peteg's blog

In Bruges

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A Martin McDonagh writer/director jag from Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. I gave it a miss at the time as I don't think much of Colin Farrell as an actor or of Ralph Fiennes's choice of roles. Suffice it to say that there was even less there than I expected then; the humour was forced and cliched, with most scenes cleaving closely to formula. Farrell struggled to play dumb (that dumb anyway) and while Brendan Gleeson has redeemed other material this was beyond him. The remainder of the players are cast as eurotrash.

Manohla Dargis: it signifies nothing. Dana Stevens trainspots the legion antecedents, and told me that McDonagh wrote The Lieutenant of Inishmore: this thing needed a cat. Roger Ebert dug it.

Minari

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A young Korean family move first to California and then to Arkansas in the pursuit of elusive happiness. It's a messy story whose best bits involve the wife's mother. The ending is inconclusive. I enjoyed the actors more: Steven Yeun as the exasperating, aspirational husband, Yeri Han as his conflicted wife, Yuh-jung Youn as grandma. Conversely I always struggle with Will Patton's sly grin, and daughter Noel Cho's character is underdrawn.

Jason Di Rosso's interview with the director prompted me to see it. A. O. Scott.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

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Frances McDormand completism, and a Peter Dinklage jag from I Care a Lot. I gave it a miss at the time because I couldn't see how the themes would add up to a decent movie, and the reviews were mixed. It turned out to be quite fun despite all that, for the most part, mostly due to some very amusing framing and dialogue. The cast is stellar: both McDormand and Sam Rockwell got Oscars for their roles. I warmed up to Rockwell further in, once he got past his moments as himself, though I found his transition from dumb hothead to circumspect vigilante clunky. Woody Harrelson done as good as always. Apart from the accent I didn't recognise Abbie Cornish as his wife. Caleb Landry Jones has fun as an advertising mogul. The ending is not very adequate. #151 in the IMDB top-250.

Dana Stevens. Manohla Dargis.

I Care A Lot

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Stellar cast, total dog. What were they thinking?

Jeannette Catsoulis.

Nomadland

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Frances McDormand plays a widowed older lady who hits the road in the wake of the creative destruction of her company town (Empire in Nevada). Could anyone else play this role? It's always good to see David Strathairn, recognisable by his voice. I liked the way in which she cared. Someone should line her up for a Shakespeare; Plummer would've been her obvious costar.

Dana Stevens dug it and deemed it "message free", but to this foreigner it is far from. A. O. Scott. Kyle Buchanan interviewed McDormand.

Another Round

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Driving around outback NSW, I did find Radio National on the dial and the time/patience to listen to it. Jason Di Rosso on his The Screen Show interviewed Thomas Vinterberg amongst others. He was plugging his new feature Another Round starring Mads Mikkelsen. I liked how Di Rosso framed and engaged with things, and probed his guests, politely and firmly and personally.

The premise is that humans are born alcohol deficient, and what better way to test that out than with a group of four male Danish schoolteachers undergoing mid-life crises. Things go as you might expect, which is a bit disappointing from the director of Festen. However the entire thing is almost redeemed by the last five minutes or so, when Mikkelsen dances. It struck me as solipsistic, as him being so wound up in himself but also momentarily liberated, unfurled in the world, carefree, expressive, but the camera would have you believe that other people were somehow relevant to it. There's also a cute montage of Yeltsin and Clinton in the middle amongst a few other world leaders.

Devika Girish at the New York Times. Also Lisa Abend. And Gia Kourlas interviewed Mikkelsen: "We wanted it not to be about the dance but about what was inside of the character. More than it is a performance, it's an internal journey. It’s almost like a close-up." Anthony Lane.

The Night of the Hunter

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Some nights there's nothing for it but to revisit this Robert Mitchum classic. Roger Ebert deemed it not only a "great movie" in 1996, but "one of the greatest of all American films". Who can argue with that. Bosley Crowther liked it at the time apart from the ending.

Arthur Phillips: The Egyptologist.

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Kindle. His most-recent book was OK so I thought I'd give his earlier work a go. It's peak Egyptology just after the Great War: Carter is discovering Tutankhamen's tomb, and our historically minor figures are intriguing for an apocryphal king. Unfortunately the writing is again flabby and repetitive with too much foreshadowing; what seemed to be a promising premise devolved into a swamp of deluded characters with the exception of the knowing, mocking Marlowe and his Oxford set. Sometimes the Australian characters have the right tone and lingo, and perhaps the same is true for the boys who went up to the university. The epistolary format and heavy stereotyping made it hard to engage, and early on it was clear that the unreliability of the narrators was making a satisfactory ending impossible; the remains of these days don't amount to a hill of beans.

Tom Bissell observes this is a historical novel, of which Phillips apparently made a habit. I didn't enjoy much of the humour as I took the whole show to be a fiasco from the start; it's a farce not a comedy, not even a parody, just a dance with cliches. Bissell does not grapple with the themes of immortality, rhyming, repeating history, fakery and weak evidentiary bases. Goodreads was harsher.

Amor Towles: You Have Arrived at Your Destination.

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Kindle. A short written on commission for Amazon. This is one of those books that makes you wonder if the writer's editor isn't the magician, as for Shantaram / The Mountain Shadow. Clearly bashed out quickly and to spec; there's little of Towles's sophisticated remove here. I wasn't invested enough to divine the novelty or point of it all. Designer babies! In the USA! Ergo military-industrial complex conspiracy. It didn't smell truthy to me.

Goodreads has a range of opinions.

Amor Towles: Eve in Hollywood.

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Kindle. Offcuts from The Rules of Civility. Snapshots of the golden era. Eve befriends Olivia de Havilland, who passed only last year at 104. Eve is always perfectly appropriate to the moment, but also directionless and unmotivated. Eve would now be a chaos monkey at a startup a little further north. Yes, it's all about Eve.

Walk the Line

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This was on the pile for ages. I'm not a fan of any of the actors or even Johnny Cash — he's mostly a legendary voice to me, and this movie doesn't really capture that. Reese Witherspoon got an Oscar for her efforts as Cash's eventual wife June Carter. Joaquin Phoenix is decent in the lead. Robert Patrick plays the unyielding father. There's not much of a story.

A. O. Scott was skeptical, Roger Ebert indulgent.

The Rules of the Game

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A French upstairs/downstairs farce from 1939 in black and white. Not for me. It's more fun to read Roger Ebert's "great movie" review. Prompted by Ben Kenigsberg.

Red River

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John Wayne in black and white in 1948, just like Gil Scott Heron used to say. Overall he's a bit undermodulated as he drives a massive herd of cattle from deflated post-civil-war Texas to Missouri with pseudo-son Montgomery Clift who is actually decent here. It's not spoiling a thing to say that they don't make it. The cinematography is quite good and as you'd expect from Howard Hawks there's enough going on to keep things interesting. One of these years I'll make it all the way to Montana with Lonesome Dove.

Roger Ebert in 1998. Bosley Crowther at the time. Both are disappointed by the intrusion of women into this masculine fabulation.

Dennis Glover: Factory 19.

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Kindle. 14.99 AUD directly from the publisher Black Inc. Third time around with Glover; I remember his previous historical novel as better than his polemic on industrial society. Here we are at their intersection, and a contemplation of what the internet has done to things.

The premise is simple: 1948 was the peak of blue collar workers' communitarian welfare, so what happens if a billionaire tries to recreate it as a refuge for the disrupted in Tasmania in our year 2022? This adventure in bleached Australian utopianism (a field long in decline) wobbles between Animal Farm-like satire and Anglophilia/Europhobia. Halfway through it enumerates the joys of the time, just as Red Plenty did for 1950s Russia. The thin disguise draped over David Walsh seems like an appeal to him to give it a shot despite this paradise being, of course, lost.

Glover's essential desire is to undo the impact of the computer on society and industrial practice. Apparently without it the destiny of humankind is controllable by humans who will therefore be happier. He takes it as read that an industrialised society is inescapable, and that a service economy slakes no thirst — humans need to build stuff, to materially and personally disturb dirt.

The central disappointment of the book is the long list of present-day concerns that Glover either ignores or inadequately responds to. Greenies are supposed to be bought off/provoked/triggered/quietened by militant fantasy. Nothing is said about religion and sectarianism; terrorism with religious motivations had certainly arrived by 1948. So it goes for colonialism and nuclear technology. The sexism of the day is described (accepted?) but not defended. Aborigines, post-war non-Anglo migrants and people with disabilities do not exist (which is weird as he does include industrial accidents). Maybe that was the Australia of the 1940s but it doesn't fly to continue to ignore them in the second thread set in the 1970s. Glover need not have addressed every last thing but it grates that he acknowledges other flaws of those periods, including such superficialities as fashion.

Glover's contention that blue-collar workers are poor in present-day Australia is belied by the common epithet "cashed-up bogans" — many contractors, mine workers, tradies, builders, etc have never had it this good. He has no story about creativity, just contentment via consumption. To him the glorious 30 year post WWII Keynesian economy was destroyed by overreaching strikers in the 1970s, led by a caricature of RJL Hawke. Glover is too blinkered to integrate the innovations of that period from elsewhere in the world, such as Toyota's total quality management that reputedly encouraged, for a time, more engagement and satisfaction in factory work.

Overall it's not as well constructed as A Gentleman in Moscow (brought to mind by the quasi-involuntary incarceration/co-option of the non-working-class, cultured main character/narrator), often indulgent and less provocative than I hoped. For all that Glover writes engagingly and if you're sympathetic to his conceit there's some fun to be had.

Jack Cameron Stanton summarised it for the Smage. Jack Callil at the Guardian. In another Schwartz venue, Anna Thwaites observed the equivocating voice that obscured whatever point Glover was trying to make.

Last Tango in Paris

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Brando completism. He was all over the map here. Leading lady Maria Schneider had a difficult and often vacuous role. The main themes seem childish and exploitative. The Chekhovian device is annoyingly predictable and literal. The film-within-the-film is trite. It was on the pile for a very long time because it was and is very difficult for me to get excited about. Perhaps it speaks louder to Americans and French people as some sort of post-war (ma)lingering.

12 stars from Roger Ebert: 1972, 1995 (unexpected events?!?), 2004 (a revision of the 1995 opinions). Overall he views it, by channelling Kael, as some high point in art cinema.

O Lucky Man!

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A bemusing, clunky and overlong series of quasi fables from early 1970s England threaded by Malcolm McDowell. He and Lindsay Anderson previously made If..., which I don't remember being this uninspired, and also a followup Britannia Hospital that I'll now give a miss. Structurally it's similar to Tales from the Crypt (Ralph Richardson is in both). Confusingly Helen Mirren and others in the ensemble cast are sometimes the same character but mostly different. No new observations are made about the state of humankind here, not the least because McDowell made all of them and more in A Clockwork Orange a couple of years prior. Alan Price's music doesn't help, and nor do the title cards.

Fargo

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The Coen insta-classic from 1996. Prompted by a Roger Ebert review. He was still in love with it five years later. As he says the iconic scenes from the movie all come quite late, which is not to slight the very able setup work from Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare, and William H. Macy but to observe just how much Frances McDormand inhabits her character and lifts the material above a police procedural about a kooky caper. Janet Maslin at the time.

Written on the Wind

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A Lauren Bacall and Dorothy Malone jag from The Big Sleep. The latter won an Oscar for her portrayal of the scion's sister who is fixated on marrying leaden lead and poor adoptee Rock Hudson. It's a bit of a Southern Gothic transplanted to somewhere not very Southern, or perhaps a riff on Gatsby. Robert Stack is wooden and yet got an Oscar nom. The opening scenes, of a man drinking in a yellow roadster and a gun going off, were effective but oversold what came afterwards.

Roger Ebert deemed it a "great movie" in 1998. Parody perhaps, artifice sure, sophisticated I don't think so. Bosley Crowther apparently missed all the cues.

Gregory's Girl and Gregory's Two Girls

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A pointer from Roger Ebert's review of Local Hero; both of these were written and directed by Bill Forsyth. The first (from 1980) is a successful, quirky, fun coming-of-age sitcom at a small-town Scottish high school, where a girl joins the soccer team and outdoes the boys in fitness, skill and beauty, while the second has Gregory return for more situations as a teacher in 1999. The only cast to return was lead John Gordon Sinclair which was perhaps due to Forsyth playing it too safe in the lee of Trainspotting and Fucking Åmål amongst others. (The original has Eric saying "In another million years, there'll be no men, no women. There'll just be people. Just a whole world full of wankers.") I was expecting Greg to have a wife and a daughter in the latter, and I guess he does end up there-ish.

Roger Ebert and Vincent Canby about the first one. Both loved it. Girl Clare Grogan later played Kochanski in Red Dwarf.

Warlock (1959)

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A Dorothy Malone jag from The Big Sleep. A strong or at least intriguing cast (Henry Fonda as himself, Richard Widmark looking at times like Ed Harris's brother, a camp Anthony Quinn, DeForest Kelley (!), ...) in a stock Western. Less than I hoped for; Leone kept things interesting with Morricone's music and great cinematography, whereas this just sags.

Bosley Crowther thought it was excellent.