peteg's blog

Beat the Devil

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More John Huston. A strange setup involving a lot of talking about acquiring uranium-rich land in Africa. Bogart is, as always, an improbable, pragmatic and entirely equal-opportunity babe magnet. Oscar-winner Jennifer Jones is one of those babes, constantly telling inventive lies. She's married to uptight/upright Edward Underdown, who Bogey's supposed wife Gina Lollobrigida conveniently wants to trade up to. He's unconvinced. The land was somehow going to be appropriated for cheap by four scoundrels led by Robert Morley. World War II Major Ivor Barnard spouts off about the superiority of the great fascists. It's a mess, and a bit fun. Written by Truman Capote.

Roger Ebert. Thirza Wakefield.

New Australian Stories 2 (2010) edited by Aviva Tuffield.

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Another almost total bust. I skipped at least half after two-to-three pages, and mostly regretted not skipping the others. Tuffield states in her introduction that this collection is intended to put new writers in front of readers.

Killer's Kiss

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Scratching for something to watch. Early Kubrick, last seen quite a while ago. None of the actors were big or went on to be.

Kaili Blues

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Over several nights. Did not live up to its intriguing reviews. Some beautiful cinematography exhibits provincial, small-town China where nothing much happens. There are a few distended motorcycle/car scenes that do little to further anything. Soporific but possibly meditative for those in the mood.

J. Hoberman. Ken Jaworowski is right, the final scene is ace.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Mid-afternoon wade at Coogee. The storms promised by the BOM were very slow to arrive. Quite a few people there but hardly packed. Seemed a bit cold going in but pleasant. The aircraft noise seems back to its old levels now.

Fat City

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Mining John Huston's directorial efforts. Stacy Keach in his prime, and a young Jeff Bridges. Susan Tyrell plays a wanton barfly. Briefly, a professional boxer a year and a half unfit introduces a young man to the sport, and shows he still has it while the youngster doesn't yet. Bridges accepts all blows uncomplainingly. The trainer's heart is not entirely in his salesmanship. Small-town Stockton is filmed like Altman would have. The farming scenes set in the San Joaquin Valley were an American staple. Relax and enjoy.

Roger Ebert.

NIDA: Directors' and Designers' Productions 2018.

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Booked 2018-11-24: $32.00 + 5.95 Service and Handling Fee = $37.95 for three of the six (?) showing. All in the Studio Theatre, notionally every hour from 7pm, but it took longer to adjust the sets than they allowed, so this opening night ended up dragging out well past 10pm. Every session was packed. In between I took a quick look at the costumery in the foyer, and the miniature set mockups where the cafe used to be. Loads of people; a big end of year scene.

First up was Molière's Le Mariage forcé ("the forced marriage"): well-executed commedia dell'arte. The set was fantastic and used to great effect by a tight cast. The usual stuff: a bloke (Tom Matthews) wants to get married until he doesn't. The bride (Charlotte Grimmer) says she expects tolerance and trust from her husband as she really wants to run off with her girlfriend. The father- and brother-in-law insist. A philosopher and a priest provide no help.

I was keen to see Hedda, based on Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, as the Norwegian has previously been a very reliable source of raw material. Well, this production bowdlerised that play to the point of vacuity; gone were the elliptic approaches and repeated motifs that repay close attention. I got nothing from this.

Finally, Big Blue Sky, based on Peter Garrett's autobio and a smattering of Midnight Oil hits. The last time I met such unabashed Oils fans was in 1996. The cast enjoyed themselves right from the opening frame: pub trivia about Garrett's bio, a game of backyard cricket, later a meat raffle drawn by Julia Gillard (represented by her hair for the most part). Most took turns to sing and perform Garrett's signature dance moves to a decent backing band made up of a keyboard/guitarist and drummer, and some of the cast playing bass and guitar. The only slightly bum note in this story of onwards and upwards was his self-righteous approval of a uranium mine as environment minister back in 2009. The minor use of video (to make an ad for his 2004 Kingsford Smith election campaign) was effective. They worked up a sweat in the audience too.

The Best Australian Stories 2010 edited by Cate Kennedy.

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Kindle. Mostly a bust. I skipped anything that didn't grab me in two or three pages. The hits:

  • Gillian Essex's One of the Girls has lots to say in one big run on sentence: mothers at their daughters' gig, mining the generation gap, supporting each other as they all age, learning to accept what comes. Tight. She doesn't seem to have much of an internet presence.
  • Nam Le takes up the most space with The Yarra: a Romper Stomper-ish account of young brotherhood, a tad flat but executed with his customary technical excellence.
  • Joanne Riccioni: Can’t Take the Country Out of the Boy. A well constructed two-track with the thick Australian country patois and near horizons; the brittle prison of farm life.

The reviews are provincial and boosterish.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Lunch on the Coogee headland then a snorkel off the southern rocks at Gordons Bay. Cool, cloudy but still the rain forecast by the BOM has yet to happen. Some people hanging around but few to none in the water. Cleanish in some spots. Five or six stingrays, a large female groper, a couple of large wrasse, loads of small fry.

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Early evening paddle at Gordons Bay. Almost no-one around due to the rain clouds that blew over from late morning; no more than a drop so far though. Flat with the tide running out. Seemed a bit cold getting in. Clean. Tried to read some more short stories on the Coogee headland. Had the last of the leftover curry.

The Other Side of the Wind

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A new Orson Welles, sorta. John Huston in the lead as some kind of Hemingway-esque dinosaur. A film satirising the making of a 1960s-era art film: nudity (Oja Kodar mostly), impressionism, crassness, plotlessness. Some very Wellesian bellowing. Apparently filmed from 1970 to 1976, then hacked a bit by Welles until his passing in 1985, then finished by others over the past 30 years. Can't say I got into it.

Manohla Dargis. Glenn Kenny.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Early-evening paddle at Gordons Bay. I'd left it a bit late: the sun was waning, the wind was up, the clouds coming over. Flat and low tide. Pleasant in, seemed clean. Very few people there. Dried out on the Coogee headland and ate my leftovers. Read a bit more of this Australian short story collection from 2010, which is mostly failing to grip.

Macao

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Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell meet cute again, this time in black-and-white Macao. The plot is a simplification of His Kind of Woman: the local casino operator of American criminal heritage simply wants Mitchum gone, thinking him to be a cop. He and Russell make plans to spend their lives managing a plantation on a tropical island of much paradise. The three-mile limit apparently provides immutable protection from the international (read Western) forces of the law. Gloria Grahame helps out when she can. Flat. Straight up exploitation. Lots of set work by the looks of it. Russell doesn't seem to get into it at all.

Bodied

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Battle rap! On the strength of a warm review by Jeannette Catsoulis. It's something of a guilty pleasure: a portrayal of the spaces where that intense reptilian need (some feel) to insult the living bejesus out of the bloke (almost always) opposite can be indulged in relative but possibly fallacious safety. Nothing is sacred any more — feel free to climb over the bodies of your mates! — until, of course, it is. There are some sharp jabs at cultural appropriation, the general irrelevancy of the academic humanities (at least those of liberal Berkeley), intolerance of intolerance, misogyny/chivalry, gangstas, cluelessness, the L.A. scene; and yet it plays a lot safer than Bamboozled. Director Joseph Kahn is Korean and has done a bazillion music videos, so perhaps the parallel is Fincher's Fight Club. His other features are poorly rated at IMDB. The cinematography and effects are pretty good, evoking an unreal AR vibe, like tourists will soon experience everywhere. I missed loads of refs for either generational or trans-Pacific reasons, or maybe I do need the closed captions. Financed by YouTube, Eminem produced; I'm pretty sure I've seen 8 Mile (Kim Bassinger played his mum) but it's not on the log.

Jake Cole. Matt Zoller Seitz. André Hereford.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Early-evening paddle at Gordons Bay. Still warm and beautiful out, but few people there. Almost entirely flat. Seemed clean. Dried out on the Coogee headland afterwards.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Late afternoon soak at Coogee. I spotted a huge blue bottle on the shoreline. Again there were some larger waves. Quite a few people about but not packed by any means. Windy, sand flying about. Very pleasant in.

His Kind of Woman

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A Jane Russell jag from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Robert Mitchum joins her in slumming it in black-and-white with rich Americans in a secluded, inaccessible enclave in Mexico. Vincent Price has a ton of fun as a ham actor who wants to get divorced. The plot doesn't try to make too much sense — a mafioso has some unsound plans for Mitchum involving plastic surgery, boats, and the USA. Sorta amusing for what it is.

Tidbinbilla is not so cold in December.

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I set off for Canberra around 10:30am. The BP at Campbelltown ate some time. Lunch around 1pm at a rest stop in the ACT. I got to the NGA via Fyshwick, overshooting the turnoff due to a lack of signage (surprise). Blue Poles is still there, as is loads of explicit photography. Coffee at their cafe. Cartoons at Old Parliament House; the Museum of Australian Democracy in decline, Backbenchers Cafe no more. Sat in the NLA for a bit finishing off Peter Carey. Peak hour traffic to the Asian Noodle House on Northbourne. Their laksa is based on a thick (yellow?) curry. Tasty. Essen was closed. Gelato for dessert. BP in Braddon wanted $$$$ more for fuel than the Shell on Alison Road, Randwick. There is loads of motorcycle parking everywhere.

Woods Reserve.

I got to Woods Reserve Recreation Area around 8:15pm, perhaps 30 minutes before last light. One roo on the road, two at the grounds. All hopped off quickly. A couple was cooking at the facilties near the entry. I hurriedly pitched my tent on a non-flat bit of hardened dirt; a beginner's mistake due to the age since I last used it. Loads of hangable trees, but given my previous experiences I figured it'd be too cold. Well, I got a worse sleep than any I had in the hammock. It's been many years since I was at this campground: it's no longer bookable and the amenities block is unlocked. (I remembered afterward that I had a plan to hang somewhere out of the way, closer to the city.) I woke with the dawn chorus at 5:30am-ish to a cool but not cold morning, with low cloud that burned off by midday. The shower is hot and remains on a three-minutes-on, two-minutes-off duty cycle. The ride up to ANU through the heavy morning traffic was easy.

Peter Carey: A Long Way From Home.

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Kindle. Peter Carey's latest novel, and his first Australia-focussed one in how long? The alternating male/female first person narrators tell us a story about Bacchus Marsh, Holden versus Ford, parenting, Aboriginality and the Redex Reliablity Trials of the early 1950s; topics (mostly) beyond the pale of John Howard's nostalgia for that era. The somewhat tiring setup introduces the supposed novelty of a female driver, and just like in Kushner's novel, she's actually really good. Cue the eyerolls, and more when the father in law turns out to be an overbearing white man who can’t deal with her and his son’s relative success. Quiz champ protagonist and apparent ladies' magnet Wilhelm Bachhuber is given a German gloss that allows him to take on aspects of Voss and his tormentors, for instance by being at a suitable remove from the horrors of the real, internal Australia. Carey wants Aboriginal culture to have innovated since 1788, but his "new Law" is apocalyptic, millennial, unimaginative: a new Noah’s ark and holocaust for those very same reasons found in the Bible. Similarly the proposal that you can go home again, or at least rework your earlier stuff (Until the End of the World etc.) in the museum of your mind is sterile. I like to think his juxtaposition of Banjo Paterson and Jack Brabham, Orange boys as I understand it (sorta?), was a wink to those of us brought up in small towns.

Reviews are legion, of course. Craig Taylor wants more. Ron Charles bemoans the beginnings of what to him becomes a worthy narrative. Andrew Dickson. Natalie Quinlivan wades into the mucky politics of cultural appropriation. Goodreads has the unvarnished truth.

Sydney Theatre Company: A Cheery Soul by Patrick White.

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A beaut sunny day. I met up with Pawel for a mid-afternoon coffee at Cabrito and had another at the Studio Cafe at the Sydney Opera House closer to time, after reading a bit more Peter Carey in the Botanic Gardens. For some reason there were loads of dolled-up young ladies out with their oldies (mums and grandmums), gloriously, indifferently blocking the pedestrian flows. My bag got checked twice on my way to seat C13 in the Drama Theatre. That spot is B grade ($75 + $7.50 booking fee = $82.50, booked 2018-11-22) but OK if you're tall; the stage was slightly above my eye level, and I could see its floor if I stretched. Packed.

The draw was to see a Patrick White play I hadn't seen before. Briefly we get a woman of "militant virtue," Miss Docker, who outlives her landlady then outstays her welcome with a middle-aged couple only to end up in an old-people's home. The opening scene is one of 1950s realism, similar in this way to The Ham Funeral; the intricate rotating set has a period stove, and the housewife recounts the dishes from my 1980s childhood: lemon delicious, macaroni cheese. After that things get surreal and internalised, and possibly shocking in its day; now it seems dismal and dated. Humour flees at some point, and it is clearly difficult to keep this uneven piece moving along. The focus on the mores of the Anglican Church is very stale: there are plenty more things to do on Sundays now than endure an inarticulate pastor. Ultimately it degenerates to a series of skits with little discernible message for us. I found the witchy chorus tiresome, and Miss Docker mostly a pile of tics. This urban horrorshow is not very deep but probably easy for many to feel pity for or superiority to. It has a modernity like the Opera House: externally promising but internally inferior, ruefully signalling what once could have been.

On the redeeming side of the ledger, I did enjoy director Kip Williams's use of live video, which was more effective than the last thing I saw by him: some classic noir shots and effective compositions. Nikki Shiels, last seen in They Divided The Sky, was effective in all her roles, but had it better in that two hander. Bruce Spence stopped up many but not all of the gaps. The cross dressing sometimes worked.

I grabbed a quick Maccas after.

Jason Blake. Julian Meyrick on the play itself. Steve Dow spends more time on history than this production. John Shand was glued to his chair. Diana Simmonds. Kevin Jackson digs into Williams's preference for style over substance.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Early evening wade at Coogee, just for a change or a hope of dodging the seaweed clogging up Gordons Bay; success was at best partial. Loads of people, many leaving. Brain bustingly hot earlier, with a strong southerly blowing for most of the day, sand flying everywhere. A cool change blew through while I was there. The water was mostly placid with the occasional large-for-Coogee wave that I remember from my childhood. I didn't last too long as I'd lost the willingness to have salt water pushed up my nose: it’s been a while. Afterwards I read a bit more Peter Carey on the headland.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

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A Marilyn Monroe jag from Some Like It Hot. Also Howard Hawks's direction. She's about the same here: a dumb blonde who is only dumb because men prefer her that way. The title is strange as I preferred Jane Russell (the brunette sass, a Hawks staple), and in any case the ladies from Little Rock apparently prefer diamonds anyway. Russell's bio at IMDB suggests she was ill-used by Hawks careerwise, and not much of a thinker. It's a musical, an extended advertisement for becoming a showgirl, going gold digging on ocean liners, spending your last dollar in Paris and not ever being afraid to stereotype. The best part was the self-knowing court scene where Russell gets all breathy in her parody of Monroe and all that.

David Free: Get Poor Slow.

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Kindle. David Free writes ridiculously high-brow reviews for The Australian, for instance this one about Peter Garrett's autobio, which some NIDA students have recently turned into theatre. This book appears to be his attempt to imitate Peter Corris by retooling his wordsmithing from reputable yet penurious criticism to that grand Australian moneymaker, crime. Is that trick still working for those who started in 2017? From his sickbed Clive James provided a cover blurb that identifies the genre as psycho thriller, and throws around accusations of excellence.

It's funny with a strong intro and high culture referentiality that comes for the ride. The humour is mostly of the predictable, oxymoronic kind: comfortable and effective. I'm guessing the implausible storyline is a fantasy recreation of the author's own biography: a bloke living in the Blue Mountains reviews books in return for (sub-)subsistence income having failed to get his novel published. He occasionally ventures into the city to what I pictured was the old News Ltd. offices in Surry Hills. A woman on the make uses her sexuality for personal gain in that old fashioned way and winds up dead; something similar for a TV interviewer. There are love bites that draw blood, freely given and received. Some graphic murders. A police inquiry, more in sorrow than in anger, that leads to a do-it-yourself investigation because they won't. A dutiful sexy scene. A final brawl following a less terminal one. An outro that is not much of anything after a few too many iterations without deepening. All of this is made possible by alcohol and pills: pain killers for nerve damage suffered literally as a kid and figuratively in the present.

Thematically Free bangs on about the culturelessness of Sydney, the death of the Australian book and newspaper industries, the emotional shallowness and fragility of Australian men, that sort of thing. He gestures at every loose literary reference he can think of; for instance T. S. Elliot's classic "distracted from distraction by distraction", an apposite observation of the new manners, of making people wait while you play inessentially with your phone. Never be lonely again, except with others. I probably read in a critique of any or all Australian writers, with Ern Malley representing some kind of excellence (in fraud if not art) contrary to the use Peter Carey made of him. Disappointingly Free reaches for the Goldberg variations and not the cock rock he writes so fondly about; it's a kick in the teeth to all those Australian males who are totally prepared (without having undertaken any specific preparation) to engage in extreme existential violence.

B. C. Lewis on the local boy done good. GoodreadsRake? Sure, why not. Man Genius of OZ Lit. has given him the review he deserves.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Early-evening paddle at Gordons Bay. High tide, and vast piles of seaweed on the beach; had to climb over the boat storage area to reach the southern rocks. One dog barking its head off somewhere. A labrador with a family around where I usually get in. Pleasant in the dying sun. Not much swell. Seemed clean. Dried off on the Coogee headland afterwards. Read a bit more Peter Carey. What I think was a brown falcon spent some time nearby.

The Thing

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The highest-rated John Carpenter effort according to IMDB (8.1! #172 in the top-250). Again Kurt Russell leads. Morricone did the music: an unrecognisably low key drone. Notably no women. The Chess Wizard is an Apple ][. Classic Carpenter gross-out models. Essentially Alien but in Antarctica. Much of the strategy is unclear. I didn't really see the problem with "the thing" taking over everyone if it produces perfect copies of characters this cardboard. Apparently a remake of Howard Hawks's The Thing from Another World.

Vincent Canby. Roger Ebert.

Big Trouble in Little China

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There's a John Carpenter revival at Palace Cinemas sometime soon that prompted me to take a look at this comedically silly TV staple. Dennis Dun as Wang Chi has to shoulder the bulk of the straight man work; in contrast Kurt Russell mostly lets his muscles, mullet and one liners do his job. Essentially kung fu exploitation is alloyed with some bullshit Chinese black magic supernaturalistic mythos — come on guys, why 2000 years? why San Francisco? — to yield a situation that only a ghost man/foreign devil can resolve. Kim Cattrall blows hot and cold, gets a bit breathy, just as the script demands; Suzee Pai is far more passive. It's a bit fun.

Walter Goodman. Roger Ebert.

Bamboozled

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A Spike Lee joint, on David S's recommendation, over a couple of nights. Easy to summarise: a minstrel show for the new millennium seems like a good idea to some TV people, and stuff happens; the plot is mostly scaffolding. Not so easy to assess. Some of it is genuinely funny — the fake ads for instance, and some of the skits — while other bits hammer points already made. Shot on digital video for the most part. I was bemused.

Stephen Holding.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Early-afternoon soak at Coogee after lunch with Lev at Sydney Uni. Quite a few people there. Pleasant in, almost no swell. The storm clouds were brewing.

Peter Carey: The Chemistry of Tears.

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Kindle. This book does involve a lot of crying, blubbing, sobbing, torrential downpours and their every cognate. It's a bit apocalyptic, like his movie Until the End of the World, and is set in England and Germany, which is to say that he doesn't spend too much time in Australia. Horology, the sex lives of conservators at stuffy museums, Deepwater Horizon, life in the Black Forest in the mid-19th century, varieties of theft, imitations of life, consumption of alcohol, medicated mental illness, that sort of thing. I got the impression that Carey does not have much mechanical sympathy. His presentation of Wittgenstein's rule-following paradox is befuddling: amusing it really isn't; You cannot see what you can see is obscure enough to originate from the same master. Cruikshank is transparently Babbage. Structurally we have an English woman recounting the framing story in first-person circa 2010, and an Englishman talking about commissioning a mechanical duck from the German master (cuckoo) clockworkers but getting a swan (I think). Overall I struggled to get a sense of what he was trying to achieve.

Andrew Miller. There are heaps of other reviews, none of which really spoke to me.

Sweet Smell of Success

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A Tony Curtis jag from Some Like It Hot. Here he leads as a publicity hound but was given second billing to Burt Lancaster the society columnist. Notionally a noir but really a moralising talkfest about peddling influence in black-and-white never-sleeping NYC. Things get too sanctimonious too often and it doesn't fit together at times. Piles of dated slang. Something for the period junkies?

Some Like It Hot

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At the prompting of Michael Wood. A Billy Wilder black-and-white draggy slapstick/farce/situational/rom com/screwball thing. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon join an all-girl band on tour to Florida, fronted by self-aware dumb-blonde gold-digger Marilyn Monroe, for reasons of Chicago mob violence. "Hot" is apparently jazz-speak for "improvised." It has a few moments I guess. #117 in the IMDB top-250.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

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Six short-ish Western pieces from the Coen brothers. The eponymous first is a Clint Eastwood-meets-O Brother, Where Art Thou? sorta thing. James Franco robs a bank in Near Algodones. Meal Ticket has Liam Neeson trying to make a crust as an impresario; I expected the chicken to deliver his comeuppance, somehow, even in the form of a twist, but instead the mike is dropped. Tom Waits prospects, empathises with an owl, all vaguely amusingly, in All Gold Canyon. The longest and best The Gal Who Got Rattled is about a caravan of migrants to Oregon. The final The Mortal Remains is a character study in a coach going somewhere. None are as punchy or topical as their best work; indeed most are at best bemusingly banal.

Anthony Lane. A. O. Scott. Dana Stevens.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Snorkel attempt off the scuba ramp at Gordons Bay after lunch with Johannes and Magnus. Very windy and it seemed chilly on the way in, but not so bad after a while. Visibility was OK. Didn't see much.

The Lego Movie

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Second time around, in two sittings and just as funny. The sequel is apparently out early next year. Also The Magic Portal (IMDB) — an Australian (Curtin Uni?) LEGO stopmation from 1989.

Widows

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Opening day. 4pm, The Ritz, $10, cinema 5, five rows from the front (counting the three rows they just ripped out). Maybe six people and me. Presumably the first of what is the now-customary late burst of Oscar contenders.

I went in cold: it's a new Steve McQueen movie and that's enough, or should be. Colour me surprised to find a women-driven heist movie (I guess his second after 12 Years a Slave) co-written with Ms Gone Girl Gillian Flynn, sourced from the book by Lynda La Plante; the obvious interpolant is The Town.

Storywise it's Chicago in summer, hard currency is still a thing and the politics is as rotten as ever. Early events lead to the titular ladies doing what their men cannot, with some justice but more sadness. The plot has the expected twistiness but this is more a study in different lives. There are a couple of decent monologues, specifically Rev (Jon Michael Hill) Wheeler's speech on mediocrity that would have been just at home in Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman. The ending is slightly too clean. I came away thinking that the Green Line doesn't cut the city up quite so interestingly as the Red Line.

The cast is stellar, though Fassbender is missing. Viola Davis leads. Jacki Weaver plays Elizabeth Debicki's mum (the latter last seen in Breath in similar states of undress). Colin Farrell allows himself a small smile as father Robert Duvall goes completely over the top in one of their chats. Liam Neeson's character is something of a direct import from Batman. The Manning brothers were somehow very familiar; Daniel Kaluuya has an unforgettable face and killer death stare. Lukas Haas. Cynthia Erivo continues to rise. And so forth. The Hans Zimmer soundtrack is mostly serviceable, until the heist itself when it gets boringly intense. McQueen gets his usual excellence from cinematographer Sean Bobbitt with an excess of great framing and closeups. For all that, was there a point?

A. O. Scott. Anthony Lane. Both observe that Chicago is not used well. Sandra Hall. Benjamin Lee. Jason Di Rosso — sure, but some of it was really good! Dana Stevens.

Rebecca

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Over two nights. A highly-rated (#173 in the IMDB top-250) Hitchcock that's been on my list for ages, presumably due to Laurence Olivier. Joan Fontaine does well as the American ingenue struggling to navigate the upper-class England that he is so natural in. It's something of a psycho thriller with somewhat predictable twists by today's standards; perhaps it made the mould. They just throw their cigarettes anywhere! — and wonder why it all goes up in smoke.

/travels/2018-11-NorthCoast | Link

Woke up at 6am-ish. I slept OK once I removed the Therm-a-rest: it's too fat and inflexible for the hammock to work its magic. Live and learn. There were loads of mozzies and flies. Light rain: a few spots overnight then heavier around 7am as I was packing up. The walk out was painless. The CB400 was on its side though; that sand was just too soft. It wasn't too hard to pick it up and the only real damage was to the USB power thing that didn't fit together anymore. (It only took some mild renovation to repair in the end.) The ride back to Bulahdelah was a lot easier: does rain tame the gravel, or did I care less? A trio of Harley riders was having breakfast at the BP there.

Humid. Soaked. Filthy. I stopped in at Morisset for a coffee. Retirees. Talk, endless talk: lots of lonely people? Library to burn a little time, with the idea of getting to Woy Woy for a fish-and-chips lunch at the wharf. Well, I took Woy Woy Rd (a beginner's mistake I now know) only to find the shop was closed for renovation! (Three days, Monday to Wednesday.) At a loss I went to the nearby pub and endured a room full of hard surfaces with kids screaming at each other, and oldies. Their $12 lunch special fried seafood was serviceable. After all that I manned up and rode straight home down the motorway.

Summary

The trip was worthwhile. Did all up about 2350km. Less swimming than I hoped to do. Could have carried less clothing. Unlike Betts the CB400 was not uncomfortable at high speeds for long periods, at least once I got used to the wind. Fuel efficiency was poor, maybe 5L/100km or worse; the backpack and the panniers presented a lot of drag, as did I. It didn't break down in any way. No substantial damage to the bike (was that the gladwrap?); just a few minor scratches due to the rock locksters and my carelessness. The luggage arrangement mostly worked. Didn't use the safety or wet-weather gear. Lost some weight; I guess I was cutting into my safety margin. The weather forecasts for the Northern Rivers region are generally poor. Spent 9 nights in the hammock. Guts held up just fine apart from maybe that trip to Maccas.

/travels/2018-11-NorthCoast | Link

I didn't sleep too well. I blame that on a poor hammock pitch: too high in general and in particular one end. The overall height matters because the angle of the tie outs on the sides matters. Live and learn. This meant I got an early start on the long road back to Sydney. The Telstra 3G was on the blink the whole day. At least there was reliable wifi at the Hat Head Holiday Park. A beaut day.

I headed back towards Kempsey and took the Loftus Road down to Crescent Head, where I got a so-so flat white at Green Room Cafe & Fruit, opposite the country club; yes, there is a golf course on the headland. I had in mind to take the Point Plumber Road down to the ferry to Port Macquarie only to find that it turned to gravel maybe 10km from town. (It's the track to a load of beaches and campgrounds.) A stop-and-go bloke with a massive (Costa/Peter Russell Clarke) beard at the start of the section they were grading laughed and suggested I try the Maria River Road. Sealed? Sure. But it was the same: 10km then gravel. A driver coming the other way told me I had about 15km of gravel left, so I gave up and took Google's advice to go all the way back to Kempsey. None of the gravel is signposted ahead of time or noted on Google Maps, though I guess I should have respected its refusal to route me via those roads despite my best efforts to convince it. Hmm. Ultimately I would have got there faster if I'd just eaten the dust of that coastal track. All the locals were driving Landcruisers. I spotted the odd troopie.

Had lunch with Dave in Port Macquarie. We aimed for "localvores" LVs but their service was too slow so we ended up at Carlos & Co Cafe. Later the well-travelled owner (she had lived in Stanthorpe and elsewhere) was adamant she'd never live in the country again after I told her of my Macksville experiences. It's a beautiful spot, though as I found on the Pacific and Ocean Drives to Kew it's a bit of a sprawling monster these days. Those roads are a little pretty but there's not much to see; I'm probably spoilt by this point.

Hanging near the Hocking and Dees Trail in Myall Lakes.

Back on the motorway I choked on the four-ish hour trip back to Sydney and figured Myall Lakes might make for an easy stopover; specifically Joes Cove Campground seemed like a nice walk to close out the day with. I got out at Bulahdelah and found a sign that said the ferry at Bombah Point was closed, so I called up the NPWS. The lady told me it was indeed closed for works but they were done for the day and it might be running again. She suggested she check but I thought I'd risk it. Well, after 15km or so of gravel I found that the ferry was indeed closed for three days (Tuesday to Thursday) but you won't read about that on the relevant NPWS webpages. Well, maybe with some digging. I wasn't going to pay a lot to stay at the NRMA Holiday Park, certainly wasn't going to ride back along that road today, so decided to camp in the nearest secluded spot, which turned out to be the Hocking and Dees Trail.

I incautiously parked the CB400 behind a Forester on some soft sand, covered it, and with my pack and a light dinner proceeded down the trail towards the lake. There was a large gecko near the gate that ran up the first tree when I showed up. It took a while to find a site as things got a bit boggy in some places, and with the coming rain I wasn't sure how bad it was going to get. It got windy enough for me to check very carefully for dead wood in the nearby trees. It's a pretty spot but I was too buggered to figure out how to get into the water without getting super muddy, my feet cut up or boots soaked.

Anyway, all up I did maybe 50km on gravel today for very little return. NPWS, WTF? Now I have 15km of gravel road to face tomorrow, rather than a nice trip along the coastline.

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Had a slow start. Took a (hot!) shower at the The Pub with no Beer (Taylors Arm) and waited for some stuff to dry after some overnight showers. I headed back through Macksville to South West Rocks, more-or-less by accident. Along the way I encountered a bunch of blokes out touring on some larger motorcycles. The town itself is the usual fishing/tourist/holiday scene of this region. Coffee at Tasty Treats @ Back Beach ($$$). Ate my leftover pizza for lunch under cloudy but dry skies. Walked across the footbridge to the northern side: a mangrove swamp, sand dunes, some decent trees but a bit sparse. Flies. The local Shell doesn't take Coles dockets. Coles for food. On to the Trial Bay Gaol, which is a pretty spot with some tame kangaroos. The NPWS wanted 31 bucks and up for camping, and told me I couldn't hang anything off their trees. Smokey Cape light house, beaut view. The sky cleared up for a beaut afternoon with a light cool sea breeze. Some blokes were 4WDing on the beach to the south.

Continuing down the coast I headed to Hat Head with half a thought of camping somewhere. I ended up at Hat Head Holiday Park by happy accident: Kim was very accomodating about the hammock thing. (The only drawbacks of the one I picked — Site 224 — are that it's right next to the bowling club, which leaves its lights on all night, and it's a bit far from a functional amenities block.) I got in pretty late, with only enough time for a brief paddle, dinner, pitching; I was in bed by 8.20pm. No mozzies until dark. The mynahs there are as irritating as seagulls in Sydney. The 3G and local wifi is strong. I should perhaps go check the NPWS sites nearby.

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Had an early-evening paddle at Connors Beach, Hat Head. The lady at the holiday park billed it as a "wading beach" — I'd say it was about the same as Coogee on a mild day with a similar shore (neck) break. It's at the end of Korogoro Creek. Very clean. Warm in. I dried out on the sand afterwards. There were just a few people about but not many in. I can imagine it gets crowded in summer.

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Rain overnight, clearing. The roof didn't leak which was fortunate as I hadn't bothered with the fly. Breakfast was the usual, and I climbed back into the hammock to wait out the continuing rain. Some people came and went to the beach, some with curious dogs, some to surf, but none commented. It's a beautiful spot. Eventually I packed up and got moving around 11:30am. Repacking the bike in the wet without a table nearby took some doing.

Again at Christina's suggestion I headed to The Beach House Providore in Valla for a coffee and lunch (a Thai salad with bacon and eggs). The waitresses there were very accommodating: they sorted me out with electricity and wifi at a large table. I met Allan Turner — ex Leeton-ish, land and water conservation, now at Sawtell. He used to ride motorcycles but gave that up, and now has a black trike and will go touring with his wife. He tells me Nambucca and Valla are not yet discovered by the peoples fleeing Sydney.

I set off to do my laundry at Bowraville along the Old Coast Road. The pub at Bowraville was open, as was the IGA. The locals were helpful: I got my tokens from the pub. There is a lengthy and nasty wooden-floored bridge on the way in on the northern side (on Rodeo Drive). The pub was open, as was the IGA; otherwise pretty much deserted. The locals sorted me out with some tokens for the machines, into which I put the clothes I was wearing too. A lady turned up with three kids in a huge Landcruiser; she told me she had a washer onboard but the water was too hard at the farm she’s staying at. I wonder how she does the drying. I popped over to the pub for a coffee (good; the bloke made it with cold milk for me) and caught a bit of the second half of the Wallabies v Italy game on their TV. There is strong Telstra 4G there.

Camping opposite the pub with no beer.

The plan was to camp at The Pub with no Beer (Taylors Arm). I headed there via Macksville, which Dave has said many dire things about; perhaps that it still has a Mitre 10 is observation enough. There's a wooden bridge on the southern side that leads to Taylors Arm Road. I felt I'd gotten lost (despite following the helpful signage) as one ends up on Boat Harbour Road, presumably because Taylors Arm Road goes to narrow twisty gravel. I was fortunate that the rain didn't start until I got to the pub, where I caught the tail end of Little Ripper Band's last set for the day: Wonderwall, Khe San, loudly. The lead bloke told a story about learning the latter's keyboard riff from Don Walker; apparently he played in a band that supported Cold Chisel in the early 1980s. I waited out the rain with the aggressively hospitable locals before setting up. Only Telstra 3G to be had.

Returning to the pub I got a Murrays Dark Knight Porter (the only dark-ish beer on tap apart from Tooheys Old) and got hit up by the locals once again. It's farmland everywhere; historically it was more diverse than the present beef cattle and two remaining dairies. The stories got more provincial. One bloke remarked that we need to live seasonally once again, faulting city people for expecting to eat whatever whenever. I got a tasty Supreme pizza for dinner — the only thing going on Sunday nights. Two girls who were van camping came over to the pub to find out the deal. They quickly returned to their vehicle.

After everyone left around 8pm, I got to chat with the present owner/lease holder. He has a sales background and a clear business plan: it's been 19 months so far of hard work. He told me it wasn't so difficult to deal with the locals if you’re not a local and you’re running the social hub. Nambucca is apparently full of drugs and crime. Avoid? Well... the middle of it at least. Macksville is a lot cleaner now, but he'd still prefer to be further away from the problems of town.

I was in bed by 8.30pm. The rain around 4am woke me up. The forecast for this region is totally wrong.

Peter Carey: My Life as a Fake.

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Kindle. Picked up when the philosophical bio of David Lewis got too dry, or at least too hard to think about while I'm travelling like this.

This novel felt like an assembly of spare parts from the classics. It's a bit Coleridge (an albatross), Joseph Conrad (a failure to kill or accommodate Kurtz), an Australian literary scandal from the 1940s (Ern Malley), and much else I'm sure. The outer frames are expressed in the female first-person, who is recounting her long-ago experiences in semi-colonial Malaysia being subjected to a long and twisty yarn about a poet, or poets, that takes us in further retrospect to Melbourne, Sydney and Indonesia. The multi-layered stories don't fully cohere, and while Carey's technique is impressive, the shifting pronouns at frame transitions are a bit tricky to parse at times. I don't think there's any poetry in there really.

Terrence Rafferty, back in the day. Of course, this is Frankenstein. And so forth. He also reminded me that I've recently seen this change of meaning without changing a word: Borges's take on it was canvased at length by Errol Morris. Peter Craven. Blake Morrison.

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I slept pretty well. Breakfast was the usual Weetbix and UHT milk; I dunno if the AirBnB thing included breakfast, despite their name. Cloudy, and threatening rain, perhaps all day. Christina was about so we had a chat about her setup. She told me about learning to ride on a Honda Super Four (an earlier incarnation of my CB400) back in Canberra, which was for reasons unknown replaced by a BMW R100 that was too big for her to lift.

Shane's VW out front of the Ocean View Hotel in Urunga.

At some point Shane got vertical and said he was going cruising in his car, so I invited myself along, leaving my stuff at Christina's on a no-responsibility basis. We headed down to Nambucca via the old Pacific Highway, now called Giinagay Way, aiming for Tasty Tucka on Bowra St, which does a fish-and-chips for $6.50. They don't know anything about salads. We ate that down at the beach, where a wedding party (blue at one gazebo, red at another) was just getting started. Beer and wine in abundance despite the signs. After that we aimed for a coffee shop in Urunga known to Shane, which was closed (on a Saturday afternoon!), so we ended up at the Ocean View Hotel. Service was slow, and the coffee so-so. Great spot though. Somewhat scouting for a spot for me to spend the night, we popped down to Hungry Head, which is promising — there's pretty much only a surf lifesaving club down near the beach. The forests are beautiful here. Finally we popped into Valla and found the picnic ground that Christina had suggested. The signage is ambiguous at North Valla Beach — the 4WD says camping is prohibited on the beach, and another makes the nearby national park useless for my purposes, but there is nothing about that area itself. The picnic tables are perhaps 200m from the carpark, and reasonably distant from the houses. Conveniently there's a shower near the carpark with what proved to be potable water.

Hanging in a picnic shelter.

Shane took me back to Christina's, and I headed back to Nambucca to get some dinner (a marked-down "Asian" salad to go with some cooked (!) noodles and random snacks). On the way in a lady with a dog wished me luck camping there tonight, and around 5:30pm six young blokes (maybe mid teens) turned up with similar ideas to me. They set up ("Shouldn't have got the $12 tent from KMart") under another picnic shelter (one without a table) in a peaceable but shouty way. Later they moved on, probably down to the beach, where they would have copped it when the storm showed up. I got the feeling that the locals were well-used to the idea of camping here, whatever the regulations are. There were loads of black cockatoos and a few kookaburras.

The picnic shelter was just a bit too short on the diagonal and I was scraping the table until I tightend the hammock beyond what I thought was wise; conversely the range of tie-off points let me put it in wide boat mode. The proper rain only started after the sun set; not too serious but a lot cooler. Surprisingly the beach had Telstra 4G, whereas Christina's only had 3G.

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The forecast of impending storms and hail and the rest made me doubt I could burn enough time in the region until Kate was back in Brisbane next Tuesday. Also Dave was heading up that way, so we agreed to meet up somewhere along the track. For these reasons I packed up at The Channon after another cold shower, and while waiting for the fly to dry out after last night's rain I got chatting with a lady who stayed last night with her husband in a camper truck across from me.

The roadworks made for a slow and boring ride down the Pacific Highway to MacLean, where I met up with Dave. Given the forecast of storms etc., he suggested I try to find an AirBnB place near Nambucca, which took some setting up; after that it was easy to book Christina's Guunuwa, at least tentatively. I did all that after a big lunch (bacon, eggs, beans, mushrooms, bread, ...) at the Coffeeart cafe (same as going up). The owner-couple were very chatty: the Vietnamese chef is from Huế, and told me she couldn't get unground Vietnamese coffee shipped to MacLean. Her husband is a robust Aussie bloke who spent thirteen years in various parts of the country.

Christina's place: Guunuwa.

The ride down to Nambucca-ish was windy but mercifully quick. I fuelled up at the BP south of Coffs Harbour along with loads of local boat owners. Arriving around 5pm, I introduced myself to the dog (who is always aggressively friendly but only barks at people he hasn't met) and only got to exchange a few words with Christina as she was heading off to Bellingen for a "five rhythms" dance class (until 8:30pm-ish). The house is a bit amazing: it's the old nurses' quarters from the Bellingen hospital, and there is so much stuff. Notionally it's a macadamia farm. There are all sorts of plants here, and chooks.

Very soon after I arrived I met Shane and Mick. Shane has been living here in a tent for a few months, working on his car (a classic red VW Karmann Ghia convertible) and other odd jobs around the place. Mick was gardening, and lives in Nambucca. Shane generously cooked us both dinner — bacon, fresh eggs, beans, i.e., the same as lunch — and provided a couple of Asahi cans to wash it down. The dog insisted I throw his ball around until I got wise and threw it where he couldn't find it. One of the long haired cats caught a rat. I crashed at 9pm and got to sleep by 10.30ish.

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Again I got moving around 9am after breakfast and a cold shower — easy once in, but moving water is harder to endure than still. The ride to Bangalow via Dunoon, Corndale and Bangalow Road is pleasant, as is the coffee at Our Corner Kitchen. I'm pretty sure I've been there before, back when the Pacific Highway ran through the town. I continued along Bangalow Road to Byron Bay; it also runs south to Ballina in the form of Broken Head Road.

Byron Bay is a horrorshow. It starts with the heavy traffic, and continues with the parking: I was lucky to find a two hour spot at their library, where I could charge up the laptop and catch up with the internet. A massive troopie parked next to me. It was hot and humid and packed with (foreign) tourists: Byron is no more than a brand now. The fun continued with finding some food — I got a pork-and-fennel sausage roll, a salad and a coffee at Sunday Sustainable Bakery. Afterwards I had a pleasant, almost idyllic twenty minute soak at Byron Beach, then sat on the grass behind the dunes and read more book while drying out. Three blokes touring on BMW R1200s were having lunch somewhere there.

I headed back to Lismore along the Lismore/Bangalow Road. Looking to burn a bit of time before dinner, I took a look at the sprawling Southern Cross University campus there. It was pretty dead — perhaps the students are already done for the year? — and seems to have no serious computer science. The library has a very squeaky floor. Had a caramel milkshake while scanning the internet some more. Heading back into town, I had in mind to have find some Indian food, ultimately settling on a thali at Little Delhi. The curries where small, watery and somewhat tasty. There was a farmers' produce market on Magellan St that afternoon, and many oblivious locals swarming about.

Back at the The Channon Village Campground, I was in bed by 8pm. It was raining by 10pm, but not seriously. The hammock's fly worked fine. I didn't bother covering the bike. The cool breeze was very welcome. A koala in a nearby tree got really vocal.

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Byron Beach, after lunch. Not too busy in the water, but quite a few people on the sand, near the livesaving tent. Medium-sized waves, perhaps surfable somewhere further along. Mild on-shore wind. I lasted maybe twenty minutes.

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Got up at 8am after a pretty good sleep; the Therm-a-rest made all the difference. This was after being woken up at 6am by Carl heading off to work, and the dawn chorus. The shower turned out to be bearable. Breakfast was the same-old. I left the hammock up as I had in mind to stay a few days.

Around 9am I headed off to Nimbin in a dutiful sort of way along 15km of windy narrow road. It got a bit horrorshow at some points — quite a few blind corners, no posted speed limit, concealed driveways and so forth. Fortunately I didn't encounter anyone really in a hurry. Had a coffee at Dutch & Co. Their wifi works fine. Dave told me that about 50 people have been arrested for dealing in Nimbin recently, which might explain why I only got hit up twice on my brief wander around the town. It seemed about the same as when I was last there about fourteen years ago. Later Hugh set me straight: the museum burnt down a few years back, taking with it just two other shops, which was unexpected as the whole main drag are wooden buildings. The hemp advocacy seems more anachronistic than ever. I ran into Carl, and on his suggestion had lunch at the the bakery opposite (presently for sale), then back to Dutch & Co. for another coffee.

Downstream from Whian Whian Falls.

I headed back to the campground to collect my swimming gear, aiming for Whian Whian Falls near Dunoon. Along the way I saw Carl just as he described the day before: sitting on the side of the road with the digger unloaded, waiting for the blokes who make the big bucks to decide what to do. The falls are on Rocky Creek, which runs south of The Channon; Terania Creek runs to the north. It's a beautiful spot. Several kids in several groups came and went while I was there. Pleasant in, and seemingly clean. It has a no-dogs policy that works just like the one at Gordons Bay.

Around 4pm I headed up to Rocky Creek Dam for a walk along their "Cedar" route, which includes the spillway. The regeneration of the rainforest is pretty amazing. Afterwards I had dinner again at The Channon Tavern: a not-great fisherman’s basket, which I now know means fried battered seafood. After a day of slow riding on the narrow winding roads, I crashed early at The Channon Village Campground again, and tried to read some more Peter Carey.

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I was hot going to sleep but got a bit cold early in the morning; these hammocks really do need insulation, even with temperatures in the high Celsius teens. It's still hard to find the right posture. It probably helps to be exhausted. The dawn chorus woke me up. Breakfast was once again Weetbix with UHT milk and a carrot. Packing up was easy (snakeskins and just stuff everything into the pack). I schlepped back to the carpark in maybe 90 minutes. The CB400 was still there and looked unmolested.

I rode to Ballina directly through loads of roadworks. Had a Byron Bay Coffee Company coffee at Burntwood Cafe and Pizza, Woodburn, on the Richmond River. Ballina has 2P motorcycle parking on its main drag (River Road), where I had lunch: a pie and sausage roll at a bakery, after which I caught up on the internet at the town library. I had in mind to go for a snorkel at Shaws Bay but ended up settling for a soak as the water didn't seem especially clean. The locals were blasé about that, and chatty.

The Channon Campground, and Carl's earth moving equipment.

The road to Lismore was chokkas by mid-afternoon. It reminded me a bit of Việt Nam: a big sprawl along what once may have been a highway between distinct settlements. I had another coffee at Rainbow Wholefoods (earnest but not great; they charge for water?!?) on the way to the turn to The Channon (and also Nimbin). That road is not so bad. I got lost in the village itself because I wasn't aiming for the right thing: The Channon Village Campground is at one end, and the Tavern at the other.

This is a beautiful spot. The campground is the front drive of a small beef cattle farm that is ringed by two creeks and the main road. An unpowered site is $10 a night. Owner Hugh has a hammock and was keen to chat, kindly helping me find a suitable pair of trees. (His son in law is an arborist and hangs hammocks high.) I later met his wife Nan; together they have done a lot of work on rainforests, some of it recorded by their Terania Rainforest Publishing. After setting up I had a chat with Queensland Kiwi Carl who owner-operates an excavator on contract. He's got a sweet setup (sleeping in his cabin, carrying loads of comforting things, being on the clock whatever the local disorganization) but it takes him away from his family for long periods. He pointed out a koala in a nearby tree: it seemed a long way out on a fairly thin branch. The shower was too cold for him to use. There are no picnic tables but plenty of things to sit on. The water is apparently from town and proved safe to drink. I had a decent steak for dinner at the Tavern, and passed out around 10pm after reading some more of my book.

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On the Blue Point Ferry.

Dave had a 4am curtain call for a film some acquaintances were shooting (on 35mm of all things). When I got up he'd been and was waiting for the next one. I packed everything on the CB400, which took a while, and rode up to Grafton. Lunch at the Grafton Hotel (the wagyu beef, salad, chips lunch special; there are loads of pubs here), then wandered around town a little bit. I took the scenic road along the river to Lawrence (with a side trip along a kilometre or two of the road to Everlasting Swamp National Park), crossed the Clarence River on the Blue Point Ferry, and proceeded to Yamba. It's a beautiful ride. The bloke who runs the Coffeeart cafe in MacLean with his Vietnamese partner told me the river is unswimmable due to bull sharks.

A water dragon at the Blue Pool, Angourie.

I was hoping to have a soak at Yamba. The lady at the info centre there didn't know anything about snorkelling, and the nearby beach was a bit open and rough. The Blue Pool(s) at Angourie is quite a pretty spot, but the signs warn of sharks (!) and algal infestations, so I didn't get in. I headed to the Mara Creek Road and left the CB400, covered, for the night in the NPWS carpark, then walked the approximately 5km directly south with my lightly-loaded backpack to the Shelley Head Campground in the Yuraygir National Park. The track is basically a highway along what I'm told is the longest unspoilt coastline in NSW with some very moderate inclines and loads of roos hanging around. Two blokes were going for a fish after work, off the rocks just south of the beach near the carpark.

Shelley Head Campground.

The campsite is relatively huge, and probably because it's walk-in only, I was the only one there. I pitched the hammock wider and deeper than I have been, right near the northern entry point next to a picnic table. Dinner was some instant noodles softened with some cold water (worked fine), a carrot and two tins of flavoured sugared tuna. There were loads of bright stars later on, after the moon set, but I didn't really get a sense of the Milky Way.

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Another lazy day in Coffs Harbour. Went shopping with Dave over on the north side. Officeworks there was closed due to a fire. I stocked up on groceries with the intent of getting moving tomorrow. Lunch at Park Beach (a decent pie and sausage roll from Gibbo's Famous Pie van). Later a trip to Jetty Beach. Dinner was at The Spare Room Sawtell which was hosting a jazz band. After we rounded out all three seasons of Rick and Morty.

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I rode from Dave's place in Coffs Harbour down to Jetty Beach for a soak. A few people were about, not too many in the water, which was far more approachable than a week ago. Afterwards I dried out on the sand and tried to read a bit more about David Lewis.

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Lazy day in Coffs Harbour. Lunch at the Fishermen's Coop: some not-great flathead tails, a small salad, too many chips. Coffee at Element bar. Some trip planning. Pad Thai for dinner at Thai Tales in Sawtell. Dave had a DJ engagement at a dance night at the Mexican restuarant there. I went for a walk along the main drag, through the street party, then rode back to Coffs Harbour to watch a few more Rick and Mortys.

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Slow start. Malcolm Turnbull on Q&A. Lunch at Ootoya sushi on the shopping strip on Coffs Harbour with Dave. Their seaweed salad is OK. Rode up to Bellingen for a look see. The road down to Gleniffer and Promised Land is a bit narrow and eventually unsealed, so I wimped out on doing the loop road. Coffee in Bellingen, wandered around, back to Coffs Harbour. Dave and I went for a long walk along Jetty Beach and out to Mutton Bird Island (cf The Season), then Maccas for a late dinner.

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Lazy day in Coffs Harbour. Walked down to the Coffs Creek, through the mangroves. Lunch at Supply with Dave, later Esther joined for a coffee. Read book. No rain, just some thick clouds. Dinner at home, a few Rick and Mortys later on.

Maniac

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All ten episodes of season one over two nights with Dave in Coffs Harbour. Emma Stone. Jonah Hill. Justin Theroux channels William Shatner. Gabriel Byrne. Sally Field. And many others. A mashup of retro themes: a drug trial, a depressed synthetic mentality, an odd couple, Lord of the Rings, The Sopranos, Total Recall, etc. etc. Things get weird, but not gripplingly David Lynchian weird, and don't really congeal. Compelling like a car crash?

Bohemian Rhapsody

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With Dave at the Sawtell cinema, 12.15, perhaps half full, $17.50 each. (Belonging to their movie club brings that down to $9.50 a ticket for $25 a year.) The cinema has a modern fit out.

Better than I expected. The cast are dead ringers. Produced by Taylor and May and therefore sometimes hagiographic: Deacon is a bit nobody, perhaps because he retired from the band in 1991. Was Taylor really the pants man? The first half is pretty funny. Freddie is into cats, and it is generously made clear that the title song was his thing. Some themes were underplayed, like the processes of songwriting. There's nothing here about the band's meeting David Bowie in Germany that resulted in Under Pressure, though we get half of it as background noise to some scenes. The last twenty minutes is a reconstruction of Queen's set at Geldof's Live Aid from 1985. Their post-1985 material is largely ignored; we get just a whiff of the Highlander soundtrack. Mostly directed by Bryan Singer until he flamed out.

A. O. Scott found it a pale imitation of the band he remembers. Jeffrey Bloomer. Ellen Stein's fact and fiction article makes the many departures from history seem pointless.

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Poor sleep: Coffs near the coast is on the flight path! Late start. Cleaners. Dave and I went to Sawtell to catch the midday session of Bohemian Rhapsody and some lunch at the same fish and chips shop as near the beach. Dave went to his tango class. I drove Bonnie over to Bunnings and by accident Coles during a heavy storm which didn't last too long. Afterwards pizza at Fiasco with Dave, Rob, Esther from Dave's tango class. Beaut day for the most part; so much for the BOM forecast.

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After a long (~ 400km) ride from Mount Sugarloaf to Coffs Harbour, I met up with Dave at his place and went for a soak down near the jetty. The other beach, on the other side of the harbour, is a lot rougher and pretty much a large dog exercise area. Cool getting in but fine once in, about the same as Sydney. Windy. We had dinner at a nearby fish-and-chips.

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Sleeping on Mt Sugarloaf was a bit tough: difficult to find the right position, and the mosquitoes were really noisy. Breakfast was Weetbix and UHT milk that I now know doesn't keep after opening. Tear down is heaps quicker than setup. Had a so-so pie in Nabiac for lunch. Thought about going to the National Motorcycle Museum but their $15 entry seemed too much.

I proceeded on the long ride up to Coffs due to threatening rain, stopping off every hour or so. Humid and hot. The buffeting winds settled down closer to Coffs and it wasn't too hard to get the CB400 up around 110km/h for some lengthy periods. Somewhere I got overtaken by a formation of Veterans MC riders on Harleys.

Met up with Dave at his place. He opened the dance place for some oldies, after which we went for a soak near the Coffs Jetty and had dinner at the nearby fish and chips, then seven episodes of the Maniac Netflix series until 2.30am.

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Loaded up.

Set off at 1.15pm after an extended period of packing. This involved gladwrapping the plastic parts of the CB400, at the rear around the seat, in the hope of preventing the panniers and straps from destroying them. I gingerly tried to find a place to carry the plastic 5L water jerry can; at capacity it was too heavy for the milk crate and sloshed around too much for comfort, so I half-filled it. I roughly split stuff up between the panniers, hoping to keep the wet-weather and safety gear handy. All the camping gear went into the backpack.

Got to Woy Woy fairly quickly, but went to the wrong fish and chips place, Barry's; I'll know to go to the wharf next time. Fueled up at the BP in north Gosford. Got a bit lost on my way to Mount Sugarloaf State Park, which is pretty much directly west of Newcastle. The JJJ antenna is there, and much rubber has been laid in the carpark near the toilets. Loads of picnic tables, some in strange places like right next to a big dustbowl/circlework/pseudo-carpark. The roads radiating from the mountain are not marked, just warnings that you might need a 4WD and experience to get places. I pushed the bike past a locked gate, down to a picnic table next to the lookout; not much of a view due to the haze and cloud. There was no one else around.

Mount Sugarloaf.

Dinner was just some snacks, a banana, some tinned tuna. Got a few spots of rain after setting up the hammock between a pair of ironbarks which may have been a bit too far apart. The fly worked fine: I attached it to the hammock supports, and the shock cords I added to the guylines did the job. Not very comfortable: maybe needed to push the tree huggers higher, and peg out the sides a bit further. There were loads of mozzies; a couple got in with me, millions did not, but I needed ear plugs to sleep as they just hung around all night. Too knackered/lazy to read much of my book. Later in the evening I could see the lights of the various small towns west of the mountain, and the high voltage lines.

I forgot to check my packing list. Even so I brought everything except some pegs, which might have been handy for drying clothes on the hammock lines.

T. Coraghessan Boyle: The Relive Box.

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Kindle. On the strength of Deb Olin Unferth's review. Well, her review is better than the source material. The titular story made me wish for Charles Yu's inventiveness (time travel via tenses); this one is more mechanistic, less playful, and small minded. Addiction, escapism: the modern world is fully horrible or at least thoroughly incapable of satisfying. The story on Argentine Ants was nothing special, and the one about the classic spam fraud/hoax somehow left out all novelty whatsover. Well written, sure.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Since the demise of Paris Seafood (sniffle) I've been trying to find another place for decent salads and fish. Today it was the turn of Ramsgate Beach Seafood, who do a moderately priced grilled fish, small greek salad, chips sorta thing. Afterwards I wandered down to Dolls Point Beach, stopping for a passable but nonfunctional coffee at Coffee in the Park (next to Le Beach Hut). Being so close to the Georges River, jetskis make the beach a little unpleasant and unsafe (see here, here, and then start googling). I got the impression that watercraft were supposed to out past a pylon, and most where, including a boat marked "maritime" that was going lightspeed northwards, but not the jetskis! Still cool getting in, but pleasant once that's done. No breakers of any kind; just the wakes of passing boats. The beach is a strange hard flat expanse that presumably gets mostly covered at high tide. Read a little more of my book while drying out.

The biggest turnoff about that part of Sydney is the traffic horrorshow that is The Grand Parade.

The Eye of the Storm

/noise/movies | Link

"They printed the reviews of your King Lear in the Sydney papers..." — mum Rampling to son Rush (real life version).

In two sittings. This is an adaptation of a Patrick White novel, and is almost entirely a bust. Perhaps it might work on the page, given White's facility with language and artifice, but definitely not on the screen.

The stars are Australian matriarch Charlotte Rampling, daughter Judy Davis (an insecure made Parisian princess), son Geoffrey Rush (a London thespian of some stripe). Robyn Nevin. Helen Morse. Colin Friels turns in an all-ocker effort as the 1972-will-to-power Whitlam/Hawke "Athol Shreve". Nurse Alexandra Schepisi (daughter of director Fred Schepisi) is a (naive?) cultureless social climber, who initially doesn’t like being called on it but realises after she is thwarted that she belongs with her familiar working-class milieu. Rush utters a "yum" in her direction; somehow the ladies slaver over him. Go figure. The plot boils down to the kids returning to Sydney with expectations of imminently receiving their inheritance from their diminishing but still domineering mother. I get the impression that Rampling falls off the throne in a similar manner to White's own mum. The concerns are his usual preoccupations: death, sex, social class, social mores. The obvious point of comparison (beyond King Lear) is Magnolia (this came after, White's novel before): Tom Cruise's "respect the cock" is a lot more powerful than twee observations about the word "penis", and so forth. The settings show a now-deceased old new-money Sydney that might just be zombie-shuffling to the races even now.

This was a bit of a dry run: Sydney Theatre Company is putting on A Cheery Soul soon and I wonder if it's worth going to. The synopsis sounds sketchy.

Manohla Dargis. Jim Schembri. Jake Wilson: the novel got boiled down to a soap opera.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Early evening snorkel off the scuba ramp at Gordons Bay. Decent visibility, but not really necessary as all the big fry (including the big blue groper) were close to the shore. Saw about five stingrays settling in for the night, and some massive wrasse. Windy, so drying off was no problem but hanging onto the hat was.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Late afternoon lazy paddle off the somewhat filthy beach at Gordons Bay. Before the clouds came over around 4:30pm I had thought to go for a snorkel off the scuba ramp. Very few people when I was there, and just the one dog that arrived as I was leaving. Beaut once in, but still cold on the way. Afterwards I saw a girl trying to set up her Hennessy Hammock on the Coogee headland; so brave — I'd chickened out on the very same spot as it's too public. Not great conditions for drying out but I tried anyway while reading my book and eating my leftovers.

Deb Olin Unferth: Wait Till You See Me Dance.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. A collection of shorts, many too short, barely more than an idea or scenario, picked up on the strength of her review of T. Coraghessan Boyle's The Relive Box. Some are fun, most are tied up with being a woman in a city, often a member of the precariat, sometimes an academic, maybe a family member. I most liked Bride, on not really getting over someone while they move right along, and Online, with doubt that there is much life beyond the screen these days undermining all attempts to kick computer addiction. Within these frames Unferth is assured and funny, and quite often empathetically painful. Brief. She's such a romantic.

Helen Phillips provides a synopsis of Voltaire Night and the other more-fully-conceived stories here.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Brief mid-afternoon soak at Little Bay. A few people there, quiet, peaceful. Beaut warm day. Light offshore wind. A bit cold getting in, but easy to stay in. Read some more of my book on the grass up the top afterwards.

The aircraft noise has increased in Randwick: the planes are flying lower and more often than usual.

A Brief History of Time

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An Errol Morris-constructed biopic of Stephen Hawking from around the time when Hawking's book of that title was selling millions of copies. It's a bit like dancing about architecture: a composite of humanising interviews with Hawking, his family and colleagues but not his ex-wife Jane, and some too-vague and overly-strong assertions about what physics might be. I thought it was settled that the universe was going to continue expanding, given "the expansion of the universe is accelerating...", but perhaps that's new since 1991. I wonder if all the recent dark matter/energy stuff plays much with Hawking's theories. I hadn't heard of "imaginary time" before this. Morris passes on the opportunity to go full 2001.

Morris reminisces earlier this year. Indeed, Hawking's mum is great. Timothy Ferris at the time.

Errol Morris: The Ashtray (or the man who denied reality).

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. The book-length version of a story Morris started telling back in 2011 about his relationship with his onetime supervisor, the incommensurable paradigm-shifting Kuhn, and the non-relative "truth". Moving past the colourful stories of the day, some fun interviews with Kripke, Putnam, Weinberg and others, some great quotes from Bertrand Russell, the text acts mostly as a sourcebook. Morris points at the following amongst many others:

Morris sometimes seems confused: he mostly wants to be able to refer to a truth that is out there in an absolutist, realist sense, but sometimes writes as if it were a mutable thing, somehow forgetting the roles of belief and epistemology. He makes Kuhn sound like a Supreme Court originalist.

Originally a pointer from Tim Maudlin, who rails as hard against Niels Bohr's Copenhagen interpretation as Morris does against Kuhn. Laura Miller and commentary at Hacker News. David Kordahl observes that Morris is often constructing the Kuhn he is dismantling. Philip Kitcher. These reviewers and the many others should thank Morris for allowing them to parade their esoteric knowledge at mainstream venues.

Peterloo

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The latest Mike Leigh. Part of the British Film Festival now playing at Palace Cinemas; specifically the dear old Verona, 12:30pm, $17.50 + $1.30 booking fee = $18.80, booked 2018-10-27. It was financed by a long list of companies, most prominently Amazon.

This is a long, even overly long, and very dialogue-heavy account of the route to the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester in 1819, soon after the Battle of Waterloo that brought Napoleon to a conclusion. Leigh and Dick Pope achieve a similar aesthetic to Mr Turner: some brilliantly composed almost-painterly almost-stills, especially of the worker's homes. The class consciousness weighs heavily: the ruling class spouts implausibly crass and unsophisticated motivations that make for an almost-American moral clarity. Some threads dangle, such as what happened to the spies and local constabulary afterwards. In a cackhanded way it could be taken as an argument that the British Raj's behaviour in India wasn't as entirely transparently racist as it seemed to be. Perhaps timely what with BREXIT and all. The cast is uniformly excellent.

Touch of Evil

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David Scott Mathieson likened Mae Sot, Thailand to the Texas/Mexico border town of this black-and-white Orson Welles classic. Apparently second time around, and still highly rated at IMDB but not in the top-250. Inflation I guess.

This is Welles in whale mode, holding that cinema can tell sophisticated stories while blithely skating over modern sensibilities such as cultural stereotypes and appropriation. Briefly, an American cop (Welles) is called in to investigate the bombing murder of a local magnate and his stripper acquaintance. High-ranking Mexican law enforcer Charlton Heston (in blackface (?), a sorta plausible American accent, and looking a bit like Omar Sharif a half decade early) has an American wife in the form of Janet Leigh (too credulous, and that 50s underwear!) and just happens to be on the scene. Conflict ensues. Marlene Dietrich plays a smokey-eyed bar operator, Zsa Zsa Gabor owns a strip parlour, Dennis Weaver is a proto-Lynchian, seriously unhinged night manager, and Mercedes McCambridge's "I wanna watch" could have come from an Andy Warhol. The opening tracking shot must be famous. There is something of a commentary on the then-future war on drugs. A bit of a feast.

A Hennessy Hammock, again.

/travels | Link

Today the replacement Hennessy Hammock arrived from Wild Earth, as well as some XXL snakeskins from Tom's Outdoors. I set up amongst the dunes of La Perouse with glimpses of the port. Suffice it to say it all works, and the snakeskins do make for a very quick tear down. My hope of keeping a sleeping bag in them as well is probably optimistic. Of course I left a tree hugger behind. I still have to figure out how to pitch the fly. To that end I bought twenty metres of 4mm shock cord from Bunnings, and also about the same of 50mm webbing to make some longer tree huggers.

The Ghost and Mrs Muir

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A Rex Harrison and Joseph L. Mankiewicz jag from Cleopatra. More Gene Tierney completism: she's more arch than usual, and sports an English accent of sorts. A fantasy post-war black-and-white romcom: seafaring Captain Harrison haunts his seaside cottage until the widow Tierney turns up and convinces him that she's alright. Suicide? Pfft! It was those blazing gas heaters. They write a book together and do the happily ever after thing, eventually. Naff, funny and fun.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Headed up to Manly for lunch (sushi from Randwick) and an early afternoon snorkel at Shelly Beach. The walkway along Marine Parade seemed a bit familiar. The ride up was pleasant-ish (via the city and then the tunnel). Parking around there is a bit weird: it's two hours everywhere, or pay parking right at the beach, but only to 6pm. I thought I was being clever by parking just before a sign but afterwards it became clear that the "area" encompassed the whole street. I guess that's a trap for the non-locals.

It seemed a bit colder near the beach; once in it was pleasant. I started up the eastern side, towards the breakwater. There's not much to see there. The western side has a lot more vegetation, and Pawel tells me there's more heading north-ish towards Manly beach proper. Visibility was OK for the most part. I didn't see much, perhaps it being the wrong time of day or me being impatient. There was one large groper turning blue, loads of trumpetfish (?), a large senator wrasse getting cleaned and irritated by some small fry.

Afterwards I went for a wander up towards North Head. There are some large burnt out areas up there, perhaps due to a fire in 2016 or a planned burnoff earlier this year. (It's similar at the Coogee headland.) The ride back was a bit horrible: it started out quite pleasantly on a road that runs along the harbour and went sour in the heavy Military Road traffic: parked cars all the way along.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

First paddle of the season at Gordons Bay, late afternoon. A bit cold but probably no worse than when I was last in, back in May. BeachWatch reckoned the water was about 19 degrees, and suggested that Coogee was polluted but somehow Gordons wasn't. That was sort-of true once I got past the usual jetsam near the shore; I could indeed see my feet in maybe a metre of water. Afterwards I dried off on the northern Coogee headland and read a bit more of my book.

A set of Oxford P50R Panniers.

/travels/Motorcycle | Link

Oxford Panniers at BikeBiz.

I trekked out to Parramatta today (two fine days in a row!) to try out the Oxford P50R panniers that BikeBiz had ordered in for me. I was concerned that they wouldn't clear the CB400's upswept exhaust, but I need not have feared. Matt helped me plonk them on, and suggested stuffing all the straps under the seat for added laziness. They're capacious, though $289.95 is a bit steep and apparently precludes anyone stocking them. One bonus is a nice pair of waterproof liners that double as stuff sacks, which might make it easier to remove the contents if and when I get anywhere. It'll take a bit of cunning to avoid melting something.

The ride over was quite pleasant in placid traffic. I exited early at James Ruse and not Church St, oops, but that was easy to fix. Afterwards I headed over to the Newington Armoury to eat my sandwich and grab a coffee. It's a pretty little spot opposite the mangrove swamps on the river, next door to Silverwater gaol. The touristic bits are only open on weekends. On the way back I hallucinated a memory of a BP in Marrickville. I ended up refuelling at Kingsford for megabucks.

I'm nowhere close to joining the Iron Butt Association.

Solo

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I don't think it could have been much worse. Ron Howard extracted the action essence of Star Wars and made one of the dumbest episodes yet. The plot is knowingly threadbare. Alden Ehrenreich does what he can. Phoebe Waller-Bridge pitches for topicality as the brassy feminist/droidist L3-37. Emilia Clarke, wooden, is better here than in the Terminator thing. Erin Kellyman fares worse. Thandie Newton, squandered. Paul Bettany, squandered. There'll be a Hairpiece Harrelson figure out there now. It closes with threats of a sequel.

A. O. Scott.

David Runciman: Politics: Ideas in Profile.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. A brief introduction to political philosophy. The first section is on violence and Hobbes's insight that any politics is superior to an every-man-for-himself "state of nature". This sets the explanatory bar quite low, so we get some Machiavelli, and Max Weber's definition of the state as "that entity which successfully claims a monopoly of the legitimate use of violence." The second section wants to separate out political knowledge from the technical, and technocracies are bad, ok. The final section slides into philosophical ethics though it wants to talk about justice. Runciman observes that democracies don't fight each other but are extremely brutal in warfare. Fukuyama is rehabilitated. Amartya Sen and Rawls are name checked.

As with How Democracy Ends, but more so, Runciman is quite sloppy: he often cutely phrases a series of overly strong assertions that are not causally or necessarily connected before weaseling out of drawing their (implausible, ridiculous) strong conclusion. These presentational failures detract from the fine points he makes. It strikes me that Rousseau's notion of the social contract was a way to progress past Hobbesian inertia, but Runciman does not go there.

An excerpt at the Guardian is probably most of it.

How I Ended This Summer

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I've had this one on the list for ages (since 2010). Two blokes stuck in a meteorology station on an island in Chukotka, Russia (opposite Alaska). The younger one starts acting up for no good reason. I wonder if they really do have radioisotope thermoelectric generators still lying around out there. Initially quite slow, and then the plot gets a bit too horror/survival to care about. In two sittings. Some of the cinematography is gorgeous.

Stephen Holden.

Four Lions

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Second time around while waiting for the storms to arrive (supposed to be here by 2pm-ish; eventually showed at 6pm-ish). Still transgressive and very funny at times.

A Hennessy Hammock.

/travels | Link

Hanging in Centennial Park.

One thing that puts me off camping is that I never get a decent sleep on the Thermarest, so I figured I might try a hammock. (Sure, it's not going to help with the paranoia.) Some casual googling suggested there's been a lot of rethinking of these things over the past decade (see Derek Hansen's site and book for instance). I settled on a Hennessy Expedition Zip from Wild Earth in Burleigh Heads via eBay (who were running a site-wide 5% discount). This thing is not cheap, being essentially a tent without the support structure. Dries has the shorter Explorer Zip; the "classic" bottom entry doesn't look so practical for lounging around during the day, though apparently it can be done.

It showed up last Friday. Today being the first dry day in an age, I thought I'd give it a go in Centennial Park, largely because I wasn't sure there'd be suitable trees elsewhere. It is easy to pitch, even using just the suggested lashing with the provided ropes, though adjustment is a bit tedious. The ridgeline is key to this, I think: get that flat, and the ropes at roughly 30 degrees, and you're home. Pegging out the sides makes it far easier to lie flat-ish across the centreline. The provided tree-hugging straps where a bit too short, but that doesn't seem to matter. I didn't try pitching the fly. There's no chance of falling out. At 5.45pm, after about three hours of experimental hanging and book reading, a ranger told me I couldn’t attach things to trees in the park.

Disappointingly one thread near the end of the the lower nylon was broken. While it was some distance from the main load-bearing part of the fabric, I was concerned it was no longer insect proof, and that the damage might spread. Wild Earth told me that this was the pretty much the first Hennessy they'd sold and more-or-less insisted I return it to them for replacement, which I did on Wednesday. I'm wondering it's worth getting some snakeskins.

Steven Johnson: Farsighted.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. Adam Grant led me to believe this book would have an interesting take on decision making. I read it closely and got bored by its repetition and failure to map well-known techniques for groups to individual circumstances. Recounting the final days of bin Laden and praising story-telling and novel-reading as empathy-building was tendentious at best. I didn't see what Collect Pond and NYC's High Line (cloned by Chicago's The 606 and Sydney's Goods Line, and doubtlessly others) had to do with much of anything. At best a pointer to other works in the area.

Better value are the comments at goodreads.

Griffin Theatre: The Feather in the Web by Nick Coyle.

/noise/theatre | Link

$20 rush, the first Monday for this production, and therefore about 80% full, 7pm. Rode over to Duff Reserve (was aiming for McKell Park) and read a bit more of my book on the Harbour. The on-and-off showers continued in the morning, but by 4pm had ceased where I was; I could still see other areas getting soaked.

It was an evening of crashy hardware at Griffin Theatre: first their ticket machine wasn't printing, and during the performance their audio/visual computer packed up (three times!). The front-office lady made me a serviceable coffee, but despite it being my third I still wasn't up to enjoying this piece. It's a disjointed composition of sometimes no-more-than-skits that attempts to probe the acceptability of power and sexual relations in twenty-first century. A helplessly transgressive lost soul (Kimberly, played by Claire Lovering) falls in love-at-first-sight with Miles (Gareth Davies) when she crashes the party for his engagement to Lily (Michelle Lim Davidson). Earlier we got a car scene, a makeover, a shrink, and after a banal home life. Tina Bursill plays a few characters, including his mother. Some really got into it, others took notes. Loads of f-bombs. I struggled a bit with the strobe, perhaps because the tech failures made for an overly long period of arse work.

Apparently I saw Gareth Davies a long time ago at Belvoir. He keeps his clothes on here.

Cassie Tongue saw more in it than I did, as did John Shand. Suzy went to see. She reminds me that comedy has its own Overton window, and narrow it is.

Aidan Truhen: The Price You Pay.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. Not exactly what Charles Finch (New York Times) promised: it's a dumb revenge fantasy screenplay, though I grant it is vicious and sometimes funny. A detached bloke with a twenty-first century revenue stream (no-collateral cocaine provision) wreaks havock on the gang of supposedly professional assassins, the Fincher-/Tarantino-derived Seven Demons, capriciously sent to deal with him. Being written in occasionally-obscuring first-person, you can imagine how it goes. The author avoids 'of'. The Demons are dumb enough to miss the obvious move in the coke wars: don't introduce a new brand (Beyoncé) but instead assume the protagonist's (Pale Peruvian Stallion); retaliation would have been so much harder. Fun for what it is, which isn't much.

Yes, Tony White, it's often just like a Carl Hiassen.

Operation Finale

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Oscar Isaac is now bigger than Ben Kingsley. Another kidnapping movie: the Israelis exfiltrate Adolf Eichmann (a mostly effective and mildly charismatic Kingsley) from Argentina. The focus is Isaac's Peter Malkin and playing up the conflict amongst the squad. Greta Scacchi is unrecognisable as Vera (Eichmann's wife). Strangely everyone almost always speaks English, making the spoken Spanish and written Hebrew jarring. Mélanie Laurent is completely auxiliary. A possibly-good story told mediocrely.

A. O. Scott. Robert Duval played Eichmann in the same story in The Man Who Captured Eichmann back in 1996.

Sicario 2: Day of the Soldado

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Del Toro, Josh Brolin but no Emily Blunt. Matthew Modine plays the secretary of defence. Far more paint-by-the-numbers than the original: plot and action driven, not psychological. Good to see some sign language. Catherine Keener is ineffectually stern. A kidnapping goes wrong. There'll be another sequel.

A. O. Scott.

Bad Times at the El Royale

/noise/movies | Link

A predictably soggy day with unpredictable breaks in the sogginess. Walked down to Coogee, ate my sandwiches, read my book a bit, had a coffee the Pavilion, now overstuffed with bottle blonded MacBook wielders. It's a bit cold. Headed up to The Ritz for the 3:40pm screening of this, in cinema 2, $10, and had another coffee at a little place opposite that shut promptly just after three. Still a zombie, and that might be the best way to face it. Maybe twenty other people on this opening day.

There's not much more to this than its influences, which might be summarised as a selection of Tarantino; a check that very few, including this, can cash. The main draw was Jeff Bridges, who does fine as an aged and doddering priest, secondarily John Hamm (never quite enough; resting on his Mad Men laurels?), and being idly curious about Chris Hemsworth's acting chops (mostly irresistible Hutchence swagger; less successful with the pathological). Dakota Johnson does her thing. It's the fading fifties and sixties, blue-collar crime still pays, Cynthia Erivo dreams of being a Supreme, the family is nascent. Things take their time getting moving, and for a while it seems that things could go full horror; instead we only get the pro forma death-by-numbers schema with an unsatisfying Hollow Man ending. Less is made of the motor lodge straddling the California/Nevada border than is said. A good setup, slightly wrecked by deus ex machina, suffering from a lack of convergence over too long a running time.

I'd suggest not watching the trailer before seeing the feature. Manohla Dargis.

Asimov: Foundation and so forth.

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A new Kindle from Amazon AU turned up back on 2018-09-18 and I cleared most of the dead tree backlog about ten days later. This time it's a Paperwhite, $AU179 minus a $AU30 credit for having a dead, now discontinued Voyage, and a too-cheap but well-designed origami case for another $AU14. So far the touchscreen is far better than its predecessor's ever was.

It's been an age since I read Asimov. Last time I chugged through these seven books (this time in publication order!) I was underage, and now I can detect his influences more transparently: there's a lot of stock (Roman) history in there, some stock 1984 or Brave New World dystopianism, a naive fascination with the "too cheap to meter" nuclear technology of the day, an empty-headed teleology that is trumped by statism. The 1980s fat books are tediously repetitive. I'll resist too much critique as none of that is the point.

Asimov reckons that something like psychohistory is only going to work if those the subject of its predictions are oblivious to those predictions. At the time he was formulating this position, others were making self-reference mathematically respectable, leading to the solution concepts of game theory and similar that account for the effects of reasoning about other's strategies and knowledge. Asimov's position might be rescued by considering it more like biology: the existence of a reflexive entity stymies many desirable properties (e.g. locality, robustness, sustainability). I wonder if his take on zombie ideas (that they get tried repeatedly because they're not fatal) really holds.

Since I first read this series Asimov has passed and others have added their bits. I'm sure the canon is now as confused as every other.

Casino

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Apparently the third time around, and so much less impressive than I remembered — perhaps I was thinking of a different movie, or have seen too many Sharon Stones recently. She only has one mode, and Pesci struggles at time to hold up his end of their dialogues, especially in that first confidence-spilling scene. Scorcese, of course. I wasn't that persuaded by De Niro, even less than usual. James Woods has so little to work with. I couldn't connect Kevin Pollak here with him in The Usual Suspects. Still #143 in the IMDB top-250.

Brilliant Lies

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Second time around maybe. I think I fished this one out of Dr What! in Bondi back in the days of DVDs. Gia and Zoe Carides play sisters in this David Williamson take on the sexual politics of the day: it's a mid-90s he-said she-said and then she-really-said #metoo sorta thing with a side of unconvincing lesbian taxi driving and all-too-authentic inhalation of those fatal Winfield blues. Punching bag Anthony LaPaglia scored a wife (Gia, now separated) out of it, which is more than we do. Perhaps this was where the wave broke for Williamson, when Australia could finally tell the difference between the cask and the bottle.

Ensemble Offspring: Spectral Tech.

/noise/music | Link

A freebie from the UNSW Creative Practice Lab (thanks Tom). Lev was in town so he got to partake in Maccas for dinner at the Quay (automat orders only; where else to eat dinner down that way?) and four new pieces from 7pm in the Sydney Con's Music Workshop. Maybe half the seating was occupied, and the vibe was clearly friends, family, composers, enablers. Wikipedia's notion of spectral music differs from the description we got partway through, which IIRC suggested this style had roots in the early 20th century. Nothing much for me to grab onto, and too sparse to space out to. Very angular.

Patrick White: Flaws in the Glass: A self-portrait.

/noise/books | Link

A dead Kindle means extracting dead trees from the library, in this case from Compactus (their stacks) at the Maroubra branch of the Randwick City Library.

White clearly resented writing this autobiography, so much so that one wonders why he bothered doing it straight when he might have made some theatre of it. It's pedestrian and there's less score settling than I was led to expect. I skipped the second section Journeys. We get a very few anecdotes about fellow culturalists (Brett Whiteley and fam come to visit for instance, also the Nolans, an early encounter with Melba he tells twice) but little about other sybarites (Norman Lindsay for instance) who were further down the food chain in his eyes. There are some clangers: no clear picture emerges of life-partner Manoly, or the basis of attraction; at some point White decided to move to Centennial Park and we don't hear from the other parts of the household. Somewhere in there White observes that Aussie women are blokey (there's some truth in that), but also somehow concludes that the blokes are feminine. London, World War II in North Africa, nothing much about the jackerooing, the Queen comes to Sydney Harbour and other old, upper-class Sydney, when all the money was young.

As with everything White, reviews and commentary are legion. I think I read C. K. Stead's contemporaneous review. Similarly Humphrey Carpenter. More colour on the Castle Hill of the day from Mireille Juchau. David Marr on scattering Manoly's ashes at Clovelly. He says "Howard appealed to something in Australians that White knew, feared and fought all his life: our yearning for small comfort and respectability." — and yet White himself never did motivate many Australians to reach for more than this.

Don's Party

/noise/movies | Link

Another David Williamson classic that I hadn't seen in an age. The copy I have has a terrible sound mix: it's very difficult to hear the dialogue at times. Somewhat #metoo topical. The blokes — Ray Barrett, John Hargreaves, Harold Hopkins (did he really just say that?), Graham Kennedy, Graeme Blundell — all were or got famous, but the ladies — Clare Binney, Pat Bishop, Veronica Lang, Candy Raymond and with the exception of Jeanie Drynan — slid into obscurity. Hmm. The credits suggest it was filmed in what is now Baulkham Hills. Great days...

Tasmania Performs: The Season by Nathan Maynard at the Seymour Centre.

/noise/theatre | Link

Another sort-of freebie from ShowFilmFirst, who trousered $3 on 2018-09-18. Everest Theatre, G9, 7:30pm, packed but with the first five rows strangely empty. I had my lunch for dinner in their courtyard. A bit cold; rode over from Randwick as I'd left it too late to walk.

This is a comedy about an Aboriginal clan who have a claim to a mutton bird rookery on Dog Island (which is close to Flinders Island in the Bass Strait). The humour is coarse and knowing, unapologetic. There is something of a handover from one generation to the next, seemingly suddenly, unexpectedly but unforced. Fun with an undertow of elegy.

The Club

/noise/movies | Link

Last seen an age ago; we studied this David Williamson classic for the HSC in the mid-90s, and even then it seemed archaic. Jack Thompson goes all-in as the true-believing VFL coach at a time of rapid commercialisation. Graham Kennedy is solid as the petit bourgeoisie, similarly Frank Wilson as the hypocritical keeper-of-tradition Jock. Harold Hopkins plays the loyal but fading captain, John Howard the rising champion. Alan Cassell nails the greasy sports administrator. It's all canonical stuff and an ode to a dead Australia.

Servicing the CB400.

/travels/Motorcycle | Link

I'd been trying to get the still-nameless CB400 serviced for about a month, mostly due to a very loose chain and registration. The difficulty was that Phil was moving Beaconsfield Motorcycle Supermarket from Botany Road to Burrows Road, down near Canal Road, and the phone was on the blink, the three-phase yet to be installed. Today we managed to get organised: she needed new sprockets, a chain, and a rear tyre (the original, which surprisingly still had some wear to go), and a ~18,500km service. All up a touch over $1k, which was a bit of a shock but that's apparently what the parts cost. Phil's dog has come with, and barks a lot less; he gets to roam along the canal when bored. I forgot to pick up the logbook, and so went back two days later.

From Dusk Till Dawn

/noise/movies | Link

The most dispensable Tarantino?

Don Walker: Shots

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Another dead tree from the Randwick City Library. Second time around, and just as good. Here he is on zombie ideas (p106):

Ideas are the oldest software virus, the history of ideas being written by those fortunate enough to get born into enough physical and mental spare time to think beyond food and shelter and the protection of those they love, always blind to the resulting bias, the resultant imbalance of perspective. Ideas kill and maim as many children as any epidemic, they mutate and reappear as new strains, now immune to the propaganda that killed them off a generation ago, the science of actively combating a virulent idea being still rarely more sophisticated than crude attacks on the hardware, the meat. "Enlightened" people claim ideas should be free to spread and compete in our soft minds, always, you'll find if you really talk to them, with the exception of one or two ideas considered beyond the pale to people like them for no consistent reason beyond their mounting rage and fear as they spray you with the reinforcing dinner-party repartee of their peers, the soothing commentary and opinion published in broadsheets and parroted by the gazette brains of public broadcasters and the social and political satirist "comedians" who comfort them all in their othodoxy.

Replacing the iPhone 5S's battery after 4.5 years.

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Apple's recent hardware releases have been unappetising, and with the iPhone SE now mostly unobtainable I decided to spend $22.36 with fix2u on a new battery and the necessary tools in the hope of getting another 6-12 months out of the 5S I bought in Chicago. (Yes, one can do better on eBay.) I picked it up from their "Sydney HQ" (Level 10, 89 York Street; a shoebox embedded in another company's space) around lunchtime and gingerly followed the iFixit guide in the evening. The removal of the display cables seemed unnecessary, and proved so. Of course the adhesive things holding the battery in broke; I resorted to a container full of boiling water, covered with gladwrap; a few minutes of sitting the phone on top got things unstuck. The trickiest part was reinstalling the home button cover (steps 10 and 11); I think I failed, but there were no explosions and everything seems to still work. Some gunk got between the decoder and the screen along the way, oops.

The Big Sleep

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Apparently the third time around, and I still didn't remember anything. Bogart is somehow a babe magnet and has some fun with Bacall. A still highly rated Howard Hawks classic but no longer in the IMDB top-250. William Faulkner got a writing credit for adapting a Raymond Chandler short story. The dialogue is pretty funny.

The Usual Suspects

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A Kevin Spacey / Gabriel Byrne / Bryan Singer classic. Still #26 on the IMDB top-250.

The Loved One

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Second time around. The screenplay based on Evelyn Waugh's book is ascribed to Terry Southern and Christopher Isherwood.

The Game

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David Fincher, not at his best. Michael Douglas, Sean Penn, Deborah Kara Unger, none at their best either.

Janet Maslin calls it: just a bunch of scenes wedged together. I see it now as an echo of a 1980s genre: After Hours, and Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities. There's also the whole Gordon Gekko thing.

Quarterly Essay #70, Richard Denniss: Dead Right: How Neoliberalism Ate Itself and What Comes Next.

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More dead tree from the Randwick City Library. Denniss pushes a simple argument: the right's decades-long pitch that politicians are untrustworthy and government is the problem, not the solution, or is anyway ineffective, has come home to roost in the form of the fragmentation of their parties; for what does it matter who you vote for if these assertions hold? Adding in a war on expertise, waged on the public service in particular, has made for some dire political times.

The title is a bit confused as the neoliberal/economic rationalist project is still broadly supported across the political spectrum, having been started by Hawke and Keating, furthered by Howard and Costello, and now zombie-shuffling along as even Keating now accepts (and rants about; Ken Henry was there a lot earlier). Denniss wants the parliament to respond to popular ideas (i.e., to destigmatise populism to some extent) and makes a few suggestions along lines he thinks are non-partisan. However it's clear from other polities that even civics education (p68) is contentious; one route forward for parties with demographically declining support is to doctor the electoral process with gerrymandering and voter suppression, as the Republicans are apparently doing in the U.S., and to generally discourage citizens from engaging in politics. Perhaps his best argument is that economics be put in a proper perspective; that Australia is richer than ever but can't afford the services of previous years is absurd.

Ross Grittins is a bit skeptical, and he's right this is a book more for the heart than the head. Many other responses were predictably reactionary.

Modern Gong Ritual @ The People's Republic.

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Two guitars (Kent Steedman of the Celibate Rifles, Michael Trifunovic) and a bloke banging things (David Bullock, who seems to have such a vast collection of things to bang that Ensemble Offspring should be jealous). Billed as "ambience with attitude"; the first set brought the attitude, the second the ritual. I enjoyed spacing out to the latter and the accompanying video projections by William Bullock.

I stumbled upon Patrick White's Memoirs of many in one by Alex Xenophan Demirjian Gray on Nick's vast shelves. Sounds more promising than Flaws in the Glass, so I'll try to read both.

The Lord of the Rings movies.

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Specifically the three extended editions over three nights for the second time. The first one promises more than the second two deliver. The bits lifted from Tolkien are not great but the non-canonical parts are a lot worse. The dialogue and asides-to-camera are occasionally comically risible, as is some of the CGI; even the actors playing hobbits look uncomfortable at the King's coronation. I got bored with the endless battle scenes. It's epic, but nowhere close to the classics.

Quarterly Essay #60, Laura Tingle: Political Amnesia: How We Forgot How To Govern.

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I read this on the dying iPhone and laptop via Overdrive, on loan from the Randwick City Library. From circa November 2015, which may have been when Turnbull had some amnesiacs thinking he could take things somewhere. Tingle bemoans the loss of institutional governmental memory, and cites several egregious examples of it. This process has been ongoing since at least the 1980s as part of the neoliberal / economic rationalist project, so one has to wonder why it took so long for the journalists to catch on. (I saw some of this lobotomising towards the end of my father's career at the NSW Department of Agriculture.) The active destruction of expertise and resulting churn is overly familiar to anyone who works in the modern computer industry; a case in point is Javascript and the perpetual motion machine of user interface frameworks, which inevitably converge on the old ideas.

Tingle seems to be sparring with David Marr on the tired and frankly empty topic of political leadership in Australia. As she observes here, the best functioning parts are those that self-evidently do things only governments can do (e.g. the Reserve Bank, the military, foreign affairs); perhaps those contain governance and structural expertise that can be transferred to other spheres, and Australia can have the technocracy she deserves. Her commentary on Shorten is dated: it doesn't seem that he'll need much of a policy agenda to ascend to the throne, given Tony Abbott's destruction of the Liberal party. The stuff on the Roman Empire is completely dispensible. Much concords with Donald Horne's classic critiques of the Australian situation; I tend to think that more technocrats will increase the luck that our second-rate politicians lean so much on.

Andrew Leigh observes the fine prose and corrects the framing (as economists are wont to do). Surprisingly Andrew Elder did not take this one apart at the time (or since AFAICT); this defence of the Canberra press gallery reads like classic special-pleading material custom designed to press his buttons. Tingle wrote the current Quarterly Essay, on authoritarianism.

Wayne

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At The Ritz, 18:10, Cinema 2, $10. Two blokes and me I think. Very few sessions, and this was the only one I could make on a work day.

This film by Jeremy Sims documents Wayne Gardner's rise from racing dirtbikes near Wollongong to winning the Moto GP in 1987. It showcases the height of Australiana in the 1980s, specifically the Bicentennial in 1988, and the shysters and sportcasters of the day. Taking up more than a third of the story is his girlfriend, later wife, later good-friend ex Donna Fraser.

I didn't and don't know enough about the Moto GP to understand what he was riding when (there is some early talk of 250cc and 500cc classes, and the smaller three-cylinder bikes being far easier to ride than the monstrous fours) but it's clear from the footage that the bike Honda supplied him with in 1988 was not up to scratch. The way they concurrently hired his arch-rival Eddie Lawson has got to make you wonder. Some time is spent on the construction of the Australian GP at Phillip Island. Most of the interviews are gold. Casey Stoner is a notable absentee (and a fellow victim of Honda engineering?).

Afterwards I aimed for Jack's Pizza on Coogee Bay road, but he's decided to retire from Mondays, so I ended up at the North Indian Diner closer to the beach.

Paul Byrnes.

Josephine Wilson: Extinctions.

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My Kindle Voyage died (bought for $US263 in August 2015; the touchscreen was always a bit dicey and is now unusable). Needing some escapist fare I extracted a dead tree edition of this Miles Franklin 2017 winner from the Randwick City Library. (I bought a Kindle edition of this last year that was so broken I got a refund.) So far I've found the Miles Franklin-awarded novels mostly a bust, though it sometimes surfaces authors worth reading for their other works; David Ireland being a case in point. This novel unfortunately doesn't prove the rule.

Zooming right out, this is a (Perth boomer's?) take on on the boomers and their children, which might lazily be branded Generation X, and the cultural appropriations that arose from good intentions and the stolen generations. America intrudes in the form of vernacular and a Jewish ex-NYC wife who was somehow bowled over by a English concrete engineer, and later an Australian blowhard. After a dolphin brings a radical personality shift, we're on the road to Cloudstreet with some David Williamson characters and settings (a university engineering department, suburbia) in decline.

I was frustrated and bored by many things. The observations tend to the banal. The dialogue is weak. The male characters are poorly drawn: patriarch Fred considers himself a monster, in an especially tedious, self-absorbed narcissistic boomer caricature. Wilson seems convinced that the stuff that has come to own the boomers is desired by their children; is that true? There is so much death.

I came away thinking that Anne Patchett's Commonwealth was a more successful execution of similar ideas.

Roslyn Jolly. Dorothy Johnston observes the heavy-handed metaphors etc.

Jerrah Patston, Reverend Jemima @ The People's Republic.

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It's been an age since I went to a gig. Rained during the day but dry there and back on the CB400; she needs a service. Jerrah (playing with Sam Worrad and Jerry Kahale) is irrepressibly happy to be performing, funny and uncynical. The format is short vignette pop songs; My Country Town stuck out for me. I can imagine him winning a Golden Guitar with a leftfield country classic. Afterwards Reverend Jemima did 2-3 minute competent punk rock, which I've lost any taste for.

Dave dug up this ABC story on Jerrah from almost a year ago. Earlier I made what is looking to be a mistake by fishing Josephine Wilson's 2017 Miles Franklin-winner Extinctions out of the Randwick City Library.

Talk Radio

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Eric Bogosian's big splash, second time around. He talks pretty much continuously throughout and that in itself is pretty amazing; depressingly what he says would pass for high brow these days. Alec Baldwin in a greasy mullet (looking more like Trump then than he does now) plays the radio station boss. John C. McGinley hams it up in fine style as the phone screener/engineer. A coked-up Michael Wincott jag from The Doors; also via Oliver Stone who adapted Bogosian's play and directed.

Vincent Canby was very unimpressed back in the day.

Hollow Man

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Tonight my Verhoeven retrospective resumed with his entirely dispensable farewell to Hollywood. It's strange he got to make this after the twin flops of Showgirls and Starship Troopers; clearly he was on a leash as the nudity is brief, not at all erotic, and very separate from the cartoonish violence. The characters are dumb as bricks. The plot is B-grade horror; Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi knew how to leaven the dreck with humour, which is entirely absent from this. Elisabeth Shue, Kevin Bacon, Josh Brolin: all better elsewhere, and none acquit themselves here.

A. O. Scott at the time.

The Happytime Murders

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Spur-of-the-moment trip to The Ritz, 9pm, Cinema 4, four rows from the front, centre, $10. All the kids were going to see Spike Lee; this one got maybe ten people total. The Freddie Mercury biopic short looked kinda retro-cool, as does the Jimmy Barnes biopic. Kin probably needed a few more ideas even to make a decent trailer. Crazy Rich Asians is not for me.

The feature is something of a Team America derivative made by Muppet scion Brian Henson. (Dave: "Yeah why not. Be nice to laugh at Muppets for a change instead of working with them or watching them stop the boats.") It fails to combine the filth with enough humour to keep the audience from recoiling. For instance, the makers were so proud to have incorporated the most famous Basic Instinct scene that they played it time and again. The carpet does indeed not match the curtains, enough already. The making-of during the end credits was on balance better than the movie itself. I think this is the first time I've seen Melissa McCarthy. I walked out past an old guy, sitting at the end of a row, comatose.

A. O. Scott.

Angel Heart

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A recommendation by Dariusz, in retaliation for my telling him to go watch The Devil's Advocate. It's 1987, and Mickey Rourke pretends to be a 1950s private dick looking for a bloke in NYC and later New Orleans, but mostly finding women (notably Lisa Bonet, Charlotte Rampling). De Niro plays the kingpin, patiently reeling in his patsy. Some of the cinematography is gorgeous (thanks Michael Seresin). I got a bit lost wondering what I was supposed to know when; the bodies pile up as one might expect but it's unclear why we'd care, even after the big reveal. The occult stuff is a bit lame.

A Lenovo Ideapad 120S-KH (11", 32Gb storage, 4Gb memory).

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I've been meaning to get a machine I could afford to lose while traveling for a while now. Much like using a ZTE ZIP exclusively as a 4G modem/router, it took me a while to find the right category: netbooks are dead, ultrabooks are expensive, Chromebooks expect omnipresent connectivity, tablets may or may not be hackable, ARM laptops are rare or not cheap. In the end I went for what Harvey Norman had in the bottom of the barrel.

First up: they listed a DN variant for $198 alongside this KH for $238, billed as "super Saturday" 20% discounts which of course roll on and on. The in-store experience at Bondi Junction on Sunday past was as horrible as rumour had it: there was only the demo one on the floor to be had, and after assuring me that the KH has an SSD (it doesn't), the salesdroid proceeded with the hard sell of some kind of useless insurance. I walked; it's so much less hassle to buy it online for $238 and $8 in shipping. JBHifi was selling something similar for a lot more. I picked it up today from the Randwick post office after lunch with Dariusz.

There are many variants out there, and it's hard to sex these chickens: eMMC or SSD? How much RAM? Just how poor are the Celerys these days? etc. I have no idea how the cheaper model differed and have no faith in Harvey Norman's online descriptions (which say this thing has an HDD). In summary: the screen is a bit crap, the keyboard is pretty good, the two-button trackpad is a bit weird, the battery seems to go forever, it's a kilo. Overall it feels like a bargain. Apparently it has USB3 and USB-C, and there's a webcam, none of which I have tried out yet. The microSD slot works.

It came with Windows 10, which was a bit of fun to interact with by speaking until it came time to accept the licence; there's no option to decline, and I guess the days of getting refunds are over as Microsoft's keys are in the BIOS. I've been using Mac OS X for about 15 years, and only installing Debian in virtual machines, so it came as a pleasant surprise to see how smooth things run now: the millennials sure have been busy. (It still takes a lot of config, but nothing as fiddly as the olden times.) I settled on XFCE, and my jaw hit the floor when Chromium played the rugby straight off the Channel 10 webstream with no futzery. I haven't got the sound going yet; some cursory diagnostics suggested that the infrastructure is there but somehow not talking to the output device. Isabelle built just fine. About half the storage remains free.

There are a few reassuring blog posts out there: Jon Williams, reddit.

The Doors

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An Oliver Stone production from 1991; I vaguely remember the saturation coverage. Val Kilmer plays Jim Morrison, and some other people play the rest of The Doors, notably Kyle MacLachlan. Meg Ryan is the girlfriend/muse. Michael Wincott could probably do a decent Tom Waits simulation, or play John Lazar's parts if Russ Meyer's stuff ever gets remade. I was never a big fan of the band (just a couple of songs) and this unedifying movie did nothing to change my mind. Is this homage or imitation? It's certainly the bacchanalia Stone imagines he experienced. Morrison's poetry often seems no better than doggerel. One for the fans? Or perhaps they too were offended by how shallow it is.

Candy

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You've read the book, now see the movie. The cast is stellar: Richard Burton takes it to the limit as the poet MacPhisto, Marlon Brando seems to be training for Apocalypse Now, James Coburn gets to ham it up as a brain butcher, Ringo Starr has his first role away from his bandmates. I hadn't realised John Huston acted as well as directed. Ewa Aulin plays the ingenue. Christian Marquand is in charge but clearly not in control: the result of all this talent was an unwatchable mess with very little to recommend it. Which is exactly what I expected, so I wasn't disappointed.

lê thị diễm thúy: The Gangster We Are All Looking For.

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Kindle. A brief collection of interlocked shorts that impressionistically canvasses the author's childhood in Việt Nam (I think Phan Thiết) and the USA (I mostly recall San Diego). There's nothing especially unique here — for instance Andrew X. Pham has a lot more to say, and Nam Le says it better — but perhaps it was something back in 2003.

Paul Baumann.

Cleopatra

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Booked 2018-08-09, $8 + $1.50 online booking fee, 2:30pm, Cinema 2, about four rows in, first time around. Ultimately three-quarters packed I'd say. Beforehand lunch was at Taste of Thai (tofu/egg salad with peanut sauce, tasty indeed) and coffee at the little cafe near the Royal Hotel that I hadn't been to for years. A beaut day with a cold wind. The prevalence of cheap flights still hasn’t prepared people to sit through marathon classics.

So much ink has been spilt on the Liz and Dick show already that I'll restrict myself to some trainspotting. It's very long and hasn't aged too well. It's often difficult to follow who's fighting and why. Cleopatra's one world, one people, peace yadda, etc. vision is patently ridiculous and presented without conviction. At one point Liz plunges a dagger deeply and repetitively into a bed, doubtlessly scarring a young Paul Verhoeven for life. Alexander cast a long shadow. The sets are elaborate. Rex Harrison as Caesar comes away the cleanest.

As for the fashion: Taylor's first outfit struck me as an áo dài, perhaps a little less modest: all her gear has a scooped neck or more, setting the standard for drag queens right up to the present. It made me wonder what impact Madame Nhu had on the gear of the early 1960s. The busts are pure Russ Meyer. I wondered about the distracting scar on Taylor's neck: IMDB tells me she had an emergency tracheotomy during the early abortive filming sessions in England. The asp imagery is excessive. The Romans mostly sport English accents, which in concert with the Kennedy situation of the day, and continuing rise of the USA, made me wonder if director Joseph L. Mankiewicz was suggesting a new Rome.

The later histrionics get a bit tedious and prefigure the later Burton / Taylor dynamic so well captured in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.

Peter Nichols reviews the 2001 three-disc DVD release.

Lord Jim

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After liberating the Bedouin, Peter O'Toole decided to spend a few years in Cambodia attempting the same for Conrad's Malays. Eli Wallach plays The General before he was ugly. Somehow they got Sihanouk to allow them to film at Angkor. The story is something of a complement to Heart of Darkness: the installation of a not-quite-Kurtz amongst suggestible up-river natives? The ruminations on colonialism are superficial: inside every whiteman a General is trying to get out, the native women are always available and willing, everyone is compromised. Overall it's too talky and Shakespearean-pretentious. James Mason does OK as a Southern outlaw (from another movie). Curd Jürgens, furniture. Is Daliah Lavi in blackface?

Turks Fruit (aka The Sensualist)

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Resuming the Paul Verhoeven retrospective with his sexploitation classic from 1973, adapted from the book by Jan Wolkers. Apparently the Dutch public deemed this to be their movie of the twentieth century.

Briefly, Rutger Hauer and Monique van de Ven star in a Romeo-and-Juliet love story: he's a ne'er-do-well sculptor, she's a free spirit from a petit bourgeoisie family that is entirely caricatured. In between the vintage sexploitation we get some regular exploitation, a portrait of the Netherlands of the day, the odd rumination on the futility of art and the transience of existence. Things get explicit at times but never very shocking; Verhoeven had yet to crossbreed in the violence, and mostly planed off the ragged edges he left in his later works. It's kinda sweet at times, truthy at others, though the histrionics gets a bit trying. Keetje Tippel reunites the stars two years later. It's definitely the strongest of his early stuff that I've got to so far.

James Reith.

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 very few empty seats. 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.

Joshua Cohen: Moving Kings.

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Kindle. 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.

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 serves as the mercenaries' talisman. Trashy and fun.

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). Christian Marquand abets the law. 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 his play 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. Michael Wood.

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.

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.

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.

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?

Ben Kenigsberg.

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.

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.

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 German 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.

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) that do the warmth thing but upon reflection perhaps not the safety thing.

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.

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.

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.

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. Mireille Juchau.

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.

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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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.

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.

Team America

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

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

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

American Beauty

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

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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 2018-03-31. 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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A Willy Wagtail down at the waterline.

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.

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.

The Avengers

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

A. O. Scott.

Justice League

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

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

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.

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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.

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.

Bye bye Net Origin, hello Linode.

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

/noise/beach/2017-2018 | Link

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

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

Norah Head.

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

Phantom Thread

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

Darkest Hour

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

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

Kamila Shamsie: Home Fire.

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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 transcends his background by being tough on terror, until he too cannot. At one point a character goes on a Lysistrata-esque sex strike; another trope that was big in 2016 (cf Chiraq). Mostly it's more scenario than novel.

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

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

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

Pulp Fiction

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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.

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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

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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).

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

Looper

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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.

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.

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

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

Elissa Blake. Auteur Alexander Berlage. Jason Blake.

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

1984

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

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

Dennis Glover: The Last Man in Europe.

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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.

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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.

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

Rope

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

Iron Man 2

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

Iron Man

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