Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Just what the doctor ordered?

Omicron is likely to be a game changer, but possibly not in ways we can immediately anticipate. 

There are early, encouraging signs that the severity of disease the variant induces will be reduced compared to Alpha and Delta. 

This could conceivably be a consequence of the manner in which Omicron's mutations occurred within the immuno-suppressed HIV+ communities of southern Africa. 

An essentially pneumonia-free version of covid, infectious enough to largely displace all its older relatives, could end up saving the world. 

At the very least it would save the world's ICU units from overflow while saving governments from having to make unpopular one-size-fits-all dictats in the interests of preserving the healthcare systems they oversee. 

But it would represent an unexpected catastrophe for the likes of Moderna and Pfizer, who must already have been anticipating the share price gains from predictably regular boosters and tweaks to their formulas for years to come. 

Moderna's CEO has been out jabbering this week, making a lot of people poorer in the short term, but perhaps it is time to cover our ears.

Think of all the investment which has gone and continues to go into the fight against SARS-Cov-2. Not just vaccines , but therapies. If the need for these suddenly became less urgent, imagine how many might be left out of pocket rather suddenly.  

It's too soon to say whether this is the scenario which now presents itself, but it is certainly one we should at least be entertaining. 

We don't really want to live in a world where vaccine boosters and renewable vaccine passports for basic activities are a near permanent feature of everyday life. 

We don't really want covid to be suppressed artificially, we want it to be an endemic pathogen to which we have natural defences and for our most vulnerable groups to be no more threatened by it than say seasonal flu. 

Many people can and should continue to wear masks, as many have done in Asia for over a decade, but in the end this should be voluntary where possible. 

There may still be some severe economic consequences in the immediate term, but these are perhaps likely to come as a result of a failure to control inflation. (Consumer prices rose 4.9% in the eurozone in November according to an early flash reading, a level not seen since the currency's inception in 1999.) 

Monday, November 29, 2021

Little Red Book

One has to wonder whether all those cerebrally-impeded types who have been banging on about the restoration of blue (actually black) UK passports also have a thing for red driving licenses. 

This one was my mother's, from 1962. She was a catwalk model at the time and possessed a suitably glamorous boyfriend — author, politician, surgeon and society sexologist — who talked her into taking the advanced driving test. 

I do believe she was generally a very competent driver throughout her time behind the wheel. 

There was however one smallish incident of note during my early childhood when she left the hand-brake off during a visit to Lidstone (local butcher, now Olivomare) on Lower Belgrave Street, having possibly double parked outside the Plumber's Arms.

I vividly recall watching our car trundling slowly downhill towards the lights at the Ebury Street intersection, seemingly intent on an unscheduled arrival at Victoria Station. 

These licenses had a duration of just three years and had nine pages for stamps/endorsements. They were just a bit larger than a credit card. 

I can see where I might have acquired my tendency to hoard stuff.

Spencer (2021)

As one would expect from Pablo Larraín, this is an extremely competent and intriguing piece of film-making. Authentic it is not. 

The Chilean director flags this up at the start: 'A fable based on a true tragedy'. He's giving us a Diana, not the Diana, along with a version of modern royalty. 

The setting, supposedly the Queen's Sandringham estate at Christmas 1991, is a grand, Baroque (and very) German castle — Schloss Nordkirchen, aka the Versailles of Westphalia — and the goings on inside immediately reminded me of some of the opening scenes of Marie Antoinette (2006) by Sofia Coppola. 

The effect felt to me like a spoken, somewhat gothic opera, serving as a vehicle for several set-piece duets with well-crafted, almost too cute and metaphor-laden lyrics.*

The excellent score from Jonny Greenwood leans towards jazzy discordance. 

There's an out-of-place ghost from the past — Ann Boleyn — though at times one also glimpses a ghost from the future, that tense we learn doesn't exist for majesty: Meghan. 

I tried to get it into my head that this wasn't history, but struggled from start to finish. 

The 'POW' protagonist is depthless. And Kristen Stewart's attempts to replicate her coyness and listing head can really become irritating. Yet her performance, rather like the drama around her, has moments when it is uncannily precise. 

Everything feels contrived, except in those fleeting moments when it doesn't, and for that reason I am going to have to say that the film didn't really work for me overall. This may not be such an issue for those with fewer personal memories. 

My mother's step-sister Joan, Baroness Mischcon, had a close-ish relationship with the Diana of that period — she was married to the lawyer whose counsel the Princess sought shortly after the events depicted — and would surely have found this caricature synthetic at best. 

Sean Harris has suddenly emerged as one of our major big screen thesps, on a par here with the likes of Sally Hawkins and Timothy Spall. 

* Oddly enough Joseph Losey's Don Giovanni (1979) was another movie that sprung into my head while watching Spencer


Saturday, November 27, 2021

Low-Principled Tourism

In July 2019 my wife reported a violent, misogynistic crime at the Fiscalia de Mujeres. An investigation by INACIF was duly instigated and a report issued within a month which concluded that such a crime had indeed been committed. 

At that stage, in any country that takes such matters seriously, it would then be the responsibility of the state to hold the alleged perpetrator responsible. 

Yet what seems to happen here in Guatemala is that the defence counsellors appointed by abusers, rapists and other forms of masculine toxicity are somehow able to intervene prior to the first court session in order to cherry-pick the charges their clients will actually face. And thereafter generate endless procedural delays which inevitably exacerbate the harm done to the alleged victim as the so-called 'friends and family' of the accused jump on the intimidation/misogyny bandwagon. 

The seriousness of the charges make no difference to whether men like Diego Ariel Stella or Jason Wade Lever are culpable or not. 

They undoubtedly have a inalienable right to defend themselves and to try to establish their innocence — in a courtroom — but they should absolutely not be permitted this aberrant opportunity to define what they might be guilty of even before the victim has had the opportunity to make a case against them in the presence of a judge.

And, as noted above, in the instance of violent crimes, and especially that of rape, it should always be the state that is seen to be making the formal accusation, not least because that protects the victim from the sort of defamatory abuse Verónica Molina Lee has lately been receiving on social media...

In the worst possible taste...

The CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) in England & Wales would absolutely never tolerate such attempts to undermine its case during the pre-trial remand period and the MP and INACIF deserve a similar legal firewall in Guatemala. 

No civilised country today can permit public smear campaigns targeting the alleged victims of gender violence. 

In my wife’s case where the defendant is Jason Wade Lever, the prosecutor responsible at the Fiscalía — somewhat coincidentally also named Claudia Paniagua — unilaterally adjudicated in October 2019 that no crime had been committed and passed the case file down to the civil court. 

She did so without notifying or consulting with my wife in any way, thus violating her rights by involving her as the agraviada in a legal process to which she had not explicitly consented, and would then have to follow through on her own and at her own expense. 

Her abuser’s lawyer — the other Claudia Paniagua — apparently had access to all the files including the INACIF report, before she did and it was from that moment that parts of it started to go missing. 

All the guarantees that she had specifically requested when she made the denuncia at the Fiscalía de Mujeres, confidentiality, personal security and so on, were thus infringed, and in an inexplicably negligent and furtive fashion which further endangered her safety and overall wellbeing. 

Inevitably, Lever redoubled his efforts to insult and intimidate her. 

Go ahead and give this one the Prince William perspective switch.
What kind of grown-up, adequately socialised person behaves like this?

Meanwhile, Diego Stella is, via surrogates at least, playing the victim along with a flagrant double game — pleading for a more balanced process whilst simultaneously indulging in a social media smear campaign designed to blacken the reputation of his alleged victim in a manner he must know would not be permitted in any country possessing a more robust system of justice. 

He must also know that the damage already done to his reputation is due in no small part to his connivance with an insidious pattern of influence trafficking, as described above. 

Much of it is essentially his own fault and he surely has no business lashing out at Verónica Molina Lee in an nonsensically hypocritical attempt to forcibly level the playing field now that his own actions have panned out somewhat poorly for him.

Yet the fact remains that Verónica Molina Lee has been let down by the MP and other officials who should have been supporting her. 

I too have had to listen to some of them using the platitudinal notion of disinterested balance as an excuse for their inertia — along the lines of 'I am neither on your side nor on theirs', which is pretty much the most absurd thing that could ever come out of the mouth of a prosecutor. 

Both my wife and Molina Lee were subjected to attempts to shanghai them into attending a psychiatric examinations after they had both already been positively profiled by INACIF when their accusations were first made. 

In my wife's own case that session with a shrink was presented as a demand, backed up by an illegal document sitting on the case file and about which she had never been informed: Lever had gone into Claudia Paniagua's office and testified without any evidence at all that she 'must be suffering from something' and that he himself was the victim of xenophobic prejudice. This was never signed off by a prosecutor. It would be hilarious if it were not so heinous, the equivalent of Harvey Weinstein sueing his victims for anti-semitic bias.

And the only thing she was suffering from was good, old-fashioned feminine intuition. She saw what he was up to and drew a line. His response was vile — and he consciously chose to be vile in a manner that targeted her gender. 

Neither woman has been granted any kind of restraining order at any stage of the process. At the first session my wife attended back in October 2019 the judge even told her that she, the agraviada, would not be permitted to get close to her abuser, Lever. 

Early in the following year, in an extraordinarily ill-conceived attempt to shut me up, Lever dispatched his wife to make use of Guatemala's femicide law in a notably spurious manner against me. Her denuncia was immediately thrown out, but she still had protective measures imposed on me for six months. (This was the same individual who had falsely accused me of verbally abusing her to her face in February 2018 when I wasn’t even in the country, another crime which went unpunished*.)

Claudia Paniagua — take your pick as to which one of them I am referring — is an indigenous swimmer in this very contaminated pond. But abusive men like Lever and Stella are extranjeros who apear to have made the choice to avail themselves of unmerited advantages deriving from specific flaws in the justice system of this country, and that is shameful. 

Lever in particular seems to be an opportunistic scrounger with a compulsion to take advantage of any small leg up that living in the occasionally chaotic developing world might present him with. 

This is a snap of his 'water meter' on February 27, 2018. 

The Municipality must have struggled to get a decent reading from that...and yet the year before he had constructed a swimming pool sending our own bills sky high, whilst at the same time boasting unblushingly to us that he had 'free water', also known here as hurto de fluidos, an actual crime on the statute books in Guatemala. 

For around five years after moving to his home he was steadfastly refusing to build his own wall, lay down his own drains or open a water account. He had his reasons. In the end he had to do all three, but under duress — one might say kicking and screaming like a child throwing a tantrum — only when actual personal consequences beckoned, and in each case with specific spiteful counter-attacks against us and our property which we had done nothing to deserve. We weren’t forcing him to do anything; these were his obligations in law and his avoidance of them was prejudicial both to us and the wider community. 

The last time I was able to snap the contents of that water box in 2020 there was already a meter inside, but the numbers had been painted on the front of it. This month the Muni told my wife that Lever registered an account in 2017, a certain impossibility, given that photo above and several recorded conversations I have with officials there from 2018. This would anyway imply that he had been gorreando without a care for at least four years. 

These things might appear fairly localised and trivial and perhaps my mistake was to believe so myself at first. But hindsight has revealed that they are markers of an anti-social, bottom-feeding mentality, that of an outsider whose only real interest in this country is as an adventure playground for perpetrating petty (and not so petty) scams. 

Lever has been offered multiple opportunities to resolve some of these issues amicably and has systematically and disdainfully refused, always escalating the astringent, aggressive nature of both his bravado and behaviour afterwards. 

Lever, co-founder of burger joint turned antro, Lava, within El Barrio.

This is ultimately not a localised, personal concern. When an individual behaves as if they have no consideration for basic social and sexual mores  — and specifically when that individual follows up with gender aggression and sexual exposure — the problem becomes one for the entire community. Because it is never going to stop. 

Maybe the bigger lesson here should be that Guatemala really ought not to be providing such a safe haven for the world's deadbeats and degenerates. 

*    *    *

* On the very night that the denuncia arrived in October 2019, there was a good deal of intoxicated loudness emanating from the Levers' side of our wall, along with explicit, bellowed threats to cheat us out of our property. 

Lever co-opts his wife and children into his hate campaign and consistently bullies her into making false reports to the police and MP. 

That same evening he was overheard doing just that along with a known Dutch male associate, aggressively and relentlessly. She pleaded with them not to be made to lie, as 'I lied last time'. 

...or like this?

Later that night she deleted two posts from the sick Instagram account they had set up to insult and demean us, which felt like being spat at several times a day for weeks on end — this is prejudice in action... —  both of which rather inconveniently corroborated witness statements they would have only just come across in the case file. 

A few days later the entire Instagram account disappeared, only to be resurrected shortly afterwards with all new content as the social media face of Lever's then new (and now failed) business Roadkill Grill, using the very same collection of followers earlier acquired via the 3-month-long cyber-bullying campaign — and so the Levers were in effect seeking an economic boost on the back of their unhinged hatred. 

Hatred is only personal until it becomes pathological. Or morphs into something targeting gender, nationality, race, religion, appearance, reproductive or lifestyle choices. 

Friday, November 26, 2021

Feeling the Strain

I thought we'd all agreed to stop naming SARS-Cov-2 variants after places?

It will take several weeks to determine if the Botswana / B.1.1529 strain* evades our defences significantly, both in terms of the various vaccines and any natural immunity fortifications we could have developed. 

Meanwhile there will be volatility, in the financial markets...and the media.

And the data, when it arrives, may be a bit iffy. There aren't that many individuals in Southern Africa born with that Neanderthal genetic heritage which is seemingly important from both a protective and un-protective perspective in Europe and America.    

"Almost impossible to contain, even with lockdown..."

News of this 'horrific' pluri-mutation could not have come at a worse time. Several EU members have already been stepping up restrictions in the light of precocious winter surges. In the blink of an eye, travel bans are back.
The economic damage covid-19 does comes less from the symptomatic disease than the response of governments and the underlying collective psychology that takes hold as a result. 

Recent experience suggests that another revisit to lockdowns, curfews, early closing times etc. is likely to result in social and political unrest at ground level across the globe. 

It may perhaps be significant that the patient in Belgium who has tested positive for 'Botswana' suffered only mild flu-like symptoms. But the problem seems to be that this variant is up to 500% more infectious than Delta and has already committed it to an early obsolescence within southern Africa.  

It might also be important that this patient arrived in Europe two weeks ago. When other countries start boasting that they have no B.1.1529 cases yet, cover your ears. 

Vaccination programmes could be undermined both in fact and popular imagination. The people potentially most at threat are those that received their second dose or booster in the past month or so, because it does seem that the major vaccine providers are looking at whether they ought to be tweaking their formulas now. 

* Breaking news: it has a moniker — OMICRON, which sounds a bit like a hybrid of OMG and Ulugrun. 

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Not really a day for thanks-giving...


A day to recall that my wife's abuser Jason Wade Lever continues to evade the consequences of the crimes he began to commit several years ago when still a visitor in La Antigua. 

He has picked up an all-too-familiar playbook combining threats, intimidation, obstacles and defamation, plus the full panoply of tricks and evasions in the repertoire of his lawyer, the now infamous 'defensora de los violadores'.  

How many years must pass before this craven misogynistic bully is prepared to face the evidence against him? 

How long will the justice system in Guatemala tolerate Lever behaving as if it is beneath him?

It is time for an end to gender abuse in Guatemala, and everywhere — and time for justice.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Candyman (2021)

Produced by Jordan Peele and directed by rising star Nia DaCosta, this update on the 1992 original is generally successful and welcome. 

Visually-arresting woke horror is now a thing, as we have just seen with Last Night In Soho — in which victims of historical pain and injustice are seen to be getting perhaps a bit too angry in that rather slashy manner. 

Here, as there, it works to a point, though this film is trying to be a bit more sophisticated in the way the superficially genteel present day (gentrified, in fact) interacts with the more obviously unreconstructed past. 

DaCosta's Candyman is always great to look at, featuring some superb set piece hookings, and develops the mythology regardfully, but at times I felt that the dialogue, character-building and storytelling was of a less meticulous nature.

It's not always clear what the satirical barbs are specifically targeting. The white people in the art world are insufferable, but then so too are some of the black people. There are two gay characters — one black and one white, the black one played by a non-American, non-gay actor — that for me came perilously close to caricature, or worse, an unfunny joke. 

The lead character, Anthony, has one moment of comparative non-dullness — when he appears to be secretly pleased with the publicity afforded him by a double murder. But that's about it really. His gallerist girlfriend Brianna has a backstory of dubious relevance and only really becomes sympathetic late on in proceedings. 

There are one or two elements of the production which may have been deliberately set up as cultural booby-traps. Mentioning them would be close enough to the digital equivalent of naming him five times into the mirror. 

(But for covid, the film would have been released at the peak of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, but any discussion around it probably benefits from the minor delay.) 



The UK has said it will revisit travel rules at the start of 2022. If Guatemala goes back on the red list as a result of avoidable super-spreader events like yesterday's, it will only have itself to blame. 

One has to magine that any European visitors already in situ and possibly trying to have a quiet, relaxing time here in Antigua (as per the city's increasingly undeserved reputation in foreign glossies) found the crowds pretty dismaying, such that any short term boost from national/regional spending could be offset pretty quickly by damage to the international traffic.

There is a recurring pheomenon here that transcends the present situation. Every time a public event is 'coordinated' in La Antigua, be it the Festival de la Calle del Arco, La Quema del Diablo etc., within a couple of years it is swamped with dangerously excessive numbers of participants and rather than contributing to the things that supposedly give this city its unique appeal, these swollen events foster a series of avoidable public safety hazards and and lowest common denominator 'cultural' activities. 

Perhaps the key novelty that organisers need to understand and in a sense, manage, is the saturation of smartphones over the past decade. 

Recent events at Travis Scott's Astroworld show how quickly and badly things can go wrong. Billowing hazards emerge when you have hundreds of people in a crowd pushing into a confined space, all of them dead set at arriving at the front of said crowd so that they can document a spectacle for social media. 

The nature of Antigua's tentpole mass participation events has changed significantly and largely because of the unprecedented progressions in the spectator dynamics.

Right now though it should not be so hard to maintain some semblance of social distancing and mask protocol adherence. 

Last year, at the start of the pandemic and before such superspreader events were properly understood, one football match in Liverpool involving visiting fans from Madrid reportedly resulted in around 40 covid deaths in that city. 

Many of the Festival de Flores herd yesterday will have been vaccinated, but nowhere near enough (viz Austria), and the processional movement around town and the duration of this invasion will surely prove significant. 

That and the fact that people descended on Antigua from all over the country and then, presumably, went back to where they came from.

Of all the events to permit, this one — little more than Instagram and covid bait with shallow roots in local tradition — was possibly the most irresponsible choice at this undoubtedly rather delicate moment. 

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Last Night In Soho (2021)

Overall, a very strange experience. When it was over I had a sense that I had rather enjoyed it, and yet for almost none of the reasons I had been expecting to. 

As a cinematic love letter to the Soho of now and of the time just prior to my own birth, it doesn't really work, and yet, after a night to sleep on it, I am not sure how much that really matters. 

I had deliberately avoided the trailers. I was properly psyched. In fact I had only seen this music video beforehand, and it doesn't give the game away. 

Downtown: originally released by my father's friend Petula Clark
...and which also featured very lately in Red Notice

I'm not sure I really should either. Except to say that while I have come across third party mentions of 'Giallo-esque' imagery, I was specifically reminded of those fantastical Christmas movies for kids — though one which then heads off to some beyond-the-watershed dark, pissy alleys, even if — like its protagonist Eloise — it never quite decides whether to manifest as childlike or fully adult: a coming of age drama that never quite comes of age. 

The young stars are good, but the show is stolen in many ways by Terence Stamp and Diana Rigg, in her final appearance. The ever mesmerising Anya Taylor-Joy gets to sing and dance fetchingly, but her role, like that of Matt Smith is sadly a little under-written and small, given their combined screen-time. 

I was altogether unconvinced by Thomasin McKenzie's accent*, but then her character's Cornish origins are a bit of a clumsy narrative ruse, for in today's England, where else could such a country mouse hail from? 

And so begins my list of quibbles, a fairly long one for a film that I undoubtedly enjoyed. 

Next up, and it's a bit of a technicality, but the key location in the movie is in Noho, not Soho. 

One is then inclined to observe that the premise is seriously vague, and yet again, I am not sure how much that really matters. 

Edgar Wright chooses to leave unresolved the precise method by which fashion student Eloise travels back to the Soho of the sixties. She's asleep at first, and then later on she isn't. Is it something emanating out of her own imagination or slightly disordered perceptions, or is it in fact the bedsit itself that is serving as a portal? At one stage some spiked drinks are also implicated. 

Once she's back there, the point of view is inconsistent. Sometimes she is Sandie the wannabe starlet, sometimes she trails her in the mirror as the camera sees them both.** The way Sandie's story resolves itself in the last act makes this muddle even less mild. 

It struck me that Wright was in the end more interested in the nostalgia of his movie reference points than he was in his (ultimately negatively) nostalgic vision of this part of London. 

Those with no prior knowledge or experience of London's Soho — and one has to assume that a sizeable chunk of the eventual audience will fall into this category — could end up with rather partial instruction.

We seem to be becoming so enamoured of the task of debunking the past according to our own contemporary cultural preoccupations, that the loss of complexity and contrast has ceased to bother us that much. 

There has always been more to Soho than sleazey, toxic masculinity. Indeed, for a large part of the last century it was the one part of downtown retaining a multifarious migrant community with a particularly buzzy Afro-Caribbean culture in the decade before the release of Thunderball (1965). 

That period serves as my own half-imagined, nostalgic reverie of the West End, an urban space so central to the first half of my life. It emerged from an 80s sensibility looking backwards, via the novels of Colin McInnes and the stories of my father and uncle, to the underground world of jazz clubs that they frequented. The men in this dreamscape more typically wear black polo-necks than grey suits. Dinosaurs no doubt, but stylish ones. 

The era was at least partially reproduced, by 2019's The Trial Of Christine Keeler on the Beebultimately the tragic tale of Stephen Ward, another one of my father's colourful mates from the period. That show too suffered somewhat from over-stylisation as well as a certain coyness with regard to the carnal details.  

Last Night In Soho has one major black character, in the contemporary timestream, whose presence evinces all sorts of awkwardness and ultimately absurdity as Eloise's travels and travails pan out. Why doesn't he just walk away? 

The Soho of the eighties remains very vivid to me as well. My father's office was in Frith Street and the dad of his PA Lucy was the equally long-serving Vicar of Soho, sworn foe of Paul Raymond and nominally attached to the bombed out shell of a parish church on Wardour Street. 

Around the middle of the decade I was seeing out an internship which saw me ziz-zagging around locations in Fitzrovia. The whole district then a playground for hard-boozing creative types, their watering holes spaced out between the dense concentrations of sex shops the Vicar was gradually eroding, plus a still visibly thriving Mediterranean retail and restaurant trade.

My father was some way from being a Soho 'character', but he moved effortlessly in its sub-theatrical milieu (he was for a time the co-owner of the New London Theatre where Cats was performed for yonks) and I think he carried a substantial piece of disreputable downtown — no finer place for sure — around with him even when later attempting to reinvent himself as a respectable retired country gent. (As, in a way, I do too.) 

My own final, fixed Soho is the one which existed between the mid-nineties and the mid-noughties, by the end of which I was based out of Soho Square. 

Superficially both more mainstream and more alternative, the seediness having largely retreated behind doorways where it would have to be actively sought out, there was a burgeoning bar and club scene, a perpetual churn of briefly fashionable eateries, and Old Compton Street, already a rainbow parade upon which a handful of the old shops — pasta and porn —  still held out. Pubs like the Admiral Duncan in which I had enjoyed illegal pints as a teen had been entirely re-imagined. 

The Toucan was in a sense then my local, and I somehow never discovered that almost empty basement! 

London nostalgia is a funny old thing. I have emerged from this film with an odd desire to go back to reading Pepys

The secret diarist was perhaps one of the leading predatory males of his generation, his playground of sleaze just to the south, in Covent Garden. He will probably avoid long-term cancellation, as most people only ever read the parts of his journal relating to plague and fire. 

Edgar Wright's film may be about one particularly swinging period in the capital's past, but it insinuates in an apparently non-accidental way something larger and more timeless, and anyway, there's a fleeting glimpse of the Huguenot church on Soho Square, a precursor of which almost certainly featured in the life of Pepys's wife Elizabeth, one of a group of around ten thousand French refugees who in the main settled in that part of the city during the seventeenth century. 

The end credits of Last Night... are interspersed with brief captures of streets around Soho, apparently shot during lockdown last year. In one of these I noticed that Ed's Diner is no more, and yet earlier on in the film, there it was, but then the presence of the late Diana Rigg had already revealed to me the stretch of time this has taken to arrive on our screens. 

All kinds of questions naturally arise. If I were ever to write a novel set in Antigua, particularly the Antigua of fond, nostalgic memory, would I feel obliged to represent it authentically, or just draw out the details which matter most to me, or perhaps those I imagine might matter most to the majority of contemporary readers. 

We all have to start somewhere...

Edgar Wright clearly has no memory of the Haymarket in 1965. He represents it beautifully, yet I am forced again to face that painful truth, that as one grows older, younger directors appear and lay down a visual record that conflicts rather acrimoniously with one's own remembered experience. 

I've reached the stage where this is starting to happen to the 1980s, but even the 90s is kind of up for grabs already. 

The scene in the Cafe de Paris (a covid casualty) permitted me to pore over two fairly significant memories. Firstly a 21st birthday party I attended in 1987 at said venue. Jack Nicholson was one of two celebrity-thespy attendees, both men seen leching rather extremely and absurdly after female undergrads from Cambridge.  

But the thing about Jack was that he was hardly the classic Autumn-Spring predator portrayed in this flick, for he was rumoured locally to have a thing for a rather frowsy lady called Thelma, I recall, then fronting Charles, our local Belgravia greengrocer — and if anything a few years his senior. He would hang around the trays of vegetables and ask her out for dinner, just as long as she dressed up a certain way...

And then I remember reading an account written by a man who left the Café de Paris during the Blitz, narrowly avoiding being taken out by a German bomb which landed smack in the middle of Piccadilly, opening up a massive crater more or less in front of the Royal Academy. I have forgotten where I came across this and no amount of googling has helped. (Possibly not the same raid in which the Café de Paris itself was struck in 1941.) 

If anyone can assist me with this...

She said no...

* In truth, I have sort of never forgiven her for being cast as Jewish (when she isn't) in Jojo Rabbit. (Meanwhile, as has been documented elsewhere, Taylor-Joy's handling of accents is here, as elsewhere, phenomenal.)

** Wright apparently references Taylor-Joy's reputed terror of mirrors. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Red Notice (2021)

From the jungles of Argentina* to the fabulous lost eggs of Cleopatra...to the sudden detention of Ed Sheeran, this is a movie that is silly and contrived and wants you to know it, for that is part of its core entertainment value. 

If silliness offends you, this is possibly not for you. And if you don't get this throwaway line from Ryan Reynolds, you'll surely be excluded from some of the pleasingly self-referential irony going down here. 

However, if you are content to be banqueted somewhat vulgarly by a movie that has been fabricated to provide a playground for its three megastars and a screenplay that does little else than provide each with opportunities to serve up their signature shtick, amidst a backdrop of visual and audible tropes you can practically tick off, then Netflix might have come up with a winning, and very repeatable formula here. 

We are surrounded by studio franchises competing to take themselves oh so seriously, serving us up with relentlessly on brand narrative material. This is just 'look, we've hired Gal Gadot, The Rock and Ryan Reynolds and set them loose on a bit of — knowing — fluff', and that is somehow so refreshing. (Reynolds is the stand-out as he successfully holds together the ridiculous and the competent in his character.)

Having just watched Daniel Craig's final outing as Bond, I did find myself wishing that No Time To Die had been just a bit less po-faced. 

* Bearing a resemblance to that part of the IKEA experience where one has little else to do other than pick up a nice potted palm.

Friday, November 12, 2021

No Time To Die (2019/20/21...)

At the end of the credits there came the familiar James Bond Will Return

I have heard some people in cinemas have applauded this gesture towards the undying/undead nature of the franchise, but for me it was all a bit meh. I went to bed in a mood of gathering gloom, that continued to gather through six hours of sleep and into the early morning. 

I was anyway never entirely on board with the Craig incarnation of 007. Either he or the soap opera that steadily congealed around him was always a bit annoying, but the mood of gloom is being fed by the realisation that, now he's gone, whatever comes next will almost inevitably be a lot MORE annoying.*

This film ticked some of the Bond boxes pretty well, others rather less so. (There was quite a lot of box ticking overall.) 

Norway, Italy and Scotland were used to particularly good effect. 


There was a punt-guide's apocryphal story at Cambridge about the Mathematical Bridge at Queen's — that it had been put up without the use of nails by Newton yet later a committee of the curious a took it apart to see how it was done and then failed to put it back properly...and so out came the nails. This I felt what happened to both story and dialogue here. 

No time to edit? (Actually, they had more than enough.) 

I also felt that fast yet jerky rush to tie up loose ends and deliver the necessary conclusion that spoiled the last few episodes of Game of Thrones and Dexter.

Did we really need this emotional arc? Craig's quintet of movies never quite lived up to the promise of Casino Royale and here I resented having to try and remember the very forgetable Spectre for the first half hour or so. (How many years ago was that? I'd lost most of it in the first month.) 

If I want long-form continuity I will box-set binge. 

There's an antagonist who seems kind of important who ends up effectively dying in a car crash, and then there is the CGI...hairless cat. 

And that whole sequence supposedly set in Santiago de Cuba was frankly embarrassing, so bad that it I never quite got over it during the subsequent action. Ana de Armas, whose career was (deservedly) on the up when she shot it, must have hoped that the pandemic might end up burying it permanently. 

Those scenes were all so televisual. Even The Squid Game did a better job of lowlife highlife and the bar was set pretty low there. 

James Bond has gone so far towards becoming Doctor Who with guns, that I almost expected Craig to keel over and regenerate at the end...

 * For what it's worth my own bet is that they will go retro.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Lamb (2021)

Northern sheep are a lot weirder and well 'ard than southern sheep. This was an observation we were able to make during time spent in the Lake District (Cumbria) during the early 90s. 

They tend to make eye-contact in a manner suggestive of something way beyond harmlessness and grass-chewing complacency.

The sheep in Lamb are especially northern, I would say. The film is set in a strikingly rugged part of Iceland and if not based on an actual folk tale from the island, certainly a modern imagining of one. 

It's about a childless couple tirelessly (and somewhat wordlessly) working a farm in this landscape, when some strange presence visits their barn one night and appears to enable a solution to their most fundamental existential problem. 

That it adopts a consciously slow pace is confirmed by the fact that I began to notice that I was primarily enjoying the director's choice of camera positions. 

The #Horror and #Thriller denominations on IMDB are barely deserved, but it is significantly disquieting, and Noomi Rapace's excellent performance plays a large part in this. 

Tuesday, November 09, 2021

Toast done on one side...

Yesterday the Empire State Building shone in the colours of the Union Flag* as the Big Apple welcomed back Brits from across the pond for the first time in a very long time. 

And Blake Lively donned a scarlet mini dress in an effort to stoke the celebratory mood and show up the Foreign Office bods around her. 

Underpaid, undersexed and over-there...

I have been rather enjoying the comparative rarity status of An Englishman In New York throughout my visits this year. There have been plenty of free drinks involved. 

There's still one more to go in 2021, but I suppose I shall have to adapt to a slightly less exclusive status.

There may be fewer visiting Latin Americans around however. 

Just as the vaccinated eurotrashy masses descend, unvaccinated folk (or those unfortunate enough to have been Sputnik'd) from Mexico and Central America will not now be allowed in. 

There's something rather cynical about this. For months cities like New York and Miami have been kept afloat by visitors from south of the border but, de repente, the attitude is a bit "soz, we don't need you any more..."

The newcomers are being referred to as 'international tourists' as if those of us who have been coming up from Guatemala never really deserved the title. 

It has been coming though. In September I was a little taken aback by how many activities — even the most basic ones like eating and sleeping — were wholly dependent on the presentation of my CDC vaccination record from June. 

How long before it's 'Vaccinated with anglo-american formulas, in the past twelve months?'

In the past couple of days my Facebook feed has been inundated with pics posted by friends in Blighty as they negotiate the new checkpoints at Heathrow before embarking upon a transatlantic jaunt. 

I was genuinely unaware that demand was this pent up. 

* The Empire State was shining red white and blue on Memorial Day, so that one must be on speed dial. In fact this pic from their Twitter profile may even have been taken then!