Category Archives: Movies

Movie: Hidden Figures

I’ve had to forego my guilty pleasure of sitting in a darkened cinema each Monday so far this year because I’ve been too busy working on an exhibition at the Heidelberg Historical Society (exciting details to come!)  But it’s all bedded down now, and so I can return to my beat into the city, onto the tram up Swanston Street to Melbourne Uni, down to Lygon Street and into the cinema Nova to catch a movie that is almost inevitably on its ‘last days’.

Not this time though- it was the garish Northland Hoyts, in order to use up free tickets that Mr Judge had won in a footy tipping competition last year. (Not only do I only catch exhibitions and films just as they’re closing, but we often find ourselves using up coupons and vouchers the day before they about to expire.) I’d heard good things about ‘Hidden Figures’, and so catch it we would.  It is based on the experiences of three African-American women who worked at NASA in 1961.

It is a good story, massaged though it is for film-making purposes.  For example, although the three real-life women in this film did indeed work for NASA, they did not all start work there at the same time or travel to work together. Many of the white characters were invented or a composite, and the toilet-sign smashing scene never occurred. Perhaps I should let go of my discomfort at such narrative practices, although I think that NASA might have felt a little miffed, given that they had desegregated in 1958.   However, even if the most egregious elements of segregation had been eliminated,  the pettiness and degradation of small acts of both deliberate and unconscious prejudice is pervasive.  And as my friend Lynne pointed out when we were discussing the movie over lunch, it was interesting and unusual to see middle class African-American families in the 1960s depicted on the screen.

I did find the tone of the movie a bit saccharine, though. Maybe that’s to be expected, given that the whole NASA enterprise was shot through with American patriotism – an emotion and a political stance that I’m not personally comfortable with.  I was also conscious that this film would have been conceptualized and produced during Obama’s presidency, and wondered how the politics of pre-Trumpian American fed into it.  Nonetheless, a good film that brings three unknown African-American pioneers right to the front of stage, hidden no longer.

Movie: Joe Cinque’s Consolation

As a Helen Garner fan, of course I was keen to see this adaptation of Helen Garner’s book Joe Cinque’s Consolation, which she wrote in 2004. Joe Cinque was a young man who was killed by a lethal dose of heroin administered by his girlfriend, Anu Singh, who blamed him for her rather vague ‘ill-health’. Singh had told her friends, particularly Madhavi Rao, of her intentions but no-one acted definitively to stop the crime from occurring.

However, the film is very much an adaptation as Garner is completely absent in this film.  In the book (as with This House of Grief), Garner is the lens through which we interpret the court case which she reconstructs from testimony, but which is completely manifested in words only.   As a result, the tension of the film lies in waiting for the crime to occur  -will it be tonight? is this where she does it? – with the question of why she does it less fully explored.  However in the film, as with the book, I was left feeling angry (as Garner did) at the moral slothfulness of her friends,  the utter pointlessness of Joe’s death and the inadequacy of the sentence that Singh was awarded.

Movie: ‘Ruin’

On Saturday afternoon (3 December 2016) I caught the final screening of ‘Ruin’ at ACMI.  This Australian film is filmed and set entirely in Cambodia and although described as a ‘romance’, it’s a very bleak one. A volatile, violent young man meets a very young prostitute who has escaped from her pimp who bashes her and threatens to kill her. In a gritty, violent road movie- or more correctly, river movie- and in the midst of brutality and exploitation, they gradually fall in love.  If you watch the trailer, you’ll see that there’s lots of slow-motion shots, lots of water, a nausea-inducing hand-held camera throughout and unsettling, droning music.  I suspect that it’s going to stay with me for far longer than I want it to.

Movie: Sully

[ Postscript at the start: Oh dear, I wrote this review months ago and forgot to post it! Sully is still on at a couple of theatres so I guess this is just one of my ‘hurry up because it’s finishing soon’ posts]

How striking that two of the major news stories of the twenty-first century in a visual sense should occur in New York: that footage of the plane flying into the second Twin Tower and  the eventual collapse of the towers, and the landing of US Airways Flight 1549 onto the Hudson River on the cold morning of  Jan. 15, 2009 after striking a flock of geese. The movie  ‘Sully’ tells the story of  Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger whose skills saved the 155 passengers and crew on board, and the review that took place after the incident.  In this telling, within days of his heroic action his reputation is impugned and his skills questioned by a narrow-minded and legalistic board of enquiry, blinded by their stupidity and determination to turn him from hero into an incompetent egotist.

It’s quite an achievement to turn what was about six minutes of action into a full-length film, and you find yourself cheering for this good man who has been victimized by the system. But my scepticism-antennae began quivering at the end of what had been an entertaining movie with the patriotic declaration that “New York’s finest” had been there, along with Sully, to save the day.  Yes, if you had to land a plane on a frozen river anywhere in the world, you’d want it to be in a first-world city with beefed-up emergency services. But, remembering that Clint Eastwood directed this movie, was it true?

Well, as this article in the Guardian indicates: not exactly.  The film suggests that the inquiry in a packed room commenced immediately but in reality it did not commence until some months later, and there were only six people in the room and not the bank of onlookers shown in the movie.  Of the simulation flights ordered by the enquiry, only half made it to alternative airports. The investigators, not Sully, asked the simulation pilots to delay before attempting the emergency landings.

“Does it matter?” asked my father, who very much enjoyed the movie.  Stephen Cass, the author of the Guardian article asks the same question.

But does Sully’s portrayal of NTSB investigators as bullying incompetents matter? After all, whenever a movie based on true events is released, there are always cries of “it didn’t happen that way!” This occurs because of the inevitable changes required when dramatizing real-life events. These include creating composite characters, eliding side issues and compressing chronologies.

It certainly seems that great attention was paid to the details of the cockpit and the emergency procedures on board the aircraft.  But is there a bigger truth?

In evaluating such storytelling decisions, what’s important is whether or not the top-line takeaway is fair….It’s not hard to see why this tack appealed to strident libertarian Eastwood. In its populist zeal, the American right wing has been increasingly unwilling to accept the legitimacy of any branch of federal government. Sully meshes perfectly with a worldview where petty and clueless civil servants obstruct real Americans from being great.

The story of the landing of Flight 1549 is a great one in its own right.  I enjoyed it while I was watching it, but I feel cheated by the politics that have been superimposed onto it.

[Postscript: I recently heard a movie reviewer mention that in a movie ‘based on true facts’, the rule of thumb is that the most memorable scene of the movie is the one that didn’t actually happen. I must remember that.]

 

Movie: Embrace of the Serpent

I need to sit with this movie for a while. Filmed in black and white, it is the story of two journeys along the Amazon, thirty years apart.  The first is in 1909, with a very ill German ethnologist, Theodor Koch-Grunberg being rowed up the river by a westernized local, Manduca, whom he had saved from the rubber plantations.  He is seeking the the hallucinogenic plant yakruna  to save his life.  The second journey is in 1940 with the ethnobiologist Richard Evans Schultes also traversing the sinuous river, armed with the published edition of Koch-Grunberg’s journals.  Both men, some thirty years apart, encounter Karamakate, who lives alone separate from his tribe, and demand that he guide them on their quest.  Karamakate is a young man in 1909, fired up by the injustices of the rubber plantation owners; by 1940 he is much older, forgetful but even more disgusted by the cruelty and appropriation. With shades of Apocalypse Now, the strict religion introduced with the white man, with its abuse of children and obliteration of culture and language,  has warped into an even more alarming violent, messianic cult.

Its critique of colonialism and capitalism is trenchant, and its photography is stunning.  I still need to think about it.  [Post-script: it’s no longer showing at the cinema. Obviously I sat and thought about it for too long!]

Movie: Poi E

When the film finished, the audience clapped.  Need I say more?

To be honest, I’d never heard of the song Poi E even though this film seemed to think that everyone in the world had.  Released in 1984, it reached No 1 on the charts in New Zealand and was performed at a Royal Command performance. The lyrics were written by Maori-speaker Ngoi Pēwhairangi and the music, a blend of traditional Maori song with a steady  beat, was written by Dalvanius Prime, a supporting artist for acts like Isaac Hayes.  He did not speak Maori himself, and was largely disengaged from his community until returning home and working with the local Patea Maori Club in a small town threatened with the closure of the local meat works.

It’s a terrific documentary about language and culture; the interviews are funny and engaging and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Movie: Equity

It’s good, if rather distasteful, to see that female investment bankers can be just as greedy and ambitious as male investment bankers.   I must confess that I still don’t know what an IPO is, but I understood enough to know that these women were mixing it with the Gordon Geckos of the world in a rarefied world of glossy, hotel-like interiors and lots of alcohol. They worked all hours too but were rarely forgiven for their mistakes and had to use their sexuality as well as their brains. Thank God I live a boring little suburban life.