peteg's blog

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Mid-afternoon snorkel with Rob at Gordons Bay, the last for the year. The day was overcast with drizzle, but not the forecast showers. The water was calm and very warm, supposedly 21 degrees, and quite clear given the messy weather of the past few days.

We swam across the mouth of the bay, from the northern snorkel ramp to the rocky outcrop on the southern tip. I had hoped to get to the bombora but wimped out. I spotted a stingray near the scuba chain-path, but there was no chance of a photo through that much water. Instead, I got a few good ones of a mildly suspicious groper. Loads of fish, including some of the biggest stripey zebra fish I've seen.

To Die For

/noise/movies | Link

Many years ago, someone told me that this was Nicole Kidman's finest performance: because her character is so close to what her legions of detractors imagine her very own personality to be, it almost seeems like she isn't acting. Well, perhaps. Skilfully made, though the story is quite vacuous.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Drove back to Sydney from Orange via Penrith, which now looks somewhat like the Parramatta of my childhood. The Nepean has tempted me many times, but the locals seem to prefer to paddle rather than swim in it, so I didn't get in. Anyway, I got back in time for an early evening at an almost entirely deserted Gordons Bay, which was absolutely perfect: clear, calm, warm water, and just a few clouds.

Salman Rushdie: Midnight's Children

/noise/books | Link

I can't remember when I last read this, though I have been recommending that anyone and everyone do so for many years now. The first two books flow beautifully, and then I had the same trouble as last time: Parvati feels like a half-sketched pawn, little more than a mechanism for Saleem to acquire a son of the requisite biological connection. The war in Bangladesh is a bit too abstract. It all gets a bit too impersonal, unmagical, sad.

I wonder now if Rushdie was trying to set things up for a sequel, on the children of midnight's children. It seems that a Deepa Mehta film is in the works.

Double Indemnity

/noise/movies | Link

I got this noir on the strength of the high IMDB ranking, and it is indeed not bad. The sassy rapid-fire dialogue from the actuary, amongst many other devices, make this fairly straightfoward tale of insurance fraud into more than just that. I have never seen the lead actors before and remain unconvinced.

The Asphalt Jungle

/noise/movies | Link

On the strength of it being highly rated on IMDB and Sterling Hayden. It is also a vehicle for a young Marilyn Monroe. A heist movie, not as dexterous as The Killing but similar in many ways.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Yet another early-evening paddle at Gordons Bay. Very few people about, far fewer than I would have expected this week. The water was perfect, clear and temperate.

Team America

/noise/movies | Link

It is so strange, the passing of the Bush era.

Snorkelling at Cape Banks

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

I headed down to Cape Banks with Rob in the mid-afternoon for a snorkel around the rocks. The western side is quite calm as it is sheltered by what some call Pussycat Island. We will have to go back and explore around the wreck of the SS Minmi.

Rob managed to get this photo of what I imagine is a common Sydney octopus, octopus tetricus. The best I could do is get this conference of fish near a rock ledge. The trick seems to be to either get up close and use the flash, or shoot horizontally.

We saw loads of fish, all quite relaxed on what was a strange summer day: cool, overcast, threatening rain. Hard to believe it was 42 degrees in Penrith just a few days ago.

Samson and Delilah

/noise/movies | Link

Well, I must say I am glad I did not rush out to the cinema to see this one, and can't fathom the five-star reviews from the At the Movies pair, even allowing for their boosterism. I grant that it is beautifully shot, the actors luminous, and the material worthy, and yet... I needed more dialogue, I needed an exploration of Delilah's need for servitude. As it was, I would have expected the commentariat to have made more of the essential vein of misogyny she is cast into. Both, or indeed all, characters never had a chance of doing anything much at all.

The structure is a fairly standard nothing-ever-happens-so-we-iterate-it opening sequence, and the denouement is the only redemptive moment. Perhaps I've been watching too many tell-don't-show movies to really appreciate this one.

The drug thematics are strongly reminiscent of Requiem for a Dream: the thrones are already broken and the hair is being cut. Trainspotting this is not.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Late-afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay, trusting the prognosis of Beach Watch that the bacteria would not slaughter me. Quite choppy, with a mild on-shore wind.

T. E. Lawrence: Seven Pillars of Wisdom a triumph

/noise/books | Link

The classic sandals-and-machine guns saga by Lawrence of Arabia. Like the movie (but more so), it is an incredibly long and repetitious account of Lawrence's efforts during World War I to forment and support the Arab Revolt. Amongst these 700 pages one might hope that he would provide more context more regularly; often people are mentioned once or twice only, using just a surname or nickname, and the composition of caravans is left implicit. This makes it difficult to keep track of who is where when, what the military objectives were, and who is feuding with whom over what.

The language is pretentiously florid, as if the author is trying to write a Bible of Arab insurgency. Lawrence introspects regularly, albeit with a knowingness that does not work well with a non-specialist such as I, and the progress of his thinking is obscured. Reglarly my eyes glazed over and vast tracks made little impression. George Orwell continued in this tradition of siding with anti-establishment sentiment and writing about it, but realised early-on that flowery language gets in the way of clear apprehension.

Still, it is a fabulous tale. The land is vast, the camel rides heroic. The best parts analyse Arab culture on the road: feasts, sexuality, what is fair game to raid, what is valued, and so forth. Lawrence's motivations, where I could divine them, seem romantic: he would have been just as happy helping in the liberation of the Indians, it seems, if he had been digging up their antiquities instead.

Also interesting are the power relationships amonst the English and Arab hierarchies. Lawrence venerates General Allenby and Emir Feisal as the great men of the day, respects Auda for his ability in battle, and the technical knowledge of his sappers and troops. The Turks are regularly rubbished though, in contrast to the Germans who are deemed an enemy that one can be proud to have.

The international relations of the day seemed a lot more gentlemanly, centering on personalities and lobbying by venerated (upper-class) parties, and there was a lot more emphasis on direct control of the dominion, rather than the indirect approach of Pax Americana. I put that down to the technological limits of the times.

I guess I am more interested in the post-WWI history of the Middle East; after the efforts of King Hussein of Mecca and sons in the region stretching from Hejaz to Syria, how did Saudi Arabia come to occupy the two holy cities? — Lawrence's maps show just a relatively small kingdom around Riyad, which may also have been called something like Wahibistan. Wikipedia has some answers. From a local perspective the British efforts may well have looked like the last crusade.

Somewhat sadly, Feisal did not last too long in Syria, ruling from Damascus; the French ejected him in 1920. It seems that Jordan is the last remnant of the Hashemite regimes, and from this distance it appears to be one of the more tolerant, stable and successful countries in the region.

I'll have to watch the movie again.

Robocop

/noise/movies | Link

First time I have seen this schlock. I thought Verhoeven had been unfairly savaged by the taste police on the strength of having only seen Total Recall and his recent up-market effort Zwartboek (Black Book), but now I would have the pitchforks out for him too, if this were 1987.

On the up, the shameless efforts of some B and C grade actors were good to see. Some soon picked up their game for David Lynch's Twin Peaks. The special effects have the same special cheese as McDonald's. There are a couple of blunderbuss side-jokes: the creator of the ED-209 death machine is a Dr McNamara, though Arnie would not recognise his hummer in the SUX 6000.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Early evening swim at Gordons Bay, before the storm forecast by the BOM rolled in. The water was surprisingly cool.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Midday lunch and paddle at Gordons Bay. Loads of people there, reminding me why I go later in the day. Some people were learning to scuba dive off the ramp on the northern side.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Yet another early-evening paddle at Gordons Bay. Calmer than yesterday.

Conroy: Too Dumb To Fail

/noise/politics | Link

Well, the fantastic filtering from earlier in the year have ground through the wheels of governance, making mandatory blacklist-based censorship seemingly inescapably imminent.

Argh, they've even ceased the earlier, much more sensible, policy of providing client-side filters to anyone who wants one. How many people are going to vote on telecommunications issues now?

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Lonesome early-evening paddle at Gordons Bay. Absolutely no-one in the water apart from some sea gulls, as the day was grey and threatening rain.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Early evening paddle at Gordons Bay. I'd left it so late I thought I'd be dodging the raindrops forecast by the BOM. The waves were large for the bay, making me wonder how Coogee fared today.

My Left Foot

/noise/movies | Link

The story of Christy Brown, amazingly rendered by Jim Sheridan. Daniel Day-Lewis and Brenda Fricker really earned their oscars for their efforts here. It would have been so easy to slide into sentimentality and mush, but it never does.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Feeling an animal need to get the hell out of Randwick for the day, I scooted down to Cronulla with the aim of snorkelling somewhere along the reefs south of the main beach, or perhaps even making it out to Shark Island. Cronulla itself has not changed since my last visit, sometime around about when the riots took place, and like the last time, the whole area was so flat I couldn't think of it as place to surf.

I found plenty of fish along the reefs just off Shelley Park. The park itself was infested by a bazillion school kids waiting for the term to terminate by honing their cricket, soccer and touch footie skills. I didn't make it out to the island as I couldn't see it once I was in the water, and was plenty satisfied with the coastline.

Foxy Brown

/noise/movies | Link

Ah, blaxploitation, Pam Grier in her heyday. Entirely as one would expect.

The End of Violence

/noise/movies | Link

On the strength of Bill Pullman and some vague memories of its release more than a decade ago. Directed by Wim Wenders, it is strangely dissociated, really just a soundtrack looking for a movie. The dialogue is all school-boy suggestion and no connection. MacDowell is precisely her beauty, nothing more.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

First foray into the surf for the season. Standard Coogee dumpers. Not many people there for a temperate day. Perhaps the high cloud put them off.

The Remains of the Day

/noise/movies | Link

I had to see this after identifying Emma Thompson as the lustrous lawyer of In the Name of the Father. The inoffensively poetic title had me rapt too.

Thompson is fine, albeit labouring with a quite limited character. Similarly Hopkins has the tricky task of portraying an almost entirely characterless man. Some time in the first half I realised that the art of this movie is in starting with promise and sliding into emptiness, a sort of anti-character development.

The thematic seam is rich, with everyone and everything on the wrong side of history. The moral superiority of the upper classes is severely questioned, as are the ideas of an ethically servile underclass and gentlemanly international relations post World War I. The Nazi-sympathiser stuff is clunky, and I could imagine the book doing a much better job there.

Overall I found it dreary, more a piece of well-executed art than anything especially inventive. Sometimes the sentimentality became too much. Also I got lost in the temporal gap: what happened to the couple in the seaside town after they moved away from the house? — a daughter, sure, but what did they do for money? What became of their boarding house aspiration?

Perhaps sadly, while I can see that Ishiguro almost certainly did a better job with this material than this movie did, I have no great interest in revisiting it.

Mary and Max

/noise/movies | Link

I finally got around to seeing this stop-mation which got massive media coverage earlier in the year. Like the preceding Harvie Krumpet, the characters are few, oddball and inhabit a not entirely satisfying narrative. The craftsmanship is painstaking, and I really wanted to like more of it than the fine incidental observation-humour.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Lunch and an early-afternoon paddle on the northern side of Gordons Bay, from the scuba ramp. I forgot to take the snorkelling gear, much to my chagrin as the water was unbelievably clear.

Casino

/noise/movies | Link

I though I'd seen this before. It must be one of Scorcese's finest directorial efforts, keeping the plot ticking over while seemlessly splicing in all sorts of things. The characters develop and the audience remains engaged. My only beef is that it is impossible to empathise with any of the characters here. I'd go so far as to say that this is de Niro's biggest failing as an actor, his incapacity to make us genuinely give a shit about his scumsuckers.

Was this a retread of Goodfellas? Heh, seems I haven't seen that for a long time either.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Lunch and an early-afternoon snorkel at Little Bay. Loads of people. There was a photoshoot, a mermaid on the beach, hopefully not sitting on the blue bottles I found there last time. Saw quite a few fish, even though the surf was larger than usual. Perfect day for it.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Early-evening paddle at Gordons Bay. Perfect all round.

Witches of Eastwick

/noise/movies | Link

What we have here is Nicholson trying to channel his character from The Shining and failing. Updike's story aims to shock middling-upper-class NYC society ladies, and tends to the banal; is there anyone left who can take this cartoonish misogyny, religious and sexual deviancy, for anything more than a feeble provocation? The narrative is stock: devil gets girls, devil loses girls, girls apply a supernatural restraining order on devil.

This positively discourages me from reading any Updike at all ever.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Early-afternoon paddle at Long Bay on this, the first fine day since I got back to Sydney. The beach watch told me the water would be clean, as it indeed was.

It was also my first attempt to use the Olympus μTough 6010 I bought on Monday from Ryda out near mrak's place. Yes, I got the boring dark-grey one. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised to find that it takes more skill than I presently have, between the general unsteadiness while snorkelling and the apparently low-light conditions under the water.

It must have been breeding season recently, with loads of little fish hanging around, unsure of what to do.

A Serious Man

/noise/movies | Link

Splurged my freebie Palace Cinemas ticket (the one I got for joining their movie club) on this, the latest Cohen brothers anti-adventure, at a late-afternoon screening at the Academy Twin. The theatre was almost empty, making me wonder why they bother with these daytime sessions. More thematic than character-driven, with a weak narrative arc that allows everyone to wallow in the mud and not really amount to much at all. Some of the situations are sharply satirical, though I have to wonder if it has any lasting merit.

Peter Cameron: Finishing School for Blokes.

/noise/books | Link

The recent media racket over the boys of St Paul's reminded me that I meant to read Peter Cameron's tale of debauchery and intrigue at St Andrew's in the 1990s. It turns out that he left at the end of 1995, coincident with the arrival of my mates from our country boarding school.

The book is probably most interesting when it is salacious, though there are a lot more details about the drinking than the shagging. I'd totally forgotten about the phantom arsehole, a symbol that was once ubiquitous around Sydney Uni. The politics between the Principal and the Council is tedious beyond belief, and the text slides into self-justification and repetition, and becomes occasionally unsound: Cameron makes it clear that he kept the students at arm's length as much as possible, but also claims that he knew them well enough to capture their essences in a few brief unflattering stereotypes, and that there was a lot of mutual respect floating about.

Overall it is as well-written as one would expect from a heretical lawyer-minister. Cameron himself comes across as initially clueless about Australia, almost inexcusably so after all of Donald Horne's fine work. I wonder if they ever did get another Principal of any calibre.

Funnily enough the wheels fell off the 'drews Rawson Cup monopoly circa 1998, well before the women totally routed the traditionalists in 2002. mrak tells me that was the death knell of the Andrewsmen.