November 30, 2015

Movie Club—The Evolution of Noir 2: L.A. Confidential

In December the Movie Club will continue its look at the changing face of noir with L.A. Confidential. Released in 1997, the film has been praised by critics (earning a 99% “Fresh” Rating on the Rotten Tomatoes), but never received the wide-spread attention it deserved then or now. This is particularly tragic as the film has a tight, fast moving plot, highly engaging dialogue, and solid performances from Russell Crowe, Guy Pierce (both new-comers to the Hollywood system at the time) and  Kevin Spacey.

Things are rotten in 1950s L.A., and three different detectives try to navigate the vice in the fallen "City of Angels". Each has a different approach: Crowe plays the tough guy, with a tooth and claw mentality and a penchant for punishing wife beaters; Pearce is a political animal, believing in high principles and the “New L.A.P.D.”; and Spacey is the smooth talking type, with links to tabloids and working as an adviser to a hit television detective show. While looking into different cases the three start to notice links, and although using different methods and having personal grudges, they combine their skills and efforts to uncover the darker parts of L.A. and their own police department.

Where The Maltese Falcon established many of the stylistic characteristics of film noir, L.A. Confidential plays with these conventions. It consciously replicates them while reworking them. This is perhaps best done with its tone: The Maltese Falcon had a dark outlook, where the corrupt and criminal elements weighed down the film with its post-Depression, pre-war angst. But L.A. Confidential boldly accepts its colour film and seedy subject matter, serving up its vice and violence with vivacious glee. It may seem as though it is enjoying its subject matter too much, but therein lies the “ambiguity and ambivalence” that separates the truly great noirs from those who just want to play detective.

L.A. Confidential will be screened on Wednesday 9 December at 6pm at Narellan Library, Cnr Queen and Elyard Street Narellan. Coffee, tea, and biscuits will be provided, but BYO snacks also welcome. Stay after the screening and share your thoughts about changes that have occurred in noir from the time of The Maltese Falcon to L.A. Confidential. Use the discussion questions or share your own observations.

Film Review - Dallas Buyers Club By Directer Jean- Marc Vallee

Dallas Buyers Club stars Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Garner. Winner of 3 Academy awards.

Texas cowboy Ron Woodroof is diagnosed as HIV positive and given 30 days to live. Not accepting his death sentence he embarks on his own journey, sometimes humorous with his disguises to seek other treatments and defy the odds. Making new friends along the way he challenges the medical community. This is a story of true strength of character and resilience. Anne
MA 15+ Strong sex scenes, drug use and course language

November 27, 2015

Book Review—The Awakening and Selected Stories by Kate Chopin

Edna Pontellier, wife of Laconce, a successful Creole businessman in New Orleans, has adjusted, over six years of marriage, to her new life and home. Accommodating the expectations of her husband and the upper society of New Orleans, she meets, while vacationing at a nearby Island, Robert Leburn, with whom she becomes infatuated. This young man sparks memories of her youthful infatuations, and she begins to unravel, socially and sexually.

Chopin came to prominence as a local colourist author, presenting the variety of the South and Louisiana in the late 19th Century. Stories like "The 'Cadian Ball" and "Désirée’s Baby" are fine example of this tradition, with the latter highlighting the preoccupations with miscegenation. Other stories, such as "Emancipation: A Life Fable", "Story of an Hour" and The Awakening reveal a focus of Chopin for which she become noted for after her death: a growing consciousness of the restraint of women within society. It was her place as an outsider in this Creole New Orleans (originally from Missouri) that provided Chopin with the distance to observe the vibrance of middle class creole society and, like Edna in The Awakening, to see through the pretences and social fictions. What makes The Awakening unique is that although born out of this local Colour, intellectually it is at home in two literary traditions: the feminist writers of the 19th century, such as George Sand, and fin-de-siecle literature, best known in the English speaking world through Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley, with its preoccupations with degeneration but also of new beginnings and new hopes. The social and sexual critique comes not only from her unique position with her new home, but also in the richness of ideas that travelled from far off and helped make sense of these constraints within her fiction.

Deeply personal while at the same time socially relevant, The Awakening and Selected Stories provides unique insights into both the author’s and our society.

November 23, 2015

Film Review - World War Z By Director Marc Forster

World War Z stars Brad Pitt. This movie is a non-stop action, horror. UN employee Gerry Lane travels the world for answers to stop the zombie pandemic which is dominating governments and conquering armies all over the world.

Gerry has to work fast to stop the down fall of humanity in its entirety, its a heavy weight to have on one persons shoulders. Filled with non stop-action and horror, it will keep you on the edge of your seat at times. Anne

November 20, 2015

Film Review—Big Eyes by Tim Burton

Margaret (Amy Adams) leaves her husband and moves to San Francisco to make a living as an artist in the bustling 1950s art scene. She finds it difficult to promote her works, despite their unique ‘big eyed waif’ quality. She meets Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), who is also trying to strike it big with his European street scenes. Walter is a charmer and helps Margaret sell her paintings by pretending they are his works. It’s a success, but the strain of lying to everyone, including her daughter, takes its toll on Margaret, and Walter’s shady stories and past start to unravel.

Big Eyes is a refreshing change from Tim Burton, dropping the zany lead in a bizarre world and adopting a more real world setting, although still with his flair for perfectly framed shots with rich colour and stylised vistas. Here Burton adopts a domestic tale, where Margaret’s desires and skills are usurped by Walter’s own plans despite a lack of skill, giving a direct, if obvious feminist tale. The plot is straightforward, but has some interesting moments between Adams and Waltz. Adams’ delicately brittle performance couldn’t be appropriate, but Waltz, although entertaining as always, fell into the predictable, once again playing the charming deviant. Half way through the film you start thinking a more subtle performance would have aided the story.

Big Eyes is an invigorating and much welcomed development in Burton’s unique filmography.

November 16, 2015

Film Review - Saving Mr Banks By Director John Lee Hancock

Saving Mr Banks stars Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson. This story is about the making of Mary Poppins. Walt Disney tries unsuccessfully to obtain the rights to the story from a tough author.

Only when they go back into past childhood memories do they feel free and are able to release Mary Poppins into the world. An enjoyable and uplifting movie, touching at times. Anne

November 13, 2015

Book Review—Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges

Like a book hidden away in the shelves, Borges is more legend than reading; mentions of his name or work receives either vague recollections or an outright “huh?” This is in part due to his output being short stories in an era when the form is viewed as the lessor of creative fiction (ironic in a time of microwavable meals, sound bite news, and Twitter posts), but another is Borges’ unique approach to the form, fully accepting that its strength is its inherent formlessness.

He worked with standard literary styles, like the detective story or the fantasy tale, but infused these with unusual modes, never undermining, but always expanding beyond the surface. Take for example his version of the fantasy story in “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”, where the fantasy world is not some far off place, but a spectre lurking in odd volumes that slowly usurps the narrator’s reality. Or his famous “The Garden of Forking Paths”, an espionage tale mixed in with a novel where all possible realities exist and intertwine. In yet another (“Three Versions of Judas”) Borges provides a scholarly article about a fictional theologian, Nils Runeberg and his controversial idea of Judas as God’s incarnation in the world, made totally man “to the point of iniquity”, his sacrifice being an eternity of infamy.

Each of these tales, with their mixing of reality and literature, the mundane and the obscure, reveals why Borges’ Collected Fictions is an assortment of perfectly formed imaginings from the master of the formless infinity of literature.

November 09, 2015

Film Review - Outlander By Creator Ronald D. Moore

In Outlander the series follows the intriguing story of Claire Randell a combat nurse from 1945 who mysteriously ends up back in time in 1743. Being accused of spying and longing for her husband she has to quickly adapt to life in this era.

 She has a new love interest in a chivalrous and romantic young Scottish warrior. Claire's heart ends up being torn between two men in two completely different lives.
An interesting series which includes drama, romance and sci-fi. Anne

November 06, 2015

Movie Club—The Evolution of Film Noir 1: The Maltese Falcon

This month the Movie Club will be screening the film noir classic The Maltese Falcon. Based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett and directed by John Huston, the film stars Humphrey Bogart as private detective Sam Spade.

Spade and his partner Miles Archer are hired by Ruth Wonderly to find her sister who has fallen in with a bad crowd in San Francisco. On the first night Archer is murdered and it is revealed that Wonderly is not who she claimed to be and is in fact searching for a jewel encrusted falcon statuette of untold value. Through the search Spade comes across others who are also searching for the same statuette all the while trying to solve the mystery of his partner's murder.

The film is notable not only as the first lead role and defining performance of Bogart (in addition to Hughes directorial debut and Sydney Greenstreet's film debut) but is arguably the first film noir and the defining detective film. Released the same year as Citizen Kane (which also added to the techniques of the genre) the film's subject matter and characters takes on a grittier, more real world tone. It established many of the characteristics of the genre, like the hard-boiled lead, femme fatale, moral ambiguity, as well as striking visual techniques, most notably the interplay of shadows.

The Maltese Falcon will be showing on Wednesday 11 November at Narellan Library (Cnr Queen and Elyard Street, Narellan) at 6pm. Tea, coffee, and biscuits provided, but you are more than welcome to bring your own snacks and beverages.

Stay after the screening to chat about the gritty ambiguities and stylistic achievements of The Maltese Falcon has to offer. Share your thoughts or use the discussion questions to get a debate going.

Film Review—Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton) once enjoyed fame as Birdman, a comic book film adaptation that garnered millions at the box office. He now wants to gain ‘respect’ and ‘legitimacy’ by writing, directing, and starring in an adaptation of Raymond Carver’s “What we talk about when we talk about love” for the Broadway stage. The production is in constant turmoil, and he enlists the help of Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), a respected stage actor, to help save the production. He has risked everything for this, and is constantly reminded that he is “not an actor”, as a prominent theatre critic states, but “a celebrity”.

Meta is at the heart of the film, from the casting of Keaton, to the interplay of the various actors and plot lines, to the realism/naturalism vs. artifice of art that unfolds within the walls of the theatre. It flirts with magic realism through Riggan’s ‘Birdman powers’, which is contrasted with the lifelike movements of the camera that moves through the cramped, gritty artifice of the stage and backstage. As well as the naturalism vs. artificiality of art, another central concern is between the showiness of Hollywood and the ‘integrity’ of Broadway. This adds to the ironic factor, the film presenting itself as a serious, Art-house style film despite its Hollywood origins. Both these strands are linked with the eye of camera, with the bulk of the film being one long, artificially pieced together take with the camera gliding through the constructed world of the stage and the backstage of the theatre, being simultaneously raw and real while entirely artificial. It contrasts the naturalism and integrity of the stage with the artifice and ostentation of Hollywood combined into one.

None of this is subtle, and the self-conscious irony that drenches the film can be fatiguing, and will (and has) put a lot of people off. But if you go past the somewhat haughty conceit of the cast and crew, Birdman provides a playful, involving, engaging, and certainly potent experience.


November 02, 2015

Film Reviews - The Hunger Games By Director Gary Ross

The Hunger Games starring Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth. Katniss Everdeen volunteers and takes her sisters place in the Hunger Games- which is a fight to the death televised on TV.

Set in a different time than present. Panem is the Capitol of the nation and the 12 districts supporting and surrounding the Capitol have to sacrifice a teenage boy and girl to compete in the games. Katniss must make impossible choices and use all her wits and skills to survive. An original and addictive series. Anne
Rated M- Mature themes and violence