peteg's blog

Walkabout (1971)

/noise/movies | Link

Revisiting David Gulpilil's debut. The cinematography is gorgeous, though once people are involved the camera gets unsettlingly pervy. Nicolas Roeg's first feature as director.

Vincent Canby. Roger Ebert at the time (four ineffable stars), as a "great movie" in 1997 (another four stars) and for the Criterion Collection in 1998 (a mild edit of the 1997 review). Craig McGregor (apparently an Australian journalist) wanted something more political and actionable.

Sweet Country (2017)

/noise/movies | Link

Warwick Thornton (Samson and Delilah) directs. The story is the same-old frontier/B-movie Western justice/vigilante sort of thing that Henry Fonda would've been in back in the day. Things go as they must. Some of the cinematography is gorgeous. I enjoyed some of the actors: Hamilton Morris is great in the lead, as is his on-screen wife Natassia Gorey-Furber. I wish they'd been in every scene. Matt Day brought just the right amount of superficially respected but ultimately ineffectual force to his role as a judge, yet not enough for me to recognise him. Sam Neill did OK with some stringy material as a preacher without a church. I'd seen publican Anni Finsterer on stage in Sydney a few years back (In Real Life, The Readers); here she's a Mrs Miller to Bryan Brown's wannabe McCabe, or something like that.

Overall I'd keep the Aboriginal cast and some of the supporting actors, the sets, the director, ditch the rest and find a better story to tell.

Glenn Kenny. The "great salt desert" scene he picks out is a straight lift of a Sergio Leone classic. Jeannette Catsoulis is a bit off the mark: Alice Springs this is not.

Richard Flanagan: The Unknown Terrorist.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. The worst thing I've read from Flanagan yet. It's like he spent a weekend in Sydney and thought he'd have a crack at a detective/crime effort ala Peter Corris. The formula involves loads of locations, moving between those locations, a dash of local colour (Mardi Gras, the Cross) and a cast of stereotypes: here a stripper, a Muslim drug mule, an inner city single mum, a self-deluded Richard Carlton-ish reporter, not to mention the tarnished but not bent cop with a heart of gold. It's as if he hasn't heard of Roger Rogerson, who made this sort of fiction redundant a long time ago. The plot moves like a train on a railroad alongside telegraph poles, binaries strung between cliches. The post-911 ASIO arrest laws are spelt out carefully but Flanagan seems ignorant of Howard's gun laws from a decade previous. Everyone and everything is on a downward spiral.

Goodreads. Michiko Kakutani dug it.

Crooklyn (1994)

/noise/movies | Link

And yet more Spike Lee. As IMDB says, "Spike Lee's vibrant semi-autobiographical portrait of a school teacher, her stubborn jazz musician husband and their five kids living in Brooklyn in 1973." It's all vignettes. Delroy Lindo has the role of a somewhat ineffectual father, hanging on tight to the old musical forms. Alfre Woodard is more successful as the pragmatic mother. Bespectacled David Patrick Kelly more memorably played Jerry Horne in Twin Peaks. It's a bit overweeningly innocent.

Janet Maslin loved it. Roger Ebert.

He Got Game (1998).

/noise/movies | Link

More Spike Lee. A basketball/prison father/son flick; in some ways a dry run or complement to 25th Hour (Big Time's monologue, the suspected perfidy of ladies, the bus departing the city). Public Enemy did the soundtrack. There were some enjoyable performances: Denzel Washington is at his finest in dealing with the cops at his flophouse, and that toasted cheese sandwich! Zelda Harris as his daughter Mary outdoes wooden son Ray Allen. John Turturro plays a character not named Jesus. Rosario Dawson and Milla Jovovich were solid. Coney Island! The production is slick but there's not a lot new or unique here though, unlike his best efforts.

Roger Ebert: three-and-a-half stars. Janet Maslin observes the Milla subplot was inessential.

Richard Flanagan: Wanting.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. A two-track about Dickens (writing in London and acting in Manchester), and the last of the Tasmanian Aborigines. Asterisks attach to both. The link is Sir John Franklin and his wife, who also bear most of the characterisation. Things go as you'd expect. Flanagan in his concluding author's note asks that we not take the historicity of it all too literally. I don't think it engaged very broadly with wanting so much as how those with stature and power take what they can. This is the essence of the colonial project, and the Imperial centre, both well known for hypocrisy.

Goodreads has many opinions. Geordie Williamson claims it is a universal fable; I'd agree it's generic. Michiko Kakutani didn't like the fake history but passed up a chance to observe Flanagan's recycling of a central plot point of Great Expectations. Alexander Theroux was unimpressed.

She's Gotta Have It (1986).

/noise/movies | Link

More Spike Lee completism. His first feature I think. For me all the fun was in the details. I see it was resuscitated as a TV series in 2017.

D. J. R. Bruckner at the time.

School Daze (1988)

/noise/movies | Link

Some Spike Lee completism. One of his very early features. Larry Fishburne (about ten years after Mr Clean) plays a woke activist at the all-black Mission University, where fast times are had by all. Samuel L. Jackson, a local with dimmer prospects and expectations of wokeness, is the same as ever. They meet at the town's KFC. Giancarlo Esposito (Gus Fring in Breaking Bad) is great fun as a frathouse fuhrer. Spike Lee himself doesn't entirely nail his half-pint Gammite role. The musical interludes often started amusingly and became interminable. The stagy acting is of a piece with Lee's aesthetic, and once again the details are where it's at. It's mostly fun.

Janet Maslin. Roger Ebert. Both observe that it doesn't really hold together, either overall and as a series of vignettes. Lee did better with much of the cast soon enough in Do The Right Thing.

Inside Man

/noise/movies | Link

Second time around, and again I enjoyed all the little things Spike Lee put in around a plot that Roger Ebert derided. Afterwards, when I stopped to think, I had to agree with him, and yet it doesn't really matter. Manohla Dargis.

Francine Prose: The Vixen.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. Fourth time around with this author in book form I think. I have been enjoying her essays published in various forums, and movie reviews. This is some sort of commentary on the ethics of the book publishing industry/scene using the Rosenbergs as a fulcrum. (Deborah Friedell wrote a great article about them recently which I'm glad I read before this.) Also a romance, and a coming of age. Overall it's not as punchy as Mister Monkey. I felt there was far too much hand wringing, repetition about the moral dilemma(s), and too many pages went by between her very amusing punchlines. The plot wasn't that suspenseful and a bit disappointing that it went the way many conspiracy theories do. The lady characters are not that deeply drawn.

Amy Bloom (unabashed double thumbs up). Goodreads.

Rohinton Mistry: A Fine Balance.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. Second time around with Mistry. It was on the pile for a long time. An ecumenical: variously some Parsis, Muslims, Untouchables/Dalits/Harijans/... form new kinds of households in India during the Partition and Emergency. There's some tailoring, some begging, some good and bad Godfathering, and no satisfactory romancing. Well-written and bleak; his vocabulary is vast and the clarity is all in the service of intricate, efficient and unsentimental storytelling. As someone who hasn't read Tolstoy I had to wonder if the ending was Anna Karenina's, and if so why. The most reliably funny scenes are set in a vegetarian restaurant, where I thought the cook and waiter played large enough roles to deserve names.

A. G. Mojtabai at the time. Generally well-regarded at Goodreads, and widely read as it was an Oprah's Book Club selection.

No Sudden Move

/noise/movies | Link

A sort-of recommendation from A. O. Scott. As he notes it's unfortunately soporific; Benicio del Toro embodied the movie as a characterless shamble. Don Cheadle looked aged, as did Brendan Fraser. Jon Hamm the generic G-Man. And Matt Damon's exposition! I didn't follow who did what to whom for how much as it didn't seem worth it. Heading back to 1950s gangster Detroit: was the point that Soderbergh has no new stories to tell?

Dana Stevens.