Monthly Archives: November 2016

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.]


‘White Dog’ by Peter Temple


2003, 337 p.

I think I’m just going to have to admit that I don’t really like Peter Temple’s books very much.  I’m already ambivalent about the fictional crime genre and Temple’s books, with their abbreviated dialogue and huge range of incidental characters, just confuse me.  I looked back at my review of Truth, another of his novels, and I could just as easily cut-and-paste the comments that I made about that book into this review too.

Just to add to the confusion, the ABC has recently screened another Jack Irish series that uses some parts of White Dog, but not the whole book. So not only did I have Guy Pearce firmly embedded in my head (no hardship, I must say) but I found myself half remembering some aspects of the plot and misremembering others that appeared in the television show only.

Like the other Jack Irish novels, White Dog is steeped in local Melbourne colour, very familiar to north-of-the-Yarra inner suburban Melburnians (as I am). However, it’s a rather curmudgeonly approach, dismissive of hipsters and all-day breakfasts and harking back to a 1980-1990s cool, and even further back to the glory days of Fitzroy Football Club.  It’s all thoroughly recognizable to a Melburnian but I don’t know that it would add much for readers elsewhere.

So all in all, not a particularly successful read.

Sourced from: CAE bookgroups

My rating: 6.5

My November Brunswick (again)

For someone who has rarely been to Brunswick, I found myself back there again for the third time in November. This time we were there for the ‘Marking Time‘ art project, produced by Jessie Stanley, artist-in-residence as part of the MoreArts program of the Moreland City Council. Based in Moreland Railway Station waiting room, the project runs between October 23 and December 19 and involves a number of site-specific works and events (see the project’s Facebook page for more information). Today was a Timewalk – the first of two- that went from Jewell Station to Gilpin Park.

It would probably be more correct to think of this walk as a performance rather than a historical walk as such (partial as I am to historic walks). Ms Stanley read from a carefully and quite beautifully written script, starting off with a contemplation on the nature of ‘place’ and ending, some 45 minutes later and about 1/2 kilometre away, with an enacted description of deep time.  She asked that we undertake the walk in silence, focussing on the bricks that surrounded us, with any interaction only at the end.  I’m not really sure that this stricture was necessary, although I suppose that it enabled her to control the event as an integrated performance.  Her presentation concentrated on the brickworks of the area in particular, and not a generalized history of Brunswick that might have been given, for example, by a member of Brunswick Community History Group.  Instead, her focus was on the brickworks, most particularly Hoffman’s Brickworks, and the dominance of clay and bricks on the economic and social fabric of Phillipstown (the earlier name for Brunswick).  Certainly, walking around the post2000 redevelopment of the former Hoffman’s Brickworks site, you get a sense of the dominance of the chimneys and sirens of a large brick factory.

The walk ended at Gilpin Park, built on the site of one of the former quarries that provided the clay for the brickworks.  It was here that she returned to her reflections on deep time, and the wafer-thin segment of white settler time in what we know now as Brunswick.  Somehow the newness of the park with its adolescent-aged gum tree plantings captured this well.


There is a second  walk, covering different places but similar themes,  on Saturday 10th December, starting from Clifton Park at 11.00 a.m.  It is free, but you need to book through  (0419 441 195)


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!]

‘The Bush’ by Don Watson


2014, 378 p & notes

I’m almost embarrassed to think how many times I have borrowed this book from the library and had to return it still unread once my renewal limit was reached. I first borrowed it after it received Premiers’ Awards in both NSW and Queensland and it was announced as the Indie Book of the Year in 2015.  I borrowed it again months later, but then decided to read Don Watson’s earlier book Caledonia Australis instead (see my review here). And now, after multiple renewals and many months, I have finally finished it.

I was wrong to see Caledonia Australis and this most recent book, The Bush as companion pieces.  The earlier book (originally written in 1984) is a product of Don Watson the historian, but The Bush, with its subtitle ‘Travels in the heart of Australia’ is more similar to Watson’s American Journeys or his more recent Quarterly Essay The Enemy WithinIn both these books Watson travels to different locations and milieus, talking with people, looking out the window, sniffing the air.  This is very much the way that you need to read The Bush. It was only when I realized that, and stopped looking for a clearly defined argument, that I began to enjoy it.

I only found the map, too, once I sat down to write this review, and I feel rather annoyed at myself for overlooking it earlier.  The map shows the breadth of his travels, extending almost 3/4 around the circumference of Australia and leaching inland.

He calls his book The Bush but as he points out, that short word is too small to contain all that ‘the bush’ evokes:

the bush is any one of many different kinds of forest, scrub, woodland, savannah, rangeland, grassland and desert, made up of countless species in countless combinations of shape, colour, light and atmosphere so ephemeral and various that, unable to cope with them, our collective imagination has rendered all as bush, and often reduced it to a river red gum combined with a flock of sheep.

Collapsing into a single word or image tropic rainforest and mulga, and all the ecosystems in between, is a natural enough convenience, but the bush describes much more than vegetation and its native creatures… It has equal measures of what was there before Europeans came and what is there now.  It is what we have done to the natural environment and what it has done to us.  The world outside us and the world within.  Wilderness, home and garden.  Temple, nursery and slaughterhouse. (p.69- 70)

The book starts with the personal: his grandfather striding across the paddock to his cowshed, and his grandmother sweeping the back veranda. Watson is a country boy (and already there’s the slippage in terminology between country/bush) from Gippsland, and in the final chapter he tells us that some forty-odd years later he has returned to the bush, albeit the very different bush of the Macedon Ranges. In between the chapters range across the Mallee and Wimmera, the Murray-Darling Basin, the Mitchell Grass Down and the West Australian wheatbelt.  The chapters are arranged, however, at a human emotional level as well as a geographical one: “The Bush Means Work” or “Striving to Stay in Existence” “Farming the Flood Plain” or “The Bush Will Not Lie Down”.

Each chapter starts with an italicized paragraph of subheadings to signpost the content to come, similar to those found in an old-fashioned novel (I’m sure that there’s a word for this, but I don’t know what it is).  These prefacing epigraphs (is that the word I’m looking for?) reflect the meandering, ruminative nature of the chapters, which branch off and diverge into unexpected places.  There are many lists, particularly of trees, grasses, birds and fish. There are also many commentators along the way: the present-day people he has met on his journey, explorers and visitors to Australia who diarized their impressions, settlers who documented their memoirs, historians who have responded to these primary sources, and fictional characters crafted by mainly Australian writers drawing from and replenishing the well of the Australian imagination about the bush.

For, as he says:

The Australian bush is both real and imaginary. Real, in that it grows in various unmistakable bush-like ways, and dies, rots, burns and grows into the bush again; real, in harbouring life.  Imaginary, in that among the life it harbours is the life of the Australian mind. It is, by many accounts, the source of the nation’s idea of itself…. The bush is a social construct as well as an ecological one: as much as the things that grow and live there, we define it by the people who inhabit it. (p66)

Embedded within the landscape are people, both Indigenous and European. There is no one ‘Indigenous’ chapter here, tacked onto the front or the back of the body of the book.  Instead, the Indigenous and European presences are interwoven throughout the chapters, sometimes existing side-by-side, at time working at cross-purposes, sometimes in a state of active hostility.

Much of the book reflects struggle with physical elements like soil, water, fire but its final words (before an oddly placed appendix) are those of in the realm of the emotions:

It can do no harm to settle on the public mind a deeper and more honest knowledge of the land than anything that myth and platitude allow, or to encourage love to overrun indifference… We need a relationship with the land that does not demand submission from either party, that is built more on knowledge than the hunger to possess, and finds the effort to understand and preserve as gratifying as the effort to exploit and command.  In the end it is possible to love and admire the bush… Except we need to love it as it is and can be, not the way it was and never will be again.  (p.373)

I enjoyed this book so much more once I started to look at it as a series of essays, rather than an argument in itself. They are beautifully written, and would lend themselves well to being read aloud, and being read over and over. You don’t need to read it in one go, and you don’t need to read it only once.  It’s the sort of book that belongs on your own bookshelf  and it will, on mine- especially now that it has been released in paperback.

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library  (again and again)

My rating: 8.5



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.