peteg's blog

Yi ngoi (Accident)

/noise/movies | Link

A Hong Kong thriller I picked up on the strength of the consensus of the At The Movies pair that this was a truly awesome piece of cinema. I liked the premise, of staging purchased fatalities as accidents, but lost interest as the paranoia rose. I was hanging at the end, waiting for the twist — surely the eradication of the gang was a staged accident, an out-sophistication of the Brain? — but found no fat lady laughing.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Mid-morning paddle at Gordons Bay, just as the day was heating up, off the southern rocks. For the first time this season I got in with just my trunks on. Once again the water was very clear, a tad on the cool side and very pleasant.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Lunch and an early-afternoon snorkel from the scuba ramp, north Gordons Bay. Perfect day for it, and the water was pleasant enough to go in wearing just a wife beater (to keep the sun off), and generally quite clear, apart from a lot of macro stuff suspended in it. Saw a groper, loads of smaller fish and a strange crab-like thing. Dang I wish I had a camera. Some blokes were out on their boards, hopeful that the spray from the bombora would amount to something.

VMware Fusion 3 is a goer.

/hacking/mac | Link

I've been very happy with VMware's Fusion product since their public beta a few years ago, using it mainly to run a Debian instance for Haskell hacking, and Windows for doing my tax. Recently the slow HGFS performance has been a drag while hacking ikiwiki, as git seems to take ages to perform a commit on my Mac home directory mounted under Debian. Fortunately, the unreasonably cheap upgrade to Fusion 3 yields a massive speedup.

Hmm, perhaps I spoke too soon. It seems a bit buggy: HGFS doesn't seem to cope with colons in filenames, of which there are many in the ikiwiki bugs directory.

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse

/noise/movies | Link

Documents the making of Apocalypse Now. Both share the same aesthetic, and this is as rivetting a trip as its counterpart. Amusingly, the original screenwriter, John Milius, went on to write and direct Conan the Barbarian and was entangled in the Dirty Harrys.

The Killing

/noise/movies | Link

I think I first saw this one at the Astor in Melbourne back in 2002 or so. A breathless plot starring Sterling Heyden (he of the precious bodily fluids), classically rendered by Kubrick in black and white.

Simon Winchester: The Man Who Loved China

/noise/books | Link

Here Winchester recounts the life of Joseph Needham, author of the authoritative series of books on the history of science in China. His press minions were sufficiently active last year that I somehow recalled the title of this book while looking for something else.

Overall it is quite well written, if a tad too salacious, and a tendency towards a shallow engagement with the academic side of things. (I object to his overly salacious treatment of Needham's eroticism.) More background on the political organisation of the Middle and Celestial Kingdoms in antiquity would have been most welcome, as would be a discussion on how China related to the region; technologically speaking, what came out of their entanglement with the Mongols, Indians and Vietnamese? The extended section on how Buddhism got introduced is the sort of thing there should have been more of, but even a thorough journalistic biography of Needham himself is probably beyond a book of this length.

The Needham Question, as to why China's progress stalled for so long, receives a cursory treatment and is largely dismissed along "you can't prove a negative" lines. I struggle with this attitude, as it implies that historicism can never really isolate the causes and effects of events, a charge that Popper levelled against Marxism. Also I fail to see why a similar question can't be asked of Egypt, India and Arabia, with their early innovations in mathematics and engineering. Perhaps the question cannot be resolved in some absolute way, but the kinds of discussion it generates are fascinating. For example, one line is that Western thought allowed the natural (phenomenological) to be decoupled from the supernatural (noumelogical), whereas the Chinese approach required holistic explanations. Roughly, that perhaps science proper requires modularity, some means of delimiting the claimed scope of purported laws of nature.

Winchester gives the impression that the ancient Chinese were excellent and creative engineers, but somewhat less interested in building abstract models of scientific phenomena; he (but perhaps not Needham) says nothing about Chinese parallels with the great strides taken by Newtown, Leibniz et al in developing the differential calculus in the 17th century. I really would have liked to understand what sort of logic the Chinese employed.

I was irritated to find that the bibliography is enormous; the non-specialist reader would have been better served by a much shorter list of entry points into this expansive topic.

Dead Man

/noise/movies | Link

Just as good the second or third time around, at least with a few years in between. Jarmusch is remarkably restrained here, not too weird and quite patiently linear in his meditation on cataclysmic transformation. His cinematography is as good as it gets, and even Depp's fine efforts can't always draw the eye away from the scenery.

End of Days

/noise/movies | Link

Arnie saves the world... again. Entirely mediocre. I thought Gabriel Byrne has more screen time than he does.

In the Name of the Father

/noise/movies | Link

Absolutely captivating, even on the second time around. The casting is perfect, direction spot-on, and script as well structured as any other. I would have liked a bit more legal background at some points, but heh, that's what Wikipedia is for. Unbelievably not in the IMDB top-250.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Returned to Little Bay with Rob in the early afternoon for an extended repeat of yesterday's snorkel. Visibility was unbelievable, the weather even better, albeit with a fairly stiff northerly (I think). I wore the spring suit again. Loads of fish, and very glad we beat the thunder storm that rolled in in the early evening.

Amitav Ghosh: Sea of Poppies

/noise/books | Link

I've been meaning to read this book since I read a review in the Smage last year, which they pinched from The Guardian. I picked it up just now because the UNSW Library copy of Salman Rushdie's latest has apparently been subjected to a five-finger discount.

Somewhat like In an Antique Land, this novel exhibits Ghosh's talent for anthropological scholarship, flawed by a lack of discipline: the imperative to house as much of his raw material as possible, even at the expense of fidelity, plausibility or pacing, overpowered his finer judgement. He successfully captures the settings of circa 1838; the slave boat, the opium factory, the streets of Calcutta, the villas of the upper crusts, the economic situation of the Indian everypeople, and so forth are vivid. But it is too much, the period too rich a seam, with England at the height of Empire, trying to bring the Chinese markets into their sphere of influence via the opium trade, to fit entirely within even a multi-ply narrative.

Unlike the portrayal of opiate abuse in Trainspotting, the drug scenes here are brief and finesse the cliched moral quagmire of recreationalism and fatalistic destructiveness without much humour.

The narrative is occasionally discontinuous through what feels like carelessness. Whatever became of the judge with the hots for Paulette? — and was the story she told Zachary about Mr Burnham fiction or truth? Either way, I found it a tiresome piece of tawdry prurience, shocking in its unoriginality. The gomusta is the glue character, possessed by his spiritual aunt, capable of making just the right things happen at just the right time. Deeti's shrine is a cute continuity device, but it has apparently no significance beyond forward referencing.

Ghosh's romances are irritating, as his heart is not really in it. Deeti and Kahlua get unofficially hitched within a page or so of becoming free, whereas Zachary and Paulette, who are bleedingly obviously intended for mutual deflowering, barely manage a snog interruptus before the 471st page. They are young and the author treats them childishly. Some other characterisations are a bit clunky; Kahlua's transformation from bullock to Deeti's cool-headed weapon of mass destruction stretches credulity; Neel's transformation from Raja to a Jesus-like figure jangles against his occasional recurrence of snottishness.

A movie is clearly in mind: imagine! Ghosh is daydreaming of having Keira Knightley segue from the Caribbean to the Indian Ocean to fill the corset of Paulette, and somehow reuniting the extras from Slumdog Millionaire to inflate the lascars and sundry unsavoury types onboard the Ibis. There'll be a couple of song-and-dance numbers to leaven the roti. Hmm, we still need some strapping young blokes for Zachary and Jodu... and who else but Michael Caine for the dragon-chasing Captain? Maybe Salman Rushdie's ex might just be perfect as Elokeshi...

I found the polyglot of the dialogue mostly easy to follow, though that may be because I didn't delve into it much. How much I missed I'll never know.

This novel terminates just over a cliff, and there does not seem to be any news yet of a followup to this, the first of a purported trilogy. Damnit, the spoon's in the flame.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Mid-afternoon snorkel at Little Bay, where construction of ultra-modern Scandinavian-style residences continues apace. Parking is getting tighter. The water was very pleasant and clear, making me feel the spring suit was redundant, apart from keeping the sun and the jellyfish at bay. Lots of fish were out, doing their thing, as where quite a few people on the beach.

Elementarteilchen

/noise/movies | Link

The worst German movie I can remember seeing. The characters are shallowly drawn and abandoned to their various overtly-signalled fates. As a study in how people are inscrutably drawn together and separated, there's a lot of superficiality here.

Donnie Brasco

/noise/movies | Link

Somehow not delivering on the promise of the two lead actors: Depp is unusally bland, and Pacino seems quite defeated by his role as a washed up mafioso. Unlike the better gangster movies, there is not enough action here to justify the plotlines; too much telling, not enough showing. What did all those goons do for money? — and where was the comeuppance for the Florida sellout?

Don Walker on Radio National.

/noise | Link

Don Walker is reading parts of his book Shots on Radio National's First Person. Vignettes from a dead Australia, rendered in an unapologetically poignant smoke-cured voice, ranging far beyond the expected rock'n'roll excess.

Where the Buffalo Roam

/noise/movies | Link

A not-so-great aggrandisement of the lamentably late Hunter S. Thompson, with Bill Murray playing out Hunter's imagined life. I wasn't aware of this movie before reading Ralph Steadman's book, where it gets a serve for not featuring the author himself as the artist in the pseudo-Rolling Stone office.

The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus

/noise/movies | Link

At The Ritz with Rob. As dissociated as the reviews would have you believe.

Graham Greene: The Human Factor

/noise/books | Link

A late-career off-beat spy anti-thriller that I picked up on the strength of his perhaps-unrepeated The Quiet American. A tad too dreary to be really enjoyable.