peteg's blog - noise - movies

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.

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.

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.

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.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High

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Second time around with this Californian high school sorta-classic. Prompted by Dana Stevens writing the notes of the recent Criterion collection release.

Janet Maslin found it diffuse at the time. Roger Ebert was not a fan, and I concur with him that Jennifer Jason Leigh was the lead here (Sean Penn, not so much).

Hideous Kinky

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Again I have no idea why this was on the pile; it may be that I was on a Kate Winslet completest kick a few years back. Here she is as a transient mendicant, in the lee of Titanic, a young mother dragging her two young daughters around Morocco in search of "the truth" that perhaps the Sufis might know. She's a bundle of needs that are rarely met, and even more rarely interesting. It might've been a fun movie to make.

Roger Ebert was overly generous with three stars. Janet Maslin climbed on board.

The Piano

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Jane Campion's breakthrough feature. Far superior to the later Holy Smoke!. Briefly limp-as-always New Zealand settler Sam Neill mail orders bride Holly Hunter (excellent and Oscared) from the mother country, who arrives with her piano and daughter Anna Paquin (similarly) in startling style. She's inexplicably mute and finds deep pleasure in her playing. Soon enough rough but sensitive Harvey Keitel takes an interest and things go as they must. I was a bit mystified why Neill put up so much of a fight; no one was getting what they wanted up to the point where movie logic demanded things be taken to the limit, and it's pretty clear all the time that he just wants to get on with despoiling the countryside.

Campion herself got an Oscar for the screenplay. Vincent Canby sort-of reviewed it from Cannes 1993, as did Roger Ebert, where Campion was the first woman to win the Palme d'Or. Roger Ebert more formally. Caryn James situates the movie amongst other Australian gothics and observes Campion was inspired by Wuthering Heights.

Holy Smoke!

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I have no clue how this ended up on the queue. I don't recall having seen anything by Jame Campion before this, a misfiring comedy with a stellar cast. Post-Titanic Kate Winslet leads but her strayan is not strong, and all the nudity in the world can't make up for that. Couldn't they find an Australian actress to play this young lass with a susceptibility for older guru-men-children? Post-Pulp Fiction Harvey Keitel plays another Mr Fixit who is initially charged with replacing the Eastern with the Western and concludes faceplanted in the red dirt of Wee Waa wearing a dress and lipstick. Post-Jackie Brown Pam Grier steals every scene she's in, as does Austen Tayshus — always good to see them both. Sophie Lee is even more terrible than her character calls for. Many, many things do not fit together.

Everyone should've known better, especially me.

Roger Ebert. Janet Maslin.

Riders of Justice

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Mads Mikkelsen completism. He does OK with the little he has to work with (cold military man with daughter and dead wife). The setup, the style of comedy and remainder of the cast left me cold; I mean, come on guys, who has actual, substantial, physical compute hardware in 2020, let alone relocates it? Another realistic detail was how epic shootouts in suburban Denmark generate no heat from the fuzz.

Beatrice Loayza indulged it far more than I could.

The Mitchells vs the Machines

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Maya Phillips gave it a glowing review and pointed to antecedents I, Robot and more obviously The Incredibles. I'd add Tron to that list, where the equivalent of a 1980s programmer is now a creative (meme/movie maker) who is charged with and capable of taking out the MCU/Zuckerberg's latest creation/acquisition. This is Sony animation taking it to Pixar/the Mouse via YouTube sensory overload and not technical supremacy; where the older scifis were often satisfied with immersing us in wonderful worlds, this precludes a deep focus on anything. Overall a tonne of fun, especially the dog.

Tracks

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I spent the entirety wondering if Mia Wasikowska was ever going to put a hat on. (Spoiler: she never does, at least during the bits I was paying attention to.) Against the somewhat similar Rabbit Proof Fence, this a possibly good story both less juiced and less well told: wilful Robyn Davidson decides she's had enough of people and the only escape is a 2,700km trek from Alice Springs to the western coastline with camels. Her female dog is mostly enough company, though the movie makes it seem that she got both too much and not enough attention from other humans along the way. An especially gawky Adam Driver plays the romantic interest/photographer with the critical link to National Geographic. There's some great scenery and the odd amusing turn by various Aborigines, but beyond that it's a bust.

Manohla Dargis. Sandra Hall pointed out further flaws at the time. I too had trouble squaring director John Curran's efforts here with his far superior adaptation of Andrew McGahan's Praise.