Wednesday 29 November 2023

TV review: Black Earth Rising, Netflix (2018)

What got me so strongly about this brilliant drama is the fact that I’d never heard a whiff of it before. The lack of attention and comment goes to standards as this is easy to overlook, but for the wrong reasons. For a start it starts very slowly, almost nothing happens for a good long while.

Because it’s a slow starter it would be easy to turn off. I read on the internet that it got good reviews but personally nobody had ever said anything about it in my purview of attention.

Genocide is a hard topic to treat.

The drama manages to do it well because of some fine acting but the main thing for me is the script. It’s tight as a drum, with short scenes often remotely connected though lying side by side. You are dragged from one character to another as you try to fit the pieces together. This puzzle-like characteristic suited me down to the ground.

John Goodman is great as Michael Innis playing opposite Michaela Coel’s Kate Ashby, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide living and working in London as a legal investigator. Innis is a lawyer as is Kate’s mother Eve (Harriet Walker). 

This is realpolitik and I have no way of knowing how accurate or not the scenario is but it felt good. There are some wonderful performances relating to people in power including Abena Ayivor’s President Mundanzi and her colleague David Runihura (Lucian Msumati) who do it very convincingly with an overlay of oily charm that has the right astringency to make you feel uneasy about them. I particularly liked these liminal spaces that are explored in the drama. Another standout is Immanuel Imani who plays a young man who used to be a child soldier.

Because the show talks about crime there are secrets, and this makes viewing the drama compulsive. Everyone wants to know more about things that touch them closely, and the secrets that these characters carry inside them are laden with portent. There is a gravitas inhering in this program that stems from history’s blackest source.

Saturday 25 November 2023

TV review: Elize Matsunaga: Once Upon A Crime, Netflix (2021)

This brilliant slow-moving Brazilian docuseries chronicles the life of a young woman from a home with modest circumstances who marries into the family of a rich manufacturer in Sao Paolo. Elize Matsunaga is charged with shooting her husband and chopping him up then disposing of the body parts. All this is already known. 

What comes out in the show is the circumstances that drove Elize to kill Marcos Matsunaga, a young man from a prominent food manufacturing dynasty who loved hunting and had a predilection for call girls. It was on a website for escorts that Marcos first met Elize but even after the were married and had a child he kept going back for new experiences.

What comes out in the progress of the scandal is how much it affected the country. Issues such as economic disadvantage and domestic violence were discussed in relation to the lives of Elize and Marcos publicly in the newspapers. When the trial finally happened in 2016 there was even more general interest in events.

Like I said this one moves slowly but in the end I was absolutely drawn to the details of the case. What happened between Elize and Marcos became like something happening in my favourite soap opera. Watching the detectives or lawyers or family friends or relatives discuss Marcos’ philandering or Elize’s brutality was like watching Ridge and Steffy on ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’ discuss Shiela.

I see no problem with this type of vicarious prurient enjoyment of other people’s misfortunes, it seems perfectly natural to gossip and to explore parts of our own personalities in the process. Watch this series if you haven’t already, it’s my recommendation for the month of November. It’s subtitled but not very perfectly but it’s not hard to understand, the problem being that while they translate the words the people say they don’t always translate the strap lines describing who people on the screen are. This is a little bit of a bother but not hard for me as I studied French and Italian. Of course the language of the show is Portuguese.

Sunday 19 November 2023

TV review: Web of Make Believe, Netflix (2022)

A fascinating background focus featuring the internet and various crimes, ‘Web of Make Believe’ is co-produced by Ron Howard. Diving deep into a variety of stories of life online since the 90s, the time of birth of the World Wide Web (now shortened today to “the web”), the show entertains and informs. I don’t want to spoil the suspense for potential viewers but the one on Nazis is of especial interest in the light of recent developments. There’s a double-feature on a technology invented by a defence contractor called Harris something (corp or whatever) the existence of which is initially highlighted by a fraudster in jail trying to beat a charge. This was in the years prior to Edward Snowden so it’s of particular interest to geeks like me.

I wanted more episodes and hope that the filmmakers get busy making some. I could easily watch a dozen more of these without batting an eyelid, and for the privilege of watching what they did produce stayed up all night in true cinephile style.

The one on Nazis is interesting because it focuses on a female primary actor, who got caught up in the lifestyle without apparently thinking too deeply on the implications of the nihilistic ideology. It’s a good case study to use to bring the ideas behind Nazism to the attention of a new generation of internet devotees who, apparently devoid of any credible information, give license to such characters to perpetuate the hateful mindset of the Ubermensch.

Saturday 18 November 2023

TV review: Dogs of Berlin, Netflix (2018)

One of the great things about Netflix is the ability to reach into different cultures when viewing entertainment. ‘Dogs of Berlin’ came out five years ago but still seems topical. The main story is about a police officer from East Germany (before combination, though the drama is set in the contemporary era of 2018 or thereabouts) named Kurt Grimmer (Felix Kramer) who has a family as well as a second family with girlfriend Bine (Anna Maria Muhe) who has problems with substance abuse and money. Kurt’s wife Paula (Katharina Schuttler) runs a gift shop and looks after the two kids but Paula isn’t happy with Kurt who, like many cops it seems, is always out of the house busy with his work.

Paula might seem to present few options for scriptwriters but she is interesting in many ways. She starts having an affair with an extortionist who comes to her shop to get protection money. She also has problems with her social services placement who bashes her and ransacks the shop, destroying displays. Then there’s Erol Birkan (Farhi Yardim), Kurt’s partner, who is of Turkish background like the soccer player who brings the two together and whose death starts the drama. The police hierarchy bring in Birkan because of cultural sensitivities considering the large population of people from Turkey in the German capital.

Now things get complicated because Kurt used to be a neo-Nazi and still has links to the group through his brother and mother. They’re also complicated by the fact that Birkan is gay and has problems with his conservative father.

This isn’t a show to watch in the background because it’s all in German so you have to see words on the screen to get subtitles, but it brought me back day after day (it runs to 10 eps) because of the intricacy of the plot and because of the excellent casting. Sinan Farhangmehr for example is great as Hakim Tarik-Amir, the Turkish crime boss, a crazy psychopath who by turns terrorises and attracts people around him and whose paranoia leads to a dramatic conclusion. There’s also Kais Setti as Hakim’s brother Kareem who has almost as much potency as the capo but who manages to be vulnerable at the same time. Where Hakin is bullet-proof Kareen is sensitive and aspirational, he just wants to become the capo like his brother.

Now ‘Dogs of Berlin’ is, like most cop shows, larger than life and hyperbolic, I’m sure though I’ve never been to Germany and I don’t speak the language well enough to follow the news on the media websites published there. Granted that a soccer player with a gold Lamborghini isn’t regularly assassinated in the street. But gambling and drugs goes on everywhere and someone must manage it, why not Turks? In Australia we’ve always had ethnic crime gangs managing the distribution of drugs – Vietnamese, Lebanese, Romanian, Italian – so why not Turks in Berlin? I totally get the accusations of racism, but note how the filmmakers use a new-Nazi group in their script to blunt such barbs. In fact I would absolutely believe that a larger-than-life character like Hakim Tariq-Amir could be in charge of tens of millions of dollars’ worth of drug business.

Bite me.

Friday 17 November 2023

Movie review: Orgasm Inc, The Story of OneTaste, dirs Sarah Gibson and Sloane Klevin (2022)

An unlikely but strangely compelling documentary about a business/cult in San Francisco in the teens of this century called OneTaste. It’s difficult to identify ways to talk about this movie without seeming to be overly judgemental but the filmmakers have provided a comprehensive overview of a dysfunctional organisation. In my view all organisations are dysfunctional in that they always decline to respect the needs of all employees/participants, but OneTaste is a case study in disrespect.

Founded as a vehicle for the ideas of one person named Nicole Daedone who drew people looking for a way to get rich in the Silicon Valley ecosystem of startups to be involved in the organisation. The central focus of the group was a thing they called “orgasmic meditation” (OM) and now that OneTaste has been disbanded the practice continues through an organisation called the Institute of OM.

So far so good.

I mean it’s not hard to believe that in the world of Silicon Valley someone might come along hoping to disrupt the orgasm, right? They did it with everything else. And the number of companies that have failed in Silicon Valley surely outstrips the few that have survived and prospered.

But what appealed to me about ‘Orgasm Inc’ was the way in which a fairly esoteric and strange idea can warp the very nature of the organisation until it becomes so toxic that the FBI gets involved. When you try to monetise something as basic as sex you either get exploitation in the form of sex work or else you get OneTaste, where employees were treated very badly.

I was entranced by the reality TV jive of ‘Orgasm Inc’, it’s sort of a cross between a newscast and ‘My Mum Your Dad’ with a satanic twist to make it compulsively watchable. Seeing how fundamental ideas about self, satisfaction, fulfilment are dragged into the world of transactions – you give me $60,000 and we’ll give you absolute satisfaction – is utterly engrossing because something that hinges upon the most intimate and almost sacred moments of a person’s life is turned into a commodity to be bought at a price.

‘Orgasm Inc’ is a sad tale but we can take comfort in knowing that once tried it will probably never be attempted again. At least in this form. Nobody will again try to lure vulnerable and hopeful people to part with their money on the promise of giving them something rare and beautiful. Right? 

Right ……?

Sunday 12 November 2023

TV review: American Vandal, Netflix (2018)

Normally when a show of movie wants to claim to be special but has nothing special about it the filmmakers add “American” to the title. It’s a label that means everything and nothing, or that hints at something weird but extraordinary to come. In the case of “American Vandal’ you get the feeling that the makers wanted to point to how quirky the show is (it is quirky) while claiming themselves to be innovative and outstanding (they are).

Having said that I want to note that this show moves slowly. It started as a school project and went to a second season on the back of the success of the first. What the first season entails is an investigation into who was responsible for painting penises on cars in the staff parking lot of a school in California. While this would seem funny the fact is that school authorities zero in on one suspect and he’s taken to court for vandalism.

It's a relatively serious matter in a first-world way, but what the filmmakers Tony Yacenda and Dan Perrault do is press the Pause button and fast forward frame by frame so that they can work out exactly who did it. To do this they interview dozens of people including students and staff. They get leads and clues and then try to work out one by one if it is credible. They get testimony from person A but then interview persons B and C in order to decipher whether person A is a reliable witness. Who is telling the truth?

The show is an excellent primer on youth in America, which would justify the moniker at first blush. But it’s also about the nature of truth itself in an age when electronic devices seem to give us unlimited access to other people’s lives.

The second season goes to Seattle where a person put laxatives in a drink dispenser with predictable results. Again, Yacenda and Perrault get busy with their camera interviewing dozens of people in order to work out who did the deed. This sort of reality television is sometimes cringeworthy but the payoff is precisely in the excessive attention to detail, the fine-tooth combing through evidence in order to find the truth, the blurring of boundaries between heresay and actuality that can characterise a schoolyard. A big thumbs up from me.

Saturday 11 November 2023

Listed works for sale from first solo show

Naturally I didn't sell everything from the first show I held, so I found a site called Bluethumb where you ca list your works for sale. I did the measurements and weight yesterday for a number of works (see below). It was a relatively painless process made a bit more difficult by the fact that my phone was on low charge so I had to sit in the lounge chair instead of on the couch.

Bridge 9340, 2023 (watercolour colalge and posca on paper)

FOCARE II, 2023 (watercolour and collage on paper)

FOCARE VI, 2023 (watercolour and collage on paper)

Social animals III, 2023 (mixed media)

Trial by media, 2023 (watercolour and collage on paper)

I have other things to list on Bluethumb and will get around to it in the future. I hope someone sees the works and likes them enough to buy. I haven't thought too much about packaging because I think it's a bridge to cross when I get to it, my first goal is to get a "view" on Bluethumb.

What do you think? Are these the sorts of things you'd like to have on your wall? Do they make any sense at all? It's Pop art I think, at least that's the way I classified them in Bluethumb. You can put in little descriptions as well where you can note your influences or write down any explanatory ttext detailing what your work is mean to be about. But these things are all relative. When I see these works I see one thing but when someone else sees them they might see something completely different.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say. For me, this journey is just beginning and I have been making lots of new work over the past few weeks. I made two paintings last night, for example, which feature cars and koalas. You can guess my meaning already?

Tuesday 7 November 2023

TV review: Sunderland Til I Die, Netflix (2020)

Most people reading this blog know I’m not a big fan of soccer but this show was great. It is a docuseries that is all about how an organisation works. Sporting clubs are a little different from most organisations in that people get involved voluntarily and spend money. For most organisations people get involved because they need to and earn money.

So there’s a difference in kind from, say, an organisation like Microsoft where you might work five days a week and earn a salary. But some things are the same. I particularly liked the dynamics between the new manager and the marketing person, a woman, because organisations are often about power imbalances. Because of this they’re more interesting, perhaps, to watch in second hand than to be a part of. 

I truly felt for the fans of Sunderland, a team in the northeast of England where ‘Vera’ is made. Because of my prior association with this region (I love ‘Vera’, the crime drama) ‘Sunderland Til I die’ was doubly engaging.

Now sport is highly suited to this sort of treatment because it’s naturally photogenic. You get shots of stadiums full of fans singing. You get shows of players on the field scoring goals. You get shots of people walking into offices following disappointment. There is a lot for a filmmaker to work with where, for example, Proust’s ‘In Search of Lost Time’ is mainly happening in the reader’s head among the thickets of syntax. So I agree that even sport can be interesting for the viewer, like me, who has no particular interest in sport. 

For this reason ‘Sunderland Til I Die’ can be recommended for anyone who’s worked in an office. In the show there are tons of shots of people walking around offices. The phone calls, the late-night meetings, the waiting for people to get in touch, the bad news received just on deadline, it’s all there but in addition you get the wonderful cut-ups of players on the fields, or practicing, or travelling on a bus to an away game. I loved this show with its goofy fans and their unfathomable obsessions.