Angel Heart – Alan Parker (1987)

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A young and not too convincing Mickey Rourke as private detective is hired by the nicely creepy Robert the Niro to find out if a certain man is dead or alive.

The film unfolds as a descent, gloomy thriller in which Harry Angel (Rourke) slowly walks into a swamp of black American culture with first music and later Voodoo.

This works just fine until the very weak end in which Satanism is dragged in and the film has its obligatory ‘surprise’ final. The last third pretty much kills what started off nicely.

Tolkien – Dome Karukoski (2019)

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A fairly emotional romantic drama about the famous fantasy writer Tolkien. We get to know him as one of two unfortunate brothers. Fatherless their mother takes them from South Africa to the suffocating city of Birmingham for lack of money. Life is hard, but mother tells their sons tales, fairy tales and myths. Also both are taught extra after school so Tolkien mastered several languages.

When mother dies, the sons are taken in by a rich woman and they get the chance to attend school and -with some trouble- university. It is also in this house that Roland meets his big love.

The film is about the man, not about his work, so you learn about the friends he meets and the brotherhood they form. All are annoyingly smart and they enjoy themselves with reading and discussing literature and art, writing stories and poetry and the like. Since Tolkien was not ‘high born’ things are not as easy for him as they are for his friends. He even has to let go of his beloved. Worst of all: World War I breaks out and all young, British men are sent to the front, including our four friends. War-scenes are woven through the drama and romance of the rest of the film.

You get an idea of what it all came from for Tolkien, but do not expect to learn much about Tolkien’s work.

A very descent film about an interesting character.

First Man – Damien Chazelle (2018)

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Ryan Gosling is Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon. We get a very personal story of Armstrong’s life up until his small step. His relationship, children, constantly moving when he switches jobs, colleagues, etc.

The film opens with a somewhat frightening scene in which Armstrong takes a short flight outside the atmosphere. No smooth and romantic spaceflights, but the claustrophobia, constant shaking, creaking metal, extreme heat and extreme G-forces that an astronaut has to endure. The film does this very well. There is the constant threat that the astronauts will not come back after their ‘day of work’ which is either testing, test-flying or real flights. The family, all living together in a sort of camp, know that too. Yet all astronauts have partners and children.

This history lesson guides us through several Gemini projects and when the Americans cannot keep up with the Russians, more ambitious plans are made, leading to the Apollo missions.

“First Man” is a good, and apparently realistic film about the moon mission of the 1960’ies.

xXx – Rob Cohen (2002)

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What exactly made me opt for this film? Samuel L. Jackson perhaps? It probably will not have been Vin Diesel, because in my mind he only makes standard action movies. This is one of those…

Xander Cage (Diesel) is a stuntman who is popular on the internet. Agent Gibbons (Jackson) wants to recruit him to infiltrate in a criminal organisation. This leads to some quite ‘action for the sake of action’ scenes in which Cage is ‘tested’. Explosions, motorcycle stunts, yadiya.

The film does have a nice opener with a Rammstein show, then follows Cage’s internet stunt, his recruitment and then a Bond-like story with a ‘Bond girl’ follows, a bad guy with plans to blow up the world and our hero to stop that. Nothing really worth watching, but then again, not really boring either.

True Detective (series, season 3) (2019)

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After a few years of silence, here we have the third season of “True Detective”. The first season was brilliant, the second less so, it was different, good, but not like the first season. This review of the third season is a bit like that of the second.

The first two episodes are great and like the first season. Very slow and minimalist, a droning soundtrack that suggests something terrible. Then we continue with a police investigation of two quite different officers, quite like in the previous series. The initial investigation is repeated a decade later and again later, so we get the story in three time-lines. The case itself looks small. Two kids get lost. Initially something sinister is suggested, but as the investigation continues, the focus of the series goes more to the drama of the investigators and the parents of the lost kids.

The series gets a bit of a Memento edge as one of the main characters’ memory starts to fail him in the timeline in which he is old. The story of the lost children is told in bits and pieces and in the three timelines only slowly clearing things up.

Season 3 is descent, mostly moody and well-written, but just as the previous one, 3 does not really rise above the level of descent.

Darkest Hour – Joe Wright (2017)

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On the outbreak of WWII the British prime minister Chamberlain is replaced by Winston Churchill, without much enthusiasm of his own party. Especially when Churchill’s rhetoric is about fighting rather than trying to make peace, ways to get rid off him are soon thought of.

Starting optimistically it soon becomes clear that Churchill has to admit that he cannot overpower Germany and when 300.000 of his troops get trapped at the French border, an unpopular way of evacuating them is started (this evacuation is what the film Dunkirk is about).

Some of his ministers want to make peace with (meaning: surrender to) the Germans, but as the people seem to prefer fighting over flying, Churchill pushes his old tactics again.

The film makes a nice history lesson showing a hard politician who was also but a man.

American Horror Story Roanoke (series) – Brad Falchuk & Ryan Murphy (season 6 2016/7)

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Reading back my reviews of previous seasons I see that I am seldom overly enthousiastic about “American Horror Story”, yet my memories usually seem more positive.

My first thought about “Roanoke” is that it is the least interesting season so far. Looking back I remember the first season as alright, of the third, fourth and fifth I have good memories.

In “Roanoke” the series live up most to the term “horror” in the title. The series sets off as a bit of a “Blair Witch” type horror with pressing atmosphere and the suggestion that what happens is real. The story is told in interviews and images and the result is pretty much horror. Then the creators start to use different styles of horror going from found footage, jumpscare to torture and a bit of zombie-like horror. Way too horror for my liking. Only here and there the black humor of the previous series found its way into the story.

And then we get a variation to the story and another one and another one until it all becomes pretty dreary.

The story is simple. A mixed couple flees the city and buy a massive house in the middle of nowhere. Of course there are (un)dead people who do not want them there. In the variations the creators show how (social) media exploits such events which is one of the few positive points about “Roanoke”.

As I said before, the different seasons have nothing incommon with the rest except for the actors. If your preference does not lay in typical horror, I would advice to skip season 6.

Bohemian Rhapsody – Bryan Singer (2018)

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I like music films and it helps if the music is good. Queen made some great songs (and a lot that I do not care for) so “Bohemian Rhapsody” naturally landed on my watchlist.

The film is mostly about Freddy Mercury. We see his youth, how he became the singer of the band, started to push his wild ideas and how the band’s star quickly rose. There are a few things here that I did not know about the band too.

The film starts with, and builds up to, the Live Aid concert of 20 minutes. In between there rapidly are big tours, big selling albums and of course the personal problems of Mercury who gets married, starts to explore other sexuality (the film seems to suggest that he was somewhat lured into homosexuality) and when his name is the biggest, becomes the wild party man who picks up the upcoming disease with the little name.

We see the band in the studio and on stage, so there is enough music in the film. Yep, a good watch.

Crying Freeman – Christope Gans (1995)

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I thought that I bought some hip action film as a ‘spare film’, but only when I put it on, I noticed that it was directed by Gans who made some more descent films.

The freeman from the title is a killer for the Chinese maffia. When a woman sees him working, she is supposed to be killed too, but the freeman has second thoughts.

Then we jump forward to a feud between Japanese and Chinese maffia and the freeman’s mythical reputation. The film being based on a comic gives it a somewhat ‘poetical vibe’.

What really adds to the atmosphere are the slow, stretched scenes with 1990’ies synth music, very moody. The scenes are often dark. There are some weaker scenes, but overall I found “Crying Freeman” unexpectedly moody with here and there a violent shootout.

Mysterious Skin – Gregg Araki (2004)

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We follow two boys, Neil and Brian. From the start the stories are shown through each other making it hard to say what is about whom. Neil discovers on a young age that he fancies men and his baseball coach makes sure he does. He grows up finding out that he can make money by having sex. That can only go in one direction, can it?

Brian’s story is less straight forward. The nerdy Brian picks up the idea that he has been taken by aliens and when he sees a documentary about a woman who has been abducted, he contacts her in hope to find more information about his experiences.

Of course the two stories have something in common. It is no big surprise how, but it is worked out nicely and details from earlier in the film, start to make sense later.

“Mysterious Skin” is a descent drama about adolescents.