A review of the 2019 film “Animals”

May 17th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

British writer Emma Jane Unsworth wrote the screenplay for this film adaptation of her novel “Animals” which is relocated from Manchester to Dublin and examines the close but complex relationship between two best friends of a decade who live together are now in their late 20s: Irish Laura (Holliday Grainger), who aspires to be a writer but cannot start her story, and American Tyler (Alia Shawkat), who is even more unconventional and feminist. 

The two young women live an hedonist lifestyle with an excess of cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs and a fair bit of sex. There is little suggestion that this lifestyle is in any way fulfilling which makes one wonder why they persist with it. But Tyler seems to have lots of money from her family and Laura apparently finds her writing voice. Australian director Sophie Hyde tries to give the movie some style and the lead actors are watchable enough, but the whole episode leaves one feeling flat. 

Footnote (and – only slight – spoiler): This is the only film that I’ve seen in which a woman’s pubic hair catches fire – resulting in the wonderful line: “Sorry, girls, didn’t mean to get all holy on you with my burning bush”. 

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Word of the day: peng

May 15th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

I’ve only just discovered this word which shows how uncool I am. It’s a London slang word meaning:

 very beautiful or attractivesaw a girl – she was peng. 

extremely good: That burger looks peng. 

More examples

  • That jacket is peng!
  • I’d go out with that boy, he’s well peng.
  • There was an online page called “Britain’s pengest teens“.

So where does the word come from?

I understand that ‘peng’ was originally a term used in Jamaica to describe high quality weed. It then came to mean someone who is really good looking. A lot of the London slang words are Jamaican in origin. They become popular through music and black Londoners links with the Caribbean.

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A review of “The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig

May 14th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

As we know from Matt Haig’s non-fiction work “Reasons To Stay Alive”, at the age of just 24 he had a major depressive breakdown in which he contemplated suicide. It took him many years to recover and writing was one of the things that helped him cope. He has now become a best-selling author of both non-fiction and fiction for adults and children and this novel is clearly influenced substantially by his personal experience.

Nora Seed is a 35 year old woman living in Bedford who managed to obtain a first class degree in philosophy (Henry David Thoreau was her favourite thinker), but suffers from serious depression and feels that her life has been a series of failures. She attempts suicide – but then she finds herself in a strange kind of huge library where she is given the opportunity to visit other versions of her life based on different decisions that she has made in her so-called root life – a version of the multiple universes theory of quantum physics. She explores many other lives, eight of which are described in some detail, but which does she choose and why?

Nora is told by the librarian” “you can choose choices but not outcomes”. Of course, when we make our choices, we don’t know the outcomes which can lead to a life of regrets. This novel is hardly a work of great literature but it is very readable storytelling with insightful observations on life and an uplifting message. It has been a major bestseller and it is bound to be made into a film.

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How long have we been here?

May 12th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

By ‘we’, I mean humankind. By ‘here’, I mean the universe.

Consider these amazing facts:

The universe is 13.8 billion years old.

The Earth is 4.5 billion years old.

Humankind has been around for about 200,000 years.

So the universe is around 70,000 times older than humans.

If the age of the universe was represented by a year of 365 days – the notion of the cosmic calendar – then humans appeared on 31 December at 11.52 pm.

So the universe has managed most of its life so far without us and the chances are that it will manage most of its future without us.

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The local elections: definitely bad news for Labour – but maybe not that bad and certainly far from unique

May 10th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

As a lifelong member of the Labour Party, naturally I am extremely disappointed by the results of the elections held on Thursday. But I’m not despondent.

The most dramatic result was the loss of a Parliamentary by-election in Hartlepool. This certainly underlines a loss of support in the north-east, but Hartlepool is a bit special. Three times it elected as mayor a guy who used to be the monkey mascot of the local football team; Labour would have lost the seat at the last General Election had it not been for a substantial vote for the Brexit Party; and friends who’ve been to Hartlepool (I never have) tell me that the deprivation and neglect are especially serious and long-term, so it is understandable that voters there wanted a change.

At times like this, I think it’s better to look at the bigger picture. This is the first time in a century that we’ve had a global pandemic and this threat to lives and livelihoods has presented an extraordinary challenge that has affected politics as well as everything else.

I think the pandemic explains why the incumbent government in the different UK nations – Conservatives in England, SNP in Scotland and Labour in Wales – have all done well in these elections. It is partly because the leader of these three administrations has had exceptional exposure and power; it is partly that, with a successful vaccine roll-out and the lifting of restrictions, electors are feeling well-disposed to their leaders. In a similar way, the mayors of London and Manchester – both Labour and both easily re-elected – have been seen to handle the pandemic well.

By the time of the next General Election, the pandemic should be behind us and the special factors at play in 2021 will not be there.

Having said all this, it is clear that the Labour message is unclear and that Keir Starmer has problems being accepted in some quarters. These issues need to be addressed quickly and the reshuffle of the Shadow Cabinet is a start (although the Angela Rayner situation has not been handled well). I’m not convinced that Labour’s historic position is out-of-date. After all, key features of that position have been a belief in an interventionist government and the vital role of public investment – both features being practised by the new-style Conservative administration.

I believe that there is scope and need for some big policies from Labour starting with the rebuilding and funding of the NHS and social care – as set out in the recent report of a commission of inquiry by the London School of Economics and the “Lancet” medical journal.

Taxation – the great unspoken topic of politics – has to be part of the conversation. The LSE/”Lancet” report calls for its proposals to be funded largely from increases in income tax, national insurance and VAT, which evidence suggests the public is willing to pay. And personally I think we need a carbon tax and a wealth tax in the UK plus international agreement on the taxing of the global tech giants and other multinationals.

Perhaps what the Labour Party needs more than anything is one overarching idea that can be simply summarised – something more positive, more lasting, more inclusive that “Take back control”, “Get Brexit done” and “Levelling up” which have worked so well for Boris Johnson.

I venture to suggest such a single joined up communications idea. Instead of the Great Society or the New Deal or the Big Society – each of which has been used in the past – something like the Fair Deal with every policy – environment, education, employment, housing, health, social care, transport and so – presented as a form of fairness and fair taxation presented as the cost of fair outcomes (that’s the deal). And, of course proportional representation as fair votes. 

More generally, we have to appreciate that decades of globalisation and austerity have dramatically weakened social democratic parties throughout Europe.

In France, the Socialist Party stands below 10% in the polls. The Dutch Labour Party had a near-death experience at the general election of 2017. Italy’s Democrats have lost swaths of working-class support to the populist Right and were at one point eclipsed by the Five Star Movement. Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) has slipped badly behind the Greens. So the British Labour Party is not alone in needing to re-invent itself.

Yet, in every crisis, there is an opportunity. Over in the United States, President Joe Biden has shown that the twin crises of the global pandemic and climate change have created an appetite among electors for real and dramatic change. If policies are seen to be relevant (jobs, jobs, jobs) and presented in a language that working people understand by a leader with whom people can relate, transformational change is possible. And it is most certainly needed.

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A review of the 2018 film “The Girl In The Spider’s Web”

May 9th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

Each of the three “Millennium” novels produced by the Swedish crime writer Stieg Larsson before his death was made into a successful Swedish-language film with the mesmerising Noomi Rapace as the vengeful computer hacker Lisbeth Salander. The first book was then made into an English-language film with Rooney Mara as Salander and here we have the fourth book – actually written by David Lagercrantz – and this time Claire Foy is in the eponymous role.

Now Foy is a fine actor but, in spite of the tattoos, piercings, haircut and leather outfits, she does not really inhabit the part. Also the movie, while visually dark and striking, has a meandering plot that is full of implausibilities and so it is not surprising that it has been the least well-received of the franchise. 

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A chronology of the world of “His Dark Materials” and “The Book Of Dust”

May 7th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

If – like me – you’re a fan of Philip Pullman’s world of Lyra Belacqua aka Silvertongue, you might be interested in a chronology of the eight books published so far as part of the extended narrative which covers almost half a century. So I offer you:

“Once Upon A Time In The North” – my review here

“La Belle Sauvage” – my review here

“Northern Lights” – my review here

“The Subtle Knife” – my review here

“The Amber Spyglass” – my review here

“Lyra’s Oxford” – my review here

“Serpentine” – my review here

“The Secret Commonwealth” – my review here

There is ninth novel to come which will follow on from the “The Secret Commonwealth” – but, so far, we do not have a title or publication date.

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Happy 200th birthday to the “Guardian” newspaper

May 5th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

For half a century now, I’ve read the “Guardian” newspaper and, even today, I regularly spend between one and two hours a day devouring its unique curation of stories from the UK and around the world. Its coverage of the coronavirus global pandemic has been outstanding. Most of the time, it reflects – more than any other British newspaper – my social democratic views.

Today the newspaper is 200 year old.

It started in Manchester as a consequence of the Peterloo massacre of 1819. In the intervening 200 years, the “Guardian” has grown from a weekly newspaper serving a few thousand Manchester liberals to a global operation with newsrooms in the UK, US and Australia, tens of millions of regular readers all over the world, and more than 1.5 million supporters in 180 countries.

Together with the “New York Times’ and the “Washington Post”, it is one of the leading English-language newspapers on the globe.

Long may it continue ..

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Was Napoleon a hero or a villain?

May 5th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

If you’ve ever visited Paris, you might have been to Les Invalides and see the tomb of Napoleon. I have never seen a more majestic resting place. But, if you’ve ever visited London, you might have used Waterloo Station or crossed Waterloo Bridge. Both commemorate the final defeat of Napoleon in 1815.

Today is the 200th anniversary of the death of Napoleon on the British-owned island of Saint Helena. How should we remember this controversial figure? On the one hand, he was a brilliant military campaigner who dominated most of Europe and a clever administrative reformer who has left an indelible mark on French. On the other hand, he was an imperialist abroad and a megalomaniac at home and was both a supporter of slavery and a misogynist.

This article is a brief summary of the arguments for and against his greatness, while my book review looks at how Napoleon compares to his nemesis the Duke of Wellington.

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Word of the day: flâneur

May 3rd, 2021 by Roger Darlington

A friend used this term today to describe me. I’d never heard of it and had to look it up.

Flâneur is a French term meaning ‘stroller’ used by nineteenth-century French poet Charles Baudelaire to identify an observer of modern urban life.

I guess this captures the essence of my Facebook page, especially since I moved to central London two years ago, and most especially during the three lockdowns in London during the coronavirus pandemic.

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