Archive for May, 2020

Unorthodox – **(*)

Posted: May 29, 2020 in 2019, Drama, Germany, USA, XX1/2

A young woman escapes from the orthodox Jewish community of Williamsburg (New York) to start a new life in Berlin. An interesting premise! And a good miniseries (it only has 4 episodes). Definitely worth the watch. But a bit overrated.

The main attraction of the series is the voyeurism into the little known Hasidic world. Already visually fascinating, the community is also socio-culturally intriguing. Maybe not if you’re from Minnesota or Sicily or Peru to name a few places that may have little or no Orthodox Jews. But if you bike around Brooklyn or Antwerp, then you can’t help noticing this group of people and wonder what they are all about. This series kinda gives you an insight into their culture, but it’s told from the perspective of someone who escaped it, so it’s biased. And it’s not like you will fully understand their culture watching this series. But you learn something. Which is good.

The other attraction is the city of Berlin. It’s like the city’s Board of Tourism sponsored this series. The settings are awesome and show the diversity of the capital. Every background is postcard perfect and the atmosphere shown makes you want to book your first post covid 19 city trip to Berlin!

They speak yiddish in the series. What a relief. Remember the Ukrainians speaking British English in Chernobyl ? None of that here. Pure yiddish. GREAT !

So far the good.

The bad however is the plot in Berlin. It is just messy and unbelievable. After this girl arrives in Berlin with hardly any money and no luggage, she immediately finds the music conservatory and befriends a mixed bunch of artists who invite her to join them for day trip to the lake and an evening dinner at their place. Now, this may be Berlin, but it’s still Germany. NO WAY this can happen. And almost every scene in Berlin doesn’t make sense. She’s never left New York City, has never watched tv or internet, yet arrives in Berlin and walks around like a tourist on a city trip. For the entire journey she kept a gift hidden in her underpants and never opened it. Really? Not in the airport, not on the plane, not in the taxi to the city centre? She has never been adventurous in her life but sneaks into the music conservatory to use it as a shelter to sleep at night. Just nothing of the story in Berlin makes sense. Her clubbing on day 3 of her arrival. Her auditioning for a grant at the conservatory on day 4. At one point her Hasidic husband arrives in Berlin and also ends up being confronted with a different kind of society. He’s escorted by a  Hasidic cousin who is hired as a detective/fixer to trace the runaway woman and who believes the Thora works differently in different countries. A good excuse to go gambling and visit sex workers.

No. No. No.

The best parts are the flashbacks to life in Williamsburg. It’s quite interesting to see how these two characters got together in an arranged marriage and struggle with their traditional duties. If only the series would just have focused on that aspect. Now we get to see beautiful Berlin with boring one-dimensional personalities.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9815454/

The Beguiled – **

Posted: May 28, 2020 in 2017, Drama, USA, XX

Colin Farrell gets stuck in a house with seven women. One of them is Nicole Kidman, another is Kirsten Dunst and a third one is Elle Fanning. The year is 1863 and we’re in Virginia. Wounded Farrell is a yankee and the southern ladies take him in. They want to fix his leg and then let him go. But he’s the first man they have laid eyes on since ages and some do not want him to leave at all. Neither does he.

Sophia Coppola is helming this remake of a Clint Eastwood movie from the seventies. Would be fun to watch the original one and see how different this one is. However, this version isn’t all that exciting . They could have done so much more with the sexual tension. In fact, it’s a pretty boring movie. So the seventies version may well be even more boring.

The good thing is that it’s a relatively short movie (90 min) so it’s over before you start to fall asleep.

www.imdb.com/title/tt5592248

Childhood memories often lead to great cinematic experiences. Most of them are coming of age stories that take place in a not so distant past. Some are quite dramatic if the historical setting was violent or dark. But most of them beam with nostalgia to better days. In Café Derby the setting is the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1985 to Belgium. It’s mentioned several times and causes most of the drama, but it’s just a random fact. More important is the bond between a young girl and her naively ambitious dad.

And that young girl is the director of this movie. So it’s a very personal story and you can feel it. Is it extraordinary? Not at all. But it’s a very good hommage to her dad and how she remembers him at a time when he was still a hero to her. Memories fade and sometimes you just remember the good things. So it’s noteworthy that the hommage is very well balanced. No, her dad wasn’t a hero. Nor was he a bad person. He was just a dad. With ambitions. And flaws.

It’s an easy movie to watch. And it’s well made and well acted. But the story itself isn’t so compelling. It’s just told in a very affectionate way. Like when you’re in the early stages of a relationship and you ask your partner to share a childhood memory of their dad. It doesn’t really matter then what the memory is all about. You just want to hear your partner share you a personal story. And that’s exactly what happens while watching this movie. You don’t know the director, but she tells a personal story and you feel privileged to listen.

www.imdb.com/title/tt3892822/

Incredibles 2 – *(*)

Posted: May 25, 2020 in 2018, Action, Animation, USA, X1/2

Didn’t like this sequel. Didn’t particularly like the first installment either. Not sure why. The action is over the top. It’s fast paced and a bit too much. The humor isn’t that funny. The dialogues are boring. The social commentary is given by the antagonist. It’s predictable and there are too many non-essential characters. The idea of a superhero family that wants to live a regular life without explaining what they do in their regular life is a bit weird. The idea of superheroes being banned from doing superhero stuff isn’t original. The idea of raising children with (or without) superpowers is boring. Yeah. No. This is an animation movie to skip.

But apparently this was a big box office hit. So what do I know?

www.imdb.com/title/tt3606756/

As a massive fan of Jaws, Chief Brody has always been my hero! And so was Roy Scheider of course, who immortalized the part. At one point in my life as a young cinefile I wanted to see all the movies he was in. But most were difficult to digest. Apart from Blue Thunder and The French Connection. 

Marathon Man was another memorable one. It has one of the coolest non-Jaws Roy Scheider scenes, in which he fights and kills an attacker in a Paris hotel room after doing push-ups on the ledge of the bed. And the movie has other classic scenes like the one where Dustin Hofman gets tortured by an ex nazi dentist who drills a hole in his perfectly healthy teeth.

Re-watching this classic seventies suspense thriller as an adult was interesting. Sure, the above mentioned scenes are classics, but what was the movie about again? Ah! When word gets out that his brother is killed in a car accident, a former nazi criminal leaves his hiding place in Uruguay to reclaim items he has hidden in a safe in New York. For years, he could finance his hideout via a network of couriers, but he wants to be sure there is still stuff in the safe. This synopsis isn’t immediately clear as the story is told from the perspective of a student, whose brother is one of the couriers and ends up dead in his apartment. Now, the network assumes he knows more and haunts him.

The movie has quite a lot of odd action scenes that are instant classics, like the opening car chase between an old nazi and an old jew, ending in a deadly accident. It sounds like something from a bad sketch show, but it’s not. The seventies spirit is great. There’s something about that decade that resonates best in movies. The acting is over the top, especially the death scenes. And there are a lot. So that’s a bit of a disappointment. But it’s suspenseful and entertaining.

But come to think of it. Apart from Jaws, Jaws II, The French Connection, Marathon Man, The Sorcerer and All That Jazz most Roy Scheider movies are not worth recommending. It feels sacrilegious to write this, but the man has starred in so many bad movies. Too bad Quentin Tarantino didn’t give him a second career boost in the nineties. He ended up making straight to video C-movies for the last two decades of his career. So sad!

Movies with Roy Scheider I want to re-watch again: Klute (**), The French Connection (****), The Seven-Ups (**1/2), The Sorcerer (**1/2)  

Movies with Roy Scheider that I do not need to rewatch at all: Assignment Munich, Sheila Levine Is Dead And Living In New York (*1/2), Last Embrace (**), All That Jazz (**), Still Of The Night (**), Blue Thunder (**), Tiger Town (**), 2010: The Year We Made Contact, 52 Pick Up, Cohen And Tate, Listen To Me, Night Game, The Fourth War, The Russia House (**), Naked Lunch, Romeo Is Bleeding, Executive Target

Movies with Roy Scheider I’ve never seen and would like to watch one day: The Outside Man, Jacobo Timerman, The Myth Of Fingerprints, RKO 281 

Movies with Roy Scheider I can’t be bothered with: all the rest.

www.imdb.com/title/tt0074860

Back when I turned 15 or so, I got triggered to learning what else was offered in pop culture. I started to listen to more alternative music and I started to go see movies at the arthouse cinema. Some of these movies left a big impression on me. A lot didn’t. But one of them that did, was Do The Right Thing. 

They just showed it on tv and it left an almost exact same impression. Thirty years later. Thirty years older. And having experienced staying in Brooklyn and living in an area with racial tensions.

Amazing.

This movie starts off as a comical and badly acted series of everyday scenes. But gets really dramatic by the end. It’s a great build-up. Some scenes are such classics that you remember them instantly, even though you haven’t seen them for 30 years! It’s a clever thing to tell a story with several individual characters on a very small surface: a particular block of houses in Bedford Stuyvesant. The storytelling is excellent and the way it’s filmed is unique. The constant use of Public Enemy’s ‘Fight The Power’ and the constant yelling from almost all of the characters create a tension that you know will explode. But yet, it’s a very colorful and bright movie with lots of comic relief.

Sadly enough, the movie is still up to date. A remake would maybe look different and nobody walks around with ghetto blasters anymore, which is -well – almost like a character on its own in this movie. Not sure how they would replace that. But still, the idea of gentrification still happens. The racial tensions are still there. Maybe Spike Lee should make a new Netflix series about it, like he did with She Gotta Have it. Or maybe not.

Anyways, if you’ve never seen the movie: watch it! It’s not perfect, but it’s a classic.

www.imdb.com/title/tt0097216

 

 

 

Okay, it’s not because it’s a classic b/w musical with Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire that it should be good by definition. The fact that the story is silly can be forgiven. The fact that the acting is bad as well. So, all you can hope for is great dance sequences and that’s where it’s flawed. Some ideas are nice, but the execution is not all that special. There is the Night and Day scene, which is the highlight and still great, but somehow didn’t stand the test of time. For some reason there’s little chemistry between Fred and Ginger in that scene and Fred’s version of the song isn’t the best out there. Moreover, the dancing part is short. There is another scene that doesn’t include singing and dancing and is actually a highlight: the chase scene on rural roads where Fred’s character stops Ginger’s character and tries to woo her. That works well.

No. Maybe it’s best to not watch this movie after having seen Top Hat. 

www.imdb.com/title/tt0025164

 

The story is incredibly silly. A screwball comedy based on… surprise… a misunderstanding. Fred Astaire’s character falls for Ginger Rogers’ character, who assumes he’s the cheating husband of her best friend!

The movie still works remarkably well. But of course there’s the overacting, including the at times ridiculous facial expressions on the actor’s faces. And weird macho sexism (it’s okay for the husband to cheat as long as he provides), performed by effeminate men (the husband, the butler, the fashion designer… womanizers, really?)

But who cares. Astaire and Rogers dance. Quite a lot. And wonderfully. These two are golden on the dance floor.

Recommended by a colleague who saw it on tv today and posted about it online. And by my 86 year old mom who called me to say how much she loved having watched this again. And there’s two more Ginger/Fred movies scheduled this weekend.

www.imdb.com/title/tt0027125/

They showed the prestigious HBO series about the Chernobyl disaster on national tv last week. In the midst of the corona crisis lockdown.

It’s that show that you want to see, because so much has been written about it. And watching it now gives you extra thrills. While the covid-19 pandemic confronts us daily with a possible apocalyptic disaster and conspiracy theories, it’s interesting to see how a similar threat was dealt with 30+ years ago.

In 1986 an explosion at a nuclear plant near Kiev (Ukraine) threatened to devastate an entire area and possibly affect the entire European continent. But the catastrophe was contained and somehow forgotten quite soon. Yes, there are still memes going around that make fun of the effects of exposure to radioactivity (one that says ‘I went to Chernobyl and all I got was this lousy t-shirt’ and shows a t-shirt with several armholes). And yes, adventure travel reporters like to visit the area to see how dangerous it still is to walk around in the area. But apart from that, nobody really thinks about it that much.

Until now.

Sure, it’s an interesting series. It focuses on the actual diaster and tries to explain what really happened, but it also focuses on the efforts of getting it contained and the treatment of those who got exposed to the radio-activity. However, the series also wants to expose the cover-up of the Russian authorities. Which most likely happened, no doubt, but it gets annoying after a while. This soon feels like a fictionalized anti-Russian Cold War propaganda show from the eighties. With an underlying tone that a similar disaster in the West won’t happen and would have been dealt with differently. It’s an obvious angle, but it just feels biased. And the main reason for that is simple: the entire cast speaks British English! British English! Mineworkers, locals, doctors, scientists, state officials, Gorbatsjov! They all speak like they live in the UK! This happend in the Ukraine! The show shows Belarus and Russia. Yet, you don’t hear Russian or any other slavic language.

How is this possible? How is this believable? Apparently they didn’t want the actors to speak with Russian accents (thank God, that would have been even worse). but choosing British actors over Russian actors just is a crappy decision. It’s already annoying when Tom Cruise plays Graf von Stauffenberg in Valkyrie and doesn’t speak German.Or Willem Dafoe playing Van Gogh and not speaking any French or Dutch. Why are so many people incapable of reading subtitles? Why is it so difficult to find actors who at least speak the language of the characters they portray?

That aspect of the show is very distracting. By episode 4 you are still watching British actors interpret what people from the former USSR were experiencing. You’re still not feeling these characters at all. Apparently they are making a Russian series about the show, which will also be biased and which will focus on the patriotic heroism of the mine workers and others who stopped the diaster from spreading around Europe. It’ll also be propaganda, but at least it will feel more natural when they speak the original language!

Aaaaarrghhhhhh!

That said. Interesting stuff though. A bit slow, quite technical and too depressing, but intriguing. Yet, fictionalized and thus overrated. (check: https://www.historyvshollywood.com/reelfaces/chernobyl/)

www.imdb.com/title/tt7366338

 

Sonny Boy is the nickname of Waldy Nods, the son of a Surinamese student and a much older Dutch woman. So what, right?  Well, Waldy was born in 1929, a time when children from interracial couples were quite unique in The Netherlands.

It’s interesting how the movie title refers to the boy, whereas the story basically revolves around his parents and their many struggles.

The movie is based on a best-seller and was quite the hit in Dutch and Surinamese theaters. It didn’t really score anywhere else though, which is weird, because the story is quite universal and not that specific to those two nations.

Sonny’s father arrived in the Netherlands in the late twenties to pursue a degree at the Dutch university. Not an easy goal at the time, as students from Surinam weren’t considered equal. Sonny’s mother left her husband after she caught him cheating with the housemaid and took her four children to a small house in The Hague. In order to get some extra income, she rented out a room to the much younger student and soon they became a couple. Oh! The scandal!

The first half of the movie deals with this interracial struggle in an excellent way. The acting is good and the individual background stories of both characters merge really well. The second half of the story focuses on the occupation of the Nazis in the Second World War and it becomes, well a Second World War movie. This isn’t really a bad thing, because it’s part of the story and it needs to be told. But it’s just less intriguing. You don’t get to see that many movies focusing on interracial relationships. Yet, you do get to see many movies about the nazi occupation.

It’s a well made movie that keeps your attention until the very end, but a miniseries would have been a better choice, considering the abundance of story material. The focus is on the parents of Sonny Boy, but there are a dozen of other characters that are worth a separate storyline. Starting with Sonny Boy himself. It’s not really told from his perspective and you only get to learn what happened to him until the end of the war.

Fascinating stuff, but leaving you with the desire to learn more. Worth the watch.

www.imdb.com/title/tt1138481