peteg's blog

The Beguiled

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Sofia Coppola's latest. It is entirely meh. I had some hopes that she'd learnt from the Koreans; Kidman was quite good in this sort of role in Stoker, though there she had a far better male (played by Matthew Goode) to rub up against than Colin Farrell, who is essentially a cliched volatile lettuce. Here the photography is dank, the females all a-quiver, the plot entirely predictable, the twist so coldly plausible you wonder why they bothered, and if there was time enough for a proper shock. Kirsten Dunst would be better of re-hitching her star to von Trier. Elle Fanning is no more than a haughty stereotype that I'm sure she's played before. I wonder if the original (a Clint Eastwood vehicle) is much chop; the IMDB rating is higher at least.

J. Hoberman. Dana Stevens.

Mumon: The Land of Stealth

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With Dariusz, Amy and a friend of hers, 7.15pm, opening night of the Japanese Film Festival — with speeches that pushed the start time back by 30 minutes or more. Beforehand I wasn't hungry so I just sat on an Asahi as Dariusz ate sushi at the sushi train next to the remaining George St cinema.

This is something of a reinvention of the ninja genre, in roughly the same way that Guy Richie relaunched (and relaunched) the English lad flick a few decades back. The tropes are in short supply and the parallels with modern grasping, materialistic society could have been left implicit. I didn't understand the final "river" fight scene; it didn't strike me that anyone had any honour left. The indomitable prefecture reminded me of the Gauls in dear old Asterix. It's finely made and fun, but I don't think it's enough to claw back the cinematic high ground long occupied by Korea.

Logan Lucky

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Soderbergh's resumption after retiring from this kind of thing a few years back. I guess it was the money, for this is a tepid warm over of his standard heist formula. Like Baby Driver, there are some clever bits, but most of those smarts went into the marketing. It's somehow absorbing though. I enjoyed Adam Driver's droll performance, and Channing Tatum was robust. Daniel Craig phoned it in. Riley Keough (grandsprog of Elvis) never had to go up against Katie Holmes in the trashy stakes. The outro with Hilary Swank was excruciatingly predictable.

A. O. Scott. Dana Stevens.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

Lunch at Tum's Thai, then a soak off the beach at Gordons Bay. Unlike last time it was clear but I didn't bring my mask. Not too many people, some in the water. It was significantly warmer than the last time I got in. Afterwards I rode back to Beaconsfield Motorcycle Supermarket to get the CB400 serviced, and walked home from there.

Charif Majdalani: Moving the Palace (originally Caravansérail; translated by Edward Gauvin).

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Kindle. Brief, well written. Something of Conrad's Heart of Darkness transplated a bit further north (to the Sudan), and sure enough, an encounter with T.E. Lawrence and Prince Faisal during the First World War. (Majdalani gives a nod to Lawrence for the raw material on which he leans for a description of their meeting.) Instead of finding all our colonial maniacs at the end of a river, Samuel Ayyad has to continue up the Nile past Cairo, through the Suez and up the Hijaz, lugging his slightly-used ex-Tripoli palace all the way. The British are presented as dotty, as likely to indulge an Oriental fantasy as do some hard-edged soldiering. Early on it seems we're going to be told of how Samuel cuts his deals in the Sudan (beyond distributing a vast stash of British gold), but we never are. The romantic outro seemed undercooked; I really wanted to hear about the reassembly of those thousands of pieces. I wonder if this isn't somewhere in the thousand-and-one nights. The references do pile up, and I lost track of which tribes remained in the caravan and which had gone home.

Suzanna Joinson pointed out the obvious source materials and found more humour in it than I did; to me it was elegant and melancholic. Joe Geha observes an echo of Odysseus's voyage (albeit with a flawless hero).

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

Mild day. Detouring via Watsons Bay, I got in at Gordons Bay around 5pm with the intention of having a snorkel. I think the recent massive surf churned up too much stuff (loads of seaweed on the beach; some detritus in the water; very poor visibility) that it was completely futile. Pleasant in though, and somewhat pleasant out eating my dinner in the dying light on the northern headland of Coogee.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

After some prevarication I decided to get a haircut for the first time in about five weeks. After that I had a grilled flathead at Paris Seafood, with the usual excess of salad and chips, and headed to Little Bay for the first snorkel in an age. As usual I only saw the usual small suspects, and a couple of larger wrasse; there were loads of small translucent jellyfish. I finished my book on the sand, and tried having a coffee at Cafe 2036. The traffic coming back was rough.

Carmen Maria Machado: Her Body and Other Parties.

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Kindle. Parul Sehgal sold it to me: as she says, these are unruly fairy stories of a feminist, disreputable, occasionally shameless kind. The writing is fine and sometimes fun; othertimes it feels like B-grade horror. The central Especially Heinous seemed like a riff not just on Law & Order but also the fluid identities, incarnated magic, misogyny and untidy storylines of David Lynch's Twin Peaks. I found The Resident a less effective or telling piece of semi-autobiographical writing-about-writing than Nam Le's Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice. I took Inventory to be trying to tell desperate people's biographies through short-term commitment-free sexual encounters, which is too narrow a window to satisfy.

Emily May. Blair: indeed, full of sex and yet unsexy.

The Running Man

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Vintage B-Movie Arnie, somewhen inbetween Conan and Terminator 2. Apparently based on a Stephen King novel, but really a threadbare variation on Terminator and relentlessly mediocre. The kill-'em-all-dead game show hasn't come to pass in 2017 (yet) but too many movies have milked the premise in the interim. Maria Conchita Alonso vamps things up, and is often thrown around in a most un-PC way by various males. Jesse Ventura is bigger than Arnie (?). Dweezil Zappa tries to make out like Che. I saw this ages ago and remembered it for Arnie's one-liner about the loudness of his shirt.

Boogie Nights

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Last seen an age ago.

The Old 505 Theatre: Plastic by Mark Rogers.

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A last-minute freebie from somewhere, 8pm, preview, first time at The Old 505 Theatre. This was closer to student theatre than the NIDA things I've been to. Structurally the raw material is quite similar to Birdland: we're mostly waiting for a man to receive his comeuppance, leavened with ladies. I was pretty toasted, even after a coffee from the cafe next to the Dendy, and didn't get into it much. The audience packed out the place and was often quite indulgent.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

After lunch with Ben and Sofus at Gateway, I rode the nameless CB400 over to Gordons Bay for the first swim in a while. The day was quite hot, well past thirty, but when I got in around 2pm few of the legions of people there were in the water. There was some tree detritus near the shore but otherwise very clear, and dogs are everywhere now. The tropical heat and cloudiness passed mid-afternoon; the temperature tanked by fifteen degrees. A busy day.

NIDA: The Changeling by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley.

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Booked on 2017-10-14 for $28.00 + $5.95 booking fee split with The Country Wife. I had my customary dinner at Pinocchio Sushi beforehand. About 50% full. I'd had a busy day and the evening was quadruple booked, which made this piece hard to follow. The set was minimal, the costumes appropriate, some of the acting was great, but the play itself was not well-suited to the strangely shaped Studio Theatre (far better use was made of it in 2012) and it didn't seem to speak to the present day much at all. I wonder why they chose it.

Pankaj Mishra: The Age of Anger: A History of the Present.

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The promise of this book is a diagnosis of the maladies of the present by delving into the flaws in Enlightenment ideals and pointing to other traditions. No attempt is made to spell out a positive agenda; what there is is a muted reflection of Amartya Sen's attempts to broaden the terms of engagement between cultures. I guess this is Mishra's latest gesture at Niall Ferguson. While it's clear he has read a lot, he has little appetite for nuance and suffers from a perspective that strips Adam Smith, Hegel, Marx and co of their power. I am mistrustful of his tendentious wordiness, and that he never (or too rarely) discusses how previous ruptures in history were resolved. I also wonder if the long run doesn't mostly come down to economics and our understanding of it. It would be mimetic of me to speak more of what I did get from his text.

Reviews were legion, and certainly better value than reading the book itself. Richard J Evans. Dennis Altman. Franklin Foer makes a cutting observation: Mishra wants to somehow link the motivations of a radicalised ISIS Jihadi to "theory" (of the Western critical kind; but fine, whatever) while freely admitting that these guys don't even know their Islam. He also misses; people keep trying to cash in the Western promises of mobility and affluence because (as Mishra observes) there is no longer any other culturally-valid objective on offer. Foer's coming A World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech might be worth a read. Stefan Collini.

The Snowman

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Palace Cinemas opened some new theatres recently at Central Park (the old Carlton Brewery) on Broadway, on level 3 of the generic highrise. The theatres are numbered in neon and open directly onto the mezzanine; there was no security as near as I could tell. I got a ticket for the 6:45pm session from the machine for $16.00 + 0.74 credit card fee. The screen was dinky. The seats are huge. I chose C1 but moved to B5 or so when the people sitting next to me started talking after things started, only to find everyone talked throughout.

Unfortunately this is a movie that cannot be ruined; see Manohla Dargis for why. I'd just add that the climactic scene is totally borked, and the short is far better. The best part was a trailer for Sally Hawkins's new effort with Guillermo del Toro: The Shape of Water. The plot looks a bit dire but, and Michael Shannon is better than that.

Contratiempo (The Invisible Guest)

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Tigôn told me that she'd seen this one in the cinema in Hồ Chí Minh City. It's a Spanish mystery thriller whodunwhat in the modern Gone Girl reverseroo style. Totally fine for what it is.

NIDA: The Country Wife by William Wycherly.

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Booked on 2017-10-14 for $28.00 + $5.95 booking fee split with The Changeling, which I'll go to next Monday. These are the some of the end-of-year productions for the second year (?) students; I went to the mid-year ones back in June. As always I took the opportunity to have dinner at the seemingly timeless Pinocchio Sushi beforehand. UNSW was overflowing with students pretending to study.

This was the opening night and they started fifteen minutes late. (They finished up around 10pm, thirty minutes late.) From the map I thought seat D-16 (centre, two rows from the front) would be alright but the eyeline is approximately at the shin level of the players. The set was a moderately sophisticated two-level balcony/staircase construction that effectively evoked the interiors of various residences but not really the mean streets of pivotal action. The acting was uniformly excellent, playfully hamming up what could have been some stodgy raw material; Tom Wright directed his cast brilliantly. They were (listed here because NIDA appears not to):

  • Margery Pinchwife — Emma Kew (made everything of her scenes)
  • Harry Horner — Andrew Fraser (effortless, lethally charismatic; Tom Cruise in Interview with the Vampire mode)
  • Jack Pinchwife — Joshua Crane (flawless, demonstrating a strong will to be cuckholded)
  • Sparkish — Jack Richardson (skillful; the character is too vapid)
  • Alithea Pinchwife — Chika Ikogwe (a difficult character: she escapes an "honorable" marriage for one with a man who seems quite shallow, though there are some good lines amongst the hand wringing.)
  • Lady Fidget — Laura Jackson (perfectly arch as an honourably randy lady, determined to get in first)
  • Dainty Fidget — Bridie McKim (a completely effective and amusingly ditzy wanton; I wonder how I can see her film work)
  • Mrs Squeamish — Daya Czepanski (fine, a largely auxiliary character)
  • Lucy — Heidi May (an effective too-wise lady-in-waiting)
  • Sir Jasper Fidget — Nyx Calder (solid; I think I saw him earlier in the year)
  • Frank Harcourt — Danen Engelenberg (a bit too quiet somehow; above it all)
  • A Quack/Old Lady Squeamish — Vivienne Awosoga (very good as the doctor; the other character seems completely dispensable)

It deserved a far longer run than it got.

New Theatre: Birdland by Simon Stephens.

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I hadn't been to New Theatre in an age. They're still Bolshie with their $20 Thrifty Thursdays, so I booked a ticket on 2017-10-14. The 7:30pm start inspired a dash after a work meeting drug on past its scheduled 6:50pm stop time; and this after I ran out to get some mediocre Thai from the place on Glebe Point Road. The place was half to two-thirds full; as packed as I can remember seeing it.

At two hours straight through the load on the lead Paul (Graeme McRae) is immense, but he's up to it. (In contrast I started exhausted and had some difficulty focussing throughout.) His rock-and-roll lead man schtick is a bit dated, but perhaps eternal. There is a Magnolia-style interview sequence (where he gets shirtfronted by Charmaine Bingwa, who plays a variety of characters, some gender bent). I found this more effective than the pre/post gig sequences where the emotional states of the artists didn't come over strongly. Some of it is comedic, some perhaps intended to be tragic or perhaps have a gravitas never entirely earnt. Matthew Cheetham is most successful at mastering his multiple roles; his efforts as Paul's manager are funny, and also as a fanboy from Scotland. Airlie Dodds had her Russian accent and cool-eyed looks down pat. The set was a mostly-effective piece of slanted used floorboarding.

Jason Blake talked it up. Kevin Jackson talks up the playwright.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

I set off after lunch at 1.30pm for a paddle at Gordons Bay. Beautiful day for it, and not too many people had the same idea. The tide was out and swell totally absent; getting in was therefore tricky due to some rocks I can usually avoid. The traffic back was horrible, and reminded me why I need to go around 12-noon and get back by 2pm.

MKA + Kings Cross Theatre: Puntila / Matti by Doppelgangster.

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Booked 2017-09-30, $35 + 2.76 booking fee = $37.76. First time at the Kings Cross Theatre, which is upstairs and around the back of the Kings Cross Hotel, opposite the (new) Coke sign. Closing night; about a third full with perhaps ten friends-and-family or other indulgent types.

I went on the basis of the blurb they flung about and Jason Blake's review, both of which I found misleading after the first five minutes. In brief: I found it boring. It felt more undercooked than experimental, and trite with little in the way of set or acting. Trolling and hassling the audience has always struck me as cheap, a cop out for those who cannot unsettle with powerful material or performance. Often the music is too loud to make out what's being said.

The cast: Tobias Manderson-Galvin, manically; Grace Lauer, who honestly does need a better class of gig; Antoinette Barboutis as the stage manager in a quiet, incompetent and totally cliched key. Notionally based on Bertolt Brecht's Mr Puntila and his Man Matti, but mostly incoherent and shotgun. Billed as 85 minutes uninterrupted, I was looking at my phone after the first 30 minutes, and they drug the whole thing out to two hours. I sat too far from the door to walk out. The only way to win was to not be there.

That morning Dave's mate Mona observed that most of Sydney theatre is $50 to see a bloke sitting on a bench, presciently describing something of better value than this.