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Archive for January, 2014

Review on The Wolf of Wall Street

One word describes Jordan Belfort’s true saga and it is, ‘excess.’ Excess in sex, drugs, corruption and the pursuit and idolatry of the greenback! Belfort confesses all through the narration of his rise and subsequent fall in the heady world of Wall Streets’ Stock markets.

Director Martin Scorsese spares nothing in faithfully delivering Belfort’s warts and all revelation in The Wolf of Wall Street and Leonardo DiCaprio, being mentored by the protagonist himself, carries the role with his usual professionalism.

Australia’s own Margot Robbie, a former cast member of Neighbours, delivers her accent like a native New Yorker and is impressive as wife number two. Flawless in both her performance and her looks, Robbie will hopefully be a contender for the Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards.

While the movie is three hours long, the constant momentum, action and delivery are such that time flies without the viewer being aware of it. Colourful language is used extensively throughout and according to a Parents’ guideline report on IMDB, the film wins the record for the excessive use of the F-word with the figure of 506; the S-word, 79 times and finally, the C-word, three times.

Described by many critics as ‘soft porn,’ the film has an R (18+) rating. Viewers are exposed to blatant drug use, full frontal nudity, debauchery, prostitution, violence and corruption. Belfort makes no apology for his role behind the corruption; readily flaunts it and revels in his street-smart astuteness in exploiting the greed of his clients. He readily acknowledges his addictions to sex, drugs and money. Broker Mark Hanna, played well but briefly by Matthew McConaughey, sums up Belfort’s corrupt, Stratton Oakmont brokerage firm’s mentality with, ‘The name of the game, moving the money from the client’s pocket to your pocket.’

There are comedic interactions between the players, which bring relief from the bombardment of drug abuse and sexual excess. And Belfort does have charisma and the gift of getting the best from his workforce. It is a talent that he, after his imprisonment, is utilising on his motivational tours.

The story is based on Jordan Belfort’s tell-all book but in the final analysis, the viewer may need to question the authenticity and reality of a self-confessed, drug-fuelled, decadent and self-absorbed criminal. The Wolf of Wall Street does entertain and although Martin Scorsese projects and displays the excesses, he may be leaving the moral compass assessment to the viewers to work out for themselves.

© Wendy Robinson 2014

The values by which we are to survive are not rules for just and unjust conduct, but are those deeper illuminations in whose light justice and injustice, good and evil, means and ends are seen in fearful sharpness of outline. ~ Jacob Bronowski

Nature’s Own

I watched from a distance as the Myna bird attacked a hapless insect and as I approached while on my power walk, it flew a short distance away. Looking down, I saw the beautiful mini wings splayed out beside the upturned body of a praying mantis and noted the stark red colour against the bright green and couldn’t help lamenting its unfortunate position. Knowing it was part of nature, I hoped the insect’s demise would be quick and painless

A year or so before, I saw a sight that I will always remember. It was a writhing, struggling mass of black caterpillars with bright-yellow spikes on either end of the body and from afar, the bulk looked like a dark, splattered cowpat.

I will admit, I recoiled when I initially saw them and quickly continued on my walk. On the return journey however, I noted with surprise that the tiny caterpillars had moved about a meter in the 25 or so minutes my walk had taken. I could see that their destination was a big, leafy, gum tree located nearest the concrete path. Curious, I stooped to look at them.

On closer inspection, I noted that the caterpillars were heaped one upon the other and all moved in unison to a timed rhythm. In a fanciful state, I imagined a Disney cartoon with the lead-caterpillar barking the orders in a sergeant-major tone of voice while leading his troop forward to a cry of “Forward lads, keep moving! Come on fellas, we can do it.”

Fascinated, I continued to watch and noticed that the heaving and wriggling clump had a pattern to its purpose. The lead caterpillar would start up and the entire body of caterpillars would tremble and crawl forward in sustained effort and they continued until the head of the group stopped. I noted with delight that the ceasing of movement would steadily transfer down the chain until the last lot of caterpillars stopped. Their rest was brief and although I did not time it, it appeared to be about a minute before once again, the lead caterpillar would start the movement again. It reminded me of the adage, ‘no rest for the wicked,’ but it also brought to mind the single-minded purpose of nature in its cycle of birth, breeding and death.

I couldn’t help admiring this consistent and determined band and marvelled at how far they had progressed since my initial sight of them. I, reluctantly left them to continue their focussed journey and couldn’t help pondering on the fact that I had initially found them repugnant but ended up appreciating and seeing the beauty in their being.

© Wendy Robinson 2014

In all things of nature there is something of the marvellous. ~ Aristotle

The Test

She walked towards me with an unreadable look on her face and sat down. ‘Did you get it?’ I asked. ‘I don’t know, he is checking the mistakes I made,’ she replied with a slight grimace. Then she proceeded to shake her legs up and down in nervous anticipation.

Trying to keep it light, I laughed and told her to stop jiggling. Her face looked alert, sombre and dismayed just as her name was called out. Already on her feet, she ran to the glass window. I remained behind to let her savour the outcome independently, irrespective of whether the news was good or bad.

I couldn’t help smiling when I saw her dancing up and down and could see her grinning profile. Yessss! My daughter just passed her driving test!

I glanced across at a girl who had her fingers hovering above her mobile phone and saw that she was smiling broadly between my daughter and me. She was sharing in our delight and I smiled back.

Walking over, I heard and saw the Examiner going over the test results and was gratified to see my daughter listening attentively and nodding.

She then had to complete an eye chart reading. While the man completed the paper work, I reached out, congratulated and hugged her. Needless to say, our grins were wide as we embraced. Just as we broke away, I noted that people around were smiling at us and it warmed my heart.

My daughter then had to quickly seat herself to have her photo taken. We barely started chatting when she was handed her new licence.

She walked out on air and happily exchanged her L plates for the new red P plates. I quickly got my phone out and took a picture of the red P proudly propped in its place on the car. This happy scenario was a sharp contrast to what my daughter experienced a few days earlier.

Three days before

Earlier in the week, she had to search online for a motor registry where she could do her driving test and found one a few suburbs away. Unfortunately, she lost the spot while trying to locate and use her credit card and the next available test was at a beachside suburb almost an hour’s drive away. In desperation, she booked the test.

To ensure familiarity with the area, I suggested she book a lesson with the local driving school from that suburb. We drove over on a hot day and she duly had her lesson. She felt gratified when the instructor told her that she was a good driver but was dismayed when the instructor told her she couldn’t hire her car for the test as it was being utilised all day and all week for regular driving lessons.

Taking the news in her stride, she decided on her original plan to use Gertrude, her old car for the test. The Friday morning of her test soon dawned and we arrived at the registry with ample time to spare.

She hopped into her car while the Examiner was inspecting it and proceeded to follow the instructions on testing the headlights, the indicators and brake lights. All worked perfectly! The man then walked around and firmly stated that he could no longer test her as the front driver’s side, plastic, blinker cover had a broken piece the size of a penny on it. The inside cover was still intact and the lights worked but the fact that the outer cover was chipped, meant that the car was considered not ‘roadworthy.’

Walking back to the motor registry with dignity, she managed to maintain the façade until she rang and told her father. Wiping away her tears, she then proceeded inside for the formalities.

When we walked back outside soon after, a tanned, bald-headed man stopped us. Apologising for intruding, he asked how she went with her test. Taken-aback, she relayed the problem. The man looked incredulous and then astounded us by offering his car for her test. Still surprised, she thanked him but declined the offer. He nevertheless insisted and suggested she rush back in and let the Examiner know that she could still do the test-driving.

Wavering, she looked at me for confirmation and then asked him outright if he was covered by insurance should there be an accident. He magnanimously waved his hands, reassured us that he was covered and again, urged her to speak to the Examiner before he completed the cancellation paperwork.

While she hurried inside, I quickly asked him if he owned an automatic or a manual. He said he drove a manual. My daughter had been practicing on an automatic so we quickly marched inside to tell her and to re-cancel the test. He apologised to the Examiner and we walked back outside.

I have to interrupt this narrative by telling you that the comedy of errors did not end there.

Just then, the Examiner appeared and told us that the guy who was next in line for a test-drive had arrived very early and that he would take him for his test in the time allotted for my daughter and she could then do the test 45 minutes later and only if she could buy the necessary cover from a spares-part motor shop to ensure her car was roadworthy. Overwhelmed, my daughter agreed.

The bald-headed man then pointed to a motor shop around the corner. All three of us raced over but soon learnt that the shop carried only late model parts, whereas my daughter’s car was quite old.

Undaunted, our knight then offered to give my daughter a quick lesson in driving his manual car. She gratefully took up his offer.

She managed to progress from comical bunny-hops to smooth three-point turns within 20 minutes and I proudly praised her from the back seat of the car.

Reverse-parking however, was more challenging. She spent the rest of the time trying to perfect it. Disheartened, we dashed back to the motor registry, where she told the Examiner the woeful tale of not finding the required car part and that she also did not feel confident in driving the manual car.

We thanked the wonderful, generous gentleman and walked around to her car. The $110- parking fine under the windscreen wiper capped off a disappointing day.

For those who are interested, my daughter did manage to purchase a replacement cover for her headlight and the aforementioned driving test she passed, was booked with another registry less than an hour away. Fortunately, although the weather was drizzly, the air was cooler and more comfortable.

Going for her test despite the many hiccups and passing it a few days later, meant more to her than it would ordinarily have done so.

© Wendy Robinson 2014

What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals. ~ Zig Ziglar

Review on The Messenger

I laughed, giggled and laughed some more while reading the first chapter of Australian author Markus Zusak’s The Messenger (sold under the title, ‘I am the Messenger,’ in the USA). The same Markus Zusak of The Book Thief fame!

And to test whether my sense of the absurd was akin to others, I asked two family members to read that first chapter. Needless to say, each burst out laughing and chuckled often at the comical scenario and the unquestionably, ‘Aussie,’ sense of mateship in the narrative. One of the aforementioned family members hasn’t put the book down and has also influenced two friends to read it.

Make no mistake, Zusak has captured the Aussie essence in this tale, so much so that I ponder now to wonder if non-Australian readers would understand, relate or appreciate the various nuances and essentially ocker humour that pervades the story. This book would make a great high school text book for Australian students, as it covers the subject’s ‘coming of age,’ intriguing and niggling mysteries, boy yearning for girl, family dysfunction, relationship issues and a lot more that high school students could relate to and discuss.

The blurb on the back cover relates the fact that Ed, ‘the pathetic card player,’ is given a player’s card on which is written cryptic clues for him to follow. In the final analysis, the identity of the sender holds little importance in comparison to Ed’s journey.

The Messenger is as different from The Book Thief as the proverbial, ‘chalk and cheese’ but is nevertheless, a page-turner. While Ed Sullivan, the narrator and subsequently, THE messenger, would himself question the moniker, ‘hero,’ he does suffer the trials and tribulations that beset him and handles them in his own unorthodox manner. I would also be remiss if I failed to mention his stinky, ‘just smells like he’s dead,’ seventeen-year-old dog, the Doorman. The reader soon learns that Ed loves the Doorman and so much so that the Doorman gets his own bowl of coffee every morning.

It is a book I found hard to put down and soon after the first chapter, I found myself caring about what happens to Ed Sullivan.

© Wendy Robinson 2014

If I believe I cannot do something, it makes me incapable of doing it. But when I believe I can, then I acquire the ability to do it, even if I did not have the ability in the beginning. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

 

August: Osage County – Movie Review

There’s drama, drama and more drama in August: Osage County! It has a stellar cast with Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis, Abigail Breslin, Sam Shepard, Margo Martindale, Chris Cooper and last but not least, those yummy men Ewan McGregor and Benedict Cumberbatch. I will confess I’m not familiar with Misty Upham, Dermot Mulroney and Julianne Nicholson.

The synopsis of the story is woven around the disappearance of the father, played by Sam Shepherd; the gathering of the family in searching for him and the culminating explosion of personality clashes, secrets unearthed and self-righteous and destructive behaviour, amidst the searing heat.

It will be the biggest surprise if Meryl does not win an award for her scene-stealing role as the acerbic, commanding, pitiful yet tormenting matriarch of the dysfunctional Weston family. A role that was no doubt demanding, draining and challenging! Alternating between derision, scorn and contempt and yet at times, vulnerable, reflective and pathetic, Violet’s character is large and unforgettable and she ensures her daughters know that she ‘misses nothing.’

Julia Roberts’ role, almost as tough, is purported to have brought her back to the screen. She is now in the running for the Golden Globe award as a nominee for the best supporting actress. The part differs in so many ways from her previous roles with her trademark mega-watt smile and model looks. The audience would be challenged to even see a smile in this role.

While the two strong women dominate the screen in their own respect, the other cast members are impressive in their respective roles and keep the saga flowing along between a relentless pace and at times, pensive scenes. The story unfolds with unexpected revelations and surprising turns.

Ewan’s role as estranged husband takes a back seat to his wife, played by Julia, but he is credible in trying to salvage an already doomed marriage. In portraying a stumbling, bumbling, disappointing son, Benedict Cumberbatch must have found the part challenging and a vast difference from his previous roles. Juliette Lewis also gives a credible performance as the flighty, fast-talking, desperate sister, grateful to escape from the family clutches.

The surprising and yet resilient performance is one that unfolds through the middle sister, Ivy, played by Julianne Nicholson. While her gentle and selfless demeanour is challenged in the ‘catfish’ lunch scene, Julia and Meryl reportedly, also felt nervous about performing the drama-filled episode and consequently, all three shut themselves away, rehearsing the evening prior to shooting it.

All in all, the drama set in Oklahoma, in the family home with its gloomy rooms, taped up windows, heavy furniture and soaring temperatures, is a story that won’t easily be forgotten.

© Wendy Robinson 2014

It is hundreds of tiny threads of memories, which sew people together through the years. Despite, their mental separation they stay woven into that tapestry out of habit, emotion, obsession or fear. ~ Shannon L. Alder

You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them. ~ Bishop Desmond Tutu

The Coward Punch

Daniel Christie is still on the critical list in hospital and no doubt, his family are maintaining a bedside vigil beside their son and brother.

How does one reconcile a young, laughing, happy family member looking forward to a night out celebrating an annual event, against the broken, still, hurt and maimed, shell of a loved one lying amidst tubes and monitors in ICU, just a few hours later?

When he was getting ready for the evening, Daniel probably dressed with care and imagined a night out of fun, laughter and camaraderie with his friends. Instead, a total stranger who had been drinking to excess knocks him out with what is termed as a, ‘king-hit.’

The dictionary explains a king-hit as: A term widely used in Australia. A very hard punch, usually delivered to the head that is completely unexpected. Most often results in knock outs or knock downs. Similar in meaning to a, ‘sucker-punch!’ Viewed by most as ‘an act of cowardice!’

Take a second look at the last sentence: ‘an act of cowardice!’ Daniel’s father, Michael Christie, actually spoke about the term this very morning, saying, ‘we have heard it referred to as a coward punch, which seems to be more appropriate.’

Let us make no bones about it! It is a cowardly action! To hit someone who is unprepared or caught unawares, that is, defenceless to a vicious, unprovoked attack, IS, a gutless, underhanded act that must be condemned.

In any legitimate arena, both opponents face each other and are then given time and consideration to size each other up, before a match ensues. Leaving aside the legitimate matches, the code-of-honour nevertheless still requires, first and foremost, that opponents on the street ‘face each other,’ and are given the opportunity to defend themselves. Daniel allegedly was caught unawares and knocked out cold with a cowardly blow to his forehead.

Another family grieving the loss of their young son Tom Kelly, a victim of a fatal blow in 2012 and in similar circumstances as Daniel, were horrified that his attacker only received four years in jail. There is no need to spell out the questions being asked of the legal system!

Let us return to the term, ‘king-hit.’ The word ‘king,’ conjures up images of royalty, ruler, sovereign, regal, leadership among others, and is generally considered a positive synonym. An assailant who viciously hits someone who is unprepared and defenceless is anything but a leader or ruler among men.

Let us no longer glorify the act and instead, treat it with the disdain and abhorrence it deserves. With that in mind, Australians across the board should henceforth, refer to the deed as mentioned by Daniel’s parent, as a ‘coward-punch!’

Likewise, the legal system needs to recognise and reform the laws pertaining to these cases.

The parents of Tom, Ralph and Kathy Kelly are launching a petition on change.org/thomaskelly, calling for maximum sentencing in such manslaughter cases and requesting the pertinent issue of alcohol-fuelled violence be addressed.

© Wendy Robinson 2014

There are two conditions in life: accept things as they exist, or accept responsibility for changing them. ~ Dr Denis Waitley

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