peteg's blog - noise

The Quiet Girl (2022)

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On the strength of Jason Di Rosso's interview with adaptor/director Colm Bairéad. From that it was pretty clear what this was going to be: a series of vignettes focused on a semi-abandoned girl and an older couple. The themes are of what is lost and found. In (Irish) Gaelic. Somehow I was reminded of Scandinavian realism ala Lukas Moodysson (Bara Parata Liten, specifically by the card game here and some brusque social interactions) and of course there's the wallpaper from Trainspotting. I very much enjoyed the acting and that there's never too much of anything. It's beautifully observed and shot. Claire Keegan provided the raw material. She's having a moment.

Harry Windsor. Peter Bradshaw.

Emily the Criminal (2022)

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On the strength of a taut review by Jeannette Catsoulis — I (always) wish she'd write at more length. It's only the second time I've seen Aubrey Plaza onscreen; the first was Ned Rifle a long time ago. It's a sort of Breaking Bad for the millennial student-indebted gig workers, showing how they can learn from the migrants who have already given up on mainstream success in present-day USA. Plaza's great as she finds her true vocation, as is Theo Rossi. Written and directed by John Patton Ford. It put me in mind a bit of Uncut Gems.

Benjamin Lee. K. Austin Collins. Most other reviews struck me as overly harsh. Perhaps Plaza is having a moment.

Three Thousand Years of Longing (2022)

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At the Ilparpa Swamp on a lazy Saturday afternoon. I'm not the biggest fan of George Miller's movies so I took some persuading. That came in the form of Jason Di Rosso's reverential interview, where Miller sounded like a thoughtful and sharp bloke. There's also the pull of the two stars, Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba. Well, as it turns out I prefer her in more fantastical/artificial/stylised roles (e.g. The Grand Budapest Hotel) and I'm still waiting for something worthwhile from him. (Likely he's always decent but has yet to find a worthy feature-film vehicle.) Shot by John Seale. The last movement, set back in the real world of London, is a riff on matching.

I read Dana Stevens's deconstruction before I saw it, inuring me to some but not all of the dodginess. Manohla Dargis points to more fatal flaws; Luke Goodsell found a few others. Lurv! IMDB tells me that the three ladies prior to Tilda are not credited, which I found weird. Sandra Hall dug it, as did Glenn Kenny. And so on.

Big Trouble (1986)

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The last directorial effort of John Cassavetes, and what a way to go out: it's a dog. Insurance salesman Alan Arkin (who somehow reports to the head of claims department Charles Durning) gets sucked into a transparent scam by the underclad Beverly D'Angelo and her husband Peter Falk. There's a terrorism kink for a climax that leads to happy endings all round. What's to know.

Vincent Canby at the time.

Decision to Leave (2022)

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Park Chan-wook's latest. Tang Wei (Lust, Caution) leads. Go Kyung-Pyo has some gravitas but is often eclipsed in a way that Tony Leung could never be; he's too wan.

The subtitles I had were crap, but afterwards I had to wonder if mangled dialogue was more feature than bug. Roughly this police procedural gestures at Wong Kar-Wai (In the Mood for Love) and another Leung classic (Infernal Affairs), or is this a clothes-on Basic Instinct? Chinese-lady-in-Korea Weng appears to develop a taste for murdering her Korean husbands. Some of the cuts between scenes make things hard to follow. None of the cinematography reaches his previous standards. I wasn't enthralled.

Ben Kenigsberg at Cannes: Vertigo! Brian Tallerico.

Homelandings: This is Water (2020-2021)

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I met Otis in February 2021 at the swimming pool in Wilcannia where he was acting as a lifesaver in between social events. He told me that he and his doco-making partner, both ex-Melbourne, had used their boosted JobSeeker to record some of what was happening on the Darling-Baaka river at the time. The two things of note here are the fish relocations of 2020 after the mass fish kills of previous years, and the protest about the general state of things.

Nope (2022)

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Jordan Peele's latest. (I've seen Us but not Get Out.) Watched near Berry Springs on a very hot evening. I didn't understand a thing, a fact brought home to me time and again as the cast engaged in incomprehensible programmed action. There's no humour here. Daniel Kaluuya leads and has his moments, as does Steven Yeun from Minari. Michael Wincott was familiar from many things. The CGI is often lame.

Sandra Hall: two-and-a-half impatient stars. A. O. Scott dug it. Jason Di Rosso; he interviewed Brandon Perea on his Screen Show. Dana Stevens: I disagree that it "never feels long or belabored" — many scenes dragged.

Seconds (1966)

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In two sittings as it failed to grip. Suggested by Dana Stevens's review of the Criterion release in 2013. I didn't find the depths she did: thematically it's body horror turned into identity horror where things go as they must, entirely riven with buyer's remorse. Raw material for David Lynch perhaps. Directed by John Frankenheimer. Rock Hudson in the lead. Wesley Addy, playing a factotum, was somehow familiar.

A. H. Weiler at the time. Roger Ebert appears to have given it a miss.

2001 (1968)

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I revisited the Kubrick classic out east of Alice Springs.

Roger Ebert: four stars in 1968 and another four stars as a "great movie" in 1997. Renata Adler for the New York Times: "Even the problem posed when identical twin computers, previously infallible, disagree is the kind of sentence-that-says-of-itself-I-lie paradox ... belong[s] to another age." How little she knew.

The Velvet Underground (2021)

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In three sittings as I found it a bit overwhelming — there's often a lot to take in. John Cale was the pick of the talking heads; I'm perhaps anomalous in not being overly interested in Andy Warhol, Lou Reed or the Factory. Many points are not elaborated: we learn little about the firing of Cale and Warhol, the Bowie connection, or their drug intake or health issues later in life. There are gestures late in the piece to suggest that Cale and Reed did work together after the firing. I enjoyed it and expect it'll be worth a rewatch. Directed by Todd Haynes (Mildred Pierce etc.).

Greil Marcus sold it to me with a lengthy review. A. O. Scott. Ben Kenigsberg at Cannes: Cale says the "60-cycle hum of the refrigerator" is the sound of Western civilisation. I wonder what he would've made of Australia's 50Hz.

Gloria (1980)

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And yet more Cassavetes/Rowlands completism. I kept a close eye on it for the first 40 minutes or so and then only half. The time did pass quickly throughout but nothing really stuck; all I saw was tough mob moll Rowlands moving through lowlife NYC and thereabouts, dragging child John Adames, with a revolver, endless cigarettes and an intent I could not grasp. She got an Oscar nom for this. Apparently there's some humour.

Roger Ebert: three stars in 1998. "Fun and engaging but slight." Vincent Canby.

Tempest (1982)

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More Cassavetes/Rowlands completism. Co-writer/director Paul Mazursky was notionally somewhat inspired by or recycled Shakespeare's play. (The other writer was Leon Capetanos.) In brief high-flying architect Cassavetes has a midlife crisis in NYC, leaving retired Broadway actress/wife Rowlands to his ominous casino-developer boss Vittorio Gassman so he can revisit his roots in Greece and ultimately a Greek island, taking their teenage daughter Molly Ringwald with him. By fantastical coincidence the eternally braless Susan Sarandon is walking her dog in some town there and finds him irresistible. As he's the centre of everyone's universe the others track him down, and the mandatory big sea storm leads to vacuous rapprochement. Billed as comedy but mostly snoozefest, it took me two sittings to get through. It was probably fun to make.

Vincent Canby at the time.

David Ireland: The Chantic Bird. (1968)

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Kindle. Prompted by Ireland's recent passing. Geordie Williamson's introduction for the text publishing edition summarises it well as "Australian Psycho" (referring to Bret Easton Ellis and not Hitchcock). He avoids endorsing what is ultimately an insufficiently anchored, excessively ambiguous, uninsightful, repetitious, tedious and boring bit of putatively teenage nihilism which took me an age to plough through. Some minor points. Williamson avoids digging into the references to the Brethren. It skips around like a Sydney crime paperback. The fairy story that gives the book its title is woeful.

Goodreads. I'd say that apart from The Unknown Industrial Prisoner, Ireland's output is not worth reading.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

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nth time around. Roger Ebert: four stars in 1989 and another four as a "great movie" in 2001. Bosley Crowther at the time.

Minnie and Moskowitz (1971)

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Some Cassavetes/Rowlands completism. We start with parking lot attendant Seymour Moskowitz (Seymour Cassel, sporting a Hulk Hogan handlebar moustache) in NYC but soon migrate with him to L.A. where Minnie Moore (Gena Rowlands) works as a museum curator when she's not the second woman (again), concerned about sex and ageing (again). They're both Bogart fans. She cops a lot of damage from a few blokes (and I guess, herself) and is constantly manhandled, possessively, even when sober (again). She's the only marriageable girl in L.A. There's too much yelling from Seymour. Katherine Cassavetes has the most fun as Seymour's clear-eyed mother.

Are these the preoccupations of John Cassavetes? (He's the infidel husband here.) Was he making the same movie again and again ala Michael Mann?

Roger Ebert: a romantic but not comedic four stars at the time. "Dreary 1972!" — there was plenty more where that came from. Vincent Canby was less impressed.

The Tourist (2022)

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A bum steer from Luke Buckmaster, who must've been watching something else; IMDB's 7/10 rating is closer to the mark but still overly generous. Jamie Dornan (new to me) lead as an amnesiac drug something-or-other in the Australian Outback (here represented by the Flinders Ranges and, I think, Quorn). Shalom Brune-Franklin had the fruitiest role as an unreliably unreliable international woman of mystery. Danielle Macdonald got the rookie cop slot, Damon Herriman got the crusty quasi-corrupt one. Ólafur Darri Ólafsson to play Orson Welles in any eventual biopic! Or perhaps John Goodman's. I wouldn't've recognised Alex Dimitriades. The cinematography is good but it's so easy now (digital, drones) that it's also entirely shrug. There's a fake Morricone soundtrack. The plot is a dog. There's way too much (incoherent) exposition from episode 3 onwards. I was most put out when Dornan didn't return the toilet key. One for the Fifty Shades of Grey crowd?

Opening Night (1977)

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Somehow very engrossing despite what would seem a very thin premise: an actress (Gena Rowlands) struggles with her role as a woman coming to terms with ageing in a stage play, and is haunted by the killing of a younger woman (Laura Johnson). Despite what that sounds like it's not the usual Hollywood self-servicing reductive stuff; it's an adult movie of the kind they don't make any more, not even for streaming services. Perhaps it helped to know that writer/director and lead heal/ex-lover/second husband John Cassavetes was married to Rowlands in real life, making for some multidimensionality. Rowlands is hypnotic and their final scenes together are a lot of fun. Ben Gazarra had the thankless task of directing the play. Wife Zohra Lampert was fantastic in all her scenes: "you’re so boring” she told him flatly at one point before acting out in the bedroom while he's romancing his leading lady. Another has her squashed into a window frame on a street as those more invested in this fiasco mill around in front of her, ignorant, pushy. Joan Blondell (Nightmare Alley) got to watch her script being butchered. The cinematography and editing are excellent.

Roger Ebert: three stars in 1991. The alcoholism may've cut a bit too close to the bone at the time. Peter Bradshaw in 2007.

My Dinner with Andre (1981)

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Louis Malle completism. Released the year after Atlantic City. Watched at Dalhousie Springs on a lazy afternoon. Two blokes have dinner at an upmarket NYC restaurant and talk so much it's unclear they ate anything at all. I found it, for the most part, boring, but somehow kept watching. I guess it's one of those things where you expect there to be more to it, all the way along, right up to when the credits roll.

Roger Ebert: four stars in 1981 and another four stars as a "great movie" in 1999. Apparently what they say is not really the point. Vincent Canby was also entranced, apart from the times when his interest flagged. Some of his comments suggest it may've helped to know who these guys (Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory) are in real life.

CODA (2021)

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On the pile since it got heavily Oscared at the start of the year. Deaf cinema is having a moment (cf Sound of Metal), though the eye here seemed more firmly on Academy glory than any sort of innovation; unsurprising perhaps as it's an American remake of a 2014 French-Belgian film.

Briefly: the almost-adult child of deaf adults (Brit Emilia Jones) helps her family fish in eternally sunny Massachusetts. Her singing voice is discovered when she joins the school choir. Beyond that it's just a matter of pandering to audience expectations: the outre over-concerned music teacher (Eugenio Derbez; presumably JK Simmons was unavailable), the nasty girls, the ignorant, vapid but irresistibly cute boy (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) she's required to duet with, the slutty best friend (Amy Forsyth), the nods to boomer culture. (Perhaps David Bowie is having a moment too, though citing his Song for Bob Dylan seems a bit irrelevant in a singing, not songwriting, class — Jones only ever sings other people's material.)

The movie is flawed in so many ways. It goes looking for problems that could have easily been managed with only marginally more awareness. This comes at the cost of more fruitful possibilities, such as the dynamic she has with brother (Daniel Durant) which shows early promise (he's the most sympathetic to her situation) before sliding into irrelevancy and cliche. The deaf bits are so much better than the rest (and for the usual reasons: they are physically expressive, fun, funny and inclusive) whereas the musical stuff was entirely dispensable, the ending sappy sentimental guff. Nevertheless I enjoyed almost all of the performances and was very happy to learn that father Troy Kotsur got an Oscar (for best supporting actor); his scene with Jones, on the tailgate of a ute at the fag end of things, was brilliant. Mother Marlee Matlin (Oscared for Children of a Lesser God) was also fine.

Being such conventional Oscar bait, I felt it was exploitative. Jeannette Catsoulis: drowned in formula. Amanda Morris for the deaf community: about us not of us. Peter Bradshaw: shallow. And so on.

Careless Love (2012)

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John Duigan's last feature, so far. On the pile for a very long time as I had low expectations. These were met.

IMDB tells me star Nammi Le married Duigan soon after. Peter Galvin for SBS: three stars. He falls into similar traps as Duigan: this thing is entirely a male construction. And I've always felt that Sydney was mostly "spaces where moral certainty seems a long way away." Margaret (three stars) and David (three-and-a-half). David's review seems ignorant of all the Sydney class cues; for instance Jack is a law student (an amateur actor) and is connected to the old money parts of the town; that's how he knows entitled ex Anna (you can just imagine her saying "it's not over 'til I say it's over") and her mate Seb (also an entitled twat). The rugby league segment and the Sydney Uni components are Duigan's commentary on the culture of the old male-only colleges (which he would've experienced while at Ormond at the University of Melbourne). Bob Ellis: The Good Whore of Coogee. Some of his waffle contradicts Stratton. Peter O'Brien's unquiet American is an advertisement for the superior qualities of the mature man over the uni boys. Jake Wilson: four stars (of five). So, in summary, the reviewers tried to boost the local product but failed to get to grips with much of anything.