peteg's blog

The Lives of Others (2006)

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Second time around. Oscared for best foreign film in 2007. #58 in the IMDB top-250.

Roger Ebert: four stars at the time. A. O. Scott. Dana Stevens.

Infernal Affairs (2002)

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Second time around. It has slipped out of the IMDB top-250 in the last decade. I see they consulted Christopher Doyle about how to make Hong Kong look fabulous.

Roger Ebert: three stars at the time.

James Gleick: Isaac Newton. (2003)

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I read Gleick's Chaos a long time ago and have fond memories of it. I dug this up after realising that I know little about Newton beyond his mathematics, physics, interest in alchemy and the dispute over priority with Leibniz. Unfortunately this book mostly just rehearses these topics, adding only a few biographical details: some but not all dates, where he lived and who he shacked up with, the politicking at the Royal Society (primarily with Hooke), the boosting by Halley, the heretical thoughts. Newton's Wikipedia page is broader, deeper and more interesting.

Goodreads.

The Father (2021)

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This one has been on the pile for a year or two. Frenchman Florian Zeller adapted his stage play (Oscared) and directed. It's a wonderfully disorienting, acausal take on dementia. Anthony Hopkins (Oscared) plays the father in mental decline to Olivia Colman's dutiful daughter. Her various paramours become unimpressed by the living arrangements. There's a fair bit of interiority, some decent acting and a general air of bemusement. I'd say the arc is unsurprising, and while many themes are touched upon it doesn't rise above a shallow character study (somewhat in extremis). #130 in the IMDB top-250.

Dana Stevens: I would've liked to see what Frank Langella made of the lead role. Jeannette Catsoulis. Just now, Natalia Winkelman says that the souflé did not rise the second time around.

The Wonder (2022)

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The second Florence Pugh feature for 2022. She plays a nineteenth-century English nurse charged with observing an Irish girl who apparently doesn't eat. It has a few moments, and many more non-moments. The costumery is gorgeous (Flo's blue dress and jacket are beautiful) but the cinematography is too often too dank to make out the details. Niamh Algar (The Virtues) does some more fine work. I don't know who they made this for.

Jake Wilson: three stars, insufficient payoff for the drawn-out suspense. Peter Bradshaw. Manohla Dargis.

Small Axe (2020)

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Steve McQueen's TV miniseries was on the pile for a long time. Five episodes, some of which get on to feature length. Over many nights. The subject is the West Indian community in London from the 1960s to the 1980s, which was (specifically) topical at the time due to the Windrush scandal (so soon buried under countless other scandals and much political buffoonery). As you'd expect the cinematography is always good and often excellent. The huge cast is deployed well. At times it seems to be almost entirely about the music.

Several of the episodes focus on police brutality, which as we know in Australia, is approximately invariant and generic (sadly). The first instalment Mangrove is depressing but saved by its fabulous actors. I didn't get where he was going with the second, Lovers Rock — always expecting something to despoil what seemed to be an enjoyable party — but once I realised it was the vibe of the thing, the toeing of several dangerous lines but not crossing any fatal ones, it came away as one of the best. Similarly the final, Education, while clunky in its polemics, hit the right visual and moral notes. McQueen should direct a Cosmos remake!

Widely reviewed. Gary Younge at the New York Review of Books provides much valuable context. Jeannette Catsoulis at length.

Army of Darkness (1992)

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Some days all you need are some Bruce Campbell one liners and farce. I thought his present-day girlfriend looked familiar: IMDB tells me that was Bridget Fonda. Last seen about a decade ago.

Roger Ebert: two stars and an inaccurate summary. I guess I was 14 in 1992 — bang on the target demographic for once. Janet Maslin. They made a TV series while I wasn't watching. And some other films and stuff.

Rollerball (1975)

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Misguided James Caan and director Norman Jewison completism. It's an irredeemable dog. A mashup hyperviolent game in futurish corporatised America that keeps the peons consuming. The free man wins, and doubtlessly continues consuming. Ralph Richardson plays a fruity computer librarian.

James Canby at the time: humourless. I doubt many have watched it since.

El Dorado (1966)

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Minor returns on some Howard Hawks and Robert Mitchum completism. John Wayne leads in what is apparently a remake of Hawks's Rio Bravo, also starring Wayne. A Western where the two stars defend a family from having their water rights thieved by some bad people. It has its moments but doesn't really go anywhere. James Caan plays a newbie to the seasoned old hands, refusing to be condescended to by anyone.

Roger Ebert: three-and-a-half stars and a dig at Pauline Kael.

Amsterdam (2022)

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Promising, on the strength of writer/director David O. Russell and the cast. We start with a heavily made up physician/surgeon/quack Christian Bale trying on the Tom Waits look in 1930s NYC. John David Washington (so successful in BlacKkKlansman and so disappointing since) plays his army and lawyer buddy. In flashback we meet the other leg of their wartime romance, Margot Robbie, who makes art out of the shrapnel she extracts from men's bodies. (Where else have we seen this kind of stool?) They get framed for murder, or was it for failing to be fascistic? Taylor Swift, Chris Rock, Anya Taylor-Joy, Rami Malek, Zoe Saldaña, etc. etc. are all squandered, or maybe doing what they can with some saggy material. Michael Shannon allows us to have some fun when he plays spies with Mike Myers. (This is proof that he's worth watching in just about anything.) De Niro saves us all from the furies and fates but not the preaching. Somehow it's misguided, intrinsically broken, boring and incoherent.

Manohla Dargis. Luke Goodsell. And so many others.

Shehan Karunatilaka: The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida. (2020/2022)

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Kindle. The Booker Prize winner for 2022. More historical magic realism from the subcontinent, like that other famous Booker winner. Throughout it struck me as very derivative. Written in the second person (like How to get filthy rich in rising Asia). We're taken by a hedonistic gay photographer into Colombo and more obliquely Sri Lanka's civil war in the 1980s (Tamils v Sinhalese v other minorities) with about twice as many words as are functional. The plot is notionally motored by who-killed-Roger-Rabbit (sorry, you) but circles this and other points often, and without significant progress. None of the characters are particularly engaging. The rules for the spirit universe are arbitrary and unenforced; just noise. There is lots of local colour but mostly it collects set pieces (like poker games) sourced from things like James Bond movies and the internet of the past decade. The life philosophy is bogus, and the author has no grasp of probability or risk. He is obviously angling for a movie version.

Reviews are legion and mostly fawning. Goodreads.

Twentieth Century (1934)

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Carole Lombard completism. She's pretty good here. Also for Howard Hawks's direction. In black-and-white John Barrymore turns Lombard's lingerie model into a Broadway star. She outgrows him (he never grows) and becomes a Hollywood star. There's an epic reconciliation on a train on the "Twentieth Century" line from Chicago to NYC. It's a comedic, stagy commentary on staginess, like To Be or Not to Be, and while it has some early moments it overstays its welcome by about half an hour.

Mordaunt Hall at the time.

The To Do List (2013)

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I'm at the diminished returns of Aubrey Plaza completism, I know. This is a yet another post-American Pie (etc. etc.) teenage sex farce. The times are fast in that summer between the end of school and start of college in 1993, and Ms Plaza has a lot to learn. I did laugh a lot at the first move (Me So Horny over the opening credits, cutting to the school principal saying (approx) "thanks for the a cappella version of the national anthem") but unfortunately that's the funniest bit. The soundtrack is a bit cringey. Clark Gregg plays her father. Post-Kickass Christopher Mintz-Plasse mostly just makes up the numbers. There are grammar jokes, just like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and some retro humour, like everything to do with Hillary Clinton.

Neil Genzlinger dug it.

Joshua Cohen: The Netanyahus: An Account of a Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family. (2021)

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Judy was cruel. She had that smart cruelty to her of someone who'd gotten what she wanted. And she'd gotten it the fairest way, through suffering.
after a long digression on notions of fairness for the purposes of college entrance essays

Kindle. Prompted by Netanyahu's restoration to the throne of Israel and Cohen's amusing take on Kushner's memoir. Told in the first person by a Pnin-ish academic in upstate New York. The Netanyahus come to visit for the purpose of a job interview at the local college. The setups are a bit clunky — it's often obvious where he's taking us — as the visitors are predictably horrible, the academic overweening, the backbiting. I probably missed many of the finely calibrated distinctions amongst the Jewish diaspora (ancestry, linguistic proficiency, cultural symbols) but there is still a lot to enjoy in the small, and he is damn funny. Overall, though, is there anything much to it?

This got Cohen the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Reviews are legion and generally tedious.

Ingrid Goes West (2017)

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Aubrey Plaza completism. She's a pyscho Insta stalker who is, of course, eventually saved by Insta. I got the impression that some think this is her finest outing. Elizabeth Olsen plays her target: a Californian lifestyle influencer. It's an emoji movie, notionally a black comedy but more often submerged in cringe. I guess co-writer/director Matt Spicer saw Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and thought he could spin "I mean, it's literally like someone took America by the East Coast and shook it, and all the normal girls managed to hang on" to feature length.

Peter Bradshaw: it's a bit hideous. Ben Kenigsberg: O’Shea Jackson Jr's realism is almost more than the rest put together.

The Light Between Oceans (2016)

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Completism for director/co-writer Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines) and Michael Fassbender, who has done very little in the past several years. This mawkish snoozefest is doomed from the first frame. It's just after World War I. Fassbender returns from the war with the intention of tending a lighthouse but also marries inexplicably single Alicia Vikander at her unfathomable insistence. A baby arrives on a boat and changes everything into yet another Australian police procedural. Eventually Rachel Weisz's crinkled brow joins the classic early-1980s Australian cast (Jack Thompson, hammy in every scene, Bryan Brown, Gary McDonald!) and we get a minor riff on forgiveness. The locations are weirdly mashed up in an attempt to synthesise remote W.A. from the shops in Stanley, Tasmania, the nearby Nut, some expansive beach, and somewhere in New Zealand. The cinematography is too often too gloomy. Too many letters.

Dana Stevens. Stephen Holden.

Russell Marks: Crime and Punishment: Offenders and Victims in a Broken Justice System. (2015)

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Kindle. On the strength of his regular essays for The Monthly, which are mostly excellent. At book length (and seven years ago) he's not as taut or well structured. Marks hammers the restorative justice drum in a similar way to how I remember Nicholas Cowderey doing it in the 1990s, expecting data and money to persuade. Things have changed a bit since then (for instance McGowan in W.A. far out landslid Newman in Queensland) but remain essentially the same or worse.

I also read Marks's The Book of Paul immediately prior. It's brief and has its moments. On the other hand Keating's recent sprays about Barangaroo, Packer and casinos are some of the most asinine things he's ever said.

Goodreads. Yep, Marks needed to walk more of the less happy paths.