peteg's blog

The Dry

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Mum reckoned the book was good. Another draw was Uncle Chop Chop's return to Victoria. So I'm blaming director Robert Connolly for this being a clunky bland out, playing more like an overlong episode of The Bill with too many unconvincing, unmotivated and underdeveloped zigs and zags. Just what do people do in rural Victorian towns between murders anyway?

Feted locally, of course. Sandra Hall. David Stratton apparently also gave it four stars. The same from Luke Buckmaster who makes the inevitable comparisons with Picnic at Hanging Rock (the granite boulder/river scenes on the flashback track) and Wake in Fright (the early pub scenes).

Magnolia

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A Tom Cruise jag from Collateral. Nth time around with this P. T. Anderson classic. Janet Maslin nailed it in her review: the final movement doesn't live up to the first two. Eight stars from Roger Ebert (2000, 2008).

Collateral

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Second time around with this Michael Mann. It struck me that this was his attempt at making The Terminator. The cinematography is classic Mann. Tom Cruise is mechanical in the lead. Mark Ruffalo, Jada Pinkett Smith, Javier Bardem, Jason Statham all have bit parts. Without Jamie Foxx it'd be mostly bust.

Roger Ebert. That opening scene he liked so much is the same gambit Mann played in Thief (which Ebert liked just as much). He's right that Mann puts a few really good things on the table. Manohla Dargis. She's right that Cruise is generally underrated as an actor and does fine here.

Rabbit-Proof Fence

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It's taken me a long time to get around to this one. There's a lot to like. First up Peter Gabriel did the soundtrack, including my all-time favourite Cloudless. I was glad to learn that Molly's mother-actress Ningali Lawford sings the lead for it. Secondly the cast is great. Lead Everlyn Sampi is fantastic, and I was disappointed to see that she didn't go on with her acting. The supporting cast (including Kenneth Branagh, Garry McDonald, Deborah Mailman, Jason Clarke, and David Gulpilil) fill their slots well. The cinematography is gorgeous, which is what I'd expect from Christopher Doyle at the height of his powers.

For all that it's a great story that is not told very well. The core is endurance and tribalism, being essentially bound up with land, of ancient and timeless connections, and of course, crass injustice. Most of that does not readily translate to the screen, and juicing it for drama as Phillip Noyce and his screenwriter Christine Olsen unfortunately do reduces rather than adds. The coda with the two aged ladies tells further stories briefly and powerfully; incorporating those might've made for a better movie.

I'm reading Xavier Herbert's Poor Fellow My Country presently, which after a bumpy intro it settles into a didacticism about the Aboriginality of the north. He notes the use of sign language, which we see Molly employ early on here when the girls have a wary encounter with a pair of Aboriginal men, and gives a best-guess whitefella's interpretation of why you should not point with your finger. This sort of detail, and an underlying sense that things not only must be made good but still could be, is missing here, as is an account of the fence itself, which could've been another character.

3.5 stars from Roger Ebert. He made a few errors of fact about the movie, and seemed unaware of the history of eugenics in the USA. Stephen Holden. David Stratton.

Kazuo Ishiguro: Karla and the Sun

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Kindle. Socially dystopian. More service/bondage. Themes of loneliness and what humans imagine will alleviate it. (Even the bull is lonely.) The Sun as God, a being that gets stifled and occluded but never killed, perhaps because he takes a rest each night. The human heart is essentially inscrutable, in aggregate if not individually. Did he innovate here by having a completely reliable, self-knowing narrator? Almost, until her loss of some precious bodily fluids for the greater good calls the whole show into question. The dialogue is as masterful as always. Overall it didn't really push my buttons.

Widely reviewed, of course. Radhika Jones at the New York Times. She seems unaware that the transition from pastoral bucolic to industrialised consumption was a massive theme in American Pragmatism (citing Hardy instead). Thomas Jones at the London Review of Books points to many similar works, recounts the plot and prefers to discuss Ishiguro's previous works. It is difficult to square Klara's lack of cosmological knowledge with her ability to tutor Ricky in physics and thereabouts. James Woods similarly spills more words on prior art. Toy Story, could be.

The Turning

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Second time around, on an epically rainy Tasmanian evening. I remembered two things: Rose Byrne playing trailer trash, and the very brief shot in the second last short (Immunity) where a woman is balanced on a man's palm. The IMDB rating is dire; Ed Gibbs forecast that back in 2013 for brief and accurate reasons. Despite that it still has its moments.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: The Committed.

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Sequel to The Sympathizer. It's a bit of a dog that wants to have it all ways. There's a lot of gesturing at but not a lot of engagement with some purported deep thinkers, which is hard to square with the very generic foregrounded gangsterism that similarly gestures at but lacks Puzo's guile and indelible imagery. It did pass the time but I often felt like throwing it across the troopy on this wet, windy and wild Tasmanian Wednesday.

Dwight Garner. I concur that the second half or so really drags, as if the author realised that he's too far gone with cliche and is sick of the project. Garner doesn't appear to realise that "GOOAAAAALLLLLL!" is a direct lift from Trainspotting. Junot Díaz, also in the New York Times, uncritically loved it.

Sound of Metal

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The draw was Riz Ahmed in the lead. This is a tale of going deaf. The frame is a bit of a cliche — he's a drummer in a heavy-metal/punk duo, so what else could he or we expect? — but there are enough jags along the way to keep us unbalanced, or even too many as it often seems that writer/director Darius Marder has little clue where it's all headed, making for an unfortunate bust of an ending. I was here for the deaf theatricals (to me always fun and funny, as Adam Hills knows so well), with the cash out being a scene in the middle where wise man Paul Raci asks one of his cohort for help in setting up some tech: the arc of a flicked cigarette stands in for an epic eye roll. IMDB trivia suggests Raci is mostly playing himself.

Ahmed got an Oscar nom for his work here (as did Raci, the movie itself, the screenplay, the editing and the sound — the last of which is beyond amazing and surely must win), and for the most part he's quite good. I only wish they'd toned down the violent acting out as his character is otherwise sufficiently together to be realistic and reasonable, especially with regards to his girlfriend/mutual saviour played very ably by Olivia Cooke.

I'm glad they're still making movies like this.

Jeannette Catsoulis.

Richard Beasley: Dead in the Water: A very angry book about our greatest environmental catastrophe... the death of the Murray-Darling Basin.

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Kindle. 14.23 AUD from Amazon. Via a brief writeup by Steven Carroll in the Smage, and because I was just out at Menindee and thereabouts. An account of Bret Walker's royal commission (sponsored by South Australia) into the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. There is much anger at much mendacity, indicated by excess repetition and blue language, leavened by some funny bits. I wanted to know more about who has the standing to force the Basin Authority to make what Beasley strongly argues is an illegal Plan conform with the Water Act. It seemed weird that South Australia doesn't make more common cause with the Lower Darling. Entirely depressing.

Michael Pelly at the AFR.

Francis Spufford: Light Perpetual.

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Kindle. Spufford's second novel, after Golden Hill. As always his writing is brilliant and things are generally excellent. We can only really complain that he didn't write more, especially on the parts that were a bit more excellent than the others.

Here he recounts in episodic, fragmentary form the imagined lives of a bunch of kids who didn't actually survive a rocket attack on South London in 1944. (As I understand it the fictional children did not survive the actual rocket attack.) Clearly the closest structural referent is the 7-Up series of movies by Paul Almond (that I've never seen). Some of the characters are particularly interesting, others too tendentious, and yet others are left dangling. The reader is expected to indulge Spufford's philosophical shrugging about how life is, as well as his sometimes ungainly semi-spontaneous bursts of Christianity. Some themes are familiar. For instance a schizophrenic only finds peace/a future within another culture, which here is an inversion of the US tradition of going to Mexico for healing of various kinds (cf Vietnam vets). The description of his condition, and later his eventual wife's back is some of the best stuff he's ever done. (I would've liked to know how she (or her parents) came to London as well.) There's an opera-loving property shyster who thrived under Thatcher; one wonders if before then most English shysters were exported to, or were operating in, the colonies. This is England did more inventive work on skinhead culture. And so on. He is a master of mastering in the service of explication.

Lisa Allardice spoke with him in early February. Kate Kellaway loved it. Alexandra Harris trainspots more structural referents. Reviews are, or soon will be, legion.

The Hunt

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A Mads Mikkelsen and Thomas Vinterberg (and Thomas Bo Larsen) jag from Another Round. The premise is entirely #metoo: a very young girl confusedly accuses a kindy teacher she is infatuated with of sexual assault. The focus here is on the fallout for that man in the context of small-town Denmark. A setup like that (established very early on) and some awareness of Vinterberg's prior work might make you expect to squirm a lot. As it is he doesn't have the guts to really take it to us, or perhaps the topic is just too loaded to go anywhere interesting with. It is well made etc.

Stephen Holden.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Dazed and Confused

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Excess McConaughey completism. It is as if Richard Linklater has made some parallel universe of B movies that I've never seen. (OK, I've seen Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly and was unimpressed, and avoided his Before movies.) This is another tepid end-of-high-school flick that wasn't even as brave or inventive as American Pie was soon after. Perhaps it's closer to American Graffiti or Fast Times at Ridgemont High, neither of which I've seen in ages. The limits of its transgression are some spliffs and observing that the poor stink (as George Orwell noted so long ago). Parker Posey plays a mean senior bitch.

A kiss-of-death three stars from Roger Ebert. Janet Maslin observes the soundtrack.

The Lincoln Lawyer

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More misguided McConaughey completism. The cast is great — ex wife Marisa Tomei, investigator William H. Macy. Ryan Phillippe plays a serviceable psychotic defendant. Detective Bryan Cranston seems bemused to have a bit part in an L.A. law procedural. Some of it is fun but I wasn't sufficiently invested to follow who knew what when and why.

Roger Ebert at the time. Manohla Dargis said similarly that it's too much the same.

Contact

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I'm not a big Zemeckis fan. This is his followup to Forrest Gump, and really it would've been more fun if it had been its sequel. This is despite a well-used stellar cast. Jodie Foster plays a soulless scientist; in cliche terms, she gets enough props for doing dreamy, risky science as a woman in a ruthless male-scientist world to debate some theology. (She still looks about as girlish as she did in Taxi Driver, and her thick-skinned enthusiasm is critical to things working even this well.) But really I was there for some misguided McConaughey completism; he was young once, and beatific, and seems to have always had that Interstellar kind of lurv. David Morse. Angela Bassett. John Hurt has some fun in an ambiguous gender, ambiguous race role that Tilda Swinton owns now. James Woods unleashes some vintage snarky insinuation. So strange to see Slick Willy once more. Those were the days, but who was to know?

In essence this is about humans blindly building a machine from alien blueprints. They don't understand how it works or what it does, much like current-day capitalism, but the plans state that it will transport a human somewhere. Inevitably there's a star child and when science hits its limits even our soulless scientist reaches for spiritual imagery. Of course a multi year trip to inner Alienstan (or was that Heaven?) isn't going to fly when you've got a boy waiting back home, so they bend Einstein all out of shape to reduce the universe's immensity to human dimensions. All this makes it hard to square the science-respecting talking with the Hollywood action.

So quaint to see CRTs everywhere. The machine (essentially a stargate McGuffin) falling apart reminded me of the classic UTS crane fire meme.

Roger Ebert got starry eyed in 1997. Stephen Holden tried to take it seriously. The Star Wars trilogy? Those were the days. He's right that the best part was that reenactment of the crowd watching the moonshot launch at Cape Canaveral from across the water in 1969.

The Big Sleep

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The Howard Hawks classic, with Bogart and Bacall, nth time around. What fun.

Roger Ebert in 1997. Bosley Crowther was unimpressed at the time.

Alien3 and Alien: Resurrection

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Repeat viewing. I didn't remember much. Very well made and very boring. David Fincher's efforts are all sepia and indirection. Jean-Pierre Jeunet tries to inject more than bare horror and scifi. Both fail dismally here but soon went on to wild success. I see Sigourney Weaver was a co-producer on both, so perhaps these were her superannuation.

Aliens

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Nth time around with James Cameron's take on Ridley Scott's horror/sci fi mashup. I enjoy Cameron's industrial plant sets but not much of the rest of it. Michael Biehn once more gets the girl. #73 in the IMDB top-250.

Ernest Hemingway: For Whom the Bell Tolls.

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Kindle. I read it quite slowly, resisting getting to the climactic battle as much as Hemingway did. I found it much easier to approach than his Old Man and the Sea, which I started but didn't get far with a few years back, making me think that that might be a gatekeeper suggestion, keeping the casual reader from the man's better works. He's definitely on the romantic and doomed side of things even as he writes unsentimentally about the Spanish Civil War. The structure is straightforward; he's not bothered with playing tricks with points of view, so it's very easy to follow in time, space and character. Given his reputation I was surprised at how strongly drawn his female character(s) were. I wonder what he would have made of present-day USA.

The Wikipedia page has loads of details. The Russian Karkov trashes the POUM, which George Orwell fought for. I think I'll give the movie a miss.

Bacurau

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Suckered by Dana Stevens's year-end list. It's not great and doesn't go anywhere new. A slow start — a granddaughter's return to her village in Brazil for her grandmother's funeral — yields with a reveal to a desperate conformance to genre: gun violence, head severance, blood, the innocence of the child, a kooky dipso doctor. So essentially a humourless, life/death affirming From Dusk til Dawn without Clooney. None of the gringos have any personality. What the gang that does so much for the village actually does is unspecified. The quote in the middle, that cliches can't deeply offend or provoke, applies to the entire movie.

Manohla Dargis also loved it.

The Abyss

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James Cameron completism. Perhaps this was the best he could do with an Avatar/Aliens interpolant in 1989. The plot is similarly hokey and implausible, which wouldn't have bothered me given the amazing staging and cinematography if it wasn't weighed down with too many Chekhovian devices that go off entirely predictably. Moreover there's lurv almost as strong as that in Interstellar. Visually it's Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but underwater. Ed Harris was far better elsewhere, and Michael Biehn nowhere near what he was in The Terminator.

3.5 stars from Roger Ebert in a video review.

The Last Tycoon

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Elia Kazan's final film. More Anjelica Huston and, well, everyone: Jack Nicholson, Robert Mitchum, Theresa Russell, Donald Pleasence, Tony Curtis, Dana Andrews. Robert De Niro leads. Pinter adapted the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. This is Hollywood gazing deeply into its 1930s golden-era navel: a boy wonder producer gets lucky and unlucky in love while the boss's daughter looks on. It starts slow but warms up a bit, edging towards There Will Be Blood before drowning in alcohol. The fun bits are Ingrid Boulting putting up a fight against De Niro's attentions, and Communist Nicholson also taking it to De Niro physically. De Niro has the odd effective scene alongside some clangers where he appears lifeless.

Vincent Canby.

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I was told in 2009 that it was pretty good in 3D at the cinema. A decade later I'd say it's still a (psychedelic, immersive) visual feast and everything else is beside the point. The plot is completely formulaic and events follow events briskly. (I have yet to see The Lion King and now perhaps I don't have to.) The people are essentially a smoogery of Amerindian cultures. I doubt Gaia is coming to save us on this world. I felt I'd seen it before (coarsely The Matrix) and after (roughly Endgame) without that mattering a whole lot. Sam Worthington was better than he ever would be again. Zoe Saldana was somewhere in there.

Dana Stevens tried for an internet metaphor. Roger Ebert went in boots and all. Manohla Dargis.

Promising Young Woman

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Excess Carey Mulligan completism. She's having a moment. Good work publicist. It's a #metoo/millennial riff on the timeworn femme revenge flick; a sort of Hard Candy, Alexandra’s Project interpolant with Harley Quinn aesthetics and attitude, and perhaps a touch of Gone Girl. I couldn't get too excited by the premise so I spent most of the time trainspotting the cast. It was great to see that grab of Robert Mitchum in The Night of the Hunter. It's due for a revival, even as morning TV for people older than me who still watch TV. After a while the excess references to blackout drinking and sleeping around evoked American Pie, with the link being that Mulligan's mother is Jennifer Coolidge, aka Stifler's mom. I was perplexed to see Clancy Brown as her father. It runs on tracks parallel to Twin Peaks (the movies, not so much the TV shows). In the middle the Dean of the med school made a semi-interesting observation about vulnerability that was quickly occluded by absolute moral clarity. The "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!" pivot/break is completely predictable at the 1hr15m mark, so formulaic it hurts. As events at the US Capitol proved the very same day I watched this, fantasising about agency has its limits.

Jeannette Catsoulis. Dana Stevens really didn't like it.

Local Hero

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In two sittings. I've had the soundtrack for ages but never seen the movie. (The ABC used to use Knopfler's Going Home as intro music to something, I think; in any case, it lodged in my brain like The Beatles.) Well it's a quirky, whimsical, earnest attempt to be agreeable, to find the common ground between locals with beautiful scenery and global capital, here represented as various parts of Scotland and a Texas oil company. Corporate head Burt Lancaster is almost unrecognisable until he speaks. I loved his fascination with cosmology, and the Texan drawl of the receptionists was almost just-a-moment Office Space. The boffins were funny. Pete Capaldi chases the mermaid Jenny Seagrove. Peter Riegert is too American everyman for me to remember.

Roger Ebert at the time. He gestures at Bill Forsyth's earlier feature. Janet Maslin.

El Topo

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Took a few sittings to get through. Can't say it did much for me. Prior I figured it to be mostly a low budget narrative-free derivative of the spaghetti Westerns and it did little to convince me otherwise. Roger Ebert indulged it at the time and again in 2007. Vincent Canby was more sceptical. Manohla Dargis in 2006.

Blood Work

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An Anjelica Huston jag from The Dead. Clint Eastwood directed, produced and starred. It's one of his weaker efforts, with all the seams showing; something like Dirty Harry in retirement, trying to make a Zodiac or Se7en. He sure has a way with the ladies. Unfortunately it's all too transparent; I wasn't very invested and still had it figured by halftime.

Roger Ebert liked how it built up, just like a railroad.