Dark Town, Gloomy Times

It’s just about possible that this year’s best supernatural TV series comes from Germany. It’s called Dark, it’s available on Netflix since December 1st, so it probably won’t be on any best of lists for this year. It should be. Dark borrows from some of the most favorite horror TV series of the last two or three years; it takes what it can use from the recent Twin Peaks, Les Revenants, True Detective, Stranger Things and others, and distils those borrowed spare parts for long enough to turn into its very own material. There are two things that make it worth your while: it tones down the supernatural element and focuses on its characters enough so it doesn’t have to rely on its McGuffin too much, and it creates its own atmosphere so well that it’s easy to forgive it a few shortcomings. It’s a slow series, ten episodes of about one hour, but some scenes are almost bristling with intensity. Continue reading

Detroit goes down

Detroit is a miss. The beginning and the ending are weak bookends to a middle that is strong and impressive cinematically, but the movie as a whole lacks two basic ingredients: a moral point of view, and a minimum of Detroit-specific context. I don’t think either of these flaws are the director’s fault: Kathryn Bigelow knows how to place her audience in the middle of a scene involving crowds, be it a war or a riot. My guess is that the lack of context comes from the screenplay by Bigelow’s frequent collaborator Mark Boal, who wrote The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, also directed by Bigelow. Continue reading

Fear, jealousy, sheep and death

There are good starting points when it comes to getting away from it all with your husband for six months in the Swiss mountains. Having the strong suspicion that your husband is having an affair isn’t one of them – nor is running over a sheep less than a day into your trip. And what definitely doesn’t help is finding that your reality is fraying at the edges and there’s a creepy black cat telling you to kill your husband before he does the same to you.

Tiere

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Everybody was kung-fu fighting

Roughly halfway through the first episode of American Gods, the TV adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel, its protagonist Shadow finds a large, bearded Irish American calling himself Mad Sweeney getting right in his face. The self-described leprechaun keeps goading Shadow, newly released from jail and trying to keep out of trouble. Finally, Mad Sweeney finds the right button to press – and gets exactly what he wanted: a fist in the face and a shit-kicking bar fight.

Afterwards, as the screen cut to black, my wife turns to me and says, “Now that is how you do a fight scene.”

American Gods

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The loneliness of the modern-day cowboy

The man doesn’t talk much. Mostly he smokes his cigarette and looks out over the untamed land. He’s come as part of a group planning to harness nature, to bring electricity and industry to these apparent outskirts of civilisation – one of several men who never question their right to be where they are and take what they want – yet he stands apart from them. They are not his tribe. He rides a horse into the small town where the natives eye him, not quite knowing what to make of the man. They don’t share his language and he doesn’t understand theirs, but that’s unimportant. Perhaps it’s even the point. The frontier feels like home to him.

It is 2017. The frontier is the Bulgarian-Greek border, and the man is one of several German construction workers employed to build a hydroelectric power station. The film is called Western – a surprisingly apt description for a surprising movie.

Western

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Holy Mother of…

Let’s face it: Darren Aronofsky’s mother! is not the best nor the worst movie of the year, or the decade, or of all of movie history. It’s an average piece of art from a filmmaker who, after making Noah in 2014, has used another narrative from the Bible, i.e. the Garden of Eden, mixed it with ecological concerns, and made a mildly interesting story out of it. The main problem I have with mother! is its lack of surprise for all of its two hours. Once you get that the Jennifer Lawrence character is some kind of Eve and ecological earth mother whose universe is the house she lives in, the rest sort of falls into place. The movie has only three kinds of scenes: Lawrence’s point of view, Lawrence in the frame, or shots over her shoulder. It’s the earth mother’s story and how her realm gets invaded by careless, selfish humans. She has built that house herself and will never leave it – the porch is as far as she will go. She can feel the house’s beating heart getting poisoned by unwanted intruders. The invasion is gradual, but unstoppable, and you know well before the end that we will be back at the beginning, where the house is in flames, with the earth mother dying in it, and her husband placing a diamond on its little altar so that the house can heal again. And so on. Continue reading