peteg's blog

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)

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Eventually inevitable after Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Notionally for Liz Debicki who did have some fun in her brief time onscreen. It's a lengthy derivative dog that consists of entirely stock pose-and-expound, talk-while-walking, putatively comedic group infighting and action set pieces that are visual spaghetti. The plot is Wolverine-adjacent: origin, (willed) amnesia, finding-a-family, destruction of nemesis. Chris Pratt reminds us it's an overdetermined McGuffin hunt every half hour, reliably. Zoe Saldaña's character is histrionic and incoherent after playing it so cool for so long. Chukwudi Iwuji often hints at what could have been. I was surprised at the specious swearing given it's Marvel and rated PG-13. The putative animal abuse is pure, worthless exploitation.

Jason Di Rosso talked to Chris Pratt and director/co-writer James Gunn. Shane Danielsen loved it and outs himself as a comic book fan. This is multiverse blowback. Douglas Adams! I think not. Maya Philips: not a movie for comic book fans; in fact "may only be for completionist fans." Trauma bait. Knockoff Dr. Frankenstein (a theme of 2023).

For all that it is highly rated on IMDB; perhaps only the fans went.

Tron (1982)

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nth time around with this early Disney CGI classic. As always I wish they'd made it hang together a bit better than it does but who can complain with an aesthetic this good? — and it's great to see Jeff Bridges enjoying himself so much in those days when computers were amusing.

It seems that director/co-writer Steven Lisberger has blessed another instalment (Tron: Ares) due in 2025. Can it be worse than Tron: Legacy?

Roger Ebert: four stars but not a great movie! "[A] technological sound-and-light show that is sensational and brainy, stylish, and fun." Excellent special effects. "[T]he overkill of Dolby stereo (justified, for once)." — oh my. Janet Maslin. Not so brainy, "a gloriously puerile movie" but also "very promising in its way." "Beautiful [...] but dumb."

Wild At Heart (1990)

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nth time around with David Lynch's fairly linear riff on The Wizard of Oz. IMDB tells me it won him the Palm d'Or at Cannes 1990. Nicolas Cage as an Elvis wannabe (and yet claiming individuality via that snakeskin jacket) opposite a very hardworking Laura Dern. I wish Isabella Rosellini had a bigger role; it's like she was just getting started in those few scenes.

Roger Ebert: two-and-a-half stars. "Understand that it's not the violence I mind. It's the sneaky excuses." Ebert from Cannes. "Underneath the flash, it was simply too sad; to applaud it would be like cheering a drunken clown while knowing he really was an alcoholic." Essentially Russ Meyer (!). Vincent Canby. Rossellini "[had] yet to get a good part in a respectable American movie."

Aldous Huxley: Brave New World. (1932)

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Kindle. Inevitable after listening to Pendulum's Coma too many times. One day I'll get around to watching Coming to America.

Not what I expected. It seemed to echo Swift by satirising utopianism in the style of early earnest scifi (e.g. H. G. Wells). I thought it'd be more incisive. Defending the production of high art by pointing to Shakespeare as the English zenith made no sense as it implies nothing of significant value was created between 1616 and 1932, and if that's the case it cannot motivate getting off the happy-masses path. Huxley's take on man's relationship with God is crap, mere reductive teleology. Most of the scenarios are so shallowly drawn I couldn't think of it as a dystopia. The characters' emotional infantility is appropriate but also a cop out.

The book sits strangely high on many best-novels-of-the-twentieth-century lists and is more interesting to read about. Wikipedia: there were many charges of plagiarism, the moving-picture adaptations all suck, it got censored (obviously for the sex; the call-to-arms as such is inoffensive pap), how it compares to George Orwell's timeless 1984.

Hit Man (2023)

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The latest co-written/directed thing from Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused). This is as close to his Before romances as I've ventured. Prompted by Brian Tallerico's TIFF take; he was spot on about Knox Goes Away but not this one.

Dorky University of New Orleans liberal arts prof Glen Powell, teaching the Nietzschean furnish-your-interior classics, moonlights with the local police department as some kind of surveillance guy. No, it does not clone The Conversation but instead morphs Powell into a fake hit man for stinging purposes, sort of like how things go for the uncannily similar but far superior Guy Pearce in Iron Man 3. The obvious next move is to pair this hotted-up persona with some characterless hot-stuff-with-a-dodgy-ex (Adria Arjona) in what is presented as a contractually all-sex relationship. He's clearly into her for her mind. After that things go as formula says they must. It's ridiculous and a little fun but too thin at feature length.

Having an actor play multiple roles appears to be having a moment after the multiverse proved sterile and/or unprofitable. The recurring Greek chorus of coworkers got tedious fast, telling us what to think, keeping us on track, insinuating we're stupid but actually saying the material is weak.

Widely reviewed; is there really so much pent up demand for crappy romcoms? Dana Stevens. A con-artist thriller. That repeated montage of sting-arrest photo-courtroom got stale fast. Minor... but high-calibre? Four stars of five from Wendy Ide. "[The] pairing [...] matches George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez locked in the boot of a stolen car in Out of Sight for incendiary sexual chemistry." Also four-of-five from Peter Bradshaw. Coen brothers! I think not.

It didn't bother the female reviewers that Arjona is so vapid. Hats off to the marketing team.

About Dry Grasses (2023)

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Prompted by Shane Danielsen putting it on his best-of-2023 list. Second time around with co-writer/director Nuri Bilge Ceylan after Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. In two sittings due to length, ruining the minor characters in the process.

The scenario has an art teacher (Samet, Deniz Celiloglu) in what he expects to be his final year of mandatory teaching service at a remote village in Anatolia, Turkey. Istanbul beckons, he thinks, but before then he has to navigate a claim of inappropriate contact by two female students (age 13 or so, insinuating Lolita) and, more perilously, a love triangle involving his flatmate (Kenan, Musab Ekici) and a woman (Nuray, Merve Dizdar) from the nearby town, both also teachers. The other thing everyone says about this film is that Samet has lost hope and Nuray revives it but Samet has the vibe of a character that can cynically, selfishly mope anywhere, that he was and will be just as exploitative, unstable and unhappy wherever he goes. Ceylan leaves a vacuum where Samet's interiority should have been, and so much is left vague and unresolved that close attention to details of plot and characterisation goes unrewarded; better to look for the changing facial expressions and count the falling snowflakes.

There's some beautiful photography of white-topped mountains and so forth that made me feel so cold for the vast (3h 17m) runtime. The love triangle goes predictably and there is far too much talking in too many overlong scenes and not enough showing; the big climactic session on the couch where life philosophies are unpacked and dissected is rife with cliche and lacks the punch and insight of (even) the door test. But I guess when conditions are so brutal outside you've got to make do with what you've got.

The "weariness of hope" punchline is so trite and far less poetic than Milan Kundera's "the unbearable lightness of being" from further west, decades ago, under an even more repressive regime. It's a strange marketing slogan to revive so soon after Obama left office (taking all hope with him?) and during these doldrums of Biden. I found it impossible to invest in any of the characters or analysis.

Danielsen's review from Cannes 2023. I wasn't as riveted. Carlos Aguilar: four stars at Roger Ebert. "Neither hope nor despair should be fully believed." The bombastic scenes were ridiculous. "In reality, nothing is as glorious or as terrible as it seems, not even the landscape itself." — I beg to differ. Justin Chang: "languid steppe-by-steppe pacing and long, luxuriant, exquisitely sculpted conversations, but [...] also nimble, alert, and alive" — I guess this is philosophy for movie reviewers. The Chekhovian device does not go off! James Quandt surveys Ceylan's works and provides a more circumspect review. The intrusion of reality/movie making with about 44 minutes to go is indeed a clanger.

Slow (2023)

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Prompted by a four stars of five review by Wendy Ide and sign language.

In present-day Lithuania a dance instructor (Elena, Greta Grinevičiūtė) and sign-language interpreter (Dovydas, Kęstutis Cicėnas) meet cute at her class for deaf students. We're shown this after a provocative opening scene where Elena demonstrates her lustiness with a random man; perhaps we meet him more fully later. There's also a song by a Lithuanian pop group that put me in mind of Fallen Leaves. Soon enough they go to his brother's wedding but from there the deaf parts fall away and the focus is on the hearing people, much like CODA. It doesn't even try for an interesting sound design ala Sound of Metal.

The other novelty dominates as the couple couples up: he claims to be asexual but still desirous of the other aspects of a relationship. I don't think this concept was handled very well. Compared with Emma Watson's "self partnering" (which I take to be essentially a happy, unabashed and knowing singledom) they seem deluded from the start: she's so obviously sexy and while he claims to not be physically into her the mechanics are not an issue and yet she cannot accept his attempts at pleasing her. She's not that into it because she thinks he isn't; perhaps the straightforwardness of Dovydas prevented a more interesting exploration. Instead it seemed like he wanted mateship (would he have partnered up with a man?) and they both seem a bit emotionally immature (or learning how to love if you prefer). The normativity makes things a bit boring, especially when he drunkenly proposes that she take lovers. That put me in mind of Breaking the Waves and its far higher stakes.

Elena does have some funny lines. Her mum is a real bitch and given to some nasty body shaming. (Elena is a ballerina with the wrong shape, making me wonder if the whole thing took Leonard Cohen's Heart with No Companion too seriously.) She is self-aware but presents as a closed book beyond her obvious physicality and often seems to be a blank canvas for Dovydas to project himself onto. (He sweetly says "we’re going to Maccas" after meeting her mum but that's his comfort and we don't learn about hers.) He's often shameless.

I didn't enjoy the cinematography very much. Too often it's in tight when I wanted to see what the groups are doing, or some other thing just off screen.

Beatrice Loayza at the New York Times wanted his sign language and her dancing to communicate more passion. Rebecca Liu. Peter Sobczynski: three-and-a-half stars at Roger Ebert. He elides the actual beginning of the movie which suggest something broader than is supplied. Hollywood would've done it so much worse.

Force of Nature: The Dry 2 (2024)

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The things Eric Bana and Jacqueline McKenzie make me watch. The dire IMDB rating and the original instalment should've warned me off but I did want to see how much help Bana has been to Hugo Weaving in reviving local film industry. I suspect the answer is not a lot: Weaving seems to be more involved in larger international projects (with international distribution) whereas Bana's appear to be utterly provincial and involve co-writer/director Robert Connolly who seems to suffer from T.V. productionism.

The plot is simple: a group of corporate women (and separately men) go for a team-building exercise in the Dandenong Ranges (presented as the Victorian Alpine but really a suburb of Melbourne) and one of them doesn't come back with the others. Anna Torv, last seen by me in Mindhunter, was tasked with riling everyone up while also being everyone's victim. Deborra-Lee Furness (recently separated from Hugh Jackman) played her boss and Richard Roxburgh tried to find his inner David Wenham as the boss's domineering husband. Bana's job was to untangle the stories while McKenzie looked on; her character is quite superfluous and that's no way to treat an actor of her calibre.

The dialogue was really bad and the plot really sketchy. Which is a shame as the ingredients are decent enough.

Three stars of five from Luke Buckmaster. Two stars of four from Sheila O'Malley. The three-track was a real drag.