peteg's blog

Across the Bridge

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With great expectations of Rod Steiger, who doesn't disappoint. If I got this right, this is a dumbed-down Touch of Evil made in B&W in 1957 where a crooked German financier is killed by Englishmen on the US/Mexico border. The ending is lame, perhaps because the bridge is lame. Graham Greene wrote the story, which is diffuse and ambles to nowhere.

Bosley Crowther at the time.

Robert Harris: Fatherland.

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Kindle. Some days all you want to read is an airport novel and can't remember why you picked this one. (Scavenging the various memory holes shows that David S suggested Harris's The Ghost, but the movie version of that put me off.) I have some vague memories of learning something from the Frederick Forsyth books I read back when I was a kid, which is unfortunately not the case here.

Briefly: Circa 1992 Harris served up this alternate history of circa 1942 to 1964 in which the Nazis, having won World War II, establish a co-prosperity sphere bearing a strong resemblance to the actual EU. This rich conceit is squandered with the central McGuffin (spoiler) being that the Holocaust still happened but was successfully turned into #fakenews. I had hoped for tales of something supernatural dug from the cold dead ground under the streets of dreary Zurich instead of this replaying of old PK Dick moves. Perhaps Harris was reflecting on the denialism of the day, which has since gone toxically viral.

There is much Speer architecture. There are loads of SS officers. The lead is investigating a murder, later murders, and of course gets into bed with a freedom-loving American journalist/girl. Even-handedness is attempted by yammering on about Joseph P. Kennedy's antisemitism. The smoking is similarly endless. The "German look" and sundry totalitarian imaginings are drawn straight from 1984. The writing is workman-like, not too patronising, and does what it needs to do.

Rutger Hauer starred in the 1994 movie. Apparently the adaptation was loose.

Loads of opinions at Goodreads. It seems Harris has form for cloning earlier plotlines: the summary of Archangel reads just like The Boys from Brazil with Stalin subbed for Hitler.

Nam Le: On David Malouf (Writers on Writers series).

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Kindle. From Black Books Inc for 10 AUD.

Yeah, Australian identity politics. It's unenlightening stuff: somehow Australia has gotten less comfortable with being a nation of migrants even while the USA has made hyphenated nationalities almost mandatory. Le speaks less about Malouf's life's work than his own contradictory feelings about it all. Unfortunately this spills over into overly strong and unsound factual assertions in a vocabulary unleashed.

This being the first substantial thing from Nam Le in more than a decade, excerpts are legion: at Granta, The Monthly, The Paris Review, etc. etc. Hats off to his agent. Reviews are thinner on the ground so far. James Ley was unimpressed.

The Third Man

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Second time around for this B&W classic. Graham Greene wrote the novel and the adapation, Carol Reed directed. Joseph Cotton is a man-about-the-world Southerner who comes to post war Vienna at the behest of a bloke who he finds recently passed. There are also a Czech girl played by an Italian, two other blokes and the cops. So much effort is put into building up the mystery that nothing happens until Orson Welles arrives, and while the cat had the right idea I was left out in the cold. Many arty camera angles, some decent cinematography. Still #134 in the IMDB top-250.

Bosley Crowther at the time. Roger Ebert in 1996.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Lunch at UNSW, just to use their wifi. Walked down to Coogee for a paddle in the early afternoon. Absolutely flat. Loads of people, like a quiet January weekday. Seemed clean despite BeachWatch's warnings. Dried out on the headland after.

MASH

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Second time around for this somewhat tired piece of black-humoured Altman. We're off to a sanitised 1950s Korea where all the modcons of home, including willing women, are provided and the front is at least three miles distant. Robert Duvall plays an uptight god botherer, Sally "Hot Lips" Kellerman his inevitable bed partner. She got into it later, and he got a better role about a decade later in another war. Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould are playboy doctors who effectively take over the outfit; you know, doctors are gods and all that. It's toothless despite all the blood. I enjoyed the improv and the odd zinger. The cinematography is washed out. The final football match piles on the cliches.

Roger Ebert at the time.

McCabe & Mrs Miller

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Third time around. I'm still fascinated by Beatty's performance: the rambling to himself as mortality encroaches, his ignorance of the woman he's infatuated by, his general amiability when not doing business. Julie Christie is similarly fine but more enjoyable elsewhere. Leonard Cohen's soundtrack signalled his arrival, I guess. They don't make movies like this anymore.

Roger Ebert at the time and in 1999. He was wrong about the bathhouse — that was built at Mrs Miller's insistence — but dead right that this movie is near perfect. Vincent Canby was less impressed.

Jack London: The Call of the Wild.

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Kindle. A jag from The Night Of. Amazingly in the public domain. It's a brisk, well-written and archaic story about working dogs and man's barbarity in the Pacific Far Northwest (Canada's Yukon, maybe Alaska) during a gold-rush. The form is Biblical. I got the chills reading about the climate. Apparently it's been made into many movies. I imagine Thoreau reads similarly.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Rode up to Centennial Park for lunch, Bondi Junction for an iPhone case and then the carpark at Clovelly for a paddle off the scuba ramp at Gordons Bay. Unlike last time it was quite calm with only small waves, seemingly clear and probably good snorkeling conditions. Warm in and out, even out of the sun, but not as hot as I expected. No wind. A few people walking around, a few in.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Wandered down to Coogee at 1pm on an almost-hot day. The smoke haze had cleared up enough that I didn't notice it. Ate my lunch on the headland then went for a lazy paddle at the beach, where quite a few were enjoying the very late summer conditions. Read some book while drying out.

Never Let Me Go

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Over two nights. More Carey Mulligan completism. She's full of woe here. A bonus was Sally Hawkins as a concerned teacher. Keira Knightley is annoying but doesn't have enough screen time to wreck it; and come on, she's too thin to provide quality spare parts. Andrew Garfield plays Tommy as even more of a lettuce than he presents in the the book. The child actors are great. Grossly summarised by Ex Machina/Annihilation auteur Alex Garland, who does not even attempt to preserve the subtleties Ishiguro brought to his perspective from a girl's diary. The ending tries feebly to universalise. Director Mark Romanek has done shirtloads of music videos, notably the famous one for Nine Inch Nails's Closer.

Roger Ebert got into it. Manohla Dargis not so much.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Beaut day and looking to get hotter (!) later in the week. Rode down to Coogee to eat my lunch on the grass west of the beach. Not many people about. Had a lazy paddle just out past the classic shoredump.

Paul Murray: Skippy Dies

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Kindle. More Irish lad lit, and as far as I know the last of Murray's books for me to read. He takes us to a prestigious private Catholic boarding school in Dublin, attended by the titular character who dies in the nearby doughnut palace in chapter 1. The end! But 600 pages follow.

The school is infested with the sorts of characters you'd find in a John Hughes movie from the 1980s. The adults stake out roles familiar from David Williamson's The Club: the hypocritical traditionalist, the old fogey, the neo-corporatist, the ineffectual critic, the druggies, and this being set where it is, the dodgy priests, the absent parents. Dismal old-boy teacher Howard, who gets the deepest treatment, never shoulders the tragedy he was created for. The loads of 2003-ish pop culture refs and criticism hew to mainstream views; this is not Jarret Kobek or Michael W. Clune, and all these dualities/oppositions don't add up to Hegelian synthesis. Dodgy teenage scientist Ruprecht is used to gesture at outre science (string theory and so forth) with little heat and less light. Pachelbel's Canon is something aliens should understand. Vacuous teen beauty queen Lorelei, investment banker sex object Miss McIntyre, American Halley and Skippy's ill mother prove that Murray can't inflate a female character to save his life.

There are too many characters, too many one-note characters, it's too often too cliched and way too long. Momentary transient transcendence shows that he can write, and he is at his best when he's showing and not explaining. But ultimately there's not a lot there to be shown.

Widely reviewed at the time. Dan Kois. Goodreads. And so forth. Congratulations to the publicist.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

The Indian summer rolls on. Got a felafel roll from Erciyes at Coogee for lunch; they wouldn't make one on Turkish bread for me, unlike the Cleveland St original. Read some more book. Quite a few people. Had a brief paddle: the shore dump was brutal. Very pleasant in. More book on the headland while drying off.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Yet another beaut sunny day, but with a strong onshore wind. Ate lunch around 1:30pm on the rocks at the Clovelly carpark. Apparently Randwick Council is developing a masterplan for Clovelly Road. I attempted to snorkel off the scuba ramp but the strong swell (small waves) made things a bit too rough to relax into. Visibility was OK. Loads of small fry, heaps of ludderick just sitting around, some small gropers, no larger ones. Read some book on the rocks in the sun while drying off.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

A beaut day. A touch cold out of the sun. Coogee was running its classic shore dump when I got in around midday. I dried out over lunch after on the headland near the Mother Mary Apparition. Not many people around and very few in.

Arsenic and Old Lace

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Over three or more sittings. Continuing with the Cary Grants. B&W. I didn't really get into it as the comedy is mostly slapstick with references to horror (much is made of his brother looking like Boris Karloff; I guess the stage show traded on him being played by Boris Karloff). A couple of Aunties have taken to relieving lonely men of their lives. Grant is a theatre critic and adamantly a bachelor, so much so he gets married in his first scene. There are cops, another brother, a graveyard and many bit players. The odd zinger is obscured by endless frenetic action. Highly rated by a large number of people at IMDB.

Someone at the New York Times at the time.

Paul Murray: An Evening of Long Goodbyes.

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Kindle. Continuing a run of mediocre (laddish) Irish writing, and having forgotten how irritating Paul Murray's hand wringing repetition can be. This one indulges in some cribbed-from-her-autobiography Gene Tierney fandom on a lightweight side track; there is nothing to recommend this version of her sad story. Sure, everyone agrees that Laura was awesome, but Whirlpool? The plot made little sense to me as the characters crowded in and somehow got along despite their origins in very distinct social strata (with very different drinking habits). Does anyone even remember the Celtic Tiger? So much pointless misdirection, so often, and such a self-deceived narrator makes for fake fiction.

Stephen Amidon. Goodreads suggests Murray did better with his next one.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Got down to Coogee beach about 12:30 for a brief paddle. Hardly anyone there. Flat, tide going out, about the same temperature in as out, at least in the sun. Ate my lunch on the headland after. Beaut day, and there can't be many left.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

A frustrating morning: the charging socket on my old iPhone now seems defunct, and the people at Bondi didn't want to sell me a new one for a decent price. The IRS is playing a strange game with my U.S. taxes. What to do but go for a mid afternoon paddle at a mostly-deserted Coogee. Flat, tide going out, not entirely clean but not too bad. Warm in and warm out, at least in the sun.

It Had to Happen

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A Rosalind Russell jag from His Girl Friday. She seems a bit out-of-sorts in this clunker. The framing story has her returning from Europe and encountering some Italian migrants as she disembarks into b&w NYC in 1936. Clichés ensue: one (an entirely flat George Raft) takes a shine to her, and by means unexplained turns into a sort-of Robert Moses who "seems to hold all offices but none..." There are vast piles of high-minded civic BS, probity!, but ultimately this is about picking up another man's wife and how easy it was to make good in the USA back then. You too can marry an heiress! And she's entirely willing!

Raft fared better as a gangster, e.g. Spats Colombo in Some Like It Hot. His secretary Arline Judge's performance was more like what Russell later did.

Frank S. Nugent at the time.

Shadow

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On the strength of Glenn Kenny's review and expectations of Yimou Zhang's directing. There's not a lot to this that isn't a cliché. The kids are in charge of a kingdom in ancient China and intrigue as a distraction from their dismal little screens. Most of the movie is ponderous exposition with a pretence to cleverness. The camerawork/cinematography evokes a grim mountainous landscape, and yes, it's always raining in the valley of the shadow. The action is same-y same, claiming that "feminine moves" might win these days of bigly testosterone. The best parts involved zither playing.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

It was surprisingly dry in the morning so I thought I'd sneak in lunch and a swim down at Gordons Bay. The rain started around 11:50am, just as I was hopping on the bike, but I was lucky enough to ride down and get in off the southern rocks before the street effluvia made it too far. (There was a huge amount of runoff from the storm drain on the beach, and enough to get a waterfall going off the southern cliff.) Seemed clean, the tide was out, very flat. Initially there appeared to be nobody in the bay at all (apart from the omnipresent mating call of the jackhammer/concrete saw of great wealth creation), then a few people slogging through the rain on the walkway. At some point a scuba flag appeared. Afterwards I ate my lunch under the cliff.

Kevin Barry: Dark Lies the Island.

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Kindle. I was in the mood for more shorts. Well, these have little new to say. There are a few that click but too many seem derivative (of Irvine Welsh, of Snatch and lesser works like Tresspass Against Us, of the Irish storytelling tradition). Titular Dark Lies the Island muses over teenage self-harm, isolation, and the story about Lennon's island that Barry later spun into Beatlebone. Berlin Arkonaplatz — My Lesbian Summer is very tired.

Rachel Nolan at the time. Some critical opinions at Goodreads, e.g. Lorenzo Berardi points to the highlights that I'm too lazy to.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Got some sushi for lunch and ate it down on the Coogee headland. Crazy traffic today with roadworks everywhere. Two helicopters were out searching for something, and a boat. (One was the lifesaver, the other blue-and-white.) Cool, cloudy but no rain. Read some book on the headland then went for a brief paddle at a mostly-empty Coogee beach. Tried drying out on the headland afterwards with more book.

The Philadelphia Story

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Another highly-rated Cary Grant headliner, but really this is Kate Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart's show; both are so young here, and bounce off each other wonderfully. It's an east-coast high society sex farce which gently roasts and finally endorses the old moneyed. Despite the unappetising premise it's very funny even as the dialogue gets obscure. Second-stringer Ruth Hussey delivered her part flat, and was therefore the funniest.

Bosley Crowther at the time, and sixteen years later on the remake High Society staring Grace Kelly, Sinatra, Bing Crosby.