peteg's blog

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, you need a better ending than what they offer up here. Superior to Lucy in every way.

Lucy

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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.

Cronos

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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.

Hellish Half-Light: shorter plays of Samuel Beckett.

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Another Goldstar outing. This preview cost a total of $7.50 and wasn't worth a penny to me, again demonstrating the difference between value and price that (as an outlier) I find everywhere. The bike ride up was kind-of fun; peak hour on Halsted takes some care, and there is more life up there than I knew of. A young gent with his mates perfectly politely claimed we were "birk brothers" but it turned out my Milanos have the backtrap that his Sydneys lack. Heh, young kids these days: they proceeded to argue that mine were in fact superior for my purposes, i.e. bicycling. No idea what their game was.

I guess I expected these to be Pinter plays for reasons that now escape me, or maybe (In the Jungle of Cities) Brecht. The Angel Island Theatre itself is solid New Theatre, and featured some seating within the floor-stage. No love seat though. I bought a long neck from the mildly embarassed subcontinental bloke at the downstairs bottle shop and was the only one in the audience actually drinking. I think the rest were friends of the cast / crew.

The plays: Castastrophe, Come and Go, Play, Rough for Theater I, Rough for Theater II and What Where. Back-to-back, no interval. Presented by Mary-Arrchie Theatre Co., directed by Jennifer Markowitz.

I just dug up Midnight Oil's classic Blue Sky Mine, which I last played through in 2005 or so. Wow, such naivety.

Magritte at the Art Institute of Chicago.

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After going to a talk last month (June 21) that gave a very nice overview of the show, I finally got around to seeing it. Magritte did some very famous images, and some remain quite striking even now. However seeing them clumped together like this is a bit much; he seems to have a limited repertoire of objects (female torso, euphonium, bowler hats, ...) and to see them replicated across works is disillusioning. Taking a quick look at Google just now, it seems there were plenty more of his works that aren't at the Art Institute of Chicago presently. Anyway, glad I went. Thanks again to Pete R. for the membership.

I also tried to look at the Mexican political prints but at some point my brain exploded. There's a lot of juvenalia. I'll head back later in the week.

The Terminator

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#209 in the IMDB top-250. Incredible: everyone knows it's not that great. I sprinted up to the Logan Theatre to make the last 10.30pm screening and beat the Google bicycling hero benchmark of 24 minutes by 3, which may have been due to some lucky breaks on the lights, or failing to stop as often as I was supposed to. Anyway. Sweatiness makes the arctic air conditioning so much worse, but the high-fructose corn syrup in the coke really did the trick. One could spend many words analyzing this time capsule of 30 years past. I think they played it off a blue ray; the res was certainly there.

The Host

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Segue from Snowpiercer via the director (Bong Joon-ho), his lead (Song Kang-ho), and Song's daughter in both (Ko Ah-sung). The bonus here is the luminous Bae Doo-na. Everyone is awesome, and the humour leavens what is sometimes a maudlin farce.

Closer at the Den Theatre

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Well, Goldstar certainly takes the risk out of theatre-going: tonight's came to $10.50 plus beer. I feel increasingly bad about that as this production by Spartan Theatre was excellent. (A solution that has always appealed to me is to charge a nominal entry price and pass the hat around at the end of the night.) The Den Theatre put me in mind of the old spaces used by NUTS, back in the day, and I will certainly be spending more time in their bar/louge in the coming weeks and months, though I did not loiter tonight.

The strength of the production (and minimality but adequacy of the sets) made me focus more on the play, distracting though the actresses were: despite the lack of nudity, Alice (Poppy Golland) engages in some impressive acrobatic strip-club antics. Anna (Brianne Duncan Fiore) is the pivotal object of desire who predictably moves in with a dog. The blokes — Larry (Brian Grey) and Dan (Matt Pratt) — provide valliant support. Justin Hayford at the Chicago Reader is not wrong to slag the material off as cynical, and the rushed ending makes it clear that the playwright struggles to make much out of the mess. The early-internet chatroom clunkiness dates this movie in the same way that Dana Stevens observes of the present Sex Tape. Similarly the smoking is anachronistic, and what am I to make of that pianoification of Creep that opens proceedings? (My mind was playing Authentic Celestial Music for the most part.) Is it truth or forgiveness that lifts us above beasts? I'm keen to see what these guys do next. (Directed by Patrick Belics. Sterling British accents from all bar Alice, who is an American played by an American.)

The Ladykillers

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Another Ealing comedy. Alec Guinness leads, and a very green Peter Sellers gets a bit of a nothing role. As a heist caper it is somewhat the converse of Kind Hearts and Coronets; here Guinness is the last man standing, and indeed just after that was for me the funniest part of the movie. He looks a lot like Martin Amis: a classic English mashup of bad teeth, receding hairline, and waxy vampyrism.

The Late Henry Moss at The Artistic Home

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Thinking it was about time I tried out the theatre scene here, I found a promising review of this piece in the Chicago Reader. The theatre is in fact around the corner from where I reside, so while I'm not living in the red light district of my imaginings, it did serve as a decent simulation of the Griffin Theatre. Unfortunately they are nowhere as prolific.

The piece itself was Sam Shepard's new thing, and this was supposed to be its mid-western premiere (the season, not this particular episode). Well, what can I say. The acting was OK when it wasn't histrionic, but the play is crap. It made me think of Erskineville Kings for the most part, and more obscurely The Pixies's Hang Wire. I guess you could say it failed to grip me. These exhausted Mexicans-as-shamans concepts now stifle America's imagination and myth-making; I saw it in Born on the Forth of July, and that at least used Vietnam as a source of damage and not World War II. Perhaps admitting as much, this production yielded up some cheap titillation from the singular actress getting her kit off. Sons and fathers, domestic violence, and sundry eternal tropes; I spaced out a lot so I missed plenty. I didn't follow the flashbacks closely, and lost track of the epistemics. The rhythm of calm, hysterics, violence, calm (etc) was poorly pitched. Julian Hester, the taxi driver from Albuquerque, put me in mind of two things: the old Bugs Bunny cartoons where he doesn't take the right turn there, and Brad Pitt from 12 Monkeys. Frank Nall does his best as the dead father.

I got my tickets from Goldstar: half price + $4.50 or so, for a total of less than $20. This event was general admission so seat quality didn't matter. I feel a bit bad playing that game, and I guess the karmic retribution is that I paid the play less mind than if I'd paid it full-fare.

Kind Hearts and Coronets

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The Gene Siskel Film Center is showing a series of old Alec Guinness movies this month. I missed the first couple but was glad to make it to this one. Their second theatre is tiny, and was completely packed out with grey hairs.

The cast here is uniformly excellent. Dennis Price in the lead has his finest outing, and Valerie Hobson is solid despite her character being callowly credulous. Guinness himself shines in particular as Lady Agatha, the shit-boring parson, the boorish general, and ... well, all the rest of the family. I particularly enjoyed Joan Greenwood in luminous feline mode; I'm looking forward to seeing what she and Guinness get up to in The Man in the White Suit at the end of the month. The plot is kind of like Hitchcock's Rope, and the tone is set right from the beginning with the hangman's concern that he act with proper respect for the hangee's title.

The Art of Rube Goldberg

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I picked this up on the strength of a review in the New York Times, and to see if I could get Amazon to deliver. I didn't bother to read all the articles as they tend to continue in the vein of Adam Gopnik's introduction: overly personal and not that interesting. From there I did get pointers to Chaplin's Modern Times and the antecedent/complementary artists Frenchman Marcel Duchamp and Englishman Heath Robinson. (The American "Rube Goldberg machine" that invariably results from hacking would be termed a "Heath Robinson machine" by the poms. mrak, I'm not looking at you.) The paper mechanism on the cover sort-of works.

I did look at all the comics, however. The machines would have been better taken at the rate of one a week or so. My favourite was his series of advertisements for razor blades, "stubble trouble": ridiculously long Imam-style beards being used as hammocks, for tying up Santa Claus, being knitted by distracted wives, and so forth.

Goldberg once said his machines — which he drafted with strict but rollicking precision — were a “symbol of man’s capacity for exerting maximum effort to achieve minimal results.”

Greg Egan: The Clockwork Rocket

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Wondering what Egan is up to now led me to borrowing this from the Chicago Public Library. Part of me can admire his fiercely ambitious imaginary physics, though my eyes glaze over pretty much as they did back in first year. The plot is fairly humdrum otherwise, and there is a lot derived from earlier scifi classics that maybe the younguns no longer read. I won't be chasing up the two successors.

Snowpiercer

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This fourth of July I did something that is becoming a mainstream American activity: I gave the Music Box Theatre $10 to watch something a Korean director (Bong Joon-ho) with a large CGI budget made that seems to be beyond Hollywood's grasp. Some fabulous performances here: Chris Evans (Captain America?!?) channels Ben Affleck, Tilda Swinton has a ball, and Ewen Bremner is at his best since Trainspotting, sporting a Jewfro and losing an arm in the process. Ed Harris does his best in the Matrix-Architect role. As always there are some graphic blood sprays and extended rave-style violence. Somehow this got funded/made by the Czechs. I can imagine the pitch to Park Chan-wook: say we took that corridor scene from Oldboy and made a whole movie out of it...

Surprising to me the audience was the largest I've seen yet in the main theatre, and most people sit a long way back.

A. O. Scott got right into it. J. Hoberman at the New York Review of Books.

Mavericks did not eat my homework.

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I've been using Snow Leopard for five years now, which is getting on to Windows XP longevity. Having left academia, I just now figured that whatever was keeping me on that tired platform has probably gone to the grave, and moreover Mavericks looks a lot more enticing than Lion ever did. Ergo upgrade.

So far no real problems, apart from new (empty) windows in Chrome interacting in a nasty way with Spaces. I lost my RSS feeds, as I knew I would; there's a widget in Chrome that is somewhat usable but a long way from either Google Reader or the old Mail.app. Conversely the new Mail.app seems a bit faster and less buggy... though it keeps hitting up IMAP servers from a lifetime back. I had to reinstall MacPorts, as always. clang seems a lot faster than GCC. My venerable perl blog script broke, as always. Fast times.

The Rover

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A return to the Landmark at 2828 Clark (where I saw Only Lovers Left Alive a few weeks back). $11.50. Three rows from the screen. Somehow I felt compelled to go: maybe it was Guy Pearce, but this was never going to ask a lot of him really. Some of it looked like the granite hills of home, somewhere south, maybe west of Canberra, Wagga-ish, but more desolate, and of course it was actually shot in South Australia. Yeah. The director made Animal Kingdom, which should have served as a sterner warning; he reaches for The Proposition, gritty and revelatory and also Guy Pearce, but falls far short. Far short. All I could think was that maybe Samuel L. was lugging around Marsellus's dog the whole time too. I hadn't seen Robert Pattinson before and he was OK; there wasn't a whole lot of character to get a grip on though. Some of the early cinematography is excellent but not particularly innovative, and many of the small characters are poorly played. The smarter of those actors just looked longingly into the camera. David Field sure turned out all Donald Pleasance with age; Hawkie at least held on to more of his hair. (... and wasn't Joel Edgerton also implicated in The Day We Called It A Night?)

Somehow I dodged the rain the whole day.

The Sufi Gospel Project

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Back to the Old Town School of Folk for the Sufi gig I'd been hanging out for for so long. It turned out to be part of the Eye on India festival thing, and the band was imported from India; I'd hoped they were locals. Sonam Kalra got grilled by a local and revealed that she is from Delhi, but not that she is a dog person or her marital status. She's of the Sikh religion, and used to be in advertising. Her voice is excellent. Her band is awesome and tight: the flautist (Rajesh Prasanna), sarangi (Ahsan Ali Khan) and tabla (Amaan Ali Khan) players all stood out, and while the Yamaha keyboardist (Alex Fernandes) did not, he may have anchored the whole thing for all I know.

So I expected an American fusion sort of thing, but it turned out to be more masala, finer-grained and somewhat messy in a pan-genre sort of way. They opened with some great sufi stuff, and the first set had me quite spaced out. One element was an adaptation of Amazing Grace. The second got a bit more Western; specifically something by Ray Charles that had been taken full-circle (gospel -> jazz -> gospel) left me cold (was it Hallelujah I Just Love Him So?). They also attempted Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, which annoyed me a bit as Anthem is far more in tune with their ecumenicism. (Sonam termed her project secular, which is even more approximate.) They closed with the Sufi classic Daanah Pah Daanah, which I knew from the Coke Studio Sessions 4 recording by someone else. Very sunny.

The crowd talked throughout and thinned appreciably in the second half. I'm not sure why; I got pretty much what I expected. They played the following night in downtown Chicago, at "the Temple" (corner Washington and Clark), which I didn't go to, and I also regret not buying one of their CDs. After much futzery I did manage to get The Confluence from OKListen, and Verified by Visa not only looks like a man-in-the-middle attack but did not properly verify my address. The band recorded Man Manam for the Coke Studio, which gives you some idea how good they are. Unfortunately Sonam left out her bespoke sign language. The guitarists didn't make it.

Charles Bukowski: Tales of Ordinary Madness

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Catching up on my youth: Bukowski was big with the crowd circa 1997. The biopic Born into this seared the image of his damaged dial that features on the cover into my brain. I also saw the movie of the same name starring Ben Gazzara, but not Factotum. Apparently that was around 2003, and still I haven't bothered with the source material until now. Well, what can I say. Some of it is good, almost all of it is banal, and it is difficult to take his occasional stabs at offensiveness too seriously these days. I don't remember anything much from the first half of the book. Of the second I carefully noted his portrayal of a madhouse Purple as an Iris, his vignettes Notes of a Potential Suicide and the still-life One for Walter Lowenfels. Dates on the stories would have helped. His daughter recurs. He slags off Ferlinghetti which is somewhat ironic as I read the City Lights edition from the Chicago Public Library. I think I'll take him in small doses. Surely he was Hal Hartley's inspiration for Simon Grim in Henry Fool.

The Untouchables

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Apparently De Palma's other masterpiece. I'm not convinced; Costner in the lead? Connery got an Oscar for this? (His accent goes for the occasional wander westwards.) Andy Garcia makes a credible play for his Godfather III role. Patricia Clarkson is the perfectly characterless wife/mother. The mounties come prematurely. History is unncessarily bent to fit the histrionic plot. Then again, there is some cinematography / tension ratcheting worthy of Sergio Leone.

FLAN and FLANGE.

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Quite a while ago I cranked out an over-ambitious assignment for JAS: no, not that one, but FLAN and its graphical relative FLANGE. I decided it was time to air the examples I wrote for it.