‘Trust’ by Hernan Diaz

Playful yet thoughtful, challenging yet engaging with its four manuscripts of interconnected narratives resulting in, in part, a novel-within-a-novel structure, Trust is a fictionalised tale of an early twentieth century New York power couple. Or at least, that’s how it initially appears.

Through fiction, Diaz explores the fiction of money as Benjamin Rask becomes a wealthy man by playing the part of a wealthy man – a billionaire successfully playing the financial markets in the years leading up to the 1929 Wall Street crash and the resultant Great Depression. Yet the crisis makes him even richer – with more than a hint that through discrete sales earlier in the year, he was responsible for the crash. There’s a lingering sense that he’s pulling the strings of the national economy.

Whilst on the surface Rask betrays potential Great Gatsby traits with his extreme wealth, lavish parties and more, Rask and his equally aloof and eccentric wife, Helen, take little interest in New York society. Invitations may be at a premium but the financier leaves it all to staff – right down to the guest list. It’s not unusual for him to not even attend his own functions. To Rask the act of making money is all important through well-timed investment decisions. Focus is required – he attributes his success to his strong intuitive capabilities, intense research and his acute understanding of the financial world. Everything else is secondary.

Within the narrative of Trust, Rask is fictional character. Or is he? Andrew Bevel is concerned it’s too like him – so much so Ida Partenza becomes the secretary – and ghostwriter – to the financial mogul as he decides to put the records straight. And then the final section blows all the putting of records straight in all preceding sections out to sea. As Ida’s father says,

You can’t eat or wear money, but it represents all the food and clothes in the world. This is why it’s a fiction. … Stocks, shares, bonds. Do you think any of these things those bandits across the river buy and sell represent any real, concrete value? No. … That’s what all these criminals trade in: fictions.

It’s no easy read. But, unexpectedly, considering it’s subject of financial institutions, stocks, bonds, the making of money, it’s also engrossing.

‘The Cult of The Family’

Disquieting yet disjointed and at times unclear, this three part miniseries expands on the story of the Melbourne-based The Family cult lead by Anne Hamilton-Byrne, a woman who conviced her followers she was Jesus reincarnated.

Active predominantly in the 1960s through to the ’80s, Hamilton-Byrne and husband Bill dominated and controlled her followers – including more than 30 children, many of whom she claimed to be her own. Charming and well-connected (including high ranking police officials, lawyers, medical profession), the two were virtually untouchable – in spite of reports of physical, mental and sexual abuse, isolation, starvation and administration of LSD to adults and children alike.

It’s a tragic tale as surviving children, now adults, talk to the camera of their pre-teen traumas and the lack of support from the authorities along with a system that allowed new born babies of single mothers to be adopted almost immediately after birth. The subject of many investigative reports as far back as the 1960s, achieved little in terms of change. Former police detective Lex de Man talks of the years of struggle to bring justice to the children and his own personal acceptance of the failure of the system.

Whilst The Cult of the Family ultimately raises too many unanswered questions, it does raise the moral judgement of the cult members who sat idly by or took a passively active role in the abuse of so many children. As well as a system that failed.

Rating: 54%

‘Howards End’

Beautifully adapted from the E.M. Forster classic novel and one of Merchant Ivory’s most acclaimed films, Howards End is an elegant love story that is a simultaneous commentary on class and suffrage in Edwardian England.

The enlightened Schlagel sisters Margaret (Emma Thompson – Love Actually, The Remains of the Day) and Helen (Helena Bonham Carter – Harry Potter, The King’s Speech) find themselves involved with the wealthy and landed Wilcox family as Margaret befriends the ailing matriarch, Ruth (Vanessa Redgrave – Atonement, The Bostonians). At Ruth’s death, Margaret unexpectedly finds herself attracting the attention of Henry Wilcox (Anthony Hopkins – The Father, Thor) – much to the dismay of her sister.

Far more than ‘merely’ a costume drama, the golden team of director James Ivory, producer Ismail Merchant and writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (A Room With a View, The Remains of the Day) have created, in its pauses, silences and unhurried stillness a narrative of nuanced beauty and intimacy. As the two families attract and repel, repel and attract, so, with more than a touch of Forster’s love of mixing the classes, Helen finds herself attracted to clerk, Leonard Bast (Samuel West – Van Helsing, Darkest Hour) and tragedy inevitably looms.

Nominated for 9 Oscars in 1993 including best film, director, supporting actress (Redgrave), costume design, won 3 for best actress (Thompson), adapted screenplay and art/set design.

Rating: 71%

‘Argentina 1985’

With the return to democracy after years of military dictatorship, the Argentinian civilian government prosecute the leadership for crimes against humanity.

A dour but enthralling procedural telling of the race against time as Chief Prosecutor Julio Strassera (Ricardo Darin – The Secret in Their Eyes, Truman) struggles to find an experienced legal team prepared to work against the former junta. Looking to younger, junior members of the legal profession and supported by Deputy Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo (Peter Lanzani – The Clan, The Unseen), Strassera documents extensive evidence to obtain justice for the hundreds of thousands ‘disappeared’ during the dictatorship.

Directed by Santiago Mitre (Paulina, The Summit), Argentina 1985 is engrossing, nuanced and avoids overly dramatically opportunistic moments in spite of death threats, car bombs and the like to spice up the story. The result is a respectful, no bells and whistles unfolding of the true story.

Nominated for the 2023 Oscar for best foreign language film.

Rating: 69%


An unexpectedly gripping documentary, in part due to the significant geopolitical changes in eastern Europe since its making, Navalny is an incredulous tale of Alexei Navalny, popularist leader of the opposition to Vladimir Putin.

With an attempted assassination through poisoning by the Russian goon squad going desperately wrong, Navalny and his entourage eventually find themselves in Berlin. With access to the dark web through investigative journalists including Bulgarian Christo Grozev, the team track responsibility for the poisoning back to the Kremlin and a president who will not publicly even give a name to Navalny. After several months in exile, Navalny returns to Moscow in January 2021 to a potential hero’s welcome. But the authorities step in…

A handsome charmer of a hero, lawyer Navalny is committed to exposing corruption and abuse of power in Russia, resulting in a documentary, directed by Daniel Roher (Once Were Brothers), of bold substance and human touches as his family (wife Yulia and two teenage children) remain supportive and by his side throughout.

Winner of the 2023 Oscar for best documentary.

Rating: 74%

‘Only Murders in the Building’ (Season 1)

Light, quirky and entertaining murder mystery as three amateur sleuths attempt to identify the murderer of a dead body in their apartment building on the Upper West Side of New York.

Struggling to pay his bills, theatre producer Oliver (Martin Short) is desperate to identify income. Following the discovery of a dead body – initially believed to be suicide – Oliver, refusing to accept the police report, looks to the production of a truecrime podcast. Working with fellow residents Charles Haden-Savage (Steve Martin), a former star TV detective, and Mabel Mora (Selena Gomez), the sleuths look to finding the identity of the killer.

It’s 10 episodes of undemanding, 21st century Miss Marple chock full of expletives and red herrings as the three unearth any number of dodgy goings on, past and present, in their semi-exclusive building – as well as secrets each of the amateur sleuths prefer to keep quiet. Lots of theatrics and banter as various residents come under suspicion (including Sting!) – with the final seconds of the 10th episode providing the perfect segueway into season 2 and the next case.

Rating: 64%

‘The Banshees of Inisherin’

Layered, nuanced, full of symbolism and blackly funny, The Banshees of Inisherin is Irish to its core as two life-long friends abruptly cease to be friends.

An island off the coast of Ireland as the 1923 civil war maps its course. Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell – In Bruges, Widows), as is the norm, calls upon Colm (Brendan Gleeson – Calvary, The Guard) on the way to the pub. But Colm, a musician, has decided he no longer wants to spend his time on small talk with Pádraic.

It’s a narrative as simple as that from writer/director Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) as the fallout from the change to routine in the isolated community has massive repercussions. Regulars at the pub are bemused, Pádraic’s lonely sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon –Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Dreamland) struggles to come to terms with a lost, aimless brother – and the not-so-bright Pádraic himself fails to understand or heed the warnings. Who else, afterall, can he talk to for two hours about the contents of his pony’s shite?

The stunning, unspoilt sweep of the west coast adds to the emotional depth of this quiet yet deeply cutting, mordantly funny feature as the very cost of friendship is explored.

Nominated for 9 Oscars in 2023 including best film, director, actor, supporting actress, supporting actor, original screenplay.

Rating: 80%

‘TransAtlantic’ by Colum McCann

Three stories separated by time but connected by geographical events. TransAtlantic is a soaring [sic] novel from Colum McCann as the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic is connected to the earlier slave abolitionist movement and Senator George Mitchell’s pivotal role in the negotiations bringing peace to the sectarianism of Northern Ireland and a fragile and uncertain conclusion.

Crossing the Atlantic on an almost weekly basis, leaving behind his second wife and newborn child, Mitchell’s part in the peace negotiations is well documented – the son of an Irish-American father and a Lebanese mother, he was respected by all sides as intractability become moveable, absolute became maybe, even no became yes. But TransAtlantic humanises those journeys, paints the man behind the headlines as he interacts not only with his team and the various members of the different ‘sides’ but also with the everyday men and women of Northern Ireland who place their faith in the man who will bring an end to the pointless blood shedding.

Frederick Douglass, like Mitchell, was in his time a very public figure. A former slave, Douglass was invited to Ireland for an extensive lecture tour of the country. Finding the Irish sympathetic to the abolitionist cause, he recognises parallels between his own experiences and that of the colonial enslavement by absentee English and their laws.

Newfoundland, Canada, 1919. Two aviators – Jack Alcock and Arthur Brown – set course for Ireland as they attempt the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic.

All very public men – but McCann choses to connect their individual stories with fictional women who, as the novel unfolds over many generations, turn out to be members of the same family. Crossing paths with Douglass in Dublin as a housemaid to his host, Lily Duggan is inspired to cross the ocean to find her own destiny. She may lose all the men in her life, but its through her daughter Emily and granddaughter Lottie that McCann instills his narrative development as the two are present at Alcock and Brown’s departure from Canada on their historic flight.

It’s an ambitious novel splendidly realised. As he weaves his narratives between differing time frames, McCann looks to the shaping of history with his seemingly disparate stories that come together to form a vivid and engrossing novel of place and time.


‘The Lost Weekend’

A powerful, searing drama that picked up a swag of Oscars in 1946, The Lost Weekend is an unflinching portrayal of a man teetering on the edge of self-destruction.

A frustrated, wannabe writer, Don Birnam (a career-best bravura performance from Ray Milland – Dial M For Murder, Love Story) finds solace in the bottle. Escaping a planned long weekend away with Helen (Jane Wyman – Magnificent Obsession, Johnny Belinda) and brother Wick (Phillip Terry – Bataan, To Each His Own), Birnam instead hits the New York bars, becoming more and more desperate as his cash runs out.

Stark and confronting, the groundbreaking feature from legendary writer/director Billy Wilder (Sunset Boulevard, Double Indemnity) created controversy before release. With its serious depiction of alcoholism as a modern illness, The Lost Weekend was treading new ground for Hollywood – so much so the alcohol industry wanted to destroy the film’s negative and remove it from circulation.

Nominated for 7 Oscars in 1946 including soundtrack (Miklós Rózsa), cinematography, editing, won 4 – best film, director, actor, screenplay.

Rating: 73%

‘Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal’

Strange to watch the three part miniseries without knowing much about the ongoing court case that was fast approaching the jury’s verdict.

Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal looked to the upstanding South Carolina Murdaugh family, bastions of respectability in the Lowcountry area of the State. Until recently, that is. The family which, from 1920 to 2006 provided consecutive district attorneys, now found itself in very unwanted national and international headlines. Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal exposes secret after secret of a current day dynasty that believed itself to be above the law.

From drunk driving and embezzlement to manslaughter, unlawful death and murder, Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal features it all – and more.

Episode one looks almost exclusively to the 2019 boating accident that led to younger son, Paul, being charged with the the death of friend Mallory Beach whilst driving a boat three times over the legal blood alcohol limit. But the family tale becomes complicated when investigations lead to the unravelling of patriarch Alex Murdaugh. One result is the reopening of the cases into two unsolved deaths, one on Moselle, the Murdaugh property itself. And then, if that’s not enough, Paul and his mother are shot dead on the property days before the boy was to appear in court. There’s a litany of the overlooked and circumstantial, evidence that would have likely been further investigated had it not been related in some way to the family.

In devoting so much time to the boating accident, the docuseries may be guilty of drawing out its material. But the advantage is that it lays the foundation to understand the position of the family in the social history and culture of Hampton, South Carolina. We are also introduced to a number of key individuals – including the four emotionally scared survivors of that boat crash – who openly comment about the Murdaughs, the favourable treatment dished out to Paul after the accident and their opinions on older son, Buster.

But detail gives way to broad brushstrokes, supposition and unsubstantiated assumption in episodes two and three as we move into the investigations of Alex Murdaugh.

More shocking information is revealed about the death of housekeeper Gloria Satterfield in 2018: Buster is implicated in the reported hit and run death of classmate Stephen Smith in 2015. And it is revealed that Maggie Murdaugh filed for divorce prior to her death. All in their own right deserved more investigation as well as the murders of wife and son – but with Alex Murdaugh in court facing criminal charges, Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal proved to be too soon a documentary.

The result is a wholly disatisfying three part docuseries with little reflection legally allowed to be included. Whilst less senasationalist, episode one and the boating accident proves to make a better documentary simply because there’s three years between the event and the film. At the time of its making, Alex Murdaugh was imprisoned awaiting trial.

Rating: 50%

(In March 2023, Alex Murdaugh was found guilty of the murders of his wife and younger son, Paul and given life in prison).