peteg's blog

Three Colours: Blue

/noise/movies | Link

Again, I saw this on VHS ages ago. It is almost the definition of the 1990s French art house movie, being one of the few broadly available in the video stores. It is opaque, a bit arty, somewhat gratuitous... There's a bit too much saying and not showing. Binoche is better elsewhere. I believe one of the other two is superior. Blue is for liberty? It is visually very blue, and indeed a bit blue in the stereotypical ways.

Office Space

/noise/movies | Link

A Mike Judge creation. I just found out he was responsible for Beavis and Butthead. 20th Century Fox went a bit nuts with the anti-corp films in 1999. I saw this back in pre-history, and found it laugh-out-loud funny both times.

Fish Tank

/noise/movies | Link

English realism: Michael Fassbender, tourist, housing commission, 2009. Apparently this is Essex. I couldn't really get on board as none of the characters had much depth; this flick lives in the margins of the extremes with precious little up and no reason to believe there ever was or will be much. The music of the estate sure has moved on since Trainspotting. The cussing is a bland, banal and tedious attempt to shock, as is underage legal substance abuse. The cinematography is solid and quite pretty when it isn't trying to be part of the action.

The Australian parallels would be something like The Boys or Animal Kingdom, though this is about a mid-teens girl.

This is Spinal Tap

/noise/movies | Link

I saw this ages ago, before I started keeping track.

Dương Thu Hương: Beyond Illusions

/noise/books | Link

I extracted this from the ANU Menzies Library a few months ago. I hadn't realised that so many of her novels had been translated — Nina McPherson sure is industrious! Her efforts here with co-translator Phan Huy Duong are top-notch.

This is very much a falling-out-of-love socialist realism effort, a first novel that recreates the author's experiences of the early to mid 1980s in Hà Nội, on her road to becoming an expat dissident. As always her prose is fine, but this one could have been cut in half; there is a lot of repetition that is probably supposed to deepen things. I got impatient because this verbiage displaces so many details, such as just which of Nguyen's flexible principles Linh ultimately objected to. Her self-inflicted loneliness is sometimes difficult to indulge; and privation is generally the cost of principle, but we knew that already.

Her biggest failure is to not make us see Tran Phuong as Linh does; to the reader he is always a compromised greaseball, albeit perhaps a gifted compromised auteur greaseball, and so it is hard to understand why she doesn't see that. This is a bit weird as she does a great job with the blokes in her later novels; indeed, Nguyen does OK here, and she handles his discovery of spine quite well. The mysterious artist-hobo is perhaps a sugar-daddy wannabe; that one is left dangling. As always, Hà Nội is the center of the universe (as Paris presumably is for her now).

I see from elsewhere on the net that this is perhaps a Vietnamese Madame Bovary.

Two more to go from her, I think: Memories of a Pure Spring and No man's land, apparently both held by ANU.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

Late-afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. Loads of people around. The water was quite clear, and just a little cold. The day was quite warm, 34 degrees.

Long term stable Linux kernels and compat-wireless

/hacking/nixie_clock | Link

Skipping right over justifications, I've been trying to get the ts7250-based nixie clock project in the can, at least hardware-wise. To recap, I was hoping to use Linux RT to drive the multiplexed nixies from user space, and that worked. The problem was that if you want to decode mp3s on the board at the same time then the CPU load is insane; one or the other is fine, with mp3 decoding taking maybe 70% CPU tops, and the display down in the noise. David G at NICTA suggested I write a kernel driver as it was probably the cache flushage (or other context switch overhead) that was killing it. Instead I took the less hairy chested and hopefully more reusable path of driving the display with an ATmega328P, interfaced to the ts7250 by TWI/I²C. That was the easiest hack ever: everything worked first-go (to the limit of the code on the AVR).

As I'm stuck with a 3G dongle for internet presently, I was hoping to use the ts7250 as an access point. To that end I bought a TP-Link TL-WN722N from MSY and set about getting it to work. The box claims it goes to 150Mbs, but the bloke at MSY told me I'm only going to get 54Mbs out of it from the MacBook Pro. I have zero idea about post-802.11g wifi; all I know is I can get several megabytes a second at UNSW on the UWN.

I've had luck with compat-wireless before, but really struggled with the 2.6.34 kernel, the most recent one that Matthieu's patches apply to cleanly. (Something really funky happened in 2.6.35 and onwards to do with SPARSEMEM — suffice it to say that if I can get one of these more recent kernels to boot then I only get 32Mb of memory, not 64Mb. Everything else seems fine though.) After much fruitless hackery I asked on IRC, and got the first useful advice I've ever received from that medium.

In brief, some long term stable Linux kernels are more popular than others, and as many distros picked up 2.6.32 it is the one to go for. (2.6.34 seems to be the least popular release around that time — apparently 2.6.35 got used by some embedded systems.) Sure enough, an hour of compiling later and I had the latest wifi drivers built and working on the ts7250. The moral is not to believe claims of compatibility with unpopular kernels.

Getting hostapd going is another story. I have a basic configuration that lets the MacBook Pro connect, but nothing exciting happens as I haven't configured the TCP/IP machinery on the ts7250 yet. The fun bit is figuring out what it wants to know about WPA2.

I also bought an ATEN UC232A USB-RS232 adaptor. MSY was promising them for $18 but had no stock, so I had to pay $25 in Little Tokyo. It's top notch, it even works through a hub.

Infernal Affairs

/noise/movies | Link

It isn't what Scorcese added to this movie so much as what he took away; it's shot-for-shot what got him that Oscar. I wish I'd seen this first. Tony Leung doesn't really get dirty here, and mostly just saunters around looking for trouble, sometimes finding Andy Lau (but not Maggie Cheung). The director/cinematographer Andrew Lau does a solid job in downtown Kowloon but unfortunately decided to milk a sequel and another which I now have to watch. Lau and Leung are back for the third.

Rated #228 in IMDB's top-250.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

Mid-morning paddle at Gordons Bay with Tim, recently returned from Paris. I got in in a wifebeater, and it was pleasant enough once I'd lost sensation in my toes.

Hero

/noise/movies | Link

The things that Tony Leung makes me watch. Maggie Cheung plays his wife-like attachment, similarly lethal with a sword, fancifully swatting arrows with her drapery. And that is Ziyi Zhang as his woman-servant. Jet Li flexes every muscle in his body and exactly none in his face. Quite beautifully shot, but vacuous; martial arts here is some kind of ballet, and the philosophy is that the power of the status-quo collective should not be disrupted by any free thinker. I hope "I learnt this from calligraphy" sounds better in Mandarin, and is not a mistranslation of Mao's "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun (brush)".

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

The zip on my old water boots came unstuck yesterday, so I went back to Sydney Dive Academy to buy another pair. After that, well, where else is there but La Parouse? The water at Cape Banks was a bit rough, but not so rough that getting in and out was difficult. I didn't see much. The water there is noticeably cooler than at Gordons Bay.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

Late-afternoon snorkel at Gordons Bay, off the scuba ramp. Though Manly Hydraulics Lab reckons it is 19.2 degrees in the sea presently, I still got in my spring suit, but without gloves or wife beater. It was pleasant enough, and reasonably clear too. Two blokes were turning the rocks over for some fish out where the big blue groper usually hangs around, and sure enough, there he was. I also saw some small bright green eels in a metre or so of water. I wonder if they are Moray eels. Should have taken the camera.

Hồ Aanh Thái: Behind the Red Mist

/noise/books | Link

Another Curbstone Press effort, from 1998, translator-in-chief Nguyễn Quí Đức in this instance, assisted by Regina Abrami, Bac Hoai Tran, Phan Thanh Hao and Dana Sachs. Wayne Karlin edited it, whatever that entails. From the ANU Menzies Library.

This is a collection of his short stories, generally set in the late 1980s in Vietnam, with a few in India. The Goat Meat Special gets another run, meh. I did like:

  • A Fragment of a Man (something romantic happens in the hills while a bloke is serving a somewhat spurious punishment during his army service)
  • The Indian (a man carries his mother's bones with him around the world)
  • The Chase (villagers enforcing their dress code in 1980s Việt Nam)
  • The Barter (an Indian ex-Virgin Goddess develops a taste for Western things)
  • The Man who Believed in Fairy Tales (Việt Kiều literalism — a Vietnamese national is transformed into a blue-eyed white-skinned American)
  • Leaving the Valley (trafficking in young women in India)

The novella Behind the Red Mist is like Charles Yu's How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, without the grammatical whimsy: a 17 year old in the year 1987 is electrocuted, and spends a magical few months (wall-clock time) in 1967 learning about his parents as young people. OK, well, it is Vietnamese, so the pronouns need to shift: his father insists on becoming his older brother, his grandmother an aunt. He seems to fall in love with a young woman whose family has passed. As a vehicle for comparing the war-time and post-war generations this is a decent gimmick which he could have spun out to novel-length.

It's the best thing I've read from him yet.

2046 (Are you still in the mood for love?)

/noise/movies | Link

Wong Kar Wai closes out 1960s Hong Kong with an impressionistic sci fi romance anti-thriller, aesthetically not too far from Bladerunner. It follows on from In the Mood for Love and (more tenuously) Days of Being Wild, with Tony Leung Chiu Wai breaking a few more hearts on his way to the train terminus, albeit in a somewhat diffuse way; a surfeit of riches, perhaps. Ms Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ziyi Zhang) carries off the haughty femme fatale part of her role perfectly, but struggles with the transition to human. I quite like the sound track by Shigeru Umebayashi.

In the Mood for Love

/noise/movies | Link

The best Wong Kar Wai I've seen yet. Once again it is 1960s Hong Kong, and two neighbours are tiptoeing around their partners' likely infidelities in a knowingly frail way. Maggie Cheung is amazing here, as is Tony Leung Chiu Wai. The middle scenes of noodle runs and role-playing non-dates are amusing, poignant, delectable. The ending, in Cambodia, is suitably enigmatic. It gets a bit Hal Hartley at times.

Days of Being Wild

/noise/movies | Link

Another Wong Kar Wai. The cinematography is similar to Chungking Express with a far looser story. I was waiting for something to happen but it sort-of didn't; being a stylish playboy circa 1960 in Hong Kong looks pretty effortless to me. There are some good scenes in the first half before it runs out of gas in the Philipines.

Hồ Aanh Thái: The Women on the Island

/noise/books | Link

I wasn't so impressed by Hồ Aanh Thái's anthology of Vietnamese short stories, so I was relieved to find that he's a better writer than editor. The story is set on Cat Bac (or is that Cát Bà?) Island. Wikipedia tells us the latter suits his purpose better, but as always there's something lost in translation.

This novel is essentially a few short stories about the individual characters, glued together by some đổi mới social change. It's fine as far as it goes. On to his short story collection put out by Curbstone Press that I also borrowed from the ANU Menzies Library...

This one's alright: Garbage and passion.

Brick

/noise/movies | Link

Third time through, four years later. It's certainly time for Brick II, or at least for Mr Brick (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to be in something else worth watching.

The things you learn from IMDB: Mr Shaft (Richard Roundtree) is the vice principal. The director Rian Johnson has a pile of stuff at his website. I just wish he'd made another noir, rather than a not-so-hot screwball.

Nguyễn Huy Thiệp: Crossing the River

/noise/books | Link

Another excellent collection of short stories from Curbstone Press that I was fortunate enough to extract from the ANU Menzies Library. The translations by Dana Sachs are fantastic. I skipped the ones I'd read before, which may indeed have been the best:

  • Crossing the river
  • The general retires
  • Without a king
  • Salt of the jungle
  • Fired gold
  • Life's so fun
  • Remembrance of the countryside
I did read:
  • Lessons from the countryside
  • My Uncle Hoat
  • The winds of Hua Tat: Ten stories in a small mountain village
  • A drop of blood
  • A sharp sword
  • Chastity
  • Rain
  • Love story told on a rainy night

    Thiệp spent some of his life in the mountains north-west of Hà Nội, and this story covers some of the same ground as Balaban did perhaps twenty years earlier: the Golden triangle, opium smuggling, customs officers and so forth.

    "What do you know about love?" asked Bac Ky Sinh.

    Trieu Phu Dai sighed. "It's an unscrupulous emotion."

  • The water nymph

    This is the best account of post-1975 peasant life I've read, I think, with the poverty grinding on towards the year 2000.

  • The woodcutters

Greg Lockhart translated some of these stories more than a decade (1991) before this collection (2003). There seems to have been an argument about how to (de)classify Thiệp's work along Western lit crit lines. Whatever floats your boat, I guess.

Belvoir: Summer of the 17th Doll

/noise/theatre | Link

Apparently I haven't been to the theatre in more than a year, partly because (as far as I can tell) Belvoir has abolished their cheap Tuesdays at their downstairs theatre. The Doll was on upstairs, and I was fortunate enough not to have studied it at school.

Steve Le Marquand is Roo here, apparently just the big wooden lug the script calls for. Peodair told me that they named their youngest after Roo; Rufus though, not Reuben, with the desirable attribute of being big. OK then. His mate Barney is played by Dan Wyllie with an all-Australian greaser demeanour that puts my teeth on edge; hence he is probably perfect for it, height and all. Susie Porter is generally very good as the pivotal Olive, though Robyn Nevin dominates whenever she's on the set. Helen Thomson as Pearl does well in an unappealing stuffy north-shore sort of way, with the faux sensibility and propriety of a Hyacinth. Yael Stone is fantastic as the voluble "neice" Bubba, and TJ Power was fine in his last-minute call up as Johnnie Dowd. Neil Armfield has them all where he wants them.

The set is nicely done in a period sort of way, with the novelty of the window opening straight onto Belvoir Street.

The play itself (from 1955, or should that be 1977?) is an ode to a dead Australia if ever I saw one. The contemporary equivalent would have to be set in Perth, with Roo ending up broke by the rent on a one-bedder in Port Hedland after a blue in the pit. Barney would have kids in Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory and what fun we could have riffing on the intervention. One of Barney's voting-age boys would be in Parliament, there'd be an awesome rant against the Family Court, and someone would have to be gay. The girls would be cutting cocaine for the blokes at the start, and probably work for a "Hell has Harbour Views" law firm rather than a local pub. In short, it would be so much more sophisticated and entirely banal. What would be as socially challenging now as liberated women looking for a good time (on their own terms) was then?

I have to say that it was worth forty dollars and beer money for theatre of this quality. I should go more often.

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 and Kill Bill: Vol. 2

/noise/movies | Link

Yeah, these movies just don't stick. About the only thing I remember from either of them was Bill's Superman screed, after which it is all downhill. Inglourious Basterds may well be the best thing Tarantino has done. Morricone and camerawork does not a spaghetti western make. #142 and #236 in the IMDB top-250 respectively.

Seven Samurai

/noise/movies | Link

Rated #13 in the IMDB top-250. I've heard a lot of reverential comments about Akira Kurosawa and this film, which I think is generally held to be his best. It's an action flick, and if you can handle the histrionics of Shino more than I could, it might be worth a look.