peteg's blog

Breaking Bad (Seasons 1-5)

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Near the top of IMDB's top TV shows. I'm about ten years late to this party as I'm conscious that TV series tend to be massive time soaks, which this proved to be. Also I don't want to wait a year to find out what happens.

Coarsely it's an update of The Godfather to the twenty-first century, mashed up with some MacGyverism (and for mine those are the best bits), located in Albuquerque New Mexico (the land of enchantment). It's generally absorbing apart from a few too many saggy family parts. Overall it flags a bit somewhere in the middle, and the finer plot details do not always reward attention. Bonus: Rian Johnson apparently directed three episodes.

The follow-up movie released late last year does not sound as appetising; James Poniewozik reckons the canon was already complete. There's also Better Call Saul.

Adam Higginbotham: Midnight in Chernobyl.

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Kindle. Prompted by Dave mentioning that the Chernobyl TV series was some chop, and its appearance on the New York Times best books list for 2019. The details about the atomic city of Pripyat, the Soviet bureaucracy, the operational matters and design of the nuclear power plant, ... are often riveting. Conversely Higginbotham doesn't give us the story of the other three reactors at Chernobyl; for instance, when they were shut down, restarted and operated after the crisis that engulfed the fourth. The moral appears to be that not-immediately-lethal ionising radiation is on the rise, but don't you worry your pretty head about that.

Reviews are legion. Jennifer Szalai.

Farmageddon (Shaun the Sheep)

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The latest Aardman Animations animation. It's fun. There's almost no language. This one features nods to just about every scifi classic out there, right down to its cloning of the E.T. plot (near as I can tell given that I don't think I've seen E.T.). There's a great scene where some fake Daleks startle Tom Baker as he exits a TARDIS-y john, and many others. Conversely (unfortunately) the spook robot is little more than a Wall-E clone. I love it that the sheep are such excellent engineers.

Jason Bailey at the New York Times.

The Lighthouse

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Over a couple of nights as it failed to grip. Veteran lighthouse keeper Willem Dafoe gets saddled with a new assistant in the form of Robert Pattinson. The setting is, of course, a bleak island with extreme weather. Black-and-white, square frame, archaic. It has its moments but director/writer Robert Eggers (co-writing with Max Eggers) generally fails to innovate.

Manohla Dargis.

The Two Jakes

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I just discovered that Chinatown had a sequel, directed by Jack Nicholson who also stars. It's a clunky retread from 1990, so much so that I was surprised that it didn't make David Stratton's list of marvellous movies. The actors are uniformly squandered: Harvey Keitel (in one of his more awkward performances), Eli Wallach as a lawyer, Meg Tilly, and so on. Tom Waits! The plot is somewhat amazingly almost identical to that of its predecessor, though someone more invested might observe a distinct emotional range.

Roger Ebert overlooked the clunkiness at the time. Vincent Canby didn't. Peter Travers.

Nadeem Aslam: The Golden Legend.

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Kindle. This is the third of Nadeem Aslam's I've read, after The Blind Man's Garden and Season of the Rainbirds. The themes are his usual: the faultlines of contemporary Pakistan with a particular emphasis on the lives of its liberal elites. The focal couple are well-to-do Muslim architects who share what they have with a low-caste Christian family. Much is made of a book that seems to record what Aslam regards as the sum total of human experience. Bad stuff happens and Aslam doesn't so much shield us from it as elude banality. Again his prose tends to the workmanlike.

Francine Prose at the New York Times. Matthew Wright is right that Aslam's politics comes across as simplistic, almost naive.

Chinatown

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Probably third time around with this Polanski/Nicholson classic. Water shenanigans in Los Angeles, how very topical. Prompted by Janet Maslin's review of a book on its making. Somehow still rated #150 in the IMDB top-250.

Roger Ebert at the time and in 2000. Vincent Canby was less impressed. Both observe John Huston as a link to the original American noirs of the 1930s.

Richard Jewell

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Eastwood's latest: another in his series of American biopics, this time about the security guard who discovered the Centennial Park bomb at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. Given the substantial focus on the FBI I guess it also acts as a bookend to J. Edgar. The cast is uniformly brilliant. Paul Walter Hauser from I, Tonya anchors things in the lead; this story is from the same (Clinton) era. Jon Hamm has the thankless task of playing the lead investigator on the dead-end investigation (reminding me of his G-man in Bad Times at the El Royale and, oh right, The Town). Kathy Bates! She got an Oscar nom for Best Supporting Actress, of course she did. Olivia Wilde is solid if generically slutty. I enjoyed Sam Rockwell's performance here, lodged somewhere between his W. effort and what I take to be his essential self. I quibble about the poster in his office: I fear large corporations about as much as government, though I concur both are more concerning than terrorism, domestic or foreign. I guess Eastwood implies this by pointing the bone at both the FBI and the media.

A. O. Scott is right that Wilde did her best with a poor role. Perhaps Eastwood is suggesting that the FBI had lost its way by that time? Richard Brody summarises the plot and draws a parallel to the FBI's treatment of Mrs Clinton in 2016.

Il traditore (The Traitor)

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Prompted by A. O. Scott's recent review. It's not exactly The Godfather; more one of those Pablo Escobar hagiographies from a while back. There are some fantastic scenes, such as when the dons are caged up at the rear of a courtroom. I have no idea how Italian justice functions, but it sometimes looks like fun. Scott doesn't seem to mind that Tommaso Buscetta's own motivations went substantially unexplored; if he was really that much into the ladies, how much money did he need?

Motherless Brooklyn

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Ed Norton directs and leads in this revival of 1950s NYC hard boiled detective semi-noir. His usual tics are all on show (for instance "let me tell you something") as well as some new ones, with compensations in Rain Man style. It's too talky with not enough show, and not as twisty as the running time demands while also not making a tonne of sense. Still it's better than the dire IMDB rating and reviews suggest, and there is the odd sweet scene. Alec Baldwin plays a Robert Moses figure who's not going to let the small people get in the way of the big things that need to be done.

A. O. Scott.

Jojo Rabbit

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There's not a lot going on here; three Oscars therefore. The cliches pile up, along the lines of what I was once told: German humour is no laughing matter. Despite this Scarlett does make a semi-decent fist of the real thing. Rockwell plays louche Rockwell. Stephen Merchant as Gestapo: are those hats a nod to the classic Borsalinos of American Jewry? Taika Waititi is perhaps the pick as the imaginary Hitler bestie because at least you know he's on the high wire.

Hollywood can't give up on Nazis, which is unfortunate as they cannot innovate ala Downfall or Look Who's Back. It's just not enough to gesture at current political conditions when superior works like The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui have been around for so long. And yes, all of those are German efforts.

A. O. Scott wasn't impressed. Michael Wood.