A review of the new film “Everybody Knows”

March 22nd, 2019 by Roger Darlington

This Spanish-language film is a French-Spanish-Italian co-production written and directed by the Iranian Asghar Farhadi (who has twice won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film). It has a wondeful cast, headed by Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, a couple in real life who here play former lovers.

Although the setting and casting are new for Farhadi, in this suspense drama involving the kidnapping of a young girl, he deploys his trademark style and uses this incident as a device to expose all sorts of tensions in the family and the community. As the narrative twists keep coming, some of the plotting may be contrived, but the film is never less than compelling watching.

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The challenge of combatting child abuse images online

March 21st, 2019 by Roger Darlington

For six years [see my reported here], I was the first independent Chair of the Internet Watch Foundation which acts to remove child abuse images which appear on the Internet. So I was more than usually interested to hear a short presentation by the current IWF Chair Andrew Puddephatt at this week’s Westminster eForum on online regulation.

In spite of two decades of excellent work by the IWF, there is no reduction in the volume of child abuse images available on the Net. In its last report, IWF actually recorded an increase. In 2017, it processed 132,636 reports (a 26% increase on 2016).

Puddephatt estimated that in the UK around 100,000 men regularly access such abhorrent images. He emphasised that we were talking about men: very few woman view such material and most of the problems of harmful and offensive content and behaviour online originate with men.

He posed the question: what is causing such human bad behaviour? He insisted that, so long as there is demand for such images, there will be supply and argued that we have to talk about disbanding demand as well as supply,

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How to be happy – today and always

March 20th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

Today it is the the annual celebration of International Happiness Day. So, how can we be happy (or at least happier). I offer two resources: one professional, the other personal.

On my web site, I’ve reviewed several excellent books on happiness. One is “The How Of Happiness” by Sonja Lyubomirsky and at the core of this book are 12 specific happiness-enhancing activities. You can check out her advice in my review of the book here.

Some time ago, I attempted myself to pull together a set of suggestions – some more light-hearted than others – on “How To Be Happy” and this is a popular page on my web site. You can read my ideas here.

Have a happy day and a happy life.

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Where now for the Palestine-Israeli problem?

March 19th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

The conflict between Palestinians and Israel seems to have fallen out of consideration by much of the world’s media. Perhaps the problem is just too intractable. But the violence in Gaza continues and there is an election coming up in Israel.

My friend Eric Lee has given his sobering thoughts in this piece for “The Times of Israel” where he comments on the longstanding idea of two states:

” .. the two-state solution seems further away than ever, with both sides, Israelis and Palestinians, claiming that there is no partner on the other side. And both sides may well be right. Abbas seems to be concerned only with retaining power, which he clings to for dear life, and shows no interest in resuming any kind of negotiations. And this seems to work well for his Israeli partner Netanyahu, who also is laser-focused on remaining prime minister, and is delighted not to have to ever sit across a bargaining table with Palestinians again.”

If you want some brief historic background to the Arab/Israeli conflict, you might like to read my book review.

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So, have you been watching the MP Nick Boles?

March 17th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

Nine months ago, I did a blog posting about the Member of Parliament Nick Boles and concluded “He is a man to watch”.

This weekend, we had the news of his resignation as the Conservative MP for Grantham & Stamford, although he is likely to continue taking the Conservative whip.

We haven’t heard the last of Boles. He is a leading advocate of a possible solution to the Brexit crisis called Norway Plus.

I must say that, in half a century of following British politics, I have never known party affiliations and voting discipline to be more fluid.

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The making of American power (4): military dictatorships in Latin America

March 16th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

This week, I attended week 4 of an eight-week evening class at London”s City Literary Institute. The title is “The making of American power: US foreign policy from the Cold War to Trump” and our lecturer is Jack Gain.

Week 4 of the course was about the many interventions that the US has made in Central and South America to undermine governments that it did not like and support dictatorships that were more acceptable to the White House.

The course began with a video clip of a Congessional hearing with Elliott Abrams, the newly-appointed US Special Envoy to Venezuela who has a terrible record of support for fascist regimes in Latin America.

One of the countries we discussed was El Salvador and one of the incidents we recalled was the massacre at El Mozote. I have been there and this is a relevant extract from an account of my trip to Central America:

“Outside Perquin, we took an unmade road to a village called El Mozote which became infamous on 11 December 1981. On that day, in an operation called “Anvil And Hammer” [for more details click here], army troops persuaded people from the surrounding communities to come to the centre of this village where the men, woman and children were separated before around 800 of them were massacred. One of the few survivors, a woman called Rufina Amaya Marquez, was determined that everyone should learn about the atrocity and campaigned for it to be known nationally and internationally.

Today the village has constructed a memorial with silhouetted metal figures of a man, a woman, a boy and a girl holding hands. Behind these figures is a wall with plaques commemorating the names of many of the victims. We were told the story by a young woman called Estrella who was six at the time of the massacre. The pain was still evident in her voice and eyes and our guide Sandra chose not to translate the full descriptions of some of the macabre horrors that unfolded. It was a very moving account, but one of our group – a particularly pompous and portly man who will remain nameless – was chatting as Estrella spoke and Vee publicly and loudly rebuked him.”

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A review of the new film “The Aftermath”

March 15th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

The cinema is replete with stories of wartime romances – including the sub-theme of fraternisation with the enemy – but this film is different with a setting just after the Second World War in a Hamburg devastated by British bombing.

Rachael Morgan (Keira Knightley) is a young woman joining her husband Lewis (Jason Clarke), an officer in the British zone of occupation, who finds unexpectedly that they are sharing their requisitioned stately home with the original German occupant Stefan Lubert (Alexander Skargård). Each of these three has suffered the death of a dear one and, in very different ways, is struggling to come to terms with it in a manner which will have fateful consequences for the other two.

Based on a novel by Rhidian Brook, this is a truly moving tale of love and loss, beautifully shot in the Czech Republic. At first, it might seem that the treatment of the German population is overly understanding and compassionate but soon we find Nazi sympathies run deep with serious consequences for the main character.

The film is all the more compelling for having a largely unknown cast. Knightley, in the central role, is the exception in being familar and possible just now over-familiar and it may be that one’s reaction her will colour your judgement of the work either way. For my part, I rate Knightley who I think is growing as an actress as evidenced in such recent work as “Colette”. 

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The making of American power (3): the war in Vietnam

March 14th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

Last week, I attended week 3 of an eight-week evening class at London”s City Literary Institute. The title is “The making of American power: US foreign policy from the Cold War to Trump” and our lecturer is Jack Gain.

Week 3 of the course was on the war in Vietnam. I was reminded of my visit to Vietnam in 2006 and these are a couple of extracts from my record of that trip.

‘We were keen to see the War Remnants Museum which did not appear to be on the official programme, so this was the focus of our free afternoon. Professionally the museum is not impressive, but then there is little money for such things. Politically it is utterly one-sided (it used to be called the Museum of American War Atrocities), but that is to be expected in the country that won the war and remains communist-controlled. However, it is a fascinating, if disturbing, venue with images from the infamous My Lai massacre and gruesome pictures of victims of torture, nepalm and Agent Orange including two deformed foetuses in glass jars. In the small grounds, there are a few samples of military hardware including a F5A jet, a Huey helicopter, an M48 tank, and a BLU 82 seismic bomb.’

“Sunday morning at 8 am and the official part of the programme commenced. The VJV group travelled 40 miles (65 km) north-west of HCM City to Cu Chi, site of the underground tunnel network used by the Vietminh (the League for Vietnamese Independence of the north) and the Vietcong (the National Liberation Front in the south) during the conflict with both the French and the Americans. Constructed between 1948-1973, this is a complex of 217 miles (350 km) of tunnels on three levels – respectively 3 metres, 6 metres and 10 metres deep – in an area of 162 sq miles (420 sq km). All around are dips in the ground which are the remnants of bomb craters.

In an article by Tom Mangold and John Penycate, they wrote: “The district of Cu Chi was the most bombed, shelled, gassed, defoliated, and generally devastated area in the history of warfare.” Today two sections of the tunnels are open to the public. The Ben Binh tunnels remain unlit and unreconstructed, making it difficult for larger westerners to negotiate. The Ben Duoc tunnels, however, are renovated and open to tourists.

Our journey to Cu Chi was broken by short stops to see local rice paper making and rubber collecting and then, once at Cu Chi tself, we spent two hours looking over the site and the exhibits. First, in a thatched shed, we were shown a 15-minute black and while film about the role of the tunnels in the war. This was a very amateurish and propagandist work in which the American soldiers were described as “a crazy bunch of devils” and the best of the Vietnamese soldiers were said to be proclaimed “American killer hero”. Then we saw demonstrations of the fiendish and fearsome booby traps and mines used to block access to the tunnels by American forces. Around the site, there are various model tableaux of soldiers in authentic uniform and so-called ‘Uncle Ho’ sandels (made out of old tyres).

We were shown how easy it was to disguise an entrance to the tunnel network – a small, flat cover and a few old leaves did the trick. The entrances were incredibly small, since Vietnamese are tiny and slim. Finally we were given the opportunity – taken by Vee & Roger – to enter one small section of the tunnels which has been widened to accommodate westerners. It was unbelieveably tight and dark down there and Vee suddenly felt claustrophobic, but Roger made good use of a small torch that he had taken with him and helped her continue the crawl. There was simply no way that one could go back.”

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A review of the new superhero movie”Captain Marvel”

March 12th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

Following the great success of the first female titular role for a super-hero movie (“Wonder Woman”), thanks to the owners of of DC Comics franchise, it was inevitable that we would have a female super-hero fronting a work from the Marvel Cinematic Universe – another first – and it’s a pity that the two will never appear together.

“Captain Marvel” is both directed and co-written by a female/male team – Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck – who come to this blockbuster from an indie background but stick largely to the conventions of the genre although with fewer special effects. It is a double origin movie, both explaining how a one-time occupant of Earth (known here as C53) and the planet Hala of the technically-advanced Kree came to acquire her extraordinary powers and how the special law enforcement agency SHIELD recruited the first of a team that was to become the Avengers. 

Brie Larsen – who won an Academy Award for “Room” – is excellent in the eponymous role, having built up her physical strength for the part and being equally capable of martial arts and sharp quips before discovering that she can both fling energy bolts from her hands and fly in the sky and through space. With powers so great, she is set to have a special role in the next Avengers movie.

Meanwhile we see Nick Fury as we’ve not seen him before, with both eyes intact, and the actor who plays him, Samuel L Jackson, digitally de-aged to fit the setting in 1995 (the cue for some nice visual jokes). Something special in this superhero movie – perhaps inspired by characters in “Guardians Of The Galaxy” – is that we even have a cat with special powers. It’s called Goose and is played by no fewer than four feline stars.

Sadly this is the last movie in which the recently-deceased Stan Lee will have a cameo and the film opens with a quick recap of his earlier appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

The plot is rather convoluted but that’s nothing new in a super-hero movie and it’s best just to go with the flow. Be sure to wait for the mid-credits and end-credits scenes. This is going to be a big success which is good both for the enhancement of women in movie roles and for the forthcoming climax in the Avengers storyline.

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A review of “A Short History Of Europe” by Simon Jenkins

March 10th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

My young granddaughter did not think that this book looked ‘short’ but, at around 300 pages to tell the story of some two and half millennia, this can truly be termed a concise history and Jenkins has done a splendid job in making it very accessible and immensely readable. The alliterative subtitle of the work is “From Pericles To Putin” which neatly advertises the breadth of the subject. There is no escaping it, however, the history of Europe is one bloody war after another.

Starting with the Greco-Persian Wars (499–449 BC – “among the deciding events in Europe’s evolution”) and the three Punic Wars (264-146 BC), following the fall of Rome and waves of invasions from Huns, Vikings and Normans, we had no less than nine Crusader Wars (1095–1291) and the interminable Hundred Years War between England and France (1337-1453). There were also the Hussite Wars (1419-1434), the Thirty Years War (1618-1648 – “regarded as Europe’s bloodiest before the twentieth century”), the Nine Years War (1688–97), and the Seven Years War (1756-1763) before we had the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815), the Crimean War (1853-1856), and the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871 – “as pointless as that over Crimea”).

Then, after the peaceful period known as the belle époque (1871-1914), Europe was the starting place for two truly huge and devastating conflicts that consumed the globe: the First World War (1914-1918), including the nighmare of the trenches, and the Second World War (1939-1945), including the unique horror of the Holocaust. Jenkins gives figures of 17M and 40M as approximations for the respective European death tolls of these worldwide conflicts. 

Wars often lead to treaties and Jenkins highlights the most important in term of the evolution of modern Europe, including Verdun (843) – “No treaty was more significant in the early history of Europe”) – Augsburg (1555), and Westphalia (1648 – “often awarded credit for fathering the concept of the nation state”). Other important settlements were at Utrecht (1713), Vienna (1815) and Versailles (1919).

This history includes many awful experiences such as the Black Death (a peak of 1347-1351), when “As much as a third of the world’s population died and, in Europe already weakend by famine, possibly more” and Communist terror, when “Stalin’s rule in the [nineteen] thirties and forties brought more death and misery to the people of just one European country than any government in history”. But there have been magnificent triumphs, most notably the Renaissance (14th-17th centuries) and the Reformation (16th century) – “processes as well as periods” – and of course the Enlightment (late 17th-early 18th century). Meanwhile, the history of Europe is permeated with the role of the Catholic Church with the shenanigans of a succession of venal popes (sometimes two or even three at a time). 

In his epilogue (written in 2018), Jenkins talks of “the violent conflicts that have been Europe’s default setting”. And yet, with the horrible exception of the wars around the break-up of post-Communist Yugoslavia, Europe has enjoyed over 70 years of peace and – at a time when Brexit is consuming political debates in Britain – one has to acknowledge the role of the European Union in this. Jenkins himself asserts: “For all their flaws, the EU’s treaties of Rome, Maastricht and Lisbon have presided over over half a centry of not just of peace but also of prosperity”.

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