peteg's blog

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 (1996)

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Ernest Hemingway: For Whom the Bell Tolls. (1940)

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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.

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.

Avatar (2009)

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I was told at the time 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 (2020)

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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.