Tim Burton is up to his old tricks in this animated dog-loving tale. The aesthetic is Corpse Bride for the most part, with a dash of Mars Attacks!.
Definitely into the land of diminishing returns, though I couldn't help racing through all three episodes, if only to see if Shane Meadows could make anything out of the cataclysmic finality of This is England '86. For much of this he did not, though once again the production is top-notch and I can't fault the sets or actors. I'd hope he comes out with something fresh next time around.
A heavily abbreviated version of the BBC telemovie. All the actors are solid but the plot is so dense that I blinked and missed some cues. Good to see Oldman doing what Alec Guiness did, and Stephen Graham as a non-psycho.
1964. Sidney Lumet directs. Rod Steiger in the lead. Heavy.
Albert suggested this one to me ages ago, which I think he saw at the most-recent Sydney Film Festival. Ricardo Darín (El secreto de sus ojos) does a decent job in the lead as some kind of morose golden-hearted introvert. Generally nice though it starts to drag when the plot needs to progress.
Paul Thomas Anderson's first feature, I think. The cast is small (John C Reilly, Philip Baker Hall as Sydney, Samuel L Jackson, Philip Seymour Hoffman) and made me wonder why Gwyneth Paltrow (here a confused cocktail waitress / prostitute) wasn't in Magnolia. The story shuffles between various places of desperation: the gambling dens of Nevada, the seedy motel, the gangsta car. Sydney is not that awesome a character to study but the whole thing is well constructed.
Stephanie Zacharek gestured at this lightweight Gordon-Levitt vehicle in her review of The Master. Something for the cycleheads. I guess he thought he may as well put Batman buff-up to further use.
The flaws of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe could not dissuade me from giving Charles Yu another opportunity to disappoint. Suffice it to say that he succeeds wildly. Douglas Wolk at the New York Times pretty much nails it; I have nothing to add.
Early Scorcese. Impressionistic, dark, gritty, and not particularly engaging. Weak plot, railroaded to some kind of violent resolution that is signposted from the start. Hackneyed characters. de Niro does his usual over-the-top schtick, Keitel is a Mr Fixit with no form for fixing anything. At least I now know that I don't know what a mook is.
Late afternoon super-lazy paddle at Little Bay. I got there to find that there was heaps of parking, and almost noone on the beach; soon enough I discovered what everyone knew about the bluebottles blown in on a strong easterly. I got in anyway, and was alert (and swimming slowly enough) to dodge the five or so I met in the water. The ride there and back was cruisy; somehow today I am full of confidence and not choking on the corners so much.
In the evening I popped into the CBD to grab a hot chocolate at the Max Brenner's in the Westfield at the Pitt Street Mall. Finding that one to be closed I headed up to the one past Wynyard. The feted motorcycle parking was in much shorter supply than I expected, and I was also surprised that so many of the shops were closed by 9pm.
Instead of riding down to Cronulla for a snorkel, I decided to head to the dear old Verona to see this new flick by Paul Thomas Anderson at the oddly-timed 1:30pm session. The City of Sydney motorcycle parking map led me to believe I'd have no trouble finding something close by; as it was I squeezed into the spot on Napier St, near Rosebud Lane, which was already packed to capacity with three bikes, at least two of which had been there long enough for their throttles to be covered in spiders' webs. The CB250 just fitted into the skerrick of space left at the end, in the (useless to my eye) no standing area between the motorcycle parking and some kerbing protecting a tree.
Once there I figured I might as well rejoin the Palace Cinemas movie club, which was a vote in favour of being around for a while now, I guess. The Verona hasn't changed much since the big renovation, though the coffee was worse than I remembered. There were loads of oldies.
The Master is a difficult movie to get into, perhaps because it develops characters at the expense of storylines. I would say it is closer to There Will Be Blood than Magnolia if I could remember much of the former. Philip Seymour Hoffman's pseudo-Scientology is laid out in such a high-handed and sweeping way that it begs for instant dismissal. Joaquin Phoenix's curled lip recalled to me his time as a Caesar inflicting so much damage on bunny-lover Rusty Crowe. Amy Adams is prim and proper as the true-believing wife. For some reason the final exile-in-England act reminded me of Kubrick.
Mid-morning paddle at Gordons Bay. The CB250 is a bit stuttery when cold, so the trip there and back wasn't so comfortable. I just headed out towards the middle of the bay from the beach. Afterwards I grabbed some lunch with Ilan at On The Verge Café at Maroubra Junction, and won two of our three games of backgammon. I still have a lot to learn.
Someone on the VSG mailing list suggested that this film from 1970 had some great footage of the Sài Gòn of the day. It somewhat complements Balaban's Remembering Heaven's Face, including a recording of Ông Đạo Dừa (the coconut monk) and his followers performing their pan-religious ceremonies. John Steinbeck IV gets a lot of time to sound like some kind of hard-arsed hippy, labelling voodoo and suchlike the "psychic sciences".
There are probably more gems to be dug out of the Canadian National Film Board website.
Janet Frame: To the Is-Land, An Angel at My Table, The Envoy From Mirror CityTue, Dec 18, 2012./noise/books | Link
I vaguely recall that someone ages ago mentioned An Angel at my Table to me, probably referring to the movie. I bought this set-of-three Paladin editions from the dear old second-hand bookshop dealer in Gordon that mrak told me he'd known since childhood, probably sometime around 2008. Since then they've stared at me from the shelves of an overstuffed IKEA bookcase, and as this is the year to let things go quietly into the night, I finally screwed up my nerve about a month ago and dove in.
Janet Frame was a Kiwi author with that checkered kind of fame that makes me wonder if her fiction was much chop. These books form an autobiography of sorts, where she focuses on her childhood in the first two, skipping lightly over the decade or so (her 20s pretty much) she spent in mental institutions in New Zealand, and finally finds some sort of liberation and romance in Europe in the last. I didn't read the poetry (hers or snippets of other people's) too closely. Her time on Ibiza seems magical.
These have left me with no particular desire to read anything more by her, though her magical realism might have something to it, and she implies that her One flew over the cuckoo's nest experiences were documented in one or more of her novels.
Once again I rode the CB250 to work with the hope of getting to the beach by 6pm. After dropping my stuff at home I headed over to the Clovelly carpark and went for a snorkel off the scuba ramp on the northern side of Gordons Bay. The water is getting more comfortable, and visibility was quite good. I saw loads of large fish and the groper, but still no squid.
Last night I went for a cruise up around Woollahra and down to the CBD. A (possibly-probably strung out) girl jumped on the back of my bike at the Taylor Square lights, but was kind enough to hop off when asked. "You're going to get smoked" she told me as some sportsbike pulled up next to me. The taxis on Elizabeth Street are super-pushy. I'm now cornering like I'm born to it (when my nerve doesn't fail me).
I ducked down to NICTA on the CB250 to rescue my laptop, figuring I could head off from there to Little Bay and get some fuel at the Shell on the corner of Maroubra and Bunnerong Roads on the way. However the passing rain showers, contrary to the BOM prediction, stymied the beach part of that plan (and presumably dampened my washing). It remains warm enough that there is no water on the road of any import; and the bike handled about the same as in the dry.
Around 7:45pm I scooted down to the Clovelly carpark for a paddle off the scuba ramp at Gordons Bay. The water near the ramp was cold, but as always it was quite pleasant another ten metres out. I didn't last long as the light faded more quickly than I expected.
I rode down to Maroubra to Ilan and Nitzan's new flat on Friday night, met Pete R. there, and we jointly headed back to Asquith with the ambition of going for a bushwalk today.
After a slow start it was decided that Beth would take the kids down to Homebush to meet a friend now living in New Zealand. Pete and I got a bus up to Mt Kuringai (due to trackwork), and got a little lost on our way down the western side of the town; as it turns out I'd been there before (more or less), in addition to the eastern side a few months ago.
It was a beautiful day for it, a little humid but not too hot. The valley was quite misty. The walk wasn't too arduous, though it was supposed to be more than 9km. Afterwards we each had four beers at the banal Berowra Village Tavern. The trip back to Randwick was hellish: a bus to Gordon, a train to Wynyard, a bus to Randwick; about two hours I'd say.
A motorcycle rack from Beaconsfield Motorcycle Supermarket.Thu, Dec 13, 2012./travels/Motorcycle | Link
I went back to Beaconsfield Motorcycle Supermarket this morning to get a rack fitted to the CB250. Phil, the proprietor, had ordered me in a Ventura (short) sports rack, which with fitting set me back $320. It should be good for perhaps 50kg if I put the load on the pillion seat, but I can imagine the steering will really go to mush at that point, not to mention that I'd want to be certain about anchoring the load; I'm still figuring out how to do that just for my snorkeling gear.
I'm going a bit faster now, about 60kph-ish down Alison Road and keeping up with the cars. Cornering at speed is taking less courage.
All the reviews of Killing Them Softly observe that it was an adaptation of a George V. Higgins novel and point to this as prior art. Robert Mitchum leads in a bleak tale of a small-scale Boston underworld. I liked it, though it didn't seem to go anywhere in particular.
Having enjoying Jude the Obscure I figured I would try to read this collection of short stories on the iPod Touch, courtesy of Project Gutenberg. Suffice it to say that it's taken me most of the year to get through this lot, and for this reason I don't remember it with much fidelity. I tend to think that Hardy is better at the longer form than the short, for though his prose remains fine here the plots and characters are so much weaker.
I've been riding the CB250 to work most days. Today I took it over to Beaconsfield Motorcycle Supermarket on Botany Road for a service, the second of its life. I think this boiled down an oil change, some sort of tune-up and a tweaking of the idle revs down to about 1,200 (from around 2,500 to 3,000). The owner of the shop nattered on with me for perhaps 40 minutes, until well past his closing time. It cost $158.
The ride over and back to NICTA was less painful than taking the buses; two 370s in the morning failed to show up and the traffic in the afternoon was horrendous. After work I took it for a burn down to La Perouse via Matraville, back via Maroubra and Coogee beaches. The port looks fantastic at night.
Unwisely I decided to ride out to Kurnell, partly because I hadn't been there for ages, and also because I figured I could go for a walk or a snorkel. Suffice it to say that by the time I'd gotten there I wasn't too keen to do more than have a coffee and ride back. It was about 70km round.
Taren Point Road wasn't so much fun as the wind got a bit gusty when I got to the bridge. Captain Cook Drive was pleasant, apart from the cars that overtook other cars (!) sitting behind me (doing 60-70kph in an 80kph zone) across double white lines. (On the way back I got out of the way by moving into the cycle lane.) I'm glad I learnt to ride in Saigon, for otherwise being undertaken by a previously-patient white Commodore coming out of a roundabout — he crossed over into the cycle lane to do so — might have been a real brown trousers moment. (Conversely there are few hills in Saigon, so I tend to start packing it whenever the terrain rises or falls, especially on the corners.) The Princes Highway was surprisingly calm.
I rode mid-afternoon down to the UNSW Library to drop off some books, and on to Long Bay (Malabar) for a swim off the beach for the first time ever. There was no surf at all. It was bearable and then comfortable in trunks and a singlet. Around Maroubra Junction on the way back I copped some pointlessly aggressive behaviour from some cars that sat right on my tail.
The threat of a late storm did not dissuade me from riding to work this morning. I dumped the CB250 in the UNSW carpark near the new Law building, and showed it off to Ilan at lunchtime. After work I headed down to Maroubra Junction for some dinner (some OK fish-and-chips from the last shop on the south-eastern corner of the shopping strip on Anzac Parade) and back to NICTA then home, fairly directly. In between all that there were a few spots of rain, with no impact on anything.
I had some hope that this flick would do some sort of justice to the books but it really is just a travesty. Sarkhan is split into north and south and is more-or-less Vietnam of the early 1960s instead of a composite of South-East Asian nations. The U.S. Ambassador (MacWhite, played by Brando) is intelligent but nowhere as empirical or sophisticated as the written character.
The film was shot in Thailand, which sometimes looks pretty good, and the stunts are great.
I rode to work, and afterwards (after 6:30pm) over to Yen's in Alexandria, and then back to NICTA via Pagewood (Banskia Street). For the most part the traffic was fine, though some P-platers were in too much of a hurry to let me switch lanes like I needed to do; riding along Wentworth was one of those times when I really need to get my speed up to (and beyond) that of the other vehicles. The phở was as tasty as ever, and my phở bò (tai) gà is now on the menu.
I've been meaning to go to NIDA for ages, seeing as it's just up the road, and so I invited Sean along to this half of the Graduating Directors' Productions; the other half looked less scintillating. As a not-quite-adult I got in for about $20. I note now (afterwards) that the remaining nights are sold out, though tonight's performance wasn't quite.
The first two plays were great. Pierce Wilcox directed an abridged version of Camus' Caligula, the story of a Caesar going nuts in an amplified-by-the-French kind of way. It might have worked even better in a larger space. Secondly Lucas Jervies directed Guy Edmonds in a very funny one-man adaptation of Roald Dahl's classic The Witches. Though the director had no previous form in that role, he made excellent spatially-imaginative use of his physically-expressive star. Perhaps that comes from his experience with coreographers. The SMH was right to focus on this one.
Every three-wheeled relationship has a dog in it, and the third one was it; Play House covered the banalities of some urban lust-turned-domestic. The director may have been applying for a gig at Home and Away.
Around 8:30pm I set off for a ride down Coogee Bay Road and the streets south of the beach. I totally stuffed up the u-turn on the incredibly steep cul-de-sac of (east) Cairo Street, so to all the kids out there just getting started, do be kind to the South African gent who comes to rescue you. After that I played it safe and headed down Malabar Road to a pacifically dead Maroubra Beach, and then back to the Junction for some fuel. I've used 6 litres so far on these short trips, perhaps 130km. The ride back up Anzac Parade and Alison Road was quite relaxed. My clutching is improving and sometimes I do get the gear changes to sing.
This being the first day of summer-ish weather in a long while, I thought I'd see how it was to take the bike to the beach. Little Bay was pretty chockers, and it was great to be able to park close to the walkway. The drawback is having to lug around so much safety clothing; afterwards it was too hard to get dry and get the sand off, so on the way back I just wore my swimming togs (with the jacket and gloves) and felt fairly comfortable about it.
At the 3:30pm Cinema 1 session at The Ritz. The upstairs was full but they didn't open the downstairs. Weird.
Skyfall is a tired, paint-by-the-numbers sort of thing. It is better than Quantum of Solace but doesn't live up to the promise of Casino Royale. (Whatever happened to that story arc?) The bond girls never linger long, and the plot barrels down a highway to nowhere. Javier Bardem enjoys hamming it up as a Bond villain, and Naomie Harris put in a bid for a continuing gig with the Daniel Craig franchise. Rated #236 in the IMDB top-250 when I saw it, but destined for a much lower ranking when the marketing campaign wears off.
I set off around 8pm to meet Marc and Rob at Bondi Junction for a chocolate something-or-other at Max Brenner's in the Westfield. I got there a lot quicker than I expected, although I encountered some dodgy driving (one SUV ploughed through a pedestrian crossing with a red light). On the way back I headed down Oxford Street, past the old showgrounds and along Anzac Parade. I'm still getting the hang of the S-bend on Alison Road.
The timid late-spring weather in Sydney is continuing to be fine, so I took the bike for a spin up to Oxford Street on Thursday night, stopping at Max Brenner's for a hot chocolate and to see if the anti-Zionists have trashed the place yet. After that I had a crack at Old South Head Road, up to Watsons Bay, which turned out to be almost entirely deserted around 9pm. I got a bit lost on the way back via Bondi and almost entirely missed Military Road. I felt pretty comfortable apart from a stretch on Oxford St / Syd Einfeld Drive where everyone starts jockeying for position, and when the wind picked up around Bondi Junction. The L plates might be working some magic as I haven't had to work too hard to switch lanes and so forth. (So far it has been easier than it would be in the car.) My camera (an Olympus μTough 6010) is too crap to take decent photos at night without a tripod.
On Friday I got a pink slip from the bloke at the Caltex at the end of High Street on Anzac Parade ("Lights... indicators... OK."), and re-registered the bike at the Maroubra RTA. All up that was $114 for the registration, $309 for the green slip, $21 for the pink slip, and $150 to change the ownership details. Again the traffic was pretty easy to navigate.
After work (around 6:30pm) I headed off from NICTA down to La Perouse, around Prince of Wales Drive, and then the brown trousers of General Holmes Drive that connects Southern Cross Drive to the M5. Scooting the three lanes from the Foreshore Road feeder to the Grand Parade exit-of-sorts proved not too hard, and I couldn't tell if it was me, the drivers or the L plates that made it so. I grabbed some dinner at a not-too-flash fish and chips at Brighton-Le-Sands and headed back to NICTA via West Botany Street / Airport Drive, where I was fortunate to encounter only (mildly panicky) light traffic streaming around the airport. The old roads (Botany Road, Gardeners Road) are quiet and easy now.
I've been doing a lot of seL4 proof maintenance recently. All I've learnt is that whatever I bitterly whinged about last week was far better proof engineering than what I'm hacking this week (so to speak). A short memory indeed; or putting it another way, it's only clear to me how to do something in Isabelle after I'm over-invested in something half-arsed. I now have a greater understanding of seL4's bedrock abstractions and just how much we have abused them. Oh well.
In any case my proof chimping has paid for a bright shiny old Honda CB250, the Fabergé egg of the masses according to James May. (As you can see, mine looks nothing like his.) It's a 2005 model in almost perfect condition, and has done about 7,000km. I paid $4,000 for it to a bloke out at Mt Annan, and rode it home just this evening. (The price is decent for a motorcycle in this condition; the LAMS market is quite inflated.) Earlier editions have been called Dreams, reminding me of the aging 100cc scooters of Vietnam. It is super-easy to ride, and doesn't stall unless you try to take off in second gear, or something stupid like that. (That and many other things do I need to unlearn from my time in Saigon.) The ride home was uneventful; I got on the Hume/M5 by mistake for a bit but the traffic wasn't nearly as bad as I expected. I had dinner at El Manara in Lakemba for the first time since 2009 or so. It hasn't changed.
This model is weird as there seems to be no canonical example of it. The Wikipedia page suggests this is a Nighthawk, but those have spokes.
Michael Sandel: What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of MarketsMon, Nov 19, 2012./noise/books | Link
Sandel is famous for his justice class at Harvard, and claims to have co-lectured with Amartya Sen. I therefore had high hopes for this book, and hoped it would explore my abiding interest in why we use particular mechanisms (voting, markets, consensus, representational institutions, dictatorships, ...) to make particular collective decisions. There is a significant body of theory about markets but it is (supposedly) generally morally-neutral beyond some weak requirements such as Pareto optimality, liberalism and other things I don't know about. Of course this book was disappointing, but that is almost always the case with these philosophical sorts of adventures.
Perhaps the key thing to understand about this book is that Sandel is less interested in the operation of markets than in taking moral offence at attaching prices to things. Consider his hoary example of trading human body parts. Sandel thinks that having a money-based market in them would value them the wrong way, but we could just as easily have a bartering arrangement that yields very similar moral quandaries. (Some amount of bartering seems necessary due to the biological incompatibility of donors and recipients.) This, combined with an adversion to mathematics, means that he struggles to get to grips with modern concerns such as (provable) efficiency and resistance to manipulation. I don't recall him ever really defining what a market is. Moreover there is the conflation of can't buy with shouldn't buy; I simply cannot buy a Nobel prize or a friend in any meaningful way, but Sandel wants to argue that I shouldn't be able to buy a liver.
As for buying access to universities, well, there have been crammers around for ever; just because I don't pay at the gate doesn't mean I'm not buying my way in. One also has to wonder if it is so very different to the bums-on-seats policies that keep the unemployment statistics for youth down to almost non-scandalous levels. It is clear that commercial sponsorship at universities does crowd out freedom of expression, for it (obviously) limits dialogue about the sponsor's products, even to the extent of making fair evaluations (take, for example, Oracle's no benchmarking policy).
Here are some notes I took while reading this book, many of which are merely picking nits. I started after the first few chapters as these did not raise my ire or interest so much. The page numbers are for the Allen Lane ("An imprint of Penguin") paperback edition.
- p60: The idea of pricing immigration visas is becoming more common; Australia is going down the same path now.
- p80: Apparently one can buy the right to shoot an endangered black rhino, which is intended to incentivize their preservation. Sandel ignores the opportunity for moralists to buy up the shooting permits and not exercise them, thereby helping the rhino and signalling their moral judgement. That markets may facilitate such signalling is a broader point he does not consider.
- p83: Contrary to Sandel's dogmatic assertion, markets do pass judgement, if only by existing or not (consider the black market), and by pricing out repugnant outcomes. Moreover the existence of a price does not imply the existence of a market.
- p88: Sandel asks why we should maximise social utility, and I wonder why he doesn't also ask why we should worry about efficiency at all. (I tend to think at least some "economic efficiency" is really about externalising costs; consider superannuation versus government-guaranteed pensions). He blithely ignores the recent trends in economics that try to reconcile the discipline with humanistic goals. (Amartya Sen has done some work here too.)
- p96: Paying someone to apologise on one's behalf reminded my of the professional mourners of Vietnam; then again, in a Buddhist society there is probably not as much deathbed pleading as in a Christian one.
- p98: Gift giving is not a persuasive example. I tend to think that the best gift to someone these days is something non-fungible, such as spending time with (or apart from :-) them. Stuff is no longer scarce, so what do I care what you buy for me? Once again Sandel seems to think that pricing something is the same thing as there being a market in that good. Surely we also need negotiation / bargaining / price discovery and so forth as well for there to be a market.
- p107: You cannot buy a friend but you can buy many of the things that friends are supposed to produce, such as wedding speeches. This made me think of paid thesis editors, and someone with someone else autobiographies. Then again, Pete R. made the point years ago that being able to write well is not the same thing as having a story worth telling.
- p122: The section on blood donations is spot on.
- p125: Sandel does a good job of dissecting Arrow's assertions about the market. However he missed the bigger opportunity to discuss how plausible markets really are, and under what conditions they work as intended. He could also have explored the reasons that markets get distorted, and strengthened his appeal to authority by discussing Arrow's technical results. By the end I began to wonder if his real objection was to the application of rationality (science?) to sacred cows.
- p127: Sandel tries to argue that we should rely less on economic rationalist / self-interest mechanisms and on more humanistic notions such as civic duty. While I don't completely disagree with the sentiment, he seems to think that local comity can somehow scale up to nation-states; around about here one might also start mumbling about the tragedy of the commons and nuclear nightmare diplomacy. Dogmatically I would say that economics (and many other Western institutions) is about somewhat anonymous interactions, those with people we don't know or have no reason to treat well; it encodes a kind of institutionalised fairness towards the "other", such as non-citizens and foreigners. I remember my Law of the Global Market lecturer saying something like "if goods don't cross borders then guns will" as a way of summarising the Marshall Plan and so forth. Conversely markets inflict a computational problem on participants which is likely to crowd out other considerations. I guess I could gesture at Bruce Schneier's take on security, which (Schneier argues) is a necessary underpinning for a large society. Sandel's position is to essentially affirm the social contract.
- p131: Chapter 4 on death markets is solid, though it is warmed-over; the "insurable interest" test has been there forever, and Sandel labours the point that the morality of the life insurance market has been undone by a series of crappy (corrupt?) decisions of SCOTUS over the years.
- p163: Chapter 5 on commercialising sport is banal. David Williamson complained far more eloquently about commercialising sport in the late 1970s in The Club. Sandel here engages in some tedious sacred cow-ism; what do I care if the audience for professional sport is stratified? It would be better for everyone if amateur sport was better funded, for (p174) the former has already crowded out many of the socially valuable outcomes of people playing rather than watching; one merely needs to listen to the cynicism that swirls around the cost of each Olympic medal.
- p168: one could imagine a twenty-first century Solomon selling the baby and splitting the proceeds.
- p173: Sport is not a universal social glue; here Sandel paternalistically excludes women, minorities, geeks, migrants, etc.
- p190: Municipal marketing appears to be uncommon in Australia; according to Sandel this is the practice of buying influence over the policies of a sponsored organisation. This is clearly a conflict of interest sort of thing. I would contrast this to the kinds of sponsorship that e.g. Surf Life Saving Australia attracts; Westpac might get its name on the helicopter but it has no say in how the service is provided (I hope and expect).
- p203: In his closing paragraphy, Sandel wants to think we're all in this together, quietly ignoring the fact that having lots of money insulates people from the need to worry about the common good.
What I really wanted from this book was more analysis of serious / established / consequential markets, such as labour; surely the revealed preference of working Australians for longer hours (more money) and less leisure time is a moral issue, given that it takes time away from family, meaningful relationships (of choice), child rearing and so forth. I also hoped he would clarify the limitations of the market dogma; for instance we can't buy more than 24 hours a day, though we can pay to make them more pleasant. Expanding choice yields diminishing returns; surely there could have been a broader exploration of what we value and why, an expansion of the "good life" rubric into something less dogmatic.
Sandel really should have provided examples of where markets work well, so we had some reason to believe that they had some validity at all. Why are they being so aggressively and invasively pushed now? In contrast to many of the philosopher kings I have met, he seems to avoid discussions of historical antecedents and the maths that might bring another kind of understanding to the table. The U.S. is already so compromised by thorough-going market thinking that almost all of the examples he gives look like fiddling at the margins.
Out in the wilds of the internet, this book is often bracketed with one by the father-and-son Skidelsky team. Here's a brief list of pages I read:
- UK Telegraph
- The Atlantic (excerpt from the book)
- New York Times
- CATO review
- The London Review of Books review is decidedly highbrow, and makes the good point that we're all coerced by the necessity to eat, etc. It diverges from Sandel's focus on markets to his earlier ruminations on justice.
Of these I find myself siding with the CATO review.
Update: a bloke at the New Yorker points out the difficulties of having justice (etc.) supervene on empathy.
Last year I found a small shop at Copenhagen airport that sells elephants. It turned out to be the merchandising end of the Elephant Parade public artwork project that had lined the streets of the city a few weeks before I got there. Not knowing how much money I'd need in Sweden, I bought just a small one and ended up leaving it with Sus as a thank-you for letting me stay. I tried buying more from their webstore but the postage was insane, more than the elephants themselves. Fortunately Ben went to ICFP this year in that very same city and scored me these beauties.
The final of the Chan-wook Park vengeance flicks. As observed by someone on IMDB, this one is the opera. Even more of the violence occurs off-screen though the results are graphically depicted. I greatly enjoyed how the story unfolded in the first half, heavy with mystery and implication, but the big say-don't-show reveal in the middle left room only for a long slow denouement. The cinematography is excellent. Park pokes gentle fun at Australia through an entirely familiar middle-class couple who get a few priceless scenes.
Bogart and Bacall's bridge too far. The plot is nonsensical, and Bacall has little to do beyond smoldering as a rich, idle siren with a daddy complex. San Francisco is evoked in all its cliched glory, circa 1947. There is way too much talking and nowhere enough showing. I must be at the point of diminishing returns with these noirs.
Another Errol Morris (one of his first). A bunch of Californians go on, at length, about their pets, their dreams about pet cemeteries, and their life philosophies. It is like reading the pages of a tabloid newspaper: alternately and simultaneously touching, horrifying, funny and stupefying. It proved either too oblique or condescending to get into.
A segue from Chan-wook Park's masterful Oldboy (which is now rightfully #87 in the IMDB top-250). Again this is ultraviolence married with excellent cinematography. The multitude of cut aways from the gore increase the ick factor as we're never sure he's not going to cut back for a money shot. The character development is quite good, especially for a lead who is deaf and dumb but not stupid, and yet the entirety adds up to less than its parts. It is strangely disengaged.
I think this is the first of three Vengeance movies, with Oldboy being the second.
I've been wondering what Sickboy saw in Connery as Bond, and his antipathy towards Pussy Galore, and I guess I now know. This one, the highest rated of the Bonds (?), contains the original of Gemma Arterton's oiling in Casino Royale and the familiar object-stowed-in-a-shoe-heel (though both surely have further antecdents). The plot makes little sense. "No Mister Bond, I expect you to die!"
Finally. I'll be happy if more of these internet regulations are similarly successful.
What a turkey. This is some kind of tale about the transition from colonial Indochina circa 1930 to the Geneva Convention in 1954. The end credits ascribe that day (July 21) as the one when France lost their possession half a world away, quietly ignoring Điện Biên Phủ and minting much other neo-colonialist mythology along the way.
Perhaps it makes more sense as a love story where everyone is super-passionate, completely irrational and entirely one-dimensional. Catherine Deneuve was a 1960s pinup, I think. Hạ Long looks beautiful even when used to such dire ends as these.
Another stylistic Pen-Ek Ratanaruang effort, featured at the Sydney Film Festival this year. Not as good as I'd hoped, or even up to Last Life in the Universe. A righteous cop becomes an assassin (was it because he got framed for not murdering his girlfriend-of-a-night?) and a sometimes monk in recent Thailand. The girls are beautiful and the plot not as twisty as the director thinks it should be.
Late afternoon snorkel at Gordons Bay, off the northern scuba ramp at low tide. Quite good visibility in still quite cold water; not too bad in the spring suit and gloves. I saw the big blue groper for the first time this season, and loads of ludderick and other usual suspects. I also saw a small wobbegong, but as yet no squid.
Another cheap Tuesday at The Ritz. Cinema 3 was packed at 7pm, with (untimely) people having to sit in the third row (one in front of me), and yet they strangely respected most other (timely) customers' sight lines. Also there was not a lot of talking, which was surprising given the gaps in this dialogue-heavy docu-thriller.
Affleck is in the process of showing that he is a much better director than actor. Here he again casts himself in the lead, like The Town and unlike Gone Baby Gone. I thought his impassivity was pretty much spot-on as it amplified the tension radiating from the government functionaries, and he generously gave some quite funny lines to the movie makers.
As with his earlier features he has a cracker of a story to tell. Unfortunately the film sags at the two-thirds / three-quarters mark when reality is sacrificed to stock Hollywoodism. The American ending was inevitable, I guess. I liked the homage (montage?) over the credits and the various markers of the 1970s, such as the decayed Hollywood sign. I didn't like the hurry-hurry camerawork so much.
Afterwards I got wondering if this was Ben Affleck's response to Team America; perhaps he did go to acting school, and just maybe actoring had that kind of impact on world affairs. It might be that he is crafting a series of these movies, showing Hollywood mending the Vietnam vets throughout the late 1970s and 1980s, explaining the Contra scandal to those born after it, and burnishing Jimmy Carter's peacenik-ery. In any case I still haven't seen Pearl Harbour.
I agree with Dana Stevens about the portrayal of the Persians; there were some nice touches in the small, such as the young security geeks at the airport talking about the storyboards, but most men were crazed zealots with guns. The New York Times review is spot on too.
Far superior to its successor. I wonder if Skyfall is as good as the reviews make it out to be.
A Sidney Lumet semi-classic, written by David Mamet. I hadn't realised that he'd made so many awesome movies (12 Angry Men and many others). Here Paul Newman plays a washed-out lawyer, who, near the end of his career, is looking for a final moral victory. As far as courtroom dramas go this one wasn't legally convincing (the ruling was certain to be appealed), and it was weird seeing Newman play an incompetent; typically he was completely reassured cool. It is strung out something like Anatomy of a Murder.
A turkey. What was meant to bridge Casino Royale with something almost became a coffin for Daniel Craig's Bond.
The vehicle that didn't earn Bob Hoskins an Oscar in 1987 (just as Salvador didn't do it for James Woods). I enjoyed it as a piece of Mike Leigh-ish English sort-of realism. Cathy Tyson is luminous, and great use is made of Nat King Cole, who Wong Kar Wai has taught me to appreciate. Despite the promise shown here, it seems that Neil Jordan's oeuvre tends towards the crap.
Late afternoon snorkel attempt off the southern boat launch at Long Bay. Despite the clean bill of health from beach watch, the water contained so much suspended matter that I didn't even bother looking for anything. The water was cold but OK in the spring suit. The strong on-shore breeze didn't help with the murk. Several spear fishers were out, and some shore fishermen too.
A review by Andrew Reimer in the Smage woke me up to Murray Bail's latest novel. This one comes hot on the heels of The Pages, barely four years previous, and features a much stronger structure. Frank Delage stands in for all Australian inventors looking to enter foreign markets when he takes his innovative piano to Vienna. Beyond the artifice of his meeting Amalia von Schalla, wife of a wealthy industralist, Bail offers up a string of ruminations on stagnation, relations between men and women, the old world and the new, and not getting what you want but something else, quite distinct and possibly more valuable. I enjoyed how Bail silently moved between the parallel tracks of the story, of Delage's time in Vienna and the voyage on the container ship through the Suez, Malacca Straits and other markers of the now-unfamiliar sea lanes. The shipborne Dutchman minded me of Dijkstra, long on the terminal pronouncement.
James Stewart stars, Otto Preminger directs. This is post-Gene Tierney (Laura) Preminger and rates the highest of his works on the IMDB top-250 list at #200. Eve Arden (Ida from Mildred Pierce) plays a sassy unpaid secretary, loyal in a way barely imaginable now, unless she was sleeping with her boss I guess, though it is implied that James Stewart's character swings the other way. It was great to recognise Ben Gazzara (Happiness, Tales of Ordinary Madness) so young and composed. As far as courtroom dramas go, this one is quick to assert the culpability of the defendant and offers up a series of engaging character studies.
Another cheap-Tuesday found me at The Ritz at 6:45pm, Cinema 1 upstairs, for the latest from Oliver Stone. There's something to be said for seeing his flicks on the big screen and I enjoyed it for the most part, though it be his most morally vacant effort to date.
Many reviews had led me to believe that the actors were a bit shit, but I must demur; I came to see Travolta play a somewhat Pulp Fiction DEA operator, and Del Toro meander as a playboy rent-a-thug. Salma Hayek keeps her kit on, perhaps because Stone can't flick the switch to Rodriguez. She does manage a line in some kind of viciousness, but this is not really sustained when the Californians predictably switch the tables on her. As such she is a mostly reactionary queenpin, which seems unlikely given her success. As for the ménage à trois, well, they managed to rise above mildly crap more often than not.
Being a Stone flick we got some intense graphic violence, such an immolation that harks back to Vietnam, 1963. Stone flirts with eye-for-an-eye morality in that scene, and links it to the final events by having third-wheel O imply that she wants something more final than a disappearance into Nowherevillage, Indonesia; the dissatisfaction and wistfulness running through her narration makes it all seem like so much fairy floss. It's hard to square with her desires in the final movement, and I'm sure the boys would have sorted out Del Toro on her say-so. (Perhaps that'll be Savages II.)
Stone makes Laguna look like paradise for beach bunnies and predators. There are some great small touches — "Cheech and Chong" slips from Del Toro at some point, and Chon responds with "Allah willing" when his military buddies radio in the preparedness of themselves and their IUDs. It is sometimes unclear where people are, but I got the impression the whole thing takes place in the U.S., with the Indian reservations being the places where the Mexican cartel boys do their work. (Salma Hayek moves north to join the action.) The plot gets quite loose in places, and I didn't follow the characters' reasoning too closely.
I wonder if Stone has run out of some of the multitudes of film stocks he typically uses, and also of soundtrack material (was that Cat Power covering something over the closing credits?). I guess we could try to read this as a boomer's paean to a despoiled Mexico, a place that once salved the damaged (cf Born on the Fourth of July)... or perhaps an attempt to show how exotically unerotic 21st century cinematic sex has been. In brief, Stone tries to be Tarantino by telling a good story to no particular end.
Stephanie Zacharek reviewed it for Movieline. I didn't see anything from Dana Stevens; perhaps she is a Stone anti-fan.
Some good photography, but not as crisp as I expected. The narration by Morgan Freeman is gratingly anthropomorphic.
Expecting a thunderstorm later on I went for a snorkel at Little Bay around midday. The water was a bit cool and fairly cloudly, probably due to the moderate swell. Good to be in (in a spring suit) but didn't see much.
Continuing with the Oliver Stones, and a James Woods segue from Videodrome. Here Stone recounts the beginning of the civil war in El Salvador circa 1980 through the prism of the American photojournalist Richard Boyle, who has some kinds of bromances with Doctor Rock (James Belushi) and John Cassady (John Savage). I'd say that where he toes the line in e.g. Platoon, here he goes right to the limit; some scenes are genuinely shocking.
Oliver Stone's sprawling summary of the state of JFK assassination conspiracy theories circa 1992. I saw this in several chunks over many days. Kevin Costner plays a crusading Southern DA who tries to dig into what looks like an immense cover-up. Joe Pesci maintains his average by spraying invective throughout his brief time on screen. (The toupee offends me.)
Given what Stone shows here it is difficult not to conclude that people high up in the U.S. Federal Government were complicit in the failure to effectively investigate. Stone manages to have things all ways by lampooning some of the loonier conspiracy theories / investigation assertions while slow cooking his favoured narrative in his characteristic chopped-up documentary style. He clearly deifies the Kennedy brothers, which makes me wonder if he really believes that JFK was going to get them out of (not get them into) the Vietnam war. The bureaucratic push-back arising from JFK's post-Bay of Pigs neutering of the C.I.A. is well-canvassed.
After-work snorkel circa 6pm at Gordons Bay. The water was still a bit cloudy from last week's rain. I got in in the spring suit, though I could perhaps have got by with a singlet. Didn't see much apart from a small-ish wobbegong near my usual swimming get-in spot. (It had the signature large head, tapered body and flat fins, and was resting on the sand.) The drive up from NICTA was a bit hellish; I would have been better off walking home and going from there.
Having seen Killing Them Softly, I felt compelled to dig up this earlier Andrew Dominik epic, which apparently launched Casey Affleck's career. It is quite a departure from both that and the much-earlier Chopper; the humour here is a lot more forced, so perhaps Jesse James had lessa sense of the absurd than Chopper.
I got into it somewhere around the 90 minute mark. Casey Affleck is indeed great as something of the mumbling psycho he later played in The Killer Inside Me. Brad Pitt almost becomes something other than Brad Pitt, sometimes for seconds at a stretch. The acting is excellent across the board, and the cinematography is brilliant, with striking use of light and angles by Roger Deakins.
As far as the story goes, we get an instance of the ancient archetype of betrayal. This is not really a western, at least not in the John Ford sort of way. The soundtrack is by Warren Ellis and Nick Cave, with the latter getting a cameo in a bar at the end.
Mr SNAFU feted this after seeing it on SBS. As he says it's a comedy about competing tribes of Hungarian subway ticket inspectors; alternatively it is a composition of perhaps opportunistic takes that aim for the weird. By the end I had given up hope of it tying down its loose ends. The bromance wears thin as the characters are stereotypes. Eszter Balla is something for the furries. Some of the cinematography is quite good.
I now have to see if Hukkle is more chop.
With Matthias. I decided to drive down to Cronulla after a slow start, and dumped the car reasonably close to the ferry wharf. We took a wrong turn and ended up on a quite-long walk along the Esplanade. The ferry brought us to Bundeena quite late, perhaps 1.30pm, where we had lunch. Walking up Bundeena Road to the firetrail is not much fun. At the beach a girl claimed to have seen whales, which if extant were beyond the resolution of my specs. We returned via the coastal track (skipping the extension up to Jibbon Point) and had a snack in Bundeena before taking the last ferry (6pm) back. Beautiful day for it, though I should have been more careful with the sun.
Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve) went to Saigon to film this early adaptation (bastardisation) of Graham Greene's incisive novel. Here Phuong is played by the Italian Giorgia Moll, Fowler by Michael Redgrave and the American by Audie Murphy, the most decorated U.S. soldier of World War II. I enjoyed the shots of the old city and would have preferred to see even more of it; too much of this dialogue-heavy film is set indoors. At some point it loses the poignancy of the old colonials warning off the neocolonials from the quagmire that Vietnam already was.
I've been meaning to read more from Mr Nobel since I stumbled upon his masterful short stories last year, and couldn't resist this one, his first novel, after reading some boosterism in the Smage. At 400 pages things got a bit stodgy and my eyes glazed over more than once. (Did I fall asleep more easily those nights?) It is stylish, and sometimes knowing, but also artificial and tendentious. I doubt that the denizens of erstwhile Adaminaby would agree that he had them pegged. Perhaps more interesting would have been his reaction to the town's permanent flooding in 1949, which resonates more than anything he attempted here.
At The Ritz at 6:30pm on an authetically cheap Tuesday. Joseph Gordon-Levitt in another Rian Johnson effort. Not quite the Brick II I had hoped for, but solid just the same, at least if you don't question the dodgy scaffolding of the plot and go along with the narrational but not logical necessity of the money shot. I guess Johnson doesn't see the need for nuance when talking about pernicious single- (or no-) parent homes and time travel. (There is far too much exposition in this film.) Strangely the year is 2042, just short of Wong Kar-Wai's 2046, and things are more similar to 2012 here than there. As futurology this is all pretty depressing.
Bruce Willis is unfortunately typecast as a one-man army, a let-down post Pulp Fiction, though somewhat reminiscent of The Sixth Sense. Emily Blunt and Jeff Daniels are quite good, and Pierce Gagnon as ten-year-old Cid evokes Ian McKellen. All actors spend a lot of time waggling eyebrows, sometimes while toting firearms. I think every scene has a gun in it. Noah Segan, the weaselly Dode in Brick, returns as a no-left-feet hitman who (post-ironically) rains death on all.
Albert suggested we go to this on notionally cheap-Tuesday at The Ritz, and so we did, with Sandy. It turned out to be a quite expensive pre-release screening and Q&A with with director, Andrew Dominik, and star Ben Mendelsohn. Dominik made Chopper so many years ago, and this is in a similar style. Mendelsohn turns David Wenham's character in Gettin' Square into a dognapping junkie somewhere in the late-George W. Bush U.S.
Contrary to expectations there is not too much violence, but what is there is quite graphic. Like Chopper there's plenty of random philosophising by all types of people. It seemed a lot less suspenseful though, and the plot blander as a underworld cleanup caper, a fleshing out of a Mr Wolf-from-Pulp Fiction sort of deal. Then again I may have been too tired to really get into it. Brad Pitt is Brad Pitt here. It is beautifully shot, just like Chopper was, and I need to see Dominik's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford now.
The Q&A was quite fun.
Oliver Stone's first big Oscar winner. Charlie Sheen is semi-decent here, wandering around like a deer in headlights until he becomes Rambo. #144 in the IMDB top-250. Last seen in 2007.
Another movie that lurked on the arthouse shelf back in the video days. An early 1980s Cronenberg, something like his later eXistenZ, though I came to it from Nixon via James Woods. Deborah Harry must have been near the peak of her fame here. Video kills the cable executive? Lots of splatter, long on assertion and hallucination. Excessive everything. In the tradition of weird ala David Lynch.
I picked this one up on the strength of a review in the New York Times. Titled Far-Off Island Where the American Dream Curdles, I expected to find an update on Hunter S. Thompson's state of Las Vegas, early 1970s. These days I guess it would be surprising if the American Dream is possible for anyone whose parents didn't buy it for them.
Saipan is, roughly put, a South-east Asian island where the locals got American passports in exchange for a military base. (Australians may be wondering how many marines we need to host in order to score a similar deal; perhaps it takes a carrier group.) Both the book and the review trade on the seemingly stagnant Saipan Sucks website and its slogan contest, which also has a scathing account of politics on the island. Geographically it is directly a long way east of the Philippines, and north of Papua New Guinea, quite near Guam.
There are five main characters, each recounting their part of the story in a cycle of chapters written in the first person. These three American men, singular American woman and Bangladeshi neo-slave are stereotyped would-be emigres who engage with the island and each other but not so much with the locals. The major native bloke, Big Ben, operates in the shadows and it remains unclear if he is anything more than an enforcer for island rentiers. The requisite dusting of sex and island romance is flagged from the early pages. It is not explained why the Chinese seamstresses can be rented by the hour (and by Bangladeshis, who are otherwise widely discriminated against). Things sort of fade away as realisation, necessity or deus ex machina set in.
Kluge ably captures why people fall in love with the island, and out of love with living there. I enjoyed it but felt let down by the promise of the spiky introduction for more cutting commentary ala Sarkhan et al. In an afterword Kluge divulges that he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Saipan in 1967-1969, which turns this into something of a Paul Theroux; however it is not clear that he speaks any language other than American.
I think the review in the Boston Globe is closer to the money.
Presumably encouraged by the public's response to The Ugly American, Burdick and Lederer concocted this follow-up novel in 1964. They return to Sarkhan, their fictional hybrid South-East Asian kingdom of harmonious Buddhist and Moslem agrarians, where the competition for influence between the Communists and the U.S. is embryonic. Again the great bureucratic machines of Washington are shown to be incapable of rising to the task or of interpreting information that conflicts with the narrative of the day. One would expect things to be much worse now with so many new fiefdoms minted after 9/11.
I quite enjoyed this one, perhaps because I don't read too many diplomacy-espionage-revolution thrillers. Graham Greene's genre probably died with him.
I last saw this back in 2004. Proyas produces a visual feast with sub-par dialogue, riffing heavily on the Goth sensibility of the contemporary Batman. (In the other direction Brandon Lee provides an antecedent for Ledger's Joker.) The soundtrack is a haunting memory of a diversity of early 90s indie bands.
A Stone reconstruction rolled out a year after they put Tricky Dick in the ground. There are some remnants of his Natural Born Killers hack-and-slash editing, and he does better when he sticks to the less speculative material. A Joan Allen segue from the Bourne thing and also Hopkins post-Lecter (first time around at least). Hopkins isn't Nixon but of a kind with the movie's conceits, just like Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon. I wonder if Pat Nixon was that steely in life. Paul Sorvino is perfect as Kissinger. I saw it in two sittings.
With Matthias. A cruisy walk on the eastern side of the ridge, down to Cowan Creek. We got varying estimates of the time it would take, but did it easily in about 6 hours with perhaps 90 minutes of idling. Beautiful day for it.
A classic from 1991 which I last saw on VHS (probably) and remember all too well. Hard to know what Hopkins did before this (Shakespeare? — ah, The Elephant Man), or after. Jodie Foster is pitch perfect and Oscar-worthy here. I need to see more Jonathan Demme films. Loan got this set as a film for a social work class, to what end I know not. #25 in the IMDB top-250.
I read about this book in the travel section of the New York Times a while ago, and bought a copy from Amazon while in the U.S. in July/August. Moffett got his PhD under Edward O. Wilson at Harvard in the 1980s, apparently by studying marauder ants in Singapore (and other places) in more detail than hitherto. As the cover blurb by the great Prof assures us, he is a fantastic photographer, so good he has been regularly commissioned by National Geographic. (You can find his pictures by searching for his name in the National Geographic Image Collection or at Google Images.)
This text is essentially a Paul Theroux-quality travelogue with a focus on ant novelties that consciously avoids overtly scientific nomenclature and analysis. As such it is far more accessible to a general audience than e.g. Superorganism, which has sat on my shelf for too long now.
New to me were the ant gardens of Peru (and presumably South America in general) (p120), which are a multi-way symbiosis of two ant species and several kinds of plants. The ants manufacture a "carton" (papery) base (see the photo on the right) and grow specific plants there, which in turn seem to need the ants' ministrations to germinate.
The leaf-cutters and the weavers get a chapter each. Moffett tells us that the weavers in overhanging trees can pull individual (blind) army ants from their raiding columns on the ground, and moreover that the army ants exhibit a fear response if a weaver lands amongst them. I'd forgotten that the weavers also farm various small insects (aphids and the like). That there are only two species of weaver that dominate their respective habitats shows how successfully adapted they are.
Argentina apparently has spawned some ant super-species that are currently exterminating all other ant species in the northern hemisphere. The largest unicolony (a set of colonies with multiple queens that collaborate) of the "Argentine" ants stretches 2000km from Italy to Spain's Atlantic coast. Their strongest competitors are other ants from their region of origin, back in South America. One such, the fire ants, builds some pretty amazing rafts that helps them survive floots. There are several videos of these on YouTube. In contrast the driver (army) ants just drown.
I was disappointed that he did not include a photograph of an army ant bivouac. Clearly the nomadic army ants need to somehow vote on where to move to, and therefore engage in a process of "quorum sensing" (p244, references 16 and 17). We're told that cancer cells may use an analogous process for a similar purpose.
I haven't seen this in an age but still recall enough of the particulars that it would be barely worth rewatching if it weren't so hypnotic. #44 in IMDB's top-250.
Inspired by a true story, always the smell of a dodgy movie. Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, 2004. A bloke losing his grip on life in Nixon's America decides to hijack a plane and slam it into the White House. (Delta Airlines, the insides of whose plane he covered in blood, is one of the few left standing after the post-9/11 shakeout.) I can't say I saw the point of it all.
Jérémie suggested that we play a strategy game and chose this one, which he'd played before. We (Sandy, Albert, Ilan and Jérémie's friend Carola) organised to play yesterday at Jérémie's flat on Oberon Street in Coogee. We delayed to today so I could meet Iain (now in Perth) at the ever-popular Courthouse Hotel in Newtown.
We started some time after 2pm. It took about 90 minutes to set up and go through the rules, and we played through to about 8:30pm with some breaks. We decided to stop at about 6 or 7 rounds (of the scheduled 10), and set 5 castles as the winning mark. Combat often took ages to resolve, and it has the funny mechanic that losing armies retreat instead of being destroyed.
I found it quite complex with little opportunity for coalition building beyond some obviously mutually-beneficial non-aggression agreements. Mine was the Tyrell (rose) house, so I got stuck with no ability to play starred actions (which make up about a third of the possible ones) for what felt like ages. As we didn't muster until the third or forth round I felt I was just levelling-up. At round 6 or so I spent large and ended the game with all three thrones and hence lots of power to shape the rounds we didn't play.
These games require more of an investment than I expected. I guess I was thinking of something closer to Diplomacy, which I still haven't played.
I quite liked Errol Morris's The Fog of War and was (I guess) expecting something of similar weight. However this one, about a tawdry tale pursued by the British gutter press in the late 70s about a woman who chased her Mormon boyfriend with excessive zeal, and who coincidentally got her dog cloned by a Korean company in the late 2000s, is ultimately quite vacuous. Perhaps it is marginally topical, given Romney's nomination by the RNC.
Late 80s John Cleese. A heist caper comedy. He and Michael Palin are funny enough and I wish he'd cut them both larger roles. I can leave Kevin Kline and Jamie Lee Curtis.
By giving your protagonist amnesia, you equip him with an arbitrarily extensible backstory. Here we get some sort of genesis and conclusion, replete with the good Americans cleaning up the bad Russians. Yeah right, says Pussy Riot, in Putin's Russia you're going to get the cops arresting cronies. The camera work is the epitome of the shaky style of that era (circa 2004) that makes a lot of it unwatchable without a handful of amphetamines. The dialogue is generally atrocious and Julia Stiles gets loaded with the worst of it. Joan Allen makes success look like a booby prize. Matt Damon is the best part of all of this. I got bored being shown what was amply implied.
And that about wraps it up for Jason Damon. This is another genesis effort, where (cough) Stryker accepts a willing volunteer into his augmentation program, creating a beast that bites the hand that feeds. (I can see why people were disappointed with Wolverine now.) The dialogue is better than the previous effort, and Julia Stiles wisely keeps her trap shut for most of it, though promoting her to some kind of love interest / concerned citizen is implausible. Not the least plausible thing here, I grant, but one of the more gratingly incongruous. Won 3 Oscars? #183 in the IMDB top-250? David Strathairn must be hard up for cash; I haven't seen him in anything decent in a long while, and re-heating Brian Cox's role is surely beneath him. Oliver Stone saw so clearly that Joan Allen is Pat Nixon; I only got there afterwards. I was a bit disappointed that one of the assets wasn't Jason Statham.
I think Albert suggested this series wasn't too bad; I'd been avoiding it as an anti-fan of Matt Damon. He's OK here though there's not much happening; all I saw was a tired predictable repetition of things we've seen before. I can't get excited by car chases and all that, not when the outcome is so clearly determined in advance. It's not terrible, just boring, and perhaps fired up the Americans as it is set in Europe. Julia Stiles struggles, as does Franka Potente as some kind of gypsy. Clive Owen plays a cypher. Brian Cox plays a cliché, which was disappointing as he has been excellent elsewhere. Chris Cooper is the same as always.
Held up as one of Hitchcock's masterpieces. I feel certain I've seen this before, from the meeting featuring a pitch-perfect psychopathic Robert Walker to the establishment and later denouement. I found it a bit too narrowly drawn; the motivations of the main characters are totally banal and they never stop to think about alternative courses of action (such as talking to the cops), which when tried do go over successfully. Rated #136 in IMDB's top-250 and bracketed with other classic noir that I've seen already.
I saw this dialogue-heavy victory lap in the now-defunct Australia Cinema in Orange back in 1991. Kim Cattrall ponces around like it's Sex in the City and Christian Slater has a minor cameo. It's a lot more straightforward than I remembered.
Richard Attenborough, James Stewart. Nothing much happens until it has to, which is the exact opposite of modern film making. A bunch of colonials are helping Libya exploit its oil, and when their plane to Benghazi crashes in the desert we get a series of character micro-studies and as-needs-must engineering. Christian Marquand explained France's stake in Vietnam to Willard in Apocalypse Now.
I got Pandemic for Sandy, for her birthday last month. I thought it would be interesting to try something cooperative, unlike our usual fare. Albert, Sandy and Adrian and I played it at Albert and Sandy's place before dinner, which was a veggie risotto cooked by Albert, with much black tea.
Our first game went a bit cockeyed as we infected 3 cities per epidemic, and looked at the fresh (not discarded) card piles. We won relatively easily, with the Researcher (Adrian) and Dispatcher (me) combination working well, and the Medic (Sandy) keeping things under control. The Scientist (Albert) didn't seem that useful.
Our second game, after dinner, had Albert as the Operations Manager, Sandy as the Researcher, and me as the Medic. We played closer to the rules this time, but again it was an easy win; we scraped home with two breakouts left. Perhaps it would be more difficult if we didn't show our cards to each other. The rules are pretty clear once you have an idea how the game works.
Quite fun but enough analysis paralysis that one game is enough for a night.
The subject of not one but two reviews at the New York Times, this is putatively a rational reconstruction of Bell Labs' successful pipeline that took basic research into the massive telecommunications network we have these days. We get a potted history featuring the major players and the major early discoveries and developments (the transistor, information theory, masers, ...), with a special focus on foibles and colour. Unfortunately the author, being a business journalist, is not too savvy about the technical details ("the Unix programming language"), and the book doesn't meet the potential of its topic.
The emphasis on colour robs the book of some relevance; the most risible example is eclipsing William Shockley's early technical successes with his poor abilities as a manager and his later fixation with the genetic determinants of intelligence. What deserved far more attention was how anyone managed to get him to cooperate in the first place. The book also rushes the main narrative thread, which could have situated the prevailing attitudes about AT&T against the economic and social conditions of the day. Why did the U.S. Department of Justice under Nixon (1974) decide it was time to split the company up? I would have thought that Bell was still contributing to the Cold War, and greed-is-good was so 1980s.
These days it seems clear that Bell's original goal of universal connectivity has more-or-less been achieved and delta improvements in engineering will take care of what's left to do. I guess we see the results of monopoly busting in the slipping quality of U.S. internet (at least according to some metrics) and the slow roll out of the internet in Australia. (Then again, I don't know if Australian Telecom / Telstra ever engaged in much research beyond the adaptation of technology developed overseas.)
Most frustrating to me was that computer technology doesn't receive much discussion; I wonder why AT&T's post-breakup computer ventures did not succeed. Anyone with an interest in the area knows of the complete mess that UNIX was in the late 1980s, and the legal wrangling that continues to the present year, which is at least somewhat due to the breakup of AT&T. The book takes an overly narrow focus on the modern tech giants (Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook), ignoring IBM (one of the few with a sizable research division engaging in basic research, and a historic competitor of Bell Labs), and only mentioning one other industry (medicine, and not pharmaceuticals). The materials companies like Dow, 3M or Corning that were pivotal in scaling up some of the research are missing too.
I would have preferred a proper, more thorough, history of Bell Labs, and a more rounded discussion of the role of such industrial research labs. Why doesn't the U.S. government get up on its hind legs and explain its role in innovation to the people? How can the market be kept at bay while long-term research is undertaken? How are these organisations to reconcile allowing researchers to follow their curiosity with the companies' long-term commercial development needs, as Bell Labs did so successfully?
At The Ritz with Albert, who kindly waited to see it with me. Sandy came along for a drink beforehand. It was about what I expected. The story flowed quite well though the carefully-paced character development of the first two hours was spoilt by the underthought action scenes and seige of Gotham. (The problem with Nolan is that he gets so much right that the flaws are magnified.) Bale is a bit more emotive here, and Tom Hardy was great. Hathaway had big shoes to fill in following Pfeifer as the cat, and she has never been foxier than she is here. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was mildly disappointing with a flat performance; Brick this is not. I had higher hopes for the climactic scenes after an impressive build-up; all we got was a series of deus ex machina.
I didn't get into it. Somehow rated #174 in the IMDB top-250, though I can understand the Oscars as Hollywood loves movies about itself. Bérénice Bejo is drop-dead but her acting is clunky. Like Hugo, this is nostalgia dressed up as innovation.
With Loan. Saw it back in 2007 at the cinema. Not bad.
At The Muny in St. Louis with Loan. This is a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical canvassing some reassuringly familiar patronising colonialism. In brief, the quasi-civilised King of Siam needs the advice of a widowed Englishwoman to combat the ambitions of an expansionist England. The production lost some momentum after the interval with the romantic sub-plot, and the climactic King's illness initially reeks of a stratagem to lure Anna back to the fold.
Both of the leads were very good: Kevin Gray as the King, Laura Michelle Kelly as Anna. I had another pint (or so) of Schlafly.
With Loan. I had seen fragments of it before, perhaps on TV. Very good. #207 in IMDB's top-250.
At The Muny in St. Louis with Loan. The Municipal (open air) Theatre is a strange old institution built on some kind of American egalitarianism; there are free seats up the back, and $US70 ones down the front. We sat just in front of the freeloaders in $US10 seats which were a long way from the stage.
This was a well-produced musical, and was kind of fun, though it was hard to stay interested after the interval and a Schlafly beer. (The nights have been quite hot in St. Louis.) The plot was the usual knowing romance / pirate mythical bullshit, with knowing winks to the audience insert to make it palatable to modern crowds. I wonder when the U.S. will recognise that pirates were the terrorists of their day.
I am certain that I have not seen this before. Christian Bale is so earnest here, trying to combine Clooney suave with gravitas that yields merely "professional" vacuity. He really only fires when he's joking with Morgan Freeman, which I would put down to the generosity of the latter. It is so weird seeing Katie Holmes before she hooked up with Tom Cruise. Liam Neeson is never convincing but always seems like he should be. I liked Cillian Murphy as a psycho and hope he can stay on the Nolan bandwagon, just as Joseph Gordon-Levitt has (though he is absent from this).
#108 in the IMDB top-250.
I did see this one before, at the cinema back in 2008. Aaron Eckhart is as good as ever, though. #8 in the IMDB top-250.
Well before Apocalypse Now (redux) had Frenchmen explain the politics of Indochina to Americans, Burdick and Lederer sketched the diplomatic failures of the U.S. in South-East Asia up to the mid-1950s. Clearly their efforts were in vain as this was merely the start of one of the boggier parts of U.S. history. This series of linked vignettes tends to the didactic, though this is forgivable as these are lessons still to be learnt. Strangely the Soviets did not fare much better though this text portrays them as superior in preparation and education, and perhaps more clear-eyed about their objectives. I guess all that has evaporated now, though I wonder what the Chinese do these days. The book's wry humour dates it to the pre-irony era.
I found this classic via the movie of the same name starring Marlon Brando, which I have yet to see.
I pilfered this one from mrak's bookshelf and read it on the flights from Sydney to St. Louis. It's an old friend from my time in Melbourne where it was foist on me by Peter Eckersley, who is now doing wonderful things at the EFF.
Now as then I really liked the conceit of finding computational structure everywhere and using it to simulate/account for consciousness. However again I struggled with the details, such as computing a simulation of consciousness out of order; I do not understand how such a complex discrete process could be run that way. How can we compute a third state directly from an initial one, without first computing the intermediate one? Without this building block, that the "internal" experience of consciousness is independent of the underlying computing substrate, the rest falls away. I still don't get the symmetry arguments about the cellular automata in the second part that lead to Armageddon.
As a love-love letter to computation, it is mostly well-written when in flight, but stalls on, for example, a humdrum deviant-sex scene that was a mandatory feature of the cyberpunk of the day. I haven't read anything else from Egan as good as this. I wonder what he's up to now.
A dreamy lost-soul-in-Bangkok from Pen-Ek Ratanaruang. Christopher Doyle did the cinematography. The Japanese end of it barely escapes from cliche (yakuza).
Before Saving Private Ryan saw Tom Hanks claim Omaha Beach on D-Day, Hollywood sent Richard Burton, Sean Connery, Henry Fonda, Robert Mitchum, Rod Steiger, John Wayne and sundry others to liberate the all of Normandy from the Germans in black-and-white in 1962. It's not bad for all that, though things jump around so much that it's hard to keep track. Christian Marquand was more convincing as the plantation patriarch in Apocalypse Now. People died a lot more cleanly back then.
More from Sylvain Chomet, the bloke who made Les triplettes de Belleville. In a similar style. An illusionist moves from Paris to London, the far reaches of Scotland, to Edinburgh and back. He meets a young lady with whom he establishes a father/daughter relationship. It's OK in the small and would have been better without the story.
A Robert Mitchum segue from many things, most recently Ryan's Daughter. This is Hollywood ockerism taken to the limit, overflowing with cliché. The narrative is authentically Australian in that it is quite depressing and ultimately futile. Mitchum's accent is highly suspect. I liked Deborah Kerr's performance, perhaps because she has a strong character and her lines are plausible. Ustinov phones it in from Royal Ascott. The cinematography is sometimes striking.
Early Jarmusch from 1984. I'd be meaning to get to this one for an age. It's nowhere as great as what he later did, but it has its moments. The Hungarian grandmother in Cleveland, Ohio gets the best lines.
Ilan and Nitzan bought this from the games shop in Bondi Junction. Nitzan checked out early, so it was Albert, Sandy, Ilan and me who got to road test it. It's a fun strategy game without too much analysis-paralysis. We ended up playing three rounds until about 4am. It goes much faster when you get to know the mechanics, which are ultimately pretty simple.
In too many ways this is a fictionalisation of an incident that Scott Heron recounts in The Last Holiday, viz presenting demands to a university administration (Lincoln in his case, presumably-fictional Sutton here). The title and cover promised an account of how these institutions shaped Black thought circa 1968 but I didn't see too much of that; we get University President Calhoun's progression from firebrand radical to firebrand conservative, but that's the arc of many a man's life. We get the violent radicals, the stupid and the circumspect. I guess I hoping for some specifics about the cause like MLK and Malcolm X used to get into. Annoyingly his prose is a lot less sparky than he was capable of, and many things (such as racist cops) are lazily taken for granted. He could have expounded on some key historical events (like Kent State) that he instead merely gestures at. As Murrandoo Yanner keenly observed in The Tall Man, the white man should be bothered by this stuff too.
I supposedly saw this noir classic back in 2005. I don't remember a thing. The plot is baroque and there are far too many characters. Bogart and Bacall do their thing and the machinations and motivations are lost in the murk. There is some trademark Howard Hawks fast talking here and some good repartee, though it is delivered so flat that I often didn't believe what I'd heard. Bogart as a babe magnet at 45 has to be a running gag. Engaging for all of that. #178 in IMDB's top-250.
The whole Palm Island incident stinks. The cinematography in this doco is fantastic (thanks Germain McMicking) but the story is about as depressing as it gets.
Is Tony Koch the last reality-based journalist at The Australian?
Gil Scott Heron is a master of the short form, and every so often this novel sets off a keen observation with a sparky jag. It's something of a murder / mystery /Trainspotting-ish / real-life set in the projects of New York City in the late 1960s, but not the overall triumph the author thought he had when he hit the pause button on school to write it at age 20. It's more dealing than using, amongst the Blacks and Puerto Ricans, and sometimes the prose has the rawness of a first draft. He doesn't imbue his women with much character. Dropping the phonetics of the hood on the page doesn't add much, and there is some severely trying polemical poetry somewhere close to the end. The earlier Black politics comes off better though the events seem to avoid The Man's causality.
Wong Kar-Wai goes to the U.S. and the local talent turns up to play. As one would expect, the plot is weak but someone thoroughly ruined it by having Norah Jones voice some platitudes between acts. (It may actually be a subtle, deep and penetrating commentary on American values by the Hong Kong set masquerading as a patronising, annoying and entirely banal series of life lessons learnt by an uninspiring ingénue.) It was good to see David Straitharn and Rachel Weisz here, but Jude Law was the only one who succeeds at inflating his character, in his case with boyish English (and I must say, twee) charm.
The cinematography is incredible, as always. Darius Khondji previously shot Delicatessen, City of Lost Children and Se7en (amongst others), and Pung-Leung Kwan worked a lot with Wong Kar-Wai and Christopher Doyle on their earlier visual feasts.
A Sarah Miles segue from Ryan's Daughter. She is so young here, her character all giggles, and this is not her best outing. Pinter wrote the screenplay. It's the nightmare of the upper classes, being supplanted and debauched by their servants. The final act doesn't make much sense.
Second time around, with Albert and Sandy at their place.
Mid-morning snorkel at Gordons Bay with Ben. Not many fish. He got in with trunks only. I had the spring suit. The water got warmer as we got away from the beach. Strange weather, supposed to be fine but with a lot of high cloud.
Steven Soderbergh remakes Casablanca with Clooney and Blanchett ("We'll always have Berlin") in 2006. Tobey Maguire is execrable. I liked the brogue of the barman (Tony Curran). Unfortunately the whole thing is mediocre.
More aliens dreck. This one is even less excusable than the third one as Jean-Pierre Jeunet already had Delicatessen (which I must have seen back in the VHS days) and City of Lost Children under his belt, and Amelie was next (after a four year hiatus). Perhaps this was the cost of moving to Hollywood.
The plot/narrative/character logic/everything here is completely feeble. "Let's go here and get killed!" is really what they're saying. Winona makes a fetchingly vulnerable (proto emo) robot, and the sexiness that was supposedly intended in the original Alien is loosed here. Apart from that it's really just Dancing with Dinosaurs in the director's trademark sepia. I liked the Terminator-style shot of a trashed Paris at the end which set it up for a crossover with Moulin Rouge, with Nicole Kidman starring as the decreasingly human sprog of Ripley. The sets will get cheaper and cheaper until the entire movie is just a series of negative-space portraits.
Overall the series makes little sense, and happily trades coherency for cheap thrills. I wish I'd seen these before Prometheus as I would have toned my hopes right down.
More Alien dreck, this time directed by David Fincher. I guess this is the one that convinced everyone he could direct; the cinematography is the best part of it, apart from some of the action being atypically incoherent. The plot, characters, etc. are totally risible, and naming Weaver as a producer makes it look like she had to drag everyone to this superannuated GI Jane thing from the early 90s. This special edition is overlong and not at all inspired or engaging. There is a drinking bird on the gaoler's desk.
Apparently I did see this one back in 2007. In many ways this is James Cameron doing his corporate/industrial dystopia Terminator-one-and-a-half thing; the aesthetic is very similar. In contrast to that franchise, here everyone is incompetent except Ripley (and that includes the aliens). The captain of Red Dwarf (Mac McDonald) has a small role as the leader of the colony that gets annihilated. This special edition is overlong at two-and-a-half hours. Rated #59 in the IMDB top-250.
It's the late 1970s. Man has stopped going to the moon but now goes to the stars using ancient computer technology (was that an Apple ][ with an 80-column card in the first bit?), flourescent lights and a total relaxation of the smoking regulations. The Nostromo is the Blue Dwarf, long lost sister ship of Red Dwarf... or did they just repaint it later, and add some humour? All I learnt here was that even John Hurt was young once. (He was really great in 1984.)
I certainly haven't seen this before. The sets are excellent. It is difficult to watch it now as it has been pilloried, parodied and generally ripped off so thoroughly. There are so many incoherencies, and it really is just a thriller, and not sci fi; the universe is almost entirely a mystery, and everyone likes a blank canvas to project onto.
Spoilers, for both of you who haven't seen it: the cat makes it. There are Drinking Birds on the breakfast table when they wake up. Rated #41 in the IMDB top-250.
More French animation, this time for the dog crowd, especially those who like their mutts to bark at things. The hook was effective up to a point. Well drawn. Loads of exaggeration; I think Belleville is supposed to be the U.S., featuring obese people, cluelessly helpful boy scouts, hamburgers, a Statue of Liberty (or Gluttony?), the Mafia, etc. — though I think the newspapers are still in French, and in one it says it's the French Mafia...
A French animation that is doubtlessly subverting feline minds everywhere. I enjoyed it more than Dana Stevens did. The cat does get all the good lines (even though he has a non-speaking role).
A Wes Anderson segue from The Darjeeling Limited. Someone reviewing his latest movie suggested this might be his best. I don't know about that but the dialogue is the same as everything else he's ever done.
In 3D at The Ritz with Albert and Sandy at 4pm on this rainy long weekend. Well, I guess it could have been worse. I had limited expectations but had hoped Fassbender would do something awesome. Instead it was a familiar retread of the old themes with many tired reveals and cop-outs along the way; perhaps we're getting to the point that movies are made like Zynga games, all reactionary psych 101. It reminded me a bit of Moon; a plausibly engaging conceit that is well-made but gets overwhelmed by other flaws. I have absolutely nothing invested in Ridley Scott or Alien(s, etc.) so I'll leave it there.
While watching this matinee masterpiece from 1935 I started to wonder if Chris Barry learnt his acting from these early Errol Flynn efforts. I grant that Rimmer is a quite distinct character but there is a similarity in the face and a certain amount of "smoke me a kipper" Ace Rimmer in Flynn's Peter Blood hamminess. Flynn is quite a bit younger here than in Kim and it is clearer why the knees of his long-term co-star Olivia de Havilland are weak; she puts up a fight for implausibly long before surrendering to his good cheer in the final scene with a solid slice of knowing ham.
As far as pirate movies go this tops Johnny Depp's efforts for social realism and plot depth. Might be hard to franchise though.
Better the second time around. Samantha Morton puts in a reliably egoless performance, and Sam Riley as Ian Curtis is even better than I remembered.
Dana Sachs: The Life We Were Given: Operation Babylift, International Adoption, and the Children of War in VietnamTue, Jun 05, 2012./noise/books | Link
Again I succumbed to the temptation of raiding ANU's extensive collection of books on Asia held in their Menzies Library. (Incidentally the UNSW Library is also named after Sir Pig Iron Bob.) I prevailed on one of the beautiful librarians to find it for me, and in doing so she edified me that their "large" books are separate from the rest, and I had only been looking at the large ones. I am sure it makes sense to use the same numbers for both.
I was trying hard to avoid this book for so many reasons; perhaps particularly because it is a latter-day second-hand account of wartime relations between the U.S. and Việt Nam, unlike (say) Balaban's, which (to my mind) served a clear purpose. Brutally put, this isn't Dana's story to tell. Still, I found her translations and earlier memoir to be super bits of writing, and her motivations certainly impeccable, so I dived in.
In brief, Operation Babylift was a mass evacuation of war "orphans" at the end of the American/Việt Nam war, in the days preceding the much-feared Communist apocalypse of April 30, 1975. The logic of the babylift was as tortured as that for the entire war, and the book touches on some of the issues from a mostly American perspective. This is a bit frustrating as Dana has the background to explain the political, religious and cultural divisions of the Saigon of the day, and to make deeper sense of why the Buddhists and native Catholics were apparently not as fazed by the imminent Communist takeover as the foreign Christian charities, who panicked or were overtly baby-hungry, and generally not scrupulous about the paperwork and adoption critera. (She identifies Holt International as pretty much the singular ethical international operator.)
The children who were evacuated in Balaban's account had severe medical emergencies and benefited from sophisticated care in the U.S. (generally unavailable elsewhere in the world at that time). That they returned to Việt Nam after a few years was a condition of their leaving in the first place, and was made completely clear to the foster families who took care of them while they were in the U.S. His first-hand witness of the events is more valuable than this researched work, which sometimes degenerates to cutting-and-pasting from the historical record, and extended quoting of the memoirs of two of the women central to the babylift: Rosemary Taylor and Cherie Clark. Dana shows no evidence of reading Balaban's account from twenty years earlier.
Structurally this is modern fly-on-the-wall Bob Woodward style reportage. The facts are peppered with the fake first-personism of "She didn't even stop to wipe the mud from her face" and other colour that merely pads the book out. The biggest problem is that the stories — mostly anecdotes and valuable for that — are sliced up over several chapters, which leads to tedious repetition. (Each episode of the story includes a recap of the earlier installments; "Previously on Babylift...", and I lost track of the loose ends I wanted resolved.) Lockhart got it right: say your bit then let the players say theirs.
Dana's motivation for this project was that she saw a photo of a 747 full of babies from 1975, and she got funded to visit various orphanages with some of the children who returned to Vietnam to look for their families circa 2005. There is limited historical perspective here beyond the observation (p162) that there was a moratorium on adoption after World War II as the Red Cross saught to reunite families. The obvious parallel to draw in Australia is with the stolen generations of Aborigines, who were subject to presumably similar motivations. The baby hunger was again in evidence in Haiti after the earthquake, where people were kidnapping children and getting busted for it. The Israeli Operation Moses (etc) is portrayed in Live and Become as something like the babylift, all chaos and separation. I'm sure there are more. What is common to all is the good intentions of the operators, the murky legalities, the cultural divides and moral complexities. While it would be too much to ask for a contextualisation of the experiences of the children and families affected by all these events, the motivations, legality, etc. of the babylift operators could have been more extensively situated against what happened before and since.
This is a topic I'd never try to write about; it's too fraught. It's like the old philosophical chestnuts that we ponder for a while, before we get bored and shrug, which in this case is not really adequate. What is in the best interests of a child? I have a limited idea about what this might be within my culture and outside a warzone, but it becomes so tangled when one considers the Việt Nam of the 1970s and 1980s: an impoverished Confucian culture where the elders are venerated and not the youth, where the extraneous extended family members become domestic servants (etc. etc.), where the bright lights of the West have come and gone. Is "the best interests of the child" even be a criterion that traditional Vietnamese culture would accept?
We are also left wondering how the Vietnamese diaspora viewed the babylift children, and whether the Communist regime allows them a right-of-return. (Their official response to the babylift was to portray it as kidnapping, and someone more adventurous than I would doubtlessly draw parallels with the situation of the American POWs.) Dana wrote a novel about this very topic (If You Lived Here) which I cannot face after reading this.
I can't remember why I dug this one up. A ho-hum black-and-white mystery with a high IMDB rating. The best part is the interaction of the leads, William Powell and Myrna Loy.
A Robert Mitchum segue from Out of the Past, and incidentally Sarah Miles had a minor part in BlowUp. This is epic David Lean completism on my part; apparently Madame Bovary went to Ireland circa 1916, approximately contemporaneously to the Easter uprising, married a school teacher and found frolicking with an English war-damaged Major to be more fun, thereby earning the opprobrium of the townsfolk. I guess there are similar grand themes as in Doctor Zhivago, though here the plot is more evenly spread thoughout the extensive runtime.
The priest (Trevor Howard) gets all the good lines, especially the final sendoff. Rumpole (Leo McKern) is the publican. Excellent cinematography. Trademark lack of subtlety. Matinee fare.
A David Lynch classic that also sat in VHS format next to Three Colours and Down By Law back in the 1990s. Apparently I haven't seen it since then. He's on the road to Twin Peaks here, though Kyle McLachlan looks unbelievably youthful. This is Dennis Hopper's other signal crazy-nuts-intense performance (the first being Apocalypse Now).
I picked up this semi-autobiography on the strength of a review in the New York Times. I like his poetics, though one might be tempted to conclude that his best work came before 1975. (I'm not enough of a fan to have listened to much more than a greatest hits; it's more that I like his attitude and sense of humour.) The book supposedly started as an account of his tour with Stevie Wonder circa 1980 where Wonder campaigned for the national MLK holiday.
Generally it is well written and sometimes very funny, enough so that I look forward to reading the novels he wrote more than thirty years ago. However the later parts of this book become quite bleak and the concluding paragraph is brutal.
The mini-series, not the movie. This one is quite different as it apparently takes the book much more literally; so much so that sometimes even Kate Winslet cannot believe her character. All the acting is pretty solid. Evan Rachel Wood gives me Nicole Kidman vibes, scrawny, bloodless and only convincing when she's frosty and/or bitchy, as she often is here and was in The Wrestler. Guy Pearce anchors the scenes he's in, reliable as ever.
There's probably a PhD being written right now comparing this to the women doing it for (and to) themselves in Twin Peaks, comparing pie baking skills. These days have the Americans looking back to the depression, self-sufficiency, etc. — and one wonders if it's going to take another massive war to shift the economy out of the current malaise. Mad Men, Revolutionary Road, The Tree of Life and so forth: the navel gazing of a diminishing empire.
With Albert and Sandy at their place, over pizza. I've seen more Wes Anderson efforts than I realised. I guess there's a lot in his movies for those who get on board with him, and little for everyone else. The humour in this one is occasionally gentle but often somewhat brutal. The visuals (colours and the widescreen) are sometimes quite arresting. Owen Wilson is pretty low-key in the lead, Adrien Brody gazes into the camera with his stock soulful wide-eyed facial expression, and Jason Schwartzman is their foil. The three brothers are on a stock spiritual journey through India a year after their father's funeral. Anjelica Huston trumps Wilson when the boys meet their mother.
Making the most of the apparently transient fine weather, I went for yet another mid-afternoon snorkel at Gordons Bay. The water remains bearable in a wifebeater and it was reasonably clear and absolutely flat. I saw heaps of the usual fish, the big groper and a rather large ray: unlike the stingarees I've seen before this one was quite a bit darker and somewhat folded up around the centre with a tail much shorter than the length of the pancake part. It was swimming slowly over some rocks in a metre or so of water.
The classic airport novel.
Mid-afternoon snorkel at Gordons Bay. The water is getting to that barely-comfortable-in-a-wifebeater stage, though I'm not yet struggling to get in. The tide was out and the bay was as flat as it gets. I saw loads of small fry, some larger ludderick but not the big groper.
John Balaban: Remembering Heaven's Face: A Story of Rescue in Wartime Việt NamMon, May 21, 2012./noise/books | Link
One of the perils of visiting ANU is picking through still more of the extensive collection of books on Việt Nam held in the Menzies Library. I'd read Balaban's earlier Coming Down Again and knew he could write, and indeed this was the book of his for me to read. It recounts his time as a voluntary witness in Việt Nam during the late 1960s, and his return in the early 1970s (to the Delta) and late 1980s (after đổi mới, to the Delta and Hà Nội).
Balaban bravely tells stories against himself here, as well as fulfilling his witness role by describing the effects of the American occupation of the Delta. There's a fair bit of blood and many severed limbs, and also an awareness that traditional Vietnamese culture was in danger of disappearing forever. (Perhaps Balaban's apocalypse has come to pass, I don't know.) He participated in the medical evacuation of many children organised by the Committee of Responsibility but presumably not the Operation Babylift that Dana Sachs wrote about. His time with Ông Đạo Dừa (the coconut monk) on Cồn Phụng (an island in the Mekong, in Bến Tre province) feels strangely abbreviated. The author's brass balls are often on display, which is sometimes poignant as when this crack shot of a conscentious objector takes up arms to defend a hospital at Cần Thơ. Writing this must have been tough.
A Donald Wolfit segue from Becket. A doomed three-legged romance falls apart on the class divides of black-and-white post-war England. The accents are awesome, and Ambrosine Phillpotts is a standout as the snooty wife/mother.
Over several nights. More Hunter S. Thompson completism from Johnny Depp, who somehow dragooned Aaron Eckhart into this feeble effort. Rife with cliche and lacking any depth in the characters, this bears no obvious relationship to the book (the little I remember of it). Dross.
Mid-afternoon paddle at a fairly flat Gordons Bay. I was a bit surprised that visibility was so poor after what was supposed to be a few weeks of clear weather. Apart from the usual suspects I saw a rather large flathead (I think), loads of goatfish, and a large-ish silver thing with a tail taller than the body of the fish itself. I didn't find the big blue groper, but did see a quite large female.
A Steve McQueen inessential, despite the masterly long takes. Too much Michael Fassbender proves to be too much. There is a vacuum at the heart of this movie where his character should be, and it is therefore tempting to compare it to Bateman in American Psycho, or the ranginess of Dimitriades in Head On, where a slog through the night stands in for a journey through inner space. This is somewhat painful as Fassbender makes it clear that Brandon has something to say, though perhaps it is beyond him to actually do so; compulsiveness is monotonous. I guess one could think of this as a New York reflection of his earlier effort in Essex.
Carey Mulligan reminded me of Gemma Arterton in The Disappearance of Alice Creed, game but more symbol than woman. (The list of "if you didn't like this you might also not like..." movies is too long.)
Even so, I am wondering what is next for Steve McQueen; Twelve Years a Slave is scheduled to be made in 2013.
A Jack Lemmon segue from Short Cuts, a black and white rom com from 1960 that swept the Oscars. I didn't know Shirley MacLaine was Warren Beatty's sister, and that helps to make sense of this. It's OK, I guess; Fred MacMurray is a bit painful and it's not at all subtle, most of the time. Rated #94 in the IMDB top-250, somewhat implausibly.
This is the Alan Turing centenary year and there's a lot of high-minded academic stuff going on. For some reason I pre-ordered the new edition of this biography from Cambridge University Press via Book Depository; perhaps it was because Martin Davis was spruiking his introduction to it on the FOM list. Ironically his opening paragraph reads:
Sara Turing, a woman in her seventies mourning the death of Alan, her younger son, a man that she failed to understand on so many levels, wrote this remarkable biographical essay. She carefully pieced together his school reports, copies of his publications, and comments on his achievements by experts. But Alan Turing was a thoroughly unconventional man, whose method of dealing with life's situations was to think everything through from first principles, ignoring social expectations. And she was trying to fit him into a framework that reveals more about her and her social situation than it does about him. Alan's older brother John trying to fill in the gaps he saw in his mother's account, also ends up revealing a good deal about his own attitudes. In this few pages I will discuss some of the questions that may occur to readers of these documents.
... and indeed the rest of it runs them further down. It culminates in a section titled Other Reading, which includes pointers to both the standard biography by Hodges and his own Engines of Logic (aka The Universal Computer), and could be summarised as "anything but this".
I enjoyed John Turing's bluntless, though as Davis (and just today, Obama but not Gillard) observes the times have changed. Sara's hagiographic tendencies got pretty boring pretty fast, apart from the odd anecdote.
I got suckered by Anthony Lane's review in the New Yorker. It starts as a heist flick, shifts gear to a man-hunt sort of thing, and twists and turns its way into some kind of romance. The toilet scene is the most arresting since Trainspotting (though the romance does not occur there, unlike Henry Fool). Those crazy Norwegians, they left out the fjords.
Again. Cristoph Waltz is fantastic, and Fassbender makes the most of his time on the screen. #104 in IMDB's top-250, still.
An Audrey Hepburn / Cary Grant early-60s rom com triller set in a Paris that must be thoroughly sick of Americans. She gets all the good lines. Apropos filtered cigarettes: "It's like drinking coffee through a veil, isn't it?"
I liked it.
I figured I'd chase some sun and try snorkelling somewhere new, so I headed up the coast. Albert and Sandy suggested Myall Lakes, just north of Port Stephens, as a place to camp, and Andrew T reckoned the bay itself contains stuff to look at, so it seemed like a natural first-stop.
Well, the short story is that the northern side of the bay is mostly mangrove swamp, and from my experience down at Woy Woy visibility is quite poor at river mouths. I happened upon the surf life saving club on the ocean beach at Hawks Nest, and the blokes there suggested I try going along the rocks at the south end of it, about a ten minute walk from the closest carpark (for those without 4WDs). I got down there with my gear only to find a bloke trying to hook a shark in about a metre of water, perhaps ten metres from the shoreline and less from the rocks, and decided to hoof it back to the car. There were loads of fisherman there so I imagine the sea had a few other carnivores hanging around. I took a dip a bit further up and found it quite pleasant in.
I camped the night up at Myall Lakes, solo at the Boomeri site; it's the last one along the road coming from the south, and unlike the others is not on the lake. Some dingos turned up as the sun was setting but kept their distance and only looked hopeful. A possum demanded food as I wandered down to the loo for something to do after dark, which set in around 6pm; the days are so short right now that I was all ready for bed by 6:30pm (tent up and food in gut), and boredom set in soon after. I finished Andrew X. Pham's book, and I must say that the iPod Touch is backlit is mighty convenient when camping.
The next day I took a quick dip in the lake, which turned out to be a tea lake! I haven't seen one of those in about a decade. A bit cooler than the ocean but just as pleasant. After that I got the car ferry and headed up to Forster along the Lakes Way. Again I tried snorkelling at Forster along the rocks but the surf was just large enough to dissuade me from finding out where the fish hide from it.
I guess I was dreaming of Gordons Bay-type inlets, and too blasé to the shark issue. I got bored and drove back to Sydney.
This is a collection of shorts and offcuts from the past decade of Andrew X. Pham's life. As such there's a lot of ultra-light flights, a little hang gliding and many truncated romances. For whatever reason he self-published this one; perhaps it is just too hard to coordinate with an old-school publishing house from that house on the Mekong River (near the Thai/Laos border) that he doesn't talk about. Or maybe he is too happy with his present partner and situation to disturb that equilibrium.
As always he writes engagingly and generously. These tales are mostly not as searing as his earlier accounts of his family and perhaps signal a conclusion to his restless years, if not his crazy-bravery. One could wonder if the various protagonists deserve a right-of-reply, though perhaps they will make themselves heard on this wonderful internet contraption.
I found out about this book via his Kickstarter project for his cookbook. Both of these are now available from Amazon on their Kindle platform, for bargain prices; cheaper even than on the streets of Sài Gòn. The Kindle app on the iPod Touch is quite usable, and the cookbook quite amusing.
This is one of those old arthouse flicks that shared the shelf with The Unbearable Lightness of Being and the Three Colours trilogy back in the days of VHS. (I must have watched it back in the 90s.) Here Jarmusch has a black-and-white Tom Waits play a non-crook semi-bum who goes down for having a dead man in someone else's trunk. I really enjoyed the early scenes in New Orleans but the arrival of a stilted cliche-ridden Roberto Benigni made the rest grate.
I saw this maybe five years ago. I find it so frustrating as I like many of the actors but can't credit their characters nor the conceit of their lives intersecting in this way. Taking things to the edge time after time is ludicrous; if this was L.A. everyone would have left by then (2004), and it is so cheap of Haggis to ride ragged the red-button issue of race. This is Altman light without the levity. Maybe it gives some context to The Interrupters, which I still have to see.
A one-actor Robert Altman. It's about a decade since Watergate etc. and "Nixon" feels the need to set the record straight, with a bottle of Chivas Regal and a revolver. The monologue is a bit much at times and demanding in its traversal of U.S. history.
I wonder what Altman and cohort would have had "George W. Bush" say.
More David Lynch. It seems a lot less appealing than it did in the mid-1990s; Balthazar Getty is a limited actor and Patricia Arquette was better elsewhere. Bill Pullman is given little room to move. Trent Reznor does an awesome job producing the soundtrack, and yet the haunting Song to the Siren performed by This Mortal Coil (that's Elizabeth Fraser of Cocteau Twins / Teardrop out front) is missing from the CD. The cinematography is sometimes good. I'm not going to pretend to be interested in decyphering this trip into inner space.
Late afternoon snorkel off the snorkel ramp at Gordons Bay, after the forecast rain didn't show. (The sun sets at 5:30pm right now!) There were loads of fish quite near the ramp, and the big blue groper not far from there either. I didn't see any squid or stingarees.
Another early Wong Kar-Wai, somewhat similar to Chungking Express with more gangsta and less romance. Maybe funnier too.
Mid-afternoon snorkel at Little Bay. Almost nobody there. The water was reasonably comfortable and quite clear, though the sky was far more overcast than I was lead to expect.
Rod Steiger tries to channel the Ugly Tuco with mixed success, and James Coburn just gets on with it. A minor Leone.
I still like it, but the acting here is not as good as in other Hartleys.
A Nic Cage segue from Kick-Ass, and a David Lynch, Sherilyn Fenn (etc) arc from Twin Peaks. Laura Dern has the biggest task here. One of these years I'll get around to Inland Empire.
Remains decent on a second viewing, though I note it has fallen to 7.9 on IMDB and now a long way from the top-250. I still think it is one of Cage's better efforts.
Late-morning / early afternoon snorkel with Ben at a fairly grim Watsons Bay. We were lucky that the storms held off to the evening. The water was reasonably clear, and comfortable once in. We got in near the power substation at the north end of Watsons Bay, headed around to Camp Cove where we took a breather, and then a short way along the rocks north of there. Despite the clouds there were loads of people queued up at the Doyle's takeaway.
Once again: the full version, with the there's-not-gonna-be-a-T3 ending. Still at #38 in the IMDB top-250.
A total cock-up of an adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's Kim. This is mediocre Saturday matinee fare, and you can tell why they waited for the big man to die before pulling the trigger. Errol Flynn isn't given much but does his best with the dancing girls; presumably the really saucy bits are on the cutting-room floor. I wonder if he ever attempted a non-ham role.
Mid-afternoon snorkelling attempt at Little Bay. Loads of people there. The tide was out, the water warm enough, the surf relatively large and there was a lot of detritus in the water. I didn't see much.
Antonioni is famous for something that I can't see. This is a somewhat beautiful amble through moddish 1960s London with little plot and no characters worth speaking of. All I learnt was that the bra either hadn't been invented by then, or had been burnt quietly, off-stage, with no liberation of the females.
Early-afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. The weather has been fantastic though the water is quite filthy with leaves, etc. Two canines there, one on the beach and the other barking like mad on the northern rocks. Quite pleasant in.
Morning first-thing snorkel with Ben off the beach at Gordons Bay. We saw a couple of stingarees quite close to the beach, and also the blue groper as far in as I've ever seen him. Some immature garfish put in a showing for the first time in a while. Quite pleasant once in, and the water was reasonably clean.
The movie, not the restuarant chain, and before this, the TV series. I felt so sorry for Audrey (Sherilyn Fenn) as her character went from sassy wantonness to cringe-inducing banality over the two seasons. The movie is a case of too much information, and it makes Laura Palmer much less interesting. David Lynch is sometimes at the top of his game here.
I wouldn't go so far as some reviewers, but camping at the Canberra Motor Village is not a peaceful experience. Suffice it to say that it is wedged just under Belconnen Way and is not scenic, quiet nor particularly cheap. Next time I might try Exhibiton Park (EPIC).
Still at #10 in the IMDB top-250. Somehow it leaves me cold, perhaps because the plot is too familiar.
I bought a ticket to this Saturday matinee at the Carriageworks ages ago, when I was optimistic that I'd get stuff finished by mid-March. As it is I'm strung out on caffeine and lack of sleep (due to the excessive hours of the nearby construction works and not, unfortunately, on my part) and wondering if I'll ever get it in the can.
This was my first trip back to the theatre in about six months, since the couldn't-possibly-fail Summer of the 17th Doll at Belvoir. Structurally this is an hour show spread over about 1h 20min with an interval. There's the usual Version 1.0 multimedia schtick but they struggle to fill expansive Bay 20 at the Carriageworks with it despite the pews being packed.
The story tells itself: Wollongong Council (and as they emphasise, many others including Randwick) has been corrupted by the building development process. This is the "sex for development" tale that has dried up over the past few years, as the multitude of charges suggested by ICAC fail to stick. It's a fantastic story of corruption at the lowest levels of government, which have a lot of power but are typically ignored by the media, perhaps due to the lack of glam; this is not the "theatre for ugly people" recounted by Crabb et al.
This production is quite strong in the first half with David Williams spouting all sorts of polished bullshit, and the other actors some unbelievable tosh. Yes, the gambit is to hang the original players with their own words, and the set is used quite well to illustrate the development plans and ICAC proceedings. It flags somewhat later in the second half as we get a static Beth Morgan on the stand (ouch) for too long. Up to then movement was a welcome reprieve between torrents of intense verbiage (skillfully assembled, etc.). It would've been a blast to see it somewhere more on its scale, small, brutal and ludicrous. The old Performance Space on Cleveland Street where I saw Version 1.0 for the first time would have been perfect.
Early evening paddle at Gordons Bay. Not too many people around and the days sure are getting short. The water was cooler than I remembered from last month... Some young blokes were out fishing on one of the tinnies, and I was shocked at the lack of canines.
I figured I'd try reading some eBooks on the iPod Touch, as it is easy enough to get free content from Project Gutenberg into Apple's iBooks application, and the latter is not too clunky for the most part; the screen is so small that any decent text blows out to 800+ "pages". The integrated dictionary was quite useful to, especially as I started out thinking that Lahore was on the coast.
In any case I'd been meaning to read Kim for so long I can't remember why. It's a playful romp through colonial (pre-partition) India, about a white kid who goes sufficiently native to attract the interest of the colonial regime in the "Great Game" they play against Russia for control of Asia west of China. According to the fount of all knowledge, Nehru rated it his favourite novel. Rudyard Kipling got the Nobel Prize for literature in 1907, so early and so young; a reactionary opening of the doors by the committee, I guess.
Here Kipling seems to endorse India in all its messiness, and perhaps also the colonial regime insofar as it gives the white man access to the subcontinent and furnishes the story with the ever-attractive gloss of spycraft. I don't think he condescends to the natives here, but what would I know.
An ancient Kubrick. The war scenes drag a bit and the whole thing is less subtle than I remember. It's still good though, parked at #50 on the IMDB top-250.
I mentioned playing Portal 2 to Tom Sewell ages ago, and he told me that the co-op mode was where the action was. We finished it over two nights (this and about a month ago), taking perhaps 8 hours and 5 beers to reach the somewhere deflationary ending. It never got too frustrating, except when it involved knowing how close things were, such as stepping from one funnel to another; with the set-piece things (e.g. the launchers) you can just trust that the game designers got the distances, etc. right, but when I'm doing it with portals many don't look possible from where I'm standing. I had the same perspective problem with the solo version of this game.
We played at NICTA, but I'm glad we played it in-person and not over the net.
A while ago mrak told me the Dirty Three were playing towards the end of March, back when I was optimistic about wrapping up the writing by then. I hadn't heard about their new album Towards the Low Sun, released about a month prior to this, as they moved on from their old Anchor and Hope mob, whose mailing list has apparently died a silent death. The best tickets I could get were for a box on the left of the stage, roughly in line with where Ellis would be standing if he was that kind of guy.
As it happened mrak was busy with a demo of his Ninja Blocks project until late so Ang got stuck drinking with me at the dear old Opera House Bar. I feel I'm finally wrinkly enough to elbow my way through the suits and steal their barmaid. The gig itself will not go down in history as their best ever, partly due to some dodgy mixing but probably more due to rustiness of the band; it must be tough playing some decade old standards with guys who meet up so rarely. Who cares, I'll take what I can get; with those seats we got to see the Ellis/White noise machine up close.
After I scored the obligatory t-shirt and Ulterior Motives, and we met up with mrak's brother Chris at the bar. Shame it was a school night.
Not, unfortunately, the bar in Saigon that I never went to. It's down to #35 in the IMDB top-250, the horror.
More Altman. Perhaps the best thing I've seen Warren Beatty do. Julie Christie is good too. Cohen's soundtrack still haunts.
Frances McDormand, John Turturro (channelling Al Pacino)? For a minute there I thought I'd got a Coen-brothers movie. This one is totally incoherent, and while Bay's iconoclasm is a little bit reassuring (the needs of the many, etc., fighting in a church, destroying the Lincoln monument, ...) the myths he venerates (the U.S. military, violence, fast cars and sleeping with supermodels) are the only things that get a decent treatment here. The fictional history (historical fiction?) guff is wearing thin, though I must say that the best thing I've seen Bay do was the rapid recounting of the Apollo 11 mission, early on; stretched to 30 minutes it would have been totally awesome.
This is probably the most technically sophisticated movie I've ever seen, and yet Bay manages to make everyone who sees this movie feel smarter than anyone involved in making it. I got the feeling that he's still fighting Pearl Harbour, what with the khaki fanboism skipping the sixty-odd years of (cough) mixed results for U.S. military since then. Well, that and the blatant rip-off of the Team America settings. (And don't Michael Bay movies always suck?)
The dialogue is execrable (though it has something of the the cheese), and the most irritating part is that you can't ignore it because that's where he develops the plot (as it were). It's hard to believe that Orson Welles's last movie was the original feature.
Clint and Leo embark on an ill-advised Oscar-baiting Hoover biopic. The result is a bit tedious and lacks the moral conundrum that Clint strives for in his directing efforts; it's not exactly hagiography but it's not real either. The best law enforcement outfit in the world, circa 1950? I'd have given that to the Stasi or the K.G.B... and the focus on the child abduction case that gave the F.B.I. it's teeth is nowhere as cutting as the allusions to Hoover's meddling with the civil libertarians in the 1960s, which really deserved a fuller treatment.
I can't help but think he does a better job with a smaller budget (Grand Torino) and something pointed to say. This is ultimately entirely banal, even if we leave Leo out of it.
Great neo-noir with perfect casting, albeit with a femme fatale who isn't so fatal. It's one of those movies that doesn't stick in my memory; I had a couple of oh-yeah moments but mostly I'd forgotten how it went. I guess this is because most of the plot is talked about and not shown.
Altman goes to L.A. and splices together a shirtload of Raymond Carver plots. It's good, but I've got to wonder why he didn't find a home in it for Elliot Gould. The pick of the couples for me was Tom Waits and Lily Tomlin, perhaps because they seemed so wonderfully (yet imperfectly) isolated from the bullshit the other couples engaged in.
Despite the faces of Daniel Day-Lewis, Juliette Binoche and Lena Olin running through my mind while reading the book, the movie is a bit of a let down. Binoche is childish here and it's hard to fathom what a hardened womaniser like Day-Lewis would see in her; moreover her "you're jealous!" bit somewhere in the first hour made me cringe, and the nudity tends to the vacuous if not the downright exploitative. Perhaps Kundera made Tereza too much of a cypher; the babe in the bullrushes Tomas cannot abandon, and Kaufman felt women's bodies could stand in for the plot. The philosophical musings of the book would have been better abandoned rather than used as stilted pillow-talk. Olin's Sabina is the most memorable of the three. It is patently dishonest to run the whole thing in English... though for all that, this is maybe the canonical late-80s accessible European arthouse effort.
Another old friend. I am so glad I never studied this book at school, and only encountered Orwell's oeuvre when I got to uni. His writing is as exact an opposite to Hunter S. Thompson et al's gonzo as you will find anywhere. As such it is depressingly clear sighted.
An old friend. I like Kundera's meditation on the relation between lightness and heaviness, which is the positive and which the negative, but the book stalls almost completely when he gets bogged down in kitsch at the three-quarters mark. In 1984 it may have looked like Communism was the thousand-year reich, and I guess you've got to forgive an old emigre his fixations. I liked the characters, flawed and all, and am looking forward to seeing the movie again.
The Musée National Picasso in Paris is being renovated, so they sent some of his works on a world tour, stopping in the antipodes. Lucky us. The Art Gallery of NSW instituted timed tickets for it, but I need not have worried as it wasn't so busy on this weekday afternoon. Strangely the Gallery was full of school kids but there were none in the exhibition.
I remember The Rape of the Sabine Women from school, but it wasn't here; the original is in Boston. What was there was vaguely familiar but not strikingly so. Amusingly it was quieter than your average movie theatre.
Mid-morning paddle at a mostly deserted Gordons Bay. Some spots of rain signalled the end of this stretch of summer; apparently we're in for a lot more in the coming days.
Wong Kar-Wai takes Tony Leung and boyfriend Leslie Cheung to Argentina for some kind of romance. There are some awesome scenes here as their relationship falls apart.
Late morning snorkel with Ben. We started from the beach at Gordons Bay and headed up the southern side, then across to the scuba ramp. Ben chased a stingaree in some fairly shallow water, apparently trying to grab its tail. We saw the usual suspects, a couple more stingarees, more squid in one spot than I've ever seen, and the big (fat) blue groper in fairly shallow water.
Wong Kar-Wai's first feature from 1988. Maggie Cheung pairs off with Andy Lau, Kowloon gangster, but he chooses mates over dates and gets horribly mauled by cliché. There's some signature camera work and the beginnings of the aesthetic that took the director to the top of his game; has anyone else ever made fluorescent lighting look so good? We also get an inkling of what's to come with his treatment of Maggie and her doctor, Andy and his ex-girlfriend: the fractured relationships that show (and not merely tell) what these characters are all about. I'm not a huge Andy Lau fan but he does fine here.
Orson Welles was thin once, and came from somewhere in Ireland that no one has ever heard of. He sails around the Caribbean, falls for Rita Hayworth and gets framed for murder. It's all black and white and not up to his other thriller noirs.
Early-afternoon snorkel at Gordons Bay, off the scuba ramp. The water remains clear and fairly warm. Finally a burst of summer! Apart from the usual suspects I saw a couple of stingarees quite a way apart.
Late-morning snorkel off the scuba ramp at Gordons Bay. The tide was up and there was some surf but not too bad. Right near the ramp was a group of squid, some quite large. I saw a few more out where the blue groper hangs out, but not the big man himself. Loads of fish. The water was fairly clean as it hasn't rained for a day and a bit now.
Apparently Randwick got 0.2mm of rain yesterday, so I unwisely went for a swim at Gordons Bay around 1pm. Not too many people around; almost more dogs than humans really. The water looked clear with some scum on the surface. The weather looks to be clearing so perhaps I'll get there a few more times before summer expires.
A Brando 1954 black-and-white classic, where his choice of dates over mates doesn't go over too well with the local hoods. Lee J. Cobb heads this mob.
A Paul Giamatti segue from The Ides of March and GFC segue from Margin Call. The cast is huge and things unwind a bit too quickly for the explanation-studded narrative to keep up. I'm still struggling to see how it might be that the merchant bank(er)s were not acting in rational self-interest the entire time, and that the end product of all of this is a financial system with fewer but much larger institutions.
Good to see Bill Pullman again. James Woods finally looks like he should have at the end of Once Upon a Time in America.
I last read this trilogy-in-five-parts forever ago. The first few are as funny as ever. In contrast the concluding Mostly Harmless is a bit dire, with the foxy Fenchurch killed off before the action (as it were) begins. I always wanted to know how the dolphins left, where they went and if they ever made much use of the Guide. While Adams spells out enough of everyone else's (sex-)lives, Ford Prefect may well have been a humaniform car given the action-man he morphs into.
The ACT provincial government claims that the Old Kowen Homestead is perfect for camping. I disagree quite strongly: it is poorly signposted and a lot further from Sutton Road than I expected; I got quite lost and while I commonly do navigate in a circular fashion I don't like being forced to rely on it. It was raining too much for me to set up so I slept in the car, which I could have done in the Parliament House carpark I guess. The roads are unsealed (so the car is caked with mud) and the logging trucks start early in the morning. The campground is completely unspecial and there are no facilities beyond a toilet. There is nothing to see. Go elsewhere.
Early-evening paddle at Gordons Bay. Yesterday was perhaps the third day of summer, and today maybe the fourth. The water was surprisingly clean given the runoff of the past week. I believe the BOM is forecasting something similar for tomorrow, before the rain returns for the rest of the week.
Altman directs Elliot Gould as a professional gambler. Perhaps this is how it is. In any case Gould free-associates and Segal ultimately wins at poker, craps, roulette, etc. Not sure there's more to it than that.
The predecessor to Smiley's People. (Apparently Le Carre wrote a less filmable middle child, The Honorable Schoolboy.) It is a quite similar made-for-TV BBC production, again featuring Alec Guinness in the lead with able support from other British actors. If you see it, go in cold.
Dubious early-GFC-sociopath flick. The cast is strong and the tension ramps up like Hollywood knows how but unfortunately it never sails from the shore. To me the most interesting relation is between Demi Moore and Simon Baker — it struck me that she had enough leverage to get pretty much whatever she wanted, and to get to that level of the corp (any corp) she can't have been too compunctious. Spacey is in essence his dead dog; we're all waiting for another The Usual Suspects and instead we get this over-emoted boss who must realise he hasn't done an honest day's work in 34 years. Paul Bettany was fortunate to have most of a (loutish) character to inhabit. Ultimately the rigid hierarchy plays out and there are no allies, just the co-opted.
Love and human remains during the Russian Revolution. Omar Sharif, Julie Christie (looking very much like Peter O'Toole in the other revolutionary epic of the day, Lawrence of Arabia, also directed by David Lean). Alec Guinness has the job of preventing the Reds from liquidating Zhivago before the credits roll. I can't say I got all of the plot, which comes in small dense waves every 15 minutes or so.
Getting in ahead of the forecast showers, I headed down to Little Bay in the late morning for a snorkel. The water was a lot colder than when I last got in at Gordons Bay, at least until I got out to the rocks. Not much swell, and the water seemed clear enough. I didn't see much apart from the tiniest goat fish.
I'd got it into my head that this movie was rubbish, despite the general robustness of Clint Eastwood's recent output, and because Angelina Jolie is generally the worst part of any movie she's in. Given that, it (and she) was better than I expected.
I liked how Eastwood shipped some iconic imagery from his career into more settled contexts: digging in a boneyard, a noose around a neck (but less the hanging itself), and (in contrast) justice coming from a lawyer. The cops are totally bankrupt, little more than punching bags. It takes me pretty much the whole movie to believe that Malkovitch is not a psycho, though he is on the edge for most of it; his character may have been more sympathatic than he managed to portray. The bloke playing the crim got a raw deal: his character is stock nuts and gutless. Is Clint trying to distinguish moral absolutism and absolution here?
As observed by Dana Stevens, the movie's biggest weakness is the unidimensional characters that don't develop much, though Angelina does get a bit steelier towards the end. It is entirely unsubtle throughout. I guess it's a bit Million Dollar Baby (strong female lead and resulting moral issue) with still-open M.I.A. themes that might link it to Letters From Iwo Jima and Flags of our Fathers. Clint's trip to Cuckoo land is as completely humourless as everything else.
James Coburn as a German corporal/sergeant on the eastern front in 1943; war at its most ludicrous, looking back from 1977 through a German soldier's account. I would have traded a lot of those explosions for further plot developments. This is something like Paths of Glory with bombs.
Stephen J. Pyne: Voyager: Seeking newer worlds in the third great age of discoveryThu, Jan 26, 2012./noise/books | Link
I got suckered by a review of this book in the New York Times, and figured it'd have to be worth six squid for a copy from a U.S. bookseller (via Abebooks). I'm now absolutely certain that copy was remaindered for good reason.
As everyone my age or older knows, the Voyager probes were sent by NASA to survey the outer planets on a "Grand Tour", and sent back some awesome photographs throughout the 1980s. I'm generally curious about the science they carried out but more interested in the engineering that yields spacecrafts as functional as these still are 34 years later. What electronic technology did they use? (Integrated circuits had been around for a while, and I could imagine they used custom chips with transistor counts in the tens. What substrate?) What is the power source? What is the architecture of the several onboard computers? — and so on. I feel the kid who can't stop asking why.
You won't find satisfying answers to any of these questions in this book. This is a literatti's take on exploration whose erudition garners great reviews from other literatti (i.e. in the mainstream press). The central premise is not really Voyager so much as an overcooked "third age of exploration" neologism encompassing the author's previous history of Antarctic exploration and now space. Unfortunately he is less interested in educating than in appearing erudite, so we get the old synaptic twinge of faux intelligence when we know what he's going to say, and feel dumb (and numb) for the rest of the time. I can't pretend to get all his references; I didn't know anything about the exploration of the United States and still don't.
At times the book gets almost offensively desultory, such as its treatment of Voyager 2's encounter with Neptune which includes barely a page on the moon Triton. Things get seriously weird out there at the gonzo end of the solar system, and as we're not going back any time soon it would have made sense to spend more effort on these unique features of this program. The photographs are also complete rubbish — black-and-white, and nothing iconic. Irritatingly the author makes a lot of these famous images in the text. Voyager 2 is the same age as me, but while I'm stuck in a circle centred on the sun with its crash-test sibling, it's out there doing things, not reading poor accounts of the same.
Ultimately the bibliography was the most valuable part. Tomayko's account of NASA's use of computers in spaceflight can be found here, and Heacock's account of the engineering is also easy to find on the net. The photos are freely available from NASA. My questions are answered on the Voyager Wikipedia page under "Computers" — I guessed they might have been using military-spec 54xx TTL chips but had not heard of "Silicon on Sapphire" technology.
A Scorcese automaton flick. The Ritz is only showing it at kid-friendly times, so I fronted the nominally-cheap Tuesday 2pm session with my 3D glasses in my pocket; $12 for an experience I can't yet have at home. They've gotten savvy to the turn-offs of cinema patrons with their STFU advice to hipsters at the start of the feature, but as always this only applies to other people. Two kids turned up a fair way into the film and sat just in front of me, with one answering his phone after a bit — "I'm in the cinema!" — and noisily taking regular hits from some sort of aerosol. They left with five minutes to go, so I expect they came for the aircon and relative privacy, or perhaps 3D without glasses looks awesome when you're high. The older couple sitting behind me thought they were in a cafe. In contrast the supervised children were quite well behaved.
Anyway, what is Scorcese trying to say here but that cinema is bereft of new ideas? This film starts out with some shock-and-awe camera work but soon degenerates into an art movie history lesson. The characters have that kind of brittleness that Hollywood thinks is deep enough for us to engage with; Kingsley is a twat just long enough so we know his scars to be those of the slighted auteur. The child actors fair somewhat better, as we can take their shallowness for callowness. Jude Law got five seconds to lift the mood, and Sacha Baron Cohen garnered some laughs for I don't know what beyond the crowd's shock of recognising Borat. The narrative is essentially teleological.
The promised mechanical aesthetic is a pale imitation of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's, similarly set in a quaint Paris but not as quirky.
It's been raining a bit recently, so no beach for me. Today I figured I'd get in ahead of the coming showers and headed to the Clovelly carpark in the late morning. I note the "no dogs" sign has disappeared from the track down to the scuba ramp. The surf was much larger than it has been but with the tide up it was pretty easy to get in. I didn't see much on my way to the beach, apart from some sizeable luddericks quite far into the bay. Lots of crap on the surface.
The cream of Hong Kong actors and actresses of 1998 decamp to the brothels of 1880s Shanghai. Depicting a flower garden without intimate relations only leaves the bitchiness and intrigue, somewhat like Raise the Red Lantern but not as scenic. This was a bum steer from Tony Leung, though the cinematti reckon the director Hsiao-hsien Hou to be the future of the medium.
Combodia and the coming of the Khmer Rouge. It kicks up a gear in the final hour, giving some nuance to a regime that remains incomprehensible and impenetrable to Westerners. The acting is mostly solid — though Malkovitch has a tough gig as a post-Hopper war photographer — and Haing S. Ngor worked hard for his Oscar. I hadn't heard of the journalist Sydney Schanberg, who won a Pulitzer for his work in Cambodia and yet doesn't have the notoriety of Halberstam and Hersch (etc); I identify John Pilger with this reportage. While it was "Morning in America" it was "Year Zero" in Indochina.
Mid-afternoon snorkel at Gordons Bay. Quite a few people about, but not as busy as it might typically be at this time of year and time of day. The water was cleaner, which I took to mean that it hadn't rained much if at all. Again, loads of large-ish fish, but this time no big groper. I did see a sizeable and placid female in relatively shallow water, and the biggest squid I've seen yet — there were about twenty in a group and the largest was quite fat.
I braved the intermittent rain of the past few days by going for a snorkel at Gordons Bay, from the scuba ramp. I hoped it would be less polluted than the beach itself, but it isn't. Visibility was reasonable with a lot of crap at the surface. I saw quite a few large luddericks and a big mostly-blue groper; it wasn't totally blue so I'm not sure it was Bluey.
Some days I need to remember I'm not in the same demographic as Dana Stevens. This one is some kind of chick flick, with Juliette Binoche flouncing around Tuscany with a bloke who oozes banality. I can't fault her review though, it was what she promised.
Early-afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. Once again I forgot why I don't go so early: the rocks were packed with people, and there were quite a few dogs on the beach. I got in from the sand for the first time in a long while. The water itself seemed reasonably clean once I got past the (tiny) breakers.
Early-evening paddle at Gordons Bay. The forecast storm seemed to have overshot Sydney — it was raining a fair way off the coast, I think. The bay was completely flat, the tide out, and the water clear.
That was also fun. Steam was selling it for $US15 over Christmas / New Year which is cheap enough for me. I'd forgotten my password and backdoor question and it seems their helpdesk went AWOL for those few days, so I created a new account. Maybe I'll do that for each game I buy.
The game played completely fine on the MacBook Pro and archaic one-button Apple mouse. I expected the last stage to be a repetition-fest ala Portal but instead I got it first go, which was both disappointing and a relief. I got stuck a few times but never for very interesting reasons; the pump station at the top of the aircon shaft was particularly irritating as they switch off the paint (at the base of the shaft) for no discernable reason! Finding just the right spot to jump from was totally banal.
As Tom Sewell observed there's a bit of overreach here: the need for narrative has killed the elegant simplicity of the original. The new mechanics look like a composite of the iPhone games the developers were playing in 2010... which are the games I'm playing now, of course. I quite enjoyed Where's my water?, which goes to show old-media Disney does know how to commission a good puzzle game. It's worth many a dollar, and they're only charging one.
Early afternoon snorkel at Little Bay after lunch with Toby. The beach wasn't too busy for January, I guess. Quite warm, a little high cloud (lighter than in the morning) and very clear water. I saw a decent-sized Old Wife out past the rocks.
An Alec Guinness segue, on the strength of a lengthy article by Anthony Lane prompted by the current release of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Of course I started with the second story and now have to go back and see the first.
The direction here is fantastic with some great framing shots; this is British TV production at its peak. Guinness is tired and worn out, not at all like he was in Havana, which is just right for this role. The source material is by Le Carré who I only know for his stoush with Rushdie. The cold war, almost as much of a gift to filmmakers as the Nazis.
The storm still hadn't eventuated so I headed down to Gordons Bay in the early evening for a paddle. Loads of people were out snorkeling and it seemed pretty clear to me. No surf, warm-ish water. The storm rolled in around 8:30pm.
Richard Burton's meddlesome priest joins Peter O'Toole's note-perfect petulant king (Henry II) for some man love in the kingdom of England in 1066 as imag'd in 1964. This flick is a lot better than one might expect from the premise.
Early-evening paddle at Gordons Bay. The storm didn't eventuate but still managed to kill both the temperature and the crowds; no dogs for me to dodge today. The water is quite clear and I should've gone for a snorkel.
Late-afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay, reminding me once again why I go much later. The place was infested with dogs and their owners, droppings, etc. I don't mind them in the water but the yapping and fighting destroys the serenity of the place. Very clear water though, would've been good for a snorkel.
Late morning snorkel at Long Bay. The water was (even) cloudier than usual, and there were quite a few dogs (with their owners) at the boat launch on the southern side. I saw just the usual suspects and a stingray quite near the ramp, in a few metres of water.