The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous musings’ Category

Leaving the comfort blanket for a moment

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lambcast

Psst!

I usually don’t talk very much here. It’s all about the written word. It feels safer that way. But once in a while I leave my blanket behind, making a talk show where anything can happen. And now this has happened again.

LAMB, the large association of movie blogs, where I’m a member, recently ran a show where five bloggers battled over their top lists of 2013 and I was one of the participants. Who won the fight? Judge for yourself.

Lambcast 202 The Best of 2013

photo credit: sarkasmo via photopin cc

Written by Jessica

January 26, 2014 at 11:47 pm

….and the winner is a woman! – Musings over the Swedish Guldbaggen Awards

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Not only Hollywood knows how to celebrate itself each year with awards. Sweden does the same thing, although in a much smaller scale.

This annual event is called Guldbaggen. I don’t blame you if you’ve never heard of it. It’s been going on for 50 years, but from all I can get it’s an entirely Swedish affair.

Similarities and differences
There are some similarities to the Oscars: film professionals of all sorts dress up in tuxedos and dresses, put on a lot of make-up and smile into the camera since the show is broadcasted on national television.

Awards are given out in pretty much the same categories, though there are a little fewer of them – no special categories for sound editing and sound mixing, in Sweden it’s just “sound”. There are also only three nominations in each category instead of five. I guess it’s because we don’t make that many movies in Sweden.

Then we have the differences:  The “celebrities” aren’t real celebrities outside of their own world. And the winners don’t get golden statuettes in their hands. They get a humble, rather ugly beetle. It’s basically like watching a kick-off event for a random business enterprise where you don’t know anyone. Or think of it as the school theatre version of Hamlet compared to seeing it played at the National Royal theatre scene.

Usually I don’t blog about this event since I assume it doesn’t interest anyone outside of Sweden. I’ve also been rather unenthusiastic about Swedish films over the last few years. 2014 however is a little different from previous years. For one thing there were several Swedish movies that came out 2013 that I genuinely liked, movies such as Lukas Moodysson’s We are the Best, Lisa Langseth’s Hotell and Anna Odell’s The Reunion.

But there was another reason why the Guldbaggen Award event stood out to me this year, to the extent that I want to spread the word about it outside of the Swedish borders.

Female winners
I don’t think I need to remind you of how men on a global level dominate the film industry and how rare it is that a female filmmaker is recognized with an award or even by being screened at for instance Cannes. Yes, Bigelow had her well-deserved statuette, but there isn’t much else to rejoice at.

And from this point of view, the gender equality, the Guldbaggen Awards were extraordinary. Women didn’t only win categories where women traditionally have appeared, such as make-up and costume. They won most of the categories with weight, the ones that get the headlines.

Here are some of the winners:

Best Film
The Reunion / Återträffen (Producer: Mathilde Dedye, director and writer: Anna Odell)

Best Short Film
On Suffocation (Director: Jenifer Malmqvist)

Best Documentary Film
Belleville Baby (Director: Mia Engberg)

Best Screenplay
The Reunion / Återträffen (Anna Odell)

The greatest thing about it was that not a single one of the awards that were handed out that night felt as if they were a result of reserving a certain quota for women for political reasons or whatnot. The awards were given out in fair competition and were well deserved.

Watching all of this I couldn’t help feeling a pang of national pride for an ever so brief moment. “This is how far we’ve come”, I thought to myself. “I wonder how many years it will be before we see an Academy Award show that looks anyway like this. Will it even happen in my lifetime?”

Then I noticed how bad the jokes of the in-between-the-award entertainers were and I was back down to Earth. Sweden is a small country. We’re pretty good at gender stuff – not so good at classy glamour. Despite deficiency in regards of female representation, you can’t beat the real thing. That’s just how it is.

But who knows, perhaps the Swedish example can serve as a source of inspiration from some young, aspiring female filmmaker out there who hope to one day receive the golden man in her hand? I hope so.

guldbaggen

Written by Jessica

January 22, 2014 at 10:05 pm

Where I’ve been, what I’m up to and why my posts might get a bit weird

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So where has the hostess of The Velvet Café been lately? Why isn’t she here serving some drinks and random thoughts about movies? What’s she up to?

Well, I could tell you about real life issues such as a huge workload before Christmas, and the infections that followed after (don’t they always)? But there’s a third reason for my absence.

A couple of weeks ago I was persuaded by one of my daughters to go for a vacation with her this winter, fleeing the cold and darkness in Northern Europe. “Anywhere in Asia except for Thailand. Make your pick!” she said

So how would I decide where to go? Not having any globe to randomly spin, I did something along those lines: I browsed the webs a bit, checked out the prices and picked our destination more or less on a whim. We would go to Cambodia.

I didn’t know a lot about the country, apart from some basic recollections about the genocide under the Khmer Rouge regime in the 70s. And I had very little idea about what the country was up for today. So I downloaded a couple of books and once I started to read them, I couldn’t stop

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been completely absorbed by the story of Cambodia, which sadly isn’t a pretty one. Anyone who has seen The Killing Fields will remember. (And yes, I’ve revisited that movie too, and I will probably write about it, once I’ve gotten a ton of unwritten 2013 reviews out of the way.)

One of the books I read was film related and therefore deserves a special mentioning at this blog. It’s Survival in the Killing Fields, written by Haing S Ngor, who won the 1985 Academy Award for best supporting actor for his performance in The Killing Fields. Ngor was a refugee from Cambodia and the book describes his experiences and how he miraculously survived throughout the years of terror, unlike most of his family and friends. It’s a tough read, a great deal tougher than the movie was. I suppose the reality was a little too much to expect an audience to cope with, unless you aimed for a small extreme horror/slash movie audience.

The reading of this book and several others has put me in a strange, feverish mindset. The thought about Cambodia – how bad it has been and how bad it still is for the majority of the population at this time – is hard to knock out of my mind and it makes me associate in a way I wouldn’t have done before those travel plans came up.

For instance when I watched 12 Years a Slave the other day, and Solomon had to hide the fact that he could read and write in order not to get killed, I couldn’t refrain from exclaiming to myself (silently inside my head), “Well, wasn’t that exactly like in Cambodia!”

hope to get back to blogging more frequently in the time leading up to my journey (on February 18). I’ve got a lot of thoughts about recent movies that need an outlet. I will try to not let my current Cambodia oriented state of mind influence my reviews too much, but I might slip once in a while, making references and connections that you wouldn’t have thought of in the first place. And if this happens, you’ll know why. I’m having a fever.

Written by Jessica

December 31, 2013 at 3:03 pm

On the annoying habit of cutting down movies without telling

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Recently I watched the documentary The Act of Killing, which has been available for few weeks on the website of the Swedish public television. As I’ve already told you, I thought it was excellent – one of the best documentaries I’ve seen in a while – and I started to spread the word about it, as I do when I see something I really care about.

But on a visit to IMDb I made a puzzling discovery. The entrance about the film claimed that it was available in two versions with different lengths: one 1 hour 55 minutes long and another, extended version at 2 hrs 39 min. However the film I had watched was much shorter than the short version. It was 1 hr 35 min. This means that 20 minutes of the film were missing.

That’s a change too big to be negligible and it raised some questions. Exactly what was missing compared to the original version? Who was in charge of the scissors? Was it the director? Some intern at SVT? And was this film as good as the acclaimed original? I still haven’t seen it discussed anywhere, so I’m afraid I don’t have any answers.

Cutting it to fit?
This is not the first time I’ve seen this happening. Especially documentaries seem to fall victims to this type of sneak attacks. I can’t tell why they’re doing this but I suspect that it has to do with scheduling. There’s probably some time slot that they want to fit this film into and when it doesn’t fit, they don’t hesitate to cut. It’s a bit like the old, uncensored versions of Cinderella where one of the evil stepsisters has her foot cut until it bleeds, just to get the shoe on.

I don’t know if it’s a special habit of the Swedish Television or if this practice is spread to other broadcasting companies over the world. But it annoys me quite a bit. It’s not just that they’re cutting down films with brutal methods; they’re not open with it.

As a movie blogger you think you’ve seen the same film as your colleagues in other parts of the world, and it’s only when you start to make investigations like I did that you realize that you haven’t, that you’ve seen the abbreviated version instead.

The thing is: there are different sorts of people with different wishes and needs. I’m sure there are many who don’t care at all, who happily will see a shortened film or reading an abbreviated novel, still thinking that they got the essentials, saving some time meanwhile. But I’m not one of those.

Transparency
As I grew up there were plenty of digest versions of classical novels around, especially in the youth department at the library. I always tried to avoid them as much as possible, preferring the “real deal”. In the world of books there’s usually an information text about it at the inside of the cover. If it says something along the lines “processed by”, “retold by” or “edited by”, you know there’s something fishy about it and you should look for a different edition, the original one.

This transparency in the book world means that you get a choice. If the short version doesn’t suit you, you can try to get hold of a different one. In the case of documentary films, at least the ones they show in weden, there’s no transparency whatsoever. The only way to find out that you’ve seen a “best of” version is that you search the web to look up this information.

To wrap it up: I don’t like sneaky cutting of films. If you’re somehow related to the business and know someone who in turn knows somebody else – please try to make them stop doing this. They’re welcome do different lengths of film: the ordinary, a director’s cut and perhaps a third one. They may have their reasons. But you can’t defend the secrecy. So please speak up, be open about it. And leave the decision of which version to watch to the audience.

photo credit: via photopin

Written by Jessica

November 28, 2013 at 12:05 am

The one good usage of dream sequences in movies

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angrycatdream

Dream sequences in movies make my skin itch, almost as badly as it does during long sex scenes. Sometimes I have to bite my tongue not to call out my frustration

“I GET IT! YOU’RE DREAMING/HAVING  SEX. NOW CAN YOU PLEASE WAKE UP/FINISH WHAT YOU’VE STARTED SO WE CAN MOVE ON WITH THE MOVIE, PLEASE?”

Before we start an argument over my lack of love for dreams in movies I want to put in a disclaimer. Yes, there are movies where dreaming is essential and an important part of the story. I loved Inception. I liked Danny Boyle’s latest move Trance quite a bit. Overall I’m a fan of movies that explore various aspects of the human mind, such as in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Matrix. Unlike many others I also liked Vanilla Sky and Shutter Island, not to mention Minority Report.

When I’m talking about my hatred for dream sequences it’s not that kind of dreams I refer to. The dreams, usually in the form of nightmares, that I hate so much are the ones that are tossed into the movie for no particular reason. And here are my objections:

1. They feel like fillers
As much as I love Star Trek and consider TNG the best series of them all, I always cringe when I realize it’s going to be a holo deck scene or – in worst case – an entire episode with it. I always imagined that the amount of holo deck was related to the state of the finances. If they were short on money they did more holo deck. It was cheaper per minute. And that’s how most dream sequences are in movies. They feel like a cheap way to spend some time, to drag out on a story that didn’t have enough of substance to fill an entire feature film.

2. They’re pointless
You would expect from a movie that there should be a reason for every scene they put into it. Shooting costs money and the time of the viewer’s is precious too, so you shouldn’t want to make a movie longer than necessary. But surprisingly dream scenes seem to go under a different set of rules. Over and over again we see scenes where the main characters are engaged doing things that have nothing to do with the plot whatsoever. It’s like a separate track that suddenly appears without any real tie to the rest of the film. You don’t learn anything new about the characters. You don’t learn anything about the story. They’re floating around like an isolated island and you never how why it’s there at all.

3. They undermine my trust and suspension of disbelief.
Nightmares are especially overused in suspension and horror movies and that’s where I hate them most. They’re always used in a manner that makes you believe that what you see is what happening “for real” in the film. There will inevitably be some sound-based jump scares and then things will horrendously bad and then the main character will wake up dripping with sweat and you learn that it was only a dream. I will fall for that trick the first time it’s used in a movie. I do it every single time, because that’s how I watch movies: I immerse myself into them completely. But then the revelation comes that it was “only a dream”, which makes me feel like a fool, and as a result I’ll be much more on my guard for the rest of the movie. My level of suspension of disbelief falls to a minimum and I take a step back from the movie, observing it rather than bathing in it. “Ok, things are going bad, huh? I wouldn’t make a big fuss about it. I bet it’s just another dream.”

4. They’re immensely boring
I never tell other people about my dreams. My number one reason for this is that I never remember them, so there isn’t much of a choice. But even if I did remember them, I wouldn’t say anything about them unless someone begged for me to share it. And the reason for this is that I don’t want to expose others to what I hate so much myself.

Frankly I find it very hard to listen to other people telling me about their dreams. Every time it happens I start drifting away. My head keeps nodding and my mouth is smiling or my forehead is frowning, depending on the tone in the voice of the story teller. In reality I’m somewhere else.

Basically I see dreams as the equivalence of screensavers. I guess they’ve got some kind of function and that our brain needs to do idle work once in a while as a part of its maintenance. But this doesn’t qualify them as material for storytelling, be it as a part of a dinner conversation or in a movie. It’s engaging only to the dreamer herself. If dreaming sparks your creativity, my best advice is to save it for your diary.

One reason to include them
As far as I’m concerned I only see one usage of random dreams in movies. Provided they’re long enough, they’re pretty good for a bio break in case of emergency.

filmspanarna

This post is a part of a blogathon arranged by the Swedish film blogging network Filmspanarna. The theme was: “Nightmares” (and yes, I may have stretched it a little bit in this post). Here are links to the other blog posts.

In English:

Fredrik on Film

In Swedish:

Fiffis Filmtajm
Filmparadiset
Filmr
Fripps filmrevyer
Jojjenito
Rörliga bilder och tryckta ord
Except Fear
Filmitch

photo credit: Axel Bührmann via photopin

Written by Jessica

November 27, 2013 at 6:00 am

The one movie that opened for a new wave of Scandinavian sci-fi and fantasy

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let the right one inIt used to be nearly impossible to get money to make a science fiction, fantasy or horror movie in Sweden.

I learned this at the recently held science fiction convention Fantastika, where one of the panel debates covered the state of science fiction and fantasy in Swedish film and television.Until very recently, your best chance to get financial support for a TV series or a movie was to describe it as bleak, naturalistic social drama. That was what was in demand, maybe not by the audience, but by the ones who took the decisions. Perhaps it was the always omnipresent heritage of Ingmar Bergman that caused this effect. Perhaps there was something else at work. But regardless: if you insisted on making a genre movie, you’d better not call it as such.

There were examples from film history of Swedish horror and fantasy movies. The first one that comes to mind is The Phantom Carriage from 1921. Bergman also did some movies with supernatural ingredients, such as The Seventh Seal and Hour of the Wolf. And some of the child movies based on the works by Astrid Lindgren took place in foreign worlds of imagination.

But for some reason those films were never called for what they are. They never got tagged as  “horror”, “science fiction” or “fantasy”. The panellists – writers, directors and producers – never provided any theory about why it was such a taboo connected to the genres, so I can only speculate why. Maybe they thought that movie making for fun and entertainment was better left to Hollywood. Perhaps they thought that the Swedish audience wasn’t familiar enough with fantasy and science fiction. It was safer to let them stick to social issues and existential broodings.phantom carriage

However this situation changed overnight in 2008, thanks to one single movie. Doors that previously had been firmly closed were now suddenly open. The movie in question was Let the Right One In, which became an success – among critics as well as in the box office, not only in Sweden, but worldwide. In the footsteps of Let the Right One In, it has been possible to approach decision makers in the film industry with ideas that would have been immediately dismissed before 2008. And now, a few years later, we’re starting to see the effects of this changed attitude, as the ideas are getting into production.

Current projects
The most notable one so far is the science fiction TV series Real Humans (Äkta människor), about a parallel world where human-looking robots live side by side with humans, which raises a lot of interesting questions about what it means to be a human and what rights a robot should have. It recently won the award Prix Italia and has been sold to over 50 countries. And yes, the inevitable English remake is planned.

There’s one upcoming fantasy movie, The Brothers Lionheart, which will be directed and written by the same duo that did Let the Right One In, Tomas Alfredson and John Ajvide Lindqvist. For being a Scandinavian movie, it has a gigantic budget – about 50 million dollars according to the rumour. I hope they’ll make good use of it. If nothing else I bet they’ll make a more believable dragon than they had in the 1977 movie adaptation of the same novel.

The third big project, that has the chances of gaining an international audience, is The Circle, which is based on a Swedish young adult fantasy trilogy about a group of teenage girls in a rural town who discover that they are witches, chosen to save the world. After one of the former members of ABBA took a liking for the story and provided funding for it, shooting will start this spring and the movie will premier in 2015.

A Scandinavian wave
Is this the beginning of a new wave of film and television from Scandinavia? We’ve become successful in the crime genre with franchises such as Wallander and The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo. Could science fiction and fantasy with a Nordic touch be the next thing?

It certainly looks like it. First Sweden made Let the Right One In, then Norway countered with the wonderful found footage movie Troll Hunter. The second season of Real People will premier in December and within the next few years we have a couple of big fantasy productions planned.

What I’d like to see now is something from the time travel genre, which I think would suit Scandinavia well. For budget reasons we’ll never see a Star Trek equivalent from Sweden. But movies about time travelling require great ideas rather than great effects. It can be done cheaply. I don’t see any reason why Sweden couldn’t make a film such as Timecrimes, Primer or Safety Not Guaranteed.

A door to science fiction, fantasy and horror has been opened in Scandinavia. It will be exciting to see what will pass through it in the next few years.

äktamänniskor

Written by Jessica

November 17, 2013 at 4:08 pm

On the frustration of watching a brilliant short film

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pandas

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.

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

Jojjenito

Rörliga bilder och tryckta ord

Moving landscapes

Written by Jessica

November 1, 2013 at 8:00 am