peteg's blog

Candy

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You've read the book, now see the movie. The cast is stellar: Richard Burton takes it to the limit as the poet MacPhisto, Marlon Brando seems to be training for Apocalypse Now, James Coburn gets to ham it up as a brain butcher, Ringo Starr has his first role away from his bandmates. I hadn't realised John Huston acted as well as directed. Ewa Aulin plays the ingenue. Christian Marquand is in charge but clearly not in control: the result of all this talent was an unwatchable mess with very little to recommend it.

Cleopatra

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Booked 2018-08-09, $8 + $1.50 online booking fee, 2:30pm, Cinema 2, about four rows in, first time around. Ultimately three-quarters packed I'd say. Beforehand lunch was at Taste of Thai (salad with peanut sauce, tasty indeed) and coffee at the little cafe near the Royal Hotel that I hadn't been to for years. A beaut day with a cold wind. The prevalence of cheap flights still hasn’t prepared people to sit through marathon classics.

So much ink has been spilt on the Liz and Dick show already that I'll restrict myself to some trainspotting. It's very long and hasn't aged too well. It's often difficult to follow who's fighting and why. Cleopatra's one world, one people, peace yadda, etc. vision is patently ridiculous and presented without conviction. At one point Liz plunges a dagger deeply and repetitively into a bed, doubtlessly scarring a young Paul Verhoeven for life. Alexander cast a long shadow. The sets are elaborate. Rex Harrison as Caesar comes away the cleanest.

As for the fashion: Taylor's first outfit struck me as an áo dài, perhaps a little less modest: all her gear has a scooped neck or more, setting the standard for drag queens right up to the present. It made me wonder what impact Madame Nhu had on the gear of the early 1960s. The busts are oversized everywhere. I wondered about the distracting scar on Taylor's neck: IMDB tells me she had an emergency tracheotomy during the early abortive filming sessions in England. The asp imagery is excessive. The Romans mostly sport English accents, which in concert with the Kennedy situation of the day, and continuing rise of the USA, made me wonder if director Joseph L. Mankiewicz was suggesting a new Rome.

The later histrionics get a bit tedious and prefigure much of the later Burton / Taylor dynamic so well captured in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.

Peter Nichols reviews the 2001 three-disc DVD release.

lê thị diễm thúy: The Gangster We Are All Looking For.

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Kindle. A brief collection of interlocked shorts that impressionistically canvasses the author's childhood in Việt Nam (I think Phan Thiết) and the USA (I mostly recall San Diego). There's nothing especially unique here — for instance Andrew X. Pham has a lot more to say, and Nam Le says it better — but perhaps it was something back in 2003.

Paul Baumann.

Turks Fruit (aka The Sensualist)

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Resuming the Paul Verhoeven retrospective with his sexploitation classic from 1973, adapted from the book by Jan Wolkers. Apparently the Dutch public deemed this to be their movie of the twentieth century.

Briefly, Rutger Hauer and Monique van de Ven star in a Romeo-and-Juliet love story: he's a ne'er-do-well sculptor, she's a free spirit from a petit bourgeoisie family that is entirely caricatured. In between the vintage sexploitation we get some regular exploitation, a portrait of the Netherlands of the day, the odd rumination on the futility of art and the transience of existence. Things get explicit at times but never very shocking; Verhoeven had yet to crossbreed in the violence, and mostly planed off the ragged edges he left in his later works. It's kinda sweet at times, truthy at others, though the histrionics gets a bit trying. Keetje Tippel reunites the stars two years later. It's definitely the strongest of his early stuff that I've got to so far.

James Reith.

Lord Jim

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After liberating the Bedouin, Peter O'Toole decided to spend a few years in Cambodia attempting the same for Conrad's Malays. Eli Wallach plays The General before he was ugly. Somehow they got Sihanouk to allow them to film at Angkor. The story is something of a complement to Heart of Darkness: the installation of a not-quite-Kurtz amongst suggestible up-river natives? The ruminations on colonialism are superficial: inside every whiteman a General is trying to get out, the native women are always available and willing, everyone is compromised. Overall it's too talky and Shakespearean-pretentious. James Mason does OK as a Southern outlaw (from another movie). Curd Jürgens, furniture. Is Daliah Lavi in blackface?

Bilal Tanweer: The Scatter Here Is Too Great.

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Kindle. A series of interlocked shorts centred on an explosion at Cantt Station in Karachi. The final story seems more autobiographical. A pointer from Ahmed Rashid from a while back. Brief and sometimes effective.

Jess Row. Hirsh Sawhney.

The Breaker Upperers

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Palace Cinemas Norton St, 7:45pm, seat C-6. For some reason they're selling all tickets for five bucks (+ $1.30 online booking fee) this week, which resulted in very few empty seats. Tickets weren't checked. Beforehand I had dinner at Allfine Chinese Cuisine House (35A Ross St in Forest Lodge) and drank the last of my four coffees for the day at the cinema; apparently I have another freebie left.

I went along to this mostly because the current releases are lame; both Palace Cinemas and The Ritz have long cottoned on to this, with revivals taking up a significant chunk of their schedule. Also Dave had suggested the Kiwi chucks might have something to say, or maybe he just wanted to check out the co-starring BMW of a similar vintage to his. What we got was TV-quality sketch comedy in the Tina Fey doubledown trailoff mode. For some there may be revelations about female friendships, cultural appropriation, not getting over unwound romantic entanglements, the absurdism of the current day.

Paul Byrnes.

Flesh + Blood

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More Paul Verhoeven; in fact his first Hollywood outing (1985). If they'd had cinema in medieval times, this would have been the Saturday matinee for a century or two. Rutger Hauer stars as a mercenary who kidnaps an often-naked Jennifer Jason Leigh from her betrothed prince. For her part she cannot make up her mind between them. The plot is somewhat pedestrian: mostly straight up revenge, some double-crossing, etc. and the ending is classic sequel-prequel stuff. Jack Thompson hams it up a little as man-at-arms Hawkwood. Brion James gets more time than he did in Bladerunner. There is no magic, just Christian superstition: a statue of Saint Martin serves as the mercenaries' talisman. Trashy and fun.

Joshua Cohen: Moving Kings.

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Kindle. New York Jews and their relationships with Israel, immigrants and the precariat, the IDF. Cohen's writing is Brooklyn litfic; this one is easier to slog through than his others. The best bits seem insightful, but the overall vibe is deep alienation.

Zachary Lazar. Loads of commentary at Good Reads. James Wood observes the artistry and bemoans the content.

Behold a Pale Horse

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A hiatus from the Paul Verhoeven mini-festival. The cast is strong: Anthony Quinn (police chief, ex military with scores to settle) and Omar Sharif (effective as a priest) form a three-legged edifice with Gregory Peck (an implausible Spanish Republican exiled to France). Christian Marquand abets the law. It's twenty years since Franco's fascists won the war, and Peck's mum is on the way out in the old hometown. Will he or won't he go and see her? The women are beautiful but get almost no time on screen. There's a touch of Waiting for Godot in the lack of action. Over two nights.

The Fourth Man

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Continuing the one-man Verhoeven retrospective. A cursory check suggests this is the last of his early Dutch phase (made in 1983) that preceded the transition to Hollywood that made him famous. Here we get something of a dry run for Basic Instinct, albeit one with a religious sensibility that might not have gone over so well with New World financiers. Renée Soutendijk is game as the rich woman toying with her lovers. Jeroen Krabbé is a writer who'll take what he can get, and then some. Thom Hoffman is everyone's toyboy. The cinematography is a bit Thief, the whole thing somewhat David Lynch and David Cronenberg, a dreamscape. Some of the actors returned for Zwartboek. The effects prefigure those of Total Recall.

Incidentally Alex Pappademas wrote about Verhoeven's career up to 2014.

Red Line Productions: King Of Pigs by Steve Rodgers.

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A freebie from the production company, 8pm at the Old Fitzroy Hotel. I had some dinner at the Tokyo Laundry above Gateway beforehand: I forgot that the central appeal of chicken karaage at Pinocchio Sushi is the sauce. The soba salad was totally fine in any case.

This preview was packed. Moreover as this production is the premiere of this new work, all I'll say is that it's promising: it's difficult to say much new about domestic violence. You can read Rodgers on this piece at Audrey Journal.

After it opened: John Shand. Others note its worthiness and avoid assessing its artistry.

BlacKkKlansman

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A freebie from NIDA to this fortnight-early screening of Spike Lee's latest. Event Cinemas, George St, 6:30pm, perhaps two thirds full. The trailer for First Man looks a bit dire.

The film opens with a rant into the camera by Alec Baldwin, rendered insincere by a variety of verbal tics, and that we never see him again. It ends with a mashup of the disturbing news out of Charlottesville from August 2017 that shut everyone right up; perhaps Lee could make these punchy newsreel shorts more regularly. In between we get a ripping yarn from the heyday of Black Power: a black rookie cop (John David Washington playing Ron Stallworth) joins the Colorado Springs KKK with some help from his initially-noncommittal Jewish colleague (Adam Driver in his most effective performance yet): dual/duelling identities made literal. Laura Harrier smokes as the incognizably-single president of the local Black Student Union. Robert John Burke is good as a police chief, keeping everyone guessing, loosening up from his Hal Hartley days. Paul Walter Hauser plays more-or-less the same character as he did in I, Tonya; he, Jasper Pääkkönen and Ryan Eggold all struggle to inflate their KKK characters, whereas Topher Grace nails the role of David Duke (as far as I could tell). The Afros and fashion are superb.

Manohla Dargis saw it at Cannes. A. O. Scott after the mainstream release.

Relatos Salvajes (Wild Tales)

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Pawel pointed me to this Argentinian anthology. The opening segment is hilarious, and the other five also have their moments. Somewhat surprisingly #180 in the IMDB top-250.

Manohla Dargis.

Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg: Candy.

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Kindle. Something of a bum steer by Dwight Garner. A satire like Starship Troopers, which is to say it's far lamer than one might expect, given that Southern was one of the scriptwriters of the timeless Doctor Strangelove. Doubly annoying is that Garner cribbed his opening paragraph from the notes in the back of the book. I'd be more convinced that this was on the side of the #MeToo angels if a woman had reviewed it.

Conrad Knickerbocker reviewed it back in 1964. There's also a much-panned movie directed by Christian Marquand with a stellar cast that I'll now have to see.

Seymour Centre: Which Way Home by Katie Beckett (Ilbijerri Theatre Company).

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Something of a freebie from ShowFilmFirst, who pocketed a $3 fee on 2018-07-19. Reginald Theatre, front-row seat A14, 7:30pm, a bit packed. I walked there and back on a mostly fine day; just a few splodges of rain later in the evening. Beforehand I pigged out on dumplings at Taste Legend, which always seems like a good idea until the food shows up.

The set for this piece has clearly been ported around Australia. The various boxes serve as a car that takes Tash (playwright/actress Katie Beckett) and her father (a preternaturally calm Djordon King) from somewhere in Queensland to northern New South Wales, at some point passing along the Darren Lockyer Way. Yes, they're Broncos and State of Origin partisans, and yet their Country is in another State. Along the way the conversation and flashbacks touch on many themes, but never digs too deep; for instance, the hypocrisy of the father's needs as a man set against Tash's growing womanhood. Oftentimes this work echoes the inarticulate masculinity of Erskineville Kings.

Quite near by seat was a pile of sand, with more flowing from the scaffolding, used to evoke the famous image of Gough Whitlam and Vincent Lingiari. That is perhaps what makes this work so out of tune with Sydney: the lack of cynicism.

Jason Blake says it was better last year, at Belvoir. Nicole Elphick provides more details.

Takashi Hiraide: The Guest Cat.

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Kindle. Another Japanese cat story. This one is mercifully short. The cat herself is mostly a fashion accessory to a couple who decide to quit their publishing industry jobs in the late 1980s for lifestyle reasons. The observations about the boom of the property market in Japan around then are like Sydney now: the prices, the decrepit rentals, stagnancy, the coming crash.

Nicholas Lezard.

David Malouf: The Complete Stories.

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Kindle. An assembly of Malouf's short stories. I particularly enjoyed re-reading those previously in Every Move You Make and Dream Stuff, and some of Antipodes. Nothing in Child's Play struck a bell. I think Malouf generally got better as he went. He's totally across his flora, and his colours ("celestial blue", the colour of a builder's new shirt).

Starship Troopers

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The bridge too far for this Verhoeven retrospective. I'm told this movie is a satire of the totalitarian/fascistic/genocidal society described in Robert Heinlein's book of the same name. Unfortunately the lack of humour and absence of any subtlety makes it difficult to see past the crass stupidity of it all. For instance Clancy Brown (better known as the Kurgen) does no more than imitate R. Lee Ermey's timeless performance in Full Metal Jacket. The interstitial ads and news flashes reminded me of John Brunner's novels, without the drugs. I've avoided seeing this before due to somehow knowing that Denise Richards's effort is offensively vacuous. Casper Van Dien went on to play Tarzan and that might say it all. Why not, you know, take off and nuke the bugs from orbit?

Steekspel (Tricked)

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A continuation of the one-man Paul Verhoeven festival. This brief, Dutch social-comedy-of-manners cleaves closer to the Dogme 95 agenda with some mildly unpleasant handheld camerawork, but otherwise consists of his customary fascinations. Here father Peter Blok is commonly acknowledged as an adulterer by his family (wife Ricky Koole, daughter Carolien Spoor, son Robert de Hoog) and gets worked over by ex-lover Sallie Harmsen and business partner Jochum ten Haaf. Gaite Jansen provides the pivot. Some of the acting is fine. It's not very twisty and feels more like the cheap entertainments of his Hollywood years. As commentary it is nowhere as punchy as Lukas Moodysson's efforts. Was Rammstein still big in 2012?