peteg's blog

The Day Today

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More Chris Morris tomfoolery, from 1994. A satire of breathless U.S. cable news in a style later emulated by CNNNN. It has its moments, and there is some genuinely funny stuff amongst much unimaginative filler. Steve Coogan made his start with his Alan Partridge character here; as a sports commentator he has nothing on the Twelfth Man.

Jam

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A steer from David S to another Chris Morris work from 2000. A segue from Four Lions. Mostly bleak, sometimes poignant, with the odd bit of pure gold; experimental sketch TV, occasionally comedic, mostly inventive and uncompromised. It completely twunted the first of two evenings I spent on it. The opening droll poetry-over-pessimism meme mashups put me in mind of 1990s Nine Inch Nails videos.

Howards End

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Over two nights. An Emma Thompson segue-of-sorts from The Remains of the Day. I found it to be something of a guilty pleasure; the first half is quite fun, a hybridization of Wuthering Heights, Jude the Obscure and doubtlessly sundry other costume dramas I don't tend to watch. At heart I guess these all mine the same vein.

Anthony Hopkins always strikes me as a piece of wood, apart from his electric turn in The Silence of the Lambs. Vanessa Redgrave is great. Emma Thompson won an Oscar for anchoring the thing, and she's totally fine. Helena Bonham Carter pouts too much, bugs her eyes too much, OK, simply emotes too much, and is therefore the most limited of the actresses. She's still quite agreeable. It's just a shame that the plot plot tanks so badly in the second half.

Leviathan

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On Dmitriy's recommendation. The corruption of local government in a small Siberian town, the intervention of a lawyer from Moscow, an adaptation of the book of Job. Excellent cinematography, fantastic landscapes, solid acting, depressing plot, somewhat pro forma characters. It reminded me most of von Trier's Breaking the Waves, mostly because of the almost relentless downwardness of the spiral, but affected me less. I guess there's also something of Lukas Moodysson here too.

Manohla Dargis.

A Hard Day

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Korean, police corruption, internal affairs, craziness. The violence is somewhat less graphic than usual, with no blood sprays. What's become of the genre? The structure is completely standard, so it comes down to the particularity of the McGuffins; some are pretty funny, others totally stock. I guess this is some proof that convoluted whodunnits can survive in the age of the mobile phone. Cho Jin-woong does well as the bad dude.

Manohla Dargis.

Spectre

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Galaxy Cinema on Nguyễn Du, 2.35pm, 65,000 VND. I bought the ticket early, 12.21pm, and found that the old Cafe New Day had become something else. The fried rice was totally OK though. After that I headed over to the nearby Trung Nguyên café on Lý Tự Trọng.

Well, yeah. A new Bond movie. The plot didn't really hang together for me, and none of the characters seemed to be worth investing in. There's a graphic torture scene, that Daniel Craig seems to suffer no ill effects from, a white cat, many tips of the hat to earlier Bonds. Naomie Harris could do with a lot more screen time. Cristoph Waltz makes as much as he can from a generic deskbound terrorist. I have to say I got flashbacks to the trading floor when he revealed his room full of total information awareness minions. Dave Bautista has a future as the next Arnie, the almost non-speaking muscleman, but needs to work on his one-liners. He was better in Guardians of the Galaxy than here. Looks like he's going to have a go at rebooting Highlander... or maybe not.

Gregory David Roberts: The Mountain Shadow.

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Kindle, pre-ordered. I read most of this while in Goa, awaiting my evacuation by Jet Airways and Thai Air to Hồ Chí Minh City. While perfect for my purposes — empty-headed time burning — this book is irredeemably bad. See Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi and commenters at the Independent for some gory details; I concur that the editor of Shantaram was a magician. Having now visited Mumbai, I'd say that Roberts's accounts ring true, provided one realises that he returns to the same places time and again as those are all there are. In summary, it makes as much sense as an elephant picking it's nose.

Kazuo Ishiguro: The Remains of the Day.

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Kindle. I ploughed through this while bored in Margao, Goa, and read it perhaps too quickly in a day and a bit. It was the day before Diwali, and I got stranded by the closed shops; wifi is not prevalent in India.

I've been saving this one up for a long time, and had previously put it off after seeing the movie. My expectations may have ruined it, and I felt I knew too much about where things were going. As always Ishiguro adopts a structure that is difficult to execute persuasively, viz that the narrator be observant and intelligent enough to record and order his observations but obtuse enough not to draw the conclusions that the reader is intended to. I think he did a better job of this in his later and far more seamless When We Were Orphans, though this story clearly resonated with England at the time of publication. Here it is artificial for Stevens to be writing that other characters observe his crying as his father passes while not saying anything about his own emotion, where at other times he does so at length.

Vu Tran: Dragonfish.

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Kindle. Mostly read in Mumbai, waiting for the train to Goa, and on the train. I finished it soon after realising that there's not much to do in Margao either.

Tran is a prof at University of Chicago and I passed up an opportunity to hear him speak about this book earlier this year. There is a hell of a lot of Bond-style exposition (No, I expect you to die, Mr Bond!) here, and the plot is very twisty and revelatory for threadbare reasons. It's a cinematic and implausible whodunnit, something like Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs: there's not much of a moral centre, and the violence is quite graphic. I didn't grasp the symbology of the fish. I didn't find the second track, where mother talks to daughter, very powerful, apart from the account of the days in the refugee camp, perhaps because most stories focus on the boat part of that journey.

Chris Abani at the New York Times.

Jhumpa Lahiri: Interpreter of Maladies.

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Kindle. Whiling away my time in Mumbai. I read most of this at the Starbucks near Horniman Circle where I never got the promised wifi to go. This is a collection of short stories that Lahiri bashed out in her workman-like way; see, for instance, this more-recent piece in The New Yorker. All are of the uninspired/exploitative ethnic lit oeuvre that Nam Le derides: people from the subcontinent longing for the subcontinent, husbands who've never seen their wives naked, you know how it goes. The same day I saw a sign on an under-construction sari shop that read "where ethnic comes alive". I am stupified.

Salman Rushdie: Fury.

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Kindle. I re-read this one as it was short and I'd forgotten the details from my first read back in 2001. Now it seems like a plaintive bit of self-explanation, a premature piece of autobiography, a little too much veneration for the flaws in the woman who he later slammed for the verysame. His imagination shows its limits often here, especially when he simply renames things from the newspapers, or recycles a bit of classical scifi. As always he is superlative in the small.

[...] For example, the favorite fiction writer of the seventeenth-century heretic Baruch Spinoza turned out to be P. G. Wodehouse, an astonishing coincidence, because of course the favorite philosopher of the immortal shimmying butler Reginald Jeeves was Spinoza. (Spinoza who cut our strings, who allowed God to retire from the post of divine marionettist and believed that revelation was an event not above human history but inside it. Spinoza who never wore unsuitable shirts or ties.) [...]