Two weeks ago, we headed to the mall to buy an air fryer (AF). We’ve had our eye on one item in particular and, since it was discounted, we decided to get it. Prior to this, we’ve had a look at other stores and other brands. Most of them seemed disproportionate. Majority of what we saw were over 4 litres in capacity. This wasn’t what we needed. Some were analogue, others, digital. Some were branded like Phillips and Tefal, others were simpler and no-frills. Shopping for AFs has progressed to a task onto itself, hopping from store to store, keeping an eye out, and judging what others had to say.
Late last year, we bought another tower fan in anticipation of summer. While we were paying for the fan, we sighted an AF. Even at fifteen percent off, the price of the AF was too steep. We didn’t need all the bells and whistles. Plus, the product’s size was an issue. However, the episode brought the AF to our attention. Upon further research, I’d learn that these cookers use little to no oil. They usually serve one to two people, making it a smaller, power-saving addition to the griller. They also cut cooking times, since they are slighter, thus more concentrated.
During Boxing Day, as the nation went nuts over the sales, we discovered the Sunbeam AF. We liked the appearance. Furthermore, we’ve had Sunbeam products before. At three litres, it wasn’t Gigantor. In the same store, there was one at 1.5 litres, a snack fryer. This wouldn’t work for us since it would only serve one human. The fryer which we bought has a ceramic coating and a non-stick interior. There is an easy release handle to eject the tray from the body. You can manually adjust the temperature from 0 to 200 degrees. There is also a timer which you can set until thirty minutes.
Over time, I’ve made simple meals with the cooker. I’ve heated meatballs. I prepared chips and nuggets. I’ve re-heated rice and bread. It’s all about the right time and temp. One time I re-heated fried chicken for five minutes and it turned as hard as stone. Apparently, 200 degrees for refrigerated chicken is too much. I also learned that you cannot heat refrigerated pizza on high for 8 minutes. I got confused as the manual said 5-7 minutes for frozen pizza. However, that was for pizzas stored in the freezer. Otherwise, the end result would be barely edible.
One thing that AFs could do best is crafting spring rolls. Interestingly, this is something that you wouldn’t be able to do on the grill. Just add all the ingredients, baste each roll with oil on both sides, before popping them onto the cooker. At this point, I’m still figuring out the proper settings. However, I could assure you that you shouldn’t set the temp at medium. Unless you want to end up with half-cooked rolls, you’re better off going with 150 degrees and above. Given the right process, the spring rolls will be golden and crispy on the outside, and tender on the inside. Cooked the precise way, the rolls would look just as gorgeous as those deep-fried, without the nasties.
Here to stay
Having to add more time to your cooking is better than to have everything overdone. In other words, undercooked is more acceptable than overcooked. Using the cooker is like experimenting, searching for the right method and the right quantities. The fact that it uses 99.4 percent less oil seems like a conceit. Indeed, for some recipes such as frozen pizzas, nuggets and burgers, no extra oil is necessary. The timer will also make sure that your meal is ready. Judging from the web, air fryers have made a ripple. As people continue to search for convenient and healthy cooking, there is no doubt that these products will remain in demand.
Yesterday, I finally got to see one of the best films of 2019. Parasite has been consistently named in most critics’ best of the year lists, becoming the first Korean production to win the Palme D’or at Cannes. The black comedy-slash-thriller is nominated for six Oscars, including Best International Feature, Best Picture, and Best Director. Parasite is the favourite to take out the first, having already got the Globe equivalent. Moreover, the movie represents the first time that a South Korean film gets Academy recognition. The opus of writer-director Bong Joon-ho, the picture is a confluence of genres, a highly unique exploration of germane social themes.
Parasite tells the story of two families: the Kims and the Parks. The former subsists in the slums and have it tough. They have low-paying temp jobs and yearn for greener pastures. The son Ki-woo, gets an opportunity when his friend, Min, waltzes into their home. Min tells Ki-Woo to work as a tutor for the wealthy Park’s teenage daughter, Da-Hye. Upon seeing the lavish Park home, Ki-Woo’s mind goes bananas. He sees the brother’s drawings, remarking that it looks like a chimpanzee. The mother, Yeon-gyo, tells him that’s it actually a self-portrait. He then suggests that her son needs an art mentor, and he knows just the one. Boasting Illinois State credentials, he introduces his sister So-dam, alleging that she was based in America. Ki-jeong is an expert forger and enviable con artist, having faked Ki-woo’s university transcript and her own qualifications. Upon gaining the trust of Da-Hye and Yeon-gyo, Ki-jeong removes the long-time driver out of the equation. This paves the way for their father, Ki-taek, to moonlight as the new chauffeur. Not only does Ki-taek drive the Park patriarch around, he likewise helps with the wife’s shopping.
The long-serving housekeeper remains the last piece of the puzzle. This proves fair game for them, as four heads are better than one. Finally, they subtract the maid out of the picture, pointing to her deadly malady. The Park wife is convinced that Contagion is not a good idea and shows the servant the door. Mr Park then recommends his wife through an ‘agency’. Thus, the infiltration is complete and only the impish son has the vaguest idea. With the Parks gone for a camping trip, the Kim family get a taste of the good life. KI-jeong basks in the hot tub, while the rest of the fam feasts and gets drunk. They make a mess of the dining.
Without warning, the old servant demands to be let in. She makes her way downstairs to the secret dungeon. The disguised passageway is next to a heavy bookshelf which the housekeeper pushes as she goes horizontal. Give Bong credit: I half-expected her to speak in Parseltongue, or summon the TARDIS. Everyone is shocked beyond repair when a man says hello from the basement, a man who happens to be the ex-housekeeper’s hubby. Gook, the former servant, explains that most old houses in Korea have bomb shelters built underneath. This came as a result of the war. A holdover from the first owners, Gook hastily brought her husband in while the house was being sold. At first, the Parks have all the cards and the servant pleads to come in even just once a week to bring food for her better half. The truth, though, moves in mysterious ways and, because of their nosiness, the entire operation is compromised. Gook has the upper hand and what ensues is a free-for-all for the survival of the strongest, a class struggle of Dickensian proportions. Gook would move heaven and earth for her husband, while the Parks were all in for each other. This proves the strong bonds within family spheres.
Gook made sure to bring a thick raincoat as it was absolutely pouring. The deluge went on for hours, making the Parks cancel their trip. After the father called, they had to clean up a storm. They hid like crocodiles and treaded like ghosts in keeping their charade intact. They managed to live for another night. However, they are met with a disaster as they return to their humble abode. They gathered their possessions and it was on to the evacuation shelter. While there, all of them are invited back for the son’s birthday. Ki-Taek would appear as one of the Indians, his wife would help prepare and cook the sumptuous dishes. KI-jeong would give the son company while Ki-woo would spend quality time with Da-Hye. Everything was going fine until Ki-woo decides to enter the dragon. His guilt costs him more than what he bargained for. Geun-sae, Gook’s husband, is unleashed and runs amok like a maniac. The conclusion to this film reminded me a bit of Scorsese’s Departed. There are no inhibitions as Bong kills off one character after another.
As written earlier, the film’s concept is truly novel. In this age of hackneyed blockbusters and cliché sequels, Parasite stands tall as an exercise in originality. The film blends elements of tragicomedy, action, and thrillers. The premise of a family conquest onto a rich counterpart is both new and wicked to me. The production is a testament to the world-class talents of its writer-director. He likewise assembled a banner team to deliver his message. At this point, mentioning the role of Morse Code is of consequence. For years Gook’s husband has been trying to communicate with the outside world through Morse Code. Despite his most trying efforts, this has all been in vain. The code could symbolise barriers, whether lingustic, education-based, or cultural capital, that is not enough. The possession of these tools is insufficient without proper utilisation, advocacy, and the right situation.
In one scene, Ki-woo asks his dad why he doesn’t have a plan. Ki-taek responds that sometimes, it’s best to do away with plans altogether. That way, he argues, you wouldn’t face as much disappointment. The deluge in the movie’s peak was ironic, as Sydney has been raining cats and dogs all weekend. As you can see, Parasite is more than just an allegory on family squabbles; it problematises the social hierarchy. The film satirises class and conflict in our time. My fearless forecast: Paradise would win at least one statuette tomorrow. The picture is simply too promising and relevant to come up empty-handed.
In 2002, the release of Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine heralded the filmmaker’s entry into the pantheon of helming greats. The doco, produced on a shoestring budget, not only grossed 58 million dollars at the box office, but won a slew of accolades. Foremost among those trophies was the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. I finally got my first look at this gem just this week, and the overall efficiency of the message was what initially struck me. Every scene in the picture had merit; every interview was of consequence. Furthermore, this was the start of Moore’s one-man army incursions. He presents as the Robert Rodriguez of docos, having directed, wrote, produced, and narrated Bowling.
The title stems from the infamous Columbine High shooting in Colorado, where two gun-toting students let loose on the entire school. The pair of outcasts allegedly went bowling before the big unleash, the twentieth of April ‘99. The genius of Moore is that he does not dwell on the school shooting per se, but on the metanarrative and social issues which enabled this heinous behaviour. He moves around seeking answers. He queries Michigan servicemen, given that he is from Michigan and the Lockheed air base is where the action starts. He also asks a couple of berks who knew the deadly duo. Moreover, he conferred with townsfolk about this dog who shot its owner. Could the dog have thought this through? After all, it was dressed to hunt. He came to surmise that Michigan is paradise for gun lovers.
He went to profile the Michigan militia, who claim that they’re just concerned bedfellows. They’ve been brainwashed by powers that be, causing them to revolt. One member offered a curious logic to his guns. He uses a pen, which is mightier than the sword, but keep the sword handy just in case the pen fails. Meanwhile, in Littleton, Utah, one local commented that the Columbine tragedy could be a microcosm of the world. The government’s common defence against weapons is for protecting their subjects. However, history shows that they have also utilised these tools to overthrow governments the world over. To name a few, Iran, Vietnam, Chile, and El Salvador were all collateral damage to Uncle Sam’s imperialism.
Columbine has been described as being ‘painfully normal.’ Since Columbine, schools have broadened their zero tolerance policies. Bringing a nail clipper, chicken stick, folded gun-shaped paper or even dyeing your hair blue are just some of the infractions. Their overblown responses have typified the fragile state of affairs. In post-Columbine, wearing a Scottish kilt for your junior prom will cause problems. So, who should be the scapegoat? The expert answers ranged from South Park to videogames, TV to Satan, society to Marilyn Manson. True to Moore fashion, the helmer seeks Manson’s side of the story. The latter admits that he’s an obvious pick and highly visible in pop culture. Blame it on the push for consumption and fear, where keeping people afraid ensures their consumption. When asked what he would say to the Columbine peeps, Manson offers that he won’t say a thing, but instead would listen. He points out that’s the opposite of what everyone else did.
Can we blame the bowling? After all, that was their last hurrah before the shooting. In a similar fashion, we could blame violent video games on the Japanese. We could also use the breakup of the family unit as another scapegoat. However, one must note that, at the time of filming, a much smaller nation as the UK had more divorces than the US. Perhaps, Moore suggests, we could look at America’s violent history: cowboys, the Wild Wild West. However, numbers don’t lie: in 2002, the gun fatalities across the West painted a grim picture for Uncle Sam. While there were 255 deaths in France, 165 in Canada, 68 in the UK, 65 in Australia, and 39 in Japan, there were a staggering 11,127 lifeless bodies across the States. Moore then questions Americans if they are born homicidal. To drive his point, he proffers a cartoon similar to The Itchy and Scratchy Show, where he mocks his fellow Americans, their treatment of blacks and native Americans, the long-standing oppression of minorities and women, their war-freak mentality, and their penchant for weapons. The scare campaigns, Halloween, even weight loss pills….
This is in stark contrast to Canada, right at America’s doorstep. Windsor, a city of four hundred thousand, recorded no murders in 2002. Indeed, there are so few murders in Canada that they live markedly different than Americans; they have a very different mindset. The US seems more intense. Moore adds that the poor were not prioritised in Bush’s America. The 9/11 culture of paranoia and fear was turned into profit. Whether prior to or after 9/11, Moore observes that a public drowning in fear should not have access to this much guns and ammo. In interviewing the famous actor, Charlton Heston in Lockweed, Michigan, Moore goes full circle. Heston’s views were crucial since he was at the time the sitting five-term president of the National Rifle Association (NRA). Pity though that he had so little to say. We have a violent history with guns, perhaps over anybody. Gun sales are through the roof and can all be reconciled with Bowling for Columbine. ‘Yes, it was a glorious time to be an American.’
Today, the twenty-sixth of January, marks the national celebration of Australia Day. The date has traditionally been a hot one, as it occurs in the middle of summer. The twenty-sixth is a designated public holiday in all states and territories across the country. Given that it falls on a Sunday this week, the following day (Monday) is observed as the holiday. This completes the long weekend. This year has likewise been different from past celebrations, as the bushfire crisis in various states has lent both organisers and denizens pause. Meanwhile, the lights display at night has been one of the annual highlights of the weekend. However, some councils have elected to forego the dazzling display in solidarity to the bushfire victims. Some have even donated the allocated funds to bushfire appeals.
Allow me to give you a short history of ‘Straya day. The day marks the founding of the nation in 1788. Specifically, this recognises the docking of the First Fleet of British settlers onto Sydney, New South Wales (NSW). The roots of Aussie Day could be traced back as early as 1808, with the first celebration of the NSW colony done in 1818. In the first day of 1901, the British proclaimed Oz as a federation, signifying the dawn of modern Oz. Enter the search for a national day. Until 1935, not all states used the term Australia Day to register the date, and not till ’94 that the date would be a uniform public holiday across the country.
Displays and Lamb
There are various events around town, including the annual hot air balloon festival in Parramatta; boat shows in Darling Harbour; and open day at Government House. Straya day has been long associated with recognising model Aussies and welcoming new Aussies. Citizenship ceremonies are a staple of the day, as are community awards at both local and state levels. The day reflects the diversity of the nation, which makes Oz tick. The marked heat typifying the national day makes it ideal for barbeques. The barbies are indiscriminate, whether in Podunk homes, outdoors, or on the beach. If it’s not beef cuts, then it’s probably ice cream. The dessert is just as ubiquitous across pools and street corners. The barbies have even crossed over to television, with ads specifically meant for Australia Day. Through the years, there’s been a few dedicated to urging Aussies to patronise lamb. Some of these ads feature a retired footballer whose life mission is for all Australians to guzzle lamb. Even popular news anchors have gotten in on the quest.
I can remember one of my first Australia Days. I was with my relatives as we met up in the city. We had lunch together before heading to Darling Harbour. The breeze was an obvious contrast to the humid air in the rest of town. I recall that there were horses, and the area was packed with parents, kids, and teeners. The Labour Premier alighted from a small ship and shook hands with the crowd. The kids were having a blast basking in the fountains, while the rest were toting Aussie flags. Afterwards, we left on the same train before they had to transit.
Of course, commemorating the planting of the British flag on Aussie soil is bound to meet some adversity. The Aborigines proclaim that this was their land centuries before the Brits appropriated this as their own. Instead of acknowledging Australia Day, the Indigenous have called it ‘Invasion Day’ and ‘National Day of Mourning’. The counter-celebration has moved for the date to be altered or done away completely. Recent observances have included some Indigenous events. This year’s Straya Day coincides with Lunar New Year (observed yesterday). The weekend also falls in the middle of the Australian Open, the first tennis grand slam of the calendar. We take pride in our tennis heroes, fully supporting them in their quest to carry the Aussie flag at the Open. In last night’s five-set marathon, Nick Kyrgios escaped by the skin of his teeth. The loyal crowd greatly aided his cause in the end. The catch about national days is that they can never please everyone. My dad once quoted his dear friend, ‘You can please some of the people some of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time.’
Since my last list over a month ago, I have masticated a further three books. The previous catalogue was my ultimate of the old decade. After the turn of the New Year, this marks the first reading list of the 2020’s. Two of the three books were non-fiction; I also found my last couple to be rather challenging. Having more non-fiction titles in any catalogue is a welcoming exercise. Ditto with trying out new authors. In chronological order, here is my new reading list:
Finding Chika (Mitch Albom). This is no doubt the easiest read of the three. Written in his familiar breezy prose, the book tells the story of Chika, Albom’s adopted daughter. Starting with his impetus of trying to help orphans in Haiti, the plot moves on as Albom discusses his wife, his parents, and his home. He is shocked in his first visit to Haiti, a third world country right at America’s doorstep. In spite of his family’s shortcomings, he had not yet witnessed the level of destitution rife in Haiti. Here he meets Chika, one of many Haitians who call his orphanage home. At first, she is shy and does not speak English. Albom would learn that she is suffering from a disease and the prognosis was not good. He decides to bring her to America – temporarily – to seek better treatment.
As Chika’s illness continues, she changes her outfits, learns the language, and becomes part of the Alboms more and more. In particular, she turns very close with Janine, Mitch’s wife. The book is divided in a similar manner to The Next Person, Albom’s previous book. For every chapter, there is a lesson attached. In one of the most moving parts of the title, Albom meets Chika in hospital, Care Bear in hand. He gathers that the bear belongs to Chika, who puts the stuffed animal in front of her face. Albom calls it a lucky Bear since Chika is special. After a bit of toing and froing, Albom tells the Bear not to tell Chika how much he loves her. That should be their secret. However, the talking Bear surprises Albom, saying that Chika already knows. Prodded on how much he loves her, Chika extends her wingspan, saying ‘this much.’ Mitch fought back tears. Chika forms another keeper from Albom. Utterly undemanding yet very moving, Mitch remains the emblem of simple prose.
Choke (Palahniuk). Choke is my first book by Chuck. I saw Fight Club ages ago but thought that the film version was enough. Let’s be honest: Choke is not a good introduction to Palahniuk’s world. Albeit not longer than 300 pages, there’s a big deal of padding and unnecessary words. See also: headache. See also: verbosity. Only a fraction of the characters is likeable, and this excludes the anti-hero, Victor Mancini. Dude sidesteps responsibility in much the same way he indulges his sex addiction. In his spare time, he works at a colonial-era museum, complete with old English and ruffles. He spends more time cruising sex addiction groups and engaging in meaningless coitus. By the way, he also deliberately chokes in restaurants so that his ‘saviours’ could foot his mother’s hospital bills. Callous is not the right word, but it’s the first word that comes to mind.
Interspersed with his escapades is his love/hate relationship with his mother. We would learn that Victor has an unenviable childhood. He lives with different foster parents, although his mum would always disrupt him with her visits. For most of the book he craves to find out his father’s identity. As his mother withers in a ‘hospital’, she keeps mistaking him for someone else. When he offers that he is her son, she retreats in her shell. He has a healthier bond with his best friend, Denny. The latter was nothing but supportive, having had similar problems as Victor. When he is forced out of home, he immediately stays with Victor. Altogether, the story was the hook but was something that retrogressed: the more you read, the less you liked it. In case you missed it, the novel was adapted to the cinema but underachieved all the same. In the end, Choke was okay but definitely not a must-read.
Catch and Kill (Ronan Farrow). As yet this is still unfinished, though I’ve perused more than enough to warrant an opinion. Farrow was one of the reporters who broke the story of sexual harassment in Hollywood. Together with his Times counterparts, Farrow was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his expose. As per the book’s blurb, the story reads like a political thriller complete with spies, lies, and big media protecting predators. At the outset, Farrow worked for NBC. The network constantly thwarted his attempts to investigate Harvey Weinstein and interview his victims. At the same time, Weinstein hired a private firm to stay ahead of his enemies. This included using sexual assault allegations in Farrow’s family as conflict of interest in his reporting. NBC ultimately let off Farrow, his boss saying that there was no room for him in their budget. Before being sacked, NBC had urged Farrow to bring his story elsewhere.
Farrow ended up publishing his revelations with The New Yorker. Of course, the written word was not as powerful as the pull of live television. However, Ronan cut his losses given that the Times were the first to break the story. Reading about the amount of red tape at 30 Rockefeller (home of NBC) was disgusting. Ronan’s editors continually shelved the story for months, backburnered indefinitely for no real reason at all. Two people had to work the witnesses and follow leads, all during their downtime. In New York, there was almost no face that you could trust. Company heads, lawyers, district attorneys, and the police were all in Weinstein’s pocket. There was no worse place to battle Weinstein than in his old stomping ground. It got to the point where victims would back off, frightened by more delays orchestrated by Farrow’s bosses.
The allegations about Weinstein’s misconduct was likewise horrific. The producer’s antics was of someone who had sheer power: to make unreasonable demands, to wear down women, and to abruptly finish careers. To victimise was one thing, but to silence them with non-disclosure agreements? To fabricate stories about them? Well, the world could breathe easier now. In case you’re wondering, ‘catch and kill’ is a popular term in the tabloids. The phrase means purchasing stories to ensure that they would be ‘killed.’ Farrow’s reporting has even been mentioned in a Netflix series. His name is synonymous with covert operator and rethinking the boundaries of journalism. Overall, I like Ronan’s writing style: short chapters, sections, and a desire to uncover the truth; the title represents a lovely complement to She Said.
So, there you have it, the first reading list of the new decade. I scanned three authors of three different books and only one was a work of fiction. I hope I’ve convinced you to ‘read mas.’
I watched a few films over the holidays, with City of God probably being the best of them. Nominated for four Oscars in 2004, including Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, the picture presents a raw and gritty portrayal of youth and the favelas during the 60s, 70s and 80s. The movie takes its name from the Cicade de Deus neighbourhood, a time capsule that showcases the breadth of vintage Rio. Among numerous themes, Cicade dissects the standoff between the crime boss Li’l Ze and his nemesis, Knockout Ned. The hit flick is based on the Paulo Lins novel, and claims that it’s ‘based on a true story’.
A pleasant surprise
I first sighted the DVD back when video stores were still the norm. I misjudged the title, and the production’s quality surprised me. At the time of casting, none of the actors were bona fide stars and some were even exports from the favela themselves. The ensemble would include a teenage Alice Braga, who would graduate to bigger roles in Hollywood. The movie’s visuals were Oscar-worthy. From images of the jungle to the orange hues and red clay of bygone Rio, the picture was a sure-fire winner. The plot, too, was grand and made you empathise with the character’s plight. Cicade reminded me of this Filo movie not just because of the likeable ensemble, but also due to the similar setting. I have to admit that Cicade, with fully-realised players, def thread, and loveable imagery, was a very cool watch.
‘In media res’
The picture follows the lives of a few families in Cicade de Deus. Cicade uses a technique called ‘in media res’ where action generally starts in the middle of things before connecting the dots thereafter. The opening sequence features a chicken navigating its way through a crowd, before being amidst the police and the local gang. At the end of the 60s three men are looters who get protection in the slum by being Robin Hoods. Shaggy, Clipper, and Goose comprise the ‘Tender Trio’. However, a boy named Li’l Dice bamboozles them into robbing a motel, before killing off its occupants. The three legs are then pursued and live as fugitives, each meeting a tragic end.
Li’l Dice becomes Li’l Ze, a terror who runs the cicade, eliminating all opposition bar one. He spends his days devising plans to get rid of Carrot, the last man standing, but couldn’t deliver since the dealer is friends with Benny, his main man. In spite of his imposing persona, Ze is rather unattractive. When he tries to woo a girl, he gets rejected. Soon his bitterness progresses to murder as he tries to topple the boo. Meanwhile, Rocket is Goose’s younger brother. Taking shots and the beauty of nature has always enamoured him. He manages to get the girl of his dreams, Angelica, but a litter of kids known as ‘the runts’ always gets in the way. Regardless, Knockout Ned becomes Ze’s mortal enemy after the latter wrecks his family. He joins forces with Carrot, because ‘Two heads are better than one.’
Carrot, Ned, and Ze
Soon the fighting begins. Carrot and Ned begin stocking up the armoury, shoring up their team’s arsenal. As they go on an arms race with Ze, more and more gangsters begin to fool each outfit, masquerading as allies while in truth being spies. More toys mean more cash, and Carrot and the Knockout are finding other ways to fund their slingshots. Initially timid, Knockout Ned realises that you can’t be a pushover if you were to survive in a dog-eat-dog world. While this monstrosity is unfolding, Rocket’s photo of Ze becomes front-page material. His images are special since they bring the Cariocas into the favelas, a rare feat indeed. As he prepares for another shoot, the five-ohs arrive and the men scramble. Carrot is killed, Ze falls at the hands of the runts, and knockout Ned dies a legend. Rocket makes sure to take a few snaps of the aftermath. He decides to publish the photos of Ze, securing him an internship with the local paper.
City of God is a hidden gem of world cinema. The picture was a massive critical success, not only ranking in best of the year lists, but also in best-ever film catalogues. Though the dialogue is in Portuguese, the tropes of trials, dreams, and uncertainty are universal concepts. The storytelling keeps you guessing, and the choreography is sweet, mastering place and time in a homage to Rio. I heard that the novel version loses some bite after the translation. This is not the case with the film, which was at times humorous and cruel, but always entertaining. In fact, a few people in the know have concluded that this was one of those rare occasions where the movie trumps the book. Cicade de Deus could be an archetype of our own metropoles. The production has this tagline: ‘If you run, the beast catches you; if you stay, the beast eats you.’
This marks my first post in the new decade. Previously, I managed to create one hundred and eighty-four posts, most of them in the last three years and change. It’s a brand-new year and with that comes new goals, new series, new books, and new movies. Today, I’ll just focus on one in particular, the Netflix series called ‘You’.
‘You’ is a psychological thriller that focuses on Joe Goldberg, played by Penn Badgley. The first season deals with his turbulent relationship with Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail) in New York City. He obsesses over the girl, following her both in person and online. He desperately inserts himself in her life. He murders others just to prove himself worthy, so no one could come between them. At the same time, he feels for his neighbours, especially the kid, Paco. The latter is caught in a toxic household with Ron, his mother’s abusive partner. He often finds Paco reading a book in the hallway. He takes the kid under his wing in much the same way as the old bookstore owner took to him. He gains the boy’s trust, even telling him a good hiding place for his books. The show offers a new perspective than the crowded dark dramas, superheroes, or the overdone zombie apocalypses. The first season is based on Caroline Kepner’s book, which shares the same title.
The initial run is more than just about Beck and Joe. It’s about control, sadism, and feral instincts. Loyalty and trust are recurrent themes in the season, as is friendship. Joe and Beck become closer as the series moves forward, and the former makes sure that the coast is clear. Beck’s meddlesome friends, her beau, even her therapist (John Stamos), are all second acts to the Joe show. It is narcissism at its finest, where everything must go. Joe’s paranoia and subterfuge make this compulsive viewing. While Joe’s bookstore job defines him in the beginning, he quickly sheds this aura with his tech-savviness, his pursuit of Beck’s world, and his double life. On the outside, he is a charming booklover who always seems to be at the right place at the right time. However, the John Mayer-lookalike is hiding some dark secrets. He has a cage in the basement of his shop where he imprisons the apparent collateral damage in his quests. He likewise keeps mementoes of his kills. He is a most unlikely serial killer, much in the same vein as Dexter Morgan.
Eye candy and Searching
Lail provides much eye candy as the struggling writer in season one. She is the veritable damsel in distress who needs saving from a pack of lions. She has three best friends, her dad’s backing, and can afford the finer things. Her pals though are manipulative, and Peach, in particular, is nasty. In some cases, saying that she is as twisted as Joe isn’t surprising. Beck is also hit with a tremendous wave of writer’s block and a tendency to procrastinate. She is written as rather naïve, and Joe constantly gets away with lying. Beck is incredibly disappointing for someone who sees Joe as the most understanding and therefore deserving person in her sheltered life. For both the initial and subsequent seasons, there is a heavy dose of digital devices: from texts to Tweets, emojis to status updates, Internet searches to pics. This reminded me of Searching. I felt for Beck when all she wanted was to be productive, but she ended up writing one page. Yet when she started writing about things that were familiar to her, the floodgates had opened. I guess what the show is trying to tell us is to stick to the things we know. You have a better chance of creating something worthwhile if it’s up your alley.
The second season sees Joe migrating to LA after his deranged ex drove him out of Gotham. As such, the series follows the path of the book sequel, which was also set in LA. The second stanza is almost a clean slate, with new characters, locations, and storylines galore. This is similar to ‘Narcos’, ‘American Vandal’, and ‘The End of the F…king World’ (all Netflix Originals). Candace, the ex, was a bit player in the first season but joins the main cast in the second salvo. If the first season had Peach, the second one had Candace as the resident bad girl. Love (Victoria Pedretti) is the answer to Beck in season two. Joe does some nifty identity theft and now presents himself as Will Bettelheim. As he struts the streets of LA, the real Will is imprisoned in his private storage unit.
Thanks to his knowledge of ‘Crime and Punishment’, Joe immediately gets a job at Anavrin. Here he meets Love and her twin brother, Forty (James Scully). The Quinn siblings are scions to a local business empire. Joe instantly falls for Love and the feeling is mutual. However, Candace and Beck cast shadows on Joe’s feelings for Love. Forty’s behaviour is also distracting, as he seems to always get in trouble just as things are looking up for the star-crossed lovers. In this sense, it reminds me a bit of the Chenowith siblings in Six Feet Under, with Brenda always bailing Billy out of his mess. You can deduct that Forty is a trying hard wrecking ball, but I could see right through him. I had my suspicions that he’s gay in real life, though his on-show machismo tells otherwise. A bit of web-based research later, my suspicions were well-placed.
Throughout the season, Love and Will have an off-again, on-again partnership even though their mutual attraction is no secret. Will has to navigate his landlord, Delilah and her super smart sister, Ellie. He also has a love-hate relationship with the City of Angels, where he meets his love interest but likewise stumbles onto predators. He is told that the writer Raymond Chandler would be his new best friend. The season is not one for the faint-hearted as there is a gruesome digit scene and a mince-making gem straight out of ‘Hostel’. Will gets to meet Love’s circle of friends, who are a lot more likeable than Beck’s. Towards the end, Will has to babysit Forty as they are both caught in a trance and they try to finish the script of his would-be blockbuster. No less than ‘The Hurt Locker’ director is waiting for it. Will survives the night only to find a cage of horrors, not knowing how it all came to this. I also learned from watching that celery juice is a deadly meal substitute, especially if you’ve had nothing else for a few days.
As Will gets to pay for his sins, he realises that Love harbours dark secrets herself. Here, more and more shades of ‘Dexter’ come to fore. Love is Hannah McKay, Dexter’s deadly partner in crime. There’s even an unfortunate passing in the end that is another Dexter plot device. Love also drops a bomb just as Joe finds out the ugly truth. In season 2, we get to know more about Joe’s past, his relationship with his mother and his abusive father. We learn about his difficult childhood and the challenges he faced as a kid. We witness his relegation to child services after he terminated his dad.
Meanwhile, Joe urges Ellie to do a runner and head to somewhere like Florida, and that he’ll take care of her, no worries. She tells him to ‘burn in hell’. However, in a funny twist, he gets a postcard from Florida three months later, telling him to ‘send me the $$’. There’s also another priceless scene where Forty tracks down Dr Nicky and asks him questions. Suddenly, Dr Nicky goes on a religious rant about his saviour. The rant is not funny, just the timing. Forty clearly wants some answers but has to contend with this inspired rant instead. Then there’s the seven signs that you’re an Angelino for life. I remember the pack of coyotes, the ghetto bird, the superhero costume, the stroller…. how unlikely that Will would stumble on this in a matter of days when others would need a full lifetime. The series is full of characters finishing others’ sentences, almost telepathic. In being a very lucky guy in sidestepping tight spots, Joe is very much Dexter reborn.
All in all, ‘You‘ is a wonderful indulgence into the dynamic of others. Rarely do we get to see a series that’s this different and yet this relevant. Where the next instalment is set will be interesting. After all, as of today, Kepner has not penned a sequel to the sequel. ‘You’ is very well-reviewed, meaning I’m not in the minority when I give it full marks.