peteg's blog

A Better Tomorrow (1986)

/noise/movies | Link

More Hong Kong John Woo. It starts out playful, light and fun with a bromance between triad members Lung Ti and Chow Yun-Fat — at the glamorous end of an operation counterfeiting US banknotes — before sliding into heavy sludge that yields to only ten minutes of world-on-fire Woo right at the end. That shootout is too farcical. The shot of Chow lighting up with a $100 bill is classic. Waise Lee, the heel of Bullet to the Head, was the heel here first. There's a bolted-on undercooked domestic thread involving Lung Ti's implausible police brother Leslie Cheung (who I haven’t seen since Wong Kar-Wai's Days of Being Wild and Happy Together) and father. Cheung's squeeze Emily Chu is squeakily annoying. I didn't totally follow the cops' angle: one scene shows Interpol taking an interest and many have a bloke who looks like he's above the scene.

I'll be giving the sequel a miss.

IMDB trivia. The children's choir in the middle was a highlight.

Election 2 (2006)

/noise/movies | Link

Inevitable after the promising and semi-decent Election. Directed once again by Johnnie To.

It's unclear what Simon Yam has done over his two years of Chairmanship of the society/triad but of course he wants to stay on in the role despite the tradition of one-and-done. Louis Koo has expanded his business but is running into resistance on the mainland that would go away if only he was Chairman. He keeps protesting he's a businessman but of course his blood is colder than even the ronin he hires. It's out-with-the old in the form of uncle Tian-Lin Wang. Nick Cheung does what he can in the minor bizarre role of Yam's covert attack dog. The cops this time are knowing mainland Chinese: satisfyingly subtle and powerful. Their final twist of the knife is cute but drawn out for too long on the screen.

So much of it does not make sense. Koo knows the score with Cheung from the first movie and their shared scenes together are entirely implausible, as is Cheung's belief that he could be Chairman. (We're never shown the power of the role; I'd expect it'd require consultation and persuasion, i.e., be essentially political, but presumably it also comes with perks.) The scene at the dog kennels, where Koo does the needful with extreme violence, was ripped off in Breaking Bad (where Giancarlo Esposito retires an assistant in the meth lab). It's notionally motivated by getting Yam's goons to deal with Yam without Koo being fingered but really, why not have your ronin liquidate all your opponents? I just couldn't suspend my disbelief.

Manohla Dargis: a critic's pick!

Election (2005)

/noise/movies | Link

Another Hong Kong classic. I've had enough of the John Woo ultraviolence for the moment. This one is closer to The Godfather: a triad/society is having an election! — and the police, they just want some peace. Directed by Johnnie To, written by Nai-Hoi Yau and Tin-Shing Yip.

It has its moments, especially early on when we're meeting the protagonists with some great interior cinematography. I found it a little tricky to understand who was fronting for whom which was perhaps intended. At some point everyone gets locked up and it becomes a matter of who's holding the Chairman's McGuffin. This is poorly handed as there's no authentication of it or the holder of it, or even why it matters at all; it's not supernatural and once the elected chairman gets it it's gone. No matter; perhaps I'll find out in the sequel.

The cast is good. Simon Yam plays one of the candidates, a calm measured man (Michael Corlene) up against hot-headed "Big D" Tony Ka Fai Leung (Sonny) who is the only bloke with a wife, Maggie Siu. Louis Koo looks like and has the gravitas of David Bowie. (Apparently he was a producer on The Mitchells vs the Machines.) Ultraorthodox foot soldier Nick Cheung apparently rides a CBR400; his early scene where he eats a spoon is very amusing. Tian-Lin Wang anchors things ala Brando.

Just two stars from Peter Bradshaw. A. O. Scott: a critic's pick!

The Killer (1989)

/noise/movies | Link

And yet another Hong Kong classic by John Woo. Chow Yun-Fat leads. Here he's done up like an Italian gangster or Nicolas Cage, hair slicked back, smarmy grin, ridiculous melodrama. It's a love story! Except the lady, Sally Yeh, mostly lacks agency and character. Oh well.

The plot has assassin Chow impair Yeh's vision early on, causing him to develop romantic feelings of melioration. What's a damsel in distress to do? After a later job at a dragon boat festival his employer Fui-On Shing decides it's time Chow retired for unconvincing reasons despite the protestations of his old-school agent Kong Chu. Alongside this cop Danny Lee is hot on his tail. They develop a bromance that culminates in an epic shootout in a church. Everything is so over-the-top that I was amazed that the ending could be so overwrought. I found it a fair bit more boring than Hard Boiled for all that.

IMDB trivia. Scorcese-inspired. The harmonica is a nod to Ennio Morricone and Sergio Leone. Somehow spine #8 in the Criterion Collection. It's all a bit much. I wonder if anyone considered making one of these where the same actors play both the cop and triad roles.

A Thousand and One (2023)

/noise/movies | Link

A NYC love story of sorts. Written and directed by A. V. Rockwell (new to me). Teyana Taylor (I knew nothing of her music) does a good job playing a tough lady just out of Rikers who decides it's a good idea to informally adopt (or kidnap as you wish) a fostered street urchin she knew from before her 18 month stretch. Lola in the Mirror? I hear you ask. Well, it sorta is until it mostly is: both involve getting the child to 18 when all will be revealed/secured, which of course doesn't happen. There's the absent father, an unfaithful husband, the precarious living arrangements, a predatory landlord, dodgy or drudging work. We're told the boy Terry is clever enough to get into a selective school but he lacks street smarts and does not emote very well; all the male characters here are underdrawn. (Compare with such minor characters as the waitress Terry has a crush on: we know more about her after a few minutes opposite him than we ever find out about him.)

The rescue father is necessary as common wisdom has it that every boy must have one. His character and relationships are very poorly sketched — he never goes to work, he's never violent, and his interactions with the boy (let's-shoot-hoops) are so vague, clunky and conventional that they reveal nothing. I don't blame William Catlett for it: this isn't Moonlight, and neither is it Small Axe: the communitarian politics is mostly just ambient with the odd gesture (most obviously to the succession of mayors of the city). And who can compete with Steve McQueen's cinematography anyway?

Towards the end there's a twist that costs the movie too much cabin pressure for the ending to satisfy.

A Critic's Pick by Manohla Dargis. Brian Tallerico: won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance earlier this year. The twist is unnecessary. Adrian Horton: an underwhelming debut for Rockwell. Muddled. Melodrama.

Xavier Herbert: Larger Than Life: Twenty Short Stories. (1963)

/noise/books | Link

On dead tree from Caerwen Books. Herbert's own introduction overlaps with his autobiographical Disturbing Element, which was apparently published in the same year. In it he derides the work contained here, dashed off rapidly for the money and accepted by venues with no taste. I had hoped for some Henry Lawson-esque colour and perhaps the odd insight into the remote places and work he found out there. Mostly tedious. He's far better at length.

Paper Moon (1973)

/noise/movies | Link

Prompted by Ryan O'Neal's recent passing. The obits talked him up as a leading man but I've only seen him playing a wooden social climber in Kubrick's Barry Lyndon. Also via Wesson's The Path to Paradise: this was director Peter Bogdanovich's first contribution to The Directors Company. His second, the apparently uncommercial Daisy Miller, killed that arrangement. Coppola managed to make The Conversation before things went tits up. Also a Madeleine Khan jag from Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles. She got her first Oscar nom here and is a bit funnier though just as hackneyed.

This is another one of those solid chunks of retro nostalgia that have swung back into style — or have they never gone out of fashion? We're in black-and-white 1930s Depression-era Kansas where all a man can do is visit the funeral of a woman who may've borne him a daughter, O'Neal's very own Tatum. She got Oscared for what is sometimes a very funny performance that would be impossible now: notionally 9 she smokes at every opportunity she gets. Failing to get her on a train to her relatives and in debt to her for the few hundred he bilked from the culprit of the accident that killed her mother, what else can her sort-of-father do but engage in scams? Specifically selling bibles to recent widows, exploiting the innumeracy of Kansans, attempting to rip off the local bootleggers. Getting her involved is what: the sort-of-family that scams together stays together, though the production code (of the 1930s) does not let them keep the proceeds.

O'Neal himself put me in mind of Warren Beatty, making this something adjacent to Bonnie and Clyde from 1967.

Roger Ebert: four stars. P. J. Johnson is awesome as dejected Imogene but it seems she didn't get many further roles. Vincent Canby was far less impressed with the story. Hotel receptionist Burton Gilliam was very well cast. He was also in Blazing Saddles.

Hard Boiled (1992)

/noise/movies | Link

Inevitable after Bullet to the Head and I'm sure more John Woo Hong Kong classics will follow. Again far superior to all of his Hollywood efforts that I've seen.

Hard Boiled movie poster.

The setup is immortal: the Hong Kong police, notionally engaging in a subtle long game with the Triads, are provoked into some heroic ultraviolence. Perhaps Infernal Affairs finally killed this genre in 2002. Most of what you need to know is there on the poster: Chow Yun-Fat with a baby and a boomstick, bandaged and ridiculous.

A brief visit to a jazz club softens us up for the first course: a meeting of some sort in a bird teahouse (bring your own caged bird) that rapidly descends into a massive gunfight involving "Tequila" Chow. (You have to recognise the name actors to understand the stakes here.) Afterwards we're told that he recently broke up with fellow cop Teresa Mo which perhaps explains the bloodlust. Woo, playing a bartending ex-cop, runs the club and dispenses wisdom whenever the movie needs to take a breath. Chow later has a few great scenes with his boss Superintendent Philip Chan.

Tony Leung is introduced by an assassination in a library; librarian Hoi-Shan Lai looked on with ambiguous curiosity. Chow's investigatory superpowers lead him (17m52s) directly to the the literature aisle where he briefly mistakes a fat volume of Henry Lawson’s works as the hiding place of Leung's weapon. (But no, it was the middle volume of a Shakespeare collection that done it.) Tony is implausibly squeezeless throughout.

On the Triad side Anthony Wong is keen for a larger slice of the arms trade. This requires the elimination of the competition, Leung's boss Uncle Hoi-San Kwan, before we're properly off to the races. (Wong was memorably Leung's boss in Infernal Affairs.)

The last hour or so is totally nuts: a Terminator 2-style set piece at a large hospital. The sheer number of cops and Triad minions make it seem like a zombie flick. At one critical juncture Woo has Chow holding a blood-spattered baby in one arm and a pistol in the other — more-or-less like the poster — and arranges for that baby to be critical to Chow's survival. Leung is strangely marginalised throughout; perhaps he was told his role would have more presence.

The motorcycle stunts are often amazing. The most unrealistic thing is when someone runs out of bullets.

IMDB trivia. The guns'n'roses thing was apparently in the air. Apparently the scriptwriting proved fatal to Barry Wong.

Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget (2023)

/noise/movies | Link

Aardman Animations has been in artistic decline for years, and I guess I was hoping that the reported clay shortage would force it to return to ... well, shorts, good quality shorts. And maybe trousers. Instead we get this feature-length sequel to Chicken Run with nary a fingerprint in sight; is this entirely just soulless CGI, based on a true claymation? The generic story could definitely have been extracted from a large language model, one that does not have much of a repertoire of visual gags. Perhaps the loss of quirk is the malign influence of being produced by Netflix. All the accents in Britain can't make up the deficit.

Mel Gibson did not get rehabilitated. His leading-rooster character Rocky is more vacuous this time around. Timothy Spall did not return to voice the rat either. Thandiwe Newton replaced Julia Sawalha for the lead-chook Ginger. Director Sam Fell has form for dreck (Flushed Away). The process of going from chook to nugget is suggested but when it comes to it Melisha Tweedy (her name a highlight for me, Miranda Richardson in both) emerges intact.

Peter Bradshaw: nods to The Truman Show, Toy Story 3... and surely Barbie? Alissa Wilkinson at the New York Times. Very spoofy.

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (1991)

/noise/movies | Link

Second time around, a revisit prompted by Sam Wasson's book. I was a bit less riveted this time: the behind-the-scenes making-of footage remains gripping — Coppola trying to direct Dennis Hopper! Martin Sheen's heart attack! — but I can do without the faux profundity; I'll be giving Eleanor Coppola's Notes a miss now. Also it seems to be wrongly titled for a 1991 assembly: Wasson told me that Coppola's Waterloo was his next movie, One from the Heart, circa 1981. Unlike Burden of Dreams we don't get to see what went so wrong with Harvey Keitel in the lead.

On the plus side it made me want to dig up whatever remains of Orson Welles's efforts on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

Roger Ebert: three-and-a-half stars. Janet Maslin.

Sam Wasson: The Path to Paradise. (2023)

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. David Kamp's review at the New York Times lead me to think it'd be mostly about the production of Apocalypse Now and related interesting things with a side of present-day where-are-they-now. Well, if I'd read it carefully I'd have known that the focus is Francis Ford Coppola's mutating mania for a utopian creative space invariably called Zoetrope. That makes it one for the industry types, those who know and care more about the Hollywood studios and non-artistic mechanics of movie making than I do. Matthew Spektor explored adjacent spaces in his Always Crashing in the Same Car with more success.

It may have been that the ebook I was reading was poorly edited but I found the structure to be too scatty to enjoy. Wasson jumps around a lot in time and often omits dates, leaving us to wonder what caused what, where we're up to in some fable of mental (dis)integration. Werner Herzog is mentioned but not his Apocalypse-esque precursor masterwork Aguirre or his more transparently self-aware thirst for experience via filmmaking. I got very bored with all the Zoetrope bits (party, party, party) and have no idea why Coppola went more than all in on One From the Heart which I still won't see despite now knowing it has Tom Waits music. (Wesson gets epically bogged in this production in the second part of the book.) Similarly I have even less desire to dig through twenty-first century Coppola.

What was David Lynch supposed to be doing at Zoetrope in the early 1980s? We're told that he was very bored but not bored enough to direct Revenge of the Jedi (yep). Did he learn something from the implosion of that incarnation of Coppola's ideas factory? George Lucas comes off as a genius for maintaining an appropriate distance after having his fingers burnt at the start of his career. I realised at some point I'd be better off reading Eleanor Coppola's Notes: On the Making of "Apocalypse Now" which probably eclipses all other coverage.

Wasson interviewed a lot of people and some of his material is right-up-to-the-minute: there are accounts of Adam Driver and Nathalie Emmanuel on the set of the as-yet unreleased Megalopolis. He makes it sound like a dog.

Goodreads. A Cesspool's review struck a chord.

Oppenheimer (2023)

/noise/movies | Link

Christopher Nolan's latest. Already #67 in the IMDB top-250 after less than six months and only half a million ratings; we'll see what the Academy thinks when the Oscar noms come out. It's lengthy and took me a few goes to get through.

Nolan likes making big movies about the big events in history, and here a great man of history. It's a bit less vapid than Interstellar and love functions less like a fifth element. Almost all of the physics of the first half of the Twentieth Century is elided beyond the worn-smooth snappy quotes, leaving us mostly with the politics and the personal. And the personal for Nolan is too often petty. It's a bit backward-looking like Mank, solidly retro-nostalgic like Asteroid City, The Fabelmans, Licorice Pizza and (going off what I've read) Barbie (etc).

The cast is stellar, well-chosen and mostly well-used; at times it seemed like Hollywood going to war again, like The Thin Red Line or The Longest Day (etc). Cillian Murphy does very well in the lead; I've always enjoyed his efforts and this one took me back to The Wind that Shakes the Barley. He gets to squeeze Communist Florence Pugh at UCB. Initially I couldn't believe Tom Conti was playing Einstein! — he looks so grumpy when we meet him, so out of sorts, but in later scenes he is effectively wry but not grim. One minor pleasure was seeing James Urbaniak as Kurt Gödel; a good choice but with too little time on screen. Time for a biopic! Matthew Modine is excellent (as always) as Vannevar Bush. Casey Affleck gets tasked with animating a White Russian. (I didn't know he'd been rehabilitated.) Rami Malek has a big scene later on. Gary Oldman's Harry Truman, well. Matt Damon: Leslie Groves. Jason Clarke goes fine as FBI interrogator/prosecutor Roger Robb with John Gowans' initially inert Ward Evans making me wonder if Statler died while waiting for the Muppets to lift their game. Benny Safdie got handed a gently, gently characterisation of Edward Teller and does it well enough but I would've preferred to be watching a followup to Uncut Gems.

And then we get to Robert Downey Jr's vengeful Lewis Strauss. He stars in the framing story, the one closest to present-time, which is essentially a reworking of Cold War tropes ala Clooney's Good Night and Good Luck. He can't quite sink into his character, can't quite suppress those ticks he've been living off for the past two decades or more; I mean, we've all seen Tropic Thunder, we know he's capable of high science, and yet here he is as a comatose ex-shoe salesman.

Given all these names we might ponder why the whole unwieldy mess doesn't cohere. I think it's about the missing historical figures; even those in the movie, like prime mover Vannevar Bush with his position in the deep state, are not given enough background. There's no Eisenhower and that's a bit critical for the whole thermonuclear program. But the absence creating a vacuum that could swallow suns is John von Neumann. Without him all we get is the naive geopolitics of the physicists (blood on our hands) and underexplored or childish motivations of the politicians (represented by Strauss and Truman). In many ways his balance-of-terror MAD strategy, grounded in his mathematical game theory, was the fundamental logic of the times since then; Kissinger's realpolitik was just a branding exercise. Adding this perspective would've stripped Oppenheimer's suggestion of sharing nuclear technology with the Soviets of its naivety and textured his opposition to Teller's thermonuclear dreams. Nolan could've shown the vector by which the bomb did (arguably) reduce the temperature of the Cold War but not engender universal peace. There is a gesture to RAND and, I think, a bit of casual plagiarism when Nolan has Oppenheimer suggest that the bomb be detonated in the air and not on the ground.

It's also hard to get excited by the last third — more-or-less courtroom dramas about Oppenheimer's security clearance and Strauss's cabinet position — after the big set piece of the second movement: the Trinity test at Los Alamos. (There are, of course, some nixie tubes counting down at 1h54m for some minor period-appropriate frisson.) Moreover the cinematographic innovations seem stale or useless: there's a Terminator 2-style fade to white to symbolise the death of the Los Alamos comity, and way too much cosmology when this is mostly about the atom. (Internalism is generally beyond Nolan I guess.) These were done better by James Cameron and Terrence Malick a while ago. I doubt that seeing it on the big screen would improve it much. I could really have done without the soundtrack.

Very widely reviewed, of course, and at similar lengths to the movie. A Critic's Pick of Manohla Dargis. I disagree with her on many points. Peter Bradshaw: antisemitism presented as a brutal fact, woven into the fabric of the film. Fred Kaplan on the historicity: yep, Oppenheimer would've liked to use the bomb on Germany. (I credit Nolan for communicating the disconcertion of the (European expat) scientists as the target becomes Japan.) Go see the BBC's Oppenheimer or read the books instead. Dana Stevens: flawed. A sausagefest. Luke Goodsell at the ABC — fedoras! The Twin Peaks reboot! A true-to-form three-hour trailer. Nolan's cinematic weapons of mass destruction have destroyed cinema. Jason Di Rosso also. Jake Wilson for the Smage: Downey Jr and Damon got to showboat the most. This movie, like the bomb, is also meant to blow us all away! Christos Tsiolkas: implosion! Biography v modern myth. Oppiemistress Flo and Oppiewife Emily Blunt were squandered with poorly written and directed characters (as for all women in Nolan flicks); it's a sausagefest. Anti intellectual. What Robert Altman could have done with Los Alamos! And so on. Much later David Thomson observes the confusion.

Bullet to the Head (1990)

/noise/movies | Link

One of John Woo's early features. You can see why Hollywood wanted him: it's far superior to Face/Off. Also some Tony Leung completism: he's so young here and gets all the ladies.

The brothers-for-life from Hong Kong (Leung, bestie Jacky Cheung and more distant Waise Lee) decide to get rich by smuggling stuff to wartime Sài Gòn. Before heading off Leung gets hitched to schoolgirl Fennie Yuen as anti-British riots roil the streets. Once in Thailand (standing in for Việt Nam) Woo remakes some classics of the area: a suicidal motorcyclist, a Vietcong summarily executed by an Army officer with a revolver, pre-immolation monks, and slightly wonkily, the classic image from Tienanmen Square of a bloke in front of a tank. Soon enough they get ripped off but decide to brave the boss (Chung Lam) who works out of a nightclub. This is the Twin Peaks roadhouse part: singers (specifically Yolinda Yam) and ultraviolence. Soon enough they decide that the easiest way out is take on the boss. Let's call this the Scarface movement. They get a lot of help from the CIA's local French-Vietnamese super soldier Simon Yam and some impedance from the singer. After that things get more purely The Deer Hunter with some boat action not too far from Apocalypse Now and the title is realised. And after that things get tidied up in an improbable and inessential urban gangster manner. We're certainly not here for the reality.

Once again the world is made of fire, but Woo is not entirely crass here: he keenly observes the parallels between the peace protests in Sài Gòn of the 1960s and the (cough) Brexit riots in Hong Kong. The cinematography by Wilson Chan, Ardy Lam, Chai Kittikum Som, and Wing-Hang Wong is often quite fine. I found the dubbing to be really annoying — it's often hard to figure out who's talking. It's got an epic sweep like a Sergio Leone, with that gold fever. Jacky Cheung left me cold initially but he has some great scenes and is very funny (at the right times). The Vietnamese generally don't get speaking parts and are as trivialised as ever.

Somehow not reviewed by my usual reviewers. IMDB trivia.

The Old Oak (2023)

/noise/movies | Link

Prompted by Jason Di Rosso's interview with director Ken Loach. He's ancient now and his earnest left-wing perspective is similarly timeless and out of time: he romanticises the now-splintered solidarity of the old northern coal-mining villages of England, a union movement that can still dig up a few coins long thought lost in the folds of that worn Chesterfield, the pre-Thatcher working-class values and lifestyle almost gone from living memory. This is done through the lens of how the locals respond to the Syrian refugees that the distant regime in London has dumped on them, without there being sufficient resources to address even their existing social ills. (It's got the downward-spiral logic: the state encourages those it pays the rent for to move to places where rent is cheap, leading to less investment in maintaining or renewing the housing stock of those places. Community disintegration accelerates.) Some of the acting is fine (Dave Turner as a sympathetic publican, Ebla Mari as a photographer who is most of the interface between the English and the Syrians) but too many characters are coarsely drawn (all the grievance-bearers for instance) and there's a curious moving-right-along impatience that leaves most threads unresolved; amongst other things, who didn't want to see what the industrial juice press could do? It's more (literally) mournfully observational than judgemental. It's not This is England. Loach does not pretend to have any solutions.

Peter Bradshaw. Denying the use of the dormant back room to the local (grievance) community then allowing it to be used for communal meals was clunky; why not both? Sandra Hall. The corrective comments are more accurate. That the dogicide had no consequences was a major flaw. Ben Kenigsberg at Cannes: whatever its merits relative to the canon, it bests almost everything else in contemporary cinema. Shades of Peter Gabriel perhaps.

William Gibson: Count Zero (1986) and Mona Lisa Overdrive. (1988)

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. Revisiting the latter parts of the "Sprawl trilogy" was inevitable after re-reading Neuromancer. As with its derivative The Matrix, this pair feels like a tacked on two-part sequel. Many words are spilt on colour but not on anything critical to the plot. For instance I had no idea why Kumiko (sprog of a big cheese in the Yakuza) felt it so important to inform Sally Shears / Molly Millions ... well, about what? Also the ultimate "marriage" of Count Zero and Angie Mitchell seemed to have no consequences, and nor does Angie's replacement with Mona Lisa on the TikTok of the day. Slick Henry's robotic sculptures were derivatives of what we saw in Bladerunner. What made no sense at all was the use of payphones when everyone is jacked into cyberspace, and more generally, having all these characters zoom around in meatspace. Gibson seems to have conceived cyberspace as mostly a spectator thing apart from those cracking crypto (ice) or living in it (artificial intelligences and insane reconstructions of humans). He nailed the ghosts of Yakuza past though ... we're there now. Wintermute gets a walk-on role in the first and is little more than a shadow in the second.

I guess I just wish there was more there, here.

Face/Off (1997)

/noise/movies | Link

Prompted by Adam Fleet's recent retrospective. This is, as promised, completely bonkers. Thanks John Woo! A lot of it is fan service: Nicolas Cage as a terrorist, in it for lolz, goes a bit further over the edge than FBI agent John Travolta. The latter is asked to send himself up, drawing attention to his famous chin and foot massage technique. Joan Allen is the recipient of that massage and notionally makes it with both characters but really it's all Travolta. I found myself laughing at how ludicrous the whole show was — face transplant technology! — what a gas. The more obviously derivative — the Mexican standoff from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, the birds-as-distraction, the inability for anyone to shoot straight when it mattered, the explosions like the world is made of fire — were disappointing: to have come this far and then overstuff it with remade bits of a mediocre James Bond and authentic Hollywood schmaltz was a waste.

Not a lot was asked of Dominique Swain and she did not pass up an opportunity to overact. Gina Gershon and Nick Cassavetes, brother and sister in crime, were a bit more disciplined, a bit more willing to believe.

Roger Ebert: three stars but the review reads like he got into it more than that. Janet Maslin: the Lolita with Swain in it had yet to be released.

Young Frankenstein (1974)

/noise/movies | Link

Mel Brooks completism. This is the highest rated of his features on IMDB. In black-and-white, of course, being set in the present day but strip mining all the Frankenstein myths and portrayals. Gene Wilder lead and co-wrote with Brooks. As the grandson of Shelley's doctor he's at maximum panto, even more than he was in The Producers. (I preferred his knowing and less amped performance in the far more daring Blazing Saddles of the same year.) Marty Feldman was iconic as Igor: his physical comedy and mugging for the camera are often the funniest things on the screen. Peter Boyle played the monster (most famously played by Boris Karloff) in a style that is recognisable from his later performance in Hardcore. He has a very amusing scene with a young girl at a well. Gene Hackman as a blind man! Cloris Leachman, still a middle-aged vamp three years on from The Last Picture Show. Kenneth Mars, the Führer-loving playwright in The Producers, equipped with a mechanical arm lifted straight from Peter Seller's Dr Strangelove. Teri Garr as Swedish entertainment, a favoured Brooks trope.

It took me a few goes to get through as the setup is a bit slow. Brooks seemed to be deeply invested in the idea that Madeline Kahn was foxy. Oscar noms for the adapted screenplay and sound.

Roger Ebert: four stars. Vincent Canby. The elbow-rubbing goodbye was ahead of its time.

Rescue Dawn (2006)

/noise/movies | Link

More Werner Herzog completism. The road, it is long and wearying. The first of his big Hollywood efforts which, being shot in the jungles of Thailand, does echo his South American masterworks. But these are the wrong jungles: it's supposed to be 1965 in Laos and Việt Nam when (apparently) there was still a chance that the U.S.A. would not enter the war.

This is the fictionalised version of Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997). Christian Bale obtained leave from Nolan's Batman epics to take on the role of Dieter Dengler who, on this account, escapes from a Pathet Lao PoW camp with Steve Zahn after being shot down on his first bombing raid. That's about it for plot; the rest is filigree. It's traditional in the sense that the non-English parts go almost untranslated and the enemies of the Americans are generally treated as subhumans unworthy of consideration. This is disappointingly unsubtle from Herzog: based on what I've seen so far I expected him to at least find a novel angle in this stale scenario.

Roger Ebert: three-and-a-half stars. Something like what John Huston used to do. Peter Bradshaw makes it sound like he wished Herzog had given it away before this one. Jeremy Davies as PoW Gene from Eugene, Oregon puts on a little of the old Dennis Hopper. (I was not impressed.) Something so 1960s/1970s: Papillon, The Bridge on the River Kwai. Bale repeats his extreme weight loss/gain from The Machinist. Matt Zoller Seitz made it a Critic's Pick. The Great Escape. Herzog always treats the locals as scenery but he humanely — truthy but all of that is mediated by Americans. Daniel Zalewski visited the set. Herzog's methods were considered unsound, or at least archaic, by his Hollywood crew. And where was that ecstatic truth?

Benjamín Labatut: When We Cease to Understand the World. (2021)

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. Inevitable having read The MANIAC despite not being sold by Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim's timely review nor its appearance on the New York Times list of the best of 2021.

This is a collection of shorts that end up being a bit of a sprawling mess. The MANIAC worked better as Labatut went narrower and deeper: all the ventriloquy centred on illuminating von Neumann. Here we're made to think that almost all of modern theoretical physics arose from fever dreams, that Einstein was the last sane man and that's only because he ran out of imagination in confronting the extreme weirdness of quantum mechanics. I think the central theme was that there's a void at the centre of everything (physics, mathematics, morality, so on); Labatut doesn't to know that there is a crack in everything, or more prosaically, that we're stuck in the realm of unsatisfying phenomena. Alexander Grothendieck's life gets embellished; we get merely a sketch of Shinichi Mochizuki. Erwin Schrödinger at a TB clinic in the Swiss mountains, philanderer, predator, opposed by unstable Werner Heisenberg. Fritz Haber: the process, the poison gas. Karl Schwarzschild's solution to Einstein's field equations of general relativity, black holes, wartime. It's too much and not enough.

Labatut writes well and moves us around fluently but to what end I know not. One of these years Francis Spufford will teach someone to write a masterpiece of this genre.

Goodreads. Most reviews recount the tales and gesture at the imponderable.

Witness (1985)

/noise/movies | Link

Apparently Viggo Mortensen's first role in a feature film. He isn't given much to do and he does it well: making up the numbers in a few crowds of Amish, not chasing Pennsylvanian Amish widow Kelly McGillis (following up her debut in Reuben, Reuben), eyeing Philadelphian detective Harrison Ford knowing he'll supplant him one day. She has a young son (Lukas Haas, as bony as he was in Brick twenty years later) who witnesses a murder by Danny Glover and colleague in a train station toilet. Ford holds them as material witnesses so they never make it to Baltimore. That aspect of the plot quickly goes L. A. Confidential but really this is about the romance between the leads. Everything is predictably Amish Paradise except for Ford who is predictably the best at deploying violence. I did not understand the ending too well.

IMDB tells me this was Peter Weir's first feature-film directorial effort outside of Australia. This got him an Oscar nom, as it did for Ford: his one and only. Shot by John Seale (also nommed and not gonged). The editing and script did get Oscared. The soundtrack by Maurice Jarre has its moments.

Roger Ebert: four stars. Vincent Canby was far less impressed. Alexander Godunov, Amish pursuer of McGillis, steals every scene he's in. Both were fascinated by her physique.

Xavier Herbert: Disturbing Element. (1963)

/noise/books | Link

On dead tree bought from Adelaide Booksellers a while back in expectation of getting to it before now. The Australian Dictionary of Biography's entry for Xavier Herbert claims this is an unreliable autobiography which might be a polite way of observing that it is generally inadequate.

The ADB details what Herbert needlessly mystifies: his to-be-wed parents had him in Geraldton W.A. in 1901 and the family soon moved to Fremantle where he studied pharmacy in an archaic master/indentured apprentice manner before moving to Melbourne to acquire medical credentials. This plan was abandoned after a year and the book abruptly ends with him on a boat to Sydney (I took it to be England) after the first World War. The title was what his train-engine-driving Dad called him whenever he was a problem which was often.

Annoyingly he doesn't give us any idea how he came by the source material for or views he expresses in Capricornia: I wanted to know how he got to the Northern Territory and about all those jobs he had. Instead we get too many tales of manliness: fisticuffs and tupping the sheilas, some really tedious med student humour. On his account if you were born in Australia between about 1917 and 1984 there's a good chance he’s your father. We don't hear about how or where he met his wife (ADB: on a boat to England in 1930) and what she thought of his salad days. It is as prolix as you'd expect but too short; I don't think this was the most interesting time in his life.

Summarised at length at The Australian Legend. Apparently Herbert was buried in 1984 at Alice Springs Garden Cemetery on the Stuart Highway, near the trucking hall of fame. This is quite distant from the town cemetery where Namatjira was buried thirty years prior. I was probably better off reading Frances Olivia de Groen's 630-page PhD thesis on Herbert.

Le Samouraï (1967)

/noise/movies | Link

A pointer from a review of the recent The Killer. Most of it is like the police-procedural side of The Day of the Jackal: the Parisian police know who their assassin is from early on and the remainder is about enforcing the production code despite being French. There's a psychological dimension to it that I mostly missed; I had no clue what the ending was about. Some of the interior cinematography is fine. It was a time of hats.

Apparently I saw this more than a decade ago. It seems I have more patience for this type of thing now.

Roger Ebert: four stars as a "great movie" in 1997. Vincent Canby, briefly (title The Godson).

The Creator (2023)

/noise/movies | Link

For John David Washington who I enjoyed in BlacKkKlansman and less in Tenet. Notionally it's humans versus machines as we've seen so many times before but really it summarises all the Star Wars tropes of the past several decades, right down to the inability of almost anyone to shoot straight or to pay attention to the stuff we're forced to. Most annoying is that everything has a memorable antecedent outside of that universe: the nuking of Los Angeles from Terminator 2, the child of destiny (various, say Kundun), land wars in Asia (every Việt Nam war movie ever), death from above (ditto, Independence Day minus Bill Pullman), despoliation of utopia (Avatar) and so on and on. It's so crassly unoriginal and dumb. I'm not going near the racialism (essentialism).

Strangely this is set in the same year (2065) as Foe. Here there's dumb A.I. (notionally created dynastically by Gemma Chan and ancestors) but not self-driving cars or military satellites. 2065 must be the new 2001.

Jason Di Rosso interviewed co-writer/director Gareth Edwards and was plenty blunt about it being not much chop: I needed to take him seriously and literally. Nicolas Rapold. IMDb reviews: Chappie, Elysium: just imagine what Copley could've done with it. Some humour would have helped immensely (The Mitchells vs the Machines).

Foe (2023)

/noise/movies | Link

Jason Di Rosso interviewed Australian co-writer/director Garth Davis. He was not enthusiastic about the film so I had some idea what I was in for. The raw material was supplied by Iain Reid. I didn't get it at all.

The setup has Paul Mescal, new to me, hitched to Saoirse Ronan in a Midwest that is transparently somewhere in Victoria. (Was that Pabst Blue Ribbon beer? Wow.) Actually it's more like she's shackled by him, at least some of the time, and the deep confusion begins when we hear that they went to school together but didn't properly meet or romance until later. How could she not know what she was getting into? He's the latest and possibly last patriarch of his family farm, now infertile apart from one lonely Eucalypt, and for much of it the marriage is a joyless grind apart from some ecstatic sex in random locations.

This is all bent by a busted scifi premise, something like Total Recall without ... well, everyone. Some corporation drafts him to go off-world, causing bemused Englishman Aaron Pierre to arrive in the self-driving iCybertruck for model year 2065. Both he and Ronan smoke like it’s 1965. Somehow it is critical that Ronan not be left by herself — what about him on the space station? what is this, 1865? — so at about 43 minutes in a clone is arranged and the movie announces itself as being written by very limited men. (The cinematography already suggests this by cleaving so close to murky Fincher despite there being ample opportunity for expansive Malick-esque twirling. The CGI is generally terrible and unnecessary, and overall it made me wish I was watching another open-air Werner Herzog.)

This much I knew from Di Rosso's interview, as well as there being a twist. Well, I didn't understand the twist at all. At about 50 minutes it's clear that something else is going on. Later he doesn't think to use a powertool to solve his problem (a bracelet) which makes it clear we're not looking at a farmboy. There's a strange blood-and-soil motif at 1hr10min. I started to wonder if this wasn't The Game, but no, eventually (1hr25m) the clone is informed "it" is not "real" and so it goes. Who agreed to the premise of this setup? What was learnt from this unreality? They created a golem and the result was hellishly predictable.

Actually my problems started very early on. Why is this government or corporation moving people to space, and why would it be temporary? Everyone knows only the billionaires are going, or more likely machinery with their consciousnesses encoded. And the initial scene of Ronan blubbing in the shower (she does a lot of blubbing throughout) almost made me quit right then. The ending suggests (spoiler? can it be spoilt?) she got cloned too.

Against this Her looks like genius. I had hoped it was going for the Laura moves but no. Another option might've been a clone-only marriage or to take it to the limit as Star Wars fanfic.

Ben Kenigsberg was scathing. Luke Goodsell: over earnest, Bladerunner, it's gonna get smashed. Wendy Ide and Adrian Horton did some (more) smashing: Black Mirror: Be Right Back from 2013, predating the book. Oops. Another stomping from Monica Castillo: if the copy is any good it could go to space instead of him. Oops. Generally held to be accidentally comical. Oops.

The Producers (1967)

/noise/movies | Link

Mel Brooks completism. His first feature as writer and director; the writing got him an Oscar. In two sittings.

Theatre producer Zero Mostel, glory days behind him, is scavenging funds from little old ladies who find him irresistible. Accountant Gene Wilder (Oscar nominated) is sent by someone to do his books but instead ideates a fraud: what if we oversubscribe the profits for a production and make a bomb? (I expect Hollywood works in a similar way.) This leads them to Kenneth Mars's Springtime for Hitler of which we're not shown enough to justify its inevitable success; Director Christopher Hewett (partnered with Andréas Voutsinas) and lead "LSD" Dick Shawn turn it into some kind of Elvis-inspired Las Vegas musical to Mars's consternation. Lee Meredith plays stale Swedish distraction.

I found some of the first half genuinely funny but as things go as they must the tiresome aspects started to dominate.

Roger Ebert: four stars (in 2000 as a "great movie") and the benchmark for Mel Brooks forevermore.

The Killer (2023)

/noise/movies | Link

Fincher's followup to Mank, and unfortunately extending his run of dogs; the last feature he made that's worth watching is Gone Girl. A Netflix production.

There's not a lot going on here. Michael Fassbender (whose last good feature was Macbeth in 2015 I think) plays a Jackal, vacantly, and we all know how that one goes. And if we don't, we've seen Kill Bill. There's a relentless voiceover of Fassbender's thoughts, a sort of self-help guide for professional killers. There's also "Q-Tip" Tilda Swinton mouthing off like a Bond villain.

I was a bit weirded out by the soundtrack: Fassbender's assassin has The Smiths's Meat is Murder as his workday playlist, so inevitably their best-by-far track How Soon is Now? comes on at the critical moment. A later criticality at his jungle lair features Portishead's Glory Box at extreme volume, presumably to cover the events that occurred a few hours prior (I'm guessing). It is as if nothing has happened in almost twenty years. Surely Trent Reznor (with a nod from collaborator Atticus Ross) could've slipped a Nine Inch Nails classic in to round out the retro.

At times it put me in mind of McQueen's Shame: masterfully made, compulsive and joyless, unnecessary.

Manohla Dargis. Based on a French comic. The fight scene was so dim. Wendy Ide. Shane Danielsen, spilling more words than it's worth, suggests seeing Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï (1967) instead. Glenn Kenny: it helps if you're American.

Una (2016)

/noise/movies | Link

An idle bit of Riz Ahmed completism. Also Ben Mendelsohn. Rooney Mara leads in what presents as a Lolita retread.

Except it's not. Vladimir Nabakov's game, as I saw it, was to make art about something so off colour that people would be forever arguing its merits. This is more of a reworking of Mamet's Oleanna (1994): essentially a two-hander about sexual predation with a few minor characters to add some texture, similarly derived from a play.

One day Rooney Mara decides to relitigate her abuse at the age of 13 by Ben Mendelsohn by visiting him at his workplace, a logistics warehouse. Mara mostly looks vacantly damaged so one of the better moments is when Ahmed gets a smile out of her on the way to the confrontation; that's about it though as his character is just a sap. The script leaves no room for things to go anywhere interesting: she doesn't appear to know what she wants and it's unclear why Mendelsohn engages at all. The workplace shenanigans make for some incongruity when the vibe is revenge, like a realist Promising Young Woman, right up to the end where she just walks off into the night. Or was it reclamation? Heavy handed, heavy on the cliches, humourless, reductive, inconclusive, powerless.

Glenn Kenny: adapted from a play, the addition of flashbacks does not help. Less would've been more. Peter Bradshaw: the play was Blackbird from 2005.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)

/noise/movies | Link

The first of Werner Herzog's Hollywood efforts that I can remember seeing. It's obviously a remake of sorts of Bad Lieutenant, or perhaps just covers its greatest hits (not including the nun plot). There are quite a few winks to Herzog's fan base including a Klaus Kinski entrance by lead Nicolas Cage (in the casino, when his charge goes missing) and a David Lynch-adjacent recurring iguana segment. It's not very good. Annoyingly the cast is quite strong but ill-used; Val Kilmer can do a lot more than just mouth off ineffectually and Michael Shannon is asked for little more than a shrug. Eva Mendes did what she could. Brad Dourif! Jennifer Coolidge as Cage's stepmom. It should've been something.

Roger Ebert: four ineffable stars. A comedy. Stephanie Zacharek. A. O. Scott — Cage acts like "Jimmy Stewart as a crackhead" — and Manohla Dargis. Heavily marketed at the time, of course.

The Pigeon Tunnel (2023)

/noise/movies | Link

Another Apple Original. Errol Morris interviewed David Cornwell aka John le Carré not too long before the latter's death. The title is a motif from childhood and shared with Cornwell's autobiographical book of 2016. Most of it is about his relationship with his shyster father which I felt could've involved more incidents and less psychologising. (Yes, my expectations are off base and that is probably why I haven't read too many spy novels.) Cornwell presents a simplistic nation-above-all morality that lacks any political analysis; to him it seems it was always about individuals playing in teams whose membership is fixed by birth, excepting the traitors who are into betrayal for the kicks or the lolz. It falls a long way short of Morris's best (consider The Fog of War) where he peels back a few layers to the benefit of all. Overall I didn't get much from it.

Jeannette Catsoulis made it a critic's pick. Richard Brody. The bulk of it does not live up to that playful beginning. The various movie clips and reenactments detract from the interview. The motif: "think Sisyphus but with bullets". Peter Bradshaw: "Perhaps there is nothing very new in this film, but it's a very civilised experience." He points to where you can find the dirt. And of course Morris is a mate of Herzog's.

Werner Herzog: Every Man for Himself and God Against All: a memoir. (2023)

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. What a title. If you go in cold (I did for the first half) it's a lot of fun. However things are more tedious the more familiar you are with Herzog's schtick (as I was by the second half). His stories of growing up in post-war Germany, in "the remote Bavarian village of Sachrang" near the Austrian border show him self-constructing the globetrotting auteur who remorselessly hunts down his cinematic visions at all costs to everyone. Of course Klaus Kinski comes in for another serve (more than twenty years after My Best Fiend) and we get another retelling of all the fables attached to the making of Fitzcarraldo etc. He skims over his romantic attachments and domestic situations; he's always out there chasing the next thing. Digital filmmaking has allowed him to increase his output exponentially. He shared a particular attitude towards truth in the world with Bruce Chatwin. I wonder why he never worked with Rutger Hauer.

Prompted by Dwight Garner who claims he didn't believe a word of it. Bonus points for the Douglas Adams reference. A lengthy Q&A assembled by Tim Lewis: unacknowledged German humour is a laughing matter. Goodreads was generally impressed. Much later and at great length, David Trotter at the London Review of Books. Similarly Mark O’Connell at the New York Review of Books.

The Twelve Chairs (1970)

/noise/movies | Link

After too much Werner Herzog it was time for more Mel Brooks. This was his second outing as director. A young Frank Langella leads erstwhile aristocrat Ron Moody around Russia, ten years after the revolution, looking for one chair amongst many. Langella plays a suave young lothario not too far from his role in Diary of a Mad Housewife from the same year. Orthodox priest Dom DeLuise searches independently, nuttily, having learned of the MacGuffin from the dying matriarch's confession: it is God's will that he finds it but He is strict. As a panto it has its moments but is generally too diffuse.

Roger Ebert: four stars. Vincent Canby: innocently joyless. Apparently based on a Soviet comic novel.

Fingernails (2023)

/noise/movies | Link

More proof I'll watch Riz Ahmed attempt anything. Another Apple Original production. It put me in mind of their other big misfire that I saw: Swan Song. They seem to aim to churn out sanitised, carefully engineering pap that avoids even the possibility of smudging the brand, and they have yet to figure out how to bottle whatever it was that made CODA Oscar worthy.

Notionally a scifi but the premise is so lame, the setting so quotidian, the exposition so condescending that it's more like a documentary on the neuroticism of the age: the need to be externally validated as a normie, the desire for certainty, accurate predictions without doing the hard yards of building a theory or knowing your own mind, the projection of an acceptable present forevermore with a dash of brand new you're retro incarnated in a wall of books, albums, 1980s power ballads, appendix removal scars and pixels you can actually see. (Sorta like The Simpsons, stuck in the present indefinite.) What do we learn from a test that is supposed to show that two people are in love? It's something like Perfect Match, arse backwards, that reality TV rendered entirely obsolete. This is not Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

I haven't seen Jessie Buckley before. She's in some kind of low-trust relationship (or is it low understanding?) and has an easy and apparently readily forgivable manner of lying. We know she's in trouble when she meets Ahmed, especially when they sit through a "no one understands love more than Hugh Grant" movie marathon in a cinema (!). (The failings listed above, this pining for the big screen on a streaming platform, the Caribou documentary and Luke Wilson ... I couldn't tell if I was watching a parody, a satire, a comedy — but trust me it is sincerely humourless throughout. And everyone knows Grant does a mean and greasy bad guy.)

What's perhaps the strangest thing here is the lack of sex or sexiness. Just love thanks, says Apple, we'll be shipping out the next generation of consumers via iStork. There's an unsexy shower scene. The claim by one testee that she'd been bonking her best man every night for a week for at least an hour put me in mind of Praise.

Jeannette Catsoulis saw a lot more here than I did and made it a critic's pick.

My Best Fiend (1999)

/noise/movies | Link

Klaus Kinski apparently had his say in his autobiography published in 1988. I guess this was Werner Herzog's riposte in his native medium, eight years after Kinski passed.

Mostly this is Herzog declaiming directly to the camera and that gets tiresome fast. Most of the anecdotes are rehearsed elsewhere which made me suspect that the majority of the experiences of making Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre were transient or forgettable. The best parts are when he self-satirizes, for instance by following up a tale of declining the offer by some Peruvian Indians to murder Kinski with some pleading for his own sanity before describing his own plot to achieve the same end at some other place and time.

Burden of Dreams is superior as it doesn't allow Herzog to get away with so much self-serving flab. One reason to watch is for footage of some proper Kinski outbursts, though the first one is a lengthy 51 minutes in and it only involves producer/collateral damage Walter Saxer. Another highlight is Claudia Cardinale at 1 hour 23m observing that Kinski's cleanliness fetish was a little bit like Michael Jackson!

Roger Ebert: three stars. The picture of Kinski taking a machete to Herzog's neck is worth the whole movie. Janet Maslin. Ian Buruma takes Herzog on more deeply, broadly and entertainingly in 2007: fabulism, "the twentieth century [was a] massive, colossal and cataclysmic mistake." I'm about Herzogged out.

Burden of Dreams (1982)

/noise/movies | Link

Every Apocalypse Now needs its Hearts of Darkness; this is Les Blank doing the necessary for Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo. (Herzog and a member of crew return the favour by wearing tshirts that say "garlic is as good as ten mothers" (at keeping the girls away).)

As a documentary of the production it disappoints only in not recording any Kinski explosions; apparently I need to watch My Best Fiend for those. His monologue is colourful, incoherent and somewhat engaging while Herzog has a few goes at out-Brandoing Brando in his Germanic monotone. I can't imagine Jason Robards in the lead — he looks like he's trying so hard in the surviving footage, at least relative to Kinski — and his scenes with Mick Jagger are not great. Claudia Cardinale appears but does not engage the documentarians. She had the good sense to not leave the city. It is clear that while Herzog has that will to conquer the useless, Kinski out-insanes everyone.

Roger Ebert: four stars. Vincent Canby.

Fitzcarraldo (1982)

/noise/movies | Link

Werner Herzog’s masterpiece. A bit like a David Lean epic (a vast cast of extras, an exotic location, quixotic characters, an impossible quest) unburdened by historicity. Something of a do-over of Aguirre, The Wrath of God. Herzog followed it with Where the Green Ants Dream. Strangely also a Miguel Ángel Fuentes jag from The Mexican.

The plot has Klaus Kinski wanting to build an opera house in (I think) Iquitos, Peru, but of course things are not that simple. After failing to build a trans-Andean railway and finding that the ice-making business doesn't pay, he prevails upon his main squeeze Claudia Cardinale, madam to the town's upper class, to buy him a boat so he an enter the rubber trade. Apart from the opera all this is surplus scaffolding, roughly equivalent to Conrad or Coppola giving us excess motivation for their Kurtzes, as the main meal is getting that boat to the right part of the river, beyond some impassable rapids. Herzog manufactures beliefs for the indigenous, as is his wont: in this case that a White God will appear and lead them to some promised land. (Captain Paul Hittscher and Klaus Kinski both wear white but everyone knows Kinski is the god.) With labourers and gramophone in hand the boat can now go over the mountain. The big set piece is much like The Wages of Fear for tension, and Zorba the Greek for batshit analog craziness. It's mostly a lot of fun.

Forward! to Burden of Dreams and surely My Best Fiend.

Roger Ebert: four stars in 1982 and another four stars in 2005 as a "great movie". Vincent Canby made it a critic's pick. More The African Queen than Aguirre. IMDb trivia. Cardinale had a retrospective at MoMA this year. She seemed so happy to be in this picture and lights up every scene she's in.

Truck Turner (1974)

/noise/movies | Link

A solid and generic piece of blaxploitation. Yaphet Kotto completism. He's a lot better than the material; IMDB trivia says he only took the gig because he was getting divorced. Isaac Hayes lead and did the soundtrack, clearly aiming to recapture the success of Shaft and seed a franchise. Nichelle Nichols plays a madam with a vast wardrobe in her one-and-only jaunt into the genre.

I can't say I understood the plot too well which was perhaps because there isn't much of one. Hayes and partner Alan Weeks are "skip tracers", i.e., bounty hunters for a bond bailsman in Los Angeles. One pimp puts up a bit too much of a fight so Nicols takes umbrage and puts out an "insurance" contract on Hayes. Kotto is somehow a big cheese in the killing-for-money game despite his employees being dispatchable with ease. In between the action Hayes gets to squeeze Annazette Chase who is a sincere cat fancier; Ginger Frances put in a solid shift before being used to inflame the situation. The scenes where she gets out of the joint are very funny.

Vincent Canby.

The Royal Hotel (2023)

/noise/movies | Link

Kitty Green's latest. I appreciated her #metoo perspective in The Assistant though I feel now as then that investing her characters with excess naivete (and even dumbness) leaves too little room for insight and power.

The opening gambit has two young lady backpackers/holidaymakers/questionably-Canadian escapees (again Julia Garner and Jessica Henwick) on a party boat on Sydney Harbour. Their dancing, drinking and flirting are as awkward and forced as Park Ji-min's wasn't. Running out of money they're told the only job going is serving alcohol in the remote outback, so, of course, they wake in fright at the Royal Hotel in Yatina, South Australia. (Spoiler: here the kangaroo doesn't get it.) This is deeply weird as there is plenty of gig work in Sydney and some of that can be quite adventurous. I expected a reference to the working holiday visa conditions but no.

Suffice it to say that the customers of the pub are almost entirely mine-working men wearing Australia's national dress — hi-viz — so after a rough introduction from housekeeper/cook/wife-/mother-type Ursula Yovich and alkie/publican Hugo Weaving, the latter in hardcore unforgiving oblivious ocker mode, we get down to predatory business. I began to wonder if I was watching that Eastern European torture-porn hotel thing from ages ago that I never saw, the excruciation stemming from the girls presenting as incredibly ignorant and credulous. Was this the 1960s, or at least some time before smartphones and WikiCamps? ... before the Lonely Planet even? Dorky Toby Wallace implausibly plays Kylie Minogue's Locomotion cover on a tape deck (I think) ... so surely it's about 1987 ... but no, Julia Garner has a smartphone. This is as completely implausible as the horror tropes and those Saturday nights without Cold Chisel banging out the national anthem. The most authentic moment, despite it's evident fakery, is the final one when the ladies set it all on fire.

It's such a strange thing for Kitty Green to make a movie about; a shallow critique of her original culture in the form of an unsubtle anti-tourism ad. It's clearly made for Americans given the raised eyebrows at the lack of tips. Everything here has been done better before: more engaging (even authentic) backpacker stories, better-shot outback pub scenes, resourceful and thoughtful ladies. (Julia Garner is not in the running to be the next Ripley despite the mean way she wields an axe.) Michael Latham's cinematography is nothing special, especially when set against Warrick Thornton's or Ivan Sen's. (Sen moreover has the guts to go right over the top.) Perhaps this is Green saying that the country is not worthy of anything better. I appreciate and respect Hugo's one-actor attempt to revive the Australian movie sector but it's beyond him. It's probably beyond everyone.

Jeannette Catsoulis made it a critic's pick despite finding it exhausting. Oh the dei ex machina: saved by a sober man at sunrise on a Sunday! — which has never happened in Australia. Inspired by Hotel Coolgardie. Benjamin Lee. Sorry mate, it's really not much. A bit later, Peter Bradshaw and Wendy Ide. She dug it, he didn't. Much later, Jason Di Rosso interviewed Kitty Green for The Screen Show. Despite expending heroic effort in discerning the novelties he did not recommend it. Jake Wilson: the same old story.

Vanishing Point (1971)

/noise/movies | Link

A Cleavon Little jag from Blazing Saddles. Also eventually inevitable due to Tarantino's boosterism. Barry Newman leads, woodenly, or is it the much-fetishized white Dodge Challenger? I think his job is to take the car from Colorado to California but it doesn't seem to matter what condition it arrives in, and for reasons unspecified he decides to go on a cannonball run. Adding to the strangeness is that he appears to have all the time in the world to engage with a variety of counterculturalists. (Newman's background is Việt Nam, police force, race car driver, dead surfer-girl lover, all shown in flashback.) Going right over the top is Little's (humourless) blind radio DJ who feeds him information from a police scanner. So Easy Rider but just the one bloke in a car, witless Talk Radio without Bogosian.

What I totally didn't get was how the Dodge Challenger, being so fast and powerful and all, got overhauled regularly by the cop cars.

Beneath Roger Ebert's radar. Roger Greenspun.

Blazing Saddles (1974)

/noise/movies | Link

Mel Brooks's big panto-Western. Crass as all get out and completely beyond the pale now. A Richard Pryor jag from Blue Collar — he got a writing credit here. Also for Slim Pickens who was one of the weaker performers. Lead Cleavon Little is as skilfully comedic as he needs to be to carry the racially-charged material. I was disappointed to find that, according to IMDB, his feature-film career was pretty much just this and Vanishing Point. Little's knowing partnership with Gene Wilder moderates the harsh humour. Madeline Kahn got an Oscar nom for playing a tired German burlesque performer, as did the title song. David Huddleston later reached greater heights as The Big Lebowski. Harvey Korman as a classic panto villain.

Most of the gags are visual, often blink-and-you’ll-miss-it. Some are predictable, some homage (one segment is pure Looney Tunes), others inventive. There's something here to offend everyone, maybe.

Roger Ebert: four stars. Vincent Canby: a bunch of skits. Both observe Kahn is taking off Marlene Dietrich.

The New Boy (2023)

/noise/movies | Link

In two sittings due to a failure of grip. Warrick Thornton does some great cinematography at times and I did enjoy the interstitial bursts of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. (Thornton wrote and directed as well.) Beyond that it's too much hard work; the themes are obvious and ancient but the plot was unfathomable to me. Cate Blanchett leads as a boozy nun, not too successfully. Deborah Mailman puts on her beatific. Wayne Blair, as bemused as the audience. Aswan Reid plays the child (no not that Child) who might be The One or something else. Shot in South Australia but I think it left its heart on the Dampier Peninsula. Set during World War 2. Thornton's pandemic-project The Beach looks so much better.

Jason Di Rosso interviewed Thornton earlier this year. Luke Buckmaster: go see Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds instead. Sure, it's clear that baptism robs the boy of his magic. What's happening in the rest of it? Peter Bradshaw. And much later, Wendy Ide.

Trent Dalton: Lola in the Mirror. (2023)

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. Third time around with Dalton after Boy Swallows Universe and the less scintillating All Our Shimmering Skies. More of that winning formula: we're back in Brisbane, things are cinematic, there's a love triangle, some complicated story about parentage, junk, alcoholism, drug distribution but not consumption, more underbaked secondary characters, a dash of magic realism and/or mental unwellness, the river, the city. Novel is the choice to set it in the near future — therefore predicting an epic flood during the coming summer — and the focus on homelessness and domestic violence.

I couldn't help but trainspot Dalton's borrowings again. The Brisvegas underclass is so very Andrew McGahan. Our first-person heroine's relationship with glamorous red-dressed bombshell Lola Inthemirror is pure Last Night in Soho. The scenario is more De Palma's Scarface than Trainspotting — leaving aside Begbie clone Brandon Box but noting the complete lack of humour and general absence of non-romantic pleasure — and even more Kill Bill (femmes lethal with blades at ease with cartoon violence and so on) with a dash of Pulp Fiction (that scene where Bruce Willis sees Ving Rhames on the street amongst others). Jacki Weaver for Lady Flo for sure, and obviously Timothée Chalamet for Charlie. I'm sure others will cite others.

The main (structural, literary) flaws are the repetition, that so much text progresses neither character nor plot, the heavy foreshadowing, the busted pacing and predictable dei ex machina in the last movement. Relinquishing destitution appears to require a big pile of drug money (ronin capital, stage one) and (stage two) a rich talented characterless boyfriend with parents who allow you to park your decrepit van on their property; what a stinky disempowering vector, especially in the wake of the plot-convenient elimination of your purported best friend, a male alkie, who you do not mourn. Hmm. Dalton does effectively get out some of the big (positive) emotions but his oft-repeated airheaded takes on love (come on man, rainbows are ephemeral) and the rest are entirely subsumed by the mantra of Kieren Perkins's mum: It's gonna be all right in the end. And if it's not, it isn't the end.

Jack Callil: misguided, nothing new, no nuance — Dalton boils the ocean in search of a rise. Dangerously lazy with his ideation. A conservative worldview adjacent to Scott Morrison's. Ouch. Or is Callil just taking a dig at someone who works for Murdoch? Callil points to Catriona Menzies-Pike's critique of Dalton's first two. Damn straight, no sex! — the most we get here is some tepid fingers-on-arm in the morning. (I now realise that there are no sexual deviants amongst the Daltonian marginalised.) Dalton's prose is relentless and militantly sentimental. Details deployed to smother the deep chasms of difference. And yet she does not compare him with the similarly commercially-successful Tim Winton. Juliette Hughes sells it at the Smage: Paul Heppell's Tyrannosaurus-headed man makes you think of the Minotaur? Hmm. People at Goodreads are loving it so far, or at least those who scored free review copies.

Dalton's books have all the pleasures of tabloid newspapers, including, in this instance, the pictures.

The Burial (2023)

/noise/movies | Link

I'll watch Jamie Foxx do just about anything even though I know that the movie is rarely as good as he is. This one conforms to type. Here he's paired with funeral-home owning Tommy Lee Jones in good-old-Southern-boy mode, aiming for the magic of No Country for Old Men and missing.

This is formulaic, excessively-juiced courtroom stuff in what I take to be the Erin Brockovich mould that Americans are supposed to lap up: the little fellow prevails over the heavily abstracted corporate (Canadian) predator after some fleet-footed legal work. Notionally this is a matter of contract law but of course personal injury lawyer Foxx — so successful he never wears the same suit twice — is obviously going to turn it into a personal injury and the only question is whose. The conclusion is hollow as it's just about money; there's no real sense of a larger set of winners or social change or law reform or whatever despite the terminal textual special pleading.

The script fatally drowns in a sea of racism; the writers know this and try to address it with a series of knowingly clunky scenes in the middle. It flags whenever Foxx is not on the screen. He has a few great moments with (unfortunately characterless) wife Amanda Warren including a very sweet one just before closing arguments. Jurnee Smollett does what she can for the defence. The vibe is that lawyering is going to change the world for the better ... except it doesn’t seem to have. I guess they'll just have to argue the counterfactual, that all of the alternatives are worse.

Glenn Kenny.

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar (2023)

/noise/movies | Link

Wes Anderson's latest. The story was archaic (like Kipling) for 1976 when (we're told) Roald Dahl wrote the source material let alone for 2023. Things are very simple: at the fag end of the always-glorious British Empire conjurer Ben Kingsley discovered how to see without his eyes, or less cryptically, see through things. In less glorious post-Imperial days Benedict Cumberbatch recovers doctor Dev Patel's notes about this wondrous ability and ultimately, unimaginatively plays Robin Hood. Ralph Fiennes narrates. Jarvis Cocker has a few roles. There are no speaking parts for women.

Everyone delivers their lines (and there are far too many lines) breathlessly. Anderson's signature aesthetic doesn't add anything. His Fantastic Mr Fox is far more entertaining.

Luke Goodsell dug it. Three more Dahl shorts are in the Netflix pipe. Peter Bradshaw was less impressed: slight and two-dimensional. Theatrical. More of the same?

Thunderbirds Are GO (1966)

/noise/movies | Link

Idle curiosity about the source aesthetic for Team America: 1960s Supermarionation! and analog effects — I like it but it's not enough on its own.

This seemed to be a TV episode stretched to feature length. The plot is a generic James Bond thing with a very few face-off disguises like Mission Impossible. The bad guy(s) are unmotivated; know them by their eyebrows. It is assumed that space technology will progress though user interfaces, styling and aerodynamics will remain stuck in the 1950s. There's an American gigantism that (at the time) was struggling to keep up with the USSR.

The pace is soporific as the creators are in love with their constructions, much like a Wes Anderson movie. The contraptions aren't as crazy as Wallace and Gromit so the serious, solemn savouring of every set and design gets tedious. The puppetry is limited by its inability to portray walking. There is life on Mars but the creatives have forgotten that it is the red planet. Notable in the voice cast are two Australians — Charles 'Bud’ Tingwell and Ray Barrett — and a very misguided performance by Cliff Richard Jr.

Overall there's nothing here beyond what you'd get from a few stills; audiences of the day apparently knew this and stayed away. It's probably more fun to read about the production.

Benjamín Labatut: The MANIAC. (2023)

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. It's a good, sometimes fun, well built jaunt through the early days of cybernetics and artificial life that continues with what feels like tacked-on coverage of a recent success. The appeal was that it might reach the heights of Francis Spufford's Red Plenty, which it doesn't. I also hoped for a dash of the crazy inventiveness of Ned Beauman.

For the main meal Labatut ventriloquises various people around John von Neumann as a means of giving some insight into the greatest mathematician of the 20th Century, and, I guess, the madness that hard thinking seems to induce in anyone. He opens promisingly with an account of the unknown-to-me Austrian physicist Paul Ehrenfest committing murder-suicide but soon enough retreats mostly to the well-rehearsed greatest hits: Albert Einstein struggling with a dice-playing God, Oppenheimer, David Hilbert claiming that Cantor had created a paradise and so on. But the opportunity to unpack these things is missed: just why did Einstein struggle with a probabilistic/undetermined universe? Apropos Hilbert, Gianpaolo dug up the following quotes for me:

I stated a general theorem on algebraic forms that is a pure existence statement and by its very nature cannot be transformed into a statement involving constructibility. Purely by use of this existence theorem I avoided the lengthy and unclear argumentation of Weierstrass and the highly complicated calculations of Dedekind, and in addition, I believe, only my proof uncovers the inner reason for the validity of the assertions adumbrated by Gauss and formulated by Weierstrass and Dedekind.

The value of pure existence proofs consists precisely in that the individual construction is eliminated by them and that many different constructions are subsumed under one fundamental idea, so that only what is essential to the proof stands out clearly; brevity and economy of thought are the raison d'être of existence proofs.

In other words, Hilbert relied on some idealised objects (that set theory justifies the existence or at least manipulation of) to obtain general results and felt the increase in quality paid for the ontological complications. (Less generously he declared ontological bankruptcy and thieved some theorems.) Of course many did and do disagree with the formalist position though the vast majority apparently continue to shrug and get on with their knitting. But what did von Neumann think about the foundations of mathematics? What was he aiming for before Kurt Gödel brought absolutist foundations (aka the Hilbert program) to an end? (The sketch at Wikipedia is thin and makes it look like he was completely eclipsed by Gödel and later Gentzen.)

Gianpaolo pointed me to von Neumann's The Mathematician (in Works of the Mind Vol. I no. 1, University of Chicago Press, 1947, pp180-196.) which contains some philosophical musings on these points. He was a fan of the axiomatic method which resolved millennia-long confusions over Euclid's axioms, but knew the lack of rigour did not inhibit the development of calculus/analysis for its first 150 years or so. He reckons it may be mostly just a matter of aesthetics (good taste) informed and freshened by empirical ideas.

The title is the name of von Neumann's computer at the IAS, the model of the JOHNNIACs. I was bothered by some clangers. In the context of artificial life, Labatut has an embittered Nils Aall Barricelli spout off about some of Alan Turing's assertions. He claims "Turing proved mathematically: there is simply no form of knowing what a particular string of code will do unless you run it." — which (under a generous reading) is true of machines but not necessarily of the oracles that are the central concern of this chapter. Also there is nothing so very strange about Turing's oracles: he originally only considered deterministic machines while being aware of the true randomness of quantum mechanical processes, and leaving the possibility that human insight might also add power.

The slight second part makes for a strange counterpoint, being mostly overblown coverage of AlphaGo's match with Lee Sedol in the style of sports journalism. Just the highlights thanks, and not enough to get to grips with anything of substance.

Tom McCarthy at the New York Times. Goodreads. Sam Byers: underpowered, diffuse. Ben Cosman summarises and sets it against Oppenheimer and notes there are three movements not two. Labatut is Chilean and has SBF's hair.

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019)

/noise/movies | Link

Breaking Bad completism. Indeed the canon was already complete, as I also learnt from Better Call Saul. These are inessential offcuts from the TV show threaded through Jesse Pinkman's present-time escape to Alaska after the big finale. There is some minor unfinished business but mostly it's about getting enough money together to pay the extractor. Somehow we know he survives so there's no tension in any of the scenarios.

James Poniewozik: extends but does not add.

Midnight Run (1988)

/noise/movies | Link

In two sittings. An accidental and incorrect Robert De Niro jag from The Deer Hunter, and more intentionally some Yaphet Kotto completism. The latter does his best as an FBI agent who keeps missing his man. Dennis Farina plays a Mafioso dumb enough to persevere with incompetent help (cf Get Shorty). Notionally De Niro is tasked with moving peaceable Mob accountant Charles Grodin from NYC to Los Angeles so that bail bondsman Joe Pantoliano (memorable in The Matrix and Memento) can avoid bankruptcy. There are many set pieces along the way including a shootout in downtown Chicago. Nowhere as funny as it needed to be.

Roger Ebert: three-and-a-half stars. Formula! Vincent Canby: "wastes more talent and money than most movies ever hope to see." Formula!

Kubrick by Kubrick (2020)

/noise/movies | Link

A thin and brief (about an hour) assembly of some audio-only interviews of Kubrick by Michel Ciment accompanied by some of the more iconic designs from his movies. Directed by Gregory Monro.

It's often fun or at least interesting listening to Kubrick but the accompanying visuals are mostly static and boring. Things perk up a bit with some spliced-in interviews with his actors: Jack Nicholson got off a few good lines about Kubrick's way of doing things (more of that here perhaps). Tom Cruise sounds off about his feelings and Nicole Kidman is unsurprisingly vacuous. Sterling Hayden is as fun as always, and a lengthier interview with him is available on Youtube via The Stanley Kubrick Appreciation Society; I expect trawling their collection would be more rewarding than this.

Ben Kenigsberg. It seems Kubrick retros are in fashion. I wonder why.

The Deer Hunter (1978)

/noise/movies | Link

A Christopher Walken jag from recent things, and I guess a continuation of the working class vibe from Blue Collar. Third or more time around. I don't understand this movie; the American war in Việt Nam seems mostly ancillary to this exploration of the lives of the lethal boys from Clairton, Pennsylvania, USA. Their hometown antics after work at the steel mill are pretty generic. A core theme is just wishing you'd stayed home. It may be that Michael Cimino tried to pack too much in even while letting things sprawl to three hours. It may also be that this movie was the first to successfully set out how the war should be treated in popular American culture, with many themes (going back for a buddy, mutual solace with a mate's partner, losing limbs, etc.) later receiving separate feature-length treatments. In contrast MASH (about the Korean War but released in 1970) and Coming Home (also 1978) seem more limited.

The theme music (Cavatina) is iconic: composed by Stanley Myers and performed by John Williams from Melbourne. #193 in the IMDB top-250. Heavily Oscared: best picture, Walken for support, Cimino for direction, sound and editing. Robert De Niro got a nom but not a gong, as did Meryl Streep who was young once. I felt John Cazale could have had more than two modes. George Dzundza. The river Kwai in Thailand stands in for one in Việt Nam.

Roger Ebert: four stars. "It is one of the most emotionally shattering films ever made." Russian Roulette "is a brilliant symbol because, in the context of this story, it makes any ideological statement about the war superfluous." — and yet it does make an ideological statement about the war. Vincent Canby: more thoughtful than usual. Apropos De Niro's "one shot": "As codes go this one is not great, but it is his own." — clearly these are the days before Lose Yourself. The wedding "occupies most of the film's first hour and sets out in rich detail what I take to be one of the movie's principal concerns — what happens to Americans when their rituals have become only quaint reminders of the past rather than life-ordering rules of the present."

IMDB trivia: was Russian Roulette prevalent during the war? Protests at the Berlin festival in 1979. Protests by the Los Angeles chapter of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Unapologetically ahistoric, ignorantly racist, not really about the war or Việt Nam.

Across 110th Street (1972)

/noise/movies | Link

A Yaphet Kotto jag from Blue Collar. Also for Anthony Quinn. All you needed for a Blaxploitation in 1972 was a cracking theme song, one or two decent leads and a willingness to pile on the race and violence tropes in Harlem (or equivalent). Here the game is simple: two Black chancers rob a Mafia bank in Harlem. The inevitable cleanup then proceeds by numbers, starting with their incompetent getaway driver. The Italians are entirely caricatured. Quinn plays a notional old-dog semi-straight detective, an expert at what the British would call community policing, while Kotto is his notional superior on this case. It does serve up many shots of the NYC skyline of the day but then again so do so many other movies. Perhaps the best bits are of the Harlem demimonde.

Roger Greenspun.

Reptile (2023)

/noise/movies | Link

A Benicio Del Toro effort: co-written, co-produced, starring as a straight police detective. You can see what he was reaching for — something like an L.A. Confidential for Atlanta, Georgia, an update of Serpico — but the result is inexcusably airless, like The Dry. So often we don't know where we're going or why and most of the (patent) misdirection is left unresolved. The odd bout of levity ("I love this kitchen") exacerbates the flatness of the rest. Everyone's corrupt to some degree or other; Alicia Silverstone flirts a bit too much with a tradie, and has a phone call with an unrecognisably humourless Eric Bogosian that suggests she might be more invested in the goings-on than she is in husband Del Toro. We'll never know. Justin Timberlake flogs upscale real estate with Lady Macbeth mother Frances Fisher. His girlfriend Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz is the first murderee. There's an overbearing dumbness and inevitability to the whole thing. There's nothing memorable about the cinematography or music. It's a dog.

Natalia Winkelman. Peter Bradshaw. Director Grand Singer has form as a director of music videos.

Blue Collar (1978)

/noise/movies | Link

Paul Schrader's directorial debut. He co-wrote it with his brother Leonard Schrader, basing it on raw material by Sydney A. Glass. It's far better than his other late-1970s post-Taxi Driver efforts as he extracts a lot of humour from the scenario, perhaps because he directed his own script. Casting Richard Pryor in the lead also helped.

There's industrial unrest on the auto lines in sunny Detroit and everyone has money problems that take many screen minutes to set up. (In this century we can safely just assume that nobody needs a reason for wanting more money.) Partying helps but leads to a harebrained scheme to rob the union that has been robbing them. Maybe. Things go a little pear shaped and the status quo ante is reestablished with some of the names changed. Pryor is often hilarious but quietens down as things get serious. Fearless loose cannon Yaphett Kotto is fantastic. Harvey Keitel does OK but his character is a numpty. Ed Begley Jr. was in there somewhere.

This perhaps opened the door to the style of workplace sitcom later mined by David Mamet and others (humour, well-observed specifics, outre plot). Things got entertainingly Office Space when one frustrated labourer skewered a thieving Coke machine with a Toyota forklift ("16th time you bastard!"). But of course we saw something similar in Doctor Strangelove a decade and a half prior.

Roger Ebert: four stars. An update of On the Waterfront. A stunning debut. Vincent Canby. A poor man's On the Waterfront. Corruption but not as a matter of conscience. A pop tune with a big beat. Contains a certain amount of intellectual confusion.

Rolling Thunder (1977)

/noise/movies | Link

Another post-Taxi Driver story/co-written by Paul Schrader. An early (too early?) Việt Nam war vet flick that was soon eclipsed by the far superior The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now (etc) that people still watch.

Returning from too many years in a POW camp in Hanoi, humourless, robotic William Devane finds the Mexico-adjacent South of the USA less restorative than Tom Cruise did about a decade later, especially after his wife calls it a day after not quite waiting so long. Schrader retreads Taxi Driver by having him accept arbitrary damage to himself (think also Robocop or Terminator) — calling this acceptance "forgiveness" — but not his sacred family. A violent home invasion puts that to the test. Linda Haynes has to explain groupies to him, and later demonstrate. Eventually he sets off with a young Tommy Lee Jones for justice in an entirely unsatisfying Dirty Harry vigilante sort of way. The climax in the brothel is of entirely the wrong sort.

Vincent Canby. Such a tough, complicated, explosive character that one keeps wishing the film were a match for him; so, a precursor to Rambo. Written in 1973! Linda Haynes has nothing on Ava Gardner.

Return Home (1990)

/noise/movies | Link

A David Stratton Marvellous Movie (#75). Another of Ben Mendelsohn's breakout movies from 1990; like The Big Steal and unlike Quigley Down Under, this makes it seem that he was at risk of becoming typecast as a mechanic or petrolhead.

Dennis Coard returns to Adelaide from his insurance job in Melbourne to visit his elder brother Frankie J. Holden's family who run a traditional service station in Mitchell Park (a suburb of Adelaide). I get the impression they live in Grange, near the beach. The vibe is that you can take the boy out of the overgrown country town/state capital but you've got little hope of repopulating it if this is all that's on offer. A lot is said but not enough is shown, especially about the hot rod scene of the 1970s/1980s. There is nothing much of a plot.

Mendelsohn's apprentice-mechanic role is to show these old fogies that the young can still get plenty bored and self-destructive; they'll even have kids just for something to do. Even the drive-in leads to romantic ruts! — that thread of the thin narrative is a drag and it isn't resolved whether Coard will find a new squeeze in his old town. The dog's kennel is a classic, made of car doors and a tarp.

The theme of coming home and finding it better than away is (of course) timeless; perhaps it is a central part of the Australian myth (cf Erskineville Kings and in a different sense Wake in Fright, Walkabout, etc.). The vintage lingo gives it a similar vibe to David Williamson's The Club: things were better when we were amateurs/young, when the pace of change was slower, before Australia was swept up on irresistible international currents. Why should we change/put effort in just to stand still/lose the essence of what we loved?

All the details at Ozmovies. I might be confused about the locations as apparently the service station used in this movie has morphed into the United at Henley Beach. Five stars each from Margaret and David!

Return to Seoul (2022)

/noise/movies | Link

A young Korean woman, adopted by a French couple as a baby, heads to Korea for a break on a whim. (We're told she'd usually go to Tokyo but the airline was unwilling.) In a series of episodes we're shown how her life goes as she becomes more entangled with her biological family (even as she tries to keep her distance from her father) and the dodgier parts of Seoul. Fun is had in how the various characters navigate the social politics in translation; sometimes English is what glues a relationship together. Somehow I really enjoyed it — it's not predictable or stale.

Director Davy Chou has extracted some great performances from his actors. Lead Park Ji-min bravely goes everywhere she's asked to. (I want to see her in a sequel as a Bond girl.) Thomas Favel's cinematography is often excellent with some nice framing of the mostly indoor scenes, though it doesn't reach the heights of Christopher Doyle's Hong Kong.

A Critic's Pick by Amy Nicholson. The dancing scenes were great. Peter Bradshaw. Broker also mines the adoption theme.

Obsession (1976)

/noise/movies | Link

An idle bit of Brian De Palma and Paul Schrader completism. They co-conceived the story and Schrader wrote it up. It's a bit Vertigo with some lengthy Godfather-esque set-piece shots that lack the salience of the Coppola originals, shot in Vaseline lens. Wooden lead Cliff Robertson pines for his wife Geneviève Bujold who is killed in a kidnapping ransom payment screwup that put me in mind of sundry cryptocurrency fiascos. This emotional stall out in 1959 makes him susceptible to a second go around with a lookalike in 1975. For just a moment the thing considers going Bluebeard. John Lithgow does what he can as an inexplicably single Southern good old boy who knows how to flatter and party in fluent Italian. Overall it is inert, drecky and icky.

Roger Ebert: three stars of high regard: "sometimes overwrought excess can be its own reward". Vincent Canby: what's in it for the lookalike?

Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard (2011)

/noise/movies | Link

On the pile for a very long time. Prompted by Jason Di Rosso's coverage of the recent Michael Gudinski biopic (creator of the Mushroom group) who gave it a thumbs up. I haven't trawled Howard's catalogue exhaustively but he really got it together on Teenage Snuff Film: his voice, music and lyrics combine well.

This is mostly talking heads. Nick Cave generally sucks the oxygen out of things with some rueful claims that are easy to make thirty years too late, like the bleating of many an Australian politician after they've departed the scene. On the other hand he does make a few good observations, such as Howard being inflexibly oversensitive, taking things a bit too personally. (I sympathise with his take that Howard felt London was made purely to spite him personally.) Wim Wenders claims the sounds of mid-1980s were The Birthday Party's (see Wings of Desire) and that the blokes from Melbourne (actually St Kilda) brought the heroin. Recurring sometime main squeeze Genevieve McGuckin yields the most light, though I have to dispute her claim that Lydia Lunch is sex on legs. Mick Harvey is similarly bemused by Howard's wild talent. Henry Rollins!

There aren't many flat bits and none last long. The highlights are the concert footage and interviews with Howard himself. He's more fun as a kid on a lark than as a self-identifying guru/elder of the 2000s. You didn't have to be there but it probably helps. Nobody noticed that Howard did for The Birthday Party and Nick Cave what John Cale did for The Velvet Underground.

Paul Byrnes. Co-director Richard Lowenstein made Dogs in Space, He Died with a Felafel in His Hand and later tried to bottle lightning again with Mystify: Michael Hutchence. This was a followup to We're Livin' on Dog Food. He has mostly made music videos.

Hardcore (1979)

/noise/movies | Link

Paul Schrader wrote and directed, somewhat autobiographically (the Dutch Calvinist bits). Also some George C. Scott completism.

A straight (businessman/Christian) father goes looking for a daughter lost to the Californian demimonde. This is Schrader post-Taxi Driver, filling in the backstory of Jodie Foster's young hooker, probing the seams of the coast, riding the 1970s porn wave from a prudish angle. Sometime collaborator Scorcese went to similar places later in After Hours but nowhere as hard. There's a dash of Roger Ebert's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls in the acting.

Schrader spends the first hour at Christmas in dreary Grand Rapids Michigan with the aim of showing us how dreary and stifling Dutch Calvinism can be. (Barbara Loden in Wanda demonstrated that it doesn't have to be quite this painful.) After this unpromising beginning Scott unleashes his timeless Dr. Strangelove abilities around the 55 minute mark and we're off to the races. About three minutes later he's in authentic Boogie Nights mode with a bogus Burt Reynolds mustache and shirts that even I wouldn't wear. This pivot is way too quick. The camera angles often make him look like Philip Baker Hall in the 1990s: craggy, worn, relentless — I wanted the subtleties (or at least humour) he brought to The Hospital. Call girl Season Hubley keeps up as best she can; they leave the boys far behind. Scott rapidly (too rapidly) evolves beyond private dick Peter Boyle's ability to cage him. There are many tears before bedtime.

Roger Ebert: four stars. Is Schrader having it both ways with his prudish prurience? The ending is blown. Janet Maslin: The Searchers. A man loses control but not his religion. The pivot is "dramatic suicide". She found some humour here.

Leviathan (2014)

/noise/movies | Link

A pointer from Paul Byrnes's recent valedictory. A bleak and unfunny visit to a small town in Murmansk Oblast, Russia (east of Finland) where a small-time local is getting squashed by the mayor. It's a bit like How I Ended This Summer: a slow start before turning into something that gets harder to care about, in this case because the downward spiral is a relentless grind. An old army comrade now a lawyer in Moscow is supposed to help but he inevitably makes things worse. (He has a dirt file on the mayor that we're not shown. It is initially effective and then inexplicably toothless.) The wife is pure sadness. It is mostly unsubtle and offers nothing novel; a little humour would've gone a long way. The cinematography is sometimes great, largely because the location is gorgeous.

The 4WD police vehicle is apparently a 2004 UAZ Hunter.

Paul Byrnes at the time: only four stars of five but "certainly one of the best films of the past year". Manohla Dargis: absurdist, sure, but comedy, no. Peter Bradshaw: five stars.

Fatherland (1994)

/noise/movies | Link

You've read the book now see the movie. What was Rutger Hauer thinking? — not one thing taxed his acting abilities. The revelation of the biggest secret in the Reich is a total bust, and Miranda Richardson's passing of the dossier of evidence to President Joseph Kennedy is pure Hogan's Heroes. The romance was elided. So bad it's bad.

John J. O'Connor at the time: first half OK, second half terminal. IMDB trivia: shot in Prague where the locals were sickened by the swastikas.

Dogs of War (1980)

/noise/movies | Link

Continuing the Frederick Forsyth adaptations. Here he drew on his direct experience of covering wars in Africa as a journalist. Also some idle Christopher Walken completism: I should've learnt by now that he's never great in the lead over feature length.

Walken is sent to a fictional African military dictatorship to determine if mining interests can do business with its ruler. Or perhaps the coup is already being planned. No matter, we know he's going back as he has nothing left to live for. As usual for Forsyth, the bulk is a notionally suspense-inducing logistics exercise where he organises his fellow American soldiers-for-hire (Tom Berenger amongst them), their weaponry and a boat. I found all the stakes so low that I did not pay attention to the details.

Vincent Canby: the screenplay is first rate. I was less impressed by the final battle sequence as everyone seems to be shooting at nothing. Director John Irvin also directed the far superior Alec Guinness vehicle Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in 1979.

Proof (1991)

/noise/movies | Link

Blind cameraman Hugo Weaving finds a mate in dishwashing Rusty Russell Crowe, working at an inner-city Melbourne Italian restuarant. He needs one as his spooky housekeeper Geneviève Picot is fixated on getting his clothes off. Written and directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse; this is her first feature. The milieu is much like Death in Brunswick and not Romper Stomper. It's sorta kooky and fun like Malcolm but not as innocent, so perhaps more Angel Baby. (I mean, whose housekeeper drives a BMW 1600-2?) If only we'd known that this rich seam of Australian movies wasn't going to last.

The plot builds up to the bromance and attempted defloration of Hugo via a cat accident and much rumination on the ethics of lying to blind people. A trip to the Coburg drive-in, where Rusty describes the action to Hugo, has Hugo senselessly probing Rusty's car and provoking some punks (Daniel Pollock among them) into creaming the future skinhead. The stegosaurus on the dash was not amused. Along the way we get shown some of the mutually-abusive relationship between Hugo and Geneviève: it's mostly (blind) man looking at the world, woman looking at the man, especially once they get to the symphony and back to hers. It's roughly a 1950s psychological.

I don't think Australian blokes make friends this way.

Roger Ebert: three-and-a-half stars. Janet Maslin: Hugo for the eventual Martin Amis biopic! All the details at Ozmovies. A maturing of the local film industry from establishing the national identity to everywhere dramas. Luke Buckmaster rewatched it in 2014. Prompted by James Walsh in 2023.

The Day of the Jackal (1973)

/noise/movies | Link

I think I read Frederick Forsyth's classic airport thriller in the mid 1990s. The premise is that some French military veterans felt betrayed by President Charles de Gaulle's acceptance of Algerian independence in the early 1960s and decided that a coup d'état might be the ticket. Forsyth knew this was beyond their skills and had them hire an Englishman.

The book and movie (directed by Fred Zinnemann) are authentically early 1970s: it's fiction but fearfully holds to the major facts of history, making it more Puzo's Godfather than Harris's Fatherland, subbing details for imagination. The cinematography is fine and shows us a France and Western Europe somewhat familiar from the Bond movies of the era. The romance bit felt pro forma. The parallel police detection thread did not strike me as plausible; they never consequentially chase the wrong rabbit. After a few quiet killings the ultraviolence of the conclusion is anticlimactic. Edward Fox does the necessary in the lead but it would've been so much more fun if they'd cast the similarly-stringy David Bowie. As the Jackal he has so many opportunities to pull an exit scam but somehow there is honour amongst these outlaws (for the most part).

Roger Ebert: four excitable stars, "unfold[ed] in almost documentary starkness" and a plot summary. Vincent Canby: by historical determinism/veracity, "the suspense ... must depend on our wondering just how the assassin is going to fail". Which is a spoiler-robust strategy I guess. "The details are minutely observed and, to me, just a bit boring. I keep thinking that although it could have happened, in this case it didn't."

2nd Chance (2022)

/noise/movies | Link

A pointer from Jason Di Rosso who interviewed director/interviewer Ramin Bahrani. They actually spent a lot of time talking about his adaptation of Adiga's The White Tiger. Apparently Roger Ebert was a fan of his.

This is a documentary about the rise and fall of Richard Davis, a bloke from Detroit who pivoted from pizzerias to bullet-proof vests. He soon moved his operation to Central Lake, Michigan where, being the largest employer in the area — think Ford in the early days — he ran things as a personal fief. From the start there's a charismatic cult-leader unreliable-narrator vibe that, combined with his cognitive dissonance, gun fetishes and outlandish unapologetic style, is expected to entertain. See, for instance, Pinshoot. And Australians could maybe consider him something of a self-shooting Ned Kelly.

I guess the narrative centre of the film is the scandal around Second Chance Body Armor Inc's use of the defective (rapidly degenerating) material Zylon in their vests in the early 2000s that soon bankrupted the company. The New York Times yields little about this via its search; there's an article by the Associated Press from 2003-012-26 and a retro on 2006-01-22. But never fear: while "there are no second acts in American lives" his son soon Phoenixed Armor Express from the ashes.

Overall it's a bit of a weird depth to plumb. None of the interviewees really pop except perhaps for his second wife who seemed almost normal. It's hard to parse the history as the most famous material used in these vests — Kevlar — was developed elsewhere, though Wikipedia suggests Davis was the first to go all-in on that material.

Nicolas Rapold. Gonzo.

Zorba the Greek (1964)

/noise/movies | Link

A jag from The Last Temptation of Christ: Nikos Kazantzakis wrote the raw material for both. In black-and-white. It looks unappetising on the tin — a constipated Englishman paired with a Greek high on life — but Anthony Quinn makes it work with a robust performance. Oscar noms all round and some won but not him. Produced/directed/adapted by Michael Cacoyannis.

We begin with Alan Bates, the English writer, trying to get to Crete to reclaim his Greek father's property there. Almost immediately Zorba zeroes in on him and we wonder if Bates is a mark and a homosexual. The movie eventually answers no to both of those, though others must labour mightily to make those revelations. The property turns out to be a lignite mine that has stopped running due to the absence of the landlord, impoverishing the nearby village which holds fast to tradition. Zorba gets off many a good line that leaven some of the heaviness of those traditions and does all the heavy lifting in the bromance. The sentiments are essentially Epicurean so it's mostly in Quinn's delivery.

This was Quinn's next movie after Lawrence of Arabia (1962), or perhaps it was the equally delicious The Visit. The mining scenes got a bit The Wages of Fear, but most of it put me in mind of Ava Gardner's contemporaneous beach activities in The Night of the Iguana: an unguarded joy de vivre. One of these days I'll get around to Karzan's America America.

Vincent Canby.

Pulp Fiction (1994)

/noise/movies | Link

nth time around with Tarantino's breakthrough. Down to #8 on the IMDB top-250 from #7 five years ago. Oscar noms all round but only Tarantino and Roger Avary won for the screenplay.

Roger Ebert: four stars in 1994 and another four stars in 2001 as a "great movie". Loved the dialogue and the elision of the ultraviolence. Janet Maslin was entranced and made it a Critic's Pick.

The Mexican (2001)

/noise/movies | Link

Another of Brad Pitt's misfirings in the lee of Fight Club. Director Gore Verbinski let him right off the leash so most of his scenes consist of pure, repeated Brad Pitt tics in airhead mode. I guess the idea was to draw in the female demographic by pairing him romantically with Julia Roberts but it is not until the final scenes that she stows the full-cliche histrionics and they get all lovey-dovey in a battered old ute in Mexico. (Her taking offence at the idea of anyone enjoying sex and travel is weird given she soon starred in Eat Pray Love.) James Gandolfini comes along for the ride in The Sopranos mode and J.K. Simmons is supposed to be Pitt's mate. Also Gene Hackman eventually explains the whole show to us.

The central thread of the plot is a feeble fable involving a pistol. We're shown its genesis in sepia flashback. As a McGuffin it is uninspired.

Roger Ebert: three unfathomable stars. Stephen Holden: "only about half as funny as it ought to be".

Three Days of the Condor (1975)

/noise/movies | Link

A Robert Redford jag from Spy Game, prompted by some reviewers of that movie. Directed by Sydney Pollack. It's Christmas 1975 in NYC and somehow it hasn't been and isn't snowing. Redford works as some kind of bookworm/researcher for the CIA and when the revolution comes he's out to lunch. His apparent main squeeze, colleague Tina Chen, is the last up against the wall so while he shows us his improbably-mad field skills (for a shiny bum) he's on the lookout for a new one. She takes the form of Faye Dunaway, improbably driving a 1970 Ford Bronco. She eventually succumbs to male-fantasy Stockholm Syndrome (Robert Redford syndrome?) and pops out her most priceless line of all time: "Oh no, I'll help. You can always depend on the ol' spy fucker." It’s like a Le Carre without any attempt at or pretence to subtlety.

America in the 1970s has been so thoroughly documented on film that there's little to see here beyond the story. There is the odd lingering shot of the Twin Towers. Max von Sydow. Down with the CIA!

Roger Ebert: three-and-a-half all-too-believable stars. Vincent Canby. IMDB suggests: Marathon Man, The Parallax View — so, the paranoid aspect of the American polity.

The Innocent (2022)

/noise/movies | Link

Prompted by a good interview with writer/director/lead Louis Garrel by Jason Di Rosso. It's a slight film which shows that French comedy can be a laughing matter. I'm guessing it would be a low-risk, possibly-good, probably-safe date night flick for people just getting to know each other. I felt the first half dragged as the scenario was being constructed: a love-mad mother, a depressed, stalled son, his childhood bestie who drops all the hints, and a future stepfather found in gaol. This was not helped by some dodgy subtitling. The second half cashed the heist setup well enough and had some funny moments in the small as things went as they must.

Jason Di Rosso in written form. A "breezy good time that's hard to find at the movies these days." Autofiction. Claire Shaffer made it a Critic's Pick.

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

/noise/movies | Link

Continuing the accidental mini-Scorcese rewatch. Over two nights as it's just so long, heavy and humourless.

I didn't know what to make of it back in 2004 and I don't know what to make of it now. On the plus side the cracker soundtrack by Peter Gabriel continues to enthral. But this is not great cinema: scene follows scene with clunky framing and editing so far from the fluency of Scorcese's long-take classics (Casino, Goodfellas — which spend most of their time indoors) and often I had no idea where we were or why. (I think Paul Schrader's screenplay, based on Nikos Kazantzakis's source material, generally leant too heavily on the audience's priors. The weaselly disclaimer that it is not based on the Gospels does not help.) The dialogue is too often incoherent: Willem Dafoe's Jesus tells the temple patriarchs that he's there to extend the old law but under mild probing he owns to being the end of it. The first two-thirds mostly just sets up the provocative finale, which drags out the premise of the title by showing us an agonised Jesus on the cross tempted by normalcy: a harem of ladies, a mob of children, food in return for honest toil. And then back to the cross for a quick "It is Accomplished" retconned terminus.

These flaws are exacerbated by the film being shot so obviously in Morocco: the aesthetic is more obviously Muslim than pre-Christian Jewish. The acting is a mixed bag despite the strength of the cast. There's Victor Argo (King of New York, Bad Lieutenant), as a wooden Peter. Harvey Keitel, an especially clunky (Gnostic) Judas. Andre Gregory (My Dinner with Andre) makes for an edgy John the Baptist; if only they'd found room for Salomé. Harry Dean Stanton brought his best Dennis Hopper impersonation as Zealot Saul/convert Paul. David Bowie as Pontius Pilate puts in the worst acting effort of his career. Barbara Hershey, Mary Magdalene.

Roger Ebert: four stars at the time (mostly about the story) and another four stars in 2008 as a "great movie" (mostly colour). Janet Maslin: Scorcese was overwhelmed by his source material. "The promise held forth by the film's beginning, a promise to use drastic and unexpected ideas as a means of understanding Jesus' inner life, gradually gives way to something less focused." The miracle-after-miracle middle is less emotionally compelling than the interiority of the first movement.

Quiz Show (1994)

/noise/movies | Link

A Robert Redford jag from Spy Game. There's nothing Hollywood likes more than to talk about TV, cf golden-era Good Night, and Good Luck, decline-into-cynicism Network, Broadcast News, etc. and of course the Oscars ceremonies. The game show was also a thread of Magnolia. The period and father/son dynamic put me in mind of Malick's The Tree of Life. The references to Nixon (as vice president) and interest in democratic accountability recall All the President's Men and the endless stream of nostalgic movies (The Last Picture Show, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, etc. etc.)

At its core this is some kind of bromance between professor/contestant Ralph Fiennes and investigator/lawyer Rob Morrow as the latter makes his bones figuring out what's going on at Twenty-One in the 1950s. The whole show loses momentum regularly, and it is often left to erstwhile champ John Turturro to gee things up. Nevertheless Redford's direction elicited excellent performances from all the actors; the odd scene or line delivery (Sputnik makes for good humour) shows what might have been with a better story to tell.

Roger Ebert: three-and-a-half stars. What's the story about Geritol anyway? Post-truthism started a long time ago. Janet Maslin. Ah yes, that opening Chrysler showroom scene.

Goodfellas (1990)

/noise/movies | Link

nth time around with Scorcese's classic. Still #17 in the IMDB top-250. The Internet Movie Cars Database tells me that Ray Liotta's main squeeze Lorraine Bracco drove a Volvo 244.

Roger Ebert: four stars at the time and another four stars as a "great movie". Vincent Canby: a Critic's Pick.

Spy Game (2001)

/noise/movies | Link

A minor bit of Tony Scott completism and some curiosity about what Brad Pitt got up to immediately after Fight Club. Robert Redford leads and is supposed to show us that the brotherhood justifies hacking institutions (here the CIA and related organisations) provided your heart is in the right place. It sells the sort of American guile and invincibility that was eclipsed by 9/11 and venerated by American Sniper. I found it hard to get into.

The framing story employs the cliche of it being ace field agent Redford's last day at Langley in the tenuous present. He's called back to sort out a crisis in a Chinese prison that involves a Brad Pitt he first met as a sniper in the American/Việt Nam war. Pitt takes out a putatively bad Laotian (illegally, clandestinely) under extreme duress and then manhandles his spotter to safety. After these heroics we're served up a few more episodes of derring-do in many locations (chiefly Beirut, some Berlin) and a tepid love interest in the form of Englishwoman Catherine McCormack. The romance is poorly handled. Redford shows what fieldwork can do to the shiny bums who never left the office. The relationship he has with his secretary Marianne Jean-Baptiste squanders both actors.

Overall the plot made little sense to me; it's mostly set pieces like blowing up buildings. Scott's choppy cinematography is unsatisfactory as he regularly constructs fantastic frames that he rapidly pulls away from, too quickly for us to enjoy them. The China angle was garbage at the time and even more risible now; there was no chance of the USA flying Black Hawks over the coastline to rescue Pitt. But it does tell us that the movie was made before the global movie market sensibilities tamed all such geopolitical provocations.

Roger Ebert: two-and-a-half stars, all surface, no iceberg. A. O. Scott: a "sleek, expensive handsome gizmos of doubtful utility."

Bad Lieutenant (1992)

/noise/movies | Link

Abel Ferrara's followup to King of New York. It's mostly there in the title, once you know we're still in NYC and Ferrara is fascinated by powerful people, here the police. Harvey Keitel (of the title) is in every scene and does drugs in almost all. Otherwise he's gambling on the baseball playoffs. This takes up a lot of screen time and soon enough becomes tedious. I wasn't invested enough to figure out exactly how he is connected to all the people he encounters. If the dialogue had been in any way engaging and Keitel a more flexible actor it might have been an American east-coast Naked.

The notional main thread of the plot is a very heavy-handed treatment of the rape of a Catholic nun. Ultimately the main conflict is between her, who forgives, and Keitel who insists on some kind of justice. (At times I was reminded a bit of The Last Temptation of Christ or at least Peter Gabriel's soundtrack.) The final scenes at the Greyhound bus stop are very emotive but not enlightening. An earlier scene where he bails up some underage Jersey ladies on a night out is cringey and ineffective.

Roger Ebert: four stars. Keitel is courageous, sure, but that doesn't mean it's a great performance. Go see Goodfellas. A B-Movie. Janet Maslin: a Critic's Pick. Uneven but interesting. Keitel "gives the Lieutenant's role his all, which is sometimes more than it requires".

King of New York (1990)

/noise/movies | Link

I don't remember seeing Christopher Walken in the lead too often; his roles that stick (True Romance, Pulp Fiction) have him play the big cheese in a scene or two before the caravan rolls on. Here Abel Ferrara has him anchor a stellar cast and early on gets him to bust out some dance moves like Travolta. This is after he completes a spell for unspecified crimes at Sing Sing (that route to the exit — and from the entry? — of great cinematic cliche) while receiving Larry Fishburne (not really cutting it as Clean aged a decade) of da hood in his ritzy hotel rooms. Along for the ride is Steve Buscemi as a minor drug chemist and Giancarlo Esposito as a henchman. And so on.

The problem is mostly with the plot: this is just the greatest hits of the drug gangsta genre. It's so disjointed that I found it impossible to care. The soundtrack is the hip hop of the day mostly by Schoolly-D (sample song: Am I Black Enough For You?).

Roger Ebert: two stars. Essentially Robin Hood. Style over all. Walken "glides ... with his usual polished and somehow sinister ease". Janet Maslin saw it at the New York Film Festival. IMDB Trivia: funded by Silvio Berlusconi. Apparently the NYC scene lapped it up.

Wills & Burke (1985)

/noise/movies | Link

A bit further down SBS's Homegrown Cinema list is this mid-1980s failed comedy which aimed to take down the contemporaneous big serious film about the explorers in the spirit of Monty Python. It's probably more fun to compare casts: obviously I'd take Garry McDonald over Jack Thompson any day, and didn't Nicole Kidman go so much further than Greta Scacchi? (The outro starring her as Burke in a stage production is remarkable; something like a dry run for Moulin Rouge.) Also I can't imagine much improvement on Kim Gyngell's Wills, which is to say that the serious effort is probably just as drecky and wasteful of its actors. Chris Haywood lays it on too much as a colonial constable in a Wake in Fright scene. Mark Little went on to bigger things in A Cry in the Dark. Peter Collingwood has the most fun as the universally-adored Sir William Stawell. This movie is inexcusably cringeworthy for the time and to claim that it belongs to any "selection of the best Australian cinema" is taking the piss.

Ozmovies: universally panned. One for the Kidman completists. David Stratton said this is Kidman's first adult role. Shot in 4:3 format and what SBS is serving up looks like a VHS rip.

The Set (1970)

/noise/movies | Link

Craig Mathieson pointed to SBS's Homegrown Cinema collection and near the start is this time capsule of Sydney in 1970. Like Winter of Our Dreams a decade later, this is a city that never existed where students and recent transplants not only had shelter but oodles of space and time to enjoy everything and self-actualise, which perhaps involved making movies like this one. It was prelapsarian even for the motorcyclists (before helmets became mandatory in 1972) and drinkers of Fosters out of ring-pull cans, a kind of paradise nobody recalls now.

Things open with some gratuitous nudity, including sort-of-lead Sean Myers and Amber Rodgers running nude on a beach for reasons unknown. After she departs for Europe he settles down to building a career in the arts under the desirous gaze of Brenda Senders, an institution recently returned from Europe. She wants him for a boy toy but he is more interested in exploring the gay scene as embodied by the helpful, failing architecture student, Bronzed Aussie and upper toff Tony Brown. (The set of the title is apparently a theatre set being conceived and prototyped by the pair and not, as I thought, the denizens of the social scene.) The running joke is that the Bronzed Aussie is a terrible lay. There are other threads even more risible.

Things are lame for the most part until we get to the drag queens who have apparently been one major and reliable fount of shamelessness in Sydney (though I've found those from Melbourne to be funnier). The general vibe is that everyone is randy and that the boys are less hassle than the local princesses.

The main failing of this thing is the weak script, which is disjointed or segmented like Roger Ebert's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls; clearly these guys made what they knew. There are sundry other failings jostling for the lead such as the lifeless cinematography that just sometimes tries to be a bit arty. I guess you could see it as a distant antecedent to the far superior The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

All you need to know is at Ozmovies.

Asteroid City (2023)

/noise/movies | Link

Wes Anderson's latest. It's a smoodgery of currently popular themes: a retro 1950s desert/Palm Springs aesthetic (see Don't Worry Darling, Big Bug, The Last Picture Show, Ingrid Goes West, Barbie, etc. etc.) with a side of atomic bomb tests (Oppenheimer) and hefty doses of self reference/indulgence (The Darjeeling Limited, Isle of Dogs, etc.). Oh yes, also aliens and lockdowns. The soundtrack often reaches for desert cliches, less effectively than Natural Born Killers. It is so close to animation, with the roadrunner a hat or hand tip to the Warner Bros. Looney Tunes classics. The theatre frame is absolutely archaic (c.f. all the Tennessee Williams adaptations).

Anderson is better when he has a story to tell (e.g. with his masterwork The Grand Budapest Hotel and derivation of Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr Fox). Here we're shown a bunch of skits in his now-customary nested fashion (c.f. The French Dispatch) that are little more than themes, making me feel that the narrative well has run dry. I did enjoy some of the gags, especially the row of vending machines, one of which retailed arid real estate adjacent to the barebones existing development. (There is no water.) The generally flat aesthetic is an Anderson signature but given the overstuffing of frames I put my effort into trainspotting the actors: I was surprised to see Tom Hanks fill the Bill Murray slot while Jeffrey Wright mostly just channels JK Simmons's Cave Johnson from Portal 2. This is not Tilda Swinton's finest effort, and Steve Carell is capable of doing a lot more than playing it straight. Also Adrien Brody, a grown-up Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Jeff Goldblum, Bryan Cranston, Ed Norton, Margot Robbie done up as Elizabeth I, Willem Dafoe, and so on.

Overall: too much show and not enough pony. Manohla Dargis: a critic's pick. Dana Stevens: so much nostalgia, so many underdeveloped storylines, Anderson's "imagination [is] a place far richer and stranger than the most complex online database" — clearly she's never visited The On-Line Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences. Michael Wood: shallow? Glenn Kenny got right into it. Butterflies squeezing hearts with sharp pincers? Oh my. Luke Goodsell: definitely Close Encounters of the Third Kind, apparently Mars Attacks!, and how did I miss Jarvis Cocker? And so on.

Djuna: Counterweight. (2023)

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. Prompted by an intriguing review by Hari Kunzru in the New York Times, which is unfortunately superior to the source material. Korean sci-fi. The writing/translation is fine but I can't say I totally got it. Most of the ingredients are cyberpunk staples: the zaibatsu, the AIs, the ultra-competent violence, and of course the space elevator takes the concluding action to something like a space station, all just like Neuromancer. There is some nasty retconning in the final movement. Cinematographic, of course. I have no idea what the point was.

The publisher's summary at Goodreads says it all. Otherwise I didn't find too many reviews.

Limbo (2023)

/noise/movies | Link

Ivan Sen's latest. After the speculative misfire of Expired, he took Simon Baker out to Coober Pedy and returned to his main theme of how cops and Indigenous people interact; in other words, more Mystery Road. Sen filled all the production roles (music, cinematography, editing, casting, directing, writing) and, true to form, the black-and-white photography is beautiful and perfectly composed while the pacing is soporific. The incidental soundscapes are appropriate and unobtrusive. So thumbs-up on the behind-the-camera stuff.

Notionally Baker arrives in "Limbo" from some city somewhere under instructions to review a missing-persons case from twenty years previous. The locals (mostly Rob Collins and Natasha Wanganeen) aren't keen to revisit that event but loosen up as the genre demands. Nicholas Hope, famous for gladwrapping the neighbours, looks the part of a worn out miner and is tasked with shouldering the sins of Western Civilisation. There is a gun and it goes unused, even in the sense that Daniel Ellsberg often observed of nuclear weapons (threats of use are often sufficient). It's all a bit of an ask. I did enjoy the acting but would've preferred something closer to Toomelah, where the focus is community and not cop interiority.

Peter Bradshaw (Baker as Breaking Bad Bryan Cranston, clearly he hasn't been out there), Luke Buckmaster (yep Walter White), Paul Byrnes: four stars of five from all the local tastemakers. Jason Di Rosso interviewed Sen and Baker in May 2023. Dee Jefferson also interviewed Sen for the ABC. A common audience complaint seems to be that the script is too weak. I'd say that if you've been to Coober Pedy then you've more-or-less seen this movie.

Gone Girl (2014)

/noise/movies | Link

Second time around with David Fincher's mid-2010s psych-out. I don't think it repays a second viewing; there's only one real twist and if you know what it is you just nitpick the unreliable narrator mechanic while you wait. Again I felt there's just not enough on the tail end. Still #186 in the IMDB top-250.

Stephanie Zacharek.

Aravind Adiga: Last Man in Tower. (2011)

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. Not great. I'm guessing this was Adiga's followup to The White Tiger — and with Booker won his editor let him off the leash. The result is an overlong take on how real estate is redeveloped in Mumbai. Residents of "Vishram Society" receive an offer that few can refuse and readily warp under money hunger. There are far too many characters: some are barely more than names, others are overdeveloped, and none are interesting. The plot regularly stalls under the weight of excess colour as things escalate in an entirely predictable way. Everyone is hypocritical and self-deluded. Many are Lady Macbeths. This Last Man is no Orwell.

I didn't find many reviews. Goodreads. Every so often there's a sentence that shows what could have been.

State of Grace (1990)

/noise/movies | Link

A Gary Oldman jag from True Romance. Ed Harris plays his older brother, Robin Wright his sister. Apparently she got organised with Sean Penn on the set.

This was another entry in the Irish-in-America genre, specifically Irish gangs in NYC's Hells Kitchen. (Others include Jim Sheridan's In America, all the Dennis Lehane adaptations, The Fighter and so forth. I guess they haven't been quite as successful as the Italians-in-America genre, which is a theme here.) Director Phil Joanou, working off a script by Dennis McIntyre, aims for some subtlety by having Penn return to the milieu of his youth: he's evolved but it hasn't, and during his absence once-and-future squeeze Wright has just gotten colder. (She's a complicated woman who ultimately conforms to Irish type by acting like blood is thicker than water while wanting nothing to do with her brothers for clear and obvious reasons.) Oldman is solid in a crazy violent alco role we've seen him do plenty of times. He drives an ancient decrepit yank tank that deserved its own billing. Harris is far better elsewhere.

The soundtrack was provided by Ennio Morricone and sounds like an interpolant of his music for Once Upon a Time in America and Lolita. There are elements of the former here. Everyone is so young. I couldn't help feeling that it was mostly resting on prior art. The inevitable ending struck me as Unforgiven's. The wonky band of brothers trope had more heft in Mystic River.

Roger Ebert: three stars. Oldman steals the movie. Eclipsed at release by Goodfellas. Janet Maslin: Mean Streets, The Godfather. So it's Scorcese-light.

Panic Room (2002)

/noise/movies | Link

David Fincher completism. This was his followup to Fight Club. Also a Jodie Foster jag from A Very Long Engagement and for Forest Whitaker. Jared Leto and a very young Kristen Stewart co-star.

The format is what's written on the tin: Foster and daughter Stewart, freshly cashed up after separating from their philandering pharmaceutical husband/father, move in to a huge Manhattan "townstone" that includes (wait for it) a panic room that only Foster is perceptive enough to notice. They buy it off some rich old dead guy who just happened to leave (let me not spoil the wild lack of inventiveness for you) something valuable on the premises. In the spirit of Home Alone or maybe Die Hard and certainly not Ghost Dog three highly-characterised crooks try to recover the precious while the residents freak out.

There were absolutely no stakes on the table for me. Apart from Whitaker the males were different kinds of useless: Leto is histrionic, the ex-husband inert, Dwight Yoakam too quick with the ultraviolence. IMDB tells me that Nicole Kidman was supposed to star, and it is possible that she may have improved things. David Koepp got $4M for the script. The lighting is (somewhat necessarily) weird. Overall as drecky and inert as I expected.

Roger Ebert: three stars. It's internally consistent, but I have to say I'd take something exciting over that. But what about the BBQ gas scenes? A. O. Scott suggests that if you don't envy their abode you're a long way from the target demographic. Nobody's home.

True Romance (1993)

/noise/movies | Link

nth time around with this Quentin Tarantino-(co-)written, Tony Scott-directed early 1990s fast food classic. They pulled a vast cast: Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette in the lead, Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, James Gandolfini, Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Penn, Tom Sizemore and others in support. Brad Pitt totally nailed his breakthrough role. Some of it is much fun, other bits have the cheese. The ultraviolence wears thin at times. The L.A. motel scenes reminded me of the later Destiny Turns on the Radio. IMDB tells me that this was half of a script that also included Natural Born Killers.

Roger Ebert: three stars. Adolescent male fantasies: comic books, guns, martial arts movies. "[F]eels at times like a fire sale down at the cliche factory." The ending is similar to Reservoir Dogs. Janet Maslin.

What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

/noise/movies | Link

Second time around with this Jemaine Clement/Taika Waititi co-written and co-directed vampire comedy. Not as funny on the rewatch, perhaps because the excessive mugging for the camera (in what I take to be reality TV style) has gone out of fashion. There's a nod to Murray Ball with the murderous border collie. I have to wonder if the TV show (which commenced in 2019) is any good.

Jeannette Catsoulis made it a critic's pick. Peter Bradshaw: comedy of the year. Jason Di Rosso: "... this is faint praise, I know, but even so, the film plays better than any recent Australian comedy I can recall."

Focus (2015)

/noise/movies | Link

A Will Smith jag from recent stuff, and of course, an early Margot Robbie Hollywood vehicle. It's a straightforward con movie, mining the popularity of that stuff at the time. Perhaps these things are essentially heist flicks but with more emphasis on the romance. In any case there's way too much exposition and it's just not very clever. Notionally Smith breaks Robbie's heart in the first part, while the second has him pulling off a larger scam that includes reclaiming her. All that is just an excuse to flaunt the luxe consumer life of cars, jewellery, women and maybe men.

A. O. Scott: a new Bogart and Bacall. "It’s not quite Elmore Leonard for Dummies — maybe more like Carl Hiaasen for Shallow People." I'd hate to think that the highlight of Robbie's acting career might be I, Tonya.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

/noise/movies | Link

A Sam Neill jag from recent things. This was Taika Waititi's followup to What We Do in the Shadows. The format is stock: an at-risk boy (Julian Dennison) is sent to live with a childless couple (Neill and Rima Te Wiata) in some remote part of New Zealand and blossoms under various stressors. Most of it has him and Neill dodging child protection by camping and hunting in the bush. I didn't find it as funny as it needed to be, perhaps because it was sorely lacking Jemaine Clement's input or I didn't get enough of the Kiwi references. I mean, who follows the New Zealand (ex-Auckland) Warriors? And why does someone say "Don't even get me started on the national rugby team. They're not human."?

It's all a long way from the subtleties of John Clarke.

IMDB trivia: a clone of Up. Manohla Dargis. The humour was apparently mostly accessible to Americans but sufficiently exotic to make it seem fresh. Paul Byrnes: somehow four stars (of five) despite it being clunky and derivative. Jason Di Rosso. And so on.

Crimson Tide (1995)

/noise/movies | Link

Once more unto the breach with the Jerry Bruckheimer/Tony Scott producer/director combination. Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman share the lead, and the others are similarly stellar: George Dzundza, Viggo Mortensen, James Gandolfini, and again an uncredited Jason Robards. We're in a US nuclear submarine (cackhandedly named the Alabama) and there's tension in the chain of command while some Russian rebels (it's 1995) maybe take control of some Russian missile silos. For me there were no stakes: Hackman is a tad too hammy but clearly no Jack D. Ripper while Washington is entirely determined by his race (making the main conundrum why he took this role). There's no great mystery of strategy or accent as in The Hunt for Red October and it just does have the guts to go over the top like Dr. Strangelove or Failsafe. (The obvious alternative would've lead to On the Beach and the welcome presence of some actresses.) The journo on the French aircraft carrier "Foch" provides some heavy-handed exposition. The excessive number of pop culture references gives it the cheese. Ultimately it's pure American hokum.

Roger Ebert: three-and-a-half stars. Janet Maslin: a remake of The Caine Mutiny, they should've cast Tom Cruise.

Marcy Dermansky: Twins. (2005)

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. The first of Dermansky's novels and the last one for me to read. Once again chick lit, or more precisely, a story for young women. The two-voice structure is solid and mostly works. The narrative arc goes as it must: the kooky one at thirteen becomes a grounded adult while the goody-two-shoes has no core and can't settle on anything, requiring endless external prompts to remind her what she likes. The men are drawn sympathetically if generically but the best part is the skewering of the lawyer parents; I just couldn't get enough of them. Dermansky's style is nascent and leashed here, which was a relief after the overworked Hurricane Girl. The ending is redemptive cliche.

Goodreads. Humourless. Unoriginal? Polly Shulman at the New York Times.

Smoking Causes Coughing (2023)

/noise/movies | Link

I don't remember why I may've thought this was going to be any good. I mean, often enough French humour is no laughing matter and so it goes here. The frame has the "Tobacco Force" demonstrate their combined power before retiring to the idyllic countryside for some team building. There we get a series of Tales from the Crypt vignettes; some have an edge but most are too predictable. (One draws essentially on Fargo's iconic image.) The running gag, that their chief — a puppet rat — is irresistible to women gets worn out.

Peter Bradshaw dug it. Inexplicably a critic's pick by Elizabeth Vincentelli. Simon Abrams tells me I lacked the correct cultural background.

Deja Vu (2006)

/noise/movies | Link

A Tony Scott/Jerry Bruckheimer jag from Enemy of the State. I should've read the tin more closely as this is more-or-less Minority Report smoodged together with Terminator (etc): yes, time-travel surveillance with an indestructible male lead. Poor old Denzel Washington does what he can, mostly just by running with it. Minor banana Val Kilmer can only nod along. Jim Caviezel is far better as a naif (cf The Thin Red Line) than a Kaczynski. Also Bruce Greenwood.

Basically the plot has a domestic terrorist (eventually Caviezel) blow up a ferry full of US Navy sailors and their families near the ports of New Orleans for reasons unstated. In this reality America has the technology for a do over and obviously the related murder of too-pretty Paula Patton cannot be let stand. There's excess useless exposition about the McGuffin, and I doubt anyone was sufficiently invested to determine if it hangs together like Predestination. Denzel senselessly takes a few as the nonsense is piled high. Referring to real American tragedies in this way was doubtlessly crass and inconsiderate at the time this was released.

Manohla Dargis: nutty and unreal, vulgar shots of "decimated" post-Katrina New Orleans. Laura. Caviezel as De Niro or Mel Gibson. Stephanie Zacharek. Peter Bradshaw: this movie "actually implies that only Americans are equal to the task of successfully attacking other Americans."

Enemy of the State (1998)

/noise/movies | Link

A Gene Hackman and Gabriel Byrne jag from recent things. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Tony Scott pulled a top-shelf cast: Jason Robards, Anna Gunn (Skyler from Breaking Bad), Jon Voight, Lisa Bonet, Regina King, Barry Pepper, Jack Black, Philip Baker Hall, Tom Sizemore (Scagnetti in Natural Born Killers) and so on. As a high-priced labour lawyer, Will Smith delivers a lot of humour flat, deadpan, and some of it is very funny. It's quite lengthy.

The plot essentially updates the themes of The Conversation to 1998, when misgivings about government surveillance hadn't yet yielded to national security concerns and omnipresent corporate intermediation. The canonical scene in the park (originally involving Chef-from-Apocalypse Now Frederic Forrest) is cloned, and I took the detonation of Coppola's set to be a metaphor for what happened to Hollywood since 1974. All marriages shown have the women deeply distrustful of their men, very ready to believe the worst. The plot is often too holey but the framing mob/union/labour lawyer relationship provides a satisfyingly ridiculous ending. The cat survives! There is far too much frenetic camerawork.

Roger Ebert: three stars. Voigt adopted Robert S. McNamara's style. Janet Maslin: Will Smith's first real starring role. Vacuous but so much better than what Michael Bay was doing at the time. And yes, just what was Gabriel Byrne's angle?

Fresh (1994)

/noise/movies | Link

A Samuel L. Jackson and Giancarlo Esposito jag from recent things. Written and directed by Boaz Yakin, who apart from this seems to have been bogged in drecky action movies. It's a scenario we've been shown many times — a young black kid living near the elevated train in Brooklyn growing desensitised by the drug trade and violence. To those are added the novelties of chess and a dog fight. It's all no-stakes until the switch gets flicked, and the full import of these scenes takes the rest of the movie to unfold. It felt Shakespearean in the weight various kings place on his words.

It reminded me a lot of Spike Lee's Brooklyn efforts. There's a dash of Moonlight, and an intricate, manipulative plot like Brick. (Like Rian Johnson, was Yakin's first his best?) The moralism is essentially The Godfather (power needs to be taken) but it is ambiguous as to whether the boy is born or breaking bad.

The acting is generally very good. Sean Nelson is solid in the lead. The haminess of his buddy Luis Lantigua works to the extent that kids in the milieu are unknowingly dumb. Samuel L. Jackson pricelessly chews out his son (Nelson) for using the n word. Giancarlo Esposito is slick as a junk kingpin. Adam Holender's cinematography is effective but Christopher Doyle did a better number on Hong Kong.

Overall a good watch. Roger Ebert: four stars. Janet Maslin.

The Hunt for Red October (1990)

/noise/movies | Link

I'm very late to see this venerable Sean Connery vehicle. He plays the smartest sub commander in the Russian fleet, initially in Russian but soon enough almost entirely in English for the convenience of the target audience. (Connery starts taciturn / laconic and I feel could've stayed that way, quite successfully; and are we to believe that Cold War Lithuanians spoke English with a Scots accent?) The plot begins after about 38 minutes of setup, when it is suggested that this is Dr Strangelove on submarines (without the humour). — but no! it is something else again. And that something is not Das Boot. It doesn't entirely hold together, and the denouement is hokum, but it has its moments. The cinematography is generally quite good.

The cast is vast, perhaps too vast. Alec Baldwin plays a Harrison Ford CIA role and is almost unrecognisably thin and dark haired. I've seen James Earl Jones don exactly this brass before, in Gardens of Stone. Sam Neil is Connery's second banana with an accent that wanders all over the globe. Stellan Skarsgård smokes moodily and acts dumb. In this reality Peter Firth's cadre (Ivan) Putin "could've caused complications!" — but Connery is on the job and he's rubbed out early. And so on.

We're shown many reasons why the world will never be at peace for long. The Russians have a penchant for gigantism (they built the biggest nukes and here the biggest sub) and use metric and left-and-right. There are tea and cigarettes on their vessels. The Americans do not like being smaller and use imperial, port-and-starboard. It seems that smaller subs and drones are the future, not these large ones, and the Alec Baldwins will be staying far from the battlefield.

Got Oscared for effects. Roger Ebert: three-and-a-half stars. Vincent Canby: only the audience knows for sure (how things are going to go).

/noise | Link

Vale, Milan Kundera. New York Times obit.

The Usual Suspects (1995)

/noise/movies | Link

nth time around with this mid-1990s classic as the plot never sticks. I watched it more critically this time, and I think the central flaw is that the reenactment scenes present no unitary viewpoint: it's a composite of some kind, and therefore a view from nowhere. (In comparison Fincher's Fight Club and Gone Girl eventually let us know whose story we're being shown and how it relates to the others.) It's just not as clever as it needed to be; perhaps the idea was to seed endless arguments.

Bryan Singer directed. Christopher McQuarrie wrote the screenplay and got an Oscar. I just listened to him being interviewed by Jason Di Rosso about his Mission Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part I work. This may have been Gabriel Byrne's finest role. Giancarlo Esposito, so young. Benicio Del Toro stole all his scenes. Kevin Spacey doing some of his finest work. And so on.

Now #43 in the IMDB top-250. Roger Ebert: one-and-a-half stars. It's all audience manipulation. Surely it can't be (just) his version. Janet Maslin: that year's Reservoir Dogs.

Get Shorty (1995)

/noise/movies | Link

This was John Travolta riding his Pulp Fiction career revival. (I'm guessing it's obvious why nobody talks about his performance in the contemporaneous White Man's Burden.) It's somewhat more of the same but linear and more meta: the Hollywood navel-gazing here involves (even) more wordy referentialism than Tarantino but none of his visual gesturing. Travolta plays a leaf-node Miami Beach mafioso who cannot stand his new underboss Dennis Farina (dumb as planks). The plot sends him to Las Vegas to collect from a dry cleaner and the local outfit forwards him to L.A. There klutzy schlock producer Gene Hackman is having something with characterless Rene Russo who is quick to switch allegiance to the younger, more winning man. The remainder tells us about a move being made and has Travolta pitch the one we're watching.

The raw material was provided by Elmore Leonard, who also wrote the precursor novel of Jackie Brown. Danny DeVito is some major star. Delroy Lindo is as fine as always despite the lame character. I enjoyed James Gandolfini's efforts the most. Harvey Keitel shows up to reinforce that reheated feeling; Bette Midler also wafts through. It's not as clever as it needed to be.

Roger Ebert: three-and-a-half stars. It's all about how they speak, just like a Tarantino. Janet Maslin: she loved Travolta here. DeVito skewers Dustin Hoffman. There's more than a bit of Tarantino cinegeek in Travolta's character.

Grindhouse: Deathproof and Planet Terror (2007)

/noise/movies | Link

Third time around with these ultra-trashy Tarantino/Rodriguez exploitation flicks. They don't stick so I keep returning to see if there's anything there beyond the very promising cast. What a waste. It could've been something.

Roger Ebert: two-and-a-half stars. So much effort and talent for so little result. A. O. Scott.

Jackie Brown (1997)

/noise/movies | Link

Apparently fourth time around with Tarantino's third directorial outing. It's a shame he didn't manage to revive Pam Grier's career like he did Travolta's. Samuel L. Jackson is the second banana. Robert Forster later made it even bigger in Breaking Bad. Robert De Niro tries to improve on Brad Pitt's effort in True Romance. Michael Keaton has his moments but his character is barely one note. There are a few scenes that just do not work, especially as the plot gets too complicated and random.

Roger Ebert: four stars. There are a lot of good scenes. Yes, the Grier-Forster dynamic was great. Janet Maslin: a bit flabby.

A Very Long Engagement (2004)

/noise/movies | Link

Jean-Pierre Jeunet's followup to Amelie. It's been on the shelf since it was released as it seemed overlong and the themes a bit antiquated. Audrey Tautou leads, of course, and is supported by some of Jeunet's usual company (e.g. Dominique Pinon). Marion Cotillard has a bit of a dry run for The Dark Knight Rises and Macbeth. I haven't seen Elina Löwensohn in anything but Hal Hartley flicks; she's notionally a German lady speaking French but sounds the same as ever. Also Jodie Foster has a bit of fun playing it straight.

Jeunet never made another movie like this: a serious story told with substantial realism. It's not Saving Private Ryan but does not excessively romanticise World War I either. At times I lost track of the minor characters and plot lines. It is indeed overlong and the ending is not very adequate.

Roger Ebert: three-and-a-half stars. Peter Travers. Manohla Dargis: a clockwork dollhouse world.

Dead Calm (1989)

/noise/movies | Link

Directed by Phillip Noyce. All the actors were better than I expected. The pitch is essentially an outback horror movie but on sailboats in the South Pacific. The scenario calls for Nicole Kidman to be somehow married to salty seadog Sam Neill (he's been sailing for more than 25 years and she's about 20). After their young child is killed in a car crash (she was driving) they find themselves in the middle of the ocean (well, the Whitsundays) with Billy Zane providing a servicable rendition of a 1980s oversexed psychopath. Unfortunately the whole thing is very dumb. Spoiler: she harpoons the dog.

Roger Ebert: three stars. A critic's pick by Caryn James. A kind of pure trash. No surprises. (Surely that critic's pick is wrong.) All the details at Ozmovies. Yeah, even a shark attack wouldn't have lifted it much. There are moments where Kidman does look like Sigourney Weaver.

Catherine Lacey: Biography of X. (2023)

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. Lacey's latest, and a pandemic project it clearly is. As with Elliot Ackerman I feel the returns from her work are well diminished now — her previous efforts Nobody is ever missing, The Answers, Certain American States, and Pew mark out a clear downward trajectory. It took me quite a few goes to get past the first page.

Again like Ackerman, Lacey has a crack at an alterna-history U.S.A. but with counterfactuals that are substantially less essential to what she wants to tell us. This reality was splintered in 1945 into the Southern, Northern and Western territories and reunified at some later date. The S.T. is obviously a theocratic totalitarian capitalist utopia, and I did not find Lacey's descriptions of living under such a regime very persuasive. The N.T. would be recognisable to real-world NYC residents; the City vacuums up the lost and ambitious with the winners inscribing their names on pop culture while the flyover states are flown over.

Our narrator is a Pulitzer-winning journalist who writes about her wife X in high retributive style. X herself is a culture-vulture composite of late 20th century pop artists, being multi-persona'd like David Bowie, doing trashy pop art like Andy Warhol, writing/producing for Tom Waits, drugs, sex shows, yadda. In that way it's a bit of a biography of those people at those times (1970s to mid-1990s) like John Birmingham's Leviathan. (Writing biographies of cities was perhaps a thing to do around 2000. I now see Birmingham pays his bills with alt-history too.) The central problem is that it is derivative of all it supervenes, and the questions it poses are trite; for instance the final movement asks us whether one can desire the approval of the culture while holding that culture in disdain, to which the answer was already provided by David Bowie a long time ago, and Donald Trump more recently.

At times it feels painfully episodic, as if every loose idea has to be housed, and we have to wait until the final chapter before we get Lacey's signature elliptic thought processes/recounting of experience in tragically brief form.

Widely reviewed. Dwight Garner. A smoodgery. The second half drags. A major and audacious novel. Joumana Khatib interviewed Lacey: she was a woman in love once again in love. Joanna Biggs at length. The reviews are about as tedious as the work itself, and all have long lists of ingredients. It's likely the best bits are the pointers in the endnotes — for instance this interview of David Bowie by Kerry O'Brien in 2004.

Reality (2023)

/noise/movies | Link

Prompted by what I felt was an excellent interview by Jason Di Rosso with co-writer/director Tina Satter. (He's usually quite good and elicited some great responses here; she was interesting as she has spent a lifetime in theatre.) This is her film version of her (dialogue-literal) NYC stage adaptation of the FBI transcript of Reality Winner's arrest in 2017 for leaking a document proving Russian interference with U.S. elections to the Intercept. Little context is given, and then or now I have no idea why this was ever a controversial assertion.

The source material did not strike me as promising but the events cut across many issues. Sydney Sweeney plays Winner as more physically vulnerable than I expect she actually was, between the CrossFit and the weaponry. (They joke about her AR15 being pink and of course it actually is pink.) Josh Hamilton is solid as the daggy-dad lead investigator and Marchánt Davis is perfect as his partner. Many scenes are slightly bizarre — not the least being an early one that recounts Winner's linguistic prowess — and there's a touch of #metoo as almost all the other characters are male and oppressive. The dog is cute and the cat is gorgeous. It does a great job of showing why Americans are concerned about the powers of their government, and that relentless Fox News will send anyone crazy.

A critic's pick by Amy Nicholson. They subbed the cat! Peter Bradshaw loved it. Sheila O'Malley.

The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet (2013)

/noise/movies | Link

Excess Jean-Pierre Jeunet completism. An Amazon production of a book adaptation. A 10 year-old genius from somewhere in Montana rides cargo trains to Washington D.C. (via Chicago!) to receive a prize at the Smithsonian for inventing a perpetual motion machine. What is this, 1973? The style is less cluttered than his previous work (e.g. Micmacs) and closer to Wes Anderson's (e.g. The Darjeeling Limited). The sentiments are confused: imagination is a big part of science, not something that comes after it. I enjoyed Helena Bonham Carter's entomologist/mother. Judy Davis hammed it up with a poor character. Things mostly just amble along, at least more agreeably than his most recent feature, and the manifest flaws are somewhat redeemed by regular bouts of Jeunet's great visual/physical humour/levity.

Simon Abrams. Peter Bradshaw: "like drinking melted chocolate, lemon juice and bleach." Paul Bradshaw. Whimsical, twee, pointless. The last third or so drags.

Zardoz (1974)

/noise/movies | Link

John Boorman followed up Deliverance with this of all things: an undercooked high-concept scifi warning about the perils of genetic engineering and immortality and so forth; see Wikipedia for the details, and it is all details with no substantive core. Leaving aside reasons why, the film has the generally underclad landed gentry of Ireland arrange for Sean Connery to run around in red briefs with a gun and a ponytail — like Conan does a decade later? — and in another sense as a dry run for Highlander with the twist that Connery is the mutant mortal superman amongst the undying normies. It is a world in love with plastic and plastic inflatables until his arrival, after which all the ladies can only talk about procreation. Somehow Charlotte Rampling is the hottest thing he's seen since Pussy Galore (or was it Plenty O'Toole? — it's not like I'd know) and the inevitable happens, but only after he defeats the central intelligence that lives in a fistful of a diamond and possibly impregnates Sara Kestelman in return for enlightenment. It was probably a lot more fun to shoot than it is to watch. The title (and plot I guess) is derived from The Wizard of Oz.

Roger Ebert: two-and-a-half stars. The set designers did go completely nuts.

Tropic of Cancer (1970)

/noise/movies | Link

A Rip Torn jag from Defending Your Life: he got larger and coarser with age but is essentially the same actor here. Notionally he's Henry Miller to Ellen Burstyn's Mona Miller. She had The Last Picture Show and The King of Marvin Gardens in her near future but doesn't make it past the first reel.

I haven't read the book and am even less interested now. I expected an exotic locale and culture but instead it's about some oversexed east coast American men in Paris in the 1930s. I do not know why Joseph Strick adapted (with Betty Botley), produced and directed it so late in the day. It's choppy but mostly not hard to follow as there is no discernable plot. Some of the narration — faux profundity presumably lifted verbatim from the book — is very very funny at this remove; it is beyond satire. Obscene? Nah, just crass.

Howard Thompson at the New York Times. The Wikipedia page for the actual Tropic of Cancer is far more fascinating.

Lost in America (1985)

/noise/movies | Link

Albert Brooks's Reagan-era yuppie escapist fantasy. His performance in the early scene where he doesn't get a promo (he expected the keys to the executive washroom) at his world-class advertising firm reminded me of William H. Macey in Magnolia. Immediately after qutting/getting fired he convinces wife Julie Hagerty to abandon her thankless job so they can hit the road in a massive RV (a Winnebago of course, presumably a sponsor) instead of upsizing; the delta in cost is the nest egg that will see them through a few decades of nomadism. When the inevitable happens and eternal poverty beckons he banks on the role he passed up in NYC rather than the more obviously dropping-out-conformant move of finding a niche in the drug business.

Brooks's notion of the America you might get lost in if you started in Los Angeles more-or-less stops at Las Vegas and is mostly the arid bits. The whole thing is more Office Space than the oft-cited Easy Rider; I mean, they entirely pass on the recreational pharmaceuticals. It's more slickly produced than his earlier work but also more formulaic.

Roger Ebert: four stars and an urbanite dream: "Look for me in the weather reports. I'll be parked by the side of a mountain stream, listening to Mozart on Compact Discs. All I'll need is a wok and a paperback.". Yep, it's a sitcom. Janet Maslin: A critic's pick and on the making of; asking of Brooks, 'Where does his time go?': "'Go ahead, name a day,' he said in mock defiance. 'I can account for them all.'"

Marcy Dermansky: Hurricane Girl. (2022)

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. Fourth time around with Dermansky (The Red Car, Bad Marie, Very Nice). She snuck this one out while I wasn't watching. Disaster chick lit! — some of it is right there in the title. So girls, don't buy a beach house in North Carolina and expect your brain to remain intact. Some of it is minor fun in a black humour key as things just amble along like they do. The ending is not satisfactory. Brief.

Goodreads. Aamina Ahmad at the New York Times.

Defending Your Life (1991)

/noise/movies | Link

And yet more Albert Brooks completism. And once again he wrote, directed and starred. He put a few things he learnt from doing James L. Brooks's Broadcast News to work here, for instance by casting a strong female co-lead (here Meryl Streep) and getting her to laugh at all his jokes. Unfortunately he was funnier there and once again we get little sense of why his leading lady finds him irresistible. (In contrast Holly Hunter made it clear why she found him very resistible.)

The premise is that we really are on the karmic wheel but it's not about desire and ignorance but optimising the universe's machinery for bravery. This makes little sense as the permanent residents of Judgement City are more interested in how much of their brains they can make use of. Things start out a bit open ended but the format demands a rigidly adversarial courtroom and so we get Rip Torn hamming it up as Brooks's defender against Lee Grant's prosecutor. Nothing is made of the post-death romance between Brooks and Streep; it and all the other generally rich conceits lead nowhere.

Roger Ebert: three-and-a-half stars. Janet Maslin. That was Shirley MacLaine hosting the Past Lives Pavilion.

/noise | Link

Vale Daniel Ellsberg. New York Times obit.

Elliot Ackerman: Halcyon. (2023)

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. Once more unto the alterna-history breach with diminished-returns Ackerman. He wants a do-over from 1998 onwards: Gore is in the White House in present-day 2004 due to Bill Clinton being convicted by the Senate, and trillions are spent on science not war, the peace dividend specifically yielding endless life ("cryoregeneration") — and really, not virtually; none of that unsatisfying vampirism or dust cloud stuff you read about in the news. Somewhat depressingly actual history resumes soon after the events of the book, which I took as a sign that Ackerman doesn't have much faith in these premises, the tale he spins or how much control humans have over the future.

Our narrator is a son-of-immigrants Civil War historian supposedly exploring why the "great compromise" appears to be coming unstuck. For those of us coming late to his class, Ackerman provides a reference to Shelby Foote (citation: C-SPAN Book TV, July 26, 1994):

In the Civil War, there's a great compromise as it's called. It consists of Southerners admitting, freely, that it's probably best that the Union wasn't divided. And the North admits, rather freely, that the South fought bravely for a cause in which it believed. That is a great compromise and we live with that and it works for us.

Against this we get a native-born Mississippian academic with belligerent ancestors and an ex-wife who's a gun divorce lawyer. There's a petition for the removal of a General Robert E. Lee statue at Gettysburg that is initially stymied by the manoeuvrings of a legal-eagle zombie. It's all very (Southern) east coast. I don't think Ackerman got anywhere close to grappling deeply with his high-concept scenario; he opts for a pointless Once Upon a Time in America ending.

Stephen Markley at the New York Times calls zombie Ableson "Abelson" throughout, oops. Ah yes, "rage-ennui": does that come before or after ressentiment? Apparently this is an homage to Philip Roth. Goodreads. Mark Athitakis. Randomly I see Albert Brooks mined a similar vein in 2011.

BUtterfield 8 (1960)

/noise/movies | Link

Prompted by a list of Liz Taylor's acting efforts; this was ranked #2 after the inevitable Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. She finds Laurence Harvey in a room at the top of NYC and decides she wouldn't mind a piece of that. The first half is quite funny but leaves no scope for a satisfying conclusion; John O'Hara and/or the scriptwriters go for an inevitable car crash.

Liz has her moments (in that first half) and got an Oscar for her troubles. Leaving aside much creaky dialogue she does get off some some snappy one liners. I think she drew the line at putting butter on her donuts at the brothel/motel.

Bosley Crowther. The dialogue was "O'Harrowing".

Modern Romance (1981)

/noise/movies | Link

More Albert Brooks completism. He wrote, directed and starred in this west coast response to Woody Allen's Manhattan (says Roger Ebert). Notionally Brooks is editing a scifi B-movie for James L. Brooks featuring George Kennedy (Oscared for Cool Hand Luke!) while dating beautiful-but-characterless Kathryn Harrold. The initial break up scene in a diner promises more than the rest delivers; his script gives us no idea what she saw or sees in him. His budget apparently didn't stretch very far as too many scenes have him hanging off a telephone or driving the car around L.A. It's repetitious. There's the odd bout of humour but I was mostly laughing at not with.

Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert: they got into it. Janet Maslin — oh my, the quaaludes — and more broadly on the odd-sock genre.

Martin McKenzie-Murray: The Speechwriter. (2021)

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. Lame. Mercifully brisk.

Notionally on the strength of his work at The Saturday Paper (which is occasionally quite good). Goodreads: boosters and busters.

Tár (2022)

/noise/movies | Link

It took me a while to get to this one, mostly because the scenario — a lengthy take on a prima maestra orchestra conductor — did not appeal. On the other hand Cate Blanchett leads and I was curious to see what she's been up to since she departed Sydney Theatre Company. I think she did as well as anyone could.

Overall I felt its take on high culture was unsubtle and unoriginal; if there's two things I learnt in my time in academia, it's that the more you have to say the less time and space it takes to say it, and that the more referential something is, the shallower that something is in itself. Here we have the same-old will to power and abuse of power as anywhere else floating on many layers of faux sophistication.

One major problem for me was that I didn't get the sense that Tár was authentically a great artist, and the whole show falls apart if there's nothing plausible to countervail her obvious flaws. Similarly what value is Oscar bait that the Academy completely fails to go for? After a languorous intro (credits, an Adam Gopnik interview, flights between western cultural axis NYC and eastern cultural axis Berlin) things speed up but it still felt overlong. The fag end gets really messy as Tár goes full juvenalia, which is lame. After a while there is too much going on for us to focus on anything beyond the character study (with Blanchett in almost every frame). Written and directed by Todd Field, it reminded me most of Aronofsky's lesser works: clunky, heavy handed, over produced, tendentious; the full horror of striving and/or achievement.

Reviews were legion. Jason Di Rosso interviewed Blanchett. A. O. Scott: monster or victim? Why choose! Glenn Kenny: meticulously researched, teach the controversy. Zadie Smith at length in the New York Review of Books. It took Peter Bradshaw two goes to get into it. Dana Stevens. Most bang on about the cancel-culture angle, and I feel the general positivity is due to how few serious movies are made these days. Dan Kois watched it far more closely than I bothered to, and suggested that horror tropes were subtly deployed. I agree that much was unexplained.

Fail Safe (1964)

/noise/movies | Link

Inevitable after I read the book. Also some (director) Sidney Lumet and (President) Henry Fonda completism.

This adaptation is a bit too earnest, insufficiently rueful, too black-and-white; it's very east coast. It took me two sittings to get through. The capsule biographies are mostly gone, and Walter Matthau's grotesque Dr. Groeteschele also lost his sex scene with Nancy Berg. Single Side Band! — what is this, the 1960s? Many events are relayed by writing scrolling past on the Big Board, silently, which is tedious. The plot strikes me as too holey now; the Standard Operating Procedure seems undercooked and there's no believable reason for all the delays and lack of cross-checking. It's a long way from here to Primary Colours for Larry Hagman. Overall not a patch on Dr. Strangelove.

Bosley Crowther.

Joyland (2022)

/noise/movies | Link

Saim Sadiq co-wrote with Maggie Briggs and directed. It got a lot of press for setting a few firsts in Pakistan, and winning the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at Cannes in 2022.

The focus is on younger brother Haider (wide-eyed and ineffectual, played perfectly by Ali Junejo) who lives with his wife (bright, bubbly but glum Rasti Farooq) and his brother's family (taciturn Sameer Sohail, animated Sarwat Gilani and four lively girls) and Father (stilted veteran Salmaan Peerzada) in a compound in Lahore. There are goings-on, like the visits to Father of the age-appropriate neighbour Fayyaz (Sania Saeed), that present an expected conservatism. The dominant, novel thread is the coverage of the Lahore demimonde, specifically the dance theatres, and within that, how a trans woman (Alina Khan) might find a livelihood. It's not especially prurient, unlike (e.g.) Head On (starring Alex Demitriades in Melbourne before he converged with Ben Affleck) or Shortbus.

All of the cast are excellent. The highlight for me was the brilliant cinematography; Joe Saade take a bow, it's beautiful. It put me in mind of Wong Kar-Wai's efforts with Christopher Doyle, perhaps Happy Together where Hong Kong (etc) is made to look unreasonably fabulous. There are a few scenes on scooters that timelessly and universally evoke life in Asian metropolises (but where is the traffic?). At times I thought things were going to get nasty and they do but it's not graphic, which recalled the social realism of Lukas Moodysson (cf Fucking Åmål and I guess Tillsammans on too many people living together) to an extent; I wish Sadiq had injected more humour here. The incidental music is great.

Prompted by Alizeh Kohari in the New York Review of Books; see also Carlos Aguilar on the real-world politics. Glenn Kenny. Peter Bradshaw. The list of producers and production companies is endless, notably including Riz Ahmed.

Real Life (1979)

/noise/movies | Link

Reality TV! in 1979! Albert Brooks co-wrote, directed and starred in his first feature. He was far better when put on a leash by James L. Brooks in Broadcast News. (The latter Brooks has a cameo here.) The premise is that a studio has funded him to spend a year filming a typical American family. After some Portal-esque testing, this leads him to buy a house in Phoenix, Arizona opposite the subjects and antics inevitably ensue. He gets off a few good one liners amongst the mostly bland scenarios, but as a critique of scientism, society's fascination with psychology, consumerism, etc. it was already stale. The ending goes as it must: set it all on fire.

Janet Maslin: Brooks "is never without his absolute insincerity and irrational good cheer." And that can be a bit of a grind.

Copycat (1995)

/noise/movies | Link

More Holly Hunter completism. I'm starting to think that she really did just have three good roles (in The Piano, Broadcast News and of course voicing Elastigirl). Here she clones Jodie Foster from The Silence of the Lambs with Sigourney Weaver taking some time away from her aliens to show us how much Anthony Hopkins brought to these 1990s psycho killer flicks. Dermot Mulroney channels David Duchovny to Hunter's Scully more successfully than whatever he was trying to do in About Schmidt. Will Patton is marginally less creepy than usual.

But the title is in fact about the style of serial killer William McNamara: the climactic murder apes Harry Connick Jr.'s earlier effort while the others are (putatively) drawn from American reality. These blokes are doing their things in a long-gone San Franciscoand did the Zodiac die of old age? — where it's almost beyond the good guys not to expire before the necessary.

I guess this genre is adjacent to horror. The dialogue was rife with non sequiturs and fragile egos. The music (by Christopher Young) was very annoying, and some scriptwriting genius decided that The Police's Murder by Numbers has it over Talking Head's Psycho Killer or Elvis Costello's Psycho (etc). We get a lesson drawn from Dirty Harry: don't shoot to disable, shoot to kill. It's just not very good.

Roger Ebert: three-and-a-half mystifying stars and a plot summary. Injecting meaning where it simply doesn't fit. Exorcising horrors. Janet Maslin. Both observe that it was overshadowed by Se7en at the time.

Moonlight Mile (2002)

/noise/movies | Link

Ill-advised Holly Hunter completism. She has a minor role as some kind of lawyer representing parents Dustin Hoffman and Susan Sarandon in the trial of their daughter's murderer. Jake Gyllenhaal was due to (spoiler not) marry her around the time when it happened.

I think it's supposed to be a grief comedy, but the sentiments expressed were so alien to me, the situations and humour so predictable, forced and tedious that I stopped paying attention early on. Commercial real estate agent Hoffman is quite restrained except for once or twice when he reaches for Al Pacino. Death penalty please! — with a nose wrinkle when he's told it'll be by gas. We get the full range of book-burning writer Susan Sarandon facial expressions: calculating squint, bugeyes!, pensive, I-know-rite, I'll-let-you-in-on-a-secret, cigarette fug/bliss and so on and on. Death for her too. She says she wants Gyllenhaal to remain celibate for the rest of his days and other things which I took to be Oedipal, but of course he goes for the age-appropriate barwench/post office worker/fellow griever Ellen Pompeo and they eventually drive off into the sunset. (We're told she was into her long-absent boyfriend because he loved her, and knew her "about 60%". He claims it's the last 40% that matters, which sums up the empty headed linearity of the whole thing.) There's a Rolling Stones-adjacent soundtrack. I don't know when this was set but the feeling is some time during the America-Việt Nam War, late 1960s maybe.

Roger Ebert: four stars. He says 1973, and as he was there he might know. Stephanie Zacharek somehow thinks this is culturally universal. Gag me with a spoon. A. O. Scott. Everyone says: The Graduate. Brad Silberling wrote and directed.

The Swimmer (1968)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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 adapting Larry McMurtry's raw material 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 had 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)

/noise/movies | Link

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

We're in NYC with rich romance-writer Nicholson beginning 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 at a diner 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)

/noise/books | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/books | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/books | Link

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)

/noise/books | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/books | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/books | Link

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 for now.

Snatch (2000)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/books | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/books | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/books | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/books | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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.

Ned Beauman: Venomous Lumpsucker. (2022)

/noise/books | Link

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.

Much later: this got Beauman the Arthur C. Clarke award for 2023.

The Assistant (2019)

/noise/movies | Link

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.