peteg's blog - noise

Their Finest

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6:30pm Event Cinemas, George St, a freebie from some mailing list or other. Another Richard E. Grant supporting role in barely a month? I have to wonder at that. Gemma Arterton in the lead, Bill Nighy trying to be funny in an arch and recognizably stereotypical way. Yet another World War II movie, this time from the angle of a woman working on a propaganda film. Romance, patriotism, London during the blitz. You know, you've seen most of it before, probably in another BBC production.

The Brett Whiteley Studio, with music.

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I think I went to Raper St sometime back in the 1990s. That part of Surry Hills hasn't changed too much, but we'll see how it is when the trams start rumbling down Devonshire Street. I rode over in the dry, while inside it rained, afterwards it was blue skies and even a little warm, certainly good conditions for giving the CB400 a clean. Alongside the doors is a miniature of the iconic Almost Once from the Domain.

Whiteley is a big Dylan fan. The current exhibition is titled naked, but really it's closer to arthouse porn, including some very contemporary POV angles. The draw for me was the permanent installation of Alchemy, and the musical event.

One could spend a few days trainspotting Alchemy. I struggled to think of it as a coherent work of art; more a riot. There's a tiny outline of Australia, a Harbour Bridge, a country road with a Bathurst sign, many funny small drawings. The piece pivots on a single panel that says "IT"; to the left we get something perhaps Eastern (Japan, Vietnam), a little foreign (or weird: Nixon), a little mythical, the interior of Australia, whereas to the right it's the city, the beach, the urbanity, the familiar, albeit with a lot of holes, the odd plug, a man trying to extricate himself from a bathtub plughole, the breathtakingly new at the time: Earth from space. There are more words as the thing progresses. Whiteley paints a lot of figures (fetishizing the bits he finds sexy) but almost no faces; I can only remember seeing his both here and in the similarly famous Self portraint in studio (which sits on a nearby wall). All other faces are photographs. He likes birds, but seemingly not domestic animals.

Whiteley would have made a great cartoonist. He was certainly a man of his times, blowing with the trends. Japan, for instance, fascination for which has contracted to its martial arts, its erotica, or in my case, its motorcycles. Apparently he was mates with Patrick White, at least for a while. I should try to go back on a working day, when it's less crowded.

Their blurb for the music:

This first concert of the year presents the unique ensemble of flute (Emma Lefroy), bassoon (Zola Baldwin) and marimba (Kaylie Dunstan). Join us for an interesting and diverse program, including the stunning Oblivion by Piazzolla as well as Mosaics by Eric Ewarzen being played in its entirety. With its intricately interwoven parts, this work presents a barcarolle, fugue, pavane and a tarantella as an exciting finale.

Back to Back Theatre: Lady Eats Apple at the Carriageworks.

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$40.01 = $35 + various surcharges, booked 2017-03-16 on fear of it being booked out (it was, and the session I would have preferred — Friday's Auslan-interpreted one — was too). It's been more than three years since I've been to the Carriageworks; their ritz bar doesn't do coffee at 7:30pm on Saturday nights, which makes reading Voss a little more challenging.

The sales pitch for this one was that it was developed collaboratively by people with and without disabilities. I enjoyed the one piece of deaf theatre I saw while studying Auslan in Melbourne, and Adam Hills makes much gentle, powerful humour from sign language and his missing foot. Of course placing young adults with intellectual disabilities at the centre of this sort of thing is challenging for all concerned, and one may wonder if the audience is going to feel things are too Ricky Gervais for comfort.

Well, two girls did leave during the performance. (Actually getting in was a bit of a challenge with all my gear as they forced us through an inflated airlock/vaginal type structure.) The headphones seemed spurious. The first of the three acts (An Insecure God) was something of a mashup of Christian creation myths, somewhat successful. The second (Matter Creates Matter) was a washout. I got thinking that it might have been due to my glasses having a polarization filter as I could make out some shapes clearly through my peripheral vision, but really there wasn't enough to get a grip on. Act 3 (The Human Bond) has the cast play contract cleaners, charting the paucity of personal growth opportunities (driving was verboten for the bloke with Down Syndrome) and in particular romance. It was somewhat effective: Sarah Mainwaring's diction is a wonder, so careful, precise, and evocative she should be making airplane safety ads. Seriously, I would pay attention to those if she was: her every word left me hanging.

I sat in the second row and was surprised to strike up a conversation with the Persian bloke I climbed over to get to a seat. (Theatre seating designers, think a bit about how general admission works, and don't stick one set of steps up the middle; put one on each edge of the risers.) He was generally quite down on Sydney. His partner was silent. Afterwards I rode down to the new-ish Max Brenner's in Alexandria, which strangely enough is open until 11pm.

Cameron Woodhead saw an earlier version in Melbourne. Jo Litson says the music for Act 2 was by Chris Abrahams. Jane Howard.

Red Line Productions: Crimes of the Heart at the Old Fitzroy Hotel.

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Last minute freebie. Preview, opens Friday. Straight southern gothic, oh my. The mostly-female cast was great, the production solid in this first outing. It was a bit weird being back at the Old Fitzroy Hotel; the coffee neon in the corner is still there, the bar about the same; it could have been 2005. The ride over and back was quite fun; the city is quite dead after 7:30pm, and the skies had been blue for a few hours. Got the CB400 up to 10.5k revs in first gear on the spaghetti monster flyover. :-)

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Vale, Murray Ball.

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Late-ish lunch in Centennial Park, then a mid-afternoon soak at Gordons Bay. The place was as packed as I've seen it, unsurprising given the time of day and these few days of respite between extended rainy periods. The water was a tad cool and quite clean. The ride back was a bit fun; shifting gears at 8k-10k RPM is a lot easier than at 4k-5k, and lane filtering makes a huge difference.

Miss Sloane

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This is a dog of a movie. I had mixed expectations from the reviews on IMDB, and given the central issue is the regulation of guns in the U.S., but it turns out that whatever views one holds on that issue there is only one valid conclusion to be reached for this. The arguments are facile, everything is overexplained, Jessica Chastain has no subtlety and her character is absolutely horrible. It's a long way from A Most Violent Year. How could she possibly be the first person to think about organising women to come out against guns? I wonder if this isn't some kind of anti Erin Brockovich (I've never seen it). Mark Strong is the boss in Kick Ass.

Triumph by Louris van de Geer, at IO Myers Studio.

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$20, booked 2017-02-26. Stupidly I filled this first working week in a long while with night events. I'm toasted.

If one scene makes a play, the final movement of this three-parter, set in a misty eucalyptus forest, evoked by a smoke machine and the passivity of the cast, justifies going to this. The playwright is from Melbourne, and reviews of a production there make me think I missed a lot of what this is about. It's a cliche that people bound through adversity; perhaps there's a new angle in here somewhere. The production is part of the Performance Production course at the School of the Arts and Media at UNSW.

It's been almost 18 months since I last went to the theatre. Earlier this year I signed up to all the whats-on mailing lists I could find — though I expect most of the action is on FaceBook these days — and scored a freebie to a preview of Superhal at NIDA on Monday night past, which I went to with Sugam. I refrain from commenting on it as the performance was a preview; The Sydney Arts Guide reviewed it after it opened.

Mohsin Hamid: Exit West.

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Kindle. $AU16.99 from the Australian store on the day it was released in this market, which was either a vote of confidence in Mohsin Hamid or in desperation for something decent to read. Having finished it I wish I'd waited: the author repeatedly talks down to his readers, spelling out the detail of a careful, beautiful allusion to a negligible detail. It is this sort of thing that destroys momentum. I was also irritated by his naive politics, him being a fan of more men and accepting the further wholesale destruction of nature that entails. The door mechanism is not even magical, it just is, and that's not enough. His taxation proposal is ... pretty much how things are now? To those who were born into a world with fewer people we will give more? And they wonder why Gen Y is smashing avocados rather than scrimping for their own piece of Australia, or worrying about the long term. I found the characters generally tendentious, almost inhuman, and so much of the refugee experience is made light of. The interstitial stories are generally feeble, merely small portraits of places Hamid has visited, or has friends at. The ending, a reprise, a variant on that of his excellent How to get filthy rich in rising Asia, has the central couple reconnect when aged to no great effect. Why ever does he resist having them come from a specific country?

Michiko Kakutani found more in it than I did. Viet Thanh Nguyen. Andrew Motion. Isaac Chotiner is more skeptical, and while I generally agree with his criticisms, he is in error to hold that Moth Smoke is Hamid's finest.

Adam Johnson: Fortune Smiles.

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Kindle. A 2015 collection of shorts (some offcuts from The Orphan Master's Son) which won Johnson a few prizes. The stories seem to have direct antecedents in recent cinema:

  • Nirvana: The prez is assassinated and reincarnated R2D2-style as a hologram, and responds in the manner of the I Ching. Yes, relationships with constructs: Dirk Gently, Her, Ex Machina, etc. The reincarnator's wife has a degenerative condition and is a big Cobain fan.
  • Hurricanes Anonymous: Louisiana, post hurricane. The bloke works for UPS, probably-his-kid's mum is in prison, his girlfriend is not entirely straight.
  • Interesting Facts: Very Sixth Sense.
  • George Orwell Was a Friend of Mine: The Reader? The East Germany prison warder narrator is obtuse and reflexively defensive, which in combination with the dog put me in mind of David Ireland's recent outing.
  • Dark Meadows bravely reflects on child abuse, and is thoughtfully, provocatively ambiguous. Johnson is not really across his technology though.
  • Fortune Smiles is the material left over from the novel. Johnson places two quirky North Korean defectors (one tricked into doing so, the other being his driver) in Seoul. At times it reads like a travel guide, taking us along random subways just for the hell of it. Gangnam Style, for sure.

Johnson has his technique down cold but struggles to find things worth writing about; Lauren Groff seems to agree, but found more here than I did. Michiko Kakutani wishes there were fewer.

Tresspass Against Us

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A recent Fassbender vehicle. Brendan Gleeson plays his father. The family are caravan-dwelling smash-and-grab thieves who appear to have developed their own argot. Sean Harris was awesome in Macbeth, but here I dunno. There's not much to it, and what is there is tediously predictable. Much of it is filmed like a hyped-up episode of The Bill. None of the characters is particularly sympathetic, and their world view is at best archaic and will not be mourned in its passing.

Logan

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Palace Cinemas, Norton St, 9pm session, $16.00 + 24 cent credit card surcharge. Three rows from the front, decent sized screen, comfortable. Rated MA-15+. I rode the still-nameless CB400 over in the dry, and back in some light rain. Parking is plentiful for bikes at that time of the night; I got a spot near the boom gate at the Norton Plaza, undercover, and there were others closer. I walked past a pristine Ural on the way back from the cinema.

I had to see it, of course, but let's not get too carried away here. I was a bit disappointed that Gandalf didn't reprise his role; it may have made for a nice cameo. The literal cloning of mutants shows the limits of this imagined world, as the plot does, every time, and passes up the obvious innovation of a god of plastic (hat tip to Douglas Adams). The violence is generally gratuitous, quite graphic. Jackman really does need that intravenous dose of viagra to bring out the wolverine. It was good to see Patrick Stewart let off some profanity, but too often he doesn't get past "Logan" (repeat a few times). His Professor X character is always troubling as it is too powerful, and must always be hobbled like a camel, lest it get away. There is some humour, more forced humour. Do all bad guys sport Southern accents now? Richard E. Grant, too weird. Stephen Merchant (Caliban) voiced Wheatley in Portal 2, wow. I had expected more Mad Max cinematography from the short.

As Dave put it, Jackman is once again seeking redemption. This particular portait of suffering is too one-dimensional to get worked up about. To my mind his long-term tenure in this role invites comparison with Arnie's as the Terminator, and it felt like Arnie had done it all before, right down to the grandpa Terminator, time travel, apprentice, empathy, acting with kids, the enemy with the half-blown-off metal head, ... — and we'll see if Jackman comes back from retirement.

In brief, I would have preferred another outing from the First Class crew.

Manohla Dargis. Paul Byrnes. Peter Bradshaw says Jackman "goes into Basil Fawlty mode" on a pickup truck, which is more amusing than the scene itself. Anthony Lane. The IMDB rating slipped from 9 on release to 8.9 the day after, 8.8 the day after, but still parked at #57 in the IMDB top-250.

ACO Underground at Giant Dwarf.

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Notionally 8pm, but twenty minutes or more late, $35 + $3.30 booking fee. The evening was sunny despite predictions of much rain from the BOM; I did walk home through some rain but it wasn't torrential. Before they started I got talking to a lady from Elizabeth Bay / the lower North Shore. She was familiar with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and was expecting some fun, and told me that "giant dwarf" is Andrew Denton's nickname. (This venue was previously the Performance Space, which is now at the Carriageworks.) I was wearing my Pixies tour t-shirt and hoping for Bird Dreams of Olympus Mons, but instead got some Doors (Alabama Song, but really: "Well, show me the way / To the next whisky bar...") and Nirvana (Something in the way, which I know from Tricky). There was also some Bach, Nick Drake, a piece by Richard Tognetti, and something challenging from Eastern Europe. Tonight it was just four: Satu Vänskä, Julian Thompson, Jim Moginie, Brian Ritchie.

Hell or High Water

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This got Jeff Bridges an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He didn't win. It's clear why the role appealed to him, though it isn't as rich as his one in Crazy Heart, largely because the whole thing is satisfied to cruise on its clever bank payback mechanism. Chris Pine and Ben Foster have the most fun as the brothers working the scam. The soundtrack is due to Warren Ellis and Nick Cave, in country-and-western mode, not quite apocalyptic.

Steven Strogatz: Sync: How Order Emerges From Chaos In the Universe, Nature, and Daily Life.

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Kindle. I enjoyed Strogatz's wonderment at moving amongst mathematics, biology, physics and bridge design. The idea of things (often brainless) synchronizing is fascinating, and appears to carry significant exploratory force, as he observes about superconductivity and other quantum mechanical phenomena. I would have consulted the significant chunk of endnotes (roughly 25% of the book) as I went along had I known of its existence. The main text may have benefited from a few equations, or more precise descriptions, or directly pointing into the literature, or to deeper popularizations. I didn't manage to visualize the waves he discusses at length, and the repetitions (many almost word-for-word) just made my eyes glaze over. My only beefs are that Strogatz emphasizes the aha moments of scientific insight and plays down the sweat of scientific validation, and that it would have helped if he had multiple metaphors and explanations at hand that target different kinds of thinkers. That sync is an important but limited concept is revealed by his extensive discussion of "small world" networks.

G. Bard Ermentrout's review for the AMS in 2004 is probably what I should have read (but I'm done with this topic for now).

/noise/beach/2016-2017 | Link

After lunch with Fil Mackay of Digital Asset in the CBD, I headed out to Gordons Bay via the Eastern Distributor. It was chockers at 2pm, and just barely moving; I can't imagine peak hour. Sydney may be on the move but it's pretty much ceased to go to the beach this season: at Gordons Bay almost noone was in the water, though many were hanging out on the rocks. A tad cold in, a bit filthy near the shore but clean out in the bay. I rode back to Newtown to pick up a pair of glasses from Out of Sight.

/noise/beach/2016-2017 | Link

Late afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. Far emptier than it has been up to now; Sydney is back at work and forgotten its beaches. A bit cold in, but clear. Windy on the northern headland of Coogee. I had a lamb pizza from Erciyes, which I remembered as better than it actually is. Perhaps the one in Surry Hills does it differently.

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Vale, Kenneth Arrow. News from Al Roth. New York Times obit.

/noise/beach/2016-2017 | Link

After sending some paperwork to the IRS, and organizing a new pair of specs at Out of Sight in Newtown, I headed over to Gordons Bay for a brief paddle. The water was a lot cleaner than yesterday, which is to say that the plant detritus was spread over a far larger area. It was a bit cold in. Afterwards I ate dinner on the northern headland of Coogee and continued with Steven Strogatz's Sync. I wish he'd put in some more math, or pointers to math.

Margaret

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More Kenneth Lonergan completism. Music by Nico Muhly of Bedroom Community fame. I didn't find any of the characters likeable or easy to sympathize with. Mark Ruffalo's bus driver is clearly a cardboard cutout, and Anna Paquin as a teen in the lead is articulate, histrionic, absolutist and irritating. I found her particularly tedious. Many other characters are purified points of view, so unsubtle that it's not so much about what the movie is trying to say but why it is bothering to try to say it. The plot stems from the death of an unknown lady early in the movie. Lonergan himself is the father in distant LA, somehow successful professionally with a disastrous personal life. The classroom scenes exhibit a painfully circular lack of insight.

A. O. Scott.

It seems that just today the IMDB boards have been shuttered.