Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Mystify: Michael Hutchence (2019)

A flawed but very saddening documentary. 

As with Roadrunner, it was perhaps a bit too cagey about its rather obvious omissions. Such as the identity of the last person to see him alive, Kym Wilson, the Aussie actress he would appear to have been dating at the time of his suicide in Sydney. 




It struck us that ex-girlfriend Kyle Minogue was the only interviewee willing to open up completely, permitting the inclusion of his home videos of herself, semi-naked on the Orient Express, and unflinchingly citing his drug taking. 

At the end we learn here that the coroner discovered evidence of brain damage relating to an incident in Copenhagen a few years earlier, but not that he detected alcohol, cocaine, Prozac and other prescription drugs in the dead man's organism. 

In its elliptical path the film rubs up against the Hutchence family milieux on several occasions and I ended up wanting more of this. He was my senior by something like seven years, yet his parents very clearly lived within an environment similar to my own, one that is starting to be serially misrepresented within contemporary culture, because the current crop of creatives lack any direct personal connection to it.

Michael himself addressed the world in mild Australian English with a thespy lilt. It is easy to see why he might have ended up with a niggly complex about artistic authenticity. 

There's a reminder of how he was humiliated at an awards show at the inception of the Britpop era. Liam Gallagher of Oasis accepted a gong from him with the quip that "'asbeens" should not be presenting such things to "gonna-bes". This from the Mancunian twat who today moans to the tabloids that there aren't enough old-style rockstars around. 

Earlier in the film we get a short making-of sequence in Prague...


This song at least was properly heartfelt and very authentic. 

The video reminded me of my one and only trip to the Czech(oslavac) capital in 1992. I was there in a professional capacity, tasked with completing the recruitment to our network of a small team already established in an office within a largely deserted and derelict old hospital in the city. 

I don't think I was aware at the time of this journey — or indeed during another taken a little later to Warsaw — just how striking and transitory a phase in European history this would turn out to be. 

Our hosts would lead me and my colleague out of their post-apocalyptic working environment and up to the Castle, which was that evening denuded of any other kind of casual visitor, something I believe unlikely to ever occur again in my lifetime. 


The Bunny Boiler Defence

Johnny Depp here makes for a rather poor paradigm of the counter-cancellation culture paladin. 



People around here tend to forget that in his ill-fated London case last year Depp was not the accused, but rather the accuser, making use of the UK's strict libel laws (much beloved of Russian oligarchs and Middle-Eastern potentates) in a seriously misjudged bid to cancel press freedom. 

He there deployed many of the tactics that manifest on the page where I found that image: positive characters witnesses for himself, something more akin to black ops when it came to the personality of his ex. 

But, let's face it, the bunny boiler defence is not inherently imprudent. 

I myself have had to defend myself from malicious, vindictive and demonstrably false denuncias made against me by a Guatemalan woman. Given that these were also mostly delusional, I could intuit the basic appeal. Yet to be credible, this form of defence has to be grounded in solid evidence rather than imprecise, misogynistic innuendo.  

Nevertheless, the situation that Depp provoked in the legal system of my country provided a more suitable home for a tactical exchange of barbs. 

In libel proceedings the parties can act more like politicians approaching the same controversies from completely different world-views. We witness such discourse all around us to today on issues like vaccination mandates. 

In a criminal trial things are markedly different. This is because there is an underlying imbalance in the burden of truth for the testimonies, for while politicians tend to be dishonest for mostly the same, depressing reasons, in a criminal case the motivation for lying is more pronounced with the defendant, who will often do or say anything — typically via a salaried surrogate — in order to generate reasonable doubt and thus remain un-convicted. 

Blatantly dishonest cases for the prosecution are rarer, usually because the accuser has to pass through several filters before the trial commences, by which time, in most countries where justice is taken seriously, it is the state that is doing the actual prosecuting, not the victim.  

After my wife was abused in 2018-19 by Jason Wade Lever she had to submit to interview by INACIF and a psychological examination. The report supported her, which is surely why it has repeatedly disappeared in part or whole from the case file prior to the audiencias

Unlike Diego Stella, Lever has never had the decency to offer up any sort of testimony that could explain his behaviour, either the gender abuse against my wife or the threats of conspiracy and death against me. "I don't accept the charges" he parrots, as if his defiance alone invalidates them and the evidence behind them, which he clearly never wants to have to respond to in a court. 

And rather like Stella, he appears to have very few misgivings about deploying the women around him and other family members as foot soldiers/cannon-fodder. The Argentinian's sister is fast acquiring her own set of denuncias.*

Stella's whiney testimony meanwhile is in the grips of the 'she said, he said' fallacy — the notion that guilt cannot be established on the basis of two largely incompatible verbal accounts of events. 

The judge will have two possible interpretations available to him. That both parties experienced the same events in such a differentially-subjective fashion that neither could be said to have fabricated their version per se. This is perhaps a less likely scenario than the alternative: that one or both are consciously lying. 

In order to determine if this indeed the case, I would be looking beyond the logical consistency of the narratives on each side. Sometimes the context, and even more crucially, the interplay, is also important and can act as the tie-breaker. She said and he said are locked together in an embrace. 

In Stella's case I had no real reason beyond those inherent to the process to favour his accuser Verónica Molina Lee over him, yet there was something about his account of events that morning that rung alarm bells. 

I concluded that a man who had believed from the start that the accusation was utterly false, that Molina Lee was lying simply in order to damage him — a wolf in sheep's clothing, as Projusticia GT have it ** — would have come up with a story that was different to hers in more significant ways. 

Yet, as I have mentioned before, Stella's counsel has been abject. Dividing his own social media counter-communications between one page which screams integrity (a little too loudly) and another which is essentially a more anonymised campaña negra against the victim, is both deceitful and absurd. 

The basic rules of effective crisis communications would seem to apply here, like keep it simple, speak through a single voice, deliver clear and unambiguous messaging, stick to the 5 Ws (and the truth), and so on. 

Very few professionals would recommend demeaning the informer(s) or the media, or even just politicising the arguments in front of the court of public opinion.

Depp and his ex were on equal footing to a large extent, but Stella is not sitting across his lover in a debating chamber, he is in the dock. 

Things he now says will be taken as evidence against him, and he runs the risk that his media outpourings stoke reprisals that further hurt him. Or indeed just randomly relevant comments such as...

With friends like this...


Insinuating that his victim is obsessive and manipulative on a Facebook page which is clearly both of these things, as well as conspicuously vulgar, is not the way to convince the public, let alone a competent judge. 

The judge will be making his decision within the confusing panopticon of modern gender politics. Attempting to have non-consensual sex with one's lover while she slumbers is not quite as heinous a crime as abducting, constraining and violating random women in the street. No means no does not mean that all rapes are on a par, at least as far as sentencing goes. 

Yet another important consideration will necessarily come into play. Does the defendant represent a wider public risk? 

On this, as well as the reported fétiches and other unhelpful comments on his FB page, Stella is on a bit of a sticky wicket, because the alleged offence occurred in a context where he has blithely renounced monogamy. The prosecution will surely reason that other women could be considered in danger. 


* A fairly shallow dive into el feis reveals that the woman in Argentina claiming to have ten years of marriage to Stella behind her, appears to have a long lasting connection to certain high profile figures in La Antigua plus the bufete of Claudia Paniagua, and was apparently still quite young in pictures with them only six years ago, which makes her story seem fragile at best, and her social media presence overall contrasts somewhat with the serious 'profe' image adopted for the video. Nice gafas though

** And it's PAY attention, you muppets. 

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Diego the Unready (2)

Poor Diego is seemingly the only person to consider this turn of events truly newsworthy — the upholding of the charges as originally presented. 




In the US, and it has to be said that my claim to scholarship of their system is based entirely on movies and TV, District Attorneys seem to profer the lesser charge as a kind of enticement — for they understand that sometimes 'full' guilt is hard to demonstrate beyond all reasonable doubt. 

Yet in such circumstances the downgrade is tendered as a quid pro quo: the defendant has to fess up to the lesser offence. 

Diego Ariel Stella seems to want to do the same deal and yet still have the opportunity to walk away an innocent man, even though it should be obvious to even his most insensate friends and advisors that his best chance of an 'unproven' outcome — in the Scottish sense — is an all-out defence in court against the most prejudicious allegation. 



Meanwhile, whilst I might have mouthed off about my wife's three years of legal travails in her case involving flasher Jason Lever, I don't think I have ever walked out of one of the audiencias only to immediately criticise — and morally censure — by name, the presiding judge. This I believe crosses a line that in the UK we call contempt of court. Whatever else one may imagine one can do within a legal process, direct criticism of the judge is always a no-no. *

And, as I mentioned in the previous post, this reader has had his fair-minded, 'objective' view of the case recalibrated by Diego's own testimony relating to the specific events in the bedroom, which comes across as self-incriminating. 




It strikes me that Stella's ghost writer has erroneously concluded that the best approach here is to anticipate Verónica Molina's account of that morning and then lay alongside it a version that accurately resembles that which a seriously confused male might report.

It's a tactic that is consistent with the Argentinian's intention of appearing gentlemanly, but manifests as spurious. 

He seems to have become handcuffed by the story he originally gave to INACIF, along with the tension he faces between two basically incompatible urges: to play the gent whilst gent-ly marking his accuser as a bunny-boiler. 

All these problems derive from the bad advice he was given at the start. I have witnessed his (former) lawyer in action, and her arguments almost never result in incremental gains. Once their credibility is questioned they collapse, leaving her client worse off than before. Her approach is obstruction, which always has a do or die quality to it. 

Anyway, those of us with profounder interest in the topic have Ridley Scott's The Last Duel to look forward to. One reviewer I follow complained about having to witness the rape from two, almost identical points of view, thereby perhaps missing the point the movie is trying to make about the way these narratives are constructed. 

* However, on Friday the pre-eminent judge Rocael Girón rejected an appeal by Stella's defence team and the MP, 'para privilegiar el principio de publicidad y la libertad de expresión y de emisión de pensamiento.'



Friday, October 15, 2021

Zone 414 (2021)

How one responds to this film will depend to a large extent on how one feels about it being a bargain basement Irish knock-off of Blade Runner. 

In the end I was a little more amused than bothered. There is a single New York yellow cab that crops up on numerous occasions that I started to appreciate as a kind of recurring gag. 



The conflicted 'synthetic' personage here, the Sean Young role if you like, is played by Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, and played well enough, perhaps riffing off my father's old friend Gabrielle Drake as Gay Ellis in UFO



The movie does make one apparently original contribution to the genre — androids that can change their hair colour with a shake of the head. Blink and you will miss it..even if you are trying to shuffle the tint of your irises.


In the detail...

A detail from Little Denise, 1889. One of Theo Van Rysselberghe's first stabs at the puntillismo technique, which he adopted after seeing the works of Seurat, adding his own blend of emotional expressiveness with the strikingly delicate rendering of the face of his six-year old niece Denise Maréchal (1883-1956) — later Madame George Béart. 




For how long did little Denise have to hold that pose? 

I recently came across a passage in Katie Kitamura's Intimacies in which the narrator describes some reflections on "temporal blurring" at the Mauritshuis. 

For if photographers are mostly looking to capture stuff between the lines, the painter usually has the subject before them for longer (though some work from photos these days), allowing the brush to yield the lines themselves. This is why I find it rather drôle when snappers self-consciously pose as poets of the visual, for the layering they attain is nearly always an artifact of the technology — as the lens itself typically 'sees' only the thinnest of instants. 

Kitamura suggests that one can "feel the weight of time passing" in a portrait posed for during the pre-photographic era. "I thought that was why, as I stood before a painting of a young girl in half-light, there was something that was both guarded and vulnerable in her gaze. It was not the contradiction of a single instant, but rather it was as if the painter had caught her in two separate states of emotion, two different moods, and managed to contain them within the single image.”


Seurat himself was always a bit more hardcore in the broken brush mode. This is a close up of one of the company from Parade de Cirque (Circus Sideshow), his first nocturnal scene, painted a year or so before Van Rysselberghe's niece (see previous post), during 1887-8. Back in 1986 I came across a French artist based on the Côte d'Azur who was still banging out a pastel-paletted, pointilliste pasticcio for the comfortably and obscenely wealthy — Serge Mendjisky




At the time I was holed up for the summer in a rather fabulous gated community west of Cannes called Port La Galère, laid down by architect Jacques Savin Couelle, a guest of a family friend who was acting somewhat informally as both patron and a sort of agent to said Serge. 

She possessed a Renoir above the fireplace in her London home, not in fact the real deal, but a bona fide hand-painted facsimile, which hung there in lieu of the original, which she owned, but habitually sat inside a sort of airtight safe off-site. 

Her father had been quite the collector, and not just of the more moveable kind of assets. You could say he played Monopoly for real, having once owned Piccadilly Circus. 

She had several little 'projects' around the Riviera, many of which were perhaps more deserving than Serge, but she had a genuine fondness for his doggedly nostalgic style, even if she had once observed mischievously to me that he painted for people who couldn't afford a real impressionist, which at that precise moment in time tended to mean people who were not Japanese. Google him and you might see what she meant. (Two examples here, above and below.)




I had in mind that Serge passed away many years ago, but when I looked him up myself today I discovered that he left us in May 2017.


Thursday, October 14, 2021

Diego the Unready

As any student of early England can attest, Æthelred the Unready, obtained his famous nickname not by virtue of being consistently under-prepared, but because contemporary commentators deemed him unræd, badly advised. 

It strikes me that alleged rapist Diego Stella has similarly been the recipient of markedly poor counsel ever since the accusation against him was made. 



He began by choosing a defence lawyer notorious in this country, as has now been widely publicised, for below board subterfuge and delaying tactics, as well as for representing an assortment of shady characters, and alleged sex offenders, a pick he now characterises rather unconvincingly as a naive, beginner's mistake. 

He also asserts that she was not a magistrada at the Constitutional Court at the time of her appointment to his team, which is not strictly true, given that it would seem, according to the public record, that she had already been elected to the position, if not fully confirmed, and was very much part of the circles he was mixing in.

These claims form part of Mi Testimonio, a serialisation of Stella's version of events being pumped out on social media as he awaits trial on remand. 

I used to work with some of the world's leading experts on media communications, almost all of whom would have told Stella to put a sock in it some time ago, for this stream of self-pitying twaddle can only be doing him more harm than good. 

Part of the storm he has faced over the past few weeks can be said to derive from his pre-existing, localised celebrity in La Antigua and it should not seem obvious that adding fuel to that comparatively small flame is the correct thing to do under these circumstances — however much it might irk him and his supporters that his alleged victim Verónica Molina has seemingly been "#astuta" in mounting her own media campaign

The latest post, published yesterday on the eve of the audiencia, is surely the most ill-advised of the lot, not least because it patronises and to some extent demeans his alleged victim, and surely also further humiliates his own wife and their children in ways that will last long beyond his trial. 

In previous posts Stella has suggested that the protest outside the Juzgado during earlier sessions was directed against him personally. In fact the demonstrators appeared to have had something more abstract in mind: the principle that no means no even within an existing relationship, and that it is fundamentally wrong for someone sitting on Guatemala's highest court to be arguing to the contrary. 



In UK law, the alleged victim of rape is provided with explicit protections that the victims of other crimes often lack. Verónica Mólina might have chosen to waive her anonymity here, but demonstrably did so in order to make public a series of violations of her rights as the alleged victim of rape, and not in order to satiate a public need for lurid details or indeed to spur her abuser on to a tit-for-tat digital duel, replete with opportunities to pose as the victim himself. 

Indeed, she was rather obviously doing what she needed to do to respond to the fact that the charges against her alleged rapist had been modified (downgraded) before she had a chance to present her own testimony and evidence in court, a manipulation that Diego Stella still appears committed to. 

At no point have her own legal representatives made apparently absurd pronouncements to the media along the lines of 'it cannot have been rape because the victim didn't arrive at hospital in a wheelchair'. 

She has been trying, for reasons we appreciate, to establish an environment that is more favourable to all victims of gender violence in Guatemala. 

Meanwhile, via his online testimony, Diego Stella has been offering her a ton of backhanded, inanely-hashtagged compliments — as if to keep up the cabashero posture — yet at the same time providing no concrete motivation which might explain her sudden desire to ruin his life, and possibly her own along the way, by putting herself through the mill in this fashion. 

The testimony as it stands also offers no recognition that he has paid the inevitable price for the manner with which he responded to the denuncia from the outset, nor demonstrates any awareness that some of the statements he is making in public in this manner might actually dispose a judge to give Verónica Molina the benefit of the doubt. 

If he is indeed an innocent man facing untrue allegations, he should not need telling that all he has to do now surely is address the need to present a credible defence in court. 

Nobody outside the juzgado really needs to know about his humble origins in Argentina and all his hard work to establish himself here. It is simply not relevant. A judge will have to determine if there can be reasonable doubt whether he forced himself upon an on/off girlfriend. 

The wife of V's abuser Jason Wade Lever has three times made unabashedly false and vindictive denuncias against me, twice utilising magistrada Claudia Paniagua to do so, and on each occasion I have presented myself at the first time of asking and have provided evidence that the accusations were grounded in lies and blatant fabrications. That is the task which confronts Stella right now. 

I did not resort to shameful legal manipulations nor deny my accuser the opportunity to make her case, however duplicitous it ultimately turned out to be, and he must also face up to this requirement, as any sujeto procesal here should do. 

The magistrada has consistently deployed all of her signature manoeuvres against my wife, effectively making the process of getting any form of justice drag on for over three years. Her client Jason Lever has made sure he has never had to listen to the evidence against him in front of a judge. This is the coward's way, and not one that Stella should be imitating if the allegations against him are unfounded. 

In the western canon there are many tales of individuals who sign away their immortal souls. I cannot recall one in which the Arch-Enemy recuses himself and then he and his client agree to part ways amicably, because the whole thing was a bit of a tactical booboo. 

If Stella's chances of a fair outcome have been upset in any way, this will not have been the doing of his alleged victim, but a consequence of his own very poor decision-making in the immediate aftermath of alleged events, and all the bad counsel that this entailed. (And if you hire a big shot's lawyer do not be so surprised when people start to take big shots at you.)

Some of the damage, inevitably, may prove hard to reverse. Yet I am struggling to believe that he signed up to the skulduggery programme for reasons of callowness alone. 

* On one occasion, remarkably, I was not even in the country at the time of the alleged offence. 

** In our experience one of the games that are played here is to reverse the allegation at the earliest opportunity, something that in principle is much harder to do in the case of rape, but in this instance some telling insinuations have still been made against the victim. 

The Squid Game

 


A television landmark for sure. Though it perhaps suffered from a minor frailty that I tend to associate with reality TV competitions in general, such as Big Brother, along with tentpole tournaments like the FIFA World Cup — they are perhaps never more compelling than in their earlier phases when a more or less complete complement of competitors remains. 

For me this show peaked around episode six (marbles), the equivalent perhaps of the last round of the group phase, where the stakes were suddenly strikingly elevated, along with our awareness of possibly losing players we had come to care about. 

It has to be said that by then we had already pre-twigged the two twists that would be served up in the penultimate and concluding episodes, but that didn't significantly erode our engagement. 

It has to be said that the non-Korean 'VIPs' were handled in a comparatively unskillful way. 

There are perhaps just enough unanswered questions to make a second season viable. 



Game one — red light, green light — was perhaps the most iconic and the scene had an added edge for me as Fly Me To The Moon was surely my mother's favourite Sinatra song, and I had the instrumental version by Oscar Peterson played at her funeral. The one used here is an oomphed up production of this...








Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Junk Emporium

The buses in La Antigua are now doing what the restaurants have seemingly always done — cheekily charging passengers a premium for all the empty seats around them.

Covid-19 might have reset demand levels back a decade or so, but there has so far been no corresponding reset in supply. If anything, the pandemic has accelerated a pre-existing underlying trend, which has seen the city steadily transformed into an open-air emporium of overpriced junk — junk food, junk clothes, junk...

There has been a concomittant surge of visual clutter as well, an aesthetic degradation by stealth which one doesn't imagine is actually costing an arm and a leg in the traditional sense.

Those banners on the lamp-posts are no more, but the other day I found myself in the Parque Central wondering when that imitation airport terminal corridor will finally be cleared away from the front of the Capitanes General. 

Saturday, October 09, 2021

Chitaburuy

This month we received the first income from the sale of avocados grown on our finca near Parramos. 

Not a fortune, it has to be said, but enough to seed the idea of writing 'farmer' in that box on the SAT form each time I enter and exit the country. (Or, if should I be feeling really hoité-toité — terrateniente!)



In days of old the finca produced top quality coffee, but it has became hard to protect the place from illicit picking and so a few years ago a decision was taken to clear away all the gravilea, which left us with the aguacatales and their harder-to-harvest pears. 

Of the lands my wife inherited, this one is my favourite, for its hillside location and for the river that streams through its elbow, parched like this for half of the year. 


Wormhole

All of a sudden this week, the UK thinned down its covid hotspot redlist to just seven countries, including Panama and Colombia (to which my nephew has just flown from Canada with no trouble at all), but no longer including either Mexico or Guatemala. 

And in a reverse tit-for-tat gesture the government of Guatemala immediately removed us from its own index of forbidden migrants, thus ending a prolonged period of either impossible or quarantine-clogged journeys between our nations. 



In truth the UK was being punished for the sins of England, and these had largely been righted some time ago. 

This is welcome news I suppose for La Antigua, as European visitors have been scarce throughout the era of the pandemia, and London's major airports have always represented the simplest and most cost-effective method of crossing the pond.

Friday, October 08, 2021

Queenpins (2021)

 


A movie that might have been merely mediocre, yet finds ways to be execrable — a celebration of amoral dumbness, that suggests that not only the 1% of plucky American overdogs, but also the plucky underdogs up there are 'scum', as a certain Labour politician might say. 

Along the way we learn that Kristen Bell is no big screen star (the wig does not help), though Kirby Howell Baptiste, one of two sidekicks from The Good Place appearing here, has some serious potential. And yet she has been saddled with a maternal figure that is one of the most blatant racial stereotypes I've lately seen on celluloid: a flesh and blood version of Mammy Two Shoes from Tom & Jerry. 

As for Vince Vaughan, his palpable discomfort in every scene he has to do becomes one of the film's funnier gags. 

How many of the audience were unaware that the pair's illicit earnings weren't already laundered and didn't have to be invested in assault weapons which could then be sold on to a moronic militia? How hilarious. 

The action is capped off with one of the captured coupon queenpins informing her visiting husband that he's an 'asshole', when there is only one of those in that scene and it surely isn't him. A truly awkward girl power moment FAIL. 

This after the pair of idiotic criminals have mused how they are not really guilty of fraud. Yes they were. If I sell something which doesn't belong to me, like the finca next door to mine, that's fraud. And in this instance of coupones hueviados, with added smuggling. 


Thursday, October 07, 2021

The Night House (2020)

Sustained ambiguity underpins the lasting appeal of the very best chillers, from The Turn Of The Screw to The Shining; Stanley Kubrick's take at least.


So often in this genre the final third involves a kind of disambiguation that spoils the whole experience, but I am happy to report that that kind of thing is largely avoided here. 

Questions that might have arisen earlier — is that a dream, is she a ghost? — are lingering pleasingly at the end. Did I want to know more about Owen's impulse to construct a back-to-front version of his mainstream domestic arrangement. Kind of. 

But in the end the movie basically works, and its creators are well enough aware of this to avoid all the usual jump scares. In fact there are one or two examples of negative jump scares here — moments that turn turbo-terrifying due to the absence of the expected jolt. 

And above all it works because the lead is being played by Rebecca Hall. 



Wednesday, October 06, 2021

The Guilty (2021)

Will there be a more perfect example of the pandemic production before we are through with all this?




Hire one A-list face and plonk him in a single location in front of a load of insistently bleeping phone-lines. "911...?".

It's a bit like Call Centre: The Movie with just a tad more jeopardy and a pre-fabbed back-story that ends up substantially more interesting than the front-story. 

Turns out that a lot of the people on the line were famous too, but I needed IMDB to help me with that. Ethan Hawke might have well been 'phoning in' his performance quite literally from his downstairs lavatory. 


Amberlievable!

That La Antigua has slipped back into AMBER status while most of its outlying communities remain firmly in the RED might suggest that the epidemiology of Sars-Cov-2 is as yet truly opaque to us.

Yet one doesn't have to be a genius to figure out what is really going on here. 

I have a mate that works at a well-known craft beer emporium, both at the main venue and at the sucursal in town on 6a Calle. Should he suddenly develop a fever accompanied by sneezing fits, he'd surely set off for the Centro at the northern end of town for rapid antigen test, providing his contact details in case of a positive result. 

Since nobody would be able to say for sure where (or from whom) he picked up the dreadeds, his case would most likely be chalked up against his home address...in Jocotenango. See?

I'm sure they've seen at the Ayuntamiento and have had a bit of a chuckle about this. La Antigua has the densest, busiest concentrations of transmission hotspots, with people popping in and out from all over the place, yet the statistical blame is disproportionately landing elsewhere…on the periphery. 


Saturday, October 02, 2021

The Card Counter (2021)

I once read somewhere that the correct reading of Lolita was as a satire on a certain kind of Americana,  a very specific sort of road trip. 




I recalled this little insight whilst watching the legendary Paul Schrader's new movie, which is immensely successful as the vessel of an uneasy encounter with a very monotonous, some might say soulless American aesthetic, and yet, for me at least, unsuccessful on almost every other level. 

Yes, it stars the second most famous Guatemalan in the world, but Oscar Isaac manifests here more via his own charismatic movie star persona than as the character of a messed up former-PFC previously involved in degrading torture in Iraq. 

There are two other lead characters, and they are also sketchy, essentially arc-less and contained within a narrative that flatlines in deference to the mise-en-scène.




Friday, October 01, 2021

Free Guy (2021)

A very good and relentlessly entertaining movie that barely pauses to allow one to perceive the flickering form of its shadow: the better, or at least profounder version of itself that Disney perhaps chose not to make. 



On some levels it is an unusually original proposition and yet at the same time so obviously grounded in more self-regarding stuff that already exists in the ecosystem —  The Matrix, The Truman Show, even Blade Runner — plus the superstar charisma of Ryan Reynolds which is perhaps where it gets its permission to be so glib. 

The film demonstrates an understanding of gaming as spectacle whilst handling those slightly thornier underlying issues in much the same way that Black Widow handled grooming and people smuggling. 

Will it reward repeat viewings in two decades time like many of those aforementioned canonical titles? 

Of one thing I can be certain. If there is someone out there who truly deserves to become an A-list movie star right now it is Jodie Comer. 



I recently performed the mental exercise of running through all the British film and television actresses I know of in her age group to see if it might be possible to make another adaptation of The Sun Also Rises, the casting of Lady Brett Ashley being the principal hurdle such a production would have to overcome prior to shooting. Comer was the closest I could get to a possible fit. 


Thursday, September 30, 2021

Dog Botherer

It is our (small) misfortune to have two townships to the south of us named after this supernatural nuisance — St Michael the Archangel, a personage apparently responsible for a good deal of dog-bothering rumpus today, seen here rudely interrupting a young lady during her me time. 

She's like, whoooa dude, I'm reading...


(Above: The Annunciation by Hans Memling c1465-70. One of the largest surviving depictions of this unsolicited interruption, it was painted by a journeyman artist working at the time in Rogier's Brussels workshop who later established himself properly in Bruges.)


MUNAG

Say St Michael to me, and I start to think of not ordinary food...


Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Old (2021)

You wait many years for a film with a lead character called Guy and then two come along in the same month! 



That the one here is being played by Gael García Bernal is one of the many things that feel a bit askew about this latest dose of hokum from M. Night Shyamalan. 

The premise is somehow promising yet it isn't his; he picked it up from a graphical novel called Sandcastle by Pierre Oscar Lévy and Frederik Peeters — a secluded beach where visitors age years by the hour. 

From that starting point everything is kind of mangled. The casting, the dialogue, the acting, the direction. There surely needs to be some gathering tension and existential dread in the first hour or so, and to some extent there is, but it is served up disjointedly. 

Even the way the ageing is handled is unconvincing. For sure it is easier to fast-grow children by swapping actors, but the director doesn't really seem interested in the human ageing process — physical and psychological — and key developments are almost never gradual, but oddly abrupt and uneven.

Perhaps all this sloppiness derives from the moment we are in, for Old has that look and feel of a movie concept that was green-lighted largely because of the pandemic conditions the industry was grappling with. *

In his BBC Five Live show Mark Kermode name checked The Beach and The Twilight Zone as two antecedents that came readily to his mind. To mine too, but only as examples of things I'd rather have been watching. 

Still, I was never more annoyed with this movie that when in the midst of all of its idiosyncratic twitches. Now that time has indeed passed, my impressions are perhaps a little smoother and a tad more favourable. 

* On TV this year the ensemble cast in isolated spot trope has been explored successfully by The White Lotus. Meanwhile, Nine Perfect Strangers flattered to deceive.




Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Uncontrolled Descent

One of the first ready-made philosophical debating tools that I had, to some extent, rammed down my throat at Cambridge was the notion of the slippery slope. The speaker was none other than Baroness Mary Warnock, Mistress of my college, she of Warnock Report(s) fame, landmark UK investigations into special needs in education and experiments on human embryos, and so her own take on the matter was along the lines of not all slopes are as slippery as they may at first appear. 



A good many of the arguments being deployed against covid vaccination programmes are conspicuously batty — however, a few do seem to be grounded in some sort of intuitive grasp of the slippery slope, rather like the mindset of a passenger on a bus descending Las Cañas. 

So while us rational folk might chuckle when someone who has already been vaccinated half a dozen times in their lifetime suddenly resists this new jab, and usually for apparently loopy or selfish reasons, we must not entirely blind ourselves to the ever so slightly inclined wet floor here. It's fun being right, but one is never perfectly right. 

A couple of news items during the past week spring to mind. The view out of Oxford University that the novel coronavirus is on its way to becoming just another endemic pathogen causing the common cold and the announcement by Pfizer that their trials of a tablet, both prophylactic and treatment against covid, are showing promising results. 

There's a potential miniature slippery slope right there, between vaccination and therapy. Between measures designed to protect society and those that could protect smaller associations within it.  

One's childhood vaccinations are to some extent one's own business. As an adult I have had several boosters plus the Yellow Fever shot, all elective. And when I had an employer, my health records were never a talking point. 

But this could be about to change. Employers may be set to become inured to mandating certain medications for their staff. How much are they losing to sick days, even just those related to the sniffles?

Vaccine mandates are nothing new in US history. George Washington was a pioneer, making sure every member of the Continental Army received the jab (more like a stab really) for smallpox. And he did this knowing that he was in effect decimating his soldiery, as one in ten would go on to develop the proper, gross version of the disease. He was prepared to take the risk, with the appropriate cover-up package in place. 

The collective imperative was further upheld by a Supreme Court decision in the late nineteenth century supporting the vaccination imposed by Cambridge (copycat version) and thus permitting similar measures by state and township authorities across the US, which has remained unchallenged ever since. 

American liberty was never a 'free for all'. My special subject at Cambridge (original version) was the drafting and ratification of the US Constitution. It may come as news to contemporary American 'conservatives', but the so-called Founding Fathers generally believed in order through representation, in liberty constrained by obligation. 

Their basic beef was with arbitrary government, not any sort of government that pretends to tell one what to do. They spent a lot of time haggling over that document because they desired a durable framework. Drooling libertarians were duly dispatched to the frontier, which now exists largely only in the minds of MAGA eedjits.  

The needs of the one were always measured against those of the many. Where we perhaps need to be wary now of the slippery slope is in circumstances where collective becomes a not-so-invisible cloak for corporate

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Custeristic

 


An adjective that was apparently very much part of the discourse back in '69, and could perhaps do with a dust-off today, especially after those scenes of horseback charges at the Del Río camp in Texas. 


Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Le Backstab

Covid has seemingly converted Australia into the deep space colony it perhaps always yearned to be.


It may look large enough in an atlas or on the Summer Olympics medals table, but population-wise it’s one and a half Guatemalas, or two thirds of a Tokyo...a sort of sub-tropical, leafy suburban outpost that the anglo-saxonne tendency has has thought prudent (though of course this is moot) to provide with nuclear attack submarines.

I guess if they do get into a lamp-post pissing contest with China and the world goes to shit, we’ll still always have the way the French have reacted to le backstab.

Meanwhile, New Zealand has kind of erased itself entirely from the map. They were already legimimately missable down there before, but they are now going the full hog. Or mutton.


Saturday, September 11, 2021

Nine Elevens


A day to reflect perhaps on the covert non-linearity of time. I doubt there is anyone who experienced 9-11 as an adult that has any real sense of temporal distance from that moment. Or rather collection of moments — each as vivid and significant as something that occurred only yesterday. 

My first one is lightly blurred. I recall I found the news of a plane crash at the WTC — assumed to be a small plane — on the BBC News website and was soon after taking a call from a colleague working from home and simultaneously watching live who was cut short in mid-sentence when footage of the second plane's impact was shown. I then got in a lift and descended to the bar on the ground floor in search of plasma screens. There I found the Chairman sitting — alone — watching the towers burn, leaning back into the sofa with his arms outstretched either side of him. 

Then, a frantic exchange of calls with my wife. The reaction of the woman sitting at the desk beside mine whose mother had called from a bus travelling along Broadway, having just witnessed the jumpers. 

The next recollection is one of mental confusion. The need to attend a meeting about something which would have seemed trivial at the best of times and not really being able to comprehend how anyone was able to go through with it. Only a distraught American colleague seemed to get it. 

During that meeting the towers came down. And then, a long-scheduled trip that same evening to the Globe Theatre to see some minor comedic nonsense by the Bard. It had been set up as a 'treat' for the PA department following an award. I left at the midway interval. I remember standing beside the Thames and observing with a chill as jet after jet passed in their descent over the City. 

This image can be found on page sixteen of an oddly dystopian picture book called 'Starters Places: America' that I was given in 1972, mixed up with illustrations of tornadoes, dirty oil, hulking, gas-guzzling cars, slavery, sporting violence and junk food. (On the plus side, it asserts that the Pilgrim Fathers 'made friends with the Indians'.)


Raducanu

Remembering how John McEnroe rather smugly informed his BBC co-presenters during Wimbledon this year how the USTA would be unlikely to offer Emma Raducanu a wildcard. 

You know what I was thinking — you cannot be seeeeerious! 


Writing on Coffee House before the US Open final today Damian Reilly suggests that "The very best, in tennis as in all sports, almost without exception, make it look beautiful – it’s why we can’t take our eyes off them (because beauty is an element-bending superpower)."

This is true to a point. This ability to make tennis look beautiful has often been missing in the 'very best' in recent times, most obviously in the form of the undoubtedly great Djokovic and Williams, no matter how many affirmations they seem to make on court and afterwards of supernatural support. 

Going back just a bit we find also wonderful players like Navratilova and Sampras, whose ascendancy was grounded in the ruthless application of a single devastating technique, which was then most effective on grass. 

Element-bending is not the same as power, endurance, relentlessness, mental toughness, shot variety, on court intelligence, serving aces at break point and so on, useful and amazing as these things all are. Or the gladiatorial qualities we admire in the likes of Connors and Nadal. 

When Federer was in his prime, even when not winning, there was indeed a numinous quality to his play. Those moments that could bring an 'Oh I say...' out of Dan Maskell — and I reluctantly have to admit that there were occasions when John McEnroe himself was deserving of the exclamation. Yet, as with Andy Murray, these were flourishes only, somewhat smothered by a sulky on-court demeanour.

During Raducanu's semi against Sakkari the other night, the US commentators started to talk in hushed whispers, unconsciously responding to the aesthetic element of the 18-year-old's play. It's way too early to 'anoint', as another commentator said during the previous match, but the force does appear to be strong in this one...

Fernández too. On paper this was always going to be an exceptional conclusion to the women's event and it played out in brilliant fashion, potentially eclipsing Djokovic's scheduled coronation as the statistician's GOAT tomorrow. 

This interview with Leylah's Ecuadorian father Jorge was very touching. 

At a time when global citizenship might seem to be both outmoded and hazardous, these two young women could be significant role-models. 





Thursday, September 09, 2021

Nine Perfect Strangers — first impressions

We binged on Nine Perfect Strangers until we became held up at the end of episode five, perhaps the least satisfying, most daytime-soapy so far.  

It otherwise seems to be Fantasy Island meets Lost on shrooms. Not as good as and certainly more wayward tonally than The White Lotus, but kind of fun. 



It may not help that Dead Calm aside, I have always been a bit Kidman-sceptical. Here she does Russian only marginally better than Comrade Winstonovsky in Black Widow


Parry, riposte


I hate to do the whole "I told you so" routine, but in this case it was always blindingly obvious that Dr G would be disinclined to simply stroll away once his curfew was stymied. 

He will come back with alternative ways to restrict activities, and for some, these will appear more, not less, onerous. With another 80 deaths recorded yesterday, he will be left with little choice. 

Other than Allan Rodríguez the thing that annoys me most about this little fiasco is the damage done, in the short-term at least, to the inflow of tourists. 

Arrivals from abroad already have to complete an online health form that, when it works, serves them up with a QR code. Was it completely beyond the authorities to allow this to double up as a transit pass during the toque de queda?  

In 2010 I visited Bangkok during a curfew imposed at a time of significant political instability. I spent the first night at the airport. I am not sure if I could have found a way to leave, but the restaurants in there are (extremely) good, so I didn't really care. 

The next day I found that the Thais had established a sort of tiny tourist pocket around Khao San Road, where bedtimes were effectively unrestricted. Travel into the downtown area was impossible at night and unadvisable by day, but I managed to treat myself to the thrill of turning up as a lone farang at some of the major temples. 

Antigua is pleasant when it is quiet, but deserted bars and restaurants are hardly a big lure and a nighttime curfew is always a total buzzkill. 

Already limited to tourists almost exclusively from this hemisphere Guatemala's leading industry could (really) do without enforced lockdowns after dark and other blanket restrictions on inter-departmental movement. If Belize can conceive of and manage a system of safe corridors and other  amnesties for foreign visitors, it surely cannot be beyond Guatemala.