peteg's blog

Citizens' Relief: Ashes to Ashes by Harold Pinter.

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Goldstar ticket: $10.00 + $3.75 service fee = $13.75, bought 2015-08-09. A beautiful night to ride over to Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art near the corner of Chicago/Milwaukee. (These guys improbably control the domain I had a Revolution Brewing WIT (wheat beer? — ale with spices) in a can. This being early in the run, there were only three audience members, which was a shame. Apparently there there 25 on opening night this Thursday past. Citizen's Relief consists of the actors Simone Jubyna and Mike Driscoll who self-direct. Both donned English accents. Simone as Rebecca is suitably arch and somewhat robotic/medicated. Mike as Devlin is creepy in his reassured, unreflectively stolid British self absorption. The material, perfect for a simple set and this pair of actors, is a somewhat unsettling not-quite-dialogue that jars with domestic banality. Vintage Pinter, in other words.

New City Stage.

Do The Right Thing

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David S. suggested this as something by Spike Lee worth seeing. Brooklyn, 1989, a boiling hot summer's day, so what are you going to do but open up a fire hydrant and set fire to the neighbourhood pizzeria? Lee himself puts in an agreeably ambiguous piece of acting, those eyes assessing, judging, playing the angles, presenting both the MLK and the Malcolm X view of things. Danny Aiello gets some help from John Turturro in representing at the Italian outpost, and flirts hamfistedly with the communalistic Joie Lee. She goes MIA when things get scorching. That's Samuel L. Jackson on the radio, making it with his voice only, and not too much MFing swearing. Lee struck some gold with the Korean shopkeepers, especially the wife, who somehow identify as black and are eventually deemed sufficiently black for their store to survive. Mostly this is a portrait of how the races mix, for the climax is a (relatively) uninspired take on the seemingly eternal killing of black men by police. I never realised that Michael Franti sounds so much like Chuck D. Time to add Public Enemy to the never-shortening list of things to check out.

K'na, the Dreamweaver

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A freebie at the Chicago Cultural Center. 6.30pm, packed with oldies and hangers-on from the local Philippines consulate. Part of a series of a series of screenings of international (marginal) movies. Some charming naivety, but mostly just naivety. It was a beautiful night for cycling, even with mild headwinds.

Their blurb:

Dir. Ida Anita Del Mundo, Philippines, 2014, 85 min. On the Mindanao islands, the young T’boli princess K’Na discovers the gods have chosen her to be the village dreamweaver. As such, she has the ability to weave together the local warring tribes, but to do so, she must give up her one true love. Special Jury Prize winner at the Cinemalaya Festival, this mythic tale beautifully intertwines themes of passion with tradition and duty. Filipino, Tagalog with subtitles.

New York Times.

Ron Rash: Nothing Gold Can Stay

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Rash always gets solid write ups in the New York Times. Here is Janet Maslin on this one. Every story parks us in North Carolina, often the Appalachians, the odd nod to Chapel Hill and education. Almost all are, at heart, get-the-eff-outs, and that's not something I need to read more about. On the positive, I was pleasantly surprised by his reference to The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy as some kind of must-read for those coming of age, though it comes in an uninspired tale of youthful intellect squandered by drug addiction. The last — Three A.M. and the Stars Were Out — broke the mold and was therefore the most successful. Elsewhere Rash is unfailing in technique but merely toying with variations on tired themes, and all the drop-you-in-cold introductions and twisty endings can't make up for that. (For instance, Something Rich and Strange struck me as a complement to one of Raymond Chandler's well-mined pieces. But maybe that's all that comes to mind about dead girls in rivers. And Bruce Springsteen canvassed similar escapist, wastrel topics as this collection from his more-northerly vantage.)

I didn't realise that Rash wrote the original material and the screenplay of Serena, which got universally panned.

The Big Knife

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As full of zingers as a Howard Hawks, and it seems quite amazing that something so scathing and ultimately nihilistic got made by Hollywood. Rod Steiger is awesome, in the full on mode that Brando and Pacino brought to the Godfathers. It's a shame he has so few scenes. Jack Palance gets loads of great lines. Not so much fun as trainwreck.

Smiley Coy: What's she doing here? [apropos Charlie's sort-of separated wife]
Charlie Castle: Cheap serf labor... I pay her by the lifetime.

Thomas Pynchon: The Crying of Lot 49

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A non-scifi suggestion from David S. Roman W. suggested I instead commence my Pynchon campaign with Bleeding Edge. Always late to the party, I hedged my bets by borrowing both from the Chicago Public Library, and went with the shorter. Pynchon is so of his time, and sometimes so obscure, that there's a wiki to help you trainspot his references. (I made no use of it however.) He may leave us hanging, unlike a bloke taking a Brody, but the wiki does not. Is this some kind of meditation on the American founding mythologies, or a precursor to Fear and Loathing in all its world-weary glory? (Like the latter it contains a fragment of the American Dream, before the squashing of the recreational drug culture got serious in the later 1960s.) I think the thing with Pynchon is that you don't have to choose. Just so long as you like shaggy dog stories, in this instance told from the perspective of competing postal services. Which makes me wonder what the Coen brothers would have made of Inherent Vice.

I was all set up to be let down by the ending, and wasn't.

The Gift

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$12.64 at the AMC River East 21, 4.45pm session. Written and directed by Joel Edgerton, for otherwise I would not have bothered seeing something starring Rebecca Hall (after her abysmal capitulation to Woody Allen in Vicky Cristina Barcelona). Jason Bateman is fine in the lead, and Edgerton deals himself perhaps the toughest hand in playing the damaged Gordo. Why did he want to tell this story? It has some antecedents in Lantana, of misfaith in marriage and recovery from trauma. It was totally unclear to me why the leads got hitched; is she so unreflective/absorbed in her interior decorating that she doesn't see his bullying until it cannot be ignored? It indeed subverts expectations at every turn, and only really disappoints when it doesn't.

Stephen Holden.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: The Sympathizer

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Extracted from the Chicago Public Library. I feel like we saw the same movies: Apocalypse Now, Once Upon a Time in America, Fight Club, Infernal Affairs, 1984, right up to the last bit of torture porn, which must have been Zero Dark Thirty or some other flag waver that I drew the line at. Yes, the Vietnamese I met in St Louis called Chicago chick a go (p66). Nguyen consciously, with occasional ostentatious bravery, nibbles on the (white man's) hand that feeds: he keenly observes (p180) that country is white man's music, which sounds like a fine analysis until Google tells you that country has been called "the white man's blues", and we're back to watching the same movies. The General's army, assembling east of L.A., are rag-tag space monkeys. The mole was not played by Tony Leung, nor the General's apparently luscious daughter by Maggie Cheung. The clash of civilizations (p250) is tired and wants to retire. (Dr Hedd is a pastiche of horrorshow cold warrior intellectual armchair generals.) He struck a chord on the topic of American happiness (p245):

So, [Englishman Hedd] said, are you happy? It was an intimate question, nearly as personal as asking about my salary, acceptable in our homeland but not here. What was worse, however, was that I could not think of a satisfactory answer. If I was unhappy, it would reflect badly on me, for Americans saw happiness as a moral failure and thought crime. But if I was happy, it would be in bad taste to say so, or a sign of hubris, as if I was boasting or gloating.

I agree with Andrew X. Pham that it was a compelling read. I'm less certain that it was audacious. See Nam Le on ethnic lit.

Philip Caputo wrote a lengthy review at the New York Times. I think I enjoyed the overwriting more than the writing.

The Poor Theatre: Take Me Back at Collaboraction, Flat Iron Arts Building.

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$16.00, bought 2015-07-22. 2pm, which is a little early for a matinee. The closing session. Hasty lunch at the Subway near the corner of Division and Halsted. Quite pleasant cycling weather, especially with pumped-up tyres. I saw The Paranoid Style in American Politics in the same theatre recently. This company put on Edgar and Annabel a while back, with Dillon Kelleher starring in both. Alex Fisher was Matchbox in Desperate Dolls; here she plays a natural/neutral highschool sweetheart. Susan Monts-Bologna (as the mother) and Juliana Liscio (small-time partner in crime) were new to me. It was a good production with good actors with polished but not great raw material (from Emily Schwend); it's far too easy for Southern Gothic to slide into sentimentality, or small-town woe-for-those-who-never-escaped (from Muskogee, Oklahoma in this instance). Far better to take it to the limit.

Justin Hayford at the Reader. Jacob Davis is less gushy. Scott C. Morgan observes the excellent sound design.

Shaun the Sheep Movie

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$12.00 at the Icon Showplace, 4.35pm screening. A new claymation from Aardman? Hold me back! Unfortunately I think we're past the point of diminished returns; this one is sometimes funny but not as clever as Wallace and Gromit. OK, I'm asking too much. I haven't seen the TV series either, and things might work better in smaller concussive doses.

Neil Genzlinger pretty much spells it all out.

The Prophecy

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A suggestion of erstwhile roomie Robert, on the strength of Christopher Walken. Ultimately more cutter than cookie amongst the pre-millenials; easily outshone by even Arnie's effort. It's nice to know that Lucifer (Viggo Mortensen) is on our side. Elias Koteas is not much of a leading man. Stoltz is identikit Pulp Fiction. There are two sequels, probably even less essential than this.

Leonard Cohen: Beautiful Losers

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From the Chicago Public Library. Execrable. I note that it was published before his first album was released. There is the odd decent turn of phrase and insight that he later became known for.

Maps to the Stars

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A recent David Cronenberg, and as you might expect, a bit strange. Mia Wasikowska reprises something of her role in Stoker, and it's a shame there was no room for Matthew Goode here. It got a little too much Boogie Nights and not enough Magnolia on the Julianne Moore front for me. I'd hope Robert Pattinson can find roles with more personality than the boy-toy he plays here. John Cusack effortlessly plays the soulless shrink.

A. O. Scott. Dana Stevens. Anthony Lane points to The Big Knife featuring Rod Steiger as something with more teeth.

Making Rain Productions: Coronado at the Cornservatory, 4210 N Lincoln.

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Goldstar ticket: $10.00 + $3.75 service fee = $13.75, bought 2015-07-14. Lunch was so-so Vietnamese chicken curry noodles at Simply IT, followed by an attempt at snoozing next to the golf course at Belmont Harbor which was stymied by vast numbers of biting insects. Loads of dragonflies also, which don't seem to bother humans. Dinner was Singapore noodles at Asian Mix Cafe, similarly meh. Warm, but not too humid for long bike rides.

This is something like the Dennis Lehane version of Gone Girl. The acting was quite solid but the scene changes were frequent and momentum-destroying; the play is cut up like a modern movie. The use of physically-dissimilar actors playing the same characters in different threads was an effective way of prolonging the mystery. The title had me going because I thought it referred to the actual locality in San Diego, whereas I think Lehane's Coronado is everywhere small-town USA, somewhere affected by hurricanes, with enough unsavvy trailer park residents to sustain a livelihood from insurance scams. The compromised shrink was little more than a cliché. The Gone Girl herself was a bit too controlling, to no particular end; her raw need was enough. The source material garnered a damning review in the New York Times.

The Cornservatory is one of those "shopfront" theatres a long way from the Loop, in this case up Lincoln (and not Broadway), and it typically hosts comedy. I rode home via Lincoln/Damen/Clybourn, trying to avoid the bros of Lakeview, lit by a big full-ish moon.

The Ruling Class

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Another suggestion from David S:

In this movie, Peter O'Toole plays the new Earl of Gurney (the last one died wearing his naval uniform and a tutu in a fit of autoerotic asphyxiation). He also happens to think he is Jesus. His idle rich family try to change his disposition so that he won’t embarrass him when he goes to the House of Lords. Then things get weird. Great send up of the toffs with lovely musical numbers.

More at Wikipedia. I enjoyed it. Clearly of its day: the post-"I'm Jack" sequence nods to A Clockwork Orange's "I was cured alright!" and presages The Shining, and concerns around the AC-DC messiah (electro-convulsive therapy) also aired in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. O'Toole at his fruity best. Mike Leigh's A Sense of History is marginally more respectful.

A Red Orchid Theatre incubator: Celebration by Harold Pinter infused with the music of Mauricio Kagel.

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$10.00 + $1.00 Convenience Charge = $11.00, bought 2015-07-22. Presented by the incubator, "a caKe experiment with music by beyond this point". Directed by dado, who also played the role of Julie. Two-thirds packed, and where else are you going to be on this Friday night? Ran for about an hour, played for laughs and cut up with miscellaneous po-faced percussion. The raw material is a brutal accounting of the Posh-and-Becks nouveau riche trash culture of the late 1990s. Elliot Baker as Lambert nailed his part of that; Dan Wenzel as Matt was suitably inert. The interjecting waiter spouted a mix of the true, the plausible, and the manifestly fraudulent, all of it tosh, embodying the earlier English tradition of guilt by association; Stephen Walker's fine comedic timing made that all work. Maria Stephens nailed the creepy slutty resistability of Prue, and Carolyn Molloy may have been reading the BBC news while recounting her complete faith in the flaws of her beau Russell, played with perfect insouciance by Michael Doonan. David Weber as Richard the restaurateur was cannon fodder.

Annoyingly the Chicago Reader has decided to severely reduce the number of theatre reviews they publish.

The 606.

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The 606 trail (aka Bloomingdale Line) opened back in June, but it's taken me this long to find a spare school day to ride the length of it, east-to-west. The bridge on Cortland is being reconstructed, so it was a little tricky to get to the trail head on Ashland (traffic sewer beyond compare). They've done an awesome job, and I expect it'll be even nicer when the plants mature. Rode back to Atomix, where I read up on various tax codes.

New MacBook Pro.

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It's been about four-and-a-half years since I bought the last one. I'd been hanging on for Apple to release a machine with the latest quad-core Intel processors, but those got released just before these new models, back in June, and so I am stuck with some earlier year's. (I think Apple might have known that the yields were poor.) What forced my hand was that Isabelle started reliably crashing the old machine, perhaps due to the heat, dust and possibly borderline support for the memory I put in it. Or maybe it did have the infamous GPU hardware bug, despite getting a new mainboard in September 2013.

Anyway, what I give up with the new machine is a DVD drive, which I only ever used to reinstall the OS, and an ethernet port, which I will miss if I ever get back to hacking hardware. Also they have gotten rid of the Kensington lock slot. I now have to use Yosemite, which is not hugely different to Mavericks, so shrug. What I gain is USB3, a superfast SSD, a very sharp screen, and less weight to lug around. I doubt the battery life is going to matter, or the extra ThunderBolt port. So faster, yes, but otherwise pretty much a wash. I do like having a machine where the only moving parts are the keys and the fans though.

Buying the thing was an ordeal. It was quite expensive: $2.5k and another $230 in Illinois state sales tax (I mind paying money to the state less than to the Fed), but amortised over four years it's not so bad ($2 a day). I live quite close to the Lincoln Park Apple Store and figured that if I put enough cash on my Visa debit card, things would go OK. But when I got there I figured what the hell, let's try putting some of it on the credit card. This failed, and the card got totally blocked. They like doing that to me — why they can't just reject the transaction and notify me I don't know. I'm never going to rely on it when I'm overseas. Then the debit card got blocked too, as it has a $2k daily limit. The lady at my credit union told me about that, and said I could go pull another $1k in cash from an ATM. Another two calls to them got it unblocked, two trips to the ATM ($600 limit per withdrawal there) got me the difference, and an intervening switch of sales assistant finally allowed me to pay for it. The machine was brought up from the stockroom three times, by the same girl, to my excruciating embarrassment. They insisted I take my 84 cents in change. This is why I shop online.

After that I spent the whole afternoon sitting in the Apple store reinstalling Yosemite (all for a case-sensitive root partition) and Xcode. Everything comes off the internet now, so it's slow. At home the Migration Assistant took five or more hours to scrape my data off the Time Machine backup. After that, reviving the usual arcana (MacPorts, the venerable perl blogging script, some settings) went far more smoothly than previous times.

Update 2015-08-02: The right shift key ceased to pop back up after mild use. A trip to the Genius Bar at Apple Lincoln Park on Monday 2015-08-03 got it replaced, and we'll see if it's fixed.

Sideshow Theatre Company: Stupid Fucking Bird

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Goldstar ticket. $20.00 + $6.00 service fee = $26.00. 3pm. On the suggestion of Adam, the ever present barman at the Chopin Theatre, who is doing this company's books. Had a late lunch at Simply IT Vietnamese, a not-so-tasty ginger chicken claypot. The Taste of Lincoln got between me (at Fullerton) and the Victory Gardens no-longer-Biograph Theater. Apparently based on Chekhov's The Seagull, about which I know nothing but am guessing is the source of his principle about stage props. This has its moments but I felt a similar distance from it as I did from Three Sisters; wallowing in lurv-induced self pity does not make for good drama, and no amount of "new kind of theatre" contrivance is going to change that. The cast did modulate the emotional temperature quite well, but it's oftentimes a long slog between meaty bits. The set and scene transitions are nicely handled, with Katy Carolina Collins belting out some tunes. I didn't recognise Nina O'Keefe from The Other Place. This is a reheat from last year, with the same cast.

Ian Watson: The Embedding

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I asked David S. at work for a suggestion and this came up first. Here's his summary:

A French anarchist studies the complex language of an endangered Amazonian tribe while aliens make a strange deal with the United States government. Short (~200 pp) and very interesting.

The Chicago Public Library's copy is authentically 1973. The title refers to centre embedding, a syntantic/grammatical concept that is explained briefly towards the beginning; it was and remains unclear to me why it would contain the secrets to the universe. I was expecting something more semantic, like homomorphic encryption, or Douglas Adams's idea that understanding life, the universe and everything demanded the construction of the Earth, or Kurt Gödel's cute syntactic tricks. The violent response to the coldly transactional aliens was somewhat predictable given the time it was written. I chugged it over a few days and enjoyed it for what it was. There's the odd gross out (a witch doctor munching on a living child's brains, for instance) and I guess I have never felt comfortable with English notions of mental healthcare since I read Will Self's Quantity Theory of Insanity. The ending fails to evoke the emotional state that the aliens purportedly sustained for 12,000 years.

Anoop Sarkar explains the linguistics some more, and is right to observe that Watson's cynicism is wearing.

David S.'s second suggestion was Gene Wolfe's The Fifth Head of Cerberus, which I also got from the Chicago Public Library but didn't get far into: the prose is a bit impenetrable. That first novella may have been a little heavy on the centre embedding.