peteg's blog

The Man Who Would Be King

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

Intolerable Cruelty

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

Rachel Kushner: The Flamethrowers.

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

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

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

Hobson's Choice (1954)

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

Rachel Kushner: The Mars Room.

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

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

Doctor Zhivago

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

No Country for Old Men

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

Karl Sigmund: Exact Thinking in Demented Times.

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

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

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

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

This book has been extensively reviewed.

Salomé

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

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

Deadpool 2

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

A. O. Scott.

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

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

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

Jason Blake.

Office Space

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breath

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

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

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

Much later: Manohla Dargis.

The Man from Earth

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Still fun on a second viewing.

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

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

Francis Spufford: True Stories & other essays.

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

Phillip Lopate reviewed it for the New York Times.

Avengers: Infinity War

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

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

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

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