Inglorious Basterds (2009)

On finally seeing the film I felt disappointed, almost cheated, that Tarantino had managed to attract so much publicity with such a minor film. In fact, it isn’t so much a film as a series of admittedly carefully observed but ultimately quite meaningless vignettes loosely strung together (the word ‘plot’ isn’t quite appropriate) by the characters Shosanna Dreyfus (Laurent) and Lt Aldo Raine (Pitt).

The disjointed, episodic narrative is just bizarre enough to be based on truth, as is suggested in the credits of the film, but features the kind of seemingly nonsensical dialogues that are pure Tarantino.

It is the story of a young Jew, Shosanna, who escaped execution at the hands of the murderous SS Colonel Landa (Waltz) and manages to organise a far-fetched mass assassination of the entire Nazi hierarchy in her cinema in Paris. This plot-line intersects with another about an allied plan to do the same using a bunch of Jewish commandos notorious for scalping their Nazi enemies, and led by the red-neck hillbilly Lt Raine (Pitt).

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Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)


There’s something not quite tongue in cheek about Grosse Pointe Blank’s approach to satirising the excesses of the 1980s; perhaps the subject matter is too close to home for me to really get it, having lived through that era as a contemporary of its main character. Nevertheless, it is an oddly enjoyable film — odd because it’s really quite hard for me to put a finger on why it was so enjoyable.

Apparently Grosse Pointe is a ‘nice’ suburban township near Detroit, Michigan. It certainly looks pretty ‘nice’ in the film. Just the kind of place you’d expect a high school reunion to take place, but hardly the location for a four-way showdown between seriously psychotic hit men, interspersed with sentimental nostalgia, and an extended existential awakening to the truth that it’s time to move on from a romanticised past and face the existentially awkward present.

We are drawn into the almost mundane life of hit man Martin Blank and see the world of that day, the later 1990s, through his eyes. John Cusack comes across as almost naively fresh-faced, youthful and … well, blank. An illusion quickly undermined by his profession as a hit man, and by his moral vacuity.

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Tony Abbott on welfare traps

Given I know relatively little about Tony Abbott, my thinking about him has been shaped largely by his less than temperate right wing rhetoric, as featured gleefully as a sort of insider joke about ‘palaeo’ conservatives in the nation’s news media from time to time.

Imagine my surprise when he made some eminently sensible comments on the futility of punishing welfare recipients who also work a few hours (a speech Abbott gave to the Young Liberals Annual Conference on 11 January in Adelaide).

He points out that tax and reduced welfare payments for people who work only a few hours produce effective tax rates of almost 70 per cent. He acknowledges that this situation encourages people to conclude that they would be better off not working at all. This is a simple truism that appears to have escaped welfare policy-makers for some time.

Moreover, the welfare system has been fashioned into a monstrous bureaucracy that appears to be concerned with dehumanising its clientele, rather than helping them to find work. This is an issue on which Tony Abbott is remarkably silent. It may be that a deliberate policy has been implemented to make dealing with welfare agencies so unpleasant that its clients will seek any means to avoid such contact. If that is the case, it does not appear to be working, and may actually be counterproductive in that it further strips away self-respect, confidence and motivation.

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Fight Club (1999)


Fight Club is slick, yet almost flippant, stylish, but brash and impolite, and gimmicky enough to be headed directly for cult status.

The story is challenging, confronting in parts, and iconoclastic in others. Its work of thumbing its nose at the unbiquitous anti-masculine, pseudo-feminism embraced so uncritically by American pop culture is almost undone by the presence of its teeny-idol stars.

The story targets millions of disaffected young men, like Jack (Edward Norton), an insurance assessor with yuppie pretensions, actualised in his catalogue-perfect domestic possessions, displayed for an absent audience in his yuppie condo apartment.  A domicile empty, though, of signs of life and affection.  Jack suffers chronic insomnia, probably as an indicator of the Nietzschean chasm he’s about to fall into, and seeks to address this manicured sickness by frequenting support groups for people with ailments he hasn’t got, meeting along the way the half-crazy Marla (Helena Bonham Carter) with whom he forms an inevitably love-hate relationship.

But the support groups are only a stop-gap remedy for the hole in Jack’s soul.  A more profound change in his life occurs after the chance encounter of the feral Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), a man with an eye for the profane and a penchant for anarchy.  Left at odds by the mysterious destruction of his condo, along with all his yuppie possessions, Jack takes up residence with Durden in a falling-down derelict old house that is the antithesis of his former status ambitions.

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The English Patient (1997)

My recent video binges have left me fairly unimpressed with the calibre of acting, photography and spectacle. There were some hours of entertainment, but nothing the memory of which did not fade very quickly.


Into this climate of indifference came two movies which made a deep impression on me: The English Patient and Mother Night (the latter film was reviewed in 1999 and is on my list to be seen again prior to revising my initial review).

Both of them aroused emotional tremors which have not yet subsided. Both of them moved me in ways so fundamental I have not yet resolved the terms of the experience or fully explained to myself the psychology which touched me so strongly.

And both films dealt with themes which I ought to be too young to care about, too naïve to internalise or too impatient to absorb: the excruciatingly painful loss of things held most dear in circumstances which relegate that pain to an insignificant aside on a much larger canvas of tragedy.

Michael Ondaatje’s novel The English Patient, turned into film, was first. Given the lavish praise it received from the art-house industry, it was a bit of a surprise to find myself actually wanting to see this film: the wankers in the industry so often gush about films which carry nothing more than pretentious style that I take their recommendations in the negative and stay away from their favourites.

What attracted me to the film were previews which showed such heartrendingly gorgeous cinematography, and such an odd assortment of players, that I grew curious.


One of the almost surreally beatiful scenes in the film: a plane over a sea of desert sand.

I was not disappointed. From the very first scene to the very last act, it was a mesmerising experience. I was sucked into the story as if I were drugged.

What touched me was the ambiguity of the characters, the uncertainty about their motivations, the randomness of the occurrences and the depth of the unfolding tragedy in their lives.

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The Godfather (1972)


Judged by me as a landmark film, even if not quite for the same reasons it has won high praise for decades elsewhere.

I thought Mario Puzo’s novel, which I read before I saw the film the first time, was pretty lightweight, the language adding nothing to what seemed to be a pedestrian plot. Perhaps I need to re-read it, because the story I saw in the film was far from shallow.

Keeping in mind the era, and an unusually convincing portrayal of characters by a largely unknown cast, it was the deliberate, exquisite breach of one of Hollywood’s most hypocritical and senseless conventions that makes the film so extraordinary.

This convention is the rule that ‘bad guys’ can never succeed or be more than rakishly sympathetic. The Godfather’s son and successor, Michael Corleone (the then almost unknown Al Pacino), who develops into a ruthless killer, is portrayed as more than personable: he is admirable for his strength and courage.

Another convention to be broken was to never to bring into disrepute the American legal system or its enforcers, who are deliberately portrayed as avaricious, corrupt bit players on a stage dominated by the Mafia families that interact with the Corleones.

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Crash (1996)


David Cronenberg makes confronting, uncomfortable films which explore sexuality and the psychology of perversity; Crash is no exception, but in the manner of Videodrome, Dead Ringers, and The Naked Lunch, Crash is a cerebral narrative with no gratuitous provocation or titillation, the way some of its critics accused.

Based on JG Ballard’s 1973 novel of the same title, Crash explores jaded human sexuality diverted into the fetish of the automobile, and a macabre sexual obsession with damaged human flesh, and perhaps even the thanatos complex.

The story revolves around the tireless but unfulfilled quest by James and Catherine Ballard (Spader and Unger) for satisfying sex. After a serious car accident, James Ballard meets Vaughan (Kotias), a car crash obsessive, and Helen Remington (Hunter), the passenger in the car Ballard collided with. Together these two characters draw Ballard and his wife into a morbid fantasy world of celebrity car crash recreations and the bizarre injury fetish which is central to the film’s development of James Ballard’s quest for seaxual fulfillment.

Cronenberg uses harsh gray-blue lighting and subdued colours to create a cool atmosphere which sets the tone for the intimate but impersonal interactions between his characters. It is this impersonal nature which I found more disturbing than anything else about the film: the casual, emotionally detached coldness of people who seem to have no sentimental love for anything, not even themselves.

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Politics: 2013 Contents

Rudd will lose election

17 August 2013: Failure to lead, offer alternative.

Sartorial case notes

9 July 2013: Newman’s clown wardrobe says it all.

Beware Calvinist barbarians

6 May 2013: Abetz’s dark, recidivist vision.

Judging Thatcher’s legacy

14 April 2013: Mercy for the dead, unholy remains for the living.

Howard’s Iraq apostasy

11 April 2013: Historical revisionism from the would-be cricket captain.

The Murdoch doctrine: hail the ruinous orthodoxy

8 April 2013: A merciless, immoral vision for ‘free markets’.

In god we trust …

17 March 2013: Has Western politics destroyed the rule of law?

Abbott missing in (in)action

6 March 2013: What exactly does the Prime Minister presumptive stand for?

Summers should get head out of arse on misogyny

3 March 2013: The PM is not being victimised because he’s a woman.

Xenophon affair shows failure of foreign policy

21 February 2013: Time to stop playing at UN bigshot and plug holes closer to home.

Open Letter to Jack Waterford

4 February 2013: Canberra Times editor’s callousness reflects his city’s inhumanity.

Bien pensantism: pretentious political ignorance

2 February 2013: Ignorance is what it is no matter how well-meant.

Election 2013 Notebook: February

2 February 2013: Canberra shenannigans.

Spurious math: 480,000 bribes elect next Federal Government

31 January 2013: Speculating about Queensland marginal electorates.

Swan’s Australia Day message for generations gone by

28 January 2013: Treasurer’s reactionary imperial cricket fantasy.

Election 2013 Notebook: January

27 January 2013: Canberra shenannigans.

Katters never change their spots

26 January 2013: Bob Katter and party won’t go away anytime soon.

Gillard can’t really lose on Peris

22 January 2013: PM’s interference in pre-selection not a blunder.

Roxon’s rocks in the head on discrimination

16 January 2013: Attorney General’s Bill is unconscionable.

Roxon’s politically correct witch-hunting season

10 January 2013: The Scarlet Letter turned into a Bill.

Alphabetical list of films & TV shows


These links are to deliberate, essay length critiques. Other films and TV shows I thought to mention are listed under the Late Notices category, accessible under the Film & TV menu.


A Blueprint for Murder (1953)

Across the Pacific (1942)

Action in the North Atlantic (1943)

Algiers (1938)

Argo (2012)

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Battle Los Angeles (2011)

Blueprint for Murder, A (1953)

Babyface Nelson (1957)

Black Hawk Down (2001)

Breaker Morant (1980)

Chain Lightning (1950)

Chinatown (1974)

Citizen Kane (1941)

Cloud Atlas (2012)

Conspiracy (2001)

Crash (1996)

Criss Cross (1949)

Crossfire (1947)

Dark Passage (1947)

Deadly Affair, The (1966)

English Patient, The (1997)

Fantastic Four (2015)

Fight Club (1999)

Four Horsemen (2012)

Glass Key, The (1942)

Godfather, The (1972)

Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)

Guilty by Suspicion (1991)

House of Cards (2013)

House on 92nd Street, The (1945)

Inception (2011)

Inglorious Basterds (2009)

Jesse Stone(2005-2012)

Kansas City Confidential (1952)

Key Largo (1948)

Killers, The (1946)

Kingdom of Heaven (2005)

Lady in the Lake (1947)

Laura (1944)

Luther (2010-2013)

Maltese Falcon, The (1941)

Manchurian Candidate, The (1962)

Manpower (1941)

Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media (1992)

Murder, My Sweet (1945)

RKO 281 (1999)

Sahara (1943)

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Sopranos, The (1999-2007)

Spy Who Came in from the Cold, The (1965)

Star Wars VII (2015)

Sucker Punch (2011)

Suddenly (1954)

Two Jakes, The (1990)

This Gun For Hire (1942)

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011)

True Detective (2014-2015)

Ultraviolet (1998)

V for Vendetta (2006)

We Were Strangers (1949)

West Wing, The (1999-2006)

Winds of War, The (1983)

Wrestling Ernest Hemingway (1993)

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Related Essays

Zombies are we all … (2013)

Why I don’t go to the cinema (2012)

Film and TV as cultural expressions (2011)

Insomnia, dead of night, and film noir (2009)