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Tabula Rasa (series) – Veerle Baetens (2017)

  • drama

This Flemish one season series is up on Netflix. It is created and directed by main actor Veerle Baetens.

Baetens plays Annemie (or Mie) who, after an accident and a suicide attempt, has problems with her short term memory. One day she is found in the woods out of her wits. Because another person has gone missing, Mie is put in a mental institution by the police for the time of the investigation.

In the present time and in flashbacks, we get to know Mie who tries to live with her memory problem while an inspector is trying to get information out of her about the other person that went missing. She does not remember a thing, or does she?

An alright series unfolds in 9 episodes in which we slowly but surely get an idea of what could have happened. Mie also found a way to keep some memories longer and she tries to solve the puzzle herself as well. A few ‘whodunnit’ plot shifts left and right as such a series is supposed to. The impact of the memory loss on Mie and those close to her bring drama to the series, pretty heavily too sometimes. All this is worked out decently.

But then we get the last episode which introduces a major plot shift and immediately starts to explain everything which takes the series down considerably.

“Tabula Rasa” is a fair mystery drama with a very weak ending.

Zywie Belarus – Krzysztof Lukaszewicz (2013)

The film is narrated by the main character. Miron is a youngster living in Belarus, the former Soviet Russian state that has been led by Aleksandr Loekasjenko since 1994.

Miron sings in a poppunk band and explains the thin line between permitted youth culture and illegal activities. You can sing about revolution, but you cannot sing about revolution against Belarus authorities.

At one concert one of his bandmates crosses the line. Many youths have managed to talk themselves out of 18 months of military service, but after the incident Miron is forcibly enlisted and of course, once inside, faces the wrath of superiors who see him as a rebel.

Life in the army is rough, but Miron manages to get information about his daily activities to a friend who starts a blog with amusing stories about conscripts, the different groups within his camp, the poor state of the army, etc.

Of course in reality things are not that funny and conscripts are harassed and abused. Miron manages to stay below the radar and get his stories out. These stories get picked up by youths and media who are not happy about the Belarus regime. When the authorities think the unknown soldier starts to raise too much attention, they figure out who is behind the blog and needless to say, they are suppressed forcibly.

“Viva Belarus” is amusing as a film, but the message is of course not that amusing. With some cynicism the authors give their view on how things fair in Belarus. The result is sometimes violent and give an idea of the balancing act of living under dictatorship.

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.

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.

Earthquake Bird – Wash Westmoreland (2019)

  • drama

Lucy is a pretty dark haired Swede who fled her past and lives in Japan where she works as a translator. The film has that “Lost In Translation” feel, a tragic, romantic drama of a person living the much different culture of Japan. Lucy is pretty integrated though.

Lucy runs into Teiji, a Japanse photographer who photographs many things, but seldom humans. Lucy catches his imagination and the two fall in love. Lucy is completely taken into her young relationship, but Teiji seems to be a bit easier in the new situation. When an American girl is introduced into Lucy’s group of acquaintances, she is drawn to Teiji as well and the situation quickly gets compilated.

Like I said, “Earthquake Bird” has the slightly surrealistic atmosphere of “Lost In Translation”, but Westmoreland’s film slowly gets darker and becomes a bit of a thriller. Especially when Lucy’s life, thoughts and past start to get mingled, the film becomes slightly vague.

I think “Earthquake Bird” is a descent drama with thriller elements.

The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty – Ben Stiller (2013)

The film has been on my ‘to watch list’ for quite a while. Not too high up, so it took some time before I did watch it. The film is exactly the quirky romantic tragic comedy that I thought it would be and a nice one too.

Walter Mitty is shown as the most boring of boring men in the first scenes of the film. Dreary hallways in his apartment building, a job in the dusty basement of Life Magazine. Walter is also a daydreamer. His body can go into ‘pause mode’ while he travels to imaginary lands in imaginary situations. This often to the astonishment and amusement of for example colleagues.

Life Magazine is going through the transformation of a printed periodical to an online magazine which -of course- means cuts and redundancies. Their star photographer just sent his latest shots and included a letter that photo number 25 is his best ever and deserves a place on the cover. There is one problem: just that photo negative misses from the shipment. Walter is pressured into finding it.

Where the film slowly becomes more and more surrealistic when we watch in Walter’s head, his locating of the photo negative brings him a real adventure (or does it?). He travels to Greenland, then to Iceland (and eats in a restaurant that I visited too) and back to work to find out that the elusive photographer that he is after has visited his mother which leads Walter to the Himalayas for his next clue.

At the same time Walter gets in contact with a colleague that he likes and he proves to have had a somewhat rebellious youth. The grey mouse is not as grey as he seemed to be in the first place.

“The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty” is a nice, funny and slightly weird film to watch some time when you feel like watching something light.

The Most Hated Woman In America – Tommy O’Haver (2017)

  • drama

Madelyn Murray O’Hair (1919-1995) lived in Texas, one of the most conservative states of the USA. She not only was an unmarried mother, but she was very vocal in her ideas that religion should not be measure of society. When she noticed that her son has so say the Lord’s Prayer every morning, she sues the school and wins. The obligatory prayers are gone.

Madelyn finds other things to sail out against. Being foul mouthed, direct and vocal as she is, she made a lot of enemies. This even led to threats and murder attempts. Being a public atheist she also draws attention of the media and Madelyn starts to become famous and draw attention of people who agree with her who start to send donations. Madelyn founds the American Atheists association which increases attention and funds.

Opposers keep trying to find ways thwart her efforts. At the same time, her uncompromising person starts to place a burden on people around her. Then there are those who know about Madelyns creative bookkeeping and decide to squeeze some money out of her.

The film is mostly a drama with a lot of black humour. It is amusing, especially when you realise that it is based on true events.

Ji Hun – Wei-Hao Cheng (2021)

“The Soul” starts as a decent Eastern occultic thriller. A man is found ritually clubbed to death and the police investigates if the circumstances are perhaps not as easy at they initially seem. Just before the film is halfway, this story is pretty much unfolded, so I wondered would the other half would be.

Well, the movie takes an annoyingly dramatic turn in which the persecutor suffers from cancer and his case may bring a solution to his problem. Also this is not as easy as it seems and the film gets more and more melodramatic and less and less interesting. As a matter of fact, this second half is downright corny.

So we have an alright first half, a terrible second half and in total, I would not recommend you watching this film.

Marriage Story – Noah Baumbach (2019)

  • drama

So on Netflix I saw a friendly looking Adam “Kylo Ren” Driver and when I clicked on movie info, the names Scarlett Johansson and Laura Dern appeared as well. I added it to my list for when I wanted to watch something different. I expected “Marriage Story” to be some sort of romantic comedy. Not my genre at all. but I have to think out of the box every now and then do I not?

Driver (Charlie) and Johansson (Nicole) are married. He is a director of plays, she an actor, working at the same productions. The film starts with Nicole having second thoughts about the marriage and making plans to end it. Charlie does not see it coming and is confronted with a situation he never wanted to be in. Both want to separate as friends, but different expectations do not make things easy. When the legal part of the separation sets in, things get nasty.

Johansson reminds me a bit of Frances McDormand, her character is somewhat goofy. I do not think I saw many films with Driver, but he appears to be a good actor. As expected, “Marriage Story” is not my kind of film though. It is dramatic, pretty much probably shows the situation of many in real life. There is an alright sense of humour in the film and Laura Dern is great to watch, but overall I would not have minded not having seen the film.

Ad Astra – James Gray (2019)

A not too convincing sci-fi drama with Brad Pitt as almost sole actor.

In near future mankind has a base on the moon which they use to fly to other planets. Problems coming from Neptune appear to be caused by a mission to that area of many years ago. That mission was led by the father of Pitt’s character and star astronaute Pitt is sent there to see if he can fix the problem.

The film is slow and moody, but the story contains a couple of very illogical elements which take down the film a lot. Even the basic storyline is not too strong.

We mostly follow Roy McBride (Pitt). We hear his thoughts / doubts, follow him on his way to the moon, to Mars, to Neptune. Of course there is some tension and some drama.

The film is not boring, but it certainly is not great either.