Week 3: Hotel Transylvania

Genndy Tartakovsky, 2012

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When I started watching “Hotel Transylvania” (2012) I was unaware that it would take such a comical stab at my current situation. In just four days I am moving to Transylvania, after having travelled there with my backpack last year. Seeing fellow 21-year old backpacker Jonathan stumble upon Dracula’s hotel in true backpacker style while passing through the same regions I visited really made me fall in love with this movie! Jonathan’s endless stories of “inspiring travel” and his undying love for his backpack where hilarious. It reminded me a lot of how crazy packerlife can be!

The movie itself is a neat comedy that takes a bunch of stale, wasted monsters and gives them refreshing new personalities. The movie introduces Dracula as the over-protective father of his 118-year-old daughter Mavis. The Romanian hotel Dracula runs is occupied by all sorts of monsters looking for peace and tranquility in a place without pesky humans with pitchforks. The guests are a pleasure to watch and especially Wayne, Dracula’s worn-down werewolf friend (played by Steve Buscemi), adds a lot of fun to the movie as the father of far over a dozens pups. I was surprised to find so many funny references in this new animated film and therefore it feels like a good recommendation right before moving into Dracula’s hotel myself!

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Week 2: Hasta la Vista!

Geoffrey Enthoven, 2011

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“Hasta la Vista!” (2011) is an extraordinary take on the roadmovie. The Belgian movie tells the story of three twentysomething men who are coping with a physical handicap. Philip suffers from paraplegia, Jozef is almost completely blind and Lars has an incurable brain tumor which paralyzed his body. Worried that they might all die as virgins, the three friends plan to overcome their disabilities and travel to Spain where they hope to visit a brothel specialized in taking care of “their kind of people.”

After drawing up a solid plan and finding a tour operator who will help them get to Spain, Philip and his friends introduce the idea to their parents as a tour “to visit the French and Spanish vineyards.” Like “Achtste-groepers huilen niet” (2011) the movie combines a sense of sadness with a feeling of true optimism. The boys show how a strong spirit guided by an undying friendship can overcome any disability. It is quite funny, endearing and at times terribly frustrating to see how three disabled boys mange to travel western Europe. The acting is great and gives life to the obstinacy of the three friends, doing what most non-disabled people can only dream of doing.

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Week 1: Achtste-groepers huilen niet

Dennis Bots, 2012

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The last decades Dutch Cinema suffered a bad reputation among the people in the Netherlands. After watching more than three hundred Dutch movies I can say with certainty: whichever Dutch person claims that the Netherlands doesn’t produce good movies probably never watched the right ones. True, we are guilty of making shamefully bad movies such as “Costa!” (2001) and “Dood Eind” (2006) but it can mostly be blamed on the Dutch audiences that they would rather see Dutch hillbillies curse at each other then view a thought-provoking movie like “Het Echte Leven” (2008.)”

“Achtste-groepers huilen niet” (or: “Cool Kids Don’t Cry,” 2012) is a very realistic display of what primary school is like for Dutch kids being in their last grade. Unlike many other (Dutch) children’s movies it takes itself and its target audience serious, which is a very welcome relieve. The plot concerns Akkie, an 11-year old girl who loves playing soccer. When she is diagnosed with leukemia it strongly effects her life and the lives of the parents and children around her. Hanna Obbeek, the 14-year old actress who portrays Akkie is amazing to watch: very rarely do child actors play such strong roles. Akkie is a vivid, lively and optimistic force of energy through all of the movie. The strength of her spirit while facing an awful disease is inspiring. The dynamics between Akkie and bully Joep (Nils Verkooijen) further solidify this movie as a small Dutch gem.

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Week 52: Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel

Gareth Carrivick, 2009

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In the last two decades there certainly was no shortage of time travel movies. Some turned out great, and some were pretty bad. Time travel movies – and time travel in general – always contains at least one paradox, namely a “version” of the grandfather paradox. Someone from the future causes something in the past which renders the future that changed the past impossible. Every time travel movie has its own rules. Good times travel movies know their own rules, and above all, their own paradoxes. They play in to these paradoxes, explain them, or in the very least acknowledge them. “Looper” (2012) does neither one of those things. The movie is so inherently inconsistent about its own rules of cause and effect that the only thing there is left to figure out is why it has such a high rating on IMDb.

Making a time travel movies requires a good script, and above all a story that at least to some point challenges your intelligence to figure out the plot. After seeing “Looper” I was in dire need to watch a time travel movie like this. Therefore I turned to “Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel” (2009) which is, naturally, about time travel. Both the screenwriters and the characters in the movie itself knew the rules, knew the paradoxes, and decided to have a little bit of meta-humorous fun with it. Save yourself a ticket to disappointment, and watch this movie instead of “Looper”… Don’t you wish you could go back in time to warn yourself to wait for the DVD release sometimes?

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Week 51: P2

Franck Khalfoun, 2007

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Christmas is coming and it’s time to get into the holiday spirit! The short-titled “P2” (2007) takes place on the eve of Christmas and introduces Angela, a young businesswoman who plans to spend the night with her family in Jersey. After leaving her office block later than expected, things take a wrong turn on parking lot level P2. The movie offers everything you need for the holidays: a few gifts, a fancy dress, a few classic Christmas tunes, a kidnapping and a lot of blood.

“P2” is build up as a formulatic horror film and doesn’t excel in any specific area, but it rises above many other films with a similar premise because of its gritty and atmospheric setting and its strong reliance on the acting of Rachel Nichols and Wes Bentley, the films only stars. Wes Bentley’s performance reverberates the creepiness of his role as the neighbours’ son in “American Beauty” (1999) and Rachel Nichols, who is best known for her action roles in “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” (2009) and “Conan the Barbarian” (2011) plays Bentley’s victim. The movie strips the actress of her elegance and shows how both she and her captor descend into madness on a ‘cold, cold, lonely Christmas night.’

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Week 50: Diabolik

Mario Bava, 1968

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“Holy heart failure,” Robin called out. The children laughed. It was 1966 and Batman was a shoddy superhero on a small tv-screen. Comics were meant for children and Hollywood refused to take a serious financial bet on the superhero genre. In contrast, Terence Young’s spy thriller “Dr. No” (1962) and its sequels proved the spy genre was booming. As a result, Italian director Mario Bava took it upon himself to adapt the Italian ‘Diabolik’ comic book series into a movie.

Diabolik is not a hero, nor is has he any ‘superpowers.’ He is criminal: morally corrupted and arrogant. Above all, Diabolik seems to be the embodiment of European promiscuity. His relationship with his female counterpart Eva seems to be based on sex and eroticism. The best description of Diabolik would be that he is a demented version of James Bond. What makes “Diabolik” (1968) so much fun to watch is definitely not its plot, but its twisted portrayal of the anti-spy and his lover in a series of strong scenes that have become cult classics in their own right – including a love scene involving a revolving bed and $10 million in cash.

In addition, the costume design by Piero Gherardi and Luciana Marinucci continues to surprise!

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Week 49: ParaNorman

Chris Butler & Sam Fell, 2012

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We are at the dawn of a zombie apocalypse. In April, the “Evil Dead” (2013) will crawl out of their grave for the fourth time, while Brad Pitt tries to halt a dawning zombie pandemic which sets the world on a crash course towards a social meltdown (“World War Z,” 2013), all the while Teresa Palmer starts shagging the undead, Twilight-style (“Warm Bodies,” 2013) and Milla Jovovich plans to take out the dead again and again and again and again (“Resident Evil 6 & 7”). So who’s to say the Maya’s where wrong?

“ParaNorman” (2012) is one of several animated features that embraced the (zombie) horror theme this year, forecasting 2013’s zombie blockbuster apocalypse. Its almost as if the pandemic of the undead (predicted by websites such as 9gag, 4chan and reddit) is slowly growing up, first targeting the young, then taking out the elder. “ParaNorman” however proves to be anything but a children’s movie. The film displays beautiful dark visuals and has a strong script at its heart. The story, which features the eleven year old Norman who is able to speak to the dead, might sound simplistic, but Norman and his friends will give you a real good taste for the dead.

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Half-Time: Rings

Jonathan Liebesman, 2005

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The psychological horror film “The Ring” (2002) and its sequel “The Ring Two” (2005) where derived from the Japenese filmseries of the same name. Both these series where in turn based on writer Koji Suzuki’s 1991 novel “Ringu”. In the series a mysterious videotape seems to cause the death of anyone who views it. After the video stops playing, a phone rings telling the viewer ‘you will die in seven days.’ Both the American and the Japanse adaptation of the novel where strong, original horror movies that scared audiences across the world. The sequels in both series felt a bit more derivative, and where enjoyable at best.

To coincide with the theatrical release of “The Ring Two” a re-release of the DVD for “The Ring” was issued which also featured a short movie titled “Rings” (2005). The 16-minute short takes place between the first and the second American “Ring”-film and tells the story of a subculture surrounding the deadly videotape. Each member of the group purposely watches the tape and waits to see how close they can get to the seven day-deadline before passing on the curse to someone else. “Rings” is more thrilling, more haunting and more intriguing then its feature length counterparts. The short is shot in a different style then the films and gives of a creepy, distressing vibe. It is unfortunate that “Rings” was never extended into a feature length film, but the short can still be viewed on YouTube today.

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Week 48: Kdo chce zabít Jessii?

Václav Vorlíček, 1966

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Since I’m writing my master thesis on the socio-political relevance of the superhero movies of the 21st century, I felt required to watch those last few remaining superhero movies that I haven’t seen yet. After a week filled with small superhero movie gems from the early years of cinema, including early renditions of Superman (1951), Batman (1966) and Spider-Man (1977) I watched Václav Vorlíček’s Czech movie “Kdo chce zabít Jessii?” or: “Who Wants to Kill Jessie?”

The film breaks with the domestic conventions of everyday life under the highly oppressive Communist regime in Czechoslovakia. A scientist finds new inspiration in the a series of Jessie-comic books (illustrated by comic book artist Kája Saudek) after which his wife and fellow scientist accidently manifests his dreams: Jessie and the two archenemies are brought into the real world. Playboy cover girl Olga Schoberová takes on the role of what might just be the first cinematic superheroine ever and Juraj Visny plays a joyfully evil version op Superman. The film brilliantly brings the conventions of comic books into the real world, including text balloons and sound effects. Vorlíček goal was “to make the Czech people collectively aware that they were participants in a system of oppression and incompetence which had brutalized them all.” Blissfully amoral and a little weird, “Kdo chce zabít Jessii?” is definitely worth a watch!

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Week 47: 4 luni, 3 săptămâni şi 2 zile

Cristian Mungiu, 2007

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In 1967 Romania’s last Communist leader Nicolae Ceaușescu issued ‘Decree 770’ restricting abortion and birth control in his country in order to stimulate the growth of the population. The aim was to expand the nation from 23 to 30 million inhabitants. In the years between the issuing and reversal of the decree in 1989, over 9000 women died due to complications arising from illegal abortions. Mungiu’s “4 luni, 3 săptămâni şi 2 zile,” or “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” is set in 1987, and follows student Otilia Mihartescu as she helps her roommate Găbiţa Dragut to arrange an illegal abortion.

Without being judgemental, the film is an all too real portrait of the difficult choice that comes with abortion and the sacrifices it requires. “4 luni, 3 săptămâni şi 2 zile” allows us to experience the feeling of oppression that lingered over both men and women in the eighties in Romania. The mood of the film is strengthened by its realism, which stems from long lingering shots accompanied by a flow of natural sounding dialogue. The sense of fear surrounding illegal abortion is scarier then any monster will ever be, and yet it is something many people in the world are still faced with on a daily basis. Mungiu’s movie is a gripping study of social history.

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