peteg's blog

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.