peteg's blog

Breaking Bad (Seasons 1-5)

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Near the top of IMDB's top TV shows. I'm about ten years late to this party as TV series tend to be massive time soaks, which this proved to be. Coarsely it's an update of The Godfather to the twenty-first century, mashed up with some MacGyverism (and for mine those are the best bits), located in Albuquerque New Mexico. It's generally absorbing apart from some saggy family parts. Overall it flags a bit somewhere in the middle, and some finer plot details do not reward attention. Bonus: Rian Johnson apparently directed three episodes.

The follow-up movie released late last year does not sound as appetising; James Poniewozik reckons the canon was already complete. There's also Better Call Saul.

Adam Higginbotham: Midnight in Chernobyl.

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Kindle. Prompted by Dave mentioning that the Chernobyl TV series was some chop, and its appearance on the New York Times best books list for 2019. The details about the atomic city of Pripyat, the Soviet bureaucracy, the operational matters and design of the nuclear power plant, ... are often riveting. Conversely Higginbotham doesn't give us the story of the other three reactors at Chernobyl; for instance, when they were shutdown, restarted and operated after the crisis that engulfed the fourth. The moral appears to be that not-immediately-lethal ionising radiation is on the rise, but don't you worry your pretty head about that.

Reviews are legion. Jennifer Szalai.

Farmageddon (Shaun the Sheep)

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The latest Aardman Animations animation. It's fun. There's almost no language. This one features nods to just about every scifi classic out there, right down to its cloning of the E.T. plot (near as I can tell given that I don't think I've seen E.T.). There's a great scene where some fake Daleks startle Tom Baker as he exits a TARDIS-y john, and many others. Conversely (unfortunately) the spook robot is little more than a Wall-E clone. I love it that the sheep are such excellent engineers.

Jason Bailey at the New York Times.

The Lighthouse

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Over a couple of nights as it failed to grip. Veteran lighthouse keeper Willem Dafoe gets saddled with a new assistant in the form of Robert Pattinson. The setting is, of course, a bleak island with extreme weather. Black-and-white, square frame, archaic. It has its moments but director/writer Robert Eggers (co-writing with Max Eggers) generally fails to innovate.

Manohla Dargis.

The Two Jakes

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I just discovered that Chinatown had a sequel, directed by Jack Nicholson who also stars. It's a clunky retread from 1990, so much so that I was surprised that it didn't make David Stratton's list of marvellous movies. The actors are uniformly squandered: Harvey Keitel (in one of his more awkward performances), Eli Wallach as a lawyer, Meg Tilly, and so on. Tom Waits! The plot is somewhat amazingly almost identical to that of its predecessor, though someone more invested might observe a distinct emotional range.

Roger Ebert overlooked the clunkiness at the time. Vincent Canby didn't. Peter Travers.

Chinatown

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Probably third time around with this Polanski/Nicholson classic. Water shenanigans in Los Angeles, how very topical. Prompted by Janet Maslin's review of a book on its making. Somehow still rated #150 in the IMDB top-250.

Roger Ebert at the time and in 2000. Vincent Canby was less impressed. Both observe John Huston as a link to the original American noirs of the 1930s.

Nadeem Aslam: The Golden Legend.

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Kindle. This is the third of Nadeem Aslam's I've read, after The Blind Man's Garden and Season of the Rainbirds. The themes are his usual: the faultlines of contemporary Pakistan with a particular emphasis on the lives of its liberal elites. The focal couple are well-to-do Muslim architects who share what they have with a low-caste Christian family. Much is made of a book that seems to record what Aslam regards as the sum total of human experience. Bad stuff happens and Aslam doesn't so much shield us from it as elude banality. Again his prose tends to the workmanlike.

Francine Prose at the New York Times. Matthew Wright is right that Aslam's politics comes across as simplistic, almost naive.

Richard Jewell

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Eastwood's latest: another in his series of American biopics, this time about the security guard who discovered the Centennial Park bomb at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. Given the substantial focus on the FBI I guess it also acts as a bookend to J. Edgar. The cast is uniformly brilliant. Paul Walter Hauser from I, Tonya anchors things in the lead; this story is from the same (Clinton) era. Jon Hamm has the thankless task of playing the lead investigator on the dead-end investigation (reminding me of his G-man in Bad Times at the El Royale). Kathy Bates! She got an Oscar nom for Best Supporting Actress, of course she did. Olivia Wilde is solid if generically slutty. I enjoyed Sam Rockwell's performance here, lodged somewhere between his W. effort and what I take to be his essential self. I quibble about the poster in his office: I fear large corporations about as much as government, though I concur both are more concerning than terrorism, domestic or foreign. I guess Eastwood implies this by pointing the bone at both the FBI and the media.

A. O. Scott is right that Wilde did her best in a poor role. Perhaps Eastwood is suggesting that the FBI had lost its way by that time? Richard Brody summarises the plot and draws a parallel to the FBI's treatment of Mrs Clinton in 2016.

Il traditore (The Traitor)

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Prompted by A. O. Scott's recent review. It's not exactly The Godfather; more one of those Pablo Escobar hagiographies from a while back. There are some fantastic scenes, such as when the dons are caged up at the rear of a courtroom. I have no idea how Italian justice functions, but it sometimes looks like fun. Scott doesn't seem to mind that Tommaso Buscetta's own motivations went substantially unexplored; if he was really that much into the ladies, how much money did he need?

Motherless Brooklyn

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Ed Norton directs and leads in this revival of 1950s NYC hard boiled detective semi-noir. His usual tics are all on show (for instance "let me tell you something") as well as some new ones, with compensations in Rain Man style. It's too talky with not enough show, and not as twisty as the running time demands while also not making a tonne of sense. Still it's better than the dire IMDB rating and reviews suggest, and there is the odd sweet scene. Alec Baldwin plays a Robert Moses figure who's not going to let the small people get in the way of the big things that need to be done.

A. O. Scott.

Jojo Rabbit

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There's not a lot going on here; three Oscars therefore. The cliches pile up, along the lines of what I was once told: German humour is no laughing matter. Despite this Scarlett does make a semi-decent fist of the real thing. Rockwell plays louche Rockwell. Stephen Merchant as Gestapo: are those hats a nod to the classic Borsalinos of American Jewry? Taika Waititi is perhaps the pick as the imaginary Hitler bestie because at least you know he's on the high wire.

Hollywood can't give up on Nazis, which is unfortunate as they cannot innovate ala Downfall or Look Who's Back. It's just not enough to gesture at current political conditions when superior works like The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui have been around for so long. And yes, all of those are German efforts.

A. O. Scott wasn't impressed. Michael Wood.

/noise/beach/2019-2020 | Link

Headed down to Gordons Bay in the early evening for a paddle. Quite a few dogs and kids about. Super pleasant in, and clean. High tide. Had a snooze/ruminate on the headland beforehand.

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Wandered down to Coogee in the late afternoon to read a paper, take a dip in the northern end of Coogee beach and eat dinner. Relatively packed. Today was the first fine day in about five. The water was cleaner than I expected with some swell.

Gösta

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My recent encounter with an American take on Swedish weird reminded me that Lukas Moodysson had a TV series in 2019. Strangely enough Vilhelm Blomgren is in both.

Very briefly, Blomgren leads here as a twenty-first century Swedish Jesus who moves to Småland for his first job as a child psychologist. His various attachments from Stockholm follow in short order, yielding a generational Tillsammans complete with a refugee in the attic. It's a pile on: instability and guilt rock the perennially free yet clingy boomer generation, while the futureless are also hanging on, immobile, but for reasons occluded by self delusion. All of the women are predatory, all of the men are clearly nuts, and the only thing a man who cannot say no can ultimately say yes to is bonding with a dog.

The sexual politics is clunky, with no advance on those of the late-90s Brilliant Lies (etc). I'm left thinking that Moodysson doesn't have much insight into women.

Overall things are far too jaggy, far too cliched, for Moodysson to take us anywhere but the most predictable places, which is disappointing as he is otherwise often as inventive as David Lynch (sharing musical outros, small town shenanigans, the weird). This viewer's patience was not rewarded by a final episode that makes up for some of the heavy handedness; I wanted Gösta to bend, not break, and the road is just too long. For all that I do enjoy his style.

Back to the Future, Part II, Part III

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Dave reckons my childhood was impoverished by not having seen these movies. Perhaps, but he was dead right that it's now too late to rectify. At times things get a bit Kind Hearts and Coronets with Michael J. Fox playing too many roles. I've never been a fan of any of the actors, nor Robert Zemeckis's American cheesecake films. The first one is rated #37 in the IMDB top-250.

Ebert on the first one (3.5 stars), the the second (3 stars) and the third (2.5 stars).

Wayne Macauley: Simpson Returns.

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Kindle. I was expecting some laughs or keen observations from this imagining of a temporally distended Simpson and his donkey setting out from Melbourne in search of the great inland sea circa 2003. Of course this is at Lasseter's behest. As social commentary the book hits all the familiar notes and no more. It is well written for the most part, though the use of "Afghani" where he means "Afghan" is an annoying tic.

Extensively reviewed locally. Ronnie Scott ambivalently sums up the parts. Goodreads. Elizabeth Flux provides some much-needed context. Alex Cothren.

Love at Large

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#55 on David Stratton's list of marvellous movies. Clearly he's a sucker for hard boiled noir-ish detective movies, so much so that he can endorse this weak B-grade garbage. I was expecting more of detective Tom Berenger as a pivot for quite a few ladies, none of whom impressed me so much. The plot is ancillary and could have quite profitably been omitted, reducing things to a set of late 1980s character studies. Leonard Cohen's Ain't No Cure For Love opens. Not enough is asked of Neil Young.

Roger Ebert shrugged at the time: he suggests a failed parody where Stratton thinks satire. Both agree that the director has (had?) potential. Janet Maslin.

/noise/beach/2019-2020 | Link

Lunch at the Clovelly carpark, which was packed. Loads of tourists wandering around too, and I'll bet quite a few wish they were somewhere else. Afterwards I tried snorkelling off the scuba ramp in Gordons Bay. The visibility was better than I expected given how rough the surf was, though I didn't see much: mostly just huge wrasse and the odd goatfish. Pleasant in. Overcast, high cloud, some bushfire haze, air not too bad, not too hot. Afterwards I had a brief chat with a bloke who was laying buoys along the trail for the Gordons Bay Scuba Club and read some book up towards Clovelly.

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Back in Sydney transiently. The smoke haze is still really bad. Torrential rain is forecast for later in the week. I had dinner down on the northern Coogee headland, and afterwards a brief paddle at Gordons Bay off the southern rocks. The tide was fair way out. Three young blokes were fishing off one rock near where I usually get in, while a bloke and a girl were trying it on a bit closer to the beach. Two dogs on the sand. The BOM reckoned the surf was going to be large etc. but it was fairly placid and not too filthy.

The Gentlemen

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With Dave at The Ritz, 2:20pm, 10 AUD each, four rows from the front of cinema 3, not too many people. We had a coffee at Shorty's beforehand.

Nothing too appealing for this one, apart from it being quite a while since I've seen Matthew McConaughey. It's tired and formulaic: winners have gotta win, pretty much. MY WIFE, isn't that one of Pacino's classic explosions? Hugh Grant was the most fun. Eddie Marsan, unusually, failed in his role. Colin Farrell and cohort are boringly bulletproof.

Afterwards I bumped into Ron nearby. Dave and I had a middling to poor early dinner at Lil' Darlin' and wandered down to a moderately busy Coogee.

Sandra Hall. Later, Manohla Dargis.