Thursday, June 08, 2023
The perfect bar doesn't exi...
Tuesday, June 06, 2023
The White Ship by Charles Spencer
Diana’s brother Charles has no need of a ghost writer, unlike his nephew Harry.
His highly competent popular histories have hardly strayed beyond his own family’s apogee, e.g the reigns of Charleses I & II.
Yet it seems he has a fascination with this, one of Medieval history’s dopey yet highly significant misadventures which occurred in 1120, when roughly 300 members of the ruling Norman elite, including the royal heir, set off from Barfleur in the Blanche-Net, the majority of both passengers and crew a little bit juiced up, choosing speed over caution in an effort to catch up with the King’s own vessel, thus encountering some rocks. The only survivor a butcher from Rouen who had boarded in order to chase his bills. 901 years later Spencer led the expedition which located the wreck.
“Game of Thrones, but in the real world” says the dust cover. (Oddly enough, today’s versions attract dust as opposed to repelling it like the old paper ones.) Thrones was based — loosely, let's say — on the Wars of the Roses, a later conflict aroused and fed by the awkward presence on the throne of the two least effective Plantagenets, Richard II and Henry VI, whose impact, domestically and abroad, encouraged their geographically-entrenched relatives to seek alternatives.
“The anarchy” which followed the sinking of the White Ship and the ascension of Stephen* — first (and last) of that name — was instead rooted in earlier dynamics which differed from GOT. The key players changed sides far more often. And if there was one thing the Norman nobility hated it was open battle (except when the other side was obviously French), so we see here how on two significant occasions the antagonists were encouraged by their aristocratic allies to sit down and parley.
Most conflicts that didn’t result in treaties were characterised by a string of sieges. Other than Masada, these have never made for good TV.
But there is some fun stuff here, including a defenestration enacted by the future Henry I himself, the victim a commoner (merchant) who had forgotten the golden rule of feudalism — flexibility was for the landed elites only, everyone else had to abide by their oaths, or else.
* Only a bad case of the runs had prevented the then Stephen of Blois from boarding the doomed longship at Barfleur.
Thursday, June 01, 2023
"Preposterous tosh from start to finish" was Mark Kermode's take. He's not wrong, though we did kind of enjoy it.
I was thinking about the recent unfortunate cancellation of 1899, supposedly because a statistically-significant portion of the audience somehow lost the will to continue after an episode or two.
Right now we are watching Apple's Silo and the phrase Dark for dummies springs to mind.
And so perhaps we might describe Hypnotic as Inception-lite.
Perhaps ironically when I watch a Christopher Nolan movie or a Baran bo Odar series, my inner mental state could well be represented thus...
Minor spoiler alert: I did enjoy the way Robert Rodriguez taunted viewers for much of the movie with the sheer corny fakeness of everything (Mexico in particular, which should have hoisted a few fed flags), only to have an answer ready as the third act kicked off...though this was a new form of silliness.
Tuesday, May 30, 2023
Influencer has one or two minor plot holes* and based on what occurs prior to the opening credits, the ending is 100% predictable, yet none of that spoiled our enjoyment of this this well-shot and well-plotted Canadian thriller, set almost entirely in Thailand.
As the title suggests, there is an element of satirical examination of the engagement-craving Instagrammer, but this is not handled in the heavy-handed or snarky fashion that one might tend to anticipate.
Director Curis David Harder seems to be saying that these are in the end, just one variety of needy traveller with perhaps a peculiar set of vulnerabilities which 'CW' — played with deliciously apposite levels of attractive creepiness by Cassandra Naud — has elected to exploit.
That everything she possesses and in a sense, everything she projects as her self, has apparently been accumulated from her past interactions with influencers is one of the most intriguing aspects of this antagonist.
The absence of explicit exposition was a very effective choice here.
* Including one unused Chekhovian pistol, sort of.
Sunday, May 21, 2023
On the face of it this is pretty standard Kore-eda fare, an empathy-squeezing, mildly comic drama about an ad-hoc 'family' group, several of whom are in the midst of leading a criminal lifestyle.
Yet there are some deviations. The location and language are Korean for a start. Was Kore-eda attempting to cash in on the success of Parasite, or merely covetous of an opportunity to work with that movie's stand-out star, Song Kang-ho?
In the Guardian Peter Bradshaw flags up another issue, one of tone. These would-be loveable rogues are murderers and child traffickers. Tut tut.
"What sort of people might want to pay top dollar for a baby?" he asks. Well, a decade or so ago one only had to board any US-bound flight out of Guatemala to mix with such gruesome folk.
At the time I had very strong opinions about this trade, so it might be supposed that I'd side with Bradshaw on this, but I can tell the difference between fiction and reality and for that reason choose not to immediately censure the Japanese director for his approach here.
Yet the following question does arise — what kind of wrongdoing cannot be redeemed in this manner?
I recall how Robby Collin of the Telegraph recoiled at the way JoJo Rabbit turned Nazis into figures of ridicule. Nevertheless, last year in Colombia I met an historian who had just published a book about the Nazi education system of the 30s and she recounted to me how her American publishers had ’encouraged’ her to explicitly tackle 'the Jewish question' even though it was only rather indirectly relevant to her topic.
There is no question that we are now inhabiting a cultural environment where certain gatekeepers (not just the Twitter mob) determine what can — or indeed must — be said and in which form, so Kore-eda's determination to sidetrack certain ethical preconceptions is refreshing.
And I think he is quite explicit here in the distinction between people who do bad things for complex reasons and those who are instead just sociopathic by nature and should not be celebrated in any way.
Kore-eda is one of my favourite directors and although this is not up there with his very best work, it's not to be discarded.
Surrounded by more established Korean stars, Lee Ji-eun is revelatory as So-young.
Saturday, May 20, 2023
Thursday, May 18, 2023
Monday, May 15, 2023
One of the most toxic pieces of nonsense peddled by Meghan Markle in her Netflix whinge last year was that the Commonwealth is really little more than a rebranding of the British Empire. Kind of like United Fruit going around blithely 'uninformed' under the badge of Chiquita or Hugo Boss making subliminal Nazi uniforms in the disingenuous form of contemporary fashion.
Saturday, May 13, 2023
An 'unsurprising' end...
Friday, May 12, 2023
might have described the Duchess of Sussex as ‘awful’ the other day on
el feis, but this does not mean that I regard her as solely responsible for the simmering feud which currently divides the Royal
Family. Blame for that can be far more widely shared.
That was her thing and she was clearly dead set on doing her thing, unless carefully directed to do otherwise, and so in a sense, she is one of the least responsible for what transpired, even though first she trod all over her own family before focusing on her husband’s.
Does anyone really think her personal agenda included a lifetime of dedicated service to Britain? Even Harry must have understood early on that she was highly unlikely to put the interests of the institution above her own and that he might have to be wary about trusting her with some of its secrets. What he described as her ‘successful career’ was at that stage just a well-defined tendency.
The individuals that social climbers rub up the wrong way tend not to be those at the pinnacle, but dug in a bit further down at a level the arriviste must traverse.
Harry has been unable or unwilling to understand the full dynamic here. In the version of events that makes the most sense to him, the UK media moved on effortlessly from hounding his mother to death to shamelessly bigoted attacks on his wife.
But My Truth is not necessarily the Truth, at least not all of it, and the Sussexes' counter-attacks on the media represent not just a threat to the Monarchy, but also some of the press freedoms that we all need to be careful with, even when abhorring some of the opinions we encounter. And we have an ancient right to practice irreverence that we can never allow to be swept aside by bullies and dogmatists.
Yet journalists have undoubtedly been mixed up with the impellent forces here. This was always going to become a sort of death spiral: Harry and Meghan would start to act more like self-aggrandizing celebrities rather than Royals and sections of the media would duly push back to the limits of the legal. Someone had to break out of the chain; a behavioural or attitudinal shift was required. Appearing to censure or punish the Sussexes seems only to wind up the mechanism.
Wednesday, May 10, 2023
Abasing Ourselves Again
"In 1965 the people of Britain may have been poorer, smaller, shabbier, dirtier, colder, more set in their ways, ignorant of olive oil, polenta & - even - lager. But they knew what united them, they shared a complicated web of beliefs, attitudes, prejudices, loyalties & dislikes." > Peter Hitchens, The Abolition of Britain
Friday, May 05, 2023
Is there any space left on this bandwagon?
How unlike the Guardian to fail to contextualise the remarks of Belizean PM Johnny Briceño who, before opening his mouth to patronise Rishi Sunak over his Indian heritage, might have paused momentarily to engage brain...
Wednesday, May 03, 2023
Three days to go...
I'm not a doctrinaire monarchist. It's not a system of government that I could honestly recommend to any new nation.
In the case of my own nation however, I do appreciate how it forms a sort of glue holding the entire rickety contraption together.
And I'm with Aussie singer-songwriter Nick Cave when he says he's on board for the strangeness, driven by an 'inexplicable emotional attachment' to the royals and the show, ceremonial, shit etc., which goes on around them.
Having a family as the head of state has certain functional advantages for the UK over an appointed or elected one. Come Saturday, when the most personal and irrational aspects of the constitution are on display, we may be tempted to forget how it is the impersonal nature of the system, the way that it transcends transient public officials and their partisan gripes, which characterises this form of 'rule'.
Speaking of gripes, those made here by a GB News gribbly repeat some familiar Republican misdirections. The monarchy is not fundamentally a failing scheme for bringing in the tourists funded by taxpayers.
The Crown is an wealthy institution managed by the state, which collects the income and pays a salary to working members of the royal family. Most of the value of that work occurs not in the tourism sector, but around the services and the voluntary sector and involves genuine effort. Princess Anne participated in 214 separate events last year.
Coronation-pooper here is typical of a certain sort of Tory voter who disagrees with state hand-outs in principle, be they to the hard-up or the occupants of palaces, for their worldview is essentially selfish and invisible-handy, and the voluntary sector is not something that keeps them up at night.
The irony here is that the notion that membership of the Royal Family entails a premium luxury, instagrammable lifestyle paid for by the dumb British proles was exactly what led to the Meghan problem. Yet the moment it dawned on the Duchess of Sussex that things were in reality a tad more complex (and potentially onerous - the dumb proles actually expected something in return), she hot-footed it back to California.
Tuesday, May 02, 2023
“The very purpose of a knight is to fight on behalf of a lady.”
Artifice Girl (2023)
The 'action' here has been divided into three distinct chapters, sadly an over-used ploy by independent film-makers, which often ends up making all too clear the sense of diminishing returns from a single conceit, leaving the viewer with a firm idea which of the acts they might watch again and which they'll readily forget about almost immediately.
The concept here, the use of an AI which appears on screen as a lifelike 3D-modelled teenage girl in order to trap kiddyfiddlers in chat rooms is at its most fascinating in the Now+ context. This, we surmise, might just be about the happen.
The speculation is carried forward first twenty years and then fifty. The AI, Cherry, has 'matured' into a super-intelligence with feelings so well simulated that even 'she' cannot tell how they might differ from ours.
And yet she has also remained a particularly entitled-seeming, whiny, white American teen.
The movie is spatially and visually sparse, which means that the content is above-averagely talky. Indeed the second act feels like a compact convention of Basil Expositions on the edge of a nervous breakdown.
Again, this stagey-ness worked best in the first chapter, where I was reminded of a certain kind of highbrow television play that we used to see more of in Britain of my childhood.
Although there are some hefty ethical issues on the table, it's the ones under the table that started to bother me as the movie progressed.
And the story did not seem to allow for how the world outside these rooms might have changed across the decades. For example, twenty years after the first deployment of the entrapment by CGI avatar ploy, would it still be just as effective?
Yesterday's news suggests that we may soon be collectively convinced that almost everything online is some sort of AI fabrication or 'hallucination'.
The trouble with these fictional narratives about future consciousness is that a contemporary human writer can of necessity never fully get inside a mind which has transcended human intelligence. All the smartest dialogue in Artifice Girl came from the wetware.
I wanted Cherry to tell us more about being a mind with no body. After all our physical forms are really a key part of our perceptional apparatus.
I've been wondering myself if the tipping point for this technology will come when it steps outside the position where biological life has evolved to exist and survive within a reality which has been partially 'imagined' by nervous systems.
There's a clear difference between reality as it exists objectively (and yet can never really be comprehended by our current empirical approaches) and reality as we perceive it. What if AI could self-evolve from its protected environment and take up residence at a wholly novel and distinct point between these two?
Thursday, April 27, 2023
Text in a Notebook
I’ve been carrying some existential niggles since my recent trip. In such circumstances, rather than diving into highbrow non-fiction tomes, I will tend to seek relevant associations and validation in fiction, specifically the minimal kind.
With Cortázar, one does not have to limit oneself to finding those jolting, epiphanous intuitions between the lines, because his stories are suffused — as Anatole Broyard noted in back in 1983 — with “imminent metaphor” (did he mean immanent?) and a “musical expectation”, though adding that for him they work better on the level of hypothesis than literary synthesis. I’d maybe agree that Cortázar isn’t one of those writers who necessarily ought to be read in the original (like Garcia Marquez), though it helps to know a bit about his locations.
This collection lacks the two small tales I often return to: Axolotl, possibly my favourite short story not written by a Russian person, and Casa Tomada. But it does have one which has hijacked my attention this week, Texto En Una Libreta (Text in a Notebook), set in Buenos Aires at the time my father was living there at the end of the 40s. It too begins with a jolting premonition which, by the last lines, has become all-consuming…
It has come to the narrator’s attention that more people are entering the A Line on the subte than leaving it. Initial explanations include bureaucratic incompetence and ‘atomic attrition’, an esoteric scientific hypothesis involving the nullification of individuality in large crowds.
Through a process combining speculation with investigation, he realises that a disturbingly expanding pool of citizens, pale and sad, have chosen to live a limited life in constant motion, literally below the surface of the mainstream. Downward Mobility.
simple synopsis, with its uncertainty as to whether we are dealing with
individuals who have lost touch with reality or whether reality itself
has chosen to ghost them — and given that 75 or so years on we now
inhabit a society possessing AI which capable of experiencing “hallucinations”, I’d
say Julio deserves his place as one of my bathroom books.
Tuesday, April 25, 2023
Colourblind casting, even in a supposedly fact-led docuseries, is often to be commended...at least when adequately buffered from nationalistic and racialistic point scoring.