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The Gathering * Brian Gilbert * 2002

The idea behind this film is alright, a little far fetched maybe, but the biggest problem is that it is made too big for the film. In Glastonbury (UK) an ancient church is discovered by accident. The church (inside the Tor?) is supposed to be a first century church founded by Josef of Arimathea. Arimathea witnesses the crucifixion of Jesus and immediately travelled to the UK to found a way too big church for a small town where nobody practised the Christian faith yet. Another rather incredible element is that a group of people who witnessed the crucifixion where punished for being watchers and they were doomed to be witness to the tragedies of history, such as the first atom bomb, the assasination of JFK, etc. Alright, nice theories.
Near Glastonbury lays the small city of Ashby Wake. One of the people investigating the church of Glastonbury bought a building that used to be a forster-home where the children were abused. One of these children grew up and wants to kill everyone involved and the son of the investigator. This seems but a small thing to happen, but the ‘watchers’ are present which makes me wonder: how can a group of calamity-tourists be present with every murder, tragic event or disaster? Like I said in the beginning, the idea was too big for the outcome.
I know I gave away almost all of the film, but there aren’t too many surprises in it anyway. Two major discoveries I will leave to you. The film is not a boring watch, but the story should better have been overthought better.

Following * Christopher Nolan * 1998

It has been a while since I saw this one, but recently it was shown on TV and why not write a review about this wonderfull film? “Following” is made my Christopher Nolan who also made the brilliant “Memento”. It made earlier and this is quite clear, since it is a bit more primitive and not as brilliant.

Anyway, “Following” is still a wonderfull film. It is about a guy (Jeremy Theobald) who starts to follow people out of boredom and to form characters for his writings. When he started to follow Cobb (Alex Haw) this last immediately saw him through and starts a conversation. Cobb turns out to be a burglar, mostly for fun. Going through people’s personal things and trying to make them feel uncomfortable. The two men are going to brake into places together, but “the young man” falls back into his old habbit of following people and eventually he gets involved with a woman who’s house they broke in.
That is as much of the story that I will tell, otherwise there is no use in seeing it anymore. Just as with “Memento” it is best to not know much about the story when you see it.

The film is shot in black and white and totally cut-up and the scenes reassembled all the way through eachother. Therefor you will have different scenes from every possible time in the story, slowly being able to understand/see what the story really it. Of course this is done a lot nowadays, but in 1998 it was still quite original. The way of filming, acting, stages, etc. are all quite minimal which adds to the atmosphere of the film.

“Following” sure isn’t a “Memento” yet, but a good step on the way.

Film 1 (Piranha Blues) * Willem Wallyn * 1999

A Belgian film in Dutch language (or Flemish if you like) that plays with on the background one of Belgians biggest political scandals of recent times, the Augusta-affair, a massive corruption scandal with military helicopters. The trial was in late 1998.

The father of the succesfull lawyer Willem Wallyn (Peter van den Begin) is one of the accused. The TV- journalist Johannes van Buren (Herbert Flack) wants to make a juice story and choses Wallyn as his victim to exploit. Just before the the first coverage in the main-newsbulletin, Wallyn and Van Buren run into eachother and get an argument. Shortly after Wallyn saw the news in his office with his colleagues, he picks up the plan to take the power of media and turn it around. With two friends he kidnaps Van Buren and starts to dig out his life in search for scandals. The rest of the film is mostly filled with discussions of the journalist who both wants to be a correct person/journalist, but also wants attention and fame and on the other side the succesfull lawyer who sees his name already affected by the trial against his father, but even further by Van Buren’s coverage. Wallyn more or less justifies his actions by the unjust against his father.

Indeed the director of this film is one of the main characters in the story. There are several people playing themselves in it as well. Seemingly Wallyn wants to show the power of the media with this film. The title “Film 1” refers to the fact that there are always two sides of the story, in this case, the side of Van Buren and the side of Wallyn. Nobody is interested in the first version, the not-juicy and not-all-giving version, but this is the version that we get here, the version of the journalist Van Buren. The irony in Wallyn’s approach is obvious, since he doesn’t give his own version of a story that is not told to be true or made up.
Stylistically this film is particularly special. It opens with a cut-up monologue of Willem Wallyn to the viewer and then a long opening with pictures of helicopters and fighters made by the Augusta company I asume. The soundtrack is totally incorporated in the film and pictures change with the music which is really well done. Especially in the beginning there is quite a lot of what they call “hip-hop assembly”, rapidly changing images with a heavy score. Some funny camera-effects and the suggestion that half the film is shot during the film with a handycam adds to the effect. The second half of the film is more focussed on ‘oral violence’ so to say.

A very nice debut for sure. I don’t know how you should get to see this film though, I personally saw it on the Belgian public television.

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind * Michel Gondry * 2004

How the hell did I manage to miss this film? Is it because Jim Carrey is in it or because I don’t know the director or was it just hardly announced in the Netherlands? In any case, the title comes from the poem Eloise To Abelard by Alexander Pope (1688-1744) (How happy is the blameless Vestal’s lot! The world forgetting, by the world forgot; Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind! Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d. (excerpt)). This is indeed a very typical way of giving the story of the film. A company appropriately named “Lacuna” found a way to erase those memories that their clients choose. The impulsive Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) decides to erase the memories of her unlikely relation with Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) when the relation becomes boring. Joel on his part decides to do the same, since Clementine doesn’t remember him anymore anyway and he is caught by the pangs of love. The larger part of the film plays in the memories of Joel which are being erased by the operators of Lacuna. The ‘memorized’ Joel finds out what is happening and tries to prevent is. He runs from one memory to the other, even to his suppressed memories. Meanwhile he hears the persons who are doing the operations on his physical body talking, flashback rush through, but everytime things vanish as another memory is erased. This is done very nicely and confusingly and it may remind you a bit of the film “Being John Malkovich”. This is not an accident, since the story is again by Charlie Kaufman. It is safe to say that “Eternal Sunshine” is as good (or as bad if you don’t like this kind of films) as that film; surprising, well-invented, a nice atmosphere and very good acting (I could even stand Carrey).

Delicatessen * Jean-Pierre Jeunet (1991)

It had been far too long since I saw this brilliant comedy! Jeunet didn’t make a whole lot of films, but his “La Cité Des Enfents Perdus” (city of lost children) (1995) and his highly acclaimed “Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulin” (Amelie) (2001) definately belong to the highlights of the comedy genre (a genre I am not too fond off). Two years after Amélie there seems to be a new film coming up with the title “Un Long Dimanche De Fiançailles”.

But to “Delicatessen”. The story is about a post-apocalyptic France in which everybody does everything to get food. In one building lives the gruesome butcher Clapet (Jean-Claude Dreyfus) who hires young men to kill and eat and sell their meat after a few weeks of them doing small jobs around the house. His new worker is Louison (Dominique Pinon) used to be a clown in the circus and is as inventive as naive. I won’t tell you too much of the magnificent story. The film is full of contrasts. The atmosphere is always very grim caused by the idiotic characters, the colours and the stages. There are some extremely silly scenes and the humour is so subtle and brilliant that this is a funny film that doesn’t loose it’s grim atmosphere. The characters are berzerk, some scenes insane (a woman trying to kill herself in different ways, a girl that is almost blind, etc.), this is really a masterpiece.

Also great are the Lost Children that I really need to see again some time soon, another dark comedy of Jeunet. Amélie is much lighter (but no less funny) , so I don’t know what to expect from the upcoming film.

Dark City * Alex Proyas * 1998

A wonderfull film that I have seen long ago, but not reseen it on tv. The story is about a city that is made and maintained by an extraterrestial race called ‘the strangers’. They experiment with humans to find out what makes humans different from themselves, a search for the soul. In order to do this they swap memories and change the city to see if this effects a persons personality. At midnight everything is put to sleep and the strangers ‘tune’ a new city. Buildings arise or disappear, strangers go out to erase or add memory with the help of a human doctor (Kiefer Sutherland). The strangers don’t like the light, so everything is always dark, it’s always night. One human seems to be uneffected by the powers of ‘the strangers’ and even has the ability to ‘tune’. Naturally he saves the world.

A great film with a strange atmosphere. However ‘thrillerish’ it is brought as a comedy, but of course not one of these hilaric ones. Really wonderfull!

Carnivàle (series) season 1 * Daniel Knauf * 2003-

I remember when these series were introduced on the Dutch television. Quite a big anouncement and my interest was raised enough to watch it. I am not good at following series on TV, so somewhere in the second half I missed an episode, later another, then I dropped out. I liked the series. They are not comparable in magnificence to Twin Peaks which name is often mentioned, but it was a nice watch. For years I had the idea to watch them on DVD some time. That apparently took four years!
Carnivàle (as you probably know) is about a travelling circus. The “route” goes through the deserts of central and southern Northern America which immediately sets the atmosphere for the series: barren, desolate and grim. The atmosphere is rather dark for such a big series and the characters are as weird as they are collourfull. A comateus tarrot card reader, a bearded lady, a reptile man, a blind clairvoyant, a tiny director (a great role by Michael Anderson, the dwarf from Twin Peaks’ red room), an invisible “management”. A young man is picked up, Ben Hawkins, a man with a strange gift/curse. He “was not picked up for no reason” and this is what the series are about. A very nice watch for sure if you enjoy the non-average TV entertainment and can stand a grim atmosphere and halucinative scenes. A series for Twin Peaks fans maybe, but believe me, Twin Peaks is 10x better and I can’t wait for the second series to be available. The second series of Carnivàle are already available and the end of the first series prove that this is not a sequel because of a successfull series, but it was always intended to be a multi-series series. I have no idea if there are plans for a third series. I hope not! Canivàle is nice, but a second series will probably already be on the edge of cow-milking. I think I might watch that second series though… sometimes (maybe when I know if there will be more series!). For the time being, if you haven’t seen Carnivàle yet, the 12x 45 to 55 minutes on the couch are worth it.

Blue Velvet * David Lynch * 1986

Just before “Mullholand Drive” came in the Dutch cinemas, Lynch old film “Blue Velvet” was brought back to the Dutch filmhouses on some kind of ‘tour’. In most filmhouses this film is just shown once and then the tapes are brought to the next cinema to please the local Lynch-freaks there.

Of course I have seen this film quite a long time ago even so long ago that I didn’t remember too much from it anymore. I didn’t even remember if I liked it! Well, to any Lynch-freak reading this I have one advice: go and see Blue Velvet on the big screen! The overall effect of such a dark film as “Blue Velvet”, “Lost Highway” of Mullholand Drive” is 100x better in a cinema than on your own television with the lights on. “Blue Velvet” indeed is the masterpiece of mister Lynch as many filmcritics say. It’s yet not as absurd or extreme as the other two mentioned films, but already here are the vague scenes with out-of-focus filming, dark drones, weird sounds and extremely dark filming that can only really get to you when seeing it in a ciname.

For the people who haven’t seen “Blue Velvet” yet (and to clear up the memory of those who saw it a long time ago), the story: The young and naive man Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle Machlachlan, best known for being special agent Dale Cooper in Lynch’s “Twin Peaks”, but also playing in Lynch’s “Dune”) finds a human ear in a field close to the remote small town where he lives. He brings it so a police-officer who lives in his neighbourhood and however the officer warns him to let it go, Jeffrey starts his own investigation together with the officer’s daughter (Sandy Williams played by Laura Dern). Jeffrey gets involved in a twisted world of crime where the extremely disturbed Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rosselini) is blackmailed by a group of criminals who have her little son and husband (who’s ear Jeffrey found). The first of the criminals Jeffrey sees is the over-emotional Frank Booth (a great part by Dennis Hopper) who starts to cry by every song he hears, but when not overwhelmed by sadness he is extremely violent, speaks only in terms of abuse and uses a gas that makes him feel to be an oversexed baby. Jeffrey also meets a couple of Franks friend, one of which is called “Paul” (Jack Nance played in every Lynch production until he died in 1996), Franks gay boss Ben (Dean Stockwell) and a corrupt police-officer.

I won’t tell too much of the story, but it is a fact that back in 1986 there still is an understandable story with a beginning and an end. The film has a great Lynch-atmosphere, some pretty sick scenes, rough violence and a beautiful contrasts in whichever way you can imagine.

And as said, “Blue Velvet” is 100x better on the bigscreen, so when you get that change, don’t let it pass by!

Avalon * Mamoru Oshii * 2001

You know these Japanese are crazy, but this does it! A Japanese film shot in Poland and spoken Polish! I had heard about this film soon when it came to the cinemas and it played in the local film-house (where you go to see the smaller productions) for quite a while. Still it took until I found it cheap on video before I finally saw it.

“With a story like Exitenz or the Matrix” the box says. It is actually quite a lot like Existenz. “Avalon” is a virtual-reality computer war game. The players entirely go up in their game trying to get as good and far as they can. There is a lot of Arthurian mythology in the film, but the game itself is just a shooting war game. Ash (Malgorzata Foremniak) is almost the best player, a good-looking but lonely girl who makes money playing the came and flees from the grim reality of Poland. The players contact eachother to get information to reach a secret level and when Ash reaches it, we no longer know what is reality. The secret game is the real world, or not?

Nice fairly grim atmosphere, nice colour-settings, mediocre story.

Abre Los Ojos * Alejandro Amenábar (1997)

I saw this wonderfull film in the cinema when it still played and later I also saw the American version (“Vanilla Sky”) in the cinema. “Open Your Eyes” by Amenábar (“Tesis”, “The Others”, etc.) was one of the earlier films with the ‘what is true, what is dream’ theme and is here centered around a cryonics project. It is well-done, fairly surprising if you haven’t seen (or heard about) it and especially Penélope Cruz is a feast for the eyes.