d’Ardennen * Robin Pront (2015)

A Flemish film in which one of two derailed brothers is sentenced to seven years in jail. When he is released after four years, the brother that was not caught had fallen in love with his brother’s girlfriend and has tried to get his life back on track. The inmate has had four years for his disillusionment to grow. He did not exactly become more easily to handle.

Kenneth (the ex-inmate) does seem to want to try to get his life somewhere near what he has in mind, but when things do not go the way he would prefer, his manipulative nature comes bubbling up. His brother Dave does not know when and how to tell about the new situation, while Kenneth initially thinking of winning Silvie back makes even more problems than there already are.

The film is initially a drama with a ‘thrillerish undertone’ because it is clear that things are going to escalate, but unclear how. Things turn for the bad even worse than I expected and the film ends with a couple of very grim scenes. This is all fairly well done.

“d’Adennen” may not be the best Flemish film, but it certainly is not a bad one.

Love & Mercy * Bill Pohlad (2014)

I often like films about musicians even when I do (did) not like the music. I expected this film to be about the Beach Boys. Actually this film is more about Brian Wilson, one of the brothers Wilson who started the band.

We jump back and forth in time. We see an adult Wilson (played by John Cusack) who is initially set as a bit of an odd person. In the past Wilson is played by Paul Dano and we see the Beach Boys already at the peak of their success. They are as big as the Beattles and ready to tour the world. Also here Brian is a bit off, but mostly in a ‘mad genious way’. He decides to stop touring with his brothers and to stay in the studio to write music. His music becomes more and more experimental and does not really sound like the Beach Boys’ success style. Brian increasingly appears to have autistic features.

In the present time Brian meets the pretty car sales woman Melinda Ledbetter. As Melinda grows into the group around her boyfriend-to-be, it becomes clear that more is wrong with Brian than him being a little odd. There is also something wrong with the people who say to want to take care of Brian. Especially his doctor Eugene Lendy (a good part of Paul Giamatti) is a questionable person.

“Love & Mercy” is mostly a drama. The music is secondary and you will learn little about how, when and why Beach Boys songs were written, so they add little to the atmosphere of the film. Perhaps (I do not know the Beach Boys very well) the film does give some insight in the less-popular recordings of the band (or Brian with other musicians).

An alright film, mostly to watch as a film about a person with a problem.

Night On Earth * Jim Jarmusch (1991)

IMDb.comFive cities, five taxis, five meetings of people who formerly did not know eachother in five short films. Because of the setting, “Night On Earth” is mostly built on the dialogues between the taxi driver and his passenger(s).

Jarmusch worked these few elements very well. In the first film a movie-scout meets a very young taxi driver (Winona Ryder) but both appear to have different views on carreer-planning.
In the second part, an Eastern German immigrant taxi driver picks up a man from Brooklyn with a very catchy laugh.
Another immigrant taxi driver we find in Paris who first picks up to other Africans and later a blind woman.
The taxi driver from Rome is a hilarious Italian whose mouth does not keep still for a second. He literally talks his nighly passanger to death.
More melancholic is the last ride in Helsinki where dramatic stories are shared between the driver and his three passangers.

“Night On Earth” makes a very amusing film.

Slow West * John Maclean (2015)

I read some good things about this film and thought it would be a nice variation on the Western film. Actually it is a fairly straightfoward Western.

The young Scott Jay Cavendish travels accross America to find the woman he loves who left the country with her father. Jay is doing pretty well until he runs into Silas, a crude bounty hunter, or is he not as crude as he seems? The two continue the travel together, meet up with some strange people until they find the house where Rose and her father reside.

Like I said, the film is a fairly straightforward Western. There are some amusing dialogues and Maclean seems to have wanted to put some extra stress on what the American colonisers did with the indigenous people. For the rest there is not much of a story. That is not really needed either. From early on it is clear how things are going to end and yet, the final scene sticks out to the atmoshere of the rest of the film.

“Slow West” is a descent film, but I do not really find it a ‘high flyer’.

La Isla Mínima * Alberto Rodríguez (2014)

The film starts as a fairly common murder investigation in the rural parts of Spain. Two officers are sent to a small community to investigate the disappearance of two young sisters. Soon it becomes clear that more is going on and the film develops towards a somewhat grim, Scandinavian-gloomy-ish thriller with long shots and a dark images. There are the obligatory twists and turns in the story and the changing suspects. Nothing too unexpected, but well enough.

The film is perhaps better suited for a dark autumn or winter night than a hot summer night, but “La Isla Mínima” makes an entertaining crime thriller.

Black Mass * Scott Cooper (2015)

Johnny Depp is great as James ‘Whitey’ Bulger, a man who grew up in “Southie”, the Southern part of Boston. His brother made it to the office of senator, an old friend is going well in the FBI. Whitey walks the criminal path and becomes the main man in “Southie”.

When his FBI buddy starts to climb the ladder and picks up the plan to use Whitey to catch the Italians in the North of the city, Bulger sees an opportunity to use to his own benefit. Soon his power grows outside his own part of town, making life difficult for both his FBI friend and his senator brother.

“Black Mass” is an American maffia film playing in the 1970’ies and seems to be based on true events. It is a fairly typical maffia film with violence and black humour, but it is done very well with good acting and an interesting story. Depp managed to set a character that is easy to identify with, but he also manages to raise aversion, probably showing what James Bulger was really like.

The Neon Demon * Nicolas Winding Refn (2016)

The latest Refn has more than one comparison to David Lynch’ “Mullholland Drive”. It is about a young girl trying to find her way in a poisonous, glamerous world (here modeling instead of film), the film is slow, weird, minimalistic with strange, surrealistic scenes and a story that does not quite ‘fit’. Even the minimalistic dialogues that Lynch likes to use can be found in “The Neon Demon”, but of course Refn is also a master of minimalism. Also in both films are high-contrast and bright images. Fear not, though, “The Neon Demon” is not a Lynch clone, it is very much, and very recognisably so, a Refn. He works a lot with face closup and the somewhat industrial soundtrack bring enlarged emotions which worked out pretty well.

The 16-year-old orphan from Georgia, Jesse, goes to LA to try to find her way into the world of modeling. She is immediately picked up as highly promising, this to the dismay of colleages / competitors. Being alone in a big city and in a poisonous world, Jesse is bounced between insecureness and overly-securedness.

The film is ‘normal scenes’ and also experimental scenes, quite like “Under The Skin” that I saw a day earlier. These scenes play in clubs, but also (as it seems) in Jesse’s head. Also the story develops towards a bloody mess.

When you know Refn, the film will have no big surprises. Perhaps it is stranger than his previous work. “The Neon Demon” is a very entertaining film if you enjoy the odd corner of filmmaking.

Under The Skin * Jonathan Glazer (2013)

“Under The Skin” is a very weird film, very slow, very minimalistic and without much of a story. We follow the “female” (Scarlett Johansson) driving around the cities (and later the villages) of Scotland trying to pick up men. When she does, she takes them to some place and a completely surrealistic scene follows only to return to the next pick-up attempt.

The film reminds a bit of “Holy Motors” in weirdness and storylessness, the surrealistic scenes perhaps of “Beyond The Black Rainbow“.

Besides “the female”, there are one and later two motorcyclists who have a part in the dealings of “the female”, or do they? There is no indication as to what their part in the story is. As the film continues it becomes clear that “the female” is not entirely ‘normal’.

As you can see “Under The Skin” is not your ‘average Johansson film’. To watch this you will have to be able to watch a meditative and completely weird film without a story and without much explaning. Like the earlier mentioned “Holy Motors”. Personally I quite like something weird like this every now and then.

Ex Machina * Alex Garland (2015)

And again a philosophical scifi. The genre seems to be booming.

Caleb is a promising programmer at a Google-like company. He is selected for a special experiment at the house of his boss, Nathan. Nathan lives in a remote forest in an extremely futuristic house where he is working on AI (artificial intelligence) robots. It is Caleb’s task to interact with the robot (Ava) and when he gets the idea that he interacts with a human, the AI has passed the test.

Ava proves to be a manipulative robot who sets out to seduce Caleb. Of course Nathan follows the two’s every move. The film is very slow and somewhat meditative, but inspite of throwing up some questions about what consciousness is, it is not convincing. Some of the obligatory surprises are visible a mile away and especially when the director felt the need to explain a bit more towards the end, things become a bit flimsy. The end contains a major flaw in the story as well.

“Ex Machina” is not a boring film and it is also nicely shot, but there are better films in the hip genre of philosophical scifi.

The Theatre Bizarre * various directors (2011)

An odd cover and Udo Kier on the box made me decide to take this film home. Not a too good choice though….

“The Theatre Bizarre” is six films by six different directors, plus a “framing segment” knitting the other parts together. This “framing fragment” (by Jeremy Kasten) contains Udo Kier working in a theatre and announcing the different parts which are the other films. “The Theatre Bizarre” watches like a compilation of filmmakers with no wealth of experience and with tiny budgets. The acting in most segments is unconvincing and the results of most parts are the well-known gruely horror that you can see on smaller film festivals.

We have a part in which a man cannot accept his girlfriend leaving (“I Love You” by Buddy Giovinazzo) so he cuts her up. A similar story in which a guy is addicted to candy (“Sweets” by David Gregory). “The Mother Of Toads” (Richard Stanley) is a more typical horror in which a young man runs into a black magic woman. Tom Savini’s “Wet Dreams” tells the story of a man having disturbings dreams that may not be dreams. The best short of this compilation is “Vision Stains” by Karim Hussain which is about a mother and her daughter who witness a motorcycle accident, which makes the daughter think about death.

Like I said, most of the films somehow turn into a bloody mess which does not really ‘work’ any more since decades of splatter horror.

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