The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

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Singing in my blogging shower about the awesomeness of Princess Mononoke

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Princess Mononoke Kodama
As an amateur movie blogger you don’t get a lot of benefits. I don’t earn a cent from all the hours of love and labour I put into this place. On the contrary I pay for it, since WordPress will allow pesky, ugly, questionable ads into my blog unless I continuously bribe them.

But I have a few advantages compared to the professional critic. I never feel any pressure. No deadline is haunting me and I’m free to write – or not to write about movies. You see – I pay all theatre tickets myself. There’s no embargo and there are no expectations. I set my own agenda.

Sometimes when I fall in love with a movie, all I want to do is to geek out. I want to hug it and kiss it verbally, without being particularly coherent or even pretending to do some kind of analysis. And that’s the best part about being an amateur.

So here I am: solo singing in my blogger shower booth and my voice gets louder and stronger every time I repeat the refrain:

I’m in looooove with Princess Mononooookeeeee because it’s awwwwwwsome!


What’s so great
But OK, I’ll try to be a little bit more precise than that. Or at least give a couple of examples of what’sso great about Princess Mononoke.

I love it because how it’s so alien. It’s about the fight between man and different sorts of nature creatures, but as opposed to in most standard movies, there isn’t any clear villain. Just juxtaposed interests, colliding worlds that somehow need to learn to coexist, though it’s not clear if they ever will.

I love it because the female leading characters are capable of taking care of themselves and far from the typical princess in need of rescue that are abundant in animated movies from the western hemisphere.

I love it for the awe-inspiring animations. I love it for the atmosphere in the forest that makes Wonderland appear a bit unimaginative and dull. I love it for the majestic boar, the scary wolves and for the creatures that are beyond description.

And most of all: I’m in love with the kodamas – the forest spirits with the spinning heads. Can anyone tell me where I can adopt one? Please?

Oh and if you wonder why I don’t smack a 5/5 on this film since I love it so much anyway, the one little thing that holds me back is the issue I have with all anime movies. It stutters sometimes compared to the animation style that has become standard where I live. As a non-technician I assume it has something to do with a lower frame rate. But again: I assume it’s mostly a matter of getting used to it. Give me a couple of more viewings of this one and I’ve probably forgotten all about any objection I had initially.

Because I’m in looooove with Princess Mononooookeeeee and it’s awwwwwwsome!

Princess Mononoke (Mononoke-hime, Hayao Miyazaki JA 1997) My rating: 4,5/5

Written by Jessica

March 14, 2013 at 1:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The Ten: Best Actresses of all time “relay race”

with 38 comments

Nostra over at My Filmviews has run a blog-a-thon for a while about the 10 best actors of all time. Now time has come to do a similar meme, but with actresses this time. And I was lucky enough to be the first one to take the baton from Nostra!

In case someone has missed what this is all about, I’ll quote the rules:

“I’ve created a list of what I think are the best actresses of all time. At the end of the post I, just like in a real relay race, hand over the baton to another blogger who will write his own post. This blogger will have to remove one actress (that is an obligation) and add his/her own choice and describe why he/she did this. At the end the blogger chooses another blogger to do the same. The idea is to make this a long race, so that enough bloggers get a chance to remove and add an actress. We will end up with a list (not ranked in order) which represents a common agreement of the best actresses. It will also mean that those who follow this relay race will get to know new blogs as well!”

 The previous entries:

The actresses

Julie Delpy

Katharine Hepburn

 

Natalie Portman

 

Meryl Streep

 

Julianne Moore

Frances McDormand

Tilda Swinton

Cate Blanchett

Marilyn Monroe

 

Kate Winslet

My considerations
The easiest way for me to go would be to lift out either Julie Delpy or Frances McDormand. I should probably be embarrassed, but I’m not familiar with either, and therefore I could skip them without any regrets. However, on a second thought it felt like this would be a bit of a copout. It would be wrong to exclude someone from the list out of sheer ignorance.

Nostra’s kick-off list has a strong bias towards modern actresses and initially I wanted to let one of the newer go.

But in the end I decided to go with my gut feeling. I’m sure I’ll disappoint a few, and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone puts her back, but there’s no chance in the world that I’ll keep Marilyn Monroe on my list of the top 10 actresses. Star quality and fame doesn’t equal brilliant acting. I’ve never understood her greatness. So: chop, chop! Off she goes! Marilyn Monroe is out!

So who did I put in her place?

My choice
I thought the list needed a bit more of actors with a non-English origin, apart from Julie Delpy and my choice fell on the Norwegian Liv Ullmann.

Most people know her for her long cooperation with Ingmar Bergman. They made ten movies together, including Scenes from a Marriage. Others, especially Swedes, probably remember her for The Emigrants and The New Land. It’s always hard to put words on why an actor is good, but she’s got the ability to make her role figures feel natural and three dimensional. You can tell that what she conveys comes from somewhere inside her.

Apart from acting, she has also directed movies and theatre plays, and sat in the jury of several film festivals. She’s way more than just a one-movie wonder: she’s got depth, longevity and authority. In the world of movies, so dominated by men, she’s someone for young female actresses to look up to and take inspiration from. I hope she’ll get a long life on this list, because I think she belongs there.

And now I’ll hand over the baton to the next blogger. It goes to Martin Teller, who is fairly new on the blogging screen, but has a huge backlog of movies he has watched over the years. I’m not certain it makes choosing any easier, so I’m curious to see who he finally sets for.

Written by Jessica

May 1, 2012 at 4:48 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

On lamb parties we devour movies

with 10 comments

A  couple of weeks ago I met up online with a few other lambs, members of The Large Association of Movie Blogs.

We talked about films we’d seen lately, in my case Tomboy.

We raged over things that have annoyed us. I shared my frustration over bloggers who put their barriers against spamming so high that it becomes impossible to comment. My feelings on this matter are best illustrated by the screenshot from The Black Sheep that I picked for this plug.

Finally we raved over stuff that has made us happy recently. My declaration of love this time went to Gavin Rothery, who publishes behind-the-scenes photos from the sets of science fiction movies.  I can never get enough of those.

Words were exchanged, we agreed and we disagreed. How bloody did the discussions get? You’ll find out if you listen to LAMB-cast 112.

Apart from yours truly, you’ll also meet Dylan at Man I Love Films, Tom at Movie Reviews by Tom Clift, Steve at 1001 Plus and Nick at Random Ramblings of a Demented Doorknob.

There’s more information about the episode and where to download it here.

Written by Jessica

May 1, 2012 at 12:42 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Struck by movie amnesia

with 40 comments

Is there a set limit of how many movies you can keep in your head at the same time? I have a growing suspicion there is. For every new film experience I put in, an old one will dissolve from my memory into oblivion.

The amount of movies I’m able to discuss with any kind of insight and authority is abysmal compared to the number I’ve watched. The vast majority are just gone. All I remember is that I liked them (or in a few cases didn’t like them), but exactly what motivated this sentiment, I have no idea about and I would be unable to retell the film in any detail.

This causes quite a bit of frustration, as when I recently got into an argument over The African Queen with a fellow movie Swedish movie blogger – or rather: I should have gotten into an argument if I could. She called the movie horrendous and awarded it a 1/5. I replied something vague about remember liking it when I was a teenager and had the walls of my room covered with Humphrey Bogart posters. But exactly what was so good about it, I couldn’t say. I was just referring to a memory of a gut feeling, and how substantial is that? Besides – could I even trust the judgment of Jessica 25-30 years ago? I’ve changed my mind in a lot of areas since then, hopefully for the better.

The forgotten classics
Back in the days I watched ever so many movies that are considered “classics”, that are now just gone for me. Take the Godfather series. Hands on heart, what do I remember apart from the bad throat voice of Brando, the horse head in the bed and the theme song? Nothing. Do I even remember those fragments or are they just clichés I’ve had repeated to me through pop culture over the year until it’s finally stuck.  And under those circumstances, is it fair and honest to put it The Godfather on my top 100 list?

I feel more and more like a liar as I’m making lists or commenting on other people’s film reviews. Most of the time it’s  just fluffy dreams and vague memories of memories of memories:

I’m pretty sure I’ve said to someone that Tarkovskij’s Stalker is an awesome sci-fi movie. How do I know? I used to like it but I have absolutely nothing to back it up with. For all I know I might hate it now!

After all my capacity for the slow and artsy was way bigger back during my teens. I used to devour Sartre and Dostojevskij. If you let me choose now, I’d rather just enjoy a couple of hours in company with A Game of Thrones. After a long work week I want to be entertained. Not sort out the nature of our existence. You can call it weakness, I call it coming of age.

I keep telling myself and others that I want to revisit those movies I watched once upon a time, but I wonder if I ever will or if it’s just yet another lie. And in the end, isn’t it a lost cause anyway? Even if I wanted to educate myself about movies, I can’t. There seem to be only that many slots available. If I rewatch a forgotten movie, inevitably something else will go.

Making our own versions
It’s not just that I forget movies; I’ve also come to realize that I might not remember the ones I believe I remember. It could as well be a construction, something I’ve mixed up with other movies or books, dreamed or imagined. We make our own versions of the movies in our heads.

Mark Kermode talks about it in his book The Good, The Bad and The Multiplex as he shares a story about one of the first movies Dougal and the Blue Cat. He watched it as a child supported by a soundtrack album and some notes he had taken, he played the film in his head over and over and over again, oblivious of that the notes and the cut down soundtrack had led him wrong. Twenty years later he got hold of a copy of it and at a rewatch it turned out that the movie was quite different to what he thought. He had re-imagined a couple of key sequences and all this time he had “watched” a version of the film that didn’t actually exist. As he puts it:

“Lesson number one: the way anyone experiences and remembers a film may bear only a passing relation to the movie itself.”

It’s very true. It’s also why re-visits are risky.  It might be a warm, heartfelt reunion, where you fall into each others arms as friends meeting after many years of absence. But sometimes it turns out that you’ve turned into strangers for each other and looking back, you probably would have been better off sticking to your false but fond memory.

The cure?
The question is: is there any cure for this amnesia? Well, actually this very blog is an attempt to, if not cure, at least limit it. I write about more or less every movie I watch in the hope that it will help me to hold on to them a little bit longer. My words may be lost in the vast digital ocean, but at least they’re etched into my mind.

But enough about my faulting memory! A prolonged weekend is incoming. Time to watch more movies! Time to forget a few. The bad ones, hopefully.

Cheers!

Written by Jessica

April 27, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Revolting against a father who loves punk is tricky

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Some grownups really know how to ruin it for you!

Taking the decision to become a punk rocker is a huge step if you’re twelve years old.

And it takes a bit of labor to get it right. You put all that effort into it. You make your hair green and spiky (I’ll tell you about the tricks if you hang on to the end of this post), you rip your clothes into good looking pieces and you apply a good punkish attitude on your face with the help of a generous amount of kayal.

You do all that and you expect them to if not be horrified, at least be a little bit shocked and questioning. You don’t want them to hijack your Sex Pistol record and you definitely don’t want your father to offer to step into your newly formed band, helping out as a reserve when one band member is too stoned to perform at a gig.

I feel for the boy Nikolaj. He’s one is one of the two central characters in the Norwegian movie Sons of Norway, the other one being his father Magnus, a Viking hippy with a beard that is as magnificent as his lack of sense for boundaries. (“Come inside and watch, you’ll see some wonderful shacking”, Magnus shouts to Nikolaj as he accidentally breaks into his parents’ bedroom as they’re having sex.)

Nikolaj and his father are going through a rough time in their lives and we get to follow their struggles in a stretch of episodes, sometimes dark, more often funny. They take us to some pretty interesting places, including a Swedish nudist camp.

Moodysson light
Considering that the director is the same year as I am, and I was exactly the same age as Nikolaj in the end of the 70s, when the film takes place, I thought I would be all into this movie. Besides it was Norwegian and as I’ve said many times before, Norway currently makes the most interesting movies in Scandinavia. The last four movies I’ve watched from Norway have all been excellent.

My expectations were very high and sadly enough it didn’t quite live up to it. While there are some funny scenes, I couldn’t stop thinking of Lukas Moodysson’s excellent movie Together, which takes place a few years earlier but portrays the same kind of people. It’s just that this was a way lighter version. Not as dark. Not as funny. Not as poignant. It felt diluted and incoherent. The red line didn’t quite hold together as tightly as I would have liked.

This was the negative part. Now for the positive one:

I’m antichrist, I’m anarchist
Don’t know what I want
But I know how to get it
I wanna destroy the passerby
Cause I want to be anarchy

Do I need to say more? Sex Pistols is very much present in this film, in a double sense, and Anarchy in the UK is played a couple of times and each time I had to restrain myself not to burst into song, starting to jump up and down in the seats.

Actually I could have done it, since the audience in the theatre consisted of just me and my husband. But I had the strong feeling that he might have objected.

I suppose I’ve finally caved in. I’m just not a punk rocker anymore. I just have a nostalgic fling for the music that never will go away.

The hair trick
And now for the hair trick I promised you. Back in those days there wasn’t an abundance of gel and spray available in the shops, and if there was any, you couldn’t possibly afford it.

So what did you do as a poor punk rocker in need of a decent hair style? Well, you took what you had available at home and experimented with it. I eventually came up with two favorite methods.

One was soap. I worked up thick foam of soap in my hands and used it to form spikes in my hair. How well this worked depended on what kind of soap your parents bought. How smelly it was. The wrong kind of soap made you smell like an old lady and that didn’t feel punk at all. In that case you could resort to the other option: sugar. I used to boil a blend of sugar and water, let it cool down, rub it into my hair and let it dry. The disadvantage of this was that it could have the side effect that it appeared as if you had dandruffs.

What about the colour then? Sometimes, if I could afford it and if I wanted something permanent I used ordinary hair colors. But often I stuck to food colouring – the stuff you use to decorate cookies. A few drips was all you needed.

Soap, sugar and food colouring. Worked as a charm. Until it started to rain. Go figure.

Sons of Norway (Sønner av Norge, Jens Lien, NO 2011) My rating: 3/5

Written by Jessica

April 26, 2012 at 1:00 am

In Time: It had the potential to be so much more

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In the middle of life, death comes
to take your measurements. The visit
is forgotten and life goes on. But the suit
is being sewn on the sly.

Those words by the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer are among the best I’ve ever read about death and how we deal with it as we’re aging.

Deep down we realize that there’s a countdown and that it involves us too, but in order to remain sane we choose to pretend it’s not there.

Occasionally there’s a rupture in our bubble of denial. We get a glimpse of death as someone close to us gets ill or dies. And for a brief moment we suddenly hear that clock ticking, the sound we usually drown in a flurry of activities, anything that keeps us too busy to stop for a moment.

We hear it. Tick. Tock. And it freaks us out, but at the same time it intensifies life in a way that only the awareness of death can do. Seeing that signpost telling us that the road will end at a certain point makes us realize what a privilege it is to be among the living, to still be travelling that road.

Before we came alive there were eons and eons of our non-existing and after we’re gone, eons and eons will follow. We’re just a weird exception to our natural state of death. Screw those lotteries with their billion pot prizes! We’ve already won the top one. We’ve still got heartbeats to go, breaths to be taken. We’ve got time and those whose suits are ready to be used envy us.

The insight will only last ever so briefly and there’s no use trying to hold on to the feeling for long. You can touch it but not crunch it. The very moment you try to close your fist around it, it will crumble and disappear in the same way as grains of sand.

And this is all in order. Carpe diem sounds fine, but if I kept walking on the edge of death every second of the day, paying attention to the fact that I was alive, it would wear me down pretty quickly. There is a suit sewn for me as well, but I prefer them to make it for me without my knowledge.

Etched on their arms
The people in the sci-fi movie In Time haven’t got much of a choice though. They don’t just know the point when they’re going to die; they have the countdown watch etched in green on their arms, counting down the days, hours and seconds that remain until they’ll drop dead on the ground where they stand.

They can increase their remaining life span. Time is the new currency and you can earn it the same way as you earn money: by work, theft, inheriting, prostitution, gambling or begging.

A few lucky ones in the upper class can ensure themselves eternal life. The majority are likely to die in their 30s, at the latest.

It’s a simple idea, but intriguing, waking all sorts of questions and ethical dilemmas, of which only a few are explored in the movie.

I loved the concept and that’s why it felt like a shame that it half of half was wasted.

This could have become a dark, frightening and gripping dystopian film, something as powerful as The Road.  Instead they went for a traditional good-guy-chased-by-the-bad-guys-story in combination with a standard romance.

Perhaps it was the presence of Justin Timberlake that put the filmmakers on the wrong track. I can imagine the discussion as they made up what they thought would be a perfect date move.  “We’ll give the ladies some romance and the guys a few car chases. But not too much of that weird hard core science fiction right? We don’t want to scare off people”.

A waste
It sounds as if I really disliked it, but that’s not the case. It will get a decent rating, because I’m notoriously generous, but also because I was quite entertained all in all. The time flied (no pun intended).

However I’m frustrated. It feels like such a waste, especially considering that the director as well as writer is Andrew Niccol, who wrote the script for Truman Show, which is a remarkable film, one of my favorites.

In Time is just average. It could have been brilliant. It could have raised all those questions that science fiction is so good at rising: about life, death and the meaning of all of it.

In Time (Andrew Niccol, US, 2011) My rating: 3,5/5

Written by Jessica

April 25, 2012 at 1:00 am

Posted in In Time, Uncategorized

Kevin Bacon reveals his capacity

with 34 comments

Has it ever happened to you your view on an actor has changed completely after one single performance in a movie?

It happened to me the other night.

Kevin Bacon used to be an actor who I tolerated but didn’t admire. He had been around forever and made dozens of average appearances in average movies. At the best I regarded him as a safe card. At the worst he was mildly annoying for vague reasons that I couldn’t put my finger on. He certainly wasn’t an actor that would make me go and watch a movie just to get the chance to see him. No Ryan Gosling.

And then I watched The Woodsman and my perception of Kevin Bacon was turned upside down from one hour to the next.

Tough sell topic
His portray of a child molester returning to his hometown after 12 years in prison, attempting to start a new life, is one of the best acting performances I’ve ever seen on a screen.

It’s not a comfortable movie to watch, to say the least. The topic is a tough sell and causes a lot of mixed emotions at least with me.

So here he is, this clearly fucked-up person, who has committed one of the worst crimes I can think of, a person I wouldn’t want anywhere near any of my daughters, a man that you’d rather keep locked up in a prison for the rest of his life. Better safe than sorry. We don’t want that kind of monsters loose in the streets. Apparently there’s a big risk for relapses, so why even give him the chance to think about it?

On the other hand, the man is obviously remorseful. He knows what he’s done, he knows what harm it did and he doesn’t want to walk that road again. Relapsing is the last thing he wants to do. There’s something very vulnerable about him, so when his sister refuses to have anything to do with him and his co-workers start bullying him, it feels unfair. After all – you pay for your crimes with your prison sentence. Shouldn’t that be enough?

I felt double about the guy, I and I think that was exactly what this movie was aiming for. Complexity. Ambiguity.

Onetime only?
It’s hard to think of a role more difficult to play than this, composed by so many layers, ranging from something vaguely sympathetic to the straight out creepy. Who would have believed that Kevin Bacon of all people would be the man to pull it off? I certainly wouldn’t

But he did and he did it so well that I admit that I probably have underrated him most unfairly.

So what do you say, has Kevin Bacon done any role as good as this? Are there other of his movies that I need to check out again? Or was The Woodsman a onetime only, the highpoint of his acting career?

The Woodsman(Nicole Kassell, US, 2004) My rating: 4,5/5

Written by Jessica

April 24, 2012 at 1:00 am