peteg's blog

The Zero Theorem

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Dave pointed this Terry Gilliam-directed Cristoph Waltz vehicle out to me a while back. It seems so promising! — and indeed it is quite fun at times. David Thewlis is in full-on breathless mode ala Naked, though his monologues are not as rich, and Matt Damon is a bit colourless in the Architect role. Tilda Swinton is a hoot as Dr. Shrink-Rom, playing up some shameless English politeness with those fake teeth we're seeing a lot of. Her hair is awesome too. I couldn't really figure Mélanie Thierry out and perhaps that is the central flaw in the thing: forces pulling it in all directions without a countervailing gravity, so we get soufflé all over the walls. Some very funny scenes, and the odd blue one too. What's with Karen Souza's cover of Creep? She left out the good bits.

Life Out There: the House Band of the Universe at Adler Planetarium.

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I'd never been to a planetarium before, so trading on the magic of Goldstar, I plonked $13.75 down and cycled down Columbus Drive after work. The gig started at 9pm, which struck me as a bit late. Also the park between Columbus and Lakeshore was closed for Lollapalooza preparations. The band did some kind of blues / jazz thing that was beyond me to categorize. This was an accompaniment to a computer-synthesised trip around the galaxy / universe, starting from Baghdad-ish, back to the big bang, hence to the outer reaches of the sun's influence, and finally inwards to the sun, back to Earth, and then out to Titan. It was all a bit breathless. Maybe they had the old-school planterium gear but I didn't see it. Afterwards I almost dodged the rain on the ride home. The view from the Adler is pure American Romantic.

A Most Wanted Man

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Back to the Showplace Icon Theatre, 4.45pm, $11.75. This time I went in the front door, off Roosevelt, and had a coffee at the place across the road from the cinema. This is Anton Corbijn's third feature; I really enjoyed Control, and The American was not too bad. Here he attempts to show some apparently decent, longer sighted spies at work who, in Kevin Rudd's immortal phrase, get rat fucked by the CIA and German neo Gestapo. Was that Tom Waits's Hoist That Rag over the credits? And more shockingly, a cover of Bowie's Everyone Says Hi (by Claudia Brücken) in the bar, where Rachel McAdams and Philip Seymour Hoffman do not, in fact, say hi? The main draw was to see the latter in his final lead role, and he indeed masterfully anchors the piece with lots of mouth breathing, as always. I have to wonder why they used American actors here; I can only imagine what the cast of The Lives of Others, or even Cristoph Waltz, might have achieved. (Having sad that the actual German part of the cast is solid, including Hamburg itself.) McAdams is as pretty as ever but her accent is everywhere and even the jittery camerawork does not conceal her lack of range. Willem Dafoe tries to help her out by being an ineffectual cardboard cutout of his usual badass self. The story suffers from some very broken bridges in the centre.

Dana Stevens. Manohla Dargis.

The Man in the White Suit

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6pm at the Gene Siskel Film Center, second row from the front, $11. (They set the screen a sensible distance from the front row, but crank the sound up too loud.) Part of the present Alec Guinness session. I went to see how he'd go opposite Joan Greenwood; she's got the sass but doesn't get enough of a role to really put it on. Guinness enjoys himself, and their scene together is a cute switcheroo. Still, if you're going to tell a story about a Prometheus offering mankind a modern McGuffin with the power to unify capital and labour, you need a better ending than what they offer up here. Superior to Lucy in every way, as most of the Ealing comedies would be.


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$12 at the non-IMAX part of Regal City North 14, 10:30pm, three rows from the front, which is slightly too close. I leisurely cycled up via Goose Island: there's a cute little railway bridge at the northern end that is closed to motorised traffic. We got some asinine shorts before the feature. Unfortunately it is drecky, and all the good bits were in the short. Briefly Besson underheated all the iconographic stuff you could imagine and snap-froze the result. It's all a bit too dumbed-down Matrix, with an admixture of visuals from The Tree of Life and 2001. Oldboy Choi Min-sik knows how to die, and clearly Besson has been watching the Koreans with the rest of us. I'll stop here.

Dana Stevens proves that holding a PhD in anything is lethal to your credulity. Manohla Dargis digs those tuff chix.


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Guillermo del Toro's debut. Not really to my taste: a not particularly inventive vampire / mechanism / the greed of old men mashup. There are some signature elements already here, such as the fearless loyalty of the child Aurora, the granddaughter, and the lurid blood.

Hellish Half-Light: shorter plays of Samuel Beckett.

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Another Goldstar outing. This preview cost a total of $7.50 and wasn't worth a penny to me, again demonstrating the difference between value and price that (as an outlier) I find everywhere. The bike ride up was kind-of fun; peak hour on Halsted takes some care, and there is more life up there than I knew of. A young gent with his mates perfectly politely claimed we were "birk brothers" but it turned out my Milanos have the backtrap that his Sydneys lack. Heh, young kids these days: they proceeded to argue that mine were in fact superior for my purposes, i.e. bicycling. No idea what their game was.

I guess I expected these to be Pinter plays for reasons that now escape me, or maybe (In the Jungle of Cities) Brecht. The Angel Island Theatre itself is solid New Theatre, and featured some seating within the floor-stage. No love seat though. I bought a long neck from the mildly embarassed subcontinental bloke at the downstairs bottle shop and was the only one in the audience actually drinking. I think the rest were friends of the cast / crew.

The plays: Castastrophe, Come and Go, Play, Rough for Theater I, Rough for Theater II and What Where. Back-to-back, no interval. Presented by Mary-Arrchie Theatre Co., directed by Jennifer Markowitz.

I just dug up Midnight Oil's classic Blue Sky Mine, which I last played through in 2005 or so. Wow, such naivety (theirs and mine).

The Terminator

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#209 in the IMDB top-250. Incredible: everyone knows it's not that great. I sprinted up to the Logan Theatre to make the last 10.30pm screening and beat the Google bicycling hero benchmark of 24 minutes by 3, which may have been due to some lucky breaks on the lights, or failing to stop as often as I was supposed to. Anyway. Sweatiness makes the arctic air conditioning so much worse, but the high-fructose corn syrup in the coke really did the trick. One could spend many words analyzing this time capsule of 30 years past. I think they played it off a blue ray; the res was certainly there.

Magritte at the Art Institute of Chicago.

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After going to a talk last month (June 21) that gave a very nice overview of the show, I finally got around to seeing it. Magritte did some very famous images, and some remain quite striking even now. However seeing them clumped together like this is a bit much; he seems to have a limited repertoire of objects (female torso, euphonium, bowler hats, ...) and to see them replicated across works is disillusioning. Taking a quick look at Google just now, it seems there were plenty more of his works that aren't at the Art Institute of Chicago presently. Anyway, glad I went. Thanks again to Pete R. for the membership.

I also tried to look at the Mexican political prints but at some point my brain exploded. There's a lot of juvenalia. I'll head back later in the week.

The Host

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Segue from Snowpiercer via the director (Bong Joon-ho), his lead (Song Kang-ho), and Song's daughter in both (Ko Ah-sung). The bonus here is the luminous Bae Doo-na. Everyone is awesome, and the humour leavens what is sometimes a maudlin farce.

Closer at the Den Theatre

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Well, Goldstar certainly takes the risk out of theatre-going: tonight's came to $10.50 plus beer. I feel increasingly bad about that as this production by Spartan Theatre was excellent. (A solution that has always appealed to me is to charge a nominal entry price and pass the hat around at the end of the night.) The Den Theatre put me in mind of the old spaces used by NUTS, back in the day, and I will certainly be spending more time in their bar/louge in the coming weeks and months, though I did not loiter tonight.

The strength of the production (and minimality but adequacy of the sets) made me focus more on the play, distracting though the actresses were: despite the lack of nudity, Alice (Poppy Golland) engages in some impressive acrobatic strip-club antics. Anna (Brianne Duncan Fiore) is the pivotal object of desire who predictably moves in with a dog. The blokes — Larry (Brian Grey) and Dan (Matt Pratt) — provide valliant support. Justin Hayford at the Chicago Reader is not wrong to slag the material off as cynical, and the rushed ending makes it clear that the playwright struggles to make much out of the mess. The early-internet chatroom clunkiness dates this movie in the same way that Dana Stevens observes of the present Sex Tape. Similarly the smoking is anachronistic, and what am I to make of that pianoification of Creep that opens proceedings? (My mind was playing Authentic Celestial Music for the most part.) Is it truth or forgiveness that lifts us above beasts? I'm keen to see what these guys do next. (Directed by Patrick Belics. Sterling British accents from all bar Alice, who is an American played by an American.)

The Ladykillers

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One of the feted Ealing comedies. Alec Guinness leads, and a very green Peter Sellers gets a bit of a nothing role. As a heist caper it is somewhat the converse of Kind Hearts and Coronets; here Guinness is the last man standing, and indeed just after that was for me the funniest part of the movie. He looks a lot like Martin Amis: a classic English mashup of bad teeth, receding hairline, and waxy vampyrism.

The Artistic Home: The Late Henry Moss.

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Thinking it was about time I tried out the theatre scene here, I found a promising review of this piece in the Chicago Reader. The theatre is in fact around the corner from where I reside, so while I'm not living in the red light district of my imaginings, it did serve as a decent simulation of the Griffin Theatre. Unfortunately they are nowhere as prolific.

The piece itself was Sam Shepard's new thing, and this was supposed to be its mid-western premiere (the season, not this particular episode). Well, what can I say. The acting was OK when it wasn't histrionic, but the play is crap. It made me think of Erskineville Kings for the most part, and more obscurely the Pixies's Hang Wire. I guess you could say it failed to grip me. These exhausted Mexicans-as-shamans concepts now stifle America's imagination and myth-making; I saw it in Born on the Forth of July, and that at least used Vietnam as a source of damage and not World War II. Perhaps admitting as much, this production yielded up some cheap titillation from the singular actress getting her kit off. Sons and fathers, domestic violence, and sundry eternal tropes; I spaced out a lot so I missed plenty. I didn't follow the flashbacks closely, and lost track of the epistemics. The rhythm of calm, hysterics, violence, calm (etc) was poorly pitched. Julian Hester, the taxi driver from Albuquerque, put me in mind of two things: the old Bugs Bunny cartoons where he doesn't take the right turn there, and Brad Pitt from 12 Monkeys. Frank Nall does his best as the dead father.

I got my tickets from Goldstar: half price + $4.50 or so, for a total of less than $20. This event was general admission so seat quality didn't matter. I feel a bit bad playing that game, and I guess the karmic retribution is that I paid the play less mind than if I'd paid it full-fare.

Kind Hearts and Coronets

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The Gene Siskel Film Center is showing a series of old Alec Guinness movies this month. I missed the first couple but was glad to make it to this one. Their second theatre is tiny, and was completely packed out with grey hairs.

The cast here is uniformly excellent. Dennis Price in the lead has his finest outing, and Valerie Hobson is solid despite her character being callowly credulous. Guinness himself shines in particular as Lady Agatha, the shit-boring parson, the boorish general, and ... well, all the rest of the family. I particularly enjoyed Joan Greenwood in luminous feline mode; I'm looking forward to seeing what she and Guinness get up to in The Man in the White Suit at the end of the month. The plot is kind of like Hitchcock's Rope, and the tone is set right from the beginning with the hangman's concern that he act with proper respect for the hangee's title.

The Art of Rube Goldberg

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I picked this up on the strength of a review in the New York Times, and to see if I could get Amazon to deliver. I didn't bother to read all the articles as they tend to continue in the vein of Adam Gopnik's introduction: overly personal and not that interesting. From there I did get pointers to Chaplin's Modern Times and the antecedent/complementary artists Frenchman Marcel Duchamp and Englishman Heath Robinson. (The American "Rube Goldberg machine" that invariably results from hacking would be termed a "Heath Robinson machine" by the poms. mrak, I'm not looking at you.) The paper mechanism on the cover sort-of works.

I did look at all the comics, however. The machines would have been better taken at the rate of one a week or so. My favourite was his series of advertisements for razor blades, "stubble trouble": ridiculously long Imam-style beards being used as hammocks, for tying up Santa Claus, being knitted by distracted wives, and so forth.

Goldberg once said his machines — which he drafted with strict but rollicking precision — were a “symbol of man’s capacity for exerting maximum effort to achieve minimal results.”

Greg Egan: The Clockwork Rocket

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Wondering what Egan is up to now led me to borrowing this from the Chicago Public Library. Part of me can admire his fiercely ambitious imaginary physics, though my eyes glaze over pretty much as they did back in first year. The plot is fairly humdrum otherwise, and there is a lot derived from earlier scifi classics that maybe the younguns no longer read. I won't be chasing up the two successors.

Snowpiercer (2013)

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This fourth of July I did something that is becoming a mainstream American activity: I gave the Music Box Theatre $10 to watch something a Korean director (Bong Joon-ho) made (with a large CGI budget) that seems beyond Hollywood's grasp. Some fabulous performances here: Chris Evans (Captain America?!?) channels Ben Affleck, Tilda Swinton has a ball, and Ewen Bremner is at his best since Trainspotting, sporting a Jewfro and losing an arm in the process. Ed Harris does his best in the Matrix-Architect role. As always there are some graphic blood sprays and extended rave-style violence. Somehow this got funded/made by the Czechs. I can imagine the pitch to Park Chan-wook: say we took that corridor scene from Oldboy and made a whole movie out of it...

Surprising to me the audience was the largest I've seen yet in the main theatre, and most people sit a long way back. Thinking about it some more, it also evokes the train-future of Wong Kar-Wai's 2046.

A. O. Scott got right into it. J. Hoberman at the New York Review of Books.

Mavericks did not eat my homework.

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I've been using Snow Leopard for five years now, which is getting on to Windows XP longevity. Having left academia, I just now figured that whatever was keeping me on that tired platform has probably gone to the grave, and moreover Mavericks looks a lot more enticing than Lion ever did. Ergo upgrade.

So far no real problems, apart from new (empty) windows in Chrome interacting in a nasty way with Spaces. I lost my RSS feeds, as I knew I would; there's a widget in Chrome that is somewhat usable but a long way from either Google Reader or the old Conversely the new seems a bit faster and less buggy... though it keeps hitting up IMAP servers from a lifetime back. I had to reinstall MacPorts, as always. clang seems a lot faster than GCC. My venerable perl blog script broke, as always. Fast times.