peteg's blog

U.S. Eagles vs All Blacks, Soldier Field.

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Like Bowie, about six months in the making. I have no idea why the All Blacks decided to stop here for what amounted to an exhibition match, but I'm thankful they did. I shouted Grégoire a ticket (for a total of $194.71 back in June) as a thank-you for me being here. I biked there, wearing my super-heavy jacket, beanie and gloves. One guy called them retro 90s ski gloves, but they are in fact genuine 1985 Orange K-Mart thinsulate specials which don't work as well as they once did. This was my first time actually at a test match. After yesterday's snow/sleet/rain and sub-zero windchill, we were blessed by a cold and clear day, no wind, with the sun coming out around 2pm while I waited at Roosevelt Station for Grégoire's red line L to get in. The traffic was totally nuts, and the people trying to control it really enjoyed arguing with everyone who tried to be individuals.

I wasn't at all sure who'd show up for the ABs; as it was we got a mix of the old reliables (Kevin Mealamu (!), Kieran Read, Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Ben Franks), the show pony (Sonny Bill Williams), the bad boy (Aaron Cruden), the new (Julian Savea and many others I hadn't heard of), and I was very happy to see Dan Carter play for the first time in a year, albeit only for the final twenty minutes or so. His first pass was way too ambitious, but that was pretty much his only mistake, which does not bode well for England next weekend. I'm a little glad Sir Richie wasn't there, for otherwise the Eagles would have really struggled at the rucks. The referee was Craig Joubert, who masterfully accounted for the difference in skill levels. The Eagles forwards did some pretty decent work from time-to-time, and even looked to be putting up enough of a fight in the scrum for it to be competitive at times. The lineout seemed sound for both sides. The Eagles' goalkicker will be able to tell his grandkids that he put six points on the best team ever. It took them a while to figure out that you don't give the All Blacks an inch of room, so kicking for field position is quite unwise. One of their quick-lineout throws was a gridiron-style one-handed overarm throw that made it more than halfway across the pitch.

The result was a predictable 74 - 6, as the Kiwis are always gracious to their hosts. I'd never seen so many New Zealand flags, even in their own country. Some feared they're be taken for Australians and had NEW ZEALAND written along the bottom. Soldier Field is going to be re-sod before the next gridiron game.

Rundskop (Bullhead)

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Director Michaël R. Roskam's effort immediately previous to The Drop, also featuring Matthias Schoenaerts. I struggled to stitch it all together, but at some point it ceased to matter as the focus reduced to a single character, the plot becoming quite ancillary. Overall it is not too graphic but very suggestive. However, like The Drop, there's not enough meat on the bone to justify the weightiness of it all.

Constellation: Cleared and Ben Frost.

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I paid $21.79 = $18 + $3.79 in fees to TicketWeb. I could have paid $22 at the door, and would have if I hadn't expected it to sell out. Hosted by Empty Bottle, though I heard about it from the Constellation's regular mailout. That and the freebie track Venter on Frost's bandcamp page provoked me to buy his album A U R O R A off iTunes, and a ticket to this gig.

I left work a bit early on this Halloween quasi-holiday as no-one else was left, and my brain had exploded. It had been snowing and/or sleeting the whole day — apparently more than a tenth of an inch settled at O'Hare, which marks the threshold for measurability, and this was the first such Halloween ever. I note that Sydney was and perhaps is experiencing a heatwave. The problem with my woollen jacket is that the snow sticks to it and melts in place, i.e., it gets quite wet as I go in and out of heated spaces. In any case, getting to Constellation without a bicycle is challenging: I took the Brown Line to Belmont, and with careful timing, schlepped down that street via Osmium (for a hot chocolate, very Intelligentsia hipster), and to the House of Sushi and Noodles, where the made-up-for-the-day girls ably fleeced me with their all-you-don't-want-to-eat sushi menu. I saw no evidence of the noodles that I was dreaming of. It's a strange place, like it's in a subway. The walk kept me outside for about half an hour.

I got there stupidly early, at 7pm, as the doors were supposed to open at 8.30pm, which eventually became 9.45pm. In that time I had a couple of beers, and the barmaid was right: the Founders stout is superior to their porter. Ben Frost stopped off, and got told by a pair of droll groupies that the 312 on the beer he was drinking is the area code. The other room had a dance performance thing on with the bloke-to-girl ratio outsize in the opposite direction. I got talking to an alpha music geek just before they unpenned us, and so ended up sitting near him at the front right speaker for the warmup act. He talked labels. I couldn't keep up.

Cleared are a pair of presumably-local kids with some guitars and a drumkit, and a violin bow, and too much electronics. They started with washed out ambient before launching into massive, free-standing cliff-like power chord things towards the end. It's hard to appreciate what is standing between you and what you came to hear, especially when it invariantly lacked something to focus on.

At the break I ducked out for another stout, and on my return parked myself close to the front left speaker. A modern Prometheus was trying to light something with his phone. Frost played on the floor, not the stage, and was quickly surrounded by the curious. Near as I could tell nobody was dancing, but it still got hotter; his music mainlines the metabolism, perhaps. Things ground to a halt after a few tracks, and ultimately it felt like half a gig, perhaps because the house music came on at sudden power failure number two, or that some people left at the first cut-out. God knows what they were expecting. The third signalled the real end, I think. There was no audience abuse, apart, perhaps, from the strobe that provided the entirety of the lighting where he was working.

Frost evokes for me the 1990s dance anthems without the Es, and soundtrack snippets looking for a movie ala Barry Adamson. All of it put me in that sound-of-the-future mood evoked by Vangelis and Jean Michel Jarre in times past. Of course their futures never came, and Frost's probably won't either; just as well, for then I would probably have to interpret things that I can presently relax to. None of it is excessively counter-intuitive, and he is gifted to be able to put a centre to this much noise. Some of it nags at me, like a mislabelled emotion, especially when the shorter-in-one-leg mountain goat rhythms get going.

I walked home afterwards, as the night had morphed into a clear, crisp windless thing that brought out many young Halloweenies. Some were deluded enough to think that the more outré the costume, the more peril there'd be to their virginity. I got back at 1.30am.

The Reader has two goes at summarizing Frost's style on A U R O R A. The blokes at Pitchfork loved it.

John Wick

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$11.52 = $10.29 + $1.23 at the AMC Loews 600. This time I stopped off at Heaven on Seven for a half of a Mardi Gras Jambalaya, and some Voo Doo Stout, which was a meal all by itself. Tasty, but soporific. Neither of which did Keanu any favours. Both Jeannette Catsoulis and Forrest Wickman have ensured I will never take their word about a movie ever again. This one was pretty bland, with little sense of style or finesse. Compared to yesterday's bloodbath, the reversion-to-psycho reflex is triggered by a beagle puppy who certainly didn't get a chance to go out gallivanting. The violence is not too graphic but is spectacularly pointless. I sat two rows from the front, which was indeed a bit too close. The other option was Fury which I expect has the opposite problem of being too dense.

AstonRep: The Lieutenant of Inishmore at Raven Theatre

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Beautiful day for biking... I did something like 25km on the round trip up to the Raven Theatre from West Town. They are on the part of North Clark that fans out just past the little Sweden of Andersonville. The route is pretty straight too: Damen almost all the way, the almost exact reverse to yesterday's long slog home from the strings. Another Goldstar outing: $10 + $3.75. Plenty of reviewers too, as it was the opening weekend. There were also plenty of oldies there for the Albee (All My Sons).

This is a black comedy about the IRA and its splinter groups, and clearly that's going to play well in Shamrock-green Chicago. (Sinéad sold out all her gigs here in no time.) The playwright was offended that England wouldn't put it on, due to some obvious sensitivities, but really this is all about a man's devotion to his cat, and clearly the English are dog fanciers. We are asked to further grant that the man is a psycho killer too extreme even for the provos, and that he prefers to be off furthering the cause than being at home and minding Wee Thomas. What nationality was Ned Kelly anyway? That's right, and his cat didn't stop him either. I enjoyed it for the most part, though occasionally the accents got too thick to parse, or the actors got too shy with some of the bluer slang. The black cat with the green eyes stole the show, out gallivanting indeed, and he does like his frosties. There are some fantastically outré props.

Batman Returns

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A Tim Burton segue from The Zero Theorem, and of course from Birdman via Michael Keaton. Michelle Pfeifer, why not. There is something pitiable about de Vito, partially because the script is not as good as the first one. Pfeifer has some fun but somehow lacks the sass of Anne Hathaway in the Nolans.

Spektral Quartet at Constellation

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I trekked back up to Constellation with some ill-formed idea that an avant-garde string quartet would be something to listen to on a Saturday night. I guess I was hoping for something electric, like Fourplay, but instead got something more like the Brodsky Quartet with an American poet and an American punk subbed in for Elvis Costello. It was packed, I think with music students and faculty from the Uni of Chicago. The initial Stravinsky (Concertino) went over OK, after two Founders stouts that the barmaid preferred to their porter. The interstitial Glass (Quartet No. 2 "Company") was missing its accompanying Beckett. Dave Reminick is the punk, and his The Ancestral Mousetrap (bringing a dead man back to life and oh my god, I'll never get home by Russell Edson bringing the words) was solidly in the Brodsky Quartet mode. Their assorted mobile miniatures were micro compositions by various American composers on the order of 1-40s for mobile phone events (ringtones, etc.). Most were twee, by which I mean that they necessarily traded on musical cliché. I think I enjoyed Dvořák's Quartet F major, op. 96, "American" (ii. lento) the most. They closed with Beethoven's Quartet in A minor, Op. 132 v. allegro appassionato-presto, after what they said was their customary shot.

I had dinner at Lee's Chow Mein at Western and Diversey beforehand. They got the ambience right, I'll give them that much.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

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6pm, AMC River East 21, $12.31 (= $11.00 + $1.32 in tax), three rows from the front. The projector in cinema 9 has a third of a row of busted pixels, about 20% up on the left-hand side. It was distracting during the abysmal pre-show. The short has been omnipresent for the past few months.

I've had a soft spot for Michael Keaton since the first Batmans. Perhaps I cut him slack as he had Nicholson, Basinger and Pfeifer to rub up against; he didn't have to carry the whole movie in the way Bale seems to need to. The premise is transparently in the has-been mould that I identify with Shatner, of a one-time flying man having a last-gasp go at being taken for a serious artist. For everyone there must be an opportune time to sell out, and perhaps Liam Neeson figured that better than anyone. The cinematography and editing are truly excellent, as one would expect from Emmanuel Lubezki (cf Gravity and Tree of Life), putting me in mind of Altman and Casino. Ed Norton is far superior to the grab in the trailer; I thought I was in for yet another bland tough-guy effort, but instead we get a mildly artificial self-knowing acting-like-an-actor performance which is near pitch-perfect. He observes that he's only real on the stage, fake everywhere else, and we see this reflected by one of the extra girls in the bar, eyes bugged: she looks like she makes her real life faker so the acted one becomes more real, or at least relatable. He can only say "let me tell you something" in one mode, however, which came as a bit of a clanger while he was massaging the expectations of manga-eyed emo goddess Emma Stone. Naomi Watts is solid in dead-pan mode, never funnier than in and after an on-stage scene where Norton gets randy for the first time in six months. The scene in the dressing room may even have been transgressive if we didn't know her so well. "How do you know [Ed Norton]?" she's asked, early on. "We share a vagina."

The play-in-the-movie (a take on Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love) gets the usual reptitious treatment but less tediously than in the vaudeville I saw a while back. There is also something of Season on the Line here, given the central conceit of this being one final attempt to produce art. Sticking the drums in the set evoked Jarmusch for me, but I couldn't say why. Thematically we're clearly in Ishiguro territory, particularly Never Let Me Go, with fatherhood and being a serious artist possibly beyond Keaton's ability to make good on. Zach Galifianakis leaves me cold.

I read Dana Stevens's take afterwards. It's more fun that she implies. Anthony Lane. Manohla Dargis. She's wrong, they do say Icarus.

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago: David Bowie Is

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$25, bought on 2014-09-29. I picked a good time to come to Chicago: this turned up at the more-or-less six-month mark, as do the All Blacks in a few weekends' time. I intended to take the day off, but there was the chance of afternoon meeting, and so I only had the morning. I felt I was running quite late when I got there at 9.57am, given that I had a ticket good for entry between 10am and 10.30am, and that their blurb suggested that they'd be open from 9.30am for us to queue. This led to me doing some bicycle heroing down Chicago, the wind coming off the river and lake cold. In the end, it didn't matter. The other confusing bit was that we entered by the side door, and not the main one up the external staircase. I had to check my bag.

Well, Bowie, yeah. This is not so much about him as a human, or even as a musician, but just a fashion icon. One problem with this presentation is that we're far more likely to notice his plagiarism. For instance, I read solidarity-with-John-and-Yoko into his Japanese outfits of the early 1970s, rather than brash originality, and somewhat later the video for The Heart's Filthy Lesson tamely evoking Trent Reznor's Closer from about two years before. The latter's remix of the song is superior too. Another is that we have little idea of what sparked his creativity; I didn't stop to read all the notes, but the one attached to the little cocaine spoon observes that it didn't stymie the magic of the early- to mid-1970s. I wondered if, like Elvis Costello, the odd divorce and new flame did the trick. You won't learn that here, for his love life is totally, like totally, MIA; Iman is not cited except possibly in the footnotes.

I did learn that Bowie supported Roy Harper on June 3, 1968. The curators somehow managed to find a pile of working TVs with real scan lines. The garb representing Outside is a touch militaristic; I've sometimes wondered just what it was that got Bowie labelled fascistic in the 1970s, and it might be that he is politically naïve or wilfully oblivious. His austere, classical thin-white-duke suits from Station to Station were the classiest thing there.

I ended up blowing through it in about an hour and fifteen minutes. They traded a bit much on audio accompaniment gizmo, and the bloke stalking around without one must have missed out on a lot. Focussing on Bowie's fashion like this reminded me of what Zappa said about music journalism, though yes, almost everything reminds me of that. It would have been a lot more fun if Bowie himself had done some sort of installation.

Terminator Salvation

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I'd totally forgotten about this movie and was curious to know what happens in it. Well, there was a good reason that I forgot. I'm left thinking that here Marla Singer looks like Meryl Streep's skeleton dipped in wax, going around and being nice to someone, and wondering what she's going to do once Skynet kills all the humans. I guess her spirit really can use the telephone.

Shaw Chicago: Don Juan in Hell

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I got in early a while back and scored a complimentary ticket to this from Goldstar... who tacked on an $8 service fee. Ouch. The Shaw people are hosted by the Ruth Page Center for the Arts which could serve as a future RSL; they already have the clientele. I hoofed it over there in some mild non-committal Sydney-style grey drizzle via Big Shoulders, and intended to get lunch at the Thai on Chicago. Well, their lease expired and I knew of nowhere decent nearby. The dinky Thai/Viet thing around the corner and up a bit sold me a passable Panang in a horrendously noisy, divey setting. I won't be hurrying back.

I wasn't expecting a script reading, though it was just: I pretended to pay and they pretended to serve up some acting. All the players worked hard on the material, but I was too tired after a week of training to take this as anything other than an hour and forty-five minutes of being talked at about interesting things; "I'll read the notes later," I thought. Some of it was laugh-out-loud though I can't recall just what.

This is a part of Shaw's Man and Superman, and is apparently his own working out of his own ideas.

Tim Winton: Land's Edge

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Rooting around Amazon for something to pad my order up to $35 (didn't it used to be $25 for free shipping?), I remembered this one. The cheapest that BookFinder came up with was $4.25 total from Thriftbooks, trading on Abebooks as Motor City Books. Go figure. Anyway, they are in Detroit and it took about a week to get here. This was the original, 1993, coffee-table edition from Pan Macmillan on Balfour Street in Chippendale. Lanfranchi's shadow looms large indeed. What I ended up buying from Amazon, more about later.

Here Winton reminisces, or simply lives, his life on the wild coastline of Western Australia. We get the childhood summer holidays at the beach shack, a couple of the perilous situations and how they happened, the dreams they became. It's more of the same from him, I guess, but unfortunately not as much as one might hope for at a brief 48 pages, followed with about the same in photographs (by Trish Ainslie and Roger Garwood). Or perhaps it isn't: this one is a bit quieter, and the more powerful for it being directly personal, than his fiction that canvasses similar spaces (e.g. Breath). I've got to wonder how much of this imaged Australia still exists; one imagines the entire coastline is full of mining rigs and lonely container-based settlements housing fly-in fly-out Perth suburbanites. The weirdo hermits and the roo hunting families are surely unwelcome and/or uneconomic in booming Westralia.

Den Theatre: Step Up Productions: Dead Accounts

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Yet another Goldstar outing at the Den: $15 + $4.50. 3pm on a Sunday afternoon looked good a while back, but after a lazy morning of hacking away at nothing in particular, and given an increasingly-rare sunny and not-too-windy day in Chicago, I wish I could have been outside. That's just to say I'm glad I went, but I wish I'd gone some other time.

This play by Theresa Rebeck attempts to explain the midwest (specifically Cincinatti, Ohio) to foreigners, specifically New Yorkers. The stayed-there locals, mother Barbara (Millie Hurley) and Lorna (Emily Tate), play on a pretty funny Catholic dynamic that is probably the strongest thread. Steve O’Connell's Jack returns as the prodigal son so coked up that he destabilises everyone else (actors and characters alike). Conveniently his last remaining mate in the town Phil (Bradford Lund) has waited a long time for another crack at Lorna, for otherwise this thing would be romance-free, and the scenes where ex-wife-of-sorts Jenny (Elizabeth Antonucci) and Jack get down to it would be straight out of Albee. Much of the humour trades on people talking past each other, and spiraling back to earlier conversational points, as family dialogue often goes.

Step Up had an elaborate set constructed on the Den's main stage. The "tasteless" kitchen featured plates on the walls, and it seems that the in-sink-erator I have grown familiar with is not a NYC thing, but it remains unclear to me just how much it is a mid-Western thing. Sydney has Corelle crockery; I used it for about fourteen years and almost all of it survived. The audience was tiny, which was unfortunate. I wondered if Elizabeth was trying for a squeaky NYC accent, or trying on a fake one to match her satirical hauteur, which was entirely entertaining. Emily was almost formulaically histrionic, an All-American put-upon girl, which I put down to her character lacking dynamism, probably by design. I left wondering why Jenny ran off like she did. The Chicago Reader reviewer had more doubts. Alex Huntsberger at New City Stage is more cutting about the source material.

Rohinton Mistry: Such a Long Journey

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I heard about this book via Pankaj Mishra a while back. He tends to cite it at every opportunity; I think I got excited by the introduction to a piece of his in the New Yorker. This lead me to think it provided insight into the birth of Bangladesh, but that topic is dispatched in perhaps ten pages spread over 337, and in a way that assumes you know about the Pakistan of the day. Everything telegraphed turns out as you expect, so surprises come suddenly and tend to feel like tangents from the already discursive narrative. For instance, it's a bit tedious when a previously-unshown Parsi's "domestic vulture" wife turns out to be shrewish at his funeral. In some ways this is something on the topic of Salman Rushdie's Shame but an (1991) imitation of his Midnight's Children, or looking at it another way, a clunky Ishiguro. There are some funny bits, but nothing laugh-out-loud. The focus is on the Parsis in Bombay.

LAMPO: Rene Hell (Jeff Witscher): Bifurcating a Resounding No!

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I signed up to the LAMPO list a while back, and finally their season has commenced. Unfortunately it is very short, at only four widely-spaced gigs. The The Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts is some fantastical anachronistic outfit that believes that art can be advanced, perhaps even systematically, by hosting things like this. They've got a beautiful old building in an upscale part of town that was packed to the gills and beyond with cool trendy types. While waiting to get in I got talking to Kyle, from Indianapolis, who was himself waiting for a friend who had also driven up for the day. We pondered why they didn't charge for what seemed to be an incredibly popular performance.

This is the type of music that NOW now showcases: here they call it "electroacoustic" but really it's samples from all over the map, or man-plays-laptop if you prefer. Some of it was coherent, but never for long, and I could have sworn there were some chip tunes in the middle. Rene Hell showcases some of his paranoia on his bandcamp page.

Here's the blurb:

You say yes; Rene Hell premieres "Bifurcating a Resounding No!" The latest project from Rene née Jeff draws from years of recorded sounds (acoustic instruments, field recordings and voice), collected in cities across the U.S. and shaped with various digital techniques, to make one new weird work.

There was no lightshow so all I could do was space out to the calm between the mild bouts of audience abuse. I enjoyed it, and I'm certainly going to the rest.

Last Days in Vietnam

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At the Music Box Theatre, 5pm session, $10, and a Revolution Brewing Octoberfest beer for $5. I rode up from work due to a power shutdown that was delayed from yesterday, via Target. It seems I can't buy Nivea deodorant in this country, and so I stupidly bought some off Amazon, forgetting that I can buy super-cheap fragrence-free stuff everywhere. Oops. I got a new poncho — the old one, from Vietnam, has shed its lining along the shoulder seams and now provides little more than symbolic rain protection. Oh well, it survived a couple of monsoons and a few Sydney showers, pushbikes, scooters and a motorcycle. The new one is essentially a $12 breathless plastic bag that tore the first time I tried to zip it up. Oops.

This one sucked me in in the obvious way: I enjoy footage of Sài Gòn in the old days, and trying to figure out what remains the same. One thing that never did were the street names, but you won't learn about that here. Nor about the baby lift, though the earlier World Airways lift from Đà Nẵng does get a passing mention. There is some excellent footage here, and some some objectively sterling behaviour. For instance, Richard Armitage was tasked with ensuring that the northerners did not gain the southern navy's boats, clapped-out as they were. With help from his high-placed connections he did this, and additionally managed to shepherd a huge number of people across the South China Sea (some call it the Pacific in this film) to the Philippines, who understandably didn't want to process or house the refugees. The story of Vietnamese Chinook pilot Ba Nguyen is awesome. We get to see Big Minh striding around in the final days of his country.

Less charitably, one can see this as a frozen-in-time piece of heart wringing by American film makers. The communists don't get a say, and we don't get any real sense of what has happened since April 30, 1975. (The re-educations camps are mentioned in endnotes.) One could also compare this chaos to the Berlin air lift, so many years before. It is fuel for the hands-tied-by-pollies version of history.

A. O. Scott found this to be even handed; I disagree. For instance, to paraquote one of the American interviewees: "[that] the North Vietnamese were terrified by Nixon..." was not really true: the northerners were clearly resigned to sacrifice and more sacrifice. I'm not sure how much stock we can put in Kissinger's take on negotations as he is getting blandly revisionist in his old age. George Packer calls him on it.

In the weeks before I watched the fair-and-balanced PBS TV series on the Vietnam War from 1983.

City Lit Theatre: Edward Albee's At Home at the Zoo

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Goldstar ticket, $14.50 + $4.25. I felt really bad as this venerable theatre group struggled to pull a crowd to this early and late Albee vehicle: perhaps too many wonder why he decided to add an act to the first play he wrote and rebrand it like a Microsoft product. The venue was the Edgewater Presbyterian Church, which is more like an old school; I can imagine many support groups find a home there. The weather was threatening so I left the bike at home and took the El up to the cute kitchen sink cafe. Later on I walked back to Argyle for a phở (decent, at Le's on Broadway) and then back up to Edgewater. I had hoped to make it to Big Chick's but wimped out when I saw how few the drinkers were. Next time.

As Wikipedia will tell you, this is a two-act thing that is mostly monologue, despite there being two people in each of them. The notional pivot/foil is Peter (Ted Hoerl), who gets worked over first by his wife Ann (Elaine Carlson) and then by Jerry (an excellent Mike Cherry). The actors are all solid but there's not much to it; the kids arrange their sexual deviancy on the internet these days, and have done for a decade and more now. Sure, we can make people squirm by talking confrontationally about such things, but Albee seemed oblivious to how things have moved, about depleted privacy and millenial sensitivities. Yes, the dialogue is vintage, but even so. I don't think we find out what happened at the zoo, despite Jerry's entertaining stories about caninicide. No, I did not take notes.

The red line El got me back to Grand, up which I schelpped in the cold for the second night in a row. When I got home I finally found out what the cowboy and the girl was all about.

Gone Girl

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I skipped out of work a little early, as my productivity had become approximately negative, and headed up to the "Magnificent Mile" of North Michigan Avenue to see Fincher's latest. First time at the AMC Loews 600, which was upstairs from a Louisiana restaurant I'd been to before. Small town, at least after a while. $11.50. The men's was difficult to find. They have these clever Dyson all-in-one faucet thingies that do water and soap and dryer, but idiosyncratically; the dryer only kicked in when I removed my hands, defining me by my absence. It's that kind of space, and that kind of movie.

The seats are like business class: reclining, leg supports, wide enough for two cats and me, outsize arms for mini-meals, and assigned. The ticket girl bluffed me by claiming the screen was huge, so I sat three rows back, far off to the right when I could have sat a row forward in the middle. It turned out OK though. The couple sitting next to me talked throughout, less as it went on, and my usual metric of a good movie — that it shuts up the audience — doesn't work so well here as Americans like echoing things they agree with in validatory style, along the lines of the call and response of the Gospel churches.

The movie itself is a blend of almost everything Fincher's done before, most notably the two-track structure of Fight Club and the graphic awfulness of Se7en, right down to the immaculate boxes containing ... presents. Trent Reznor is back with a drone-y soundtrack that fits the mood perfectly. The cinematography was vintage; I mean, does anyone even notice how beautiful he and Jeff Cronenweth shoot anymore? The cat, who may be the same one who lead Inside Llewyn Davis, is squandered, and Ben Affleck proves he is not a cat person when he treats him so casually. I was almost offended to see him driving a Volvo, and that he can act this well. This kind of absence and craziness has many antecedents: the first is Kim Dickens's solid performance as a competent, sceptical police detective being so familiar from Fargo. The theme of doubt where there once was trust reminded me of Lantana. Rosamund Pike far exceeded the expectations I had of her from The World's End, and similarly matched or exceeded Nicole Kidman's craziness in To Die For. (Maybe both of their characters matched people's expectations so closely that their limitations as actors were simply ignored.) She keeps her unmentionables close for less time than you'd expect from a prim English actress. Her parents were predictably cardboard. I was a bit surprised when we lost cabin pressure so early as I figured Fincher would ride the ambiguity for longer, but no, this one has a sting in the tail. Carrie Coon as Affleck's twin sister annoyed me initially by coming off as Catherine Keener, but she develops into something more than just a man's vision of the right kind of anchor. She's also a Chicago local.

It's long, at 2.5 hours, but doesn't drag. The movie ends before consequences completely come down, which seems to be Fincher's way of saying that the mess he's made doesn't make complete sense; in that way it's more Fight Club than Se7en. St Louis and Missouri get a guernsey in the form of a Cardinals shirt that Affleck wears in almost every scene.

Unusually I read Dana Stevens afterwards. She's right that it does get a bit mechanical in the second act. Manohla Dargis. She's wrong about the cat: Affleck shows him some attention but is not careful about it. I'm glad I went in cold. Anthony Lane. I will remain one of the twenty-one who haven't read the novel. Michael Wood reminded me about Fincher's The Game.

Goodman Theatre: Smokefall

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My first time at the Goodman, and at a Loop theatre, though I walked past them all the time when I first got to Chicago. Another Goldstar ticket: $31.50 + $6.75. They gave me a pretty decent seat, better than at the Steppenwolf last week. I got chatting with the lady sitting next to me. She has season tickets to the ballet and symphony, and was not so much into the theatre. She gave me the rundown on the old Ukrainian Village: bordered by Division and Chicago, Damen and Western, roamed by Urge Overkill back in the day. You had to be there. Her timing was apparently perfect on picking up the stats processing software, R and so forth: she teaches people how to crank the unending streams of data, amongst other things.

Before this I burnt some time at Starbucks with a croissant, and had a Blue Moon Belgian White when I got to the Goodman. The play got moving quite agreeably: a narrator / footnoter makes an appearance and starts sketching the family we follow for the first act. At some point the set exploded and most of the audience went to the bathroom. The following birth scene was what the one in Tristram Shandy was going to be, and the humour was both low- and high-brow, probably annoying everybody. The swearing went a bit over-the-top somewhere around here. There was loads of repetition humour, and while I did find some poignancy in some of it (maybe over-identifying with one or two of the characters), it was once again mostly an exercise in affirming the American soul, which hopefully resonated with the rest of the audience. The acting was quite fine across the board.

This was a reprise of last year's run. Same cast, I believe. Chris Jones gives a local's impressions, with a few clangers. (Those twins do know that they're better off in the womb.) He had another go a week past.

Egg(s)hell

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$11.50 from Ticketleap (for a $10 ticket in advance). I think I heard about it from the Reader, but this piece by Tony Adler was not it. At the Trapdoor Theatre on Cortland St, out the back of Jane's. I had in mind to go to the Wicker Park Pub across the road, but the vestibule where the manic ticket lady and drinks girl were was packed and so I settled for a New Belgium Tour de Fall Pale Ale there. Very cramped, not much seating. The toilet door apparently did not lock.

I guess this was something for the Chicago Hungarian community, some kind of improv performance art or circus. There was one girl and three guys, and the girl got very objectified. There was lots of groping, and it was unclear what we were supposed to make of it; some was playful, some a bit aggressive. There were eggs, yes, but nothing too adventurous or skillful. She got tasked with mopping up the ones that weren't caught. Conceived and directed by Zoltán Balázs. I hoped to hear some Félix Lajkó.