Depeche Mode: Spirits in the Forest

Your own personal Jesus.

(2019) Music Documentary (Trafalgar/1091) Dave Gahan, Martin Gore, Andrew Fletcher, Cristian Flueraru, Dicken Schrader, Milah Schrader, Korben Schrader, Daniel Cassus, Indra Amarjargal, Elizabeth Dwyer, Carine Puzenat, Christian Eigner, Peter Gordeno. Directed by Anton Corbjin


Being a diehard fan of a band requires the kind of loyalty that most of us don’t ever give even our significant other. We stay with them through thick and thin, through albums that suck and even through band breakups. It’s a kind of unconditional love that is more than reciprocated; their music helps define us, sees us through our darkest moments, defines our identities. Not a bad trade-off, if you ask me.

Depeche Mode has come a long way in their nearly 40-year existence, from a New Wave cult band of upbeat synthesizer-based songs to a stadium band of portentous and deep, bleak pop hits. As a band, they’ve been through drug addiction, near-death experiences, fame and fortune (and everything that comes with it) and the complete makeover of the industry that they’re a part of. Through it all, they’ve had a connection with their fans that has bordered on religious zeal.

We meet six of them who are attending the final concert in their 2017-18 World Spirits tour in Berlin; Indra Amarjargal is a tour guide in Ulan Bator, Mongolia who lives with her grandmother in a “typical Communist apartment” where she has lived her entire life. Her stepfather introduced her to the music of Depeche Mode, watching concert footage on the Internet. The music connected to Indra initially before the lyrics since she spoke no English at the time; she is fluent in it now and the lyrics have only cemented her love for the band.

Elizabeth Dwyer is a half-African American, half-Irish-American who didn’t get the memo that people of color were supposed to be into hip-hop. She took a lot of grief growing up because of her love for New Wave music but when undergoing chemotherapy for a particularly deadly sort of breast cancer, the music got her through. Cristian Flueraru, who grew up in Romania during the dark days of Ceauşescu learned English by translating the band’s lyrics for friends who were also into their music.

Dicken Schrader became an Internet sensation when the Bogota-based dad made videos of he and his son Korben and his daughter Milah playing Depeche Mode songs with toy instruments. The band keeps the three united, even though the children now live with their mother in Miami. Daniel Cassus, growing up gay in Brazil, took solace in the band’s music, eventually moving to Berlin where he got the courage to come out to his parents. Carine Puzenat suffered permanent amnesia at age 25; the only memory she could retain was the music of Depeche Mode. That music got her through seven years of deep depression.

Much of the interview footage is intercut with concert footage. Strictly speaking, this is a neither/nor: not a concert film per se so while there is footage from the show, it might prove frustrating to fans looking to see a complete show. It’s not a band documentary; we never hear or see the band except onstage and don’t get any of their insight at all. This is a fan’s documentary, but then again so was 101 in many ways – a previous documentary made by Corbjin about the band.

This is very much a movie for fans of the band. Casual fans probably won’t find this as interesting. Certainly, there is a point to be made about the diversity of the types of fans the band has but that is true of any band of sufficient popularity. Yes, the stories are compelling but you could find six fans of just about any band of sufficient popularity that are just as compelling. So basically, what we are left with is a movie that is very dependent on your opinion of the band. Those who love the band will likely love the movie. Those who don’t likely won’t. This will neither make new fans nor alienate old ones. My recommendation to you depends on how into the band you are. Judge for yourself if the film is something that is essential viewing for you.

REASONS TO SEE: Comes at the concert from a fan’s perspective.
REASONS TO AVOID: Not a lot of insight into the band themselves.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The fans profiled here were selected via a contest on the band’s Facebook page.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/22/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews: Metacritic: No score yet.
Christopher Robin


The Nun (2018)

When staying in a haunted abbey it is advisable to frequently check and see what’s behind you.

(2018) Horror (New Line) Demián Bichir, Taissa Farmiga, Jonas Bloquet, Bonnie Aarons, Ingrid Bisu, Charlotte Hope, Sandra Teles, August Maturo, Jack Falk, Lynnette Gaza, Ani Sava, Michael Smiley, Gabrielle Downey, David Horovitch, Tudor Munteanu, Lili Bordán, Scarlett Hicks, Izzie Coffey, Jared Morgan, Laur Dragan, Eugeniu Cozma, Manuela Clucur, Beatrice Peter, Ana Udrolu. Directed by Corin Hardy

This is the fifth film in the Conjuring universe to date. In it we explore the origins of the demonic nun first seen in The Conjuring 2. Is her story worth exploring further?

At a remote Romanian abbey a young nun is found hanging from the front facade by local villager and supplier Frenchie (Bloquet). Word gets back to the Vatican where Father Burke (Bichir) is assigned to investigate with novitiate Sister Irene (Farmiga) sent to accompany him. Father Burke has a bit of a past; during an exorcism that he performed a child (Maturo/Falk) died and he has been haunted by the memory ever since.

When they get to the village near the Abbey where Frenchie lives, they discover that the villagers have a healthy fear of the Abbey which is rumored to contain a terrible evil. Frenchie takes the to the abbey where the Mother Superior (Gaza) informs them that the nuns are in the midst of their vow of silence for the night and they can’t be interviewed until the following day. The two clerics will have to stay the night.

Of course during the night both of them are beset by nightmarish visions and Frenchie has issues of his own getting back home. The next day Sister Irene talks to some cooperative nuns but discovers that they have been tasked to hold back the evil entity dwelling below the abbey with the power of constant prayer and Father Burke has a close encounter with Daniel and being buried alive. There is most definitely an evil presence at the Abbey – and it will be up to Father Burke, Sister Irene and Frenchie to vanquish it before it escapes to cause all sorts of havoc in the rest of the world.

Hardy uses his Romanian locations to their full potential. Rarely have I seen a horror movie that exudes such palpable menace. You’re on edge from the moment that we arrive in Romania which is what you want from a horror movie. Unfortunately, you want a bit more as well and the promise of the genuinely creepy castle where this was filmed isn’t taken advantage of.

Hardy relies far too much on jump scares which, to be fair, is a trademark of the franchise overall but the effectiveness of those scares is diluted the more that they are used. While the make-up for the demonic nun is genuinely impressive, for the most part she just leaps out of the shadows with an accompanying WHOOM! on the soundtrack. In that sense what could have been a great character is reduced to a Halloween novelty device that you find in neighborhood homes that like to decorate for the holiday.

Thankfully, Farmiga, Bloquet and particularly Bichir didn’t get the memo that the movie wasn’t up to par with the other films. They all turn in solid performances with Bichir once again proving that he is perhaps the most underutilized actor in Hollywood. It makes me wonder if he wasn’t Hispanic he would be getting more high-profile roles. As it is he makes the most out of the roles he does get and he is nearly as memorable as the background here.

This ends up being a bit of a disappointment. Demonic nuns are always an extremely scary creature and there has yet to be a movie that I’ve seen that really makes full use of them, although I’m sure there are some out there that must. The franchise has been to this point pretty impressive in terms of the quality of the individual films but it has been slipping as of late. There are at least three new movies in the Conjuring universe in the pipeline and hopefully they will turn the quality factor around but if they continue to be as mediocre as this perhaps it just might be time to give the franchise a rest.

REASONS TO GO: The Romanian locations are truly creepy. Bichir is outstanding while Bloquet and Farmiga both give strong performances.
REASONS TO STAY: There are way too many jump scares. The horror intensity is lacking from the other films in the franchise.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of terror and disturbing images, violence and some gore.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Taissa Farmiga who plays Sister Irene is the younger sister of Vera, who plays Lorraine Warren in the original The Conjuring. It is not known whether the two characters are related.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/31/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 26% positive reviews. Metacritic: 46/100
Weed the People

Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days

Anamaria Marinca and Laura Vasiliu undergo a grueling night.

Anamaria Marinca and Laura Vasiliu undergo a grueling night.

(IFC First Take) Anamaria Marinca, Laura Vasiliu, Vlad Ivanov, Alexandru Potocean, Ion Sapdaru, Teodor Corban, Tania Popa. Directed by Cristian Mungiu.

The communist regime in Romania was a particularly repressive one. There were strict laws governing the lives and morality of the people of Romania lived in constant terror of breaking those laws, which sometimes became necessary as in the case of a young unmarried woman facing an unwanted pregnancy. Abortion, you see, was illegal.

College roommates Otilia (Marinca) and Gabita (Vasiliu) are preparing for a night away from their noisy dormitory. This is no mere vacation, however. Gabita is pregnant and desperate and has turned to her roommate to help her obtain an illegal abortion.

Gabita is a mess. Unable to follow even the simplest instruction, she has no inertia, no drive. She more or less relies on everyone around her (i.e. Otilia) to take care of her. Otilia raises the money (much of it from her boyfriend Adi (Potocean) who comes from a professional family of doctors) and checks them into their hotel. Gabita even sends Otilia to meet the abortionist (Ivanov), a violation of the rules that the abortionist, Mr. Bebe, set in advance. In fact, Gabita had even been unable to make the reservations at the hotel Mr. Bebe had specified, leaving Otilia to scramble to find any kind of hotel that had rooms available.

Because of Gabita’s gaffe, Otilia is forced to find a more expensive hotel, leaving them short in the agreed-upon amount for the abortionist. He forces them to make up the amount in trade – a very explicit trade. Not just with Gabita, but also with Otilia. At first she balks, but eventually gives in. She even goes first.

As it turns out, Gabita has even lied about how far along she is in her pregnancy, adding more risk to the abortion. After Bebe does what he has to do, he informs Gabita that she must lie still while the drugs do their work. Afterwards, the aborted fetus must be disposed of – preferably, down the garbage chute. However, Otilia has made previous arrangements to attend a birthday party for her boyfriend’s mother and must leave Gabita alone for a short while.

This is a brutally stark movie that levels an unblinking eye on a time and place in history. The participants are flawed, frightened and all-too-human. Director Mungiu chooses a simplistic approach. There are no jump cuts, no montages, none of the things associated with modern short attention span cinematography. Instead we get simple one scene, one shot set-ups with close attention paid to camera angles. In fact, there is not any incidental music in the entire film.

This is a wise move in that it forces the viewer to focus on the performances and the story. The two leads do a remarkable job. Marinca in particular, is noteworthy. Despite the storyline, this is more her film than Vasiliu’s as her character is the one that really carries the action. Even so, Marinca’s Otilia gives in to pressure, attending the birthday party even though she knows her friend needs her; sleeps with the abortionist so that her friend can have the abortion. She’s a fascinating contrast of strength and weakness.

Vasiliu has more of a thankless job, playing a character that is passive and self-centered. Her final scene with Marinca has been decried as anti-climactic, but it is one of her finest on-screen moments in my opinion. We see a bit more of the girl’s personality, making it obvious that she has learned nothing from the experience. It’s just an unpleasantness to be put behind her as quickly as possible.

There are those who will be uncomfortable with the abortion scenes, which are fairly clinical and graphic. While those who are pro-life might object about a movie that is about seeking out an abortion, these scenes will sell the anti-abortion point of view far more effectively. It is hard to tell if the filmmakers have a point of view about the morality of abortion; I suspect they may be anti-abortion if anything. Nothing good seems to come of the procedure here.

In many ways, however, this isn’t a movie about the pros and cons of abortion. It’s about the characters and how they are changed by what they do. The depiction of Romanian society is chilling; the paranoia is dealt with in an almost matter-of-fact style, which can be a bit jarring for western audiences used to freedom.

The starkness of the film may be off-putting to some, but it is one of the things I liked most about it. This is an honest, unflinching look at a place and time, and how that place and time affected the people who lived in it. We in the west are very unfamiliar with that place and time, and it is worth the perspective of seeing a glimpse of it to make us appreciate what we do have all the more.

WHY RENT THIS: A stark, unflinching look at a repressive society that we in the States have little knowledge of. Remarkable performances by Marinca and Vasiliu are worth checking out.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: May be too graphic and honest for some. Subject matter may also be off-putting to those who find even the subject of abortion intolerable.

FAMILY VALUES: The is a graphic depiction of an abortion, as well as some nudity, and implied forced sex.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: An extraordinary documentary about attempts to show the film in Romania. There is also a very interesting interview with director Cristian Mungiu.


TOMORROW: Right at Your Door