peteg's blog - noise - movies

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

BlacKkKlansman

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A freebie from NIDA to this fortnight-early screening of Spike Lee's latest. Event Cinemas, George St, 6:30pm, perhaps two thirds full. The trailer for First Man looks a bit dire.

The film opens with a rant into the camera by Alec Baldwin, rendered insincere by a variety of verbal tics, and that we never see him again. It ends with a mashup of the disturbing news out of Charlottesville from August 2017 that shut everyone right up; perhaps Lee could make these punchy newsreel shorts more regularly. In between we get a ripping yarn from the heyday of Black Power: a black rookie cop (John David Washington playing Ron Stallworth) joins the Colorado Springs KKK with some help from his initially-noncommittal Jewish colleague (Adam Driver in his most effective performance yet): dual/duelling identities made literal. Laura Harrier smokes as the incognizably-single president of the local Black Student Union. Robert John Burke is good as a police chief, keeping everyone guessing, loosening up from his Hal Hartley days. Paul Walter Hauser plays more-or-less the same character as he did in I, Tonya; he, Jasper Pääkkönen and Ryan Eggold all struggle to inflate their KKK characters, whereas Topher Grace nails the role of David Duke (as far as I could tell). The Afros and fashion are superb.

Manohla Dargis saw it at Cannes. A. O. Scott after the mainstream release.

Relatos Salvajes (Wild Tales)

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Pawel pointed me to this Argentinian anthology. The opening segment is hilarious, and the other five also have their moments. Somewhat surprisingly #180 in the IMDB top-250.

Manohla Dargis.

Starship Troopers

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The bridge too far for this Verhoeven retrospective. I'm told this movie is a satire of the totalitarian/fascistic/genocidal society described in Robert Heinlein's book of the same name. Unfortunately the lack of humour and absence of any subtlety makes it difficult to see past the crass stupidity of it all. For instance Clancy Brown (better known as the Kurgen) does no more than imitate R. Lee Ermey's timeless performance in Full Metal Jacket. The interstitial ads and news flashes reminded me of John Brunner's novels, without the drugs. I've avoided seeing this before due to somehow knowing that Denise Richards's effort is offensively vacuous. Casper Van Dien went on to play Tarzan and that might say it all. Why not, you know, take off and nuke the bugs from orbit?

Steekspel (Tricked)

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A continuation of the one-man Paul Verhoeven festival. This brief, Dutch social-comedy-of-manners cleaves closer to the Dogme 95 agenda with some mildly unpleasant handheld camerawork, but otherwise consists of his customary fascinations. Here father Peter Blok is commonly acknowledged as an adulterer by his family (wife Ricky Koole, daughter Carolien Spoor, son Robert de Hoog) and gets worked over by ex-lover Sallie Harmsen and business partner Jochum ten Haaf. Gaite Jansen provides the pivot. Some of the acting is fine. It's not very twisty and feels more like the cheap entertainments of his Hollywood years. As commentary it is nowhere as punchy as Lukas Moodysson's efforts. Was Rammstein still big in 2012?

Ben Kenigsberg.

Zwartboek (Black Book)

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Yet another semi-recent Paul Verhoeven, second time around. Carice van Houten stars as a lady-in-training for a role in Game of Thrones; for all the skin she is sometimes quite good. The plot is a bit too twisty, and eventually capitulates to implausibility for the sake of termination. Nazis and the resistance in the Netherlands, 1945. A cast of solid German (Sebastian Koch, Christian Berkel) and Dutch (Thom Hoffman, Derek de Lint, Dolf de Vries) actors. Tarantino took it a bit further with Inglourious Basterds I guess.

Manohla Dargis.

Elle

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Continuing the minor Paul Verhoeven festival/catch up. Isabelle Huppert has a crack at what seems to be a von Trier-ish role, crossed with the humour of Festen, but not as harsh as either; the central provocation is that her character seems to achieve some understanding with her recurring rapist, sometimes while her cat looks on. There's a touch of David Lynch queasiness in there too, and a nod towards the vileness of the video game industry. I avoided it when it was released (in 2016) as I was never that impressed by Huppert's efforts for Hal Hartley in Amateur. Here she is all-in. My only beef is with that the pivot towards truth(iness) is a bit tedious when it comes.

Dana Stevens (and on the ending). A. O. Scott. Xan Brooks.

Basic Instinct

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A Paul Verhoeven / Sharon Stone jag from Total Recall. The canonical early-90s sexploitation psycho thriller. It doesn't hang together at all well; quite often characters just walk off mid-conversation for no apparent reason. The Jeanne Tripplehorn subplot was unresolved. But of course none of that matters. Verhoeven found a better balance with Zwartboek, if I'm remembering correctly.

Total Recall

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An Arnie / Paul Verhoeven classic, capping off the 1980s era of action movies with high-concept Philip K. Dick moves. Sharon Stone pivots in a heartbeat; perhaps she can play Elizabeth Holmes's mum in the coming biopic, or the woman herself, contemplating her life in an aged care facility, tended by robots. Michael Ironside is the canonical henchman. There are two letdowns: the ending, and that Rachel Ticotin was worse at this sort of acting than Arnie. Whoever said it was easy?