Stranger Things – Matt & Ross Duffer (series, season 1-3 2016-2018)

These Netflix series are so popular that I was in doubt whether or not to watch them. So in the end I did and I really enjoyed the first season. The series have a total 1980’ies vibe with a 1980’ies soundtrack, old cars, outdated haircuts and terrible cloths.

Big roles are for children (nerdy kids and adolescents), but in spite of that, season one is nice, gloomy, fairly dark and weird. The story is about the small town of Hawkins which houses an institute in which strange experiments are held. And so a story unfolds of a girl with strange powers, men trying to get her and something evil that lurks in the woods.
There are nice 1980’ies details, the story unfolds nicely, the atmosphere is good and even the child humour and child drama works to a certain degree.

The second season puts more focus on ‘the evil’ with again a well-written story and more of a horror approach to the series. Characters develop, unexpected alliances are forged. Also the second season is pretty good.

The ‘other worldliness’ is mostly gone in the third season which became more of a Stephen King type horror/thriller. The kids really are the main characters this time and the story is a lot less interesting.

Season 4 is announced. I suppose I will watch it when it is there, but I hope the creators will not continue the way down.

Alien Quadrilogy (1979-1997)

After watching all of the “Terminator” films, I wanted to watch another series of classic films that I either or not saw decades ago. My girlfriend never saw “Alien”, so here we went.

The initial “Alien” (Ridley Scott, 1979) is still a great film. Stages look better than CGI in my opinion. A crew on a ship goes to “hypersleep” for longer journies. Waking up they find out that the ship picked up an emergency signal and went in that direction. Taking a look at the inhabitable planet, one of the crew members picks up an alien lifeform and brings it back to the ship. The alien develops and murders the entire crew, but a handful managed to get away and blow up the ship. This first film is certainly still watch worthy.

9 Years later James Cameron picks up where Ridley Scott left off (“Aliens” 1986). Together with Sigourney Weaver (the main character) as co-producer, we see the crew of the original film being picked up by a space station. There is a problem though. An alien managed to get on board of the fleeing vessel and this time finishes off the entire crew of the space station. Also “Aliens” is a descent movie.

A few more years down the road and Weaver found David Fincher for “Alien 3” (1992). The planet that Weaver left in “Aliens” is now inhabited by humans, but there is no contact, so a crew is sent to see what is up. Of course Ripley (Weaver) is part of the crew. They arrive at the base to find out that there is nobody there. Nobody of course, but a bunch of aliens starting to kill crew members. This third part is more of an action film than the previous, but still with the obvious horror and thriller elements.

The last part of the “quadrilogy” is from 1997 and is called “Alien Resurrection”. This is the most sci-fi of the four. Ridley is cloned including an alien and of course things do not go as the scientists had planned, so the cloned aliens kill off the crew. The last film is in some regards more ‘modern’ than the previous three. This film is directed by Jean Pierre Jeunet. For a Jeunet the film is pretty ‘normal’, but it is great to see some of his ‘go-to’ actors such as Ron Perlman and Dominique Pinon.

All in all I must say that I enjoyed (re)watching the four alien films. The first two are classics, the third is good enough and the ‘closer off’ by Jeunet made a nice surprice.

Nomadland – Chloé Zhao (2020)

  • drama

It were not the prices and the accompanying attention that made me interested in watching the film, but the presence of Frances MacDormand who -as expected- carries the entire movie.

Fern lost her husband, her job and all security. Somehow she picks up the idea to get a small van and crisscross the country going where ever work takes her or what ever place she wants to see. Working at Amazon during the holidays season, driving towards the beet harvest, sometimes stopping by at family.

Along the way, Fern meets people in similar situations. They start to exchange tips, tricks, good and services or temporarily live together somewhere in a desert. For some reason, no matter in what direction everybody travels next, they keep running in to each other.

And so we get a roadmovie about a woman living in a tiny van, driving through the vast and varied landscape of the USA having deep conversations with people who still were strangers just before. Zhao shows the hardships of this kind of life. Since what happens when you are far from home and pick up an illness? What the film also shows, is that for many of these nomads the situation was born from necessity, but people enjoy the freedom of this type of life.

“Nomadland” is a calm, beautiful film with a vulnerable McDormand and a whole host of actual nomads that the crew met during the making of the film.

Red Sparrow – Francis Lawrence (2018)

I think I expected some sort of fempower action movie, but “Red Sparrow” is actually a pretty weak spy thriller.

Dominka used to be a Russian ballet dancer, but after an accident she has to find another way to earn money. An uncle talks her into the secret service and Dominika is sent to a training which is basically to turn young people into prostitutes for the state.

A bit like the 1980’ies erotic thrillers “Red Sparrow” has a thin story which is mostly meant to create scenes with sex and nudity (and humiliation). Jennifer Lawrence (or her body double) is very beautiful, but this does not save the film.

We have fairly well known American actors who pretend to be Russians. Russia is portrayed pretty much as an amateur country that abuses its citizens. All Russians speak English (with an accent).

Then we have a story that reminds of the recently reviewed “Anna“. Dominika is sent to all kinds of dirty jobs, spies on the enemy, but appears to become a double spy so the question is raised where here allegiances really lay. That is not too unexpected, of course she has a master plan.

Where “Anna” is more of an action film (and more interesting), “Red Sparrow” is (like I said) more of a typical spy film. Not very well written in my opinion and not very well executed either.

Slučajna Raskoš Prozirnog Vodenog Rebusa – Dalibor Barić (2020)

The international title is already weird, but in Croatian it sounds even stranger. I saw “Accidental Luxuriance of the Translucent Watery Rebus” though the streaming service of the International Film Festival Rotterdam. It is an extremely experimental Croatian film.

Throwing in many different techniques, Barić created a kaleidoscopic film with low contrast, bright colours and a if there was a storyline, it eluded me. You get different types of animation, but also ‘normal film’, but with so man filters that it still looks like animation. Picture in picture, pictures in picture, perhaps the result reminds a bit of the cut-up style that William Burroughs came up with. What also reminds a bit of Burroughs are the lengthy surrealistic, intellectualistic monologues that can be found in many parts of the film. Other elements remind me a bit of Jodorowski. Unfortunately the subtitles were sometimes hard to read, so I missed quite a lot of these monologues.

The film has “noir” elements in the sense of a (or an apparent) murder investigation and the way certain scenes were shot. Like I said, everything is so much cut-up, that it did not really come across to me a a story (or stories).

Filmographically there are several amazing elements. The way the director lets one element go over in another amazed me on several occasions. The film is mostly interesting for reasons of visuals and montage. It is surprising, confusing and fascinating. I hope I can watch it again some time to see if I can make more of it.

When you are up for something really really weird you wil have to find another way than the IFFR as the screenings have stopped by the time I write this.

Fat Chance – Stephen Broomer (2021)

I saw “Fat Chance” through the streaming service of the International Film Festival Rotterdam. I have no idea if before Covid-19 IFFR also had online screenings, but if not, at least this positive thing came from the pandemic.

“Fat Chance” is a very difficult film. Is it actually a film?

Laird Cregar (1914–1944) was a filmstar in his days, but being of giant size and homosxual, things were not always too easy for him. Broomer took it upon himself to compile clippings from films that featured Cregar. When all that had been montaged, Broomer threw the reel into an acid bath. The result is an extremely vague, very high contrast, flickering, silent film with cracking classical music for score.

“Fat Chance” is a tough watch. There is not a story. Sometimes the images are hardly recognisable. It is epileptic attack inducing and that for a little over an hour.

If you feel like watching something experimental, maybe this (and as I understand also other) Broomer film could be an option. The question is, where to see it though, as the IFFR only screened it for a few days. Until 7 June that is!

The Angel – Ariel Vromen (2018)

In an ever actual story we follow Ashraf Marwan who marries the daughter of the Egyptian president. Marwan works himself up into his father in laws government, but when the president dies, he has to prove himself in order to maintain his occupation.

The new president is determined to punish Israel for occupying land outside its own borders. A war in the Middle East is immanent once again (and already) around 1970.

Marwan plays a dangerous game. He is in contact with different sides of the conflict and it is unclear where his alliances lay. Not only risking his own life, but also that of his wife and daughter, Marwan seems to be determined to prevent a war in the Middle East.

“The Angel” is a well made and interesting film and also the viewer is left to guess what Marwan’s real intentions are. He cunningly navigates between different contacts constantly moving between Egypt, the UK, Switzerland and other countries.

Terminator movie series 1984-2019

In 2015 I saw “Genisys” on the big screen. I liked it a lot. Some weeks ago I finally got to watch “Dark Fate” and I liked it even better. I decided to watch all Terminator films in chronological order, as the two latest films refer back a lot to the early movies, so I wondered if there would be some sort of storyline.

Yes and no. Most movies refer to events in the other ones, but as time-travel remains the main part of the stories, films do not have to fit story-wise. In one film Skynet is killed, before it is born, in alternative future there still was a Skynet to send back machines in time. Or Sarah Conner is dead in one film and is not in another. Most films are in chronological time-lines too, but this is not always the casae.

So, in 1984 we had the original “The Terminator” (James Cameron). It is still a fun watch. The special effects are a bit dated (sometimes reminding on Cronenberg body horror though). Schwarzenegger is sent back in time to kill the mother (Sarah Connor) who would later give birth to the leader of the resistance against the machines. It is Connor himself who sends back Kyle Reese who is incidentally also his father. The film has a great 1980’ies feel with 1980’ies music.

In 1991 the same director made the epic “Terminator 2: Judgement Day. This time it becomes clear that again a terminator and a protector are sent back in time and Schwarzenegger is the protector. Of the young John Connor himself this time. A great movie unfolds with a still impressive liquid terminator.

Jonathan Mostow took over in 2003 with “Rise Of The Machines”. Here we have a sexy terminator and Schwarzegger again as protector of John Connor. Just as the previous two films, this film contains brutal violence. The film is pretty much over-the-top and even though amusing, it does not reach the level of the second film.

Again a new director in 2009 “MvG”. “Salvation” is by and far the least interesting film of the series. It plays only in the dystopian future in which the AI that humans developed has calculated that it is better for itself to terminate humanity. After throwing some nuclear bombs, killer machines (terminators) roam the earth to finish off the last living people. A resistance has grown which is led by John Connor. The resistance is after the destruction of the main system. What does not help, is that Schwarzenegger did not join the cast. He is only shown a few minutes in CGI.

Then we have “Genisys” (2015) Alan Taylor and “Dark Fate” (2019 Tim Miller), which are both reviewed. “Dark Fate” is most interesting movie-wise. The whole cast is present, including Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor. Story-wise this one is … alright. A ‘new’ Sarah Connor (Dani Ramos played by Natalie Reyes) is under threat as she is going to give birth to the father of John Connor. It takes a while before Schwarzegger returns, but he is at his best.
“Genisys” has an interesting twist to the John Connor story. Story-wise this one is good, movie-wise I prefer “Dark Fate”.

5 Out of 6 Terminator films are very enjoyable, in spite of the different directors. The cross-references are well done, the brutal violence is still brutal, the humour is usually good. The newer films have a bit too much of the obligatory drama, perhaps the older do too. They are big budget, big audience Hollywood productions of course. Be that as it may, I enjoyed watching all film a lot. It seems there are is a spin-off series about Sarah and John Connor. Perhaps I am going to see if I can get my hands on that one too.

The Shining – Stanley Kubrick (1980)

I noticed “The Shining” on Netflix and my girlfriend said she never saw it, so we watched the classic. Apparently it has been a while since I saw it myself, as I did not remember much of it.

I am sure you all know the film inside out, so I do not have to say much about it. For the exceptions to this…
Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) will take care of an hotel that lays very remote in the Rocky Mountains. It is so remote, that it closes for the winter season and somebody has to take care of the building in that period. Torrance, his wife Wendy and their son Danny will be those.

Previous caretakers have gone mad due to the solitude and as you can see on the cover, it is Jack that does so this time.

The camera work of the film is great. During the long car drive to the hotel, the surroundings are shot from (I think) a helicopter in beautiful shots. The very 1980’ies colorful hotel is used brilliantly in symmetric shots and bright colors. The endless halls of the hotel give a great feeling of isolation. The music typically shows when a scene is (supposed to be) scary.

I find the film mostly ‘filmographically’ interesting. The atmosphere is good too and Nicholson is even scary when he tries to look friendly. I find the acting of Shelly (Wendy) and Danny (Danny) less convincing, but all in all the film remains at a high level.

Truly a classic!

The Monuments Men – George Clooney (2014)

A good film by George Clooney about an interesting part of history.

Towards the end of World War II it dawned upon the allied forced that the Nazis had been collecting and destroying art. Now even on their retreat, they take the art that they price highest with them with the idea of creating a museum. “Entartete Kunst” (“degenerate art”) such as modern are is frequently destroyed.

The American army assembles a small group of art historians to try to prevent culture from being destroyed while fighting and to retrieve what the Nazis have already stolen.

Initially travelling to areas of Europe that have been freed by occupied forces, the group slowly works itself closer to the frontline to be present more rapidly. This is especially necessary as Hitler starts to shout that should he perish, all collected art should be destroyed.

Clooney gathered quite a cast. Himself, of course, but also Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett and John Goodman. He made a relatively light film about the heavy subject of WWII, but one with a message. Mankind’s achievements should not be filtered by the people who happen to be in charge.