peteg's blog

Andrew McGahan: The Rich Man's House.

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I heard about McGahan's imminent demise a few months ago but somehow did not register the posthumous release of this novel. That goes to show that I was premature in ranking his output.

Briefly: presumably drawing inspiration from David Walsh, McGahan takes us on a ride of fanciful geography and history to the Southern Ocean — somewhere not too far from Hobart — where a billionaire mountain climber has built a "submerged" mansion in the summit of a 3km high mountain that stands about ten kilometres away from the 25km high "Wheel" that he conquered in his youth. Layered on top is a weak parapsychology which powers a revenge plot overstuffed with horror tropes. The writing is his usual: loads of foreshadowing, overly repetitious and occasionally quite fine.

The main flaw in this work is that it is a puree of so many other things. The mountain climber as Ozymandias. The billionaire as Bruce Wayne. Elements of a James Bond villain, mental instability where previously there were none, an anguished planetary consciousness like Asimov's Gaia before Daneel. Innuendo reported as interleaved excerpts, somewhat like a fat Brunner. Architectural fetishism; the main character is approximately the daughter of Frank Lloyd Wright. The neatly folded clothes of Jasper Fforde. The Sherpas. Tales from the Crypt moralism. There's an Alien: Prometheus vibe, and of course Solaris and doubtlessly other disaster movies I haven't seen. Drugs are bad ok. Portal!

A less severe flaw is that the characters all have the same voice — McGahan's — and it often feels like he's talking to them and not us for we learn little. Another is that the whole thing reads like the Risks Digest doesn't exist. Yet another is the sheer quantity of Chekhovian devices, many of which went off without motivation.

I'm going to rank it at 4.5 — above Underground and below The White Earth.

James Bradley reminded me that we've seen some of this before, in Wonders of a Godless World. Reviews are legion and typically fawning.

Twin Peaks: The Missing Pieces

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This is an assembly of scenes that didn't make it into the prequel movie Fire Walk with Me, shot and edited by David Lynch, and as such doesn't add up to a story. It's clear why he dropped some of them as they don't always cohere. There are a few fun bits, such as those featuring Chris Isaak's bare-knuckled FBI agent. Some of the more Lynchian bits made their way into the 2017 continuation. Clearly a sop to parched fans who had little reason to believe there'd be more in 2014.

Tales from the Crypt

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So-very-British pseudo-horror overflowing with stodgy moralism and cliches. A Joan Collins jag from The Big Sleep and her eyes have never been wider. Peter Cushing does his best to elevate things as a trashman ingenue shining with old-world working-class innocence in one of the many episodes. Little is asked of Ralph Richardson as the Crypt Keeper. The mythos is a bust. I watched it over many sittings. Perhaps best considered a time capsule of early 1970s low-brow English film making.

Roger Ebert tells me it's based on a comic. Vincent Canby.

My Cousin Vinny

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A jag from Dave off the poster for The Irishman at The Ritz. Joe Pesci is perfectly cast here, he says, and Marisa Tomei. Having now seen it I concur: she's fab, stealing every scene and more than earning her Oscar. Pesci does very well at dialing it up and down; it's probably the best thing I've seen him do. I was a bit surprised by the lack of violence though he retains his signature f-bombs. Karate-kid Ralph Macchio and Mitchell Whitfield play the young Yankees in distress. The plot riffs on the well-worn notion that lawyering in the South is deeply weird; see also The Devil's Advocate and sundry others. It's fun, so don't think too hard.

Roger Ebert gave it a poor overall rating but dug some bits. Vincent Canby painted by the numbers.

The Dead Don't Die

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With Dave at The Ritz after a Viet Street Food lunch in Marrickville. About ten people total came to the 4:40pm session (eight more than I expected). We sat five rows from the front. I went in prepped for a not-enough-ideas Jarmusch effort generally inferior to his last memorable one, and was therefore less disappointed than Dave who had expectations of it being intrinsically worth watching. Ultimately the many missed opportunities and loose ends were too frustrating. The frame is a Twin Peaks-ish small town where the cops (Adam Driver, Bill Murray, Chloƫ Sevigny) have few ideas on how to deal with a zombie apocalypse. Tom Waits narrates as a foraging hermit. Steve Buscemi's "make America white again" obnoxious trolling is never cashed, and neither is Caleb Landry Jones as someone who might have had a novel angle on the zombie mind. The children just evaporate, as does Tilda Swinton's katana-wielding Scots lady (and whatever did she do to that computer?). There are a few mild jokes (coffee! wifi!) and a lot of shrugging judgement.

A. O. Scott.

Elliot Ackerman: Waiting for Eden.

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A brief and powerful story about a couple of Marines, a wife and the ravages of war. Ackerman brilliantly focuses on precisely and only what he wants to observe, giving few words to the familiar and expected things. The plot is a bit too predictable but that's not critical to what he has in mind. I came away thinking that this is what (obvious referent) Johnny Got His Gun could have been.

Anthony Swofford reviewed it at length.