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Abbott and co. working from Orwell's playbook

17 July 2014 | Brian Matthews

Orwell's 1984Life in Orwell's Airstrip One is graceless, demeaning and inhumane for all but those entitled to preferment. Surveillance is increasing, ruling-party secrecy and monopoly on information is rigid, refugees are demonised and language is reduced to sound bites and slogans. The leadership is disjoined from and cynical about the natural world. Just as well it's fiction because it sounds awful doesn't it?

Film compounds real life drugs tragedy

1 Comment
16 July 2014 | Tim Kroenert

Still from 'All This Mayhem'Ben and Tas Pappas, from Melbourne’s working-class north, take the skating world by storm in the 1990s. This film doesn’t skimp on the drugs-and-sex-addled reality in which they found themselves, fuelled by massive sponsorship dollars and the anarchic skating culture. But this is not the film's greatest tragedy. 

The devastated face of Aboriginal disempowerment

09 July 2014 | Tim Kroenert

David Gulpilil as CharlieCharlie is disempowered, but not powerless, not yet. He has quit smoking, and ritualistically burns cigarettes he bums from a younger man in the community. He'd prefer to hunt and forage rather than consume the 'whitefella junk' peddled at the local kiosk, though his emaciated body and persistent cough reveal that he has already suffered much from the 'poisons' introduced to Aboriginal culture since the arrival of Europeans.

Hillary Clinton's bloodless memoir

03 July 2014 | Barry Gittins

Hard Choices, by Hilary Rodham ClintonThis was akin to reading a carefully vetted resume. An intelligent and formidable first lady, senator and Secretary of State, and no shrinking violet, the author presents a largely passionless, desiccated record. There's the odd poignant reflection. Absurd depictions of Mel Brooksian secure rooms (and the reading of documents with a blanket over her head in non-secure rooms). But, overall, Clinton draws pictures without drawing blood.

Good priest walks the ruins of the sex abuse crisis

02 July 2014 | Tim Kroenert

Brendan Gleeson in CalvaryEnsconced in the anonymity of the confessional, a man who suffered injustice at the hands of the Church informs the priest, Fr Lavelle, that he plans to kill him. The killer's reason for wanting to inflict violence is that he was, as a child, a victim of abuse that went unpunished. Lavelle is not respected by his parishioners, despite the centrality of the Church to their community. Amid the ruins left by the abuse crisis he carries little moral authority.

Youths burned by the flames of self interest

25 June 2014 | Tim Kroenert

Ashleigh Cummings and Lily Sullivan in GaloreWhen it comes to symbols of destruction and renewal, few are more potent than bushfires. That is particularly true in the Australian context. Galore's poignant coming-of-age story unfolds in the weeks prior to the 2003 Canberra bushfires. It is, in part, a rumination on adolescent self-centredness: its inevitability and inadequacy as a shield protecting the vulnerable, budding self from the flames of experience.

Inside the head of a mentally ill genius

18 June 2014 | Tim Kroenert

Domhnall Gleeson and Michael Fassbender in FrankMental illness is no laughing matter. Except when it is. Frank is a musical genius, who spends his life with his face concealed inside a comically oversized head. His bandmates are in awe of him, especially starry-eyed keyboard player Jon, who in his naivety envies Frank's illness and the strange creativity that it entails. Things turn ugly when one member of the ensemble commits suicide during the recording of the band's debut album.

Cancer teens in love and death

1 Comment
11 June 2014 | Tim Kroenert

Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort in The Fault in Our StarsAugustus and Hazel meet in a support group for cancer sufferers. During the course of their ensuing romance they both prove to be pragmatic about their own mortality. They share frank discussions about God and the afterlife, and gain little comfort from them. It's an inherently sad story, but to parallel the individual horror of their cancer with the experiences of Anne Frank during the Holocaust is a step to far.

Atheist Clive James' hymn to God

09 June 2014 | Philip Harvey

Dante's Divine Comedy translated by Clive JamesRumours of his death are greatly exaggerated, but Clive James has since 2010 made a public art of dying. It is in this intense moment of re-evaluation of life that we read his translation of Dante's Divine Comedy. Possibly no great poem is so immersed in the connections between our life here and now with life after death. It's striking that an avowed atheist produces the best poetry in Paradiso.

Veteran muckraker wrestles with God

05 June 2014 | Barry Gittins and Jen Vuk

Living With a Wild God, by Barbara EhrenreichWhen journalist and activist Barbara Ehrenreich was a young woman she came face to face 'with something vast, terrifying and unknowable'. We mustn't take for granted the courage this admission took coming from such a committed atheist. While noting science can 'dismiss anomalous 'mystical' experiences', she wrestles her discontent into submission by boldly declaring that it 'is not unscientific to search for what may not be there'.

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