peteg's blog

My Name is Gulpilil

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I'd been meaning to see this since I listened to Jason Di Rosso's conversation with director Molly Reynolds back in May (and read her partner Rolf de Heer's reminisces), but it was only showing on screens too far away, and too briefly. Fortunately it is presently, transiently, available on ABC iView.

I had high hopes for this life-of quasi-autobiography as I found Gulpilil quite amusing at times, for instance in Storm Boy and as the self-knowing lead of Charlie's Country. There are a few of those moments here. On the other hand there are great stretches of portraiture that seem to be more about his relationship with de Heer and Reynolds than about providing insight into an iconic actor. (I think they return to the settings of some of the movies they made together.)

Overall I found the big stash of material at the National Film and Sound Archive more rewarding.

Paul Byrnes: yes, that opening scene with the emu is very promising. Luke Buckmaster points to earlier biographies of the man.

Don't Look Up

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I enjoyed Adam McKay's earlier work (e.g. The Big Short, not so much Vice) as it tried hard to bring complex topics to general audiences. This one is a heavy handed comedy that tries to satirize the present-day U.S. political situation, a task that as a foreigner I think is close to impossible and certainly futile. Briefly Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio play astronomer-scientists who discover that (catastrophic) facts aren't worth much in 2021. The kink in the middle brings the brilliant Mark Rylance's billionaire Peter Isherwell to the fore. I didn't enjoy the White House shenanigans so much; Meryl Streep and Jonah Hill play to the eye rolling in-crowd, as does #himtoo Himesh Patel but to a lesser extent. Cate Blanchett has the most fun as a talk show host. Overall it's not as engaging as it needed to be.

Jason Di Rosso interviewed McKay. Manohla Dargis.

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Vale Edward O. Wilson.

The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith

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A Tommy Lewis jag from The Proposition, long postponed because of the scarring inflicted by Thomas Keneally's book in high school. The story is an unsubtle railroad of blaxploitation. The editing is poor at times. Similarly the cinematography is intermittently decent but often it's too dark, quick or noisy to follow closely. Not really something that pleasant to watch.

Roger Ebert. Janet Maslin saw it more clearly; she concludes that the best bits recycle Walkabout. Much later Luke Buckmaster.

Amor Towles: The Lincoln Highway. (2021)

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Kindle. Towles's followup to A Gentleman in Moscow: once again it's 1954 but this time we're in Nebraska heading for California by way of NYC. I enjoyed it for what it was — a sort-of Huckleberry Finn road trip for a twenty-first century looking back nostalgically, enviously at the twentieth — but I struggled with the cold moral calculus, perhaps because I couldn't tell if Towles was endorsing it, or merely describing how it was (a somewhat precise transactionalism) or should be in the U.S.A. His prose and story construction are meticulous. Ulysses would be at home in Nomadland.

Chris Bachelder (spoiler city). Goodreads.

The Matrix Resurrections

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Boring! Unnecessary! Lurv conquers all, again. Really, a sombre, joyless Ghostbusters move? I enjoyed Jonathan Groff in Mindhunter but not here. Keanu probably should've stayed home. Lambert Wilson, yep, same old.

Peter Bradshaw. Sequels for sure; this thing was not closed. Luke Goodsell at length. Dirge-y. Manohla Dargis. Dana Stevens.

The Proposition

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Second time around with this cliche-ridden Nick Cave vehicle. Even bits of the music are recycled! Some Gulpilil completism; he does his best with very little. The cinematography has its moments and Guy Pearce too.

Roger Ebert at the time. He lets his imagination roam, dangling underdrawn characters sources of what-iffery. Manohla Dargis was more skeptical. Recently, Adam Fleet.

Peter Bergen: The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden.

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Kindle. Workman-like prose that doesn't deliver on Bergen's promise to explain how Osama bin Laden turned towards militancy; apparently he was born bad, more or less. There's not a lot here for those who were paying any sort of attention at the time (~ 1998 to ~ 2011). The score settling with his fellow journos is tedious.

Goodreads. Dull, yes.

Trent Dalton: All Our Shimmering Skies. (2020)

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Kindle. Dalton's 2020 followup to Boy Swallows Universe. Initially it's 1936 in Darwin and soon enough 1942 in the larger Top End (circa the Rum Jungle). There's a bit of Xavier Herbert's Capricornia in the air as overly determined romantic triangles yield to generational grudges. It was news to me that Chinese built the old railway from Darwin to Birdum, though this is unsurprising given the similar work they did in California. The Japanese arrive in force; Dalton has the war-resistant Yukio play Paul Hogan with that's-not-a-knife-this-is-a-short-sword moves that ultimately dispose of an entire Australian tin mining utopia. Was he taking an oblique dig at Clive Palmer? We get told about the fascinating behaviour of the green tree ants (that I finally saw in Townsville) in a way far short of Werner Herzog and Mark Moffett. For all I know and intuit I felt that having the Aborigines find and accumulate gold over centuries to be a mistake. I wanted more of Sam Greenway. The quest to find Longcoat Bob was poorly motivated, but that was in keeping with gravedigger girl Molly Hook's coming of age.

He should've written the script for Australia.

Bec Kavanagh. Yes, he's good at working the children's point of view (a lesson well learnt by Omar El Akkad). She wanted the magic realism to be bounded but Dalton knows it must be limitless. I concur that the secondary characters are underbaked, but could he have got there without writing another Poor Fellow My Country and would it have said anything more or new? Goodreads splits into those who enjoy Dalton's schtick and can indulge his flaws, and those who can't.


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Excess Verhoeven completism. This was shown at Cannes back in October. It took me a few goes to get through as it's a bit stodgy, a bit graphic (artificially so), and the subtitles I had were not very good. The last turned out not to matter too much as things generally go as you'd expect, and who really cares about the fine details of a Verhoeven flick anyway? Overall it's not a lot of fun but just perhaps may end up being the Showgirls of 2021. Lambert Wilson will never overcome his role in The Matrix.

Jeannette Catsoulis. Her review can be taken in all ways. Ben Kenigsberg saw more here than there is.

Robert A. Heinlein: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

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Kindle. Suggested to me by Adam from Brooklyn in Townsville a few weeks back, and I'm always curious to know what people find in Heinlein. (Here it was a take on revolution.) Finished in the Blackdown Tableland National Park (Queensland).

Well, what can I say about this piece of tendentious juvenalia. (I stopped reading it closely once he had a character assert that the basic human right is to trade in a free market. Note "the", not "a".) On the plus there's a bit of interesting though shallow revolutionary theory (cells, communication, finance, etc.) and an underdrawn pluralistic society. On the minus computer Mike quickly becomes a trusted third party which puts paid to everything beyond rudimentary opsec. It's also just a little bit sexist. At times it gets really boring (particularly the post-revolution recognition of new regime and the wartime reports). In the middle there's an undercooked theory of humour.

Overall the plan (aka plot) works out, but so what? The underlying issues are not adequately explored. For instance, if government is so very horrible, why do we have it? Heinlein's economics is weak as well: it may be more efficient (better, cheaper, fairer, whatever) for risks to be pooled at larger groupings than individuals or families. There's a market for lemons. He clearly has no solution to the problem of coordinated action (benevolent dictatorship or unilateral computer decision is what we get here) and little interest in such. To me John Brunner is far more fascinating as he focuses on sociology and media to lasting effect.

Moreover Heinlein's cry of TANSTAAFL! is clearly bullshit: protagonist Mannie and family thieve water and electricity from the Lunar Authority to turn profits, and yet somehow this is not a free lunch. Ditto Mike's consciousness and provision of communications, planning, etc. None of the revolutionaries ever paid for any of that.

Russ Allbery digs a bit deeper. I thought Mike taking over at the end was intentional: he becomes more autonomous/assertive and perhaps as tired of things as I was. Goodreads. Some people think this is the American revolution, when it clearly steals from many others. Others observe the scifi aspects are mere window dressing.

In the Cut

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Excess Jane Campion completism. In two sittings due to a lack of sapience and grip. Prompted by Margaret Pomeranz putting it at #5 on some random top-ten list in 2011. Also the solid cast, specifically Mark Ruffalo and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Sexy! Bloody! — graphic ala Se7en, not arty like Stoker. Campion tries to execute the Basic Instinct formula of did he, didn't she ambiguities but it's all futile and all a bit dumb. The cinematography by Dion Beebe is annoying; the handheld jitters don't help in any way, and it's hard to square with his excellent prior work (Collateral and Praise amongst many others).

Widely reviewed at the time. Stephanie Zacharek. Ouch. She's right that Meg Ryan committed to her performance but Campion butchered her character. Roger Ebert. Exactly: key supporting characters, what were they for? Hog tranquillisers! Could be. He wanted more sex and less crime. A. O. Scott similarly. Peter Travers: a mess.

Alan Lightman: Einstein's Dreams.

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Kindle. Briefly: As a fictional and underdrawn Einstein develops his theory of special relativity in 1905, he dreams. This is Lightman's attempt to show what different notions of time might feel like. To me it was insufficiently coherent; he tried to make something of people like us experiencing time like that, but of course if time was like that then the people wouldn't be like us.


The Barbarian Invasions

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A David Stratton recommendation from back in his SBS days (2003). A French-Canadian love letter to voluntary assisted dying. A sequel to The Decline of the American Empire. It won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2004.

The first movement is pretty good, especially as old-school rake Rémy Girard gets grilled by (one of?) his most-recent conquests, promising a hard edge that is unfortunately quickly blunted by a sentimentality that rapidly dominates. Stéphane Rousseau is perfectly cast as the bland son who somehow discovers the motivation to produce the perfect exit for his estranged father. Fiance Marina Hands is a bit flatter, a bit wannabe Audrey Tatou without the zany. The gestures at the twentieth-century continental philosophers felt vacuous, the redemption unearned. The moral appeared to be that money can solve everything, even in socialist Canada.

Widely reviewed at the time. Roger Ebert tells me that junkie Marie-Josée Croze won a best actress gong at Cannes 2003 for her efforts here. (While it wasn't Trainspotting she was the best of the actresses. I didn't understand why she had to administer the fatal dose.) The witchy nun who suggested the heroin was good throughout. A. O. Scott. Peter Travers: yes, the kiss at the end is electric.