peteg's blog - noise - movies

Twin Peaks: The Missing Pieces

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This is an assembly of scenes that didn't make it into the prequel movie Fire Walk with Me, shot and edited by David Lynch, and as such doesn't add up to a story. It's clear why he dropped some of them as they don't always cohere. There are a few fun bits, such as those featuring Chris Isaak's bare-knuckled FBI agent. Some of the more Lynchian bits made their way into the 2017 continuation. Clearly a sop to parched fans who had little reason to believe there'd be more in 2014.

Tales from the Crypt

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So-very-British pseudo-horror overflowing with stodgy moralism and cliches. A Joan Collins jag from The Big Sleep and her eyes have never been wider. Peter Cushing does his best to elevate things as a trashman ingenue shining with old-world working-class innocence in one of the many episodes. Little is asked of Ralph Richardson as the Crypt Keeper. The mythos is a bust. I watched it over many sittings. Perhaps best considered a time capsule of early 1970s low-brow English film making.

Roger Ebert tells me it's based on a comic. Vincent Canby.

My Cousin Vinny

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A jag from Dave off the poster for The Irishman at The Ritz. Joe Pesci is perfectly cast here, he says, and Marisa Tomei. Having now seen it I concur: she's fab, stealing every scene and more than earning her Oscar. Pesci does very well at dialing it up and down; it's probably the best thing I've seen him do. I was a bit surprised by the lack of violence though he retains his signature f-bombs. Karate-kid Ralph Macchio and Mitchell Whitfield play the young Yankees in distress. The plot riffs on the well-worn notion that lawyering in the South is deeply weird; see also The Devil's Advocate and sundry others. It's fun, so don't think too hard.

Roger Ebert gave it a poor overall rating but dug some bits. Vincent Canby painted by the numbers.

The Dead Don't Die

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With Dave at The Ritz after a Viet Street Food lunch in Marrickville. About ten people total came to the 4:40pm session (eight more than I expected). We sat five rows from the front. I went in prepped for a not-enough-ideas Jarmusch effort generally inferior to his last memorable one, and was therefore less disappointed than Dave who had expectations of it being intrinsically worth watching. Ultimately the many missed opportunities and loose ends were too frustrating. The frame is a Twin Peaks-ish small town where the cops (Adam Driver, Bill Murray, Chloë Sevigny) have few ideas on how to deal with a zombie apocalypse. Tom Waits narrates as a foraging hermit. Steve Buscemi's "make America white again" obnoxious trolling is never cashed, and neither is Caleb Landry Jones as someone who might have had a novel angle on the zombie mind. The children just evaporate, as does Tilda Swinton's katana-wielding Scots lady (and whatever did she do to that computer?). There are a few mild jokes (coffee! wifi!) and a lot of shrugging judgement.

A. O. Scott.

Fury

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A black-and-white Fritz Lang 1936 courtroom procedural, eventually. A bloke getting married (spoiler) morphs into one angry man after the inhabitants of a small town attempt to lynch him by burning down the jailhouse he's held in after a poor bit of police work. (It's about mobs, not the mob.) Spencer Tracy leads but is mostly absent. Sylvia Sidney is the prospective wife. Set somewhere in the wilds of the Midwest. The ending is quite limp after the hard-nosed setup.

Frank S. Nugent.

Harper

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A strong cast (Paul Newman, Lauren Bacall, Janet Leigh, ...) tries to update the hard boiled L.A. noir of Bogart/Chandler to colour in 1966 with middling success. Newman does get some great lines, but Mitchum's effort a decade later is superior. There's a kidnapping, maybe, and everyone is in on everything but not all get their comeuppance; script is so tiresomely formulaic that by the time Newman recovers the money you've forgotten there was money. Apparently there's a sequel The Drowning Pool which I probably won't bother chasing up.

Bosley Crowther reckoned it was stale on arrival.

Gun Crazy

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A blacklisted Dalton Trumbo wrote the script for this black-and-white 1950 paint-by-the-numbers crime-is-bad-ok pulp fiction B-movie. Manohla Dargis claimed it was a classic in his review of Trumbo. This is not credible. Briefly reptilian-eyed Englishwoman Peggy Cummins plays a Bonnie who meets her American Clyde (John Dall, a sap) at a circus where he outdoes her at trick shooting. The opening courtroom scene sees him as a child packed off to reform school for stealing a gun, the possession of which is somehow essential to him though he refuses to use one lethally. Guns are OK, OK? They just are! Chicago! Albuquerque! California! Crime was so much easier back then, but is so much more convenient and lucrative now. Crime has been democratised! There's a fairground scene that makes them out to be all-American children, even this deep into grasping adulthood.

H. H. T. (?) at the New York Times, at the time.

Papillon

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Dalton Trumbo wrote most of it (AFAICT). Also a Dustin Hoffman jag. Steve McQueen leads as a Frenchman who attempts to free himself from a French prison island somewhere in the vicinity of Honduras. Two and a half hours later he does and we can all go do something else. Some of the cinematography is gorgeous. The acting is uniformly lame. The poor crocodile they wrestle so clearly has its trap tied shut, which is a clear metaphor for the entire movie. The signature Trumbo interstitial dream sequences are again poorly realised. It sometimes takes on aspects of Guantánamo, and being based on a book of dubious verity, is therefore entirely of the moment. The IMDB rating is about 50% too high.

Ebert was as bored in 1973 as I was now. Vincent Canby similarly, at the time. Manohla Dargis tells me it was remade just last year with Rami Malek as Hoffman. The futility.

Sightseers

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A suggestion from Roman W. A new couple goes on a caravan holiday around England while her nutty mum stays home. The humour is low key, like The Breaker Upperers with a side of The Office awkwardness. There's a Westie in the past and present tenses, but I was really hoping for some zombies to leaven what is a tired trope: the master-apprentice serial killers, telegraphed early on and proceeding as you'd expect. Mickey and Mallory these guys are not. I mostly felt like I was laughing at rather than with; the funniest bit for mine had Alice Lowe lovingly laying out some self-knitted crochless underwear. Others might enjoy her yelling "this is not my vagina!" repeatedly. She's been in a lot of better things than this, but not since it seems.

A Face in the Crowd

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Another directed by Elia Karzan. Black-and-white, 1957: Andy Griffiths is an all-American bullshit merchant who is discovered in gaol by local radio lady Patricia O'Neal; she keeps it clean until her wiles are all she's got. The upward trajectory proceeds through Arkansas radio to NYC TV megastardom; the Grand Ole Oprey is mentioned but bypassed. Observing the transition to the Kennedy era of TV politics, Griffiths is charged with spruiking a right wing senator with standard Lockean and patrician tropes. Things go as Hollywood feels they have to, stretching credulity by positing moral outrage when shrugs are what you get. A young made-up-younger Lee Remick twirls her battons. Tom Waits for the remake!

Bosley Crowther was right (at the time) that the rise has its moments but things go stale well before the cop-out resolution. Sean O'Neal observes that I'm very late to see this Trumpian classic.

Johnny Got His Gun

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Young men don't have homes, that's why they must go out and kill each other.
— Father Robards dishing out a busted civics lesson.

A Timothy Bottoms jag from The Last Picture Show. Dalton Trumble adapted the screenplay from his own novel (of 1939) and directed (in 1971). The tail end of World War I sees a very young American lose just about everything and nevertheless be kept alive for unmotivated military/scientific/medical/plot reasons. Black-and-white in the later timeline, colour flashbacks. Jason Robards plays dead like Magnolia, Donald Sutherland an unhelpful Jesus. It's all kooky dystopia: a bit Brazil, A Clockwork Orange, The Loved One. It often loses momentum with fragmentary and sometimes poorly realised dream sequences. Monty Python had more fun with their knight.

Roger Ebert liked it at the time, Roger Greenspun less so.

Trumbo

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On Dave's suggestion, and something of a Diane Lane jag from Rumble Fish which I began rewatching. A different time of American greatness when they proudly purged Commies, constitution be damned. This mines similar territory to Clooney’s Good Night and Good Luck but is far funnier, including some vintage work by John Goodman with a baseball bat. Bryan Cranston as feted scriptwriter Dalton Trumbo ably anchors it all and got an Oscar nom. Louis CK and Elle Fanning give him something to bounce off. Helen Mirren does her own thing. Christian Berkel's Otto Preminger is irredeemably hammy. I'll have to go mine Trumbo's oeuvre now.

Manohla Dargis was unimpressed at the time.

Viva Zapata!

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An Anthony Quinn jag from Lion of the Desert and Marlon Brando completism. Entirely black-and-white, 1952. Quinn got an Oscar for his effort as brother to Brando's Zapata. Written by John Steinbeck, directed by Elia Kazan. Over several sittings as it failed to grip. Things go as you'd expect for a fictionalised hagiography of a Mexican revolutionary, who Wikipedia suggests deserved something better. Many shots of Brando (framing, expression, shiny skin, bulging eyes, whatever) reminded me of classic Orson Welles. The scene in the church was pretty funny, and to a lesser extent, the one where Brando meets his future in-laws. Perhaps his flattest performance overall.

Bosley Crowther at the time.

The Awful Truth

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More Cary Grant completism. This one doesn't have a dire IMDB rating, which suggests people no longer watch black-and-white screwball comedies from 1937. At its core is an uppercrust, idle, NYC-society sex farce featuring Irene Dunne. She grew me on me as things dragged on. Most scenes are paint-by-the-numbers, sometimes with mild twists, often saved only by Grant's heroic, sometimes manic, physicality or Dunne's zaniness and dawning awareness that Grant is the singular man in town, just as the formula requires. The dialogue is knowing but not particularly sharp, and completely lacking in broader social commentary. The dog is very well trained, and there's some fantastic work by a black cat in the closing scenes. Grant and Dunne made at least two more of these together. Loads of details at Wikipedia.

Lion of the Desert

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An Oliver Reed (Italian General Graziani) jag from The Big Sleep, and more Rod Steiger (Mussolini) completism. Anthony Quinn plays another Bedouin in a liberation struggle: briefly, Omar Mukhtar leads the peoples of Libya in mounted guerrilla skirmishes against the Italian Fascists who are trying to rebuild the Roman Empire between the world wars. Two-and-a-half hours later he gets hanged for his efforts. I imagine there are more parallels with Giap than the obvious (teacher, strategist in a guerilla war, improbable military victories, etc.).

The production is a bit incoherent as some Bedouin have English accents, as do some Italians (notably Reed). Quinn gets by with his American drawl. There is some hammy work by other actors, for instance by Gastone Moschin whose shtick was significantly more effective in The Godfather II. The goal was clearly a lush Lean-style effort, but the result is a drawn out and constipated history lesson. The high rating on IMDB is probably due to a conflation of art with valour, just like The Bandit. I won't be bothering with director/producer Moustapha Akkad's The Message now.

Vincent Canby connects it with the politics of 1981.

White Mischief

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Greta (you can keep your pearls on) Scacchi — she’s in Palm Beach of course — goes gold digging during World War II amongst the unpatriotic expats of unimaginatively colonial British Kenya. Her entrepôt is anciently titled, landed, porcine, freshly-minted husband Joss Ackland, who feigns unfamiliarity with his accountant and blandly canvasses the possibility of losing the war. An early scene with Hugh Grant assures us that the fight she puts up when she encounters the titled, unmoneyed and entirely resistible Charles Dance (dial familiar from the endless Game of Thrones ads) is just what she was trained to do. The inevitable happens before the characters are sufficiently developed for us to care, and the following necessities (pariahs!) still leaves ten minutes to go. It's a nothingburger; if you've got the genes and the stomach to use them you'll always be just fine navigating patrimonial bullshit.

The draw for me was Sarah Miles (sporting the same boofy hairstyle a decade after The Big Sleep). Her character is a wanton miss, as is John Hurt's. Director Michael Radford did better with his immediately-previous effort: 1984, which was also a remake. Every trope has a short halflife (e.g., the camera goes MIA rapidly), the exploitation is deeply wired (why revisit this stinky event?), the avarice is mostly absent rentiers. These's an air of fraud to the whole thing.

Roger Ebert in 1988, muted and workmanlike.

3 Women

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Altman completism, and the least least Altman of the Altmans I've yet seen. It's 1977. Two Texan gals move to California in separate waves of migration: Shelley Duval (before The Shining) and Sissy Spacek, both very young but essentially what they've been since. There are very few of his classic moves; all I noticed was the overlapping dialogue around the swimming pool. Things are episodic, amiable but tedious, until identities become as fluid as a much later David Lynch.

I'm not going to claim I understood much, and even Ebert couldn't find the words at the time but spilt many more in 2004.

The Last Picture Show

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A dying small town in Texas, somewhat proximate to exotic, cheap Mexico and about-the-same Oklahoma, loads of old classic folk tunes and barely serviceable trucks, in black-and-white in 1971. It's part of a brace of movies of that time pining for the peak America of the 1950s (cf American Grafitti). The draw was a very young Jeff Bridges.

Things begin like a series of Altman vignettes before we hit the grooves of an overarching narrative. Timothy Bottoms's Sonny is the pivot around which seemingly all the women swing; for instance forty-something Ellen Burstyn with a steady gaze: "No... I think I'll just go on home." These are stories of those who remained to brave the perennial disappointment in their lack of football skills. The mental impairment of Sonny's brother (?) is sensitively handled. Town bike Cybill Shepherd escapes to Dallas for college and that is that for all the young men in the town. Bridges joins the army and ships out to Korea. The following year's football team is far superior.

The lack of judgement (in both senses) of the inhabitants of the town strikes me as implausible; most small places make something of their generational hatred and feuds (cf Cloudstreet and so forth). The two Oscar winners anchor the older generation: Ben Johnson is the all father (a wised up Ed Hurley?), owner of all three town hubs: the cafe, the pool hall and the movie theatre. Cloris Leachman plays a cougar who's not too happy when she gets traded in for a younger model but allows herself to be talked around after a larger tragedy.

For some reason director Peter Bogdanovich, writer Larry McMurtry and the cast (!) thought a superannuation sequel was a good idea.

Roger Ebert at the time and in 2004.

Wuthering Heights (1939)

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A Laurence Olivier jag from Marathon Man. A classic costume drama in luxurious, Oscar-winning black and white. I read the book a long time ago and recall only its skeleton.

The story proper starts with some excruciating child acting overlaid with the kind of upbeat American music intended to evoke paradisial sproghood. After that the chronology gets a bit difficult to follow as the adult actors/characters do not visibly age, and so I experienced the rest as a series of set-piece encounters between the star crossed lovers which amount to little more than cliché: either the actress playing Cathy (Merle Oberon) was really bad, or the character doesn't translate to the screen, or her accent was off, or something. Olivier's Heathcliff is to the manor borne by currents of American wealth (represented by fine clothes, a horse and a continuing absence of manners). Servants apparently last forever. There are dogs everywhere. Eventually Cathy carks it for the convenience of the plot, releasing us too from its death grip; I'm glad I didn't have to sit through another generation of these characters.

I remember vaguely feeling that the novel doesn't justify the assertions that Heathcliff is dark, evil, etc. by his actions, at least by modern standards; in other words it was all nineteenth-century fake news. Similarly the source material had a kind of virginal perfection to it that slips through the fingers of the vacuous, grasping idle classes here. John Quiggin grimly observes that we're all going to have to get with that program now.

The Enemy Below

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Robert Mitchum completism. Once again it's World War II and the Greatest Generation is showing us how it's done, this time in colour and without excess moralising. Mitchum captains an American destroyer that encounters a German U-boat in a region of the southern Atlantic within a day's sailing of Trinidad (i.e., nowhere). After some vintage stagey posturing in a slow first movement we get a taut chess match with some nice work from Curd Jürgens as the U-boat captain. It's nowhere close to Das Boot but the special effects did win the 1957 Oscar. Mitchum is at peak everyman here: war is just what blokes do. Jürgens anachronistically opines that it has become all too mechanistic.