peteg's blog

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.

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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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.

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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.

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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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."

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.

Thor: Ragnarok

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

Manohla Dargis.

The Avengers

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

A. O. Scott.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

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

Manohla Dargis.

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.