peteg's blog

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.

Manhunter

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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.

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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.