the grass is always green on the screen

... or Odenwaldschule on optical cocaine

Sex Education

Sex Education Season 2 is here, released on the 17th of January — a Friday, to suit your binge-watching needs. All eight hours of your time expended for the pure pleasure of see beautiful people worry about their sex lives and other dramatic tropes. Everything is perfect: the screenwriting is in top form, the characters are all well etched for a nominal viewing, the cinematography lulls you into thinking the show is better than what it is but the greatest achievement of it all is that Netflix hides in the background without once making its presence too imposing on the screen.

I don't pay for a Netflix subscription, my partner does along with four other people for a sum of €3 a month. That's a paltry sum for enticing me to binge-watch for hours, the economics don't add up in the end. So for the quantity of content I get for the price point, I must be fed absolute visual junk to while my time away before the start of another day as a productive member of the society.

This is my general gripe with almost all of Netflix's shows these days, they have an interesting hook and after a few episodes they plunge into private label factory produce with stock characters, story arcs and music choices. The writing usually is top-notch, following all the rules of an efficient drama but this perfection in everything lends a sterile viewing environment where the sense are numbed for the lack of any challenge.

Sex Education has an interesting premise but when viewed away from the binge-watching euphoria, it is nothing but shallow. It feels like a fictional version of the Odenwaldschule, where everyone sleeps with everyone else and no real studying seems to happen at any given point. Everything is focused around sex for the students, teachers, the headmaster and even the plumbers and shopkeepers in this fictional village. There is no sport, no classes and no other aspect of teenage life that demands attention, the most popular things to do seem to be a visiting a Sexual Councillor, either real or fake.

The sappy character arcs can be seen episodes away, giving enough time for one to cook, to take a nap or check the occasional Reddit post. The show doesn't demand any serious attention as it's not made to start a conversation but rather to serve as a primer for an awkward small talk incubator at a work lunch or an excuse to have that Netflix account running for one more month. Sex Education is all those sappy Saas-Bahu soaps but with a greater budget. The idea is just the same, to be hypnotized for a little while and go about the day without thinking much. While I'm unconsciously entertained, I am not going to sign-up for Netflix anytime soon.

If you're looking for something memorable and consuming only a fraction of your time, I recommend Napoleon Dynamite from which this show invariably draws a lot from. But if you just want to look at pretty people having a cornucopia of frivolous sex problems, then enter the black box and get some subliminal Coke advertising in the process.

#SexEducation #review #Netflix

A peek into a benevolent China

A few months ago I was at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris I saw Yan Pei-Ming's “A Burial in Shanghai” whose huge, stark canvases of black and white had an unconscious impact on me. I remember sitting before one of the canvases, exhausted from walking all over the museum and just trying to take in the scale and contents of the paintings. An old woman on a hospital bed, a burial against the Shanghainese skyline and a waterfall or something hazy to that effect. Little did I know that I would be witnessing a movie version of these paintings with the similar themes of death, development and a sense of loss towards ones own country in a kino in Berlin.

I was already 20 minutes behind the official showtime, and so I was running to the kino. The first twenty minutes are devoted to advertisements but that can wary on the popularity of the movie and in Berlin it is a hit or a miss. Movies one thinks can be empty are full and vice-versa and I didn't want to take a chance with this one. This season has been one with very dark movies and I needed something to break the monotony and The Farewell seemed to offer just that.

The woman behind the counter told me that the movie was already started two minutes ago and that the heater wasn't working. In moments of pressure my German becomes a leaky toilet and I was throwing my verbs all over when an older woman came from behind a curtain warning me that I had to understand two of the languages from English, Mandarin and German to understand the movie. I like these ushers who have this concern towards customers but it is a sad question really, it means that either the usher or the regular movie goers do not get the point of watching a movie – the images are right there in front of you and what is better than a foreign language to put things together and narrate your own story to it? Or that the ushers do not dream of watching movies all day – I would assume that it is a low pay job but why not? The woman also warned me that the heating was broken so the temperatures inside were less than 15 degrees. I didn't care, I was there for watching a movie and not being toasty like a biscuit. All that complaining perhaps had an effect on the crowd inside, there were hardly ten people in the cinema. I wonder how many more how walked in with intent and out without making a purchase.

sometimes a bit too much style

The movie itself wasn't extraordinary. It gives a peek inside China and deals with the topic of immigration and the concept of home and family which can seem exotic to Western families that don't have the same experience of moving far away from their birth homes with no promise of coming back. The story seemed normal from my Indian lens: the growing change in the society from the within, the breaking of traditional familial bonds, the romance with all things American, the extreme rejection of the idea of death.. it shows that the countries are much alike than we believe to be. This can be a cause for concern as the authoritarian angle the Chinese pursue is the current Indian government's wet dream and throughout the movie it reminded me that the distance between these two cultures is smaller than I thought, no matter what the appearances might reflect.

Yan Pei-Ming's paintings left more for one to chew on and remember. I can still remember the feeling of sitting in the exhibit room and wondering at the pixels that shook before me like ambient white noise. The Farewell however is less personal because it tries to please itself a bit too much. Sitting between both these works, I wonder if my place in the world is the same as the two artists – far away from a place once I called home, with dead family members and a feeling of self one cannot really place anywhere.

#review #Chinese

Ferris Bueller's Completely Off

Movie posters make or break a film. Like book covers, potato chip wrappers, clothes, light bulbs, underwear, supermarket branding.. you get the point. Systemsprenger's posters were around me for much of the last months and never did I once have the motivation to even remotely check what the movie was about. It looked juvenile (literally), lazy and pink – enough to tell me that it is about a young girl who is crazy.

Crazy she is, with all the shaky cameras running behind her for half the movie. Gimbals. The movie needed gimbals and better shot selection. Or perhaps some animation and an eye for detail. Instead it follows the Berliner style of impromptu kitsch, sometimes a bit too much. Being unpolished, overexposed with grungy music super-imposed does make the movie look raw but so do vegetables before they are cooked.

The movie had its moment in the fact that it made me empathize with my social worker friends. It made me think of the days after their night shifts and how sunken and harrowed they looked. I wanted to tell them that I experienced the same in the kino, which necessarily is not a good reason to relate with. The child actress was insufferable, she screams and she screams and she screams. Somehow none of the adults in the movie seem to be able to take a stance, not for a moment was this world feeling real. It looked like a construct because that is how it was written.

Another glitch is the lack of a budget for some medium level graphics which are quickly exchanged for random camera movements and quick cuts. That is what is supposed to make for style in this film, you can call pricking your eyes with a needle if you wish to. This movie is the most disturbing movie I watched this year after Climax. What makes Climax special is the inventiveness of its director who immerses you into his worldview and makes it plausible that such situations exist. Systemsprenger is more a fungal piece of bread developing all kinds of colors on its surface and you decide to eat it anyway because it is Monday and you have to get to work. Is that disturbing? Yes. Is that enriching? Perhaps for someone with bulimia.

I could only wish for the movie to end at multiple intersections throughout the film. There were at least four different story trajectories that could have made the experience tighter but the director, Nora Fingscheidt, goes for the maximum scream minimum impact which is definitely not a sensual argument. Once the credits started rolling I had to run outside to get some breath, it was a weekday and unlike the traumatized lead in the film I had things to do and had to do them well. Not all of us can run from our problems but I would recommend running away from this movie for sure.

#GermanCinema #review

is trumped by a rainy day in Berlin.

I got down at the Berlin Zoo Station and walked underneath the railway bridge. There was a slight winter drizzle and a gust of cold wind, mixed with the stale smell of puddle vapour and automobile exhaust. There were a few sketchy people standing by the wall next to the Apotheke, one of them was smoking a cigarette and looked bony and pale in a methamphetamine sense of way. A few feet away was this girl, not much older than her mid-teens , sitting on an olive green sleeping bag, cheeks still flush red with baby fat and the eyes had an innocence alien for the underpass.

Two men were talking to her, with their backs to the street, dressed in black with short cropped hair and standing in an authoritative stance. The girl looked like she was answering their questions and she looked clean to be on the streets. I looked down at the men's shoes, the old trick provided by Roald Dahl's 12 y.o. heroine in 'The Umbrella Man'. They were gaudy adidas' nothing the sort the law would be wearing around but pure trash material. I knew that was trouble but I was getting late to catch a screening at the kino.

A rainy day in New York. The theater was empty and the bunch of noisy teenagers who stood behind me in the line were sitting in the row behind me. The audience was mostly young except for the middle-aged man who held four doors open for me, twice at the kino and twice in the bathroom. I did not see his face but I just nodded as I walked past. The movie was already four minutes in by the time I sat down and it was right in the middle of the scene where a novice director wants Gatsby (Timothée Chalamet) to do an impromptu scene in his movie. The light seemed off and the setting seemed fake. Gatsby looked like he needed some water splashed in his face to wake up from his wet dream two days past. Enter Shannon (Selena Gomez) with whom he has to act in the scene. It is a typical Woody Allen romantic moment with neurotic male characters and a lot of mumble give and take. The movie never really picked up from that point, it all seemed like one huge circlejerk of rich fetishism and fake people, I couldn't care less for any of the characters, they just came and left without humour or intent. The staging was shoddy and it looked like the work of someone who has resigned, the equivalent would be the later year works of Ram Gopal Varma or Paul Schraeder, though Woody Allen has his sparks and sometimes often.

There were a few off laughs which the audience was kind enough to lap up, but most the followings were just endured through silence. The movie ended like it did a few dozen times before in Woody Allen's movies and every other performance except for Cherry Jones' as Gatsby's mother was artificial to the point that a cake of make-up could have done a better job.

I walked out of the kino and saw an S-Bahn pass by the wonderfully lit BNP Paribas building. The drizzle still persisted and I walked the same route back and this time the spot where the young girl was sitting before was empty, except for a woman lifting her small, fluffy dog before she ran down to the Underground station. I felt sad and all I could wish for is for that girl to have a safe, warm night in the city but something told me that it was not going to be the case.

If you crave for a movie, a superior alternative would be A Coffee In Berlin with more romanticism and the need to express. Any rainy day in Berlin is better than a rainy day in New York, save the 10€ and buy yourself a döner and look around for the drama instead.

#review #Berlin #WoodyAllen

Think of something that could be?

ok boomer!

Oh look, two brawny American good ol' boys from the 60s, full of muscle and grease fighting out like the good ol' times in the perfectly manicured lawns of those beautiful times in suburban America. Look at them, as brothers, fighting, hunk against hunk and in the moment of truce the perfectly dressed wife brings in two bottles of cold, sweaty Coke. Those were the times where everything was pure, cars were still running on gasoline and grit, children looked up to their fathers, employees still hung around with their abusive employers. It was a time of no malice and ofcourse, life played out as a Coke commercial.

Two handsome and capable lead actors, race cars, exposition, a template of a story and modern technology. This is what the movie is about. Plus a lot of advertising no-one asked for. Christian Bale did a Christian Bale doing a Christian Bale. I loved him, sometimes way too much. It is great to see an actor fill a screen and then overflow through its edges, flooding through the auditorium and floating me up. I was in the first row and I just managed to not drown in the performance. Matt Damon came close, but just so.

I was giving up on the movie whenever Ken Miles' (Bale) family came up on screen to add some non-existent drama. Caitriona Balfe as Mollie Miles had a groanworthy introduction of which as little said is better. All the padding had an amazing pay-off in the final race sequences that seemed to go on for 24-hours, I was wondering when the movie was going to end while eating my fourth chewing gum for the evening, any longer I would have had less teeth to grind and no fear of dentists.

I wonder, why there was no promotion for Marlboro or any mention of cigarettes? I guess it is easier to sell Coke and tyres than to sell cigarettes these days. These sugar daddies sure know how to roll in the dirt and make it look appealing, Ford vs. Ferrari is full of scenes that come out once in a while to surprise you and then the movie goes into an exposition overdrive and then some more.

Going beyond the obvious cliches, it was enjoyable for the race scenes and the little surprise in the end I did not see coming. It is a movie that is more about the actors than anything else, a set piece, a star vehicle and sometimes what felt like one long advertisement. IC cars might not be around for too long and the mourning process has already begun. Bring back the good ol' times with thunky machines and muscled men but please, stick a cigarette in one for the next time or some real coke.

#Hollywood #FordvsFerrari #Review

..and the experience of watching a war film in Paris

Paris somehow has very good marketing around it. My fantasy of that city always involved doing regular, everyday stuff and seeing if I felt like the same way all those exquisite French films and films set in France made me feel. France is synonymous with Paris to me at this point, much to the charign of my French friends. Going to a supermarket and buying a bag of chips, drinking cheap beer, sitting outside in a cafe, ambling around and finally going to a kino was how my dream Parisian fantasy would've played out and that is exactly what I did when I was there the last month.

There was a screening of Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now: Final Cut playing in one of the theaters that seemed to have an eclectic selection of films. I was excited and I promoted the film encouraging my friends to tag along even though it would mean we'd reach home at 1 in the night on an ordinary weekday.

I watched the previous 'best' version of Apocalypse Now, the Redux about a decade ago on a small computer screen in my damp room back in India. There was not much in terms of infrastructure, I did not have a good screen or speakers but I made it up with a voracious appetite for films. I watched the movie in one go and I remember though the ending left me confused, the opening five minutes of the film changed the way I looked at the world. The opening sequence was the sound of most of my idle days laying in bed, the views of sunrises, of melancholy and for a long time, just the music for being alive. In this aspect I view the opening more like a spiritual initiation than the cruel introduction to a war film.

Just before my trip to Paris, I finished reading King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild which terrorised me of the unspeakable atrocities that took place in the Democratic Republic of Congo as a monopolistic, single-person controlled Corporation-State under the rule of the King of Congo, King Leopold II. The atrocities were the inspiration for Joseph Conrad to write the Heart of Darkness which inspired Apocalypse Now, though sadly twisted to suit an American invasion in Vietnam, while the true horrors of Congo never even made it to the wider world.

The film was a fever dream to experience on the big screen. I was lost in the detailed construction of the world as a PTSD struck viewer, I zoomed in and out of lives and situations. Coppola creates empathy and humour in the strangest of places even when the movie is about following the course of a river, deep into the depths of unspeakable evil. Is Col. Kurtz a villain? I still am not sure of it though I was glad when the movie was over, I had too many wounds I had to nurse myself.

Looking back, if one considers film as a world building exercise then Apocalypse Now does that in an exacting manner. It is not a film populated by characters, the characters after a point do not have anything to add. The main protagonist (and in effect the antagonist) is the war itself. In this context it is important to talk about the whole Marvel hoopla that was raised a few weeks ago, where Coppola said, “When Martin Scorsese says that the Marvel pictures are not cinema, he’s right because we expect to learn something from cinema, we expect to gain something, some enlightenment, some knowledge, some inspiration.”. He is right, I must have watched all of the Marvel movies that are there to be seen but I cannot tell anything that makes them standout, in effect, together they amount to nothing than a few frames of Apocalypse Now. Those movies are the by-product of studio greed whose sole ambition is to distract you as they make their money.

I took one good look at the theater before leaving, it was small, cozy and comfortable. There wasn't too much fuss about the concessions, in fact I didn't even notice if there was popcorn. And for the first time I saw a bathroom attached in the theater, right next to the screen which was a welcome sight as sitting in three hour movie after being on a lot of beer is impossible. I wanted to see further screen oddities they had on the timetable but the city took over – I bought more chips, drank more wine and walked till my kneecaps went blunt. Still, one of the highlights of the trip was watching Apocalypse Now in the theaters and if that oppurtunity ever comes by you, do not give it up.

#ApocalypseNow #Marvel #FrancisFordCoppola #Review

A cinema plays in the background as someone cooks in the kitchen. A TV show fills in for company at a dinner table. Videos on Youtube incite anger while travelling to work on the bus. Watching movies in a theater takes you away from yourself and attempts to dream you into a world not so different from yours, yet so different.

Which one of this gives the best viewing experience? Film in itself is a very dictatorial art process, more dictatorial than say, writing. When a person writes, it her thoughts alone that play on the paper. There will be outside influences, sure, but they are all blended into the writing process where they are indistinguishable from the author's. In the case of film, it is the director who calls the shot at the end of the day or it is the producer by the virtue of having money or it is the actor, for having a face that can sell. In this case, the power is centered in a few people while the work is of hundreds of technicians, craftsmen and administrators. This gives film a far more central perspective than other works of creation. The second person in the hierarchy of making a film is far removed than the first who calls the shots, creating a huge imbalance of power that in fact presents the best idea forward: it can be money, it can be stardom or it can be the auteur who rules the roost.

The counter-argument to this could be that only a few writers are published at the end of the day. Writing however is more universal than filmmaking, making a film is a labour intensive process that demands a high level of skilled technicians across various domains, meaning your ordinary person on the street has very little probability of making a film that can act as a thoughtful Whatsapp forward while the same person can embed a pdf file with a 20 page story.

Youtube videos, personal videos, news, TV shows all of them fall under the category of perpetually made media where one can consume an inexhaustive variety of content that seems to emanate from a bottomless pit. We as audience can always distinguish between a film and a TV show or a YouTube video. Part of the reason is that “cinematic” look, while the other is also the level of intense detail that a film has to carry in its duration unlike a TV series that has the benefit of a few to many hours of time at its disposition.

Films are one-off projects that takes years in gestation and require to tell an effective story in the time allotted, which makes them also very pregnant with information and substance. Even a bad film can be evaluated for its demerits, say an actor's ego or the simple lack of technical finese but the same cannot be said about TV or a random video on their internet even though all the media's primary aim is to engage and at some level, entertain. The overall complexity involved in making a film and then bringing it to the people is multiple hoops farther than the average TV show. Though Netflix and Amazon are trying to bridge that gap by making cinema disposable, they have the same net effect as say television before them or pirating. A movie is made for the big screen and the eyes cannot be lied to even though the wallet has feelings of its own.

I keep asking myself this question, why movies? Over the course of the last fifteen years I must have watched thousands of movies in different settings, to the point I know the tropes, what to expect and a general immunity from being immersed into the medium and still I find them compelling. They could be termed as an addiction but sure I can let months pass by without watching a movie but when there is the possiblity to watch one, I give it a shot. It could only be seen as an interpretation of a sort of reality, the closest I have to get into someone else's skin and watch their fabricated world from behind their eyes.

In this respect watching a movie is a very personal act, it is not something together with someone rather going alone and having an individual experience of seeing someone's world from through their head while being in yours. It feels like I am finding another narrative to understand Being John Malkovich, but watching a movie is what it is, going to floor 1.5 sandwiched in the very world with moving people and experiencing what it is to be another person/s.

The fact that movies are also made for theaters primarily and not for computer or television screens tells a lot about the focus demanded while watching a movie. Watching video on a laptop screen or a cellphone is a very passive form of demanding attention, there will be always other real world scenarios that demand attention – the real world scenarios of being in a bedroom, in a kitchen, in a train or waiting in a hotel lobby. These spaces also allow someone to observe the reality that exists outside the synthetic reality of the video and by the virtue of being real it demands more attention. Whereas the primary viewing place of a film is in a theater is a synthetic space made for the consumption of a synthetic reality, which demands that nothing else in that room is more interesting than the happenings on the screen.

Film is the ultimate culmination of all the previous forms of art – what can be a better emulator of reality than an interpreted reality? Livestreaming could give more insights to our human condition but that is boring as it does not have the necessary drama to keep us engaged. As a story telling and mythmaking device, cinema is one great expressive medium. Check out your local kinos for movies that are being played and buy yourself a ticket and treat yourself to a movie without judgement. Try to find as many details as you can or just allow yourself to drown in a new world, but use the medium as as meditative tool. Come out and see the world around you and see that for a fraction of a second has become cinematic. And there you are the hero of your own story.

#film #appreciation #reality that Anna Karenina?

Official Secrets is made by Gavin Hood whose movies I never watched and starring an actress that I vaguely knew in the back of my head. My need to guess who she was without relying on Google kept me occupied for the entire length of the movie. I considered a few names – Anna Karenina, Katherin Heigl, Princess Diaries Anna, Natalie Portman..while the actress on screen was silently owning all the frames she was in.

It is rare for me to be able to completely immerse myself in a movie. On some level I know that it is actors who are playing roles, I know the writing, editing, lighting, acting and staging choices that filmmakers make and I start trying to decode why a scene was made in the particular way it was. Making a film is laborious and research intensive process that takes months of pre-production meaning what happens on the screen most of the times is not an accident. A good movie for me now is one that manages to reasonably engage me in believing that it is not a movie and transports me into another time and place. A great movie on the other hand completely suspends reality and helps me project myself onto whoever and whatever I want to (in Fight Club I became the camera, while also being Tyler Durden, Marla Singer, Meat Loaf and the sex starving cancerous woman. All this sometimes in the same viewing).

In this respect Official Secrets is a good movie. The characters were not templates though they were cliched to a certain extent. One knew what was coming next but not exactly in the way it was coming. The lead up to the drama was engaging and the element that held everything together was the background score by Paul Hepker and Martin Kilian. The music is almost indiscernible because the dramatic and visual elements took the center stage but without the music the film would have had the film stripped of its reality.

Ralph Fiennes has made him the image of Voldemort for me and that means even a comic, drinking a beer on the beach scene with him has a foreboding sense of evil. He is an excellent to addition to a great cast including an ex-Spiderman supervillain, who plays the pre-villian role of himself from Spiderman. It works like your typical journalistic investigation movie with a handsome amount of your ideas of spies and humanitarian lawyers thrown in.

The film is a telling of what happened before the start of the Iraq war in 2003 and the smokescreen the American and British governments were establishing as a buildup for the war. It is a film that comes off as being right on a moral level but given the skeptical nature of truth in today's world it hard to take it seriously without doing some background reading for oneself. I particularly liked a scene where George W. Bush giving a pro-war speech in the TV is instantly cut to from the TV's point of view onto the protagonist's face as it reels in horror. The message here is, we believed the government's narrative while being angered by it at the same time.

I like the end credits in movies like this where they have slides with real world information, let us call them information credits. I also liked that they do a post information credits and pre-real-credits scene which was a dessert to all the grim proceedings in the film. As I left the kino I felt like a spy myself, heroic and alone. I walked out into the real world of desolate Berlin and as the first blast of cold wind hit me square on my face, the reality fell apart. There was no background score and as I walked around the corner, I vanished into a small stream of Friday evening people.

Oh and it is Keira Knightley as the patient end credits informed me. It also turns out she played Anna Karenina in what would be an unconscious twist to my random guessing.

#OfficialSecrets #KeiraKnightley #Voldemort

or the art of projecting whatever you want

I watched Lara last night. It is made by the guy who made Oh-boy apparently and I can't bother to get myself interested about it. It seems like an indie big deal though I do not know the existence of the movie or any of the cast and the crew till the moment I walked into the theater. The sound of popcorn is really annoying, I think it belongs to the same nuisance club as cellphones, couples on a date and kids. Or couples on a date trying to make a kid while being on a cellphone..anyway.

From what I saw it was the story of an evil woman who was waiting to kill her lover who is a pianist. Midway through the movie I realized that the lover was actually her son. There was something to do with pianos and suicide. Lara tries to kill herself because she is a narcissist and a bad pianist? Many characters come and go, they all are pretty memorable. I liked the woman in the bathroom and the saleswoman in the mall. Their little presence made the film warm. The old piano teacher who looked like a boiled egg growing fungus was pretty cool as well. My only grouse was Lara. The actress looked hideous enough to play a snake. But in the last half hour of the movie I kind of starting liking here and then it all made sense.

I walked out thinking she was terrific, like every other character actor who inhabited the screen. Turns out I understood the movie wrong but that's the point of watching a foreign film, it gives you all the liberty to conjure whatever story that fits your liking and then match it up with the images on the screen, I find my inside jokes funnier than the ones written and often I end up laughing or crying more hysterically than your Joe-next-seat audience member.

It was a surprise even for my fellow German companions who mentioned that the movie was well shot and acted. Then they ruined my movie for me which involved a narcissistic, suicidal mother and turned her into a more sympathetic character. It is no Whiplash but it's not your typical hot Hollywood garbage either. Watch it in the theaters near you, stream it or pirate it, it makes for a nice winter evening viewing minus the popcorn.

#GermanCinema #review

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