peteg's blog

No Worries (1993)

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On a DVD extracted from the Orange City library, watched on the Hugh River maybe 4km north of Namatjira Drive. It's a directionless dog. A drought somewhere dusty in NSW forces a sheep-farming family to move to Sydney. That's about it. I did not appreciate the animal abuse. Geoff Morrell, Susan Lyons (familiar from somewhere). Harold Hopkins, Ray Barrett make it a little Don's Party reunion. Also John Hargreaves but I did not recognise him.

Ozmovies: a children's movie? Filmed in the Gilgandra Shire. David and Margaret: four stars each. Margaret reckoned life on the land is rarely shown on film. David said it was based on a play.

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960)

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At the Tnorala (Gosse Bluff) meteorite crater, waiting out the interminable rain. A Karel Reisz jag from Who'll Stop the Rain. Albert Finney leads as a self aware, self destructive industrial prisoner of the English generation after World War II. Shackled to a lathe in Nottingham during the day, living with his parents still, he's eventually saved by the love of a good woman (Shirley Anne Field) but it is unclear the restlessness will ever leave him. Fun, both in itself and as a time capsule: it opens in a bar with a drinking contest backed by a proto-Beatles band doing its thing.

Bosley Crowther loved it at the time. Peter Bradshaw, briefly, in 2002.

We of the Never Never (1982)

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On a DVD extracted from the Orange City library, watched at the Temple Bar Caravan Park at Alice Springs. I went into this cold, knowing little more than where the "Never Never" was (roughly Mataranka in the N.T., where there's a sign). Well, this thing claims to be based on a novel from 1908, about Elsey Station circa 1902, but denatures that story with more recent attitudes to feminism and the debasement of Aboriginal culture and removal of children. Everything feels half-hearted and inessential.

Many of the cast from The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith star here. Tommy Lewis was demoted from lead to a generic Aboriginal stockman ("Jackaroo") whereas his minor-role wife in that picture, Angela Punch McGregor, starred here as Jeannie Gunn (the author of the source material, the first white woman to live in the area). Similarly Arthur Dignam, who played her husband and station manager Aeneas, had a small part there as the nameless "Man in Butcher Shop" of strong opinions (and also as the "Old Man in Pub / Mercedes Driver" in Beneath Clouds). I enjoyed his performance though it was clearly too sensitive, quiet and reflective for a production that screamed out for a cruder instrument like Jack Thompson. Also John Jarrett.

After some promising beginnings things slow to a soporific, tiresome cadence of repeating events (fever, how many times; horse mustering, how many times). The cinematography (by Gary Hansen) is surprisingly feeble given the setting. The romantic stuff is sappy. The Chinese cooks are electric and criminally underused. There are no crocs, insects or sweat stains. Did the men of the day really carry handguns? One part made me wonder about influences: an Elder (Donald Blitner) asks "baccy Maluka?" of Aeneas, a pronoun I had only seen used by Xavier Herbert (in the 1930s). Jeannie does enquire after it and is given a poor explanation.

Paul Byrnes was unimpressed with the source material and the film. Excess details at Ozmovies: mostly it's an unloved punching bag (see Janet Maslin and Brian McFarlane amongst others). Also the DVD contains a 1974 smoogery of C.P. Mountford's Walkabout and Tjurunga ethnographic/anthropological films that has its moments and nothing to do with the feature.

Bitter Springs (1950)

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On a DVD extracted from the Orange City library, watched at the Temple Bar Caravan Park at Alice Springs. A very early Ealing Studios-in-Australia production in black and white, shot in South Australia near the Flinders Ranges. The plot is very stock: frontier violence, the customary story of the dispossession of indigenous people. What makes it worthwhile is that there is some great footage of a very expressive Aboriginal tribe (actually two). I enjoyed how they captured the critical role that sign language plays in a hunting culture. So, for the most part, it was far better than I expected, right up to that bust of an ending (reconciliation in ten seconds) where the Aborigines are somehow convinced to shear sheep, presumably in return for continued access to their waterhole. To be fair shearing did become part of the culture in some areas, alongside rugby league.

Paul Byrnes. Ozmovies. Deb Verhoeven: yeah, I also enjoyed Michael Pate's efforts here.

Kangaroo: The Australian Story (1952)

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On a DVD extracted from the Orange City library, watched over a couple of nights beside Ilparpa Road at Alice Springs. Beyond redemption in all regards: this release was almost unwatchably low-fi, while the feature itself goes through all the motions familiar from Westerns and later Ozploitation movies. Maureen O’Hara leads as the unfathomably single daughter of South Australia-station-owning Irishman Finlay Currie. (Despite the familiarity of her name, I can't recall seeing her before.) Plotwise it's tiresome. The bulk of the second half is a cattle muster/drove that is pretty much the same as all cattle musters/droves, including the one in Australia. IMDB tells me it was the first Technicolor Hollywood production in Australia. The accents are all over the map. Director Lewis Milestone did much better on many other projects.

Bosley Crowther was bored apart from "some interesting scenes of the fauna and flora" and the scenes featuring Aborigines — shades of Walkabout. Ozmovies: it's always been a dog.

Emu Runner (2018)

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On a DVD extracted from the Orange City library, watched over a couple of nights at the Temple Bar Caravan Park at Alice Springs. Despite the best intentions of writer/director Imogen Thomas it just isn't very good. The best parts are Brewarrina, gently and unoriginally photographed, and the emus. The acting and dialogue are not great, which didn't matter so much in Ivan Sen's Toomelah (filmed a bit further east at Mooree) as he was careful to tell a story within a community he was connected to rather than at the whitefella/blackfella interface. The themes are of grieving and loss, of growing up in a small town, of the saving graces of an extended family and being connected to land. Some of the redemptive parts seem unearned.

Down Under (2016)

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On a DVD extracted from the Orange City library, watched a bit west of Kata Tjuta (the Olgas). It's a dog of a production. I have no idea why anyone would think that revisiting the Cronulla riots of 2005 in 2016 would be worthwhile. Initially I thought it was trying to update Romper Stomper but then I realised the failing humour made it a poor imitation of Chris Morris's Four Lions. I can't see how this shtick works for anyone. Damon Herriman is Hollywood's canonical Charlie Manson (cf Mindhunter). David Field has never been more unconvincing and doesn't even show us the ‘bra.

Amal Awad for SBS at the time. Yep, Four Lions.

The Arrangement (1969)

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And yet more Elia Kazan completism. Kazan career-fatally produced and directed this adaptation of his own novel. There's a dash of Office Space (a bloke waking up to the vacuity of his job and domestic arrangements) mixed in with some of the Dr. Strangelove of the day. Kirk Douglas leads as an advertising genius (for Zephyr cigarettes) married to Deborah Kerr's accommodating empty vessel who all the ambient professional men are in love with. Faye Dunaway shines as the office tramp. There's a Greek father/son thread that feels like a bit of a dry run for the more successful Pacino/Brando relationship in The Godfather.

IMDB trivia. The rating on IMDB is dire (6.4) but really it's a lot better than that; I'd like to think it'd win an Oscar if it was made in 2022. Roger Ebert: two-and-a-half stars. Vincent Canby: in the same genre as Written on the Wind. I think both reviewers took it too seriously, or perhaps expected more of Kazan. It is fun damnit.

For a Few Dollars More (1965)

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Bosley Crowther and Roger Ebert (three stars) at the time. Ebert says he had yet to see A Fistful of Dollars and decries the lack of plot; on the contrary I felt there was still too much of one here.

A Fistful of Dollars (1964)

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A Fistful of Dynamite (or Duck You Sucker) (1971)

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For reasons unknown I am very entertained by Rod Steiger's performance here. Perhaps it is because he has straight man James Coburn to bounce off. The final scenes made me think of Heat.

Roger Ebert did not review it. Vincent Canby. Generally unloved it seems.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966)

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nth time around with this Sergio Leone classic.

Renata Adler at the time, during her brief tenure as a film critic for the New York Times: knives out. Roger Ebert at the time (three stars) and as a "great movie" in 2003 (for an instant four stars and a rueful reassessment of his 1968 review).

Splendour in the Grass (1961)

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In two sittings. Eliza Kazan completism; I've got a ways to go yet. William Inge was Oscared for the screenplay, which is essentially Southern Gothic. The plot is right there in the title card: Kansas 1928. Soon enough we're introduced to there-will-be-blood oil tycoon Pat Hingle who is single-handedly making the town rich. Oscar-nommed Natalie Wood had the thankless task of playing a hysterical Ophelia (these things don't age well do they?) who repeats the name of Warren Beatty's character ("Bud", her high school sweetheart) thousands of times. It was his first feature and he's pretty wooden. There's a dash of Jack Nicholson in those eyebrows but more of James Dean in how he was shot. Barbara Loden had the most fun as Beatty's trampy sister.

Bosley Crowther at the time.

Tim Winton: Cloudstreet. (1991)

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Kindle. Second time around with this Australian classic about Geraldton and Margaret River meeting in a duplexed mansion in Perth, at the Swan River, about twenty years after the first and more than thirty since it was published. Things were initially absorbingly taut but got flabby (schmaltzy) later on; lurv for Winton is an ungainly beast. The eventual multi-generational household seemed so unlike Australia to me, which was and is on a long-term trajectory to single-person abodes (as is the world). Perhaps Winton's answer to why-do-they-bother, the family, only ever satisfied some. And what to make of the Aboriginal elements.

Goodreads. Yes, many of the named lack characterisation. Marion Halligan at the time: a flawed piece of literature but a great yarn. Joseph Olshan showed how the international press missed the mark. And so on. But really it's beyond reviewing. Somehow I have little interest in watching the bowdlerised TV miniseries.