peteg's blog

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.

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.

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 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.