Sunday, January 31, 2021

Promising Young Woman (2020)


Although its impact right now may be dampened by the pandemic, I am fairly certain this is a movie that will still be discussed in decades to come. 

There are many reasons why it is rather special, something I believe anyone who watches it will appreciate, but I gave it 4.5 stars not 5 because it bears a few flaws, and it is these that I intend to waffle on about here. (Some spoilers...)

1) The movie is just a little reticent about showing us the full consequences of Cassandra's reverse-predatory entrapments. 

2) It's not clear to me that there is a firm analogue between what happened to her mate Nina and what she then undertakes as a form of broad gender vengeance.

3) The whole relationship with Nina and Cassandra's response to what happened to her friend does seem a bit contrived as story impetuses go. 

4) At around the end of the second act an old video with important ramifications for plot development makes an appearance in a manner that is not especially convincing. 

5) The ending is really the only ending that would satisfy, yet it is clearly dependent on a chance outcome at the bachelor party. Call me old fashioned, but I kind of need my plots to feel a bit more inevitable, no matter how much apparent randomness they have to steamroller through. 

More generally, the movie shifts from light to dark moods, sometimes in a manner that feels unearned. And yet clearly ambiguity and comedy are being used as a subterfuge, in some ways paralleling the way that the protagonist feigns drunkenness and vulnerability.

Director Emerald Fennell is Hammersmith-born and Oxford-graduated and arrives in LA after stints on Killing Eve. Let's hope this is the first of many extraordinary films she has in her locker. (She also appears as Camila Parker Bowles in The Crown, I'm told.) 

And we're grateful for this reminder of what a genuine movie star Carey Mulligan is and should remain.

The OST is fab. 

Caso Lever S01E03: 'The Misadventures of Jason Lever''

Jumping ahead a my most recent face off with our extraordinarily accident-prone neighbour Jason Lever. (I never promised a strictly chronological approach to this plot.)

Here he is, maskless, waving his mobile in my face — in front of my property and thus in violation of my medidas perimetrales — presumably attempting to intimidate me into scurrying back indoors or either doing or saying something he might subsequently be able to use against me. He achieved none of the above. 

A bit of background...

In 2014, at a time when both Lever and I were out of Guatemala, his then girlfriend put up some security lights along the front of their property. Yet for some reason she decided that it would be just fine for this installation to continue over the property line and onto the surface of our external wall. 

At the time my wife came out and spoke to the contractors from a firm most Antigueños are familiar with, and their response was, predictably, something along the lines of 'Only obeyink orderz’. 

Lever soon returned from his mining gig and so she then had the opportunity to interrogate him personally on the matter. 

Rather than apologising and offering to rectify this inexplicable 'mistake' as soon as possible, he boasted rather brazenly that his plan was to continue all along the front of our facade. (The old POTUS45 ploy of never backing off, only doubling down.)

This was possibly the most memorable early example of the one-sided lamppost-pissing contest that we have been subjected to here almost from the get-go. 

Although she undoubtedly felt disrespected, my wife let this one go as it occurred a couple of years before Lever’s attitude and behaviour towards her would turn a terrible corner, and there did at the time seem to be a shared interest in external illumination. 

This was also a year or so before we successfully petitioned the Muni via our neighbourhood COCOPRE to put up proper lighting along the street outside. It was also V’s last direct contact with Lever for three years. 

Given subsequent events, I really ought to have removed these intrusive security lights myself ages ago. 

However, I have been repeatedly told by both our lawyers and the authorities that they ought to remain in place, not least as part of an extensive body of evidence relating to a pattern of apparently purposeful encroachment by Lever. 

So, when on 
Wednesday January 20 this year I spotted a builder up a ladder against my external wall, attempting to remove the little iron cage containing the security lights with a power tool, I came up quickly behind him and insisted that he desist and replace anything he had already removed from the surface of our property. 

It was the same bloke that had been caught and filmed trespassing cuerpo entero inside our property just over two weeks previously on the 4th of January. 

On both occasions he had apparently waited for me to leave home before commencing his trespass, but this time I had only moved off up the road with my dog and had an unobstructed view. He chuckled awkwardly at my challenge and fled off back to the Levers’ house. 

Soon Lever himself was out with his recording device, plus a small canister in the same hand he was gripping the phone, which I am going to have to presume was mace/pepper spray. He had seemingly come out in such a hurry that he’d not had time to hide it in his handbag.

Meanwhile, my wife had spotted the developing confrontation on our security cameras and went up to the terrace to make sure we had our own recording of any harsh words exchanged. 

Lever’s play was very simple and really rather disingenuous: the lights and their cage were his property and had been installed entirely by accident on our wall. Though again, no apology. 

He must really take me for one of the biggest fools that ever walked this earth. Suppose I choose to forget those earlier exchanges about this encroachment — going back over six years — I suppose I could just about concede that it might be possible for someone of near record-breaking cluelessness to affix a piece of ironwork on our exterior wall ‘by accident’. 

But this particular installation had required work on both sides of our wall, including cabling that ran behind it across the property line, through our wire fence and over the top of the internal dividing wall. 

Lever makes the point abundantly clear himself.  'It was connected to my power...and, so, what’s your problem?’. 

He does have a disarming knack for incriminating himself.

My problem is surely this. 
Inside my home, someone knowingly ran an electric cable from a hole they made in our front wall over our side wall and into Lever’s property which remained hidden for years behind our border foliage. 

By definition, this could never have been done as an honest mistake, and I fail to see how it might have been achieved without physical trespass. 

The illegal nature of this activity would have been blindingly obvious to the person undertaking it, no matter how clueless they might otherwise have been. 

If any person I had employed had been responsible for an error such as this, I’d have been in a real hurry to correct it and make amends. Not wait six years, and even then only try to remove the intruding device as part of a wider cover up connected to Lever’s denuncia in September 2020 which falsely accused me of a similar delito

The earlier trespass made by the same builder into our home followed my disconnection of the electric cable and was almost certainly undertaken in order to remove any remaining internal evidence of the offence. 

Fortunately the fiscales at the Ministerio Público were provided with relevant images long before either incident, plus a report made by an independent technical expert on the range of other electrical installations he witnessed along the length of the Levers' side of our internal wall. 

Anyway, I'd surely be forgiven from concluding here that Lever seems to be indicating that we in turn can attach whatever we like to the outside of his house just so long as we have no qualms about making the utterly bogus and plainly moronic claim that we have no idea where the division is. 

Yet, as ever, what he is really saying is that he did and will continue to do whatever he likesIt's all too obvious that he derives insolent gratification from such transgressions. 

The serially-unfortunate Australian's pileup of mishaps now includes mistakenly using a water supply that didn't belong to him, attempting to empty his pool into our drains, unknowingly registering his utility bills and other corporate accounts to our address etc.

Thanks to the aforementioned malicious and mendacious denuncia made against us as a sort of legal blocking tactic by the Levers in September 2020 — consisting of allegations that even an eight year old would have been able to pull apart — I now know more than I used to about a Guatemalan statute that goes under the name of perturbación de la posesión. 

In this land the pavement outside one's home is usually considered private rather than public property. Lever didn't quite step onto our banqueta, but his employee did — in fact this individual put a ladder on it and used that to ascend our external wall with a drill. 

He was thus caught on camera in the act of trespass for a second time, having received a strong ticking off and verbal warning the first time back on January 4, which was captured on video. 

So let's be clear that there really can be no excusing this subsequent 'accident', an invasion that inevitably followed two previous goofs relating to an undesirable hole in our front wall. 

Meanwhile, Lever was invading my personal space, outside without a mask, apparently attempting to intimidate me sufficiently to drive me away from the front of my own home.

For an individual already under investigation for violent incidents against both me and my wife (indeed I have been assigned police protection as a result), this is not a good look, particularly as he appears to have had a chemical weapon in his hand.


The summer season in Monte Carlo ends expeditiously each year on the last day of August. 

In a blink of an eye all the 'beautiful people' vanish and their briefly-vacated cabañas are soon reloaded with chaps who look an awful lot like David Farrar here in Powell and Pressburger's Black Narcissus (1947). 

You can't see them in this screenshot, but yes, he's wearing leather sandals. Though a pair of wooly argyll socks would have completed the costume. 

This dramatic transition in the prevailing sartorial climate occurs because the principality plays host every early September to the world's largest reinsurance convention, these days known as the Rendez-Vous de Septembre. 

However, the 64th edition last year was cancelled along with a lot of other large gatherings in 2020.

Jojo Rabbit (2019)

We've waited over a year to watch this, in the end coincidentally during a week that featured Holocaust Remembrance Day. That reluctance has been grounded in my recollection of this acerbic review by Robbie Collin on Radio Five Live.

I'd listened to the podcast and so had not previously been aware just how prickly the atmosphere between him and Edith Bowman had become inside the studio.

I'd decided on the spot that Robbie was probably right, if only because the way Edith Bowman tends to set herself up as a counter-punching (and usually quite populist) alternative reviewer in rather stark contrast to Simon Mayo's more easy going facilitator/presenter guise. 

This north of the border B team pair up had had a notable earlier clash of views over Bohemian Rhapsody, and that should have reminded me that I can agree with a scathing review and yet still essentially enjoy the movie on its own terms.

Now that I've seen this one, I have a slightly more balanced take on it. We're big fans of What We Do In The Shadows, but Nazis are more awkward satirical targets than vampires. 
Robbie is probably right that this is the least successful thing Waititi has yet done, yet that does not necessarily make it the one note, one star flop he suggests it is.

While it is obvious that the figure of Adolf resides in Jojo's head, just how much else of this stylised end of the road for Nazism is supposed to be taken as realist? 

Waititi's bloodsucker mockumentary follows a familiar format, and so these questions don't become quite as fraught as they did last year between this pair of BBC reviewers.

There's definitely something moving about the way this story plays out, even if it doesn't quite address the war, the Holocaust or the propaganda techniques of the totalitarian right with either its serious plot leftovers from the novel or the hit and miss comic elements that Waititi has injected into it.

That there were no Germans obviously involved somehow added to the awkwardness. 

Also that the actress playing the Jewish girl in hiding, Thomasin McKenzie, appears not to be Jewish. She's certainly one of the best young talents that NZ possesses, but Scarlet Johannson (whose mother's family are Askenazi and who really is superb here as Jojo's good German mother) has had some flack in the past for being cast in roles supposedly requiring more authentic ethnicity.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021



As a child the most vivid vicarious experience I would have of the Holocaust would be coming across individuals with numbers tattooed on their arms.
The first time is the one that has really stuck. The man's name was Leon, and he was head of Monagasque government's Tourism and Convention Authority.
My father used to drag me along to brief, cheery meetings with him in his office in the Boulevard des Moulins and it was probably on the very first of these encounters with Leon — rolled up sleeves and veiled in cigarette smoke behind his big wooden desk — that I fixated on the numerical code etched into his skin.

Duck Season

 Homegrown testing kit for covid-19...

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

The White Tiger (2021)

Back in 2009 I wrote what was (for me) a fairly extensive review of Aravind Adiga's Booker-winning novel The White Tiger, a story now encapsulated as an extraordinary movie directed by Rahmin Bahrani for Netflix.

Any sense that this might be an outsider's perspective on India is dispelled in this no-punches-pulled adaptation, far more in fact than a mere adaptation, thanks in part to the winning performance of Adarsh Gourav, yet also the sense that enough years have passed since publication to make this something of a period piece.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Targeting the vaccine...


Just over half of Britain's c4000 patients in ICU as a result of covid-19 are aged between 50 and 69. 

Yet the first phase of the vaccine programme has targeted the oldest age-group, the 80+s, as these are the likeliest to die from the disease. 

Robert Peston suggested on Coffee House recently that this has been an essentially political decision as Boris, in spite of all the rhetoric about protecting the NHS, is most concerned about the top line stat of covid-related deaths. 

Here in Guatemala the calculus may eventually be slightly different. It would seem that people are dying younger (in part because they generally don't live so long) and, although I have no up-to-date stats on this, I suspect that hospitalisation is less effective here as a way of staving off pandemic mortality. 

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock spoke this morning of 'relentless' pressure on the NHS and one can only suspect that public healthcare here, even with proportionally fewer infections, is already under severe strain.

And so we shall have to see where the Guatemalan government chooses to direct the first limited batch of vaccines that they have ordered. 


As the ice sheet advanced and retreated over the north west of Europe, human beings repeatedly pushed up into the landmass that would become the British Isles. Yet there was no permanent settlement until around 15,000 BC. 

The so-called Jurassic Coast was not then a coast at all and what is now the North Sea became a hot and humid zone of woodlands and wetlands: Doggerland, a landscape and lifestyle opportunity described thus by Peter Ackroyd in Foundation...

Oak woods, marshes covered by reeds, and open grasslands covered the land. It was a warm and humid world. Red deer and voles inhabited the landscape; but they shared it with elephants and macaque monkeys. Among them wandered groups of humans, twenty-five or more in each group, pursuing their prey. They fired upon the animals with flint arrowheads, and used carved reindeer antlers as axes; they carried wooden spears. We do not know how they were organized but the discovery of ‘butchery sites’, where tools were manufactured and food prepared away from the main settlements, suggests a measure of social control.

Modern identities like 'Celt' and 'Anglo-Saxon' are to some extent a vestige of nineteenth century nationalist posturingPost-imperial migrations from what is now Scandinavia and other parts of northern Europe were part of an older and deeper process. Ackroyd additionally notes how this prehistoric pedigree has persisted in the populations of England. 

In 1995 two palaeontologists discovered that the material from a male body, found in the caves of Cheddar Gorge and interred 9,000 years ago, was a close match with that of residents still living in the immediate area. 

My own paternal ancestors, these days designated as Celt-Iberians (later Britons) arrived at some stage before the Roman legions, when the waters had risen and the archipelago was taking its familiar modern shape. 

I've long assumed they took the so called 'Atlantic route' in rudimentary boats, but this map suggests that they just as easily might have walked it. 

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Caso Lever S01E02 'The Last Supper'

And thus, unaware of the semi-severed connection between Jason Lever and that convicted con man 'Don Marco', we took ownership of the property adjacent to his in 2013. (In fact at the time it was not yet his, as he remained the endeudado of the man who had taken ownership of BOTH properties a few years previously.) 

Our first face to face encounter was not long in coming. We were walking our dogs on the road close to the old Spa, a few hundred yards from our main entrance, when Lever suddenly appeared from around the corner on his scooter and was duly chased by three of the dogs that reside at the Santiago de los Caballeros school there. 

He stopped, apparently to introduce himself as a prospective new neighbour, but his opening remarks concerned his canine escort. When they follow me this way, he said, I like to stop and kick them. 

Then, perhaps sensing our gathering dismay at this carefully projected first impression, he continued: "But, if they continue to bother me, I'll give them some food..."

A moment of relief. Was he extricating himself? No. 

"This will be their last meal..."

He described the crowning morsel thus: a big juicy steak packed with aspirin, "so they bleed out on the inside..."

Perhaps the most disturbing part of this was that there had been no question for either of us, at least at first, that Lever was trying to impress us, yet as the toxic fantasy he had projected grew darker, the insinuated threat that it betokened became rather less equivocal. 

To all those that bother me, he seemed to be saying, I might start off with some reflex and fairly mindless aggression, but thereafter, if they don't back off, I will come up with something altogether more premeditated and vicious. 

Several years later I would overhear Lever boasting of how he lacks empathy, as if this were some sort of Australian superpower. But by that time we really did not require any verbal confirmation. 

Animal cruelty is often a behavioural marker of delinquency, and worse. 

That very first exchange with a man who thought this was an appropriate way to present himself to a couple out walking their three dogs, has remained vivid in my mind, increasingly leavened with hindsight. 

At the time we were still resident in our original property in the village, a three storey town house, but the more extensive garden at the new place acted as a constant lure, and while we employed a builder called Edwin to establish basic level of habitability through 2014, we would show up with our dogs most afternoons just to enjoy the open space. 

On one such occasion Edwin shared with us a short video he had made with his mobile phone. He had been working on some stairs and a narrow terrace along the inside of the front wall, which would provide our German Shepherd Jin with a zone of his own to patrol. From this position Edwin had a partial view into Lever's front garden as our neighbour was already being quite obstinate in his refusal to build his own wall. 

Lever had appeared carrying a small black puppy that he had recently taken in and had started to repeatedly punch it in the belly. He then bent over and pushed the puppy's snout into one of the cactuses that were clustered there, rubbing it repeatedly back and forth, seemingly oblivious to the dog's wails. 

This was one of the most disturbing things I have ever been made to contemplate, and I've seen some seriously messed up shit. 

And it was not an isolated incident. On numerous other occasions we could hear the abuse of this poor little puppy taking place next door and our own dog Mochi always used to go crazy with alarm and, dare I suggest, empathy. Eventually Mochi would start to react frantically at the mere scent of our lurking neighbour. 

For us both it is a matter of profoundest regret that we did nothing about these incidents at the time. This was what we have come to see as 'the period of appeasement’, the span of two whole years where we repeatedly witnessed disturbing examples of seemingly unhinged and aggressive behaviour, yet took no direct action, because we ourselves were not the ostensible objects of it. The path of least resistance was to look away. 

Though in the specific case of the animal cruelty, our options were then fairly limited, as Guatemala had yet to pass its landmark Ley de Bienestar Animal (2017). 

Lever, apparently aware that we had become inconvenient witnesses to his callousness, made a ham-fisted attempt to apologise to me one afternoon in the village, when I bumped into him walking the puppy with his then girlfriend. The problem, he explained, was that he had grown up with female dogs and was just not used to males. 

Shortly afterwards the little black puppy disappeared and was replaced with two bitches. 

PS: Edwin has gone on to become a witness to Lever's constant, brutish harassment of my wife. 

In this still taken from a security cam video (2018) he is standing in our entrance along with a colleague, conversing with V about another project when Lever whizzes by again insulting her both verbally and with an obscene gesture.


This graph illustrates why the increased mortality associated with the so-called 'British' strain may in fact be a consequence of its contagiousness. 

In other words, if a mutation of the novel coronavirus ups infectiousness while another increases the likelihood of dying, with a roughly proportional increment, it is really the speed and extent of the spread of the former which will tend to do the greatest harm in the population in the medium term.  

Either way I think we Brits have got this covered! 


Friday, January 22, 2021


We took in a classic movie this week, starring Karlheinz Böhm, son of the legendary Austrian conductor.  You'll have to wait a day or so to find out which one. 

Karl's grandiose Eroica, with its purposefully ponderous funeral march, was part of the soundtrack to my fresher year at Cambridge. Klemperer's was even more leisurely. 

(If you want to hear how this symphony supposedly ought to sound, try Harnoncourt.) 

Böhm senior also scored many a long car journey with my father — specifically his interpretations of the Brahms symphonies.

This symphony is perhaps a lasting testament to the dangers of idolising someone too early in life. Beethoven was certainly one of my totems as a student. He was in fact one of the first men to ever be commemorated by a statue. These days however, that's not such a good look. 

In The Spectator last month Jonathan Biss declared the German composer his man of the year...
Aside from its greatness — which hardly needs to be explained, by me or anyone else — the reason Beethoven’s music has had such special significance for me these past nine months is that it is the product of a person who was profoundly alone, and who found remarkable power and possibility in aloneness.

Nevertheless, a week or so later James Wood wrote in the LRB of how, as a child, he conspicuously failed to pick up his father's obsession with the music...

I disliked Beethoven’s bombast: the melodramatic dynamic contrasts that seemed like huge arguments followed by wheedling tears; the endless endings of the symphonies, as the brassy orchestra wumps from tonic to dominant to tonic, over and over again. The beer-cellar heroism in major keys – the aspect of Beethoven that sometimes offended even Adorno as ‘ham-acting’, ‘a mere “boom boom”’. Even the beauties of the famous slow movements – the Pathétique or Appassionata, say – seemed stiflingly ‘noble’ on a dull Northern English Sunday afternoon. The string quartets with their polite rustle.

I still stand amazed, especially with the stuff scribbled down by the 'deaf old bear', and yet as I grow older, the music and my prevailing moods seem further apart than they did thirty odd years ago in a corner room at Girton. 

Perhaps old Ludwig was just a little too humourless for 2020, though he was nevertheless fond of a drink. Indeed, it has been suggested that he died as a result of the lead in his vino tinto.  

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Caso Lever: S01E01 'Pilot'

Over the past eight years I have accumulated enough material to write quite a juicy piece of fiction about the escalating incidents of encroachment and violent harassment that we have suffered at the hands of an Australian citizen named Jason Wade Lever. 

When these commenced in 2018 he was a tourist here in Guatemala, but has since acquired residency. 

It's really such a long and complicated story that I have fretted over how to share it, as I feel I now must, if only to shine a spotlight on a pattern of behaviour which appears to have an underlying violent and perhaps even criminal intent and because we have been unable to get the authorities to take his threats and trespassing seriously enough to reassure us in the least. 

In narrative form, as protocol dictates, names and details would/will be altered, but here on this medium I shall be open and factual. And episodic. 

Our first encounter with this individual in 2013 began with a description of animal torture and concluded with a thinly veiled threat (...of poisoning). 

Veiled threats led to not-so-veiled threats, and to repeated acts of aggression in the streets of our village, with no care for who might get caught up in them: friends, family, children. Trespass, seemingly both digital and physical. 

But in particular there has been a pattern of vile, misogynistic and frankly rather pervy abuse directed against my wife.  

And then there is the stuff at which most well-balanced teenagers would turn up their noses: an intense and utterly infantile, six-week cyber-bullying campaign, plus moronic behaviour like this — giving the finger to our security cameras while he wizzes by on a scooter. 


panza verde professional that came to hear of our plight and who, whilst not personally acquainted with Lever, occasionally mingles amidst the same ex-pat cliques, to conduct an investigation into this individual, entirely off his own bat.

When he verbally presented his report to me in his office, it was a tale of alcohol and substance abuse plus mental problems, yet he was also at pains to add that Lever was pretty well liked within his own milieux, considered to be non-violent and widely believed to have put many of his past problems behind him by marrying a nice local girl. 

That, unfortunately, is not the story I have been left to tell. 

But to begin with, like all noodly tales, it has a bit of a backstory...  

Longer-termers around here will no doubt recall this rather sordid character, Jeffrey L. Cassman, who went by the name of Mark Francis whilst on the lam here in Antigua. 

At the time this photo was taken at a gasolinera in Ciudad Vieja in 2010, Cassman had been wanted by the FBI for a couple of years, as he'd made a career of swindling a bunch of people back in his native Tennessee and nearby states, some of them his own wife’s relatives. 

It was a punter from Arkansas who eventually rang the bell on one of the 'fool proof' investment schemes touted by Cassman Financial, forcing the eponymous 'advisor' to flee south over the Tropic of Cancer with his spouse and (then) nine children. Oh, and in excess of $350,000 that didn't really belong to him. 

Ensconced in Antigua as 'Don Marco' he was soon up to his old tricks, not exactly full ponzi, but a friend of mine once shared with me a prospectus for a 'fool proof' tuctuc fleet start-up that JC had circulated, which insisted it would pay double digit returns from the first year onwards. 

To profit from that sort of nonsense he’d need to prey on the relatively vulnerable. 

Eventually some of his ill-gotten gains from both here and stateside went into a local catering operation called El Ocelote SA, the name of which is still proudly displayed right inside the entrance to the business that now meets the world under the umbrella brand El Barrio.

It is also a company whose utility bills I discovered had been registered to my own private address, but more on that subterfuge in future posts perhaps. 

I have no reason to conclude that this estafador has since ceased to be a sleeping partner of sorts there. I can certainly demonstrate his continued open contact with other individuals connected with it. 

Cassman was certainly back in Antigua a couple of years ago, having announced proudly on the interwebs that he needed to check out his various business interests here. These were almost certainly partially seeded by stolen loot from the ponzi scheme for which he served time in Federal lock-up, orange jumpsuit provided.

Before he was marched off in handcuffs, one Jason Lever, occasional miner, had also reportedly been Cassman's associate or even employee. And with Don Marco off to spend a four year sentence in his home state (he pleaded guilty), Lever soon re-styled his image as co-proprietor; the new alpha in el barrio. 

At the time we acquired our current home, I had no notion of any connection between this pair, but its significance cannot now be discounted, because readers might remember how Mark Francis, auteur of GuateLiving, became my wholly uninvited digital snooper and stalker. 

His blog is long gone, but not before I harvested it in its entirety. 

Using his alter-ego, Cassman presented himself as a Latin mass-exclusive, Catholic fanatic (years behind bars have not prevented him adding four more offspring to his tally), as a right-wing extremist (one that has lately segued effortlessly into support for the insurrectionist-in-chief) and as an unrepentant xenophobe. 

I generally hesitate to bandy about the R word, but the level of respect he showed to this country and its inhabitants whilst he skulked around here as an unwanted guest was almost certainly deserving of it. 

Above all, a hypocrite, for the word on the streets after his arrest was that his extra-marital indiscretions had contributed to his downfall. Yet somehow his wife has stuck by him, even though he scammed her close family as well, and had left her in a run down house with their now ten kids when he was carted off back to Nashville. 

I never met him and it remains a mystery to me what I could have done to merit those flourishings of online attention that soon began to appear like a morbid infatuation. 

This is the first time I have in a sense responded personally and proportionately to the drip drip of caustic abuse I had for almost two years. 

Yet this personal experience was but a tiny part of this 'ripping yarn' recounted at some length elsewhere...

Even if the connection I intuit here is ultimately entirely coincidental, the undeniable commonality for me is going to have to be that men who are pretty much all facade and who derive pleasure from preying on others, also tend to suffer from simmering resentments. 

And vendettas often have deeper, more twisted roots than one may at first be able to grasp.  

Stay tuned...

The Endless (2017)


Let's suppose that on New Year's Eve last year some unfortunate event occurred (probably also rather unpleasant) and you found yourself shunted back to the beginning of the month. And then again, and again. 

It would only take a moment's reflection to comprehend what that would entail on both a personal and more inter-personal scale. There would be the matter of Donald Trump as a bitter and twisted, lame duck President, forever. And depending on one's geographical location there would be restrictions to endure, endlessly, like not being able to get mullered with one's mates at the pub or hug (and thus possibly euthanise) granny. 

This scenario is, if I may be so bold, marginally more interesting than the one at the heart of The Endless which asks how much '...and repeat' could be deemed preferable to the finitude of what vampires dread as the True Death

Infinite temporal loops have become more usually a trope of movie comedies, with Groundhog Day as the generic term. In last year's Palm Springs we witnessed the standard set-up with some of the characters aware that they are loopy, but almost everybody else not. 

Part of the trouble here is that we see characters temporally re-setting with what appears to be at best partial awareness, and this adds an element of that sort ambiguity that goes by the name of befuddlement. For we do kind of need to know what the cost is in terms of freedom of action.

I suppose the screenplay for this film began with the thought 'Say there was this UFO death cult, and...' yet the trouble is that the scenario imposes constraints on the central conundrum that are, in the main, unhelpful. 

And the two main protagonists (played by the writer-directors themselves) indulge in a debate about whether to accept the terms of the loop that sounds like a pair of corporate bean counters debating whether it is time to shut down the Manchester office. 

We watched this almost like consuming the starter after the main course that was Synchronic, the newest output from Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. For that film they'd presumably been given more money and some better known actors as surrogates for their own double-act, yet the fundamental deficiencies were repeated. 

Both stories need bigger characters; a bigger situation. And both address one of life's greatest metaphysical mysteries in a way that feels under-accomplished, like a B+ essay.  That we exist in what could be an infinite reality full of finite material stuff is a thought that deserves just a bit better than this. 

(If this had been pitched to me, I'd have said 'TV show'.) 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Last Day(s)


The eventual outline of 2020 and the one that 2021 also appears to be adopting, inexorably

As the players took to the knee before yesterday's Premier League match between Arsenal and Newcastle, the commentator spoke of a year defined by an increase in social consciousness. 

Given the inherently ‘half empty’ handicap applied to any retrospective on the past twelve months, this apparently cheery note jarred just a little. It would not be so hard to make the opposite case. 

I suppose on a personal level, 2020 had its isolated pluses. There were Mila’s kittens, my investment in Tesla, the discovery of the work of Lawrence Osborne...

Trump’s denouement too, though this has yet to feel fully cathartic. 

I'll be off later to acquire a bottle of champagne. As Dan Rather noted on Twitter today, it feels a bit like Christmas Eve. 

Monday, January 18, 2021

Grand Armée

The Minard Map, touted by Tufte as the greatest statistical graphic of all time, shows the direction and (declining) human mass of Napoleon's Grand Armée on its path in and out of Russia.
Sadly, it should be possible to knock up something similar for Honduran 'migrant caravans'.

Druk / Another Round (2020)

Druk joins the greats of Thomas Vinterberg's back catalogue (The Hunt, Festen...) in the 'don't hold your breath for an American remake' bucket.

In this delightful film, four male, middle-aged, teachers at a gymnasium in the northern suburbs of Copenhagen decide to test the theory of Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud, that we are all born with a blood alcohol content that is just a glass or two of vino too low — and that if we can attain and maintain a suitably elevated level during the daytime, our personal and professional lives will become so much more satisfying.
Each member of this quartet is experiencing an urgent desire for a form of re-flourishing, particularly Martin, a history teacher whose students are in open revolt with their parents against his bafflingly anaesthetic classroom style. For this role Mads Michelson rejoins Vinterberg. Has he ever been in a truly bad movie?
PS: I thought Druk (rendered as Another Round for the anglophone market) probably means drunk, but Google thinks binge drinking might be a better translation.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Synchronic (2019)

The past, present and future are 'local' not global phenomena. Modern science owes this revelation to Albert Einstein.

One month before his own death the physicist wrote a letter to the sister of his recently departed friend Michele Besso, in which he noted that the fact that one person passes before another 'means nothing' and that all our experience of time is in a sense, illusory.
Nevertheless, Italian pointy-head Carlo Rovelli has warned us against treating this memetic soundbite out of context, as something vocalised by an oracle. Einstein, he notes, was grieving and attempting to offer a shared comfort.

Nevertheless, a sentence within that letter forms the basis of the premise of Synchronic, which has the potential to be profound, yet limits itself to the shallowest of implementations — there's a new designer drug which messes with our pineal gland, apparently the part of our brain responsible for the conscious experience of the very personal, if not illusory, present. Younger people, whose pineal glands have yet to calcify, not only experience potentially dangerous temporal commingling, but actually travel back in time physically...for seven minutes.
From this point onwards, the more I try to explain this premise, the more arbitrary and generally silly it is going to sound. If chronology is an illusion established inside our minds, why would the physical body itself hop between times, for if the disappearing human form can be seen and filmed, then there is inherently a shared, objective element to all this. Exit Einstein.
The protagonist is at one point left trying to explain why his dog's lead, minus the actual dog, has returned to his original present, and says something remarkably similar to 'It's quantum, baby'. This is just lazy.
Still, as B movies go, and there do seem to be a lot of them around right now, this one is fairly engaging. On some levels it works better as horror than sci-fi. One is left with the impression that there is no point in the history of New Orleans that was anything other than a nightmarish ordeal. Even contemporary NOLA, garden district and all, is presented as a penumbral mind-trip.