peteg's blog - noise - movies

Scent of a Woman

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I might have seen this one before. A Pacino jag, and also James Rebhorn (as a milksop headmaster). Nothing more than Oscar bait for Pacino, who is better elsewhere. Chris O'Donnell is not great as his seeing eye scholarship student. Tailor Anh Duong is striking in her almost non-speaking role. A very young Philip Seymour Hoffman. Overall it's mawkish American hokum. Loosely based on a book and something of a remake.

Janet Maslin. Roger Ebert.

Carlito's Way

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Second time around. De Palma and Pacino decided to make a Godfather Part III / Scarface / ... mashup in 1993. It's a world-weary gangsta sort of thing set in generic mid-1970s NYC. Sean Penn has his moments as a lawyer in Jewfro. Viggo Mortensen is a depleted good-time host. The plot unfolds entirely predictably. There's some fancy cinematograpy but everyone was better elsewhere. It's an exercise in style.

Roger Ebert at the time, and Janet Maslin.

After Hours

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Second time around for this mid-1980s Scorsese time capsule. I bracket it with Bonfire of the Vanities but somehow IMDB doesn't; someone there suggests Desperately Seeking Susan. Once again NYC consists of about five people and a pitchfork-bearing posse. "Word processsor" must have been the first autocausality of the IT revolution. Meh.

Vincent Canby felt a bit ripped off back in the day. Roger Ebert at the time, and in 2009, for a total of eight stars.

Short Cuts

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Third time around with this Altman early-1990s time capsule. Some of it is still fun. Other bits have gone rancid.

Roger Ebert. Vincent Canby.

Mother

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Bong Joon-ho completism. This one is from 2009 or so. Over several sittings as it didn't really grip me. Something of of Twin Peaks small-town epic: a popular (?) girl gets murdered, a mentally-deficient bloke gets hooked for it and his everloving mother does the necessary to get things sorted out. I wasn't engaged enough to figure out how his playmate rolls: is he a cop? a stringer? the murderer? Everything always ends up in the bottom of the rice barrel. Set (? - at least shot) in Busan, in the deep south of Korea. Lush cinematography, sometimes bit dark. The lead actress (Kim Hye-ja) is magnetic.

Roger Ebert uses it as a vehicle to rail against the mouse. Manohla Dargis. Dana Stevens.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

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I hate apologies. Especially for the truth.
Whatever you did, don't apologize.
Just don't do it again.
— Big Daddy.

I passed on the recent Sydney Theatre Company production and am regretting it now I've seen this classic Richard Brooks production of Tennessee Williams's archetypal Southern Gothic. It's been on the pile for ages, and seeing Paul Newman again reminded me to dig it up. So many things I've seen now seem like footnotes. There are some very funny lines, and I enjoyed a Liz Taylor performance for maybe the first time ever: so bitchy! — and of course she's the cat. Newman is on the slow burn. Burl Ives is a bit too self-aware for so much to be revealed to him so late in the day.

Bosley Crowther at the time.

The Sting

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Second time around with this oldie but a goodie. Paul Newman and Robert Redford buddy up in a justified scamming revenge movie that is still #102 in the IMDB top-250. It's set in 1930s Chicago and just maybe some of the locations are still recognisable.

Roger Ebert at the time, replete with spoilers. Vincent Canby also.

Waterloo

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Rod Steiger completism, with the bonus of a young Christopher Plummer and an indulged Orson Welles as a French king. I think this was an attempt to say something about Napoleon (Steiger, still playing A Fistful of Dynamite) and Wellington (Plummer, born to it) at the Battle of Waterloo. It may have done so if they hadn't spent so much on sets and extras for the vast battleground scenes that nothing was left for dramaturgy, scripting, etc. Director Sergei Bondarchuk initially equivocated between the David Lean or Sergio Leone modes of epic before firmly plumping for frenetic vacuity: the odd moment of beautiful cinematography is killed by our complete befuddlement at the state of the battle. IMDB provides a partial list of perplexities.

Roger Greenspun and Roger Ebert at the time.

Kiss Me Deadly

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A pointer from a recent Dendy newsletter trying to flog one of their DOA horses (Under the Silver Lake). This was bracketed with other famous L.A. noirs like Chinatown but is for mine a pulpy clunker with excess dodgy acting and editing. Made in a time when actresses could proclaim to be of the incomplete sex and everyone was satisfied with a relentless winner like private dick Mike Hammer. I didn't enjoy any of the performances: Ralph Meeker was a cardboard lead.

Parasite (Gisaengchung)

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The Ritz, preview screening, 7pm, $10, Cinema 5, four rows from the front. Maybe half full but I didn't really pay much mind; I think there may have even been some actual Koreans up the back somewhere. Went to dear old Chao Praya for dinner beforehand: a chilli basil fried rice which was somewhat tasty.

The draw was director Joon-ho Bong (Snowpiercer, The Host, not so much Okja), this getting the Palme d'Or this year, and you know, everything else out right now being total garbage. Briefly this is Gangnam Style at feature length: a semi-basement dwelling family colonises an effluent abode in highly amusing style. It gets a bit graphic towards the end, and also a bit 25th Hour with a dash of Oldboy, though no octopuses are mentioned in the credits. There's a very sexy clothes-on sex scene. The very comedic dad seemed familiar, which is to say that Song Kang-ho must have made an impression on me in Snowpiercer. Shot on digital and so very Fincher.

Toy Story 4

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The Ritz preview, 6:30pm, Cinema 1 upstairs, $10. Maybe two-thirds full, some kids and many kidults. I hadn't been to the cinema for ages — the pickings aren't even slim! — and it being a cold sunny day (though warm at midday) I felt like getting out of the house.

I set my expectations mid to low on the basis of Disney having to make superprofits on all these assets they bought at bubble prices and wasn't disappointed. The animation is amazing. The story is a bit meh: cynically it's about how American kids bond with stuff at early ages, and learn to churn through it, keeping that economy ticking over. There's the necessary strong female lead in the form of Bo Peep, some adolescent, awkward coupling and a sunset. Keanu voices the Canadian daredevil. We get an extended road trip and some fine observational humour: Buzz Lightyear's inner voices and a lemming-like desire to return to the garbage bin amongst others.

Dana Stevens. Manohla Dargis. Sandra Hall. All avoid offending the mouse, the tastemakers, the nostalgists.

Dark Phoenix

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Seat C-6 in cinema 2 of Dendy Newtown, 3:45pm session after laksa for lunch, $5, on a cold and rainy day. This is the first time I've used my Dendy Club membership, which IIRC cost me $5. I was there for a Fassbender fix. Totally boring.

Manohla Dargis.

National Theatre Live: All My Sons

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6:30pm, Palace Cinemas Central, cinemas 1 and 2. A freebie from Griffin Theatre to a promo night run by an unknown movie distributor. Maybe two-thirds full. I ended up in the front row (it's a tiny space) after spending the afternoon in one of the newer UTS buildings. The introductory making-of short was far too loud. We got the same twenty minute interval as those who saw it live, making it run until 9.20pm.

Everything you need to know about the play and more can be found at Wikipedia. Apparently this second effort by Arthur Miller erased the failure of the first. I found it to be a clunker: it's so clearly pre-Beckett and barely a dry run for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. The plot unwinds linearly — there are no Gone Girl moves here — and the Chekhovian device alluded to early on goes off late enough you're left wondering why they bothered; surely escaping comeuppance was not new to anyone in 1947.

This production ran at the Old Vic in London at some point. Surviving son (Colin Morgan, solid) invites his childhood neighbour (Jenna Coleman with wonky accents), the objectified sweatheart of his World War II-deceased brother, home from NYC to propose to her. Growly father (Bill Pullman) is the heartland/Midwestern self-made man who just maybe played the manufacturing game a little dirty, or didn't quite stick by his worker, her father. Sally Field is the cunningly delusional mother. The revelatory style is a bit of a grind. Field's performance annoyed me: she was so obviously waiting for the other actors to get their stuff said. The rest of the cast did well with what they had.

Afterwards I made haste to Spice Alley where the Shanghai dumpling house sold me some expensive but tasty (frozen) dumplings.

Odd Man Out

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A Carol Reed jag from The Third Man. B&W, 1947, a Belfast in ruins. A very young and presumably impressionable James Mason plays an Irish partisan who spends a rough night meandering the streets, junkyards, saloons, etc. after a spot of bother involving firearms. It's sorta like Naked without the wise cracking. He's abandoned by his fellows, Christ-like, except for a Mary Magdalene figure who finds him just in time to (spoiler) organise suicide by bobby. William Hartnell plays a barkeep. There's a touch of Henry Fool about the artist Lukey (Robert Newton).

Bosley Crowther got into it at the time.

The Lavender Hill Mob

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Another of the Ealing comedies. B&W, 1951. Alec Guinness leads as a deceptively unambitious bank clerk who regularly shepherds gold bullion from the foundry to the vault. He chances to meet a tourist souvenir manufacturer in the form of Stanley Holloway and a plot is hatched. Very funny at times, but also very restricted by genre: English farces demand a taste of the lash. It sags a little in the third quarter as the makers scrabble around for something to justify their trip to Paris. There are no fleshed-out female characters apart from the oldies running the "private hotel" and a schoolgirl.

Bosley Crowther at the time.

Across the Bridge

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With great expectations of Rod Steiger, who doesn't disappoint. If I got this right, this is a dumbed-down Touch of Evil made in B&W in 1957 where a crooked German financier is killed by Englishmen on the US/Mexico border. The ending is lame, perhaps because the bridge is lame. Graham Greene wrote the story, which is diffuse and ambles to nowhere.

Bosley Crowther at the time.

The Third Man

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Second time around for this B&W classic. Graham Greene wrote the novel and the adapation, Carol Reed directed. Joseph Cotton is a man-about-the-world Southerner who comes to post war Vienna at the behest of a bloke who he finds recently passed. There are also a Czech girl played by an Italian, two other blokes and the cops. So much effort is put into building up the mystery that nothing happens until Orson Welles arrives, and while the cat had the right idea I was left out in the cold. Many arty camera angles, some decent cinematography. Still #134 in the IMDB top-250.

Bosley Crowther at the time. Roger Ebert in 1996.

MASH

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Second time around for this somewhat tired piece of black-humoured Altman. We're off to a sanitised 1950s Korea where all the modcons of home, including willing women, are provided and the front is at least three miles distant. Robert Duvall plays an uptight god botherer, Sally "Hot Lips" Kellerman his inevitable bed partner. She got into it later, and he got a better role about a decade later in another war. Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould are playboy doctors who effectively take over the outfit; you know, doctors are gods and all that. It's toothless despite all the blood. I enjoyed the improv and the odd zinger. The cinematography is washed out. The final football match piles on the cliches.

Roger Ebert at the time.

McCabe & Mrs Miller

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Third time around. I'm still fascinated by Beatty's performance: the rambling to himself as mortality encroaches, his ignorance of the woman he's infatuated by, his general amiability when not doing business. Julie Christie is similarly fine but more enjoyable elsewhere. Leonard Cohen's soundtrack signalled his arrival, I guess. They don't make movies like this anymore.

Roger Ebert at the time and in 1999. He was wrong about the bathhouse — that was built at Mrs Miller's insistence — but dead right that this movie is near perfect. Vincent Canby was less impressed.

Never Let Me Go

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Over two nights. More Carey Mulligan completism. She's full of woe here. A bonus was Sally Hawkins as a concerned teacher. Keira Knightley is annoying but doesn't have enough screen time to wreck it; and come on, she's too thin to provide quality spare parts. Andrew Garfield plays Tommy as even more of a lettuce than he presents in the the book. The child actors are great. Grossly summarised by Ex Machina/Annihilation auteur Alex Garland, who does not even attempt to preserve the subtleties Ishiguro brought to his perspective from a girl's diary. The ending tries feebly to universalise. Director Mark Romanek has done shirtloads of music videos, notably the famous one for Nine Inch Nails's Closer.

Roger Ebert got into it. Manohla Dargis not so much.