peteg's blog

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Picked up lunch at Out of the Blue on Clovelly Road, which I'd been past too many times. A bit expensive ($20.30) for mediocre fish (hake, grilled, not much choice), an OK Greek salad and some pre-deep-fried calamari. A couple of guys replacing the front door were careless about the customers. Why do that work at lunchtime?

I ate down on the rocks at Gordons Bay. The wind was up and the seagulls had decided to spend what I'd imagine is prime feeding time on the edge of the carpark, where some firies where practising their cherry picker technique. A few storm clouds blew through on an otherwise beaut day. Afterwards I tried snorkelling off the scuba ramp. Visibility was not great as the surf, high though weak, was somehow rough enough to stir everything up near the shoreline. Loads of small fry, some large wrasse, one large female groper, several smaller ones, but no sign of the big blue boy or any cephalopods. I managed to get a few shards of something-or-other stuck in the big toe of my right foot, beyond the reach of my tweezers.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

/noise/movies | Link

Second time around, and just as captivating. Good to see it parked at #188 in the IMDB top-250.

Belvoir Downstairs, 25A: Tuesday by Louris van de Geer.

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The Sydney theatre scene is starting to crank up after the summer break. The draw was the high standard so far of Belvoir's 25A series, Jason Blake's comments on the set, which is indeed fantastic, and Bridie McKim, last seen as daffy aristocracy in NIDA's The Country Wife (and apparently in an ABC TV show). The playwright is a local favourite it seems: I saw her earlier work Triumph at the UNSW Creative Practice Lab, and they're putting on Hello There, We've Been Waiting For You presently. I bought a ticket at the warehouse in the early afternoon, then hacked away at the Sydney Uni technical library. Maybe 80% capacity without squeezing.

This piece consists of the self-talk of four non-interacting people who for one reason or another find themselves at the same suburban supermarket one Tuesday afternoon. The initial burst of humour ebbs, perhaps necessarily so as to lend shape to what are otherwise brief vignettes, some painfully familiar. The cast is uniformly excellent. Left-to-right, Duncan Fellows plays the supermarket manager with a baby daughter he dotes on, and a wife who seems to be suffering post partum depression/idleness (?). Frances Duca is a traditional mother/housewife who wonders what her husband is doing in his garage with his jars of screws. She loathes competitive gossip. Tom Anson Mesker is a young-ish underemployed sharehouser with a strong and passive-aggressive sense of how things should go. Bridie McKim is a schoolgirl who picks locks and gives herself permission to do whatever. Further characters are sketched from these vantages. This mode, of hearing very private observations about people who have no chance to respond, is effective and a tad sinister.

The Front Runner

/noise/movies | Link

Unmitigated Oscar bait. The cast is strong (Hugh Jackman in the lead, J.K. Simmons playing J.K. Simmons, Vera Fermiga the wifely deer in the media headlights) but the story and characters are entirely bland and far too weak; Gary Hart's presidential campaigns are lost to history and hardly an inspiration for today. The dialogue is very stagey. Alfred Molina does not convince as Ben Bradlee. The movie tries to stand in opposition to The Post by showing a political press failing to cover itself in glory. It's also entirely tendentious, given that so much of the U.S. electorate really didn't care who was in which candidate's bed in 2016, let alone which of them had any dignity and self-respect at all. Well edited but otherwise a totally predictable bust.

A. O. Scott.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Early evening paddle at Gordons Bay. Almost no one there despite it being a beautiful evening. Seemed clean with the tide going out. I saw what I think were some flying fish (?). Started in on a new book on the Coogee headland while drying off.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Mid-evening paddle between the flags at Coogee beach. Loads of people, some in the water, many frocked up for a night at the Beach Palace. A bit filthy with leaf matter and some seaweed. Some larger waves. Pleasant in. Read some more Fintan O'Toole on the headland afterwards.

Fintan O'Toole: Heroic Failure: BREXIT and the politics of pain.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. I picked this up on the strength of O'Toole's short-form work at the New York Review of Books; in particular his excellent piece on the DUP telling May what was possible. I hoped he'd expand on this topic of non-English views of BREXIT, but instead he serves up a psychoanalysis of the English character. Roughly English self-pity in the period after World War II (they won but it cost the empire, and the bested nations seemed to do better afterwards) has left them looking for an oppressor to rail against. It's the coloniser trying to appropriate the attitudes of the colonised. It's the Sex Pistols in Westminster, and a desire by those who can to return to buccaneering capitalism. Yeah, well, maybe.

Unfortunately like David Runciman, O'Toole freed of a word limit and strict editor spills too many words on the obvious; he says it, then digs up a quote and reads it back to us. There's an undercurrent of dripping scorn that likely prevents this book from persuading anyone of anything much. I think he admits that the BREXIT campaign (he read all that dreck so we don't have to) diagnosed the anxieties of the day quite well, though like Trump their prescription is probably not going to solve much. As anyone from a British colony can attest, and the French have always known, the cognitive dissonance required to be English is forever bemusing. The deep mystery is why the working classes of everywhere don't vote in their own economic interests but instead focus on quaint social values or identity politics and end up making common cause with the twitty ruling classes; but you won't find much insight into that here.

O'Toole clearly loathes Boris Johnson. He repeatedly observes how juvenile English culture can be (football, pop music, empty-headed neo-imperial ambitions); it's not insapient, just having itself on. There's nothing here on the Irish backstop, or more broadly what it will take to preserve the peace or the possibility of reunification. It's a bust.

A range of views at Goodreads.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

/noise/movies | Link

The Ritz Cinema 3, 2:30pm. $10 + $1.50 booking fee = $11.50, booked 2019-02-06. Thanks to the bloke at Bricking Around for the heads up; this advance screening coincides with the US release, with the official Australian release not until March 28. The BOM forecast rain which didn't seem to happen. Somewhat packed with kids whose parents don't go to the movies much.

Yeah, the movie itself follows on directly from the first one in a five-years-later sorta way. It probably alluded to the in-between one but I don't remember anything. The animation is about the same but the structure is closer to a musical. The framing story is a saccharine cliche about siblings learning to play together under Maya Rudolph's firm motherly suffering. The characters joke that the Marvel characters are absent for contractual reasons. The DC characters set up in suburbia. Less is made of Apocalypseburg than I expected. The queen is a strange character: voiced with a distinctive black accent we're told time and again to expect evil of her. The joke that Unikitty is Hulk-like gets a lame rerun; perhaps her spark wore off on her TV shows, or just maybe the concept itself has gotten tired as the overengineered credits ("the best part of the movie") suggest.

Manohla Dargis says it's one big ad, but to foreigners most American movies are. Lots of locations means lots of sets to sell I guess. Shrug. Jay.

Honkytonk Man

/noise/movies | Link

It's a sad state when a man can't buy a woman for his own boy.
— Red Stovall, the honkytonk man.

Still mining David Stratton's list of marvellous movies; this one is #44. Over many sittings as it failed to grip. Clint Eastwood directed and starred. Released in 1982, he's on the road to Nashville from dusty Oklahoma during the depression with his underage nephew (his actual son Kyle) as chauffeur, drinking and wenching partner. The idea is to make something of his musical talent but tuberculosis has other plans. There are some of the usual Eastwood preocuupations, and his put downs are entirely equal-opportunity (as he sees it anyway). Clint plays piano on a visit to a cathouse, as he also does in a black club in Memphis, where he rolls out a joke about adopting blackface to avoid trouble with the Klan (?). The blues singer takes it all in good humour. The camera angles made him look a bit like Henry Fonda at times.

Roger Ebert is indulgent. Janet Maslin isn't.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Lazy paddle in the mid evening with hundreds of people at the northern end of Coogee beach. Perfect summer evening after a warm afternoon. Flat, clean-ish. Read some more Fintan O'Toole on the headland afterwards.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Mid-evening paddle at Gordons Bay. I got in off the southern rocks about 10 minutes before the forecast storm kicked in; lots of lightning and thunder but nothing too close. The people who were there cleared off quick smart. Pleasant, high tide-ish, seemed clean. Soon enough the runoff was torrential. Sat for a bit out of the rain under the sandstone. Got soaked on the slow ride home.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Mid-evening sort-of-snorkel at Gordons Bay. Visibility was poor on the southern side, improving somewhat as I got into the sun. Loads of people on the northern rocks. A few dogs, all quiet. Read some more Fintan O'Toole on the Coogee headland.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Mid-evening paddle at Gordons Bay. Got in off the beach, which was filthy. Somewhat cleaner in the middle. Pleasant in, totally flat, high-ish tide. Very few people, just two well-behaved dogs. Ate my dinner on the Coogee headland afterwards, and started in on Fintan O'Toole's new book.

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

/noise/movies | Link

David Stratton's marvellous movies, #11. Ang Lee directs. I remember giving this a miss when it was released in 2016. It's pretty much what it says on the tin: a hero and his platoon go home from Iraq for Thanksgiving and participate in the halftime entertainment of a Texas NFL game in 2004. I guess it's essentially a reversal of the Bunnies going to Việt Nam in Apocalypse Now flimsily spun out to feature length. Apparently Destiny's Child was big then. Joe Alwyn is solid in the lead. (I saw him recently in The Favourite.) The moment he shares with cheerleader Makenzie Leigh at the end speaks more than anything else. Kristen Stewart ably plays his sister. Garrett Hedlund has the most fun as the platoon leader. Steve Martin doesn't convince as a Texan shyster. Similarly Vin Diesel isn't all that Hindu (Stratton says Buddhist, but he spends most of his time talking about Vishnu, Krishna, etc.). I felt the soldiers were allowed to exhibit sufficiently distinct characters for this all-American production. The antiwar flag is half-heartedly waved, and we are shown the boosting and busting of myths and illusions that we've seen many times before. It's all a bit shrug.

Dana Stevens made many small mistakes in her review; for instance Lynn is in the army to avoid being charged with taking it to his sister's fiance who abandons here while she is in hospital. Stevens observes that this got released around the time of Trump's election. A. O. Scott.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Mid-afternoon paddle at the northern end of a flat Coogee beach. Quite a few people about but not packed. The water seems to have cooled off again. Beaut day, not too hot. Some dark clouds rolling in but rain seems unlikely.

Robert Olen Butler: A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. I read this over several years as the stories are all written in the same highly-repetitious, workman-like style. As much as I remember the protagonists are always Vietnamese expats (typically refugees) living in or near New Orleans and trying to interpret their experiences in traditional terms. I got the pointer from a review of his more-recent Perfume River collection. Somehow this one won the Pulitzer in 1993 for fiction. I found it to be shallow, and nowadays it would probably be charged with cultural appropriation.

George Packer observes that in its day these stories may have helped humanize the Vietnamese, remembering that 1995 was the year when the U.S. normalized relations with Việt Nam. A variety of views at Goodreads.

Bad Influence

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David Stratton's #8 on his 101 marvellous movie list. James Spader plays a "successful" working stiff who gets an education from professional bad boy Rob Lowe (and maybe later he'll tell you his real name). Lowe does Spader a favour by getting him out his marriage arrangements through judicious deployment of some homemade porn involving Billy Zane's older sis Lisa. He also steals Spader's wallet as payment for preventing some face mashing. Later on the tables must be turned if only because the ante has been upped and lives are at stake. Lowe is as canonically 1980s as Mickey Rourke but nowhere as physically intimidating, and this movie is a part of the 1990's seemingly never-ending farewell to that decade. The tropes are all there: the actor from a high school movie, the dork, some great cinematography that makes U.S. cities look beyond awesome, the perpetual summer, the TVs with analogue static, the VHS tapes. I drew a bit of a line from it to Alexandra's Project, which somehow isn't on Stratton's list. Boss John de Lancie falls into the uncanny valley by looking like all of Tom Hanks, Bill Murray and Paul Eddington and being, of course, Q. David Duchovny is in some crowd somewhere. Fun for what it is.

Roger Ebert. Vincent Canby. Both reference Strangers on a Train. I wish Stratton had fewer blind spots; there are quite a few underrated Arnie classics that are at least as good as this.

The Deep Blue Sea

/noise/movies | Link

I had this one on the pile for ages, largely due to Dana Stevens's review and Rachel Weisz; David Stratton making it #28 on his list of marvellous movies prompted me to dig it up. I remember it getting widely reviewed at the time.

Briefly, Weisz is a (but-I-love-him!) wayward wife soon after WWII. She's a sensualist more interested in the idea of loving than being loved, or even respected. Her far-too-understanding husband Simon Russell Beale is some sort of judge who she tries to throw over for Tom Hiddleston; neither man is really having it. Most of the angst can be sourced to Loki's forgetting of Hypatia's birthday, leading to him BREXITing for a test pilot role in South America after she attempts an exit just as thoughtless and ludicrous. The dialogue is dodgy and wooden. The bickering lacks English reserve. The mood is soporific. The camera has Vaseline smeared on it. The solid cast is mostly squandered: in addition to the lurv triangle, Barbara Jefford has a lot of fun as Weisz’s mother in law while Karl Johnson haughtily does some necessary unlicensed medical work. I guess Fintan O'Toole would draw many parallels to England's current plight.

I have to wonder what Stratton saw in it. So far he's picked movies reliably in the 6-7/10 band at IMDB, which I tend to avoid; my threshold is 7 unless I have some other info.

A. O. Scott was also a fan, and Roger Ebert too, finding a basis for this movie in an excess of pity. Hmm. Ebert reminded me that they sing You Belong to Me in the pub, a song I know from Bob Dylan's rasping cover on the Natural Born Killers soundtrack.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

The day got away from me and by the time I got organised enough to get to Gordons Bay the skies had gone completely grey and the drizzle set in. Loads of idle seagulls both in the water and on the southern rocks. Just one bloke trying to fish. A bit filthy in, and a little rough at high-ish tide. It was too soggy to do much afterwards but come straight home.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Mid-evening soak at the northern end of Coogee beach. After a stinking hot 40C-ish day a change blew through and rapidly cooled things off, so when I got to the beach a strong blustery southerly was blowing, making things a bit unpleasant. Noticably cooler in. Quite a few people still there but rapidly dwindling as conditions deteriorated.