The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Archive for the ‘Filmspanarna’ Category

On the frustration of watching a brilliant short film

with 11 comments


Watching a short film on a big screen is frustrating. At least if it’s a good one.

Every year around this time I get to experience as they’re running an international short film festival in my hometown.

About 300 films are screened over the course of one week. Far from all of them are brilliant. To be honest, I find many of them so-and-so: low-budget attempts from young men and women at film school, who still are in the stage of experimenting and looking for their own voices. I honestly feel a bit sorry for the jury that made the selection for the festival. This year 7 000 short films were submitted to the festival. Considering the uneven quality of some of the films that made it into the program, watching through the 6700 that didn’t must have been a bit of a nightmare.

There’s certainly no shortage of shorts out there. The question is how to match them with an audience outside of the festival circuit. When was the last time you watched a short film in a theatre that wasn’t either one about Wallace and Gromit or one of the shorts that comes with Pixar’s movies as an appetizer?

The hidden gems
And there is where my frustration comes from. Because among all the lacklustre short films you get to see in a festival like this there are also hidden gems, films that are absolutely brilliant and deserve to get a worldwide distribution and a large audience. When I see one of those I want to shout it out from the little rooftop that is my blog. I want to discuss that film with other bloggers who have watched it. I want to spread the word and I want to see it climb the ranks in the box office of short films – if there was such a thing. I want to see it go viral. But this never happens.

What will happen is that I will say: “I watched the film named X and fell in love with it. You have never heard of it and you’ll probably never get to see because it hasn’t got any distribution outside of the festivals and it’s not on YouTube. Sorry.” And that will be it. No one will comment on it, very few will even read the post, because very few care about short films. It’s just not something we talk about a lot in the social circles where I dwell.

I can understand why film makers don’t post their short films on YouTube for free to be seen by anyone. Regardless of the length of your film, in the end of the day you need to pay your bills. It’s reasonable that if you want to watch a short film you should pay a little something for it. Not as much as you pay for a full length feature film, but a couple of dollars would be reasonable. And actually iTunes does offer some short films at 3 dollars apiece. However there are so few of them that the chances are slim that they have the particular film you wanted to recommend to others.

I can’t help wondering: for who are those shorts made? Are they only intended as samples of work, made as stepping stones on the way to bigger projects? Are they happy with an audience consisting of family, friends and festival visitors?

I think it’s a shame and that’s why I always watch my favourites at the festival with mixed feelings: the enjoyment of getting the chance to see something special and the annoyance that I can’t share it with anyone apart from those few who were in the same cinema.

My favourite this year
A couple of years I fell in love with the Norwegian short Skallamann (Baldguy), an upbeat miniature musical about a young man’s coming out of the closet process. Two years later it’s still not easily available as far as I can tell. Only the trailer for it. And no pointer to where to go if you want to see all of it.

This year I’ve found another favourite, the Slovakian animated short Pandas (original title Pandy), which tells the story about the evolution of pandas from dinosaur time and far into a distant future. It’s imaginative, funny and truly original and it was only right and fair that it was awarded twice at the festival, by the audience and by the jury.

Apart from a short trailer, there isn’t a lot of information available about the film or its director, Matúš Vizár. All I know is that he’s quite young, telling from this filmed interview. Sadly I don’t understand a word of what he’s saying. Feel free to share, if you happen to know this language.

There is a ray of hope though: since Pandas already has won several awards in festivals, it might be eligible for an Oscar nomination, which no doubt would make it more accessible. I will keep my thumbs crossed when the short list is announced in a few weeks.

But Oscar nominations can’t be the solution for all good short films to reach out. We need something else, a brilliant idea for business and distribution, if shorts are going to become more than just something to pimp the portfolios of upcoming filmmakers.

My fellow bloggers in the Swedish network Filmspanarna also visited Uppsala Short Film Festival. Here’s what they made of it:


Rörliga bilder och tryckta ord

Moving landscapes

Written by Jessica

November 1, 2013 at 8:00 am

Challenged by Akira

with 28 comments

akiraAs a movie watcher it’s easy to fall into habits. We don’t want to spend our time and money on films that we hate, so most of our picks come from familiar territory. Better safe than sorry.

It takes a little push from the outside for us to get out of the circle. This month a group of Swedish movie bloggers and podcasters decided to do this, so we gave each other a challenge.

My secret challenge came from Markus at the movie podcast Har du inte sett den?. After making an investigation of my blog, he came to the conclusion that the café suffered from an anime deficiency. So he gave me the task to watch Akira, a cyberpunk action film that depicts a dystopian version of Tokyo in 2019.

At loss about the plot
As for the plot of this film I’m honestly a little bit at a loss. I thought I had it for a while, but over the course of the two hour long movie I lost it somewhere. I found this description at IMDb that wraps it up pretty well:

“Kaneda is a bike gang leader whose close friend Tetsuo gets involved in a government secret project known as Akira. On his way to save Tetsuo, Kaneda runs into a group of anti-government activists, greedy politicians, irresponsible scientists and a powerful military leader. The confrontation sparks off Tetsuo’s supernatural power leading to bloody death, a coup attempt and the final battle in Tokyo Olympiad where Akira’s secrets were buried 30 years ago”.

Wikipedia has a more detailed version, which made me nod as I read it: “Oh, right, that’s what happened? Sounds cool!”

Recommended for the visuals
Frankly I wouldn’t recommend anyone to watch Akira for the story. Apparently it’s based on a 2000 page manga tale. I can imagine that it’s clear enough for someone who is familiar with the source material, but to me it could as well have been randomly chosen pictures from the comics that they had put together without putting a lot of thought into it.

This sounds terrible, but actually I would wholeheartedly recommend Akira, but only because of the visuals. They are outstanding, especially considering that it’s 25 years old.

I loved the dark, shadowy Tokyo, one of the best dystopian cities I’ve seen on screen. I loved the crazy bike rides and the skyscrapers that fell apart, were put together and then fell apart again. And as much as they freaked me out, I loved the creepy giant toys and the human bodies that were transformed into monsters beyond any description. The final 30 minutes of explosions and psychedelic patterns had a level of imagination and surrealism that could compete with 2011: A Space Odyssey.

There was one thing that bugged me. All the way through the film the characters kept shouting each other’s names loudly:  “Kaneda!” “Kaneda!” ”Tetsuo!” ”Kaneda!!!!” ”Tetsuo!!”, “KANEDA!” Over and over and over again. Once you start thinking about it, it grows on you and becomes like Chinese water torture, you’re just waiting for the next one to come.

But despite this hang-up about name call-outs and despite the fact that I had no idea of what was going on most of the, I thoroughly enjoyed this outing to a place where I haven’t been before. I definitely should do more of those.

Akira (Katsuhiro Ohtomo, JA 1988) My rating : 4/5


filmspanarnaAnd for those of you who understand Swedish: here are the challenge posts by my fellow bloggers in the network Filmspanarna:

Johan & Markus
Moving Landscapes
Except fear
Rörliga bilder och tryckta ord
Movies Noir
Mode och film
Fripps filmrevyer
Fiffis filmtajm

Written by Jessica

September 18, 2013 at 8:00 am

Posted in Akira, Filmspanarna

My failed attempt to say something nice about After Earth

with 31 comments


You seem to like every movie you watch! You always have something nice to say. I wish I was more like you!”

My Swedish fellow blogger Markus looked at me expectantly as we took our seats in the theatre and I tried to give him an optimistic smile in return. I had my reputation to think of: the cheerful movie fan, who loved every movie she came across for some reason.

To tell the truth I was less than confident in the case of After Earth. The word that had reached me were far from promising. Would I be able to spot the gold that had escaped everyone else, something that made me forgive the shortcomings and enjoy the ride? I had the feeling it might get trickier than usual.

Like a computer game
It turned out that my instincts and the rumours were right. When the party of movie bloggers and podcasters moved on to our monthly pub meeting, chatting about what we just had seen, I struggled to come up with something to say. But how could I possibly praise such a boring experience?

It had been like watching someone else playing an utterly uncomplicated computer game. The character gets a quest where he has to move from point A to point B, needs to face a few perils on the way on the level of “kill ten rats”. On the way he builds up on strength and if he completes it (which he inevitably will), he’ll gain reputation with his father. But as opposed to when you see someone playing a game in real life, you don’t hear the cursing, sweating or banter with other players over vent or Skype. All you see is this character trotting along in the jungle at a future version of Earth and you can’t wait for him to get done with his thing so you both can go home.

During the screening I had kept looking for an XP bar to tell me how long we’d had to wait before this was over. The blogger sitting to my left was smiling and shaking his head in disbelief. It was not a smile of appreciation, I could tell. The blogger sitting to my right fell asleep and I struggled hard not to follow her example. I’m not sure I succeeded.

Bringing up faults of this movie was easy. The awkwardness that was Jaden Smith, clearly unsuitable to carry this movie on his shoulders. (I can’t help thinking it would have been better with a different actor, someone who could do what Jennifer Lawrence did for Hunger Games or Saoirse Ronan for Hanna.) The lack of science fiction elements considering it takes place a thousand years forward in time, where galactic wars are fought and mankind is in peril. The scene is set for grandness and all we get is a walk in the jungle. Not to mention how cheap it looks. A volcano in the background that appears to be painted, looking no more real than the landscapes in the original Star Trek series from the 60s. You expect a bit more from a film with this size of a budget.

But now we were focusing on the positives and I wrestled with the task until I finally came up with something to mention: the flare. At one point in the movie there’s a light sequence in the sky (I don’t want to be more precise than that, not to go into spoiler territory in the unlikely event that someone wants to see this) and that was pretty. I’ve always loved fireworks.

And that was all I could come up with, unless you count a little baby bird that I found pretty cute. I guess you could also say that it was a reminder about what’s on the other side of the rating scale. I don’t want to waste time and money, so I tend to pick movies that I think I’m going to like, and I’m usually right. Watching a truly bad movie once in a while helps me appreciate the god ones so much more.

The thing is that I don’t enjoy writing negative posts about movies, particularly not if it’s a movie that already has been heavily criticized like this one. It feels like piling up on the schoolyard on someone who is already lying, beaten to the ground. What’s the point?

The falling star
If it wasn’t for the fact that we had an agreement among the bloggers to publish our posts about this movie at the same time, I might have dropped writing about it at all.

Watching the falling star of M. Night Shyamalan fills me with sadness rather than an urge to punch him in his face. I loved The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable and I liked The Village and I don’t think he’s a one trick twist pony. Was he someone who peaked too early in career? Or will he get back on track in the future? I hope he will. I really do.

No, Markus, I don’t always have something nice to say about a movie. But I never stop looking for it, never stop hoping.

After Earth (M. Night Shyamalan, US 2013) My rating: 1,5/5


 Here’s what my fellow bloggers in the network Filmspanarna thought about it (in Swedish):

Fiffis filmtajm
Fripps filmrevyer
Har du inte sett den
Rörliga bilder och tryckta ord

Written by Jessica

June 12, 2013 at 8:00 am

There’s a hole in the cage! – Brief notes about a revolution in the air

with 35 comments


There’s something going on with the men in movies.

You know that cage where they’ve kept men for so long, with nothing to breathe but the tired clichés about the strong protector, the hero, the victorious womanizer? I’m sure you’re familiar with the place. Almost every male movie star you can think of has been locked up there for years.

Well, now someone has made a hole in the wall! It’s true! You surely must have noticed?

Fresh air is coming through. I can feel it. It’s not like a hurricane, rather like a breeze and I wouldn’t say that the passage is free for all yet. But if you’re hungering for freedom, if you’re looking for adventure and new perspectives, you can make your way through it and get away from the tight grip of the stereotypes.

In the last couple of years I’ve seen Ryan Gosling portraying men whose first priority is to be close to and take care of their babies, despite the efforts from the babies’ mothers to keep the father away (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines). I’ve seen Mark Duplass being vulnerable and insecure in every movie he’s been in. Recently I saw Mads Mikkelsen challenging the women-only culture in the preschool system in The Hunt.

Violent, testosteronious men, like the ones in Bullhead, Rust and Bones and Tyrannosaur, aren’t looked up to, aren’t considered manly, impressive or powerful anymore. They’re rather regarded as people in urgent need of help for their mental illness.

Our ideals aren’t what they used to be. The man who women want to be with and who men want to be is someone who leads a complete life, someone who is in touch with his feelings and can communicate them. George Clooney may look silly when he runs, but he knows other things that are more important: how to connect with your children and have comfort ice cream with them when that’s what they need.

Why it matters
When I look at what I’ve written so far in this post, thoughts of doubt come up in my mind.

Why do I care so much about how men are portrayed in movies? They’re already overrepresented as it is. Shouldn’t my focus be on women? They if any know what it’s like to be locked into a cage.

However I don’t think you can separate it. A revolt against the old view on what masculinity means will also affect women. We’re moving away from outdated stereotypes that feed racism, ageism and sexism towards something new, a world yet-to-come, where everyone is free to be whoever they want to, regardless of gender. And we’re in this together.

Someone has scratched a hole in the cage wall so let’s help out making it wider and permanent:

Keep bitching. If you think the movie is full of tired clichés and a ridiculously outdated view on men and women, say so in your review, even if it feels as if you’ve said it a gazillion of times! You never know who’s listening.

Keep exploring, keep questioning, but also remember to encourage and spread the word about filmmakers who dare to seek out new ways to look at masculinity and femininity in movies.  Again: you never know who’s listening.

Inch by inch, movie by movie, we’re moving forward towards a future when labels such as “masculinity” and “femininity” have lost their meaning or at least become a lot blurrier. There will be openings where we can slip in and out as we want to. The cage won’t be a prison, just a place where we go to play for fun sometimes.

There’s a revolution in the air.


This post is a part of a blogathon run by the Swedish film blogging network Filmspanarna. The theme was “masculinity”. Here’s a list of links to the other participants (all other posts in Swedish):
Except Fear
Flmr Filmblogg
Fiffis filmtajm
Fripps filmrevyer
Har du inte sett den?
Rörliga bilder och tryckta ord

photo credit: sandcastlematt via photopin cc

Written by Jessica

June 5, 2013 at 8:00 am

Posted in Filmspanarna

Why Sunset Boulevard still matters 63 years later

with 30 comments


There’s nothing tragic about being fifty. Not unless you’re trying to be twenty-five.”

I was chewing on the famous line and the bite kept growing on me, filling my mouth with a bitter taste. Finally I swallowed it down, deciding that it didn’t refer to me. I may have some hobbies, preferences and habits that are different to what you expect from a 45 year old, but I’ve never obsessed over my wrinkles or hair colour. I carry the inevitable breakdown of my body with equanimity.

But even if I shrugged away that nagging quote, I still felt rather sad after I had watched Sunset Boulevard at my local film club. It exposed the dark side of the machinery of Hollywood, the cynicism that grows from it and the inevitability that everyone who enters this wold at one point will be spit out and thrown away when it’s been decided that they’re too old. And this moment will come a lot earlier in your life if you’re a female actor than if you’re a male.

It made me even more depressed to think about how up-to-date this film is, more than 60 years after it was made.

My initial reaction had been to think: why couldn’t they make it the reverse? Make it about a man who clings to dreams of his glorious past and who in vain pursuits the love from a younger woman. But then I realized that the movie isn’t showing the world as it should be. It just holds up a mirror to let us see the ugly truth, the way the system works.

Still relevant
All it takes to see its relevance today is to throw a glance at the tabloid press and you’ll see dozes of articles about current actors who expose themselves to treatments that are more brutal and far reaching than the ones that the former silent movie star Norma Desmond submits to during the movie. Like her, they fight their wrinkles fiercely to keep themselves employable, prolonging their time on the screen. And they’ll do anything to keep their real age a secret, including suing IMDb for displaying it.

So little has happened since Sunset Boulevard opened. Youth is still worshipped in Hollywood and the rest of the world. A love affair between an older woman and a younger man is still frowned upon (while the opposite, an older man dating a younger woman is perfectly acceptable.) It brings down my mood to think about it.

And yet, for all of this darkness, I cherished every second of the movie. While it is a tragedy at core, it’s got a lot of humour in it too. And the writing! Don’t get me started on it. It’s far from the natural, improvised style that I enjoy in modern movies, but I enjoy it for what it is: a show number by someone who knows how to dance with words.

There are so many great lines in it that it ends up to several pages at IMDb of memorable quotes.

Joe Gillis:

Audiences don’t know somebody sits down and writes a picture; they think the actors make it up as they go along.”


Joe Gillis: [voice-over]

You don’t yell at a sleepwalker – he may fall and break his neck. That’s it: she was still sleepwalking along the giddy heights of a lost career.”

But I need to pick just one it will have to be this:

Joe Gillis:

You’re Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big.”

Norma Desmond:

I *am* big. It’s the *pictures* that got small.”

Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, US 1950) My rating: 5/5


This post is a part of a blogathon run by the Swedish film blogging network Filmspanarna. The theme was “films about film”. Here’s a list of links to the other participants (all other posts in Swedish):

Addepladdes filmblogg
Fiffis filmtajm
Flmr Filmblogg
Fripps Filmrevyer
Rörliga bilder och tryckta ord

Written by Jessica

May 8, 2013 at 8:00 am

A call for arms to the special effects crew: Stop being so secret!

with 22 comments

special effectsDoes the name Bill Westenhofer tell you something?

No? He’s won an Oscar. As a matter of fact he’s won two, one for The Golden Compass and another one for Life of Pi. If you look him up at IMDb you can see that he’s been in the business since the mid 90’s, contributing to a whole lot of movies. But apart from that there’s no information about him whatsoever. You see Bill Westenhofer works with special effects. And for some reason, the stars in this business – as opposed to the actors and directors – remain completely anonymous. They are the ones that add magic to movies. And we don’t bother to even learn their names.

I’m not better than anyone else. The closest I come is that I know that Weta Workshop did a ton of special effects for the LOTR movies. This is only because of the extensive extra material that came with the DVDs, where you could see that geeky, enthusiastic and charming representative guide us through their studios. But I still haven’t learned his name.

Reasons for anonymity
Special effects are essential to many movies of today. There are limits of what they can do of course. No matter how good your special effects are, they can’t save the movie from being slaughtered by the critics if the writing is awful. On the other hand, I would argue that badly made special effects are distracting and off-putting and can pull down the impression of a from other aspects decent movie.

It’s as if special effects have become a hygiene factor. We’ve been so spoiled with the development over the years that we don’t marvel at them the way we used to. And maybe this is one of the reasons why special effect workers don’t get the recognition they deserve.

Another hold-back could be lack of knowledge in the audience. For someone who doesn’t work in film industry, it’s not easy to say what is what in a film production. If a movie looks great, is it because of the art direction, the cinematography or the visual effects? Over 200 people are listed as involved in the special effects of The Fellowship of the Ring and the much smaller production Moon still lists some 70 people working on the visual effects. If I want to give some love to the responsible wizard of a certain film, how can I possibly tell which person deserves the most praise when they wear titles as visual effects manager, supervisor and executive producer?

One thing that I also think works against the potential fame of special effects staff is that not every viewer wants to know about the machinery and the tricks that have been used to create the illusion. We’re there to be deceived and enchanted, we want to believe that the world we’re presented is “real”. Too much talk about some guy who programmed this in a computer might take away a bit of the spell.

A call for arms
So should special effect workers just resign and silently accept a situation where the lack of recognition leads to consequences such as the close-down of the studio that worked with the celebrated Life of Pi?

No! On the contrary! Those people need to stand up and make their voices heard. If they were interrupted at the Oscar award ceremony, there are other ways. Think marketing. Think branding. Think public relations. For some reason movies are still sold with taglines such as “by the producers of [insert movie name]”.  I don’t get this at all. Is a producer really a selling point to the normal movie goer? Who knows what a producer does for a movie? If you’re marketing a high tech science fiction movie, wouldn’t it be more reasonable to hint that the special effects were made by the same people who did a certain spectacularly looking movie? I think so.

What they need is an agent. They need someone who can fight for their names to come up earlier in the text credits rather than in the end, when the text is too small to read and everyone has left the theatre anyway. They need someone who can help them to write a bio at IMDb.

A lot of effort is put into special effects. But if you guys and girls want to get recognized for the work you do, you need to start communicating with the world, letting us know of your existence.


This post is a part of a blogathon run by the Swedish film blogging network Filmspanarna. The theme was “special effects”. Here’s a list of links to the other participants (all other posts in Swedish):

Except fear – filmblogg
Fiffis filmtajm
Fripps filmrevyer
Rörliga bilder och tryckta ord

Written by Jessica

April 10, 2013 at 8:00 am

When a forgettable movie became an unforgettable experience

with 9 comments

How much does context mean for your appreciation of a movie? A lot, it turned out as I watched Last Flight to Abuja.

If someone had shown me this movie, telling me it originated from Hollywood, I would have dismissed it as a forgettable movie that never rises above its obviously very low budget.

I would have frowned at the effects, so cheap and simple compared to what we’re used to. This would have passed in the 60s when the standard trick to show flight troubles in Star Trek was to shake the camera and let the actors throw themselves to the side. These days we expect a lot more.

I would have objected to some of the actors: so stiff and unconvincing, delivering the lines as if they were reading from a paper preparing for a school play.

I might also have said something about the writing which is anything but subtle. Huge chunks of exposition are served without any attempt to hide it. And then there’s the end [spoiler warning] where everybody conveniently survives the flight crash, apart from the one villain who not only dies deservedly, but also according to his own will. [end of spoiler] It’s so unlikely that it becomes ridiculous.

Normally I would have cringed at this heavily stereotyped film, giving it a harsh 1/5 rating But as it was now, the screening of Last Flight to Abuja turned out to be one of the best movie going experiences I’ve had in a long time, a 5/5. I won’t forget it anytime soon.

A Nollywood movie
So what was this one little thing that made the whole difference? It was the switch of one letter, from an H to an N.

Last Flight to Abuja wasn’t recorded in Hollywood. It was made in Nollywood in Nigeria. In case you didn’t know it, this is the second largest film industry in the world in terms of number of film productions.

Nigerian movies don’t normally reach Swedish cinemas, but I got the chance to watch it as a part the African film festival Cinemafrica that recently was held in Stockholm.

Not only did I get to see an African movie for the first time in my life, I also got the chance to meet the director, producer and writer of it, Obi Emelonye, who held a Q&A after the screening. This turned out to be a real eye-opener for someone like me, who knew nothing about Nollywood until this point.

Obi-EmelonyeProud and humble
Living in UK, Emelonye was very well aware of how it compared to most films we normally watch, humble and proud at the same time.

–  I know this isn’t up to the standard that you’re used to. But we’ll be getting there!

And then he went on to share his vision for the future development of the Nigerian film industry, where he’s trying to lead the way towards a new quality level and a higher ambition than what’s been standard until this point.  An example this movie was shot over three weeks, which is a very long time in Nigeria. The normal production time for a Nollywood film used to be five days, from the point when the idea first came up until it was out for sale.

The film has also stepped up in the way it shows women. There are several women who are portrayed as professionals who are competent to take care of themselves, such as a co-pilot and a flight director. This was made intentionally, with the idea to move the positions forward.

– It’s not perfect, but we can’t change everything over a night, said Emelonye, asked about the gender perspective.

A box office success
The effort and money put into Last Flight to Abuja has paid off. It has become a box office success, the most watched movie in Nigeria ever, including Hollywood imports such as The Dark Knight Rises. And recently it was nominated in several categories for the African Movie Academy Awards.

In the Q&A he made it clear that while Emelonye wants to make a high quality movie, the commercial interests will always have priority to the artistic side. And that’s how he motivated the ending.

– You have to let people leave the theatre with good feeling in the end. If everyone died, no one would want to see the movie.

At this point there are ten multiplex theatres in Nigeria, which doesn’t sound much for a country with 170 million inhabitants. For a while they had been closed down for safety reasons, but now they had reopened and Emelonye seemed to be confident about that they would stay and grow in number.

A brightening future
If it’s true that Hollywood peaked long time ago and now is on decline, the opposite thing could be said about Nollywood, and that’s in the end what made it so inspiring and exciting to see the movie and listen to the story behind it. As bad as the movie is, as interesting is it to watch it.

Obi Emelonye is arguably one of the pioneers who will lead this newborn film nation into a hopefully brightening future. It was a privilege to get watch and learn more about one of the first, important steps on that journey.

Last Flight to Abuja (Obi Emelonye, NI/UK 2012) My rating: n/a

Some of my colleagues in the Swedish network Filmspanarna also watched Last Flight to Abuja. Here’s what they made of it:

Deny Everything (English)
Fripps Filmrevyer (Swedish)
Moving Landscapes (Swedish)
Rörliga bilder och tryckta ord (Swedish)

Written by Jessica

March 20, 2013 at 8:00 am