peteg's blog

/noise/beach/2020-2021 | Link

On Jacob and Barb's advice I aimed for Diggers Beach and missed; I slavishly followed the directions of Google Maps which took me instead to Charlesworth Bay Beach. It's a beaut spot. The water was roughly 20C and the air perhaps 23C, sunny and warm with a light swell. The rocks are mostly obvious but there were some non obvious shin scrapers. I dried out on the sand after, then did a bit of work in the back of the troopy.

The Tenant

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A Polanski jag from Rosemary's Baby. It's a series of vignettes about poor neighbourly behavior in Paris, with some cheap and impenetrable psychological and occult twists. Polanski directs and leads, but to nowhere. Can't say I really got into it. Digging further into IMDB, I hadn't realised that Polanski had been directing for so long before this.

Roger Ebert was very unimpressed at the time. Vincent Canby. There does seem to be an excess of dubbing.

John Brunner: The Infinitive of Go.

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Kindle. With thin Brunner there's always the risk that the conceit or the drugs will wear out before he's made bank on the word count. This one is a discursive and partially successful take on the multiverse, larded with some crass social commentary. The spirit is Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End despoiled by 1970s disillusionment. It's a bit disjointed, with too many words spilt on more-or-less the same things.

/noise/beach/2020-2021 | Link

Swum at Chinaman's Beach on the edge of Jervis Bay around 10.30am, after walking up to Greenfields Beach which wasn't as appetising. It wasn't warm but also wasn't too bad; I'd believe it was 19C in and a bit more out. Some young couples had a go on some paddle boards. Afterwards I had lunch at the public BBQ at Hymans Beach, right after the bloke cleaned them.

Amir Ahmadi Arian: Then the Fish Swallowed Him.

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Kindle. Incarceration literature. A pointer from Farah Abdessamad at the Asian Review of Books. It's well written but adds nothing to a genre already strip mined by the inimitable likes of 1984; George Orwell's contribution was to show not just what can happen in a state with a totalitarian bent but why, and what its objectives might be. This one has the fist shaking and mental disintegration but no analysis. When the inevitable "confession" scene comes around I was dearly hoping that he'd pull a Gone Girl and reveal our narrator to be unreliable. Unfortunately it's played straight throughout.

I realise now that I have never got a good steer from the Asian Review of Books. Dina Nayeri at the New York Times clearly doesn't read a newspaper regularly, where the "acute observations" made here are made daily. Also it was pumped by "mentor" Carol Joyce Oates.

The Visit

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Anthony Quinn, recently returned from the desert, opposite a fiery and imperiously glamorous Ingrid Bergman in black-and-white in 1964: what's not to like? I enjoyed her performance about as much as anything else she ever did; she's highly reliable that way. The plot is essentially a riff on the old theme of: you can kick the girl out of the small European town, but you can't take the small mindedness of the small European town out of the girl. There might also be something about the market price of justice. It's nicely constructed with some echoes between then and now, and just enough righteous bitchiness.

A. H. Weiler review at the time. I can imagine a staging of this as a play might have more impact.

The Hurricane

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Epic completism. A jag from (Canadian!) director Norman Jewison's In the Heat of the Night, who brought Rod Steiger (Rod Steiger!) along for the ride. Denzel takes the lead opposite a Volvo 245 DL station wagon driven by plain vanilla Canadians Deborah Kara Unger, Liev Schreiber, and an incongruous John Hannah. Clancy Brown isn't allowed to be as much fun as he can be. We start in the mean streets of Brooklyn where a cop somehow decides to cast shade on a very young black boy for the rest of his natural life. This remains unmotivated throughout; the fact that the murders were never properly investigated suggests they may have needed a fall guy, but the opportunism of Rubin "The Hurricane" Carter's arrest speaks against that. Later we're in Toronto and New Jersey. There's excess interiority. Unlike the Poitier vehicle, this one is intricately nested with the biopic framed by nice details, a coming-of-age story, ineffective Spike Lee-esque newsreel footage of the day, boxing in black-and-white, and gross simplifications: he was robbed, repeatedly, and not just of justice at the time but also of nuance here.

Overall there's a truthiness to the whole thing that falls short of adding up to a decent biopic. I read afterwards that Jewison also directed Pacino in And Justice for All, so I guess he likes to show that eventually the system eventually gets it right eventually. It's a tough genre to excel in when you're up against something like Jim Sheridan's In the Name of the Father. Presently I'm reading incarceration as well as watching it, so I guess it's on my mind. Commutation seems further away than ever.

Roger Ebert at the time. He's right, Denzel lifts the material, and it does improve as it goes along. Stephen Holden, also at the time, was far more skeptical.

Reflections in a Golden Eye

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More John Houston completism; he directs. We're at an army base in the South somewhere inspecific. It's a character study of what people do when they are under occupied. Marlon Brando underperforms with a vintage mumble. Liz Taylor's accent wobbles, which is disappointing after her sterling effort in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. I got a bit confused when Brian Keith picked up the scissors; was something finally going to happen? But no, the entire runtime goes by without a thing. Robert Forster was in David Lynch's Twin Peaks resumption. In two sittings. It's an adaptation of a book.

Bosley Crowther at the time. Robert Ebert got right into it.

Purple Noon (Plein soleil)

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A French production of what we now know as The Talented Mr Ripley from 1960. It has its moments, though it appears there is only one way to adapt the novel, right down to the constipated scowl of Alain Delon / Matt Damon. Similarly Maurice Ronet looks like a moderately Gaulified Jude Law, and Billy Kearns plays a wooden Philip Seymour Hoffman. It's essentially touristic.

Roger Ebert in 1996.

Ann Patchett: State of Wonder

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Kindle. Third time around with Ann Patchett; I remember enjoying Commonwealth for its sprawling family saga, and being unimpressed by the inessential The Dutch House. This one, from 2011, lies somewhere in the middle. The premise is cliche: a feminized Heart of Darkness embodied in the heavily qualified (surely overqualified) big pharma lab rat Marina Singh. Her job is to go bravely where no Minnesotan half-bred Sikh with father issues has gone before... past the rubber plantations of known Brazil/Amazonia to a magical circle of trees, revealed by her Kurtz (ob/gyn prof Dr Swenson) to solve the problems of age in Western women and disease in Eastern peoples, not to mention the face of God. As before I often enjoyed her writing, which here wears its research lightly and tourism more heavily, apart from the odd bout of excessive handwringing and impossibility; Patchett reminds us constantly of the limits of medical research (etc) in the USA while having us believe that the woefully unsuitable Marina would ever be sent on such a journey and capable of such feats as cutting up an anaconda. The other characters are again not managed well; more interesting to me were the tertiary Dr Budi and Thomas Nkomo than the Bovenders and Saturns and Swenson (etc) who get the focus. There is intercontinental lurv. It's cinematic, or at least telemovie-atic.

As always, a range of views at Goodreads. I think the baseball-bat wielders have it. A book of the decade for the ABC's Sarah L'Estrange; her summary is inaccurate. Fernanda Eberstadt at the New York Times says Lord of the Flies and "megavillainess"; we're adjacent to James Bond territory. Also at the New York Times, Janet Maslin gestures additionally to Herzog and is more appropriately skeptical.

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Vale, Ennio Morricone.

In the Heat of the Night

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Second time around. There's a lot to enjoy in Rod Steiger's performance, and I think Sidney Poitier's best work here is opposite him. The plot is threadbare. Roger Ebert rated it #10 for 1967 with no standalone review.

Da 5 Bloods

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The new Spike Lee. I went in cold. Four of five "bloods" (an all-black squad) from the Việt Nam/American War return in something like 2018, using the recovery of their mate's body (KIA not POW) as camouflage for the ex-filtration of a gold cache they left there back in the day. It's filmed in Thailand. The tone is lecturing and there's a pretence of historicity with a lot of gesturing at Black history and a little Vietnamese. Lee wants to have it all ways with loads of references to the classic movies of the genre, NGOs, didacticism, cliches, and so forth, ultimately sliding into an unfunny Tropic Thunder mode. (The surviving cast doesn't even feign grief when one of da bloods gets it in the present day.) Lead Delroy Lindo is intended to be weighty, like Jim Caviezel in The Thin Red Line but comes off more like a prolix Rambo. Chadwick Boseman makes up for some of these defects. The introductory newsreel is unfortunately more generically 1960s than Lee's scintillating effort in BlacKkKlansman. (Paul Walter Hauser and Jasper Pääkkönen return from that, again to limited effect.)

In all, it's a few decades stale.

Widely reviewed. Michael Wood. A. O. Scott found a lot more here than I did. Viet Thanh Nguyen's rejoinder; he's right, this is lesser Lee: a pile of gesturing with an ending messier than Apocalypse Now's.

Harvey

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Jimmy Stewart completism. Black and white, 1950. This one has been on the pile for years due to its unappetising premise of a genial, idling Stewart and his six-foot, three-and-a-half inch imaginary rabbit bestie. It does have its moments but probably worked better as a stage play, like Arsenic and Old Lace. Josephine Hull (also in that) got an Oscar for playing the sister/mother role in arch, stagy fashion. It's just the kind of entertainment (and making light of psychology) to put the country to sleep after the war, presaging the soporific, damage-denying decade to come.

Bosley Crowther at the time.

Sergeant York

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Howard Hawks completism. A hokey hagiography of a bloke from the "Valley of the Three Forks of the Wolf" somewhere in Tennessee who's a dead shot. They send him off to World War I but somehow don't set him up as a sniper. His crises of conscience are resolved by rendering many bodies unto Caesar. So clearly made-for-purpose in black-and-white in 1941. Gary Cooper got an Oscar for what I found to be a patronising and humourless performance. I was amazed that a piece of farmland could be purchased for several months of labour at that time.

Bosley Crowther, respectfully.

Rosemary's Baby

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This Polanski classic has been on the pile since forever. I expected a David Lynch gross out, given the title/premise, but it is in fact closer to doomed suds circling the drain. We're in NYC in 1965 and 1966, shacked up in an apartment building with massive apartments that somehow an unemployed actor can afford. Witchery ensues, from which the young wife is witless to escape. It reminded me of The Devil's Advocate, which was a more persuasive Faustian effort, leaning on the egos of the able leads; Polanski's later Chinatown interpolates these two. None of the acting excited me; apparently Ruth Gordon as Minnie Castevet got an Oscar.

Roger Ebert got a lot more out of it than I did. I couldn't get past Mia Farrow's essentially clueless response to her situation, which seemed entirely in service of the plot.

Catherine Lacey: Certain American States

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More interiority from Catherine Lacey, this time in short form. I didn't find anything particularly memorable here. As always the odd observation or taut sentence or angle is cute and sometimes makes the ramble worthwhile. I wasn't convinced by the male voices.

A variety of opinions at Goodreads.