peteg's blog

Malcolm (1986)

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

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

The Big Steal (1990)

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

All the details at Ozmovies.

Boardwalk Empire (TV series, 2010-2014)

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

Overall there was nothing new here.

William Gibson: Neuromancer (1984)

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

Snatch (2000)

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

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

Deliverance (1972)

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

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

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

Poker Face (2023)

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

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

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

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

Reuben, Reuben (1983)

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

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

Operation Fortune: Ruse de guerre (2023)

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

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

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

Brandon Yu: just going through the motions.

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)

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

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

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983)

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

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