peteg's blog - noise

Douglas Stuart: Young Mungo. (2022)

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Kindle. Do we need another account of growing up gay in violent and predatory early-1990s Glasgow? Early on I felt the answer might be yes but towards the end I was rushing through the repetitious and almost circular inevitabilities. The writing is good but not as taut in the small as it was in Shuggie Bain. The convergent two track plot is depressingly unsurprising. And come on, we've known for a long time that every family has a Begbie who's into sectarian violence because it's fun.

Molly Young. Cameron Woodhead. And so on. Could it be that reviewers today are (generationally) unaware of Trainspotting?

Douglas Coupland: Kitten Clone: Inside Alcatel-Lucent. (2014)

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Kindle. Mercifully brief. Coupland doesn't motivate why he writes about this company; it was in decline at the time (circa 2013) and was only ever famous (just maybe) for owning Bell Labs from 2006 until 2016. Wikipedia suggests that Coupland got in just before it was parted out, and you'd have to think that the purchasers are just as hopeless. The prospects for fundamental research (in the computer industry at least) have been grim for some time. There's very little in this text.

Goodreads.

Beneath Clouds (2002)

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Ivan Sen's debut feature; apparently an elaboration of his short Tears from 1998. It opens with some great cinematography (by Allan Collins) of the B-doubles and grain silos out past Moree. Two school girls seem to be waiting for the bus opposite the only shop for miles, where the boys loiter. One (Dannielle Hall) is clearly slated for an exit. Down the track she meets up with escapee Damian Pitt who had been working on the Christmas conifers at a prison farm near Lithgow. Neither went on with the acting. The story goes as it must with some predictably telling encounters. Sen leans heavily on motif and a late 1990s electronic soundtrack of his own devising. You can see why his next stop was Toomelah. I enjoyed it and would say this was his best effort thus far.

Loads of details and reviews at Ozmovies. Four-and-a-half stars from Margaret, four from David. Many reviews fend off claims of special pleading for Australian movies, and most do not grasp that Sen was reaching for a kind of affected, telling yet fake realism ala Hal Hartley through the cinematography and mannered dialogue of the untutored actors.

David Halberstam: One Very Hot Day. (1967)

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Kindle. Halberstam's take on the early-to-middle part of the USA's war in Việt Nam circa 1965 (when Robert S. McNamara was the Secretary of Defence and the USA had yet to commit more than CIA and military advisers to the conflict). The single thread, with discursive capsule biographies of the main characters, takes us along on a day in the field somewhere between Mỹ Tho and Sóc Trăng on the Mekong Delta. There's not a lot to recommend this specific take: the American elements are essentially drawn from Catch-22 where experience (even under the influence) beats youthful whizz-kiddery, while the Vietnamese emphasise patronage networks but do not provide much insight into the methods of the North (cf The Moon of Hòa Bình). It's tidily written and unsurprising.

Wilfrid Sheed (En Route to Nowhere) at the time: these are the bits that Halberstam couldn't get published in his dispatches. Eliot Fremont-Smith, also in the New York Times in January 1968. Goodreads was retrospectively unimpressed.

Hercules Returns (1993)

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Random and misdirected Bruce Spence completism; he's merely in the brief framing story, whereas the meat is a putatively humorous (read scatological) redubbing of an old Italian muscleman movie.

Excess details at Wikipedia and Ozmovies.

The Bad Guys (2022)

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More animation. Drawn by fond memories of author-of-the-books Aaron Blabey's efforts in Erskineville Kings a long time ago. I knew I was in for a derivative heist flick due to Calum Marsh's review for the New York Times but had hoped it wouldn't be quite so inane.

Sandra Hall: a generous 3.5 stars, out of 5 I think. She left the token female tarantula geek out of the gang. Luke Goodsell's interview with Blabey at the ABC made the books look like a lot more fun.

Incredibles 2 (2018)

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Second time around.

The Incredibles (2004)

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Third time around with this Pixar classic. Still #227 in the IMDB top-250 despite all the Marvel movies since.

Three-and-a-half stars from Roger Ebert.

William Gibson: The Bridge Trilogy: Virtual Light, Idoru, All Tomorrow's Parties. (1993 - 1999)

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Kindle. It seems I read Virtual Light back in 2009; the remainder of the series mustn't have been on mrak's shelf I guess. I didn't get much out of it — again I hurried to finish it, thinking there'd be something later on, past all the florid description. There wasn't. Near as I could tell Gibson merely synthesised a bunch of things that were well known in the 1990s. (He even found room for Chopper.) The plot boiled down to what happens when a disembodied pure spirit (obviously a femme fatale) meets a construction technology (here nanobots). Beyond the obvious, Gibson does not tell us. More annoyingly he does not follow his disembodied conceit beyond the first step; Egan's imaginings appear to be far beyond him. Overall too much object fetishism, too incoherent and too inconsequential.

Goodreads, Goodreads (come on people, Max Headroom was constructed in the 1980s), Goodreads.

Newsfront (1978)

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Co-written and directed by Phillip Noyce. Based on some raw material from Bob Ellis and David Elfick. Despite the frame (the production of news reels after World War II) this is really about 1970s Australia looking back at its 1940s/1950s, in the same vein as American Graffiti, The Last Picture Show, etc. etc. Within this nostalgia both periods saw the great days of the ALP traduced by scare campaigns (Menzies's attempts at banning the Communist party and the Dismissal respectively.) Well before Vatican II and Brides of Christ the mores of the local Catholicism are shown to bend under the duress of imported culture. I don't recall seeing Bill Hunter snog a woman before; Wendy Hughes was the unlucky lady here. She embodied an era when even a free-spirited and able woman needed a man, and was otherwise squandered. Bryan Brown, especially wooden. Gerard Kennedy did OK as the grasping opportunist. Bruce Spence had a bit of fun hamming it up as the driver of a Beetle on the Redex Trail endurance race (see also Peter Carey). I doubt these guys were living down near the Waverley Cemetery. Overall there's a failure to generate the sympathy for the characters that this sort of thing demands; it's not as rueful or sophisticated as something like The Remains of the Day. Perhaps it just didn't have much to say, now or then.

Roger Ebert: two-and-a-half stars. He got hung up on the economic impacts of technological change, which is fair enough. Janet Maslin found it rueful. Ozmovies: yes, "the seamless integration of actual newsreel footage with the drama" showed great compositional skill. I remain mystified as to why Noyce is deemed a great director.

A Cry in the Dark (Evil Angels) (1988)

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The Lindy and Michael Chamberlain story. Meryl Streep got an Oscar nom for playing Lindy; I thought she did OK with the strayan accent but not so well with the body language or facial expressions: the latter struck me as too calculated. Sam Neil does OK too as Michael. Fred Schepisi co-adapted and directed the raw material by John Bryson. It's well constructed, putting enough of the nation's opinions and milieus on the table and exploring the dodgy forensics without tedium. It took me a while to place dodgy forensic scientist Sandy Gore: she played Mother Ambrose in Brides of Christ.

Ozflicks: 5 stars apiece from Margaret and David (video review). David: Picnic at Hanging Rock minus Weir's dreaminess. Ozmovies. Three stars from Roger Ebert. Vincent Canby loved Streep's work.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022)

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Odeon 5, 13.00 session, with Dave. I used the last of my NSW discover pork barrels (+ 18.18 AUD for some Maltesers and a ticket for Dave). Opening day. I went in cold and was not particularly surprised to find that this was one for the Nicolas Cage fans; the marketing made me hope it'd draw on more of his diverse roles. (I was expecting to see that snakeskin jacket from Wild at Heart at least.) So hats off to the publicity folks once again.

Manohla Dargis. Peter Bradshaw. Dana Stevens. Jake Wilson.

Winter of Our Dreams (1981)

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On a dodgy VHS rip. Written and directed by John Duigan. Shot in the old Sydney, long gone now: the Cross, Oxford Street, Balmain, the Harbour, uranium demos, back when you could live within sight of water on a teaching and bookshop salary, which was never. Judy Davis, junkie. Baz Luhrmann, junkie. Bryan Brown, wooden (in that stretch when he was in every Australian movie). A gorgeous black cat. Everyone so young.

There's not much here beyond Judy Davis's turn as a nervy streetwalker; she's got the same thing that Samantha Morton had in Under the Skin but not whatever got Jodie Foster through Taxi Driver. The homage to the city was later echoed in the blokier Erskineville Kings. The scenario is similar to Naked (and other Australian films like Angel Baby) in moving around the town, exploring different milieus, but lacked the spark of a David Thewlis or Jacqueline McKenzie that may've set the whole show on fire. I won't liken the inevitable cold turkey, getting clean, going straight scenes to anything else; those are forgettable.

Three stars from Roger Ebert with a synopsis way off the mark. Vincent Canby: too much like everything else out there. Excess details at Ozmovies.

Jarett Kobek: Motor Spirit: The Long Hunt for the Zodiac and How to Find Zodiac (2022)

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On a dead tree printed on demand in Sydney by Amazon (52.87 AUD for the pair). More proof I'll read anything by Kobek. This was presumably his COVID project: an internet + library investigation into the venerable Zodiac killings from the late 1960s near San Francisco. I chugged them both in a couple of days (that's about 600 pages worth) and retained very little. It's a lot flatter and more earnest than his previous efforts — there's not a lot of culture crit. I think he meant it to be taken seriously.

Reddit does not appear to be interested. Kobek did an interview with Bret Easton Ellis that I'm not going to watch. Goodreads: #1 and #2.

True Stories (1986)

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A David Byrne co-written/directed paean to changing modes of consumption and fashion in imagined small-town Texas. There's a touch of Wes Anderson or the Prairie Home Companion and the gee-whiz of 1980s semiconductors. The highlight, apart from Byrne himself, is John Goodman as a lovelorn panda bear. Prompted by Byrne's recent and yet-to-be-seen-by-me American Utopia.

Roger Ebert: 3.5 stars at the time. Also Janet Maslin.

Flirting (1991)

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John Duigan's followup to The Year My Voice Broke. Noah Taylor is sent to a single-sex Catholic boarding school by his parents (Malcolm Robertson and in a thankless role Judi Farr) but is sidelined by the debut of Thandiwe Newton (making this a jag from All the Old Knives). She's great but her character is underdrawn; she is perpetually bemused by the Australians she encounters at her Catholic boarding school, and perhaps by a scenario that is kinda sweet but adds up to little more than a quirkless adolescent male fantasy. Nicole Kidman (Ursula Andress) is OK but characteristically bland (perhaps even extra bland) in one of her final efforts before she headed to Hollywood. Naomi Watts is far more human. All the boys and Kym Wilson must've wondered why their careers stalled while the previously-mentioned went celestial.

Four stars from Roger Ebert at the time: he was entranced. Vincent Canby was less impressed. The third part of the trilogy didn't happen. Excess details are available at Wikipedia (Newton has recently claimed that she was abused by Duigan) and Ozmovies. Some of it was filmed at Stannies in Bathurst.

Robbie Arnott: Flames. (2018)

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Kindle. Arnott's debut. The style and ambit are similar to his more recent prize-winning effort, which is to say it's Tasmanian magic realism that imitates Richard Flanagan's more flighty fantasies. Here the heroines are drawn from comic books; these ladies can do anything because they are empowered with the essential characteristics of men, specifically a capacity for unanswerable violence. The plot leans unassuredly on vengeful elemental spirits, putatively inhuman but really subject to the kind of lurv that excuses all behaviours. Further motivation is generally lacking. The most successful parts cleave closely to genre tropes and things go in obvious directions. It's an amiable way to pass the time.

Goodreads: too much Gaiman's American Gods?

Pretty Poison (1968)

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Misguided Tuesday Weld completism. Released juvenile detainee Anthony Perkins gets out-psychoed by schoolgirl Weld in a small town in Massachusetts. It's a snoozefest.

Vincent Canby: not one of her stronger performances.

Aamina Ahmad: The Return of Faraz Ali. (2022)

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Kindle. A pointer from Omar El Akkad at the New York Times. The main thread is set against the rise of Bhutto over General Ayub in late 1960s Pakistan. The titular character is charged with cleaning up an "accident" in the red-light district of Lahore by his distant and powerful father. On the multitrack is an account of that man and his acquaintances; one formative experience is in an Italian P.O.W. camp in north Africa during World War II. The son has a parallel but far emptier experience during the Bangladesh Liberation War (name taken from Wikipedia) that I guess does provoke some love in his wife.

Every so often Ahmad nails a sentiment perfectly: Ali, returned to his family from the Indian P.O.W. camp but not yet fully honest with his wife, pretend-drinks tea from empty cups in his daughter's tent. Sometimes the writing is eye-glazingly flabby.

Goodreads. Many were offended by the language.

Pather Panchali

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Prompted by Sen's autobiography. Satyajit Ray's first feature from the early 1950s. Strangely gripping for what is a mostly straightforward portrait of rural village living in West Bengal, 1920s, perhaps because it has since been pumped up so much. There is some brilliant black-and-white cinematography, especially of the dial of the young boy playing Apu (Subir Banerjee), and the whole show is helped along by Ravi Shankar's soundtrack. Modernity arrives in the form of electrical transmission towers and steam trains.

Deemed a "great movie" by Roger Ebert in 2001 (for an instant four stars) alongside its two sequels, which I'll now have to watch. Bosley Crowther, when it opened in NYC in 1958.