peteg's blog

The Man With The Golden Arm

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Otto Preminger adapts Nelson Algren's famous Chicago novel, which I never got around to reading. In black-and-white. Sinatra plays the lead and got a theme song and Oscar nomination. Barry Adamson later futzed with the former. Kim Novak is the bargirl with a heart of gold / irrepressible crush on Frank, and Eleanor Parker the I'll-never-capture-better desperado who he is responsible for. Darren McGavin is perfect as the drug pusher and general streetwise hustler. The sets are a bit crap, which is a shame as it would've been awesome to see the Chicago of the day. I think the stretch of Clark St they infest is close to where I live, i.e. in River North. The scene where Frank relinquishes junk is a pro forma for Trainspotting: one final fix, etc. but no bucket or tins of soup. He is less adept at trashing rooms than you'd expect. The conclusion is a cheap resolution of many contrivances: Novak's arched eyebrow heading out-of-frame, hand on choose-life Sinatra's arm, as the body of her rival is whisked away in an ambulance.

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago: Conversation with Richard Hunt.

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$10 bought on 2014-12-20. This was an hour-long chat between Richard Hunt and two hosts: Naomi Beckwith and Daniel Schulman. They showed a video and string of photos of his works and workspace. I'll go back some other day to see the exhibition.

Born to Win

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I have no idea where I drug this one up from. George Segal, junkie. He has a nice and pretty funny scene with Karen Black early on, where she springs him trying to boost her car; a blip on an otherwise terminal trajectory. De Niro has a minor role as a cop.

Nasty, Brutish & Short: Drunken Half-Angel at Links Hall, Constellation.

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$12 + $2.42 service fee = $14.42, booked 2015-01-09. Part of the Chicago International Puppet Festival. The other thing Tony Adler of the Chicago Reader gestured at. I caught the Brown Line up to Belmont, same as for Ben Frost on Halloween, and walked down Belmont looking for food. I ended up getting a serviceable burger on a side street, past where the upscale antique shops give way to latino suburbia. At the Constellation I had a Yin and Yang Black and Tan from Evil Twin Brewing. Scandis who can brew? The world is not as I remember it. Tasty, but I'm not that big on Black IPAs. Their Imperial Stout is likely to be superior.

This was a cabaret by Michael Montenegro, with a band. It sold out, so they added a 10pm show which also immediately sold out. I initially sat in the centre front row, best seat in the house, until an older bloke sat on the living-room furniture just in front of me. I told him he was blocking my view so he sat on the floor, but quickly availed himself of my offer to swap given how uncomfortable it was. Well, that was the best seat in the house, as much happened at floor height.

The best of Montenegro's skits was Calvin, a very sophisticated puppet that reminded me most of Dr Strangelove, or a cat I used to know who showed his affection by ripping into you. The puppet more-or-less kills the puppeteer at some point. Somewhere in there the guitarist pulled out a saw and a violin bow, which I hadn't heard in many years; the poor-man's theremin. The closing piece had him very skillfully manipulating a mouth puppet. Other bits were more obscure. I'd say he could use some help with the dialogue, but has the rest down pat.

Afterwards I schlepped all the way down Clybourn in very mild winter weather.

Memento (2000)

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My favourite by Nolan. One of Guy Pearce's finer outings. Great to hear David Bowie closing it out with Something in the Air.

Roger Ebert: three stars.

Sounds of the South Loop: Metropolis Quartet.

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Goldstar ticket: $7.50 + $3.00 service fee = $10.50. The 6pm start was a bit awkward. I took a bus down State and grabbed a very quick and quite servicable pad thai at Opart Thai. 2nd Presbyterian Church is quite elegant with great acoustics. I was the youngest in the crowd by at least a decade. The instruments were an oboe, a cello, a viola and a violin, and were all well-played. There was no program so I have no record of the pieces; one was a composition by the Sounds of the South Loop artistic director Kim Diehnelt (I think). I enjoyed the lot.

Realising I had just enough time, I forsake an evening in Chinatown and instead took the Red Line back to Division so I could extract The Moon of Hoa Binh from the Near North branch of the Chicago Public Library. It's on a three-week interlibrary loan. 1700 pages. More on that later.

Blind Summit's The Table.

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$35.00, bought 2015-01-09, with no booking fee or disaggregated tax. Part of the Chicago International Puppet Festival. I schlepped home from work, had dinner, and then over to Chicago Shakespeare Theater via the lake shore in some sub-zero heavy fog / light rain, and back again afterwards for a total of something like 15km for the day. The theatre itself is at the top of six floors at Navy Pier. There was a small bar on that floor (I had a Blue Moon) and sat on the floor due to the lack of seating. Seat C-1 sounded potentially awesome but was in fact wedged on the far left on the main floor.

The gig was three people (Mark Down on head, right arm voice; Sean Garratt on left arm and bum; Laura Caldow on feet) and one puppet, Moses, and they had all been to Chicago before. Apparently created for a 1984 production, he ended up starring in The Other Seder, which was commissioned by the Jewish Community Centre in London. They took some (but not many) cheap shots at the Americans, and most of the generally cheap innuendo could have been omitted to everyone's benefit. I think it was mostly improv, anchored by some scenes from biblical-Moses's life and puppetry didactics. At times it almost got ecumenical, pointing out that Moses features in the Torah, the Bible and the Koran, and for the atheists, that he nonsensically wrote the canonical account of his own death at the hands of a God who brooked no competitors. Large chunks were funny, though there was a point where they totally lost momentum, and a few too many uninspired overly-repetitious bits. The puppeteers clearly enjoyed themselves.

I got the original pointer to this and Friday's Drunken Half-Angel from Tony Adler in the Reader; here he is from 2013.


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4.20pm, $10.29 + $1.23 (inflated freedom) tax = $11.52, at the AMC Loews 600. three rows from the front (and still a little too close). I really liked Michael Mann's Thief, and I vaguely recall Heat being some chop. Well, this movie was unsound.

The opening is pure Fight Club, subbing silicon for biology, and before too long we get beefcake with a side of beef Hemsworth/Thor as a not credible arch computer geek. He has no quirk. He is not weird. He is no geek. It is like Rooney Mara never happened. He is unmentionable next to Mann's previous leading men (de Niro, Pacino, James Caan). His facility with violence comes from where exactly? I know violent geeks but they are not beefcakes. True to form he does wield a hammer/axe at the Chinese reactor. Let's not stop to think what the radiation does to that delicate, semi-unique brain of his. The truly funny scene in The Matrix where to-be alpha guy Neo chokes in the face of imminent arrest by the agents is totally, absolutely, resolutely, irrevocably beyond the scope of Thor. Thor pumps iron, not irony. Fire the casting agent.

Mann really blows it in Asia, passing up the opportunity to make Hong Kong, Macau or Indonesia look as awesome as Wong Kar-Wai does. Why go there if you're not even going to try? There is some nice camerawork evoking Heat back home in America, and also a retread of the climactic container scene. The vibe seems to be that we can fix this new cybercrime/war with old school violence, presumably in the maximalist tradition. The politics could have been more interesting than the hacking, or at least something could have been decent. I was glad to see John Ortiz's pained dial in some scenes (literally phoning it in). Wei Tang struggles a bit in English, or with beefcake. Last time I saw her she was getting it on with Tony Leung, so I can understand her diffidence.

This may well be one of the last computer-centric movies made by someone who clearly does not understand them, or how Gen Y understands them.

Manohla Dargis may have talked me into it. I wish I'd seen what she saw.

William Gibson: Distrust That Particular Flavor

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This is a mostly-drecky collection of offcuts. The author himself more-or-less admits this in the afterwords that follow each piece. Somewhere in the middle is a pleasant but abridged history of Japan and its entanglement with the U.S.A., which may have been the cause of the suggestion from somewhere that this book was not quite so drecky as it is.

A Most Violent Year

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$12, 4.40pm, Landmark at 2828 Clark. I went on the spur of the moment; I walked halfway-there to go to a cafe and figured I'd just keep going. Oscar Isaac is solid even without a cat to act opposite, and it gets harder to understand Anthony Lane's beef about him. I would have liked to see more of Jessica Chastain's character; they strike sparks off each other in every scene they share. The remainder almost seem like a waste in comparison, excepting Isaac's speech to his fellow oilmen, his dealings with the orthodox Jews, his encouragement of his employees... OK, perhaps it simply overflows with riches. The intrusion of the state via D.A. David Oyelowo is too slight in comparison. Alessandro Nivola is in full-on Ozymandias mode. I kept thinking that Mean Streets must be something like this, if only I could remember it.

I had dinner at the Taj Mahal on Halsted afterwards, a thali of too much. Tasty, and I'll probably go back.

Dana Stevens is a bit more scathing than I felt this deserved. She's right that the problems are structural. A. O. Scott got right into it. Not at all sure where David Denby got the Colombia thing from.


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Solid, and I did watch it all in one sitting, but somehow not as good the second time around. Continuing the De Niro / James Woods lovefest.

American Sniper

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With Christian-from-work, the post bonus blues, or sepias in this case. We tried to get into the 4.15pm at the AMC Loews 600, which was packed, so we schlepped over to AMC River East 21 for the 4.40pm. Had dinner at the Japanese fusion place next door afterwards, and several beers at Harry Caray.

I think Generation Kill is superior as it has more characters and some humour, though both have perfect cinematography. More Scandis may have helped too. Here Eastwood homes in on the sniper himself and appears to have lost most of the subtlety he developed for Gran Torino, and the sardonic winking that went with it; this one is dead serious, and sometimes painfully earnest, all the way along. The story itself is quite sad. The good/evil dichotomy held up throughout the war sections falls apart by the end when we learn the sniper got murdered by a fellow veteran in Texas after his discharge from the Seals, if it hadn't already disintegrated in the scenes with his family. How does mental illness and PTSD inform that dichotomy? I imagine Eastwood having a revised ending already prepared, for when the legal stuff is done, something that evokes his earlier, more complex, moral landscapes. Bradley Cooper is entirely believable.

A. O. Scott has more to say. David Denby too. J. R. Jones at the Chicago Reader. Dana Stevens was late to the party.

Cookie Play at Trapdoor Theatre.

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Goldstar ticket bought on 2014-12-16, $10.00 + $3.75 booking fee = $13.75. Post-work time burning at Filter Café and dinner at Pot Pan Thai beforehand. This was my second time at the Trapdoor, and I went on the premise of giving them another go. Seditious cookies? What could be more American than that? I got a seat near the middle in the front row, which was a little too close, though the second row is similarly a little too close. Somehow the ticket came with a glass of grog, either an American mainstream beer or an Australian Yellow Tail. I got the red, which made the shenanigans pass a little more agreeably.

The play did not go over well with the local reactionaries. The Reader has an extended piece on it, which strangely omits mention of the non-sequitur dancing sequences, familiar from last year's Mike Leigh outing. Time Out. Theatre By Numbers. More details from Jacob Davis at Chicago Critic. The obvious referent is Kafka, for which the playwright apparently has antecdents, but that passed all the reviewers by.

Raymond Carver: What We Talk About When We Talk About Love and Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?

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The first was inevitable after Birdman. The second was sitting nearby in the Chicago Public Library. Both Vintage Contemporaries.

The first one went fast, the second slow.

The first full of familiar titles; the short story they got Jindabyne out of, Paul Kelly's So Much Water So Close to Home, Transat's Popular Mechanics, Nick Cave clearly picked up on Tell The Women We're Going. And so forth.

He got better with age. The first was honed in ways the second was not.

Lots of smoking. Endless smoking. In both. Some drinking.

The first is for Tess. The second for Maryann.

From the wiki, the first was bowdlerized. I get the impression that Beginners contains what Carver really talked about when he talked about love.

New stuff from Félix Lajkó.

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It's been a while since I've looked this guy up. He's revamped his website, had a shave and got a haircut, but fortunately not a real job. He's distributing his new stuff via iTunes, which makes it twice as expensive as before. My $US28 got me:

  • Mező / Field, zither and cello. Some awesome stuff.
  • Jelszó, violin, piano and more.
  • Végtelen, with orchestra, but not in the Metallica way. Some familiar tunes from years ago, some with very American-cartoon-music twists. Amusingly the band plays his music even while he doesn't.

Inherent Vice

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$12, 4pm, Landmark at 2828 Clark. Got the bus up from Division due to some dodgy time management; it was warm enough, and still enough, to schlepp. The cinema was packed as it only opened yesterday. I sat three rows from the front in the friend-of-a-wheelchair-user row.

Another Paul Thomas Anderson, seemingly rushing up in the wake of The Master, though I now see that two years have passed inbetween. This is an adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's recent (2009?) book. I haven't read the book or anything else by him. I initially hoped I could follow some of the story, or at least figure out what the characters were for, but once Joaquin Phoenix slid into full-on mumbling mode I gave up and tried to enjoy the ride. Most of the humour is observational (cf Phoenix's mumbling). I found Josh Brolin a bit meh, perhaps because he came as a form-fit caricature; those who enjoyed his performance may have latched onto it as one of the few anchors on offer. I also didn't get into the Owen Wilson thing at all. Benicio del Toro phoned it in; what happened to the deft attorney skills he showed in Fear and Loathing? Martin Donovan sure got old; then again, his Hal Hartley days are getting on to twenty years in the previous. Reese Witherspoon is typecast-prissy. The cast is unbounded.

I walked home down Halsted, stopping at Noodles in the Pot for a dinner of basil chicken. Not so great; I conclude that the locals, who rate it 4.4/5 on Google, do not know what good Thai tastes like.

Dana Stevens observes the antecedents: The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye. Shaggy it is and no cat in sight. It had it's Chinatown moments too. Manohla Dargis: to me, narrator Joanna Newsom as Sortilège evoked the Stranger in The Big Lebowski; of course Phoenix is playing a similar game to the Dude, though he has no Maude in need of impregnation, nor a persian rug. She's right to quote Donovan's character: "People like you lose all claim to respect the first time they pay anybody rent." She makes it sound like one long homage. Geoffrey O’Brien also cites Donovan's line. The photo has Owen Wilson in it but the text does not. Strange. Ben Sachs at the Reader. Anna Shechtman at the L.A. Review of Books. Perhaps the meat was in the Owen Wilson bits. Michael Wood. Evan Kindley is late to the party.

Once Upon A Time In America

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As good as ever. Still parked at #75 in the IMDB top-250. I wonder when the definitive super-long version will be released.

Vi är bäst! (We Are the Best!)

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It's been a while since I've seen a new Lukas Moodysson. This is one of his lighter outings, closer to Tillsammans than Lilja 4 Eva, and proves that Swedish girl-punks can outdo any vampire. The script is based on a autobiographical graphic novel by his wife. I don't know where he finds his actors. It's laugh-out-loud funny at times (abort all parents!), and sweet. Their performance in Västerås is priceless.

Much background detail at the NYTimes by Marc Spitz. A. O. Scott somehow has the idea that Moodysson is subtle. Dana Stevens got right into it.

Mystic River (2003)

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Continuing on the Tim Robbins thing. (I don't like Tim Robbins.) Both he and Sean Penn got Oscars for this, which somewhat surprises me as they crazily over emote. The female characters are uniformly horrible, with Laura Linney's Annabeth clearly (crassly) intended to evoke Lady Macbeth. Dennis Lehane has been quite fortunate with the directors who pick up his work (here Eastwood, later Ben Affleck, Scorsese and in the near future Affleck once more with Live by Night).

The Shawshank Redemption

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Re-viewing this reinforced my opinion that it is an overrated piece of hokum. Somehow it provokes enough passion in enough people to be resolutely parked at #1 on the IMDB top-250, year after year. I guess I'd be interested in knowing why.