peteg's blog

Sweet and Lowdown (1999)

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More Samantha Morton completism. She's fetchingly expressive here as the mute muse to lead Sean Penn's blustery but self-aware most-excellent depression-era jazz guitarist Emmet Ray. Both got Oscar noms, and she made me wonder if she wasn't a century late for the silent era. It's a straightforward semi-crooked biopic of that fictional jazz guitarist. Directed by Woody Allen and therefore highly dependent on a tolerance for his schtick, particularly his repetition humour. James Urbaniak, Uma Thurman, Anthony LaPaglia support.

Roger Ebert: three-and-a-half stars: "... I am reminded of a pet cemetery marker in Errol Morris' Gates of Heaven, which reads: 'I knew love. I knew this dog.'" Janet Maslin. Stephanie Zacharek.

Two for Joy (2018)

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Samantha Morton completism. A listless, somewhat gentle (except for the climactic part) trip to the beach where traumatic events put the family's earlier traumatic events into some kind of perspective. Billie Piper tries to inject some chaos. It reminded me of the Fassbender-in-Essex Fishtank. Not enough is asked of Morton.

Peter Bradshaw. Prompted by an interview at the Guardian with Danny Leigh.

Cookie's Fortune (1999)

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Altman completism. It strikes me now that he was something of a David Lynch of the south. This one is a ramble around Holly Springs, Mississippi. Pity the town where Liv Tyler is the only piece of tail, and her only suitors are Chris O'Donnell (Robin!) and Lyle Lovett. Patricia Neal is unrecognizable as the titular character.

Roger Ebert: four stars and a lot of love. Janet Maslin.

Alvin Purple (1973)

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Prompted by Luke Buckmaster's rewatch in 2014. An early-1970s Ozploitation sex farce, and even shallower than that suggests as it's a real bitza — there are sex-crazed schoolgirls and neighbours (Jacki Weaver gets her kit off, as do many others), waterbeds, varieties of shysterism, a court case, some random observations about psychology as a profession and a science, and a somewhat mystifying final car chase and skydive (!) that brings the central character to a nunnery. Only in Melbourne! I've never been persuaded by Graeme Blundell as an actor (let alone a sex object or a mock sex object); he did OK in Don's Party by channeling his inner (natural?) ineptitude. There is the odd moment when he seems to be genuinely enjoying himself however. Peter Cummins (the father in Storm Boy) has a minor role as a reactionary taxi driver.

More details than you ever wanted to know at Ozmovies.

Deepti Kapoor: Age of Vice. (2023)

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Kindle. A bum steer from Dwight Garner; he's trending to more miss than hit. Marketed as India's answer to The Godfather — and what a marketing effort it's been! — and so soon after the age of anger.

This book is long, its referents are exhaustively exhausting, the author's execution and continuity patchy. Let's not mention the dialogue, the overuse of brands and (my favourite) the overly specific pharmacopoeia. Is this Shantaram in world-class (so much world class) Delhi? Not really; it's more Trishna wanting to be Breaking Bad. The inert, touristic set piece on a deserted beach in Goa put me in mind of Ben Affleck, bloated and broken on the shore, powers dissipating, with shades of (dominant) grey. There are way too many confessions — more than your average no-I-expect-you-to-die! James Bond — and it attempts subtlety with a Star Wars I-am-your-father-Luke sotto voce. Basically if you've ever met a trope you'll meet it again here.

Goodreads. Oh no, she intends to write two more. The rating there has slid as the masses have filed in with their opinions. The White Tiger? Could be. Literary? Nope. Would Puzo be concerned? Not at all.

The Pale Blue Eye (2022)

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A strangely airless American horror/satanism period piece set at wintry West Point in the Hudson Valley in New York State in the 1830s (reminiscent of The Crucible and so forth). The stellar cast — Christian Bale in the lead, Timothy Spall, Toby Jones, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Gillian Anderson, and I did enjoy Robert Duvall's professor of esoteric literature and Harry Melling's Edgar Allan Poe — just can't achieve liftoff.

Jeannette Catsoulis: contrary to her, I don't think there's anything supernatural in this. Glenn Kenny: contrary to him, I don't think the final movement redeemed anything. This is not one of Bale's finer outings.

Nashville (1975)

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One of Altman's classics. Keith Carradine got an Oscar for his song.

Roger Ebert: four stars at the time and another four stars in 2000 as a "great movie". Vincent Canby.

White Noise (2022)

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In two sittings as I didn't get it. I haven't read Don DeLillo's book and am now unlikely to. I'm sympathetic to Greta Gerwig's writer/director schtick (Little Women, Lady Bird, etc.) and her acting here is OK. I wasn't so sure about Adam Driver. Gerwig's main squeeze Noah Baumbach adapted the material and directed; it's lush but pointless.

A. O. Scott. The "mock profundity" is tedious.

The Menu (2022)

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Somewhat prompted by Jason Di Rosso's interview with director Mark Mylod a while back. He wasn't enthused. Escort Anya Taylor-Joy is supposed to take it to exclusive chef / cult leader Ralph Fiennes but there's only so much that bug-eyes can do. As car thieves everywhere I go know, the only solution is to set it all on fire. John Leguizamo struggles with cringey spinelessness. Nicholas Hoult, what was the point. And so on.

Jeannette Catsoulis got right into it.

The Assistant (2019)

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Di Rosso interviewed Australian writer/director Kitty Green a while back; I caught an excerpt he recycled recently. Apparently the first of the #metoo movies, this is a day in the life of Julia Garner, assistant to a never-shown, often-heard Weinstein-like boss. She's shown to be a bit naive, not only for expecting HR to address her concerns but also by copping the hospital passes of her fellow assistants (two blokes). The whole show looked entirely horrible to me, especially the undercurrent of everyone just doing what they have to to get ahead in the movie industry.

Jeannette Catsoulis made it a critic's pick at the time. It was one of Dana Stevens's best for 2020.

Ned Beauman: Venomous Lumpsucker. (2022)

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Kindle. Sometimes you just want to read something with a plot, some characters, a little pace and verve, maybe even a point of view. You'd even settle for some magpie storytelling where vast foraging, cracked perspectives and too many zingers make it easy to forgive the shortcomings.

I feel a bit bad re-reading what I said about Beauman's Madness is Better than Defeat: it was better than all that. Here he returns after a few too many years with a marginally saner take on green capitalism, specifically extinction credits. Amongst the many random jags are: short squeezes (GameStop is name checked), intelligent animals (initially provoking an oh no, but deftly deployed: the lady is looking for a species with sufficient intelligence to consciously take revenge on the humans who are wiping them out), game theory for fish (these lumpsuckers supposedly engage in retribution based on some risk assessment), Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny, seasteading (canonically pilloried back in 2016 by Hermicity: "We now have the technology to live completely alone. Hermit cities powered by DAOs on the Ethereum blockchain." / "Solar powered drones delivering soylent to hermits, ran as a DAO on the Ethereum blockchain!"), BREXIT (the U.K. is now the Hermit Kingdom), a very dodgy take on the preservation of information (as a physical principle) and consciousness simulation on whatever (cf Permutation City).

Does it cohere? No it does not. Does that matter? Not at all. And isn't it time he got a movie deal? This is at least as good as any of the recent James Bond plots.

Goodreads. Wai Chee Dimock spoilt it at the New York Times. And so on.

Minority Report (2002)

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Spielberg, Colin Farrell (very bland), Samantha Morton (does what she can) jags from other recent movies. Second time around I think. Tom Cruise leads in this adaptation of a Philip K. Dick short. I did not enjoy the cinematography very much; at times the lighting is so harsh it eradicates all details. The omnipresent ads, some amusing, could've been dug into some more: we're almost there. At times the aesthetic echoes Bladerunner, and one scene is very A Clockwork Orange. The user interfaces prefigured Iron Man and similarly look too much like exercise. It's a bit Se7en (the inevitability) but is ruined by too much voiced-over exposition in the final movement.

Roger Ebert: four stars at the time. Analog film making at its finest. Elvis Mitchell: "The performances are perfectly fine; no one is asked to do something new. And if poor Ms. Morton is asked to play a feral, near-mute victim one more time, she may be pushed beyond the range of her immense talents to find a different wrinkle." David Edelstein.

She Said (2022)

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More #metoo on the big screen, or a proof-of-life from the legacy media (film and print). Carey Mulligan leads in her second go around with this topic (after Promising Young Woman). She's fine. Samantha Morton as the first lady to substantiate (provide documents about) the Weinstein story is excellent; I would've liked to see her in a scene with Mulligan as she's simply in a different class to Zoe Kazan. I also enjoyed Patricia Clarkson's muted performance, and Andre Braugher's decisiveness. The meat of the movie (beyond what everyone knows at this time) is essentially the legwork of investigative journalism, which for all it's import is not that gripping.

Alexis Soloski at the New York Times. Jason Di Rosso interviewed the director Maria Schrader. Peter Bradshaw: "perhaps [Ronan Farrow's] good-faith contribution could have been acknowledged with a bit more generosity?" And so on.

Good Night Oppy (2022)

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A leading contender for the coming doco Oscar, the internet tells me. I wanted more science and less anthropomorphism. Little information about what was actually discovered is conveyed; all we got is that there is some evidence that neutral-pH water was present on Mars a long time ago. I could've done with more background on Steve Squyres and details of the engineering, what sensors were carried, etc. I came away with no clue what Perseverance is looking for. Overall this was a poor packaging of what is fascinating raw material; it asked a lot less of its audience than Carl Sagan did in Cosmos forty years ago. And the soundtrack is not cracker.

Wikipedia has some details of the science, the rover engineering and an overview of the larger, ongoing program. Ben Kenigsberg managed to look past the excess personification.

Shaun Prescott: The Town. (2017)

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Kindle. Prompted by the release of his new book. Notionally about the disappearing towns in the Central West of NSW, but sufficiently banal, insecure, repetitive and unassured that my eyes glazed over anything that may've been interesting or novel.

Widely reviewed (and, of course, feted) locally. Kerryn Goldsworthy (amongst many others) is quick to fend off the charge that Prescott is just aping Gerald Murnane. Goodreads. And so on. Even trawling the apologetic reviews is a slog.

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022)

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Rian Johnson's latest, a followup of sorts to Knives Out from 2019. I see he's involved in yet another Star Wars trilogy.

Well, I didn't get too much into this one. There's way too much exposition, as if talking will paper over the holes and lack of twistiness in the plot, with every second line a shallow pop culture reference. The structure is like Gone Girl: there's a big shift in perspective near the midpoint. The cinematography is meh. There is a lot to trainspot I guess, set to a David Bowie soundtrack with the inevitable Lennon over the final credits.

The "how to host a murder" mechanic didn't work for me. Whoever was the putative murderer couldn't win it; did they know that? Kate Hudson does an airheaded look-at-me thing, tediously. Janelle Monáe from Moonlight (better there) plays the brains of the outfit. Was that a muscled-up Dode/Noah Segan in the painting? Most fatally, Edward Norton does not do dumb, unlike, for instance, Brad Pitt (cf the Coen brothers' Burn After Reading). And extremely fatally, the excess of dumb stuff made me wonder why the auteur couldn't give us something at least a little bit clever.

Dana Stevens watched it so you don't have to. A. O. Scott. Anthony Lane. And so on.

The Fabelmans (2022)

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Spielberg semi-autobio. It's his usual American hokum but even less gripping than usual, although he does keep you on the hook insofar as you wonder how far he's going to take things (non-spoiler: not far enough). At the two-thirds mark of this overlong thing he switches to generic high school set pieces (bullying, antisemitism, girls) that were cooked to a far tastier pitch a long time ago (e.g. The Last Picture Show, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Ferris Bueller, etc. etc.).

I was mostly there for Michelle Williams, who is as amazing as ever, but the best part was the closing scene where David Lynch plays John Ford in a Twin Peaks-reboot mode. Paul Dano does fine as the remote Bill Gates-esque father but the character is so generic that there's nothing much there. I was thrilled to see James Urbaniak as the school principal.

Dana Stevens. Manohla Dargis.

Yasmine Seale: The Annotated Arabian Nights: Tales from 1,001 Nights. (2021)

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Kindle. A pointer from Robyn Creswell at the New York Review of Books. I did enjoy the language/translation but somehow the stories seemed shallower this time around; perhaps I mostly enjoyed the colour in Richard Burton's effort.

The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)

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I'm not the biggest fan of Martin McDonagh's work; I found In Bruges too formulaic, and so it goes here again. In two sittings as I got bored. It's 1923 and while the Irish are warring we're on an island with Colin Farrell, his soon-to-depart sister Kerry Condon and his soon-to-be-ex mate Brendan Gleeson, the last of whom just wants to get on with writing pieces for the fiddle. There are a few Shakespearean touches (the witch, the arch language) and overly significant animals (the donkey, the dog). I think the point was that art too often bends to the nice, or, as demonstrated here, claims more for and of itself than it can justify.

Dana Stevens: it's a comedy! Say it ain't so. Yes, it's stagy, and if you know/expect he's going to repeat key phrases it gets tedious fast. Beckett this is not. A. O. Scott. And so on.

Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio (2022)

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I found it entertaining, perhaps because I wasn't too invested. As you'd expect there are a few inspired visual moments.

Manohla Dargis. Yep, the musical numbers were ill conceived.