Sunday, 26 September 2021

Take two: Five, Doris Lessing

For a full review, see my Patreon

This paperback has “50c” written in pencil inside on the first page along with “Lit” so it was bought second-hand a long time ago, probably at the same time as ‘Night and Day’ by Virginia Woolf (which I reviewed recently). On the back cover is a “G and G” sticker with “5.95” printed on it, which probably means it was distributed by Gordon and Gotch. So all the evidence points to me buying this book around 30 years ago and never reading it until now. In short I don’t remember when it came to be in my collection. While the novel first came out in 1953, this volume was made in 1980, the first edition of the Granada paperback appearing on the market in 1969.

Saturday, 25 September 2021

Movie review: Hal and Minter, dir Ram Devineni (2021)

A relaxed sort of “New York state of mind” pervades this short film, which is available on YouTube and which includes a series of segments showing Hal Sirowitz, a poet who has Parkinson’s Disease, and his wife Minter Krotzer, who cares for him. Sometimes the pair read from their work and sometimes friends of theirs are included in scenes of dialogue. 

I loved how this movie talks about the importance of making art and how it can give meaning to lives that might otherwise lack coherence. Sirowitz and Krotzer see and understand the world though the things that they make, which allows them to meet challenges with a subtle grace and with a fortitude that is inspirational. 

Making art does help you to avoid such negative emotions as regret, envy, and spite, it lifts you up because, by holding a mirror up to your life, one that you control, you are able to see what it is that’s really important. This knowledge anchors you and helps you to weather the inevitable reverses that many are prey to giving in to lacking something to sustain them in their trials.

Friday, 24 September 2021

TV review: Cocaine Cowboys, Netflix (2021)

Last year I watched ‘Narcos’ and reviewed it, not overly positively, but ‘Cocaine Cowboys’ is much more entertaining as well as true. The earlier show relied too much on stale use of a few settings – you see Gallardo sitting around a room talking to someone or answering a phone call, or a group of his buddies in a luxurious mansion somewhere in Mexico City – while the documentary relies mostly on TV news bulletins chronicling the exploits of importers Willie Falcon and Sal Magluta. 

Running to five episodes, the average viewer will not be able to predict how the story develops. There are plenty of twists and turns in it to keep you on the edge of your seat as the monied excesses of the pair – who for a time are involved in high-performance speedboat racing – develop into a tale of corruption and cliquey loyalty among the exiled Cuban population of South Florida. It’s almost as though the ethos of South America had been imported into the United States, upturning centuries of practice and delivering dozens of dead bodies for stateside authorities to deal with.

Magluta and Falcon are not interviewed for the show but many of their associates appear on-camera to give their side of the story, each segment of monologue intercut with police surveillance footage or with a TV news broadcast, building, layer upon layer, a complex edifice describing how hundreds of kilos of the drug were imported from Colombia in aeroplanes and boats and distributed to all parts of continental USA. I love a good documentary (as readers of this blog will recognise) and this one ticks all the right boxes.

Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Take two: The Diaries of Miles Franklin, ed Paul Brunton

For a full review, see my Patreon

This book came from mum and dad as one or the other of them bought it at Dymocks for $39.95. I presume it was the branch in Brisbane. The book contains, pressed in the front before the first page, a clipping from the 30 July 2005 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald. The article is a “Take two” feature about Barbara Blackman and Rebecca Gambirra Illume, who were friends when the author (the painter’s wife) was still alive. It was significant that I took this book off a shelf where it had been sitting since my move from Queensland because Barbara’s youngest son Barnaby, who was a pal of mine when I was at school, had just died. I learned about this event on Facebook. 

Either mum or dad had evidently cut the article from the newspaper and placed it there to keep. I’m not sure why it was done like this but it might’ve been that they just wanted both to keep the article for future reference and to have a bookmark to use in the present.

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Movie review: Schumacher, dir Hanns-Bruno Kammertöns, Vanessa Nöcker, and Michael Wech (2021)

This is a slower production than ‘Drive to Survive’ (which I reviewed recently) and its more poetic tendency goes right through to the end. Less dedicated to the speed of racing, it misses making some key points about Schumacher’s life (which I’ll get to later). 

The TV production has shorter segments and relies more on music to generate atmosphere but like the makers of that show Kammertons, Mocker and Wech also rely on friends and family to develop the plot leading up to 2000, the year Schumacher won the world title for Ferrari. While there are similarities between the two productions I felt that the TV show is more about the industry because it doesn’t take sides. 

‘Schumacher’ is firmly on the side of the protagonist, a shy and reclusive man who was dedicated to his wife, a woman who accompanied him around the world to complete races held in different countries. 

His modest background makes him stand apart from many Formula 1 drivers, though like his competitors he knew early on what he wanted to do with his life. Starting out with the Benneton team Schumacher quickly made his mark until he transferred to Ferrari which, at the time, was weak. Helping the team to rebuild its standing in the rankings, he continued to win even after he won the top prize. He left the team in 2006 but was restless and hungry for speed – sometimes parachuting in Dubai with his wife in tow. They remained inseparable – and this continues down to the present.

It’s his need for speed that brought Schumacher back to Formula 1, when he joined the Mercedes team. He met his match in France skiing – still searching for that elusive experience governed by speed – and has since been recovering. The filmmakers do not show Schumacher as he looks now, so viewers and fans have no opportunity to really reflect on mortality. This might’ve been an additional gift (to people with disabilities) he and his family could make but they declined. Corinne, his wife, saying that just as Michael protected them when he was capable, now that he’s not they are protecting him.

Ayrton Senna crashed and died when Schumacher was an up-and-coming driver. Unable to take a turn at speed Senna crashed into the barriers and didn’t make it out of the car alive – or if he was alive when the emergency crew extracted his body from the wreck, he soon succumbed to his injuries. It’s hardly surprising to learn that a similar – if less dramatic – fate awaited Schumacher, a man who in truth lived life in the fast lane.

Monday, 20 September 2021

TV review: Myth and Mogul: John DeLorean, Netflix (2021)

This show is very short but it’s nicely made with lovely retro establishing shots that use large-format numbers to indicated the year to which the narrative is about to turn. The numbers are set up on the screen and the years change with support from the soundtrack, scrolling until the correct year is selected. The numbers in these cases are red and in a large, bulky font that reminds you of the shape of the car, which came out in a production model in the early 1980s. 

The car had a stainless steel body and gullwing doors – they opened upward instead of outward – which, in the first batch delivered to the US for a waiting market, failed to open in some cases. This was potentially catastrophic for DeLorean but even more damaging was the change of government in the UK in favour of Margaret Thatcher. DeLorean had secured financial support from the previous (Labour) government to set up his factory in Northern Ireland and to fund initial production but Thatcher pulled the plug on supply. DeLorean subsequently got involved in an FBI sting but a couple of years later won a court case in California, saved from incarceration by a jury who felt the FBI had enticed him into the “crime”.

DeLorean’s life was epic. His wife finally left him when confronted by certain aspects of his personality that she didn’t like. From living the lifestyle of the rich and famous, DeLorean ended up selling watches online and living in an apartment in New Jersey. His legacy is cemented by a film and he was, while working for GM in the 1960s, intimately involved with the movie business. 

He had cosmetic surgery done to strengthen his jaw so that he could better fit in with the jet set, and his wife was a model. DeLorean’s poor upbringing – at least in an economic sense – probably helped to forge his narcissistic personality and his tendency to sociopathy didn’t endear him to some he had dealings with. The series might’ve been longer (it only runs to three episodes) in order to flesh out some details, including his embezzlement of funds from his motor company and in order to better explain a failed business venture involving a cooling system for cars. Overall I was happy with this show and the soundtrack is suitably vintage.

Friday, 17 September 2021

Take two: Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?, Harold Bloom

For a full review, see my Patreon

I bought this on sale for $14.95 at the Co-Op Bookshop in or just after April 2007. The book has since gone with me (unread) to southeast Queensland, and back to Sydney, accompanying me mutely in my travels around the east coast of the continent. The sketch in the background is by me and shows Henry Miller, with whose novels I was frequently enamoured as a youth.

Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Take two: Night and Day, Virginia Woolf

For a full review, see my Patreon

This is a 1978 Panther paperback and it was sold at some time in South Australia but I probably bought it 30 years ago second-hand. In pencil on the first page of the book is written “50c” and “Lit”, in order to both price and classify the item. The etching behind my head in the above photo is by an old family friend who died in the 1980s. It shows a mermaid on a beach and a prince walking nearby.

Monday, 13 September 2021

TV review: Clickbait, Netflix (2021)

Punctilious and austere, Detective Roshan Amiri (Phoenix Raei) is one of the standouts in this police procedural that has a very contemporary edge because driven by an idea centred around social media. The search engine the characters use (“SearchNow”) might be fictional but the ways that people lower the tone online in the show is true-to-life. In fact all of the leads do a good job of rendering this little world in living colour, including Zoe Kazan as Pia, the sister of the dead man, Nick Brewer. Nick’s wife Sophie (Betty Gabriel) compels, bringing a soft but steely charm to muscle out Pia’s nervous abruptness. 

The writing is also good, with clean and effortless sophistication bringing the viewer up to date while, almost at the same time, pushing the plot along relentlessly. As soon as you think you’ve got a handle on things, something else comes along to disabuse you and to inject a dash of madness into the mix. Episodes are subtitled – for example episode 1 is “The Sister” and episode 5 is “The Reporter” – and as each one opens you’re given a different character on whom to focus more completely. 

The casting is more than competent, and Abraham Lim as Ben Park crackles with suppressed energy, the reporter going the extra few yards to get his story, elbowing aside obstacles in his eagerness for the promotion, for the headline, for the exclusive. I was mesmerised Park, who is gay, and by his ambition to succeed at all costs, a tendency in journalists that is all too common. His boyfriend’s (Jake Speer) reticence in this regard created a distinct contrast to highlight his forward motion into a chaos that the public sphere must seem to form for victims of conspicuous crimes, such as the Brewers in their comfortable suburban Oakland house. 

Though much of the filming was done in Melbourne, the capital of the Australian state of Victoria, Sacramento gets a show-in in this series, adding novelty that other aerial views rarely match because used too often; how many helicopter pans over Manhattan can one Netflix subscriber tolerate? The writers have gone to town also with the variety of people Nick got involved in in his truncated life, with associated characters including a health insurance manager (Jessica Collins) and a content moderator (Daniel Henshall). But it’s more than just a concise snapshot of the United States of America in all of its West Coast glory, it’s a compulsive thriller.

Sunday, 12 September 2021

TV review: Drive to Survive, season 1, Netflix (2019)

A nice, distracting show about a complex and controversial sport, ‘Drive to Survive’ is an excellent artistic production mixing vicarious pleasure with an intense melange of visuals and sound. Beginning with some plotting around the career of Australian Daniel Ricciardo, the show delivers plenty of watchable drama. 

I never watch Formula 1 racing though when I was younger and interested in all sport I paid attention to some highlights and I vividly remember a friend of mine at secondary school (now a lawyer) who’d rattle off the names of F1 drivers with apparent gusto, forming their syllables as though repeating an incantation that could open a view to understanding the secrets of the world. I never really in my heart saw its value (though we’d stand waiting for the bus to come announcing the marques as cars passed us on the main road), but ‘Drive to Survive’ allows you to understand that the sport is full of characters and that the names of teams that have once been linked with greatness can still lure spectators. 

The backward glance, the taking in of old newsreels, the fast cars, the superyachts, the beautiful women all generate this sense of unreality, as though the problems of the world – many of which German author W.G. Sebold in his masterful ‘The Rings of Saturn’ slates down to the matter of combustion – were too boring to be of interest. 

Motorsport is an undertaking where extreme expressions tend to be used, making it particularly suited to the medium of video. This show proves that sport certainly can be made into a temptation for spare time even for someone like me. Like sailing, it is rooted in hardware and high-tech so it attracts a certain type of person for whom such concerns as literature, fine art, and the inexpressible delight of the ephemeral can only seem to lack a certain requisite form. 

The show also allows you to see how talent and money can come into conflict. The tension that the two things create can be rich with meaning, for example when the Force India driver Esteban Ocon was forced out of the team after a rich businessman whose son drives cars bought it. “In Formula 1 you do feel lonely sometimes,” said Romain Grosjean after crashing in qualifying during in the 2018 French Grand Prix. But while the competition that can arise between two drivers on the same team is compelling this cannot account for all of the show’s appeal. 

I think that the key lies in something Ocon said about driving in the rain when he was a child; his hands were freezing but “while I’m driving I wasn’t feeling anything”. Participating in this sport – even as a spectator – has this anaesthetic function, in that the stakes are so high – a driver can die at any point in any race and the rewards of success, like the penalty for failure, are extreme – that every moment seems precious. Danger focuses the mind. “It’s all these emotions and then you jump into the car and all that just goes away,” said Marcus Ericsson about the Singapore GP. “You are a bit like in a tunnel,” said Charles Leclerc about the same race. “It’s extremely intense.” 

Motorsport, though destructive, also reminds us of the sanctity of life. It’s also an international enterprise, with races held in different spots around the globe at different times of the year. A third benefit of course comes from technological advancements made as a result of finding ways to make cars go faster on the track. Though BMW, Honda and Toyota withdrew from team racing in 2008, production car makers make engines for some teams so innovations settled as a result of competition logically find their way down the chain of production to consumer products. 

Saturday, 11 September 2021

TV review: Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror, Netflix (2021)

For someone, like me, who distinctly remembers the events of September 2001 and the years that followed immediately afterward and who was, at the time, as involved in monitoring the public sphere as anyone who watches the news at night and who, to get more information, reads the broadsheets regularly, this series, which runs to five episodes, will make compulsive viewing. I recall vividly the moments after I learned about the attacks when, cigarette in hand, I was standing out in the lush garden of my uncle in Beecroft, a leafy suburb of Sydney. I’d just come back on a plane from Japan where my life had been interrupted by illness, and had travelled back on a Qantas flight occupying three linked seats as a courtesy and in consideration of my vulnerable state. I don’t know how to think about the airline’s conduct in this matter but I remember that I was glad to be back in my home town. The events of the day in question resembling my life in that the scale of the disaster was shocking and unforgettable.

Al-Qaeda did more than supply the world with visually stimulating imagery, however and, as the events of recent weeks show, many countries lost additional treasure and additional lives in the conquest of an unconquerable country, a place where tribal allegiance is far more powerful than attachment to any putative national government. The speed with which the Taliban took Kabul testimony to the strength of the appeal of Islam in the lives of Afghans.

Regardless your own personal views on nation building, this Netflix show delivers much of what I expected though I would’ve liked to hear more from the people of America. And more from the people of Afghanistan and Iraq. A long segment of vox pops could have added variety to the mix, though you are given time to hear from a range of different participants, including the families of first responders, Defense Dept employees, government lawyers, and soldiers in the Afghan Army. 

The makers of this series did some of the work that one might’ve wished had been done closer to the events: describing a state of affairs where the CIA failed signally to pass important information about the plotters to the FBI. Refreshingly (irony alert) the CIA operative who appears on-camera posits that even if they had the outcome might’ve been the same. I doubt it, and the failure at the level of law enforcement was compounded by embarrassed elected representatives who, after the conclusion of the immediate period of political fallout, gave into their worst instincts and, almost to a person, supported the call for retaliation. We know now how futile that was, and hopefully America will have learned another bitter lesson.

Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Tweeting better stories, episode nine: August 2021

Wanting to find a lighter-hearted way I offer readers this ninth post in a series.

On 18 August at 8.14am I saw this:


To start with, here’re some topical tweets (I know I promised to omit topical content) which are a little funny. Funny in a gentle way. This appeared on 20 August at 2.43pm:


And this one appeared on 25 August at 5.17am:



Sun

On 1 August at 11.02am I saw this in my feed:


On 2 August at 5.43am I saw this (and responded to it):


Here’s the poem complete:


On 8 August at 4.36am I saw this:


Translation:
Above
The sky
I take
Flight
Above
The blue
I join you again

On 16 August at 5.12am I saw this:


On 31 August at 10.01am I saw this tweet and image:




Plants and animals

On 3 August at 3.53am I saw this tweet in my feed:


On 5 August at 9.59am I saw this:


On 14 August at 4.39am I saw this in my feed:


On 26 August at 9.59am I saw these twinned tweets:


On 29 August at 7.15am I saw this in my feed:


Mind

On 2 August at 7.22am I saw this tweet:


On 9 August at 5.54am I saw this in my feed:


On 10 August at 3.51am I saw this:


On 15 August at 3.36am I saw this tweet:


Hope and home

On 4 August at 12.08pm I saw this in my feed:


On 7 August at 5.27am I saw this tweet:


On 11 August at 4.16am I saw this:



On 20 August at 6.13am I saw this:


On 28 August at 7.16am I saw this:


Horror

On 6 August at 4.27am I saw this tweet:



On 19 August at 5.13am I saw this:


On 13 August at 6.18pm I saw this tweet:


On 17 August at 6.34am I saw this:


On 21 August at 5.53am I saw this:


On 22 August at 6.50am I saw this tweet in my feed:


On 23 August at 9.29am I saw this in my feed:


Translation

Like a demon in a cloud
with howls of affliction,
with the night I advance
   and with the night I will leave;
I turn my back to the East
where comforts have increased;
because the light takes over my brain
in frantic pain.

Desire

On 12 August at 4.22am I saw this in my feed:


On 26 August at 7.10am I saw this in my feed:


Mechanical

On 24 August at 8am I saw these two twinned tweets:


On 30 August at 8.10am I saw this in my feed:


Flight

These two twinned tweets appeared in my feed on 27 August at 5.44am:

Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Take two: The Glorious Revolution, Edward Vallance

For a full review, see my Patreon

This paperback has a Queensland Book Depository sticker on it (reduced from $29.95 to $6.99) that dates the sale to January 2011, when I was living on the Sunshine Coast. The store is in the shopping centre, which was a short, 15-minute walk along the estuary from my place. So I bought it when I was living in that state and looking after mum. The book has sat unread in my collection ever since.

Monday, 6 September 2021

Movie review: The Social Dilemma, dir Jeff Orlowski (2020)

This movie was talked about on Twitter when it first appeared but since then its messages haven’t made much noise in the public sphere. To criticise the business model of companies such as Instagram and Facebook you need to use the same sorts of complexity and sophistication that these companies use, and this probably accounts for the relative silence. Complex ideas aren’t much commented on on sites such as Twitter, simple responses that are expressed in an extreme fashion get all the “likes” and retweets. Certainly, people haven't responded to the movie by stopping using their apps.

To talk about how Facebook engineers the news feed, or how YouTube engineers recommendations is to get to the core of the way these sites work: by rewarding the evolved systems the human body has developed over millions of years of development and refinement. We’re just not designed to cope with the addictiveness of the modern news feed with its constant appeals to our sympathies, its neverending search for the next response – just one more “like”, just another comment, or even a “share”. The dopamine rush we get from being recognised as we post and comment is what brings us back to the screen time after time.

The movie uses interviews as well as fictionalised enactments to get its message across. The people in front of the camera are mostly former employees of the companies involved. Many of them are still in the IT business, but others are fronting nonprofits. There are also the usual sort of talking head that current affairs programs bring on-camera to give their expert view of things. The package is neat and concise and entertaining. Well worth the time need to watch.

Sunday, 5 September 2021

Movie review: The Minimalists: Less is Now, dir Matt D’Avella (2021)

Last month I watched this documentary’s companion piece, from the same director but coming out six years earlier. Both are good, and I don’t have a preference either way but the two movies are different though the message is the same. The earlier movie is more of a coming-of-age story, charting the emergence of the two men who are the subjects of the pieces.

‘Less is Now’ tells the same story but with more detail. Here you learn more about the childhoods of Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn, who are the Minimalists (they have a website you can visit for more information about their project). Millburn seems to have purchased a new Toyota to replace his old Toyota, which tells me that his idea has borne fruit in a material sense – though you don’t now get to see the outside of the car, the interior finishes are too new to go with the bodywork that was evident in the 2015 movie.

I watched the movie with friends, and the experience sparked controversy. This is a debate that we all must have even though, for many, the message of Nicodemus and Fields will be unnecessary. A point one of the interview subjects raised is that minimalism is really a first-world luxury. For recent migrants, the idea that you’d need to reduce the amount of belongings you own must seem like something strange, especially considering the fact that you might not have everything that you need to live life well. A spoiled society would find comfort from reducing the number of items owned and a struggling man might still need to buy his own vacuum cleaner or rice cooker.

The fact remains that we’re overtaxing the planet, the problem being that there’s no such thing as world government, so getting action on an issue as comprehensive as climate change is always going to cause us problems. Let the message of the Minimalists become more widespread and we might all have a common referent. I wonder how intrusive they really are, however. It seems to me that we’re more focused on the latest Netflix drama, the more recent Abba album, the latest Hollywood blockbuster.

Friday, 3 September 2021

Take two: The Life of Kingsley Amis, Zachary Leader

For a full review, see my Patreon

This book was bought in early 2007 at the Co-Op Bookshop. On the back cover is a sticker with the price ($6.75 marked down from RRP of $75) and the sticker has the date of January 2007 printed on it to indicate when the sale started. I’ve had this in my collection unread since those days.