Stranger Things – Matt & Ross Duffer (series, season 1-3 2016-2018)

These Netflix series are so popular that I was in doubt whether or not to watch them. So in the end I did and I really enjoyed the first season. The series have a total 1980’ies vibe with a 1980’ies soundtrack, old cars, outdated haircuts and terrible cloths.

Big roles are for children (nerdy kids and adolescents), but in spite of that, season one is nice, gloomy, fairly dark and weird. The story is about the small town of Hawkins which houses an institute in which strange experiments are held. And so a story unfolds of a girl with strange powers, men trying to get her and something evil that lurks in the woods.
There are nice 1980’ies details, the story unfolds nicely, the atmosphere is good and even the child humour and child drama works to a certain degree.

The second season puts more focus on ‘the evil’ with again a well-written story and more of a horror approach to the series. Characters develop, unexpected alliances are forged. Also the second season is pretty good.

The ‘other worldliness’ is mostly gone in the third season which became more of a Stephen King type horror/thriller. The kids really are the main characters this time and the story is a lot less interesting.

Season 4 is announced. I suppose I will watch it when it is there, but I hope the creators will not continue the way down.

Red Sparrow – Francis Lawrence (2018)

I think I expected some sort of fempower action movie, but “Red Sparrow” is actually a pretty weak spy thriller.

Dominka used to be a Russian ballet dancer, but after an accident she has to find another way to earn money. An uncle talks her into the secret service and Dominika is sent to a training which is basically to turn young people into prostitutes for the state.

A bit like the 1980’ies erotic thrillers “Red Sparrow” has a thin story which is mostly meant to create scenes with sex and nudity (and humiliation). Jennifer Lawrence (or her body double) is very beautiful, but this does not save the film.

We have fairly well known American actors who pretend to be Russians. Russia is portrayed pretty much as an amateur country that abuses its citizens. All Russians speak English (with an accent).

Then we have a story that reminds of the recently reviewed “Anna“. Dominika is sent to all kinds of dirty jobs, spies on the enemy, but appears to become a double spy so the question is raised where here allegiances really lay. That is not too unexpected, of course she has a master plan.

Where “Anna” is more of an action film (and more interesting), “Red Sparrow” is (like I said) more of a typical spy film. Not very well written in my opinion and not very well executed either.

The Angel – Ariel Vromen (2018)

In an ever actual story we follow Ashraf Marwan who marries the daughter of the Egyptian president. Marwan works himself up into his father in laws government, but when the president dies, he has to prove himself in order to maintain his occupation.

The new president is determined to punish Israel for occupying land outside its own borders. A war in the Middle East is immanent once again (and already) around 1970.

Marwan plays a dangerous game. He is in contact with different sides of the conflict and it is unclear where his alliances lay. Not only risking his own life, but also that of his wife and daughter, Marwan seems to be determined to prevent a war in the Middle East.

“The Angel” is a well made and interesting film and also the viewer is left to guess what Marwan’s real intentions are. He cunningly navigates between different contacts constantly moving between Egypt, the UK, Switzerland and other countries.

The Shining – Stanley Kubrick (1980)

I noticed “The Shining” on Netflix and my girlfriend said she never saw it, so we watched the classic. Apparently it has been a while since I saw it myself, as I did not remember much of it.

I am sure you all know the film inside out, so I do not have to say much about it. For the exceptions to this…
Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) will take care of an hotel that lays very remote in the Rocky Mountains. It is so remote, that it closes for the winter season and somebody has to take care of the building in that period. Torrance, his wife Wendy and their son Danny will be those.

Previous caretakers have gone mad due to the solitude and as you can see on the cover, it is Jack that does so this time.

The camera work of the film is great. During the long car drive to the hotel, the surroundings are shot from (I think) a helicopter in beautiful shots. The very 1980’ies colorful hotel is used brilliantly in symmetric shots and bright colors. The endless halls of the hotel give a great feeling of isolation. The music typically shows when a scene is (supposed to be) scary.

I find the film mostly ‘filmographically’ interesting. The atmosphere is good too and Nicholson is even scary when he tries to look friendly. I find the acting of Shelly (Wendy) and Danny (Danny) less convincing, but all in all the film remains at a high level.

Truly a classic!

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.

Arq – Tony Elliott (2016)

It may be better not to know, but all information about the film gives it away anyway, but the story of “ARQ” is somewhat similar to that of “Edge Of Tomorrow“.

In some future the air is polluted and energy scarce. Renton used to work for a big and influential company and built a machine which charges itself, so it is a perpetual energy source. He left his job, but his former employer wants (the blueprints) of his machine. Other groups do too.

The “Edge Of Tomorrow” story is worked out nicely. More and more people involved in the events start to realize what is going on and act accordingly. Of course the story has some twists and turns and a bit of humor.

An alright Netflix film.

Hejter – Jan Komasa (2020)

Best Buzz PR is a company with a fairly neutral name. It is not a traditional public relations company though, it manipulates (using) social media. You know the stories, companies with hundreds of fake accounts giving people many “likes” and the like.

Best Buzz PR also works the other way around. Clients also hire them to thwart adversaries. Some online sports girl gets too popular, so Best Buzz is hired to raise negative publicity.

Tomasz does pretty much the same in his private life. He uses usual media and cell phones to stalk people, eavesdrop and thus be able to manipulate them. Life does not go exactly as he wants, but he works himself into the fast cruel world of ‘PR’ and gets a job at Best Buzz.

Tomasz’ initial assignments are petty, but after a while the company also proves to work in politics. Politics in this Polish movie is either extremely left and extremely right and Tomasz gets the job to make a slander campaign against the left wing candidate. Tomasz goes way further than misusing social media though.

The actual title of the film is “Sala samobójców. Hejter”, which according to Google translates to “Hall of suicide. Hater.” It does not really dig deep into the possible ways in which social media can be misused. It is also funny to see that all youngers seem to access their social media on laptops, which certainly takes away some of the probably intended contemporary feel. Also it is sometimes unclear what Tomasz is up to.

As a thriller “Hejter” is alright. Tomasz goes in head over heels, a bit too far, but of (of course) he proves to outmaster everybody else and so his is the anti-hero. Story-wise I found the film not too convincing, especially not in details.

Who Am I – Baran bo Odar (2014)

An alright German Netflix film about the nerdy Benjamin who meets a group of hackers. Competing with other hacker groups, they name themselves “Clay”. In the same competition their “projects” become more and more daring.

Even though the film is about a subject which changes rapidly, it does not feel very dated. Here and there it is a bit ‘easy’. Just as if you can hack a building’s network from a nearby switch-point and manipulate in which offices the lights are turned on and off. Of course, such a scene is just to set a tone.

What the creators did do well is that they made the actual hacking and communication on the “dark web” into scenes with people in situations. So when two hackers exchange information, this happens in a dreamy scene on a subway for example. This prevents the techniques that they use from being outdated too rapidly.

But of course there also are some techniques here and I am sure some whizkid will be a better judge than myself to tell if these make sense a lot.

There is an actor that I recognised from “Dark“. Here and there the film gives me a “Dark” feel in ways of acting and story-telling and indeed, both the director Odar and fellow script writer Jantje Friese are also the creators of “Dark”. The series are significantly better than this film though, so who knows what this duo can make in the future!

As I said, “Who Am I” is a descent Netflix film.

The Bad Batch – Ana Lily Amirpour (2016)

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So what did I read about this film that I put in on my watchlist? It must sure come from a bad batch. Boy, what a poor movie this is…

In an apparent attempt to make a slow, dystopian film we follow Arlen. It looks like it that criminals are thrown into a no-man’s-land between the American and Mexican borders. The people trying to survive there gravitate between a hard criminal camp and a more hippy type community.

Arlen starts in the wrong camp, finds her way to the other, but grows back to where she started.

The film has got some gruely scenes, but also throws in some more vague and experimental scenes. Nothing really works except a handful of scenes. The film did not annoy me so much that I turned it off, so I come to a:

The VVitch – Robert Eggers (2015)

What did I miss? What is it that people like about this film? I get a bit of a “Midsommar” feeling. Another such applauded film that only worked on my nerves.

“The VVitch” is pretty boring. A very Christian family moved from England to the new world. The ideas of the father do not entirely work with the rest of the village so they move to a remote place in a forest.

Praying day and night, seeing the Devil’s work everywhere, the family works itself into the ground. The only positive thing is the presence of Anya Taylor-Joy. The story is boring, the acting is boring, there is no atmosphere…

I guess I missed something.