peteg's blog

Ben Stubbs: The Crow Eaters. (2019)

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Kindle. Pre-pandemic travel writing about South Australia, the state which is often subject to a desultory shellacking and yet is recognised as one of the best places in the world to visit. Stubbs did what few seem willing to do: he took the place seriously.

He covered: Maralinga, the cave dwellers of Coober Pedy, freshwater snorkelling at Mount Gambier, Chinese landing in Adelaide and Robe and walking to the Victorian goldfields at Ballarat, shark cage diving off the coast of Port Lincoln, the coinage of "the crow eaters", maintaining the dog fence, Wilpena Pound, Goyder's Line, the drinking but not the races at Innamincka, the Murray River and Coorong, the RFDS, Kangaroo Island, the City of Elizabeth (cf Jimmy Barnes), some Australian Utopianism (Paraguay, William Lane) and finally Adelaide. He's near the edge of anthropology/archaeology, journalism and travel writing, sometimes with excessive colour (cf The Ghetto at the Centre of the World). There are some good bits but oftentimes things fall away before they really get cranking. He tries to engage with Aboriginal groups and issues.

Stubbs did not cover (in any depth): sport, vineyards, Torrens title (or who Torrens was) or politics in general, the cuttlefish at Whyalla, music (Paul Kelly, Redgum, Doc Neeson/The Angels), festivals, Emu Field, Speed Week, the RAAF, submarine construction and shipbuilding, etc. — which is to say that he didn't get that far off the beaten track. His writing needed a bit of an edit; there are a few too many dodgy non sequiturs. For instance Adelaide being billed as the "City of Churches" bears no relation to how religious people are now. And convict-freedom was more about forced transportation (being compelled to South Australia, coerced to labour or to change religion) and less about being convicted of a crime. Also Newsouth Books needed to employ a fact checker: the old Ghan (the Central Australia Railway) never made it much past Alice Springs, and certainly not to Darwin.

The chapter on Maralinga was excerpted at the New York Times and also Inside Story. Goodreads.

Matchstick Men (2003)

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A Ridley Scott jag from Bladerunner, and incidentally starring Nicolas Cage. I enjoyed it on its own terms: a father (Cage) — daughter (Alison Lohman) con movie. Sam Rockwell does not escape his comfort zone. Everyone's OK, including Bruce McGill (a dial well familiar from many movies over many decades) and the uncredited Melora Walters from Magnolia. It's likely that if you're familiar with the genre you'll see everything coming, but from this distance and lack of buy-in I wondered if it wasn't riffing on other elements of Cage's career, like Raising Arizona, of which I remember nothing.

Roger Ebert: four stars. There is no downtime in this movie. David Edelstein was unimpressed, as were A. O. Scott and Stephanie Zacharek.

Douglas Coupland: Miss Wyoming. (2000)

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Kindle. Execrable; I kept waiting for it to get better and it just didn't. There were signs of satirical intention but it's not funny. The crappy dialogue and the spaghetti chapter order (that I was too disengaged to follow closely) made me feel that Coupland didn't have a story worth telling. Surely he knew that this area (child beauty pageants, L.A., fame, money, drugs, Lolita, etc. etc.) has been done to death and he had no new angle. The plot is entirely coincidence.


Travelling North (1987)

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On a DVD extracted from the Orange City library, watched out the back of the Nullarbor Roadhouse near the Murrawijinie Caves. I saw a production of the David Williamson play back in 2007 but didn't remember anything of it. This was weak. Rumpole Leo McKern retires from a life of communism and civil engineering in Melbourne to fishing in Port Douglas with Julia Blake, who is no more than a sex object for the (non-)superannuated men to slobber over. He is invariantly irascible; how they met and how their relationship functioned before the move is a mystery. Aggressively hospitable neighbour Graham Kennedy is a bit too wooden. GP Henri Szeps fidgets while he waits for his cue then ejaculates his lines. Overall it just mines the old warnings of moving away from friends and family, which really is no problem for Rumpole as he only has a tenuous connection with a daughter. The rampant egoism is tedious.

Roger Ebert: three-and-a-half stars at the time. Some colour from Paul Byrnes. Vincent Canby: dreary. Excess details at Ozmovies.

Bladerunner (The Director's Cut) (1982/1992)

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Vale Vangelis. Somehow I don't think I've seen the director's cut before: the actors' voices don't quite line up with the soundtrack, there's the odd extra bit of footage. I should try to watch the original (with narration) some time. Still #175 in the IMDB top-250.

Roger Ebert: original release in 1982 (three stars), director's cut in 1992 (three stars) and final cut in 2007 (also, finally, a great movie so an instant four stars). He never mentions the Vangelis soundtrack. Janet Maslin in 1982. She does.

Douglas Stuart: Young Mungo. (2022)

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Kindle. Do we need another account of growing up gay in violent and predatory early-1990s Glasgow? Early on I felt the answer might be yes but towards the end I was rushing through the repetitious and almost circular inevitabilities. The writing is good but not as taut in the small as it was in Shuggie Bain. The convergent two track plot is depressingly unsurprising. And come on, we've known for a long time that every family has a Begbie who's into sectarian violence because it's fun.

Molly Young. Cameron Woodhead. And so on. Could it be that reviewers today are (generationally) unaware of Trainspotting? Much later, Adam Mars-Jones, who spills half his words on other books, shows more of a clue.

Douglas Coupland: Kitten Clone: Inside Alcatel-Lucent. (2014)

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Kindle. Mercifully brief. Coupland doesn't motivate why he writes about this company; it was in decline at the time (circa 2013) and was only ever famous (just maybe) for owning Bell Labs from 2006 until 2016. Wikipedia suggests that Coupland got in just before it was parted out, and you'd have to think that the purchasers are just as hopeless. The prospects for fundamental research (in the computer industry at least) have been grim for some time. There's very little in this text.


Beneath Clouds (2002)

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Ivan Sen's debut feature; apparently an elaboration of his short Tears from 1998. It opens with some great cinematography (by Allan Collins) of the B-doubles and grain silos out past Moree. Two school girls seem to be waiting for the bus opposite the only shop for miles, where the boys loiter. One (Dannielle Hall) is clearly slated for an exit. Down the track she meets up with escapee Damian Pitt who had been working on the Christmas conifers at a prison farm near Lithgow. Neither went on with the acting. The story goes as it must with some predictably telling encounters. Sen leans heavily on motif and a late 1990s electronic soundtrack of his own devising. You can see why his next stop was Toomelah. I enjoyed it and would say this was his best effort thus far.

Loads of details and reviews at Ozmovies. Four-and-a-half stars from Margaret, four from David. Many reviews fend off claims of special pleading for Australian movies, and most do not grasp that Sen was reaching for a kind of affected, telling yet fake realism ala Hal Hartley through the cinematography and mannered dialogue of the untutored actors.

David Halberstam: One Very Hot Day. (1967)

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Kindle. Halberstam's take on the early-to-middle part of the USA's war in Việt Nam circa 1965 (when Robert S. McNamara was the Secretary of Defence and the USA had yet to commit more than CIA and military advisers to the conflict). The single thread, with discursive capsule biographies of the main characters, takes us along on a day in the field somewhere between Mỹ Tho and Sóc Trăng on the Mekong Delta. There's not a lot to recommend this specific take: the American elements are essentially drawn from Catch-22 where experience (even under the influence) beats youthful whizz-kiddery, while the Vietnamese emphasise patronage networks but do not provide much insight into the methods of the North (cf The Moon of Hòa Bình). It's tidily written and unsurprising.

Wilfrid Sheed (En Route to Nowhere) at the time: these are the bits that Halberstam couldn't get published in his dispatches. Eliot Fremont-Smith, also in the New York Times in January 1968. Goodreads was retrospectively unimpressed.

Hercules Returns (1993)

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Random and misdirected Bruce Spence completism; he's merely in the brief framing story, whereas the meat is a putatively humorous (read scatological) redubbing of an old Italian muscleman movie.

Excess details at Wikipedia and Ozmovies.

The Bad Guys (2022)

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More animation. Drawn by fond memories of author-of-the-books Aaron Blabey's efforts in Erskineville Kings a long time ago. I knew I was in for a derivative heist flick due to Calum Marsh's review for the New York Times but had hoped it wouldn't be quite so inane.

Sandra Hall: a generous 3.5 stars, out of 5 I think. She left the token female tarantula geek out of the gang. Luke Goodsell's interview with Blabey at the ABC made the books look like a lot more fun.

Incredibles 2 (2018)

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Second time around.

The Incredibles (2004)

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Third time around with this Pixar classic. Still #227 in the IMDB top-250 despite all the Marvel movies since.

Three-and-a-half stars from Roger Ebert.

William Gibson: The Bridge Trilogy: Virtual Light, Idoru, All Tomorrow's Parties. (1993 - 1999)

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Kindle. It seems I read Virtual Light back in 2009; the remainder of the series mustn't have been on mrak's shelf I guess. I didn't get much out of it — again I hurried to finish it, thinking there'd be something later on, past all the florid description. There wasn't. Near as I could tell Gibson merely synthesised a bunch of things that were well known in the 1990s. (He even found room for Chopper.) The plot boiled down to what happens when a disembodied pure spirit (obviously a femme fatale) meets a construction technology (here nanobots). Beyond the obvious, Gibson does not tell us. More annoyingly he does not follow his disembodied conceit beyond the first step; Egan's imaginings appear to be far beyond him. Overall too much object fetishism, too incoherent and too inconsequential.

Goodreads, Goodreads (come on people, Max Headroom was constructed in the 1980s), Goodreads.