peteg's blog

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With Jacob and his kids. I don't think I've seen this before, but of course it was entirely familiar as a late 1980s body switcheroo school flick. It's more adult themed than I expected. I mistook Robert Loggia for Gene Hackman, who does appear in a movie in the movie. Director Penny Marshall is clearly a baseball fan, though both Jake and I read the Giants and the bridge as signs we were in San Francisco instead of NYC and New Jersey.

Janet Maslin at the time.

John Brunner: The Shift Key.

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Kindle. Quite the worst book by Brunner I've read yet. The set up is horror but many words later we're told it was just a chemical leak. Too many irrelevant characters and vignettes and repetitions. The point, I think, was to hitch a ride with a/the cultural revolution and riff on the perfectibility of the once and future paradisal English village. Pagan hippies to the rescue.

John Brunner: The Long Result.

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Kindle. Continuing with the thin Brunners. This is a chatty noir that is padded with excess and unimaginative detail. The premise is what happens when the (imperial) centre is surpassed by its more grasping progeny. Read the USA versus Britain, with Japan and perhaps China looking benignly on. All of the plot moves are telegraphed too far in advance. He wants psychohistorical determinacy but doesn't have the patience to make it coherent, or vague enough for that not to matter.

Tenet

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At the Majestic Cinema Nambucca Heads, at the one-and-only 16.30 session. 16.50 AUD + 1.00 AUD booking fee, booked in the morning. Theatre 3 is pretty small; I sat two rows from the front, which is about right for that screen. Of course I was so late to this global COVID party that I was the only one there. The short for Wonder Woman 1984 has a possibly self-referential joke where Kirk is again back in the 1980s making anachronistic faux pas (here by taking a trash can to be art). Behold innovation.

The opening scene is an unmotivated spaghetti monster and I can't say that things got any clearer from there. It was therefore a pleasure to take a pause with Martin Donovan (as always). The main draw was Liz Dibecki, who was as solid as usual but is still waiting for a decent role in a good movie. BlacKkKlansman had given me expectations of John David Washington that weren't met here; mostly he's just a jawline in a suit waiting to deliver some lines or a judo throw. Robert Pattinson does a bit better as the tech bro, though he goes out all hair and smug. Kenneth Branagh is mostly squint, like vintage Jack Thompson. I didn't recognise Aaron Taylor-Johnson from Kick-Ass.

The aim was high-concept James Bond, where the good guys perform the heists. Nolan loves destroying planes and dressing everyone up like Bane. Apart from the general tiredness of the tropes, the central flaw is that inversion is ultimately neither here nor there; the plot gets more value out of the time travel, which is handled about as poorly as it generally is. I guess I misunderappreciate Nolan's special effects.

Widely reviewed, as you'd expect for a Christopher Nolan. Jessica Kiang dug it when it opened. Can't say I entirely agree with her opinion about this movie, but her critique of Nolan's output is spot on. Catherine Shoard brackets it with the far superior Team America. Later it was conclusively deemed an epic cinema-killing fiasco.

John Brunner: I Speak for Earth.

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Kindle. Yet another thin Brunner. Here he proposes the choice of a Neil Armstrong type as a substrate for a 2001-ish starchild, framed by a Childhood's End ultimatum. The setup is incredibly verbose; we spend about two-thirds of the word count being told how awesome the constituent intellects are. And ultimately, how good are we. It's a bust.

Paris, Texas

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In two sittings, split at what turned out to be its natural cleavage; the first half is misdirection while the second is some kind of family tree darning. It's arthouse in that the storytelling may be innovative or at least unfamiliar, but you'd have to say the story is entirely pro forma; Wim Wenders directs with a bit more focus than his 1990s efforts. The draw was Harry Dean Stanton in his prime (1980s); he looks like a depressed and starved Sharlto Copley. I hadn't realised he was ever considered leading-man material. Klaus Kinski's daughter Nastassja plays at a wife/mother/fallen woman. I hadn't seen Aurore Clement in anything but Apocalypse Now (Redux); she's still substantial but less convincing here. Overall it's a roadtrip with a side of snoozefest.

Roger Ebert at the time (four stars). Ah, Sam Shepard wrote the thing; that explains the story. Ebert gave it another four stars in 2002. Vincent Canby was less impressed.

John Brunner: Children of the Thunder.

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Kindle. A thin conceit stretched to middling length, again derived from concepts explored by Asimov in Second Foundation, with the bromide that the progenitor of the emotional manipulation sorcery is not sterile. It's quite flabby; the capsule portraits of the children get repeated several times, and there's a lot of needless colour. Conversely he does succeed in recycling the structure of the fat Brunners; the newscasts are more hit than miss about where we are now relative to 1987 (consider BREXIT and increasing nationalism), and he does manage to meld the apparently irrelevant storylines together (somewhat). Add some A Clockwork Orange and he made bank for the year. Perhaps most interesting are his ruminations on how the futureless (aka generation Z) or rump left wing or reality-based community respond to neo-fascism and, well, futurelessness: it's not so different to ANTIFA, which in itself is a consequence of observing that nonviolent stuff'll get you killed. For all that the plot is weak with an unsatisfactory and entirely predictable twist.

Ann Patchett: Bel Canto.

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Kindle. I've read a few of hers before, and Kate reckoned this was decent; I was wary that though Patchett can write, she doesn't always tell a story worth reading. Structurally we're in the same space as Towles's A Gentleman in Moscow: many upper class people are detained in the home of a South American country's Vice President by some revolutionaries from the jungle. The South Americans are drawn the best, or perhaps the American artist embodying opera, while the Russians and French are national caricatures. The Japanese salarymen fall in the middle. There's not much feeling for the revolutionaries beyond lip service for the morality of their cause against a brutal regime. Stockholm syndrome (of course!) yields some odd coupling via some deft artifice; the excess of (transitive!) lurv is too narrowly drawn as a physical thing that transcends linguistic and cultural barriers. The foreshadowing is excessive, with some of the setups repeated patronisingly close to the cash outs. One of her themes is that the skills people make money with are generally useless outside of our increasingly claustrophobic adult daycares. Another is the universal awesomeness of opera, which stood in need of as much justification at the end as the start, given this much dancing about architecture. The epilogue is confusing; when did all that happen?

Janet Maslin at the time. Goodreads has some thoughtful commentary.

John Brunner: Times Without Number.

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Kindle. And yet more thin Brunner. Time travel only sorta works when causality is given a wide berth. Brunner being Brunner we instead get an incoherent mess of sociological whatifery: the Spanish Armada wins, England is colonised, and time (but not space) travel devices are elementary to construct. The fashion is medieval, though the Inquisition has evolved. Structurally it's three novellas anchored by a bloke who just happens to be there; in more capable hands it may have lead to such innovations as Douglas Adams's infinite improbability drive. The ending is as pat and Planet of the Apes as it must be, but with a novel contention: any timeline that discovers time machines has no future.

Dirt Music

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It's been an age since I've seen an Australian film, which this isn't quite; Tim Winton's book provides the raw material for two foreign leads to swan about W.A., and while Kelly Macdonald is always good company I've got to wonder if they cast Garrett Hedlund only because Thor was unavailable. Their accents are challenging. Her cadence is Scots I'd say, her locutions corr-blimey Australian school girl, while Hedlund doesn’t try too hard with the little he is asked to say. Both disintegrate opposite Australian actors. David Wenham is as cold as ice, retaining barely a smidge of Gettin' Square. Aaron Pedersen is inexplicably clunky, nowhere close to those halcyon days of Wildside.

The story as shown here is a 1980s throwback, like The Club, from when Australia was on the cusp of a professionalism already souring under that old and relentlessly violent grasping. (I'd say that things have further soured into shameless mendicancy.) In those days the wife was allowed to bridle at the chauvinism but not do anything about it, which is reflected here in the cars having more personality than the leads; Hedlund's beat up old ute is straight out of Erskineville Kings, an altogether better rumination on the laconic Australian male, while Kelly Mac implausibly scores a classic and pristine lime-green Holden shagger from Pedersen's bush mechanic. "Peg leg" Dan Wyllie drives a troop carrier up the W.A. coastline, the dream of many a millennial. The music is also entirely retro: a country version of Song to the Siren, Paul Kelly's Dumb Things.

The two-track structure is not very effective as the foreshadowing gives an undertow of unearnt tragedy to the whole thing. I felt the visual style was derived from Breath, at least when we get past the excess internalism of hotels and living rooms to the where-the-bloody-hell-are-we tourism commercial (Sam Chiplin will never be out of a job). There's no real sense of the town despite it being a locus for the fisherpeople generationally. The ending is atrociously hokey. One might be tempted to blame director Gregor Jordan (Two Hands, Buffalo Soldiers) for some or all of these flaws until one remembers that the source story was not that strong, Georgie not that great a character, and that Winton's prose does more for W.A. than any camera can.

Jeannette Catsoulis.

John Brunner: The Astronauts Must Not Land.

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Kindle. More thin Brunner, with a very thin conceit stretched very thin over some druggy imaginings of alien physiologies. He made bank on his word count here with a lot of repetition at the macro level; the first-person sentences seem finer than usual, which is a bit of a waste. The spirit is (once again) Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End alloyed with some South American exoticism / essentialism. It ends in a damp squib. As idealisation is what I do (poorly), I don't think there's a lot to philosophise about: it's entirely instrumental.

John Brunner: The Wrong End of Time.

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Kindle. Another thin Brunner. It's basically a reworking of 2001 where instead of going to Jupiter or Saturn the characters go from one invented U.S. city to the Canadian border. There's the usual sociological preoccupations, and he's quite happy to take the U.S.S.R.'s side of the argument back in the day. It's difficult to see how he made bank with this sort of derivative crap. I similarly can't believe that anyone would spill so many words on it.

John Brunner: The World Swappers.

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Kindle. And yet still more thin Brunner. This one was briskly written with some motivations too opaque at times to grasp. Matter transmission! called the transfax of course. Oh my. A secret society (read Second Foundation) tries to broker peace with an immature alien society. As is often the case the scifi dressing is completely auxiliary; his main interest is on the sociology, and these days he'd probably be writing historical fiction.

John Brunner: The Day of the Star Cities (aka Age of Miracles).

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Kindle. And yet more thin Brunner, proving that I am now impervious to learning. This time around some aliens install transit lounges on Earth and blow up all the nukes. With that as a premise it logically follows that Mad Max is beyond Thunderdome, the mice-men are cowed but the rat-men are dreaming of the stars, and the Russkies invade. Yes that's right, the nukes were keeping the peace. The opening police procedural is a bit misleading; this is not a noir. As usual in this space the meek have superpowers, or in this case, a valuable lack of cognition. The centres themselves are psychedelic trippy trip machines, just like Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Do speak up if you’ve seen any of this before.

Juan Cárdenas: Ornamental.

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Kindle. A pointer from Nathan Scott McNamara in the New York Times. A first-person Colombian drug chemist refines a substance from a flower that makes the ladies go wow; shades of State of Wonder? Realising that baldly stating this premise is not going to carry a book, we also get psychedelic prose, love triangles, and some very weak commentary on what I take to be Continental philosophy. Overall, an exercise in style mining overly familiar tropes and not for me.

Suspicion

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A jag via Roger Ebert's review of Rosemary's Baby. Hitchcock, Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine. Thin gruel I feel: a playboy marries an upright/uptight/unworldly sprog of a General. He continues to be a playboy, as much as he can in black-and-white 1941. I often couldn't tell if the penny was dropping for Fontaine or she was foxing Grant. In the end it didn't matter much at all.

Bosley Crowther at the time.

First Cow

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On the Oregon Trail with director Kelly Reichardt and leads John Magaro and Orion Lee, the latter of whom we meet naked in the style of The Terminator. These guys form a complementary entrepreneurial pairing in this bucolic setting, and attempt to build their fortune on donuts. The cow gets her time in the frame but has less agency than I'd hoped: all blame attaches to the cat. It's slow and sometimes finds its mark; there's a touch of Dead Man in the foreshadowing, the aimlessness, the musical interludes, the canoe on the river. Also Ewen Bremner and Toby Jones.

A. O. Scott watched it so you don't have to.

John Brunner: Entry to Elsewhen.

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Kindle. More even shorter Brunner; I still haven't learnt. The drugs and conceits run thin here. I did enjoy the concluding No Other Gods But Me a bit, as a riff on Scientology perhaps, up to the butchered ending which was unusually poorly written. The first Host Age is a topical pandemic thing with a busted epistemology (we'll know how to travel in time but we'll forget most of medicine), and the second Lungfish is millennial discontent at being ejected from all they know. Not the worst of his I've read recently.

John Brunner: To Conquer Chaos.

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Kindle. More thin Brunner. You'd think I'd learn. Near as I can tell this is a mild yet wordy variant of Planet of the Apes: an artificial biological sapient goes insane and the humans regress technologically. There's little to redeem it as it goes nowhere for far too long. Brunner calls time on this fiasco before resolving many loose ends; for instance the girl does not get the boy, and the green stuff remains purely a plot device.

John Brunner: The Repairmen of Cyclops.

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Kindle. The last of what he must've hoped would be a much longer series. This is Soylent green refracted through the horror of involuntary parting out of bodies. There's a touch of USA-style coca-colonisation and the United Nation's smurfs. I just wish his characters weren't right all the time.