Friday, August 26, 2022

House of The Dragon (HBO) — episode one

I cannot recall in which order Shakespeare's history plays were released, but let's assume that there was an underlying sequel/prequel/reboot logic to it all. And that different quantities of money might have been splurged on different parts of different Kings. 

On various levels House of the Dragon possibly harks to a play the Bard never wrote: Young Lear. 

Anyway, the trick with the telling of history, even ersatz history, is to get us to care about every chunk of it in its own terms, regardless of what we know about what happened later. 

Few Englishmen fail to be roused by the antics of possibly our greatest ever monarch — Prince Hal/Henry V — even though we know how his project stalled with his untimely death and how his son, possibly our worst ever monarch, assumed the mantle.

This first episode of Thrones 2, derived from George R.R. Martin's novel Fire & Blood, deserves a mixed report. At the beginning it feels like watching a tribute act (with some Woke accretions) but then the joust and the ill-fated labours commence. We feel that budget turbo. 

If the makers understand, unlike their predecessors, that the tournament was a twisted microcosm of actual medieval battle c1400, then the extra monies could result in great things. It's a shame though that many of the Sers, Daemon in particular, appear to be wearing plastic armour of the sort I donned as a child. 

The Targaryen duty of dynastic whispers did come over as a little like Henry IV warning Hal of Bosworth field, or perhaps even of the schism with Rome. 

How strange that after arriving on the scene as the ultimate goody, Matt Smith has seemingly since been type-cast as a sociopath. 

Oh, how I long to binge. A friend suggested that all I need to do is wait for the season to conclude.With S4 of Westworld I found myself bingeing until I caught up and then frustratingly stuck back in the weekly cycle. 

Honor Society (2022)

The only review I read before we watched this one went something like this: a thrillingly dark and of the moment small town, high school drama which satirises the acquisition of credentials for a 'prestige' American education and then switches destination after a surprising and not-unnerving swerve at the end of the penultimate act, and ultimately doesn't quite land as intended. 

This is more or less the opposite of our own experience. In the first hour all I could do was name-check the superior titles from the canon apparently being referenced — Clueless, Election, American Pyscho — and the small screen's Fleabag too, but then the quality gap started to shrink noticeably and we found the landing both competent and even quite uplifting in its residual darkness. 

Whereas I'd been thinking that Angourice Rice was being mis or perhaps over-used in the first period — to her own detriment  — this movie ended up looking like a significant platform for greater things. (Though one recalls that the leads of the above-mentioned films were never really any better afterwards.) 

She was very good as Mare's daughter in Easttown and as V had only recently tuned into the hotness of Ryan Gosling and insisted on  full retrospective, we recently found a younger version of Rice showing considerable promise in The Nice Guys (2016).

Wednesday, August 24, 2022


Last Friday I read an article commemorating the 33rd anniversary of the Marchioness disaster in which a Thames pleasure boat situated between Southwark and Canon Street Railway bridges was struck from behind by the dredger Bowbelle and sank, resulting in the deaths of 51 of the 130 people on board. 

It has always seemed like one of the tentpole London disasters during the first half of my life. Others of note include the Moorgate Tube crash, the King's Cross escalator fire and Battersea Park funfair rollercoaster collapse. 

And I have always had a sense, as I do with those others, that it impacted on me as a real time, headline news item. 

Yet it cannot have done, because on August 20 1989 I was here. 

By here I mean either Guatemala, up in the Petén forest, or just over the border in the more jungly bits of Chiapas. And my access to news coverage of a parochially British nature would have been extremely limited at the time. 

So somehow I have retrofitted this calamity neatly into my own timeline. Perhaps my interest in it waxed a couple of years later when V and I moved into a home beside the Thames and these party cruisers became a regular part of our vicarious domestic nightlife. 

I now look back on my 22-year-old self and wonder at how he coped in this information-scarce environment for months on end. Being less concerned with the bla bla bla of the outside world strikes me as a kind of freedom now, yet only a couple of years later my own first connection to the interwebs undoubtedly also appeared liberating. 

Whenever within a significant settlement in Central America like a town I tended to check in. This could involve a call home on a regular schedule. 

In Antigua this was still problematic as the Guatel office — now housing Claro on the edge of the parque central — was bedlam. Around the small internal patio garden there were rows of clunky callboxes, but their use required time, effort and quite a lot of local currency. I was fortunate to have some friends in the capital who owned a fashion store in Zona 1 complete with a landline which could be more easily used for this purpose, and so I found myself making that trip almost weekly. 

I also had a friend in Antigua — a retired engineer from Aberdeen named James Stewart — who embarked on a similar journey to the UK embassy to collect a week's worth of copies of the Times, which he then devoured over breakfast at the Hotel Antigua. 

James struck me at the time as an archetypal exile who made rather infrequent trips back to the home country only to return with lurid tales of how everything had gone to the dogs there. I was convinced I would never turn out that way, and then I did. 

I can't recall if the International Herald Tribune was on sale in Antigua at that time. British newspapers were of course not even available on the one-day-late schedule I recall from my childhood summers in Spain. (It was a weird way to follow major international events like the Olympics, at least from a non-Spanish perspective, but the risk of spoilers was fairly low.) 

Two very major global moments did occur during my second period in Antigua (September-December '89) — the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Loma Prieta quake near Oakland California, both of which I became aware of in near real time: the former via the Guatemalan news coverage in the home in which I then resided on Calle Chipilapa (shared at that time with a German called Yoyo and his girlfriend, both transfixed by this development). And the latter, a few days earlier, on the TV perched on a shelf above the bar at Mistral which tended to remain tuned in to CNN all day. 

This locale of legend was situated roughly opposite Doña Luisa X. and was really the only gathering spot for foreigners in this city at the time. 

Until Al Qaeda formed, this was my earliest experience of being part of a line of the collectively dumbstruck staring at a screen. 

Monday, August 22, 2022

So long Multiverse...

Multiple universes exist in order to give us the sense that we have a sensible explanation, when in fact, we don't. 

I never thought I'd hear myself saying that, but Carlo Rovelli has successfully undermined my two decades-long 'faith' in this approach to quantum 'interference'*, and inside the pages of Helgoland I have witnessed Occam's Razor being used to splice up the Multiverse, mysteriously, into one piece. 

I'm presently immersed in the second half of this profound little book, where the author turns to entanglement, clearly neither the end result of signals travelling faster than we can currently allow, or some sort of prior agreement. Rovelli suggests, in a way I am yet to fully digest, that any correlation between two apparently distinct objects exists only in relation to a third. 

I have always loved the way that he implies more than he actually says, but once he deploys the term 'information' he becomes guilty of a sin many theoreticians in his field apparently succumb to. 

What he says is that the notorious cat is only dead or alive (in fact sleeping, as he compassionately tempers the metaphor) from its own POV. What he implies is that the properties of all matter are relative and so an isolated object not interacting with anything else (as opposed to the complex system we know all cats to be) has no reality per se. Everything perceivable is part of a web of interactions. 

I have long been fond of saying that there is no such thing as nothing, but Rovelli reveals that a thing on its own is no thing at all. 

Rovelli is a master of metaphor — not just the stand-alone clever comparison sort, but the kind which connects an idea to a useful network of concepts. Beyond his obvious cultural repleteness, it is surely this what makes him the most interesting (and useful) contemporary science writer for specialists well beyond the frontiers of his own expertise.

I suspect that I will have more to say here later about this "radical interdependence of things”. 

* Imprinted on my mind after a reading of David Deutsch's The Fabric of Reality had pushed the notion that parallel realities are a necessary consequence of our observations of the uncanny behaviour of photons. 

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Top Gun Maverick

At around the midpoint, when my mind was still reeling from all the aspects of plot and character that made no sense at all* the poignant figure of Iceman Kilmer typed "Let it go..." on his appropriately 80s home PC setup, and I did. 

In spite of all the pickable nits, perhaps even because of them, this movie is close to perfect. 

While it riffs on some of its precursor's most famous tropes, notably the cheesy dialogue and homoeroticism*, Joseph Kosinki takes things down a notch or two from his own predecessor Tony Scott's relative clumsiness in these regards. 

For the record, Maverick's jacket always had the flag of Taiwan on the back. All that has changed is that 36 years later China is in a position to throw a bigger hissy fit over it. 

I experienced the original within a raucous posse of my peers in the Cambridge Arts Cinema in 1986. I have a feeling I had already seen it at least once at the time, but couldn't swear to it; but anyway, that particular viewing was immensely more immersive. 

I now wonder if a fabulous piece of entertainment such as this would ever been green-lighted were it not for our collective nostalgia for the expansive mood of the 'prequel' and the longevity of Tom's A-listedness. There will surely always be a market for premium, escapist, silliness, but perhaps we are running out of the stars to front it up. 

Although we have a projector at home, I now regret having passed up the chance to see this flick in Campeche a couple of months ago, but it was my last night there and I was feeling listless, so I literally rain-checked.

* That Jennifer Connelly was shooting Labyrinth when Tom Cruise started training on F-14s somehow felt a bit euuuuuuuu. Yet, as with everything here, she significantly exceeded Kelly McGillis as competent woman with nice car. Yacht too. Maybe I should open a bar in San Diego. 

* Arguably the 'gayest' bits of this film occur when Tom and Rooster share a superannuated fighter for one last dogfight towards the end, and then beyond that, back on the carrier. 

Friday, August 19, 2022

Members of the club...

In the late 70s my journey home — Hammersmith bridge, No9 bus, followed by a meander through the mewses leading south from St George’s Hospital to the rear entrance of St Peters Eaton Square (later firebombed by a bellend convinced it had to be a Catholic institution), almost unfailingly delivering me to our front door within a narrow ten minute window, 17:00-17:10, verified by the church clock — in effect our kitchen clock from the other side of Hobart Place — concluded with teatime: a cup of tea in a china cup and two, or perhaps three, of these…

St Peter's

St George's Hospital


Update: my cousin Steph has reminded me how yum the purple version of the Club also was, with its pieces of 'fruit'. And an old friend in Aus has shared an admission, that she too liked to scrape the chocolate off with her teeth to reveal the biscuit skeleton below, something I was won to do with Maltesers too, occasionally. 

Last Summer In the City by Gianfranco Calligarich

Warm brioche at dawn is about as close as this cult novel gets to 'feel good'. And there's not a Vespa in sight. 

A croissant from San Martín an adequate surrogate here...

It offers an account of a year in the Italian capital from Leo Gazzara, a just-turned-30, would-be journalist nibbling around the crusts of more established and glamorous Roman lifestyles. 

Since its publication in 1973, it has struggled to find a lasting mass take-up beyond the literati. There are several reasons one could suggest for this, not least the fact that it ultimately reads rather like an extended suicide note. 

The novel was published at a moment of transition between Italy's 60s boom and the anni di piombo of the following decade and has tended to vanish and then reappear whenever its abrasive characters have seemed more befitting to the moment. This English translation has been released at a time when we refer to this age-group and its traits as Millennial

English readers are tempted with blurb noting comparisons to The Catcher in the Rye, Fellini's La Dolce Vita and occasionally also The Sun Also Rises

While Hemingway's avatars are lost because of the war, Houellebecq's because their parents were hippies, for or Leo and his friends, feeling this way is almost a side-effect of life in the Eternal City. 

Leo is an impecunious outsider, yet Rome has seemingly offered him an infusion of virtual blue blood; a loaned sensed of self-worth loaded with a painful malaise — a nostalgia for things one never really had, resulting in the sense of being an avanzo, a remnant, leading a life consisting of leftovers. 

He exemplifies an Italian type: the sfigato, here a person dangerously detached, drifting along the edge of an existential precipice. 

It's not hard to see why the novel has been cherished by intellectuals. Leo is a witty and perceptive observer of his environment. A little less so however of the people around him, to the extent that many readers may fail to care all that much. 

Hemingway's posse in the Basque Country are also unlikeable, but the first time I read Jake's narrative I shared his obsession with Lady Brett in a manner that was unrepeated here with Arianna. Leo informs us of her beauty, but his broader descriptions render her rather irritating.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Westworld S4

A few thoughts on the now-concluded fourth season of Westworld

"Clever" shows appear to have an innate tendency to become soap operas in disguise, with writers spinning out ever more absurd plot developments as an excuse for feeding the audience's fixation with the individual characters and their interactions. This is what marked the decline of Killing Eve and something similar has undoubtedly been happening here. 

There have been some big ideas in S4, but their presentation has been predominantly wooly.  I was often reminded of the words of John Ruskin: "It is far more difficult to be simple than to be complicated". 

And the trouble here has often been that Westworld is simple when it needs to be complicated (NYC, actually a small part of NYC, standing in for the entire world) and vice versa. There has long been a need for some conceptual condensation. 

I reached a similar stage in my viewing of Lost, when I realised that too many of the loose ends were loose screws and lost faith that even the writers were an omniscient presence in their own world. 

Perhaps the three follow-up seasons have suffered from a failure to fully exploit the original theme park conceit inherited from Michael Crichton. Audiences then drooped, seasons shrunk and we have ended up with characters suddenly able to traverse significant distances in the blink of an eye, a phenomenon familiar from late-stage Game of Thrones

Allowing characters from a constrained scenario to wander freely around the world is akin to the phenomenon of British sitcom characters dispatched on holidays abroad. 

Nobody is yet sure if there will be a fifth season, except perhaps Ed Harris who has claimed that filming is about to start and that it will be the last. It's hard however to see how the one that just ended could not be the last for Ed's William.  

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Slow Horses (Apple TV)

Practically everyone has been raving about Mick Herron's Slough House series since Slow Horses was first published a decade ago. 

In a recent edition of the New Statesman John Gray went to far as to suggest that Herron is a superior writer to the late John Le Carré. (Hmmm...)

Mick Jagger is reportedly such a big fan that he absolutely insisted on doing the vocals for the customised theme song. Like everything on Apple's first 6-part adaptation, it's kind of wonderful...

I read the book two or three years ago and really enjoyed it, but somehow didn't feel the immediate need to press on with these characters. Yet now I have enjoyed the show considerably more and have been trying to pinpoint precisely why. 

Actually seeing areas of London I know so well counts for something, especially when given this kind of atmospheric overlay. 

But in the end, perhaps it all comes down to Gary Oldman. There's humour in the books, but his take on Lamb is utterly hilarious and on-the-nose. A well written gag still requires delivery, and maybe I hadn't been delivering them all that well inside my head. And Oldman is the standout example of near perfect casting across the board. 

Given the way that Killing Eve became a sort of self-satire, where the writers lost all track of the bigger stakes, this is a welcome addition to the small screen genre. And Ho is surely the best pissing from inside out dweeb yet incorporated in this kind of series. And he reminds me of several colleagues from the 90s. 

I'm now into Dead Lions, applying the TV makeover in my head. We only have until November before Oldman and co return with their own delivery. 

Imaginary Balance

US media such as NBC were referring to Rushdie last night as "the controversial author" — controversial, like someone whose views are outside the mainstream...rather dodgy. 

Controversial, perhaps then to the same extent as the American "stand up" comedian who has just had his show cancelled at The Edinburgh Fringe. 

You can read the report on the BBC News website and end up none the wiser about the severity of dodginess involved. It's beyond the pale, yet the Beeb won't, for example, tell you that he flashed his dick at the audience or that he referred to Rishi Sunak as a Paki

And in between the shock factor of the intermittent stabby, shooty attacks, this is one of the main problems that free speech faces today: a self-censoring panic about causing offence, even in the business of reporting the verifiably offensive. 

Salman meanwhile, is an apostate, a committed atheist with long-standing and firm convictions. And JK Rowling is a children's author who advocates for fact over ideology. Yet both can end up in mortal danger, at the very least culturally-tagged as "controversial", because we are afraid of pissing off the organised dickheads. 

As Slavoj Žižek explains in his new book, all would-be 'free' speech is now emitted into a space patrolled by a newish species of listener...

“The basic characteristic of today’s subjectivity is the weird combination of the free subject who experiences himself as ultimately responsible for his fate and the subject who grounds the authority of his speech on his status of a victim of circumstances beyond his control... The notion of subject as a victim involves the extreme narcissistic perspective: every encounter with the Other appears as a potential threat to the subject’s precarious imaginary balance."


Friday, August 12, 2022

Prey (2022)


Even before we sat down to watch this I could hear the tap tap tap of a  zombified franchise banging its head against the window. What was this exactly — prequel, sequel, reboot..?

And during the first twenty minutes or so my misgivings were accumulating: I know how this extraterrestrial beastie looks and behaves, so spare me the piecemeal reveal lark. Why do the northern great plains indigenes emit at most a single phrase in Comanche before collapsing into modern highschooler English?* And are they really going with the whole high tech bully roughs up the Native Americans vibe? 

And then a horde — an 'orde? — of expendable, unreconstructed Frogs arrives, and from that point onwards, things start to get rather good. It's as if the production, having accepted its limitations, suddenly and rather thrillingly escapes them. 

Other iconic alien nasties have been subjected to 'updates' which haven't quite worked, or stuck (viz Daleks) but this one has been conducted with both smarts and sensitivity. 

The movie sheds its early televisual quality to become one of the better Predator outings and one that works as a standalone, and almost certainly as a career stepping stone for Amber Midthunder. 

And at the end I found myself doing something I would never have imagined myself doing during those early scenes — looking up books on the history of the Comanche Nation on Amazon. 

* There is, apparently, a Comanche-only version, which I would rather have seen. 

Saturday, August 06, 2022

No soy codo, pero...

I've been suffering somewhat from tennis elbow for the past couple of months. All the more disappointing given the fact that I haven't played tennis, proper, for years. 

V and I often turned out on our local hard courts three or four times a week during the shortish British summers. 

But then just over a decade ago she suffered a fall from a reasonable altitude, landing very hard on her shoulder, and although we did try to go back out with our racquets, it was soon clear that her service was but a shadow of its former self and the competitive element of our matches was gone for good. 

This was especially traumatic for her as she had always been extremely sporty — Guatemalan national fencing champion and so on — and had worked her way back from an ugly knee injury which occurred just before we met, but as we all now know, unresolve-able chronic conditions begin at 40. 

And La Antigua has some lovely clay courts comparable with those we enjoyed playing on over on the mucky red continent in the late 90s. 

In my youth I never seemed to get how easily athletes come a-cropper. Years and years of football, rugby, cricket, tennis, badminton, soft ball, squash, real-tennis, swimming, diving and not a niggle. (Though V and I are on the same page on the unnecessary wrist pain of volleyball.)

But then in my thirties I made a lunge on the tennis court at Cascades against an awkward Aussie opponent and landed clumsily on an outstretched leg, which left me with a form of sciatica for weeks. 

I recall that my father suffered quite alarmingly from tennis elbow for an extended period of my childhood — in his case more properly golf elbow — and had it treated with hydrocortisone injections, but that is not my way.

Luckily I have discovered a handy Argie-manufuactured med called Reversal Flex here in Guatemala, which is extremely effective at targeting this sort of discomfort. Over the counter, but ought not to be, of course. 

Albañiles in LAG tend to rave about Vitaflenaco for back pain and other forms of inflammation, and I have experimented, but this is a painkiller one should avoid if at all possible. 

In my case the garden shears can take the lion's share of the blame for my codo condition — there are times of year when I insist on manually mowing the lawn, and last June was one of those. 

About eight years ago I had some fairly serious knee ligament trouble myself, which was settled almost overnight by a dose of electronic acupuncture in Pangbourne, but I doubt similar miracles can easily be accessed here in LAG. 

In the last couple of years in London we used to play badminton regularly at the weekends with some friends near Stamford Bridge (Chelsea FC i.e. deepest Fulham) and we still occasionally indulge in the same in our garden, as it seems feasible, even for the decrepit, and always generates some amusing canine mayhem. 

Perhaps the best part of our tennis championships in Wapping were the pints at the Prospect of Whitby afterwards. The lesson here is that one's compound experiences may start to fall apart as the years go by, but one is not necessarily left with the spotty bananas at the bottom of the bowl. 

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Not Okay (2022)

Zoey Deutch is so very good in this just-about-okay film, I ended up vicariously regretting her choice of being in it. 

We've only recently seen her in The Outfit, an obvious step up (and coincidentally, there too paired against a dickwad love interest played by Dylan O'Brien). Maybe she signed both dotted lines around the same time? 

The trouble is that she makes a character set up to be unlikeable, vaguely likeable. Writer-director Quinn Shepherd has tried to offset this problem by introducing a woke paragon in the form of school shooting victim Rowan, but this then breaks what I see as the golden rule of satire — nobody in the story can be excused from ridicule. 

The screenplay makes some questionable choices in terms of believability and good taste. It ought to have danced in step with the zeitgeist, yet often felt clumsily off beat. 

The more revealing dramas about social media tend to be projections — e.g. Black Mirror — rather than attempts to whack the highly mobile mole in the moment. 

The characters that share the office with Danni at 'Depravity' are perhaps the movie's biggest fail, especially a young man with South-Asian roots and a couple of unnecessarily nasty LGBT roles.