peteg's blog

F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby

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My great expectations of this modern American classic were not met with awesome. The prose is not that great, the plot is meh, as are the characters. Perhaps the central challenge when writing righteously about vacuous people is in avoiding vacuity yourself.

The Year of the Dragon

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Mickey Rourke is a Polish policeman trying to clean up New York City's Chinatown. His opponent, John Lone, went on to star as the older Pi Yu in The Last Emperor. Fabia Drake is fab as the sour nun with a British accent; she is pretty much the only one who takes it to Rourke here. Oliver Stone lets fly with some characteristic unsubtlety in the script. It seems that Michael Cimino had the misfortune to make a string of good movies early in his career, this apparently being the last.

To Live and Die in L.A.

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Willem Dafoe counterfeits in the mid-1980s, Secret Service Agent William Petersen tries to ensnare him in a sting. A nice little genre-busting action/thriller.

Raising Arizona

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Nicholas Cage, Holly Hunter. A Coen brothers effort from 1987. Surprisingly banal; typically these guys avoid cliche.

The Driver

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The other antecedent to Drive. Lots of car chases. Some suspense. Not a lot of dialogue. A bit boring really.

The Grandmaster

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Master director Wong Kar Wai returns with his stars Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi (and ...) for a biography of Kung Fu (Wing Chun) legend Ip Man. The cimeatography (by Philippe Le Sourd, not Christopher Doyle!) is as awesome as ever. Umebayashi Shigeru repeats his sterling efforts on the soundtrack.

There is something of Leone's Once Upon a Time in America in this, with the chopped-up timelines, stolen legacies, and most clearly the Morricone theme over tears in the rain. The opening scene is just like the Agent Smiths v Neo scene in one of the later Matrixes, but better, so much better. There is a great white-out scene towards the end with Zhang Ziyi. The film ends in mid-1950s Hong Kong and I hope he returns to the 1960s next time around.

Twitchfilm has more details. The review in the New York Times is gushier than I can be, as is their prospective.

Elysium (2013)

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At the 9:30pm session at the Hoyts at Eastgardens. The ride down and back was freezing. The port looks fantastical from the roof the building (the uppermost carpark), just like the set of a James Cameron classic. There were about ten people in a theatre with seating for something like 300. That was approximately nine more than I expected.

This is something of a followup to District 9 in director Neill Blomkamp's distinctive style. I found it strange that he set this story in L.A., something like 150 years hence, given that the city looked just like the present-day slums of anywhere. It is, of course, quite graphically violent, and I hadn't seen that much blood dripping from extremities since the Wallabies last played the 'Boks in Pretoria. Thematically it's all a bit Matrix (read Biblical) with an admixture of Terrence Malick for the dreamy bits: a saviour clearly needs to sacrifice himself for the greater good of dirt poor humanity. The politics is a bit confused, with salvation being something magical, cataclysmic, external, and not something to work towards. Elysium's refugee policy just might be the endpoint of Australia's. Some excellent work from Sharlto Copley, who clearly immensely enjoys working with Blomkamp, and Matt Damon was quite good too. My only real complaint was the jerky camerawork and spaghetti action scenes, which spoilt some excellent sets.

Anthony Lane. Dana Stevens. Manohla Dargis.

Kazuo Ishiguro: When We Were Orphans

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Another Ishiguro from the UNSW Library. There is something of Great Expectations here; an invocation of the British Empire, stymied lives, vocationalism, living for others, and so forth. The author is a master of structure, effortlessly gliding amongst time and place while avoiding that of which he does not wish to speak. For instance, in a move that prefigures Never Let Me Go, he creates parental characters that never clash with the adolescent narrator due to the central mystery, which effects the transfer of the narrator to the mother country, where much of the narration occurs.

I found the suspense here used to good effect, with the elisions of fact sharpening and not distracting from the climax. It left me with less to think about than Never Let Me Go however.

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This being Peodair's last night in Australia for a while, we went in search of a Korean barbeque. I had vague memories of one up around Neutral Bay that I'd been to with my old uni mates more than a decade ago; it turned out to be in Cremorne, and fortunately for us, closed for some family reason. We headed up to Chatswood, which is supposedly something of a Koreatown, and luckily happened upon the Goldmart Korean BBQ, at 28-30 Anderson Street. Roughly it is a grocery and butcher with some seating out the front where you cook the stuff you buy there using a charcoal fire.

Ashes of Time

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An early Wong Kar Wai that I've put off seeing for ages. Very impressionistic, and the colours he (or Christopher Doyle) extracts from the desert are psychedelic; the result is far more unsettling than Chungking Express as these settings are more naturalistic (i.e., no fluoros or neon). I found it difficult to follow pretty much everything beyond Maggie Cheung's monologue.

Michael W. Clune: White Out: The Secret Life of Heroin

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A review in the New Yorker blog gave me a Trainspotting flashback; has it really been half a lifetime since I read that book instead of preparing for my first-year exams? Perplexingly the masterwork on junk was acknowledged by neither the review nor the book itself, so I imagine Irvine Welsh has the cold-turkey chills. In any case Clune's ambit is a broader rumination than Welsh ever aspired to; while both expend some effort explaining the social implications of being on dope/skag, Clune is far more interested in the effect on his inner self. In some sense it is an expansion of what Trainspotting (the movie) reduced to a Renton voiceover:

People think it's all about misery and desperation and death and all that shit which is not to be ignored, but what they forget is the pleasure of it. Otherwise we wouldn't do it. After all, we're not fucking stupid. At least, we're not that fucking stupid.

Where Danny Boyle carefully suffocated heroin glamour with Edinburgh squalor, Clune is far more nuanced about his white outs in Baltimore, Chicago and New York. Being American we get nothing like Renton's colonized-by-wankers speech, and there is no Mother Superior or NHS.

Clune's prose is repetitious, hypnotically repetitious in the small, fast-moving in the large, which like his "memory disease" makes every whiteout and the search for one a repetition of the first time, and indeed his account of that one is scary-good. Being a youthful junkie "the future is forever", though he closes with a wife and dogs; "I don't think about the future." (David Bowie in 1984, presumably another voice of experience: "You'll be shooting up on anything, tomorrow's never there.") The cycle of addiction and recovery is tawdry at times, and many relationships are presented in fragmentary form, some with entries and exits, dismal and sublimely visual, visceral. The mandatory sex scene somewhere in the middle is hilarious. A veil is drawn over the passing of his druggy buddies, and his intellectual life is almost entirely elided. Narcotics Anonymous is a life-saving machine, if you can strap your life to it; not everyone can.

I knew it was the book for me from the razor blade embossed on the cover. I wonder if he found it difficult to find a publisher, given that it was released by Hazelden, an anti-addiction press. Unfortunately Clune's professional lit-crit is hard work to get into, though I have hopes that Gamelife, "on computer games as spiritual education", will be more like this.


Hot Fuzz

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The least of the Cornettos. It's one big windup to the comical final thirty minutes. Surprisingly few (zero?) pratfalls from Pegg, who is less convincing playing the straight high achiever. I don't remember much of it from 2007.

The Silent Hour: Ion Pearce, Julian Day, Andrew Tuttle, Live&Direct

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A NOW now advertised gig, though I didn't see any of that crowd there. Their blurb:

She's BACK.. elegantly composed! For those of you who appreciate the beauty of sound and symphonic textures. The Silent Hour is an intimate evening dedicated to electroacoustic and audiovisual composition.

Established in 2011, TSH is one of its kind and has presented Internationally acclaimed artists in the field of electroacoustic and audiovisual explorations such as Daniel Blinkhorn, Axel Singer, Chihei Hatakeyama, minamo, Greg Haines, Spartak, Pollen Trio, Ollie Bown, Seaworthy, Fourcolor, Pimmon and Moskitoo in the heart of William Street East Sydney.

Featuring Wednesday the 14th of August are local sensations Ion Pearce and Julian Day along with Brisbane artist touring his new release 4064, Andrew Tuttle.

Wednesday, August 14
Level 2, 77-83 William St, Darlinghurst

I went for Julian Day; Jacob keeps telling me he's into weird stuff, and he didn't disappoint. He turned up with his girlfriend, two vintage Casio keyboards and about ten hefty bolts (of perhaps 20mm diameter; see here). Seated on a cushion on the floor, his performance consisted of carefully placing the bolts on the keys of the synthesisers and adopting a zen of concentration. The result were lots of beats and harmonics between the notes and the two synthesisers, which was far more interesting than my description implies; as the perceived sound depends on the propagation path, moving one's head was enough to discover another timbre. It was certainly more emphatic than Eno's ambient, and I found it quite relaxing.

The second dude (Andrew Tuttle) had a laptop and a banjo and did something atmospheric. The last guy (Ion Pearce) was a poet-of-sorts, recounting over moody drums/bass/guitar, played by his two collaborators. I could see where he was going.

The venue was a Shaolin monk / martial arts room. Their propaganda (respect/trust yourself and your master, ...) is touchingly fascistic. There was no blood on the dojo floor, and the present Bruce Lee revival proved as yet insufficient for him to put in a showing. I think it used to be the General Store for Contemporary Art.

Shaun of the Dead

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The pick of the Pegg/Wright/Frost Cornettos. With Dave.

The World's End

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With Dave at Broadway Hoyts, $18 each. Pegg and Frost, Rosamund Pike as the chick game enough to act straight opposite five likely blokes and Pierce Brosnan. Frost got the best bits. Pegg limits his pratfalls to about five.

Dana Stevens loved it.

Shapeshifter at the Metro.

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With Dave and his mates (Justin, Dan Ferguson, Em). Just like old times for them, and now that I am twice the age of those wearing not more than their underwear, kinda fun for me too. The music is clearly keyed to altered states of being, rushy and not too melodic. Too much bass for Dave until we found a possie up the back near the bar.

David Bowie: Five Years

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Dave got me onto this Bowie doco that was screened on the ABC at the end of July. They could have spun it out to 90 minutes per album with footage this good. I particularly enjoyed the interviews with his string of guitarists from the 1970s and early 1980s.

Mohammed Hanif: A Case of Exploding Mangoes

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I came to this book by following a pointer from Mohsin Hamid. It's a great tale of the various forces who sought to truncate the reign of Zia ul Haq, whose fictional character gets fleshed out in a big way in the closing pages, as does the erstwhile ISI head General Ahktar. The fine-grained writing lets the show down at times; Hanif occasionally zigs or zags a little too disconnectedly, or too crassly suppresses key facts in an attempt to rachet up the tension. For all that the plot is fantastic.

A review in the New York Times. There's a parallel-of-sorts with Shame by Salman Rushdie, but it's been too long since I read that one. On to Hanif's second novel, I guess.

A portrait in the New Yorker.

NIDA: Moving Parts.

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Colin Friels sports a dodgy cockney (?) accent opposite Josh McConville's plantive Melbournian. I decided to go to this ages ago, when I thought I'd be a bit freer than I have been; I wasn't really in the mood tonight, and the play itself didn't change that. There are some funny moments but those belong more to the delivery than the script. The set was nice, though static. The themes were quite tired. I can't say it was worth $55; better, I think, to just read the interview with Friels.

Free motorcycle parking at Sydney Airport.

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I can confirm that there are indeed loads of motorcycles parked illicitly at Sydney Airport. Betty survived a couple of nights there unscathed. Certainly beat waiting around for the 400 at 11pm on a cold Sunday night.

Tangents and Cycle 440 at the Seymour Centre.

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The NOW now promoted this gig. Ben and I got in for $10 by virtue of being on their mailing list. The appeal was to see Peter Hollo (ex-Fourplay) again after so long. We missed about half of the opening set, which I quite liked: Cycle 440 (Sam Gillies and Kevin Pen) on the piano and laptop, manufacturing soporific ambience. I didn't really get into Tangents proper.