peteg's blog

Minority Report (2002)

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Spielberg, Colin Farrell (very bland), Samantha Morton (does what she can) jags from other recent movies. Second time around I think. Tom Cruise leads in this adaptation of a Philip K. Dick short. I did not enjoy the cinematography very much; at times the lighting is so harsh it eradicates all details. The omnipresent ads, some amusing, could've been dug into some more: we're almost there. At times the aesthetic echoes Bladerunner, and one scene is very A Clockwork Orange. The user interfaces prefigured Iron Man and similarly look too much like exercise. It's a bit Se7en (the inevitability) but is ruined by too much voiced-over exposition in the final movement.

Roger Ebert: four stars at the time. Analog film making at its finest. Elvis Mitchell: "The performances are perfectly fine; no one is asked to do something new. And if poor Ms. Morton is asked to play a feral, near-mute victim one more time, she may be pushed beyond the range of her immense talents to find a different wrinkle." David Edelstein.

She Said (2022)

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More #metoo on the big screen, or a proof-of-life from the legacy media (film and print). Carey Mulligan leads in her second go around with this topic (after Promising Young Woman). She's fine. Samantha Morton as the first lady to substantiate (provide documents about) the Weinstein story is excellent; I would've liked to see her in a scene with Mulligan as she's simply in a different class to Zoe Kazan. I also enjoyed Patricia Clarkson's muted performance, and Andre Braugher's decisiveness. The meat of the movie (beyond what everyone knows at this time) is essentially the legwork of investigative journalism, which for all it's import is not that gripping.

Alexis Soloski at the New York Times. Jason Di Rosso interviewed the director Maria Schrader. Peter Bradshaw: "perhaps [Ronan Farrow's] good-faith contribution could have been acknowledged with a bit more generosity?" And so on.

Good Night Oppy (2022)

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A leading contender for the coming doco Oscar, the internet tells me. I wanted more science and less anthropomorphism. Little information about what was actually discovered is conveyed; all we got is that there is some evidence that neutral-pH water was present on Mars a long time ago. I could've done with more background on Steve Squyres and details of the engineering, what sensors were carried, etc. I came away with no clue what Perseverance is looking for. Overall this was a poor packaging of what is fascinating raw material; it asked a lot less of its audience than Carl Sagan did in Cosmos forty years ago. And the soundtrack is not cracker.

Wikipedia has some details of the science, the rover engineering and an overview of the larger, ongoing program. Ben Kenigsberg managed to look past the excess personification.

Shaun Prescott: The Town. (2017)

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Kindle. Prompted by the release of his new book. Notionally about the disappearing towns in the Central West of NSW, but sufficiently banal, insecure, repetitive and unassured that my eyes glazed over anything that may've been interesting or novel.

Widely reviewed (and, of course, feted) locally. Kerryn Goldsworthy (amongst many others) is quick to fend off the charge that Prescott is just aping Gerald Murnane. Goodreads. And so on. Even trawling the apologetic reviews is a slog.

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022)

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Rian Johnson's latest, a followup of sorts to Knives Out from 2019. I see he's involved in yet another Star Wars trilogy.

Well, I didn't get too much into this one. There's way too much exposition, as if talking will paper over the holes and lack of twistiness in the plot, with every second line a shallow pop culture reference. The structure is like Gone Girl: there's a big shift in perspective near the midpoint. The cinematography is meh. There is a lot to trainspot I guess, set to a David Bowie soundtrack with the inevitable Lennon over the final credits.

The "how to host a murder" mechanic didn't work for me. Whoever was the putative murderer couldn't win it; did they know that? Kate Hudson does an airheaded look-at-me thing, tediously. Janelle Monáe from Moonlight (better there) plays the brains of the outfit. Was that a muscled-up Dode/Noah Segan in the painting? Most fatally, Edward Norton does not do dumb, unlike, for instance, Brad Pitt (cf the Coen brothers' Burn After Reading). And extremely fatally, the excess of dumb stuff made me wonder why the auteur couldn't give us something at least a little bit clever.

Dana Stevens watched it so you don't have to. A. O. Scott. Anthony Lane. And so on.

The Fabelmans (2022)

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Spielberg semi-autobio. It's his usual American hokum but even less gripping than usual, although he does keep you on the hook insofar as you wonder how far he's going to take things (non-spoiler: not far enough). At the two-thirds mark of this overlong thing he switches to generic high school set pieces (bullying, antisemitism, girls) that were cooked to a far tastier pitch a long time ago (e.g. The Last Picture Show, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Ferris Bueller, etc. etc.).

I was mostly there for Michelle Williams, who is as amazing as ever, but the best part was the closing scene where David Lynch plays John Ford in a Twin Peaks-reboot mode. Paul Dano does fine as the remote Bill Gates-esque father but the character is so generic that there's nothing much there. I was thrilled to see James Urbaniak as the school principal.

Dana Stevens. Manohla Dargis.

Yasmine Seale: The Annotated Arabian Nights: Tales from 1,001 Nights. (2021)

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Kindle. A pointer from Robyn Creswell at the New York Review of Books. I did enjoy the language/translation but somehow the stories seemed shallower this time around; perhaps I mostly enjoyed the colour in Richard Burton's effort.

Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio (2022)

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I found it entertaining, perhaps because I wasn't too invested. As you'd expect there are a few inspired visual moments.

Manohla Dargis. Yep, the musical numbers were ill conceived.

The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)

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I'm not the biggest fan of Martin McDonagh's work; I found In Bruges too formulaic, and so it goes here again. In two sittings as I got bored. It's 1923 and while the Irish are warring we're on an island with Colin Farrell, his soon-to-depart sister Kerry Condon and his soon-to-be-ex mate Brendan Gleeson, the last of whom just wants to get on with writing pieces for the fiddle. There are a few Shakespearean touches (the witch, the arch language) and overly significant animals (the donkey, the dog). I think the point was that art too often bends to the nice, or, as demonstrated here, claims more for and of itself than it can justify.

Dana Stevens: it's a comedy! Say it ain't so. Yes, it's stagy, and if you know/expect he's going to repeat key phrases it gets tedious fast. Beckett this is not. A. O. Scott. And so on.

The King Is Dead! (2012)

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Idle Rolf de Heer completism. The suburban dreams of a young couple in Adelaide (Dan Wyllie, Bojana Novakovic) turn to nightmares, and no, it's not due to the RBA's recent rate rises as this was made a decade ago: this is about neighbours so hellish that earplugs and lawyers are insufficient. Gary Waddell plays the host-squatter King in a half-hearted Spiteri mode. There's a bit of The Castle here, mixed in with some Tarantino aspirationalism. Too often it falls flat.

David (three stars) and Margaret (four stars). Jake Wilson.

Ten Canoes (2006)

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Second time around with this Rolf de Heer classic. It's amusing with some good cinematography. I didn't grasp the moral of the story, if there was one.

Stephen Holden dug it at the time. Margaret and David. Luke Buckmaster in 2016. All the details at Ozmovies.

Welcome to Woop Woop (1997)

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Prompted by Luke Buckmaster's rewatch in 2015. Stephan Elliott's followup to The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Buckmaster is about right — it must be a pisstake — but it's not very funny, clever or even all that human. The list of prior art is long: Wake in Fright, Crocodile Dundee (American lead Johnathon Schaech comes to the Central Australian Dead Heart in what must've been a career-stifling move), The Castle, incestuous Australian utopias, the oversexed Australian ladies ala Praise, and so forth.

The plot is perfunctory and infantile, merely a vehicle for exploring a series of grotesques: Daddy-O (Rod Taylor) anchors this Northern Gothic in a Collingwood singlet and sweatband, channeling Brian Brown, downing the XXXX and shortchanging his desert-dwelling family. We're introduced by Susie Porter's demonstration that even she was young and dumb once. The beautiful scenery is almost entirely squandered. It was probably a lot more fun to make than it is to watch.

Excess details at Ozmovies. Margaret couldn't handle the vulgarity? Stephen Holden.

Gettin' Square (2003)

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Third time around. Prompted by Dave, who delighted in a recent attempt to use a Spiteri defence (spoiler: it didn't work). I enjoyed it a lot more this time around as I was only here for David Wenham. In contrast Sam Worthington has never been more wooden.

Ozmovies has all the details. Luke Buckmaster in 2015.

The Great Dance: A Hunter's Story (2000)

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Craig Foster and his brother Damon keenly filmed the mad tracking skills of some Kalahari hunters.

Lawrence van Gelder at the New York Times at the time.

My Octopus Teacher (2020)

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Burnt-out South African doco maker Craig Foster recovers by making friends with an octopus in a kelp forest at Western Cape (False Bay near Cape Town) while free diving. Oscared as best doco in 2021. The cinematography is first rate. Far better than some thin speculation about octopus cultures.

Thinly reviewed, mostly retrospectively and salaciously.

Ray Nayler: The Mountain in the Sea. (2022)

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Kindle. A bum steer from Nicole Flattery in the New York Times. A murderous, sapient octopus society near a sandy shoreline of Côn Đảo (I haven't been). I usually bitch about novels being overstuffed with research but here it's the other way around; this is a novel of other people's ideas that already have better treatments in the scifi canon. For "humans trying to make sense of exotic consciousness and/or society" see Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama and sequels, Ted Chiang's Story of Your Life (filmed as Arrival), etc. For synthetic sapience, see positronic Asimov, etc. For connectionist ("cellular") artificial intelligence, see, well, the venerable field of connectionist AI. For "non-human species with a culture" try the elephants. The moral hand wringing and righteousness can be found anywhere.

There were so many bullshit assertions I felt like throwing my device across the troopy every few pages. (It's unfortunately quite a flabby trip to nowhere new.) Nayler has a character (that sounds like every other character) assert that "silicon based AI is no threat to humans" — as if he hasn't given a moment's thought to Cathy O'Neil-and-co's concerns. The memory palace acts as an index to data in the brain, so destroying an entry in that index is not the same as forgetting the information; you know, the finger pointing at the moon is not the moon. (In my experience magpies know this but cats do not.) Evrim is ridiculously sub-human: he could be Doctor Manhattan or Rutger Hauer or Arnie or whoever but is instead a purely emoting reactionary, like an extra on a teenage vampire series. (I found the pronouns tiresome.) Most offensive were the assertions (not arguments!) for lethal violence, as if there are no alternatives ever. I'll stop there.

Mystifyingly highly rated at goodreads.

I close with one of my favourite quotes, from Don Marquis: "If you make people think they're thinking, they'll love you; but if you really make them think, they'll hate you."