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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.

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

An inventor with a knack for solving problems and advancing technology with his unique talents, Tim Jenison long held a fascination with the photo-realistic depictions of 17th century life by Dutch master Johannes Vermeer. What set the work of this genius apart from his contemporaries? Could he have invented and implemented a technique far ahead of his time? In Raymond Teller’s modest but compelling documentary, we see the extreme lengths that compel Jenison to search for a solution. With little in the way of artistic abilities of his own, he set about tackling one of Vermeer’s masterworks, The Music Lesson. With an astonishingly acute eye and flawless attention to detail, Jenison recreates the room as depicted in the painting, using science and maths to generate a facsimile from which he can begin implementing the technique he suspects may have originated with Vermeer. This involves both the Camera Obscura and a small mirrored lens from which, portion by portion, the tiniest details of the painting can be miraculously regenerated even by those without outstanding artistic aptitude.

All that is required is an almost supernatural degree of patience and an ability to transgress the associated tedium with a Zen like attitude of tranquillity. Jenison’s ability to achieve this by maintaining his focus over protracted months it takes to complete his reproduction of Vermeer is nothing short of remarkable. In so doing he almost re-defines the term ‘painstaking’. In leaps and bounds, Teller’s film relates the highs and lows - the latter with, necessarily, a healthy sense of humour intact as Jenison is bogged down by the almost despairing, perverse intricacy of Vermeer’s scale.

Tim’s Vermeer (2014) with its appropriately spritely Conrad Pope score, uncovers the possibly solution to a notion that has sat uncomfortably in the minds of art scholars for years, though few – fearing the backlash of purists – have evinced with words. Jension is an endearingly devout character with a fearlessness in his methodical approach that’s cinched by a need for space, time and reason to see this herculean-in-miniature task through to the revelatory end. It’s at this point, as art world high priests in painter David Hockney and scholar Philip Steadman gaze upon the wonder of the simplest solution to the complexities of artistic endeavour that looms largest, the potentialities exposed akin to directing a sliver of solar luminescence into a previously lightless void to grace the loneliness of genius before it’s even known to exist.


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


May 20th 2014 04:28

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