peteg's blog

The Wrong Man

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A Henry Fonda jag. Black and white, Hitchcock: the wrong man gets accused of some robberies and everything goes to hell. Of course he's innocent (totally!) and eventually the plods catch up to the audience. I found it to be pretty much entirely a snoozefest. Vera Miles plays the wife who becomes unstuck (a dry run for Psycho?). Anthony Quayle is the lawyer who waves away concerns about his fee. His is perhaps the least convincing performance as he genuinely seems to care.

Mad March Hare Theatre Co: You Got Older by Clare Barron at Kings Cross Theatre.

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A freebie from Kings Cross Theatre, and a Steve Rodgers jag from Diving for Pearls. I walked over from Randwick via the venerable Indian Home Diner opposite the Verona on Oxford St. The bar at the hotel has nothing in the way of dark beer, so I headed in the opposite direction by getting an almost-colourless English pear cider, too sweet. For these reasons and others I was pretty sleepy throughout the performance.

This was the second preview, and completely packed. Notionally it ran from 7.30pm to 9.30pm with a 15 minute interval, which came so late (8.45pm) I figured they may as well have left it out. Briefly, the cast is quite large (7 players) while the stage is quite small. This being a preview, I will simply observe that the production makes the most of things.

In contrast the play itself is not strong: I kept thinking of August: Osage County from a few weeks ago. We have the daughter returning home to care for an unwell parent, extensive explicit dialogue about the randiness of said daughter, and little that is novel. Set in Washington State. Charles Isherwood seemed similarly unpersuaded when it premiered in 2014.

Audrey Journal. It turns out that many of the actresses I've seen over the past few months appeared together in Picnic at Hanging Rock for Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne.

Twelve Angry Men

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A Henry Fonda jag from Once Upon a Time in the West. Amazingly still #5 in the IMDB top-250. As excellent as ever. The cast and acting is uniformly perfect. Lee J. Cobb works so hard to incarnate an alienated father.

Once Upon A Time In The West

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Rounding out the Sergio Leone Westerns. Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale. Jason Robards too. I can't say I got every detail of the plot. This one has perhaps the best Morricone score of the lot. The cinematography is top-notch. #36 in the IMDB top-250.

A Fistful of Dollars

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The first of the Dollars trilogy, and the last for me to rewatch. This one has the weakest plot, though all the ingredients are there. Strangely rated above A Fistful of Dynamite at IMDB.

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion

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A Gian Maria Volontè jag from For A Few Dollars More. I think the intent was to provoke, with many riffs on classic Italian tropes (e.g. libertines, "America is here!" apropos a two-room mainframe, fascism/state supremacy, having it all ways), some responding to the politics of the day. In that sense it's not very self-contained. I enjoyed it for the most part, modulo some histrionics. Ennio Morricone wrote the famous theme music.

Hiro Arikawa: The Travelling Cat Chronicles, translated by Philip Gabriel.

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Kindle. A fun, mostly breezy life-affirming sorta thing in the Paul Coelho mode. The ethos is basically: enjoy the small fleeting experiences, be good to each other, don't moralise too much, get a cat. Some sections are told from the perspective of a very self-aware feline, quite satisfyingly. Sometimes repetitious but not irritatingly so. The ink drawings that open each chapter are excellent.

John Boyne. Lynne Truss. She's right that the translation is a bit uneven: it didn't settle into either English or American.


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An Oliver Stone, Willem Dafoe jag. A young Charlie Sheen. Forest Whitaker, John C. McGinley, Johnny Depp. Tom Berenger. nth time around for large n; it doesn't really stick with me. Resolutely #187 in the IMDB top-250.


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James Coburn got his Oscar for portraying the alcoholic, domineering and sometimes violent patriach to Nick Nolte's somewhat unglued small-town everyman. Sissy Spacek seems hopeless, and not for want of trying. Patsy Jim True-Frost was Buzz in The Hudsucker Proxy. Willem Dafoe plays the buttoned-down Boston University prof brother, somewhat against type. Something like a diffuse Fargo, transplated to New Hampshire. It doesn't quite cohere.

David Runciman: How Democracy Ends.

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Kindle. I've enjoyed reading Runciman's essays at the London Review of Books, and figured this book-length expansion of his immediate reaction to Trump's election in December 2016 would be worth a read. Unfortunately it is mostly a rambling walk in need of a disciplined edit; a reflection of Trump's reign thus far perhaps.

This book is frustrating as it is very repetitious, but never gets properly grounded. I came away not really knowing what Runciman thinks democracy is: it's something more than voting; something that promotes individual dignity, but the mechanism by which it resolves conflict is not specified. Apparently others have observed that peace is correlated with greater inequality, and that democracy has generally solved the problem of violence between and within states (but how does that work?). Also it seems that democracy depends on growth. Asserting that democracies prevented nuclear war is unsupported, and one could say that it was a signal antinomy of the US system that allowed atomic weapons to be used twice (the pharaonic President operating in secret against the wishes of the people). I guess he didn't read Ellsberg last year, who points at plenty of evidence for the undemocratic Soviets exercising more restraint than the MAD United States.

Most confusing to me was Runciman's attempt to engage with the epistocrats, who think that better outcomes might be had by restricting the franchise to suitably-edified people. This directly contradicts the expansion of (political recognition of) personal dignity that anchors the enduring legitimacy of a democratic state, says Runciman. Further, capricious democracy is better than despotic epistocracy, as the demos is forever changing its mind; but as we see Krugman arguing in the context of trade wars, this defeats long-term planning. Where the wheels really fall off is that Runciman accepts a utilitarian morality without discussion: he supposes that there is a rational way for me to vote, and that just maybe Nigel by Kimera (now predictably having an ICO after pivoting towards becoming the new social network intermediators) can help me do so; in other words, our decisions are just risk/uncertainty assessments. But that is economics, not politics: democratic voting is about expressing preferences, and those need not be rational. As Runciman observes elsewhere, there are no right answers to political questions, just consequences. On this reading he isn't even talking about the same things as the epistocrats.

Also irritating is his poor framing of Nozick's conception of the ideal society (or utopia), as something like the intersection of all the societies that individuals might wish to join. Personally I'd prefer to have more undespoiled nature than less, which is a joint action problem that I doubt is solvable entirely within my "society". Similarly Runciman does not have a lot to say about the Singularists: come on man, why the demos should not expect to share in the future is right there in the name. However infinitely fascinating humans are supposed to be, technology is more and increasingly so to those with power. I didn't understand why the bureaucracy cannot already serve many of the functions the Runciman asks of the internet, big data, whatever, or flipping it around, why the latter would be immune to the pathologies of the former.

Reviews are legion.

Belvoir Downstairs, 25A: They Divided The Sky.

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Booked in person at Belvoir to avoid their online surchage, 2018-06-17, $25. Closing night, perhaps 80% full and yet I still managed to pick perhaps the worst seat in the house: in the far right corner from the entryway, and I got to see the back of the performers quite often, despite their considerate almost-constant movement. It was video recorded (and fortunately not simulcast to us). Bliss is still playing upstairs to something of a crowd despite wide reports of it being a bust. I rode over and back in fine weather and light traffic.

Briefly: this piece is Daniel Schlusser's adaptation of the book by Christa Wolf. It's about a young East Germany couple who become entangled in the time-honoured way only to separate due to politics, history, career ambitions, and a decade gap in ages that eventually proves insurmountable. Nikki Shiels (Rita) and Stephen Phillips (Manfred) bring excellent chemistry to their roles. Rita's humour is verbal, true-believer-Marxist-materialist-realist: "what part of you makes you hard to love?" she asks, early on, a coquettish nineteen year old. Manfred's take on his own mother is brutal, and his preoccupation with Rita in the early stages of their romance, and always with his chemical engineering, is convincing and tragic. It reminded me a bit of The Beautiful Days of Aranjuez and Melissa's observation that the man looks at the world, and the woman looks at the man; perhaps so, until she ceases to.

The set consists of a bathtub, and indeed it does go off somewhere towards the end of the eighty-ish minutes. Amelia Lever-Davidson's lighting design was excellent. The production is tight, acting solid, and exhibits wistful nostalgia for Red Plenty, which I'm told is on the rise amongst millenials. The Sputnik moment is human: Rita celebrates Yuri Gagarin being the first man in outer space, and sticking it to the Americans.

An entirely Melbourne company, as I understand it. Jason Blake. Joyce Morgan. Cassie Tongue. Judith Greenaway.

New Theatre: August: Osage County by Tracy Letts.

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New Theatre, $20 on their cheap Thursday, booked 2018-06-15. Maybe half full. The rain had stopped by lunchtime and the clouds cleared, only to return a few hours later to smite the washing I'd hung out. I rode over to Newtown on wet roads, and home afterwards in some light fog.

This is a Southern Gothic from 2007, which apparently premiered at the Steppenwolf Theatre. It's a bit transgressive but not that transgressive, mostly around the topic of aging women: Letts holds forth on the younger competition, going out disgracefully, eating fear, disintegrating sisterhood, disintegrating family, strung out matriarchy, spinsterhood, and just how great was the Greatest Generation anyway? — and so forth, a serve for everyone. It's long and thematically rich, only dropping into cliché with a serial sexual predator who is a bit too cardboard, and the Native American help is handled in a completely auxiliary mode. The three (Chekhovian?) daughters of poet Beverly and groupie (?) Violet anchor the piece with devices going off like clockwork. The twists are not always plausible or necessary, but at least the misdirection is not so bad that I felt cheated. Apparently there's a movie too.

This production featured a simple, effective set and a large, great cast with mostly fantastic accent work. Things shifted from cutting backhanded black humour to emotionally-accurate dead seriousness in a beat. It's quite long at about three hours, and fun in a did-she-really-just-say-that sort of way. The best thing I've seen at New Theatre.

Suzy Goes See. Jason Blake. Judith Greenaway.

For a Few Dollars More

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Another Leone, sharing Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef with The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. I struggled to understand Gian Maria Volontè at times, and probably missed some of the filigree. More transparently criminal.

A Fistful of Dynamite (or Duck You Sucker)

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Second time around, over two nights. A Rod Steiger jag from Doctor Zhivago, and Leone from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Quite fun for what it is: revolutionary exile from Ireland James Coburn gets held up by Steiger and family in revolutionary Mexico. The expected ensues, with some funny twists.

28 Days Later

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Drecky. Something of a jag from Ex Machina, but it seems scriptwriter Alex Garland has only one plot in him. Tiresomely predictable — what, we need a virus to unleash the rage? — and so much worse than you might expect from Danny Boyle, Naomie Harris, Brendan Gleeson and so forth. Christopher Eccleston could have been awesome in his pseudo-Cyberman role, if only they'd let him. Cillian Murphy morphs from bike courier to Spiderman without the customary scientific accident. It's like Shaun of the Dead without the comedy. I'll be giving 28 Weeks Later a miss despite the cast.

NIDA: The Removalists by David Williamson.

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Booked 2018-05-16, $28.00, along with the other two NIDA student productions. I spent the afternoon in the UNSW Library, trying to hack. The Playhouse has quite full; I saw Colin Friels in Moving Parts there a while back. Apparently I saw this play at the Bondi Pavilion in 2013. I forgot about that.

This is an early piece by Williamson, dating from 1971. The themes are timely timely and have aged well, but Williamson's handling is often easy to dismiss by being too crass and stuck in some Australian dystopia long past, rather than the ever-present. The removalist himself (Nyx Calder, effective) would probably be a technologist now, spouting the ethical neutrality of whatever they've built, with similar eternal disengagement from the concerns of others. Does anyone go to the pub any more? Ned Napier has a career of cop shows ahead of him if he wants it, inhabiting the main character Simmonds perfectly. Mark Paguio struggled a bit with Ross, largely because I got the impression he is supposed to be a large bloke who can plausibly take it to Simmonds and Carter. Emma Kew is great as affluent dentist-wife Kate Mason, though constrained by the character's lack of humour. Nicholas Burton as Kenny Carter and Daya Czepanski as his wife Fiona are as solid as the script allows.

Afterwards I caught the farcical end of the Wallabies v Ireland match on web TV.

American History X

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Second time around, I think. The obvious (anachronistic) referent is This is England; but that focuses more on community and less on the individual, reflecting the Atlantic divide. I guess Romper Stomper demonstrated solipsistic solidarity across the Pacific. An Ed Furlong jag from Terminator 2, though he is far more deer-in-headlights passive here, effectively so. Ed Norton is brave, on his way to Fight Club and more ruefully 25th Hour. Both Guy Torry (did Lamont have so much and power and how?) and Stacy Keach own their scenes. It is so strange to see Elliott Gould play a buttoned-down school teacher. The cinematography is fantastic. I wonder what else director Tony Kaye has done; oh right, advertisements and music videos. The main weakness is the ending, which leaves too many threads unresolved.

This movie's time has come again, I guess. The white supremacist rhetoric is extreme, and quickly shifts from arguable to obscene. I didn't find the accompanying shifts in attitude plausible: people are not so infinitely malleable. The prescription for more self-esteem, self improvement, ideas whose time have gone, was soon enough mocked by Norton himself in Fight Club.

Janet Maslin, back in the day. Also David Edelstein.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day

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More Arnie. I remain fascinated by just how perfectly constructed this movie is (for what it is): James Cameron somehow develops character, plot, and the rest simultaneously, while serving up spectacle. Still #42 in the IMDB top-250, and will be for a while yet.

Conan the Barbarian

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First time around. What a strange movie. Arnie is so young here, and the swords and sorcery thing doesn't sit quite right with him; he's much more at home with modern (and postmodern) weaponry. I don't remember seeing James Earl Jones act before. The trivia at IMDB about the making of this movie is more interesting than the movie itself. Co-written by Oliver Stone.

NIDA: Ex Machina.

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Booked 2018-05-16, $28.00. The Space was packed. I was sucked in by the promise of puppetry, which did indeed make some moments. Less scintillating was the use of LED-edge-lit sliding screens to create spaces, cameras and strobes ala The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, and an insufficient abstraction of the movie to this theatrical form. The dialogue was quite arch at times. All that gear must have cost a bit. I recognised a few of the actors from last year.