peteg's blog

Careless Love (2012)

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John Duigan's last feature, so far. On the pile for a very long time as I had low expectations. These were met.

IMDB tells me star Nammi Le married Duigan soon after. Peter Galvin for SBS: three stars. He falls into similar traps as Duigan: this thing is entirely a male construction. And I've always felt that Sydney was mostly "spaces where moral certainty seems a long way away." Margaret (three stars) and David (three-and-a-half). David's review seems ignorant of all the Sydney class cues; for instance Jack is a law student (an amateur actor) and is connected to the old money parts of the town; that's how he knows entitled ex Anna (you can just imagine her saying "it's not over 'til I say it's over") and her mate Seb (also an entitled twat). The rugby league segment and the Sydney Uni components are Duigan's commentary on the culture of the old male-only colleges (which he would've experienced while at Ormond at the University of Melbourne). Bob Ellis: The Good Whore of Coogee. Some of his waffle contradicts Stratton. Peter O'Brien's unquiet American is an advertisement for the superior qualities of the mature man over the uni boys. Jake Wilson: four stars (of five). So, in summary, the reviewers tried to boost the local product but failed to get to grips with much of anything.

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Vale David Ireland.

The Gray Man (2022)

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As bad as I was warned it would be. Netflix put up 200M USD to construct a new Bond-like franchise, hoping that the Russo brothers would work the commercial magic of their Marvel efforts. I guess they are the new Michael Bay (making this their Pearl Harbour?). Briefly Ryan Gosling is an invincible CIA dark agent who's charged with the custody of a MacGuffin by somewhat less invincible CIA dark agent Callan Mulvey (dial familiar from The Turning and possibly other things). Cue the darkly-lit spaghetti action scenes, poor CGI and fetishised closeups of torture! Good work guys. The stakes were so low that I was hoping all of them would get bumped off. I'd like to think that, in the days before scandal, Armie Hammer would’ve got the Chris Evans role of an an intermediately invincible CIA dark agent with psychotic tendencies who enthusiastically enjoys his work. Ana de Armas is the new Scarlett Johansson, albeit one who comes off worse more often. Overall it's a ludicrous, humourless, unironic antispoof of Team America. Even Arnie's worst action flicks were better than this. Everyone should've stayed home.

Somewhat prompted by Jason Di Rosso's interview with the Russo brothers. (He didn't endorse it but some of the exchange made me curious about where all the money went.) Dana Stevens apparently loved it. Amy Nicholson: I almost missed that clever bit on the tram.

Kazuo Ishiguro: A Pale View of the Hills. (1982)

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Kindle. Ishiguro's first novel and unimpressive it is. A dry run for his particular thing that he perfected later: unreliable narrators, drawing on faulty, forgiving and yet telling memory, Japan's prewar culture as seen by the youth, upper class England. It is a bit soporific; knowing what I was going to get allowed me to plough through it but I can't imagine it set the world on fire in 1982.

Goodreads.

Wanda (1970)

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A Barbara Loden jag from her efforts in a couple of her husband Elia Kazan's films. She wrote, directed, starred in this attempt to capture a vacuous divorcee who finds her calling as an accomplice to a thief with big ideas. It has its moments but is a bit too slow; it may've worked as more than a time capsule (of Pennsylvania and Holy Land and other places) at half the length.

Roger Greenspun at the time.

Mogul Mowgli (2020)

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Riz Ahmed completism. The IMDB summary almost says it all: "A British Pakistani rapper is on the cusp of his first world tour, but is struck down by an illness that threatens to derail his big break." The illness is something that causes muscular degeneration. The story is a generic clash between (the old) conservative Muslim traditions (cupping!) and (the new) kids who just want to succeed in a material world (and be treated by stem cell infusions). There's a "poetry" slam in the style of Bodied or 8 Mile where Ahmed gets canned for insufficiently sophisticated racism. Nabhaan Rizwan (as junior, less talented rapper RPG) got the thankless task of wearing the XXXTentacion doe eyes, facial tattoos and low rent lyrics. From my position on the couch I'd observe that 25 years ago (mid-1990s) this DIY mode (cassette recordings, rough and ready production, sampling of your parents' records, ...) gave us Tricky and Asian Dub Foundation, both of whom made all these points a long time ago. Ahmed's performance is solid, as usual, and he has some great raps, but it's not enough.

Ahmed got an Oscar this year for the short film The Long Goodbye, and I wasn't paying attention! (The outro there is the intro here?) A. O. Scott.

Murmur of the Heart (1971)

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A Louis Malle jag from Atlantic City. It's Springtime 1954 in Dijon (so says the title card) with some young blokes collecting for the soldiers at Điện Biên Phủ. As this film was made about 17 years later, one might think that the French have had time to process that disaster and watch America slide into the quagmire. Sure enough some later commentary alludes to that but all the politics and much else is more gesture than argument, certainly not commitment.

Otherwise there's the Tour de France on the radio, the new novelty of the TV, and a coming-of-age in the style of Martin Amis for an almost-15 year old circumspect, precocious boy. He's helped along by his wastrel older brothers and not particularly impeded by his father, a gynaecologist, perhaps due to the jazz soundtrack of the era. He's slavered over by all the ladies, so the audience is not surprised when the Oedipal subtext comes to the fore. Much is made of his mother being a low-born Italian refugee who does not discriminate in her modes of knowing.

Roger Ebert: four stars at the time. Roger Greenspun was less impressed. Malle got an Oscar nom for the script.

Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970)

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Another Matthew Spektor pointer to what I think he deemed to be the best of the director Frank Perry / writer Eleanor Perry partnership. It sort-of works, as a portrait of a social-climbing NYC marriage in the late 1960s, if you remember that it is entirely from the wife's point of view. Lead actress Carrie Snodgress, a bit Sarah Jessica Parker (the face, the accent, the preoccupation with sex at the expense of all else), got an Oscar nom for her efforts. Nevertheless the repetition and boorishness is hard to endure — her lawyer husband Richard Benjamin seemed to be a straitened Z-Man from the superior Beyond the Valley of the Dolls — and while that may be the point it doesn't make for a good movie. Maybe they needed a montage? Or some brutal edits, or more interiority.

The only saving grace is a young Frank Langella, with hair, playing a ladies man in the mode of Leonard Cohen. He put me in mind of a built out Cillian Murphy. The credits roll over a group therapy session that accuses the housewife of having merely first world problems.

Roger Ebert: three stars. More details at Wikipedia.

Wild River (1960)

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More Elia Kazan completism. An old biddy (Jo Van Fleet under heavy makeup) decides she's not going to leave her island home when the FDR Feds decide to flood the Tennessee Valley to reduce flooding circa 1931. That goes as you'd expect. There's some unreconstructed racial politics which also goes as you'd expect. I actually enjoyed Montgomery Clift's G-man performance; he's as wooden and inexpressive as ever but he delivered about three lines just perfectly. One of those was to lovelorn widow Lee Remick, who mostly hadn't got a lot of room to move:

just after both have had their lights punched out by the local heavy
Montgomery Clift: You were great up there. [pregnant pause] Marry me?
Lee Remick: [says nothing]
Clift: I know I'll probably regret it, and I'm sure you'll regret it... but... get your hat, and a coat, wash up. Alright?
Remick: [nods yes]

Barbara Loden played his secretary, hiding behind her specs. She later married Kazan.

A. H. Weiler at the time.

Nardi Simpson: Song of the Crocodile. (2020)

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Kindle. I picked this up on the strength of Nardi's conversation with Richard Fidler that I listened to about a year ago. She's got a beautiful voice and wicked laugh. This is a multi-generational tale like Cloudstreet. It put me more in mind of Beresford's The Fringe Dwellers (shifted a few hundred kilometres southwest) than Ivan Sen's Toomelah (from a few hundred kilometres east). After a rough first chapter (too ornate!) it settles into the steady rhythm of the lives of Indigenous women on the edge of the fictional Darnmoor (which I took to be roughly Brewarrina) until these are disrupted by the loss of employment, death, and ultimately the destruction of their remnant homelands.

Plot-wise too many things happen too close together, breathlessly, and I was so lost by the end that I couldn't fathom how the song of the crocodile helped in any way; the horse appeared to have bolted. Some of the characters are more successful than others, and often in a less-is-more way; for instance I found Wil's uncle, who charts his path to manhood, more convincing than saintly Wil. (Wil's marriage to Mili put me in mind of Blue Valentine.) In any case it's brave and many of the observations (especially about the myths of the settlers and townsfolk) cut deeply. The magic realism is sometimes very effective. Like Francine Prose, every so often there's a sentence that totally nails it. I guess she expected just a bit too much from this reader.

Goodreads. Timmah Ball at the Sydney Review of Books was more interested in generic politics than a close or critical reading. (For instance Celie's skilful sister is Bess, not Emma. And Mili holds son Paddy at a distance while embracing the younger Yaramala.) I find her optimism ungrounded.

The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)

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Some more Gloria Grahame completism. Here she had a minor role as a sassy Southern Belle in perhaps her most artificial performance, and wouldn't you know it, that's what got her her Oscar. Kirk Douglas lead as an unscrupulous producer with the magical touch but was given second-banana billing to Lana Turner's star being born. The whole thing is a bit of Hollywood navel gazing in the mode of Sunset Boulevard (from 1950). It has its moments but is in no way anything special.

Bosley Crowther: a mountain of clichés. He was as unimpressed by Lana Turner's efforts as I was. Highly rated at IMDB (7.8) and heavily Oscared. Douglas got a nom but not the gong.

Team America (2004)

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nth time around with this scatological lowbrow classic.

Roger Ebert: one nihilistic star. I wonder what he'd've made of the last four years or so. A. O. Scott was more indulgent. It may be that only foreigners can really get across the entirety of this movie.

Inception (2010)

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Third time around, I think. I appreciated it even less than last time, when it was #14 in the IMDB top-250. It is now #13.

Roger Ebert: four stars of mind blown. Peter Travers: three-and-a-half, also mind blown. A. O. Scott: mind not so blown.

A Safe Place (1971)

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More misguided Tuesday Weld and Jack Nicholson completism. Orson Welles joined them in a strange, indulgent and unsuccessful stasis in NYC as the City became unsafe. I only kept half an eye on the last third. I don't know what would it would've taken to make this watchable; it seems essentially misconceived.

Vincent Canby paid more attention than I did. "[...] Philip Proctor [...] plays [Weld]'s square suitor with the sort of puzzled eyes and half smile that I associate with Nicholson, who may be setting the acting style for the 1970's."

Brick (2005) and Looper (2012)

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Again and again. Looper now strikes me as an application for a Star Wars directing gig.

Brick: Roger Ebert (three stars) and Stephen Holden (unimpressed). Looper: Roger Ebert (three-and-a-half stars), Peter Travers (ditto), Manohla Dargis.

Bottle Rocket (1996)

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James Caan completism, and incidentally Wes Anderson too. Not really my thing. Watched a few kilometres east of the Coolalinga Shopping Centre on what seemed to be the main flight path of the Darwin airport.

Roger Ebert: two stars for Anderson's debut feature and better luck next time (next time was Rushmore). Janet Maslin liked it a whole lot more.

Lightyear (2022)

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Colour me surprised to find the latest Disneyfied Pixar effort to be every bit as dire as the IMDB rating (5.3) and reviews suggested. It is entirely soulless. The plot arc makes little sense. I watched it in the hope that the synthetic cat SOX might be something. It wasn't. Wisely avoided by all previous Toy Story voice actors, with Chris Evans replacing Tim Allen in the role of Buzz. Absolutely beyond redemption.

A. O. Scott. Whatever it was supposed to be, it was not much fun to watch. Dana Stevens: "But there’s a rueful irony to the fact that it's this supposedly human inspiration for the beloved toy who feels more like a plastic action figure."

Submarino (2010)

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Thomas Vinterberg completism. I think that'll do me. Briefly two brothers sometimes maybe try to overcome their mother's alcoholic neglect. One sublimates all that into time honoured violence, weight lifting and prison time while the other takes the more difficult option of becoming a junkie and later a dealer on the mean streets of wintry Copenhagen. (We know he's sensitive due to the Nick Cave poster on his wall.) Given this frame things are on a railroad to Trainspotting, so the running scene, when it comes, shows how uninspired the whole show is. Jakob Cedergren does what he can in the lead.

IMDb trivia. Otherwise light on for reviews in English; it probably didn't get a wide release. A long waffly piece in the Guardian.

Human Desire (1954)

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Some misguided Gloria Grahame completism. She had some terrible dialogue that she delivered terribly. Fritz Lang directed. It's a bit of a strange clunker as it didn't innovate on the very stale plot of Eve being responsible for all the evil in the world. On the other hand man is simple: he (Glenn Ford) just wants to drive trains. Or, you know, murder anyone who looks at his wife sideways (Broderick Crawford). The whole thing makes no sense when normie Kathleen Case was right there the whole time, willing and able.

Bosley Crowther at the time. A remake of a Jean Renoir film.

Gardens of Stone (1987)

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Some more James Caan completism. He struck me as miscast, perhaps because he was capable of a lot more than Francis (Ford) Coppola asked of him here. Joining him were James Earl Jones (whose mirth we sometimes share) and Anjelica Houston (whose performance I enjoyed the most despite it being substantially just exposition). We get Coppola's usual big set pieces (specifically a wedding and several funerals) but there is nothing very interesting about this particular story, which I put down to "the boy" D.B. Sweeney's vapidity. Despite its length I felt there were continuity issues, several bridges too few. It was overshadowed by all the other contemporary pictures that ruefully reviewed the U.S. war in Việt Nam, such as Full Metal Jacket (compare the boot camp scenes for instance — the stroppy sergeants — and how the usually reliable Larry Fishburne brings nothing to those here). There is an element of self-parody when Jones replays Martin Sheen's big scene from the end of Apocalypse Now. I think Coppola was trying to show the mood shift from the shock-and-awe of the 1970s to the knowing hindsight of the 1980s.

Roger Ebert: two-and-a-half stars too many. He was wrong to claim that Caan's and Jones's characters "believe the war in Vietnam is stupid because the politicians are hamstringing the professionals, preventing them from fighting to win" — they are centrally concerned with the survival of their "family", i.e., members of the U.S. Army ("us and those like us"). Vincent Canby, similarly but more accurately: Caan's character opposes the war "without a front, with nothing to win and no way to win it." And yeah, why did Coppola direct this?

Honeymoon in Vegas (1992)

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James Caan completism. This one made many lists of his movies to check out. It's a dog. Everyone (probably including Sarah Jessica Parker) was better elsewhere; Nicolas Cage is always better in something else. Anne Bancroft plays his mother. Notionally a comedy but really about how Ms Parker learns that she is worth a lot more than $1 million. It's not funny.

Roger Ebert: three-and-a-half stars. Also a big thumbs up from Vincent Canby.

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Vale James Caan.

Man on a Tightrope (1953)

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More Elia Kazan completism. It's black-and-white in Czechoslovakia where the party apparatus, with Stalin looking on, attempts to subtly address a circus (ex-)owner's political incorrectness while the secret police know only more brutal methods. The mode shift in the middle is welcome. I enjoyed the smouldering, dripping contempt of Gloria Grahame: all the woman wanted was a little domestic violence from her husband-clown (lead and two-time Oscar winner Fredric March). Nowhere as tiresome as Nightmare Alley and at times a bit fun.

Bosley Crowther and A. W. at the time.