peteg's blog - noise

Michael Chabon: Moonglow.

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Kindle. This made a big splash sometime last year. I enjoyed it for the most part, though it is lengthy and some sections drag. I cynically wonder if Chabon didn't target this book with excess precision at the market segment with the time and money to read: a piece of greatest-generation hagiography with a side serve of ungrateful boomer-ish children/parents from an adoring grandchild. Some mental illness (much slighter than Ken Kesey's) and decreased vigor, respectfully and sometimes crassly treated through violent action and language. There's more Wernher von Braun in here than I expected, and perhaps I should have been reading Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow instead.

A. O. Scott.

A Ghost Story

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$16.00, at the dear old Verona, theatre 1, 6.45pm; at a bit of a loose end, I ended up plumping for this over Dunkirk, largely because of Casey Affleck, and somewhat Rooney Mara. Loads of people there at that time; some even came to see this! I'd resisted reading any reviews; the theatre was about a quarter full and at least four people quit it in the first half hour, so I expect that most of us didn't know what we were getting.

A. O. Scott. Dana Stevens. I can't add much.

Thelma & Louise

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Some kind of Ridley Scott completism; Brad Pitt so young, Susan Sarandon already past her prime, Geena Davis playing a hedonistic airhead ten years younger than she was, Harvey Keitel struggling with an accent. It's a one-way roadtrip.

Griffin Theatre: Rice by Michele Lee.

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7pm, a freebie from bAKEHOUSE theatre company. Dinner was a bento at a Japanese place on Darlinghurst Road. A preview, I think, and packed.

I went in with no expectations but had heard of its sold-out season in Brisbane. The setup is two women bouncing off each other, shifting amongst a small set of characters with different concerns and stakes. There's a lot of swearing that was probably supposed to be somehow authentic and arresting, and too much histrionics in the mode of Home and Away. I found it all a bit cliched, but did appreciate the efforts of the two actors (Kristy Best, Hsiao-Ling Tang) to inflate the stagnant material. It's a long way from The Ham Funeral in almost all theatrical dimensions.

Ben Neutze. Jason Blake.

Michael Knight: Eveningland.

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Kindle. I picked this one up on the strength of the first few paragraphs of Rick Bass's review in the New York Times; I see now that he proceeds to meander through the rushes, looking for things to stuff his writing with. I found this collection of shorts a bit wan; perhaps you had to be there, and not just be there, but be rich enough to really be there.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

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Edgar Wright completism. Meh.

Keigo Higashino: The Devotion of Suspect X.

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Kindle. A recommendation from Tigôn, who read it in tiếng Việt. It's a solid and enjoyable murder mystery, airport-novel style, a page turner, but inverted: we always know who did it. Perhaps this is a common trick in this genre I rarely visit. Misato seems a lot more perceptive than Yusako, and I thought she'd come to the fore later on, but she never really moves into sharp focus. Quite a few movies were made from it.

Baby Driver

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9pm session, Palace Cinemas Norton St, with Dave, $32 + $2.60 booking fee for the two of us, booked around 1pm; the cinema was packed, so hats off to the marketing agents on this opening weekend. Before we worked a bit deeper into the dumpling menu at Allfine Chinese Cuisine House (35A Ross St in Forest Lodge), which was awesome, and a flat white each at the cinema.

This is a mashup of heist and car movies with a touch of Twin Peaks and a side of Tarantino. The references are for the most part obvious. Edgar Wright didn't name-check Pulp's Disco 2000 or Julie Brown's eternal Homecoming Queen's Got A Gun, so I can tell he didn't listen to JJJ in the 1990s. Lily James looks a lot like a young Mädchen Amick, or wants to be; there is not much pie in that diner. Spacey is pure cliched Spacey, a self-parody by the end. It's not great. The music didn't do it for me. The plot was was meh. It's not very funny, and nothing particularly memorable happens. I liked the use of sign language juxtaposed with all the noise, but that ultimately went nowhere.

Manohla Dargis got into it.

Sameblod (Sami Blood)

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A freebie from the UNSW Creative Practice Lab that I cashed at the dear old Verona on the 6:30pm screening of this, on Cath's suggestion after winnowing the current Scandi movie festival down to three possibilities.

The story is the reminiscence of the girlhood of an aged, deracinated Sámi (Lapp?) lady who wanted more from life than herding reindeer. There are some uncomfortable scenes portraying the racial determinism of the 1930s, and social exclusion and exploitation. In many ways it is formulaic and plays to type (Moodysson extracted more shock from his more familiar territory) but is somewhat rescued by some good cinematography and the strength of Lene Cecilia Sparrok's performance in the lead. I wondered who fathered her son and what she did between the then and now scenes.

The Promise

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I don't really know what to make of this. The topic — the Armenian genocide — is a worthy and touchy one and has already received at least one decent cinematic treatment (Ararat). This one is designed to pull on American heart strings and its poor IMDB rating suggests it won't get much of a chance to. Oscar Isaac valliantly tries to make something of it, and this is the most characterless role Christian Bale has ever had. Charlotte Le Bon is a well-intentioned sex object. Jean Reno, James Cromwell. The cinematography is shonky; the inside sets are jarringly poor. The plot is a mashup of perhaps A Quiet American, Doctor Zhivago, and I'm guessing as I still haven't seen it, Titanic. The morality is black and white: America before it needed to be made great again, with Turks who speak Turkish, Germans who speak German, and Armenians who of course speek God's English, until they became Godfather-esque emigres to Massachusetts and give toasts in Armenian to the survival of their nation. Apparently it is based on a true story.

Jeannette Catsoulis.

Free Fire

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For Sharlto Copley. Totally vacuous; I got a giggle out of him telling the Irish to "learn something from the English" about manners, early on, before things entirely settled into damaging but mostly non-lethal gunplay. See kids, you too can survive being shot! For an hour or so at least. I don't know how what could have sold the script for this to the cast (also Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer, all better elsewhere). Reservoir Dogs? Cube?

Catherine Lacey: Nobody is ever missing.

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Kindle. On Kate's recommendation, and perhaps the review in the New York Times of her newer The Answers. The plot and setting are entirely ancillary to the main game of rattling around in Lacey's head, and enjoying her massively run-on sentences cut with fine observations. The title of the book is the self-realised slight revelation that it is now impossible to fully slip the chains of one's life; and of course the slightness of it is worked over at length. (There is far more than that however.) Lacey is most effective when she finds precisely the right few words to evoke a feeling, and less so when she merely asserts her emotional state, but most of the enjoyment came from her need to immediately rework each sentiment, striving to juice everything, struggling to own her responses and be original in a world that constructs new methods of stifling mental activity daily.

Dwight Garner.

Lady Macbeth

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A freebie from Griffin Theatre that I cashed at Dendy Opera Quays, 8:40pm. There was one other person in the theatre and the advertisements were the same as ever. The service was again lackluster; a singular pensioner felt the need to spend ten minutes buying a ticket and some junk food, chatting to the young service professional behind the counter while his colleagues chatted to each other far away from the service area. All I needed, and all I got, was a door number. The ride over and back was pleasant enough though, despite the cooler weather.

This was another interpretation of the venerable Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, perhaps by way of Wuthering Heights (the moors). The plot is almost pure Shakespeare, unsurprisingly: there is no justice, boredom motivates, filial duties are impossible or debased. Florence Pugh is in every scene and ably anchors the thing; Naomi Ackie and Cosmo Jarvis are excellent support. The cinematography is gorgeous, once past some jittery handheld camerawork. The episodic and quiet nature powerfully evokes the isolation and objectification of the leading lady, and her intemperate responses.

Peter Bradshaw. Sandra Hall. Jake Wilson. Manohla Dargis.

Jack Rabbit Theatre: Front at The Depot Theatre.

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5pm, a freebie via the Kings Cross Theatre newsletter, with Lev, who was in Sydney for the school holidays. This was a bunch of young kids in solid Have a Cigar territory (hey, I never realised that was Roy Harper out front on that song). It's episodic, with some now-cliched temporal mixing. The performances were good, and the set effective, but the raw source material cleaved too close to the unsurprising. We were clearly there to make up the numbers of what was essentially a friends and family crowd. The lead bloke had a nine-by-nine muppet portait shirt on and it took me a while to realise that I couldn't name any beyond the first row.

Misery

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Wow, what a find. James Caan in a supporting role in 1990, still with the power to untether Sonny Corleone on demand, but mostly genial. Kathy Bates stars, is awesome, and deservedly got an Oscar. Written by Stephen King, It's a bit of The Shining, Twin Peaks, Fargo, Sleuth and many other things. IMDB's summary doesn't do it justice; it's hilarious and a bit scary. I see now that director Rob Reiner has great form.

The Sheriff, apropos his deputy/wife: "You see, it's just that kind of sarcasm that's givin' our marriage real spice."

Alien Covenant

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Dendy Opera Quays, 6pm, $7; one of the cheap catch-up sessions they hold on weeknights. I was just out to see if the cinema had survived and got sucked into this. The service was super inefficient: two couples uhmmed and ahhed about what junk food would go best with this junk movie, almost until it was scheduled to start. No wonder hardly anyone goes any more.

This movie is dumb. The characters make dumb decisions, and everything that can go wrong is juxtaposed with every other thing that didn't need to go wrong for the scene to work. The result is a mess, and Ridley Scott seems to have nothing to say. Michael Fassbender tries to anchor what he can, and he does have his moments, but overall it is an arch and empty performance; his main squeeze Vikander played the aspirational synthetic with more promising menace in Ex Machina. This pretends to tell us something of the genesis of the Alien, and despite all claims it is not perfect; if it was, it wouldn't need to procreate in such a messy and destructive way. While bashing this busted mythos might prove more fun than this installment, I'll stop here.

Peter Bradshaw. A. O. Scott. Richard Brody watched it so you don't have to. Anthony Lane.

Manhunter

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OK, a 1980s Michael Mann. I guess it was in solid B-Movie territory in its day, but not all that close to the Arnie classics. Brian Cox tries to incarnate Lektor; here he is a minor character and nowhere close to owning the movie. It's all a bit too predictable from this point in history.

Raymond Smullyan: Who Knows?: A Study of Religious Consciousness.

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I've had this dead-tree book for an age. It's a bit disappointing. The first part is a review/critique of a book where Martin Gardner defends his Christian beliefs. I hadn't heard of it and won't seek it out now. The relatively long and interminable second part is trench warfare against Christian theology, specifically attitudes toward hell as esposed by the Jesus of the Scriptures and later traditions and interpretations. I don't think of this as "religious consciousness" (which I now see I read as "spiritual consciousness") and was a bit astonished that Smullyan expended so much concern on it.

The last is perhaps what I came for: an exploration of "cosmic consciousness"; the idea that there is a higher state of consciousness and some people have achieved it over the millenia. Again it takes the form essentially of an endorsement of Richard Maurice Bucke's book on the subject, and the long excerpts of it and other texts often occlude Smullyan's own voice. At times I heard echoes of Kant's Universal History though of course one is immanent (though not revelatory) and the other more worldly; I guess it was the teleology that brackets them so strongly in my mind. (Smullyan rubbishes Kant's ethics.) I also wonder how this stuff fits with Nietzsche et al's ruminations on Man's construction of God. This whole area is firmly in Emerson et al's tradition of American pragmatism, and the more out-there considerations of Miss Nha Trang and William Pensinger, stopping just short of the New Age. Too much to read, too many other things to think about, so I'll leave it there.

In contrast to his say-it-once book First Order Logic, Smullyan really needed an editor post-retirement.

The Last of the Mohicans

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Second (or third?) time around: last seen in 2009. Daniel Day-Lewis with his shirt off, Madeleine Stowe tries to heave a bodice. Not at all as I remembered it; I thought the grey hair got his heart ripped out in the fort. Oh well. Clearly a forerunner (running dog?) of Dancing With Wolves, and they sure don't make these epics any more. The climax is a bit meh; the plot is essentially that you can't trust a white man (to make a good movie), though the natives and the scenery sometimes add up to something watchable. Michael Mann's best was yet to come (Heat), but I should perhaps watch Manhunter before passing that judgement. I did like his Thief.

Gangs of New York

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Pretty sure I saw this before, but I can't remember when. Scorcese's dry run for The Departed (better known as Infernal Affairs)? Leonardo, a mole, a kingpin, a love interest, a violent corruption. I was here for Daniel Day-Lewis, so recently retired from acting, only to realise that the cast was vast: John C Reilly, DiCaprio, Day-Lewis, Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, Stephen Graham (from This is England), Eddie Marsan. The editing was nowhere close to his masterful Casino, and somehow it didn't add up to much of anything. The Academy awarded the booby prize of ten nominations and no statues.