peteg's blog

The Drop

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4:10pm at the River East 21, $12. Two rows from the front in a small theatre. I saw the short a few months back. Another one written by Dennis Lehane. I enjoyed this far more than his previous outing — Shutter Island — and about as much as Gone Baby Gone. This was probably due to a stellar cast: Tom Hardy tries hard to play dumb, and only really starts to convince when he goes all Bad Boy Bubby by gladwrapping the remains of the neighbours. He needs to dull his eyes down, like David Wenham in Gettin' Square. The dog subplot is unfortunately a cliché; unfortunate, at least, to us cat people, who'd need to be into the tough-cat equivalent of a pit bull to go anywhere near Noomi Rapace in this one. (She carries her damage and vulnerability very well and the film wisely avoids making too much of her character.) John Ortiz is again very fine, but his role is completely auxiliary, more's the pity. James Gandolfini hit a high note for me in Killing Them Softly, whereas here he coasts in full-blown Tony Soprano mode. I think this was his last major movie. That the Chechens have pushed the Poles out of the Brooklyn bars is news to me. (I hope I got that right.) The Chechens portrayed here are suitably menacing in a knowing, show-don't-tell, cardboard-cutout mode. Michaël R. Roskam does a fine job in directing, and I'm off to see what else he's done.

Strawdog Theatre Company: Fail/Safe

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Goldstar ticket, $10.50. I feel so cheap. Also a cider, $5, from the bar there. This was adapted from Burdick and Wheeler's Fail-Safe of the early 1960s. I know the former from his and Lederer's The Ugly American. The all-male cast did a great job on the three jammed-together sets, which worked out well even though it severely constrained how they could move. I got talking to the girl selling drinks, who almost convinced me to make time to see The Arsonists in the next day or two, and a playwright / maths / english teacher who reminded me that I should study some geometry and read the book. The ride up from work was pretty messy as I still haven't internalized how to get onto Clark / Broadway from the west. I went home straight down Halstead, then got bored and jagged via Goose Island / Division to Noble. Marta had taken Jackson for a walk and sorted out the food.

Side Effects

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What a terrible little movie. I'm making a habit of it, I can see. For Jude Law, I think, and a Rooney Mara segue from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. All the ladies are horrible here. I don't know what Soderbergh's point is.

Alice invents a little game and Alice always wins

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Goldstar ticket, $13.75. Well, two out of three ain't bad for the Den. This one was not exactly enigmatic so much as just plain indulgently obscure and occluded. I don't know what we were supposed to get out of this. It was certainly a friends-and-family kind of a crowd. The barlass suckered me into buying another Great Lakes stout by calling it something I didn't recognise (its subtitle). Dang. The schlep up in the Sydney-style non-committal rain from Noble St was not fun, but I think preferable to cycling. Here's the blurb:

From Nick Flynn, the author of acclaimed memoirs Another Bullsh*t Night in Suck City and The Ticking is the Bomb, comes an enigmatic and haunting stage play, Alice Invents a Little Game and Alice Always Wins. In the wake of a natural disaster in their city, four strangers find themselves locked out of their homes, abandoned on the sidewalk. Day by day, they become friends, enemies, and everything else in between. Now Ben Kaye directs this tale of desperation, dreaming and donuts for the Forget Me Not Theatre Company.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

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For Fincher, warming up for Gone Girl. What a horrible little movie. Long, yes, but so small; it wants to be Fincher's earlier Se7en with a side of Silence of the Lambs. I see they are making the rest of the sequence. Was it really necessary for the cat to cop it? I won't be watching the Swedish originals. Christopher Plummer is the pick of the actors. Rooney Mara scrubs up fine when she needs to. Stellan Skarsgård relishes his role a little too baldly. Daniel Craig is too banal to play brains.

Kazuo Ishiguro: An Artist of the Floating World

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From the Chicago Public Library. An early work, from 1986, but vintage Ishiguro nonetheless. This is something of an apologia from his generation to his parents', centred around the radical transformation of Japanese society during World War II and the immediate aftermath, but really stretching back to the modernisation of the country from the late 19th century (drawing on my limited memory of history). He aims for ambiguity and melancholic abeyance but instead crowds the stage with too many characters who do not serve distinct purposes; often they are just generational reflections of each other, which seems a clunky way of showing what does not change. His technique is not quite there yet as his first-person unreliable narrator is sapient enough to record many telling things but can be relied upon to miss the obvious. This is further muddied by his erratic hauteur and general unrepentance; perhaps Ishiguro is telling us that Ono would never compromise himself for himself but is happy to do so for others (cf the miai for Noriko and generally shady dealings with Matsuda). We get the usual slow ramp up but not quite the powerful climax. Next up for him was The Remains of the Day, which I have yet to read but am increasingly expecting to be his masterpiece.

Prop Theatre, Bare Kuckle Productions: Who is Tyler Durden?

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Goldstar ticket, $13.75. The blurb ascribed imagination and/or creativity to this crew, who instead served up a very slight variation on the Fight Club script. The lowest-quality outing yet: many flubbed lines. Two hours straight, and I would have left at intermission if they'd had one. The cast outnumbered the audience.

Piccolo Theatre: Smash

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Opening night, another Goldstar bargain: $17.75, Evanston. The theatre is in the old train station / waiting room, but the Metra doesn't come so often that you'd notice. I left work at 4pm to catch the 4.35pm up, and then sat for a while in Brothers K coffeehouse. Their iced latte (yeah, I know) kept me awake far longer than necessary. Thanks guys.

This was opening night and the small-ish theatre was packed with friends and family. The play was an adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's novel An Unsocial Socialist by Jeffrey Hatcher, in the style of GBS's later works. Wilde this sort-of is. The cast was excellent: Megan Delay ably anchors things in the role of Henrietta Jansensius. Brandon Johnson is slightly too arch/woe-is-me/I'm-Hamlet as Sidney Trefusis, though his accent work and forelock-tugging is pretty funny and often pitch-perfect. David W. M. Kelch plays the plummy Sir Charles Branson well enough to open the English batting. Lumpkin (Joe Beal) is something of a northern-England/Scottish resentful. And the rest too got right into it. The set design was pretty good for a tiny theatre (yeah, I know, I got spoilt by Summertime in the Garden of Eden). That all characters get some kind of comeuppance softens the commie vibes enough for anyone's political leanings... possibly excepting the perennially ignorant rich.

I guess this is exactly what one would expect from a north-shore-equivalent theatre.

Murray Bail: Camouflage

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I apparently read this or perhaps some earlier assembly of Bail shorts almost exactly a decade ago. (For the record: this one was published in the U.S. in 2002 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.) Some seemed familiar. I skipped the more obscure / whimsical ones. He sure has picked up the pace since then, and I think his more recent output is superior. I do like his still lifes, limited though they are. I'll see what else of his I can extract from the Chicago Public Library.

Dredd

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From 2012. A competently executed and lovingly shot piece of depthless vigilantism, indistinguishable from e.g. Robocop. Ma-Ma does not much of anything, and it is rife with anachronistic concepts like testimony. The slo-mo shots probably ate most of the budget and certainly all of the imagination. I'm sure someone wrote a PhD on how this relates to the increasing militarization of policing etc.

Frank

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$11.50, 7.30pm, Landmark at 2828 Clark. Fassbender wears a permanent big fake head as a band/cult leader channelling Ian Curtis. I didn't find Maggie Gyllenhaal very convincing apart from the scene where she post-coitally reclines in the jacuzzi. Long on promise but ultimately tending toward the vacuous and awkwardly unsettling, without the Gervais intent.

Dana Stevens tells you all you need to know.

Modern Times

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I haven't seen much Chaplin. This is the highest-rated on IMDB. It's a moral fable. Paulette Goddard is an improbably gorgeous vagrant drawn to Chaplin's classic tramp in a clearly romantic way that is unfortunately sterilised by the times.

Churchill at the Greenhouse Theater Center

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$21, Goldstar, mediocre assigned seating (!). A one-horse show, adapted and performed by Ronald Keaton from the writings of Churchill, and about as self-aggrandizing as that might suggest. This was essentially a history lesson for an audience who in the majority were old enough to have experienced significant chunks of it first-hand. The guys sitting a bit up from me played (verbal) bingo with their favourite quotes. Gallipoli got a guernsey, mostly because the great man was held responsible in the home country. Singapore did not, and certainly not the evaporation of the Empire. I guess I got what I expected, and it was well-executed for what it was, but I have no idea why I ever thought it would be worth going to.

Kazuo Ishiguro: Nocturnes: Five stories of music and nightfall

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I picked this one up at the Chicago Public Library, West Town branch yesterday and chew threw it today (at home, at La Colombe on Randolph, at the park on the river). It's the funniest thing I've read from him, and thematically the shallowest; five short stories, loosely connected, all too cruisy, perhaps. I laughed the hardest at the aspirational, self-absorbed middle-class Londoner farce Come Rain or Shine; everyone talks past everyone else. Sure, not his most inventive outing, but it was kind of him to share the offcuts of Never Let Me Go.

Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology. ed. James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel

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Drecky. I think mrak warned me off this one a while back. One of too many copies at the Chicago Public Library.

The Silent Theatre Company: The Dueling Gentlemen

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$20, at the Silent Theatre Headquarters (1914 N. Milwaukee #3, near Western Blue CTA). Well, I know they're working on the Blue line tonight! The warehouse was right next to it. I bought a brown Leffe on the way past the by-donation bar. These boys are right into their vaudeville and are at times quite funny; their skill seems clear but the work itself is a piece of fluff. As always I was hoping for more social commentary, beyond the increasingly staple gay transgression. The repetition of the Ugly Blonde inside-show gets a bit wearing, and the tension between the two actors really only has one place to go.

Written by Marvin Quijada, with Dan Howard and Ian Paul Custer on the piano.

I got suckered by a review in the Chicago Reader. Afterwards I found this piece at Windy City Times.

Sin City: A Dame to Die For

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AMC River East, 4.45pm, $16, 3D. It would have been better in 2D. This is a pair of two humdrum revenge tales draped in noir. There is a lot for Eva Green completists who are hanging for that one final angle on her bod that they haven't found elsewhere. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was (sigh) better in Brick. Good to see Mickey Rourke in action again, though Marv is too much superman. I'd like to see Josh Brolin do more stuff. I don't recall Ray Liotta. Powers Boothe and Dennis Haysbert get right into hamming things up in ways the rest of the cast do not try to match.

... and just to remind myself, I watched the original Sin City later on the same evening. I can't believe it's rated #174 in the IMDB top-250. I prefer the aesthetic of the new one.

The Hypocrites: All Our Tragic at the Den Theatre

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11am-11pm-ish. I heard about this from a student I met at a gallery opening hosted by Kai's mate Oli a while back. I was always going to go, but hung out for a cheapie $45 ticket from Goldstar, knowing that I'd regret doing so. To make up for this and earlier transgressions I punted the Hypocrites a $50 donation after the show, which again, I was always going to do. Looking back, I probably should have paid full-fare and let some other cheapskate partake.

Yes, it was most of twelve hours. The premise was that Sean Graney spent quite a while and many forests mashing together the surviving Greek tragedies. I could imagine some maniac at the Cellar attempting this back in the day; I have some memories of The Frogs from the late 1990s. Like the coming David Bowie exhibition, I'm glad I'm in Chicago to experience the actual rather than the imagined. I spent the first half of the show sitting in the front row closest to the door amongst a bunch of incommunicative types, and the second up the back away from the door where I got chatting to Chicagoan Jason, who steered me to Gaper's Block, amongst other things.

The tragedies refracted through mashup are so far from anything canonically mythical that I'm not going to try to untangle it. The tales are linked by the "seven sisters" who are fated to die in order due to a curse on them by the Undertaker-channelling Eurystheus (Maximillian Lapine). The first quarter focusses on Herakles (Walter Briggs), who is somewhat familiar in being likened to a large dog, etc. Medea (Dana Omar) puts in an appearance, not entirely distinct from last week's. I got thinking that it is her passion coupled with her instability that really scares people: either by itself could be understood as harmless, great-man-of-history, psychotic killer, and so forth. The goatman Ægeus is played to a turn by Zeke Sulkes, who would make a brilliant Z-Man in a neo-Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Too bad Ebert's not here to get that going. The odd-job incidentals forming the Greek chorus pleasantly split up the stories. The Trojan war was rushed, frenetic and perhaps adds up to less than a jab at Michael Bay cinema.

This is post-Gen X culture, and they can dance without irony. The tattoos are omnipresent and significant. There was the odd nod back to previous cool, such as some mild continuity humour involving Walter Briggs (outsize star of the show, much of the time, at least when the ladies let him be). Being Americanised, I wondered how they'd square the Greek ethics and permissiveness with Christian thought; suffice it to say that Electra gets a mutilated Lord's Prayer to recite. No gods are invoked (is Zeus even mentioned?), with a bemused Prometheus (Geoff Button) standing in for them all in the first half. Moving to modern dynasties, Jokasta (Christine Stulik) is a sterling Hillary/Chelsea Clinton clone (a photocopy of a phony), and Agamemnon (Walter Briggs again) is perfect as a pitiless, humourless political ladder-climber: the Trojan war was his ticket to ascending to the Kingdom of Athens. Achilles (Luce Metrius) is both black and gay, loud and proud. I prefer Malouf's take on the recovery of Hector's body.

It flags towards the end, unsurprisingly, as the Greek stories themselves dry up on their way home from Troy. Orestes is always trying; the man is built for suffering, but as so keenly observed by Renton in Trainspotting apropos the newly-single Tommy, there is no need to inflict that on us.

The food is uniformly Mediterranean vegetarian. There are breaks every 80 minutes or so. I never queued for the outhouse.

In summary it's like a trip to Lake Wobegone, where all the blokes are erudite and/or ripped, the girls gorgeous, and the stories somewhat unhinged. Zac Thompson at the Chicago Reader. Random guys at Gaper's Block. Do it, just go.

Rick Perlstein in Conversation with Garry Wills: The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan

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At the Chicago Public Library at 6pm. I sprinted down there after work, which turned out to be unnecessary as the auditorium only got half full. Garry Wills is elderly now but quite entertaining, often batting away Perlstein's attempts to corner him with brevity and perspicacity that the author was lacking. The audience was clearly liberal and perhaps for that reason the talking was long on assertion and short on empiricism. My present lack of consciousness precludes me from reading the book itself.

Pankaj Mishra uses the book to gesture at notions of freedom. It reminded me of the quotation he pulled from Tanpınar (intro, p xvii):

The privilege I most treasured as a child was that of freedom ... Today we use the word only in its political sense, and how unfortunate for us. For I fear that those who see freedom solely as a political concept will never fully grasp its meaning. The political pursuit of freedom can lead to its eradication on a grand scale — or rather it opens the door to countless curtailments.

Medea by Dream Theatre Company

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A variation on the Euripidean version of the myth, written by Jeremy Menekseoglu. I guess I'll see the original tragedy next weekend, at All Our Tragic. The production had its moments but generally failed to grip me; too much projection of modern American family dynamics, histrionics and lingo onto a tale that is difficult to draw conclusions from. (Medea is a strong woman who suffers at the hand of man, but is prepared to sacrifice her children to regain her husband, etc. Hera's intervention effectively cleanses her of her killings and would not past muster in a Hollywood script. Perhaps this parallels Ang's complaint about Twilight.) The theatre itself is called the Dream Laboratory and is a quite narrow shopfront near Lincoln Square. The Goose Island 312 Urban Wheat Beer I got from the Book Cellar is not as tasty as their Urban Ale.