peteg's blog


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Cary Grant plays the just-so-you-know-I'm-married cad (let's say a 1958 George Clooney) to Ingrid Bergman's there-are-no-good-ones-left-I've-exhaustively-checked London stage actress. She has a lot of fun rolling her eyes and generally hamming it up to the camera, sporting something like her natural accent. In three sessions due to a lack of grip, and some hope that Bergman would get a lot bitchier towards the end, which was not to be. Grant does OK in the serious parts early on but lets it all go in the last half where he phones in one of his earlier performances. (He delivers his lines in that final scene like offcuts from His Girl Friday.) The material is weak (this is no Notorious) but the leads inject sufficient fun that I'll take what I can get.

A. H. Weiler at the time. He's right, Bergman should've made more comedies.

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Vale, David G. (the ABC, the Guardian, the SMH, the New York Times)

The Power of the Dog

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At the last session of this opening day at the venerable Warrina Cineplex in Townsville, 18.45 start (but got there 18.25 for the shorts, no ads). 12.00 AUD (cash only!) and resolutely old school, like The Ritz, in a good way. Six theatres, and theatre 6 was relatively small — the front row seat was a little close but had all the leg room. The projector is digital.

I asked the bloke selling tickets if he'd seen it and he owned to not being a fan of Jane Campion. When pressed he likened her to Orson Welles: it's been all downhill since her first feature, to which I heartily agreed. The draw for me was mostly the cinema itself, perhaps the cast, the lack of other options. As it turned out I was the only one at this screening.

It's a western that drifts along in 1925 Montana. Much is made of horsey blokes and real men. Benedict Cumberbatch is the alpha while distant beta brother Jesse Plemons has all the luck in partnering up with (real life squeeze) Kirsten Dunst. She drags cold-blooded med-school sprog Kodi Smit-McPhee in her wake. There's some decent cinematography amongst many clunky or ill-paced and misconceived scenes, including several which tease a gay cowboys theme which is not delivered on. I didn't understand what it was between Dunst and Governor Keith Carradine that seemed to cut deeper than social stratification. Thomasin McKenzie from Last Night in Soho, having a moment, plays a balletic domestic. For just a sec she could've had a moment here, when she goes to feed the boy's rabbit.

Overall I didn't get the point. There was some perfection of motherly love (made clumsily explicit). There was also a piano. There was Kirsten Dunst, who was pretty good, but she's always good. Cumberbatch does OK but the scene where his precious bodily cattle hides are given to the Indians made me think he wished he was Christian Bale.

Dana Stevens: best thing Campion or Cumberbatch has done? I think not. Peter Bradshaw. Later, Manohla Dargis: Smit-McPhee updates Psycho.

The Lost Weekend

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Minor Ray Milland completism. He got an Oscar for this study of a lush not-quite-writer in 1945; the movie got best picture. Directed and co-written (co-adapted) by Billy Wilder, who got best director and best screenplay. The message is very mixed: ciggies are OK, booze is not, unless you meet (cute) moneyed Jane Wyman who somehow thinks you're salvageable. Near as I can tell (working girl?) Doris Dowling never got her night out. It doesn't moralise so much as observe. The self pity is excessive.

Bosley Crowther at the time. Realistic? I didn't feel it was essential in any way.

Last Night in Soho (2021)

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Edgar Wright's followup to Baby Driver. Young ladies move to London — Kiwi Thomasin McKenzie from Cornwall in the present, Anya Taylor-Joy in the 1960s — and somewhat predictable predation happens. The two share a psycho-horror connection that I had difficulty following, which is to say that I don't think we're supposed to even try to grasp the fine detail. Like fashion, things remain superficial and sometimes beautiful while gesturing at innovation and provocation, all the while moving too quickly for anything to matter. It has its moments, mainly when McKenzie stops running to spend some time with Terry Stamp (! — why didn't they tell me) or her underdrawn love interest Michael Ajao or grandma Rita Tushingham. Landlady Diana Rigg's exposition is a bit trying, as is the clunky conclusion and the bitchkreig that never actualises. Doctor Who Matt Smith has the soulless charm and sleeze under control. Of course #metoo, but really it's the old cliche: if you remember the 1960s then you weren't there.

Jason Di Rosso summarises and dismisses. A. O. Scott dug it, contrasting Stamp with Chalomet (!) of all people. Dana Stevens: cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon is "best known for his collaborations with the Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook" — and his contribution here is most of it. Michael Wood.

Richard Flanagan: Death of a River Guide.

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Kindle. The first novel Flanagan wrote and the last for me to read. Is it uncharitable to say it's his best? That might perhaps be because it is edited more tightly than what came later. Even so there's still some repetition. It did take me two goes to get past the first chapter.

The best parts are his wide-eyed fascination with the wilds of Tasmania, specifically the Gordon/Franklin river system over the past century and a bit. People's origins are a big part of that, and I got a bit lost in the family tree early on. More engrossing are the tight portraits of the more central personalities. I think Couta Ho could've used some rounding out. The magic realism, of Aljaz Cosini's visions while he drowns (spoiler: he does drown) is handled with a light and deft touch that eluded Flanagan in the more indulgent Gould's Book of Fish. The semaphores are a great gag.

Goodreads. Jennifer Reese put her fingers on its flaws, chiefly insufficient focus. The Slovenian parts were made redundant by The Sound of One Hand Clapping but I guess he wasn't to know that at the time.

The Stranger

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A Edward G. Robinson jag from Night has a Thousand Eyes. Directed by and starring Orson Welles, who plays a Nazi war criminal just trying to get on in small-town Connecticut. The psychologism fad gets a nod through Loretta Young's brain implosion. It's all a bit of a wholesome yawn. In two sittings due to a lack of grip.

Bosley Crowther was unimpressed at the time.

Night Has a Thousand Eyes

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Another John Farrow, and probably the last for me. Edward G. Robinson leads in a clammy and mostly meh "but what if someone really was clairvoyant?" caper. The premise is stretched beyond breaking; the opening retro frames things just fine but once we're firmly in the present moment things drag.

Alias Nick Beal

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Another John Farrow. Again Ray Milland leads, this time as the devil or thereabouts. Fellow Oscar winner Thomas Mitchell plays a straight man being bent crooked. I think he's operating in Illinois. Whatever made The Devil's Advocate work is missing here; things go OK if predictably for most of it until the total bust of an ending. I enjoyed tracking Audrey Totter's focus the most, as she's sucked into a ludicrous (but intended to be diabolical) situation and doesn't know which man to roll her eyes at. The cinematography is sometimes quite effective.

Bosley Crowther (I think) at the time.

No Time to Die

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Daniel Craig, once more unto the breach as Bond. Given the title and Craig's loudly trumpeted loathing of the role (so what's with that co-producer credit?) you can imagine what he got written into his contract and how it goes. Somewhat strangely Phoebe Waller-Bridge got a credit for the script but nary a flea is to be seen or heard. Co-writer/director Cary Joji Fukunaga has form for the first (brilliant) season of True Detective, so overall one could be forgiven expectations.

I have no memory of what came before which perhaps fatally hindered my comprehension. Much of it made no sense to me; the plot has forced and farcical timing which results in characters arriving just after they may have been salient. It's quite long, and some sections look like a first-person shooter. The dialogue is often risible. But wait, did I get this right: Bond driving a Prado managed to outdo two, no three, Range Rovers? — the latter being the unaffordable Platonic ideal of a 4WD, I'd just been told. It would've been good if Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw and Christoph Waltz had more to do, with less of Léa Seydoux and Rami Malek. Lashana Lynch got jibbed. Everyone was just going through the motions.

A. O. Scott. Michael Wood must've been watching something else, as were many other reviewers. Perhaps they're trying to drum up business for the cinemas, and yet none deem a large screen necessary.

Where Danger Lives

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Another from John Farrow. Robert Mitchum is lead astray by a dodgy plot and actress (Faith Domergue) who is keen to split from cashed-up husband Claude Rains. Maureen O'Sullivan, mostly masked, again plays the wholesome wife material. Another feeble mid-century psychological along the lines of Spellbound: watch out for those hysterical/paranoid/whatever women. Totally incurable.

Some reviews and noise at Wikipedia. Luke Buckmaster on the recent biopic.

The Big Clock

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Jason Di Rosso interviewed the directors of a John Farrow biopic now showing at the Sydney Film Festival. I didn't know anything about the bloke, an Australian, who was apparently Mia's Dad. This is his highest rated feature on IMDB. Watched in two sittings in Alice Springs due to weariness.

In a somewhat taut noir Charles Laughton plays a media tycoon that obviously echoes Orson Welles. His dogsbody "Crimeways" editor Ray Milland (to me looking a bit like Jimmy Stewart and sounding a bit like Cary Grant, perhaps aspirationally) struggles with work/life balance in marriage to an implausibly tolerant Maureen O'Sullivan who forgives more than she should. (She also implausibly pines for West Virginia.) A night on the town that ends with a murder leads to some chasing around a very modern New York office building which includes the titular big clock. Elsa Lanchester has the most fun sporting an outre laugh that goes so well with her drawings. The plot holes open up epically in the closing stages.

Bosley Crowther talked it up at the time. Things are patchier than he suspected.

Richard Flanagan: The Sound of One Hand Clapping.

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Kindle. Excess Flanagan completism; only one more novel to go now.

This is about some of the travails of the Central and Eastern European refugees who thought they'd found freedom in 1950s Tasmania only to be tasked with damming the wild and remote rivers for hydroelectric power. The multitrack is mostly about a family of three from Slovenia, principally the father who is a violent, sentimental, good, loving, destroyed, etc. drunkard. The daughter returns from Sydney, where she has been middling-unsuccessful, to have a child out of wedlock. The mystery surrounding the mostly-absent and uncharacterised but objectified mother is strung out for as long as possible. Some Tasmanian history anchors the timeline: the 1967 bushfires at least.

Well, this is Flanagan at his most indulgent. The prolix prose is repetitiously repetitious, not only at the level of words, sentences, paragraphs but even entire chapters. Some bits were clearly slated for demolition but survived an inadequate editing process. The iterative deepening of ... well, everything meant the book far outlasted my patience. It's like he was aiming for something impressionistic like Picnic at Hanging Rock but those big infinitives of his, undermodulated pain and love led him astray. (The pain had a rhythm section at least, in the form of labour contractions, and yet is always just "pain".) Given that I tuned out, it's not entirely fair of me to ask for more of the backstory of Jiri and Helvi, and how Sonja ended up so strongly connected to her. Perhaps it was in one of this sentences/paragraphs/movements my eyes glazed over.

Goodreads has the usual range of opinions and overall found it a bit meh. David Stratton reviewed the movie version (directed by Flanagan) in a supportive way, imagining an audience for it, and claims the book is actually a novelisation of the screenplay.