peteg's blog

BlacKkKlansman (2018)

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A freebie from NIDA to this fortnight-early screening of Spike Lee's latest. Event Cinemas, George St, 6:30pm, perhaps two thirds full. The trailer for First Man looks a bit dire.

The film opens with a rant into the camera by Alec Baldwin, rendered insincere by a variety of verbal tics, and that we never see him again. It ends with a mashup of the disturbing news out of Charlottesville from August 2017 that shut everyone right up; perhaps Lee could make these punchy newsreel shorts more regularly. In between we get a ripping yarn from the heyday of Black Power: a black rookie cop (John David Washington playing Ron Stallworth) joins the Colorado Springs KKK with some help from his initially-noncommittal Jewish colleague (Adam Driver in his most effective performance yet): dual/duelling identities made literal. Laura Harrier smokes as the incognizably-single president of the local Black Student Union. Robert John Burke is good as a police chief, keeping everyone guessing, loosening up from his Hal Hartley days. Paul Walter Hauser plays more-or-less the same character as he did in I, Tonya; he, Jasper Pääkkönen and Ryan Eggold all struggle to inflate their KKK characters, whereas Topher Grace nails the role of David Duke (as far as I could tell). The Afros and fashion are superb.

Manohla Dargis saw it at Cannes. A. O. Scott after the mainstream release. Michael Wood.

Relatos Salvajes (Wild Tales)

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Pawel pointed me to this Argentinian anthology. The opening segment is hilarious, and the other five also have their moments. Somewhat surprisingly #180 in the IMDB top-250.

Manohla Dargis.

Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg: Candy.

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Kindle. Something of a bum steer by Dwight Garner. A satire like Starship Troopers, which is to say it's far lamer than one might expect, given that Southern was one of the scriptwriters of the timeless Doctor Strangelove. Doubly annoying is that Garner cribbed his opening paragraph from the notes in the back of the book. I'd be more convinced that this was on the side of the #MeToo angels if a woman had reviewed it.

Conrad Knickerbocker reviewed it back in 1964. There's also a much-panned movie directed by Christian Marquand with a stellar cast that I'll now have to see.

Takashi Hiraide: The Guest Cat.

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Kindle. Another Japanese cat story. This one is mercifully short. The cat herself is mostly a fashion accessory to a couple who decide to quit their publishing industry jobs in the late 1980s for lifestyle reasons. The observations about the boom of the property market in Japan around then are like Sydney now: the prices, the decrepit rentals, stagnancy, the coming crash.

Nicholas Lezard.

Seymour Centre: Which Way Home by Katie Beckett (Ilbijerri Theatre Company).

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Something of a freebie from ShowFilmFirst, who pocketed a $3 fee on 2018-07-19. Reginald Theatre, front-row seat A14, 7:30pm, a bit packed. I walked there and back on a mostly fine day; just a few splodges of rain later in the evening. Beforehand I pigged out on dumplings at Taste Legend, which always seems like a good idea until the food shows up.

The set for this piece has clearly been ported around Australia. The various boxes serve as a car that takes Tash (playwright/actress Katie Beckett) and her father (a preternaturally calm Djordon King) from somewhere in Queensland to northern New South Wales, at some point passing along the Darren Lockyer Way. Yes, they're Broncos and State of Origin partisans, and yet their Country is in another State. Along the way the conversation and flashbacks touch on many themes, but never digs too deep; for instance, the hypocrisy of the father's needs as a man set against Tash's growing womanhood. Oftentimes this work echoes the inarticulate masculinity of Erskineville Kings.

Quite near by seat was a pile of sand, with more flowing from the scaffolding, used to evoke the famous image of Gough Whitlam and Vincent Lingiari. That is perhaps what makes this work so out of tune with Sydney: the lack of cynicism.

Jason Blake says it was better last year, at Belvoir. Nicole Elphick provides more details.

David Malouf: The Complete Stories.

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Kindle. An assembly of Malouf's short stories. I particularly enjoyed re-reading those previously in Every Move You Make and Dream Stuff, and some of Antipodes. Nothing in Child's Play struck a bell. I think Malouf generally got better as he went. He's totally across his flora, and his colours ("celestial blue", the colour of a builder's new shirt).

Starship Troopers

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The bridge too far for this Verhoeven retrospective. I'm told this movie is a satire of the totalitarian/fascistic/genocidal society described in Robert Heinlein's book of the same name. Unfortunately the lack of humour and absence of any subtlety makes it difficult to see past the crass stupidity of it all. For instance Clancy Brown (better known as the Kurgen) does no more than imitate R. Lee Ermey's timeless performance in Full Metal Jacket. The interstitial ads and news flashes reminded me of John Brunner's novels, without the drugs. I've avoided seeing this before due to somehow knowing that Denise Richards's effort is offensively vacuous. Casper Van Dien went on to play Tarzan and that might say it all. Why not, you know, take off and nuke the bugs from orbit?

Steekspel (Tricked)

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A continuation of the one-man Paul Verhoeven festival. This brief, Dutch social-comedy-of-manners cleaves closer to the Dogme 95 agenda with some mildly unpleasant handheld camerawork, but otherwise consists of his customary fascinations. Here father Peter Blok is commonly acknowledged as an adulterer by his family (wife Ricky Koole, daughter Carolien Spoor, son Robert de Hoog) and gets worked over by ex-lover Sallie Harmsen and business partner Jochum ten Haaf. Gaite Jansen provides the pivot. Some of the acting is fine. It's not very twisty and feels more like the cheap entertainments of his Hollywood years. As commentary it is nowhere as punchy as Lukas Moodysson's efforts. Was Rammstein still big in 2012?

Ben Kenigsberg.

Zwartboek (Black Book)

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Yet another semi-recent Paul Verhoeven, second time around. Carice van Houten stars as a lady-in-training for a role in Game of Thrones; for all the skin she is sometimes quite good. The plot is a bit too twisty, and eventually capitulates to implausibility for the sake of termination. Nazis and the resistance in the Netherlands, 1945. A cast of solid German (Sebastian Koch, Christian Berkel) and Dutch (Thom Hoffman, Derek de Lint, Dolf de Vries) actors. Tarantino took it a bit further with Inglourious Basterds I guess.

Manohla Dargis.


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Continuing the minor Paul Verhoeven festival/catch up. Isabelle Huppert has a crack at what seems to be a von Trier-ish role, crossed with the humour of Festen, but not as harsh as either; the central provocation is that her character seems to achieve some understanding with her recurring rapist, sometimes while her cat looks on. There's a touch of David Lynch queasiness in there too, and a nod towards the vileness of the video game industry. I avoided it when it was released (in 2016) as I was never that impressed by Huppert's efforts for Hal Hartley in Amateur. Here she is all-in. My only beef is that the pivot towards truth(iness) is a bit tedious when it comes.

Dana Stevens (and on the ending). A. O. Scott. Xan Brooks.

Basic Instinct

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A Paul Verhoeven / Sharon Stone jag from Total Recall. The canonical early-90s sexploitation psycho thriller. It doesn't hang together at all well; quite often characters just walk off mid-conversation for no apparent reason. The Jeanne Tripplehorn subplot was unresolved. But of course none of that matters. Verhoeven found a better balance with Zwartboek, if I'm remembering correctly.

Total Recall

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An Arnie / Paul Verhoeven classic, capping off the 1980s era of action movies with high-concept Philip K. Dick moves. Sharon Stone pivots in a heartbeat; perhaps she can play Elizabeth Holmes's mum in the coming biopic, or the woman herself, contemplating her life in an aged care facility, tended by robots. Michael Ironside is the canonical henchman. There are two letdowns: the ending, and that Rachel Ticotin was worse at this sort of acting than Arnie. Whoever said it was easy?

Ghost Dog (1999)

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Second time around, I think — saw it ages ago, perhaps in the cinema. Jim Jarmusch's late-90s mafiosi-in-Autumn classic. The first thing I remember Forest Whitaker for. In some ways a gentle meditation on the merits of the old ways, predominantly Zen and east coast USA, and in others a straightforward tale of violent liquidations. By having it all ways Jarmusch doesn't make his point as powerfully as in his four-year-previous feature Dead Man.

Roger Ebert: three stars.

The Ox-Bow Incident

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Another Henry Fonda classic from 1943. Also Dana Andrews and Anthony Quinn, all so young here. It starts off funny before settling into a sombre mood as the frontier justice becomes unstoppable. Fonda looks like the model for Woody in Toy Story.

The Wrong Man

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A Henry Fonda jag. Black and white, Hitchcock: the wrong man gets accused of some robberies and everything goes to hell. Of course he's innocent (totally!) and eventually the plods catch up to the audience. I found it to be pretty much entirely a snoozefest. Vera Miles plays the wife who becomes unstuck (a dry run for Psycho?). Anthony Quayle is the lawyer who waves away concerns about his fee. His is perhaps the least convincing performance as he genuinely seems to care.

Mad March Hare Theatre Co: You Got Older by Clare Barron at Kings Cross Theatre.

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A freebie from Kings Cross Theatre, and a Steve Rodgers jag from Diving for Pearls. I walked over from Randwick via the venerable Indian Home Diner opposite the Verona on Oxford St. The bar at the hotel has nothing in the way of dark beer, so I headed in the opposite direction by getting an almost-colourless English pear cider, too sweet. For these reasons and others I was pretty sleepy throughout the performance.

This was the second preview, and completely packed. Notionally it ran from 7.30pm to 9.30pm with a 15 minute interval, which came so late (8.45pm) I figured they may as well have left it out. Briefly, the cast is quite large (7 players) for such a small stage. This being a preview, I will simply observe that the production makes the most of things.

In contrast the play itself is not strong: I kept thinking of August: Osage County from a few weeks ago: we get the daughter returning home to care for an unwell parent, extensive explicit dialogue about the randiness of said daughter, and little that is novel; most noticeably, the father/daughter combination here is so much weaker than the unhinged Violet, all by herself. The settings shuffle around Washington State. Charles Isherwood seemed similarly unpersuaded at the premiere in 2014.

Audrey Journal, and later, Jason Blake. It turns out that many of the actresses I've seen over the past few months appeared together in Picnic at Hanging Rock for Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne.

Twelve Angry Men

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A Henry Fonda jag from Once Upon a Time in the West. Amazingly still #5 in the IMDB top-250. As excellent as ever. The cast and acting are uniformly perfect. Lee J. Cobb works so hard to incarnate an alienated father.

Once Upon A Time In The West

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Rounding out the Sergio Leone Westerns. Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale. Jason Robards too. I can't say I got every detail of the plot. This one has perhaps the best Morricone score of the lot. The cinematography is top-notch. #36 in the IMDB top-250.

A Fistful of Dollars

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The first of the Dollars trilogy, and the last for me to rewatch. This one has the weakest plot, though all the ingredients are there. Strangely rated above A Fistful of Dynamite at IMDB.

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970)

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A Gian Maria Volontè jag from For A Few Dollars More. I think the intent was to provoke, with many riffs on classic Italian tropes (e.g. libertines, "America is here!" apropos a two-room mainframe, fascism/state supremacy, having it all ways), some responding to the politics of the day. In that sense it's not very self-contained. I enjoyed it for the most part, modulo some histrionics. Ennio Morricone wrote the famous theme music.

Hiro Arikawa: The Travelling Cat Chronicles, translated by Philip Gabriel.

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Kindle. A fun, mostly breezy life-affirming sorta thing in the Paul Coelho mode. The ethos is basically: enjoy the small fleeting experiences, be good to each other, don't moralise too much, get a cat. Some sections are told from the perspective of a very self-aware feline, quite satisfyingly. Sometimes repetitious but not irritatingly so. The ink drawings that open each chapter are excellent.

John Boyne. Lynne Truss. She's right that the translation is a bit uneven: it didn't settle into either English or American.


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An Oliver Stone, Willem Dafoe jag. A young Charlie Sheen. Forest Whitaker, John C. McGinley, Johnny Depp. Tom Berenger. nth time around for large n; it doesn't really stick with me. Resolutely #187 in the IMDB top-250.


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James Coburn got his Oscar for portraying the alcoholic, domineering and sometimes violent patriach to Nick Nolte's somewhat unglued small-town everyman. Sissy Spacek seems hopeless, and not for want of trying. Patsy Jim True-Frost was Buzz in The Hudsucker Proxy. Willem Dafoe plays the buttoned-down Boston University prof brother, somewhat against type. Something like a diffuse Fargo, transplated to New Hampshire. It doesn't quite cohere.