peteg's blog

Charlie's Country

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Even more Gulpilil completism. In two sittings due to a lack of electricity. Rolf de Heer again, in 2013. The first half is pretty good, with some cute and funny set pieces in the community, involving (amongst others) mates, white drug dealers on the lam, cops. Things go predictably bad and boring once he's off to Darwin for health reasons. Women are underrepresented here; Charlie doesn't seem to have much of a relationship with a wife or kids.

Paul Byrnes. Jane Howard. Jason Di Rosso wasn't so impressed. Yep, it is a bit one-dimensional.

Last Cab to Darwin

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Another adaptation for the screen of a Reg Cribb play by Jeremy Sims, who also directed and produced. Terminal Broken Hill taxi driver Michael Caton spends a bit too much time touristing in the N.T. on his road to destiny — an assisted death in Darwin. His neighbour and awkward love interest Ningali Lawford (the vocalist on Cloudless and sounding great here) is fine, especially when her mob comes to visit. More of that please. Emma Hamilton as an English nurse, slumming it as a bar wench at the ostentatiously ocker Daly Waters Pub, claims he's a hero for the grey nomads. Being the shallowly drawn character she is, a fortuitous caring arrangement eventuates. Mark Coles Smith provides all the electricity as a ne'er-do-well young Aboriginal bloke with a family out of Oodnadatta, also along for the ride. Ladies and football coaches find him irresistible. Jacki Weaver is a neutered and slightly histrionic Dr Philip Nitschke. Also John Howard, David Field, Leah Purcell. The ending (spoiler) is disappointing as it dodges this contentious issue, leaving Caton and Lawford dangling; Wikipedia says that what actually happened to the bloke this movie drew inspiration from is more depressing.

Throughout I wondered what Andrew Denton thought about it all. (He was part of an excellent panel discussion on the topic back in April 2021.) So much has changed since this movie was made — as I understand it, NSW is the only state yet to have passed a voluntary assisted dying law. The territories are apparently still stymied by the "Andrews" law.

Paul Byrnes. Luke Buckmaster. I was sad to hear that Lawford died in 2019, in Edinburgh of all places.

Robbie Arnott: The Rain Heron. (2020)

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Kindle. Winner of the Age book of the Year for 2021. Arnott is Tasmanian. It took me two goes to get started as the first page is just too tedious. It does pick up a bit but never drops its tendentious and slightly wonky, undercooked, fableish perspective. Basically we're on a bug hunt where able squid milker Ripley gets a twinge of the guilts and feels the need to place the Alien back on its roost after boosting it for the powers that be (or might be). The turning may have been, like Gladys, not due to any moral qualms but the dark forces of lurv. One can occasionally discern the entrails of The Lord of the Rings: that interminable trip from the mountain to the sanctuary, and to only high tail it back!

I didn't sink into it much as it is quite predictable with periodic clangers. The rain heron didn't need to be returned anywhere — it's a bird, just release it, it'll make its way home. And as I learnt in a first year computer science tutorial, "assignation" is not that closely related to "assigned" or "assignment". We are told that the lady hermit Ren is smart, but she's not; if she was, she'd've known that once the "there's no trail" trail to her abode had been discovered she needed to move on immediately, and a smart person may have prepped for that. I also couldn't get my head around how even the most offensive acts were rapidly and sincerely forgiven. It was a land very damaged by grasping cynicism and yet that cynicism was otherwhere, unshown and barely acknowledged. The squid milker accurately reflects modern politicians by mouthing moral rectitudes just after she's lost power.

James Ley. Australian cli-fi? How about that Andrew McGahan book you reviewed a year previously, hmmm? Goodreads.

The Tracker

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David Gulpilil in the lead, and soon enough on the lead, 2002. Written and directed by Rolf de Heer. Frontier violence in 1922, "somewhere in Australia". I didn't get a lot out of it. Gary Sweet's character is a caricature and his lines and histrionics are overheated cliches. Open-mouthed neophyte Damon Gameau left me cold. "Veteran" Grant Page is apparently known for his stunts. There's some great cinematography (of the Flinders Ranges) and yet nothing is new and few shots pop.

Roger Ebert: 3.5 stars, hmm. Both he and Paul Byrnes draw attention to the use of cutaways to paintings whenever things got violent. Julie Rigg, spot on. Stephen Holden.

The Last Wave

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More Gulpilil completism: epic blozploitation, black magic voodoo! It's so strange to see him in the Sydney spots: the Rocks, Vaucluse, the park under the southern end of the bridge. Unfortunately he doesn't get to move in this, functioning merely as a 1976 urban clothes horse. Richard Chamberlain plays a moneyed-up corporate tax lawyer who drives a Volvo 264 (if I read it right) which looks essentially like a 240. He's American and his accent wanders periodically.

I did not understand the metaphysical mechanics, or much of anything really. The plot is incoherent; for instance, after "I don't do much criminal law" Chamberlain loses the murder case, guilty Gulpilil is somehow free to wander around and reveal all. This is well after we see him getting rather violently installed in a cell. The whole thing is shot like a horror movie. Perhaps it serves best as a reminder of a time of Tooths Lager, when the ambience of the old inner-city pubs drew both lawyers and crims to work from the front bar.

Again — ten years later — it strikes me that I haven't seen anything by Peter Weir I like.

Vincent Canby at the time. Luke Buckmaster in 2014.

Mad Dog Morgan

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In two sittings. David Gulpilil completism, and by far the best bits are Gulpilil doing whatever: playing the didj, sounding off like a kookaburra, killing snakes, throwing spears. Dennis Hopper plays Dennis Hopper, just before Apocalypse Now. Clearly Hopper loved the same bits I did. The remainder of the cast is huge, housing pretty much all of the David Williamson movie men of the day (circa 1976). John Hargreaves has never been more wooden, nor Graeme Blundell. There's a cameo from Bruce Spence and some hackwork from Bill Hunter and Jack Thompson. Frank Thring would have cartoonishly twirled his moustaches if he wasn't hairless. Notionally the plot involves some bushranging on the NSW/Victoria border in the late 19th century, but really the project was just an excuse to get out there on the turps with the boys.

Luke Buckmaster in 2014. He's a fan. Paul Byrnes at some point, nondescriptly.

Dune (2021)

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A dreamy, impressionistic take on something like the first half of the first book of the venerable Dune saga with a great cast that is sometimes well used. Of course there is too much exposition for it cannot be done any other way. The pace is relentless and undermodulated: one moment Duke Oscar Isaac is going to sleep in the arms of his concubine, the insufficiently regal Rebecca Ferguson, and the next there's peak action, all in the service of developing Timothée Chalamet's fate and not much more. Chalamet is not very expressive, even too often inert, which sort-of works at least until he encounters his dream wife Zendaya who has no personality/character. (You have little chance of discerning the character's names unless you're very familiar with the source material.)

Amongst the next tier of cast we get Stephen McKinley Henderson as mentat Hawat, struggling with his weight. Self-satisfied Aquaman Jason Momoa is not my idea of Duncan Idaho. The No Country for Old Men veterans Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem, well, this isn't a movie that's kind to old men. Stellan Skarsgård plays Baron Brando with some embarrassingly unimaginative direct lifts from Apocalypse Now. Reverend Mother Charlotte Rampling does what she needs to to feed her retirement fund. There's a vast array of races represented here, but mostly in minor or non-speaking roles, just like the big dance party in one of those Matrix sequels.

I'd say David Lynch's effort is about level with auteur Denis Villeneuve's at half time, despite having a smaller budget, far less technology and limited scope for the vision thing. There simply wasn't anything as striking as Sting in his speedos here, nor the willingness to take the Baron and his henchmen right over the edge of silliness. Dave Bautista did his part just fine and yet we can only imagine what the Darth Vader-ish Sardukar could have been if they lived in Cloud Cuckoo Land. And what about Brad Dourif's tortured mentat with the John Howard eyebrows? — you hardly notice that character here.

Manohla Dargis: is this Star Wars? Glenn Kenny shows his deep comprehension of classic scifi. Dana Stevens says she nodded off twice, "each time for less than a minute", which makes me think she may have missed most of the plot. Later, Paul Byrnes. And even later, Michael Wood.

The Last Duel

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I hadn't been to the cinema in an age so I paid 19.00 AUD + 0.25 AUD in credit card surcharge to the Alice Springs Cinema to see Ridley Scott's latest. The theatre was pretty decent but (as is usual now) from the second row centre you can count the pixels. It was just me and a couple who sat somewhere up the back in the 3.10pm session.

Medieval #metoo. Matt Damon's mullet deserved its own credit. Adam Driver, his playboy nemesis. Ben Affleck had the most fun. The CGI is often not great. Again I was waiting for a twist that never came. Scott has a predilection for revisiting very similar themes; this is a pastiche of The Duellists with the ultraviolence of Gladiator. I'd have preferred another Fassbender-anchored Alien instalment, or some more Bladerunner. Afterwards I felt like I should've waited for Bond.

Dana Stevens. Glenn Kenny. Manohla Dargis: yes, Jodie Comer is mostly inert.

The Card Counter

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Shockingly poor. For Oscar Isaac, who seems incapable of finding a decent role. Even Willem Dafoe is defeated by cliche in his bit part. I did not understand what all these themes had to do with each other, and kept waiting for a twist that never came.

Manohla Dargis makes much it being written and directed by Paul Schrader.

Cane Toads: The Conquest (2010)

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Essentially a remake of the original with some of the cast returning and some new material, such as the toad arriving at the N.T./W.A. border. Apparently it was released in 3D. It seems that Mark Lewis struggled to find anyone as spectacularly oddball to interview this time.

I was told by an American (Anton from San Francisco) at El Questro that Australian crows have learnt how to eat them, by flipping them over and avoiding the toxins in the shoulders. He also claimed that kites (?) have learnt from this trick from the crows.

While watching this (in Kakadu) I got wondering if crocs can cope with the toad's poisons. According to Harry Bowman (a long-term tour operator on the Adelaide River who appears here and also on a recent ABC conversation I happened to listen to recently) the answer is they cannot. However this 2019 report from the ABC's science unit says that salties can and freshies can't. Moreover the rakali (native water rats), some snakes, Kookaburras, swamphens, some insects, melomys, ... also predate on the toad. Fascinating stuff. More details at Wikipedia. Later: Ibis have discovered another technique.

Peter Galvin. Yep, it's not as much fun as the first one.

Cane Toads: an unnatural history (1988)

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Second time around with this classic. It prompted me to dig up the sequel.

Last Train to Freo

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Second time around with this adaptation of a play from 2006, at the Merl campground out past Jabiru in Kakadu. The cast is great. It starts out realistically but slides into artificiality at some point, turning back into a play (originally by Reg Cribb). Jeremy Sims directed this and the more recently feted Last Cab to Darwin.

Paul Byrnes.