peteg's blog

NIDA: Goldilocks by Michael Gow.

/noise/theatre | Link

A $10 cheapie from UNSW Creative Practice Lab, with Dave after we spent the afternoon packing most of my junk into the troopy. In the Playhouse, three rows from the front; we had tickets for the second row but it was already occupied by friends and fans. Not too many people.

I had some hopes for this as Michael Gow is an apparently-famous playwright, though I hadn't heard of him. The story is essentially a compilation of cliched tropes that amount to no more than what the blurb suggested: the Drake equation, Fermi's response, a female alien who defeats Gow's conceit that there might be dark "moral" matter keeping intelligent species apart. And so forth. It had a few good performances — specifically the alien girl and the computer hacker — but I can't find the actors' names. The use of mixed media is getting a bit stale.

Afterwards we went to Chat Thai on Campbell for supper and then Café Hernandez for tea.

/noise/beach/2019-2020 | Link

I've been resisting going to the beach these past few weeks as I know that if I do I won't get moving until next winter. Well, today I broke down and attempted to combine some light and brief exercise with some rumination at Gordons Bay in the late afternoon. I rode down there as usual, just as the day was cooling off after being quite warm at midday. Loads of smoke haze from the big bushfires up north. The water was warm-ish in, totally flat, and the tide was as far out as I've ever seen it. I got in off the southern rocks, scampering past a rather large and colourful crab while a much smaller one made way for me. Two dogs, one one on the beach, the other a bit along the south rocks. The locals seem friendly just now. Read some book on the headland in a vague attempt to dry off.

The Razor's Edge (1984)

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An almost scene-by-scene remake of the 1946 original and in all ways worse. Over many sittings. This was apparently Bill Murray's dramatic debut but he is only convincing when horsing around. Unfortunately the supporting cast is generally worse. Catherine Hicks out horribles Gene Tierney in the role of the jilting and the jilted. Theresa Russell fares better in Anne Baxter's. It may be that Denholm Elliott outdid Clifton Webb. James Keach is bland. Saeed Jaffrey played Billy Fish in the incomparable The Man Who Would Be King. The editing cuts directly to salient scenes with no sense of time flowing. There's no point to it at all. Lifeless.

Janet Maslin at the time, and Roger Ebert.

Cactus

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This one was on the pile for an age and I forget why; perhaps a Shane Jacobson jag from Kenny before he did IGA ads? One ocker bloke kidnaps another ocker bloke and they go for a long drive out into the dead heart of 'straya in 2008; cliches ensue. Bryan Brown, Travis McMahon, David Lyons. Jasmine Yuen Carrucan wrote and directed; IMDB suggests she's a second bean camera lady and this was her final cinematic effort.

The Lineup

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Back in 1958 the San Francisco Police Department collaborated with Don Siegel in making this anti-drug-trafficking propaganda piece. Everything is black and white! Notionally Eli Wallach is a Floridian fixer inexplicably flown in with his mentor/handler Robert Keith to collect the heroin muled by unsuspecting innocents who cruise from Hong Kong. Things go predictably ary. We're promised a finale at the hands of the mob but it seems SFPD likes to think it can take care of its own, though Warner Anderson's wooden inspector is a long way from Dirty Harry. It's all a bit meh.

Baby Doll

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A black-and-white Tennessee Williams from 1956, prompted by its presence on the Ensemble stage presently. Directed by Elia Kazan. Stars a very young Eli Wallach (again cast as a Sicilian) and Karl Malden. Pivot Carroll Baker blows hot and cold and every which way. The characters and conceit don't add up to as much as his other works. The plot is a bit like The Club: a larger-scale Syndicate opens a cotton gin in Tiger Tail County, Mississippi and puts the profits of the local old-boy influence networks under intense strain.

Bosley Crowther was unimpressed at the time: "Three of its four main people are morons or close to being same, and its fourth is a scheming opportunist who takes advantage of the others' lack of brains."

Birds of Passage

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A spur-of-the-moment burn of a free ticket at the Verona. 6:20pm session, Cinema 1: I was allocated a second row seat that proved way too close for a movie with subtitles and so moved to the third. Maybe a total of eight people. Palace Cinemas should make it free to book online, at least for members.

I got suckered by the glowing reviews (A. O. Scott, Paul Byrnes). In reality it's a Godfather mashup, or more accurately a tale of a Colombian Godmother (Carmiña Martínez) whose power animals are birds. The morality is entirely banal (don't grow and sell drugs ok) and the loads of local colour and tradition are hard to care about when the plot is so cliched. Disappointingly the girl on the poster (Natalia Reyes playing daughter Zaida) is characterless. Some of the cinematography is great but with the droughts in my ancestral lands I spent most of it wondering what they do for water in the middle of that dust bowl.

Afterwards I had dinner with Dave at Chat Thai on Campbell in Thaitown. It's worth waiting for the 10pm supper menu.

The Razor's Edge (1946)

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A Gene Tierney, Clifton Webb jag from Laura. Based on a W. Somerset Maugham novel. The whole thing is pretty dire; somehow second banana Anne Baxter won an Oscar for dipsomania. Tierney is atrocious as a money-grubbing socialite who can't get over Tyrone Power. Webb does his best to inflate aristocratic America. Set substantially in France after World War I (Paris and the Riviera) with an excruciating interlude in India and a prelude in Chicago. Long, mostly tedious, over many sittings.

Bosley Crowther.

Chan Koonchung: The Unbearable Dreamworld of Champa the Driver.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. Something somewhere reminded me that the author of The Fat Years had a new-ish book out, but not that it wouldn't be worth reading. Briefly: an unqualified Tibetan residing in Lhasa decides he's driven and serviced his Chinese boss sufficiently to justify driving and servicing her daughter in Beijing. Along the way some dognappers (food) are busted and some out-of-town petitioners have their heads busted. It's a bum dream: the first half is mostly porn, and the second tries to throw some Tibetan folk wisdom against the subterranean walls of 2016 Beijing where nothing much sticks, not even blood. All of the characters are sketchy, especially the women.

Rupert Winchester at the Mekong Review. John W. W. Zeiser.

Gone Baby Gone

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Apparently the third time around with this first outing for Ben Affleck as a director. I still like his opening portraits of a Boston neighbourhood, though Casey Affleck's voiceover is now so purely a very tired Stanford admission essay. It flags a bit towards the end. I wish they'd fleshed out Michelle Monaghan's character some more; she does well with what she's got. The cast is strong.

Roger Ebert at the time. Manohla Dargis didn't like Affleck's Altman-esque framing with the Bostonian natives.

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. Much later (2019-11-15), James Ley provides a broad retrospective.

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

/noise/movies | Link

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, Chloë 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.

/noise/books | Link

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.