peteg's blog - noise - movies

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 this session being packed. 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 is the mercenaries' talisman). Trashy and fun.

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). 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.

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.

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?

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?

Ghost Dog

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Second time around, I think — saw it ages ago, perhaps in the cinema. Jim Jarmusch's late-90s mafiosi-in-Autumn classic. The first thing I remember Forest Whitaker for. In some ways a gentle meditation on the merits of the old ways, predominantly Zen and east coast USA, and in others a straightforward tale of violent liquidations. By having it all ways Jarmusch doesn't make his point as powerfully as in his four-year-previous feature Dead Man.

The Ox-Bow Incident

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Another Henry Fonda classic from 1943. Also Dana Andrews and Anthony Quinn, all so young here. It starts off funny before settling into a sombre mood as the frontier justice becomes unstoppable. Fonda looks like the model for Woody in Toy Story.

The Wrong Man

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A Henry Fonda jag. Black and white, Hitchcock: the wrong man gets accused of some robberies and everything goes to hell. Of course he's innocent (totally!) and eventually the plods catch up to the audience. I found it to be pretty much entirely a snoozefest. Vera Miles plays the wife who becomes unstuck (a dry run for Psycho?). Anthony Quayle is the lawyer who waves away concerns about his fee. His is perhaps the least convincing performance as he genuinely seems to care.

Twelve Angry Men

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A Henry Fonda jag from Once Upon a Time in the West. Amazingly still #5 in the IMDB top-250. As excellent as ever. The cast and acting are uniformly perfect. Lee J. Cobb works so hard to incarnate an alienated father.

Once Upon A Time In The West

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Rounding out the Sergio Leone Westerns. Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale. Jason Robards too. I can't say I got every detail of the plot. This one has perhaps the best Morricone score of the lot. The cinematography is top-notch. #36 in the IMDB top-250.

A Fistful of Dollars

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The first of the Dollars trilogy, and the last for me to rewatch. This one has the weakest plot, though all the ingredients are there. Strangely rated above A Fistful of Dynamite at IMDB.

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion

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A Gian Maria Volontè jag from For A Few Dollars More. I think the intent was to provoke, with many riffs on classic Italian tropes (e.g. libertines, "America is here!" apropos a two-room mainframe, fascism/state supremacy, having it all ways), some responding to the politics of the day. In that sense it's not very self-contained. I enjoyed it for the most part, modulo some histrionics. Ennio Morricone wrote the famous theme music.

Platoon

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An Oliver Stone, Willem Dafoe jag. A young Charlie Sheen. Forest Whitaker, John C. McGinley, Johnny Depp. Tom Berenger. nth time around for large n; it doesn't really stick with me. Resolutely #187 in the IMDB top-250.