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Monthly Report: November 2012

Color me shocked that I almost tied last month’s movie tally this month. October felt very movie-heavy. November, by comparison, just kind of drifted by, but I apparently watched a lot of stuff regardless. Not that I’m complaining. I got some good watching done, knocking off a couple more from my 2011 Must-See list, as well as some classics that I should have watched a long time ago. Yeah, November was a good month indeed.

Neds (Peter Mullan, 2010)
Set in Glasgow in the 1970s, Neds follows a boy during his growing-up phase, from promising smart kid to trouble-making delinquent. The transition is presented in an engaging fashion and, for the most part, shows a believable trajectory. Some well-timed humor makes for a welcome addition in the early goings as well. The problem is that it all gets a repetitive, with the second half of the film treading water rather than breaking new ground. Some more time could have been spent fine-tuning it in the cutting room. It’s a slightly better film than Mullan’s previous effort The Magdalene Sisters, though.
3/5

Rampart (Oren Moverman, 2011)
Hard-hitting character study of one rotten L.A. cop, expertly portrayed by a rarely-better Woody Harrelson. He and Oren Moverman make for one hell of a team, judging by this and their previous collaboration The Messenger. Moverman does great work here, utilizing colors and camera angles in striking ways that really make the film come alive. And this is only his second film. I’m eagerly anticipating what he’ll come up with next.
4/5

TheronYoungAdult

Young Adult (Jason Reitman, 2011)
I’m a major fan of Jason Reitman. That Young Adult is probably his weakest film to date has more to do with the awesomeness of Thank You For Smoking, Juno, and Up in the Air, than with any supposed lack of quality in this latest effort. Because Young Adult is really good. It’s a brisk and fun look at an interesting woman – Charlize Theron‘s Mavis – who’s possibly be the best-written character Diablo Cody has provided cinema with. The film might not tell a story we haven’t heard before, and it could have done with a bit more narrative muscle, but, in the end, this is Jason Reitman. And Jason Reitman makes damn fine films.
4/5

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Posted by on 1 December, 2012 in Monthly Report

 

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Fifty Wishes

John LaRue over at TDYLF recently wrote a fun blog post called Fifty Wishes, which was just that: fifty things he wished for when it came to movies. I really like the idea, so I decided to steal swipe borrow it for a post of my own. Make sure to head over to John’s blog and read the original post as well, though; he’s a great writer.

There may be some mild spoilers for certain movies in this list, but I’ve done my best to limit it to things that are either fairly common knowledge or what can be reasonably expected. Still, if you don’t want to know how Rocky ends, proceed at own peril.

(I’d like to apologize preemptively for any grammar mistakes. I pride myself on having a good grasp of the English language for someone who doesn’t have it as his primary tongue. However, “wish” is a tricky thing grammatically, and while I have tried to look up what verb forms to use, I’ve probably messed up here and there anyway.)

1. I wish Shannyn Sossamon were a major star.

2. I wish David Fincher will find better use for his considerable talent than directing the sequels to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

3. I wish to someday get the chance to see the unreleased Glitterati.

4. I wish I had gotten interested in movies earlier.

5. I wish all films ever made were available through digital distribution all over the world.

6. I wish there were a wider range of theaters around where I live.

7. I wish the story in Nine were as good as some of the song numbers.

8. I wish more screenwriters had the level of imagination that Charlie Kaufman has.

9. I wish I “got” war movies and westerns.

10. I wish Julie Delpy‘s plans to stop acting don’t come into effect before there’s a sequel to Before Sunset.

11. I wish Amélie lives happily ever after.

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Posted by on 23 April, 2012 in Lists, Memes

 

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When Worlds Collide: Why The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is strange to this Swede

Note: You might want to check out my proper review for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo before continuing reading this post.

In a filmed interview with David Fincher for Sweden’s leading newspaper Aftonbladet, the reporter made mention of the fact that the director’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was the most expensive movie production to have ever taken place in Sweden. Fincher seemed genuinely surprised and expressed embarassment over this, as though the thought had never crossed his mind. For him, a film with a budget of $90 million didn’t seem like a big deal – although to be fair, he does go on to say that he hates how making a film has to be such a huge project. Regardless: In Sweden, numbers like $90 million are unheard of. This country I call myself a citizen of has never been a hotspot for foreign filmmakers, least of all those in Hollywood. When George Clooney came here a few years ago to shoot the 10 minute opening segment for Anton Corbijn‘s The American, it was enough to garner nation-wide news coverage. And that was for a short sequence in a comparatively small arthouse-y film.

Every Swede recognizes this.

So a big-time American production like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo being made entirely in Sweden is rare. I can honestly say that watching the film was a unique experience for me, although not necessarily in a good way. Here we have Mr. James Bond himself, Daniel Craig, watching a news report on the Swedish channel TV4 with its classic logo on screen. Now he’s in his office, with the traditional Swedish Christmas candelabras in the windows. Oh look, now he’s bording a train with the national railways company SJ’s logo on it. At times, the framing of certain shots seemed to be deliberately emphasizing these things so iconic to us Swedes. Maybe that’s just my imagination playing tricks on me, but the end result was a mild sense of distraction. Why do all this? As easter eggs to the Swedish viewers? As I noted in my review of the film, all these details make for a very accurate depiction of Sweden, but it’s weird having them side by side with a big foreign star like Craig.

More annoying were the inconsistencies with regards to written text. Throughout the film, you see plenty of books lying around. These have Swedish titles clearly printed on the front. Fine. But then there are plenty of newspaper clippings where everything is written in English. I get that the articles and headlines are more important to the story than some random books that are essentially just set decoration, and that it’s crucial to convey their message to the audience, but it quickly became another source of distraction. There are other things as well that suffer the same fate, such a news report on TV towards the end of the film where a large sum of money is mentioned. The money is measured in euro, again to give foreign viewers some idea of the quantities being discusses. Nevermind that Sweden hasn’t adopted the euro as currency and that we still use our old krona, which is the currency money is measured in in real news reports. This is admittedly a minor quibble, though.

And then we have the spoken language, which is always problematic in English-language films set in non-English-speaking countries. I have never been a fan of the “English with an accent” approach that’s often utilized. All too often, the character gets lost in the dialect to the point where the dialect becomes the character and everyone sounds exactly the same. One example of many is The Illusionist (2006), set in Austria around year 1900 where everyone speaks English with (I assume) Austrian-sounding accents. Yes, I get why the English language is used: because Americans hate reading subtitles. But filtering English through accents adds no sense of immersion for me, because I’m still fully aware that the characters wouldn’t be speaking the language at all. I would be much happier if the actors would just use their normal voices instead, as that way they’d be able to provide more nuances to their characters. I suppose that’s why I have never been bothered by Kevin Costner‘s performance in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves like so many others have. He hardly ever bothers to use a British accent in that film, instead speaking in a voice more comfortable to him which allows him to exhibit a bit more range.

So The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo takes place in Sweden with Swedish characters who speak English. I’ll concede that this film uses the method better than most do. The Swedish supporting actors all do a fine job with this. The oldies speak English the way old Swedish people tend to speak English – with a particularly jagged accent referred to by some younger Swedes as “politician English”, after a long line of Swedish ministers who have learned the language in school but never spoken it much until they find themselves at international conferences and such. Then you have some characters in the film who speak it a bit more smoothly, such as Martin Vanger (played by Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård). This I can buy, as that character struck me as the type who might have more international connections than others and is thus more well-versed in English. Daniel Craig doesn’t bother with a whole lot of accent either, which again I’m fine with; his character Mikael is a journalist who has presumably spent a lot of time researching and interviewing people from foreign countries. This isn’t explicitly stated, but I can believe that. But then we have Rooney Mara in the central role of Lisbeth Salander, who is definitely heavily accented but in a “wrong” way. Hers is either a massively failed attempt at sounding Swedish, or a subtle hint at future developments in the planned trilogy. I know that nobody in this film makes any mention of her odd way of speech, though.

Another confusing language issue: nobody ever says “cheers” or “toast” when drinking in the film. They all say “skål”, the Swedish equivalent. Only to then revert immediately back to English. Puzzling. Another small thing like that is a particular greeting Lisbeth uses as she enters her and Mikael’s base of operations a few times: “hej hej” she says, which is certainly a Swedish greeting but one that A: doesn’t quite fit the character, and B: is another out-of-place Swedish expression used amid all the English.

This might all seem like nit-picking. It probably is. None of it is likely to have much effect on the enjoyment of the film for non-Swedes, and Swedes are but a small percentage of the total audience for this film. As I’ve said repeatedly throughout this post, I understand why most of these things are in the movie. That’s why I didn’t make any mentions of them in my review. I don’t know how much these distractions influenced my fairly negative opinion of the film. I’d like to think that I was able to look past them. I certainly had issues with the film that weren’t related to the minor details.

Should I care about these things at all when I’m often willing to look past them in movies set in other countries? Amélie is one of my favorite films, yet French people have criticized it for its lack of colored characters when it’s set in Montmartre, a highly multicultural part of Paris. I find Amélie to be a wonderful film regardless. I’ve never been to France. There is nothing in the film that conflicts with the world as I have experienced it myself. Can I justify Jean-Pierre Jeunet‘s decision to not have any character in Amélie have dark skin? No. But I can easily ignore it.

Ignoring things does not make them go away, though. The difference between inaccuracies in Amélie and ones in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is that I’m acutely aware of the ones in the latter due to personal experience, whereas those in the former I only learned about from external sources. As I said earlier in this post, foreign movies being set and filmed in Sweden is extremely rare. I’ve never had a reaction to a film before like I did with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. This is why I chose to write this blog post.

Maybe this isn’t something that interests you, but it interests me. I like finding out others’ views on films set near where they live. I would love to know what Iraqis thought of Three Kings. What Jordanians thought of Body of Lies. What Spaniards thought of Vicky Cristina Barcelona. By learning about other people’s opinions, I can see the world in different lights.

Even if it is just over small details in a film.

A closing note: Many reviews of Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo compare it to the Swedish film from 2009. I chose not to do that in my review, saying that since Fincher’s is a readaptation rather than a remake, it deserves to be judged on its own merits. It does. I will say here that I liked the Swedish movie much better, although this later film has made me question whether the first one really was as good as I first thought, seeing as some of the flaws appear in both of them. I will also say that Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth, while its own character, is far less intriguing than the one played by Noomi Rapace. The American movie doesn’t do enough things different from the Swedish one to really warrant its existance. I hope Fincher doesn’t sign on for the sequels. There are better things he could use his talent on. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo felt like a big enough waste of time as it is.

 
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Posted by on 26 January, 2012 in Misc.

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2001

Time to set the time machine to 2001, a year that like many others had a great deal of great films to offer. There’s a nice mix to be had with this list, I think. Sure, it leans slightly towards comedy as my lists tend do – although there’s nothing here that i’d classify strictly as a laugh-out-loud type of movie – but there is some international variety. USA, France, Spain and Norway are all represented in one way or another.

I don’t normally do honorable mentions for these lists, but I do need to give a shout-out to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. The trilogy as a whole is a remarkably ambitious cinematic accomplishment which does such a great job of bringing the world of the novels to life. Both The Two Towers and The Return of the King barely missed out on spots on their respective year lists. The Fellowship of the Ring – my personal favorite of the three – was sitting at #9 on this list at first draft. Then along came a movie I hadn’t seen before (#7), and Fellowship got bumped down. And then I realized a teriffic film I thought belonged to 2000 was actually released in 2001 (#2), and just like that, Fellowship dropped off. So an honorable mention goes out to that film and, by extension, the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy.

On to the list proper. As always, this is 2001 as listed on IMDB to avoid confusion with international release dates.

10 – HUMAN NATURE (Michel Gondry)

“Remember: when in doubt, don’t ever do what you really want to do.”

The most overlooked of the films written by Charlie Kaufman, Human Nature is a movie of many questions about – of course – human nature. What’s fun is the strange ways in which it goes about asking them. The central characters are a scientist (Tim Robbins) trying to teach mice to have a formal dinner, a man (Rhys Ifans) who grew up in the wilderness thinking himself to be an ape, and a woman (Patricia Arquette) who voluntarily abandoned civilization as an adult due to feeling out of place because of her thick body hair. This story proves to be a good fit for Michel Gondry, here making his feature film debut and immediately establishing his unique style – how many directors would go with a sudden Disney-esque song number in a film like this? Human Nature is both funny and thought-provoking, and it deserves more attention than it tends to get.

9 – A KNIGHT’S TALE (Brian Helgeland)

“Now that I got their attention, you go and win their hearts.”

Wikipedia describes this as an action-adventure film. This is false. A Knight’s Tale is very much a sports movie, with all the familiar story elements and tropes associated with the genre. It just so happens to take place in medieval times, with the sport in question being jousting. What makes the film stand out even more is the anachronistic music. Here we have a dance scene in at the royal court set to David Bowie’s “Golden Years”, and joust audiences clapping along to Queen’s “We Will Rock You”. Heath Ledger makes for an effective protagonist, Shannyn Sossamon is as radiant as ever as his love interest, and Paul Bettany and Alan Tyduk as comedic sidekicks take turns to steal the movie. Often hilarious, always feel-good. A Knight’s Tale never fails to put a smile on my face.

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Posted by on 25 January, 2012 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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How I ended up loving movies

How did you become a movie fan?

Maybe you always have been. Perhaps your family would watch plenty of films when you were a kid, thus setting you on a path that has continued through your teens and into adulthood to this day. You might not remember a time when you weren’t into movies. It has always been there.

Or maybe you were a casual watcher for a long time, until you saw that one awesome film that really opened your eyes. One movie to fall in love with that left you wanting more, and so you set out to discover other films hoping to find something to evoke similar feelings. That one great film was the starting point for you.

Neither of these scenarios fit me.

Police Academy

I’m not a life-long movie fan. That said, I certainly watched films when I was a kid. My family went to the cinema every now and then, but most of the movies I saw when growing up, I did on TV or VHS. I could watch the Police Academy films over and over. Same with the Wayne’s World movies, and The Lion King, and Home Alone. But film was never my main interest. I was always more into playing video games, reading boks and comics, and watching pro wrestling. Those were the things I would call my hobbies. Watching movies was just something I did ocassionally.

This casual level of interest continued into my teens. I would watch films at times, but never to any huge degree. When I was around 15 years of age in the late 90s came the boom of the internet, and now I had another thing to occupy my time with in addition to video games and fantasy novels. Even happening upon American Beauty in 2000 or 2001- a movie I fell in love with and which instantly became my new all-time favorite – was not enough to spark any big film interest in me.

More the opposite, in fact. My watching of movies went from casual to barely alive. Perhaps it was a combination of things. Subconsciously, I might have felt that nothing could ever compare to American Beauty. My interest in pro wrestling was also picking up again after a few years worth of sabbatical. More important I believe was the fact that my life was changing, though. In 2002 I graduated from gymnasiet – roughly the Swedish equivalent of high school in the US. Old friends drifted away, leaving less opportunity for random spur-of-the-moment films. And now I also had to worry about what to do with my life. I had some vague plans of going to university, but I wanted to take some time to work and make money first. Job hunting proved harder than I thought, and in the midst of all this, I spent more and more time online. Eventually I went to university for a few fruitless years and felt kind of… lost.

Then came World of Warcraft, and the less said about that the better.

I didn’t notice it at the time, but during this part of my life I hardly watched movies at all. I would spot a trailer at times that looked interesting, but didn’t see the film. Someone might mention how they just saw a great movie, and I’d just shrug and move on. An example: When a friend told me had bought Batman Begins on DVD, it was the first time I ever heard of the film. I just didn’t care about the world of movies. I had other things to spend my free time on.

Things changed in early 2008. I had gotten Transformers on DVD from my brother for Christmas (we both loved the toys when we were kids), and found myself with some other unseen movies lying around for some reason. World of Warcraft was starting to lose its grip on me at that point, so one weekend where I had nothing better to do, I sat down to do some movie watching. I saw 5 movies: Transformers, The Terminal, Hostel, The Butterfly Effect, and Captivity. In a typical story, you might expect me to have had an eye-opening experience with one or more of these. But I didn’t. True, I remain very fond of both The Terminal and The Butterfly Effect to this day, but they’re not amazing or anything. No, the noteworthy thing about these films isn’t the films themselves, but what they led me to do.

On that Sunday, February 10 2008, I went on an off-topic forum at a video game website I frequented and started a new thread, where I offered a few lines of summary on how I felt about these films. This wasn’t something I had any habit of doing, but random threads about whatever were commonplace on that message board. I didn’t put any thought into it. It was just something to talk about with people online. At first, nothing much came of it. Someone chimed in saying they hated Transformers, someone else expressed joy at my liking of The Butterfly Effect.

Then someone said “You should do Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind next!”

Huh? Eternal Sunshine of the what now? I’d never heard of it before but figured that Jim Carrey was usually good for a laugh or two, so I decided to check it out. I wrote a bit about it, and someone told me to watch Death Proof. The suggestions and recommendations kept pouring in. I found myself watching lots of movies. More than at any other point in my life. I had a lot of catching up to do. Not even counting all the films I hadn’t seen from before the millenium shift, I still had pretty much the entire past decade of films that had passed me by. There was so many great movies to take in. The mind-blowing Memento, the heart-melting Amélie, the blood-pumping Crank, and the eye-opening Adaptation, to name but a few. Sure, I saw plenty of underwhelming films as well, but they all helped me refine my tastes. And I went back further in time too, seeing some beloved films for the first time like The Princess Bride and One Flew Over Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and found they lived up to the hype.

I would talk with friends about flms I had seen as though they were fresh new discoveries when they were really old hat to them – I vividly remember a bemused look I got from a friend when I, in 2008, started talking about this unknown gem of a comedy called Anchorman. I would often go to my best friend’s place and bring a bunch of DVDs with me, both to revisit films I loved and to show them to him because by God, he just had to see this Sideways film!

There was no need for me to go to the cinema much, as there was so much to see on DVD whether bought, rented or borrowed. But every now and then I’d head to the theater with friends to see films like The Dark Knight (awesome) and Max Payne (terrible).

Maggie Gyllenhaal

I learned which people online liked the same films as me and prioritized their recommendations. But just following their suggestions wasn’t enough. When I discovered a new actor I really enjoyed, like a Jason Statham or a Maggie Gyllenhaal, I would look for more films starring them. I started paying attention to the people behind the camera too. After falling madly in love with Amélie, I had to see what else Jean-Pierre Jeunet was capable of. And whoa, wait; Seven, The Game and Fight Club are all directed by the same guy? Some dude named David Fincher? What else has he done?

I started reading blogs to further expand my horizons, and began keeping up with film news. I discovered the wonderful writing of Roger Ebert, James Berardinelli and other critics, reading them more to find new perspectives than to find out whether a movie was good or bad. I read books on film – Louis Giannetti‘s “Understanding Movies” had a big effect on my viewing experiences. I would use websites like Flickchart, Filmtipset, and ICheckMovies to keep track of the films I had seen. I started a blog of my own – the first of several – where I would talk at length about movies I watched. Twitter also became a great way to find new people with interesting opinions.

A peculiar thing is the divide that has sprung up between films I saw before and after my cinematic awakening. Films I adored back then still remain among my favorites: American Beauty, The Blues Brothers, Groundhog Day, Terminator 2 and more. Others I might be able to find faults in now, but they still live strong thanks to nostalgia; Interview with the Vampire for example is really pretty corny, but I can’t help but love it. I find it hard to compare movies from opposite sides of the divide, however. Even when they’re kind of similar, like Forrest Gump (seen before my awakening) and The Shawshank Redemption (seen after). I know I have different perspectives on these films, so comparisons feel unfair. Fortunately, you don’t have to choose between two great films and can love both equally.

Now, almost four years after that one weekend in February 2008, film is my biggest interest. My viewing pace might have slowed down a bit and fluctuates more, but I do tend to watch a couple of movies every week. And I still find time for my old interests as well. I play video games when I have something fun to play, I keep up with the world of pro wrestling, and I read books every evening – sometimes ones that have had good film adaptations. But movies is where my heart lies.

Considering the short time I’ve been a film fanatic, I sometimes feel inexperienced in the field. Many of you readers have been into the art form for much longer than my four years. The same goes for plenty of bloggers I read and people I follow on Twitter. I’ve also never studied film at college or anything. So I’m not the most well-versed or knowledgeable movie lover in the world, but there’s not much I can do to change that in the present. All I can do is to look towards the future and try to broaden my views in time. I’m still learning, still catching up, still hungry. My rental queue at Lovefilm currently consists of 863 films, and that’s not counting the prebooked ones that haven’t been released on DVD yet, or the ones they don’t have in their database which I keep track of at a different site. The total amount of films I know of that I want to see rises well over 1000. I’ve put up goals to pursue. I want to see films from more countries I’ve never seen films from before, until I’ve tagged every country in the world. I want to explore older movies more so I can find them less threatening. I want to see every movie that Jason Statham or Shannyn Sossamon have ever been in. I want to find that one Woody Allen movie that I’ll love and am sure is out there somewhere. I want to get around to watching highly acclaimed films I haven’t seen yet, like Goodfellas and Jaws (coincidentally, Roy Scheider died on the day my film interest took off.) I want to be a good Swede and finally see my first Ingmar Bergman movie. Most of all, I want to see more great films, whether they’re ones that live up to hype or unexpected surprises. I want to find movies to love as much as I love American Beauty, Amélie, and my current favorite Lost in Translation.

This is how I became a movie lover. The why still eludes me. The way it happened seems so random to me. Was that starting ground of a weekend really just a case of me not having anything better to do? Perhaps there’s more to it. If there is, it’s buried in either my subconsciousness or in the realm of forgotten memories. “It just happened” doesn’t make for much of a story to tell – although I suppose that didn’t stop me from writing these 2000+ words on it.

I still post on that forum where it all started. I make a comment on every movie I see, and have done so for the past four years. People don’t recommend films to me as often. Instead, they share their own thoughts on movies they’ve watched. At times, some even ask me for recommendations. I’ve become “that movie guy” over there. There are worse things one could be.

So how did you become a movie fan?

 
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Posted by on 20 January, 2012 in Misc.

 

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