

So now we come to the end of the formalities and I’ve even included a review of a little known film from the country I was born in.

Saroja

Saroja - Sinhala movie

Saroja is a film about the conflict that existed between the Sinhalese people of Sri Lanka and the terrorist group known as the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam). This created a lot of problems for the peaceful Tamil people not wanting to be involved in the situation but were sometimes forced into terrorism in order to survive.

Note: This civil war started in the early 80s and only ended quite recently after countless broken cease fires and two president assassination attempts – one successful, one not. My school never allowed us to go on an excursion because of the risk and we were learning what to do in case a bomb hit the school – crawl under a desk with a pencil placed in your mouth – from the time we were nine years old. My school included Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and Burghers and we all got along. It’s always the grown ups that cause the problems, huh?

Back to the film. Saroja (Nithyavani Kandasami) is a little Tamil girl who hides in the jungle with him after her father is wounded during the war and their house is burned down. When she is searching for food, she meets Varuni (Pramudi Karunarathne), a Sinhalese girl. They both become close friends and the interaction between them is absolutely touching and endearing. Varuni’s family takes in Saroja and her Tamil Tiger father despite the risk involved if they were to be discovered. Of course, the truth comes out when their neighbours pry. The Sinhalese couple harbouring the fugitives points out that Tamil people are also human in their defence with Varuni’s teacher father being the voice of reason and rationality.

While the film has a touching message at its heart, it’s not very original content but at least it wasn’t a Bollywood remake dubbed in Sinhalese like most local teledramas. Nevertheless it was a story that needed to be told and that was done quite effectively by director Somaratne Dissanayake. It comes to a sad conclusion but keeps an element of hope surviving at the finale.

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Jude the Obscure (Film)

12/07/2011 at 12:10 PM (Actors, Books, Christopher Eccleston, Classics, Drama, Historical, Kate Winslet, Movies, Religion, Romance) (, , , , , , , )

Jude is a poignant film directed by Michael Winterbottom based on the controversial novel Jude the Obscure penned by Thomas Hardy (by now you followers might have noticed I’m a big fan) starring Christopher Eccleston as Jude and Kate Winslet as his cousin (gross but legal) and love interest, Sue Brideshead.

Jude Fawley is a working class man who dreams of pursuing a university education after a heart-to-heart with a free spirited teacher but his social class and his poverty prevents him from realising his ambition. Before he attends university, he hastily marries Arabella which quickly leads into an unhappy marriage as the wedded couple realise they don’t have matching temperaments. When his wife suddenly leaves him, Jude decides to chase after his rainbow.

He becomes bitter after his university applications are rejected because of his lower class status. This is when he meets his cousin Sue, a lively and intelligent young woman who takes delight in defying convention. Jude falls for her but not before making the mistake of introducing his old teacher Mr. Phillotson to Sue; she makes the mistake of accepting his former teacher’s proposal after Jude confesses he’s married despite having no romantic chemistry with her intended husband. This eventually leads to another failed marriage.

Finally giving into her romantic urges, Jude and Sue begin to live together as they travel from place to place when he finds any work as a stonemason. In the midst of their travels, they suddenly hear from Arabella who reveals Jude has a son called Juey who seems to be a very despondent sort of child. Juey comes to stay with Jude and Sue who try and entertain him. Meanwhile Sue gives birth to two children of her own. Things come to a head when the couple is denied lodging again after Sue insists on saying she’s unmarried. She explains to Juey that they have to move because there are too many of them. This turns out to have been a fatal error on her part though Juey’s tragic reaction to her reasoning is way too dramatic – perhaps he had depression.

After this incident, Sue and Jude become severely depressed and start drifting apart. Meanwhile Sue who had turned her back on God turns her interest back into religion assuming what happened was a punishment from above. She decides to return to Phillotson because it is they who have the true marriage in divine eyes. One year later, she meets Jude as they mourn the circumstances of the past and he tries to win her back. We realise although Sue now lives with her legal husband, her true feelings have always been reserved for Jude.

The novel this film is based on was so controversial that writer Thomas Hardy stopped writing books after its publication and turned to poetry instead. Perhaps his wife may have been an influence – she thought the  tension between Sue and Jude parallelled her own relationship with Hardy. Luckily, the film version of Jude was made when it was not as bad to defy convention for love.

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The Mayor of Casterbridge (Film)

10/13/2011 at 2:24 PM (BBC Drama, Books, Classics, Historical, Mystery, Romance, TV) (, , , , , , , , )

I first fell in love with Thomas Hardy novels after reading The Woodlanders. If you are familiar with tales by Hardy, you’ll know this guy probably would have been the master of soap opera storylines if television had been invented in his days but it really is his descriptions that you can’t go beyond due to his skill with evocative prose. Recently I watched The Mayor of Casterbridge, based on his novel of that name, adapted for the silver screen by David Thacker, starring Ciaran Hinds as Michael Henchard, who delivers a stellar, heartbreaking performance in the pivotal last scenes. The captivating and beautiful score set against the lush country backdrop does not hurt. By the way, Casterbridge is a fictional town representing Dorchester. Do note though it is a long production with a running time of almost over three hours so only start watching when you have enough time to spare.

It all begins in a small town where a young hay-trusser named Michael Henchard sells his wife and infant daughter for five guineas, in a bid that begins as a joke but turns serious, after having too much to drink. When he sobers up and realises his folly, he makes an oath not to touch alcohol 21 years, the number of years he has lived, and builds a good life for himself.

Nineteen years later he is a successful agrarian and the mayor of Casterbridge – a town not far from the fair where he sold his family. When his wife Susan (Juliet Aubrey) returns with his daughter Elizabeth-Jane (Jodhi May) because her other “husband” Newson was lost at sea, Henchard is tormented because while he has a chance to atone for his wrongdoing, he is paranoid that his past transgressions will be discovered by the townspeople. His deep-seated need to protect his reputation from past improprieties soon leads to a complex web of deceit and lies involving Henchard, his “mistress” Lucetta (Polly Walker) and his wife. Poor Elizabeth-Jane is an innocent but cannot help being caught in the middle of the ensuing drama.

Meanwhile on the same day his family returns, Henchard meets a Scotsman, Donald Farfrae (James Purefoy), who has developed a technique to restore bad grain.  The mayor persuades Farfrae to become his manager and confesses his secret to the young man. Luckily for him, although his secret is ousted later in court when he is judging a case, Farfrae is an honourable, just and trustworthy man unlike the mayor. So the mayor turns bitter and jealous when his new manager consistently outdoes him.

Like most other works by Hardy, the plot is full of secret revelations, hidden romantic entanglements, family feuds, complicated tangles of lies and business rivalries. What makes this story so interesting is that Henchard, his wife, and his mistress are not bad people but each makes terrible choices of which the aftermath is horrible. There are many themes in this story but the recurring theme is deception. In the end the people who hurt the most are the ones who give rise to it. Henchard’s behavior makes him difficult persona to admire mostly because of his hostility to Elizabeth-Jane after Susan’s letter provided the truth but because in sudden bursts he will do the right thing or tries to enables the audience to feel empathy for him especially when we hear his final will and testament.

I think that was the last straw for me because I felt stinging in my tear ducts and let out the waterworks. If you can stand tragic melodrama, enjoy classics and are able to endure the screen time, you’ll love this production if you can forgive the farfetched plot.


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Water For Elephants (Film)

06/05/2011 at 8:31 AM (Action, Historical, Movies, Romance) (, , , , , , , , , )

Water for Elephants – based on the novel by Sara Gruen – is a film typical of old Hollywood and is reminiscent of the film fare from the 1930s. It starts out with an older Jacob Jankoski (Hal Holbrook) who has escaped the confines of his retirement home when his son forgot a due visit. So we see him approach a circus and talk to the ticket seller who first sees him as a nuisance. But when he begins to tell the tale of how he joined the circus as a young boy, the narrative captivates his audience of one.

We learn how Jacob (Robert Pattinson) was left penniless as a young Cornell college student. His aspirations of becoming a vet are cut short until by coincidence he ends up as a stowaway on the train carrying the Benzini circus. Pattinson actually does a good job in this movie by shovelling manure, feeding lions and diagnosing illness in circus animals – you can almost forget he is also the sparkly vampire heart-throb of teenage fans. Jacob is first treated with some respect by the circus master because of his education but after witnessing the cruelty his employer inflicts on a young elephant with a bull hook, the initial bit of camaraderie between them fizzles. His boss, August (Christoph Waltz) is of unpredictable temper, which can sometimes be very violent and tends to make everyone deferential towards him; this includes his young and beautiful wife, Marlena (Reese Witherspoon) of Marilyn Monroe-esque locks whom he regards as his star attraction.

Water for Elephants Movie Poster

So when Jacob falls in love with Marlena, it creates a dangerous situation for both of them. August is a commanding man capable of terrible cruelty to the animals, to his employees and even to his wife. The representation of the Great Depression and the impact that it had on the circus was beautifully conveyed through period costumes, mood lighting and the overall atmosphere of chaos. In my opinion, I felt the husband and wife shared more chemistry than the wife and her lover. Most of Jacob’s chemistry seemed to be directed toward Rosie (Tai), the elephant. Also, while Reese Witherspoon seems to have improved from her role in How Do You Know, Marlena still seemed lacklustre perhaps because they did not give her enough depth as a character ; it was as if she was a pretty face who could do some stunts but is only a possession. So when Jacob has Marlena run away with him, he realises August will not rest until he has his vengeance. Being a little careless about where they stay allows Marlena to be taken away from him after thugs loyal to August give him a hiding. So he carefully plans a way to return and release Marlena from her brute of a husband.

It will suffice to say this strategy of his meets with some complications along the way but Jacob ultimately achieves his goal. Directed by Francis Lawrence whose previous directing credits include I am Legend and Constantine, here you have a film that relies heavily on mood and setting instead of CG rendering and special effects.

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