peteg's blog - noise - movies

A Ghost Story

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$16.00, at the dear old Verona, theatre 1, 6.45pm; at a bit of a loose end, I ended up plumping for this over Dunkirk, largely because of Casey Affleck, and somewhat Rooney Mara. Loads of people there at that time; some even came to see this! I'd resisted reading any reviews; the theatre was about a quarter full and at least four people quit it in the first half hour, so I expect that most of us didn't know what we were getting.

A. O. Scott. Dana Stevens. I can't add much.

Thelma & Louise

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Some kind of Ridley Scott completism; Brad Pitt so young, Susan Sarandon already past her prime, Geena Davis playing a hedonistic airhead ten years younger than she was, Harvey Keitel struggling with an accent. It's a one-way roadtrip.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

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Edgar Wright completism. Meh.

Baby Driver

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9pm session, Palace Cinemas Norton St, with Dave, $32 + $2.60 booking fee for the two of us, booked around 1pm; the cinema was packed, so hats off to the marketing agents on this opening weekend. Before we worked a bit deeper into the dumpling menu at Allfine Chinese Cuisine House (35A Ross St in Forest Lodge), which was awesome, and a flat white each at the cinema.

This is a mashup of heist and car movies with a touch of Twin Peaks and a side of Tarantino. The references are for the most part obvious. Edgar Wright didn't name-check Pulp's Disco 2000 or Julie Brown's eternal Homecoming Queen's Got A Gun, so I can tell he didn't listen to JJJ in the 1990s. Lily James looks a lot like a young Mädchen Amick, or wants to be; there is not much pie in that diner. Spacey is pure cliched Spacey, a self-parody by the end. It's not great. The music didn't do it for me. The plot was was meh. It's not very funny, and nothing particularly memorable happens. I liked the use of sign language juxtaposed with all the noise, but that ultimately went nowhere.

Manohla Dargis got into it.

Sameblod (Sami Blood)

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A freebie from the UNSW Creative Practice Lab that I cashed at the dear old Verona on the 6:30pm screening of this, on Cath's suggestion after winnowing the current Scandi movie festival down to three possibilities.

The story is the reminiscence of the girlhood of an aged, deracinated Sámi (Lapp?) lady who wanted more from life than herding reindeer. There are some uncomfortable scenes portraying the racial determinism of the 1930s, and social exclusion and exploitation. In many ways it is formulaic and plays to type (Moodysson extracted more shock from his more familiar territory) but is somewhat rescued by some good cinematography and the strength of Lene Cecilia Sparrok's performance in the lead. I wondered who fathered her son and what she did between the then and now scenes.

The Promise

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I don't really know what to make of this. The topic — the Armenian genocide — is a worthy and touchy one and has already received at least one decent cinematic treatment (Ararat). This one is designed to pull on American heart strings and its poor IMDB rating suggests it won't get much of a chance to. Oscar Isaac valliantly tries to make something of it, and this is the most characterless role Christian Bale has ever had. Charlotte Le Bon is a well-intentioned sex object. Jean Reno, James Cromwell. The cinematography is shonky; the inside sets are jarringly poor. The plot is a mashup of perhaps A Quiet American, Doctor Zhivago, and I'm guessing as I still haven't seen it, Titanic. The morality is black and white: America before it needed to be made great again, with Turks who speak Turkish, Germans who speak German, and Armenians who of course speek God's English, until they became Godfather-esque emigres to Massachusetts and give toasts in Armenian to the survival of their nation. Apparently it is based on a true story.

Jeannette Catsoulis.

Free Fire

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For Sharlto Copley. Totally vacuous; I got a giggle out of him telling the Irish to "learn something from the English" about manners, early on, before things entirely settled into damaging but mostly non-lethal gunplay. See kids, you too can survive being shot! For an hour or so at least. I don't know how what could have sold the script for this to the cast (also Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer, all better elsewhere). Reservoir Dogs? Cube?

Lady Macbeth

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A freebie from Griffin Theatre that I cashed at Dendy Opera Quays, 8:40pm. There was one other person in the theatre and the advertisements were the same as ever. The service was again lackluster; a singular pensioner felt the need to spend ten minutes buying a ticket and some junk food, chatting to the young service professional behind the counter while his colleagues chatted to each other far away from the service area. All I needed, and all I got, was a door number. The ride over and back was pleasant enough though, despite the cooler weather.

This was another interpretation of the venerable Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, perhaps by way of Wuthering Heights (the moors). The plot is almost pure Shakespeare, unsurprisingly: there is no justice, boredom motivates, filial duties are impossible or debased. Florence Pugh is in every scene and ably anchors the thing; Naomi Ackie and Cosmo Jarvis are excellent support. The cinematography is gorgeous, once past some jittery handheld camerawork. The episodic and quiet nature powerfully evokes the isolation and objectification of the leading lady, and her intemperate responses.

Peter Bradshaw. Sandra Hall. Jake Wilson. Manohla Dargis.

Misery

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Wow, what a find. James Caan in a supporting role in 1990, still with the power to untether Sonny Corleone on demand, but mostly genial. Kathy Bates stars, is awesome, and deservedly got an Oscar. Written by Stephen King, It's a bit of The Shining, Twin Peaks, Fargo, Sleuth and many other things. IMDB's summary doesn't do it justice; it's hilarious and a bit scary. I see now that director Rob Reiner has great form.

The Sheriff, apropos his deputy/wife: "You see, it's just that kind of sarcasm that's givin' our marriage real spice."

Alien Covenant

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Dendy Opera Quays, 6pm, $7; one of the cheap catch-up sessions they hold on weeknights. I was just out to see if the cinema had survived and got sucked into this. The service was super inefficient: two couples uhmmed and ahhed about what junk food would go best with this junk movie, almost until it was scheduled to start. No wonder hardly anyone goes any more.

This movie is dumb. The characters make dumb decisions, and everything that can go wrong is juxtaposed with every other thing that didn't need to go wrong for the scene to work. The result is a mess, and Ridley Scott seems to have nothing to say. Michael Fassbender tries to anchor what he can, and he does have his moments, but overall it is an arch and empty performance; his main squeeze Vikander played the aspirational synthetic with more promising menace in Ex Machina. This pretends to tell us something of the genesis of the Alien, and despite all claims it is not perfect; if it was, it wouldn't need to procreate in such a messy and destructive way. While bashing this busted mythos might prove more fun than this installment, I'll stop here.

Peter Bradshaw. A. O. Scott. Richard Brody watched it so you don't have to. Anthony Lane.

Manhunter

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OK, a 1980s Michael Mann. I guess it was in solid B-Movie territory in its day, but not all that close to the Arnie classics. Brian Cox tries to incarnate Lektor; here he is a minor character and nowhere close to owning the movie. It's all a bit too predictable from this point in history.

The Last of the Mohicans

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Second (or third?) time around: last seen in 2009. Daniel Day-Lewis with his shirt off, Madeleine Stowe tries to heave a bodice. Not at all as I remembered it; I thought the grey hair got his heart ripped out in the fort. Oh well. Clearly a forerunner (running dog?) of Dancing With Wolves, and they sure don't make these epics any more. The climax is a bit meh; the plot is essentially that you can't trust a white man (to make a good movie), though the natives and the scenery sometimes add up to something watchable. Michael Mann's best was yet to come (Heat), but I should perhaps watch Manhunter before passing that judgement. I did like his Thief.

Gangs of New York

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Pretty sure I saw this before, but I can't remember when. Scorcese's dry run for The Departed (better known as Infernal Affairs)? Leonardo, a mole, a kingpin, a love interest, a violent corruption. I was here for Daniel Day-Lewis, so recently retired from acting, only to realise that the cast was vast: John C Reilly, DiCaprio, Day-Lewis, Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, Stephen Graham (from This is England), Eddie Marsan. The editing was nowhere close to his masterful Casino, and somehow it didn't add up to much of anything. The Academy awarded the booby prize of ten nominations and no statues.

Japanese Story

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Someone recommended this one to me a while back. It is, unfortunately, crap. Toni Collette is too good for this stuff, as are Justine Clarke and John Howard. The first two-thirds is cliche-ridden drivel; there's never any tension or possibility that they won't, despite the lack of chemistry between the stars. The cinematography is OK but Australia looks better almost everywhere else; even in real life! Some people reviewing this at IMDB call it racist, but I tend to think it's more laziness, a feeble portrayal of the now-fading mining boom through the eyes of the last people in Perth who are culturally ignorant, and retain some connection to the war. The money may have been better spent on recording oral history at the RSLs; you know, a complement to the roughly-contemporary Crackerjack. (Ah yes, the beer at authentic 1972 prices.) Colette's ockerisms make it look like she's not even trying.

Nocturnal Animals

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The most inessential movie I've seen in a long time. It's not fun, it's not insightful, it's not pretty. The best part is Michael Shannon, who's solid but hasn't got a lot to work with. Amy Adams is completely frosty, and entirely lacking an internal life. I don't see how this could ever have seemed to be more than it is, a slight horrible thing.

Days of Heaven (1978)

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Closer to Terrence Malick's more recent efforts, like To The Wonder; here there is twirling, and fields of wheat, but there is no twirling in the fields of wheat. The cinematography is again fantastic. The plot is abridged Shakespeare. Richard Gere is young, and perhaps surprised by not going to make movies of the calibre that Martin Sheen did; but Gere carries a hot temper far less plausibly, and so much less dangerously. I guess he could still earn an Oscar nom as Slick Willy in a Hillary restrospective. Sam Shepard, about whom I feel at best neutral (from his play writing and The Right Stuff), is strangely passive until he isn't, and then he really isn't. Why could he not find a worthy and sturdy beauty at the local B&S? Morricone practices his harbingers-of-doom scoring that he fully realised two decades later in Lolita. Brooke Adams, anchoring the love triangle, is mostly characterless and simply goes for the guy with the biggest stash every time she gets to choose. I think it was B Movies for her from here on out.

Badlands (1973)

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Terrence Malick's debut was a proforma for the many Bonnie and Clydes that followed. There's even something of Natural Born Killers here; perhaps Oliver Stone was remaking the movies that made Martin Sheen a star. As always there was some great cinematography. I wasn't so convinced by Sissy Spacek, and I needed to be for the thing to be more than a piece of fluff. Sheen is so young and gets compared with James Dean. His character is the opposite of Jim Caviezel's in The Thin Red Line; just as lost, but with nothing on the inside. The plot is a bit crap, the characters just cardboard.

Three Kings

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A stray reference from somewhere reminded me that I hadn't seen this in an age. Early Clooney and Wahlberg, with neither quite out of their previous zones. Ice Cube sort-of anchors the thing, and the humour is of a late 90s America that has Bush War I well in the rear view mirror. The comedic parts work the best, but it is somewhat depressing to reflect on now.

Freaks and Pink Flamingos

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$10, 8:30pm notional start. A somewhat strange double feature put on by the Chauvel as part of their Cine-vault series. Perhaps a total of 20 people in the crowd, most of whom wanted to sit right near me despite the sparseness, and me moving. The ride over was fast, just ten minutes against the twenty minute par for the Google car driving grandma, but also quite horrible.

Well! David S told me a long while back that he was a fan of Freaks (1932), so it was always on my mind to see it. The bloke fired up the old 35mm projector and snapped the "brittle" print after a minute or so, during the framing text. A quick splice got us about another five minutes before the next snap, and he then decided to put Pink Flamingos (1972) on (I think in DVD format) while he did some deeper surgery. Yeah, I probably would've walked out on the latter if they'd stuck to the advertised program.

Anyway, Freaks was worth it, I guess. The acting is generally pretty good, though I was expecting more trapeze (and sundry circus). The plot is pure Shakespeare.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

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Palace Cinemas, Norton St, $16, 9pm. 7 people total in the theatre. Wasn't feeling like going home, so I had a pizza at Da Noi a flat white at the cinema, and read my not-great book for an hour in their foyer. It was almost totally dead.

This movie is boring. It has loads of clangers and cliched humour, pauses signalling where the audience should be laughing. Some of the visuals are fun, but there's nothing new here. I should have braved a movie made for grown ups.

Manohla Dargis.