peteg's blog

Gil Scott-Heron: The Last Holiday

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I picked up this semi-autobiography on the strength of a review in the New York Times. I like his poetics, though one might be tempted to conclude that his best work came before 1975. (I'm not enough of a fan to have listened to much more than a greatest hits; it's more that I like his attitude and sense of humour.) The book supposedly started as an account of his tour with Stevie Wonder circa 1980 where Wonder campaigned for the national MLK holiday.

Generally it is well written and sometimes very funny, enough so that I look forward to reading the novels he wrote more than thirty years ago. However the later parts of this book become quite bleak and the concluding paragraph is brutal.

Mildred Pierce (2011)

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The mini-series, not the movie. This one is quite different as it apparently takes the book much more literally; so much so that sometimes even Kate Winslet cannot believe her character. All the acting is pretty solid. Evan Rachel Wood gives me Nicole Kidman vibes, scrawny, bloodless and only convincing when she's frosty and/or bitchy, as she often is here and was in The Wrestler. Guy Pearce anchors the scenes he's in, reliable as ever.

There's probably a PhD being written right now comparing this to the women doing it for (and to) themselves in Twin Peaks, comparing pie baking skills. These days have the Americans looking back to the depression, self-sufficiency, etc. — and one wonders if it's going to take another massive war to shift the economy out of the current malaise. Mad Men, Revolutionary Road, The Tree of Life and so forth: the navel gazing of a diminishing empire.

The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

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With Albert and Sandy at their place, over pizza. I've seen more Wes Anderson efforts than I realised. I guess there's a lot in his movies for those who get on board with him, and little for everyone else. The humour in this one is occasionally gentle but often somewhat brutal. The visuals (colours and the widescreen) are sometimes quite arresting. Owen Wilson is pretty low-key in the lead, Adrien Brody gazes into the camera with his stock soulful wide-eyed facial expression, and Jason Schwartzman is their foil. The three brothers are on a stock spiritual journey through India a year after their father's funeral. Anjelica Huston trumps Wilson when the boys meet their mother.

Roger Ebert: three-and-a-half stars.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

Making the most of the apparently transient fine weather, I went for yet another mid-afternoon snorkel at Gordons Bay. The water remains bearable in a wifebeater and it was reasonably clear and absolutely flat. I saw heaps of the usual fish, the big groper and a rather large ray: unlike the stingarees I've seen before this one was quite a bit darker and somewhat folded up around the centre with a tail much shorter than the length of the pancake part. It was swimming slowly over some rocks in a metre or so of water.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

Mid-afternoon snorkel at Gordons Bay. The water is getting to that barely-comfortable-in-a-wifebeater stage, though I'm not yet struggling to get in. The tide was out and the bay was as flat as it gets. I saw loads of small fry, some larger ludderick but not the big groper.

Mario Puzo: The Godfather

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The classic airport novel.

John Balaban: Remembering Heaven's Face: A Story of Rescue in Wartime Việt Nam.

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One of the perils of visiting ANU is picking through still more of the extensive collection of books on Việt Nam held in the Menzies Library. I'd read Balaban's earlier Coming Down Again and knew he could write, and indeed this was the book of his for me to read. It recounts his time as a voluntary witness in Việt Nam during the late 1960s, and his return in the early 1970s (to the Delta) and late 1980s (after đổi mới, to the Delta and Hà Nội).

Balaban bravely tells stories against himself here, as well as fulfilling his witness role by describing the effects of the American occupation of the Delta. There's a fair bit of blood and many severed limbs, and also an awareness that traditional Vietnamese culture was in danger of disappearing forever. (Perhaps Balaban's apocalypse has come to pass, I don't know.) He participated in the medical evacuation of many children organised by the Committee of Responsibility but presumably not the Operation Babylift that Dana Sachs wrote about. His time with Ông Đạo Dừa (the coconut monk) on Cồn Phụng (an island in the Mekong, in Bến Tre province) feels strangely abbreviated. The author's brass balls are often on display, which is sometimes poignant as when this crack shot of a conscentious objector takes up arms to defend a hospital at Cần Thơ. Writing this must have been tough.

Room at the Top

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A Donald Wolfit segue from Becket. A doomed three-legged romance falls apart on the class divides of black-and-white post-war England. The accents are awesome, and Ambrosine Phillpotts is a standout as the snooty wife/mother.

The Rum Diary

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Over several nights. More Hunter S. Thompson completism from Johnny Depp, who somehow dragooned Aaron Eckhart into this feeble effort. Rife with cliche and lacking any depth in the characters, this bears no obvious relationship to the book (the little I remember of it). Dross.

/noise/beach/2011-2012 | Link

Mid-afternoon paddle at a fairly flat Gordons Bay. I was a bit surprised that visibility was so poor after what was supposed to be a few weeks of clear weather. Apart from the usual suspects I saw a rather large flathead (I think), loads of goatfish, and a large-ish silver thing with a tail taller than the body of the fish itself. I didn't find the big blue groper, but did see a quite large female.

Shame (2011)

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A Steve McQueen inessential, despite the masterly long takes. Too much Michael Fassbender proves to be too much. There is a vacuum at the heart of this movie where his character should be, and it is therefore tempting to compare it to Bateman in American Psycho, or the ranginess of Dimitriades in Head On, where a slog through the night stands in for a journey through inner space. This is somewhat painful as Fassbender makes it clear that Brandon has something to say, though perhaps it is beyond him to actually do so; compulsiveness is monotonous. I guess one could think of this as a New York reflection of his earlier effort in Essex.

Carey Mulligan reminded me of Gemma Arterton in The Disappearance of Alice Creed, game but more symbol than woman. (The list of "if you didn't like this you might also not like..." movies is too long.)

Dana Stevens is on the money, as are Stephanie Zacharek and Anthony Lane.

Even so, I am wondering what is next for Steve McQueen; Twelve Years a Slave is scheduled to be made in 2013.

The Apartment

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A Jack Lemmon segue from Short Cuts, a black and white rom com from 1960 that swept the Oscars. I didn't know Shirley MacLaine was Warren Beatty's sister, and that helps to make sense of this. It's OK, I guess; Fred MacMurray is a bit painful and it's not at all subtle, most of the time. Rated #94 in the IMDB top-250, somewhat implausibly.

Sara Turing: Alan M. Turing

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This is the Alan Turing centenary year and there's a lot of high-minded academic stuff going on. For some reason I pre-ordered the new edition of this biography from Cambridge University Press via Book Depository; perhaps it was because Martin Davis was spruiking his introduction to it on the FOM list. Ironically his opening paragraph reads:

Sara Turing, a woman in her seventies mourning the death of Alan, her younger son, a man that she failed to understand on so many levels, wrote this remarkable biographical essay. She carefully pieced together his school reports, copies of his publications, and comments on his achievements by experts. But Alan Turing was a thoroughly unconventional man, whose method of dealing with life's situations was to think everything through from first principles, ignoring social expectations. And she was trying to fit him into a framework that reveals more about her and her social situation than it does about him. Alan's older brother John trying to fill in the gaps he saw in his mother's account, also ends up revealing a good deal about his own attitudes. In this few pages I will discuss some of the questions that may occur to readers of these documents.

... and indeed the rest of it runs them further down. It culminates in a section titled Other Reading, which includes pointers to both the standard biography by Hodges and his own Engines of Logic (aka The Universal Computer), and could be summarised as "anything but this".

I enjoyed John Turing's bluntless, though as Davis (and just today, Obama but not Gillard) observes the times have changed. Sara's hagiographic tendencies got pretty boring pretty fast, apart from the odd anecdote.


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I got suckered by Anthony Lane's review in the New Yorker. It starts as a heist flick, shifts gear to a man-hunt sort of thing, and twists and turns its way into some kind of romance. The toilet scene is the most arresting since Trainspotting (though the romance does not occur there, unlike Henry Fool). Those crazy Norwegians, they left out the fjords.

Inglourious Basterds

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Again. Cristoph Waltz is fantastic, and Fassbender makes the most of his time on the screen. #104 in IMDB's top-250, still.