Thursday, March 31, 2011

True Grit (2010)

Gee.. That "The King's speech" must have been a heck of a film...
Just saying.
It is refreshing in these days of hyper-intertextulisation (my word, I made it up), 3D, CGI, poor script writing and general over all staleness; that we see a wonderful Character and script driven film like this one on our screens. But that is sort of what we expect from the Coens, actually nice old fashioned film craft. Now I'm actually a fan of the original 1969 film staring John Wayne, and I must say this new adaption is nowhere near as functionless as so many remakes have been over the past decade and a half. It's a fresh take on the 1968 serial by Charles Portis that follows the tale of Mattie Ross, a 14 year old girl of unusual drive and intelligence, as she seeks revenge on her father's killer. To achieve this end she hires a US Marshall, Rooster Cogburn, to assist her in tracking down and eventually killing the murderer; Tom Chaney.
The film on it's surface has the veneer of the "revisionist" western, the old west in a wild and dangerous place indeed filled with filth, Alcohol, poor healthcare and violence. Although once you go just below the surface you quickly find that the Coens are not giving us an Unforgiven or a The Quick or the Dead.
Instead they craft a very well rounded west, combining gritty realism with some old West cliches that have some basis in fact. LaBoeuf for example wears a tasseled jacket and spurs, something that could be terribly kitch if done poorly. It also does not do violence for violence's sake, and pretty much all the characters beyond Chaney have the quality indicated to in the title to some extent. Even the Villainous Lucky Ned Pepper is quite hospitable while he has Mattie captive, while he may be an outlaw, he and his gang are not Monsters by any extent. Ned sees no value in harming Maddie so he doesn't, but is happy to use her to get Cogburn off his back. Chaney on the other hand has just killed a man in cold blood, and is basically a coward so seems more scared of Maddie than she is of him.
That really is what goes to the heart of what makes a good film, fully realized characters who have a dimension beyond what is given in dialogue. Not only that but characters whose actions are internally consistent with what they do in the film, regardless of cliched scene play. That is where the Coen's habit of an ending that isn't really an ending pays dividends, it keeps the audience guessing and more importantly entertained. You don't know when the film is actually over till it is over, they shirk the usual Hollywood situation-complication-redemption formula.
Entertaining and thoughtful to the last.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


It has been suggested that I do spend a lot of time on silly nerdy gaming pursuits, and that I really should start writing more about such things...
So this blog is splitting! Watch this space for more info.
Tomorrow's sound will still be the place for my personal musings and film reviews but this new creature will be all about that gaming thing I do most Saturdays, and some Fridays...
Till then...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Review: Inside Job (2010)

It seems that a topic for many Documentaries made in 2010 were man-made disasters, from Gasland to The Big Uneasy ; a common theme seemed to be the incompetence and greed of humans. (Particularly US humans)
The Oscar winning Inside Job is no exception, a chronicle of the global banking crisis of 2007-2008. Starting it's tale in Iceland and then moving to Wall St and Washington DC, "Inside Job" documents the events preceding, during and immediately after the crash of 2008. It includes a great many interviews with important players in the saga, as well as many non interviews by people who refuse to comment. (Represented by title cards advising that the person they are talking about declined to be interviewed by the documentary makers.)
Like many modern documentaries the film is an essay, beginning with it's premise and supporting that premise to a conclusion. To this end the film is very successful, it manages to break down the normally complex world of the financial and legislative regulation into bite sized chunks for the audience and tells a tale that really does need to be told. It is coupled with a great amount of archived footage, beautiful visuals of it's main locations and sharply edited interviews. (I am predicting a DVD set with loads of extra interview footage, as many seem cut very tightly for cinematic effect)
For me this film was largely preaching to the choir, I followed the events of 2008 and since quite closely and was actually amazed by my pre-knowledge of some of the film's territory. (I know roughly how a credit default swap worked for example, what leverage was etc) Even without this knowledge it is both an entertaining film, pacy and effective.
I did feel it wasted a bit of time on an Ad-Hominem against executives and their nocturnal habits; devoting a lengthy block to Wall street's love of strip clubs, cocaine and prostitutes. While the little factoid about one madam in particular working as a cog to write off these extravagances as buisness expenses was I feel relevant, the short exploration of the pathology of the Wall street mindset was shallow and a little easy for my taste. (I think you can show how bad this culture is without going for the "these people are basically sociopaths" angle, that imho absolves them of some responsibility for their actions due to mental illness, rather than as products of a twisted capitalist environment) Another criticism, actually leveled by the friend I watched the film with who is in Banking and Economics, is that the film conflates Economics and Commerce as Academic fields when in fact they are quite separate. Most Business schools focus on Commerce while Economics tends to be a more abstract field and not as tied in with the world of business.

Minor quibbles aside, this is a worth while watch. By the looks this year's Academy batch of documentaries are all very high quality (as is the Big Uneasy which was not nominated) and I have slipped Gasland, The Big Uneasy, Exit through the gift shop and Wasteland on my must watch list..

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lay people's guides to unfolding badness

Words really cannot express what is happening in Japan at the moment, I think I will leave it to others better suited and more capable of expressing what is happening there. I have been to Japan once, for two days, and even in that short time it struck me as a more beautiful and welcoming place than modern pop culture gives it credit for. My hopes go out to everyone there and everyone who has loved ones there.

Two great sources of info on the unfolding Nuclear issue in Japan are Brain Dunning's twitter feed (oh an of course!) and Racheal Maddow's great easy to follow updates on her show.


Busy fortnight, not much time to spill my brains on teh intertubes but a quick post and video to encapsulate my thoughts on the world at the moment...

I do wonder if the government of the US is the equivalent to the band playing while the Titanic sinks... (An Analogy, please no emails about the band of the Titanic, or Nero and his fiddle for that matter...) Climate Change, Economic Crisis, Nuclear plants in Japan exploding, biggest oil spill on record= no substantive policy change.

Bradley Manning. I can't express the absolute disgust I feel for the Obama administration over this issue. It's the old "charge him with something or release him" issue, what is being done at the moment is so close to torture it isn't funny...

Carbon price/tax/levy. While I don't agree with it I see the need, and am puzzled by the Government's inability to defend it's position. Just like the Mining Tax and Flood Levy arguments the Government just hasn't come to bat on this one...


Saturday, March 5, 2011

More Tax Fun kiddies...

Yeah it's been on my mind, the debate in the US is so insane that I feel that I have to keep an eye on it so I can be ready for the likely event of the same ideas being rolled out here. The NSW Liberals under Howard did often take their lead from the Conservative movements in the US and it showed in many of their policies. Basically, give tax cuts and credits to their base and meanwhile cry about being revenue short so that the commons can go under funded. Roads, Hospitals, schools, Universities etc. run down and then we are told that it's too expensive and that we really should be using the private option... Fortunately the Australian system is a little more resilient than that in the US, but that did not stop them chipping at the edges and even moving the debate enough to make Labour State Governments enact virtually the same policies. The idea that the public health system is buckling under pressure and that private insurance and care is the answer is basically an idea that has totally infiltrated the psyche of most Australian voters. (Just like the justifications for massive federal funding for private schools , privatisation of roads and our inability to de construct our coal based economy)
Anyway, no answers just complaints tonight. That's what happens when I write after several bouts of the o-so delicious pear cider...
This interview between Sam Seder and David Kay Johnston pretty much covers the US's much more severe version of this with a wonderful outline of the dreaded supply side economics... Enjoy : )