The Nest: British Conmen in the 1980s


THE NEST (2020)

Directed by Sean Durkin

IFC Films, 107 minutes, R (language, nudity)





We don’t get all of the films released in Britain but to the best of my knowledge, there is a dearth of films that look at the hyperventilated capitalism of Margaret Thatcher’s reign of error in the 1980s. Most of the British actors I’ve seen in such films came to America to make films about the toxic speculative fever of the 1980s/90s. I simply don’t know of many UK films akin to The Wolf of Wall Street, Wall Street, The Big Short, or even Other People’s Money.


To be sure, there are plenty of British films about Thatcher’s cruel budgets that eviscerated organized labor and eliminated tens of thousands of blue-collar jobs–Mike Leigh has feasted on those topics–but not many turn their gaze to the midlevel money men akin to Icarus in business suits. In other words, a film like The Nest is long overdue. Alas, Britain remains in need of a good film on the topic. The Nest isn’t terrible, but it is as flat as month-old real ale.


Rory O’Hara (Jude Law) lives in New York with his American wife Allison (Carrie Coon); Sam (Oona Roche), Allison’s daughter from a previous partner; and their mutual son, Ben (Carlie Shotwell). They are a solid middle-class family, with Rory working in the financial sector and Allison training equestrian riders. Rory, though, has been following the superheated U.S. markets and has bigger dreams. He contacts Arthur Davis (Michael Culkin), an investor for whom he once worked, and informs his family that they are moving to England. Rory thinks he can bring his pokey countrymen up to warp speed, leases an enormous Surrey country estate, and uproots a contented family to make them accessories to his Brobdingnagian schemes.


I should remind readers that the early 1980s were still the infancy of second-wave feminism if, by that, we mean widespread cultural acceptance. Women–and perhaps especially so in the UK–were still expected to defer to male guidance. Call Allison an early adopter. Neither she nor her kids particularly like Britain and only Rory admires their creepy, dark new home. Allison quickly recognizes that the old pile is more a monument to Rory’s ego than a home for four. And this is just the tip of Rory’s delusions. He thinks he’s bringing Arthur up-to-date and will make a fortune for those who go along with his big plans. Arthur, on the other hand, is largely bemused by Rory and loves his energy, but he’s basically doing him a solid in the belief that Rory wanted to move back home.


Rory plays the game, but the only one he’s fooling with his puffed up, jargon-ridden rap is himself. He’s the lite beer version of Ivan Boesky, Michael Milken, and Kenneth Lay and when Arthur shoots down his big deal with the curt “you don’t pay attention to the details,” Rory is forced to grab at considerably thinner straws than he imagined. Arthur isn’t the only one calling for the hogwash bucket to be emptied. One of the few interesting parts of the film is Allison’s transformation from enabler to plug puller.

The Nest is meant to be an ironic twist on “nest egg,” investments earmarked for long-security goals in mind. Icarian gamblers often raid such funds in the hope that short-term cash infusions will yield instant riches. They are the stock broker equivalency of those who think they will break the casino bank. It’s the hare racing the tortoise and the moral of the adage that a fool and his money soon part company. Generally speaking, only the uber-rich walk away from the table with controlled damage.


The Nest would have been a much more interesting story with more Allison and less Rory. Carrie Coon is much more intriguing than Jude Law (though the two have a steamy sex scene). She does a slow burn, a personal tragedy sends her over the edge, and once she takes that step, there’s no turning back, and she unsheathes her metaphorical claws. Law could have done with a bit of her nuance; his Rory is such an obvious fraud that his fall is merely a question of how, not if. As we wait for it, backstories involving family crises–especially those of the children–feel more tacked on than integral to the unfolding drama. Too much occurs with so little foreshadowing that it seems like filler.


Britain needs a good mass market movie about the amorality of its 1980s capitalist conmen. Alas, The Nest is made of grass, string, and feathery down–too fragile to hold much of anything, including viewer interest.


Rob Weir




Liar's Dictionary: Quirky, Messy, or Both?


By Eley Williams

Penguin/Random House, 288 pages.






I love words and The Liar’s Dictionary, the debut novel from Britain’s Eley Williams is all about them. I should have adored it, but I found it a big concept delivered by a small vehicle.


First, though, credit to Ms. Williams for possessing a fearfully large vocabulary. She needed one to tackle this book. It takes place inside the offices of Swansby’s New Encyclopaedic Dictionary in London, and weaves two stories 100 years apart. Think of Swansby’s as an also-ran to multi-volume works such as the Oxford English Dictionary, Merriam-Webster’s, or Chambers. In short, Swansby’s is an obscure effort with big pretensions. Lexicographers tend to be serious people who do exacting work and Swansby’s was once a beehive filled with those distilling the definition, etymology, and changing uses of words. It’s a daunting task; English has over 470,00 words, which is why words are dropped to make way for more au courant terms for the one-volume dictionary that doubles as a doorstop.  


In 1899, Peter Winceworth is at work on the “S” volume. He’s exactly as you’d imagine a caricature of a word-obsessed worker drone lexicographer to be. He’s an oddball loner, loves the word pons–part of the brain stem–and fakes a lisp to avoid as much human contact as possible. That’s not a bad strategy considering that some of the staff at Swansby’s make him look normal. Office head Dr. Rochfort-Smith is an autocrat, Terence Frasham a bloviator secure in his high opinion of himself, Ronald Glossop shadows Frasham and hounds Winceworth, Sophia Slivkovna might or might not be Russian, and there are two Miss Cottinghams–one with black hair and one with white. There have been a series of office cats, all nicknamed “Tits,” short for Titivillus, the Satanic demon that leads scribes make mistakes. More on that in a moment. There are also some untoward things going on at Swansby’s, many of which would set afire the hair of proper Victorians. Peter is unwittingly and unwillingly drawn into some of these, but mostly he’s a meek individual drawn toward passive-aggressive ways to cope with disdain and boredom.


A hundred years later, Mallory secures an internship from David Swansby, a descendant of the dictionary’s founder. She mainly needs a job, though she does love words, and I’ll bet you know which is her favorite. She surely wouldn’t need to be a mathematician to determine that she and David are the only two people in the office, nor does she require upper-level accounting skills to conclude that Swansby’s financial model makes no sense. Her three major duties are to be a David’s beck and call, handle obscene rants from a disgruntled reader, and digitize Swansby’s based on the 1899 publication. She soon discovers a series of mountweazels–deliberately introduced errors–and sets about the task of discovering who introduced invented words into the dictionary. Among the delicious mountweazels is mendaciloquence, defined as the smell of a donkey burning. To close the novel’s circle, there are a few sordid things about the modern Swansby’s and parallel dangers.


The Liar’s Dictionary is about words, mystery, debauchery, coming out, and staying afloat. Some of it is very funny and you will probably find yourself challenged to determine which words are mountweazels and which are simply hopelessly obscure terms that only Latin lovers or anal retentives could love. Such quirkiness has led some to compare Williams to Nabokov, but to use a big word of my own, those making such leaps suffer from apophenia, a tendency to see patterns and connections in unrelated things. (It’s also an indication of schizophrenia!) At times it’s hard to know whether the vocabulary Williams uses sets the table for erudite Victorianism, is a form of showing off, or misdirection to hide the raggedness of the novel’s structure and story arcs.


Why, for example, are terms randomly bolded (presumably italicized in the print editions)? If they referenced defined terms, that would be one thing, but there’s no real consistency to how they appear. It’s as if I defined bafflegab as a gibberish that is designed to confuse you. There are so many on a page that they made me queasy, as if I were suffering a black and white version of the photosensitivity induced by fast-paced Japanese anime features. Your enjoyment of the novel depends upon how many unknown big words you can stomach in a single reading experience and how well your eyes adjust to the breaks in visual continuity. Perhaps some will find all of this clever, but to interject a bit of Scots, for me it was one big whigmaleerie–a fanciful contrivance.


Rob Weir


The Yankees Really Do Suck!


In Fenway Park, the chant, “Yankees suck!” is as ubiquitous as bad sightlines and smelly concourses. Many “experts” picked the Yankees to go to the World Series, but this year Red Sox fans are right.


I am a longtime Yankees fan, but this comes as no surprise to me; I picked them to finish third, with a possible slip to fourth, which is where sit as of this writing. It’s no fluke; they’ve been a notch over.500 club for two years running, which is a systematic failure, not an aberration. The Yankees complicate ineptitude by being relentlessly boring. Way more so than the Bronx Bummers of the late ‘60s through 1975, when at least they had guys like Horace Clarke, Bobby Murcer, Joe Pepitone, Mel Stottlemyre, Tom Tresh, and Roy White who played their hearts out. If the current squad were a car, lemon laws would be in play.


Bad teams often “rebuild” by holding a fire sale. That’s flat-out dumb. Other teams cherry-pick what’s good and leave the dregs at the bottom of the cup. What’s to be done?  


First things:


·      General Manager Brian Cashman had a good run, but he’s worn out his welcome. His strong, tall guys approach to offense is old school. You cannot win with a team that only scores via homeruns and strikes out 25% of the time. Signing sore-armed Corey Kluber and trading for Jameson Taillon is on Cashman. Plus, you can’t rely on a lineup whose only lefthanded hitter is 37-year-old Brett Gardner, who should retire and become the new hitting coach.

·      Gardy would be an upgrade over current hitting coaches Marcus Thames and P.J. Pilittere. Gardner could teach bunting, situational hitting, and how to put the bloody ball in play.

·      Aaron Boone never made sense as a manager. Handing over a club with a $200 million payroll to a guy with zero managerial experience is the equivalent of building a Formula 1 race car and tossing the keys to a teenager. The Yanks need a seasoned baseball mind, not a freakin’ cheerleader.

·      Can the entire conditioning staff from A-ball on up. Injuries are part of the game, but the situation in New York is ridiculous. How about less weight training and more flexibility regiment?

·      More scouts and fewer Statheads.  Tampa and Oakland do well with analytics. They are outliers. Baseball is about winning games, not compiling numbers for fantasy geeks. Analytics are #1 on my list of why baseball has become boring. A few old-time stats matter–OBP, ERA, and (yes) batting average–but the rest is just crap dumb guys use to look smart.



Who is untouchable?


·      Aaron Judge is fragile, but also a slugger, a patient hitter, and a quiet leader. He strikes out too much, but he’s the big-ticket draw.

·       Gerrit Cole is a workhorse and one of the top half dozen best pitchers in baseball.

·      D J LeMahieu is having a down year, but he’s a rare contact hitter on a squad of whiffers and will be at or near .300 by year’s end. It would help if the bottom part of the order hit their weight so opposing pitchers can’tt force DJ to chase pitches out of the zone.

·      Gio Urshela is the guy who came from nowhere and is simply solid.

·      Domingo German has had off-the-field issues, but he’s a payroll bargain and arguably their second-best pitcher.

·      Young pitchers with potential: Mike King, Nestor Cortes, and numerous guys in Scranton deserve a serious look. This includes Luis Severino who is coming back from Tommy John surgery but has ace potential. He wouldn’t bring much in a trade because of his injuries, so keep him.


Who can be moved for the right deal?


·      Deivi Garcia is one young arm I would trade. I doubt his durability and suspect he’ll be hittable.

·      Gleyber Torres is the guy most of MLB wants. The Yankees need to hold out for a major haul if he’s traded.

·      Jordan Montgomery is a lefty who’s really a classic #4 or #5 starter, not the # 3 where the Yankees have slated him. I like Monty but he’s definite trade bait.

·      Miguel Andujar is a very good hitter who should be a DH except…

·      Giancarlo Stanton holds that role. His massive contract handcuffs the club, but if Cashman could trade him without paying most of his salary, I’ll back off the idea that he needs to move on.

·      Jonathan Loaisiga has come into his own, though Boone overuses him. Chad Green falls into this category as well, but I’d trade either for the right deal.


Movable players:


·      Aroldis Chapman has been a lights-out closer, but he’s also 33 which is about when closers begin to break down. Might be time to sell high.

·      Gary Sanchez is one of the most frustrating players I’ve ever seen. Terrible catcher, but somebody will want him for his big bat (when he manages to make contact).

·      Taillon should never throw another pitch in Pinstripes. NEVER sign a pitcher who has had two TJ surgeries. For that matter, never trade for anyone who plays for the Pirates.

·      The rest of the staff if not mentioned previously. Some are good, but they’re not good enough. Corey Kluber was a mistake, his no-hitter notwithstanding. Justin Wilson and Darren O’Day shouldn’t have been signed in the first place.

·      Clint Frazer is a needs-a-change-of-scenery guy. I thought he’d be a star, but that hasn’t happened. He’s 26 and someone will overpay for him.

·      Aaron Hicks is on the DL and would have to approve of a trade, but get him out of here. He’s another Cashman mistake.

·      Tyler Wade is fast, but he doesn’t hit enough to take up roster space.

·      Rougned Odor is an example of how bad things have gotten. Anybody want him?

·      If all else fails, bail on the season, promote young guys from the minors, and see if they can play. How good do they have to be to hit .200, which would be better than the bottom third of the order has produced?