Films and TV of the month: November


Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

Murder on the Orient Express (1974) (Sidney Lumet)
The movie has a great ensemble cast. Albert Finney is almost unrecognizable, disappearing into the role of Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, his oscar-nominated acting was more impressive than Ingrid Bergman’s. She won an Academy Award for a forgettable performance here.
Agatha Christie keeps you guessing with lots of suspects and clues in an intriguing whodunit mystery. The big reveal was a surprise and one of the great twist endings. Although once the mystery is solved I have to admit the film loses its fascination, and I haven’t thought about it since.



The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017).jpg

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) (Yorgos Lanthimos)
Has the same flat acting style of Lanthimos’ other work (The Lobster, Dogtooth), so it isn’t for everyone. For me, the best film of 2017 so far. I’ve heard it described as a “feel-bad movie”. Elusive, illogical, dream-like, uncomfortable psychological horror-comic mystery. The past can come back to haunt you. Guilt or injustice can bring about nightmares, and the entire film might be a bad dream of one of the main characters. Supposing it is for second, it’s interesting to speculate if nightmares reduce or increase psychological tension. The religious interpretation is also valid. In Greek tragedy, defiance of the gods (hubris), leads to nemesis. As with Dogtooth (2009), the story works on different levels, another reading is that it’s a simple drama with some coincidences and misunderstandings. A fourth angle could be if Martin somehow did something plausible that caused the incident, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what that would be. There’s no evidence that the hospital were at fault, and in these type of situations doctors (for centuries) have been easy targets for blame. That said, I think it’s a film that would force any doctor to assess his/her professionalism.
It’s a difficult film and won’t have the broad appeal of this year’s horror success Get Out. If you are open to something vague and thought-provoking, give it a shot.





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Thelma (2017) (Joachim Trier)
I’m a fan of Joachim Trier’s work, possibly his best known film is Oslo, 31. august (2011). His latest is an intriguing, unsettling, well-told coming of age horror mystery. I empathized with Thelma’s self-discovery and dark secrets, though not someone I’d want to meet! She is a young woman afraid of losing control of her body, her desires, and her identity.  She is searching for her place in the world and testing the boundaries of her Christian background. The film questions what we are in control of and what we are not, and queries the price of liberation. Thelma, like other Joachim Trier characters, is lonely, and despite a family who love her, she doesn’t know how to belong.  Not understanding in what way to reach herself or those around her. The friendship with Anja is a way forward but difficult to deal with due to its intensity.
While the acting is excellent by the lead Eili Harboe, the story maybe doesn’t have enough warmth, emotion and distinctive scenes to be considered a genre classic. The opening and ending sequences, as well as the flashbacks to her childhood, were the visual stand outs. Like The Killing of a Sacred Deer reviewed above, it’s possible many scenes are happening internally.
On a side note, one of Trier’s friends introduced him to a book by Aleister Crowley, which detailed the right to free sexuality and existence outside a Christian lifestyle. Trier discovered that “thelema” is derived from the ancient Greek word for “will”.




City Zero aka Zerograd aka Gorod Zero (1988) (Karen Shakhnazarov)
Recommended to me by Mr Bobinsky at indiescifi451. Included in his top 10 Soviet sci-fi films
My thoughts. The tone of the film is very specific, a sort of absurd kafkaesque deadpan comedy/mystery. Throughout the film, there’s a sense of dread. In Kafka’s world, you cannot get an answer to your questions from the authorities and absurd misunderstandings and accusations occur. The bureaucratic powers are incompetent. The mood of City Zero has a bit of that.
The restaurant scene is particularly surprising and funny. Amusing the museum is in the middle of nowhere and something decidedly odd is going on with the museum exhibits. I probably didn’t get the full impact, as the Russian history and politics went over my head, but I was still able to enjoy the film nonetheless. It’s unclear what is going on in the town. Perhaps the townspeople have created a scam. I could be wrong, my theory is the they wanted Varakin to replace the chef.
Could be viewed as an allegory for governmental control and freedom of the individual, something that was an issue behind the iron curtain in the 80s. Open to more than one interpretation. I wonder if the museum exists somewhere in Russia or was created just for the film?
An unpredictable story that I couldn’t stop watching.



Luther (2003)

Luther (2003) (Eric Till)
I keep hearing mention of Martin Luther because of the 500 year anniversary since the reformation in 1517. The film portrays him as a man of courage and vision, and he was an important reformer of his time.
Among scholars he is not as flawless as the movie suggests, with some who have studied his writing arguing Luther was an anti-semitic. Impressive, expensive looking production values transport you back to the 1500s.



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The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (1975) (Volker Schlöndorff)
Does a good job of showing the pressure and surveillance certain Germans were under during the DDR years. A captivating, bold story to tell considering was produced in the 70s. I didn’t realize the press co-operated with the government, that aspect was especially
interesting. I will say though that Katharina probably would have been put under surveillance no matter where in the world she was, because of the situation she finds herself in. Vilification by the media is still highly topical.



The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.jpg

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) (John Madden)
You don’t need to be of “a certain age” to enjoy this movie. Alyson will get that joke. Characters I cared about, and a quite charming story about the search for meaning and happiness. For the most part, avoids cloyingness/sentimentality. Kind of a Love Actually set in India, if that makes any sense.



The Square

The Square (2017) (Ruben Östlund)
Read full review here




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Score: A Film Music Documentary (2016) (Matt Schrader)
Doesn’t say anything new. A bit shallow. I finished it mainly for the movie clips, which are well-chosen for the impactful use of score.



A Life in Waves.jpg

A Life in Waves (documentary) (2017) (Brett Whitcomb)
Documentary about the life of pioneering electronic musician Suzanne Ciani. Growing up playing the piano, she attended Berkeley’s music course. Praises her mentor Don Buchla, whom she worked with and learned from. He was an inventor in the field of sound synthesizers. She would go on to form her own company, making the sound effects for movies, commercials, and a pinball game. Later releasing solo albums in the 80s. On 1982’s Seven Waves what she was trying to do was create “sensual, feminine, romantic, passionate, emotional music. Music with machines”. With her second solo album in the mid 80s, she talks about the relief of the New Age category in record stores , which meant customers would be able to find her music. From her third album the focus would shift to piano-based music.
Nature is a major inspiration for her work: “Nature gives us confidence that the world works without us. This is all orchestrated without us, We didn’t plan it. It’s just here, and it’s perfect. The other thing about nature is it’s a little more chaotic, it’s like, birds and Bach. The birds are beautiful, but it’s not composed. So for me, nature is a spiritual starting point, because it brings me peace and calmness, and that is what my music is about”
Other electronic/new age musicians mentioned: Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe, Rob Zantay, Sarah Davachi, Kitaro, Chris Ianuzzi, and Peter Baumann(of Tangerine Dream)



What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

24 thoughts on “Films and TV of the month: November

  1. Thanks for linking, Chris!

    It was very interesting for me to see how somebody from a Western country would interpret the film. For us it is easily understandable – City Zero portrays the last decade and the decay (and its reasons) of the Soviet Union. The museum doesn’t exist… you read the general message right – it is a film about corruption, absurdism and totalitarism, a systems when many things don’t make any sense.

    The most crucial scene and probably the most enigmatic one is the fall of the tree, which seemed to exist forever and be strong. But quite the contrary, it was surprisingly easy to demolish it just because of several people’s stupidity and because nobody took care of it for a long time.

    So anyone standing nearby that tree could take a piece for himself.

    That tree is the USSR. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  2. @Mr. Bobinsky: I kind of wish that weird museum did exist, would be a fun visit 🙂 I hadn’t made the connection between the tree and the USSR. Good you are around to tell me 🙂
    I obviously haven’t lived in those times or countries with corruption and totalitarism. City Zero does seem to have a little of the mood of Franz Kafka’s books (The Trial, The Castle) which may have been an inspiration for Shakhnazarov. When there’s time, I intend to watch another film from your list Dead Man’s Letters (1986)

    Liked by 1 person

      1. @Mr. Bobinsky: I remember learning about the ‘banned books’ when I went to the DDR Museum, so I’m not surprised Kafka was forbidden/censored in USSR.

        I’ll watch Dead Man’s Letters when my mind is ready for a heavy movie 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved this version of Orient Express except for Finney’s performance. There was little humanity there, all caricature. The new version is inferior in every way other than Poirot – Branagh was terrific

    Liked by 1 person

    1. @Sati: Thanks for visiting the new site! I haven’t yet seen Branagh’s version. I did hear 2017 adaptation adds personality to the Hercule Poirot, which is interesting. What Finney did to transform his voice and appearance I found remarkable, but I admit it’s also lacking depth. Don’t know which performance is most faithful to the book


  4. The Square, Thelma, and The Killing of a Sacred Deer are currently in my 2017 watchlist as it’s likely I won’t be able to see them this year but hopefully I will get a chance to see them next year.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I am glad to find another person who enjoyed The Killing of a Sacred Deer that much. Since watching it, I keep thinking about it and have realised that vagueness works so well there – the many points where nothing is certain and anything is possible. Nice to see also the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is given some recognition here, and I always envy people who can watch and enjoy an Agatha Christie film adaptation. You say that the best thing about Murder on the Orient Express is the ending/twist, but, alas, for me, it will never be so in this film or in any other Christie film largely because I know Christie’s books inside out having been brought up on them heh

    Liked by 2 people

    1. @dbmoviesblog: Thanks for following and commenting.Killing of a Sacred Deer is a great albeit disturbing film. I agree stories with vagueness and multiple interpretations are fun to ponder, I kind of wish Darren Aronofsky hadn’t been so quick to explain Mother! (2017) as I would have preferred to work it out myself. I suppose that was partly my fault for reading the interviews!

      Sounds like you are an Agatha Christie expert of sorts. Murder on the Orient Express is suspenseful and surprising if you don’t know the ending. As far as I can remember, I’ve only read one of Agatha Christie’s books and that was Death on the Nile, I was proud of myself for having a good idea who the murderer was before reaching the finish

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Have you watched or planning to watch new Murder on the Orient Express (2017)? Someone told me that there is a chance that they will do more “new” adaptations of Christie books, and maybe even Death on the Nile or Murder in Mesopotamia will be next. I wonder if that is true…

        Liked by 1 person

  6. @dbmoviesblog: I may watch new Murder on the Orient Express on the small screen, the 58% RT score made me hesitant to see it in the cinema. The expansion of Hercule Poirot’s psychology/humanity does sound interesting in the 2017 film, even if some are saying this distracts from the murder plot.


  7. Ha ha – Yes I get that joke! Really enjoyed The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel when it came out but hadn’t thought of it as a Love Actually set in India before – So true.

    I’m afraid it seems that my monthly film group has folded and that is when I used to discover some gems like these that would have otherwise passed me by. Will have to put a plan in place for the new year that gets me out of an evening in the cold of winter!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. @Alyson: Hope you find a replacement to your film club . I used to be in a book club though it slowly fell apart, tricky to organize these things when people have so other higher priorities. Fun while it lasted, sharing opinions on the same thing is a good group activity, and opened my eyes to authors/books I didn’t know

      Liked by 1 person

    1. @Nostra: The Killing of a Sacred Deer is divisive because the story is illogical, look forward to your review!

      I sort of tolerated Score (2016) but only for the movie moments that had been gathered together. As you say, the actual documentary parts were lacking. Glad you dug it.


  8. Hey Chris, loving the new look of your blog. I’m glad you joined WordPress. I hadn’t stopped by in a while, or at any of my other friends’ websites in the blogosphere, and for that I’m sorry. I’ll try to be better next year. Life gets in the way most of the time.
    I agree with what another comment had to say about Albert Finney’s performance in Murder on the Orient Express as “There was little humanity there, all caricature. The new version is inferior in every way other than Poirot – Branagh was terrific”. I actually found both films rely too much on the quality of the ensemble, thinking that their skills and screen presence are enough to carry the story. Having seen the new version, I also found the original to be a bit more mysterious, which allows the twist at the end to feel all the more surprising and powerful. As you pointed out, I do think Ingrid Bergman was gifted an Oscar for her work and I could say her presence parallels that of Dame Judi Dench, who is barely more than a footnote in the newer film.
    I haven’t seen any of the other films, but I do have The Square on my sights, after being completely captivated by the very good trailer and the encouraging reviews, yours included.
    I’m also planning to watch The Killing of a Sacred Deer after having enjoyed The Lobster quite a bit.
    Like you, I’ve become a fan of Trier’s work, so I can’t wait to get the chance to watch Thelma very soon. I absolutely loved his work in Oslo, and I very much enjoyed Louder than Bombs as well.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on these and happy new year!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. @Niels at Blog of Big Ideas: Happy New Year and glad you like the new look of the blog ! Thanks for your thoughts on Murder on the Orient Express, the complaint I’ve heard about the 1974 version is that it rushes the story a tad. I haven’t seen the new one to compare Poirot.Agree about Ingrid Bergman

    I urge you to seek out The Killing of a Sacred Deer, my #1 of 2017. A dark puzzle of a film. Joachim Trier makes wonderful films. I don’t know if Thelma is his best, though definitely worth your time.


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