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Sydney Film Festival Review: Blackfish

Blackfish (Dir: Gabriela Cowperthwaite, USA) ***/5

There’s a famous quote by Margaret Mead that I thought of in the hours after watching the Orca whale documentary Blackfish: “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” The problem with that thesis is that you can sometimes get several small groups of committed citizens all ostensibly pulling for the same thing but they end up cancelling each other out because of their slight differences in emphasis. Blackfish is a gripping, effective film that argues persuasively against the very concept of animals being kept in captivity, yet it never quite landed for me because it was a message I’d heard before and better. Read more…

Sydney Film Festival Review: The Act of Killing

The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, Denmark/Norway/UK) *****/5

I am glad I read up a little bit on Sydney Film Festival competition entry The Act of Killing before seeing it. It’s a confronting, difficult, at times unbearable film that delves deep into the true nature of the evil human beings are capable of. There were more than a few walkouts that I noticed, but those who stayed and were willing to go where the film lead them were treated to a unique and astonishing documentary. Read more…

Sydney Film Festival Review: Mystery Road

Mystery Road (Dir: Ivan Sen, Australia) ***/5

“How did he know it was a wild dog?” asks the coroner in the opening scenes of Mystery Road, the brooding outback western by Indigenous writer and director Ivan Sen; the opening night film of the 60th Sydney Film Festival. He’s examining the body of a young aboriginal girl who has been murdered and dumped in a storm water drain next to a blank, empty stretch of highway. The detective, Jay, played impressively by Aaron Pederson, looks at the coroner baffled – there’s a dead girl and you’re worried about what sort of dog was at the scene?
That exchange is the first of many as Jay goes from door to door asking the townsfolk questions, trying to find out why this girl was killed and who did it. And like the coroner, most of the townsfolk would rather focus on other things lest they see the poverty and social breakdown rampant in the Aboriginal community around and among them. Read more…

Taking the Scenic Route (Part I: The Master)

Finding myself faced with the glory of a almost completely free weekend, I decided to program a little film festival for myself. Usually that’s what I do anyway on the weekend – watch movies – but this time I actually made a little list and stuck to it. The movies I watched were The Place Beyond the Pines, The Master, Morvern Callaer, and Rust and Bone. Of those I’d seen The Master before. Rather than review them, I want to talk a little about some of the key scenes. Read more…

The Oscars’ Identity Problem

Another Oscar ceremony has come and gone and we’ve had a barrage of articles about how terrible the hosting was, how badly produced the telecast was, and how boring the winners were. As usual with this kind of thing, there are elements of truth to all those statements, but things are not that simple. If you’d followed the precursor awards circuit[1] the wins for Argo, Ang Lee, Christoph Waltz, and Anne Hathaway were not particularly surprising. On the other hand, getting the first tie for nearly twenty years was fun – that was for Best Sound Editing where Skyfall and Zero Dark Thirty shared the prize.

All the talk today, though, has been about the performance of Seth MacFarlane and the overall quality of the telecast. The show was a strange beast. There were some great moments – like the Von Trapp joke of the night and some classy dancing from Channing Tatum and Charlize Theron; but there were also some bizarre moments like the two tributes to 2002’s “oh yeah, that’s right” Best Picture winner Chicago.[2] And then there were the handful of very tasteless jokes. Some were more defensible than others, like the “Old enough for Clooney” joke about 9-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis which was clearly about Clooney’s taste in women and not the other way around. The boob song, though, despite the obvious efforts to frame it in a “this is what a terrible show would look like” context, felt a little too close to the jokes MacFarlane would actually want to tell.[3] Read more…

A Brief Bit About Why Kevin Might Be Telling the Truth

I don’t really want to write about Kevin Rudd. I really don’t. But, apart from the divorce-that-isn’t between the Greens and ALP today (covered with aplomb on AusVotes2013 already here and here) Ruddmentum[1] has been the news for the last few days. The whisper has grown into a shout and I think political observers everywhere are expecting shit to get real soon.

As it happens, I’m not convinced there will be a challenge or any change of leadership at all. For one, the natural state of federal politics is stasis. That is, the old adage of ‘disunity is death’ is the planet around which the two parties orbit and that is, therefore, where they tend to focus. The swift dispatching of Rudd 1.0 was the exception that proved the rule – it is an action that Prime Minister Gillard has failed to fully overcome, and the lingering perception of the injustice of the deed is almost certainly big factor in Rudd’s relative current popularity. Secondly, it’s really not clear a return to Rudd would deliver a win. It would probably make things closer, but it’s no slam dunk. Does the cost of treating the Prime Ministership like your party’s plaything outweigh the benefit of returning to a Prime Minister that, at least in theory, is who ‘the people’ want? Kristina Keneally was relatively personally popular, but the voters are savvier than they’re often given credit for and know when a party’s time has come. Not to mention that the Coalition no doubt has a whole host of ads ready to go full of quotes trashing Rudd from the ALP themselves.

This is why I wonder if when Kevvy says he has no interest in the leadership, maybe he’s, gasp, telling the truth.

There are two things about Rudd that I’ve heard that are relevant here. Firstly, he has an ego[2] the size of Betelgeuse; secondly, he’s a low-risk politician. That’s why he played a long game in originally acquiring the ALP leadership and sold himself as John Howard-lite in the 2007 election, it’s why he squibbed on politically difficult policies like the ETS, and it’s why the Gillard camp’s tactic of forcing his hand in the leadership battle last year worked so well.

Rudd’s aversion to risk won’t allow him to challenge without sure numbers in caucus and a real shot at winning the election. I don’t think his ego allows him to accept “saving the furniture” as the source of his return to glory. My bet, then, is that he plans to be the saviour leading the party back from the wilderness in 2016 or whenever the next election is rather than the redeemed captain who saved a few lives but still went down with the ship.

[1] my preferred nomenclature would be Ruddageddon

[2] this will not shock you

The Last Movie I Saw: Anna Karenina

For the first bold, innovative, thrilling hour of Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina I was wearing a huge grin thinking ‘this is one of the best movies I’ve seen for a long time’. Wright, directing a script by the genius playwright Tom Stoppard brings such vision to Tolstoy’s tragic 19th century romance that the story feels like new. Stoppard’s script was reportedly a straight up and down adaptation of the novel, streamlined for the screen but essentially the same; and watching Karenina you can tell that this script, smart and dense as it is would comfortably work as a traditional period piece, with epic vistas, bustling cities and a huge budget. Wright, however, had a different idea. Read more…


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