peteg's blog

Diabolique

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Another pointer from Roger Ebert, and a jag along Henri-Georges Clouzot's output from The Wages of Fear. Black-and-white, 1955. It's a bit like Laura in that murder never quite runs on time. The twists are fun when they come, though there is some significant lag in the middle. Uptight Vera Clouzot is definitely more fun than Frenchy Marilyn Simone Signoret.

Bosley Crowther back in the day.

Nosferatu

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Another of Roger Ebert's "great movies". A black-and-white classic from 1922. It's exactly the same as every other vampire movie that's come since, except it's silent and German. Bremen is a great setting. At times it's almost real.

A Run for Your Money

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Another of the Ealing comedies. Black and white, 1949. Alec Guinness in support. Two Welsh coal-mining boys win a prize that takes them to London. The expected ensues. All is fair in love and war. Nothing to see here.

Richard Ford: Sorry for Your Trouble.

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Kindle. A collection of shorts. I should have realised what Rand Richards Cooper meant by "trenchant and at times thrillingly downbeat realism": it's code for an extended meditation on the fine distinctions in feeling that people don't make any more. I was instead sold by his pull quote: "He had thought about her every single day. Though he’d thought about many other things as often. To be thinking about something didn’t mean what people said it meant." Ford sticks to where he knows: Ireland and the Irish diaspora, New Orleans, NYC, Maine, the generic Midwest, Paris, the professional classes, first world problems. His shifts in time within these stories are technically virtuosic, but also lead to excess repetition that kills things deader than dead.

The Indian Runner

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Sean Penn's directorial debut, and apparently Viggo Mortensen's break out performance. Here he is in 1991, so young, so James Dean. Everyone is so young: Patty Arquette, a few years before her big effort in Lost Highway. Even Dennis Hopper as a barman looks a decade younger than he did in Apocalypse Now and Blue Velvet. Del Toro boyishly minces it up in a minor role. Valeria Golino plays the same straight-up European lady as in Rain Main, but this time she might be from Mexico. Only Charles Bronson does look his age.

This is the sort of movie that is no longer made, though that sort of America is still out there, up north, not far from Ohio, perhaps still playing the post Vietnam blues. Everyone smokes. Everyone drinks to excess, every so often. There is a lot of gun play. Thematically it's a meditation on family (incarnated as blood) in schematic fashion: one brother, losing his farm, becomes a cop, while the demobilised brother is reborn bad, both retaining their 16mm black-and-white childhood traits; the essentialism is tedious. The parents go. A baby is (graphically) birthed. There's a murder or two, depending on how you count. Time rolls on. Based on a Springsteen song — "Highway Patrolman" — I don't think I've heard.

Janet Maslin. Roger Ebert.

Miami Vice

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More Michael Mann completism. Self-cannibalising his 1980s TV show (I've never seen it), he laid on all the ingredients for a solid entry in his oeuvre and yet it never congeals into anything tasty. The cast is mostly squandered. Jamie Foxx does what he can in a nothing role. Naomie Harris! Eddie Marsan! — what an accent. John Ortiz can never get the concern out of his eyes. Colin Farrell plays peak Colin Farrell. I have no idea what was going on with Gong Li. There are vast quantities of guns but no graphic violence. Some exotic locations, poorly used. The best cinematography is classic Mann: American cityscapes at night, now sadly lacking their neon. It's not easy to say what goes wrong with this thing; perhaps the fault is ours, in expecting Scarface or a classic Mann.

Dana Stevens. Obviously Naomie Harris got kidnapped for leverage! As far as I remember they didn't find the mole, or even look too hard beyond the Foxx stratagem. A. O. Scott dug it. I too enjoyed the cinematography. Peter Travers. The trailer park shootout got a proper do-over in one of the True Detectives I think.

The Yellow Sea (Hwanghae)

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Another Korean flick from the post-Parasite list by Manohla Dargis. Contrary to her I'm not unreservedly enthusiastic about the old graphic ultraviolence. Here it's all knives and axes — a guy with a gun who could aim would've made this movie about five minutes long — that inflict amazing damage and draw fantastic quantities of blood, and yet the people from Yanji (ethnic Koreans stuck in China between China/North Korea/Russia) continue. There are an excess of chases and a touch of the Oldboy invincibility. The handheld camerawork is too jittery. I lost track of the plot early on, and I wish they'd dispensed with one entirely. Directed by Na Hong-jin, new to me, and likely the last of his I'll see.

The Thief of Bagdad

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Abu: Where are we now?
Genie: Above the roof... of the world.
Abu: Has the world got a roof?
Genie: Of course. Supported by seven pillars, and the seven pillars are set on the shoulders of a genie whose strength is beyond thought, and the genie stands on an eagle, and the eagle on a bull, and the bull on a fish, and the fish swims in the sea of eternity...

Deemed a "great movie" by Roger Ebert in 2009. A matinee classic. Special effects! Colour! I found the adventure itself a bit too generically exotic, with place names now familiar from recent American wars; I'm guessing some people in 1940 knew them from World War I. Buddha has an all-seeing eye and apparently Allah wasn't too bothered by sorcery back then. In two sittings as I wasn't that into it.

Bosley Crowther at the time.

Don Winslow: Broken.

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Kindle. A collection of shorts, almost novellas, or offcuts. Upon completing it I realised I'd seen his three-spoked Paradise weed dealers before, in Oliver Stone's Savages. Here they're trying to expand into Hawaii, which the locals, of course, are not happy about. That suggests there's probably more in these stories for Winslow's regulars than I got. There's also the vibe that he's a sort-of short-form West Coast Dennis Lehane, providing raw material to the movies.

All of these stories go about as you'd expect once the premise has been established. Most of the fun is in his punchy sentences and observations, and that none overstay their welcome to the point of resentment. The pick for me was the second — Crime 101 — where he sets up a few overlapping triangles of cops, robbers, jewellers and beach bunnies. The weakest is the concluding The Last Ride, which reads as some kind of manifesto for how he wishes Southern Republicans would behave, i.e., by getting back in touch with what Winslow presents as their traditional decency. Most are about men who are lethally competent in familiar but unreal scenarios where things go unsurprisingly.

Janet Maslin's review sold it to me. She reckons the first (Broken) is the weakest.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

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Another of Roger Ebert's "great movies" (four stars in 2009). The still in his review suggests fantastic things, like a 1960s Doctor Who set or a Bertolt Brecht: angular, stagy, artificial, and with a point to make. The reality is a silent German movie from 1920. I didn't follow the plot entirely; I was hoping for some David Lynch Lost Highway identity-based kookiness but instead got a fairly linear bit of misdirection. I'd lost interest by the last scene, and have no idea why the surviving friend was being branded insane.

The Pledge

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One of Roger Ebert's "great movies" (four stars in 2012, a kiss-of-death 3.5 stars in 2001). The draw was the fabulous cast: Jack Nicholson leads as a one-last-case retiring police officer in Nevada, Benicio Del Toro mumbles unpersuasively, Aaron Eckhart does his alpha-male thing, Mickey Rourke attempts some tears, and so forth; none are particularly convincing. Sean Penn pulled this crowd and directs, putting his wife-at-the-time Robin Wright Penn in flannels and cracked teeth as the obvious love interest. In this role he seems eternally preoccupied with the treatment of children: here there's some extreme but entirely routine serial killing. After the initial gore things slide into the soporific, and as the time wound down I realised that he was trying really hard to go somewhere new. The break, when it comes, is not worth the trip: the culmination of Nicholson's fishing, petrol vending, family anchoring, and angst is a solitary gibbering alcoholic.

Reviews were legion at the time.

Evan Ratliff, ed: Love and Ruin: Tales of Obsession, Danger, and Heartbreak from The Atavist Magazine.

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Kindle. Over an extended period of time, since I read Ratliff's fascinating The Mastermind. This is a collection of long articles drawn from The Atavist; some hits, some misses, some omissions, and one I'd read before. Most were good but nothing was particularly memorable.

Mindhunter (Seasons 1-2)

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It's like Twin Peaks and The Silence of the Lambs had a baby TV show that married Se7en but secretly wished it had saved itself for True Detective or Breaking Bad. It was raised in the neighborhood of Natural Born Killers. This FBI eerily echoes David Lynch's with similar tensions between institutional conformity and quirky innovation. Instead of Duchovny's timeless Denise we get Anna Torv's frosty lesbian academician; the psychobabble is sometimes, even too often, too much. (Lena Olin smokes her off the screen in a few brief scenes.) Jonathan Groff's semi-Rain Man Holden Ford (eventually deep into season two: "It’s a bad joke ... in Australia") has his kyptonite, just like Kyle MacLachlan's Dale Cooper but nowhere as inventive. Holt McCallany (memorable in Fight Club) is solid as his blinkering buddy. But of course without a character like Lynch's Cole things were always going to be a bit too linear. The smoking is epic. There are too many balls in the air. The ambience is ruthless. The family stuff wasn't too much but still crowded out more interesting things.

The draw was David Fincher, who hasn't done a lot of directing since Gone Girl. The cinematography is often dark sepia.

The Foul King

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Another Korean effort; another post-Parasite pointer from Ben Kenigsberg. This one is more literally a WWE cartoon, and you'll enjoy it about as much as you're prepared to indulge Song Kang-ho's style of comedy. There's a smidge of romance, some mess at the karaoke, much fantasy fulfilment. It was released in 2000, making it something of a response to Fight Club. Directed by Kim Jee-woon, who is new to me.

A. O. Scott at the time.

Train to Busan

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I thought I'd give SBS's on-demand service a go. You need an account (surprise). It didn't like the various ad blockers I use in Chrome, and even when I disabled these it cratered every ad break. I had even less success with FireFox. It did work fine on vanilla Safari, which I keep for just this purpose. Yeah, the ads are annoying.

This is a 2016 South Korean zombie flick set on a train, a bit too soon after Snowpiercer I'd say. Directed by Yeon Sang-ho, who was new to me. The violence is less graphic than we're used to, and it's pretty funny at times; things get cartoonish in the same way as the WWE. The cinematography is as gorgeous as you'd expect. The CGI is not too bad. It has all the tropes but passes up too many opportunities to freshly skewer the genre, its characters or Korean society; overall there's not a lot going on beyond the busyness in the frame.

Jeannette Catsoulis.

Trishna

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As with all the others recently, this movie has been on the pile for ages. Delayed Winterbottom, Thomas Hardy and Riz Ahmed completism. I always thought of Ahmed as having Pakistani and not Indian heritage, and capable of more subtlety than he manages here; there is some colour in his initial bro, but it's all gone by the time we get to Mumbai. Freida Pinto struggles to make much of an empty role. Winterbottom claims to have adapted Tess of the d'Urbervilles but he only retained some shapeless highlights. The cinematography is quite good, so it sort-of works as a high end tourism commercial.

Roger Ebert saw more in it than I did, and observes how combining two of Hardy's characters in Ahmed's explains the general formlessness. Manohla Dargis.

Far from the Madding Crowd

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More (delayed) Carey Mulligan completism, and similarly for Thomas Hardy. She does her best here with a story that has been reduced to soap opera and blanched of Hardy's usual preoccupations. She marries poorly, and almost entirely out of character. Michael Sheen does what he can with even less. It is well shot. It's not a patch on Winterbottom's Jude.

A. O. Scott worked hard to make his word quota.

Tim Winton: The Turning.

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Kindle. I've had in mind for a while that I should rewatch the movie from 2013. Instead I picked up its source material, which is good in its way. Since its release the Winton's autobiographies have made its origins more transparent, and perhaps the whole thing redundant.

There's been a deficit of specifically Australian stories these past several years, or maybe I haven't been looking hard enough. Either way this seems unlikely to change with the virus and the eternal pursuit of world city status.

A Hidden Life

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Malick revisits the Christ story, framed by World War II; I think he wishes he'd made The Last Temptation of Christ as well as The Thin Red Line. The plot is no more than what it says on the tin: an Austrian farmer cannot bring himself to swear fealty to Hitler. The cinematography is as awesome as ever, but it took me several goes to slog through these three hours as it completely fails to grip; more precisely, the beautifully impressionistic opening half enthralls until we're on that railroad to an execution in Berlin. It proves Zeno right about time in that way. I feel the mix of English and German is a mistake, as is having the bereft wife wife kicking fences and rending grass, where Malick seems to forget that these are stoic Germanic people.

Richard Brody thinks that it's time Hollywood stopped putting the Nazis on film. A. O. Scott.

Theatre Y has a YouTube channel.

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It's not at all like being there.