Thursday, November 28, 2019

No Regard

Historians will judge Blair harshly for Iraq and Cameron for Brexit, yet one of the great ironies of the debate over the last few months has been Blair's trademark lack of self-examination across repeated interventions in favour of Remain. He appears not to acknowledge the pivotal role of his own government in laying the foundations for populist revolt.

There are clear parallels to see in Chile. A series of nominally socialist administrations in the post dictatorship years chose to adapt to the growth-inducing free market ideologies so favoured by Pinochet.

Just as New Labour in the UK had disaggregated and de-localised healthcare and education, Chilean socialists opened the path to ‘monetisation’ of these public goods and in just the same sort of short-sighted manner - no regard for the possibility of macro changes in economic conditions, no regard for the impact of globalisation, no regard for an upsurge in immigration and consequent pressure on resources and most significantly, no regard for the possibility that under these changing conditions they could soon be replaced by a government of the right, more purist in its laissez-faire intentions and willing to push on far more aggressively with the removal of the state from key areas of the public services.

Private Passions

Corbyn won't lose this election because he's been ‘smeared’ as an anti-Semite. He'll lose it as a consequence of his contributions to the Brexit debate over three years.

There are roughly 260,000 jews in Britain, proportionally tiny compared to the Muslim population. Corbyn is set to surrender 30-40 seats in the northern half of the island, where his support for the Palestinian cause ought not to be decisive.

Yet this high profile position serves as an analogue of his stated views on Ulster and his apparent willingness to rub shoulders with wrong-uns. And, as a resident of Latin America, I can see that Corbyn’s persistent support for Maduro demonstrates that the ideology in his head will always override his heart, something I can never abide in a political leader.

Furthermore, his support for Palestine is surely indicative of a man and a party with private obsessions, precisely at a time when the country needs leadership grounded in a more unifying narrative.

Defeating Boris should have been comparatively easy, especially as this time the Conservatives must gain a majority in order to govern, and because he and his party are liars.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Primal (2019)

This is essentially a very rudimentary and generic action formula flick at which even Stephen Siegal might turn up his nose, that someone has decided to spice up by adding a bunch of Amazonian animals, in much the same way that one might dump a load of chimichurri on top of a fried egg on toast. 

Along with this menagerie comes Nicolas Cage as a hunter-collector hitching a ride to Puerto Rico on a vessel which also just happens to be transporting an NSA-sponsored assassin who’s had a bit of a Colonel Kurtz moment and needs to be shipped back home (an expedient requiring a fairly absurd explanation) accompanied by a naval medic and a team of US Marshals. 

It’s bizarre to recall that Cage won an Academy Award for playing a drunk. Here he undoubtedly deserves the gong for ‘Worst (ever) rendition of an inebriated middle aged male’. 

That said, he still has the knack of making a one star movie feel like a three star one at certain points of its running time. 

From the poster you'd possibly never guess that roughly 90% of it takes place on a container ship and that the white jag has little more than a cameo role to play. 

Features some unpleasantness to parrots.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

The Bygone (2019)

Westerns were important to my father. The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) with Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster and Custer of the West (1967) with Robert Shaw were very much part of his pop culture refractions of history. 

Custer plays an indirect yet increasingly relevant role here in Graham and Parker Phillips's 'neo-western', a movie that isn't content to tell a modern story using the tropes of the genre, rather it wants to be at once a social-realist complaint about the parlous state of the American West, greed, people trafficking, sexual abuse and so on...and an actual western. 

I thoroughly enjoyed it from beginning to end. My father however, would have been utterly bemused by it. 

I was, it must be said, slightly thrown by its opening textual gambit, a bold restatement of the old noble savage chestnut and clearly written by someone with a) no understanding of how historical sources work and b) an unawareness that most of Mexico sits within 'North America'. 

Angel Has Fallen (2019)

Prior to every new addition to the Fallen franchise Morgan Freeman's Trumbull has had a promotion. When Olympus had fallen he was Speaker. Then as London came down he was Vice President. Now, as Butler's 'angel' Mike Banning is about to take the fall, Trumbull is the occupant of the Oval Office. 

One has to presume that should these characters get a fourth outing, he'll have to reprise his recurring role as God. Heaven Has Fallen

With these sort of franchises one finds that there is typically a solid preliminary feature duly followed by a sequence of increasingly ropey sequels. The process appears to have ended up a bit back to front here. 

Angel Has Fallen is being touted as the best of the three, and there's a good deal of truth to that, but the outrageous silliness of the format was part of its essence and something has gone missing in the furtherance of a belated seriousness. (A chunk of budget too, I would imagine.)

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Joker (2019)

However much I might enjoy taking photos, word and concept are always primary for me, the look of things merely surface. In that at least Luby and I are a bit different. When I need to make sense of the world I tend to write; she, on the other hand, draws. 

Being proudly ‘visual’ she found this movie just a little bit more thrilling than I did, as it is undoubtedly one of the most visually exciting films of 2019. Some of its scenes look almost absurdly good, unnecessarily so perhaps. 

Underneath the slick surface of the cinematography, it felt a bit flimsy at times. I found myself enjoying the production (and performance) so much that I kept having to ask myself if I was being equally captivated by the storytelling.  

I suppose that no matter how earnestly the material is approached, comic book characters are never going to have the heft that comes from proper mythology. 

Yet Joaquin Phoenix’s performance goes way beyond the sequence of riveting poses he is asked to strike, and there are two or three really excellent scenes which I could easily watch again and again. 

I don’t know if this was at all intentional, but Joker's self-choreographed entrance on Live With Murray Franklin (De Niro) reminded me of Michael Jackson, and not in a good way...

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Havana 500

When it was Open Day at St Paul's all the High Master ever needed to do to make the place look a bit tidier was put out a few extra pot plants in the quad. 

Felipe and Leticia seem to require a dogrom. 
Charles and Camilla made it there first of course. 
Havana did once belong to Britain, but we swapped it for Florida, a tradition the locals have kept up.
When I was in Cuba myself a while ago, I noticed that a lot of the street strays around La Habana Vieja seemed to have that elongated look suggesting that they might have a bit of daschshund in them.
Istanbul is now justly celebrated for its cat population, yet the felines have flourished there largely as a result of Turkey's other unmentionable genocide: the exiling in 1911 of some 80,000 of the capital's dogs to the island of Sivriada, where many either starved or drowned trying to escape. 

¡Arriba, Arriba! ¡Ándale, Ándale!

A lesson perhaps on the perils of ignoring a 2016 referendum result. 

What's the betting that this is not now turned into a hospital?

Corbyn has a Mexican wife. There's always somewhere for him to go. 

Monday, November 11, 2019

Too Clever By Half

In theory at least, AI systems should get better and better at statistical guesswork.

Yet the AI behind Evernote has suddenly become less good at deciding where to automatically file any given article that I might feed it.

Yesterday I noted how it now wants to dump pretty much anything in the Sunday Times into ‘Technology’ even if the piece is about Homer and the Trojan War.

This left me wondering if it is reading the finished text or the underlying HTML and meta-tags.

Then this morning I observed how a review of a book about extraterrestrial languages in The Spectator would have been shoved into ‘Film & TV’.

I can see how that might have happened. Perhaps this is an AI that has learned to make cunning inferences. 

Sunday, November 10, 2019

After the Wedding (2019)

Billy Crudup's IMDB bio commences by noting his rigorous career choices. So what went wrong here? And what about Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams? What could possibly have made them imagine this would be worthy of their talents, other than the reputation of the original? (The director, it has to be said is Moore's hubby and she co-produced.) 

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw called it 'insufferable' and as a one word review this is as good as any. 

The story is structured around human constants: birth, marriage and death. So it really ought to feel universal and yet somehow what it screams  and I so hesitate to use this term  is white privilege. 

The Danish/Swedish original — which I haven't seen — was Academy Award nominated in 2007. The essential confrontation between two parents, one a lifelong idealist and escape artist and the other someone who has tried to have it all, including a successful career as both parent and entrepreneur, somehow strikes me as something that would make more sense within the dimensions and context of Scandinavian culture. 

The remake gender-flips these characters, as if this would ensure that the underlying conflicts are now even more interesting, yet this is completely undermined by translating the action to a very particular New York milieu. 

Luby gave up after about twenty minutes. I was pulled through to the conclusion perhaps solely because the dilemma at the heart of it has some telling personal relevance for me. 

But it's awful nonetheless. Julianne Moore's 'I don't want to die' scene serves as a reminder that we have entered the season of the not-quite-Oscar contenders. 

Friday, November 08, 2019

Flag Trap

This pic taken inside La Real Casa de la Moneda reminds me of one of my formative experiences in late 80s Antigua: on entering Banco Industrial on 5a Avenida (now flanked on one side by Monoloco), I somehow managed to knock over the national flag and was quick to observe how all the employees stood up at once and looked at me as if I had just walked in wearing a suicide vest.

I was in there again today and relieved to note that there are no longer any flag-poles to unwittingly stumble over. 

We ran into two Guatemalan friends in town today. The first was busy persuading some game-looking foreigners to put down roots here whilst the second greeted us with premonitory words along the lines of "Get the fuck out of this terrible place...what are you still doing here?', a warning made that much more piquant by the knowledge that said chum is a direct descendent of one of this country's colourful twentieth century presidentes, whose distinguished career included a) coming to power via a coup d'état b) introducing the Quetzal as the national currency and c) dying in suspicious circumstances.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Puente La Reina

The other day on social media I commented that this was almost certainly my favourite location in all of Spain. (The pic is one I found on Instagram and is by Jfeliufotos.) 

I'm sticking by it, but V gave me a low-level ear-bashing, which included a range of alternative suggestions. 

Here they are, more of less in her order of preference. 

1. Segovia, Castilla
2. Garachico, Tenerife
3. Peñamellera, Asturias (also Cangas de Onís and Cudilleros...)
4. Cuenca, Cuenca
5. Covarrubias, Castilla
6. Lekeitio, Vizcaya
7. La Gomera, Islas Canarias
8. Timanfaya, Lanzarote
9. Puente Viesgo, Cantabria
10. Ronda, Andalucía

In the specific case of Puente La Reina, it's not just the bridge itself, but the mood of the town and the surrounding landscape of Navarra. Back in 2001 we picked up some embutidos and a great bottle of local vino tinto joven from a great local butcher's on the main street and then had a picnic in a field twenty minutes out of the town itself. 

This one of the Roman aqueduct in Segovia belongs to Soliverso on Instagram...

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Good Boys (2019)

Some of the British critics turned their noses up at this one. Dr K didn't even see it, while Robbie Collin of the Telegraph thought the very idea of Superbad for the pre-teens was super bad. 

Yet the essence of his critique - that the twelve-year-olds speak as if they have been scripted by adults - is little more than a factual statement about the way this functions as comedy. The gag even features on the poster...

If it hadn't stepped so defly beyond the confines of strict realism, it wouldn't have worked. The Bean Bag Boys are glove puppets, and knowingly so. 

Overall, we thought it was both funny and delightful. It seems like a while since a decent Hollywood comedy came along or indeed a movie about student life in the US that feels fresh. 

I enjoyed all the stuff about first kissing parties, spinning bottles etc. It has to be said that the loss of innocence came a little later in my day. 


Earlier this week I was handling some official business and noticed that at a nearby desk an Italian man and his local translator were up to something similar. 

Except Italians can almost never deal with anything independently, can they? Collectively they are like a flesh and bone refutation of the philosophical transgression known as solipsism. 

Soon there were three more of them, chairs had been pulled up and the entrance to the office pretty much blocked. 

They were either all talking (and gesticulating) at once at either the official or the translator, standing up to have a loud conversations in Italian in the middle of the room, or to temporarily depart in peremptory fashion in order to make a mobile phone call just outside, also loudly. 

Friday, November 01, 2019

What a screeeeam...

Tonight marks the thirtieth anniversary of my first Halloween in Antigua.

Things were a bit more low-key in 1989. Hardly any large scale trick or treating for sure.

It was a bit of a novelty for me, as even in the late eighties Halloween was still not much of a thing back in Britain.

There was one big party in town, mostly locals, which we attended albeit briefly. The venue was a ruin. I can't remember exactly which one, but I have a feeling it was Santa Clara.