X-Files complete 9 series * Chris Carter (1993-2002)

In August 2008 I ‘blogged‘ about having bought the 9 series X-Files shoebox and now I can tell you we have watched it all. Of course I am not going to review the whole series. A fact is that just as when I watched the series on TV (from 1994 or 1995 on or so) I dropped out somewhere in what proves to be the 8th series, but I have seen several episodes of the 9th as well. It is quite clear why I stopped following the series, they were not getting better. On the other hand, even with Doggett and Reyes there are some interesting episodes. The part of Scully becomes more and more unsatisfying and in some episodes even irritating when Carter has her take over the Mulder role. In any case, overall you can see the series developing. Then less-serious experiments come in, unfortunately resulting in a complete series almost devoid of normal episodes, but initially refreshing. After a while the various directors and story-writers seem to get more of a free hand and some episodes become both amazing and fantasyfull. In general I can say that the X-Files remain one of the more interesting series of my time, but I do not grief that they stopped after a series or two too many when things were not getting better. Unfortunately the last double episode is quite the opposite a final blowout, it is even pretty horrible…
I am not interested in all the extras. Every series has extras on each disc and a separate disc with extras. I do not think I saw any of that, so I cannot comment on it. The box itself looks nice, but is not firm enough for weekly use over two years time. Not that I completely wrecked it, but let me say that I could sell it as “mint” any more. Each series has a nice booklet with information about each episode and a list with all titles (in English and French in my version). Nine times the size of a VHS tape by the way. The box is not cheap, but I do not remember the price after two years, so who gives a damn.

Alice In Wonderland * Tim Burton (2010)

I heard quite critical notes about this cinema-filler, but my girlfriend still wanted to see it, so yesterday we saw Tim Burton’s version of the famous story in 3D. The story is at the same time very recognisable, but there are also a couple of things that Burton changed. He created some superb versions of the famous strange characters. Of course you will think of Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, but I was more impressed by the waterpipe-smoking catterpillar Absolem, the Chesire cat, the big-headed “Red Queen” and the magnificent twin Tweedledee / Tweedledum. Burton created a nice, weird atmosphere, great visuals (however with these 3D films I keep seeing out-of-focus parts and not very natural looking humans) with enough subtle humour. Nope, I must say that I was not disappointed. The 3D is a nice extra in the cinema too.

Storm * Måns Mårlind (2005)

Storm“Storm” is a rather strange and confusing Swedish film. Almost anything I say will give away too much, but “Storm” has several alternating realities and each time when you think you understand the basic idea, there turns out to be another one. Somewhere between a psychological drama (in theme), action and fantasy thriller, “Storm” has combined several popular elements from outside the film industry. The film is not great, not even too original at all times, but an enjoyable watch and a nice mix of different elements.

Elizabeth: the golden age * Shekhar Kapur (2007)

Elizabeth: the golden ageThe first Elizabeth (“the virgin queen” 1998) is one of my all time favourite films (but apparently older than my writing of film reviews). I had seen the box of this film several times, but I thought it was just a rerelease or something. It turns out that almost 10 years after the original film, a sequel was made with almost the same crew! Apparently it has been a while since I saw the first one, since watching “the golden age” does not really bring back memories. The first one blew me away with its dark epic about the violent struggle between Catholics and Protestants. I do not even know “the golden age” is supposed to play before or after “the virgin queen” or perhaps it is another look at the same period. The story goes that since Elizabeth I (Protestant) remains childless, her cousin Mary Stuart (Catholic) is used by Spain to overthrow Elizabeth. War is waged.
“The golden age” is another great history lesson, but as a film it does not reach the level of “the virgin queen”. This could be because the novelty is gone or perhaps because “the virgin queen” is darker. “The golden age” is still a top class film though and a must-see if you like the first film.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service * Peter R. Hunt (1969)

So, three weeks ago we paid a shitload of money to get on the Schilthorn. This is one of the higher mountains of Switserland and on top is the famous Piz Gloria turning restaurant. The restaurant owes its fame partially to the fact that a James Bond film was filmed there, so when we came back, my girlfriend ordered this oldie on DVD. I am not much of a Bond fan, but the films are not really boring. OHMSS has a ‘one time Bond’ in George Lazenby, a not too great story, but some nice chasing scenes on ski and bob sledge and of course some lovely ladies. Also it is nice to see some locations where we were recently (besides the Schilthorn, the city of Bern for example). Not such a bad watch, particularly when I think of it that the film is quite a bit older than myself.

X-Files 9 series box * Chris Carter (1993- /2008)

I have wondered to post this as a review or as a “blog” post. I chose the first. I used to watch the X-Files since the first repeat of the first series. I taped most episodes, bought the VHS-tapes with double episodes, etc., saw the first film in the cinema and recently went to the second film. My brother started buying the old series, watch them and buy the next one. I had plans to start doing the same some time. After the awfull second film I felt more like watching the series when they were still good and then I heard about this box with all 9 series. I got it last week, we watched the pilot and first episode yesterday. I must have been a long time since I saw them and I enjoyed seeing them again a lot, even though the acting is rather poor and the overall atmosphere is rather cheesy. Next up is “Squeeze” and that is when the series start to get better. There seem to be European and American versions of the box, I got the nice looking evidence-box-looking one you see here. Nine boxes looking like VHS cases are in it with seven or eight DVDs each (!), a nice booklet with information about the episodes and short stories about the series and how the public reacted to them. Too bad the old ‘logo’ seems to be skipped, but overall the box looks very nice.

Sahara * Breck Eisner * 2005

SaharaIn a period in which I spend my weekends working on a house that I bought with my girlfriend, we don’t spend time on chosing and watching descent films. I saw that this film with Penelope Cruz would be shown on TV, so we just decided to watch it. “Sahara” starts off not bad at all. Cruz and another doctor travel through Africa for the WHO and discover a starting epidemic. Also travelling through Africa, but for entirely different reasons, namely treasure-hunting, is a group of three men. This part nicely shows African culture, the dealings of warlords, local quarrels, etc. and this with the meddling of Westerners who sometimes find their way through that culture very well. It reminded me a bit of some film about Muslim extremism that I saw pieces of a few weeks ago. A nice atmosphere and apparently a good look into the local culture and the way Westerners go around in it. Lateron the film moves more into some kind of Indiana Jones adventure film, which is still not too bad, but towards the end “Sahara” becomes more of a 007 spectacle which is not very interesting. The only thing to compensate the downfall of the film and story, is Penelope who becomes more and more a pleasure to watch as the film continues.
Overall just another Hollywood film, inspite of the strong opening.

Beowulf 3D * Robert Zemeckis * 2007

BeowulfIt seems that the filmindustry has come up with something to get the audience back from their supersized tvs and dolby surround sets: the 3D movie. Because of the theme I was interested in this film and also I was curious how far the technique of 3D film actually is, so we went to see the spectacle of “Beowulf”. Let me start with the film.
The version of Zemeckis stays much closer to the 8th century poem than “Beowulf & Grendel”, which is a big plus. Beowulf comes to help king Hrothgar who has problems with a man-slaying monster which is much closer to the description in the classic epic than in the other film. The fight with Grendel is rather short and some details are nicely introduced to the film. The killing of Grendel doesn’t solve the problem, since his mother comes to take revenge and it is with the introduction of this mother, that the story begins to show adaptations. Instead of a fierce, man-eating monster, the mother of Grendel has become the beautiful, naked (but sexless) Angelina Jolie who seduces kings and has great riches. Beowulf goes to fight her like in the story, becomes king when Hrothgar dies and builds a massive castle. None of this comes from the poem. The drinking cup that unleaches the dragon (see later) got a big promotion too. What Zemeckis does use and very well, is Beowulf’s fight with the dragon, a part of the story that is completely left out in “Beowulf & Grendel”. Also the end follows the poem, so inspite of a few (rather big) adaptations, this new version of the Beowulf poem is fairly true to text.
Next, the film. Instead of red and green coloured glasses, you now get glasses that slightly shift your view in order to bring the two layers of film together. This produces amazing depth! I was impressed how clear this 3D looks and how much depth can be made with this technique. What is less impressive, is that everything is ‘animated’, so even though in the characters you can clearly see Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich or Anthony Hopkins, they all come from the computer obviously. What I found most strange is that the character such as Beowulf, Wiglaf of Grendel’s mother is amazing in detail, while Unferth and sometimes Wealthow look like clay figures. It is af if there was not the time or the money to make everything equally perfect. What is a big pro of the computer technique is that Grendel is brilliant. He is big, ugly, drewls and bleeds all over the audience and at least is able to eat a man in a few bites (the fact that Grendel is turned into a pityfull creature is an adaptation, but does add something to the film). As for the rest, the film is obviously made to be a 3D film. I wonder what it looks like in the normal version, because scenes in which the camera slowly moves backwards through a forest, or into the mead-hall from above or a warrior pointing his spear towards the audience will look silly if not in 3D. The 3D here and there has Disneyland things just to show it is 3D, but in many cases, it really adds an extra layer to the film experience. When Wealthow almost falls down the way too high castle of Beowulf, the depth is amazing and especially with the extremely carefully constructed fight with the dragon is impressive (I think this scene used most of the budget). In normal scenes with people in a hall, the 3D is a nice extra, but it really shows its value in fighting scenes (men and rubble being thrown into the audience, the extreme depth of a cliff that the dragon flies over, etc.).
Because the best effect is produced when looking through the classes in a particular way, I had to keep my head quite still and eventually I got a bit of a headache. There are also some elements can have to be improved (try working with real actors please!), but overall, for the first 3D film that I see, I am really impressed and it surely is a technique to develop further in order to give cinema a new impulse.
Conclusion: a 4 out of 5 for the film (story) and a 4 out of 5 for the filmimg. If you want to see “Beowulf”, be sure to see it in 3D!

Beowulf & Grendel * Sturla Gunnarson * 2005

For a long time I have wanted to read the oldest English poem, the famous epic called “Beowulf”, but all the time I had other things to read and never came to it. Maybe because of that new Beowulf film with Angelina Jolie and Anthony Hopkins I remembered to buy a copy of the booklet. So I got one of those cheap Penguin books in modern English and started to finally read the story. Then a friend said that besides the sci-fi version of 1999 with Christopher Lambert and the upcoming Hollywood version, there is also a good film version. I think I knew “Beowulf & Grendel”, but I always have second thoughts about such films, especially when the box says: “in the style of Lord of the Rings and King Arthur”, which is probably the reason that I never bought it. The extra push made me invest the enormous amous of € 5,- and eventually watch this classic version of the classic epic.

The film begins with Grendel as a child, the first thing in which the film differs from the book. There are much more differences. To make the film more interesting, both the Geats and the Danes are still pagan, while the Beowulf epic is very Christian. Added is a Celtic missionary who Christianises the troops. Also added is a young “witch”. The fight with Grendel is stretched out beyond belief, shorter is the fight with Grendel’s mother and totally left out the fight with “the Worm”. What I think is a bad case, is that king Hrothgar has been turned into a weary old man with a grudge, while in the book he is a respectable king with a big problem. His luxery hall is turned into “some beer hall”. That for how strict the actual text is followed.
The film itself is a mediocre adventure with pagan warriors and too human monsters (I already wonder how Angelina Jolie is going to eat a man in two bites in the upcoming version). The atmosphere is alright, the setting magnificent. The comparisons on the box are not really typical, I would rather compare the film with “The 13th Warrior” or so. In any case, nice, but not great.