peteg's blog

Hollow Man

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Tonight my Verhoeven retrospective resumed with his entirely dispensable farewell to Hollywood. It's strange he got to make this after the twin flops of Showgirls and Starship Troopers; clearly he was on a leash as the nudity is brief, not at all erotic, and very separate from the cartoonish violence. The characters are dumb as bricks. The plot is B-grade horror; Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi knew how to leaven the dreck with humour, which is entirely absent from this. Elisabeth Shue, Kevin Bacon, Josh Brolin: all better elsewhere, and none acquit themselves here.

A. O. Scott at the time.

The Happytime Murders

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Spur-of-the-moment trip to The Ritz, 9pm, Cinema 4, four rows from the front, centre, $10. All the kids were going to see Spike Lee; this one got maybe ten people total. The Freddie Mercury biopic short looked kinda retro-cool, as does the Jimmy Barnes biopic. Kin probably needed a few more ideas even to make a decent trailer. Crazy Rich Asians is not for me.

The feature is something of a Team America derivative made by Muppet scion Brian Henson. (Dave: "Yeah why not. Be nice to laugh at Muppets for a change instead of working with them or watching them stop the boats.") It fails to combine the filth with enough humour to keep the audience from recoiling. For instance, the makers were so proud to have included the most famous Basic Instinct scene that they played it time and again. The carpet does indeed not match the curtains, enough already. The making-of during the credits was on balance better than the movie itself. I think this is the first time I've seen Melissa McCarthy. I walked out past an old guy, sitting at the end of a row, passed out.

A. O. Scott.

Angel Heart

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A recommendation by Dariusz, in retaliation for my telling him to go watch The Devil's Advocate. It's 1987, and Mickey Rourke pretends to be a 1950s private dick looking for a bloke in NYC and later New Orleans, but mostly finding women (notably Lisa Bonet, Charlotte Rampling). De Niro plays the kingpin, patiently reeling in his patsy. Some of the cinematography is gorgeous (thanks Michael Seresin). I got a bit lost wondering what I was supposed to know when; the bodies pile up as one might expect but it's unclear why we'd care, even after the big reveal. The occult stuff is a bit lame.

A Lenovo Ideapad 120S-KH (11", 32Gb storage, 4Gb memory).

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I've been meaning to get a machine I could afford to lose while traveling for a while now. Much like using a ZTE ZIP exclusively as a 4G modem/router, it took me a while to find the right category: netbooks are dead, ultrabooks are expensive, Chromebooks expect omnipresent connectivity, tablets may or may not be hackable, ARM laptops are rare or not cheap. In the end I went for what Harvey Norman had in the bottom of the barrel.

First up: they listed a DN variant for $198 alongside this KH for $238, billed as "super Saturday" 20% discounts which of course roll on and on. The in-store experience at Bondi Junction on Sunday past was as horrible as rumour had it: there was only the demo one on the floor to be had, and after assuring me that the KH has an SSD (it doesn't), the salesdroid proceeded with the hard sell of some kind of useless insurance. I walked; it's so much less hassle to buy it online for $238 and $8 in shipping. JBHifi was selling something similar for a lot more. I picked it up today from the Randwick post office after lunch with Dariusz.

There are many variants out there, and it's hard to sex these chickens: eMMC or SSD? How much RAM? Just how poor are the Celerys these days? etc. I have no idea how the cheaper model differed and have no faith in Harvey Norman's online descriptions (which say this thing has an HDD). In summary: the screen is a bit crap, the keyboard is pretty good, the two-button trackpad is a bit weird, the battery seems to go forever, it's a kilo. Overall it feels like a bargain. Apparently it has USB3 and USB-C, neither of which I have tried out yet. The microSD slot works.

It came with Windows 10, which was a bit of fun to interact with by speaking until it came time to accept the licence; there's no option to decline, and I guess the days of getting refunds are over as Microsoft puts keys in the BIOS. I've been using Mac OS X for about 15 years, and only installing Debian in virtual machines, so it came as a pleasant surprise to see how smooth things run now: the millennials sure have been busy. (It still takes a lot of config, but nothing as fiddly as the olden times.) I settled on XFCE, and my jaw hit the floor when Chromium played the rugby straight off the Channel 10 webstream with no futzery. I haven't got the sound going yet; some cursory diagnostics suggested that the infrastructure is there but somehow not talking to the output device. Isabelle built just fine. About half the storage remains free.

There are a few reassuring blog posts out there: Jon Williams, reddit.

The Doors

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An Oliver Stone production from 1991; I vaguely remember the saturation coverage. Val Kilmer plays Jim Morrison, and some other people play the rest of The Doors, notably Kyle MacLachlan. Meg Ryan is the girlfriend/muse. Michael Wincott could probably do a decent Tom Waits simulation, or play John Lazar's parts if Russ Meyer's stuff ever gets remade. I was never a big fan of the band (just a couple of songs) and this unedifying movie did nothing to change my mind. Is this homage or imitation? It's certainly the bacchanalia Stone imagines he experienced. Morrison's poetry often seems no better than doggerel. One for the fans? Or perhaps they too were offended by how shallow it is.

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. Which is exactly what I expected, so I wasn't disappointed.

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.

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 (tofu/egg 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 pure Russ Meyer. 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 the later Burton / Taylor dynamic so well captured in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.

Peter Nichols reviews the 2001 three-disc DVD release.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 his play at Audrey Journal.

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