peteg's blog - noise - movies

American Beauty

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I saw this a long time ago, probably around about when it came out, and forgot most of it. Rated #64 on the IMDB top-250. Spacey got an Oscar for it, but quite often he seems to slip into a robotic mode. The idea of blackmailing the company you work for must have been in the air in 1999. Annette Bening is good too. Otherwise I still don't feel there's a lot to see here.

Kick Ass 2

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Pretty dire on a second viewing, being stuck uncomfortably between the pseudo reality of the first movie and the unreality of high school and coming-of-age. Perhaps director Jeff Wadlow didn't know how to make something of what he inherited.

L.A. Confidential

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It's been a while. Still #106 in the IMDB top-250.

Apocalypse Now

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Still haven't been to the bar in Saigon of that name. It's down to #50 in the IMDB top-250, to my increasing horror. Over several sessions.

Kick Ass

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Over a very late dinner. I like Nic Cage's performance here; very locked down; a complement of sorts to Wild at Heart. Chloë Grace Moretz's finest outing?

The Death of Stalin

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The Ritz, 9:20pm session in the tiny Cinema 6, $10, three rows from the front, maybe two-thirds full. I went along on the basis of strong reviews, e.g. this one by Manohla Dargis. Well, the IMDB score (7.2) is more accurate: if you liked director/writer Armando Iannucci's earlier stuff (e.g. Veep, Alan Partridge) you might like this, but if you've given his output a wide berth (like me) then there's not much for you. I enjoyed Jason Isaacs's Zhukov, perhaps because he doesn't muck around. The story focuses mostly on Simon Russell Beale's Beria, whose hysterical turn is completely implausible. Steve Buscemi's Khrushchev is geneally overblown and how he made it anywhere near the top is not something you'll learn about here. Michael Palin has some fun vacillating as Molotov.

Sam Adams tries to explain or apologise for it, partly by limply drawing a line to Trump.

Dark Shadows

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A Tim Burton jag. Johnny Depp zombies his way through this as some kind of patriarchal vampire. How much you enjoy the first half depends on your appreciation of Michelle Pfeiffer eye rolls. Eva Green is a vampy vacuous baddie. Helena Bonham Carter has her moments as a shrink who wants to be immortal, but perhaps with a bit more agency. Chloë Grace Moretz is the bratty daughter, pro forma. Jonny Lee Miller probably wishes he'd stayed in Edinburgh. Alice Cooper doesn't get a music video worth a damn. The humour is forced, the plot entirely stock, and the whole thing seems like it was built for Disney. Nothing to see here, move along.

Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

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A stop-motion jag from Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, made in the era of matinees and the Greek Cinematic Universe when that may have been the best they could do. Some of it is quite fun, though I'd be surprised to find that much of it is canonical. The later Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) is Hera here. The skeletons are pretty cool, as is the brass Talos.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

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I skipped this one back in Chicago 2016 as I'm not a fan of Eva Green, and Tim Burton is too hit-and-miss for me to have any expectations. Well, now I wish I'd seen it on the big screen. Green is excellent here, suitably arch and headmistress-y. Doubtlessly this is some kind of riff on the Harry Potter universe, where Burton shows what can be done if you like it out in Army of Darkness and Corpse Bride territory.

The plot is not worth remarking on, and things go as you might expect. The time stuff didn't strike me as especially coherent or problematic; it allows Burton to escape to the great days when Britain was relevant and not so entirely self-absorbed (1943). Too much of the setup is told not shown, and for some reason Burton feels the need to ground this fantasy in reality with a somewhat tedious first 20-30 minutes of bored-in-Florida; somewhat like Peter Pan perhaps. His take on American parenting is brief, comedic and brutal. Asa Butterfield has the occasional stumble in the lead; conversely his romantic foil Ella Purnell is rock solid, as is Terrence Stamp in (straight) grandfather mode. We get some coming-of-age realisation. A highlight is the stop-motion battle scene at the house. I wonder what's in the books.

Manohla Dargis.

Annihilation

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Wow, what a letdown. Directed by Alex Garland, of the far superior Ex Machina. Oscar Isaac returns, but Alicia Vickander took the Tomb Raider reboot over this clunker and was perhaps wise to do so. Instead we get a militarised Portman in the lead, propped up by a stone cold dead Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Briefly this is an unimaginative horror movie masquering as conceptualist sci fi. A brief list of influences: Alien, The Blair Witch Project (I was spinning The Order of Death in my mind throughout), maybe Solaris (if I'd seen it; Stalker if I remembered it), Arrival, and if this had aimed a bit higher, Predator. You can take it from here. Briefly it's a bug hunt in a "shimery" Florida swamp where all five members of the team are female. The conclusion is inscrutable.

Manohla Dargis.

The Avengers

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First low-brow movie of the trip, on the Zurich to Dubai leg. This is me trying to catch up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which at some point will become all of cinema; with Disney in charge we can surely hope for a Star Wars crossover, directed by Michael Bay. There is nothing great here, and I lost track where it fits in with things: perhaps between Iron Man 2 and 3, and before The Dark Knight concluded. Wow, so long ago.

A. O. Scott.

Thor: Ragnarok

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Third B-movie of the trip, the first on the Dubai to Hồ Chí Minh City leg. Basically on the strength of Taika Waititi's comedic Kiwi direction, though it is too much to ask for something as good as What We Do in the Shadows. Cate Blanchett has a rep now for playing bad femmes (cf that Indiana Jones thing). She, Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston deliver some truly awful dialogue.

Manohla Dargis.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

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Second on the Zurich to Dubai leg of my return trip. Completely cookie cutter as far as the superheroes go. I could have sworn that was Thomas Jay Ryan voicing (the some kind of "rational" intelligence) Ultron, but no, it was James Spader. His schtick was the only redeeming part of this whole thing, though the underlying philosophy is tiresomely unoriginal. As usual Hollywood screws up things by embodying what could and should be ambient and everywhere: undestroyable, though adulterable. Like the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Manohla Dargis.

Justice League

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Fourth and last B-movie of the trip, the second on the Dubai to Hồ Chí Minh City leg. This is complete rubbish. I felt every time Ben Affleck is onscreen he's thinking about how he would have directed this, if only the script had some soul.

Manohla Dargis: she implies they'd be better to cast the Lego™ Batman. All of these make me realise what a triumph Black Panther was. By sheer coincidence Dave saw this a day later.

Finding Dory

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Not great, and nowhere close to Finding Nemo. The reviews (Dana Stevens, A. O. Scott) show that this is a quintessential piece of Americana (nuclear family, there's no place like home, never give up, essentialism) that doesn't translate very well. "Because I miss [my family]" seems like not much of a reason to imperil your friends and all that. I did like Hank, the octopus, who has some very funny sight gags.

Elysium

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Looking for a Copley fix (it's been too long). Second time around; apparently I saw this at Eastgardens when it was released in 2013.

The Post

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A segue from Ellsberg's recent memoir, and one of the last of the big Oscar pictures to see. Well, it didn't win any, and I couldn't even see why Streep got a nomination for what was an affected performance. I've never been much of a fan of how Spielberg's schtick, especially in the full-on hagiographic mode. This one is about the Pentagon Papers, which reviewed the USA's role in Vietnam up to 1967 or so. It's about freedom of the press. The ending sets things up for the far superior All The President's Men.

The press dug it, predictably. Manohla Dargis. Fred Kaplan, who knows too much to be sincerely giving this the thumbs up.

Frances Ha

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Dave suggested this Greta Gerwig segue after we saw Lady Bird. It's similarly kooky with a strong white female lead. This one demands more indulgence from the audience as she's past college and notionally hoeing her own row. There are some cute scenes between Frances (Gerwig) and her bestie Sophie (Mickey Sumner, who wouldn't be out of place in a Mike Leigh production). Adam Driver looks so young, and so assuredly mechanistic. I guess there's some wading into the shallows of The Unbearable Lightness of Being philosophy here, kitsch and all. Happiness, American-millennial style.

Dana Stevens. A. O. Scott. Both reviews pretty much spoil the movie; there's not a lot more to it.

I, Tonya

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I got in to the hotel in Hồ Chí Minh City at 4am this morning, and wasn't up for much on this Saturday night. This is the one of the Oscar contenders I avoided in the cinema; The Post is another. It's OK. Margot Robbie is mostly excellent, as are the other players. The editing is good, and sometimes the aside-to-camera trick worked. The story itself doesn't really need (re)telling though, and the dumber characters could have been elided or abbreviated. Things fall apart around "the incident", when events get seriously heavy and humour flees. The violence is bravely portrayed, to what end I know not. Bobby Cannavale has the most fun as the Hard Copy reporter. His venue was "a pretty crappy show that legitimate news outlets looked down on, and then became."

Sam Adams seems to have taken over from Dana Stevens. Manohla Dargis is right, though I think the movie was aiming more at schadenfreude and there-but-for-the-grace-of-God than comedy, albeit with weak intent.

One good thing about all the Trung Nguyên cafes going to hell in this town is that the wifi is a lot less contested.

Dark Star (1974)

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On Sofus's (perhaps phoney) recommendation. An early outing for John Carpenter, whose output is mostly unknown to me. There are some genuinely funny bits but mostly it's slow and simply provides raw material for the sci fi that came later, specifically Alien and Red Dwarf. The somewhat sapient bomb is pretty amusing.