David O'Connell

Melbourne, Victoria, AUSTRALIA

Joined April 24th 2008

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Avid film score collector, film fanatic, reader (crime fiction/modern literature mostly), sports watcher - from a couch! Also review Australian films at www.infilm.com.au


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November 18th 2014 03:10

Over the course of numerous films, both as a writer (2001ís Training Day and 2002ís Dark Blue) and director (2008ís Street Kings and 2012ís End of Watch), David Ayerís long obsession has been with law enforcement and the moral boundaries traversed by men on both sides of the dividing blue line. For his latest, Fury (2014), he slips into new shoes to explore a world in which utter chaos reigns, where the only law is that of the jungle, a place where death and atrocity outstrip breathing. In the vein of Samuel Maozís admittedly superior Lebanon (2009) Ayer ventures into the suffocating confines of a tank advancing through German terrain in the final throes of war in 1945. Led by 'Wardaddy' (Brad Pitt) they're a resolute but not especially sympathetic quartet after having lost a key component. Thereís the religiously devout 'Bible' (Shia LaBeouf), an American marked by his ethnicity, 'Gordo' (Michael Pena), and the generally heedless redneck capable of one or two quiet, illuminating moments beyond his blathering gung-ho outrage, 'Coon-Ass' (Jon Bernthal). Collectively they bristle when presented with their newest crew member, the youthful, misplaced pencil pusher Norman (Logan Lerman).

Ayerís use of the youngest manís perspective is hardly ground-breaking. In fact itís a long-established clichťí, utilising naivety and innocence as a means of gauging the scale of corruption as the horror of combat is filtered through youthful eyes. Itís the imagery rather than the dialogue that carries the greatest emotional heft. Ayerís screenplay strives for profound reflection in throwaway lines and observations, mostly from Norman and Wardaddyís perspective, but they mostly feel stagey and self-conscious. Itís the rawness and graphic totality that seeps into our consciousness, from a vague impression of a corpse being pressed deeper into the mud beneath the tankís progress to limbs shot off and the glazed indifference of visages wallowing in an unforgiving stasis, hardened into thousand yard stares. Pittís Wardaddy is a man of conviction, a natural leader and weíre never in doubt of his ability to motivate his men. Lermanís Norman is initially feeble and utterly unprepared for war games but his transformation plays out with equal conviction.

Ultimately, are there any fresh insights to be gleaned from Fury? Like the majority of war films, itís undoubtedly an anti-war film with the futility of death juxtaposed - often artfully, poignantly and provocatively - against the shimmering refrains of manís survival instinct. The film also offers another spit and polish of the precious notion of American heroism. It's gripping enough with a slew of action set-pieces impressively handled by Ayer, whilst Steven Price's score, sombre and elegaic, occasionally strays upon a less subtle register in its need to vindicate the emotional weight of Ayer's images.

A stopover in a small German town unfortunately provides an awful twenty minute respite however. Here, having conquered the Germans, Wardaddy with the ready-to-be-initiated Norman at his heels, ventures into the remnants of a building. They find two cowering, pretty young women who are forced to feed and sexually service their captors. Soon the men's silently mocking comrades stumble upon their spoils, adding even less veracity - if that's possible - to what is a cartoonish, poorly written scene of simulated domesticity. The entire sequence reeks of artificiality and provides the only real dud note in an otherwise accomplished if not quite outstanding war drama.


L'argent (Bresson, 1983)

November 17th 2014 04:08

How can one manís life be so corrupted by a chain of innocuous circumstances? In director Robert Bressonís final film, Líargent (1983), he assures us that the divide between upper and lower classes has never been more evident. When two young boys, clearly from families of wealth, pass off a forged note in a camera store, the owners decide to pass on a stack of recent forgeries now in their possession to a struggling working-class man, Yvon (Christian Patey). In turn, the unsuspecting Yvon uses them to pay for food elsewhere but is accused of the recent outbreak of phony notes entering circulation and duly arrested.

Yvon loses his job, a bitter pill to swallow for his young family, and when a friend offers an employment opportunity he immediately commits to it, agreeing to be present in a designated place at a certain time. Heís to be the getaway driver for bank robbers but with the heist foiled by police alertness, Yvon winds up in custody before being sentenced to three years in prison. Matters only head further downhill from there with a series of misfortunes that seem to transform him into a hardened, embittered man with an irreducible weight clinging to his soul, capable of doing anything to survive once released.

All of the trademarks from previous Bresson films, such as Pickpocket (1959) and Trial of Joan of Arc (1962), are present here, including his curiously intuitive selection of non-actors, ensuring stilted, self-conscious movements often at odds with the words the characters speak. His proclivity for aesthetically pleasing performers - or models as he referred to them - in place of traditional good looks is notable too, the intense, baleful glares of Yvon and Lucien, the assistant of the camera store owners, marking them with distinctive appearances.

Considering Bressonís past work itís hardly his intention to shed favourable light on the idle, elitist upper classes whose deflection of guilt, preserving their dignity through petty vengeance, allows a lesser manís life to be clinically dissected and washed away. With calculation and subtle persuasion, the master director shows his disdain for them as their problems are made to disappear with financial handouts, even their slightest gestures having the power to harm those beneath them in the social order.

The owners of the store are later betrayed by their assistant Lucien, who had committed perjury on their behalf by lying about Yvon in court. ďI thought dishonest people could get along,Ē he rationalises when caught cheating, exposing the bitter irony in how these upper classes donít always get their way, equally capable of devouring one another, concealing the mercenary within - a wolf in sheepís clothing.

The misery delivered upon Yvonís life, stripping him of faith and hope, may be purely fateful for in Bressonís world itís as if a man of miniscule means, boxed into his corner, has to enact out some prescribed role, fulfilling his destiny no matter how dire. The final few scenes, played out in Bressonís typically minimalist, detached manner, are still wrenching for their powerful insights, Yvonís struggle to survive leading him into the arms of a saintly old woman who assures him that ďif I were God, Iíd forgive everybody.Ē Providing the solace and comfort of a saviour, and in keeping with the spiritual turmoil that Bresson regularly explored, she seems to fully comprehend the nature of the darkness congealing in Yvonís heart and is willing to sacrifice herself in turn.

Inspired by Leo Tolstoyís short story The Forged Note, LíArgent is economically shot with a sombre tone and deliberate lack of flair, but you still come away with indelible images from the last few scenes lodged in your mind. Itís another quality film worth rediscovering, and a fitting end to Bressonís unique cinematic career.


Two Days, One Night

November 11th 2014 06:48

The Dardenne brothers, Luc and Jean-Pierre, have made a remarkable contribution to world cinema. And a remarkably consistent one too, their modest tales of modern life incorporating an immersive naturalism that subtly and powerfully flushes out uncomfortable truths about the human condition. Their use of non- or little known actors has always grounded their work in an anonymous, steadfastly maintained depiction of reality. This modus operandi was skewered somewhat with their previous film, The Kid with a Bike (2011), in which, for the first time, they utilised an established actor in Cecile de France for a major role.

For their latest, they've gone searching even further up the pecking order in France for a lead, settling on Oscar winner Marion Cotillard. She plays Sandra, a factory worker whoís been made expendable and will lose her job unless her co-workers decide against accepting a bonus. Having recently returned to the workforce after a debilitating battle with depression, times are tough for her and husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione). They have two kids and will struggle to make ends meet without her income.

Thus begins a weekend of Sandra searching out each of her co-workers in turn and asking if they will forgo the extra pay boost to save her livelihood. Reluctantly she trudges around the city, hoping to convince a majority to side with her. Her plight is one we can easily empathise with; foremost is the pride sheíll have to sacrifice in effectively begging to her friends for compassion. In their typically sparse, pared back style, the Dardenneís shine a light on the dignity and strength of the human spirit in overcoming universally relatable, everyday turmoil. But this time around a fundamentally flawed structure causes a malaise to settle over proceedings. We still care for what happens to Sandra but itís a less than riveting path we must take to reach an outcome.

It almost pains me to say this as a diehard devotee of the Dardenneís work, but Two Days One Night (2014) is mundane to the point of tediousness. This essentially repetitive tale is grindingly dull, with nary a spark of variety to distinguish one visit from another. Characterisations are thin to non-existent, whilst to break the monotony the Dardenneís have fabricated a few encounters which trade in a form of commodity Ė the cheap contrivance - that is virtually absent from all their past work. Here a few moments stand out like beacons in striking some very misjudged notes: a suicide attempt, a co-worker who breaks out into spontaneous tears upon hearing Sandraís request voiced, and a father and sonís disagreement about which side of the fence they sit on which sparks a moment of absurd violence thatís almost comical in its desperate need to spice the narrative up. None of these moments are believable Ė a statement hardly applicable to anything in the Dardenneís back catalogue. Two Days, One Night is still worth a look but this is easily the weakest film of the brothers' storied careers.



November 11th 2014 05:11


October 29th 2014 03:37


October 22nd 2014 05:11

Gone Girl

October 21st 2014 04:27

Advanced Style

October 1st 2014 04:26

A Place in the Sun (Stevens, 1951)

September 24th 2014 02:24

The Equaliser

September 24th 2014 01:38


Recent Comments

Comment by David O'Connell
on Interstellar

November 13th 2014 07:53
Don't worry fog, despite its flaws, it's still a great ride nonetheless. Plenty of awe-inspiring scenes and enough solid writing to keep you immersed in it all the way. Look forward to hearing your report!

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Comment by David O'Connell
on TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT: a review

November 12th 2014 04:41
Always great to see another review from you foggy! A too rare treat - especially when we're on the same wavelength as we are with this. I generally love the Dardennes' work but have to admit real disappointment at this latest film from them. Their aesthetic choices are in line with their past work and it doesn't detract from the raw power of their characterisation and storytelling usually for me but this one was plain dull. Nothing - including an Oscar winner as headline act - could overcome the flaw of having a series of scenes playing out over and over again without any sort of dynamic development in the narrative. The ending annoyed the hell out of me too!
Hope your in good health mate. Take care until next time, Dave.

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Comment by David O'Connell
on The Two Faces of January

June 25th 2014 04:10
Thanks fog! Will definitely be a part of that, would be great to build a sense of community here again amongst people with a passion for film amongst other things. Actively supporting one another's efforts sounds like a winner.

I think you'll enjoy this one mate - not the most riveting narrative of all time but impeccably acted - by Viggo especially - and a classy production all round.

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Comment by David O'Connell

June 24th 2014 06:16
Great to see you back here again fog and writing!!
Sadly missed in this ghost town of ours.

I haven't seen this yet but have been hearing plenty of other positive words too. Oblivion wasn't too bad all things considered and this seems like a step up in quality from that. You're right about Cruise too - much maligned but regardless his star power is undeniable and his presence alone is usually enough for me to give many of his films a chance.

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Comment by David O'Connell
on How I Live Now (Macdonald, 2013)

April 15th 2014 06:34
I've heard that. Would definitely like to read the book at some stage to see how much has been altered.

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Comment by David O'Connell
on In Bob We Trust

October 31st 2013 02:06
Many thanks for the anecdote fog, hope you're doing well these days mate!

And yes, Father Bob is indeed a truly great man! A national treasure.

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Comment by David O'Connell
on Kick-Ass 2

August 21st 2013 04:44
Thanks Bryn, you're a harsh man! But I do remember you not quite getting onto the original's wavelength too. The film is superfluous in the extreme - I'll be the first to admit that, but I just can't hate it.
I actually loved Carrey in this but his role is absurdly underwritten; there was real potential there I think for something great.

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Comment by David O'Connell
on Antiviral

April 17th 2013 06:01
Hey Bryn, Rialto Distribution have got this. Had the media screening last week and sadly it's only screening at the one cinema - the Nova - down here from the 25th. Hopefully it's getting some sort of a look in up your way too.

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Comment by David O'Connell
on Killing Them Softly

April 2nd 2013 01:05
Great to hear that JD. It baffles me though how many people tell me how much they couldn't stand this. Obviously incapable of appreciating its finer, subtler qualities, which is a real shame.

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Comment by David O'Connell
on Side Effects

March 10th 2013 10:36
Yeah mate, apparently it's painting and occasional theatre that will occupy his immediate future, perhaps TV work too if it's top-notch. But says he's done with features - a little sad, I love his chameleonic qualities even if his rapid output means he's a little hit and miss. The Limey, Underneath, King of the Hill and Out of Sight will long remain favourites.

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