The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Like a leftover piece of French fries

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John Leguizamo, Emjay Anthony and Jon Favreau in ChefSome movies get better a few days after you’ve watched them. Like a Boeuf Bourguignon casserole they need to be left alone for a day, some extra time to mature and get all the flavours together.

Other movies are the opposite. Right after you’ve seen them you think: “well, that was pretty nice, wasn’t it”, but a few hours later they’ve lost all their texture and become rather appalling. Like leftover French fries that have grown cold, soft and pointless.

Chef is an example of the French fries type of movie. I left the theatre half and half smiling and a little hungry after two hours of food porn with some acting on the side (it probably helped that I never watch food shows on television, so I haven’t been overexposed to that kind of images).

But as time passes I feel colder and colder about it, so I’d better hurry up now and get my thoughts on print before I turn completely sour and grumpy. It’s not fair to try to judge something as a BB when it so apparently is a FF.

So this is a story about a chef with high ambitions who gets a nasty but well-deserved bad review from a Very Important Critic. He makes a fool out of himself on social media about it, quits his job and goes back to the basics, whilst spending time with his son and getting everything he’s lost back including his wife, self-esteem and the love from the masses. I don’t need to tell you that he’ll confront the critic again with a different result, do I? Mind you, this is not a spoiler. There’s no way you can spoil a movie where it’s so obvious where it’s heading five minutes into it.

I’m starting to feel a bit like that grumpy critic now, so I’d better talk about what’s good.

  • I liked the kitchen scenes. There’s something relaxing, hypnotizing about seeing that dance between the chefs, sous-chefs and other staff in the kitchen. Jon Favreau has the right swing in the way he moves and handles himself. I don’t know if this is what it looks like in real life, but they managed to sell it to me and that’s all I need.
  • I liked the connection between the chef and his son. Theres a LOT of sugar in it, for sure, but there are nice little scenes there which reminds you of how sad it is that most of us who have children have boring office jobs that are incomprehensible and impossible to bring your kids to, which is a shame.
  • I think that someone who’s never come across social media before could benefit from it as a crash course in how to use and how not-to-use Twitter, Vine and one-second-a-day-filming.
  • And again: there are some pretty shots of food, presented with a nice score that for a brief moment can make you feel a little happy.

But then there’s the bad:

It’s predictable, it’s cheesy and it contains way too much sugar and way too little salt. This is an entirely unbalanced dish. For crying out loud, aside from the initial clash with the critic and the owner of the restaurant, there’s no conflict in the move, there are no stakes whatsoever. The last hour we just watch Jon Favreau, his best buddy and his son on a triumph tour around America, most likely sponsored by various local tourist boards from the spots where they stop, with occasional phone calls to assure mum that they’re having a great time. Sigh. And the women in the movie are mostly there for decoration or comfort whenever needed. If you want a movie that promotes “traditional family values”, well here’s you are.

Ratatouille. That’s basically all I want to say. It’s not exactly the same story, but it’s in the neighbourhood. And it did it so much better. It’s about time that I rewatch Ratatouille. And this one I’ll forget as quickly as possible, like a piece of French fries from yesterday. Rubbish food is rubbish. Even if it can make you smile for a brief moment.

Chef (Jon Favreau, US 2014) My rating: 2,5/5

Written by Jessica

September 9, 2014 at 1:00 am

Posted in Chef

The kind of escapist drug that I love

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Some people smoke pot to slip out of the everyday drudgery. I don’t. Aside from that it’s illegal where I live I don’t have any ethical issues about it. I’m fairly liberal in those matters. But I just can’t stand the smell of it. It’s intolerable to me and it makes me nauseous even to be near it.

I have a different drug for escapism and temporary experiences from a place out-of-this-world. Please come closer and I’ll share my secret. Don’t be shy, come over here! [whispering voice in your ear] I go to the movies!

Shocking, isn’t it?

Sometimes I go to movies to be touched, to feel empathy for people that are worse off in this world than I am or to get insights about myself and the human conditions. But sometimes I just want to see crazy ideas evolve in over-the-top ways that make my jaw drop and causes bubbles of joy and amazement in my chest.

Lucy is exactly that kind of movie. The science fiction-vision of the world it offers is by no means based on science and believable. Most people probably know by now – or can figure out – that the tagline “The average person uses 10 percent of their brain capacity” is a myth. The director Luc Besson knows it too, but he chose to use it anyway, he said in an interview I heard. He didn’t want to complicate things too much and I can buy into that. The entire movie is “bonkers” anyway, as many before me have pointed out. (Isn’t “bonkers” a lovely word? You admit that something is nuts but you do it in such a loving way that it’s basically a good thing).

Lucy vs Limitless
It takes a little while before the bonkiness kicks in. Lucy begins as a thriller-kind-of-story with a damsel in distress. Asked to deliver a certain suitcase she ends up in the hands of some gangsters who force her to undertake a surgery. She’s going to be the smuggling vessel for a new type of drugs. But something goes wrong and the brain-usage-improving drug starts to leak into her body with the consequence that Lucy isn’t so much in distress anymore. Things get a little crazy and from there on it spirals on rather quickly.

If you think that the concept of this type of drug feels very familiar, you may be associating to Limitless from few years ago, which was kind of forgettable but good fun to watch.

Funny enough, Lucy is a lot more deserving of the title “Limitless” than Limitless was. Compared to Lucy it was quite down-to-Earth. This is more like Dumbo hallucinating about pink dancing elephants so to say.

I watched it with my mother, who like me is a science fiction fan. After the movie she turned to me and said: “well that was quite some turkey movie!” expecting my wholehearted support. I looked back at her, exclaiming with equal certainness: “No, not at all, it was brilliant and I loved it!” And I knew the instant I said it that we were both right.

If you like it or not is entirely a matter of taste. I hate the smell of cannabis. Some people surely find the plot of Lucy so ridiculous that it gets in the way of the visuals. For me it was a wonderful, thrilling escapist ride of the best kind.

Lucy (Luc Besson, France 2014)
My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

September 8, 2014 at 1:00 am

Posted in Lucy

When hiding as a piece of popcorn seems like a great idea

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starred upStarred Up begins quietly, not anywhere near the intense and violent movie I had prepared myself for so I get suspicious. Such quietness rarely lasts forever. It is as if I’m listening to the very beginning of Pink Floyd’s In the Flesh. A brief moment of tranquillity before everything breaks loose.

We’re introduced to 19 year old Eric as he arrives at a prison for adults, transferred from a youth prison two years early for safety reasons. He looks a bit sullen, but he doesn’t make any noise or resistance as he goes through the body visitation and is led to his new cell. Left alone, he immediately creates a dangerous weapon out of a toothbrush and hides it for future needs and I prepare myself for what that will lead to.

Then someone gets within physical reach of him, something minor happens and Eric explodes. The reason for his anger isn’t obvious to me, but he doesn’t need a reason. There’s a burning rage inside him and it has to get out, like the lava erupting from a volcano.

Frightening watch
The reputation of the film was well earned. It contains a lot of raw and realistic violence, similar to for instance Tyrannosaur or A Prophet. There’s no escape from it. When you see someone beheading an orch in a swordfight, you can easily shrug it off, “it’s only fantasy”. But watching this type of film I have to push back the urge to take cover on the floor behind the next row, pretending to be a piece of popcorn so that the protagonist wouldn’t notice me in case he suddenly jumped out from the screen (you never know, remember The Purple Rose of Cairo). I wouldn’t want to meet this guy – or his almost equally menacing father, also a prisoner, in real life unless they went through a major, life- and personality-changing therapy.

As the movie goes on there actually are attempts for a change. Eric joins a anger-management therapy group led by a volunteer (the film is based on the experiences by such a therapist). The father also shows signs of – I don’t know if I would call it “love”, but at least some kind of connection – as he makes efforts to protect his son.

Without giving away spoilers I can say as much as that there are glimpses of light here, moments when the constant presence of anger, threat and violence is changed for tenderness and closeness, if only for a few seconds. I’ve seen a few reviewers who are more cynical than I am sneer at it, but for me it was what turned me over and made it worth to endure all the punching, curled up as a piece of popcorn in my seat.

Starred Up (David Mackenzie, UK 2014) My rating: 4/5

PS I you think this film is more than you can stomach, I highly recommend a previous movie by the director David Mackenzie, namely Perfect Sense. It’s a poetic and unusual movie with a perfect blend of science fiction apocalypse and melancholic romance. It hasn’t received anywhere near as much appreciation as it should.

Written by Jessica

September 7, 2014 at 10:26 am

Posted in Starred Up

A few angry words on the lack of love for voice acting

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Today I got an e-mail from the number one movie theatre chain in Sweden, where I have a gold level loyalty card. They offered me the chance to “lend” my voice to one of the characters in Disney’s upcoming adventure comedy Big Hero 6.

According to the letter it wouldn’t be necessary to go through a painful, time consuming audition. All you had to do to participate in the casting was to record yourself with your cell phone, saying the line: “Hello, do you hear me? Do you know your name?” and then post it on Instagram. The winner would do the voice recording in Stockholm at a certain point. No economic compensation whatsoever would be paid, not even to cover travel costs.

The winner would get tickets to the premier of the movie. Yay.

I think this speaks volumes about how much certain elements of the film business care about the products they sell. As long as the sales volumes of popcorn don’t drop, they’re happy. Reading as reading. Any schmuck who can read the ingredient list from a package of cornflakes can read a few lines in an animated movie, according to their beliefs.

And it makes me so mad. It’s disrespectful towards train actors who do this for real, who put their heart into every role they make, no matter how small because they’re professionals. And it’s disrespectful towards the audience. When we watch a Disney movie, rightly or wrongly, we expect it to keep a certain level. That includes the dubbed voices we get in the Swedish release.

Motion caption actors
Motion caption actors have received a lot of love over the last few years. Every time a new part of the Hobbit or the Planet of the Apes franchises come out, someone will start talking about Andy Serkis and how much he deserves an Academy award for his brilliant body acting.

Don’t get me wrong. The computer generated creatures in movies become much more alive and believable thanks to the cooperation between the actors and the animators. I appreciate that. What I don’t get though is that voice actors aren’t given the same kind of attention and respect. One good voice actor can turn a movie into something completely different than what it else would have been. I don’t have to remind you about what Robin Williams was to Aladdin.

As a fellow film fan I can see why someone would enter the casting competition of Big Hero 6. Who wouldn’t like to be a part of a film recording? Even if I had to do it for free and even pay for my own train ticket to the studio, it would feel as if it was worth it.

However, as fun as it may be for the individual, it’s wrong to everyone else.

I don’t want to see another voice acting casting like this, ever.

photo credit: nofrills via photopin cc

Written by Jessica

September 5, 2014 at 1:00 am

Great science fiction is not about the budget – it’s about the ideas

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A big amount of explosions is no guarantee for a great science fiction movie, not even if they take place in space. The attraction of science fiction lies in the quality of ideas, at least in my book. It doesn’t necessarily require a huge budget. But it requires brains.

LFO is a movie that you probably haven’t heard of until now, unless you’re one of a few lucky people in the world who’ve had the chance to see it in various festivals for fantastic film. Now I want to sell it to you because it’s an example the type of science fiction I love most: small but smart.

This dark comedy takes place in a house in a Swedish suburb where the sound technician Robert, after being left by his wife, spends most of his day experimenting with sounds. One day he finds out that certain frequencies can be used to hypnotize and steer other people. It doesn’t take long before he has turned his unknowing neighbours into his personal lab rats. Then things start to get complicated. Meanwhile his ambitions as of what to do with this invention start to grow.

Small festival film
When I say that the film is “small”, I really mean it. The estimated budget is 500 000 dollars, which probably is less than the cost of the house where it takes place. It was shot in ten days. Throughout the movie you only see a handful of actors on screen. And the set is kind of claustrophobic; the camera never leaves the house. However this doesn’t stop it from being inventive, thought-provoking and – not the least – genuinely funny.

Wherever it has been screened at film festivals it has got a great reception and it has a number of awards under its belt. I watched it recently at Loncon 3, the science fiction world convention in London. There was no award given out there, but judging from the reaction of the audience they would have been happy to give it one.

One of the other fans of the film is Elijah Wood, who after watching it decided to put his name behind it as an executive producer. So far it doesn’t seem to have resulted in a theatrical release (sadly it hasn’t even been shown in Swede). But it will be available on DVD in the US market from the end of October. I’ve also seen it mentioned that it will be downloadable from iTunes around the same time, but I haven’t been able to verify that. Keep your eyes if you’re into this type of movies.

LFO (Antonio Tublen, SWE/DEN 2013) My rating: 4,5/5

Written by Jessica

September 4, 2014 at 1:00 am

Posted in LFO

Force Majeure: A Seinfeld scene in a Bergmanesque take

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Do you remember the Seinfeld episode when a fire breaks out at a birthday party and George panics, rushing out pushing down everyone that comes in his way in the process? Afterwards he tries to justify his behaviour, but nobody buys his explanations.

The recent Swedish movie Force Majeure begins with a similar scenario. A Swedish family goes for a skiing vacation in the French Alps. One day as they’re sitting at a restaurant, an avalanche comes running down the hillside straight in their direction. The mother in the family tries to protect the children. The father on the other hand doesn’t look out for anyone else. He runs away as fast as he can in order to save himself. As it turns out the avalanche never hits the restaurant. But it hits the family hard in a different way. Everyone, including the children, knows what happened. Not everyone wants to talk about it. How do you even talk about such a thing? And can you forgive it and move on from there?

The tone is a great deal more serious in this take on the male protector who flees in time of danger compared to the Seinfeld version. There are scenes that made me think of classic plays and movies about couples who speak out and hurt each other in the process, such as Long Day’s Journey into the Night, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf or Scenes from a Marriage. However it’s not quite as heavy material. While it’s no Seinfeld for sure, there’s a lot of humour in the film. Sometimes I didn’t know if I was laughing at the shortcomings of fleeing father or crying over how miserable he was. I’m pretty sure I was doing both at the same time at one point. Reoccurring themes in the film: music by Vivadi, snow machines doing various jobs at the mountain, avalanches released on purpose all contribute to the sense of experiencing a concert, directed by Ruben Östlund.

Compared to his last movie Play, which I also loved, I found Force Majeure a little bit more accessible. If you’ve been on a skiing holiday with your family at some point, it’s easy to identify with the feelings of claustrophobia they’re experiencing in their hotel room and the tiredness and frustration you can feel when your child is having a tantrum in public for no good reason.

I know that there are several colleagues from the film blogosphere who are attending the TIFF festival in Toronto. I hope some of them will take the chance to see this film. It makes me a little proud that it was made in Sweden. Great movies sometimes come out of small countries.

Force Majeure (Turist, Ruben Östlund, SWE 2014) My rating: 4,5/5

Written by Jessica

September 3, 2014 at 1:00 am

Posted in Force Majeure, Turist

How Boyhood got me despite the worst of circumstances

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I had been looking forward to see Boyhood for months, but when I finally got the chance I regretted it.

The circumstances! The circumstances! Could they be any worse?

I didn’t know if there even was a point to go through with it. It felt like a waste. I knew that I was bound to zone out or even fall asleep. I was at a Swedish film event, Malmö filmdagar, which mainly is directed at people in Sweden who work with film professionally, such as distributors and journalists. Fortunately they have also invited a few movie bloggers, and I was one of them.

We spent three days watching movies from the upcoming autumn season all day long. For professional film critics who attend film festivals on a regular places and go to press screenings to keep up, there’s nothing extraordinary about this. But for an amateur like me, it was exhausting especially with sometimes as little as five minute breaks between the screenings.

Boyhood came up as number five during the most movie intense day. I had been struggling at a previous screening not to fall asleep as I followed the chase of a serial killer of the worst kind. If not even murdering could keep me awake, how could I possibly get through an almost three hour long movie about the everyday life of some ordinary people during twelve years? I knew I wanted to see it, but would my body and brain comply with the wishes of my heart?

Of course I was a fool. If you’ve seen it you probably know why.

There was no way that I would fall asleep as I watched the boy Mason growing up right before my eyes. I was hooked right from the start and I didn’t lose attention for a second. I didn’t check the watch once. My only awareness of time passing was based on the seamless aging of everyone. Every time I noticed that another year must have passed I sighed inside, because I knew that it meant that we were not a little closer to the end and I didn’t want it to end, ever. And when it finished, my immediate impulse was to watch it again. If I had been offered to opportunity to a rewatch right after my first, I would have jumped at it.

I’m not sure what exactly it is that makes Boyhood so captivating. Things happen in the life of the boy, his sister and his divorced parents, but it rarely gets particularly dramatic. Sometimes you date the wrong person. Sometimes you move. Sometimes you’re having an important conversation with someone who is close to you. Sometimes you’re having an argument. Life goes by. You grow older. You get insights, regardless if you’re a boy or a mum. It’s the way things are.

I’ve deliberately avoided reviews about Boyhood, but I haven’t completely been able to shut them out. One thing that I picked up was that women are supposed not to relate as strongly to the film as men. I just want to make clear that I disagree with this, completely.

Firstly, I can easily identify with characters of the opposite gender. I’ve been doing it all of my life (since sadly women are underrepresented in movies). It’s nothing I think of; I’m absolutely used to it. Secondly, despite the title “Boyhood”, this is just a part of what the film is about. While she probably hasn’t as much screentime as Mason, the story of his mother, brilliantly played by Patricia Arquette, is so engaging that a part of me wanted to rename it “motherhood”.

Parental feelings
And now that we’re at the topic of being a mother, I suspect that I’m not the only one in the audience to develop parental feelings for Mason. Until this point in my life, I’ve only had daughters, but now all of a sudden I have a son. And that was of course one of the reasons why it was so unreasonably hard to let go of it. I want to know what happens next in the life of those people!

Couldn’t we get one little follow-up every year, a 20-minute update with a few relevant excerpts from whatever they’re up to now?

What did you say?

Oh, right. Yeah. They actors aren’t for real. I keep forgetting.

I think I’d better stop here. I don’t want to be that babbling person who goes on and on and on about something until the point when you want to punch him in the face and take the opposite position because she’s becoming so annoying.

I wouldn’t recommend anyone to see Boyhood as the fifth movie of the day. But on the other hand, if you have to, don’t worry. If a movie is good enough, it will attach itself to you no matter what.

Boyhood (Richard Linklater, US 2014) My rating: 5/5

Written by Jessica

September 2, 2014 at 1:00 am

Posted in Boyhood


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