Category Archives: Movies and TV-series

…”Annihilation” is a story swinging both ways.

The “Southern Reach Trilogy” created by writer Jeff VanderMeer and published in 2014 is a high-point of recent speculative fiction. Being pointed in the direction of both the books and the later movie adaptation of the first installment of the series by my colleague D is yet an example of the merits of listening to people with good taste. I very much share his impression of these books as a H. P. Lovecraft for a younger generation.  There´s spooky natural phenomena going on, which will forever change the fate of the persons involved. Although the books provide some sort of closure for the main characters, there´s no feel-good happy ending to the saga. Instead you get a ride into a unique imagination filled with ambiguity and just sheer strangeness. Nothing really gets explained and at the end you´re left with more questions than answers.

These are books that will keep you thinking for a long time about the stories, the metaphors and the audacity of it´s writer in creating something so strangely unique. Mystical, sprawling and hard-hitting at the same time, these stories are hard to classify in a way that you rarely encounter nowadays. While writing this I´m getting ready for my third re-read, which is something that almost never happens.

Some parts of this work emerging as a movie was almost inevitable, while no-one could really be expected to transfer the special feeling of this material to the screen in a fully satisfactory way. The movie “Annihilation” is pretty much what could be seen as a reasonable interpretation of some of the themes from the book. Best seen as a work of it´s own, separated from the deeper universe of the books, this is still an at least partly enjoyable film. If you need to choose and have the time, read the books. Otherwise the film will give you a glimpse of what´s actually there in this story.

 

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…”Blade Runner 2049″ is an astonishing accomplishment.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep

When the first “Blade Runner” movie appeared in 1982 it seemed to be an impossible proposition. Turning Philip K. Dick´s novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” into a film with mass-market appeal wasn´t an easy workaround. Going from deeply philosophical musings on the essence of being human and the meaning of suffering, to an action story fuelled by environmental disasters, decaying cutting-edge technology and physical frailty wasn´t a small order. Director Ridley Scott went out on a limb and made a movie initially not considered all that great into an enduring legacy. Gone were the usual sci-fi of whooshing self-opening doors and people robotically moving about in similar uniforms, exchanged for a view of the future as a sprawling mess of the same combination of high-tech and low-life later perfected by writers like William Gibson.

Blade Runner original

There are several different cuts of this film and I´ve watched them repeatedly through the years. The divergent versions in some cases differ on small details, but there´s also cuts with significant changes in the ending. I´ll leave it to you to decide with one you like the best. However, as sci-fi movies go you won´t find anything significantly better than this.

That considered, a follow-up would from the beginning seem totally pointless and ultimately inferior. Why mess with something that´s almost perfect? Regardless of these reservations the new “Blade runner 2049” movie does push things forward. A considerably more bleak rendition of a world of further environmental decay and urban sprawl. The combination of that with a planet-wide traumatic loss of important information inducing a kind of collective amnesia sets the stage for barely controllable forces.

A superior society of genetically pure humans opposed to manufactured replicants serving as the new lower class, racial slurs and all. The still difficult question of what it means to be human. What is a memory? What is a personality? How can we determine the genuine from the manufactured, and does it even matter at all?

“Blade Runner 2049” is a movie with a starting point in a classic in it´s genre, while taking off on a tangent of it´s own. The storyline exhibiting enough excitment and novelty, while still respecting the confines of the original story. Inventive and suitably dark. I wonder how many will get the origami-reference of the scene portraying the meeting between Ryan Gosling´s replicant blade runner and the old age Gaff from the first movie. Not very important in itself, but still a great nod to the original material.

Here we have a movie with both an exciting and original story as well as visuals well beyond what can reasonably be expected. This type of film should be impossible to make, but it´s been done and I absolutely love it.

 

…the new “It” movie is a disappointment.

I still remember the publication of Stephen King´s novel “It” in 1986. The book was rich with many of his recurring themes – the special types of friendships between prepubescent teens, young persons doing their best to survive abuse from those they are dependent on and the strange change from adolescence to being a grown-up.

What I remember most is how the reading of this book managed to scare me out of my wits even at an age of 20+. This was really creepy stuff and I don´t think King has ever written anything as good as this.

The material was of course ripe for movie adaptation, and the first attempt came with the two episode mini TV-series broadcasted in 1990, not leaving any lasting impressions. The feature film released in 2017 attempted to take the story further, with a follow-up planned for 2019. While given mostly positive reviews I still find this production to be a disappointment.

The acting is pretty formulaic and not even the much publicized performance of Bill Skarskård as Pennywise the clown actually adds that much drama. It´s of course possible that the second installment of the story will lift it above it´s current pedestrian status. Somehow I´m not so sure about that.

…”The hateful eight” is a rare treat.

The hateful eightDeeply disappointed with “Django unchained” , it took me a while before getting around to watching director Quentin Tarantino´s  latest oeuvre. The take on a traditional western set in a wintry Wyoming starts off with breathtaking scenery shot in wide-angle Panavision. A wooden Christ on the cross covered by drifting snow. A stagecoach making it´s way through an icy expanse and the visual punch of the beautiful but sparse landscape. Long, lingering takes establishing a feeling of being on your own in a cold and hostile environment. Tarantino has a story to tell, and the surroundings are at the same time bleak and great-looking.

Amoral bounty hunter John Ruth is transporting murderer Daisy Domergue to the city of Red Rock to be hanged, when he is joined by two men with agendas of their own. The haphazard team takes refuge in Minnie´s Haberdashery to avoid an advancing blizzard, and when they find a group of men already in place, the story changes into a tightly directed chamber drama steeped in echoes of the American civil war. In some ways reminiscent of “Reservoir Dogs” and replete with Tarantino stalwarts like Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, Kurt Russell and Michael Madsen, the further 3+ hour story twists and turns around themes of trust and deception.

Violent, but not excessively so in today´s meaning of the word. That said you can philosophize about the development of violence in movies. From the horror of someone being shot and falling down in the classic films of the 50´s, to today´s high-def exploding craniums and shot-off scrotums. As well as the change from yesterday´s moral hero to today´s ambiguous anti-hero, always looking out for number one. For film-makers, here´s a brave new world to deal with.

While forging a career cannibalizing movie history can sometimes make Tarantino look like an intellectual fake, his mastery of the medium lets us forgive everything. Who cares if his later movies are DJ mashups of huge amounts of genre films, as long as he pulls it off this beautifully.

…”Top of the lake” is a trip well worth taking.

Jane CampionNew Zealand-born director Jane Campion, perhaps most known for the both Academy Award and Palme d´Or-winning “The Piano”, is the creative force behind this most unusual TV-series. Campion wrote the script together with Gerard Lee and shared directorial duties with Garth Davies. While first aired in the spring of 2013, I didn´t get around to watching it until now. Not really knowing what to expect I must say that this was a positive surprise in many ways.

Set in the small town of Laketop, New Zealand, the first scene shows a young girl leaving her home to wade out up to her neck into the cold waters of the titular lake. Beautifully shot and instantly making you wonder what´s going on, it´s an opening that will make sure to keep you nailed to the screen. The girl is 12 year old Tui, who after being rescued is discovered to be in an advanced stage of pregnancy, promptly turning this into a matter for the local police. Sydney Detective Robin Griffin (played by Elisabeth Moss of “Mad Men” fame), who´s back in her old hometown visiting her sick mother is brought in to help with the investigation. Without giving the police any answers to what has happened to her Tui disappears, leaving Robin and fellow Detective Al Parker fumbling in the dark.

Top of the lakeVery  much like “Twin Peaks, Laketop proves to be one of those small towns very everybody knows everybody and everyone is connected by bonds either out in the open or carefully hidden. As we gradually learn during the series, even Robin has dark memories from her adolescent years living in Laketop, as well as convoluted relationships to several of the other characters of the show.

While the criminal investigation into Tui´s pregnancy and disappearance is the main thread of the series, it intersects with several other parallel storylines adding richness and colour to what otherwise could have been just another police procedural. One of the most important characters are Matt Mitcham (played by Peter Mullan), head of the Mitcham-family who´s barricaded in an enclave surrounded by barbed wire, and with his fingers into almost everything illegal going on in town. A dark and menacing presence following his own rules, and with deep roots at all levels of the community.

Despite just comprising seven episodes, there´s a lot going on here with entangled subplots being built up and then sometimes just allowed to sort of peter out. Some of them are quite strange, most so the new age commune lead by mysterious guru GJ (played by Holly Hunter), who set´s up home for herself and an assortment of psychologically damaged women in shipping containers on a piece of land claimed by Matt Mitcham. Bizarre but still strangely captivating.

The main story has to come to an end of course, and without disclosing too much I have to say that it´s slightly disappointing. Movie-savvy and observant viewers will already have it figured out before the final twist, which in addition feels a bit far-fetched and unoriginal.

Regardless of those small reservations this is an intriguing story told with an original voice. The plot is given time to develop, as well as the characters. There´s a special atmosphere that you rarely get in TV-series, that while sharing some similarities with “Twin Peaks” still holds its own. Much of the content is pretty dark stuff, dealing with its main theme of sexual violence in a way that´s making it feel real instead of speculative. Should definitely be seen by everybody interested in quality television.

…”The Knick” captivates and horrifies.

The KnickContinuing the trend of high-profile directors making TV-series, ”The Knick” is Steven Soderbergh taking on the story of life at the Knickerbocker Hospital in New York at the beginning of the 20th century. Produced by Cinemax and with Clive Owen in the role of brilliant surgeon John Thackery, the show finds its centre in the conflict of wanting to do good but often achieving the opposite because of lack of knowledge and technique.

Sparing no efforts to look characteristic of the era this show transports the viewer back to the early 1900´s, a time where many diseases now easily treated were inevitably fatal. On many occasions surgeons fumbled in the dark trying to devise new procedures for devastating conditions, and on others knew what needed to be done but lacked the tools to do it. The process of discovery pushing medicine forward is what´s fuelling the characters of this story, as well as the drugs of the time.

There´s of course the usual drama and parallel storylines that can be expected, but for me the main allure of the show is the depiction of surgery as equal parts inquisitive inventiveness and horror. The scene where Thackery, despite managing the speed thought needed for a successful surgery, loses yet another placenta previa case is a gory representation of the struggle that this discipline has endured to achieve the finesse it has today.

A series well worth watching, not only for Clive Owen´s manic performance as cocaine and opium addicted leading man Thackery. Never before has two lovers’ first steps towards intimacy been depicted as in this show. Piqued your curiosity? Well, go see for yourselves.

it´s happening again – will Twin Peaks continue to blow our minds?

Lynch & FrostIt began with a not that easily interpreted twitter, “That gum you like is going to come back in style”, and continued with reports that maverick duo Mark Frost and David Lynch were working on a follow-up to their iconic TV-series “Twin Peaks”. For those of you not old enough to have watched this ground-breaking show back in the day it´s still essential to understand its impact. This is work that forever changed the history of TV-series, both concerning form and content. Personally I would see new episodes of “Twin Peaks” as the television equivalent of a record of new material by The Beatles. Yes, it´s that big.

Twin peaksThe original series is by now a classic with almost endless influence on the way that TV has been made for the last 25 years. Everything just clicked into a whole much larger than its parts. The moody title song, the brilliant selection of actors, the allure of the story creating a mythology all its own and the sheer audacity of pulling something like this off. Never before had anything similar been seen on television.

As a director David Lynch is without a doubt one of the true masters of our time, with not one single bad movie on his CV. A creative force both idiosyncratic and steeped in the visual art of the 20th and 21st centuries. You can´t really imagine anything better than the movies he made between 1986 and 2006.

That said, continuing the story of special agent Dale Cooper and his struggle against evil is not something that´s going to be easy. A new take on “Twin Peaks” would need to surpass the old series by a ridiculous amount of miles. It would not only have to be innovative when it comes to story, but also in dealing with the connection to the legacy of the original. Even though we ´re living in an age where nostalgic repackaging is the most enduringly successful trend this show will need to go further. The new installment of “Twin Peaks” will probably be the most anticipated piece of television ever made. Nothing´s going to stop me from watching it.