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 Cañedo 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.

The Martian * Ridley Scott (2015)

The time that the genre “science fiction” consisted of space epics has clearly been closed a while ago. More ‘serious stories’ have been worked out for a while more trying to bend the genre to ‘science fact’, a story that seems probable with things that can happen nowadays or in the near future.

The beginning of the film reminds quite a bit of “Mission To Mars” from 2010 and therewith perhaps one of the first films in this ‘new style scifi’. There are also things incommon with “Gravity” (2013).

During a mission to Mars, the grew is caught in a storm. One crew member is hit by flying debris and assumed dead. The rest of the crew is just in time to early start their way back to earth. The presumed dead member is Mark Watney played by Matt Damon. He survived the storm only to be woken up by his space suit warning him the oxygen level is getting low. He manages to get back to camp.

There are a few strange flaws in the story. The first weird thing is that NASA somehow thought to set up camps for future missions and in these camps everything is available except a way to contact earth. So Watney is alive with the food supplied of his departed fellow crew members, but without a way of letting NASA know this. What follows is an elaborate attempt to survive until the next mission is to come to Mars four years ahead.

The inventive Watney first manages to grow potatoes and then even finds a way to contact NASA. This encourages NASA to start a rescue mission. Of course not everything goes as planned to some extra drama and tension could be added to the film. The result is a fair scifi drama with a few interesting scenarios and a couple of (very) illogical elements.

The 8.1 on IMDb is a bit too much praise for me, on a scale of 10 I would come to a 7.0.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. * Guy Ritchie (2015)

I do not believe I know the original, but Guy Ritchie appears to have attempted to make a mix between old and new. The original film is from 1964. The present title seems to play around that time when there was still a wall in Berlin and when Americans still argued with Russia.

The film begins with a very hip chasing scene in which the main characters meet. We have the American CIA agent Solo and his Russian counterpart Illya. Solo is a bit of a James Bond type character with English manners, good taste and an eye for women. Illya is the more funny character because the Russian has to try to work ‘the American’ rather than ‘the Russian way’.

There is not too much of a story. A bit of a James Bond like story with a bad guy, or actually a bad girl, with big plans that have to be prevented by the leading characters. This is brought with subtle humour, witty one-liners and amusing action. However the result is amusing, “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” does not raise the level of mere amusement. Therefor it is a film to see when you feel like watching something light.

Like I said, I do not think I know the original film, but since only in the very last scene the title is mentioned, Ritchie’s film could be meant as some sort of prequel.

Inside Llewyn Davis * Joel & Ethan Coen (2013)

Llewyn Davis from the title is an American folk musician who seems to have had some success when he still played with a partner, but solo things are fairly low. We see Llewyn struggling through life, heavily leaning on people he knows.

“Inside Llewyn Davis” is not of the Coen-comedy-type. Rather it is a drama with a subtle sense of humour which is not all that present.

The film is amusing, but not one of the better Coens.

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