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The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar – Wes Anderson (2023)

  • arthouse

A nice surrealistic comedy short (37 minutes) available on Netflix.

A traveler through India hears of a yogi who levitates while meditating. When trying to learn that for himself, he instead develops the ability to see without eyes. He writes his story in a short book that is found by Henry Sugar who decides to learn the art of seeing through playing cards in order to get rich.

All three men need years to develop their abilities, which is pictured in broad strokes. There is more attention for witty monologues and funny situations and how Sugar tries to help the world without becoming famous.

The Lighthouse – Robert Eggers (2019)

  • arthouse

There has been quite some attention for this film recently, but it already somewhat older. In any case: “The Lighthouse” is one of the too few unconventional films on Netflix.

With an aspect ratio of 1.19 : 1 the screen is almost square. The images look like worn Polaroid photos in (gritty) grey scales. Visually, the film is already unconventional.

We follow two men who are up for a four week shift to man a lighthouse on a remote island. Thomas Wake (William Dafoe) is a former seaman, now a rowdy lighthouse keeper. Thomas Howard (Robert Pattinson) is the newbie fleeing from his past. Wake, the rough main man, is a weird character.

Nothing much happens in the film. The two men try to get along, but their characters differ too much. Only alcohol seems to soften the tensions. Howard is not the first who slowly starts to loose his mind which gives Eggers the opportunity to make some nicely weird scenes. Largely the film has a bit of a nightmarish atmosphere.

Not a masterpiece, but something different for sure.

Anselm – Das Rauschen der Zeit – Wim Wenders (2023)

  • arthouse

It does not happen too often that we watch a film because my girlfriend wants to see it, but here we have one. It is a documentary about the German painter / sculptor Anselm Kiefer (1945-). The subtitle of the film translates to ‘the rustling of time’.

Kiefer is a modern artist, his work is abstract. As a boy, people noticed his talent, so Kiefer was successful at an early age. Apparently this lead to him buying a large estate in German nature where he produced his work in a large former factory.

Kiefer is a controversial artist who does not shy to refer to the dark pages of Germany’s past. This makes him more beloved abroad than in his own country. Every once in a while Kiefer has a big hit which allows him to buy property elsewhere, usually another former factory area. He ended up in France on a massive estate with multiple buildings and 40 acres of land.

Kiefer’s work is often megalomanous. Gigantic sculpture-type paintings, large halls with bridal dresses, libraries. You see him riding his bike through his estate, working on mobile lifts, etc. Wenders made long, meditative shots of Kiefer’s work which here and there are alternated with interviews. It is not your average documentary. It seems that Wenders tried to capture the atmosphere of Kiefer’s work.

All in all an alright documentary about an artist that appears to be fairly big.

El Conde – Pablo Larraín (2023)

Every so often Netflix presents a ‘less common’ film. Here we have a brand new vampire film that looks like a century-old one, but not entirely.

The Count from the title has been around for 250 years and is done with living. We quickly go through his time during the French revolution and how he ended up in South America. There is lives out his life on a island with his personnel. When his children get the idea that there is a prospect to inheritance, they go and visit.

“El Conde” is a gritty, quirky comedy which combines old Dracula style filming and more modern elements. There are amusing characters, strange situations and a ‘meandering story’. The result is an amusing film.

Asteroid City – Wes Anderson (2023)

Anderson comes with another quirky arthouse comedy. Perhaps it is even more quirky than “Grand Budapest Hotel“.

Somewhere in an American desert, an incoming asteroid left a crater. Near that crater Asteroid City was built. A tiny, sleepy town which consists only of a road, a railway and a few buildings. Every year the commemoration of the asteroid brings a gathering of young and upcoming scientists to show off their latest investigations.

“Asteroid City” is a film about the making of a play with of course a story in a story. That starting point may not be unique, but Anderson worked it out wonderfully. The stages look like colorful play-stages which allowed the director to create wonderful ‘symmetrical camera work’, slowly moving shots, amusing animations, long motionless shots and of course the picture-like shots of Scarlet Johansson.

Just as in “The Grand Budapest Hotel” there is an interesting range of actors. Tom Hanks, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton and Jeff Goldblum as the alien.

The story is minimalist, slightly absurdist, the odd characters play odd games, even the speeches are weird. The result is a highly amusing arthouse film of which too few come to my attention.

Дзифт – Javor Gardev (2008)

A nice find on Netflix. I thought “Zift” would be an old, weird science fiction, but it is more of a gritty “neo-noir” type film.

Even though the film mostly seems to be a collection of weird scenes and unlikely events, there appears to be some sort of story in it. The man we follow is called “Moth”. He was sent to prison in the 1940’ies and released in the 1960’ies. In these two decades the world has changed drastically. Communism has taken over Bulgaria and the capital of Sophia is in decay.

Everybody seems to be after Moth, but he cleverly navigates his known and his new worlds in a weird succession of black and white scenes.

White Noise – Noah Baumbach (2022)

The name of Baumbach does not immediately ring bells, but I reviewed two hof his films before. “White Noise” is again a ‘somewhat different’ kind of film. Just as in “Marriage Story“, Adam Driver is in it.

“White Noise” is an amusing, absurd comedy. Driver is a professor on Hitler on some prestigious university. A colleague of his teaches Elvis. When this is not enough of a clue that the story should not be taken entirely seriously, the people in the film constantly bombard each other with intelligent dialogues and strange ‘mundanities’.

Then a truck with chemicals collides with a train with chemicals, resulting in a toxic cloud that floats towards the little town where Jack’s family lives. Initially trying to stay cool, panic takes over and the whole town flees to another town to take shelter. How harmful for everyone were these events exactly?

Then the film switches to an entirely different subject. Jack’s wife is afraid of death and is treated for her condition in quite an unusual way. This brings the film another odd turn.

Indeed, do not expect an easy coherent story, rather just let the absurdity and intellectual humor pass by. I actually quite enjoyed this film.

Valley Of The Gods – Lech Majewski (2019)

A bit of a weird film (can I say “arthouse”?) apparently based on a Navajo story. A beautiful valley is inhabited by ‘Amerindians’. It is their valley of the Gods. Nearby is an encroaching city where industrialists have their eyes on some mineral that can be found in the valley. The main company with interest is headed by the wealthiest man on earth who lives on top of a nearby mountain.

John Ecas is a writer with not too much inspiration. Then the project of a biography of this wealthy man (Wes Tauros, played by John Malkovich) comes up, for which he is going to spend some time in Tauros’ castle.

Tauros is not the dogged materialist that you may expect and Ecas also wants to look at the Navajo’s side of the story. Thus a mix between Navajo mythology and utopian/dystopian future Western culture unfolds both in the story and in the way of filming.

An interesting watch.

The Young/New Pope (series) – Paolo Sorrentino (2016 2019)

Sorrentino created two short series about the Vatican, produced by Jude Law who also plays the leading part. I guess he really wanted to play the Pope.

The Vatican cannot decide on who will be the new Pope, so as a solution they pick a young (50 years old) cardinal who can be easily directed. Not so. Pope Pius XIII does everything the Vatican does not want. He is not overly progressive, but rather extremely conservative taking the Church back ages in history scaring away the believers in order to create a mystery that will in the end bring them back.

When Pius XIII is just about to become appreciated he is no longer able to lead the Church and he is replaced by two new Popes in the second series, played by John Malkovich.

The series make an amusing critical view on how the Vatican works. The powerful men behind the scenes, manipulation, politics, the way Italian politics try to interfere, how the outside world (women’s rights, homosexuality, Muslim terrorism, etc.) effects the Church.

All this is done with witty dialogues, uncommon choices of music, a thick layer of ‘artsy fartsy’ filming and themes, a touch of melancholy, humour, sensual women, you get it, this is really a Sorrentino production.

Kajillionaire – Miranda July (2020)

Just as the other film of July that I reviewed, I knew “Kajillionaire” is not my genre, yet somehow it ended up on my watchlist. It took quite some time before I felt like watching it (“The Future” was hard to find to watch, this was no problem with “Kajillionaire”).

So we have a quirky comedy about a family that has creative ways of earning money. They scam insurance. Return items to shops. That sort of things. They live in an office which gets ‘bubbled’ twice or three times a day. Because they are behind paying rent, they try to go to their living office unseen.

During a job the family meets the very expressive Jenny who has a great idea of making money. Then the gang consists of four.

The girl on the cover is -obviously- the daughter. She is perhaps even more awkward than her parents. Jenny tries to get some life into the girl.

Weird situations, odd dialogues. Again July made a minimalist film with subtle humour referring to all kinds of small things in actual daily life.

Amusing, but not great.