peteg's blog - noise

Wildlife

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Paul Dano's first effort as director. Carey Mulligan is a young mum who gets moved to Montana with her son Ed Oxenbould by her never-do-well husband Jake Gyllenhaal. Jake promptly loses his job on the golf course and decides fighting more literal fires is what he needs to do as a man. Car dealing Bill Camp is somehow a temptation to the young ladies. The histrionic scenes are not good. Ultimately no more than a family drama featuring three odd socks. It seems such a shame to venture into David Lynch territory and come away with only this.

Glenn Kenny got right into it somehow.

The Old Man & the Gun

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Spacek and Redford meet cute: her truck has broken down on a motorway, and he's in need of a change of getaway vehicle. Their diner scene is not a patch on the one in Thief. Casey Affleck and fellow mumbler Tom Waits (OK, growler and mutterer), Elisabeth Moss abet and escape without too much reputational damage. This is a pile of hokey ageing philosophizing about one-time boomer dreams: the inability to stop yourself from the pure indulgence of robbing yet another bank, even when you're shacked up with a Spacek who has a vintage Merc, three horses and a massive spread. I got thinking that Redford could probably play Trump in the inevitable Oliver Stone biopic: they have a similar all-American smug smile, whatever their differences in politics and demeanor.

A. O. Scott. Dana Stevens reminds me that director David Lowery made A Ghost Story.

Sydney Lyric: The Book of Mormon.

/noise/theatre | Link

With Pawel and Sylwia who got me a ticket on 2018-12-06 for $140 and a booking fee. I'd missed seeing this in Chicago a few years back. The Sydney Lyric theatre was packed; we were in row D near the centre. I don't think I'd been there before. Apparently it seats 2000 people but it didn't feel that big. We had a light dinner at Gojima beforehand.

All you need to know is at Wikipedia. Briefly, it's a product of the South Park minds (yes, it's scatological with something to offend everyone) and has been running since 2011. It explains while it entertains! — which sometimes made me wonder what their game really was. Many nods to 70s/80s geek culture (Star Wars, Star Trek, Douglas Adams, ...). We all enjoyed it. The cast seemed strong to me, but I don't go to many musicals.

Reviews are legion. John Shand.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Late (3pm ish) lunch at Coogee followed up with a paddle in the surf with hundreds of others. The beach was hot (35C or more) and somewhat packed when I got there, but by the time I got in the change had rolled through with the storm clouds. Cold in with some waves. The storm only started for real around 6pm.

Smiley's People

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The BBC series, second time around. Over a couple of sittings. Also excellent.

Green Book

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A weakly-scripted road buddy movie barely held together by Viggo Mortensen who got to see writer/director Peter Farrelly squander Mahershala Ali up close. Somehow highly rated on IMDB. Almost entirely about sticking the moral superiority of the American North to the South circa 1962. Viggo doesn't evolve so very much: his initial casual racism is not so deep or convincing that he can't just roll with what the world sends his way. An empty shell of a thing.

A. O. Scott. Inkoo Kang. Odienator. Richard Brody.

Ralph Breaks the Internet

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I thought I'd seen the original but perhaps I haven't. Disney and loads of branding makes for a tedious and unimaginative experience. Nothing there for me. I don't know what I was expecting.

Bilge Ebiri and Sam Adams seem to think that we need movies like this to understand the current internet.

A Lego™ Sisyphus kinematic sculpture.

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The equivalent of software engineering in Ancient Greece.

I stumbled upon Jason Allemann's amazing kinetic Sisyphus sculpture a while ago, and finally got around to buying the bits for a motorized one just before Christmas. It's very easy now: the rebrickable page will autofill your bricklink wishlist, and a button on that site will go and find a small set of suppliers. I did business with Alpine Bricks in Austria and 3 BRICKS in Slovenia; amazingly I received only ony incorrect piece out of over 1200. I'm glad I held off as the redesign of last year reduced the cost significantly.

I spent perhaps ten hours building it over three lengthy sessions. The instructions are very straightforward for building techniques this clever. It felt like most of the time went into the decorative murals. It's large, works as advertised, and the mechanism didn't require any tweaks. I can't imagine pulling it apart.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

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The BBC series, second time around. Over (only) a couple of sittings. Excellent.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Early evening pseudo-snorkel off the northern rocks of Gordons Bay. Flat. The tide was up. Visibility was very poor: I saw just one large wrasse, a pile of small fry in shallow water, and no rays. A few storm clouds rolled over and kept going.

The Favourite

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Had lunch in the Sydney CBD after trying to dig up the possibly-mythical Lego™ Chinese New Year sets. The goal was to burn my almost-expired Palace Cinemas membership freebie. I intended to go to the Verona for the 3:30pm session but found I could make it to the dear old Chauvel in time for their 2:50pm screening in Cinema 1 with perhaps 10 other people. It still hasn't been renovated.

Well, this is the sisterhood doing it to themselves a few centuries ago, in costume. It's a bit Lady Macbeth without Macbeth: to a man, the men are mostly inert and/or laddish, and their only memorable scenes involve a duck race and a naked porky squire being pelted with fruit by other parliamentarians or courtiers. (I was too sleepy to distinguish.) The main track has Olivia Colman laying it on as a sickly and indulged Queen Anne who is bossed by Rachel Weisz until fallen scrumpet Emma Stone turns up to reclaim her ladyhood, which seems to amount to the freedom to be a bitchy slut. Anne keeps seventeen rabbits: one per child who didn't make it. Weisz teaches Stone to murder some birds with long rifles. The cinematography sometimes employs an odd weird-out lens (such as a fisheye). Loads of four-letter words are thrown about, making it difficult to recommend to the BBC crowd. There is much riffing on the theme of ladywork. The story has some basis in history for those keeping score. Not much there for me on the whole.

A. O. Scott. Dana Stevens.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Early evening paddle at Gordons Bay. Not many people still around then. Some big storm clouds were rolling through, but apparently the hail and so forth had spent itself in the Blue Mountains. Pleasant in. Lots of detritus near the shore, but seemingly clean further out. The tide was up. Flat. Dried out on the Coogee headland after and ate my dinner.

Gran Torino

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Second time around. Clint Eastwood plays a curmudgeonly Polish geriatric in Michigan whose neighbourhood is being transformed by Hmong immigration. Amazingly #165 in the IMDB top-250. Definitely has its moments, though the climax must be the most overblown thing he's done. Eastwood has a new one with similar themes out soon (The Mule).

Dana Stevens is not a fan of Eastwood as a director. Manohla Dargis

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Early-evening paddle at Gordons Bay off the beach. Flat, mid tide, no wind, cold getting in, seemed clean-ish. (Apparently it is objectively cooler now than before.) Packed, but few in the water. Afterwards dried out on the Coogee headland, read some book. Was hoping to eat at Tum's Thai but they were closed, so ended up at a packed Taste of Thai on Anzac Parade.

The Believer

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On the recommendation of Ryan Gosling fan Leon. Before BlacKkKlansman there were Dan Burros and Frank Collin and maybe still others yet to be made into movies. Out of this writer/director Henry Bean assembles a story of an intellectual self-hating New York Jew who is so extremely skeptical about the morals drawn from the classical stories (Abraham and Isaac in particular) that he becomes a violent neo Nazi. Some counterpoints are drawn: that we're all abstracted cosmopolitans now, that anti Semitism is obsolete for the purposes of fascism. Bean makes far more out of his challenging premises than approximate cognates American History X and Romper Stomper (etc). He (bravely) seems satisfied to let some ambiguities ride; for instance, the sacred never goes away for Gosling's character: it is easier for him to contemplate killing people than see the desecration of the synagogue.

Billy Zane and Theresa Russell constitute a creepy right-wing couple. Summer Phoenix is perplexing as a Judaism-curious young lady with the wrong priors. Gosling looks a lot like Joker Matthew Modine in Full Metal Jacket. Bean went on to write Basic Instinct 2.

Roger Ebert was uncomfortable. kylopod at IMDB. Julie Salamon was uncomfortable and wanted more closure.

David Marr: My Country.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. A collection of Marr's journalism and other things since about 1975. There is not much framing and little in the way of updates, so most are about times past and often blissfully forgotten. Does anyone really want to read about John Howard these days? And for those who do, do you want Marr's take on things?

Marr is a Sydney boy, well-educated in the liberal arts. That means that political commentary takes the form of discerning character by psychoanalysis, and often shades into theatre reviews of the kind regularly derided by Andrew Elder. Sometimes we get a burst of historical context, such as for the much feted 1967 referendum that ended up having some deleterious effects on the native title holders of Hindmarsh Island, but these frustratingly fail to be complete explanations, and you won't find him anchoring the big issues in the Western canon. Marr's take on "[his] country" does not extend to music, sport, the environment (much), cars, food, the beach, economics or the 1980s. His enthusiasm for Jim McNeil shows that he was hopelessly naive about (domestic) violence and alcoholism.

Sometimes this approach is wildly off the mark. Marr claims Australians "[t]rust our politicians. We expect them to look after us." but recent data — and indeed data going back as far as I remember — show this to be patently false. It seems more likely that the majority of Australians are epically politically inert, passive beyond the imagining of this kind of writing. The whole corpus falls far short of the analytic depths of Donald Horne's classics and Hugh Mackay's empirics.

Reviews are surprisingly thin on the ground. Helen Razer on Marr's response to the marriage equality outcome. He seems to have learnt nothing about unintended consequences.

Vice

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Suckered by its retro poster, I was planning to see this with the Palace Cinemas freebie that has been burning a hole in my pocket for ages. Orange is however so boring that Dave easily convinced me to go to the 12:30 screening at the Odeon 5. $17.50 each, Cinema 4; I told him to try to join the movie club, which I think comes out the same. All their sessions are at bad times. I'm guessing there were about 30 other people there.

This is writer/director Adam McKay's followup to The Big Short. Here he attempts to explain to us perhaps the most opaque politician of all time: Dick Cheney. As before he pulls an impressive cast (Christian Bale as Cheney, Amy Adams as Lynne, Naomi Watts as a news anchor, Alfred Molina, Steve Carell as Rumsfeld, Sam Rockwell as W., Eddie Marsan as Wolfowitz, others) but fails to tell us anything that you couldn't find in the news at the time. I learnt that Cheney's daughter got elected to the House in 2016, and that he had a heart transplant recently. He's a family man until he isn't. Macbeth! Maccas for lunch after, and we found a coffee at a chocolate shop on Lords Place.

Dana Stevens. Fred Kaplan provides valuable perspective. A. O. Scott. Jonah Weiner. David Bromwich.

An Education

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It's 1961 in Twickenham. Apparently affluent charming playboy Peter Sarsgaard picks up final year schoolgirl Carey Mulligan, and her aspirational parents (unpersuasive Alfred Molina, girlish Cara Seymour) approve of her throwing away Oxford in favour of marriage. Predictable outcomes ensue. There's some useful friction with the older Ms Gone Girl Rosamund Pike, born to it. Olivia Williams, the concerned Miss English Teacher, needs a tango lesson. Emma Thompson plays the headmistress to type. Sally Hawkins is squandered as a suburban wife.

It's not so much Lolita as an expansion and coy dilution of the Diana subthread of Trainspotting; Mulligan even gets in a Renton-style spray about how shite it is to be English, so boring, such limited prospects for women, even with a degree. There's a daft scene at a dog track: of course after her dog comes in she gets proposed to in the parking lot. All the furniture of one of David Lynch's small-town efforts is there, minus the weird; Beth Rowley smokes as a nightclub singer. As for coming-of-age movies, you'd be better off watching something that involves real skill, like surfing. The saccharine tacked-on happy ending emphasises the lack of conviction in all that came before.

A. O. Scott. Dana Stevens.

Joe Ide: IQ.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. South-Central L.A., the setting of Paul Beatty's The Sellout, finds Isaiah Quintabe ("IQ", geddit?) in the thick of an angling-for-a-TV-series hybridization of The Godfather and Sherlock Holmes. This Michael Corleone finds himself railroaded into the dark arts by two-track workmanlike prose that tries to keep us guessing within the genre constraints of crime/mystery/thriller. There are mercifully few characters, and doubtlessly more sapient readers than I figured it all out by halfway. I lost interest in what the author was doing with all those drugs. Gangsta rap is tired, as is the violence. Cheap guilty fun, not cinematic. The misogyny is unreconstructed. I don't think anything comes under substantial scrutiny. There are two more since this came out in 2016.

Janet Maslin.

Mireille Juchau: The World Without Us.

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Kindle. On the strength of her book reviews for the Sydney Review. This is apparently her third novel.

Briefly we're thrust into the mythical Bidgalong Valley (just think Nimbin) where the local commune (the Hive, of course, ruled over by a despotic King) has been razed and its denizens are still dealing with the fallout perhaps a decade later. (Time is not one of the themes of this novel.) We are given an outsider's sense of the place via escaping cross-dressing teacher Jim Parker, who desires his neighbour, free woman Evangeline, and stumbles upon her performing some rites of memory in a state of undress. Later on, she makes the move. Her husband, seemingly taken casually or prevailing upon her at a moment of forgetful weakness, is Germanic ex-surfer/libertine Stefan, who aspires to keep bees as well as his grandfather did in post-war Berlin. Other characters present as survivalist preppers, drunken nymphs, mute schoolgirls, dying daughters.

At some point I realised that the plot is at best secondary; too many points are left to simmer for far too long, and too much time is spent manipulating the epistemic states of the characters. Why are these bitchy women spilling these secrets now, or suppressing the facts then? Each may or may not learn anything or unknowingly spill some beans but us readers don’t learn a thing. In any case the stakes are too often too low. Needy city-girl Sylvie is impossible to warm to, and taxes Jim's loyalties not at all: he knows what he doesn’t want. Similarly I had to wonder if his opinion of Evangeline's pregnant belly ("Has he ever touched anything more erotic in his life?") was justified by any field research. I still don't know why he'd be embarrassed by being allergic to bee stings, and it's a stretch to have him move next to a bee farm. The final part has the big revelatory deck-clearing moves of a soap opera's season ender.

Overall this novel is frustrating. It sometimes fires, sometimes misfires. The quotes from literature are tedious, apart from some gold by Maurice Maeterlinck. There is the odd good observation, for instance, that the use of GMO and pesticides has made the country as filthy as the city. The author is on a first-name basis with much pharmacology; using proper nouns to connote authorative knowledge is shallow. Is this chick lit, or have we gotten to the point where all Oz lit sounds like this? The writing is mostly fine, but a hefty edit and narrower focus would have helped.

Andrew Riemer baldly states he's talking it up. Just maybe it will be turned into a soap opera. Juchau spent some time working on this at the Bundanon Trust. Julieanne Lamond does the literary analysis. Lisa Hill. Goodreads. And many other local boosters who helped get it onto the long lists of many prizes circa 2015.