Mokum vaarwel!

 

Het voelt niet eens zo lang maar dit najaar woon ik 17 jaar in Amsterdam. Ik zal die mijlpaal niet redden en blijven steken op 16,5.

Sinds het najaar van 2011 smeed ik al heimelijk plannen om de hoofdstad te verlaten. Aan het geheim kwam een eind met de verkoop annonce van mijn woning op het net. De woning is inmiddels verkocht.

Mijn vrienden begrijpen het niet. In hun ogen is het onvoorstelbaar dat je Amsterdam de rug toe zou kunnen keren. Aan mijn eigen argumenten kom ik nauwelijks toe. Sterker nog, in een terugkerend zwaktebod verval ik in een soort deemoedige spijtbetuiging. “Ja, ik weet het, maar ja, Haarlem is ook best leuk.” of nog erger “Ja, nee, natuurlijk heb je gelijk, Amsterdam is het centrum van het universum, maar ik heb gewoon het geld niet om te wonen zoals ik graag wil in deze stad.”

Dan word ik aangekeken met een mengsel van wantrouwen en meewarigheid. Ik woonde namelijk niet zomaar in Amsterdam, neen, in AMSTERDAM, in het hart van de Negen Straatjes, aan een gracht, in een rijksmonument. Vierhoog achter, dat dan weer wel, maar toch: wat nou: “ik heb het geld niet om….etc?!”

Misschien is de waarheid anders, wellicht dat ik al die tijd dat ik Mokum thuis noemde, niet zo heel erg onder de indruk was. Een erg mooie, prettige, kleine stad, ja dat wel, maar verder?

Tijd voor een stukje voorgeschiedenis: Ik woonde als kind in Los Angeles, Londen en Wenen. Onlangs nog keerde ik voor een jaar terug naar Hollywood. Misschien ben ik gewoon verwend. Daar vloeit de vraag uit voort of ik mij wellicht teveel in het diepe gooi door naar het kleine, verfijnde Haarlem te gaan, apropos mijn geboortestad… Zal ik teloor gaan in pure verveling, of erger nog: volgend jaar ineens schoenen kopen die echt niet kunnen, omdat ik gewoon niet meer “in the loop” zit?

Het machtige, inspirerende Amsterdam, met zijn blowende toeristen en simpelweg te hip en trendy geworden binnenstad. Een Redwing brandstore? Amerikaanse werkschoenen voor driehonderd euro? De enige die ik er ooit iets heb zien kopen was Thom Yorke, zanger van Radiohead. Die zal ik in Haarlem wel niet meer voorbij zien schuifelen.

Ik ben van mijn vriendenkring zowat de eerste die de stad verlaat. De reacties op de voorgenomen verhuizing verraden al de waarheidsgraad van hun belofte mij “heus wel eens in Haarlem op te zoeken”.

Het geeft niet, de kogel is door de kerk. Ik ga weg uit Amsterdam. En als ik mij dan “Mug” noem en de barbecue aanslinger in mijn achtertuin, hoor ik mijn vrouw haar Vespa in de voortuin zetten. En dan gedenk ik mijn Amsterdamse vrienden, die niet zijn gekomen.

Zij die in hun souterrain naar de optrekkende vochtplekken staren, of zwetend met de kinderwagen op de derde verdieping aangekomen zijn, en nog maar een trap op hoeven, zich realiserend dat ze het pak luiers beneden hebben laten staan. En zij die nog proberen door de binnenstad te fietsen, een vuist in de lucht en de ander op de zinloze fietsbel..Tja, vrienden, het is hier anders en de Mephisto’s zitten heerlijk.

 

The Place Beyond the Pines

“The Place Beyond the Pines” – this is not a heist movie.

Not having seen writer director Derek Cianfrance’s much acclaimed “Blue Valentine” or, anything starring Ryan Gosling, I decided to find out what the buzz was all about.

Beyond the Pines, is at the very least, an interesting film. It has a decidedly off kilter structure, consisting of three distinct chapters. The film makes a larger, slightly obvious point that decisions have consequences further down the line than one can imagine.

 

The story begins with Ryan Gosling’s character, “Handsome Luke” a danger seeker, motorbike carny, touring the land doing a risky motorcycle act. He runs into an old fling, played subtly by a surprising Eva Mendes. He finds out that she has had his child and decides to step up and “care for” the kid, even though there is no apparent objective need to do so.

He goes a step further by robbing banks to scratch this character driven itch. Of course, this is a really bad decision, one which through the coincidental involvement of rookie cop Avery, played well enough by Bradley Cooper, will have far reaching consequences – for all involved, for many years to come. Thus the wheels are set in motion that will crush the  generations, or will they? It’s an ambitious story, and emotionally gripping.

My only beef is that practically all the characters in the movie seem to make really bad decisions all the time, therefore the rather somber effects are to be expected. There is but little light at the end of the tunnel.

Still, the acting is above par, the film is beautifully lit and scored and it certainly makes for an atmospheric masterpiece. There is a real sense of claustrophobic foreboding that these ghost of Christmas past will not let things lie.

As stated above, I have not seen Blue Valentine, although I now definitely want to, but it appears that from the microcosm of a single relationship, Derek Cianfrance really wanted to expand his range, the scope of the story. This leads to the film feeling slightly disconnected and forced at times. Yet, I still give it a full thumbs up.

 

 

Spring Breakers

 

“We came here to find out who we are”

“Spring Breakers” is not “The Hangover” starring four hot chicks having a whacky adventure during spring break. Yes, there are four very hot chicks, but this movie is no laughing matter. In fact, I still wonder whether it takes itself a bit too seriously..

The plot, as such, deals with four 18 year olds being bored at Nowhereville State college, not having the dough to go to spring break in Florida. One of them is the odd one out, the rather obviously named Faith, a practising Christian.

The other three resort to rather violent measures to find the cash to take them to Florida. They succeed without a hiccup.

Soon the girls are enjoying the delights of an an overtly stereotypical spring break. Drugs, drink, booties, boobies, tatoos, it’s all there.

However, even though the girls seem to be having fun, it doesn’t particularly come across as fun, and through montage and camera angles there is always a sense of unease, and impending doom. For me, this is where the film really shines. Showing the dark side of this endless, brainless party, without in fact “showing” it.

There are typical mindless meandering voice-overs by the girls, all about paradise, lovely people, new friends, and how they are truly finding themselves. For me, this all added to the atmosphere, although it was grating and repetitive at times.

The film did take a while to get going again, after all, even for a red blooded male, there’s so much teen bootie party imagery one can stand. But when the turn takes place half way through, you’ll know it hit.

James Franco pops up, an actor I really dislike in general. However, here, he is well cast. Being an annoying stoner “G” suits him. He is a perfect mixture of the ridiculous and threatening. The film descends into fantasy as it nears the end, losing some of its potency.

And after the, once again violent, finale, one is left with a question: what is this film maker trying to say. Is it a critique of modern day youth hedonism? Or simply a rip snorting wild ride to the dark side….or perhaps a bit of both.

One thing is for sure, writer/director Harmony Korine is one to watch!

Episodes!

“Episodes” season 1 and 2 – a short review.

“At the risk of sounding a bit melodramatic, I think you’ve broken my heart.”

After running out of Downton Abbey episodes, it was time to go on the hunt, once again, for a new TV show to enjoy.

BBC’s “Upstairs Downstairs” disappointed, none of the characters were of particular intrest, and the storyline is muddled and doesn’t warrant an investment of time. Then again, perhaps I was just too tired of the costume drama thing, because “Borgias” also failed to stir my interest.

So, I decided to go for something contemporary, and so I turned to a British American co-production: “Episodes”. This comedy drama was created by David Crane, of “Friends”fame and Jeffry Klarik, who collaborated with Crane on “Friends” precursor “Dream on”.

The story deals with a British couple, who are lured to Hollywood to remake their hit British sitcom. As soon as they land, their creation slowly slips from their grasp. The network casts Matt LeBlanc as the star of the show…..much to the chagrin of our Brits. Soon it’s not just their TV show that’s slipping from their grasp…

The show is fresh, has a strong central concept and a varied cast of interesting characters. Matt LeBlanc plays a fictionalised version of himself and he is on top form. The casting of the other characters is right on target, and it seems as though everybody thouroughly enjoys making this show.

But the genius of the show is in the writing. David Crane and his writing team succeed in an almost perfect balance of character and plot. They adhere strictly the rule that comedy is suffering; giving te characters no mercy but plenty of love. Every solution precipitates new complications….

By Hollywood standards, LeBlanc is the star of the show, if only because he is the biggest name involved. This is, however, untrue. The show is definitely about the British couple, played brilliantly by Tamsin Greig (“Black Books”) and Stephen Mangan (“Dirk Gently”).

From the off, we believe they are a couple in love, and talented writers being tortured by the powers that be. It is their story that kept me coming back for more, breathlessly. The humor is persistent and clever, rather than laugh out loud funny – although a great fight scene in the final episode of season 1 had me on the floor laughing….

Fortunately, Episodes was picked up by Showtime, rather than one of the major networks. This entails that the strond story isn’t diluted down to 22 episodes per season, in fact the first two season total 16 episodes. Funnily enough, even though the whole atmosphere just breathes Los Angeles, most of the shooting was done in the UK.

Check it out if you can: a wholehearted recommendation: Episodes

From Homeland, via True Blood to Downton

Still shaking from withdrawal after living through Homeland seasons one and two I went on the prowl for some new dope. Downton Abbey has long looked like a likely contender, but I was still waiting for series one to arrive in the mail. The next season of Mad Men is just too long a wait and the missus won’t get into Breaking Bad. Which leaves us with: the much hyped “True Blood”. I decided to give episode 1 a fair shake.

Yes, dear friends, a show about vampires, set in current day Louisiana. Somehow this would seem like a logical place for the critters to live (unlive?). I have to admit I’m not big on the whole vampire thing, having tried to watch “Twilight” (for strictly professional reasons) twice….and not succeeding.

On the left here’s Twilight star Robert Pattinson or vampire Edward as his friends know him, looking moody, conflicted, and let’s face it: sleepy….I do envy his hair, though not the way he wears it.

 

 

But I do have somewhat fond memories of “Interview with a Vampire” and am an avid admirer of Coppola’s “Dracula” (remember 1992? Boy am I getting old).

Okay, so there I am, biting my way through episode one, season one, with the charming Anna Paquin to keep me company. So far, things are at their mediocre best. Until the unavoidable sleepy eyed, pale, perpetually sleepy (and I assume handsome) vampire dude, love interest shows up. Oh great, it’s a Robert Pattinson lookalike – mayhaps even sleepier. And he’s played by a Brit too, how authentic!

Anna falls for the chap like a sack of concrete. And then he’s put in danger by a couple of buffoons too stupid to tie their own bootlaces. It’s convenient, because Anna gets to save him. This is onstensibly the inciting incident for the whole show, which is now in its sixth season.

Now, why am I annoyed? Well, to be honest: I just can’t take the whole “look at me being pale, weak, touchy feely, dangerous or not, confused, befuddled, strong, weak, look I’ve got pointy teeth” thing.

Here’s vampire Bill, on the left, he’s really tired, you know, ’cause he’s like really old and conflicted over his identity, you know. It’s like really difficult to be different and stuff, you know….it sucks to be a vamp.

Give me a real badass old school Dracula over all these teen angst metaphore creatures any day. This is what the show’s makers are asking me to invest in, to get involved with?

No, So there it is, no True Blood for me.

There, that was it for me, True Blood is shelved for the foreseeable future at least. Which brings me comfortably back to Downton Abbey. By now I have thoroughly enjoyed episode one, good performances all-round, juicy plotting. In short: we have an winner.

At least till Homeland season 3 and Mad Men 6…….

Django Unchained

“I’m sorry, I just couldn’t resist” – Dr. King Schultz

So there it is, in all its technicolour glory, Tarantino’s long awaited western “Django Unchained”. The story: in the pre civil war South a German bounty hunter, Dr. Schultz, buys the black slave Django in an effort to find three brothers he has been hunting down. Django helps him, thus becoming a free man, and a bond of friendship is soon formed between these strange bedfellows. However, Django has bigger things on his mind: he has to find his great love and wife, from whom he was separated by a nasty white man. Dr. Schultz reveals himself to be a great romantic and agrees to aid Django.

This is a long, some might say, epic movie. It is beautifully shot, the soundtrack is excellent, with plenty of Morricone references. The leads are played brilliantly, with the absolute shining star of the movie being Christopher Waltz, who plays a charming dead opposite to his role in “Inglourious Basterds”.

There are plenty of laughs, plenty of pin sharp and witty dialogue and a lot – and I mean A LOT – of bloody gunfights. The story, though slightly slow at times, is well constructed and the finale is absolutely riveting. Kudos to Tarantino for keeping me guessing right up to the very final scenes.

All in all, this film should merit nothing buy praise: Tarantino pulls it out of the bag, again! However, for me, as an entire product, it somehow failed. No, it wasn’t the frequent use of the word “nigger” that grated. But the juxtaposition of realistic imagery of the violent abuse of black slaves – including a truly gruesome bare knuckle fight to the death of two men – with the slapstick style gunplay just didn’t work for me.

The, mostly very amusing, silliness of Tarantino’s movie idiom just doesn’t sit well when combined with a heart breaking subject like slavery. To me, the same can be said about Inglourious Basterds treatment of Jewish persecution. Personally I think Tarantino would do better to stay away from such heavyweight subjects when constructing such movies that are, in essence, comedies. Unless, of course there is something I am missing…

 

The Story of Film by Mark Cousins – review

“Hollywood films are not classical” Mark Cousins

“The Story of Film” is an epic 15 hour “journey” through the history of film. Creator Mark Cousins takes us by the hand and shows us hundreds of excerpts of classic films from the Lumiere brothers to Baz Luhrmann. His droning monologue is sometimes grating but at the same time knowledgeable and truly involved. I can’t possibly do this epic effort justice in a short review so I will just highlight my personal pros and cons of this remarkable achievement.

Pros

Mark Cousins must be applauded for even daring to undertake this venture. In 15 one hour episodes we are taken through the entire evolution of cinema as a mass medium artform. Cousins is staunch in his stance that film is, and in fact always has been, a global medium. He makes his point convincingly by including movies from every corner of the world from start to finish in the series. As such The Story of Film is an invaluable introduction to world cinema. It’s absolutely glorious in this sense.

Mark comes across a knowledgeable, passionate in fact, about film. He is unabashed in proclaiming his own set of “The best scene ever…” “The best director ever…” etc. Whilst some form of qualification is always welcome for the sake of clarity, it is also risky. This is something I will return to in Cons.

For anyone who seriously loves film, The Story of Film will be worth your while. You will finally see (parts of) the works of great masters whose films you had never really gotten round to watching (Ozu, Dreyer, Pasolini, the list goes on and on), so that you too can pretend to have seen every classic film ever made.

To sum up the pros: I really enjoyed The Story of Film, however to me, it does have its downsides.

Cons

Mark Cousins is a man on a mission. He wants to debunk the myth that film = Hollywood. And, rightly so. However, for me, he overshoots his mark. His recurring snide remarks at the expense of Hollywood film making undermine his efforts to achieve just recognition for world cinema. Why should one have to be bad for the other to be good?

An example can be seen in the quote that starts this review. His disdain for 30’s and 40’s Hollywood film making is clear: Cousins loathes the romantic vein of American films of the era. Thus, “Casablanca” is debunked as a classic, it is according to the master, a mere romantic bauble. However, when the very same romantic elements are used in e.g. 1970’s India they lead to classic masterpieces….this cognitive dissonance is just plain annoying.

Then there is Cousins’ obsession with form above content. According to Cousins cinema should be considered a purely visual medium. In 15 hours of film there is rarely a single comment praising well crafted character, plot, or story in film. The Story of Film is most definitely not about one thing: Story. This is rather silly and in a way, sad.

Nearly all of the excerpts Cousins chooses to show us concern compositional innovations and/or visual trickery. These are indeed crucial to the innovation of film, but cannot be considered the only measure by which to determine whether a film is great or even classical. The development of story and character is a crucial part in the history of film. Obviously Mark Cousins would beg to differ.

Finally, it annoyed me again and again that Cousins is a self proclaimed adjudicator of what is great and what is not. He often proclaims certain films, directors, scenes, shots etc to be the greatest ever. In most cases he is not professing an opinion, but god’s own truth. Mark Cousin, at least in his own opinion, is the god of film.

 

Jagten (The Hunt) review

An evil man once said: The greater the lie, the greater the chance that it will be believed.

To say I have been looking forward to “Jagten” is a bit strange. After all, the film deals with quite dark subject matter. Yet I recently rewatched and re-enjoyed “Festen” and was delighted to find that director Vinterberg was back with another look at the dark side of human nature. He co-wrote the screenplay with Tobias  Lindholm, writer of, amongst other things, the hit series “Borgen”.

In “Jagten” a teacher, portrayed excellently bij Mads Mikkelsen, is accused of the worst of all sins: sexual abuse of a young child.

What follows is an acutely observed descent into hell, for all involved. At times I found myself squirming in my seat, which is exactly what this films intends. The willingness of the townsfolk to believe everything that small children profess is both frustrating and totally believable.

This is what makes the movie so deeply fascinating and gripping. There is a frightening sense of inevitability about the way the world of teacher Jacob collapses around him.

A special mention has to go out to Thomas Bo Larson who portrays Jacob’s best friend with believable gravitas and feeling. A true star performance reminiscent of his stint in Festen.

There were really only two weaknesses that I found in the whole movie. First of all when teacher Jacob is first accused, to me his reaction is just too understated. It beggars belief to some extent that he would react more strongly. Secondly, and this is a pet peeve more than anything: Jacob’s teenage son Marcus is too heavily made up in the movie. It’s really odd and distracts from the completely realist feel of the film….

If you are into intense character studies, or just into great serious movies, make sure you catch “Jagten” – known as “The Hunt” in English language markets.

Skyfall review

Years ago, I dreamt up a Bond story in which our hero is injured badly in a screwed up mission. He assumes there’s a mole…..to recover from his injuries he retires to the Highlands. Once there, the rest of the film would deal with a quite primitive life and death struggle between Bond and an army of hit men sent by the mole. Minimalist, gadgetless, in other words: everything Bond wasn’t at the time (The World is not Enough, really?).

Well, thank my lucky stars, Skyfall has, at least in spirit, made this dream come true. A quite straightforward, and comprehensible plot, based on just a few main characters. And it even takes us to Scotland!

I really enjoyed Skyfall. Sure, there are several plot holes that don’t stand up to close scrutiny. Daniel Craig’s bond is, to me, as ever ambiguous. At times I just don’t see him as Bond, yet at other moments I understand the toffish/brutish type he is portraying. Javier Bardem is the perfect creepy foil, although I found that too little was done with certain aspects of his plot line, to say more would be to spoil….

The opening stimulates the senses, and some viewers have complained that the film slows down too much afterward. I couldn’t agree less. The timing is in fact a strong point of the film. The long build up to the climax works. The finale is both exhilarating and ridiculous in the best Bond tradition. Well done Sam Mendes and screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan.

If you even slightly enjoy the Bond genre, you have to see this installment. A die hard Bond fan friend of mine actually clapped his hands in delight at the return of a number of Bond canon characters and set details at the very end of the movie. It bodes well for the future of this fascinating franchise. And then in a few more years they can reboot with Michael Fassbender as 007 – can you imagine that?