peteg's blog - noise - movies

The Eye of the Storm

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"They printed the reviews of your King Lear in the Sydney papers..." — mum Rampling to son Rush (real life version).

In two sittings. This is an adaptation of a Patrick White novel, and is almost entirely a bust. Perhaps it might work on the page, given White's facility with language and artifice, but definitely not on the screen.

The stars are Australian matriarch Charlotte Rampling, daughter Judy Davis (an insecure made Parisian princess), son Geoffrey Rush (a London thespian of some stripe). Robyn Nevin. Helen Morse. Colin Friels turns in an all-ocker effort as the 1972-will-to-power Whitlam/Hawke "Athol Shreve". Nurse Alexandra Schepisi (daughter of director Fred Schepisi) is a (naive?) cultureless social climber, who initially doesn’t like being called on it but realises after she is thwarted that she belongs with her familiar working-class milieu. Rush utters a "yum" in her direction; somehow the ladies slaver over him. Go figure. The plot boils down to the kids returning to Sydney with expectations of imminently receiving their inheritance from their diminishing but still domineering mother. I get the impression that Rampling falls off the throne in a similar manner to White's own mum. The concerns are his usual preoccupations: death, sex, social class, social mores. The obvious point of comparison (beyond King Lear) is Magnolia (this came after, White's novel before): Tom Cruise's "respect the cock" is a lot more powerful than twee observations about the word "penis", and so forth. The settings show a now-deceased old new-money Sydney that might just be zombie-shuffling to the races even now.

This was a bit of a dry run: Sydney Theatre Company is putting on A Cheery Soul soon and I wonder if it's worth going to. The synopsis sounds sketchy.

Manohla Dargis. Jim Schembri. Jake Wilson: the novel got boiled down to a soap opera.

A Brief History of Time

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An Errol Morris-constructed biopic of Stephen Hawking from around the time when Hawking's book of that title was selling millions of copies. It's a bit like dancing about architecture: a composite of humanising interviews with Hawking, his family and colleagues but not his ex-wife Jane, and some too-vague and overly-strong assertions about what physics might be. I thought it was settled that the universe was going to continue expanding, given "the expansion of the universe is accelerating...", but perhaps that's new since 1991. I wonder if all the recent dark matter/energy stuff plays much with Hawking's theories. I hadn't heard of "imaginary time" before this. Morris passes on the opportunity to go full 2001.

Morris reminisces earlier this year. Indeed, Hawking's mum is great. Timothy Ferris at the time.

Peterloo

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The latest Mike Leigh. Part of the British Film Festival now playing at Palace Cinemas; specifically the dear old Verona, 12:30pm, $17.50 + $1.30 booking fee = $18.80, booked 2018-10-27. It was financed by a long list of companies, most prominently Amazon.

This is a long, even overly long, and very dialogue-heavy account of the route to the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester in 1819, soon after the Battle of Waterloo that brought Napoleon to a conclusion. Leigh and Dick Pope achieve a similar aesthetic to Mr Turner: some brilliantly composed almost-painterly almost-stills, especially of the worker's homes. The class consciousness weighs heavily: the ruling class spouts implausibly crass and unsophisticated motivations that make for an almost-American moral clarity. Some threads dangle, such as what happened to the spies and local constabulary afterwards. In a cackhanded way it could be taken as an argument that the British Raj's behaviour in India wasn't as entirely transparently racist as it seemed to be. Perhaps timely what with BREXIT and all. The cast is uniformly excellent.

Touch of Evil

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David Scott Mathieson likened Mae Sot, Thailand to the Texas/Mexico border town of this black-and-white Orson Welles classic. Apparently second time around, and still highly rated at IMDB but not in the top-250. Inflation I guess.

This is Welles in whale mode, holding that cinema can tell sophisticated stories while blithely skating over modern sensibilities such as cultural stereotypes and appropriation. Briefly, an American cop (Welles) is called in to investigate the bombing murder of a local magnate and his stripper acquaintance. High-ranking Mexican law enforcer Charlton Heston (in blackface (?), a sorta plausible American accent, and looking a bit like Omar Sharif a half decade early) has an American wife in the form of Janet Leigh (too credulous, and that 50s underwear!) and just happens to be on the scene. Conflict ensues. Marlene Dietrich plays a smokey-eyed bar operator, Zsa Zsa Gabor owns a strip parlour, Dennis Weaver is a proto-Lynchian, seriously unhinged night manager, and Mercedes McCambridge's "I wanna watch" could have come from an Andy Warhol. The opening tracking shot must be famous. There is something of a commentary on the then-future war on drugs. A bit of a feast.

The Ghost and Mrs Muir

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A Rex Harrison and Joseph L. Mankiewicz jag from Cleopatra. More Gene Tierney completism: she's more arch than usual, and sports an English accent of sorts. A fantasy post-war black-and-white romcom: seafaring Captain Harrison haunts his seaside cottage until the widow Tierney turns up and convinces him that she's alright. Suicide? Pfft! It was those blazing gas heaters. They write a book together and do the happily ever after thing, eventually. Naff, funny and fun.

Solo

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I don't think it could have been much worse. Ron Howard extracted the action essence of Star Wars and made one of the dumbest episodes yet. The plot is knowingly threadbare. Alden Ehrenreich does what he can. Phoebe Waller-Bridge pitches for topicality as the brassy feminist/droidist L3-37. Emilia Clarke, wooden, is better here than in the Terminator thing. Erin Kellyman fares worse. Thandie Newton, squandered. Paul Bettany, squandered. There'll be a Hairpiece Harrelson figure out there now. It closes with threats of a sequel.

A. O. Scott.

Four Lions

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Second time around while waiting for the storms to arrive (supposed to be here by 2pm-ish; eventually showed at 6pm-ish). Still transgressive and very funny at times.

How I Ended This Summer

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I've had this one on the list for ages (since 2010). Two blokes stuck in a meteorology station on an island in Chukotka, Russia (opposite Alaska). The younger one starts acting up for no good reason. I wonder if they really do have radioisotope thermoelectric generators still lying around out there. Initially quite slow, and then the plot gets a bit too horror/survival to care about. In two sittings. Some of the cinematography is gorgeous.

Stephen Holden.

Sicario 2: Day of the Soldado

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Del Toro, Josh Brolin but no Emily Blunt. Matthew Modine plays the secretary of defence. Far more paint-by-the-numbers than the original: plot and action driven, not psychological. Good to see some sign language. Catherine Keener is ineffectually stern. A kidnapping goes wrong. There'll be another sequel.

A. O. Scott.

Operation Finale

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Oscar Isaac is now bigger than Ben Kingsley. Another kidnapping movie: the Israelis exfiltrate Adolf Eichmann (a mostly effective and mildly charismatic Kingsley) from Argentina. The focus is Isaac's Peter Malkin and playing up the conflict amongst the squad. Greta Scacchi is unrecognisable as Vera (Eichmann's wife). Strangely everyone almost always speaks English, making the spoken Spanish and written Hebrew jarring. Mélanie Laurent is completely auxiliary. A possibly-good story told mediocrely.

A. O. Scott. Robert Duval played Eichmann in the same story in The Man Who Captured Eichmann back in 1996.

Bad Times at the El Royale

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A predictably soggy day with unpredictable breaks in the sogginess. Walked down to Coogee, ate my sandwiches, read my book a bit, had a coffee the Pavilion, now overstuffed with bottle blonded MacBook wielders. It's a bit cold. Headed up to The Ritz for the 3:40pm screening of this, in cinema 2, $10, and had another coffee at a little place opposite that shut promptly just after three. Still a zombie, and that might be the best way to face it. Maybe twenty other people on this opening day.

There's not much more to this than its influences, which might be summarised as a selection of Tarantino; a check that very few, including this, can cash. The main draw was Jeff Bridges, who does fine as an aged and doddering priest, secondarily John Hamm (never quite enough; resting on his Mad Men laurels?), and being idly curious about Chris Hemsworth's acting chops (mostly irresistible Hutchence swagger; less successful with the pathological). Dakota Johnson does her thing. It's the fading fifties and sixties, blue-collar crime still pays, Cynthia Erivo dreams of being a Supreme, the family is nascent. Things take their time getting moving, and for a while it seems that things could go full horror; instead we only get the pro forma death-by-numbers schema with an unsatisfying Hollow Man ending. Less is made of the motor lodge straddling the California/Nevada border than is said. A good setup, slightly wrecked by deus ex machina, suffering from a lack of convergence over too long a running time.

I'd suggest not watching the trailer before seeing the feature. Manohla Dargis.

Casino

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Apparently the third time around, and so much less impressive than I remembered — perhaps I was thinking of a different movie, or have seen too many Sharon Stones recently. She only has one mode, and Pesci struggles at time to hold up his end of their dialogues, especially in that first confidence-spilling scene. Scorcese, of course. I wasn't that persuaded by De Niro, even less than usual. James Woods has so little to work with. I couldn't connect Kevin Pollak here with him in The Usual Suspects. Still #143 in the IMDB top-250.

Brilliant Lies

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Second time around maybe. I think I fished this one out of Dr What! in Bondi back in the days of DVDs. Gia and Zoe Carides play sisters in this David Williamson take on the sexual politics of the day: it's a mid-90s he-said she-said and then she-really-said #metoo sorta thing with a side of unconvincing lesbian taxi driving and all-too-authentic inhalation of those fatal Winfield blues. Punching bag Anthony LaPaglia scored a wife (Gia, now separated) out of it, which is more than we do. Perhaps this was where the wave broke for Williamson, when Australia could finally tell the difference between the cask and the bottle.

Don's Party

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Another David Williamson classic that I hadn't seen in an age. The copy I have has a terrible sound mix: it's very difficult to hear the dialogue at times. Somewhat #metoo topical. The blokes — Ray Barrett, John Hargreaves, Harold Hopkins (did he really just say that?), Graham Kennedy, Graeme Blundell — all were or got famous, but the ladies — Clare Binney, Pat Bishop, Veronica Lang, Candy Raymond and with the exception of Jeanie Drynan — slid into obscurity. Hmm. The credits suggest it was filmed in what is now Baulkham Hills. Great days...

The Club

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Last seen an age ago; we studied this David Williamson classic for the HSC in the mid-90s, and even then it seemed archaic. Jack Thompson goes all-in as the true-believing VFL coach at a time of rapid commercialisation. Graham Kennedy is solid as the petit bourgeoisie, similarly Frank Wilson as the hypocritical keeper-of-tradition Jock. Harold Hopkins plays the loyal but fading captain, John Howard the rising champion. Alan Cassell nails the greasy sports administrator. It's all canonical stuff and an ode to a dead Australia.

From Dusk Till Dawn

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The most dispensable Tarantino?

The Big Sleep

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Apparently the third time around, and I still didn't remember anything. Bogart is somehow a babe magnet and has some fun with Bacall. A still highly rated Howard Hawks classic but no longer in the IMDB top-250. William Faulkner got a writing credit for adapting a Raymond Chandler short story. The dialogue is pretty funny.

The Usual Suspects

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A Kevin Spacey / Gabriel Byrne / Bryan Singer classic. Still #26 on the IMDB top-250.

The Loved One

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Second time around. The screenplay based on Evelyn Waugh's book is ascribed to Terry Southern and Christopher Isherwood.

The Game

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David Fincher, not at his best. Michael Douglas, Sean Penn, Deborah Kara Unger, none at their best either.

Janet Maslin calls it: just a bunch of scenes wedged together. I see it now as an echo of a 1980s genre: After Hours, and Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities. There's also the whole Gordon Gekko thing.