peteg's blog - noise - movies

The Tracker

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David Gulpilil in the lead, 2002. Written and directed by Rolf de Heer. Frontier violence in 1922, "somewhere in Australia". I didn't get a lot out of it. Gary Sweet's character is a caricature and his lines and histrionics are overheated cliches. Open-mouthed neophyte Damon Gameau left me cold. "Veteran" Grant Page is apparently known for his stunts. There's some great cinematography (of the Flinders Ranges) and yet nothing is new with few really striking shots.

Roger Ebert: 3.5 stars, hmm. Both he and Paul Byrnes draw attention to the use of cutaways to paintings whenever things got violent. Julie Rigg, spot on. Stephen Holden.

The Last Wave

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More Gulpilil completism: epic blozploitation, black magic voodoo! It's so strange to see him in the Sydney spots: the Rocks, Vaucluse, the park under the southern end of the bridge. Unfortunately he doesn't get to move in this, functioning merely as a 1976 urban clothes horse. Richard Chamberlain plays a moneyed-up corporate tax lawyer who drives a Volvo 264 (if I read it right) which looks essentially like a 240. He's American and his accent wanders periodically.

I did not understand the metaphysical mechanics, or much of anything really. The plot is incoherent; for instance, after "I don't do criminal law" Chamberlain loses the case, guilty Gulpilil is somehow free to wander around and reveal all. This is after we see him getting rather violently installed in a cell early on. The whole thing is shot like a horror movie. Perhaps it serves best as a reminder of a time of Tooths Lager, when the ambience of the old inner-city pubs drew both lawyers and crims to work from the front bar.

Again — ten years later — it strikes me that I haven't seen anything by Peter Weir I like.

Vincent Canby at the time. Luke Buckmaster in 2014.

Dune (2021)

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A dreamy, impressionistic take on something like the first half of the first book of the venerable Dune saga with a great cast that is sometimes well used. Of course there is too much exposition for it cannot be done any other way. The pace is relentless and undermodulated: one moment Duke Oscar Isaac is going to sleep in the arms of his concubine, the insufficiently regal Rebecca Ferguson, and the next there's peak action, all in the service of developing Timothée Chalamet's fate and not much more. Chalamet is not very expressive, even too often inert, which sort-of works at least until he encounters his dream wife Zendaya who has no personality/character. (You have little chance of discerning the character's names unless you're very familiar with the source material.)

Amongst the next tier of cast we get Stephen McKinley Henderson as mentat Hawat, struggling with his weight. Self-satisfied Aquaman Jason Momoa is not my idea of Duncan Idaho. The No Country for Old Men veterans Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem, well, this isn't a movie that's kind to old men. Stellan Skarsgård plays Baron Brando with some embarrassingly unimaginative direct lifts from Apocalypse Now. Reverend Mother Charlotte Rampling does what she needs to to feed her retirement fund. There's a vast array of races represented here, but mostly in minor or non-speaking roles, just like the big dance party in one of those Matrix sequels.

I'd say David Lynch's effort is about level with auteur Denis Villeneuve's at half time, despite having a smaller budget, far less technology and limited scope for the vision thing. There simply wasn't anything as striking as Sting in his speedos here, nor the willingness to take the Baron and his henchmen right over the edge of silliness. Dave Bautista did his part just fine and yet we can only imagine what the Darth Vader-ish Sardukar could have been if they lived in Cloud Cuckoo Land. And what about Brad Dourif's tortured mentat with the John Howard eyebrows? — you hardly notice that character here.

Manohla Dargis: is this Star Wars? Glenn Kenny shows his deep comprehension of classic scifi.

Mad Dog Morgan

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In two sittings. David Gulpilil completism, and by far the best bits are Gulpilil doing whatever: playing the didj, sounding off like a kookaburra, killing snakes, throwing spears. Dennis Hopper plays Dennis Hopper, just before Apocalypse Now. Clearly Hopper loved the same bits I did. The remainder of the cast is huge, housing pretty much all of the David Williamson movie peoples of the day (circa 1976). John Hargreaves has never been more wooden, nor Graeme Blundell. There's a cameo from Bruce Spence and some hackwork from Bill Hunter and Jack Thompson. Frank Thring would have cartoonishly twirled his moustaches if he wasn't hairless. Notionally the plot involves some bushranging on the NSW/Victoria border in the late 19th century, but really the project was just an excuse to get out there on the turps.

Luke Buckmaster in 2014. He's a fan. Paul Byrnes at some point, nondescriptly.

The Last Duel

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I hadn't been to the cinema in an age so I paid 19.00 AUD + 0.25 AUD in credit card surcharge to the Alice Springs Cinema to see Ridley Scott's latest. The theatre was pretty decent but (as is usual now) from the second row centre you can count the pixels. It was just me and a couple who sat somewhere up the back in the 3.10pm session.

Medieval #metoo. Matt Damon's mullet deserved its own credit. Adam Driver, his playboy nemesis. Ben Affleck had the most fun. The CGI is often not great. Again I was waiting for a twist that never came. Scott has a predilection for revisiting very similar themes; this is a pastiche of The Duellists with the ultraviolence of Gladiator. I'd have preferred another Fassbender-anchored Alien instalment, or some more Bladerunner. Afterwards I felt like I should've waited for Bond.

Dana Stevens. Glenn Kenny. Manohla Dargis: yes, Jodie Comer is mostly inert.

The Card Counter

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Shockingly poor. For Oscar Isaac, who seems incapable of finding a decent role. Even Willem Dafoe is defeated by cliche in his bit part. I did not understand what all these themes had to do with each other, and kept waiting for a twist that never came.

Manohla Dargis makes much it being written and directed by Paul Schrader.

Cane Toads: The Conquest

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Essentially a remake of the original in circa 2010 with some of the cast returning and some new material, such as the toad arriving at the N.T./W.A. border. Apparently it was released in 3D. It seems that Mark Lewis struggled to find anyone as spectacularly oddball to interview this time.

I was told by an American (Anton from San Francisco) at El Questro that Australian crows have learnt how to eat them, by flipping them over and avoiding the toxins in the shoulders. He also claimed that kites (?) have learnt from this trick from the crows.

While watching this (in Kakadu) I got wondering if crocs can cope with the toad's poisons. According to Harry Bowman (a long-term tour operator on the Adelaide River who appears here and also on a recent ABC conversation I happened to listen to recently) the answer is they cannot. However this 2019 report from the ABC's science unit says that salties can and freshies can't. Moreover the rakali (native water rats), some snakes, Kookaburras, swamphens, some insects, melomys, ... also predate on the toad. Fascinating stuff. More details at Wikipedia.

Peter Galvin. Yep, it's not as much fun as the first one.

Cane Toads: an unnatural history

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Second time around with this classic. It prompted me to dig up the sequel.

Last Train to Freo

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Second time around with this adaptation of a play from 2006, at the Merl campground out past Jabiru in Kakadu. The cast is great. It starts out realistically but slides into artificiality at some point, turning back into a play. Jeremy Sims directed this and the more recently feted Last Cab to Darwin.

Paul Byrnes.

Cry Macho

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Clint Eastwood's latest. It's a sentimental clunker. Macho is a cockfighting rooster that does all the violent stuff. Clint does some romance and fathering in between some sauntering. Mexico, once again a healthier place than the USA.

A. O. Scott tells us that it's 1980, in case you're wondering why things are so wholesome.

Under the Skin

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Samantha Morton's first feature from 1997. I saw it back then and have been meaning to rewatch it since 2014 for reasons unknown. I didn't remember much at all, and now find there's not a lot going on; her character struck me as a clone of Sinead. The plot is sexual perversity in a minor English town (apparently one with a single train station, and not Manchester) as the training wheels come off a young lady's life. Morton is fab. Perhaps I was thinking of The Libertine.

Janet Maslin at the time. The editing was great.

Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds

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Alex Proyas's first feature from 1988. Financed by the Australian Film Corporation (AFC) via their "Creative Branch", which makes me wonder if it was a bicentennial project. Roughly this is from a classic period of Australian craziness: not a return to Wake In Fright but an indulgence and celebration of quirkiness, individuality, spirituality, freedom and perhaps genius. Think of the stump-jump plough, Young Einstein, and not of Max Max. The story is soporific — not far off Chicken Run — but so what: the cinematography is gorgeous and there's the odd moment of inspired zaniness. Shot in Broken Hill. It is easy to see how he got from here to The Crow.

The Hand

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Oliver Stone's second feature, from 1981. I think it's clear that it was never a good idea, even at the time. Michael Caine turns in a stodgy performance, showing that when things work (as in, e.g., Sleuth) we can ascribe that to his co-star(s). Even so nothing can really save this intrinsically flawed whatever-it-is. Mercifully the sequel, so begged for at the end, was never made.

Vincent Canby. Clever? When? Again I'd suggest that David Lynch made far better use of juxtaposing creepy-crawlies with small-town shenanigans. Stone's thing is politics on the largest stages.

Seizure

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Oliver Stone's first feature from 1974. I can't see how but it must've seemed like a good idea at the time. It's some kind of moralising horror, like Tales from the Crypt — mesmerising Martine Beswick does the Ralph Richardson thing, sorta, but not the Joan Collins thing. She's joined by a dwarf and a giant, which together with the red curtains were all better used a bit later by David Lynch. The framing story (dreams within dreams) was always a poor move.

It was not reviewed by my usual suspects.

Chopper

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I haven't seen this in a very long time.

Three stars from Roger Ebert. Eric Bana: a star is born. Stephen Holden draws the line to Natural Born Killers.

Dark City

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Apparently third time around with this Alex Proyas contraption. Somehow sometimes (but not at all times) there are some very appealing visuals, or story elements, or something. I think we can all agree that whatever her other merits, Jennifer Connelly is not much in the voice department. I wish Melissa George had had a larger role. And Bruce Spence.

Roger Ebert at the time, and as a "great movie" in 2005 for a total of eight stars. A visual feast. Stephen Holden was more interested in a coherent story.

Once Upon A Time In The West

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Revisiting one of Sergio Leone's classics. Still #49 in the IMDB top-250. There's a lot to like here, if you have the patience for it.

Roger Ebert gave it 2.5 stars at the time. It seems he did enjoy the ones starring Clint Eastwood.

Natural Born Killers

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Apparently last seen a decade ago. I completely remember the way it unfolds (who would not) and some scenes but forgot many details. I could watch Woody Harrelson all day. Tarantino authored the story, whatever that means, given that others wrote the screenplay. Ah, I see, that means he declined to take his full due for it.

Four stars from Roger Ebert. He seems to have loved everything that Oliver Stone did. Peter Travers sees this as the latest in a series of exploitative works. Janet Maslin: not great satire, sure, but what sensory overload. One of Trent Reznor's finest soundtracks alongside Lost Highway. She's right that Stone can't do the news like Spike Lee.

Born on the Fourth of July

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Second time around with this, the second of Oliver Stone's Việt Nam war movies. I don't think it's his finest outing, though perhaps this was the story closest to his heart of the three. Tom Cruise has a few scenes where he's quite good, and a few more where he's not; his best efforts felt like a dry run for his turn in Magnolia. Other actors, such as Frank Whaley as a childhood buddy, put in more natural performances. Stone got an Oscar for this direction, and the editors won too. I'm a little surprised as it didn't seem like the smoothest of rides; Cruise's speech to the cameras at the RNC towards the end doesn't square to well with the inchoate war vet we were getting to know to that point.

Four stars from Roger Ebert. Here he is, on the record, talking about an anti-war movie made by the losing side. Vincent Canby more critically endorsed it.

9 Songs

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This was on the pile forever, probably as a jag from Winterbottom's excellent Jude, which I should have rewatched in preference to this dreck. A quick look at IMDB suggests he has been running out of ideas for a long time now. In essence this is an episodic snapshot of the British indie music scene circa 2004 intercut with some hardcore sex that perhaps just maybe is supposed to provide characters and propel a plot. Really there's no arc and it's entirely vacuous. The Antarctic thread was absolutely spurious. As someone may have said, it's a continent in search of a penguin.

Roger Ebert is obviously sympathetic to sexy movies but could only manage two stars. Damn straight the concert scenes are the most soulless footage ever shot of that stuff. He misses the cue early on from the woman, that she's not there for the long haul. Stephanie Zacharek got into it.