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drama

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 Queen’s Gambit – Scott Frank (series 2022)

The highly intelligent Beth Harmon has a troubled mother that first causes her to lose her father and later her mother as well. She ends up in an orphanage at the age of nine. In the basement she encounters the janitor playing chess. Reluctantly he teaches her the game. Beth proves to be a prodigy and her chess-star soon rises.

By the time Beth becomes a young woman, she is played by the beautiful Anya Taylor-Joy.

We follow Beth both as a growing chess player, but also as a young woman coming of age. Sensitive to the temptations of drugs and alcohol, perfectionist, single minded and a bad loser. In the series we see Beth in good and bad times, Taylor-Joy wonderfully portraying Beth’s ups and downs.

Of course the game of chess is central to the series, but I do not know if you will learn much of the game. The plays are extraordinary fast and theories are explained, but my own knowledge of the game are too limited to tell if all that is very educational. The series are set in the wonderful 1960s with colourful wallpaper and furniture, design dresses, odd haircuts, nice cars and new music.

According to the series, the ‘chess scene’ in the USA is of alright level. Beth can make a living playing chess, but the biggest US tournaments are played in universities using “cheap plastic pieces on cheap plastic boards”. Europe is better, bigger tournaments are in Paris. Russia is the top-notch chess country, so the series end in Moskou.

Taylor-Joy is indeed great (she won several prices for her role), other characters (such as Jolene) as well. The creators managed to make chess games actually look tense with a lot of ‘facial acting’. The story unfolds nicely. Indeed a good series that for some reason are listed as “Creating the Queen’s Gambit” on IMdB.com.

The Dig – Simon Stone (2021)

Before she lost her husband, the wealthy widow Edith Pretty bought a piece of land next to her house where a few tiny hills were located. She asks the local and fairly well-known amateur archaeologist Basil Brown to come to investigate.

After some digging, Brown stumbled upon what appears to be the remains of a boat which he suggests could be Anglo-Saxon. Soon colleagues get wind of the discovery and two musea try to take over the project. Pretty sees to it that Brown remains involved in the further excavation which proves to be the finding of the nowadays famous Sutton Hoo ship and treasure.

The time is 1938. Europe is tumbling into the Second World War. Time for the excavation is short the signs of the war become more and more obvious. Pretty suffers from bad health, but tries to use her influence as long as possible. In the end, she cannot prevent other people than Brown receiving the credits for the spectacular finding and the film is an hommage to the man and his work.

“The Dig” is an alright drama about an interesting historical event. As a viewer you do not really become much wiser about the finding and especially not of the ‘treasure’. No image of what was found and what the findings look like.

Russian Doll – Headland, Lyonne, Poehler (2 series) (2019, 2020)

Meet Nadia Vulvokov an American of Russian and Hungarian descent on the party for her 36th birthday. Nadia is a free-minded, big red hair and smoking cool lady. On her party she dies and returns to the party and then again, and again. She finds out how to prevent dying, but she keeps doing so in different situations. Sometimes a ’round’ takes an hour, sometimes a few days. Then she finds out she is not alone in her situation. Season one is amusing.

In season two, Nadia is transported back in time into her mother’s body when she takes a certain train. The creators used some interesting music choices for 1982. Did you ever hear Danzig in a series? The track “Mother” is from 1988 though, but I will not complain.
In any case, season two is somewhat amusing as well. Towards the end it gets vague and a lot better.

Not wildly original or great, but a descent twist to a fairly known story with an odd and lovable chain smoker.

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.

Lucifer (series) – Tom Kapinos (2016-2021)

The devil is on vacation in the city of angels (LA) and he intends to stay. As the playboy Lucifer Morningstar he owns a club called Lux and he has no lack of money. Filling his time with partying and women, Lucifer runs into the detective Chloe Decker who is somehow immune to his “mojo”. Fascinated as he is, Lucifer joins forces with “the detective” in the LAPD.

A long stretched storyline which is bound to lead to a Lucifer/Decker romance unfolds with plenty of sub-plots, laughter and drama. The series start off as a bit of ‘screwball’ with a fairly childish devil who thinks the world revolves around him and who -even though he never lies- nobody believes to be the devil anyway. That will change though.

Lucifers family also starts to visit earth. To mock him, to try to get him back, sometimes to stay. Lighter and darker storylines develop and the inspiration for all that does not seem all Christian, rather Jewish perhaps.

Anyway, some sub-plots are interesting, some less so. The red thread is sometimes interesting, sometimes less so. There are amusing characters, characters that undergo a big transformation during six seasons. Some come and go, some come to stay. The biggest transformation is for Lucifer himself.

There is the obligatory enlarged drama, that for some reason sometimes ‘works’. There are some interesting musical choices in the soundtrack too. Also there are a lot of scenes that made me say ‘fast forward please’. All in all the series are good enough to keep watching.

So drama, romance, thriller, action, it is all there. Highs and lows; making the final score the average:

È Stata La Mano Di Dio – Paolo Sorrentino (2021)

  • drama

There proved to be some productions of Sorrentino on Netflix. I am now watching the “Young Pope” series, which appears to be followed by a “New Pope” series, so I more or less expected “Hand Of God” to somehow belong to that ‘cluster’. That turned out to be wrong.

“Hand Of God” is a drama playing in Italy, spoken in Italian too, about an extended family in Napoli in the time of the heydays of Diego Maradona. Sorrentino shows the sensual and spirited life of Napels with soccer crazy and sun-loving people who like some family members and continuously scorn others.

As we are used to from Sorrentino, the camera work is beautiful and the film contains both chuckles and drama. Story wise, “Hand Of God” is mostly a short period in the ordinary life of a group of Italians.

Byzantium – Neil Jordan (2012)

  • drama

The cover suggests (to me at least) more of a sci-fi or perhaps an “Enter The Void” drama, but “Byzantium” is actually much more like “Only Lovers Left Alive“: a slow and minimalist vampire drama.

Eleanor is a very exuberant woman who has no problems with making money by prostituting herself. Clara is the complete opposite. Still the two have been together for a long time. A long, long time as the viewer soon finds out.

In flashbacks Jordan tells the story of the two women and other characters they have encountered in their lives. Of course the past catches up with Eleanor and Clara to bring some tension to the film.

“Byzantium” is an alright drama with thriller elements.

Gypsy (series) – Lisa Rubin (2017)

The ever beautiful Naomi Watts (1968-) plays Jean Holloway, a therapist who has ‘it all’ in life. She is married to a loving lawyer husband. The couple has a big house, a kid, etc. Yet, Jean seems to long for a little adventure in her life.

She starts to look at the other sides of her patients’ stories. One woman keeps talking about her daughter, so Jean sets out to meet her. The same with the ex girlfriend of another patient. Jean also manipulates her reports for work and as her indiscretions start to conflict with her ‘perfect life’, she starts lying to colleagues, husband and friends.

Rubin turned the story into a quite intimate look into the life of Jean. Bathroom shots, her getting ready to go out, masturbating to a fantasy, Watts pulls it all off wonderfully.

Then there is the story to which I think many people can relate. Life can be ‘perfect’, but perfect is also boring. Jean starts to lead two lives. In one she is a reckless woman pushing her boundaries. In the other she tries to be the good wife, mother, friend and colleague. Of course these two worlds cannot remain entirely separate.

The whole series the question lingers: why would she risk her life for fairly flat adventure? The answer is simple: she does not know. Do we always know why we like the things we like, do the things we do? Do we have to rationalise everything? Perhaps Jean should have started doing that at some point.

In any case, “Gypsy” (I have no idea what the title alludes to) is a descent drama series of 10 episodes about fairly day-to-day events and with a wee bit of thriller elements.

Sound Of Metal – Darius Marder (2019)

  • drama

Ruben and Lou are a couple who also form a band. “Heavy metal” according to the blurb, but I would rather call it “noise rock”. Ruben plays drums, his girlfriend guitar and vocals, a bit in the “nowave” style.

Ruben notices dips in his hearing and they become worse. While touring in their massive camper (RV) Ruben leaves Lou out of his decision to see a doctor. He hears nothing of what the good man says, except that there is a very costly operation that involves implants.

Things get worse and Ruben can no longer leave out Lou. With the help of their manager, Lou ends up in a community of deaf people which aims as accepting the situation (and teaching basic things such as sign language) and not at the problem. This works alright for a while, but Ruben keeps seeing his condition as something that can be, and has to be, fixed.

“Sound Of Metal” is an alright drama which shows a bit of the side of people with hearing impairment. Muffled sounds, no sound at all, sudden spikes, people chatting at a table without being able to make anything from the conversations.