Review: ‘Occupied City,’ a historical documentary of Nazi-controlled Amsterdam, narrated by Melanie Hyams

January 11, 2023

by Carla Hay

A street procession in “Occupied City” (Photo courtesy of A24)

“Occupied City”

Directed by Steve McQueen

Culture Representation: Filmed in Amsterdam, in 2020 and 2021, the documentary film “Occupied City” features a predominantly white group of people (with some black people and Asians) of various social classes in cinéma vérité footage.

Culture Clash: The documentary visits locations and tells (through a narrator) what each location was like in Nazi-controlled Amsterdam from 1940 to 1945, to contrast with what the location looked like at the time the documentary was filmed in the early 2020s. 

Culture Audience: “Occupied City” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in Holocaust-themed documentaries, but viewers will either like or dislike the bloated runtime and the movie’s bland textbook style.

A family at a bar mitzvah ceremony in “Occupied City” (Photo courtesy of A24)

“Occupied City” is tedious and repetitive, due to this documentary’s excessively long runtime (nearly 4.5 hours) and pretentiousness. It’s like being stuck in a rambling academic lecture with travelogue visuals. It’s also an endurance test to stay awake. Most people who watch this entire movie probably won’t remember many of the overload of facts that this movie soullessly spews out like an artificial-intelligence machine on autopilot. It’s why the total runtime of “Occupied City” is not justified at all, because most of the movie will be quickly forgotten because of its mind-numbing monotony.

Directed by Steve McQueen, “Occupied City” is based on Bianca Stigter’s 2019 non-fiction book “Atlas of an Occupied City (Amsterdam 1940-1945),” a location guide to historical locations of Amsterdam when the city was controlled by Nazis. McQueen and Stigter, who are romantic partners in real life, are two of the producers of “Occupied City,” which had its world premiere at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. The movie is like the cinematic version of an oversized atlas with narration that sounds like it’s from a very stodgy textbook. No one in the 2020s footage is interviewed. Everyone who’s seen talking in the movie is not identified at all.

The problem with “Occupied City” is it looks like the filmmakers decided to just film the locations and have a narrator read excerpts from Stigter’s book, with no further insights that a great documentary would have. The movie also shows some footage without narration that looks like something a tourist would film when the tourist doesn’t know what to film. It looks like extraneous footage that director McQueen couldn’t bear to edit out of a documentary that desperately needed better film editing to keep viewers fully engaged.

The narrator for “Occupied City” is actress Melanie Hyams, who has the plodding task of reading factoids about the approximately 130 locations shown in “Occupied City.” Hyams, who is British, reads the script in a tone that is borderline robotic. Most people who know World War II history also know about the horrors of the Holocaust, but the way that these facts are delivered in “Occupied City” really diminish the impact of this history. The visuals focus on mundane life in Amsterdam, while the real people who suffered during the Holocaust are reduced to detached and dull sentences recited in narration.

Want to know where was the first Amsterdam pub that was supposedly the first in the city to ban Jewish people? “Occupied City” will show you that where the pub used to be is now a non-descript G-Star office or factory, which the documentary filmed from the outside. In the narration, Hyams says a few things about the antisemitic rules posted in the pub. And then concludes the short summary of the location by saying what happened to this antisemitic pub: “demolished.” (Expect to hear the word “demolished” a lot in this documentary.)

“Occupied City” gives very brief summaries of some of the atrocities that took place in each location during any year between 1940 to 1945. Whether it’s the Rijksmuseum, a kindergarten classroom, or a brothel in the 2020s, the documentary will tell viewers what types of Nazi-related activities took place in those locations during those Nazi-controlled 1940s years. Because there is no archival footage in “Occupied City,” there are no “before” and “after” photos or images of these locations. And that deliberate omission isn’t necessarily a flaw.

But what’s missing from “Occupied City” is any real effort to get viewers to remember the human stories of the people who were part of this history. Their photos are never shown. Their descendants are not interviewed. Instead, viewers who watch “Occupied City” are more likely to remember how much the documentary shows lingering footage of how Amsterdam was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, or footage of left-wing political rallies where people rant against fascism and environmental corruption.

And really, it isn’t all that surprising when “Occupied City” tells you that the current town squares in Amsterdam that existed during the Nazi occupation were used for Nazi rallies back then. It isn’t shocking that many of the houses where Amsterdam residents currently live used to be the houses of Nazi officials or persecuted Jewish people. But these are the types of facts that “Occupied City” repeats over and over, as if it’s uncovering groundbreaking information. Ironically, the National Holocaust Museum in Amsterdam is given only a few short minutes in “Occupied City,” probably because the museum is so much more informative than this puffed-up documentary that thinks it’s more important than it really is.

The obvious intention of “Occupied City” is to show how life has continued in Amsterdam, with many people seemingly blissfully unaware that the very spaces they are enjoying are the same spaces where brutal antisemitism and other evil bigotry occurred. For example, there’s a fairly long scene filmed during an unknown month in a 2020s winter, showing children and their families ice sledding in an outdoor space where Jewish people used to be rounded up and abused by Nazis. Another example is the documentary showing two women having a love partnership ceremony at the same location where there used to be a Jewish bookstore whose books were destroyed by Nazis.

But when “Occupied City” shows these “everyday happy life” scenes with narration of dark and depressing Holocaust facts, it’s with the unspoken and condescending tone that maybe these people being filmed don’t know or don’t care about these facts. But because “Occupied City” doesn’t bother to interview anyone for this documentary, the fact is that viewers just don’t know how much history about Nazi-occupied Amsterdam is known or cared about by the people being filmed. The movie ends in a very predictable way: by showing an interracial family whose son is having a bar mitzvah ceremony, which is the type of footage that Nazis would hate.

“Occupied City” is a long-winded documentary about locations and random footage of anonymous people in those locations, not a well-rounded story about people (past and present) who are part of the history that this documentary attempts to tell. Stigter’s Holocaust-themed 2022 documentary “Three Minutes—A Lengthening” (whose centerpiece was long-lost, three-minute footage of Polish residents in 1938) made the most of out of this short footage to create a meaningful feature-length documentary. Unfortunately, “Occupied City” does the opposite: It does very little with the overabundance of location footage in this overstuffed documentary that drains the humanity from the people affected by this very human history.

A24 released “Occupied City” in select U.S. cinemas on December 25, 2023.

Review: ‘Amsterdam’ (2022), starring Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Rami Malek, Anya Taylor-Joy, Robert De Niro and Andrea Riseborough

October 7, 2022

by Carla Hay

Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Mike Myers and Michael Shannon in “Amsterdam” (Photo by Merie Weismiller Wallace/20th Century Studios)

“Amsterdam” (2022)

Directed by David O. Russell

Some language in French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in New York City and Amsterdam, from 1918 to 1933, the dramatic film “Amsterdam” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A medical doctor, his attorney best friend, and the attorney’s girlfriend get caught up in a murdery mystery involving wealthy and powerful people. 

Culture Audience: “Amsterdam” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the stars of the movie, which doesn’t offer much that’s compelling except for its star power.

Pictured clockwise, from left: Anya Taylor-Joy, Rami Malek, Christian Bale, Robert De Niro and Margot Robbie  in “Amsterdam” (Photo by Merie Weismiller Wallace/20th Century Studios)

The frequently boring and muddled “Amsterdam” has many big-name stars, but this misguided drama just adds up to a lot of posturing and hot air. The filmmakers cared more about wrangling celebrities into the cast than crafting a story worthy of this talent. “Amsterdam” is a huge misfire from writer/director David O. Russell, who seems so enamored with the star power in the movie, he let the acting and tone of “Amsterdam” become scattershot and uneven.

“Amsterdam” veers in and out between voiceover narration of three characters: medical doctor Burt Berendsen (played by Christian Bale), his attorney best friend Harold Woodman (played by John David Washington), and Harold’s girlfriend Valerie Voze (played by Margot Robbie). Burt gets the most voiceover narration and is presented in the movie as the lead protagonist. The story, which takes place primarily in New York City and Amsterdam, jumps around in the timeline from 1918 to 1933, with several flashbacks within this time period.

As shown in a flashback, Burt (who has questionable medical ethics) and Harold (who is more sincere and staightforward), who are both from New York City, met each other in Europe in 1918, when they were soldiers in World War I. When they were both wounded in the war in France, they ended up in the care of Valerie, who pretended to be a French nurse named Valerie Vandenberg while living in France. It turns out (which was already revealed in the “Amsterdam” trailer), Valerie is really an American heiress who was estranged from her family and trying to start over with a new life in Europe.

While Burt and Harold healed from their wounds, the three of them went to Amsterdam, became close, and made a loyalty pact with each other. Harold and Valerie fell in love, while Burt remained ambivalent about his crumbling and unhappy marriage to heiress Beatrice Vandenheuvel (played by Andrea Riseborough), who pressured a reluctant Burt to enlist in the military so that he could become a war hero who would get medals of honor. The tight-knit trio of Burt, Harold and Valerie unraveled when Valerie suddenly left of her own choice and didn’t tell Harold and Burt where she was going.

Burt and Harold eventually returned to New York City, where they have been helping each other out by referring clients and patients to each other. The movie opens in 1933, when Burt is asked by heiress Liz Meekins (played by Taylor Swift) to do an autopsy of her father, General Bill Meekins (played by Ed Begley Jr.), who passed away unexpectedly. Liz believes that her father did not die of natural causes. The autopsy reveals that her father could have been poisoned. (Squeamish viewers be warned: The autopsy scene is very graphic.)

But before toxicology test results can be processed, Liz tells Burt and Harold that she wants to call off the investigation. While Liz, Harold and Burt are speaking outside on a street, a shady character named Taron Milfax (played by Timothy Olyphant) pushes Liz in front of a car in motion. She is run over by the car and killed instantly. Police are nearby, and Taron immediately says that Burt and Harold killed Liz by pushing her in front of the car.

Burt and Harold vehemently deny it, and then run away when it looks like the police don’t believe them. Burt and Harold become the prime suspects in the murder and do their own investigation to clear their names. During the course of this investigation, Burt and Harold find out that Valerie is really an American heiress who has been living in nearby New Jersey for several years. Valerie lives with her oddball brother Tom Voze (played by Rami Malek) and Tom’s domineering wife Libby Voze (played by Anya Taylor-Joy), who tries to control the lives of Valerie and Tom.

Harold, who was heartbroken over Valerie’s sudden departure from his life, eventually forgives her, and they resume their love affair. Burt’s love life isn’t going so well, since Burt’s wife Beatrice has asked him to move out of their apartment. Beatrice tells Burt that she’s unhappy in the marriage because he used to be “beautiful,” but his war scars (including his injured back) have made him “hideous,” and he’s an overall disappointment to her. Harold, Valerie and Burt eventually cross paths with General Gil Dillenbeck (played by Robert De Niro), “the most decorated military general in U.S. history,” who has power, influential connections and political aspirations.

“Amsterdam” is packed with a lot of undeveloped characters who don’t do much except show that the “Amsterdam” filmmakers could get well-known actors to play the roles of these characters. Chris Rock has the role of Milton King, a wisecracking former war buddy of Burt and Harold. Milton, who currently works for Harold, is supposed to be hilarious, but he’s not. Milton’s not-funny-at-all remarks include his obnoxiously racist comments about white people. Alessandro Nivola is Detective Hiltz, and Matthias Schoenaerts is Detective Lem Getweiler, the two generic police characters who are leading the Meekins murder investigation.

Zoe Saldaña has the role of Irma St. Clair, Burt’s strong-willed autopsy nurse, whose feelings for Burt might go beyond a work relationship. And, of course, any movie that involves war and international intrigue has to predictably have spies. In “Amsterdam,” they are Paul Canterbury (played by Michael Shannon) and Henry Norcross (played by Mike Myers), whose spy identities are shown as captions immediately when these characters are first seen on screen.

“Amsterdam” is made with the tone that audiences should automatically be impressed by all the celebrities who are in the cast. Unfortunately, “Amsterdam” has so much awful dialogue and messy plot developments, all that star power is wasted in a substandard movie. Bale, Washington and Robbie seem to be doing their best as the three central characters, but this three-way friendship looks awkward and fake on screen. Awkward and fake is how to describe “Amsterdam” overall—an example of how star power in front of the camera can’t save a bad movie.

20th Century Studios released “Amsterdam” in U.S. cinemas on October 7, 2022.

Review: ‘The Columnist,’ starring Katja Herbers

May 12, 2021

by Carla Hay

Katja Herbers in “The Columnist” (Photo courtesy of Film Movement)

“The Columnist”

Directed by Ivo van Aart

Dutch with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Amsterdam, the satirical horror film “The Columnist” features a predominantly white cast (with a few biracial/black people) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A seemingly mild-mannered newspaper columnist becomes a serial killer when she starts murdering her online harassers.

Culture Audience: “The Columnist” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching revenge stories with a dark comedic tone.

Katja Herbers in “The Columnist” (Photo courtesy of Film Movement)

Make no mistake: “The Columnist” is not a truly feminist film. It’s a male exaggerated fantasy of a woman getting revenge on her male harassers by killing them. These two types of movies should not be confused with each other. The operative word in “The Columnist” is “fantasy,” because what happens in the movie is such hyper-surrealism that it can’t be taken completely seriously. And that seems to be the point, because “The Columnist,” for all of its flaws, is ultimately an incisive, satirical look at how revenge can be hollow if a bullied person becomes worse than the bullies.

“The Columnist” is a Dutch film that takes place in Amsterdam, but the story could be set anywhere in modern society. The movie was directed by Ivo van Aart and written by Daan Windhorst (two men), and this “male gaze” perspective is present during every single second of “The Columnist,” even though the main character in “The Columnist” is a woman. There’s absolutely no nuance or subtlely to this violent story, but at least it doesn’t become insufferable by having the female character spout cliché-ridden, pseudo feminist lines in an attempt to pass “The Columnist” off as a pro-female film. “The Columnist” is really just an artsy slasher flick, but it’s not quite a terrifying horror film because there’s really nothing too scary about it.

“The Columnist” might get some comparisons to the Oscar-winning “Promising Young Woman,” another female revenge movie that mixes drama and satirical comedy that is far superior to “The Columnist.” “Promising Young Woman” was written and directed by a woman (Emereld Fennell) and has a more authentic, less cartoonish depiction of an intelligent woman out for revenge in a society that enables toxic masculinity. In “Promising Young Woman,” writer/director Fennell kept the movie grounded in reality, although some viewers had a problem with the movie’s surprise ending.

However, the female protagonist in “Promising Young Woman” did something that the female protagonist in “The Columnist” does not do: She gave her victims a chance to redeem themselves by letting them live and possibly learn from their mistakes. Instead of killing her victims, the female protagonist in “Promising Young Woman” shrewdly (and often at risk to her own safety) made her targets take a very uncomfortable look at how their actions are part of rape culture. By contrast, the female protagonist in “The Columnist” just yells at and berates her victims before she murders them.

Whenever male writers and directors do a movie about a woman out for murderous revenge, they often make the mistake of depicting only men as the villains in the movie, in order to “justify” this woman going on a killing spree. One of the reasons why “Promising Young Woman” resonated with so many people is that it didn’t use this extreme and unrealistic trope. The protagonist in “Promising Young Woman” has a very loving and supporting father, and the movie authentically shows that women can be just as cruel as men when it comes to perpetuating misogyny.

“The Columnist” starts off with a somewhat predictable “battle of the sexes” scenario. Newspaper columnist Femke Boot (played by Katja Herbers) and horror novelist Steven Dood (played by Bram van der Kelen) are on a TV talk show, debating how online bullies (also known as “trolls”) should be handled by society. (By the way, “dood” means “death” in Dutch.) Real-life Dutch journalist Matthijs van Nieuwkerk plays a version of himself, as the talk show host. Femke has been the target of vicious online bullying by men, and this harassment is brought up in the discussion.

Femke says she doesn’t believe that Internet companies should bear all of the responsibility of punishing online bullies. She explains, “Our culture has to change. These days, we think it’s so normal that someone else, the person we don’t agree with, that they are our enemy.” Femke advocates for open exchange of different ideas, as long as people can disagree in a polite and civil manner.

Steven—who looks like a semi-Goth with heavy eyeliner and fingernails painted black—scoffs at Femke’s idealistic wishes. His response is, “This is just an old-fashioned campaign for decency.” The movie never explains why Steven was selected to be Femke’s adversary on the show. Is he a toxic person who doesn’t have a problem with online bullying? Or is he someone who thinks that governments and corporate entities shouldn’t interfere with freedom of speech? Or is it both?

Viewers don’t really find out why Steven is in direct opposition to Femke in this talk show discussion, because this TV debate scene ends very quickly, after just a few minutes. Femke is then seen riding her bike home from the TV station while it’s dark and pouring rain outside. She’s dressed in a way that she could easily catch a cold from this bad weather.

The movie never explains why Femke would choose to ride her bike in this torrential rain when she could presumably afford to call for a rideshare van to give her a ride home with her bike stowed in the back. When she comes home, she’s in a gloomy and seemingly empty house. The only conclusion that viewers can make from this scene is that the filmmakers want to make Femke look pitiful and to garner sympathy for her.

Femke, who is divorced, actually doesn’t live alone. She’s the mother of a strong-willed daughter named Anna (played by Claire Porro), who’s about 16 or 17 years old. Femke’s ex-husband/Anna’s father is never seen in the movie, but he’s briefly mentioned later when Anna has an argument with Femke and says in anger that she wants to live with her father. Femke and Anna have occasional mother-daughter spats, but they generally have a good relationship.

After coming home from the talk show appearance, Femke checks her online messages and finds more men bullying her. One calls her a “fake feminist” who’s only interested in “flirting with Matthijs.” Another says, “I hope they rough up her daughter.” Another one says, “I know where you live.”

These ominous threats prompt Femke to post a message that she’s quitting social media. She de-activates her accounts but she doesn’t delete them. And throughout the story, she continues to obsessively check what people are saying about her online. The bullying goes beyond calling her derogatory names. Eventually, the trolls start spreading lies that Femke is a pedophile and that she keeps children as sex slaves.

Even though Femke and Steven were at opposite sides of the debate on the TV talk show, it just so happens that Femke’s daughter Anna is a fan of Steven’s work. The day after the talk show appearance, when Femke and Anna are having breakfast together, Femke sees that Anna is reading one of Steven’s books. Femke asks Anna if the book is any good, and Anna says yes. Femke then tells her daughter that Steven might be a talented writer, but he’s not a nice person in real life.

Femke and Anna might not agree on their favorite writers, but one of the things that Femke and Anna have in common is that they’re both passionate about freedom of speech. The issue of freedom of speech is an ongoing theme throughout the movie, because freedom of speech is often used as an excuse for bullying that involves words. Anna seems to want to follow in her mother’s footsteps of being a journalist, because she’s a writer on her high school’s newspaper.

However, Anna runs into problems when the school principal (played by Harry van Rijthoven), who doesn’t have a name in the movie, disapproves of an editorial column that Anna wrote that has a lot of criticism and scrutiny of the school’s upcoming business merger. The headline of the column reads, “Merger? Fucking Dumb.” Anna and the principal have an argument about the article, and Anna refuses his demand to back off from the story. And so, the principal expels her from the newspaper staff.

It seems as if the principal doesn’t have a name because he’s the filmmakers’ obvious symbol of patriarchy. Anna ends up staging protests at the school about freedom of speech. Femke is completely supportive of her daughter’s activism. And when Anna invites Femke to give a speech at her school during one of these protest rallies, Femke doesn’t hesitate to say yes. This rally is a pivotal part of the movie.

Femke works for Volkskrant, a well-known Dutch daily newspaper that is described by many as politically “centrist”—neither very liberal nor very conservative. Femke’s column appears in the paper, as well as on the newspaper’s website Based on what’s shown in the movie, Femke writes a column about women’s issues. Her editors expect the column to cover what they consider to be traditionally “female” topics, such as cooking, parenting and love/romance.

However, Femke has become increasingly opinionated about her politically liberal viewpoints in her column. It’s implied that her political opinions have angered some people in the public, which has led to her being the target of online abuse. The movie goes way over-the-top in showing that the only people who harass Femke are men.

The female criticism that Femke gets is gentler and more subtle. Femke’s boss Uitgever (played by Medina Schuurman) is also the editor of an upcoming novel that Femke is having problems completing due to writer’s block. The day after her talk show appearance, Uitgever tells Femke that she should have promoted her book during the interview. She also chastises Femke about the content of Femke’s column, by saying that Femke’s readers just want to be entertained, not told how to think.

In another scene, Femke and a friend/co-worker named Renate (played by Jessica Zeylmaker) are shopping for clothes together. Renate knows about the online bullying that Femke is getting. Renate advises Femke to stick to personal stories in her column and avoid talking about politics in her work. Renate also says if the online harassment and death threats were so bad, Femke would’ve gone to the police instead of going on a TV talk show.

And so, sure enough, the next scene is of Femke at a police station to report the online harassment. The police officer on duty (played by Seno Sever) is condescending and dismissive. The cop tells Femke that what she’s experiencing is no different than what kids experience in school when they’re being bullied. He also says, “The Internet isn’t real.” Needless to say, Femke doesn’t get to file a police report.

Femke’s boss Uitgever doesn’t give any support either. And technically, Femke’s employer might not be required to do anything to help her, since the online harassment is on Femke’s personal social media accounts, not the company’s. Uitgever is so callous about Femke being targeted by online bullies, that at one point Uitgever suggests that some of the bullies’ insults be included on the cover of Femke’s upcoming novel, which is about a serial killer.

While all of this turmoil is happening in Femke’s life, the movie takes a somewhat inexplicable turn by having Femke and her seeming arch-enemy Steven end up as lovers. One minute, Femke and Steven see each other at a book signing for another author. The next minute, they’re in bed together. Viewers are left to speculate that maybe there was an attraction between Femke and Steven all along, but there are no flashbacks scenes or any mention of any contact that Femke and Steven might have had before they were on the same talk show together.

Femke and Steven start seeing each other on a regular basis, to the point where Steven spends a lot of time at Femke’s house. But they don’t have a traditional romance of going out together on dates. Instead, aside from sleeping together and having meals together, the only things that Steven and Femke do together is sit side by side on their laptop computers when they are writing.

This contrivance is meant to show the contrasts when Steven seems to write with ease, while Femake struggles with writer’s block. Later, when she goes on her killing spree, her creativity increases, as if to signify that killing her oppressors is a “freeing” experience for her. It’s a metaphor that’s a little too “on the nose,” but it’s tolerable only because the movie eventually shows that Femke gets no real satisfaction from these murders.

The first murder happens when Femke finds out that one of her online harassers happens to be her next-door neighbor Arjen Tel (played by Rein Hofman), a middle-aged family man who is doing some outdoor renovations on his house. Most of the harassers use their real names and real photos of themselves, while some do not. At first, Femke gets revenge by secretly using an ax to hack up part of Arjen’s wooden fence that he recently built. She sneaks onto his property at night to commit this vandalism.

The next day, Arjen is on Femke’s front doorstep and asks if she knows anything about the vandalism of his fence. She plays innocent and says no. Arjen has also brought a slab of what he says is leftover cooked ham as a gift, which he offers to Femke. She accepts the ham, but then when she’s in the house, she throws away the ham in disgust.

This scene is a little strange because during his online harassment, Arjen made no attempts to hide his real identity, including posting photos of himself. And that’s why it doesn’t really ring true that it took so long for Femke to find out that her next-door neighbor was one of the trolls harassing her. Similarly, why would Arjen openly harass Femke online and then be nice to her face and act like nothing was wrong?

That’s what happened shortly after Femke found out that Arjen has been harassing her online, and before she hacked up his fence, when they have a cordial conversation outside their respective houses about how Arjen’s fence building is going. The construction noise is irritating to Femke, but she doesn’t tell Arjen that in their conversation either, and she ends up destroying the fence after it’s completed. Viewers can only speculate these face-to-face pleasantries are symbolic of the hypocrisy and phony politeness that people can have in face-to-face interactions, in order to hide true feelings of animosity.

Femke gets such a thrill from her vandalism revenge that she takes the violence to deadly levels. When she sees Arjen working on his roof, she sneaks into his house, climbs on the roof, and pushes him off, which immediately kills him. This murder happens in broad daylight, when plenty of people could potentially witness this crime. But Femke gets away with it. While Arjen is lying dead on the ground, Femke takes a shovel to chop off a middle finger on one of his hands.

Viewers of “The Columnist” will have to get used to this repetitive pattern, because every time Femke murders one of her online bullies (by stabbing, shooting, electrocuting or bludgeoning them to death), she cuts off their middle fingers. She gruesomely saves these fingers in a snack box that she keeps hidden in her home. When Femke is on her killing spree, she commits these outrageous murders in unrealistic scenarios where she never has any witnesses catching her in the act. It’s meant to show how emboldened Femke becomes when she gets away with these killings so easily.

Some of these murders are so loud that they would definitely attract attention, but Femke doesn’t get caught, even when other people might be in the house and even when she could leave her DNA behind. Her killings usually happen at the bullies’ homes, where she shows up and surprises them. However, in keeping with this movie’s fantasy tone, the bullies don’t seem very alarmed when they see that Femke is an intruder in their home. She spends a minute or two loudly shaming them for their bullying, and then she kills them. Some of the bullies are more apologetic than others.

The killing spree eventually attracts the attention of the news media, which calls this serial killer the Middle Finger Murderer. You know the movie isn’t going for realism when the police investigators don’t figure out that all of these murder victims have one thing in common: They’re men who’ve been bullying Femke online. That alone would put her under suspicion, but she doesn’t get as much scrunity as she would in real life.

It turns out that these bullies have a leader, who hides his identity. Femke spends quite some time investigating this chief bully to find out who he really is. Whether or not she finds him is revealed in the movie.

The murders in “The Columnist” aren’t as interesting as the effect as they have on Femke. On the one hand, she seems to get some kind of catharsis that frees up her writer’s block. On the other hand, viewers can clearly see that killing her bullies doesn’t make Femke happier.

What’s missing from the movie—and what would have made the movie better—is some sense that the murders were being properly investigated and that Femke was paranoid about being caught. Instead, she becomes more obssessed with going after more of her online bullies to kill. And she’s not very careful about it.

Much of “The Columnist” is elevated by Herbers’ compelling performance as Femke. She brings as much depth as she can to a character that, for long stretches of the movie, becomes a shallow killing machine. However, there’s a scene in the movie where Femke seems to finally understand the gravity of her rampage, when she makes a big mistake that tragically affects someone who has nothing to do with her online bullying.

The underlying message of “The Columnist” is that although this type of revenge seems to come easily to Femke—perhaps a little too easily, since the movie is very far-fetched in how quickly she becomes a skilled assassin—it comes at a heavy price to her soul. There’s also the matter of how much longer she can keep having a double life. “The Columnist” has some artistic touches, such as using tomato sauce and crushed tomatoes as symbols for the bloody mayhem in the story. However, the movie is really just a better-than-average slasher flick, with an ending that’s more arthouse than grindhouse.

Film Movement released “The Columnist” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on May 7, 2021. The movie’s DVD release date was on May 11, 2021. “The Columnist” was originally released in the Netherlands in 2019.

Review: ‘Uncaged,’ starring Sophie van Winden, Julian Looman, Mark Frost and Reinus Krul

March 17, 2020

by Carla Hay

Mark Frost in “Uncaged” (Photo courtesy of 4Digital Media)

“Uncaged” (also titled “Prey”)

Directed by Dick Maas

Dutch with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Amsterdam, the campy horror flick “Uncaged” (which has the title “Prey” in countries outside the U.S.) features an almost exclusively white cast of characters representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A murderous lion is on the loose in Amsterdam, and some of the citizens can’t agree on how to stop it.

Culture Audience: This movie will appeal mostly to people who like cheesy B-movies in the horror genre, but the graphic bloody gore (including images of murdered children) might be too much for some viewers.

Julian Looman and Sophie van Winden in “Uncaged” (Photo courtesy of 4Digital Media)

“A killer animal on the loose” is a subgenre of horror films that signals that the movie is probably very dumb and very campy. The Dutch film “Uncaged” (written and directed by Dick Maas) certainly fits that description. There’s a lot of graphic violence, but the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously. That tongue-in-cheek, self-aware humor about the low quality of this film makes this movie about a rampaging lion a little bit more entertaining than it should be.

The story immediately begins by showing the lion killing people. What’s amusing about the way this CGI-created lion is portrayed is that it seems to have supernatural powers by the way it can disappear in a large urban city and then quietly and suddenly sneak up behind someone without warning, all within a few seconds, like some kind of ghost. This movie is definitely not concerned with being realistic.

In the first 10 minutes of the movie, the lion has appeared at night, outside a house in a quiet neighborhood. Without warning and apparently without making enough noise to wake the neighbors, the lion massacres a mother, a father, their two daughters (one a teenager, the other a 5-year-old cowering in bed) and the teenage daughter’s boyfriend, soon after she had snuck out with him on a forbidden date.

If something like this happened in real life, there would be a small army of people immediately sent to find and kill the lion. But not in this movie’s version of Amsterdam. The authorities are so inept that the local police chief—a bumbling blowhard named Zalmberg (played by Theo Pont)—doesn’t even want the public to know that there’s a lion on the loose, even though investigators find the lion’s footprints and claw marks all over the mauled bodies. (It should be noted that the movie shows graphic images of bloodied and dismembered children’s bodies and children being killed by the lion, so if you’re easily disturbed or offended by this depiction of violence, it’s best to avoid this movie.)

Two of the people who get involved in the hunt for the lion are local zoo veterinarian Lizzy Storm (played by Sophie van Winden) and her boyfriend Dave (played by Julian Looman), who’s a cameraman for a local TV news station. Lizzy is called to the scene of the crime by police investigator Olaf Brinkels (played by Reinus Kul), and she confirms that the killer is a human-eating lion. No zoos nearby have reported a missing lion, so Lizzy theorizes that the lion came from the wilderness that’s closest to the city, or the lion escaped from a private citizen who illegally owns the  lion.

Amid all of this crisis over the killer lion, Lizzy and Dave are having some relationship issues. He wants to keep their romance casual and he’s obviously dating other people, while Lizzy wants ladies’ man Dave to be monogamous and make more of a commitment to her. In a conversation that they have in a diner, it’s clear that Lizzy knows that Dave is a chronic cheater who often lies about it, but for whatever reason she’s still dating him.

However, Lizzy tells Dave that she’s getting tired of his antics and she makes a half-hearted attempt to try and distance herself from Dave. How sleazy is Dave? While he and Lizzy are out walking after their dinner date, a woman and her boyfriend confront Dave on the street and demand that he give the woman the videotape that Dave made of her. It turns out that Dave pretended that he was filming the woman (an aspiring actress) for a screen test, and apparently she wasn’t wearing underwear, and he filmed up her skirt without her permission.

Dave often works with TV reporter Maarten Gravestein (played by Pieter Derks), who also happens to be Dave’s roommate. Dave and Maarten are both very ambitious about getting news scoops, so when they hear about the lion on the loose, they’re determined to be the first on the scene for any of the breaking news and to possibly get exclusive footage of the lion. Dave knows that Lizzy is involved in the investigation, so he uses his relationship with her to his advantage.

Meanwhile, the lion strikes again. This time, it’s at a golf course, where three co-workers (a boss and two of his subordinates) are playing golf together. For some reason, the boss has taken one of the subordinates in the woods to fire him. The boss even brought the severance paperwork with him. (How bizarre.) And you can imagine what happens after that. This scene should give people a laugh for anyone who’s had a horrible boss.

The visual effects for this lion are what you might expect for a B-movie like this one, but what makes the lion hilarious to watch is that the movie picks and chooses when the lion will bring attention to itself as it walks in areas where the lion would definitely be noticed before it pounces. For instance, when the lion sneaks up on people in the woods, it somehow can magically do that without its feet making any noise as it walks through the woods.

In another scene, the lion goes on a rampage in the middle of a trolley bus. Did people not see the lion before it had a chance to get on the bus in the first place? Apparently not. The lion is also larger than normal and it has such a massive amount of super-strength that bullets and other weapons don’t seem to cause the type of injuries that would definitely wound an animal of that size in real life.

Even though the local media have already reported that a lion is on the loose in Amsterdam and has killed several people in the city, incompetent Police Chief Zalmberg holds a press conference where says he will neither confirm nor deny that there’s a killer lion on the loose. His reasoning for not being forthcoming to the public is that he doesn’t want people to panic, but in doing so, he delays getting the proper help to catch the lion. Officer Brinkels disagrees and thinks that the public has a right to know, so that the people in the city can take the necessary precautions, but there’s not much that Brinkels can do to change his stubborn boss’ mind.

And even though the lion was seen in one of the city’s parks, the park is still kept open. (Having park curfew at 6 p.m. doesn’t help when the lion has been known to strike during the day.) Needless to say, the police chief makes some more bad decisions that lead to more people getting killed.

One of the details that the movie’s subpar screenplay consistently gets wrong is how it shows Amsterdam to be a city where only one person is appointed to “save the people.” The police chief is shown as having too much power in the decision making. Where is the mayor? Where is the fire department, which usually gets involved when there are wild animals on the loose? And in one part of the movie, only one man (the police chief’s cousin) gets sent to trap this lion. Yes, really, in a big city like Amsterdam.

In the last third of the movie, the police get desperate and look for another possible savior. Early in the investigation, Lizzy mentioned that she knows a British guy who’s a professional hunter. Because apparently there’s no one else in The Netherlands that the police think they can turn to, Officer Brinkels asks Lizzy if the British hunter is available. And wouldn’t you know, he is.

His name is Jack DelaRue (played by Mark Frost), and the Amsterdam police pay to fly Jack from England to Amsterdam to complete the task of finding and killing the lion. Jack makes a less-than-wonderful impression when Lizzy and Brinkels go to pick him up at the airport. He’s drunk. And what Lizzy didn’t tell Brinkels is that Jack is a paraplegic who uses a wheelchair. (One of Jack’s legs was chewed off by a lion in a previous hunt.)

How cringeworthy is this movie’s dialogue? When Brinkels tells Jack some bad news, Jack says, “You’re pulling my leg, right?” Brinkels answers, “Yeah, both of them.”

It should come as no surprise that Lizzy has a personal history with Jack: They used to date each other, and they haven’t seen each other in about eight years. Naturally, Dave gets insecure and jealous when he finds out that one of Lizzy’s ex-boyfriends has been chosen to rescue Amsterdam from the killer lion.

Before Jack can start hunting the lion, he does some questionable investigating (such as smelling the animal’s feces), and he estimates that the lion is about 7.2 feet tall and weighs about 480 pounds. Police Chief Zalmberg isn’t a fan of Jack, so the police chief finally does what he should’ve done in the first place: get a SWAT team to help. But that also turns out to be a disaster.

The final showdown scenes are over-the-top and completely unrealistic. Somehow, Jack’s battery-operated wheelchair has the speed of a small race car. And in one scene, someone punches the lion, as if that would stop the lion in the middle of a vicious attack. In another scene, someone’s idea of fighting off the lion is to throw a gun at it. And during all of these life-or-death battles with the lion and the people tasked with hunting it, no one thought of bringing a tranquilizer gun.

The lion isn’t the only one who seems to be immune to injuries. Lizzy gets in on the action in some scenes that would break her bones in real life, but she walks away unscathed except for rumpled clothes and hair. And there’s a twist near the end of the film that apparently also makes her immune from explosions too.

If you want to spend about 107 minutes of your time on mindless entertainment, then “Uncaged” can be just what you need. Just don’t be surprised if you feel like you’d rather be locked in a cage with a lion than be forced to watch this silly movie again.

4Digital Media released “Uncaged” in the U.S. on digital HD, VOD and DVD on March 17, 2020. The movie’s title is “Prey” in other countries, including The Netherlands, where the movie was originally released in 2016.

2018 Denim Days: dates and locations announced

April 17, 2018

2017 New York Denim Day attendees
2017 New York Denim Day attendees (Photo courtesy of Denim Days)

New York Denim Days organizers are set to once again stage an indigo-soaked event to take over the city September 22-23. Spearheaded by true denim insiders, the New York Denim Days festival connects denim professionals, designers and brands to denim consumers.

Denim lovers from across the spectrum – fashionistas searching for the perfect pair of jeans, fade junkies looking to compare notes on raw denim, purists on the hunt for handmade indigo items, and designers shopping for Americana inspiration – will find the largest selection of indigo available at one event during New York Denim Days.  Food, live music and art will round out the festival experience. Plans include events with retail partners throughout the city, and a two-day main event at the Metropolitan Pavilion located at 125 West 18th Street in New York City.

To purchase tickets go to Denim Days Tickets. Ticket holders will also receive discounted rides to and from the festival courtesy of LYFT.

This year, New York Denim Days will reach beyond the Metropolitan Pavilion, thanks to pop-up shops at New York Waterway terminals during New York Fashion Week (September 6 – 14).

“With its mix of denimheads, the best brands and retailers and the most forward fashion, New York is the perfect home for Denim Days. We are thrilled to be back this year and will be shining an even bigger spotlight on the jeans industry,” said Andrew Olah, one of the New York Denim Days organizers and founder of the Kingpins Show, the global denim sourcing trade show.”

New York Denim Days will also host an invitation-only day of denim lectures, called Denim Legend Talks, on September 21. The final roster of speakers will be announced this summer and will feature a who’s-who of the denim trade, from top designers to creatives and executives on the cusp of what’s next in the denim industry.

Following the NYC event, Denim Days will return to its original home in Amsterdam for a festival, from October 22-28. Included in the programming is a week-long City Center happening featuring sales and events hosted by denim retailers; the two-day Amsterdam Blueprint festival, with a denim market, seminars, workshops, installations, brand activations, music, expos and more.

New to the Denim Days event schedule, Nashville will be home to a two-day festival, from November 10-11. Nashville Denim Days will connect indigo aficionados and denimheads to the industry through brand activations, hands-on workshops by artisans and denim mills, vintage markets, live music and more. The inaugural event will take place at Marathon Music Works in downtown Nashville.

“Last year we brought Denim Days to New York because we believed the concept would resonate with the New York denim scene – and we could not have asked for a better reception,” said Andrew Olah. “Nashville is playing an increasingly important role in the American denim and fashion industry, and with its large creative community and deep roots in music, we felt that the city was a natural fit for Denim Days.”

Denim Days Global Schedule:

New York Denim Days – September 21-23 
September 21:Denim Legend Talks (invite only)
September 22-23: Denim Days Festival
Metropolitan Pavilion, 125 West 18th Street
Tickets: $10
Students: $5

September 23: Denim Days New York – Street Fair,
West 18th Street – between 6th Ave. and 7th Ave.
Free Admission

Amsterdam Denim Days – October 22-28 
October 22-28: City Center Program
October 27-28: BluePrint Festival
Gashouder, Westergasfabriek
Tickets:  €10

Nashville Denim Days – November 9-11 
November 9: Denim Legend Talks (invite only)
November 10-11:Denim Days Nashville
Marathon Music Works, 1402 Clinton Street
Tickets: $10
Students: $5

About Denim Days Festival:
New York Denim Days and Nashville Denim Days are based on Amsterdam Denim Days. The new editions will act as a spotlight on the global denim scene from completely New York and Nashville perspectives – uniting the denim community and consumers, the addicts and aficionados, the brands and buyers, to celebrate its unique denim passion. New York Denim Days and Nashville Denim Days are initiated by House of Denim and organized by Modefabriek in collaboration with Kingpins Show and HTNK Fashion recruitment & consultancy.


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