Read + Write + Report
Home | Start a blog | About Orble | FAQ | Blogs | Writers | Paid | My Orble | Login

20/20 Filmsight - Film Criticism by David O'Connell

Film Criticism by David O'Connell

I'm a Sydney-based film reviewer that loves to review local screenings and film festivals. Want me to cover your event? Email me at cibbuano ~AT~ orble ~DOT~ com.


July 31st 2014 02:30

The sins of the father are visited upon by all in a small Irish township in John Michael McDonagh’s long awaited second feature, his follow-up to The Guard (2011). Again featuring Brendon Gleeson in the lead, Calvary (2014) begins in a confessional where a parishioner confides of the horrors of abuse suffered at the hands of a priest in his youth. In confiding with Father James Lavelle (Gleeson), the confessor decides upon a retribution that will mindlessly enact an eye for an eye, but rather strip an impotent God of one of his most valuable commodities, a ‘good’ priest who likewise doesn’t deserve his fate. Lavelle is given a week to put his affairs in order before judgement day arrives.

With streaks of dry, bleak humour, McDonagh constructs a week in the life of Lavelle as he contemplates his place in God’s scheme and tends to the random woundings of his flock. Amongst them are an abused wife (Orla O’Rourke), an aging American writer (M. Emmet Walsh), an apathetic wealthy businessman (Dylan Moran) and his own daughter, Fiona (Kelly Reilly), whose recent suicide attempt accentuates how close to home the troubles of the individual are to Lavelle. Though there are obvious missteps in McDonagh’s carefully constructed screenplay - chief amongst them a couple of extraneous marginal characters whose flickering appearances disrupt both the credibility and flow of the narrative - for the most part the director has done a wonderful job in presenting a sombre, humanising portrait of Lavelle. The central moral predicaments that speak of reprisals for the sins of a father are carried out to devastating effect as Lavelle weighs up the equally uncomfortable prospects of flight or confrontation. The director also leaves space to allude to Ireland’s broader decline without any overt, spell-breaking didacticism attached.

At its centre of this blackly qualified drama is the figure of Gleeson who provides a towering performance, perhaps his finest one to date. Lavelle is deeply empathetic yet hardly free of shortcomings and the echoes of his own erroneous past make waves he can’t sideswipe away. His own ‘sins’, including that of becoming a priest which may have registered as neglect to an already isolated child, are treated without the predictability of an imminent easy resolution. The true measure of McDonagh’s work is in small, gentle, genuinely moving moments that abound; it’s these that powerfully accentuate Calvary’s emotional core, revealing in turn an Ireland staunch in its refusal to topple even as it’s hamstrung by economic woe and moral torpor.


Deliver Us from Evil

July 23rd 2014 04:29

The ‘based on true events’ assertion holds even less water than usual in this ludicrous new supernatural film from Scott Derrickson. The director’s past work in the genre has produced the fine, underrated The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) and the genuinely creepy Sinister (2012). But his latest, based on cases covered by New York detective Ralph Sarchie - here played by an underwhelming Eric Bana - aims to jolt audiences out of their seats with a series of drearily regular attacks. Forget any notion of slowly building tension or unease through stringent narrative development. Rather, Derrickson and his co-screen writer Paul Harris Boardman seem interested only in doling out electric shocks as a means of cheap, crass entertainment.

It’s uncomfortable watching Bana fumble his way through perfunctory scenes of domesticity as the ruthless malevolence Sarchie hunts down – in the form of a soldier whose exposure to an ancient text in Iraq has possessed him – begins to infect his own life. He has a partner, Butler (Joel McHale), but one who in the tradition of all such temporary foils, is assuredly earmarked for an absurdly unnecessary demise very early on. Since when does an American police officer decide to go toe-to-toe with an opponent with a blade when he’s got a trusty firearm loose at his hip, especially when facing off against a demonic lifeform? Stranger than any of the goings on is the appearance of Edgar Ramirez slumming it as a holy man who begins to tag along with Sarchie when one of his female parishioners becomes infected. You can sense the inevitable exorcism climax coming on. 40 years on, The Exorcist still has nothing to fear from lame, chaotic, CGI-drenched wannabes like this and other recent B-graders like Mikael Håfström's The Rite (2011).

Dredging through the heart of this overdrawn, overblown mess, you’d be hard pressed to identify a single scene in the film that rings true, let alone one that conveys the supposed exploits of the real Sarchie. You have to wonder what the man thinks of the finished product? Can he really be satisfied to see his toil, which at its core, contains intriguing elements in a poor man’s X-Files kind of way, surrendered to overblown clichés and special effects experts? Perhaps the allure of an almighty paycheque was too hard to sidestep. Deliver Us from Evil (2014) is a one-note, deadeningly dull affair that forgoes any opportunity for social commentary about the lingering psychological effects of war and its reverberations back home for the sake of tried-and-tested cinematic trickery. Inexplicably, Bana has been able to keep a straight face in his promotion of the film, something insulted audience members emerging from the morass of this flop will be unable to do.

Deliver Us from Evil is released in Australian cinemas on Thursday, July 24.


Reaching for the Moon

July 16th 2014 04:24

An erotically charged tale of the complex, troubled relationship between two very different female artists, Reaching for the Moon (2013) is a classy drama, sensitively handled by director Bruno Barreto. Despondent in New York under the tutelage of Robert Lowell (treat Williams), American poet Elizabeth Bishop (Miranda Otto) heads to Brazil in the early 1950's; ostensibly it’s to visit her oldest friend Mary (Tracy Middendorf), but also to reinvigorate her stifled creativity. Weak, withdrawn, and knotted up in neuroses, Elizabeth is treated with coldness by Mary’s lover, architect Lota de Macedo Soares (Gloria Pires) who finds Elizabeth’s aloofness alienating.

When sickness necessitates a lengthier stay, Lota slowly extracts a broader picture of her lover’s friend from their increasingly frank conversations. Before long an attraction forms, leading to a calamitous split between Lota and Mary and the friendship of Mary and Elizabeth, the wedge that has come between them. Spanning a number of years we witness the return of Elizabeth’s poetic output - though it never comes easily and without turbulence to invoke it - and the park building project that consumes Lota’s life, leading to an inevitable breakdown as she's tested by Elizabeth's loyalty and political and other factions seek to put roadblocks in her path.

Both women are fascinating creations. Lota in particular lives by her senses and has no hesitation in openly pursuing Elizabeth once she feels the churnings of something more than lust. Her betrayal of Mary is hard to defend on moral grounds yet her vigorous philosophical defence is audacious and almost persuasive. In some ways, this is a case of opposites attracting; though both are consummate artists, Elizabeth’s talents lay in filtering the world through the written word, by pawing over emotions and sensations so often fatefully sublimated. Lota, on the other hand, expresses herself externally through ideas that she's able to give formidable shape in the world around her.

Together they form a compelling though tenuous bond; the public nature of their lives continually opening up the threat of distractions and a doomed love is suggested early on. Though Otto does a fine job of relating the internal turmoil of Bishop, the stereotypical 'tortured' artist, it’s the extraordinary Pires who steals the show in what is a commanding performance as the headstrong, driven Lota. Aided by a sensitive, wistful score by Marcelo Zarvos that often tunes into an almost John Barry-esque melancholic thread at times, and Barreto’s ever-confident handling, Reaching for the Moon is a compelling adult drama, and one that illuminates the lives of these inspiring, real-life figures.

Reaching for the Moon opens in Australian cinemas on Thursday, July 17.


Tim's Vermeer

July 9th 2014 04:39

The Two Faces of January

June 24th 2014 04:26

The Rover

June 11th 2014 04:38

The Trip to Italy

June 10th 2014 05:18

The Babadook

May 28th 2014 04:48

Under the Skin

May 27th 2014 05:48

The Broken Circle Breakdown

May 21st 2014 04:56

More Posts
4 Posts
3 Posts
5 Posts
1427 Posts dating from March 2006
Email Subscription
Receive e-mail notifications of new posts on this blog:

David O'Connell's Blogs

63623 Vote(s)
2147 Comment(s)
594 Post(s)
Moderated by David O'Connell
Copyright © 2012 On Topic Media PTY LTD. All Rights Reserved. Design by
On Topic Media ZPages: Sydney |  Melbourne |  Brisbane |  London |  Birmingham |  Leeds     [ Advertise ] [ Contact Us ] [ Privacy Policy ]