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Riget (The Kingdom) * Lars von Trier * 1994

A while ago I bought Kingdom II very cheap on video (see review elsewhere) and the search started for Kingdom I on video. It WILL be repressed some time, but it is currently sold out. After several months waiting I decided not to wait for the double-video (in one box) but buy the rather expensive English dvd-version. A BIG DISAPPOINTMENT for lovers of these brilliant series by Lars von Trier! You get two dvd’s. The first has episodes 1 and 2 and the second 3 to 5. The first dvd also has some documentary which doesn’t add much. Of course the series are brilliant and there is nothing wrong with the quality, but the makers of the dvd made a few horrible mistakes! When putting dvd1 in your player you get some kind of intro, nice but not necessary. Then a menu in which you can choose to play “episode one and two”, “episode one”, “episode two”, “episode three to five” or the documentary. Of course I wasn’t planning on chosing the first option, because then I would miss the stories of the director that come after every episode. To my major disapproval the episodes start immediately. Not the intro with the chloride-swamp and the story of the building of the hospital and no silly song! At the end you jump back to the menu in the last second of the episode, so no story by Lars and even no credits! What on earth have the producers of this dvd been thinking? What is the use of being able to watch the episodes joint together? You are not able to chose subtitles or even watch without them. Why the hell did they leave out the intro and the end? WHAT A SHAME!!

To the series then. Of course this is one of the best tv-series ever. A soap-series about a hospital in the vein of ER, but with a sick twist. Strange ghost-stories, insane characters and unexpected twists. I am not going to say more, you will have to watch it and love it (but preferable another version!). <4 for the series>

The Prisoner (series) * George Markstein & Patrick McGoohan

‘Where am I?’ – ‘In the village.’
‘What do you want?’ – ‘We want information.’
‘Whose side are you on?’ – ‘That would be telling.’
‘We want information. Information, information’
‘You won’t get it!’
‘By hook or by crook, we will’
‘Who are you?’ – ‘I’m the new Number Two.’
‘Who is Number One?’ – ‘You are Number Six’
‘I am not a number. I am a free man!’
(manic laughter)

The Prisoner TV series are so old that you have to look for people to remember them. The series was first broadcasted in 1967 en 1968. In came in a flood of secret agent series such as The Saint or The Avengers and after Danger Man in which Patrick McGoohan also played a very special secret agent. Apparently McGoohan wanted something more, since he is not only one of the inventors, but also a director for the series (the last episode, the strangest of them all). I never really knew about the series even though it was smacked around my ears constantly. The “The Girl Who Was… Death” cd of Devil Doll is one big The Prisoner ode and this was even mentioned to me once. Colleagues mentioned it and eventually Collin Cleary wrote a lengthy review of the series in Tyr journal volume one of 2002 that I only got this year. That was the limit, I started to look around and bought myself the series. You can get a pretty expensive American box, an also pretty expensive UK box and the also pretty expensive separate five DVDs. The first four DVDs (I got the separate ones) contain four episodes each, the last DVD the last episode, an alternative version of another episode, a documentary and some other things. The other DVDs have some extras as well.
To the series then. Patrick McGoohan is a nameless secret agent who resigns. This is shown at the beginning of every episode. Because of his resignation, McGoohan is kidnapped and brought to “The Village”, a community seemly with the only purpose to get information from people (mostly secret agents who resigned). In The Village people have no names, but numbers. Number 2 is the outwardly leader of The Village and a new number 2 appears in (almost) every episode. The Prisoner is number 6. In every episode the leader of The Village comes up with a new way of trying to get “the priceless information” from number 6’s head. This mostly involves psychological experiments involving futuristic machines, drugs, hypnosis, etc. This results in marvelously weird situations in which number six always comes out as ‘the winner’. Therefor in the end, he is granted “the gift of individuality”.
In the series you can clearly see some critical views on modern society, democracy and science. Cleary has written magnificently about various elements in The Prisoner. There are -by the way- many strange elements to the series, such as a big white ball that comes out of the sea to punish people, the fact that you never get to know “who are the prisoners and who are the warders”, the strange machine in the control room, the eye-like cameras, weird characters, etc., etc. I think for these things the series have been seen as The X-Files and Twin Peaks of earlier decades. I don’t really agree with this, because The Prisoner is quite different from either series. The strange elements and sometimes the atmosphere (and characters) may remind especially of David Lynch’s masterpiece, but The Prisoner looks much more like James Bond to me than like Twin Peaks.
In any case. Even though the series are considerably older than myself, they are in colour and look “fresh as ever”. They are wonderfully shot, didn’t get oldfashioned and still highly enjoyable today. It is a series that make you think, “what do they mean”, “who is number 1”, “why doesn’t he just…”. They got a great sense of humour, recognisable situations, but also completely over-the-top scenes, philosophy and action. You can lend it to you parents who may watch it as James Bond, you can discuss it with your friends or on the many internet sites dedicated to The Prisoner. It seems that after the DVD release the popularity is raising a little and not without reason. The Prisoner is a magnificent, 17 times 50 minutes of TV. In my opinion maybe not as good as Twin Peaks, but probably a very agreeable second personal place in TV history. Buy and enjoy!

Lost * J.J. Abrams & Damon Lindelof * series 1 2004

I remember when the first series came on Dutch television. Big anouncements, advertisement in tv-guides, raving commentaries. In that time we just had “Operation Robinson”, a “Big Brother” like “real life soap” and I expected “Lost” to be the original or at least an American counterpart. Later I heard that “Lost” was “Twin Peaks on a deserted island” and similar expressions and then people who followed the series were very enthousiastic about it and I understood that it was an actual series and not some time-filling “real life” thing. So in the end I watched the first series.
The two episode pilot is superb. Extremely realistic scenes of a crash-site of an airoplane, flashbacks of the crash which are also very realistic, survivors who stranded on a remote island with ‘something’ on it. A very nice mix between a disaster series and a Stephen King story. As the series continues the episodes do not have much to do with eachother, some are simple soap things with relationships that form or break, pragnancies, etc. In some episodes some strange things happen, but the high tension of the first two episodes never returns. What people like about the series is that in flashbacks you get to know a few of the characters and how they are connected to eachother. Personally I don’t think that this has much to do with the fact of them being on a deserted island. The series become a bit boring, but towards the end, things get better. The last two shows are again to parts of one episode and I feared that the series would suddenly end to announce the second series. Indeed, the last two episodes are again good, but just when things get really interesting again, it is “to be continued”, thank you for watching, goodbye. Very irritating, especially now that I see that there is already a third series. The different series do not stand on their own as in, for example, “24”, so I have my doubts if I want to see the second series only to have to wait to be able to see the next. Besides, “Lost” is not that good, so will I keep following them? You may see.

De Legende Van De Bokkerijders * Karst van der Meulen * 1994

When I got these TV-series on DVD, I thought that it was one of these old Dutch series now available on DVD. This Dutch/Flemish series even look old, but they seem to be of 1994, Van de Meulen’s last work even. The series give an over-romantisized vision on the famous “Bokkerijders” (in nowadays spelling this would be “Bokkenrijders” btw.) gang. “Bokkerijders” literary means “goat riders”. Like in the famous song “Goat-riders in the sky”, this devilish gang would fly through the nightly sky on their goats. Myths were spun around the theme, giving the goat-riders many elements of the “wild hunt” in which Odin/Wodan leads his army of the dead through the sky in certain times of the year. In fact the “Bokkerijders” were a violent criminal gang (or gangs) that ravaged the Dutch province of Limburg (and Noord-Brabant and a part of Flanders according to some) in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. The trials are quite well recorded and the criminal acts documented (usually violent robs of churches and farms). The “Bokkerijders” supposedly swore on “the dead hand” and they had a pact with the devil, they appeared out of nothing and disappeared into thin air. That is why ‘the devil thing’ I suppose. The “Bokkerijders” already got romantisized elements during the Romantic period and more so in more recent times. To speak with the Dutch scholar of folklore Gerard Rooijakkers, the bad elements in our folklore that we cannot get rid off, are romantisized and re-used to make them harmless. The violent gang of the “Bokkerijders”, became fighters for the weak and poor and against suppression of the Austrian leaders and the Church. This is the version that you will get in these series. Amusing, not boring, another well- produced Dutch series about the Middle Ages and in this case, adding to the mystifying or a dark element of our past.

De Kelten * 2004

Well, not my usual kind of filmreview, especially the link is ‘unorthodox’ because it isn’t to the Internet Movie Database, but to the site of the shop where I bought this DVD. “The Celts” is an English documentary of 12 episodes. I don’t know if it was broadcasted anywhere, but my eye fell on the 3 dvd ‘threefold digipack’ for a very reasonable price. There are two episodes per DVD and the box claims that there is 360 minutes of running time. The episodes are not 60 minutes each though, more like 50, so we don’t come to 360 minutes, but 300 minutes running time. Anyway, I got a Dutch version which is the documentary with subtitles that can’t be turned off. The documentary itself is alright. You get the general information about the Celts, especially on the Brittish islands and spanning a period of about 2000 years. Yes, it goes all the way to the present day. There is information about the beginning, the migrations, some mythology (very little though), daily life, etc. Nice images, not too much information, but about what you need to know for a first introduction. As I mentioned the documentary focusses on the UK. A nice element is that the information comes partly from images with a voiceover, but other parts are interviews with scholars. These scholars are sometimes Irish, Welch or Schotsmen with the most brilliant accents and especially their ability to pronounce the ancient Welch of Gaelic language without blinking an eye is great. Nice to get a sound to words that you usually only see in books. So, “De Kelten” is a nice documentary for E 15,-, but do not have too high expectation regarding the background information of the tribes.

Henry VIII * Pete Travis * 2003

For a mere E 9,- I bought the DVDof these mini series. There are two episodes of 1,5 hour. Why they have to be on two DVDs is a think I don’t understand, but who cares? Ray Winstone is Henry VIII. Winstone played in films such as ‘King Arthur’, ‘Ripley’s Game’ and ‘Sexy Beast’. Even though the total running time is three hours, this production gives a rather shallow overview of the reigh of Henry VIII (1491-1547). Much stress is laid on the fact that at his deathbed, king Henry VII told his son that the most important thing to do was to produce a male heir. This proved to be a bigger problem than it sounds: Henry got nothing but daughters and one stilborn son. The will to live up to his fathers request, Henry switches wives frequently.
But there are also political sides to the story which make the film more interesting. First, Henry has to think off ways to be able to marry again. His first wife (Catherine of Aragon) was the choice of Henry’s father, since Aragon was Spanish. Henry had to find a legal way to be able to get a divorce, so Aragon was falsely accused and persecuted. Then Henry married Anne Boleyn, a young women who also proved unable to provide a son. She was also false accused and then decapitated. Bolyn was replaced by another young woman names Jane Seymour but she died giving birth to the only non-bastard son. It took a few years before Henry was over this sad fact, but then a (for his enemies) strategical marriage was arranged with Anne of Cleves from Germany. Inspite of the juridical heavy contract underlying this marriage, Henry found a way to sack her and marry the 30 years younger Kathryn Howard. Kathryn cheated on Henry with someone of her own age, so she had her head cut off. His last years, king Henry spent with Katherine Parr.
Besides all the intruigues of the kind himself, there are other interesting happenings in this part of history. For example: however Henry was a devout Catholic he was the drop Rome in order to be able to get a divorce. This is how the Church Of England came into existence. In the same period Protestantism spread throughout Europe, so the religious conflicts grew larger. Either or not on religious grounds, there were different people who wanted to get rid off king Henry, people closer to the king than he may have known. You get a nice view on how these ‘politics’ work(ed).
Like I said, sometimes the subjects are a bit too shallow. You may get the idea that the marriage with Parr lasted for only a few months, while it was actually four years. Still this is a nice history lesson. What happens here is just before “Bloody Mary” and the famous “virgin queen Elizabeth” (who are Henry’s daughters). For this price, not a bad buy at all!

Gunpowder, Treason & Plot * Gillies MacKinnon * 2004 (series)

A fairly new series that I got on DVD cheaply in a luxery twofold ‘digipack’. These two-episode series are about an interesting part of history. The first series opens when the future queen Mary of Scots (1542-1567) living in exile in France, hears about the death of her mother, Mary of Guise (1515-1560). She returns to Scotland to claim the throne. Scotland has been in war with England for many years and also there is the (connected) ongoing war between Catholics and Protestants. England was mostly Catholic and Scotland Protestant, but ‘both camps’ were present in both empires, so there were internal struggles too. However the Catholic Mary of Scots wants a peacefull reign, she starts with serious problems, being a Catholic queen in Protestant Scotland. Then Mary marries the English earl James Hepburn (1536-1578), not particularly a happy marriage and not really with the result Mary hoped for either. When Mary has ‘produced an heir’ and the heat under her feet becomes too much, she surrenders and loses her baby-boy to her brother.
Disc 2 begins when Mary’s son, James (played by Robert Carlyle!) is grown up and ready to become king of both Scotland (James VI) and England (James I), he is the only heir to both thrones! Elizabeth I (1533-1603) is dying in England and his mother imprisoned in Scotland. When Elizabeth dies, James has his mother killed and he claims both thrones. He is not welcomed warmly in England, but this gets better, even as he remains a poor king. The series ends when James prevents an attack on himself and the parliament and after years of marriage with queen Anne of Denmark (1574-1619) finally becomes relatively happy now that the two have gained some wealth.
Of course I gave away whole the story, but since it is history anyway, it is easy to figure it out. These series are definately worth watching. The acting is good, the costumes and stages great and the story moving and educational. MacKinnon used two styles of filming for both episodes, which are actually two films (of about an hur and 40 minutes), because they play in two different periods and are about two different people. The first is ‘normal’, the second slighly different, with characters talking to the cameras explaining their thoughts and the events) which makes the viewer more involved in the story. “Gunpowder…” is a great watch, especially to watch in combination with the magnificent film “Elizabeth” by Shekhar Kapur (1998).
Funny detail, Tim McInnerny plays “Cecil”. He appeared more often on TV in the same historical period, but instead of playing Thomas Percy like he does in “Blackadder”, he chose another character.

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.

Brabant 900 * 2006

1106 to 2006, 900 years of Brabant. That is to say, 900 years ago the duchy of Brabant was ‘founded’. Meanwhile a lot has happened as regular visitor of these pages may know. What used to be the duchy of Brabant, is now divided over Belgium and the Netherlands. I like the idea of the ‘greater Brabant’ and somehow feel more connected to the Belgian Brabantians than to the Dutch living ‘above the great rivers’. The Dutch provincial broadcasting company has made two series about the history of greater Brabant and the first is available on DVD. 10 Episodes of 25 minutes about “Bourgondian Brabant”, “Romish Brabant”, the farmer culture, nature, the language, etc. Not too much about the Belgian part of Brabant though and also the historian who speaks in the episodes is often over-critical towards concepts that we Brabanders are proud of. But, the series do give a nice idea of the history, there are nice old films, photos, etc. to be seen and heard and of course there is always something nice to learn.

24 (series 3) * Robert Cochran & Joel Sunrow * 2004

The problem with series that run well is that they keep coming up with sequals, so here we have “day 3” of the 24 series. Of course again 18 hours of tv spread over 24 episodes in total dealing with one day this time from 1 to 1 pm. Also the rest is mostly the same.

For a large part you will know the characters from the previous series. We have of course Jack Bauer and his daughter Kim, president palmer, the people at CTU, etc. This time Bauer tries to stop a virus falling into the wrong hands. Especially the first half of the series are (I think) stuffed with ilogical, inconsistent and especially incredible parts in the story. Of course the threat is personal to Bauer again, he doesn’t play by the book, but it all is a bit too much. Not that it all isn’t entertaining though, but halfway I was of the opinion that this was again downhill from the original idea. Yet, just as before, there is a high speed in the series, the tension is high and you keep wondering what the picture is. Halfway things get better. Still ilogical, inconsistent and incredible elements (in particular to the ‘real time’ concept), but the ‘atmosphere’ of the series becomes superb. However I really didn’t watch the hole series in one sit (usually 3 episodes on one night), I really ‘came into’ the series and its characters. There is one episode in which the general audience gets suicide pills and Jack Bauer had to execute a colleague. Pretty heavy stuff. Other scenes are really high tension. Both things I hadn’t experienced in the previous series, however I can imagine that this isn’t the same for anyone.

In any case. When you have the DVD box and can decide for yourself when to watch it (and not have to be in front of the tv at a specific time for 24 times), these series are good entertainment. I still think series one is the best, of course mostly because of the entirely new concept, series two is good and series three is good too, but just regarding acting and atmosphere, the second half of these series three are by far the best.

So, this may promise to series four that are already on tv in the USA……..