Monday, February 27, 2023


This week has seen protests — for which I harbour strong sympathies — against the Cayalá-zation of Antigua. 

The phenomenon is, I suspect, less the result of some dastardly dictatorial masterplan than a knee-jerk reaction to developments which have been in the pipeline over in the capital for almost a decade and which the pandemic undoubtedly accelerated. 

Cayalá itself is the flagship project amongst several aiming to being strong clusters of very aspirational entertainment and consumption to Guatemala. Our mayor, who owns a crib there, has been well placed to see the writing on the wall. 

Ever since I first came to Antigua in the 80s there has been a pattern of weekly migration from Guatemala City. Young affluent capitalinos would flood the place on Friday and Saturday nights and then a more family-orientated herd would trot around the streets on Sundays, congregating at for coffee and cake at Doña Luisa X. or for traditional forms of tooth decay at Doña Maria Gordillo's sweet shop opposite.

These places have been feeling staid and/or passé for quite a while now, but more modern and swanky city-based chains have always struggled to establish themselves in this town, on their own at least. 

Covid brought an extended halt, not just to the flow of tourists, but also to the more domestic transfer of disposable income from the other side of the hills. At the time I predicted that things would not go back to precisely how they were, pre-pandemic, and so it has transpired. 

The likes of Cayalá have established a loyal clientele. Meanwhile, here in Antigua many businesses had to pitch themselves just a little bit more down-market to survive, and this has stoked the underlying reaction. Antigua has been shedding its USP of tranquil authenticity for decades anyway, which makes it easier for the mall mentality to encroach. 

What we now see happening all around us is thus a consequence of Antigua being forced out of its economic comfort zone. If it is to be properly discouraged we need to understand that telling people to be content with what they had won't cut it, because many are currently looking for ways to assuage the anxiety which has slotted into the space previously by occupied by contented complacency.

Sharper (2023)


Several of the films we've sat through recently have begun with some serious intent, yet it has soon become clear that — rather like Newcastle United today in the Carabao Cup final —  there is going to be no end product, so to speak. In other words, a decent set-up slipping relentlessly into a disappointing resolution.

Fortunately this is not the case with Sharper, a movie that has a clear plan and seems to know what it is doing for every moment of its running time. It's no masterpiece, but the dialogue, the locations and the just non-linear enough section splicing by character perspective all work as they are supposed to. It’s the kind of production critics tend to call ‘slick’, which is almost always a slightly back-handed compliment. 


If you go to see a film about grifters on the loose in the stupidly rich parts of Manhattan, you surely know what to expect. Here we get the familiar nested cons and then the con-ending-con, all exactly as we probably should have expected, but with no leakage of the entertainment value, even if the ending isn’t exactly triumphant. 

Julianne Moore is the biggest star, but perhaps the stand out performances come from Sebastian Stan and Briana Middleton. One might say that Moore, after her biggish reveal, becomes a diluting agent in the dramatic mix. 

Friday, February 24, 2023

Knock At The Cabin (2023)

And, here we go again...



Another fairly high-tension, potentially high-concept thriller which in the end is content to be merely ludicrous. (Having once landed one of the best endings in recent cinematic history, M. Night Shyalaman has missed a few since.)

For some of the way there is some pleasing dramatic tension between the propositions posed by Faith and Reason, but this is ultimately resolved unsatisfactorily, especially as the kind of Faith we see here is largely of the Qanon variety. Indeed, we find ourselves at the end of a world that has turned out to be one big, rather nasty conspiracy. 

Infinity Pool also asked some hard-edged moral-philosophical questions* and then provided only rather garbled answers. 

Here, Eric's attempt to explain his Damascene conversion to the worldview of his four committed abusers is particularly silly. His husband Andrew has a concurrent loss of faith — in the tenet that humanity are not really worth saving — which at the very least needed the support if its own mysterious figure in the light.

And again, some of the basics could so easily have been done so much better. For example, the way events outside the cabin are represented via TV news reports. 

The ending is less ambiguous than incomplete, by reason of the trail of incongruities left behind it. 

Reason has been trounced, but the judges in this bout may not have been impartial. 

Fine performance from Dave Bautista. 

 * Spoiler: What if you could pay to have a clone suffer the death penalty for you as a surrogate, yet had to watch 'yourself' die?

Infinity Pool (2023)

This cartoon made me wonder if AI could already be used to produce genre screenplays which don't stutter to a disappointing conclusion, in particular when the final moments involve a hefty dose of ambiguity. 

I mean, humans can do this — The Shining for example — but it is becoming less common. 

Brandon Cronenberg's Infinity Pool is extraordinary and however you feel about the way it winds up, you are going to know that you have been properly movie'd! 

I think the problem here is ultimately twofold. Firstly the basic conceit falls between two stools. It could be used in a movie as it is here, more or less as an extended exercise in visceral, visual suggestion, with considerably more show than tell OR it could be strung out (rather like Dark) across three ten episode seasons with a bit more to-ing and fro-ing between the existential teasing and some actual, if partial resolution. I suspect that the climax would be a bit meh either way. 

The second issue I had is that even in the part I was most gripped by, I was starting to think of simple things that could be done to improve the experience. Several characters needed padding out and as someone who generally loves any story set in a hotel or resort, something felt missing here in the way the location was realised. 

And if anyone should delight in a metaphorical treatment of how comparatively well-off foreigners tend to behave as if they are above both the law and moral censure when liberated from their more native constraints, that would tend to be me.  


My feelings about Mia Goth's performance neatly mirrored those about the whole production. Wow, I had thought at the start, confirmation that X/Pearl were no flukes,  and that we have another strong yet unconventional British-South American silver screen presence to put alongside Anya Taylor-Joy. By the end it all felt a bit over-strained and detached from credibility.  

Ditto Alexander Skarsgård doing his grunty thing. Pleasing to a point, but then it starts to manifest as a cover up for weaknesses in the script. 

The movie designed to terrify North Americans with passports is practically a genre of its own, and while this is a lot more interesting than Hostel or Taken, it doesn’t quite do enough to entirely transcend its tropes. 

I'm not going to say anything more, because in spite of these misgivings I would recommend this film, and I do think it is worth seeing before one has discovered much about the plot.  





Saturday, February 11, 2023

Alice, Darling (2022)

I was genuinely surprised how thoroughly Mary Nighy's directorial debut connected with me.

Fundamentally this is a film about female friendship, and a rather specific urban, North American form of it, so I might have rather churlishly concluded that it is "not for me", but it is just such a clever confection that I was riveted.

Nighy (Bill's daughter) did not write the screenplay herself, and that turned out to be another surprise, because so much of what makes this work is the balance between the said and the unsaid and I cannot imagine anyone would have been all that excited by the words on the page alone. 

Anna Kendrick plays a young woman we are not meant to immediately warm to. Gradually we start to realise that her personality on screen reflects the distorting impact of another character, her smarmy, controlling, artist boyfriend Simon. Alice is in a sense possessed by him, and her alone time is measured by the beeps of his checkings in, by her attempts to be pleasing to him, even at a distance.

Simon's variety of hegemony is enforced by the kind of non-verbal, procedural violence that leaves no visible harm, beyond that which the oppressed inflict on themselves.

Only as the story evolves do we come to appreciate this more directly, and even then Alice remains someone who is never entirely sure from one moment to the next whether she is a victim or her "life partner's" co-perpetrator.

Her pair of increasingly concerned old friends, played by Wunmi Mosaku and Kaniehtiio Horn also deliver a masterclass in body language. 





Thursday, February 09, 2023


Carajillo, typically pronounced by its hardcore native adherents with one L acting far more like an L — e.g. Marbelya — is possibly not the best way to start your morning. 


I was first introduced to this brew by my father in what was a sort of right of passage in a working men’s bar in Andalucía behind a beaded curtain: the sort of joint where asking for the version below would be the equivalent of requesting a Pimms at a pub in Paisley. You’d kind of deserve whatever happened next. 
Further north in Spain they make them with the pomace brandy called orujo. Evil stuff. They will tend to offer it to you as an emergency digestif in Cantabria after you’ve finished your fabada and think you’re probably going to die anyway.


Sunday, February 05, 2023

Don't Look Deeper (2020)

I know plenty of grown ups who’d be reluctant to sit through this and I myself reached the end feeling rather chuffed that I’d skipped the full 14-episode series that this represents a condensation of.

In spite of the spectral presence of all those narrative excisions, the limited amount of science in this SF proposition plus a modicum of wokeishness, I really rather enjoyed it.

Director Catherine Hardwicke, known for Thirteen and Twilight, always handles adolescent angst with acuteness and style, and left me pondering why the replicants of the Blade Runner franchise have never been so subtly ambiguous, ethnically and sexually as Aisha here.