peteg's blog - noise

Laura

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Second time around with this Preminger / Gene Tierney 1944 black-and-white classic. I enjoyed it just as much, and like Roger Ebert couldn't remember whodunit; it somehow doesn't matter, though he's also right that it makes little sense.

Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood

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Opening day at The Ritz, 4.30pm, Cinema 1, downstairs 6 rows from front, 10 AUD. Supposedly a 35mm print but I can't say I noticed. Perhaps a third full. Upstairs was open too.

Tarantino's latest is nostalgia for America's glory days of the late 1960s, a sort of whitewashed greatest hits target for MAGA types to aim for. Men were men, cars were Cadillacs with fins, women were dreamy, and you could light up anywhere. (The cigarette ad over the credits was deeply weird.) Murder was still random but violence was generally more personal than today's mass shootings. Di Caprio and Pitt buddy it up. Westerns, Spaghetti and American, are showered with various cackhanded honours. Robbie eventually gets upholstered and doesn't move like a pregnant lady. The Chekhovian devices are legion (a dog, tins of dog food, Robbie, ...) but none fail more dismally than an acid-laced cigarette, except perhaps for Pacino as a movie executive. It's amiable, ingratiating, introspective, self-absorbed, and has you wondering if Tarantino can go the (lengthy) distance without graphic violence; he almost makes it. At times the vibe is Altman: Short Cuts or perhaps Nashville, but without the masterful long takes.

I was bored throughout.

A. O. Scott. Dana Stevens. Widely reviewed elsewhere.

Philip Caputo: Hunter's Moon.

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Kindle. On the strength of Bruce Barcott's review in the New York Times. It goes as he says. A geography lesson for me: the small towns and highways of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Written in rotating first and third person, but the voices all sound about the same. Elegiac. Lots of guns and danger but surprisingly little present-tense violence, at least if you consider nature to be red in tooth and claw. Remaining men together?

Griffin Theatre: City of Gold by Meyne Wyatt.

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$20 Monday rush ticket plus $4 for the pleasure of booking online just after midday. Packed. More than two hours with an interval. I got there after a late lunch, some hacking at Waverley Library and a birthday freebie coffee at the dear old Verona.

Briefly, NIDA-grad and proud Wongatha (?) man Meyne Wyatt relocates Erskineville Kings to his hometown of Kalgoorlie: he's off shooting a culturally-appropriating ad (change the date, lamb barbeques unite) when his father passes, bringing him back to the lowlevel antagonism of family with brother Mathew Cooper (who was in The Season) and dutiful sister Shari Sebbens; his mum never emerges from the house. There's some dreaming to evoke the backstory and promote the attractions of initiation, a wagtail to tell us bad news is on the way, much Blackfella kvetching leavened with much local inflected humour. The cataclysmic ending was weak.

Jason Blake. And many others.

...And Justice for All

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Third time around with this funny but shallow legal procedural farce. A Jack Warden jag from Everybody Wins. Pacino has a few good moments, as do each of the other cast members I guess. Christine Lahti has the thankless job of talking the plot. I recognised Jeffrey Tambor from The Death of Stalin, and perhaps Craig T. Nelson from that other Pacino legal vehicle, The Devil's Advocate.

Roger Ebert was unimpressed at the time; Vincent Canby even less so.

Cameron Murray and Paul Frijters: Game of Mates: How favours bleed the nation.

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I want either less corruption, or more chance to participate in it.
Ashleigh Brilliant

Kindle. I'm late to this party so I'll keep it brief. Co-written by one of the Club Troppo stalwarts and released back in 2017, this depressing book outlines how much of Australia's common wealth is being soaked up by what we might call network effects amongst the well connected. They observe that it's a perennial problem and that the gains were spread more widely in the days before Hawke and Keating. The examples are generally well chosen — property development, superannuation, universities, etc. — though I think the tax system could have used some scrutiny. The diagnoses seem about right. Their Rawlsian approach of comparing this country's status quo with world-best practice is valuable. The attempts to bust myths is futile.

I'd pick many nits if I was more timely. Their defences of klepto everyman James from attacks on his character are juxtaposed with stuffily moral language. I don't understand why foreign experts would be any more immune to threats to their career than any other public servant. They doxx quite a few users of the revolving doors, which struck me as a bit impolite. I'm skeptical about the experiments they perform and behavioural economics in general. Their prescriptions could be summarised as: put a price on everything. A better book on the mechanisms at work here is Al Roth's.

Very widely reviewed locally. Peter Martin has a very depressing graph that generalises what I was told a while back, viz that the way to make money in this country is to run a government-mandated monopoly. The more circumspect reviewers cast doubt on this and every other point in this book, which is to say, it's business as usual.

Everybody Wins

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#31 on David Stratton's list of marvellous movies, and by far the worst so far. Written by Arthur Miller as a play and adapted for the screen. Nick Nolte leads as a credulous and sex-starved private dick (Stratton says TV journalist) who is readily suckered by the far more worldly Debra Winger when she asks him to spring a friend incarcerated for a bogus murder conviction. Will Patton does a special kind of menacing but ultimately vacuous crazy. I'm not sure there's a point, but if there is, it's better made in David Lynch's small-town efforts, with Blue Velvet already having set the pace and Twin Peaks not far into the future.

Stratton claims this was an original screenplay but Wikipedia concurs with IMDB.

Vincent Canby at the time.

Foreign Correspondent

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A Hitchcock jag. Not great. It's 1940-ish and wooden, credulous, flat reporter-lead Joel McCrea is sent over to Europe by a NYC newspaper to sort out those foreigners (future Americans?). Laraine Day does as well as she can as the girl to be gotten, alternating passivity with sassy repartee. The ending is as pure a pitch for war bonds as you'll find. Canonical Englishman George Sanders at least seems to be enjoying himself. The Latvians cop it in the neck, as do the Dutch at times.

Bosley Crowther got into it at the time.

Strangers on a Train

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Second or third time around for this Hitchcock classic. The black-and-white cinematography is perfect (and not just for 1951), as is the continual search for the horror in the familiar and omnipresent. Yes, the plot is farfetched and it's not entirely clear why things go as they do. It seems to have fallen out of the IMDB top-250 since I last saw it in 2012.

Roger Ebert in 2004. He tells me Farley Granger was also in Rope. Bosley Crowther was more skeptical at the time; I feel he'd be a lot more thankful if it was released now.

George Saunders: The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil.

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Kindle. Brief and not very frightening as it reads like a fascist scarer of days long dead. Having one group of oppressed people being saved from their oppressors by another group oppressing the oppressors is lame. Conveniently the Führer-figure spontaneously combusts during the intervention. This is the first Saunders effort I've read, and I can see how he might appeal with some funny stuff in the small.

Eric Weinberger is dead right that this sounds like a work out of time.

Road to Perdition

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Third time around with this perplexingly poor movie, and I still don't remember a thing — except that American Jesus Tom Hanks goes out dumb. The cast is stellar (Paul Newman, Jude Law, Daniel Craig, Dylan Baker in yet another thankless role, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Ned Rifle Liam Aiken), cinematographer Conrad L. Hall got an Oscar for his beautiful compositions, but the whole is not much. It's winter 1931, somewhere out in Midwest Irish gangstaland where we're supposed to know prohibition is allowing the speakeasies to do huge business. Two — no three! — sons and the patriarch, and the over-patriarch and so forth try to convince us that the ultraviolent Hanks is doing the decent thing by murdering people so his own family can eat, and later shielding his son from needing to do similar. It's a busted premise. I don't think director Sam Mendes is entirely to blame for its lifelessness.

Roger Ebert. Stephen Holden.

From Here to Eternity

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Black and White, 1953. An adaptation (bowdlerisation) of a James Jones novel (just like The Thin Red Line), cut to be a US Army promo. A Deborah Kerr jag; strange to see her so young. She does OK with the little she gets to work with. Join the army, get posted to Hawaii... Donna Reed is there waiting for you! IMDB suggests this is the one that Sinatra got his mates to make an offer for that could not be refused. Montgomery Clift does his best as an individual who is a lifer in a collective. Burt Lancaster has a limited range and is exposed here. The famous sexy beach scene was very brief. It concludes with the fallout of the attacks on Pearl Harbour and Oscars all round.

Daniel Nieh: Beijing Payback.

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Kindle. Millennial Chinese gangsta: two sons (just like Madness is Better than Defeat!) separated by an ocean combine to sort out the dregs of their father's business arrangements after his assassination in San Dimas, California. In life he was a legit restaurant magnate, and in death something else. (No, his name is not Robert Paulson.) After some setup in collegetown USA the violence unfurls in Beijing with the denouement via a minor plot flounce back to where it started. The loose ends are left dangling, perhaps in the hope of a deal for a sequel.

This is probably the ethnic lit that Nam Le warned about. The whole thing is overly complicated if the reader ever stops to think, which is not helped by excess discussions of plausibility and hand wringing. It periodically disintegrates. Like David Halberstam, Nieh takes it as axiomatic that the USA is all things to all people, with a US visa being the ultimate bribe. The French journo is a cliche (Bernand Fall?). The femmes are feeble: Nieh cannot inflate sister Jules — sometimes describing her undergrad-level analytic putdown vitriol rather than, you know, just writing it — or sexkitten Wei (an East-meets-West sexpert just like the halfcaste in The Singapore Grip who dominates after taking the initiative, dating this work to now). The vibe is more Hong Kong than mainland, with a nod to the eternal Infernal Affairs and Joe Ide.

For all that I enjoyed it on its own terms. Lauren Wilkinson sold it to me with her review for the New York Times.

An Affair to Remember

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There must be something between us, even if it's only an ocean.
— Cary Grant to Deborah Kerr.

French playboy Cary Grant picks up bar singer Deborah Kerr on a boat from Europe to NYC in colour in 1957. I enjoyed her performance here about as much as in The Night of the Iguana with some snappy dialogue and reversals. The plot goes as you'd expect, which is to say it's annoyingly artificial at times and cloying at others. Another love-letter to mid-1950s American uppercrustiness: marry into it if you can. IMDB tells me it was a remake of Love Affair, also directed my Leo McCarey.

Bosley Crowther at the time.

David Halberstam: The Making of a Quagmire.

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A memoir of his time reporting from Sài Gòn in the early 1960s. So much felt familiar; perhaps he reworked similar material into The Best and the Brightest. I came away thinking that he didn't manage to square the data he dug up, his own analysis and his contention that the USA had to fight this type of communist-containment war, i.e., support regimes and cultures that had little in common with the USA; he falls prey to exactly the same pathology he documents. The postwar European situation is used for contrast but not much is made of the interventions in Korea and Japan. While his Pulitzer-winning journalism was surely a first cut at history, this book had little effect on LBJ's decision to commit American bodies to the quagmire and takes us not very far now. The ongoing war in Afghanistan shows that nothing was learnt. Again the USA does not seem able to successfully prosecute a counterinsurgency, or define a face-saving victory and exit. Again the self-deception is ludicrous. Again the backing of a local strongman did not bear fruit.

That period (1962/63) was a good time to meet John Paul Vann on his way out the door, but apparently too late to get to know Lansdale.

Bernard Fall at the time (1965).

Aguirre, the Wrath of God

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A trip down down the river prompted by Ebert's selection of greatest movies. From the title we're obviously going to end up with a Kurtz, and the early lush cinematography, rich conceit and huge cast winding down the Andes is very promising. Unfortunately (the horror) it is too cut up to be immersive; Kinski always seems to be mugging for the camera, and the the "oh woe I am pierced by this feeble arrow" dialogue does not help. I know it's a Werner Herzog "art" movie, but he seems to have lacked sufficient conviction to either completely dispense with a plot or develop it or the characters adequately.

Ebert in 1977 and in 1999.

Jill Ciment: The Body in Question.

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Kindle. Curtis Sittenfeld's review sold it to me, and I mostly got what I expected. The first part canvasses a range of issues, not the least being the sexuality of American females deep into middle age, related issues of childlessness, powerlessness, new forms of brutality, care for the young/damaged/aged, and smoking. The focus is a fling or love affair, depending on who's telling, with a sordid court case serving as a backdrop. Like an eternalised Dermansky, Ciment has the ladies taking the initiative since always; there's some fun in her no-means-yes plays. The second half tries to cash the conceits of the first half, and in failing to satisfy perhaps exposes their slightness.

David Halberstam: The Reckoning.

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The other respect in which America was ill prepared for the new world economy was in terms of expectations. No country, including America, was likely ever to be as rich as America had been from 1945 to 1975, and other nations were following the Japanese into middle-class existence, which meant that life for most Americans has bound to become leaner. But in the middle of 1986 there seemed little awareness of this, let alone concern about it. Few were discussing how best to adjust the nation to an age of somewhat diminished expectations, or how to marshal its abundant resources for survival in a harsh, unforgiving new world, or how to spread the inevitable sacrifices equitably.
— Halberstam's closing paragraph.

Kindle. Before longform journalism we got (flabby, repetitious, under-signposted, invaluable) doorstops from the likes of David Halberstam. This is the third of his history-like writeups I've read (after the classic The Best and the Brightest and the minor Ho). It maps out the rise of industrial Japan as a direct function of Japanese culture and post-World War II US intervention, resulting in some shaky years of decline for the US automotive sector (colloquially "Detroit") up to 1986. Apparently he wanted to sound a warning and thought this angle provided a telling vehicle. Of course Robert S. McNamara provides a bridge between fascinations old and new.

The book cleaves into tales of America and Japan. I found his choice to focus on Nissan a bit weird; his afterword justifies it by the parallel with Ford, being the #2 company. (He chose Ford as GM was always well insulated and Chrysler perennially cactus.) For mine Honda and Toyota are both more interesting: Honda for being an unusually innovative Japanese company, and Toyota for its famous Total Quality Management, quality being a big concern here. As you'd expect it's the personalities on the American side that come through most vividly: the recently-passed sales wizard Lee Iacocca and man of duty and large appetite Henry Ford II in particular. I liked his portrayal of founder Henry Ford's conception of work as enjoyable production and not parasitism, though of course that attitude can't last in the times of automation and plenty, or perhaps the capitalism in general that Ford himself did so much to promote. The boom and bust of the unions and their co-option in both the USA and Japan surprised me less than Halberstam wanted it to.

I came away wondering if Japan was ever receptive to anything except technical know-how; Halberstam suggests they were not particularly interested or open to democracy or substantive cultural or societal reform (cf his software/hardware comments). This made me think that Mitsubishi, a zaibatsu that zombie-shuffled through the war, would have made for a more interesting topic: the intransigence of the old ways in the face of proven gaijin superiority and occupation, with some motivation to make this situation transient. That the Bank of Japan owns so much stock in 2019 makes perfect sense in such a controlled economy and society.

From a thirty-year perspective Halberstam's analysis looks accurate, except by curious timing Japan fell away soon after this book was published, and now the USA is again the world's largest producer of oil. (Halberstam himself passed before things really came unstuck in 2008; also Japan's "lost decade" has become two or three, depending on who's counting.) More broadly I felt he could have expended more pages on other points: the financialisation of everything, the rise of the service economy (which in an aside he speculates may be parasitic on the realer forms of industry), the apparent failure of the Japanese computer industry outside gaming, the geopolitics of the oil and green revolutions, and an even broader sketch of the macro forces of the day.

As far as I understand it, nothing has changed for Detroit: Government protection is what kept them alive then, what's keeping them alive now, and we all know what happened during the GFC. More zombies than ever are shuffling across the US corporate landscape: as it goes in Japan, so will it be for the rest?

Reviews are legion. John Kenneth Galbraith. Goodreads. An interview of sorts at the time on C-SPAN.

Apocalypse Now (Final Cut)

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The Ritz, $10, 4pm, Cinema 1, five rows from the front downstairs (upstairs also in operation), 4K digital, maybe half full. Coffee at Shorty's before, lunch at Coogee before that in a strong onshore wind, a little cool. They were hammering the golden pop/rock classics of my youth before the shorts. Once Upon A Time ... in Hollywood looks a bit more literally Tate-murdery than I'd hoped.

The intro had Coppola billing this as a sort of ultimate revision, something between the original theatrical cut and the redux of 2001: this amounted to keeping the French plantation, ditching the supply depot and expanding some interstitial scenes. Somehow it was less magical this time around, leaving me detached and trainspotting the continuity. It was followed by Coppola being interviewed by Steven Soderbergh at Tribeca earlier this year. They gestured to perhaps more interesting Coppola interviews: with Martin Sheen in 2010 and the press conference at Cannes 1979. And of course Hearts of Darkness. This meant I didn't get out until well after 8pm.

Ebert had at least three goes: at the time (an experience, not a philosophy), 1999, the redux of 2001. A. O. Scott on the redux. Still #50 in the IMDB top-250.

Apollo 11

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Dendy Newtown, 4:15pm (only session of the day), $1 birthday ticket, Cinema 6, front row modulo the wheelchair space bracketed by couches (unused), perhaps 10-15 people. Ate my lunch in dogshit park out back of the church, and had a coffee in the cafe next door beforehand. I got there in time for Springsteen's Hungry Heart. I don't think they played any shorts, just ads.

Glenn Kenny suggests this is an assembly of previously unscreened (on film anyway) footage of the moonshot. It is excellent. The composition, editing, pacing, etc. is also spot on. I was slightly annoyed by the soundtrack: the drama speaks for itself. I would also have liked to (always) know who was piloting. I wonder what happened to all that antiquated tech. I'll refrain from politicking.

James Gleick.