peteg's blog

Douglas Stuart: Young Mungo. (2022)

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Kindle. Do we need another account of growing up gay in violent and predatory early-1990s Glasgow? Early on I felt the answer might be yes but towards the end I was rushing through the repetitious and almost circular inevitabilities. The writing is good but not as taut in the small as it was in Shuggie Bain. The convergent two track plot is depressingly unsurprising. And come on, we've known for a long time that every family has a Begbie who's into sectarian violence because it's fun.

Molly Young. Cameron Woodhead. And so on. Could it be that reviewers today are (generationally) unaware of Trainspotting?

Douglas Coupland: Kitten Clone: Inside Alcatel-Lucent. (2014)

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Kindle. Mercifully brief. Coupland doesn't motivate why he writes about this company; it was in decline at the time (circa 2013) and was only ever famous (just maybe) for owning Bell Labs from 2006 until 2016. Wikipedia suggests that Coupland got in just before it was parted out, and you'd have to think that the purchasers are just as hopeless. The prospects for fundamental research (in the computer industry at least) have been grim for some time. There's very little in this text.

Goodreads.

Beneath Clouds (2002)

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Ivan Sen's debut feature; apparently an elaboration of his short Tears from 1998. It opens with some great cinematography (by Allan Collins) of the B-doubles and grain silos out past Moree. Two school girls seem to be waiting for the bus opposite the only shop for miles, where the boys loiter. One (Dannielle Hall) is clearly slated for an exit. Down the track she meets up with escapee Damian Pitt who had been working on the Christmas conifers at a prison farm near Lithgow. Neither went on with the acting. The story goes as it must with some predictably telling encounters. Sen leans heavily on motif and a late 1990s electronic soundtrack of his own devising. You can see why his next stop was Toomelah. I enjoyed it and would say this was his best effort thus far.

Loads of details and reviews at Ozmovies. Four-and-a-half stars from Margaret, four from David. Many reviews fend off claims of special pleading for Australian movies, and most do not grasp that Sen was reaching for a kind of affected, telling yet fake realism ala Hal Hartley through the cinematography and mannered dialogue of the untutored actors.

David Halberstam: One Very Hot Day. (1967)

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Kindle. Halberstam's take on the early-to-middle part of the USA's war in Việt Nam circa 1965 (when Robert S. McNamara was the Secretary of Defence and the USA had yet to commit more than CIA and military advisers to the conflict). The single thread, with discursive capsule biographies of the main characters, takes us along on a day in the field somewhere between Mỹ Tho and Sóc Trăng on the Mekong Delta. There's not a lot to recommend this specific take: the American elements are essentially drawn from Catch-22 where experience (even under the influence) beats youthful whizz-kiddery, while the Vietnamese emphasise patronage networks but do not provide much insight into the methods of the North (cf The Moon of Hòa Bình). It's tidily written and unsurprising.

Wilfrid Sheed (En Route to Nowhere) at the time: these are the bits that Halberstam couldn't get published in his dispatches. Eliot Fremont-Smith, also in the New York Times in January 1968. Goodreads was retrospectively unimpressed.

Hercules Returns (1993)

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Random and misdirected Bruce Spence completism; he's merely in the brief framing story, whereas the meat is a putatively humorous (read scatological) redubbing of an old Italian muscleman movie.

Excess details at Wikipedia and Ozmovies.

The Bad Guys (2022)

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More animation. Drawn by fond memories of author-of-the-books Aaron Blabey's efforts in Erskineville Kings a long time ago. I knew I was in for a derivative heist flick due to Calum Marsh's review for the New York Times but had hoped it wouldn't be quite so inane.

Sandra Hall: a generous 3.5 stars, out of 5 I think. She left the token female tarantula geek out of the gang. Luke Goodsell's interview with Blabey at the ABC made the books look like a lot more fun.

Incredibles 2 (2018)

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Second time around.

The Incredibles (2004)

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Third time around with this Pixar classic. Still #227 in the IMDB top-250 despite all the Marvel movies since.

Three-and-a-half stars from Roger Ebert.

William Gibson: The Bridge Trilogy: Virtual Light, Idoru, All Tomorrow's Parties. (1993 - 1999)

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Kindle. It seems I read Virtual Light back in 2009; the remainder of the series mustn't have been on mrak's shelf I guess. I didn't get much out of it — again I hurried to finish it, thinking there'd be something later on, past all the florid description. There wasn't. Near as I could tell Gibson merely synthesised a bunch of things that were well known in the 1990s. (He even found room for Chopper.) The plot boiled down to what happens when a disembodied pure spirit (obviously a femme fatale) meets a construction technology (here nanobots). Beyond the obvious, Gibson does not tell us. More annoyingly he does not follow his disembodied conceit beyond the first step; Egan's imaginings appear to be far beyond him. Overall too much object fetishism, too incoherent and too inconsequential.

Goodreads, Goodreads (come on people, Max Headroom was constructed in the 1980s), Goodreads.

Newsfront (1978)

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Co-written and directed by Phillip Noyce. Based on some raw material from Bob Ellis and David Elfick. Despite the frame (the production of news reels after World War II) this is really about 1970s Australia looking back at its 1940s/1950s, in the same vein as American Graffiti, The Last Picture Show, etc. etc. Within this nostalgia both periods saw the great days of the ALP traduced by scare campaigns (Menzies's attempts at banning the Communist party and the Dismissal respectively.) Well before Vatican II and Brides of Christ the mores of the local Catholicism are shown to bend under the duress of imported culture. I don't recall seeing Bill Hunter snog a woman before; Wendy Hughes was the unlucky lady here. She embodied an era when even a free-spirited and able woman needed a man, and was otherwise squandered. Bryan Brown, especially wooden. Gerard Kennedy did OK as the grasping opportunist. Bruce Spence had a bit of fun hamming it up as the driver of a Beetle on the Redex Trail endurance race (see also Peter Carey). I doubt these guys were living down near the Waverley Cemetery. Overall there's a failure to generate the sympathy for the characters that this sort of thing demands; it's not as rueful or sophisticated as something like The Remains of the Day. Perhaps it just didn't have much to say, now or then.

Roger Ebert: two-and-a-half stars. He got hung up on the economic impacts of technological change, which is fair enough. Janet Maslin found it rueful. Ozmovies: yes, "the seamless integration of actual newsreel footage with the drama" showed great compositional skill. I remain mystified as to why Noyce is deemed a great director.

A Cry in the Dark (Evil Angels) (1988)

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The Lindy and Michael Chamberlain story. Meryl Streep got an Oscar nom for playing Lindy; I thought she did OK with the strayan accent but not so well with the body language or facial expressions: the latter struck me as too calculated. Sam Neil does OK too as Michael. Fred Schepisi co-adapted and directed the raw material by John Bryson. It's well constructed, putting enough of the nation's opinions and milieus on the table and exploring the dodgy forensics without tedium. It took me a while to place dodgy forensic scientist Sandy Gore: she played Mother Ambrose in Brides of Christ.

Ozflicks: 5 stars apiece from Margaret and David (video review). David: Picnic at Hanging Rock minus Weir's dreaminess. Ozmovies. Three stars from Roger Ebert. Vincent Canby loved Streep's work.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022)

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Odeon 5, 13.00 session, with Dave. I used the last of my NSW discover pork barrels (+ 18.18 AUD for some Maltesers and a ticket for Dave). Opening day. I went in cold and was not particularly surprised to find that this was one for the Nicolas Cage fans; the marketing made me hope it'd draw on more of his diverse roles. (I was expecting to see that snakeskin jacket from Wild at Heart at least.) So hats off to the publicity folks once again.

Manohla Dargis. Peter Bradshaw. Dana Stevens. Jake Wilson.

Winter of Our Dreams (1981)

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On a dodgy VHS rip. Written and directed by John Duigan. Shot in the old Sydney, long gone now: the Cross, Oxford Street, Balmain, the Harbour, uranium demos, back when you could live within sight of water on a teaching and bookshop salary, which was never. Judy Davis, junkie. Baz Luhrmann, junkie. Bryan Brown, wooden (in that stretch when he was in every Australian movie). A gorgeous black cat. Everyone so young.

There's not much here beyond Judy Davis's turn as a nervy streetwalker; she's got the same thing that Samantha Morton had in Under the Skin but not whatever got Jodie Foster through Taxi Driver. The homage to the city was later echoed in the blokier Erskineville Kings. The scenario is similar to Naked (and other Australian films like Angel Baby) in moving around the town, exploring different milieus, but lacked the spark of a David Thewlis or Jacqueline McKenzie that may've set the whole show on fire. I won't liken the inevitable cold turkey, getting clean, going straight scenes to anything else; those are forgettable.

Three stars from Roger Ebert with a synopsis way off the mark. Vincent Canby: too much like everything else out there. Excess details at Ozmovies.

Jarett Kobek: Motor Spirit: The Long Hunt for the Zodiac and How to Find Zodiac (2022)

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On a dead tree printed on demand in Sydney by Amazon (52.87 AUD for the pair). More proof I'll read anything by Kobek. This was presumably his COVID project: an internet + library investigation into the venerable Zodiac killings from the late 1960s near San Francisco. I chugged them both in a couple of days (that's about 600 pages worth) and retained very little. It's a lot flatter and more earnest than his previous efforts — there's not a lot of culture crit. I think he meant it to be taken seriously.

Reddit does not appear to be interested. Kobek did an interview with Bret Easton Ellis that I'm not going to watch. Goodreads: #1 and #2.

True Stories (1986)

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A David Byrne co-written/directed paean to changing modes of consumption and fashion in imagined small-town Texas. There's a touch of Wes Anderson or the Prairie Home Companion and the gee-whiz of 1980s semiconductors. The highlight, apart from Byrne himself, is John Goodman as a lovelorn panda bear. Prompted by Byrne's recent and yet-to-be-seen-by-me American Utopia.

Roger Ebert: 3.5 stars at the time. Also Janet Maslin.

Flirting (1991)

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John Duigan's followup to The Year My Voice Broke. Noah Taylor is sent to a single-sex Catholic boarding school by his parents (Malcolm Robertson and in a thankless role Judi Farr) but is sidelined by the debut of Thandiwe Newton (making this a jag from All the Old Knives). She's great but her character is underdrawn; she is perpetually bemused by the Australians she encounters at her Catholic boarding school, and perhaps by a scenario that is kinda sweet but adds up to little more than a quirkless adolescent male fantasy. Nicole Kidman (Ursula Andress) is OK but characteristically bland (perhaps even extra bland) in one of her final efforts before she headed to Hollywood. Naomi Watts is far more human. All the boys and Kym Wilson must've wondered why their careers stalled while the previously-mentioned went celestial.

Four stars from Roger Ebert at the time: he was entranced. Vincent Canby was less impressed. The third part of the trilogy didn't happen. Excess details are available at Wikipedia (Newton has recently claimed that she was abused by Duigan) and Ozmovies. Some of it was filmed at Stannies in Bathurst.

Robbie Arnott: Flames. (2018)

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Kindle. Arnott's debut. The style and ambit are similar to his more recent prize-winning effort, which is to say it's Tasmanian magic realism that imitates Richard Flanagan's more flighty fantasies. Here the heroines are drawn from comic books; these ladies can do anything because they are empowered with the essential characteristics of men, specifically a capacity for unanswerable violence. The plot leans unassuredly on vengeful elemental spirits, putatively inhuman but really subject to the kind of lurv that excuses all behaviours. Further motivation is generally lacking. The most successful parts cleave closely to genre tropes and things go in obvious directions. It's an amiable way to pass the time.

Goodreads: too much Gaiman's American Gods?

Pretty Poison (1968)

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Misguided Tuesday Weld completism. Released juvenile detainee Anthony Perkins gets out-psychoed by schoolgirl Weld in a small town in Massachusetts. It's a snoozefest.

Vincent Canby: not one of her stronger performances.

Aamina Ahmad: The Return of Faraz Ali. (2022)

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Kindle. A pointer from Omar El Akkad at the New York Times. The main thread is set against the rise of Bhutto over General Ayub in late 1960s Pakistan. The titular character is charged with cleaning up an "accident" in the red-light district of Lahore by his distant and powerful father. On the multitrack is an account of that man and his acquaintances; one formative experience is in an Italian P.O.W. camp in north Africa during World War II. The son has a parallel but far emptier experience during the Bangladesh Liberation War (name taken from Wikipedia) that I guess does provoke some love in his wife.

Every so often Ahmad nails a sentiment perfectly: Ali, returned to his family from the Indian P.O.W. camp but not yet fully honest with his wife, pretend-drinks tea from empty cups in his daughter's tent. Sometimes the writing is eye-glazingly flabby.

Goodreads. Many were offended by the language.

Pather Panchali

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Prompted by Sen's autobiography. Satyajit Ray's first feature from the early 1950s. Strangely gripping for what is a mostly straightforward portrait of rural village living in West Bengal, 1920s, perhaps because it has since been pumped up so much. There is some brilliant black-and-white cinematography, especially of the dial of the young boy playing Apu (Subir Banerjee), and the whole show is helped along by Ravi Shankar's soundtrack. Modernity arrives in the form of electrical transmission towers and steam trains.

Deemed a "great movie" by Roger Ebert in 2001 (for an instant four stars) alongside its two sequels, which I'll now have to watch. Bosley Crowther, when it opened in NYC in 1958.

All the Old Knives (2022)

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Peter Bradshaw gave four stars (of five) to this slick Amazon-produced ode to high-class Californian consumption. The cast is strong (Chris Pine, Thandiwe Newton, and — why didn't they tell me — Larry Fishburne) but the cat-and-mouse game of erstwhile CIA operatives sorting out the blame for some terrorism involving a plane is weak; the plot is essentially how lurv solves the trolley problem. Go watch Sleuth instead.

Dana Stevens seems to be struggling to write full-length reviews these days. Ben Kenigsberg.

Jarett Kobek: Do Every Thing Wrong!: XXXTentacion Against the World. (2018)

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Kindle. Kobek completism triggered by his new books on the Zodiac killer. I wasn't familiar with the notional subject of this book or many of the references but as always the real topic is the rottenness of the (American/internet) culture. I found it less angry than his previous effort and also less essential: he's said much of this before. There are some good bits, but not as many as are in his masterworks.

Goodreads.

Amartya Sen: Home in the World. (2021)

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Kindle. I've been a fan of Sen's technical presentations for quite a while and was hoping his memoir would shed some light on how it all came about. This is mostly about his childhood and early adulthood — the economist as a young man — and there's not a lot after he got the chair at Delhi School of Economics. The bulk is on his very early days in Bengal. He rambles at times; for instance the glosses on social choice are a curious mix of the obvious and the narrow or technical. He is clearly very proud of his analysis of liberalism but does not really attempt to explain it.

Varun Ghosh summarised it for the Australian Book Review: "regular digressions into tangential (and often esoteric) subject matter will limit the readability of the book and leave the picture of Amartya Sen himself largely unfinished." Abhrajyoti Chakraborty adds some recent colour. Goodreads. And so forth.

Romulus, My Father (2007)

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On a DVD extracted from Orange City Library. Extraneous Eric Bana completism. He plays a Romanian father with a peripatetic German wife transplanted to rural Victoria after the war. The main theme is the democratised abundance of poverty and mental unwellness in the 1960s.

I don't know much about Raimond Gaita (and I don't have the patience to read his impressions of this movie) beyond him being a general fixture in the Australian (read Melbourne) literary scene a decade or two back. His book (the source material) clearly meant a lot to many people (see Goodreads) but this adaptation, directed by Richard Roxburgh, is inessential and lifeless. Bana does OK, as he always does, and a young Kodi Smit-McPhee (playing Raimond) leads and similarly does OK. Franka Potente (I remember Run Lola Run being marketed to death about a decade prior) and Marton Csokas are also OK. All the actors are OK but it's not enough.

Margaret and David at the time (with thanks to Ozflicks for doing what the ABC seemingly cannot).

Atlantic City (1980)

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A pointer from Christos Tsiolkas's prognosis for this year's Oscars:

Does anyone really care about the Oscars anymore? My own faith in their legitimacy was destroyed in 1982, in my final year in high school. I had watched all five films nominated for Best Picture over that summer, and when it was announced that Hugh Hudson's leaden historic drama Chariots of Fire had won over Warren Beatty's lushly romantic Reds and Louis Malle's exquisite chamber piece, Atlantic City, I turned off the television and muttered to myself, "They have no bloody idea!" And so, with the sanctimonious certainty of a 16-year-old, I dismissed every single voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. I knew better: they were all wrong.

This is Burt Lancaster as a minor league mafioso, charged with taking care of his departed boss's wife (Kate Reid) for a stipend. The plot gets started with aspirational card dealer Susan Sarandon's husband (Robert Joy), who has impregnated her sister (Hollis McLaren), finding themselves in Philadelphia and soon in dire need of a coke distributor. They arrive in an Atlantic City that is being destroyed so it can be rebuilt as the Las Vegas of the east; this is somewhen before Trump got to it. All three are fleeing their tiny Canadian hometown. Things amble along genially in the mode of the times, culminating in a sort-of reverse Remains of the Day. It's as pure a piece of Americana as was ever built by a Frenchman.

Roger Ebert: four stars in 2005. Vincent Canby got right into it. IMDB trivia: Malle: "... [that] bizarre parking place with elevators — an absurd structure I have never seen anywhere else. It was so inconvenient, but it was typical of the place."

Unfaithful (2002)

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Out of sheer curiosity I dug up Adrian Lyne's previous feature (the last before his retirement). Diane Lane, married to a bland Richard Gere, goes all-in on an unmotivated affair with Olivier Martinez in 2002 in NYC. Once again there's a lot of repetitive repetition. Perhaps the highlight for me was when an ornament (a snow globe) witnesses common knowledge (!) — you can see the two leads falling into an unbounded epistemic abyss of dawning awareness. Otherwise it is far too often so dumb. The ending is amoral, unlike Lyne's earlier Lolita — there's an echo of it in a police siren in the closing scenes — and it is hard to see why things are left to dangle. That suburban living will get you every time.

Roger Ebert: three stars too many. Lane and Gere, serenely materialistic, yes. Stephen Holden. That scene where Lyne cuts from affair to train ride had me hoping he'd ride the ambiguity somewhere. Perhaps he, like Michael Mann, has just been remaking the same movie time and again.

Deep Water (2022)

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Adrian Lyne un-retired to make this adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel of the same name. The cast looked solid (Tracy Letts has his moments, as does Ben Affleck and just maybe Ana de Armas) and I'd been warned it's farcical. But really, how many times can you replay the same scene? I tried to keep up while there was still some ambiguity but once the plot unkinked somewhere after halfway I couldn't figure out what the point was, what it was I might have been missing out on. Who are these people? I was too disengaged to follow the late twists, if there were any; the reviews suggest I was supposed to read more into what exactly gets Ana off.

Jeannette Catsoulis. Dana Stevens missed erotic thrillers but somehow made do with this one. She reminded me of how little is really made of Affleck's tech geek being mismarried to de Armas's squeaky party girl (yeah I know right bug eyes).

Expired (Loveland) (2022)

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Ivan Sen's latest. Well I'm sure that many of us have wanted to remake Blade Runner at some time or other, even Ridley Scott. I'd expect most would tune the plot, retain the aesthetic and general post-everything Asian city (or Chinatown) vibe, soaking wet, but not slow things down to the pace of a sedated slug.

I couldn't figure out what Sen was reaching for. Is this a homage to Wong Kar Wai? Had he been watching too much Terrence Malick? I know he's unafraid to go deep into genre (cliché) but having a white man (Ryan Kwanten) roam an Asian city, stalking Jillian Nguyen's comfort-woman-with-wandering-accent, is pure #metoo bait. Life-extending Hugo Weaving is found whenever he's needed, but where's his Rutger Hauer? The editing did the story no favours. The mutually-intelligible multilinguality is an optimistic triviality.

Luke Buckmaster: two thankless stars. Elisabeth Vincentelli: don't expect much. The IMDB rating is steadily sinking; I get the impression not many people can be bothered to register an opinion.

Elliot Ackerman, James G. Stavridis: 2034: A Novel of the Next World War. (2021)

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Kindle. I don't usually read this sort of militaristic strategic imagineering. The draw was Elliot Ackerman despite the strong sense that the returns have been negligible for some time.

Briefly it's 2034 and China has decided that it's time to take Taiwan. (Putin, despite making a hash of many of their premises in the real world, is still in power.) The USA has tied itself up in technological knots and cannot do more than react. Contrary to Daniel Ellsberg there is a nuclear exchange that most humans survive. India has risen as the USA slid into third worldism.

Well, what can I say. The plot is derivative and holey; we begin with an almost scene-for-scene replay of the Kobayashi Maru from Star Trek II, right down to having a woman in charge. Soon enough it's Dr. Strangelove with "Wedge" standing in for the far more entertaining Slim Pickens. It's probably intended more as a think piece, exploring their concerns through provocative situationalism, but even so their research is not good enough. (Just one example: severing internet cables running through the Arctic would have no effect on connectivity in the continental USA; I mean, just ask Google. I thought everyone knew it was designed to survive nuclear war.)

The authors have developments depend more on personal connections than the institutions that the West claims to be comfortable with. (Some big moves depend on stale family connections.) For all that and despite women being placed in positions of power, responsibility, and violence, when it comes to the substance of decision making men dominate.

Torn to shreds on Goodreads.

Thief (1981)

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Third time around with this Michael Mann classic.

Ayad Akhtar: Homeland Elegies. (2020)

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Kindle. Prompted by a glowing review by Dwight Garner.

In earlier times this may've been derided as autofiction or just perhaps on the edge of Tom Wolfe et al's New Journalism, whereas now it's billed as a fictionalised memoir. The view from the native-born son of educated Pakistanis who migrated to the USA is broad and shallow, treating topics done to death by others recently; while Garner (and Akhtar) point back to Scott F. Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, I kept thinking of Mohsin Hamid's work from about a decade ago (The Reluctant Fundamentalist, How to get filthy rich in rising Asia) and Pankaj Mishra's capacious The Age of Anger. Performative mimesis, in short, and nowhere as punchy, transgressive or funny as Paul Beatty.

Topically we get Trump, a dash of Obama and bin Laden, racism in Pennsylvania, daddy issues (see, for instance, Lewis-Kraus), that economics (really financialisation) now dominates all other concerns and that this was observed by Emerson and Thoreau a long time ago, the limitations of a litigious society, black politics and how the white man's political machine is not going to solve anyone else's problems. A billionaire executes a slow-burning revenge fantasy, sending some racist municipalities broke with weaponized finance of mass and indiscriminate destruction. There's the odd self-contradiction, such as an affluent (self-described) black man thinking that spraying his money around ("maybe if we play our own game by their rules...") will make a difference. That's the general modus operandi I guess: the USA has snookered itself.

Akhtar is not a scientist; he operates entirely in the confirmation mode, constantly looking for validation and not the refutation that might prove his idea(s). (Consider the lengthy section on the predictive power of his dreams — I struggle to see it as something done for effect, a nod to the new age conspiracy theorists.) He is annoyingly patronising at times, talking to an imagined audience that he just knows is ignorant of Pakistan (and Afghanistan and ...), which doesn't work too well when he elides more telling episodes in history such as USA realpolitik in early 1970s East Pakistan. Performative amnesia? There's also a strange, irrelevant and wrong gesture at Gödel’s theorem. The originality or correctness of his claim that Robert Bork's The Antitrust Paradox set the stage for the current-day megacorps (concomitant with loss of diversity and exacerbated fragility) is not clear to me. I did want to know more about the Muslim concept of corporation; that the absence of such precluded development in Islamic cultures is intriguing.

Goodreads. Hari Kunzru at length: the slab quote is a great way to avoid judgement.

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)

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Derek Cianfrance completism. Ryan Gosling leads as a never-do-well motorcycle stunt rider/robber with a wild oat until Bradley Cooper takes over as an ambitious cop. (The latter is essentially an underbaked, humourless retread of Guy Pearce's role in L.A. Confidential, and unfortunately the transition is not a David Lynch move.) Rounding out the excellent but underused cast are Rose Byrne as Cooper's wife, Eva Mendes and Mahershala Ali as parents, Ray Liotta at his blandest. Ben Mendelsohn's initial scenes are warm, friendly, funny with loads of energy. His character is too minor, too shallow for this to endure.

The ambition is for something like a crossbreed of a multi generational sprawling fable like Magnolia with the slickness of Michael Mann's Thief. (The opportunity to reheat the classic James Caan/Tuesday Weld scene is there but not taken; Gosling's character is not on that level.) It's just too flat, and by the time we get to the third act things are predictably tiresome; those boys are too young and cliched to hold our interest, and all the drugs and violence in the world aren't going to help with that. Mike Patton is credited with the tunes.

A. O. Scott. Dana Stevens: too soulfully self-serious.

Blue Valentine (2010)

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I remember enjoying Michelle Williams's effort in Manchester by the Sea; this is something similar. Also Leon has softened me up to Ryan Gosling who is fine and quite fun here too.

Director and co-writer Derek Cianfrance (Oscar nominated for Sound of Metal) shows us the beginning and the end of their relationship in a smooth interleaved style that, after synchronising in the middle, slips into a relentless groove. I get the sense that, like me, Gosling's Dean reached peak adult around age 25 while Williams's Cindy is still studying, aspiring to become a medical doctor. We don't see the middle, where his schtick and her desire both wear out. She spends a lot of the movie saying "no" and thereabouts — these are modulated and aren't always in exasperation. The cracks in their situation are often skilfully exposed and complexified by their daughter.

For mine they could've omitted the psychologising, the parental dysfunction and the workplace predation, though I grant they wanted something to hang a plot from. (Further streamlining may well have yielded Manchester by the Sea a few years earlier.) I'd've preferred more of just what Dean thinks he's doing in rescuing Cindy; it struck me that even as he seems to shoulder responsibility early on he may simply have been taking advantage of Cindy in a vulnerable moment, and that he unreasonably expected her gratitude to last forever.

Roger Ebert: three-and-a-half stars. I don't agree that Dean was looking for a witness in Cindy, but he definitely took what he could get. Dana Stevens: too many of these movies may bring the human race to extinction. A. O. Scott: she wants him to want things but he's satisfied with what he's got.

Predestination (2014)

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An adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein's '—All You Zombies—' (1958) by the Spierig brothers who were new to me. Notionally an Australian production. For Noah Taylor. Ethan Hawke leads as some kind of time cop. The plot is essentially an unmotivated temporal ouroboros despite starting close to Minority Report. The period scifi elements (Space Corp, The Handmaid's Tale headwear) could've been omitted for some benefit; one can only imagine what John Duigan would've made of this in a bucolic setting. Sarah Snook mostly succeeds in a gender bending role. I remembered Freya Stafford batting her eyelashes in Gettin' Square.

Manohla Dargis. Yep, Snook looks a lot like Di Caprio at times.

The Year My Voice Broke (1987)

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On a DVD from Orange City Library. Written and directed by John Duigan. I don't know if he had any attachment to Braidwood, NSW where this was shot; Wikipedia suggests not. I feel like I saw this on VHS back in the 1990s.

Yet another coming of age set in the early 1960s. (Compare against a random sample: Praise, Peggy Sue Got Married, and to a lesser extent, The Fringe Dwellers from the year before.) Noah Taylor and Loene Carmen are childhood friends with great chemistry that is put to good use by Duigan's script. (She later played Sallie-Anne Huckstepp in Blue Murder.) There's something of Don Walker's Shots in their relationship. Later Ben Mendelsohn, so young, relegates Noah to a sexless third wheel; apart from being too weedy for a rugby league fullback (I'd've thought) he does a great job as a randy young larrikin with OCD and a vague sense of responsibility who just wants to set lap records on the local racetrack in someone else's Mercedes. Beautifully shot and the setting is used to brilliant effect.

Caryn James in the New York Times, at the time. Luke Buckmaster in 2015. Ah yes, barflies Harold Hopkins (also the footy coach) and Graham Blundell. Paul Byrnes, briefly: perhaps I am too inured to the hypocrisy of small country towns to have seen the savagery. More colour at Oz movies. Bruce Spence! Gold.

Nelson Algren: A Walk on the Wild Side (1956).

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Kindle. Richard Flanagan's introduction to a recent reprinting prompted me to dig up this mid-century American classic.

Essentially a series of portraits of hard living in the South from 1930 to 1932 as the depression put the screws on many people. It struck me as a sourcebook for many movies. First up Algren has thirty-year-old Latina Terasina take pity on illiterate sixteen-year-old Dove Linkhorn in the Rio Grande Valley (shades of Licorice Pizza). By jumping the rails (ala Scarecrow) Dove makes his way to the red light district of New Orleans, where many of those insulated from the economic fallout burn their money, to morph into Dirk Diggler of Boogie Nights. The final movement has Dove learn to read and write before being incarcerated for public drunkenness; one of the characters has a touch of Cool Hand Luke. Ultimately he returns home after he is blinded by a wrestler who lost his legs to the rails.

Overall it's almost entirely colour drawn from Algren's direct experience. Unlike John Steinbeck there's less moralising and more direct memoir or reportage; perhaps Of Mice and Men was the inspiration for a jailbird who echoes what's said to him. I found it to be a slog at times.

Goodreads. Russell Banks's introduction to a 1990 edition: even more referentialism.

Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (2021)

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Jason Di Rosso interviewed director Radu Jude back in November. It took me two sittings to get through this as it's not very engrossing. The first part is an almost still-life of Bucharest, the middle section a series of mostly twee montages, and the final is the parent/teacher meeting/confrontation of substantial cliche. The motor for the plot is a homemade porn video (which we see a fair bit of) that the teacher claims was loosed on the internet by someone repairing her husband's computer. This movie aims to provoke but fails to even trigger. Hats off to the marketing people.

Loads of positive reviews. A. O. Scott. J. Hoberman. Exuberant?

The Shooting

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Marginally less misguided Nicholson completism. Again a Carole Eastman script. It struck me as derivative even for 1966. The early dialogue was a bit impenetrable (for the effort I was prepared to expend) and the parts of the plot I grasped struck me as cliched and under motivated. There's a stranger with a beard and an inscrutable Indian. Horses, two donkeys. A small cast. Some of the scenery is interesting, bordering on beautiful.

The Fortune

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Misguided Nicholson completism. Carole Eastman wrote this drecky farce. Mike Nichols directed. Warren Beatty costarred, and never did more than babble. Stockard Channing was the heiress object. I was warned.

Vincent Canby must've been watching something else.

The Fringe Dwellers

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A Bruce Beresford concoction from 1986. Adapted by him and his wife-of-the-time Rhoisin from the book by Western Australian Nene Gare. (Here's Beresford at 80 in 2021.) Filmed in Cherbourg and Murgon, and as such a nicely made time capsule of mid-1980s regional Queensland. An Aboriginal family moves from the shantytown near the river to a Council house in town. Culture clashes ensue. All the leads are Aboriginal; the whites are teachers, snotty schoolgirl bitches, cops and curtain-twitching neighbours who rapidly exceed their well-meaning tolerance. The family consists of a final-year teenager (Kristina Nehm), the walls closing in on limited prospects, her amiable parents (Justine Saunders and Bob Maza), stuck between ways old and new, her sister (Kylie Belling), a trainee nurse who is subject to some effective positive discrimination, and her younger brother (Denis Walker) who draws at every opportunity. The rest of the mob is too large for me to enumerate; Beresford's achievement is that they do have distinct personalties.

The narrative arc is the usual it's-a-free-country aspirationalism with a dash of the downward spiral; you know from the start that whatever the outcome the old ways are cactus and everyone will (want to) be deracinated. Beresford leavens it all with some very funny dialogue, the odd antic down at the river, and a poignant song about the stolen generations. These days it'd be deplatformed as cultural appropriation, but I guess I hope it was a bridge to more people telling their own stories in their own ways.

Roger Ebert: three-and-a-half stars.

On the Beach (1959)

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Ava Gardner and the title evoke The Night of the Iguana from 1963. Unfortunately she had little to work with as a lush love interest for Gregory Peck's nuclear submarine captain. (His Oscaring for To Kill a Mockingbird was also in 1963.) Fred Astaire played a suicidal scientist/engineer. A not-yet-Psycho Anthony Perkins and young wife Donna Anderson (hysterical as demanded by the times) rounded out the main cast. Amongst various maulings of Waltzing Matilda we obliquely learn that a nuclear exchange in 1964 has exterminated humanity in the northern hemisphere, leading this Hollywood cabal to set up shop in a back-to-the-future Melbourne (Point Lonsdale, Frankston, horses and carts, bicycles, far from the fallout) where alcohol, boat races, romance and endless cigarettes are all that's on offer in the end times.

Aboard the sub on a tour of the sterile Pacific, Astaire mouths off at vacuum tubes and transistors (not so far from Kaczynski), reflecting the fear and not the reality of the missile gap propaganda of the day. Soon enough that was supplanted by the Mutually Assured Destruction of the far superior Dr. Strangelove. I wonder if all the arse slapping is in Nevil Shute's novel.

Somewhat topical with the current Russian assault on the Ukraine. Bosley Crowther at the time. Trivia at IMDB.

Ted K

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And yet more proof that I'll watch Sharlto Copley do almost anything. Despite his efforts this pseudo biopic of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski is lifeless. It could've been Into the Wild, a visceral exploration of neo-luddism, but the threadbare psychologizing precludes any substantial investigation of the motivations for his domestic terrorism. (Given how disconnected he is from the rest of humanity I didn't get much sense of why he bothered.) Similarly his intellect is trivialised, and it hard to believe he really did pine for a woman.

The quotes from Kaczynski's manifesto sounded like an intriguing diagnosis for the ills of modern society but it's hard to know if that's a swamp worth wading into. The central contention is that the capture of humanity by systems and technology is inevitable, self-reinforcing and deleterious to anything one might hold dear. It struck me as being in the vein of Thoreau. Janet Maslin quotes a book about all this: "The manifesto is neither brilliant nor a symptom of mental illness. It is a compendium of philosophical and environmental clichés that expresses concerns shared by millions of Americans." And so forth. Wikipedia points to its impacts.

Beatrice Loayza at the New York Times: "The script's emphasis on Kaczynski's relentless bachelorhood and his feelings of castration is too neat an explanation. More convincing is the film's expressionistic fixation on the technologies that torment Kaczynski — the ugly roar of dirt bikes, snowmobiles and tree-razing bulldozers. In one remarkable dream sequence, we see Kaczynski seemingly shooting through the space-time continuum, looking small and terrified and like the kind of man who would kill to feel a sense of control." You can only imagine how Montana-native David Lynch would've cooked this one. He might've made something of those big cats.

Peggy Sue Got Married

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One of Francis Ford Coppola's 1980s misses that I'd been avoiding. Peggy Sue (Kathleen Turner) has a coronary (?) at her 25th high school reunion (~1986) and wakes up in her 17 year old body (~1960). Again a piece of California nostalgia: high school as the best time of a woman's life. The funniest bits are delivered quick and flat, whereas the schmaltz lingers excessively. The time travel issues are handled with shrugs. I struggle to see how Nicholas Cage (charmless here) made it to Wild at Heart in barely four more years. Jim Carrey, Joan Allen, etc. Non-spoiler: Peggy Sue does not, in fact, get married in this movie.

Four stars from Roger Ebert, mostly on relatability. Vincent Canby at a film festival (?) ("So much key information is missing or left uncertified or undramatized that the film appears to have been edited by termites") and after its general release (the world changed more between 1910 and 1950 than it did from 1950 to ~1986).

Licorice Pizza

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Paul Thomas Anderson's latest. Exactly what it says on the tin: fanciful coming-of-age in the Valley in 1973. Alana Haim (musician, notionally 25) leads with go-getting Cooper Hoffman (Philip Seymour Hoffman, notionally 15). Apparently filmed in that old school analog way that borrows a tinge from the American New Wave. It's sufficiently engaging that it doesn't drag but often enough there are scenes that don't progress things or don't really fit, such as all those featuring established actors (Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper). For all the possibilities the surface is barely scratched, let alone dinted or pierced. It's a nostalgic love letter to a long gone L.A.

Manohla Dargis. Entirely low stakes. Ah yes, those disastrously flat and tasteless scenes in the Japanese restaurant, that bloke playing Cooper's manservant. Dana Stevens. Benny Safdie does fine with the little he gets; this is no Uncut Gems. And so on.

Matthew Spektor: Always Crashing in the Same Car.

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Kindle. On the strength of David Thomson's scatty but intriguing review at the London Review of Books. In brief, a series of capsule bios of artistic L.A. people mixed in with the author’s personal life: the passing of an alcoholic mother, a relentlessly successful father, making it in NYC, getting divorced in California. Overall this mourns what was, melancholic rather than elegiac in its focus on what happens after success.

His notions of success and failure are very American but don't entirely own to the commercial forces at work. (Sure there are the studios but how about Madison Avenue? Would you still write or create for the screen without the economic imperatives?) The premise worked OK for Carole Eastman and the Perrys, largely due to their obscurity, enigma and self-effacement, but started to flag with the chapter on Tuesday Weld which leans heavily on a very few interviews (such as this one in 1971). By the time we get to Renata Adler the staleness is pervasive as Spektor critiques her criticism. (You may as well cut to the chase with that LRB review's extra layer of criticism.) He wants her famous takedown of Pauline Kael to have not killed her career, and sure enough it didn't, but that is to gloss over her persona non grata status amongst the NYC literati for telling tales out of school. That's obvious even from the antipodes as, for instance, the New York Review of Books never published her again. This general lack of nuance reads like the wishful thinking of third-shot boosterism.

So I'd say that the review was better than the book, though I was happy to get a few pointers to movies that just maybe are worth a look.

Puzzle of a Downfall Child

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Another Matthew Spektor pointer to a Carole Eastman-written 1970 American New Wave piece. It's a portrait of the psychological disintegration of model Faye Dunaway. Very talky. Fashion ala Vogue. Rise and fall.

Roger Ebert didn't review it. Roger Greenspun for the New York Times. The arc has been a cliche since ancient times. He enjoyed his time with Ms Dunaway.

Five Easy Pieces

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Second time around with this Jack Nicholson classic. Prompted by Matthew Spektor's Always Crashing in the Same Car which I'm midway through. He's fascinated by scriptwriter Carole Eastman. As before I enjoyed this as a time capsule but less so for the characters. Nicholson was, as always, very generous with the ladies playing opposite him: both he and squeeze Karen Black got Oscar noms, and his scenes with sister Lois Smith felt genuinely warm, something not so easy to achieve with all the womanising.

Roger Ebert: four stars at the time and another four in 2003. Roger Greenspun was more skeptical.

The Man from Hong Kong

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Rated #10 on Luke Buckmaster's list of Ozploitation films. Essentially a James Bond clone crossbred with Kung Fu (it was peak Kung Fu in 1975), hang gliding and a bit of everything else. Director Brian Trenchard-Smith is proud of his work (mostly stunt-focused schlock, most famously BMX Bandits) and instructs us to switch our brains off and enjoy. The initial scenes at Uluru, while clunky, promise more than the rest delivers, if only because they are unfilmable now. Those in Hong Kong and Sydney are far more generic.

Luke Buckmaster at length in 2016. Jimmy Wang Yu was eclipsed by Bruce Lee, and George Lazenby quit the Bond racket perhaps sooner than he should have. Overall more fun to read about than to watch.

Road Games

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A pointer from Luke Buckmaster who rates this #5 on his list of Ozploitation films. Tarantino is a fan. Stacy Keach plays a forty-ish man with a dog who drives a truckload of pig carcasses across the Nullarbor from Melbourne to Perth in 1981 to break a strike by the western meatworkers. (Strangely it's a single trailer, not a road train, which isn't going to feed even Fremantle.) Somehow out on the plains he picks up a couple of female hitchhikers, specifically Jamie Lee Curtis who he romances at the telegraph station at Eucla. Plotwise he's notionally trying to capture a bloke in a green van who has a taste for slaughtering young ladies, or at least evade being framed for such.

Overall I found it pretty funny, largely because of Keach's excess interiority and willingness to plough on no matter how ridiculous things got. The geography was way off (the IMDB page lists many errors) but the locations were put to good use. Director Richard Franklin mostly did B-grade stuff like David Williamson's Brilliant Lies; he had a peculiar talent for squandering his ingredients.

Herbert Mitgang at the time.

Toomelah

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An Ivan Sen feature shown at Cannes in 2011. It seems he established his signature soporific plot pace early on. We're at an Aboriginal mission up near the Queensland border, north of Moree, south of Goondiwindi. Shot like a doco; the cinematography, not as good as his later efforts, can be excused by his desire to be unobtrusive. Some of the acting is great, such as by the lead (boy) Daniel Connors, and some is not. Thematically it's poverty, drugs and dealing, violence, limited horizons, deracination, Americanisation, clan relations, bloke culture. There's no way out, not even education. Told from the boy's perspective. In some ways it's nothing new, and in others it is invaluable.

Paul Byrnes. Fiona Williams. Bernard Hemingway.

David Sanchez: All Day is a Long Time.

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Kindle. From a review by Tommy Orange in the New York Times. I've been a sucker for addiction lit since Trainspotting but I'm used to it being either heavily fictionalised or memoir (e.g. White Out). This falls somewhere in between, claiming to be fiction but written as humourless realism. Briefly we're in Tampa, Florida (home of the everhanging chad) with a restless young bloke born in 1991. His overactive brain leads to many behavioural issues, criminality, excess interiority. Eventually AA does the trick and he begins to think beyond himself. My eyes started glazing over a bit too often and I skimmed a good chunk of it.

Goodreads.

Breakfast at Tiffany's

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A George Axelrod jag from Lord Love A Duck: he bent Truman Capote's raw material into this very famous vehicle for Audrey Hepburn which I hadn't seen before now. Essentially she digs gold in classic NYC clotheshorse style. At least her feted romantic partner George Peppard looked roughly age-appropriate this time (unlike her (ex?-)husband Buddy Ebsen from the boonies who married her at 14, which I struggle to believe wasn't icky in 1961). The cat is gorgeous. Mancini's music (Moon River) got two Oscars.

The Worst Person in the World

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Odeon 5, 18.00 session (one of only two, the other being on Wednesday coming). Hosted by the Orange Film Society. Perhaps 50 people in theatre 5, mostly of mature years. Once again a Service NSW "Discover" pork barrel got me a seat and a bag of Maltesers; I was allocated something in what I'd consider the middle but sat down in the front section. A pointer from Jason Di Rosso who interviewed the director Joachim Trier. I got the impression that it was going to be something sophisticated or novel as he talked about The Nest in a similar way.

The early part with a rapid-fire voiceover made me think "Norwegian Amelie!" but soon enough the cliches pile up and the last two-thirds drags. Mostly it advertises lux Scandinavian interiors shot through with the anxiety of millennials on the cusp of spawning and of those ten to fifteen years older who are settled in careers and creativity and serial relationships. There's a pregnancy that's just a plot point, a box to tick. Oftentimes we're told or shown the wonder of the leading lass who is generically wilful and impulsive but has less interiority than the housing. That a leading lady is perpetually in need of a man has always been axiomatic. There's not a lot going on here that Generation X didn't grapple with (e.g. McJobs, emotionally scarring hookups, being overeducated); sure, stuff is cheaper now and there's more connectivity, less privacy or expectations thereof, and every generation needs to learn for itself through ignorance, willed or otherwise, of what came before, but we can see the general lack of commitment by how far short everything falls of Trainspotting.

The fantastic Oslo-stopped-in-time scenes in the middle, where the lovelorn lass runs across town to be with her new man and back to break up with her old one, are cinematic magic but do less to rescue the whole thing than Mads Mikkelsen's dancing did for Another Round. Similarly the lass wrote a piece on (specific) sexual relations that struck me as obvious common knowledge but is treated as an insightful literary masterwork; the flaw is to show the thing rather than just allude to it, as Hal Hartley did so well in Henry Fool. Her passivity at her comic-artist boyfriend's dinner parties is clunky. The #metoo interview-with-the-artist in the middle pushes all the existing buttons and no new ones.

A. O. Scott. Main squeeze Aksel is 44; his cohort is too young to be properly Generation X. Julia's lack of female friends is one of many flaws that show this to be a work of man. Ben Kenigsberg doesn't want to complain. Hats off to the marketing guys. Much later, Michael Wood.

Coming Home

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Directed by Hal Ashby in the mode of a vaseline-lensed Robert Altman. After Slap Shot (also written by Nancy Dowd, Oscared here), Who'll Stop the Rain (Vietnam vets) and Harold and Maude (Ashby) this was inevitable.

In brief Jane Fonda (Oscared for reasons unknown) is married (also for reasons unknown) to Captain Bruce Dern who is (for reasons of plot) imminently for Việt Nam in 1968, after Tết. Being the woman she is, soon enough there are schisms with her fellow officers' wives at the base in Los Angeles, solidarity with working-class Penelope Milford, and an inevitable (for all reasons) romance with paraplegic vet Jon Voight (also Oscared for reasons unknown). Things conclude as they must. This all happens after a promising scene in the vet hospital, where the maimed returnees shoot pool and discuss their experiences. Similarly the murderball scenes lift us briefly, transiently, out of the confected romantic morass. It's nostalgic, 1978 pining for 1968, a solid (familiar) soundtrack that made me realise the 1990s retro of my youth was a replay, likely a replay of a replay. Retro has since become a more permanent state of mind.

IMDB trivia. Voight's character is based on Ron Kovic? Say it ain't so. Vincent Canby was unimpressed. Four stars from Roger Ebert despite "the last twenty minutes don't really work".

Swan Song

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Drawn by Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris, both of whom are squandered and never recover from their entirely cliched meet cute in the opening minutes. Apparently the future will be even more full of stuff than it is now, and if you have enough money and self importance you can get cloned when things head south for you. As this is an Apple Original, I guess that's iCloned; the plebs will get an ad-supported version that promises to respect your privacy in the morning. Was that Apple's new iCar on those empty motorways? Glenn Close's surgery looked to be where Oscar Isaac worked his dark magic in Ex Machina. The storyline is an inversion of Never Let Me Go, made bland and banal, soporific and PC. I had hoped (non spoiler) that the clone would decide to pull the pin or go rogue. It made me wonder how the machines will entertain themselves when the humans are gone.

Apparently writer/director Benjamin Cleary got an Oscar for a short film; this is his first feature.

Nicolas Rapold. Yep, Ali does some fine work here, no doubt, just a shame it was to no ultimate end. There's heaps more fun to be had with Joe Dunthorpe's identity thief.

Lord Love a Duck

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Ill-advised Tuesday Weld completism. It seems she was very popular amongst some men of the day (1950s/1960s) as a "frisky teen-age sex kitten / childwoman", whereas my mental image of her is a mature actress working opposite James Caan or with Sergio Leone. This one is billed as a satirical comedy but there's nothing very funny there. Apparently George Axelrod had more form as a writer than as a director. Black and white.

A. H. Weiler: this is something like Lolita or The Loved One. Ah yes, the drive-in church.

Petulia

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Renata Adler refuted Pauline Kael's claim that "[George C.] Scott has to be dominating or he’s nothing" by citing this movie. Alongside Scott's divorcee surgeon Julie Christie plays the titular socialite kook who is a bit unhinged and tends to drive all the men mad. Her husband Richard Chamberlain (The Last Wave) does a serviceable psycho. Shirley Knight (Sweet Bird of Youth, The Rain People) doesn't want to get divorced. All are lambs in lions' dens. The vacuity of having it all in 1968. They don't make them like this any more.

Roger Ebert: four stars and a thoughtful review. Also an unqualified thumbs up from Renata Adler at the time in the New York Times. Director Richard Lester did a few things with The Beatles.

Thea Astley: Drylands.

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Kindle. I've been meaning to read more of Astley's work since I picked up a couple of her short stories about a decade ago. This one, her last, got her the Miles Franklin in 2000. It's essentially a collection of shorts and portraits organised around the small (fictional) town of Drylands which I think is supposed to not exist not too far west of Rockhampton. While the writing is sometimes fine the content is unfortunately too unoriginal to get excited about; what's here can only be news to someone who's never been on the receiving end of the boredom of people from small country towns. On the flip side it seems beyond her imagining that these little places may thrive again, for instance via online communities and people decamping en masse from the coast. Was she blinded by her dogma that culture means French, that screens have killed the written word? And yet I read her book on such.

Goodreads. Kerryn Goldsworthy on the strengths of Astley's (earlier) writing and her dogmas. Bill Holloway, bang on, says the book is based on Springsure, somewhat near Carnarvon Gorge, and "Red Plains" is Emerald. I quite enjoyed Emerald and its botanic garden and nearby lake. Strangely when I was there the area was flooded, not dry, which is why I didn't make it to Springsure.

Slap Shot

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A bit of Paul Newman completism via Renata Adler's 1980 attempt to bury the hatchet in Pauline Kael, and a step further back, that scatty but intriguing book review. Minor league ice hockey! Of the old-fashioned kind. What's not to like! After a hilarious opening things sag a bit as it tries to find a plot and pathos in what is more-or-less the type of mindless violence that crowds love so much. Written by Nancy Dowd who later got an Oscar for Coming Home. Loads of swearing, and more one-liners than your average Arnie flick. Everyone is awesome, especially Michael Ontkean (Sheriff Harry S. Truman in Twin Peaks) playing the straight man to Newman's aged, womanising pragmatist of a captain-coach. Relax and enjoy. There's almost no hockey in it.

Somehow Roger Ebert didn't review this one. Vincent Canby. George Roy Hill directed Newman in The Sting (for which he was Oscared) and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Who'll Stop the Rain

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A bit of Tuesday Weld completism off the back of a scatty but intriguing book review. Based on Dog Soldiers of the mid-1970s Việt Nam war genre. In brief some blokes come back from Sài Gòn with one buddy thinking it a good idea to get the other to traffic 2kg of horse on his ship to Oakland, which is to say that from the start you know things aren't going to go too well.

It has its moments alongside the thick thread of melancholia running through the middle; the post war prospects amount to escapism in nudie bars that were better when they were just regular bars, and Mexico; also a wife you can't go home to. Perhaps the most shocking is that Nick Nolte was young once. He nails his lines, for instance these that he declaims straight into Weld's face as he finishes up repairing his 1958 Land Rover Series II (still looking great twenty years later):

Ray Hicks: When I left the Marines I made myself a promise. Never again am I going to be fucked around by morons. The next mother who tries to make me back off is going to have to live it out with me.

Yeah, maybe you have to hear it. Also I couldn't shake the vibe that it was a dry run for that fabulous final season of Breaking Bad, especially when we get to the hippy valley down in New Mexico.

Roger Ebert: three stars at the time. He says director Karel Reisz has some form; I've seen This Sporting Life, which he produced, and The Gambler. He's astonished that Nolte can act. I struggled with the vacuity of husband Michael Moriarty, who does have some great lines too. Strangely it seems the New York Times did not review it beyond a few stray favourable comments from Janet Maslin: best movie of 1978?

Hervé Le Tellier: The Anomaly.

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Kindle. A French airport novel in translation. Briefly an Air France flight from Paris to NYC undergoes an anomaly. I had hoped this would lead to some structural fun, perhaps some symmetry. Told as a multitrack with way too many characters, some of whom cop it in the neck in what I took to be authorial vengeance. (Specifically man-magnet film-editing Parisien Lucie and her aging architect André are set up for slaughter.) Very referential. Loads of cliches, especially American tropes in the button-pushing mode, and my all-time favourite: dropping brand names of pharmaceuticals and hitman equipment. Despite the specific dates there is no mention of COVID. The confrontation of pairs made no sense and was not explained; I mean, the US government still runs Gitmo, right? And disappearing those inconvenient people would have been (and soon is) more in character. I laughed a bit, at not with. The Godfather, canonical in this market segment, has nothing to fear.

Goodreads: yeah, many more reasons to give this one a miss. Sarah Lyall at the New York Times thought it was high concept literature. She sells it as an exploration of all those deep questions when really it's just a stick looking for an eye.

Peter Ho Davies: A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself.

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Kindle. Shame, Peter Ho Davies asserts, is a lie someone told you about yourself. Colour me unconvinced. As always he has his moments but the excessive hand wringing over who can write what about whom is another instance of his annoying oversensitivity to the latest writerly fashions. (The book is about a man writing about abortion and fatherhood, drenched in Christian symbols, featuring not a few bouts of rage.) I struggled with his unreflective conformism, his inane, mimetic desire for a "normal" child. I think of him as culturally Welsh (with Chinese ancestry) but the way this is written suggests his transformation into an American is now complete. Overall he poses too many questions of the kind that go unanswered here and everywhere, often as little more than gestures, tics; he gets older but there is little sense of him getting wiser. Some of the wordplay is quite fun, and he evokes genuine pain, forlorn and lost, in the opening movements.

Goodreads.

Richard Flanagan: And What Do You Do, Mr Gable?

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Kindle. A 2011 collection of Flanagan's essays, including the famous Gunns: the Tragedy of Tasmania. Perhaps the best bits are the bread recipes, the love letters to the Tasmanian wilderness and those who get out amongst it. (The abortive kayak trip to the mainland sat somewhere between brown trousers and moronic to me.) In his defense of Australian fiction, he criticizes others for "the sorry retailing of facts as fiction", incidentally providing the perfect epitaph for his own Wanting. The stuff on Latham was hardly ever relevant. On Howard he has the odd zinger but otherwise tells you what you knew at the time and have mostly succeeded at forgetting. There's a touch of Hunter S. Thompson aspirationalism to the political stuff. Overall it has not aged well.

Goodreads. David Free got out the baseball bat: "For all his loathing of politicians as a class, Flanagan writes exactly the way politicians talk." Ouch. On the other hand I'm certain the arguments for Bush War II in Iraq were always bullshit. And on the third hand Free himself is apparently now reduced to writing dreck like this; perhaps they should have made common cause. I guess he took offense to Flanagan dissing Jonathan Franzen. Wow, this pond is so small.

The French Dispatch

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Odeon 5, 17.30 session (the only one for the day this late in the run), cinema 2. I used one of my Service NSW "Discover" 25.00 AUD pork barrel vouchers. The way that worked was that they charged 18.50 AUD (despite their pricing page suggesting it should have been 13.50 AUD, this being a Tuesday), and did not offer but also did not begrudge me a bag of Maltesers for notionally 6.00 AUD. This made me suspect that businesses are getting the full 25.00 AUD of pork whatever they provide in return. The cinema was busier than I expected — perhaps 10 people in there with me. I asked to sit down the front and got given seat E5. I ended up in C5, with little leg room. The place was built for the crowds who no longer come.

Well, this is the latest from Wes Anderson. Notionally a love letter to mid-twentieth-century Francophilic long-form journalism (think the New Yorker). Most of the sprawling cast have worked with him before. There's a frame and three episodes. Vast tracks are tedious. As usual it visually overflows.

All reviews are wordy. A. O. Scott: the democratic, sophisticated, American-cosmopolitan thing to do is buy art and ship it to Kansas. Dana Stevens: we say fractal, they said mise en abyme. She'd've been happier watching it on something with a freeze-frame function. Sandra Hall: "The overall effect of all this is a particularly whimsical form of escapism — as if an excessive knowledge of reality has brought on a state of nostalgia for a world that never was." And so on.

The Nest

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A pointer from Jason Di Rosso. He sold it as a sophisticated take on adult relationships. Initially one is lead to believe that Jude Law will provide a nuanced portrayal of a 1980s trader-Englishman pining for the damp and grim skies of home, but this is soon enough blown away by excessive, transparent, cliched mendacity and grasping. I think we're supposed to be sympathetic to his American quasi-trophy wife Carrie Coon (from Chicago) but her neglect of her horse left me cold. Overall it's very heavy-handed and nowhere close to Wall Street or Lady Macbeth (to stake out the theme and the proximate genre). The soundtrack is pretty much left of the dial. Perhaps the lack of humour is its biggest failing.

Ben Kenigsberg. Yes, many scenes are paralleled (the breakfasts, Law waking Coon with a cup of coffee, Coon cutting loose at a nightclub while her daughter learns about speed, etc. etc.) but things are entirely stereotypical. Peter Bradshaw: there's no evidence the family was happy in the U.S.A.; he seems to have missed all the expository dialogue. On the other hand I entirely missed the supernatural interludes. Annabel Brady-Brown draws the obvious links with The Talented Mr Ripley.

Nightmare Alley (1947)

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Provoked by the remake (already rated on IMDB far lower than the original) and also Tyrone Power (not by way of Mataranka). In two sittings as it's a bit tiresome. Another of the psychologicals of the day. Carny wannabe Power charms and accidentally-on-purposes his way to the top using some "mentalist" tricks. Unsurprisingly he's undone by (spoiler) Helen Walker's saucy shrink. His marriage with ingenue Coleen Gray and professional attachment to Joan Blondell are maudlin. Watch out for the booze boys, that is the road to geekdom.

Thomas M. Pryor at the New York Times. I forgot I'd seen Power in The Razor's Edge. Recently, Ben Kenigsberg: yes, the women are often looking at the man while the man looks at the world.

Murray Bail: He.

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Kindle. Scattershot recollections from Murray Bail. Some resonated. There's an Adelaide childhood and a young bloke who couldn't wait to get married, to leave. He evolves into a man who is a bit harsh about himself, about that search for experience that ultimately does not give enough shape to his life, but is generously rueful about others. The abiding self absorption slides into solipsism. Australian painting is just landscapes (presumably in the lee of Namatjira) as if Brett Whiteley never happened. Friends in quantity, immemorable. Lovers some; he suggests he was into Helen Garner for her work, that her feminism wasn't up to a separation. Detachment.

Gerard Windsor: reheated from the Bail notebooks from 2005. Much is absent. Peter Craven. Joseph Cummins.

The Quick and the Dead

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More Rusty completism. Again execrable. Completely derivative; I guess Sharon Stone wanted to star in a Western (she's a co-producer) after seeing Once Upon a Time in the West. Gene Hackman, squandered. Leonardo DiCaprio gets oedipal. Directed by Sam Raimi, who has done far better. The excellent cinematography by Dante Spinotti leaves nowhere for anyone to hide.

Two stars from Roger Ebert. Janet Maslin.

Virtuosity

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A Rusty jag. Inexcusably execrable, especially with Denzel in the lead.

Roger Ebert: three ineffable stars. Janet Maslin: "Mr. Crowe, as a psychotic yuppie type bearing a disconcerting resemblance to the writer Bret Easton Ellis, does a memorable job of making himself frightening until the film becomes numbingly frantic, in the manner of many video games."

L.A. Confidential

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nth time around with this neo-noir instaclassic. Still #127 in the IMDB top-250. Rusty is so good here that it made me chase up his earlier (Hollywood) work.

Roger Ebert at the time (four stars) and another four stars as a great movie. He tells me it's set in the days after Christmas 1953. Peter Travers. Janet Maslin.

The Decline Of The American Empire

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The sequel (The Barbarian Invasions) is superior to this very tendentious and waffly French-Canadian talkathon. It tries to provoke, but its central thesis — that people get more self-absorbed as empires decline, refusing to serve in the military and having fewer kids, etc. — is a bit timeless and is mostly occluded by sex sex sex. I think it would've worked better on the stage.

Roger Ebert: 3 stars. Wit? Smooth deliveries of verbiage, sure, but without much wit. He seemed to like it so why the mediocre score? Vincent Canby.

Mystery Road

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The sleepy sequel followed a sleepy original. This has a high-beam cast, again with Aaron Pedersen in the lead. He has quite a few more lines in this one. Hugo Weaving at his most affable, avuncular, threatening. They have a scene in a country Chinese restaurant that was so promising and so wasted. David Field. And here's Bruce Spence, playing a good-bloke coroner. Mrs Rove McManus Tasma Walton, pretty clunky in her scenes, even brought Pedersen up short in an exchange near a pokie. I don't mind and even somewhat enjoy that this stuff is soporific, like a spaghetti western, but I can't say there's much novelty here. Then again I wasn't paying enough attention to understand who came to the shootout and why. The cinematography was again gorgeous.

Sandra Hall tries to be generous. Matthew Eeles: yep, there's a strange asymmetry at work on the plains of outback Queensland, where Pedersen can see everyone and no one can see him. Simon Foster.

Goldstone

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Another Tommy Lewis jag. Written and directed by Ivan Sen. A slow-burning sleeper, the sequel to Mystery Road. Some decent cinematography of the area near Winton, Queensland. For the most part the cast is strong: Aaron Pedersen leads, Steve Rodgers and Ursula Yovich support ... but pity poor old Gulpilil, strung up from a tree (again!), involuntarily this time. Pedersen, in self-destruct mode, arrives at a remote mining camp, charged with investigating a missing Asian girl. Teaming up with the less-convincing local cop Alex Russell and impeded by Jacki Weaver's predatory mayor and David Wenham's camp boss (I missed Bruce Spence), they encounter some shenanigans about mining rights colliding with land rights and human trafficking. Ultimately the policemen save some Chinese ladies from mining/bikie white men in a climactic shootout lifted straight from Heat. Cheng Pei Pei's madam plays a straight bat and escapes scot free.

Anne Rutherford. Yep, Gulpilil does fine until he starts talking. She's prepared to ignore how cliched and heavy handed some of it is (that ceremony chaired by Wenham is so obviously a farce from the get go) as is Luke Buckmaster. Jeannette Catsoulis.