peteg's blog - noise - movies

Only Angels Have Wings

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Howard Hawks directs, Cary Grant stars alongside Jean Arthur and Rita Hayworth, future and past lovers respectively. Not very gripping: some dicey flying of dicey plans with dicey cargo out of the fictional town of Barranca, South American somewhere. Not screwy, but some funny one liners; More Wages of Fear than His Girl Friday. Excess details at Wikipedia.

Frank Nugent wasn't that impressed back in 1939. He says Ecuador. Bananas are mentioned, and ships carrying them to the great northern markets.

True Detective (Seasons 1-3)

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More time-soaking TV. The first series is as good as everyone says; imaginative, well acted, well shot. The shootout is a classic. The second series is more of a stock breaking-good police procedural with a generic shootout. The third series is a bit of a return to the good acting but is soporifically paced; it's Gone Baby Gone, stretched thin. So yeah, the first one is all of it.

Uncut Gems

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Adam Sandler on a downward spiral in 2019. It's very NYC Jewish, set mostly in the jewelry trading district. Writers/directors the Safdie brothers (previously unknown to me) do a fine job with a character who isn't exactly a loser and doesn't make precisely the same mistakes time and again. There's excess referentiality, Chekhovian devices, and Altman-style overlapping dialogue that is sometimes difficult to sieve. I was hoping to see Eric Bogosian let rip; time has not been kind to him. It's easily the best Sandler vehicle I've seen.

Dana Stevens. Manohla Dargis.

Birds of Prey

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An overlong live-action cartoon in the mould of the 1960s Batman TV show. Amazingly poor, and Margot Robbie's worst outing for a while. Ewan McGregor! What was he thinking. Was anyone thinking?

Anthony Lane. A. O. Scott is wrong about the action scenes: they're creaky old hat.

Sometimes a Great Notion

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Based on the book by Ken Kesey. Made in 1971, predating the Jack Nicholson classic by four years. Directed by and starring Paul Newman. Also Henry Fonda, Lee Remick. Loggers in Oregon, rugged self-reliant individuals who flout the expectations of their unionised town. The Chekhovian devices go off as you might expect, given their dangerous vocation. Not bad, not great; the best bits are the logging and the ultimate river scenes, all without speech. Great use is made of what little remains of Fonda in the latter.

Roger Ebert. Vincent Canby.

Chernobyl (TV miniseries)

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A followup of sorts to Midnight in Chernobyl, and also at Dave's suggestion and, I guess, because it dovetails somewhat with Fred Kaplan's recent nuclear nightmare book too. Highly rated in IMDB's TV section. The many name actors bring the focus to the human elements though the last episode does treat the technical issues around the explosion. It's generally in the style of realism; the explanation uses props like they may have in 1987. I could have done with a little less histrionics. Not much is said about the other three reactors at Chernobyl.

Details at Wikipedia; I'm not surprised Higginbotham called BS on many things here. Masha Gessen suggests the whole angle is ill-advised; but how do we get fission and exposition if those individuals who know are not in direct conflict with the powerful? That this question is not answered well is perhaps the central flaw of the whole enterprise.

Watchmen (TV series, 2019)

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A pointer from a Charles Yu interview that I should have been more circumspect in following. Well, it does feature some semi-decent soundtrack work from Trent Reznor I guess. Overall it's a reheat of the fabled comic book, against which it does not stand up well; it's not even as good as the movie, perhaps because the knowing and smarmy acting is simply not up to the task. The epistemics are shot to bits; it's not worth thinking through who knew what when and how and why. There's an unfortunate dependence on Interstellar-style lurv and tedious family time. Somewhat amazingly the plot is a pretty much straight replay of the first one, viz save the world! — but kill Doctor Manhattan first. I wish that was a spoiler.

1917

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Somehow highly rated at IMDB — #58 in their top-250! — and the recent Oscars. I guess it is technically impressive though there wasn't a lot for me to hang on to; I kept thinking that it wanted to be Lord of the Rings but had ended up as a first-person shooter with a shallow illusion of a three-dimensional open world. Foreshadowing a Paths of Glory encounter with the battlefield commander was a bit lame. I didn't quite recognise Mark Strong from Kickass. The music was a bit much.

Manohla Dargis wasn't impressed. Dana Stevens observed that Sam Mendes created something all too familiar.

Breaking Bad (Seasons 1-5)

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Near the top of IMDB's top TV shows. I'm about ten years late to this party as I'm conscious that TV series tend to be massive time soaks, which this proved to be. Coarsely it's an update of The Godfather to the twenty-first century, mashed up with some MacGyverism (and for mine those are the best bits), located in Albuquerque New Mexico (the land of enchantment). It's generally absorbing apart from a few too many saggy family parts. Overall it flags a bit somewhere in the middle, and the finer plot details do not always reward attention. Bonus: Rian Johnson apparently directed three episodes.

The follow-up movie released late last year does not sound as appetising; James Poniewozik reckons the canon was already complete. There's also Better Call Saul.

Farmageddon (Shaun the Sheep)

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The latest Aardman Animations animation. It's fun. There's almost no language. This one features nods to just about every scifi classic out there, right down to its cloning of the E.T. plot (near as I can tell given that I don't think I've seen E.T.). There's a great scene where some fake Daleks startle Tom Baker as he exits a TARDIS-y john, and many others. Conversely (unfortunately) the spook robot is little more than a Wall-E clone. I love it that the sheep are such excellent engineers.

Jason Bailey at the New York Times.

The Lighthouse

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Over a couple of nights as it failed to grip. Veteran lighthouse keeper Willem Dafoe gets saddled with a new assistant in the form of Robert Pattinson. The setting is, of course, a bleak island with extreme weather. Black-and-white, square frame, archaic. It has its moments but director/writer Robert Eggers (co-writing with Max Eggers) generally fails to innovate.

Manohla Dargis.

The Two Jakes

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I just discovered that Chinatown had a sequel, directed by Jack Nicholson who also stars. It's a clunky retread from 1990, so much so that I was surprised that it didn't make David Stratton's list of marvellous movies. The actors are uniformly squandered: Harvey Keitel (in one of his more awkward performances), Eli Wallach as a lawyer, Meg Tilly, and so on. Tom Waits! The plot is somewhat amazingly almost identical to that of its predecessor, though someone more invested might observe a distinct emotional range.

Roger Ebert overlooked the clunkiness at the time. Vincent Canby didn't. Peter Travers.

Chinatown

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Probably third time around with this Polanski/Nicholson classic. Water shenanigans in Los Angeles, how very topical. Prompted by Janet Maslin's review of a book on its making. Somehow still rated #150 in the IMDB top-250.

Roger Ebert at the time and in 2000. Vincent Canby was less impressed. Both observe John Huston as a link to the original American noirs of the 1930s.

Richard Jewell

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Eastwood's latest: another in his series of American biopics, this time about the security guard who discovered the Centennial Park bomb at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. Given the substantial focus on the FBI I guess it also acts as a bookend to J. Edgar. The cast is uniformly brilliant. Paul Walter Hauser from I, Tonya anchors things in the lead; this story is from the same (Clinton) era. Jon Hamm has the thankless task of playing the lead investigator on the dead-end investigation (reminding me of his G-man in Bad Times at the El Royale and, oh right, The Town). Kathy Bates! She got an Oscar nom for Best Supporting Actress, of course she did. Olivia Wilde is solid if generically slutty. I enjoyed Sam Rockwell's performance here, lodged somewhere between his W. effort and what I take to be his essential self. I quibble about the poster in his office: I fear large corporations about as much as government, though I concur both are more concerning than terrorism, domestic or foreign. I guess Eastwood implies this by pointing the bone at both the FBI and the media.

A. O. Scott is right that Wilde did her best with a poor role. Perhaps Eastwood is suggesting that the FBI had lost its way by that time? Richard Brody summarises the plot and draws a parallel to the FBI's treatment of Mrs Clinton in 2016.

Il traditore (The Traitor)

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Prompted by A. O. Scott's recent review. It's not exactly The Godfather; more one of those Pablo Escobar hagiographies from a while back. There are some fantastic scenes, such as when the dons are caged up at the rear of a courtroom. I have no idea how Italian justice functions, but it sometimes looks like fun. Scott doesn't seem to mind that Tommaso Buscetta's own motivations went substantially unexplored; if he was really that much into the ladies, how much money did he need?

Motherless Brooklyn

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Ed Norton directs and leads in this revival of 1950s NYC hard boiled detective semi-noir. His usual tics are all on show (for instance "let me tell you something") as well as some new ones, with compensations in Rain Man style. It's too talky with not enough show, and not as twisty as the running time demands while also not making a tonne of sense. Still it's better than the dire IMDB rating and reviews suggest, and there is the odd sweet scene. Alec Baldwin plays a Robert Moses figure who's not going to let the small people get in the way of the big things that need to be done.

A. O. Scott.

Jojo Rabbit

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There's not a lot going on here; three Oscars therefore. The cliches pile up, along the lines of what I was once told: German humour is no laughing matter. Despite this Scarlett does make a semi-decent fist of the real thing. Rockwell plays louche Rockwell. Stephen Merchant as Gestapo: are those hats a nod to the classic Borsalinos of American Jewry? Taika Waititi is perhaps the pick as the imaginary Hitler bestie because at least you know he's on the high wire.

Hollywood can't give up on Nazis, which is unfortunate as they cannot innovate ala Downfall or Look Who's Back. It's just not enough to gesture at current political conditions when superior works like The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui have been around for so long. And yes, all of those are German efforts.

A. O. Scott wasn't impressed. Michael Wood.

Gösta

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My recent encounter with an American take on Swedish weird reminded me that Lukas Moodysson had a TV series in 2019. Strangely enough Vilhelm Blomgren is in both.

Very briefly, Blomgren leads here as a twenty-first century Swedish Jesus who moves to Småland for his first job as a child psychologist. His various attachments from Stockholm follow in short order, yielding a generational Tillsammans complete with a refugee in the attic. It's a pile on: instability and guilt rock the perennially free yet clingy boomer generation, while the futureless are also hanging on, immobile, but for reasons occluded by self delusion. All of the women are predatory, all of the men are clearly nuts, and the only thing a man who cannot say no can ultimately say yes to is bonding with a dog.

The sexual politics is clunky, with no advance on those of the late-90s Brilliant Lies (etc). I'm left thinking that Moodysson doesn't have much insight into women.

Overall things are far too jaggy, far too cliched, for Moodysson to take us anywhere but the most predictable places, which is disappointing as he is otherwise often as inventive as David Lynch (sharing musical outros, small town shenanigans, the weird). This viewer's patience was not rewarded by a final episode that makes up for some of the heavy handedness; I wanted Gösta to bend, not break, and the road is just too long. For all that I do enjoy his style.

Back to the Future, Part II, Part III

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Dave reckons my childhood was impoverished by not having seen these movies. Perhaps, but he was dead right that it's now too late to rectify. At times things get a bit Kind Hearts and Coronets with Michael J. Fox playing too many roles. I've never been a fan of any of the actors, nor Robert Zemeckis's American cheesecake films. The first one is rated #37 in the IMDB top-250.

Ebert on the first one (3.5 stars), the the second (3 stars) and the third (2.5 stars).

Love at Large

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#55 on David Stratton's list of marvellous movies. Clearly he's a sucker for hard boiled noir-ish detective movies, so much so that he can endorse this weak B-grade garbage. I was expecting more of detective Tom Berenger as a pivot for quite a few ladies, none of whom impressed me so much. The plot is ancillary and could have quite profitably been omitted, reducing things to a set of late 1980s character studies. Leonard Cohen's Ain't No Cure For Love opens. Not enough is asked of Neil Young.

Roger Ebert shrugged at the time: he suggests a failed parody where Stratton thinks satire. Both agree that the director has (had?) potential. Janet Maslin.