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Ratched – Murphy & Romansky (series 2020)

  • drama

Sarah Paulson (whom I mostly know for “American Horror Story“, just as Rian Murphy, one of the creators of the series) is Mildred Ratched (and she produced 11 of the 18 episodes). Ratched is based on the character with the same name from the film “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”). Ratched is a manipulative woman who works herself into the staff of an exclusive early mental institution where Dr. Richard Hanover experiments with innovative techniques, mostly from Switzerland, with varying degrees of succes.

The series begin bloody with Edward Tolleson (Finn Wittrock who also plays in “American Horror Story”) killing several priests. The series do not become as bloody anymore after that. Tolleson is taken to the hospital of Hanover, initially for treatment, but also for investigation and -later on- to be prepared for death penalty as he becomes the focal point of a governor’s campaign. It is soon obvious that Tolleson is the reason that Ratched came to work at the facility.

Ratched tries to manipulate everybody around here to reach her objective which is initially unknown to the viewer. However meticulously planned, things do not go exactly as Ratched hoped. Especially with the arrival of Gwendolyn Briggs (Cynthia Nixon from “Sex and the City”), Ratched has to look deep into her inner and learn that there is more to life than a childhood’s promise.

The story nicely twists and turns, the series have some amusing characters such as Louise (Amanda Plummer from “Pulp Fiction”), Betsy Bucket (Judy Davis) whose character evolves wonderfully and Lenore Osgood (Sharon Stone). It goes from drama to thriller to ‘whodunnit’ with a bit of a horror element here and there.

Beau Is Afraid – Ari Aster (2023)

I did not like Aster’s “Midsommar” and (so) I never watched “Hereditary”. I heard “Beau Is Afraid” is something completely different. It sure is! “Beau Is Afraid” is weird. It is so weird that I wonder why it plays in cinemas. How many people can stand something as odd as this?

Joaqin Phoenix plays Beau, a man with massive anxiety disorders. There are monsters lurking under every rock. The viewer sees the world through Beau’s eyes. He lives in a rotten city where people stab each other, where monsters crawl out of cellars and in which everything that can possibly go wrong, goes horribly wrong. Even crossing the street for a bottle of water, is a massive challenge for Beau.

He was going to visit his mother remembering his father on the day that he died, but a drug infused mob trashed his appartement. On top of things, his mother dies in a very unfortunate accident. Beau is expected at the funeral, but he gets hit by a camper truck.
That is about the easy part of the film.

From his nursing address Beau wanders into a community living in the forest and performing plays which -incidentally- tell the story of Beau’s life. The film switches to surrealistic animation to make a circle back to the present where Beau finds himself in a situation which could never have occurred. Perhaps his life is not as miserable as he always thought? The shimmering optimism is soon gone when Beau arrives at his mother’s place.

“Beau Is Afraid” is mostly a very strange drama. The viewer goes from strange scenes with strange humour to completely different even stranger scenes and the story gets as blurry as Beau’s mind.

Indeed, not a film for people who want a clear cut horror film with scare moments. There is an incidental scene with some gore, but mostly the film is a peek into the mind of person who has lost his wits at birth.

Amusing, certainly. Not a brilliant film though, but I do not get to watch a film as odd as this one, so I have to give Aster some bonus points for that.

Black Widow – Cate Shortland (2021)

Not really knowing many films that I want to see, I started browsing the Marvel franchise. I figured Scarlett Johansson is probably not a bad pick, so I watched “Black Widow”. Apparently Johansson’s character is, or used to be, one of the Avengers, so perhaps in hindsight I might have better watch these first. Oh well.

Natasha Romanoff (Johansson) is a retired Avenger looking for a quiet life. Needless to say that this is not how things will be and she is changed both by a superpower enemy and her (former) allies. Of course Romanoff is a one woman army who does not let herself get caught so easily.

There was a time I thought (hoped) that these Marvel films are more like Sin City, a mix between comic and film, but so far they never are. Instead “Black Widow” is an action movie with a somewhat superhero touch and a bit too much drama. Not boring, not great.

Amusingly (and not entirely unexpectedly) there are references to other Marvel movies, so I guess these films get more fun the more you have seen. Also a nice surprise was David Harbour who looks like a mix between Hopper (from Stranger Things) and a former superhero in tights who is probably the lead in other Marvel production.

Æon Flux – Karyn Kusama (2005)

Recipe: take one pretty actress (Charlize Theron), design a sexy wardrobe and try to construct a fancy scifi story in which she can wave around her long legs.

Actually, the film is not that corny, but in spite effort, “Aeon Flux” is not really a high-flyer.

Mankind is all but extinguished, just five million survived in one single city. The city is ruled ‘despotically’ so there is a resistance group who try to alter the status quo.

Unsurprisingly Theron is the (anti-)heroine of the rebel group, but she has a past and a mind of her own. While on a mission to assassinate the main man of the enclave, Aeon Flux finds out that the situation is not quite how she was told and she diverts from the assignment. Needless to say that after that she is hunted by both the government and her former group.

So you get some long-legged, deep-cleavage action, a few shootouts, a bit of a story. All in all not boring, but the 5.4 out of 10 on IMdB is still somewhat friendly.

Captain Marvel – Boden & Fleck (2019)

I am not too familiar with the Marvel merch, but since I watched the “Black Panther” films I am now suggested other Marvel films. So I watched “Captain Marvel”.

Carol is a test pilot who crashed an experimental plane and somehow ended up on another planet with a new identity and a wiped-out past. Trained within an elite group to fight bad guys, Carol is sent on different missions. In one of the them she ends up on earth in 1995.

Along the line, Carol starts to unravel her past and it starts to dawn on her that the new reality that she is taught is not quite how things really are. Or should be.

Of course Carol develops from being a girl with superpowers that she cannot control towards being the most mighty of all superheroes fighting villains and helping the weak.

The film has amusing parts by Samuel L. Jackson and Jude Law, also we run into Lashana Lynch and Ben Mendelsohn.

An alright watch. A bit of spectacle a bit story, some humour. I am somewhat curious how other Marvel films are linked to the story (if at all) so I may watch another few.

Im Westen Nichts Neues – Edward Berger (2022)

This is not the first time that the famous novel of Erich Maria Lemarque has been turned into a film. There is a 1930 and a 1979 version as well. Especially the latter many people will know. I am not sure if I ever saw it myself.

We follow a group of young men from Northern Germany who -towards the end of Word War I- are eager to go the the Western front in Southern Belgium / Northern France to help the German advancement towards Paris. What these adventurers do not know or realise, is that that Western front has hardly moved for a long time, yet costed millions of soldiers to die on both sides.

After a peptalk the new recruits are shipped to Belgium where their dreams are immediately shattered by the brutal reality of actual war. Being welcomed by the sight of fallen soldiers, being bombed on their way to the trenches and also within these trenches, main character Paul soon starts to loose friends.

In the film you can see the brutality of futility of war. Men being canon fodder when sent out of the trenches towards the trenches of the French with nothing more but a bajonet and and a few grenades running straight towards the machine guns of the other side.

I do not understand the English title of the book and films “All Quiet On The Western Front” as it is not quiet at all, but there sure is “nothing new” with not moving front lines and endless death. Since nothing indeed happens, the German contemplate a treaty to prevent further loss of lives. The demands of the French are harsh, but the Germans decide to agree anyway. The ceasefire time is set, only for a hotheaded German general to call for one final and completely unnecessary attack.

Besides war scenes, we also follow the soldiers in the time between combat. How they have to live, how they try to find more food than their rations allow for, the things they talk about, the way they mourn the endless loss of lives…

Indeed, a penetrating look into modern warfare.

Lost In Space – Allen & Sazama & Sharpless (series) (2018-2021)

Mankind is forced to move to another planet. The best of the best are recruited as the first colonisers of Alpha Centauri. We follow the family Robinson who join the mission collectively. Each family member has its talents and tasks including the children.

The trip does not go as planned and the family gets stranded on another planet. They have to figure out a way to get to their actual destination. The son of the family befriends an enemy robot who also crashed on the planet. The relationship between Will and the Robot is the main red thread throughout the three seasons.

In every episode there is a problem that has to be overcome. This usually is a means for some extra drama which soon becomes tiring. Some idea succeeds, something else goes wrong. Who will die this episode, but miraculously gets saved at the end only for the next problem to appear? The same thing happens with the different seasons. The planet is left behind, new problems occur, so the story continues in another place. Meanwhile the other robots that have not changed to like men are chasing Will.

With pomp Star Wars like music, too much drama and fairly predictable story lines, but on the other side descent acting and just enough interesting events to not stop watching, the series manage to balance just enough for me to finish all three seasons.

Certainly not a must-see, not a complete waste of time either. The story that is stretched over three seasons is not all that bad, but all these boring subplots and problems make that perhaps the story was more fit for a film so all unnecessary additions could have been skipped.

Kill Bok-soon – Sung-hyun Byun (2023)

  • action

Gil Bok-soon is the mother of an adolescent daughter and makes a living as a top notch contract killer. There are different companies where people can get their contract killers, the biggest has set some rules and tries to rule the business. Book-soon is the best of the best, but aging.

You get hip and bloody action scenes, sometimes a bit too silly humor, but the fun part slowly leaves the film. Then you get more of a who’s-whose-friend type story and of course, Gil comes out victorious in the end.

Not surprising, somewhat amusing.

The Quick and the Dead – Sam Raimi (1995)

A Western classic with a very young Leonardo diCaprio, a pretty young Russel Crowe and a young and sexy Sharon Stone. Her trying to look tough does not work out too well though. Gene Hackman as the bad guy is fun though.

Stone’s character Ellen drives to a remote village where an annual dueling event takes place. The little town is ran by scumbag Herod (Hackman) and every year people can sign up for shooting duels. The winner wins a massive amount of money, but of course, Herod lets nobody win but himself.

Ellen does not just go to that town for the money, but because Herod is responsible for the death of her father, who used to the be sheriff of the town when she was a girl.

So we have a town full of self-confident people who think that they are the best and fastest shooters. The event itself is quite brutal and the end result not a surprise, but “The Quick and the Dead” is an alright watch.

Cabinet of Curiosities – Guillermo del Toro (series 2022)

A Netflix series by Guillermo del Toro! Well, he is the creator, but not the director. Too bad. Also, just as the two series that I just reviewed, “Cabinet of Curiosities” is not really a series, more of a collection of short films. So again, you have eight very different short films by different directors. The episodes are usually based on a short story and have a horror theme.

Del Toro did gather some interesting directors though. The first episode is directed by Guillermo Navarre with whom Del Toro often cooperates for his own films. Then we have Vincenzo Natali, known for “Cube”, “Cypher“, “Splice” and other films. David Prior is new to me. Next up is Ana Lily Amirpour of “Bad Batch“. Then we have Keith Thomas. After that Catherine Hardwicke of “Thirteen“. The most interesting episode is made by Panos Cosmatos of films such as “Cobra“, but who made something more akin to his caleidoscopic “Beyond The Black Rainbow“. The more dramatic closing episode is for Jennifer Kent.

A few of the episodes are based on Lovecraft stories, which says something about the type of horror that is presented. More of a Victorian mystery horror than the slasher type of horror. Some episodes are humorous, others more typical horror. It would have been nice if Del Toro had directed an episode himself. He did write the story for the last one.