peteg's blog

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

Late afternoon snorkel at Gordons Bay, off the northern scuba ramp at low tide. Quite good visibility in still quite cold water; not too bad in the spring suit and gloves. I saw the big blue groper for the first time this season, and loads of ludderick and other usual suspects. I also saw a small wobbegong, but as yet no squid.

Argo

/noise/movies | Link

Another cheap Tuesday at The Ritz. Cinema 3 was packed at 7pm, with (untimely) people having to sit in the third row (one in front of me), and yet they strangely respected most other (timely) customers' sight lines. Also there was not a lot of talking, which was surprising given the gaps in this dialogue-heavy docu-thriller.

Affleck is in the process of showing that he is a much better director than actor. Here he again casts himself in the lead, like The Town and unlike Gone Baby Gone. I thought his impassivity was pretty much spot-on as it amplified the tension radiating from the government functionaries, and he generously gave some quite funny lines to the movie makers.

As with his earlier features he has a cracker of a story to tell. Unfortunately the film sags at the two-thirds / three-quarters mark when reality is sacrificed to stock Hollywoodism. The American ending was inevitable, I guess. I liked the homage (montage?) over the credits and the various markers of the 1970s, such as the decayed Hollywood sign. I didn't like the hurry-hurry camerawork so much.

Afterwards I got wondering if this was Ben Affleck's response to Team America; perhaps he did go to acting school, and just maybe actoring had that kind of impact on world affairs. It might be that he is crafting a series of these movies, showing Hollywood mending the Vietnam vets throughout the late 1970s and 1980s, explaining the Contra scandal to those born after it, and burnishing Jimmy Carter's peacenik-ery. In any case I still haven't seen Pearl Harbour.

I agree with Dana Stevens about the portrayal of the Persians; there were some nice touches in the small, such as the young security geeks at the airport talking about the storyboards, but most men were crazed zealots with guns. The New York Times review is spot on too.

The Verdict

/noise/movies | Link

A Sidney Lumet semi-classic, written by David Mamet. I hadn't realised that he'd made so many awesome movies (12 Angry Men and many others). Here Paul Newman plays a washed-out lawyer, who, near the end of his career, is looking for a final moral victory. As far as courtroom dramas go this one wasn't legally convincing (the ruling was certain to be appealed), and it was weird seeing Newman play an incompetent; typically he was completely reassured cool. It is strung out something like Anatomy of a Murder.

Casino Royale

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Far superior to its successor. I wonder if Skyfall is as good as the reviews make it out to be.

Mona Lisa

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The vehicle that didn't earn Bob Hoskins an Oscar in 1987 (just as Salvador didn't do it for James Woods). I enjoyed it as a piece of Mike Leigh-ish English sort-of realism. Cathy Tyson is luminous, and great use is made of Nat King Cole, who Wong Kar Wai has taught me to appreciate. Despite the promise shown here, it seems that Neil Jordan's oeuvre tends towards the crap.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

Late afternoon snorkel attempt off the southern boat launch at Long Bay. Despite the clean bill of health from beach watch, the water contained so much suspended matter that I didn't even bother looking for anything. The water was cold but OK in the spring suit. The strong on-shore breeze didn't help with the murk. Several spear fishers were out, and some shore fishermen too.

Quantum of Solace

/noise/movies | Link

A turkey. What was meant to bridge Casino Royale with something almost became a coffin for Daniel Craig's Bond.

Murray Bail: The Voyage

/noise/books | Link

A review by Andrew Reimer in the Smage woke me up to Murray Bail's latest novel. This one comes hot on the heels of The Pages, barely four years previous, and features a much stronger structure. Frank Delage stands in for all Australian inventors looking to enter foreign markets when he takes his innovative piano to Vienna. Beyond the artifice of his meeting Amalia von Schalla, wife of a wealthy industralist, Bail offers up a string of ruminations on stagnation, relations between men and women, the old world and the new, and not getting what you want but something else, quite distinct and possibly more valuable. I enjoyed how Bail silently moved between the parallel tracks of the story, of Delage's time in Vienna and the voyage on the container ship through the Suez, Malacca Straits and other markers of the now-unfamiliar sea lanes. The shipborne Dutchman minded me of Dijkstra, long on the terminal pronouncement.

Anatomy of a Murder

/noise/movies | Link

James Stewart stars, Otto Preminger directs. This is post-Gene Tierney (Laura) Preminger and rates the highest of his works on the IMDB top-250 list at #200. Eve Arden (Ida from Mildred Pierce) plays a sassy unpaid secretary, loyal in a way barely imaginable now, unless she was sleeping with her boss I guess, though it is implied that James Stewart's character swings the other way. It was great to recognise Ben Gazzara (Happiness, Tales of Ordinary Madness) so young and composed. As far as courtroom dramas go, this one is quick to assert the culpability of the defendant and offers up a series of engaging character studies.

Savages

/noise/movies | Link

Another cheap-Tuesday found me at The Ritz at 6:45pm, Cinema 1 upstairs, for the latest from Oliver Stone. There's something to be said for seeing his flicks on the big screen and I enjoyed it for the most part, though it be his most morally vacant effort to date.

Many reviews had led me to believe that the actors were a bit shit, but I must demur; I came to see Travolta play a somewhat Pulp Fiction DEA operator, and Del Toro meander as a playboy rent-a-thug. Salma Hayek keeps her kit on, perhaps because Stone can't flick the switch to Rodriguez. She does manage a line in some kind of viciousness, but this is not really sustained when the Californians predictably switch the tables on her. As such she is a mostly reactionary queenpin, which seems unlikely given her success. As for the ménage à trois, well, they managed to rise above mildly crap more often than not.

Being a Stone flick we got some intense graphic violence, such an immolation that harks back to Vietnam, 1963. Stone flirts with eye-for-an-eye morality in that scene, and links it to the final events by having third-wheel O imply that she wants something more final than a disappearance into Nowherevillage, Indonesia; the dissatisfaction and wistfulness running through her narration makes it all seem like so much fairy floss. It's hard to square with her desires in the final movement, and I'm sure the boys would have sorted out Del Toro on her say-so. (Perhaps that'll be Savages II.)

Stone makes Laguna look like paradise for beach bunnies and predators. There are some great small touches — "Cheech and Chong" slips from Del Toro at some point, and Chon responds with "Allah willing" when his military buddies radio in the preparedness of themselves and their IUDs. It is sometimes unclear where people are, but I got the impression the whole thing takes place in the U.S., with the Indian reservations being the places where the Mexican cartel boys do their work. (Salma Hayek moves north to join the action.) The plot gets quite loose in places, and I didn't follow the characters' reasoning too closely.

I wonder if Stone has run out of some of the multitudes of film stocks he typically uses, and also of soundtrack material (was that Cat Power covering something over the closing credits?). I guess we could try to read this as a boomer's paean to a despoiled Mexico, a place that once salved the damaged (cf Born on the Fourth of July)... or perhaps an attempt to show how exotically unerotic 21st century cinematic sex has been. In brief, Stone tries to be Tarantino by telling a good story to no particular end.

Stephanie Zacharek reviewed it for Movieline. I didn't see anything from Dana Stevens; perhaps she is a Stone anti-fan.

March of the Penguins

/noise/movies | Link

Some good photography, but not as crisp as I expected. The narration by Morgan Freeman is gratingly anthropomorphic.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

Expecting a thunderstorm later on I went for a snorkel at Little Bay around midday. The water was a bit cool and fairly cloudly, probably due to the moderate swell. Good to be in (in a spring suit) but didn't see much.

Salvador

/noise/movies | Link

Continuing with the Oliver Stones, and a James Woods segue from Videodrome. Here Stone recounts the beginning of the civil war in El Salvador circa 1980 through the prism of the American photojournalist Richard Boyle, who has some kinds of bromances with Doctor Rock (James Belushi) and John Cassady (John Savage). I'd say that where he toes the line in e.g. Platoon, here he goes right to the limit; some scenes are genuinely shocking.

JFK

/noise/movies | Link

Oliver Stone's sprawling summary of the state of JFK assassination conspiracy theories circa 1992. I saw this in several chunks over many days. Kevin Costner plays a crusading Southern DA who tries to dig into what looks like an immense cover-up. Joe Pesci maintains his average by spraying invective throughout his brief time on screen. (The toupee offends me.)

Given what Stone shows here it is difficult not to conclude that people high up in the U.S. Federal Government were complicit in the failure to effectively investigate. Stone manages to have things all ways by lampooning some of the loonier conspiracy theories / investigation assertions while slow cooking his favoured narrative in his characteristic chopped-up documentary style. He clearly deifies the Kennedy brothers, which makes me wonder if he really believes that JFK was going to get them out of (not get them into) the Vietnam war. The bureaucratic push-back arising from JFK's post-Bay of Pigs neutering of the C.I.A. is well-canvassed.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

After-work snorkel circa 6pm at Gordons Bay. The water was still a bit cloudy from last week's rain. I got in in the spring suit, though I could perhaps have got by with a singlet. Didn't see much apart from a small-ish wobbegong near my usual swimming get-in spot. (It had the signature large head, tapered body and flat fins, and was resting on the sand.) The drive up from NICTA was a bit hellish; I would have been better off walking home and going from there.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

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Having seen Killing Them Softly, I felt compelled to dig up this earlier Andrew Dominik epic, which apparently launched Casey Affleck's career. It is quite a departure from both that and the much-earlier Chopper; the humour here is a lot more forced, so perhaps Jesse James had lessa sense of the absurd than Chopper.

I got into it somewhere around the 90 minute mark. Casey Affleck is indeed great as something of the mumbling psycho he later played in The Killer Inside Me. Brad Pitt almost becomes something other than Brad Pitt, sometimes for seconds at a stretch. The acting is excellent across the board, and the cinematography is brilliant, with striking use of light and angles by Roger Deakins.

As far as the story goes, we get an instance of the ancient archetype of betrayal. This is not really a western, at least not in the John Ford sort of way. The soundtrack is by Warren Ellis and Nick Cave, with the latter getting a cameo in a bar at the end.

Kontroll

/noise/movies | Link

Mr SNAFU feted this after seeing it on SBS. As he says it's a comedy about competing tribes of Hungarian subway ticket inspectors; alternatively it is a composition of perhaps opportunistic takes that aim for the weird. By the end I had given up hope of it tying down its loose ends. The bromance wears thin as the characters are stereotypes. Eszter Balla is something for the furries. Some of the cinematography is quite good.

I now have to see if Hukkle is more chop.

Bushwalk: South Cronulla and Bundeena to Marley Beach and back.

/travels | Link

With Matthias. I decided to drive down to Cronulla after a slow start, and dumped the car reasonably close to the ferry wharf. We took a wrong turn and ended up on a quite-long walk along the Esplanade. The ferry brought us to Bundeena quite late, perhaps 1.30pm, where we had lunch. Walking up Bundeena Road to the firetrail is not much fun. At the beach a girl claimed to have seen whales, which if extant were beyond the resolution of my specs. We returned via the coastal track (skipping the extension up to Jibbon Point) and had a snack in Bundeena before taking the last ferry (6pm) back. Beautiful day for it, though I should have been more careful with the sun.

The Quiet American (1958)

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Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve) went to Saigon to film this early adaptation (bastardisation) of Graham Greene's incisive novel. Here Phuong is played by the Italian Giorgia Moll, Fowler by Michael Redgrave and the American by Audie Murphy, the most decorated U.S. soldier of World War II. I enjoyed the shots of the old city and would have preferred to see even more of it; too much of this dialogue-heavy film is set indoors. At some point it loses the poignancy of the old colonials warning off the neocolonials from the quagmire that Vietnam already was.

Patrick White: Happy Valley

/noise/books | Link

I've been meaning to read more from Mr Nobel since I stumbled upon his masterful short stories last year, and couldn't resist this one, his first novel, after reading some boosterism in the Smage. At 400 pages things got a bit stodgy and my eyes glazed over more than once. (Did I fall asleep more easily those nights?) It is stylish, and sometimes knowing, but also artificial and tendentious. I doubt that the denizens of erstwhile Adaminaby would agree that he had them pegged. Perhaps more interesting would have been his reaction to the town's permanent flooding in 1949, which resonates more than anything he attempted here.

Looper

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At The Ritz at 6:30pm on an authetically cheap Tuesday. Joseph Gordon-Levitt in another Rian Johnson effort. Not quite the Brick II I had hoped for, but solid just the same, at least if you don't question the dodgy scaffolding of the plot and go along with the narrational but not logical necessity of the money shot. I guess Johnson doesn't see the need for nuance when talking about pernicious single- (or no-) parent homes and time travel. (There is far too much exposition in this film.) Strangely the year is 2042, just short of Wong Kar-Wai's 2046, and things are more similar to 2012 here than there. As futurology this is all pretty depressing.

Bruce Willis is unfortunately typecast as a one-man army, a let-down post Pulp Fiction, though somewhat reminiscent of The Sixth Sense. Emily Blunt and Jeff Daniels are quite good, and Pierce Gagnon as ten-year-old Cid evokes Ian McKellen. All actors spend a lot of time waggling eyebrows, sometimes while toting firearms. I think every scene has a gun in it. Noah Segan, the weaselly Dode in Brick, returns as a no-left-feet hitman who (post-ironically) rains death on all.

Dana Stevens is roughly on the money. I've started reading the New York Times movie reviews and expect them to be about as dodgy as their book reviews.