peteg's blog

Wayne Macauley: Simpson Returns.

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Kindle. I was expecting some laughs or keen observations from this imagining of a temporally distended Simpson and his donkey setting out from Melbourne in search of the great inland sea circa 2003. Of course this is at Lasseter's behest. As social commentary the book hits all the familiar notes and no more. It is well written for the most part, though the use of "Afghani" where he means "Afghan" is an annoying tic.

Extensively reviewed locally. Ronnie Scott ambivalently sums up the parts. Goodreads. Elizabeth Flux provides some much-needed context. Alex Cothren.

Back to the Future, Part II, Part III

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Dave reckons my childhood was impoverished by not having seen these movies. Perhaps, but he was dead right that it's now too late to rectify. At times things get a bit Kind Hearts and Coronets with Michael J. Fox playing too many roles. I've never been a fan of any of the actors, nor Robert Zemeckis's American cheesecake films. The first one is rated #37 in the IMDB top-250.

Ebert on the first one (3.5 stars), the the second (3 stars) and the third (2.5 stars).

Love at Large

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#55 on David Stratton's list of marvellous movies. Clearly he's a sucker for hard boiled noir-ish detective movies, so much so that he can endorse this weak B-grade garbage. I was expecting more of detective Tom Berenger, who plays pivot for quite a few ladies, none of whom impressed me so much. The plot is ancillary and could have quite profitably been omitted, reducing things to a set of late 1980s character studies. Leonard Cohen's Ain't No Cure For Love opens. Not enough is asked of Neil Young.

Roger Ebert shrugged at the time: he suggests a failed parody where Stratton thinks satire. Both agree that the director has (had?) potential. Janet Maslin.

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Lunch at the Clovelly carpark, which was packed. Loads of tourists wandering around too, and I'll bet quite a few wish they were somewhere else. Afterwards I tried snorkelling off the scuba ramp in Gordons Bay. The visibility was better than I expected given how rough the surf was, though I didn't see much: mostly just huge wrasse and the odd goatfish. Pleasant in. Overcast, high cloud, some bushfire haze, air not too bad, not too hot. Afterwards I had a brief chat with a bloke who was laying buoys along the trail for the Gordons Bay Scuba Club and read some book up towards Clovelly.

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Back in Sydney transiently. The smoke haze is still really bad. Torrential rain is forecast for later in the week. I had dinner down on the northern Coogee headland, and afterwards a brief paddle at Gordons Bay off the southern rocks. The tide was fair way out. Three young blokes were fishing off one rock near where I usually get in, while a bloke and a girl were trying it on a bit closer to the beach. Two dogs on the sand. The BOM reckoned the surf was going to be large etc. but it was fairly placid and not too filthy.

The Gentlemen

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With Dave at The Ritz, 2:20pm, 10 AUD each, four rows from the front of cinema 3, not too many people. We had a coffee at Shorty's beforehand.

Nothing too appealing for this one, apart from it being quite a while since I've seen Matthew McConaughey. It's tired and formulaic: winners have gotta win, pretty much. MY WIFE, isn't that one of Pacino's classic explosions? Hugh Grant was the most fun. Eddie Marsan, unusually, failed in his role. Colin Farrell and cohort are boringly bulletproof.

Afterwards I bumped into Ron nearby. Dave and I had a middling to poor early dinner at Lil' Darlin' and wandered down to a moderately busy Coogee.

Sandra Hall.

Midsommar

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More Florence Pugh completism. Here she is with an American accent. Writer/director Ari Aster attempts a horror riff on Swedish weirdism but lacks conviction and so alloys it with empty American bro culture and narcotics. All the characters are naff stereotypes, the mythos is thin, the plot goes as you know it will. Clearly he's aiming for some Lynchian magic but achieves only a humourless study in obliviousness. It is gratuitously graphic. I was reminded of my recent encounter with a mechanic: of being drip fed useless information that was withheld without much intent over far too much time.

Richard Brody spilt a lot of words on this empty vessel. Manohla Dargis.

Elliot Ackerman: Places and Names.

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Kindle. The last and most-recent of Elliot Ackerman's work for me to get to. Here he lays bare the source material for his first two novels in a brief, almost diary-format memoir. Again it is well written. Some or perhaps all of these vignettes are inconclusive, which is perhaps his point: that his war continues, even now. He has a Robert S. McNamara moment of meeting with the enemy, perhaps too soon for a full rapprochement; his interlocutor is still searching the Islamic millenarial tea leaves for a prognosis. This book is ahistorical, a reflection on tactical experience and not policies nor strategies. The final chapter fleshes out his silver star citation to uneven effect. He now seems to be based in the USA after some time in Istanbul.

Anne Barnard reviewed it for the New York Times: more effing the ineffable.

Little Women

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Movie club sign-up freebie at the Odeon 5, 12:45pm session, Cinema 1, three rows from the front. I think all their movies were flagged no-free-tickets (NFT) up to today. Quite a few people.

I didn't know what I was getting beyond the costume drama implied by the poster. The draw was Florence Pugh, and of course the Greta Gerwig/Saoirse Ronan combination that worked so well in Lady Bird. Gerwig brilliantly composed her chopped-up overlapping timelines with many effective visual cues, keeping the stories-in-stories moving even as they arrived at the necessary stations of growing up. So many name actors: Chris Cooper as a reserved, bereaved, indulgent grandfather; Tracy Letts as a bemused and not entirely chauvinistic publisher; Timothée Chalamet as a fly playboy; Laura Dern as saintly mother. Meryl Streep ungenerously owns every scene she's in. The story itself, however, is not a patch on what the Koreans are doing, nor Lady Bird.

Reviews are legion. I didn't read them before I went. Universally feted. Dana Stevens; the final scene-within-the-book is entirely an intentional commercial clanger as Joanna Biggs observes. A. O. Scott. Paul Byrnes was not convinced by Emma Watson (and me neither, having no fond memories of Harry Potter to fall back on). All apart from Byrnes quote the opening sentence of the novel/movie. Anthony Lane. Flo has apparently arrived.

Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson: Buzz, Sting, Bite: why we need insects.

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Kindle. Anecdotes about insect behaviour from a Norwegian entomologist. A quick and sometimes quite funny read. It's not as diverse as it needed to be: there's the usual focus on ants and bees, cicadas, true bugs, etc. but the eternal mystery of whether mosquitoes are in any way essential to any ecosystem went unexplored (as did several others). The last chapter is an excessively-generic plea for preserving biodiversity. Lucy Moffat's translation is mostly good but too often her choice of adjectives reveals some fuzzy thinking about evolution.

Sam Kean at the New York Times.

Ted Chiang: Exhalation.

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Kindle. Recycled shorts. About what I expected having seen Arrival. There's chaos without Lorentz attractors or James Gleick's indefatigable fascination; a glance at the philosophy of mind, an insistence that learning is required for intelligence; a feeble imagining of a parallel-world Christian teleology and ontology; a rejection of Asimovian psychohistory again on the basis of chaos/quantum mechanics without a consideration of the broad sweeps that statistics allows. None of it is too originally imaginative. The prose is flat. Things are deadly serious and have no air for the playfulness of Douglas Adams or Charles Yu. Chiang is judgemental and essentialist. The often weak argumentation trails off as things get a bit interesting.

Reviews are legion and he clearly has his fans.

In Cold Blood

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An adaptation of Truman Capote's famous reportage. Natural born killers. Fascinated by psychology and therefore entirely of its era: the logic of leaving no witnesses strikes me as sound, or putting it another way, consonant with humans not being too bothered about things beyond their immediate vicinity (cf poverty, climate change, general insanity, and so forth). Or compare it to the recent wars and mass murders with motivations even more confused. The black and white spaghetti chronology left me cold. I couldn't help but think of it as the view from NYC.

Roger Ebert called out the artiness in 1968. He had another (more reactionary) go in 2002.

Amaryllis Fox: Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA.

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Kindle. Prompted by a review in the Asian Review of Books that I only skim read. It's meh: an ahistorical memoir of a relentlessly successful American girl who joined the CIA as a knee-jerk response to 9/11. There is little discussion of policy. Much is montage. The framing story of meeting Al Qaeda in Karachi was clearly a bolted-on sex up. There's far more to learn about what national service is and can be from Daniel Ellsberg and Liz Pisani. The writing is workmanlike. Her tic "my truth" implies she never mastered anything abstract or objective, as does her restlessness at the theory she encounters in her undergraduate days at Oxford.

Gosford Park

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More Robert Altman completism, prompted by Knives Out. The cast here is even larger, and there are far too many characters to get to grips with. Fortunately it doesn't matter too much as the sweep of English Toff Country Life circa 1932 is very familiar and they are, to a woman, cliched grotesques. Kelly Macdonald is the pivot, an ingenue. Stephen Fry is a hammy police inspector. I actually enjoyed Clive Owen, from the Isleworth orphanage, and Richard E. Grant. Emily Watson is fine too, but isn't taxed. I somehow remembered Tom Hollander as Guy Burgess in Cambridge Spies. There are heaps more. The gentry left me uniformly cold. For the sake of having a plot it's a murder mystery.

I wonder if anyone's tried making an upstairs/downstairs thing where the actors have roles in each.

Roger Ebert at the time. Also Stephen Holden.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

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Paying the compulsory mouse tax with Dave at the Odeon 5, 8:30pm, three rows from the front. A few people but not packed. I signed up to their movie club; unlike The Ritz I could only get one cheap ticket. All up $42.93. No shorts.

As expected it's a dog. Oscar Isaac digs deep but fails to improve on Bill Pullman's President from Independence Day. Daisy Ridley, winsome once more, and indeed of extraordinary heritage though her parents are elided. Adam Driver enjoys himself. Keri Russell. Richard E. Grant. Ian McDiarmid. Shirley Henderson somehow as "Babu Frik", and was that Tilda Swinton? All entirely squandered. There's some unfunny Thor: Ragnarok and too much lukewarm necrotic nostalgia, which is approximately what we're told to expect from JJ Abrams: too much incoherence, too many dangling threads, too much box ticking.

Richard Brody. Tim Kreider. A. O. Scott. And many others.

Adam Higginbotham: A Thousand Pounds of Dynamite.

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Kindle. A piece of Atavist reportage. Not great; the story is weak and there's too much colour. The Wikipedia article tells you all you need to know. I'm hoping there's more to his more recent and highly-rated Midnight in Chernobyl.

Burning

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Korean. Impressionistic. "Based on the short story by Haruki Murakami" or maybe just American Psycho. All insinuation. Some beautiful cinematography. I don't know this director (Lee Chang-dong). Steven Yeun is Gangnam style. Lead Ah-in Yoo is suitably inscrutable.

/noise/beach/2019-2020 | Link

Early-afternoon soak in the placid (tea-coloured) Thurra River near the campground and the sea. I had intended to drive on to the Point Hicks Lighthouse but the road has been closed due to "coastal erosion". Surprisingly warm in the water given that it's not very warm out. The whole area is insect infested.

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Mid-morning cleansing paddle in a very flat Wonboyn Beach. Very pleasant. A couple of blokes drove up in a troop carrier (with a second passenger door) and went out kayaking. On the dirt track out I encountered an Eden police 4x4.

Elliot Ackerman: Green on Blue.

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Kindle. Ackerman's first outing, and for mine not as good as his more-recent two. This is war in the small: how self interest perpetuates small-scale skirmishes through double dealing. Things go as they need to; there's some convenient plot happenings that allow the narrator to be where he needs to be. Ackerman presents no real objectives beyond the perpetuation of the funding arrangements, i.e., a continuation of the status quo corruption. The ending suggests that the only out is for the entrepreneurial to sell out whoever they can. We get a bit of Afghan culture too.

Tom Bissell refers back to David Halberstam's Ho and wants it to be a lot more than it is.