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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October 22nd 2014 05:11

A young drummer’s time at an esteemed music conservatory turns into a psychological battle of wills when the establishment’s most notorious and distinguished figure becomes an adversary. Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) wants to exceed the ordinary dreams of a promising musician. He aims for true greatness and under the tutelage of Terence Fletcher (J.K.Simmons) he just might get there. The only problem is that Fletcher is a brutal taskmaster who wouldn’t be inappropriately employed as a drill sergeant. He takes no prisoners and demands nothing less than perfection. When he selects Andrew to join his elite class it’s either a precious gift and first step to fulfilling his aspirations or the opening line of a gag in which Andrew’s fall from grace - and malicious shattering of his delusions - will be the punch line.

Director Damien Chazelle’s screenplay - an extension of his original short film - sizzles with Fletcher’s venomous irritation and Andrew’s frustration at falling short of his own and Fletcher’s expectations. In what will surely be the defining performance of Simmons’ career, the much loved character actor transforms himself into a figure of extreme intimidation. Fletcher mostly seems like a grossly inflated caricature yet key moments do humanise him. His presence creates waves every time he walks in the room and Chazelle’s rendering of his hard-edged bullying means we often experience moments of genuine anticipatory dread for his young student when the two antagonists intersect. Teller too is phenomenal, laying bare both Andrew’s vulnerability and tortured need to reach unfathomable heights of musical execution.

Whiplash (2014) is an electrifying, riveting drama that sustains its intense pitch from first frame to last. Riding roughshod over any dubious turns in the road, the stunning performances and conviction of Chazelle’s screenplay assure us of a certain reality even if gaps in the narrative are a little too common and convenient. The music is wonderful, the central piece, Hank Levy’s ‘Whiplash’, a perfect embodiment of the film’s multifaceted dexterity, whilst the drumming regularly reaches dizzying heights. Chazelle’s second feature, shot in just 19 days, is a spectacular calling card. He turns the potential mundaneness of his central ideas into something boldly cinematic that bristles with an emotional and often staggering visceral power and the final result is one of the finest films of the year.

Whiplash opens in Australian cinemas on Thursday, October 23.


Gone Girl

October 21st 2014 04:27

For a second straight film, director David Fincher has taken on the task of condensing a mass market crime fiction bestseller for the big screen. After his proficient but neutered-by-familiarity take on the overexposed Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) comes a cinematic translation of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (2014). With a massive in-built audience, as it were, in the legion of readers who’ve long devoured the original source and no doubt hold it sacred, the real challenge for Fincher would be in imbuing the final product with artistic credibility by making a film that forms a bridge between the cinemaplex and the arthouse.

When Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returns home to find his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) vanished, suspicion naturally falls on him as the last to have seen her. Rapidly the case expands, reaching national airwaves and Nick becomes public enemy number one. The two chief detectives on the case (Kim Dickens) and (Patrick Fugit) seem to make the same presumptions that we do: Nick is guilty and the details of how he got away with the crime will be what spark and hold our interest as the narrative unwinds. But predictable in its unpredictability, layers of guilt and deception are peeled back as the truth, naturally, defies both our simple initial assumptions and any real world logic.

Thematic failings notwithstanding, with unrelenting bleakness Fincher and Flynn – adapting her own book for the screen - expose the paradoxes of a marriage: from the fissures arise contrary narratives. Each is coloured with intriguing strands of ambiguous grey, leaving us in a quandary as to who to empathise with. The requisite introduction of shifts in tone and perspective only make the final scenes murkier in their delineation.

Affleck’s work here is solid without being striking. Under duress, Nick turns to internal coping mechanisms with only his sister Margo (an excellent Carrie Coon) as an ally. As the beleaguered wife Pike is not nearly as sympathetic. There’s something ‘off’ about Amy from the get-go - an icy aloofness that colours both her narration and interactions with others. Pike’s performance is faultless yet is there a genuine, identifiable human emotion or motive attributable to her?

Fincher’s slick visuals are in line with his past work: expressive blues, blacks with nary a flicker of sunshine. There’s real mastery in his now very familiar manipulation, in the way the cool, darkened palette reflects back, uncompromisingly, the internal psychological states of his characters. One problematic choice, however, is his utilisation, for a third successive film, of the music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Often tediously distracting, their score, at times, borders on inappropriate, especially in the final stretch when monotonous dreamy synth textures are used to create a sense of mounting unease, yet without any flair or instinct for capitalising on Fincher’s deep focus gaze.

Flynn’s twisty narrative, in a peripheral manner, exposes the gluttonous press and their obsessive preoccupation with breaking news stories. We're shown the invasive scrutiny they afford the scandal of the day and equally, the manner in which they skew a story on a whim to revive a lagging pace. But there’s nothing in the way of fresh insights here. An innocent man despises the press, we know that. Especially when he’s no longer innocent.

Though there are classy contributions all round, Fincher's film feels slightly hollow at its core, with its bleak portrait of domesticity and the fairer sex in particular hitting a sallow note. In Gone Girl, redemption is a cold-hearted concept unable to grip in a world in which, the final act seems to say, attempts at extraction from difficult situations only leads to reinforced incarceration.


Advanced Style

October 1st 2014 04:26

Flamboyant eccentricity has rarely been as endearing as in the female subjects of Lina Plioplyte‘s Advanced Style (2014). Aged between 62 and 95, these women, rather than wither away in dust-choked apartments, arrested by nostalgia-tinged reveries, seek to engage the world with their vibrant, assertive individuality. Their sense of fashion may range from the dubious to the hideous, with one woman using offcuts of her blazing orange hair as makeshift eyelashes and another turning empty toilet rolls into colourful wrist bracelets. But what can’t be subjectively denied by wearied preconceptions is their remarkable vigour, their lack of inhibition and their determination to keep pace with a world which tries to tell them to slow down and, at their age, to treasure every gasp of breath.

Based on Ari Cohen’s blog through which he sought to bring attention to the shifting diversity of styles of women of an advanced age on the streets of New York, the film is modestly but lovingly assembled, with Cohen himself hovering peripherally as a mentor and guide. But the indefatigable life-force of the women is what shines through. Some project a larger than life persona, others seem almost embarrassed by the attention. One or two regard any recognition as being long overdue, whilst the majority humbly accept the belated consideration as another layer of enrichment upon their already storied lives.

Advanced Style is, more than anything, about the transcendence of age, about the inoculation of the human spirit against the weight of numbers as years. If they cared at all for those who opposed their desire to persevere or evolve their idiosyncratic impressions of what constitutes sound fashion sense, they’d laugh in their faces. But these astonishing women are oblivious, carefree, anything but manufactured, and for these and countless other reasons, put us all to shame.

Advanced Style opens in Australian cinemas on Thursday, October 2.


A Place in the Sun (Stevens, 1951)

September 24th 2014 02:24

The Equaliser

September 24th 2014 01:38


September 17th 2014 05:00

The Grandmaster

September 3rd 2014 04:36

Into the Storm

September 3rd 2014 04:32


August 27th 2014 04:38

Vernon, Florida (Morris, 1981)

August 20th 2014 08:34


Recent Comments

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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Comment by David O'Connell
on The Woman in Black

March 10th 2013 10:32
Yeah, quite looking forward to seeing this again on DVD Janice, very underrated little film - and a creepy one too despite the conventional, manipulative chills.

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Comment by David O'Connell
on Skyfall (2012) - Trailer Included

February 18th 2013 04:27
Audacious choice JD, can't say I'm with you despite enjoying it a lot, but you're a critic of great conviction.

My favourite scene of the film, hands down, is the intro to Bardem's character: that single, long take shot over the tied-up Bond's shoulder, with Bardem descending in the lift at the other end of the building, then delivering that brilliant monologue as he slowly approaches. Magic. Just a brilliant scene in the way it's both devised and executed. So simple and yet, in today's rapid-editing overload how often do we see something similar in a big blockbuster? That's the true benefit of hiring artists like Mendes and Deakins.

I do love Thomas Newman's score too, one of modern cinemas most influential composers really stretching himself in a type of film he's never really been handed before.

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