peteg's blog - noise - movies

Back to the Future, Part II, Part III

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Dave reckons my childhood was impoverished by not having seen these movies. Perhaps, but he was dead right that it's now too late to rectify. At times things get a bit Kind Hearts and Coronets with Michael J. Fox playing too many roles. I've never been a fan of any of the actors, nor Robert Zemeckis's American cheesecake films. The first one is rated #37 in the IMDB top-250.

Ebert on the first one (3.5 stars), the the second (3 stars) and the third (2.5 stars).

Love at Large

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#55 on David Stratton's list of marvellous movies. Clearly he's a sucker for hard boiled noir-ish detective movies, so much so that he can endorse this weak B-grade garbage. I was expecting more of detective Tom Berenger, who plays pivot for quite a few ladies, none of whom impressed me so much. The plot is ancillary and could have quite profitably been omitted, reducing things to a set of late 1980s character studies. Leonard Cohen's Ain't No Cure For Love opens. Not enough is asked of Neil Young.

Roger Ebert shrugged at the time: he suggests a failed parody where Stratton thinks satire. Both agree that the director has (had?) potential. Janet Maslin.

The Gentlemen

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With Dave at The Ritz, 2:20pm, 10 AUD each, four rows from the front of cinema 3, not too many people. We had a coffee at Shorty's beforehand.

Nothing too appealing for this one, apart from it being quite a while since I've seen Matthew McConaughey. It's tired and formulaic: winners have gotta win, pretty much. MY WIFE, isn't that one of Pacino's classic explosions? Hugh Grant was the most fun. Eddie Marsan, unusually, failed in his role. Colin Farrell and cohort are boringly bulletproof.

Afterwards I bumped into Ron nearby. Dave and I had a middling to poor early dinner at Lil' Darlin' and wandered down to a moderately busy Coogee.

Sandra Hall.

Midsommar

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More Florence Pugh completism. Here she is with an American accent. Writer/director Ari Aster attempts a horror riff on Swedish weirdism but lacks conviction and so alloys it with empty American bro culture and narcotics. All the characters are naff stereotypes, the mythos is thin, the plot goes as you know it will. Clearly he's aiming for some Lynchian magic but achieves only a humourless study in obliviousness. It is gratuitously graphic. I was reminded of my recent encounter with a mechanic: of being drip fed useless information that was withheld without much intent over far too much time.

Richard Brody spilt a lot of words on this empty vessel. Manohla Dargis.

Little Women

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Movie club sign-up freebie at the Odeon 5, 12:45pm session, Cinema 1, three rows from the front. I think all their movies were flagged no-free-tickets (NFT) up to today. Quite a few people.

I didn't know what I was getting beyond the costume drama implied by the poster. The draw was Florence Pugh, and of course the Greta Gerwig/Saoirse Ronan combination that worked so well in Lady Bird. Gerwig brilliantly composed her chopped-up overlapping timelines with many effective visual cues, keeping the stories-in-stories moving even as they arrived at the necessary stations of growing up. So many name actors: Chris Cooper as a reserved, bereaved, indulgent grandfather; Tracy Letts as a bemused and not entirely chauvinistic publisher; Timothée Chalamet as a fly playboy; Laura Dern as saintly mother. Meryl Streep ungenerously owns every scene she's in. The story itself, however, is not a patch on what the Koreans are doing, nor Lady Bird.

Reviews are legion. I didn't read them before I went. Universally feted. Dana Stevens; the final scene-within-the-book is entirely an intentional commercial clanger as Joanna Biggs observes. A. O. Scott. Paul Byrnes was not convinced by Emma Watson (and me neither, having no fond memories of Harry Potter to fall back on). All apart from Byrnes quote the opening sentence of the novel/movie. Anthony Lane. Flo has apparently arrived.

In Cold Blood

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An adaptation of Truman Capote's famous reportage. Natural born killers. Fascinated by psychology and therefore entirely of its era: the logic of leaving no witnesses strikes me as sound, or putting it another way, consonant with humans not being too bothered about things beyond their immediate vicinity (cf poverty, climate change, general insanity, and so forth). Or compare it to the recent wars and mass murders with motivations even more confused. The black and white spaghetti chronology left me cold. I couldn't help but think of it as the view from NYC.

Roger Ebert called out the artiness in 1968. He had another (more reactionary) go in 2002.

Gosford Park

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More Robert Altman completism, prompted by Knives Out. The cast here is even larger, and there are far too many characters to get to grips with. Fortunately it doesn't matter too much as the sweep of English Toff Country Life circa 1932 is very familiar and they are, to a woman, cliched grotesques. Kelly Macdonald is the pivot, an ingenue. Stephen Fry is a hammy police inspector. I actually enjoyed Clive Owen, from the Isleworth orphanage, and Richard E. Grant. Emily Watson is fine too, but isn't taxed. I somehow remembered Tom Hollander as Guy Burgess in Cambridge Spies. There are heaps more. The gentry left me uniformly cold. For the sake of having a plot it's a murder mystery.

I wonder if anyone's tried making an upstairs/downstairs thing where the actors have roles in each.

Roger Ebert at the time. Also Stephen Holden.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

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Paying the compulsory mouse tax with Dave at the Odeon 5, 8:30pm, three rows from the front. A few people but not packed. I signed up to their movie club; unlike The Ritz I could only get one cheap ticket. All up $42.93. No shorts.

As expected it's a dog. Oscar Isaac digs deep but fails to improve on Bill Pullman's President from Independence Day. Daisy Ridley, winsome once more, and indeed of extraordinary heritage though her parents are elided. Adam Driver enjoys himself. Keri Russell. Richard E. Grant. Ian McDiarmid. Shirley Henderson somehow as "Babu Frik", and was that Tilda Swinton? All entirely squandered. There's some unfunny Thor: Ragnarok and too much lukewarm necrotic nostalgia, which is approximately what we're told to expect from JJ Abrams: too much incoherence, too many dangling threads, too much box ticking.

Richard Brody. Tim Kreider. A. O. Scott. And many others.

Burning

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Korean. Impressionistic. "Based on the short story by Haruki Murakami" or maybe just American Psycho. All insinuation. Some beautiful cinematography. I don't know this director (Lee Chang-dong). Steven Yeun is Gangnam style. Lead Ah-in Yoo is suitably inscrutable.

Joint Security Area

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More Park Chan-wook completism prompted by Ben Kenigsberg; can there ever be enough? In two sittings. This is one of his early efforts (from 2000). Song Kang-ho plays a North Korean veteran soldier who saves and befriends a South Korean cadet who strays across the DMZ/"Joint Security Area" monitored by the Swiss and other neutral nations, and also eventually his mate. Things go as you'd expect: the early grim ambience yields to some human promise before the violence goes all corporate and Fincher. I didn't try to follow the forensic accounting of bullets.

A. O. Scott in 2005, after Oldboy.

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. Anthony Lane (who brackets it with Kind Hearts and Coronets).

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.