Sunday, June 27, 2021

Flashback (2020)

There's a kernel of an interesting idea here, but by the end of this Canadian movie I had kind of lost track of what that might be. 

The title* suggests a linearity which is actually absent, for the protagonist Fred has seemingly detached himself from the A to B logic of human existence, itself blamed on the interventions of an alien force which is never elaborated upon. 

Other intriguing conceits are suggested and then vanish in the mist. What if we could 'explore' the alternative pathways of a multiversal existence that normal, un-jumbled time denies to our consciousness. 

At high school Fred had a kind of manic pixie dream girl-chum called Cindy who does seem to be up that lark, thanks in part to a street drug called 'Merc'. Fred himself appears to be 'flashing' in and out in a less purposeful manner.

The blurring of realities, past and present, provides a hint of something profound behind all the opacity, which there probably isn't, but the overall effect is surprisingly un-disappointing as writer-director Christopher MacBride has perhaps knowingly served up something which his audience can put to their own subjective contemplative uses.

Present too is the existential dread of having hidden horrors in one's past trajectory which reveal themselves in the form of disturbing visions that cannot easily be distinguished from revived memories of past nightmares.

* In some markets the film goes by the name of The Education Of Frederick Fitzell. 

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Taking The Knee

Can we be clear on this — if Russian fans boo taking the knee, chances are it's not a principled anti-Marxist stance. 

The gesture does not inherently belong to BLM, inevitably tied to all their dodgy, 'foreign' politics. It belongs, in the main, to Colin Kaepernick. 

So yes, it's an American cultural export on some levels, and like hamburgers in the 70s, it is probably an ultimately unavoidable one. But it was conceived as 'respectful', like a flag at half mast, and so itself is surely deserving of some basic respect. 

Kaepernick was adding a footnote to his own nation's patriotism, rather like a caveat relating to equality and the founding ideals. 

Try arguing that this is not at all relevant to England without sounding like a twat.

Thursday, June 10, 2021


Things have been flatlining here in Guatemala, but there are signs of slow covid recovery, Delta variant notwithstanding, in the more temperate zones to our north. 

I'm feeing exceptionally fortunate right now that none of my close friends or family in the UK, Guatemala or elsewhere have fallen prey to this pandemic. Touch wood. 

Witnessing my eldest niece Nicola emerging from hibernation this week in London was definitely a mood boost. 

How much more of this do we all have to endure? 

I'm going to be watching England vs Scotland on Friday June 18 in a pub called The Churchill Arms. Whether or not I have my 'vaccine passport' by then remains somewhat moot. 

Long Story Short (2021)


Romantic comedies are habitually targeted at a demographic to which I no longer really belong. So, those of us who either feel excluded, to a degree, or perhaps disapprove of the genre per se might not appreciate the lure of this title. 

It's what you might call a high concept romcom, which potentially broadens the basic appeal. I've never come across anyone hostile to Groundhog Day, have you?

The premise here is possibly less brilliant, yet it has some other more latent forms of canniness about it. 

It has been written and directed by Queenslander Josh Lawson, seen recently in Mortal Kombat (in the pile) and funded by Screen Australia, suggesting more cautious, sensitive investment than one might typically encounter in Hollywood. 

This could have been set up as a gratuitous big screen advertisement for the NSW lifestyle, but instead the cast and locations have been carefully and rather cleverly constrained. 

At no stage does the narrative flag in any way. The script and the impetus of the story is consistently good throughout, and it is funny, enough. 

And however pithy the underlying message might be, it is undoubtedly relevant to just about everyone. 

New Order

It looks like Mexico is going full guinea pig when it comes to the roll-out of covid vaccines. 

These the latest stats on its programme — from yesterday — which show enough doses in situ for roughly a fifth of the relevant part of the population. 

The variability that ultimately emerges may not just be a matter of efficacy — especially against the Delta variant, now accounting for 91% of new cases in the UK — but also of international admittance

We can see some early signs of this as the UEFA European Football Championship opens tomorrow with fans at Wembley being able to skip the testing requirement if they can show proof of having had both jabs at least 14 days prior to the match. (It will be interesting to note the age profile of the crowd for England's opener against Croatia.) 

The geographically-dispersed format of the competition was laid down before the pandemic. The result is that a number of teams (Hungary in particular, with full stadiums, though fortunately not the Frogs) are going to have a measure of home advantage in the group stages. 

Group B for example, features both Denmark and Russia with matches in Copenhagen and St Petersburg. 

Danes will be welcome at the latter…but, Guatemalans, Argentinians etc. please note: Sputnik V has not yet been approved by the EU — if it ever will be — which means that Russian fans are not going to be welcomed in the Danish capital. 

This is a fairly inauspicious sign that the protocols being given a run out this month will not feature an entirely level playing field as we press ahead into the new era of vaccine passports. 

Monday, June 07, 2021

The Mosquito Coast Season One Finale

 ...though much less of an actual finale than more of the same.

At the end of the last episode we witnessed the Foxes fleeing CDMX because the entire police force in the Mexican capital is in league with the cartels.

Their stated destination was Guatemala, which in this episode we learn is apparently up-river of Pichilingue, a township that anyone who has ever bothered to look at a map would know lies at the arse end of Baja California. 

Not exactly a direct route south and undoubtedly one that leads directly into narco territory. 

This show has disrespected Mexico in umpteen ways, but the scenario here also seriously disrespects the audience, most of whom, one would assume, could have accessed Google Maps. 

We see the Foxes encountering, and to some extent overcoming, yet another situation, supposedly super tense, and yet the real tension (and frustration) as ever comes from the refusal of the adults to open up to their children — and thus the audience — regarding the underlying predicament. If the show were to be cancelled now, we'd have learned zilch. 

Indeed, seven hours of this and essentially all we have seen is an above-averagely annoying white American family traversing a bizarre geography of otherness, that as disaffected liberals they are surely obliged to engage with, on some level at least. 

Yet the Foxes clearly hate Mexico, at least this version, which could just as well be a futuristic amusement park called Mexicanstereotype-land packed with rather basic androids.

We have seen multiple bigger assholes inform Fox that he is an asshole, but this time it was the turn of his own wife and kids, even as he led them to one of the most perfect tropical beaches imaginable.

There was one amusing part, when Fox said he'd been mugged and blamed a rampaging mob of...Canadians.

Brought to you by Apple, Inc.

Countdown to the 11th

We are now but a few days from a tournament that will surely be talked about as much in terms of good thinking as good kicking. 

So, herewith a handy guide for anyone suffering from anticipated perplexities.

1) Fans performing monkey chants whenever a black player has the ball...

2) A Uruguayan referring to his (also Uruguayan) mate on social media as 'negro'...
Fortunately not a likely scenario during the 'Euros'.

3) Booing England players taking the knee before kick off...
Ok, you might think you are objecting to 'Marxism', but please check with the non-white, anti-marxist beside you before going there.
In general, this is one of those cases — actually not as widespread as contemporary culture appears to assume — where the benefit of the doubt has to go to the person at the end of the gesture.

4) Disagreeing with England players taking the knee before kick off...
In other words it is is in your head, so Schrödinger's Prejudice. There is no such thing as a thought crime, at least until someone haphazardly opens the box...

Sunday, June 06, 2021

Je ne gette rien...

And in other news, noted biologist can only comprehend the term metamorphosis literally...

Oh professor, perhaps this text is symbolically inadequate in much the same way that your 'flying spaghetti monster' is a metaphysical misfire. 

Or maybe not. (Never shy of showing off his blind spots.)

On the subject of bad science fiction...

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021)

Not a bad movie per se — this third outing for the Warrens definitely looks good — but one that takes itself way too seriously. To the extent that I was almost hoping for a blooper reel over the end credits. 

But instead we got all that based on the shockingly (obviously not) true story stuff, which compounded the devout goofiness which had just wrapped up.  

This movie from Michael Chaves (The Curse of La Llorona) kicks off with a fun set-piece exorcism sequence, which puts one in the mood, yet unless one is seriously Catholic and/or actually believes in demons, then what follows barely produces a single scary moment. 

And the demon itself struggles for agency. 

Saturday, June 05, 2021

Cerebrum (2021)

Rather silly body-swap premise dressed up as serious science fiction. 

There's a sort of Mexican stand-off at the end by the trio of male protagonists, all in the wrong body. The technology that made this possible is flimsy to say the least, put together in a barn in Texas. 

It's possibly as potentially confusing as a Christopher Nolan plot, without anything that might be classed as cereb-ral. 

It doesn't help that the characters all act like the dumbest person in the lone star state, so that the greatest mystery is really how none of them have worked out what is actually going on. 

The Great American Naming Decision

An article from the New York Times in 1970 announcing the opening of The Great American Disaster in London. 

We didn't get our first McDonalds in the capital until 1974 and that was way in out in Woolwich for some reason. 

So we had a very brief hamburger spring in the early 70s when the 'real thing' arrived on our shores and all we had to do was add a topping of 'cooly aggressive waiters'. 

My 'uncle' Alan duly opened a competing chain called The Great British Success. I don't think it was. (But he had Wimpy House to fall back least until they started erecting those evil arches.)

I remember going with my mother to the branch of the restaurant with the altogether less foolhardy name on Beauchamp Place. My milkshake debut, I seem to recall.

The very first one mentioned in this article was on Fulham Road, a corner that was later occupied by
The Chelsea Kitchen after it was forced to move from King's Road. It too, sadly no more

Friday, June 04, 2021

Intimations of Morality


This week in the LRB Thomas Nagel offers a fascinating, if complex primer here on the nature of our moral intuitions. 

I suppose my own leanings are basically deontological, in spite of the fact that I have never really accepted that the universe could have been created in order to lay down a fixed set of rules. 

That individual rights should be considered inviolable, no matter what context the collective has come up with, seems almost essential to me. 

My appreciation of history has perhaps led me to be more inherently wary of judging actions by outcomes. Individually and collectively, we are often poor at determining the greater good, even in the short-term. 

Here in Guatemala I have all too frequently come across a particular moral intuition which also strikes me as highly dubious, especially when voiced by lawyers — essentially the old 'it's OK to steal from a thief' canard. 

In a country such as this, not much good at all can come from that sort of 'reflective equilibrium'. 

So, in Nagel's opening anecdote, Stuart Hampshire might have felt morally free to provide the bogus guarantee to the captive collaborator, as the latter was somehow un-deserving of the Brit's better instincts.



Back in 1990, when I was working in the sheet music department at Foyles on Charing Cross Road, in walks Murray and I had the pleasure of flogging him a shitload of Chopin. At the time he was more noted for his Mozart interpretations...
Someone dear to me passed away listening to Bach. 

This particular album would be a top pick for a certain unfortunate predicament: desert island, rapid global warming...

Wednesday, June 02, 2021

Oxygène (2021)

A kind of high tech version of that movie featuring Ryan Reynolds in a coffin: Buried (2010). 

There's not much more I can say without spoiling it and I don't want to because this movie is GREAT.

What I can say is that high concept science fiction films used to come along a lot more frequently. If this one is high concept, it is also simple concept, and in a sense also familiar concept, because the premise has featured in at least three movies we've watched this year alone (there's even a grisly pandemic) and yet it still feels startlingly fresh and throwbacky to the golden era of the genre.

The plot has a few inexplicable holes, but then so does the universe.

While we're here...

Arriviste, moi?

Napoleon's favourite armchair. 

Reminds me of a minor spat between two of Thatcher's key ministers, Alan Clark and Michael Heseltine. Clark would observe...

"The trouble with Michael is that he had to buy his own furniture."

Some re-orientalism

Behind much of the recent verbal conflict around Israel-Palestine witnessed outside the region is the notion that the Israelis are colonisers and that the Palestinians are oppressed indigenes. 

This fits the wider apprehension held by almost everyone except crazed white supremacists that Jews (and thus Israel) are occidental whereas the Arabs are oriental, and people who prefer packaged ideas to 'raw' history are often rather adamant that colonialism is something that the West traditionally inflicts on the East. 

Yet the Arabs arrived in the area very much as miltant invaders. Previously pinned to the peninsula that bears their name, relatively becalmed between Christian Byzantium and Zoroastrian Persia, they gathered and broke out spectacularly a few years after the death of Mohammed. 

In the east they were eventually halted by a Tang Dysnasty army and in the west when 'Sword of Islam' Uqba ibn Nafi al Fihri somewhat symbolically (or perhaps over-enthusiastically) rode his horse into the Atlantic beyond Tangier.

They had besieged Christian Jerusalem in 636 and the following year the Patriarch Sophronius handed over the keys of the holy city to Caliph Umar.  The Caliph had a choice to make. He could walk into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and pray to Jesus, a prophet of Islam, yet should he do so his followers would immediately turn the place into a mosque. 

So instead he decided to build a brand new holy site — the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque — right on top of the ruins of the Jewish temple. 

Caliph Umar

From that single decision made by a victorious conqueror, much trouble has indeed followed. What if he had instead chosen to humiliate Christianity rather than Judaism? In this instance the latter was perhaps the softer target. 

What happened after that was a great civilisation, but also a great empire

Christians did rather briefly re-take Jerusalem four centuries later and no doubt would have flipped the Holy Sepulchre back to their own brand of nonsense, yet one suspects that the contours of the conflict today would still be rather different.

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Surviving the abuse...

Accusing, isolating, demeaning, mind games, belittling, coercing, gaslighting, controlling, chronic deceit...