peteg's blog - noise - movies

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

All the Old Knives (2022)

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Peter Bradshaw gave four stars (of five) to this slick Amazon-produced ode to high-class Californian consumption. The cast is strong (Chris Pine, Thandiwe Newton, and — why didn't they tell me — Larry Fishburne) but the cat-and-mouse game of erstwhile CIA operatives sorting out the blame for some terrorism involving a plane is weak; the plot is essentially how lurv solves the trolley problem. Go watch Sleuth instead.

Dana Stevens seems to be struggling to write full-length reviews these days. Ben Kenigsberg.

Romulus, My Father (2007)

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On a DVD extracted from Orange City Library. Extraneous Eric Bana completism. He plays a Romanian father with a peripatetic German wife transplanted to rural Victoria after the war. The main theme is the democratised abundance of poverty and mental unwellness in the 1960s.

I don't know much about Raimond Gaita (and I don't have the patience to read his impressions of this movie) beyond him being a general fixture in the Australian (read Melbourne) literary scene a decade or two back. His book (the source material) clearly meant a lot to many people (see Goodreads) but this adaptation, directed by Richard Roxburgh, is inessential and lifeless. Bana does OK, as he always does, and a young Kodi Smit-McPhee (playing Raimond) leads and similarly does OK. Franka Potente (I remember Run Lola Run being marketed to death about a decade prior) and Marton Csokas are also OK. All the actors are OK but it's not enough.

Margaret and David at the time (with thanks to Ozflicks for doing what the ABC seemingly cannot).

Atlantic City (1980)

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A pointer from Christos Tsiolkas's prognosis for this year's Oscars:

Does anyone really care about the Oscars anymore? My own faith in their legitimacy was destroyed in 1982, in my final year in high school. I had watched all five films nominated for Best Picture over that summer, and when it was announced that Hugh Hudson's leaden historic drama Chariots of Fire had won over Warren Beatty's lushly romantic Reds and Louis Malle's exquisite chamber piece, Atlantic City, I turned off the television and muttered to myself, "They have no bloody idea!" And so, with the sanctimonious certainty of a 16-year-old, I dismissed every single voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. I knew better: they were all wrong.

This is Burt Lancaster as a minor league mafioso, charged with taking care of his departed boss's wife (Kate Reid) for a stipend. The plot gets started with aspirational card dealer Susan Sarandon's husband (Robert Joy), who has impregnated her sister (Hollis McLaren), finding themselves in Philadelphia and soon in dire need of a coke distributor. They arrive in an Atlantic City that is being destroyed so it can be rebuilt as the Las Vegas of the east; this is somewhen before Trump got to it. All three are fleeing their tiny Canadian hometown. Things amble along genially in the mode of the times, culminating in a sort-of reverse Remains of the Day. It's as pure a piece of Americana as was ever built by a Frenchman.

Roger Ebert: four stars in 2005. Vincent Canby got right into it. IMDB trivia: Malle: "... [that] bizarre parking place with elevators — an absurd structure I have never seen anywhere else. It was so inconvenient, but it was typical of the place."

Unfaithful (2002)

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Out of sheer curiosity I dug up Adrian Lyne's previous feature (the last before his retirement). Diane Lane, married to a bland Richard Gere, goes all-in on an unmotivated affair with Olivier Martinez in 2002 in NYC. Once again there's a lot of repetitive repetition. Perhaps the highlight for me was when an ornament (a snow globe) witnesses common knowledge (!) — you can see the two leads falling into an unbounded epistemic abyss of dawning awareness. Otherwise it is far too often so dumb. The ending is amoral, unlike Lyne's earlier Lolita — there's an echo of it in a police siren in the closing scenes — and it is hard to see why things are left to dangle. That suburban living will get you every time.

Roger Ebert: three stars too many. Lane and Gere, serenely materialistic, yes. Stephen Holden. That scene where Lyne cuts from affair to train ride had me hoping he'd ride the ambiguity somewhere. Perhaps he, like Michael Mann, has just been remaking the same movie time and again.

Deep Water (2022)

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Adrian Lyne un-retired to make this adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel of the same name. The cast looked solid (Tracy Letts has his moments, as does Ben Affleck and just maybe Ana de Armas) and I'd been warned it's farcical. But really, how many times can you replay the same scene? I tried to keep up while there was still some ambiguity but once the plot unkinked somewhere after halfway I couldn't figure out what the point was, what it was I might have been missing out on. Who are these people? I was too disengaged to follow the late twists, if there were any; the reviews suggest I was supposed to read more into what exactly gets Ana off.

Jeannette Catsoulis. Dana Stevens missed erotic thrillers but somehow made do with this one. She reminded me of how little is really made of Affleck's tech geek being mismarried to de Armas's squeaky party girl (yeah I know right bug eyes).

Expired (Loveland) (2022)

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Ivan Sen's latest. Well I'm sure that many of us have wanted to remake Blade Runner at some time or other, even Ridley Scott. I'd expect most would tune the plot, retain the aesthetic and general post-everything Asian city (or Chinatown) vibe, soaking wet, but not slow things down to the pace of a sedated slug.

I couldn't figure out what Sen was reaching for. Is this a homage to Wong Kar Wai? Had he been watching too much Terrence Malick? I know he's unafraid to go deep into genre (cliché) but having a white man (Ryan Kwanten) roam an Asian city, stalking Jillian Nguyen's comfort-woman-with-wandering-accent, is pure #metoo bait. Life-extending Hugo Weaving is found whenever he's needed, but where's his Rutger Hauer? The editing did the story no favours. The mutually-intelligible multilinguality is an optimistic triviality.

Luke Buckmaster: two thankless stars. Elisabeth Vincentelli: don't expect much. The IMDB rating is steadily sinking; I get the impression not many people can be bothered to register an opinion.

Thief (1981)

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Third time around with this Michael Mann classic.