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How I filled out an awards ballot

Flickchart: The Blog is right in the middle of the 2nd Annual Flickcharters’ Choice Awards. I took part last year for the inaugural installment and wrote a post about my experience as a nominator. This year, things were done a bit differently: the nomination voting was open to the public and not just to the contributors to the Flickchart blog.

The nominees were announced last night, and with that, the voting for the eventual winners has begun (go here to cast your votes). I won’t say too much about the nominations; a lot of it is for things I haven’t seen yet, so while I am disappointed that so many of my nomination votes didn’t go through, I can’t rightfully say with certainty that they deserve to be in over stuff that did make it.

Instead of talking about what did get nominated, I thought I’d share my ballot for the nomination phase. Voting was done with a point distribution system that allowed you to give extra push to certain nominees, but I’m keeping it simple here and just sharing my five picks for each category in alphabetical order.

Entries in blue are ones that ended up making the cut for nominations.

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5 Broken Cameras

Best Documentary Film
5 Broken Cameras
How to Survive a Plague
Indie Game: The Movie
The Invisible War
The Queen of Versailles

I didn’t see a whole lot of 2012 documentaries, to be perfectly honest. The only ones I saw and didn’t nominate were Mansome and Jiro Dreams of Sushi. That said, these five films are all interesting in their own rights. Three of them are Oscar nominees, one should have been, and the last is one of those narrow interest pieces that just happens to be within my field of interests.

Kon-Tiki

Kon-Tiki

Best Foreign Language Film
5 Broken Cameras
Eat Sleep Die
Kon-Tiki
Oslo, August 31st
A Royal Affair

Four of these films are from Scandinavia, so maybe I’m biased here. I knew that Eat Sleep Die would have a hard time gaining traction with anyone else, considering how very Sweden-centric it is and its limited international distribution, but it’s a great film that deserved a spot here on my ballot. This isn’t the last category it shows up in.

Best Animated Film
This is the one category I had to abstain in. I’ve seen zero animated films from last year, and I don’t have much desire to either apart from Wreck-It Ralph and Frankenweenie.

Mansome

Mansome

Biggest Disappointment of 2012
John Dies at the End
Mansome
Moonrise Kingdom
Silent Hill: Revelation 3D
Take This Waltz

A hard category for me to fill out. I even had to put Moonrise Kingdom in here, a film that I for all intents and purposes liked. Most of what I’ve seen from 2012 has lived up to most of the expectations I had for it.

21 Jump Street

21 Jump Street

Biggest Surprise Film of 2012
21 Jump Street
Chronicle
Dark Shadows
Goon
The Grey

The counterpoint to  the previous category, these were all films that ended up being better than I expected. Granted, a few here were ones that the hidden good word had gotten around about by the time I saw them, like 21 Jump Street and Chronicle. Even so, judging by the expectations I initially had, they still fit in nicely here.

The Queen of Versailles

The Queen of Versailles

Best Underranked Film
Eat Sleep Die
The Invisible War
Killer Joe
Oslo, August 31st
The Queen of Versailles

This is a Flickchart specific category that ties into the site’s core mechanic of comparing and ranking films. You can think of it as Best Film Not Seen By Many. So here we have a motley crew of documentaries, foreign language films, and one “totally twisted deep-fried Texas redneck trailer park murder story”. If you’re looking for some hidden gems of last year, you’d do well to check out these five.

Before Midnight

Before Midnight

Most Anticipated Film of 2013
Before Midnight
Oldboy
Only God Forgives
The Place Beyond the Pines
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Make no mistake: this category is all about Before Midnight for me. The rest is filler.

Rock of Ages

Rock of Ages

Most Underrated Film
The Grey
Kon-Tiki
On the Road
The Queen of Versailles
Rock of Ages

The words “underrated” and “overrated” are ones I rarely use. Just who is it that’s rating it higher or lower than me? Here, I latched onto the further guideline supplied by awards supervisor Ross Bonaime: “film you thought didn’t get the audience it deserved”. Loosely interpreted, this can go for all five of these films.

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Moonrise Kingdom

Most Overrated Film
American Reunion
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Lockout
Moonrise Kingdom
Take This Waltz

Or “film you thought received more attention than it deserved”. Like Biggest Disappointment, I had to nominate a number of films here that I actually liked: American Reunion, The Hobbit, and Moonrise Kingdom. These all got more attention than what I felt their quality warranted. Then we have the terrible Lockout, which, bafflingly, some people thought was okay, and Take This Waltz, which of the five is probably the closest to the usual interpretation of “overrated.”

Silent Hill: Revelation 3D

Silent Hill: Revelation 3D

Worst Film of 2012
Bad Ass
Get the Gringo
Killing Them Softly
Lockout
Silent Hill: Revelation 3D

I didn’t like any of these films, but the first three mentions on the list are at least not terrible. I suppose I should be quite happy with the movie year of 2012 based on that.

Life of Pi

Life of Pi

Best Scene in a 2012 Film
The chicken scene – Killer Joe
“I Dreamed a Dream” – Les Misérables
“Valjean’s Soliloquy” – Les Misérables
Pi wanting to show God to the tiger – Life of Pi
“Wanted Dead or Alive” – Rock of Ages

This is a new category for this year, and a fun one it is. There was a lot of scenes I regretfully had to leave off, and some that I just forgot outright – the surgery scene in Prometheus should probably have gotten a mention from me, for instance. Still, this is a cool list. I could have put more Les Mis on it, perhaps.

Looper

Looper

Best Writing in a 2012 Film
Rian Johnson – Looper
Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley – Kill List
Tracy Letts – Killer Joe
David Magee – Life of Pi
Gabriela Pichler – Eat Sleep Die

Ever since watching the great screenwriting documentary Tales from the Script, I’ve been reluctant to praise or complain about screenwriters, because you never know if that great line of dialogue was theirs or an ad-lib, or whether that weird story turn was something they wanted or if it was due to executive meddling. I also don’t really know anything about screenplays, so what this category really reflect for me is well-crafted dialogue and/or interesting stories. Looper, Kill List and Killer Joe are ones I admire for their sheer ambition and out-there-ness. Life of Pi is a unique tale that must have been a real challenge to adapt. Eat Sleep Die is a marvel in Swedish film in that it actually reflects how people talk in real life, rather than the “theater on film” way of speech so common in movies in this country.

Oslo, August 31st

Oslo, August 31st

Best Directing in a 2012 Film
Joe Carnahan – The Grey
Tom Hooper – Les Misérables
Ang Lee – Life of Pi
Ridley Scott – Prometheus
Joachim Trier – Oslo, August 31st

Like writing, directing is hard to judge, and easy to confuse with cinematography, editing and so much more. What these five films have in common is that they’re presented with a clear vision of what they want accomplished. A unified view, if you will. They’re all films I admire, too.

Kristen Stewart - On the Road

Kristen Stewart – On the Road

Best Supporting Actress in a 2012 Film
Samantha Barks – Les Misérables
Emily Blunt – Looper
Anne Hathaway – Les Misérables
Alison Pill – Goon
Kristen Stewart – On the Road

A relatively weak slate of nominees from me, admittedly. The performances are all good, but apart from the amazing Hathaway and the novelty factor of Barks – who inside word says was very close to getting nominated – none of these are likely to be ones I remember five years from now. I should probably have put Gina Gershon and/or Juno Temple from Killer Joe in here in retrospect. Sometimes I forget things.

Matthew McConaughey - Killer Joe

Matthew McConaughey – Killer Joe

Best Supporting Actor in a 2012 Film
Tom Cruise – Rock of Ages
Michael Fassbender – Prometheus
Garrett Hedlund – On the Road
Matthew McConaughey – Killer Joe
Andy Serkis – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I wasn’t sure whether McConaughey should be here or in Best Actor for the title part of Killer Joe, but ultimately, I figured that a case could be made for either, and it was easier to slot him in here. I’m a bit surprised that my fellow Flickcharters didn’t spring for Fassbender here, but hey, I guess Django Unchained needed its three spots.

Noomi Rapace - Prometheus

Noomi Rapace – Prometheus

Best Actress in a 2012 Film
Kara Hayward – Moonrise Kingdom
Nermina Lukac – Eat Sleep Die
Noomi Rapace – Prometheus
Alicia Vikander – A Royal Affair
Michelle Williams – Take This Waltz

I did not notice this until I submitted my ballot, but there are three Swedes represented here: Lukac, Rapace, and Vikander. Cool stuff. Still, this category is proof that I really need to see more female-centric stuff from 2012. I very reluctantly put Williams here: it’s a fine enough performance, but I had serious trouble buying into the character – something I ultimately attribute more to the writing.

Hugh Jackman - Les Misérables

Hugh Jackman – Les Misérables

Best Actor in a 2012 Film
Anders Danielsen Lie – Oslo, August 31st
Hugh Jackman – Les Misérables
Liam Neeson – The Grey
Seann William Scott – Goon
Suraj Sharma – Life of Pi

If you had told me just a year ago that I would put Stiffler on a ballot for Best Actor, I might have laughed at you. Still, he knocked it out of the park in Goon, so good for him.

A Royal Affair

A Royal Affair

Best Overall Cast in a 2012 Film
Jeff, Who Lives at Home
Killer Joe
Les Misérables
On the Road
A Royal Affair

A Royal Affair earned Vikander a mention in Best Actress, but I had her two co-stars Mads Mikkelsen and Mikkel Følsgaard in Actor and Supporting Actor in my initial draft of the ballot. Les Mis got in in spite of Russell Crowe. If there’s one shining example here though, it’s Killer Joe. Everyone in that film was at the top of their game.

Gabriela Pichler

Gabriela Pichler

2012 Outstanding Achievement in Film
Joe Carnahan
Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Matthew McConaughey
Gabriela Pichler
Channing Tatum

This is a very loosely defined category. Generally, nominees tend to be actors who have been in multiple films, or writer/directors. I had three of the former, two of the latter. I did make one big omission here: Anne Hathaway. She did strong work in The Dark Knight Rises and breaks my heart over and over in Les Mis. She should definitely have been here instead of one of the male actors. Oh well.

The Grey

The Grey

Best Picture of 2012
The Dark Knight Rises
The Grey
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
The Queen of Versailles

Here’s another thing I didn’t realize until just now: this is the only category I nominated The Dark Knight Rises for. It sounds weird, but I’m fine with that. That film just worked as a whole, and was a fitting end to the trilogy. It, and the rest of the films here, represent the best of what I’ve seen from 2012 so far.

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Posted by on 6 February, 2013 in Lists, Misc.

 

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Monthly Report: June 2012

June turned out to be a month of solid movies for me. Very… even. The vast majority ended up in the 3-4 score range. There were perhaps some films I had higher hopes for than that, but c’est la vie.

Prometheus (Ridley Scott, 2012)
It’s not Alien, but it’s a more than adequate tribute to it that manages to bring up some interesting ideas. There are a couple of scenes that have really stuck with me since I saw it, and Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender are both great. My full review is available here.
4/5

Eat Sleep Die (Gabriela Pichler, 2012)
It’s rare for a Swedish film to accurately capture the way Swedes talk in real life. This one manages this perfectly. The story of 20-year-old Rasa (Nermina Lukac) who finds herself unemployed is a straight-forward one, but thanks to the characters and the down-to-earth nature of the material, it commands your attention more and more for each passing minute. There’s some real humor to be had here, the kind that’s funny because it’s true. I saw this at a cast screening, so the release is still some months away. Make sure to see it when you get the chance.
4/5

High Tension (Alexandre Aja, 2003)
A nice and simple premise sets the stage for a deadly cat-and-mouse game as a young woman (Cécile De France) tries to save her friend from a demented killer. This one took me by surprise with the frightening atmosphere it manages to pull off, often through the use of bloody violence. So often in horror films, gore is used for its own sake. Not so here. This is blood and murder to make you scared and worrying for the protagonist. The ending has apparently divided people on whether it’s good or bad. I wasn’t a big fan of it myself, and it’s the main reason why this one doesn’t cruise on to a full 5. I’d still call it the best horror film I’ve seen in quite a while.
4/5

Fast Times as Ridgemont High (Amy Heckerling, 1995)
I feel like I’m missing out on some of the appeal of this one by not having seen it when I was younger. Nonetheless, this is a pretty decent high school flick. It didn’t make me laugh as much as it was hoping for, but there are some scenes of unexpected heartfeltness and maturity. If the movie isn’t quite as good as I had been led to believe, the same certainly can’t be said of Sean Penn as surfer/stoner Spicoli. He absolutely nails the part. I was also taken by Jennifer Jason Leigh‘s performance as curious Stacy.
3/5

Red State (Kevin Smith, 2011)
Easily the best-acted Kevin Smith movie I’ve seen, and I’ve seen most of them. John Goodman, Melissa Leo and Michael Parks all put forth impressive showings. The film is very different from Smith’s usual fare in terms of content, yet some things remain the same. For instance, Smith remains better at writing than at directing. The dialogue is as compelling and snappy as ever – though less comedic than usual – but the pacing of the film is kind of awkward. Not his best work, but an interesting step in a different direction.
3/5

Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel (Gareth Carrivick, 2009)
Very self-aware British time travel comedy that keeps throwing surprises at you while still retaining an effective sense of humor. I like how it starts out narrow and “small” only to gradually widen its scope. Fans of the genre should definitely check this one out.
4/5

Turn Me On, Dammit! (Jannicke Systad Jacobsen, 2011)
Norwegian coming-of-age story about teenager Alma (Helene Bergsholm) and her struggling with ostracism and her sexual awakening. The film does a fine job of evoking small-town life, at times reminding me of Lukas Moodysson‘s Show Me Love in this regard. Compared to a lot of teen dramas of this sort, this one maintains a very low-key tone for the most part, something I found perhaps more interesting than effective. The story is compelling and held my interest throughout, although the ending ties things up a bit too nicely. It’s an okay movie overall, but I wish it had dug a bit deeper emotionally.
3/5

Rock of Ages (Adam Shankman, 2012)
This glossy musical succeeds and fails in roughly equal measures. I had a good time on average, thanks to the nice song numbers and Tom Cruise‘s superb performance, but I can fully sympathize with those who are put off by the wafer-thin story and the lack of an edge. My full review is available here.
3/5

Super (James Gunn, 2010)
I did not expect this film to be as violent as it was. Compared to other self-aware superhero films like Kickass and Defendor, this one comes up a bit short. It strives for a darker story, but its handling of its rough scenes are hit-or-miss. There’s a certain unevenness to its tone. Even so, it is reasonably entertaining, and Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page and Kevin Bacon (why did I ever hate this guy?) all put in fine efforts on the acting side.
3/5

Hot Tub Time Machine (Steve Pink, 2010)
Not God-awful, but certainly not very good either. There are some laughs to be had here, but for the most part, the comedy here is lame and obvious. It’s also a case of wasted opportunity, as there is certainly a lot of humor that could be mined from having people revisit the 80s. None of it is taken advantage of here, sadly enough. I’m probably forgetting something, but off the top of my head, I’d say this could be the worst time travel movie I’ve ever seen.
2/5

The Grudge (Takashi Shimizu, 2004)
For clarity, this would be the English language remake. A solid effort in the horror genre, with appropriate creepiness and a strong climax. It has some problems, however. The pacing gets a bit too hectic, for one. The jump scares become repetitive after a while. The story isn’t very original, and the non-chronological way of telling it adds little to the proceedings. These issues may sound big, but the movie still succeeds at being scary, so they’re largely forgivable.
3/5

Total # of new films seen: 11
Average score: 3.3 / 5
Best film of the month: High Tension
Worst film of the month: Hot Tub Time Machine

 
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Posted by on 1 July, 2012 in Monthly Report

 

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Review – Prometheus (2012)

I wasn’t keeping up with all the advertising for Prometheus that arrived before its release. I saw a trailer for it at cinema once, and a friend insisted that I just had to see this one clip of Guy Pearce giving a speech. Neither told me a whole lot. I skipped the rest of all the viral marketing stuff, for the usual reasons. I went in knowing precious little about this movie, and having now seen it, I’m convinced this was the right course of action. There is nothing to be gained by having knowledge of a film where the lack of knowledge plays such an integral part.

Comparisons between Prometheus and Alien are inevitable. Prometheus was first conceived to be a prequel installment in the Alien saga, but then reports came in that no, it wouldn’t be, but it would be like an “embryo” to Alien. I’m not sure exactly what the difference is between those two phrasings, but whatever. Even so, Prometheus is indeed a sci-fi movie made by Alien director Ridley Scott. It isn’t Alien, but there are times where it’s certainly trying to be. Not even counting certain broad strokes in the plot department, there are enough blatant references and callbacks throughout the film that anyone who has seen Alien before will be reminded of it, even if they have no prior knowledge of who directed it.

Set in the end of the 21st century, a science expedition from Earth searching for the origin of mankind arrives at a distant planet. Then stuff happens. How’s that for a spoiler-free plot synopsis? No, you don’t want to know anything more.

There is a lot of things I like about Prometheus, and the part that has really stuck with me these 1.5 days since I saw it is the acting. Two performances in particular stand out. The most immediately striking is that of Michael Fassbender in the role of the android David. Mannered, polite, efficient, and with movements that are just a tad off for a human being. And yet there are depths to the character, both of intent and of emotion. The other strong performance is that of Noomi Rapace, of Millenium trilogy fame. I had been a bit concerned about the Swedish actress’ transition to Hollywood; she did okay in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, but her character was so flat and unnecessary that she might as well not have been in it at all. Not the kind of thing to jump-start a new phase in one’s career. Her Prometheus performance is just what the doctor ordered, however. She plays Elizabeth Shaw, an archaeologist whose religious beliefs gives her added incentive to take part in the expedition. Particularly in the second half of the movie, Rapace shows a great affinity for the action genre with teriffic sustained power. Here is where her performance rivals her star-making one as Lisbeth Salander, and if this doesn’t lead to more big roles for her, I don’t know what will. That she does this without her character coming off as merely Ellen Ripley 2.0 is all the more impressive.

Without going into spoiler-y specifics, there are scenes in this film that I found almost spellbinding in their own ways. Some parts are pure visual spectacle to ooh and aah at. Others made me clench my teeth in suspense. Above all else, however, it’s the mysterious nature of everything that really got to me. There are times where Prometheus feels really nightmarish in a way, where you’re tossed from one situation to the next and aren’t sure what’s really going on at all. Highly effective stuff, and this is where I’m glad I stayed away from most of the promotional material. It felt like anything could happen. The film also doesn’t shy away from presenting some interesting thematic questions. Why is there this need for these people to find out who their creators are? What does the human-created android think about this? It all adds further weight to the more visceral moments of the movie.

Prometheus isn’t flawless, however. The first third or so of the film is a bit lacking. A movie like this needs a set-up phase to explain some of its key concepts and introduce its characters, but this one doesn’t quite keep things as interesting as one might hope. Compare this to Alien, where a similar portion keeps piling on a sense of foreboding dread more effectively. Another issues I had was with some of the dialogue, which feels stilted and awkward. I’m not ruling out that this was intentional – something to show the difference between our time and the future – but it’s still more distracting than immersive.

The dialogue problem is reasonably easy to look past. But had its first act been stronger, I wouldn’t hesitate to put Prometheus up there with the original Alien film in terms of personal enjoyment. As it is, it doesn’t quite measure up. The atmosphere isn’t quite as thick, and while the plot engages the mind to a better extent, it lacks something of Alien’s sheer gutsiness.

That said, it puts in a more than admirable effort. After all, “not as good as Alien” doesn’t say a whole lot considering what a great film that one is, and I wouldn’t even be comparing the two if Scott didn’t make it clear that he wanted there to be connection between the two. Standing on its own to legs, Prometheus is a thrilling and captivating sci-fi flick, and one well worth seeing in theater to get the full scope of what it wants to show you.

Score: 4/5

A closing note on the 3D: Don’t bother with it. There is a scene or two where it really adds something to the movie, but for the most part, it’s neither here nor there. I wouldn’t shell out the extra cash for it.

 
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Posted by on 4 June, 2012 in Reviews

 

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Monthly Report: April 2012

Looks like this will be a recurring feature after all! Here are the films I saw for the first time during the month of April, along with mini-reviews and ratings.

Horrible Bosses (Seth Gordon, 2011)
There are a few fairly funny lines in this one, but the real reason it (barely) succeeds is the cast. They have fun with their characters and find the right tone for the material – Kevin Spacey in particular is spot-on as one of the bosses. I have some pretty big problems with the plot, which is contrived in a non-funny way and feature more logic gaps than what’s easy to swallow. Overall, I guess the movie was okay, but I don’t see myself ever revisiting it.
3/5

Pleasantville (Gary Ross, 1998)
It’s always a delight when a movie grows as it goes along and becomes something richer than you expected. I had figured this one would be merely a fun-poking of old 50s sitcoms, and it looked that way at first. But then it changes and evolves, finding nuances in unexpected places and bringing up thoughts and ideas I though would be left unexplored. And what a stunning blend of black & white and color! Wonderful stuff. I wish I had seen this one before I made my Top 10 of 1998 list. It would have made the cut for sure.
5/5

We Bought a Zoo (Cameron Crowe, 2011)
Very formulaic for sure, with few surprises to behold to anyone who has seen this kind of drama-comedy before. But it’s sweet, it’s charming, it offers a surprisingly high amount of laughs, and the cast all put in solid efforts – from Matt Damon and Thomas Haden Church to Angus Macfadyen and Elle Fanning.  We Bought a Zoo might not be Cameron Crowe’s most daring work, but it has a lot of heart.
4/5

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 30 April, 2012 in Monthly Report

 

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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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Gazing into the crystal ball for 2012

Now that I’ve done my required looking back at the year that has been, it’s time to look forward to 2012 and make some predictions. Some of these will be bold, while some while fall more into the “well, duh” category. I suspect a lot of these will not come true, but that will solely be blamed on the crystal ball being flawed rather than any perceived incompetence of the fortune teller. These are not thing I necessarily want to see happen, I should add.

The Dark Knight Rises will of course be a juggernaught at the box office and will receive plenty of praise from both critics and movie-goers alike. There will be no massive love for any particular performance a la Heath Ledger, however. General consensus will be that Anne Hathaway‘s Catwoman is vastly inferior to Michelle Pfeiffer‘s in Batman Returns.

The Artist will not win Best Picture at the Oscars.

Despite a strong marketing push, Ridley Scott‘s Prometheus will underperform business-wise. Noomi Rapace‘s Hollywood career will be off to a rocky start, and she’ll return to Sweden before the year is done.

A film premiering at Sundance will be showered with critical acclaim, and by the end of the year, it will be considered one of the leading contenders for the Best Picture Oscar.

The Hunger Games will do respectable numbers at the box office but will not become a mega-hit, because the main character is a girl and it’s not Twilight. Jennifer Lawrence will start heading towards mediocre romcom hell, following in the footsteps of Kate Hudson. Winter’s Bone will seem a lifetime ago.

Ryan Gosling will be able to maintain his fame and prominence from 2011 better than both Michael Fassbender and Jessica Chastain.

The Avengers will be torn to shreds by critics. Words like “bloated” and “overblown” will be thrown around. American cinema audiences will flock to it regardless, but international reception will be lukewarm.

Daniel Day-Lewis‘ performance in Lincoln will be hailed as one of his best ever. The film in general won’t fare as well.

Pixar will bounce back from the critical failure of Cars 2. Brave will be a major hit and restore everyone’s faith in the studio. The Best Animated Feature Oscar will seem imminent.

The surprise hit of the summer: Rock of Ages. “The musical is back!” review quotes will proclaim in ads.

Michael Cera will do nothing to show versatility and make himself more respected in the world of film. He’ll still rake in money doing his usual schtick, though.

Norway will emerge as a major player in the field of international cinema. Swedes will groan and moan.

Mel Gibson will go a full year without any PR catastrophes.

Lars von Trier won’t, despite his self-imposed vow of silence.

The Amazing Spider-Man will do about as well as Superman Returns did, in all fields.

The ratings for the Oscars broadcast will be up a bit from previous years. Billy Crystal will be announced as returning to host the 2013 ceremony as well. Bloggers will cry out about how the Academy are a bunch of old phogeys scared of change. Then AMPAS will change the rules of Best Picture nominations again.

News will emerge that Jason Statham has signed on for a family comedy in which he will play some form of child caretaker. When questioned about this, Statham will debunk the rumor with harsh words not fit for print. To drive home the point, he will then announce plans for seven new action films to be released in 2013, including a third Crank movie and his directorial debut.

Speaking of third films in a series, a sequel to Before Sunset will be formally announced.

Last but not least: lots of great films will be released. Some expected, some not. 2012 will be a good year.

Have a great New Year’s Eve, everyone! See you in 2012!

 
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Posted by on 30 December, 2011 in Misc.

 

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Review – Beyond (Svinalängorna)

When we experience bad things in our lives, our natural instinct seems to be to distance ourselves from them. We do our best not to dwell on them. We move on, hoping that if we just ignore them they will fade away. Often, this works. Maybe we’ll carry the memories with us for the rest of our lives, but as long as the bad things in our past don’t affect our current lives, we’re content. This is what Beyond‘s main character Leena (Noomi Rapace) tries to do. She’s married and has two daughters and seems to lead a happy life. But as it tends to do in films, the past rears its ugly head. A phonecall from a distant hospital informs her that her mother Aili (Outi Mäenpää) is on her deathbed and that she very much wants to see her daughter before her time is up. Leena curiously rejects the idea, but her husband Johan (Ola Rapace, Noomi’s real-life husband at the time) talks her into it. Off goes the entire family on a trip to the farthest reaches of Sweden where Leena’s mother is waiting.

That’s one of the two time periods the movie hops back forth between. The other one is back when Leena was a 12-year old girl (played by Tehilla Blad), and we get to follow her life as her family moves into an apartment and tries to settle into the community, having just arrived from Finland. Her mother is constantly suspicious of others. Her father Kimmo (Ville Virtanen) is a recovering alcoholic, but one where a fall off the wagon seems more a matter of “when” than “if”. And her younger brother Sakari (Junior Blad) quietly and curiously observes everything the way some children do. Moving in to the new home is a joyous and hopeful time for the family, but we alreade see the warning signs of what may come. As the film progresses, the tumultous family life becomes more and more evident and we see just why adult Leena is none too keen on getting back in touch with her mother.

Beyond (Swedish title Svinalängorna) is the feature directorial debut of veteran actor Pernilla August. Swedes know her from many films, whereas those of you from other parts of the world might be most familiar with her from her role as the nanny Maj in Fanny and Alexander or her part as Anakin’s mother in the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Beyond is an impressive directorial effort, especially in the ways it ties together its two different time periods. We might see something of present Leena that seems odd, only to have its origin explained in a flashback much later on, only for the film to segue back to the present with another cause-effect detail. This might get a bit too explicit at a point or two, but for the most part it’s engagingly orchestrated. I found myself fascinated by the story and structure, which lends the movie a potent mystery feel amidst all the drama. The two time periods are given equal importance, constantly intersecting and showing parallels. The fact that the present parts start out during daytime only to then take place entirely at night is another nice touch, providing a sense of a journey into darkness as Leena reconnects with her childhood.

It’s the actors who stand out in this film, however. Noomi Rapace garnered plenty of well-earned praise when she portrayed hard-as-nails Lisbeth Salander in the Millenium trilogy a few years ago. She’s even more impressive here, almost toying with the lingering memory of the Lisbeth role as Leena first starts out seeming stoic and indifferent only to gradually crack. Perhaps even better is her younger counterpart Tehilla Blad (who also played Lisbeth as a child in those three movies). There’s so much to recognize in the ways she copes with the mounting distress in her life, the way she hurries off to occupy herself with some mundane task when her parents fight or how she looks after her brother just as much for her own sake as for his. And yet happiness shines through in the rare times when she’s met with her parents’ approval. This is a tough task for someone so young, but Blad nails the performance. The supporting parts are equally good, with Mäenpää and Virtanen in particular providing brutal emotional energy to their parts. And in a less flashy role we find Ola Rapace, playing husband Johan as a calm and collected supporter, rolling with the punches to the best of his abilities. I’m somewhat reminded of Stanley Tucci‘s fine turn as Meryl Streep‘s husband in Julie & Julia, even if that film was decidedly more light-hearted than this one.

It took a little time to win me over, but I ended up really liking Beyond in the end. It’s a potent tale of domestic hardships, showing that the past can be hurtful no matter how much distance we put to it. There are scenes here of great discomfort, such as the icy indifferent stare of Leena as she watches her mother in the hospital bed, the painful arguing going on in her youth and how this manifests itself in the present with her and her own family. It’s a heavy film, not so much in content as in emotional toll. The story doesn’t break any new ground perhaps, but it’s fascinating and gripping nonetheless. Pernilla August has put together an impressive movie, and I’m eager to see what she’ll come out with next.

Beyond is Sweden’s submission to the Academy’s Foreign Language Film Oscar this year. I’m guessing the Academy will like it, but whether that’s enough or not to win the award is anyone’s guess. I do hope it makes it past the first round or two of the nomination process, if only so that more people will become aware of it and check it out. It’s a film well worth seeing.

Score: 4/5

 
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Posted by on 29 September, 2011 in Reviews

 

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