peteg's blog

Kamila Shamsie: Home Fire.

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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 on the rise attempts to transcend his background by being tough on terror. Mostly it's more scenario than novel. At one point a character goes on a Lysistrata-esque sex strike; another trope that was big in 2016 (cf Chiraq).

Shamsie traverses a similar mix of cities as Mohsin Hamid did in Exit, West: London, Raqqa, Amherst, Karachi. Her women are strong, largely by being thrust into demanding situations and not by asserting themselves, 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.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

Feeling the need to see more trees than people for a while, I rode the still-nameless CB400 down to Cronulla and took the 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.


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

/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 Frenchmans 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.

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.

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 to the advertising industry with his fantastic and timeless sloganeering.

The Wild Geese

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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).

/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.

/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.


/noise/movies | Link

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

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

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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.

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.

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/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.

/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.


/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

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

Iron Man

/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.