peteg's blog

Bilal Tanweer: The Scatter Here Is Too Great.

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Kindle. A series of interlocked shorts centred on an explosion at Cantt Station in Karachi. The final story seems more autobiographical. A pointer from Ahmed Rashid from a while back. Brief and sometimes effective.

Jess Row. Hirsh Sawhney.

The Breaker Upperers

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Palace Cinemas Norton St, 7:45pm, seat C-6. For some reason they're selling all tickets for five bucks (+ $1.30 online booking fee) this week, which resulted in this session being packed. Tickets weren't checked. Beforehand I had dinner at Allfine Chinese Cuisine House (35A Ross St in Forest Lodge) and drank the last of my four coffees for the day at the cinema; apparently I have another freebie left.

I went along to this mostly because the current releases are lame; both Palace Cinemas and The Ritz have long cottoned on to this, with revivals taking up a significant chunk of their schedule. Also Dave had suggested the Kiwi chucks might have something to say, or maybe he just wanted to check out the co-starring BMW of a similar vintage to his. What we got was TV-quality sketch comedy in the Tina Fey doubledown trailoff mode. For some there may be revelations about female friendships, cultural appropriation, not getting over unwound romantic entanglements, the absurdism of the current day.

Paul Byrnes.

Flesh + Blood

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More Paul Verhoeven; in fact his first Hollywood outing (1985). If they'd had cinema in medieval times, this would have been the Saturday matinee for a century or two. Rutger Hauer stars as a mercenary who kidnaps an often-naked Jennifer Jason Leigh from her betrothed prince. For her part she cannot make up her mind between them. The plot is somewhat pedestrian: mostly straight up revenge, some double-crossing, etc. and the ending is classic sequel-prequel stuff. Jack Thompson hams it up a little as man-at-arms Hawkwood. Brion James gets more time than he did in Bladerunner. There is no magic, just Christian superstition (a statue of Saint Martin is the mercenaries' talisman). Trashy and fun.

Joshua Cohen: Moving Kings.

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New York Jews and their relationships with Israel, immigrants and the precariat, the IDF. Cohen's writing is Brooklyn litfic; this one is easier to slog through than his others. The best bits seem insightful, but the overall vibe is deep alienation.

Zachary Lazar. Loads of commentary at Good Reads. James Wood observes the artistry and bemoans the content.

The Fourth Man

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Continuing the one-man Verhoeven retrospective. A cursory check suggests this is the last of his early Dutch phase (made in 1983) that preceded the transition to Hollywood that made him famous. Here we get something of a dry run for Basic Instinct, albeit one with a religious sensibility that might not have gone over so well with New World financiers. Renée Soutendijk is game as the rich woman toying with her lovers. Jeroen Krabbé is a writer who'll take what he can get, and then some. Thom Hoffman is everyone's toyboy. The cinematography is a bit Thief, the whole thing somewhat David Lynch and David Cronenberg, a dreamscape. Some of the actors returned for Zwartboek. The effects prefigure those of Total Recall.

Incidentally Alex Pappademas wrote about Verhoeven's career up to 2014.

Behold a Pale Horse

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A hiatus from the Paul Verhoeven mini-festival. The cast is strong: Anthony Quinn (police chief, ex military with scores to settle) and Omar Sharif (effective as a priest) form a three-legged edifice with Gregory Peck (an implausible Spanish Republican exiled to France). It's twenty years since Franco's fascists won the war, and Peck's mum is on the way out in the old hometown. Will he or won't he go and see her? The women are beautiful but get almost no time on screen. There's a touch of Waiting for Godot in the lack of action. Over two nights.

Red Line Productions: King Of Pigs by Steve Rodgers.

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A freebie from the production company, 8pm at the Old Fitzroy Hotel. I had some dinner at the Tokyo Laundry above Gateway beforehand: I forgot that the central appeal of chicken karaage at Pinocchio Sushi is the sauce. The soba salad was totally fine in any case.

This preview was packed. Moreover as this production is the premiere of this new work, all I'll say is that it's promising: it's difficult to say much new about domestic violence. You can read Rodgers on this piece at Audrey Journal.

After it opened: John Shand. Others note its worthiness and avoid assessing its artistry.

BlacKkKlansman

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A freebie from NIDA to this fortnight-early screening of Spike Lee's latest. Event Cinemas, George St, 6:30pm, perhaps two thirds full. The trailer for First Man looks a bit dire.

The film opens with a rant into the camera by Alec Baldwin, rendered insincere by a variety of verbal tics, and that we never see him again. It ends with a mashup of the disturbing news out of Charlottesville from August 2017 that shut everyone right up; perhaps Lee could make these punchy newsreel shorts more regularly. In between we get a ripping yarn from the heyday of Black Power: a black rookie cop (John David Washington playing Ron Stallworth) joins the Colorado Springs KKK with some help from his initially-noncommittal Jewish colleague (Adam Driver in his most effective performance yet): dual/duelling identities made literal. Laura Harrier smokes as the incognizably-single president of the local Black Student Union. Robert John Burke is good as a police chief, keeping everyone guessing, loosening up from his Hal Hartley days. Paul Walter Hauser plays more-or-less the same character as he did in I, Tonya; he, Jasper Pääkkönen and Ryan Eggold all struggle to inflate their KKK characters, whereas Topher Grace nails the role of David Duke (as far as I could tell). The Afros and fashion are superb.

Manohla Dargis saw it at Cannes. A. O. Scott after the mainstream release.

Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg: Candy.

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Kindle. Something of a bum steer by Dwight Garner. A satire like Starship Troopers, which is to say it's far lamer than one might expect, given that Southern was one of the scriptwriters of the timeless Doctor Strangelove. Doubly annoying is that Garner cribbed his opening paragraph from the notes in the back of the book. I'd be more convinced that this was on the side of the #MeToo angels if a woman had reviewed it.

Conrad Knickerbocker reviewed it back in 1964. There's also a much-panned movie directed by Christian Marquand with a stellar cast that I'll now have to see.

Relatos Salvajes (Wild Tales)

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Pawel pointed me to this Argentinian anthology. The opening segment is hilarious, and the other five also have their moments. Somewhat surprisingly #180 in the IMDB top-250.

Manohla Dargis.

Seymour Centre: Which Way Home by Katie Beckett (Ilbijerri Theatre Company).

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Something of a freebie from ShowFilmFirst, who pocketed a $3 fee on 2018-07-19. Reginald Theatre, front-row seat A14, 7:30pm, a bit packed. I walked there and back on a mostly fine day; just a few splodges of rain later in the evening. Beforehand I pigged out on dumplings at Taste Legend, which always seems like a good idea until the food shows up.

The set for this piece has clearly been ported around Australia. The various boxes serve as a car that takes Tash (playwright/actress Katie Beckett) and her father (a preternaturally calm Djordon King) from somewhere in Queensland to northern New South Wales, at some point passing along the Darren Lockyer Way. Yes, they're Broncos and State of Origin partisans, and yet their Country is in another State. Along the way the conversation and flashbacks touch on many themes, but never digs too deep; for instance, the hypocrisy of the father's needs as a man set against Tash's growing womanhood. Oftentimes this work echoes the inarticulate masculinity of Erskineville Kings.

Quite near by seat was a pile of sand, with more flowing from the scaffolding, used to evoke the famous image of Gough Whitlam and Vincent Lingiari. That is perhaps what makes this work so out of tune with Sydney: the lack of cynicism.

Jason Blake says it was better last year, at Belvoir. Nicole Elphick provides more details.

Takashi Hiraide: The Guest Cat.

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Kindle. Another Japanese cat story. This one is mercifully short. The cat herself is mostly a fashion accessory to a couple who decide to quit their publishing industry jobs in the late 1980s for lifestyle reasons. The observations about the boom of the property market in Japan around then are like Sydney now: the prices, the decrepit rentals, stagnancy, the coming crash.

Nicholas Lezard.

David Malouf: The Complete Stories.

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Kindle. An assembly of Malouf's short stories. I particularly enjoyed re-reading those previously in Every Move You Make and Dream Stuff, and some of Antipodes. Nothing in Child's Play struck a bell. I think Malouf generally got better as he went. He's totally across his flora, and his colours ("celestial blue", the colour of a builder's new shirt).

Starship Troopers

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The bridge too far for this Verhoeven retrospective. I'm told this movie is a satire of the totalitarian/fascistic/genocidal society described in Robert Heinlein's book of the same name. Unfortunately the lack of humour and absence of any subtlety makes it difficult to see past the crass stupidity of it all. For instance Clancy Brown (better known as the Kurgen) does no more than imitate R. Lee Ermey's timeless performance in Full Metal Jacket. The interstitial ads and news flashes reminded me of John Brunner's novels, without the drugs. I've avoided seeing this before due to somehow knowing that Denise Richards's effort is offensively vacuous. Casper Van Dien went on to play Tarzan and that might say it all. Why not, you know, take off and nuke the bugs from orbit?

Steekspel (Tricked)

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A continuation of the one-man Paul Verhoeven festival. This brief, Dutch social-comedy-of-manners cleaves closer to the Dogme 95 agenda with some mildly unpleasant handheld camerawork, but otherwise consists of his customary fascinations. Here father Peter Blok is commonly acknowledged as an adulterer by his family (wife Ricky Koole, daughter Carolien Spoor, son Robert de Hoog) and gets worked over by ex-lover Sallie Harmsen and business partner Jochum ten Haaf. Gaite Jansen provides the pivot. Some of the acting is fine. It's not very twisty and feels more like the cheap entertainments of his Hollywood years. As commentary it is nowhere as punchy as Lukas Moodysson's efforts. Was Rammstein still big in 2012?

Zwartboek (Black Book)

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Yet another semi-recent Paul Verhoeven, second time around. Carice van Houten stars as a lady-in-training for a role in Game of Thrones; for all the skin she is sometimes quite good. The plot is a bit too twisty, and eventually capitulates to implausibility for the sake of termination. Nazis and the resistance in the Netherlands, 1945. A cast of solid German (Sebastian Koch, Christian Berkel) and Dutch (Thom Hoffman, Derek de Lint, Dolf de Vries) actors. Tarantino took it a bit further with Inglourious Basterds I guess.

Manohla Dargis.

Elle

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Continuing the minor Paul Verhoeven festival/catch up. Isabelle Huppert has a crack at what seems to be a von Trier-ish role, crossed with the humour of Festen, but not as harsh as either; the central provocation is that her character seems to achieve some understanding with her recurring rapist, sometimes while her cat looks on. There's a touch of David Lynch queasiness in there too, and a nod towards the vileness of the video game industry. I avoided it when it was released (in 2016) as I was never that impressed by Huppert's efforts for Hal Hartley in Amateur. Here she is all-in. My only beef is with that the pivot towards truth(iness) is a bit tedious when it comes.

Dana Stevens (and on the ending). A. O. Scott. Xan Brooks.

Basic Instinct

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A Paul Verhoeven / Sharon Stone jag from Total Recall. The canonical early-90s sexploitation psycho thriller. It doesn't hang together at all well; quite often characters just walk off mid-conversation for no apparent reason. The Jeanne Tripplehorn subplot was unresolved. But of course none of that matters. Verhoeven found a better balance with Zwartboek, if I'm remembering correctly.

Total Recall

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An Arnie / Paul Verhoeven classic, capping off the 1980s era of action movies with high-concept Philip K. Dick moves. Sharon Stone pivots in a heartbeat; perhaps she can play Elizabeth Holmes's mum in the coming biopic, or the woman herself, contemplating her life in an aged care facility, tended by robots. Michael Ironside is the canonical henchman. There are two letdowns: the ending, and that Rachel Ticotin was worse at this sort of acting than Arnie. Whoever said it was easy?

Ghost Dog

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Second time around, I think — saw it ages ago, perhaps in the cinema. Jim Jarmusch's late-90s mafiosi-in-Autumn classic. The first thing I remember Forest Whitaker for. In some ways a gentle meditation on the merits of the old ways, predominantly Zen and east coast USA, and in others a straightforward tale of violent liquidations. By having it all ways Jarmusch doesn't make his point as powerfully as in his four-year-previous feature Dead Man.

The Ox-Bow Incident

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Another Henry Fonda classic from 1943. Also Dana Andrews and Anthony Quinn, all so young here. It starts off funny before settling into a sombre mood as the frontier justice becomes unstoppable. Fonda looks like the model for Woody in Toy Story.

The Wrong Man

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A Henry Fonda jag. Black and white, Hitchcock: the wrong man gets accused of some robberies and everything goes to hell. Of course he's innocent (totally!) and eventually the plods catch up to the audience. I found it to be pretty much entirely a snoozefest. Vera Miles plays the wife who becomes unstuck (a dry run for Psycho?). Anthony Quayle is the lawyer who waves away concerns about his fee. His is perhaps the least convincing performance as he genuinely seems to care.

Mad March Hare Theatre Co: You Got Older by Clare Barron at Kings Cross Theatre.

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A freebie from Kings Cross Theatre, and a Steve Rodgers jag from Diving for Pearls. I walked over from Randwick via the venerable Indian Home Diner opposite the Verona on Oxford St. The bar at the hotel has nothing in the way of dark beer, so I headed in the opposite direction by getting an almost-colourless English pear cider, too sweet. For these reasons and others I was pretty sleepy throughout the performance.

This was the second preview, and completely packed. Notionally it ran from 7.30pm to 9.30pm with a 15 minute interval, which came so late (8.45pm) I figured they may as well have left it out. Briefly, the cast is quite large (7 players) for such a small stage. This being a preview, I will simply observe that the production makes the most of things.

In contrast the play itself is not strong: I kept thinking of August: Osage County from a few weeks ago: we get the daughter returning home to care for an unwell parent, extensive explicit dialogue about the randiness of said daughter, and little that is novel; most noticeably, the father/daughter combination here is so much weaker than the unhinged Violet, all by herself. The settings shuffle around Washington State. Charles Isherwood seemed similarly unpersuaded at the premiere in 2014.

Audrey Journal, and later, Jason Blake. It turns out that many of the actresses I've seen over the past few months appeared together in Picnic at Hanging Rock for Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne.

Twelve Angry Men

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A Henry Fonda jag from Once Upon a Time in the West. Amazingly still #5 in the IMDB top-250. As excellent as ever. The cast and acting are uniformly perfect. Lee J. Cobb works so hard to incarnate an alienated father.

Once Upon A Time In The West

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Rounding out the Sergio Leone Westerns. Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale. Jason Robards too. I can't say I got every detail of the plot. This one has perhaps the best Morricone score of the lot. The cinematography is top-notch. #36 in the IMDB top-250.

A Fistful of Dollars

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The first of the Dollars trilogy, and the last for me to rewatch. This one has the weakest plot, though all the ingredients are there. Strangely rated above A Fistful of Dynamite at IMDB.

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion

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A Gian Maria Volontè jag from For A Few Dollars More. I think the intent was to provoke, with many riffs on classic Italian tropes (e.g. libertines, "America is here!" apropos a two-room mainframe, fascism/state supremacy, having it all ways), some responding to the politics of the day. In that sense it's not very self-contained. I enjoyed it for the most part, modulo some histrionics. Ennio Morricone wrote the famous theme music.

Hiro Arikawa: The Travelling Cat Chronicles, translated by Philip Gabriel.

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Kindle. A fun, mostly breezy life-affirming sorta thing in the Paul Coelho mode. The ethos is basically: enjoy the small fleeting experiences, be good to each other, don't moralise too much, get a cat. Some sections are told from the perspective of a very self-aware feline, quite satisfyingly. Sometimes repetitious but not irritatingly so. The ink drawings that open each chapter are excellent.

John Boyne. Lynne Truss. She's right that the translation is a bit uneven: it didn't settle into either English or American.

Platoon

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An Oliver Stone, Willem Dafoe jag. A young Charlie Sheen. Forest Whitaker, John C. McGinley, Johnny Depp. Tom Berenger. nth time around for large n; it doesn't really stick with me. Resolutely #187 in the IMDB top-250.

Affliction

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James Coburn got his Oscar for portraying the alcoholic, domineering and sometimes violent patriach to Nick Nolte's somewhat unglued small-town everyman. Sissy Spacek seems hopeless, and not for want of trying. Patsy Jim True-Frost was Buzz in The Hudsucker Proxy. Willem Dafoe plays the buttoned-down Boston University prof brother, somewhat against type. Something like a diffuse Fargo, transplated to New Hampshire. It doesn't quite cohere.

Belvoir Downstairs, 25A: They Divided The Sky.

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Booked in person at Belvoir to avoid their online surchage, 2018-06-17, $25. Closing night, perhaps 80% full and yet I still managed to pick perhaps the worst seat in the house: in the far right corner from the entryway, and I got to see the back of the performers quite often, despite their considerate almost-constant movement. It was video recorded (and fortunately not simulcast to us). Bliss is still playing upstairs to something of a crowd despite wide reports of it being a bust. I rode over and back in fine weather and light traffic.

Briefly: this piece is Daniel Schlusser's adaptation of the book by Christa Wolf. It's about a young East Germany couple who become entangled in the time-honoured way only to separate due to politics, history, career ambitions, and a decade gap in ages that eventually proves insurmountable. Nikki Shiels (Rita) and Stephen Phillips (Manfred) bring excellent chemistry to their roles. Rita's humour is verbal, true-believer-Marxist-materialist-realist: "what part of you makes you hard to love?" she asks, early on, a coquettish nineteen year old. Manfred's take on his own mother is brutal, and his preoccupation with Rita in the early stages of their romance, and always with his chemical engineering, is convincing and tragic. It reminded me a bit of The Beautiful Days of Aranjuez and Melissa's observation that the man looks at the world, and the woman looks at the man; perhaps so, until she ceases to.

The set consists of a bathtub, and indeed it does go off somewhere towards the end of the eighty-ish minutes. Amelia Lever-Davidson's lighting design was excellent. The production is tight, acting solid, and exhibits wistful nostalgia for Red Plenty, which I'm told is on the rise amongst millenials. The Sputnik moment is human: Rita celebrates Yuri Gagarin being the first man in outer space, and sticking it to the Americans.

An entirely Melbourne company, as I understand it. Jason Blake. Joyce Morgan. Cassie Tongue. Judith Greenaway.

David Runciman: How Democracy Ends.

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Kindle. I've enjoyed reading Runciman's essays at the London Review of Books, and figured this book-length expansion of his immediate reaction to Trump's election in December 2016 would be worth a read. Unfortunately it is mostly a rambling walk in need of a disciplined edit; a reflection of Trump's reign thus far perhaps.

This book is frustrating as it is very repetitious, but never gets properly grounded. I came away not really knowing what Runciman thinks democracy is: it's something more than voting; something that promotes individual dignity, but the mechanism by which it resolves conflict is not specified. Apparently others have observed that peace is correlated with greater inequality, and that democracy has generally solved the problem of violence between and within states (but how does that work?). Also it seems that democracy depends on growth. Asserting that democracies prevented nuclear war is unsupported, and one could say that it was a signal antinomy of the US system that allowed atomic weapons to be used twice (the pharaonic President operating in secret against the wishes of the people). I guess he didn't read Ellsberg last year, who points at plenty of evidence for the undemocratic Soviets exercising more restraint than the MAD United States.

Most confusing to me was Runciman's attempt to engage with the epistocrats, who think that better outcomes might be had by restricting the franchise to suitably-edified people. This directly contradicts the expansion of (political recognition of) personal dignity that anchors the enduring legitimacy of a democratic state, says Runciman. Further, capricious democracy is better than despotic epistocracy, as the demos is forever changing its mind; but as we see Krugman arguing in the context of trade wars, this defeats long-term planning. Where the wheels really fall off is that Runciman accepts a utilitarian morality without discussion: he supposes that there is a rational way for me to vote, and that just maybe Nigel by Kimera (now predictably having an ICO after pivoting towards becoming the new social network intermediators) can help me do so; in other words, our decisions are just risk/uncertainty assessments. But that is economics, not politics: democratic voting is about expressing preferences, and those need not be rational. As Runciman observes elsewhere, there are no right answers to political questions, just consequences. On this reading he isn't even talking about the same things as the epistocrats.

Also irritating is his poor framing of Nozick's conception of the ideal society (or utopia), as something like the intersection of all the societies that individuals might wish to join. Personally I'd prefer to have more undespoiled nature than less, which is a joint action problem that I doubt is solvable entirely within my "society". Similarly Runciman does not have a lot to say about the Singularists: come on man, why the demos should not expect to share in the future is right there in the name. However infinitely fascinating humans are supposed to be, technology is more and increasingly so to those with power. I didn't understand why the bureaucracy cannot already serve many of the functions the Runciman asks of the internet, big data, whatever, or flipping it around, why the latter would be immune to the pathologies of the former.

Reviews are legion.

New Theatre: August: Osage County by Tracy Letts.

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New Theatre, $20 on their cheap Thursday, booked 2018-06-15. Maybe half full. The rain had stopped by lunchtime and the clouds cleared, only to return a few hours later to smite the washing I'd hung out. I rode over to Newtown on wet roads, and home afterwards in some light fog.

This is a Southern Gothic from 2007, which apparently premiered at the Steppenwolf Theatre. It's a bit transgressive but not that transgressive, mostly around the topic of aging women: Letts holds forth on the younger competition, going out disgracefully, eating fear, disintegrating sisterhood, disintegrating family, strung out matriarchy, spinsterhood, and just how great was the Greatest Generation anyway? — and so forth, a serve for everyone. It's long and thematically rich, only dropping into cliché with a serial sexual predator who is a bit too cardboard, and the Native American help is handled in a completely auxiliary mode. The three (Chekhovian?) daughters of poet Beverly and groupie (?) Violet anchor the piece with devices going off like clockwork. The twists are not always plausible or necessary, but at least the misdirection is not so bad that I felt cheated. Apparently there's a movie too.

This production featured a simple, effective set and a large, great cast with mostly fantastic accent work. Things shifted from cutting backhanded black humour to emotionally-accurate dead seriousness in a beat. It's quite long at about three hours, and fun in a did-she-really-just-say-that sort of way. The best thing I've seen at New Theatre.

Suzy Goes See. Jason Blake. Judith Greenaway.

For a Few Dollars More

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Another Leone, sharing Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef with The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. I struggled to understand Gian Maria Volontè at times, and probably missed some of the filigree. More transparently criminal.

A Fistful of Dynamite (or Duck You Sucker)

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Second time around, over two nights. A Rod Steiger jag from Doctor Zhivago, and Leone from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Quite fun for what it is: revolutionary exile from Ireland James Coburn gets held up by Steiger and family in revolutionary Mexico. The expected ensues, with some funny twists.

28 Days Later

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Drecky. Something of a jag from Ex Machina, but it seems scriptwriter Alex Garland has only one plot in him. Tiresomely predictable — what, we need a virus to unleash the rage? — and so much worse than you might expect from Danny Boyle, Naomie Harris, Brendan Gleeson and so forth. Christopher Eccleston could have been awesome in his pseudo-Cyberman role, if only they'd let him. Cillian Murphy morphs from bike courier to Spiderman without the customary scientific accident. It's like Shaun of the Dead without the comedy. I'll be giving 28 Weeks Later a miss despite the cast.

NIDA: The Removalists by David Williamson.

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Booked 2018-05-16, $28.00, along with the other two NIDA student productions. I spent the afternoon in the UNSW Library, trying to hack. The Playhouse has quite full; I saw Colin Friels in Moving Parts there a while back. Apparently I saw this play at the Bondi Pavilion in 2013. I forgot about that.

This is an early piece by Williamson, dating from 1971. The themes are timely timely and have aged well, but Williamson's handling is often easy to dismiss by being too crass and stuck in some Australian dystopia long past, rather than the ever-present. The removalist himself (Nyx Calder, effective) would probably be a technologist now, spouting the ethical neutrality of whatever they've built, with similar eternal disengagement from the concerns of others. Does anyone go to the pub any more? Ned Napier has a career of cop shows ahead of him if he wants it, inhabiting the main character Simmonds perfectly. Mark Paguio struggled a bit with Ross, largely because I got the impression he is supposed to be a large bloke who can plausibly take it to Simmonds and Carter. Emma Kew is great as affluent dentist-wife Kate Mason, though constrained by the character's lack of humour. Nicholas Burton as Kenny Carter and Daya Czepanski as his wife Fiona are as solid as the script allows.

Afterwards I caught the farcical end of the Wallabies v Ireland match on web TV.

American History X

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Second time around, I think. The obvious (anachronistic) referent is This is England; but that focuses more on community and less on the individual, reflecting the Atlantic divide. I guess Romper Stomper demonstrated solipsistic solidarity across the Pacific. An Ed Furlong jag from Terminator 2, though he is far more deer-in-headlights passive here, effectively so. Ed Norton is brave, on his way to Fight Club and more ruefully 25th Hour. Both Guy Torry (did Lamont have so much and power and how?) and Stacy Keach own their scenes. It is so strange to see Elliott Gould play a buttoned-down school teacher. The cinematography is fantastic. I wonder what else director Tony Kaye has done; oh right, advertisements and music videos. The main weakness is the ending, which leaves too many threads unresolved.

This movie's time has come again, I guess. The white supremacist rhetoric is extreme, and quickly shifts from arguable to obscene. I didn't find the accompanying shifts in attitude plausible: people are not so infinitely malleable. The prescription for more self-esteem, self improvement, ideas whose time have gone, was soon enough mocked by Norton himself in Fight Club.

Janet Maslin, back in the day. Also David Edelstein.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day

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More Arnie. I remain fascinated by just how perfectly constructed this movie is (for what it is): James Cameron somehow develops character, plot, and the rest simultaneously, while serving up spectacle. Still #42 in the IMDB top-250, and will be for a while yet.

Conan the Barbarian

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First time around. What a strange movie. Arnie is so young here, and the swords and sorcery thing doesn't sit quite right with him; he's much more at home with modern (and postmodern) weaponry. I don't remember seeing James Earl Jones act before. The trivia at IMDB about the making of this movie is more interesting than the movie itself. Co-written by Oliver Stone.

NIDA: Ex Machina.

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Booked 2018-05-16, $28.00. The Space was packed. I was sucked in by the promise of puppetry, which did indeed make some moments. Less scintillating was the use of LED-edge-lit sliding screens to create spaces, cameras and strobes ala The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, and an insufficient abstraction of the movie to this theatrical form. The dialogue was quite arch at times. All that gear must have cost a bit. I recognised a few of the actors from last year.

Ceridwen Dovey: Only the Animals.

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I found this via a pointer from a review of her most-recent novel in the aspirational Sydney Review of Books. Surprisingly Randwick City Library had it in electronic form, but I had to read it via Overdrive: mostly on the laptop, a couple of chapters on the iPhone. Dovey works at the Institute for Sustainable Futures.

This is a collection of shorts that pay homage to various authors, often adopting or referring to their stories, with a heavy feminist slant, in the animalian first person. Dovey starts out strong with a camel and Henry Lawson, a French cat in World War 1, and does not quite cross the taboo with a chimpanzee. And so forth. All have their moments, though they often depend on (a lack of) familiarity with other people's work. Fun on its own terms.

To Live and Die in L.A.

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A 1980s classic with some pretty dodgy editing. The always-reliable Willem Dafoe nails his role as a creepy failed-artist-turned-counterfeiter. William Petersen (the cop) has a face familiar from other movies the era, such as Manhunter. John Turturro plays it straight; maybe he saves his kookie for the Coen brothers. One lady is a compromised informant, the other the femme fatale. Things spiral out of control, predictably but entertainingly. Apparently second time around, but I don't remember a thing.

The Terminator

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Timeless, and still #228 in the IMDB top-250. I wonder where Arnie is at these days... apparently they're rebooting this franchise next year.

New HJC helmet from The Helmet Warehouse.

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It was perhaps time to get a new motorcycle helmet anyway, but due to some thoughtlessness it became imperative about two weeks ago; work and rain delayed the trip out to Yagoona until today. The lady in the shop did a fantastic job of pitching the options, and my only regret with the HJC IS-17 ($297.42) I bought is that it has a quick-release chin strap — which means I cannot easily use the existing helmet lock on the CB400, something I only realised later on. I also got some Dririder waterproof winter-ish gloves ($67.96).

NIDA: Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett.

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Booked 2018-05-16, $28.00. The Parade Theatre wasn't that full. Having learnt from previous years I got a seat three rows from the front, dead centre.

I saw this play back in 2000, in a production featuring Bob Ellis at the Bondi Pavilion, and have vague memories of it being an irascible beast. Since then I've been to enough Beckett to sort-of put up with the bits I don't get; Happy Days by Theatre Y being a particular highlight. Andrew Fraser's performance of Lucky's thinking was electrifyingly first-rate; he was similarly excellent last year in The Country Wife. Jack Richardson as Estragon and Laurence Boxhall (Vladimir) burnt time as well as anyone can with rotten feet and a memory erased by nightly bashing-disturbed sleep. Joshua Crane is a natural for the demented landed gent Pozzo. The set was basic and effective: a tree, an elevated road, a stump.

I wonder if Beckett's estate insists on a traditional production; the Chicagoans had a lot of fun futzing with Pinter, and a similar approach to this work might lead to wonderful things: imagine a couple of blokes working the stop/go somewhere in an Australian city, a cockie and his chauffeur in a smashed-up Audi, all waiting for the light rail to be completed. Secular salvation: it almost writes itself.

Incredibles 2

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Opening night at The Ritz, 8:30pm, $10, cinema 4. Packed with people who were born around about the time the first one got released; the MLC "life unchanging" advertisement offered them nothing (yet) and they talked the whole time. I had a quick dinner at Tum's Thai beforehand after staying a bit too late at work.

Bao was the opening short. The crowd laughed all the way through, including at the parts that seem intended to be poignant. Oops. The feature continued the 1960s retro nostalgic aesthetic, when people were just plain awesome(ly good or evil) and America was incontestably great. This was helped along by generous thievery from Bond. I enjoyed it for what it is, which is something less than the first one. The best bits featured baby Jack-Jack and involved no speaking and little politics.

Manohla Dargis. Sam Adams. Anthony Lane.

The Hudsucker Proxy

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A sometimes-fun piece of Coen brothers fluff. Paul Newman in fine growling form; Jennifer Jason Leigh almost gets there with her His Girl Friday schtick, accent sometimes wobbling; and Tim Robbins has it the toughest as a bumpkin. Second time around.

Mystic River

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An Eastwood jag from Unforgiven. Second time around.

Unforgiven

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Second time around. Vincent Canby reminded me that Eastwood has made a truckload of movies that I've never seen.

25th Hour

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A Spike Lee classic, rated lower than I would have expected on IMDB. Third or fourth time around. A Brian Cox, Anna Paquin jag from X-Men.

Richard Flanagan: First Person.

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Waiting for the painter to complete his work on Tuesday, I happened upon a dead tree volume of this in the Randwick City Library. An alternative would have been Flanagan's much-feted The Long Road to the Deep North, which Dave made some equivocal noises about last year.

This is the story of a Tasmanian writer charged with ghosting a memoir of a generic 1980s sort-of-Australian shyster. Those were legion at the time and still are, having learnt to live large so privately that even the current Royal Commission won't damage their sleep. As such it is in an entirely recognizable Australian genre (see, for instance, several of Patrick White's novels — Flanagan sometimes echoes Voss — or perhaps Wake in Fright). There's a lot of hand wringing about the state of things, whinging about the soullessness of Port Melbourne in the early 1990s and sundry else; mostly it amounts to little more than a Chewbacca defence of a hack writer. Annoyingly Flanagan keeps saying that words cannot capture Heidl's venality, which strikes me as the thoroughgoing failure of this book: we never get a clear sense of how Heidl has possessed the writer, beyond a dog-returns-to-vomit reflex and a crippled morality. Domesticity mostly comes in broad brushstrokes: Suzy is little more than a clumsy, heavily gravid object, Bo has a favourite bedtime story and no more. Jez Dempster is how Flanagan views his competitors: writers who can self-Heidl.

Flanagan often writes extremely well in the small, particularly when riffing on cliches and quotations, and describing the overly familiar. One vivid chapter gives us a strong sense of being bored, fearless and male in 1970s/1980s Hobart, another the birth of his twins: both are anomalous in never being retrod, and I found the iterative-deepening structure to be even more annoying than the current fad for the multi-track. The story was exhausted not just at the two-thirds mark, when the Chekhovian gun necessarily went off, but every twenty to thirty pages along the way. A decent edit could have reduced the book by at least a third and yielded a better product, and maybe something artful.

The courage with which David Ireland set about showing us how ugly things have gotten (note also Ireland's previous efforts that recorded how ugly things were at the time of their writing) seems lacking here. The recent revival of the recent bullshit jobs meme, and the dystopias of Kafka et al ask more of a new novel than we get. I'm still curious about Flanagan's Booker winner — having been dubious that it will measure up to David Malouf's The Great World — but will, for now, try to find something else.

Olen Steinhauer and all other reviewers observe that this is Flanagan fictionalizing his own story (see, e.g., Wikipedia on John Friedrich). Andrew Motion. Peter Kenneally reminds me that society has substantially given up on identifying cons of the Heidl kind: Theranos embodied the "fake it 'til you make it" startup culture, and he's dead right also that Flanagan demonstrates little interest in the truth or how we might apprehend it; the abyss may have stopped staring back for all we know. Geordie Williamson riffs on the artless co-option of bullshit jobs as a corollary of neoliberalism. Roslyn Jolly argues that we've seen it all before, more or less, in Heart of Darkness and thereabouts. Eoin McNamee. And so on.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

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Same as always. Last seen quite a while back.

X-Men, X-Men 2, X-Men: The Last Stand

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Last seen an age ago, but I mostly remembered how they went. It's been a while since they've progressed the semi-rebooted "first class" storyline.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

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Last seen an age ago; something of a jag from Deadpool 2. It's entirely vacuous and somewhat fun, and still makes so little sense.

Pajtim Statovci: My Cat Yugoslavia.

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Kindle. A young migrant Finnish author's tale of migration and not fitting in. He canvasses Albanian/Islamic marriage customs in a way that somewhat echoes Salman Rushdie (blood on the sheets and so forth). I didn't really get into it, beyond appreciating his portrait of Emine; I probably missed the allusions he was reaching for with the snakes and the cats. It is mercifully short.

Téa Obreht. Sukhdev Sandhu.

Rachel Kushner: Telex from Cuba.

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Kindle. The first of Kushner's novels, and the last for me to read. Consists of stories around the end of days in Cuba for the Americans of the United Fruit Company (now called Chiquita, I learnt here): Prio exits, Batista has his moment, then the Castros do their thing. In between we get too many characters, much like Tim Winton's Cloud Street; she even has a Fish-like character in the form of morally-unformed Duffy, and all are similarly somewhat caricatured, some being miniature grotesques. The whole thing smells the same as what played out in Saigon (16 years apart) or Once Upon a Time in America, and almost always goes as you expect. Women are empowered by saying no to men; many observations are similarly trite, particularly early on. I wasn't particularly gripped. Perhaps the best parts ended up in the novella The Strange Case of Rachel K.

Susann Cokal seems surprised that the natives are as racist as the American neo-colonialists.

The Man Who Would Be King

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Second time around with Sean Connery, Michael Caine and Christopher Plummer as Kipling. The woman who undoes the King is Shakira Caine, Caine's wife. The gorgeous scenery is in Morocco and Utah, and the French Alps. I'm surprised to find that Kafiristan was a real place. A great story well told.

Intolerable Cruelty

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Second time around with a silly and fun Coen brothers flick.

Rachel Kushner: The Flamethrowers.

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Kindle. Kushner's second novel, again heavily researched: set in 1976, she hops amongst the art world of New York City, industrial relations in Italy, rubber harvesting by Indian slaves in wartime Amazonia, land speed records on the salt flats of Utah, and a Reno childhood. What links these are a girl who rides motorcycles and her paramour, a scion of the Italian company (Moto Valera, presumably standing in for Ducati; or more likely Moto Guzzi) that makes them.

As always, she writes well, and I ploughed through this in only a few sittings. As with her other novels, there are gestures at notions of freedom; for instance, whether it is OK for society to prevent a couple from some unnecessary partial amputation for amorous activities, and other undergraduate ethical conundrums; all this while pitching the benefits of access. There are echoes of Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff and Radical chic, and she inserts cultural criticism just like Jarett Kobek (cf his most-recent The Future Won't Be Long), but less bitingly. I don't like the multi-track storylines too much. Nam Le got an acknowledgement which only made me miss him more.

Dwight Garner observes that the ending is too diffuse. Cristina García. James Woods: he seems to have it backwards about who did the sexual gifting.

Hobson's Choice (1954)

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A David Lean jag. Charles Laughton is quite amusing as the dipsomaniac patriarch and owner of a bootmaking shop up Manchester way, ballpark 1880s. Brenda de Banzie is the brainy daughter who makes it all work out in the end. John Mills is a not-very-credible simpleton master craftsman. A very young Prunella Scales (Mrs Fawlty) plays another daughter. Black and White. Fun for what it is.

Rachel Kushner: The Mars Room.

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Kindle. A story of a woman from San Francisco ending up in the penn and how that worked out for her, circa 2001. Like Francine Prose, a zinger every ten or twenty pages can't add enough zest to the well-canvassed American underbelly for it to reach, for instance, Paul Beatty levels of insight or power. Still, the writing is good, the descriptions occasionally arresting, sometimes evocative, and Kushner kept open the possibility of going somewhere right up to the end. The chapters on the protagonist's stalker were too much, too late, and entirely dispensable. Country music for the subversive win.

Dwight Garner points to myriad antecedents. It's unclear the stalker is a sicko; deperately lonely and screwed up, sure, but he doesn't really do anything so very bad. Garner is right about Doc: more noir please. Charles McGrath is not quite right about the protagonist capturing that corner of the world: she speaks almost entirely without argot. There's plenty out there more deeply connecting the political currents of today with the violent resentment of the Unabomber and ‎Timothy McVeigh; oh right, those interstitial bouts of violence are drawn from the former's diary. Madeleine Schwartz.

Doctor Zhivago

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What to do on a cool evening but chug through a David Lean classic for the second time.

No Country for Old Men

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A Josh Brolin jag. Always good to see Woody Harrelson and Kelly Macdonald, and Tommy Lee Jones in the lead. Did Javier Bardem ever reach these heights again? Echoes of Apocalypse Now. Still #159 in the IMDB top-250, at least until the next Marvel event.

Karl Sigmund: Exact Thinking in Demented Times.

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Kindle. I found this via a review by Ernest Davis after enjoying his take on Valiant's PAC learning book. It certainly sounds promising: an accessible account of the Vienna Circle, though what we really get is a potted history studded with capsule biographies of some players, with words expended roughly commensurate with the size of the personality. Coming to it completely cold, a reader would learn about such standards as Wittgenstein's poker and Gödel's construction of a model of Einstein's field equations that allows time travel. Conversely there's not much explanation of the philosophy itself; for instance, why did the Circle rail so hard against metaphysics, and of precisely what kind? Did Rudolf Carnap's agenda have any lasting impact? Was the Circle's agenda killed by Karl Popper as legend has it, and if so, precisely how? Did anyone build on Moritz Schlick's ideas?

Sigmud has a fine German sense of humour, of which Wittgenstein is often the butt (apropos glossing over Austrian history circa World War I and II: It was a fine example of that old Viennese proverb, "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."). One comes away with the impression that he would bracket the great philosopher with the other obscurantists that he freely derides (... in university libraries, whole shelves are filled with erudite tomes explaining Wittgenstein’s thoughts — a task as thankless as that of explaining jokes); Heidegger, for instance, cops a dismissive pasting. Sigmund summarised a question of abiding interest to me:

Later, Ludwig Wittgenstein summed matters up as follows: "Gödel’s theorem forces us to view mathematics from a new perspective." (Most scholars agree, however, that neither Wittgenstein nor Russell ever really understood Gödel’s ideas.)

Stuart Shanker's article in the book he edited (Gödel's Theorem in Focus (1988) with a contribution from Kleene amongst others) begs to differ, and apparently Putnam weighed in a decade later. (I came away from Shanker's article negligibly enlightenend.) Sigmund observes that Wittgenstein must also have encountered Turing, whose analysis of computation is far less open to misinterpretation. Martin Davis wrote an article on why Gödel did not proceed to do what Turing did. I'd also be interested to understand what Wittgenstein thought of Brouwer's intuitionism. Sigmund is not wrong about the old coffee houses being closed.

This book has been extensively reviewed.

Salomé

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Al Pacino directs a stagey, campy filmed production of Oscar Wilde's play, compulsively. It has its moments. Jessica Chastain plays the title character in her first role on film. Roxanne Hart is imperious as her mother the queen, who has similar marital arrangements as in Hamlet. The dialogue is arch and over invested in affect.

Glenn Kenny on this and the companion doco Wilde Salomé just this month, though both films date from half a decade ago. Digging into the archives, Sheryl Lee played Salomé back in Pacino's first attempt in 1992, and Marissa Tomei in 2003.

Deadpool 2

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$10, The Ritz, 9:30pm, cinema 5, opening night. Loads of millenials who got all the pop-cultural references I missed. Some funny bits, especially the mid-credits timeline cleanup. The action was an almost complete waste of time, and the references to other movies doubled down on the lameness. The plot is basically a mild variant of Terminator 2. Chances are the coming Solo flick will be better.

A. O. Scott.

Secret House: Troilus and Cressida by Shakespeare, at The Depot Theatre.

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A grim, grey, rainy day in Sydney, and not at all warm. Dave was down from Coffs for the weekend. We met up at midday for bún chả (pork rissoles and pork belly in a thin soup, vermicelli rice noodles, lettuce and herbs) at the very popular "VN Street Foods" on Illawarra Road in Marrickville. Tasty! — though their cat ate a good part of mine. After a coffee at the Post Office Cafe, we headed over to The Depot Theatre, near the The Bower. The 2pm matinee cost $64.60 for two, booked Friday May 11. This show has a very brief season.

The cast greeted us on the edge of their minimalist set: sand, and some concrete fixtures surplus to a building site, in something of an echo of the Greek epics I saw in Chicago. It was challenging to figure out what was going on: more framing might have helped, and perhaps longer pauses between scenes, to let us take a breath. Some of the actors were excellent, especially the bit players; but as I didn't get a program I don't know who they were. The drama is strangely unresolved: sure, Hector gets killed but the thing between Troilus and Cressida just evaporates. I guess the themes of lechery and war are topical. Quite long at two hours, with an interval of ten minutes, which was too short to find a coffee.

Jason Blake.

Office Space

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It's been too long but I remembered almost all of it. Hilarious. I see writer/director Mike Judge is responsible for Silicon Valley amongst other things.

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Mid-morning snorkel off the scuba ramp at Gordons Bay ahead of the much-flagged cold snap arriving on Friday. Visibility was significantly worse than last time. I saw a couple of medium to large female gropers, one shading to blue. Pleasant in, not too bad out; sunny, some beaut clouds. Four McLarens turned up in the Clovelly carpark just as I was leaving.

Belvoir Downstairs, 25A: The Readers by Scott Smart.

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The ride down to the world near Cleveland and Elizabeth from the Hilton on the Harbour involved some hefty peak hour traffic. I had a same-old and entirely satisfying chicken kebab with rice for dinner at Din Din. $25 for a ticket from the box office on the night, maybe 40 percent capacity in the dear old Belvoir downstairs.

This workplace comedy is a new piece that canvasses the precariat and how rough the meter readers of Sydney have it. The humour is gentle, the key low, the stakes similarly low, but all done with intent that just might be the beginnings of a style. John McNeill plays the old hand to playwright Scott Smart's newbie; Anni Finsterer (last seen in The Nether) is so idle at the office she's often out chasing her captive men in the field. The premise is leavened with some age-old working place tropes, such as being well-read and having lethal comebacks ready to go. The minimalist set was very effectively used, especially once it became an underground space with a light on a hellishly too-short timer. I enjoyed it on its own terms.

I discovered it via a review by Jason Blake; see also an interview with Smart.

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Lunch on the northern Coogee headland and a soak at the northern end of the beach. Beaut day, quite warm and sunny, little cloud, no wind, flat and perhaps mid to high tide. A sparse crowd on the sand.

Breath

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The Ritz, $10, 9:20pm session, Theatre 3, four rows from the front. Maybe ten people total on this opening weekend. Had dinner at Arthur's for the first time in an age.

This is Simon Baker's passion project: an adaptation of Tim Winton's novel from about ten years ago, set in the 1970s. While it was good to see Rachel Blake (still happily married to Tony Martin?!?) and Richard Roxburgh play a low-key, almost characterless but supportive married couple, the young blokes had to do all the heavy lifting, which was sometimes asking a bit much. Elizabeth Debicki is little more than a passive aggressive flirt. Baker himself is a generic surfing cypher. Apparently Winton did the voiceover. Some of the cinematography is gorgeous (the sea, the towns of Albany and Denmark, ...), and I enjoyed it, but was there anything we hadn't seen before?

The local press were out in force, and as boosterish of the provincial produce as ever. John McDonald is not a fan of Tim Winton, and wishes there were fewer coming-of-age Australian movies. Paul Byrnes. Luke Buckmaster. Jason Di Rosso carefully separates Winton's work from Baker's. David Stratton. The long list of funding agencies reflects the film's troubled history.

Much later: Manohla Dargis.

The Man from Earth

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Still fun on a second viewing.

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Mid-afternoon snorkel off the scuba ramp at Gordons Bay; in many ways a carbon copy of yesterday. The return of summer is scheduled to finish tomorrow. Visibility seemed a bit worse. Saw a large female groper, a smaller one, loads of small fry, heaps of ludderick, some large wrasse, no stingrays, no squid.

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Late afternoon snorkel at Gordons Bay off the scuba ramp on a beautiful warm autumn day. Visibility was pretty good, and the water was still and quite temperate. The tide was out. Saw the usuals: some large wrasse with substantial entourages, some medium to large groper but not the big blue boy, and finally a small school of squid. No stingrays however.

Francis Spufford: True Stories & other essays.

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Kindle. A collection of shorter works. I've enjoyed much of his recent output, but found myself skipping entire pieces here. There are some interesting offcuts from his earlier books: I mostly skimmed the polar exploration stuff, but deeply enjoyed the section on Red Plenty, and to a lesser extent, Unapologetic where we again get further defences of the defence. Boffins summarises the state of British ingenuity, sad only in being incapable of thriving in a time of plenty, and is superior to his book-length treatment Backroom Boys. There's probably some rich cultural anthropology to be mined there, in the "great man of history" mold. Spufford's generous review You could read forever of Robert Irwin's The Arabian Nights: A Companion was probably the pick for me.

Phillip Lopate reviewed it for the New York Times.

Avengers: Infinity War

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1:10pm session, The Ritz, $8 'cause Tuesday, beaut day, six rows from the front, hardly anyone there. They're still running heaps of sessions, despite school being back.

The whole thing is a general bummer. Roughly this is what happens when an individual superdude becomes too powerful; played straight, without the plot holes, it would have been even more dire. There is too much credulity and incredulity; Josh Brolin (huge and purple, solid) was doing well on that front until he got to one of the boss levels (which didn't even have a proper boss!) where he bows to ancient, noseless mythology (and where was Hugo?). There are some funny touches, far funnier than the stagy Guardians scenes, such as when Robert Downey Jr knights the latest Spiderman actor, and Thor retaining his taste for Kiwi humour. The hordes are about as interesting as the orcs in Lord of the Rings. And really, who wants to see Wakanda laid waste?

Somehow rated #9 on the IMDB top-250, biggest opening in history, but I don't think it's a classic; it's too much like the first Matrix sequel. I can only imagine a revitalised Wolverine taking the next one anywhere worthwhile.

A. O. Scott, and he had another go about the ending. Sam Adams. Stephanie Zacharek, and I agree that Tom Hiddleston and Zoe Saldana were (relatively) great.

Full Metal Jacket

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Sunday afternoon, 4:30pm at The Ritz Cinema 1, downstairs, $10, a 35mm print as part of their Stanley Kubrick revival. Perhaps at 5-10% capacity. Last seen about five years ago. Slipping down the IMDB top-250 (now #95). Also timely: R. Lee Ermey recently passed. They played the soundtrack while we were waiting, but not the famous outro pairing of the Mickey Mouse Club and the Rolling Stones's Paint it Black. The pre-show was hopelessly retro, with "coming attractions" being the shorts for Paths of Glory, Spartacus, Taxi Driver and The Shining.

This movie is entirely unforgettable, and mostly does not pay rewatching. It remains almost beyond belief that they could recreate wartime Huế and its Imperial City on a studio lot in England, and the old Beckton Gas Works on the edge of London.

Kubrick owes something, and also pays some homage, to Apocalypse Now, most notably with a passing shot of the iconic tropical sun. We also get a mouthy colonel (whose lines I confuse with Robert Duvall's) and a film maker on the edge of the action. I just discoved that Vivian Kubrick made a making-of documentary, echoing Hearts of Darkness.

Vincent Canby reviewed it for the New York Times.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits

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An Aardman Animations effort from 2012, a jag from Early Man. It's more misfires than misfits. Clearly someone has realised this and tried to overstuff humour into the details. (For instance, one of the ship's rules is that pigs are not to be used as cannon balls.) We get a not-very-respectful play on Charles Darwin and Queen Victoria, amongst other historical personages, which seems a bit weird. The plot is entirely cookie cutter; like a Pixar flick but totally soulless. The monkey is a poor substitute for a claymation Gromit. The voice cast is a vast collection of British actors.

Manohla Dargis.

Francine Prose: Bigfoot Dreams.

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Kindle. By far the worst thing I've read by her yet; perhaps Mister Monkey really was her high point. This novel is lost in the dangerous subways of 1980s Brooklyn and Manhattan. There are too many references that almost no one will get any more; I guess that will also be the fate of much of the current overly-familiar east coast literary output, in contrast to the timeless conjuring of the exotic by Salman Rushdie and Thomas Hardy. Excessive referentialism is no more than excess ego, and this feels too autobiographical, too dug from an odds-and-sods sock drawer. An awesome sentence every five or more pages can't save it.

Susan Allen Toth reviewed it for the New York Times back in 1986.

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Late afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay off the beach after a too-frustrating day. Some swell, a bit filthy, but very pleasant in. Thick clouds. It started raining after a bit, and of course I'd left my washing out.

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Beaut day. Ate my lunch on the northern headland at Coogee (the leftover half of Mum's sandwich from yesterday). Had a bob just past the breakers with all the kids at the beach, somewhat near the northern flag. The sun and wind don't dry me out any more, but at least it wasn't too cold out.

Isle of Dogs

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The Ritz, $8 on this tight arse Tuesday before Anzac Day, 9:50pm, not many people, four rows from the front of Cinema 3. The lastest Wes Anderson stop-motion, and sure enough the technique was totally fab. Conversely the story is a bit weak, barely rising above a generic quest decorated with risibly shallow and cliched dichotomies. (The cats of Megasaki play the same role they did in The Godfather; was it beyond imagining that four-legs-good might find reasons for alliance?) The pack got a bit tedious, perhaps because Anderson is at his best with characters who are unapologetically dependably awesome (cf Fantastic Mr Fox, which I saw recently and didn't write up, and the fabulous The Grand Budapest Hotel; here we get Spots and eventually one or two others). I found it a bit disturbing to see the Japanese being lectured on democracy by a very young American exchange student (Greta Gerwig), and were those mushroom clouds? About the only 1980s Japanophilic trope he doesn't pull in was Godzilla, but that may have been sitting up the back of the community hall.

Dana Stevens. Indeed, and what a montage. Manohla Dargis. Anthony Lane.

The Interview

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Another Hugo Weaving jag. This one dates from around the middle of what seemed at the time (1998) to be an endless golden era of Australian cinema. Tony Martin took time off from Wildside to play a slightly different cop. After a promising first half or so, things fall apart a little too tendentiously to be bothered with. I wonder if there's much of that kind of Australia left now; many people in Melbourne would kill (heh) for as much living space as Hugo had in his doss house.

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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.

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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.

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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 real-world 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. It strikes me that ID3 neatly spans information-theoretic and computational readings of learning processes.

Early Man

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$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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

Kick Ass 2

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

L.A. Confidential

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

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.

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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.

Kick Ass

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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?

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

Tim Winton: The Shepherd's Hut.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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."

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

A. O. Scott.

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.

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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)

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

Batman

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

/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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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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.

/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.

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

Looper

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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.

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.

/noise/theatre | Link

$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.

1984

/noise/movies | Link

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.

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.

/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.

/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

/noise/movies | Link

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

/noise/movies | Link

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

/noise/movies | Link

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.