The Devil’s Messenger (1961)

The Devil's Messenger (1961) movie poster

director Herbert L. Strock
viewed: 06/26/2018

Extracted from the Swedish television series, 13 Demon Street, which was created by Curt Siodmak and starred Lon Chaney, Jr., The Devils Messenger comes as an anthology horror film of odd pedigree. A Swedish Twilight Zone prototype.

Chaney is Satan himself in the wrap-around, sending Satanya (Karen Kadler) back to Earth to bring back more of the wicked for eternal punishment.

Each of these stories play like little tales of misogyny.  It’s notable that even when women’s boobs were shaped like nosecones of airplanes, the Swedes were explicit about rape. Though men do seem to get punished for their evils, this doesn’t do the women any good?

The most interesting story is the middle one, in which a woman trapped in an ancient ice is released, though through the process mesmerizes one of the scientists behind the scheme.

Space Invasion of Lapland (1959)

Space Invasion of Lapland (1959) movie poster

director Virgil W. Vogel
viewed: 04/27/2018

I began Space Invasion of Lapland as the Jerry Warren version Invasion of the Animal People with John Carradine. But midway, I switched over to Terror in the Midnight Sun, which is a less bastardized American version of this Swedish 1959 sci-fi horror flick filmed in English. It’s interesting that IMDb doesn’t give Warren credit for his version. Maybe he didn’t add or change enough.

Both versions feature the super pretty Barbara Wilson, an American in Sweden, who just happens to coincide with the landing of an alien ship, the slaughter of a bunch of reindeer, and eventually a big ol’ hairy monster guy, a kind of outer space King Kong landed in snowy Lappland.

You know, it’s got a lot to recommend it, though it’s also slow and draggy at times. The monster sequences are good fun, a forced perspective giant beast, hairy as all get-out. Is he big enough to be a kaiju?

Oh, and the aliens. When they suddenly start appearing on screen, it’s almost a modernist comic alien Death from The Seventh Seal.

Weird and cool.

 

Persona (1966)

Persona (1966) movie poster

director Ingmar Bergman
viewed: 06/29/2016

I really don’t know what I can bring to the table here about Ingmar Bergman’s 1966 masterpiece, Persona. It’s such a major film and so much writing has been done on it, from the time it was released 50 years ago until now. What fresh commentary do I have?

I don’t know.  I’m also not sure why it has taken me so long to finally see the film.

Before I’d ever seen a Bergman film, I’d seen a parody of his work, the seriously hilarious The Dove (De Düva) (1968) by George Coe and Anthony Lover and featuring a very young Madeline Kahn.  When I finally watched Bergman’s films, I managed to see the ones more directly parodied like The Seventh Seal (1957), Wild Strawberries (1957), and The Virgin Spring (1960).  The Virgin Spring blew my mind when I watched it.

But for some reason, I’d held off on Bergman for some time.

Persona is so different a film from those, seemingly much more influenced by Jean-Luc Godard of the time, but still so intensely emotional and delving, deeply psychological, a screeching catharsis.

I don’t know that it affected me as The Virgin Spring did years ago, but it is so complex and powerful, I think I’ll be sitting with it for a long time yet.  I felt almost immediately the desire to watch it again. I don’t know that I will, but I’ve kept Bergman at arm’s length long enough, far too long.

We Are the Best! (2013)

We Are the Best! (2013) movie poster

director Lukas Moodysson
viewed: 11/20/2015

I haven’t seen all of Lukas Moodysson’s films, in fact, I guess I’ve only seen Show Me Love (1998) and Lilya 4-ever (2002).  But I’ve come to think of him in particular in his interest in teenage girls.  Okay, that sounds bad.  But his work is focused on the world of teenage girls, from self-discovery or even total emotional isolation as in Lilya 4-ever.

We Are the Best! was adapted from a graphic novel by Moodysson’s wife Coco and tells the story of three teenage girls coming of age in Stockholm in 1982, yearning for a punk rock that has seemingly died out too early for its time.  Mira Barkhammar and Mira Grosin play Bobo and Klara, respectively, rebellious, out-spoken, brash, silly, self-conscious yet adventurous best pals, who recruit the alternately Christian outcast Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne) because she’s actually very talented at the guitar.

Like Moodysson’s other films, this is a naturalistic portrayal, one that resonates and moves, in no small part due to the characters and their performances.  It’s sweet-natured and doesn’t once shift into darkened corners, while still giving a sensibility of time and place and personality.

It’s girl power.  A great girl power movie, sweet and fun and punk.

I watched it with Clara, my 11 year old daughter, who enjoyed it very much as well.

Let the Right One In (2008)

Let the Right One In (2008) movie poster

director Tomas Alfredson
viewed: 08/28/2015

Let the Right One In has been one of my favorite new films that I have seen since keeping this diary.  It’s lingered in my mind since first seeing it 6 years ago, and it’s been one of the few films I have really wanted to see again.  Of course, I saw the American re-make Let Me In (2010).  I’ve even read John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel from which the film was adapted.

The film is more a love story perhaps than a horror story, and more than a romance, it is a depiction of alienation, loneliness, otherness, and the finding of a true friend or perhaps love.  Its echoes of child abuse, bullying, and darker truths transcend the easy reference “that Swedish vampire movie”.

As much as I had wanted to see it again, I also started wanting to watch it with my kids, and my kids have gotten to an age where it would not be inappropriate.  Whether or not they would like it, that I wasn’t so sure of.

Watching it again, I felt for the strengths of the film, the unromantic icy 1980’s landscape of suburban(?) Sweden and especially the brilliant casting of Kåre Hedebrant as Oskar and Lina Leandersson as Eli.

The kids, I’m not sure what they thought of it.  Felix said he thought it was good.  Clara was a little less impressed, though now I’m wondering if it is because she thought it would be scary and was disappointed on that score.  I don’t know.  It’s still among the best contemporary films I’ve seen in the past 13 years, now no longer exactly contemporary.

Lilya 4-ever (2002)

Lilya 4-ever (2002) movie poster

director Lukas Moodysson
viewed: 11/23/2014

Swedish director Lukas Moodysson has lingered on the peripheries of my film viewing for almost the entire duration of this film blog.  His 2000 film, Together, was one of the first films that got added to my Netflix queue (notable that I’ve stored things there for over a decade now — also that film is currently available on Netflix streaming).  His latest film, We Are the Best! is also available from Netflix streaming right now and has had a lot of buzz (it’s about young teenage girls who form a punk band).  In the interim, I managed to see only one of his movies, Show Me Love (1998) (though I still prefer its original Swedish title “Fucking Åmål”

His 2002 film, Lilya 4-ever has been another long-lasting film in my movie queue.  I can hardly recall what I had read about it at the time to get it there, but there it has stayed from many moons.  It was only after reading through some lists of dark, depressing films that I recently bumped it up to the top of my queue and finally have now seen it.

Loosely based on true events, Lilya 4-ever is the harsh tale of an Estonian teenager whose mother abandons her in the poor public housing world of her home town.  Befriended by one boy a couple years younger (whose abusive life is almost more pathetic than her own), she suffers worsening and worsening experiences at the uncaring world of her aunt, supposed friends, local thugs, and even her very selfish aunt.  She turns to prostitution and meets a seemingly nice young man who promises a job in Sweden, hope, a future, somewhere not where she’s been all her life.

Of course, he’s tricking her into sexual slavery.  Her little buddy commits suicide.

Though the story has an unrelenting quality of terrible, terrible things, Lilya (Oksana Akinshina) sustains her hopes until hopes are crushed to death.

Moodysson’s cinema is almost entirely focused on young teenage girls, and presumably they’re not all as dark as Lilya.  Show Me Love showed a hopeful burgeoning lesbian relationship and ended on an up note.  We Are the Best!, as the title would suggest, seems to be on the downright uplifting side.

He handles his young talent well.  Akinshina and Artyom Bogucharsky (her little friend Volodya) are excellent, young, naturalistic performers.

Both of Moodysson’s films I’ve seen have been good, I would say not great.  I would have a hard time putting my finger on what it was that was “missing”.  But I don’t know.  I’m still interested in both Together and We Are the Best! but I don’t hold them with the highest of expectations.

Searching for Sugar Man (2012)

Searching for Sugar Man (2012) movie poster

director Malik Bendjelloul
viewed: 02/04/2013

There are a number of remarkable documentaries about music, musicians, rock’n’roll, the business, ones that encapsulate so much of the experience of the dreams, aspirations, the fame, the realities of the world of making it as a musician.  DiG! (2004) is a brilliant portrait of excess and ego.  The Devil and Daniel Johnston (2005) is a remarkable image of genius(?) gone crazy. Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008) is an amusing picture of an “almost was” band.  Each of those films offer some perspective on music and the people who’ve put their lives into their music and resonate, I believe, for anyone who has been in and around the music biz.  Searching for Sugar Man adds yet another dimension to the films of the genre.

It’s the story of Sixto Rodriguez, a musician from Detroit from the late 1960’s/early 1970’s, who cut two albums, and despite some passionate appreciation by a few, disappeared from the music scene.  Of course, in the United States, nobody really noticed and probably nobody really knew who he was.

But in South Africa, a country that for many years was under the brutal rule of Apartheid, somehow, Rodriguez’s music reached them and connected in a huge way.  In South Africa, he was as popular and important as Bob Dylan, who Rodriguez sounds a bit like.  But in the 1970’s-1980’s, cultural isolation kept this fact rather unknown.  It isn’t until the 1990’s that a fan and a journalist research their way to find out what happened to Rodriguez, about whom some quite interesting urban myths existed.

It’s a pre-internet tale of discovery.  Because they do find him, still in Detroit, a father of three adult women and a laborer working these many years in construction and living humbly.  And they bring him to South Africa where this  rather “normal” guy is heralded and welcomed as a huge rock star.

It’s a heartwarming story, certainly as its portrayed in the film, produced in Europe and directed by Malik Bendjelloul.  Bendjelloul tells the tale as a detective story, from the South Africans who were such passionate fans that they unraveled their mystery fostered in distance and isolation.

The image of South Africa is quite interesting, getting a sense of the vibe of the young white people who lived during Apartheid, how the music fostered their own sense of rebellion and change.  But mostly it’s Rodriguez himself.  With his big black sunglasses, he just screams the part of “rock star”.  This second generation Mexican-American in ice cold Detroit.  A talent with some ardent admirers, still quite the humble man, even when decades later he is given the sort of treatment that inspires so many to become musicians.  And now, with the film, he’s finally going to be better known in his native country.  It’s quite a tale and it’s quite well-told.

My Life as a Dog (1985)

My Life as a Dog (1985) movie poster

director Lasse Hallström
viewed: 09/22/2012

Back in 1987, I saw My Life as a Dog and totally fell in love with it.  12 year old Ingemar, a rambunctious character who gets into all kinds of good-natured trouble, identifies with all sorts of tragic news stories, most specifically that of Laika, the Russian dog, shot into space, who eventually starved to death.  Ingemar’s mother is dying and he ends up going to live with in the country with his uncle and aunt and an array of characters who populate the town.

There is the green-haired boy.  The old man who has him read to him surreptitiously from lingerie advertisements.  The beautiful blond who brings him along as she poses in the nude for a sculptor to keep things “artistic”.  The man who eternally works on his roofing.  The wacky inventor who builds a rocket ride that breaks down.  And the remarkably cute girl with the short brown hair who likes to pass for a boy so that she can play sport.

It’s bittersweet and funny, quirky and charming.  And I thought it was great.

It is pretty great.  Director Lasse Hallström hit is stride with his gentle storytelling but really had his coup with the casting.  Anton Glanzelius, who played Ingemar, has perhaps one of the cutest, sweetest smiles in all of cinema.  He’s freaking lovable!  And Melinda Kinneman, who played Saga, the tomboy, is terrific and is as cute as girls that age could be.  I think even at that time I wanted to go back and be 12 again just to fall in love with her.

My Life as a Dog isn’t a kids film, but as I’ve been trying to expand our movie-viewing a bit, I thought we’d give it a go.  The other experiment was that we watched it in Swedish, with me reading the subtitles to the kids.  I don’t think that they could keep up with the reading but I wanted to open the experience of listening to another language and thought it’d be worth the go.  It was.  They both enjoyed it, tough Felix noted that it was “pretty sad”, what with Ingemar losing his mother and even more tragically, his beloved dog.

Hallström has gone on to Hollywood, making What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993), The Cider House Rules (1999), and many others, most of which are these family melodramas that are more tinged with the bittersweet.  I’ve always kept My Life as a Dog in a special place.  It’s a sweet film and a good one.  And those kids are some of the most likable children ever to grace the silver screen.

Erotikon (1920)

Erotikon (1920) movie poster

director Mauritz Stiller
viewed: 07/15/2012 at the Castro Theatre, SF, CA

First off, Erotikon sounds like something it’s not.  What it is: a modern (for 1920) comedy of the sexes.

From Swedish director Mauritz Stiller, one of the two most important silent directors from Sweden in the silent era, it’s a surprisingly light romp in the homes of the well-heeled society of the time.  It centers around an entomologist, his wife, her would-be lovers, and a rather precocious niece in a romantic pentagram or quadrangle that is constantly morphing shape.  The entomologist, at one point, explains in a lecture the sociology of particular type of beetles what turns out to be a ripe metaphor for the levels of friction in the human world.  Apparently the beetles are happy polygamists, with two or more females on hand, never happy with just one (the amusing intertitles featuring bugs and other amusing illustrations make this even more comical).

Not really knowing where the film is going made for a bumpier, odder ride.  In some ways, it’s a comedy of miscommunication and misunderstanding, kind of like a former Three’s Company, if you will.  What is as amusing as anything in the film is its resolution, a charmingly brisk and cheerful break with societal norms, which turns out to be the only way for everyone to find happiness.

The film has been noted as an influence on many that came after it, most significantly Jean Renoir’s La Règle du jeu (1939).  It’s far lighter and fluffier than that film, in fact, it’s pretty much a cinematic confection.  It’s cute and quite amusing, though its title certainly lead you to imagine otherwise.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest (2010) movie poster

(2009) director Daniel Alfredson
viewed: 02/21/11

The finale of the Swedish-produced adaptations of Stieg Larsson’s ultra-popular series of novels, known as “the Millenium trilogy” but perhaps are best known by the first novel’s title, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009), has arrived on DVD.  “Millenium” is the name of the fictional magazine owned and operated by Mikael Blomkvist (played by Michael Nyqvist in the films and assumed to be roughly based upon Larsson himself).  But the center of the whole thing is the character of Lisbeth Salander (played very aptly by Noomi Rapace in each of the films), and so to refer to the series through the name of the magazine seems much less the point than its primary creation,  the girl with the dragon tattoo on her back.

It feels like ages ago, but it was just a year ago that I read the first book, that I saw the first film, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  And then I read the second book, and more recently saw the second film, The Girl Who Played with Fire (2009).  And with an American re-make of the original film, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo due out toward the end of this year, starring Rooney Mara and directed by likely Oscar-winner David Fincher, this thing is far from over.  But the Swedish series has finished and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest is the end.

So, I was too impatient to wait to read the book.  I didn’t want to read it in hardback, had no idea when it was due in paperback, and in the end, found myself not caring enough to slog through the tomes.  I was glad to finish the series with the final film.

But the film really is not all that.  Maybe the book isn’t either (I’ve read as much).  The film starts with Salander with life-threatening injuries, sustained at the end of the prior film.  She spends a huge portion of the film in the hospital, healing, not doing a whole hell of a lot.  The film’s intrigues unwind in a courtroom, villains are white-haired elderly dudes and Salander’s German automaton half-brother, who is no personality and all brutality.  While Blomkvist runs around with stuff happening and drama and action, it’s really the dud of the series.

Borderline boring.

The best character in traction, the finale bereft of surprises, the film ties up its loose ends, but to little effect.

Larsson died prior to the publication of the books, their exponential popularity, and the films, perhaps before the books were even properly edited.  He was apparently working on a fourth novel at the time of his death.  So, this wasn’t necessarily “the end” to his trilogy.  His trilogy wasn’t necessarily a trilogy.  But that’s what we’ve got.  And like I said, ending on a point of dull anticlimax.

If you want my real opinion, the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, was the best of the series (as was the film).  The convoluted back-story that Larsson developed for Salander in The Girl Who Played with Fire was interesting, especially if you were taken enough with her to want more.  But the latter two books could have been boiled down into one perhaps.  This final installment just feels extraneous, and while it does bring closure to things, it’s a 2 1/2 hour struggle at closure that really isn’t very satisfying.

At the moment, I somewhat dread the American re-makes.  I mean, David Fincher is a better director than either of the Swedish film-makers who made this first series.  But Noomi Rapace nailed the character.  It feels like it’s been done.  And Nyqvist as Blomkvist seems more apt than the ripped Daniel Craig.  I am very tired of the series.  I am tired of it all.  Especially after slogging through this final film.