peteg's blog

Moonlight

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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 MonĂ¡e, 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.

/noise/beach/2016-2017 | Link

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.

/noise/beach/2016-2017 | Link

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.

Adam Johnson: Emporium.

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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.

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.

/noise/beach/2016-2017 | Link

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.

/noise/beach/2016-2017 | Link

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.

Exodus

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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.

/noise/beach/2016-2017 | Link

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.

Allied

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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.

/noise/beach/2016-2017 | Link

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.

/noise/beach/2016-2017 | Link

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.

/noise/books | Link

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.

/noise/beach/2016-2017 | Link

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

/noise/movies | Link

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.

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.

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

/noise/books | Link

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.

Paterson

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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.

/noise/books | Link

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.