peteg's blog

The Swimmer (1968)

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Prompted by a a discussion on the Screen Show about a revival screening in Melbourne. I avoided an earlier nudge from Matthew Spektor (it was directed by Frank Perry and adapted by his wife Eleanor from a John Cheever short, c.f. Diary of a Mad Housewife) because I'm not much of a fan of Burt Lancaster. I now see he did more interesting things late in his career; this was about as engrossing as Atlantic City.

Lancaster plays an apparently once-was upper middle class Connecticut country club lothario who decides, in a mildly unhinged way, to "swim home" from his friends' place via his neighbours' pools on what he dubs the "Lucinda river" after his wife. The premise and impressionistic cinematography signal that something has gone very wrong for him and perhaps his daughters and spouse, who are often mentioned and never shown. Initially his neighbours seem to just humour him in a don't-mention-the-war way but he gets more truth from his erstwhile mistress/true love and the heaving masses of humanity at the community pool. Early on he is bemused to encounter his babysitter now fully grown, now fair game in his confused mind. She begs off, offering up that she has a jealous boyfriend who a computer matched her to, all for $3 and post. What a bargain.

I guess this was how the wave broke on the east coast, c.f. Hunter S. Thompson, Death of a Salesman, presumably Man Men, etc.

Roger Ebert: four stars in an early review. I felt everyone was naturalistic except for Lancaster, which served to exacerbate his oddness. "You are what you read." An epic. Lancaster's finest performance. And yet somehow not a Great Movie. Vincent Canby reckoned Lancaster was miscast (!); on the contrary, he expertly portrays a man lost to reality.

Terms of Endearment (1983)

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And still more Jack Nicholson completism. He got Oscared for this alongside lead Shirley MacLaine. James L. Brooks also got one for direction and another for the adaptation of the raw material provided by Larry McMurtry and yet another for best picture. Debra Winger and John Lithgow got noms but not gongs. Apparently I saw it back in 2005.

Schematically this romcom is a bunch of life events hanging off the febrile mother-MacLaine/daughter-Winger relationship. Notionally-Texan Winger unadvisedly marries numpty English academic Jeff Daniels and embarks on a life of child rearing in nomadic penury, leaving her mother in the very amusing clutches of improbable astronaut-neighbour Nicholson in Houston. (We're told he has legions of lady admirers but the ones shown are sceptical; similarly we're shown that MacLaine has a Greek chorus of male admirers — including Danny DeVito — so obviously they were made for each other.) The sprawling, feminised Southern Gothic frame reminded me of August: Osage County and of course it's some sort of prototype for As Good as it Gets.

I enjoyed Nicholson's comedy here immensely; his pratfalls are funnier and more substantial than the dialogue/plot/characters/whatever serious point Brooks was trying to make. Early on he distractedly empties his garbage bin onto the ground and falls out of a car driven by ladies who attended a speech he gave, and the puppy dog look he recovers with was worn out by Brad Pitt over the ensuing decades. "Wind in the hair, lead in the pencil!" — while cutting hoops with (age-appropriate) MacLaine on a beach. And so on. So things dragged for me in that final half-hour when he was mostly off-screen.

Roger Ebert: four stars. Janet Maslin.

As Good as it Gets (1997)

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And yet more proof that I'll watch Jack Nicholson have a crack at anything. I've avoided it in the past because I was never very persuaded by Helen Hunt. Both got Oscared for their efforts here.

Briefly we're in NYC and rich romance-writer Nicholson begins by being very obnoxious to his neighbours. (The excuse is that he has OCD — which I feel he communicated clearly and sensitively — but absolutely nobody thinks to ask him about his bizarre behaviours.) He smoodges every role he ever had into this performance. One fixture of his day is to get a meal where golden-hearted waitress Hunt is the only person who will serve him. Things go as they need to with the icky older man/younger woman scenario. Adding colour to but not distraction from this gooey centre is Greg Kinnear as a gay man; his role is essentially to exhibit the changing mores of the 1990s, when one could expect to encounter or deliver racial (etc) slurs (etc) with knowing and perhaps indulgent eyerolls (etc). I enjoyed Cuba Gooding Jr's uncomplication as he often takes it to Jack. Also Shirley Knight as Hunt's placeholder mother, and a teary Yeardley Smith.

The plot is powered by the time-honoured American trope that the rich, eccentric man is surrounded by normal people with clear needs that he can and should service with his money. If co-writer and director James L. Brooks had any sincerely-held convictions he should've made a sequel.

Roger Ebert: three stars. Characters conformed to convention. Janet Maslin got a bit more into it.

Eugene Burdick, Harvey Wheeler: Fail-Safe (1962)

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Kindle. Even recently everyone used to like scaring themselves with great tales of nuclear incidents but the uncertainty and unknown-unknowns these days, alongside the risk/threat of actual use, have taken most of the fun out of it. (Fred Kaplan did a PhD on the command-and-control aspects in the early 1980s, which he updated last decade. Similarly the issue has preyed on Ellsberg's mind for a long time now.) This book is the classic work of fiction that got made into a movie that was overshadowed by Dr. Strangelove. I'll now have to watch it.

Burdick benefited from collaboration and/or learnt a lot about storytelling after 1956. The prose is punchy and brisk, relentlessly leading us to an impossible conclusion. Things proceed mostly sketches of the action interspersed with capsule biographies (the wise General and President, the unhinged RAND theoretician, the hard politician, technologist, the cabinet secretaries, and so on). They were keen to observe that man's technology had already outrun his ability to control it (at scale; similar to the vibes about A.I. today, and yes, all decision takers are men here). Apparently it may all come down to the wisdom of the President of the United States! So we know we're screwed, and indeed these guys were so pessimistic about stepping back from the nuclear brink that they would probably have been surprised that we made it this far if they'd made it this far.

Goodreads. Yep, a bit too much exposition. Orville Prescott at the time: not convincing, not great writing but indeed thrilling.

Silent Running (1972)

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A pointer from Roger Ebert's review of Saturn 3. In two sittings as it's a bit boring. A far less animated Bruce Dern (than he was in the contemporaneous The King of Marvin Gardens) plays the last sane man (a not-too-bright greenie) in a world gone mad, which is all the proof you ever needed that we're screwed and have been for a long time. Again we're somewhere out near Saturn on a Discovery-like ship with forests under domes — the last remaining biotics since the Earth was laid waste. After getting unenlighteningly het up, he rejects the command to nuke the forests (for commercial not taxation reasons) by getting rid of his pesky colleagues, making do with his bestie robots (robos over bros!) in what is a dry run for Star Wars (etc). At some point it is suggested he commit suicide and (spoiler) eventually he does.

There might be something here if you're into the aesthetics (geodesic domes!) or the degenerate form of post-humanism on offer: the final scrap of nature is entrusted to a sort-of inverted HAL9000, making for a kind of droid/drone starbaby. There are a few Joan Baez tunes which I didn't enjoy too much.

Roger Ebert: four stars! "Deep space effects every bit the equal of those in 2001" — I missed those. The title is clearly a riff on Silent Spring. There are no ladies in this picture.

Saturn 3 (1980)

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In memory of Martin Amis who passed recently (in Florida). He got the credit for the screenplay of this movie and it is indeed as bad as you may have heard.

The cast seemed strong: Kirk Douglas as an aged but still alpha scientist type whose remote (Saturnian) hydroponics lab is visited by a sub-par Harvey Keitel (a long way from Mean Streets). Farrah Fawcett is the resident entertainment. The idea is that they're dragging the chain and a more advanced robot ("Demigod series" Hector) will help; as might be obvious from the setup it learns to be the sex machine of nobody's imagination, ultimately succumbing to Spartacus's superior cunning. The "blue dreamers" seemed to have no effect. Often it would've been more fun watching a proper industrial robot do its thing.

As dismal Saturday matinee stuff goes, the sets look a bit Flash Gordon (and the soundtrack is sometimes a little interesting). Fawcett is a long way from Barbarella. And the rest: Alien, Star Wars, ... the odd bit reminded me of Scarlett’s effort from about a decade ago.

Roger Ebert: one measly star. Such a dumb screenplay! (ouch) Janet Maslin: disbelief could not be suspended. She's a fan of Farrah Fawcett, who indeed said no many times. IMDB trivia and Wikipedia: a huge and messy production. The nadir of Keitel's career. John Barry was involved. Amis claims someone else wrote the bulk of the final script.

Broadcast News (1987)

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Further Jack Nicholson completism. He has a cameo here as a retiring newsreader/anchor with one in-person scene at the Washington bureau during a bout of mass firings. I enjoyed Holly Hunter's efforts (her go-getting producer is more Elastigirl than Ada) so much that I'll now have to trawl her life's work. (IMDB is no guide as all her movies are poorly rated.) Albert Brooks is very amusing as her unwillingly-platonic bestie, the Jewish smartarse reporter who's in it for all the correct reasons. William Hurt completes the professional/romantic triangle as an ambiguously dumb pretty-boy newsreader/anchor on the make, not totally convincingly. Written and directed by James L. Brooks. Oscar noms all round. Robert Prosky plays a senior producer far tamer than his mafioso in Thief. Also Joan Cusack, Lois Chiles.

It's essentially a sitcom with a side of romcom, and loses steam as things get serious. It tries to update Network to an era that is almost, but not quite, post-standards — there were still some William Holdens around in the late 1980s. Brooks didn't figure out how to land it but that does not detract from what comes before. Fun.

Roger Ebert: four stars. Did he prefer work to romance too? A critic's pick by Vincent Canby.

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981)

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Some ill-advised Jack Nicholson completism. In two sittings as it is tedious. Tweaked by David Mamet from the novel by James M. Cain, probably with one eye on the original adaptation from 1946 that I haven't seen. Nicholson's drifter hitches to a Californian roadhouse owned by Jessica Lange's unexplained far older Greek husband during the Depression. The necessary ensues but everything takes a few goes. He reminded me of Warren Beatty in some period piece (probably Bonnie and Clyde). She has a nose like Faye Dunaway and somehow went on to win two Oscars. We're a long way from Chinatown. Another of Bob Rafelson's directorial efforts.

Roger Ebert: two-and-a-half stars. Anjelica Huston's brief interlude made me wonder what could have been. Vincent Canby was very disappointed that it wasn't more vulgar.

Don Watson: The Passion of Private White (2022)

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Kindle. 4.99 AUD of DRMed eBook from Amazon. I was susceptible to the pitch — tales of Việt Nam war veterans working with Yolŋu in Arnhem Land — despite stalling on Watson's The Bush after the first third a while ago. Also topical with all the noise about the Voice, so hats off on the timing.

The central thread is a partial biography of Việt Nam war conscript Emeritus Scholar Dr Neville White OAM of La Trobe University. Brought up in Geelong by a father who was a boxing great. Go the Cats. Studies interrupted. PTSD. Some interesting stuff around using genetics to understand how clans are related and being accepted into one of the Yolŋu clans. The other vets get capsule sketches.

Beyond that things get wonky. The Việt Nam experiences are presented as deep background. We're told that Neville and his army mates got sent to Núi Đất early on (1967) and so weren't around for the cathartic destruction of the minefield described Greg Lockhart. They appeared to have no experience of the Vietnamese beyond the military engagements. I wondered throughout if it may've been more therapeutic for the vets to return to Việt Nam (as McNamara and many others did), or to harvest bombs or something, anything, back in South-East Asia.

More fatally, while many Yolŋu are named almost all are entirely characterless, and without some internality we get no clear idea what the substance of the chronic disagreements was; the obdurate opacity of the culture makes it seem childish. (In contrast Watson indulges his proclivity to psychologise in his portrait of White, and to a lesser extent, the other vets.) Fire is a friend and there is much burning of possessions and buildings. We can feel the deep knowledge of the land slipping away as (some of) the homelands fail to thrive but we get little sense of a living, learning culture; does it contain the seeds of its own regeneration? Or is it a received body of highly-specialised, highly-localised knowledge jealously guarded to fend off mining and competing land claims?

The concerns of Russell Marks's book on the Indigenous/Settler law interface are treated cursorily in a couple of paragraphs:

Ricky was in breach of more than Yolŋu law ... [with extenuating excuses] he had pieced a car together and headed for Gapuwiyak. On the way back the car caught fire, and while it was burning, the police happened by. They discovered that the car was not registered, and the driver was disqualified — and not for the first time. Ricky was facing a couple of months in gaol.

Neville arranged for legal aid [from Slater & Gordon], but Ricky told the lawyer that he preferred to take the gaol sentence and 'come out a free man'.

The eventual resolution was a 1570 AUD fine.

So I didn't get what I hoped for. Perhaps Watson was too close to his subject to realise that his own sentiments do not square with the facts as he has presented them. For instance that the reasonable ambitions (for marriage, skills, autonomy, leadership, tools, vehicles, ...) of most of the men were stifled by the leaders of the homelands obviously does not bode well for the long term survival of the culture. (Women and their aspirations are scarcely mentioned, though it is observed that they do reliably provide food.) Would Christopher's house have been in the wrong place wherever it was built? I didn't understand why White (and co) promote a sedentary lifestyle which is so clearly unhealthy and a destroyer of culture, or why he couldn't organise his classificatory-daughter's teaching qualification. That task, at least, struck me as tractable.

Watson doesn't think through the implications of Neville engaging in a long term aid project. These most often require many factors to go entirely right to succeed, such as shared goals and sufficient comprehension of the culture. I'm sure these guys weren't the first to build a workshop (etc.) and see it looted (etc.) and humbugged (etc.) — but all we hear is that the shiny bums from wherever are useless. What is the barrier to effectively sharing development, cultural preservation and empowerment techniques amongst these groups?

As for the storytelling: that these are secondhand tales shows. Dean Ashenden was more successful with his historical/sociological angle.

Widely reviewed of course. Goodreads. Timothy Michael Rowse summarised it. Contrary to Linda Jaivin, I did not get the sense that the vets were saved by Donydji; they repeatedly threatened that this year's visit was to be the last. Tom Griffiths: more summary. Michael Winkler is more nuanced, pairing this book with one by Kim Mahood. Her deep wisdom: "Now I know too much to make sense of anything". Gillian Cowlishaw at length: baffling. Negotiation as a way to pass the time. Clangers. Her take on kinship relations sounds so Asian to me. Watson did not even begin to grapple with Yolŋu culture and values. Neville White in the courts in 2013. And so on. I wonder what the vets of more recent wars are engaged with.

More valuable than all of this is Russell Marks's take on the Voice.

Medicine for Melancholy (2008)

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The first of Barry Jenkins's features and the last for me to get to. It's closer to If Beale Street Could Talk than Moonlight in being more about romance and locality and less about character development and milieu. Here she’s on a relationship holiday and the he’s just been dumped in a desaturated San Francisco circa 2008. MySpace was a thing, as were fixies and indie. There's some railing against the racial hierarchy (from him) and on the decline of the city due to the 2000 tech boom (from some randoms in a shopfront, very late to that party). And didn't things get so much better! Apparently girls just want to have fun for the most part, when they're not making banal t-shirts.

Overall humdrum. It's a bit Hal Hartley — highly stylized, arch dialogue, set pieces, conceptual — but without the kook or recurring ensemble or point. (Does Jenkins ever work with the same actors twice?) The Sunday night in an SF nightclub was uninspired; it's no Small Axe. The structure is essentially the "organ first, relationship later" of Cooley in Don's Party (from Australia in 1976!), spun to feature-length with swapped genders. Vanilla Ice v Queen and David Bowie? Come on.

Roger Ebert: three-and-a-half stars. Perhaps the interracial dating thing got him thinking. A critic's pick by A. O. Scott, who drew a comparison with Spike Lee (!). Mumblecore! And yes, the one-day structure is super common, e.g. Before Sunrise. The soundtrack is intriguing. I see Jenkins is attached to a fourth bout of True Detective.

Wag the Dog (1997)

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A pointer from Janet Maslin's review of Primary Colors. "Producer" Dustin Hoffman leads and "Fixer" Robert De Niro follows close behind. Anne Heche tags along as some sort of presidential aide. David Mamet wrote some of the snappy dialogue. The premise is that the president (mostly unseen) has been caught with his pants down and the only distraction that's going to work is a fake war, so cue the Hollywood producer schtick. I was pretty bored as I didn't see anything spectacularly novel here; little did the scriptwriters know how minor sex scandals would soon become. Also I don't think I've seen anything involving Hoffman that I've particularly enjoyed (The Graduate, Marathon Man, Rain Man, etc.) Directed by Barry Levinson. Woody Harrelson, Kirsten Dunst, Willie Nelson, Denis Leary, William H. Macy all do what they can.

Roger Ebert: four stars. Dr. Strangelove? I think not. A critic's pick by Janet Maslin. Catch-22? I think not. More like a premature Team America (blame Canada).

Primary Colors (1998)

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A Kathy Bates jag from About Schmidt. While she's the standout here and got an Oscar nom for her efforts, this isn't her finest work.

John Travolta leads as Slick Willy, making his way from Mammoth Falls, The Unnamed South to the White House via the Democrat primary of 1992. He's sometimes quite effective and that often there feels to be no there there is part of the point, maybe even intentional. We're introduced to his Hillary, Emma Thompson, in a very funny scene on an airport tarmac when he returns from securing the support of a teacher's union as embodied by Allison Janney (Oscared for I, Tonya). Thompson's accent wobbles throughout but again that might almost be intentional. I enjoyed Billy Bob Thornton's dead-eyed campaign strategist. We're mostly shown the vantage of bland, inert idealist Adrian Lester whose role I didn't quite grasp. Bates plays a "dust-buster" charged with finding the dirt before the opposition does. There are loads of cameos from the cable news opinionistas of the day (Larry King, Charlie Rose, Bill Maher). Gia Carides plays a Gennifer Flowers character.

Overall it is a quite amusing bit of weren't-the-1990s-great American navel gazing that touches on all the memorable Clinton scandals of the day. The gesturing back to McGovern 1972, when these guys came of (political) age, pays homage to the idealistic gonzo days of Hunter S. Thompson, as does the suicide-by-gun. Directed by Mike Nichols. The low rating at IMDB (6.7/10) seems a bit harsh.

Roger Ebert: four stars, timeless. The reason Hillary stood by Bill was that she needed his support for her eventual presidential bid of 2016; perhaps this wasn't obvious in 1998. Janet Maslin.

The King of Marvin Gardens (1972)

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Another bout of Jack Nicholson completism. He is very muted here; Bruce Dern gets all the flamboyance. Much like the later Atlantic City (1980), Nicholson leaves Philadelphia (where he spins melancholic tales on his graveyard-shift radio show) to join his brother in Atlantic City for reasons filial and pecuniary. Dern has two ladies lined up in a "package deal" (histrionic Ellen Burstyn and her stepdaughter Julia Anne Robinson) to keep him company while he talks about developing a Hawaiian island with financing from associates of Scatman Crothers. We spend a lot of time on the boardwalk in places since made familiar by Boardwalk Empire. I found it disjointed and soporific, and had much difficulty finding a point in anything. Directed by Bob Rafelson but not written by Carole Eastman (cf Five Easy Pieces).

Roger Ebert: three stars at the time. Roger Greenspun was less impressed. John Patterson in 2013. Peter Bradshaw on Rafelson at the time of his death in 2022: it's a classic.

About Schmidt (2002)

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Prompted by a list of twenty of Jack Nicholson's acting efforts. (I concur that he was fantastic in Five Easy Pieces.) He got an Oscar nom here alongside the always-fabulous Kathy Bates (Misery, Richard Jewell) who plays the divorcee mother of the bloke (Dermot Mulroney, doing what he needed to) engaged to his daughter (Hope Davis, solid). Their brief scenes together are magic.

Briefly Nicholson retires from Woodmen Life Assurance (an actual company) in Omaha, Nebraska just before his daughter's wedding. We get his inner monologue in letters to a boy in Tanzania he sponsors. Soon enough he's on the road in his wife's Winnebago to his daughter in Denver, Colorado. Various enlightening experiences ensue. I was amused throughout, mostly because of Nicholson's extremely caged performance. I'm glad I didn't see it at the time as it's all in the detail, and takes some patience to enjoy.

Alexander Payne directed and co-wrote Election (1999) and later the feted Bruce Dern vehicle Nebraska (2013), neither of which I've seen.

Widely reviewed at the time. Roger Ebert: three-and-a-half stars. Similarly, Peter Travers. Five-of-five from Peter Bradshaw. Stephen Holden: Easy Rider, 33 years later. I'm not at all sure Nicholson's character is "a decent, well-meaning individual" — everything's a lot more ambiguous and capacious than that.

Eugene Burdick: The Ninth Wave (1956)

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Kindle. Burdick's first novel, and clunky it is. The whole conceit is summarised by the aphorism hate plus fear equals power and exemplified by surfing, politics and getting mugged in California. Main character Michael Freesmith (it's right there in the name) is repellent, and at times I wondered if Burdick had embedded his thoughts on manufacturing election wins into the structure of the book itself. It's not that clever though: Mike really is just vacuously repellent.

Perhaps what dates this the most are its claims about the American middle class (merely a myth to many now) and how it might manipulated by shame (an obvious fallacy in the privacy of the polling booth). Putting aside the obsolete technology (trained ladies reading punch cards!) his sketch of data-driven electioneering was a decent foretelling. I tend to feel that the impact individuals (politicians) have on history is diminishing, at least in the U.S.A. where general political gridlock has provoked a retreat to lawfare. The conclusion — effectively an assassination or coup d'état — is therefore fanciful.

Goodreads. Orville Prescott for the New York Times at the time: artless but don't let that stop you from reading it. Oh yes, there's a poker scene and shade is thrown late on the strongly-presented convictions. Also John Nerber reviewed it through a teleological lens: so dated! While Burdick was right to be worried, his later efforts with Lederer (The Ugly American and Sarkhan) are far sharper.

Peter Carey: Oscar and Lucinda. (1988)

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Kindle. This one got Carey the Miles Franklin in 1989 and also a Booker. It's a crooked romance leaning heavily on the novelists of the preceding century: Dickens on unearnt wealth and unsound expectations, I expect Austen on many things, lightly larded with some social criticism of the Thomas Hardy kind.

It takes Carey about half of the book to manoeuvre Oscar from the clutches of his "evangelical" naturalist father in the western country of mid-19th century England through theology school at Oriel, Oxford and onto a boat where he briefly meets Lucinda. It's all colour and digression, directions to a (cinema) director, some occasionally very funny description (but only in the small, it's not a comedy), and some dodgy rehearsed knowledge (glass is a liquid because old windows are not flat) that brings into question the originality — the truthiness! — of all the arcana about the Anglicans and the Plymouth Brethren, the Sydney of the day, even the geography. I did learn about Prince Rupert's drops which the internet tells me are still a thing (to buy in bulk from China).

Obviously Carey was reaching for the great Australian novel: Lucinda is a bit Wuthering Heights-Cathy, a bit My Brilliant Career-Sybylla, and the whole expedition is entirely Voss (but without a Voss, i.e., a bit vacuous). The whole show is underpinned by gambling, with Oscar (frocked and unfrocked) often finding God's will revealed by coin flips and dog and horse races; i.e., what we might recognise now as prosperity theology, though Carey is careful to repeatedly observe that he only keeps of his winnings what he immediately needs. (Carey also owns to his debt to Pascal and the Parable of Talents aka "the Matthew effect".) Lucinda similarly enjoys a flutter but received her wealth in the canonical Australian way: by subdividing land appropriated from the indigenous. She's an innocent undeserving of the class envy (give us some shelter) that dominates the present day as her mum did all that for her. She uses half of her inheritance to buy a glass factory, on something of a whimsy. The ending is unsatisfactory.

Overall it's an infantile arrested love affair, a year of Neighbours afterwhich Lucinda aged out and Oscar left through boredom for the bright lights of Hollywood. The writing is often good and in these ways it was the converse of Alexis Wright's Carpentaria: I prefer her characters and setting but his writing.

Widely reviewed of course. Goodreads: briefly, Carey is not for many people.

Roger Ebert gave three stars to the 1997 movie starring Ralph Fiennes and Cate Blanchett. He draws a parallel with Werner Herzog's obsession with obsessions, and I definitely had Judy Davis more in mind than Blanchette as Lucinda. Janet Maslin also. All the details at Ozmovies (similarly "Herzogian"). There is no need for me to see it now.

If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

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The followup by director/co-writer Barry Jenkins to his feted Moonlight. James Baldwin provided the raw material. From the little I know about Baldwin I thought this would be something autobiographical, not fictional.

The story, set in the early 1970s, has KiKi Layne (forgettable in Don't Worry Darling, quite good here) nesting with lifelong friend Stephan James (also good) until the racist white NYC cop (unsubtle Ed Skrein) intercedes. The best scenes are their moments together: happy alone or mediated by a prison visitor screen, a dinner in a Spanish restaurant or with mate Brian Tyree Henry, and when they get a conditional approval from Dave Franco's Jewish landlord to rent a warehouse/loft. There's a great bitchkrieg early on; very funny elder sister Teyonah Parris (Chiraq) steals every scene she's in. The first two movements are masterfully interwoven with consequences preceding causes, beautifully shot with tight framing, mostly indoors or in the magic hour. I didn't enjoy the third movement so much, when Regina King (Oscared here, last seen in the Watchmen remake) moved to the centre.

Manohla Dargis.

BigBug (2022)

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Jean-Pierre Jeunet's latest feature. Prompted by Shane Danielsen. Visually it's essentially The Jetsons where the people live in (grounded) 1950s Art Deco suburbia while adbots float through the sky. The domestic robots have human envy while the robocops just want to liquidate everyone. Inevitably some centralised (financialised) system goes wrong and the house goes into lockdown; in this and other ways it's a COVID movie and who wants to go there? Previously Jeunet's incorporation of visual flourishes and kooky automata have redeemed his lack of analytical depth but those tricks do not yield more than a snoozefest this time around.

Jeannette Catsoulis: "is an android with a soul any scarier than a human without one?" Charles Bramesco: French comedy is no laughing matter, and Danielsen concurs.

Pine Gap (TV series, 2018)

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In the hopes of some decent shots of Central Australia, and more proof that I'll watch Jacqueline MacKenzie do just about anything. Prompted by Peter Lewis's interpretation of some AUKUS polling back in March. A six hour-long episode Screentime production jointly funded by Netflix and the ABC.

It has its moments. There are indeed some gorgeous shots of the Macdonnell Ranges, and even of Alice Springs. The most interesting plot involved the secret negotiation of a treaty of neutrality between Australia and China, with the possibility that it might be the sweetener that closes a gas deal. (The spying enters in an East-Timor-like way with the surveillance of China/Qatar negotiations, and a related terror attack on the Myanmar border while the US President is nearby.) When push comes to shove the writers have Australia side with its biggest customer, which we now know was and is never going to happen. The implications are finessed into a season-ending cliffhanger. There was no second season.

Otherwise we get a lot of generic domestic drama, focussing mostly on American analyst Parker Sawyers (looking like a young Obama, also in Operation Fortune) and the only available local girl Tess Haubrich. MacKenzie herds cats with Steve Toussaint (Small Axe episode 3) and Lewis Fitz-Gerald, and later Stephen Curry (aka Dale Kerrigan from The Castle and Sam Pickles from Cloudstreet and ...). The remainder of the cast are essentially stereotypes auxiliary to the central concerns. (Perhaps the Chinese mining and Aboriginal land rights threads would've bloomed later in the series.) The main abiding plot is essentially Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (a game of Cluedo) leavened with the odd well-observed clash in cultures between the Australians and the Americans, and to a lesser extent, the Chinese and Aboriginal, the gay and the straight, and so on. Some of it was dumb, like base-commander's wife Simone Kessell's expectations of Canberra, and things generally fell away as the plot moved almost entirely inside.

Reviews are either ahead-of-time boostery (Karl Quinn, Steve Dow) or dismissive. Luke Buckmaster: one star out of five, "None of the cast look like stressed-out vitamin D deprived analysts; they look like they've recently hit the beach." Helen Razer (harsh, this is dreck, deeper characters please). IMDB says they shot the interiors at the old Holden factory in Elizabeth.

Quigley Down Under (1990)

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A Ben Mendohlson-in-1990 jag from The Big Steal. Here he is a minor banana to big cheese sharpshooter Tom Selleck, tasked with putting the colonials in their place, and generic bad dude quick-draw-McGraw Alan Rickman. Kids starting out today, don't do the red hair thing. Notionally Rickman runs a cattle station in some mythical red-dirt place not too far from Fremantle and Chambers Pillar whose main business seems to be eradicating Aborigines as he and his men otherwise sit around doing nothing. The Aborigines are peace-loving mystics. Selleck (Quigley) brings Laura San Giacomo ("Crazy Cora" who suffers from PTSD) as the matinée format requires. They jointly rescue/steal an Aboriginal baby from a massacre who she then saves from the dingoes. Everything works out in the end.

In two sittings as it's just too stale. The shoot was probably more fun than the resultant movie, which is annoying as they had all the ingredients to make something less boring.

Roger Ebert: two-and-a-half stars. If only it wasn't so dumb (see IMDB goofs). Janet Maslin: anachronistic. Ozmovies: apparently the station homestead etc. was built out at Ross River.

Saint Jack (1979)

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Pointed to in some secondary material on Koch's Highways to a War. Also Ben Gazzara completism. The list of contributors is intriguing: based on a Paul Theroux novel, co-written/directed/acted by Peter Bogdanovich, an executive producer credit for Hugh Hefner (see IMDB). There's not much here though: stranded in Singapore by age and appetites, genial Gazzara amiably goes about the business of evolving from street pimp to brothel proprietor. He wears the tattoos inflicted on him by a Chinese triad with pride. Bogdanovich of the CIA funnels some business his way with a busload or two of GIs on R&R from the Việt Nam war. Nixon is heading to China, says a newspaper headline, dating the first year of the story to 1972. Accountant Denholm Elliott, visiting annually from Hong Kong, irrelevantly has a heart attack. George Lazenby turns up late as a Democrat Senator with a taste for the boys; kompromat ensues, but Gazzara is too nice a guy to do what he needed to do. I had so much difficulty following the secondary characters; what exactly did Gazzara do for the two inscrutables who employed Denholm? Much offhand dialogue was lost in a poor sound mix.

It reminded me of Cassavetes's more successful The Killing of a Chinese Bookie and less of Bogdanovich's similarly backward-looking The Last Picture Show. The typical draw for pieces like these — a vivid record of a place or era — is mostly absent, or perhaps too occluded by the English and American grotesques in the foreground.

The internet says that Roger Ebert gave it four stars but I cannot find the review. Vincent Canby: the white man's burden, "One wishes it were more outrageous and less knowing", "I find it impossible to be moved or even much interested in this last vestige of a discredited colonialism. Jack Flowers is not only dead. He also represents a kind of fiction that wasn't all that great when he was alive."

Long Weekend (1978)

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Some misguided John Hargreaves completism; I've come to realise his efforts in Don's Party were anomalous. Here he and wife Briony Behets (their marriage going sour due to a botched wife swapping) drive a Nissan Patrol 60 (which looks a lot like a classic Land Rover Defender) from their Western Sydney home to Bournda National Park (then a remote and much more relaxed state reserve) for some casual destruction of nature. Nature takes its revenge in classic Ozploitation / Wake in Fright-by-the-beach style. All this is a metaphor for the moral shoals of abortion. It's mostly snoozefest with the odd bit of gore.

Luke Buckmaster in 2014. He completely misses the abortion angle. All the details at Ozmovies: this is apparently now a strong entry in the eco-horror subgenre. (I think Ned Beauman's take is far more inventive.) Written by Everett De Roche (Road Games amongst other genre flicks). Remade by Victorians in 2008; what were Jim Caviezel and Claudia Karvan thinking?

Christopher Koch: Highways to a War. (1995)

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Kindle. Australian (actually Tasmanian) AFL-playing war photographer Mike Langford goes missing in Cambodia in 1976 and his boyhood mate, now a lawyer, goes looking for him. The novel has a clever structure — exposition via taped diaries, lightly fictionalised by the lawyer, leading up to present-day events — that avoids omniscient narration, yielding a neat-and-tidy novel where all the classically hard questions are avoided.

My main problem with this book was that it had nothing new to say about the Indochina of the war years, even when it was written. Daniel Ellsberg was out reconnoitring the Mekong Delta in the mid-1960s, and David Halberstam wrote up a day in the field with the ARVN back in 1967. Of course Graham Greene was all over the spook stuff in The Quiet American back in the mid-1950s; see also Burdick and Lederer's The Ugly American, and Neil Sheehan and Tim Page's work. Moreover the multitude of Vietnamese accounts that were translated into English circa 1990 (e.g. Dương Thu Hương's Novel without a Name, Bảo Ninh's The Sorrow of War amongst many others) had far more local colour. And let's quietly ignore the contemporaneous The Moon of Hoa Binh.

This book seemed so inessential, so late to the party, that it took me a while to realise that it's really a homage to colonial Asia, a time (mid-1960s to mid-1970s) and place (cities: Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Sài Gòn, Singapore) where sufficiently brave and ravenous white men could live like kings while the latest version of the Great Game played out around them as some form of entertainment. This becomes inescapably obvious when paradisal, prelapsarian Cambodia was embodied in characterless Ly Keang, a derivative of Greene's Phuong without even the minimal agency that comes from being one corner of a love triangle. Things got a bit excruciating when Koch talks crudely about Cambodia returning to freedom.

Overall Langford is simpler than Koch claims him to be: he's a bleeding-heart humanist as well as a Quiet Australian who enjoys what that time and place had to offer. By the fall of Sài Gòn he seemed to be more like a Johnny-on-the-spot Forrest Gump than the Christ figure glimpsed in longshot at the end.

The text got Koch the Miles Franklin Award in 1996. Wikipedia (and Koch in his introduction) tells me it drew heavily on the life of Neil Davis, but Robin Gerster reckoned Sean Flynn is a better match, i.e., Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now (1979). A common complaint is the assumption of too much historical knowledge. Koch asserts this to be the mate of his later Out of Ireland (1999). I expect his The Year of Living Dangerously (1978) was more valuable.

Malcolm (1986)

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Debut feature from director/writer combo Nadia Tass/David Parker who went on to make The Big Steal. Again we're in old-school inner city Melbourne where recently-orphaned Colin Friels tries out the Rain Man character. He's a tram freak — the movie starts with him getting fired from his dream tram maintenance job, which doesn't seem to bother him enough — and I guess they were aiming to ride the remote-controlled car craze of the day. Soon enough jailbird John Hargreaves (strangely wooden) and girlfriend Lindy Davies come to stay with him and a plot is born. The climax involves some Dalek-like constructions and a Ned Kelly move. Those were the days when Australians ruefully endorsed their crazy inventors; see also Yahoo Serious's Young Einstein amongst others. There's also a touch of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's automata. The romantic bit in the middle doesn't go anywhere. Overall it's mostly a snoozefest until they get cracking on the heist, when it becomes a bit electric.

Walter Goodman at the New York Times. Ozmovies: Paul Byrnes reckons Malcolm is just shy but that doesn't explain why he mechanically goes through the lodger checklist (twice).

The Big Steal (1990)

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Not the Robert Mitchum effort from 1949. Suggested by Dave, prompted by an article on Claudia Karvan. She plays one of Ben Mendelsohn's objects of fascination, the other being a Jaguar. He looks like he aged minus three years since The Year My Voice Broke. Steve Bisley (used car dealer with the hair to match), Angelo D'Angelo (a Greek god in John Travolta mode), Marshall Napier and Maggie King (Mendelsohn's parents) have a lot fun. Also Damon Herriman, and insatiable Sheryl Munks. It's a cack. I wonder why Australia stopped making these low-budget provincial movies; surely the demise of Neighbours won't help.

All the details at Ozmovies.

Boardwalk Empire (TV series, 2010-2014)

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Scratching around for something to idle to, I remembered this being pumped to the max at the time as great TV, up there with Breaking Bad. Unfortunately, and despite the best efforts of a stellar cast, the lazy scriptwriting yielded only a recycling of the great American movies of the 1970s (again). There is way too much filler. Briefly, Steve Buscemi plays a prohibition-era crime boss in Atlantic City who comes to the attention of Irish immigrant Kelly Macdonald (I know right?). I was mostly there for her and breaking-bad narc Michael Shannon, who makes the most of very few moments. Stephen Graham as Al Capone fared better as he had fewer scenes, and that is generally how it went; similarly for Vincent Piazza as Lucky Luciano and Michael Kenneth Williams. I found Michael Stuhlbarg's Jewish gangster completely, vacuously, opaque. Richard Huston is pure Taxi Driver, a nod to executive producer Scorcese.

Overall there was nothing new here.

William Gibson: Neuromancer (1984)

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Kindle. nth time around with Gibson's classic debut. The ending is such a bust! — people in 2023 need to know what happens when one AI hostilely takes over another. I was planning to re-read the two semi-sequels to find out but I'll stop here.

Snatch (2000)

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More Guy Ritchie rewatching; possibly this is just my second time around with this one. He was so hot after Lock, Stock that everyone wanted to work with him. (By "everyone" I mean the alpha male stars of the era.) Alan Ford, Jason Statham, Vinnie Jones, Jason Flemyng (etc) return. Brad Pitt indelibly plays an invincible ... err ... Gaelic (?) traveller ... who has some aspects of Conor McGregor. He seems a lot smaller here than in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Benicio Del Toro has some fun. Ewen Bremner! I guess we could call this Stephen Graham's breakout movie. Somehow #119 in the IMDB top-250. There's so much going on that you're never bored, but also never really thinking or sinking into it. Overall it feels like a con.

Roger Ebert: two stars and "don't go to England". Stephanie Zacharek: patchy, schoolboy stuff. She prefers full-blooded American violence over the polite English form. Elvis Mitchell: ah yes, that late-90s soundtrack. There's a moment when Massive Attack's Angel brings things to an absolute standstill. Peter Travers covers the other media of the time.

Deliverance (1972)

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Gestured at in Poker Face. Jon Voigt and Burt Reynolds (who I only know as genial but seedy from Boogie Nights) are both bigger than the movie. Reynolds is in his rugged macho stage here, looking somewhat like a wooden Marlon Brando. Also Ned Beatty, solid as always in a salesman/victim role, and Ronny Cox as the righteous. Roughly the four under-prepared acquaintances canoe the rapids of the (fictional) last-wild-river-in-Georgia Cahulawassee before it's all submerged by a dam. They encounter some inbred (Appalachian) hillbillies — know them by their mad banjo skills, dancing, and lack of impulse control/deviant sexuality — some of whom help them with moving their cars downriver, others with spicing up the plot. There is some great cinematography of the boating; the rest not so much.

Adapted from a book by James Dickey. It reminded me mostly of Jindabyne and/or Short Cuts, both based on Raymond Carver's short story So Much Water So Close to Home from 1975: in other words, what we talk about when we talk about predation in the wilds. Maybe just stay home? Definitely don't get out of the car. Certainly don't get on the boat.

Roger Ebert: two-and-a-half stars, completely unimpressed. Vincent Canby. I was curious about the car that Reynolds drives; the internet says it's an International Harvester Scout. IMDB suggests it was a real he-man production.

Poker Face (2023)

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And yet more proof I'll still watch anything by Rian Johnson despite the abiding lack of returns over the last decade. Hats off once again to the marketers on this one, an Agatha Christie/Miss Marple/Hitchcock (?) confection in the style of Glass Onion.

This 10-free-standing-episode TV show has one conceit: the leading lady (Natasha Lyonne, who I now see was in American Pie) can always tell if someone is lying. The format is always the same (and signalled by Pulp Fiction on a TV): a scene gets set, then reset and retconned with her on the edge of the frames we were shown. The murder-mysteries are therefore a bit trying as the latter halves devolve into sorting out her epistemics; she mostly, implausibly, rapidly zooms straight in to whoever did it. Similarly her drinking, smoking and verbal ticks wear thin as we go along. Powerful and dangerous people allow her to bang on at length, and there is generally way too much exposition. I guess this is how you stretch limited footage/budget/concept to hour lengths. Most couples are mixed-race.

I found the first three episodes to be mostly bust. (#1 has Noah Segan as a cop, #3 Danielle Macdonald from The Tourist as a Southern Lady Macbeth in a war on the war on woke.) Things picked up a bit with #4 (Chloë Sevigny as the weary lead singer and Nicholas Cirillo as a full-of-beans drummer in a metal band, a strong 17 minutes without Lyonne) and it became clear the template was to explore a different subgenre in each episode. #5 was a bit like Running on Empty: a hat-tip to the direct-action activism of the 1970s that is perhaps swinging back into fashion, set in an oldies home, cliche city. We're at the theatre in #6, go-karts/car racing in #7 (Tim Blake Nelson and a quickly-aborted romance for Lyonne). #8 ramps up the referentialism, parking lion-in-winter Nick Nolte in an old school manual special effects garage and Luis Guzmán in a basement with a busted plot; they should've stuck with Sidney Lumet. Finally Lyonne gets romanced properly in #9 though it doesn't last into the winter (good to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt as more-or-less SBF as things got a bit more Twin Peaks). The season finale does some epic retconning to clean things up for another go around.

Heavily marketed. Dana Stevens: more references, episode summaries, sometimes the clues are just too obvious/the plots too dumb.

Reuben, Reuben (1983)

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The other Tom Conti vehicle for 1983, the one that got him an Oscar nom. This tale of an entirely-cliched nonwriting, womanising, crapulent Scottish poet heading for middle age who discovers the rejuvenating powers of young American girls (specifically Top Gun-chick Kelly McGillis) in a small town (Woodsmoke, Connecticut) up the train line from NYC was written by Peter De Vries. Conti does OK with the thin material though sometimes his accent slides into over-the-top Sean Connery. Lois Smith has a few moments as her mother, and Kara Wilson as his ex-wife. The English sheepdog owned by her chicken-farming grandfather (Roberts Blossom) brings things to a merciful close. The only moral on offer is that if you sleep with a dentist's wife do not go to that dentist, which is somehow not entirely obvious to the scriptwriters.

Vincent Canby at the time. He noted the same thing about the dentist. Most of the fun here is in the witticisms.

Operation Fortune: Ruse de guerre (2023)

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Vague Aubrey Plaza completism, vaguer interest in whether I'd missed anything by skipping most of Guy Ritchie's movies, and also the absence of anything (new) obviously better.

Well it's not great. The antecedents are legion; this is obviously Oceans ... 3 (?) and James Bond, probably drawing on some aspects of Kingsmen. The better bits are Team America. The exposition is execrable, with so much filler and so many scenes that do not work. Even allowing for the necessity of unnecessary meatspace action the plot did not make sense: it's like Fight Club — let's blow up the headquarters of credit card companies because, you know, in 1999 there was no cloud and those guys just didn't do offsite backups — and yet everyone still wants to be paid/refunded electronically. Who is the market for this? — surely the Millennials are too savvy and there's nothing knowing about the dumbness here. At least the Lock, Stock argot was amusing.

Acting-wise I was surprised to discover Eddie Marsan playing a high-level public servant. Plaza gets a new outfit in every scene and is tasked with dishing up some very flat single entendres. Jason Statham is serviceable as an all-purpose one man army but Arnie he and his one-liners are not. Hugh Grant has the most fun as a crass and uninspired dirty-old-man arms dealer.

Brandon Yu: just going through the motions.

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)

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Guy Ritchie has a new movie out, prompting another revisit of his break-out debut. Parked at #160 in the IMDB top-250. The cast is vast, the plot full of holes, and so many scenes don't work. It now strikes me as very derivative of Tarantino's early efforts.

Roger Ebert, three stars: like sanitised, juvenile Tarantino, an update of The Long Good Friday and Night and the City, at least it's not baby formula. Janet Maslin: Trainspotting, The Usual Suspects.

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983)

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David Bowie acting completism; it was on the pile for quite a while. He does OK with what he's tasked with, which is to add some colour to what is a very bland P.O.W. movie; it reminded me of Changi the most, and somewhat less Stalag 17 — there are a few outliers from the herd here — and A Town Like Alice in that there's no escape attempt and it's tedious. Basically guerilla-warrior Bowie comes in from the Javanese jungle in a slouch hat to a prison camp where Tom Conti is trying to bridge the cultural gap between the Japanese gaolers and the English soldiers and officers in 1942. The Japanese actors are overly expressive, histrionic, unreal. Ryuichi Sakamoto plays the commandant and provides the tunes which sound a lot like the Vangelis classics of the era. (He later got a music Oscar alongside David Byrne and Cong Su for The Last Emperor, and died later in March.) IMDB tells me it was filmed in New Zealand and the Cook Islands; there are a few stray Kiwi accents. Jack Thompson provides the ham.

Roger Ebert: two-and-a-half stars. A clash of acting styles. Janet Maslin dug Bowie's efforts and not a lot else.

District 9 (2009)

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Sharlto Copley's IMDB page suggests it's been a while since he's been in anything worth watching and so it was a third time around with this Copley / Neill Blomkamp classic. Four Oscar noms: picture, writing, editing, and surely it would have won for visual effects if it wasn't the year of Avatar.

Roger Ebert: three stars: space opera and not science fiction. A critic's pick by A. O. Scott at the time.

Russell Marks: Black Lives, White Law: Locked Up and Locked Out in Australia. (2022)

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Kindle. A follow up to and expansion of his earlier Crime and Punishment. The topic is vital but the book is lengthy, concussive and insufficiently focussed; it took me an age to get past chapter one and a lot of commitment to crawl through the second half. His use of footnotes annoyed me: I'm used to inline citations and I learnt a long long time ago that if it's worth saying it goes in the main text, and if it's not you let it go. The kids today might consider that a part of killing their darlings.

I'm not a lawyer. What made Nicholas Cowderey's Getting Justice Wrong valuable to me was that he laid out the legal system to us non-specialists, and that he took an issue-based approach, pointing at particular antinomies of the system and using specific illustrative examples. Here (NT defence lawyer) Marks engages in extensive (excessive) cataloguing of court cases. I found this futile as readers of this book are likely to know that generally things are bad, the general shape of the badness, and the general stasis and backsliding. (See, for instance, Ben Abbatangelo at another Black Inc. venue; it's the era of choose-your-own-apocalypse from a vast and increasing menu.) Sometimes he pulls in a sociological, historical, economic or political angle (beyond his workaday legal frame) but not as successfully as Dean Ashenden. Take, for instance, this from Chapter 14 A New Beginning:

[Circa 1933, s]outh of the Murray, William Cooper — now in his seventies — was doing his own agitating. He began a letter-writing campaign, which soon led to the creation of the Australian Aborigines' League. Among its demands, the League wanted Canberra to take over the administration of Aboriginal affairs from the states (which was eventually achieved by referendum in 1967).

I was left wondering why Cooper thought the Feds would provide a better deal than the states, recalling that it was the Depression, the White Australia Policy was in force and the first and second World Wars close by. And just what did the 1967 referendum achieve anyway? I wanted the perspective that Marks brings to his (excellent) essays.

Ashenden observed the limits of the law as a mechanism for (social) justice, and in particular that issues of sovereignty are quite simply beyond the scope of every court in Australia, and moreover that petitioning the body that could adjudicate such issues — apparently the U.K.'s Privy Council — is not possible. (As a non-lawyer I felt Ashenden spelt that out clearly.) Marks seems to think that Western law has more universalism that it does, more scope for providing justice, even as he pummels us with endless counterexamples and decries the inveterate unwillingness of Australian Settler law to accommodate Indigenous law (or some practices). For instance (again from Chapter 14):

[I]n May 2020, a cave in the Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara was permanently destroyed by mining giant Rio Tinto, despite multiple representations to the company by Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura heritage managers about its significance: archaeological evidence showed that the cave had been continuously occupied for 46,000 years, making it the oldest known inland site in Australia. Rio Tinto’s actions were entirely lawful under the state’s Aboriginal Heritage Act, which had created an approvals process which favoured the destruction of sacred and significant sites. In the wake of the Juukan Gorge destruction – reported around the world – the Western Australian parliament replaced the Act entirely, though with a new piece of legislation which was opposed by Traditional Owners on the basis that it did not address the central flaws in the existing law.

Here the law is completely irrelevant; a priori decisive were capitalism (the financialisation of just about everything) and a centralised politics, which in his business manifests as privatised prisons and (as he observes) NAAJA (see Chapter 13 The Defenders), and afterwards it was blowback from public (specifically large shareholder) opinion that destroyed corporate reputations and placed the event into the category of never-again-not-until-the-next-time. Marks observes several times that every formal inquiry more-or-less reiterates what was determined and proposed by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1987 to 1991), which demonstrates that the critical thing that's missing is not epistemic ... so what is it? As Noel Pearson often observes, it's not just partisan politics: Holt, Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke, Keating, Rudd and at times Abbott all made attempts to bend history towards justice. Moreover Marks did sometimes observe that many issues he canvasses are also prevalent amongst non-Aboriginal people, opening the door a crack to a broader Amartya Sen-esque cross-sectional analysis/activism.

Finally, I've always been mystified how the systems of law could ever be reconciled. Take, for instance, the cultural impedance mismatch in this murder trial from 1976 described in Chapter 5 Bending:

According to Joseph's defence lawyer, Judy had repeatedly taunted and insulted Joseph by mentioning tribal secrets she shouldn't have known about. The open discussion of such secrets in court provided grounds, Wells concluded, to make an order banishing all women from the court, including from the jury. Joseph formally pled 'not guilty' to murder through an interpreter. (Unfortunately, that interpreter was uninitiated, and it emerged that Joseph, who was initiated, was unable to speak to him.)

Doesn't this suggest that almost all (actionable, evidentiary, ...) tribal law is beyond the ken of almost all Settlers? (Ashenden noted that Bill Stanner was initiated and provided with tribal secrets in the hope of influencing the state, but he wasn't a lawyer.) And of course tribal law may not be so big on blaming individuals.

Widely reviewed. Chris Cunneen came in for a caning in the book (I think, see Chapter 9 Debate) but is generous in his review. I did not find any that engaged with Marks's take on carceral feminism (see his Chapter 10 Women: How protection isn’t working much better this time around for First Nations women) which is entirely depressing.

The Hospital (1971)

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The last of Paddy Chayefsky's Oscared scripts for me to watch. This one looks like he thought he could improve on Altman's MASH. It's also a bit of a dry run for Network, though the farce is blacker here. George C. Scott leads as a world-weary middle-aged doctor who runs a Manhattan hospital. On the day we visit there are quite a few staff deaths, presented straight, until Diana Rigg (unrecognisable from Last Night in Soho) arrives and they have the night of his life. He vacillates over joining her in Mexico with her missionary father (a notional patient). At times I found it very amusing.

Roger Ebert: three stars. Vincent Canby.

Marty (1955)

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A Paddy Chayefsky jag from Network: the first of his Oscared writing efforts, apparently adapted from a TV show. Pitched as a sweet post-war it's-never-too-late love story in NYC, it got Oscared as best picture in 1956. Ernest Borgnine (Oscared, solid) is a thirty-four year old Italian butcher in the Bronx who meets school chemistry teacher Betsy Blair (unfathomably Oscar nominated) at a black-and-white dance hall and soon ditches his buddies. They solve each other's problems but in a way that seems to preclude future romance. I enjoyed the efforts of the old Italian ladies (mother Esther Minciotti and aunt Augusta Ciolli) the most as they layered on the pretence and unguardedness of family life. It's slight, dated, and now very non-P.C.

Bosley Crowther dug it at the time.

Stalag 17 (1953)

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A William Holden (Oscared) jag from Network. IMDB tells me this was a sympathy Oscar for him missing out for Sunset Boulevard, which Billy Wilder also co-wrote and directed. The opening voice over claims there haven't been (m)any POW movies before this one, but didn't the genre just explode. The Sergeant Schulz here (Sig Ruman) is a bit soft hearted and apparently soft headed, the other German soldiers often incompetent or too trusting, making it look like the template for Hogans Heroes. Otto Preminger plays the Commandant. It's mostly comedy/farce with a serious (tendentious) undercurrent: that it might be reprehensible but is certainly no sin to be a privateer/capitalist in wartime conditions; that a "stoolie" surely couldn't be a fellow American. I struggled to get into it.

Bosley Crowther dug it at the time. An adaptation of a stage play. IMDB suggests that Holden was as unimpressed as I was.

The Whale (2022)

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As I always say, I'm not a big fan of Aronofsky. Here he tries to do for (Oscar nom) Brendan Fraser what he did for Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, so expect a small boom in Fraser pics followed by a long-tailed bust. In my defence Samantha Morton does star in a small role.

This is essentially a one-set theatre piece where an exaggeratedly obese and self-terminating online-English-lecturer/shut-in Fraser holds court for a rotating cast of family and friends. He's as good as the media have been saying, but the many and varied problems with the script and characters (so many busted exits, so much waffle, so much unearnt catharsis, the voyeurism) leaves an empty husk. (This is mystifying as the story is clearly quite important to writer Samuel D. Hunter.) Aronofsky always struck me as a reactionary (cf Requiem for a Dream and this penchant for reviving actors' careers), and here I could only discern the redemptive power of secular charity (saving the apocalyptic cult missionary via the power of social media), that gay love destroys the nuclear family, and the body shaming. It's as unrelenting a grind as most of Aronofsky's pictures are.

Morton does what she can in a thin role, as the flinty abandoned wife/mother; her brief scene is not going to get her an Oscar, unlike Beatrice Straight in Network. I found (Oscar nom) Hong Chau histrionically robotic; that worked better for her in The Menu. Daughter Sadie Sink has a few more years of hard-nosed bitch in her by the looks of things. Believer Ty Simpkins has all the open-faced charm and believability of a minor Marvel character.

Dana Stevens. A. O. Scott: ah yes, the clearly articulated moral of the story is "that people are incapable of not caring about one another." How could I forget. Jason Di Rosso interviewed Aronofsky recently. Roxane Gay on the politics (the fatphobia, the pointlessness, the flawed script). Later: Fraser got the Oscar.

Running on Empty (1988)

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More Sidney Lumet completism. Christine Lahti and Judd Hirsch play parents on the lam from the days when blowing up napalm factories for reasons of conscience (we wanted to bring an end to the Việt Nam war!) wasn't considered entirely beyond the pale. The main thread of the story focuses on River Phoenix, the older of their two boys, while the younger Jonas Abry seems more accident than spare. To an extent their lives felt familiar to me — moving on at short notice in that van, that pickup truck! — and perhaps because it's a classic 1980s sweet nuclear American family movie, a right of passage for many young blokes at the time (e.g. Johnny Depp in What's Eating Gilbert Grape? etc.).

The plot as it were has Phoenix, at a difficult age, inevitably coming unstuck due to the unbearable weight of his massive (musical) talent, and, of course, a girl-woman who, being normatively-normal, just has to get into his pants. Politics is avoided as much as possible soas to avoid triggering those who are unsympathetic to direct action. (There's a subplot involving an ex boyfriend, a bank heist and summary justice to further placate that crowd and those pining for Dog Day Afternoon.) The main theme is generically universal: that kids escaping the nest is painful for all involved.

Hirsch got an Oscar nom for this portrayal of an old-school activist here, and more recently for playing an echo of it in The Fabelmans. He's sometimes quite funny, often effective, and just occasionally clunky. River Phoenix is opaque, a bit wooden, which is played up to be intentional but I had my doubts. Lahti just relaxes into it all.

Roger Ebert: four stars, one of the best films of the year. Janet Maslin wasn't as persuaded; she did not find Hirsch's character credible.

Q&A (1990)

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More Sidney Lumet completism. He co-wrote and directed this as a capstone to his NYC one-good-cop trilogy (alongside Prince of the City and Serpico). The "Q&A" of the title is apparently an interview by a prosecutor paired with dectectives — perhaps putting Australians in mind of the interview — but notably the subject can be the arresting officer.

Early on we're informed of who the bad and good guys are, and that no greys will be tolerated. The plot is often hard to follow, especially towards the end when things get apocalyptic. The romance side-story is feeble, unbelievable and unhelpful. It's wall-to-wall with racist invective (some creative but much of the yo-mumma genre, somewhat equal-opportunity) and the demimonde of gays and trans. It's not quite real and it's not quite a comic book — the lighting, acting etc. of the initial scene makes it feel like we're in for something confected — and so it's a bit unsettling.

The cast is vast and often good to excellent. Nick Nolte leads in his canonical full-on bent mode. Timothy Hutton is a baby-faced sorta semi-innocent Tom Hanks fresh DA. Armand Assante stole a few scenes (and previously the woman) before sliding into cliche. I'd like to think he did what he could. Luis Guzmán is mostly solid in a modulated performance, as is Charles S. Dutton (Cookie's Fortune). And so on.

Roger Ebert: three-and-a-half stars: he wanted to believe. Vincent Canby thought that NYC is somehow all of "urban America".

Prince of the City (1981)

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Sidney Lumet completism. It's a bit like a sophistication of his earlier Serpico — one breaking-good NYC cop against the rest — but more like Once Upon a Time in America in that the band of brothers comes undone at great length. I found it a bit airless, perhaps because Treat Williams is no Al Pacino or James Wood or Robert De Niro, and his histrionics are often a bit too much. Or perhaps it was the endless hand wringing of the lawyers (Lance Henriksen and many others) who take him for all he's got and more. The vast cast is well used and it is extremely well constructed, though there are a few bits here and there that I didn't get, such as why Jerry Orbach's Detective Gus Levy got set up in a garment sweatshop, and what options the unit had once the Feds got involved.

Roger Ebert: four stars, based on a book about a true story. Janet Maslin.

Network (1976)

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Second time around with this Sidney Lumet classic. A jag via Peter Finch (Oscared) from A Town Like Alice, and via Vincent Canby, The Running Man. Invariant at #219 in the IMDB top-250. I enjoyed Faye Dunaway (Oscared) a lot more this time around. William Holden represents something long gone now.

Roger Ebert: four stars at the time (almost a doco!) and another four stars in 2000 as a "Great Movie" ("like prophecy"). Perhaps the arc of inconclusively losing control was (Oscared) writer Paddy Chayefsky's way of mirroring the times. Vincent Canby.

A Town Like Alice (1956)

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A black-and-white "based on a true" story about some English women-and-children in Japanese-occupied Malaya in World War II, adapted from the Nevil Shute novel of the same name. In essence it's a long walk, tedious and trying for all, including the audience, and unlike Rabbit Proof Fence (for instance) the cinematography is mostly stodgy and there's no cracker soundtrack. Wikipedia suggests the book is a bit Great Expectations.

The plot has lead English Rose Virginia McKenna meet Australian mechanic Peter Finch (later Oscared for Network) and fall into histrionics. I wasn't persuaded by her: she's no Julie Christie. The novel's narrative is (apparently) greatly truncated (where did her money come from? how did they get repatriated? what has the title got to do with anything? etc. etc.) with what remains going in obvious directions. There is some brief archive footage of Alice Springs and Tennant Creek late in the piece. Alongside this is the thoroughgoing and oblivious classism, racism and mostly one-sided storytelling (the Japanese have little interiority, only Maureen Swanson is subject to sexual exploitation, and only then with her consent, etc. etc.) of the imperial sunset.

A. H. Weiler at the New York Times. Ozmovies observes it's not much of an Oz movie. Later given the Bryan Brown treatment at length in 1981.

Dreaming of Joseph Lees (1999)

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More Samantha Morton completism. Here she is one corner of a 1950s love triangle in rural England. She's fine and does provide the odd moment of light. In contrast the blokes are blank slates (Rupert Graves as Joseph Lees), moppets (Lee Ross) and irascible cliches like her stodgy father (Frank Finlay). Holly Aird has the most fun as a mostly fancy-free sister/friend, with precocious sister/almost daughter Lauren Richardson close behind. It just sort of chugs along until it evaporates in artifice and inevitable female self sacrifice.

Janet Maslin: Morton as the new Sarah Miles! She wasn't convinced. Charles Taylor reckoned this was Morton's best vehicle hitherto. Madeleine North.

The Running Man (1987)

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What can I say but that it might be better to be disappointed by the movie you know than all the dreck being pumped out now. (I got a bit depressed when I heard Jason Di Rosso will spend more time this year on "repertory" cinema, and not because it will probably be a better show thereby.) Well they don't make them like this any more (they make The Hunger Games instead) and while there may be good reasons for that I did enjoy Arnie's delivery of some of his best one-liners in that semi-polished manner he had before going full robot.

Roger Ebert: two-and-a-half stars. Vincent Canby was more indulgent.

Blueback (2022)

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I read somewhere that this is the sixth adaptation of raw material by Tim Winton and realised that none I've seen are great. This one is adapted and directed by Robert Connolly (The Dry, The Turning) and is one of the poorer ones. Mia Wasikowska notionally leads as a professor of marine science (it's all a bit vague) whose mother (mostly Radha Mitchell in Australian TV mode; she put me in mind of Gary Sweet) has a stroke, bringing Mia home to Bremer Bay (which stands in for somewhere on the west coast near Ningaloo). Eric Bana (in Chopper mode) has a cameo as the local colour. Of course there's some overdevelopment in the pipe, and everyone wants things to work out like The Castle. I wasn't persuaded by the animatronic Western Blue Groper (perhaps it fell into the uncanny valley) or the community dynamics but by far the most excruciating scene was the party on the beach: even the cast did not appear to be enjoying themselves.

Sandra Hall and Luke Buckmaster make their apologies for the local product. Later Amy Nicholson.

Exotica (1994)

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A bit of misguided Atom Egoyan completism; he wrote, directed and cast his wife Arsinée Khanjian as the madam of a strip joint in Toronto. The erotic thriller framing is supposed to give heft to other sliced-up stories of loss and grief, of overlapping entangled lives, of contraband wildlife. Again it's very 1990s: the large CD-holder furniture, the Volvo 240 station wagon of dreams (Egoyan's own?), Leonard Cohen on soundtrack alongside some intriguing Eastern music. Perhaps the set is the most interesting thing. Bruce Greenwood leads. Again Sarah Polley as some kind of wide-eyed wise ingenue. Elias Koteas. More miss than hit for me.

Roger Ebert: four stars at the time and another four stars in 2009 as a "great movie". Caryn James at the New York Times.

Martin Riker: The Guest Lecture (2023)

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Kindle. Yet another bum steer from Dwight Garner. I initially thought Riker was trying to better Spufford by ventriloquising John Maynard Keynes but the vast bulk consists of the first-person hand wringing of a very normatively-normal American female junior economics academic who has all the correct opinions. Vast sections are repetitiously tedious. It completely lacked animal spirits.

Goodreads splits into those operating in the confirmation mode, who saw themselves in Abigail, and those who were expecting something more novel.

The Sweet Hereafter (1997)

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Adapted and directed by Atom Egoyan (Ararat) from a Russell Banks novel. A two-track from the lost age of movies for adults: we're shown lawyer Ian Holm's life in parallel with the goings-on of a small-town where a school bus crash killed almost all the children. It's a bit slow and moody in the Twin Peaks mode: the music, acting, mood, wintry mountains, smallness of the community, relations between people and so forth. The last needed some more digging to make it matter more. The plot is framed by the Pied Piper fable, read by Sarah Polley who steals every scene she's in. Bruce Greenwood is also solid. Somehow it put me in mind of Mystic River. The Tragically Hip provide most the soundtrack.

Roger Ebert: four stars, one of the best films of the year. Stephanie Zacharek. Janet Maslin.

The Overlanders (1946)

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Gestured at by Dean Ashenden as a romantic take on (functional) relations between Australian Aborigines and settlers. The first feature that Ealing Studios made in Australia. A wartime (1942) black-and-white cattle drove from Wyndham to Rockhampton (or thereabouts; things get vague east of Anthony's Lagoon). There's a stampede! — even Rocky Kangaroo: The Australian Story / Red River / Australia had a stampede, but these guys got there before all those. Chips Rafferty plays a mostly laconic slave-driving drover who takes a moment in the middle to express well-rehearsed anti-exploitation sentiments about the Northern Territory and a touching faith that government will not screw it up.

Bosley Crowther at the time. All the details at Ozmovies. Wikipedia tells me romantic interest Daphne Campbell was born in Orange and fled to Queensland and the N.T. at a young age.

Film (1965)

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An erratically amusing short by Samuel Beckett starring Buster Keaton. A pointer from John Lahr's review of a biography of Keaton.

New York Times: while filming, and A. O. Scott in retrospect.

Babylon (2022)

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Damien Chazelle's latest. I still haven't seen La La Land (but did see Whiplash). Three Oscar noms, all for design. It is interminable, vast, imitative, punishing and mostly boring, especially after a very saggy scene at the halfway mark. The point, if there is one, is that Hollywood has run out of stories to tell, even about itself. Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt, Lukas Haas (!), Tobey Maguire (in whiteface, converging with Jared Leto?), endless ladies. I often felt I'd've been better off watching Mother! again.

Widely reviewed, of course. Keva York at the ABC. Peter Bradshaw: "... so much like Baz Luhrmann he should be getting a royalty cheque." Manohla Dargis: joyless, juiceless, unsexy, punishing. Dana Stevens couldn't get much past the elephant. Shane Danielsen: the source material is a book from 1959 and Boogie Nights ("... Chazelle owes Paul Thomas Anderson a co-writing credit."). And so on.

Dean Ashenden: Telling Tennant's Story: The Strange Career of the Great Australian Silence. (2022)

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Kindle. From Black Books Inc for 16.99 AUD. It's been on the pile for a while due to the topic and rave reviews; Noel Pearson's Boyer lectures prompted me to read it. Both point back to Bill Stanner's apparent Boyer-of-Boyers lectures of 1968, with Ashenden having the space to canvas Stanner's broader academic/political output.

Briefly this is a capsule history of the relations between Aboriginal and settler Australians through the prism of Tennant Creek and the greater Barkly region. It is a rich source book and mostly evenhanded (as far as I could tell, given that the politics was sometimes hard to parse; for instance both Paul Hasluck and Stanner are deemed conservatives but are shown to have diverged significantly over the goal of Aboriginal policy). The meat is on anthropology and its shading into history and then legalism: the story of Spencer And Gillen (there apparently being little source material before about 1900), the politicking at Sydney Uni, the routine imposition of hierarchy, the early days of land rights (the bark petitions sent by the wily Yolŋu, who are unfortunately left opaque here). I felt a bit brought-up-to-speed by his coverage of Mabo (putting Henry Reynolds's role into perspective, as well as Justice Blackburn's) and was surprised that he did not go on to explain the Wik decision (pastoral leases versus native title) or the legal system's inability to grapple with issues of sovereignty. And much else. The concluding movement has him in Nyinkka Nyunyu in Tennant, trying to extract some oral history from various elderly Aboriginal ladies.

More dispiriting was his coverage of the culture/history wars of the Howard era that I lived through; it seems to have mostly quietened or gone underground now. Ashenden concludes on an optimistic note — things are changing — while observing that (much like the USA) it is politics and not legal manoeuvring that will (have to) ultimately make the difference. I'm not as optimistic as objectively (deaths in custody stats, a return to child removal, the grog, the lack of meaningful activity, ignoring the locals, etc.) things look like (at best) more of the same. Perhaps there will be movement again later this year.

Overall a thumbs up for me. I wished he'd written at twice the length. Excerpts are everywhere. Ashenden talking to (being cut off by) Phillip Adams on 2022-12-07. Kieran Finnane: yes, I always wanted to understand Aboriginal thought better. Goodreads. Apparently he won the 2022 Australian Political Book of the Year Award.

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)

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The big pile of Oscar noms sucked me in at long last: surely there must be something to it! But no, it's heavily referential — obviously The Matrix but more Interstellar drowned in Marvel Cinematic Universe aesthetic — and only amounts to timeworn gesticulations at the importance of the nuclear American family (however that is constructed).

A. O. Scott: more references and a thumbs-up.

Sweet and Lowdown (1999)

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More Samantha Morton completism. She's fetchingly expressive here as the mute muse to lead Sean Penn's blustery but self-aware most-excellent depression-era jazz guitarist Emmet Ray. Both got Oscar noms, and she made me wonder if she wasn't a century late for the silent era. It's a straightforward semi-crooked biopic of that fictional jazz guitarist. Directed by Woody Allen and therefore highly dependent on a tolerance for his schtick, particularly his repetition humour. James Urbaniak, Uma Thurman, Anthony LaPaglia support.

Roger Ebert: three-and-a-half stars: "... I am reminded of a pet cemetery marker in Errol Morris' Gates of Heaven, which reads: 'I knew love. I knew this dog.'" Janet Maslin. Stephanie Zacharek.

Two for Joy (2018)

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Samantha Morton completism. A listless, somewhat gentle (except for the climactic part) trip to the beach where traumatic events put the family's earlier traumatic events into some kind of perspective. Billie Piper tries to inject some chaos. It reminded me of the Fassbender-in-Essex Fishtank. Not enough is asked of Morton.

Peter Bradshaw. Prompted by an interview at the Guardian with Danny Leigh.

Cookie's Fortune (1999)

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Altman completism. It strikes me now that he was something of a David Lynch of the south. This one is a ramble around Holly Springs, Mississippi. Pity the town where Liv Tyler is the only piece of tail, and her only suitors are Chris O'Donnell (Robin!) and Lyle Lovett. Patricia Neal is unrecognizable as the titular character.

Roger Ebert: four stars and a lot of love. Janet Maslin.

Alvin Purple (1973)

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Prompted by Luke Buckmaster's rewatch in 2014. An early-1970s Ozploitation sex farce, and even shallower than that suggests as it's a real bitza — there are sex-crazed schoolgirls and neighbours (Jacki Weaver gets her kit off, as do many others), waterbeds, varieties of shysterism, a court case, some random observations about psychology as a profession and a science, and a somewhat mystifying final car chase and skydive (!) that brings the central character to a nunnery. Only in Melbourne! I've never been persuaded by Graeme Blundell as an actor (let alone a sex object or a mock sex object); he did OK in Don's Party by channeling his inner (natural?) ineptitude. There is the odd moment when he seems to be genuinely enjoying himself however. Peter Cummins (the father in Storm Boy) has a minor role as a reactionary taxi driver.

More details than you ever wanted to know at Ozmovies.

Deepti Kapoor: Age of Vice. (2023)

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Kindle. A bum steer from Dwight Garner; he's trending to more miss than hit. Marketed as India's answer to The Godfather — and what a marketing effort it's been! — and so soon after the age of anger.

This book is long, its referents are exhaustively exhausting, the author's execution and continuity patchy. Let's not mention the dialogue, the overuse of brands and (my favourite) the overly specific pharmacopoeia. Is this Shantaram in world-class (so much world class) Delhi? Not really; it's more Trishna wanting to be Breaking Bad. The inert, touristic set piece on a deserted beach in Goa put me in mind of Ben Affleck, bloated and broken on the shore, powers dissipating, with shades of (dominant) grey. There are way too many confessions — more than your average no-I-expect-you-to-die! James Bond — and it attempts subtlety with a Star Wars I-am-your-father-Luke sotto voce. Basically if you've ever met a trope you'll meet it again here.

Goodreads. Oh no, she intends to write two more. The rating there has slid as the masses have filed in with their opinions. The White Tiger? Could be. Literary? Nope. Would Puzo be concerned? Not at all.

The Pale Blue Eye (2022)

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A strangely airless American horror/satanism period piece set at wintry West Point in the Hudson Valley in New York State in the 1830s (reminiscent of The Crucible and so forth). The stellar cast — Christian Bale in the lead, Timothy Spall, Toby Jones, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Gillian Anderson, and I did enjoy Robert Duvall's professor of esoteric literature and Harry Melling's Edgar Allan Poe — just can't achieve liftoff.

Jeannette Catsoulis: contrary to her, I don't think there's anything supernatural in this. Glenn Kenny: contrary to him, I don't think the final movement redeemed anything. This is not one of Bale's finer outings.

Nashville (1975)

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One of Altman's classics. Keith Carradine got an Oscar for his song.

Roger Ebert: four stars at the time and another four stars in 2000 as a "great movie". Vincent Canby.

White Noise (2022)

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In two sittings as I didn't get it. I haven't read Don DeLillo's book and am now unlikely to. I'm sympathetic to Greta Gerwig's writer/director schtick (Little Women, Lady Bird, etc.) and her acting here is OK. I wasn't so sure about Adam Driver. Gerwig's main squeeze Noah Baumbach adapted the material and directed; it's lush but pointless.

A. O. Scott. The "mock profundity" is tedious.

The Menu (2022)

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Somewhat prompted by Jason Di Rosso's interview with director Mark Mylod a while back. He wasn't enthused. Escort Anya Taylor-Joy is supposed to take it to exclusive chef / cult leader Ralph Fiennes but there's only so much that bug-eyes can do. As car thieves everywhere I go know, the only solution is to set it all on fire. John Leguizamo struggles with cringey spinelessness. Nicholas Hoult, what was the point. And so on.

Jeannette Catsoulis got right into it.

The Assistant (2019)

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Di Rosso interviewed Australian writer/director Kitty Green a while back; I caught an excerpt he recycled recently. Apparently the first of the #metoo movies, this is a day in the life of Julia Garner, assistant to a never-shown, often-heard Weinstein-like boss. She's shown to be a bit naive, not only for expecting HR to address her concerns but also by copping the hospital passes of her fellow assistants (two blokes). The whole show looked entirely horrible to me, especially the undercurrent of everyone just doing what they have to to get ahead in the movie industry.

Jeannette Catsoulis made it a critic's pick at the time. It was one of Dana Stevens's best for 2020.

Ned Beauman: Venomous Lumpsucker. (2022)

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Kindle. Sometimes you just want to read something with a plot, some characters, a little pace and verve, maybe even a point of view. You'd even settle for some magpie storytelling where vast foraging, cracked perspectives and too many zingers make it easy to forgive the shortcomings.

I feel a bit bad re-reading what I said about Beauman's Madness is Better than Defeat: it was better than all that. Here he returns after a few too many years with a marginally saner take on green capitalism, specifically extinction credits. Amongst the many random jags are: short squeezes (GameStop is name checked), intelligent animals (initially provoking an oh no, but deftly deployed: the lady is looking for a species with sufficient intelligence to consciously take revenge on the humans who are wiping them out), game theory for fish (these lumpsuckers supposedly engage in retribution based on some risk assessment), Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny, seasteading (canonically pilloried back in 2016 by Hermicity: "We now have the technology to live completely alone. Hermit cities powered by DAOs on the Ethereum blockchain." / "Solar powered drones delivering soylent to hermits, ran as a DAO on the Ethereum blockchain!"), BREXIT (the U.K. is now the Hermit Kingdom), a very dodgy take on the preservation of information (as a physical principle) and consciousness simulation on whatever (cf Permutation City).

Does it cohere? No it does not. Does that matter? Not at all. And isn't it time he got a movie deal? This is at least as good as any of the recent James Bond plots.

Goodreads. Wai Chee Dimock spoilt it at the New York Times. And so on.