Archive for July, 2013

Vincent & Theo

Posted: July 31, 2013 in biopic, Drama, France, Germany, Netherlands, UK

This is BAD.

bad acting. bad dialogue. terrible background music. strange depiction of characters. it looks like an amateur stage play and gives you a headache.

one of those movies financed with funds from different European countries in the days that those co-productions sucked

Or maybe I shouldn’t have started watching this after that tv series on Van Gogh I saw earlier today.

Didn’t finish it (fast forwarded a bit) so no rating.

New at my library: a Dutch tv series about the life of Vincent van Gogh! I happen to leave on a tour to Arles/St Remy again, so any easy entertainment to refresh my knowledge of the Dutch painter was welcome.

At first a bit confusing, but throughout the series well done is the constant flashbacks between the life of Vincent Van Gogh from the 1870s onwards and the life of his nephew Willem Van Gogh in the 1950s. The latter wants to get rid of a series of paintings and drawings of his uncle and looks for a suitable buyer, while his granddaughter is making an essay about her great-uncle.

The nephew is played by Jeroen Krabbé, one of the most internationally known Dutch actors. Both he and Betty Schuurman (who plays his wife) are excellent. Their story actually breaks the otherwise very conventional and chronologically detailed life of the mad guy who cut of his ear. Barry Atsma plays the famous artist and does a good job too, but often fails to make you believe he IS the artist. He’s also way too pretty to play Van Gogh. Just look at the guy’s self portraits. Handsome he wasn’t.

Van Gogh is a fascinating character. I personally don’t like his work at all. But the fact that he was so productive and so sure of himself that one day people would appreciate his art, makes him a great subject for any biopic. Sure he was a bit mad, but he was just searching for happiness and meaning in life. Ultimately he just wanted to be appreciated and loved. And only one person did: his brother Theo.

Too bad then that this series is so… superficial. It’s too factual. It’s not like the makers shone away from difficult material (prostitution, alcohol abuse, schizophrenia, paranoia), but they just didn’t do anything interesting with it. What they did do was look for great settings. You can see there wasn’t enough money for real set designs that remind you of the late 19th Century, but with the little money they had they created a very picturesque atmosphere.

The dvd box comes with a little book about VG, a set of post cards and a travel documentary that shows you the places Van Gogh lived in (and there are many).

42 – **1/2

Posted: July 21, 2013 in 2012, biopic, Children/Family, Sportsdrama, USA, XX1/2

A (not so) surprise hit in the US, ignored in Europe: 42, the story of Jackie Robinson, the first African-American in the baseball league. I’m not sure why they didn’t release this biopic on the continent. Sure, it’s about a sport that nobody (over here) knows anything about and it’s about that continuously shocking segregation issue (just read last week’s news), but it’s a well made biopic. It’s incredibly classic. It’s set in 1948 and it feels like it could have been made that year as well. But that’s not a bad thing.

Everything is okay. It’s made according to all the rules of the film making book. It has good acting overall (and Harrison Ford is great), it has a tedious, but solid script. There’s some funny lines that make you smile. You can empathize (and suffer) with the hero. Etc… But in the end, it’s not so much about the quality of the movie, but about the importance of its story. It’s an interesting family movie that makes you realize not that much has changed in the course of the past 65 years. Anywhere in the world there’s always still a ‘first’ to do something that becomes very obvious later on.

Oh, and if I were brought up in the States, I would have been a baseball player.

The Messenger – *

Posted: July 20, 2013 in 2009, Drama, USA, X

Another 0,99 dollar rental on itunes. Just the right price.

Not sure why this got such rave reviews and why Woody Harrelson got an Oscar-nomination for his part in this pretty boring tale about military guys (I guess you can call them soldiers too) whose task it is to inform family members of the death of their relatives. Harrelson plays the experienced one and Ben Forster plays the rookie who ends up falling in love with one of the widows that he had to bring the bad news to.

I guess Ryan Gossling wasn’t available for Forster’s part. It might have been a different movie if he had starred in it. It still would have been a boring movie, but I just might have felt some empathy for him. Now I just didn’t care. Not about his personality, not about his job. Next!

The Sessions – **

Posted: July 14, 2013 in 2012, Dramedy, USA, XX

Another indie flic on the ship that I find a weird choice in the program for relatively conservative elderly travelers: The Sessions. Helen Hunt gets nude a lot as a sex therapist who’s hired to make John Hawkes lose his virginity. Hawkes plays a disabled man who spent almost all of his life in an iron lung and can only move his head a little.

It’s not my first movie about physically challenged people wanting to have sex. There’s the awesome Hasta La Vista for example in which three young people go to Spain to get it on with some prostitutes who don’t mind having sex what ‘freaks’. And there’s a bit of that in Intouchables as well.

I’m not quite sure why I didn’t like the movie that much. Nor why I wasn’t that impressed by the acting of Helen Hunt who got nominated so often last award season. Hawkes didn’t get nominated, but he’s the one lying there and being all vulnerable and stuff. Hunt just gets naked and looks like she’s having some feelings for this patient. I think my biggest issue for not totally liking this movie was the lack of humor. Even though he’s presented as a funny guy, his remarks aren’t all that funny. He could have been more sarcastic really. Sure there are some moments that make you smile (especially the ones where he confronts his priest about his desires), but they are just mere smiles. Hunt’s character is a bore really.

And the lesson learned? Everyone needs to love and be loved. What’s new.

First Position – **1/2

Posted: July 13, 2013 in 2011, Documentary, USA, XX1/2

Ah Ballet!

I checked the movies at display in the guest rooms of one of the ships I’m working on and found several indie Sundance festival favorites that you won’t expect on a river cruise for seniors.

I’m wondering if there is a way of finding out which movies are watched the most, but I guess First Position won’t be the most popular. It’s a documentary about kids trying to get a ballet scholarship. But you know what, I liked this one.

Sure, it helps if you think dancing is just a tad more interesting than playing chess (remember Brooklyn Castle). But this is a well made documentary. All characters are equally interesting and they are all great dancers. Nothing worse than seeing a piece on certain talented people who lack talent. It’s good to just focus on the best, but it also takes the tension away. Luckily, the documentary makers found a few ways of making the results of the competition still worth waiting for. The end however is too abrupt, so here’s an important tip: WAIT until after the initial end credits!

And now, hope for a sequel in 2021!


Awarded as best Flemish tv series of 2012, Clan tells the story of four sisters who try to kill their brother-in-law… over and over again. It’s both funny and thrilling and full of surprises. There are ten episodes and each one of them has at least one WTF moment that isn’t necessarily part of the story build up, but makes it all very original. Humor and tension hardly ever work together, so when it does: hooray!

The series starts with the funeral of Jean-Claude Delcorps, nicknamed Kloot – Flemish for Ass(hole). He leaves behind a wife and a daughter and a lot of people who hated him more than anyone else in the world… Not only the four sisters-in-law, but also neighbors, friends, colleagues at work, etc… An insurance company wants to investigate if the ‘fatal accident’ wasn’t premeditated as they don’t need another pay out that can ruin their finances.

The nice thing is that even though you already know how the story will end and how it will evolve, it remains entertaining. It’s very predictable and a lot of scenes don’t make sense, but the absurdities make it a real pleasure to watch. The way one of the sisters lost her eye! The homo-erotic phantasy in the office! Even the human traffic mafia pops up. The story is told in flashbacks, which can be a pain, but which work wonderfully well here. The acting is superb! Every single character is interpreted perfectly. All four sisters and especially the brother-in-law, who is the most despicable character ever on our screens! But also the two insurance brothers who need to investigate in the ‘fatal accident’ in order to not pay out the life insurance.

It’s very Flemish (references, settings, jokes), but I do think it can appeal to a larger audience. The dvd is available with English subtitles, so just buy it next time you are in Flanders.

English Vinglish – **

Posted: July 2, 2013 in 2012, Comedy, Dramedy, India, X1/2

I always feel bad for dissing a well intended movie that has a lot of merits but also a lot of painfully bad moments. Some movies aim to please everybody and become so fake that it makes you throw up. No pity for them. But other movies please a large audience because of their sincerity, purity and sweetness, without actually aiming to do so. English Vinglish  is one of the latter. You can see that everybody on the set just wanted to make a nice movie with a positive message and some jokes that will offend no-one. That’s fine, but it’s all so harmless. Yawn.

Indian actress Sridevi is excellent as Shashi Godbole, a young Indian mother who feels trapped in her marriage with a husband and kids who only see her as a woman who cooks well. – you’ll want to eat ladoos by the end of the movie – Her biggest frustration is that everyone around her seems to able to speak English, which makes her look (and feel) very dumb. When she’s sent to New York to help assist at the wedding of her niece, she picks up a language course and finally finds appreciation. Sridevi really carries the movies. Any viewer will empathize with her character. She’s that traditional woman who is in doubt about her capabilities and duties. New York unleashes an independent woman in her and it’s clear she has no idea what to do with this new ‘freedom’.

All the other characters however, are incredibly stereotypical and the music is TER-RI-BLE. As a linguist and a friend of many language teachers, I got really annoyed by the teacher and the way he addressed his pupils. If this is how language is taught in NYC than it’s no wonder so many people still struggle with ‘the’ English. What a bozo. And did he really needed to be flamboyantly gay? Sure, it’s all over acting, but it really wasn’t funny. Same thing with the songs. Could they BE more tacky?  I’m a pretty tolerant guy when it comes to music, but this soundtrack is the worst I’ve heard in ages. Moreover, when the songs interrupt the story, there’s hardly any dancing (apart from at the wedding). No, the director decided to show snapshots of NYC during the cheesy indian pop tunes. There’s this one song that names all kinds of fashion designer stores in Manhattan and it will make you want to put in another movie to watch. TER-RI-BLE.

But in the end it’s a nice and sweet movie that will please a lot of people, especially women who might relate to the fact that in some cultures women still have duties to fulfill even though they have dreams of doing something completely different.


Cloud Atlas

Posted: July 2, 2013 in Drama, Science Fiction, USA

Watched 1 hour and 1/2 of this movie and then fell asleep. This happened on a flight home from NYC. It intrigued me for 90 minutes just because I had no idea where it was going. The movie alternates constantly between different periods of time and uses the same actors for different parts. There’s elements of science fiction and phantasy and musicals and comedy and philosophical drama. Halle Berry is excellent in every scene she’s in. She outclasses Tom Hanks and Jim Broadbent who are also very present.

The only problem is that I have no desire to actually finish it, because if I didn’t get what it was all about half way through, I probably wouldn’t get it at the end of the movie. You can read reviews explaining the structure and meaning of this new masterpiece. Just let yourself  wonder what it is all about.

Monsters Inc. – **1/2

Posted: July 2, 2013 in 2001, Animation, Comedy, USA, XX1/2

The kid in front of my seat on my flight home was watching Monsters Inc and I decided to do the same. It’s a Pixas movie and the prequel is a big hit at the moment, so maybe it was time I saw the original.

I loved it!

I did think the script was very similar to other Pixar movies with the same kind of build up, humor and action. There’s even another roller coaster scene! But if it works, it works! And its damn original and caters for an adult crowd as well.

In a fantasy world, there is a land full of monsters who need to scare human children in order to absorb their screaming, which provides them with energy. But times are though as children aren’t scared anymore and hardly care about monsters behind their closet door. All hell breaks loose when a child accidentally follows a monster through the door and arrives in this other world. Trust me. It’s funny and clever and doesn’t bore at all. It’s not Finding Nemo or Toy Story, but it’s pretty good. But I’ll forget about it soon.