Skip to main content

HeroI went into The Turn­ing in the dark. In some ways I wish I hadn’t, but in oth­ers I’m glad I did.

The film is a col­lec­tion of related shorts, each based on a single story from Tim Winton’s acclaimed book of the same name. That much I knew. As story after story rolled through, each pro­duced by a dif­fer­ent Aus­trali­an cre­at­ive team, who each took a unique and ori­gin­al approach to storytelling, I star­ted to see con­nec­tions between them. Many of these con­nec­tions were visu­al – the recur­rence of rusty, aban­doned cars, and people liv­ing in cara­vans. Some were geo­graph­ic – a West­ern Aus­trali­an min­ing com­munity sur­roun­ded on one side by red dirt and on the oth­er by the ocean. Dam­aged, cor­roded and cor­rup­ted mas­culin­ity. Red­heads. The name Vic.

After­wards, I read a copy of the glossy souven­ir book­let that view­ers get to take away with them when they buy a tick­et for this “spe­cial cine­mat­ic event” and those con­nec­tions became clear­er. In Winton’s book all of the stor­ies inter­con­nect – char­ac­ters reoc­cur (often at dif­fer­ent stages of their lives) and events we see in one story might be referred to obliquely in another.

One approach to the mater­i­al might have been to trans­form it into a single nar­rat­ive fea­ture, with a rich cast of char­ac­ters and a con­ven­tion­al begin­ning, middle and end. Instead, pro­du­cer Robert Con­nolly has cre­ated some­thing bolder, more chal­len­ging and ulti­mately more mov­ing – reflect­ing the shift­ing cur­rents of memory and the emo­tion­al bag­gage that gets tossed around on them.

Most of the shorts also end abruptly, slightly before you might nor­mally expect them to, and this is a tech­nique that should be encour­aged in most things – you don’t have to go all the way to the end to get to the point.

20 Feet from Star­dom is the most sat­is­fy­ing music doc­u­ment­ary of the last five years, maybe even longer, and that is really say­ing some­thing. It is the story of pop’s back­ing sing­ers, the girls (and they are almost always girls) who stand at the back of the stage doing the doo-wahs, the response part of the ‘call and response’ that gave rock and soul music their dis­tinct­ive sound.

These were phe­nom­en­al artists in their own right: Dar­lene Love, who was giv­en a new name by Phil Spect­or before he stole her career right out from under her; Merry Clayton, who got a middle-of-the-night phone call from the Rolling Stones and turned up in her curl­ers to belt out the spine-chilling vocal on ‘Gimme Shel­ter’; and the amaz­ing Lisa Fisc­her, who won a Grammy as a solo artist in 1992 but is now con­tent to provide her extraordin­ary tal­ent to the Stones, Sting and Nine Inch Nails.

These women are forth­right, wise and insight­ful – no sur­prise, since they watch the whole scene unfold around them. You’ll see noth­ing bet­ter this month.

20 Feet makes a great com­pan­ion piece to The But­ler, a stagy but sin­cere his­tory of post-war Black Amer­ica from the point of view of a White House ser­vant (played by Forest Whi­taker). It works as a poin­ted remind­er that it has been a very short time since the Civil Rights battles of the 1960s and that the elec­tion of a Black pres­id­ent in 2008 was only anoth­er stage in the fight for free­dom and equal­ity that has been ongo­ing since the Civil War. It works less well as pure drama, des­pite a mar­vel­lous per­form­ance by Oprah Win­frey as Whitaker’s long-suf­fer­ing wife – where has she been since The Col­or Purple? Oh right, I remember.


The Turn­ing 4 stars

20 Feet 5 stars

The But­ler 3.5 stars



November Film Recommendations



The Coun­selor (Rid­ley Scott)


Michael Fass­bend­er, Brad Pitt, Camer­on Diaz and Penélope Cruz star in a thrill­er writ­ten by acclaimed nov­el­ist Cor­mac McCarthy (The Road) in his screen­writ­ing debut. Rid­ley Scott is in the director’s chair for his first film since the bloated mis­fire of Pro­meth­eus.





EnoughSaid_1sheet with date


Enough Said (Nicole Holofcener)


When James Gan­dolfini died sud­denly in June this year, mil­lions mourned the loss of Tony Sop­rano. I was more con­cerned about the great film per­form­ances we weren’t going to see from an act­or hit­ting his big-screen straps in films like Killing Them Softly and In the Loop. Luck­ily, he left a few per­form­ances in the can, includ­ing this one, which is gar­ner­ing ser­i­ous award spec­u­la­tion for Gan­dolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss.





The Hun­ger Games: Catch­ing Fire (Fran­cis Lawrence)


The Hun­ger Games is a tiny island of qual­ity in a sea of pap aimed at indis­crim­in­at­ing teens, and the trail­ers for part 2 have more often than not been the high­light of my recent trips to the movies. Jen­nifer Lawrence returns as arch­er and free­dom fight­er Kat­n­iss Ever­deen, as her tri­umph in her first Hun­ger Games serves only to raise the stakes for all concerned.






Filth (Jon S. Baird)


While we wait for the oft-spec­u­lated Train­spot­ting sequel, Porno, we have to make do with this adapt­a­tion of anoth­er Irvine Welsh nov­el, which sees James McA­voy push­ing his new bad boy per­sona about as far as pos­sible – as a drug-addicted, bipolar cop on a ram­page through Glasgow.





Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.