Monday, September 28, 2015

Review of 'The Global Minotaur' by Yanis Varoufakis

An overview of global finance and economics, from the perspective of someone who is clearly a radical dissenter but not a complete outsider. In person and when speaking Varoufakis is more radical than this book, which ends up calling for a revived, fairer Bretton Woods with America at the centre - not what I expected from a Marxist. Still, there's lots of very clear explication of how the system works, and the roles of the various countries within it. I suspect it will stand a re-reading...I get CDOs, but can't follow CDSs no matter how often I read about them.

I kept wanting to take bits of this and shove it under the noses of those of a self-deceiving mainstream-economics persuasion, but it's not appropriate for that. I'd really like for there to be a shorter, simpler version aimed at that.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Review of 'Jurassic York'

This book is a hysterical mash-up of Shakespeare, Star Wars, 1984 and Brave New World, the Carry On films, dystopian cyberpunk…well, it’s just wonderful. There’s a tongue-in-cheek Hibernophobia about it, but I don’t think any Scots people could really take offence. The plot is at least partly borrowed from Star Wars, but set in a fictional future England (Scotland having become independent long ago) ruled by a cloned and re-vivified Richard III, who is just as nasty as Shakespeare makes his first incarnation.

Lots of quoting from Shakespeare and contemporary pop songs, tons of humour, characters with names from contemporary British politics, a feminist slant (the warriors are mainly girls because lots of men died in a plague a while back)…what’s not to like?

A slightly serious point; the Wars of the Roses were the classic period of so-called “Bastard Feudalism”, when traditional loyalties and obligations broke down and political relationships were fluid and fast-changing. I think it might have been better to depict a contemporary version of “Bastard Feudalism” (after all, our contemporary Tories fit the bill on most counts) rather than try to squeeze the plot of this on to a precise mapping of the Yorkist-Lancastrian divide. I think the authors could have more fun with Johnson and Cameron, or their latter-day avatars, than they do with revivified defunct noblemen.

But that’s a quibble. This is enormous fun, and much to be enjoyed.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Review of 45 Years

I saw this a few weeks ago and still haven’t written a review – very unusual for me. I think it’s because this film affected me so much. It’s about a couple who have been married for a long time, and as they prepare to celebrate their 45th anniversary comes the news that the body of his old girlfriend, frozen in an underground glacier since she died on a walking holiday before he ever met his wife, has been found.

This unsurprisingly generates much reflection on the road not taken – what sort of life he might have had if she hadn't died. He’s sensitive enough to not do much of this in front of his wife of 45 years, but she can see that he’s doing it, and it’s painful for her, and thus for him.

My first response was that this was an example of the inherent sadness of human existence. Nobody behaves badly, and yet they both are badly hurt. Life is a collection of roads not taken, and roads taken. We make the best choices we can with the knowledge we have and the hands we are dealt, and we have to live with the consequences even – especially – when hindsight shows the choices not to have been the best they could have been. That’s why seeing any story that takes in the whole arc of a life – Pinter’s ‘Betrayals’ comes to mind, but also the brilliant puppet show about gay men 'Or You Could Kiss me' – is so moving and also so disquieting.

But I think that there’s more to this particular story. After I thought about I decided that actually the husband had done something wrong, and that this was actually the most painful thing about the story; more, that my initial failure to allow this, and read this as a story about everybody doing the best they can, actually says something about me and how I've lived my life. (I won’t say more about what it was, because it would spoil a really good film, with great acting, for anyone who hasn't seen it. If you want to know, talk to me when you've seen it; or talk to your therapist, or your partner of many years.)

Which is probably why it’s taken me so long to write the review.

Review of ‘The Second Mother’

A Brazilian film about the relationship between families and their household servants. I’ve little experience of this myself, but my wife and her family (South African) know all about kids being brought up by servants. There are loving relationships between the servants and their charges, but everyone knows – or grows to know – the precise boundaries that delineate the extent to which the servants are, and are not, family members.

And that’s what the film is about. Val, a poor woman from the North East of Brazil, brings up the nice young son in a beautiful modernist house in Sao Paolo, with pool, lovely garden, cute Labrador and all the other trimmings. She is trusted, loyal, loves the son and is loved by him in a way that he doesn’t love his real mother – the Portuguese title is ‘When is she coming home?’, a question that the boy asks about his mummy early on, when he’s about six and being cared for by Val.

But the stable equilibrium is disrupted by the introduction of Val’s daughter Jessica, who comes to Sao Paolo to take the entrance exam for university. The family – Dona Barbara really, who runs the show – gives permission for Jessica to stay in the house, in Val’s servant room. But Jessica doesn’t understand the rules of the master-servant game and all the little ways in which Val diminishes herself to maintain those boundaries. Oh, and she’s beautiful and clever.

This film is actually painful to watch, though it does have some comic moments. Dona Barbara reacts very badly to the disruption – when Jessica swims in the family pool she orders it to be drained, claiming to have seen a rat in there. Her husband, a failed artist, makes a fool of himself because Jessica is beautiful and young.

This is a bit slow in the beginning, and a bit long, but really worth staying with.