peteg's blog

The Dead

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And yet more John Huston completism. A costume snapshot of a party in Dublin in early 1904 amongst the musical set, revolution nascent. A James Joyce short provided the raw material and daughter Anjelica Huston lead in his final directorial effort. It's mostly dialogue; the archaic, elliptic, elegant wordiness had a bit too much grace, filigree and indirectness for me to entirely grasp in my torpid state. Donal Donnelly is familiar from his later turn as the nervy chain smoking archbishop in The Godfather Part III.

Roger Ebert at the time: three stars, upgraded to four in 2005. Vincent Canby loved it.

No Way Out (1950)

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A Joseph L. Mankiewicz jag of sorts from Mank. Also Sidney Poitier's feature film debut, as a County doctor charged with keeping injured criminals alive until they can try to kill him, because how else are you going to bank this busted conceit? Entirely black-and-white in most senses.

Wise Blood (1979)

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John Huston completism, and a Brad Dourif jag from Dune. How to be a preacher in post-bellum Georgia, including a counter demonstration. Perhaps it inherited its heavy handedness from the novel. I enjoyed the odd moment, such as the early repartee between Dourif and Harry Dean Stanton, whose daughter Amy Wright somehow thinks Dourif is a meal ticket. I was bored by Dan Shor's country bumpkin. Ned Beatty does well as the all-American in the religion business. The ending was a bit of stereotypical spinster desperation, and just maybe an influence on a young David Fincher.

Vincent Canby's review put me in mind of Dwight Garner when the material is soporific, perhaps trying to occlude the gushingly positive review of this movie and novelist (Flannery O'Connor) in the second half. Francine Prose for the Criterion Collection in 2009.

The Passionate Friends

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Excess David Lean completeism. To her eternal regret an Englishwoman chooses money, comfort, success in the form of a Toff husband over her true love, a uni lecturer everyman who succeeds on his own terms. Set on either side of WWII. She's played by Ann Todd, who looks to me like England's response to Ingrid Bergman. The men are Claude Rains, in decline after his major turns in Casablanca and Notorious, and Trevor Howard who was in The Third Man the same year (1949). I didn't get the point of this movie; was it a warning to the new Eves, the women who wanted or reasonably expected self-possession after their sacrifices for their country, that they shouldn't get ahead of themselves? That the upper classes suffer also in their way? That money can't buy you love but can lead to endless encounters with your object(s) of desire? Surprising me, H. G. Wells wrote the novel this is based on.

I guess it was a strange time in British cinema, when they had technique but not yet the raw material from the likes of Beckett and Pinter (who softened things up for Mike Leigh) or the guts and funding for Lawrence of Arabia. I think the Ealing comedies — and Lean's Hobson's Choice — were more successful than these dusty dramas. Then again, I wonder what Lean might have done with The Remains of the Day.

Terrence Rafferty on a Lean retrospective in 2008.

Jodorowsky's Dune

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Before David Lynch there was outre Chilean director Jodorowsky. It's the early 1970s and he wants to make the canonical scifi/messianic cinema that would have eclipsed 2001 and precluded Star Wars. This doco is entirety a woulda coulda shoulda sort of thing. A lot of the artists and artistic concepts did get recycled into other projects apparently (Alien, for instance). I dunno. I still have to see El Topo.

Jeannette Catsoulis enjoyed this indulgence of a gargantuan ego.

Amor Towles: Rules of Civility. (2011)

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Kindle. I was always going to circle back to Towles's debut after his masterful A Gentleman in Moscow. Unfortunately this is more of a generic The Great Gatsby with a dash of Great Expectations and a side of The Talented Mr Ripley. The first-person lady always seems happier when she finds her evening free, but of course if you're a social climber you've got to be out observing all the fine markers of class stratifications in late-1930s NYC that may help you avoid joining all the men going the other way. Many are faking it until they've made it alongside the old moneyed, it being read that you and everyone wouldn't be anywhere else or playing any other game. Towles reveals himself as a fan of guns, and the gutter press; I thought our heroine was going to end up at the New Yorker and not a glossed-up New York Post or Gawker. Pretty much every chapter pivots on a timely coincidental encounter. He's very opinionated about other writers — thumbs up for Dickens, Hemingway, Russians, Thoreau. It passed the time OK.

Liesl Schillinger adroitly gestures at the cliches and avoids assessment, doubtlessly the right strategy for a New York lass in a publishing orbit. Goodreads generally loved it, though some ladies were not persuaded that Towles did justice to his narrator's voice. Viv Groskop: these are the greatest hits of NYC.

Blow Out (1981)

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An interpolant of The Conversation and No Way Out with 100% less Gene Hackman and excess de Palma. Travolta leads as a soudman who accidentally records a political assassination. Perhaps it was every woman's dream to be manhandled by him in 1981, for otherwise there is little to recommend this. Some misdirection is used to string things out, and towards the end the plot entirely falls apart until we're hit with a downer of an ending. Nancy Allen has her moments, looking at times somewhat fetchingly like Maggie Gyllenhaal. John Lithgow was a serviceable psycho as a young man.

Roger Ebert gave it four stars as a smoogery of American political conspiracy theories, as does Vincent Canby. He tells me Nancy Allen was Mrs De Palma at time (IMDB says from 1979 to 1983).

Dune (1984)

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Having read the book it was time to revisit David Lynch et al's attempt to film it. The cast is stellar: there are Lynch's long term collaborators (Kyle MacLachlan, Jack Nance, Everett McGill) and some big actors (Patrick Stewart, Jürgen Prochnow, José Ferrer, Max Von Sydow) who must have been sold something else entirely. Also a Sean Young jag from No Way Out; she looks far younger here than in Blade Runner, which was released two years earlier in 1982. Yes it's clunky and maladapted, the accents are all over the shop, but every so often Lynch does have a bit of fun. Ten to fifteen years later it would've gotten the three-movie The Lord of the Rings treatment, and I could've watched Lynch mine spice for more than a few seconds. Perhaps he should've made it into a musical. I feel he directly recycled some motifs and brainfarts into the Twin Peaks revival.

One star from Roger Ebert. But I didn't find it so much worse than Star Wars; perhaps we're so used to CGI now that any analog effects are welcome. Vincent Canby didn't make it past the introductory exposition, and fair enough too. That article is more about summarising the state of scifi movies in 1984; prophetically: "If Dune suggests anything — which I doubt — it's that we are retrogressing toward the future." Janet Maslin, also at the time.

No Way Out

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Second time around, more Gene Hackman, who doesn't get a lot to work with. It's a classic 1980s thriller set in Washington. Kevin Costner leads in his moderately wooden, smirky way. Sean Young, so girly. Will Patton, so psycho. There are also some culturally exploited Maori in the middle. The framing interview is intended to be mindblowingly twisty I guess; I didn't bother to think through what outcome benefited the interlocutors the most.

Roger Ebert dug it. Vincent Canby did too. Satire? Maybe.

The Royal Tenenbaums

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Second or third time around. I remembered the actors (Gene Hackman was the draw) but none of the plot. Wes Anderson's style is mostly there. I felt noncommittal throughout.

Roger Ebert. I take it as read that Owen Wilson is never sincere. Ebert is otherwise right: all the major characters seek attention to excess, neurotically. David Edelstein endorsed it along similar lines.

The Conversation (1974)

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Second time around with this Gene Hackman / Coppola thing, the latter's followup to The Godfather. Back in 1974 people really had to work hard to surveil; nowadays we'd be shocked, shocked I say, to be told that it's unwise to plot murder in a public square. Hackman's character epitomises the sweating of details while the main game eludes. I might've been disappointed if I hadn't known what to expect.

Vincent Canby calls out some poor plotting. Roger Ebert was impressed at the time, and again in 2001.

Catherine Lacey: Pew. (2020)

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Kindle. I was looking forward to another bout of Catherine Lacey internalism and was somewhat disappointed to be lead directly off the property instead. We meet the entity to be imminently known as Pew wandering into small town Southern USA and immediately drawing current-day identity political lightning, being something of a tabla rasa that other people freely write on. If (s)he/they had been Australian, she'd be a Terra Nullius, exhibiting the impossibility of self containment in spite of modest want. The individuals in the community, and sometimes the collective, do inscribe, unreliably, but Lacey's underdrawing mostly leaves us reinforcing our own prejudices. (I could see the relevance of identifying a gender but not a race; sure, the town is split black/white, that's customary in the USA, but what has skin colour got to do with the mechanics of helping someone in the first instance?) Ultimately the unbearable lightness of Christian charity evaporates in a forgiveness festival that goes as you'd expect if you took the horror movie tropes to be merely providing this otherwise (literally) quotidian work with a pulse. Some pages of description are absolutely cinematic: the old lady with the eyes and the shaking hands, identifying Jesus returned. I saw Agnes sitting at the gas station, lucid, capacious and comprehending, and Tammy in NYC with a Latvian parallel.

Nicole Flattery quotes Lacey explaining what she's doing, picks out some of the cinematic bits, and bemoans the lack of humour. I don't disagree but was more prepared to accept a Pew without volition. She concurs with Dwight Garner that Lacey's previous two long-form efforts (Nobody is ever missing, The Answers) are superior. Chris Power tries to be respectful with the pronouns. I've never found Lacey to be an "economical writer"; I'm drawn mostly by her iteratively-deepened elliptic style. Fiona Maazel.

Ned Beauman: The Teleportation Accident.

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Kindle. I conclude that the best thing Beauman has done was his most recent, and the first of his I read — Madness is Better than Defeat. This is set in pretty much the same era but indulges a weakness for pillorying ze Germans, especially the artistic ones. Beauman's leading man (never ours) goes from Berlin to Paris to L.A. on the trail of a McGuffin in the form of a young lady, encountering various deceptions along the way. The characters are sketchy and the reader quickly learns not to invest much effort in anything as there's a lot of "but actually" retconning in between the stale humour and adolescent sexuality. Beauman clearly wanted to be Martin Amis when he grew up but it's too late for that now.

The reviews at Goodreads sum it up well: the plot would embarass Scooby Doo.

Killer Joe

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Forty years after The French Connection, William Friedkin directed this Tracy Letts adaptation of a Tracy Letts play. Matthew McConaughey leads. It's a modern Southern Gothic, set in Texas, as graphically and luridly imagined from Chicago before #metoo. Clearly they all went to see The Killer Inside Me and thought they could do better, but really they couldn't. There's no point to it.

Roger Ebert. Dana Stevens. A black comedy? She isn't sure. If this had been more chop I'd have followed her pointer to Bug, by the same people but with Michael Shannon.

The French Connection

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Second time around, and for no good reason. I guess I wanted to revisit some Gene Hackman classics. Roger Ebert later found it to be a great movie, and taught me that there's a worthless sequel.

The Parallax View (1974)

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Second time around, for no good reason. Beatty failed to impress Vincent Canby and Roger Ebert at the time.


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A jag from a Glenn Kenny review. Can't say I got whatever point Godard was trying to make. Parody, sci fi, James Bond, Orwell, Huxley, etc. sure. But to what end?

John Brockman (ed): This Idea Must Die: Scientific Theories That Are Blocking Progress.

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Kindle. I can't remember why I dug this up. Generally meh. Far too many psychologists got their responses to's 2014 question recorded here, and yet others in even softer disciplines. Nearly all are obvious and unpersuasively argued, and many "ideas" proposed for retirement are not even scientific. Overall this project is more about eliciting sympathy than making progress, like a first year philosophy class. Goodreads.


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I've got to wonder that if Tenet killed cinema, what is Mank doing to its successor? This spaghetti monster eluded even Fincher's usually reliable ability to entertain. Gary Oldman is fine as far as it goes, as is Amanda Seyfried. Against these Lily Collins (sprog of Phil) is uninventively starchy, and the remainder of the cast is too vast to be concerned with. Too many scenes go predictably; perhaps the audience is supposed to use this as an opportunity to trainspot.

I had hoped for more from the story; Dana Stevens makes it sound like no more than another entry in the who-wrote-Citizen Kane genre. A. O. Scott must have a quota of critic's picks to hand out. Glenn Kenny spilt a lot of words at Ebert's venue. Later, J. Hoberman. All missed the obvious referent, Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood from just last year, which I found similarly tedious. Perhaps the end of Trump's days will uncork a renaissance in Hollywood, a re-engagement with the wider world. But probably not. Much later, Michael Wood.


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A followup to Train to Busan, set four years later in a post-apocalyptic South Korea (no, not the present-day one). It's like its predecessor without the good bits, larded with laugh-out-loud cliches and incoherencies. Just as well the shot-in-leg Sarah Connor tiger mother shuffles differently to the average zombie, and that heavy-lift helicopter is quieter than a car horn. There is no Mad Max. It is entirely beyond salvation.

Manohla Dargis makes bank by talking about anything except this movie.

My Psychedelic Love Story

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An Errol Morris doco, prompted by Glenn Kenny's review. Joanna Harcourt-Smith sure has a healthy ego, and is unapologetic about wasting our time with innuendo, mendacity and banality; she's a good advertisement for far higher taxes on the rich. Perhaps you need to watch Wormwood first for the political background about Timothy Leary and LSD in the USA of the 1960s, but even if you had, I doubt there's anything here for you.

Sweet Bird of Youth

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A Shirley Knight jag from The Rain People. Paul Newman leads in a minor Tennessee Williams (adapted and directed by Richard Brooks). Near as I can tell this is an attempt to convert Sunset Blvd. into a Southern Gothic, but Geraldine Page is no Gloria Swanson nor Liz Taylor, and Big Daddy here is too straightforward. I'm amazed Ed Begley got an Oscar for that performance; it felt like everyone was reaching for (I coulda been a contender) Brando, right up to the sappy ending.

Bosley Crowther.


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This doco attempts to present the greatest hits of a man who (by choice) only had one hit. I'm ambivalent about a lot of Zappa's music but there are some things (Jazz from Hell for instance, and that live version of Muffin Man I first heard in the late 1990s) that do it for me. Colour me curious.

Another problem this doco faces is that Zappa was a very public figure who spent perhaps half his working life on the road amongst people who are typically epically indiscrete. He's aloof, driven, maybe disingenuous; another great American who leant heavily on his wife. But we know all this just by watching him walk through an airport so far ahead of his entourage. There are a few necessary inclusions, such as the back story to Moon Unit's Valley Girl and his performance with John and Yoko. Most irritating is that there's nothing in the way of anchors when the music gets interesting; I cannot follow any particular thing up. What might be possible is that piece over the credits, and the piano/drums thing performed by his former percussionist.

Overall it's a time capsule. They don't seem to make them like that any more.

Glenn Kenny.

Life Itself (2014)

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A biopic of Roger Ebert in his final days. I learnt that he hated Blue Velvet, and David Lynch's work in general for the most part. He leaned heavily on his wife. There is some great footage that looks amazing in these culturally wasted days.

Geoffrey O'Brien. Dana Stevens.

A Taxi Driver

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In several sittings. The draw was, once again, Song Kang-Ho. The poster on IMDB is totally misleading: this is a heavy story of how the democracy protests in South Korea in 1980 were put down by the military dictatorship of the day. It has its moments but some of the breast beating is too much.

Andy Webster.

The Rain People

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Francis Ford Coppola wrote and directed this immediately prior to The Godfather, and it's a long way from here to there. James Caan and Robert Duvall jostle for Shirley Knight's attention on a road trip from NYC that hits the skids in Nebraska. Caan does not really inhabit the role of a footballer with a debilitating brain injury; Adam Sandler plays vacancy far more persuasively and knowingly. Highway copper Duvall's idea of romance is Neanderthal. The cinematography is washed out.

Roger Ebert at the time. He (post-)ironically observes: "As for Coppola and his world, it's difficult to say whether his film is successful or not. That's the beautiful thing about a lot of the new, experimental American directors, they'd rather do interesting things and make provocative observations than try to outflank John Ford on his way to the Great American Movie." Roger Greenspun went looking for psychological depths for the New York Times.

Jonathan Lethem: The Arrest.

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Kindle. I gave this a go on the basis of the first few paras of Charles Yu's review. If I'd read further I'd have noticed that he mostly just summarised the thing and was only really sure that the author had written better books previously. (I did learn that Lethem authored the braver Motherless Brooklyn.) I don't think that dystopia and post-apocalyptica are quite as dual as either of them thinks.