peteg's blog - noise - movies

Big

/noise/movies | Link

With Jacob and his kids. I don't think I've seen this before, but of course it was entirely familiar as a late 1980s body switcheroo school flick. It's more adult themed than I expected. I mistook Robert Loggia for Gene Hackman, who does appear in a movie in the movie. Director Penny Marshall is clearly a baseball fan, though both Jake and I read the Giants and the bridge as signs we were in San Francisco instead of NYC and New Jersey.

Janet Maslin at the time.

Tenet

/noise/movies | Link

At the Majestic Cinema Nambucca Heads, at the one-and-only 16.30 session. 16.50 AUD + 1.00 AUD booking fee, booked in the morning. Theatre 3 is pretty small; I sat two rows from the front, which is about right for that screen. Of course I was so late to this global COVID party that I was the only one there. The short for Wonder Woman 1984 has a possibly self-referential joke where Kirk is again back in the 1980s making anachronistic faux pas (here by taking a trash can to be art). Behold innovation.

The opening scene is an unmotivated spaghetti monster and I can't say that things got any clearer from there. It was therefore a pleasure to take a pause with Martin Donovan (as always). The main draw was Liz Dibecki, who was as solid as usual but is still waiting for a decent role in a good movie. BlacKkKlansman had given me expectations of John David Washington that weren't met here; mostly he's just a jawline in a suit waiting to deliver some lines or a judo throw. Robert Pattinson does a bit better as the tech bro, though he goes out all hair and smug. Kenneth Branagh is mostly squint, like vintage Jack Thompson. I didn't recognise Aaron Taylor-Johnson from Kick-Ass.

The aim was high-concept James Bond, where the good guys perform the heists. Nolan loves destroying planes and dressing everyone up like Bane. Apart from the general tiredness of the tropes, the central flaw is that inversion is ultimately neither here nor there; the plot gets more value out of the time travel, which is handled about as poorly as it generally is. I guess I misunderappreciate Nolan's special effects.

Widely reviewed, as you'd expect for a Christopher Nolan. Jessica Kiang dug it when it opened. Can't say I entirely agree with her opinion about this movie, but her critique of Nolan's output is spot on. Catherine Shoard brackets it with the far superior Team America. Later it was conclusively deemed an epic cinema-killing fiasco.

Paris, Texas

/noise/movies | Link

In two sittings, split at what turned out to be its natural cleavage; the first half is misdirection while the second is some kind of family tree darning. It's arthouse in that the storytelling may be innovative or at least unfamiliar, but you'd have to say the story is entirely pro forma; Wim Wenders directs with a bit more focus than his 1990s efforts. The draw was Harry Dean Stanton in his prime (1980s); he looks like a depressed and starved Sharlto Copley. I hadn't realised he was ever considered leading-man material. Klaus Kinski's daughter Nastassja plays at a wife/mother/fallen woman. I hadn't seen Aurore Clement in anything but Apocalypse Now (Redux); she's still substantial but less convincing here. Overall it's a roadtrip with a side of snoozefest.

Roger Ebert at the time (four stars). Ah, Sam Shepard wrote the thing; that explains the story. Ebert gave it another four stars in 2002. Vincent Canby was less impressed.

Dirt Music

/noise/movies | Link

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

/noise/movies | Link

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

/noise/movies | Link

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

/noise/movies | Link

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

/noise/movies | Link

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

/noise/movies | Link

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

/noise/movies | Link

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

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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

/noise/movies | Link

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.

Da 5 Bloods

/noise/movies | Link

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.

Harvey

/noise/movies | Link

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.

Sergeant York

/noise/movies | Link

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

/noise/movies | Link

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)

/noise/movies | Link

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

/noise/movies | Link

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

/noise/movies | Link

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.