Thursday, December 01, 2022

Twitterstorm PR

There was too much decent footie on yesterday for me to become seriously annoyed by this story, but then on came Belgium…

It seems to me that if you attend an event at Buckingham Palace attired to suggest a proud heritage and as the representative of a group which protects women of African and Afro-Caribbean descent from culturally-persistent forms of masculine violence, “We’re based in Hackney” might not be the best way of heading off this gathering misunderstanding. 
 

 
Some of the ‘insistence’ was probably mutual here, though the text version is sadly bereft of the aggressive snootiness vs aggressive chippiness tonal layer. 
 

 
One can note that the old 🦇 did not actually say “You must be from Africa” as the Beeb subsequently reported. 
 
Having previously once asked George Bush Snr (then POTUS) what he did for a living, Lady Susan Hussey on this occasion reportedly went the extra mile by first surveying Ngozi Fulani’s badge for clues. 
 
If a US-born woman of Guatemalan heritage were to attend a White House cocktail party in traditional Mayan corte, a broadly similar interrogation could reasonably be expected from the sort of doddery old politician likely to be in attendance...perhaps generationally-inclined to a certain awkwardness in such interactions. 
 
And of course most Yanks are usually only too willing to inform all and sundry where ‘their people’ are from. Indeed, the furore unleashed here led me to speculate what an Irish American could wear in order to set up a similar sort of social media gotcha.
 
We Brits don’t manufacture much these days besides outrage.

 
(In Britain the more common done thing is to adopt a name and fashion habits that allow one to 'pass'.) 

 
 
 

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Upon Us

 


The Qatar (about the size of Connecticut) World Cup is imminent. 

David Beckham has just blocked the country's first openly gay man on Instagram and FIFA has deployed a textbook version* of the "western plebs cannot criticise because...colonialism" defence. That would be like, hypocritical. 

Anyway, in the end, it can't be as bad as Argentina '78, when they were pushing students out the back of aeroplanes over the South Atlantic, can it?  

In terms of the sporting spectacle, that one was near faultless, I recall. A roaring Concord even passed over our home just as Kempes scored the winner.

Qatar 2022 will be more like The Squid Game where — thanks to those football-sceptic intellectuals — we will all be vaguely aware of of a troubling subtext to do with dodgy contracts, labour relations and violent oppression — yet in the end will just surrender to the hugely entertaining and gory competitive spectacle. 

'Ere we go, 'ere we go, 'ere we go....


* Translated from the Chinese. 

Friday, November 18, 2022

Guatemala's going cuckoo…

This high vis investigation appears to have stimulated a mood of self-reflection on the local 'ex-pat' forum. Many will no doubt be wondering if they are likely to be tarred with the same brush. Jolluck, at least, was apparently not camouflaging her pillaging behind a dodgy NGO. 



Anyway, the idea that the solution can be found from within the immigrant community is naïve. 

The usual human motivational distributions will apply — of any ten inside-outsiders striving to make a living here, around two will be proactively sensitive to the environment and positive in their actions, six will more likely take the path of least resistance and another two will tend to be blood-sucking leeches like Jollluck and Rossilli...



Converting a few from the middle of the curve won’t deal with the fundamental problem; the fact that Guatemala remains a lure for greedy mediocrities is a matter for the authorities to ponder and resolve. 

The manner that the country is pitched to outsiders needs to be finessed. Promotion needs to include a raft of incentives and dis-incentives. 

There should be little doubt that real economic damage is being done, and not just in the "nature chic" niche these parasites carved out for themselves. 

One of my first Guatemalan friends in the 80s was a woman whose mother operated both a large and successful textiles stall in the market at Chichicastenango and a modern fashion outlet in Z1. 

These are the "social entrepreneurs" that the country needs, and every cuco gringo that establishes itself here is more often than not displacing the indigenes from an opportunity that would otherwise be available to them. 

At her first arrest Jolluck claimed to have acquired the carved stones in her suitcase at a local craft market. This was not just a lie, but a calculated implied threat aimed at scaring the prosecutors into thinking that their actions could create a stink around one of Guatemala’s most important industries, tourism. 

To their credit, they handled the situation admirably and exposed the deceit within 48 hours, when the media interest was still fresh, so that Jolluck’s mendacity more or less completely backfired on her and her principal accomplice.

The new claim, that the couple were merely artefact-sitting for a Guatemalan friend who is legally entitled to own them is a novel and fairly risible subterfuge that is unlikely to stand up for long. 

1222 items and counting. The quetzal tieso seems to have got under the skin of chapines more than any other stolen relic. 



"'E's pining!"


Blaze (2022)

So much of what I've been viewing lately has seemed simultaneously both very good and utterly terrible — just not at exactly the same time — that I am starting to wonder if it's me, rather than my viewing choices. A sudden swerve of my sensibilities into irresolution. 

 



There's undoubtedly much to admire here in this depiction of what happens inside the imagination of a twelve-year-old girl after she unwittingly becomes the sole witness to a brutal rape and murder. 

It's a first feature from Australia's Archbald Prize-winning artist Del Kathryn Barton — and, full disclosure here, I think her paintings are humungously, psychedelically awful — so it really does not help that the mind of this survivor is full of the same sort of gaudy junk. There are some great tracks on the OST, yet in situ they too have a certain "look at me" quality, rather like the visuals and tend to cut across the grain of the drama. 

The central performance of Julia Savage as Blaze is very good, especially in the more humdrum interactions outside of her inner artistry, but the script doesn't really allow her to come together as a coherent character seeking a new equilibrium. 

I think I can summarise by saying that if you loved The Babadook (we did not) then you will probably consider this another minor antipodean masterpiece. 






Thursday, November 17, 2022

Reaching for the off switch...

There was a time when the tackiness alone would have been titillating. I'd watch Trump for the gilded Cadillac car crash politics vibe...




But I cannot watch him any more. His persistence in public life is now a marked offence to everything westerners need to hold dear. 

He claims Biden has made the US a laughing stock, and sure, Joe is not without his satirical potential. But the rest of us are HORRIFIED, less by the deluded old men that end up in the White House than by the process which gets them there — and we are heading into a series of primaries in which none of Trump's serious rivals — should he have any — will properly address the issue of how his last term ended and his apparent wider criminality. 

That his own party can applaud when he calls the opposition "corrupt" is beyond satire.


Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Poker Face (2022)

Un film de...Russell Crowe. 

No, this does not mark the arrival on the scene of a new and exciting cine-auteur, though someone could possibly write a decent enough essay on the agency permitted the female characters here. 

If you ever wondered what sort of movie would result from Crowe carefully crafting a role for himself, a sort of tumescent emanation from his inner being, well, this is it. 


A shitshow of a vanity project about a last ditch vanity project that turns into a shitshow. 

Thankfully, in the end, money saves the day. 






A load of old…Jollucks

The multilingual blabber here (and beyond) over the past few days has increasingly focused on the apparent undoing of US citizen and self-styled ‘social entrepreneur’ Stephanie Jolluck, a local floater in Antigua who has been rather barefacedly (but legally) profiting from cultural appropriation for some time, yet was pulled up last week at the international airport and accused of attempting to export several rather sizeable chunks of Guatemala's Mesoamerican patrimony. 



One of them

My initial reaction was to ponder what kind of reasonably clued-up end educated person could ever get themselves into the situation depicted in this image…



Her local enablers and sympathisers were however soon gathering online to peddle the message that the incident was little more than the result of a unfortunate misunderstanding, the pieces having been purchased as reproductions in a provincial handicrafts market, "as you do..."

Indeed, if the items were anything less than fully authentic Ms Jolluck would ultimately have had little to worry about, beyond some bad publicity. And even if found to be genuine, she might have had a go at blaming the vendor. Nevertheless, the circumstances of her subsistence in Guatemala and the intent to remove the items from the country, both tended to fuel profound suspicions, which prosecutors must have acted on. 

They initially released her on the understanding that she should consider that anything Mayan and rather old had secured a comprehensive restraining order against her. The suspicion has to be that they did so only in order to see what she would do next. 

What she did next was invite her partner over and together they reportedly packed a vehicle with 165 other pieces (90% of which are said to be venerable, some over a millennium old), presumably plotting a more terrestrial getaway given the likelihood of further investigation by a dedicated part of Guatemala’s justice system. 

Border checks for 'tourists' departing Guatemala via land or sea are almost non-existent, but the likes of Mexico and Belize for example, do tend to be a bit more curious with arrivals. But the couple must have anticipated what would happen if the MP dropped in for tea, and with fairly typical over-confidence and condescension, risked the interception which occurred on Sunday the 13th. 

After two strikes in 48 hours all talk of unfortunate misunderstandings can surely now be discounted, along with more lenient outcomes. 






Jolluck is just the most recently-undone member of that tribe of gentrified cultural bandits which has long been a scourge of Central America. Their outlook is superficially philanthropic  — though usually with more than a dollop of smugness — yet their gainful activities are typically informed by an amorality born of entitlement.*

It's high time the folk at INGUAT got their heads around the perhaps counter-intuitive notion that part of their annual budget could usefully be kept aside for discouraging certain types of visit and in-county activity by foreigners. 

When I first visited a major archaeological site in Belize in 1988, as a guest of the Belmopan Peace Corps mission, I was both flabbergasted and somewhat disgusted to learn that the American university in charge of the hard-to-reach dig (tied to a big name religious body) had a profitable sideline in tomb looting going on. And my discomfort was met with the same sort of faux indignation that we have regretably seen repeated here. 

They had simply given themselves permission.

In this decade-old interview, Ms Jolluck gleefully explains the beauty of her paternalistic, parasitical engagement with "ethno chic". Along the lines of... 

"My relationship with MY indians is less of a partnership and more of a hippie face-sucker kind of thing!¨




One thing in particular springs to mind after her downfall — Juan Gabriel Vásquez's Alfaguara prize-winning novel El Ruido de las Cosas al Caer, which explores the ways that the instincts behind initiatives like the Peace Corps lend themselves to corruption — specifically how both locals and gringos in late 70s Colombia switched rather painlessly into trafficking, predominantly with the self-serving justification of some sort of trickle down benefit to rural communities. 


* A decade or so ago this would have been the most appropriate description of certain foreigners trafficking children for adoption abroad.



"I don't find the artefact and take it...it finds me"




 

Monday, November 14, 2022

The boundary of animality...

Eleven years ago Orlando Figes published The Crimean War, about a conflict he flagged up as probably the first "brought about" by the press and public opinion, both of which were deftly harnessed by Palmerston, "the first really modern politican", who enacted  policy of liberal intervention based on 'our' values, and built a mass-based constituency across the nation. 




Figes tends to quote anti-Russian sentiment in the newpapers of the time as if it were mere crusading propaganda. Of the following piece from the French newspaper Impartial from 1854, he notes...

"The Emperor Nicholas is rather like Attila,’ claimed an editorial in the newspaper the Impartial in late January 1854. To pretend otherwise is to overturn all notions of order and justice. Falsity in politics and falsity in religion – that is what Russia represents. Its barbarity, which tries to ape our civilization, inspires our mistrust; its despotism fills us with horror … Its despotism is suitable perhaps for a population that crawls on the boundary of animality like a herd of fanatical beasts; but it is not suitable for a civilized people."

OK, the piece is a little boisterous, but the truth is that one could swap out Nick of yesteryear with the Vlad of today rather too easily. And in a week when protestors marched in Russia demanding nuclear war and the Wagner group murdered one of their own with a sledgehammer following his return after a prisoner swap, this "boundary of animality" remains as discernible today as it was to our close ancestors in the middle of the 19th century. 

Killing the empire may not make the problem vanish as quickly as many of us might hope.


The Resort (Peacock TV)

In spite of all the (fairly self-righteous) reasons we could come up with for not enjoying The Resort, we both did...immensely. 




Take this scene-setter. Izamal is yellow for a reason, and that reason occurred in 1993. This is precisely the kind of thing that would under normal circumstances give me the serious hump — an indolent assumption that the audience is ignorant or perhaps just too lazy to googlear

Yet I let it go. (I've been doing this rather a lot lately.) 

I can think of a few sound reasons for doing so: Firstly, the season pivots at the halfway mark, having hooked viewers on the prospect of a rather sinister fictionalised true crime incident, it suddenly admits that the whole thing is going to be a colourful piss-take. The mood shifts to something echoing both Fantasy Island and a species of update on late Victorian adventure stories. 

That this is quite a feat is reflected in a stat discharged by one of the characters — there are now so many thousands of resorts on the Yucatán that the dark mystery of the location has largely dispersed into the air. 

It also helps that the whole thing is not quite so Apple TV up itself as The Mosquito Coast. The latter show is about to arrive here in Guatemala and the moment is to be dreaded. 

Both shows have a kind of Mexiworld aesthetic, with local characters interacting with the privileged gringo visitors like 'hosts' programmed to conform to familiar stereotypes. 

Even the Mexican thesps speak Spanish as if the lines are foreign to them. 




Amsterdam (2022)

 

On a review show I occasionally tune into it was noted that with a collection of big name thesps like this, one could make just about any kind of movie one wanted to.

The trouble with Amsterdam is that individually and collectively its cast has seemingly not reached agreement on what sort of movie this one actually is. *

Two of the three leads have responded to the often bland, expositiony screenplay by goofing up their performances awkwardly.  

Then there is the problem that the parts of the story that this movie needs to take seriously, are not taken seriously, and one is left with the sense that David O. Russell is only addressing them at all, because they have some relevance to the present situation. 

I'm not entirely sure how to quickly summarise what isn't really working in Amsterdam, but the name of the film perhaps provides a clue. The short sequence of scenes set in that city could have been shot anywhere. Yet this interlude between the war and the plot back home needed to be both written and represented far more finely. The bohemian idyll shared by the members of the tripartite pact might have been the key to understanding and caring more about these characters than we ultimately did. 

Anyway, in spite of these failings it is not un-enjoyable, and some will no doubt enjoy it even more for the way Taylor Swift's cameo comes to its sudden conclusion.  


* And De Niro rather obviously cares the least of them. 


Wednesday, November 09, 2022

Ah, politics...

The fundamental problem is pretty fixed — that between a third and half the population are selfish, deluded, ignorant morons*.

All an election ever really tells us is what the current consensus plan is for managing that problem.

Yet, last night the USA got a slightly better answer than perhaps could earlier have been expected.



* Though politics only become truly awful when statesmen act as if this description refers to either everybody, or nobody.


Decision To Leave (2022)

 


Of Chan-wook Park's new (and magnificent) movie, for which he won 'Best Director' at this years's Cannes, Peter Bradshaw observes: "This is the kind of Hitchcockian film made by someone who hasn’t necessarily seen a Hitchcock film before."

There is NO way, Park hasn't absorbed any Hitchcock, and there are very specific references to Vertigo in Decision to Leave, but what the Grauniad's critic probably intends with that remark is that the conceptual source is rather like my pre-mammalian ancestors: detectable, but latent within something striving to be a far more intricate, breakthrough form. 

I was not going to write any sort of review just yet, because I am not sure that I yet have had the full experience. The hard-coded subtitles represented, as V would say, a traducción del culo, resulting in the dialogue and exposition equivalent of watching this visually-stunning film via an illicit camcorder recording. 

I have never felt more frustrated that I cannot understand Korean, and was led to reflect on all the great Spanish-language movies that have really got under my skin over the decades, which might have seemed merely rather good if I had not been tuned into all the nuances of the language. (And it would seem that there are some significant nuances here, especially in the vocab and intonation used by Song Seo-rae.)

The subtitle problem exacerbated some of the confusions inherent in Park's playful yet experimental style, which left us both good-confused and bad-confused at various points in the action and yet unable to discern how much of that was entirely intentional (or indeed, necessary). 

Uncertainty, fogginess, is clearly a key theme. 

Park is undoubtedly taking some of the very familiar tropes of the Noir genre and seeing how he might tell this kind of story using strikingly fresh cinematic idioms. 

I doubt any of us will have come across a better stab at representing social media interactions in this medium....



So, other than to say that the central performances are superb and I now going to have to back-track to see Tang-Wei in Ang Lee's Lust, Caution — which I somehow missed back in 2007 — that's it for now, as I need to find some less opaque subs. 




Tuesday, November 08, 2022

The Mask Slips

 


The literal meaning of Democracy is people power. 

Musk’s attempted sleight of hand here is to pretend to be weighting real people against the fakers and the bots, but he is doing so in a manner equivalent to a system whereby only those prepared to pay would have been able to make their voices count at the Pnyx in Athens — in effect a great muffling, not just of the less affluent in the US, but of those more international voices, for whom $8 a month represents far more than a small luxury. 





Developing world people will have the status of bots as far as his algorithms are concerned.

Yesterday, like many, I signed up for Mastodon. Now what? 









Sunday, November 06, 2022

Smile (2022)

 

 
 
There are many things about the "new face of fear" that don't feel particularly new at all, yet somehow this competently formulaic* horror flick starring Kevin Bacon's daughter Sosi (from S2 of Narcos: Mexico) has a certain freshness to it. 
 
The plot revolves around a personified malign curse with a tendency to pelar la mazorca as it passes from one traumatised individual to another and the race against time faced by Rose the therapist as she seeks to break the chain.
 
There are jump scares galore which generally feel quite well executed and perhaps the thing which most impressed me in the screenplay was the manner that information gaps were permitted to float within the narrative, writer-director Parker Finn seemingly in no hurry to immediately fish them out with over-timely exposition. 
 
* You surely won't need to rush off here to check whether anything bad is going to happen to Moustache. 

And there he killed a lot...

War & Peace is a notoriously long novel, yet it contains within it Tolstoy's comparatively succinct summary of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras in France and the response across the wider continent...

Louis XIV was a very proud and presumptuous man; he had such-and-such mistresses and such-and-such ministers, and he ruled France badly. Louis’s heirs were also weak men and also ruled France badly. They, too, had such-and-such favorites and such-and-such mistresses. Besides, certain men were writing books at the time.

At the end of the eighteenth century, some two dozen men got together in Paris and started talking about all men being equal and free. That led people all over France to start slaughtering and drowning each other. These people killed the king and many others. 
 
At the same time there was in France a man of genius—Napoleon. He defeated everybody everywhere—that is, he killed a lot of people—because he was a great genius. And he went off for some reason to kill Africans, and he killed them so well, and was so cunning and clever, that, on coming back to France, he ordered everybody to obey him. And everybody obeyed him. Having become emperor, he again went to kill people in Italy, Austria, and Prussia. And there he killed a lot. 
 
In Russia there was the emperor Alexander, who decided to restore order in Europe and therefore made war with Napoleon. But in the year seven, he suddenly made friends with him, then in the year eleven quarreled again, and again they started killing a lot of people. And Napoleon brought six hundred thousand men to Russia and captured Moscow; then he suddenly ran away from Moscow, and then the emperor Alexander...united Europe to take up arms against the disturber of its peace. All Napoleon’s allies suddenly became his enemies; and this armed force marched against Napoleon, who had gathered new forces. The allies defeated Napoleon, entered Paris, made Napoleon abdicate, and exiled him to the island of Elba, not depriving him of the dignity of emperor and showing him every respect, though five years earlier and one year later everybody considered him a bandit and an outlaw. 
 
And so began the reign of Louis XVIII, whom until then both the French and the allies had only laughed at…Then skillful statesmen and diplomats . . . talked in Vienna, and with these talks made people happy or unhappy.

Suddenly the diplomats and monarchs nearly quarreled; they were already prepared to order their troops to kill each other again; but at that moment Napoleon arrived in France with a battalion, and the French, who hated him, all submitted to him at once. But the allied monarchs were angered by that and again went to war with the French. And the genius Napoleon was defeated and taken to the island of St. Helena, having suddenly been recognized as a bandit. And there the exile, separated from those dear to his heart and from his beloved France, died a slow death on the rock and bequeathed his great deeds to posterity. 
 
But in Europe there was reaction, and the sovereigns all started mistreating their own people again.

 

Saturday, November 05, 2022

How to be a Brit

So I went and took the UK citizenship test that Harry and Meghan apparently struggled with and came out with 100%. 

It’s really not that hard, but the trick is less about knowing the right answers than knowing what they want you to think are the right answers. Woke folk like the Sussexes should have found it a breeze.

Take question 10 here...

 


At first I looked in vain for a None of the above option.

Then I remembered that our new PM Rishi tried to skive off COP27, but back when the pandemic was easing a bit had commented that he couldn’t wait to go back to the pub, “…and I don’t drink”.

 

Thursday, November 03, 2022

Wet Up



As Hurricane Lisa sits astride Belize tonight, our thoughts are with our neighbour's small coastal communities. 

This track was possibly the most memorable member of the soundtrack to one of my earliest visits to the country. 

Warter wet up mi shoes and ah wet up mi hat
Wet up mi dog and wet up mi cat
Wet up di bed wet up mi parrat
Warter wet up mi what's it not.


 





 

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

Don't Worry Darling (2022)

I can't really do much better than the Guardian's "more Styles than substance"*, yet I can point to the relevance here of Graham Greene's notion that America's depths are no different from its surfaces, for attempts to suggest hidden depth often result in a splendour of surface, as here. 

That little plane in a nosedive was never really explained, but as most of us are aware how the big premiere at Venice went down, one suspects it must have contained the movie's press team...



 

"People will look for drama wherever they can," observed Olivia Wilde in a recent interview, apparently in reference to the squalls of rumour and backbiting which were battering her production. In fact "drama" is a bit of a negative trigger word for V when it comes to cinematic entertainment, and in my outline of the synopsis I may have intentionally muddled the on screen narrative with the cast and crew kerfuffle and had to start again to make sure she was on board for our viewing. 

Anyway, to start with, the underlying conceit of this story is somehow both too big and too small for a mainstream movie like this*. There's way too much that is a bit over-familiar, so one can conclude that perhaps the screenplay needed more space (or more work) to establish a claim to originality. (The Matrix also owed a debt to Plato, yet like the rest of western philosophy, did not feel quite so brazenly derivative.) 

Latent within this tale is the possibility that one might choose the fantasy over reality, but it only pokes its head out properly in a frantic few minutes towards the end. (This is an important inferred theme, and one can consider how it has been handled elsewhere, e.g. the San Junipero episode of Black Mirror and the original Star Trek pilot with Captain Pike.) 

There's an underlying feminist theme which is also not fully explored, the utopian ideal presented here, rather like the 1950s American suburban Shangri-La, being distinctly gender-biased, and yet not without ambiguities and satirical nettles which audiences members could have been encouraged to grasp. 

There's an over-compensatory indulgence in visual metaphor (mirrors, circles and so on) and a disconnect between the way the mystery resolves and many of the apparently significant details accumulated beforehand — making this less of a big reveal, than the disheartening revelation of the film's inner inconsistencies. 

Watching Dahmer recently, I concluded that it's a always a bit of a red flag when the production design is the best thing about the production. Everything about Victory stoked recollections of the 50s time-capule that is Cuba, particularly the Punta Gorda peninsula beneath Cienfuegos...




Florence Pugh —  now aka "Miss Flo" — is superb, as usual. It's rather a shame that she she seems to have disowned this performance, though the scandal has contributed to her exposure. 



* Not a bad description of the man himself either. 

** Extending the mystery across a long form TV series format would have resulted in predictable frustration though. 




Saturday, October 29, 2022

Colourful Histories

Proceeding with Thursday's topic of 'rulers of Britain' in danger of cancellation by certain members of the US Republican fringe...



Our last ruler 'of colour' was Septimus Severus (above)*, an Emperor who died in the city of Eboracum (York) in 211 AD, having just embarked on an invasion of Caledonia (Scotland), which he'd hoped would indeed give him control of the whole of Britain. 

He was born in what is now Libya and seized power shortly after the events depicted in Gladiator, though between Commodus and Severus, things had become a little messy. 

Of course, several thousand years before Julius Caesar showed up, all of us Britons were 'of colour' — the gene for paler skin not having yet emerged — though it is unlikely that we were then able to agree upon a capo di capi. 

Charles II was said to be a bit "swarthy". 

The first de facto 'ruler of Britain' was probably the English monarch Edward the Elder (899-924), son of Alfred, whose sovereignty was (sort of) recognised by Constantine II of Scotland — at least according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle — but shortly afterwards Edward died in battle and we would have to wait a further 800 years for the United Kingdom, just after Scotland had bankrupted itself by attempting to colonise Panama. 

The takeover was a little more friendly than Elon Musk's at Twitter HQ yesterday.


* Undoubtedly also a pagan, though most likely in that more open-minded Roman sort of way.


Friday, October 28, 2022

Ticket to Paradise (2022)

There were times when I almost laughed and others where I almost barfed. 




British film-maker Ol Parker has delivered this squirm-inducing kind sort of white sahibs encounter the tropics vibe before with his Best Exotic Marigold Hotel franchise — but at least those films were shot on location on Jaipur, whereas here we have a version of Bali largely realised in Australia with frequently painted-on CGI backdrops, and so all the just-so-adorable natives have had to be imported, but at least this has allowed Parker to show us a developing world with perfect hospitals. 

Parker's retired Britishers undoubtedly had a measure of emotional depth and wit about them. Here though I'd be hard picked to choose which of these characters is the most annoying. I would admit however that I might have been on the whole less inclined to see it through to its inevitable conclusion if the role played by Clooney had been handed to a dimmer star. 

Yet I suspect that a large part of the entertainment I experienced came via simultaneously daydreaming my own version of this story set here in Guatemala, with much less effort spent papering over the cracks in 'paradise', thus opening up the possibility of offending as many viewers as possible. 


Barbarian (2022)

If there is one movie you find yourself drawn towards this horror season, let it be this one. 



This was our second Airbnb-gone-horribly-wrong treatment, and by far the more satisfying of the two. 

I won't say much more and whatever you do, avoid the trailer — in part because Barbarian has two very enjoyable sections that in a sense sit outside the gruesome genre action, and which require the viewer to closely observe the words and actions of a bloke — and any foreknowledge of the other stuff could spoil these. 

The scenes that take up the first half hour or so before the the genre tropes are laid on far thicker are essentially a tense two-hander between the inexplicably double-booked Tess (Georgina Campbell) and Keith (Bill Skarsgård). 

Direct Zak Cregger explained his inspiration in a recent interview...

"I had read a book called The Gift of Fear by the security consultant Gavin de Becker. There was a chapter in the book that was really primarily directed towards women, and he was encouraging women to pay attention to these little minor red flags that men can give off in day-to-day situations. They can be very innocuous things that you might not notice. Things like complimenting you when it's not necessarily appropriate or doing you a favour that you didn't ask for, or touching in a nonsexual way that's not initiated by you...All these little things that seemingly don't matter, but he was basically saying the gift of fear, it's important to pay attention to these little red flags because you're equipped with that to identify potential threats. As I was reading it, I just kind of had this epiphany that I don't ever have to think about that kind of a thing because I'm a man and because I have this level of privilege where I just don't have to consider that half the population might be somebody that means to do me harm for no reason. I just realized I occupy a completely different psychic landscape than most women do. It was kind of a big moment for me."





Looking for Spinoza

On my second visit to La Antigua towards the end of ‘89, I came across a child apparently trapped in a state of permanent, unadulterated joy. This little boy with his own room in the Hermano Pedro hospital was living a life that approximated that promised by the Church in the next one, yet had been incarcerated as a non-person there by priests. 





Renowned neuroscientist Antonio Damasio is the go-to guy for such aberrations, as he’s made a career of revealing how small defects in or injuries to the brain’s architecture can lead to quite dramatic personality changes, and how the selective application of electrical currents can induce happiness or indeed dark depression in the absence of other mood stimuli. In this book he declares a perhaps unlikely alliance with Baruch Spinoza, the Dutch Jewish metaphysical disrupter (1632-77), who wanted us to understand that the whole Cartesian mind-body dichotomy was hooey, for all of cognition necessarily encompasses the entire animal organism, which can claim no transcendent passenger. 

That Love is as much a feeling as it is a thought is the thought-feeling that Damasio runs with here, linking modern biological orthodoxy with a venerable heterodoxy. 

My own encounters with Spinoza began long ago when he seemed to offer an antidote to the neo-platonic model which had carried out a reverse takeover of Hebrew thought in the early Christian era. Not only did that leave us with bodies and souls, it left us with a contingent reality separate from, or subsumed within, something perfect and absolute to which we have given the name of God. 

Spinoza’s rejection of this form of Divinity came with the insistence that the cosmos we can detect is all there is, and anything meaningful therein is immanent, taking shape within time and space not beyond it. Today his pantheism is taking some grazing impacts from western cosmology, which struggles to entirely shake off the thought-feeling that perception will only ever provide us with a partial take on reality.