Friday 29 September 2023

Movie review: Worth, dir Sara Colangelo (2020)

A lot of shots with a hand-held camera doesn’t save this film from being heavy. This is unsurprising as it’s based on true events depriving the filmmakers of a degree of latitude in the scripting. Nevertheless I did work while watching the film as it didn’t really grab me. 

The idea behind the film is to describe the process following the Twin Towers where the government compensated people for the loss of loved-ones. Michael Keaton plays Ken Feinberg, a lawyer tasked with this job by the US president. Stanley Tucci plays a rabblerouser with a blog who tries to criticise the administration, and Feinberg in particular, demanding that the victims of the disaster be treated with respect.

When American movies try to be French movies you get this sort of ponderousness which can be offset by dialogue but there’s not enough of that here. In any case you wonder how much we really need to see a movie about the injustice that was 9/11. Sure it was an injustice but it had its reasons for occurring, and so far I’ve not seen any movie or TV show that delves into this part of the drama.

If it wasn’t a legitimate source of drama we wouldn’t get croakers like ‘Worth’.

9/11 certainly was dramatic but we must face the causes head on as a society (and perhaps Australia is as culpable as America since we joined the War on Terror straight after the planes struck the skyscrapers) so that it doesn’t happen again. So far we haven’t done that. There have been vague ideas thrown around but as a community we are still just beginning to face up to what happened in the decades leading up to 2001.

I’m really not sure that ‘Worth’ was worth making, in fact I’m sure it wasn’t and that the money spent on this lemon could’ve better been spent elsewhere, as I’ve suggested. When will we get a Netflix docuseries examining the intelligence and Defense failures that resulted in al Qaeda organising the pilots for this much-discussed but thoroughly misunderstood attack on US sovereignty. Some people think bin Laden a hero, some the devil, but the truth still hasn’t come out, that’s for certain.

Thursday 28 September 2023

Movie review: True Story, Netflix (2015)

I had a personal interest in this movie because of the plot, which involves a New York Times reporter named Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill) who gets laid off by his employer for falsifying information in a feature story. He’s then contacted by another reporter (Ethan Suplee) who tells him that his name had been used by an accused murderer when he was found living temporarily in Mexico. Finkel has his interest piqued so goes to see the guy (James Franco) in jail.

This is an interesting movie by a first-time director (Rupert Goold) and the acting is very low-key. Even at the points of highest emotional tenor the drama is pretty flat, though having worked as a journalist I probably felt the peaks and troughs keenly. More keenly than most? It’s difficult to say as I haven’t talked with anyone about the movie, but going by the quality of the directing and of the acting I’m sure everyone can come away with a good experience.

Christian Longo, the accused, is a plausible foil for Finkel, they both have their own ways of communicating but find common ground despite differences in background and in experience. The ending is completely opaque so even though not much happens you have a good cinematic experience. I really liked the subdued mood the movie expresses, it is in stark contract to most filmic productions which rely on either violence or fast motion (the threat of violence) to sustain themselves. ‘True Story’ is miles away from your standard Hollywood production in this regard. Definitely worth watching even if you have no experience with news production. But, then again, most people believe that they do because they read newspapers.

The news media is often part of movies and TV shows because it’s an efficient way to show a change in the plot. Once something important becomes common knowledge, and is no longer a secret, then it’s on the news and you get reporters and TV anchors talking to camera, or else you get a gaggle of reporters with cameras and satellite dishes congregating outside someone’s house. The news is a plot device so it’s a commonplace. Where ‘True Story’ is different is in how the ethics of news is foregrounded. Instead of a dupe the media becomes a standard-bearer for morality, a sort of cult of veracity where sins are punished with expulsion. In a way that is uncommon, ‘True Story’ talks about what it means to be part of that industry.

Monday 25 September 2023

Movie review: Lead Me Home, Netflix (2021)

Made my Pedro Kos and Jon Shen, ‘Lead Me Home’ is very short but very poignant. It’s incredibly difficult to make a topic like this palatable but using all the cinematic craft at their disposal the directors have achieved their goal. This is a stunning film that NEEDS to be repeated. 

In the film you come to know or at least recognise a few faces of people who are living rough. In America “homeless” only applies to such people so they count their homeless differently from how we do it in Australia. Different countries count homeless people in different ways. In Australia a person who is “homeless” can be living with a friend or relative, or else in some sort of precarious accommodation that doesn’t meet the necessary criteria to be called a home. In the US a homeless person lives on the street. Period. So the figure of 500,000 homeless that they plaster on the screen at the end of the movie is definitely an underestimate. Just as a matter of interest some countries count people in jail as homeless.

By focusing especially on a few individuals in the movie the filmmakers manage to humanise a complex problem. In one segment a person lists the reasons he has for being homeless, and yes that list can be long. It can include domestic problems such as DV, drug abuse, mental health problems, unemployment, or else a mixture of some or all of them.

I loved the use of establishing shots in the film, the way they used images of skyscrapers being built to contextualise the tents, the cars with flags draped over the windscreen for privacy. I just goddarn loved the visual qualities of this fabulous movie so much it almost made me want to cry. Because homelessness is such a confronting subject. The film only takes on West Coast cities like San Francisco and Seattle but homelessness is a universal issue, one that governments in some jurisdictions (such as New York and Finland) have successfully tackled. I’m not sure about New York but Finland has eliminated homelessness from what I heard last.

Everyone needs a home, and the subject of homelessness has found one in this touching film. Let’s hope there is a longer one soon, or else a docuseries that can focus in more depth on specific individuals, tracing their journey to destitution. Only in this way can we find a solution because politicians – who have the power to fix the problem – listen to what the community says as this film shows in the town hall meetings.

Sunday 24 September 2023

TV review: Class Act, Netflix (2023)

A story about a businessman in France who became involved in politics, this show is wonderfully entertaining. Based in parts more strictly and in other parts more loosely on the truth – obviously the scriptwriters didn’t have access to day-to-day conversations between Bernard Tapie and his wife – this series is about what it means to grow up poor in a country where, even today, social mobility is low.

Much lower than it is in Australia.

Tapie is rough but engaging, a man whose father was a heating mechanic and who got into business by promoting one good idea – a subscription service for appliances. He parlayed his success into other ventures and ended up working as the manager for a football club, Olympic Marseilles. I won’t spoil the fun by invoking too much detail about how his downfall arrived, but let’s say that it involves fast practices. French readers will of course already know the truth, if not all the details.

Tapie is played by Laurent Lafitte and Dominique, his wife, is played by Josephine Japy, both of whom support their roles perfectly. Dominique is charming and intelligent, Bernard is likewise but he’s also a bit brash, a bit not-quite-the-thing. During the course of the movie Bernard’s daughter from his first marriage grows up and joins him in his undertakings. Bernard’s son with Dominique also grows up. Bernard and Dominique obviously don’t get older as they’re played by the same actors throughout, and while this seems a bit forced it ultimately works because of the pace of the program. 

Bernard is a symbol of something that France wants but doesn’t quite know how to attain: financial success. This is what draws Francois Mitterand, the president, to introduce Tapie to politics as the minister for urban affairs. Looking back Tapie’s innovations in regard to his portfolio seem spot on but political realities mean that he’s only in his role for a short period of time. Perhaps if the Socialists had kept Tapie on in the job he might’ve really achieved something, but his methods were too different (as usual) for those around him. Tapie thought at lightning speed and didn’t suffer fools gladly, so rubbing people up the wrong way not only caused problems but it stemmed from the same place that gave people something to admire.

A meteor who shone brightly in the sky of France’s fin-de-siecle firmament, Tapie was born to rule but never got the chance. Good miniseries though. Our gain is France’s loss.

Saturday 23 September 2023

Movie review: Anna Nicole Smith: You Don’t know Me, Netflix (2023)

Like a westerly wind the name Anna Nicole Smith had some resonance with me but I didn’t know anything about her life before watching this movie. From a small town in Texas to overdose on medications, Smith was a kind of phenomenon who used her natural charms to take on the world but lost.

It’s hard to understand exactly where things got out of hand but there appears to be a lesson in this movie somewhere, probably because it’s so well made. I felt like I was really looking at America for the first time, the glitz and glamour, the empty promises of beauty, the diet pills, the painkillers, the cocaine, more painkillers. If China ever wanted an ad to show the world in order to back up its claim to be able to do society better than the US this film is it.

There’s even a contested estate to ripen the mix. Money money money money. Money. I really liked Smith however, and felt for her at every step. As she said there’s more mileage to be made from sad stories than from the happy ones, an excuse she used to justify taking elements from a friend’s life to embellish her own biography. Smith didn’t come from a broken home though the father was absent, she just wanted to get out of Mexia, Houston strip clubs were her ticket to fame and she grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Smith would go on to feature in Playboy and in ads for Guess jeans, it’s that Anglo dream of perfection again (see yesterday’s review).

Because there’s lots of money involved however it’s a lot of fun. Money is an elements of underbelly-type shows that always attracts a crowd of onlookers. Like paparazzi outside a Las Vegas disco we’re searching for that explosion of fame and stardom to enliven our lives. With Smith it was also commonplace, her reality TV excursions bringing her down to the level of the midday watcher of ‘Dr Phil’ or ‘Judge Judy’. Those lonely afternoons when you’re at home with nothing to do these days you don’t have to watch reruns of ‘Star Trek’ you can catch a documentary on Netflix. I did.

Friday 22 September 2023

Movie review: White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie and Fitch, Netflix (2022)

A fascinating view into the ways the world has changed in the past 25 years, ‘White Hot’ focuses on body image and race as they were used by the clothier for many decades. As far as I can tell the problems with managerial monoculture that the movie describes have changed at the brand but it took a severe deterioration in the public image to arrive here.

Abercrombie & Fitch has never really existed in Australia so the brand hasn’t had much of an impact here, we have Gap and Banana Republic but not A&F. For this reason the issues the show deals with haven’t played out, for example the off-colour printed T-shirts that caused Asian Americans so much discomfort.

I was drawn in as brand imaging is such an important aspect of life for me, I watch commercial TV a lot so am always surrounded by jingles, logos etc. I came away feeling as though I had been exposed to a rare thing, a brand laid bare. People go about their lives immersed in this matrix of signs, what postmodernists call the “socius” and really never think much about it. ‘White Hot’ gives you an opportunity to go into a lot of detail about how a clothing brand functions.

A&F prided itself on being able to package “cool” and this took the form of a certain type of preppy all-American buff and vigorous youth. In fact store imaging often featured bare male torsos with white skin. Things started to go south when it became apparent that featuring all-white store clerks and models, and all-white management was harming the brand because a lot of the broader community felt left out. Profits got pummelled and A&F brought in a diversity manager. Nevertheless the company’s senior ranks continued to be mostly older and white. It wasn’t until a number of lawsuits were brought against the firm, allied with plunging sales in the teens of this century, that the hierarchy buckled and started to morph into something more closely resembling modern America.

If you enjoy watching ‘Gruen’ you’ll love this show. It’s also good for people interested in, as mentioned earlier, the ways that America has changed in the past quarter-century.

Thursday 21 September 2023

Movie review: The Bleeding Edge, Netflix (2018)

This amazing documentary movie is a game changer literally in its effects. It chronicles parts of the lives of some survivors of ineffective medical devices. The show focuses especially on the Food and Drug Administration, which is the US govt organ responsible for monitoring and controlling what pieces of technology can be used on humans.

When I started watching this show I wasn’t all that impressed but if you persevere – it is serious and confronting – the rewards are there. In particular the show deals with a contraceptive device made by Bayer called Essure, a small coil inserted in the fallopian tube. It is designed to create scar tissue so that pregnancy is rendered impossible, but the reactions of the bodies of some women caused pain, incessant bleeding, and associated life problems such as an inability to have intimacy, unemployment, and homelessness.

When I say this movie is a game changer I mean it but I won’t spoil the suspense by revealing now how that happens. Needless to say I was impressed by the efficacy of the filmmakers and equally disappointed by the FDA. The threshold for getting a medical device approved by the FDA is far lower than for drugs and there is an indecent amount of lobbying done. In addition to the money being spent to convince lawmakers to vote a certain way is the revolving door of lobbyists, manufacturing company executives, and the FDA itself, so that an FDA senior official will be later employed by a manufacturer once their time with the administration is over. This cosy relationship between the FDA and industry resembles the situation in Japan where senior bank employees are employed in the ranks of subordinate companies in a process known as “amakudari” (which translates roughly as “sweetness descending”).

‘The Bleeding Edge’ mercifully censors the operations so that you’re not shown all the gory details, but the stories of the women involved are sufficiently difficult to learn about that it indeed becomes easy to switch off. When I came back to finish the program I was enlightened and amazed that this story hadn’t been more fully reported by journalists. I hope many people watch it in order to understand better how Capital can destroy lives when the main purpose of its organs is to make money. In the world of medical devices the primary purpose should be to improve lives.

Wednesday 20 September 2023

TV review: Who Killed Little Gregory, Netflix (2019)

This French docuseries uncovers for overseas viewers who might know – probably won’t know – anything about it the story of one of the most high-profile murder cases in the country’s history. A small bot, aged four years, is thrown into the Vologne River in eastern France and drowned. Prior to the murder a series of phone calls and letters aimed at the family had occurred, making this case all the more startling.

The Villemin family and its extended branches of cousins and uncles comes into focus and a style of “omerta” (a Mafia-type silence practiced in order to protect members) making the situation distinctly creepy. There is a gun. The Villemins struggle against a national media intent on uncovering the truth about the death, and a storyline not dissimilar to the case of Madeleine McCann in Portugal ensues.

Running to five episodes, ‘Who Killed Little Gregory’ is wonderfully quirky and unique. I came away refreshed for having watched a show in a different language (one I have some knowledge of) and on account of the particular fashions of the 1970s and 80s, because the bulk of the footage belongs to that era. The French judicial system worked slowly however so that parts of the story play out in more recent years. Definitely worth watching if you like cop shows.

Tuesday 19 September 2023

Movie review: Shania Twain: Not Just a Girl, Netflix (2022)

Of course I knew the name vaguely and once I heard the songs I knew the songs but I had no other knowledge of Shania Twain before watching. So it’s a good movie because I didn’t need to be a fan. There’s something genuine about the movie, as though everyone were singing from the same songsheet: Twain is an honest broker who grew up poor and made it big in the world of entertainment.

She’s a true star but she is still rooted to the earth. 

Perfectly paced, the sections follow one after the other in order, the subtitles sparkling with different colours just like the singer’s life. Probably you know more about it than I did, but a few facts won’t be out of place. Her mother supported her development from the age of eight, taking her to bars to sing in rural Ontario, so from an early age she was acclimatised to the stage. Her mother was a force behind her when she was small and then later she met Mary Bailey a Canadian singer who helped her develop. Then Twain met producer Mutt Lange.

The rest of the story is best left to the moment you watch it on the screen, suffice to say it’s no secret that Twain made it big with a string of hits.

The thing about this movie is that it’s not necessary to be a fan to enjoy it. It doesn’t fetishise the subject. It doesn’t try to make you accept one position over another. It’s just a straight recount of success and aren’t we all interested in success? So even if you don’t particularly like Twain’s music you can come away from this show with a sense that you’ve learned something new about life.

Monday 18 September 2023

TV review: Marcella, Netflix (2018)

Running to 3 seasons, ‘Marcella’ is a standard police procedural where the lead character, Marcella Buckland, has mental illness problems. In this way it joins the excellent ‘Bordertown’ from Finland where the lead detective was borderline autistic. I’m watching another cop show right now titled ‘Paranoid’ where one of the detectives has problems with panic attacks, so this type of show with this variety of difference seems to be the norm nowadays.

Thirty years ago or even less the idea of a policeman with mental health challenges would have been unthinkable though ‘New Tricks’ a decade ago flirted with the trope through Brian lane played by Alun Armstrong. There seems to be a sense now that the nature of policing invites health problems and this is probably closer to the mark than the opposite.

Anyway ‘Marcella’ is replete with incidents to do with violence as you’d expect since you’re dealing often with murder. There are three cases, but I won’t talk about any of them in detail because to do so would spoil the suspense. Marcella is an interesting character who thrives in a high-pressure environment and is competent but whose private life is fractured. She seems to have problems with all of the people who come close to her but your sympathies are cemented in place by her frailty.

I was entertained in season two by the presence of Jason Hughes as Vince Whitman, who is a suspect. Hughes for many years played the detective sergeant in ‘Midsomer Murders’ so to see him on the other side as it were is amusing. He’s suitably menacing.

Anna Friel has a lot of work to do as marcella and her role demands that she be not only thorough but attractive. It’s an interesting character for this reason, and I assume that ‘Marcella’ will go down as a seminal moment in police shows. Directed by a Swede on Wikipedia it’s categorised as Nordic noir.

Wednesday 13 September 2023

TV review: Unabomber, Netflix (2018)

It’s remarkable how prescient Ted Kaczinsky – the Unabomber – was and how – in an age where whole towns are seemingly daily swept away by floods or flame – he seems to be relevant now, 40, 50 years after he went on his killing spree. There’s something incredibly quixotic about a man who thought he could bring down Capital by murdering innocent functionaries like university academics.

The pain he cause is real but nevertheless it’s not every day you come across a cold-blooded murderer with a manifesto as assured and complex as Ted’s.

This multi-part series uses interviews conducted with Kaczinsky when he was alive as well as interviews with his brother and sister-in-law (she was the one who initially thought that the Unabomber might be Ted). It’s an assured and interesting production that gets to the heart of the case right up to the point where Kaczinsky was committed to prison.

Even though we already know the outcome the journey through darkness is worthwhile. What strikes me is how similar to artists are career criminals such as Kaczinsky. It’s the application, a word that nowadays has mostly to do with software, the single-minded approach to finding a way to achieve your goals. This doesn’t mean that every artist is a murderer, but certainly the idea that your goals lie outside of the rules of polite society makes the two classes of individual look alike.

Kaczinsky lived in a small hut in the forest in Montana, a site he chose so that he could be away from society. He communicated his endeavours with no one apart from the press and he did this only so that his ideas could be promulgated widely. In taking this step he sealed his own fate because it allowed his sister-in-law to understand who was behind the killings. Something about his prose style convinced her. His brother furthermore came across a document in their mother’s house that Ted had written previously on the same subject. Upon showing this new document to the FBI the authorities knew that they had the right guy.

Kaczinsky will live on as a symbol for many people. The identikit portrait of the killer that the police first made after an attack in California endures as an icon for many. It is instantly identifiable, the hoodie, the aviator sunglasses. If you see it you know you are dealing with something Else.

Tuesday 12 September 2023

Movie review: Nail Bomber, Netflix (2021)

A nice docuseries focusing on events in 1999 in London where a far-right terrorist killed and maimed hundreds of people. I won’t spoil the plot by saying too much but it’s fair to say that this is perfect for lovers of police procedurals like me.

I peripherally remembered something of the attacks but it’s such a long time ago that I watched the show with fresh eyes. The details of who what why had escaped me over the long period – more than 20 years now – since those days. At the time I was living in Japan anyway so it would have been hard for me to access information about such things. If I’d have been living in Australia I would now be better informed, I was sort of existing in a news black hole for most of the nineties.

The show uses a lot of light effects in order to increase a sense of suspense. I was intrigued by this technique. Often with cop shows you have an out-of-focus shot of a road at night, and the lights slipping by each other, all the different sources of light, create a sense of unease because though you sort of know what you’re looking at you can’t be absolutely sure. In ‘Nail Bomber’ these effects are ramped up and used as background for voiceovers, so you get people talking as these lights are slipping around on the screen. It’s as if you are looking at a different, parallel world where things sort of resemble things in your own everyday world but also are quite different.

I guess that sort of sums up the far right.

It might be facile to say something at this point about the far right, we’ve seen it emerge more forcefully here in Australia as well, but more in recent years as an adjunct to street protests that attract a range of different participants. There seems to be a lack of circuit breakers in the UK, maybe people feel cornered in a way that they don’t here so there’s no need in New South Wales or Victoria to go the last step and actually kill someone.

I’m just grasping at straws here. ‘Nail Bomber’ expresses something essential but also something that it would help us better collectively to understand. I would like to see more shows like this but not necessarily ones about crime. Perhaps someone could make a series about the far right across Europe generally and how it manifests itself differently in different countries. Would you watch such a show? Would making it just encourage people to participate in more anti-social ways?

Monday 11 September 2023

TV review: Wild Wild Country, Netflix (2018)

Amazing docuseries about a religious cult in Oregon, I knew of Bagwan Sree Rajneesh before watching this but not all the details of the story, which takes you from India to the USA to Germany and beyond. When a religious leader is attacked in India by an irate Hindu terrorist the Bagwan moves his followers to rural Oregon after buying an enormous piece of unpopulated land.

The Bagwan has strong ideas about the way life should be lived however, hardly surprising for a person who has amassed a huge flock of people to idolise and adore him. Such strong ideas rub locals up the wrong way. The Bagwan’s secretary Ma Anand Sheela is an effective organiser but perhaps too effective, as she alienates people outside the community. 

The Rajneeshis try to use the instruments of government to achieve their aims but come up against opposition at every turn. The TV series is about the cult but it’s about much more than that. In order to make the series the filmmakers get post-Rajneeshpuram members to talk in depth about what happened, including Sheela who at the time the show was made was living in Germany working as a nurse.

I was mesmerised by this show, it’s “about” freedom, democracy, belief, the separation of church and state, it’s about the individual and what it means to live a meaningful life, it’s about justice and core social values, what it means to live in a pluralistic democracy, it’s “about” so many things. It’s an amazing production.

After watching the show it struck me strongly that the foundational values of the Rajneesh community were viable and perhaps superior to those of the ranchers and law-upholders who surrounded them. There were flaws, it’s true, but the basic problem was one of aesthetics not anything concrete. People like the ranchers who lived in Antelope prior to the Rajneeshis arriving just didn’t like the sound of ‘em, it’s a simple as that. It was a clash of world views that led to the Rajneeshis being forcibly expelled from the United States.

Nowadays the 260-km-sq Big Muddy ranch is owned by a Christian youth foundation and is used for activities and camps.

Friday 8 September 2023

TV review: The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann, Netflix (2019)

The basic outlines of the story should be familiar to most people because of the media coverage this case drew all over the world. Netflix takes the watcher behind the scenes in fabulous detail. I was particularly interested in this show as my parents went to the Algarve in the 90s to spend time and to meet family. I felt I knew the place from photographs in my mother’s archive that came to me when she died.

I didn’t know a lot of the facts that the Netflix show reveals however, including the incompetence of the local Portuguese police. Another variable never displayed before is the secrecy with which crimes are investigated there. This holding of the cards close to the chest played out in strange ways. The police on the ground also had very odd ideas about the British friends among whom were Madeleine’s parents, and the public seemed to (perhaps rightly) blame them for leaving the children alone and unsupervised for long periods of time. It’s hard to avoid coming to the conclusion that Gerry and Kate McCann brought this disaster upon themselves by going off the have dinner with other Brits while the children slept in the holiday apartment.

Other things surprised, such as the suspicion that was heaped on innocent bystanders, some of whom became actual suspects targeted by police. The cops don’t come out of this looking very fresh, with one inspector who was dismissed from the case taking revenge by publishing a book that got turned into a TV series. I guess stranger things have happened.

This is a nicely made show and the mystery continues. At the start of each episode the filmmakers place on the screen an appeal to contact Portuguese or British police in case viewers have information. This detail adds a flavour of intrigue, regardless that it is extremely unfortunate that nobody has been able to ascertain where the child is now. I cannot imagine what that must be like.

Gerry and Kate McCann were perhaps unfortunate in being rather controlled people not prone to revealing their emotions. Their impassive faces and clipped words animate the drama is odd ways, and this is another way that the show is slightly uncanny. It might have been this characteristic that caused the Portuguese community to react in the ways they did when confronted by the horror.

Saturday 2 September 2023

TV review: Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal, Netflix (2023)

Continuing my troll through Netflix for true crime, ‘Murdaugh Murders’ reprises a scandal I’d been aware of from the news. The docuseries adds further information to what had previously been common knowledge – common at least for news junkies like me – so it was time well spent. The basic premise of the film is eventual justice for an entitled number of people in a single family known in South Carolina for its connection to the legal system.

The skeleton of the case finds its start in a boating accident caused by excessive consumption of alcohol that resulted in the death of a very young woman. The family tried to cover it up because Paul Murdaugh was driving the boat. The story gets weirded however later on when Paul and his mother are shot dead on a Murdaugh property and Paul’s father Alex is arrested. As of writing this review Alex is still in prison.

Documentary of this nature is interesting because of what it says about us. We live in communities where the means for subsistence are allocated unequally, and while there’s nothing inherently wrong with this problems arise when people take their privilege for granted, as Alex Murdaugh evidently did. The Murdaugh legal dynasty was founded at the beginning of last century and lawyers with the name Murdaugh have been practicing law in Hampton County ever since. While this state of affairs is set to continue the result of the events recorded in the docuseries is that the name Murdaugh will forever be associated with abuse of privilege.

This is sad.

It’s sad because life is short. What Netflix has done is to give us reason to be thankful for what we have in our own lives, wherever we live them. And while the show’s subtitle suggests that what happened in Hampton County is a particularly southern phenomenon inherent in the scenario is abuse of privilege stretching way beyond one family and out of contemporary boundaries to the deep past. Even if you’re never visited the South you can still identify parts of your own life in ‘Murdaugh Murders’. Even if you have no desire to visit the South you can still benefit by spending a few hours watching this show.

Friday 1 September 2023

TV review: The Staircase, Netflix (2018)

‘The Blacklist’ pointed me to this series.

In that show the James Spader character is talking with friends about watching TV and he says that ‘The Staircase’ is riveting. It’s not often you find a show mentioned in another TV show so, also on account of the fact that I liked ‘The Blacklist’, when I heard Raymond Reddington say this I took note. Next time I was searching for something to watch I did a search.

‘The Staircase’ was a long time in the making.

It initially started out as a French TV show and then when Netflix came on-board it migrated to their service. The French crew followed a novelist by the name of Michael Peterson at the time when his wife died mysteriously on a staircase in their house. 

What started out as a fairly straight-forward proposition got strange and stranger at every turn as it was revealed that a family friend of the Petersons in Germany (where Michael had been living in the 80s) was killed in similar circumstances.

Nevertheless the prosecution played tricks with evidence, left out exculpatory evidence, and maliciously dragged Peterson’s bisexual predilections into the case.

‘The Staircase’ is a recount of a story of the failure of the American justice system.

Slow and meditative with a luscious soundtrack, a high point for me was when Peterson is driving back home from the final court appearance with the radio on, it sounds like Tchaikovsky playing, something light and percussive, but I really felt as though I could understand Peterson’s sense of sadness at that moment.

As Peterson’s attorney David Rudolf said in summation, the state forced the wastage of millions of dollars of treasure in order to find Peterson guilty. At the end the judge (who tried the original case as well as the second set of hearings) got on-camera and gave a sort of apology but it rang hollow. What kind of recompense could be made to Peterson who lost not only his wife but his savings and years and years of happiness. ‘The Staircase’ is another in a string of shows constituting a solemn indictment of the criminal justice system. It’s shows like this that bring the police into disrepute.