Monday, January 24, 2022

Who did this?

 



Dog looks guilty next to overturned gold vessel, Alexandria 200-100 BC. (Mosaic).


Saturday, January 22, 2022

The Girl Before (BBC Mini-series, 2021)

 



This was the Beeb's extremely classy mystery-thriller offering for the festive period, based on the bestselling book by J.P. Delaney. It was so good on the eye that I feel I might have been a little distracted from some flaws which would have been more apparent on paper. 

The basic set-up is this: two women (neither of them a 'girl', as such) sign a seemingly mephistolean contract involving the lease at remarkably low rent of a somewhat fanatically ideological modern house in London, which comes with rules and a sort of life of its own. Soon we learn that there has been a three year gap between their tenancies and that quite a lot of bad stuff happened to 'the girl before'. 

The present day occupant Jane, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, is quickly beset by worrying parallels before deciding (at the point most of us would have just moved out) to conduct an investigation. 

In the end the stand-out stars turn out to be Jessica Plummer and Ben Hardy, playing the previous residents. This is because Jane's character is rather obviously an inscrutable contrivance decked out in stylish winter coats. 

Yet for the format to function both of the women have been left unencumbered with significant relationships beyond a single friend and romantic partner. 

These days thrillers struggle for credible no mobile phone moments. Here I found myself at the next level: "Surely she'd have an Apple watch?" (Other ways of being permanently online are available.) 

David Oyelow plays Edward Monkton, the militantly minimalist architect, a walking red-flag, but also obviously not guilty of any serious crime to anyone familiar with the genre. If that's a spoiler, you are indeed a newcomer to this sort of thing. 




Sunday, January 16, 2022

Boiling Point (2021)

Movies shot in one single shot, without fakery, are a very limited sub-genre. The fakery usually adds a sense of technical showboating, as it did with Birdman and 1917, but the real deal, Victoria and Russian Ark (in particular) is usually dramatically very effective. 


And so it is here, though I suspect the effect is more superficial and inextricably allied with the tension — or shared stress — at the heart of this tale of a beleaguered head chef, restaurant and open kitchen during the busiest pre-Christmas evening of the year. 

That this is a best viewed just the once* set-up is endorsed by the ending, which is very powerful yet in a sense diminishes some of what has come before, because it settles the issue of whether this has been a story about one man on the edge, or a collection of little tales about individuals within an institution, on the edge. 




I had to reflect that some of the mini-dramas had been left incomplete and had functioned only as distractions allowing the director Phillip Barantini to re-tabulate his cast out of shot. 

Barantini is best known as an actor (Band of Brothers etc.) and the depth in this movie derives principally from the performances rather than the dialogue. The likes of Stephen Graham and Vinette Robinson are absolutely superb here, especially when silent. (Jason Flemyng is also excellent as the TV celeb chef on a sort of personal black op, but he and his guest have also been served up some of the better lines.) 



I was reminded a little of Sally Potter's
The Party from 2017, but that had a superior screenplay, an ultimately more collective dramatic line, and was more prepared to explore the opportunities for explicit farce. But then as a restaurant critic observes in Boiling Point, one should be wary of critiqueing on the basis of that which is absent...




One critic, Mark Kermode, refers to one of the restaurant's customers that night as "Chekhov's nut allergy", thus referencing the Russian writer's famous observation that details in a story (such as the presence of a pistol) must ultimately contribute to the way the narrative develops i.e. if there's a gun amongst the obvious props, it's going to have to be used at some point. 

But Chekhov was surely also aware that foreshadowing can be resolved in multiple and sometimes surprising ways. Here the nut allergy 'seed' germinates almost exactly as we could have predicted. 




I also ended up thinking about the changes that occurred in the British dining out scene during my father's lifetime. He was far from a man of simple tastes and was himself a pretty decent cook, yet increasingly found himself a little alienated by the menus he would confront, even in fairly informal English country restaurants. 

At least until the 80s the very better restaurants in London served very good, yet unpretentious Mediterranean food. The only 'Asian' options were Chinese, which along with Indian restaurants were notably uncomplicated. 




* This is an elongation of an earlier short film from 2019, also shot in one take, which I do now wish to see. 


Digital Overlay

I cannot recall a worse bricks and mortar bookshop than Amazon's on Columbus Circle. Its paltry collection of titles has largely been organised by way of an advert for the discrepant decision-making of algorithms fed by the virtual behaviours of users on the main websites and whilst using their Kindle devices, which nevertheless reveals the potentially insidious nature of any blurring of the physical and the digital. 




If online services have been developed on the 'free lunch' principle, with payment taken in part through a more or less subtle invasion of privacy, the use of QR codes or even verbal requests for personal connection information like mobile phone numbers now seem to routinely occur at the point of sale in a 'real world' setting when the customer is paying full price for the product or service. 

Choosing the blue pill in The Matrix always seemed like a non-choice — to do nothing more than remain within a plodding and possibly synthetic reality — and yet now we see that it involves the conscious espousal of sometimes bafflingly blurred or 'augmented' realities, an inferred collective assent which underpins Zuckerberg's vision for the Metaverse, a space, we are to understand, where the physical is always enhanced not tarnished. 



As Slavoj Žižek observes in the masterful review he wrote of The Matrix Resurrections without even seeing the film: 

"It will thus be nothing less than metaphysics actualised: a metaphysical space fully subsuming reality which we will be allowed to enter in fragments only insofar as it will be overlaid by digital guidelines manipulating our perception and intervention. And the catch is that we will get a commons which is privately owned, with a private feudal lord overseeing and regulating our interaction." 




 

Novakunarse

The current situation in the Australian Federal Court hearing is both bizarre and depressingly familiar. 

It's as if everyone knows that it is at least partly the result of corruption and the manipulation of influence, yet nobody is prepared to state that in front of a judge, and so both sides present arguments that are, in a sense, beside the point. 

The Immigration Minister seems to have a better attorney at his disposal, and yet he has still allowed himself to be drawn into a pointless debate about counter-factuals. 

Of course there could be civil unrest, whatever happens, just like the Australian Open has been kind of spoiled, whatever happens, but only if Novax is made to leave now will the kind of behaviour and attitude he has shown with regard to public health protocols be seen to have been duly censured. 

And during the week Djokovic missed a really glaring opportunity to recover at least part of his reputation by voluntarily withdrawing in time to avoid a three year ban, avoid the confusion surrounding the draw and order of play tomorrow, and avoid having to make a belated apology for any misunderstandings and/or trouble caused after a forced deportation — or indeed after pressing ahead into a tournament featuring 127 vaccinated players (and thousands of spectators obliged to be masked and double-vaxed.) 

Apparently we will get a decision later today, just not the full explanation for it!


Friday, January 14, 2022

Gaming the System

Let's hope that the Australian federal government deploys a better set of arguments on Sunday. They may need a lawyer a little more innately convincing than Tran. 

Novax knew the rules and rather obviously decided that he was almost certainly above them. 


Unclaimed Baggage


He could not even be bothered to adjust his subsequent behaviour to the oficial lie — rather like my Aussie neighbour Jason Lever who tested positive the day before a crucial interview with INACIF, handing in the test result to the MP and then demonstrating absolutely no intention to self-isolate over the course of the next few days. 

Yet men who think they are innately above the law always end up tripping over their own mendacity. 




In the case of Boris Johnson and the hard-partying civil servants around him, the moral degeneracy may be worse, — though I am not entirely sure of this — because they made up the rules themselves (and castigated others for violating them). 

The court of public opinion has it that one must respect one's own rules most of all, yet the underlying inclination may not wholly agree. 




National Health Service employees aside (and teachers too probably), large parts of the public sector would seem to have enjoyed the pandemic, certainly a lot more than the private sector.




 

Witch

 




Thursday, January 13, 2022

The Tourist (Mini-series, 2021)

One of those enjoyably implausible plots that one just goes with...at least until the penultimate episode. 

Jamie Dornan (near perfect for this material) plays the now almost cliché'd hapless protagonist who wakes up in hospital with 'total amnesia' i.e. having forgotten all the things it is necessary for him to have forgotten for this archetypal thriller format to work, but not say, how to drive or how to operate a mobile phone. 




He's come unstuck in a consciously westernised version of the Australian outback, which resembles the Sonoran desert in almost every respect except with regards to grouchy and occasionally obnoxious nature of its cops. 

This being Aus, the mobster baddie is called Kostas not Boris, but it might have been just a little bit more topical had he been named Dragan, like the new owner of Southampton FC. 

At first one finds oneself pondering what would have happened if Cormac Mccarthy had been born down under and had been generally kind of convivial. 

But the darkness gathers, gradually, and in the end feels more than a little unearned (and ultimately unsuccessful), as if characters from Home & Away were seen to be cracking gags weakly as they expired and a whole people and narcotics trafficking backstory is suddenly introduced at the diner. 

At this point it feels like the aforementioned author is on stage doing a stand-up routine. 

I won't go all in with the spoilers, except to say that there is something of a phoney climax in the fifth episode and the big reveal is served up in parts that feel increasingly small. And the ending itself is one of those that forments The ending of....explained articles in the entertainment press. 


Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Values-based decision-making...





In last weekend's FA Cup third round fixture at St James's Park Cambridge United scored a winning goal that was adjudged by VAR to have been onside.

The correct decision. OK, if we were still running a rules-based system it was probably offside. But Cambridge were 'on the right side of history'. 

This fascinating phenomenon has recently been commented upon by legal expert Steven Barret in The Spectator...

In the UK, we had a rules-based system. What seems to be instead rising is the idea of a values-based system. A system in which the rules bend depending on who is involved or depending on what they (claim) to believe. That is a system of chaos. 

I defend the rule of law and our rules-based system because it is the one we have. But it is under heavy and sustained assault. There are clearly people who instead want a values-based system — one where what matters is not following the rules, but holding the right opinion.


As a lapsed historian I can observe here that chaos is sometimes good. 

We shall now be watching closely to see what Italian judges are to make of these vandals. Will they, like the Colston Four, be found to have sincerely believed that the owners of the Scala Dei Turchi cliffs wanted them to be covered in ferrous oxide, and so not guilty? 

It is quite fortunate however — given the issues immediately to hand — that both Boris Johnson and Novak Djokovic can be said to have broken both the rules and offended our moral consciences. 

Judge Kelly might have made a (limited) rules-based ruling on Monday, but the more definitive, values-based one could be coming down the line.  

Meanwhile, when I fly to Panama with $10,001 in my cabin baggage, I shall now know to state that my binding declaration form was filled in for me by my 'support team'. 'Oops'. 

One can just imagine how Novax handled check-in at Dubai...

"Did you pack all your own bags, sir?"

"Nah, I had my man Usama do that for me."



Tuesday, January 11, 2022

How 'The Plague' ends...

By Camus, for whom this time of pestilence was the 'period of abstractions'...

“One of the signs that a return to the golden age of health was secretly awaited was that our fellow citizens, careful though they were not to voice their hope, now began to talk in, it is true, a carefully detached tone of the new order of life that would set in after the plague...

“But in reality behind these mild aspirations lurked wild, extravagant hopes, and often one of us, becoming aware of this, would hastily add that, even on the rosiest view, you couldn’t expect the plague to stop from one day to another...

“All agreed that the amenities of the past couldn’t be restored at once; destruction is an easier, speedier process than reconstruction...

“All that could be said was that the disease seemed to be leaving as unaccountably as it had come...

"Our strategy had not changed, but whereas yesterday it had obviously failed, today it seemed triumphant. Indeed, one’s chief impression was that the epidemic had called a retreat after reaching all its objectives; it had, so to speak, achieved its purpose...

“The truth was that for many months the town had been stifling under an airless shroud, in which a rent had now been made, and every Monday when he turned on the radio, each of us learned that the rift was widening; soon he would be able to breathe freely. It was at best a negative solace, with no immediate impact on men’s lives...

“The change, no doubt, was slight. Yet, however slight, it proved what a vast forward stride our townsfolk had made in the way of hope. And indeed it could be said that once the faintest stirring of hope became possible, the dominion of the plague was ended...

“It must, however, be admitted that our fellow citizens’ reactions during that month were diverse to the point of incoherence. More precisely, they fluctuated between high optimism and extreme depression...

“Some of them plague had imbued with a skepticism so thorough that it was now a second nature; they had become allergic to hope in any form. Thus even when the plague had run its course, they went on living by its standards. They were, in short, behind the times...

"No doubt the plague was not yet ended, a fact of which they were to be reminded; still, in imagination they could already hear, weeks in advance, trains whistling on their way to an outside world that had no limit, and steamers hooting as they put out from the harbour across shining seas...

“All a man could win in the conflict between plague and life was knowledge and memories.”




To care or not to care...

The first time I had a covid test outside of Guatemala last March I enquired after the protocols that would be applied to anyone who might end up with a positive result. I received some blank, "once ze rocketz go up..." looks. 

This was after all a high volume little retail business in an exciting new sector geared towards squeezing money out of travellers with a novel and obligatory need. 

"Er...go into quarantine?"

In my case this would possibly have resulted in a situation approximating starvation, unless I perhaps made one last 'what the heck' trip to Walmart to stock up for ten days. 

There was no suggestion that the local authorities would be in any way helpful (or even vigilant) like the Japanese government here. 

All rather moot anyway. 




I remain slightly more pissed off with Novak Djokovic than I am with Boris Johnson.

Both are barefaced liars. Boris would also appear to have violated the unwritten law that nobody in government can appear to be enjoying themselves in the midst of a national calamity. 

Yet, unlike Novax, it is harder to make the case (conclusively) that his actions resulted in incremental mingling which put others' lives at risk. 

In May 2020 we were predominantly indoors at home. Sometimes when the weather was nice we went outdoors into our garden. Occasionally there was wine involved. In essence this is what the No10 staff did. 

Of course this was perhaps ill-advised given the sacrifices then being asked of the general public, but it was not flagrantly negligent along the lines of what Djokovic apparently got up to in the days after his (second) positive test. 

And he has lied on an official form about that socially publicised trip to Belgrade over Christmas he claims not to have made. 

On the plus side, he seems to have realised, if not quite on time, that his actions after the test could be construed as callous and has made a slightly more preemptive apology for them than Boris has ever done since all THIS came to the public's attention. 


Boris is now holed below the water line and should resign. The Australian Open will be holed below the water line now whatever happens. Thanks Novax. (Maybe the Aussie government will offer him a deal: leave now and we won't stop you coming back in 2023?)

My neighbour tested positive for covid on March 10, 2021 and subsequently made almost zero effort to self-isolate. He and his wife did however continue to use this piece of paper for a month as a way of dodging their legal obligations. 




As with Djokodick, we can surmise that either the test was manipulated or the behaviour immediately afterwards sociopathic.





These are the individuals who need to be examining their consciences most deeply right now.


Monday, January 10, 2022

"I'm going to forget about it"

Deltacron sounds a bit like one of those other rather doomed recombination events like ICL's PC-TV of 1994. 

Destined not to find a market...





Worst case...we can always nuke Cyprus! :-)





Djocovid

 


Focussing on...himself, as usual, until tomorrow at least when the Immigration Minister Hawke will decide whether to deploy his arbitrary powers. 

Novax has a couple of things going for him right now. Firstly, in spite of being an egotistical bully he is also rather obviously extremely naive and some people find that 'sweet'. 

I have no doubt that he genuinely thought he'd found the magic key when he boarded that plane...oh, the loveable fool. 

And although, as the only member of the Men's Singles draw in Melbourne to have not been bovved to get a jab he doesn't deserve at all to play THIS YEAR, he also does not really deserve to be slapped with a three year ban for having fallen foul of Australia's not-entirely-fit-for-purpose visa and border control process. 

There's no question that Novax — and now the rest of Serbia — has given the finger to the executive branch of the Australian federal government (and almost certainly always intended to), and one has to wonder if they are now prepared to sit back and just take it. 

Maybe I am stronger-willed than Morrison, but I wouldn't.

(We somehow managed to miss out on the porn appearing on the live feed last night, but it was obvious that someone was obstinately attempting to gatecrash the courtzoom.)


Reduction of function?

 



Just before the weekend Dr John Campbell was describing Omicron as an "unstoppable" global inoculation heading everyone's way, explicitly noting that he expected to contract it himself despite all the precautions he has taken up to now. 

Perhaps the most intriguing part of the vlog occurs towards the end when he addresses correspondence enquiring if Omicron could have been produced in a lab (using mice) by scientists attempting to design a SARS-Cov-2 variant with loss-of-function i.e. much more transmissible yet much less pathogenetic. 

This is arguably the most intelligent thing any cabal of pointy heads could have been getting up to during the last two quarters of last year, though of course they'd never be able to admit it, owing to the individual tragedies that the media would pounce on with relish. 

In one stroke such a secret stratagem would have done away with the 2021 phenomenon of ever more dangerous sepas consistently cropping up in parts of the world where vaccination and control measures had been applied unevenly. But, public opinion is not much interested in might-have-beens. 

Dr John surmises that his colleagues are probably not actually clever enough to have come up with that particular cunning plan, but notes that there is indeed something a little bit fishy about how and when Omicron made its appearance. 

One doesn't have to be suffering some sort of reduction in brain function to share some of the suspicions which arise here. What has struck me is how determined a number of leading epidemiologists have been to talk out of their backsides about Omicron lately. 

It was obvious from almost the get-go that this was a qualitatively different kind of pathogen, yet most of the official, expert-mediated opinion has been carefully vague and wait-and-see, with ever increasing focus on the apparent mildness of this form of covid as being a product of vaccination and/or previous infection, something which is not necessarily borne out by the data (quite the contrary, I believe). 

We shall certainly see if vaccination remains the key determinant of outcomes in the US this winter, but as Dr John notes there are other issues affecting hospitalisation up there, such as poorly managed chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension. 

My own suspicion is that vaccination and prior infection will turn out to be beneficial, but not the whole story behind the relatively benign impact of Omicron. 

We knew from the start that it has certain hybrid qualities having 'borrowed' DNA from a cold virus, though how this occurred is one of the mysteries to hand, and perhaps explains why this aspect of Omicron has become one of the things experts don't really wish to talk about as the wave washes over developed, largely-vaccinated societies. 




Novax

I'm following the developments in the Djokovic 'trial' increasingly glumly. 

Judge Kelly kicked off by asking 'What more could this man have done?'

The legal minds on display are wilfully missing the point here, a phenomenon that I have become familiar with from my exposure to Guatemala's own soi-disant justice system. What he could have done is get vaccinated. He did not somehow miss the opportunity to do so because of a flukey infection.
In other words it seems obvious that he always intended to show up to play this week in Melbourne unvaccinated and thus was always looking for an underhand way to do so that would inevitably be taken as insulting by the 90% of Australians that have had made the effort to get a jab. Specifically by those in Melbourne, a city that has endured more days of lockdown than any other during the pandemic.
The exemption should hold only if the applicant was actually trying to get vaccinated, not trying to find a way to avoid it. This is not, after all, a matter of 'rules is rules', it is about a specific individual and his efforts to circumvent the rules. (And no Guardian woke-wizards, nor is it about the treatment of refugees.) 



Judge Kelly has now noted that in his interview Djokovic said words to the effect of “if you let me talk to people I will try and get what you want”. Again, my time here permits me to know exactly what he meant by that — collecting the necessary evidence in the time-honoured Chapin manner. 

If Novax tested positive on the 16th of December and then the very next day went — maskless — to a school, he deserves our contempt. There is more than enough data around now to suggest that Omicron could present a relatively non-mild threat to children. 

Like Prince Andrew, he should already realise just how pyrrhic any victory in court today will be. And I am becoming more than a bit sick of listening to self-obsessed nonsense from anti-vax insurgents who have been vaccinated in the past for smallpox, polio, measles, TB and so on. You cannot be a libertarian freedom fighter and have a medical exemption. That's called cheating.


"And then they said that if his visa is cancelled 
...he'll get an automatic three year ban."


The Lonely City by Olivia Laing (1)

On a flight into Mérida last September I was amused to discover that I was a little less alone that I had imagined myself to be, as the passenger seated beside me was reading exactly the same book as I was. 

Yet I was almost certainly alone in my awareness of this coincidence, as I was then making use of an epub version of The Lonely City on my iPad. 

This young Mexican chap had the demeanour of someone for whom loneliness would only ever be a kind of affectation; a Fresa Byronica


Oaxaca Tonic 
(Mezcal, tonic, pink grapefruit juice)

Amidst all the talk of how technology 'augments' us — looks forward and satisfies emerging needs — I have always been aware that it also casts an eye behind and fills some of the gaps it finds there, gaps that we might have otherwise filled less easily and yet perhaps more productively. 

Loneliness is nature and it is nurture. Some of us have it in us, but often enough the key incidents are 'invoked' by the state of the communal environment. 


Salinas NYC: Rossejat Rápida


As Olivia Laing notes in her book, the ways we find to express our interiors are always "imperfect" and "precarious". Her chapter on Warhol and his experience of managing the push/pull of intimacy in his life with technology is fascinating. He found that the contention between a "fear of closeness" and the "terror of solitude" could be mediated with devices, such as his trusty polaroid camera or a tape recorder, given to him by the manufacturer, Phillips: "I didn't get married until 1964 when I got my first tape recorder. My wife." 

Technologies provide apparently liberating intermediaries that come with built-in distance plus the ability (in theory at least) to activate or deactivate them at will. As Laing puts it: "Acting as servant, consort or companion to the machine was another route to invisibility, a mask-cum-prop like the wig and glasses."  

Socially reticent or not, every street photographer must have sensed this at some point, though in 2022 it is much more of a mass phenomenon, having expanded well beyond those that are naturally detached from consensual reality to the point where it is sometimes necessary to talk of consensual reality itself having lost touch, owing in part to the mass adoption of certain technologies. 

I've learned several things during my various trips to New York over the past twelve months, after an absence of ten years, and one of them is this: if one used to have to navigate around the sporadic street mutterers in Manhattan, nowadays everyone seems to be at it, and it is increasingly hard to tell which of them are genuinely talking to themselves and which ones are engaged in a call. The emotions appear broadly volatile. 


Friday, January 07, 2022

...mention ze vor

As we know, the international media will not publish any story about Guatemala unless there is a cut and dried opportunity to mention the "decades long" civil war. 

These have been thinning out a bit recently, so a consensus has apparently been reached that migrant caravans, corruption and sometimes even pandemic-related problems should be allowed as consequences of this increasingly distant conflict. 

The start of the trial this week of five 'former paramilitaries' for the rape of 36 Achi women between '81 and '85 has however allowed the foreign hacks to peddle a new batch of the more or less uncut stuff. 

My own only direct, up close and personal encounter with the PACs (Civil Defence Patrols) back in the 80s suggests to me that 'paramilitary' might be a slight misnomer. 

Along with a very close friend I had taken a bus from Flores to El Naranjo, Petén up on the north west border largely out of bloodyminded determination to show up someone who had advised us not to. 

Back then the road was extremely rough and the ride long and arduous to say the least. Our destination was little more than a small military outpost on the Rio San Pedro and our fellow passengers almost entirely a collection of prostitutes and members of the PACs heading that way for semi-professional reasons. 

The 'paramilitary' recruits were a would-be platoon of notably ill-groomed campesinos, mostly over 50. Each of them was handed a rifle — considerably older than any of them — as they descended from the bus. The soldiers made a gesture to equip both of us with the same which generated much mirth. 

Observing this inebriated rabble, it struck me that they would inevitably lose a straight fight with the American minutemen of 1776. 

Arming the dirt poor in this way always struck me as a seriously bad idea and I believe it was one of Ríos Montt's masterplans. 

That it resulted in serious human rights abuses should surprise absolutely noone.


Thursday, January 06, 2022

Mild Nonsense

Eric here has been a good source of expert information and opinion throughout the pandemic, yet he occasionally inclines towards overt scaremongering. 

i.e. "Reminder that Omicron is not intrinsically much milder at all".


Like many American academic voices it seems his propagation of fact is being consistently (over-)informed by the political polarisation around him. 

I recently read the first chapter of a book on European medieval history and was astonished by the repeated mentions of 'whiteness' and 'white supremacist' therein. I think it can be seriously unhealthy to make the way history might have been been used in contemporary discourse a fundamental part of the fabric of the actual story. 

Any book in English is going to be read by people all over the planet and not all of them are already entrenched in the same mindset. The effect is to export America's cultural warfare into the English-speaking world's intellectual ecosystem. 

Anyway, even as a non-scientist, I can spot the obvious flaws in the assertion that Omicron might not be mild once we 'adjust' for vaccination and previous infection. 

Firstly, and obviously, in spite of fewer vaccinations (and possibly fewer recuperating patients) in South Africa, it remained mild there. 

And how would one account for the fact that only one Omicron-covid patient in Scotland has so far been admitted into the ICU without reference to the variant's relative mildness? 

The UK would anyway seem to be the last place where this kind of 'adjustment' to the data could be done in a balanced manner. Over 90% of the population is now said to possess covid-specific antibodies, so the 'control' group is bound to be small and possibly unrepresentative. 

Given that one cannot infect one's test subjects on purpose, scientists in the UK would be relying on unvaccinated people randomly reporting severe symptoms or turning up at hospital. By then it would presumably be difficult to determine beyond doubt that there had been no previous infection. 

One group that is apparently experiencing Omicron as a more severe illness is the under-14s. This is also a group that is comparatively under-vaccinated, yet many might have been infected in 2020 with the earlier variants asymptomatically — and so perhaps never previously tested.




The comparative danger to children is probably real, but ought not to be used to make more generalised observations about the current wave. 

The issue here is more to do with the failure to expand the vaccination programme to the school-age population in parts of the US.


Wednesday, January 05, 2022

Drive My Car (2021)

There's more of Haruki Murakami in this highly literary movie — adapted from one of his short stories in the Men Without Women anthology — just as there is a good deal more of Anton Chekhov than the brief mentions of Uncle Vanya in the same. 




In this absorbing meeting of minimalisms (take your pick as to whether the hidden depths are Japanese or Russian), Ryûsuke Hamaguchi has created a fascinating synthetic narrative out of the bare structure of that tale and things which are hinted at within it. 

It is as subtle as it is long. We viewed it like a mini-series: roughly three hour long episodes. The first did just about enough to make us want to pick it up the next evening (rather like that first instalment of Ted Lasso). 

At times I felt I was being sucked into a live action version of one of those coffee table books on Japanese style. The author's westernised cultural tastes and predilection for vinyl records are also referenced. 

The yellow convertible Saab 900 Turbo of the source story has become a fixed top version and a crimson European artefact slicing through a landscape of premeditated blandness. 


The opening credits run after the extended prologue. At this stage one should have become aware of and engaged with Hamaguchi's intent — to fashion a mysterious nexus where life imitates art, art life, and texts inveigle when recited like spells...though in a sort of emotionally-constipated manner. 

I was engrossed, and yet I have to admit that the thought kept occurring to me that the last thing I would want to sit through would be an experimental production of Uncle Vanya performed in four different languages including Korean sign-language. (And that maybe it would help if I had either seen or read that play a little more recently.)



Murakami's story is slightly unsatisfying because the basic set-up, a confessional on wheels between an actor and his professional driver feels artificial in the short form. 

Kafuku is an actor with a newly-detected glaucoma and thus needs someone to drive him around in his vintage Swedish small car whilst he rehearses his lines. He has some vaguely sexist opinions about female drivers, and on meeting Misaki Watari sums her up as "brusque, close-mouthed, not at all cute". He is nevertheless "intrigued" and is presently won over by her smooth gear changes, thereafter detailing his most bothersome existential anxieties to her. 

In the movie Kafuku shifts to the front passenger seat as both characters find that they have profounder, more perplexing and unresolved pasts to share, an emotional journey that leads to a cathartic road trip. 

The switch from Tokyo to a theatrical festival in Hiroshima in the central section also adds flesh to the bones. 

Murakami had Kafuku confide how his wife became serially unfaithful after the loss of a child. And how, after her death from cancer, he made friends with her final lover — a good-looking non-entity of an actor — as a kind of studied dramatic performance which he thought might enable him to belatedly discover her motivations. 

Hamaguchi preserves the basic 'plot', yet his Kafuku is a more soulful, less transparent character and he has made much more of the scandal and disaster-prone younger lover, Takatsuki. And he conflates the intimacies, between actor and driver, between the two actors and between their textual and symbolic alter-egos. 




Far more than simply a female sounding-board, Watari has an inner life as intriguing as her passenger's, her smoothness emanating from a decidedly choppy childhood and a need to contain her sense of guilt for how she presumed to drive away from it. 

Some of the rehearsals for this play I thought I'd never want to see*, along with one excerpt from the finished production, are amongst the most compelling scenes in cinema I have come across in the past twelve months. 

Drive My Car is a truly sumptuous collection of parts, undoubtedly more than the sum of them, yet never quite an orderly whole. 

For sometimes life itself can feel like that, less a coherent journey along a single trajectory than a confusingly disordered panorama of paths taken and not taken, never fully consigned to the rear-view mirror, the human self relentlessly variegated over time by personas adopted and abandoned, assimilation a metaphysical hypothetical, more adapted to the hereafter. 

And there's no turning back or even a chance to pull into a rest stop. 

Murakami does give his Kafuku one central observation that is not taken up in the film, at least not explicitly. That for every actor concluding a role "the self that one returned to was never exactly the same as the self that one had left behind." Hamaguchi's Watari does however keep her almost concluding sermon: that sometimes "genuine" complexity need not be either contradictory or confounding. 


* The Korean sign-language part turned out to be the best! 


Tuesday, January 04, 2022

Certificado

On learning that Novak Djokovic has secured a medical exemption to the vaccination mandate at the Australian Open...







Pointless Indulgence

 



Roughly 4.7m double-jabbed: less than a third of the whole population of all ages. 

The focus now surely has to be on those that have had either one or none. 

Now that we know that in the vast majority of cases Omicron covid presents as a mild infection of the upper respiratory tract — ergo, the sniffles — a booster programme in Guatemala (>89k doses and counting) is a nonsensical luxury and a waste of resources that may even put lives in danger unnecessarily. 



Sunday, January 02, 2022

The Matrix Resurrections (2021)

The first time we sat down to watch this third, (almost) unnecessary and inconclusive sequel to The Matrix, I nodded off. And yet even then I felt I must have been more awake than Keanu appeared to be for much of its running time. 


Overall it does appear to be doing its best to be a good Matrix film, in an era when these once influential franchises have a loyal (if ageing) fan-base collectively demanding that certain boxes must be ticked. 

There were times however when the thought "What's a dilapidated, semi-comatose John Wick doing here exactly?" flashed across my mind.**

The resurrection here is knowingly incomplete, at least as far as Neo is concerned. Trinity was done as an afterthought, but apparently better. 

Indeed, there is a notable lack of concern for disguising just how fatigued and middle-aged neo-Neo has become. Lana Wachowski has also tried to jolly up the underlying cynicism of the exercise by including some knowing dialogue in the first act...about the underlying cynicism of sequels and spin-offs. 

There's a whiff of faux self-awareness and self-deprecation about all this. 

Lambert Wilson then shows up a bit later on, as a sort of Robinson Crusoe version of the Merovingian to ram the message home...



The plot hovers around the outer limits of intelligibility and my levels of caring for whatever it was that was most at stake similarly wavered. 

The trouble is that the matrix itself has evolved into a MacGuffin. In the 90s there were a number of memorable movies that entertained us by making us question the very nature of reality, in both philosophical terms and in the drama itself, such as The Matrix and Abre Los Ojos (duplicated rather less memorably as Vanilla Sky). 

Resurrections appears to be on a similar course in the first act, and then decides that what it really needs is more kung fu and explosions. 

Perhaps someone told them that since the original trilogy concluded, super-hero movies with a lot of commotion, especially towards the end, have become the best way to bring in younger audiences.  

There is indeed a loud and sometimes fun final chase with a multitude of bots that are basically surrogate Korean zombies. By this stage existential issues and questions like "where are all the real humans?" had faded from my mind. 

And even Neo seemed to be using his powers in a state of exasperated irritation.

Will there be another one?** Well...




* Triffinty's sim hubby (husbot?) Chad is played by Keanu's former stunt double Chad Stahelski, who would go on to direct him in the John Wick movies. This is, after all, the Meta-Matrix. 

** Spoiler alert: we now know the one is really the two.