peteg's blog

The Velvet Underground (2021)

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In three sittings as I found it a bit overwhelming — there's often a lot to take in. John Cale was the pick of the talking heads; I'm perhaps anomalous in not being overly interested in Andy Warhol, Lou Reed or the Factory. Many points are not elaborated: we learn little about the firing of Cale and Warhol, the Bowie connection, or their drug intake or health issues later in life. There are gestures late in the piece to suggest that Cale and Reed did work together after the firing. I enjoyed it and expect it'll be worth a rewatch. Directed by Todd Haynes (Mildred Pierce etc.).

Greil Marcus sold it to me with a lengthy review. A. O. Scott. Ben Kenigsberg at Cannes: Cale says the "60-cycle hum of the refrigerator" is the sound of Western civilisation. I wonder what he would've made of Australia's 50Hz.

Gloria (1980)

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And yet more Cassavetes/Rowlands completism. I kept a close eye on it for the first 40 minutes or so and then only half. The time did pass quickly throughout but nothing really stuck; all I saw was tough mob moll Rowlands moving through lowlife NYC and thereabouts, dragging child John Adames, with a revolver, endless cigarettes and an intent I could not grasp. She got an Oscar nom for this. Apparently there's some humour.

Roger Ebert: three stars in 1998. "Fun and engaging but slight." Vincent Canby.

Better Call Saul (2015-2022)

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It has its moments but isn't a patch on Breaking Bad. A superannuation vehicle for Bob Odenkirk.

Tempest (1982)

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More Cassavetes/Rowlands completism. Co-writer/director Paul Mazursky was notionally somewhat inspired by or recycled Shakespeare's play. (The other writer was Leon Capetanos.) In brief high-flying architect Cassavetes has a midlife crisis in NYC, leaving retired Broadway actress/wife Rowlands to his ominous casino-developer boss Vittorio Gassman so he can revisit his roots in Greece and ultimately a Greek island, taking their teenage daughter Molly Ringwald with him. By fantastical coincidence the eternally braless Susan Sarandon is walking her dog in some town there and finds him irresistible. As he's the centre of everyone's universe the others track him down, and the mandatory big sea storm leads to vacuous rapprochement. Billed as comedy but mostly snoozefest, it took me two sittings to get through. It was probably fun to make.

Vincent Canby at the time.

David Ireland: The Chantic Bird. (1968)

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Kindle. Prompted by Ireland's recent passing. Geordie Williamson's introduction for the text publishing edition summarises it well as "Australian Psycho" (referring to Bret Easton Ellis and not Hitchcock). He avoids endorsing what is ultimately an insufficiently anchored, excessively ambiguous, uninsightful, repetitious, tedious and boring bit of putatively teenage nihilism which took me an age to plough through. Some minor points. Williamson avoids digging into the references to the Brethren. It skips around like a Sydney crime paperback. The fairy story that gives the book its title is woeful.

Goodreads. I'd say that apart from The Unknown Industrial Prisoner, Ireland's output is not worth reading.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

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nth time around. Roger Ebert: four stars in 1989 and another four as a "great movie" in 2001. Bosley Crowther at the time.

Minnie and Moskowitz (1971)

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Some Cassavetes/Rowlands completism. We start with parking lot attendant Seymour Moskowitz (Seymour Cassel, sporting a Hulk Hogan handlebar moustache) in NYC but soon migrate with him to L.A. where Minnie Moore (Gena Rowlands) works as a museum curator when she's not the second woman (again), concerned about sex and ageing (again). They're both Bogart fans. She cops a lot of damage from a few blokes (and I guess, herself) and is constantly manhandled, possessively, even when sober (again). She's the only marriageable girl in L.A. There's too much yelling from Seymour. Katherine Cassavetes has the most fun as Seymour's clear-eyed mother.

Are these the preoccupations of John Cassavetes? (He's the infidel husband here.) Was he making the same movie again and again ala Michael Mann?

Roger Ebert: a romantic but not comedic four stars at the time. "Dreary 1972!" — there was plenty more where that came from. Vincent Canby was less impressed.

The Tourist (2022)

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A bum steer from Luke Buckmaster, who must've been watching something else; IMDB's 7/10 rating is closer to the mark but still overly generous. Jamie Dornan (new to me) lead as an amnesiac drug something-or-other in the Australian Outback (here represented by the Flinders Ranges and, I think, Quorn). Shalom Brune-Franklin had the fruitiest role as an unreliably unreliable international woman of mystery. Danielle Macdonald got the rookie cop slot, Damon Herriman got the crusty quasi-corrupt one. Ólafur Darri Ólafsson to play Orson Welles in any eventual biopic! Or perhaps John Goodman's. I wouldn't've recognised Alex Dimitriades. The cinematography is good but it's so easy now (digital, drones) that it's also entirely shrug. There's a fake Morricone soundtrack. The plot is a dog. There's way too much (incoherent) exposition from episode 3 onwards. I was most put out when Dornan didn't return the toilet key. One for the Fifty Shades of Grey crowd?

Opening Night (1977)

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Somehow very engrossing despite what would seem a very thin premise: an actress (Gena Rowlands) struggles with her role as a woman coming to terms with ageing in a stage play, and is haunted by the killing of a younger woman (Laura Johnson). Despite what that sounds like it's not the usual Hollywood self-servicing reductive stuff; it's an adult movie of the kind they don't make any more, not even for streaming services. Perhaps it helped to know that writer/director and lead heal/ex-lover/second husband John Cassavetes was married to Rowlands in real life, making for some multidimensionality. Rowlands is hypnotic and their final scenes together are a lot of fun. Ben Gazarra had the thankless task of directing the play. Wife Zohra Lampert was fantastic in all her scenes: "you’re so boring” she told him flatly at one point before acting out in the bedroom while he's romancing his leading lady. Another has her squashed into a window frame on a street as those more invested in this fiasco mill around in front of her, ignorant, pushy. Joan Blondell (Nightmare Alley) got to watch her script being butchered. The cinematography and editing are excellent.

Roger Ebert: three stars in 1991. The alcoholism may've cut a bit too close to the bone at the time. Peter Bradshaw in 2007.

My Dinner with Andre (1981)

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Louis Malle completism. Released the year after Atlantic City. Watched at Dalhousie Springs on a lazy afternoon. Two blokes have dinner at an upmarket NYC restaurant and talk so much it's unclear they ate anything at all. I found it, for the most part, boring, but somehow kept watching. I guess it's one of those things where you expect there to be more to it, all the way along, right up to when the credits roll.

Roger Ebert: four stars in 1981 and another four stars as a "great movie" in 1999. Apparently what they say is not really the point. Vincent Canby was also entranced, apart from the times when his interest flagged. Some of his comments suggest it may've helped to know who these guys (Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory) are in real life.

CODA (2021)

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On the pile since it got heavily Oscared at the start of the year. Deaf cinema is having a moment (cf Sound of Metal), though the eye here seemed more firmly on Academy glory than any sort of innovation; unsurprising perhaps as it's an American remake of a 2014 French-Belgian film. An Apple Original production.

Briefly: the almost-adult child of deaf adults (Brit Emilia Jones) helps her family fish in eternally sunny Massachusetts. Her singing voice is discovered when she joins the school choir. Beyond that it's just a matter of pandering to audience expectations: the outre over-concerned music teacher (Eugenio Derbez; presumably JK Simmons was unavailable), the nasty girls, the ignorant, vapid but irresistibly cute boy (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) she's required to duet with, the slutty best friend (Amy Forsyth), the nods to boomer culture. (Perhaps David Bowie is having a moment too, though citing his Song for Bob Dylan seems a bit irrelevant in a singing, not songwriting, class — Jones only ever sings other people's material.)

The movie is flawed in so many ways. It goes looking for problems that could have easily been managed with only marginally more awareness. This comes at the cost of more fruitful possibilities, such as the dynamic she has with brother (Daniel Durant) which shows early promise (he's the most sympathetic to her situation) before sliding into irrelevancy and cliche. The deaf bits are so much better than the rest (and for the usual reasons: they are physically expressive, fun, funny and inclusive) whereas the musical stuff was entirely dispensable, the ending sappy sentimental guff. Nevertheless I enjoyed almost all of the performances and was very happy to learn that father Troy Kotsur got an Oscar (for best supporting actor); his scene with Jones, on the tailgate of a ute at the fag end of things, was brilliant. Mother Marlee Matlin (Oscared for Children of a Lesser God) was also fine.

Being such conventional Oscar bait, I felt it was exploitative. Jeannette Catsoulis: drowned in formula. Amanda Morris for the deaf community: about us not of us. Peter Bradshaw: shallow. And so on.