Scary Movie Marathon: Midsommar (2019)


Title: Midsommar
Release Date: July 3, 2019
Director: Ari Aster
Production Company:
Summary/Review:

It’s hard to spoil this movie, since it’s pretty obvious that when American college students go to a remote village in Sweden to observe a folk ritual that very bad things are going to happen.  Nevertheless, I’m glad I went into this movie mostly blind. Dani Ardor (Florence Pugh) joins her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and several of his friends on the trip to the Hårga commune as she deals with the grief of a traumatic event in her family.  Swedish student Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) invites them all to observe a ritual that happens only once every 90 years, and Josh (William Jackson Harper) plans to observe it for his anthropology dissertation.

It doesn’t take long for things to start going weird in Hårga, but nevertheless the movie is a slow burn and really earns its long running time. It’s also unique for a horror film in that it’s almost entirely set in broad daylight with lots of bright colors.  Like any good horror film, it’s about more than just jump scares, with the horrific events serving as metaphors for the collapse of Dani and Christian relationships.  I also think there’s a commentary on American exceptionalism as the students go into the rituals expecting to just observe without affecting them.

This is a powerful film and I will be thinking about it for some time.  I expect I will need to rewatch at some point as well.  Even if you don’t typically like horror, this is an excellent film worth checking out.

Rating: ****

Scary Movie Marathon: The Phantom Carriage (1921)


Title: The Phantom Carriage
Release Date: 1 January 1921
Director: Victor Sjöström
Production Company: AB Svensk Filmindustri
Summary/Review:

According to the legend at the heart of this film, the last person to die before the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve will have to spend the next year as the driver of Death’s carriage and collect the souls of the dead.  Naturally, ne’er-do-well drunkard David Holm (Victor Sjöström) dies after hearing this story and is introduced to his new existence by an old friend Georges (Tore Svennberg).  Through flashbacks, they revisit David’s life and mistakes in kind of a topsy-turvy It’s a Wonderful Life.  The story is intercut with the present day story of Salvation Army Sister Edit (Astrid Holm) who is dying of tuberculosis and wishes to see David to see if her prayers have changed him any.  The movie is very much a morality play more than a horror film, but it does have a great spooky atmosphere and special effects that are still impressive 100 years later.

Rating: ****

Scary Movie Marathon: Let the Right One In (2008)


Title: Let the Right One In
Release Date: 26 January 2008
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Production Company: EFTI | Sveriges Television | Filmpool Nord | Sandrew Metronome | WAG | Fido Film | The Chimney Pot | Ljudligan | Svenska Filminstitutet | Nordisk Film & TV Fond | Canal+
Summary/Review:

Let the Right One In is your typical romantic coming-of-age film about an awkward 12-year-old boy befriending the new girl next door and learning to stand up to the bullies at school.  Except that she’s not a girl but a centuries old vampire in the body of a 12-year-old girl.  This film is a fresh take on vampire lore that has elements of European arthouse drama with touches of Amblin-style films of the 1980s.  In fact, the movie is set in the 1980s in a mid-century style suburban development that gives it a universal feel beyond it’s Swedish setting. Kåre Hedebrant is strong as the lead character Oskar and Lina Leandersson is just phenomenal as the eternally young vampire Eli. While the movie has its share of blood and gore, it goes well beyond being just horror and is a great film worth watching.

Rating: ****1/2

 

Classic Movie Review: Fanny and Alexander (1982) #AtoZChallenge



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter F

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Title: Fanny and Alexander
Release Date: December 17, 1982
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Production Company:  Gaumont
Summary/Review:

I guess I was a budding cinephile at the age of 9 when I started watching Siskel & Ebert’s At The Movies and Leonard Maltin’s movie reviews on Entertainment Tonight.  I like how they always showed extended clips of the movies that they discussed and the highly-regarded movies of the 1982-1983 era stick in my mind even if I’ve never seen them.  It turns out that when finally watching Fanny and Alexander that I actually had watched parts of the movie when randomly flipping channels as a teenager.  So it was good to finally watch the whole thing, or at least the three-hour theatrical cut.

While Fanny (Pernilla Allwin) gets top billing her role is minor, and it is Alexander Ekdahl (Bertil Guve) is the main point-of-view character.  The ten-year old boy whose vivid imagination gets him in trouble represents director Ingmar Bergman’s own child, although this movie is not a straight up autobiography.  For example, the film is set in the first decade of the 1900s, whereas Bergman wasn’t even born until 1918.  Bergman also noted that all the male characters in the film represent an aspect of his own personality.

The basic plot of the film is that the Ekdahl’s are a prosperous and large family who own and run a theatre. The family is introduced at a lavish Christmas party  at the lavish house of Fanny and Alexander’s grandmother Helena (Gunn Wållgren). After their father Oscar (Allan Edwall) suffers a stroke and dies, their mother Emilie (Ewa Fröling) remarries to the Bishop Edvard Vergérus (Jan Malmsjö).  The Bishop is strict and disciplined, and ultimately abusive when Alexander defies him.  Things look bad but this movie takes some weird twists and Alexander, Fanny, and Emilie ultimately end up reunited with their loving family.

While Alexander is central to the movie’s plot, there are a lot of scenes with adult characters where he isn’t involved.  There’s even a major subplot about the children’s exuberant uncle Gustav (Jarl Kulle) having an extramarital affair with their maid Maj (a young Pernilla August, years before she played Shmi Skywalker in The Phantom Menace) with the full knowledge and approval of his adoring wife Alma (Mona Malm).  The large cast includes some highly-regarded Swedish film stars and they all but in a terrific, naturalistic performance.

This movie is gorgeous to look at with bold colors and lots of detail in every shot.  There are three main sets: grandmother Helena’s overstuffed mansion, the austere interiors of the Bishop’s house, and labyrinthine antiques store of Isak Jacobi (Erland Josephson), the merchant and Ekdahl family friend who rescues the children.  There is also a lot exteriors shot on location in Uppsala, Sweden.  Of late, I’ve grown fatigued of how many classic films are extremely lengthy and resentful of the pretentiousness of some directors who are not economical in their storytelling.   But Fanny and Alexander is a movie that I want more of and so I will have to find time in the future to watch the full five-and-a-half hour miniseries.

Rating: ****

Classic Movie Review: Persona (1966)


Title: Persona
Release Date: 31 August 1966
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Production Company: AB Svensk Filmindustri
Summary/Review:

This film is an eerie psychological drama about two women. Elisabet (Liv Ullmann) is an actress who stops speaking despite no obvious physical or mental problem. Alma (Bibi Andersson) is a nurse assigned to care for Elisabet. They are sent off to stay at a vacation home on a remote island with hopes the relaxing environment will help Elisabet. Alma talks about increasingly more personal matters, while Elisabet observes.

Tensions grow between the two women and they begin to assume the same identity. Lots of weird things happen and it’s never clear if it’s a dream or delirium, or even if there is just one woman having an identity crisis. To add to the artifice and uncertainty, at the beginning and the middle, the film breaks and melts and scenes from older movies appear. Bergman and his crew even appear filming Alma towards the end of the film.

This is the epitome of an “art house film” and it’s definitely open to many interpretations, some or all of which may be correct. It’s even possible that Bergman just wanted to get two incredibly gorgeous women together, touching each other in frequent close-ups, and put together a story to make that happen. Andersson, carrying the bulk of the dialogue in this film, puts in a wonderful performance, while Ullmann also acts magnificently with her face and mannerisms. It’s a strange and unsettling film, and not something I will want to watch over and over, but I’m glad I got the opportunity to view Persona.

Rating: ***

Podcasts of the Week Ending July 18


Afropop Worldwide :: Africa and the Blues

In this podcast, we learn about how African music is more than just “the roots” and the ties between Africa and American blues traditions.

Brattle Film Podcast :: Boston on Film, Part 1

Boston is the setting for many movies, and the crime movie – also known as the Three Decker Movie or Boston No-r – is one of the most common genres.  Here’s a discussion of some of the best.

Decoder Ring :: The Karen

The history of how an archetype of the entitled, middle-class white women became known as The Karen.

The Last Archive :: Tomorrowland

The final episode of the series on “Who Killed Truth” travels from time capsules to Disneyland to Mark Zuckerberg’s dorm room to find answers.

Twenty Thousand Hertz :: Hamilton Remix

A breakdown of the remarkable sound design that goes into the stage production of Hamilton: An American Musical.

What Next :: The First Federal Execution in 17 Years

The United States takes another step into a neo-fascist state by resuming capital punishment at the federal level.

   :: Sweden Screwed Up

While we may be focused on how the United States totally bungled the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we can learn from Sweden of a complete different way to mess things up.

 

 


Movie Review: The Seventh Seal (1957)


Title: The Seventh Seal
Release Date: February 16, 1957
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Production Company: AB Svensk Filmindustri
Summary/Review:

This is a movie I watched sometime back in the 1990s, but didn’t remember too well beyond the “playing chess with Death” scenes (which is what everyone knows about this movie whether they’ve seen it or not).  Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) is a knight returning after ten years fighting in the Crusades and facing a crisis of faith in a God he cannot experience with his senses.  He’s accompanied by his more earthy squire Jöns (Gunnar Björnstrand) who functions as more of the movie’s protagonist in that he initiates much of the action within the story.

The film begins on a beach where the knight and squire have just arrived in their home country and Death comes for the knight.  The knight challenges Death to a chess match both as a way to extend his own life and perhaps cheat Death.  They continue playing intermittently through the movie.  We are also introduced to the other main characters, Jof (Nils Poppe) and Mia (Bibi Andersson), a married pair of traveling actors with a toddler son.

Eventually all of these characters come together as they travel the land where encounter signs of The Great Plague ravaging the people, a procession of flagellants, and a woman put to death as a witch. The movie features some intense scenes and deals with serious philosophical issues regarding mortality, faith in God, and the meaning(lessness) of life.  And yet, there are also moments of humanity and joy, such as when several of the characters share strawberries and milk on a pleasant day.  The movie is also surprisingly funny at several parts.

Ultimately, Antonious Block finds contentment in “one meaningful deed” where his is able to distract Death long enough for Jof, Mia, and their baby to escape.  The movie features both striking cinematography and brilliant acting.  It is worthy of the accolades of being among the greatest movies of all time.  I think I’ll wait fewer than 25 years before I watch it again.

Rating: ****1/2

Classic Movie Review: Wild Strawberries (1957)


Title: Wild Strawberries
Release Date: December 26, 1957
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Production Company: AB Svensk Filmindustri
Summary/Review:

The Nordic countries are generally ranked among the happiest nations on Earth, but the movies are depressing AF.  Well, this is actually only the second Ingmar Bergman film I’ve watched (I saw The Seventh Seal long ago), so maybe this is a rush to judgement.

Wild Strawberries is about the elderly and misanthropic physician Professor Isak Borg (Victor Sjöström) taking a journey to receive an honorary medal for 50 years of service.  Accompanying him on the road trip is his daughter-in-law Marianne Borg (Ingrid Thulin) who is estranged from her husband and makes it clear early on that she doesn’t like Isak much.  Along the journey they pick up three young hitchhikers, two men and a woman named Sara (Bibi Andersson), whose exuberance is a contrast to Isak and Marianne and others they encounter on their journey.  These include a vitriolic married couple who crash their car and Isak’s cold and unsentimental mother (Naima Wifstrand).

The journey is interspersed with Isak’s dreams and flashbacks to his youth. He’s particularly nostalgic for his childhood sweetheart Sara (also played by  Bibi Andersson), who ended up marrying his brother.  Both the journey and the dreams and visions help Isak confront what he’s lost in his past, his present loneliness, and mortality.  He also forms a bond with Marianne and the hitchhiker Sara. For all the grim realism of the film, it surprisingly has a happy ending. The movie is well-filmed and well-acted and worth a rewatch for a deeper analysis.

Rating: ****

Album Review: Ruins by First Aid Kit


AlbumRuins
ArtistFirst Aid Kit
Release Date: 19 January 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Rebel Heart
  • Ruins

ThoughtsRuins is the latest release from the Swedish folk rock duo of sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg.  I’m inextricably drawn to close, female harmonies and lush instrumentation in all cases, and this is no exception.  All the same, I think that First Aid Kit can create music with more bite, and there’s something missing here.  Thus it’s good album, worth a listen, but not as great as it could be.
Rating: **1/2

Album Reviews: Fever Ray, Blitzen Trapper, The Barr Brothers


This week, quick thoughts on three new albums I listened to today.

AlbumPlunge
Artist: Fever Ray
Release Date: 2017 October 27
Favorite Tracks: “Wanna Sip” and “IDK About You”
Thoughts: Fever Ray is the solo project of Swedish electronic musician Karin Dreijer, also of the duo The Knife. The album has some sick beats and synths, but Dreijer’s voice is unpleasant and the frequent profanity seems to be juvenile attempt to be shocking.
Rating: **1/2


Album: Wild and Reckless
Artist: Blitzen Trapper
Release Date: 2017 November 3
Favorite Tracks: “Joanna” and “Stolen Hearts”
Thoughts: A twangier, pure country outing from Blitzen Trapper grew out of a “rock opera” staged in their native Portland, OR that tells a sci-fi love story of two kids on the run.
Rating: **1/2


Album: Queens of the Breakers
Artist: The Barr Brothers
Release Date: 2017 October 13
Favorite Tracks: “You Would Have to Lose Your Mind” and “It Came To Me”
Thoughts: The Montreal-based Americana jam band with a harp received good reviews for their innovative sound, but the album sounds kind of like generic folk-pop to me.  Not my thing.
Rating: **