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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Maps to the Stars

December 17th 2014 03:33

Over the decades, there have been as many films depicting the rise of fall of Hollywood dreamers and schemers as there are stars in the night sky. David Cronenberg’s latest, written by Bruce Wagner, is an effective addition to the canon with its caustically satirical tale of intersecting lives, the professional and personal cost of aging, the morality forgone to progress another rung on the ladder of recognition, and the sacrifice of soul and dignity as some wilfully lower themselves into a morass of unwholesome compromises. It wouldn’t be an authentically spiced up Tinseltown satire without a slew of mentally unhinged individuals added to the mix either. Wagner’s themes, then, are simplified, generalised ones but potent too.

When we first encounter her, the star of Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore) is inexorably fading but – spurred on by the kind of motivation that could fill an opportunistic psychiatrist’s next text for the masses - she’d love nothing more than to portray her own dead mother in an upcoming biopic. As well as being haunted by a young version of her deceased mother, Havana has a pathological fear of her younger rivals, the ghosts of which are exorcised by spiritual guru Stafford Weiss (John Cusack). Stafford himself doesn’t exactly have a bed of roses to fall back on domestically, with an unhinged, fretful wife, Christina (Olivia Williams), and a vile, famous actor son Benjie (Evan Bird). Much of Christina’s stress stems from worry that their daughter Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), recently let out of an institution, will return to their lives with some kind of twisted retribution in mind. Meanwhile Agatha – via new Twitter friend Carrie Fisher - has secured a job as Havana’s new assistant, whilst simultaneously finding time to win over limo driver, Jerome Fontana (Robert Pattinson), an aspiring actor and filmmaker.

Wagner’s creations, naturally, are a ghastly, unsympathetic bunch - narcissistic, ego-bound, morally vacuous, mentally unstable monsters whose behaviour and motivations serve as satirical exemplifications of the kind of at-all-costs, survivalist mind-set historically wrought by a disturbing subservience to fame and excess. No one escapes the wrath - from the major participants, trying to stay ahead of the game – often clinging to or enraptured by new methodologies, trends, and plastic surgery – to the smallest bit players selling their bodies and spirits in the filthy margins as they await the faintest sliver of opportunity to come their way.

Wagner’s screenplay has consistency issues but the strength of some key performances goes a long way to eliciting those pleasurable shudders of incomprehension at the depths of depravity on show here. Moore, surely now one of the finest actresses of her generation, gives yet another remarkable turn as the heinous Havana: lost, haunted, deluded and vindictive, she’s a classic fading star, clutching at straws to hold her ground in an industry attempting to sweep her under the carpet.

Wasikowska as her unstable, physically and mentally wounded new assistant, carries with her a whiff of dangerous potential, whilst Bird as the repulsive young star somehow makes Benjie semi-sympathetic with a performance beyond his years. The rest of cast, including Pattinson and Cusack are solid. The only sub-par work comes from Williams as the jittery Christina; severe overacting means her character’s anxiety is never tempered and mostly feels ludicrously overwrought. Maps to the Stars (2014) takes aim at some very familiar dysfunctional characters and mostly hits its intended targets. Certainly, it’s far from top-line Cronenberg, though it perhaps feels like a return to form – what wouldn’t? - after the ill-conceived disaster of Cosmopolis (2012).


There’s not a lot to distinguish Mikkel Norgaard’s adaptation of yet another bestselling foreign language mystery novel. The wave of Nordic and Scandinavian crime has well and truly crested, leaving us shaking our heads as to how to sort the wheat from the chaff. Though it's certainly not without merit, The Keeper of Lost Causes (2013) is conventional in nearly every sense. The prologue establishes the rash, headstrong nature of lead character Carl Morck (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) – naturally a character flaw that will see him at odds with superiors. Returning from a gunshot-enforced layoff he finds himself booted down to the lowest rung of the department’s ladder, retrieving cold cases long since buried in basement files. Carl, we soon discover, is not one for contorting his mouth into the upturned contour of a smile, for example. He’s not a happy camper and shows little faith in his designated partner, Assad (Fares Fares), who seems to have been trawling these lower reaches for quite some time.

Bowing down to duty, Carl takes interest in a case of apparent suicide by a stable young woman, Merete (Sonja Richter) on a cruise ship when in the company of her mentally handicapped brother. Ruled a suicide officially, Carl smells a rat and decides to dig deeper. Through means of instinctive deductive reasoning he comes to believe in foul play and throws caution to the wind in his search for answers. The competent Assad isn’t entirely convinced, but bemused – and presumably amused by the novelty – of his new partner’s intense desperation to unlock a thought-to-be solved mystery, he plays along.

In a parallel plotline we discover, of course, that Carl’s instincts are not without foundation. An individual with a grudge has gone to elaborate lengths to exact a torturous, elongated revenge. Though the race-against-the-clock predictability of Nikolaj Arcel’s screenplay means the narrative arc is hamstrung by its orthodoxy, there’s still a mildly gripping curiosity that has us holding out hope for a cleverly wrought, unforeseeable twist. The finale, when reached, proves to be derivative and conservative yet the always riveting Kaas is certainly enough to sustain interest. His physical presence - utilised by far better directors than Norgaard, including Lars Von Trier and Susanne Bier – comes to the fore and his combination with the laidback Fares shows just enough promise to have us believing that the inevitable string of films to follow based on more of Jussi Adler-Olsen’s crime novels have a chance to deliver creditably in what is a stacked, highly competitive genre.

The Keeper of Lost Causes is now out on DVD through Madman.



December 10th 2014 03:36

Venal opportunists and those with an insatiable desire to see news deliver without graphic detailing excised: are these possible fractured reflections of ourselves? Writer-director Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler (2014) is certainly not heading onto untrammelled turf though what it lacks in originality it makes up for in terms of performance and execution. The film ventures deep into the psyche of the creepy, undernourished and vampiric Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), a young man attempting to get a foot in somebody – anybody’s – door to make a start. Then he inadvertently stumbles upon a car wreck during the graveyard hours. A lone cameraman (Bill Paxton) pounces on the scene, snapping shots in close and when the resultant images hit that night’s headlines, a new set of cogs in Lou’s head begins to turn. Could this be his true calling, culling images from horror crime scenes for the nightly news?

Gilroy’s screenplay appeals to the voyeur in us all: who doesn’t crave a dose of misery to enhance our perception that there’s always somebody in the world worse off than us? In allowing these fears to manifest in the form of Bloom, Gilroy asks uncomfortable questions about our own culpability in shaping the tone and direction of the nightly news. There’s another dimension to Bloom’s growing reputation – one forged through sheer force of will as he extracts horror and rams it down the throat of the lowest rating network’s desperate honcho, Nina Romina (Rene Russo); in the flashing headlines he imagines all kinds of possibilities, including the chanced to bed Nina in a move that betrays his general ineptness, lack of fortune or both with the opposite sex. Gilroy skimps on background details for Bloom so we’re left to extrapolate from the fully-formed being seen at the start of the film.

What we do know is that he’s a slick talker in the face of danger, able to swap one condescending façade for another. But there’s a darkness that hems him in and it’s no surprise when he begins to slither across perceptible moral boundaries. In a role for which he lost significant weight to provide Bloom with his unhealthy pallor, Gyllenhaal shines, perhaps even topping his weighty contribution as the obsessed detective on the case in Denis Villeneauve’s Prisoners (2013).

The acerbic black streak of humour that informs the compelling Nightcrawler never sees it toppling into ludicrous terrain. This is chiefly down to its star who is ably counterbalanced by Russo, acting for her husband Gilroy in what is a rare recent screen appearance. With a deft touch for creating complexity, she has us believing in the subsistence of Nina’s quandary. A craving to keep her job compels her but need that necessarily entail upping the ante by whatever means necessary? Journalism, exploitative, informative, or both, is not the only victim here, with Bloom’s final manipulation of the pawns to contrive the 'truth' representing a mind-numbing, soul-destroying final roll of the dice and the declarative statement of Gilroy’s social commentary.


20,000 Days on Earth

December 5th 2014 03:40

Wetlands (Wnendt, 2013)

December 2nd 2014 04:50

Force Majeure

December 1st 2014 04:58


November 18th 2014 03:10

L'argent (Bresson, 1983)

November 17th 2014 04:08

Two Days, One Night

November 11th 2014 06:48


November 11th 2014 05:11


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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