Give Da Vinci’s Demons a shot

I’m really into the series Da Vinci’s Demons right now (thanks to Kevin Slavin) which is a light hearted affair for the off season when there’s no Game of Thrones, True Detective or Sherlock.

The trailer for the first season is kinda messed up, try the one for season two otherwise.

I had been clamoring for Game of Thrones inspired historical fiction for a while now. There are lots of dark nooks of history which with a decent treatment could excite large audiences. So many topics to choose from but how about an epic series on Khublai Khan or about Charlemagne?

With Da Vinci’s Demons this is becoming reality at least for Leonardo da Vinci’s life in Florence. This Italian city and the papal intrigue of its time proves to be a great backdrop for an occult story set around this artist/engineer/inventor. The drawn overlays are a bit reminiscent of Sherlock and the premise of Da Vinci creating outrageous contraptions in no time at all is a lot like MacGyver. Its anachronistic depiction and juiciness are like Game of Thrones though people in da Vinci’s world seem even more cruel. In its depiction of a young incarnation of a well-known figure it even reminds me of Young Indiana Jones. Maybe there’s even a bit of Dan Brown in there but I wouldn’t know because I don’t touch that crap.

As a series it may be too trivial to function as a social status signifier, but even its pulpiness has found its bearings after the first couple of episodes. The initially more evil characters are rounding out nicely with depth and conflicting interests of their own.

I was happily surprised to see that it has been renewed. After eight episodes in the first season there are at least two more seasons awaiting. Just by watching it I want to read more about Leonardo Da Vinci’s life and go to Florence. History education has never been as fun and if this isn’t the education, it’s a great gateway drug.

(All art from the show’s brilliant accompanying tumblr.)

Only God Forgives

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After a rather hectic week and day last Friday I went to see Only God Forgives in Central cinema. The movie is rather excellent if you like extreme violence or Ryan Gosling or both.

The stylized violence and disjunct story telling reminded me remotely of This Is How You Will Disappear. Probably not because any real visual similarity but because I am anxious for somebody in theater to produce something that good and ballsy again. And as this Guardian critic says, the Asian setting and lighting are reminiscent of Noé’s Enter the Void which I would recommend if you can stomach it.

But the violence and the characters in essence are Shakespearian and ‘Only God Forgives’ is how you actually should do a modern day Shakespeare adaptation. The movie is a post-modern mix of Macbeth and King Lear without a hint of slavish following. I lost count of how many bloodless—in all meanings of the word— Shakespeares I have seen on the stage. With this movie Winding Refn has also just schooled all theatre directors.

Not their mothers and fathers

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A new large scale German drama series has been making the rounds on Twitter this week called ‘Unsere Mütter, Unsere Väter’ and it is interesting though flawed. I haven’t seen a production with these production values on German television before and I think we should see more of it.

The series is somewhat schmaltzy (see the screen capture above of bullet casings landing in slow motion on a group portrait) but that is to be expected from a mainstream production.

What I found problematic is the sharp division drawn between the group of five main characters and the other actors in wartime Germany. The main characters are idealized figures who are supposed to symbolize their generation and its moral choices during the war. These choices mostly center on the small evils of oversight, looking away, following orders and opportunism. The real capital letter evils are perpetrated by others, mostly those of another generation, whose appearance and motivations are far more sinister.

I know there are several opinions about this (but I am not alone if I read all the critiques in German papers), but this portrayal to me seems to exceptionalize evil which is probably not the best idea. A more naturalistic and flat treatment of the systems of the war would have been immensely more difficult but also immensely better.

Update: Now that I’ve seen the last episode I would like to discourage anybody from watching this series. Any suspense and pace that was in the first episode was gone by the end. Moreover the writing and drama was absurdly poor by then. I know that properly ending stories is hard, but how a modern dramaturg and script writer signed off on this clusterfuck is beyond me. If this was the last hope for German public broadcasting to be relevant then that hope is in vain and the entire institution should be burnt down as quickly as possible.

Games on Ignite Berlin #3

Last week I presented at the Berlin Ignite. I had been present at the last one and greatly enjoyed, so I looked what I could add to the mix.

I threw most of the thinking in the studios for the past 1-2 years on the floor with post-its and distilled the pertinent threads from that. As it happens ‘New Games for New Cities’ was the title of a presentation Kars gave some time ago to which I had contributed but had forgotten about.

Leafing through the older presentations, it is good to see that the thinking has evolved over the years. The old points still hold, but time and experience has refined our opinions and forced us to refocus here and there.

Putting the presentation together was a fair amount of work (and not something I was particularly looking forward to the week before a holiday) but all of the positive responses were more than worth it. I can highly recommend Ignite for the mix of topics it touches on, the fun and light delivery and the varied and open crowd it attracts.

Conquest of the Useless

Yesterday we went to see Werner Herzog read from his own work in ‘Erroberung des Nutzlosen’ at the Volksbühne. While an impressive display of authorship my enjoyment of the performance was hampered by me having no knowledge of his movies and a recent aversion towards the theater.

With some heavy German, Herzog reads his diary notes from the production of Fitzcarraldo (trailer below), a massive undertaking to make a movie of a massive undertaking. The whole protracted shooting in the jungle sounds a lot like how Apocalypse Now was made.

The passages Herzog reads are gripping and contain lots of absurdities and events that happen when you are shooting a motion picture in the jungle (also rather reminiscent of También la Lluvia) as well as reflections on the nature of being and emotional turmoil.

The evening is turned into theater by adding evocative background projections of jungle scenes (nice!) and music by a jazz improvisation duo, a Sardinian choir of men and a Senegalese singer. They interject protracted bits of singing in between Herzog’s reading turning the whole thing into something like a Werner Herzog mixtape.

The music is where I lost it. Firstly: I keep forgetting how much I loathe jazz improvisation until its too late and I’m already in the middle of one. It may be fun to do, but I don’t see improvisations go anywhere dramatically. Added to that the music doesn’t fit well with Herzog’s reading. This created a lot of dissonance for me that forced me to interpret all of the musical intermezzi as kitsch. Funnily after Herzog was done reading —during the encore— the music was far more enjoyable.

This is probably a must-see (another probably sold out show tonight) if you’re into Herzog and/or improvisational jazz and/or world music. I couldn’t check those boxes but still enjoyed seeing the man read.

PIVOT over Berlin

I biked over tonight to see the installation PIVOT by Jacob Kirkegaard at the leap in Berlin before it finishes tomorrow.

You can read what the author wrote and see his or my pictures. It is a very nicely done curved projection from the Fernsehturm with recorded sound from the pivot mechanics of that same tower. Impressive and imposing.

PIVOT by Jacob Kirkegaard

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What struck me most was that the whole thing seems to move so very slowly, deceptively so. When you allow yourself to get engrossed with one part of the video, one part of Berlin before you know it you have lost track of where you were and the entire thing has moved on. So much of Berlin to see in there.

Tomorrow it’s off to the opening of the Casey Reas show at DAM.

Blind Sequence Trust

De serie video’s Blind Sequence Trust van kunstenaar Joan Leandre speelt in DAM nog tot en met 5 mei.

Joan Leandre - Blind Sequence Trust

Leandre is een kunstenaar die al decennia lang bezig is met het gebruiken van computer 3D engines van allerlei vormen om verhalen te vertellen en emoties op te roepen. Het werk zoals dat in DAM te zien is, is lastig te plaatsen, maar zowel de beelden als de muziek zijn bijzonder goed uitgevoerd waardoor dingen die niets met elkaar te maken lijken te hebben, toch weten te boeien.

De geavanceerde 3D engines die nu beschikbaar zijn maken het ogenschijnlijk makkelijk om complete werelden te schetsen en te manipuleren. Werelden die zich alleen niet houden aan de regels van de werkelijkheid maar er zelf eentje creëeren waarin alles kan. Leandre put uit science-fiction en de natuur voor zijn werk en maakt daar uitgebreide bewegende collages van.

Het hergebruiken van deze 3D engines zorgt voor een verwarrend resultaat. De artefacten van 3D engines zijn terug te zien net zoals de billboards waarmee bomen worden gerendered en de particle systems die normaal gesproken zorgen voor explosies, rook en vuur. Buiten de game-logica geplaatst krijgen deze effecten een totaal andere lading.

De artiest zelf geeft in dit Rhizome-interview allerhande verklaringen voor zijn werk maar zoals zo vaak bij dit soort dingen, klinkt het naar wartaal. Beter is het om zelf naar het werk te kijken en je te laten meevoeren.

Cultural Consumption 2011

I dived into my log to make the yearly tally of what I did and saw. All in all 2011 has proven to be a good year.

It was a bit of a slow movie year though. I only saw 56, the best of which were: “Drive”, “Melancholia”, “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia”, “Blue Valentine”, “Norwegian Wood”, “True Grit”, “Almanya”, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and “Kosmos”.

I went to 32 plays in 2011. The best ones:

I read 21 books in 2011. The most notable of those were:

I started tracking the games I played around halfway through the year, so this is not an exhaustive list, but five games I really enjoyed last year were: “Where is my Heart?”, “Nidhogg”, “Space Alert”, “The Binding of Isaac” and “The Resistance”.