peteg's blog - noise - movies

Beat the Devil

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More John Huston. A strange setup involving a lot of talking about acquiring uranium-rich land in Africa. Bogart is, as always, an improbable, pragmatic and entirely equal-opportunity babe magnet. Oscar-winner Jennifer Jones is one of those babes, constantly telling inventive lies. She's married to uptight/upright Edward Underdown, who Bogey's supposed wife Gina Lollobrigida conveniently wants to trade up to. He's unconvinced. The land was somehow going to be appropriated for cheap by four scoundrels led by Robert Morley. World War II Major Ivor Barnard spouts off about the superiority of the great fascists. It's a mess, and a bit fun. Written by Truman Capote.

Roger Ebert. Thirza Wakefield.

Killer's Kiss

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Scratching for something to watch. Early Kubrick, last seen quite a while ago. None of the actors were big or went on to be.

Fat City

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Mining John Huston's directorial efforts. Stacy Keach in his prime, and a young Jeff Bridges. Susan Tyrell plays a wanton barfly. Briefly, a professional boxer a year and a half unfit introduces a young man to the sport, and shows he still has it while the youngster doesn't yet. Bridges accepts all blows uncomplainingly. The trainer's heart is not entirely in his salesmanship. Small-town Stockton is filmed like Altman would have. The farming scenes set in the San Joaquin Valley were an American staple. Relax and enjoy.

Roger Ebert.

Kaili Blues

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Over several nights. Did not live up to its intriguing reviews. Some beautiful cinematography exhibits provincial, small-town China where nothing much happens. There are a few distended motorcycle/car scenes that do little to further anything. Soporific but possibly meditative for those in the mood.

J. Hoberman. Ken Jaworowski is right, the final scene is ace.

The Other Side of the Wind

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A new Orson Welles, sorta. John Huston in the lead as some kind of Hemingway-esque dinosaur. A film satirising the making of a 1960s-era art film: nudity (Oja Kodar mostly), impressionism, crassness, plotlessness. Some very Wellesian bellowing. Apparently filmed from 1970 to 1976, then hacked a bit by Welles until his passing in 1985, then finished by others over the past 30 years. Can't say I got into it.

Manohla Dargis. Glenn Kenny.

Macao

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Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell meet cute again, this time in black-and-white Macao. The plot is a simplification of His Kind of Woman: the local casino operator of American criminal heritage simply wants Mitchum gone, thinking him to be a cop. He and Russell make plans to spend their lives managing a plantation on a tropical island of much paradise. The three-mile limit apparently provides immutable protection from the international (read Western) forces of the law. Gloria Grahame helps out when she can. Flat. Straight up exploitation. Lots of set work by the looks of it. Russell doesn't seem to get into it at all.

Bodied

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Battle rap! On the strength of a warm review by Jeannette Catsoulis. It's something of a guilty pleasure: a portrayal of the spaces where that intense reptilian need (some feel) to insult the living bejesus out of the bloke (almost always) opposite can be indulged in relative but possibly fallacious safety. Nothing is sacred any more — feel free to climb over the bodies of your mates! — until, of course, it is. There are some sharp jabs at cultural appropriation, the general irrelevancy of the academic humanities (at least those of liberal Berkeley), intolerance of intolerance, misogyny/chivalry, gangstas, cluelessness, the L.A. scene; and yet it plays a lot safer than Bamboozled. Director Joseph Kahn is Korean and has done a bazillion music videos, so perhaps the parallel is Fincher's Fight Club. His other features are poorly rated at IMDB. The cinematography and effects are pretty good, evoking an unreal AR vibe, like tourists will soon experience everywhere. I missed loads of refs for either generational or trans-Pacific reasons, or maybe I do need the closed captions. Financed by YouTube, Eminem produced; I'm pretty sure I've seen 8 Mile (Kim Bassinger played his mum) but it's not on the log.

Jake Cole. Matt Zoller Seitz. André Hereford.

His Kind of Woman

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A Jane Russell jag from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Robert Mitchum joins her in slumming it in black-and-white with rich Americans in a secluded, inaccessible enclave in Mexico. Vincent Price has a ton of fun as a ham actor who wants to get divorced. The plot doesn't try to make too much sense — a mafioso has some unsound plans for Mitchum involving plastic surgery, boats, and the USA. Sorta amusing for what it is.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

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A Marilyn Monroe jag from Some Like It Hot. Also Howard Hawks's direction. She's about the same here: a dumb blonde who is only dumb because men prefer her that way. The title is strange as I preferred Jane Russell (the brunette sass, a Hawks staple), and in any case the ladies from Little Rock apparently prefer diamonds anyway. Russell's bio at IMDB suggests she was ill-used by Hawks careerwise, and not much of a thinker. It's a musical, an extended advertisement for becoming a showgirl, going gold digging on ocean liners, spending your last dollar in Paris and not ever being afraid to stereotype. The best part was the self-knowing court scene where Russell gets all breathy in her parody of Monroe and all that.

The Thing

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The highest-rated John Carpenter effort according to IMDB (8.1! #172 in the top-250). Again Kurt Russell leads. Morricone did the music: an unrecognisably low key drone. Notably no women. The Chess Wizard is an Apple ][. Classic Carpenter gross-out models. Essentially Alien but in Antarctica. Much of the strategy is unclear. I didn't really see the problem with "the thing" taking over everyone if it produces perfect copies of characters this cardboard. Apparently a remake of Howard Hawks's The Thing from Another World.

Vincent Canby. Roger Ebert.

Big Trouble in Little China

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There's a John Carpenter revival at Palace Cinemas sometime soon that prompted me to take a look at this comedically silly TV staple. Dennis Dun as Wang Chi has to shoulder the bulk of the straight man work; in contrast Kurt Russell mostly lets his muscles, mullet and one liners do his job. Essentially kung fu exploitation is alloyed with some bullshit Chinese black magic supernaturalistic mythos — come on guys, why 2000 years? why San Francisco? — to yield a situation that only a ghost man/foreign devil can resolve. Kim Cattrall blows hot and cold, gets a bit breathy, just as the script demands; Suzee Pai is far more passive. It's a bit fun.

Walter Goodman. Roger Ebert.

Bamboozled

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A Spike Lee joint, on David S's recommendation, over a couple of nights. Easy to summarise: a minstrel show for the new millennium seems like a good idea to some TV people, and stuff happens; the plot is mostly scaffolding. Not so easy to assess. Some of it is genuinely funny — the fake ads for instance, and some of the skits — while other bits hammer points already made. Shot on digital video for the most part. I was bemused.

Stephen Holding.

Sweet Smell of Success

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A Tony Curtis jag from Some Like It Hot. Here he leads as a publicity hound but was given second billing to Burt Lancaster the society columnist. Notionally a noir but really a moralising talkfest about peddling influence in black-and-white never-sleeping NYC. Things get too sanctimonious too often and it doesn't fit together at times. Piles of dated slang. Something for the period junkies?

Some Like It Hot

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At the prompting of Michael Wood. A Billy Wilder black-and-white draggy slapstick/farce/situational/rom com/screwball thing. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon join an all-girl band on tour to Florida, fronted by self-aware dumb-blonde gold-digger Marilyn Monroe, for reasons of Chicago mob violence. "Hot" is apparently jazz-speak for "improvised." It has a few moments I guess. #117 in the IMDB top-250.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

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Six short-ish Western pieces from the Coen brothers. The eponymous first is a Clint Eastwood-meets-O Brother, Where Art Thou? sorta thing. James Franco robs a bank in Near Algodones. Meal Ticket has Liam Neeson trying to make a crust as an impresario; I expected the chicken to deliver his comeuppance, somehow, even in the form of a twist, but instead the mike is dropped. Tom Waits prospects, empathises with an owl, all vaguely amusingly, in All Gold Canyon. The longest and best The Gal Who Got Rattled is about a caravan of migrants to Oregon. The final The Mortal Remains is a character study in a coach going somewhere. None are as punchy or topical as their best work; indeed most are at best bemusingly banal.

Anthony Lane. A. O. Scott. Dana Stevens.

The Lego Movie

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Second time around, in two sittings and just as funny. The sequel is apparently out early next year. Also The Magic Portal (IMDB) — an Australian (Curtin Uni?) LEGO stopmation from 1989.

Widows

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Opening day. 4pm, The Ritz, $10, cinema 5, five rows from the front (counting the three rows they just ripped out). Maybe six people and me. Presumably the first of what is the now-customary late burst of Oscar contenders.

I went in cold: it's a new Steve McQueen movie and that's enough, or should be. Colour me surprised to find a women-driven heist movie (I guess his second after 12 Years a Slave) co-written with Ms Gone Girl Gillian Flynn, sourced from the book by Lynda La Plante; the obvious interpolant is The Town.

Storywise it's Chicago in summer, hard currency is still a thing and the politics is as rotten as ever. Early events lead to the titular ladies doing what their men cannot, with some justice but more sadness. The plot has the expected twistiness but this is more a study in different lives. There are a couple of decent monologues, specifically Rev (Jon Michael Hill) Wheeler's speech on mediocrity that would have been just at home in Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman. The ending is slightly too clean. I came away thinking that the Green Line doesn't cut the city up quite so interestingly as the Red Line.

The cast is stellar, though Fassbender is missing. Viola Davis leads. Jacki Weaver plays Elizabeth Debicki's mum (the latter last seen in Breath in similar states of undress). Colin Farrell allows himself a small smile as father Robert Duvall goes completely over the top in one of their chats. Liam Neeson's character is something of a direct import from Batman. The Manning brothers were somehow very familiar; Daniel Kaluuya has an unforgettable face and killer death stare. Lukas Haas. Cynthia Erivo continues to rise. And so forth. The Hans Zimmer soundtrack is mostly serviceable, until the heist itself when it gets boringly intense. McQueen gets his usual excellence from cinematographer Sean Bobbitt with an excess of great framing and closeups. For all that, was there a point?

A. O. Scott. Anthony Lane. Both observe that Chicago is not used well. Sandra Hall. Benjamin Lee. Jason Di Rosso — sure, but some of it was really good! Dana Stevens.

Rebecca

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Over two nights. A highly-rated (#173 in the IMDB top-250) Hitchcock that's been on my list for ages, presumably due to Laurence Olivier. Joan Fontaine does well as the American ingenue struggling to navigate the upper-class England that he is so natural in. It's something of a psycho thriller with somewhat predictable twists by today's standards; perhaps it made the mould. They just throw their cigarettes anywhere! — and wonder why it all goes up in smoke.

Bohemian Rhapsody

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With Dave at the Sawtell cinema, 12.15, perhaps half full, $17.50 each. (Belonging to their movie club brings that down to $9.50 a ticket for $25 a year.) The cinema has a modern fit out.

Better than I expected. The cast are dead ringers. Produced by Taylor and May and therefore sometimes hagiographic: Deacon is a bit nobody, perhaps because he retired from the band in 1991. Was Taylor really the pants man? The first half is pretty funny. Freddie is into cats, and it is generously made clear that the title song was his thing. Some themes were underplayed, like the processes of songwriting. There's nothing here about the band's meeting David Bowie in Germany that resulted in Under Pressure, though we get half of it as background noise to some scenes. The last twenty minutes is a reconstruction of Queen's set at Geldof's Live Aid from 1985. Their post-1985 material is largely ignored; we get just a whiff of the Highlander soundtrack. Mostly directed by Bryan Singer until he flamed out.

A. O. Scott found it a pale imitation of the band he remembers. Jeffrey Bloomer. Ellen Stein's fact and fiction article makes the many departures from history seem pointless.

Maniac

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All ten episodes of season one over two nights with Dave in Coffs Harbour. Emma Stone. Jonah Hill. Justin Theroux channels William Shatner. Gabriel Byrne. Sally Field. And many others. A mashup of retro themes: a drug trial, a depressed synthetic mentality, an odd couple, Lord of the Rings, The Sopranos, Total Recall, etc. etc. Things get weird, but not gripplingly David Lynchian weird, and don't really congeal. Compelling like a car crash?