peteg's blog

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.

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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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.

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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.

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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.

Split

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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. :-)

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Vale, Murray Ball.

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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.

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.

Logan

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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.