Movie Review – The Turning

The Turning is Tim Winton’s blistering short story collection, published in 2005. The 17 stories have some overlapping plot lines, with common characters of people and place. Some of the stories stand alone, and all reflect Winton’s unique way of capturing the West Australian landscape and making it jump out of the page.

Turning this collection into a film was a challenging project, and Robert Connolly has managed to translate the stories into a coherent whole in an unexpected way – by giving 17 different directors – and not all of them coming from that discipline – the task of making one of the stories each. This has avoided the neatness of making the connections between the films “obvious” – using the same actor to portray a recurring character may have taken away some of the mystery and engagement for the viewer that is apparent for the reader.

For example, the character of Vic appears in 8 films, and is portrayed by 8 actors – 4 as a child/youth, and 4 as an adult. The rather swanky program – which was included in the higher than normal “event” price – gave a key to the stories, the overlapping characters and the timeline of the common characters.  This was helpful!

Some of the films did a better job of capturing the material they were based on than others – the degree of artistic licence taken by the directors varies widely. This is the both the strength and perhaps a weakness of the end product. Overall, the gems (The Turning, Fog) far outweigh some slightly less strong pieces. The “stars” – Cate Blanchett, Richard Roxburgh, Miranda Otto, Hugo Weaving, Rose Byrne – are all outstanding, and the rest of the cast are strong in support.

The film is being shown in limited release as a series of “unique cinema events.”  Not sure how this will work out for the film, but I guess it’s not one for high rotation at the multi-plexes – more the pity.

Highly recommended.

Movie/DVD Review – Stand By Me

Rob Reiner’s coming of age tale, an adaptation of Stephen King’s short story The Body, is a classic.  It was a great joy to share it with my sons and two of their friends on the weekend.

Set in the 1950s, four friends set off on a “don’t tell our parents” camping trip, in search of the body of a missing teenager.  They have ambitions of being heroes for finding the missing boy, even though they’ve overheard that he has been killed in an accident.

The four characters are each on a different emotional journey, leaving behind different challenges at home.  Each one is explored with sensitivity and insight as the group approaches the inevitable conclusion of their quest.

River Pheonix is astonishingly good in this film, at age 14 or 15.  This, and his performance in My Own Private Idaho, give us just a hint of what he might have achieved if his life had not spiralled out of control and ended so tragically and so young.

The construct of the film, with one of the boys telling the story as an now adult writer, adds some depth and perspective to the narrative.  His closing wisdom about the friends you have when you are 12 years old is an interesting thing to reflect on.

With a great soundtrack, Stand by Me is rated M for frequent strong language from the four street wise leads. This is a must see.

 

Movie/DVD Review – Falling Down

Released in 1993, this is a tale of a man who is having a “bad day.”

William (mIchael Douglas) has been faking going to the Defense job he’s been laid off from for some time.  He’s only faking it to his monther, as he’s back living with her after his marriage broke up.

Caught in a huge traffic jam is his D-FENS number-plated car, the tension of the need to visit his daughter on her birthday drives him out – out of the car, leavng it in the traffic jam, and setting off to walk to his ex-wife’s place.

His journey and the stready unravelling of his mental state as he fails to deal with the barriers that block his way drive the story forward.  Slowly, he emerges as both villian and folk hero as the violence excaltes. An unfortunate cop (Robert Duvall), on his last day before handing in his badge, takes on the job of dealing with the menace.

Douglas is scary, robotic, human and funny all at once.  A brilliant performance.

One thing that was really interesting was the different reactions that my wife and I had to the film, and in particular to William.  There is no doubt that he did some awful things, but I had a huge amount of sympathy for him and what he’d been through.  My wife just thought he was a monster. Curious.

Quite a challenging film, and tense up to the very end – well worth watching.

Movie/DVD Review – Moneyball

Pitt’s performance in Moneyball is just as convincing as his role in Fight Club, but Moneyball is easier to watch and survive unscathed.

As a numbers guy, I read the book a few years ago.  It’s a fascinating “real life” look into how we look at numbers and what they mean.  People like to say they are data driven, but really they mostly run by the seat of their pants the same way the old-school baseball scouts do.

The film traces the coaching career of “washed up and never quite made it as a player” Billy Beane.  His chance meeting with stats nerd Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) leads them on a journey to challenge baseball orthodoxy by buying players that are more valuable to them than the traditional “market” says, and selling flashy players to chumps who would pay top dollar.

What follows is a tale of triumph and tribulation.  Beane kinda won, kinda didn’t and the lack of neatness and a cute ending makes this a cut above the usual film of this type.

I’m not a baseball fan, but loved this film nonetheless, so don’t be put off.

Recommended.

Moneyball was the third movie shown at The West Pymble Thinking Person’s Film Festival.

Movie/DVD Review – Fight Club

For me, this was one of those films that I never quite got around to seeing.  This was inspite of several of my film-literate friends saying things like “You haven’t seen Fight Club?!” every now and again.

When the early concept for The Queensberry Rule was being developed, my co-author Steve McAlpine kept saying “You know, like in Fight Club.”  I got the gist of the idea, but it was some time before I was browsing around in a store and bought the blu-ray in a “2 for $20″ special.  And some little time longer until I found a some time alone at home to watch it.

This dark comedy (is it a comedy?  I guess so) scared me from the start.  The train wreck of the lives of the Narrator (Edward Norton) and Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) seems inevitable and excruciating – but addictively compelling at the same time.

Fight Club has rules:

1st RULE: You do not talk about FIGHT CLUB.
2nd RULE: You DO NOT talk about FIGHT CLUB.
3rd RULE: If someone says “stop” or goes limp, taps out the fight is over.
4th RULE: Only two guys to a fight.
5th RULE: One fight at a time.
6th RULE: No shirts, no shoes.
7th RULE: Fights will go on as long as they have to.
8th RULE: If this is your first night at FIGHT CLUB, you HAVE to fight

and Fight Club ends up with national reach, chaotic consequences, and the charms of Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter.)  And Meatloaf.  Go figure.

As for the ending – well surprize endings are OK sometimes, but while I don’t want to give it all away for those who haven’t seen it – it’s doesn’t really lead the viewer anywhere.  The opposite, in fact.  Discuss.

Fight Club is brutal and violent, dangerous and intense.  Pitt is phenominal, as is Bonham Carter.  I’m not sure about Norton, probably because I’m not sure about the film itself.

Can’t quite put my finger on it. That might just be a good thing.

Beware.

 

 

Movie/DVD Review – Inside Job

Like all good documentaries, Inside Job covers its material with a strong sense of narrative.  This helps make the material, in this case the causes of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, more accessible to a general audience.

Starting out with the sorry tale of Iceland and its financial collapse, the film unfolds the layers of complexity of world financial markets carefully and skilfully, tracing the growth of new types of financial instruments developed off the back of massive brain and computer power from the 1980s onwards.  We see the unfettered influence of the creators of those money-making schemes over US politics over the last thirty years, and the resulting failure of the US and other Governments to develop a regulatory framework to support the orderly operation of these new markets.

Some have described it as a horror movie masquerading as a documentary, and there are plenty of villains to get the steam coming out of your ears.  Of course, some viewers might have steam coming out their ears at points where they think the film takes an unduly biased stance. Hey, feel free to make your owm film about it all.

Don’t be deterred by the subject matter – this is a film for everyone, beautifully made and carefully laid out. 

Those who want to read more deeply on the subject could try The Great Hangover (edited by Graydon Carter), a collection of articles from Vanity Fair.  This is also a good recent article on the broader issue by Australian journalist Ross Gittins: The Four Business Gangs that Run the US.

Movie/DVD Review – Enron The Smartest Guys in the Room

It has been said that the winners write the history.  Sometimes you wonder if Enron – The Smartest Guys in the Room is crossing the line in its editorial stance, but in the end, the strong narrative of what went on at Enron wins the day.  It is a chilling and enthrawling thriller of how a successful company dressed itself up to be even more successful using increasingly deceptive techniques. In 2001 it went from being the 6th largest corporation in the world, to bankrupcy.

The film is a fascinating human drama as well as a cautionary tale about capitalism at its worst – unbridled greed and moral bankrupcy at the individual level.

It’s hard to work out who comes off looking worse – anyone responsible for the accounting standards that enabled the Enron fraud, the guys who saw it early and jumped ship while their shares were still worth something, or the self deluded senior execs who stayed to the bitter end.

One of the most chilling scenes in the film is a video of senior leaders telling staff to keep their 401K pension fund investments in Enron shares.  Anyone who followed that advice not only lost their job but also their retirement savings.

It is one of several places where you might have to restrain yourself from yelling at the screen in frustration at the injustice and tragedy of what went on at the hands of greedy corporate leaders.

Slick, logical, essential viewing.

Recommended.

 

On a side note, this was the first film shown at the West Pymble Thinking Person’s Film Festival, and was followed by Margin Call, with Moneyball set to play next.

Movie/DVD Review – The Company Men

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Company Men opens with Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck), being sacked from his high-flying sales job, and getting about one-third of what he’d get if he was made redundant after twelve years of service in Australia. The plot is driven forward by his struggle with his own self perception as breadwinner and family man, as he and his family are forced to give up the trappings of his previous “success”, painfully, one by one.

Bobby eventually finds a sense of community with his fellow occupants of the soul-destroying cubicle farm at the outplacement agency as his job search grinds fruitlessly on. His prickly relationship with his builder brother-in-law (Kevin Costner) reaches a point of mutual appreciation towards the conclusion of the film, while steering clear of white collar versus blue collar class struggle cliches.

Bobby’s former boss (Tommy Lee Jones) is fighting the good fight for the voice of reason and compassion within the company as it lurches from one crisis to another, but ultimately he and other long time employees are let go by the man he co-founded the company with all those years ago.  The sense of bitterness and betrayal is palpable – Tommy Lee Jones gives a stand-out performance.

The film ends with some glimmers of hope emerging from the struggle and tragedy of the men who lost their jobs, but there is no neat comeuppance for the villain.

Less brutal that Margin Call, this is a well crafted story, focussing on the human stories, rather than financial ones, emerging from the financial crisis of 2008.

Recommended.

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Margin Call 2

I recently saw Margin Call for the second time and if anything enjoyed it even more than the first time.  You can read my original review here.

Context is everything, and this time around I saw the film as part of what is known as The West Pymble Thinking Person’s Movie Festival.  It’s really just a bloke’s book club, except we don’t pretend that everyone (anyone?) will have time to read a book in the same month – so we eat, watch the film and talk about it.  Our first film was Enron – The Smartest Guys in the Room, adn the third is likely to be MoneyBall.  We’re planning to choose films about business and ‘or ethical issues, to stimulate discussion.

The quality of conversation, both film related and otherwise, has so far been top-notch.  The signs are that the Festival is going to evolve into a supportive and challenging event that will play its part in encouraging those present to be better dads, husbands and business people.

Try it yourself – we can’t recommend it highly enough.