Deets and Geets Newsletter for Late-April / Early-May 2021

Welcome to the Deets and Geets Newsletter He Said, She Said for the late April / early May 2021, broken down by streaming service. Included are all the pop culture happenings and geets that piqued our interests. In Deets: Mortal Kombat, Ajeeb Daastaans, The Haunting of Bly Manor, and The Haunting of Hill House, and Randy Weston’s African Cookbook in Geets.

Be sure to check out the previous newsletters if you’ve missed them and stay close for a new podcast episode coming later this month.

HBO MAX

Mortal Kombat

He said: My skepticism was well founded. This is an introduction for the “real” Mortal Kombat movie. To clarify, most of the earth realm characters have no special skills and no idea of what the Mortal Kombat tournament is until the end of the movie. This intro strategy would have paid off if the focus was on a small number of characters. For example, the coolest and most cogent part of the movie is the first fight scene and encounter between Scorpion and Sub Zero. These characters are from rival ninja clans and have clashing elemental powers—Sub Zero with his ice jutsu and Scorpion with hellish fire and a kunai rope dart. Because the movie began with this rivalry, the plot should have remained focused on it and then built out the universe over a series of movies, kind of like how Iron Man began the MCU. The result, however, was a series of rushed character introductions, failed melodrama, and okay action. For MK fans only.

She said nothing.

NETFLIX

Ajeeb Daastaans

He said: I’m not a big fan of anthology films because the individual pieces always start out promising, but end up being duds. Short films are like short stories in that they are hard to wrap up successfully. Usually the ending feels anticlimactic, rushed, underdeveloped, spurious, or relies too heavily on some Deus Ex Machina device. With that said, the first two films, Manju and Khilauna, respectively, are  anticlimactic and spurious, respectively. To be clear, they aren’t bad, but the endings feel off. The last two films, Geeli Pucchi and Ankahi, are the most gripping of the lot and feel the most complete with respect to story, pacing, acting, and cinematography. I enjoyed this anthology more than Lust Stories and Ghost Stories.

She said: “Ajeeb Daastaans” roughly translates to “Strange Stories” and the first two of the shorts in this Bollywood Netflix anthology are really just that.  Not good-strange or so-bad-it’s-good strange, either; just “wtf” strange in a way that I don’t even care to recollect or describe.

The third story, co-written and directed by Neeraj Ghaywan, is very well made.  It’s groundbreaking in many respects, centering a woman character who is working class, queer, and Dalit, and whose story has been written and directed by Ghaywan, a Dalit filmmaker, and portrayed by an A-list star (albeit not a Dalit one: Konkona Sen Sharma). I read and watched some interviews of Neeraj Ghaywan, and it’s super cool that he thought to bring in a diverse team to weigh in on matters that he couldn’t relate to in his lived experience; and he asked his actors to do homework, such as having Konkona read Yashica Dutt’s “Coming Out As Dalit.” The great care and thought put into this project really shows—it packs a punch through its understatement.

The fourth story about a mother (played by the expressive Shefali Shah) struggling with her daughter’s hearing loss and her husband’s seeming denial of this event is also heart-wrenching and worth a watch.

The Haunting of Bly Manor and The Haunting of Hill House

He said, regarding both: Genuinely creepy! While they aren’t related in story, both series share some of the same cast members and ominous essence, which makes them kind of like American Horror Story in that way. There are jump scares and ghosts, but the real bite comes from the perpetual sense of dread. Definitely a slow burn, but worth the wait. After a few episodes, both shows open up a good deal of character development and storytelling. Think of them as well-crafted, but very long ghost stories.

She said, regarding The Haunting of Bly Manor: This series is haunting, trippy, and tragic at once.  In the first episode, at a pre-wedding celebration, an older lady starts telling the group this series-length suspenseful story set in the 1980s about two orphaned children, their diverse caretakers, and various disturbing encounters at some Bly Manor in England.  Grief and loss are at the core of the horror; the events and haunts are personal and psychological as well as supernatural. It’s a decently chilling and thoughtful series, and it got me interested in checking out its predecessor series with much of the same cast, The Haunting of Hill House.

She said, regarding The Haunting of Hill House: As mentioned in my blurb on The Haunting of Bly Manor, this series has much overlap in cast, and is also a horror-drama (horma?), but the characters and story are different.  This story is about a family of two parents and five kids who briefly live in a haunted house in Massachusetts, the effects of which are long-lasting on everyone in the family.  The ghosts and the protective (or not) walls are sometimes literal and other times metaphorical, and the storytelling hops around through different characters’ perspectives—kind of like a spooky This Is Us.

I must confess, I’m becoming weaker and weaker sauce as I age. Although both of The Haunting series were way more philosophical than spine-tingling, they left me sleepless for a few nights!

GEETS:

African Cookbook

He said: While reading Jazz People by Val Wilmer (no, not Val Kilmer), I was inspired to check out some of the artists she interviewed. One of the artists was jazz pianist and composer Randy Weston. The way he describes his style of piano playing and his new-found (at the time) love of Africa, more specifically Morocco, came through so vividly in the book, I had to check out his discography. I’ll write a proper review of the book at a later time, but can say for now it’s definitely worth the read especially because Valerie is a fantastic writer who does a great job of giving readers insight into artists’ minds and music.

One of my favorite Weston albums is African Cookbook. Something about the expressions and colors Weston and his quintet, African Rhythms, bring forth are a stellar salute to Africa. Make no mistake, this is a jazz album, but the swing is definitely African-influenced.  One can argue that most of the music we listen to today is African-influenced, but there is an undeniable African essence to the compositions. A solid and infectious listen.

My favorite song is the titular track, “African Cookbook,” a fourteen-minute groove. The players are Randy Weston (piano), Henry Texier (bass), Art Taylor (drums), Azzedin Niles Weston (percussion), Reebop Kwaku Baah (percussion).

For more of Weston’s music, check out his website. The image above is the 1972 version of the album, but some of the same songs are present in the longer 1969 version I described.

In Africa I discovered what the true purpose of a musician is. We are historians, and it is our purpose to tell the people the true story of our past, and to extend a better vision of the future —Randy Weston

She said nothing.

“One Word: Sawalmem” Documentary Review by Super Star Agni

Released in March 2020, the short documentary One Word: Sawalmem is a reminder to live in reciprocity with the natural world.  

Since its release, Co-directors Michael “Pom” Preston (Winnemem Wintu) and Venuzuelan filmmaker Natasha Deganello Giraudie have held online screenings and conversations about the film and humanity’s role in climate change.

Preston said in a statement he met Giraudie at a conference in Point Reyes, California where she told him about her idea to invite a young indigenous person to direct a film with her and share one word from their ancestral language that changed their life and that humanity could use to rebalance its relationship with the earth.  Preston’s word, “Sawalmem,” came to him instantly. 

“Sawalmem, ‘sacred water,’ is how we’ve always been in relationship with water,” Preston said in a statement. “Coming from Northern California, where water is abundant, the tribe decided it was time to share the meaning of Sawalmem to help change the misconception of water as ‘resource’ to water as sacred life giver,” Preston continued. “As a member of my tribe, I decided to do my part in sharing this with the world, and so I stepped into the adventure of becoming a first-time film director with full authorship and creative authority, with the support of Natasha’s filmmaking experience, and under the guidance of my tribal leadership.” 

Giraudie is the creative director and founder of Micro-Documentaries, LLC, which produced Sawalmem. Micro-Documentaries aims to be on the vanguard of the micro-documentary film genre to advance humanitarian missions, according to its website. As the name implies, a micro-documentary, micro-doc, or mini-doc, is a short non-fiction motion picture that instructs, educates, and/or documents. For readers who find documentaries to be nothing more than tedious info-dumps,  Sawalmem is the antithesis to that stereotype—beautifully shot, heartfelt, and uplifting, yet informative. A true micro-documentary, Sawalmem presents both challenge and opportunity in 18 minutes. 

Preston, son of current Winnemem Wintu tribal chief, Caleen Sisk, is the lead subject and voice of the film. In the opening sequences, he reminisces about his academic years at University of California Berkeley while walking the campus: 

“Spirit doesn’t exist in academic realms for the most part…I was the only one talking about the sacred. I was talking about my home lands in Mount Shasta. I was trying to remind people through academic language of how one relates to ecosystems and how to protect them and why traditional ecological knowledge in the native world is important.” 

For the past 4 years, Sisk and a collective of Indigenous women, activists, and allies have held Run4Salmon, a 300-mile prayer journey that follows the historical path of the winter-run Chinook salmon between the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and the McCloud River in order to raise awareness of  practices and policies that threaten the waters, fish, and Indigenous ways of life.  

Fiscally sponsored by Robert Redford and the Redford Center, Salwalmem was selected as a finalist in the Tribeca Film Institute short film program and has been selected to screen in nearly two dozen film festivals since its release.

This review was also featured in the Winter 20-21 issue of News from Native California.

A Bohemian Rhapsody Review by LRK

By LRK for Deets and Geets Podcast

The dictionary definition of bohemian (aside from pertaining to the actual place Bohemia):

a person, as an artist or writer, who lives and acts free of regard for conventional rules and practices.

Dictionary definition of rhapsody:

  1. music . an instrumental composition irregular in form and suggestive of improvisation.
  2. an ecstatic expression of feeling or enthusiasm.
  3. an epic poem, or a part of such a poem, as a book of the Iliad, suitable for recitation at one time.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” seems a very fitting title for the life of Freddie Mercury as it is shown to us in this movie and the eponymous Queen hit which was written by Freddie Mercury in 1975.

Rami Malek breathed life into Farrokh Bulsara-turned Freddy Mercury, showing us someone who was insecure and brazenly flamboyant at the same time. I didn’t know too much about Freddie’s personal life or personality before watching this movie and I don’t know to what extent it was fully accurate, but I was feeling it throughout. It gave off the essence of someone who felt lonely and suffocated, but liberated and in his element while he was performing.  That’s exactly the vibe of the song.

Before this movie came out there was controversy surrounding it with people saying it was going to be whitewashed or straightwashed or it was going to erase his HIV and none of those things were true. After the release other criticisms were levied on it such as bisexual erasure, because after Freddie tells his long-time girlfriend Mary “I think I might be bisexual,” she says “Freddie, you’re gay.” To me, this wasn’t the film taking a stand on his sexuality, it was an example of the context he lived in and the ways that the people around him who he loved couldn’t fully understand or support him and may have inadvertently caused confusion or suffering to him.  That scene also seemed to be more about Mary’s self-preservation, like she had to believe he was incapable of being attracted to her to reconcile still staying in each other’s lives.

Freddie as an individual was deeply layered, complex, and uncommon on all levels especially in his time.  There doesn’t seem a way you could fully do justice to everything he was in a two-hour-and-some-change film. There’s any number of directions that could have been further developed including his Parsi heritage and how that affected his personality and his beliefs, but this film is also about him as an artist and about Queen as a band. I think on the whole it did a good balancing of showing his personal life and his professional life and his pathos as an artist.  If anything I would have liked to see more of the creative process that went behind the music, such as different versions of the songs and how they got edited; I’m sure it wasn’t quite as linear as they showed it sometimes.  Also although I didn’t see the film as vilifying queerness, I do think it’s a fair point that it did come off as a PSA for Queen and for the almost-nobility of Mercury’s band members as being a thorough brotherly support system that themselves never got into drugs or had any negative lifestyle influence on him.

I’m happy that Freddie Mercury has been put on the map of public consciousness as a Parsi Indian and that he was played by an Egyptian American.  He was also shown having sexual and romantic relationships at least one woman as well as men, and that’s more than what we generally see.   Other than that, the storytelling itself isn’t something super original or groundbreaking but if you’re a fan of the music, there’s really no reason you shouldn’t enjoy watching the movie.

Check out the enhanced video version of the review below:

September 2018 Haiku Reviews

Blog and podcast updates have been slow lately due to my law studies. That said, we remain! Deets and Geets will be updated with Episode 7 soon and look out for more writings here in October!

For now, check out two fresh haiku reviews from LRK!

 

PADMAN

padman-review-the-flick-is-like-a-long-drawn-public-service-film-thats-worth-your-money

Wife is not having

His Padmansplaining until

Big B and UN

 

GHOUL

Ghoul Image

Hindu police state

Near future with nineties tech

Muslim solutions

Afros in Space: Lando Calrissian by Super Star Agni

My last post on Afrofuturism explored the term’s origin and how I felt Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther is the A-1 example of the intersection of African Diaspora culture with technology in 2018. I still believe that to be true, but should mention another stellar example of Afrofuturistic representation this year:

Lando

Admittedly, I threw heavy shade on Solo per the lackluster first trailer and all the drama that went down during shooting. Truth be told, it’s pretty good.

For those who have yet to see it, Solo basically reveals how Han Solo: got his name, captained the Millennium Falcon, acquired his blaster, met Chewie, met Lando, got his swagger, and became a smuggler. So, while the movie initially feels like a Solo get list, the overall project comes together in an slick, intergalactic swashbuckling package that’s entertaining even for those not totally into Star Wars.

Lando-Calrissian-Movie-Star-Wars-Spin-Off-PlansThe biggest surprise for me was finding out not only that Lando is in the film, but that Donald Glover would play the role. As a kid, I never thought much of the Lando character, first introduced in The Empire Strikes Back. He wasn’t a jedi; he was no longer a smuggler; he no longer owned a cool ship. He was just a businessman in a cape, a mayor of some city in the clouds, who double-crossed the main cast only to somewhat redeem himself after getting choked by Chewbacca. Boring! His appearance in The Return of the Jedi was only slightly better as he had some slick maneuvers in the Falcon near the film’s end.

As an adult, though, I can see the layers. First of all, he wears capes even though he isn’t a Jedi. Actually, his capes are better than all of the Jedis’. Second, getting out of the smuggling business to become a legit entrepreneur and boss who wears silky Count-von-Count-style capes is way better than getting hunted down by the Sith or galavanting around the universe with Yoda on your back, berating you with object-subject-verb commands.

While Lando may not get his own movie any time soon, there are positive rumblings Billy Dee Williams may be reprising his role as the caped crusader for Episode IX, which is great, but homeboy is 81 years old, so they should probably wrap production sooner than later.

Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World

Told in segments, akin to short films unto themselves, Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World hops regionally across the United States to examine Native American influence on American popular music, most notably rock music.

rod_and_stevie_1

Executive producer Stevie Salas (Apache) said during a 2017 Electric Playground interview that Rumble was conceived while he was playing a gig with Rod Stewart. “I said to myself, there’s not a lot of guitar players that look like me. So, I started to research if there were other, you know, Native American musicians out there, and as I dug in, I started to realize there were a lot, it’s just, people didn’t know it.” He then mentioned being interviewed later by music journalist Brian Wright-McLeod (Dakota-Anishnabe) in Canada during a rock music festival where Wright-McLeod mentioned a research project he was working on, The Encyclopedia of Native Music. “He really turned me on to these guys,” Salas said, “you know, Jesse Ed Davis (Kiowa/Comache) and Link Wray (Shawnee), and that really got the seeds going.”

As the title denotes, Link Wray and his hit rock instrumental, “Rumble,” with its distorted guitar and throbbing bassline, are the launching points and connecting themes of the documentary. The impact of “Rumble” and its reverberating influence throughout American popular music is expounded upon throughout the film’s 143-minute runtime, integrating photographs and archival footage with contemporary interviews from stars, such as Slash of Guns N’ Roses, musician and actor Steven Van Zandt, Wayne Kramer of the MC5, and Rolling Stone editor David Frick.

Rhiannon Giddens

Giddens

Directors Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana also feature interviews with Taylor Hawkins, Taj Mahal, John Trudell (Santee Dakota/Mexican Indian), Iggy Pop, Steve Tyler, George Clinton, and Tony Benet, who not only note the influence of Wray, but also of other musicians of Native ancestry, such as jazz pioneer Mildred Bailey (Couer d’Alene) and Delta Blues titan Charlie Patton (African-American/Choctaw), whose segment convincingly illustrates the Indigenous essence of his music. Other segments in the South feature such artists as the Neville Brothers and musician and actress Rhiannon Giddens (Occaneechi) of the Carolina Chocolate Drops and “Nashville” fame, that show not only the influence of Native music in the region, but the shared history and beautiful melding of African and Native cultures.

Buffy Saint-Marie

With a roster of Native musicians similar to that of the 2016 book  Indigenous Pop: Native American Music from Jazz to Hip Hop, the documentary also features jazz musician Buffy Sainte Marie (Cree), who speaks about being a target of the FBI due to her music’s activist essence, and other “Native Axmen” besides Link Wray, such as Robbie Robertson (Mohawk), Jimi Hendrix (Cherokee/African-American/Scottish), and Jesse Ed Davis, who formed the Grafitti Man Band with poet and civil rights activist John Trudell in 1985.

While Robertson recalls being told as a youth to “be proud you’re an Indian, but be careful who you tell,” Pat Vegas of Southern California band Redbone, on the other hand, recounts singing traditional songs and wearing regalia in shows, as evidenced during the live 1974 performance of the band’s hit “Come and Get Your Love” on NBC’s “The Midnight Special.” “We used to mic the floor,” Vegas says in the documentary, “so, when we came out, the stomping sounded like a heard of buffalo coming.”

Taboo_11Vegas’ segment blends unexpectedly into a joint segment with Taboo (Shoshone/Mexican-American) of the Black Eyed Peas (BEP). In a music studio, Taboo and Vegas share a moment of camaraderie, due to both having lived in East L.A., while Taboo loops a section of “Come and Get Your Love.” He demonstrates to Vegas how the bassline is similar to the BEP song “Let’s Get It Started.” He then explains how his Indigenous roots inform his musical style, but also how Vegas’ pride and positivity as an Indigenous man continues to inspire him.

Joined by Trudell near the end of film, Salas recounts the time drummer Randy Castillo (Isleta Pueblo), who played with Ozzy Ozborne, took Salas to Indian Country amid Salas’ descent into the darker side of rock star life. Trudell, who passed in 2015, adds, “The secret to Indian Country is, when you’re losing your mind, only lose the parts that need losing.”

1958-rumble-cover300Rumble concludes with footage from the Dakota Access pipeline protest in Standing Rock, North Dakota to the tunes of Taboo’s song, “Stand Up for Standing Rock,” and those of several other Native artists, before returning to titular “Rumble” and a reenactment of Wray in a garage, poking holes into a speaker to create the song’s infamous distorted guitar—a sound that contributed to the song being the only instrumental in United States history to be banned for fear it would incite gang violence.

 

 

Afrofuturism and the Black Panther?

Before the release of Ryan Coogler’s superhero blockbuster Black Panther, I discovered social media buzz about Afrofuturism. The term immediately brought to mind images of pyramids and spaceships with AFROFUTURISM written in pink neon graffiti across the starry night sky. I was close.

Through cursory research, I found Afrofuturism to be a movement centered on the intersection of art, science, and technology. The term was coined by the author and cultural critic Mark Dery in his 1994 essay “Black to the Future,” which examines science or speculative fiction within the African diaspora. Jamie Broadnax, editor-in-chief and creator of the online community Black Girl Nerds, takes the definition a bit further, adding that Afrofuturism is different from standard science fiction because it’s steeped in ancient African traditions and black identity. “A narrative that simply features a black character in a futuristic world is not enough. To be Afrofuturism, it must be rooted in and unapologetically celebrate the uniqueness and innovation of black culture.”

Janelle Monae With that, I realized I had totally seen Afrofuturistic elements in the music and art of Outkast and Janelle Monáe, and in the science fiction of Octavia Butler. I took these as one-offs, however; it didn’t register as a conscious movement.

Now I see the Black Panther in a different light, as a great step forward in not only Afrofuturism, but in superhero storytelling. The film has already exceeded box office expectations and continues to pull in crowds with its  critical praise and positive word of mouth, even with the highly anticipated Avengers: Infinity War coming in less than three months.

I went with to a matinee with my wife and siblings-in-law at the Grand Lake Theater the day after Black Panther opened.  Because Coogler is from Oakland, directed Fruitvale Station, and includes Oakland-based locations and characters in the film, Grand Lake was the obvious choice.  Apparently, everyone else thought so too! Lines stretched down Grand and Walker avenues, taking anywhere from 45 minutes upward before moving. An extra draw to the theater that day may have been due to Coogler’s surprise appearance the night before. According to social media reports, he dropped several Easter eggs about Bay Area representation in the film.

358daa4f-95cc-445e-9472-70b78ad41762

Photo taken by my wife of the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland before the matinee.

We didn’t see any cosplayers or anyone with Afrofuturistic style at our showing, but a good number of people wore African and African-Inspired clothing, especially for the evening showing—ladies donned jewelry, colorful head wraps, and regal gowns, while men wore tunics with fancifully embroidered collars.

Inside, the diverse crowd buzzed as people searched for seats and stood in concession lines. Once the house lights dimmed and the red velvet curtain rose, the crowd hushed as previews began. The only previews that stood out were both science fiction entries—A Wrinkle in Time, which appears to have Afrofuturistic elements, and Solo: A Star Wars Story, which…I actually don’t know what to make about Solo just yet. The film seems way undermarketed, which is not a good sign for a movie, especially for a brand as huge as Star Wars; plus, the trailer left me with more questions than excitement.  (Editor’s note: my view of this film has changed after seeing the finished version!)

a-wrinkle-in-time-poster-slice-600x200At any rate, the Afrofuturistic elements and strong female leads in A Wrinkle in Time and Black Panther made me think of how diversity and gender equality are having moments even in this socially and politically divisive time. Further, with the successes of Jordan Peele’s social thriller Get Out, Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman (2017), and the evermore-diverse Star Wars films of late, moviemakers should realize the time has died for appeasing only one type of audience for box office success. Video game developers have known this for a while with the advent of create-a-character games, which allow players to gallivant as versions of themselves around virtual worlds.

The success of Black Panther creates a new template for Marvel’s movies, much like the first Iron Man did back in ‘08, Gamespot’s Tamoor Hussain notes. One reason is because T’Challa is already a hero who fights for and with his people, as opposed to a goodhearted, yet selfish person who gains superhero status after forced maturation, such as with characters like Tony Stark, Thor, and Dr. Strange. Hussain also adds that the Black Panther is doing so well at the box office because the film has its own identity, akin to how Thor: Ragnarok felt so different from the usual Marvel superhero movie.

And the above-mentioned difference is partially why I haven’t written a formal review for the film—there is so much to unpack. I mean that in a good way. The movie offers so many avenues for discussion that I want to see it again to both enjoy and analyze.

0218_WI_APAFRO_02_sq.0One of my criticisms with the film going in was regarding CGI usage. The trailers didn’t impress me in that regard. In general, I’m against CGI because it rarely adds whatever artistic weight filmmakers intend. Said plainly, most CGI looks fake. Thankfully, many of Black Panther’s sets and characters are grounded in the physical world, leaving room for only a few flat digital effects. What remains is pretty good. The African utopia brought to life, with its elevated Vibranium-powered bullet trains, humming around high-rise buildings and through bustling markets is a sight.

Much like Afropunk, Afrofuturism seems like it’s always been a thing, but the requirement mentioned above, the unapologetic celebration of the uniqueness and technological innovation of Black culture, is hard to come by in mainstream pop culture. Even those who don’t identify as Black or of African descent can see, at least for this moment, the great amount of celebration and pride the movie has inspired.

Wakanda forever, yes, but Afrofuturism, too. I think it’s cool.