peteg's blog

Teddy Wayne: Kapitoil

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Kindle. Computer geek from Qatar goes to New York City just before Y2K and makes his struggling finance company a lot of money by algorithmically analyzing the news, before pulling out because he wants to apply the same technology to epidemiology while the big boss just wants more money. Of course he gets entangled with the only other semi-fleshed-out character, co-worker Rebecca, but goes home at the end. The secondary characters are richly sketched but in outline only. This is apparently a satire, but Mr Wayne is clearly standing on the outside of geekdom looking in. The prose is masterfully executed but there wasn't much there for me.

David Ireland: A Woman of the Future.

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Kindle. Ireland got a third, and final, Miles Franklin for what now seems a complete misfire, and I am about as lost for words as Kate Jennings was in her introduction to the Text Classics edition. I spent the first half getting misanthropic Never Let Me Go vibes and the last half wondering if Ireland wasn't trying a bit too hard to marry Nabokov's tropes with Burroughs's. The odd minor observation about the great continent of Australia, typically stashed away in some mediocre poetry or overly adolescent letter, cannot redeem what is mostly just eye-glazingly repetitious trash.

Bill Holloway put more effort in than I'm prepared to.

David Ireland: The Glass Canoe.

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Kindle. Apparently David Ireland was deemed a success by the Australian literati in the 1970s but soon fell out of favour; his recent revival points to the poverty of the current scene. He writes well, here recording the carryings-on of the regulars of the Southern Cross pub in Northmead. In some ways this is a Western Suburbs Trainspotting, and shares a bed with Wake in Fright. Ireland leavens the sex and violence with some pop philosophizing and a deep appreciation for the role of mystery and wonder in life. This culture is probably almost defunct with the lockout laws and so forth, and unlikely to be mourned by many. I wonder what else he has to say.

Matthew Cobb: Life's Greatest Secret: The Race to Crack the Genetic Code.

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Kindle. On the strength of H. Allen Orr's review at the New York Review of Books. I had hoped to learn more about genetics than is on offer here, and the import of various things like Watson and Crick's discovery of the (geometrical) structure of DNA; suffice it to say that even once that is somewhat settled, it sounds like it's not much help in figuring out the genetic code itself. I didn't find any of the experiments particularly beautiful (far too much manual labour, radioactivity and inconclusivity), and the text gets quite repetitious in its put downs of cybernetics and information theory. Cobb is too narrow about the latter; the field includes things like error-correcting codes, which DNA presumably addresses somehow. Shannon's model is but a starting point.

Brief Encounter

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An early and short David Lean, written by Noël Coward. The story of two people married to other people falling in love is somewhat tired, but as usual Lean's direction makes up for all deficits. There's a stuffiness and humourlessness to the whole thing that would have had Oscar Wilde reaching for his satirical pen.

Graham Greene: The Tenth Man.

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Kindle. A quite pedestrian outing, almost entirely predictable from the initial uninspired conceit. Probably the worst thing I've read from him yet, and at least he is honest enough to admit that he lifted some of it lock-stock from Shakespeare.

Paul Beatty: Slumberland.

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Kindle. This was the last of Beatty's novels for me to read. Here he is, writing about music and being black in transitional 1980s Berlin, at the Slumberland bar. I read it in so many small chunks that it didn't form a coherent whole in my mind. As always he is supremely funny in the small.

Judgement at Nuremberg

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More IMDB top-250 completism. This one is #150 and involves so much talking it might work better as a radio play. The Americans run military tribunals of the German judiciary circa 1948. There is a lot of hand wringing and political considerations with the concurrent occupation of Czechoslovakia and Berlin Airlift. I don't think the legal stuff really holds together well, being a bit too absolutist, but it is somewhat saved by some very passionate and ruminative performances. William Shatner puts in a servicable showing as a womanizing US Army Captain (heh).

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

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On the QANTAS inflight iPad(-mini?), Singapore to Sydney. I had hoped to sleep but they didn't turn the lights down until three hours into the flight. I wasn't the only one who got a squawk out of the thing; they should silence the internal speaker, and make it clear that the headphones go into the device and not the armrest. Who said these things were intuitive?

Anyway, this movie was about as bad as the reviews said when it got released. Henry Cavill is far better as Superman, though I don't think anyone else could have done suave smug any better. Similarly Armie Hammer nailed it as the Winklevii in The Social Network and had no room here. The central problem is that Guy Richie tries to objectify Alicia Vikander, giving her the role of a scrumpet when she has excelled when challenged (and not just ogled). The film makes it clear just how long it's been since he's done anything watchable. Strip mining boomer TV has surely run its course... until the next Star Trek at least.

Whiplash

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... and yet more IMDB top-250 completism. This is (a not credible) #45. Dave gestured at this a while back. I think we've seen it all before and better in Full Metal Jacket (etc). We are supposed to take on faith that Fletcher (JK Simmons, Oscar winner for it) is great or capable of identifying greatness and his is the best method for developing it. The lead character (Andrew, Milles Teller) is a moppet, purportedly of the black swan variety. Somehow the frission of their interactions or the jazz or the tuff luv or whatever is supposed to add up to something. Go tell Einstein that awesome requires an abusive pressure cooker and all is technique.

Dana Stevens. How quickly the homophobic slurs have dated this movie. She is happy to indulge Fletcher in ways I could not. A. O. Scott thinks there is some comprehension of greatness here. Anthony Lane, being English, is more flippant. Richard Brody offers some cold water.

Zootopia

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Tigôn talked this one up, and she's right: I wish I had seen this in the cinema. Also more IMDB top-250 completism: this is #148. Lasseter has succeeded in Pixar-ing Disney. Just about every sequence has something going for it. It's fun, don't think too hard.

Anthony Lane. Neil Genzlinger.

Twelve Monkeys

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More IMDB top-250 completism. I remain surprised by how many star Bruce Willis. This is #217, third time around for me, and was totally OK for burning time on a Saturday afternoon. Brad Pitt does a surprising amount of his Fight Club schtick here. I find it pretty coherent but not very thought provoking; well, I think it is causally well-founded...

X-Men: Apocalypse

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At Galaxy Cinema Nguyễn Du with Tigôn, 2D, 7:10pm, 85kVND each, bought the day before in the hope of getting not totally terrible seats. It is about as bad as the early reviews suggested, but I had hoped for a little more originality from the plot. (I tend to think it's a reheat of X3, which director Bryan Singer has reputedly derided, and yes, this is again substantially about convincing Magneto to ease up.) Oscar Isaac does an awesome job (without a cat!) when he gets the chance (which is not often), and Fassbender is clearly wishing this was a sequel to Macbeth and not the third in an endless comic book franchise. Jennifer Lawrence is substantially matter-of-fact about it all, workmanlike, paying the bills, which comes a bit unstuck in the final scenes where she has to serve up some terribly cliched motivational pap. Rose Byrne does wide-eyed clueless a little too convincingly. Evan Peters as Quicksilver again has the best scenes and lines. They blanked "Vietnam" when mentioning the war early on. The tedious, bloodless destruction of cities continues apace.

Stalker

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IMDB top-250 completism: this one is #201. Halflife had to lift their post-apocalyptic aesthetic from somewhere, and nothing does post-apocalyptic like Soviet Russia mid-apocalypse. Andrei Tarkovsky is more famous for the lesser-rated Solaris, which seems to canvas a similar concept: what happens when we get close to something that can satisfy our deepest wishes? I found the dialogue in this movie to be excessive and pretentious; it is easy to ask the deep questions and make something of the "essentially" human, but it is much harder to show it in combination with a story that makes something of what cinema is good for. The cinematography is not very inspired and overly heavy on motif.

There are some surprisingly good discussions about this movie on the IMDB discussion boards. I just wish it had made me care.

Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi

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IMDB top-250, #72. Mark Hamill doesn't really do it for me as a dramatic lead, and it's clear that Harrison Ford worked every facial muscle he has at every opportunity. The whole thing is a bit ludicrous, and long on the hokum. I realize now that I never got much into the Star Wars aesthetic, which is the most inventive thing on offer here.

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

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IMDB top-250, #12. I feel like I've seen the same thirty minutes or so of Star Wars a million times as a kid. Maybe it was always Return of the Jedi; I know I saw Star Wars for the first time when it was re-released in the cinemas of Sydney in 1997. I didn't recognise anything beyond the iconic images of this one, but it still felt overly familiar.

The Wages of Fear

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First half with Tigôn, who fell asleep. Last seen about six years ago. Still #179 in the IMDB top-250.

The American Side

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On the strength of Ben Kenigsberg's review at the New York Times. I guess he's their go-to for B movies. I like a good noir but this one needed a better script. As a myth, Tesla is right up there with Ben Franklin.

Far from Men

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Erina mentioned this one. Viggo Mortensen is a reclusive but not lonely French-ish non-colonial in revolutionary Algeria. The cinematography is worthy of a spaghetti Western. Apparently based on something Camus wrote. I quite enjoyed it at times.

20,000 Days on Earth

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Nick Cave's job is to make this into something more than an ego project, and unfortunately he fails. Oftentimes he sounds like he wished he was Don Walker (one lyric goes "Flame trees line the streets") but he never smoked enough. That he is stuck on the surface is clear from the voiced ontro, where he talks about the truth as something that emerges, pushing through his veneer rather than revealed by it. (I always thought his schtick was more for effect than truth.) His motifs remain the childhood Goth classics, the God versus the Devil kind of thing that has recently yielded up Batman v Superman and not Tom Waits. I'm sure they're brewing up the next Nick Cave in rural Victoria even as I type this.

... and yes, I know he did write at least one timeless track.

The film is beautifully shot but stuffed with fakery (see the IMDB comments for examples). I came away wondering what he was trying to get at, and why he didn't say it with a tune.