peteg's blog

Batman Begins

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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.

The Dark Knight

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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.

E. Burdick and W. J. Lederer: The Ugly American

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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.

Greg Egan: Permutation City

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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.

Last Life in the Universe

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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).

The Longest Day

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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.

The Illusionist (L'illusionniste)

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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.

The Sundowners

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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.

Stranger than Paradise

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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.

7 Wonders

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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.

Gil Scott Heron: The Nigger Factory

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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.

The Big Sleep

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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.