peteg's blog

Dark City

/noise/movies | Link

Apparently third time around with this Alex Proyas contraption. Somehow sometimes (but not at all times) there are some very appealing visuals, or story elements, or something. I think we can all agree that whatever her other merits, Jennifer Connelly is not much in the voice department. I wish Melissa George had had a larger role. And Bruce Spence.

Roger Ebert at the time, and as a "great movie" in 2005 for a total of eight stars. A visual feast. Stephen Holden was more interested in a coherent story.

Once Upon A Time In The West

/noise/movies | Link

Revisiting one of Sergio Leone's classics. Still #49 in the IMDB top-250. There's a lot to like here, if you have the patience for it.

Roger Ebert gave it 2.5 stars at the time. It seems he did enjoy the ones starring Clint Eastwood.

Natural Born Killers (1994)

/noise/movies | Link

Apparently last seen a decade ago. I completely remember the way it unfolds (who would not) and some scenes but forgot many details. I could watch Woody Harrelson all day. Tarantino authored the story, whatever that means, given that others wrote the screenplay. Ah, I see, that means he declined to take his full due for it.

Four stars from Roger Ebert. He seems to have loved everything that Oliver Stone did. Peter Travers sees this as the latest in a series of exploitative works. Janet Maslin: not great satire, sure, but what sensory overload. One of Trent Reznor's finest soundtracks alongside Lost Highway. She's right that Stone can't do the news like Spike Lee.

Born on the Fourth of July (1989)

/noise/movies | Link

Second time around with this, the second of Oliver Stone's Việt Nam war movies. I don't think it's his finest outing, though perhaps this was the story closest to his heart of the three. Tom Cruise has a few scenes where he's quite good, and a few more where he's not; his best efforts felt like a dry run for his turn in Magnolia. Other actors, such as Frank Whaley as a childhood buddy, put in more natural performances. Stone got an Oscar for this direction and the editors won too. I'm a little surprised as it didn't seem like the smoothest of rides; Cruise's speech to the cameras at the RNC towards the end doesn't square to well with the inchoate war vet we were getting to know to that point.

Four stars from Roger Ebert. Here he is, on the record, talking about an anti-war movie made by the losing side. Vincent Canby more critically endorsed it.

9 Songs

/noise/movies | Link

This was on the pile forever, probably as a jag from Winterbottom's excellent Jude, which I should have rewatched in preference to this dreck. A quick look at IMDB suggests he has been running out of ideas for a long time now. In essence this is an episodic snapshot of the British indie music scene circa 2004 intercut with some hardcore sex that perhaps just maybe is supposed to provide characters and propel a plot. Really there's no arc and it's entirely vacuous. The Antarctic thread was absolutely spurious. As someone may have said, it's a continent in search of a penguin.

Roger Ebert is obviously sympathetic to sexy movies but could only manage two stars. Damn straight the concert scenes are the most soulless footage ever shot of that stuff. He misses the cue early on from the woman, that she's not there for the long haul. Stephanie Zacharek got into it.

Richard Flanagan: Gould's Book of Fish.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. Is this Flanagan's For the Term of His Natural Life (unread by me), where conviction is a pastiche and conceptual theft (or co-option or appropriation) of the big 20th century novels? Anchored in Europe, set in Tasmania, convicts are slaves where history (recorded at least) is rewritten as in 1984, the boot is on the human face, Kurtz has his palace and railroad, while the American black man (Capois Death) dies a Benjamin Button death. I grant that the verbiage and periodic bouts of doubt about this project are all Flanagan though.

Briefly Gould is a painter transported from England who is charged with painting the fish indigenous to the Sarah Island penal colony. Wish fulfilment via coincidences and magical realism ensues.

Wanting now strikes me as offcuts from this: Flanagan could not house here all of his research on the bloke rounding up the remaining wild Tasmanian Aborigines, or Towtereh and his daughter. Both novels spend some time on collecting heads and sending them to England. As phrenology is a softer and more ridiculous target than eugenics, strawmen can be sighted everywhere.

I didn't get all of it. At times the eyeglazing verbosity got the best of me, especially towards the end. Overall it is probably more interesting to dig into the actual history that he's working off and reacting to. I enjoyed a few of his lines ("Is there nothing that doesn’t mean sex to [Americans]?" the [Italian] Conga had one day asked, to which [the Vietnamese] Mr Hung had replied, "People".) and his offhanders like blackfella-whitefelon language. But as with his other work the whole thing felt like mere scaffolding for such lines and brainfarts about love and the goodness of the world. Does Flanagan ever get to grips with the idea of love? He bandies it about like a brand name.

Michiko Kakutani. The people at Goodreads dug into it. Brian Matthews makes his observations and some polite excuses for making them. Ovid's Metamorphosis perhaps; in my frame, clearly Kafka, and Heart of Darkness of course. And so on.

The New World

/noise/movies | Link

Malick completism. This one has been on the pile for a very long time. It's always tricky to approach anything with Colin Farrell in the lead. Christopher Plummer does OK with a bit part as a captain. Christian Bale is very banal as a well-mannered settler. I'll take what I can get from David Thewlis and Eddie Marsan. There's the odd moment of beauty. Briefly Q'orianka Kilcher's Pocahontas of the New World (Jamestown, Virginia) encounters explorer Farrell and the obvious happens. Farrell being Farrell the obvious can't be let stand so Bale has to take her to the dance at the royal court in London, England. Afterwards they go home.

Four incomprehensible stars from Roger Ebert. It sounds like he thought it was a fairy story for adult Americans. Not being very familiar with the discovery myths of the Americas, I didn't feel it escaped the railroads of history as he suggested.

The Thin Red Line (1998)

/noise/movies | Link

Nth time around with this Malick classic, apparently last seen seven years ago (which can't be right). In pretty much one draught at Bullara Station. It's much as I remember it though the central assault on the hill struck me as a bit more interminable this time.

Only three stars from Roger Ebert. He wanted more movie and less rumination. He's wrong about anti-war movies only being told from "the point of view of the winning side"; consider just about any Việt Nam movie made by the Americans. Janet Maslin was more nuanced, as was Peter Travers. Charles Taylor went for the jugular. In between the vitriol he makes some great points.

Douglas Coupland: Microserfs.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. Also last read in Chicago in 2014. Coupland is a bit addictive. It's essentially a romance that doesn't really hold together if you think about it for long. Their Oop! product sounds like Minecraft to me (having never played Minecraft).

Goodreads has a higher opinion of this than Generation X.

Douglas Coupland: Generation X.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. Last read in Chicago in 2014. Having friends like that must be exhausting.

Goodreads. It's undergoing a thirty-year anniversary sort of thing now; see, for instance, Diletta De Cristofaro and the man himself.

Omar El Akkad: What Strange Paradise.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. The second novel from this Canadian journalist/author (the first being American War) and again well-marketed. I found it difficult to get past the first few chapters with their transparent attempts at creating a sense of curiosity about a crash landing on a beach via selective withholding. After these he settled into a standard two-track where one took us back to Syria and the other remained on Kos (a Greek island, second-best loved by the tourists). We spend a bit of time in Alexandria along the way. The trip on the boat with a diversity of characters is a bit harrowing and the most powerful piece of writing; the foreshadowing is particularly effective here. Every so often I found his punchlines quite affecting, despite it all being quite familiar from the experiences of the Vietnamese diaspora so long ago. Overall it's better than his first effort.

Goodreads loved it. Wendell Steavenson. Perhaps it is the taking of a tight vantage of children that made the improvement. Egyptian (?) people smuggler Mohamed did have his moments. Army Colonel Kethros is more a vehicle for making such observations as:

His father once told him that every man is nothing more or less than the demands he makes of the world, and that the more a man demands of the world, the bigger the magnitude of his success or failure in life. This, his father said, is what matters — the size of the asking. And this is what the colonel thinks of as he studies Nicholas's darting eyes, studies the weight of the lie on him; this is what the word weakness can never properly describe — the absolute poverty of the boy's asking, the willingness with which he seems ready to shuffle meekly through the world, making not a single demand. Weakness Kethros can tolerate — this other thing, he can't.

Fear and Desire (1953)

/noise/movies | Link

Stanley Kubrick's first feature, and the first time I've seen it. The story is nothing great, and neither is the acting, but the cinematography has its moments.

The New York Times, at the time.

Sydney (or Hard Eight)

/noise/movies | Link

Second time around with PT Anderson's first feature.

Roger Ebert. Stephen Holden.

That Sinking Feeling

/noise/movies | Link

The first of Bill Forsyth's features. Essentially the same (great) cast as Gregory's Girl. A heist in Glasgow. There are some funny moments, such as the sister of one of the posse who knows everything, which by the logic of quantity theory means that he knows absolutely nothing.

Vincent Canby (five years later).

Barry Lyndon (1975)

/noise/movies | Link

Third time around. Prompted by Andrew Delbanco's review of a Kubrick biography that suggests this was Kubrick's take on Napoleon. I hadn't realised it was based on a book by Thackeray. Things go precisely parabolically. The movie is somehow both soporific and entirely gripping which might be due to the cinematography or perhaps Marisa Berenson. Amazingly still #200 in the IMDB top-250.

Roger Ebert at the time (3.5 stars; key phrase "ultimately inconsequential") and as a "great movie" (an automatic 4 stars in 2009). Vincent Canby.