Posted by: jkirkby8712 | January 18, 2011

Monday, 17th January 2011 – More water, tennis, black balloons & bikes

After watching so much of the media reports about Australia’s floods. I decided that last night, another movie on the ABC channel [with no commercials] was called for. The ABC’s current program of Australian movies continued with a 2008 film called ‘The Black Balloon. – an Australian/British AFI award-winning drama and comedy feature film

Quite a pleasant little film, though at times a bit disturbing, it dealt with the semi-autobiographical story by Elissa Down, and starring Rhys Wakefield, Luke Ford, Toni Collette and Gemma Ward.. Story of a young man’s coming of age [Rhys Wakefield as Thomas Mollison] and the examination of his relationship with his older autistic brother [Luke Ford, as Charlie]. Thomas wants the life of a normal teenager but it appears to him that his severely autistic brother means that dream is nigh impossible.

As I watched this film, it became obvious just how difficult a family situation would be, not just for the parents concerned but any siblings of the autistic child. Whilst in the main, the family was able to maintain a calmness about their responses to most of the antics of Charlie, occasionally frustrations would boil over when communication with Charlie became extra difficult in trying to persuade him to a particular course of action. The gist of the story was based in particular on the affect of such frustrations on Thomas. I came across various previews of the movie, some far less flattering than others. A good description was the Black Balloon courses with a first hand feel for languorous Aussie summers [most of it seems to take place during a period of warm days], the shifting scales of love and hate in sibling relationships, and the earned wit that helps families cope with difficult situations.

In summary form, Thomas and his family move to a new home where he starts at a new school. All he wants to do is to fit in, but when his pregnant mother has to take things easy, he is put in charge of his autistic older brother, Charlie. Thomas, with the help of his new girlfriend, Jackie, then faces his biggest challenge yet. Charlie’s unusual antics take Thomas on an emotional journey that causes pent-up frustrations towards his brother to pour out. A deeply personal film for writer/director Elissa Down [who had two austistic siblings herself] The Black Balloon is a gentle yet unflinching look at a family strained by the pressures of caring for an autistic teenager. At his new school, Thomas meets Jackie Masters (Gemma Ward). When Thomas and Charlie’s pregnant mother Maggie (Toni Collette) is confined to bed rest, Thomas must take additional responsibility for his brother, at the likely cost of his developing relationship with Jackie. One had to admire Luke Ford’s part in the film. As indicated, the storyline is focused on the ways in which Thomas [who has an ongoing role in the Channel 7 soapie ‘Home and Away’] is affected by his brother, but as another writer commented, the performance that stands out is Ford in the role of Charlie, who  maintains the many physical and behavioural traits common to autism throughout every scene and is entirely convincing in his role.

I found the following to be a useful précis and review of the film , which may attract other viewers to have a look at the movie – a look at the themes and preoccupations of the movie

‘Many teenagers are embarrassed by their parents and family, but Thomas has the additional embarrassment of having an older brother that behaves like a toddler, complete with star reward chart and a monkey ears cap which acts as his security blanket. An early scene has Charlie, dressed in his monkey ears cap, underpants and sports shoes, escaping through the front door, which has been left carelessly unlocked. Viewers will both laugh and cringe with embarrassment as Thomas, barefoot and dressed in his pyjama boxer shorts, chases Charlie through the streets near their home. The complex nature of relationships within a family where one member has a severe disability is highlighted brilliantly as Thomas tries to reconcile his affection for his brother with the frustration his behaviour causes, the hurt of constantly being overlooked as Charlie’s needs come first and the guilt of hating his brother at times and wishing that he was normal. Thomas’ father, Simon (Erik Thomson), plays a less significant role than his mother Maggie (Toni Collette) whose strength, love and commitment holds the family together. As the movie reaches its climax, viewers will find themselves sharing Thomas’ anguish, feeling sympathy for Maggie as she tries to balance the demands of providing for the physical and emotional needs of both of her sons, and feeling compassion for Charlie, whose problems and issues are not of his own choosing. The lack of compassion shown by some of the neighbours and the mocking attitude of Thomas’ classmates will leave modern audiences frustrated. It can only be hoped that modern society would have a less critical and more supportive and informed attitude’. After watching the movie, I wandered in fact whether today’s society would be any more compassionate – there is a scene at a check out supermarket counter, where Charlie throws a tantrum, and his father ‘loses it’ in attempting to restrain his son. Most of the other customers just stood around, said nothing, though probably in a state of shock at what was happening.  I’m thinking that today, someone might just step in, and object to the manner in which Charlie was virtually dragged from the store by his father.

Overall, a film worth having a look at, if only to bring an awareness of the extreme difficulties, and sacrifices that members of some families make in caring for or accepting an autistic child as one of the family.

The Australian Open Tennis Championships began today in Melbourne, and for a change, hopes are high for at least a couple of Australian good performances, but I think I will wait a day or two before making any predictions.  Sat down briefly tonight to watch Australia’s Jamila Groth play her 1st round game against the tall Belgium girl Wickmayer. A tough 3 set match, which didn’t quite go the way of our girl in the end. The Belgian won the match 6/3, 2/6, 6/4. Our girl was brave in defeat, but the tears of disappointment were not far away. Earlier, the little Aussie hero of 2 years ago, Jelena Dokic had won her way through to the second round – I think from memory, she had to qualify to get into the tournament.  The Australian results for Day One  saw only one  win from just four competitors, and were as follows:

Womens’ Singles:  E Rodina [Russia]defeated Olivia Rogowska [Australia] 6/3,6/1;  Yanina Wickmayer [Belgium] defeated Jamila Groth {Australia] 6/3,2/6,6/4; Jelena Dokic [Australia] defeated Z Ondraskova [Czech] 6/3,6/2.   Mens Singles: Ivan Ljubcic [Croatia] defeated Peter Luczak [Australia] 6/3,6/3,7/6.

A number of Victorian towns were expecting to be hit by flood peaks tonight. One of those areas was Horsham, in the wheat belt of the state’s west. One of my recent regular family history contacts comes from Horsham, and in response to my enquiry earlier this morning as to have she was faring with the advancing floodwaters, her response came back headed ‘High and Dry’.  Ann wrote:\ re flood. I’m okay as I live about 3kms from the river, on the other side of the railway line. This is often referred to, by those who think they’re better, as the wrong side of the tracks. Believe me, the wrong side happens to be the right side at the moment. The water is really rising, just like the good old days that I remember well. Quite spectacular, if your property is safe. I think the highway is cut through Horsham as the water has come up, blocks from the river, in a water course. The aquatic centre is surrounded, and the end on the main street blocked off. At the weir it’s an amazing sight, the water is the same height on the river side and down side of the weir and there’s usually about a 10ft drop there. I have friends who have sand bagged their houses and one friend has brought the contents of his deep freeze to me in case the power goes off there  with the water, and I have another friend’s car parked in my yard. The river hasn’t peaked yet, so who knows what will happen. I can’t understand why some people built where they did, as why believe what you’re told that there’ll never be another flood. Of course when the waters pass through Horsham, it’s Dimboola and Jeparit’s turn. There is talk that the bridge will be closed, which will cut Horsham in two. Up to 500 homes could be affected.

On  another sporting front. The Australian equivalent of the Tour de France commences in South Australia [SA] tomorrow – in view of the water conditions of the eastern states, the organisers of the Tour Down Under [TDU] are probably very thankful that the bike race is over in South Australia – the cyclists might have a bit of trouble getting around the course anywhere else at present. Many of the top  cyclists [including Lance Armstrong in what is supposedly his last professional ride] are competing this year.  My cycling brother, Robert from Sydney, will be over in SA also, as he has been in France on a number of occasions while the Tour de France was in progress. And as on those occasions, Robert is taking part in an 8 day ride with the TREK cycling organisation that coincides with the TDU. I haven’t ask him for any reports, but I do hope to hear from him at some stage during the rides. He expects it to be ‘good fun’ and a ‘little hard work’. On Sunday night, he attended a function with his TREK organisation, and managed to get some a couple of photos taken with Australian cyclists Robbie McEwan and Stuart O’Grady.

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