peteg's blog

Cosmos (1980)

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Highly rated TV on IMDB (#11). I enjoyed the space stuff the most as it was clearly closest to Carl Sagan's heart. He had what Americans would deem a healthy ego, and a delivery that is often hilarious. Things tended to fall away in the last quarter or half. At times I felt he was recycling Douglas Adams (e.g. interplanetary travel, alien life forms) and Martin Gardner (e.g. Flatland, attacking pseudo science), the latter of whom contradicts Sagan's bagging of Plato by observing that Einstein performed no experiments. (At times it's easy to see why Sagan's peers thought he was more show pony than scientist, canvassing other people's work without sufficient attribution.) There's a cracker 1970s synth soundtrack that forms the core of the musical accompaniment. The continuing robotic exploration of Mars is awesome.

Don't Worry Darling (2022)

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For Florence Pugh, who is again (maybe) having a moment. I hope the other stuff in the pipe is better than this dreck. To me (and I'm not the target demographic) this is about Chris Pine's creation of a Matrix for incels to inter their significant others in as 1950s housewives. Flo (being the leading lady, and, well, Flo) gets red pilled. See, it has all the tropes. A cool retro vibe in the desert, that's all there is.

Manohla Dargis: "a clever mash-up between Mad Men and Get Out." I missed the clever part(s). Peter Bradshaw: a "handsomely designed but hammily acted, laborious and derivative mystery chiller." Jake Wilson: "But if even being married to Harry Styles could be a trap, there are definitely things to worry about." Michael Sun at the ABC: "a twist so contrived even M Night Shyamalan would disapprove." Dana Stevens: it's just The Stepford Wives from 1975. (Others made the same observation; those who didn't I suspect were not in the target demographic. Is this therefore intended to be some kind of comfort food?) I agree that Chris Pine was squandered. She took it far more seriously (earnestly) than anyone else.

Vertigo (1958)

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Second time around with this Hitchcock classic. Prompted by Park Chan-wook's latest. I remain bemused by Hitchcock's relentlessly trivial psychology. The film's colour strikes me as weird: sometimes it's quite effective (such as in the lane way early on where the walls look flattened) and other times bogus (the bookshop where the sun abruptly sets, and what's in the rear view whenever James Stewart is driving with furrowed brow). No matter my misgivings, it remains lodged at #100 in the IMDB top-250.

Roger Ebert: four stars as a "great movie" in 1996. Bosley Crowther at the time. Wikipedia.

The Stranger (2022)

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For Sean Harris (excellent in Macbeth) and (of course) Joel Edgerton. Prompted by Jason Di Rosso's interview with Edgerton and previously with director Thomas M. Wright. All try to talk up the psychological complexity of the characters, which I guess is there if you're prepared to take the cues. Otherwise it's another drab Aussie police-procedural noir. Apparently filmed in South Australia despite being set in Western Australia.

The parents of the child at the centre of this story felt it was a "cruel, callous, selfish cash grab" (and fair enough too). Luke Buckmaster dug it (in the Justin Kurzel mould). Wouldn't it be great if we had other stories to tell.

John Brunner: The Sheep Look Up. (1972)

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Again, second time around with this fat Brunner. Depressingly it became even more congruent with reality in the intervening decade.

I read it while waiting for the troopy to get serviced in Berri, South Australia. Don't believe the hype — there's very little to do here on the Riverland when the river is up and flowing rapidly. The rain (past and forecast) precludes escapist red dirt adventures to the north and east. Stay home, I suggest; even more so with the outbreak of Japanese Encephalitis along the river (see also the Guardian).

More context at Wikipedia: apparently prophetic for 2007.

John Brunner: The Shockwave Rider. (1975)

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Kindle. Second time around with this Brunner classic.

To Be or Not to Be (1942)

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Hollywood has a Polish acting troupe take on the Gestapo after the occupation of Warsaw in 1939. Ernst Lubitsch co-wrote and directed. I found it often very funny — it's not often in bad taste — but the replaying of the same joke did eventually go stale. #228 in the IMDB top-250. IMDB tells me Carole Lombard (fantastic here) was in the Ben Hur of 1925.

Michael Wood in 2013. Geoffrey O'Brien at essay-length for the Criterion collection. Excess details at Wikipedia.

Hernan Diaz: Trust. (2022)

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Kindle. Gatsby meets unreliable narrators. The roaring-then-cratering 1920s setting put me in mind of Amor Towles's Rules of Civility; clearly it's intended to be topical, with gestures at financial engineering, high-frequency trading exploits, the disconnection of labour from reward. My eyes started glazing after the first part (a novel that introduces us to the financier and his wife). The second part is hard to wade through (an incomplete ghostwritten beat up of the financier's putative achievements). The third part is quite repetitious and self-justifyingly tedious (the ghostwriter's account of those days and her Italian father's incoherent anarchism and typesetting). The fourth part is about meeting expectations: the financier's wife is the genius, not him, but we knew that already.

Diaz misses the crucial foundation of the strategy that Ishiguro made his own: I was never sympathetic to any of the characters. But now I wonder, even being as uninvested I was and am, if this wasn't an Ouroboros.

Nicole Rudick at the New York Review of Books: man looks at world/other man, woman looks at man/men. Yawn. Adam Mars-Jones at the London Review of Books: tea from a bag and warm water, not a patch on Spufford's Golden Hill. Michael Gorra at the New York Times. Goodreads. And so on. Hats off to the marketing team.

Ben Hur (1959)

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I hadn't seen this before, not being much of a fan of Charlton Heston or lengthy biblical movies. I'm a bit surprised that it was Oscars all round — Heston is hammy and the ladies are generally quite a bit worse — though I grant the huge sets and legions of extras make for some amazement. Many scenes drag followed by abrupt cuts to the next episode in the one-Jewish-man story set around the time of Christ's birth. Hugh Griffith got Oscared for playing an Arab horseman/Sheik in blackface. Still #183 in the IMDB top-250.

Bosley Crowther at the time. Excess details at Wikipedia.

Jamil Jan Kochai: The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories. (2022)

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Kindle. Some of these stories are ingeniously constructed, such as the first one with its video game that encodes the past in fractal detail, enabling a sort-of magic realism to rub up against sort-of omnipresent surveillance: it's a twenty-first century USA reconstruction of 1980s Soviet Afghanistan in the mode of a Charles Yu thought toy. There are tales of metamorphosis (it's having a moment), and some spy-stuff that reads like The Lives of Others. However this collection, while better, suffers from the same limitations as his debut novel: the few things he wants to tell us (typically about war zones) are repeatedly presented, spreading the point, if any, thin.

Wyatt Mason at the New York Review of Books. Elliot Ackerman. Goodreads. And a little related to the title of the book: The Hajj Trail simulator.

A Woman Under the Influence (1974)

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Apparently this is generally considered Cassavetes's masterwork; it is at least his highest rated at IMDB (8.1). Gena Rowlands leads as the mentally-unwell wife of the mentally-unwell Peter Falk. He's very shouty and unnuanced. She's sometimes good but it's all a bit too much, too unmotivated. It took me many sittings to get through; the opening movements are promising but by the time we're on our way to the hospital I was struggling to focus. Too many scenes from then on are excruciatingly, unnecessarily long: the point gets made and made again and yet we still don't move along. I enjoyed Katherine Cassavetes as Falk's mum the most: she's got a deadpan screech, poise and stare that I find hilarious (as in Minnie and Moskowitz). I'm sure she was amazing on stage. Rowlands and Cassavetes as director got Oscar noms.

Roger Ebert: four stars at the time and another four stars as a "great movie" in 1988. Nora Sayre at the New York Times.

Douglas Rushkoff: Survival of the Richest. (2022)

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Kindle. On the strength of a promising excerpt in The Saturday Paper. That may've been the best bit: at book-length Rushkoff rambles, rants, riffs, self-aggrandises, self-contradicts and appears ignorant of history. There's not much about the promised billionaire survivalism and prepping, and the remainder is too generic. There are very few interesting or novel pointers; the only one I came away with was to John Rutt (ex Santa Fe institute) and his Game B (which presently seems moribund). These failures are especially vexing if you share any of his concerns. I think Rushkoff is mining the vein of similarly-unsatisfactory late-period Douglas Coupland.

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

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I've never been much of a fan of this movie but for reasons unknown (Steve Buscemi?) figured it was worth a revisit. Still #92 in the IMDB top-250.

Roger Ebert, two-and-a-half stars at the time: "Now that we know Quentin Tarantino can make a movie like Reservoir Dogs, it's time for him to move on and make a better one." I also felt it was more a talky stage play than cinema. Also Vincent Canby.