peteg's blog

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

Mid-afternoon snorkel off the southern rocks of Gordons Bay. A change blew through a few days back and the temperatures have settled into the more autumnal low to mid 20s. Visibility was poor. It's quite nice in, but the onshore breeze was a bit nippy when out and wet. The tide was up. The beach was almost entirely deserted; some people were hanging around the scuba ramp across the bay. Read a bit more of Francine Prose's Bigfoot Dreams on the northern Coogee headland, but the clouds occluded any chance of a drying sun.

Red Sparrow

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I can sort-of see why Jennifer Lawrence signed up for this: it was probably pitched as a sequel to both Black Swan and Hunger Games (the latter and this directed by Francis Lawrence); something certainly worth getting your kit off for, and don't sweat the accent. Really it's a paint-by-the-numbers Cold War 2.0 effort that goes exactly as you'd expect, inexorably, with a side of graphically awful torture porn. Joel Edgerton and Jeremy Irons are both squandered. I guess the short worked its magic on me.

Manohla Dargis somehow found it "preposterously entertaining". I reckon they should have done the whole thing as a montage.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

The change had passed and the temperatures are briefly on the rise again; then the clouds blew over promising rain. I snuck in a paddle at an almost-deserted Little Bay after a very early oldskool laksa lunch at UNSW as the tradies finished their work on the flat. No waves to speak of. The the tide a bit out. Pleasant in. Had a nice circuitous ride up to the ASX afterwards.

Francine Prose: The Glorious Ones.

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Kindle. A very early (1974) dry run for her mature work Mister Monkey based on the classic and cliched Italian commedia dell'arte theatre form circa C17th. Some of the members of the itinerant troupe of actors were apparently historical personages, and certainly all are stereotypes (no! archetypes). Each gets a chapter to say their piece; at the time Prose had yet to master them all. It's fun for what it is. Kirkus Reviews has the salients but otherwise the internet has not gone ape over it.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

It's been a while since I've had lunch at Paris Seafood, and I was disappointed to find that they are closing up in June due to their lease not being renewed (sob). I tried the BBQ Prawns and was pleasantly surprised; so much so that I managed to finish my salad for perhaps the first time ever. I went for a brief paddle at Frenchman's Beach. It was the roughest I've ever seen it with a stiff on-shore wind; not a day to relax at the beach with sand flying everywhere. It remains quite hot.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

I left work a bit early to sneak in a late-afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. The weather remains unbelievably hot for this late in the season. Today it was cleaner along the shoreline, and loads of people had the same idea as me. Three dogs on the sand.

The Matrix, The Matrix Reloaded, Matrix Revolutions

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It's been a while, and once you start on the first one you've got to go all the way. The first remains a classic, and the second two remain classic cash-ins. A Hugo Weaving jag from The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

Had last night's pizza for lunch on the northern Coogee headland, and finished Leslie Valiant's book on PAC learning at long last. Afterwards I joined a cast of seeming thousands at Gordons Bay for a brief paddle off the beach. There was some kind of video shoot on the sand; the way the girl emoted it was clearly an envy-inducing commercial endeavour. Super hot day for this time of year, a bit cool, lots of detritus near the shore, clean further out.

Leslie Valiant: Probably Approximately Correct: Nature's Algorithms for Learning and Prospering in a Complex World.

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Kindle. Valiant's theoretical basis for machine learning is far more plausible than the logical accounts of the 1960s (the learning-in-the-limit model of Gold and Blum) and here he posits it as one of the missing links in Darwin's account of evolution amongst many other things. I took extensive notes as I went but lack the time to write them up; now I wonder where I can find the debate this book must have caused since its publication in 2013. It seems unlikely that his neologism ecorithms has stuck.

Edward Frenkel reviewed it for the New York Times. Marcus Feldman points out some of Valiant's blind spots. Ernest Davis is also skeptical: he observes the lack of a story about theoretical terms (which Davis calls "higher order constructs") and that PAC does not exhaust all forms of learning.

Early Man

/noise/movies | Link

$10 at The Ritz, 4:30pm (second and final session on this opening day), four rows from the front of Theatre 4. Had a coffee at Isabella's Spot beforehand. About four people total in the audience. Amazon Prime Instant Video produced, and the BFI et al. I haven't been to the cinema in an age.

This is Aardman Animations's latest. I had (and still have) fond memories of their classic Wallace and Gromit efforts, and even their previous more broadly commercial stuff like Chicken Run. Their stop-motion technique is better than ever, with some amazing effects, but the story is a tired one of the genesis of football, which apparently happened after lunch somewhere near Manchester a long time ago. There are some funny bits and solid sight gags. The characters are forgettable.

A. O. Scott.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

Brief post-lunch swim at Little Bay. Overcast and not as hot as it has been, but still very pleasant in. The ride down was very placid, as was the ride back via the Maroubra Junction shops.

Team America

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Last seen about nine years ago. The Bush era strikes back? Things are almost the same, except that Kim Jong Il has passed.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

Not really making the most of this amazing mid-Autumn weather, only making it to the beach every three or more days. Today was a carbon copy of the last several; warm to hot, some wind, clear, no chance of rain. Read a bit more of Leslie Valiant's book on PAC learning on the northern Coogee headland, starting around 4pm, then had a quick paddle at Gordons Bay off the beach, which was initially a bit filthy. Some guy was trying to fish off the southern rocks. Very pleasant in.

American Beauty

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I saw this a long time ago, probably around about when it came out, and forgot most of it. Rated #64 on the IMDB top-250. Spacey got an Oscar for it, but quite often he seems to slip into a robotic mode. The idea of blackmailing the company you work for must have been in the air in 1999. Annette Bening is good too. Otherwise I still don't feel there's a lot to see here.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

A late-afternoon snorkel off the scuba ramp at Gordons Bay. Visibility was quite good away from the shore. Large wrasse, heaps of garfish, some schools of huge ludderick, a single stingray, a large but not blue groper. A small group of scuba divers went in after me. Some people around. Beautiful day, clear, warm, bright.

Kick Ass 2

/noise/movies | Link

Pretty dire on a second viewing, being stuck uncomfortably between the pseudo reality of the first movie and the unreality of high school and coming-of-age. Perhaps director Jeff Wadlow didn't know how to make something of what he inherited.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

Daylight savings is done, the days are getting short, so I hurried back from the city and got to Gordons Bay around 5pm for a brief paddle. The water near the beach was filthy. Some breakers. Some people more sensibly got in off the rocks. Beaut in once past the filth.

Sydney Theatre Company: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui by Bertolt Brecht (translated by Tom Wright).

/noise/theatre | Link

Stalls B Reserve, seat N32 (the plate reads "Gretel Killeen, Zeke and Eppie"; just a little far) at the Roslyn Packer Theatre, $99 + $7.50 = $106.50, booked 31/03/2018. I eyed this one off for while, mostly due to the price, then figured that I might as well and that sufficient sapience was most likely on Easter Monday: any given work night can turn out any which way presently, which is why I haven't been to the theatre in an age. Just quietly the production seems to be funded by UBS.

I rode the still-nameless CB400 up from Eastgardens after some decent progress with Gianpaolo on some second-order logic. I knew parking wouldn't be a problem as I ride past the theatre most days on the way to work. The place was packed — somehow there was a stray empty seat next to me — and most patrons seemed to use mobility aids. People climbed good-humouredly over each other to reach their seats. The actors and cinematographers warmed up on stage with the curtain up. I found the percussive music quite irritating, but that only lasted until the show started.

The main draw was Bertolt Brecht, who I somehow retain fond memories of despite Puntila / Matti, and a barrel chested Hugo Weaving in the lead. A bonus was Ursula Yovich, last seen by me in Diving for Pearls at the Griffin Theatre, where she was perfectly cast; this time not so much, as she is nowhere cold enough to convince as gangster muscle. Extensive use is made of a super high-resolution screen at the back of the stage, with cameras following the action like some vintage Version 1.0 show. I found it a bit excessive and often did not know where to direct my gaze, which is not the same thing as being unsettled.

I found the whole thing a bit drawn out with a few unconvincing segments; but when it worked it was sublime. The first scene, at a circular dinner table in Chinese restaurant, was quite effective but went only how it needed to. Midway in Ui hilariously learns how to strut and orate from a director (brillaintly played toe-to-toe by Mitchell Butel), and great use is made of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar which I'll now have to go see. Also the off-stage shaving/dressing scene made very effective use of the space and cameras. Conversely the courtroom scenes don't work so well: at times they reach for Tarantino levels of blood on the floor, and I kept hoping they'd make a total mess of things like in the production of Upton's The Jungle I saw or just about every Titus Andronicus ever, but they simply don't. We do get a rainy, somewhat brutal and very effective funeral scene however.

The piece itself is heavily referential, being about Hitler's rise, and of course Kip Williams has to add his own schtick: we get a snatch of Howard's winning "we will decide who comes to this country," a somewhat jarring You're the Voice excerpt, and the cameras recreated one of Agent Smith's more famous scenes. Overall there is a bit too much talking and not quite enough action.

After the famous "the bitch that bore him is in heat again" closeout, the actors cleaned up and returned for a Q&A with the audience, just like the good old Theatre Y days. Some of the questions were completely daft. Briefly: this thing is set in a filmic, imagined Chicago that Brecht never directly experienced, and hops genres like a kangaroo. Kip Williams is so young. The dialogue was affected but delivered in the style of realism; the space to get very arch was not taken, except by Hugo. Thematically it's about the manufacturing of power, which is shown throughout. It attempts to expose the artifice of the staged space. It involved loads of prep over several years. There was a concern that Trump makes the piece too obvious to perform at this time.

Afterwards I had a late dinner at Dae Jang Kun: a bimbimbab at a Korean BBQ on a tip from Dave. Chinatown was quite lively for a school night.

Cast: Mitchell Butel, Peter Carroll, Tony Cogin, Ivan Donato, Anita Hegh, Brent Hill, Colin Moody, Monica Sayers, Hugo Weaving, Charles Wu, Ursula Yovich. It has great reviews, e.g. at Audrey Journal and by Rozanna Lilley at the Daily Review.

L.A. Confidential

/noise/movies | Link

It's been a while. Still #106 in the IMDB top-250.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

Had some lunch at Blue Pacific Grille in Cronulla (their grilled squid was good but not as good as I remembered; the bar did get set rather high in Hồ Chí Minh City) on the way to the Royal National Park. The traffic was rather placid in the early afternoon on this Easter Sunday, but that just went to show that everyone was already at Wattamolla. The road down to the beach was closed — "we close the road for 2-3 hours and then reopen it for 2-3 minutes" said the bloke manning the barrier — but my timing was good and I didn't have to wait long. The beach itself was not at all crowded despite the overflowing carparks. Very pleasant in, and quite a bit cleaner than the city beaches. I read a bit more Peter Handke on the sand. The ride there and back was quite pleasant. I just wish I knew how to get past the bottlenecks on the Grand Parade.

Kick Ass

/noise/movies | Link

Over a very late dinner. I like Nic Cage's performance here; very locked down; a complement of sorts to Wild at Heart. Chloë Grace Moretz's finest outing?

Apocalypse Now

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Still haven't been to the bar in Saigon of that name. It's down to #50 in the IMDB top-250, to my increasing horror. Over several sessions.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link
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Late evening paddle at an almost entirely empty Gordons Bay. Beautiful day, but getting noticeably short. The water near the beach was surprisingly filthy. Pleasant enough in however. Read a bit more Peter Handke's The Moravian Night on the northern Coogee headland.

I finally remembered to take my phone and get a photo of this wagtail who's been hanging around the beach for a while now.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

Mid-evening paddle at Gordons Bay off the beach. Quite a bit cleaner than when I was here last. The tide was up, no surf, a few people still around as the sun set. I saw a small stingray in less than a metre of water; perhaps it felt safer by being as far away from the open sea as it could be.

The Death of Stalin

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The Ritz, 9:20pm session in the tiny Cinema 6, $10, three rows from the front, maybe two-thirds full. I went along on the basis of strong reviews, e.g. this one by Manohla Dargis. Well, the IMDB score (7.2) is more accurate: if you liked director/writer Armando Iannucci's earlier stuff (e.g. Veep, Alan Partridge) you might like this, but if you've given his output a wide berth (like me) then there's not much for you. I enjoyed Jason Isaacs's Zhukov, perhaps because he doesn't muck around. The story focuses mostly on Simon Russell Beale's Beria, whose hysterical turn is completely implausible. Steve Buscemi's Khrushchev is geneally overblown and how he made it anywhere near the top is not something you'll learn about here. Michael Palin has some fun vacillating as Molotov.

Sam Adams tries to explain or apologise for it, partly by limply drawing a line to Trump.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

Late afternoon snorkel at Gordons Bay off the scuba ramp, which was crowded by a mum, her kids and her dog. Some good visibility towards the ocean, not so good towards the beach. I saw what I think was a fairly large school of young gropers, and maybe the big boy in the deep. Also some garfish and ludderick in large schools, and wrasse. Very pleasant in, flat, middling tide, just the slightest chill in the wind while drying off.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

Worked at UNSW in the morning. Tried to have lunch at Paris Seafood but found it closed, so I ended up at Danny's on the corner, downstairs. Afterwards I had a coffee and a soak at Little Bay, where some scuba students were exiting. Flat, calm, the tide was out. Absolutely beautiful day, quite warm, no wind. Some detritus in the water; guessing it was aquatic plant material.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

Late-afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. It was very filthy near the beach, and relatively rough at the highest tide I've seen there yet. I lazily swam over to the southern rocks, trying to keep away from the muck. Otherwise pleasant in, not so warm out. Some thick clouds. Almost entirely deserted — a girl was reading her book on the rocks. Afterwards I ate my leftover pizza on the northern headland of Coogee and read a bit more of Tim Winton's latest.

Tim Winton: The Shepherd's Hut.

/noise/books | Link

Winton's latest on the sorry state of Australian masculinity (in general, and not just the cricketers). As always it has been heavily reviewed in the local press, and feted as the best thing since the last book he wrote. I guess there are tepid connections with Breath (with a movie soon to be released) and just slightly Eyrie. Maybe I read it too fast, or had heard enough already, for the slaughtering of animals to have the impact he was looking for. There was ample room to leave God right out. The first person stream of consciousness is not entirely effective; at times the phrasing gets a tad too sophisticated, the reflections not those of a traumatised teenager. I don't think any of the characters are truly original. Perhaps not a book to enjoy, but to find what one can in; but Winton has made his views very accessible on these topics in other media.

A random selection: Geordie Williamson. Michael McGirr. Tim Elliot spoke with Winton during the publicity tour, as did many others.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

Fairly jetlagged after arriving back from Hồ Chí Minh City around lunchtime, and checking in on the builders dealing with the rising damp at the flat, I put aside some time to go for a soak down at Coogee. I ended up at the north end, which was totally flat and clean. Apparently it had rained in the past day or two; today was perfect for late summer, and there were quite a few people about. Afterwards I read a bit more of Tim Winton's latest on the northern headland, and got some dinner from the eternal Jack's Pizza on Coogee Bay Road.

Jarett Kobek: Soft & Cuddly (Boss Fight Books #15).

/noise/books | Link

This is notionally a biography of a video game, and apparently a real one according to Google. I guess the Boss Fight conceit is similar to the biographies of cities that were common in the 1990s (cf John Birmingham's Leviathan), and distinct from Michael W. Clune's Gamelife, which was mostly about himself.

But as always with Kobek, the meat is his cultural criticism. His target this time is the general state of Britain in the 1980s under Thatcher, using nepotism in the computer industry of the day as a vehicle. Francis Spufford covered similar ground in Backroom Boys, and even discussed the Elite video game. It's funny and erudite, and the only thing I saw him miss was that Acorn went on to wild success with the ARM architecture, while Amstrad and Sinclair have pretty much vanished from history. I guess there was also scope for linking this stuff up to the Raspberry Pi. Like Dark Shadows, Alice Cooper plays an overly passive role in the game and this account. We get the moral outrage of the day, and a fascinating but undercooked jag into the demo scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s, as well as some stories about the obsolete computer designs prevalent in eastern Europe up to recent times. The game itself is graphically hellish and unwinnable. Some brief searching made it seem to me like a low-rent version of the Apple ][ game Montezuma's Revenge.

... and of course Boss Fight have a book on Mario Brothers.

Dark Shadows

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A Tim Burton jag. Johnny Depp zombies his way through this as some kind of patriarchal vampire. How much you enjoy the first half depends on your appreciation of Michelle Pfeiffer eye rolls. Eva Green is a vampy vacuous baddie. Helena Bonham Carter has her moments as a shrink who wants to be immortal, but perhaps with a bit more agency. Chloë Grace Moretz is the bratty daughter, pro forma. Jonny Lee Miller probably wishes he'd stayed in Edinburgh. Alice Cooper doesn't get a music video worth a damn. The humour is forced, the plot entirely stock, and the whole thing seems like it was built for Disney. Nothing to see here, move along.

Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

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A stop-motion jag from Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, made in the era of matinees and the Greek Cinematic Universe when that may have been the best they could do. Some of it is quite fun, though I'd be surprised to find that much of it is canonical. The later Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) is Hera here. The skeletons are pretty cool, as is the brass Talos.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

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I skipped this one back in Chicago 2016 as I'm not a fan of Eva Green, and Tim Burton is too hit-and-miss for me to have any expectations. Well, now I wish I'd seen it on the big screen. Green is excellent here, suitably arch and headmistress-y. Doubtlessly this is some kind of riff on the Harry Potter universe, where Burton shows what can be done if you like it out in Army of Darkness and Corpse Bride territory.

The plot is not worth remarking on, and things go as you might expect. The time stuff didn't strike me as especially coherent or problematic; it allows Burton to escape to the great days when Britain was relevant and not so entirely self-absorbed (1943). Too much of the setup is told not shown, and for some reason Burton feels the need to ground this fantasy in reality with a somewhat tedious first 20-30 minutes of bored-in-Florida; somewhat like Peter Pan perhaps. His take on American parenting is brief, comedic and brutal. Asa Butterfield has the occasional stumble in the lead; conversely his romantic foil Ella Purnell is rock solid, as is Terrence Stamp in (straight) grandfather mode. We get some coming-of-age realisation. A highlight is the stop-motion battle scene at the house. I wonder what's in the books.

Manohla Dargis.

Annihilation

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Wow, what a letdown. Directed by Alex Garland, of the far superior Ex Machina. Oscar Isaac returns, but Alicia Vickander took the Tomb Raider reboot over this clunker and was perhaps wise to do so. Instead we get a militarised Portman in the lead, propped up by a stone cold dead Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Briefly this is an unimaginative horror movie masquering as conceptualist sci fi. A brief list of influences: Alien, The Blair Witch Project (I was spinning The Order of Death in my mind throughout), maybe Solaris (if I'd seen it; Stalker if I remembered it), Arrival, and if this had aimed a bit higher, Predator. You can take it from here. Briefly it's a bug hunt in a "shimery" Florida swamp where all five members of the team are female. The conclusion is inscrutable.

Manohla Dargis.

Will Boast: Daphne: A Novel.

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Kindle. On the strength of Natalie Serber's review in the New York Times, and also the name of the protagonist. Unfortunately there's more in her review than the book itself. The plot is entirely conventional: we start in a steady state of coping with a lifelong debilitation that almost immediately gets destabilized in the time-honored ways. Serber suggests this is a take on the whatever culture circa 2011, and also a variation on Ovid's myth of Daphne and Apollo; Katy Waldman's article at the New Yorker makes me think that went out in the press kit.

And what causes all of this? I was sixteen when Mom and I found Dr. Bell. I had questions. I asked and asked. "So, when are you getting your neurophysiology PhD?" he’d answer with a pedant’s sigh. "All you need to know: The human brain is the universe’s most implausible chemistry experiment."

The Avengers

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First low-brow movie of the trip, on the Zurich to Dubai leg. This is me trying to catch up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which at some point will become all of cinema; with Disney in charge we can surely hope for a Star Wars crossover, directed by Michael Bay. There is nothing great here, and I lost track where it fits in with things: perhaps between Iron Man 2 and 3, and before The Dark Knight concluded. Wow, so long ago.

A. O. Scott.

Justice League

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Fourth and last B-movie of the trip, the second on the Dubai to Hồ Chí Minh City leg. This is complete rubbish. I felt every time Ben Affleck is onscreen he's thinking about how he would have directed this, if only the script had some soul.

Manohla Dargis: she implies they'd be better to cast the Lego™ Batman. All of these make me realise what a triumph Black Panther was. By sheer coincidence Dave saw this a day later.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

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Second on the Zurich to Dubai leg of my return trip. Completely cookie cutter as far as the superheroes go. I could have sworn that was Thomas Jay Ryan voicing (the some kind of "rational" intelligence) Ultron, but no, it was James Spader. His schtick was the only redeeming part of this whole thing, though the underlying philosophy is tiresomely unoriginal. As usual Hollywood screws up things by embodying what could and should be ambient and everywhere: undestroyable, though adulterable. Like the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Manohla Dargis.

Thor: Ragnarok

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Third B-movie of the trip, the first on the Dubai to Hồ Chí Minh City leg. Basically on the strength of Taika Waititi's comedic Kiwi direction, though it is too much to ask for something as good as What We Do in the Shadows. Cate Blanchett has a rep now for playing bad femmes (cf that Indiana Jones thing). She, Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston deliver some truly awful dialogue.

Manohla Dargis.

Craig Cliff: A Man Melting.

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Kindle. Discovered via a New York Times review of Cliff's more-recent novel (apparently coming five years after the novel was published). This collection of short stories is certainly the result of Kiwi Cliff writing about what he knows. Most are well-executed but inconclusive plays on not especially interesting conceits. I can imagine his later work is stronger.

Finding Dory

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Not great, and nowhere close to Finding Nemo. The reviews (Dana Stevens, A. O. Scott) show that this is a quintessential piece of Americana (nuclear family, there's no place like home, never give up, essentialism) that doesn't translate very well. "Because I miss [my family]" seems like not much of a reason to imperil your friends and all that. I did like Hank, the octopus, who has some very funny sight gags.

Elysium

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Looking for a Copley fix (it's been too long). Second time around; apparently I saw this at Eastgardens when it was released in 2013.

Ryan Holiday: Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue.

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Kindle. On the strength of William D. Cohan's review in the New York Times. Unfortunately the review is far more interesting than the book, which is excessively repetitious and tendentious; it was clearly written by someone used to being paid by the word. Notionally this is about the Hulk Hogan sex tape case that brought Gawker unstuck, with the "conspiracy" part arising from Peter Thiel's funding the action from the shadows. (This is presented as his considered response to being outed by them in 2007.) So many of the arguments do not make sense. For instance, I never understood what Thiel thought he'd gain by backing Trump; it seems clear that Trump is the most ideology free, narcissistic, nihilistic man to hold the US presidency in recent times, all of which Thiel professes to be against in fine when-it-suits contrarian style. And yet Thiel thought he could control the beast. Sure, who knows what's going on in private; maybe he did get whatever he was after, and Palantir is surely still going strong. For a man of supposed deep foresight he sure has his blind spots.

The Post wants to wave the flag for a free press in a time of gentlemen and women, whereas this book shows what happens when money is speech and speech is truly unfettered: in brief, nothing of worth is gained.

The Post

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A segue from Ellsberg's recent memoir, and one of the last of the big Oscar pictures to see. Well, it didn't win any, and I couldn't even see why Streep got a nomination for what was an affected performance. I've never been much of a fan of how Spielberg's schtick, especially in the full-on hagiographic mode. This one is about the Pentagon Papers, which reviewed the USA's role in Vietnam up to 1967 or so. It's about freedom of the press. The ending sets things up for the far superior All The President's Men.

The press dug it, predictably. Manohla Dargis. Fred Kaplan, who knows too much to be sincerely giving this the thumbs up.

Frances Ha

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Dave suggested this Greta Gerwig segue after we saw Lady Bird. It's similarly kooky with a strong white female lead. This one demands more indulgence from the audience as she's past college and notionally hoeing her own row. There are some cute scenes between Frances (Gerwig) and her bestie Sophie (Mickey Sumner, who wouldn't be out of place in a Mike Leigh production). Adam Driver looks so young, and so assuredly mechanistic. I guess there's some wading into the shallows of The Unbearable Lightness of Being philosophy here, kitsch and all. Happiness, American-millennial style.

Dana Stevens. A. O. Scott. Both reviews pretty much spoil the movie; there's not a lot more to it.

I, Tonya

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I got in to the hotel in Hồ Chí Minh City at 4am this morning, and wasn't up for much on this Saturday night. This is the one of the Oscar contenders I avoided in the cinema; The Post is another. It's OK. Margot Robbie is mostly excellent, as are the other players. The editing is good, and sometimes the aside-to-camera trick worked. The story itself doesn't really need (re)telling though, and the dumber characters could have been elided or abbreviated. Things fall apart around "the incident", when events get seriously heavy and humour flees. The violence is bravely portrayed, to what end I know not. Bobby Cannavale has the most fun as the Hard Copy reporter. His venue was "a pretty crappy show that legitimate news outlets looked down on, and then became."

Sam Adams seems to have taken over from Dana Stevens. Manohla Dargis is right, though I think the movie was aiming more at schadenfreude and there-but-for-the-grace-of-God than comedy, albeit with weak intent.

One good thing about all the Trung Nguyên cafes going to hell in this town is that the wifi is a lot less contested.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

An abortive last-ditch late-morning snorkeling attempt at Gordons Bay on a beautiful day. Some darker clouds in the sky just to amplify that. It was high tide with a large swell, which made it a little interesting but not difficult to get in off the scuba ramp. Visibility was shot though so I swam over to the southside and got out on the beach. The walk back was quite pleasant.

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A bit harried by my preparation for some messy rennovations, and a lengthy absence, I thought I'd get a new backpack from the STM warehouse in Alexandria ("we don't retail them here..." immediately followed up with a request for credit card details), have lunch at Paris Seafood and a paddle at Little Bay for old times' sake. The new bag was because my old Revolution (apparently about 4.5 years old, worn but still quite usable) has gotten a bit smelly, and I'm dubious about the bottom falling out of it inopportunely. My choice of route was completely suboptimal, especially due to the construction works and general weirdness on O'Riordan St and around the airport. There was some larger waves out past the breakwater. The tide was low. Quite pleasant in and a few people about on what was a super nice day.

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An after work paddle at Gordons Bay. Pleasant evening. Nice in. A bit rough. Just a few people about.

Lisa Halliday: Asymmetry.

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Kindle. I went in cold; if I'd read Alice Gregory's review in the New York Times to completion I would have noticed the extended quotes that signal a lazy review. I've never read Philip Roth and am not fascinated by the power of established men over young ladies; perhaps for this reason I found the first section somewhat flat between zingers. Mary-Alice doesn't seem to be more than beauty and aspiration, and nothing happens beyond what you'd expect. The second was a quasi-familiar borderlands piece on an American-Iraqi's experience of being American-Iraqi (as the Americans like to say). I didn't invest enough to figure out how these two pieces fit together, or use the key from the brief third part as Gregory suggested.

For all that at times the writing is excellent.

Alexandra Alter sketches the biography behind the fiction.

Dark Star (1974)

/noise/movies | Link

On Sofus's (perhaps phoney) recommendation. An early outing for John Carpenter, whose output is mostly unknown to me. There are some genuinely funny bits but mostly it's slow and simply provides raw material for the sci fi that came later, specifically Alien and Red Dwarf. The somewhat sapient bomb is pretty amusing.

Bram Stoker's Dracula

/noise/movies | Link

Coppola. Perhaps a better outcome could have been achieved by setting all that cash on fire. Oldman tries to ham it up as Dracula but spectacularly loses in the bad acting stakes to Hopkins and Winona. Even Keanu at his most wooden does not stand out here. The story goes as you might expect: a warning to the ladies of the 19th century that any attempt to self-actualize would be treated as wantonness and punished accordingly. Risible.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

An after work soak at Gordons Bay. The swell was relatively huge and it wasn't very comfortable in. Loads of detritus and seaweed too. Nobody was there initially, then I spotted three people trying to clamber over the northern rocks westwards, and as I got out a lady and her dog got in. The dog didn't seem too impressed with the breakers. Cloudy, mild, not too humid.

Black Panther

/noise/movies | Link

With Dave, 9:15pm at the Dendy Newtown, Cinema 1, four rows from the front, $13.50 each on a tightarse Tuesday, bought online. It's a long, narrow theatre and was probably two-thirds full. I learnt that the Chrome print dialog does the "follow me" thing with the printer, whereas the Mac OS X dialog does not. We had dinner at Saray beforehand, complete with a tasty Turkish coffee.

Well, what can I say. The viewer satisfaction versus marketing effort for this Marvel outing is comparable to that for Baby Driver, which is to say hats off to the post-production creatives and corruptible reviewers. All the actors are fine — even Andy Serkis rose above my why-not-cast-Sharlto-Copley complaint — but there is nothing terribly exciting here: too much talking, too much action, too much cliche. The classic blaxploitation flicks like Shaft probably had more empowerment and certainly more social commentary. The Wakandan city is essentially Chicago by the Blue Nile (? — choose a river of your own) without the dodgy bits. The CGI left me stone cold, though the music sometimes made it seem like something. I guess it is a better than average Marvel outing.

Manohla Dargis.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

Met up with Ben and Fritz at Gordons Bay for a snorkel at 9am. It was a bit rough so we relocated to Clovelly, which was also a bit rough. I caught a glimpse of a sizeable female groper and not much else. Afterwards was coffee at the Clovelly kiosk, and even later I had lunch with Ben in Coogee. A beaut day, not too hot, cloud increasing.

Batman

/noise/movies | Link

Tim Burton's effort from 1989. It's not exactly a classic and not a misfire either. Michael Keaton certainly has his moments. Jack Nicholson enjoys himself. Kim Basinger must have been better elsewhere.

Bye bye Net Origin, hello Linode.

/hacking | Link

I've hosted my vanity website with Net Origin since they started due to what was a sweetheart deal: a lifetime 50% discount or somesuch. Their recent invoice was far too high (AUD 180 a year for a dinky VPS; I used to pay AUD 6 a month) whereas Linode only wants USD 5 per month and offers several free months up front. No choice really. Hopefully they won't also delete my VPS by accident.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

Had lunch down at Paris Seafood, a coffee at Little Bay, and walked the freshly rennovated track amongst the saltbush along Malabar Headland National Park (prompted by an article in the Sydney Morning Herald). Some of it is quite pretty. It's roughly 2.6km from south Maroubra to the northern headland of Long Bay, according to the signage at least. There is no shelter for much of it. There's a loop track around the other side of the rifle range, which I only discovered after walking back along the cliffs.

Around 6pm I headed to Gordons Bay for a soak off the beach. Quite pleasant. The sand has moved back up the beach, so at low tide the rocks in the shallows make it a little tricky to get in. Afterwards I ate my dinner on the Coogee headland in the dying light.

Norah Head.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

mrak and Ang are back in Australia for a bit, so I rode up to Norah Head to spend the afternoon with them (and their multitudinous friends). I took the Old Pacific Highway and stopped off at Pie in the Sky at Cowan for a pie and a sausage roll (both in bags, separate bags), and also a coffee (in a proper cup). It's a biker hangout for sure. Traffic was particularly horrible from Gordon to Hornsby, and then not too bad. A long ride in any case.

I met up with mrak at their cabin (and not the shack-enhanced caravan with the same number) at the Tourist Park and went for a swim with him at Soldiers Beach. The surf was reasonably powerful. After poking our heads into the "no wet clothes" establishment above the surf club we headed back to the Rockpool, which was far tamer. The cafe there was closed when we got there (circa 4pm). I was surprised that mrak got cold, given the Michigan winters he's been enduring.

I headed back to the city around 8pm. I grabbed some dinner at a Chinese in The Entrance, which was an entrancing old-school cinema (The Majestic) that I would have gone to if I had more time. Afterwards I headed along the southern edge of the lake to the F3; the traffic was placid and the wind not too strong. I got home around 10:30pm, in time to buy the necessaries for tomorrow's breakfast.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

Figuring I wouldn't have time in the evening I snuck down to Coogee in the morning before work for a paddle in the flat surf. Not many people. Afterwards I found my favoured parking spot under the Cahill Expressway was packed for the first time ever. I managed to get away by 6pm and headed for another soak at Gordons Bay in the late evening. The swell was sizeable, with some significant waves at the beach, which was still not very clean. I grabbed some dinner at the Indian on Coogee Bay Road after. The village was chockers.

Lady Bird

/noise/movies | Link

Met up with Dave for some Fat Fish in Annandale; he'd been up to Port Mac for some tango and revving up for yet another move. I was super spaced out and thought I'd parked out the back of the Hyatt when in fact I'd left the yet-nameless CB400 near Erskine St, in the massive double row of bikes somewhat close to Wynyard. That cost me 20 minutes but gained me some exercise.

Afterwards we headed to Palace Cinemas Norton St to see if Dave's magical $8 ticket card still worked, which it did. Cinema 3, four rows from the front. Saoirse Ronan was quite fun, and overall it's a better than the average coming-of-age flick. I wish I hadn't seen the short though as the funniest bits are in that. It somewhat aims for Todd Solondz territory but veers away from serious discomfort. The ending is about as aimless as it must be.

Inglourious Basterds

/noise/movies | Link

Third time around apparently, into the wee hours of Thursday morning after a trying Wednesday. Now #97 in the IMDB top-250. Tarantino tries hard to beat David Lynch at the filmclip thing by having Mélanie Laurent put on her makeup over David Bowie's Putting out fire with gasoline; yeah, we get it.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

A late afternoon snorkel off the scuba ramp at Gordons Bay. Three dogs on the ramp itself and loads of human traffic on a very busy super hot summery humid day. Visibility was not great. Some kids thought it a lark to chase the big blue groper in fairly shallow water. Just the one sizeable mottled stingray.

The Square

/noise/movies | Link

Nominated for a foreign movie Oscar; winner of the Palme d'Or, but what a turkey. The fine art market, even that of Stockholm, so often self-satirises that there is not even a limit to take it to. Swedish director Ruben Östlund tries to modernize or at least hybridize the Dogme tradition with extremely long scenes that too often don't work; the feeling is less the telling awkwardness of a von Trier, a Moodysson or Ricky Gervais and more just blankless. There is the very occasional burst of Swedish comedic timing, but it's all been done before, and it's hard to see what Elizabeth Moss is doing here. The cinematography is sometimes beautiful. The poster is a still from a genuinely uncomfortable scene.

A. O. Scott.

Too much hardware.

/hacking | Link

I've been contemplating how one connects to 3G or 4G internet. Previously I've used an Optus dongle which was sufficiently catholic amongst the various resellers of that network. Well, the days of dongles are pretty much dead: the old 3G-ish Huawei E1762 was apparently locked to the Optus network, though I didn't have a SIM to verify that. I shelled out $32 for a Telstra-locked one that refused to acknowledge a reseller's SIM; moreover unlocking it seemed painful and probably expensive.

The solution, of course, is a super-cheap Android phone. Michael Ginsburg pointed me to a ZTE Zip 4G that I acquired from Officeworks in Carlton (south of St George) for an entirely reasonable $39. Moreover his preferred unlocker did the business in about six-and-a-half hours (for $5) and the almost-free Belong SIM I bought a while back worked first try.

Allowing that this was my first encounter with Android, things didn't go too badly. The only really annoying thing was that the USB tether settings do no stick (i.e., there is no equivalent to iOS's "Trust this computer"), and it seems I need to root the device to fix that. Also, once I finally got hostapd somewhat set up on the Beaglebone Black, it seems to like to aggressively drop TCP connections (even live ones!). This might be the network though.

The whole thing has been a massive timesoak, as (cheap) hardware always is.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

A somewhat ill-advised mid-evening paddle at Gordons Bay after some thunderstorms late the previous evening. Quite a bit of detritus near the beach, clearer out in the middle of the bay; definitely a time to keep one's head out of the water. Beautiful day and evening. Read a bit more of my book on the Coogee headland, keeping an eye on a large front blowing through around 7pm. It did yield more storms well after dark.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

A mid-morning soak at Coogee beach with a very minor paddle. There weren't many people there on this beautiful day. The water was very clear, with some surf: roughly what I think of as average for this beach.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

Busy in the evening so I headed down to the Clovelly carpark for a snorkel off the scuba ramp at Gordons Bay. Of course there was a lady at the end of it throwing a ball for her dog, who didn't seem that interested. I saw the big blue groper and a sizeable female or two, some very large wrasse and blackfish, and some garfish. Visibility was quite good away from the shoreline, and the water temperature is entirely comfortable now. Beautiful day, summery, with some beautiful clouds.

Stranded in Kingsford with a dead battery.

/travels/Motorcycle | Link

After work on Monday I headed to Pinocchio Sushi for dinner, afterwhich the CB400 completely died on me: the headlight came on for perhaps half a second and then there was nothing at all. The controller for the newly-fitted heated handgrips flashed at me as if to say they didn't have enough power, so I guess I should be thankful that Close Motorcycles hooked them up directly to the battery and not via the ignition as I requested.

Not thinking too clearly, I checked the fuses and ripped the battery out. Everything looked OK so I walked the bike down to the laneway next to the old Kingsford bowling club and hoofed it up the hill to Randwick. I think I read 12.7V — a little low but not dire — but because I didn't know how old it was I thought it'd be worth replacing in any case. Phil from Beaconsfield Motorcycle Supermarket priced a replacement at $160, ouch, so I got the 370 bus first thing Tuesday morning. He advised me that in addition to the fuses under the seat at the rear there is a main fuse which might have blown. He also suggested that the charging circuitry might be defective. All of that sounded plausible to me, though consulting with Dave about his recent alternator failure in Bonnie made me think that without one of those the bike wouldn't run for long.

Back in Kingsford I found the main fuse behind a side panel, and both it and the spare were intact. I swore frequently as I installed the new battery; hooking up the negative first is a beginner's mistake (I think) as I drew a fat spark just as I was finishing up with the positive. She fired up first go and there was no sign of short circuits or any other thing that may excuse the old battery. Fingers crossed I rode up to work and made it home after.

I was pretty happy with the little toolkit that Honda provides. I was less happy with how little room they leave for getting the battery into its cavity past the wires.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

As usual on a Monday, I work up super-early and decided to have a soak at Gordons Bay before heading to work in the mid morning. Very pleasant, the usual.

Look Back in Anger (1959)

/noise/movies | Link

A Richard Burton segue from 1984, and sometimes just as relentless. There's the odd quite amusing line but Burton's overbearing boorishness and the dodgy sexual politics (middle class English ladies are just hanging for some rough stuff) rob this piece of much power. It has the raw restless energy of the 1960s and all the stymied self-destructive anger of 2016, with the result a similar unsatisfying mess. O'Brien is not so far from here. Also something of a dry run for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and an attempt to beat the Americans at their own beatish, rebellious game.

Molly's Game

/noise/movies | Link

I had hoped to go to one of the $5 sessions at the Palace Cinemas with Dave, but of course those sold out well in advance. Switching to Plan B, we had dinner at Allfine Chinese Cuisine House (35A Ross St in Forest Lodge) and headed over to their Norton St premises for the 9:10pm Cinema 2 session of Molly's Game. $8 each. Dave was on foot after his relocation to Ashfield. It was a day of occasionally mildly serious rain.

This is Aaron Sorkin's directorial debut, and of course he wrote the screenplay for this adaptation as well. Jessica Chastain more-or-less reprises the blank hard driven woman leading role we saw her do in Miss Sloane. Costner plays her father with a blander hardness, successfully but uncreatively. I enjoyed Idris Elba's performance the most. The story suffers from Sorkin's need to deify his leading lady: he needed to go deeper, to complexify her, to wind back the mansplaining. Things go along OK but the climax is a let down.

Manohla Dargis. This isn't very close to His Girl Friday.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

Mid-evening soak at Gordons Bay. Saw a stingaree in about half a metre of water quite close to the shore; they cannot possibly be aggressive. A few dogs, some blokes throwing a football along the shoreline. Blue skies, quite warm around lunchtime but mild by the time I got in. Very sleepy. Ate my dinner on the Coogee headland after reading some more of my book.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

Mid-evening soak at Gordons Bay. Hardly anyone there. Just three dogs, one of which has become a regular. Flat, high tide, warm-ish, pleasant. Blue skies for a while. Read my book on the Coogee headland until the sun sunk past the buildings.

Happy Go Lucky

/noise/movies | Link

A Mike Leigh effort from 2008. For Sally Hawkins who is as motor mouthed as Thewlis was in Naked. Second time around it feels a bit out of time, what with the GFC and Brexit and all. Eddie Marsan works hard to break that shiny happy surface, and I guess those events sadly reflect the dominance of his worldview. The stakes never seem too high though, excepting Marsan's intemperance and a tramp who challenges Poppy's ability to empathise. Alexis Zegerman plays her confidante perfectly.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

A carbon copy of yesterday, but with far fewer people and only the one inflatable. Two dogs. I got to Gordons Bay around 5pm after attempting to walk along the Cooks River west of Tempe, and went for a snorkel off the beach. Flat, reasonable visiblity. Loads of stingarees, some in very shallow water, some almost entirely covered in sand. A couple of mid-sized gropers, and some small fry that I couldn't readily identify.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

After completing my week's work at the ASX around lunchtime (taking our treasurer's advice to heart that I must work harder, just like Boxer), I accidentally ended up eating my lunch at Blues Point, and had a coffee up the road. I was planning to avoid the beaches on this Australia Day, but as I had a loose hour around 4pm I braved Gordons Bay. It was as packed as I've seen it: one group of drinkers had set up a gazebo on the narrow strip of sand left by the high tide, bland dance music blaring. The water near near the beach was choked with young people on inflatables. I dumped my stuff on the rocks under the fishing club on the northern end and got past all that without any trouble; I only heard one or two faux-matey aggressions, and those were clearly targeted at known quantities. Overall it was amazingly calm, perhaps due to the rotating cast of cops monitoring from the top of the stairs. Lots of leaf litter in the water. Just the one dog. Loads of storm clouds that passed by while I was there, but that was just a hole. No rain but.

Jack Rabbit Theatre: Tonsils + Tweezers at the Kings Cross Theatre.

/noise/theatre | Link

A freebie from the company, 7:30pm. Second time around at the Kings Cross Theatre. Four players give us a story about bro-hood and being marginalized in high school. As it says on the tin. Notionally we're on a railroad to their ten year reunion. Macbeth is put to very amusing use, especially by alpha schoolboy, now Maccas location scout, James Sweeny. Megan Wilding is the solitary woman in this, and owns every chance she has; her physical comedy was ace. Travis Jeffrey is great as Tonsils, and Hoa Xuande has the most difficult role as the bloke who mostly gets acted upon. The first half was very energetic, but things flagged somewhat in the second. I left wishing Will O'Mahony had more to say, or at least something more pointed.

Jason Blake. Glen Falkenstein.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

Late lunch at Paris Seafood, and a soak at Frenchman's Beach, which was entirely flat and a tad cool. Quite a few people standing around on the shoreline. Big storm clouds rolling through, but only a few splodges of rain. Afterwards I headed back to Close Motorcycles in thick traffic to pick up my rack. They gave me most of a new one under warranty (after a weld in the old one came unstuck) and left me to reassemble it as best as I could on the lane out the back of their workshop. Roughly the welded part that broke has been replaced with a bracket and another bolt. Simpler, and time will tell if it's any more durable. I got my milk crate back with a stern suggestion that I get a "proper" bag or some other thing not fit-for-purpose.

Phantom Thread

/noise/movies | Link

The Ritz, 6:30pm, advanced screening: booked Jan 17, $11 member price + $1.50 online fee = $12.50. It got moved from theatre 2 to 5, which was not packed; I guess it was not as popular as they expected.

This is P. T. Anderson's latest feature. Daniel Day-Lewis was excellent in their previous joint venture There will be Blood a decade ago, and is similarly quite fine here, in what he claims to be his final outing as an actor. His character is posessed of a droll wit paired with rumblings of genius, about which I cannot opine as I have no taste in dresses (which were generally banal, I felt). The audience indulged his every utterance. Vicky Krieps as Alma gamely goes up against the old master, and dominates all her other scenes. Her mushroom work reminded me of Florence Pugh's in Lady Macbeth, albeit with doubleplus sensuality. Lesley Manville is all unbreachable steely reserve.

The pacing of this 1950s character study is slow. The music is provided by Jonny Greenwood, the social classes by England. It is hardly a universal story, and at times Anderson may have been better to completely abandon plot, as he so wilfully does in the powerfully intimate closing scenes. I was often waiting for something to happen, just like Alma: fully engaged.

Dana Stevens. A. O. Scott. Geoffrey O’Brien.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

Another early meeting, another late morning snorkel off the beach at Gordons Bay. Noticeably warmer, clearer and better visibility today. Quite a few people there already, more when I got out, and only a single well-behaved blue heeler sitting near the rocks on the southern end of the beach. Very pleasant in.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

Snuck in a late morning snorkel after an early work meeting. I got in off the beach at Gordons Bay under storm clouds that didn't deliver any rain. Visibility was a bit poor until about halfway to the scuba ramp. I saw a few stingarees, large wrasse, and some small fry. Not too many people, not too many dogs. It was nice in and out and not at all hot.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

The traffic back from the CBD to Randwick at 5:30pm wasn't as bad as usual: the lefthand lane though the Eastern Distributor moved almost continuously. I dumped my stuff at home and rode down to Gordons Bay for a lazy paddle off the beach. Quite a few dogs again. Over the latter part of the day some storm clouds had blown in and taken the heat away, so I passed up on my customary time on the Coogee headland.

Darkest Hour

/noise/movies | Link

At The Ritz, 8:30pm, a membership freebie. (Their loyalty program seems ridiculously generous.) For Gary Oldman, who does inhabit Churchill almost completely, though he can never hide those eyes or trademark raised-eyebrow penetrating expression. This is the story of the early days of England's engagement in WWII, so we get a fine Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI making his peace with a belligerent Oldman, who is given Kristin Scott Thomas for a wife and Lily James as something more than a typist but not quite a PA. As one would expect we get a lot of speeches and not too much action; the converse of Dunkirk perhaps. Director Joe Wright seems to be a costume drama sorta guy, and I guess the century of such is now the twentieth. I was engaged by the whole thing, though at points the story is entirely railroaded.

A. O. Scott is dead right that the Underground scene is tosh. Sam Adams.

Kamila Shamsie: Home Fire.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. Second time around with this author. Unfortunately this one doesn't add up to more than its influences, which are legion. Shamsie owns to leaning on Sophocles's Antigone by way of Seamus Heaney and Anne Carson, but is more circumspect about her wholesale adoption of the tropes of the moment. For instance Parvaiz's keen hearing and interest in recording urban soundscapes directly echoes Paul Beatty's Slumberland, and her treatment of race is far less facile, nuanced, insightful or funny than his. The bondage scene with its chains and pain seeking took on shades of gray.

Briefly the book has the son of a jihadi look for meaning by following in his father's footsteps, while his strong sisters attempt to get on with their lives, until they cannot. A Tory politican ex-Pakistan transcends his background by being tough on terror, until he too cannot. At one point a character goes on a Lysistrata-esque sex strike; another trope that was big in 2016 (cf Chiraq). Mostly it's more scenario than novel.

Shamsie traverses a similar mix of cities as Mohsin Hamid did in Exit, West: London, Raqqa, Amherst, Karachi. Her women are powerful, largely not by asserting themselves freely so much as being thrust into demanding situations, and she generally inflates these characters well enough. Conversely the males are stereotypes: the power seeker in need of comeuppance; a fatherless boy, easily led; an effeminate son, also easily led; the nervous shopkeeper dealing with ISIS, the ISIS muscle, totally soulless: all deracinated, instruments all.

Many authors have tried to map the road to terror: Salman Rushdie, Mohsin Hamid, Pankaj Mishra, Karan Mahajan, Jarett Kobek immediately spring to mind. At this point it would have been more interesting to treat the guys with power (Farooq, for instance) or the men who have constructed these organizations over decades, and the women who think there's something in ISIS for them. Shamsie touches on much of this but doesn't get to the heart of it; for that we'll need to wait for a modern-day George Orwell.

Dwight Garner saw more in it than I did, though his review runs to little more than summary, accounting for source materials and picking faults. The quote about the cold fish elides Shamsie's patronising explanation of it being about a cold fish. Peter Ho Davies also reviewed it more critically for the New York Times. He points to even more source material.

Pulp Fiction

/noise/movies | Link

Somehow #7 in the IMDB top-250, up three spots since I last saw it five years ago. This time around Travolta struck me as creaky.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

Evening snorkel off the beach at Gordons Bay. The tide was out, no swell. I didn't bother with fins. Visibility was not great but enough to see a few stingarees at some depth. Quite a few people still there, and as I got out, quite a few dogs on the sand. Afterwards I ate my remaining leftovers on the headland north of Coogee.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

Feeling the need to see more trees than people for a while, I rode the still-nameless CB400 down to Cronulla and took the 1:30pm ferry to Bundeena, from which the smoke from the fires in the Royal National Park was quite visible. Once there I ate my lunch (days old chicken tikka with rice) in the park just east of the wharf before walking to to Point Hacking Point (Jibbon Head) along the Jibbon Loop Track and back along the Jibbon Track (pretty much a fire trail). I had been angling for a swim at Shelley Beach but it turned out to be too rocky to entice. The sun was baking hot on the dunes where there wasn't much cover. I ended up getting in at the beach just west of the Bundeena wharf, where I could see the queue for the ferry back getting longer and longer. Initially I took this to be a typical Saturday-afternoon-in-summer thing, but once I joined the masses around 5:30pm I heard that the roads in the RNP had been closed, so a lot of people were dumping their cars in Bundeena and looking to public transport to get them back to civilization. I closed out my time in the Shire with a barramundi, salad, and some grilled calamari from the Blue Pacific Grille in Cronulla. Their calamari was excellent; almost the mực chiên nước mắm of fond memory.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

The large surf kept me out of the water recently, alongside a dinner date with Peodair last night. This evening I found that the beach at Gordons Bay has massively eroded, exposing a large rock at the end of the concrete ramp I'd never seen before. I think the displaced sand has covered up some of the rocks in the shallows that makes it a bit tricky to get in at low tide. Quite pleasant in. Loads of seaweed. Not at all hot.

Sleuth

/noise/movies | Link

Second time around. Laurence Olivier at his fruitiest, Michael Caine: if only he could get that accent under control!

The Shape of Water

/noise/movies | Link

At The Ritz, 8:45pm, $17 for an advanced screening. Cinema 2 was both larger and busier than I expected.

This is the latest fairy tale for adults from Guillermo del Toro. The draw was Sally Hawkins (last seen in Maudie), whose Elisa here is mute but not deaf, and Michael Shannon as a G-man; unfortunately he seems to have become typecast since The Iceman. I live in hope of him finding more diverse roles. Richard Jenkins as Elisa's mate gets the best lines, while Octavia Spencer as her other mate does her best to be an early champion of women's lib. Doug Jones does the creature perfectly.

I enjoyed it for the most part as a visual feast; there are many fine touches in the small and I wish I'd seen it on a larger screen. The plot is relentlessly formulaic (perhaps precisely that of Beauty and the Beast?). del Toro mixes in a bit of everything: some classic Hollywood on the TV, some tap dancing, a dance/musical scene, the Cold War at one of its peaks, crank science. The aesthetic is pure 1962 Aperture Science Labs (from Portal). At one point the seafood takes its revenge on a cat. Some of it is quite funny.

A. O. Scott. Dana Stevens is right: the opening shot is unmatched by the rest of the movie. Michael Wood. Won the 2018 Oscar for best movie, and also for best director.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

Headed off to La Perouse for lunch at Paris Seafood around 2pm in some strong winds. I managed to sneak in a soak at Frenchman's Beach before the stormy rain kicked in. The ride back got me a bit wet. Still quite warm when the sun was out, between the showers.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

Got woken up by the neighbour's dog at 6:45am (time for walkies! it's like I never left) and made it to the Clovelly carpark by about 9am on an increasingly hot and sticky day. Loads of traffic on the scuba ramp, and I forgot my boots; turns out the fins work OK with bare feet. Visibility was OK but not great, with loads of leaf litter along the shoreline. Saw a few stingarees, a few small gropers, a few large wrasse, the usual stuff.

The Wild Geese

/noise/movies | Link

A Richard Burton jag from 1984. He smiles in this one, when he meets his mate played by Richard Harris. The plot is tediously linear for a long time: in London the mission is specified, the team assembled, the terms agreed, they ship out to Africa, the action starts. It's classic privatised colonialism, and similarly does not really cohere or totally disintegrate. Roger Moore attempts playboy cool, but as with Burton he's not that convincing once the bullets start flying. Barry Foster is a bit of an everyactor. An English attempt to preempt Apocalypse Now perhaps, with a side of commentary about the apartheid situation in the South Africa of the day (1978).

George Orwell: Animal Farm.

/noise/books | Link

All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.

Kindle. Orwell proves himself to be a great missed opportunity for the advertising industry with his fantastic and timeless sloganeering.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

Evening paddle off the scuba ramp at Gordons Bay. Far cleaner than I expected; I probably could have gone for a snorkel. Not too many people around. Afterwards I ate some leftover pizza and started in on Animal Farm on the rocks on the southern side of the Clovelly carpark. All this at the fag end of a hot and stuffy day.

Looper

/noise/movies | Link

Second time around. Rian Johnson knows how to get the best from Joseph Gordon-Levitt; conversely he doesn't ask Bruce Willis to do anything he hasn't done before, and Emily Blunt is a bit too much of a randy everymother. I enjoyed it but can't say it stands up to well to an active brain. Pierce Gagnon (the boy) was later Sonny Jim in the Twin Peaks reboot.

Dennis Glover: An Economy is not a Society (2015).

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. A segue from Glover's more-recent and substantial The Last Man in Europe. Here he pines for the glory days when Doveton (his working-class hometown near Dandenong) was a community of workers and social mobility was a possibility; this local boy went all the way to a PhD at Cambridge. Since the economy imploded (the car factories and Heinz cannery have progressively closed from the 1990s) the place has been overrun by drug fiends and hopelessness. A local school (now derelict and destroyed) and the massive spaces vacated by domestic industry are put forth in evidence.

Glover argues from the heart, so while I am completely sympathetic to his concerns and conclusions, I found this polemic unpersuasive. The days of nation building are long gone, long before I became an adult, and certainly on the wane when I was born. (Cynically I'd say the game now is to grab a piece of the pie before climate change makes it a lot smaller.) That the ALP has lost the plot is no news to anyone. Interestingly Glover wants the (now non-)working classes to self-organise, to reclaim the ALP, and asserts baldly that the other classes (e.g. professionals) cannot sufficiently empathise with stiffs working on the poverty line to be any use politically. He claims to want a return to low-skilled work but when pushed it's really about artisanal stuff, like specialized toolsmithing, that are obviously intrinsically rewarding activities. Old ideas such as a universal basic income, or encouraging people to take productivity dividends in fewer work hours (let the robots sweat) are completely ignored; I for one am dubious that there was ever any dignity in working for money, pretty much no matter the work. Glover is down on the deification of RJL Hawke and Paul Keating, and fair enough too. He is entirely right that Gough Whitlam executed a far more progressive agenda in far less time and has now been airbrushed from history.

Glover's biggest fault is to gesture at history and not dig into it. Why did the golden era he experienced and champions here come to an end? Could it have gone differently, or were the forces of what we now call globalization too much for any individual nation to tame? (Glover gestures at the state of the old industrial towns in the USA.) John Quiggin observed that Paul Keating always went with the intellectual flow, and has now come to realize the limits of the agenda he himself prosecuted. (Note also that Quiggin often uses professionalism — consider university and hospital staffers — to combat silly talk of paypacket maximization being the only motivator.) Fellow speechwriter Don Watson made similar complaints to Glover in his old book Weasel Words and his 2014 book The Bush that I've half read. David Ireland's The Unknown Industrial Prisoner suggests Glover had limited experience of industrial relations and work and safety issues in the 1970s. Donald Horne and Hugh Mackay laid out the issues of a changing Australia far more systematically, and scientifically, capably demonstrating that the humanities have more to offer in response to heartless econospeak than nostalgic bleating. And of course Barry Jones's Sleepers Wake! canvassed the changing conditions faced by the Australian workforce in the early 1980s. Glover does not contemplate what the internet has done to things.

There are many worthwhile comments at goodreads.

Iron Man 3

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Second time around. Overegged. A pastiche of too many other movies. Ben Kingsley has a ton of fun as Trevor. Guy Pearce is good, but he's good in just about anything.

Red Line Productions: There Will Be a Climax at the Old Fitzroy Hotel.

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$28.00, booked 2017-12-29. Opening night. I screwed up my dinner timing and rode over just as the big storm broke; fortunately it was a quick trip from Randwick to Kings Cross. I got completely soaked as I didn't bother with my wet-weather gear, and left my soggy helmet with an agreeable bloke in the box office. This after a day of chatting with some ex-NICTA blokes and wondering when I'll next get into the sea.

The appeal of this was a bunch of clowns ex-NIDA telling a story on a rotating stage. The crowd was young and packed to the rafters. Memorable: the use of the turntable, the hair, and the attract/repel interaction with the audience, the footwork, coordination, balance required of and provided by the players. The narrative was all about escaping from their rotating universe along the vectors provided by the random detritus progressively dumped on it.

Elissa Blake. Auteur Alexander Berlage. Jason Blake.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

Mid-morning soak at Coogee. It was totally flat. After a busy weekend it was quite deserted. Large storm clouds threatening.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

At 6pm on a super-hot day the rocks on the northern side of Gordons Bay were still packed. Dogs, beer, people; the scuba ramp was crowded. I went for a directionless snorkel. The water was choppier than yesterday but still quite flat, with similar quite-good visibility, cold near the shore and quite warm out in the middle of the bay. I saw the usual cast: the big blue groper and some smaller females, some large wrasse, loads loads of stingarees (I lost count at 20) of all sizes, and mostly notably a green wobbegong sitting amongst the rocks on the northern site, about midway between the beach and scuba ramp. I sat on a rock next to that afterwards. It cooled off a lot while I was there, and the wind picked up. The gathering clouds where not serious. The ride to the Clovelly carpark and back was quite pleasant.

Dennis Glover: The Last Man in Europe.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. An Australian author's fictional account of what brought George Orwell to write 1984. The conceit is similar to David Malouf's in Ransom, and Francis Spufford's in Red Plenty; like the latter Glover presents specific episodes in the sympathetic third person and tips his hand in a concluding author's note. The prose has a dry wit reminiscent of the master, especially as the book becomes a totalitarian freedom-sucking monster that robs Orwell of his life. At times Glover overexerts himself in sourcing the tropes and motifs of 1984. Conversely he doesn't try to include everything his research dug up, overly occlude his source material, or cleave too slavishly to or deviate so far from Orwell's own style.

It's a lot of fun if you're a fan, but perhaps not if you're too much of a fan. Now to re-read Animal Farm.

I missed this last year because it wasn't reviewed by my usual suspects. It received broad coverage in the local media. Glover himself on discovering that 2 + 2 may not equal 5. Stacy Schiff reviews a biography of "the girl from the fiction department" Sonia Orwell.

1984

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Last seen an age ago. The version I had used the original title: Nineteen Eighty-Four. Richard Burton is clearly in ill-health here, just like George Orwell was when he wrote it. I enjoyed John Hurt's performance. I have to wonder how much sense it makes to someone unfamiliar with the book; some of the dream sequences were difficult to parse, both temporally and thematically. The aesthetic falls far short of contemporaneous dystopian epics, such as Bladerunner, by evoking Doctor Who and Blake's 7 with a side of creepy exploitation. The story, strong as ever, struggles and chafes.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

Mid-evening snorkel at Gordons Bay, off the northern scuba ramp. Loads of people around when I got in; as it was getting on to dinner time many were leaving. The tide was again out, the wind was up but it was pancake flat so I swam out eastwards along the rocks. Visibility was pretty good, the temperature pretty much perfect. I again saw quite a few large wrasse of various kinds, some gropers of various sizes including the big blue bloke, and 7 stingarees who were probably a bit early to the night's party. Afterwards I read a bit more of my book on the rocks just north of where I'd been swimming.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

Evening paddle at Gordons Bay; the first of the new year due to some erratic rain and the odd late night at work. The tide was right out. Quite pleasant once in. The beach was remarkably clean, suggesting that the usual decomposing seaweed had been removed. Similarly the water seemed cleaner than I would have expected after the recent weather.

Rope

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Hitchcock, Jimmy Stewart. Dropped out of the IMDB top-250 since I last saw it in 2010. I vaguely thought it was twistier than it is. The camerawork is still amazing.

Iron Man 2

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Yeah, more cheap thrills. Don Cheadle is not so hot. Scarlett Johansson is not so hot. Mickey Rourke owns the scenes he's in, but that was it for his revival. I enjoyed Sam Rockwell far more this time around. As in the first one, Jon Favreau is quite funny. The final scenes are pretty dire.

Iron Man

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Yeah. It's got all the elements of a decent movie but doesn't fit them together so well. Jeff Bridges struggles to inflate his evil dude character; several decades of doing things carefully is discarded like a bride's nightie. Perhaps this is the limitation of the Iron Man comic-book character, or the entire genre.