The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Archive for February 2012

Well executed painting by numbers

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I wonder what thoughts crossed the mind of the young director Daniel Espinosa as it became clear that he was going to direct Safe House.

An 85 million dollar Hollywood production with Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds in the cast is quite different to a five million dollar movie with a few Swedish stars that barely are known outside of the country.

I imagine it as if a low ranked downhill skier all of a sudden would be brought up from a starting number of 85 to the first group with a much better piste and a real shot at reaching the top. The difference is that the stake is so much higher. It’s a one-time opportunity. Failure is not an option.

Our guy
I have to admit that my heart beat a little bit harder than it would have otherwise thanks to the Swedish connection. From the little I knew about it, it appeared to be a standard action movie, which usually isn’t my first choice when I go to the theatre. But just this fact that this was Daniel Espinosa’s Big Moment made the viewing a little bit different and more interesting than it otherwise would have been.

Of course I don’t know this guy any more than I know any American director, but I wanted him so badly to succeed. He was “our guy”, out there, putting Sweden on the map like Björn Borg did once upon a time on the tennis court or Zlatan Ibrahimovic does now on the football field.

So how well did he do? Well, without being any expert, a quick glance at the box office chart tells me that he should be on the safe side. After only a few weeks, the movie has made almost a hundred million dollars, which is more than it cost. And I suppose that’s what matters most in the end for those who hire directors? At least he hasn’t caused any losses. They’re already making a profit on his work. So why wouldn’t they hire him again?

Painting by numbers
Let’s leave the box office though for a while and look just at the movie, what did I think as a reluctant and rather ignorant action movie watcher? Well, all in all, not bad. Not bad at all.

Sure, the plot is very generic and I doubt I’ll be able to retell it to you if you ask me about it next year. I won’t even bother to tell you much about it here. There are CIA agents. They’re stationed in South Africa, which makes a nice change to what we’re used to. Someone wants to kill them. And of course there is corruption.

I won’t hide that Safe House is an example of painting by numbers. But you know what? Painting by numbers isn’t necessarily such a bad thing, not when it’s as well executed as in this case.

The pace is high, the action is solid, there’s a flow and energy in the chasing scenes that I enjoyed a lot. They’ve put a lot of effort into the sound effects. When they’re shooting, you can feel it in your body. The movie is shot with a saturated, orange, crude camera look that reminds me of old photography albums, which I thought looked kind of cool, even though my fellow Swedish movie bloggers told me afterwards that this look pretty much was a rip-off on films by other action directors. That however didn’t bother me the slightest, inexperienced as I am as an action watcher.

My issues
If there are things in the movie I’d like to complain about, it’s rather in the hands of the screenwriter than the director (unless the director has gone in and messed around with the script, I’ve heard that these things happen sometimes.)

I’ll avoid giving away too much of the plot here, but I can say as much as that I strongly question the motivations of one of the two main characters, the explanation we’re given why he’s done certain things. From the person he is now, it just doesn’t make sense.

The female characters are of course barely more than love interests, but I suppose anything else would be to expect too much of a standard Hollywood action flick so I can’t be bothered to be annoyed about it.

What really presented a problem though was the ending. That bumped down the movie from a very strong 3, bordering to 4 to a more average 3.

Do you remember Source Code from last year? Oh, how we tore our hair! It could have ended on an absolutely perfect note. Instead it kept going on for yet another five minutes, which didn’t add anything. It felt as if it was a last-minute decision following the reactions of a test audience.

It was a bit of the same thing with Safe House. Letting it end earlier and on a bit more ambiguous note would have made it so much better.

To wrap it up: Daniel Espinosa got the chance to run in the best group of skiers. He didn’t fall. He didn’t run down any flags. He proved that he could handle a task of this size. I just hope he’ll get a script that is a tad better and a little bit more interesting next time.

All in all I’m satisfied. I had a blast going to the movie in the company of four other Swedish movie bloggers. I watch movies mostly on my own and it was fantastic to have a bunch of similar minded people to chat away with right after the show. There are links to their posts below. Everyone apart from Deny Everything is in Swedish, but you can always try to run them through Google Translate.

Safe House (Daniel Espinosa, US 2012) My rating: 3/5

Deny Everything

Fiffis Filmtajm

Rörliga bilder och tryckta ord

Fripps Filmrevyer

Written by Jessica

February 29, 2012 at 7:00 am

Lambs in the air!

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How does a lamb sound? Ask an Englishman and he says: “baa”. Ask a Swede and he says “bää”, which is an altogether different sound (you pronounce that weird “ä” letter like the vowels in “hair”).

No wonder we have difficulties in communicating across the borders if we can’t even agree on that thing! Or perhaps there actually are language barriers among animals as well? If I brought a sheep from New Zealand to Sweden, could he get by with his southern hemisphere bleating or would the northern sheep just stare at him with raised eyebrows?

See there, something new for you to ponder upon now that we’re done with the Oscars!

I know one thing though: the members of LAMB, the large association of movie blogs, with over a thousand of members from all over the world, are just like sheep in the manner that we’re talkative. We don’t let minor issues such as different time zones and native languages stop us from coming together and chat away.

Cleaver lambs as we are, we’ve appointed a special field, where the grass is more delicious than anywhere else, as our regular meet-up point. This field in question is the podcast The LAMBcast.

Each week five lambs meet up to bleat over various topics in a different set-up each time. And in the latest episode, number 105, the turn had come to yours truly. The theme of the show was “Watcha been watchin’ lately?” Together with four other bloggers I talked about a movie I had watched recently. I can reveal as much as that after talking about small art house movies in The Matineecast, I decided to talk about something really mainstream for a change. Finally we followed up with our rants and raves of the week and yet another trivia game, which I’d rather not speak about.

Apart from me there were four other lambs on the show: Nick from Random Ramblings of a Demented Doorknob, Dan Heaton of Public Transportation Snob,  Steve of 1001 Plus and Stevee of Cinematic Paradox.

Stevee is from New Zealand by the way and considering it’s situated exactly on the opposite side of Earth compared to Sweden and with the other participants originating from North America somewhere in between, you really can’t get much more international than this.

Stevee said “baa”. I said “bää”. But I think we understood each other fairly well.

If you’re up for yet another podcast with me in it (I know two in a week is a little bit of bad timing), you can listen to it here or download it from iTunes.

Written by Jessica

February 28, 2012 at 4:16 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The movie that finally made me switch off my player

with 12 comments

I’m a podcast junkie, which is apparent if you throw a glance at my blog roll. A few times I’ve had the question:  “how do you manage to keep up with so many podcasts?”

The answer is simple: I grab every opportunity I get, from early morning to late night. I listen to podcasts as I’m going to work; I listen to them on my way home. Podcasts help me through my weekly shopping in the grocery store and they accompany me as I’m emptying the dishwasher. It’s as good as automatic. Whenever I sit down in my car to drive somewhere, I reach for my phone, put the plugs in my ears and put on whatever show I’m currently listening to. All those short moments add up eventually and that’s how I make it.

But recently I watched a movie that turned all my usual habits overboard. The movie in question was Wim Wender’s Wings of Desire.

The strange thing is that this was the very same movie that made me fall sound asleep five minutes after it started last time I watched it, back in 1988. Since my sleepiness at movies, particularly art house films, has gotten worse rather than better over the years, I feared the worst, not sure if the discomfort of the chairs in that old, historically restored theatre would be enough to keep me awake.

But I needn’t have worried. Sure, it was poetic. Sure, it didn’t have much of drama in it. But this time I was involved, engaged and mesmerized.

An angel film with class
The film tells the story about an angel who falls in love with a mortal woman and wants to become a human. This isn’t the first time we see angels doing such things. There is an entire angel genre, often including some kind of love interest. We’ve seen angels mixing with living people more or less successfully – protecting them, falling in love with them or wanting to become one of them. I rather like angel movies; they’re usually good fun, although a bit sugary. But I have to admit that many of them are the kind of movies you’d rather watch on an airplane than in a cinema. They’re lightweight, cheesy and quite predictable.

Wings of Desire is nothing like that. Sure, it’s an angel film, but an angel film with class.

If you expect an easily accessible story that will allow you to mindlessly cruise through the movie, you might find it a little bit difficult and I imagine the predominantly black and white photo can be a bit off-putting for some, not to mention that it’s German and is subtitled.

But those obstacles aren’t worse than that you can overcome them. I did. I threw away my usual expectations conversations that made sense and a narrative that was easy to follow. A huge part of the movie we just see angels walking around in the world, listening to the thoughts of people. I let the stream of consciousness, the poetry of the words and images fill my mind. I can barely put into words what feelings they evoked within me. But I was pretty sure it said something essential about life, love and what it’s all about.

My drive home
As I drove homewards I didn’t even think of putting on a podcast and if the thought had crossed my mind, I would have dismissed it immediately. In the mood I was it would have felt completely wrong. I wanted to suck out all of the poetry in the movie and lick the bowl until I had cherished every ounce of its content.

I had been waiting for over 20 years to give Wings of Desire a second chance. But I am glad I finally did.

Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin, Wim Wenders, GE 1987) My rating: 4,5/5

Written by Jessica

February 28, 2012 at 1:00 am

Dancing with Ryan

with 10 comments

So, I’ve been dancing with Ryan McNeil, the host of the wonderful blog The Matinee and the equally wonderful podcast The Matineecast.

No, no, no, don’t worry! You don’t need to alarm our better halves – it’s not THAT kind of dancing and we’ve got an ocean keeping us apart.

But we’ve been doing a podcast together, the 53rd episode of The Matineecast, and this made me think of dancing. It felt as natural and well synchronized as one of the classical numbers with the difference that we were improvising. But even if it wasn’t rehearsed, it felt as if we clicked for some reason. Perhaps Canadians and Swedes just go particularly well together?

You can listen to the show at Ryan’s website or you can download it from iTunes.

Apart from a short interview, where you get to know me a little better, there’s also a longer discussion about We Need to Talk about Kevin. In the final section we recommend five movies we’ve watched recently. The theme in this show is smaller movies – foreign, old or low-budget, movies you may or may not have heard of.

I had a blast doing the show and I hope some of this joy can be shared by the listeners.

Thank you Ryan for inviting me!

The Matineecast episode 53

Written by Jessica

February 27, 2012 at 1:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Someone loves me!

with 20 comments

Let’s talk awards!

Nope, not THAT award. Everyone else has been talking so much about it lately that I thought I could as well stay out of that discussion. Besides, I’m not much inclined to speculate and have strong views when I haven’t been able to watch half of the movies that were nominated. I can’t guarantee this will remain an Oscar free zone forever, but for the time being I really don’t have much to say about it.

But there are other awards at swing right now, namely a blogger’s award called “Liebster Award”. This is some kind of pay-it-forward meme for small blogs – blogs with fewer than 200 followers. The rule is that if you win the award you’re supposed to nominate five other blogs you think deserve some recognition. You should also copy the Liebster Blog Icon into your post like a medal.

Without being a mathematician I have the feeling that there must be an end to this meme. Eventually we’ll run into the point where all potential candidates already have gotten the award. We’re not quite there yet though, so I’ll take this as an opportunity to highlight a few of the less known favorites from my own blogroll. and if I by accident appoint someone with more than 200 readers, I apologize (while also congratulating to having such a big readership).

But first of all I want to thank the two bloggers that were kind enough to nominate The Velvet Café, namely Max at Impassionedcinema and Steve at 1001Plus. Steve’s blog has been one of my favorites for quite some time now; not only are we about the same age – we’ve also got an appetite for science fiction. Max’ blog is a new acquaintance, which looks cool and I’ll be happy to check it out further.

And now with no further delay, here are my nominees:

1. Just Atad
As a thumb rule, I think general musings are more fun and interesting reads than reviews. Corey Atad is one of the very few film bloggers I know of to specialize in this area. Some of his posts spark quite a bit of discussion. He can be provocative at times and always interesting, like when he wrote about how he was kicked out of the premier of A Woman in Black.

2. The Movie Review Warehouse

“Film Blogging Going Gonzo” is the additional title to a small and quite unknown blog called The Movie Review Warehouse. As opposed to Corey, Bondo writes a ton of reviews. The sheer volume at this blog is quite impressive. He doesn’t hesitate to go in completely the opposite direction of everyone else in his assessment. I don’t always agree with him, but I admire his honesty and integrity. If you’re interested in feminism and female directors this is the place to go to. He writes more about this than any other film blogger I know of.

3. A Journal of Film
Melissa is unfortunately not a very productive writer, but when she writes, she’s does it so well that she puts everyone else at shame. What can I say? She’s teaching in writing, so she’s definitely an expert in the area. Her blog posts are in-depth reviews which always provide new insight and perspective, even if you think you’ve read dozens of other reviews of the said movie. For instance in her take on Melancholia, she did fascinating parallels to art history. It would be a crime to keep Melissa’s blog a secret.

4. A Swede Talks Movies
I guess you could suspect that I’m biased since he’s a fellow Swede, but I swear that this recommendation is objective. If it wasn’t for the blog name, A Swede Talks Movies, you wouldn’t even guess that Emil is from Sweden since he’s writing so well. This blog has a healthy mix of reviews, musings and lists. I know how much work it takes to write good lists and I’m particularly impressed by his year-by-year top 10 lists, which are very well thought out with some good motivations.

5. Genre Hacks
I’ve never ever been as astounded as I was when I mentioned the screenwriter Sean Hood in a blog post and he then turned up at this place and commented on the post. Since then he’s been back a couple of times and he has always got something interesting to say. If you want more of this you should check out his blog Genre Hacks where he shares things that pop up in his head, occasionally makes interviews with other people in the business or links to interesting reads.

Final words
Dear nominated bloggers! If you see this, feel free do as you like. You can just cherish the link love – or you can pay it forward if you feel the inspiration. I’m generally not a fan of chain letters, so you have my blessing if you let it stop here.

For my own part I realized how much I love to talk about the blogs on my blog roll as I wrote this post. I might very well get back to it and write about other blogs who weren’t mentioned here, but are just as deserving of attention. This reward thing was a push to get going, but I really don’t need it as an excuse to get back to it.

Finally I want to thank Max and Steve once again for picking me for this award. It gave me fuel to keep going for a while longer.

Just like any Oscar winner.

Written by Jessica

February 27, 2012 at 1:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Confessions of a Cinema Snoozer

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Do you suffer from Cinema Snooze Disorder?

I do. Whenever I’m planning to watch a movie that I suspect can be somewhat slow and subtle, I need to make a strategic plan for how to get through it without start nodding.

  • Did I get a decent sleep the night before?
  • Have I had a light dinner that doesn’t put me into overeating-coma?
  • Have I been a frequent visitor of the coffee machine during the day?

The last point is the trickiest one. On one hand I know I need the caffeine. On the other hand I dread having to run to the bathroom mid show. That Must Not Happen. It’s a case where you need to find the perfect balance and know exactly at which point you can take your last drink and still be certain that it will have time to make its way out. If you’re brave you can take a last-minute coffee shot and hope it won’t come through until the movie is over. But it’s a gamble and nothing to recommend.

Why we fall asleep
It boggles my mind why I so easily fall asleep in cinemas. After all the armchairs in the cinemas in my city offer far from the comfort I’ve encountered in UK and US. They’re so small and the space is so limited that it feels as if you’re sitting in the tourist class in an airplane. (And then I’m a small sized person! I can only imagine how bad they must be for fully grown people.) I should be fully awake, cursing inside over the discomfort!

On the other hand falling asleep in my ordinary bed can be a bit of a struggle, especially if I’ve spent the night half on half snoozing in a theatre.

I guess there is some psychological factor at play there. You go to the movies to relax. And th fact that there’s no pressure for you to fall asleep, no alarm clock informing you that it’s just six hours until you need to get up, adds to that relaxation. It’s ever so easy to cross the line and go from “relaxed” to “snoozing”.

Movies that put me into trouble
So what movies are most likely to put me into trouble? Well, there isn’t much of a surprise there. The more artsy they are, the more likely is it that I’ll start to nod. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I will fall asleep. But it means that I’ll need to take measures not to do so. I need to be pretty hard with myself, for instance pinching and clawing myself brutally, chugging my nails or in extreme cases slapping myself a couple of times. The pain will clear my mind enough to keep me going for a while longer.

If you’ve ever been in this position you know how frustrating it is. Falling asleep during a movie seems like the cinema goer’s ultimate insult – a public statement that “this movie is so boring that I can’t stay awake”. But I swear: I’m not doing it on purpose! Given the choice I’d be fully awake every second of it. After all I’ve paid for the ticket to see a movie, not to sleep through it.

Most times it’s not that I don’t like what I’m watching. It’s just that my body refuses to cooperate. It’s as if it’s got a will of its own, like the in the case of Mr Bean during the church sermon.

Top snoozing movies of 2011
So let me share my top list of sleep-inducing movies of 2011, the movies I had to struggle hardest to remain awake. It goes like this: 

  1. Tree of Life
  2. Certified Copy
  3. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Those movies are quite good, especially Tree of Life and TTSS. Certified Copy was one that I unfortunately couldn’t appreciate as much as others did. But maybe I will if I return to it one day.

However none of those movies were anywhere my sleepiest movie experience ever, the one and only time I can recall fully falling asleep in a cinema (at home it happens now and then in the sofa, but then I can always rewind and re-watch whatever I’ve missed.)

Wings of Desire
My deepest movie sleep ever occurred as I watched Wim Wender’s Wings of Desire in 1988. It didn’t take more than five minutes into the movie before I was sound asleep and I didn’t wake up until the very end, having no idea of what had happened. There was something about angels listening to the thoughts of people… and then just a big void. Sadly enough exactly the same thing happened to my husband, who usually is better at staying awake. This time he couldn’t update me on what the movie had been like and I left the cinema feeling cheated on my film experience.

This week I finally got my redemption as my local film club showed this very film.

You can imagine I was a bit nervous about it; I paid a few extra visits to the coffee machine to be on the safe side. I’ll save the full review for another day, but I can say as much as that I stayed fully awake all the way through this time. And I didn’t have to pinch myself, not even once!

I’m not sure of the causes. Maybe I should attribute this to the fact that the chairs in the cinema are extremely uncomfortable. It’s an old cinema that has been restored to how it looked in 1914, and back in those days people can’t have been that picky about comfort so to say.

Or perhaps it was just something in the movie that was more engaging to me at this point in life, something that pulled me in. But for whatever reason I watched the entire movie and I’ll tell you what I thought about it sometime next week.

A source of embarrassment
It’s time to wrap up this post. By now I think you’ve got a good view into the predicament of someone with a cinema snoozing disorder.

It makes you struggle to stay awake rather than just enjoying the ride. It causes frustration, disappointment and in worst case even loss. As a cinema snoozer you never know for sure. Did I just close my eye for a second or was that in fact a micro-nap. Did I miss out something important?

It’s also a source of embarrassment. If you end up snoozing, at least you don’t want anyone else to notice.

And from that point of view I suppose I should be grateful. At least I don’t snore.

The toast of this week goes to my fellow cinema snoozers wherever you are. This one is for you.


Written by Jessica

February 24, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

My favourite Haneke so far

with 12 comments

Strange things occur in a small village in Germany in 1913, right before the outbreak of World War I. A doctor gets injured in a riding accident that isn’t just an accident. A woman falls to her death. Children get abducted and abused. The deeds are random and cruel. Who is causing them? And what else is going on under the tidy surface? Piece by piece we’re putting together a puzzle through the eyes of the schoolteacher who is looking back on those events from a future perspective. This is the story of The White Ribbon.

The roots of evil
I’ve seen some reviewers claiming that this film should be seen as an attempt to explain where Germany was coming from, to show the soil where the Nazi movement later could spawn and flourish.

And I could see how you could make such an interpretation, but I also think that the movie works fine without the historical context as a study in the dark sides if the human nature.

People do bad things. Sometimes the abusers have been victims of abuse in the past and are so damaged by it that they’ll transfer it to the next generation. Sometimes you can relate it to the environment. People are governed by a political or religious system that has twisted their inner ethical compass. And then there is the third kind of evil, the one for which we lack good explanations. Like Kevin-evil. The village in The White Ribbon contains all forms of evil. With very few exceptions, it’s rotten to the core.

This movie was truly uncomfortable to watch, not to say harrowing, which might sound a little strange considering that it’s a very neat movie, if dark, shot in black and white, not containing much of gore or explicit scene. But there is a certain kind of creepiness that doesn’t require blood to be tangible – the same way as an abundance of blood isn’t a guarantee for a creepy movie (as I wrote about in a previous review of Suspiria).

If you’ve seen some of Ingmar Bergman’s darker movies, you’re probably familiar with this category of discomfort. Do you remember the horrible priest in Fanny & Alexander? He could definitely qualify as a villager in The White Ribbon. The difference is that there’s not just one of him, but several – some of them even worse.

Strange pacing
For how uncomfortable it was to watch, I really enjoyed The White Ribbon. The pacing is a little weird; sometimes the movie gets very, very slow, lingering in a shot of something that doesn’t move until you wonder if the DVD has gotten stuck or something. Sometimes the voice-over narrative gets into a quick speed mode and you need to pay attention to keep up with the development. But somehow the mystery kept me interested all the way through, even through the slower parts.

This is the second movie by the Austrian director Michael Haneke I watch and definitely my favorite one. While Benny’s Video felt a bit simplistic in its theme where a boy did terrible things after watching too much TV, The White Ribbon is less obvious and way more intriguing.

I don’t know exactly what happened in that village. But I’m still thinking about it, almost two weeks after watching it and I take that as a sign of quality.

The White Ribbon (Das weiße Band, Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte, Michael Haneke DE/AT 2009) My rating: 4,5/5

Written by Jessica

February 24, 2012 at 1:00 am

Posted in The White Ribbon