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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Vernon, Florida (Morris, 1981)

August 20th 2014 08:34

The story goes that director Errol Morris, preparing his second documentary, a follow-up to Gates of Heaven (1978), encountered a killer story in a small American town. Vernon, Florida was home, it seems, to a small but growing band of out there folk intent on lopping off the odd limb or two to claim insurance money. Smelling a juicy documentary in the works, Morris pounced but soon found his own life threatened should he appropriate details of their plan for the purpose of broader distribution. The director necessarily backtracked but still felt compelled to hone in on some of the town’s other residents, perceiving another interesting take on a shiftless place built on the colourful collective bursts of sporadic insights that both illuminate and muddy the shape of things in etching the life of a backwoods community.

The resultant 55 minute film, Vernon, Florida (1981) is a slow-moving, curiously compelling portrait of aimlessness and a strange devotion to the indefinable art of rambling. There are no articulate, insightful reminiscences, only a spate of locals whose verbal tics and storytelling gifts drift beside and well beyond the point. A turkey hunter provides the richest, lavish detailing in his tales of stalking that account for countless hours of futility, though the rows of creepy trophies he keeps lovingly tacked to his wall attest to the artful endurance of his gifts.

Deadly earnest in their telling, the lives of these locals prove to be authentic oddities, no less relevant for the decaying milieu and sociological context they pinpoint and illuminate in jagged, fragmentary recollections. A pertinent query – and one we might instinctively supress in our mind if it weren’t for the insistent, recurring nature of its source – might be, are these simple folk of sound mind? There seems ample evidence to the contrary but in sketching Vernon through its residents, Morris has constructed, modestly, an endearing confirmation of these lives in their time and place. An open air asylum it may seem, but there’s a low-fi poetic beauty to be plundered from these denizens of the deep South whose legitimate, distinctly American identities give them a compelling sincerity. For Morris, this would be his final calling card before his ground-breaking next work, the startling crime story The Thin Blue Line (1988), in which he redefined the form of the modern documentary.



July 31st 2014 02:30

The sins of the father are visited upon by all in a small Irish township in John Michael McDonagh’s long awaited second feature, his follow-up to The Guard (2011). Again featuring Brendon Gleeson in the lead, Calvary (2014) begins in a confessional where a parishioner confides of the horrors of abuse suffered at the hands of a priest in his youth. In confiding with Father James Lavelle (Gleeson), the confessor decides upon a retribution that will mindlessly enact an eye for an eye, but rather strip an impotent God of one of his most valuable commodities, a ‘good’ priest who likewise doesn’t deserve his fate. Lavelle is given a week to put his affairs in order before judgement day arrives.

With streaks of dry, bleak humour, McDonagh constructs a week in the life of Lavelle as he contemplates his place in God’s scheme and tends to the random woundings of his flock. Amongst them are an abused wife (Orla O’Rourke), an aging American writer (M. Emmet Walsh), an apathetic wealthy businessman (Dylan Moran) and his own daughter, Fiona (Kelly Reilly), whose recent suicide attempt accentuates how close to home the troubles of the individual are to Lavelle. Though there are obvious missteps in McDonagh’s carefully constructed screenplay - chief amongst them a couple of extraneous marginal characters whose flickering appearances disrupt both the credibility and flow of the narrative - for the most part the director has done a wonderful job in presenting a sombre, humanising portrait of Lavelle. The central moral predicaments that speak of reprisals for the sins of a father are carried out to devastating effect as Lavelle weighs up the equally uncomfortable prospects of flight or confrontation. The director also leaves space to allude to Ireland’s broader decline without any overt, spell-breaking didacticism attached.

At its centre of this blackly qualified drama is the figure of Gleeson who provides a towering performance, perhaps his finest one to date. Lavelle is deeply empathetic yet hardly free of shortcomings and the echoes of his own erroneous past make waves he can’t sideswipe away. His own ‘sins’, including that of becoming a priest which may have registered as neglect to an already isolated child, are treated without the predictability of an imminent easy resolution. The true measure of McDonagh’s work is in small, gentle, genuinely moving moments that abound; it’s these that powerfully accentuate Calvary’s emotional core, revealing in turn an Ireland staunch in its refusal to topple even as it’s hamstrung by economic woe and moral torpor.


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

Tim's Vermeer

July 9th 2014 04:39

Raze (Waller, 2013)

June 25th 2014 03:52

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


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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