peteg's blog

The Tracker

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David Gulpilil in 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 with few really striking shots.

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 criminal law" Chamberlain loses the case, guilty Gulpilil is somehow free to wander around and reveal all. This is after we see him getting rather violently installed in a cell early on. 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 peoples 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.

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.

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

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Essentially a remake of the original in circa 2010 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.

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

Cane Toads: an unnatural history

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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. Jeremy Sims directed this and the more recently feted Last Cab to Darwin.

Paul Byrnes.