Insurgent * Robert Schwentke (2015)

Part of the “Divergent” ‘series’, this two-hour-scifi is done by another director. I do not remember a whole lot of part one, just that it is not really good. Not bad enough to discard “Insurgent” apparently. Too bad, because this film of Robert “Red” “The Time Travellers Wife” Schwentke is very, very weak.

Again we follow “Tris” who is ‘divergent’, different from the class-society that was made up by the leaders of the only remaining city on earth. Of course ‘divergents’ are a threat to the government and hunted down, especially when the leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet) realises that she needs a ‘divergent’ to solve a mystery. This makes a drama playing in some future. There are action elements and of course scifi as well.

The acting is largely unconvincing, especially of the main characters. The story is not particularly interesting either and there are not really other elements to lift up the film a bit. “Insurgent” is not completely horrible, but it is just a (below) average film.

Youth * Paolo Sorrentino (2015)

Like with the last reviewed title of Sorrentino, this latest film is a pompous and pretentious drama. “Youth” is very much in this Sorrentino style and as with “La Grande Bellezza” it is well-done, but not entirely my type of film.

We mostly follow two old men who celebrate their holidays in a luxery resort in Switzerland as they have done for decades. Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) is a retired orchestra director and Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) an aged, but still active film director. The two talk about getting old, the pains that come with that phase of live and of course they look back at their lives. This is done with amusing dialoges and in the settings of the extreme luxery of their Swiss hotel. There are other guests as well of course. Ballinger’s daughter is also his manager, even though he thinks his carreer is done with. Boyle is still working on a film which he supposes to be his last one.

Sorrentino again uses long shots, lengthy dialogues, nudity and portrays the enstrangement and solitude of some of the characters in a melancholic and yet lightly humorous fashion. This makes “Youth” comparable to his previous title, but also for example a film like “American Beauty”.

Sicario * Dennis Villeneuve (2015)

For some reason the name of the director connects to interesting films in my head. When I see my reviews of two other Villeneuve titles, I wonder why. Do I mix him up with another director with a French name?

With “Sicario” the expectations were lived up though! Contrary to the two other films, which were dramas, “Sicario” is a dark, gloomy and raw crime action. The young FBI agent Kate Macer is asked for a special team hunting a Mexican drugs cartel. She tumbles into a world were laws and especially violence are not what she was used to and that is quite something after the opening scene.

The film has an almost constant gloomy atmosphere with the suggestion of an extremely violent outburst. The rumbling soundtrack sure adds a lot to the atmosphere, as do the shots of the desolate landscape between the USA and Mexico.

Indeed, “Sicario” is a very descent crime film.

The Silence Of The Lambs * Jonathan Demme (1991)

I am no longer 100%, but I believe that I saw “Manhunter” (1986) before I saw “The Silence Of The Lambs”. I wonder why I never reviewed “Manhunter”, because it is not only the first of the ‘Hannibal the cannibal’ films, but also the best. A while ago I wanted to see the classic “The Silence Of The Lambs” again and found out that I only have it on VHS. That little thing is solved now, so 15 years after it came out, I rewatched the psychological serial killer thriller with which the genre had a flying start that has not ended today.

I am sure you all saw this film and know how the story goes. The then 29-year-old and a bit too youthfull looking Jody Foster plays the promising FBI-agent Clarice Starling as the FBI is hunting a serial killer. Clarice has the idea that the famous and convicted serial killer Hannibal Lector would be able to shed light on the investigation. She visits Lector in his extremely guarded cell trying to bargain information that can help the investigation. Lector does not just share his cooperation, navigating Starling into a difficult position. What is more, Lector manages to use the whole situation to his own benefit.

“The Silence Of The Lambs” has a very gloomy atmosphere that still ‘works’. There is not a whole lot of gruesomeness, but there is a continuing suggestion of it; an element that had not yet found its way into Hollywood filmmaking until then. The slow pace, lengthy dialogues and Lector’s psychological terror make this film a true classic that deserves to be watched still. The only thing is that the soundtrack could have been better in hindsight.

American Horror Story Asylum (series) * Brad Falchuk & Ryan Murphy (season 2 2012/3)

In 2013/4 I watched the first season of “American Horror Story”. However I enjoyed that season, I did not like it enough to continue with season 2. A while ago I ran into the season 2 box in Germany for a few euros and decided to take it and put it somewhere for when I would not have a series to watch. So it happened that in the last weeks I have been watching season 2 afterall. I must say: it is great!.

I wrote about the first season that it is not so much of a horror, but a drama with horror elements. This can still be said about “Asylum”, but whereas the first season was relatively light-footed and funny, this second season is weird, dark and troubling. The way I like my TV experience!

The asylum from the title is Briarcliff, an institution for the mentally unfortunate, hard-handedly run by Sister Jude. Not all inhabitents of Briarcliff really belong there. Sister Jude herself admits people who she think need treatment. Other people are sent to Briarcliff by the state or by a judge. The inhabitents make a motley crew of the insane, criminals and victims of the system. After a while under the ‘care’ of Sister Jude, everybody becomes a drooling nutcase.

Working in a wing of the institution is Dr. Arden, a cruel doctor using patients as test-subjects. His relation with Sister Jude is not one of mutual respect. This element makes an easy bridge for typical horror elements.

The series could be seen as a soap in a few ways. Several of the characters develop as the 13 episodes pass by. Sometimes the changes are sudden and extraordinary sharp. At other times the changes are more subtle. It is obvious that the story has again been well thought through and the season contains horror, fright, disgust, but also well placed drama and has lost almost all of the light-footedness and humour of the first season. I did not see a whole lot of ‘deeper meanings’ (except criticism on the system of mental health and on the Church), so I am not going to use David Lynch as a comparison, but maybe I can recommend this season to people who like David Cronenberg’s older films for example.

I certainly like “Asylum”, so the next season could well raise a few places on my wishlist.

Rak ti Khon Kaen * Apichatpong Weerasethakul (2015)

In this slow and minimalistic film we watch the happenings in a Thai hospital filled with soldiers with a strange sleeping disease. The main characters are a sister, a clairvoyant sister and a patient from another part of the hospital.

Nothing much happens in the film. The sleeping disease is not explained, the hospital does not seem to look for a cure. We get a glimpse of the spiritual lives of the main characters and the way these worldviews work through their ways of looking at the world.

“Cemetary Of Splendour” is an alright watch when you are looking for something very tranquil. It has many long and apparently meaningless shots, little dialogue and, like I said, not much of a story.

Eisenstein In Guanajuato * Peter Greenaway (2015)

Sergei Eisenstein is a young, Russian director who had some success in his own country, but when he tries his luck abroad, Hollywood is less favourable and his home country becomes suspicious when he remains out of the country for a long time. Eisenstein decides to travel to Mexico to make his next film.

Greenaway’s film plays in the 1960’ies with old cars and a classic Mexico. Eisenstein is a bit of an odd character which allows Greenaway to display his somewhat pompous style with nudity. The director also chose to make use of experimentations which are sometimes alright, but sometimes a bit annoying, like the ‘repetitive three screen picture in picture’ effects.

Eisenstein gets a guide in the form of Palomino CaƱedo with whom he first becomes friendly and later much more. However we do not get a whole lot of that part of the story, Eisenstein supposedly shoots miles and miles of film which takes so long that his sponsors become impatient. Eisenstein gets tossed between his longing to his home country and Mexico which he learns to love as well.

“Eisenstein In Guanajuato” is a nice film, but in my opinion not one of the better Greenaways. It is mostly a drama with subtle humour and a few of the known Greenaway approaches.

Le Tout Nouveau Testament * Jaco van Dormael (2015)

God is a grumpy middle-aged man living in an appartment in Brussel, Belgium, with his wife and daughter. His son J.C. lives some place else. God amuses himself with programming the woes of the world on his computer in his working chamber. His 10-year-old daughter Ea has a growing dislike of the way her father handles his family and the world and decides to take action.

Ea comes up with a plan to diminish the credibility of her father and then sets out to the world to find six more appostles and write “the brand new Testament” from the title. As soon as her father figured out where Ea went to, he follows her.

This Belgian film as an amusing comedy with subtle and sometimes less subtle parodies on the Christian faith, but without becoming insulting. It is a melancholic, dramatic atmosphere as well, especially in portraying the lives of people that do not go entirely as planned.

A nice watch.

Dog Day Afternoon * Sidney Lumet (1975)

An oldie. I wonder how it came on my watchlist. “Dog Day Afternoon” is an alright film, but it does not really look like a classic. Well of course there is a very young Al Pacino as main actor, but I wonder what my other criteria were to want to see this film.

Three young men go to rob a bank. This clumsey act goes wrong from the beginning and soon leads to a massive media event in which the gathered audience see one of the crooks (Pacino) as a hero. The ‘plot keeps thickening’ while Sonny enjoys the media attention, has some odd requests and thinks he is going to get away with it all.

Like I said, the film is alright, but does (to me) not really rise above the level of ‘I’ll watch it on TV some time’.

X-Files (season 10) * Chris Carter (2016)

Since all successfull and somewhat successfull series from the past seems to get obligatory revamps, it was only a matter of time until it was The X-Files’ turn. For a while there were rumours about a new film. The ninth season aired in 2002/3. Five years later there was a very weak movie, my review of which gives an idea of my history with these series. So, another film with the original actors that left the series before the plug was pulled? In the end, the idea was apparently replaced in favour of making a mini series, so now we have six more X-Files with David Duchovny (who put on some weight) and Gillian Anderson (who lost some).

The first episode opens with a 30-second-intro with Mulder telling about his abducted sister, how he came to work for the FBI and how the X-Files were opened, closed, re-opened and closed again. This first episode and the next are full-blown X-Files in the ‘old style’ with UFOs and conspiracy theories. These theories debunk Mulder’s ideas of his younger years and so he (almost?) becomes the disbeliever while Scully is the believer. This is somewhat annoying, but these two episodes are alright. Then (to give new watchers an idea of the old series?) there is one of these nonsense/comedy episodes followed by a fairly weak dramatic episode. The fifth episode starts with a very actual Moslim suicide bomb attack and slowly moves towards something lighter with Mulder in an unexpected experiment. Just as in the original series a couple of new Mulder-and-Scully’s appear. The series close with a very good episode which fits into the ‘larger story’ with a massive conspiracy. This episode should have been worked out into a film. Perhaps it was, because halfway it suddenly stops. There are some characters we know from before in good and less interesting parts.

I am not sure if these new episodes will please the fans of old. Neither am I sure if these new episodes will attract new viewers for the old seasons. This 10th season is just a mediocre scifi/mystery series based on a concept that was better worked out in the past. That is to way, many of the episodes from the first nine series are good. When you are new to the X-Files, you could that with these new series, since the first few minutes take you right up to speed, but perhaps just watching the pilot from 1993 is a better way of finding out if you would enjoy these series.

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