peteg's blog

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. Later, so did Rumaan Alam. Still later, Thomas A. Bass.

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. James Antoniou for the Smage. 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.