peteg's blog - noise - movies

The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer

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A Peter Cook jag from The Princess Bride. A cynical take on politics that hasn't aged well despite the fabulous cast, perhaps its satirical edge wore off well before 1983. John Cleese co-wrote this with Cook but is too timid in his role. Harold Pinter plays the canonical reassuredly smarmy 1970s TV anchor. Denholm Elliott is supposed to be Cook's foil, running a competing opinion canvassing firm, but is far too detached. Graham Chapman's sexually deviant politician is a cliché. Ronnie Corbett's cameo doesn't really work. It lacks the courage to go all-in on the sexploitation.

When Harry Met Sally

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More Rob Reiner completism. I hadn't seen this before ever. It's a late 1980s sex farce famous for Meg Ryan's fake orgasm scene in an American diner. That scene is not especially well motivated which is in keeping with the rest of it. Ryan is a mystery to me; she's got an emotive Nicole Kidman-ish face and that's about it. Conversely Billy Crystal might be (NYC) funny but his dial is very inexpressive. The excessive nostalgia is for the time that it was made: the big hair, paper books, NYC before 9/11, etc. and a dry run for a juvenile genre that peaked with Sex in the City. I didn't recognise Carrie Fisher.

Roger Ebert phoned his review in. Caryn James saw more in "this often funny but amazingly hollow film" as an echo of Woody Allen's oeuvre.

Knives Out

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I felt lucky that The Ritz had some advanced screenings this weekend. $10, 12:45pm, three rows from the front of Cinema 3, not too many people. Beforehand I had a hurried lunch (sushi from Royal Randwick shared in High Cross Park near the Royal with some insistent magpies) and a coffee from Shorty's. A strange day weatherwise: hot, muggy, hazy: tropical with bushfire fallout.

The draw was, of course, Rian Johnson. I'd been hoping he'd attempt another movie in the manner of Brick for more than a decade now, and finally here is something. The cast is huge and full of big names: Michael Shannon, Christopher Plummer, Toni Collette, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Daniel Craig. Noah Segan returns from Brick. It's all very talky. The central murder mystery is a bit limp: nowhere as twisty as it needed to be, and nowhere as punchy as the Korean films are now (e.g. Parasite) though there is a nod to nimble Hyundais. I guess it was necessary to drape Ana de Armas in the costumery of Gone Girl and provide her with the twee mechanic of spewing when she lies. She is therefore a genuinely nice person who can be the fulcrum for racial politicking and grasping leaners. I wasn't that persuaded. How tight it is I don’t know (it's not my genre); I hoped for more executive direction from author Plummer right up to the final scenes. I'd say the interviews at the start were the best part of it.

Manohla Dargis. Dana Stevens.

The Princess Bride

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A Rob Reiner jag. It's been a long time, so long I forgot that Robin Wright plays the Princess. There's a lot to like here, not the least being the unabashed straightforwardness of it all. And André the Giant. I wondered at the boy's Chicago paraphernalia.

Roger Ebert at the time. Also Janet Maslin who tells me Mark Knopfler did the score.

The Virtues

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A Stephen Graham jag from The Irishman. Here he is another kind of Irishman who sports a Scouser accent in a very Shane Meadows TV production. The high rating at IMDB suggests there are still a lot of This is England fans out there.

At its core this touches on some of the classic Irish concerns: boozing, underage pregnancy, child abuse, broken families and unbreakable connections of blood, forgiveness, the Church. I don't know if Meadows has anything new to say on any of these topics; the drama is a bit too predictable, with people turning up just in time to say their piece. Niamh Algar may go far. Helen Behan did a decent job of a thankless role. Frank Laverty can take over from Liam Neeson anytime. The ending is open so perhaps there will be successor seasons considering more of the Irish canon.

The Lady Eve

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Over several nights. A Barbara Stanwyck jag from Ball of Fire or maybe Double Indemnity; in any case, something from ages ago. She was always falling in love, clearly, and I enjoyed her sass. In contrast Henry Fonda's character is absolutely terrible; he's not at all credible, and his pratfalls are painful to watch. There's a big loss of momentum once the boat arrives back in NYC from South America. Card sharks, horses, high living; it's an advertisement for consumption in 1941.

Roger Ebert in 1997; he only talks up the boat bits. Bosley Crowther makes it sound like something new at the time.

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

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More highly dubious storytelling by Terry Gilliam. Over many sittings as it mostly failed to grip. The cast is epic, the sets are epic, the action is sometimes epic, the erudition tired and derivative. Having Sarah Polley be a child ingenue means that this is all vastly overshadowed by The Princess Bride. Oliver Reed hams it up as Vulcan, John Neville similarly as the Baron. Uma Thurman bares all. Robin Williams at his fruitiest. Alison Steadman, squandered. It's intended to be stories-within-stories but the framing is lazy.

Roger Ebert. Vincent Canby.

The Irishman

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A spur-of-the-moment with Dave. 4pm session at The Ritz, $10 each. We sat maybe five rows from the front as it was already a bit packed when we got there.

It's long (3.5 hours!), and for mine, mostly the same-old Scorsese. The first half or two-thirds had enough going on to keep me fairly engaged but I struggled when things zoomed down to Frank (Robert de Niro) alone with his old Catholic man concerns. The cast is huge: I thought that was Stephen Graham! — but was wrong to think Marisa Tomei was back for another go-round with Joe Pesci, the pick of the leading actors. He dials it back masterfully. In contrast Pacino as Hoffa couldn't do more than pretend to a 1980s Pacino performance.

For all that it did make me want to eat pizza. Jack's was closed (I thought he only took Mondays off) so we ended up at a place down at the beach that doesn't take their vegetarian options seriously.

A. O. Scott. Dana Stevens. Coverage of stepson-of-not-that-Irishman-Chuckie-O'Brien Jack Goldsmith's recent book: excerpt at the New York Review of Books, Chris Nashawaty.

Barking Dogs Never Bite

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More Bong Joon-ho completism: can there ever be enough? Apparently this was his first feature. Office-working Bae Doo-na sure looked young in 2000. Her close friendship with a shopkeeper brings some gentle comedy. Kim Roe-ha is a convincing homeless man. I felt that leading man Lee Sung-Jae's reaction to the barking dog(s) was a bit premature, and his coupling with Kim Ho-jung is similarly unjustified — she's a frosty bitch for most of it. There's some signature co-incidentals and the cinematography is ace. I wonder if dog eating is still in fashion. Over two sittings, trying to make it last.

Boom

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Over several sittings. Another Tennessee Williams misfire. Angel of Death Richard Burton and everyrichwoman Elizabeth Taylor play out the Liz and Dick show in 1968 somewhere near Italy. It's bad and entirely boring; somewhere I was lead to hope for something in the vicinity of The Night of the Iguana.

Vincent Canby spills more words on the production history of the related plays than the movie. Roger Ebert made me think it might be so bad it's good (like his own scriptwriting efforts) but it simply isn't.

Suddenly, Last Summer

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A strange little psycho thriller. Tennessee Williams misfired with the script, and it was beyond the strong cast to make good: Elizabeth Taylor does her best but Katharine Hepburn is the more convincing. About 90 minutes of talky setup collapses into an empty climax that I took to be a vacuous warning about the perils of the gay lifestyle. Lobotomiser Montgomery Clift never seems to blink.

Bosley Crowther at the time. IMDB suggests he must have written something more scathing somewhere else.

The Professionals

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Second time around, somewhat by accident, over several sittings. Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Claudia Cardinale, Jack Palance. A Mexican revolution. It makes little sense.

Bosley Crowther in 1966.

Terminator: Dark Fate

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Well! Arnie is back and Dendy has $10 tickets to their mostly-empty lounge in Newtown, so I headed to their 1:30pm screening on this day-after-opening. The girl at the counter suggested the front row was too close, but I'd say seat B3 was too far, and the people up the back probably should have watched it on their 8K screens at home. The US-style chairs have leg supports but don't recline. Apparently there's a menu but I didn't get asked before, after or during.

This movie was conceived in weariness: all of the tropes are stale. The draw was mainly that James Cameron just may have been able to inflate the script, but instead we merely got some fem-heavy politicking and too much senseless chatter. The politics are threadbare: we begin in Mexico City but of course Texas is where you go when you need security. Arnie has a Latina wife and Latino son, for unconvincing reasons, and these are rapidly and hygienically disposed of when the plot demands. Linda Hamilton gave me Hillary Clinton vibes, perhaps because her F-bombs were all that elevated this to MA15+ from whatever T2 was rated back in the day. I grant that Mackenzie Davis is a far better actress than Emilia Clarke but not even Meryl Streep could have made those dank dark airplane scenes work. There is nothing particularly clever or inventive at any point, and the ending is surprisingly lame. Arnie's old-man Terminator is milking-it poignant in a Hugh Jackman sorta way (again!), and it is absurd that he can take it to the latest and greatest. Natalia Reyes as the latest pivotal historical figure and Gabriel Luna do what they can.

IMDB had already panned this thing before its Australian release. I was surprised it doesn't seem to be on the big screens at e.g. The Ritz. A. O. Scott. Jake Wilson. Dana Stevens.

The Razor's Edge (1984)

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An almost scene-by-scene remake of the 1946 original and in all ways worse. Over many sittings. This was apparently Bill Murray's dramatic debut but he is only convincing when horsing around. Unfortunately the supporting cast is generally worse. Catherine Hicks out horribles Gene Tierney in the role of the jilting and the jilted. Theresa Russell fares better in Anne Baxter's. It may be that Denholm Elliott outdid Clifton Webb. James Keach is bland. Saeed Jaffrey played Billy Fish in the incomparable The Man Who Would Be King. The editing cuts directly to salient scenes with no sense of time flowing. There's no point to it at all. Lifeless.

Janet Maslin at the time, and Roger Ebert.

Cactus

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This one was on the pile for an age and I forget why; perhaps a Shane Jacobson jag from Kenny before he did IGA ads? One ocker bloke kidnaps another ocker bloke and they go for a long drive out into the dead heart of 'straya in 2008; cliches ensue. Bryan Brown, Travis McMahon, David Lyons. Jasmine Yuen Carrucan wrote and directed; IMDB suggests she's a second bean camera lady and this was her final cinematic effort.

The Lineup

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Back in 1958 the San Francisco Police Department collaborated with Don Siegel in making this anti-drug-trafficking propaganda piece. Everything is black and white! Notionally Eli Wallach is a Floridian fixer inexplicably flown in with his mentor/handler Robert Keith to collect the heroin muled by unsuspecting innocents who cruise from Hong Kong. Things go predictably ary. We're promised a finale at the hands of the mob but it seems SFPD likes to think it can take care of its own, though Warner Anderson's wooden inspector is a long way from Dirty Harry. It's all a bit meh.

Baby Doll

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A black-and-white Tennessee Williams from 1956, prompted by its presence on the Ensemble stage presently. Directed by Elia Kazan. Stars a very young Eli Wallach (again cast as a Sicilian) and Karl Malden. Pivot Carroll Baker blows hot and cold and every which way. The characters and conceit don't add up to as much as his other works. The plot is a bit like The Club: a larger-scale Syndicate opens a cotton gin in Tiger Tail County, Mississippi and puts the profits of the local old-boy influence networks under intense strain.

Bosley Crowther was unimpressed at the time: "Three of its four main people are morons or close to being same, and its fourth is a scheming opportunist who takes advantage of the others' lack of brains."

Birds of Passage

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A spur-of-the-moment burn of a free ticket at the Verona. 6:20pm session, Cinema 1: I was allocated a second row seat that proved way too close for a movie with subtitles and so moved to the third. Maybe a total of eight people. Palace Cinemas should make it free to book online, at least for members.

I got suckered by the glowing reviews (A. O. Scott, Paul Byrnes). In reality it's a Godfather mashup, or more accurately a tale of a Colombian Godmother (Carmiña Martínez) whose power animals are birds. The morality is entirely banal (don't grow and sell drugs ok) and the loads of local colour and tradition are hard to care about when the plot is so cliched. Disappointingly the girl on the poster (Natalia Reyes playing daughter Zaida) is characterless. Some of the cinematography is great but with the droughts in my ancestral lands I spent most of it wondering what they do for water in the middle of that dust bowl.

Afterwards I had dinner with Dave at Chat Thai on Campbell in Thaitown. It's worth waiting for the 10pm supper menu.

The Razor's Edge (1946)

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A Gene Tierney, Clifton Webb jag from Laura. Based on a W. Somerset Maugham novel. The whole thing is pretty dire; somehow second banana Anne Baxter won an Oscar for dipsomania. Tierney is atrocious as a money-grubbing socialite who can't get over Tyrone Power. Webb does his best to inflate aristocratic America. Set substantially in France after World War I (Paris and the Riviera) with an excruciating interlude in India and a prelude in Chicago. Long, mostly tedious, over many sittings.

Bosley Crowther.

Gone Baby Gone

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Apparently the third time around with this first outing for Ben Affleck as a director. I still like his opening portraits of a Boston neighbourhood, though Casey Affleck's voiceover is now so purely a very tired Stanford admission essay. It flags a bit towards the end. I wish they'd fleshed out Michelle Monaghan's character some more; she does well with what she's got. The cast is strong.

Roger Ebert at the time. Manohla Dargis didn't like Affleck's Altman-esque framing with the Bostonian natives.