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Cabinet of Curiosities – Guillermo del Toro (series 2022)

A Netflix series by Guillermo del Toro! Well, he is the creator, but not the director. Too bad. Also, just as the two series that I just reviewed, “Cabinet of Curiosities” is not really a series, more of a collection of short films. So again, you have eight very different short films by different directors. The episodes are usually based on a short story and have a horror theme.

Del Toro did gather some interesting directors though. The first episode is directed by Guillermo Navarre with whom Del Toro often cooperates for his own films. Then we have Vincenzo Natali, known for “Cube”, “Cypher“, “Splice” and other films. David Prior is new to me. Next up is Ana Lily Amirpour of “Bad Batch“. Then we have Keith Thomas. After that Catherine Hardwicke of “Thirteen“. The most interesting episode is made by Panos Cosmatos of films such as “Cobra“, but who made something more akin to his caleidoscopic “Beyond The Black Rainbow“. The more dramatic closing episode is for Jennifer Kent.

A few of the episodes are based on Lovecraft stories, which says something about the type of horror that is presented. More of a Victorian mystery horror than the slasher type of horror. Some episodes are humorous, others more typical horror. It would have been nice if Del Toro had directed an episode himself. He did write the story for the last one.

Oat Studios (series 2017)

Yes I too noticed the face of Sigourney Weaver on the Netflix poster and was curious enough to start watching. She is only in the first episode though.

“Oat Studies” is a series with episodes that have nothing to do with each other. It seems like the director(s) are just testing out some crazy ideas. You go from dystopian science fiction to a cooking TV-show gone wrong, a US president parody or experimental weaponry. One episode appears to be filmed, another is animated.

You get it, a wild range of 10 very different short films of four to 26 minutes. Some episodes are (somewhat) amusing, others are a bit dull to me.

Another ‘filler up’ series.

Love, Death & Robots – Tim Miller (series 3 seasons 2019-)

It took me a long time to get through the three series that are currently available on Netflix. The series are an animation series in which every episode is basically a short film, usually between 10 and 20 minutes.

Some episodes are amusing. A bit too many are not really my liking. The positive thing about the subject is that there is no need to keep watching, since the episodes have nothing to do with each other anyway. The length makes it convenient to just watch an episode when you have 15 minutes to spare.

Most (all?) episodes are set in some (bleak) future. Often, machines have taken over humanity. In some episodes these robots amusingly reflect on the stupidity of mankind, but there are also episodes with a more horror-type story.

Not bad, not great, just something to put in your watch list and watch an episode of every once in a while.

Copenhagen Cowboy – Nicholas Winding Refn (series) (2022/3)

In six slow paced episodes, accompanied by a 1980’ies style synth score, we follow the expressionless Miu, usually wearing a high collar tracksuit. Miu is the quiet helper who seems to have deep waters. Sounds like a Refn, right?

It is easy to make comparisons to Refn’s other work, especially “Drive“. Some think that his “thing” has been worn out. There indeed are not really surprises when you are familiar with Refn’s work. On the other hand, it is not often that I get to see new material that is interesting to watch, so “thing” or not, I enjoyed watching the “Netflix original” “Copenhagen Cowboy”.

So, Miu is a quite woman who is not easily disturbed. Not even when she as an immigrant ends up in a Danish brothel ran by country mates. When she gets out, she lands in the dark underground of another immigrant community. Ever unshaken she makes an effort to help people.

In his familiar long camera shots, very slow pace, little dialogue, no explanation and an occasional outburst of violence, Refn takes us through a story of which it remains unclear if it really is a story or rather a collection of scenes. The atmosphere is similar to other works as is the approach.

Fargo (series) (season 4 2020)

I missed that there was a fourth “installment”. To quote my opening line of season three: “Once again the creators of the series have found an unlikely story in a remote part of the USA.” Well, perhaps not that remote this time, but unlikely the story sure is.

Kansas City has a long line of criminal organisations that share the area. They have a way of trying to keep peace among each other, the exchange of sons. In the 1950’ies the parties are an African American group and an Italian one. The series show how the parties try to keep some sort of balance.

But “Fargo” would not be “Fargo” if there were not a few initially separate, but towards the end connecting, story lines. We have a family with a white father, a black mother and a black way too intelligent daughter (also the story teller). The parents run a funeral home from their house.
Then there is a strange nurse, a nervous corrupt cop, his eerie colleague and two highly dangerous lady criminals.

In a wonderfully meandering story we follow all characters going through strange situations eventually working towards colliding stories. Violence, humour, great camera work, interesting characters.

Indeed, the fourth season is again a good one.

Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power – McKay & Payne (series, season 1 2022)

The new supposed-to-be-hype of Amazon is quite unimpressive. The 6.9 on IMdB.com is perhaps not a low rating, but it is hardly a new Games of Thrones.

Speaking of GoT, these new series are supposed to be a prequel to the famous Tolkien stories, but it seems that an attempt was made to create a political war epic in the style of GoT. In my opinion, these series do not really come out very strong either as a Tolkien story or a GoT spectacle.

There are a few interlinked stories. We have the facial expressiveless elf Galadriel who has spent her long life hunting Sauron and his kin. She lands in the land of man and teams up to continue her struggle.

Another Elf, Elrond, tries to use his friendship with a dwarf to prevent his race from going extinct.

Then we have another kind of little people who are visited by a mysterious giant. And of course there are orks, otherwise there would be no battle scenes.

The characters are fairly flat, the stories not very exiting, there are continuous attempts to stretch scenes to enlarge drama. Like I said, it seems that the creators could not choose between Tolkien and GoT and falls somewhat flat somewhere in the middle.

It is not like the eight episodes are completely boring, but I have big doubts that I am going to watch season 2 should it come.

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.

American Gods – Bryan Fuller & Michael Green (series, season 3) 2021

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It took me a while before I watched season 3. 2 Was not too great, it took a while before 3 got out and then I couldn’t find a version with subtitles. I ended up joining Amazon Prime to watch this.

This time there are 10 episodes rather than eight, but again the series end with a massive cliffhanger. Mr. Wednesday is still amusing and still gathering old Gods to wage war against the new. At the same time he gets in trouble with some of the other old Gods (very close too) and gets on better terms with some other.

Nothing much happens. Shadow Moon (this time with hair) ends up in a small village in the cold North. His dead wife is no longer dead. We meet some old and new Gods and other spiritual beings which are sometimes new to me in general. There are some strange scenes in season 3, but not as psychedelic as towards the end of 2.

I like the subtle references to mythology, while other elements are a bit overdone.

Amusing, not great.

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.