peteg's blog

Big Hero 6

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$9.84 = $8.79 + $1.05 (freedom tax) at the AMC Loews 600, 3:30pm on Thanksgiving. Loan suggested I go see this one, and I remember thinking the short was promising. The animation is great and robot himself quite funny, but overall it's very derivative.

LAMPO: Lucky Dragons

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I missed the last LAMPO for not-particularly-good reasons; lethargy, weather, I forget. This one had them queuing out the front from 7pm, when I got here, after a rather expensive dinner at Big Bowl (good ingredients, mediocre penang sauce, decent brown ale sold as a stout). The light show on Michigan confused the route. As it turned out there was at least one empty seat; full but not packed, I'd say. At some point the organisers unlocked the doors but did not invite us in. They're a weird mob.

So this gig was closer to the improv I'm used to, but with many laptops and only a few instruments (a drum kit, xylophones, oboe (?)). They put some visuals on the roof, but nothing too exciting. The schtick was to play the same piece (in some sense) through twice, with the second influenced by an audience interaction / bikeshedding session in the middle. One guy opined "isn't chance the opposite of concensus?" which made me scratch my head about as much as the suggested mechanisms for terminating the chance movement. Anyway. I found it relaxing. Their blurb:

Los Angeles-based collaborative duo Lucky Dragons premiere "RSVP Partita," a new performance for Lampo that treats Lawrence and Anna Halprin's late 60's workshop-based approach to creative processes as a musical form -- folding score, performance and evaluation together into an iterative suite for instrumentalists, software and group conversation.

A collaboration between artists Sarah Rara (b. 1983, Livingston, N.J.) and Luke Fischbeck (b. 1978, San Francisco, Calif.), Lucky Dragons have been exploring the nuances of sound as a participatory medium for close to 14 years through recordings, performance, software design, workshops, and installations. Their work has been presented in a wide variety of contexts, including the Whitney Museum of American Art (as part of the 2008 Whitney Biennial), the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Walker Art Center, London's Institute for Contemporary Art, MOMA/PS1 and the Kitchen in New York, REDCAT, LACMA and the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, MOCA Los Angeles, the 54th Venice Biennale, and the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, among others. The name "Lucky Dragons" is borrowed from a fishing vessel caught in the fallout from H-bomb tests in the mid-1950s; an incident which sparked international outcry, spontaneously generating the worldwide anti-nuclear movement.

Presented in partnership with the Graham Foundation, in conjunction the Graham’s current exhibition, Experiments in Environment: The Halprin Workshops, 1966-1971.

Theater Unspeakable: The American Revolution presented by Adventure Stage at the Vittum Theater.

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$20.00 = $17 + $3 "convenience charge". I've walked and cycled past this theatre (near the corner of Milwaukee and Noble) so many times, and the strong recommendation from the Reader brought me to this. While I was waiting in the foyer, I hear a child who is asked to write something he holds to be self-evident on the board say "you're never too old to go to school." I also hear a parent trying to explain that onerous taxation justifies bloodshed to another child.

This production assumes more familiarity with the revolution than I had, which rendered some it quite opaque. I did learn that some of the native Americans lined up with the Brits, and that Washington freed his slave William Lee after passing himself. The American colonial army seems to owe a lot to a Prussian general, who was presented histrionically, somewhat evoking the world-famous German warmakers of the twentieth century. Intentional? I don't know. The French were foppish froggy clowns, familiar from ... well, any Ameican cartoon that refers to the French. The English generals were closer to the mark, desultory and misguided. King George was made into two people, which was both funny and apposite.

The acting was fantastic, physical with some effective mime technique, all crammed onto a tiny table that brought welcome constraints to the production according to the actors in the discussion afterwards. I really liked the flag hung from the front of the table: the Union Jack in the centre bleeding into the Stars and Stripes at the ends.

Promethean Theatre Ensemble: The Winter's Tale at the Anthenaeum Theatre.

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$24.45 = $20 + $2 restoration fee + $2.45 "Convenience Charge", bought 2014-10-21. I took the purple line to Wellington and schlepped up that street, and had an early dinner at the Golden Apple Diner: the first steak I'd had in six months or more, totally serviceable. After grabbing my ticket I headed back to Heritage Bicycles, which I think mostly functions as a repair and coffee shop. Their coffee was great, the decor flawlessly evoking the romance of bygone fixies and gramophones. Yes, it's a hipster stop.

This was a Megan DeLay segue from Smash at the Piccolo Theatre; Pete R. knows I'm not much into Shakespeare, especially not the drecky lesser-known later works like this one. It falls into two halves (and fortunately not three). The first is something like The Tempest or King Lear: in a barely-plausible fit of pique the King decides to ruin his life by ruining the lives of those most dear to him. OK, so far, so familiar. The second is a bucolic comedy, where the thief worryingly does not get his comeuppance. Am I not in America, the home of happy righteous endings?

The Anthenaeum Theatre is huge, but this was produced in the tiny Studio Theatre 1, which is smaller than the back room of the church I went to on Sunday. It proves beyond the actors, who are otherwise mostly fine, to scale down their vocalisations. This is unfortunate as the play itself is entirely about standing around and holding forth, and as it turned out, they often stood right in front of me (front right corner) and occluded what little action there was. Megan had one of the sensible characters and was as solid as everyone else at waiting for her turn to declaim.

The Reader got it about right, though I think Cameron Feagin over-emoted the whole time. There was some form of dance going on upstairs, attracting loads of younguns. The building itself is similar to the church that put on the Albee. Once again the #9 bus on Ashland got me home.

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center: Dvorák, Chausson, and Schubert at the Harris Theater.

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Somehow I managed to get free tickets to this from the 芝加哥中国文化 院 Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute, Inc. The bloke sitting next to me with the phablet may have been there for the intended purpose, whatever that was.

Today was bloody cold. I walked up from work, grabbing a Thai from Siam on Washington and a hot chocolate from the Intelligentsia on Randolph, unfondly, for old times' sake. I enjoyed the Dvorák (Selections from Cypresses (Echo of Songs) for Two Violins, Viola, and Cello, B. 152, and Nocturne in B Major for Two Violins, Viola, Cello, and Bass, Op. 40 (1870, rev. 1882)) and parts of the Chausson (Trio in G minor for Piano, Viilin, and Cello, Op. 3 (1881)). Schubert's bucolic left me cold. The musicians were solid; I get the impression they are based in New York. The Harris Theater is conveniently almost connected to the Metra station at the top of Millennium Park, but I had to walk back to Wabash to get the green line out to Ashland.

Theatre Y: Happy Days at Saint Luke's Evangelical Lutheran Church, Logan Square.

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Goldstar ticket: $10.00 + $3.75 service fee = $13.75. I was reluctant to go as I'm not a huge Beckett fan, which was well proven by Hellish Half Light. A review in the Reader tipped it. I schlepped up on foot from Noble Street via a totally-packed Filter Café, and the Sultan's Market. Sub-zero cold, yes, and rainy, of all things.

This is essentially a one-woman play, and Melissa Lorraine is superb as that woman. Buried past her waist in Péter Szabó's CRTs, LCDs and at least one ancient iMac, she ably demonstrates what it takes to keep body and soul together in these (and those) times of vacuous modernity. The second half is rapid-fire absurdism and less of a pretence that she is succeeding, which is somewhat distressing given her isolation. Melissa's ability to juice the repetitive dialogue for effect, especially humour and later pathos, is mesmerizing. I regret missing her Medea from earlier this year, despite it being a year of many Medeas. Her husband (Evan Hill) provided some able support with his nineteen lines and several falls. The sound (again by Péter Szabó) is immersive. The video segments were from real life.

Afterwards Melissa stepped down and cornered us all for a talkback, which they term "barrack dramaturgy" (coined by the director Andráz Visky, resident in Transylvania). Clearly still fired up by her performance, she ably disarmed the audience by discussing the material clearly and articulately, again with Evan's support. She made me regret not coming earlier in the season — apparently their interpretation has changed a lot in response to experience, and that would have been something to see. Wisely they passed the hat around at the end of the night, and so I got to pay $20 for the brewed-in-Holland Heineken that came gratis at the start of the evening. I took the blue line L back.

More plaudits from Kyle Whalen at the Chicago Stage Standard. I'll certainly go to whatever they do next.

Piccolo Theatre: The Love of Three Oranges

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Another Goldstar ticket: $13.50 + $4.25 service fee = $17.75. I really should pay full-price to these guys, as they really are worth it. Like last time, this was opening night. Damn cold. I left work at 4pm to get the 4.35pm Metra up to Evanston, and it turned out that Carl had the same idea. I spent a bit of time at Brothers K again, this time avoiding over-caffeination with a hot chocolate. The Thai across the road is passable, but slow; not enough waiters, it would seem. Unfortunately the Piccolo Theatre, sited in the erstwhile waiting room next to the southbound Metra line, does not serve beer.

I was originally going to give this a miss as I assumed that pantomime was not my thing, and I was half-right; I'd have been mortified if I was the only (type of) person in the audience. Fortunately there was a dear old couple, originally from somewhere in Europe (argh, crap memory) whose flawless American was a perfect shield. He was quite droll, she chatty, telling me they were both computer geeks from back in the days of paper tape (!), apparently 1958. I wonder how they balanced parentheses on those typewriters.

This is apparently an adaptation of an adaptation. All of the performers hammed it up as far as their characters allowed. Joshua D. Allard was the perfect host as Dame Celia, and if the Americans ever remake Red Dwarf then they have a perfect Kryten waiting in the form of rubber-faced King-of-Hearts Max Hinders. I missed all the TV references. The plot was totally ridiculous. The lighting design was quite amazing for the black-curtained witch-off "black arts" scene at the end between Celia and Fata Morgana (Amelia Lorenz).

I got the Metra back to Clybourn and North and Ashland, and the #9 going directly south brought me home; simply too cold to walk very far.

The Reader was less sold on it.


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With workmates Alex, Carl, Nick. 6.30pm IMAX, Navy Pier, 70mm. $20. Epic burger beforehand.

What is this, a space opera? In 2014? How very 2001-derivative, and so easy to sink the boot into. Marvin-style robots take on monolith forms when they're not being R2D2s, HAL is a misanthropic man who tries to steal a wheel (a weak antonym of Kubrick's elegant Discovery), McConaughey-and-monolith as star children, and the Deep Space 9 wormhole supplants the monolith. The science gets quite muddled once the black hole turns up, so I guess Hawking was too busy basking in his own movie to offer advice on this one. (Christian from work explained to me that it is a theoretical possibility thus far without much empirical support that Hawking radiation may transmit information out of a black hole, but that's more physics than I ever understood.) Leaving aside the question of the bandwidth of a twitching second hand of a watch, Chastain is going to have the devil's own time decyphering that data if it is in Morse as it is not a prefix code. I'm stopping here. Science, who needs it when you have gravity, lurv and massive blackboards.

There are some good visuals here, though Nolan is late to the party (hosted by The Tree of Life and Gravity) of cool cosmology. Hathaway phones it in. McConaughey is robust enough for two movies. I like Casey Affleck's signature low-key smolder, but he doesn't really get a chance to mumble. Chastain was surprisingly plausible. God save me from Michael Caine, who peaked shortly after 2001's initial theatrical release. Zimmer's music is overly intense, most of the time.

I was expecting the politics to be: get out there and resume space exploration, every geekboy's dogma, for the planet's rooted and we'll be rooned. The short certainly made it seem so. There is instead an attempt at complexification, with some concern with sustainability, though the conclusion seems to be we need to go anyway. What I really don't like is that Nolan reckons we're screwed unless God shows up, and/or we send ourselves information from the future. Last time God showed up we nailed him to a tree, though perhaps Nolan is suggesting that next time around we won't have trees, so it might work out better. The other fork smells too much of Terminator causality bullshit to me. None of this is surprising as Nolan has always cleaved to the one-great-man-of-history storylines. What I really want to know is why McConaughey was chasing Hathaway at the end. In any case the whole thing is terribly derivative.

Reviews are, of course, plentiful. Dana Stevens somehow misdiagnoses originality here but gets it right in the end. Correct result from false premises and unsound reasoning? Yes, the movie had that in spades. Apart, possibly, for the correct result. I wish I'd seen the movie A. O. Scott did. Denby brackets this with the Hawking movie.

Oracle Theatre: Romulus at the Public Access Theatre.

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I reserved a spot at this thing back on 2014-11-03. It was fairly packed, but not so much that I would have missed out without one. Their schtick is to provide free access to theatre, and as is always the case in these situations, it ended up costing me more ($20) than I usually spend. I got half an over-gassed beer in return, and a pretty funny show. Written by Gore Vidal "from the play by Friedrich Dürrenmatt", directed by Kasey Foster. Kevin Cox is great in the lead, with excellent comedic timing.

Justin Hayford at the Reader has it just about right. Kerry Reid at the Chicago Tribune.

The Game

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Yeah, about as good as I remember. It doesn't hold together as well as Fincher's best, and doesn't seem to have a point.

Tympanic Theatre: Social Creatures at the Den Theatre.

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Goldstar. $10.50 = $7.50 + $3.00 service fee. Some sort of zombie apocalypse thing. Justin Hayford at the Reader has the salients. I was too out of it after four beers (I got cornered by some traders at work) to get into this one.


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$12.31 = $10.99 + $1.32 in tax. At the AMC River East 21, 6.15pm. There was an older bloke having a snore off to the right of row 4; I don't think he picked the right theatre to be doing that in.

Is this Saving Private Ryan in a tank? Are we here just to suffer through one more round of "greatest generation" propaganda? Or is this a cynical play at their 401(k)s, so recently crueled by their lesser successors? It certainly is a pastiche of earlier Brad Pitt vehicles. The plot is essentially a feature-length version of Fight Club's Raymond K. Hessel scene, here featuring Logan Lerman who looks like a young Depp, or McGuire. He'll probably be in the next Spiderman reboot. Pitt himself is a slightly more plausible Nazi hunter than he was in Inglourious Basterds, but when he rolls out "Let me show you something," I got the flashback shivers, just as I did from Norton a week ago. His minions hold him in a similar regard to that in which the natives held Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now. Albert Einstein apparently said, "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones," but what he didn't understand is that Hollywood will finance both, and probably shoot them in 3D if the technology survives. Shia LaBeouf was decent. This movie is nowhere as claustrophobic as Das Boot.

Slightly more broadly, it seems a bit weak that Hollywood has to keep reaching back to the Nazis (the gift that keeps giving, it would seem), just like Jolie is going to show us how terrible the Imperial Japanese were, and the non-commie Russkies in John Wick sure were meaner than those commie Russkies. America is all out of new bad guys.

A. O. Scott cites more movies than I do. I agree, the blokes did some fine acting, but nevertheless I failed to develop an attachment to any of them. David Denby.

Francis Spufford: Unapologetic: Why, despite everything, Christianity can still make surprising emotional sense.

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Just because I believe don't mean I don't think as well
Don't have to question everything in heaven or hell
David Bowie — Word on a Wing

I regretted not taking notes while reading his earlier Red Plenty, so this time I did. Unfortunately things fall away rather quickly after the incendiary introduction to the point where it is not worth dissecting in any detail.

Here Spufford attempts to defend his return to the warm comforts of Anglican Christianity after a couple of decades of atheism. I was interested mostly in how he would argue and how he experiences spirituality. Well, it's a far cry from the reasoned clarity of Raymond Smullyan (e.g., The Tao is Silent), as I guess it must be; Spufford's God is logically incoherent and totally impractical, and while the author has a sense of humour, it seems equally clear that the Author does not. No whimsical dialogues here! — though he is (of course) scholar enough to know that many tropes in the Christ story are not original.

I guess I was hoping for a more robust counterpoint to the New Atheists; their attacks on organised religion always seemed misguided to me, if only because belonging to such is more of a tribal than ontological commitment. (We see that here with Spufford's return to the religion of his childhood, in contrast to Leonard Cohen's lifelong spiritual searching. The former gives the latter's Anthem an appreciative going over.)

Spufford is fine in the small but very shaky on the larger philosophical points. Here he is, defending his defence.

U.S. Eagles vs All Blacks, Soldier Field.

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Like Bowie, about six months in the making. I have no idea why the All Blacks decided to stop here for what amounted to an exhibition match, but I'm thankful they did. I shouted Grégoire a ticket (for a total of $194.71 back in June) as a thank-you for me being here. I biked there, wearing my super-heavy jacket, beanie and gloves. One guy called them retro 90s ski gloves, but they are in fact genuine 1985 Orange K-Mart thinsulate specials which don't work as well as they once did. This was my first time actually at a test match. After yesterday's snow/sleet/rain and sub-zero windchill, we were blessed by a cold and clear day, no wind, with the sun coming out around 2pm while I waited at Roosevelt Station for Grégoire's red line L to get in. The traffic was totally nuts, and the people trying to control it really enjoyed arguing with everyone who tried to be individuals.

I wasn't at all sure who'd show up for the ABs; as it was we got a mix of the old reliables (Keven Mealamu (!), Kieran Read, Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Ben Franks), the show pony (Sonny Bill Williams), the bad boy (Aaron Cruden), the new (Julian Savea and many others I hadn't heard of), and I was very happy to see Dan Carter play for the first time in a year, albeit only for the final twenty minutes or so. His first pass was way too ambitious, but that was pretty much his only mistake, which does not bode well for England next weekend. I'm a little glad Sir Richie wasn't there, for otherwise the Eagles would have really struggled at the rucks. The referee was Craig Joubert, who masterfully accounted for the difference in skill levels. The Eagles forwards did some pretty decent work from time-to-time, and even looked to be putting up enough of a fight in the scrum for it to be competitive at times. The lineout seemed sound for both sides. The Eagles' goalkicker will be able to tell his grandkids that he put six points on the best team ever. It took them a while to figure out that you don't give the All Blacks an inch of room, so kicking for field position is quite unwise. One of their quick-lineout throws was a gridiron-style one-handed overarm throw that made it more than halfway across the pitch.

The result was a predictable 74 - 6, as the Kiwis are always gracious to their hosts. I'd never seen so many New Zealand flags, even in their own country. Some feared they're be taken for Australians and had NEW ZEALAND written along the bottom. Soldier Field is going to be re-sod before the next gridiron game.

Rundskop (Bullhead)

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Director Michaël R. Roskam's effort immediately previous to The Drop, also featuring Matthias Schoenaerts. I struggled to stitch it all together, but at some point it ceased to matter as the focus reduced to a single character, the plot becoming quite ancillary. Overall it is not too graphic but very suggestive. However, like The Drop, there's not enough meat on the bone to justify the weightiness of it all.