A movie worth watching: Presidents (2021)

“Presidents” is a French comedy starring Jean Dujardin and Gregory Gadebois as two former French presidents named Nicolas and Francois (Yeah) who are struggling to deal with life after the Elysee and their electoral ejection from it. It’s a gentle comedy and also stars Pascale Arbillot and Doria Tillier as their respective partners, and is an entertaining look at the gap between the men who become head of state and the country they led.

Worth a look.

Cult TV: Matt Houston

matt houston

“Matt Houston”, which ran for three seasons from 1982-1986, gets unfairly labelled as a “Magnum PI” knock-off, primarily because it A) featured a moustachioed PI with a penchant for fast cars, faster women and wisecracks, and B) because it aired two years after Magnum was on the air.

It is true, Lee Horsley, who played Houston, had a very similar self-deprecating, light comic style to Tom Selleck,  and both shows had very similar stories, although Matt Houston missed the sheer iconic scenery of Hawaii, being set mostly in bland Los Angeles.

But there were differences. Houston, despite having inherited millions, was a shrewd businessman who only really acted as a private investigator for the laugh.

Secondly, and more importantly, Houston had the stunning Pamela Hensley (who had left many a teenaged boy, including this one, speechless, as saucy, evil and shockingly underdressed space dominatrix Princess Ardala in “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century” only two years previously) as his sidekick, CJ Parsons. Sure, Higgins was a great guy. But he was no CJ Parsons. Matt Houston, like Thomas Magnum, was what men thought they looked like with a moustache in the mid 1980s.

Like Magum PI, Matt Houston also had a catchy them tune and opening credits.

Great TV you should be watching: The Shield.

The Shield - Where to Watch and Stream Online – Entertainment.ie“The Shield” (2002-2008) is proof that we are actually living in television’s golden age, if only because so many of you haven’t heard of it. The fact is, there is now so much good US TV around that we can’t possibly see it all, and as a result shows like “The Shield” were pushed to late night slots on TV3 where they are never seen except by the drunk and the stoned and the drunk having sex with a slice of still warm pizza stuck to their bum.

The show centres around a special anti-gang “strike team” operating in a poor Los Angeles neighbourhood, led by possibly the greatest TV anti-hero of all, (At least until Dr. Gregory House came along.), Vic Mackey. Mackey is played by a brooding, thuggish Michael Chiklis, who will stun anyone who remembers him from the gentle family comedy drama “The Commish”. Indeed, the whole ensemble cast is superb, in particular Jay Karnes’s socially inept but dogged detective Holland “Dutch” Waggenbach.

The show is rough and hugely politically incorrect, but what really defines it is its moral greyness. Mackey and his team, indeed most of the characters, are either corrupt or at least compromised, and yet when you see what they have to face on a daily basis one can’t help rooting for them. Viewers find themselves hoping that Mackey prevails as he steals drug money from the dealers. One scene in particular, when Mackey faces off against a paedophile who has kidnapped a young girl will turn even the staunchest liberal into a right wing lynchmobber.

As I said, this is adult drama, and as I’ve said before: Go on, treat yourself.

Great books you should read: Reasons to be Cheerful.

Mark Steel: Manages to be both left wing and funny.

Mark Steel: Manages to be both left wing and funny.

Mark Steel is a stand up comedian and was a member of the Socialist Workers Party in the UK. His book, “Reasons to be Cheerful” is a very funny insight into what it means to be on the hard left without losing your sense of humour. To be honest, I agreed with very little of his political analysis, primarily because it assumes, quite nobly, that the vast majority of people are honourable and selfless, something which has not been my experience of my fellow man. But then, maybe I’m just a magnet for pricks. Or one myself, maybe. After all, does one know if one is a prick?

For anyone who has had any experience of dealing with the hard left, he’s hit the nail on the head, especially in dealing with the massive proclivity towards self delusion and expectations of betrayal. Let’s be honest, socialists tend to spend far more time fighting each other than they ever do fighting the right. And no, before people get upset, I know the right has its own idiosyncracies. I was in the Progressive Democrats, for f**k’s sake. There is one very funny story in particular about a furious battle within a tiny Trotskyite group to prevent a hand cranked printer being used for counter-revolutionary purposes, and the group’s surreal response. Or another about his opposition to fascist lucky dip stalls.

One of those books you’ll find yourself rereading for the sheer pleasure of it.

What if…there existed a genuine democratic socialist country?

When workers turned the world upside down | Red Flag

Welcome to MittelEuropa, the former Communist central European republic that peacefully transitioned from a communist dictatorship to a democratic socialist state. Unlike its neighbours, the republic maintained state control over most of its economy, and decided not to join the European Union. As a result, living standards remained at Soviet levels, with a large outflux of younger citizens seeking great opportunity leading to the nation aging substantially compared to its neigbours. Remittances sent back to families by emigrants cause tension in the country as the government seeks to tax them as income to subsidise the socialist welfare state and the state’s industrial sector. A heavy tariff and customs wall against imports protects indigenous industry and agriculture, but also leads to higher prices due to limited supply. A growing black market, based on Deutschmarks and Francs, provides more luxurious European and American products. 

In the first free elections the Social Democratic Party, made up of former Communist reformers who led the peaceful 1989 revolution are elected with a comfortable majority in parliament. The government introduces modest free market reforms, allowing for small businesses to exist and make modest profits, but the majority of the economy and all large commercial operations remain in public ownership. Newspapers and other media operations are strictly regulated in terms of market share, and the state broadcaster remains the largest media operator in the country, although its board is appointed in direct proportion to the share of party seats in parliament.

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Great DVDs you should see: A Perfect Candidate.

A Perfect CandidateThe American political documentary has really come into its own in recent times, and “A Perfect Candidate” is up there with the best of them. It chronicles the 1994 US Senate election battle between sitting Democrat Charles Robb and posterboy of the right Oliver North. The movie chronicles the nightmare (For the Dems.) mid terms of 1994 when Bill Clinton looked like he was about to become another Carteresque one-termer, and when Newt Gingrich’s Republicans took over the Congress for the first time since the 1950s.

What is fascinating about the movie is the cultural background, and how an essentially decent but dull (One cringeworthy scene of him looking for voters to canvass in a supermarket is painful to watch.) candidate Charles Robb, a two tour Vietnam veteran, is wrong footed by the conservative right on cultural issues. Bill Clinton makes a very short appearance in the movie, and yet manages to display why he was so highly regarded by black voters.

Don’t miss the “Angry Young Pachyderms” singing “Don’t you know it’s your fault!” during a Republican convention at the opening of the movie, a song that is as catchy as it is offensive to liberals.

A real treat for political junkies, although sadly only available on region one.

A Curious DVD I watched: The Trojan Horse.

The Trojan Horse [DVD]I’m not really recommending this, as it was a bit slow and struggling to be profound, but worth mentioning because of  its curiousity value.

Basically, The Trojan Horse is a Canadian mini-series starring (And co-written by) Paul Gross, whom you may remember as the eccentric mountie Benton Fraser in the tv series “Due South” . It’s about a joint Canadian-EU plot to rig a US presidential election.

The series is actually a sequel to a series called “H20” where Gross played the Canadian prime minister dealing with a mysterious conspiracy.

The conclusion is unusual, and based on a real life event, but what is notable is a rant Gross gives during the movie about his vision of the world. Curiously, it is worded in such a way that would shock most Americans, yet as a European sounded quite reasonable!

Only available on region two with Dutch subtitles at the moment.

14 Rules of Irish Politics (Updated)

  1. With certain exceptions (in particular Sinn Fein), the personal vote of a candidate is more important to election victory than their party vote.

  2. Voters decide what matters in elections, not candidates or party activists.

  3. Voters are strongly in favour of new housing in theory. But there are always far more votes to be won opposing a specific proposal to build new housing in an area than supporting it.

  4. Being an Irish legislator is like being a brain surgeon who is employed to carry out brain surgery but whose employment review is decided on how well he maintains a public car park on the other side of the country.

  5. You cannot be lazy and be a successful Irish politician. You can be corrupt, deceitful or stupid but you cannot be lazy.

  6. Irish voters are perfectly happy holding two or more completely contradictory beliefs.

  7. There are no votes in proposing long-term solutions. In fact, there may well be votes lost supporting long-term solutions because some voters want that money spent now. There is a “F**K our children’s children” constituency. 

  8. There is a large number of people involved in Irish politics who have almost no interest in the shaping or direction of Irish society. To them it is simply a job. 

  9. It is possible to have a successful career in Irish politics and never ever have to make an unpopular decision.

  10. Being an Irish citizen gives you more rights than the citizens of any other nation on Earth. Especially in a country where you can cherry-pick the rights you like and have a good chance of brassnecking your way out of obligations you don’t like.

  11. Increased public spending is a religious ritual: there is very little political interest as to whether the money is spent well.

  12. A very substantial number of the Irish have the bizarre belief that American, continental and British taxpayers are eager to pay for public services we don’t wish to pay for ourselves.

  13. Many of the same people who oppose tax cuts nevertheless insist on public sector pay being calculated based on post-tax “take home pay”.

  14. Most Irish voters believe that voters in other constituencies should vote for nationally concerned politicians whilst they need a local champion.

Great movies you should see: The Spanish Prisoner.

Mmmm! Hitchcockian!David Mamet’s The Spanish Prisoner is one of those hidden gems that you stumble across and wonder why you’ve never heard of it. Written and directed by the same writer as Glengarry Glen Ross, it’s a slow burning mystery drama that entices you in, littering twists and red herrings all the way to the end.

Campbell Scott plays the brilliant inventor of an industrial process (A classic Hitchcock McGuffin if there ever was one.) that is set to make both him and the company he works for an obscene amount of money, until he starts to doubt whether he’s been treated fairly or not.

Steve Martin puts in a straight performance which will have you wondering why he doesn’t take more straight roles.

A great Saturday night in with a Chinese (Meal, partner, or both) movie.

Great books you should read: The Plot Against America

The Plot Against AmericaPhilip Roth’s The Plot Against America is most disturbing in it’s subtlety. Partly autobiographical, in that much of it is based on Roth’s experience of casual anti semitism growing up in New Jersey in the 1940s, it is essentially an alternate history novel.

What if All American Hero, Isolationist and effective anti semite Charles Lindbergh had defeated President Roosevelt in 1940?

It’s not a Nazi Germany by the Potomac story, but more about how an extremist idea can creep incrementally into the mainstream, gaining acceptance amongst people who would normally have opposed such a thing, even co-opting Jews into the project under the guise of anything for a quiet life.

The ending has been criticised, and it does read as if Roth suddenly frightened himself with how far he had progressed in making evil ideas seem banal.

Worth reading, nevertheless.