My Cousin Vinny

Cars, bickering and defensiveness are the ingredients of a good relationship, right?

Tonight’s unexpectedly delighful movie was My Cousin Vinny, a courtroom comedy. A New York teenager is facing a murder charge in Alabama, and the titular Cousin Vinny (Joe Pesci) is the only lawyer he can find.

Unfortunately, Vinny is in over his head. This is his first trial since scraping through the bar exam, and his New York wisecracking doesn’t come across well down in Alabama.

What he does have going for him is his fiancee Lisa (Marisa Tomai). Their relationship is the main reason to watch the movie. They are bickering, insecure, chaotic, defensive – and utterly, beautifully in love.

They have both spent time as car mechanics, which gives them a shared language and respect for each other’s competence in at least one area. When Vinny admits he messed up court procedure, he explains it through an analogy to fixing a carburetor.

Admitting that he’s stuck is, in fact, Vinny’s biggest problem. He keeps on pushing away Lisa’s attempts to help, because accepting help would mean admitting that he needs it. Whenever Vince gets past his defensiveness, he and Lisa make for an admirable team.

Lisa and Vinny have a relationship built on squabbling. Vinny’s client at one point defends his choice of lawyer because he comes from a family of bickerers:

“You have to see the Gambinis in action. These people…they love to argue. I mean, they live to argue.”

We then cut to a delightful scene, which begins with Vinny ragging on Lisa for leaving a faucet dripping. Then, as she gives a string of increasingly elaborate explanations of the correct torque to prevent drips, his anger fades into horny enchantment at her patter.

All these elements come together for the final courtroom scene. As a legal resolution to the case it feels painfully weak. As a resolution to their relationship, though, it feels fundamentally honest and hopeful

Skin (Kathe Koja) — review

This is a horror novel, which I don’t usually read. But my boyfriend recommended it, and he was spot-on.

I’d recommend it enthusiastically but very selectively. I would need to grok somebody fairly well before knowing whether to push it on them

The setup is artistic collaboration between a dancer and a sculptor of mobile metal creatures. Then the dancer gets into increasingly extreme self-mutilation as a form of performance…

There’s a lot about work, about collaboration, about dedication to art. It’s a book where everybody is pursuing creation rather than happiness, which is just what I need right now. And the horror-extremeness keeps the emotional engagement dialed way up. So you get a nuanced relationship between the two main characters, bouncing between love and hatred and friendship and collaboration, which is psychologically realistic while being over the top.

Corpus Christi

Take the structure of a light-hearted caper movie. Then throw religion into the mix, specifically Polish Catholicism.

The result doesn’t seem to know what it’s trying to say. But it is gloriously intense and has some very powerful moments.

Daniel wants to be a priest, but he is also just out of jail. Those two don’t go together – no seminary will take him, and instead he is expected to spend his parole working in a sawmill.

Then some banter gets out of hand, and Daniel finds himself impersonating a priest, to a village which believes him to be strange but authentic.

The bulk of the film examines Daniel’s attempt to fill the role of priest, in the absence of any training or ordination. The tension is between Daniel’s kindness and intense devotion on one hand, and on the other his betrayal of a church built on hierarchy and the special role of the priest.

The difficulty for me is that Daniel’s good qualities as a priest feel superficial. He gazes intently at the Crucifixion, benefiting from an angular face which seems permanently on the verge of passion. He preaches from the heart, he cares for his flock, he tries to reconcile feuding villagers. But he is the model of priest as coach and therapist. Jesus and the bible don’t figure much in his activities. Congenial as this is to my non-believing self, it feels like a very thin take on Catholicism.

Cable Street

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street, an (over-?) celebrated moment in British anti-fascism. This is when a march by the British Union of Fascists was stopped by a combination of Jews, communists, Irish dockers, and other antifascists.

I’m glad of anniversaries like this, because they force us all to ask “What have I done lately?”. My own head has been pretty firmly stuck in the sand for a good few years now. You could take your pick of causes I’ve ignored, from Xinjiang re-education camps to migrants drowning in the Mediterranean. For me, Rojava is the one which triggers the most guilt.

Cable Street’s big brother is the Spanish Civil War. At the same time as Oswald Mosley was failing to establish fascism in Britain, Franco was making a much more violent and ultimately successful attempt to do the same in Spain. The war, and in particular the International Brigades, are for me one of the most clear-cut examples of why I am not a pacifist.

And then…Rojava. David Graeber wrote of the parallels between it and Spain:

A would-be fascist coup had been temporarily halted by a worker’s uprising, spearheaded by anarchists and socialists, and in much of Spain a genuine social revolution ensued, leading to whole cities under directly democratic management, industries under worker control, and the radical empowerment of women.

Spanish revolutionaries hoped to create a vision of a free society that the entire world might follow.


I never thought I would, in my own lifetime, see the same thing happen again. Obviously, no historical event ever really happens twice. There are a thousand differences between what happened in Spain in 1936 and what is happening in Rojava, the three largely Kurdish provinces of northern Syria, today. But some of the similarities are so striking, and so distressing, that I feel it’s incumbent on me, as someone who grew up in a family whose politics were in many ways defined by the Spanish revolution, to say: we cannot let it end the same way again.

I saw articles like this, vaguely followed the news, but was a thousand miles away from providing any practical support to Rojava. So today, when I think of Cable Street, it is with rather more shame than pride.