Monday, July 25, 2016

July Quick Picks and Pans – Netherlands Month

Amsterdamned (1988) This might be writer/director Dick Maas’ masterpiece. In this case, “masterpiece” is a relative term, but who cares when you’re having this much fun. Not unlike his earlier film The Lift, the premise is suitably ridiculous, but Maas runs with it, and takes the audience for a ride. Huub Stapel stars as Eric Visser, a policeman on the trail of a diving suit-clad serial killer who stalks his victims in the canals of Amsterdam. The film really delivers on the action, with a car chase through the city’s narrow streets and a boat chase in the crowded canals. Red herrings abound, keeping you guessing until the very end. Those looking for more cerebral fare are advised to look elsewhere. Everyone else should be tickled by this high-energy romp.  

Rating: ***½. Available on DVD (Region 2)

Black Book (aka: Zwartboek) (2006) After the disasters of Showgirls and Hollow Man, director/co-writer Paul Verhoeven returned to his native land to direct this World War II tale, based on real-life individuals. Set in The Hague, Netherlands, Black Book focuses on Rachel Stein (Carice van Houten), a young Jewish woman who joins the Nazi resistance movement, and falls in love with an SS officer (Sebastian Koch). Verhoeven doesn’t present things in black and white, but illustrates how war can blur the lines between good and evil. It’s a well-acted, polished effort, but I couldn’t help but feel somewhat disappointed by the results. Considering the director’s pedigree, it’s surprising the film wasn’t rougher around the edges, or that it didn’t push the boundaries a little further.

Rating: ***½ stars. Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Black Out (2012) Director Arne Toonen borrows a page or two from Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie for this darkly comic crime thriller. Raymond Thiry stars as Jos, a former career criminal, who’s turned the straight and narrow path until he wakes up next to a dead man. Suddenly, on the eve of his wedding, he’s in debt to a Russian mobster and an octogenarian crime lord for 20 kilos of cocaine, and can’t remember the previous 24 hours. He returns to his underworld ties to attempt to retrace his steps and locate the missing drugs. Black Out features some amusing, quirky performances, including Simon Armstrong as the aforementioned mobster (and former ballet dancer), Willie Wartaal as a dog groomer, and real life sisters Katja and Birgit Schuurman as mob enforcers. You might excuse Toonen if you feel you’ve seen the story a bunch of times before, since the film is so briskly paced and often funny.

Rating:  ***½. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Netflix Streaming

Borgman (2013) I can’t decide whether this bizarre film by Alex van Warmerdam (he also plays a small role) was good or crappy. Perhaps, like Schrödinger's cat, it simultaneously exists in two states. A homeless man, Camiel Borgman (Jan Bijvoet), weaves his way into the life of a family, preying on the sympathy of a neglected housewife (Hadewych Minis). I won’t go into the details of what he does, or the shady people he’s working with, but suffice it to say nothing good will result from anyone who crosses Borgman’s path. Bijvoet is excellent as the enigmatic title character, but the film raises far too many questions than it answers. It was nice to speculate about the overarching intent of the ambiguous scenes (which seemed to channel David Lynch at his most unfathomable), but as the end credits rolled I was left wondering what the hell it was all about. Your guess is as good as mine.

Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray and DVD


  1. I had the same response to BORGMAN, Barry.

    1. Glad I'm not alone with this one. Well made, but it seemed pointless.