peteg's blog

Murray Bail: Camouflage

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I apparently read this or perhaps some earlier assembly of Bail shorts almost exactly a decade ago. (For the record: this one was published in the U.S. in 2002 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.) Some seemed familiar. I skipped the more obscure / whimsical ones. He sure has picked up the pace since then, and I think his more recent output is superior. I do like his still lifes, limited though they are. I'll see what else of his I can extract from the Chicago Public Library.


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From 2012. A competently executed and lovingly shot piece of depthless vigilantism, indistinguishable from e.g. Robocop. Ma-Ma does not much of anything, and it is rife with anachronistic concepts like testimony. The slo-mo shots probably ate most of the budget and certainly all of the imagination. I'm sure someone wrote a PhD on how this relates to the increasing militarization of policing etc.


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$11.50, 7.30pm, Landmark at 2828 Clark. Fassbender wears a permanent big fake head as a band/cult leader channelling Ian Curtis. I didn't find Maggie Gyllenhaal very convincing apart from the scene where she post-coitally reclines in the jacuzzi. Long on promise but ultimately tending toward the vacuous and awkwardly unsettling, without the Gervais intent.

Dana Stevens tells you all you need to know.

Modern Times

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I haven't seen much Chaplin. This is the highest-rated on IMDB. It's a moral fable. Paulette Goddard is an improbably gorgeous vagrant drawn to Chaplin's classic tramp in a clearly romantic way that is unfortunately sterilised by the times.

Churchill at the Greenhouse Theater Center

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$21, Goldstar, mediocre assigned seating (!). A one-horse show, adapted and performed by Ronald Keaton from the writings of Churchill, and about as self-aggrandizing as that might suggest. This was essentially a history lesson for an audience who in the majority were old enough to have experienced significant chunks of it first-hand. The guys sitting a bit up from me played (verbal) bingo with their favourite quotes. Gallipoli got a guernsey, mostly because the great man was held responsible in the home country. Singapore did not, and certainly not the evaporation of the Empire. I guess I got what I expected, and it was well-executed for what it was, but I have no idea why I ever thought it would be worth going to.

Kazuo Ishiguro: Nocturnes: Five stories of music and nightfall

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I picked this one up at the Chicago Public Library, West Town branch yesterday and chew threw it today (at home, at La Colombe on Randolph, at the park on the river). It's the funniest thing I've read from him, and thematically the shallowest; five short stories, loosely connected, all too cruisy, perhaps. I laughed the hardest at the aspirational, self-absorbed middle-class Londoner farce Come Rain or Shine; everyone talks past everyone else. Sure, not his most inventive outing, but it was kind of him to share the offcuts of Never Let Me Go.

Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology. ed. James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel

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Drecky. I think mrak warned me off this one a while back.

The Silent Theatre Company: The Dueling Gentlemen

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$20, at the Silent Theatre Headquarters (1914 N. Milwaukee #3, near Western Blue CTA). Well, I know they're working on the Blue line tonight! The warehouse was right next to it. I bought a brown Leffe on the way past the by-donation bar. These boys are right into their vaudeville and are at times quite funny; their skill seems clear but the work itself is a piece of fluff. As always I was hoping for more social commentary, beyond the increasingly staple gay transgression. The repetition of the Ugly Blonde inside-show gets a bit wearing, and the tension between the two actors really only has one place to go.

Written by Marvin Quijada, with Dan Howard and Ian Paul Custer on the piano.

I got suckered by a review in the Chicago Reader. Afterwards I found this piece at Windy City Times.

Sin City: A Dame to Die For

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AMC River East, 4.45pm, $16, 3D. It would have been better in 2D. This is a pair of two humdrum revenge tales draped in noir. There is a lot for Eva Green completists who are hanging for that one final angle on her bod that they haven't found elsewhere. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was (sigh) better in Brick. Good to see Mickey Rourke in action again, though Marv is too much superman. I'd like to see Josh Brolin do more stuff. I don't recall Ray Liotta. Powers Boothe and Dennis Haysbert get right into hamming things up in ways the rest of the cast do not try to match.

... and just to remind myself, I watched the original Sin City later on the same evening. I can't believe it's rated #174 in the IMDB top-250. I prefer the aesthetic of the new one.

The Hypocrites: All Our Tragic at the Den Theatre

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11am-11pm-ish. I heard about this from a student I met at a gallery opening hosted by Kai's mate Oli a while back. I was always going to go, but hung out for a cheapie $45 ticket from Goldstar, knowing that I'd regret doing so. To make up for this and earlier transgressions I punted the Hypocrites a $50 donation after the show, which again, I was always going to do. Looking back, I probably should have paid full-fare and let some other cheapskate partake.

Yes, it was most of twelve hours. The premise was that Sean Graney spent quite a while and many forests mashing together the surviving Greek tragedies. I could imagine some maniac at the Cellar attempting this back in the day; I have some memories of The Frogs from the late 1990s. Like the coming David Bowie exhibition, I'm glad I'm in Chicago to experience the actual rather than the imagined. I spent the first half of the show sitting in the front row closest to the door amongst a bunch of incommunicative types, and the second up the back away from the door where I got chatting to Chicagoan Jason, who steered me to Gaper's Block, amongst other things.

The tragedies refracted through mashup are so far from anything canonically mythical that I'm not going to try to untangle it. The tales are linked by the "seven sisters" who are fated to die in order due to a curse on them by the Undertaker-channelling Eurystheus (Maximillian Lapine). The first quarter focusses on Herakles (Walter Briggs), who is somewhat familiar in being likened to a large dog, etc. Medea (Dana Omar) puts in an appearance, not entirely distinct from last week's. I got thinking that it is her passion coupled with her instability that really scares people: either by itself could be understood as harmless, great-man-of-history, psychotic killer, and so forth. The goatman Ægeus is played to a turn by Zeke Sulkes, who would make a brilliant Z-Man in a neo-Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Too bad Ebert's not here to get that going. The odd-job incidentals forming the Greek chorus pleasantly split up the stories. The Trojan war was rushed, frenetic and perhaps adds up to less than a jab at Michael Bay cinema.

This is post-Gen X culture, and they can dance without irony. The tattoos are omnipresent and significant. There was the odd nod back to previous cool, such as some mild continuity humour involving Walter Briggs (outsize star of the show, much of the time, at least when the ladies let him be). Being Americanised, I wondered how they'd square the Greek ethics and permissiveness with Christian thought; suffice it to say that Electra gets a mutilated Lord's Prayer to recite. No gods are invoked (is Zeus even mentioned?), with a bemused Prometheus (Geoff Button) standing in for them all in the first half. Moving to modern dynasties, Jokasta (Christine Stulik) is a sterling Hillary/Chelsea Clinton clone (a photocopy of a phony), and Agamemnon (Walter Briggs again) is perfect as a pitiless, humourless political ladder-climber: the Trojan war was his ticket to ascending to the Kingdom of Athens. Achilles (Luce Metrius) is both black and gay, loud and proud. I prefer Malouf's take on the recovery of Hector's body.

It flags towards the end, unsurprisingly, as the Greek stories themselves dry up on their way home from Troy. Orestes is always trying; the man is built for suffering, but as so keenly observed by Renton in Trainspotting apropos the newly-single Tommy, there is no need to inflict that on us.

The food is uniformly Mediterranean vegetarian. There are breaks every 80 minutes or so. I never queued for the outhouse.

In summary it's like a trip to Lake Wobegone, where all the blokes are erudite and/or ripped, the girls gorgeous, and the stories somewhat unhinged. Zac Thompson at the Chicago Reader. Random guys at Gaper's Block. Do it, just go.

Rick Perlstein in Conversation with Garry Wills: The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan

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At the Chicago Public Library at 6pm. I sprinted down there after work, which turned out to be unnecessary as the auditorium only got half full. Garry Wills is elderly now but quite entertaining, often batting away Perlstein's attempts to corner him with brevity and perspicacity that the author was lacking. The audience was clearly liberal and perhaps for that reason the talking was long on assertion and short on empiricism. My present lack of consciousness precludes me from reading the book itself.

Pankaj Mishra uses the book to gesture at notions of freedom. It reminded me of the quotation he pulled from Tanpınar (intro, p xvii):

The privilege I most treasured as a child was that of freedom ... Today we use the word only in its political sense, and how unfortunate for us. For I fear that those who see freedom solely as a political concept will never fully grasp its meaning. The political pursuit of freedom can lead to its eradication on a grand scale — or rather it opens the door to countless curtailments.

Medea by Dream Theatre Company

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A variation on the Euripidean version of the myth, written by Jeremy Menekseoglu. I guess I'll see the original tragedy next weekend, at All Our Tragic. The production had its moments but generally failed to grip me; too much projection of modern American family dynamics, histrionics and lingo onto a tale that is difficult to draw conclusions from. (Medea is a strong woman who suffers at the hand of man, but is prepared to sacrifice her children to regain her husband, etc. Hera's intervention effectively cleanses her of her killings and would not past muster in a Hollywood script. Perhaps this parallels Ang's complaint about Twilight.) The theatre itself is called the Dream Laboratory and is a quite narrow shopfront near Lincoln Square. The Goose Island 312 Urban Wheat Beer I got from the Book Cellar is not as tasty as their Urban Ale.

Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar: The Time Regulation Institute

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I got suckered by a review in the New York Times, and by the promise of an introduction by Pankaj Mishra. Also I guess by not having read any Turkish literature before, or knowing much about the place. It's long, at 400 pages, and takes its time getting places. Some of it is hilarious, such as a psychoanalysis meeting where everyone drops off to sleep; as my description might indicate, it's how he paints the picture and not the picture itself that might make this worth reading. Mishra weasels his way out of too strong an endorsement, though he is generally on board with this idea of modernism crashing into traditionalism and neither being the wiser. I think he's telling me to read Tagore. I don't have the stamina to slog through A Mind at Peace.

Guardians of the Galaxy

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At Regal Webster Place 11, $15.50. 3D, 9.50pm, opening weekend. The advertising worked: the short finally sold it to me. That and the lack of any other plausible release. I hate assigned seating: I got front-row A10 next to a bunch of giggling girls who laughed at the Dumber 2 trailer after showing signs of sapience. Maybe it's an American archetype: laughing at or with is fine, but cringing is not. In any case the seat was slightly too close to the screen. It had its moments though it was entirely derivative (see Dana Stevens and/or Manohla Dargis); upon reflection these ladies missed the obvious A-Team plot antecedents. Zoe Saldana works hard to be more than Trinity, Vin Diesel + animation allows Groot to steal every scene he's in, Bradley Cooper voices Rocket perfectly, Dave Bautista is fine, and yeah: Chris Pratt is having a good year. Films Victoria did some animation, but the Melbourne skyline is not to be seen.

The Zero Theorem

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Dave pointed this Terry Gilliam-directed Cristoph Waltz vehicle out to me a while back. It seems so promising! — and indeed it is quite fun at times. David Thewlis is in full-on breathless mode ala Naked, though his monologues are not as rich, and Matt Damon is a bit colourless in the Architect role. Tilda Swinton is a hoot as Dr. Shrink-Rom, playing up some shameless English politeness with those fake teeth we're seeing a lot of. Her hair is awesome too. I couldn't really figure Mélanie Thierry out and perhaps that is the central flaw in the thing: forces pulling it in all directions without a countervailing gravity, so we get soufflé all over the walls. Some very funny scenes, and the odd blue one too. What's with Karen Souza's cover of Creep? She left out the good bits.

Life Out There: the House Band of the Universe at Adler Planetarium.

/noise/music | Link

I'd never been to a planetarium before, so trading on the magic of Goldstar, I plonked $13.75 down and cycled down Columbus Drive after work. The gig started at 9pm, which struck me as a bit late. Also the park between Columbus and Lakeshore was closed for Lollapalooza preparations. The band did some kind of blues / jazz thing that was beyond me to categorize. This was an accompaniment to a computer-synthesised trip around the galaxy / universe, starting from Baghdad-ish, back to the big bang, hence to the outer reaches of the sun's influence, and finally inwards to the sun, back to Earth, and then out to Titan. It was all a bit breathless. Maybe they had the old-school planterium gear but I didn't see it. Afterwards I almost dodged the rain on the ride home. The view from the Adler is pure American Romantic.

A Most Wanted Man

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Back to the Showplace Icon Theatre, 4.45pm, $11.75. This time I went in the front door, off Roosevelt, and had a coffee at the place across the road from the cinema. This is Corbijn's third feature; I really enjoyed Control, and The American was not too bad. Here he attempts to show some apparently decent, longer sighted spys at work who, in Kevin Rudd's immortal phrase, get rat fucked by the CIA and German neo Gestapo. Was that Tom Waits's Hoist That Rag over the credits? And more shockingly, a cover of Bowie's so-recent Everyone Says Hi (by Claudia Brücken) in the bar? The main draw was to see Philip Seymour Hoffman in his final lead role, and he indeed masterfully anchors the piece with lots of mouth breathing, as always. I have to wonder why they used American actors here; I can only imagine what the cast of The Lives of Others, or even Cristoph Waltz, might have achieved. (Having sad that the actual German part of the cast is solid, including Hamburg itself.) Again, Rachel McAdams is as pretty as ever but her accent is everywhere and even the jittery camerawork does not conceal her lack of range. Willem Dafoe tries to help her out by being an ineffectual cardboard cutout of his usual badass self. The story suffers from some very broken bridges in the centre.

Dana Stevens. Manohla Dargis.

The Man in the White Suit

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6pm at the Gene Siskel Film Center, second row from the front, $11. (They set the screen a sensible distance from the front row, but crank the sound up too loud.) Part of the present Alec Guinness session. I went to see how he'd go opposite Joan Greenwood; she's got the sass but doesn't get enough of a role to really put it on. Guinness enjoys himself, and their scene together is a cute switcheroo. Still, if you're going to tell a story about a Prometheus offering mankind a modern McGuffin with the power to unify capital and labour, you need a better ending than what they offer up here. Superior to Lucy in every way.


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$12 at the non-IMAX part of Regal City North 14, 10:30pm, three rows from the front, which is slightly too close. I leisurely cycled up via Goose Island: there's a cute little railway bridge at the northern end that is closed to motorised traffic. We got some asinine shorts before the feature. Unfortunately it is drecky, and all the good bits were in the short. Briefly Besson underheated all the iconographic stuff you could imagine and snap-froze the result. It's all a bit too dumbed-down Matrix, with an admixture of visuals from The Tree of Life and 2001. Oldboy Choi Min-sik knows how to die, and clearly Besson has been watching the Koreans with the rest of us. I'll stop here.

Dana Stevens proves that holding a PhD in anything is lethal to your credulity. Manohla Dargis digs those tuff chix.


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Guillermo del Toro's debut. Not really to my taste: a not particularly inventive vampire / mechanism / the greed of old men mashup. There are some signature elements already here, such as the fearless loyalty of the child Aurora, the granddaughter, and the lurid blood.