peteg's blog

Waterloo

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Rod Steiger completism, with the bonus of a young Christopher Plummer and an indulged Orson Welles as a French king. I think this was an attempt to say something about Napoleon (Steiger, still playing A Fistful of Dynamite) and Wellington (Plummer, born to it) at the Battle of Waterloo. It may have done so if they hadn't spent so much on sets and extras for the vast battleground scenes that nothing was left for dramaturgy, scripting, etc. Director Sergei Bondarchuk initially equivocated between the David Lean or Sergio Leone modes of epic before firmly plumping for frenetic vacuity: the odd moment of beautiful cinematography is killed by our complete befuddlement at the state of the battle. IMDB provides a partial list of perplexities.

Roger Greenspun and Roger Ebert at the time.

John Brunner: The Traveller in Black.

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Goodreads suggested this collection of Brunner shorts wasn't totally dire, and perhaps it isn't if you like moralising fantasy. Reading further down that page I see that this is a work firmly in genre.

Kiss Me Deadly

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A pointer from a recent Dendy newsletter trying to flog one of their DOA horses (Under the Silver Lake). This was bracketed with other famous L.A. noirs like Chinatown but is for mine a pulpy clunker with excess dodgy acting and editing. Made in a time when actresses could proclaim to be of the incomplete sex and everyone was satisfied with a relentless winner like private dick Mike Hammer. I didn't enjoy any of the performances: Ralph Meeker was a cardboard lead.

John Brunner: The Squares of the City.

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Kindle. Looking for something light and breezy, and because it got mentioned alongside Brunner's fat books, though goodreads suggests none of his stuff is rated in absolute terms.

Brunner takes us to the fictional Spanish-speaking country of Aguazul in Latin America in 1965: perhaps an island, perhaps Central, I imagined South. The perfectly modern 20th century city we arrive in was built in the time-honoured fashion: by underfunding the rest of the country. As the slums encroach the powers that be hire our narrator, a(n Australian!) foreign traffic expert, to give them the right answer. In many ways it's a Graham Greene novel: the country is Catholic, the landholders rich, citizenship has been extended to the foreign help, the peasantry excessive and restive, the newspapers partisan. There's a beautiful woman or two, an uprising and a fascination with chess. It's a sort of psychohistory of a totalitarian technocratic government, but more a demented extended metaphor. By midway it was too hard to track so many bit players, making for a choppy read.

Later reflection made me wonder if Brunner was giving the nod to famed early cyberneticist Stafford Beer, but no, Beer made it to Chile only in the early 1970s. Similarly Georges Perec's Life: A User's Manual, also a structural riff on chess, came thirteen years later. I conclude that once again Brunner was ahead of the curve.

It's widely reviewed out there on the free web.

Parasite (Gisaengchung)

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The Ritz, preview screening, 7pm, $10, Cinema 5, four rows from the front. Maybe half full but I didn't really pay much mind; I think there may have even been some actual Koreans up the back somewhere. Went to dear old Chao Praya for dinner beforehand: a chilli basil fried rice which was somewhat tasty.

The draw was director Joon-ho Bong (Snowpiercer, The Host, not so much Okja), this getting the Palme d'Or this year, and you know, everything else out right now being total garbage. Briefly this is Gangnam Style at feature length: a semi-basement dwelling family colonises an effluent abode in highly amusing style. It gets a bit graphic towards the end, and also a bit 25th Hour with a dash of Oldboy, though no octopuses are mentioned in the credits. There's a very sexy clothes-on sex scene. The very comedic dad seemed familiar, which is to say that Song Kang-ho must have made an impression on me in Snowpiercer. Shot on digital and so very Fincher.

Toy Story 4

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The Ritz preview, 6:30pm, Cinema 1 upstairs, $10. Maybe two-thirds full, some kids and many kidults. I hadn't been to the cinema for ages — the pickings aren't even slim! — and it being a cold sunny day (though warm at midday) I felt like getting out of the house.

I set my expectations mid to low on the basis of Disney having to make superprofits on all these assets they bought at bubble prices and wasn't disappointed. The animation is amazing. The story is a bit meh: cynically it's about how American kids bond with stuff at early ages, and learn to churn through it, keeping that economy ticking over. There's the necessary strong female lead in the form of Bo Peep, some adolescent, awkward coupling and a sunset. Keanu voices the Canadian daredevil. We get an extended road trip and some fine observational humour: Buzz Lightyear's inner voices and a lemming-like desire to return to the garbage bin amongst others.

Dana Stevens. Manohla Dargis. Sandra Hall. All avoid offending the mouse, the tastemakers, the nostalgists.

J. G. Farrell: The Singapore Grip.

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Kindle. I was in the mood for some historical fiction, which I sort-of got, albeit set in the circa 1940s and not the genesis story I was hoping for. This is Singapore as a mongrel English colony whose exploiters are being challenged by the Japanese war machine, spreading southwards from Shanghai; Raffles is just a place here.

Briefly Farrell wears his researches very heavily. He tries to exhibit meaningful misunderstandings amongst a diverse cast of characters, none of whom are drawn deeply despite the tendentious scenarios. The anchor is Walter, a crassly constructed capitalist, imperialist boar complete with bristles down his spine and a trophy wife. There's a love triangle centred on the hapless scion nephew of his deceased business mentor/partner which involves ridiculous nudity and wilful aggression from Walter's soulless daughter and a Eurasian she is somehow acquainted with. Guess who comes out on top. The Quiet American Ehrendorf is annoyingly characterless and ineffectual. The bit I enjoyed most was a sketch of the pre-war Great World Amusement Park. Looks like it became a shopping centre, surprise.

Apart from the characters, the most annoying part is the climax where our small band of stereotypes somehow traverse Singapore and reunite as it falls to the Japanese army. It's like the city contains just five people and a few million something elses who just get in the way, but only so much. It's cinematic, tediously repetitious and feels like the author ran out of gas around halfway.

The writing is unforgivingly prolix, mostly good but nothing too exciting; even the the bombing of Singapore is mundane. There's a touch of Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day though the author can't bring himself to endorse pretty much any part of the European presence in South East Asia. Perhaps it was groping for the panorama of Pasternak's classic Doctor Zhivago. And of course your time is far better spent with David Malouf's The Great World, who perhaps unfairly suppresses the unkind descriptions Farrell applies to the Australian forces present at the time.

Reviews make it sound like this is the weakest of Farrell's "Empire" novels, which I now won't be seeking out. Goodreads has a range of views. Paul Fussell at the time.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Had lunch on the northern headland of Coogee; warm to hot around 12-1 when the sun was out. Afterwards went for a brief lazy paddle at the northern end of the beach. Almost no one there. Just a few swimmers. Dried out on the headland after, read some book, had a snooze in between all that. This fantastic run of weather is forecast to come to an end tomorrow with some light rain, so that might be it for the season.

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Lunch on the rocks at the Clovelly carpark. Rode down. Perfect day: light cool wind, otherwise warm in the sun. Snorkel off the scuba ramp: great visibility but didn't see much, just a big groper (still green), some small schools of ludderick, miscellaneous small fry, a senator wrasse. There were a couple of other snorkellers and two blokes suited up looking like they were going spearfishing. Dried off a bit by reading some book on the southern Clovelly headland. Bought groceries at Randwick afterwards.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Wandered down to the northern headland at Coogee. Ate the leftovers of last night's biryani; tastier now than then. After reading some more book I had a lazy paddle at a pancake-flat Coogee, this after a week or so of large swell and classic shore breaks. Quite a few people out on this Queen's Birthday long weekend: a beaut day, warm to hot when the sun was out, not too cool in the shade. Some heavy cumulus was rolling through, shading to light nimbus later in the afternoon. I was amazed I didn't freeze on the way back.

Trent Dalton: Boy Swallows Universe.

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Kindle. Cinematic, mongrelised magic realism. Another junk novel. Funny. Very deus ex. We're in the western and later northern suburbs of Brisbane: Darra next door to Oxley, Moorooka, thereabouts. Things start in the early 1980s for two pre-adolescent brothers and proceed for about a decade, the ambient level of corruption remaining constant. There are Viets and Poles: both deal heroin but only the Viets have good food. The endless stories leave us yet wondering why Queenslanders vote the way they do.

Dalton tries valiantly in that Australian/Ned Kelly way to distinguish crims with hearts of gold from truly evil bastards, having it both ways with the heroin dealers and bikies but not the vivisectors who are literally beyond the pale. The obvious referents are:

I'll stop here. It's done well enough that you won't care.

Apparently Joel Edgerton is going to make a TV movie of it.

Amelia Lester's flat review didn't sell it to me back in May, but Helen Davidson's brief notice did. John Collee found something profound here. Local reviews are legion, as are pointers to even more source material.

Dark Phoenix

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Seat C-6 in cinema 2 of Dendy Newtown, 3:45pm session after laksa for lunch, $5, on a cold and rainy day. This is the first time I've used my Dendy Club membership, which IIRC cost me $5. I was there for a Fassbender fix. Totally boring.

Manohla Dargis.

National Theatre Live: All My Sons

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6:30pm, Palace Cinemas Central, cinemas 1 and 2. A freebie from Griffin Theatre to a promo night run by an unknown movie distributor. Maybe two-thirds full. I ended up in the front row (it's a tiny space) after spending the afternoon in one of the newer UTS buildings. The introductory making-of short was far too loud. We got the same twenty minute interval as those who saw it live, making it run until 9.20pm.

Everything you need to know about the play and more can be found at Wikipedia. Apparently this second effort by Arthur Miller erased the failure of the first. I found it to be a clunker: it's so clearly pre-Beckett and barely a dry run for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. The plot unwinds linearly — there are no Gone Girl moves here — and the Chekhovian device alluded to early on goes off late enough you're left wondering why they bothered; surely escaping comeuppance was not new to anyone in 1947.

This production ran at the Old Vic in London at some point. Surviving son (Colin Morgan, solid) invites his childhood neighbour (Jenna Coleman with wonky accents), the objectified sweatheart of his World War II-deceased brother, home from NYC to propose to her. Growly father (Bill Pullman) is the heartland/Midwestern self-made man who just maybe played the manufacturing game a little dirty, or didn't quite stick by his worker, her father. Sally Field is the cunningly delusional mother. The revelatory style is a bit of a grind. Field's performance annoyed me: she was so obviously waiting for the other actors to get their stuff said. The rest of the cast did well with what they had.

Afterwards I made haste to Spice Alley where the Shanghai dumpling house sold me some expensive but tasty (frozen) dumplings.

Odd Man Out

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A Carol Reed jag from The Third Man. B&W, 1947, a Belfast in ruins. A very young and presumably impressionable James Mason plays an Irish partisan who spends a rough night meandering the streets, junkyards, saloons, etc. after a spot of bother involving firearms. It's sorta like Naked without the wise cracking. He's abandoned by his fellows, Christ-like, except for a Mary Magdalene figure who finds him just in time to (spoiler) organise suicide by bobby. William Hartnell plays a barkeep. There's a touch of Henry Fool about the artist Lukey (Robert Newton).

Bosley Crowther got into it at the time.

The Lavender Hill Mob

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Another of the Ealing comedies. B&W, 1951. Alec Guinness leads as a deceptively unambitious bank clerk who regularly shepherds gold bullion from the foundry to the vault. He chances to meet a tourist souvenir manufacturer in the form of Stanley Holloway and a plot is hatched. Very funny at times, but also very restricted by genre: English farces demand a taste of the lash. It sags a little in the third quarter as the makers scrabble around for something to justify their trip to Paris. There are no fleshed-out female characters apart from the oldies running the "private hotel" and a schoolgirl.

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.

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.

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.