peteg's blog

Johan Harstad: Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion?

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Kindle. A pointer from Lisa Hill. Norwegian, in translation, set on the Faroe Islands. This is the story of a man being acted upon, of wanting to be number two, of hoping to go unnoticed and hence unscathed, of being a well-functioning cog amongst other well-functioning cogs, meaning and ambition be damned. There is something of The Remains of the Day here, and Trainspotting too (the death of baby Dawn, the "Now I know what you're thinking..." outro, and so forth). I'd heard about the Zen of Japanese gardening before, oh yes, from Nha Trang and Pensinger. What starts as a funny account of childhood and youth (dressing up as Buzz, getting the new girl, privately developing a singing superpower) becomes an account of mental disintegration after she leaves him; the humour shades into edgy melancholia, the writing more elliptic. Where he grows a beard, I grow my hair. Of course it evokes the classics of mental ill health: One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, The Quantity Theory of Insanity, though it is never sour. Long, but. I totally missed the Cardigans's career, and can hardly remember even Lovefool (eww, Svensk pop).

Money Monster

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On flight CX899, NYC to Hong Kong. I'd been meaning to see this for a while now. Jodie Foster directs, George Clooney channels Brad Pitt a bit too much. Julia Roberts is solid as his producer on FNN, clearly a Fox/CNN/CNBC interpolant. Not as good as I hoped, largely because it is overcooked and becomes nonsensical as things unwind.

A. O. Scott.

Francis Spufford: Backroom Boys: The Secret Return of the British Boffin.

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Kindle. This is Spufford trying to explain how the British Backroom Boffin evolved from inventive technical genius to (I think) financial engineer, helped along by Thatcherism in the 1980s. There are six chapters:

  1. Rocketry.
  2. The Concorde, which is essentially all about economics, Government-funded development and quixotic post-war European aspirationalism. France won bigger here with Aérospatiale and later Airbus.
  3. Elite, which drove Michael Clune crazy (on a C64).
  4. The development of various coverage mapping technologies by Vodafone.
  5. The human genome project, focusing on Craig Venter's bastardry (which is taken as a given). His very brief account of DNA is far superior to Cobb's book-length effort.
  6. The Beagle 2, which failed to respond after arriving on Mars, before the book was published.

None have entirely adequate treatments, mostly because each could use a full-length book all by themselves. Also his writing here does not reach his later highs. Reviews are legion.

Where's Poppa?

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$US14.00 Film Forum, NYC, 4pm. Part of a double feature with Harold and Maude that I bailed on. Yes, George Segal's mother (Ruth Gordon) is insane. I probably would have found it a lot less amusing if I hadn't seen it with a crowd.

Captain Fantastic

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Landmark Sunshine Cinema, NYC, 2:40pm session, $US14.50. What to do when in the City but escape with Viggo Mortensen and family to the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. There's something of Little Miss Sunshine here, and sundry other parenting movies, and the odd touch of Malick cinematography. Here Viggo is the ultra-rational, calm father who has completist, utopian aspirations for his kids' education. Frank Langella plays his iron-willed father-in-law who is uncompromisingly unhappy about what transpired for his daughter. Mental illness and the wellness of intentions are canvassed at length. The wave breaks. The cover of Sweet Child O' Mine was fun. I enjoyed it.

Manohla Dargis. Charles McGrath wrote a preview. One can ponder what the alt right according to Jason Wilson makes of Viggo's little fantasy.

Suicide Squad

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Regal Battery Park Stadium 11 in NYC, 4:10pm, $US19.60, tepid 3D. So-so, as I was warned. The plot is entirely cookie-cutter. I enjoyed Will Smith's performance, and Viola Davis's. I had hoped Margot Robbie would go full crazy or something; as it is, she's mostly exterior. These ensemble pieces are hard to get right.

A. O. Scott.

Michael Herr: Dispatches.

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Kindle. Read in intercontinental transit, Sydney to NYC. Michael Herr died recently, which prompted me to pick up this classic piece of Việt Nam war reportage. Perhaps I've read too many of these, am just too old, the generational wealth gap too large, as it moved me less than, for instance, John Balaban's far more reflective memoir. Herr makes much of his connection with fellow war junkies such as Tim Page, and the perhaps-still-MIA Sean Flynn. There are drugs, there's RnR, there's a totalled Hue, that's the scene. I learnt that he wrote and/or heavily influenced both Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket, and some of that shows up here. I'm not sure I can indulge his hand wringing.

Claire-Louise Bennett: Pond.

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Kindle. On the strength of a Dwight Garner review in the New York Times. He's right in that there are some good bits, some cutting bits, but between those he cites are many words. My eyes glazed over far too often for me to really get into it, or even get much of an impression.

Siobhan Roberts: Genius at Play: The curious mind of John Horton Conway.

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Kindle. I think I found this via the long read (excerpt) at the Guardian. Well, the book is far longer than that, but not much more informative. The coverage of the mathematics is too weak to be worthwhile; for instance, I vaguely recall the axioms of a group, but still have no idea what group theory is or how they relate to geometry and symmetry. Oftentimes the rules of Conway's many and various games are poorly expressed. The man himself is pretty much what you'd expect: a bit above it all. It seems clear he's just getting away with what he can get away with.