peteg's blog - noise

Richard Flanagan: Wanting.

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Kindle. A two-track about Dickens (writing in London and acting in Manchester), and the last of the Tasmanian Aborigines. Asterisks attach to both. The link is Sir John Franklin and his wife, who also bear most of the characterisation. Things go as you'd expect. Flanagan in his concluding author's note asks that we not take the historicity of it all too literally. I don't think it engaged very broadly with wanting so much as how those with stature and power take what they can. This is the essence of the colonial project, and well known for its hypocrisy.

Goodreads has many opinions. Geordie Williamson claims it is a universal fable; I'd agree it's generic. Michiko Kakutani didn't like the fake history but passed up a chance to observe Flanagan's recycling of a central plot point of Great Expectations. Alexander Theroux was unimpressed.

She's Gotta Have It (1986).

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More Spike Lee completism. His first feature I think. For me all the fun was in the details. I see it was resuscitated as a TV series in 2017.

D. J. R. Bruckner at the time.

School Daze (1988)

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Some Spike Lee completism. One of his very early features. Larry Fishburne (about ten years after Mr Clean) plays a woke activist at the all-black Mission University, where fast times are had by all. Samuel L. Jackson, a local with dimmer prospects and expectations of wokeness, is the same as ever. They meet at the town's KFC. Giancarlo Esposito (Gus Fring in Breaking Bad) is great fun as a frathouse fuhrer. Spike Lee himself doesn't entirely nail his half-pint Gammite role. The musical interludes often started amusing and became interminable. The stagy acting is of a piece with Lee's aesthetic, and once again the details are where it's at. It's mostly fun.

Janet Maslin. Roger Ebert. Both observe that it doesn't really hold together, either overall and as a series of vignettes. Lee did better with much of the cast soon enough in Do The Right Thing.

Inside Man

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Second time around, and again I enjoyed all the little things Spike Lee put in around a plot that Roger Ebert derided. Afterwards, when I stopped to think, I had to agree with him, and yet it doesn't really matter. Manohla Dargis.

Francine Prose: The Vixen.

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Kindle. Fourth time around with this author in book form I think. I have been enjoying her essays published in various forums, and movie reviews. This is some sort of commentary on the ethics of the book publishing industry/scene using the Rosenbergs as a fulcrum. (Deborah Friedell wrote a great article about them recently which I'm glad I read before this.) Also a romance, and a coming of age. Overall it's not as punchy as Mister Monkey. I felt there was far too much hand wringing, repetition about the moral dilemma(s), and too many pages went by between her very amusing punchlines. The plot wasn't that suspenseful and a bit disappointing that it went the way many conspiracy theories do. The lady characters are not that deeply drawn.

Amy Bloom (unabashed thumbs up). Goodreads.

Rohinton Mistry: A Fine Balance.

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Kindle. Second time around with Mistry. It was on the pile for a long time. An ecumenical: variously some Parsis, Muslims, Untouchables/Dalits/Harijans/... form new kinds of households in India during the Partition and Emergency. There's some tailoring, some begging, some good and bad Godfathering, and no satisfactory romancing. Well-written and bleak; his vocabulary is vast and the clarity is all in the service of intricate, efficient and unsentimental storytelling. As someone who hasn't read Tolstoy I had to wonder if the ending was Anna Karenina's, and if so why. The most reliably funny scenes are set in a vegetarian restaurant, where I thought the cook and waiter played large enough roles to deserve names.

A. G. Mojtabai at the time. Generally well-regarded at Goodreads, and widely read as it was an Oprah's Book Club selection.

No Sudden Move

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A sort-of recommendation from A. O. Scott. As he notes it's unfortunately soporific; Benicio del Toro embodied the movie as a characterless shamble. Don Cheadle looked aged, as did Brendan Fraser. Jon Hamm the generic G-Man. And Matt Damon's exposition! I didn't follow who did what to whom for how much as it didn't seem worth it. Heading back to 1950s gangster Detroit: was the point that Soderbergh has no new stories to tell?

Dana Stevens.

Richard Flanagan: The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

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Kindle. I'm very late to this party, mostly because I couldn't imagine a better, richer take on the WW2 Australian POW experience than David Malouf's The Great World. I still can't. Allowing for that, Flanagan does nail enough things to countervail the busts in this multi-threaded and heavily researched novel. At times it feels like he's conforming Tasmanian history to his characters or vice versa (e.g. the 1967 bushfires, the half-caste nephew). As impostor syndrome stretched to book length, percussion at some point became concussive. It is better than anything else I've read from him.

Widely reviewed, of course, both before and after it won the Booker. A splattering: Michael Hofmann was not a fan, and fair enough, but some of his complaints missed the point; for instance, Dorrigo represents the constructed militarism of Australia and that he "seems to consist in being anything he is required to be" was not a failing of Flanagan's but entirely intended. (I'd say Flanagan is showing us aspects of the ANZAC mythmaking of the twenty-first century, when he was writing, which may or may not have been those of the 1950s-1970s.) Goodreads has all the opinions. James Ley (paywalled). Michiko Kakutani: having recently stalled at 40% through D.H. Lawrence's Kangaroo, I felt fortunate that Flanagan's efforts here are superior, being at least readable. She (and others) were right that the Amy thread is weak. Ian Buruma calls Flanagan on stereotyping the Japanese characters. Thomas Keneally forgave all flaws. And so on.

King Rocker

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A pointer from Mark O'Connell. Daniel Dylan Wray summarises it. Less fun that I hoped; maybe you just had to be there. Robert Lloyd's sellout in the late 1980s brought the vanity of the project more clearly into focus.

WUSA (1970)

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A pointer from an article by Thomas Powers on author/screenwriter Robert Stone. Paul Newman plays a New York dipso with golden tonsils who goes to work for some guys in New Orleans who want to Make America Great Again using patently shady social engineering. He soon falls in with Joanne Woodward, a pragmatic but sensitive lady (OK, hooker with a heart of gold) who survives however she can. Anthony Perkins (Norman Bates in Psycho, nervier here) is a concerned citizen, the better angel of American nature, at least until he provides some source material for The Parallax View. Laurence Harvey (Room at the Top) is a preacher somewhere between Robert Mitchum and Russ Meyer. Pat Hingle, who was later Commissioner Gordon in Burton's Batmans, owns the titular radio station. These promising (if cliched) ingredients are smoodged together into a script that I found very difficult to follow. Things go entirely Southern Gothic in the middle where Newman unloads on Perkins the philosophical core of the book (A Hall of Mirrors) this was based on.

Widely deemed a failure. It seems Roger Ebert didn't review it. Roger Greenspun for the New York Times. It is very stagy at times. Tom Andes in retrospect from 2011. It is probably best viewed as a time capsule of the city from the time it was shot.

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 and Kill Bill: Vol. 2

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Some days Tarantino gets the better of me.

Roger Ebert on Vol 1 (four stars) and Vol. 2 (another four stars). He loved it.

The Furnace

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A David Wenham jag. An interesting aspect of Australian history with a mostly well told story grafted on to it. Cameleers were brought to Australia from various parts of the British Empire, and apparently some joined Aboriginal tribes rather than return home. The story is perhaps a bit too Treasure of Sierra Madre: gold-mad Wenham joins up with Afghan Ahmed Malek (actually Egyptian) in ex-filtrating some stolen goods, encountering several well-cast characters along the way. Some great cinematography ensues. The ultimate shootout at the Chinese camp doesn't do justice to the setup or the rich conceit of that space, in contrast to the radiance of the scenes involving an Aboriginal tribe which really pop. James Hagan gets his own slice of Se7en.

Overall I enjoyed it. I wonder why writer/director Roderick MacKay wanted to tell this tale. It's a very promising debut.

David Stratton: four stars. And similarly from Luke Buckmaster. Another four from Xan Brooks at Venice 2020: it's a B-movie.

Australia

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Worse than I expected, and perhaps the nadir of Baz Luhrmann's self-indulgence; it's certainly worse than his Gatsby. Only because it was supposed to be influenced by Xavier Herbert's writing, which it may superficially have been. (Richard Flanagan got a credit as a screenwriter! oh my.) Draped in the brief resurgence of reconciliation of 2008, the early Rudd years. It makes no sense; one minute quasi-Wolverine Hugh Jackman is complaining that Nicole Kidman has dispersed the "cows" over millions of acres, and the next they're droving the beef through the Never Never. Was CGI really this crappy in 2008? Or was the cinematography entirely flawed? It is interminable. David Gulpilil does well with the little he is given as King George, and Brandon Walters is fine as the greatly abridged Prindy. I guess I should be thankful that Luhrmann didn't attempt to depict a walkabout. Ben Mendelsohn plays it straight. David Wenham puts on his best strine whine. Bryan Brown, ouch. Jack Thompson, double ouch. Essie Davis. Apparently Ray Barrett's final role. And sundry Australians I didn't spot, including Bill Hunter.

Dana Stevens gave me fair warning: it's a shameless kitsch pastiche. Alternative endings: we got the happy one, surprise. Three stars from Roger Ebert, who calls out the dodgy race politics. Stephanie Zacharek all but accuses Kidman of having botched her Botox. Conversely Manohla Dargis saw something in Kidman's effort.

The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash

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A pointer from Ian Penman's entertaining roundup of recent Beatles books. Well, this is for the Python fans, with auteur Eric Idle front and centre of almost every shot. When he's not it's the old Saturday Night Live crowd. Mick Jagger and Paul Simon offer up their opinions. Gilda Radner does some Lucky-like thinking.

Alexis Wright: Carpentaria.

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Kindle. This was on the pile for a very long time. It's something of an Aboriginal Cloudstreet. Can I say I liked (some of) the characters and landscapes but not the writing so much? My eyes glazed over in some sections, which fatally impaired my ability (and willingness) to follow the whipsaw changes in perspective (tense/sense/dreaming) that often hung on just a few words that blended in with all other words. These switchbacks were not particularly fluid or unambiguous, and nowhere close to what Murray Bail achieved. Amongst other things her take on the stars seemed well off — surely the Aborigines don't think of them as Westerners do, as Orion etc — and this after observing the meaninglessness of a whitefella naming ceremony for a river that had had a name for millennia. The plot is entirely wish fulfilment. It is a bit cinematic and I wonder why hasn't it been filmed.

Widely reviewed and celebrated. Elizabeth Lowry. Goodreads. And so forth.

Where the Green Ants Dream

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Flights of fancy from Werner Hertzog. A segue from Chatwin's The Songlines via Andrew Harvey's review. I enjoyed it the most of what I've seen from him so far. Bruce Spence anchors things as a lovelorn geologist for a mining interest. Nick Lathouris is great as an anthropologist, as is Robert Brissenden as an entomologist. Ray Barrett from Don's Party is always about the same. Roy and Wandjuk Marika are spokesmen for their tribe. Bob Ellis plays a shopkeeper and (I'm guessing) wrote most of the dialogue. It was difficult to adjudicate between the green ants and the uranium in 1980s Australia.

Roger Ebert. Vincent Canby.

Storm Boy (1976)

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An Australian classic. The Coorong in the 1970s, shot in a drab, daggy style with very choppy editing. Anchored by David Gulpilil and Gordon Noble's amazing wrangling of pelicans. Some fun trivia at IMDB.

High Ground

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Because everyone else has seen it. The good bits, and there are a few, do not involve the plot. Early on the nice playful work from Mark Garrawurra as the man before he becomes a warrior gives us hope, as do some green tree ants, which is soon dashed. The priest is entirely ancillary, as is his sister. I can't say I really understood the point of dressing a tired morality fable in period frontier garb; I'd've preferred a 90 minute Kadadu/Arnham Land tourism commercial and more Aboriginal culture.

Sandra Hall: four stars. Luke Buckmaster: a more realistic 3/5. Like him I'm still waiting for Aaron Pedersen to get those great roles again. Glenn Kenny.

Christos Tsiolkas: On Patrick White.

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Kindle. Brief and passionate. I've avoided Tsiolkas because I didn't like the premise of The Slap; I think there's a lot less to learn from scenarios like that and the Trolley problem than people pushing them think. However I did enjoy this for the most part. I had hoped he'd probe Manoly's contribution to White's work some more, being very well positioned to do so. I wasn't persuaded by the tendentious Old Testament parallels. He talked up The Tree of Man so much and without mentioning that infamous review that I might give it a go. I wasn't surprised that he could only draw a line (apropos Aboriginal storytelling) from Voss to Alexis Wright's Carpentaria, demonstrating that while White, with his Nobel Prize, moves in and out of fashion, Xavier Herbert does not.

A cursory check of Goodreads suggests this is his highest-rated effort there.

Richard Flanagan: The Living Sea of Waking Dreams.

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Kindle. Flanagan's latest, a 2019/2020 bushfire memoir. It's too heavy handed; was he suggesting that Mother Earth is in and out of intensive care, tubes sticking out of her everywhere, and just wants to be let go? But the successful, the powerful, the sixty year olds (the younger boomers?) won't oblige? Because they're too busy doomscrolling? Or losing their own bodyparts?

I wonder what he's going to make of COVID.

Damien Cave at the New York Times. Beware the passive voice. Beejay Silcox: unsubtle. James Ley. Goodreads. And so on.