peteg's blog

The Killing

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Classic Stanley Kubrick. Sterling Hayden is Johnny Clay, on his way to being Brig. Gen. Jack D. Ripper, and later Captain McCluskey. Coleen Gray adds some Howard Hawks sass: a lady out of time.

Throwing Shade Theatre Co.: The Caretaker by Harold Pinter at The Actors Pulse.

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Cheap Tuesday: $25 + $0.30 booking fee, booked 2017-11-27. I was a bit skeptical about whether this production would be worth seeing after going to the previous Throwing Shade Theatre Co. effort Down An Alley Filled With Cats, but, you know, this was Pinter's first big success and Jason Blake was effusive. I'm glad I went.

All three actors are brilliant, especially Nicholas Papademetriou as the homeless aspiring caretaker Davies/Jenkins, who is never short of a timely facial tick to kick things along. Andrew Langcake is incredibly passive, and yet earnt the biggest laugh when he calls time on the old man's residency. Similarly Alex Bryant-Smith is a classic English bruiser, mercurial and genuinely dangerous; never more so than when he sketches his plans for renovation. The set is overstuffed with junk and effective even from the worst seat in the house (where I was: front row, far right, on the wrong side of the draughty window). Courtney Powell's direction was perfect for the tiny space.

As Blake observed, this play is roughly 60 years old, canonically Pinteresque and very contemporary. Racism, real estate aspirations, brotherly disconnects, security, division without conquest are served up without a blink. The geographic references are pure London and perhaps I missed its subtext. It reminded me a lot of the performances I saw at A Red Orchid Theatre; in general, and not just their playful and (re-)inventive Celebration. Perhaps only American companies can serve up Pinter with the disrespect and levity he deserves.

Eka Kurniawan: Man Tiger.

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Kindle. I balked at Kurniawan's much longer Beauty Is a Wound, which is by all accounts more of a ramble than this one. Even so this would have been improved by being twenty percent or more shorter. Some sections are very repetitive, which may be the fault of the translator. The excessive detail tends to wash out the character and plot development. The poverty of West Java is not so exotic now that flights are so cheap.

The Dark Knight Rises

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I'd forgotten great swathes of this. Cotilard's character makes even less sense on this second time around. Hathaway steals every scene she's in. #64 in the IMDB top-250.

The Dark Knight

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Far superior to the first one. #4 on the IMDB top-250, up four places since I last saw this in 2012. I haven't seen Aaron Eckhart in anything since Sully. I'm pretty sure that Bale drives his Lamborghini down Lake, along which I used to ride my bicycle.

Batman Begins

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It's amazing what they don't do with CGI. Chicago stars while Bale attempts to turn the comic book into something more. Still #117 in the IMDB top-250.

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Early-evening paddle at Gordons Bay. It was a bit cool getting in (though not as bad as at Little Bay yesterday) but pleasant after that. Many people were sitting on the north side in the sun; a couple of girls where staging a photoshoot on the southern rocks, where I got in; I would have thought the light was too poor. Afterwards I dried out while reading my book on the northern headland of Coogee.

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Had a nice ride down from the Sydney CBD to Little Bay, and got in around 4pm. The water was quite a bit colder than the last time I went swimming, and similarly the sea breeze was a bit chilly while I finished my book on the grass near the chapel. Some large storm clouds to the south and west, and reports of hail and thunder and so forth from places far away.

Destiny Turns on the Radio

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I saw this an age ago, probably on VHS. It is proof that while Tarantino can talk himself into almost anything, he cannot act. Elements of it uncreatively reflect the supernatural themes of the day (cf Twin Peaks, The X-Files and so forth).

Kanishk Tharoor: Swimmer among the Stars.

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There was no point to honesty in a time of cold truths.

Kindle. A collection of shorts. Tharoor has a very dry, precise and inventive mode of description that is somehow unsatisfying, often robbing his stories of soul. For instance the first story (from which the collection drew its title) has no plot, and is purely syntactic, while the second is presented as a countdown to the razing of a city by marauders, but ends up trying to be about something else. I did like the elephant at sea, which demonstrates great empathy. The tales around Iskander are sometimes good; the motif of the man tree was also used by Deepak Unnikrishnan. Letters Home continues with Odysseus after he returns to Penelope; it is nowhere close to what Malouf achieved.

Meron Hadero.


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The 9pm session at the dear old Chauvel. I had dinner at Pinocchio Sushi; traffic was ridiculous between the Park Hyatt and the Eastern Distributor tunnel, but Anzac Parade was empty. They'd shut their coffee machine down by the time I got there, so I went to Mickey's and got a takeaway. Four people and me in the theatre.

This was something of a farewell for Harry Dean Stanton and plays like an indulgent episode of the Twin Peaks reboot; David Lynch is here, maudlin about the desert and his missing tortoise, while Stanton finds solace with minority ladies (not so very different to the role Mexico played in movies like Born on the Fourth of July) and picks fights with middle aged men. There are war stories with another WWII vet in a diner, and something is made of the smoking bans in bars. This is almost exactly the kind of movie Clint Eastwood would not make.

Jeannette Catsoulis was more tolerant of this tosh than I was.

Yellow Submarine

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I thought I saw this at the Valhalla in Glebe in 2002 or so, but maybe I didn't. The art and animation remains somewhat entertaining, but as I get older I'm starting to wonder if The Beatles were all that.

The Beguiled

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Sofia Coppola's latest. It is entirely meh. I had some hopes that she'd learnt from the Koreans; Kidman was quite good in this sort of role in Stoker, though there she had a far better male (played by Matthew Goode) to rub up against than Colin Farrell, who is essentially a cliched volatile lettuce. Here the photography is dank, the females all a-quiver, the plot entirely predictable, the twist so coldly plausible you wonder why they bothered, and if there was time enough for a proper shock. Kirsten Dunst would be better of re-hitching her star to von Trier. Elle Fanning is no more than a haughty stereotype that I'm sure she's played before. I wonder if the original (a Clint Eastwood vehicle) is much chop; the IMDB rating is higher at least.

J. Hoberman. Dana Stevens.

Mumon: The Land of Stealth

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With Dariusz, Amy and a friend of hers, 7.15pm, opening night of the Japanese Film Festival — with speeches that pushed the start time back by 30 minutes or more. Beforehand I wasn't hungry so I just sat on an Asahi as Dariusz ate sushi at the sushi train next to the remaining George St cinema.

This is something of a reinvention of the ninja genre, in roughly the same way that Guy Richie relaunched (and relaunched) the English lad flick a few decades back. The tropes are in short supply and the parallels with modern grasping, materialistic society could have been left implicit. I didn't understand the final "river" fight scene; it didn't strike me that anyone had any honour left. The indomitable prefecture reminded me of the Gauls in dear old Asterix. It's finely made and fun, but I don't think it's enough to claw back the cinematic high ground long occupied by Korea.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

Lunch at Tum's Thai, then a soak off the beach at Gordons Bay. Unlike last time it was clear but I didn't bring my mask. Not too many people, some in the water. It was significantly warmer than the last time I got in. Afterwards I rode back to Beaconsfield Motorcycle Supermarket to get the CB400 serviced, and walked home from there.

Logan Lucky

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Soderbergh's resumption after retiring from this kind of thing a few years back. I guess it was the money, for this is a tepid warm over of his standard heist formula. Like Baby Driver, there are some clever bits, but most of those smarts went into the marketing. It's somehow absorbing though. I enjoyed Adam Driver's droll performance, and Channing Tatum was robust. Daniel Craig phoned it in. Riley Keough (grandsprog of Elvis) never had to go up against Katie Holmes in the trashy stakes. The outro with Hilary Swank was excruciatingly predictable.

A. O. Scott. Dana Stevens.

Charif Majdalani: Moving the Palace (originally Caravansérail; translated by Edward Gauvin).

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Kindle. Brief, well written. Something of Conrad's Heart of Darkness transplated a bit further north (to the Sudan), and sure enough, an encounter with T.E. Lawrence and Prince Faisal during the First World War. (Majdalani gives a nod to Lawrence for the raw material on which he leans for a description of their meeting.) Instead of finding all our colonial maniacs at the end of a river, Samuel Ayyad has to continue up the Nile past Cairo, through the Suez and up the Hijaz, lugging his slightly-used ex-Tripoli palace all the way. The British are presented as dotty, as likely to indulge an Oriental fantasy as do some hard-edged soldiering. Early on it seems we're going to be told of how Samuel cuts his deals in the Sudan (beyond distributing a vast stash of British gold), but we never are. The romantic outro seemed undercooked; I really wanted to hear about the reassembly of those thousands of pieces. I wonder if this isn't somewhere in the thousand-and-one nights. The references do pile up, and I lost track of which tribes remained in the caravan and which had gone home.

Suzanna Joinson pointed out the obvious source materials and found more humour in it than I did; to me it was elegant and melancholic. Joe Geha observes an echo of Odysseus's voyage (albeit with a flawless hero).

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Mild day. Detouring via Watsons Bay, I got in at Gordons Bay around 5pm with the intention of having a snorkel. I think the recent massive surf churned up so much stuff (loads of seaweed on the beach; some detritus in the water; very poor visibility) that it was completely futile. Pleasant in though, and somewhat pleasant out eating my dinner in the dying light on the northern headland of Coogee.

Carmen Maria Machado: Her Body and Other Parties.

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Kindle. Parul Sehgal sold it to me: as she says, these are unruly fairy stories of a feminist, disreputable, occasionally shameless kind. The writing is fine and sometimes fun; othertimes it feels like B-grade horror. The central Especially Heinous seemed like a riff not just on Law & Order but also the fluid identities, incarnated magic, misogyny and untidy storylines of David Lynch's Twin Peaks. I found The Resident a less effective or telling piece of semi-autobiographical writing-about-writing than Nam Le's Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice. I took Inventory to be trying to tell desperate people's biographies through short-term commitment-free sexual encounters, which is too narrow a window to satisfy.

Emily May. Blair: indeed, full of sex and yet unsexy.

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After some prevarication I decided to get a haircut for the first time in about five weeks. After that I had a grilled flathead at Paris Seafood, with the usual excess of salad and chips, and headed to Little Bay for the first snorkel in an age. As usual I only saw the usual small suspects, and a couple of larger wrasse; there were loads of small translucent jellyfish. I finished my book on the sand, and tried having a coffee at Cafe 2036. The traffic coming back was rough.

The Running Man

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Vintage B-Movie Arnie, somewhen inbetween Conan and Terminator 2. Apparently based on a Stephen King novel, but really a threadbare variation on Terminator and relentlessly mediocre. The kill-'em-all-dead game show hasn't come to pass in 2017 (yet) but too many movies have milked the premise in the interim. Maria Conchita Alonso vamps things up, and is often thrown around in a most un-PC way by various males. Jesse Ventura is bigger than Arnie (?). Dweezil Zappa tries to make out like Che. I saw this ages ago and remembered it for Arnie's one-liner about the loudness of his shirt.

Boogie Nights

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Last seen an age ago.

The Old 505 Theatre: Plastic by Mark Rogers.

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A last-minute freebie from somewhere, 8pm, preview, first time at The Old 505 Theatre. This was closer to student theatre than the NIDA things I've been to. Structurally the raw material is quite similar to Birdland: we're mostly waiting for a man to receive his comeuppance, leavened with ladies. I was pretty toasted, even after a coffee from the cafe next to the Dendy, and didn't get into it much. The audience packed out the place and was often quite indulgent.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

After lunch with Ben and Sofus at Gateway, I rode the nameless CB400 over to Gordons Bay for the first swim in a while. The day was quite hot, well past thirty, but when I got in around 2pm few of the legions of people there were in the water. There was some tree detritus near the shore but otherwise very clear, and dogs are everywhere now. The tropical heat and cloudiness passed mid-afternoon; the temperature tanked by fifteen degrees. A busy day.

NIDA: The Changeling by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley.

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Booked on 2017-10-14 for $28.00 + $5.95 booking fee split with The Country Wife. I had my customary dinner at Pinocchio Sushi beforehand. About 50% full. I'd had a busy day and the evening was quadruple booked, which made this piece hard to follow. The set was minimal, the costumes appropriate, some of the acting was great, but the play itself was not well-suited to the strangely shaped Studio Theatre (far better use was made of it in 2012) and it didn't seem to speak to the present day much at all. I wonder why they chose it.

Pankaj Mishra: The Age of Anger: A History of the Present.

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The promise of this book is a diagnosis of the maladies of the present by delving into the flaws in Enlightenment ideals and pointing to other traditions. No attempt is made to spell out a positive agenda; what there is is a muted reflection of Amartya Sen's attempts to broaden the terms of engagement between cultures. I guess this is Mishra's latest gesture at Niall Ferguson. While it's clear he has read a lot, he has little appetite for nuance and suffers from a perspective that strips Adam Smith, Hegel, Marx and co of their power. I am mistrustful of his tendentious wordiness, and that he never (or too rarely) discusses how previous ruptures in history were resolved. I also wonder if the long run doesn't mostly come down to economics and our understanding of it. It would be mimetic of me to speak more of what I did get from his text.

Reviews were legion, and certainly better value than reading the book itself. Richard J Evans. Dennis Altman. Franklin Foer makes a cutting observation: Mishra wants to somehow link the motivations of a radicalised ISIS Jihadi to "theory" (of the Western critical kind; but fine, whatever) while freely admitting that these guys don't even know their Islam. He also misses; people keep trying to cash in the Western promises of mobility and affluence because (as Mishra observes) there is no longer any other culturally-valid objective on offer. Foer's coming A World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech might be worth a read. Stefan Collini.

The Snowman

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Palace Cinemas opened some new theatres recently at Central Park (the old Carlton Brewery) on Broadway, on level 3 of the generic highrise. The theatres are numbered in neon and open directly onto the mezzanine; there was no security as near as I could tell. I got a ticket for the 6:45pm session from the machine for $16.00 + 0.74 credit card fee. The screen was dinky. The seats are huge. I chose C1 but moved to B5 or so when the people sitting next to me started talking after things started, only to find everyone talked throughout.

Unfortunately this is a movie that cannot be ruined; see Manohla Dargis for why. I'd just add that the climactic scene is totally borked, and the short is far better. The best part was a trailer for Sally Hawkins's new effort with Guillermo del Toro: The Shape of Water. The plot looks a bit dire but, and Michael Shannon is better than that.

Contratiempo (The Invisible Guest)

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Tigôn told me that she'd seen this one in the cinema in Hồ Chí Minh City. It's a Spanish mystery thriller whodunwhat in the modern Gone Girl reverseroo style. Totally fine for what it is.

NIDA: The Country Wife by William Wycherly.

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Booked on 2017-10-14 for $28.00 + $5.95 booking fee split with The Changeling, which I'll go to next Monday. These are the some of the end-of-year productions for the second year (?) students; I went to the mid-year ones back in June. As always I took the opportunity to have dinner at the seemingly timeless Pinocchio Sushi beforehand. UNSW was overflowing with students pretending to study.

This was the opening night and they started fifteen minutes late. (They finished up around 10pm, thirty minutes late.) From the map I thought seat D-16 (centre, two rows from the front) would be alright but the eyeline is approximately at the shin level of the players. The set was a moderately sophisticated two-level balcony/staircase construction that effectively evoked the interiors of various residences but not really the mean streets of pivotal action. The acting was uniformly excellent, playfully hamming up what could have been some stodgy raw material; Tom Wright directed his cast brilliantly. They were (listed here because NIDA appears not to):

  • Margery Pinchwife — Emma Kew (made everything of her scenes)
  • Harry Horner — Andrew Fraser (effortless, lethally charismatic; Tom Cruise in Interview with the Vampire mode)
  • Jack Pinchwife — Joshua Crane (flawless, demonstrating a strong will to be cuckholded)
  • Sparkish — Jack Richardson (skillful; the character is too vapid)
  • Alithea Pinchwife — Chika Ikogwe (a difficult character: she escapes an "honorable" marriage for one with a man who seems quite shallow, though there are some good lines amongst the hand wringing.)
  • Lady Fidget — Laura Jackson (perfectly arch as an honourably randy lady, determined to get in first)
  • Dainty Fidget — Bridie McKim (a completely effective and amusingly ditzy wanton; I wonder how I can see her film work)
  • Mrs Squeamish — Daya Czepanski (fine, a largely auxiliary character)
  • Lucy — Heidi May (an effective too-wise lady-in-waiting)
  • Sir Jasper Fidget — Nyx Calder (solid; I think I saw him earlier in the year)
  • Frank Harcourt — Danen Engelenberg (a bit too quiet somehow; above it all)
  • A Quack/Old Lady Squeamish — Vivienne Awosoga (very good as the doctor; the other character seems completely dispensable)

It deserved a far longer run than it got.

New Theatre: Birdland by Simon Stephens.

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I hadn't been to New Theatre in an age. They're still Bolshie with their $20 Thrifty Thursdays, so I booked a ticket on 2017-10-14. The 7:30pm start inspired a dash after a work meeting drug on past its scheduled 6:50pm stop time; and this after I ran out to get some mediocre Thai from the place on Glebe Point Road. The place was half to two-thirds full; as packed as I can remember seeing it.

At two hours straight through the load on the lead Paul (Graeme McRae) is immense, but he's up to it. (In contrast I started exhausted and had some difficulty focussing throughout.) His rock-and-roll lead man schtick is a bit dated, but perhaps eternal. There is a Magnolia-style interview sequence (where he gets shirtfronted by Charmaine Bingwa, who plays a variety of characters, some gender bent). I found this more effective than the pre/post gig sequences where the emotional states of the artists didn't come over strongly. Some of it is comedic, some perhaps intended to be tragic or perhaps have a gravitas never entirely earnt. Matthew Cheetham is most successful at mastering his multiple roles; his efforts as Paul's manager are funny, and also as a fanboy from Scotland. Airlie Dodds had her Russian accent and cool-eyed looks down pat. The set was a mostly-effective piece of slanted used floorboarding.

Jason Blake talked it up. Kevin Jackson talks up the playwright.

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I set off after lunch at 1.30pm for a paddle at Gordons Bay. Beautiful day for it, and not too many people had the same idea. The tide was out and swell totally absent; getting in was therefore tricky due to some rocks I can usually avoid. The traffic back was horrible, and reminded me why I need to go around 12-noon and get back by 2pm.

MKA + Kings Cross Theatre: Puntila / Matti by Doppelgangster.

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Booked 2017-09-30, $35 + 2.76 booking fee = $37.76. First time at the Kings Cross Theatre, which is upstairs and around the back of the Kings Cross Hotel, opposite the (new) Coke sign. Closing night; about a third full with perhaps ten friends-and-family or other indulgent types.

I went on the basis of the blurb they flung about and Jason Blake's review, both of which I found misleading after the first five minutes. In brief: I found it boring. It felt more undercooked than experimental, and trite with little in the way of set or acting. Trolling and hassling the audience has always struck me as cheap, a cop out for those who cannot unsettle with powerful material or performance. Often the music is too loud to make out what's being said.

The cast: Tobias Manderson-Galvin, manically; Grace Lauer, who honestly does need a better class of gig; Antoinette Barboutis as the stage manager in a quiet, incompetent and totally cliched key. Notionally based on Bertolt Brecht's Mr Puntila and his Man Matti, but mostly incoherent and shotgun. Billed as 85 minutes uninterrupted, I was looking at my phone after the first 30 minutes, and they drug the whole thing out to two hours. I sat too far from the door to walk out. The only way to win was to not be there.

That morning Dave's mate Mona observed that most of Sydney theatre is $50 to see a bloke sitting on a bench, presciently describing something of better value than this.

Blade Runner 2049

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With Dave, Palace Cinemas Norton St, 8:20pm session, $8 each. We almost baled on it due to the Greek Film Festival patrons overflowing the foyer, but after a coffee from downstairs (Moretti) while deliberating a dash to The Ritz, we fronted the hugely inefficient ticket and junk food vending area and squeaked in just as the explanatory text started. This came after my work meeting ran until 7.50pm.

This movie is expansive and I wish I'd seen it on a bigger screen. The music is pure, concussive Hans Zimmer; more Terminator 2 than the Vangelis of the original. Ryan Gosling was totally OK. Harrison Ford didn't have to do much. Dave Bautista is fine. Jared Leto is a long way from decent. I wish Sylvia Hoeks had had more opportunity for character development. Robin Wright leaves me frosty. The plot is mostly adequate, though there are a few holes. (OK, because I can't help myself: if Gosling was who we're led to believe he was, he would have recognised his own DNA sequence in those records.) The aesthetic is generally awesome, except when it gets Mad Max-generic. Unfortunately they blew it in Chinatown, but even so — this is the way to spend your CGI budget.

Anthony Lane. A. O. Scott. Sam Machkovech, like Dave, got caught up in the poem from Vladimir Nabakov's Pale Fire. Dana Stevens. There are three shorts on YouTube on the time in between. Michael Wood.

The Godfather: Part III

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In two sittings with Tigôn. We finished it around lunchtime. This is simply a mashup of the first two and contains nothing new.

Trajectory Ensemble: Afterglow: Home at PACT.

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A freebie from the UNSW Creative Practice Lab. 7pm, about half full, closing night. I caught the train from St James, where I left Tigôn to do some shopping and meet some relatives. Dinner was a burger at the venerable takeaway near the Rose Hotel (which has been heavily remodelled since I was last there a long time ago). The coffee at PACT was instant and fit-for-purpose.

This ensemble featured nine women, two blokes and another doing the music, all from Newcastle and thereabouts. The stories that stuck in my mind: the bus-riding automata, where the entire cast move about the stage; getting pregnant at uni and not finishing that degree; venues that drinking turns into somewhere else, not crap; the tai chai and broken up voice over; the railing against the boomers, the keenly-felt accusation of being the problem, but not really; being left in Broome by your parents with $53 in your pocket. One girl sang and played the keyboard. A bloke recounted the story of his parents fleeing Cambodia and eventually opening a fish-and-chip shop in Newcastle.

This reminded me a bit of Redlined.

Jason Blake.

The Godfather: Part II

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In two sittings with Tigôn. We finished it in the Termeil Beach day use carpark in the Meroo State Park in the back of Dariusz's car. (A sign said the campground was full; I wonder if that was true. One other bloke had the same idea as us.)

Catherine Lacey: The Answers.

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Kindle. Read a bit too quickly, and early on I reflexively began to think of this as a literary variation on Soderberg's The Girlfriend Experience, which I haven't seen as it strikes me as uninspired. There are moments, and it is tighter than her debut Nobody is ever missing but could have been tightened further by ejecting some superficial and unoriginal material such as that on love at first sight. The male characters are mostly caricatures and stereotypes — where can you go with a religious off-grid father? Surely not Captain Fantastic — and Lacey doesn't feel the need to unpack Mary's maternal relationships too much, beyond observing that Mary doesn't value them until it's too late. The sex is generally unpleasant. Leading man Kurt Sky struck me as a Bret Easton Ellis grotesque, or a riff on Oscar Isaac's character in Ex Machina. (Mary may not have known of these, but Lacey surely does.) The writing is generally fine. The temporal slips and slides are not as smooth as Murray Bail's. I wasn't invested enough to unpack the signs and motifs: Chandra's emails from the light, Ashley's need to bond with Mary, Union Park. Somehow the new age PAKing was a gizmo that worked.

Dwight Garner claimed he got into it but made quota with some dubious quotes. Molly Young asserts that Lacey never describes Mary's appearance, which is not the case. Sarah Ditum is more skeptical.

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I was all ready to jump on the yet-nameless CB400 only to find that someone had stolen the registration plate! The horror, and futility. I have no idea when it happened, but am guessing it was after I got home yesterday. I instead drove over to Randwick in Dave's Bonnie around 1pm, had lunch at Tum's Thai. The RTA will only issue new plates if the theft has been reported to the police, so I visited them in Randwick and was told to call their service centre, which I immediately did. After a dip at Gordons Bay (seemingly colder than last time, perhaps due to it being quite warm out) I headed back to the Bunnings on Frenchmans and got some bolts, washers and shake-proof nuts (about $11). No Service NSW centre with parking was anywhere convenient, so I drove home and then headed up to the one at Central after 5pm. The service was ace, and I got a new plate almost instantly (for about $60). Ouch.

Griffin Theatre: Diving for Pearls by Katherine Thomson.

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With Tigôn, $20 rush tickets, bought before midday (!). She had a Coopers green, I had a too-sweet imported cider. We walked there from Glebe via the Botanic Gardens. The domain travelator was defunct.

This play is about the decline of steady jobs, masculinity, family values, industrial semi-skilled labour, life possibilities and how ill-suited some (or most?) people are to these sharky risk-laden days. Northern Wollongong provides the setting. The leading man (Den, a natural Steve Rodgers) anchors things, aching to be a father as he realises his life hasn't really started and he's fifty. Ursula Yovich fiercely animates Barbara, a woman he knew from long ago who just might be up for something when they meet at a funeral. Jack Finsterer (brother of Anni and married to Justine Clarke) is intense as Ron; there's a sincerity to his performance that is slightly at odds with him being an experienced consultant with little skin in the game. Ebony Vagulans is magnetic and very fine as the daughter, and Michelle Doake owns her scenes as the matronly Marj. The acting was uniformly excellent.

James Browne's set and Benjamin Brockman's lighting made excellent and versatile use of the Griffin's tiny stage. Darren Yap's direction was note perfect.

Tigôn found Barbara too strident, and it is one of the few weak points of Thomson's script that need and hunger are so unsubtly portrayed. Conversely family traditions are brilliantly evoked, as is the fragility of what Den has; I guess he would now be advised to get into bespoke artisan coal trucks. In some ways the themes echo David Williamson's The Club.

Reviews were universally laudatory. Jason Blake. Ben Neutze. Diana Simmonds.

Darlinghurst Theatre: In Real Life by Julian Larnach.

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A freebie from somewhere, 7:30pm, with Dave, my first time at the Eternity Playhouse. (I used to go to Darlinghurst Theatre fairly regularly when they were in Elizabeth Bay.) I had an early dinner and walked over from Glebe on a suboptimal route. It was about 80% full, and mostly grey haired.

Like The Nether, the raw material is not great: this is about the imposition of tech on our lives, the eternal tropes of the younger gen versus the older (and specifically mother and daughter dynamics/histrionics), conservatism that creeps with age, the realisation of the vacuity of a life's work, healing via alcoholism. Fortunately the two actors (Anni Finsterer and Elizabeth Nabben, the latter vividly evoking several characters) eeked some humour from the script. I had some hope that the third character — "the drum", a Facebook stand in — would morph into a Dalek and give them both something to really think about. Perhaps this was targeted at the audience who showed up: a somewhat abstracted presentation of tech issues and utopianism, arch dismissals of the arch dismissals of the world weary youngster, a way to talk to your grandkids.

For all that I agree with Dave that the set (Georgia Hopkins) and lighting design (Sian James-Holland) and sound design/composition (James Brown) were great; this is a valliant production.

Jason Blake.


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Palace Cinemas Norton St, $16 + $4.50 for a flat white, 9pm, Theatre 7 (first time upstairs), C5 (good spot, it's small). I only went because I was at something of a loose end after having dinner at the Indian in Coogee.

This is Aronofsky's latest. (The Wrestler I enjoyed, the rest not so much.) He's currently dating Jennifer Lawrence so she's front and centre in almost all frames. Javier Bardem does what he can with a cardboard character. Ed Harris is somehow scrawny and entirely competent as an emphysemic doctor. Michelle Pfeiffer enjoys herself immensely, especially when draping herself on Bardem (and makes this something of a jag from Scarface). There were about five people in the theatre and I wonder if anyone had any idea what was going on.

Anthony Lane: I also enjoyed Pfeiffer's efforts the most. A. O. Scott. I didn't get the humour. Francine Prose. Dana Stevens.

Ron Hansen: Nebraska.

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Kindle. I picked this up collection of shorts via a reference in the NYTimes book review a while back. The opener Wickedness is electric: weather more extreme than what I ever saw in Chicago brings forth vivid and unflinching paragraph-length portraits and the odd extended passage of survival and not. Playland sympathetically surveys a kitsch amusement park in perhaps larger Nebraska. I found the rest a bit meh: too much guns-and-dogs, and a ghost story I couldn't get into. Was this the tail end of modernism? — at times Hansen has as great expectations of his readers as Patrick White, and moreover rarely succeeds in making the culture of the day accessible to those who weren't there.

Mary La Chapelle reminds me that Hansen authored The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Michiko Kakutani concurred with my pick of the stories, and added the closing Nebraska, which I just skimmed. And yes, Hansen can indeed write.

Belvoir: Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen.

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I booked this a long time ago (2017-05-27) with some expectation that the raw material would be good after seeing Ibsen's A Doll's House in Chicago a few years back. This was a preview, $40, seat J24, and my first visit to Belvoir in a long while. It was packed with generational lifelong theatre goers; are Sydney productions generally too expensive or too conservative for young people?

The set is simple, not so different to that for Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. Pamela Rabe anchors the piece wonderfully, and the entire cast worked well. It is indeed a play for the ages: ideas that shook the foundations of society in the 19th century depressingly still need championing in the 21st.

Jason Blake.

Seymour Centre: The Nether by Catnip Productions.

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7:30pm, Reginald Theatre seats E16/17, a freebie from somewhere. Somewhat packed with most coming right on the starting time, like a movie, and similarly the ladies behind me decided the two-thirds mark was a great time to unpack snacks from noisy wrappers. As it was a preview, I'll refrain from commenting on the production beyond observing that the acting and set are well conceived and totally fine.

The play itself (by Jennifer Haley) is fair game though. It aspires to transfuse Mamet's revelatory power-struggle seesaw Oleanna with the absolute and timeless transgressiveness of Vladimir Nabakov's Lolita (but not its poetics), all while holding things at the remove of virtual unreality, of realms where consequence is neutered. (That this play has a plot shows that the author doesn't take that claim too seriously; but surely we can call the internet the internet in 2017.) The use of big button-pushing topics struggled to make the audience uncomfortable however, and precluded the big theatrical moves (nudity, language, circus, ...) that may have lifted the piece. Often it felt like an undergraduate philosophy seminar, or perhaps an ethics debate at Facebook: a bit too abstract, privileged and question-begging.

The angle seems to be that technology will further democratize repugnant transactions, just as cheap airfares have democratized planetary destruction, and that the libertarians are going to need better arguments than those presented here if they are to avoid corporate vengeance. Kobek presented a far more nuanced present-day version of this in i hate the internet, which I'd summarise as: there's an apocalypse going on, and it's still going on. See Ben Brantley at the New York Times for more; he too considers this at most a play for the moment. Jason Blake concurs that the production plays it too safe.

Briefly: where the theatre once mythologized, now it struggles to neologize.

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Even hotter than yesterday (30s ish). Headed over to Gordons Bay after a laksa and roti at the Grosvenor food court, around 2pm. Loads of kids, once again flat and high tide, beautiful in. The traffic was horrible heading back.

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Lunch at Tum's Thai and afterwards the first paddle of the season at Gordons Bay. I got in around 1pm on a pseudo-tropical warm day (thin high clouds, no direct sun, almost hot). The tide was as high as I've seen it there, lapping the tinny racks, but flat. The water felt about the same as in June: initially cold but pleasant once in. There were loads of kids on the rocks, including some who were razzing their dog into barking excitement. A few got in.

Old Boy (Spike Lee, 2013)

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Over several nights. A strong cast: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Samuel L. Jackson, Sharlto Copley. A completely unnecessary remake of the Park Chan-Wook original.


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A recommendation from Mum and Glenn Kenny. Over several nights. The cats of Istanbul. Beautiful cinematography, some genuine empathy and amusing stories.


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With Dave, $15 each for an EPIC 2K DIGITAL REMASTER screening at The Ritz, 8:30pm. A De Palma / Pacino / Oliver Stone masterwork. This is not a true classic of its genre, as the poster contends; it is the genre. Dinner at Pinocchio Sushi beforehand.

Rose George: Deep Sea and Foreign Going: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry That Brings You 90% of Everything.

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Kindle. A blancmange of journalist Rose George's experiences aboard the container ship Maersk Kendal and some shallow research. One novelty she presents is that hostage negotiations use actors, though the obvious connections with Team America elude her. She touches on so many rich topics but never seems to get anywhere near their cores; for instance, shipping containers lost at sea are a source of toxicity but have also seeded marine ecosystems. A mild bit of googling suggests there's a lot to be fascinated about right there, but George mostly just serves up brief, pat impressions about octopus sapience, and that's a topic treated at book length by others. Then there is the story by which the world got so thoroughly containerised; somehow the joint action problem was solved, and one has to wonder how, but George isn't going to tell you.

Dwight Garner sold it to me.

Guild Theatre: The Rose Tattoo by Tennesse Williams.

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A bit spur-of-the-moment after a day at Centennial Park and UNSW, which was having its open day. 8pm, $25, seat B10, closing night down in Rockdale. I tried booking on their website and got an email asking me to call them back, or to simply show up at 7:30pm or later. Finding a coffee was a little tricky; a lady with a cute little European-style food joint sorted me out on the far side of the Rockdale train station.

This was a community theatre thing. The lead actress (in the role of Serafina Delle Rose) was solid and even better when she had someone else to act with, such as the bloke playing Alvaro Mangiacavallo. I found the audience a bit rude, often talking during the action. Not the best raw material, being somewhat dated and pointless, but somewhat fun nevertheless.

David Kary.


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8:30pm session at the dear old Verona, $16.00, theatre 4, which I don't think I've been in before. The lass allocated me D6 but the room is small and narrow enough that you could comfortably sit in the front row (C6 it was for me, and the other person in the cinema sat on the end of the same row). The ride over was quick but middling; asinine traffic, a bit cold and spitting rain. The shorts were uniformly crap.

This is a romanticised portrait of a Canadian lady who became famous for her paintings, living in a tough life in the margins of nowheresville Nova Scotia. It's a bit hard to place it in time; the middle segment is centred around 1955, with Nixon in the Senate and not yet the Whitehouse. There's not much plot but some character development; the central motif is the turning of the seasons. The producers were reaching for Mr Turner, and their main failing is that while the visual composition is great and often pretty, the photography lacks vibrancy. I was mostly there for Sally Hawkins, who previously put in some excellent work with Mike Leigh in Happy Go Lucky. Ethan Hawke was also fine, looking more like Nick Nolte by the year.

Manohla Dargis.

The Farthest

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A PBS documentary gestured at by Ars. It's about the Voyager probes, which launched about a month after I was born. I remember some of the media hoopla of the 1980s as it passed the gas giants and the excitement about cosmology of those days. This has some great footage but also too much synthetic CGI and eyes in negative space. More about the engineering please, the science, and far less gold disc; for a story about machines it's too human-centric.

Andy Webster.

Jarett Kobek: The Future Won't Be Long.

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Kindle, pre-ordered from Amazon, $US13.99. This is Kobek's longest outing yet, and the least imaginative, being the backstory of the comics artist Adeline and her best friend Baby we met in i hate the internet. It's long on the glory days of the clubs of New York, dropping names and nostalgia freely. Elegy or eulogy? The literary and cultural criticism here lacks the conviction of his previous outings.

City of Tiny Lights

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For Riz Ahmed, who it seems is essential to any terrorism-related flick out of England. The flashback revelatory structure is too much like Wind River's; I guess this is how you tell a story in 2017. The parallel historical story of their youthful selves is not very plausible or innovative, and the ending is a bit too tidy. It adds up to something less than an extended episode of The Bill. The Wong Kar Wai cinematography does not help.

Kenneth Grahame: The Wind in the Willows.

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Kindle, from Standard Ebooks. I was looking for an easy read, and vaguely remembered a movie based on it from my childhood. Well, the vocabulary here is extensive and perhaps now a bit obsolete. Certainly the class consciousness is, as is the blithe presentation of socialising animals eating other animals; perhaps Grahame separated the industrial from the native or wild animals in his mind. The story is pure triumphalist English essentialism. I much prefer Oscar Wilde's stories for children.

Wind River

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A freebie from NIDA, with Dave, 9:10pm, Palace Cinemas Norton Street theatre 1, maybe ten people total. We had a flat white each there.

Overall it's good. The short implied there'd be more stereotyped conflict between Jeremy Renner's gone-native local hunting bloke and Elizabeth Olsen's FBI agent. (Writer/directory Taylor Sheridan trotted out Emily Blunt in a similar FBI ingenue role in Sicario.) It's a simple moral fable really: Native Americans suffer much predation and maybe all the justice on offer is (righteously Dirty Harry) vigilantism. Leaving aside my doubts about the logic of all that, things fit together well, especially the scenes shot outside. The major failing is Renner's (two?) explanatory monologues, which don't sit so well with his being otherwise a man of few words.

Glenn Kenny.

Michael Chabon: Moonglow.

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Kindle. This made a big splash sometime last year. I enjoyed it for the most part, though it is lengthy and some sections drag. I cynically wonder if Chabon didn't target this book with excess precision at the market segment with the time and money to read: a piece of greatest-generation hagiography with a side serve of ungrateful boomer-ish children/parents from an adoring grandchild. Some mental illness (much slighter than Ken Kesey's) and decreased vigor, respectfully and sometimes crassly treated through violent action and language. There's more Wernher von Braun in here than I expected, and perhaps I should have been reading Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow instead.

A. O. Scott.

A Ghost Story

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$16.00, at the dear old Verona, theatre 1, 6.45pm; at a bit of a loose end, I ended up plumping for this over Dunkirk, largely because of Casey Affleck, and somewhat Rooney Mara. Loads of people there at that time; some even came to see this! I'd resisted reading any reviews; the theatre was about a quarter full and at least four people quit it in the first half hour, so I expect that most of us didn't know what we were getting.

A. O. Scott. Dana Stevens. I can't add much.

Thelma & Louise

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Some kind of Ridley Scott completism; Brad Pitt so young, Susan Sarandon already past her prime, Geena Davis playing a hedonistic airhead ten years younger than she was, Harvey Keitel struggling with an accent. It's a one-way roadtrip.

Griffin Theatre: Rice by Michele Lee.

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7pm, a freebie from bAKEHOUSE theatre company. Dinner was a bento at a Japanese place on Darlinghurst Road. A preview, I think, and packed.

I went in with no expectations but had heard of its sold-out season in Brisbane. The setup is two women bouncing off each other, shifting amongst a small set of characters with different concerns and stakes. There's a lot of swearing that was probably supposed to be somehow authentic and arresting, and too much histrionics in the mode of Home and Away. I found it all a bit cliched, but did appreciate the efforts of the two actors (Kristy Best, Hsiao-Ling Tang) to inflate the stagnant material. It's a long way from The Ham Funeral in almost all theatrical dimensions.

Ben Neutze. Jason Blake.

Michael Knight: Eveningland.

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Kindle. I picked this one up on the strength of the first few paragraphs of Rick Bass's review in the New York Times; I see now that he proceeds to meander through the rushes, looking for things to stuff his writing with. I found this collection of shorts a bit wan; perhaps you had to be there, and not just be there, but be rich enough to really be there.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

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Edgar Wright completism. Meh.

Glebe to Tattersalls Campground and back.

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The excellent Find a camp suggested a few spots just south of Forster that might be reachable by motorcycle from Sydney in a few hours of not-too-fast riding. I set out from Glebe in the late (warm and very fine) morning, and promptly got lost around Artamon, trying to get onto the Pacific Highway. No problem, but that road is shockingly slow even at such non-peak times. I mucked around to get to the BP at Hornsby; sure enough there's another one on the western side of the road at Asquith. After that it was a pleasant ride up near Brooklyn, across the old bridge, to the Anaconda near Gosford (some occy straps to reinforce the bicycle inner tubes holding my pack to the rack), and lunch at Lisarow. The busker there was playing 1980s Australian classics to retirees; the pie, sausage roll and flat white were serviceable but not likely to attract Roberts Bakery partisans.

The most challenging of the muddy spots, on the way in.

Given the short days, I decided to head fairly directly to Tattersalls campground, on the Karuah River, via the BP in the town of Karuah soas to allay any fears of running out of fuel on the way back out. Hobarts Forest Road is a dirt track, easily passable, but Tattersalls Road is nowhere as well drained; with a lot of care I got past three large muddy sections — one entirely covering the road, necessitating some minor off-road bush bashing. The city slicks don't provide much traction in these settings. Both the nameless CB400 and I were both well splattered by the time I got to the end of it. The website did warn me the track was unlikely to be passable with a 2WD but I didn't expect it to be so bad.

I had the campground to myself. There's a heavily-eroded boat launch (another further along looks more usable), a toilet (that I didn't further investigate), some picnic furniture, fireplaces everywhere. Most sites are bare clay, some boggy; clearly the place is more for car camping than what I had in mind. I ate my dinner down at the river, but decided to set up the tent on higher ground. I hit the Thermarest soon after sundown, avoiding the swarms of silent but seemingly non-deadly mosquitoes, and spent the evening snoozing, listening to Roy Harper and chewing a bit more of Michael Knight's Eveningland.

Morning after.

Next morning I had a very light breakfast while a family of pelicans lazily swam past, packed up and aimed to grab a proper breakfast in Raymond Terrace. I made it past the first two boggy bits on Tattersalls Road but not the last, largely due to cockiness and misreading the path I'd took on the way in. Stuck in the middle of the road! After wrestling the bike for a while I gave up and called the police, who were of limited use; the initial message out of Raymond Terrace was that they'd take a while to come and help me, so I should try a towing company, but soon enough this became an insistence that I figure it out myself. The first towing company couldn't make it that day at all, and the other wanted $400 for coming from Newcastle. I was ultimately saved by a thong-wearing Kiwi and his English mate who insisted on hoisting the bike out of the mud for me, seeing as I was blocking their route to a day's fishing with the Kiwi's Dad.

After that, totally covered in mud, I hightailed it to Raymond Terrace for some tucker. The cafe people turned their noses up at my appearance, though the local librarian was a lot less snooty. I took the motorway in moderate traffic back to the BP at Pymble, and hence to Glebe, mostly at 100kph as the wind drag got too much past that for sustainable comfort.

Keigo Higashino: The Devotion of Suspect X.

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Kindle. A recommendation from Tigôn, who read it in tiếng Việt. It's a solid and enjoyable murder mystery, airport-novel style, a page turner, but inverted: we always know who did it. Perhaps this is a common trick in this genre I rarely visit. Misato seems a lot more perceptive than Yusako, and I thought she'd come to the fore later on, but she never really moves into sharp focus. Quite a few movies were made from it.

Baby Driver

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9pm session, Palace Cinemas Norton St, with Dave, $32 + $2.60 booking fee for the two of us, booked around 1pm; the cinema was packed, so hats off to the marketing agents on this opening weekend. Before we worked a bit deeper into the dumpling menu at Allfine Chinese Cuisine House (35A Ross St in Forest Lodge), which was awesome, and a flat white each at the cinema.

This is a mashup of heist and car movies with a touch of Twin Peaks and a side of Tarantino. The references are for the most part obvious. Edgar Wright didn't name-check Pulp's Disco 2000 or Julie Brown's eternal Homecoming Queen's Got A Gun, so I can tell he didn't listen to JJJ in the 1990s. Lily James looks a lot like a young Mädchen Amick, or wants to be; there is not much pie in that diner. Spacey is pure cliched Spacey, a self-parody by the end. It's not great. The music didn't do it for me. The plot was was meh. It's not very funny, and nothing particularly memorable happens. I liked the use of sign language juxtaposed with all the noise, but that ultimately went nowhere.

Manohla Dargis got into it.

Sameblod (Sami Blood)

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A freebie from the UNSW Creative Practice Lab that I cashed at the dear old Verona on the 6:30pm screening of this, on Cath's suggestion after winnowing the current Scandi movie festival down to three possibilities.

The story is the reminiscence of the girlhood of an aged, deracinated Sámi (Lapp?) lady who wanted more from life than herding reindeer. There are some uncomfortable scenes portraying the racial determinism of the 1930s, and social exclusion and exploitation. In many ways it is formulaic and plays to type (Moodysson extracted more shock from his more familiar territory) but is somewhat rescued by some good cinematography and the strength of Lene Cecilia Sparrok's performance in the lead. I wondered who fathered her son and what she did between the then and now scenes.

The Promise

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I don't really know what to make of this. The topic — the Armenian genocide — is a worthy and touchy one and has already received at least one decent cinematic treatment (Ararat). This one is designed to pull on American heart strings and its poor IMDB rating suggests it won't get much of a chance to. Oscar Isaac valliantly tries to make something of it, and this is the most characterless role Christian Bale has ever had. Charlotte Le Bon is a well-intentioned sex object. Jean Reno, James Cromwell. The cinematography is shonky; the inside sets are jarringly poor. The plot is a mashup of perhaps A Quiet American, Doctor Zhivago, and I'm guessing as I still haven't seen it, Titanic. The morality is black and white: America before it needed to be made great again, with Turks who speak Turkish, Germans who speak German, and Armenians who of course speek God's English, until they became Godfather-esque emigres to Massachusetts and give toasts in Armenian to the survival of their nation. Apparently it is based on a true story.

Jeannette Catsoulis.

Free Fire

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For Sharlto Copley. Totally vacuous; I got a giggle out of him telling the Irish to "learn something from the English" about manners, early on, before things entirely settled into damaging but mostly non-lethal gunplay. See kids, you too can survive being shot! For an hour or so at least. I don't know how what could have sold the script for this to the cast (also Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer, all better elsewhere). Reservoir Dogs? Cube?

Catherine Lacey: Nobody is ever missing.

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Kindle. On Kate's recommendation, and perhaps the review in the New York Times of her newer The Answers. The plot and setting are entirely ancillary to the main game of rattling around in Lacey's head, and enjoying her massively run-on sentences cut with fine observations. The title of the book is the self-realised slight revelation that it is now impossible to fully slip the chains of one's life; and of course the slightness of it is worked over at length. (There is far more than that however.) Lacey is most effective when she finds precisely the right few words to evoke a feeling, and less so when she merely asserts her emotional state, but most of the enjoyment came from her need to immediately rework each sentiment, striving to juice everything, struggling to own her responses and be original in a world that constructs new methods of stifling mental activity daily.

Dwight Garner.

Lady Macbeth

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A freebie from Griffin Theatre that I cashed at Dendy Opera Quays, 8:40pm. There was one other person in the theatre and the advertisements were the same as ever. The service was again lackluster; a singular pensioner felt the need to spend ten minutes buying a ticket and some junk food, chatting to the young service professional behind the counter while his colleagues chatted to each other far away from the service area. All I needed, and all I got, was a door number. The ride over and back was pleasant enough though, despite the cooler weather.

This was another interpretation of the venerable Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, perhaps by way of Wuthering Heights (the moors). The plot is almost pure Shakespeare, unsurprisingly: there is no justice, boredom motivates, filial duties are impossible or debased. Florence Pugh is in every scene and ably anchors the thing; Naomi Ackie and Cosmo Jarvis are excellent support. The cinematography is gorgeous, once past some jittery handheld camerawork. The episodic and quiet nature powerfully evokes the isolation and objectification of the leading lady, and her intemperate responses.

Peter Bradshaw. Sandra Hall. Jake Wilson. Manohla Dargis.

Jack Rabbit Theatre: Front at The Depot Theatre.

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5pm, a freebie via the Kings Cross Theatre newsletter, with Lev, who was in Sydney for the school holidays. This was a bunch of young kids in solid Have a Cigar territory (hey, I never realised that was Roy Harper out front on that song). It's episodic, with some now-cliched temporal mixing. The performances were good, and the set effective, but the raw source material cleaved too close to the unsurprising. We were clearly there to make up the numbers of what was essentially a friends and family crowd. The lead bloke had a three-by-three muppet portait shirt on and it took me a while to realise that I couldn't name any beyond the first row.


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Wow, what a find. James Caan in a supporting role in 1990, still with the power to untether Sonny Corleone on demand, but mostly genial. Kathy Bates stars, is awesome, and deservedly got an Oscar. Written by Stephen King, It's a bit of The Shining, Twin Peaks, Fargo, Sleuth and many other things. IMDB's summary doesn't do it justice; it's hilarious and a bit scary. I see now that director Rob Reiner has great form.

The Sheriff, apropos his deputy/wife: "You see, it's just that kind of sarcasm that's givin' our marriage real spice."

Alien Covenant

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Dendy Opera Quays, 6pm, $7; one of the cheap catch-up sessions they hold on weeknights. I was just out to see if the cinema had survived and got sucked into this. The service was super inefficient: two couples uhmmed and ahhed about what junk food would go best with this junk movie, almost until it was scheduled to start. No wonder hardly anyone goes any more.

This movie is dumb. The characters make dumb decisions, and everything that can go wrong is juxtaposed with every other thing that didn't need to go wrong for the scene to work. The result is a mess, and Ridley Scott seems to have nothing to say. Michael Fassbender tries to anchor what he can, and he does have his moments, but overall it is an arch and empty performance; his main squeeze Vikander played the aspirational synthetic with more promising menace in Ex Machina. This pretends to tell us something of the genesis of the Alien, and despite all claims it is not perfect; if it was, it wouldn't need to procreate in such a messy and destructive way. While bashing this busted mythos might prove more fun than this installment, I'll stop here.

Peter Bradshaw. A. O. Scott. Richard Brody watched it so you don't have to. Anthony Lane.


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OK, a 1980s Michael Mann. I guess it was in solid B-Movie territory in its day, but not all that close to the Arnie classics. Brian Cox tries to incarnate Lektor; here he is a minor character and nowhere close to owning the movie. It's all a bit too predictable from this point in history.

Raymond Smullyan: Who Knows?: A Study of Religious Consciousness.

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I've had this dead-tree book for an age. It's a bit disappointing. The first part is a review/critique of a book where Martin Gardner defends his Christian beliefs. I hadn't heard of it and won't seek it out now. The relatively long and interminable second part is trench warfare against Christian theology, specifically attitudes toward hell as esposed by the Jesus of the Scriptures and later traditions and interpretations. I don't think of this as "religious consciousness" (which I now see I read as "spiritual consciousness") and was a bit astonished that Smullyan expended so much concern on it.

The last is perhaps what I came for: an exploration of "cosmic consciousness"; the idea that there is a higher state of consciousness and some people have achieved it over the millenia. Again it takes the form essentially of an endorsement of Richard Maurice Bucke's book on the subject, and the long excerpts of it and other texts often occlude Smullyan's own voice. At times I heard echoes of Kant's Universal History though of course one is immanent (though not revelatory) and the other more worldly; I guess it was the teleology that brackets them so strongly in my mind. (Smullyan rubbishes Kant's ethics.) I also wonder how this stuff fits with Nietzsche et al's ruminations on Man's construction of God. This whole area is firmly in Emerson et al's tradition of American pragmatism, and the more out-there considerations of Miss Nha Trang and William Pensinger, stopping just short of the New Age. Too much to read, too many other things to think about, so I'll leave it there.

In contrast to his say-it-once book First Order Logic, Smullyan really needed an editor post-retirement.

The Last of the Mohicans

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Second (or third?) time around: last seen in 2009. Daniel Day-Lewis with his shirt off, Madeleine Stowe tries to heave a bodice. Not at all as I remembered it; I thought the grey hair got his heart ripped out in the fort. Oh well. Clearly a forerunner (running dog?) of Dancing With Wolves, and they sure don't make these epics any more. The climax is a bit meh; the plot is essentially that you can't trust a white man (to make a good movie), though the natives and the scenery sometimes add up to something watchable. Michael Mann's best was yet to come (Heat), but I should perhaps watch Manhunter before passing that judgement. I did like his Thief.

Gangs of New York

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Pretty sure I saw this before, but I can't remember when. Scorcese's dry run for The Departed (better known as Infernal Affairs)? Leonardo, a mole, a kingpin, a love interest, a violent corruption. I was here for Daniel Day-Lewis, so recently retired from acting, only to realise that the cast was vast: John C Reilly, DiCaprio, Day-Lewis, Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, Stephen Graham (from This is England), Eddie Marsan. The editing was nowhere close to his masterful Casino, and somehow it didn't add up to much of anything. The Academy awarded the booby prize of ten nominations and no statues.

Japanese Story

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Someone recommended this one to me a while back. It is, unfortunately, crap. Toni Collette is too good for this stuff, as are Justine Clarke and John Howard. The first two-thirds is cliche-ridden drivel; there's never any tension or possibility that they won't, despite the lack of chemistry between the stars. The cinematography is OK but Australia looks better almost everywhere else; even in real life! Some people reviewing this at IMDB call it racist, but I tend to think it's more laziness, a feeble portrayal of the now-fading mining boom through the eyes of the last people in Perth who are culturally ignorant, and retain some connection to the war. The money may have been better spent on recording oral history at the RSLs; you know, a complement to the roughly-contemporary Crackerjack. (Ah yes, the beer at authentic 1972 prices.) Colette's ockerisms make it look like she's not even trying.

Nocturnal Animals

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The most inessential movie I've seen in a long time. It's not fun, it's not insightful, it's not pretty. The best part is Michael Shannon, who's solid but hasn't got a lot to work with. Amy Adams is completely frosty, and entirely lacking an internal life. I don't see how this could ever have seemed to be more than it is, a slight horrible thing.

NIDA Student Productions: Eurydike + Orpheus.

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Booked with The Caucasian Chalk Circle, same deal: $56.00 for two, 2017-05-27, booking fee $5.95 covered both. 7:30pm start, the Parade Theatre, but a little late. Again Pinnocchio's for dinner, and this time a coffee from the UNSW gym, where the kids sure can scream, and their mothers have sharp elbows. I would've respected them more if they'd rucked me to get at the lollies.

Somewhat like All our Tragic, Jane Montgomery Griffiths munged some Greek classics into an hour and a bit of circus set in the underworld. For mine there were too many words, and drawing a connection with mathematics is almost always a too flimsy gambit. (For instance: the Kepler conjecture is no longer a conjecture, and packing spheres isn't easily or effectively connected to packing Hades with the dead. Let's quietly ignore clangers like "the equation for love.") Why they don't ask a maths student for help I don't know. The sets were impressive.

NIDA Student Productions: The Caucasian Chalk Circle.

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I booked this very early, back on 2017-05-27: $56.00 for two people and a $5.95 booking fee for this and the next night's one. 8pm start, but not particularly timely: and the students carried out a tendentious pseudo-debate about asylum seekers before getting the action underway. I had dinner at Pinnocchio's beforehand, and tried to hack in the UNSW Library, and more effectively, at NIDA. The dear old cafe there is gone, but I did score a drip coffee from a nice bloke at the bar.

I have a soft spot for Brecht from vague recollections of a NUTS production of In the Jungle of Cities back in the late 1990s. This one was firstly about the struggles of a woman taken to be an unwed mother, and secondly the Solomonic "chalk circle" that resolves the question of the maternity of the bloke in a (kangaroo) courtroom, but really is about the law being an ass. The acting was great, and the props and effects fantastic: they skillfully evoked rain, wind, lightning in a dirt-floored tent outside, in NIDA's Atrium. (I half expected the mechatronic dragons from the Chopin to put in a showing.) I'd say the first act dragged a little as it was almost uniformly hopeless, whereas the second was comedic; the lead actor (whose name I didn't get) could probably have made Shylock amusing.

Miranda Otto apparently starred in a production of this back in 1989. There's a photo near the box office.

Joshua C. Cohen: Leverage.

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Kindle. I picked this up thinking it was by Joshua Cohen; the bloke with the middle initial C writes young adult fiction, so this was a surprise. Briefly: football jocks are the establishment and wildly abuse their power, culminating in some sexual deviancy and other extreme behaviour. It's all violent, law of the jungle stuff, and the weedy gymnasts get creamed until they don't. Unfortunately things get squared by tediously normativity, the power of strong women to civilize any man, I-blame-the-parents, an adult's take on justice that I don't remember encountering in my youth; really I wanted the ex-special ops teacher to unload some manners on one of the jocks, or maybe for one of the subculture geeks to go postal (in a non-violent way). Presumably this kind of thing cannot happen every generation, or in every school, for otherwise they would be proscribed organizations. Well written for what it is, but what is it?

Glebe to Cottage Point, Mona Vale, and back to Glebe.

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Despite the BOM's earlier predictions that it would rain for the rest of time, we had a beaut sunny public holiday. Vaguely speculating that there must be somewhere to walk around Cottage Point, I set off around midday by the most direct route. Well, there isn't: the place is essentially a private corner deep in the national park, and historically only accessible by boat. They charge for everything, including drinking water and garbage disposal. There is almost no public land apart from the road, the wharf, and the narrow walkway between the two. I bought a Devonshire Tea (with a flat white) for $13.50 from the kiosk, where I wasn't allowed to eat the two-day-old pizza in my mitt.

I rode up directly via the Harbour Bridge and Terrey Hills, famous for its weather radar. Coming back I thought I'd try to find Akuna Bay, but choked on another 11km of winding narrow roads festering with Audis. Instead I headed over to Church Point and the fancy marinas of Bayview along Pittwater Road. Mona Vale Road almost saw me wiped out by a woman in an SUV who carelessly didn't check when changing lanes; fortunately for me the traffic was thin and she did indicate; I slowed down and honked, which caused her to slow down well after she'd moved into my lane, which is precisely not helpful in this situation. After a bit she figured out she needed to get back into her original lane, and we both survived. I found it weird as she overtook me not more than a kilometre beforehand, and there seemed to be little reason for her to switch lanes.

About 100km all round. The new front tyre is going well.

Days of Heaven (1978)

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Closer to Terrence Malick's more recent efforts, like To The Wonder; here there is twirling, and fields of wheat, but there is no twirling in the fields of wheat. The cinematography is again fantastic. The plot is abridged Shakespeare. Richard Gere is young, and perhaps surprised by not going to make movies of the calibre that Martin Sheen did; but Gere carries a hot temper far less plausibly, and so much less dangerously. I guess he could still earn an Oscar nom as Slick Willy in a Hillary restrospective. Sam Shepard, about whom I feel at best neutral (from his play writing and The Right Stuff), is strangely passive until he isn't, and then he really isn't. Why could he not find a worthy and sturdy beauty at the local B&S? Morricone practices his harbingers-of-doom scoring that he fully realised two decades later in Lolita. Brooke Adams, anchoring the love triangle, is mostly characterless and simply goes for the guy with the biggest stash every time she gets to choose. I think it was B Movies for her from here on out.

Adam Johnson: Parasites Like Us.

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Kindle. Johnson's first novel. I enjoyed it about as much as The Orphan Master's Son. Like Will Self's classic The Quantity Theory of Insanity, we get a story of the weird from the vantage of some bent academicians, or alternatively, a prescription for a new way to teach anthropology. It's apocalyptic, survivalist, a little random like Shaun of the Dead, and the Dusk to Dawn pivot around the 70% mark leads us into American War territory, albeit in a from-hell's-heart-I-stab-at-thee sorta way. The prison ("Club Fed") comes in for some Ken Kesey-like scrutiny. The book-within-a-book (here The Depletionists) evoked Paul Beatty's The Sellout. (Johnson seems to be complaining that the boomers — or does he mean all adult Americans? — haven't left future generations with much, but somehow felt the need to observe this via the Clovis.)

Is this novel an echo of Rousseau, entirely man in his natural state? It is a bit funny but.

Gary Krist.

Badlands (1973)

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Terrence Malick's debut was a proforma for the many Bonnie and Clydes that followed. There's even something of Natural Born Killers here; perhaps Oliver Stone was remaking the movies that made Martin Sheen a star. As always there was some great cinematography. I wasn't so convinced by Sissy Spacek, and I needed to be for the thing to be more than a piece of fluff. Sheen is so young and gets compared with James Dean. His character is the opposite of Jim Caviezel's in The Thin Red Line; just as lost, but with nothing on the inside. The plot is a bit crap, the characters just cardboard.

Vivek Shanbhag: Ghachar Ghochar translated by Srinath Perur.

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Kindle. A brief quotidian novella originally written in Kannada, centred on Bangalore, an idle first-person's account of sudden wealth and what it does to family dynamics. The whole thing might be a metaphor for modern India for all I know. Some enjoyable bits, some uninventive, and it just stops. Short but.

I didn't read Parul Sehgal's review until afterwards, and it is in the sweeping universal referential mode that should have made me wary.

/noise/beach/2016-2017 | Link

Beautiful day for the most part; some blue skies in the morning before the storm clouds blew through (without rain), supposedly 20 degrees in the water and out, leaving the wind aside. The ride over to and back from Gordons Bay was pleasant. I stopped off at Fatima's takeaway on Cleveland for a felafel roll, and all I'm going to say is that you don't get much for your $8. I took my mask but expected the water to be to cold to spend much time with my head in it; my loss.

The Necks at Sydney Opera House, Drama Theatre.

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$59.00 + $8.50 web transaction fee = $67.50, booked 2017-04-01. Part of the Vivid Festival, where they attach unimaginative strip lighting to the Bridge and shine suggestive abstractions on the sails of the Sydney Opera House. Yeah. There's a lot more neon in the shop windows on the streets of Sydney than in the recent past, which makes me wonder why the public should fund such creative poverty. They also fence off great swathes of pedestrian walkways; Sydneysiders no longer need to get on peak hour trains or cheap flights to Asia to feel like cattle.

Anyway, they promised to email me a ticket, and didn't, so the box office guy gave me one and implied I could calm down a bit. The pre-show email said it'd start at 7:30pm sharp, which it didn't, and some people were let in about 10 minutes in, so if you ever see the video that's me standing up three rows from the front to let them past.

Unlike last time I struggled to get into it. For much of the second set I couldn't pick out the bass; I was sitting too close to the front left speaker, I guess, too close to the drums. It may also be that the acoustics of the Drama Theatre are not as good as elsewhere in this building.

Benjamin Woods's review gives some idea.

Jaroslav Kalfař: The Spaceman of Bohemia.

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Kindle. A personal view of Czech history refracted through dreams of traversing the cosmos. The first half is stronger than the second, and the outro when it comes is limp, something like enduring without forgiving or forgetting. The plot pivots somewhat on the Velvet Revolution, and the time-honoured question of whether the son can outrun the sins of the father. I wish he'd captured his grandmother's personality as well as he does his grandfather's; similarly his father is even more sharply drawn, whereas his mother is totally MIA. The village life is probably gone for all time, the backyard raising of pigs and rabbits and all that. Some of it evokes Kundera's philosophical whimsy.

Jennifer Senior nails it in her first paragraph. It seems I was more prepared to indulge the arch commentary on "humanry." Hari Kunzru.

Siren Theatre Co: The Ham Funeral at Griffin Theatre.

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7pm, $20, bought at few minutes past midday; it seems strange to sell rush tickets online. The ride over was pretty quick, and I got a park on top of the tunnel on Kings Cross Road. There's a chill in the air now that seems more serious than the cold snap of a few weeks ago. It was my first time there since Summertime in the Garden of Eden, a more modern piece of subversion.

This is Patrick White's first play from the 1940s, and while no one is going to be shocked by it now, it still has some bite. I sat in the front row, which I wouldn't recommend: the odd-shaped stage is not very suitable for this kind of closely staged work, and at least some of the time I was looking at an actor's back while the action continued behind them. The cast was fine, especially Eliza Logan in the lead as Mrs Lusty. There's some trashcan action at the start of the second act that reminded me of Beckett's later Endgame. Things held together pretty well up to the last movement, where the poet (Sebastian Robinson) is chased by Mrs Lusty around the table, and things got a bit limp. Jenny Wu played ethereal fluff like it was Shakespeare; perhaps there's a Hamlet out there in need of her skills.

Ben Neutze. Jason Blake. Cassie Tongue. I saw the New Theatre production of it back in 2013, as did Kevin Jackson.

Headed up to Café Hernandez afterwards, for a drink with Dave, back from Melbourne earlier in the evening.

Three Kings

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A stray reference from somewhere reminded me that I hadn't seen this in an age. Early Clooney and Wahlberg, with neither quite out of their previous zones. Ice Cube sort-of anchors the thing, and the humour is of a late 90s America that has Bush War I well in the rear view mirror. The comedic parts work the best, but it is somewhat depressing to reflect on now.

Freaks and Pink Flamingos

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$10, 8:30pm notional start. A somewhat strange double feature put on by the Chauvel as part of their Cine-vault series. Perhaps a total of 20 people in the crowd, most of whom wanted to sit right near me despite the sparseness, and me moving. The ride over was fast, just ten minutes against the twenty minute par for the Google car driving grandma, but also quite horrible.

Well! David S told me a long while back that he was a fan of Freaks (1932), so it was always on my mind to see it. The bloke fired up the old 35mm projector and snapped the "brittle" print after a minute or so, during the framing text. A quick splice got us about another five minutes before the next snap, and he then decided to put Pink Flamingos (1972) on (I think in DVD format) while he did some deeper surgery. Yeah, I probably would've walked out on the latter if they'd stuck to the advertised program.

Anyway, Freaks was worth it, I guess. The acting is generally pretty good, though I was expecting more trapeze (and sundry circus). The plot is pure Shakespeare.

/noise/beach/2016-2017 | Link

Leftover Arthur's pizza for lunch on the Coogee headland. About as tasteless as it was for dinner last night. Soak in Gordons Bay, which was quite peaceful. Beaut day, but it is getting colder out.

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Vale, Alain Colmerauer.

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Sushi for lunch at Royal Randwick. Got a new Randwick City Library card. Short soak at Gordons Bay. Two women turned up with a dog, which wouldn't get properly in the water and instead barked incessantly from the rocks. Ah, the serenity! Got a new front tyre for the still-nameless CB400 from Beaconsfield Motorcycle Supermarket ($240) at about 10,300km on the clock.

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Went to the office in the morning. Had lunch at Tum's Thai and a short paddle at Gordons Bay. Not the cleanest ever; mostly seaweed though.

/noise/beach/2016-2017 | Link

A beautiful day, warm in the sun. I had lunch at Pinocchio Sushi, corner of Barker and Anzac, for old times' sake: their Korean Fried Chicken (karaage) was about the same, as was the sushi/sashimi. After I left there was a queue out the door for a table. I decided to go for a swim/paddle/soak at Little Bay, which was clean. The ride back was a little tricky as the sun is now so low in the sky. Turning into O'Riordan St from Gardeners Road is a joke: there's a lane, but no arrow on the lights. Thanks guys.

Omar El Akkad: American War.

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Kindle. The first two paragraphs Michiko Kakutani's review sold it to me as having a rich conceit: that the United States has a second Civil War. I've thought for a long time that the U.S. Federal Government is too powerful for anyone to challenge, but the divisiveness of the recent election result struck me as a plausible mechanism for El Akkad's premise coming to pass. Unfortunately he opts for a retread of the actual Civil War, pitching South against North once more, rather than mining the city/country schism suggested by current-day Trumpistan.

The book squanders its promise with too much detail (irrelevant to this story, and better treated in factual accounts) and an eye-for-an-eye causal determinism where everything is justified by completely unimaginative conjoined events (cf Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist). The tight linear structure and somewhat formulaic, exacting prose made me think that El Akkad was a computer programmer, but the author's bio states he is in fact a journalist.

Concretely we get accounts of life in a container in Louisiana (familiar to fly-in-fly-out mining employees), climate change (look outside), a refugee camp (see the newspaper on Manus Island and Nauru, and sundry Vietnamese accounts), the full Gitmo experience (see Michael Mori's book etc.), child soldiers, a Quiet Egyptian (see Graham Greene), a love-it-or-leave vibe, a mixed martial arts non-novelty, mindless capricious drones (newspaper), and an uninsightful take on Southern culture (see Tom Wolfe's A Man in Full for a better effort). OK, we're yet to see biological agents kill millions of people. Sarat is the great woman in history, and pivot around her the country does, her being an otherwise empty vessel with no stake in creation. The interstitial faked news is a move lifted from John Brunner.

Reading Kakutani's review to its end just now: she is right that the morality does not escape the Star Wars universe. Justin Cronin took a second bite for the New York Times. Both act like they've never heard or thought about any of this stuff before.

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Beautiful sunny day, slightly cold wind. Rode over to Gordons Bay at 12:30pm, had leftover pizza for lunch on the northern Coogee headland. I got in off the beach, but the tide was up, the surf quite rough, and the flotsam from the rain a few days ago too thick for comfort. The temperature was fine though, even when I got out. The ride back was placid. I was sufficiently preoccupied that I got stuck behind some cars that were thinking even less hard about the traffic than I was.

King Street Theatre: Down An Alley Filled With Cats by Warwick Moss.

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$35 + $0.30 transaction fee, booked 2017-05-12. King Street Theatre is pretty much in St Peters. I think Judith Greenaway's review sold it to me; in any case I was misguided. (Other reviews are similarly incoherently tepid and boosterish: Matthew MacDonald for instance, gives it three stars but highly recommends going.) She was right about the 80s classics during the interval (Redgum, Midnight Oil, etc.) but the play itself was not that close to her description. Sure, there's two blokes in a bookshop (filled with anachronisms for 1984), but they tend to shout at each other and ham it up in between. I couldn't tell if it was the production or the play itself that was letting things down, so perhaps both. The spontaneous revelations were nowhere plausible.

The writer and (I think) director were in the audience for this closing night, which lead to an awkward outro.

The Depot Theatre: Educating Rita.

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I scored a free double pass to this preview (or one to the opening on Friday, but Dave was heading out for a tango that night) from somewhere; I've subscribed to too many arts newsletters, and still I hardly go to anything. The Depot Theatre is in the same community area as The Bower, on Addison Road in Marrickville. I hadn't seen the movie. We grabbed some dinner before (a decent laksa at the Mekong Noodle Bar in Marrickville, near the post office) and a coffee from Pagoto gelateria on Victoria.

We had perhaps the best seats in the house (right from the entry corridor, front row furthest along). Like the last thing I saw (A Clockwork Orange, two months ago!), this one is venerable and stood in need of some modernisation, or at least adaptation to the current day. The acting was solid (Emily McGowan, David Jeffrey), and the set worked well, and I wasn't at all bored with the episodic nature of it. It now seems so tame when set against something more recent like Oleanna. These days it's probably more typical to go looking for a self to actualize, and after coming up empty-handed proceeding to vacuous power games; things no amount of Blake is really going to help with.

/noise/beach/2016-2017 | Link

Lunch at Tum's Thai then a soak at Gordons Bay. Pleasant in, not too cold getting out. I headed back to UNSW Library to complete the day's work to find it absolutely packed with students. I had fears of not being able to park but there was plenty of room on Botany St near High, just past Tigers childcare.

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Lunch on the Coogee headland and an early-afternoon sort-of-snorkel at Gordons Bay off the beach, along the southern rocks. Quite warm in the sun, the wind was not too cold, and the water remains OK once in. The ride over and back was fine. I stopped in at Beaconsfield Motorcycle Supermarket on the way back to get some advice about a new front tyre for the CB400. Friday, Phil says, and the back one is good for a few thousand yet.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

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Palace Cinemas, Norton St, $16, 9pm. 7 people total in the theatre. Wasn't feeling like going home, so I had a pizza at Da Noi a flat white at the cinema, and read my not-great book for an hour in their foyer. It was almost totally dead.

This movie is boring. It has loads of clangers and cliched humour, pauses signalling where the audience should be laughing. Some of the visuals are fun, but there's nothing new here. I should have braved a movie made for grown ups.

Manohla Dargis.

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Lunch at Al-Rayyan Indian Restaurant on Elizabeth St. I opportunistically parked on Kippax, later to be shown by a no-namer motorcycle delivery bloke that you can park out front. There was a protest about something to do with Syria on Elizabeth that combined with the roadworks around Central to make a total mess of things. I eventually got over to Gordons Bay (more new mess on Allison, more righteous drivers on Cowper) by around 2:30pm. The water is not too bad once in, though I remember now it was the hot shower soon after getting out that made all this possible in the colder months. Read another chapter of my book on the northern Coogee headland. The traffic back was incredibly bad; I think there was a Swans game, or maybe a Sydney FC one, at Moore Park. Once I got to the CBD, things were OK.

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Rode down to La Perouse at 2:30pm. The traffic around Broadway Shopping Centre was still crazy. Beautiful day, 25 degrees or more. Lunch at Paris Seafood. Dip in Frenchmans Beach, the first for a month. Clean water, a tad cold but still OK. The traffic on the ride home was not so bad.

District 9

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Second time around, late, with Dave, for a Sharlto Copley fix. Neill Blomkamp is gifted but he has yet to surpass this initial outing.

A Lego™ Technic BMW R1200GS (set #42063).

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For when you don't want the full-size one.

While in Zurich I heard (along with everyone else) that Lego™ is releasing a Saturn V set in June. This prompted me to see what other models they have now, which in combination with a sale by Myer, led me to buying this one. It ended up a bit messy: in order to get a 20% discount I needed to buy two sets, and to get free shipping I had to spend $AU100. It took me a while to settle on the Lego™ Architecture Chicago set #21033 — it would've been a lot quicker if they'd had a model of a Volvo 240! As Myer couldn't scare one up in the following week, I came away with the beemer alone for $AU72 delivered.

Assembly took most of an evening. I still have to put the stickers on. There's a little 40 years of Technic piece in there somewhere; I guess that makes my old studdy kits some of the first. The suspension is pretty awesome, as are the signature boxes, but the model of the boxer engine leaves a bit to be desired, and the seat is missing.

Difficult Pleasure (1989)

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At the State Library, mid-afternoon, one hour. I sought out this interview with Brett Whiteley after visiting his studio a few weeks back. He was definitely at the mystical end of things; by declaiming in the style of RJL Hawke, dropping names, conceptualising, swearing and no-nonsense rank pulling gave some gravitas to his pretension to being a philosopher-artist. His comments on his Alchemy strongly suggest that it is incoherent.

Man on Fire

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Proceeding with another past-prime Denzel outing (this time from 2004), I really ended up watching Fantastic Mr Fox on the screen of the kid in front of me, between the seats, on the flight from Doha to Sydney. Once again this is pure formula, with some choppy camerawork that often makes for motion sickness. Dakota Fanning was pretty good as the kid. If I got it right, crooked Mickey Rourke doesn't get any comeuppance. Christopher Walken is similarly phoning it in. Drecky.

The Equalizer

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I've been meaning to watch more of Denzel Washington's movies since forever. This one, from 2014, suggests that for all his good and early hard work he's slipped into a comfortable formula of vigilantism, the man with the secret (violent) past who really just wants to help. They play New Dawn Fades late on, just before the credits, which of course was but one aspect of the far richer Heat from almost twenty years previous. And that was indeed Chloë Grace Moretz playing the Russian sex slave, showing just how far she's come from Kick Ass. Really just a sop to those who pine for B-Movies (ala Gil Scott Heron).


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I'm not a big fan of Jennifer Lawrence (I liked her in American Hustle), and while Chris Pratt can be some fun I avoided this largely due to the dodgy premise of a woman, woken into a hopeless situation, forgiving the man who dun it. Also the reviews were so-so, and now I see the editing was a bit crap too. Morpheus doesn't work any magic before he croaks, and there isn't any kind of twist at the end. I enjoyed the aesthetic, perhaps because it is so reassuringly unoriginal, and I guess it's nice to see interstellar lurv too weak to bend the universe out of shape. Got the first half between Zurich and Doha, and the second half from Doha to Sydney.

Another problem that I couldn't get out of my head: how was JLaw going to get back to Earth after her year on Homestead II?

Assassin's Creed

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I feel that good movies are not wasted by watching them on aeroplanes, so on the Zurich to Doha leg of a trip back to Sydney I sought out this piece of uniformly-panned dreck from 2016. The draw was Fassbender, who somehow thought this was so worth making (or would make enough to be worth it) that he produced it. The rest of the cast is also excellent elsewhere, but not here: Marion Cotillard so far from Lady Macbeth, Brendan Gleeson (again as Fassbender's Dad), Michael Kenneth Williams (memorable in The Night of). The whole thing is risible and nonsensical.

Graham Greene: A Burnt Out Case.

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Kindle. A not-too-long novel from 1960 that I completed on the plane from Doha to Sydney. Mostly Greene sticks to his usual preoccupations (Catholicism, colonialism, journalism, character sketches, scenery, the exotic, suffering and hypocrisy, power plays) so there's a lot of talking but not action. We're in the Congo, at a Belgian leproserie, where the new drugs are eradicating the scourge of millenia and a womanizing architect seeks isolation from the maddening world. The gun that goes off in Part V was never on the table. In some ways it has a similar structure to, and is less successful than, his canonical The Quiet American.

Robert Gorham Davis reviewed it back in the day.

Benyamin: Goat Days.

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Kindle. Mostly read on the short (~6 hour) flight from Doha to Zurich. Somehow I mostly slept through the long leg (~14 hours) from Sydney to Doha. Qatar Airways must hire a lot of Russian pilots, and they seem less bothered about safety than any other airline I've flown with. The stopover definitely evokes this book, as did the previous one I read.

This is a tale of recent-day enslavery and possibly human trafficking in the Gulf states. It's at its best when talking about the harrowing conditions of the first-person goatherd / general dogsbody who was sold a visa for a construction company but got abducted by an opportunistic Arab ("arbab") with pens (essentially a feedlot) on the edge of the desert. The author claims to have sourced this from someone's direct experience (see Wikipedia for details). There's a lot of empathy demonstrated in his connection with the animals. My only real beef was the slow progress through the desert. I wonder if things are improving at all.

The Arabic translation was apparently written by an Indian expatriate in Doha.

/noise/beach/2016-2017 | Link

Last gasp soak at Gordons Bay. I had some vague aspiration to see if the squid had come to say goodbye, but the water was too filthy to stick my head into. Quite a few people on the rocks, soaking up the sun, but only five or so in the water, and the surf lifesaver boat that seemed to be drifting out with the tide. A beautiful day, perfect temperatures all round. Had a snooze on the headland and lunch at Yen's afterwards.

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Rode down to La Perouse in the early afternoon for a late lunch at Paris Seafood. Not much traffic in the city, but loads down on the peninsula, and the restaurant was packed. Went for a soak at Frenchmans Beach, placid as ever, decidedly unpacked despite the cars. Finished off my book on the sand to much relief. Perfect day for it, I only wish these were longer.

Deepak Unnikrishnan: Temporary People.

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Kindle. One problem with working full time is that it leaves little time to read, and makes it harder to plough through things that don't meet their initial promise. Shaj Mathew in the New York Times sold this to me as an innovative take on Indian guest workers in the Gulf states, which has vaguely fascinated me since mrak worked in Doha on the Asian Games with some skillful blokes from Kerala. Unfortunately this composition feels derivative, conservatively stuck in the usual transgressive ruts, and while there's some colour and imaginative licence taken there's not much new insight. Perhaps the highlight for me was the insurrection by the brown men grown on plants.

I should probably have treated Mathew's review with more caution: he holds guest workers up as "arguably the least privileged class of nomads", which on its face is indefensibly crass. The second half of his review (read just now) is accurate. I guess I'll have to see if Benyamin's Goat Days is worth a read.


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At the dear old Verona, 8:50pm session, spur of the moment, $16.00 for the ticket and another $4.50 for a coffee. Earlier I had a penang and roti at Time for Thai, tasty as ever. A scan of A. O. Scott's review led me to think it wouldn't be as dire as it turned out to be; so dire in fact that there were only two other people in Theatre 2. It finds many things to allude to (the abusive drinking evokes Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and the ending is almost pure Fight Club) while having almost nothing to say itself. Hathaway's solution to being on the receiving end of controlling violence is to get her kaiju avatar to dispose of the bloke in question. It's a bit like the utopians who propose technological fixes for everything, but I'm probably too obtuse (or disengaged) to properly interpret the metaphor. I found it strange to set some of it in South Korea but not have a Korean director. That might have been awesome.

On the bright side there's a movie about Brett Whiteley coming out: Whiteley.

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Vale, John Clarke.

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Late afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay after meeting my parents at Wentworth Falls for lunch. Rode over under blue skies. The water seemed fairly clean. Had dinner in the park just north of Coogee beach. I tried to time it a bit but still had to ride home in some moderate rain. The clip on my helmet that keeps the visor in is failing, which actually worked out OK as the extra airflow stopped me from fogging up. I mostly did 40-50kph and the light traffic was placid and didn't seem too bothered.

The Wrestler.

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Third time around, last seen seven years past. The IMDB rating has gone for a slide, as has Mickey Rourke's revival. Time for another tale of the washed up?

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Rode over to Randwick around 2pm for a late lunch, a haircut and a snorkel at Gordons Bay, off the scuba ramp. Quite a few people, many thoughtlessly blocking the ramp as if it were a child's play area. Visibility was OK, the waves not as threatening as on Thursday. Saw a couple of flutemouth, some large wrasse. Another totally perfect early Autumn day, a run apparently to end tomorrow with another bout of showers.

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Working long days, and the sun is out, so I sneaked off for a midday lunch at Tum's Thai in Randwick and a snorkel off the scuba ramp at Gordons Bay. The tide was low and it didn't seem too rough getting in, but without my flippers getting out proved challenging. Didn't see much, just some large ludderick and small gropers. Warm in, warm out, no wind. Three people looked like they were going diving with some strange gizmos I didn't recognise. These turned out to be some kind of propulsion device, and as they weren't carrying air tanks I expect it was some kind jetski-like thrillseeking.

The Lego Batman Movie

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At The Ritz, 12:10pm, $16. Rode over from Glebe under grey skies. The queue was huge, loads of kids, but it turned out that most were going to see Beauty and the Best — theatre 3 ended up about two-thirds full. I was going to sit in the front row but really, even from the third the screen is too high. This was OK but not as fun as The Lego Movie; the default mode was to ramp up the frenzy and lay on the one liners at every opportunity, but it succeeded best when poking retcon fun at all previous outings. The Batman character was better in smaller doses ("First time!"), and they tried a bit too hard with the plot. Could they not say Dalek? Had a late lunch at Chao Praya, a coffee at Kokkino Kafe, tried to do some thinking/work at UNSW Library (some rain during), rode home under blue skies.

Manohla Dargis.

Ghost in the Shell

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The 1995 anime, third or fourth time around. All I remember is that the voice acting (English language version?) is not very good. I wonder if anyone will imagine a non-violent dystopia, one where the matrix works fully properly, or Neo hacks rather than kung fus. Prompted by the new one with Scarlett Johansson, which I doubt I will see.

Melanie Oxley and Chris Abrahams at the Camelot Lounge.

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Notionally $20, but apparently $21.40 + $1.50 booking fee, booked 2017-03-22. Dave gave me a lift to Marrickville in the rain, and I walked home after. I saw these guys back in 2002 or so, at The Basement, but tonight I wasn't really in the mood. They chugged through their songbook somewhat hastily, and at least some of the crowd got right into it.

/noise/beach/2016-2017 | Link

Another perfect day, a repeat of Monday but warmer. Another morning meeting, after which at 11am I rode over to Gordons Bay for a paddle off the scuba ramp with my mask but no fins. I saw a school of squid: mature, mottled, I counted 16. I wonder if they were the ones that spawned back in 2014, when I last saw squid at Gordons Bay. Also a cuttlefish, large and brown, a stingaree, the small garfish near the surface, some small gropers (but not the big boy), the usual wrasse. Some women had put their handbag dog in a floating donut and were trying to navigate the scuba ramp as I exited. I had a nice calm ride over in thin traffic, and the same back; this is the perfect time to go. Lunch at Tum's Thai.

SUDS: A Clockwork Orange.

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$10 + $0.30 booking fee, booked 2017-03-17. As always, I booked before I'd really thought it through. Opening night, a sympathetic crowd, packed, late start. The Cellar foyer was stuffy but we were OK once seated.

I saw this with Kate, under the influence, back in the late 90s, and had memories of being a little too close to the action that night; this time I was in the front row and oftentimes making too much eye contact with the cast, barely a metre or so distant. This revival was anodyne, and you'd have struggled to follow the plot without prior exposure. In particular they omitted the key scene where Alex attempts suicide towards the end. Some of the acting was solid. I'd remove the intermissions and maybe rework the narrative bits to paper over more of the discontinuities.

Last week I went to their Gaslight but left at intermission to go pick Dave and Evie up from the airport. Again a solid production, but I couldn't fathom why they'd put on something of the Saturday-night-on-the-ABC genre.

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After a 9am meeting, I figured I should go for a late-morning snorkel. The ride to Gordons Bay from Glebe was less painful than at peak hour, though Sydney traffic remains as asinine as ever. The skies were grey, the parking lot full of newbie scuba bunnies and predatory scuba dudes, but it was nice in. Good visibility, a tad cold at the shoreline, warm out, not too rough. Loads of sizeable fish: I saw two or three large female gropers, with entourages, but not the big boy, a school of luderick hanging around some rocks, the usual small fry, and a couple of schools (of 3 and 10 individuals) of long, thin pointy fish that Google tells me are flutemouth (smooth or rough I know not). I wish I still had my waterproof camera. No squid. Sniff.

Afterwards I grabbed a quick and not-too-pricey lunch at Clovelly and headed home to complete the day's work.

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Late afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. I managed to get there (overland!) from the motorcycle park at Barangaroo-ish in about twenty-five minutes. The water was cleaner than yesterday, the day just about perfect. Not too many people about.

Tim Winton: That Eye, the Sky.

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Kindle. From 1986. Short, punchy, not much like his later stuff, and dare I say the real story that inspired it is a better yarn. See one of his memoirs. Some of the imagery is pretty amusing.

/noise/beach/2016-2017 | Link

After too many days and weeks of rain, yesterday had just a couple of splodges, and today was picture-perfect sunny. I had a felafel roll from Erciyes in Surry Hills for lunch (decent, but there's nowhere outside close by that's worth sitting at) and an iced coffee in Centennial Park (so-so), and got to Gordons Bay around 5pm. There weren't too many people around, which was a little surprising after last time. The water was supposed to be 24 degrees. Loads of tree detritus near the shore and the southern rocks, but quite clean out in the middle. A singular blue bottle. Ate my dinner on Coogee's northern headland, back to Bondi Junction for a Brenner hot chocolate and old times' sake. And a burn along the Syd Enfeld, New South Head Road, etc.


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For James McAvoy, and his performance is solid. It's just that everything else is ridiculous.

Anthony Lane. Indeed, "an old-fashioned exploitation flick." A. O. Scott is more willing to indulge, endorse and excuse this tosh.

Patrick White: Voss.

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Jacob remarked a long time back that I was pretentious enough to try to read this. Finally feeling up to it, I rejoined the Randwick City Library, which seemed to be only local library with a (dead tree) copy of what I'd imagined to be White's masterwork, just before I rejoined the workforce. Strangely the library allows anyone (really anyone?) to join, resident or not, who fronts their counter with sufficient proof of address.

Where do I start. It's hard to say what this book is, or if we're supposed to enjoy it. White apparently based the character Voss on the explorer Ludwig Leichhardt, and lazily omitted a map or sufficient geographical cues for us readers to figure out where the party got to. (Very roughly they start around Newcastle and head northwest through the Downs towards Darwin-ish. How far they get is anyone's guess.) The two-track structure exhibits the set pieces of 1840s Sydney society in undercooked connexion with the expedition via Voss's entanglement with Laura Trevelyan, who White is clearly fascinated by. The characters are deeply drawn here (in striking contrast to Mohsin Hamid's deliberate genericity), so much so that action is almost purely symbolic. White makes very effective use of all of them in combination, exploring and probing with shifting viewpoints that teach us much through powerful dialogue. It is the central strength of this work. I was a bit put out by his drawing of Mrs Bonner however, for he seems to reflect his disdain for the shallowness of people like her (such as he imagines) with shallow art. Le Mesurier was a cypher to me, and ultimately was little more than a punchline for how crazy one can go in the Australian bush. Belle Bonner becomes intriguingly egalitarian; I wish he'd made more of that.

At times the sentential structure seems aimed to befuddle a formal logical reading, almost as if White was challenging the symbol pushers of his day to represent his work. I found it occasionally fun to try to figure out what was being denoted, but it's a game that is tiring at novel length. Voss acquires a wife by tense (p261), in conversation with Palfreyman, which I guess is an antecedent to Charles Yu's device. What fun, having Aborigines corroborate (p287). I think White believes that goats are the most rational of all animals; did I get that right? It had me more nonplussed than Douglas Adams with his famous championing of dolphins. For a while I believed White to be antipathetic to felines, but later I realised that "knowing the cat" involved a bare back, leather, and sadism.

So, is there anything for us to learn from a 1950s take on events from a century prior to that? I mean, as a/the great work of Australian literature, Voss is resolutely backward looking: it provides absolutely no guide to the future, to what might be possible once the country has been explored and subjugated. This conundrum has beaten all Australian minds, great and small; there has been no vision since Howard built a petite bourgeoisie on the back of Keating's economic rationalism. Unlike Hardy's fabulous Jude the Obscure, I don't feel that White's characters suffer timelessly. They burnt bright, and are now burnt out. Is it unfair to characterize this novel as a failure of a Kurtz to reach his heart of darkness? Or a variant of the timeless Wuthering Heights stripped of hope? In any case, often in spite of myself, I did get right into it: Voss the man, wedged between the competing traditions of German idealism and German pragmatism, is so perfectly contrary and fatal.

I later read A. D. Hope's infamous review of White's The Tree of Man at the Fisher Research Library (included in Critical essays on Patrick White compiled by Peter Wolfe). It's not so bad; the "illiterate sludge" charge is the final phrase of the piece and the rest fairly evaluates the author's strengths and weaknesses. I'm glad Voss wasn't written in that experimental style; perhaps this is the later "very formidable prose style which [AD Hope] can enjoy very much."

The ABC had a series on White back in 2014 that adds some colour.

Their Finest

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6:30pm Event Cinemas, George St, a freebie from some mailing list or other. Another Richard E. Grant supporting role in barely a month? I have to wonder at that. Gemma Arterton in the lead, Bill Nighy trying to be funny in an arch and recognizably stereotypical way. Yet another World War II movie, this time from the angle of a woman working on a propaganda film. Romance, patriotism, London during the blitz. You know it, you've seen most of it before, probably in another BBC production.

The Brett Whiteley Studio, with music.

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I think I went to Raper St sometime back in the 1990s. That part of Surry Hills hasn't changed too much, but we'll see how it is when the trams start rumbling down Devonshire Street. I rode over in the dry, while inside it rained, afterwards it was blue skies and even a little warm, certainly good conditions for giving the CB400 a clean. Alongside the doors is a miniature of the iconic Almost Once from the Domain.

Whiteley is a big Dylan fan. The current exhibition is titled naked, but really it's closer to arthouse porn, including some very contemporary POV angles. The draw for me was the permanent installation of Alchemy, and the musical event.

One could spend a few days trainspotting Alchemy. I struggled to think of it as a coherent work of art; more a riot. There's a tiny outline of Australia, a Harbour Bridge, a country road with a Bathurst sign, many funny small drawings. The piece pivots on a single panel that says "IT"; to the left we get something perhaps Eastern (Japan, Vietnam), a little foreign (or weird: Nixon), a little mythical, the interior of Australia, whereas to the right it's the city, the beach, the urbanity, the familiar, albeit with a lot of holes, the odd plug, a man trying to extricate himself from a bathtub plughole, the breathtakingly new at the time: Earth from space. There are more words as the thing progresses. Whiteley paints a lot of figures (fetishizing the bits he finds sexy) but almost no faces; I can only remember seeing his both here and in the similarly famous Self portraint in studio (which sits on a nearby wall). All other faces are photographs. He likes birds, but seemingly not domestic animals.

Whiteley would have made a great cartoonist. He was certainly a man of his times, blowing with the trends. Japan, for instance, fascination for which has contracted to its martial arts, its erotica, or in my case, its motorcycles. Apparently he was mates with Patrick White, at least for a while. I should try to go back on a working day, when it's less crowded.

Their blurb for the music:

This first concert of the year presents the unique ensemble of flute (Emma Lefroy), bassoon (Zola Baldwin) and marimba (Kaylie Dunstan). Join us for an interesting and diverse program, including the stunning Oblivion by Piazzolla as well as Mosaics by Eric Ewarzen being played in its entirety. With its intricately interwoven parts, this work presents a barcarolle, fugue, pavane and a tarantella as an exciting finale.

Back to Back Theatre: Lady Eats Apple at the Carriageworks.

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$40.01 = $35 + various surcharges, booked 2017-03-16 on fear of it being booked out (it was, and the session I would have preferred — Friday's Auslan-interpreted one — was too). It's been more than three years since I've been to the Carriageworks; their ritz bar doesn't do coffee at 7:30pm on Saturday nights, which makes reading Voss a little more challenging.

The sales pitch for this one was that it was developed collaboratively by people with and without disabilities. I enjoyed the one piece of deaf theatre I saw while studying Auslan in Melbourne, and Adam Hills makes much gentle, powerful humour from sign language and his missing foot. Of course placing young adults with intellectual disabilities at the centre of this sort of thing is challenging for all concerned, and one may wonder if the audience is going to feel things are too Ricky Gervais for comfort.

Well, two girls did leave during the performance. (Actually getting in was a bit of a challenge with all my gear as they forced us through an inflated airlock/vaginal type structure.) The headphones seemed spurious. The first of the three acts (An Insecure God) was something of a mashup of Christian creation myths, somewhat successful. The second (Matter Creates Matter) was a washout. I got thinking that it might have been due to my glasses having a polarization filter as I could make out some shapes clearly through my peripheral vision, but really there wasn't enough to get a grip on. Act 3 (The Human Bond) has the cast play contract cleaners, charting the paucity of personal growth opportunities (driving was verboten for the bloke with Down Syndrome) and in particular romance. It was somewhat effective: Sarah Mainwaring's diction is a wonder, so careful, precise, and evocative she should be making airplane safety ads. Seriously, I would pay attention to those if she was: her every word left me hanging.

I sat in the second row and was surprised to strike up a conversation with the Persian bloke I climbed over to get to a seat. (Theatre seating designers, think a bit about how general admission works, and don't stick one set of steps up the middle; put one on each edge of the risers.) He was generally quite down on Sydney. His partner was silent. Afterwards I rode down to the new-ish Max Brenner's in Alexandria, which strangely enough is open until 11pm.

Cameron Woodhead saw an earlier version in Melbourne. Jo Litson says the music for Act 2 was by Chris Abrahams. Jane Howard.

Red Line Productions: Crimes of the Heart at the Old Fitzroy Hotel.

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Last minute freebie. Preview, opens Friday. Straight southern gothic, oh my. The mostly-female cast was great, the production solid in this first outing. It was a bit weird being back at the Old Fitzroy Hotel; the coffee neon in the corner is still there, the bar about the same; it could have been 2005. The ride over and back was quite fun; the city is quite dead after 7:30pm, and the skies had been blue for a few hours. Got the CB400 up to 10.5k revs in first gear on the spaghetti monster flyover. :-)

/noise/beach/2016-2017 | Link

Late-ish lunch in Centennial Park, then a mid-afternoon soak at Gordons Bay. The place was as packed as I've seen it, unsurprising given the time of day and these few days of respite between extended rainy periods. The water was a tad cool and quite clean. The ride back was a bit fun; shifting gears at 8k-10k RPM is a lot easier than at 4k-5k, and lane filtering makes a huge difference.

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Vale, Murray Ball.

Miss Sloane

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I had mixed expectations from the reviews on IMDB, and given the central issue is the regulation of guns in the U.S., but it turns out that whatever one's views on that issue one must conclude that this is a dog of a movie. The arguments are facile, everything is overexplained, Jessica Chastain has no subtlety and her character is absolutely horrible. It's a long way from A Most Violent Year. How could she possibly be the first person to think about organising women to come out against guns? I wonder if this isn't some kind of anti Erin Brockovich (I've never seen it). Mark Strong is the boss in Kick Ass.

Triumph by Louris van de Geer, at IO Myers Studio.

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$20, booked 2017-02-26. Stupidly I filled this first working week in a long while with night events. I'm toasted.

If one scene makes a play, the final movement of this three-parter, set in a misty eucalyptus forest, evoked by a smoke machine and the passivity of the cast, justifies going to this. The playwright is from Melbourne, and reviews of a production there make me think I missed a lot of what this is about. It's a cliche that people bound through adversity; perhaps there's a new angle in here somewhere. The production is part of the Performance Production course at the School of the Arts and Media at UNSW.

It's been almost 18 months since I last went to the theatre. Earlier this year I signed up to all the whats-on mailing lists I could find — though I expect most of the action is on FaceBook these days — and scored a freebie to a preview of Superhal at NIDA on Monday night past, which I went to with Sugam. I refrain from commenting on it as the performance was a preview; The Sydney Arts Guide reviewed it after it opened.

Mohsin Hamid: Exit West.

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Kindle. $AU16.99 from the Australian store on the day it was released in this market, which was either a vote of confidence in Mohsin Hamid or in desperation for something decent to read. Having finished it I wish I'd waited: the author repeatedly talks down to his readers, spelling out careful, beautiful allusions to negligible details. It is this sort of thing that destroys momentum. I was also irritated by his naive politics, him being a fan of more men and accepting the further wholesale destruction of nature that entails. The door mechanism is not even magical, it just is, and that's not enough. His taxation proposal is ... pretty much how things are now? To those who were born into a world with fewer people we will give more? And they wonder why Gen Y is smashing avocados rather than scrimping for their own piece of Australia, or thinking about the long term. I found the characters generally tendentious, almost inhuman, and so much of the refugee experience is made light of. The interstitial stories are generally feeble, merely small portraits of places Hamid has visited, or has friends at. The ending, a reprise, a variant on that of his excellent How to get filthy rich in rising Asia, has the central couple reconnect when aged to no great effect. Why ever does he resist having them come from a specific country?

Michiko Kakutani found more in it than I did. Viet Thanh Nguyen. Andrew Motion. Isaac Chotiner is more skeptical, and while I generally agree with his criticisms, he is in error to hold that Moth Smoke is Hamid's finest.

Adam Johnson: Fortune Smiles.

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Kindle. A 2015 collection of shorts (some offcuts from The Orphan Master's Son) which won Johnson a few prizes. The stories seem to have direct antecedents in recent cinema:

  • Nirvana: The prez is assassinated and reincarnated R2D2-style as a hologram, and responds in the manner of the I Ching. Yes, relationships with constructs: Dirk Gently, Her, Ex Machina, etc. The reincarnator's wife has a degenerative condition and is a big Cobain fan.
  • Hurricanes Anonymous: Louisiana, post hurricane. The bloke works for UPS, probably-his-kid's mum is in prison, his girlfriend is not entirely straight.
  • Interesting Facts: Very Sixth Sense.
  • George Orwell Was a Friend of Mine: The Reader? The East Germany prison warder narrator is obtuse and reflexively defensive, which in combination with the dog put me in mind of David Ireland's recent outing.
  • Dark Meadows bravely reflects on child abuse, and is thoughtfully, provocatively ambiguous. Johnson is not really across his technology though.
  • Fortune Smiles is the material left over from the novel. Johnson places two quirky North Korean defectors (one tricked into doing so, the other being his driver) in Seoul. At times it reads like a travel guide, taking us along random subways just for the hell of it. Gangnam Style, for sure.

Johnson has his technique down cold but struggles to find things worth writing about; Lauren Groff seems to agree, but found more here than I did. Michiko Kakutani wishes there were fewer.

Tresspass Against Us

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A recent Fassbender vehicle. Brendan Gleeson plays his father. The family are caravan-dwelling smash-and-grab thieves who appear to have developed their own argot. Sean Harris was awesome in Macbeth, but here I dunno. There's not much to it, and what is there is tediously predictable. Much of it is filmed like a hyped-up episode of The Bill. None of the characters is particularly sympathetic, and their world view is at best archaic and will not be mourned in its passing.


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Palace Cinemas, Norton St, 9pm session, $16.00 + 24 cent credit card surcharge. Three rows from the front, decent sized screen, comfortable. Rated MA-15+. I rode the still-nameless CB400 over in the dry, and back in some light rain. Parking is plentiful for bikes at that time of the night; I got a spot near the boom gate at the Norton Plaza, undercover, and there were others closer. I walked past a pristine Ural on the way back from the cinema.

I had to see it, of course, but let's not get too carried away here. I was a bit disappointed that Gandalf didn't reprise his role; it may have made for a nice cameo. The literal cloning of mutants shows the limits of this imagined world, as the plot does, every time, and passes up the obvious innovation of a god of plastic (hat tip to Douglas Adams). The violence is generally gratuitous, quite graphic. Jackman really does need that intravenous dose of viagra to bring out the wolverine. It was good to see Patrick Stewart let off some profanity, but too often he doesn't get past "Logan" (repeat a few times). His Professor X character is always troubling as it is too powerful, and must always be hobbled like a camel, lest it get away. There is some humour, more forced humour. Do all bad guys sport Southern accents now? Richard E. Grant, too weird. Stephen Merchant (Caliban) voiced Wheatley in Portal 2, wow. I had expected more Mad Max cinematography from the short.

As Dave put it, Jackman is once again seeking redemption. This particular portait of suffering is too one-dimensional to get worked up about. His long-term tenure in this role invites comparison with Arnie's as the Terminator, and it felt like Arnie had done it all before, right down to the grandpa Terminator, time travel, apprentice, empathy, acting with kids, the enemy with the half-blown-off metal head, ... — and we'll see if Jackman comes back from retirement.

In brief, I would have preferred another outing from the First Class crew.

Manohla Dargis. Paul Byrnes. Peter Bradshaw says Jackman "goes into Basil Fawlty mode" on a pickup truck, which is more amusing than the scene itself. Anthony Lane. The IMDB rating slipped from 9 on release to 8.9 the day after, 8.8 the day after, but still parked at #57 in the IMDB top-250.

ACO Underground at Giant Dwarf.

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Notionally 8pm, but twenty minutes or more late, $35 + $3.30 booking fee. The evening was sunny despite predictions of much rain from the BOM; I did walk home through some rain but it wasn't torrential. Before they started I got talking to a lady from Elizabeth Bay / the lower North Shore. She was familiar with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and was expecting some fun, and told me that "giant dwarf" is Andrew Denton's nickname. (This venue was previously the Performance Space, which is now at the Carriageworks.) I was wearing my Pixies tour t-shirt and hoping for Bird Dreams of Olympus Mons, but instead got some Doors (Alabama Song, but really: "Well, show me the way / To the next whisky bar...") and Nirvana (Something in the way, which I know from Tricky). There was also some Bach, Nick Drake, a piece by Richard Tognetti, and something challenging from Eastern Europe. Tonight it was just four: Satu Vänskä, Julian Thompson, Jim Moginie, Brian Ritchie.

Hell or High Water

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This got Jeff Bridges an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He didn't win. It's clear why the role appealed to him, though it isn't as rich as his one in Crazy Heart, largely because the whole thing is satisfied to cruise on its clever bank payback mechanism. Chris Pine and Ben Foster have the most fun as the brothers working the scam. The soundtrack is due to Warren Ellis and Nick Cave, in country-and-western mode, not quite apocalyptic.

Steven Strogatz: Sync: How Order Emerges From Chaos In the Universe, Nature, and Daily Life.

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Kindle. I enjoyed Strogatz's wonderment at moving amongst mathematics, biology, physics and bridge design. The idea of things (often brainless) synchronizing is fascinating, and appears to carry significant exploratory force, as he observes about superconductivity and other quantum mechanical phenomena. I would have consulted the significant chunk of endnotes (roughly 25% of the book) as I went along had I known of its existence. The main text may have benefited from a few equations, or more precise descriptions, or directly pointing into the literature, or to deeper popularizations. I didn't manage to visualize the waves he discusses at length, and the repetitions (many almost word-for-word) just made my eyes glaze over. My only beefs are that Strogatz emphasizes the aha moments of scientific insight and plays down the sweat of scientific validation, and that it would have helped if he had multiple metaphors and explanations at hand that target different kinds of thinkers. That sync is an important but limited concept is revealed by his extensive discussion of "small world" networks.

G. Bard Ermentrout's review for the AMS in 2004 is probably what I should have read (but I'm done with this topic for now).

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After lunch with Fil Mackay of Digital Asset in the CBD, I headed out to Gordons Bay via the Eastern Distributor. It was chockers at 2pm, and just barely moving; I can't imagine peak hour. Sydney may be on the move but it's pretty much ceased to go to the beach this season: at Gordons Bay almost noone was in the water, though many were hanging out on the rocks. A tad cold in, a bit filthy near the shore but clean out in the bay. I rode back to Newtown to pick up a pair of glasses from Out of Sight.

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Late afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. Far emptier than it has been up to now; Sydney is back at work and forgotten its beaches. A bit cold in, but clear. Windy on the northern headland of Coogee. I had a lamb pizza from Erciyes, which I remembered as better than it actually is. Perhaps the one in Surry Hills does it differently.

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Vale, Kenneth Arrow. News from Al Roth. New York Times obit.


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More Kenneth Lonergan completism. Music by Nico Muhly of Bedroom Community fame. I didn't find any of the characters likeable or easy to sympathize with. Mark Ruffalo's bus driver is clearly a cardboard cutout, and Anna Paquin as a teen in the lead is articulate, histrionic, absolutist and irritating. I found her particularly tedious. Many other characters are purified points of view, so unsubtle that it's not so much about what the movie is trying to say but why it is bothering to try to say it. The plot stems from the death of an unknown lady early in the movie. Lonergan himself is the father in distant LA, somehow successful professionally with a disastrous personal life. The classroom scenes exhibit a painfully circular lack of insight.

A. O. Scott.

It seems that just today the IMDB boards have been shuttered.

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After sending some paperwork to the IRS, and organizing a new pair of specs at Out of Sight in Newtown, I headed over to Gordons Bay for a brief paddle. The water was a lot cleaner than yesterday, which is to say that the plant detritus was spread over a far larger area. It was a bit cold in. Afterwards I ate dinner on the northern headland of Coogee and continued with Steven Strogatz's Sync. I wish he'd put in some more math, or pointers to math.

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The weather is very unstable presently, with two erratic and violent storms passing through on Friday and Saturday. Today was notionally clear. Of course the water at Gordons Bay was full of plant detritus (leaves etc.) and other stuff washed off the streets, though somewhat clearer once out in the middle of the bay. I got in off the beach due to an infestation of righteous Englishpeople (with boombox, without shirt) on the southern rocks. Another storm rolled through later on.

T2 Trainspotting

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With Dave, 6:45pm session at Hoyts Broadway, $52.40 for the pair of us for the "extreme screen" preview. It wasn't entirely packed; we were five rows back with no one in front of us.

This sequel was better than I had any reasonable hope of it being. The continuity with the original navigates a narrow path between nostalgia and exploitation; much of it is a funeral for youthful selves, or in Sickboy's case, arrested development. I really liked Jonny Lee Miller both here and in the original, but it is Ewen Bremner's Spud who owns this episode. Robert Carlyle has to work harder at the Begbie snarl and seems too flabby to have spent twenty years in gaol; the voice is there but the psycho angularity is gone. Ewan McGregor seemed at ease, and I had hopes that Kelly Macdonald would let Diane fully rip once more. Newcomer Anjela Nedyalkova is not up to the standard of the others. There's a slightly clunky Gone Girl disconnection in the middle that is unsurprising and necessary for the plot. The music was interesting, featuring remixes of the old standards and some new stuff; Dad's Best Friend by the Rubberbandits is a standout.

More broadly this is an Edinburgh retrospective, showing the destruction of the buildings that once made Leith an industrial hub; now not even the geography remembers. Spud's residency in one of the few remaining projects is especially poignant. The plot is not much chop, and Irvine Welsh still cannot act, but that's not what anyone was there for.

The big thunder storm of the afternoon demonstrated that the roof over the kitchen of our current abode is not sound.

Graham Greene: The Quiet American.

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A comfort book of sorts in these strange times, completed on the northern headland of Coogee beach. Somehow this is far superior to anything else I've read from Greene. I had come to think that he had completed this by 1953 and hence predicted Điện Biên Phủ, but the final lines of the book say he worked on it from March 1952 until June 1955.

/noise/beach/2016-2017 | Link

After lunch with Clem at the Kirribilli Club I rode back to Gordons Bay for a paddle. I just signed up for an E-Toll account so I could go back over the Harbour Bridge; motorcycles do not need to carry a tag, but if you want to avoid the 75 cent plate scan surcharge you need to pay the $40 deposit. It's a bit crazy. I hope it got set up in time. Clearly they have a way of fining you if you don't have an account, so why not just handle all tolls with that mechanism? Oh right: natural monopolies must be privatized, Government's orders.

The bay was flat and quite clear; good snorkelling conditions. Loads of people, some even in the water. I got there a bit earlier than usual (4:30pm-ish).

You Can Count on Me

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Kenneth Lonergan completism. Laura Linney so completely inhabits her character that I couldn't imagine anyone else doing it. She looked so happy clowning around with Matthew Broderick, and who wouldn't be soaked to meet Ferris in the flesh? Mark Ruffalo is also convincing in his role as a modern, young Brando. Upstate New York in summer, Rory Culkin playing the child of one sibling who is liberated by the other, both just holding it together in smalltown USA. I wished there'd been more to the ending, but it's life so things just continue, I guess.

Stephen Holden.

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Headed over to Gordons Bay a bit late, around 5:30pm. The traffic was predictably quite bad, but after some judicious lane splitting on Cleveland west of Chalmers I made OK time. The water was a bit too rough to enjoy. Had some dinner (that I brought with me) and kept reading Graham Greene on the northern headland of Coogee. The days are getting noticeably shorter.


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Matthew McConaughey is a gold prospector. There seem to be a lot of movies being made about shysters, for instance American Hustle and I think Christian Bale did a better job there, with the elaborate comb-over. This one is about a whatever-it-takes gold strike in Indonesia in the late 1980s. Everything is OK but doesn't add up to anything.

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Vale, Raymond Smullyan. New York Times obit.

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I tried to sleep in after a few trying days but it was too hot. Mid-afternoon I headed over to Yen's for a late lunch and then down to La Perouse for a paddle somewhere. The somewhere turned out to be Frenchmans Beach, which was full of all sorts, and very flat, and the paddle turned into more of a soak. I think there was a shark there on Friday or so. The bike went well after a few days of being idle. I grabbed some dinner at Paris Seafood before heading up to Newtown.

The Farmer's Cinematheque and Chris Abrahams @ The People's Republic.

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I had a nice ride back from La Perouse to the People's Republic, which I'd been to a couple of times before. The movie was a sort-of compilation of found footage of farm life from a while back. The daughter of one of the filmmakers provided the narrative focus and was present at this screening, as was Chris Abrahams who did the soundtrack. The whole thing was mildly familiar to me, though I never saw VFL played in western NSW. I got talking to an Irish bloke and his partner afterwards, before Chris Abrahams blessed us with a piano set. He apparently has a new album out.

I'm totally wasted: it's just too damn hot.


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Still parked at #14 in the IMDB top-250. Second time around. Made even less sense.

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I rode over from Glebe around 4:45pm with blue skies, but when I eventually got to Gordons Bay it was gray and grim. (I tried to be clever and went straight across Anzac Parade from Cleveland, and ended up going most of the way around Centennial Park. My geography is rusty.) Loads of people, hardly anyone in — a bit strange as the water was very pleasant. Read some more Ge Fei on the northern Coogee headland, talked with my parents, got some food at Tum's Thai, rode home.

Ge Fei: Flock of Brown Birds.

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Kindle. Some sort of completism on my part, having read his only other book in English translation a while ago. It's something of a strange folk tale, heavy on the metaphor and symbols, shy of narrative and possibly meaning didn't make it all the way from the Chinese original. It might just be crap though; the author gives himself an out in the intro:

Whenever anyone complained to me about how difficult it was to understand, I would give the joking response, "I don't blame you. I'm not sure I understand it either."

One thing going for it is that it's short.

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Early evening paddle at Gordons Bay. Loads of people hanging around on the southern rocks, so I got in off the beach. Perfect conditions, pretty much, after a day of extreme heat and threatened thunder storms. (I didn't see any, just oppressive humidity.) I saw some flying fish (long silver guys) while floating out in the middle somewhere. Afterwards I finished off Peter Carey's latest on the northern headland of Coogee and ate my leftovers. I head back to Glebe via the CBD so the bike gets some time at higher revs on the Syd Einfeld.

Peter Carey: Amnesia.

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Kindle. This is his latest novel, from 2014. Again I scraped this from the Chicago Public Library, but probably would have been better off giving it a miss. Carey knows he's not in a position to write a great cuberpunk / steampunk / Gen Y novel and so pads it out with extraneous conspiracies and historical detail that he's far more comfortable with. Are all of Carey's male leads born in Bacchus Marsh? He stumbles into David Malouf territory by canvassing wartime Brisbane (specifically the Battle of Brisbane), and I didn't see the relevance of the Dismissal or Gough Whitlam's gastronomics, though love letters to the latter are always welcome. This is ethnic lit of the kind Nam Le derides, and is why I won't seek out more from Carey.

Structurally we have two men and a woman in the foreground, her daughter and the daughter's lover in the inner story. There's a touch of Assange-like hacker-god sexual deviancy, a nod to generics like Jackman's risible Swordfish. The foreground settings change regularly but pointlessly, and annoyingly it is about the same for the story the journo is charged with telling. The endless staving-off of plot progression saps the thing of tension, and we're often stuck most uncomfortably between verifiable fact and light fiction. The burning house evoked Manchester by the Sea. I'm bored with Carey's alcoholic normalism, and his descriptions are far weaker than those he managed for high art. He really shows his lack of chops when championing the Nintendo, so thoroughly rubbished by Clune in his memoir of 80s gameplaying. Zork is beyond anachronistic, and who has ever seen an acoustic coupling modem? The main weakness is probably that he has nothing to say.

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Lunch at Paris Seafood, La Perouse, same-old. I wandered up to the Yarra Bay Sailing Club and back. There's not much in the way of bubblers. After that I rode up to Little Bay for a coffee, and kept reading Peter Carey's Amnesia. Late afternoon I headed down to the beach, stood around and tried to avoid the blue bottles. The old Prince Henry site is rife with Audis and Mercs, and attitudes to match. The ride back to Glebe was fine, but I probably should have taken Southern Cross Drive rather than Anzac Parade. Done about 250km in a bit more than a week.

Manchester by the Sea

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Casey Affleck is clearly the man for this job, and Michelle Williams makes the most of her limited screen time. It's good, and I have to wonder why Ben Affleck didn't try for something like this instead of continuing to trawl Lehane's oeuvre. Kyle Chandler in some ways anchors the thing. The structure is a bit Gone Girl, with some untelegraphed flashbacks that take some getting used to. There's something of Erskineville Kings here too. I wondered how the thing would resolve, and somehow the bleakness is OK. I'll be digging into the rest of Kenneth Lonergan's output presently.

Francine Prose wants to talk about life since Trump. Her conclusion is bleaker than the movie's. A. O. Scott is right, it's very funny, and quite geographically (Massachusetts) and socially (Catholic, white, male) specific. Anthony Lane. Dana Stevens is a bit off: Affleck's character is busted beyond repair. He's given up on himself, but honours his familial obligations.

Peter Carey: Theft: A Love Story.

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Kindle. Kate recommended this one to me after I told her I'm not a fan of Carey. I have vague memories of abandoning Oscar and Lucinda after the first 100 or so pages; perhaps I extracted it from mrak's Ashfield abode a long time ago. Ah yes, I did read Bliss. The Chicago Public Library had the ebook of Theft, and I was glad to find that my membership still works.

It is indeed an agreeable read, putting me in mind of Patrick White's The Vivisector and David Malouf's Harland's Half Acre that I read too long ago. (Here is Andrew Reimer expressing similar sentiments about Malouf, and Patrick Ness relating this book to a few of White's.) Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Carey owes something to these predecessors, given he published this in 2006. Fundamentally these are all riffs on class and how art of all forms is somehow a weird conceit in this country; it seems that all Australian painters come from rough stock, and their art grants access to women and places otherwise denied to the likes of them. Carey goes to extremes with location specificity, naming streets, pubs, creeks, dating a place by the arrival of refrigeration and the presence of wonder (here in the patriarchal butcher). I liked the jag up to Bellingen but Japan and New York struck me as superfluous. The perspective switching between the first-person narration of the two brothers works well; Hugh in particular is a reactionary voice from an almost-extinct Australia. Marlene is from Benalla, for which I retain a soft spot. I have no idea if their high school was ever burnt down, let alone by a gamine.

The language here is completely unaffected, with both brothers trying to act normal, and the artist anti-snobbily refusing to dumb down technique and palette. Bacchus Marsh is where Carey was born, says Radhika Jones. James Wood.

New bike, new Ventura rack.

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I had one of these on Betts. This time around I got a pack-rack (and not the sport-rack) as I saw it working very well with a milk crate on a Vespa. I ordered it last Friday, and picked it up from Close Motorcycles in Redfern yesterday. Installation was easy (it essentially replaces the grab bar) once one has the requisite Allen/hex keys, which I procured from Bunnings this morning. For reasons unknown the Kiwis decided to supply four bolts, two of size 6 and the other pair size 8, all for the uniform purpose of attaching the lugs to the bike.

You don't get a lot for your $350; the fittings for this CB400 are dinky. I think I would have preferred the rack to go straight up from the mount points, and may yet spin it around to face forward. As it stands a bag attached to the frame ends up sitting on the plastic beyond the pillion seat.

Next up, I need to fit the milk crate and see if I can wire up a USB outlet. The challenge is figuring out which circuit to use.


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I scored a freebie to this from the State Library, and cashed it at the Verona 8.45pm screening after having dinner at Time for Thai in Kensington. Parking is a bit painful there due to the lightrail construction. The bike is going well, though I need to get used to riding at higher revs. I understand the appeal of sports machines now. The theatre was about a quarter full. I was a bit surprised to see Joel Edgerton in the short for Loving looking like a roughed-up Val Kilmer. Unfortunately it felt like a movie that's entirely contained in its trailer.

Moonlight was produced by Brad Pitt, which perhaps means that he felt this to be a story that needed to be told, or Barry Jenkins is an exceptionally promising director. Mahershala Ali was brilliant in the role of Juan, and the three-way between him, his girl Teresa (an equally solid Janelle Monáe, though she had less to work with) and Little (Alex R. Hibbert, yes, excellent) was magic. Naomie Harris has the hard job of being an erratic, sometimes drug-addled mother. Unfortunately the succeeding acts don't measure up to the first, and narrative possibility evaporates as the time-honoured cliches of drugs, poverty and blackness are given a slight gloss by some decent and subtle acting. The acorn didn't fall so far from the tree (I hoped he'd morph into a nuclear physicist), thereby knackering the more personal parts of this tale of self-discovery. The whole thing is wonderfully slow, and some scenes so powerfully ordinary, which seems so daring in these strange times. I guess I wish there'd been more humour.

A. O. Scott. Dana Stevens.

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Late afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. I rode the as-yet nameless CB400 over. The traffic was respectful, I guess, but a bit stupid: every SUV driver thinks they'll be the lucky one to score a park on Moore St. I guess they can't tell the difference between SUVs looking for parks, and SUVs leaving and actually opening up parks. Anyway, the water seemed super-clean and a nice temperature, though there were some stagnant pools on the southern rocks.

Live by Night

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Ben Affleck's latest: screen-written, directed, and starring in. It's a bit too much. This is the film version of the predecessor of the Lehane novel I read a while back, and if I was paying attention to either I may have figured that out at the time. Unfortunately Affleck is at his most wooden, and the whole thing is overstuffed with cliche; it's just a pastiche of all the 1920s gangster flicks that have come before. The cast is great, and it's clearly the material that is wanting. When will Zoe Saldana get a decent role?

Manohla Dargis.

When you can't get a Honda CB400A new ...

/travels/Motorcycle | Link

A 2012 CB400<something> in Glebe.

... you get a 2012 model with reasonable kilometres (about 8800km) for reasonable money ($7,000), and find yourself once again the third owner of a bike in good nick. The second owner lives in West Ryde for now, soon to move to London, and was keen to offload it. The first bought it in Sydney and took it to Newcastle. Dave gave me a lift there, and the ride back to Glebe was uneventful. There's not much traffic on this Australia Day, and what there was was placid.

The market for these is thinning out now that Honda has decided that Australia is unworthy of Japanese-built small motorcycles. I called quite a few dealers trying to scare one up, and it seems I'm 6-12 months too late — the last model sold new is from 2015. It was always a bit of a strange arrangement as apparently the (modern) CB400 is not available anywhere but Japan and Australia, though the web suggests there are new ones to be had in Singapore presently. Perhaps Honda wanted to compete with Ducati and others at higher end of the LAMS market, and ended up flooding it between 2008 and 2015.

The model numbers for these things are weird. The compliance plate says it's a CB400. It has ABS, which I would have thought made it a CB400A. The rego says it's a CB400C, about which the internet knows little. The appeal was four cylinders, so she'll go on the highway. It's a tad low but otherwise what I had in mind.

Steven Strogatz: The Joy of x: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity.

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Kindle. This is a compilation of his columns in the New York Times from a few years back. There are some hits, some misses, and almost all could do with expansion; the notes make up for this somewhat. Strogatz wisely defers to others for depth and I have quite a few pointers to chase now. I guess that was his intention.

Adam Johnson: Emporium.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. I was in the mood for some shorts, even sci-fi shorts, and figured Johnson is a safe pair of hands. Well, the style is a precursor to his later novel, but these are not as good. There are some very funny descriptions and dialogue. The Canadanaut takes some cheap shots at Canada, has a lot of fun crazy particle physics and sends Wolverine (?) to the dark side of the moon. The opening Teen Sniper made me think I was in for a Charles Yu tale but rougher, and I was a bit disappointed it didn't go that way. There's a lot of isolation and brokenness, and overall you can kind-of see why people voted Trump but not why they stay together or want to continue.

Michiko Kakutani, at the time.

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I missed the 370 by half a minute and then had to wait twenty for the next one. Finished my book on the headland at Coogee. Quite pleasant in. Met a very friendly long haired black retriever-ish thing who was waiting for her owner to finish his swim. Indian at the takeaway in Coogee then another glacial 370 back to Glebe.

Lawrence of Arabia

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I wish I'd seen this in 70mm at the cinema.

National Theatre Live: No Man's Land

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I saw an an ad for this at the Chauvel: the live broadcast was on December 15, 2016 and they'll replay it sometime soon. The draw is Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart on the stage doing Harold Pinter's No Man's Land. I enjoyed his work while I was in Chicago; this production is more arch and less fun. Perhaps the Brits venerate him too much. The set is pretty boring.

Taxi Driver

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I think I saw this venerable Scorcese effort at one of the old midnight screenings on George St in the 1990s. The electioneering — Goodwin: A return to greatness — is so very 2016, as are the vigilantism and bald assertions of pseudo-fact, the unhinged behaviour of the strong. It's been picked over for decades now. The cinematography comes off as a bit try-hard, something that larger budgets presumably sorted out. I hadn't realised how much of this was raided by Stone for Natural Born Killers.

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A hellish ride on the 370 over to Coogee from Glebe, after waiting at least twenty minutes at the stop. That's what I get for heading over so late. Super hot day, and quite crowded. I was too lazy to walk up to Gordons, and so just had a dip in the northern end. Completely flat. The ride back on the 372 was a lot less painful.

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Late afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay, off the beach. Not too many people around, apart from a large group on the southern rocks. A bloke had some girls out on surfboards, paddling lengths of the bay and presumably around to Clovelly or Coogee.


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The reasons for making this movie could hardly be less interesting than the movie itself. I don't remember why I picked this one out: Otto Preminger is not really on his game here, and Paul Newman is excruciatingly wooden. Lurv in a time of nation building is quite painful to watch; apparently there are no valid arguments against violence in the service of a future state, here Israel. Everyone becomes a Zionist inside five minutes, whatever their priors, and the ethics is down at the level of Star Wars-esque who-shot-first. The dialogue is generally horrible. There is some OK cinematography but nothing for the ages. The score was very familiar: I think I've heard Mantovani's version of it before. It is very long and tendentious.

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Bussed it to Coogee, finished reading my book on the northern headland, and had an early-evening paddle off the southern rocks at Gordons Bay. Not many people there. The wind was quite strong. I got the impression the tide was rising but it was harder work getting back to the rocks than I expected. After that I schlepped up to a modern upscale fastfood place on Clovelly Road; the fried seafood joint I had in mind had a queue out the door, just to order.

Adam Johnson: The Orphan Master's Son.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. I stumbled upon this Pulitzer Prize winner via a review of his shorts Fortune Smiles in the New York Times. In some ways it's an update on George Orwell, an exploration of identity in totalitarian North Korea, just as biting but far funnier than that might sound. Kim Jong-il rules with a thin-skinned capricious forcefulness that propaganda can't really obscure; the people seem to know there's more out there, but not what it might be. The leading nameless character undergoes a lengthy journey from the orphanage to the yangban milieu, from zero-light tunnel fighter to third mate on a fishing boat, to people thief, to Minister for the Mines. Some scenes shock, even though they are unsurprising. Johnson has a great talent for breaking the tension by cashing in his Chekhovian devices at what seem almost arbitrary times, at will, and wearing his research lightly. My only very minor beef is that the behaviour of several characters wasn't entirely plausible within Johnson's North Korean logic itself.

Michiko Kakutani. Barbara Demick warns that there's a lot of make believe here. Johnson talking with Karan Mahajan. Wyatt Mason at the New Yorker is more critical. I think the second half works as the setting moves to Pyongyang, itself a place of magical realism.


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At the Verona, 8:50pm session, membership freebie, $4.50 for a flat white. I walked there from Gordons Bay via Centennial Park and Oxford St with some hope that there was more to it than was in the short. There wasn't. The problem with using an adblocker all the time is that it makes me more susceptible to advertising when I do encounter it. There were loads of people going to something else, probably La La Land. In my absence the Verona has changed to allocated seating.

The entire thing is horribly unimaginative, featuring Brad Pitt at his most wooden, leaving it to Marion Cotillard to supply all the energy. The plot is entirely risible; in these post-Gone Girl days you can't get away with something as dumbly linear as this. In some ways it's a humourless retread of Inglourious Basterds; in others a humourless pretread of The Tree of Life. Pitt sure has been in a lot of war movies recently, and particularly WWII ones. The nods to Casablanca signal desperation, co-option.

A. O. Scott saw another movie.

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10am-ish soak with Ben at the north end of Coogee beach. Super-hot day. While having a coffee at Morning Glory, heaps of emergency response vehicles turned up; we later found out that a teenager had not quite managed to jump off a cliff on the northern headland and severely injured herself. (No media was present and coverage since has been scant.) Afterwards I schlepped back up to Randwick after for some sushi.

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Got a bus to Central and hence to Coogee for an early-evening paddle at Gordons Bay. Not too many people there. Very pleasant once in, and seemingly quite clean. Lots of erosion on the beach due to runoff.

Rachel Kushner: The Strange Case of Rachel K.

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Kindle. This seems to be offcuts (pre-cuts?) of her first novel, Telex from Cuba. There are three stories:

  • The Great Exception, about the discovery of Cuba by the Portuguese. Cannibalism and a randy Queen. Also a credulous American lady named Aloha taking up residence and being fleeced by a Ferdinand K.
  • Debouchment: a short take on the debauched idle lives of Americans prior to the revolution, and just-as-it-happened.
  • The Strange Case of Rachel K. The leading lady is a cabaret dancer, and her customers of note are the Cuban President before Batista's coup and a French Nazi.

The writing is good, and there's something to everything she describes. It's not at all funny, or spectacularly horrible.

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Headed down to La Perouse with Dave for lunch at Paris Seafood, and a couple of dips at Little Congwong. Beautiful day for it, occasional light wind, flat, sunny, not too hot.

Boom Bust Boom

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This is a well-produced vacuity about the failure of current-day economics to be stable, and of economists to study instability. It is larded with tautology and leans on some big names who probably didn't know they'd be so bowdlerized; I guess Terry Jones's Monty Python pedigree opens doors to people who should know better. Good for Hyman Minsky that he predicted what happened in 2008; poor form of the producers to include Steve Keen and not reflect on his failure as prognosticator. Hint: it's all in the timing boys.

Ken Kaworowski was impressed.

Peter Cameron: Finishing School for Blokes: College Life Exposed.

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I read this before, back in 2009, which is why it was more familiar than I expected. This time around it took a day and an evening. Extracted from the Fisher Research Library.

All the Way

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A HBO telemovie about LBJ's first election, and the civil rights fight/mess/campaign/... of 1964. It's a touch hagiographic, as one would expect given the generally poor(er) quality of presidents since. I hadn't realized how young he was at the time. Bryan Cranston is mostly solid in the lead, as is Melissa Leo as his wife. The lines are a bit too pat and didactic, posturing, for this to really work as it may have on the stage. Anthony Mackie does not succeed as Martin Luther King Jr. Bo Foxworth is a serviceable Robert S. McNamara, albeit more robotic than the original ever was, I'd guess. Ray Wise, from Twin Peaks, plays Senator Everett Dirksen.


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Chauvel, 3:30pm session, $16. I also signed up for the Palace Cinemas movie club again for $19 for a year. The mostly-grey audience hardly made a dent on Cinema 1. A new Jarmusch: I enjoyed the last one (Only Lovers Left Alive) and figured I could do with another love-letter to an American city. This one is more about the small things in married city life, and would be more appropriately billed as studies in sleeping together. Adam Driver does passively OK with very little material, but his wife (Golshifteh Farahani) is far less persuasive. The dog carried most of the comedic moments. I can't help but think that Hal Hartley was wise to keep the poetry off screen in Henry Fool. It's meditative, and not much happens.

Manohla Dargis. Jake Wilson was less convinced.

Joshua Cohen: Four New Messages.

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Kindle. Three shorts and a novella. All are a lot like Kobek's i hate the internet but generally funnier and more effort to parse. The inventive language is sometimes laugh-out-loud ludicrous.

  • Emission. A drug sub-dealer's life is ruined by ... the internet. It's revved up, and Cohen has some with the characters' epistemics: the shady fix-it lady already knows all that we know. Some great terse, economical imagery.
  • McDonald's. Should writers use brand names? A quote near the end — "[...] there's a clock there, ticking shifts above the citations and mugshots: Employee of the Month wanted for armed robbery, nonsupport." — evoked the missing-persons board in the Maccas on Broadway. There's no plot and not much to hang onto, but certainly Halalabad.
  • The College Borough. Washed out writer goes to ... Iowa? The prof exiled from NYC literally addresses his students' writing flaws by prescribing apt vocational manual labour. They recplicate the Flatiron, he jumps. I guess it's a riff on the shopcraft as soulcraft meme, current at the time.
  • Sent. Ruminations on internet porn, the amateurs, small town Eastern Europe, finishing school and failing to launch.

Mildly surprisingly to me, Rachel Kushner reviewed it for the New York Times about six months (early 2013) after Dwight Garner (mid 2012). Both are spot on, and make me want to dig into Kushner's oeuvre.

Million Dollar Baby

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Second time around.

The Wailing

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A segue from The Handmaiden via its IMDB forum, where many claimed The Wailing to be the best Korean feature of 2016. Well, perhaps not: this ghost/horror/zombie flick is mostly derivative and only terrifying in its length. The lead actor is too hammy to take seriously, perhaps due to the character or direction or both. I'm not going to pretend I understood what was going on, though those who enjoy reading things into tealeaves may enjoy the loose and confusing plot. There's a sacrifice scene in the middle that aims at Apocalypse Now. The cinematography is decent but uninspired, and there's not much humour. I guess the Japanese serve as stereotypical devils for the Koreans, and the literalism struck me as entirely lazy.

Glenn Kenny.