Freud’s Last Session [7/10]

Freud's Last Session review

The premise of Freud’s Last Session, directed and co-written by Matt Brown (who doesn’t shy from conceptually challenging ideas, as shown by his movie about a famous Indian mathematician, The Man Who Knew Infinity), might largely predetermine if this should occupy your time. What if Sigmund Freud, just before his London death in September 1939 (with evil occurring real time as Hitler invaded Poland), entertained a visit from C. S. Lewis, then a young academic who had renounced atheism for Christianity? What if the sex-focused atheist debated God with the god-botherer? If you abhor religion but equally decry Freudianism, Freud’s Last Session will annoy rather than entertain, and I had thought, as I entered the cinema, that I would fall into this category, only to find myself rather engrossed in the scorching debate. One reason of course is the acting, Anthony Hopkins in crackling form as the founder of psychoanalysis and Matthew Goode equally fine as the author of the Narnia books, but the script also engages, cleverly building up tension from not much more than two men walking from room to room. The overall impact is blunted by the disjunctive subplots of Anna Freud and Lewis’s war flashbacks, but if movies exploring intellectual matters is your preference, I can commend Freud’s Last Session.

Total Control Season 3 [8/10]

Total Control Season 3 review

The first two seasons of Total Control, a savage examination of Australian politics through the lens of an indigenous politician who grabs the center of power, rocketed along with great brio and intelligence (my review of Season 2), and the second season ended with a corker of a cliffhanger, so I embarked on the six-episode Season 3 expecting more of the same. The first two episodes sagged under the weight of setting the scene, to the extent that I suddenly began to experience disappointment. Deborah Mailman was still superb as Senator Alex Irving, Rachel Griffiths oozed raw, almost honest ambition, and the supporting cast still rocked, but the plot of Senator Irving having acted as kingmaker for Australia’s first indigenous prime minister, initially felt ponderous. But the final four episodes found their feet, the various subplots (Alex’s brother as an adviser to the prime minister while his wife reaches the end of her pregnancy, for example) enriched the central realpolitik drama, and all the story elements cascaded wonderfully into place by the time of a corker of a climax. Total Control is heartily recommended, all three seasons in turn.

Maestro by Brad Cooper [7/10]

Maestro review

If you swoon over Leonard Bernstein’s conducting (clearly inspirational, if Brad Cooper’s portrayal captures it) or composing, then Maestro, which not only stars Cooper but was co-written and directed by him, is likely to captivate you. This is by no means your standard dull biopic but an arty, bold take, from the largely black-and-white cinematography to the demanding scripting (which smacks you into a scene with no preamble, which can skip years in a second) to the Bernstein-music score to the rapid-fire, very upper-class-Manhattan dialogue. This is a film that excites the mind as much as the senses. Brad Cooper’s take on Bernstein’s life, which seems to be so full of action and intrigue and heft, centers on his relationship with his wife, Felicia Montealegre (played brilliantly by Carey Mulligan, who even manages to nudge Cooper out of the limelight), especially the complexities woven by Bernstein’s simultaneous love for her and his unstoppable attraction to male lovers. In the final analysis, this viewer’s emotions failed to be ignited, perhaps due to the seriousness of the overall approach, but Maestro definitely deserves a watch.

Suppose a Sentence by Brian Dillon [7/10]

Brian Dillon Suppose a Sentence review

Not for everyone, Suppose a Sentence sees writer/critic Brian Dillon muse deeply about twenty-eight sentences, long or short, old or recent, that he has “collected” because of a profound effect on him. From Shakespeare to Claire-Louise Bennett, from Virginia Woolf to James Baldwin, from Samuel Beckett to Hilary Mantel … the book is an idiosyncratic but fascinating journey. Some of the sentences hit me hard – cue Annie Dillard, Maeve Brennan, Joan Didion, for example. Others somewhat baffled me but aroused in the author a reflection that I thoroughly enjoyed – cue Gertrude Stein, Elizabeth Hardwick, Susan Sontag. Overall, Suppose a Sentence comes recommended for prose nerds and reflective stylists.

The Taste of Things by Anh Hung Tran [4/10]

The Taste of Things review

French-Vietnamese director Anh Hung Tran’s The Taste of Things is a combination of a luscious love story and a luscious foodie film. Late 19th century gourmand of fame, Dodin, is played with huge passion and intimate physicality (we hear a lot of his breathing) by Benoît Magimel, and his world shifts with a challenge to cook for a local prince but also by his efforts to woo his 20-year kitchen cook, Eugénie, played by audience favorite Juliette Binoche. The film revolves around scene after kitchen scene of luxuriously filmed food preparation sessions, and I have to say there is abundant beauty, very much a treat for the French foodie fan, in these gorgeously filmed gourmand sequences. But the intoxicating ambience is badly served by the glacial script, stilted dialogue throughout, and Binoche’s superficial, beaming performance. The second half, marked as it is by the urgency of tragedy, works better than the first. Mark The Taste of Things as a visually appealing disappointment.

Dune: Part Two by Denis Villeneuve [10/10]

Dune Part 2 review

When Part 1 of Dune came out two years ago, my review praised its visuals and acting, but I did not elevate it to greatness (greatness, that is, according to me, an arrogance that seems ridiculous in the writing), probably because it felt a bit like a hymn sung to fans of the original Frank Herbert books. Well, Dune: Part Two vaults Part One into the stratosphere. While book or first instalment familiarity would certainly help, I feel certain that anyone with even a skerrick of science fiction sensibility would be able to run with Part Two and swoon. Denis Villeneuve has nailed the original book, has cut its complex, world-building plot down to its thematic and core essentials, and has crafted a plotline that manages to both never miss a beat and to dwell on the grandeur of the bleak sandy Arrakis world with its omnipresent giant sandworms. The movie accelerates from the exploits of fugitive rebels into a planetary battle; the war scenes immerse and astound. Timothée Chalamet, playing Paul Atreides, minor heir turning into ruler, builds on his superb first-film performance, but there are many standout portrayals, especially from Rebecca Ferguson as Paul’s mother and Austin Butler as Paul’s ultra-creepy, psychotic counterpart. Hans Zimmer’s sweeping score rounds out a cinematic experience rarely experienced. In some ways, I hope Dune; Part Two concludes this franchise; a third part could hardly match it.

One Day by Nicole Taylor [8/10]

One Day review

Not a rom-com fan at all, I went nowhere near David Nicholls’s bestselling novel in 2009, so when my wife persuaded me to try the new fourteen-episode series, One Day, my sights were set low. Surprise, surprise, then, when Nicole Taylor’s script and team leadership, guided by Nicholls himself, leap straight into a wonderful, kinetic, soppy-but-truthful adaptation. One Day bends to the book’s original conceit, of framing a tale of love between a posh slacker (of course with a heart of gold), Dexter, and a studious British-Indian girl, Emma, in terms of their recountings on the same day each year (July 21) over two decades. Keeping the episodes pithy, often under thirty minutes, adds to the impact. Much of the romance, in line with the genre’s conventions, is unrequited, all of it feels just right even as it tugs the heart strings. Ambika Mod soars as Em, Leo Woodall is pitch perfect as Dex. The supporting actors all rock, especially Jonny Weldon as Emma’s geeky one-time husband. The scripted dialogue is sharply honed and the found music matches each era splendidly. All up, One Day gives romantic comedy a gloss of sophisticated, impactful paint.

Deep Water by James Bradley [8/10]

James Bradley Deep Water review

Deep Water: The World in the Ocean is the brilliant writer James Bradley’s fascination with oceans yoked to a deep need to turn the world around toward a carbon-free future. Comprehensively covering so many aspects of the seas, from the history of marine life, to the degradations of fishing, to , to the global shipping sector, to the likely demise of beautiful, essential coral reefs, and on and on, Deep Water is compelling mix of exposition and personal experience and reportage. Throughout, Bradley writes with lyrical, precise surety. One of the more fascinating chapters chronicles the fascinating, multi-layered history of the practice and pastime and sport of swimming. Bradley concludes that chapter with a “meditation” including: “When we swim our bodies become part of the tidal flow and movement of water, the great pulse of the planet’s systems, the act of giving ourselves over to their rhythms a form of communion, of embodied connectedness.” Lovely stuff indeed. I was fascinated by his coverage of the nightly “diel” vertical migration (up then down) of some 10 billion tonnes of sea life around the globe. The chapter on fish consciousness /intelligence/self-awareness reads like a fever dream of recognition: Bradley’s exploration of the umwelt/world (a term I learnt from Ed Yong’s An Immense World) is revelatory. And here he is on the type of shoreline familiar to all Australians: ”Beaches are sites of encounter, where sea meets land and land meets sea, each altering the other as the energy of the ocean is released.” Deep Water is wonderful and essential.

The Berry Pickers by Amanda Peters [5/10]

Amanda Peters The Berry Pickers review

In The Berry Pickers, a solid if undistinguished novel by Amanda Peters, a six-year-old Mi’kmaq boy, helping pick berries in the 60s in Maine, as part of an extended family crew of regular casual workers from Nova Scotia, fails to notice when his younger sister disappears. Riven by guilt for the rest of his life, he becomes a hothead drifter. In the meantime, a young girl grows up in a well-to-do family nearby, questioning her memories and her identity within her family while her unhappy parents shroud her with protectiveness. This is a tale of dispossession and indigenous suffering, and the author is a writer of solid skills, drawing the two lives as the years pass by. The tale carries some weight but the plot signals itself from the very beginning and never deigns to offer any intrigue or sharpness. The start becomes the end, with no climax, and I found myself fretting with disbelief during the read. If you have a fascination for indigenous American stories, The Berry Pickers might well resonate, but my enjoyment was blunted by narrative tedium.

Shadow Gambit by Frank Kennedy [8/10]

Frank Kennedy Shadow Gambit review

Crackerjack sci-fi author Frank Kennedy is on a roll with his rapid-fire Farewell Amity Station trilogy. The second book, Shadow Gambit, continues the story of Trevor Stallion, a senior security officer on a huge space world, Amity Station. After solving the existential threat of a deadly terrorist group in the first book, now he finds himself targeted by a shadowy nemesis who threatens him, his world, and his family. In the meantime, the tale is broadened by following his brother, Connor, now an elite space trooper, who encounters his own existential dilemma and potentially places him on a collision course with Trevor. The author’s world-building and plotting are, as always, fully in control, and the writing is assured and entertaining. Shadow Gambit is an absorbing, fascinating evening’s read.