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541 reviews in total 
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1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, 25 October 2009

Lynn Barber's short memoir of her affair in the early 1960s as a teenager with a man twice her age has been adapted for the screen by scriptwriter Nick Hornby ("About a Boy") and the Danish ex-Dogme director Lone Scherfig ("Italian for Beginners"). Having read the memoir (Roger Ebert's review has a link to it), I can vouch for it being fairly faithful to the original story – so we can take Barber's word for it that it's all true. Even 50 years later she's a bit hard on her Mum and Dad, who actually encouraged her liaison with "David" Goldman, a personable man about town with a fine Bristol motor and shady connections (the Rachmans no less) in real estate. Dad, who had his heart set on "Jenny" going to read English at Oxford, is charmed by David, who is Jewish, into accepting him as a suitable husband for his precious only daughter. Mum is just overwhelmed.

Jenny, a bright and intellectually precocious Twickenham schoolgirl bored with her drab suburban life, is an easy mark for David. For her, he and his friends represents the sophisticated lifestyle she longs for – jaunts in the countryside, dining in fine restaurants, classical concerts, trips to Paris, even attending fine art auctions and bidding on pre-Raphaelite paintings. Like a magic carpet the Bristol glides from venue to elegant venue, though it has to be admitted we meet up with slum landlord and major crime figure, Peter Rachman, at the dog races. According to Barber, the affair lasted two years, though the film makes it shorter, and yet she never was invited back to David's place. Funny that.

It all ends in tears, of course, with the parents being more traumatized than Jenny, who swiftly puts her life back together again. Carey Mulligan, a young beauty with more than a passing resemblance to Audrey Hepburn, at 22 gets away with it as a 16 year old and Peter Sarsgaard projects an almost diffident charm as David. He also manages the English accent well (the original David, called Simon in the memoir, apparently had a hard to understand accent the filmmakers wisely did not try to reproduce). Alfred Molina is particularly fine as the loving if slightly obsessed father and Emma Thompson, in a small role as the anti-Semitic headmistress of Jenny's ladies' academy, is depressingly authentic. I also enjoyed Dominic Cooper and Rosamund Pike as David's two posh friends Danny and Helen, though I did wonder why Danny in particular, who seemed to have a soft spot for Jenny, or Helen, thick as she was, did not tip Jenny off about David's background.

The early sixties atmosphere, Britain on the verge of swinging, reminded me of Kingsley Amis's novel "Take a Girl like You" (the subject of a fine TV version with Rupert Graves and Sienna Guillory in 2000) which was also about the seduction of a young innocent called Jenny by an older man, but played more or less for laughs. This film has a more serious tone and this Jenny has her regrets, but they are not fully articulated. Barber, in her memoir, says that what she most regrets is that she grew not to trust people, but admits that her subsequent success as an interviewer is partly due to such scepticism. I suppose you could say that this story is an example of what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. I hope the film doesn't kill her parents, now in their 90s. As for "David", well, he's earned it, the cad.

A visual experience 10 years later, 12 September 2009

I saw this when it was first released in 1998 and wrote a review which for some reason never got posted. 500 films later, and seeing Tarantino's very idiosyncratic war movie, "Inglourious Barsterds" I was reminded of this one, where the story is played absolutely straight in a way to give the average American patriot goosebumps. Yet the rescuing of Sergeant Ryan (Matt Damon) is actually a cynical effort by the High Command to boost morale which puts eight brave men into jeopardy. Spielberg's battle scenes are really something – ten years later I still vividly recall the first 20 minutes on the Normandy beach – the audience is put right in it. Other than that I remember a vivid fire fight in a ruined French village and the final scene 40 years later. I had to be reminded that it was Tom Hanks who led the rescue team (I do recall Vin Diesel in it too), so the acting didn't leave much impression. The actors were overpowered by all the action.

Perhaps comparing this blockbuster with Tarantino is not fair, Both films entertain in there own way – Spielberg, who gives us splendid visuals, is utterly conventional and offends very few viewers and Tarantino does things his own way and doesn't care who he offends (though he does not make light of atrocity). Has the second world war movie run its course? Even if the answer is "yes" we have not seen the end of war movies in general. As long as there are wars there will be movies about them. "Ryan" at least tells a coherent story, and survival stories are usually both pretty gripping and mildly uplifting. Tarantino, on the other hand is inclined toward nihilism, but he does have fun getting there. Spielberg is more hard work, but "Ryan" has to be one of his better films.

2 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
War is hell, but even hell has its humorous side, 12 September 2009

Not having read the user comments section of this web site before I saw the movie (I had read a couple of favorable critical reviews), I was quite taken aback by the divided response. No-one walked out of the packed session I went to. For one thing, it passed the watch test – in the 150 minute running time I looked at my watch not once. The blend of comedy, film buffery and action overlays some seriousness of purpose. Yes, in war both sides are capable of atrocities and generally commit them without much thought. Yes, some Nazis were witty, intelligent and charming, if not actually lovable. Yes, the world would have been a different place if Hitler and his gang had been disposed of in the summer of 1944. This is entertainment, not history, however, even if the German uniforms and wartime French bars are painstakingly reproduced.

I thought the whole thing was very well constructed. The 5 long "chapters", with their own denouements are all carefully linked. Apart from the final catharsis, they all feature the quiet build-up of tension through conversation to an almost unbearable degree – final moments of mayhem come as a relief. Yes, it's a very talky movie but the dialogue has many flashes of brilliance. I'm sorry for all those who don't like subtitles – I thought they were well used. But wasn't there too much sadism, blood and gore? That's war folks.

Even the sternest critics concede the Austrian actor Christoph Waltz put in a stunning performance as Colonel Landa the urbane SS Jew hunter. Brad Pitt's hillbilly chief basterd, Aldo Raine, was somewhat overshadowed, but it was not a very demanding part. Melanie Laurent as Shosanna, the young Jewish cinema owner bent on revenge, relied more on her beauty than histrionics, but her presence was unforgettable. It was nice to see that Rod Taylor at 80 can still do Churchillian tones. About the only below par performance was Mike Myers ("Austin Powers"), totally miscast as a British general. Daniel Bruhl from "Goodbye Lenin" was excellent as Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels' blue-eyed boy who falls for Shosanna.

As for the film buffery, some I appreciated, some went over my head, and some was below my radar, but I can't say it interfered with my enjoyment of the film. I didn't really see this movie as a spoof of the World War II film genre, a major part of my movie diet when I was growing up. Tarantino has added something of his own here – he's Spielberg with a sense of humour and an understanding of that allegedly rare American trait, irony. As the unfortunate (and unfortunately named) Lt Archie Hicox), film critic turned not terribly successful secret agent, might have said "I await with eager anticipation and great trepidation this director's next work."

6 out of 23 people found the following review useful:
More misery from the taxpayer, 10 September 2009

Yet another small budget "arty" downbeat Australian film which would not have been made without government money, though the story is an adaptation of a novel by a American author, Newton Thornbury, relocated from suburban Chicago to the Flinders Ranges. Directed by Rachel Ward, it stars the Flinders Ranges, her husband Bryan Brown as the dying father and Ben Mendlesohn as Ned, the estranged son who, at the urging of his younger sister Sally who is looking after the old boy (Rachel Griffiths in good form), has come back to the family's drought-stricken farm to say goodbye. Ned has in tow Toni, a sexy but trashy girlfriend half his age, but she does not stick around for long. The atmosphere is pretty tense, as the reunion brings back memories of other family members long dead, including the eponymous sister beautiful Kate and brother Cliff.

Despite the depressing subject matter I found the film absorbing. There were some obvious deficiencies – Sophie Lowes's inaudible dialogue as Kate, the under – development of the Cliff character and the total absence of the mother, but these were offset by really strong performances by Bryan Brown (though he did not quite look as if he was on the point of death) and Ben Mendelsohn (who has matured into one of our better actors). I also rather enjoyed Maeve Dermody's turn as the trashcan. The flashback scenes are rather dream-like and not always very clear, but of course so is human memory. We see things very much through Ned's eyes – this is a subjective account of a painful past. The editing is good though, and the cinematography superb – one thing Aussie film-makers usually get right.

Well, it's a miserable story but at the end the surviving members of the family are a little closer. Ned is a writer but in the end this story proves too personal to be used.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Sunshine with a bit more bite, 26 July 2009

The only other film I have seen directed by Christine Jess was the sullen matrimonial drama "Rain" (2001), set in a beachside town north of Auckland in her native New Zealand. She was also responsible for the well - received "Sylvia" on the life and death of the poet Sylvia Plath. This film, with a script by Megan Holley, is set in a far sunnier clime, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and is generally very cheerful, but with some dark undertones. Albuquerque is probably not much more quirky (sorry) than any other part of the US, but in the land of gun freedom there are plenty of messy crime scenes to be cleaned up, not to mention suicides, and shotguns make for particularly messy clean-ups.

Gore aside, and there's plenty of it, the real focus of the story is the relationship between two twenty-something sisters, Rose and Nora (Amy Adams and Emily Blunt) who go into business together as cleaner-uppers of unpleasant scenes. Rose, a former high school prom queen but now a single mother, wants to make enough money to send her bright (if somewhat quirky) six year old son Oscar to a decent school, and layabout sister Norah, still living at home with their struggling salesman dad (Alan Arkin) just needs a job. There's plenty of work but things don't all go according to plan. There's bureaucracy, nasty competitors, and unexpected hazards, not to mention the stress that naturally arises in family businesses.

As the two plucky sisters, Amy Adams and Emily Blunt are just delightful – the film is worth seeing for their performances alone, though Jason Spevack as Oscar is not a bad scene-stealer either. Alan Arkin more or less repeats his grandpa character from "Little Miss Sunshine" though this time around he is a little better behaved. Despite the uncertainty of tone Christine Jeffs has a sure touch – the opening scene is as powerful as they come. She makes sure the sisters are more than stereotype working-class heroines and also gives us some interesting supporting characters, such as Winston the one-armed cleaning supplies store man (Clifton Collins Jr). Maybe Rose and Norah's backstory (beautiful but neurotic mother committed suicide) was a bit melodramatic but they are as real a pair as the movies produce.

Overall, this is superior "indy" fare. I enjoyed the "Sunshine Kid" from the same producers, but this film has a bit more bite, even allowing for the uneven tone. Christine Jeffs knows her craft and whatever she does next will be worth looking out for.

PS: There is apparently a 100 minute "European" version with an epilogue rounding out the sisters' story – this cinema version is only 90 minutes. Maybe the extra bit will turn up on DVD.

Last Ride (2009)
14 out of 21 people found the following review useful:
Landscape with Father Figures, 19 July 2009

According to the Screen Australia web site, some 45 Australian features were made in 2008, up from 25 in 2007. This movie is probably one of the better ones along with Sampson, My Year Without Sex, Disgrace, Mary and Max and The Black Balloon. It is an adaptation of a well-received first novel by Denise Young by a first-time feature director Glendyn Ivin, the sort of creative combination so beloved of our film funding bodies – "Here's $3 million, go away and play dears". In this case the result isn't so bad and the film does add something to the novel's story of a petty criminal's last sojourn with his 10 year old son across the Australian countryside, with the forces of law and order in hot pursuit. The novel set the action in outback New South Wales but the film makers removed the setting to the more spectacular wildernesses of northern South Australia for both artistic and financial reasons. The reason for Kev and his son Chook's flight, apparent at the start of the novel, is revealed only by degrees, which does add to the drama.

As others have noted, the father Kev, played with all lugubrious stops out by the lugubrious Hugo Weaving, is not a very likable character. Not only does he have serious anger management issues, he is pretty selfish and stupid – the sort of criminal one finds in prison rather than out of it. Having had a pretty sad upbringing himself he does try to do better as a father, but it is not easy for him, and it is not surprising his son becomes disillusioned. His son, despite all the fatherly incompetence, seems surprisingly normal – perhaps this is the result of an uncannily naturalistic piece of acting by Tom Russell, a child actor who is so good he doesn't seem to be acting. What does come across is that even bad fathers can teach good lessons, and that in the end we have to become our own person.

Greig Fraser's cinema photography featuring the Flinders ranges, Wilpena Pound and Lake Gairdner gives a majestic backdrop to what is a fairly small story – I thought it a bit like "And When Did You last See Your Father" would have been if it had been set in the Swiss Alps. Unlike that film, this one has a less angry tone. Poor old Kev can't really help being so inadequate, and he at least makes an effort for his son.

This was an interesting and watchable piece, but I can't see it doing well. Like a lot of similar realistic movies it deals with people at the margins of society, and frankly, most people aren't interested (escapist is a different story). I just wish the government film bodies would stop throwing money at first-timers to make stuff so alien to most people's experiences and of so limited relevance to whatever main steam Australian culture is. One the other hand, The Black Balloon and My Year Without Sex did deal with topics relevant to us all. Bring back David Williamson, I say.

12 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
Under the weather down under, 14 July 2009

Kenneth Cook was posted as a young man by the Australian Broadcasting Commission (our state-owned broadcaster) to the NSW outback mining town of Broken Hill in the early 1950s. This experience provided the basis for his scarifying first novel, "Wake in Fright", published in 1960. In the novel, Gary, a young schoolteacher bonded to the State Education Department to teach in a desolate desert whistle stop, visits "Bundayabba" (Broken Hill) on his way back to Sydney, surf and girlfriend for the vacation, loses all his money in a two-up game in a desperate attempt to pay off his bond and descends into drunkenness and depravity with the friendly locals, who all appear to be carrying on as they normally do.

This film was made from the novel in 1970 by a production company hitherto associated with light TV entertainment. The then fairly young Canadian director, Ted Kotchoff, with a couple of foreign leads, Donald Pleasance and Gary Bond, was quite happy to accept Cook's ugly Australians as his local characters and his parody of "mateship" as the social cement binding them together. The dialogue may be spare but the editing (by Tony Buckley) is great, and we are right inside Gary's head as he loses it.

I saw this movie when it first came out in New Zealand, where it passed almost without comment. Australian audiences did not flock to see it, and the general critical reaction was that it was too confronting. Nearly 40 years later, restored by the Australian Film Archive, it is a well-made classic which still has plenty of punch. Gary Bond as the hapless schoolteacher is very convincing. Chips Rafferty as the local policeman with a pragmatic approach to enforcing the law exudes a low-level air of menace. Donald Pleasance as "Doc" the alcoholic ex-doctor who leads Gary astray is not so much menacing as over the top, but very amusing all the same. The rest of the cast are suitably ocker.

Much has changed in the outback since the 1950s. Most of the people you rub up against in the bars of mining towns are likely to be from somewhere else, and you'd be lucky to hear those harsh bush accents. Broken Hill has shrunk a bit and is now a pretty quiet place. The Education Department no longer goes in for bush slavery - this is no more than an historical portrait. Yet many city dwellers still see the outback as Gary sees it – a place full of drunken homoerotic dickheads who abuse their environment, treat women like public conveniences and whose idea of mateship is to keep their mates drunk. "Wake in Fright" is best seen as very vivid fiction, a horror movie in fact. I don't think Kenneth Cook set out to write non-fiction. Neither was Ted Kotchoff trying to make a documentary. But, with the aid of several good actors and a host of authentic extras he created such a realistic atmosphere that many viewers were misled.

The film, which launched the career of Jack Thomson for one, is said to have given the Australian film industry a boost, even though few saw it. Certainly some fine films followed ; "Picnic at Hanging Rock", "The Getting of Wisdom", "The Devil's Playground", "The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith" for example. But history prevailed – modern Australia was not yet ready to film.

Disgrace (2008)
28 out of 37 people found the following review useful:
Fine adaptation of an uncomfortable novel, 21 June 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Steve Jacobs, who has considerable experience as an actor, has directed only one previous film, the rather episodic "La Spagnola", but here he has managed to do justice to a very fine literary work by J M Coetzee. The fairly short book, 220 pages, fits neatly into the 2 hours of screen time, and writer Anna Maria Montecelli has followed the book fairly closely – little is left out. The last two scenes in the book are reversed in the film which makes the ending a little less bleak, but otherwise it is a fairly faithful adaptation-perhaps too faithful, as others have said, but I'm not sure what other approach could have been taken. Coetzee's themes come through loud and clear. Although the production team is Australian, filming was mainly on location (on a shoestring $6 million) in South Africa.

The story of a professor's ill-judged affair with a student and his fall from grace is a pretty common one, a recent example being Philip Roth's novel "Elegy" filmed with Ben Kingsley as the professor. For some reason these errant academics always seem to be in the field of literature – surely professors of botany and physics have similar tendencies. Exposure brings about a variety of reactions. The parents and other students are apoplectic, but the panel of fellow academics inquiring into Professor Lurie's affair is all set to thrash him with a feather, as long as he apologises in public. However, Lurie is tired of teaching and just wants to confess and leave, perhaps to continue his work on Lord Byron (a suitable literary hero for a fornicator). He goes off to visit his daughter Lucy on her smallholding in the Eastern Cape countryside, but this turns out to be less than idyllic. In the new South Africa power has moved into the hands of the black majority, and white people are there on sufferance only, as Lucy has realised. Ex-professor Lurie becomes involved with an animal refuge, and its operator, a blowsy middle aged woman whom he would not have given a second look in his previous life. Yet somehow he comes to accept his humiliation.

John Malkovich's performance as Lurie is what you would expect – an arrogant, hissing snake of a man. I couldn't help wondering how differently Ben Kingsley would have done it. Malkovich is a very mannered actor at his best on the stage and his Lurie is, well, a bit lurid. Nevertheless he holds our attention if he does not capture our sympathy. Jessica Haines as his daughter Lucy does – a wonderfully judged and utterly realistic piece of acting.

What the film does give us, which the book cannot, is the magnificence of the setting, and the film makers have done very well in this regard, though they have used locations in the Western Cape rather than the East. I was struck by the similarities with parts of Australia, and wondered what it would be like living as a member of a white minority. As Coetzee and the film makers attest, it is not a comfortable position to be in.

17 out of 19 people found the following review useful:
The discreet charm of the ordinary, 8 June 2009

On the face of it this is pretty mundane stuff, a year in the life of an ordinary Western Suburbs Melbourne family, but Sarah Watts, responsible for another charming domestic drama, "Look Both Ways", is able to invest the story with a great deal of charm. She demonstrates without resorting to soap opera clichés that life in the suburbs can indeed be life on the edge.

Natalie (Sasha Horler) a hard-working mother of two suffers a brain aneurism, fortuitously while at the doctor's. She recovers but is advised to avoid strenuous activities, including sneezing and having sex with her loving husband Ross (Matt Day). In the next twelve months, each neatly packaged into an episode, life does not go easily. Natalie has to give up her job, Matt is threatened with redundancy, the car is written off in a holiday accident, the clothes dryer self-destructs, the family dog is attacked, and the house gets more untidy than ever. But the family survives and the film ends on a positive note.

This is a film most Australians would identify with. The family's situation is real and Watt generates a fair degree of humour out of it. There's Louis, a 12 year old Aussie Rule fanatic, Ruby, a cute 8 year old, and a much-loved dog, Bubblehead. There are some dodgy rich friends they envy and Ross (a sound engineer at a radio station) has a collection of odd workmates. Christmas and Easter are times of trial as well as celebration. Religious feeling hovers in the wings, especially in the person of former one-hit wonder pop-star turned priest Margaret (Maud Davey). Like most Australians the family are practising hedonists, but Natalie's brush with death does stimulate some deeper questions for them. Apart from the teasing chapter titles there's not much about sex in the picture, but there is a warm understanding of what makes families work. These are ordinary people kept together by their regard for one another. Money matters but it does not rule them. There's not a lot of support from their friends but they get by, somehow.

Sasha Horler puts in an extraordinary performance, and Matt Day's rather self-effacing character complements her beautifully. Jonathan Segat as Louis the football fanatic is also extremely convincing. Unfortunately the $4 million budget does not leave a lot for promotion and this film will probably not be widely seen. It is more of a comedy and less of a drama than "Look Both Ways", but it is directed with assurance and flair.

3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
TV's stern critic remembered., 3 June 2009

This account of the transformation of an ordinary suburban mum and art teacher into a controversial national figure is a lot better than it might have been. Julie Walters as Mary captures her ordinariness and her determination. She is much helped by Alun Armstrong's subtle performance as Mary's supportive if sometime baffled husband Ernest. Hugh Bonneville though at times rather Basil Fawlty-ish as the progressive but arrogant BBC director-general Hugh Greene provides an admirable foil (they never actually meet).

Mary Whitehouse started her campaign to clean up television (originally unfortunately named "Clean Up National Television") after seeing a rather dull discussion program on pre-marital sex broadcast by the BBC in the early evening. Despite widespread opposition she developed a taste for being in the public eye, and was an active promoter of TV censorship for the next 30 years. The film credits her with forcing Greene's resignation, though others claim the real issue was Greene's failure to get along with Lord Hill, the oleaginous BBC chairman after 1967. Certainly Greene's philosophy on broadcasting was completely opposed to Mary's, and it has to be said that it was partly due to her that the BBC became less adventurous in the face of her attacks, some of which were downright silly, the attacks on "Dr Who" and the Beatles's lyrics for example. With all respect to her son Richard, who has a review on this page, she may have been serious and sincere, but she represented and aroused the forces of bigotry, ignorance and prejudice. The worst that can be said of Greene is that he did not handle her very well. Later directors-general, including his immediate successor Charles Curran were better at it. Even so she had a chilling effect on British television.

This program goes fairly easy on Mary and does not fail to point out that Greene and other opponents often over-reacted. She had imitators elsewhere, Patricia Bartlett in New Zealand and Fred Nile in Australia for example, and of course the US is full of anti-smut crusaders. Unlike the US, Britain's media is rather centralized – the BBC had a monopoly in TV until 1956 and there was a duopoly with ITV until the 1980s – and this gave someone like Mary unwonted influence. The atmosphere of the sixties is wonderfully re-created and the BBC has to be congratulated for its even-handed telling of a story very painful to some broadcasters.

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