peteg's blog

The African Queen

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More John Huston. Second time around. Apparently Eastwood made a movie about Huston's desire to go big game hunting while making this.

Patrick White: The Solid Mandala.

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Kindle. A portrait of a pair of twins who exhibit White's dualisms: numbers versus literature, empathy and haughty withdrawal, the white and the blue collar. Brute strength against fine motor control. Semi-rural Sarsaparilla (Castle Hill) against the city (Centennial Park). There's far more here on the inner life than Smee managed to even gesture at. One point of commonality was Arthur's incapacity to externalise his thoughts for a variety of reasons (inability to formulate them convincingly, unwillingless to persuade or influence, laziness, the ability to see the whole but not its parts, the inadequacy of the medium, so on). Told in technically seamless and virtuosic flashback. He's down on Goethe, like others. The most enjoyable parts to me where the very brief punchlines where White cashes in his extensive descriptions. Some are quite brutal.

Heat

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nth time around for large n. Michael Mann's masterpiece. Still #123 in the IMDB top-250.

The spy who came in from the cold

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Second time around. More Richard Burton.

Heaven Knows, Mr Allison

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A John Huston and Deborah Kerr jag from The Night of the Iguana. Robert Mitchum shares the lead. A U.S. marine and Irish nun find themselves stranded on a South Pacific Island and survive occupation by Japanese troops until the Americans arrive. It's all very proper and things go as expected with no offence given to the USMC or Catholic Church. Reading it another way it's a backhander: the skills of a marine will help you survive but may not get you the girl. There's some great cinematography. It obviously parallels Huston's The African Queen.

Quarterly Essay #72, Sebastian Smee: Net Loss: The Inner Life in the Digital Age.

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On the not-yet-dead iPhone via Overdrive, loaned from the Randwick City Library after quite a wait. Not at all what I thought it would be: Smee seems ignorant of such not-so-recent critiques as Jarett Kobek's i hate the internet and Amartya Sen's capabilities model that aims to move past the blockages induced by overly rigid notions of identity. When will social media be deemed as dangerous to society as Class A drugs? The hand wringing concern comes in commodified form, oh the irony. He avoids following any thought too far. I guess I had hopes for a meditation on what is worth concentrating our shredded attention on these days; this diffuse essay isn't it.

I only briefly scanned the responses to Laura Tingle's previous Quarterly Essay. Both were busts, I feel.

Crazy Heart

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Second time around. Prompted by A Star is Born. Hmm.

Ant-Man

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Marvel completism. Martin Donovan! Why didn't you say? Michael Douglas plays the same old tired note. Paul Rudd is pleasantly low key but I don't find him as funny as the movie needs me to. Evangeline Lilly is all face acting. If they'd made more of the fact most ants are female (the winged ones are typically males or queens) this may have been hailed as the first Marvel movie with a strong pro-female message. It's silly. I haven't seen lurv this strong since Interstellar.

A. O. Scott.

Ant-Man and the Wasp

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Excessive Marvel completism. This one got massively advertised on buses and bus stops in Sydney. Larry Fishburne! Why didn’t you say? Michelle Pfeiffer! Approximately as vacuous as the first one.

Manohla Dargis.

The Great Gatsby

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I read the book ages ago, and that put me off seeing the movie until now. For Carey Mulligan, but ultimately Joel Edgerton who was the only one fully committed to taking this show over the cliff. When are we going to see him in a Marvel movie? DiCaprio leads (like in Titanic? — which I still haven't seen). His "old sport" just doesn't work. Tobey Maguire is the bemused Nick Carraway. I didn't recognise Elizabeth Debicki, which shows how engaged I was. The politics seem dated beyond belief: Daisy has no agency. The music is banal. There are Australians everywhere. It's just another over-egged Baz Luhrmann thing.

A. O. Scott says it's not as bad as other people were saying at the time, but it is that shallow. He's right that shame has gone missing between then and now. Dana Stevens. And many others.

Captain Marvel

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With Dave. 3:30pm 3D session at the Odeon 5, $31-ish for us both. Maybe three other people. Released last Thursday. We had coffee/lunch beforehand at Bills Beans.

Low expectations and heavy politicisation made this seem more like a Star Wars episode to me. Dave was adamant that he was there for Jude Law and Ben Mendelsohn. (The latter reverts to his native strine when reunited with his refugee family, a fine rebuke that doubtlessly eluded most American commentators.) An anti-aged Samuel L. Jackson took on something of Larry Fishburne's Clean from Apocalypse Now. Brie Larson might have done her best. Annette Bening tried to make it into something. Arnie decided this was beneath him: the True Lies poster/stand thingie gets blasted and only Jamie Lee Curtis survives. Of course it should've been one for Pulp Fiction.

Reviews are dutiful. Dana Stevens: Finally, Women Have Their Own Mediocre Marvel Movie. Anthony Lane. The dogfight through canyons is what put me most in mind of Star Wars. A. O. Scott. The cat was a bit much.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Headed down to Coogee with everyone else to read my book for a bit in the late-afternoon sun, then a paddle off the southern rocks at Gordons Bay. Still quite a few people out, it being Sunday and all, the unis back. Pleasant in, mostly flat, high-ish tide, far cleaner than I expected given the recent rain. Read some more book afterwards on the headland. Beautiful end to a steamy summery day.

Following

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A David Stratton marvellous movie (#36). Written and directed by Christopher Nolan. I'd seen it before but didn't remember much. A fine twisty little noir.

The Straight Story

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A David Stratton marvellous movie (#86); this one is by far the highest rated on IMDB (8/10) so far. In two sittings. The draw was David Lynch. A few decades before the epic use of a mobility scooter to retrieve a boat from storage, Richard Farnsworth decided he needed to see his long-lost brother (Harry Dean Stanton) one last time. Being of weak hip and eye but stubbornly self-reliant he figures that the best way to get from Laurens, Iowa to Mount Zion, Wisconsin is on his ancient ride-on lawnmower. Suffice it to say he really doesn't make it to Grotto. The daughter he lived with is played by Sissy Spacek. There's a bit too much all-American hokum about family, and a slightly off-kilter reminiscence about World War II, but otherwise this is a picture-postcard perfect love letter to the small towns, the corn and wheat fields of the Midwest from Lynch. Freddie Francis's cinematography is excellent. There's a whiff of Terrence Malick about it, and also Twin Peaks — notably Badalamenti's music and Big Ed Everett McGill.

Ebert got right into it. Janet Maslin was astonished that Lynch could mesmerise with G-rated material.

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Early-evening paddle at Gordons Bay off the southern rocks. Seemed clean. Flat, little wind, pleasant in. A few people about, many more on the northern side. Afterwards ate dinner on the Coogee headland. Warm day and evening.

The Killers (1946)

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A Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner jag from Seven Days in May: a black-and-white take on an Ernest Hemingway story made about 18 years previous. Briefly "Swede" Lancaster gets murdered in the opening scenes and the insurance investigation gets told entirely in flashback, somewhat like Stanley Kubrick's The Killing. Lancaster is far too talkative to be a Swede. There's some boxing, some prison time, some noir; Edmond O'Brien leads in a Bogey kinda role and seems to to enjoy himself. Gardner is very young, and carries the femme fatale with insufficient conviction: she's often subdued (even a bit lifeless) and doesn't look very calculating. The plot is not very plausible and very tidily resolved.

Seven Days in May

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An Ava Gardner jag from The Night of the Iguana. She's very different here despite these movies coming out in the same year or thereabouts. Kirk Douglas is essentially the same as he was in Paths of Glory, speaking truth to power in black and white. Burt Lancaster plays the wayward general, chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who thinks he can do a better job than President Fredric March, who in turn often sounds like GWB. It seems so old-fashioned for the man at the top to be combating conspiracies rather than promulgating them, though the big men of history is the same old timeless canard. The plot is earnest, much like Goodnight and Good Luck, and similarly virulently anti McCarthyist. Somehow this stuff always reminds me of Gil Scott Heron's B-Movie.

UNSW Centre for Ideas: Writing War: Kassem Eid & Mohammed Hanif.

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$10 booked 2019-02-23. The ticket included a drink so I got another 50 Lashes at IO Myers Studio. The sizeable audience sat in rows of chairs on the floor (they'd removed the risers). This pair of conversations was hosted by the Director of UNSW Centre for Ideas, Ann Mossop. Apparently they were both guests at the recent Adelaide Writers Week.

Briefly, Hanif wore a pink shirt, untucked, with sneakers and looked like he was in danger of sobriety. He owned to being born in 1965, that Pakistan has been at war throughout his life, and writing novels might be a bit childish but he's addicted to storytelling. Apparently writing Red Birds took most of the seven years since his previous novel. In his mind war is pure cynicism: some people make a lot of money from it, and careers are furthered. On a stage elsewhere he was told by a real Navy Seal that war was a lot like Call of Duty; absurdism rules the day. The present wars are very sanitised: little blood and few dead bodies, certainly no coffins, are shown on US TV. The classic Việt Nam movies were all focussed on an America traumatised by killing heaps of people: just stop it man. The current Pakistani government is a democracy but is censoring the press etc. like the military dictatorships.

In the brief Q/A session Eid suggests smoking a lot to get over trauma. Hanif's advice to his cadet journalists: don’t get fired, don’t get killed. There was also some discussion about citizenship.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Lunch and a lazy paddle at Yarra Bay. There are still signs up everywhere warning about the possibility of a cruise ship dock being built there. Beaut day for the most part. Some thunderclouds blew threw mid-afternoon. Read some book on the grass nearby. Quite a few people on the beach. Clean, flat with a light offshore breeze.

Andrew McGahan: Last Drinks.

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Kindle. McGahan's third novel, and the third of his I've read. Apparently having exhausted his semi-autobiographical resources in his first two, he decided to give the all-Australian crime genre a go. Fellow Brisvegan John Birmingham wrote a boostery blurb (see also his own take), and a Ned Kelly was conferred.

Briefly this is a variation on the classic noirs. Taking, for instance, Sweet Smell of Success as a starting point, McGahan transplants the action from NYC to the epically corrupt pre-Inquiry Old Queensland of Joh and the epically cafe-d and bar-d Brisbane of now-ish, apparently amoral in a taking-the-fifth sort of way. He retains the focus on the social columnist as narrator and possible patsy. There's a femme fatale (not entirely a success, certainly not as much as Cynthia), the old mates, some graphic violence, and an excess of booze. So perhaps it's more Once Upon A Time In America with that love triangle, the unexpected marriage and the two-track, the good times going sour as they always do in stories like these. Similarly those guys only wanted to party all night. Or maybe there's too much Remains of the Day obliviousness; it's not funny, and too predictable.

So far McGahan has been structurally sound but very repetitious in the small, and across paragraphs, as if he is getting paid by the word. His excuse for the confessionals is that all players are Catholic. Marvin spilling the beans to George was particularly implausible. The South-East Queensland's electricity grid as a metaphor for politics was heavy-handed. Does going cold turkey in a motel room (at The Last Chance Motel of course) and an 11km mountain bushwalk owe anything to Trainspotting? Despite being essentially derivative, the core of this book is addiction and quite often McGahan nailed it.

Queensland is a rich seam and someone's got to have mined it more deeply than this. Joh's Wikipedia page is a ripping read. Chris Masters at the height of his powers (and thanks ABC for letting us download your archive). The cupidity! and so dumb. Bob Williams read this book so you don't have to.

Impulse

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Yet another David Stratton Marvellous movie (#47). Over two sittings. Ex Ms Eastwood Sondra Locke directed; loads of details about her situation on her IMDB bio. She passed recently.

This is yet another exploration of the seamy side of life in Los Angeles. Lead actress Theresa Russell is gorgeous in classic go-getter 80s style. She's bait for the vice squad. Lead bloke, Jeff Fahey (looking much like William Petersen in To Live and Die in L.A. but a step closer to Michael Keaton), works for the D.A. and finds himself in need of her skills and so much more. Things go as you'd expect. The sexual politics is a bit suck-it-up-princess; there's not much empowerment but lots of harassment, some of which is welcome but most not. There's the suggestion that everything can be bought, but the window for closing the transaction might be narrow.

Its rating at IMDB is really low, but it's not that bad. Roger Ebert. Caryn James. I'm starting to think that Stratton would be happy watching daytime T.V.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Lunch at Lady Martin Beach, just to see what's there. It's almost private. The water was filthy along the shoreline. Afterwards I popped over to Woollhara Library at Double Bay, again just to see what's there. They have an indoor garden at the info counter and a surfeit of computers for doing admin. After that I hacked a bit on the Coogee headland and read some book in the strong wind. I had an early-evening paddle off the southern rocks at Gordons Bay: clean, high tide, not many people. The hot day cooled off rapidly, signalling a sort-of end to summer.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Early-evening snorkel off the scuba ramp at Gordons Bay with heaps of people. Tail end of a beaut summer day. Visibility was poor. Saw a couple of large female gropers, the almost-blue big one, some small fry, ludderick, no stingarees. Flat, high tide, no wind. Read some book on the Clovelly headland afterwards.

A Running Jump

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A Mike Leigh-directed short from 2012. Doesn't seem to add up to much, though the acting is as good as always. The reviews at IMDB explain why: it was apparently made for the London Olympics and is no more than a series of gags.

Max Headroom (TV movie)

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I have vague memories of Max Headroom from the 1980s, somehow juxtaposed with the ABC's Rock Arena. I thought it was something like a five-minute cartoon (a Bugs Bunny for the MTV generation) but it turns out to be a TV series. This was the pilot, which apparently later got remade. It is frustratingly inconclusive. Also it's English, not American — the accents are all over the map.

Andrew McGahan: 1988.

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Kindle. McGahan passed recently, and that prompted me to take another look at what he wrote after Praise. Where else to start but with this followup, its prequel.

Here a not-yet-smoking, pre-Cynthia Gordon takes a road trip in a Kingswood from Brisvegas to Darwin with Wayne, an effeminate and somewhat useless artist who mostly rubs him the wrong way, for a job at the Cape Don meteorology station. Yep, it's isolated. Yep, the blokes are unprepared and inept. There is epic drinking, epic circlework and epic boredom. Some Aboriginal dreaming. The more responsible characters are sketched. One is a frustrated desert-country Steve Irwin, parked by the NT conservancy management in this swampland largely because the previous guy was more alpha. Another is an elder who metes out some rough justice. Most if not all tropes of Australian manhood are trotted out and found wanting, and find Gordon wanting too. His ability to disappoint everyone, including himself, is his not-so-secret superpower. The shame he feels for his body overshadows it all. I think McGahan wedged in all the horror genre moves he thought he could get away with. The outro is a bust.

The prose is workmanlike and I enjoyed it more than I remember enjoying Praise. The Russian movie How I Ended This Summer has a similar setting with similar fishing and surprisingly far less epic drinking. Goodreads: I imagine the ratings fall along gender lines.

The Guilty

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Danish Oscar bait. Scandi noir fused with the claustrophobic one-man one-set thing that worked so well for Tom Hardy in Locke. Yep, he's on the phone pretty much the whole time. There's a twist (but only one). The cinematography is washed out. It's a bust.

Jeannette Catsoulis got right into it.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

For various not-good reasons I haven't been getting enough sleep, so instead of continuing to execute tactics when I need to plan strategy I decided to walk down to Coogee in the early afternoon. I ate my leftover curry on the grass along Arden St and read some more book. Afterwards I had a brief early-afternoon paddle in the surf, which was totally flat and cleanish, modulo some seaweed. There were quite a few people about on a beautiful summer day.

Hello There, We've Been Waiting For You by Louris van de Geer.

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A freebie from the UNSW Creative Practice Lab. Closing night, packed with family; the Italians near me chatted throughout. It was hot and stuffy inside IO Myers Studio once the players got going. Dinner at Pinocchio Sushi beforehand, and a 50 lashes pale ale. Loads of people out and about, uni being back and all.

This piece is exactly what the playwright says it is: slices of small-town Americana. The cast was large, the set minimal. Some of it is quite fun, such as the compere's mugging to the camera and audience, and his narcissistic interactions with the lady who seems to be his number-one fan. Also the ensemble-opening piece, with the actors completing each others' sentences. I found the beauty pageant parts dragged a bit, despite the performers' best efforts.

I realise now that it has many similarities to Magnolia.