peteg's blog - noise - movies

The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Second time around, and just as captivating. Good to see it parked at #188 in the IMDB top-250.

The Front Runner

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Unmitigated Oscar bait. The cast is strong (Hugh Jackman in the lead, J.K. Simmons playing J.K. Simmons, Vera Fermiga the wifely deer in the media headlights) but the story and characters are entirely bland and far too weak; Gary Hart's presidential campaigns are lost to history and hardly an inspiration for today. The dialogue is very stagey. Alfred Molina does not convince as Ben Bradlee. The movie tries to stand in opposition to The Post by showing a political press failing to cover itself in glory. It's also entirely tendentious, given that so much of the U.S. electorate really didn't care who was in which candidate's bed in 2016, let alone which of them had any dignity and self-respect at all. Well edited but otherwise a totally predictable bust.

A. O. Scott.

Honkytonk Man

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It's a sad state when a man can't buy a woman for his own boy.
— Red Stovall, the honkytonk man.

Still mining David Stratton's list of marvellous movies; this one is #44. Over many sittings as it failed to grip. Clint Eastwood directed and starred. Released in 1982, he's on the road to Nashville from dusty Oklahoma during the depression with his underage nephew (his actual son Kyle) as chauffeur, drinking and wenching partner. The idea is to make something of his musical talent but tuberculosis has other plans. There are some of the usual Eastwood preocuupations, and his put downs are entirely equal-opportunity (as he sees it anyway). Clint plays piano on a visit to a cathouse, as he also does in a black club in Memphis, where he rolls out a joke about adopting blackface to avoid trouble with the Klan (?). The blues singer takes it all in good humour. The camera angles made him look a bit like Henry Fonda at times.

Roger Ebert is indulgent. Janet Maslin isn't.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

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The Ritz Cinema 3, 2:30pm. $10 + $1.50 booking fee = $11.50, booked 2019-02-06. Thanks to the bloke at Bricking Around for the heads up; this advance screening coincides with the US release, with the official Australian release not until March 28. The BOM forecast rain which didn't seem to happen. Somewhat packed with kids whose parents don't go to the movies much.

Yeah, the movie itself follows on directly from the first one in a five-years-later sorta way. It probably alluded to the in-between one but I don't remember anything. The animation is about the same but the structure is closer to a musical. The framing story is a saccharine cliche about siblings learning to play together under Maya Rudolph's firm motherly suffering. The characters joke that the Marvel characters are absent for contractual reasons. The DC characters set up in suburbia. Less is made of Apocalypseburg than I expected. The queen is a strange character: voiced with a distinctive black accent we're told time and again to expect evil of her. The joke that Unikitty is Hulk-like gets a lame rerun; perhaps her spark wore off on her TV shows, or just maybe the concept itself has gotten tired as the overengineered credits ("the best part of the movie") suggest.

Manohla Dargis says it's one big ad, but to foreigners most American movies are. Lots of locations means lots of sets to sell I guess. Shrug. Jay.

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

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David Stratton's marvellous movies, #11. Ang Lee directs. I remember giving this a miss when it was released in 2016. It's pretty much what it says on the tin: a hero and his platoon go home from Iraq for Thanksgiving and participate in the halftime entertainment of a Texas NFL game in 2004. I guess it's essentially a reversal of the Bunnies going to Việt Nam in Apocalypse Now flimsily spun out to feature length. Apparently Destiny's Child was big then. Joe Alwyn is solid in the lead. (I saw him recently in The Favourite.) The moment he shares with cheerleader Makenzie Leigh at the end speaks more than anything else. Kristen Stewart ably plays his sister. Garrett Hedlund has the most fun as the platoon leader. Steve Martin doesn't convince as a Texan shyster. Similarly Vin Diesel isn't all that Hindu (Stratton says Buddhist, but he spends most of his time talking about Vishnu, Krishna, etc.). I felt the soldiers were allowed to exhibit sufficiently distinct characters for this all-American production. The antiwar flag is half-heartedly waved, and we are shown the boosting and busting of myths and illusions that we've seen many times before. It's all a bit shrug.

Dana Stevens made many small mistakes in her review; for instance Lynn is in the army to avoid being charged with taking it to his sister's fiance who abandons here while she is in hospital. Stevens observes that this got released around the time of Trump's election. A. O. Scott.

Bad Influence

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David Stratton's #8 on his 101 marvellous movie list. James Spader plays a "successful" working stiff who gets an education from professional bad boy Rob Lowe (and maybe later he'll tell you his real name). Lowe does Spader a favour by getting him out his marriage arrangements through judicious deployment of some homemade porn involving Billy Zane's older sis Lisa. He also steals Spader's wallet as payment for preventing some face mashing. Later on the tables must be turned if only because the ante has been upped and lives are at stake. Lowe is as canonically 1980s as Mickey Rourke but nowhere as physically intimidating, and this movie is a part of the 1990's seemingly never-ending farewell to that decade. The tropes are all there: the actor from a high school movie, the dork, some great cinematography that makes U.S. cities look beyond awesome, the perpetual summer, the TVs with analogue static, the VHS tapes. I drew a bit of a line from it to Alexandra's Project, which somehow isn't on Stratton's list. Boss John de Lancie falls into the uncanny valley by looking like all of Tom Hanks, Bill Murray and Paul Eddington and being, of course, Q. David Duchovny is in some crowd somewhere. Fun for what it is.

Roger Ebert. Vincent Canby. Both reference Strangers on a Train. I wish Stratton had fewer blind spots; there are quite a few underrated Arnie classics that are at least as good as this.

The Deep Blue Sea

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I had this one on the pile for ages, largely due to Dana Stevens's review and Rachel Weisz; David Stratton making it #28 on his list of marvellous movies prompted me to dig it up. I remember it getting widely reviewed at the time.

Briefly, Weisz is a (but-I-love-him!) wayward wife soon after WWII. She's a sensualist more interested in the idea of loving than being loved, or even respected. Her far-too-understanding husband Simon Russell Beale is some sort of judge who she tries to throw over for Tom Hiddleston; neither man is really having it. Most of the angst can be sourced to Loki's forgetting of Hypatia's birthday, leading to him BREXITing for a test pilot role in South America after she attempts an exit just as thoughtless and ludicrous. The dialogue is dodgy and wooden. The bickering lacks English reserve. The mood is soporific. The camera has Vaseline smeared on it. The solid cast is mostly squandered: in addition to the lurv triangle, Barbara Jefford has a lot of fun as Weisz’s mother in law while Karl Johnson haughtily does some necessary unlicensed medical work. I guess Fintan O'Toole would draw many parallels to England's current plight.

I have to wonder what Stratton saw in it. So far he's picked movies reliably in the 6-7/10 band at IMDB, which I tend to avoid; my threshold is 7 unless I have some other info.

A. O. Scott was also a fan, and Roger Ebert too, finding a basis for this movie in an excess of pity. Hmm. Ebert reminded me that they sing You Belong to Me in the pub, a song I know from Bob Dylan's rasping cover on the Natural Born Killers soundtrack.

In the Electric Mist

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#49 on David Stratton's list of marvellous movies. Clearly he's a Tommy Lee Jones fan, who dominates almost all scenes as detective Dave Robicheaux. This means that none of the other characters gets sufficiently developed; for instance, Kelly Macdonald is criminally underused, as are Julio Cesar Cedillo, Peter Sarsgaard and a horny Mary Steenburgen. All make the most of nothing roles. John Goodman is not at all convincing as a smalltime underworld king. Several murders, some mystery. Some LSD-fuelled self-talk. The cinematography is occasionally gorgeous, largely by virtue of the natural beauty of the bayous of Louisiana. Somehow it doesn't get there despite the strength of the individual parts; perhaps that was due to the way it was assembled and abbreviated in the version I saw.

Bulworth

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#19 on David Stratton's list of marvellous movies. Warren Beatty wrote, directed and starred, and that tells you exactly what to expect. The poster is an update on Ralph Steadman. Ennio Morricone did the score. Made in 1998, it's 1996: Clinton is campaigning for a second term against Dole, and Beatty's Californian senator is up too. Three nights without food or sleep lead to some seriously dodgy appropriation of hip hop culture. He falls in with an almost unrecognisably young Halle Berry, who mostly plays it straight. Beatty always gets the girl, right? Even when she's about a third of his age. The senator is a fan of KFC. Don Cheadle doesn't convince as a Compton gangsta. Nora Dunn plays a completely cliched journalist, much like she did in Three Kings. The CSPAN journo looks like Liz Jackson. The plot is sort-of powered by a naff self-assassination insurance scam. It's mostly about how U.S. politics gets funded. Colour no one surprised.

Janet Maslin. Roger Ebert.

Buffalo Soldiers

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#17 on David Stratton's list of marvellous movies. It's an army satire that fits entirely in the genre. I enjoyed Joaquin Phoenix's performance as a supply specialist more than I usually do. Ed Harris doesn't quite function as an incompetent; conversely Scott Glenn is a natural hard man. Anna Paquin is Anna Paquin, and she does. I recognised Elizabeth McGovern as Deborah from Once Upon A Time in America by her signature look. I guess I got what I expected: a lesson about not cooking up heroin in a basement at a U.S. base in Germany while the Berlin Wall falls. Idris Elba turns up just in time to reinforce that point. Haluk Bilginer gets his end of the deal I guess, and life goes on. Director Gregor Jordan did Two Hands and is apparently just now having a crack at Tim Winton's Dirt Music.

A. O. Scott drew the connections back to Catch 22 and so forth. Roger Ebert did too. I concur with them that this movie is not marvellous but might be worth a watch.

The Mule

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At The Ritz, Cinema 2, 10am. I renewed membership for $17 and immediately burnt the accompanying freebie. Perhaps ten people total, all far older than me. I was somehow impatient to see this, perhaps because the Oscar bait has been so dire this year.

Clint Eastwood directs and stars. This is something of a counterpoint to Gran Torino: this time around he's incorrigible and his family irrelevant. We're in an Illinois of perpetual summer, and Clint is cultivating day lillies with help from some raffish and affable Latinos. Fifteen years later the internet has destroyed his business. You can infer the rest. Bradley Cooper is assured but banal; I don't understand why he got thanked by Larry Fishburne for busting the mule and not the hoods. I didn't recognise Andy Garcia. Taissa Farmiga is very weak in the role of the granddaughter; Alison Eastwood does better as the daughter. Clint is veiny and scrawny. He gets a tattoo in prison. He runs at the mouth in ways that would embarrass all of his previous characters. He's a good times sorta guy who goes for two women at once. The dykes on bikes take the heavy handedness in good humour. The story is not great: anyone younger than Eastwood might rush to judge the refurbishment of a veterans' drinking hole with drug money as completely authentic boomer behaviour.

Manohla Dargis. Christy Lemire.

A Star Is Born

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In two sittings. The fourth remake of a thick slice of Americana. Bradley Cooper stars and directs. Lady Gaga eclipses him; this is one for her fans. Sam Elliott, the cowboy from The Big Lebowski. Many others. No need for me to add to the cacophony.

Manohla Dargis. Dana Stevens. Both were wowed. Sam Adams wants to talk politics.

Harold and Maude

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I somehow thought this was a British production. Basically Harold stages suicides for the benefit of his mum who is some kind of landed U.S. gentry. Maude is almost 80. They meet cute at a couple of funerals (which serve the role of the support groups in Fight Club), with Maude taking the initiative. Fast times ensue in an America far less homicidal than now. Maude has a numbers tattoo. Maude is easy with other people's property. Maude checks out on her 80th as she telegraphed she would. Harold launches his hearse-ized Jaguar off a cliff. There's a Cat Stevens soundtrack. The humour is of a tediously predictable shape: something dire happens then Harold's mum remarks on something minor. Hal Ashby has his own subgenre. I found it hard to care.

Tunes of Glory

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An Alec Guinness / Dennis Price segue from Kind Hearts and Coronets. A flimsy King Lear sort of thing: the politics of a Scottish regiment when the battleground-promoted stop-gap Colonel (Guinness in a kilt and dodgy accent) gets replaced by the permanent one (John Mills also in a kilt but presumably his native accent; last seen in Hobson's Daughter; Oscar winner for Ryan's Daughter). Price has a bit of a nothing role as a Judas. Susannah York plays Guinness's cliched daughter, and Kay Walsh his bit on the side. The self pity is a bit much, and the rest is not enough. All in all it merely reinforces the feeling that the British ruling class was never up to the job.

Kind Hearts and Coronets

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Second time around, and just as funny. In two sittings. Alec Guinness is hilarious as the entirety of the D'Ascoyne Family. Dennis Price is solid in the lead and has a lot of fun duking it out with wily life-long frenemy Joan Greenwood, making it with object of upright moral desire Valerie Hobson, and killing Guinness. Highly rated at IMDB but not in the top-250; what gives? I need to dig up more of these Ealing comedies.

The Little Drummer Girl

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A recent BBC adaptation of a le Carré classic. Over several sittings and I wish it had been more. The cast is stellar. Florence Pugh was the draw after her mesmerizing efforts in the lead of Lady Macbeth. She leads here too, and there is no justice but no shame in her second billing to frosty Alexander Skarsgård (making a habit of le Carré) and icy Michael Shannon in perhaps his best role yet. Oldboy Park Chan-wook directs. It's a step back towards the mainstream from The Handmaiden (the last thing he did?) with little blood — none lurid anyway, no eating of live animals, some great arty shots and lots of juxtaposition. But yes, still a visual feast.

It's 1979 (I think) and master spy/concentration camp survivor/dry humorist Shannon is assembling a team to takes us deep into classic BBC TV territory: the days of fine John Cleese comedies and circuses righted by Alec Guinness, moral clarity and things worth fighting for. It's a Mossad operation of a sort, something that will progress the cause of peace in Israel, which Flo joins in a bout of credulity that is not really supported by her having the hots for Skarsgård (who coolly ignores the advances of her colleague). How does she know that the explosives in the vintage Merc she drives across Europe will be used for good and not awesome? The scenes at the Parthenon are gorgeous. Late in the game the training camp gets seriously Fight Club: an American reads the rules, and a Dennis Hopper clone goes off the rails. At some points I thought she wouldn't survive; she keeps getting told she doesn’t have to take things further, but she does anyway.

The plot is not holeproof, and is perhaps exactly the one pilloried in Team America. The climax is a bit difficult to square with the motivations of the puppet masters. A very few filming locations are used to evoke so much of the Cold War world.

Stephanie Bunbury. I have no idea why it's so poorly rated at IMDB.

Wildlife

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Paul Dano's first effort as director. Carey Mulligan is a young mum who gets moved to Montana with her son Ed Oxenbould by her never-do-well husband Jake Gyllenhaal. Jake promptly loses his job on the golf course and decides fighting more literal fires is what he needs to do as a man. Car dealing Bill Camp is somehow a temptation to the young ladies. The histrionic scenes are not good. Ultimately no more than a family drama featuring three odd socks. It seems such a shame to venture into David Lynch territory and come away with only this.

Glenn Kenny got right into it somehow.

The Old Man & the Gun

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Spacek and Redford meet cute: her truck has broken down on a motorway, and he's in need of a change of getaway vehicle. Their diner scene is not a patch on the one in Thief. Casey Affleck and fellow mumbler Tom Waits (OK, growler and mutterer), Elisabeth Moss abet and escape without too much reputational damage. This is a pile of hokey ageing philosophizing about one-time boomer dreams: the inability to stop yourself from the pure indulgence of robbing yet another bank, even when you're shacked up with a Spacek who has a vintage Merc, three horses and a massive spread. I got thinking that Redford could probably play Trump in the inevitable Oliver Stone biopic: they have a similar all-American smug smile, whatever their differences in politics and demeanor.

A. O. Scott. Dana Stevens reminds me that director David Lowery made A Ghost Story.

Green Book

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A weakly-scripted road buddy movie barely held together by Viggo Mortensen who got to see writer/director Peter Farrelly squander Mahershala Ali up close. Somehow highly rated on IMDB. Almost entirely about sticking the moral superiority of the American North to the South circa 1962. Viggo doesn't evolve so very much: his initial casual racism is not so deep or convincing that he can't just roll with what the world sends his way. An empty shell of a thing.

A. O. Scott. Inkoo Kang. Odienator. Richard Brody.

Smiley's People

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The BBC series, second time around. Over a couple of sittings. Also excellent.