Years ago, during my routine mindless scrolling of YouTube, I came across some AP Archive videos of a man called Charles Sobhraj. I am eternally fascinated by the past, particularly crimes done in the past, so I mindlessly watched a couple videos before moving on and subsequently erasing Sobhraj from memory. Then Netflix came along and jogged my memory.Continue reading
Netflix has been so good to me lately; by good I mean Netflix UK has offloaded a bunch of crime content not just from the USA as usual but around the world, particularly Brazil; by lately I mean in the past month which is when I started writing this post.
The first of this new batch of content that I watched is Killer Ratings. The tagline/synopsis whatever was all it took to draw me in and I was hooked from start to finish. “The true-life story of Brazilian TV host Wallace Souza, who was accused of literally killing for ratings, and using his crime TV show to cover up the grizzly truth.” How could I not watch it?Continue reading
I wasn’t going to watch this. I fell foul of the aged saying; do not judge a series by its thumbnail. For some reason I assumed it was one of those hippie fake deep-actually to be honest I wasn’t sure what to expect but I thought I wasn’t going to like it. As I was getting ready to skip past it I caught a glimpse of the synopsis and it included something about Rolls Royces; “… the world’s biggest collection of Rolls-Royce automobiles“. The first 3 seconds of the preview also looked interesting, so ever the curious cat I decided to see what it looked like.
Wild Wild Country is a documentary about the controversial Rajeeneshpuram community in Oregon, led by an Indian spiritual guru- Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (later to be known as Osho) and his firebrand personal secretary Ma Anand Sheela who had been with the Bhagwan since she was a teen. The movement starts in India, with the Bhagwan preaching about capitalism and meditation and previously being asleep and now being awake (he was woke before woke was a thing). He gains a lot of followers and it is not long before well off Westerners in search of “the truth” start moving to India to join his
cult group. Eventually the community becomes so large and they face political resistance in India so off to the USA they go. The move is spearheaded by Ma Anand Sheela who the Bhagwan has given absolute power of attorney and is in charge of the community’s millions.
In the USA they settle in the sleepy town of Antelope Oregon, home to about 40 elderly retirees, and almost immediately the tension starts. Unsurprisingly, the residents of Antelope are not pleased to have these weird, raucous, free loving, sex-in-public having members of this strange religion led by an odd man with long beard and multiple rolls royces. The group moved to Oregon in 1981, and within four years the tension boiled over and exploded into chaos. There is arson, explosions, biological warfare, assassination attempts, and a whole host of mayhem.
Only a few minutes into episode one, I realised I was familiar with the subject. I had watched an episode of Forensic Files which covered the Rajneeshes and their poisoning of hundreds of people in the community. The documentary was more detailed and offered more about the background of the cult so I continued to watch it, all the time assuming that the poisoning was the crux of the show. After the second episode, I thought the show was dragging on too long; get to the salmonella poisoning already! It turns out the salmonella poisoning was barely the tip of the iceberg and it was only referred to in bits because other crazy shit was going on.
I thoroughly enjoyed the series and I’m pleased I watched it. The build up was great and by the end of the third episode I was fully hooked, hanging on every word. Wild Wild Country takes us back to the heat of the action in the 80s, and the footage of the cult, interviews as well as interviews with the key players of the cult as they are now made it feel as though we were there in real time. I can only imagine the tensions as they happened, and how insane it would have been if there was social media then. I went through a gamut of emotions; the usual irritation and condescension for people who join cults, anger at their bizarre behaviour, sympathy with the non-Rajneesh community, fascination at how the Rajneeshes were able to build a community and amass all the wealth- they had airplanes, tens of rolls royces, 80,000 acres of land which they fully developed- and even sadness towards the end. It was a trip.
I was quite confused with all the geography of the area and all the names- The Dalles, Antelope, Wasco County; all I know is that this story happened in Oregon. The cult leaders also deserved more punishment for their crimes, they poisoned 751 people for goodness sake! But that’s all in the past now.
The documentary mainly focuses on the tensions between the Rajneeshes and the rest of the community, but I would have liked more depth into the Rajneesh community itself-their day to day, what really happened, was it all an elaborate scam from the beginning, why did the Bhagwan need 80 or so rolls royces? I want to know more. I also want to understand the psychology of these seemingly intelligent well to do people who left everything to join this cult. I understand that we are always in search of the truth, and being an adult is exhausting, but it is still a stretch to travel across the world to live in a commune. There were times in the documentary where I thought the Rajneeshes looked really happy with their lives and hmmn maybe they should have just been left alone. But a few minutes later they would do some fucked up shit and I’m back to disliking them.
Some of the Rajneeshes interviewed for the documentary still speak really fondly of the Bhagwan and their time in the community, even Ma Anand Sheela who fell out with the Bhagwan still seemed enthralled by him. It bordered on ridiculousness. Not everyone feels this way. One high ranking member of the community turned state witness against the community and had to go into witness protection. Another high ranking member wrote a book about how she slowly freed herself from the clutches of the cult. In the book she alludes to her children having suffered sexual abuse, and her regret over the trauma she caused. This was something I wondered while watching the documentary; while these adults were out swapping partners and having sex in the open, who was watching the children?
All in all, it’s a good show and I’m glad I watched it. I do enjoy a good documentary. There is a new Netflix show called Searching for Sheela, which follows Ma Anand Sheela as she returns to India for the first time in 35 years. It is barely an hour long and adds absolutely nothing to our knowledge of the commune.
Sometime last year the news filtered in that Zendaya and John D Washington had made a film during the pandemic, and to this I thought so what? Then the trailer came out, and though I avoided it like I always do, I heard that there are only two characters in the film and that piqued my interest. Plus it was to be released on Netflix so of course I had to watch it, and I did watch it the first chance I got.
The film is about a film-maker Malcolm, and his girlfriend Marie; and it opens up as the couple return home from the premiere of Malcolm’s movie. Marie is obviously in an unpleasant mood while Malcolm is on a high from his night and he eagerly anticipates the forthcoming reviews. Though she is not happy, Marie takes the time to make him some Kraft’s mac and cheese which he devours like a maniac. Eventually the reason for Marie’s foul mood is revealed- Malcolm did not thank or even acknowledge her in his speech at the premiere, and this is the focal point of the whole film, a thorn that keeps popping up despite all the efforts to push it down.
The film is one long exhausting argument, in which the couple go back and forth throwing barbs at each other. Marie believes the film is based on her life-an ex drug addict, while Malcolm dismisses her claims in an infamous bathroom scene during which he disparages her as he lists all the women he has been with and who collectively inspired the character in his film. Throughout this spiel, Marie remains emotionless in the tub, and this is perhaps Zendaya’s best acting of the whole film.
Another thing that happens is a spectacular rant by Malcolm over a review from the “White female critic at the LA Times”. Even before the review was in, he already had his misgivings about the critic and how she was going to politicise the film simply because he is black, and so are the characters in the film. The review comes in and it is positive, but that does not stop Mr. Malcolm from ranting about it for minutes on end, while a weary Marie lay on the couch in her underwear. It is glaring that the screenwriter/director, Sam Levinson, used the Malcolm character to express his personal feelings about critics and race. I could be wrong.
Just when the viewer thinks the issues are settled and the couple have made up, the fight starts again. This time Marie wants to know when Malcolm did not cast her in his film, given that she is/was an actress. This opens up another long winded argument in which Marie picks up a knife and…. you can find that out yourself. That particular scene got my attention but it could have been executed better- Zendaya tried her best but it was not enough.
The couple go to sleep, no doubt exhausted from all the fighting (I was exhausted just watching), and the film ends the next morning with no clue as to the status of their relationship.
This film has generated mixed reviews; there are those who think it is the best thing since the invention of film, and there are others who couldn’t get past the first twenty minutes. Both opinions are valid and I can see why each side would feel that way. For me personally what I distinctly remember was constantly checking how much time was left, and sighing in exasperation when I found out there was still a bit left. The Vulture called the film a failure on every level and I don’t agree with that. To paraphrase Ms. Aretha Franklin-there were beautiful gowns. The film was visually stunning, and the concept was interesting, but it could have been better done. I liked the architecture of the couple’s house, although I am way too paranoid to live in the woods. I didn’t really have a problem with the acting, though I felt at times that Zendaya was struggling to capture the required emotions.
Not to rag on Zendaya, but another thing that made the film uncomfortable was how young and juvenile she looked, and this posed a sharp contrast to Malcolm’s older mature character. Perhaps this was the intention; to show that Malcolm, an older man, took advantage of the young drug addicted woman. Marie seemed mentally exhausted and this could be because she was a young naive woman trying to keep up with the wily antics of a more mature man (Malcolm is only in his thirties but the contrast is a lot). I also did not like how she was in a state of undress at certain points of the film while Malcom remained fully clothed. It is common in Hollywood for women to be naked next to fully clothed men and I always find it weird.
A few people have compared this film (quite unfavourably, I might add) to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, a 1966 film featuring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. I had heard of this film in passing but finally sought it out after watching Malcolm and Marie. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? follows Martha and George, an angry bored couple who constantly belittle and antagonise each other. They invite another couple over and proceed to make them super uncomfortable the whole time. There are four characters in this film, to M&M’s two, but the concept is similar. I agree with those who say that the Taylor-Burton version was far better; I enjoyed the acting and the screenplay better, and Sandy Dennis gave a great performance in the film.
Malcolm and Marie is not a theatrical breakthrough, but it is not a failure either. It really boils down to taste, and individual willingness to watch people argue for nearly two hours. A part of me wants to rewatch it during the day to see if perhaps I was too sleepy the first time. A part of me thinks I have seen enough.
To conclude, it may interest you to know that Netflix paid $30m for this film. Now you know why they keep increasing their prices.
Even though I am working through a backlog of shows/films on my watchlist, I am still constantly perusing Netflix for the next thing to watch. I do have a fondness for interesting foreign shows so when my sister suggested I watch LUPIN, a new French crime thriller, I said pourquoi pas? and immediately went to watch it.
Lupin is a Netflix original which follows the adventures of Assane Diop, the French son of a Senegalese immigrant, in his quest to avenge an injustice meted out to his father by his wealthy employers. Assane is inspired by Arsene Lupin, a fictional character who is apparently France’s answer to James Bond meets Sherlock Holmes. The show opens with Assane’s plan to steal Marie Antoinette’s necklace during an auction at the Louvre. This plan is outlandish enough and I assumed that is what the whole show would be about (a la Money Heist) but that is just one of the many rungs in his ladder of revenge (whatever this means).
If I had to sum up Lupin in one word, it is “unrealistic“. Arsene Lupin is described as a gentleman thief and master of disguise and Assane is portrayed as the same. Assane Diop is a 6’2 (at least), well built Black Frenchman with strong prominent features; this is not a bland man that blends into the crowd, rather he stands out anywhere, possibly even in Senegal but I assume especially in France. So presenting him as a master of disguise was frankly unrealistic, but that is what the show keeps telling us. His disguise mostly consisted of him removing his suit and putting on glasses which for some reason had the entire police force stumped. It reminds me of playing peekaboo with a child, and the child thinks you have disappeared simply because you covered your face. The chief police office, who saw Assane up close at the Louvre and shook hands with him, now doesn’t recognise him because he is wearing a beanie. Ridiculous. The stunts are also childish and meant for an age pre DNA, security cameras, and social media, which is when the books were written. All in all, there are plot-holes and everything is set up for Assane to succeed.
I also have a problem with shows in which a person is presented as the best at something, but the viewer is always been told this rather than being shown. There was a point in the show where Assane has enough evidence to destroy the family but rather than just release it he decides to play a silly game which of course doesn’t end well. It reminds me of that silly show Revenge in which the main character had a suitcase of evidence to exonerate her father with but instead spent the whole season doing nonsense. Just get it over with.
However once the viewer had suspended their belief to an extent, and accepted a degree of implausibility, the show becomes quite enjoyable to watch. It has been quite successful globally, and is the first French show to enter the US top ten (I think it even went to number one). A lot of people love it and don’t have my reservations, so this may just be a personal thing. Some people have complained about how bad the English dub is, but I watched it in French with subtitles on which is how I watch my shows and thankfully my Netflix automatically does this.
Another slight issue I have with the show is the diversity. Assane Diop is the main character, and apart from another Black man who appears towards the end, he is the only Black person. Now I find this weird. Sure, his parents immigrated from Senegal and are both dead, but is it really realistic that this Black first generation French man does not have any other Black people close to him? It’s like he was just dropped into this world, and I wonder if that is possible. A lot of these things are written by White people for White people and that is perfectly fine. It seems in the quest to appear diverse, they end up creating somewhat unrealistic worlds (to me anyway). I once saw a west end stage production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, and one of the brothers was played by a Black actor. The actor’s race was not relevant to the script and did nothing to take away from the play; there was a character and it just happened to be played by a man who is Black. However a core part of Lupin is the racial aspect, and race is referred to multiple times throughout the show so this isn’t a case of oh we just happened to cast a Black man for the lead. I see the same thing on TV when diversity is simply ensuring every commercial has an interracial couple. It is comical.
At the moment there are just five 45 minute episodes on Netflix, and this was part of what made me watch it as I thought it was something I could watch in one go. It actually took me a week and I was disappointed to find out that that was just the first drop. There are more episodes and more seasons coming out, and I will be watching them. I will also be checking out the lead actor Omar Sy in some of his other notable projects, starting with Intouchables which won him a Cesar (French version of the Oscars).