peteg's blog - noise - movies

Dirt Music

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It's been an age since I've seen an Australian film, which this isn't quite; Tim Winton's book provides the raw material for two foreign leads to swan about W.A., and while Kelly Macdonald is always good company I've got to wonder if they cast Garrett Hedlund only because Thor was unavailable. Their accents are challenging. Her cadence is Scots I'd say, her locutions corr-blimey Australian school girl, while Hedlund doesn’t try too hard with the little he is asked to say. Both disintegrate opposite Australian actors. David Wenham is as cold as ice, retaining barely a smidge of Gettin' Square. Aaron Pedersen is inexplicably clunky, nowhere close to those halcyon days of Wildside.

The story as shown here is a 1980s throwback, like The Club, from when Australia was on the cusp of a professionalism already souring under that old and relentlessly violent grasping. (I'd say that things have further soured into shameless mendicancy.) In those days the wife was allowed to bridle at the chauvinism but not do anything about it, which is reflected here in the cars having more personality than the leads; Hedlund's beat up old ute is straight out of Erskineville Kings, an altogether better rumination on the laconic Australian male, while Kelly Mac implausibly scores a classic and pristine lime-green Holden shagger from Pedersen's bush mechanic. "Peg leg" Dan Wyllie drives a troop carrier up the W.A. coastline, the dream of many a millennial. The music is also entirely retro: a country version of Song to the Siren, Paul Kelly's Dumb Things.

The two-track structure is not very effective as the foreshadowing gives an undertow of unearnt tragedy to the whole thing. I felt the visual style was derived from Breath, at least when we get past the excess internalism of hotels and living rooms to the where-the-bloody-hell-are-we tourism commercial (Sam Chiplin will never be out of a job). There's no real sense of the town despite it being a locus for the fisherpeople generationally. The ending is atrociously hokey. One might be tempted to blame director Gregor Jordan (Two Hands, Buffalo Soldiers) for some or all of these flaws until one remembers that the source story was not that strong, Georgie not that great a character, and that Winton's prose does more for W.A. than any camera can.

Jeannette Catsoulis.

Suspicion

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A jag via Roger Ebert's review of Rosemary's Baby. Hitchcock, Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine. Thin gruel I feel: a playboy marries an upright/uptight/unworldly sprog of a General. He continues to be a playboy, as much as he can in black-and-white 1941. I often couldn't tell if the penny was dropping for Fontaine or she was foxing Grant. In the end it didn't matter much at all.

Bosley Crowther at the time.

First Cow

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On the Oregon Trail with director Kelly Reichardt and leads John Magaro and Orion Lee, the latter of whom we meet naked in the style of The Terminator. These guys form a complementary entrepreneurial pairing in this bucolic setting, and attempt to build their fortune on donuts. The cow gets her time in the frame but has less agency than I'd hoped: all blame attaches to the cat. It's slow and sometimes finds its mark; there's a touch of Dead Man in the foreshadowing, the aimlessness, the musical interludes, the canoe on the river. Also Ewen Bremner and Toby Jones.

A. O. Scott watched it so you don't have to.

Ghostbusters II

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With Jacob and his kids. Bill Murray reels off some great face gags and lines. It's been a while since they've made a movie this silly and fun.

The Tenant

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A Polanski jag from Rosemary's Baby. It's a series of vignettes about poor neighbourly behavior in Paris, with some cheap and impenetrable psychological and occult twists. Polanski directs and leads, but to nowhere. Can't say I really got into it. Digging further into IMDB, I hadn't realised that Polanski had been directing for so long before this.

Roger Ebert was very unimpressed at the time. Vincent Canby. There does seem to be an excess of dubbing.

The Visit

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Anthony Quinn, recently returned from the desert, opposite a fiery and imperiously glamorous Ingrid Bergman in black-and-white in 1964: what's not to like? I enjoyed her performance about as much as anything else she ever did; she's highly reliable that way. The plot is essentially a riff on the old theme of: you can kick the girl out of the small European town, but you can't take the small mindedness of the small European town out of the girl. There might also be something about the market price of justice. It's nicely constructed with some echoes between then and now, and just enough righteous bitchiness.

A. H. Weiler review at the time. I can imagine a staging of this as a play might have more impact.

The Hurricane

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Epic completism. A jag from (Canadian!) director Norman Jewison's In the Heat of the Night, who brought Rod Steiger (Rod Steiger!) along for the ride. Denzel takes the lead opposite a Volvo 245 DL station wagon driven by plain vanilla Canadians Deborah Kara Unger, Liev Schreiber, and an incongruous John Hannah. Clancy Brown isn't allowed to be as much fun as he can be. We start in the mean streets of Brooklyn where a cop somehow decides to cast shade on a very young black boy for the rest of his natural life. This remains unmotivated throughout; the fact that the murders were never properly investigated suggests they may have needed a fall guy, but the opportunism of Rubin "The Hurricane" Carter's arrest speaks against that. Later we're in Toronto and New Jersey. There's excess interiority. Unlike the Poitier vehicle, this one is intricately nested with the biopic framed by nice details, a coming-of-age story, ineffective Spike Lee-esque newsreel footage of the day, boxing in black-and-white, and gross simplifications: he was robbed, repeatedly, and not just of justice at the time but also of nuance here.

Overall there's a truthiness to the whole thing that falls short of adding up to a decent biopic. I read afterwards that Jewison also directed Pacino in And Justice for All, so I guess he likes to show that eventually the system eventually gets it right eventually. It's a tough genre to excel in when you're up against something like Jim Sheridan's In the Name of the Father. Presently I'm reading incarceration as well as watching it, so I guess it's on my mind. Commutation seems further away than ever.

Roger Ebert at the time. He's right, Denzel lifts the material, and it does improve as it goes along. Stephen Holden, also at the time, was far more skeptical.

Reflections in a Golden Eye

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More John Houston completism; he directs. We're at an army base in the South somewhere inspecific. It's a character study of what people do when they are under occupied. Marlon Brando underperforms with a vintage mumble. Liz Taylor's accent wobbles, which is disappointing after her sterling effort in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. I got a bit confused when Brian Keith picked up the scissors; was something finally going to happen? But no, the entire runtime goes by without a thing. Robert Forster was in David Lynch's Twin Peaks resumption. In two sittings. It's an adaptation of a book.

Bosley Crowther at the time. Robert Ebert got right into it.

Purple Noon (Plein soleil)

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A French production of what we now know as The Talented Mr Ripley from 1960. It has its moments, though it appears there is only one way to adapt the novel, right down to the constipated scowl of Alain Delon / Matt Damon. Similarly Maurice Ronet looks like a moderately Gaulified Jude Law, and Billy Kearns plays a wooden Philip Seymour Hoffman. It's essentially touristic.

Roger Ebert in 1996.

In the Heat of the Night

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Second time around. There's a lot to enjoy in Rod Steiger's performance, and I think Sidney Poitier's best work here is opposite him. The plot is threadbare. Roger Ebert rated it #10 for 1967 with no standalone review.

Harvey

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Jimmy Stewart completism. Black and white, 1950. This one has been on the pile for years due to its unappetising premise of a genial, idling Stewart and his six-foot, three-and-a-half inch imaginary rabbit bestie. It does have its moments but probably worked better as a stage play, like Arsenic and Old Lace. Josephine Hull (also in that) got an Oscar for playing the sister/mother role in arch, stagy fashion. It's just the kind of entertainment (and making light of psychology) to put the country to sleep after the war, presaging the soporific, damage-denying decade to come.

Bosley Crowther at the time.

Da 5 Bloods

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The new Spike Lee. I went in cold. Four of five "bloods" (an all-black squad) from the Việt Nam/American War return in something like 2018, using the recovery of their mate's body (KIA not POW) as camouflage for the ex-filtration of a gold cache they left there back in the day. It's filmed in Thailand. The tone is lecturing and there's a pretence of historicity with a lot of gesturing at Black history and a little Vietnamese. Lee wants to have it all ways with loads of references to the classic movies of the genre, NGOs, didacticism, cliches, and so forth, ultimately sliding into an unfunny Tropic Thunder mode. (The surviving cast doesn't even feign grief when one of da bloods gets it in the present day.) Lead Delroy Lindo is intended to be weighty, like Jim Caviezel in The Thin Red Line but comes off more like a prolix Rambo. Chadwick Boseman makes up for some of these defects. The introductory newsreel is unfortunately more generically 1960s than Lee's scintillating effort in BlacKkKlansman. (Paul Walter Hauser and Jasper Pääkkönen return from that, again to limited effect.)

In all, it's a few decades stale.

Widely reviewed. Michael Wood. A. O. Scott found a lot more here than I did. Viet Thanh Nguyen's rejoinder; he's right, this is lesser Lee: a pile of gesturing with an ending messier than Apocalypse Now's.

Sergeant York

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Howard Hawks completism. A hokey hagiography of a bloke from the "Valley of the Three Forks of the Wolf" somewhere in Tennessee who's a dead shot. They send him off to World War I but somehow don't set him up as a sniper. His crises of conscience are resolved by rendering many bodies unto Caesar. So clearly made-for-purpose in black-and-white in 1941. Gary Cooper got an Oscar for what I found to be a patronising and humourless performance. I was amazed that a piece of farmland could be purchased for several months of labour at that time.

Bosley Crowther, respectfully.

Rosemary's Baby

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This Polanski classic has been on the pile since forever. I expected a David Lynch gross out, given the title/premise, but it is in fact closer to doomed suds circling the drain. We're in NYC in 1965 and 1966, shacked up in an apartment building with massive apartments that somehow an unemployed actor can afford. Witchery ensues, from which the young wife is witless to escape. It reminded me of The Devil's Advocate, which was a more persuasive Faustian effort, leaning on the egos of the able leads; Polanski's later Chinatown interpolates these two. None of the acting excited me; apparently Ruth Gordon as Minnie Castevet got an Oscar.

Roger Ebert got a lot more out of it than I did. I couldn't get past Mia Farrow's essentially clueless response to her situation, which seemed entirely in service of the plot.

Barnacle Bill (1957)

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Another of the Ealing comedies (a minor one) and more Alec Guinness completism. It's a paint-by-the-numbers farce in black-and-white that passes the time amiably but unimaginatively. The permanently seasick star wins us over by playing the little man sticking the big sea laws to the self-dealing local council. There are young people doing their thing to what was progressive music at the time. It's a bit disappointing when set against the earlier Kind Hearts and Coronets.

Spellbound

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It took me a few goes to get past the initial hokey crap, and it does improve, as you'd expect from Hitchcock. "Human glacier" yet forever coquettish Ingrid Bergman gets constantly slavered over in what would now solicit endless #metoos; she's good but it's a disappointing role after her timeless efforts in Casablanca, Notorious, and so forth. I don't remember Gergory Peck at all; I haven't seen To Kill a Mockingbird since school. The 1945 psychobabble, even in black-and-white, is always too much. Just maybe you could count this as a dry run for Psycho. There's a Dali dream sequence.

Make Way for Tomorrow

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Another of Roger Ebert's great movies (2010): "It's so tough it might not be filmable today, when even Alzheimer's stories have happy endings." Black-and-white, 1937. It's a story of an aged couple and their five children. There's a lot to enjoy in Beulah Bondi's performance; away from her things get more formulaic and sentimental.

The Good the Bad the Weird

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One more Kim Jee-woon after I swore I would stop. This is a Korean Western, faithfully cloned from the spaghettis right down to the faux Morricone score and negative space portraits; not quite Once Upon a Time in Manchuria but maybe next time. Song Kang-ho leads as the Weird/Tuco in John Lennon glasses. He spends a fair bit of time on what I took to be a Ural (with sidecar); there are also horses, trains and the iconic three-way shootout. The Civil War is instead one between the Korean independents and the occupying Japs; more fun would've been had if they'd had Genghis Khan's Mongol hordes pour across the plains in some anachronistic fantasy. The thin plot is delivered with a nod and wink — this is a bloodless PG-rated matinee special after all. The one innovation — spaghetti cinematography — doesn't help. It's a bit Shanghai Noon and as usual the whole thing hinges on how much you enjoy Song's mumbling and stumbling.

Mike Hale was disappointed despite his professed belief in Song's ability to lift any material.

Yourself and Yours

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A pointer from Glenn Kenny. Directed by Hong Sang-soo, 2016. It's in a similar style to The Day a Pig Fell Into the Well I guess: sleepy, a bit Todd Solondz, momentarily transiently humourless Mike Leigh, all the time playing Lynchian identity games ala Lost Highway without the violence or video clip. An object of desire is used to explore alcoholism in Seoul. Yeah. I was more interested in what they were eating.

I Saw the Devil

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A graphically violent Korean effort from 2010. It's a proforma and soulless stock revenge sort of thing: a secret agent plays cat-and-mouse with a cartoonish serial killer. Everything is coated in blood but not in a way I'd consider cinematic. Oldboy Choi Min-sik looks tired throughout but still does better than invincible cardboard lead Lee Byung-hun. I don't know why it's rated so highly at IMDB. Another directed by Kim Jee-woon.

Jeannette Catsoulis observed the excess misogyny at the time.