The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

The delicious fusion of sweetness and sorrow

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skeleton twins

My sister. I need to see my sister!”

The thought keeps coming back at me as I watch The Skeleton Twins. I laugh a lot, I cry even more and I keep thinking about my sister who lives 700 km away, the one I only see a couple of times a year, the one that is too busy making a career and raising three children to have time for me.

Sister, do you hear me? For a moment I think she does before I remember that we’re both rational people who don’t believe in such things.

Sister, let’s run away, let’s get into a fight, let’s get drunk, let’s make up, let’s talk all night about our dirtiest secrets and let’s hug up together in the darkness, as if we were the last people on Earth, waiting for the stars to devour us!

I guess most people love their siblings. But when you come from a family that has been dysfunctional in generations, that has weirdness tattooed into its DNA, there’s another dimension to it. There is another person out there who you don’t need to explain the unexplainable to because they already know. No matter how many years that will pass, no matter what different orbits your life choices will toss you into, you’ve got that rubber band between you that can bring you together again, if needed from opposite sides of the universe.

Onion peeling
The Skeleton Twins is a movie about a pair of twins who meet again after not seeing each other for many years. They’re both in a rather miserable shape, but it takes some time before they start acknowledging it in front of each other and to themselves. It’s a case of onion peeling, where layer after layer is exposed. The first one is pretty hard to get through and then we pull them off one after each other, tears falling as we go, until we reach the soft, sweet core, where all pretence and all lies are gone.

This makes this movie sound unbearably sad, so I need to say right away that it’s not. It is definitely deliciously melancholic and touching, but it’s also very funny. As I mentioned before I did laugh a lot, considering how grumpy I am about comedy in movies, that’s quite an achievement.

It reminds me a little of my reaction to another movie a few years ago, Beginners, which I fell in love with right away. It plays in the same genre: movies that make you feel good and bad at the same time, with a strong indie vibe. I know there are people out there who can’t stand that kind of films people who hate quirkiness with the same ferocity as others hate Michael Bay movies. If you know that you’re one of those people, this is probably not for you. But if you’re a fan of the genre, watch it, cry, laugh and enjoy this delicious fusion of sweetness and sorrow. And then go home and give your sister or brother a call straight away.

The Skeleton Twins (Craig Johnson, US 2014) My rating: 5/5

Written by Jessica

September 22, 2014 at 1:00 am

Posted in The Skeleton Twins

A ghastly, grotesque and gorgeous movie for children with guts

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I’m at a matinee screening which is supposed to be for children (7 years age limit, unless you’re in party with an adult, in which case there’s no limit at all.)

On the screen I can see how the already ugly and scary villain goes through metamorphoses due to an allergic reaction to cheese. His face is twisting and turning into a formless mass that would make Frankenstein look cute in comparison. And yet this is a mild care compared to what’s to come further on. There will be torture. There will be gruesome deaths in front of our eyes. There will be gigantic robotic death machines controlled by evil creatures.

I look around me in the cinema and every child I see looks strangely composed. No one is having a breakdown, no one is sobbing. They even seem to have forgotten about their popcorn boxes. The only sound that doesn’t come from the film is when someone leans a bit in the long direction and falls off the plastic stool they had put on top of the ordinary seat in order to see better. There’s no hysterical reaction whatsoever as far as I can see. And I think to myself: “Children these days! They’ve got guts!”

Stop motion technique
The Boxtrolls is ghastly, grotesque and gorgeously looking movie made with classical stop motion animations, made in a style that makes you think of Tim Burton or perhaps Terry Gilliam.

The story goes like this: Cheesebridge is governed by a cheese loving aristocracy. In the sewers dwells a population of a certain kind of trolls, which like to dress in empty boxes. The trolls are oppressed in the worst possible ways and there’s even an exterminator who is trying to evaporate them altogether. Among the trolls lives a human boy who is trying to save the box trolls by the help of a girl who is the daughter of one of the cheese aristocrats.

As you here it’s not terribly complicated, which is a good thing, especially for a movie aimed at children. Trying to explain the plot whispering in the ear of your clueless child is not a pleasure, neither for the child, nor for everyone around you. In this case there’s no need for explanations. We “get it”.

As opposed to many other movies for young audiences, it doesn’t have “merchandise sales” written all over it. It’s possible that some kind of toys exist, but it-s clearly not the sole purpose for making the movie. It’s not a vehicle.

Some brief final thoughts
Thumbs up: for the uninhibited use of imagination and the craftsmanship and love that has gone into the making of it. You can tell. It’s just beautiful.

Thumbs down: for watching it in Swedish with dubbed voices rather than in the original English. We did it for scheduling reasons, but I hit myself when I saw what actor voices we missed, including Ben Kingsley, Elle Fanning, Nick Frost and Simon Pegg. Gah! Don’t do my mistake. Watch the original.

And whatever you do, don’t miss: the delicious little extra scene that comes after the text credits. It’s worth waiting for and made me love this film even a little more.

The Boxtrolls (Graham Annable & Anthony Stacchi, UK 2014) My rating: 4/5


I wasn’t the only one in the audience who watched it as an adult. I was in company with the other bloggers in the Swedish film blogging network Filmspanarna. Here’s what my fellow bloggers made of it (all in Swedish):

Fiffis filmtajm
Har du inte sett den? (blog)
Har du inte sett den? (pod)
Rörliga bilder och tryckta ord

Written by Jessica

September 17, 2014 at 6:00 am

Posted in The Boxtrolls

An Allen is an Allen is an Allen

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magicinthemoonlightI’ve been a fan of Woody Allen’s movies for as long as I can remember. I like most of what he does, including The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, where I think I stand pretty much alone as a supporter. This said I have to admit that the standard has fluctuated a bit in recent years.

I enjoyed Midnight in Paris, though it was a little forgettable. Next up was To Rome with Love, of which I now remember nothing at this point. There was some opera singer taking a shower on a stage, right? And a tourist pic of a police directing the heavy traffic in central Rome. The rest is blank, sorry. 2013 was a good Allen year again, offering Blue Jasmine with a sensational Cate Blanchett as the leading actress. It ended up in my top 20 of the year.

There’s nothing sensational about this year’s Magic in the Moonlight. It’s another go at the fake wizard/medium/hypnotizer theme we’ve seen in other Allen movies. A pretty woman, a somewhat annoying/distract/egocentric/ male stand-in for Allen. Some fun twists and turns, some charming dialogue with some cleaver lines that give food for thought. It’s set in another beautiful setting in the tourist district in Europe that has the sponsorship this time around. It’s also set back in time, to relief us from the burden of watching ugly cell phones, boring googling sessions or reckless usage of social media. This is classic Allen territory, without any surprises.

Or maybe there was one, I hadn’t expected that I’d feel as cold as I do for the love couple (this is a romantic comedy in case it has escaped someone). Ever since the Pride and Prejudice TV series I’ve been a dedicated fan of Colin Firth. Nothing he makes can be wrong. Nothing. Equally I think Emma Stone is a charming actor, not only a pretty face, but someone who conveys personality and interesting inner landscapes. But as much as I love those actors, I don’t want to see them as a love couple again – ever. It’s not a match. The age gap is huge (and so typical, when will we ever see a movie where the woman is 25 years older than the man?), but it’s not just that. There’s something about the chemistry. I don’t believe in their love and I want him to get back together with his original girlfriend.

If you’re not all that familiar with Allen but would like to be, there are many other of his movies that I’d rather point you to.

If you are a fan like me, well then you’ll see it regardless. It’s an Allen after all. And I’m already longing for next year’s movie. Following the every-second-pattern, we have a great one incoming.

Magic in the Moonlight (Woody Allen, US 2014) My rating: 3,5/5

Written by Jessica

September 15, 2014 at 1:00 am

Musings on the danger of using social media in movies

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Within a short period of time I’ve seen two movies where usage of social media is an essential element of the plot.

In Frank Twitter and YouTube was used to build an audience for a rock band. In Chef social media basically rule the world. That’s where careers are built and ruined and if there’s anything you can take away from this otherwise lacklustre film, it’s the crash course in how to handle Twitter and Vine.

Two examples aren’t enough to call something a trend, but I suspect they’re not the only ones we’re going to see this year. And I must say that I’m a little conflicted about it.I can see what they’re trying to do there: be relevant to a young, contemporary audience. There are hundreds of thousands active Twitter accounts in Sweden alone, which is a very small country. 54 percent of the population is on Facebook. Of course social media matter and why wouldn’t they matter to the characters appearing in your movies, provided they’re not hobbits or elves living in a fairy tale land where messages are sent by magical orbs or butterflies.

The traps
But for how understandable it is that you include them, I think it also is a little risky.There are traps to fall in if you don’t beware.

One is that a middle-aged screenwriter may have an idea about how different social media work, but isn’t necessarily an expert user. It’s so easy to get some detail wrong. I’m not necessarily thinking of the actual mechanic of it, such as how long a tweet is or how people respond to or forward certain messages. That’s fairly easy to make a quality check on. What can be a bit trickier is to make it believable. Is it likely that a such and such tweet will catch fire in the way it does in the movie? Is the tone right? Does it spread at a likely pace? Or is it obvious that it’s sprung out of someone’s idea about social media rather than coming from their own experience? If you get it wrong, you’ll rub all those young expert users the wrong way with your clumsy attempts to be modern.

Another risk is that you’re tempted to make too much of a deal out of the social media. If it starts to dominate the movie rather than being a part of people’s everyday life, it gives the movie a silly, unbalanced feel. And it also signals: “hey, I’m a middle-aged person who just discovered social media, isn’t this a remarkable thing?” Very uncool.

A strong timestamp
But the biggest problem, of course, is that it sets such a strong timestamp on the movie. The development in this territory goes at a crazy speed and within a year or two so much can happen that the movie you had spiced up with that magic social media ingredient now all of a sudden looks hopelessly outdated. If telephones an computer design age quickly, it’s nothing compared to what social media does. And the question is: does it age with charm, the way that old cars or space pyjama suits from the 60s do? I can’t know for sure yet, but I suspect not.

My suspicion is that the filmmakers are perfectly aware of this danger, but it’s not such a big deal. They’re not aiming for making a new Brief Ecounter, which can be enjoyed by generation after generation of film lovers. They have their box office race running over a few weekends, and under that brief period their chosen social media isn’t likely to go anywhere.

I’m curious to see what we’ll think about today’s movies with social media in fifteen years. Will they have aged the way that You’ve Got Mail has? And if so, will they likewise have charm enough to make up for it?

photo credit: kelly.sikkema via photopin cc

Written by Jessica

September 12, 2014 at 1:00 am

How much of a cynic are you?

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still life

Something happened today as we put the ashes of my grandfather into the ground, almost a year after his funeral.

This time there were fewer of us present, just my aunt, me and a caretaker from the crematorium, dressed in a cheap and badly fitting costume.

The caretaker insisted on carrying the gravestone that we had brought from our car trunk to the spot in the memorial place where he would lie. As he bent over to put it right, we heard a loud sound of fabric being ripped apart. His hands went behind his back and he looked terribly embarrassed when he apologizing confirmed what we suspected. His trousers had ceased to be trousers. They were now two separate legs, hold together only on the front. We laughed a little before we reassured him it was a perfectly fine or even appropriate incident, since my grandfather surely would have found it hilarious. But we apologized to him that helping out with our stone had cost him a pair of trousers. “Oh, it’s actually something that I’ve hoped would happen”, said the caretaker, smiling brightly at us. “I’ve asked for a new costume for years, but they haven’t wanted to give one to me. Now they have to!”

We didn’t sing, we didn’t read poems, we didn’t perform a ritual. We just poured the ash into the hole that was dug and that was it, the aftermath to a 96 year long life that finally had ended. Somehow the trouser incident helped to clear the air. Whatever complications that lingered in our family history, whatever shadows my grandfather had cast over us, it was all gone by now, swept away by the everydayness of the situation. Here we were: three people, a jar of grey dust and a pair of newly diseased trousers in a small pocket of stillness before life would proceed to its normal routines.

Sorry, I know this is a winded way to introduce a movie. I’m already at 1 500 characters and I haven’t mentioned its name! We’re not even close to a theatre; I’m leaving you hanging in a memorial park out in nowhere. But it is related, I assure you. Stay calm!

What I’m doing here is to try to put us in the right mood to talk about Still Life, which is a lovely little movie about death, loneliness and what it means to be human. Who knows what else you’ve been reading before getting to this post? Maybe your thoughts are still lingering at a rant you read about the latest blockbuster. A brief stop at the scene at the graveyard can serve as a bridge over to facts of life that we rarely think about for too long: that we die alone and that we only leave every so few traces behind us. In a hundred years, it’s unlikely that there will be anyone remembering, talking or caring at all about this person who once existed.

The story
It’s probably time to say something about the story. The main character (perfectly portrayed by Eddie Marsan) is a man who works for the council in a small, godforsaken office. His job is to arrange funerals for people who have died alone. In every case he tries to track possible relatives or friends who might want to attend. This is a time-consuming job and one day the council has had enough and fires him to make those lonely funerals into a quicker, cheaper and more rational process. He’s allowed to finish his last case though. And this is what the film is about: how he tracks the footsteps of a man who died alone, talking to people who knew him. Apparently he feels a connection to the diseased. He’s a loner too. He doesn’t seem to have any family or friends. It could be him.I don’t want to say any more about where the story goes. But I say as much as that for how slow and quiet this movie is (some of the scenes remind indeed of still life paintings), it never gets dull. It’s thoughtful, beautiful, bittersweet, sad and believe it or not – actually quite funny

The end
I’m pretty certain there are people out there who will have objections against how the movie ends. Let’s put it this way: it does bring things in a direction that at least I hadn’t considered, and in a style that will reveal how much of a cynic you are. I went for it. I can see why others won’t and that’s ok.

You know, in the end we’ll all be dust some day and no one will remember us or our little online disputes about movies. In that we’re all equals, each one locked into their lifeline, born alone, dying alone. All we can do is to cherish whatever little moment in life we encounter for what it is. Even when it’s such a small thing as to share the joy over a new hole in a pair of trousers with a caretaker.

Still Life (Uberto Pasolini, UK/IT 2013) My rating: 5/5

Written by Jessica

September 11, 2014 at 1:00 am

Posted in Still Life

The man we want most

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A most wanted man
There’s something about actor appearances in movies that are released after they’ve died. Imagined or not, there’s a special aura surrounding them.

We’re looking for signs: “did actor X know that he or she was going to die shortly? Is there Death written all over his/her face?” “Should the film team have known, could anyone have done something to prevent the cause of death?”

We’re looking for messages, something to give us closure. A final line, a last look into the camera, something to wrap up their lives on Earth that ended too early.

When you watch A Most Wanted Man it’s hard to not come across those thoughts, since it’s got Philip Seymour Hoffman in the leading role. Even the title of the movie points right at it: a most wanted man he is indeed, there isn’t anyone who wouldn’t want him to be alive with many, many more movies to come.

So how about the signs, are there any? There are different opinions in the party as we’re watching the film. Some of us think he looks worn out, with difficulties to move and breath, in a terrible shape, foreboding what would come. I disagree, claiming that it really is the role he’s playing and that it doesn’t tell anything about his private person. But we can agree on that the presence of PSH is the biggest reason to watch the movie. His emotional reaction when a certain thing happens – so convincing. Every character he played, he made believable, alive, and this is no exception.

I’m trying to think of this movie without PSH. Would it be as good as it is? I’m doubtful. It does feel a little bleak. Cigarettes are smoked, whiskey is drunk, bands of trust are formed and broken. You don’t quite know who to trust and distrust. It’s a little like watching a version of Homeland after draining it on blood and sweat. Excitement lies in if someone is going to sign or not sign a paper. It’s based on a John le Carré novel and this is exactly how I imagine that his books are. I haven’t read a word by him; I’ve only seen my father reading them. It’s the kind of books that fathers read, isn’t it? You can sense the relationship to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. However unlike the case of that film, I can actually follow the plot this time. It makes me feel if not smart, at least not stupid.

And here I should say something about Hamburg. The reason why I’m posting this right now is that we’re running a theme among Swedish movie bloggers where we’re all supposed to write about movies that take place in German cities. How convenient wasn’t it that I just had watched a movie that took place in Hamburg!

I frantically try to remember how Hamburg was shown in the movie. Was it pretty like Woody Allen’s tourist destination sponsored movies from Europe? Hardly. I remember it as a place painted in various shades of grey, just like the Hamburg I visited when I was 16 and hitchhiked to Hamburg, whilst reassuring my parents that I was on “bicycle holiday” with my friends in Denmark (oh dear, oh dear.)

There is Hamburg. There are conspiracies. But most of all there’s PSH. Not enough PSH. There never can be.

Oh, and the movie is just fine.

A Most Wanted Man (Anton Corbijn, 2014) My rating: 4/5





Here are the posts by my fellow Swedish movie bloggers (in Swedish):

Fiffis filmtajm
Fripps filmrevyer
Rörliga bilder och tryckta ord

Written by Jessica

September 10, 2014 at 6:00 am

Posted in A Most Wanted Man

Like a leftover piece of French fries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But then there’s the bad:

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

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

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

Written by Jessica

September 9, 2014 at 1:00 am

Posted in Chef