We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011 Film)

 

You get a certain texture from a book written as a series of letters from one character to another. First, you get a strong sense of the character and how she perceives herself. Secondly, you get only her side of the story.

It’s hard to capture that sense of character on film unless you use voice over, and sometimes that seems lazy or intrusive. Still, something – anything – could have been done about We Need To Talk About Kevin, a film which reveals none of the nuance of its somewhat delicate subject matter and source material; a film which renders what was a true product of its time into a timeless jumble that veers between finely acted and merely over the top unpleasant.

15th Japanese Film Festival Day Two: Princess Toyotomi and The Magic Hour

The second day of the Japanese Film Festival was a bumpy ride, with one of the films essentially fizzling and dying before my eyes and the other providing solid laughter but not much in the way of substance. It’s a tough life at the festival.

Princess Toyotomi

At first I thought that Princess Toyotomi simply didn’t translate, but as it progressed it became increasingly clear that the film I was watching was simply incoherent, and more than a little bit stupid. Realising that a film’s lack of quality is not a failing on your own part is a great source of relief, because it’s near impossible to describe Princess Toyotomi as anything approaching a good movie.

15th Japanese Film Festival Opening Night: A Ghost Of A Chance

 

The Japanese Film Festival is always my favourite time of year. Any excuse to sit in a darkened room for up to eleven days is good enough for me, and Japan consistently releases some of my favourite style of films. Each year the JFF presents a selection – not always good, but normally always enough to raise a reaction from me.

 

This year the organisers went ahead with a plot to open the festival with a comedy, in stark contrast to the family melodrama of last year’s About Her Brother. While perhaps slightly too long (and not without a slight glitch), A Ghost Of A Chance was a fresh start for 2011, the festival’s fifteenth year.

Killing Time – Premiere Episodes

A few weeks ago, TV1 invited me to a screening of the first two episodes of the new true crime drama Killing Time, based on the decadent eighties rise and fall of criminal lawyer Andrew Fraser. The series begins on TV1 tonight, and it looks poised to give Australian audiences more of what they want with fewer of the gimmicks endemic to the genre.

Ghostbusters

“Bustin’ makes me feel good!”

Ghostbusters is legitimately one of the greatest films ever made. I like it more every time I see it, and I get more out of it each time I see it. There is something about it that simply works, whether it’s the encapsulation of New York City in 1984, the special effects that still hold up 27 years later, Bill Murray, Rick Moranis or simply its flawless script. The only element that is not all there is the soundtrack, which features a bizarre Ghostbusters swing on two occasions.

 

Still, this is a brand of perfection and it endures for that very reason. Not for Ghostbusters is the endless mystery of enduring popularity; Ivan Reitman, in his days of talent, laid his cards on the table: Ghostbusters is flat-out great.

Drive

 

Drive has been on the fingertips of everyone in Antipodean critical and festival circles for months. It wasn’t until this week, after being thoroughly sick of the hype, that I finally got to see it. Was it worth the wait? Definitely. Could I have done without Chris Murray introducing it in the same effusive tones as he did the execrable Kick-Ass last year? Indubitably.

 

Drive is a tonal delight, a package of constant surprises. Fortunately, its incredibly filmic nature means that the unwrapping can only happen before your eyes and not on my page. Drive is not perfect, but cumulative moments suggest that it very nearly is. It’s a film’s film, as only certain directors can make; it is most assuredly not an entry in the same canon as The Fast and the Furious.

Snuff

Samuel Vimes is one of the most beloved, and most featured, of all characters in the ever broadening Discworld series. When Terry Pratchett presents you with a City Watch book (“City” having become increasingly loosely defined as the series has progressed), you attack it in a different mind frame to any of his other books. This is because, when Vimes is in Pratchett’s hands, he becomes an incredibly single minded author. It is only rarely that we are taken out of the mind of Ankh-Morpork’s chief protector, and then that is usually only to be placed at the mercy of the inscrutable Lord Vetinari.

 

Essentially, Pratchett knows what he likes when he’s writing Vimes, and he hopes that the audience likes it, too. Fortunately, Pratchett is in but one of his many elements. The transcendental nature of I Shall Wear Midnight was always going to be a hard act to follow, so Pratchett does not try. Instead, he places us in the company of a man who has not had a book to himself since 2005 – and he has had the good grace to have made the world move in such time. Vimes is not in the same space as he was in Thud!, and the novel reads all the better for it.

Reamde

 

Neal Stephenson and I go way back. Snow Crash, his breakthrough novel, was an enjoyably zippy future-tech adventure, overly hip and over in seconds. Over the years he learned verbosity and the ability to write more than was strictly needed, and this gave rise to Cryptonomicon. Then the Baroque Cycle came out and I gave up after only 200 pages, much to my continuing shame. Anathem has sat on my bookshelf, mocking me these past few years as I’ve ploughed through countless other books, all of them generally with fewer pages.

When Reamde was announced, I thought that my Kindle should be utilized to give Stephenson another chance. I would like to believe that my gamble paid off, although at Stephenson’s expense; against all odds, Stephenson has produced a pseudo techno-thriller: a jock in nerd’s clothing.

 

Jonathan Franzen – Sydney Opera House, September 13, 2011

(Working title: Franzen of the Opera)

A loose report of various things that may have been said at the talk.

It must be a huge burden to have people call you “America’s greatest living novelist” or “one of America’s greatest novelists” or “one of the greatest novelists”. I say this entirely without irony because, after being given that title, what left is there for you to say? Anything will be an inevitable disappointment, and none of it will be your fault. This is only true if the title was bestowed upon you; if you gave it to yourself, you deserve whatever you have coming to you.

 

In having written some pretty good books, Jonathan Franzen accidentally painted himself into a corner. His American novels became metonymous for the American novel. This gave Australians free licence to ask Franzen to deconstruct his country for our entertainment and edification. He was able to do this to an extent, but the evening was best when Franzen was being specific: why he writes what he writes, and how it all comes to be. Discussing the act of writing and what informs it is far more interesting than a simple oration on the general state of the nation in which it was produced.

999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors

Nine Hours. Nine Persons. Nine Doors.

A survival horror visual novel, 999 is much more of a reading exercise with occasional puzzles thrown in than it is a game. This does nothing to dampen the experience, but it will be an obstacle for many. 999 has “cult” written all over it; those with the patience to see the nonary game through to completion several times are almost guaranteed to develop a certain fondness, if not love, for the Gigantic and at least some of its denizens.

Certainly, in my five days playing through the game to absolute completion, I came to think of my DS as the ship itself; few games have ever been quite so genuinely affecting as 999, nor quite so suited to the form despite their unorthodoxies.

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