peteg's blog

The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer

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A Peter Cook jag from The Princess Bride. A cynical take on politics that hasn't aged well despite the fabulous cast, perhaps its satirical edge wore off well before 1983. John Cleese co-wrote this with Cook but is too timid in his role. Harold Pinter plays the canonical reassuredly smarmy 1970s TV anchor. Denholm Elliott is supposed to be Cook's foil, running a competing opinion canvassing firm, but is far too detached. Graham Chapman's sexually deviant politician is a cliché. Ronnie Corbett's cameo doesn't really work. It lacks the courage to go all-in on the sexploitation.

Gregory Zuckerman: The Man Who Solved the Market: How Jim Simons Launched the Quant Revolution.

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Kindle. Joe Nocera's review for the New York Times made me think I was going to get a decent overview of how Jim Simons and Renaissance have generated such incredible returns for so long. Instead Zuckerman serves up a bunch of capsule portraits, waves some nouns generically without understanding (as he admits), and recounts some self-serving trivialities verbatim from his sources. There is excess repetition. From the little concrete information presented here it seems that Renaissance's main style of trading is multi-factor mean reversion, powered, of course, by loads of data crankage. Colour me unsurprised.

As Nocera observes a fair chunk of the book is tied up with the Mercer family's politics, though nothing more than you'd've read in the papers at the time. Zuckerman asks the obvious question — why a clearly excellent scientist like Bob Mercer lowers his evidentiary bar in the political sphere — but does not attempt an answer. It is a bit strange that those in favour of small government (etc.) cannot simply assert their backing of Trump for those reasons and not go all-in on the science-denying tribalism. Simons himself swings Democratic.

In any case it is abundantly clear that all these rich guys want to bypass democracy.

It got pulled apart at goodreads. A discussion of Bradford Cornell's take.

When Harry Met Sally (1989)

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More Rob Reiner completism. I hadn't seen this before ever. It's a late 1980s sex farce famous for Meg Ryan's fake orgasm scene in an American diner. That scene is not especially well motivated which is in keeping with the rest of it. Ryan is a mystery to me; she's got an emotive Nicole Kidman-ish face and that's about it. Conversely Billy Crystal might be (NYC) funny but his dial is very inexpressive. The excessive nostalgia is for the time that it was made: the big hair, paper books, NYC before 9/11, etc. and a dry run for a juvenile genre that peaked with Sex in the City. I didn't recognise Carrie Fisher.

Roger Ebert phoned his review in. Caryn James saw more in "this often funny but amazingly hollow film" as an echo of Woody Allen's oeuvre.

Ann Patchett: The Dutch House.

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Kindle. I remember enjoying Patchett's Commonwealth and hence was open to her latest. Again her technique here is excellent: just enough repetition to ease the reader through a twisty maze of under-developed and characterless characters; I just wish she'd found a better story to tell! Briefly this is the cycle of life, or as the Americans have it, the cycle of wealth: poor-rich, poor-rich, but with enough colour to make it their own. Other dualisms abound: Philadelphia, NYC; brothers and sisters, absent mothers and heroically-present-yet-distant fathers, discomfort brought by affluence, the stepmother as witch. The narrative is drenched in nostalgia for the 1940s to the 1980s (I'm guessing). The house itself is ridiculous. Too often it felt like Cloudstreet. The concluding tidy-up is hurried and formulaic.

Parul Sehgal. Goodreads.

Knives Out

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I felt lucky that The Ritz had some advanced screenings this weekend. $10, 12:45pm, three rows from the front of Cinema 3, not too many people. Beforehand I had a hurried lunch (sushi from Royal Randwick shared in High Cross Park near the Royal with some insistent magpies) and a coffee from Shorty's. A strange day weatherwise: hot, muggy, hazy: tropical with bushfire fallout.

The draw was, of course, Rian Johnson. I'd been hoping he'd attempt another movie in the manner of Brick for more than a decade now, and finally here is something. The cast is huge and full of big names: Michael Shannon, Christopher Plummer, Toni Collette, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Daniel Craig. Noah Segan returns from Brick. It's all very talky. The central murder mystery is a bit limp: nowhere as twisty as it needed to be, and nowhere as punchy as the Korean films are now (e.g. Parasite) though there is a nod to nimble Hyundais. I guess it was necessary to drape Ana de Armas in the costumery of Gone Girl and provide her with the twee mechanic of spewing when she lies. She is therefore a genuinely nice person who can be the fulcrum for racial politicking and grasping leaners. I wasn't that persuaded. How tight it is I don’t know (it's not my genre); I hoped for more executive direction from author Plummer right up to the final scenes. I'd say the interviews at the start were the best part of it.

Manohla Dargis. Dana Stevens. Anthony Lane (who brackets it with Kind Hearts and Coronets).

/noise/beach/2019-2020 | Link

Had lunch at Little Bay with an eye to grocery shopping afterwards at Maroubra Junction. Very windy, warm to hot. The water was far warmer than I expected. Some swell, but not much. Clean. Loads of people, some making their wedding photos.

The Princess Bride

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A Rob Reiner jag. It's been a long time, so long I forgot that Robin Wright plays the Princess. There's a lot to like here, not the least being the unabashed straightforwardness of it all. And André the Giant. I wondered at the boy's Chicago paraphernalia.

Roger Ebert at the time. Also Janet Maslin who tells me Mark Knopfler did the score.

The Virtues

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A Stephen Graham jag from The Irishman. Here he is another kind of Irishman who sports a Scouser accent in a very Shane Meadows TV production. The high rating at IMDB suggests there are still a lot of This is England fans out there.

At its core this touches on some of the classic Irish concerns: boozing, underage pregnancy, child abuse, broken families and unbreakable connections of blood, forgiveness, the Church. I don't know if Meadows has anything new to say on any of these topics; the drama is a bit too predictable, with people turning up just in time to say their piece. Niamh Algar may go far. Helen Behan did a decent job of a thankless role. Frank Laverty can take over from Liam Neeson anytime. The ending is open so perhaps there will be successor seasons considering more of the Irish canon.

/noise/beach/2019-2020 | Link

Rode down to Gordons Bay in the early evening. The morning haze cleared to a perfect afternoon. Went for a paddle off the southern rocks. The water seemed warmer but not very clean. Some swell. Not many people. A few dogs. Ate my sandwich for dinner on the northern Coogee headland and tried to read some book while drying off.

John Hughes: No One.

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On the strength of George Kouvaros's review I extracted a dead tree edition of this from the Randwick City Library as there apparently is no ebook. Unfortunately his analysis promises more than the source material deliver, which is a ramble on top of a thin plot larded with excess remembrance and cliched observations. I can't imagine that it makes much of an impression on someone not intimately familiar with inner Sydney.

Jack Cameron Stanton also makes it sound more substantial than it is.

/noise/beach/2019-2020 | Link

Got some bread and a felafel roll for an early dinner from Erciyes Coogee. Ate it on the headland and finished my book. Went for a lazy paddle at the northern end of Coogee beach around 18:45pm. The beach was packed after a hot hazy day. Very pleasant once in. The roadworks on George St made it easier to walk down than to ride.

/noise/beach/2019-2020 | Link

A tepid day: cloudy and not too warm. I rode down to Coogee for an early-evening paddle at the northern end of the beach once again. Flat, cool-ish, mostly still with a small swell. The whole area was almost deserted. Ate my leftover curry afterwards on the headland. I tried to read some more (dead tree) book but it was too windy.

The Lady Eve

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Over several nights. A Barbara Stanwyck jag from Ball of Fire or maybe Double Indemnity; in any case, something from ages ago. She was always falling in love, clearly, and I enjoyed her sass. In contrast Henry Fonda's character is absolutely terrible; he's not at all credible, and his pratfalls are painful to watch. There's a big loss of momentum once the boat arrives back in NYC from South America. Card sharks, horses, high living; it's an advertisement for consumption in 1941.

Roger Ebert in 1997; he only talks up the boat bits. Bosley Crowther makes it sound like something new at the time.

/noise/beach/2019-2020 | Link

Late afternoon lazy paddle at the north end of Coogee. This afternoon the beach and surrounds was packed, especially the pubs. Quite pleasant in, flat. Read some some book on the headland afterwards. Some haze during the day, dusty, but no fiery sunset tonight.

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

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More highly dubious storytelling by Terry Gilliam. Over many sittings as it mostly failed to grip. The cast is epic, the sets are epic, the action is sometimes epic, the erudition tired and derivative. Having Sarah Polley be a child ingenue means that this is all vastly overshadowed by The Princess Bride. Oliver Reed hams it up as Vulcan, John Neville similarly as the Baron. Uma Thurman bares all. Robin Williams at his fruitiest. Alison Steadman, squandered. It's intended to be stories-within-stories but the framing is lazy.

Roger Ebert. Vincent Canby.

/noise/beach/2019-2020 | Link

Late afternoon paddle at the northern end of a very flat Coogee once again. Warm but not hot day which again cooled off rapidly. As before: the boat, loads of young kids on boards doing some exercises. Not many people on the beach. A red sunset.

/noise/beach/2019-2020 | Link

Headed down to the north end of Coogee in the early evening, which was a bit late as the day cooled off rapidly. There were a large (organised) group of kids paddling boards out in the surf, a bloke with his very young child on a stand-up board, and a surf dragon-boat-like thing practising their beach launches (women + an older bloke on the rudder), which narrowed the safe swimming space down to not much. Not many people about. Read some book on the headland after while drying off. A beaut day that was a lot clearer than yesterday.

/noise/beach/2019-2020 | Link

I headed down to Coogee in the early evening of what was an incredibly hot and bushfire-polluted day: apocalyptic skies and very poor air quality. After reading some book on the headland I went for a very lazy paddle at the northern end of the beach: still cold in, and absolutely flat despite the gusty strong winds. Quite a few people on the sand, not many in the water. Afterwards I dried out for a bit closer to Gordons Bay but got moved along by a change that came through around 7pm: the much cooler southerly picked up and cleared the beach. The Smage tells me that the temperature dropped 12C in 15 minutes (starting somewhere close to 35C).

Elliot Ackerman: Dark at the Crossing.

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Kindle. I enjoyed Ackerman's latest (Waiting for Eden) and so started trawling his back catalogue. This one is a bit of a tease: it's 2016-ish and somewhat ex-Iraqi, somewhat new-American Haris wants to cross from Turkey into Syria to join the Syrian Free Army in their struggle against Bashar al Assad. His timing turns out to be a bit wrong, he's a bit too trusting, and so his inchoate concerns are replaced by those of others. The woman most responsible is aptly summarised as Audrey al-Hepburn. Some of the description of that part of the world is great. The plot is not very satisfactory, which goes to show that Ackerman is improving.

Lawrence Osborne.

The Irishman

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A spur-of-the-moment with Dave. 4pm session at The Ritz, $10 each. We sat maybe five rows from the front as it was already a bit packed when we got there.

It's long (3.5 hours!), and for mine, mostly the same-old Scorsese. The first half or two-thirds had enough going on to keep me fairly engaged but I struggled when things zoomed down to Frank (Robert de Niro) alone with his old Catholic man concerns. The cast is huge: I thought that was Stephen Graham! — but was wrong to think Marisa Tomei was back for another go-round with Joe Pesci, the pick of the leading actors. He dials it back masterfully. In contrast Pacino as Hoffa couldn't do more than pretend to a 1980s Pacino performance.

For all that it did make me want to eat pizza. Jack's was closed (I thought he only took Mondays off) so we ended up at a place down at the beach that doesn't take their vegetarian options seriously.

A. O. Scott. Dana Stevens. Coverage of stepson-of-not-that-Irishman-Chuckie-O'Brien Jack Goldsmith's recent book: excerpt at the New York Review of Books, Chris Nashawaty.

Barking Dogs Never Bite

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More Bong Joon-ho completism: can there ever be enough? Apparently this was his first feature. Office-working Bae Doo-na sure looked young in 2000. Her close friendship with a shopkeeper brings some gentle comedy. Kim Roe-ha is a convincing homeless man. I felt that leading man Lee Sung-Jae's reaction to the barking dog(s) was a bit premature, and his coupling with Kim Ho-jung is similarly unjustified — she's a frosty bitch for most of it. There's some signature co-incidentals and the cinematography is ace. I wonder if dog eating is still in fashion. Over two sittings, trying to make it last.

/noise/beach/2019-2020 | Link

A carbon copy of yesterday: I wandered down to Coogee for a late-ish lunch and this time I brought my sandwich. Still cold in. Even more people about. The strong southerly (? - but not northerly) had the sand and everything else flying about; the Englishpeople were struggling to get their Frisbee to go where they wanted at the north end of the bathtub. Apparently this burst of hot weather is at an end.


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Over several sittings. Another Tennessee Williams misfire. Angel of Death Richard Burton and everyrichwoman Elizabeth Taylor play out the Liz and Dick show in 1968 somewhere near Italy. It's bad and entirely boring; somewhere I was lead to hope for something in the vicinity of The Night of the Iguana.

Vincent Canby spills more words on the production history of the related plays than the movie. Roger Ebert made me think it might be so bad it's good (like his own scriptwriting efforts) but it simply isn't.

/noise/beach/2019-2020 | Link

Wandered down to Coogee in the early afternoon with the intention of eating a sandwich that I'd left on the bench at home (oops). Fortunately the banana yielded sufficient energy for me to get in at the north end of the beach for a brief and lazy paddle. The water remains a bit cold, clean and flat. Loads of people were baking on the sand on this hot day (31C) but not so many in.

Brian Toohey: Secret: The Making of Australia's Security State.

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Kindle. Grim reading. It feels like an assembly of Toohey's reporting for the National Times and other now (substantially) defunct media outlets. Deborah Snow made it sound like a pile of scuttlebutt, and there is some of that alongside some China apologetics and attempts to sketch a rational policy for the defence of Australia. His most thought provoking contention is that Australia would be in a better place now if it had been forced to build its own relations in Asia after World War II. Unfortunately this and others like it are not very actionable.

The spooky stuff is mostly a waste of time, he reckons, though his assessment is very incomplete. He's harsh on Gillard’s foreign policy; I recall that her government approved the permanent stationing of US Military personnel in Australia, which was something that even John Howard had avoided. On nuclear war and Việt Nam he is too brief and may as well have deferred to Daniel Ellsberg's lifework. I learnt a bit about Exmouth and the fabulous-looking North West Cape during Toohey's lecturing on Pine Gap and U.S. submarine command-and-control. I wonder what to read into our lack of sovereignty.

Reviews are legion. The few I glanced at use this book as a vehicle for banging on about their own preoccupations.

Suddenly, Last Summer

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A strange little psycho thriller. Tennessee Williams misfired with the script, and it was beyond the strong cast to make good: Elizabeth Taylor does her best but Katharine Hepburn is the more convincing. About 90 minutes of talky setup collapses into an empty climax that I took to be a vacuous warning about the perils of the gay lifestyle. Lobotomiser Montgomery Clift never seems to blink.

Bosley Crowther at the time. IMDB suggests he must have written something more scathing somewhere else.

The Professionals

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Second time around, somewhat by accident, over several sittings. Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Claudia Cardinale, Jack Palance. A Mexican revolution. It makes little sense.

Bosley Crowther in 1966.

Terminator: Dark Fate

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Well! Arnie is back and Dendy has $10 tickets to their mostly-empty lounge in Newtown, so I headed to their 1:30pm screening on this day-after-opening. The girl at the counter suggested the front row was too close, but I'd say seat B3 was too far, and the people up the back probably should have watched it on their 8K screens at home. The US-style chairs have leg supports but don't recline. Apparently there's a menu but I didn't get asked before, after or during.

This movie was conceived in weariness: all of the tropes are stale. The draw was mainly that James Cameron just may have been able to inflate the script, but instead we merely got some fem-heavy politicking and too much senseless chatter. The politics are threadbare: we begin in Mexico City but of course Texas is where you go when you need security. Arnie has a Latina wife and Latino son, for unconvincing reasons, and these are rapidly and hygienically disposed of when the plot demands. Linda Hamilton gave me Hillary Clinton vibes, perhaps because her F-bombs were all that elevated this to MA15+ from whatever T2 was rated back in the day. I grant that Mackenzie Davis is a far better actress than Emilia Clarke but not even Meryl Streep could have made those dank dark airplane scenes work. There is nothing particularly clever or inventive at any point, and the ending is surprisingly lame. Arnie's old-man Terminator is milking-it poignant in a Hugh Jackman sorta way (again!), and it is absurd that he can take it to the latest and greatest. Natalia Reyes as the latest pivotal historical figure and Gabriel Luna do what they can.

IMDB had already panned this thing before its Australian release. I was surprised it doesn't seem to be on the big screens at e.g. The Ritz. A. O. Scott. Jake Wilson. Dana Stevens.