peteg's blog - noise - movies

Dark Phoenix

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Seat C-6 in cinema 2 of Dendy Newtown, 3:45pm session after laksa for lunch, $5, on a cold and rainy day. This is the first time I've used my Dendy Club membership, which IIRC cost me $5. I was there for a Fassbender fix. Totally boring.

Manohla Dargis.

National Theatre Live: All My Sons

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6:30pm, Palace Cinemas Central, cinemas 1 and 2. A freebie from Griffin Theatre to a promo night run by an unknown movie distributor. Maybe two-thirds full. I ended up in the front row (it's a tiny space) after spending the afternoon in one of the newer UTS buildings. The introductory making-of short was far too loud. We got the same twenty minute interval as those who saw it live, making it run until 9.20pm.

Everything you need to know about the play and more can be found at Wikipedia. Apparently this second effort by Arthur Miller erased the failure of the first. I found it to be a clunker: it's so clearly pre-Beckett and barely a dry run for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. The plot unwinds linearly — there are no Gone Girl moves here — and the Chekhovian device alluded to early on goes off late enough you're left wondering why they bothered; surely escaping comeuppance was not new to anyone in 1947.

This production ran at the Old Vic in London at some point. Surviving son (Colin Morgan, solid) invites his childhood neighbour (Jenna Coleman with wonky accents), the objectified sweatheart of his World War II-deceased brother, home from NYC to propose to her. Growly father (Bill Pullman) is the heartland/Midwestern self-made man who just maybe played the manufacturing game a little dirty, or didn't quite stick by his worker, her father. Sally Field is the cunningly delusional mother. The revelatory style is a bit of a grind. Field's performance annoyed me: she was so obviously waiting for the other actors to get their stuff said. The rest of the cast did well with what they had.

Afterwards I made haste to Spice Alley where the Shanghai dumpling house sold me some expensive but tasty (frozen) dumplings.

Odd Man Out

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A Carol Reed jag from The Third Man. B&W, 1947, a Belfast in ruins. A very young and presumably impressionable James Mason plays an Irish partisan who spends a rough night meandering the streets, junkyards, saloons, etc. after a spot of bother involving firearms. It's sorta like Naked without the wise cracking. He's abandoned by his fellows, Christ-like, except for a Mary Magdalene figure who finds him just in time to (spoiler) organise suicide by bobby. William Hartnell plays a barkeep. There's a touch of Henry Fool about the artist Lukey (Robert Newton).

Bosley Crowther got into it at the time.

The Lavender Hill Mob

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Another of the Ealing comedies. B&W, 1951. Alec Guinness leads as a deceptively unambitious bank clerk who regularly shepherds gold bullion from the foundry to the vault. He chances to meet a tourist souvenir manufacturer in the form of Stanley Holloway and a plot is hatched. Very funny at times, but also very restricted by genre: English farces demand a taste of the lash. It sags a little in the third quarter as the makers scrabble around for something to justify their trip to Paris. There are no fleshed-out female characters apart from the oldies running the "private hotel" and a schoolgirl.

Bosley Crowther at the time.

Across the Bridge

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With great expectations of Rod Steiger, who doesn't disappoint. If I got this right, this is a dumbed-down Touch of Evil made in B&W in 1957 where a crooked German financier is killed by Englishmen on the US/Mexico border. The ending is lame, perhaps because the bridge is lame. Graham Greene wrote the story, which is diffuse and ambles to nowhere.

Bosley Crowther at the time.

The Third Man

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Second time around for this B&W classic. Graham Greene wrote the novel and the adapation, Carol Reed directed. Joseph Cotton is a man-about-the-world Southerner who comes to post war Vienna at the behest of a bloke who he finds recently passed. There are also a Czech girl played by an Italian, two other blokes and the cops. So much effort is put into building up the mystery that nothing happens until Orson Welles arrives, and while the cat had the right idea I was left out in the cold. Many arty camera angles, some decent cinematography. Still #134 in the IMDB top-250.

Bosley Crowther at the time. Roger Ebert in 1996.

MASH

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Second time around for this somewhat tired piece of black-humoured Altman. We're off to a sanitised 1950s Korea where all the modcons of home, including willing women, are provided and the front is at least three miles distant. Robert Duvall plays an uptight god botherer, Sally "Hot Lips" Kellerman his inevitable bed partner. She got into it later, and he got a better role about a decade later in another war. Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould are playboy doctors who effectively take over the outfit; you know, doctors are gods and all that. It's toothless despite all the blood. I enjoyed the improv and the odd zinger. The cinematography is washed out. The final football match piles on the cliches.

Roger Ebert at the time.

McCabe & Mrs Miller

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Third time around. I'm still fascinated by Beatty's performance: the rambling to himself as mortality encroaches, his ignorance of the woman he's infatuated by, his general amiability when not doing business. Julie Christie is similarly fine but more enjoyable elsewhere. Leonard Cohen's soundtrack signalled his arrival, I guess. They don't make movies like this anymore.

Roger Ebert at the time and in 1999. He was wrong about the bathhouse — that was built at Mrs Miller's insistence — but dead right that this movie is near perfect. Vincent Canby was less impressed.

Never Let Me Go

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Over two nights. More Carey Mulligan completism. She's full of woe here. A bonus was Sally Hawkins as a concerned teacher. Keira Knightley is annoying but doesn't have enough screen time to wreck it; and come on, she's too thin to provide quality spare parts. Andrew Garfield plays Tommy as even more of a lettuce than he presents in the the book. The child actors are great. Grossly summarised by Ex Machina/Annihilation auteur Alex Garland, who does not even attempt to preserve the subtleties Ishiguro brought to his perspective from a girl's diary. The ending tries feebly to universalise. Director Mark Romanek has done shirtloads of music videos, notably the famous one for Nine Inch Nails's Closer.

Roger Ebert got into it. Manohla Dargis not so much.

Arsenic and Old Lace

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Over three or more sittings. Continuing with the Cary Grants. B&W. I didn't really get into it as the comedy is mostly slapstick with references to horror (much is made of his brother looking like Boris Karloff; I guess the stage show traded on him being played by Boris Karloff). A couple of Aunties have taken to relieving lonely men of their lives. Grant is a theatre critic and adamantly a bachelor, so much so he gets married in his first scene. There are cops, another brother, a graveyard and many bit players. The odd zinger is obscured by endless frenetic action. Highly rated by a large number of people at IMDB.

Someone at the New York Times at the time.

It Had to Happen

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A Rosalind Russell jag from His Girl Friday. She seems a bit out-of-sorts in this clunker. The framing story has her returning from Europe and encountering some Italian migrants as she disembarks into b&w NYC in 1936. Clichés ensue: one (an entirely flat George Raft) takes a shine to her, and by means unexplained turns into a sort-of Robert Moses who "seems to hold all offices but none..." There are vast piles of high-minded civic BS, probity!, but ultimately this is about picking up another man's wife and how easy it was to make good in the USA back then. You too can marry an heiress! And she's entirely willing!

Raft fared better as a gangster, e.g. Spats Colombo in Some Like It Hot. His secretary Arline Judge's performance was more like what Russell later did.

Frank S. Nugent at the time.

Shadow

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On the strength of Glenn Kenny's review and expectations of Yimou Zhang's directing. There's not a lot to this that isn't a cliché. The kids are in charge of a kingdom in ancient China and intrigue as a distraction from their dismal little screens. Most of the movie is ponderous exposition with a pretence to cleverness. The camerawork/cinematography evokes a grim mountainous landscape, and yes, it's always raining in the valley of the shadow. The action is same-y same, claiming that "feminine moves" might win these days of bigly testosterone. The best parts involved zither playing.

The Philadelphia Story

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Another highly-rated Cary Grant headliner, but really this is Kate Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart's show; both are so young here, and bounce off each other wonderfully. It's an east-coast high society sex farce which gently roasts and finally endorses the old moneyed. Despite the unappetising premise it's very funny even as the dialogue gets obscure. Second-stringer Ruth Hussey delivered her part flat, and was therefore the funniest.

Bosley Crowther at the time, and sixteen years later on the remake High Society staring Grace Kelly, Sinatra, Bing Crosby.

Citizen Kane

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It's been a while. The parallels with the present day are striking: a lock-him-up rabble-rousing populist campaign speech; Kane being told to check his privilege (over working men, who might eventually expect things as their right, not his gift); a pile in Florida; a Gatsby-esque excess in a guilded age; the manipulation of the news; the vacuity of stuff; the over-extended mogul; etc. Still #74 in the IMDB top-250 but getting squeezed out by lesser works.

Bosley Crowther at the time. Roger Ebert in 1998.

His Girl Friday

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Second time around and just as funny. Continuing the recent run of Cary Grants. No longer in the IMDB top-250. I need to scare up more of Rosalind Russell's efforts.

This is Spinal Tap

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It's been a while.

Avengers: Endgame

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Opening day, The Ritz, 4pm, Cinema 1, $10 + $1.50 online booking fee = $11.50. Downstairs was closed because the previous session had made a mess of it. Upstairs was maybe a third full.

I'll just gesture at the paid noisemakers. Jason Di Rosso versus Jake Wilson. A. O. Scott got very sentimental. Dana Stevens: "Waiting for Thanos: Avengers: Endgame is like Samuel Beckett with superheroes."

Stoker

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Second time around. A Matthew Goode jag from Watchmen, and Park Chan-wook from The Little Drummer Girl. Doesn't really reward a second viewing.

To Catch a Thief

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A Grace Kelly, Alfred Hitchcock jag from Rear Window, and Cary Grant from Notorious. Everyone goes to the French Riviera and the result is worse than when Audrey went to Paris (either time). Cary plays a retired cat burgler, noble due to an association with The Resistance, and despite being seriously north of 40, the young ladies (Kelly and Frenchwoman Brigitte Auber) can't help themselves. It's all a bit vacuous, but aren't the gowns, jewels, landscapes, etc. just fabulous.

Bosley Crowther got overly enthused at the time.

Gone with the Wind

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The Ritz, Cinema 1, $10, 1pm. We're deep into the pre-Avengers vortex now: all that's on offer are golden oldies (the 80th anniversary! in 4K! with an overture and an intermission!) and a Tarantino retrospective. First time around for me. Perhaps a third full, where most people looked like they might just have seen it back in 1939.

Is this the pre-Tennessee Williams mold for the Southern gothic? Is it just a dodgy, romantic, sentimental apology for the devil? It has its fans, then (8 Oscars!) and now (#163 in the IMDB top-250); the epic colour at Wikipedia gives some perspective. Here we have Southern princess Vivian Leigh husband hunting on the family plantation until the American Civil War interrupts. War profiteer Clarke Gable, looking a bit like Lee Van Cleef in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, or perhaps Omar Sharif, knows they're destined to marry but has to bide his time while she works through all the other men. (It could have been called three weddings and a funeral, but most of that isn't actually shown.) The storytelling is fluid for the first half then retreats with the war, leaving us with an unsavoury crowd. The scene at the railway station is timeless, and every so often a line crackles with knowing malice. There's a touch of the Gatsby, some dodgy accent work, and a strong assertion of property rights as understood by Irish migrants. It doesn't really have four hours of things to say.

The opening credits tell us that the Old South is "no more than a dream remembered" but the 2016 US Presidential Election shows there's more life in it than that.

Frank S. Nugent at the time. Roger Ebert around the 60th anniversary: "[GWTW] presents a sentimental view of the Civil War, in which the "Old South" takes the place of Camelot and the war was fought not so much to defeat the Confederacy and free the slaves as to give Miss Scarlett O'Hara her comeuppance."