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.

The Name Of The Rose * Jean-Jacques Annaud (1986)

The next film in my rewatching of classics is this famous film based on the famous book of Umberto Eco. I have no idea when I last saw this film, but it can never have been longer after it came out. I did not remember a whole lot of it for sure.

William of Baskerville (Sean Connery), a Fransican friar, together with his student Adso of Melk (Christian Slater) travel to a Benedectine abbey in Italy where a papal convent will take place during which will be decided if the Fransiscan order will be declared a heresy. William is obviously on good terms with the Benedictine abbot, because the latter not only asks William to investigate a mysterious death on his abbey, but also hides an outlawed Fransiscan monk.

But perhaps it is not the abbot who is tolerant towards William, but rather other monks of the abbey who, during the investigation of the murder, turn out to be not Benedictines, but Dulcinians, a branch of Christianity that has been declared heretical before. When the abbot announces the arrival of William’s foe, the inquisitor Bernardo Gui, William and Adso speed up their investigation, running into a massive labyrinth-like tower-library.

The 1980 book of Eco obviously foreshadows the popularity of the genre that was to rise with the books of Dan Brown with a few decades, but also popular-science works like that of Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh with a few years.

For quite a while during watching the film, I wondered why the film is so highly-regarded, but indeed, when the story starts to unfold, it becomes an enjoyable film.

Ron Perlman has a very amusing part that is heavily sampled by Kreuzweg Ost for the “Oh No Lo So, Magnifico” track on the 2000 album “Iron Avantgarde” by the way.

Whiplash * Damien Chazelle (2014)

Andrew is an ambitious drummer, studying at a jazz conservatoire. He manages to get the attention of the legendary teacher Fletcher who adds him to his band consisting of the best students.

Fletcher proves to be a despot driving his students over the edge to find the great new jazz musicians. His tyranical way of working brings up the worst and the best in Andrew.

“Whiplash” is an alright film about the tough top league of jazz music. It is more a film telling a story than a film about music(ians) though. I prefer the latter kind in music film.

Southpaw * Antoine Fuqua (2015)

At my DVD-rental I have a list with films that I want to see, in three priorities. They pick the titles they send and frequently I wonder how the title ended up on my list in the first place. Here we have such a film again. A boxing drama, not really my genre.

Billy Hope is a successfull boxer. When his wife thinks it is time for a break, something goes terribly wrong and Billy’s life is going dawn in a freefall. He tries to pick himself up and fight his way back to where he used to be.

“Southpaw” (no idea where the title refers to) is a fairly heavy drama which reminds of “The Wrestler” more than once. The latter is better though.

The drama in “Southpaw” works well enough and the acting is good, but this is just not my kind of film.

The Ides Of March * George Clooney (2011)

This very actual film is about a senator hoping to win the nomination for the office of president for the Democratic Party. The senator is played by director Clooney who managed to gather a heavy line-up for his film. We have Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti in leading parts.

Stephen Meyers (Gosling) is high up on the staff of the senator’s promotion team, working under Paul Zara (Hoffman), a seasoned campaign leader. Meyers is a highly promising promotor with some experience. The film does not really explain the American selection system with delegates, superdelegates, etc., but it does give a peek into the extraordinary rough way of campaigning. A minor misstep costs Meyer’s head who tries to fight his way back into the game.

“The Ides Of March” is a drama with some tension, especially psychological, giving an idea of what an American campaign is like and it is not pretty.

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