Category Archives: Movies and TV-series

…”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.

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…”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.

…Darren Aronofsky should have left the bible alone.

When I was about 10 or 11 years old, I more or less on an impulse brought down the heavy family bible from the bookshelf and read it all the way through in the matter of a few weeks. Being just a boy and not having the faintest idea of what I was in for, I still remember the surprisingly dark ride a lot of the old testament proved to be to my impressionable mind.

Not being a religious person, I think it´s permissible to see the different parts of the bible as stories and to treat them as such. That said, the many attempts at making some of these histories into movies has often caused great controversy. Many will probably remember the uproar over the extreme violence in “The Passion of the Christ”, or Monty Python´s “Life of Brian” being banned in several countries (one of them Norway!) despite not really being about Christianity at all. The latest of these attempts at dramatizing the holy book is American director Darren Aronofsky making a big production number of the story of Noah and the flood.

PiAronofsky made his name amongst critics and film aficionados with his first movie “Pi”, premiered at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival. A dark, black and white history of mathematical number theory, mysticism and the Stock Exchange, which despite it´s low budget packed quite a visceral punch. While abounding with ideas of the mathematical core of nature and reality, the science is contrasted with religious mysticism as filtered through the mind of protagonist Max, a savant of sorts eventually ending up performing a gruesome act of self-trephination and finally finding a sort of innocent peace with himself after quitting his quest for understanding ultimate reality. Quite heavy stuff, but I remember it as one of the highlights of the year.

Requiem for a dreamFor the first time with real financing and with more well-known actors, the follow-up adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr´s novel “Requiem for a dream” (2000) definitely showed that this was a talent to watch. As one story arch follows widow Sara Goldfarb as she slowly slips into addiction and madness in connection with a possible appearance on her favourite game show, the other deals with her son Harry who´s living an adventurous life with his girlfriend Marion and friend Tyrone, as heroin addicts sliding towards jail, degradation and physical deformity. Developing a style very much his own, with numerous fast cuts combined with split screen and extreme close-ups, the movie deals with the price you pay for your obsessions – be they drugs, attention seeking or the reckless excitement of youth. Very powerful and often perversely beautiful in its depiction of the main characters´ inevitable decline into their own private hells.

The WrestlerHaving missed “The Fountain” (2006) I found my way back to Aronofsky with the excellent “The Wrestler” (2008). Mickey Rourke´s depiction of professional wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson trying to find romance in the shape of a stripper and reconnect with his estranged daughter, while at the same time physically disintegrating from the hard life in the ring, was both a return to form for a slightly discredited actor and in many ways a carreer high for Rourke. You can´t help being impressed with the determination it must have taken him to put up with what he´s being put through here. A strangely moving portrait of a deeply flawed individual scrabbling to make things right.

The black swanPersonally I would consider “Black Swan” (2010) to be his most accomplished work so far, sharing an interest in the pain a person needs to endure to reach his or her goals with “The Wrestler”. In this case it´s the chance to play both the White and the Black Swan in a production of the ballet “Swan Lake”. Troubled ballerina Nina quickly enters a fierce competition with fellow dancer Lily, Nina being technically more adept but lacking passion while Lily in spite of other inadequacies has an intuitive talent for letting her inhibitions go. From the pressure of the situation Nina somehow gradually loses her grip on reality, finishing with a scene of bloody metamorphosis. Apart from the elements of psychological thriller, this movie´s depiction of the physicalities involved in ballet dancing both startles and repulses. Excellent actors doing their best in a story both dark and fascinating, with obvious connections to Polanski´s “Repulsion”, without the claustrophobia.

NoahIn the light of these two previous efforts the 2014 release “Noah”, as mentioned earlier based on the history of Noah and the flood, would absolutely be something I should be interested in seeing . As I understand it, some liberties has been taken with the original biblical story that hasn´t always gone down well in Christian circles, which is perhaps not that unexpected. The film has several good actors (Russell Crowe, Anthony Hopkins and Ray Winstone), and is a huge production with lots of CGI and other visual trickery.

However, despite all the work and money put into this film it cannot be seen as anything else than a complete and utter failure. The story is in many respects totally ridiculous and hardly coherent, with severely clichéd dialogue and worst of all shockingly bad acting. In this movie exactly everything misses its mark and splatters impotently to the ground. Even the score is grossly inadequate, mostly sounding like some inept parody of generic action movie bombast.

The only redeeming values I could find in this film are a few technically very nicely executed shots (like the beginning creation story), and some breathtaking and easily recognized scenes of Icelandic landscapes. The green colour that those mountains can show when the sunlight hits them in just the right way can´t be found anywhere else. Apart from that, it´s 138 minutes of your life that you´re never getting back.

…it´s getting it both right and wrong – “Dallas Buyers Club”

Dallas Buyers ClubSo, now I´ve finally gotten around to seeing the much lauded ”Dallas Buyers Club”, a movie interesting in more ways than you would initially think. First let´s just acknowledge leading man Matthew McConaughey, who´s simply on fire here and one of the fastest rising character actors in American cinema right now. After spending the first decade of the noughties doing a series of lacklustre romcoms, he´s now changed course and carved out an impressive and respectable niche for himself in acclaimed studio productions, as well as independent movies and TV-series (everybody who hasn´t already should rush to see the wonderful “True Detective”).

“Dallas Buyers Club” tells the story of hard-living electrician and rodeo aficionado Ron Woodroof, a homophobic womanizer unexpectedly diagnosed with full-blown AIDS in 1985 and subsequently given 30 days to live. At the time, no approved treatment for AIDS existed, and the first candidate AZT were in initial clinical trials. Faced with the only officially sanctioned option of either receiving placebo or the active substance, Ron decides to get his AZT himself, something that succeedes for a while without apparently making him any better. Upon the cut-off of his supply, he establishes contact with an unlicensed Mexican doctor who quickly discontinues Ron´s AZT-treatment, which had caused a series of adverse effects, and gives him another option of vitamins, the protein Peptide T and a new drug called ddC.

Together with cleaning up his act and discontinuing cocaine use and other addictions, this treatment seems to be working, reducing symptoms, making Ron feel better, and most important of all, not dying. In the face of a medical establishment intent on carrying on regular studies before releasing an unknown therapy for general use, Ron decides to smuggle the drugs into the US and supplying other AIDS-sufferers with the treatment for money. This was achieved in the form of a Buyers Club, where a monthly fee gives the member access to the medications, a concept repeated in many American cities at the time. The problems with authorities that this causes isn´t really that surprising, and eventually Ron´s operation closes down.

The arch of the story gives a lot of room to the maturing influence the disease has on Ron, moving from his initial pretty narrow-minded and frankly homophobic persona to a much more understanding and even caring individual. Some of this surely catalyzed by the reactions to the diagnosis by his friends, ostracizing him completely through their ignorance and fear. In other parts due to him realizing that the persons he´d previously viewed with such contempt are actually just human beings like himself.

At the time of the HIV/AIDS epidemic hitting the western world and gaining speed, I was first a medical student and then a young physician. Primarily being primed to diagnose and treat disease, nothing could have prepared me and my comrades for the stigmatizing effect that this particular illness would have on its sufferers. Back then it was viewed by many as a disease that you´d earned through faulty living, even though the only thing the haemophiliacs had done wrong was trusting the medical industry to supply them with safe medications, the intravenous drug abusers due to repressive policies sadly failing to get hold of clean syringes and the male homosexuals making the life-threatening error of being in love with a person of the same sex.

Infectious Disease Clinics in hospitals over the world were filled with young people dying in what is now considered a chronic but treatable condition, while public discourse treated them as modern time carriers of the Black Death, worthy of isolation and denigration. At our day and age, this shouldn´t need to be said, but I think I´ll do it anyway. HIV is a virus that can be transmitted through sexual intercourse and blood, not from everyday contacts like holding somebody´s hand or being in the same room as an infected person. People with HIV/AIDS are not fundamentally different from me and you, but have through a combination of misfortune and ill-informed choices acquired a potentially deadly disease. Ostracizing or discriminating these people is unworthy of a civilized society.

During a clinical training position in the middle of my medical studies, I met a young woman being treated for advanced manifestations of AIDS. As far as I could tell her only bad decision was falling in love with the wrong man, infecting her with the virus that would eventually lead to her demise. Sitting there one single night, in the darkness of a sick room listening to her story, strengthened my feelings of the unfairness of this devastating disease. This intelligent and beautiful woman did not deserve to be killed for loving another person. Nor should anybody else be.

In many ways this is a very powerful movie about a difficult subject, managing to emotionally transport me back to those times in the beginning of the HIV-epidemic when fear and ignorance ruled. Although we´ve come a long way since then, this stigmatization needs to be remembered. That said, I really dislike how some parts of this story is told. The physicians and scientists trying to get sound clinical data on AZT are much vilified, as is the drug itself despite still being an important part of HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy). The frustration of seeing people die while waiting for the results of a new drug study is easily understandable, but doesn´t justify unsupervised human experimentation with unapproved chemicals or the selling of the same for profit.

…the new film version of” L´Écume des jours” is a must see.

Boris VianBoris Vian, born in Paris 1920, managed during his relatively short life to make himself known as a musician, singer, translator, writer, poet, critic, actor, inventor and engineer. Although not gaining that much attention upon their publication, today he´s probably most recognized for his novels. Despite professional friendships with contemporary Existentialist icons Sartre, de Beauvoir and Camus, his philosophy could be more aptly described as belonging to the Pataphysics originated by Alfred Jarry.

In English translation “L´écume des jours” became “Froth on the daydream”, telling the story of independently wealthy young Colin, living a privileged life with his colourful servant and cook Nicolas. Colin´s days are filled with exotic dinners with his friend Chick and experimenting with the pianocktail, a piano that mixes and serves up cocktails with ingredients depending on the keys played. All of this changes when Colin meets and falls in love with the beautiful Chloé. They are quickly wed and during their honeymoon disaster strikes. Chloé falls ill and develops a mysterious affliction where a water-lily grows in one of her lungs. Despite heroic efforts from Colin´s side, she succumbs leaving him heartbroken and destitute.

I remember falling for the romanticism of the novel when first reading it in my early twenties. Very different in content and tone, with a dreamlike quality just about balancing the obvious absurdity. The subplot of Chick´s obsession with the works of philosopher Jean-Sol Partre (Sartre in pretty translucent disguise) is a source of both humour and sadness, as it distances him from his beloved Alise. If you haven´t already, this book is definitely a recommended read, and while you´re at it why not have a go at his other novel “Autumn in Peking” too.

Not intuitively a story that would seem fit for a movie treatment, “L´Écume des jours” has however been filmed twice before. The first time by Charles Belmont in 1968 with the English title “Spray of the days”, later followed by an adaptation by Japanese director Go Riju called “Chloe”. Not having seen any of them I´m in no position to comment on their qualities.

Michel GondryConsidering the themes and feel of this literary work, it´s not that surprising that French-born director Michel Gondry would decide to have another go at taking it to the silver screen. Beginning as a rock band drummer, Gondry quickly went from directing his band´s videos to becoming one of the most lauded music video directors of his generation, making seminal works for the likes of Björk, Massive Attack, Radiohead and The Rolling Stones (to name but a few). The creative freedom in video-making allowed him to develop a truly unique visual style, which he brought with him into his second career as feature film director.

Working together with meta-script writer Charlie Kaufman on his first two full length films made for hugely imaginative movies, with the second one “Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind” (2004) being a success both in the eyes of critics and the general public. The following “The science of sleep” (2006) maintained the surrealistic imagery while being slightly marred by a poorer script. His foray into comedy, “Be kind rewind” (2008), chronicling the two hapless video store clerks that has to recreate popular movies themselves after inadvertently erasing the store´s whole stock of VHS-tapes, was definitely more lightweight (most memorable for coining the term “sweded”, now in use in popular culture).His next two movies not feeling that interesting (2011´s “The green hornet” and 2012´s “The We and the I”), the prospect of Gondry taking on Boris Vian´s novel was much more intriguing.

Mood IndigoGoing by the English title “Mood Indigo” this is something that needs to be seen to be believed. Recreating the intricate Rube Goldberg-type contraptions of Colin´s home (most notably the Pianocktail) takes an imagination like Gondry´s. The style is kinetic, visually exciting and bafflingly original. I must confess to having a sweet spot for Audrey Tautou and she´s perfectly casted as Chloé, her acting so receptive to the overall surreal feel of the film. The story is of course absurd, but that´s not the point. If you´re prepared to suspend disbelief and just let the heart quiet the brain for a while there´s a wonderful experience awaiting. More of a hallucinatory, synaesthetic visual poem, where emotions shape the physical world, than a regular story. The musical prose of jazz aficionado Vian coming to life before our eyes and tickling the senses. And do notice the use of colour as an emotional cue, as we go from the hyper-intense Dali-like hues in the beginning to the gloomy grey-blacks of the chilling final scenes.

There´s a certain creative courage needed to go where this film goes, after all you´re expected to please the box office too. That said, it´s hard to imagine money raining down on this one. Maybe I´m just getting old, but it´s also becoming more and more refreshing with a film where violence is not a significant ingredient. While being one of the most used clichés of critical writing, this is probably a love-it or hate-it type of movie. I´m in the first group. Go see.

…new Showtime series “Penny Dreadful” is really something.

Penny DreadfulCreated by John Logan, and produced by Logan and “American Beauty” director Sam Mendes, this feels like the television equivalent of a DJ mashup. Named after the cheap 19th century British pulp publications containing sensational and lurid stories, this series runs amok amongst the most well-known Victorian horror figures. Set in Jack the Ripper-period London we get characters out of Bram Stoker´s “Dracula” and Dorian Gray from Oscar Wilde, as well as Mary Shelley´s “Frankenstein”. Add to this a hearty dose of Egyptian occultism and an American gunslinger called Ethan Chandler played by Josh Hartnett. Mix with an atmospherically rendered 19th century London as well as actually pretty gruesome gore, and you´re starting to understand what this piece of television is like. They even move the Grand Guignol theatre from Paris to London to get the right feeling.

The storyline revolves around explorer Sir Malcolm Murray and the enigmatic Vanessa Ives, caught in a quest to rescue the abducted daughter of Sir Malcolm, now in the claws of someone probably not quite human. Several parallell subplots gives the story a little more depth, and it´s hard to know where this is going to end. That said, I do suspect that Ethan Chandler is going to turn up as a werewolf later in the series, if I interpret the hints correctly.

Well-produced and often quite scary, even if slightly too heavy on the gore for my taste. Totally ridiculous in many ways, but still strangely entertaining. Check it out.